The Best of 2021

And so we reach the end of another year. The older I get the faster they fly by, the monotonous routine of COVID living adding to the Groundhog Day feel that is sometimes more like existing than living. Fortunately things are opening up a bit so we’ve been able to get out and enjoy some events like Seattle Kraken hockey games and meals with friends. A weekly Dungeons & Dragons game on Zoom gives us something to look forward to every week and our dog Evie won’t let us get too lazy, insisting on her morning walks and play sessions in the yard. Plus there’s the music. The music is always there, a way to be transported away for a while. There’s never enough time to listen to all the music I want to hear.

I didn’t blog much in 2021, only seven posts prior to today, and I’m not sure what the future holds for Life in the Vinyl Lane. We’ll just have to wait and see. Regardless, I listened to a ton of great music this year, and hopefully these lists may point you toward a band or artist that you will fall in love with.

Top 5 New Releases In 2021

1. Generation Loss – Steve Summers (US)
2. Mobile Home – GusGus (Iceland)
3. Ashamed – Mad Foxes (France)
4. Music Library 02 – Hvörf (Iceland)
5. Nightshade – NAOS (Iceland)

If you’ asked me at the start of December which album would top this list, I’d have said Mobile Home. But then a box of records I bought on a Bandcamp Friday from the L.I.E.S. label arrived and Steve Summers blew my mind. I’m not sure I can explain precisely why I love Generation Loss. I just know that when I put it on, I enjoy every single thing I hear, and if I play it on Spotify I also like almost everything the algorithm throws at me once the album is over. I suspect in 2022 I’ll be digging into his catalog and grabbing some of his earlier 12″ singles.

GusGus is one of my all-time favorite groups, and Mobile Home did not disappoint, the duo of Biggi and Daniél adding Vök vocalist Margrét Rán to the lineup to give an ethereal quality to the new album. This is the first time since I started doing these year-end lists that GusGus put out a new album and didn’t take the top spot on my Top 5. Don’t let that fool you – they’re hardly slipping, and GusGus remains a group I go back to time after time after time.

I first heard about Mad Foxes thanks to Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane, who texted me when she heard one of their songs on KEXP and said I needed to check them out. By the time she got home a few hours later I had already ordered their new album Ashamed as well as their 2018 CD Desert Island Wish. A bit punk-ish, a bit post-punkish, their sound orbits a lot of styles and bands I like. Hvörf made my Top 5 “New To Me” list in 2019, and their electro-library music is great for just chilling out. NAOS rounds out the list with his edgy, techno Nightshade cassette. This one is tough to find, and I don’t think any of his stuff is on Spotify either, but it’s worth the effort to track down.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

1. Jeno Void
2. Algebra Suicide
3. The Ruts
4. Hoodoo Fushimi
5. Laserdance

I could have easily included three artists from my Top 5 New Releases list here, but that seemed a bit too obvious.

I first heard about Jeno Void from, of all places, Instagram, when Seattle’s Selector Records posted about some old school Jeno cassettes that had just come in. I managed to snag three of these by mail, and later a fourth at the shop, and I have to say that I could play these sets over and over and over again. it’s like having a rave in your living room. Hoodoo Fushimi also came to me via Selector with the re-release of the funky ケンカおやじ.

I can’t remember how I learned about Algebra Suicide, but I got hooked on their quirky indie/post-punk/no wave weirdness. The Ruts came to my attention thanks to Henry Rollins’ Stay Fanatic books – with how much he raved about the band I figured I needed to check them out, and I’m glad I did. Laserdance was a shot in the dark – a rewards program at work was shutting down and I converted those points into an Amazon gift card, so I decided to look at some box sets. One that caught my eye was Laserdance’s The Ultimate Fan Box, because who doesn’t want some 1980s Euro synth-pop? I know I do. So I did. And it’s pretty great.

