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Thursday, December 01, 2011

A year in music

In hopes of not sounding like a total whiner, 2011 turned out to be one of the hardest years of my adult life. My girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer and she decided later in the year she didn't want to be in a relationship anymore. The guy who taught me how to be a traffic reporter died after a lengthy battle with emphysema. My band broke up. And I got laid off.

Some year where I was looking forward to January 1st to start anew, eh? You bet.

That said, I enjoyed a lot of music, among everything else I'm into (which, more or less, consists of reading books, watching movies, golfing, and reading about MMA fights).

So without further ado, here's this year in review:

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Albums Released This Year That I Really Liked (And Not Really In A Particular Order)

Rival Schools, Pedals
You know when a band spends way too much time (as in, more than two years) to release a new album and the album sounds like warmed-over mush? Well, Rival Schools didn't do that with Pedals. They had a decent excuse why it took them ten years to release a second record: They had broken up a few years after they released their stellar debut, United By Fate. Reuniting a couple of years ago, the follow-up finally arrived this year. While not as diverse as their debut, Walter Schreifels still sounds at his best with this band. And I can't deny the tuneful gut power found on songs like "Big Waves" and "69 Guns."

Explosions in the Sky, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Not to sound like I was "over" this Austin quartet, but I wasn't so sure Explosions in the Sky could blow my mind again. They had already done that with The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place and All of Sudden, I Miss Everyone. Besides, at this point, the band has their sound and you're not going to hear anything different from here on out. Well, when I heard songs like "Human Qualities" and "Postcard from 1952" in my car at a loud volume, I kept listening to Take Care, Take Care, Take Care again and again.

Wilco, The Whole Love
As much as I have loved Wilco since Being There, I wondered when the band was going to release a record I didn't love so much. The Whole Love didn't grab my attention right away like their previous two records, but I knew I had to give this record a decent chance. I'm glad I did, because a song like "Born Alone" is one I hope they play live for many years to come.

We Were Promised Jetpacks, In the Pit of the Stomach
I won't lie: In the Pit of the Stomach is not as captivating as their debut, These Four Walls. But when you have a song like "Act on Impulse" on it, it is worth hearing.

Foo Fighters, Wasting Light
I grew tired of Foo Fighters albums starting with One By One, but I still loved their singles. Credit producer Butch Vig for why a song like "These Days" is one of the band's best. Credit the decision to record this on tape in Dave Grohl's garage. However the math works, the end result is far and away one of the best Foos albums.

Office of Future Plans, self-titled
I didn't even know this record existed until I read a review with "Salamander" a few weeks ago. Earlier in the year, I had heard some rumblings that J. Robbins had a new band yet I didn't know it was with Kerosene 454/Channels' Darren Zentek and cellist Gordon Withers (who had recorded an album entirely of Jawbox covers on cello). Robbins brings the good stuff again, making difficult music poppy.

The Get Up Kids, There Are Rules
Back in '99, when I was listening to Something to Write Home About in my college dorm, I never imagined the Get Up Kids would make a record like this. I like to think of this as sci-fi power pop. A song like "Automatic" is a good introduction.

Mastodon, The Hunter
There was some talk about this record as Mastodon's version of The Black Album. Stuff like "Curl of the Burl" grooves and punches a bit more than what was found on their previous album, Crack the Skye (an album I still love the most out of all their material). Since the band approaches every album differently (while retaining its core of being Gabriel-era Genesis meets metal), it's probably why I keep up with them.

Fountains of Wayne, Sky Full of Holes
Yes, the band remains a quirky power pop band. ("Road Song" and "Action Hero" are some of the best moments.) But can you name another quirky power pop band that passes the five albums test? I can't.

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Songs Released This Year That I Repeatedly Played (While Not Listening to Josh Rouse or Rush)

Carter Tanton, "Murderous Joy"
I receive at least a handful of e-mails a day from publicists wanting me to know about their artists and/or wanting me to cover their artists when they come to town. Carter came my way through a pretty reliable publicity agency and I hoped to feature him in a My First Show. The interview was conducted, but due to some miscommunication, the thing didn't run. I'm not posting this song as a consolation prize; I'm posting it because I think this song is fantastic. Poppy and folky I like, especially when it doesn't sound twee-like or sleep-inducing.

Braid, "The Right Time"
This is a horrible reason to pass up on digging into an EP, but since I really like to judge music when I'm driving in my car, Braid's comeback EP, Closer to Closed, didn't make regular rotation mainly because of its length. Its opening track, though, became impossible to get out of my head after a couple of spins.

Low, "You See Everything"
I can't say Low is a band I really seek out. Dirge-y stuff isn't really my thing, even though I enjoy True Widow. But when the members of Low were on Sound Opinions this year, I gravitated towards "You See Everything." Sounds a lot like what Carly Simon should be putting out these days.


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Album Not Released This Year Yet Had a Big Impact On Me

Editors, An End Has a Start
I know the band has another album that came after this, their second record, but I still haven't checked that one out. With this record, especially with a song like "Bones" on it, this band matched the gloomy spunk found on their debut, The Back Room. Plus, I love how the lyrics tend to walk a line between positivity and negativity. I still can't tell if frontman Tom Smith is a hopeful guy or not. Whatever mood you're in, he's singing to your heart.

