Fester’s Lucky 13: 2015 Year-End Summary

Fast 'n' Bulbous Best of 2015

Top 100 Albums of 2015 |  Spotify Mix | 2015 Breakdown: Genre Lists | Shows, Videos | Movies, Television, Books & Comics

In years past, I often got outraged about albums that got critical conensus while other great ones were ignored. I’m passionate about the music I love and try to spread the word on, and can get a bit worked up. I’m feeling a bit more accepting this holiday season. While the diversity of what I cover has diminished somewhat in recent years, it’s also harder to piss me off about the stuff I care about getting ignored for Sufjan Stevens, Kendrick Lamar, Courtney Barnett and Father John Misty. Continue reading

Fester’s Lucky 13: Post-Punk

As I finalize my year-end summary, here’s a teaser for one of my favorite genres. The recent trend of metal musicians getting involved in post-punk projects is a promising sign that the genre is done with suffering the indignities of going in and out of fashion. It simply is. While there were energetic supporters of all their albums, I was not taken with this year’s offerings from the older legends – Public Image Ltd., The Pop Group, The Monochrome Set, Wire, The Fall and The Names. And while Killing Joke’s latest got plenty of acclaim, I felt that many (42, in fact) younger bands made better albums this year. While nothing got the critical acclaim the way Savages did two years ago, it was a great year for post-punk.

01. Algiers – Algiers (Matador)

Algiers - Algiers (Matador, 2015)While Algiers have post-punk elements like early Bad Seeds, they also dip into 70s psychedelic soul of The Temptations, The Isley Brothers, and further back into gospel, but laced with electronic drums that reference both 80s electro and 90s industrial. While early TV On The Radio took a somewhat similar approach with doo-wop and Massive Attack with dub and soul, Algiers sound completely original. On top of that, they have smart, confrontational, political lyrics and seem like a real passionate powerhouse live band, lately augmented by Bloc Party’s drummer, Matt Tong. The songwriting could be developed more, but their potential is massive. Part of the issue might be the fact that the band developed their music remotely online with singer Franklin James Fisher, originally from Atlanta, now located in New York and guitarist Lee Tesche and bassist Ryan Mahan living in London. The best songs are clustered in the middle, including the savage “Blood,” accented with gutteral grunts and rattling chains. “Old Girl” is like stumbling upon a gospel revival, only to find dancing demons within the church. “Irony.Utility.Pretext,” augmented by a situationist style video, full of New Order beats, Art Of Noise effects, and Miami Vice era production, while still somehow sounding new. “Games” is a more restrained hymnal, and extremely effective. With a tour or two under their belts, I’d love to hear what they come up with next. I predict righteous greatness. Continue reading

Metal Cans for the Holidaze – Fostex TH-X00

It’s Black Friday, and what’s more black than to buy a good pair of headphones for your favorite rocker or metalhead. Today the headphone audiophile community is buzzing about what may become a historic event in headphone history. Massdrop and Fostex have collaborated to create the best value in closed back headphones you can find today, with the Fostex TH-X00.

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This isn’t the first time Massdrop has collaborated with an audiophile headphone manufacturer. Will Bright, who participated in the Head-Fi forums since he was a teenager, is the head of Community Expansion at the San Francisco company, and initiated a collaboration with AKG to create a special version of their 65th anniversary limited edition of their K702, which was a big hit in 2012. The resulting AKG K7XX Massdrop Limited Edition Headphone was assigned an MSRP value of $650, but sold for only $200 with Massdrop, a pretty amazing deal. In this case, it sold in only a run of 150, but more drops have been scheduled due to popular demand. A similar collaboration happened recently with the Grace Design x Massdrop m9XX DAC/Amp, a simplified $500 version of an amp that normally sells for $2,000. Continue reading

The Last Roundup

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This is not about the 1929 movie where Denver Dixon of Bar-D Ranch tracked down former cowhand “Mile-Away” Hardy who set fire to the ranch, rustled the cattle and kidnapped the schoolmarm. But in a way these albums are kind of errant cattle or sheep that wandered off and need to be rounded up and accounted for.

