Category Archives: consumption

The Best Music of 2015

Here are the  best records I heard from the past twelve months.

Toiling_Midgets_A_Smaller_LifeDoes ranking a record with tracks as old as 35 years make me decrepit? Guilty, but let me explain while A Smaller Life merits the top spot on my list. Neither reissue nor straight new release, this record makes the invisible history of San Francisco rock visible. Toiling Midgets had roots in the first wave of San Francisco punk, made one of the area’s defining albums in Sea of Unrest, then fell apart due to heroin addiction on the part of just about everyone in the band. That didn’t end their story; in 1990 they began working with Mark Eitzel as lead singer, even recording an album of thunderous, cavernous songs for Matador. That ended when Eitzel took their drummer, but Tom Mallon stepped in and original singer Ricky Williams came back. Unfortunately, Williams died after a show, but the band pressed on without a singer, playing occasional Bay Area shows and recording (though not releasing) thick waves of textured guitar parts. Every once in a while, word of a possible album would come out, but no album.

Glioblastoma killed Mallon at the beginning of 2014. With his death, I assumed the recordings would not see the light of day. A Smaller Life proves me wrong, and I am so happy to be wrong. It covers the entire span of the Midgets work, from 1980 demos through Sea of Unrest, Deadbeats, the Eitzel work, the short-lived Ricky Williams reunion, and all of those 90s and 00s recordings. This plays like a postpunk Fairport Chronicles, giving novices a great sense of what the band is about with enough new material to make old fans excited to listen repeatedly. I am grateful to Jordan Mamone and the surviving band members for making this release possible. 

Eleventh Dream Day – Works for Tomorrow (Thrill Jockey)

Eleventh_Dream_Day_Works_For_TomorrowEleventh Dream Day gets stronger with age, and adding Jim Elkington as second guitarist was a very good idea. Works for Tomorrow has a strong 1970 Muscle Shoals vibe, some of Janet Bean’s best singing, and a take on classic rock that reminds me of Steve Wynn’s late-90s records. By the way, if Steve Wynn and EDD would like to collaborate on a record akin to the one Wynn make with Come in 1996, please let me know where to send my money.

 

Necks_VertigoForty-four minutes of glorious Necks drone. Play this back to back with Mint Mile’s “Modern Day” and you’ll have a good idea of what I’d do with a radio show these days.

 

alabama-shakes-sound-and-colorI am buying what Alabama Shakes is selling. Too much Americana lacks noise or soul, but Sound & Color has plenty of both. An Alabama Shakes/Eleventh Dream Day stadium tour would be about the only event save a White Sox-Yankees playoff game to get me into Yankee Stadium.

 

Mint_Mile_In_SeasonWith Bottomless Pit finished, Tim Midyett uses a revolving cast of musicians (including Andy Cohen…and Michael Dahlquist made his way into the proceedings, going by the liner notes) to make a more meandering, more acoustic set of songs that brings early-70s Van Morrison to mind. (Think “Almost Independence Day” rather than “Jackie Wilson Said” for an approximation of the sound.) “Modern Day” makes me wish I still had my radio show so I could play it on a hot summer night and get calls asking what it was.

The Chills - Silver BulletsThe Chills are back! Well, Martin Phillips is back, with the rotation of supporting Chills slightly different than on 2004’s Stand By EP, but any personnel changes don’t appreciably change the organ-and-jangle Kiwipop with worried lyrics. Still works for me, and I hope Phillips is healthy enough to record a followup before eleven more years elapse.

 

TV_Colours_Purple_SkiesUS issue of noisy Australian punk-pop musician Brian Kill’s cacophony thanks to Jon Solomon. Most comparisons to Hüsker Dü leave me longing for Hüsker Dü rather than enjoying the record in question, but not here (though the drums are more Roland than Grant Hart).

 

 

Richard-Thompson-StillIt’s Richard Thompson, without much production fuss. If you like guitars, why wouldn’t you dive into this?

 

 

Victor_Krummenacher_Hard_To_See_TroubleKrummenacher is still better known as the singer in the Monks of Doom and bass player in Camper Van Beethoven than for his solo work. That’s unfortunate, as the records he’s made under his own name are the best recordings anyone from either band had made over the past quarter century. If Toiling Midgets are the secret history of Bay Area rock, Krummenacher’s solo work is the distillation of West Coast Americana stripped of artifice.

