Archive for December, 2011

2011 Music Year in Review

For the past five years, I’ve really enjoyed putting together these year-end personal “best-of” lists. I don’t do much in the way of music journalism anymore, so this scratches my yearly “write a bunch about music” itch.

2011 was another amazing year for music. I think I have more in my “best of” category this year (29) than any previous year. With so much music getting released (and, really, so much of it being so good), it can be easy for great albums to get overlooked. It’s impossible to be 100% complete, so here’s this year’s completely subjective rundown on my favorite music of the year.

(See also: 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.)

Everything’s sorted in alphabetical order.

Best of 2011

  • Andrzej Przybielski & Oles Brothers: De Profundis
    Polish trumpeter Andrzej Przybielski passed away earlier this year. While I haven’t heard much of his work, this final album of his is remarkably intricate, moving, and cerebral. See also: his 2009 album with Sing Sing Penelope.
  • Archie Shepp & Joachim Kühn: Wo!man
    Though I haven’t enjoyed Shepp’s albums in recent years anywhere near the level of the fire music he was making in the 1960s, the releases have been good. This duet with German jazz pianist Joachim Kühn is by no means a return to Shepp’s 1960s form, but the interaction between the two is a thing of beauty. The elegant and lush arrangements have a quiet sophistication befitting elder jazz statesmen like Shepp and Kühn. There are five originals and three standards here (Ellington’s oft-covered–by Shepp especially–“Sophisticated Lady,” Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” and Hagen/Rogers’ “Harlem Nocturne”).
  • Atmosphere: The Family Sign
    You know you’re going to get something personal when Slug hits the mic, and this time is no different, with outstanding tracks like “The Last to Say,” “Just for Show,” and “She’s Enough” (which has the year’s most adorable video). Also: great packaging on the vinyl release.
  • Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
    “We were free to get back to our bread and butter: fart jokes.” That’s what Mike D. said about the Beastie’s return to form on Hot Sauce… It truly is amazing at how a group of guys in their mid-to-late-40s can make a record that sounds as fresh and fun as the stuff they did almost 25 years ago.
  • Blue Scholars: Cinemopolis
    A Kickstarter-funded ($62,000 of a requested $25,000) album that answers the question, “How does music influence cinema?” Song titles are all people’s names. “Anna Karina,” actress in many Godard movies, basketball player “Slick Watts” (with an excellent accompanying video featuring Slick himself), and oft-forgotten, the amazing civil rights activist “Yuri Kochiyama.” Sabzi’s production is outstanding and Geo’s lyrics are some of the best of his career. This is hip-hop.
  • Brownbird Rudy Relic: I Am the Juke
    Another great collection of original “holler blues” from the dynamo known as Brownbird. He goes the old-school route once again, recording on a 1950’s Concertone one-track reel-to-reel with a 1940’s era RCA Victor Radio mic in an abandoned Brooklyn loft.
  • Czeslaw Bartowski/Analog Burners: Drum Dream
    Inspired by Polish drummer Czeslaw Bartkowski, Analog Burners’ Mensa-El freaks Bartowski’s work into dope instrumentals.
  • De La Soul & DJ TenDJiz: De La Soulviet
    Classic De La tracks remixed with Soviet jazz samples? Excellent. The beats are well constructed, the samples well chosen, and the overall vibe, very chill.
  • Freestyle Fellowship: The Promise
    It’s been nine years since the last album from the highly lyrical collective. Considering the break, it’s amazing that the result was so a cohesive, funky, enjoyable. The album dips a bit in the second half, but the first half is outstanding. Production is handled by Eligh, Black Milk, Exile, & more.
  • Greg Foat Group: Dark is the Sun
    I don’t even remember how I came across this particular album, but it’s a doozy. Funky UK jazz with harpsichord, organ, and synths that goes beyond just drums and bass. Dark is the Sun is a real gem that will appeal to fans of 70s spiritual-funk-jazz. Don’t overlook this one.
  • Honey Ear Trio: Steampunk Serenade
    Phenomenal release with Erik Lawrence on sax and flute, the always awesome Allison Miller on percussion, and Rene Hart on bass and loops (which are so subtly integrated, I had no idea they even existed). Their take on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is one of the best ever.
  • Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Race Riot Suite
    A concept album about the 1921 Tulsa race riot that’s intense, grooving, and wholly unique. This group’s 21st album in 18 years serves as a reminder that there’s amazing jazz coming from all around the country.
  • Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations: Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations
    Fun, short indie pop songs that are impossible to dislike.
  • KIRk: Msza Swieta w Braswaldzie
    Dark, blippy electronica-infused jazz reminiscent at times of both Pink Freud and Robotobibok.
  • Matthew Shipp: Art of the Improviser
    Shipp gets open on his version of “Take the A Train.”
  • Muzykoterapia: Piosenki Izy
    Very solid nu jazz (damn it, I hate that term, but there it is) from Poland. A nice accompaniment to Nostalgia 77’s album.
  • The Natural Yogurt Band: Tuck In With
    Quirky, funk-library style tunes. Massive breaks abound.
  • album of the year Nostalgia 77: The Sleepwalking Society
    This album got far more rotation from me than any other album this year. German vocalist Josa Peit joins Benedic Lamdin on his latest album as Nostalgia 77. Peit’s sultry voice is the perfect match for Lamdin’s nu jazz (there’s that damn term again), as heard on “Sleepwalkers,” song-of-the-year “Simmerdown,” and “Beautiful Lie.” This is one of the rare albums that I love, my wife likes, and even our 5-year-old daughter requests songs from. The Sleepwalking Society is near perfection.