Top 5 Purchases/Acquisitions

1. B.Q. Wave – Vector
2. Realm of Chaos – Blot Thrower
3. Jeno Void Cassettes
4. L.I.E.S. Records
5. V 1/2 Performed Live In Seattle – Led Zeppelin

Vector’s B.Q. Wave was actually the least expensive item on this list, but it will always hold a special place in my collection as it was the 1,000th Icelandic release (across all formats) I acquired. Funny that it came to me not from Iceland, but instead from Seattle’s own Selector Records. It’s hard to believe I’ve amassed that many items from Iceland. And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t slow down with my Icelandic purchases after picking this up – the count currently stands at 1,058 releases, with more already in the mail.

Bolt Thrower’s Realm of Chaos has been in constant rotation on Spotify since I came upon it for the first time last year. Plus as a fan of Warhammer 40,000 fiction the idea of a Warhammer concept death metal album appeals to me. It also has quite an odd backstory. Games Workshop originally allowed the band to use the painting on the cover, but when the label approached GW about a later re-issue the company and it’s IP had grown much bigger and more valuable, meaning there were more lawyers, and ultimately they refused to extend the license. The band did not want the album re-released with a different cover, but the label went ahead and commissioned the same artist who did the original to do a similar-but-not-too-similar new work, which was then used on later releases, much to the disgust of Bolt Thrower who have told fans not to buy it. I’ve coveted copies with the original artwork, and I finally broke down and bought a gatefold original pressing.

Jeno Void and the L.I.E.S. label came into my orbit thanks to Sherman at Selector. Since then I’ve picked up 4-5 Jeno cassettes and at least a dozen L.I.E.S. releases, including my pick for the top album of 2021, Steve Summers’ Generation Loss. As for the live Led Zep, I love the band and have always had an interest in any of their stuff live from Seattle, so when I ran across this at a location that shall remain nameless I just had to pick it up. The sound quality isn’t the best, but it’s still a cool artifact.

Top 5 Live Shows

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

For the second consecutive year we didn’t see a single live show. Which sucks immeasurably. On a positive note, we have been to a few larger events, most notably a handful of NHL games to cheer on our new team, the Seattle Kraken, so at least we’re starting to feel comfortable enough to go out in group settings. We’re moderately optimistic about 2022, enough so that we already have tickets for the Swedish House Mafia show here in Seattle later in the year. Fingers crossed.

Top 5 Artists on Spotify

1. GusGus
2. The Ruts
3. Beastie Boys
4. F-Rontal
5. Space 92

A lot of folks post on Facebook and Instagram when Spotify produces its year-end listening summaries to each user. And like last year, there were a few surprises fon mine. First and foremost was the sheer amount of time Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane and I spent streaming – 134,469 minutes, which equates to 2,241 hours or 93.4 full days. With both of us working from home and streaming individually in different rooms, this kind of makes sense – a typical work day could involve 20+ hours of streaming. But it’s still a lot of listening.

As for the artists themselves, there were a few surprises. GusGus in the top spot was to be expected, especially with them releasing a new album in 2021. The Ruts raised an eyebrow, though I went through a pretty big Ruts phase earlier in the year. The Beastie Boys are an all-time favorite and never disappoint, so that makes sense. The last two artists, well… I don’t know that I could have named them prior to seeing them on this list. It turns out that both have tracks on a playlist called Techno Bunker that we listen to A LOT, so that’s clearly how they cracked into the Top 5.

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

1. Bandcamp
2. Selector Records – Seattle
3. Lucky Records – Reykjavik
4. Easy Street Records – Seattle
5. Discogs

I tried to shop on as many Bandcamp Fridays as I could – I appreciate the platform’s commitment to artists, and knowing that the artists would receive all the proceeds from purchases on those days got me onto the site just looking for stuff. I ended up making a few decent sized purchases, most notably from the L.I.E.S. and Intellitronic Bubble. Discogs, as always, was also a great online source.

As for bricks-and-mortar, this year I “discovered” one of Seattle’s newer record ships, Selector Records. Selector specializes in electronic and DJ music and my man Sherman has curated a great inventory of labels, genres, and artists into a relatively small space. I don’t think I’ve walked out of there with less than 10 records (and a few tapes) in my bag after any of my visits this year. Easy Street continues to be a local favorite as well, though the closure of the West Seattle Bridge made it harder to get to. And while we didn’t travel to Iceland this year, I believe I had three boxes arrive from Reykjavik courtesy of my friends at Lucky Records, with another box being assembled for January shipment.

