Dad’s Top 20 Favorite New Spins of 2017

December 21, 2017

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This has been a weird year for music for me. The budget tightened as Cozy got bigger and the sabbatical cushion got smaller. Weekly trips to Music Millennium were replaced by lots of speaking engagements and news interviews about the rise of fascism in Trump’s America. I buried my ears in old John Coltrane albums as I read Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest by Eric Nisenson. I spent a lot more listening time in 1964 than 2017, perhaps as an escape from the endless bad news of America going into the ditch. Just turn on KMHD radio and forget about the train wrecks (both literal and not) for a moment.

In my book, The Mission of the Sacred Heart, I posit a theory about the music of the seventh year of each decade. There is one pop album and one underground album that truly defines the decade. 1967: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s and The Velvet Underground & Nico, 1977: Saturday Night Fever and the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bullocks, 1987: U2’s The Joshua Tree and Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush the Show, 1997: The Spice Girl’s debut and Radiohead’s OK, Computer. The theory sort of falls apart with the death of the album in the 2000s. (You could make the case that 2007 fell to Kanye West and the White Stripes). But what will it be for 2017? It wasn’t exactly the Summer of Love 2.0. It may take years to figure out how we survived a year without a new Beyoncé album.

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We did make it to a few great shows this year. Paul Weller in Seattle was probably my favorite and Solange in Portland was pretty epic. Beck and Spoon on the Portland Waterfront were mass entertaining. Runaway Lita Ford rocked Dante’s and getting to sing with Drivin’ N’ Cryin in Marietta, Georgia was a hoot. (Kevn Kinney introduced me as “Randy Blazak from U2!”)  Herb Albert gave a master class in pop history at the Aladdin and Sting and Michael Kiwanuka brought some neo-soul to town. Bomba Estereo and Y La Bamba covered our Latin fixes. We had a great night with Shannon & the Clams and Portland garage kings The Shivas. However, I missed a ton of great gigs, choosing stay home and sing Frozen songs with Cozy.

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I missed a lot of great music this year. I hear both the War on Drugs and Roger Waters have brilliant new albums out.. I know everyone has Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN at the top of their year-end polls. I loved his last one but I’m just tired of rap albums where every other word is “bitch.” It shows a lack of imagination, no matter how brilliant your commentary might be. The anti-Trump music is finally coming out. Jason Isbell’s “White Man’s World” is a chilling take on election day and I must have played “Fuck Donald Trump” by YG a hundred times on the binks jukebox. Maybe 2018 will be our 1968. You say you want a revolution? Well, you know. Is it streaming?

So this isn’t the best new albums of the year, just the ones I enjoyed the most, while Andrea painted and Cozy built increasingly impressive towers of blocks. I’ve already written about my complete submission to the joyous Harry Styles album, so it should be of no surprise that it tops my heart’s charts. We lost some greats, like Chuck Berry and Sharon Jones, and some old friends returned to remind us that, despite our foray into the Upside Down, great music will always sustain us.

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  1. Harry Styles – Harry Styles
  2. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Soul of a Woman
  3. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
  4. U2 – Songs of Experience
  5. SZA – Cntrl
  6. Sleater-Kinney – Live in Paris
  7. Tim Darcy – Saturday Night
  8. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
  9. Dhani Harrison – In///Parallel
  10. Ringo Starr – Give More Love
  11. Paul Weller – A Kind Revolution
  12. Algiers – The Underside of Power
  13. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
  14. Drivin N Cryin – Mystery Road Expanded Edition
  15. Portugal, The Man – Woodstock
  16. Chuck Berry – Chuck
  17. Cheap Trick – We’re All Alright 
  18. Waterboys – Out of this Blue
  19. Big Thief – Capacity 
  20. Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here?

And Special Portland Topper:  Jared Mees –  Life is Long Besides being a perfect album, it gave me the theme song for my podcast, Recovering Asshole.

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Father Randy’s Top 20 LPs for 2016: Back to Vinyl

December 27, 2016

Near the end of my tenure at Portland State University, the provost instituted her “challenge,” called reTHINK PSU, designed to encourage the growth of the use of technology to expand the university . She invited a speaker to get the faculty onboard the move to online education. He repeated the Nathan Harden line, that in fifty years half the brick and mortar colleges and universities in the country would be history, replaced by websites (probably run by some kid in India). The message was get on the train or get left at the station. He tried to make the point by claiming that CD technology had replaced vinyl records, so get ready for college professors to go the way of the Foghat album.

