Scott Miller/Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks
Scott Miller: Christmas Gift (F.A.Y.)
Easy once he thought of it, right? Appalachia-oriented American and Russian history degree holder Miller picks 'em (guitar-banjo "Ode to Joy," harmonica-piano "Holy, Holy, Holy") and picks 'em (John Prine's beloved "Christmas in Prison," Roger Miller's forgotten "Old Toy Trains"). Writes one, too‑-his very own "Yes, Virginia," about how there is a Santa Claus, and there are also lots of relatives. These are both good things as far as he's concerned. And for the duration of an EP, they are. A MINUS
Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks: Crazy for Christmas (Surfdog)
Crazy because he's always been pleasantly nuts, but also because he's crazy not just as a result of but about Christmas, which as all Christmas fans know is a combination with a shot at making the holiday as full of good cheer as it's supposed to be. Scatting "Here Comes Santa Claus" as one retro strategy among many, Hicks lays out an "Old Fashioned Christmas" complete with "Bethlehem scene on the lawn/And a picture of Rudolph in the john" as the elves in "Santa's Workshop" paint millions of wooden boats and planes. Remember wood? This is a good-humored sixtysomething who wants to teach his grandkids the old-timey verities. Then he'll take a nap. B PLUS
Introducing...The 2011 Expert Witness Killing-Time-When-We-Should-Be-Working Music Awards:
(Vote in my categories or make up your own.)
Unstoppable Cultural Juggernaut of the Year: Jay-Z
Artist of the Year: Miranda Lambert
Album of the Year: Wussy, Strawberry
Song of the Year: (tie) Wilco, "One Sunday Morning"; Jackson Browne/Woody Guthrie, "You Know the Night"
Rookie of the Year: Frank Ocean
Comeback of the Year: (tie) Paul Simon; the saxophone
Music Video of the Year: Kanye West/Jay-Z, "Otis"
Dance Music Trend of the Year: Rockist Dubstep (cf Blow Your Head, SebastiAn, Skrillex)
Most Unjustly Ignored by the Mainstream Music Press Besides Wussy Award: (tie) Those Darlins; Low Cut Connie
Don't Believe the Hype Award: James Blake
And by the way either I am getting old and bitter or this year was especially disappointing, Jens Lekman and Frank Ocean, with PJ Harvey just below because of some family history, were the only two/three guys/girls that really captivated me. Anyone has already volunteered to organize the 2011 P&J EW ?
Ps to Xgau: I'm French but now living in New York, and I would be more than glad to kiss you to express my gratitude so if you ever want a free (french in the french way) kiss just tell me when and where !
1. So -- in my opinion, the graceful appearance on this scene of intellectuals/aesthetes/musketeers Jock & Clown & Hairy & Piggy* signifies a positive shift in what this blog definitively is, from afternoon music club to school of Athens-style discourse expedition. Scanning recent posts, you can feel our dialogue becoming more purposeful, imaginative, and valuable as literature (sort of how I always regarded us anyway, but clearly improved). Even as raw conjecture, I think this is healthy and wise and more along the lines of Xgau's likeliest preferences, assuming he's formed (m)any as pertains to this blog. (Now of course, I'm sure there are a lot of you who would reply that you haven't noticed a shift, or that you don't agree there was one at all. Obviously, the experience of being involved belongs to all of us, and each has his [or her] own definition of it. So you're probably right!)
I have to admit, though – I’m starting to feel a little feeble recently. Recognition that you've still got a long way to go is never bad. But what this content conversion (however gradual) starts to render obsolete is a kind of post that was always my bag around here, as well as inherently subversive of EW's own big idea -- something I can find no better name for than the too-denigrating "playing Xgau". That is, the sort of performance-oriented writing (or listmaking) wherein the poster is detectably angling for his (or her!) turn at our host’s bat. Its prevalence is an entertaining way to keep things socially democratic (especially when the posts are, you know, good), and an invaluable mechanism for gleaning feedback in a community full of aspiring writers. (I've certainly had a lot of fun with it.) It's just hasn’t exactly been progressive, and now that it’s thinning out, I'm starting to feel a little, well… pretentious. Which scares me, but only because it makes me see Carlos Catalan in the mirror (in a T-shirt that says "diaristic cries for attention" and no pants or underwear. Clearly, I'm clinically insane, but no insane person suspects they're alone in their methods of reasoning.)
