Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I find it's a bit pointless to attempt to compare the relative quality of albums from widely different genres. Including everything from bubblegum pop to grunge to country rock on a single list of "best tracks" only serves to offend everyone. So I'm responding instead to Brian's challenge to come up with my own personal top ten of the '80s. My list is:

This is the Sea, The Waterboys
The Joshua Tree, U2
Life’s Rich Pageant, R.E.M.
Graceland, Paul Simon
SwordfishTrombone, Tom Waits
Brothers in Arms, Dire Straits
Starfish, The Church
Live 1975-1985, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Copperhead Road, Steve Earle
Amonia Avenue, Alan Parsons Project

This is based entirely on my own enjoyment of the music, rather than on my perception of its historical significance. I found it very hard to eliminate some of my other favorites, so for those who are interested in such things, I'll include the other albums that I originally listed before the painful sorting exercise began. These are partially sorted, but I gave up trying to complete that task.

Fisherman’s Blues, The Waterboys
Lyle Lovett, Lyle Lovett
Eastern Wind, Chris de Burgh
Reckoning, R.E.M.
Making Movies, Dire Straits
The River, Bruce Springsteen
Murmur, R.E.M.
Fleetwood Mac Live, Fleetwood Mac
Stop Making Sense, Talking Heads
Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen
War, U2
In My Tribe, 10,000 Maniacs
The Unforgettable Fire, U2
If I Should Fall From Grace with God, The Pogues
Fables of the Reconstruction, R.E.M.
Diesel and Dust, Midnight Oil
Full Moon Fever, Tom Petty
The Game, Queen
The Lonesome Jubilee, John Mellencamp
The Rose of England, Nick Lowe
The Wishing Chair, 10,000 Maniacs
Crowded House, Crowded House
Suzanne Vega, Suzanne Vega
Rain Dogs, Tom Waits
Pontiac, Lyle Lovett
The Final Cut, Pink Floyd
Various Positions, Leonard Cohen
The Turn of a Friendly Card, Alan Parsons Project
Gossip, Paul Kelly & The Messengers
Eye in the Sky, Alan Parsons Project
Scarecrow, John Mellencamp
Exit 0, Steve Earle
Red Roses for Me, The Pogues
Love Over Gold, Dire Straits
Document, R.E.M.
Up to Here, The Tragically Hip
The Traveling Wilburys Vol. I, The Traveling Wilburys
Slow Turning, John Hiatt
So, Peter Gabriel
Ah lists. God love 'em. This one is fairly idiosyncratic in my view, with a number of esteemed records (pardon the old-fashioned expression) included but strangely out of place (Elliot Smith, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Pretenders, eg) and another big pile of great and important pop music (ie my personal favourites) not there at all. It's working on the extreeeeemely questionable assumption that top 40 albums deserve a place at the top. Not sure on what basis Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Christina Ag, and Kelly Clarkson got there (to name a few).....but at least, I suppose, it's discussion provoking.

Most of my favourite eighties music is nowhere to be seen here, which would include That Petrol Emotion's "Babble", Husker Du's "New Day Rising" (or Zen Arcade), Midnight Oil's "Diesel and Dust", REM's "Murmur" or "Reckoning" (I mean, c'mon!), The Feelies' "Only Life", Waterboys "This is the Sea" or "Fisherman's Blues", Billy Bragg's "Talking with the Taxman about Poetry", Camper Van Beethoven's "Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart", Smithereens "Especially for You", Paul Kelly's "Gossip", The Church's "Starfish" (or Heyday or Remote Luxury), or The Jazz Butcher's "Fishcotheque" or "Bloody Nonsense".

In terms of nineties and oughts, I won't go on at length, but a few oversights like Nevermind (ridiculous to exclude), but for me also Eleventh Dream Day's "El Moodio" Sufjan Stevens "Illinoise", Sebadoh's "Bakesale" and a ton of others.

Not to discourage further discussion of this list, but my rantings above prompt me to ask for input (given that I'm back to downloading via Azureus) on everyone's Favourite Records of the 1980's. A top ten, ideally.