    Here’s a 30-minute playlist of Nostalgia 77’s videos, acoustic versions, and interviews from this year:

  • Onra: Chinoiseries Pt. 2
    Pitchfork pooped on it, but I loved it nearly as much as the first.
  • Pharoahe Monch: W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)
    Sure, I’d love to see an Organized Konfusion reunion album, but I certainly can’t complain about Pharoahe’s solo albums. Favorite songs: “Assassins,” “Let My People Go,” and the title track.
  • Prince Fatty Meets The Mutant HiFi: Return of Gringo!
    Spaghetti western ska dub, Ennio Morricone meets The Specials meets Augustus Pablo.
  • Priscilla Ahn: When You Grow Up
    Alternating between light, poppy folk and subdued contemplative folk, Ahn delivers a super mellow and very enjoyable album. Favorite cuts: the title track, which is like a breezy spring day and the über-catchy “Oo La La.”
  • The Roots: Undun
    A late-in-the-year contender, this short (for The Roots) concept album is deep and moving. A great addition to their discography. (See John Book’s in-depth review for a great look at the album.)
  • Shabazz Palaces: Black Up
    I hadn’t kept up with the Digable Planets’ Butterfly since he and his crew denied me an interview for the college paper back in 1995 (not that I hold a grudge or anything), but my jaw dropped when I discovered his abstract work as part of Shabazz Palaces. His two EPs last year were very good and this year’s Black Up is even better. Unlike anything else out there and absolutely engaging. Loved (deep breath) “An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum,” “Endeavors For Never (The Last Time We Spoke You Said You Were Not Here. I Saw You Though.),” and “Swerve… The Reeping Of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding).”
  • Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: Soul Time!
    Sharon Jones has a permanent spot on this list if she releases an album.
  • Shona Foster: The Moon & You
    There’s a clear Tori Amos influence from this singer I found via This American Life (not how I usually find my music because, well, I already know about DJ Shadow), but there’s a little Erin McKeown-esque style thrown in the mix making Shona Foster more interesting to me than her strongest influence. Niceness on “No. 34,” “Queens,” “Bad Intentions,” and “Where We’ll Go.”
  • SuperHeavy: SuperHeavy
    By all predictions, this album should have been somewhere between a confused mess and an acceptible “supergroup”-style album. Turns out it was an extremely enjoyable, “big” album with great performances all around from Jagger, Junior Gong, and the rest.
  • Thao & Mirah: Thao & Mirah
    Quirky and varied instrumentation makes this effort from the somewhat-odd-couple pairing of indie-folk singer-songwriters Thao (of Thao with The Get Down Stay Down) and Mirah one of the most engaging of the year. Favorite tracks: “Likeable Man” and “Squareneck.”
  • Various Artists: passionjunkies.it: Aa.VV. Dolphyn Surround
    Dope instrumental hip-hop from Italian beatmakers. Each track is based on Eric Dolphy samples.