Tomas Fujiwara & the Hookup – After All Is Said (482 Music)

Mary Halvorson – Meltframe (Firehouse 12 Records)

People – 3xAWoman (Telegraph Harp)

Fujiwara_afterallissaidcoverMary_Halvorson_Meltframepeople~~~~~_3xawoman~_101b

Tomas Fujiwara (drums) and Mary Halvorson (guitar) are the two most exciting improv musicians I hear in New York City, and they often work with the other most exciting improv musicians around (Ingrid Laubrock, Tim Berne, Tom Rainey, Michael Formanek come to mind). These three records show off different aspects of Halvorson’s work, from one element in a jazz combo (After All Is Said) to solo guitar (Meltframe) to delightfully dense pop (3XAWoman). Like Toiling Midgets and Richard Thompson, Halvorson provides fans of guitar some wonderful music to enjoy.

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“A Gesture of Kindness”

In 1995, the Karl Hendricks Trio released their album “A Gesture of Kindness.” Artwork for the album was provided by Chris Ware.

Twenty years later, Karl faces medical bills after surgery for oral cancer. Chris Ware has generously donated his original artwork for auction to help Karl and his family. The auction is live until April 16. Here are a few photos of the artwork; the auction listing has more, as well as a full description of the pieces.
KH3_front

KH3_backKH3_back2

KH3_front2

All proceeds go to benefit Karl Hendricks and his family. Thanks to Chris Ware for his gesture of kindness.

UPDATE: The auction has concluded, with the artwork selling for $2809.08. Thanks again to Chris, to Jon Solomon for running the auction, and to the bidders.

The Best Music of 2014

Here are the best records I heard from the past twelve months.

damalibra_clawMy favorite record of the year is Dama/Libra’s Claw (Northern Spy). Joel RL Phelps (whose GALA was my favorite album of last year) lends his voice and lyrics to Stuart Dahlquist’s elegiac drones. The gorgeous result sounds like the two have been collaborating for decades. “Stravinsky” and “Thine” suggest a natural merger of their individual strengths to create soundscapes as deep as oceans. Much of Claw is built upon droning organs, making the break into steel drums midway through “Been to the Water” all the more effective.

Dama/Libra’s brief tour this autumn proved that the remote collaboration (Phelps and Dahlquist traded tracks back and forth between their home bases in Seattle and Vancouver) translated wonderfully to a live setting with an expanded band. Wake, shine, always, rise: here’s hoping the collaboration results in more music in the coming years. Hear “Only Medicine” or buy Claw from Northern Spy’s website.

davidkilgour_endtimes_900pxThe Heavy Eights, End Times Undone (Merge)
The first record to hint that there is going to be a Kiwi flavor to this list (as is often the case with me). End Times Undone is exhibit A for why I’ve had a soft spot for music from New Zealand. As he’s done since starting the Clean more than thirty years ago, David Kilgour leads his quartet in making beautifully, slippery, chiming music. Whether he’s in the Clean, the Great Unwashed, the Heavy Eights or guesting on one of Robert Scott’s projects, his melodic sensibilities are always welcome. See a couple of videos from End Times Undone at Merge’s website.

wussy_atticaWussy, Attica! (Shake It)
The best record Chuck Cleaver’s made since the Ass Ponys’ brilliant 2001 album Lohio, Attica! brings some of the grand country sounds and melancholy imagery of late-period Ass Ponys to the dual vocal approach of Wussy. The other touchstone I hear is fellow midwestern roots-rockers the Mary Janes in some of the epic arrangements and the timbre of Lisa Walker’s voice. Gorgeous. Preview or purchase Attica! from Wussy’s Bandcamp page.

thegary_farewellfoolishobjectsThe Gary, Farewell Foolish Objects (Sick Room)
This Texas trio made my list last year with the pummeling Remains. Farewell Foolish Objects is a recognizable continuation of that approach (including following having one track with a cello on the earlier album with one track featuring violin here), but is also a more melancholy, moody set of songs. This is the best music out of Texas I’ve heard this decade, in any genre. Preview or purchase Farewell Foolish Objects from the Gary’s Bandcamp page.

paulkelly_merrisoulPaul Kelly Presents, The Merri Soul Sessions (Pledge Music AUS)
Paul Kelly has been among my favorite songwriters for about a quarter century; 1989’s So Much Water So Close to Home saw him giving in to the inevitable Raymond Carver comparisons with his astonishing economy and attention to narrative detail. On this record, Kelly goes for a Brill Building approach, writing and producing a handful of 60s-soul-themed singles for a handful of Australian singers, first released as a series of singles, then as an album. He sings lead on one as well, with the result being his best-sounding album this century. Preview a couple tracks from the album from Pledge Music’s website.

