defrog: (devo mouse)
Apparently they’re planning another Woodstock festival this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original.

Because, you know, the 25th and 30th anniversaries went so well.

Anyway, the lineup has been announced, and NPR ran a piece on it with the following headline:

Can Woodstock 50 'Re-Create The Magic' Of The Original Festival?

Here’s my short answer:


Here’s my slightly longer answer:

Hippie jokes aside, Woodstock was a one-off product of its time, unprecedented in scale and ambition – so much so that the organizers lost control of it early on. Which was in a way in keeping with the times themselves.

To be clear, I think the mythos of Woodstock gets overplayed a lot. But it WAS a culturally significant moment because of the youth-culture ideology that drove it, the sociopolitical changes in play at the time, and the unique role of rock music as an interactive motivational soundtrack for those changes.

Rock was still new and evolving in the late-60s to the point that it was part of the anti-establishment social movement itself. Consequently, I think Woodstock 1 has the reputation it does precisely because the music was integral to the youth movement at the time.

By contrast, pop/rock today feels relatively static and part of the institution, and structurally independent of sociopolitical movements. Yes, youth are starting to get engaged politically again (gun control, climate change, trans rights, #BLM, #MeToo, etc), but the music is mostly incidental or at best reactive to that. Certainly none of the big-name acts I've seen booked for WS50 have much to do with whatever new social movements are underway (their particular political beliefs and opinions of Trump notwithstanding) – maybe Miley Cyrus, but apart from that, not really. 

The organizers may have their hearts in the right place, but it sounds like to me they have no understanding of what made Woodstock 1 'magical' in the first place. In the end, Woodstock 50 (like WS25 and WS30) is just another overpriced corporate-sponsored music festival with a classic brand, and nothing more. 

This concludes my TED Talk.

Goin’ down to Yasgur's Farm,

This is dF
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Well, sure you do.

I’ll open with the fact that I changed the criteria this year in that I’m no longer limiting myself to music I bought, mainly because my music budget has been slashed considerably to the point that it’s hard enough to put together a Top 10, and there’s almost always going to be more albums I want to buy than I can actually afford. So now I’m including albums that I have streamed online, either via Spotify or NPR First Listen and whatnot.

That expands the field considerably, although not this year, since I only decided to implement this policy a month ago. But this year’s field is certainly bigger than the last couple of years.

As for that field, as usual it seems most of the best albums, as usual, came from the old pros instead of new artists. Even more telling, perhaps, is that it seems 2018 was the year for cover projects, whether paying tribute to a particular artist or covering a classic album. And there’s nothing wrong with that – you don't always have to write your own material, and as long as you bring something new to the table – or can at least demonstrate why the song is worth covering – it’s all good.

Is that a major indication of the state of music in 2018? Probably not. As Tom Waits once said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “No one ever says we have enough songs. There’s always room for one more song.”

That said, overall I felt 2018 wasn’t really a knockout year for music. I like everything in this Top 10, but only a couple really made a big impression on me. This was also a year where albums from several artists I really like (Janelle Monae, Neko Case, The Breeders) didn’t really connect with me, whether because they were underwhelming or overhyped – which is of course my problem, not theirs.

So here’s what impressed me the most this year.

TOP 10 DEF LPs OF 2018

10. Angélique Kidjo, Remain In Light (Kravenworks)
In which Kidjo covers an entire Talking Heads album. It works – which is perhaps unsurprising, given how the original was influenced by Afrobeat rhythms. For the most part, Kidjo takes that element and puts it at the forefront. It’s interesting too that she seems to have opted for the Stop Making Sense versions of these songs, tempo-wise. David Byrne reportedly loves it.

9. Ry Cooder The Prodigal Son (Perro Verde/Fantasy)
This has been billed by some music journalists as Ry Cooder’s gospel album, though that’s overselling it. While there’s some gospel covers here, Cooder (who openly admits to being non-religious) is more interested in gospel as an American roots music style – which makes a kind of sense as gospel is probably the only form of American folk music he hasn't done yet. Like with most Cooder albums, the vocals don’t always do the material justice, but musically it’s beautiful, fun and rowdy as required.

8. Hedgehog, Sound Of Life Towards … (Tai He)
Hedgehog are a band from Beijing who specialize in indie rock, albeit the kind of indie rock where they play around with different templates rather than stick to one formula – a little Pixies here, a little Nirvana there, a little Blonde Redhead thataway, etc – although none of those comparisons really tell you what they sound like. In any case, this is (I believe) their tenth album, and it’s a pretty solid set of songs with some pretty nifty arrangements.

7. Mighty Jabronis, Mighty Jabronis (Bandcamp)
The Mighty Jabronis are the latest music project featuring Cat Taylor, who fronted Nashville hardcore legends Rednecks In Pain and later Fun Girls From Mt Pilot. Their main gimmick is to combine punk rock and pro wrestling (and Cat has actually done both), so all their songs are wrestling-themed, as are their cover songs (to include a parody of a Loverboy hit). It may be a gimmick, but it’s a good one and it’s catchy fun. You don’t have to be a fan of wrestling to like this, but it will help you get a lot of the in-jokes.

6. Kim Wilde, Here Come The Aliens (Wildeflower/Edel)
Yes, THAT Kim Wilde (a.k.a. “Kids In America”). She’s still around, and has been recording more or less steadily since her 80s heyday, apart from one ten-year break.. I was a fan of her first four albums released in the early 80s, and this – her 14th album and her first in five years – sounds like she and brother Ricky haven’t changed their production standards (or keyboards) one jot since then, except the guitars are louder to the point that at times it sounds like the 80s-era Billy Idol comeback album we didn’t ask for. The few ballads are too generic for me, but overall I have to say I liked this more than I expected I would. If you like 80s pop ladled with Eurocheese and not taken too seriously, this is actually a lot of fun.