So my point is as follows: in the nostalgia-too-soon spirit of the holiday season, I feel like indulging in that kind of spotlight co-seizure one last grand old time. That's right -- this was all just a stylized introduction to a list posting. Made you look (again!)!!
where is Xgau on Adele?
The real question, imo, would be how on God's green earth they could have spent seven figures on Luna?
Lawyers and accountants are expensive ****.
They hand you money for equipment, they give you money to tour, and they give you money to record. They ask you if you're having a good time then they charge you every time you slam the door...ahh I ain't gonna work for Maggie's label no more.
Thought I'd share this bit from Alexis Petridis article in the Guardian (on the song 'Video Games').
For one thing, you could argue it's the prerogative, perhaps even the duty, of pop stars to reinvent themselves in interesting and fabulous ways: what is pop if not a theatre of dreams in which David Jones from Brixton can reimagine himself as a gay alien, Bob Dylan can spin ridiculous yarns about his uneventful, middle-class childhood and – a personal favourite – a diminutive Italian-American called Ronald can become Ronnie James Dio and slay a dragon onstage every night?
Was without internet service all weekend, thanks to AT&T. (Yeah, I'm talking to you, you money-grubbing b*stards.) So...
1. Rest in peace, Vaclav Havel.
2. My thoughts are with you and your family, Joe.
3. Happy holidays--and good listening--to all.
26. Wussy, Strawberry
25. Plastic People of the Universe, Egon Bondy’s Happy Hearts Club Banned
Two perfect albums I would have no idea existed without Xgau and the community of fans he’s shepherded into this corner of the web – in fact I technically owe Cam Patterson, who in terms of Christgauvia is I guess the George Washington to RC’s John Locke, for alerting me to either’s existence. (A somewhat topical pair as well, what with Havel’s passing and Cam’s adventures with Chuck & company.)
With three masterpieces under (and no extra cash stashed in) their belts, post-Wussy Wussy decided to go pop in the middle of a recession, doubling their discography in the span of a year with a remix album, a remake album and a bigger, brighter, juicier regular release. Produced yet rough (as Christgau called the similar opus Spring Hill Fair) and layered in lovely little sonic strokes, Strawberry is half a conscious loaded-with-hits move and half a beautifully subversive response to Kanye and Arcade Fire’s recent refurbish of White Elephant Art’s credibility. “Asteroid” hits the dirt like CCR crashing into Sagittarius during dueling Left Banke (or in case of the classic-on-arrival “Pulverized”, ? and the Mysterians) covers, and from that point on they never let you come down, or drag you too forcefully into their trademark miseries. As carefully penned and emotionally acute as any of their prior ones, it’s better than Loaded, Nuggets and almost anything out there in pop’s current frozen void. One new standard after another – “Fly Fly Fly”, “Mountain of Tires”, “Grand Champion Steer” – finds the world’s latest greatest rock band setting off fireworks in a cathedral, pummeling forward with nothing to lose but their collective muse.
Though Chuck and Lisa make off with at least three standards each, she’s always a step or so ahead, a magician where Chuck is merely a master carpenter (cf. her instantaneous improvement of “Airborne” – surely you remember how you felt when you first heard her burst in). She does well by birds, topping both afterlife charts with the big-beat incantation-pop of “Chicken” and keying Wussy’s most surefire tearjerker yet to a snatch of songbird onomatopoeia. And when she finds herself unable to top the gorgeous wreckage of Chuck’s open letter/dying roar “Wrist Rocket”, she makes off with the spoils by quieting down and solemnly, gloriously ending the world. The mp3s I bought just shy of midnight on the August night Strawberry tumbled out definitely suffer some compression, but after playing this thing more than is probably humanly healthy I’m happy to discover that I can still hear every brilliant corner, all of which I lie back and marvel at like a newborn baby in a field of jewelry under the northern lights – the huge, outstanding “Pizza King” only evokes bells, but there are Wussy-reminiscent vibes at the end of “Wrist Rocket”, and a click track fading at the tail-end of “Waiting Room”, and that “not to mention failure” countermelody poking out under the rolling hills of piano on “Magnolia”… Lisa even audibly wets her lips after that one, and the whole cake is full of little aural rewards like that, a White Album gift garden with a far better sense of economy (42 minutes flat! impeccable!) and which comes on more Guy Stevens than Chris Thomas (although certain passages conjure up shadows of Nevermind the Bollocks).
