Thursday, June 30, 2011

Top 30 Songs of 2011 (So Far...)

Well, we're halfway home on this year. Where has the time gone? It's been a fabulous year for songs but a not-so-good period for albums. Of course, I'll have a countdown of albums in December that will probably include bands and artists like Robyn Hitchcock, Fleet Foxes and the Feelies, but I'm hoping the second half of the year will prove fruitful and provide much of the list.

As for the caveats to remember from today's list, no band can be listed more than once. This is usually a big problem, but it wasn't so bad this time around. That probably means no one album is sticking with me. In fact, the only problem was whether to pick "New Beat" or "Still Sound" from Toro Y Moi. I also stayed away from covers. If I had included them, "Oh Boy!" from She & Him, as well as a few others from the excellent 'Rave On Buddy Holly' would be here. You can bet Weezer's take on the Cars' "You Might Think" and the Neko Case/Nick Cave version of the Zombies' "She's Not There" from the upcoming 'True Blood' compilation would also make the cut.

That reminds me, there is a song (or two) on this list from albums that have not as of yet been officially released. If the label has made the individual song available (such as Stephen Malkmus' "Senator"), then it's eligible. One more thing. I decided not to include any of the "new" songs from the recently leaked 'Toy' by David Bowie... although "Hole in the Ground" would be here if I had. Enough said. Let's listen.

30. La Sera - Devil's Hearts Grow Old
29. Cloud Nothings - For No Reason
28. The Smithereens - Sorry
27. Bell X1 - Velocro
26. Charles Bradley - The World (Is Going Up in Flames) (mp3) BUY
25. Ron Sexsmith - Get in Line
24. Sloan - Unkind
23. Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears - Booty City
22. Here We Go Magic - Song in Three
21. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
20. Mike Watt - Arrow-Pierced-Egg-Man (mp3) BUY
19. Crystal Stilts - Through the Floor
18. Stephen Malkmus - Senator
17. Black Lips - Modern Art
16. Exene Cervenka - Already in Love (mp3) BUY
15. Those Darlins - Screws Get Loose
14. Jonny - Candyfloss
13. The Sea and Cake - Up on the North Shore
12. Cut Copy - Need You Now
11. Toro Y Moi - Still Sound (mp3) BUY
10. Paul Simon - The Afterlife
9. The Strokes - Under Cover of Darkness
8. The High Llamas - Fly Baby, Fly (mp3) BUY
7. The Joy Formidable - Whirring
6. The Feelies - Should Be Gone (mp3) BUY
5. Sade - Love is Found
4. The Cars - Blue Tip
3. Robyn Hitchcock - Light Blue Afternoon
2. The dB's - Picture Sleeve
1. The Rosebuds - Woods (mp3) BUY

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Stream the New Wilco Single

You might remember a while back Wilco announced it was starting its own label, called dBpm. Well, here is the first piece of fruit from that labor. If you were lucky enough to be at the Wilco-curated Solid Sound festival in Massachusetts this weekend, then you probably picked up Wilco's new 7" single, "I Might" b/w the Nick Lowe cover "I Love My Label." It won't be available to the rest of us until its released digitally on July 19. A few industrious bloggers, however, have both of these songs posted for streaming. Check them out below. Although Wilco has fallen out of favor with me a bit since the classics 'Summerteeth' and 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,' it's still an event to hear something new from the band. And I have to say, I love what I'm hearing here. As a bonus, I'm going to include Lowe's original. I have it on a few records, including 'The Wilderness Years' and the Stiff Records box set.

Go to Cover Me to hear Wilco's take on "I Love My Label."

Nick Lowe - I Love My Label (mp3)

Wilco - I Might by ListenBeforeYouBuy

12 Inches of Love: Spandau Ballet Edition

Here's a quick recap of how I came to this moment. Producer extraordinaire Martin Rushent died a few weeks ago. That got me into early Human League mode and, then, into the entire New Romantics scene. So, I was listening to Spandau Ballet singles from 1981 and 1982 like "Chant No. 1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)" and "Instinction." From there, I naturally fell into the band's one big hit album here in America, 'True.' I get the impression that fans of the New Romantics era don't look too favorably on the band's most commercially successful year or much of anything else Spandau Ballet did after that. I'm going to try to persuade those of you in that camp to move over to the light side.