Almost Best of 2011

  • Albert Kuvezin & Yat-Kha: Poets & Lighthouses & Live at the Stray Dog
    Two more strong releases from the Tuvan throat-singing powerhouses. Poets & Lighthouses was officially released in 2010, but not released in the US until 2011. Live at the Stray Dog was graciously released for free on Bandcamp.
  • AWOL One & Factor: The Landmark
    I’ve always been a fan of AWOL One’s left-field brand of hip-hop and this release with producer Factor is a nice addition to his discography. Favorite tracks: “Coming to Town,” “Frenemies,” “Rewind Yourself,” and the excellent duet with Moka Only, “The Wasp.”
  • Bubble Geese: #foamparty
    Offensive, party-friendly hip-hop with enough pop culture references to make Entertainment Weekly blush. Love the way they freaked Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd” on their first single. (Do I have to disclose that my cousin is one of the MCs? There, I just did.)
  • Common: The Dreamer, The Believer
    Common’s late-year contender is his best album in years. Favorite cuts: Ghetto Dreams (feat. Nas), Lovin’ I Lost, Sweet.
  • Elzhi: Elmatic
    I dig Elzhi and think he’s talented, but have never placed him in the top tier. This excellent mixtape had started to change my mind. Very well done with a lot of attention to detail.
  • Evidence: Cats & Dogs
    The self-name-checking weatherman is back with a solid solo release on Rhymesayers. Really dug “Late for the Sky (feat. Slug & Aesop Rock)” and the DJ Premier-produced “You,” which also had an incredibly dope video.
  • Moka Only: Barbecued Horse Contest Instrumental
    Moka is as prolific as they come in 2011. This year alone he’s released at least five original, full-length albums. Do you even realize how insane that is? I didn’t even have a chance to check all of them out, but I really enjoyed this collection of beats quite a bit.
  • Oddisee: Rock Creek Park
    If you still haven’t grasped what Oddisee is capable of as a producer, this album will do it for you.
  • Paul White: Rapping With Paul White
    Very solid album of aggressive tunes, but not absurdly so. Does that make sense?
  • Tech N9ne: All 6’s and 7’s
    Outstanding effort from N9ne. “Worldwide Choppers” is absolutely epic.
  • Tori Amos: Night of the Hunters
    This album is a weird one for me. I’m not a big fan of Tori Amos and I don’t think I’ll listen to this album very frequently, yet it’s a really, really good release. Funny how that happens sometimes.

Best of 2010 I missed until 2011

  • Levity: Chopin Shuffle
  • Jason Adasiewicz: Sun Rooms
  • Arszyn/Duda: ŚĘ (my review)
  • Allison Miller: Boom Tic Boom
  • Shabazz Palaces: Shabazz Palaces / Of Light

My Daughter’s Favorite Tracks This Year

My daughter, now five, has developed an interesting taste in music. Here are her favorite tracks this year (not limited to songs from this year), loaded up in a MOG playlist that we often spin when we’re on the road.