It won’t be my final word on 2015 releases, of course. Year-end lists have just started trickling out, and will soon be piling out in an avalanche. I’ll typically struggle with the temptation to listen to another 400 albums. For my sanity, sleep schedule and health, I’ll try to keep it to a more manageable 50 or so this year. We’ll see how that goes. I’ve rated about 380 albums so far, and last year’s list has more than 750. Yikes! I realize no one cares what albums I think are the 700th best of the year. But I have to sort through the so-so ones to find the gems. Continue reading

What Last Minute Goodies Will Krampus Pull from His Black Bag?

rihanna-baronessAs the year-end best album lists start coming out the holiday season, there’s always a few artists who either transcend critical influence, or are so under the radar it doesn’t matter, and they drop an album in December with little or no notice. In the former case, Beyonce did this effectively on December 20, 2013, and ended up selling quite well as a last-minute stocking stuffer. Then she released a Platinum Edition in a re-issue the next year. Last year, after a 15 year wait, D’Angelo dropped Black Messiah, and even made some lists from those who were able to hear it before their deadlines.  On the other end of the spectrum, German psych legends Colour Haze came out of nowhere with To The Highest Gods We Know on December 23. Their hardcore following took notice in the stoner/psych blog world, but not beyond that.

mia-bordersThere’s a number of high profile artists who we know have been working on something that have not announced a release yet, including PJ Harvey, Radiohead, M.I.A., Frank Ocean, Kanye West, Metallica, No Doubt and Rihanna among many others. Will any of them surprise us with an album in December with little or no pre-release hype? With these big names, of course, the hype is out there whether they do anything to stoke the fires or not. PJ Harvey turned the creation of her album into performance art, allowing people to watch the process. Metallica likes to yap about how awesome the recording progress is going. Rihanna shared the title and cover art of Anti, but no date. Frank Ocean announced a title, Boys Don’t Cry, and July release date, but it’s new release date has not been mentioned. Kanye West has been hyping So Help Me God for over a year, but no release on the horizon yet. Will he be the one to pop? Or M.I.A., who has no release date for Matahdatah, but has released the single “Borders.” Others keep fairly silent. Continue reading

Who Had the Best Six Album Run?

On the next episode of Sound Opinions this Friday, they’ll discuss who had the best four album runs, “the best grand slams in pop history.” In 2015, there are no shortage of bands who now have catalogs of ten, twenty, even thirty albums. It doesn’t seem hard to think of a lot of bands who had four consecutive great albums. Unless you’re a punk fan, then you’d be kind of hard pressed, as most broke up before releasing four albums, let alone four great ones (The Sex Pistols, X-Ray Spex, Buzzcocks, Wire, The Ruts). Those that didn’t, often have their run broken up by a dud, like The Damned with Music For Pleasure (1977).

Inevitably, classic rock becomes the default in these discussions, which could get boring. In a popular poll, no one would likely touch The Beatles, with Dylan, the Stones and perhaps Led Zeppelin fighting it out for second. Of course I can’t resist weighing in. I was born for this task, seeing as I’ve kept up a list of all my favorite albums since I was about eight! Back then, it was a no-brainer, as Electric Light Orchestra and Queen were the only bands I owned four or more of their records. The Beatles would factor in if I counted my mom’s albums. ELO is still in my top 40, but someone has managed to beat out the Beatles, as far as I’m concerned. Ozzy Osbourne, a huge Beatles fan, would probably be horrified by this assertion, but I’m not saying Black Sabbath were a better band than the Beatles. Just that they had a slightly greater consecutive run of classic albums that I continue to enjoy and listen to more, which also influenced a ton of other music that I love.

Dylan and the Stones do follow closely after Sabbath and the Beatles. How could they not? While The Clash would be a top punk choice for many, mine is The Birthday Party at #14, unless you count The Jam as punk, then them at #12. However the fifth spot is taken up by a metal band. No, not Metallica. Iron Maiden! Followed by The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads and Thin Lizzy. My highest ranked recent band would be the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at #13, TV On The Radio at 15 and Witchcraft at 16. Graveyard could be close, however they only just released their fourth album a couple weeks ago so it’s too soon to judge.

6albumrun-sabbath

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Psych Prog in the Hall Of Fame

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When the nominees for the 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame were announced last week, voting was also opened to the public. While millions of people will vote for a top 5 ballot that will only count for one vote among approximately 600 ballots, it seems that other voters pay attention, as some otherwise unlikely bands got inducted in recent years, Kiss (2014) and Rush (2013). Both bands have had their rough patches with critics, but also enjoy massively dedicated and loyal fanbases. I definitely agree that Rush are worthy, but I also love the fact that Kiss made it, as long as Alice Cooper got in first (2011). Even though 80% of their songs are turds, they add some colorful, populist fun to the Hall. I also wonder if we don’t have the single-mindedness of Eddie Trunk bitching about it through a decade of That Metal Show to thank. Perhaps he’ll gift us with Thin Lizzy or UFO next? Continue reading

