Well, here we are. We weren't thrust into a new dark age oblivion, the world didn't end and neither did my workaday quest for the best music for the day. This year was rife with records that just had to be snatched -- reissues, compilations, and a fair few newbies too.
Here follows my personal, "show and tell" style best-of list for 2012: the year that didn't stop the big wheel a-turnin'. Rather than just dicing up a list of cold-cut favorites, I've included personal events and trends herein that shaped the music I sought and gravitated towards within the past year.
BEST NEW ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Jessica Pratt - JP. No contest. I have naught but the best of things to say about this disc of spun gold and I'm not alone. It seems every Barry, Rob, and Maurice in the blogosphere has been falling all over this record like autumn leaves in the rain. If you really want to know my take check out my real talk review of JP here, otherwise please do enjoy the album's opening track, "Night Faces" below.
BEST 2012 REISSUE: It's a tie between two (Numero related) comps: WTNG 89.9FM: Solid Bronze and & Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974 - 1984. Both platters piled high with private press oddments and rarities one could hardly go more wrong than to miss out on these two exemplary feats of the compilation arts. The former being a point of revision for many in that it is essentially a mix of largely unheard "yacht rock"/AOR triumphs of seventies song-writing sensibilities (man, is it ever sensibly sensitive) that confronts one's moral definition of guilty (listening) pleasures. The latter comp, Personal Space - a seemingly dark horse among the usual reissue fare fleshing out the the soul comps shelf space, made the rounds among Amoeba staff regularly thus enjoyed a healthy amount of in-store play as well. Chock full of rhythm-box workouts a la Sly Stone, Timmy Thomas and Shuggie Otis, it's a far-out soul/funk excavation of the highest order. Both of these are solid front-to-back listens for the home vinyl library/curio corner.
San Francisco songstress Jessica Pratt is blowing up. She's on fire. She's on fire and blowing up. Since her debut album of lush, hand-picked folk melodies dropped a just few months ago demand for Jessica's debut, simply titled JP, has become as difficult to keep up with as the multitude of glowing reviews surfacing all over the interwebs lauding Ms. Pratt's ability to make everyone mistake her bewitching, home-brewed folkways for that of retro private press obscurities. If you think this isn't going to be yet another reverent review let me get right to the point: believe the hype.
Like so many jewels that cannot stay buried in the deep forever, Jessica Pratt has risen above the morass of the San Francisco music scene like a diamond atoll emerging from an ocean of acts drowning in their own in reverb, reciprocity, and relative "esoteric" influences. A momentous feat for any solo musician, let alone any woman, struggling just to tread water in the threadbare, barely-there music industry these days.
That Tim (White Fence) Presley launched his label Birth Records just to put Ms. Pratt's record out speaks to the immediacy of her music. It's a sound that cannot help but conjure familiar feelings upon first listen (for any vinyl junkie anyway), and the comparisons are flying. Presley himself has oft been quoted as saying she brings to mind "Stevie Nicks singing over David Crosby demos" and others have pointed to the way in which her vocal stylings bait and switch Nicks, Joanna Newsom, and Karen Dalton among many others. While we're at it, I'd like suggest the inclusion of Dolly Parton to pinch hit in this approximation game as the fluttery trails Pratt punctuates her lyrical lines with in songs like "Hollywood" and "Half Twain the Jesse" resemble Dolly's vocal filigree.
I have to admit, however, I find all these comparisons tacky and terribly trapped-in-the-90's buzzbin in the sense that any woman that ever flaunted a decidedly "unique" voice back then was appraised by nineties alterna-trinity: Björk/Tori Amos/P.J. Harvey. For me, it's offensive to struggle to assay the impression of a fresh voice with those we already know and love because burdens the emerging artist with the luster, or shadow, of an others' work. While I cannot deny the correlation of Jessica Pratt's magic to that Newsom or any other would-be contemporary, it should be noted that as far as patently "unique" voices go s. Pratt's is just about as unequivocal as they come.
