By Rebecca Bulnes
By S. Pajot
By S. Pajot, Liz Tracy, Kat Bein, & Sean Levisman
By Kat Bein
By Ashley Rogers
By Jose D. Duran
By David Rolland
Over the past few years, year-end critics' lists have multiplied faster than the worry lines on Ben Bernanke's brow. Mark our words, the Internet and your local Barnes & Noble's magazine rack will be brimming 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. In 11 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 simply wanted to know what was moving our interviewees right now. Interviews in 11 cities are included below.
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 release dates and then treasuring new albums appear to be on the wane.
Miami: DJ I-Dee's tracks to relax.
Unlike most of his neighbors, turntable wunderkind Isaac DeLima did not choose his South Beach digs for their proximity to the neighborhood's nonstop party. Rather DeLima, a.k.a. DJ I-Dee, 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 2005, an 18-year-old I-Dee was crowned the national DMC turntable competition champion, one of the youngest ever. He'd quickly rack up a string of 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 — at 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 age 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 his enviable precociousness has led him to find one of the city's few quiet, pedestrian-friendly pockets amid the chaos.
I-Dee has 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 in 2008.
Still, like any worthy party selector, record collector, and postmodern music-maker, DeLima devours new music releases as if they were 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 in 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, feat. 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 some time, however. Be sure to look out for her major debut on Kweli's label, Blacksmith."
Justice, "D.A.N.C.E." Benny Blanco remix feat. 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" feat. 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."
It's been awhile since current Fort Lauderdale resident 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.
"I'm mostly into music from the Sixties and the Eighties, to be honest," he admits. "I actually missed the Eighties the first time around, so I'm catching up finally and listening to lots of music from that decade."
Okay, 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's 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 taste in music. He's keeping his career afloat by recording with rapcore legends Insane Clown Posse and making fresh tracks in his spare time.
As Ice, a.k.a. 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."
Korn, Untitled: "They keep reinventing themselves. They've got a great live show, and just when you 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 its 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 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."
When it came time to work on this year-end list, the first name that came to mind was hometown indie hero Chris Carrabba. The second was John Ralston. Go figure. But news came back that not only was Carrabba on tour promoting his stellar new record, The Shade of Poison Trees, but also he was doing so with Ralston and neither would be available. Bummer. Then from the heavens came an e-mail with Carrabba's top 10 albums of the year. Interestingly enough, Ralston made the list:
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
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. 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
Born in Montreal as Andrew Yeomanson, the internationally acclaimed DJ Le Spam is a South Florida legend when it comes to spinning rare grooves and Latin soul cookers. He's known as one of the best salsa fusion DJ's in the nation, and always keeps his ear out for quality compilations and reissues that make people dance. Aside from his monthly residence at SOB's in New York with the Spam Allstars and getting writeup's in Rolling Stone and the New York Times, he was recently tapped by Fania Records (former home of Héctor Lavoe and Willie Colón) to record Fania Live 02, which was released in November. In between working on fresh mixes, Spam hit us with his favorite albums of the year:
Various Artists, Florida Funk: Funk 45s from the Alligator State: "This is a great sampling of rare early-Seventies 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 remastering 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!"
Eddie Palmieri, Azúcar Pa' Ti (Sugar for You), Molasses, and 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 remastering many long-unavailable albums from its huge catalogue. 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!"
BY LINA LECARO
Looks like Dave Navarro is going to be all about instant gratification in 2008. 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," 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 bandmate Stephen Perkins, is "up in the air" after a less-than-well-received Capitol release late in 2006, 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 L.A.'s Indie 103.1 FM), jamming on live guitar over his pal DJ Skribble's scratch attacks for select club dates, or one day (maybe) even reforming Jane's.
Right now Spread TV, the talk show he launched this past spring on Mania TV (the same web station Tom Green calls home), is definitely his main focus. Airing Thursdays at 8 p.m. Eastern, 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. Up-and-coming bands often play live on the show, and 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 ... 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."
The Start, Ciao, Baby: "A great band. I love Aimee Echo's vocal abilities. They're close friends."
Mickey Avalon: "I 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."
Datarock, Datarock: "Fun. Kind of reminds me of Love and Rockets with the sax and the hokey guitar stuff."
Daniel Johnston: "He's a bipolar schizophrenic who is a really brilliant songwriter [and has] heavily influenced bands like Nirvana and Sonic Youth. I would highly recommend looking into this guy and the documentary about him [2005's The Devil and Daniel Johnston]."
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. Cho's sexy, traveling circuslike spectacle, The Sensuous Woman, which melds music, comedy, and burlesque and is performed by herself and a myriad of talented pals, was a critical success in L.A., New York, and Chicago. But when a clip from the show featuring the comedian twirling her ta-tas with awe-inspiring speed, clad in nothing but panties and tasseled pasties, was posted on YouTube and subsequently every blog on the Internet, Cho became not only a national cyber sensation but also 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."
But then 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 bi-sexual) and the government (big shocker: She's anti-Bush).
Perhaps inspired by the hubbub her half-naked gyrations caused on the web (but more likely just another extension of her never-ending quest to challenge the status quo), Cho's next project, titled Beautiful, will be a stand-up show that ponders the age-old question of what real beauty is. It will be her first stand-up show since the Assassin tour in 2005, and her personal 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 music artists on the list. Cho, who just got tattooed like a rock star on TLC's LA Ink and made a splash MCing Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Tour this past year, is definitely a music enthusiast and her tastes are diverse. She can be seen in the Dresden Dolls' "Shores of California" video (which parodies David Lee Roth's "California Girls"), and even directed a clip for one of her '07 faves. Here, 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."