I bought a metric ton of music in 2021, and while space is stating to become an issue, I don’t expect to slow down in 2022.

Top 5 Music Books Read

1. Avant-Garde From Below: Transgressive Performance from Iggy Pop to Joe Coleman and GG Allin by Clemens Marschall
2. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin: The Untold Story of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Million-Dollar Secret Album, the Devaluation of Music, and America’s New Public Enemy No. 1 by Cyrus Bozorgmehr
3. Love In Vain – The Story Of The Ruts & Ruts D.C. by Roland Link
4. GusGus 25 Ára
5. A Pig’s Tale: The Underground Story of the Legendary Bootleg Record Label by Ralph Sutherland and Harold Sherrick

Only two of these books were newly released in 2021, but no matter. Avant-Garde From Below profiled a small number of musicians and performance artists and forced me to think a bit about the question of “what is art”. And now that I think about it, so too did Once Upon a Time In Shaolin; I always saw that one-off Wu-Tang album as a bit of a stunt, but it was actually much more than that, it was an artistic statement. Honorable mention to the crowdfunded GusGus 25 Ára photo book, an exquisite piece of publishing if there ever was one.

And that’s a wrap, folks. Hope to catch you here again in 2022.

Led Zeppelin – “Seattle Graffiti” Box Set (2012)

There are a number of terms used to describe releases such as Seattle Graffiti, often interchangeably. That being said, I think the tag of “unofficial” is probably the most accurate. “Bootleg” is generally reserved for an illegally made copy of an official release, whereas what we have here is a live recording that was never released by the band or the label. Maybe it’s just semantics. But either way, Seattle Graffiti is not part of the Led Zeppelin canon.

I was originally drawn to Seattle Graffiti for two pretty obvious reasons – I’m a big fan of Led Zeppelin, and I’ve spent most of my life in the Seattle area. I was too young to have seen the Mothership play here (or anywhere else for that matter) live, being not even 10 years old when the band broke up; I’m part of that very next generation of Zep fans, the first group who “discovered” them after they disbanded. Fortunately for me, though, there are a number of Zeppelin recordings from live shows in Seattle, and Seattle Graffiti may be the best of the bunch.

Before we get into the music, let’s talk about the physical object itself. The outer package is a sturdy and well-deigned box, just the right size to hold everything without bursting at the seems or having too much dead space inside. Apparently released in 2012, this version (there are any number of unofficial releases containing some or all of this show) is a limited edition of 500, each copy individually numbered on a sticker affixed to the box top and underneath the shrink – so you won’t lose your numbered sticker when you take the plastic off. Inside you get the complete show, all three hours and six minutes, on both CD and vinyl. The three CDs are in individual plastic sleeves attached to the inside of the box top, which has the benefit of keeping them from loosely moving around inside, but the downside, at least for my copy, is the adhesive used is tacky around the edges and some of it got on the insert. As for the insert itself, it’s fine but seems like a bit of an afterthought – a 12″ by 12″ fold-over, the front and back are basically the same as the front and back design of the box, while the inside is a collage of photos. Decent, but not really adding much. The vinyl is pressed on five records, each in a nice plastic-lined paper sleeve. The one copy of the box set I’ve seen inside had four records on blue vinyl with the fifth on white. I have no idea if that’s normal or if there are other color combinations.

While that’s great and all, what about the music? Well, as I mentioned, you’ve got just over three hours of live Zep at arguably their peak – Plant references their just-released double album Physical Graffiti a few times, an album that was arguably their catalog’s watershed. Of the band’s six albums up to this point, only Led Zeppelin III is not represented with at least one song on Seattle Graffiti, the other five all fairly evenly represented. Most of the classics are here – “Dazed And Confused”, “Whole Lotta Love”, “Kashmir”, “Stairway To Heaven”… from my personal perspective the most obscure track and the only one I couldn’t immediately call to mind simply by the title is “Sick Again”. As for the quality, well, it’s pretty damn good. Overall the sound is clean, though there are a few passages that get a bit warbly, suggesting the master tape itself may be slightly damaged. But even that doesn’t detract much from your enjoyment, because unlike so many unofficial live releases it doesn’t sound muffled or obscured with too much crowd noise. I’m not a connoisseur of these kinds of live recordings, but it’s probably the best one I’ve ever heard.

