[EDIT 02/05/2010: Most song links removed after a Blogger takedown notice, though at least they're civil enough to now simply revert the post back to draft mode instead of outright wiping it out...]
[EDIT 03/01/2010: Okie dokie, ALL mp3 links removed after another notice. I'm 90% sure I removed the offending mp3 previously since I only left up the mp3s that were hosted on the artists' website. Of course, the identity of the offending mp3 is indiscernible to all, but if you're curious how these complaints come about, here's the official complaint to Google as sent by the IFPI, a form letter with a long list of URLs attached in cluding this here year-end post. I'm guessing some sort of robot "read" my post and deemed it complaint-worthy.]
Time for my belated and bloated annual look back at the past year... yes, we're mere hours away from February, but I started a dangerous precedent last year when I posted my year-end review at the end of January. Last year saw a dramatic drop in my post count, less than half the posts of 2008 and my lowest total since 2006. I partially blame the lingering effect of that blogger crackdown, but another contributing factor is the new job I started around the same time in late '08. Now I'm more or less happy with one post a week with maybe some really short ones in between. I joined Twitter last February and I'm surprised to find myself still updating it fairly frequently. An unexpected side effect of joining Twitter is that it reinvigorated my interactions with Facebook since my tweets are automatically used as my status updates. Travelwise, I visited Chicago for the first time last March and due to a fortuitous set of circumstances, I'll be heading back there with parents in May for a quick jaunt. I hopped down to Seattle at least thrice for concert-related reasons (Jason Webley, Harvey Danger's last shows ever, Ben Folds + symphony) and went to San Francisco/Mountain View for the Bridge School Benefit concert with my dad. I also went to Vegas for my best friend's bachelor party and served as Best Man at his wedding in July. My new baby cousin was born in June and around the same time I welcomed a new fuzzy friend into my home, my cat Jaboo:
It's funny, after looking back through my old posts I realize that I inadvertently fulfilled my new year's resolution last year: reading more books. This has been helped by joining goodreads.com in November, which fulfills my obsessive compulsive need to quantify my existence by cataloguing everything I see or do. Typically, I have a more or less constant flow of incoming material through library requests, but last week for the first time in a long time, I found myself with nothing to read and was getting kinda anxious about it... like I was having reading withdrawal symptoms. Good sign, I suppose. I didn't exactly read up a storm last year, but it was probably the most books I've read in a while. Currently I'm reading the Chinese classic Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en, translated and abridged as Monkey by Arthur Waley in 1942, which is the version I'm reading. I'm surprisingly well-versed in the tale based entirely on a book from the public library I loved and re-read constantly as a kid, Adventures of the Magic Monkey Along the Silk Roads, a comic adaptation by Evelyn Nagai-Berthrong and Anker Odum that was commissioned by the Royal Ontario Museum in 1983. A couple years back, I flukily ended up with my very own used copy of the comic long after I had forgotten about it... and it turns out I never really did forget it. Hopefully this year will see the publishing of the long-awaited non-fiction travel book by Neil Gaiman, Monkey and Me, which sees Neil follow the same path as Monkey's journey through China.
Top Covers/Cover Albums:
The Leisure Society - Something [originally by The Beatles]
As arguably the most covered act of all-time, I'm impressed when I come across Beatles covers that sound new to me. This pretty much proves that no matter how over-covered a song is, all it takes is one inspired artist to make some cover magic. This beautiful cover by The Leisure Society was the standout from Mojo's track-by-track cover tribute to Abbey Road, which actually featured a few other great covers too (Jeffrey Lewis's Octopus's Garden comes to mind). The Leisure Society also registered on my radar with a similarly wonderful cover of Gary Numan's Cars in '09. Definitely a band to keep an ear out for.
Adam Green - I Will [originally by The Beatles]
Last year saw the beginning of the epic Beatles Complete on Ukulele project, which will be providing a bountiful supply of Beatles covers for another 2 years. This irreverent but sweet cover by Adam Green reframes the song as a sort of warped lullabye to his love who OD'ed on pills and is in a coma...
Project Jenny, Project Jan - Self Control [originally by Laura Branigan]
Last year, the Buffetlibre DJs lived up to their name with their covers smorgasbord, Buffetlibre Rewind 2 (still available for free!). The sheer amount of covers is actually quite overwhelming, but I unexpectedly found myself singling out this cover of Laura Branigan's 1984 hit Self Control for repeated listening.
Marco Benevento - Friends [originally by Led Zeppelin]
Benevento's second solo album Me Not Me consisted mainly of jazz reinventions along the lines of The Bad Plus or Brad Mehldau. He covers Beck, The Knife, Leonard Cohen, and others, but it's his version of the rarely covered Friends from Zeppelin III that caught my attention. Benevento also does a brilliant rendition of Nobody Does it Better on his Live at Tonic album.
