Saturday, April 3, 2021

Charleston, South Carolina photo essay: A solid pandemic spring break choice

Charleston is a beautiful city on the coast of South Carolina that I had never visited. It's got beautiful architecture, is walkable and bikable, has great restaurants (see my accompanying article), and great Atlantic beaches nearby. It's claims to fame are that it's the state's largest city and was a major port in the slave-trading business.

There's fresh fish to eat on just about every street in the bustling downtown area.

The architecture makes it a must to walk or bike (we also took a fun carriage tour with the highly recommended Palmetto Carriage Works) up and down just about every street. You can't catch the beauty of buildings like this "half" house in a car.

Our second AirBnB of the week was on Mount Pleasant, across the famed suspension bridge from downtown, and featured a French-language poster of Hitchcock's North By Northwest above the master bed. And Rico, of course, always right at home anywhere.

The trees and my favorite Spanish Moss are a constant wonder.

Our carriage tour, headed towards the old Catholic church. There is a little history for just about all religions in Charleston.

It didn't take much research to find an expansive skate park under a loop of interstates north of downtown.

The beaches of Mount Pleasant and Sullivan's Island are can't miss, and we were somehow able to splash all afternoon in the surf on a balmy March day.

Again, with the Spanish Moss and bikes.

Huriyali, a funky coffee and smoothie bowl place north of downtown, ended up being our go-to breakfast stop. My favorite was the chocolate acai bowl.

Wandering around the campus of the College of Charleston is a must.

Same with the beautiful Hampton Park, north of downtown and best with a bicycle.

There are historic graveyards across the city, including this one at the Circular Congregational Church off Meeting Street.

Sullivan's Island.

Biking past several more of the city's churches with gorgeous steeples.

More biking out around the shore of Mount Pleasant.

And around the downtown, here at famed Rainbow Row, down near the southern tip of the city. Downtown Charleston is shaped a bit like Manhattan, and we were able to bike from our first AirBnB down the west side along the water, where we spied a porpoise, along to the Battery at the southern tip.

We didn't take a ghost tour, but I bet it would be fun to see the creepy insides of the old Charleston prison.

More biking down a long boardwalk and dog park on Mount Pleasant.

And probably the best dinner spot we hit: Slightly North of Broad in downtown Charleston.

Dining delights in the seaside foodie paradise of Charleston, South Carolina

If you want to go on vacation to eat, look no further than Charleston, South Carolina.

Knowing our Pandemic Spring Break 2021 could likely be mostly carry out and eating in parks or on the beaches, we were pleasantly surprised when we were able to eat comfortably for most meals on comfortably socially distanced restaurant patios in the beautiful spring weather.

See my copious and messy notes to the right from research about where and what to eat in the city. We tried to stay mostly on this plan for our five days in Charleston, but threw in a couple of unexpected surprises along the way.

Our first three nights were in downtown, and night 1 we hit Slightly North of Broad to take care of our requirement of a shrimp and grits meal. This is a must restaurant, as we sat at one of the outside tables with a yacht rock guitarist performing within earshot just inside the door. The Charleston crab soup had to make due until we could later find some she-crab soup, and it ended up probably being the best soup of the trip.

The next morning we deviated from the plan because of a coffee and smoothie bowl place within family biking distance from our AirBnB, which was located down the street from the military university The Citadel. Huriyali was so good and funky that we ate there on days 2, 4, and 5. Speaking of family, most days we filled up with two big meals and ate leftovers the rest of the time, to minimize time the kids had to sit at restaurants and to minimize our exposure to the pandemic. Day 2 was one such day, as we grabbed lunch/dinner to go from the much-hyped Hymen’s Seafood. The place was way busier than we would have risked dining at, with lines down the block, so it was nice to take it back to our place. The she-crab soup, peel-and-eat shrimp, and Wadamalaw delight (fried green tomatoes and grits) were all very good, albeit more of a touristy good than a true foodie good.

Day 3 also took us off script with a gem of a find near our place in north downtown and off the tourist track. We left the kids at home and ordered pizza for them while we went to Xiao Bao Biscuit, a hipster place in an old gas station with ample seating out front. The Japanese cabbage pancakes and spicy Thai beef were mouth watering and the fried rice peanut and caramel pork dumplings were the superstar, leaving a minty numbing of the mouth that I don’t recall ever experiencing before.

