Saturday, July 14, 2007

Well it's about time...

Upon the urging of certain other bloggers (you know who you are), I finally felt it was time to post my first entry. Funny how it took a year of cajoling and a second blog attempt to actually get me to post something, but as I have been busy with school and a full time job (at what is seemingly becoming one of the last indie CD shops in the US), time to write is rather limited. However, as I have always enjoyed recorded popular music and sharing my likes and dislikes with others, I wanted a forum to share some of those opinions with people who might be interested. It is time to reflect, for after all, reflection is the key to the soul. Or the window to the past. Or something like that.

Strangely enough, I never considered myself much for reflection. I have always maintained that one should not live in the past and keep moving forward (it's gotten me this far in life). I even dismissed attending my 20th high school reunion last week (now that dates me), as I feel those functions are only good for parading your achievements (of which I have few), your kids (of which I have none), and your looks (mine are less than glamorous, to be sure). Unless I want to tell old friends about the fun times (I've seen about 300 shows in the last 13 years), and the bad (3 surgeries, family tragedies), my life has been rather uneventful. 15 wonderful years of marriage, owning a house and cars, caring for 3 black cats. Uneventful. People don't want to know that I have back pain today.

But I have always had the music. It feeds my soul like nothing else. I remember watching my first LPs spin on my parent's turntable, being entranced by the grooves and their patterns (darker portions being the deeper, louder sounds), and dancing on the dining room chairs at age 3 to their reel-to-reel (of which said chair eventually toppled through a sliding glass door with me attached). Being a teenager in the 80's, music was absolutely integral for daily life. In the midwest, there wasn't much else interesting to do but listen, learn, and love music. Starting bands with my friends and drawing inspiration from aforementioned 80's music produced many hours of fun and creativity. We never really dreamed of being super rich (which seems to be a major goal of the popworld today); We just wanted to be creative and change perceptions of acceptable pop music. (One friend actually did start a band which signed to a major label subsidiary, only to sell very little, get dropped, and owe a fortune).

Now that I sport over 20 years of music retail on my resume and thousands of hours spent listening, I want this blog to reflect on popular music and the music which surrounds my life. How very High Fidelity.

I keep asking myself the question, "how should I begin?" Since we are already at the halfway point in 2007, I thought it would be a good idea to examine the first six months of this year in music. First of all, I feel the need to report that, while the music business continues to slump to its lowest points in over 20 years, there is more good music being produced than ever. Why is this occurring? I could spend hours delving into the intricacies of this issue, but that would be a dissertation in and of itself, and not what I want this blog to be about. Let's just whittle it down to the fact that downloading (mostly the illegal/piracy type), marginal increases in online retail sales, a general lack of focused marketing opportunities (all of which the internet is responsible for), and moneyhungry executives at major record companies pandering to big box chains and driving former consumers to digital media by screwing with project release dates, lack of format availability (singles), and outrageous pricing are to blame. I will most likely expand on this at a later date as part of the "blog of truth", but the fun stuff comes first.

So, you want to buy something for real, and I'm not talking about demanding a copy from your friend or snatching it from the claws of some filesharing junkie. I'm talking about making a real purchase and supporting the artist so they can put food on the table and make more good music. Here is my rundown of what I would consider the top 10 albums to be released in 2007 so far (in no particular order, as recommended by me, a HUGE music fan):

Some may describe this as "difficult" listening, but this is the record Daft Punk should have made instead of the lazy Human After All. Mixing fun elements ("D.A.N.C.E.") and frightening moments ("Waters of Nazareth"), rarely has electronic music been this engrossing and edgy at the same time. Mostly instrumental and rather uncompromising, this album continues in the tradition of French dance masters, but turns up the buzzing analog intensity to 11, while employing cut and paste sample techniques the likes of which have never been previously committed this fully to record. The results can be quite funny, funky, and scary all at once. Can another electronic revolution be around the corner?