Wondering if I can get some input from the likes of Derek and Stuart and (dare I hope) Marc, on this, as well, of course, as the new regular threesome of me, Mike and Kyle.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Now that we're on a bit of a roll here, a 100 best albums list to keep the discussion moving. This one is courtesy of Entertainment Weekly, a fairly mainstream magazine that's probably worth perusing if you're stuck on a long flight but not a publication worth reading on a regular basis.

This is their 'Best Albums of the Past 25 Years', which takes us back to 1983 (can you believe I failed Grade 11 and 12 Math?). While there are some odd choices and the rankings are ridiculous, it's not an altogether horrid list. Not sure how Amy Winehouse cracks the top 10 or Nirvana's Unplugged disc makes the list while Nevermind is nowhere to be found....my guess is that they're being deliberately provocative.... I'm happy to see they've included 'Disintegration', 'Slanted & Enchanted', 'Surfer Rosa', 'Loveless', 'Low-life', 'Siamese Dream', 'The Queen is Dead', 'Play', 'Dummy', 'The Soft Bulletin', 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot', among others but it's a weird list overall. The Bjork choice is 'Homogenic'...really? Kind of luck saying you like the third Strokes album the best.

Billy Corgan is an interesting one....I'm mostly on the side of 'elevates' because I mostly like the way he alternates between an earnest falsetto and a more darker, more gravelly growl. I say mostly because sometimes it's great (the 'let me OUT' bit from "Cherub Rock", which ups the emotional ante and builds along with the revving guitar) and sometimes it's grating (the 'i used to be a little boy/what's a boy supposed to do' bit from "Disarm" which just sounds like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum). This commentary assumes you've excluded any release from Smashing Pumpkins and his side projects with release dates any later than 1995, all of which really really suck.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Admittedly, the Lightfoot thing was really just thrown out there to create a little controversy.  I've got no real problems with Gord-o, though certainly his singing was more full throated in his first few years than after the alcoholism took its toll.   

I've enjoyed this singer debate though.  Before I move off it, I'll toss out another for consideration - Billy Corgan; ruiner or elevator?  

I'm coming up with all of these older ref points because I'm working on the (very belated) 90's comps that we discussed bout a year and a half ago.   Will pass them on when we choose a date for the next CD club.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I have to add my voice to the crowd rejecting Brian’s (Victoria’s) preposterous inclusion of Gordon Lightfoot on the list of grating vocalists. His voice is distinctive and unique – instantly recognizable. He doesn’t have a problem with pitch, he sings with emotion and his voice suits his music. A criticism that I will lob at Lightfoot is that he is about the least dynamic performer I’ve ever seen. His band is good, but he just stands there and sings. He doesn’t interact with the audience well and he doesn’t look relaxed or comfortable. I’ve heard that he has terrible stage fright that he combats with booze. It’s probably all caused by insensitive people criticizing his voice.
Gordys voice? I grew up on it, so its part of me and I can't imagine Canada without him somehow....his voice just IS ......I cant distence myself enough to be critical one way or the other....for a great cover take on "If you could read my mind" go to Johnny Cashs last American series recordings (Five)....If rumours are correct the vocal was recorded 2 months before he died , prior to setting down any other instrument tracks for the song....
No love for Gordon Lightfoot?! Can't imagine his songs working with other vocalists. That godawful dance cover of 'You Could Read My Mind' from the equally poor 'Studio 54' film a decade ago is the first example that springs to mind but perhaps the duclet tones of Ray Coniff's version really shines.

Always thought Malkmus was a cross between Dave Lowry of Cracker and J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr.. My evidence:

Total excuse to post youtube vids on a Friday. Happy weekend all.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

More thoughts.....a couple of singers that can make a good song great (and sadly, more often, an average song very listenable) for me are Lou Barlow and Jeff Tweedy.