5. Cambodian Space Project, Spaced Out In Wonderland (ABC)
Cambodian Space Project is a Cambodian 60s psychedelic pop tribute band from Cambodia who do a mix of covers and originals. Sadly this may be their final album, as their lead singer, Channthy, was killed in a traffic accident in March last year. I think this is their best album to date, mainly on the strength of their selection of Western classics to which they apply their Cambodian pop-rock sound (like “Paint It Black”, “Proud Mary” (the Ike and Tina version) and “Summer Wine”). The original songs are a mixed bag – some work great, some don’t – but the album is worth the price of admission for their cover of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger”.

4. Jean Grae and Quelle Chris, Everything's Fine (Mello Music Group)
I’m not familiar with Quelle Chris, but I’ve been a fan of Jean Grae from back in the late 90s when she was rapping under the name What What. This is their first full-length collaboration, a concept album about the state of the nation and how all of us – but racial minorities in particular – often say “everything’s fine”, even if we’re on the edge of losing it, because it's what we’re expected to say, whether it’s about our personal lives or the society around us. It’s musically inventive and packs a bigger punch than any so called gangsta rap.

3. Kristin Hersh, Possible Dust Clouds (Fire Records)
This is Hersh’s 11th solo album, and if you’ve ever heard her previous albums, this doesn’t vary too far from her usual songwriting template – in fact, the biggest deviation is the heavy, distorted production and what sounds like greater use of effects pedals, which gives it a more layered sound, though not to the point of being overproduced. What’s really striking is the occasionally ambitious songwriting structures and the fact that Hersh can take the same three or four basic sets of chord changes and somehow still make them sound fresh.

2. Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet, Landfall (Nonesuch)
This is music from their multimedia show about Anderson’s experiences when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, so in a sense this is an incomplete experience – but the music holds its own, though it’s when Anderson recites her spoken-word bits that it really comes to life. But the music speaks for itself to the point that the song title is often all you really need to create your own visuals in your head.

1. Juliana Hatfield, Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John (American Laundromat)
Just like it says. Hatfield does mostly the hits and a few album tracks, and while most critics have complained that she didn't do enough to take ownership of these songs or mess around with them enough – which is technically true – I thought she struck almost the right balance between tribute and doing her own version. Admittedly there’s a couple of songs where I found myself wishing she’d done just a little bit more with it. That said, her voice is perfectly suited for ONJ’s songs, and she sounds like she really had a blast recording these – and her enthusiasm is contagious, because I’ve really enjoyed listening to it. Your own opinion will likely depend on how much you like ONJ and to what extent you expect cover versions to reinvent the original song.


David Byrne, American Utopia (Todomundo/Nonesuch)
This is Byrne’s seventh solo album, and it’s part of larger multimedia project called Reasons To Be Cheerful, Byrne’s attempt to find optimism in the current grim reality, even if that means pointing out that dogs, chickens and bullets are lucky that they don’t have to worry about sociopolitical problems. Of course, there’s nothing here to beat his Talking Heads material, but taken on its own terms, it’s his best solo effort in awhile.

The Damned, Evil Spirits (Spinefarm/Universal)
The Damned return after a ten-year break with their 11th LP, with more or less the same line-up they've had since 2001’s Grave Disorder (including original members Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible), except that Paul Gray is back on bass. Musically it’s sort of a return to form, with producer Tony Visconti catching them somewhere between Machine Gun Etiquette and Phantasmagoria music-wise, although the horn section may be a bit much. Like all latter-day Damned albums, it pales in comparison to their classics, but there’s a lot to like here – Vanian sounds as good as ever, and a fair number of songs here show they still have a sharp eye for social observation.

Gwenno, Le Kov (Heavenly)
This is Gwenno Saunders’ second solo album after leaving the Pipettes, and where the previous one was a sci-fi concept album sung in Welsh, the main theme here is that all the songs are sung in Cornish as a protest against the British government’s proposal to cut funding for teaching and supporting the Cornish language. In any case, it’s more ethereal retro-psychedelic pop, and I like it.

Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas, The World Of Captain Beefheart (Knitting Factory Records)
12 Beefheart classics served up by Gary Lucas (the last guitarist to serve with Beefheart) and Nona Hendryx filling in on vocals – which sounds weird on paper but it really works. If nothing else it provides a new perspective on Beefheart’s music (the song selection covers a pretty wide range) and shows that even his weirder songs were more mainstream than they sounded at the time.

Thought Gang, Thought Gang (Sacred Bones)
This is the legendary jazz/spoken-word side-project of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, created somewhere between the second season of Twin Peaks and the prequel film Fire Walk With Me, in which Badalamenti and his jazz musicians would improv music to go with whatever weird scenario Lynch would pitch at them. A couple of tracks surfaced on the Fire Walk With Me soundtrack, but the whole album (recorded in the 1990s) was only just released late last year. It sounds more or less the way you’d expect – Lynch fans may dig it, but beyond that, it’s hard to say.

Tony Joe White, Bad Mouthin' (Yep Roc)
This is the final album from Tony Joe White, who passed on shortly after its release. It’s a good note to go out on. Here, White performs the first two songs he ever wrote (before his breakthrough hit “Polk Salad Annie”), but the real attraction here is the covers – mainly classic blues songs, but also “Heartbreak Hotel”, which White transforms into a dark blues lament.


Marc Ribot, Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 (Noise Inc/Anti-)
It seems there were quite a few protest albums or songs released this year for some mysterious and inexplicable reason. This was the most interesting of the bunch for me. As the title suggests, it’s a collection of protest songs – a mix of originals and classic songs from World War II anti-Fascist Italian partisans, the US civil rights movement and Mexican protest ballads – inspired not just by the 2016 election and the subsequent return of neo-Nazis, but the rise of authoritarian regimes around the world. Ribot’s eclectic musical style can make for some uneasy listening at times, and I think the older songs work better in the sense that they’re more timeless (as opposed to the new songs that point fingers and name names, which is fair, but I don’t see myself listening to many of these five years from now). But it’s a great idea, and it helps that Ribot roped in some great guest vocalists – Steve Earle, Meshell Ndegeocello, Justin Vivian Bond, Fay Victor, Sam Amidon, and Ohene Cornelius. Oh, and Tom Waits, whose rendition of “Bella Ciao” is worth the price of admission alone.