  • Beastie Boys: “Intergalactic”
  • The Upsetters: “Black Panta”
  • Nostalgia 77: “Simmerdown”
  • Dilated Peoples: “Live on Stage”
  • Dilated Peoples: “Worst Comes to Worst”
  • Rakaa: “Observatory (feat. Mad Lion)”
  • Rakaa: “Delilah”
  • Lee Perry & The Upsetters: “Kojak”
  • Beastie Boys: “Sure Shot”
  • Half Pint: “Have a Little Faith”
  • Tech N9ne: “Worldwide Choppers (feat. a ton of people)”
  • Go Diego Go: “Morning in the Rainforest/Diego Theme” (had to get one kids song in there)
  • Scientist: “Steppers”
  • The Upsetters: “Dub Organizer”
  • Nostalgia 77: “Beautiful Lie”
  • Dennis Brown: “Sitting and Watching”
  • Kathy Young: “A Thousand Stars”

Best Tracks of 2011

Here are two mixes I put together at 8tracks.com covering my favorite tracks of the year. I tried to stick to one track per artist and per album. The first mix was put together midway through the year and the second mix I just finished up. Total listening time: 2 hours, 18 minutes, 37 seconds.

2011: My Year in Review

2011 was a pretty chill and mostly uneventful year. (Well, aside from finding out we’ve got a son on the way in 2012. That’s pretty big.)

I actually don’t have much in the way of commentary to share, so let’s just get into the series of lists that do a surprisingly good job of capturing the year at a glance.

2012 will be the year I finally get done most of the stuff I vowed to do in 2009.

The Year, By Month

January

  • The year starts.

February

  • F you, Mozy. Hi there, Crashplan!
  • Found a five-year-old item in the fridge that read “use within 30 days of opening.”
  • Returned a library item I’d renewed 23 times and had checked out for ten months.
  • Huyen found a dog, had to have her scanned (collar, not tagged, but microchipped). She lived about six houses down.

March

  • My parents’ cat stayed with us for a month.
  • Trip to NY for Pint show, visit to 5 Pointz, hang with bro-in-law, etc..
  • Rasine’s unsuccessful soccer camp.
  • Reading Sesame Street with Rasine sparked a conversation about punk music.
  • New dishwasher gaskets!

April

  • Italian zombies night at Dave’s.
  • Rasine cut her hair.
  • Wrote my first full-length album review in years.
  • Won the ex.fm contest.
  • Bought my first smartphone. Entered 2007.

May

  • Goats walked on car.
  • Rasine finishes preschool (& recital).
  • Started a new blog.
  • Relaunched laze.net with a new look for the first time in eight years.
  • Woke up with a tick in my back, plucked it, left the head in, had to take a trip to the doc.
  • Another pair of dogs found and returned home. The owners never said thanks.
  • The world didn’t end.

June

  • NYC with fam & Huyen’s fam.
  • Saw the Miss New York contestants on the Staten Island Ferry.

July

  • Returned to the abandoned snack shack and Dixontown Road house.
  • Guy I know is on Hoarders.

August

  • 13 years.
  • The Great Hard Drive Drop of 2011.
  • One Sentence turns five.
  • Matt’s wedding.
  • Earthquake in VA.

September

  • Tenth anniversary.
  • Another non-event jury duty.
  • Rasine turns five. B-day party at the Tally Ho movie theatre days before their 80th anniversary.
  • We find out that baby #2 is on the way.

October

  • Tenth anniversary trip to Woodstock.
  • Pulled over for a dead headlight (I got away without a ticket).
  • I turn 36.
  • The Fly/Dawn of the Dead.
  • Rasine as Tin Woodman for Halloween.
  • Snow!
  • Hurt my knee running.
  • New projects.
  • MOMs in Herndon opens.
  • The world still doesn’t end.

November

  • Sold a DVD on Amazon for $25.
  • Nene’s wedding.
  • Rasine snuck Halloween candy. As a result, so did Shepp.
  • Election Day 2011.

December

  • Visit from the in-laws.
  • The best holiday in recent memory.

Favorite Teas of the Year

This year I had the opportunity to try a lot of new teas, like some Hawaii-Grown White Tea that I bought directly from the farmer. Or some Royal Purple Tea from Kenya (their “Moonlight White” was also a very nice surprise). I also tried the best Japanese Gyokuro that I’ve ever had this year. Plus, I rediscovered some old classics, like Bi Luo Chun, Wenshan Baozhong Formosa oolong, and a good Da Hong Pao Wuyi oolong.