DeVotchKa - Hot Burrito #1 (I'm Your Toy) [originally by The Flying Burrito Brothers]
I hadn't heard of the original when I fell in love with this cover from last year's Sweetheart compilation from Starbucks. Say what you want about the coffee giants, but their music people manage to attract some major and sometimes unheralded talent to fill out these compilations. This year's batch was recently released and features the likes of José Gonzáles covering Kylie Minogue, The Long Winters covering ZZ Top, and The Shins' James Mercer joining his brother Robert for a Bob Dylan cover. Guess I'll have to make my way to a Starbucks soon to pick this up.
Chromeo - I Can't Tell You Why [originally by The Eagles]
Montréal-based electrofunk artists Chromeo do an modern, but faithful cover of The Eagles track from 1979's The Long Run. There is actually a surprising dearth of good to great cover of Eagles... I can't tell you why. [EDIT: You can get the free MP3 from their official site with your e-mail]
The Lost Fingers - Belleville Rendez-vous [originally from The Triplets of Belleville]
The Lost Fingers followed their 2008 debut of 80s covers with Rendez-vous Rose, an album of Francophone covers in the same gypsy jazz style. All the covers are, of course, great, though I suppose the significance (or humour) of some of the French pop song choices is lost on me. In some cases, they managed to recruit some of the original artists to join them such as Plastic Bertrand on Ça plane pour moi or Nanette Workman on Lady Marmalade (she had a hit with the same song in Québec in the 70s). I was absolutely thrilled to discover they covered the theme song from the animated film The Triplets of Belleville.
Anamanaguchi - Holiday [originally by Weezer]
8-bit cover songs, which have become their own subgenre, are hit or miss with me. They're cute in a retro sense, but then after hearing a bunch of classic rock songs performed as instrumental chiptune songs, I feel like I'm back in the 90s listening to midi translations of popular songs, novel but unexciting. The (free) 8-bit Tribute to Weezer, remakes a collection of Weezer songs as if they're the soundtrack to NES end boss fights, which syncs up nicely with Weezer's nerd aesthetic. My favourite of the bunch is Anamanaguchi's cover of Holiday, combining the sounds of a hacked NES with actual live instrumentation and singing.
Retro Remix Revue - Super Mario Brothers 3 - Overworld BGM, Athletic BGM [originally by Koji Kondo]
The brainchild of Davis Jones and Blaine McGurty, Retro Remix Revue revisits the music of classic Nintendo and Sega games such as Mario, Sonic, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and more. Retro Remix Revue, Vol. 2 was released last year and featured this brilliant and wonderful medley of a couple very familiar tunes from Super Mario 3 as performed by a jazz trio. Unfortunately, there aren't more jazz arrangements like this on the album which is a grab bag of styles favouring synth rock, though there is a Spanish themed guitar cover of the Gerudo Valley Theme from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that's very good. If you go back to Retro Remix Revue, Vol. 1, you can find another amazing jazz cover incorporating themes from Super Mario World.
Booker T. - Hey Ya [originally by Outkast]
Hey Ya has been covered numerous times but never as a Hammond organ instrumental romp backed by Neil Young on electric guitar. [EDIT: hey, the album won a Grammy tonight! And, uh, Neil Young won his first ever Grammy... for box set packaging]
Michael Bublé featuring Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - Baby (You've Got What It Takes) [originally by Dinah Washington and Brook Benton]
I'm a big fan both Michael Bublé and Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings so it's almost a given that I'd love this cover they did for Bublé's Crazy Love album last year. Coincidentally, they performed this on last night's Saturday Night Live, horn and string section intact.
Pomplamoose - Beat It [originally by Michael Jackson]
When Cover Me's Ray tweeted Pomplamoose's Beat It as potentially the best post-death Michael Jackson (RIP) cover yet, I expected to hear a good cover but I wasn't expecting to stumble on a new favourite band. Pomplamoose has been around since 2008, building their fanbase through a series of "VideoSongs", youtube music videos that visually show every single sound, voice, and instrument you hear as they were performed live (example: Beat It). The duo of Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn reached a new apex of popularity when their VideoSong of Beyoncé's Single Ladies went viral with over 3 million views since September. I quickly discovered that all their covers, which also include Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson and Feist's Gatekeeper, can be downloaded for free from their myspace while their originals are $1 each. Even without the visual gimmickry, the songs more than stand on their own as great music. Their Christmas original Always in the Season cemented my appreciation for the music they're creating. Pomplamoose is officially on my music radar permanently.
