Sunday, November 25, 2012


Gold Medal: Remain in Light by Talking Heads

I remember the first time I heard this record as a teenager, I thought, “What the hell is this weirdness?” But after a few listens, I caught the funky bug and was hooked. I’ve heard this album described as a man’s life summed up in 40 minutes, from the opening shout of “Born Under Punches” to the droning fadeout of “The Overload.” Who knows if that’s what Byrne and company desired but no matter how you think of it, this album is one lively set of songs. Inspired by African rhythms as much as sonic experimentation, Remain in Light is a true classic never to be replicated.

Silver Medal: Peter Gabriel (Melt) by Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel is one of the great dramatists of rock. Though I’m more familiar with his work with Genesis, this thespian touch carries over into his solo career. Melt kicks off with “Intruder”, one of the creepiest tracks you’ll find from a mainstream rocker. And as the record continues, PG adopts a multitude of different characters, such as the amnesiac of “I Don’t Remember” or the children’s narrator of the satirical war tale “Games Without Frontiers.” Oddly enough, African influence is also found on this album, particularly in the civil rights anthem, “Biko.” Add the synthy production and you have another remarkably original record.

Bronze Medal: Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police

The last of the so-called early Police albums, Zenyatta Mondatta is simply a crisp record. A lot of this has to do with Stuart Copeland’s able drumming, but the blonde trio had just about perfected their special brand of punky reggae at this point. Their sense of humor was still intact but the group was starting to mention real issues such as bombings of Afghanistan (“Bombs Away”) despite the danceable rhythms. “Man in a Suitcase” reflects the busy schedule of the band at the time, and though it’s a cute and catchy, conflict about this and other issues would soon mark the end of the Police. Fortunately, they left behind a handful of fine releases such as this one.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


It’s no secret that I’m rooted in the music of this era. 1970 holds four absolute treasures in my collection and I had no choice but to include all of them in this post.

Gold Medal: Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel

“The Only Living Boy in New York” is easily in my top five favorite songs of all time. It is perfect in every way and there may never be a song that hits me so hard. But even after that, the rest of Simon and Garfunkel's final album is nearly as good. Paul Simon was on the top of his game and the wave of success he'd been riding gave him the resources to dabble in whatever new styles he wanted to. The result is a masterpiece of wit, power and creativity. The songs ebb and flow between plain fun (“Cecilia”) and  breathtaking beauty (“The Boxer”). This record makes me proud to be an American.

Silver Medal: Déjà vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

While we’re talking about top five songs of all time, “Carry On” may be another.  After their folky debut (see 1969) CSN added Y and became a bit more serious and ambitious. In the end, this may have gotten the best of them as the quartet never made another great album. But for one brief moment, CSNY was recording some absolutely incredible music. Each of the four were writing classics and adding their talents to each of ten outstanding songs. Crosby had his paranoia, Nash his beautiful simplicity, Stills his bluesiness, and Young his strange darkness. Together they captured lightning in a bottle until the bottle broke soon after.

Bronze Medal: All Things Must Pass by George Harrison

To put it simply, this was the best solo Beatles album. In his own words, George Harrison was constipated with songs in the late sixties after Lennon/McCartney put a strict cap on how many songs he could contribute to each album. Once the band broke up, he recorded a triple LP of songs, mostly devoted to his God, like the biggest hit "My Sweet Lord". The songs here are superb but what makes this album special is the unforgettable production by the now infamous Phil Spector. It may not have always worked on Let it Be, but here, the Wall of Sound is huge and heavenly. This album went to number one on the charts and it seemed that George may become the most successful ex-Beatle. But admirably, he focused less on commercial appeal and more on solid material until the end of his days.

Bronze Medal Two: After the Gold Rush by Neil Young

As if recording the silver medal album on this list wasn’t enough, Mr. Young recorded his finest solo work in 1970 as well. That’s saying something considering that he has literally dozens of great solo albums. Part of what I like about After the Gold Rush is that it’s how transparent it is. An androgynous voice with a unique guitar style AND piano style, Neil’s one of the greatest songwriters ever and this album is the best example why. I tried to perform it with many of my friends in high school at rehearsing the songs over and over again showed us just how well-crafted this record is. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012


As a preface, I’d like to point my dear readers to this post, written nearly three years ago, just after these records had been released. It’s been fun to listen to them all again and see how much my opinions have changed. One and two remain the same but there’s been a slight change in the number three slot.