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Bands That I've Liked Since Middle School Yet Had Neglected Since High School Until This Year

Dream Theater and Pearl Jam were some of the bands I really dug in my seventh and eighth grade years, even though they are drastically different in approach and aesthetic. For various reasons, both bands dropped off my radars. (I thought Dream Theater kept writing longer, indulgent songs for prog heads and Pearl Jam kept following Eddie Vedder's disjointed muse.) Turns out, documentaries on the bands inspired me to circle the wagons. The web series, "The Spirit Carries On," helped me understand why auditioning a replacement for Mike Portnoy was more than finding a guy who could play in time. And Pearl Jam Twenty is a love letter to how a band can survive skyrocketing success and still be an incredible band 18 years after that success.

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Favorite Interviews I Did This Year

Roger Miller of Mission of Burma
(A My First Show and a lot more, all here)
I interviewed Roger in hopes I could get some good memories about Mission's early days. I got that and so much more. I especially enjoyed the parts where we discussed seeing the MC5 when they were more of a Jimi Hendrix cover band, how terrible Rush was live in the early 70s, and the good that came out of Moby covering "That's When I Reach For My Revolver."

Munaf Rayani of Explosions in the Sky
(Part 1 found in my story, Part 2 found in a My First Show article)
Munaf had a gentle way of speaking that was neither fake or condescending. An incredibly friendly, generous guy with explaining the band's story as well as the first time he went to Austin to see a show.

Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde
(Part 1 found in here, Part 2 in a My First Show here.)
The day before I interviewed Johnette, a co-worker (who's a longtime fan) advised me to have my proverbial shit together when talking with her. Claiming she'd go to town on me if I didn't know-all and be-all, I started to get nervous. Luckily, Johnette would go on and on answering a single question. She made me feel easy to ask any question.

Mike Martin of All That Remains
(A My First Show found here)
I like talking metal with metal bands, but the last thing I want to hear about is how "This new record is more mature and more melodic than our last one." To avoid that with Mike, I asked the question about seeing non-metal acts. Mike chuckled, "How much time ya got?" At no point did I feel like I was talking to a "metal-up-ya-ass!" kind of guy.

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Best Shows I Saw This Year

Trashcan Sinatras at the Loft
(Original review)
The show was one of the most blissful times of the year for me. Things got really rocky only a few weeks later, so I'm glad I had this experience to remember.

Against Me! at the Double Wide
(Original review)
Originally, this was going to be an acoustic set by Tom Gabel. It turned into a full AM! show with acoustic guitars and lots of pushing around. One of the best shows I've ever seen at the Double Wide.

Taking Back Sunday at House of Blues
(Original review)
I was asked to cover this show about three hours before the doors opened. Since the show started early and I enjoy TBS, I said sure. I didn't expect this to be probably the best show I saw all year.

We Were Promised Jetpacks at Trees
(Original review)
Coming off the heels of writing a story that was cathartic to do, I was pumped for this show. I had a great time, but I didn't understand why half of the audience stood like statues.

The Jayhawks at the Granada Theater
(Original review)
The band played a lot of stuff people wanted to hear, but they pulled out a ton of stuff more up the alley of the hardcore fan. Still, the night's vibe was wonderful. Those 90 minutes felt heavenly.

Wilco at the Music Hall at Fair Park
(Original review)
First time to finally see Wilco -- and it's safe to say it won't be my last.

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Biggest Show Disappointment

A Perfect Circle at Verizon Theater
(Original review)
The band played great, but a show devoted mostly to lukewarm covers? Really? Add in shitty post-show traffic. Yeah, not my idea of fun.


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Albums That Disappointed But Are Not Terrible


face to face, Laugh Now, Laugh Later
My Morning Jacket, Circuital
Cut Off Your Hands, Hollow
Journey, Eclipse
OFF!, The First Four EPs

To be brief because I don't love to dance in this garden for very long: face to face remains one of my all-time favorite bands. Laugh Now, Laugh Later is not essential for newcomers. My Morning Jacket is still one of the great live bands around, but I wish they (or maybe it's just Jim James) would stop trying too hard to be different from the band's earlier material. Cut Off Your Hands sounded like they cut their second record hungover and with early Echo and the Bunnymen records spinning on their turntables. Journey put out a rock record that didn't rock me hard enough. And OFF! might have been awesome if I was in high school and never heard early Black Flag. Alas, bursts don't necessarily equate to longevity.

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Best Rock Music Books I Read

Bob Mould, See a Little Light
One of the most open-door, honest memoirs I've read. Think you already know Mould's story by reading magazine interviews over the years and Our Band Could Be Your Life? You know some of the story. Mould goes much deeper.

Mark Yarm, Everybody Loves Our Town
The League of Meh (as in, people my age who are rarely thrilled by something and find most of life to be a series of meh's) might scoff at another book on grunge. But I couldn't resist reading and I'm glad I read it. Yarm's oral history uncovers a lot that had never been in print before and doesn't glorify or nullify the genre/major label turning of rebellion into money.

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