Danny Michel - Straight to Hell [originally by The Clash]
With its sampling in M.I.A's Paper Planes in 2008, I couldn't help but notice a covers revival of The Clash's Straight to Hell in 2009. Whether it was Elvis Costello & Jakob Dylan teaming up on Costello's Spectacle, an acoustic version by Bill Janovitz for his cover of the week series, or Lily Allen (Joe Strummer's goddaughter!) covering it with Mick Jones for the War Child Heroes covers compilation, there was a definite, if unconscious, effort to let the kids these days know the musical origin of Paper Planes. This is my extreme bias showing, but my favourite rendition is by Danny Michel, a noted aficionado of The Clash and reggae. This comes from the Strummer dub tribute album Shatter the Hotel released in late '09 and featuring a number of Canadian artists.
Favourite Songs/Albums of '09:
- The Very Best - Kada Manja [from Warm Heart of Africa]
The full length debut of The Very Best (AKA Esau Mwamwaya and Radio Clit), Warm Heart of Africa, more than lived up to the promise of the free mixtape they released the year before. I was super disappointed that their gig I was set to go to in San Francisco was cancelled... come to Vancouver!
- Sleepy Kitty - Gimme a Chantz! [from What I Learned This Summer]
While it was bittersweet to say goodbye to Harvey Danger after their last ever shows in August, I became an instant fan of Chicago-based Sleepy Kitty, the duo of Paige Brubeck and original Harvey Danger drummer Evan Sult, who were playing some of their first ever shows as the opening act. This was my second most played song in 2009 and I can wait to hear what they've got lined up for 2010.
- Rodrigo y Gabriela - Buster Voodoo [from 11:11]
On their third album 11:11, each of the 11 tracks pays tribute to one of Rodrigo y Gabriela's musical influences ranging from Pink Floyd to Pantera's Dimebag Darrell to virtuoso jazz pianist Michel Camilo. This one pays tribute to Jimi Hendrix and you might catch hear a quick riff from Voodoo Chile in there.
- The BPA - ToeJam [feat. David Byrne & Dizzee Rascal] [from I Think We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat]
Technically this single was from '08, but the album wasn't released until the beginning of '09. The Brighton Port Authority was a project headed by Norman Cook (AKA Fatboy Slim) joined by a bevy of artists like Iggy Pop, Martha Wainwright, Danger Mouse, Jack Penate, and more. This track featuring David Byrne and UK rapper Dizzee Rascal kept randomly surfacing on iTunes shuffles until I was force to acknowledge and love it.
- Says She's Ms. Blat - Poseurs [from Says She's Ms. Blat]
This was a blog submission that I never got around to writing about, but I definitely got hooked on the single Poseurs from the New York duo Says She's Ms. Blat. Lottie Leymarie (keyboards/vocals) and Bret Puchir (drums) perform in the vein of The Dresden Dolls evoking the vocals of Chrissie Hynde or Fiona Apple. [EDIT: download full album including Poseurs from bandcamp site.]
- The Dead Weather - So Far From Your Weapon [from Horehound]
It's hard to believe that a year ago today The Dead Weather didn't officially exist and their second album is expected this year. Cool, yes, but will we get to hear a new White Stripes album anytime soon?
- Pet Shop Boys - Pandemonium [from Yes]
It was a treat to catch the Pet Shop Boys when they came to Vancouver in September and hear them run through a setlist of some of my favourite all-time songs. While I haven't exactly been paying attention to their output since the 1991 Discography compilation of singles, after the show I became addicted to Pandemonium from their most recent release. The Smiths' Johnny Marr makes a guest appearance on guitars and harmonica.
- Zee Avi - Poppy [from Zee Avi]
My favourite new artist of the year. I wrote more about Zee Avi here when she came to Vancity in December. An auspicious debut for sure.
- Andrew Bird - Oh No [from Noble Beast]
What, Andrew Bird on a Fong Songs year-end list? No surprise. If he puts out an album, it's a guaranteed inclusion.