Gold Medal: Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear may be the most exciting band in existence today. At this moment, I’m reveling in their newest release, but Veckatimest remains the band’s turning point. It was here that the Brooklyn foursome really defined their musical language, with its incredible depth and maturity. “Two Weeks” remains one of the great songs of the last decade for me and I still remember the exact spot I was when I heard it, walking my dog, thinking "WHOAH THIS IS GOOD." The band writes incredible songs and ornaments them with fireworks of harmonic glory, both in the vocals and the instrumental work. What will they think of next??

Silver Medal: Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle by Bill Callahan

When I acquired this album, I had no idea who Bill Callahan was. But after a friend’s recommendation, I got this record and instantly loved it. The voice was the first thing to strike me. A rich bass is a rare thing in pop music and it fits these songs so well. After the initial satisfaction with the timbre of Callahan's pipes, you realize how enigmatic the songs are. Are they metaphors? Weird tales of fantasy? Nonsense? I still remember the first time I heard, “If you could only stop your heartbeat for one heartbeat.” I’d never heard someone do that with lyrics before, and probably never will again. So strange, so smart.

Bronze Medal: Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective

Until this album, I’d never been able to enjoy an AC release from start to finish. They have their moments, but the weirdness just lasts too long and I would lose focus. But this is a bit more accessible and united. The album cover is such a perfect visual representation of this music. It makes you a bit dizzy, but it’s attractive and after a while, you’re really a fan. On Merriweather, the strange sounds and atmospheres are just the style of the cinematography. The substance of this album is just pure the maniacal creativity that reaches its glorious climax on the final track, “Brother Sport.”

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Summer Concerts

As I'd hoped and planned, I attended a number of various concerts this summer. Despite being busy in a city that doesn't exactly churn out exciting new music, I continue to believe that live music is an essential part of existence.

First, I went to see the album premiere show of a band called Shaolin Fez. Shaolin Fez is the brainchild of my acquaintance, American Sam Ferrer, who plays double bass in the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. The music he makes with SF is a unique blend of jazz, funk, rock and world music led by talented singer Jennifer Palor and accompanied by dozens of multi-talented musicians. This was the first real “gig” I’ve attended in Hong Kong and it happened in a place called the Fringe Club. I liked the Fringe Club, with its intimate setting and well-balanced sound. Overall, this concert was great fun, and gave me hope that there are some, not many but some, unique acts coming right from Hong Kong-based pop musicians.

The next three concerts I attended were all in the Hong Kong City Hall, a well-sized concert hall in downtown HK. The first was Chu Yi-Bing and his Cello Quintet. Cellist Chu Yi-Bing is a monster, as was another performer at that concert, violinist Lu Siqing. They performed a pleasant program of classical music from various eras, and the sound of the cello is always glorious, especially five of them. It’s nice to see that classical music is alive and well on the other side of the world. All the musicians in this concert were from mainland China.

Next was “The Sound of Bamboo Music.” This was essentially twenty-odd musicians playing instruments made almost entirely out of bamboo. It’s always fun to see and hear people performing on instruments I’d never heard of before. For example, there was one that looked like a giant panpipe laid flat on a stand like a marimba. But the way to play it was to clap directly in front of the different bamboo chutes, creating distinct bass pitches. The concert was very creative and enjoyable, particularly in the fact that it was brand new, entirely Chinese and preached sustainability. They group called themselves Beijing’s Green Bamboo Orchestra.  The only downside was that the director explained everything about the group and its selections in Mandarin. I went alone so I could only guess what he was saying. Fortunately, the program had an English section so I was able to follow along to some extent.