Metric, Art of Doubt (BMG)
For me, Metric is one of those bands that put out one great album (Fantasies) and – at least for me – have not yet managed to clear that bar again. On first pass, their latest seemed to be trying a little too hard to come up with anthemic air-punchers, but with each new listen, some songs are starting to grab my attention, especially the title track. I didn’t get a copy until around November, and sometimes it takes a while for an album to win me over – that may well be the case here.


Banäna Deäthmüffins, Kawaii Five-0 (Terribly Frog Records)

Yes, it’s a shameless plug. But why not? Yr all lucky I didn't put it in my Top 10.


Various Artists, Make Mine Mondo! (Ace)
This collects novelty songs, garage rock, rockabilly and 60s pop psychedelica from Doré Records, a small LA label run by Lew Bedell, a former stand-up comic who welcomed just about any oddball who showed up with a master tape looking for a record deal (which included Kim Fowley, Mike Curb and Shel Talmy, among others). Bobby Troup is probably the most recognizable name here, but the whole comp is a lot of fun – not just for the Doctor Demento fodder (The Zanies’ “The Mad Scientist” and “The Blob”, The Altecs’ “Gorilla Hunt”, Johnny O’s “Meet The Bongo Man”) but also bands like The Wrench, Chuck Miles and The Styles, Spencer’s Van Dykes, and Basil and the Baroques, among others.

Tomorrow: the films!

Mondo bizarro,

This is dF


Feb. 1st, 2018 05:57 pm
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I found out yesterday that Mark E Smith passed away last week.

It probably says a lot that I somehow totally missed this on my various social media feeds – hardly anyone seemed to notice outside of the UK. Which I guess makes sense because The Fall were never more than a minor cult sensation in the US – you either heard them on college radio or you didn’t hear them at all. Certainly that was how I found out about them – and that wasn’t until 1994 while I was working in a college radio station.

Anyway, point being, Smith wasn’t a household name in America, so of course it's no surprise that most stateside media outlets apart from say Rolling Stone or Pitchfork didn't think it was worth mentioning. I think even Grant Hart’s death got more coverage. He didn't even make the Grammys "In Memorium" section (though I suspect Smith would probably see humor in this – and to be fair, neither did Grant Hart, or Holger Czukay for that matter, which just goes to show how relevant The Grammys are to music).

It might be as well – Smith wasn’t exactly a loveable guy, and his musical output was uncompromising, snarling batshit poetry that, let’s admit, probably made sense only to him.

And yet that was what was so great about The Fall – Smith may have been a savage musical dictator with alcohol/anger management issues who couldn't sing, but by God he somehow made it work – not every album, certainly, but more often than not. The final two band lineups from 2006 to last year ensured that The Fall went out on a high note – last year’s New Facts Emerge was one of my favorite new releases, and probably their best since Your Future Our Clutter.

Love him or hate him, he was a true original who truly believed in what he was doing – you could never mistake him for anyone else, and we’ll probably never hear the likes of him again.

FOR PROMOTONAL CONSIDERATION: At the risk of sounding like I’m trying to cash in, my band project Banana Deathmuffins once recorded a song that was sort of a Fall tribute, albeit an unintentional one. We were coming up with something to accompany a John Bonham drum track for a music project started by a friend, and it was only after we finished it that I realized we’d been unconsciously channeling our Fall influences.


You may disagree, and fair enough. Anyway, it's fair to say we probably owe Mark a pint for this.

To say nothing of John Bonham.

Live from the Witch Trials,

This is dF
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And here we are again.

Only this time, this may be the most pointless Top 10 I’ve done, since I only bought 12 new releases this year (with another four gifted to me by friends), although the ten finalists are all worthy of being in a Best Of list.

Upon reflection, I suppose that’s as much the result of me being more judicious about my music purchases as it is not hearing enough good music worth buying. I do find myself thinking, “This sounds alright, but am I still going to be listening to this a year from now?”

Maybe that’s an unfair metric. Or maybe I’ve just listened to so much music over the years that I really need something to make a big enough impression on me to consider it worth spending money on. I’ve also found that despite digital downloads being cheaper, I’m more cautious about buying them because – unlike physical CDs – I can't return them, regift them or sell them second-hand. Once I’ve clicked the button, it's a lifetime commitment. 

Well, anyway. I’m happy with the ten selections here, so close enough, eh Jim?

DISCLAIMER: Based on music I actually bought between December 2016 and November 2017, and therefore a useless metric for everyone else.


1. Sparks, Hippopotamus (BMG/The End Records)
This is Sparks’ 23rd studio album, and their first since 2009 (not counting their 2015 collaboration with Franz Ferdinand, FFS). It’s arguably the album I was most looking forward to in advance of its release, and it was everything I hoped it would be – well-crafted and slightly eclectic pop rock with satirical lyrics. Who else would come up with pop songs about IKEA fetishes, an impatient God, French film directors, a reality show starring the Macbeths, a hippo in a pool, the wonders of the missionary position, and a town where everyone is inexplicably giddy? Wonderful.

2. Big Walnuts Yonder, Big Walnuts Yonder (Sargent House)
From an album I was expecting to an album that came out of nowhere – I only found out about it via a Cargo Collective ad. It’s a supergroup project of sorts featuring Mike Watt, Nick Reinhart (Tera Melos), Nels Cline (Wilco) and Greg Saunier (Deerhoof). According to legend, they formed the band in 2008 but it took until 2014 for them to actually get in the same room together, and then they recorded the whole album in 72 hours. The result is a collection of decent songs with some truly whacked-out guitar parts and arrangements that have kept me increasingly fascinated with this for the last six months.

3. DiCaprio, I Went To The Mall Yesterday And I Got Sick (Bandcamp)
This is a band based in Atlanta hipped to me by The Holloways, and on first pass it reminded me of a number of underground 80s bands – bass-driven, atonal guitars, sprechgesang vocals veering between sarcasm and boredom, it’s all here. The closest analogy I can think of is Flipper minus the booze and distortion pedals, which is probably wrong. No matter – my first reaction was “What the hell?”, but on repeated listens I really started to dig it.

