Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What It Is!

If you're curious about this, then you want it. There is so much badass funk on this that I can't even handle it.

William Shatner - The Transformed Man

Okay, I know. William Shatner, can't sing, ha ha, right? Yeah, all the jokes have been done. But have you really heard it? Have you?

Even if it weren't for Star Trek, this album was destined to be a cult classic. It is so far beyond weird that it's hard to imagine a major label touching it, even with the star power. The vocals range from stately and impassioned, to confused, to manic and crazed, and that's just on his version of "Mr. Tambourine Man." The "spoken word" intros range from oddly inappropriate on a pop album (do we really need to hear his interpretation of Hamlet?) to downright terrifying ("The Spleen," his prelude to "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds").

The first time I heard this, I was expecting a silly camp classic, but as the album went on, my eyes just kept getting wider. If it were just Shatner's perverse performance, that would be one thing, but the arrangements match him every step of the way: they walk the line between square 60's spoken word accompaniments to crazed orchestra-on-acid freakouts. It's not an album to play for the kids before bed. Actually, it's not an album for anyone to listen to before bed. It is, however, an album that's absolutely worth hearing.

If this were just a rote cash-in album, it wouldn't sound anything like this: there is passion and creative consideration in it. Whether the people behind it had the talent to make it art is still up for debate, but I keep going back for another listen to try to answer that question.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Best of 2006

This is what I've got to say about the year 2006 in music. I don't want to break it into a list of where things go in rankings, because there's really no point in comparing The Decemberists to Gnarls Barkley. So I'll break my favorites into categories based on how much they impressed me.

#1) Oh my god, this is absolutely the best album of the year holy crap:
Scott Walker - The Drift (There's only one record that has come anywhere close to sounding like this one, and it's Scott Walker's last album. It's absolutely terrifying, but it's almost incomprehensibly brilliant)

#2-6) The other "Holy Crap!" albums of 2006:
Boris - Pink (If Spinal Tap cranked it up to 11, Pink is somewhere in the 30's or 40's. Insane.)

Carla Bozulich - Evangelista (Yikes.)

Johnny Cash - American V: The Hundred Highways (Johnny Cash at his most intimate: these are his final reflections on life and death. I was wary of an album which he didn't survive long enough to approve the final product, but Rick Rubin didn't let us down.)

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife (There's a lot of things I could point to about this album that would make it sound like it's awful. But the fact is, the songwriting is so good that I can't help loving it. It is thoroughly addictive. Damn you Colin Meloy.)

Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere (Party.)

#7-12) The "venerable crap, but not exactly holy crap" albums of 2006:
Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit (In general, I don't like Belle & Sebastian. I think the vast majority of their catalog is for sipping tea and wearing cardigans in dark rooms and seeing how many parts of your life can accurately be described by the word "sallow." But The Life Pursuit sounds like they're actually, well, pursuing something that could be called life. They've stopped knitting and started having fun, and I'm really, really happy for them.)

Califone - Roots & Crowns (Very much like the other Califone records, but they do everything just a little bit better.)

The Flaming Lips - At War with the Mystics (This album really grows on you. It's not their best, but it's better than Yoshimi.)

Los Lobos - The Town & the City (This album doesn't have anything to prove, and becaus of that, it's better than most things that do. It's not flashy or sexy, it's just good.)

Sparks - Hello Young Lovers (Who put Queen, They Might Be Giants, and Gilbert & Sullivan in the same room together. Why the hell anyone would do such a thing? Why is it so very, incredibly awesome?)

TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain (This is less fun than their debut, but I think it's a better record.)

#13-20)Albums that were good with no surprises:
Akron/Family - Meek Warrior
Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint - The River in Reverse
Detholz! - Cast Out Devils
Glenn Kotche - Mobile
The Roots - The Game Theory
Scissor Sisters - Ta Dah!
M. Ward - Post-war William Elliott Whitmore - Song of the Blackbird

Really, really awesome compilations that came out this year:
Tom Waits - Orphans: Bawlers, Brawlers, & Bastards
Various Artists - The Birmingham Sound: The Soul of Neal Hemphill
Various Artists - Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound
Various Artists - What it is! Funky Soul & Rare Grooves