Day 4 brought about our move to a different AirBnB over in Mount Pleasant, across the bridge from downtown in an area near the beach. After a full day lounging and splashing at the beautiful, wide Sullivan’s Island beach, we headed again off script to a place recommended by friends, Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ. It looked and smelled like something for the college spring break crowd. But we easily secured a table outside away from the masses (why would so many people eat inside on a perfect day amid a pandemic?) and proceeded to devour can’t-miss bar food. Get the wings with Alabama white sauce (vinegar based) and nachos. I also had one of the best frozen drinks ever - a Vietnamese coffee loaded with Tullamore Dew whiskey.

Day 5 was for exploring Mount Pleasant by bike, which is a bit of a harrowing thing to do. Most of the shops and restaurants are along a car corridor with 30 mph signs posted and cars in reality flying 55. That said, we did navigate by bike and some of the detours are much better with a bike in hand. We hit Vintage Coffee Cafe, which is connected to a pizza place called Coastal Crust and had the best avocado toast I’ve ever tried. Granted, I don’t eat that selection much, but it was very tasty, as were the Belgian waffles. Despite also not being on my list, Shem’s Creek Crab House looked like a better option for an early dinner, especially since it was a little off the main roads and had outdoor seating along the water. The peel-and-eat shrimp, raw oysters, and she-crab soup were all good.

And of course we stopped by for our last Huriyali on the way out of town for our 8-hour drive back home to Takoma Park, Md., which, incidentally, could use its own Huriyali.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

TV Snide: For March 2021

Movie of the month: Queen and Slim (HBO Max): Daniel Culuuya is one of my favorite actors, and he is on fire in this one with Jodie Turner-Smith, as the two are accused of killing a cop and fleeing on an epic 6 days to get to their escape hatch. It’s a strong statement on how some white people are so clueless when it comes to understanding the richness of so many Black people’s lives. 5 out of 5 stars 

TV of the Month: Brady Bunch Season 5 (Hulu): Arguably slightly inferior to Season 4 and its Hawaii episodes, the last year of this show is still must-see TV. My young daughter and I watched the season and she would stare open-mouthed at the screen the whole time as wonderful morals bounced around everywhere. The entire series abruptly ends when Greg accidentally bleaches his hair before high-school graduation and the real-life Mike Brady refuses to appear because he doesn’t like the premise, not knowing this was to be the final, anti-climactic episode. 5 out of 5 stars

Reading of the Month: Danny Sugerman, “It’s My Life:” This is an excerpt from one of my favorite rock books, Wonderland Avenue. The author is 12 years old when he first encounters Jim Morrison, who thinks the kid is stealing his band's equipment. Turns out he is helping his Little League umpire, who offered to take him to see The Doors and be a roadie if he hit a home run. The home run happened and the concert was the point Sugerman's life dramatically took focus. He also badly missed his curfew due to The Doors’ extremely late and tardy performance.  From The Penguin Book of Rock & Roll Writing. 5 out of 5 stars

Patti Smith: “The Rise of the Sacred Monsters:” The rock poet’s essay for Creem places the reader in her swampy house at the moment she sacrifices her complete allegiance to her father, who rants about the obscenity on TV that is the Rolling Stones’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan. She completely falls in lust with the band and in love with rock music. I have never been a big fan of Smith’s music, but this is one of the great pieces of music writing, and is available in The Penguin Book of Rock & Roll Writing. 5 out of 5 stars

Julie and the Phantoms Season 1 (Netflix): I’m pretty sure it’s not just because I have a 7-year-old daughter that I love this show. It’s so well written  and heartfelt, with music that is truly catchy for adults and probably too-die-for for kids. It’s simply everything a TV show should be and a classic first season. 5 out of 5 stars 

Nomadland (Hulu): Frances McDormand turns in a powerhouse performance of likable sorrow. After her husband's plant shuts down and he dies, she goes out on the road to see a different side of life from the seat of her 15-passenger van. No wonder it won the Golden Globe for best drama movie, it’s a wrenching mix of joyful and sad. 4.5 out of 5 stars 