Last, I attended the Hong Kong Bach Choir’s concert devoted to modern English composers. It was excellent, and hearing a choir brought me back to my PLU days and got me all excited about choral music again. In fact, I decided to audition for this group for the upcoming season. I made it into the Bass I section and will be a part of the group’s performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony come December. I look forward to performing with an ensemble again and writing more about my first participation in the HK live music scene right here on this blog at a later date!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

New Music: You Say Tomato EP

For the first time in a year and nine months, I am releasing some brand new music. Being in Hong Kong with a full-time job contributed to this hiatus, but writing music is too important for me push aside for very long. Since I’m not making any fancy packaging for this album, I’ve decided to write the liner notes here on Page 43.

The EP is called You Say Tomato and consists of seven songs over some twenty-three minutes. It’s the most bare-boned of my releases; I used only a guitar, ukulele and occasional kazoo to record the instrumental tracks. The songs themselves were written this spring and summer in my flat when I was able to find the time. I’m not one to discuss what they’re about and how they were inspired—I’d rather you pay attention to the lyrics and make your own interpretation.

I’ve made many new friends since my last album Rhythm of the Void back in 2010 so for those of you who may not know, I’ve been writing and recording songs for about seven years now. I’m so lucky to live in an age where I can plug a little device into a computer to record and after a few clicks, my friends and anyone else with web access can hear what I’ve made. Compare that to a hundred years ago when the only way to hear a musician play was to find them in a concert hall. Or even fifty years ago, when the musician needed to be lucky enough to have a record contract before getting his music published. And after that was distributed many months later, the listener needed to trek to a record store, buy a giant piece of plastic and carefully insert it in his/her turntable. Staggering advances.

I hope you enjoy this EP. I make music for no other reason than to please myself and (hopefully) those around me.

Again, click --> here to download the new songs for free or donation. You can also find my other releases from the past few years there on my Bandcamp site. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Gold Medal: 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields

After so many years of the Long Play format, it’s awfully rare to find an LP that does something new with the traditional structure. With this gargantuan record, the Magnetic Fields (aka Stephin Merritt) do just that. The title is exactly what the record is, split into three disks. Not every one of the sixty-nine is particularly enjoyable, but as a whole, this is an enlightening record. With this album, Merritt established himself as one of the truly unique songwriters of his generation. With his dark sense of humor and his brilliant wit, 69 Love Songs can teach you as much about love as any novel.

Silver Medal: When the Pawn... by Fiona Apple

Breaking on the scene at the ripe young age of nineteen with her debut album Tidal, Apple’s sophomore effort was as gutsy and sassy as they come. Helped by the stellar production of Jon Brion, this record is emotional without ever feeling overwrought. Pounding pianos and frightening vocals paint the picture of a young fiery woman in the mood for trouble. After all, in the album’s best track, she’s actually asking to make a mistake. Like most of Apple’s work, these songs make you feel a bit uneasy yet you can’t help listening to them over and over again.

Bronze Medal: The Soft Bulletin by the Flaming Lips

Very few people can describe exactly what the Flaming Lips are all about, though I highly recommend the documentary Fearless Freaks for those trying to figure it out. With this, the Lips' seminal album, the weirdness somewhat restrained, but that doesn’t stop the record from sounding like it came from another planet. It’s spacey in a sort of retro way, if that’s even possible. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, Wayne Coyne, Michael Ivins and Steven Drozd discovered a mysterious society of spiders, Supermen and vegetables. Suddenly, everything has changed. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012


When I first started this blog over three years ago, it was a place where I mapped out some of my own hypotheses about music and its function. However, I haven’t written any such posts recently. I’m not sure why this is; perhaps being out of the university environment has taken my head out of the theoretical clouds. Regardless, I think of creating music, essays and other artsy entities as a lifelong pursuit so it’s time to churn out some recent thought dreams, as Bob Dylan might say. Let’s hope nobody puts my head in a guillotine…

In January of 2008, I proudly declared in my personal journal: “IT’S ALL ABOUT ART.” Perhaps “it” is not that simple, for eating, sleeping, loving others and making a living are all pretty necessary. But I still believe that being a part of artistic endeavors is one of the main reasons I get up in the morning. That and teaching Hong Kong babies their ABCs.

