I will send out the "big" list as mp3. From the big list, I will whittle it down to a 1 disk set and post the results on the blog. This is really about time. I believe Ben franklin said "I am sorry about the long letter; I didn't have time to write a short one." The Best of falls in this category.
I will continue the two disk set. The first disk will be the best of. The second desk will be some theme. The theme this year will be "interesting covers" not necessarily best covers. I've discovered how to get music the internet this year and have accumulated an interesting collection. Future ideas for second disk: "country songs nobody knows" "Boston songs" but as always looking for ideas.
Me and Liz are off to Florida for a long weekend. I have a conference, she's going to the spa.
It's been about a month since our first week in Jefferson, New Hampshire so it's getting a bit fuzzy, but I will do my best to give the outline. House pictured here. We went up on Sunday with the Adams. Monday to Willey House near Crawford Notch to eat ice cream, feed ducks and do the short trails. Afternoon, the girls and I went to Santa's Village while Mike and Lisa prepared a Mexican feast. Liz drank margaritas with Mike & Lisa. On Tuesday, both families spent the day at Santa's Pillage (as Josie call it). Adams went home mid day. On Wednesday we did the afternoon at Storyland. On Thursday, we went to Weeks park/lodge to see animal show where Maddy led the questioning of the naturalist. Friday, my parents and Maddy's friend Lauren arrived. It was also Maddy's 6th birthday so we celebrated with cake and fireworks. On Saturday, we (with parents) all did a hike at Pinkham Notch to Lost lake. Sunday home, leaving Maddy behind. Hopefully, more phots from Adams and parents to follow.
"I love school. If you want to learn, it's the best place to learn. Killam is the funnest bestest school in the whole of the state of Mass. and Reading and USA." Maddy Feltus
Madalyn had her first day of school. She reported to Room 13, Killam Elementary at 8:15. Note the fashionable outfit. You should see the Carolina blue sneakers. We'll see how long her sentiment expressed above lasts.
Bram - I think that first picture will make a great cover.
I begin the arduous process of editing and posting photos and all from vacation in NH. To start, I have posted three short videos (just click to view) One is when we went to feed Ducks with the Adams Family at Crawford Notch and the other two are from Maddy's birthday at the Castle.
The best of q2 2006 : a little old but may be of interest She Wants Revenge - She Wants Revenge *****
What an album ! Remember Joy Division. Dark synthasizer music but interesting. Anyone who grew up on 1980's alternative music must own. At first, I was skeptical although intriguied (tear you apart). But they sustain it for the whole album. No filler.
Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere ****
Strangely, I've only been really listening to what I would call traditional alternative or alt. Country lately. the exception is this album. I don't know what to call. It's a little rap, a little funk, a little pop. Not every song is good but it a delicisous weird mix that goes places no one else is even thinking about (Danger Mouse's other project Danger Doom is just regular rap). The song "crazy" is everywhere (including a crazy cover by Twilight Singers which is headed to the best of 2006) which is only an average song. Not for everyone, but definitely interesting to listen to.
Ryan Adams - 29 ****
Alt country begins with Ryan Adams. I'm still working through last years massive album output. While the four albums have their share of filler, this guys talent is undeniable and there is enough there to make it worth it. Add in more Son Volt, Golden Smog and Old 97's among others, alt country rules the day. The old thing is that I revisited Wilco and found it not even interesting.
Crown Victoria - Fireworks on TV ****
An older album but well worth listening to. A side project of Buffalo Tom's Bill Janovitz. I bought it last year but it really only started to gel lately. It falls in that alt country/roots rock of Twilight Singers, Built to Spill and Jose Gonzalez but shares a lot with the above mentioned bands. all these guys are a little deeper, a little blusier but still alternative. Bob Perkins also fed this category with his excellent mix cd.
Billy Bragg - the re-issues ****
My favorite communist. But his songs have great hooks and are filled with real emotion. He never lets politics dominate the tunes. I still like Worker's Playtime as his masterpiece (not reissued) but there is enough on the first albums to entertain. "Help save the youth of America" is a great sing along regardless of your political stripes (although I would steer clear of "the international" - communist anthems may have worked in 1983 but didn't last long).
As Doonesbury put it, "now they don't suck anymore." I don't know if that is the case but having a record company promote you sure seems to get the thing played more. They should have called it "Pearl Jam Sells Out." The album is more like a late 80's rush album than an alternative album. It's a great t0 rock out with. These guys were always more into 70's AOR than alternative anyways.
