The holidays are a time of family, schmaltzy Christmas commercials that somehow make you cry and, for music journalists, list-making. Lots and lots of list-making.
Over the past few years, the availability of year-end critics' lists has multiplied faster than the worry lines on Ben Bernanke's brow. Mark our words, this month the Internet and your Barnes & Noble's magazine rack is brimming over with head-spinning, eye-glazing permutations of praise for the following albums: Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, the National's Boxer, Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, M.I.A.'s Kala, Radiohead's In Rainbows, LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver and Battles' Mirrored.
If you want to parse the exact sequence of those records in your favorite publication or blog, feel free. We're going in a different direction.
best of music 2007
In cities from Miami to San Francisco, we asked musicians, MCs, DJs, athletes and, in one case, a Michael Stipe-impersonating electrician to tell us what music they loved most this year. It could be albums, songs or an artist's collected works and need not be dated 2007. We just wanted to know what was moving our interviewees right now.
This just seems more like the way we listen to music now—with everything available to everyone free and on demand, the old days of anticipating the release dates of and then treasuring new albums seem to be seriously on the wane. —John Nova Lomax, Executive Music Editor, Village Voice Media
The best live shows of 2007 came where you expected them least
One of the overarching themes for Dallas' year in music was the continued decentralization of the local music scene.
Deep Ellum, the storied entertainment district near downtown, is still struggling to maintain relevance as its clubs shut down. There are exceptions, but the bulk of North Texas' most interesting musicians practice, perform and live outside the city's longtime artistic center, like the Lower Greenville area and in Denton, Fort Worth and other cities.
With members hailing from Plano and Denton, Nouns Group is one of those non-Dallas bands that are starting to dominate the North Texas music scene. Singer/guitarist Chris Mosley (formerly of Early Lines), drummer Nick Martin and bassist Britt Robisheaux make a propulsive racket of jagged melodies, discordant, slashing guitar and vocals more shouted than sung. Megan Carroll's electric violin, screaming over the din like a frantic banshee, elevates Nouns Group from serviceable harsh post-punk to something beautiful in spite of its frequent ugliness.
Mosley, the most obsessive record collector I've ever met, was disappointed with this year's albums. Getting him to name one he enjoyed is like trying to catch an eel. He'd rather discuss how the single-song instant gratification of music on the Internet is leading to an anti-album culture, as well as publicist-driven manipulation of the media.
Finally, he names an album he liked, though he doesn't go so far as to name it his album of the year.
"As far as other-genre stuff [other than rock], probably the most consistent rap releases are coming from Devin the Dude," he says. "Waiting to Inhale was really good."
Mostly, though, he was unimpressed with 2007's albums.
"I really thought a lot of standby stuff like Shellac, Melt Banana or Deerhoof would have been a little better," he says. "They were still good, but I think with some of my favorite bands, I was expecting too much."
Keep in mind that this is a guy who doesn't enjoy Radiohead because he's so familiar with their influences—even their almost universally acclaimed OK Computer and Kid A were inferior imitations of stuff he'd been listening to years before. He has slightly higher standards than most. While he didn't have much to say about In Rainbows, he grudgingly admired the band's distribution method, while pointing out that their studio budget and self-perpetuating popularity is unrealistic for most bands.
As far as singles, he named Yellow Fever's "Culver City" 7-inch and former Early Lines bandmate Daniel Francis Doyle's "Your Cursive."
His song of the year was "The Greater Times," from Electralane's No Shouts No Calls.
"There's a part where the woman's voice cracks when she's repeating the chorus, and I thought that was the greatest moment of the year," he says. "She's singing so passionately that her voice actually cracks. That record, along with a couple others, was why Nouns Group went to record [at Key Club] in Michigan. They were telling us about how when they were recording it, a lot of times the band and engineer had to convince the singer [Verity Susman] to keep it. In the end, I think the record really reflects a lot of good decision-making. Some of the best recordings are about the decision not to edit things...You're either the band you want to be or you're not. You're not going to fix it with Pro Tools."
Asked about his favorite musical moments of the year, almost everything he comes up with is a live performance.
"For a long time, I was just a CD and record collector dork," he says. "My behavior has changed as I've gotten older. I want to support things in a more direct way."
Following are Mosley's favorite live shows of 2007:
Health at Eighth Continent in Denton
"I saw them play at Metrognome Collective [in Fort Worth] too. They're one of these bands that get a lot of blog attention...It was cool to see a band that gets that much attention at a place that small, and for them to actually transcend their hype. They killed it."
Angry Businessmen at 715 Panhandle in Denton
"Panhandle is always packed. They were in their element, and everybody was dancing and getting into it—even people who were not necessarily into it, because I brought a bunch of people who liked it. They're just bass and drums. A surf-rock punk band that sings about root beer doesn't sound good on paper, but they pull it off live."
Silver Apples at Hailey's in Denton
"I wasn't expecting to enjoy it that much because there are only two original members, and one is not part of the reunion. Simeon did it all himself. He had his oscillator with the whole one-man setup, and [he] had a video projector set up to show what he was doing. I was especially impressed with how he pulled off the songs from the first two albums."
AIDS Wolf at Public Trust in Dallas
Mosley sees the Public Trust, the gallery formerly known as Art Prostitute, as a promising sign that it's possible to do live music outside of clubs and theaters in Dallas. Most of his favorite shows took place in someone's living room. He sees nontraditional venues as a necessity for a thriving music scene.
"It was a really good show—kind of frightening how good it was. They had a lot of Seripop prints with them—they make their own prints and posters—and it was a one-night showcase. It was interesting to see a band travel as visual artists. I was really impressed by their aesthetic. I thought their being able to work as visual artists—and then have the artists come out and make a bunch of noise—was great."
Noxagt at House of Tinnitus in Denton
"They're predominantly instrumental. They used to have a viola, and that was a real big influence on Nouns Group, as to how to include strings in harsher music. They went on at 3 a.m., and it was one of their heavier shows."Jesse Hughey
Teeing off with Scarface
Remember how everyone thought Snoop Dogg wearing golf gear in 2004's Starsky and Hutch and those Chrysler commercials with Lee Iacocca was so funny? Well, a couple of days before Thanksgiving, on-again, off-again Geto Boy and Houston rap legend Scarface strolls into the clubhouse at the Hermann Park Golf Course clad in a white Wildcat Golf Club polo, navy shorts and his sock feet (no spikes allowed inside), and no one bats an eyelash. He is, after all, here almost every day.
But today, Scarface is here for a press conference to hail the December 4 release of Made, his first proper album since 2002's The Fix. It's a strange interview. He's cordial but seems distracted, fiddling with his iPhone and flipping through copies of local hip-hop magazines Hard Hitter and What It Dew. Another reporter asks him how it feels to routinely be ranked among the greatest MCs of all time, and his only answer is a soft-spoken "I like it a lot."
On the other hand, Face, now 37, says pretty much all he's been doing since The Fix came out is coaching little league football and playing poker and golf, which he took up last September at his daughter's urging. Asked if he'll make another album after Made, he just shrugs. Rapping, it seems, is now something he can take or leave.
"I really don't want to do this shit anymore," he says. "It had a lot to do with the unauthorized albums Rap-a-Lot put out [2003's Balls & My Word and 2006's My Homies Part 2]. I was kind of mad about that, but I don't want people that want to listen to my music to not be able to."
Nonetheless, Scarface and Rap-a-Lot have mended enough fences for him to return to his longtime label (both with the Geto Boys and solo) after a one-album departure to Def Jam South for The Fix. "There ain't no sense in me not putting out an album because of that," he says. "I've seen a lot of artists fall out with their labels and be irrelevant when they come back."
Scarface, though, will be relevant as long as he cares to be. "I was talking to Busta Rhymes and he said, 'God damn, are you ever going to fall off? You sound like you're 16,'" he says with a laugh. "I told him, 'I am 16. I never grew up. I do shit that kids do.'"
