Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Amazon 2011 Best of Lists.

Anyone wants to see what I thought some of the best music of 2011 was?

Click me.

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Until December "The 415 Sessions: Reissue"

December Comes At Last
4 Out Of 5 Stars 

As the sun sets on the CD era, I have begun to give up hope on some of my favorite brilliant obscurities ever making it to compact disc. Up until a couple of months ago, Until December was on of the bands I'd pretty much thrown in the towel on. After all, their decade ahead of its time lone album, originally released in 1986, failed to chart and - despite dropping a load of great 12 inch singles - couldn't break out of the basement. Like so many of the great bands signed to Howie Klein's 415-Records, Until December blew the minds of tastemakers and fell on deaf ears just about everywhere else. I figured I'd have to content myself with the four tracks on the Best of 415 CD from 1994.

Then there is this album, now, in your grasp. The complete original debut, along with five non-LP singles, plus a second disc loaded with 12 inchers and remixes; this is basically the entire Until December output from that time period. Coming off as a delicious nightmare mix of Visage/New Order/Depeche Mode and foreshadowing industrial by almost a decade, Until December rocked with gothic proportions and a seriously kinky gay undertone (the second disc is labeled "Daddy Side") and the band's idea of a cover song was to take on Blondie's sex anthem "Call Me." (Or even better, a B-Side was a straight-up version of Bauhaus' "Bela Legosli's Dead.")

That was the crazily cool thing about Until December. They tinkered with image that taunted the cuteness of New Wave at the time, made music that both pulsed and pulverized, and left behind this one, gloriously twisted album as their legacy. It's also likely not an accident that Adam Sherburne eventually formed the in-your-face political band Consolidated in the 90's. But again, like so many bands under the 415 banner (and in my humble opinion, one of the greatest and most unrecognized of the American Independent labels), the brass ring eluded them. I have even wondered - as I have with one of my other neglected faves, The Brains - is if Until December had dropped in from London instead of San Fran by way of Austin, Texas, might they have been big stars? Get this comprehensive re-issue and decide for yourself.


Monday, December 19, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: The Kooks "Junk Of The Heart"

Kooks with no Hooks
3 Out Of 5 Stars

The third Kooks album is showing the signs of slippage. The debut flew in with the flock that included buzz bands like Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs and others with a smart and punchy rock album in the classic sense of The Kinks or even Oasis. The second album, "Konk," played up The Kinks connection even more, with punchier songs and snappy lyrics. I was really hoping for continued progression with "Junk of The Heart," however, the songs are retracting their claws.

"Junk Of The Heart" is a softer, sweeter Kooks. The songs are breezier and weirdly inoffensive, given song titles like "Eff The World Off" or "No More Mr Nice Guy." Now, both the title track/lead single and the clever "Eskimo Kiss" maintain that Kinksian air about them, while the strings that saturate "Time Above The Earth" are a first for the band, just before leading into the Police-influenced "Runaway." The rest of the songs often feel unfinished or weightless. Lead singer Luke Prichard still has appeal, and I am hoping "Junk of The Heart" is just a blip.


RIP Ear X-tacy.

Wow, this is depressing. Ear-x-tacy may have been the finest Independent record Store to not be in a Coastal State. Maybe even the finest in the US, Period. I used to go there weekly when I lived in Louisville, and often made special trips there when I lived in Nashville.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

He's a Pinball Wizard, there has to be a twist

Brought to us by that French lighting company that paints buildings in light. This time, they've created a virtual pinball machine that works, and is played on the side of a building. People are actually working the flippers.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Ben Folds "The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective"

Action Packed
4 Out Of 5 Stars

This review is from:  (3 CD). I have to give Ben Folds credit for his generosity of nothing else. His Three CD "Best Imitation Of Myself" best of is packed with hits, live tracks and oddballs. He also regroups The Ben Folds Five for three new songs (or one, "House," if you're buying the single disc edition. But if you're getting the deluxe version, Folds is all but daring you to say "but you should have put THIS song on the album instead of..."

Which kind of fits into Folds' offbeat personality. His best songs alternate between earnest emotion and nerdy snark, along with being a dutiful acolyte of Elton John and Todd Rundgren. Like Rundgren, Folds is 100% OK with taking a song you think should go one way and then bend it exactly towards the opposite ("Anna," "Army" - here in a live version). He also tends towards the hyper-literate in his emotional songs, which does make them standouts. It's that trait that made "Brick" the most unlikely of top 40 singles, a ballad about taking your girlfriend to get an abortion shortly after the Christmas holiday. Better still is "The Luckiest," a gorgeous ballad from "Rocking The Suburbs," about love everlasting with a twist. Why it never became a single I wonder about, and so does Folds in the collection's extensive liner notes.

Folds, naturally leans on that album and "Whatever and Ever Amen," his two most commercially successful. He doesn't slack for the other albums, though, with songs from each album included. On the live disc, he digs even deeper from other albums, and the rarites disc has a few worthy B-Sides (his hilarious cover of "B^tch@s Ain't Sh!+") and soundtrack contributions, like his cover of Steely Dan's "Barrytown." However, the disc is loaded with demos of never finished songs, along with the other two new BF5 recordings. It's obvious that Folds is smarter than the average pop-star and pretty humble (who else would record stuff like "There's Always Someone Cooler Than You" or feel comfortable covering Wham's "Careless Whisper" with Rufus Wainwright?

That is what makes "Best Imitation Of Myself" cool. Ben Folds has the chops, the knack for melody, and sense of humor to take average pop and make it into something better. Even if you don't have any of his albums or maybe just one or two, this is as solid a retrospective of one man's work as you'll find by any 'star' of the 90's and beyond.


