Archive for May, 2009

Best Music of 2009

May 31st, 2009 No comments

Well here is a quick rundown of some of the better music (in my opinion) so far this year. It would seem as we are about 5 months into this year, the music from my standpoint has been pretty stellar. There are already a couple albums which I can see myself keeping on a regular rotation.

One of the ideas that seems apparent is that with the influx of information being shared, i.e. the internet, the “Scenes” are being sped up and much more disparate. While I would classify much of the list here below in the broad category of “Psychaedelic” it’s sub-genres could fill up a telephone book.

I am also much more aware of how our forebearers of rock and roll laid their seeds in sounds which are minutely being disseminated by bands now. For Example, I can imagine that an entire genre of music was created by the song ‘Blue Jay Way’ by the Beatles not to mention other awkward moments like “Revolution No. 9”.

My other point is thinking how even the most obscene rock and roll like “Metal Machine Music” which was abhorred by many critics that did not have the last name of “Bangs” is cherished and copied on purpose or by accident by artists today.

While artists might starve and record companies might blame downloading for their woes, there is not a shortage of ideas, thoughts and sounds being present in music today. As with our society, we have an influx of music which I can only listen to a very small percentage of.   Thus with any list, this one feels incomplete but only a prefix tasting of some of the better sounds I have laid my ears upon the first couple months of this year.



1. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

This album still takes the cake for the best album of the year.  This album still gets weekly airplay by me, on sometimes multiple occasions.


2. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

As I sit here writing this post I am listening to ‘I Live With You’ as it smashes through your eardrums, another very important release has hit our eardrums. The mixing of Art Rock, fragile pop moments, it’s another one of those albums that needs several spins before the pieces of the puzzle come into place. This album does not have any singles and sometimes feels a bit unsure of itself, especially in the middle but is beginning another element of rock that is going back to studying music’s roots in a contemporary era.


3. Various – Dark Was the Night

It is very rare that I will appreciate a compilation album, but this benefit double CD is a “”Who’s Who” of indie rock that adds just the perfect amount of spice. For someone wanting a taste of the ‘Pitchfork Circuit’ this is a good place to start.


4. Lotus Plaza – Floodlight Collective / Deerhunter –Rainwater Cassette Exchange (EP)

This Deerhunter offshoot offers momentary glimpse into the lives of lives of musicians in the band not named Bradford Cox. Of course Deerhunter is never short of recording new material. Fresh off their double album Microcastle/Weird Era Cont., you can also get their stunning new Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP that continues on the beautiful shoegaze/psychaedelic music that keeps my blood flowing.


5. Wavves – Wavves

This would seem like a hit or miss with folks as they found the music unappealing or rather sounding like Kurt Cobain’s cousin Frank. Maybe that is why I like it or maybe it’s the fact of their meltdown in Spain this week. Not a good start to a tour. Let’s hope they last until Pitchfork at least!


6. Dan Deacon – Bromst

Music that makes you want to jump around with 500 of your closest friends. Quirky and infectious.


7 . Japandroids – Post-Nothing

A mixture of My Bloody Valentine ear-bleeding guitars and punk. If there are any cowebs up there in the brain, this is a good way to clean them out.


8. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

The first of two Chicago bands back to back. While critics such as Jim Derogatis might find Bird’s lyrics to challenge the most inane part of the dictionary, I still find his Nick Drake impressions endearing. 


9. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)

Unlike some of their albums where they felt cohesive, this one does not. Not to say that it is bad whatsoever but feels more like R.E.M.’s –New Adventures in Hi-Fi, ala a collection of the sounds of Wilco since their inception. A little bit of everything.


10. Woods – Songs of Shame

A mixture of prepubescent Velvet Underground. Their lead singer invokes early Elf Power songs intermixed of Folk songs filtered through New York Coffeehouses listening to the Moldy Peaches.


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Eulogizing the Life of Jay Bennett

May 25th, 2009 1 comment

Jay Bennett Dead At 45


Jay Bennett, a rock musician with deep ties to Chicago best known as a former member of Wilco, died early Sunday morning in downstate Urbana, where he had been running a recording studio, according to a spokesman for his family.

The singer and multi-instrumentalist was 45 years old.