But as is the case with most things in life, there must be a balance in artistic participation. I could spend my whole life watching movies, looking at paintings, listening to music and reading books, but that would not be balanced. That is a purely internal experience and wouldn’t do much good for anyone but myself. Since I have the tools and the talents to put my own work forward, it’s my responsibility to do so and recognize this balance. To me, it feels only fair to do my part as a matter of respecting the multitude of artistic traditions I drink from on a daily basis.

This is a small-scale example of a more broad life philosophy I have in the importance of giving back what you get from the world. I personally love multi-billionaire Warren Buffett’s pledge to give 99% of his assets to charity and hope to do something similar when I’m older. If hard work, luck, and/or fate give you good fortune, you should eventually pass that on to others. This is also related to my extreme disdain for opulence in a world chock-full of poverty, but let’s not get too deep into this proletariat rabbit hole. 

I believe one of the best results of the modern boom of technology is the Internet’s ability to let anyone be a creator. And one of Facebook’s most useful functions is its ability to let people advertise their own creativity for free on a forum that’s widely used. Obviously this is exploited, like just about every good idea by anyone ever, but in theory, the Internet is supportive for people creating art.

So getting back to the idea of inhaling and exhaling art with a balance, I try to think like this to keep myself on track. Listening to a great album is enough of a satisfying positive experience in itself, but it has the potential for infinite inspiration. This is one of the countless reasons why art is so effing great. Not only was Pet Sounds an ear opening musical breakthrough for the Beach Boys; it also inspired Sgt. Pepper.

I had a lazy Sunday today and let my train of thought charge into this dark tunnel. It seemed appropriate to put my ideas out there for others and not be a hypocrite. I'll end with a lovely quote that's been going around the web lately. Perhaps a simpler, more eloquent explanation of why being creative is worth it. From an artist I revere, Kurt Vonnegut:

"If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth

On this, the birthday of my mother country, it seemed appropriate to write something about the US of A. I’ve talked to a number of expats about how being gone has made them more patriotic, and this is definitely the case for me. It’s quite obvious really; you leave somewhere and then you realize how much you love it. But for me, a lot of my love for America is for musical reasons. You may ask, ‘Wait, what about freedom, democracy and diversity?’ It’s all related, just wait.

There’s a lot of rhetoric from politicians about how certain inspiring events "could happen in no other country on earth." Often I disagree, as rags to riches stories are far from uniquely American. But I do think the musical cornucopia within our borders is truly special.

America is mostly responsible for the birth of rock, American country western/folk, jazz, hip hop, soul, modern musical theater and infinitely more subgenres. Even in classical music, American composers have cut out a special crazy niche from Charles Ives to John Cage to Philip Glass. This means more to me than simply the fact that there’s a wide variety of music. It’s meaningful because American society has been a place for this multitude of different musical art forms to flourish and build a tradition.

In America, music is a central part of all socioeconomic, cultural and geographic groups. Maybe it’s a descendant of the freedom of speech in our constitution but it’s crucial for us to understand how much these creators are supported by the public, as there have never been royal courts to support the composers as there were in Europe. Even with all the negative types saying ‘Music just isn’t what it used to be’ there will absolutely always be amazing original music coming from America. Where there's truly innovative art being made, support will follow. And we are a nation that loves to innovate.

There are deep traditions of music from every corner of the globe but I would like to argue that there may not be another single country with as many musical streams flowing at all times. This is partially a product of America’s cultural diversity, and with today’s DIY possibilities thanks to our Sillicon Valley technology wizards, more and more talented musicians have the opportunity to put their music into the world. 

But I believe the key to the strength of American music comes from our unique history as a land of determined strugglers. The first settlers were escaping religious persecution while the founding fathers were escaping despotic laws imposed by the British. The Civil War freed the slaves while the Civil Rights Movement empowered the oppressed African Americans to seek equal treatment. As Americans, it’s natural to embrace those who stand up against the status quo, and music often goes hand in hand with this sort of mentality. Music is a central part of that wild passion that is the American Dream.

