So this is the new year, and I don’t feel any different…
Actually, that’s not true. I had a good, if hectic, Christmas break – met some new people, connected with some old friends, and got more DVDs than I have time to watch. I slipped back into the work routine this week, writing about disputed old hospitals and public housing and Christian horror films. (I love my job – it’s never boring.) And I feel refreshed, ready to take on 2007.
On the musical front, my selection of Joanna Newsom’s Ys as the best record of 2006 has brought on the diverse reactions I kind of expected. I have an annual tradition of listening to the album of the year, in full, with my friend Mike before midnight mass each Christmas Eve, and he was so enraptured with Newsom’s songs and voice that he swears he’s going to buy the album. Mike owns about 12 CDs all together, so this is a big deal for him.
On the other hand, my friend Jeff is convinced I’m putting everybody on. He compared Newsom’s work to music from a Tim Burton movie, written by Jack Black and sung by Bjork. Which, to me, sounds really appealing, but for Jeff is like setting his eardrums on fire. He’s certain that I’ve lost my mind, or else I’m punking the whole of my readership, and all of my friends and co-workers. Such is the divisive nature of Newsom’s music.
For the record, I’m still happy with my choice, though I understand the objections, and I get why some won’t take to Newsom. It’s just that every time I listen to this album, I get wrapped up in it again. It weaves a spell, and I’m caught in it.
Good thing, too, because I’m going to need something to get me through the winter doldrums. January is traditionally the most barren month for new releases, and while 2007’s going to be a little better on that score – I’m actually excited about the eight or so new ones hitting by the end of the month – it’s still going to be a tough 30 days for this music junkie. And February, if you can believe it, looks like it’ll be even worse.
I do have contingency plans for this column – I’m still working on the Frank Zappa Buyer’s Guide, which I hope to have ready in two weeks or so, and there were a couple of stragglers from December that impressed me enough to warrant their own reviews. But this week, I think I’ll go easy on myself. I was originally going to write up a bitch session about Pitchfork and their picks for the best of the year (Liars? The Knife? Ghostface Killah? WTF? Although they shared the Joanna Newsom love, and that Hold Steady album is pretty good…), but I’m not feeling that negative today.
Instead, I thought I’d springboard off of the final few paragraphs of last week’s column, and give you a more in-depth glimpse at some of the things I’m looking forward to this year. Of course, I have no idea of the shape of the year yet, and no doubt the best stuff has yet to be announced, or in some cases even recorded. But as of the first week of January, here are some coming attractions that have me jazzed for 2007:
The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
We don’t waste any time getting right to the first major release of the year, the third record from the Shins. Forget all that indie hype, the Shins are just a classic pop band trafficking in superb melodies and inescapable sweetness. I honestly think that “Girl Inform Me,” off of their 2001 debut Oh, Inverted World, is one of the finest pop songs of the past 10 years. Their two albums thus far have been spotty, but the bright spots have been absolutely brilliant. “Caring is Creepy.” “Mine’s Not a High Horse.” “New Slang.” “Saint Simon.” Need I say more? The first single from Wincing is called “Phantom Limb,” and it easily joins the aforementioned tracks in the modern pop hall of fame. Let’s hope the Shins have finally made that cohesive, knockout album they’ve been threatening. It’s out January 23.
Pain of Salvation – Scarsick
This one’s likely going to be a lot less sunny, if the title’s any indication. I’m excited for this because it’s the follow-up to Be, one of the strangest and most rewarding albums of the Aughts so far. Be was a thesis on God and man, and on the interconnectivity of all things, but even beyond the cerebral exercises, it was an amazing musical statement, taking on three dozen different kinds of music and melding them into a cohesive wonder. It took a few listens, but Be quickly revealed itself as a masterpiece. What I’ve heard of Scarsick incorporates an unfortunate rap-rock influence, but I’m still hopeful. That’s out January 30.