Here are my three favorite 12" singles from the band, circa 1983 and 1984. Although these followups to the U.S. smash "True" didn't do much in this country, I promise you these (along with four other singles during that two-year period) were big hits in the UK. I'll include their highest chart positions.

Spandau Ballet - Gold (12" Mix) (mp3)
No. 2 in the UK and No. 29 in the U.S. (1983)

Spandau Ballet - Communication (12" Mix) (mp3)
No. 12 in the UK and did not crack the Top 40 in the U.S. (1983)

Spandau Ballet - Only When You Leave (12" Mix) (mp3)
No. 3 in the UK and No. 34 in the U.S. (1984)

These songs can be found on Spandau Ballet's import CD
'The Twelve Inch Mixes.'

Saturday, June 25, 2011

All the Music News You Need to Know

I have read quite a few interesting music-related articles lately. Some of these were going to get individual posts with life-changing insights from your truly. As Mike Singletary would say, "can't do it." I'm just too damn lazy. So, check these out for yourself.

Great white sharks like their AC/DC.
Never mind that sharks don't have ears. Just go with it.

HMV is on its last legs.
(The Guardian)
If you're a music lover that has traveled to Europe or Asia, this has to break your heart. Sixteen years ago, I had one of my all-time buying sprees at an HMV. They had a promotion where you would spin a wheel while making your purchase. You could land on something like take 10 percent off of your bill or win a free CD. I walked out of there that day with nine records, including Epic Soundtracks' 'Rise Above' and Brinsley Schwarz' 'Silver Pistol.' Yes, like most of my purchases through the years, I remember what and where I bought specific pieces of music in 1995.

Kinks' Ray Davies talks 'Village Green.'
(The Wall Street Journal)
Please, Mr. Davies, perform your best album in its entirety on an American tour.

Brian Wilson's life story is coming to the big screen.
(The New York Times)
Here's hoping it's better than the ABC biopic 'The Beach Boys: An American Family' that I saw in 2000 and have spent the better part of a decade trying to forget.

Apple is on its way to ending your shaky camera work at concerts.
(The Washington Post)
Attention all you losers who block my view at concerts with your stupid phones: Better buy a Google... stat! Since Google owns YouTube, I doubt they will be adding this little nugget. They need your shaky, pitiful content.

Teen brains can predict pop hits.
(The Huffington Post)
That must mean there's a sinister way to stop the Lady Gagas and Katy Perrys of the world, right?

Buzzcocks have a new record... sort of.
Have you noticed there are several artists out there re-recording songs from their past? It all has to do with bands having problems with their labels. I get it. They want to be paid. Kate Bush reinterpreted her past, while Squeeze went into the studio and dared you to 'Spot the Difference.' As for Buzzcocks, they claim these new versions make the old ones sound like demos. The problem is I like my '70s punk to sound like demos. My old pal Marc Hogan (I used to work with him) from Pitchfork seems to agree.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Not Long Before New Nick Lowe

Exciting times, my friends. Yep Roc has announced Nick Lowe will have a new album, his first in four years, out this September. If 'The Old Magic' is anything like his 2007 album 'At My Age,' we are in for a real treat. Almost even better news, we have been promised U.S. tour dates this fall. You can check out the label's Web site for a few more tidbits about the new record right here. In the meantime, check out one of his new songs that he performed on NPR's 'Tiny Desk Concert,' as well as a tune from 'At My Age.' Then go buy the record. It's among his best.

Nick Lowe - Hope For Us All (mp3)

Friday, June 17, 2011

OMD to Release Live Album

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark recently concluded a killer tour in support of the very strong comeback album 'History of Modern.' If you weren't lucky enough to catch one of those shows, here's the next best thing. On Aug. 8, 100% Records will release 'History of Modern Tour: Live In Berlin' as a CD housed in an attractive hardcover book chock full of goodies. Find out more about it or preorder here. Check out the tracklist, and stream a song from the set below... really good stuff.

History of Modern (part I) - Taken from 'OMD Live in Berlin' by 100% Records

'History of Modern Tour: Live In Berlin' Tracklist
1. History of Modern (part III & IV)
2. New Babies: New Toys
3. Messages
4. Tesla Girls
5. Bunker Soldiers
6. History of Modern (part I)
7. (Forever) Live and Die
8. She’s Leaving
9. Souvenir
10. Joan of Arc
11. Maid of Orleans
12. New Holy Ground
13. Green
14. Locomotion
15. Sister Marie Says
16. Pandoras
17. Sailing on the Seven Seas
18. Enola Gay
19. If You Want It
20. Electricity

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

New Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Where have these guys been? It's been four years since we have heard from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and that album, 'Some Loud Thunder,' didn't really stick with me like their debut. So, the Clap gap seems even longer. Here is our first listen from their upcoming self-released record, 'Hysterical,' out Sept. 20 here in America. I don't know if it's the strings or what, but they definitely sound all grown up. I miss the quirkiness of the early stuff, but this one could grow on me. Get "Same Mistake" from the widget below. You know the drill.