As an unofficial release, my understanding is that it’s legality sort of depends on where in the world you are – I believe in the EU these kinds of things are allowed so long as royalties are paid, but I certainly could be wrong. In the last couple of years Discogs has blocked the sale of unofficial releases like Seattle Graffiti, but you’ll still see it from time to time on other sites like eBay. At the time I wrote this, there was an open copy for sale there for $169, which may seem steep but is not bad considering it’s five records plus the whole thing on CD as well.

Overall this is probably only going to appeal to the Zeppelin die-hard, though if you’re only going to dip your toes into the gray parts of the live catalog this is probably the high point given the sound quality.

Train – “Train Does Led Zeppelin II” (2016)

Where to start, where to start…

My introduction to Train was pretty common for a man – a woman took me to see them perform live. I knew nothing whatsoever about them the first time I saw them and didn’t recognize any of their songs, at least not until they played a pretty good Led Zeppelin cover, to which I gave an appreciative nod. By the second show I’d listened to them a little bit, though still probably only knew a couple of songs. But once again they gave me a solid Zep cover. Monahan and the boys are definitely fans of the Mothership.

Generally speaking Train seems like a lite version of Nickelback in that it’s both popular and acceptable for music fans of a certain sensibility to dislike them on general principle. Clearly they haven’t had as much success as Nickelback, the band that everyone professes to hate but still sells a ba-zillion albums, but they’re not exactly chump change either. Four Top 10 albums and three Top 10 singles is a pretty healthy resume. Personally I think the professed disdain for Train is because of the view that “it’s what people who aren’t music fans like”. And frankly it’s unwarranted – the band is clearly talented. Am I a huge fan? No. Do I sometimes listen to “Meet Virginia” on my iPod? Yes.

So when I recently learned that Train put out an album that is a start-to-finish cover of Led Zeppelin II, I was both not surprised and stunned at the same time. The band members have been very open about their love of Led Zep, so them recording some covers makes perfect sense. But an entire album worth of covers? And not in a “these are our favorite Zep songs” kind of way but doing an entire album start to finish and staying true to the original throughout? This isn’t Dread Zeppelin giving us reggae-version covers sung by an Elvis impersonator (lest you think I’m joking, Un-Led-Ed is pretty great), where the band takes something old and familiar and makes something new and unusual out of it. No. It’s basically a copy. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the target audience for this. And I still can’t.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, much if not most of the world HATES this record. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some article headlines.

“Train’s Led Zeppelin II Tribute Is Confusing and Unnecessary”
New York Daily News

OK, that’s not too harsh…

“Train Faithfully, Needlessly Cover Led Zeppelin II”
Associated Press

More of the same, though “faithfully” seems slightly positive.

“Train Shocks Us Half to Death with Their Led Zeppelin Cover Album”
Baeble Music

OK, this is getting a bit rougher…

“Train Finally Releasing That Led Zeppelin Cover Album No One Asked For”
Mashable

Um… ouch…

“The Band Train Is About To Desecrate Led Zeppelin’s Legacy”
Consequence of Sound

That’s about as close to a middle finger as you can get in a mainstream headline.

And let’s not forget the incredibly snarky “Train Re-Records Led Zeppelin Album, Improves Plight of Humankind” in The Stranger.

Like I said, people hate this record.

So of course, I had to buy this record.

Now one would assume that I would join the chorus of haters. After all, Led Zeppelin II was literally #1 on my personal All-Time-Greatest-Albums-Ever for most of my life, and it’s still and probably always will be in my Top 5. I feel 98.72% confident that I have listened to this album start-to-finish more times than any other, the only other even remotest contenders for that top spot being The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon. I love Led Zeppelin II with the kind of adoration usually reserved for religious saints. I kneel at the altar of its sheer sonic perfection. And yes, there was probably a time in my life when just knowing Train’s cover album existed would have felt like a crime against music. But then again, there was also a time when I felt like I had to hide the fact that I liked Madonna and Duran Duran so I wouldn’t lose some kind of meaningless “rock cred” and went through a mock-ironic Hawaiian shirt phase, so it’s not like I’m the paragon of righteous integrity.