Growing on Me :
Dresden Dolls - Yes Virginia
Bram once said to me that "a little Pixies goes a long way." Dresden Dolls falls into that category too. Boston art rockers, my first impression was that this was not as good as their first. However, it is as intense and just as weird. Song order might be part of the problem as it is growing on me.
Prince - 3121
If you're curious, 3121 means no way. Also, if you are curious, Prince still has the licks and nmatched musicianship. Are the hooks good enough ? At first, I wrote this off but a musician friend of my gave it the thumbs up so I've gone back.
Clap Your Hands! Say Yeah!
Darling of the critics. Talking Heads meets Violent Femees updated to today. First half of album sucks...second half strong.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show your bones
Another darling of the critics. First listen of new album left me completely underwhelming. But then a flight back from Europe, a song popped up on the Rio. Same great drums as first album. Same intense lyrics. Great hook. Maybe there hope.
Sufian Stevens - Illinoise
A Liz pick. His talent is undeniable. However, his concept album approach (each album is about one state) is just trying a little too hard for the hipster crowd. The melodies are beautiful but I have to question his heart.
Thome Yoke (Radiohead) Wolfmother (sounds promising) The Decemberists (Perko gives thumbs up) The Gourds (Houston Nate's recommendation - so far so good) Alejandro Escoveda (alt country forefather) Johnny Cash (skip the movie) Neko Case (alt country chick)
Avoid Morrissey "Ringleader of the Tormentors" A great showcase of his vocals and his "sound" but no hooks. More like a Sinatra album than the last one which was loaded with singles.
Matisyahu -"Youth" While worth buying, not up to the same emotional high of "live at stubs"
Pink - one entertaining song (stupid girl) but nothing good
Eels with London Phil. - Solid but adding strings doesn't add anything. go to the original.
Yes, no blogs for months and now I cann't stop myself. But I thought this issue wan't getting enough attention from the media. Give one up for The Todd (I hear he will have a very special episode on April 25th - coincidence ? I think not.)
Wow..what a show. Just under two hours and boy did he deliver. Best $15 I spent in a long time. He played all the new songs plus most of the first album and tons of Old 97's songs. His band was excellent, particularly the guitarist who really added complexity to the songs. Actually listening to the cd's afterwards, I'm a little disappointed because the guitar parts are simpler. If Rhett comes to town, don't miss it. If you're already fan, you'll love it. If you're not, I will guarantee your money that you will convert. That goes double for you Texans.
One warning - don't stand too close. Rhett is a spitter - we're talking whale blow hole. Liz didn't seem to mind but I recommend giving him an extra foot or so.
Rhett Miller - The believer - picking up where the Instigator left off. Less Jon Brion but still not a bad song on the album and possibly the best of the year.
Matisyahu - Live at Stubbs - in the running for the best album of the year. I bought it thinking it was Jewish rap - it's really reggae. I never understood the religious side of reggae until I heard this album. Matisyahu (modest yahoo) has skills and this is both a fascinating and great album. A great album - I only hope "Youth" is as good.
Strokes - First Impressions of the Youth - For the hipsters. I think they keep getting more mainstream with each album and that is a good thing. They also get better songs. Not a bad song on the album. Ranges from hard rockers to introspective. "Juicebox" is already slated for best of 2006. "ask me anything" could be the Magnetic Fields. They were suppose to save rock and roll - I'll settle for good album every two-three years.
One of the permutations of Uncle Tupelo. Alt-country to the core. I saw them on Comcast 3 one late Saturday night and was blown away. More twangy, more mellow, intense and moody but not depressing and rocking enough- great stuff. I never got Wilco, but I get this.
Growing on me :
Arctic Monkeys - Whatever people say.... I only got this last week but I like it so far. It's that classic punk - pop English hipster thing. This album could have come out in 1978, 1984, 1991, 1999 or 2006 and sounded like it was part of the times. It goes one speed - fast. It doesn't have the soungwriting of the above albums but it does entertain.
Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine Not impressed on first listen through but it keeps popping up on the mp3 player and its growing on me which is usually a good sign. Me and Liz were lamenting that most female singer-songwriters all sound alike (think Jewel). Fiona definitely does not fall into that category. We'll see how this holds up over time.
Cat Power - The Greatest Another singer-songwriter. Interesting southern/country ballads. Another one that is growing on me.
Others (singles and others) : Eels (live with strings), Lewis Taylor (soul I think), Blackalicious (positive rap), Crookston and Pillcrushers (back up band for Rhett), BMRC (Howl), Old 97's (live - more for fans, greatest hits coming out soon - why? the end ?)