And Kyle, re Malkmus (from Pavement....Mike, I assume you know this but just in case) I think it is his voice that elevates the songs. It works so in tandem with the shambolic lo-fi-ness in their earlier records that it is hard to separate the two. But it's a remarkably expressive instrument in its own right.
And one more on behalf of Victoria, of voices that ruin songs (and I happen to agree, particularly on his mid 70's and later work) - Gordon Lightfoot.

Over to you Mike and Stu.
I've got to say that I am very pleased to see this sudden burst of activity at MetaBeats. It's been a pretty quiet place until recently. I've been thinking about Brian's challenge to list vocalists whose lack of technique somehow doesn't detract from their music. The first names that popped to mind for me were Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits. Then I thought of Randy Newman, Mark Knopfler and Lou Reed. When you get right down to it, this is a very large group. Most of the really good songwriters aren't actually really good singers. The other challenge is tougher - singers so good that they can elevate the music. The first one that I thought of here was Roy Orbisson. Although he generally had very solid material to work with, his voice was unbelievable. I think that Thom Yorke of Radiohead belongs on this list. Although he seems to have deliberately deemphasized it, his voice has wonderful dymanic range and he sings with a lot of passion when he wants to. One of my personal favorite voices in rock is Tim Booth from James - his voice has a very warm tone, and I think that band owes a lot of its success to his vocals. And then there was Johnny Cash - his voice was so deep and resonant that he could make pretty ordinary country songs into hits.
Is the harp person Joanna Newsom? Agree with you on that front, but disagree when it comes to Dave Gedge. Missed concert or no (yes, I'll go there) I kind of like his voice, with the harder, almost awkwardly angular vocal delivery underscoring the painful themes of lost or unrequited love in some of the Wedding Present's better songs (see: 'Skindiving', off 'Saturnalia')

As for your other questions, Neko Case always elevates a song for me...'soaring' seems to be the best, albeit clich├ęd way to describe her voice but there's a fullness to it that feels as though it were being carried across a landscape. Her songs are good to begin with though. An example of a bad singer who doesn't ruin a song might be Leonard Cohen, (see: 'Suzanne') . Do so many Pavement songs work in spite of or because of Malkmus' voice? [For sure, their videos suck].

Frank Sinatra certainly made an ordinary song sublime....'Fly me to the moon/Let me play among the stars' is no great poetry but the words sound golden when they come out of his mouth. Chet Baker also lifts many of the jazz standards.

For a more recent example, Sam Beam from Iron & Wine writes some very non-complex, stripped down acoustic songs but his voice envelops you in its warmth, even when the material has recorded on low-fi equipment in his own home, which I believe was the case with 'The Creek Drank the Cradle'. I'd argue that may qualify as lifing the material but I'm guessing what you're looking for are examples where the source material is bad in the first place.

Will keep pondering on that one.
Actually I'm in agreement with Stuart. Listing me as top 5 adds a level of grandeur and legitimacy to what I have in my more lucid moments considered to be simply piss poor singing.

Mike did a great job of feretting out singers that I've always disliked, but, in the case of Richard Thompson, had never admitted to myself that he ruined great songs for me. There are countless when you start to think about it - I've always disliked Adam Dortiz of Counting Crows (the update Van Morisson croon is deeply pretentious) and yes I believe he ruined a few really good songs; that annoying voice from the Wedding Present (Gedge, I think) also took an entire oeuvre off the rails for me; Antony (of the Johnsons is grating) beyond belief, and so was the lead falsetto singer for The Ass Ponys (looking back into the nineties); that singer (name escapes me) with the girly voice who plays the harp. Yes, all of the gravel-voiced morons who ruined grunge; even Bono is a caricature of himself most of the time these days. Neil Diamond of course became pretty ridiculous fairly quickly (sorry Mike and Stu), there are hundreds of others if you start to look back a bit.

Two other questions - how about some bad (technically) singers who strangely don't ruin songs, and even elevate them? What about the singer who, given the quality of his/her voice, makes an ordinary song sublime?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thanks, Stuart! Now I'll have 'Winona Ryder' in my head all day! I figured you'd be all over Mike for the Richard Thompson selection. Why are you picking fights w/ Herr Doyle?