Hey, Duran Duran, Apology Accepted

In case you haven't heard, Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon is having problems with his voice. No jokes, please. Le Bon has come a long way since Live Aid. Anyway, as a thank you to UK and other European fans who expected to see the band but now won't because of Le Bon's health issue, Duran Duran has released a nine-song performance from their May 12 show in Rome. Obviously, I didn't have tickets to any of their appearances across the pond, but I'll take this gift anyway. It's a high-quality mix of new material like "All You Need Is Now" and old favorites such as "Careless Memories." Seriously, I hope Le Bon's voice bounces back soon. Their recent shows have been very well received, and the new album is definitely worth a listen. You can download the live set here.

Duran Duran - Notorious (Live in Rome, 5/12/11) (mp3)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Create Your Own Kaiser Chiefs Album

With the release of Kaiser Chiefs' new album, 'The Future Is Medieval,' the band has come up with a novel DIY approach to curing the music industry's ills: First, fans create their own personal versions of the record online and, second, fans sell their takes to other fans and make a little money for both them and the band. Here's how it works:

1. Go to the band's Web site.
2. Select any 10 songs from the 20 new ones available. You can hear one-minute samples of each tune.
3. Choose your artwork.
4. Once you download your album (for $12.24), your version is assigned a unique Web page that you can promote to friends and followers. For every person that purchases your version, you get paid about $1.63.

If you like Kaiser Chiefs and want a good ol' fashioned CD or standard download, you can buy that too, but you'll have to wait until July. In the meantime, let's see how this little experiment pans out. Do I predict a riot? No, I don't believe this is the answer to an industry in disarray, but I do respect the attempt. Now, if I only liked anything by the lads since their debut album. Here's a new song to sample.

Kaiser Chiefs - Little Shocks (mp3)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Remember the Work of Martin Rushent

The music world lost a true genius behind the board last week with the death of 62-year-old producer Martin Rushent. His work with a who's who of punk pioneers and New Wave wizards is almost without peer, but he'll be most remembered for his labor on the Human League's 'Dare!' The 1981 album defined the synthpop genre and showed that New Romantics could not only be a critical success but a huge commercial success around the world as well. Decades later, Rushent realized the historical importance of the album and was even working on a new remix of the album at the time of his death. It was said to be 'Dare!' with conventional strings, brass, guitars and drums instead of synthesizers. The rumor on Human League message boards is that it will be released in October. I hope so. Sounds intriguing.

In the meantime, let's celebrate some of Rushent's finest moments. My apologies to Ian Gomm, Generation X, 999, Associates, Hazel O'Connor and scores of others Rushent worked with that could and should be on this mix.

Remembering Martin Rushent Mix
The Stranglers - Nice 'n' Sleazy (mp3) BUY
The Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen in Love? (mp3) BUY
Pete Shelley - Telephone Operator (mp3) BUY
The Human League - Love Action (I Believe in Love) (mp3) BUY
Altered Images - I Could Be Happy (mp3) BUY
The Go-Go's - Turn to You (mp3) BUY

Free Download From Stephen Malkmus

A couple of weeks ago, the folks at Matador announced the upcoming release from Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, along with a promise they would have a song for us soon. They weren't kidding. Via the Matablog, you can download our first listen from 'Mirror Traffic,' out Aug. 23. In this song that sounds straight outta the Pavement catalog, Malkmus confirms that the aspirations of most politicians are, uh, limited. You can already preorder the new album (along with some bonus goodies) direct from Matador. Check out the tracklist below. I got that info from the blog Cause=Time.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Senator (mp3)

'Mirror Traffic' Tracklist:
1. Tigers
2. No One (Is As I Are Be)
3. Senator
4. Brain Gallop
5. Jumblegloss
6. Asking Price
7. Stick Figures In Love
8. Spazz
9. Long Hard Book
10. Share The Red
11. Tune Grief
12. Forever 28
13. All Over Gently
14. Fall Away
15. Gorgeous George

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

'American Top 40's' Golden Years: Part 1

Even as a lad, I was not a fan of commercial music and rarely listened to the radio. My town had MTV by then, and it was easy to see there was a lot going on out there that my local FM pop and rock stations were ignoring. Having said that, in the early '80s I had a Sunday morning tradition of listening to 'American Top 40' with host Casey Kasem. I was forced to go to church with my family, but I could hear numbers 40 to about 33 while getting ready for the day and numbers 32 to 30 on the drive to services.