2009 in concerts:
2009/02/20 A.C. Newman with Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele Biltmore Cabaret Vancouver, BC
2009/03/13 Alice Russell with The O'My's Schuba's Tavern Chicago, IL
2009/03/14 Sammy Fender and others, featuring Buddy Guy Buddy Guy's Legends Chicago, IL
2009/03/27 JunoFest: Elizabeth Shepherd Rossini's Vancouver, BC
2009/03/29 Juno Songwriter's Circle 2009 (Hawksley Workman, Doc Walker (Chris Thorsteinson and Dave Wasyliw), Jim Cuddy, Jacob Hoggard, Sarah Slean, Ndidi Onukwulu, and Buffy Sainte-Marie) The Centre Vancouver, BC
2009/03/30 Serena Ryder Stanley Industrial Alliance Theatre Vancouver, BC
2009/04/17 Unwigged & Unplugged: An Evening with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean & Harry Shearer The Centre Vancouver, BC
2009/04/25 54·40 Cambie All Access Vancouver, BC
2009/04/30 k-os with Jay Malinowski (of Bedouin Soundclash) Commodore Ballroom Vancouver, BC
2009/05/16 Ellen McIlwaine St. James Hall Vancouver, BC
2009/05/28 Danny Michel with Carolyn Mark and Hannah Georgas Vancouver, BC
2009/06/24 The Tragically Hip Orpheum Theatre Vancouver, BC
2009/06/26 The Lost Fingers Performance Works Vancouver, BC
2009/06/27 Alice Russell Biltmore Cabaret Vancouver, BC
2009/07/03 Jason Webley's 11 Year Elevanniversary Celebration with Amanda Palmer, Reverend Peyton, Andru Bemis, Jay Thompson, Jherek Bischoff, Michael McQuilken, Alex Guy, and more Town Hall Seattle, WA
2009/08/06 - 08/09 Edmonton Folk Music Festival (Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Jill Barber, Chuck Brodsky, Neko Case, Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, Chumbawamba, Alex Cuba, Fred Eaglesmith, Steve Earle, Kathleen Edwards, Johnny Flynn, Patty Griffin, Hanggai, Sierra Hull, Danny Michel, Steven Page, Joel Plaskett, Boz Scaggs, The Wailers, Loudon Wainwright III, and many more) Gallagher Park Edmonton, AB
2009/08/21 The Dead Weather with Tyvek Commodore Ballroom Vancouver, BC
2009/08/22 The Dead Weather with Tyvek Commodore Ballroom Vancouver, BC
2009/08/28 Harvey Danger with Sleepy Kitty and Ships The Vera Project Seattle, WA
2009/08/29 Harvey Danger with Can You Imagine? The Crocodile Seattle, WA
2009/08/29 Harvey Danger with Sleepy Kitty The Crocodile Seattle, WA
2009/09/12 Summer Sessions with Sarah McLachlan, Neil Young, Sheryl Crow, Luke Doucet, Melissa McClelland, and more Ambleside Park West Vancouver, BC
2009/09/19 Pet Shop Boys The Centre Vancouver, BC
2009/10/20 Ben Folds & The Seattle Symphony Orchestra Benaroya Hall Seattle, WA
2009/10/24 - 10/25 Bridge School Benefit with Neil Young, No Doubt, Chris Martin, Jimmy Buffett, Adam Sandler, Fleet Foxes, Monsters of Folk, Wolfmother, and Gavin Rossdale Shoreline Amphitheater Mountain View, CA
2009/11/25 The Swell Season with Doveman The Centre Vancouver, BC
2009/12/09 Zee Avi with Christopher Smith & The Beckon Call The Media Club Vancouver, BC
I set a new record for concert-going in '09, albeit with a fair number of repeats even within the same year. I went from A to Z, kicking off the year with A.C. Newman and ending with Zee Avi. In between, I doubled up on Dead Weather, Danny Michel, and Alice Russell (in Chicago and Vancouver). Spinal Tap "Unwigged & Unplugged" was a treat, as were The Lost Fingers and The Swell Season (i.e. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, stars of the film Once). I couldn't pass t up the opportunity to see the Pet Shop Boys and was not disappointed. Same goes for Ben Folds who performed with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Of course, Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit shows were a once in a lifetime experience... that is, until the next ones. Probably the ultimate shows for me personally were the three final Harvey Danger shows. I mentioned this recently but it deserves re-mentioning... the best single song live performance I witnessed in 2009 was Hawksley Workman at the Juno Songwriter's Circle:
Hawksley Workman - Safe and Sound (Live at The Juno Songwriter's Circle 2009)
2009 in film:
With 2010 already well underway, some good stuff has already been released like new albums from Vampire Weekend and Hawksley Workman. Just last week the mailman brought new cover album Turn Ons from The Hotrats (AKA Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey of Supergrass). Other stuff I'm looking forward to this year:
- Debut from conjoined twin sisters Evelyn Evelyn (due in March). Produced by Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley.
- Speaking of Supergrass, they've got a proper new album due in early 2010 called Release the Drones
- Out already but haven't picked up Corinne Bailey Rae's The Sea yet
- The surreal sounding Here Lies Love concept album from David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. Guests include Sharon Jones, Alice Russell, Tori Amos, St. Vincent, and more. Due in late February.
- Muppets Revisited cover album... Fall 2010?
- Peter Gabriel's Scratch My Back covers album and reciprocal I'll Scratch Yours
- possibly a new Mark Ronson album in 2010
- New Weird Al! Though honestly his parodies mean less and less to me as I lose touch with whatever current act he's parodying...
Over and out.