Here are a few songs/pieces that scream AMERICA to me (control-click or right click to open in a new tab):

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Gold Medal: Doolittle by The Pixies

Most Western music, particularly rock and roll, comes in series’ of four bars per phrase. The Pixies, however, like to use three or sometimes five. It’s not because they are über sophisticated or anything—The Pixies just didn’t give a flying f*** about conventions. But unlike most punk rock, their music is intricate and layered, passion with direction and precision. While Black Francis wails bloody murder, Kim Deal weaves her counter melodies over Santiago’s dissonant guitar and Lovering's steady backbeat, creating a mosaic of connecting disconnections. And somehow the opaque lyrics give the music more meaning than direct complaints about “The Man” as in generic punk. When Francis sings, “If the Devil is six, than God is seven!” in “This Monkey’s Going to Heaven,” I have no idea what he’s talking about but I want to scream it to the rooftops!

Silver Medal: Rumour and Sigh by Richard Thompson

If I had to name the top ten most underrated careers in rock and roll, Mr. Thompson would be on there. A triple threat topnotch songwriter, singer and guitarist, this album was released twenty-four years after Thompson first made his splash with Fairport Convention. And though the fine wine metaphor is well over-used, nothing else comes to mind about the guy. The songs on Rumour and Sigh tell the weathered tales of an experienced man, but lack the preachiness that often accompanies music from the middle-ages—they’re just great songs, top to bottom. And believe it or not, twenty years after this album, Richard’s still touring and playing with all the fire of old.

Bronze Medal: Oranges & Lemons by XTC

The first time you listen to Oranges & Lemons is completely overwhelming, and possibly a bit unpleasant. The album is one hour of complex, extremely dense music with political messages, mostly sung by the occasionally abrasive Andy Summers. But a couple listens later (or years in my case), it becomes obvious that this is brilliant. Each of the fifteen songs is achingly clever, sometimes even downright powerful. The final track, “Chalkhills and Children” ranks right up there with some of Brian Wilson’s best work. Reminds me a of a more modern "'Til I Die." Pure pop music as art at its finest. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hong Kong, A Year Later

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post on this blog about my big upcoming life change in moving to Hong Kong and what that meant for Page 43. Rereading that post, I haven’t exactly followed through with what I planned to do.

Last June, I wrote, “…you can expect me to start writing about what kind of role music plays in Hong Kong society.” The closest I’ve gotten to doing that is a brief post in my other blog about two concerts I attended back in October—one of which was an opera premiere, the other being a Hong Kong Philharmonic performance. But sadly, my grand hopes to chronicle my musical experiences have fallen to the wayside. Part of this is because I’m quite busy. But there are other reasons as well.

Hong Kong supposedly has a local music scene, but I haven’t really found it yet. While Seattle has dozens of venues showcasing exciting local talent on any day of the week with press advertising it, Hong Kong doesn’t operate like that. The downside of being an 'East meets West' metropolis is that, as the great Gregory Youtz warned me back at PLU, most of the performances you hear about here are imported and not a product of the Hong Kong or even Chinese people. Over the last year, I’ve attended a handful of concerts but at none of them did I see a truly local artist. The best concert I’ve seen here was Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Orchestra, which is about as international as it gets. And the closest I got to seeing local talent was at the Clockenflap Music Festival, but a number of factors made it tough to really enjoy that event. Mostly being freezing and exhausted.

But I haven’t given up. The music journalist inside of me has not died. Another reason I haven’t written about my HK musical experiences is my own laziness. If I really pushed myself, I could start digging deeper through various magazines and websites for more concerts to attend, local artists or not. I could buck up and make it to a Cantonese Opera performance, which is historically HK’s most significant unique musical genre (I refuse to accept that Cantopop is unique or significant). Too bad Cantonese Opera sounds like wailing cats to me. And honestly, I should have written something here about the Silk Road concert back in March, considering it left me speechless with wonder, but I never got around to it.

One of my big mid-year resolutions is to increase the amount of music in my life. After almost a year here, my musical nourishment has consisted of a few songs written, a few concerts attended, and some serious ukulele chops thanks to having a uke to wail on during downtime at work. But put that all together and it’s not enough for someone who needs music like a boat needs water.