It's difficult to believe now, but this was a window in time when it was still possible for bands I liked to occasionally sneak a song onto the charts. (I think MTV had more to do with these successes than FM did, but that's another story.) I always relished those moments when Kasem had to introduce a band I was quite sure he knew little about. For the next few posts I'll take you back to the times I remember most vividly. In the meantime, "keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."

Icicle Works - Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly) (mp3)
The trio from Liverpool is the only band in this series that can be described as a one-hit wonder, but I still contend this minor hit is one of the best songs of the decade. It peaked at No. 37 in May of '84. Buy

The Style Council - My Ever Changing Moods (12" Version) (mp3)
I had just begun discovering The Jam when Paul Weller hit the charts with his new band in May of '84. I bought the album immediately and still listen to it regularly. Although the song peaked at a rather anemic No. 29, at least Kasem had to spin the vinyl six weeks in a row before it left the Top 40. Buy

Depeche Mode - People Are People (mp3)
The synth gods were a staple of mine before their first U.S. hit, and I was shocked to hear this one on 'American Top 40' the week of June 22, 1985. The band had so many better singles before this one, and I remember thinking it was funny that the public chose this one to buy. Of course, I had no idea that five years later they would begin a run as Top 40 regulars. I was long over them and the Top 40 by then. Oh, this song made it all the way to No. 13, topped only by the No. 8 hit "Enjoy the Silence" in '90. Buy

INXS - The One Thing (Extended) (mp3)
Although these Aussies had been around for a couple of years, it wasn't until I saw the video for this song that I had ever heard them. I would continue to follow the band closely throughout the '80s, but this first hit was the moment I was hooked. They made Kasem's show the week to May 14, 1983. It stayed in the Top 40 for five weeks and peaked at No. 30. It would be three more years before we would hear them on the show again but, of course, they became a hit-making machine after that. Buy

Madness - It Must Be Love (mp3)
Many old-school fans of this ska band thought they had already peaked when they had their first U.S. hit, "Our House," in the spring of '83. I wasn't in this camp. I had never heard Kasem play something so English... well, maybe "Come on Eileen" a few months earlier. Madness followed up their No. 7 smash with this even better pop song that stalled at No. 33 in September of that year. Although they would never be heard on the show again, I'm going to take this moment to plug a much later album, 2009's 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate.' It's very good. Buy

Friday, June 3, 2011

Mobile Fidelity Blues

Is there a rich audiophile out there who has purchased any of the great vinyl offerings from Mobile Fidelity? I ask because, perhaps, my all-time favorite album was just released in their limited-edition, numbered, 180-gram vinyl, sourced from the original master tapes format. The record in question is Elvis Costello & the Attractions' 1980 masterpiece 'Get Happy!!'

I have owned this one in every imaginable format, including CD reissue after reissue. Even though Mobile Fidelity has recently released albums from some of my favorite artists, including the Cars, B-52's, Echo and the Bunnymen, English Beat and Marshall Crenshaw, I just haven't been able to bring myself to spend the enormous amounts of money you have to pay for this supposed improved sound. For instance, 'Get Happy!!' is a 45RPM double LP that sells in the $38-$40 range (depending on where you buy it). For that kind of dough, I can usually buy at least four records I don't already own at my local used record store. However, I love 'Get Happy!!' enough that, for the first time, I'm genuinely intrigued about a Mobile Fidelity purchase. So, my question is, will I regret this purchase? My audio equipment is fairly low end. Am I really going to hear a difference? If you have an opinion on this, let me know.

In the meantime, enjoy one of my favorite tunes from 'Get Happy!!' The demo version included here can be found on the 2003 Rhino reissue. I think you'll like the band's brief Stax phase.

Elvis Costello & the Atractions - 5ive Gears in Reverse (mp3)
Elvis Costello & the Atractions - 5ive Gears in Reverse (demo) (mp3)