The Birth Of Metal

The Birth Of Metal (From Black Sabbath Born Again back patch, 1983)

Was heavy metal invented by a single band? Was it dreamed up by a journalist? Was it born on a particular album, perhaps premature and deformed, denied by its parents and returned to live in an orphanage until it was adopted years later by a DJ, a journalist, a bunch of younger bands and some headbangers? Continue reading

No Whining in Rock ‘n’ Roll: Don’t Feel Guilty About Not Spending More Money on Music

Columbia House’s recent bankruptcy filing triggered all kinds of stories, ranging from fond reminiscing about early experiences with record clubs, to surprised reactions that they even still exist as a corporate entity, and a whole slew of whining about how they were killed by streaming services.

Their filing says that Netflix, Amazon, Spotify and Apple crowded it out of the market, preventing Columbia House from getting licensing agreements when it tried to offer streaming services for videos and movies last year. Yes, the more established competitors had an advantage over the new kid on the block. The young, clueless Columbia House, which has been in business since 1955.

Capitol Record Club Ad from 1972

Columbia House pioneered the record club business model, getting millions of consumers on board with the then still new 12″ vinyl LP format, introduced in 1949.  Their first year they had 125,175 members who had purchased 700,000 records (for $1.174 million net). By the next year, they had 687,652 members and had sold 7 million records ($14.888 million net), and by 1963, it commanded 10% of the recorded music retail market. By the mid-1960s, they had competition from other clubs, including EMI, Capitol and RCA. At that point, Columbia House was able to stay several steps ahead of the competition when the father of direct marketing, Les Wunderman took over the account. Along with direct marketing, Wunderman introduced innovations such as the database, the 1-800 number, the magazine subscription card, and the credit-card customer rewards program. For Columbia House he created the 12-albums for a penny postage-paid insert card, the Gold Box buried treasure Easter eggs that people could find in the advertising and redeem for free albums, in what he called “interactive” sales in a 1967 speech at M.I.T., decades before the Internet took off. It’s too bad they didn’t keep Wunderman on at least as a consultant to advise them. He’s still around, they should give him a call. Continue reading

Psychedelic Psummer: Tame Impala’s Synths Vs. All the Guitars

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After listening to psych noir non-stop for over two months while working on Kaleidoscopes & Grimoires: Psych Noir, it’s time to switch it up. Life sometimes necessitates that you exhume yourself from the empty bags and bottles, turn off the Hammer horror movie, put on your shades and go out in the sun. Fortunately there’s great psychedelic music for all occasions.

It’s fitting that one of the most commercially successful psych bands released their third album on July 17, basically the peak of summer. Blueberries are abundant, fireflies are mating, and fortunately fewer people are wearing flip-flops. I consider that the greatest birthday gift of all (mine was on the 16th). One of the several times I’ve seen Tame Impala was in the scorching midday heat at Lollapalooza. That night I would see Black Sabbath, but right then, Tame Impala were the perfect band for the moment, Kevin Parker joking that his pedals were melting under the blazing sun. It’s easy to see why his music has exploded in popularity while other bands that seem on the surface quite similar, languish in underground obscurity. Parker’s key influences may be 60s psychedelia — Pink Floyd, Hendrix, more Bee Gees than Beatles and more Supertramp than Love — but he mixes in elements of shoegaze in his guitar sound with My Bloody Vaentine’s dreamy melancholy, The Flaming Lips’ cosmic explody-ness, and always a subtle undertone of sugary modern pop. Their sound continues to evolve, with debut Innerspeaker (2010) the most traditionally fuzzed out and rockin’, and adding more melody and electronic experimentation on  Lonerism (2012).

Tame Impala - Currents (Interscope, 2015)Currents features more electro pop than ever, citing Prince’s mid-80s funk with a more relaxed, languid feel.  The result has very much a 90s feel along the lines of Stereolab, The High Llamas and Super Furry Animals. The bubbling electronic flourishes evoke the whir of fans, the hum of air conditioners, ice cubes in cold drinks and lapping waves. Great summer music. I won’t lie, I would never choose electronica over intoxicating guitar playing with well executed reverb and fuzz, and points are docked on this album for putting that on the backburner. It’s as if he’s self-conscious about being perceived as pushing forward. But the synths don’t really do anything to change the basic creativity and structure of the songs, only the texture. And really dude, synths go back just as far as guitar distortion and effects pedals. They are no more modern. The one positive change in the production is they have finally escaped the clutches of Dave Fridmann’s overblown blown-out mixing work that has messed many a band up. Continue reading