4. The Como Mamas, Move Upstairs (Daptone)
The Como Mamas are a gospel trio from (yes) Como, Mississippi that have been around for decades but hadn’t recorded anything until Daptone Records (who else?) signed them. This is their second LP, and it’s an inspiring slice of old-time funk/soul gospel that sounds like it was recorded in the late 60s. (In fact, I first heard the track “Out Of The Wilderness” on a comp of mostly older gospel songs, and I assumed it was from that era – I was surprised to find it was recorded in 2017.) If there’s a downside, it's that structurally many of the songs follow a similar template. But I still enjoyed this a lot.

5. Primus, The Desaturating Seven (Prawn Song/ATO)
The previous Primus album was a cover of the Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory soundtrack. Their latest is a concept album based on a children’s book about seven rainbow-eating goblins. And it sounds pretty much the way you’d expect a Primus album to sound regardless of song topic. Which is terrible if you always hated Primus, but great if yr a fan – provided yr a fan that doesn’t wish they would just keep doing Tommy The Cat and Winona’s Big Brown Beaver over and over again. I’m in the latter category, and I liked this just fine.

6. The Fall, New Facts Emerge (Cherry Red)
As reliable as the sun rising in the morning, Mark E Smith is back with album no. 32, which features most of the same line-up he’s employed since 2006 – a record by Fall standards. The exception is keyboardist Eleni Poulou, who quit last year. The remaining band have never sounded tighter – almost every song here is a solid foundation for Smith to carry on snarling and grousing about whatever’s bothering him this year. On the downside, Poulou’s absence is noticeable in the sense that keyboards have almost always been part of the Fall sound – so it feels like there’s something lacking here. Even so, this is their best since Your Future Our Clutter.

7. Mavis Staples, If All I Was Was Black (Anti-)
This is Mavis Staples’ third solo outing with producer Jeff Tweedy. I missed the first two, but I’m glad I didn't miss this one. As the title suggests, Staples has something to say about the problems of ongoing racism in America, but refuses to give in to hate – ultimately her answer is love. Not every song here is sociopolitical, and the ones that are go for blunt truths without resorting to rants or diatribes. A couple of tracks feel a bit weak songwriting wise, but Staples has a great voice to make up for it.

8. The Moonlandingz, Interplanetary Class Classics (Transgressive Records)
This is a project from members of two British groups (Fat White Family and Eccentronic Research Council) that started as a fictional band created for ERC’s spoken-word project about the band’s lead singer, Johnny Rocket. At some point they decided to do a whole album as that band, with Sean Lennon producing at least some of it. The result is seedy, psychedelic electro-glam with surprisingly catchy tunes and an ending track that puts guest vocalist Yoko Ono’s unique singing style to very effective use.

9. Oumou Sangare, Mogoya (No Format)
I’d never heard of Oumou Sangare before, but she’s been around since the late 80s and is a very big deal in her home country of Mali, having defined the “Wassoulou” music genre. That said, she doesn’t get into a recording studio often – this is only her fifth LP and her first in eight years. And this time out she’s elected to expand her sound musically with the help of producers from France and Europe. Which may be why the musical arrangements really stand out for me – Sangare’s voice is great but it’s the multi-layered backing vocals and musical tracks that flesh out the album into something special.

10. Bootsy Collins, World Wide Funk (Mascot Records)
Bootsy is back, although he’s never really been away, having kept busy in various music projects since Parliament-Funkadelic came to an end. This is his first solo album in six years, and you couldn't really ask for a better start than the title track, complete with opening narration by Iggy Pop, that reminds everyone why Collins is one of the best bass guitarists in the business. It’s jam-packed with guest stars, from Snoop Dogg and Chuck D to Buckethead (as well as P-Funk vets Dennis Chambers and Eric Gales). It’s a bit of a mixed bag – the lyrics are mainly more party-party-carpe-diem than P-Funk comic-book madness, though this ain’t P-Funk, so fair enough. Still, there are also a handful of ballads and standard R&B that seem too generic and bog down the proceedings. But the classic-funk tracks are well worth the price of admission. The tribute to Bernie Worrell is a nice touch too.


Public Service Broadcasting, Every Valley (Test Card Recordings/Play It Again Sam)
PSB’s gimmick is creating electronic pop-rock music for imaginary documentaries using soundbites from actual documentaries. I was really knocked out by their previous album, The Race For Space, which covered the race to the moon in the 1960s. This time, they’ve done an album about the rise and fall of the Welsh coal industry – which is obscure enough to be interesting, but somehow this just didn’t push all the buttons that the previous album did. It’s not just the topic – musically there are some really great moments, but other times it’s pretty straightforward Brit-pop.

Tamikrest, Kidal (Glitterbeat)
Fourth album from the desert-blues band from Mali that isn’t Tinariwen. Which I don’t mean in a bad way – Tamikrest and Tinariwen are both good bands, and both have distinctive sounds, but listening to this isn’t much of a different experience from listening to all their other albums. It’s good, mind you, but it just didn’t really stand out for me.


The Beatles, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Apple Records)
Perhaps not their best album but arguably their most influential, Sgt Pepper gets a new stereo mix from Giles Martin for its 50th anniversary (along with tons of outtakes), plus 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane', which weren’t on the original LP but were created in the sessions that led up to Sgt Pepper. I spent a lot of time listening to this side by side with the original mix, which has always kind of bugged me. The Beatles actually recorded it in mono, which meant the stereo mixes resulted in things like Ringo’s drum kit getting shoved into one speaker – which was noticeable to me because I used to listen to this album on a stereo with one speaker broken, so I could only listen to literally half the album (the left half of the right half). For my money, the new mix sounds fantastic – it’s stills stereo, but it sounds a lot fuller and the drums are more centered and muscular. And you can hear everything so much more clearly, particularly the harmonizing vocals. As the saying goes, it may not have been broke, but they certainly fixed it.


