By Tim Murr
“The box. You opened it. We came. Now you must come with us, taste our pleasures.”
Those iconic words spoken by Pinhead in the directorial debut of Clive Barker are still chilling nearly 30 years after they were first heard. The film Hellraiser, based on Barker’s own novella The Hellbound Heart, is a harrowing, shocking, graphic slab of supernatural erotic body horror. It divided critics and thrilled horror aficionados and launched a franchise that still, for better or worse, survives today, not to mention the various comic book series and tie-in books from Barker and several others that continue to be published in regular intervals.
In really hard times, music is the only thing that gives me any kind of real comfort. I don’t know why I bring this up now, since 2016 was an unending laugh riot…
Anyway, here’s some music that mattered to me in 2016. There’s no real ranking here, and I’m sure I’m forgetting or neglecting a million things I discovered and adored. But for here, for now, a rundown of some things I loved this year.
Fairy Bones, 8 Ball and Pink Plastic Cups: In 2015 Fairy Bones had one of my top albums of the year with Dramabot, produced by the always-dapper Bob Hoag. We didn’t get a new album in 2016 but these two singles are top-notch (and landed on a variety of savvy year-end best-of lists). Chelsey Louise is among the very best rock vocalists out there, and this tight-knit band is totally irresistible, so don’t bother resisting, just get this. New album coming in 2017; don’t miss it.
The Armoires, Incidental Lightshow: Yeah, I loved this record so much that I put it out on my own label Black Market Glamour. There’s a sonic dynamic/vocal interplay here somewhere between John Doe and Exene & Gram and Emmylou, with swirling sounds and moving stories that will cast an immediate spell. Deeply emotional, with deft lyrical sleight of hand, this is a record that rewards intimate, repeated listenings. Expect to fall in love. New record coming in the new year!
Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers, Eyes On The Prize: the eminent music writer Mitchell Hillman once described Carol Pacey’s sound as a pioneering Americana thrash-pop and it’s an apt description; it’s Americana only in the sense that the Violent Femmes’ “Kiss Off” is Americana. On this, their second full-length outing, Carol and the Honey Shakers explore darker, moodier space, then kick out the jams at a speed and intensity few bands can touch. The push-pull between Carol’s amazing voice and the searing, soaring guitar work of Andy Borunda is something to behold.
Loveland Duren, Next: Memphis legends, national treasures—there aren’t enough superlatives you can throw at Vicki Loveland and Van Duren to really do ‘em justice. We’re talking about voices and songwriting of the very highest order here. Their first album together, 2013’s Bloody Cupid, was stunning, soulful, lush; Next pares it down to a raw, urgent sound, putting both the songs and Van and Vicki’s singular, beautiful, deeply affecting voices right up front. From its heartbreaking tribute to Johns Fry and Hampton to its gorgeous, intricate guitar work, this one is a must-have.
The Monkees, Good Times: Aptly named, this thing; who knew that after 50 years, the Monkees would not only still be a band, not only still making records, but that the record would be a lot of fun and great music besides? But how could you go wrong, really, with songwriting contributions from Paul Weller, Ben Gibbard, Adam Schlesinger (who also produced), Noel Gallagher, Andy Partridge and Rivers Cuomo, as well as longtime Monkees cohorts like Neil Diamond, Boyce & Hart, Goffin & King and the mighty Harry Nilsson—as well as cheery beyond-the-veil vocal contributions from the departed-but-not-gone Davy Jones and Nilsson himself. It’s a fresh and fun record and one of their very best.
Emitt Rhodes, Rainbow Ends: Despite the incessant prattling of its tiresome, sleazy, two-faced apologists, the major-label music industry always seems to take a special joy in destroying true artists. Said industry did a real number on Rhodes back in the 1970s, robbing him of both his life’s work and the will to create. It took 40-something years, a Herculean effort from producer Chris Price, and an all-star squad of musician-fans including Price, Taylor Locke, Jon Brion, Fernando Perdomo, Jason Falkner, Roger Manning, and Aimee Mann to bring Rhodes out of self-imposed exile. He’s not the fresh-faced kid anymore—both his voice and his songs reflect the journey his life has taken—but it’s all the more moving as a result: this is the real thing, real art and real heart and soul, something no corporate goons can synthesize—or silence.