As for the me of today, who is closer to 50 than to 40, who freely admits that Culture Club and Wham! are fantastic, has much broader music taste, and is open to way more new experiences, well, Train Does Led Zeppelin II is fine. I find its existence strange, but only because I can’t figure out who the target audience for this record is. Then again, I bought it… though to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have if I wasn’t blogging.

Musically the boys literally cover the album note for note – there are no obvious Train spins on these songs as near as I can tell. I mean, a 47-year-old Patrick Monahan can only come so close to approaching the power and range of a 21-year-old Robert Plant, but he does his best and doesn’t sound half bad. Luis Maldonado is quite good on guitar, and the production work does a good job in capturing the importance of the drums and bass on the original recording, bringing the drums front-and-center and allowing the bass lines to flow through like a deep, slow moving river. It all comes together best on “The Lemon Song”, IMO.

The bottom line is Train Does Led Zeppelin II sounds really good. The question ultimately, though, comes down to this: Why would I ever listen to Train Does Led Zeppelin II instead of just playing Led Zeppelin II? The previously mentioned Un-Led-Ed gives me a completely different take on Zeppelin – there’s the general sonic and lyrical familiarity, but those songs are done in not one but two completely different styles, reggae and Elvis (and yes, I know I just referred to “Elvis” as a style). I don’t know. Perhaps it’s a transitional fossil that can connect Train fans to their influences. If so, great. Anything that opens up people’s minds to explore music they might not listen to otherwise is a good thing in my book.

So anyway, there you have it. In one last odd twist, the vinyl is in a numbered limited edition, though I couldn’t easily figure out how my copies were pressed (mine is #02432). As a bonus, though, all of Train’s earnings from the album were donated to charity, so that’s a big point in its favor.

My Personal 5-10-15-20 Journey

Pitchfork has a cool feature that seems to be alternately called “Music of His/Her Life” and “5-10-15-20”.  The basic premise is the subject talks about what music they were listening to and influenced by as their life progressed, using five year age intervals.  This got me thinking about my own personal 5-10-15-20, so I figured what the hell, I’ll put it out on the blog.  While I focus primarily on albums on Life in the Vinyl Lane, it’s as much about my relationship with music as it is about music itself, so why not.

5 (1976) – The Amazing Spider-Man

spiderman

I don’t have any memories of music being played in our Philadelphia townhouse.  That’s not to say there wasn’t any – I just don’t remember it.  We had one of those record player/cassette/8-track combos and the record player allowed you to stack multiple records on it at once.  It would play the side of the first one and when it hit the runout the arm would automatically pick up and move back to its resting position, then the next record hovering over it would drop on top of the first one, and the arm would move back over atodrop on the first track.  During the holidays mom would stack up Christmas records on that spindle, playing all the A sides, then flipping the entire stack over and playing all the B sides.  That was our holiday soundtrack for years and years.

As for me, I do remember having a few of these comic book / 7″ record combos that I’d play on a little portable record player in my room.  I think this Spider-Man was one that I had – it came out in 1974 so the time is right.  If I had any music, I don’t remember it.

10 (1981) – Neil Diamond – The Jazz Singer

IMG_0168

I was tempted to fudge a bit here and push this out to 1983, because that’s when I started actually choosing the music I wanted to listen to.  But I wasn’t there yet in 1981.  My dad was a big Neil Diamond fan though – and I mean big.  By 1981 he was just coming through a rough patch and Diamond’s music spoke to him.  We even saw Neil in concert in Columbia, South Carolina right around this time – I’m pretty sure it would have been 1981 or 1982, and it was the first concert I ever went to.  His connection with Diamond was something I didn’t get, and it wasn’t until I became much older and went through my own mid-life struggles that I came to understand the powerful way Diamond speaks to that experience.  I never got into him per se, but when I went back to vinyl I eventually picked up a copy of The Jazz Singer, and now I get it.