Mike, some great choices, imo. Not sure if Axel Rose or David Lee Roth annoy the shit out of me more...guess it comes down to whether the former's conscious warbling constitutes a greater crime than the latter's buffoonish yelping? Kudos for singling out Carol Pope, who thankfully hasn't had much airplay since the early 1980s. Derek, I think you've correctly identified 'Black Velvet' by Alannah Myles as the worst Canadian single ever but I think it's more the lyrics than than vocals on which this indictment is based.

Others that spring to mind: the lead singer from the band 'Cake' (at least Fred from the B52s has a sense of camp, this guy aims for ironic detachment while still trolling for gags and the result is that I'm bored and irritated at the same time), James Blunt (only time a human sound put to music prompts the question: is someone torturing or fellating that cat?) Hootie, frontman for Blowfish (no explanation required), the lead singers of nth generation retread grunge bands like Creed, Nickelback, Glueleg, etc., (falls under the category of shooting fish in a barrel) and finally, P.J. Harvey (perhaps some find the devolution into wailing that typifies most of her work to be emotionally powerful...i just find myself wondering why i'm listening to someone wailing).

Time to go back to work....'if you were/Winona Ryder...' damn!
thats a tough one.....
Brian Doyle of the Egolillys is the only one I can think of at the moment....
Great idea - I'm in! The first vocalist on my list is Brian Johnson of AC/DC. I think I'm a bit like a former heavy smoker who developed an intense aversion to cigarettes upon quitting. I used to listen to screaching high-pitched heavy metal vocalists almost exclusively, and now I find it extremely grating. Brian is the most prominent example for me because my son is now listening to a lot of AC/DC, but you could substitute Geddy Lee (in the early years) or any number of others from the genre. My second choice is Axyl Rose. In many ways he could be included in the first category, but I'm listing him separately because he is such an ass. Also, his voice has a certain muppety quality that I find particularly unpleasant. My third choice reminds me that this list is not in order of priority, because Johnny Rotten might be my all-time least favorite. His vocal style of spitting out the lyrics with little or no regard to melody and absolutely no dynamics spawned countless imitators and I detest all of them. I get the social dynamic of the band, and there is undeniable power and energy in the best punk music, but that vocal styling ruins it all for me. Bringing it closer to home, and switching genders for a moment, I'm going to name Carole Pope of Rough Trade as my fourth example of god-awful singers. Her musical footprint is much smaller, but she did invade my otherwise idyllic universtiy years by "smudging the air with her sound" as Leonard Cohen would say. My final choice is a bit different - Richard Thompson is an excellent guitar player and songwriter, and I would like to be a bigger fan, but there is a quality in his voice that puts me off. I can't put my finger on exactly what it is, but something in the timbre of his voice reacts badly with something in my ear.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Just finished reading, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, a collection of amusing articles about music and pop culture, which were fun to read even when I found myself disagreeing with some of the writer's opinions and observations.

In addition to pieces previously published in various magazines like Spin, The Believer, and NYTimes Magazine, are a few little additional side pieces, one of which poses the following hypothetical question:

"You meet your soul mate. However, there is a catch: Every three years, someone will break both of your soul mate's collarbones with a crescent wrench, and there is only one way you can stop this from happening: You must swallow a pill that will make every song you hear--for the rest of your life--sound as if it's being performed by the band Alice in Chains. When you hear Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio, it will sound (to your ears) like it's being played by Alice in Chains. If you see Radiohead live, every one of their tunes will sound like it's being covered by Alice in Chains. When you hear a commercial jingle on TV, it will sound like Alice in Chains; if you sing to yourself in the shower, your voice will sound like deceased Alice vocalist Layne Staley performing a capella (but it will only sound this way to you).
Would you swallow the pill?"

Of course, I found this quite funny because I've always loathed Alice in Chains. But it gave me the idea to ask if you could come up with a list of at least 5 singers/bands whose vocal stylings so grate on your nerves that you'd consider consigning the love of your life to tri-annual random violence.