“Early this morning, Jay died in his sleep and an autopsy is being performed,” said Edward Burch, a friend and musician who collaborated with Bennett on the 2005 album “The Palace at 4 a.m.” “The family is in mourning and is unavailable for comment at this time.”

There was a period in time where anyone that listened to me would have heard the words utter out of my mouth that Wilco was the best band on the planet. My conclusion was based on predominantly on the “Jay Bennett Era” of Wilco.

The first time I remember seeing Wilco was in 1999 during R.E.M.’s ‘Up’ tour.  I still remember sitting in the audience during this show and listening to Drew, my friend, rant about the secret ingredient outside of the Lead Singer, Jeff Tweedy.

Jay Bennett was the musician that brought the powerpop sensibilities to an alt country god and transformed their music into something different. It was their collaboration on albums such as ‘Being There’, ‘Summerteeth’, ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ as well as their collaboration with Billy Bragg on the Mermaid Ave. albums which have always signified in my eyes, the golden years of Wilco’s existence.

That first show opening up for R.E.M. did not sell me at that moment. Sure, they did receive quite a standing ovation from the loyal Chicago crowd, but it was the next show I saw on January 9th, 2000 at the now defunct Lounge Ax, in Chicago that made me a huge fan.

The final weeks of the Lounge Ax featured quite a few prominent artists to play one final show at the legendary location and this night featured Minus 5 (Scott McCaughey and backing band Wilco) and then Wilco for a blowout performance. A night of about 40 songs The Minus 5 and Wilco combined felt more like a raucous performance in a small bar in the middle of nowhere. The Lounge Ax, was a hole in the wall, had some of the worst sight lines in existence, leaky ceiling, and probably not the most optimal place to see a live show. At any rate, on this particular evening it had been perfect.

Over the next couple years I would try to see Wilco at every moment possible, whether it was at Rock the River festival in the Loop, after a Chicago Fire game at Soldier Field or the Riviera.  This would be on top of the local acoustic shows that lead singer Jeff Tweedy would by playing from time to time.

Wilco had become my band, a new band for me considering my love and devotion for another band quite like them, namely R.E.M.

Wilco featured beautiful songwriting on top of the outstanding lyrics that made Tweedy-Bennett songwriting a staple. And here was a band that I could see during their “Peak” so to speak, not a band like R.E.M. whose best days were behind them since the departure of drummer Bill Berry. All of this was shortlived.

The masterpiece album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, claimed Jay Bennett as an ex-member afte the album was finished and recorded. The backstory, never clearly told on anyone’s account and highly doubt it will ever come out can be stated pretty simply was that Wilco was not big enough for both Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett.

Wilco was Jeff Tweedy’s band. He formed it, he owned and controlled all aspects of the band. Say what you want about democracy within the band, but the truth is that Tweedy and Bennett hit a point of “Irreconcilable Differences” and Bennett was asked to leave the band.

As a fan this was shocking and not something that I have ever been able to deal with. I attended shows afterwards and missed Jay’s stage presence as he would flail around with his guitar.  I have missed Jay’s pop sensibilities on the last couple albums as Wilco has reformatted their sound to remind me something closer to a Jam band. While others still flock to Wilco shows their newer albums have never clicked with me the same way the Jay Bennett albums inspired me.

As any collaboration is, Jay Bennett’s solo work missed the delicate nature of Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics, his folklore, and sadly I never got much into his albums with the exception of his initial release. 

Unfortunately, this is often the breaks when you get two talented songwriters in a band. That collaboration (i.e. Lennon-McCartney) is often stronger than each of them doing their separate things.

I think there were always times when I hoped that Bennett would someday reunite with Tweedy and Wilco. As anything, it was always a passing fancy but something that I knew would never happen.

I was blessed to see Bennett live with Wilco and am continually blessed with the fact that they were able to record so much good music together, music that has helped define who I am.

Sadly, the last chapter in the Bennett-Tweedy feud was heartbreaking when Bennett decided to sue Tweedy for lost royalties when he was with the band. It is hard to say whether Bennett’s current health problems had anything to do with this, however, I would suggest that if Bennett was able to have a successful recording career of his own that things would be different. As written on his Myspace page, a hip ailment that was causing intense pain on top of having no health insurance made him reevaluate quite a bit as a person.

He will be missed but his music will live on. Rest in peace, Jay. 

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