Gotobeds_poorpeopleThe Gotobeds, Poor People Are Revolting (12XU)
The term “pop-rock” gets thrown around a lot, but rarely does it fit the sound of a band as much as it does with the Gotobeds. I dare you to listen to this snarky, taut, high-energy album once and not come away humming one of its songs. Fun; preview or purchase downloads of Poor People Are Revolting from the Gotobeds’ Bandcamp page.

mftkdMotherfucker, Tae Kwon Do EP (self-released)
Like the Gotobeds, there’s not a second or note wasted on Tae Kwon Do.  This rocks harder. Taut, hooky hard rock from an Athens, Georgia trio of women who waste no time. Two minutes and change of heavy riffing, then they’re out. Repeat the formula a few times, and the EP ends with you wanting more. I want to see a 20-minute set from them as I bet they are excellent live. The EP is available from Motherfucker’s Bandcamp page.

fakelimbs_powerpatricianFake Limbs, The Power of Patrician Upbringing (BLVD)
Fake Limbs are, I can confirm, excellent live, as I saw them before the release of their debut Man Feelings and then again this year promoting their second album. The crushing onslaught of this Chicago quartet continues on its second album. Fans of the Jesus Lizard will appreciate this, and everyone should appreciate frontman Stephen Sowley (who is one of the few humans to make David Yow seem shy by comparison). Preview or purchase the album at Fake Limbs’ Bandcamp page.

thumbscrewThumbscrew, Thumbscrew (Cuneform)
This NYC instrumental trio featuring guitarist Mary Halvorsen, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and bassist Michael Formanek alternate between improve and composed music that falls somewhere between free jazz and 70s prog. You can preview the album via the track “Cheap Knock Off” on the band’s Bandcamp page, and also check out the three members’ various projects via the JazzRightNow website (written by my friend and colleague Cisco Bradley).

chills_bbcsessionsThe Chills, BBC Sessions (Fire)
So…that inclination I have for the rock of New Zealand means I am the target demographic to lap up this issue of recordings made by the Chills at the peak of their powers c. 1985-88 in the BBC’s studios. Yes, I’ve heard and memorized these songs since well before this century started, but I’ve heard few of these tracks. A terrific document as we wait for the followup to 2004’s excellent Stand By ep. Listen to the wonderful version of “Rolling Moon” or purchase the album at Fire’s website.

amandaxamnesiaAmanda X, amnesia (Siltbreeze)
My Kiwiphilia may also explain the presence of this album here, even though it was made in Philadelphia and not Aotearoa. Amanda X is not The Magick Heads, but fans of that band may enjoy the harmonies and delicious guitar tones. Decide for yourself; amnesia is available to preview or buy at Amanda X’s Bandcamp page.

 

A few of these records may also be found at a new resource: Jon Solomon’s Comedy Minus One records began the “PRF Distro” shop this year to feature some of the impressive musicians affiliated with the Electrical Audio discussion forum. Should some of the titles I listed above appeal to you, see if there’s more music you’d like to hear from the link.

Pratt Spring 2015 Course Registration Update

How do humans live in concert with the environment?  Discuss this question in these two Fall 2013 courses.

An update on the two Sustainability courses I am teaching next semester.  Each of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, each may count to satisfy credits in the Sustainability Studies minor, and there are no prerequisites for either of them.  All Pratt undergraduates are eligible and encouraged to enroll.

SUST 401-01 Power, Pollution, and Profit has filled to capacity, but I am also leading a team of Pratt Institute faculty teaching SUST 201 The Sustainable Core, which remains open for registration.  This course is designed as our introduction to sustainability, is the required core course for Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor, and is an excellent way to get familiar with the many ways sustainability is practiced at Pratt.

SUST 201-01 The Sustainable Core
This course provides an overview of sustainability by exploring definitions, controversies, trends, and case-studies in various systems and locales (urban/rural, local/national/global). Investigation of critical elements of sustainability, including environmental history and urban ecology, sustainable development and landscape transformations, recycling/waste management, ecosystem restoration, and environmental justice.

Spring 2015: Mondays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

Both of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, and there are no prerequisites for either of them. If you are a Pratt student and have any questions for me about these courses (or about the Sustainability Studies minor), please feel free to contact me at czimring@pratt.edu.

Pratt Spring 2015 Course Registration Update

How do humans live in concert with the environment?  Discuss this question in these two Fall 2013 courses.