Several of you have expressed a distate for the lead singer of the National, which Stuart and I continue to find irrational to the point of idiocy, so I'll throw that one out to get you started.
We could also come up with a list of favourite vocalists if you really feel you must put a positive spin on things but let's 'go neg' first, shall we?

Monday, June 16, 2008

'Bus Stop' and 'Carrie-Anne' are the extent of my Hollies knowledge so I'll be interested in hearing some other songs at an upcoming meeting.

As for emusic suggestions, some I've downloaded over the last three months include:

  • Ida - folky, pretty harmonies, perfect summer Sunday music
  • Pete & the Pirates - bad band name but great jangly pop songs
  • Headlights - kind of derivative but if you like Elliot Smith, Belle &Seb, similar music, you'll likely find this collection of songs enjoyable

Am contemplating getting the new My Morning Jacket disc, 'Evil Urges'. Reviews are all over the place and I'm not digging what I'm hearing on my first few listens of some sample tracks so I'm not sure. I'll likely get it anyway, given that on emusic, it will cost me all of $3.

Any other emusic folks out there have any recent download suggestions? Or shall I assume you're hitting the refresh button on the Taylor Swift album which, inexplicably, has yet to appear any lower than #3 on the emusic charts for the past year and a half.

Hey Kylie, Azureus is fantastic.  I had tried it a few weeks back based on some feedback I had read, but was unable to get past the "Vuze" front end, until I read your article, which had some really clear steps on how o navigate through it.  So now I'm back in the torrent swing of things. 
I owe you one pal.

Just downloaded the entire 60's discography of the Hollies - not to everyone's tastes, likely, but a couple of real gems, which I will feature at our next CD Club.... which incidentally Marc has promised to host soon.

Any hot tips on filling out my emusic order for the month? I just picked up a couple of great old Clifford Jordan CDs (jazz sax) from the early 60's.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Vinyl sales up?
Azureus looks to be the best, based on a quick glance of reviews online. For a good laugh, read through the bullet pointed list of features and pretend to nod approvingly.
Kyle, impressive. ANy insight into a bit torrent lcient that works on a Mac OSX? They are mostly built for PCs, and I've had a hell of a time making one work on my Mac. I finally was able to have some success with a provider called Bit Rocket, but it's unstable and has to be re-launched multiple times every time I use it etc etc.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I'm not a network administrator so I'm not sure about all the terminology and advice listed here, but it might be a good start for torrent optimization.

As for discovering new stuff, I've added some a set of links to the right under the title of 'Streams & Downloads" which might help.

Hype Machine contains links to music blogs as well as daily playlists from contributors with a good mix of old and new tracks, as well as remixes and mashups. Stereogum offers a combination of free mp3s and mixed compilation downloads as well as streams, news and video.
Fingertips is a great website that features new mp3s and a service that will email you a weekly list of picks for the cost of zero. The previously spotted (kudos, Derek) Muxtape, which allows anybody to upload a weekly playlist; the list will only stay up for one week at a time, i guess due to copyright concerns.

Also, if anybody doesn't/hasn't listened to the most recent NPR All Songs Considered podcast, where a panel of music writers discuss the 'soundtracks' of different generations, I recommend that you do so. It's an interesting discussion and touches on some conversations that we've all had at one point, either here or offline.

Okay, no more links for today. Go back to watching Euro soccer updates.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I've gone as deep as I can go on the subject Mike. I'm so not technically minded. I generally just delete torrents that are taking too long and try for another source - it's not perfect though. I'd be interested in hearing more from anyone who's further on in the torrent evolution chain.

As a consolation, I have a CD of Andrew Cash's Hi which I can lend you.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thanks for all of the helpful advice. I've completed the CD part of my digitization project, and embarked on the tapes. Of the first 10 or so albums I tried to find, the only one I have not yet located is Andrew Cash's "Hi". In some cases I was able to download an album or a set of albums in an evening, but in other cases the progress is extremely slow - several have yet to complete. Does anybody have any good advice on how to locate faster sources, or otherwise optimize this lengthy process?