Various Artists, True Faith (Mojo)
This is one of those comp CDs Mojo magazine puts together every month. For this one, the theme is rock/country/blues gospel, assembled to complement that month’s cover story of Bob Dylan’s gospel years, and an excuse to create a comp that includes a previously unreleased rehearsal version of Dylan’s “Slow Train”. But there’s a lot of great classic tracks here – Sister Rosetta Tharpe & Marie Knight, Mahalia Jackson, Staples Singers, Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner, Charlie Rich, Dorothy Love Coates and more. Special shoutout to the Como Mamas track, which hipped me to their new album which made my Top 10.


U2, Songs Of Experience (Island)
The new U2 album dropped on December 1, which is right after my self-imposed cutoff date. And I’ve found that with latter-day U2 releases, I need to give myself time to digest it fully before passing judgment – if the first listen doesn't totally blow me away, I might warm to it after a couple more times. The iTunes preview suggests there’s some good stuff here, but I want to give it a fair hearing before I pass judgement on it. So you may be seeing it on next year’s list.

Tomorrow: the films!

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Chris Cornell is gone.

And of course I have to blog about that because the very first time I heard Soundgarden … I wasn’t that impressed.

Not that I thought they sucked. Far from it. I just didn’t quite get what they were doing.

This was 100% my problem. I was writing album reviews for the college newspaper at the time, and I was very heavily into punk and underground music at the time. The way it worked was, the local mall record store would let me take a couple of new records home to listen to, and then I would choose which one I thought made enough of an impression (good or bad) to write about, then bring them back.

One week, one of the options was Soundgarden’s Loud Love. I forget what the other album was, but I wrote about it instead, because I could at least get a handle on it. I really didn’t know what to make of Soundgarden – they were long-haired guys with no shirts on and they sounded (to me) like a heavy Led Zeppelin tribute band. I suppose they didn’t fit within my narrow punk aesthetic so I kind of blew them off.

Less than a year later, some friends turned me on to Nirvana’s first album, Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone from someplace called Seattle. I liked them a lot. Then someone else reintroduced me to Loud Love again, and I gave it another chance and THEN it clicked. I got it. And I was both amazed at the music, at Cornell’s vocals, and at myself for being so thick as to not like it on first listen.

I tended to do this a lot when I was younger. (Heck, I probably still do it now.) There was a long list of bands I didn’t really “get” the first time I heard them, but give it a year and I’d hear them again and go, “Wow, this is great, what was I thinking?”


Here’s a true story: I saw Soundgarden live when they were promoting the Badmotorfinger album. My best friend and I drove from Clarksville, TN to Nashville to watch them open for Skid Row. The played for something like 40 minutes and absolutely blew the roof off the dump. We danced in the aisle and as soon as Soundgarden finished their set, we got out of the building before Skid Row could get anywhere near the stage.

It’s probably the only time in my life I ever paid full price for a concert ticket just to see the opening band.

That’s Soundgarden, of course. As for Cornell himself, I admit I didn’t buy his solo stuff, but I did like the first Audioslave album – it was basically Rage Against The Machine with a new lead singer, but it blended perfectly.

Even his James Bond theme song was pretty decent. That was a surreal pop culture moment for me as well, having grown up with Bond films, where one of the big deals about any new film was who would they get to sing the theme song – at one time, it was a sort of a career signpost signaling you’d finally made it. That arguably stopped being true by the time The Living Daylights came out. Still, they didn’t give the job of singing the latest Bond theme song to just anyone. Anyway, Cornell wasn’t an obvious choice – if you were going to go with “former grunge singer does Bond theme” atall, I’d have thought Eddie Vedder would be yr go-to guy.

In any case, admit it – “You Know My Name” was arguably the best Bond song since Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill”.

Anyway, he was one of the iconic singers of my college years, and I’m saddened and shocked to hear he’s gone so soon.

Say hello 2 heaven,

This is dF
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As you all know, Mary Tyler Moore is gone.

I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said – she was a TV staple of my childhood, and I do remember that final episode and what a big deal it was.

And with everyone talking about how revolutionary the show was in terms of featuring a female lead who wasn’t a housewife, I suppose it had some kind of background effect on me in terms of learning that women can be independent and have careers like anyone else. Which sounds obvious today, of course, but in 1970 this was still a new concept for many people. (So was the idea of putting a divorced female character on prime time TV, which was apparently the original premise, which CBS rejected.)

Anyway, among the tributes pouring in to MTM, some people have been posting covers of the show’s theme song.

The one I’ve known for years is, of course, the Husker Du version.

Then there’s the Joan Jett version.

You've probably heard both of those in the past week. 

But odds are you haven’t heard the Sammy Davis Jr disco version.

Or the Nashville Country version by Sonny Curtis (who. Incidentally, sang the original TV version).

Now that I’ve heard both, I still prefer the Husker Du/Joan Jett versions.

Yr gonna make it after all,

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Yes, I still do this.

And this year, we continued the trend of the last few years in which I’m buying a lot less new music than I used to. In fact, the releases you see below are pretty much every LP/EP I bought or acquired in 2016. So rather than do a Top 20, I’m going to do a Top 10 and categorize everything else under “Honorable Mentions”.

Ironically, there were plenty more new releases I was interested in this year, but thanks to the online preview ability we have these days (and I’m pretty sure that is what’s makes a huge difference in my buying patterns), I passed on them. Either I wasn’t that knocked out by what I heard, or it was okay but I just couldn’t imagine myself still listening to it a year from now. I don't think every album has to be an instant classic, of course – and indeed the majority of this list wouldn't qualify for that description. But there wasn’t enough incentive to click “buy”, I suppose.

The other thing I should address is the fact that three albums here were Obvious Candidates for every Best of 2016 list in the Western hemisphere. You’d be hard pressed to find a Top 10 list that doesn’t have David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and/or Nick Cave on it. Of course, there will probably always be debate on whether any of these albums would get as much critical acclaim if they had been made under different, less tragic circumstances (i.e. Bowie and Cohen dying shortly after the album's release, and the death of Cave’s son Arthur). But I feel pretty strongly that all three of them warrant the hype on their own merit, if only because (1) I liked the four Blackstar tracks I heard before Bowie died, and (2) I liked the lead-off single from Skeleton Tree before I even knew about Cave’s son.

Blimey, what a year, eh?

