Happy Spring…

…from Ella Fitzgerald, “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” a downbeat ballad on the more pernicious aspects of our season of renewal. Recommended for pessimists, the forlorn, the forgotten, and the curmudgeonly.

2013 Year in Music

I’m a bit of a music nut and I try (in vain) to keep up with the yearly avalanche of great new music. It’s an almost impossible task; it would be very challenging even if someone was paying me to do it, which, obviously, isn’t happening. So even though what finally gets filtered through is but a tiny fraction of what’s available, I think it’s more important to find new music that connects with you and that you will want to return to as the years go by. That being said, here are some of my favorites from 2013. All links are to Spotify. Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” was nearly inescapable in 2013, and with good reason: it is perhaps the fullest realization of Daft Punk’s artistic vision of 70s soft rock, disco and experimental mashed up with house beats, and electronica. You really need the intimacy and clarity of a good set of headphones to experience the sonic perfection of this LP. “Game of Love” might be my favorite Daft Punk jam since “Something About Us” back in 2001, and also had the sweetest bass line of the year. Cate LeBon sings in a lovely Welsh accent, sounds like Nico meets Television’s “Marquee Moon,” and wrote my favorite song of the year, “Are You With Me Now?” The rest of Mug Museum is just as affecting. “I Think I Knew” (with Perfume Genius) just crushes me. 

The Flaming Lips

Wayne Coyne, lead singer of The Flaming Lips and Master of Disaster — last spotted attempting to carry a replica hand grenade through Okie City airport security (Pitchfork asked the important question: “why the hell did you have a grenade with you at the airport?”), which caused the TSA crackerjacks to put terminal in lock down — Sorry Sorry Sorry!! Everyone that was inconvenienced because of my grenade at OKC airport!! http://t.co/vg5YB5GB — Wayne Coyne (@waynecoyne) November 10, 2012 — managed to remain stable long enough to continue making some of the greatest psychedelic rock, ever. Their latest album “The Terror” is a difficult record, but rewards deeply after several listens.

Me and You and a Dog Named Boo

Back in the days of my youth, I was a bit of a music freak, and I’d beg my mom and dad to take me to the “record store” so I could buy 45s. (Those were the small ones with the big hole, not the big ones with the small hole.) One of my favorite songs was Lobo’s “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo,” which was a top 10 smash back in the era just before FM radio came along and squashed AM like a cockroach. My dad was also a bit of a music bug, so he had the 45 and I just wore that thing out, playing it over and over on my little Fisher Price record player that had one speaker and a clamshell case. If the following tragedy had not transpired, my dad must surely have been contemplating a “disappearance.” I can hear the conversation: “Sorry, son. You must have lost it somewhere. Use this as a lesson to keep an eye on your belongings.” Well, one day, I took my record player and some discs over to a friend’s house.

Alexander “Truth”

Take a theremin, make an Ennio Morricone Spaghetti Western hook, then mash it with a languid hip-hop beat and some disorienting lyrics. That’s a great way to understand this gem of a song, “Truth,” by Alexander (also know as Alex Ebert, lead singer of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros). This was one of my crazy favorites from 2011. [soundcloud width=”580″]http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/8975154[/soundcloud] Hat Tip: DMPulse

Freelance Whales

In 2010, Brooklyn’s Freelance Whales released their debut album “Weathervanes” which ended up on most of the “Best of 2010” critics lists, including mine. It has remained in heavy rotation around the studio ever since. “Hannah” has a goofy video, but it’s a great example of their instrumentation (banjos, glockenspiels) and beautiful harmonies. If you like this, you’ll love the rest of the album.

Adron

Adron is a local Atlanta artist with an extraordinarily unique sound: sort of a neo-psychedelic Joni Mitchell with a Brazilian Seu Jorge vibe, bird whistles swirling about, finger-plucked nylon guitars, and a lovely, hypnotic voice. I first heard her one quiet Saturday afternoon on 88.5 and was utterly mesmerized by You Could Be Anywhere: [soundcloud width=”630″]http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/1764790[/soundcloud] Here’s another great track, Timid Young Ones: [soundcloud width=”630″]http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/9835513[/soundcloud] Obviously an amazing talent, and she’s all of 23! Seriously, wow. Hat tip: Album 88

Cute Boots

LOVE this song from local Atlanta band Cute Boots. “The Fire” has a great early 70s feel, mixed with maybe a little Can’t Buy a Thrill era Steely Dan, and a spiffy guitar lead, too. If you like the song, be sure to check them out! [soundcloud]http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/31083107[/soundcloud] Hat tip: Album88

R.E.M., Rest in Peace

Yesterday, R.E.M. announced that they have called it quits after three decades together. Having lived in Athens and seen them live on several occasions, I’d like to share some thoughts on a career that maybe outlived its legend. Back in December 1990, Drivin and Cryin’s Kevin Kinney was doing a show with Robyn Hitchcock at the old 40 Watt on West Clayton Street. I called my sister and bro-law and told them they might want to come down from NC, as conditions were ripe for an REM show. The old 40 Watt was the size of a shoebox, and because it was Christmas break, there couldn’t have been more than about fifty people there. As expected, out walked REM. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that R.E.M. was only about 10 years past their stellar debut “Murmur,” still one of the great indie rock albums of all time. They were hot, having signed with Warner Brothers for something like $50 Million, released their terrific WB debut “Green,” and now looking like they would challenge U2 for the title of Biggest Rock Band in the World. And here they were on the tiny stage at the dingy 40 Watt! The room was ecstatic. Stipe informed us that we were to hear the first single off the new album, and they launched into “Losing My Religion,” which was the first time it was ever performed live. Not a bad Athens moment to be a part of! See the set list here. That next year “Out of Time” was everywhere you went, every club, every party, every restaurant, everywhere. (Athens loves a winner.) Even my painting teacher Mr. Bill — a cross between a Southern Gentleman and The Mad Hatter — was walking around singing “LowLowLow.” That summer, Stipe came into the Taco Stand as I was rocking the register and ordered a grilled chicken quesadilla with hot sauce (recipe available upon request). I told him how much I loved the new record and he said, simply, “Thank You.” To their credit, the R.E.M. guys never seemed to get comfortable with the rock star identity, even though they had the #1 record on the Billboard charts. They were always hanging at The Globe or the Uptown Lounge or just wandering around. To see them you would never suspect that they were worth millions. They looked like they still shopped at The Potter’s House. Critics gave “Out of Time” some middling reviews (my buddy Rob rewrote “Shiny Happy People” as “Slappy Happy People trading blows”) but it was the sound of the moment. It still stands as one of their finest records, perhaps their peak. In Jan 1992, I caught R.E.M. again at the new 40 Watt Club on Washington St. They did 8 songs, including an excruciatingly tense version of “Country Feedback,” and a cover of The Troggs “I Can Only Give You Everything” (See the setlist). And again that November at the 40 Watt for a Greenpeace Benefit show! (That was the deal: if there was a benefit show, you could almost guarantee R.E.M. would play.) Hog Heaven, ya’ll! It was a very good year. For a long time, R.E.M. said they would play their last show on New Year’s Eve of 1999, and then break up. Looking back, I’m wondering if R.E.M. shouldn’t have kept that promise, as everything after “Automatic for the People” felt like they were moving uphill, losing steam. After the so-so “Monster” (caught the tour at the OMNI) and Bill Berry’s 1995 aneurysm, they croaked out “New Adventures in HiFi,” before Berry left the band. They soldiered on until yesterday, but …