After the press conference, Face allows the Houston Press to follow him onto the links for a couple holes. He's already revealed he was a big KISS fan growing up, enjoys everyone from AC/DC and Led Zeppelin to Steely Dan and the Eagles ("...and that's just my iPhone") and turns out to be a local rockabilly fan as well. "You ever heard of the [Flaming] Hellcats?" he asks, preparing to tee off. "Jaime [frontman Jaime Hellcat] is a good friend of mine. I talk to Jaime a lot. I want to see them get it."
What was your favorite music to come out this year?
I didn't really have any. What came out this year? Did Coldplay come out this year?
What have you been listening to?
Radiohead. Old Radiohead. Not much, though. I'm going to fuck [the ball] up.
Do you have any artists on your label [Runaway Slave]?
Product. Product is an artist.
What about the 50 and Kanye albums?
Kanye had a brilliant album this year. [Swings; to ball] Get down, get down!
What about the new Jay-Z?
I haven't heard it yet. I bet it's pretty brilliant. I heard some of it. I think it's brilliant.
What about the 50 album?
I didn't listen to it. Did you?
No. What about locally? The new Trae record?
I didn't hear it. But locally, man, I'm on anything local. I really want local artists to rise and become national.
Who have you got your eye on locally right now?
Does he have something on the way?
I hope so.
Did you hit the green?
I hope I did.
What was the last record you got really excited about?
Mine. Or Kanye's.
What did you like about the Kanye record?
I liked its originality. That wasn't a bad drive, was it?
No. Are there any rock albums that came out this year that you liked?
No one came out. Who came out?
Well, Spoon had a pretty big record. Radiohead.
I didn't download [Radiohead]. I want to buy it because I really love that band.
What's your favorite Radiohead album?
I really like [starts singing, more or less on key] 'Don't leave me hiiiiigh, don't leave me dryyyyy...' ["High and Dry," from 1995's The Bends] I love that song. I'm going for eagle right here. [Swings] Awww, slow down, ball! Shit. I fucked up my eagle. Fuck! [Scarface two-putts for a bogey.]
Do you download music? Do you have an iPod?
I have an iPod.
Do you still buy CDs?
I buy everything that I like.
Tell me more about Product.
One guy's from Mississippi and the other kid's from San Francisco. I think it's some of the most brilliant rap put together from different parts of the world.
Have you ever thought about making an album with your band? [Scarface occasionally performs, playing several instruments, with a 14-piece live band.]
I want to. Contractual obligations may not allow it, but that's a big dream of mine, to be able to make an album with a rock band. I've got a rock band, the Sick Man Psycho Bastards. I'm the lead singer.
I know you did A&R for Def Jam [signing Ludacris and T.I., among others]. Are you still doing that for Rap-a-Lot?
No. I don't do that no more.
You said earlier you've been playing a lot of blues. What kind of blues are you into?
Old Delta blues. Muddy Waters' old plantation recordings. Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Son House.
That was a little later, but yeah, he's good.
What have you been listening to the most recently?
Reggae. Peter Tosh, Bob Marley. The old one-drop reggae.
Do you go out and see a lot of music?
No. I don't really know what's going on, man. I'm totally out of sync with what's happening right now.
Do you think the local rap community is as strong as it was a couple of years ago?
I hope it's as strong as it was. [Yawns] Excuse me. I think you have to grow up in anything you do. Not grow up, but you've gotta grow with your fan ase. I think that's the secret of what music is. If your fan ase is 25 and older, it's going to be hard to sell to kids [who are] 13, 12.
Do you worry about that with your records?
No, I just make music, man. I know who my fan ase is. See, I'm kind of cheating, man. I grew up with a houseful of musicians. My cousin is Johnny Nash, "I Can See Clearly Now" Johnny Nash. So I know what to do just by watching what he did. He had a brilliant career. He wrote one of the biggest songs in music history.
On your mom's side or your dad's?
Ummm... on my grandfather's side.
Did you get to hang out with him much?
Did he give you lessons or anything like that?
Hell no.Chris Gray
DJ I-Dee's tracks to relax
Unlike possibly 90 percent of his neighbors, turntable wunderkind Isaac DeLima did not, in fact, choose his South Beach digs for their proximity to the neighborhood's nonstop party. Rather DeLima, aka DJ I-Dee, initially landed in Miami almost three years ago from the D.C. suburbs with a plan to attend culinary school.
But then his DJ battle career blew up in a big way. In 2005, I-Dee was crowned the national DMC turntable competition champion, and at barely age 18, one of the youngest ever. And he'd quickly rack up a string of further national and international prizes before retiring from the battle circuit just two years later.
Growing up in Fairfax, Virginia, DeLima still remembers when his bedroom DJ brother showed him his first battle video: the 1994 DMC World Championships (Roc Raida won). He was hooked, but only 10 years old. No matter; he learned his way around the decks in secret, standing on a box to reach the turntables.
DeLima attended his first regional DMC competition as a 14-year-old spectator in 2001. Three years later, he'd win, qualifying for the national DMC championship. In 2005, he won that in San Francisco and was summarily kicked out of the 21-and-over club as soon as he grabbed his trophy. He would then go on to place third at the international competition in London. In 2006, he took the two biggest remaining U.S. titles on the battle circuit at the Gong Supremacy and Scribble Jam championships. By 19, he was done, ready to concentrate on his own original music. And he had moved to Miami Beach—for peace and quiet.
"I'm traveling a lot of times during the week, so I love to keep this place in Miami for a feeling of home," DeLima says. "This is my space to relax." It seems that his enviable precociousness has led him to find one of the city's few quiet, pedestrian-friendly pockets amid the chaos.
I-Dee's got big plans for his own musical productions, genre- and media-crossing creations. For example, industrial rock remixed on the decks in a truly humorous, faux-horror video? Sure, why not, and it works. So he's holed up in the lab, doggedly working to finish his first album of all original material, due out next year.
Still, as any worthy party selector, record collector and post-modern music-maker, DeLima devours new music like Tic-Tacs. But as a true child of turntablism's cut-and-paste ethos, he's more into individual tracks than complete albums.
"Honestly, the last album I listened to in its entirety was Chromeo's Fancy Footwork [released this past June on Vice Records]," he says. "In the new digital age and as a DJ, I usually download the singles that I need, and if there's more than one song that grabs my attention, I'll download the whole album. That happens very rarely for me personally, though."
Here, then, are his favorite 2007 bangers.
Talib Kweli, "Hot Thing" remix, featuring Ne-Yo and Jean Grae
"Jean Grae is about to be revealed to a lot of mainstream hip-hop fans and really bring back the female MC. Nowadays, the majority of them are in trouble with one thing or another. She's been around for quite sometime, however. Be sure to look out for her major debut on Kweli's label, Blacksmith."
Justice, "D.A.N.C.E." Benny Blanco remix featuring Mos Def and Spank Rock
"Definitely one of the best songs of 2007 for me. The remix, though, features the mighty Mos Def, B-More/Philly booty-mover Spank Rock and production from 19-year-old Benny Blanco. Cop the Bangers & Cash EP from Benny and Spank while you're at it."
RJD2, "You Never Had It So Good"
"RJD2 goes a different route this time around with his latest album, The Third Hand, by singing on a majority of his tracks rather than strictly producing. The reason I liked this song is because I believe he got a sample off Super Mario RPG for SNES, It had me thinking back to '95/'96."
DJ I-Dee, "Eclectic Dreams" featuring Rites of Ash
"The first single off my upcoming debut album on Adiar Cor Records. It features Rites of Ash, an industrial rock band from Washington, D.C. Be sure to check the music video for it on YouTube, as well as my album coming in 2008."
Tay Zonday, "Chocolate Rain"
"Best song of the year. Hypnotizing. 'Nuff said."