Crowded House, Time on Earth: "The album is 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.'"
Björk, Volta: "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: "When he's singing, he sounds like he is clutching the pearls around his neck and spilling a gin and tonic all over the place."
Phoenix: America's idol and a hoops star keep Phoenix's mercury rising.
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. From July through September, she traversed the States as part of the American Idols Live! tour. Then she 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 the contents of her iPod.
Rhianna: "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."
Chris Brown: "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."
Alicia Keys: "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."
For basketball star Diana Taurasi, 2007 was a stellar year. The six-foot guard for the Phoenix Mercury helped lead the franchise (and the city of Phoenix) to its first basketball championship, toppling defending WNBA champion Detroit Shock on its home court in the final game of a best-of-five series. The Mercury made it onto the Wheaties box, Taurasi re-signed a half-million dollar deal to play in Russia during the WNBA off-season, and now she has one of the most popular athlete blogs on sports site yardbarker.com (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 — and the fact that she'll carry on conversations about music with her fans in the comments section.
Because Taurasi is bundled up and playing b-ball in the former Soviet Union right now, we'll refer you to 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), 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 (posted 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.
(posted 11/19/07): 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 Beenie Man to most anything, it's dope. If he performed at a Mercury game, I think I might dunk.
Houston: Teeing off with Scarface
BY CHRIS GRAY
Remember how everyone thought Snoop Dogg wearing golf gear in 2004's Starsky & 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 socks (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. Asked if he'll make another album after Made, he just shrugs. Rapping, it seems, is now something he can take or leave. Nonetheless, Scarface and his erstwhile label Rap-a-Lot have mended enough fences for him to return to the fold (both with the Geto Boys and solo) after a one-album departure to Def Jam South for The Fix.
After the press conference, Face allows the Houston Press to follow him onto the links for a couple of holes. He has 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 is also a fan of local rockabilly. "You ever heard of the [Flaming] Hellcats?" he asks, preparing to tee off. "[Frontman Jaime Hellcat] is a good friend of mine. I talk to Jaime a lot. I want to see them get it."
Houston Press: What was your favorite music to come out this year?
Scarface: 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 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 an eagle right here. [Swings] Awww, slow down, ball! Shit. I fucked up my eagle. Fuck!
[He two-putts for a bogey.]
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.
You said earlier you've been playing a lot of blues. What kind of blues are you into?
What have you been listening to the most recently?
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.... I just make music, man. I know who my fan base 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?
Minneapolis: Al Franken's stump songs.
BY SARAH ASKARI
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":
"Bob": "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: "Okay, 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."
Dixie Chicks Grammy-winning-song collaborator Dan Wilson 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 the Electric Fetus, and plans on holing up and writing songs for the next few months. He recently finished producing Mike Doughty's Golden Delicious, due in February 2008. Here's his list:
Replacements, "Skyway": "I got so excited about Walsh's book [Replacements 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 Sonata in C, KV 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."
Ray Lamontagne, 'Til the Sun Turns Black: "I really liked Trouble a lot. When I got this one, I listened to it a bunch of times and I thought, Oh, okay: This is his masterpiece; he's a genius, and then it turns out it was received as a turning-inward."
Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde: "This album had always seemed sort of jumpy to me, but this year, not at all. Now it seems very spontaneous, and what I used to think of as 'jumpy' is people listening to each other having fun and following Dylan's crazy lead. Some of it is just so funny — 'Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat' makes me laugh every time."
San Francisco: 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 tear 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's 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."
Amiina, Kurr: "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 Sigursson, 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."
M.I.A., Kala: "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."
Orange County: Aquabat Christian Jacobs gets eastbound and down.
BY DAVE SEGAL
Christian Jacobs lives in a world of boldface, Day-Glo 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 (a.k.a. the MC Bat Commander) assumes a cartoonish personae with earnestness, and revels in goofiness with as much gusto as Jay-Z and 50 Cent luxuriate in their self-perpetuated, overblown mythologies.
As frontman 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 currently recording a new album and touring sporadically.
Recently, however, Jacobs's 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 appeal 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 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 till 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 okay, 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 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 Eighties 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 coworkers 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."
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 video-game 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. "No, really."
In the meantime, here are his picks for 2007's best:
M.I.A., Kala: "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."
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."
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."
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 than our fair city. But save for a short stint in New Orleans, Son Volt founder Jay Farrar has lived in south St. Louis for the last fifteen years. And he's not going anywhere.
"Saint 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 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 that record in 2007; Son Volt also released a limited-edition, extended vinyl version of The Search (called On Chant and Strum), and recorded a version of the Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye" for an ESPN commercial touting David Beckham's arrival in LA.
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 album 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."
Lee Hazlewood: "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."
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."
Cleveland: Electric Avenue.
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 bandanna-sporting 43-year-old Lakewood native and father of four who's played in a number of 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?"
Honorable Mentions: "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")."
Kansas City: Eco-Journalist Simran Sethi's green team.
BY JASON HARPER
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 she talked about her list of the music, among other things, that kept her going this year.
Pitch: You picked "Digging in the Dirt" by Peter Gabriel. Not many people aside from big fans have heard it.
Simran Sethi: 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?
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.