Monday, January 2, 2012

Year-End Inventory II: The Music

"Personally, I like the Bern Elliot and The Fenmen reissue!"

This is always the time of year your fave-rave cultural journalists love to compile Top Ten Lists of the stuff they got sent for free that they feel was important. I never enjoyed doing those lists - how egotistical can you get, making such grand pronouncements? Fact is, taste is individual, the brain is an imperfect memory bank, and something's gonna get left out that'll offend someone or other. Then again, most of my actions offend someone or other, it seems. So, what the eff...?

So, despite having retired from the rock critic fray in 1998 and only occasionally writing about music for pay in the years since, I know there's scores of people out there who still look at me as being a (*gulp*) "rock journalist." Not that they likely care what my opinions are on anything....

Still, for some odd reason, I can't resist doing a recap for the past year in culture. Guess I crave punishment, for some weird crime I'm unaware of....

Record Of The Year 2011: This had to have been the oddest musical year in my memory. I don't know about your memory. But I think we have official evidence of the destruction of the music business by the Oughts' technological revolution now being complete. I no longer have any accurate compass on new music, new bands, etc., etc. Now that music has been fully democratized and placed in the hands of The People by technology, it's harder to find the cream on the surface for the flood of people starting bands and releasing every note they play on MP3, etc. And my tastes are no longer in synch with Da Yoof, so I don't really know or get what people with a lot of facial hair like.

Yeah, I guess I'm officially old.

I do know that what filtered through to me last year were a number of strong releases from veteran bands, some of which I wrote about in this blog (Gang Of Four, Michael Monroe), some of which I didn't (Motorhead, UK Subs). But two records (yes, I still call 'em that, whether the source is digital or not) stand out in my mind from this past year: The New York Dolls' Dancing In High Heels Backwards (which I wrote about here) and one I didn't write about and should have, The First Four EPs by OFF!

That Dolls record, like everything the reformed New York Dolls have done, has been rather controversial. Some people are just never going to get over the absence of Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, and Arthur Kane. And many expressed to me that Dancing.... sounded less like the Dolls to them than the previous pair of studio albums by the reunion lineup. That actually might be one of the strengths of Dancing....: It broke from the sound of the last two albums, and even broke from Dolls tradition with its strange, almost avant garde production. Less reliant on raunchy guitars and more on atmosphere and songs, this also may have hewed closer to the Dolls' classic spirit than anything they'd done since their heyday. Why? Because it's almost surely the Dolls' tribute to their girl group roots, right down to the faithful cover of Patti LaBelle and The Bluebells' "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman." It's a solid album through-and-through, and one of the two new discs I reached for the most this past year.

OFF!'s Steven McDonald (l) and Keith Morris (r) sandwiching yours' truly, Denver, CO., Oct., 2011 (pic: Adams Pinkston)

The other release, by OFF!, is both a throwback and a shockingly vital, brand new blast. Fronted by punk rock force-of-nature Keith Morris (do I have to tell you he was in Circle Jerks and Black Flag?!) and featuring members of Redd Kross (Steven McDonald), Burning Brides (Dimitri Coats), and Rocket From The Crypt (Mario Rubalcaba), this is hardcore punk as it was originally intended: A solid blast of intensity. This isn't about speed or politics (except in the most personal, real-life terms possible). This is about raw power, anger, and sheer release. Keith's performance, on this record and live, is especially potent. He's unleashing something, and you can't help but pay attention to this unfiltered torrent of emotion and spleen. This band could be a one-band revolution all in themselves. Bless 'em.

Coming soon: My picks in books, movies, etc. Enjoy!

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