Madlib, "Movie Finale"
"This is one of those songs that I'll play over and over during a long drive. Very soothing and has a slight Bollywood feel to it. Check Madlib's Beat Konducta Vol. 3-4: In India on Stones Throw." Arielle Castillo
Cleveland doesn't have celebrities. That's why our contribution to this year-end roundup is star-free. The biggest thing we've got (next to LeBron James, who was too busy playing basketball or something to talk to us) is the stripper-lovin' host of The Price Is Right, Drew Carey. But we're pretty sure he couldn't be pried away from his medical marijuana crusade to chat music.
Besides, Cleveland's real stars are the people who make the city what it is: Clevelanders—the working-class, beer-drinking, music-lovin' guys and gals who don't need People magazine to make them famous. A couple shots of Jameson and Bruce on the jukebox work just as well, thank you.
Artie the Electrician (Local Union 38) is a bandana-sporting 43-year-old Lakewood native and father of four who's played in a number of Cleveland-area bands over the years (including the Cheese Farmers, Ass Crack Holiday and Buddy Holly's Nipple — all excellently named, by the way). He also was Michael Stipe in the longtime R.E.M. cover band Radio Free Europe "before they came out with their commercial sellout bullshit," he says.
Artie is a lifelong music nut. He thinks most modern stuff blows ("Daughtry? I just wanna slap him, call him a sissy and send him home"), but doesn't just dismiss it like most guys his age do. He's heard many of the post-Radiohead bands; he just doesn't like them.
Everyone from dead bluesmen to the almost-dead Rolling Stones to the very alive Kelly Clarkson comes up in our conversation. Artie offers to hand over his MP3 player several times—presumably because a whopping 40 gigs of tunes will reveal just how extensive his tastes really are. The mere mention of a band (say, Primus) is typically met with, "I got one of their CDs in my truck."
From Artie the Electrician's MP3 player and pickup truck to our Top 10, this is what rocked 2007.
Bob Mould, "Sinners and Their Repentances"
"I've seen him every time he's played here. I'd pay $500 to sit in the nosebleed seats at one of his concerts. I liked Hüsker Dü, but I didn't really get into him until [the 1989 solo album] Workbook. That was the album where it all came together. I don't swing that way, but I love the guy."
R.E.M., "Begin the Begin"
"It's just so rhythmically jangly. I was in a band at the time that was doing lots of Cure and Fixx songs just because we had a keyboard player—that was pretty much the only reason. One day I said, 'I can't do this anymore,' and started the R.E.M. tribute band. R.E.M. was my alternative to playing crap."
Bad Religion, "21st Century Digital Boy"
"This has a really good, heavy sound. They have an edge to them, but there's a lot of music going on in the background. If you sit down and really listen to it, it's a well thought-out and put-together song. It's not just three chords. On first listen, it appears straightforward and in-your-face, but there's lots of dynamics going on there. I like to pick songs apart, and this is good stuff."
Dead Boys, "Sonic Reducer"
"They were one of the best bands to come out of Cleveland and the last great band to come from Cleveland. I have this live tape of them, and it's so hilarious. They're so drunk, and they're literally falling down. [Singer Stiv Bators] is like, 'We're here because we need the fucking money.' Then they start ripping into the song."
Earth, Wind & Fire, "September"
"They're one of the best vocal groups of our time. And they're musically phenomenal. I have their greatest hits on my MP3 player. It goes from Hoodoo Gurus to Bob Mould to Mucky Pup and right into Earth, Wind & Fire."
Colin Dussault, "Whipping Post" (circa 1990)
"I knew Colin when he was putting it all together. I have a version of 'Green Onions' we recorded in my basement in 1986 with me on guitar, and he played harmonica and sang. Now he's Colin Dussault, Corporate Entity. Back then he was Colin Dussault, Balls-to-the-Wall-I'll-Drink-a-Bottle-of-Jack-Daniel's-and-Entertain-the-Shit-out-of-You-All-Night-Long. He was a drunk, his guitar player was a drunk, his bass player was a drunk, and sometimes his drummer never even bothered to show up. They're still one of the finer bands in Cleveland."
Counting Crows, "Rain King"
"That's silky smooth music. [Adam Duritz] is the entertainer when it comes to working a crowd. Half the time, the [live] songs sound nothing like the record. When I go see a show, don't give me the record. You gotta do something. With the price of tickets nowadays? Give me a show."
Dave Matthews Band, "Ants Marching"
"There's just a lot going on in this song. That whole band is just really good at what they do. They use these unconventional time signatures—it's almost like jazz at times. And the violin player actually fits in with them. You know how some bands use a violin, and it sounds like crap? Not here."
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, "Someday I Suppose"
"People always refer to them as a ska band, but I don't know. Their horns always sounded more out-front to me. And that guy [Dicky Barrett] is a horrible singer. But they're lots of fun."
Dixie Chicks, "Sin Wagon"
"Musically, this is one of their finest songs. They're one of the best groups of harmony singers in the business. And they're all really good musicians, especially the fiddle player. I like most of their songs, except for 'Goodbye Earl.' I hated that video with Dennis Franz. I was a huge NYPD Blue fan, and I was like, Sipowicz, what the hell are you doing?"
The Sex Pistols ("You know why? They're the Sex Pistols"), the Cranberries ("They really had some good shit"), and Elton John ("His early years—back when he and Bernie Taupin were banging each other").Michael Gallucci
Al Franken's Stump Songs
Former Saturday Night Live cast member, screenwriter, New York Times best-selling author and St. Louis Park native Al Franken is living in Minneapolis and campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Like any good candidate, he knows his way around a speech.
"First of all, I have to make a confession," Franken begins. "My favorite music of 2007 bears a striking resemblance to my favorite music of 1975. Also to my favorite music of 1976, 1977, 1978, etc., etc.
"See, I'm a Deadhead. As anyone who listened to my radio show knows, I used the Grateful Dead as my bumper music going in and out of breaks. And there's a real community of Deadheads out there. At an event the other day, a guy handed me a new remix of 'Cornell '78.'
"That said, I do allow a few new influences into my musical consciousness every once in a while. So, here's my list of five non-Grateful Dead things I've been listening to in 2007."
"That's the format used by KLCI 106.1 FM, and it's a mix of contemporary and older country that is apparently mimicked by many 'Bob' or Bob-like stations across the country. I love country music because I like the unabashed melodrama."
Trampled by Turtles
"Speaking of country, I'm a big bluegrass fan. I got turned on to this band by Tom Saxhaug, the state senator from Grand Rapids [Minnesota]. I thought it was a little suspicious that he spent most of our first meeting telling me how great their new album was. And wouldn't you know it, his son turns out to be the bass player. But the album really is great. This New Year's Eve, [wife] Franni and I will be at the TBT show at the Orpheum."
Fountains of Wayne
"Specifically, their song 'Better Things,' which is a cover of a Kinks tune. I think it's going to be our campaign song because of its message, which is that better things are up ahead."
The Grateful Volunteers
"OK, this is kind of a cheat. The Grateful Volunteers are a Dead cover band composed of some great DFLers who are kind enough to play at some of our events. And even kinder enough to let me sing once in a while. Specifically, 'Brokedown Palace.'"
Call Time: The Musical
"This warrants some explanation. As you know, running for Senate requires that I raise a great deal of money, especially since Norm Coleman has the deep-pocketed special interests on his side. So I spend hours and hours a week calling people to ask for support. To keep myself from going crazy, I've been entertaining myself and Kris Dahl, my 'call time manager,' by composing and singing hundreds—no, thousands—of songs for a musical titled Call Time: The Musical.
"Some songs are only 15 seconds long, such as 'I Left a Message and I Hope They Call Me Back.' Or, 'I Don't Think That Was His Office Number (I Think That's His Home).' Most of the songs have original music, but some simply use existing tunes, such as 'Pick Up the Phone, Arlen Lundahl,' to the tune of 'Don't Cry for Me, Argentina' from Evita.