The Legal Matters, Conrad: If you don’t know Detroit popsters the Legal Matters, set yourself straight with this outstanding collection of classic power pop sounds—tight songs, gorgeous harmonies, crunchy guitars, and a sense of joy you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
Fernando Perdomo, Voyeurs: I’ve met this guy once or twice, and I can tell you that he is an outstanding instrumentalist and a songwriter of great depth and versatility; there’s no genre, no style that is out of his range, and on Voyeurs he took to Facebook live and created/recorded the songs in front of an audience (something I myself have done, now and again). The result is tuneful, inventive, surprising, beautiful, heartbreaking. With gorgeous, poetic songs like “Feels,” “The One You Run To,” “Stay With The Friends,” and “Holding Back I Love Yous,” you’ll probably find yourself wishing he’d written one of these about you.
Sam Means, Ten Songs: Sam was half of the wonderful pop band The Format (Nate Ruess, now in fun., was the other), and while Nate has gotten most of the post-Format attention, Sam’s tuneful and thoughtful songs here are a reminder of his extraordinary gifts as a performer and songwriter. It’s a dynamite record and one you should own.
Ken Sharp, New Mourning: Ken’s talents as a music journalist are legendary; many, many more people need to hear his equally amazing songs, which are hauntingly beautiful, intricate, sometimes delicate, but with a power and punch all their own. With gorgeous vocals and flawless musicianship, guests like the Knack’s Prescott Niles and the great Rick Springfield, and production/instrumentation by Fernando Perdomo (this year’s hardest working man in show business by far), this introspective and hook-laden set of gems is not to be missed.
Beat Angels, Holy Mother Of Christ! It’s The Best Of The Beat Angels: You almost certainly have never heard of the Beat Angels, and that is your loss; a blast of undeniable sonic hooks, sex-on-wheels swagger and merciless, literary lyrics, the Beat Angels were one of the greatest bands of the 1990s and ‘00s; picking up roughly where the late, lamented band Gentlemen Afterdark left off, the Beat Angels built on and vastly expanded that band’s singular sound—and maintained their 100% consistent dubious luck, as well. Onus Records has compiled a selection of their best material from three studio albums (one, sadly, never released). Mostly produced by Gilby Clark, it’s a wonderful overview, but a full reissue and reassessment is urgently needed. In the meanwhile, start here.
Gentlemen Afterdark, Gentlemen Afterdark EP and Open The Door EP (iTunes): Glam, New Romantic, Postpunk, New Wave, and beyond: the Gentlemen did it all and did it better than anybody else. After years of being out of print, some of their best songs—and some never before commercially released—are now available via iTunes. A physical release and proper retrospective would be ideal, but for now? At least you can finally hear these absolute ear-candy songs.
Omnivore Recordings is pretty much the undisputed label of the year, having released the Emmit Rhodes album, the Legal Matters, and an absolutely staggering series of reissues, including Game Theory, The Muffs, the Bangles, NRBQ and the undisputed champeen, Big Star’s Complete Third, among dozens of other absolutely essential releases all year. I could write an essay on each of these, but then I would die of exhaustion and people would be sad. Go to your record emporium, look at the records, if you see the Omnivore label on anything, purchase it at once. Your ears will thank you.
I’m that girl who’s always just a little bit sad I missed out on the 1960s… mainly, of course, because of the music. But ’60s soul music is alive and well today in 2016. This year we’ve been lucky to get a couple of outstanding releases from some of the original ’60s soul artists, and there is a whole lot of new retro-soul coming onto the scene as well.