TV Shows from the Past That I Discovered This year and Liked

  • 10 Items or Less
  • Party Down
  • Shaun the Sheep
  • The Bill Cosby Show

RIP

Based solely on the folks I RIP’ed on Twitter. People I knew personally in bold. Dates are when I tweeted, not the actual death date.

  • 1/24: Jack LaLane
  • 2/27: Lana Cokos
  • 3/4: Steve Glaspey
  • 3/7: Mike DeStefano
  • 5/28: Gil Scott Heron
  • 6/2: Geronimo Pratt
  • 7/12: Sherwood Schwartz
  • 7/25: Amy Winehouse
  • 10/5: Steve Jobs
  • 11/9: Heavy D
  • 11/9: David Hess
  • 12/16: Christopher Hitchens
  • 12/17: Cesaria Evoria
  • 12/26: Sam Rivers

Books I Finished Reading

In order finished.

  • The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done by Dave Crenshaw
  • Zombie Spaceship Wasteland: A Book by Patton Oswalt by Patton Oswalt (audiobook version)
  • Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen by Shunryu Suzuki
  • The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate by Susan K Greenland
  • The Vegan Revolution… with Zombies by David Agranoff
  • A Confession by Leo Tolstoy
  • Edible Secrets: A Food Tour of Classified US History by Michael Hoerger
  • Where the Hell Am I?: Trips I Have Survived by Ken Levine
  • A Widow’s Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates
  • 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides) by Matthew Inman
  • Fuzzy Logic Get Fuzzy 2 by Darby Conley
  • 1975 and the Changes to Come by Arnold Barach
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (with Rasine)
  • I Found This Funny: My Favorite Pieces of Humor and Some That May Not Be Funny At All by Judd Apatow
  • Beware Dangerism! (Kindle Single) by Gever Tulley
  • Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets by Cadillac Man
  • Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty: Poems by Tony Hoagland
  • Free-Range Chickens by Simon Rich
  • Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide by Sayward Rebhal
  • Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris
  • The Five by Robert McCammon
  • Nothing Is Hidden: Essays on Zen Master Dogen’s Instructions for the Cook by Shohaku Okumura
  • The Issue At Hand: Essays On Buddhist Mindfulness Practice by Gil Fronsdal
  • Mile 81 (Kindle Single) by Stephen King

Total number of books finished: 24 (one more than 2010)

Physical / Ebooks (incl. Kindle Singles) / Audiobooks finished:
15
6
1
Fiction / Nonfiction / Poetry / Comic:
6.5
14.5
1
2
Short/easy books: 8

Long/challenging books: 8

Books in progress at the end of the year: 3 (plus the second book of Oz with Rasine)

Movies I Watched and Re-watched

In order watched.

Average year: 1994

Average rating: 3.39
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Spotify Radio vs. Pandora

Spotify vs. Pandora

There’s a lot of talk right now about Spotify’s new radio functionality that not only greatly improves on their previously lame attempt at “radio,” but also reportedly gives Pandora a run for its money. Though I’m not a frequent Pandora listener, I have found their careful classification to result in pretty darn fine listening.

I decided to run my own comparison using my favorite song of the year, Nostalgia 77’s “Simmerdown” as the base. The song has a very distinct groove and vocal tone, so I was curious to see which radio provided the best listening. (I would have included other streaming services in the test, but none offer radio based on elements of a single track.) Here’s what I heard:

Spotify

  • Nostalgia 77 – Beautiful Lie
  • Kinny – Water for Chocolate featuring Souldrop
  • Lizzy Parks – All That (Natural Self Remix)
  • Sola Rosa – Ready Now
  • Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro – Undelivered Letter
  • Ebo Taylor – Heaven
  • Skeletons – Marathon Man
  • Flevans – Loose Gardener
  • Quantic presenta Flowering Inferno – Cuidad Del Swing
  • Unforscene – Don’t You Worry Feat Alice Russell
  • Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro – Canção Do Deserto
  • Belleruche – The Itch (Acoustic Version)
  • Bonobo – Terrapin
  • Lizzy Parks – Raise The Roof

A number of Tru Thoughts tracks came up (appropriately, as that’s Nostalgia 77’s label) including Belleruche, but there were also some other wonderful songs I’d never heard before, like Kinny’s “Water for Chocolate.”