"I should probably have just put 'Springsteen' for this, huh? I really like his new album." Sarah Askari
David Harrington's Foreign Policy
San Francisco's world-renowned Kronos Quartet has charted an impressive course around the globe, commissioning more than 600 works—and releasing more than 40 records—with composers from China, Russia, Vietnam and Iraq since its inception more than 30 years ago.
Founding member David Harrington cites an unusual source of inspiration for working with composers from other countries: American foreign policy. Whenever the U.S. gets into a conflict or war, Harrington says it always makes him want to find out about the other country's music, a way of connecting to and partnering with cultures that American politics tears apart.
"We are trying to be a witness to some of the things that are happening," he explains. "Every concert we play is an attempt to find balance in a world that's very unbalanced."
With tastes both esoteric and populist (The Lawrence Welk Show first inspired Harrington to pick up the violin), Kronos' leader offers a list of musicians who brought his continents a little closer this year.
Damon Albarn, Monkey: Journey to the West
"Damon made this fantastic [theater] piece using a Chinese legend. It's like an opera, but it has acrobatics and dance. I met Damon in July, and he's now writing a piece [for Kronos]. But that event that he and his team created was just beautiful. He's really inspiring."
Valentin Silvestrov, Bagatellen und Serenaden
"Combine John Cage's touch on the piano with Morton Feldman's touch on the piano with my granddaughter's touch on the piano and you'll get the touch of Valentin Silvestrov. He's just exquisitely beautiful. He's from the Ukraine."
Alim and Fargana Qasimov, Music of Central Asia Vol. 6: Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan
"Alim Qasimov is one of the great singers of the world—after Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, there's Alim Qasimov. Fargana is his daughter. She's sung with him since she was a little child."
Joe Henry, Civilians
"I don't think enough people know about him. He's a great producer. He visualizes sound in a really complete way. His band is fantastic, and he's someone we'll be working with in the future."
"This is a group that started out as a string quartet. They're from Iceland. I think one of them is married to the keyboardist of Sigur Rós. I met them on tour when we were in Iceland and rehearsed with Sigur Rós. A lot of people probably wouldn't call Amiina a string quartet on recordings because there isn't a lot of violins and viola and cello; there's a lot of other instruments and sounds."
Valgeir Sigurðsson, Ekvilibrium
"Valgeir is an amazing producer. He produced a recording that we made with Kimmo Pohjonen. I would define Kimmo as the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion. We played with Kimmo at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, opening their 25th season, and he wrote this amazing piece we did with Kimmo on accordion."
Múm, Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy
"This is their new album that just came out. There are so many sounds and instruments, you feel like you're discovering music. I love that feeling, like, 'Wow, I've never heard that before; what an interesting way to combine things.'"
Ruby, Misheet Wara Ehsasi
"What I love about this album is not necessarily the songs but the sounds of the instruments—there's some strings in some of these songs that are really cool. Ruby is from Egypt. I don't really know much about her, but I just love the sound of her voice. You can think of the voice as another instrument when you don't know the language, and I almost think of that as an advantage."
"I love it when somebody does something and the bar just gets higher. That's what happened here. [British-Sri Lankan M.I.A. created Kala at different locations around the world after being denied a visa into the U.S. to record.] Our government is harassing a lot of people. It's getting more and more expensive for presenters to bring musicians in from Islamic countries. It's getting harder to get good information, and music is information."
Nathamuni Brothers, Madras 1974
"This is a cool record made on somebody's porch in India. The Brothers' group is called a brass band, but it's not really a brass band. There's a certain genius in India for taking something and just making it become something else."
Michael Hearst, Songs for Ice Cream Trucks
"Everybody likes ice cream! When I heard this I was like, 'Oh, I want to make a kids' album.' Maybe because I'm a kid myself."
Ge Gan-Ru, Lost Style
"Margaret Leng Tan [who performs on Lost Style] is, like, the foremost toy piano player in the world. On ['Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!'] she's playing all kinds of toys that she found in Chinatown in New York."
Various Artists, Ethnic Minority Music of Southern Laos
"Ethnic Minority Music of Southern Laos is one release of some 35 [releases] on that label. I think I have all of the Sublime Frequencies releases. The Iraqi piece we play I first heard when this particular label released a collection of Iraqi pop music from the '70s and '80s. Basically, I get everything they do—you never know what you're going to hear. There's amazing stuff on this."
Joe Meek, Vampires, Cowboys, Spacemen & Spooks: The Very Best of Joe Meek's Instrumentals
"Some people will say this is cheese; I think it's cool. This is a great double CD. Before [Beatles producer] George Martin, this was the guy, but he died tragically. I think through an accident of timing he got overshadowed but I love him. I feel better every time I hear 'Night of the Vampire.'"
Bettye LaVette, The Scene of the Crime
"Someone sent me The Scene of the Crime, which I can recommend. I have a great idea—at least I like it—for an album of songs, and now I've finally heard the right voice to join us. We'll see if she might be interested." Jennifer Maerz
Jordin Sparks' Idol Thoughts
Arizona native Jordin Sparks has the distinction of being the youngest American Idol winner in the show's history. The 17-year-old Glendale resident—whose father, Phillippi Sparks, played for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys—was sent home after her initial L.A. audition but bounced back to win a second audition in Arizona and end up at the Seattle tryouts, where she made the Hollywood cut with Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me" before being crowned the show's sixth winner on May 23.
Since winning, the energetic and talkative teenager has been busy. First she traversed the States from July through September as part of the "American Idols Live!" tour, then headed straight into the studio to record songs for her eponymous debut, released November 20 on Jive Records. The album boasts creative input from the likes of Robbie Nevil, Chris Brown (who duets with Sparks on "No Air") and producers Eman (Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion) and Sam Watters (Jessica Simpson). Jordin Sparks runs the gamut from pop to rock to R&B, much like her iPod.
"If you see my iPod, it' s the craziest mix of stuff," she says. "I like post-hardcore, country, rock, hip-hop, '80s music. I'm all over the place."
Sparks says she spent most of her summer listening to the songs she was recording but still managed to quickly name some stuff she had in heavy rotation this year.
"I love her song 'I Hate that I Love You,' the one she does with Ne-Yo. The first time I heard that song, I knew it was going to be a hit. I have it on repeat on my iPod. It keeps growing on me, and I never get tired of it. I like the way their voices blend together."
"I haven't heard his new CD [Exclusive], but two years ago, when his first CD came out, all I wanted for Christmas and my birthday was his album. I'd love to tour with him. It would open me up to his R&B audience, and it would open him up to my pop audience. We're both somewhere in the middle."
Plain White T's
"I remember hearing 'Hey There Delilah,' and it was so simple—guitar, voice and strings. [It shows] you don't have to make a complicated song to have a hit single."
Kanye West, Graduation
"Yeah, I listen to hip-hop. I hope my mom doesn't kill me [laughs]. I like Kanye West and 50 Cent, and I didn't take a side in that whole battle. But I did buy [West's] Graduation, so I guess I took a side. The album is in heavy rotation on my iPod. 'Stronger'—that song is genius."
Post-hardcore and screamo
"I like Silverstein and a local band called Greeley Estates that's doing really well. My favorite is a band called Dizmas. They're really good, and I love their music. They came and performed at my church [Calvary Community Church in Phoenix], and it was really funny, because people were like, 'Are they screaming?' But I like post-hardcore because it's really cool for when you're angry. Anybody who can scream like that and not blow their voice out is amazing. It takes a lot of skill and practice to be able to do that. I can't do it."
"I haven't heard all of her new album [As I Am] yet, but I like her new single ('No One'). Alicia Keys just amazes me. She plays piano like no other, she's got a great voice and she writes her own songs." Niki D'Andrea
Dan Wilson's Skyway Serenades
Grammy-winning Dixie Chicks collaborator Dan Wilson (he co-wrote reigning Record of the Year "Not Ready to Make Nice") released his first solo album this year, the Rick Rubin-produced Free Life. The Semisonic songwriter and former Trip Shakespearean still lives in Minneapolis, still shops at Electric Fetus and recently finished producing former Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty's Golden Delicious, due in February. Wilson plans on holing up and writing songs for the next few months.