An update on the two Sustainability courses I am teaching next semester.  Each of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, each may count to satisfy credits in the Sustainability Studies minor, and there are no prerequisites for either of them.  All Pratt undergraduates are eligible and encouraged to enroll.

One of these courses focuses on how we power the processes that allow us to create and distribute goods, as well as transport ourselves and enjoy the conveniences of modern life.  We will discuss global climate change, nuclear power, and fracking (among other topics) in SUST 401-01 Power, Pollution, and Profit.  As of this morning, eight seats are still available in the seminar.

SUST 401-01 Power, Pollution, and Profit
Modern society relies on burning fossil fuel for energy, with serious economic, public health, and environmental consequences. Learn the history of how we came to rely on unsustainable energy sources and ways In which our future use of energy may be made mode sustainable.

Spring 2015: Tuesdays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

I am also leading a team of Pratt Institute faculty teaching SUST 201 The Sustainable Core, which remains open for registration.  This course is designed as our introduction to sustainability, is the required core course for Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor, and is an excellent way to get familiar with the many ways sustainability is practiced at Pratt.

SUST 201-01 The Sustainable Core
This course provides an overview of sustainability by exploring definitions, controversies, trends, and case-studies in various systems and locales (urban/rural, local/national/global). Investigation of critical elements of sustainability, including environmental history and urban ecology, sustainable development and landscape transformations, recycling/waste management, ecosystem restoration, and environmental justice.

Spring 2015: Mondays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

Both of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, and there are no prerequisites for either of them. If you are a Pratt student and have any questions for me about these courses (or about the Sustainability Studies minor), please feel free to contact me at czimring@pratt.edu.

Register for Spring 2015 Sustainability Courses at Pratt

How do humans live in concert with the environment?  Discuss this question in these two Fall 2013 courses.

I am offering two Sustainability courses next semester.  Each of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, each may count to satisfy credits in the Sustainability Studies minor, and there are no prerequisites for either of them.  All Pratt undergraduates are eligible and encouraged to enroll.

One of these courses focuses on how we power the processes that allow us to create and distribute goods, as well as transport ourselves and enjoy the conveniences of modern life.  If you are concerned about global climate change, nuclear power, or tracking, consider registering in SUST 401-01 Power, Pollution, and Profit.  The seminar examines the ways industrial society has harnessed energy, what the consequences of our past and present energy uses are, and how we might develop more sustainable practices involving energy.  Here’s a quick summary:

SUST 401-01 Power, Pollution, and Profit
Modern society relies on burning fossil fuel for energy, with serious economic, public health, and environmental consequences. Learn the history of how we came to rely on unsustainable energy sources and ways In which our future use of energy may be made mode sustainable.

Spring 2015: Tuesdays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

In addition to that seminar, I am leading a team of Pratt Institute faculty teaching SUST 201 The Sustainable Core.  This course is designed as our introduction to sustainability, is the required core course for Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor, and is an excellent way to get familiar with the many ways sustainability is practiced at Pratt.

SUST 201-01 The Sustainable Core
This course provides an overview of sustainability by exploring definitions, controversies, trends, and case-studies in various systems and locales (urban/rural, local/national/global). Investigation of critical elements of sustainability, including environmental history and urban ecology, sustainable development and landscape transformations, recycling/waste management, ecosystem restoration, and environmental justice.

Spring 2015: Mondays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

Both of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, and there are no prerequisites for either of them. If you are a Pratt student and have any questions for me about these courses (or about the Sustainability Studies minor), please feel free to contact me at czimring@pratt.edu.

Sustainability Courses Back in Session As Pratt Starts Fall Semester

How do humans live in concert with the environment?  Discuss this question in these two Fall 2013 courses.

How do humans live in concert with the environment? Discuss this question in these two Fall 2014 courses.

Fall term started Monday at Pratt, officially kicking off the second year of the Sustainability Studies minor. The Sustainable Core course is offering two sections. I am leading the Monday 2-4:50pm section and Jen Telesca is leading the Wednesday 5-7:50pm section. Each section includes participation by various Pratt instructors, giving students a sense of how sustainability is approached in design, architecture, the social sciences, the natural sciences, and humanities. This course is designed as our introduction to sustainability, and it is a required course for Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor.

We deliberately have larger enrollment caps on the core course, so interested students can still sign up for either section. In addition, we have added more elective courses that count toward completion of the minorIf you are a Pratt student and have any questions for me about either of these courses, please feel free to contact me at czimring@pratt.edu.