An interesting book review of a book on the history of hip hop.. However, it points out I made one mistake in my history of hip hop. The rise of gansta rap/decline of political rap was more complicated than finding what white kids wanted buy. It moved the industry away from challenging the system to just challenging The Man. Political anger is too complicated for kids in Nebraska but "f- the police" isn't. At the same time, the rap became more tolerable to the establishment because it offered no alternative and little cogent criticism.
It only took six weeks to get out but here it is :
Beck "e-pro" Best album of the year. I cannot think of anyone who wouldn't like it. A rocker to start with.
Spoon "I summon you" I discovered these guys a few years back on launch.com ("recommend"). When this album came out, it met critical praise. I cannot tell you what I like about it (or by reading the critics). But there is something weird and wonderful, yet simple and honest. I'll keep listening until I figure it out. Or get bored.
...And you will know us by the trail of the dead "Ode to Isis" best band name of the year. The first couple tracks on this album are great. It reminds me of what alternative music used to sound like, old Cure or something.
Louis XIV "Louis XIV" Pronounced "Louey x-iv" These guys are passed off as a one note band but I think this band is more talented than people give them credit for.
22-20's "22 days" straight stevie ray blues
White Stripes "My doorbell" Liz's pick and their crossover into the nick set
Kanye West "Gold Digger" Kanye's gotta be man of the year. 20 grammy nominees and almost as many albums produced and it's all pretty good. Plus his own hit album a nd choosing one song was tough.
Gwen Stefani "Hollaback Girl" Ever since Toni Basel, I cann't resist a cheerleading song.
Hot Hot Heat "Middle of nowhere" consistently inconsistent. Not as good as first album but still a great pop single true 80's style
fountains of Wayne "I'll do the driving" I love everything these guys write. Witty and great hooks. A song he wrote after an argument with his wife (Pat Duff's favorite)
Dresden Dolls "Good day" If you're a little weird, you'll love this album. In concert, anyone will love them. Get the album just to hear the line "I see a red jeep and I want to paint it black."
Ryan Adams (& cardinals) "Life is beautiful" This guys put out three albums (four cd's) in 05. He probably could have put out one sublime cd instead but went the Prince route. However, the two cd set "cold roses" finally reaches his roots rock potential.
the Eels "losing streak" the most portentous double cd of the year (see comments on selectivity above). However, we cut Ad Frank to add this. The songs are consistently well written and the vocals are fantastically gruff and dour the whole way through. But not hopeless as this track attests.
Frank Black "Atom in my heart" one part Ryan Adams one part new Eels add Dylan to fill sprinkle in Pixies and Nashville to taste. Finally a solo album he can be proud of. This is more Dylan and Country than Pixies. It's about the break up of his marriage so rings emotionally true. Picking one song was impossible.
Coldplay "talk" they tried for the great third album but forgot what made the second album so good. Never the less, some good songs.
Magnetic Fields "I don't really love you anymore" one of my top album of the year. Picking one song almost impossible
the Game "Hate it or love it" top ten album in sales (how did that happen?) damn good rap album, at least for the first half. You can either go with the Kanye track or 50 Cent. This one is the latter.
Doves "black and White town" a Liz pick all in all a disappointing album but this is a stand out track. It's like an 80's Paul Weller/The Style Council lost track.
New Order "krafty" I could listen to these guys anytime anywhere. While not as good as the old stuff, consistently catchy.
Franz Ferdinand "You could have it so much better" an inconsistent second album. First song is strong but fades quickly. However, at the end they start experimenting with songs and move beyond the 80's redux. This is one of the gold cuts. Or some of you might be thinking the same thing about this compilation.
Nine Inch Nails "Only" It had to be here. 2005 marks Trent's return to form. Many good tracks to choose from. Great Maddy story. In the radio version, the blank out the "f-k"s. So me and Maddy are driving in the car to a birthday. Song comes on. chorus "there is no f-ing you." "Papa, I know the real words to this song." A thousand thoughts go through my head about where my little girl is learning things. "Yeah Papa. The real words are 'it's not suppose to be you - it's suppose to be me.'" If I wasn't so relieved that she was still so innocent, I would laughed out loud.
NIN/Queens of the Stone Age "Insane Medicated Hand 1.0" by Party Ben http://www.partyben.com/ Bram sent me a mash up of the Beatles and NIN but I thought this was more appropriate give they toured together. It takes NIN as the vocals and obliterates the dance track-ness by adding in two QOTSA songs : Medication and "everyone knows you are insane." Party Ben is one of my favorite mash up artists. Check out his web site for some other interesting mixes (like Snoop Zepphlin).
Near Misses :
Billy Corgan "to love somebody" yes, a Bee Gees cover. cover of the year but a bad sign when the best song on your premier is a cover song.
