What I'm Reading
Beware: A long post this week. I'm off from work today recovering from getting a tooth pulled, which gave me plenty of time to bask in the Eagles win over those evil Cowboys and to put together this long Playlist, which kicks off with the inaugural Distractions 10 Best Albums of the Year List.
I love end-of-the-year lists. I particularly look forward to following the WXPN Countdown of Top 100 CDs online. It's too late now to make your picks, but you can check out The Long Cut to see his picks.
One of my favorite music/book blogs is the Largehearted Boy. The site is collecting a list of all the year-end music lists online. Hopefully, Largehearted Boy will add this to the growing list. (In the next few weeks, I'll be following with my list of top "songs" and "books.")
Distractions 10 Best Albums of 2007 ...
10 (tie). Spoon -- Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga; Trans Am -- Sex Change. I just couldn't leave either of these albums off the list, so I cheated. Spoon's latest pales in comparison to Gimme Fiction and at 36 minutes ends much too quickly, but it's filled with the usual angular, catchy tunes Britt Daniel can probably write in his sleep. I don't know much about Trans Am. They're a mostly electronic band that channels Rush as well as Gary Numan. And you'll find songs with huge Sabbath-like riffs. -- all with an indie-rock ethos. Are they paying homage or being sarcastic? I don't know, but I don't care. Sex Change rocks.
9. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists -- Living With the Living. Leo does it again, pounding out another set of catchy personal and political songs. He's growing on each album, too, but can still get downright loud on songs like Bomb.Repeat.Bomb.
8. Birdie Busch -- Penny Arcade. This album reminded me a little of last year's Jenny Lewis solo CD Rabbit Fur Coat, and not just because Busch's first song is Rabbit Foot. This is a quirky, honest, delicate and warm album. Where Lewis leaned a little to country, Busch is more folk. A very rewarding album from this Philly-based artist.
7. Bright Eyes -- Cassadaga. Conor Oberst follows up the classic I'm Wide Awake It's Morning with another winner, moving away from politics into the psychic world. Intelligent songwriting with great arrangements.
6. New Pornographers -- Challengers. Though it lacks the frenetic energy of the Pornographers' previous releases, the hooks and interesting layers are still there. A bit more dense. This is one of those "growers."
5. Ryan Adams -- Easy Tiger. See Playlist 1.
4. Okkervil River -- Stage Names. What a great collection of memorable songs. John Allyn Smith Sails (about the poet John Berryman) eventually evolves into Sloop John B., while Plus Ones name checks numerically titled songs such as 96 Tears and 99 Luftballoons. Great, fun and literate songs.
3. Arcade Fire -- Neon Bible. The album that I most anticipated this year did not disappoint. This is a band with a great future in front of it. Now if they'd only come to South Florida so I could see them live.
2. Dr. Dog -- We All Belong. A friend of mine who saw this Philly band in Orlando said they were a "mess," but what a glorious mess they are. This oddball, but highly talented, group put out an album that exceeded all my expectations from hearing Easy Beat. The great song Alaska has earned them comparisons to The Band. If you like excellent musicianship, fun songwriting, Beatles-based hooks and harmony, you'll love this as much as I did.
1. Wilco -- Sky Blue Sky. Jeff Tweedy continues to surprise. After the noise of the last two albums, he returns closer to his alt-country roots than at any point since the band's first album. These are mostly mellow, memorable songs made even better by Nels Cline's intense guitar work. I have no qualms saying they're the best rock band in America today.
Just about all of these great albums are available at eMusic.
The rest of this week's Playlist.
Calvin Trillin. About Alice. This is a touching book about Trillin's wife Alice, who had it all -- brains, beauty, compassion. And a battle with cancer. It's a short book, yet in those few pages Trillin painted such a complete picture of Alice that I feel like I knew her.
Millard Kaufman. Bowl of Cherries. There are so many reasons I've been eager to read this book. First of all, it's Mr. Kaufman's first book. And he's 90 years old! However, he's had an exciting career as a screenwriter (two-time Oscar nominee) and as co-creator of Mr. Magoo. And this book is published by McSweeney's. So far, through the first 75 or so pages, it has not disappointed. Click the link above to find out more about the book and Mr. Kaufman. And while you're there, check out the McSweeney's store. Great stuff.
Anchor Steam Christmas Ale. It went for $6.25 per bottle at Pizza Paridiso when I was in Georgetown. A little pricey, but well worth it. Perfect beer for cold weather. Goes down smooth and easy with a slight fruity taste. It's a full-bodied beer. For your beer afficionados out there, it's often compared to Jaeger.
Jens Lekman. A Postcard to Nina and Your Arms Around Me. If you're not turned off by Jens' very Morrissey-like voice, listen to the words of these songs. In Postcard, Jens befriends Nina, who asks him to pretend he's her boyfriend so her family doesn't find out that she's a lesbian. And Arms is a touching song that revolves around a partners' warm hug and a trip to a hospital because of an accident Jens suffers slicing an avocado. Great stuff. And yes, you can download both songs and the album Night Falls Over Kortedala at eMusic.
One or both of these songs may make it onto the top songs of 2007 list, which will be part of the next Playlist. So be sure to check back around next week.
Roger and Me. We finally pulled out Michael Moore's first film for our young teens. What can I say? It's only the second documentary (Super Size Me was the first) that they sat all the way through. And they didn't complain. The film made me laugh -- and made me angry, just as it had done the last time I saw it many years ago.
That's all for this week. Now, please tell me: What's on your Playlist? What are you listening to as you drive around doing the last-minute frenetic holiday shopping? What book is in your hands at night as you try to wind down from another crazy day?