My Amazon DVD Reviews: "Suck"

Tune in to KCUS
4 Out Of 4 Stars

A giddy, goofy piece of rock and roll camp that delivers on all counts, from the homages to classic rock albums and pictures to the cameos from Moby, Henry Rollins, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Alex Lifeson, "Suck" makes glorious hash of the overworked vampire movie and rock band films. Dave Foley manages "The Winners," a mediocre band that travels in a hearse and can't catch a break. That is, until the sexy female bass player gets bit and becomes a goth idol. Before you know it, the band is gaining fans by the thousands, leaving a trail of groupies in their wake and Malcolm McDowell on their trail.

There is no real attempt to make this anything but a corny cult flick, even the 'animation' is hokey. Alice and Iggy are obviously having a blast chewing their parts, and there's an hysterical inside joke regarding Moby as the lead singer of a rival band. The original songs are just good enough to be Spinal Tapp-ish, but not too bad as to make you graon. The soundtrack itself contains the likes of Lou Reed, Iggy, Cooper, David Bowie and The Burning Brides, and is a true addition to the film. "Suck" is exactly the kind of film that should be on the A-List for a few decades' worth of Halloween parties.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Passings: Mel Tabbert

My friend and former co-worker Mel Tabbert passed away in his sleep early Wednesday in his sleep after a long period in a nursing home. He was 68, and we'd been friends since I started working in the customer service department of TLA.

But during that time, he was having serious health issues. In the summer 2007 I had to go through some major stress a few weeks with him. I'd been doing Home Health care for him since the previous summer, when he was essentially a shut in. Mel got a Sheriff's Notice on his apartment door on a Weds statting that he had till Monday to be out of his place or he'd be forcibly removed. His apartment was basically a bedroom in an old building that is right near city hall, since renovated into condos. His itty-bity room had an asking price of over 100,000. He'd gotten behind on his rent, couldn't work, couldn't even leave the room (he had been outside once since the previous August) and needed serious help. Of course, he was in a total panic.

With the help I've been giving him since '06, connections at the Pennsylvania Council On Aging got him an emergency bed at a Nursing Home. We had to call them and insist that Mel's paperwork get fast tracked or he'd be on the street. I assisted him with his move that Monday morning. But he was still under a great deal of stress. I’d been taking suitcases of what few possessions he has left out over the weekend and giving him a shoulder to cry on...there were a lot of tears and hand holding. He was very frightened and rang my cell phone several times a day.

He needed 24 Hour professional care (something I am just not qualified for) and a good bed, which the nursing home provided. I signed him onto my cell-phone program to give him a lifeline to the outside world. I would visit every couple of weeks or so, take him movies (I got his a cheap DVD player) and snacks. Since he could not leave his room without assistance, I often had to play patient advocate for him. (He had only one sister; she is disabled and lives in MN.)

Last week he was having problems breathing and was taken to a hospital where they did a "stuffing" for a sinus issue. When he came back to the hospital Thursday, I dropped in and brought him some throat lozenges. we had a good talk, I showed him some of the latest pictures of the grand-girls and Sophie Cat, and as I was leaving he told me I was his guardian angel. I gave him a hug and told him "I love ya, buddy," like I usually did.

He did not wake up Wednesday. He "coded" in his bed and the staff called 911 while performing CPR. While Mel was still taken to the University of Penn via ambulance, he never revived. He was declared at the UoP emergency room. He was 68, which just seems too young these days, but more than anything else, he's no longer suffering. The nursing home let me gather his things, but there wasn't much. What I took were mostly things I'd taken to him over the years, some Military certificates (he was in the Navy during Vietnam) and a few wall posters he'd had. The staff was used to seeing me and told me they all liked Mel for being funny and generous, and we all shared a few cries. I have his Santa on my desk. I'm going to need some memories.

My Amazon Reviews: Ivy "After Hours"

Back to the 90's.
3 Out Of 5 Stars

If you long for the days of Everything But The Girl's techno moments, or St Etienne's late night whispery cool, you'll probably get a big kick out of Ivy's "All Hours." Husband and wife team Andy Chase and Dominique Durand, along with Fountains of Wayne dude Adam Schlesinger mix the sound of 80's old school synths with the 90's trip-hop with Durand's sweet if somewhat undistinguished voice. As usual, Schlesinger brings his knack for memorable melodies (even though the writing credits are listed as the entire band), and all the songs pop along as expected.

However, Ivy has shown a greater knack for memorable songs that were more up-front that dreamy background. "All Hours" could have easily been titles "After Hours" for all its lack of energy. The muted chill of "All Hours" might have been a treasure; to me it sounds like something that dropped out of a 1997 lockbox.


Monday, December 12, 2011

My Amazon Book Reviews: Max Brooks "World War Z"

"What if the enemy can't be shocked and awed?"
4 Out Of 5 Stars

This review is from: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (Mass Market Paperback) Author Max Brooks almost pulls off a pretty neat trick in "World War Z." Borrowing liberally from George Romero and Studs Terkel, he casts himslef as the intrepid journalist traveling the globe in an effort to get first person histories from survivors of the great Zombie War that almost wipes out the human race. He sits down with the Chinese Doctor who was there when "patient zero" was discovered to the CIA agent that came to the realization to late that what the US thought was just crackdowns on Chinese dissidents was really cover-ups of the spreading plague. There's more than a little political allegory involved, with everyone from the president of the USA's Middle Eastern Policy to the state of relations in Iran, India and Pakistan.

Since most of the "interviews" are brief, the book keeps a good pace. Brooks wisely separates the book into segments; the beginning, the battles, the aftermath. The only, minor, flaw is that some of the interviews bleed together, as if Brooks forgot that all the characters might have different voices. This doesn't happen very often, but it is noticeable as the book goes on. However, "World War Z" is an inventive, novel take on the whole Zombie Horror genre as well as a darn good read.