"I got so excited about [Jim] Walsh's book [Mats oral history All Over But the Shouting] that I got digital versions of songs I already had on vinyl. I tried to listen to others, but I just got stuck on 'Skyway.' It's so short and so perfect, it makes you want to listen to it again and again. I wonder if people who don't have skyways even understand what it's about."
Sufjan Stevens, "Concerning the UFO Sighting near Highland, Illinois"
"One of the guys from Absent Star came up to me with his iPod and commanded that I listen to it. It's important to musicians—they'll be like, 'You have to listen to this,' and I'll obey. I have the whole album [Illinois], but I just listen to this—it's a really mysterious song."
Mitsuko Uchida, Mozart's Sonata in C, K. 545
"I first heard this as a child at a piano recital. This very brilliant boy played it, and I was transfixed. Jacob from Semisonic gave it to me when I was recovering from surgery, and I listened to it for a month. It was a source of peace and comfort; the Percocet was also very helpful."
Radiohead, In Rainbows
"I tried to pay for it 12 times and got hung up on by their server—it kept kicking me off. I gave up, and then someone gave it to me. I'm going to buy the geek version anyway. I'm a fool for them."
Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
"My daughter Coco is an obsessive Chicks fan. She made me listen to it 100 times this summer. I mentioned it to Emily [Robison], and she said, 'I hope it hasn't ruined the music the way my son has ruined 'We Will Rock You' for me.'"
Matt Sweeney and Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Superwolf
"Rick Rubin made me listen to this over the phone. He said, 'Check it out!' and held his phone up to the speaker. This is the album I wore out. It's very tender and really rocking at the same time—full of amazingly surprising moments, really proportionate and beautiful, but also kind of 'off.'"
Keith Jarrett, The Carnegie Hall Concert
"I got hyped on that from reading reviews. Jarrett's got this crazy ability to have each hand do completely different things, both very wildly—and then it snaps into place as this gospel, vampy, swinging thing. He's just so audacious."
Mike Doughty, Golden Delicious
"Technically speaking, I listened to this album more than any other on the list, but now I'm listening to it just for enjoyment. Usually it takes me a couple years to have the distance, but for some reason I've been able to really enjoy this album. John Kirby played a lot of loose, free, very spontaneous melodies—a lot of it was really unscripted." S.A.
Dave Navarro Covers the Spread
Looks like Dave Navarro is going to be all about instant gratification next year. The L.A. native guitarist, who launched his own Internet TV show and directed his first porno in 2007, has obviously become inspired by both the immediacy the Web provides and the adult film industry's quick turnaround.
"These things come out during that burst of inspiration"—no pun intended—"whereas with records, by the time you're talking about it, it's something you created long ago," he explains. "That's one of the things I'm looking forward to with future music projects. I'm just going to immediately put out stuff online as I record it, song by song."
And although Navarro's most recent proper band, the Panic Channel, featuring his former Jane's Addiction band mate Stephen Perkins, is "up in the air" after a less-than well-received Capitol release late last year, Navarro still has music to make and fans eager to see what he'll do next. That might include performances with his all-star cover band Camp Freddy (also the name of his radio show on LA's Indie 103.1), jamming on live guitar over his pal DJ Skibble's scratch attacks for select club dates or one day (maybe) even reforming Jane's.
"There haven't been any conversations, but at the same time it's something very close to my heart," he says. "It seems there's such a space right now for great live bands. If the Eagles can get together and do another tour, I don't see why we can't."
In the meantime, making more artistically minded porno films might be in the cards. In fact, he got an e-mail during our interview notifying him that Broken, the flick he co-wrote and directed for Tera Patrick's production company Teravision, had just been nominated for five Adult Video Network awards, including best director.
Right now Spread TV, the talk show he launched this past spring on Mania TV (the same Web station Tom Green calls home) is his main focus. Airing Thursdays at 5 p.m. Central, the show features everyone from actors to local freaks to people with problems for whom he often brings on psychotherapists to help. Think Dr. Phil, Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart with a rock and roll twist.
"The overall feel of the show is fun and lighthearted, but at the same time we want to get into serious issues as well," says Navarro, who did his time on "real" TV, co-hosting both editions of CBS singing competition Rock Star and starring in a reality show with ex-wife Carmen Electra. "My show is anything and everything me and my partner Todd Newman find captivating."
That includes up-and-coming bands, who often play live on the show. A few have become favorite artists for Navarro's off-air listening as well. Here are his current musical addictions.
Gravenhurst, The Western Lands
"I discovered them watching The Unit, the TV show about an undercover military group. During the end credits on one of the episodes, I heard this song called 'Black Holes in the Sand.' It just struck me. I'm never one to search something online that I happened to hear on a television program, but it just really hit me hard. They're pretty mind-blowing—my favorite band right now. Instant melancholy. I have to be careful what time of day I put them on, because I could easily find myself in a suicidal state, which is actually saying quite a lot if a band can evoke that much emotion out of you."
kHz, Reality on a Finer Scale
"I played on a track from their next album. They're a metal band from New York with an amazing lead singer named Raiana. She's got this beautiful, operatic voice that goes on top of this real hardcore metal; just a really nice juxtaposition. A lot of females in the metal world try to emulate the singing chops of men. She remains feminine and the combination is really sexy."
The Start, Ciao, Baby
"A great band. Love Aimee Echo's vocal abilities. They're close friends."
"Don't believe he's put anything out this year, but I think he's just an incredible genius. His personality really comes through in his vocals. The music is very simplistic and there's something to be said for that. It's all about highlighting the personality, and he does that really well."
The Procussions and Mr. J
"Kind of a hip-hop thing. Real emotional. Stripped-down and positive lyrical content. These guys came on my show with a microphone and drum set and pretty much blew everybody away."
"Fun. Kind of reminds me of Love and Rockets with the sax and the hokey guitar stuff."
"He's a bipolar schizophrenic who's a really brilliant songwriter [and] heavily influenced bands like Nirvana and Sonic Youth. I would highly recommend looking into this guy and the documentary about him [last year's The Devil and Daniel Johnston]." Lina Lecaro
Eco-Journalist Simran Sethi's Green Team
Like Godzilla leaving green footprints, eco-journalist Simran Sethi has taken over the small college town of Lawrence, Kansas. Since moving to the trendy prairie hamlet from New York City, Sethi has spotlighted her favorite local businesses on Oprah and the Sundance Channel's Big Ideas for a Small Planet. As an NBC News environmental correspondent, she talked to Al Gore about the massive tornado that devastated the tiny Kansas town of Greensburg. She has been on Martha Stewart's show and hosts the Sundance Channel's The Green Online. And before she was loco for eco, Sethi was an MTV News anchor in India and Singapore.
She's been everywhere, man. In fact, Sethi is often too busy saving the planet to monitor new releases with a music geek's assiduity, but that doesn't mean she doesn't like a good jam.
Though Indian in heritage, the petite, vivacious 36-year-old grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and a slight twang came through in Sethi's voice while talking about her list of the music, among other things, that kept her going this year.
You picked "Digging in the Dirt" by Peter Gabriel. Not many people aside from big fans have heard it.
"I think that whole album, Us, is great."
And Jay-Z, "99 Problems"?
"I lived in Harlem when the song came out, and it just reminded me of the fact that there are more black men in prison than are employed, and I think that's a horrible injustice."
You're a Mariah Carey fan?
"I like Mariah. I interviewed her in Tokyo when I worked for MTV News and she first played the Tokyo Dome, and I've liked her and her music ever since. It's not something many people expect out of me, but I like Mariah."
What was she like?
"I'm impressed that she writes her own lyrics and did it at a time when she didn't have to, and it's a good comeback story. She managed to reassemble her career and did a good job of it."
How do you find out about music?