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Ironically I was listening to this talk sitting in my office in Cramer Hall as it streamed on the university server. If I had been in the room, I would have jumped up to say that CDs sales were tanking, but vinyl was making a massive comeback, growing even faster than downloads and streaming music. Fortune magazine reported in April that vinyl album sales were at a 28-year high. Turns our kids want their Taylor Swift on wax (and their teachers in the goddamn classroom). Sometimes the old way is the best.

I say this because I really fell off my hipness high horse this year. The arrival of the baby in 2014 got me out of the cavalcade of live shows and endless hours in record stores. In 2016, between a rampaging toddler, the effort to return to work, busting Trump’s tiny balls, and finishing my new novel, The Dream Police, I just abdicated my staples for side-lined music aficionadodom. My favorite podcasts,  All Songs Considered, Sound Opinions, and Alt Latino, went un-downloaded. Our local weeklies, Willamette Week and The Portland Mercury, remained in their boxes on NE Alberta Street. An occasional breeze or hip kid would blow in to let me know what was up, but I missed so much. Did you know that Radiohead put out an awesome album in 2016? Of course you did.

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Where I kept things real was on the vinyl front. A large chunk of the new releases I bought this year were on vinyl (including a bootleg vinyl release of Frank Ocean’s long-awaited follow up to the brilliant 2012 release, Orange). I couldn’t stop buying vinyl, at Amoeba Music in LA and Peaches in New Orleans, and a dozen record stores in Portland. Old, new, kids’ records, 45’s, and even Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass from the 50 cent bin at Everyday Music. Solange just sounded better on vinyl and Bowie had to be experienced deep in the ruts. The ghost is the grooves, not the machine.

Andrea and I took our love of LPs into the sharing economy. Our basement just became an AirBNB called the Alberta Vinyl Den. Each guest lets me know his or her music tastes when they make a booking and I stock the room with a dozen albums from my massive collection. So guests get to feel like they are staying in the record store of their dreams, complete with a turntable and a refrigerator full of beer.

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2016 was a still a great year for music. With the blessing of babysitters we did manage to see some great shows, including some true classics; Patti Smith, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Bruce Springsteen, and the Electric Light Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl (a double bucket list item). We saw some good world music, like Bomba Estereo and Bombino. We saw a wildly drunken gig by Greasy Alice in New Orleans and caught a show by old friend Chris Robinson that took us down a rabbit hole. I just caught Georgia underground pioneers Pylon at Mississippi Studios. (Last time I saw them was at the Agora Ballroom in 1983.) Earlier in the year we caught a barely attended show there by Sir Paul’s son, James McCartney and got to chat after the gig. Other than the Cuban band we saw every Sunday during our summer on Isla Mujeres, I think my favorite show of 2016 was Father John Misty at Edgefield in the pouring rain surrounded by a thousand other dudes with beards. It was perfectly Portland.

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So here is my Top 20 favorite albums of 2016, recognizing that I’m surely missing a ton I will discover in 2017 or 2027. (Nick Cave’s new one? Someone said it was killer.) I really think we’ll be talking about the Beyoncé and Solange albums 50 years from now.  A serious thanks to the gang at Music Millennium for pointing me in the right direction on some good stuff.

  1. David Bowie – Blackstar
  2. Beyoncé – Lemonade
  3. Y La Bamba – Ojos del Sol
  4. Solange – A Seat at the Table
  5. Drive-By-Truckers – American Band
  6. Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings
  7. Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
  8. Frank Ocean – blond
  9. Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome
  10. Bombino – Azel
  11. Patti Smith – Horses: Live at Electric Ladyland Studios
  12. The Beatles – Live at Hollywood Bowl
  13. Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels
  14. Carla Morrison – Amor Supremo
  15. The Bangles – Ladies and Gentlemen…
  16. A Tribe Called Quest  – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
  17. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
  18. Chris Robley – The Great Make Believe
  19. Ages and Ages – Something to Ruin
  20. Cheap Trick – Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello

Here’s to more music on vinyl in 2017. And more professors in classrooms.