DISCLAIMER: Based on music I actually bought between December 2015 and November 2016, and therefore a useless metric for everyone else.


1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd)
2. David Bowie, Blackstar (ISO/Columbia)
3. The Claypool Lennon Delerium, Monolith Of Phobos (PIAS/Prawn Song/Chimera)
4. De La Soul, And The Anomymous Nobody (AOI)
5. Shonen Knife, Adventure (Damnably)
6. Bob Mould, Patch The Sky (Merge)
7. The Thermals, We Disappear (Saddle Creek)
8. Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker (Columbia)
9. Yello, Toy (Polydor/Island)
10. Fantastic Negrito, The Last Days Of Oakland (Blackball Universe)


John Carpenter, Lost Themes II (Sacred Bones)
Jambinai, A Hermitage (Bella Union)
Lush, Blind Spot EP (Edamame)
Iggy Pop, Post Pop Depression (Caroline)
Dan Sartain, Century Plaza (One Little Indian)
Seratones, Seratones On Audiotree Live (Audiotree)
Tacocat, Lost Time (Hardly Art)
Tricot, Kabuku EP (Bakuretsu Records)
Underworld, Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future (Caroline)
Tony Joe White, Rain Crow (Yep Roc)


Kate Bush, Before The Dawn (Fish People)


Richard Michael John Hall, Space Rock (Bandcamp)


Banäna Deäthmüffins, Political Songs For Miley Cyrus To Sing


Extended play! The details! )

Up next: the films!

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And so 2016 gets one more boot in with George Michael.

I have to confess, I’m one of the few people on the planet who wasn’t a big fan. Which is not to say I don’t think he was talented. He was a fine singer and a showman, and I can prove that with this video of him performing with Queen for a Freddie Mercury tribute/AIDS awareness fundraiser.

Sure, he’s no Freddie Mercury, but c’mon, no one was except Freddie. And in many respects Freddie was no George Michael.

That said, I was never really into Wham!, who I found to be a bit silly and pretty to be taken seriously. I’ll admit too that by the time I became aware of them, my musical tastes were more solidly in classic/heavy rock territory. And by the time George went solo, I was firmly in Punkville and turned off by Michael’s ubiquity. So … you know.

Now that I’m older and wiser (okay, older), I still can’t say I’m a fan, but it’s easier to see why Wham! were as big as they were, and why George ended up an even bigger pop star on his own. One thing I didn’t realize in the 80s was that Michael wasn’t just a pretty face being handed pro pop songs to sing – he wrote most of his own songs (both in Wham! and solo), and 30+ years later, his hits are still in circulation – one of them now being a staple Christmas song, albeit one that’s now going to have some extra emotional heft, seeing as how he passed on Christmas Day.

Anyway, here in HK he had his share of fans. And inevitably, one of the classic stories making the rounds here is the time that Wham! became the first Western pop group to play in mainland China.

It’s actually a fascinating story in terms of how they managed to land the gig (to include their manager screwing Queen out of the gig by portraying Freddie Mercury as kinda gay – hmmmm yes …) and how the audience had to be careful not to be seen having an unacceptably good time, etc.


Guilty feet have got no rhythm,

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After three or four years of releasing several albums’ worth of songs individually, Banäna Deäthmüffins is finally releasing our very first proper album, which is actually an EP or a mini-LP or whatever you call a record that only has seven songs on it.

Five songs are brand new. Two songs have been previously released, but since only about 25 people have heard either of them, we’ll go ahead and say they’re as good as new.

You can stream the whole thing from Bandcamp (or via the player below), and you can also download it in the format of yr choice (to include CD-level quality if you have a lot of storage and a decent internet connection).

Just put “0.00” in the price box and it’s yrs. (You can put more than that if you really want to, but I wouldn’t recommend it – we’re not exactly professionals here.)


Why release an album now?
Because albums are dead, so we figure now is the perfect time to put one out.

Are these songs really political?
Isn’t everything nowadays?

Which political party do you support?
Oh no you don’t, we’re not playing that game.

Is it a coincidence that yr releasing this just before the US presidential election?

Are these songs really for Miley Cyrus to sing?
If she wants to do any of them, that’s fine by us.

What about Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea, Carly Rae Jepsen, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, etc?
We don't object. But Miley gets first pass. We'll give Taylor Swift second pass since she went to my high school for a year.

Why Miley Cyrus?
Dunno. It seemed like a funny idea at the time.

If she does cover any of these songs, will you return the favor and record a Miley Cyrus cover?
We can't actually name any Miley Cyrus songs, much less play them, but we are willing to learn.

Aren’t you afraid she’ll sue the bejeezus out of you?
Not really – we’re sure she has a sense of humor about it. She may even get the reference.

How about her record company?
That’s a risk, sure, but given that (1) we don’t make a dime off our music and (2) even if we did, the number of people who even know we exist is smaller than Miley’s entourage, we’re not too worried.

Have you actually read the book Who Moved My Cheese?


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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Achievement unlocked,

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Well, maybe it won’t. But it seems the more interesting new music releases I’ve come across in the last few months fit that description.

First there’s Tricot, a math-rock band from Japan who has released their second EP, Kabuku. The angular jazz chords and shifting time-signatures are kind of standard, but it’s the multi-layered vocals that help Tricot stand out, for my money.

Here’s the lead-off single, “Setsuyakuka”:

And then you have Korean band Jambinai, which combines traditional Korean folk instruments with post-rock, heavy metal and hip-hop. The result is surprisingly hypnotic and surreal.

Here’s the closing track from their second album, A Hermitage, out now:

To defy the laws of tradition,

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boing boing boing boing

[Via F*** Yeah Dementia]

And that’s about all I have to say about the new Beyonce album, which is currently being insanely overanalyzed and overpoliticized out there in the cyberspaces. I really don’t have anything to add to either “conversation”, the latter of which is essentially a rehash of that other conversation about her “racist” Super Bowl show.

Also, I haven’t heard the album and am not likely to – I appreciate Beyonce's accomplishments as a pop artist, but musically she’s not my cup of tea – so I can’t very well comment on an album I haven’t listened to.