"NPR and stuff my friends send me from Singapore, just whatever I happen to catch. I listen to Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW. There's not a single area where I find my music. Stuff on the radio."
What did you listen to growing up?
"I grew up in an era of Bow Wow Wow and Duran Duran and Madonna, so that's the stuff I listened to growing up. I heard some Rolling Stones and Beatles from my mom."
Did you absorb any music during your time working for MTV that you still listen to now?
"Not really anything now, because that was quite a while ago, but the bands I got to interview then are still very much a part of the music I listen to, like the Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, Mariah. Those are probably some of my favorites from that time frame. Foo Fighters."
Did you not cover much music native to India and Singapore?
"I did, but that's not the music I listen to now. I'm Indian, so I've grown up listening to Indian music."
What would you recommend to people who are interested in Indian music?
What type of music is that?
"It's Bollywood music, but it's a lot of love songs. Any collection of her greatest hits would be a good introduction for folks."
Tell me why you picked the Dixie Chicks.
"I really liked Shut Up and Sing. I thought that was a great documentary. I grew up in the South, but I never listened to the Dixie Chicks, and after seeing that movie here in Lawrence at Liberty Hall, I had a profound appreciation for their courage, and I got introduced to their music that way."
What about one of your other picks, Rihanna? She's a sexy pop star. Does that contrast with the powerful-woman image?
"I think women can be both those things. I don't think it's a contrast."Jason Harper
Jay Farrar's Chant and Strum
Many St. Louis musicians hightail it out of the city as soon as they can in hopes that the sunnier pastures of Los Angeles or chillier climes of Chicago will be more welcoming. Save a short stint in New Orleans, Son Volt founder Jay Farrar has lived in south St. Louis for the last 15 years, and he's not going anywhere.
"St. Louis is still very much a city of immigrants, and that—coupled with distinctive, historic neighborhoods—makes for a good quality of life in my estimation," he says. "I'd rather be where the action is percolating, as opposed to where the action is hyped and purported to be."
That low-key attitude informs Son Volt's latest album, The Search. Released earlier this year, the solid release finds jaunty horns and burbling organ adding soulful color to the band's trademark dusty alt-country and gentle twang. Farrar and a four-piece band toured heavily around Search this year; Son Volt also released a limited-edition, extended-vinyl version of the album, On Chant and Strum, and recorded a version of the Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye" for an ESPN commercial touting David Beckham's arrival in L.A.
Farrar's 2008 calendar looks fairly busy already: a few NYC solo shows early in the year, a spring Son Volt tour and the release of another Gob Iron record. (As a matter of fact, that band's Anders Parker reminded Farrar of a 2007 fave: PJ Harvey's White Chalk.)
Still, his packed schedule perhaps explains why Farrar goes out of his way to apologize that many of his 2007 favorites weren't released this year: "It usually takes six months for a new record to get to me, and then another six months of really letting it sink in, and by then it's often a different year."
Beck, "Strange Apparition."
"It seems Beck is always good to keep things interesting. I like it when he channels songs or artists, and this time it's the Rolling Stones song 'Torn and Frayed' spit back out as an idiosyncratic cautionary tale as seen through the windshield of a Mercedes-Benz."
"Plenty of incongruous instrumentation and lyrical non-sequiturs to ponder. [Son Volt guitar tech] Jason Hutto and I spent the better part of a five-hour drive from Chicago soaking up a Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra compilation. We found out the next morning that he had died the same day we were listening."
Jimmie Rivers, Brisbane Bop
"This CD was recorded live by the drummer. Is it western swing or hillbilly jazz? I don't know, but to me it always sounds fresh and intriguing."
Richard Buckner, "Town"
"Richard makes good with this lyrical equilibrium-buster, fueled with a looking-back-20-years audio landscape."
Richard and Linda Thompson, Pour Down Like Silver
"This was an 'album' when it was released in 1975, and to me it represents the idea of the perfect album. I always listen straight through and often listen to the whole thing twice in a row. The level of musicianship on this record is a marvel. And there is an element of mystery to it, down to the Sufi garb on the front and back covers." Annie Zaleski
Diana Taurasi's Mercury Rising
2007 was a stellar year for basketball star Diana Taurasi. The 6-foot Phoenix Mercury guard helped lead the franchise (and city of Phoenix) to its first-ever basketball championship, toppling defending WNBA champion Detroit Shock on its home court in the final game of their best-of-five series. The Mercury made it onto a Wheaties box, Taurasi re-signed a half-million-dollar deal to play in Russia during the off-season and now has one of sports Web site yardbarker.com's most popular athlete blogs at www.yardbarker.com/dianataurasi.
One of the reasons Taurasi's blog rocks is her candid banter about all sorts of things, but most often music—plus, she often carries on conversations about music with her fans in the comments section.
Because Taurasi's bundled up B-balling in the former Soviet Union right now, here's some of her Yardbarker commentary on what rocked her world in '07.
Kanye West (posted 9-11-07)
"So here we are, on the eve of 9-11—still at war—and we're presented with one of the most important questions of our generation: Kanye or 50?
"Really. Kanye. Seriously. I'm buyin' that one and burnin' a copy for the car. Is there really a comparison? Fiddy? Are there recording studios at Shady Acres? For real, 'Stronger' is the jam of the summer. While you can question the sunglasses indoors, you can't fight Kanye's creativity. I won't venture to say lyrical genius (nobody is touching 'Pac in my book, most likely ever...in life), but the guy has undeniable talent. I like him. In the wasteland of what has become hip-hop (who can even listen to the radio anymore?), Kanye delivers."
Alicia Keys (11-13-07)
"The Alicia Keys/Ross Hogg reggae remix? What do you think? I didn't think it was possible to improve on the original, but this is the joint! In short, it's dope. I'm also not sure smoovely is a word, but I think it's tremendous and I plan to use it. Smoove it out on the laptop. If somebody figures out how to download the thing, holllerrr."
"We left off at Alicia Keys. Did you hear her stage name was going to be Alicia Wild instead of Alicia Keys? Yeah. Good call on whoever told her to swap in Keys for the stripper surname. She's killing it right now, isn't she? Did you see the American Music Awards last night? If given the choice, I would have passed on that mess they had Beyoncé up there doing, but is it coincidence that Alicia had the reggae performance? I think not. She must have seen the massive response my blog got and decided to [go in] that direction. And who knew a unitard could be so fly. I suppose if you add Beanie Man to most anything, it's dope. If he performed at a Mercury game, I think I might dunk." N.D.
Aquabat Christian Jacobs Gets Eastbound and Down
Christian Jacobs lives in a world of boldfaced, DayGlo images, a realm in which all sentences end in exclamation marks and fun is as common as oxygen. A founding member of the Huntington Beach, California, synth-pop-punk-ska band the Aquabats! and co-creator (with Scott Schultz) of new children's television show Yo Gabba Gabba!, Jacobs (aka the MC Bat Commander) assumes a cartoonish persona with earnestness and revels in goofiness with as much gusto as Jay-Z and 50 Cent luxuriate in their self-perpetuated, overblown mythologies.
As front man for the Aquabats!, Jacobs and his bandmates don superhero garb as they act out a comic-book-style storyline in which the group combats evil through its damnably catchy and ludicrously peppy songs that fall somewhere between Oingo Boingo and Devo at their most accessible. They've been doing so since 1994, over four studio albums and several international tours.
Weathering several personnel changes since then, the Aquabats! continue to soldier on in their quest to subdue nefarious nemeses; to that end, they're recording a new album and touring sporadically.
Recently, however, Jacobs' time and creative energy also have been channeled into Yo Gabba Gabba!, which debuted on Nick Jr. in August and will be aired on the Noggin cable channel starting New Year's Eve. One of those rare kids' shows that appeals to adults, it's become a cult favorite, garnering much YouTube synergy. YGG! appears destined to launch its on-air talent, including DJ Lance Rock, Ricky Fitness, the toy monsters Brobee, Foofa, Muno, Plex and Toodee, and Jacobs himself, reprising his MC Bat Commander character into something verging on mainstream stardom.