Martha Wainwright "when the day is short" Love this album. She's like the reincarnation of Kirsty MacColl despite the famous name/relations. Song just not strong enough.
Mark Knopfler "Boom, like that" Just doing his thing but really a song from 2004.
Fatboy Slim "wonderful tonight" 14:57, 14:58...
Ben Folds "Gracie" It took me a long time to decide I liked this album. It's Ben Folds but not new ground. After listening for a while, I decided I like it. This song is about his little girl so it's special to me, but not enough to make the cut.
Z-trip "Breakfast Club" rap about cartoons..."If you can't relate to this song, you're taking this she*t too seriously. It's f-ing hip hop"
Dwight Yoakam anything from "Blame the Vain" again quality but no new ground
eels anything from "Blinking Lights" although "Whatever happened to Soybomb" was a tough call
Rolling Stones "Rough Justice" Best Stones album in 25+ years. Still best concert.
REM "Leaving New York" Best REM album in 10+ years
Audioslave - rocking album but lacking soul
Doves "black and white town" Liz pick
Weezer "Beverly Hills" Liz pick - now on Disney channel
DJ Zebra - "Comecloser" Bram's pick mash up of NIN closer and "Come together" I think songs from the 60's don't qualify for "best of 2005" even under my liberal standards
Clem Snide "End of Love" funniest song of the year but may be too novelty
Seu Jou "Life Acquatic" Portuguese versions of David Bowie
Gorillaz "Feel Good Inc" Feels good for an Outkast rip off
G Love "Astronaut" Love this guy
M Ward "Transistor Radio" lo fi masterpiece
Kate Bush "Aerial" ***** songs but too damn long but highly recommend
Ad Frank - hardest cut of all. A Boston Morrissey (the funny one, not the whiny one)
B Side list When Bruce Springsteen put out "Tracks," he noted that the decision to add or leave a song on an album were a bit arbitrary. I've tried to put the best songs on the "Best of" but there were many songs just a notch below or were too raw or too explicit or too this or that. I didn't want to leave them off. In many ways, this disk "flows" better. The tracks :
(1) the Game "Intro to the Documentary" (2) Franz Ferdinand "The Fallen" (3) Sound Hog "Crazy Dick" (Beyonce, Led Zep) (4) Z-trip "Breakfast Club" (5) the Game "Dreams" (6) Kanye West "Diamonds from Sierra" think 007 (7) Spoon "I turn my camera on" (8) Kaiser Chiefs "I predict a riot" (9) Weezer "Beverly Hills" (10) Rolling Stones "Rough Justice" (11) Dwight Yaokam "Three Good Reasons" (12) Ward M "Four hours in Washington" (13) Martha Wainwright "When the day is short" (14) Magnetic Fields "I thought you were my boyfriend" (15) REM "Leavng New York" (16) Hot Hot Heat "No jokes - fact" (17) Clem Snide "The end of Love" (18) Ad Frank "Unspeakable" (19) MIA "one for the head" (20) Louis XIV "Finding Out True Love is blind" (21) Beck "Black Tamborine" (22) DJ Zebra "Comecloser" (NIN, Beatles Bram's suggestion)
Capital Markets --- Current Yield: Bondholders Got Chicken Feed in '05 By Tom Sullivan 2 January 2006 Barron's M9
It may have been the year of the rooster in the Chinese lunar calendar, but there was little for U.S. fixed-income investors to crow about in 2005. Rising interest rates, a flattening yield curve that finally inverted last week and a newly nominated sheriff at the Federal Reserve provided the backdrop. The incredibly shrinking credit quality of General Motors (ticker: GM) and the rest of the auto sector provided the drama. Outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan proclaimed a "conundrum" in February as long-term rates failed to rise as the central bank steadily raised its federal-funds rate target, now at 4 1/4%. Investors, he warned later, weren't being rewarded sufficiently for their risk-taking. The Treasury component of the Lehman Brothers U.S. Aggregate Index for intermediate maturities returned barely than 1.5% in 2005, which was "rather disappointing," says Gary Pollack, a managing director at Deutsche Bank Private Wealth Management. The huge U.S. trade deficit piled dollars offshore, which foreign central banks plowed back into U.S. investments, including Treasuries and the implicitly federally guaranteed debt of mortgage lenders Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE). "Without foreign investment, 10-year [Treasury] yields would be 100 basis points [one percentage point] higher," he reckons. The interest-rate outlook is uncertain, although Pollack expects incoming Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to raise rates at the March meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee -- his first as the boss -- so as "to be inducted into the fraternity" of inflation fighters. Yet even with rising rates, the economy turned in a solid performance and Corporate America enjoyed good profits in 2005 -- except for the battered auto and auto-parts makers. For GM, the Year of the Dog came nearly a year early. Last March, GM issued a shockingly weak financial forecast for the first quarter and full year. By May, Standard & Poor's had pulled the plug on its investment-grade ratings for both GM and Ford Motor (F) and their finance units. At year end, they were all deemed junk and out of the Lehman index.