Granted, that won’t stop everyone else on the internet, but, you know, we’re trying to do something a little different here.

When life gives you lemons,

This is dF

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The Thermals are back album #7, and the question for many fans remains: “Is it as good as The Body The Blood The Machine”?

Which is unfair, maybe, but it’s a common problem for any band that makes a defining, landmark album then has to spend the rest of their career in its shadow. That said, Thermals leader Hutch Harris doesn’t seem to be losing sleep over it. And it’s not like their post-TBTBTM output has been awful. For my money, Now We Can See and Desperate Ground are underappreciated gems, and while Personal Life didn’t quite work for me, there’s still some good stuff there.

The new album, We Disappear, is thematically concerned with how people resist the end of things, be they relationships or life itself to the point of posting everything about themselves online in a possible bid for immortality after we die, as the opening track declares.

Musically, it’s also a step forward in that The Thermals expand their sound slightly – it’s still simple three-chord power-pop with Harris’ earnest yelp, but with more layered guitars and judicious use of echo on a few tracks.

That said, it’s still basically the standard Thermals template, and that’s why – as with the last few albums – I’ll need to revisit it a few times. But history suggests this one will grow on me.

We will always exist,

This is dF
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You all know about Prince.

As a blogger I’m obligated to say a few things about this.

1. I should say up front I’ve never really been a fan of Prince in the literal sense. To be clear, I do like a lot of his music, and I have the utmost respect for him as a songwriter, musician, artist and general force of nature.

But I only ever owned a few of his albums, and none are from 1990 on. Prince was one of those artists that was so ubiquitous on the radio and MTV that it didn’t seem necessary to buy copies of his albums – I could hear him all the time anyway.

2. That said, this is my favorite Prince album.

Even though it was a major hit, I remember a lot of people put it down at the time – partly because it came across as a cheesy movie marketing gimmick, and partly because Prince turned the Batman and The Joker into a weird hybrid alter-ego that had nothing to do with the movie, which just seemed really egotistical even by Prince standards.

And yet the whole thing really is a weird kind of genius – the album and the videos are basically Prince deconstructing the whole Batman/Joker mythos and rebuilding it in his own image. io9 has a great write-up of what Tim Burton’s film would have been like if he’d gone with Prince’s storyline. I have to say, I'd go see that.

3. It’s always interested me that Prince was simultaneously heralded as a brilliant guitarist (which he was) and underrated to the point that he rarely made it onto any given list of the greatest guitar players. I suppose it was partly because most of the “great” guitar players are only really known for playing guitar, whereas Prince played lots of other instruments as well.

4. One of the benchmarks of any major pop star who writes his/her own songs is the extent to which people cover them. Famously, Prince has written hits for Sinead O’Connor and The Bangles. Lesser known covers include The Goo Goo Dolls doing “I Could Never Take The Place Of You Man” (with The Incredible Lance Diamond) and the Hindu Love Gods (Warren Zevon and ¾ of REM) doing “Raspberry Beret” (which I would link to if it existed on YouTube, which it doesn’t – see Item 7).

5. This sticker here?

Prince is basically responsible for that. It was his song “Darling Nikki” that set off Tipper Gore to start the PMRC and instigate a Senate investigation into “porn-rock” that eventually led to the music industry adopting that sticker.

Mind you, I’m not blaming Prince for that – I blame Tipper. But it goes to show how much Prince pushed at mainstream music’s boundaries. You know yr pushing hard enough when the Powers The Be who consider it their responsibility to set those boundaries decide to push back.

6. I know a guy who was in Minneapolis when the punk scene was raging in the early 80s. And to this day he resents that Prince made it big and got national attention and put Minneapolis on the pop culture map when there were more deserving local bands like Husker Du and The Replacements who should have been getting all the glory.

Of course eventually both bands got credit for being essential and influential. And both Bob Mould and Paul Westerberg have written touching tributes about Prince. So there’s maybe a lesson here about how being precious about yr little music scene only goes so far.

7. Anyway, it’s all been said elsewhere, but I have to respect a guy who did everything on his own terms and broke just about every rule he was supposed to play by to be a success at the time. Who else could change his name to an unpronounceable symbol and get away with it? Even his crusade against digital music (to include YouTube), while quixotic, was based on the well-intentioned argument that the artists should have control over how their music is shared and how much they’re compensated for that. 

8. This has nothing to do with Prince, but I thought I’d mention that he wasn’t the only influential music artist to die at age 57 that day.

Richard Lyons, one of the founders of Negativland, also passed away

Take me away,

This is dF

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Since the previous installment of this series covered David Bowie’s final album, it’s only fitting we should follow that up with Post Pop Depression, Iggy Pop’s final album

Well, maybe. He’s suggested he will likely retire after this. If so, he’ll go out swinging.

What fans will make of it may depend in part on how they feel about (1) the rest of Iggy’s solo catalog (i.e. is it as good as Lust For Life?) and (2) Josh Homme, who is Iggy’s musical partner here, along with Dean Fertita (of Homme’s main band Queens Of The Stone Age) and Matt Helders (drummer for Arctic Monkeys). As such, musically it bears a slight resemblance to Queens Of The Stone Age and/or Homme’s various side projects or desert-jam sessions.

But it would be a mistake to call this a QOTSA album with Iggy as frontman. It’s much more than that. Musically it’s more reflective than heavy, the sound of a guy who gave his all for the rockinrolls and lived to tell the tale. Which pretty much sums up Iggy’s career.

And of course Iggy dominates the set as only Iggy can, with lyrics that range from languid and sentimental to sputtering rage and the occasional venture into self-aware goofiness. They’re not all classics but I think several tracks here hold up against even the best of his back catalog.

All up, it’s a solid and often spellbinding album. More importantly, it’s the sound of Iggy Pop doing what he’s always done – whatever he wants, and on his own terms.

Here’s one of the better tracks.

Slick as a senator’s statement,

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Banäna Deäthmüffins isn’t on hiatus exactly – we actually have a number of tracks in the works and even a concept album, maybe. But our MIDI converter is acting up and we can’t get much else done until we get a new one.