The show has drawn comparisons to such programs as H.R. Pufnstuf, Pee-Wee's Playhouse, The Muppet Show and Banana Splits Adventure Hour. The regular appearance of celebrities and music groups—including the Shins, the Aggrolites, Mya, Supernova, Rah-Zel of the Roots, Tony Hawk, Elijah Wood and Biz Markie—also harks back to MTV's golden age. If that weren't enough, Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh provides graphics for the show.
Alternadad author Neal Pollack has declared his love for Yo Gabba Gabba! on his blog: "This will be the TV show around which our movement rallies. Not that we have a movement, mind you, but if we did, this would be the TV show around which it...you get the idea."
On top of all of this Yo Gabba Gabba! success, the Aquabats! finally secured a production deal for their long-germinating superhero show. Amid increasing time constraints in his life, Jacobs (a father himself) miraculously found a few minutes to share "the songs I listened to the most, over and over this past year."
Jerry Reed, "East Bound and Down"
"C'mon! Haven't you ever been under the gun and had to drop the hammer down! I know I was all year. We would play this super-loud in the office when things were getting pretty bleak. And, you know, when Smokey's got his ears on, and he's hot on yer trail, he ain't gonna rest 'til yer in jail! So, bring it, Jerry, bring it! I'm not at all a country fan, but this song brings the goods...literally!"
The Killers, "When You Were Young (Jaques Lu Cont's Thin White Duke Radio Edit)"
"I thought the album cut was OK, but this remix is way better. It is real good. Say what you want about the Killers, but I think they are real good. And with a little help, they are way better."
M.I.A., "XR2" and "Jimmy"
"This whole album [Kala] is crazy, and I love it. Wow! 'Where were you in '92?' This song is such a mind-blower. It is so frantic and slamming but somehow so super smooth, like a ninja knife hit at the 1985 Video Game Olympics. The beat is insane. It pumps so many crazy feelings, it goes off like a bomb. I guess Maya being no stranger to bombs going off, [she] really has a knack for blowing things apart while still somehow looking fresh in pink '80s stretch pants. Then, her track 'Jimmy' takes us to a sixth-grade Bollywood disco party love song and doesn't disappoint. M.I.A is way more gangsta than anything on MTV. Sorry, all ya Fergie dawgs."
Futureheads, "Worry About It Later"
"I know that this came out last summer, but I listened to it so much this year that it may as well have come out this year...again. It's so simple but super-good. It's what I say to my fellow co-workers every day, so why wouldn't it be my favorite song? Catchy and punchy: Two great tastes that taste great together."
Arcade Fire, "Antichrist Television Blues"
"This song is so gnarly. I can't really explain it, but as lead singer Win [Butler] sings on in the guise of a down-on-his-luck Dad praying for a child so he can raise her up to put on television and sing the gospel, so that he can make money...Well, it's complex, layered with all these weird emotions and so very American that you can't help but get swept away by it. When he sings, "My lips are near/My heart is far away/Now the war is won/How come nothing tastes good?" and then the "angel bird" background singers start to sing, "WAAAA AAOOOO WAAAA AHHAOO!", I get the chills every time. This song is about as anti-American Idol as it gets and it's about time! Brilliant." Dave Segal
Richard Fortus' Great Guns
Richard Fortus once attended a Replacements/X double bill at legendary St. Louis venue Mississippi Nights; he and Mats bassist Tommy Stinson were the same age. Two decades or so later, the two are bandmates in the current incarnation of Guns 'N' Roses.
It's a just reward for Fortus, a talented guitarist who first found fame in the '80s with St. Louis darlings the Eyes (later known as Pale Divine during their major-label days) and later in Love Spit Love, the criminally underrated '90s act that also featured Psychedelic Furs figurehead Richard Butler.
Fortus is still an in-demand musician today: In 2007, he played on albums by the Crystal Method, Puddle of Mudd, the Divinyls and Scott McCloud (ex-Girls Against Boys); worked on the Spiderman 3 videogame score; and played on releases by three new, completely separate artists named Kerli, Krista and Karen.
As for G 'n' R, Fortus hit Australia, Mexico, New Zealand and Japan with the band this year, and in 2008 he hopes to be touring in support of G 'n' R's long-awaited album, Chinese Democracy.
In the meantime, here are his picks for 2007's best.
"I can't stop listening to it. Great references [Pixies, Modern Lovers], love the Bollywood elements and the production is very fresh and exciting."
Sea Wolf, Leaves in the River
"Great songs, feels very real to me, not contrived."
Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
"I think this is my favorite Wilco record yet. Nels Cline is the most inspirational guitarist I've heard in a long time. Lyrically, the strongest Wilco record."
Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
"Love Britt [Daniel]'s voice. Reminds me of Springsteen, Phil Lynott and Elvis Costello while still remaining very unique."
Radiohead, In Rainbows
"This record feels so much more real and organic than anything they've done before, as well as having very solid songs. In my opinion, they are still the most important band of the last two decades."
Tacks, the Boy Disaster, Oh, Beatrice
"They are an unsigned [Austin] band that are unbelievable. Great arrangements, beautiful lyrics, criminally unknown [www.myspace.com/tackstheboydisaster]."
Blonde Redhead, 23
"Very different to anything they'd done previously. I know, I know, it's very Radiohead-ish, but they do it well."
Nine Inch Nails, Year Zero
"I really had no intention of liking this record, but...I do."
Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
"I think I like it even more than Funeral. They definitely avoided the sophomore slump."
The Shins, Wincing the Night Away
"I didn't like the rest of the record nearly as much as Oh, Inverted World, and not quite as much as Chutes Too Narrow, but 'Phantom Limb' is stellar." A.Z.
Margaret Cho's Sensuous Sides
Margaret Cho has had her own TV show, a couple of best-selling books, a Grammy-nominated comedy album and two feature films based on her national tours, but 2007 saw a new conquest for the comic: She became a viral-video queen. The Sensuous Woman, a sexy, traveling circus-like spectacle melding music, comedy and burlesque as performed by Cho and a myriad of her talented pals, was a critical success in LA, New York and Chicago.
But when a clip from Woman showing the comedienne, clad in nothing but pasties and panties and twirling her ta-tas with awe-inspiring speed, was posted on YouTube and subsequently every blog on the Net, Cho became not only a national cyber-sensation but a champion for voluptuous women everywhere.
"I got really good at twirling those tassels. It was very popular online and quite controversial," she says. "Women loved it and felt empowered, but a few straight guys were furious because I challenge the stripper archetype."
Challenging preconceived notions and stereotypes is what Cho does. The Korean-American funny lady has always had a strong political and cultural viewpoint, and her work has explored not only her Asian background and upbringing but also her views on homosexuality (currently married, she claims to be bisexual) and the government (big shocker: She's anti-Bush).
Perhaps inspired by the online hubbub her half-naked gyrations caused—but more likely just another extension of her never-ending quest to challenge the status quo—Cho's next project, Beautiful, will be a stand-up show that ponders the age-old question of what real beauty is. It's her first stand-up show since the 2005 Assassin tour, and her own blog will play a role.
"Right now I am doing a big list of who I think is beautiful," she says. "People can log on to margaretcho.com to see if they made the list. It's famous people to friends to anyone who happens to catch my eye."
Surely, there'll be some musicians on the list. Cho, who just got tattooed like a rock star on TLC's L.A. Ink and made a splash emceeing Cyndi Lauper's True Colors tour this past year, is definitely a music enthusiast with diverse tastes. She appears in Dresden Dolls' "Shores of California" video (a parody of David Lee Roth's "California Girls") and even directed a clip for one of her '07 faves. These are the sounds she wiggled to this year.
Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger
"The best album of this year. I just listened to it over and over and over and over. It makes me feel like I am one of those girls who can wear a very, very short dress with cowboy boots and I don't have to wear tights because my legs are perfect and tan. I also saw him play with his band the Cardinals at the Wilshire Theatre, and I screamed myself sore."