The Brothers Martin
Nearly two decades after the breakup of their last joint band, Dance House Children, Ronnie and Jason Martin have collaborated on another project. Who are Ronnie and Jason Martin? Well, Ronnie is the quirky genius behind Joy Electric – he writes spunky, melodic tunes and performs them on nothing but analog synthesizers. And Jason is the primary force driving the enduring guitar-pop dynamo that is Starflyer 59. Both Martins know their way around a pop song, and what I’ve heard of The Brothers Martin has been a perfect marriage of their styles. Here, take a listen to “Communication.” That’s out on the 23rd.
I may as well note here that Ronnie has a busy year ahead of him. Already winging its way to me is Workmanship, Joy Electric’s new EP, and Martin promises another one before the release of The Otherly Opus/Memory of Alpha, his reportedly amazing new full-length, on March 20. I’ve also heard something about a Joy E live album that might be out this year, too. Ronnie Martin’s music is unlike anyone else’s, and I’m always excited to get another glimpse at the world through his eyes.
Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
Pelican – City of Echoes
I love complex, dreamy instrumental music – see my rave of the new Hammock album – and these two bands scratch that itch nicely. Chicago’s Pelican is an instrumental metal band, playing mostly slow, heavy, intricate music that crushes all in its path. Oddly, though, their stuff is mesmerizing, almost ambient in its thunderous power. Explosions in the Sky are very different, preferring to work with clean guitar lines and atmosphere, and their work is surprisingly emotional and vast. All of a Sudden is out February 20, and City of Echoes will hit on May 22.
Type O Negative – Dead Again
Since we’re talking about slow, deep and hard music, the latest from Type O will be out on March 13. People are often surprised to find out how much I love Type O, and I’m not sure why – they have a striking, individual vision, they sound like no one else, and they write some great songs. Some write them off as a goth-metal band, but they’re so much more, mostly because they never let you forget that at heart, they’re just four jerks from Brooklyn. Their stuff is both funny and surprisingly moving. The new one, with that typically Type O title, is 10 songs in 77 minutes, and seems like it will be a return to the classic, doom-laden sound of old.
Enuff Znuff – Lost in Vegas
Speaking of bands people can’t believe I like, there’s EZN, one of the most enduring bands to come out of the ‘80s. Writing off EZN because of their hair-metal past is a huge mistake – few power pop bands have produced so many great, hummable songs over the past 15 years. EZN is like Cheap Trick could have been if they’d remained fantastic, and the tentatively titled Lost in Vegas will be their 13th record. The last one, ?, was a bit of a letdown after a string of winners, so I’m hoping they return to form here. There’s no release date yet, but I’ll be on the lookout.
Fountains of Wayne – Traffic and Weather
Is there a better pop band than Fountains of Wayne? They have equals, but few can surpass them for wit, melody and sheer fun. Their last album, Welcome Interstate Managers, hit #3 on my list for 2003, and would have been higher if not for some superfluous songs at the end. Tracks 1-12 are perfect, from the guitar-driven joy of “Bright Future in Sales” to the wispy sadness of “Hackensack” and “Valley Winter Song,” to the loungy fun of “Halley’s Waitress.” If Traffic and Weather can measure up, count on its inclusion in the 2007 top 10 list. It’s out on April 3.
Marillion – Somewhere Else
You knew I’d have to mention this, currently the farthest point out on my ’07 musical map. Marillion is one of my favorite bands, technically amazing and yet unfailingly emotional, and their 14th album is out on April 9 in the U.K. The good news is that the sessions also produced their 15th album, out in May of 2008, reportedly. Somewhere Else sounds like it will be more straightforward than 2003’s masterpiece, Marbles, and we’ll see when the first single, the distressingly titled “See It Like a Baby,” hits in March. Of everything here, this is the one I am most excited to hear.
There are others, of course, including records by Of Montreal, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Bloc Party, the Magic Numbers, Bright Eyes, Lovedrug, Neal Morse, Ted Leo, the Arcade Fire, Low and Grant Lee Phillips on the horizon. It’s shaping up to be a pretty good year, all things considered, and I’m looking forward to diving in. Thanks for coming along for the ride. And please let me know if I missed anything worth checking out.
Next week, a few albums that snuck out while I wasn’t looking last month. And the week after that, hopefully, a whole bunch of Zappa.
See you in line Tuesday morning.