Sunday, December 20, 2009

To be so presumptuous to post a list of "the best" books of a year, when that year is still 12 days short of completion, is to be a fool. But here I am about to do just that, admitting I have read cover to cover a mere 74 books published in 2009. Yet, working at a bookstore, reading many publisher lists and handling untold numbers: reading the first 50 or so pages of gods know how many books, I am in a better position than most folks to know what is out there and to begin separating recyclables from trash destined for the landfills. Ten or twenty years from today, a 2009 "best" books list will doubtless look quite different, but today these are the books I am obsessing over, these are the twenty-five or six books I most love, listed below, as always in order of preference. Let me pause for these words from my sponsor: if you are having trouble finding these titles and happen to be in Atlanta, we have most of my favorites at A Cappella Books. If we don't have them and they are still in print, we can place a special order and have them in a few days.

Favorite Books 2009

1. Colm Toibin: Brooklyn (Scribner)
2. Padgett Powell: The Interrogative Mood (Ecco)
3. Vladimir Nabokov: The Original of Laura (Knopf)
4. Colum McCann: Let the Great World Spin (Random House)
5. Paul Auster: Invisible (Henry Holt)
6. Dave Eggers: Zeitoun (McSweeney's)
7. Elijah Wald: How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll (Oxford)
8. Abdourahman Waberi: In the United States of Africa (Nebraska)
9. Hans Fallada: Every Man Dies Alone (Melville House)
10. Hans Fallada: The Drinker (Melville House)
11. Nicholson Baker: The Anthologist (Simon & Schuster)
12. Francine Prose: Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife (Harper)
13. Peter Richardson: A Bomb in Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of "Ramparts Magazine" Changed America (New Press)
14. Max Blumenthal: Republican Gamorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party (Nation)
15. Nick Hornby: Juliet, Naked (Riverhead)
16. Paul Gorman: Reasons to be Cheerful, The Life and Work of Barney Bubbles (Adelita Ltd.)
17. Andrew Perchuk & Rani Singh: Harry Smith: The Avant-Garde in the American Vernacular (Getty Research Institute)
18. Jeffrey Haas: The Assassination of Fred Hampton (Lawrence Hill)
19. Kevin Wilson: Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (Harper Perennial)
20. Nicholas Rombes: A Cultural Dictionary of Punk 1974 - 1982 (Continuum)
21. C.L.R. James: You Don't Play with Revolution (AK Press)
22. Nami Mun: Miles from Nowhere (Riverhead)
23. Majorie Cohn & Kathleen Gilberd: Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (PoliPoint)
24. Chris Hedges: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (Nation)
25. Steve Waksman: This Ain't the Summer of Love (California)


Middleton A. Harris: The Black Book: 35th Anniversary Edition (Random House)

Friday, December 18, 2009

It is about time I step back into to the present and the year presently coming to a close. I don't know how history will perceive the music of 2009, but I certainly found a bunch of good records this year.

2009 top-forty

1. Magik Markers: Balf Quarry (Drag City CD)
2. Kurt Vile: Childish Prodigy (Matador CD)
3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Its Blitz! (Interscope LP)
4. The Ravonettes: In & Out of Control (Vice LP)
5. Blues Control: Local Flavor (Siltbreeze LP)
6. A Place to Bury Strangers: Exploding Head (Mute CD)
7. The Warlocks: The Mirror Explodes (Tee Pee LP)
8. Grizzly Bear: Vecatimest (Warp 2-LP)
9. Fuck Buttons: Tarot Sport (Apt CD)
10. The O Voids: The O Voids (Troubleman Unlimited LP)
11. King Khan & the Shrines: What Is? (Vice CD)
12. Sunn O))): Monoliths & Dimensions (Southern Lord 2-LP)
13. Steve Earle: Townes (New West CD)
14. Ramblin' Jack Eliott: A Stranger Here (Anti CD)
15. Finally Punk: Casual Goths (Army of Bad Luck LP)
16. Nothing People: Late Night (SS LP)
17. Dead Weather: Horehound (Third Man 2-LP)
18. The Horrors: Primary Colours (XL 2-LP)
19. Untied States: Instant Everything Constant Nothing (Untied States LP)
20. The Clean: Mister Pop (Merge CD)
21. Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs (Matador 2-LP)
22. Fever Ray: Fever Ray (Mute CD)
23. Children's Hospital: Alone Together (Sacred Bones LP)
24. Broadcast and the Focus Group: Investigate Witchcults and the Radio Age (Warp LP)
25. Alan Licht: YMCA (Family Vineyard LP)
26. Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions: Through the Devil Softly (Nettwerk CD)
27. These Are Powers: All Aboard Future (Dead Oceans LP)
28. Loren Connors: The Curse of Midnight Mary (Family Vineyards LP)
29. Pens: Hey Friend What You Doing (De Stijl LP)
30. Sic Alps/Magik Marker: Magik Marker/Sic Alps (Yik Yak Split 12" 45-rpm EP)
31. Black Dice: Repo (Paw CD)
32. Low Red Center: Low Red Center (SS 10" EP)
33. King Khan & BBQ Show: Invisible Girl (In the Red LP)
34. Greg Connors: Full Moon Flashlight (Scared CD)
35. Various Artist: Skulls Without Borders (Siltbreeze 10" EP)
36. Black Lips: 200 Million Thousand (Vice)
37. Tijuana Hercules: The Almanack of Bad Luck (Black Pisces LP)
38. Bobby Ubangi: Inside the Mind of Bobby Ubangi (Rob's House LP)
39. Brian Jonestown Massacre: Smoking Acid (2-12" EP)
40. Bardo Pond: Peri (Three Lobed LP)