Charles Bradley, Changes
One of the best new old soul singers to come out of the past few years, and this record is his best yet. Let’s hope his health is improving and he’ll be back to making great music in 2017.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Sea Of Noise
This is a record I discovered late in the year, when it hit Americana radio. It’s wonderfully crafted Americana-Retro-Soul (one of my favorite musical mish-mosh terms) with creative production that brings all that old school soul into the modern era.
James Hunter Six, Hold On!
I saw the James Hunter Six live at the Continental Club in Austin and just had to buy the album on vinyl. James and the guys will get you moving, whether you’re at a nightclub watching them play, or at home listening through your stereo. We’ve known for a while that this guy is the real deal. He just keeps on putting out winners.
William Bell, This Is Where I Live
I can’t say enough about Mr. William Bell. I’ve always been a huge fan of his songs from the old Stax catalog—“You Don’t Miss Your Water,” “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday,” and so many more. I was excited to hear that he had a new record coming out on Concord/Stax this year, titled This Is Where I Live. In 50 years the man has not lost his edge; William Bell has just as much charm as he had back in the day—in some ways, even more.
Otis Redding, Live At The Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings
For Otis fans, this is the holy grail. The brand new release gives us three nights of Otis and his band live on stage in the spring of 1966. The energy of these shows is beyond impressive. With Otis’s singing raw and unedited, his band lays back into the groove one moment and is right on top in the next, building the energy to a frenzied pinnacle of excitement. It’s almost as if you were really there.
Sidenote: I would have loved to include an album by Daptone’s late great Sharon Jones in this list, but her last record was released in 2015. However, a deeply inspiring documentary about Sharon, her musical journey, and her battle with cancer, screened at SXSW 2016. Miss Sharon Jones!, directed by Barbara Kopple, is at once funny and heart-wrenching, and hits even harder now that Miss Jones is no longer with us. I highly recommend seeing it.
1. Milk ‘N’ Cookies, Milk ‘N’ Cookies (Captured Tracks): They shoulda been contenders but their initial good luck turned bad quickly. This long-in-the-works compilation of their lone album, singles, demos, and rehearsal tapes finally does this overlooked band’s legacy right. The two-CD set is accompanied by an exhaustive booklet jammed with photos, ads, flyers, and liner notes. Sigh!!
2. Ramones, Ramones: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Rhino): Obviously no introduction necessary for this band/album but the most special thing about this edition is the earthshaking news that the groundbreaking masterwork has finally been given an additional mono mix. The only thing wrong is that none of the boys are around anymore to hear it…
3. Crowded House, Deluxe Editions (Universal): Digitally remastered & expanded two-disc versions of all seven releases with tons of b-sides, outtakes & demos. Any morsel of Neil Finn is a true godsend.
4. Big Star, Complete Third (Omnivore): As the world borders on “Big Star overload,” Omnivore has he final word with this lavish three-disc set devoted to the tortured, beautiful Big Star’s Third. Exhilarating.
5. Scientists, A Place Called Bad (Numero Group): Wouldn’t be a year-end release without a Numero Group title, this time a four-disc set compiling the complete works of Australia’s hugely influential Scientists. Essential!
6. The Shaggs, Philosophy Of The World (Light In The Attic): No introduction necessary, Pat Thomas and LITA finally get this classic back in print & done right. I can’t believe I missed the in-store at Newberry Comics!
7. Game Theory, The Big Shot Chronicles and Lolita Nation (Omnivore): The GT reissue campaign continued this year with arguably their two most important works. I always thought the genius of Scott Miller would be appreciated by future generations, thanks to Omnivore my dream has come true.
8. Jack Lee, Bigger Than Life (Alive!): I hate to complain at all when discussing the long overdue reissue of both Jack Lee albums on one disc but… come on Alive! at an expensive list price should at least include some much needed liner notes about one of the most under-appreciated power pop icons of all time!