However, we do have this to share with you: a cover of that classic song “Born Free”.

And we’d like to apologize in advance to fans of the original. Because we didn’t exactly take it seriously. The ending is pretty cool, though.

[This is where the lyrics usually go, but it’s probably not necessary in this case.]


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Music by John Barry
Original lyrics by Don Black
Updated lyrics by Dave and Lana (probably)

Ruined by Banäna Deäthmüffins, and we're very sorry about that really

©2016 Terribly Frog Music. Derechos Reservados!


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On a plain,

This is dF
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It’s been a slow year for new music, mainly because most of the new releases I’ve been looking forward to weren’t scheduled to drop until the end of March or early April. So basically until this week, the only new album of 2016 that I’d heard was David Bowie’s Blackstar. Which, amazingly, I haven’t blogged about yet.

I shall do that now.

Basically, it’s brilliant.

And of course since I heard it a week after Bowie’s passing, we may never know how big an influence that will be on my assessment. But I had heard the title track the month prior to his death and thought it was just stunning, so I feel pretty sure about this.

I also liked the two songs here that were released a year ago alongside the Nothing Has Changed comp, “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)” and “’Tis a Pity She’s A Whore”, although Blackstar has new versions recorded with the jazz band Bowie recruited for the album. I have to say I like this version of “Sue …” more – it’s still jazzy but with a little more dramatic tension to it.

You can compare them, if you like. Here’s the Maria Schneider Orchestra version.

And here’s the Blackstar version.

And of course we all know by now that “Lazarus” was an intentional farewell song. In fact, Tony Visconti has said Bowie – who had already been diagnosed with cancer – knew this would be his last album. Leave it to Bowie to turn his death into an artistic statement.

There will always be arguments over how it compares to the rest of Bowie’s catalog, but I think it’s one of his strongest albums. And given the strength of his best work, I don’t see that it matters if it’s better than, say, Ziggy Stardust or the Berlin trilogy or whatever. It’s a great Bowie album, and it’s grand that Bowie was able to go out swinging.

So anyway, this is the first great album of 2016, and it’s hard to imagine anything else topping it.

Oh folly Sue,

This is dF
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Here in Hong Kong, Sam Hui is generally recognized as one of the founders of what’s known as Cantopop, as he was one of the first and most successful singer-songwriters of the early 70s to sing pop/rock songs in the local Cantonese dialect instead of Mandarin, as was the tradition beforehand.

One of my favorite songs of his is “Students”. I don’t understand much of the lyrics, but I love the chord progression and key changes.

Turns out it’s actually a cover version of this song, which was a big hit in South Korea in the mid-60s and still gets a lot of tribute/karaoke action to this very day.

And it turns out that that song – the title of which translates to “Washington Square” – is actually an adaptation of this instrumental recorded a year earlier by "folk-Dixie" outfit The Village Stompers.

It’s an interesting evolution. Someone in Korea basically took an American instrumental and wrote some original Korean lyrics for it, then ten years later Sam Hui took that version and wrote some original Cantonese lyrics for it.

(I’m assuming he swiped the music from the Korean version rather than the US version. My conclusion is based on the fact that the Korean version contains one minor chord change from the original, and the Sam Hui version uses the Korean chord changes.)

Isn't this interesting?

All around the world,

This is dF
defrog: (45 frog)
Time to get back on track with this series.

If you’ve followed this long enough, you know I have a lot of one-hit wonders in the 45 library.

Gary Wright is not one of them. He was a two-hit wonder. But then I’ve only got one of those two hits on 45, so close enough.

This is the one I have.

This is the one I don’t have (not on 45, anyway – I did have it via a K-Tel comp, I think, so it doesn’t count towards this series).

Wright was, of course, formerly with Spooky Tooth, which I didn’t know at the time. And it probably wouldn’t have mattered if I did because Spooky Tooth weren’t all that big in the US when they were active, and I didn’t know who they were in the mid-70s when these two songs came out.

Anyway, I still kind of like both songs, but “Love Is Alive” is the stronger of the two, thanks to that hard-hitting bass line and the delay effects on the guitar. (I like me some echo.) And it does kind of rock. Listening to it now, it gets by more on nostalgia, perhaps  but I still like it.

It’s all clear to me now,

This is dF 
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George Martin is gone.

Not the bloke who writes the Game Of Thrones thing. The fifth Beatle.

You can probably get good recaps of his Beatles career here and here. And of course there was more to him than The Beatles.

But it’s only fair that everyone focuses on the Beatles stuff, because that whole story illustrates the importance of having a good producer in the studio who knows how to collaborate with a given artist and get the best possible results. Some bands don’t require producer intervention. Some do. The Beatles may or may not have needed it, but there’s little doubt they benefited from Martin’s input, and very likely wouldn’t be as influential as they are now.

At least some of that comes to the sheer innovation that Martin enabled. Think of it this way – as big as Beatlemania was, The Beatles would have likely gone the way of other teen-idol pop groups (here today, gone tomorrow) if they hadn’t evolved into something more serious and innovative. And Martin was the key to making that innovation work, not least because of the technical limitations at the time. In these days of Pro Tools, software effects and digital editing, it’s easy to forget how hard it is to record, mix and edit a musically complex song with a four-track mixer, analog tape and a razor blade.

And I’ve done both analog and digital audio production, so take it from me.

Anyway, Martin gets full credit from me for taking both The Beatles and pop/rock music forward into new and unexplored realms. Yes, rock as a music form has been in arrested development for a long time now. But Martin helped get it to where it is now. We need someone else like Martin to find the right artists to show us how to move forward again.

One other thing I’ll say about Martin: he also wrote the score to what is arguably my favorite Bond film soundtrack.

Not to put down John Barry, who did some awesome Bond scores. But Live and Let Die is the only Bond soundtrack with wah-wah.

BONUS TRACK: Martin also produced Cheap Trick’s fifth album All Shook Up, which tends to be underrated because it didn’t have a lot of radio-friendly songs compared to Dream Police, and it’s relatively more experimental. But it’s still a solid Cheap Trick album, IMO. Here's the opening track.

Hello goodbye,

This is dF


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