2009 Top-20 Reissues

1. The Beatles: Mono (CD box-set)
2. The Rolling Stones: Get Yer Ya Yas Out (CD box-set)
3. Nirvana: Bleach (Sub Pop 2-LP)
4. The Rondos: Destroy the Entertainment (Red Wig 2-LP)
5. Mirrors: Something That Would Never Do (Violet Times/Hovercraft LP)
6. De Kift: Yverzucht (Mississippi LP)
7. Swell Maps: International Rescue (Alive LP)
8. Young Marble Giants: Live At the Hurrah (Get Back LP)
9. Lizzy Mercier Desloux: Press Color (Ze Records LP)
10. Tlahoun Gessesse: Tlahoun Gessesse -- 1940 - 2009 -- Ethiopian Urban Modern Music Volume 4 (Ethiopiques Collection LP)
11. Death: For the Whole World to See (Drag City LP)
12. Dock Boggs: False Hearted Lover's Blues (Monk LP)
13. MC5: Shakin' Street (Lilith 2-LP/CD)
14. 39 Clocks: Zoned -- recordings 1987 - 1980... rewind (De STijl CD)
15. Black Randy and the Metrosquad: Pass the Dust, I think I'm Bowie (Vinyl Countdown 2-LP)
16. Various: Dub Echoes (Soul Jazz 3-LP)
17. Henry Flynt: Raga Electric-Experimental Music, 1963-1971 (Locust LP)
18. The Cultural Decay: Eight Ways to Start a Day (Sacred Bones LP)
19. 13 Chimes: The Singles 1981-1983 (Sacred Bones LP)
20. The Units: History of the Units; the Early Years, 1977-1983 (Community Library CD)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I first heard Patti Smith's masterpiece and debut Horses played on 96 Rock, WKLS, Atlanta in December 1975. The station was standard "album oriented" format: Zeppelin, the Stones, Cream, Free, the Faces, and other less memorable, torpid sounds of that era. It really wasn't so different from the perpetual-adolescent male fantasy format of its current incarnation: Project 9-6-1. Nothing could have been further out of place than Patti's groundbreaking neo-feminist punk poetry avant-garde rock 'n' roll. Yet someone had the good sense to program her new record on their weekly show featuring new releases in their entirety, and it changed everything for one young listener. I was slowly breaking with the mainstream of rock music as long as I had been listening to the stuff, basically since I was old enough to crawl toward sound coming from a hi-fi speaker. I finally broke free to the sound of "Break it Up" that cold night. I wish I could recall the name of the show which against all odds featured this remarkable punk rock record, before many people used the term "punk rock." I had read Patti's music writing and read about her musical efforts in Creem magazine -- one place where punk rock was already being described. But hearing her music on the radio that night was a unique experience. Within two years I had abandoned most of my favorites for a new crop of punk bands related to Patti Smith: the Ramones, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Television, Pere Ubu, Wire, the Sex Pistols, the Clash and many others setting the pace for all my musical choices to come. Horses was where my new wave began. Unlike "punk rock", "new wave" is a term that always sounded rather silly and has long been out of vogue. Yet there is something appropriate about how it suggests a torrent of change, something very like a wave of sound that began for this listener on a December night long ago.

Best LPs of 1975

1. Patti Smith: Horses (Arista)
2. Bob Dylan: The Basement Tapes (CBS)
3. Brian Eno: Another Green World (Island)
4. Neil Young: Tonight's the Night (Reprise)
5. The Dictators: Go Girl Crazy (Epic)
6. Lynyrd Skynyrd: Nothing Fancy (MCA)
7. Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti (Swan Song)
8. Lee Scratch Perry: Revolution Dub (Creole)
9. John Cale: Helen of Troy (Island)
10. Robert Wyatt: Ruth is Stranger than Richard (Virgin)
11. The Rolling Stones: Metamorphosis (ABC)
12. John Cale: Slow Dazzle (Island)
13. Tom Waits: Nighthawks at the Diner (Asylum)
14. Roxy Music: Siren (Atco)
15. Ian Hunter: Ian Hunter (CBS)
16. Steve Lacy: Concert Solo (Emanem, UK)
17. Van Der Graaft Generator: Godbluff (Charisma)
18. Lou Reed: Metal Machine Music (RCA)
19. Brian Eno: Discreet Music (Antilles)
20. The Revolutionary Ensemble: The People's Republic (A&M)
21. The Meters: Cissy Strut (Island)
22. Anthony Braxton: Recital 71 (Futura)
23. Steve Lacy: Flakes (RCA)
24. Steve Lacy: School Days (Emanem, UK)
25. Steve Lacy: Crust (Emanem, UK)
26. Steve Lacy: Sextet Scraps (Saravah, France)
27. Bob Marley & the Wailers: Natty Dread (Island)
28. Peter Hammil: Nadir's Last Chance (Charisma)
29. Cecil Taylor: In Transition (Blue Note)
30. David Bowie: Young Americans (RCA)
31. Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks (CBS)
32. Al Green: Is Love (Hi)
33. Etta James: Betta Than Evah (Chess)
34. Neil Young: Zuma (Reprise)
35. Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run (CBS)
36. Hatfield and the North: The Rotters' Club (Virgin)
37. Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (CBS)
38. The Sweet: Desolation Boulevard (Capitol)
39. Andy Fairweather Low: La Booga Rooga (A&M)
40. Van Dyke Parks: Clang of the Yankee Reaper (Warner Brothers)
41. Lou Reed: Live (RCA)
42. Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel: The Best Years of Our Lives (EMI)
43. John Cale, Kevin Ayers, Nico & Eno: June 1, 1974 (Island)
44. Robert Fripp & Brian Eno: Evening Star (Antilles)
45. Leo Kottke: Chewing Pine (Capitol)