9. Public Image Limited, Metal Box: Super Deluxe Edition (Universal UK): If the newish trend of four-disc box sets devoted to one album made sense for one title only, this would be it.
10. Long Ryders, Final Wild Songs (Cherry Red): Compiling their complete works, B-sides, live tracks & demos… though I should say “complete minus one” as there is one key track mysteriously missing. Note to record companies: in this situation go ahead and put the song on and deal with the fallout and hurt feelings afterwards; they will get soon get over it and thank you later.
Lush, Chorus (4AD)
MnMs, Melts In Your Ears (Burger)
King Crimson, On (And Off) The Road 1981-1984 (Panagyric)
David Bowie, Who Can I Be Now? (Parlophone)
Redd Kross, Teen Babes From Monsanto (Redd Kross Fashion)
Nymphs, S/T (Rock Candy)
Cluster, 1971-1981 (bureau b)
Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker (Pax-Am)
Plasticland, Wonder Wonderful Wonderland and Salon (Wounded Bird)
In the pantheon of great guitarists, there are ones that come easily to mind: Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Jeff Beck, B.B. King. I’d add the Buckaroos’ Don Rich to that list. His style is immediately recognizable, and without his sonic experimentation, Buck Owens’s catalog would lack a certain verve. While Owens was always happy to dip a toe in the rock side, Don Rich’s playing upped the ante. His fuzzed-out guitar work on “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass?” is as fresh and timely as anything recorded in 1969, and viscerally satisfying. This is pretty remarkable for someone who was hired to play fiddle.
Do you lament the lack of surf/Christmas music on your playlist? Are your instrumental Christmas albums just a little too staid? Did you know the Ventures put out a Christmas album in 1965? Did you know that it was called The Ventures’ Christmas Album and that Real Gone Records is reissuing it on CD? Did you also know that it is enormously, utterly fun?
Real Gone Music is here to save Christmas from oversinging, too-shiny production, and weird warbles with their reissues of classic Christmas albums. One of these? Ray Conniff and the Ray Conniff Singers’ The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings. Collecting best-selling choral albums We Wish You A Merry Christmas (1962) and Here We Come A-Caroling (1965), The Complete Columbia Recordings has all of the classic Christmas songs you could possibly need, done with inspired choral arrangements and a tremendous amount of charm. It’s a retro trip back to the days of silver Christmas trees and really big record player cabinets, and it’s utterly enjoyable.
By Emily Carney
The biography supplied with this reissue of John Cale’s 1992 stripped-down live album, recorded at various venues, states: “Fragments gives us Cale at his most melodic and moving, a mellowed and certainly a soberer man in a Yamamoto jacket and a lopsided haircut running through a selection of his prettiest songs.” While there’s no doubt that Cale was soberer at that time (having cleaned up his act following the birth of his daughter in 1985), this reviewer will disagree slightly with the bio, only in that not all of the songs on this offering are prettier. It’s also possible that Cale has never truly sonically mellowed out.
Once again, Omnivore Recordings gives us the Christmas gift we need: a new Buck Owens and the Buckaroos compilation. The Complete Capitol Singles 1957-1966 covers a particularly creatively fecund phase in Buck Owens’s career: the early days at Capitol, his partnership with the brilliant Don Rich, and a string of hits that defined the influential Bakersfield Sound. The Complete Capitol Singles 1957-1966 is gorgeously remastered and sounds stunningly good. Crisp, even, with that trebly production that Buck favored (so it would sound good on AM radio) sounding better than ever.
By Tim Murr
Tenebre is Italian horror master Dario Argento’s return to the genre he helped create with a style and vicious edge rarely equaled even by himself. In it, American thriller author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) steps off the plane in Italy and into a mystery straight out of one of his own books, literally. A killer is using passages from his newest book, Tenebre, to commit vicious murders and apparently attempting to impress Neal by sending him clues after each murder. In classic Giallo style Neal becomes an amateur detective trying to solve the murders himself.