To my credit, I have continued to wear out the buttons of my iPod with focused listening of new music I’ve discovered from the Western world. I’ve also written some of my “Best of…” posts that I was planning to stop a year ago. But let’s hope that it’s less than a year before I next document a Hong Kong musical experience here on Page 43

Thursday, May 31, 2012


I've never officially chosen a favorite year in music but if I did, '69 would certainly be in the running. These three albums make up the best podium yet, as I identify each of them as a cornerstone in my collection. Basically every song on these three records is seared in my memory.

Gold Medal: Abbey Road by the Beatles

Arguably my favorite album by my positively favorite band, Abbey Road is...meh, okay I guess. But seriously, it's a near miracle that it was this good. First of all the formation of a musical collective like the Beatles in their place and time was a minor miracle in itself. But for them to record an album this unified and glorious while these four men were so personally distant is an entirely new brand of astonishing. Each Beatles album has a different feel to it and for some reason Abbey Road is a summer time record in my mind. Maybe it's the blue sky on the cover, or the two songs with the word "sun" in the title, but much like a clear summer's day, this is flawless. Can't be outdone. Never will. 

Silver Medal: The Band by the Band

Levon Helm's death last month was a sad day for me, but I was glad to see how many Band-lovers came out of the woodwork to praise this gifted musician and his buddies. What hits me most of all about the music of the Band is the rugged honesty that coats every song on the first two albums. Before they got worn out by the drugs and the touring, this was an all-star team of Canadian Americana. Five versatile guys striving as one to make music that sounded like they chopped down the trees that made the instruments they played on. It's just that genuine, straight from the blue collar. Songs about farming unions and rocking chairs never sounded so...ALIVE.

Bronze Medal: Crosby, Stills and Nash by Crosby, Stills and Nash

It's a strange coincidence that two short years after these albums were released, these three visionary bands were on the decline (or nonexistent). But such was commonplace after the Free Love '60s met its demise. Born out of Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds and The Hollies, CSN was three guys eager to outshine their old bands. There's no consensus on whether they did that or not, but to me, CSN's debut album was a masterpiece. Those harmonies can be described as nothing but golden, with the power to turn lines like "That's not my old lady" into aural heaven. With each member adding a different timbre to both the overall album and the choral landscape, this is a blueprint for so much of the folk rock that followed.  

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Gold Medal: Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes

The Fleet Foxes debut has a renaissance feel. Not only does it sound very humanist and pure, it is a rebirth of what Gram Parsons described as ‘cosmic American music.’ I wrote an extensive review of the Fleet Foxes stellar second album, Helplessness Blues and I still find it hard to describe which one is better. The first may not quite be as polished but it’s brimming with passion like few albums are these days. It’s impossible for me to feel cynical about this band. They’re just too good. Everyone talks about the vocal harmonies, but it’s the whole tapestry of warm expansive sound that makes this the best album of its year.

Silver Medal: In Ghost Colours by Cut Copy

I’m not a big dance music guy but this album is glorious. You can read a more extensive review of it here, but to sum it up, In Ghost Colours stands as both a dance party playlist and a cohesive musical statement. It ebbs and flows with ambient tracks splitting the fully fleshed out discotronica rock like “Nobody Lost, Nobody Found” or “So Haunted.” The latter is the build up on tension followed by a release in the chorus. Then, it concludes with a coda, as may of these addictive songs do. My favorite Australian album and band, bar none.

Bronze Medal: Fate by Doctor Dog

Dr. Dog is all that a Beatles/Beach Boys/The Band fan could ask for in modern times. Each of those three groups finds themselves in a layer of Dr. Dog’s retro sound. Fate alternates between the lead vocals of Toby Leaman (Tables) and Scott McMicken (Taxi) in a way that reminds one of Levon Helm and Richard Manuel, God bless them. But all of these songs are a total team effort, with not a single song to skip over eleven tracks. These aren’t copycats either; Dr. Dog is a rare band today that is instantly recognizable. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

1978-9 (And then some)

I haven't written one of these 'Best of an Era' posts since April but I've still been listening to records from a different era every month since then. I've ranked them just for fun, but I decided not to post any words here as I've been quite busy adapting to this new life in Hong Kong. But after eight months abroad, I'm ready to ease back into music criticism. So, I've decided to resume these monthly imaginary medal ceremonies. Here is the best of 1978 to 1979.