It's that most magical time of year again when I connect with a Log or two and get down to Christmas business. I'm talkin' Yule Logs of course! The toast of Chico California's holiday pops, the Yuletide surfin' jingle bell rockers that spin so many party poppin' twists on Christmas (and Hanukkah and New Year's Eve) that I bet Chubby Checker would happily choke on the cheer these Santa babes dish out come "the most wonderful time of the year". With the Yule Logs smack in the middle of their eighth season drummer Jake Sprecher was
naughty nice enough to take the time to respond to this year's probing interview for Amoeba Music (where fresh, hot Yule Logs recordings are available for sale and gift-giving).
I can’t speak for everyone, but I will. Spencer (Yule Logs' lead shredder) would like a deviled egg-pomegranate milkshake, Marty (Log frontman extraordinaire) would like a Line 6 alarm clock that only plays phased-out midi files of Steven Tyler’s scat solo on “Rag Doll,” and Kirt (Bass Log) would like to win a date with Tad Hamilton. Me? I just want what every boy wants: A vinyl copy of Electro-Acoustic Music by Ianis Xenakis.
With the recent release of your fourth album, Double Live, it seems apparent to me that at least one of you attended the School of Rock, which begs the question: did you graduate? If so, what was your thesis, or theses as the case may be?
Are we talking about Jack Black?
The Fresh & Onlys, besides presenting in name one of the best bandtonym-worthy word combinations, are without a doubt one of the most pimped-out live performers reppin the Bay Area these days. Currently on tour, and they tour a lot, The Onlys pack plenty of dirty raw party rockin' vibes into every sweaty show. I'd go so far as to say they bring a guaranteed good time to any venue; unadulterated fun at it's most arrested stage of development. What's more, the minds that inform the Fresh and Onlys' sound are like rich wells of music knowledge, deeply dug and flowing wide. I can say this with a certain degree of confidence having known and worked with three quarters of the band off and on for many, many years. That being the case, as happens with colleagues of any sort, their opinions on all things music, film, Amoeba or otherwise have abutted, aggravated, enhanced and influenced mine over time. It's one of those really good things about the working-at-Amoeba experience that I wish we could share more easily. But I suppose that territory best captured and exposed via our What's In My Bag video vignette series.
But before we get into that, get into this:
A lovely, pastoral portrait of the boys in pastels, looking petal fresh and Easter Sunday garden party pretty in contrast to the live-action, imagery of sloshed, sudorific revelry, above left. Say what you will about the Fresh & Onlys workaday aesthetic, they clean up nice. And though Fresh & Onlys frontman and guitarist Tim Cohen is caught trashing Amoeba SF's Hip Hop section in the video below (for the record: tending said section used to be his responsibility) and bassist Shayde Sartin's picks skewed towards "white guy rock" and his years spent living in Florida on the day this little scene was recorded, I cannot speak more highly about these two dudes' astronomical taste levels when it comes to music, nevermind their particular genus of dusty, road tested rocker species. BUt don't take my word for it, find out for yourself -- check out the video below:
Today Amoeba Music San Francisco turns fifteen years old! Fifteen, that awkward age where all associations with mom make for endless trials of embarrassment and your kid sister's crack attempts at one-upping your status as "family favorite" are just, ya know, not cute.
To celebrate the occasion tributes were made and obligatory pizza pies and butter creme sheet cakes were enjoyed by staff and regulars, not a small number of whom contributed to an immensely successful pot luck style lunch comprised of porchetta sandwiches with cole slaw, eggplant mango sushi, wild rice and mushroom pilaf, vegetable curry, savory meatballs, chips and homemade salsa, cinnamon-y apple crisp, coconut milk rice pudding, ginger snaps, and succulent peanutbutter fudge. Although we refrained from transforming the info counter into a champagne fountain (there's always next year kids!) we managed to keep it classy and sassy for the greater good with plenty of good fellowship and cheer. Happy 15th Amoeba SF! Keep on truckin'!