What a year. Several metric tons of great music passed through my ears but somehow I managed to remember almost none of it. Too busy. Too worried. Too distracted. Being so caught up in my own thoughts caused most of sound to bounce right off.
But clearly it was a terrific year for music (witness the lists coming from the rest of my SomethingeElse! cohort) and as December approached, I found myself wondering how to put a list together. So I chose an album of the year (way too easy) and then followed it with records that a) were in heavy rotation for much of the year and b) knocked me out on the first listen, qualifying themselves for inclusion despite their late arrival.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
Right. Not a single person is surprised to see me chose this as the album of the year. Bruce was pissed off at the state of affairs and created a suite of songs that dove down into the shadows before revealing that there was indeed some hope. Bringing together rock, folk, blues, and gospel elements, the album was the fuel that sparked a tour that left no doubts about the possible existence of an E Street Band in the post-Clarence world.
Coke Weed – Nice Dreams
No, you’ve probably never heard of them, but if there was any musical justice in the world, that wouldn’t be the case. Bar Harbor, Maine’s Coke Weed takes you on a gauzy, psychedelic ride that’s equal parts Velvet Underground, Galaxie 500, and X…if John Doe and Exene were fucked up on prescription cough syrup. Or something.
Bob Dylan – Tempest
I have to laugh when I see somebody hoist that “Voice of a Generation” thing when talking up Dylan. It’s funny because Dylan never bought into it (and in fact sneered at it) and, judging from the comments I’ve read concerning his last handful of records, it would appear that a large chunk of his generation has stopped listening. It’s really too bad because in many ways his most recent releases have been as tough and powerful as anything he’s ever done.
Joe Jackson – The Duke
I had myself a little dust-up with SomethingElse! writer Kit O’Toole over The Duke. Some folks weren’t so happy about Mr. Jackson messing with Mr. Ellington, while I thought this was quintessential Joe — taking music he felt strongly about and making it his own.
Rush – Clockwork Angels
These guys continue to amaze. It’s a rare thing to witness a band with such a long timeline still putting out music so vital and fresh. Honestly, I thought they were at the top of their game years (if not decades) ago. Clockwork Angels proved me wrong.
P.S. (And almost totally unrelated) As much as I hate it when musicians sell their work for use in commercials, I still laugh out loud at that dude playing air drums to “Fly By Night” in that Volkswagen ad.
Neneh Cherry & The Thing – The Cherry Thing
Part deep groove, part jazz freakout, it was kind of hard to decide if The Cherry Thing belonged on this list or the jazz list. No matter. Give yourself a listen to their covers of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” or MF Doom’s “Accordion” and you won’t care one wit about categories.
Jack White – Blunderbuss
My favorite moment in the film It Might Get Loud comes at the beginning, when Jack White fashions a guitar-like thing out of a board, a pickup, some wire, nails, and a glass bottle. Sometimes Jack can come off as being either too full of himself or too full of the idea of himself. But then he puts out a record like this and you realize that it’s the music that counts.
Blunderbuss is a great album in the old-school way: there’s equal parts bluster and subtlety — with both parts working together effortlessly.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Who needs heavy metal when instrumental rock comes infused with so much doom and dread?
Titus Andronicus – Local Business
This album makes me remember Friday nights in college, spent listening to the campus radio punk show. My friends were not too pleased with the noise. I guess the snarling guitars and vocal howls spoiled their zillionth spin of Dark Side Of The Moon.
Neil Young – Psychedelic Pill
This is Neil and the Horse making a joyful and blasphemous noise. There’s plenty of wistful looks back, much of it hammered home by thick, sludgy guitars. Neil’s been thinking a lot lately and it appears that that mind hasn’t lost a step.
Me’Shell Ndegéocello – Pour Une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone
There are holes in everybody’s musical knowledge and Nina Simone is (shamefully) on my list. When I hear one of her songs, I do feel bad about it. Well, the multi-talented Me’Shell Ndegéocello has made me realize that I should feel bad about it.