Dad’s Favorite Discs 2015

December 28, 2015

SaturnspatternDespite the fact, now that The Beatles are streaming on Spotify, there is a whole new generation of kids that will never listen to Rubber Soul straight through, I’m still a firm believer in the album format. Artists like Kendrick Lamar can have a complete musical vision that can’t be represented by one track. Some, like Bjork, will actually wrap it in some wonderful album artwork. And some will release a set of songs that you just can’t stop playing. For me that was the 9 track album a hero of mine from my teenage days, Paul Weller. Andrea and I both played the hell out of it and it will still be on heavy rotation in the new year.

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It was hard to hang out in record stores this year with a wild monkey living in our casa. I even fell behind on my three favorite music podcasts (Sound Opinions, All Songs Considered, and Alt Latino). Most of the year was spent watching Cozy transform from a baby into a toddler, and on planes and writing my ass off. But there was still plenty of music in the house and the one thing we learned in 2015 is that Cozy Valentina loves to dance, especially to hip hop and Latin music. And she likes record stores, too.

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The six weeks we spent in Mexico helped to infuse her with her native rhythms. Our weekly “Sunday Funday” fix of Cuban music on the beach and the endless playing of Osmani Garcia and Pitbull’s single, “Taxi,” had her up on her feet and shaking her diaper. The other day I was playing some dreary Bob Dylan and she figured out how to get the CD out of the stereo and replace it with a Bomba Estero disc. She hit play, climbed on the table and danced. She’s mama’s girl.

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There was a great theme of classic jazz this year. The amazing DJs on KMHD got me through the ups and downs of 2015. They provided much of the soundtrack while I worked on my new novel, The Dream Police. The year culminated with a show at the Village Vanguard in New York City a few weeks ago. The Christian McBride Trio provided an evening of bliss in the world’s most historic jazz cellar.

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We actually did manage to get out and see some shows this year thanks to some much appreciated babysitting. We went to see Patti Smith, Algiers, Madonna, Genders, Emily Kinney, La Santa Cecilia and Paul Weller. Andrea made it to shows by Sleater-Kinney and Elle King. And Cozy went to her first two concerts with us this year, U2 in Vancouver and then The Waterboys in Portland.

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As I predicted, I bought a lot less music in 2015 (and a lot more diapers). But here are 20 releases from 2015 I really enjoyed. I’ve been a Paul Weller fan since he was in The Jam in the late 1970s and I think his latest is one of the best things he’s ever done. Seeing him play these songs at the Wonder Ballroom in October was beyond thrilling. And I have to say how excited I was about a new ELO album. It may really just be a Jeff Lynne album but it captures what was great about the group in the seventies; the music that inspired my last book.

  1. Paul Weller – Saturns Patterns
  2. Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Alone in the Universe
  3. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
  4. Algiers – Algiers
  5. The Waterboys – Modern Blues
  6. Bomba Estereo – Amanecer
  7. Sleater Kinney – No Cities to Love
  8. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material
  9. The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
  10. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah
  11. Madonna – Rebel Heart
  12. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
  13. Bob Dylan – Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Best of the Cutting Edge
  14. Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves
  15. Keith Richards – Crosseyed Heart
  16. Bjork – Vulnicura
  17. Brian Wilson – No Pier Pressure
  18. Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon
  19. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
  20. Pete Townshend – Truancy

You can stream tracks here on my Spotify 2015 Top 20 playlist.

Honorable mention: Waxahatchee – Ivy Trip, Bob Dylan – Shadows in the Night, The Flaming Lips – With a Little Help From My Fwends, Ringo Starr – Postcards From Paradise, Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect, Various Artists – PDX Pop Now 2015

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I love year-end lists. They typically serve as shopping lists (or at least streaming). SO much music to catch up on. I bought a Kedrick Lamar track over the summer but the album topped so many year-end lists, I finally purchased the whole thing and now I get it (but it loses points for all the “bitch” talk). It will be on heavy rotation in 2016. But it’s going to have to compete with the new David Bowie album out on January 8. And I know I need to get into Grimes and give that Sujan Stevens album another try. But what all about the great stuff that I’ll be ranking a year from now? When am I going to listen to that?

I have a lot of catching up to do. I’m sure when I get the latest albums by Alabama Shakes, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Dwight Yoakum, and Young Fathers I’ll wish I had listened to them in 2015. Cozy just wants more salsa and hip hop. I’m setting aside some album time when Cozy goes off the college.

Go back 1 year! Dad’s Favorite Discs 2014