Gold Medal: London Calling by The Clash

I've never really enjoyed anything labeled 'punk'—anything other than The Clash that is. Of course, many would call London Calling an esoteric blend of many genres rather than simply punk music. Still, it's the defining album of a defining punk band so by that's punk. With these nineteen songs forming one powerful punch in the gut, The Clash's first double album did more to vindicate waning late-seventies rock and roll than just about any other record in the era. No holds barred is an understatement. This is music to awaken the beast that every clueless disco dancing teenager didn't know they had. And the best part is, it doesn't take itself to seriously. It's angst-ridden as hell but also tongue-in-cheek. Never again will there be a rock statement quite like this.

Silver Medal: This Year's Model by Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello has had a prolific career but nothing has been quite as sublime as his first two albums. After the simple but brilliant debut, My Aim Is True, Costello put out the record with an album cover and a sound that solidified him as a true nerd of rock and roll, decades before Weezer. Starting with  the surging "No Action," every song on this record is memorable; they're chalk full of clever hooks, clever lyrics and clever instrumentation. Sure, there are other words that can be applied, but pure cleverness seems to radiate from every aspect of this album. This is pop, but with a quirky side that set the stage for hundreds of snide acts that followed. And just for what it's worth, Clash guitarist Mick Jones appears on "Big Tears," making him present on two thirds of this list. What an honor for him :)

Bronze Medal: Further Adventures Of by Bruce Cockburn 

While the first two records on the list are deeply associated with the crowded, dingy venues of London, Bruce Cockburn’s Further Adventures Of is right out of the Canadian wilderness; it even concludes with a dog’s bark. Blessed with prodigious acoustic guitar skills and an expressive voice, Cockburn’s songs have titles such as “Bright Sky” and “Rainfall.” The mood of the album is serene at times but these songs are far from background, relaxation music. Many tracks are set up to evoke powerful imagery of class conflict and unrest. This record is genuine, providing thrills but no frills. It’s hard to say why Bruce Cockburn is hardly even known outside his home country.

And here's some rankings from previous months. Sorry that there are no descriptions. 

April: 1966
1. Revolver by The Beatles
2. Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys
3. Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dyland

May: 1976
1. Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder
2. The Royal Scam by Steely Dan
3. A New World Record by Electric Light Orchestra

June: 2006
1. The Crane Wife by The Decemberists 
2. Yellow House by Grizzly Bear
3. The Life Pursuit by Belle and Sebastian

July/August: 1967
1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
2. Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles
3. Buffalo Springfield Again by Buffalo Springfield

September: 1977
1. Aja by Steely Dan
2. Animals by Pink Floyd
3. Rumours by Fleetwood Mac

October: 1997-8
1. OK Computer by Radiohead
2. Either/Or by Elliott Smith
3. XO by Elliott Smith

November: 2007
1. In Rainbows by Radiohead
2. Bayani by Blue Scholars
3. Nighttiming by Coconut Records

December: 2011
1. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes
2. Father, Son, Holy Ghost by Girls
3. Bon Iver, Bon Iver by Bon Iver

January: 1968
1. The Beatles (The White Album) by The Beatles
2. Oddesey and Oracle by The Zombies
3. Music from Big Pink by The Band 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Favorite Ten of 2011

Despite not having written in this blog since June, I've still tried to keep up with the musical happenings from Hong Kong. Here are my personal top ten records of the last earth rotation. As always, it took a LOT of thought to narrow it down. Happy New Year!

10. Kaputt by Destroyer (Probably the year's best music video, specifically at about 0:41)

9. The King of Limbs by Radiohead

8. w h o k i l l by tUnE-yArDs

7. The King Is Dead by The Decemberists

6. Let England Shake by PJ Harvey

5. Strange Negotiations by David Bazan (Reviewed)

4. Oneirology by CunninLynguists

3. Bon Iver, Bon Iver by Bon Iver

2. Father, Son, Holy Ghost by Girls

1. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes (Reviewed)

And here are some more links, should you want to see what I thought of 2009 and 2010.