15 (1986) – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II

ledzepii

By the mid-1980s my tastes were firmly entrenched in rock and hair metal, but it wasn’t until 1986 that I discovered that band that would become and remain my all-time favorite – Led Zeppelin.  I still recall the situation.  I was down in the “Sophomore Pit”, a section of the basement of my high school where all sophomores had their lockers.  I was talking to some friends about music, and I believe I was talking crap about some of their current favorites like U2 and Dire Straits.  At some point someone mentioned Zeppelin and I said I didn’t know them.  It was one of those needle scratching off the record moments and derailed the whole conversation.  Because these were my friends they cut me a little slack, but made it clear that I needed to rectify this situation immediately.

Our school at that time was located across the street from the big Bellevue Square Mall, so as soon as the day ended I headed over to Musicland and found a copy of Led Zeppelin I in one of those huge bins of discounted cassettes that used to be in the front of the store.  I liked it, didn’t love it, but I went back a few days later and picked up Led Zeppelin II from the same bin.  And my life changed forever.  That tape, and later a CD replacement, became the soundtrack of the next few years.  I ravenously consumed their entire catalog, and that led me deeper into the world of classic rock that came to define more and more of my musical life.

20 (1991) – Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger

badmotorfinger

I’d been into Soundgarden since 1987s Screaming Life EP.  Being that I lived in the Seattle area I was lucky enough to be exposed to a ton of what later became the great grunge bands.  There was a lot of talk in the late 1980s that the Seattle scene was going to break nationally and among my friends there were three bands we figured to be the likely candidates – Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Tad.  Honestly Nirvana was barely on my radar at that point, though I did have the “Sliver” 7″.  My personal favorite was Soundgarden.

When Badmotorfinger came out in 1991 I was blown away at how fantastic it was, and I’m not talking about “Outshined” and “Rusty Cage”, but instead songs like “Slaves & Bulldozers”, “Jesus Christ Pose”, and “Room A Thousand Years Wide”.  I even had a Soundgarden t-shirt that I practically wore out.  But.  It was also clear to me that this was the end of grunge, despite the fact that Nevermind came out the same year and finally brought the genre to the mainstream.  Badmotorfinger is many things, but grunge is not one of them.  But this style of darker rock held a strong appeal to me and shaped my appreciation for bands like Alice In Chains, White Zombie, and Godsmack.

25 (1996) – Sammy Davis Jr. – I’ve Gotta Be Me: The Best Of Sammy Davis Jr. On Reprise

sammydavisreprise

I wasn’t buying much music in the mid-1990s, but for whatever reason I told my dad I’d like some CDs for Christmas, specifically some of the old crooners that he was fond of.  One of those CDs he bought me was the newly released I’ve Gotta Be Me: The Best Of Sammy Davis Jr. On Reprise.  I played the hell out of that in my car as I drove around the Eastside doing sales calls. The first four tracks are pure magic – “Lush Life”, “A Stranger In Town”, “What Kind of Fool Am I”, and “Once In a Lifetime” – and I can probably still sing all four of them word-for-word.  I tried getting deeper into Sammy’s catalog, but I always found myself coming back to this CD.  I still play those first songs in the car sometimes and still get goose bumps at the smoothness of Sammy’s voice.

30 (2001) – Sugar Ray – Sugar Ray

sugarraysugarrayI’m still amazed at how much people will say they hate Sugar Ray.  They were like Nickelback before it was popular to hate Nickelback.  I got turned onto Floored (1997) and Holly and I both fell for the band, so much so that we’ve now seen them live a half dozen times in three different states.  In fact they are the first band that we traveled out of state specifically for the purpose of seeing them play, heading down to Lake Tahoe to catch both shows they did on back-to-back nights.  I was a big enough fan that I actually burned my own personal Best Of Sugar Ray CD for my car (remember kids, this was before iPods were a thing and smartphones were still something out of a sci-fi movie).  And you know what?  I still like them.  If they did a reunion show with the original band I’d strongly consider going to see them.  This was probably the start of me realizing that I didn’t need to care what people thought of the music I liked – I could like what I wanted and didn’t have to explain it to anyone.  That may sound obvious, but it was seriously liberating to someone like me who had come to define themselves by the kind of music I listened to and, just as importantly, didn’t listen to (even if I secretly liked it).