28. Stephin Merritt, Obscurities
27. Miranda Lambert, "Fine Tune"
The discovery of 69 Love Songs was my 6th grade year’s most epochal event, yet I somehow spent all of the subsequent decade (the one in which I came of age and established my identity) being consistently disappointed in the hero who made it. Having been born too late to appreciate the dazzling brand of Gen-X synamerindie dada that put Stephin Merritt on the map (even as some of his most fetching melodic snatches bled through episodes of Pete & Pete), the clearer and more mature auteur behind the 69 was the Merritt I first met, a defter master of layering minimalistic melodic hooks and keying each tune to at least one perfectly placed twists of your personal emotion-rag. Since a jaded, puckish, permanently deadpan wit carried every Tin Pan Alley couplet, no Cole Porter-compared moment rang cute or forced -- something that nearly every lyric on that "no-synths trilogy" seems to when I'm not in a tolerant mood.
I’m still not sure what could’ve rendered Merritt as stale as he sounded to me on all those Nonesuch records, the abysmal Chinese operas and affable audiobook compilation included -- age's tendency to soften temperaments, the self-consciousness that accompanies every first spotlight, the crass demotivation of money (since he’d been fairly well-compensated in the wake of that triple-discer). It’s most likely a combination of various personal factors that refuse to inhabit a solid narrative. But no matter how the production (crisper, sparer and immensely more predictable) still percolated with cleverness under each technically flawless, danger-chaste line, the Merritt responsible always struck me uncomfortably insincere and toothless, a brand of sarcastic sans any sense of bite. So I figured Obscurities would be a waste of time 'til Xgau's capsule made me think twice. And it turned out to be this bizarre, brittle and beautiful triumph, even as its history-mix objective only served to illuminate the recent-phase objections I've just sauntered through.
Quoth 5 Records: "Naturally, any fragment of cohesion is the result of personal projection, since there are miles between each excavation. […] But the effect is still the same scintillating surrealism that made his best pre-69 Love stuff so demanding of our ardor – spot-on shades of untainted humanity buried in beguiling electro-racket, and delivered by a rotating cast of deadpan androids with tears rusting the corners of their eyes. Prior to his peaceful last-decade bout as a portly public radio maven who could write a rhyming dictionary under the table, Merritt was a scruffy punk with a fathoms-deep record collection who aimed to subvert by the most pleasurable and affecting means possible. 'This is not the planet I was meant to be on,' surmises the punk, making explicit what the title of 'A Song From Venus' and the titanic 'I Don’t Believe You'/'When I’m Not Looking You’re Not There' single puckishly remind us – that a lot of 69’s abundant beauty lay in how alien it sounded."
"Beach a Boop Boop" notwithstanding, there are postmodern stakes (now that you know how much I like stakes [yes I'll have some of that!!]) and levels of unfettered anguish on this album Merritt wouldn't dream of rendering explicit on his later bids for a late-breaking entry into the Great American Songbook, even if he couches these more complex and felt miseries in the sort of allusive imagery he long ago lost use for. "We are the rats in the garbage of the western world/so let's dance" is a 99% battle cry simmering silently in the corner as it waits to catch on.
Not that there's anything deeply phony about Adele Adkins' pain--it's just a social given, a mindset that comes as naturally to an '00s songbird as the skilled piano ostinatos and orchestral swoops that frame it. Thus the words achieve precisely the same pitch of aesthetic necessity as the music, which is none at all. C
Whatcha wanna bet Lowe doesn't get all nine cents?
Whoa, how do you stumble upon The Magnetic Fields in 6th grade?
Also, just wanted to say that I adore EW and wish I could contribute/spend more time here. Y'all rock (and, even better, pop)!
P.S. Hi Ioannis. Miss ya, babe!
Beyond how little his 80s records made for him financially he hasn't had too many good things to say about them creatively, either. But even though I'd agree by and large with the B+ grades (exception: The Rose of England, which has risen to an A-), a combination of unstoppable hookiness, his knack for putting together great, tight bands, and the fact that he's just so much fun to spend time with has had me returning to all of those records far more regularly than a lot of higher-graded records that I like. I think I could even easily compile an excellent 80s best-of set using just songs that didn't make it onto his previous two best-ofs. It's certainly a damn shame that none of them are in print.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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