Sonic Pleasures 2007

I'm not trying to be a hep music journalist here but since I do have friends that like to keep up vicariously with my music adventures, here are some the things I listened to this year... in no particular order:

Queens of the Stone Age - Era Vulgaris

Era Vulgaris is far and away my favorite record this year and I consider it to be at a level of genius on par with the Flaming Lips' Pink Robots album. Some might snark, especially old school Queens fans. My old friends who have gone a little soft are horrified. And even Joshe Homme, the Queens mastermind, would squirm at any hint of pretention.

Many consider QotSA to be the saviors of rock music. It's true! There is something about this record that sounds so crucial... like they have it all figured out but try to disguise it as mere guilty pleasure. I'm not falling for it. Underneath these oft-kilter tones and industrial machinations and power hooks and beat manipulations and maximum sonic mix are songs that will stick in your head forever like Led Zeppelin II. You just have to crack it open first.

Danny Barnes - Barnyard Electronics

Welcome to the world of Folktronics! I have to admit this one threw me for a loop... or should I say loops. I was astonished to learn that he can play the entire album live, and now that I've seen the show, I'm totally mistified. Barnes sets up a table of devices and plugs in his banjo, laying down loop after loop (banjo sound... thumping bass... slide cuts... sampled mash-ups of The Terminator calling Hewlett Packard tech support) to build complex compositions.

He's as skilled with these gadgets as he is with the banjo, and like a magician he conjures up an entire band around him. And then he recites William Blake and somehow gets all of the instruments to stop elegantly at once! My favorite tracks include "Cornpone Sally and Her Haybaling Wagon Wheels" and Thelonious Monk's "Take Four".

The Sadies - New Seasons

For so many end-of-the-year lists, this spot is reserved for Wilco's latest. Not knocking Tweedy and friends but THIS is the "Americana" masterpiece of the year. By Canadians, no less.

M. Ward - Post War

M. Ward's best album to date. The prior Transistor Radio was brilliant too and had an experimental vibe.... this is more slick and accessible. You'd think I'd like "experimental" better but the songs on Post War make this one a winner. My favorite track is the instrumental "Neptune's Nest" because along with being a distinctive singer and brilliant song writer, he's a also wicked guitar player.

James Blood Ulmer - Bad Blood In The City: The Piety Street Sessions

Speaking of wicked guitar players... The City is New Orleans and Bad Blood is the wake of Katrina. JBU's fourth blues album since 2001 combines the excitement of Memphis Blues and the haunting starkness of Birthright in a full band setting (courtesy of producer Vernon Reid). Ulmer brings his trademarked avantgardejazzfunk edginess to the table and then do I detect a new flavor of swing?

This video is older than Bad Blood, but still gives you an idea.

Gov't Mule - Mighty High

Now, we have a Mule record to be enjoyed by folks who couldn't survive 5 minutes in front of Woody's bass stack... much less Warren Haynes channeling both Charlie Parker and Duane Allman together. No guitar jams here... this record is truly dub reggae style... built with live and studio tracks along with guest vocalists such as Toots (& the Maytals) and Michael Franti. Looks like Lee Scratch Perry got stuck in the tour bus CD player to very good effect. This is my favorite studio release of theirs, since, well... ever!

The Skinny Singers - Strike Again!

2007 was the breakout year for Jackie Greene, who put out his own album and also was picked for the front spot in Phil Lesh's band. The other Skinny Singer is Tim Bluhm of Mother Hips, who also put out a record this year.

I hope this project endures. These guys define 21st century California country soul. You can tell they had a blast making this in Tim's San Francisco studio, breaking out vintage instruments and writing all new material. Bet it would sound great on vinyl.

Ween - La Cucaracha

These guys are opposite to the Mule. I will not recommend them live (but sometimes they are great) but they ALWAYS make great records.

The theme here seems to be about ego detaching from reality in a lounge setting. Never before has a band shown so much love for those they parody! They get supersmooth on La Cucachaca. In fact, so mooth that David Sandborn himself is playing saxaphone.

For example, "Your Party"... the schmaltziest but most sincere-sounding tribute to lounge....

"We had a good time at your party
the wife and I thank you very much"

Beware the bonus track "Bag of Fat" because it's just too, well... depends where you are coming from. Let's just say it might work out well in your gym playlist. Ween doesn't pull any punches.

LCD Soundsystem

Ok maybe this is dance music for people that don't dance. Or dance music for yuppie parents. Whatever... at least it's not Moby! I've only just started listening so I don't have a stated opinion yet other than it's interesting.

The Heavy - Great Vengeance and Furious Fire

Don't play The Heavy for the kiddies. You know how those Fat Possum artists like R.L. Burnside and Paul Jones are "dirty blues" from Mississippi Hill Country? Well... The Heavy is "dirty funk" from gritty old England. It's as thick as the sludge from the bottom of your french press.

Honorable Re-discovery of the year:

Of course I like to dig backwards too. I fell in love w/ jazz saxaphonist Cannonball Adderly and whomever was playing keyboards with him in the 60's and early 70's. He covers many different "styles" and can be challenging but never overly-tweaky. He was also known for being very involved with educating people about jazz music and really wanted to bring it to the people. Can't recommend a particular album... all or any should work.

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