Girl in a Coma
"So cute...so young. They opened for Morrissey at the Hammerstein Ballroom and rocked it."
Crowded House, Time on Earth
"It's amazing. I love Neil Finn and have had a solid crush on him for nearly 23 years. I got to tell him so after their awesome show at the Greek Theatre this summer. Love them."
The Cliks, Snakehouse
"An incredible record. I went on the True Colors tour with them and also directed their video 'Eye in the Back of my Head.'"
"This was in heavy rotation. I love her, and she is insanely cute. On the cover she looks really Super Mario Bros or Donkey Kong. Her fashion sense is crazy. So cool."
Antony Hegarty [frontman, Antony & the Johnsons]
"When he's singing he sounds like he's clutching the pearls around his neck and spilling a gin and tonic all over the place." L.L.
A Monkee, an indie rocker, a Latin/soul DJ and the Ice-Man. A pity this quartet hasn't started a band.
It's been a while since Davy Jones was considered hip, if ever the Monkees truly were, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have an ear for music. The British drummer/singer is still in the studio frequently and trying to stave off old age by listening to new music. So it would seem that checking in with Jones, who is a resident of Fort Lauderdale, to hear what he's been listening to this year would be a good idea.
"I'm mostly into music from the '60s and the '80s, to be honest. I actually missed the '80s the first time around, so I'm catching up finally and listening to lots of music from that decade."
OK, so maybe Jones isn't the best authority on new tunes, but he still hit us up with a list of what's on his radar.
Sir Paul McCartney, Memory Almost Full
"I got used to it after a while. He's getting older, but I especially like the song 'Dance Tonight.'"
Kenny Chesney, Just Who I Am: Poems and Pirates
"I kept hearing so much about the album, I figured I'd go out and buy it. I like it but I'm thinking, 'Country Artist of the Year?' There's more meat on Willie Shoemaker's whip than there is on Chesney's whole body."
James Blunt, All the Lost Souls
"It was a bit twee, but he's got great songs on there and I liked it."
Norah Jones, Not Too Late
"My favorite artist of the year was Norah Jones by far. My grandchild was born to Norah Jones' music. That probably says a lot about me. I'm old, man. I'm at the point where, when I walk up a flight of stairs, by the time I get to the top, I forget why I went there and walk back down again."
On the surface, you might think rapper/hardcore veteran Vanilla Ice wouldn't know good music if it bit his ass. He's been the butt of a million jokes from his early days as the man behind "Ice Ice Baby," but the Palm Beach County-based MC has fairly eclectic tastes in music. He's keeping his career afloat by recording with fellow rapcore legends Insane Clown Posse and making fresh tracks himself. As Ice, aka Rob Van Winkle, puts it, "I've got a subculture following in the hardcore hip-hop scene. I've got the 16- to 25-year-old market. They totally missed the 'Ice Ice Baby' stuff, and that's a good thing."
The White Stripes, Icky Thump
"They're just an amazing band. Jack White is one of the most amazing musicians in the world, ever. Just to hear him put it down, he's one of the most original artists out there right now and this album is incredible."
Slim Thug, Serve and Collect
"He's really doing it for Houston right now. I like his whole style."
Chamillionaire, Ultimate Victory
"I really like that slow flow. Ever since [DJ Screw] started slowing everything down and screwing up the beats, I've really been into this music. Chamillionaire is just a dope rapper. I'm feeling this one."
"They keep reinventing themselves They've got a great live show and just when you're think their whole style is dead and gone, they find a way to stay on top of the game."
Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds
"Man, I never liked him when he was a Disney act, but he's laying it down right now. I've forgotten about all that N'Sync shit. You gotta give credit where it's due, and this album is solid."
Slipknot, Collector's Box
"They're one of my favorite heavy metal bands of all time. You gotta realize they get no radio play, no real support, and still sell millions of records without MTV. That's phenomenal. I've recorded with them before, and they're just great guys in person as well."
Rihanna, Good Girl Gone Bad
"That's a bad-ass album. She's crushing it right now. That song 'Umbrella' is sick. I don't know who wrote that song, but it's great. Aside from that, the whole album is good."
Young Jeezy, The Inspiration
"He's holding it down, man. He's got the Midas touch right now—all of his songs are like gold."
Jay-Z, American Gangster
"This album is just ridiculous. Everybody in the world knows that Jay-Z is the hottest rap act in the world right now. He owns hip-hop, and since Biggie and Tupac are gone, somebody's gotta own it."
Guitarist Jon Wilkins has had a whirlwind year. As a member of South Florida indie darlings the Postmarks, he was on the road for most of 2007 pushing his band's self-titled debut album. Lucky for him, constant touring also means finding lots of new record stores and under-the-radar releases.
"Most of my picks are from the various tours I've been on this year, exploring new record stores and meeting other musicians with great recommendations," he says. "The Jonny Greenwood mix for Trojan is my favorite. And I've been a big fan of Mavis Staples and all the women of soul like Esther Phillips and Betty Wright. As for pop music, it was an amazing year, most notably the Clientele record. Touring with the Apples [in Stereo] really got me into their latest and also turned me on to Aqueduct, both incredibly great records and the nicest people you'd ever want to meet. And I can't help but put John Ralston's record on there...I really do listen to it and it will always be special to me.
- Trojan Records, Jonny Greenwood Is The Controller
- Mavis Staples, We'll Never Turn Back
- John Ralston, Sorry Vampire
- The Clientele, God Save The Clientele
- The Apples in Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder
- Aqueduct, Or Give Me Death
- Sondre Lerche, Phantom Punch
- Jason Falkner, I'm OK, You're OK
- The High Lllamas, Can Cladders
- Josh Rouse, Country Mouse, City House
DJ Le Spam
Born in Montreal as Andrew Yeomanson, DJ Le Spam is a South Florida legend, a spinner of rare grooves and Latin soul cookers that most record hounds only wish they could get their hands on. He's known as one of the best salsa fusion DJs in the country, possibly the world, and he keeps his ear out for the quality comps and reissues that make the people move. Aside from his monthly residence at SOB's in New York with the Spam Allstars and getting write-ups in Rolling Stone and The New York Times, he was recently tapped by Fania Records (former home of Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon) to record Fania Live 02, which was released last month.
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Various Artists, Florida Funk: Funk 45s from the Alligator State
"This is a great sampling of rare early '70s funk 45s from around the state. It goes a little deeper than the 'Miami Sound' compilation from Soul Jazz a few years back. All of these 45s are obscure gems."
Various Artists, The Outskirts Of Deep City: Eccentric Soul
"Here's another great compilation of rare soul 45s from Miami's legendary Deep City label. This is the second Deep City comp that the Numero label has put out, they do an excellent job of researching and re-mastering their reissues."
The Budos Band, The Budos Band II
"Great second album from this band in the Daptone stable. Daptone is recording soul, funk and groove music the right way and has been one of my favorite labels for years. Get it on vinyl!"
Azucar Pa' Ti (Sugar For You)
Recorded Live at Sing Sing with Harlem River Drive
"Here are three essential Eddie Palmieri albums reissued in the past 12 months by the Fania label, which is re-mastering many long-unavailable albums from their huge catalog. Live at Sing Sing is like a funky Latin version of Johnny Cash Live at Folsom Prison... Crazy bottled-up energy on that recording! I know most of these are older recordings, but that's what I listen to!"
Chris Carrabba's (Dashboard Confessional) Un-annotated Top 10
- John Ralston, Sorry Vampire
- Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
- Bruce Springsteen, Magic
- Say Anything, In Defense of The Genre
- Against Me!, New Wave
- Kanye West, Graduation
- Motion City Soundtrack, Even If It Kills Me
- Minus The Bear, Planet of Ice
- Chuck Ragan, Los Feliz
- Albert Hammond Jr., Yours To Keep