Pandora

  • Baby Charles – Life’s Begun
  • Bobby Rush – I Am Good As Gone
  • Dave Matthews Band – Grey Street (Live 2007)
  • The RH Factor – Forget Regret (feat. Stephanie McKay)
  • Mindi Abair – Get Right
  • Con Brio – Not At All
  • D-Influence – Shake It
  • JackSoul – As We
  • Ben Sidran – Ballad of a Thin Man

Of this batch, there were two terrible choices that I thumbed-down (thumbs-downed?) after about 30 seconds (Dave Matthews Band and D-Influence) and two that I thought were really good matches in terms of vibe, tempo, and vocals (The RH Factor and Con Brio).

The Verdict

Spotify served up a really solid collection of tracks that were very much in line with the vibe of the original track. I was quite impressed by Spotify’s list, enjoying the entire hour-plus of music. I’m not sure what they’re using to generate the list of suggestions, but their algorithm is pretty darn good.

I was surprised at how underwhelmed I was by Pandora’s line-up, especially when Dave Matthews hit (shudder). I ended up cutting my listening short because Pandora just wasn’t holding my attention. It wasn’t a complete failure, though, giving me two excellent tracks I’d never heard before.

One other difference between the two offerings: Spotify allows unlimited “thumbs down”s while Pandora cuts off at 12 per day for free users (and 6 per hour for all users).

Pandora’s the go-to for smart radio, but Spotify’s starting to make things interesting. (MOG: you should come along for the ride!)

The White Panthers

While a group dubbed “The White Panther Party” invokes initial thoughts of a far-right white power answer to the Black Panthers, they were actually exactly the opposite:

The White Panther Party (WPP) of Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan was a radical counterculture group which became a major target for the FBI’s counter-intelligence (or “COINTELPRO”) program between 1968 and 1971. In October of 1970, the FBI referred to the White Panthers as “potentially the largest and most dangerous of revolutionary organizations in the United States.” However, just three years earlier, the group’s leaders hosted a “Love-In” on Detroit’s Belle Isle, presided over by John Sinclair, whom the Detroit News proclaimed “High Priest of the Detroit hippies.”

The formation and name of the group came from an interview given by Black Panther leader at the time, Huey Newton. Newton was asked what white people could do to support the Black Panther Party; he replied that they could start a White Panther Party.

In a later interview, Newton clarified:

MOVEMENT: Your comments about the white prisoners seemed encouraging. Do you see the possibility of organizing a white Panther Party in opposition to the establishment possibly among poor and working whites?

HUEY: Well as I put it before Black Power is people’s power and as far as organizing white people we give white people the privilege of having a mind and we want them to get a body. They can organize themselves. We can tell them what they should do, what their responsibility is if they’re going to claim to be white revolutionaries or white mother country radicals, and that is to arm themselves and support the colonies around the world in their just struggle against imperialism. But anything more than that they will have to do on their own.

The group existed from 1968 through 1975 and spawned rock band MC5. The Panthers lived at 1510 and 1520 Hill St. in Ann Arbor. Their biggest moment came 40 years ago, on December 10th, when they staged a concert/rally that drew 15,000 attendees in support of their jailed leader. Speakers included Allen Ginsberg and Bobby Seale and performers included John and Yoko Ono, Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd, Stevie Wonder, protest singer Phil Ochs, and of course, MC5. YouTube has 70+ minutes of video from the concert, available in two parts.

This weekend, there’s a reunion.

Further reading on the White Panthers and their role in the movement: