Friday, June 29, 2012

2012: The first six months

by @andrewcareaga

"Used to Rule the World" is the opening track from Bonnie Raitt's latest album, Slipstream. Yes, you read that right. Bonnie freakin' Raitt has a new album, right now, in 2012.

It's a decent album, on a par with Nick of Time. But Nick of Time, Raitt's most popular offering, came out in 1989 -- the same year as Field of Dreams and Tiananmen Square. The year Raitt ruled the world. And light years before the Internet, like some giant asteroid, busted the music business to smithereens. For a dinosaur like Raitt to launch a comeback now seems as unlikely as it would be for Mikhail Gorbachev, Time's Man of the Year for 1989, to try to unseat Vladimir Putin.

Yet here she is, performing the unlikely. And she's not alone. Willie Nelson. Bruce Springsteen. Joe Walsh. Neil Young. All of these geezer rockers from the Dark Ages have released new albums this year. Even the Beach Boys have gotten into the act, for cryin' out loud.

Maybe these old-timers bought into that Mayan-calendar-end-of-the-world meme. Maybe they decided 2012 would be their last chance to make the charts. I'm not sure. But what I am sure of is that a lot of this new stuff from the old artists is good.

As one of the two elder statesmen on this blog (Mark Greenfield being the other), I supposed I'm expected to defend the old ways, to tell you how the old wine is always better than the new. But that doesn't mean I'm not open to some new stuff every once in a while. Below is my top 10 list of favorite albums for the first half of 2012, and therein you'll find a mix of old and new artists. As you read (and perhaps snicker at a couple of my selections), bear in mind that no matter your age, scientific research confirms that "musical tastes formed in the teen years become part of the brain's internal wiring, as that is the time when some neural pathways are solidifying and others are being pruned away. That's why the music adults tend to be nostalgic for is the music from their teenage years." Which makes me feel sorry for today's kids. Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen? Almost as bad as my day, when disco ruled.

On to the list:

10. The Shins - Port of Morrow
This made my top 5 list for the first quarter of 2012, but it's slipped a few notches since March. Still a solid effort from a band that makes consistently good poppy music.

9. Allo Darlin' - Europe
Given everything that's been going on with the eurozone this past several weeks, I'm not sure naming your sophomore album after the troubled continent was a wise move, marketing-wise. But the sweet twee of Allo Darlin', led by ukelele-playing Elizabeth Morris, is uplifting. If only it could uplift the troubled economies of Greece, Spain, et. al.

8. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball

Another top 5 pick from spring that has been pushed back by newer offerings, the Boss's latest work is a return to his idealistic, anthemic style of big albums like The Rising, Nebraska and Born to Run. I really thought I'd be tired of this album by now. But no.

7. Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts
This is not the Norah I remember from years past. No more dinner party background music, Norah's latest borrows from the likes of Neko Case to produce a new, rootsier, stripped-down sound on songs that deal with heartbreak and life's struggles. It is surprisingly great.

6. Jack White - Blunderbuss
Is Jack White really a solo artist now? Or is this just another side project for the man behind the Dead Weather and Raconteurs, the producer/collaborator of Wanda Jackson's great 2011 comeback album (The Party Ain't Over), etc.?  Blunderbuss meanders beautifully from guitar-saturated rock to ballads to a fun cover of the '50s R&B classic "Shakin'." In other words, it's a lot like a White Stripes album. Only somehow freer and more daring.

5. The Beach Boys - That's Why God Made the Radio
Seriously? What were Brian Wilson, Mike Love and company thinking that they could go back into the studio and create an album 45 years after their last one? But listen to the title track and you'll swear it's 1966 all over again. The vocals and harmonies are just that good. Pure nostalgia -- I'll admit it.

4. Patti Smith - Banga
Another comeback kid, the high priestess of the '70s New York punk rock scene has created an amazing, moving, poetic album.

3. Ben Kweller - Go Fly a Kite
Another from the top 5 post. It's still on steady play. I love this album so much. I just can't get tired of it.

2. Of Monsters and Men - My Head Is An Animal
The latest sensation out of Iceland is, well, just sensational.

1. Best Coast - The Only Place
I suspect most proud Californians, and that state's convention and tourism bureau, love this album, since it so unabashedly promotes that state. As if the band's name itself weren't enough, the album title, cover art (a bear lovingly holding the entire state) and lyrics to the title song ("why would you live anywhere else?") also seems to exclude the rest of the world from loving this album. But don't take it personally. Instead, soak up this perfect, shimmery summertime listen. No matter where you live, The Only Place will take your brain to the beach if you let it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mid-Year Checkup: The Musical Edition

Photo by avem via Flickr
By @ronbronson

Judging from the thermometer today, it's summer if I hadn't noticed it before. With a bevy of new releases, I've been trying to keep up while entertaining the usual summer shenanigans of road trips, work and visiting family. So what's been playing in the Casa de Ronaldo? Let's take a gander, shall we?

Disclaimer: I'm the one in the group who has the most disparate and wide ranging tastes. So this is probably isn't going to be full of fun summer music, because I don't even know what mine would be if I had to decide. Probably something dour. But I'm sure the other members of the crew will come up clutch in that respect.

In any case, let's get going.

Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

The first time I heard this album,, I just wasn't sure what to make of it. It's not summer music, to be honest. At least in that upbeat, dance around the house in the whee hours with your friends kind of way. It's far more introspective, but it's a Fiona Apple album, so you expected that if you knew anything about her previous catalog. The Idler Wheel is challenging. It's acquired taste music that I suspect most people are going to avoid. But if you're willing to play it a few times and sit with it over your favorite drink, you'll probably discover (and enjoy) the complexities and dare I say it, maturity -- throughout this release.

It's grown-up music of the first order, but still decidedly Fiona. I'm glad she's back.

Zulu Winter - Language

I know I said I wasn't going to be posting any "summer music" but this fits that category well. Zulu Winter is a cross being Coldplay and Foster The People. I read that somewhere and it seemed to be about right to me; when I first heard it I thought of Chris Martin immediately. It's a fun album to play in the background and works whether you're driving the car, cleaning the house or sitting in the office.

Princeton Remembrance Of Things To Come

I stumbled upon this album a few months ago. I like it. I don't really know what else to say about it. Press play and decide for yourself. It's indie-pop that works really well, even if you've never heard of the group.

The Walkmen - Heaven

Here's the title track from this Walkmen's new release. It'll remind you of bygone rock and roll.

In closing, I've just thrown together a playlist of some summer tunes from 2012 new releases I've been tuning into. You can play it here or subscribe to it via Spotify.

Stay cool and enjoy your summer!