35 (2006) –  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – So Far

csnysofar

Much as my dad hit his tough patch and leaned on The Jazz Singer, I hit mine in my mid-30s and gravitated towards So Far.  It’s the one period in my life that when I look back on it I feel like I simply don’t even know the person that I was at the time.  Somehow I made it through without making any truly terrible decisions and with my relationships and career still intact. Frankly it could have gone either way.

There was something in the harmonizing of CSNY that drew me back to this album, one I’d probably owned since high school.  The songs are beautiful and heartfelt, and I suppose there’s an undercurrent of sadness that appealed to me at that time in my life as well.  I actually find it hard to listen to these songs now – as much as they helped me then, they’re too stark a reminder of a period I’d just assume not dwell on.

40 (2011) – Agent Fresco – A Long Time Listening

longtimelistening

I first experienced Agent Fresco at Iceland Airwaves in 2010 and was immediately a super-fan.  Their debut LP A Long Time Listening came out the same year an I played the hell out of it for the next couple of years. This was the start of my love affair with Icelandic music, and Agent Fresco were ground zero.

I’ve pointed a lot of people to this album over the years, and most of them took to it.  It’s a record of tremendous beauty, but also significant personal pain.  Sometimes it’s almost too hard to listen to, but it really depends on your frame of mind at the time.

45 (2016) – The Kills – Ash & Ice

thekillsashice

2016 was the year of the female artist.  Four of my top five albums were by women or female bands – The Kills, Dream Wife, Iiris, and Kælan Mikla.  It ushered in an era of appreciation for women in music that I’m still in today.

Alison Mosshart is a fantastic front-woman and I pretty much love every project she’s involved with – Discount, The Kills, The Dead Weather.  She owns the stage, and also has the capacity to show both unwavering confidence and vulnerability depending on the need of the song.  And as for Jamie Hince, there may not be a better guitarist out there today.

 

So there it is, a sort of musical life story.  It seems weird to think about it in this way, but it was also an interesting trip down memory lane, looking back to specific periods, both the good and the not-so-good.  What would your list look like?

The Yardbirds – “Little Games” (1967 / 2014)

yardbirdslittlegamesDespite being a huge Led Zeppelin fan for most of my life, I never paid any attention to Jimmy Page’s pre-Zep band the Yardbirds.  But the other day I got my hands on this new re-release of their last studio album, 1967s Little Games, so I sat down to give it a listen.  Not only was this the only Yardbirds album on which Page was the sole lead guitarist (Jeff Beck having also been with the band previously), but one of the studio musicians who played bass and did some orchestral arrangements  later became an important part in the Led Zeppelin story – John Paul Jones.  In fact, the perceived disaster that was Little Games significantly contributed to the breakup of the Yardbirds, and it was from the ashes of that dissolution that one of the all-time greatest rock bands emerged.  Initially billed as The New Yardbirds, they quickly changed their name to Led Zeppelin.

It’s tough to truly understand how this record fit into the landscape of 1967 and how it was heard as part of the Yardbirds catalog.  Overall the contemporary reviews were mediocre at best, and no hits emerged from Little Games, so it was certainly a commercial disappointment.  And I kind of get it.  It feels very disorganized, like a bunch of random songs just thrown together.  Some pop, some heavy psych, but no cohesion of sound.  There are, however, some gems here.  The heavy psych instrumental “White Summer,” with it’s obvious Eastern influences, is the groundwork for some of the great quasi-folkish Zeppelin tracks on Physical Graffiti, and “Glimpses” is another psych powerhouse, this one involving the entire band.  “Drinking Muddy Water” is the other high point, a solid blues rocker.

As for the rest?  Well… it’s fine.  But not much there that strikes my fancy.  Still, Little Games is an enjoyable listen, and you can pick up some of the later Zep vibe in a few spots.