The sheer size of their combined debt load had high-yield bond investors worried the new supply would overwhelm the much smaller junk domain. It looked like "a camel going through the eye of a needle to get to heaven," said Andrew Feltus, portfolio manager at Pioneer Global High Yield Fund. "It was a very volatile year," he said.
While GM and Ford went to junk, former GM subsidiary Delphi (DPHIQ) joined fellow auto-parts supplier Collins & Aikman (CKCRQ) in bankruptcy court. They were just two of several high-profile bankruptcy filings in 2005. Delta Air Lines (DALRQ) and Northwest Airlines (NWACQ) both filed on the same day -- Sept. 14. A month earlier, Anchor Glass Container (AGCCQ) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. And Calpine (CPNL) filed in December -- surprising investors who had grown accustomed to the long-troubled company muddling through.
But what looked like a feast for vultures -- investors in debt that trades at depressed levels -- was barely a snack, at least for some. "We haven't seen the opportunities" for value investing, said Michael Embler, chief investment officer of Franklin Mutual Advisers, with assets that include distressed debt. But the outlook should improve, as defaults start to rise from their historically low levels, he added.
Back in 2003, a lot of highly risky debt began to be issued as the market began a nearly three-year rally and investors scrambled for yield. A rule of thumb in the junk-bond market is that many of those types of deals start to unravel in three years, as business plans prove unworkable.
Opportunistic investors are also eyeing collateralized debt obligations, instruments formed by repackaging other debt, such as junk bonds, to create higher-rated debt. Yield margins on CDOs are "ridiculously tight," says Mirko Mikelic, senior fixed-income analyst and portfolio manager at Fifth Third Asset Management. He's waiting "for the shakeout" that will follow an uptick in defaults before he starts buying. CDOs, as well as mortgage-backed, commercial-mortgage-backed and other asset-backed securities, did well in 2005 because of the low volatility in Treasuries and a "tremendous bid" from overseas, Mikelic says.
By far, the best fixed-income performer was emerging markets, with JPMorgan's Emerging Markets Bond Index Plus up 11.8% through Wednesday. The rally was "relentless, regardless of good news or bad news," said Pioneer's Feltus. "Valuations started the year at historic [narrow levels] and are tighter today," he said.
Oil producers such as Colombia and Russia were helped by crude prices around $60 a barrel. Plus, countries like Brazil and Turkey boast improved government balance sheets and better fiscal and monetary policies, Feltus adds. Still, there are a number of elections to be held in 2006 in Latin America, and some candidates for high office have picked up the leftist flag of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
The broad fixed-income market faces challenges in the new year as well. The inverted yield curve -- at week's end, the yield was 4.38% on the two-year Treasury, 4.37% on the 10-year -- has often in the past augured a recession in the U.S., which would roil investment-grade corporates and junk bonds in particular. But Deutsche Bank's Pollack doubts the economy is ready to pull back. "It's different this time," he says. "It's not the yield curve, but tight monetary policy" that causes recessions, he said. With fed funds at 41/4%, even rising to 43/4%, "it's not that tight," Pollack said. Even if the economy chugs along, corporate-bond investors will be wary, as evidenced by the explosive growth in the credit-default swaps market, where investors can insure their bonds. That's because shareholders want their piece of the pie after years of watching corporations shore up their balance sheets. DuPont (DD) provided a dramatic example, as it announced plans in October to buy back $5 billion of its common stock over two years. That prompted the three major credit rating agencies to slash its corporate debt rating by three notches to the equivalent of single-A from double-A. Low stock prices will also entice private equity investors, flush with record amounts of cash in 2005, to scour for potential acquisitions, often by loading a company with debt as part of a leveraged buyout, leaving holders of the outstanding bonds with weaker ratings and prices. Merger and acquisition activity and other shareholder-friendly acts are becoming such a fear that corporate bond investors began to fight back. Temple-Inland (TIN), a target of shareholder activist Carl Icahn, was required in late November to redress investor fears about a potential LBO when it sold $500 million of bonds by including a provision to increase its coupon payments if its ratings are cut to junk. Bond investors "have long memories," said Barbara Cappaert, analyst at Montpelier, Vt.-based KDP Investment Advisors. "But if you pay the right price, they'll forgive you."