Arcade Fire--Neon Bible
In keeping with themes of Christianity and its place in the current religious world, these Canadians made a record that waves the flag of purpose with incredible resolve and determination with chantalong choruses and sweeping epics. I've never been a Springsteen fan, but if he sang Echo & the Bunnymen styled melodies, I might reconsider. This is the closest to Springsteen I would ever go.

Amy Winehouse--Back to Black
When I first heard this, I thought, MASSIVE. Then I listened closer to the lyrics, and I thought, REALLY MASSIVE. This album single-handedly gives walking papers to Joss Stone and Christina Aguilera, talented young female singers who were thought of as the future. While they may still have hits in the future, Winehouse brings a realness to music not heard in a while. Her work with Mark Ronson especially touches a nerve. This isn't just some internet hype sensation...she is the real deal. Now can she follow it up...

Lily Allen--Alright, Still
She may not have the greatest voice in the world, but she has a sass and perspective that is utterly refreshing in the music world. Her songs are hysterical snapshots of life as a young laydie in Britain, and Kirsty MacColl would be totally proud of her candor. Mark Ronson again lends a hand.

Robyn--Robyn (UK)
I know many of these releases have been out previously in other territories, but Robyn continues her quest to regain world domination several years after BMG left her for dead. This album actually came out in her homeland of Sweden about two years ago, which just proves that good things come to those who wait. The just released, updated UK version of this album is far superior to prior editions due to the addition of the fun "Cobrastyle" with Teddybears (a much different version than what appears on their album), and the glorious "With Every Heartbeat" featuring producer Kleerup, not to mention better versions of a couple album tracks and a different running order which frontloads with "Konichiwa Bitches" and improves the pacing.
Now about America...

The Veils--Nux Vomica
You may be asking yourself, who? This second project from young New Zealander Finn Andrews plays like everything Nick Cave has been trying to achieve for the past 20 years on one focused album. Recorded with an entirely new band than their debut effort, even the lighter songs are deceptively dark and feature a much greater emotional range, and show a maturity that belies his 23 years of age. A left field entry for sure, but one that consistently pays off.

The Shins--Wincing the Night Away
Took a while, but it was worth the wait. Much moodier than anything they previously created, their 3rd record is perfect for sitting in the shade reading a book. The vocal harmonies and interplay with a variety of instrumentation are stunning. "Austalia" and "Sealegs" are particular highlights, but the entire album is enjoyable.

Nine Inch Nails--Year Zero
Some might say, "how predictable choosing a 90's rock band", but listening to Year Zero, Trent Reznor has made his most political statement, yet his most overall enjoyable album possibly since Pretty Hate Machine. Bringing back the dirty electronic sound that made him a star and jettisoning the clenched-fist rock band format of With Teeth, there are some truly catchy moments here for those who miss the sexier side of his sound. There are also some scary sky-ripping moments where the fear is all too real. For me, it is a sound I missed and welcome back. (There are a few other artists I can think of who should be chained up in a room and forced to listen to earlier efforts to remind them why people liked them in the first place...)

Arctic Monkeys--Favourite Worst Nightmare
Escaping the sophomore jinx, AM continue their rocky reflection on UK life with such fearlessness and guile that one cannot help but buy into their charm. Even a switch of bass player could not disrupt Alex Turner's mission, and for the most part, it works. "Flourescent Adolescent" is a flagwaving singalong, "Brianstorm" quite heavy and surprising with its fake endings, and "505" the most haunting thing they've done. Brilliant.

Patrick Wolf--The Magic Position
It took a while for me to warm to him, but now I totally get it. Patrick Wolf is king. Not really, but he does prove that young talent can be original and literate and melodic and sexual and provocative all at once. A cameo vocal from rock institution Marianne Faithfull can't hurt either ("Magpie" is captivating). This is already his 3rd album at 23. Now if he could just work faster...

That's all I have time for today, but shortly I will be adding a list of artists who I think have improved upon previous efforts, artists who released moderately acceptable records, and artists who might want to consider calling it a day. I will also be discussing some highly anticipated records to come for the second half of 07, so stay tuned. Thank you so much for taking the time to read about one man's journey. Now if I could just figure out how to attach media content...