Citizen Kane (HBO Max): Being often called the greatest film is quite an overstatement, but Orson Wells’ masterpiece is indeed riveting. Taking parts of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer’s lives as newspaper magnates, and mixing in a lot of shades of Trump to come, the tycoon falls apart and finally dies longing the days before his parents gave him away. 4.5 out of 5 stars

kid90 (Hulu): Soleil Moon Frye, better knows as Punky Brewster, took copious notes and video footage of her years growing up in the ‘90s with her celebrity friends. How she rebuilds the story of her life for us is truly fascinating, with help along the way from stars of 90210, Saved By the Bell, House of Pain, Jane’s Addiction, and the skateboarder movie Kids, to name a few. My high school and undergrad years flashed before my eyes. 4 out of 4 stars

Coming 2 America (Amazon Prime): Eddie Murphy compiles an ensemble cast that kills it in this wacky wonderful spoof of Black Panther and a look at what happens when the cultures of an African nation and Brooklyn collide. 4 out of 5 stars

Moxie (Netflix): Amy Poehler stars as the former rebel-girl mom to a quiet girl who ends up leading a revolution against toxic male culture at her high school. The empowering story is made even better with Mac McCaughan of Superchunk supplying the musical score. 4 out of 5 stars

Tom and Jerry (HBO Max): A family fun good time with all the classic adventures of the cat and mouse in a live-action adventure ala Roger Rabbit. Chloe Grace Moretz is adorable as an impostor trying to event manage a major celebrity wedding in a New York City hotel. 4 out of 5 stars

The Flight Attendant Season 1 (HBO Max): Kaley Cuoco is captivating - and makes me want to finally watch some episodes of The Big Bang Theory - in this mash up of trying-to-be-Hitchcock and the often funny but still annoying HBO show Girls. As Cuoco and her fellow flight attendants spring surprises about who they are, lots of interesting insights show up to display how these are people who are invisible to the world but have aspirations to be much more. A second season has been promised and it will be interesting if they can keep up the twists and intrigue. 3.5 out of 5 stars

The White Tiger (Netflix): A rags to riches tale of a rural kid growing up and running away to build an entrepreneurial route through the tangled web of Dubai. He does a great (if crooked) job in his professional life, but his personal life is unimaginably sad. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Kingpin (Sling TV): Woody Harrelson could save any sinking ship. This Farrelly Brothers comedy is not that, but Harrelson - as a washed up superstar bowler - is at his funniest, his arch nemesis Bill Murray is at his Donald Trump-iest, and the 90s soundtrack is top notch, even including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stage appearance by Urge Overkill. 3.5 out of 5

Fleabag Season 1 (Netflix): I know this show was all the hype, and it definitely has a few laugh-out-loud lines per episode, but I think it moves a little slow. Definitely worth checking out. I’ll be interested to see if Season 2, what with all the accolades it’s received, gets better. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

TV Snide: For February 2021

New Bonus Feature: Book of the Month (That I Read): Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, which is his second novel and one I somehow never read. I guess I thought I had because the prequel and sequel are short stories in the classic Night Shift collection. But there may not be a better vampire novel ever, Dracula included. 5 out of 5 stars

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix): Creator Aaron Sorkin simply does what more TV and movies should be doing - telling the stories that shape history. Varying peace-loving folk heroes are on trial for inciting a riot outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in the Windy City. They fight the power surprisingly effectively. Sash Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Mark Rylance as the lawyer for the defense, and Frank Langella as the judge really shine. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Before Sunrise (HBO Max): A throwback to the 90s with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who meet on a train and spend one amazing night together in Vienna. This is not for action-flick fans, there’s non-stop pondering on the meaning of life and love, but since I may never get to visit my brother, because of COVID-19, while he lives for a while in the Austrian city, this serves as a very worthy replacement. 4 out of 5 stars

Bloodline (Netflix): The show, featuring Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights fame, began as potentially one of my favorite dramas ever. It sputtered in the final Season 3, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is slow moving and a letdown probably because it was cancelled and an expected six seasons had to be wrapped up quickly. Chandler, Sissy Spacek and Ben Mendelsohn’s performances remained great to the end but were over-dramatic because of the twisted non-sensical-ness of the overall plot line. I say an Academy Award definitely goes to the setting of the Florida’s Keys. 4 out of 5 stars

Elite (Netflix): During the first season of this drama series, I couldn’t even tell it was dubbed from Spanish. Which was ok because it lent to the endearing weirdness of the psycho 90210 vibe. That first season and the second at the high school near Madrid were gripping, but by season 3, the melodrama of the endlessly deceitful and increasingly unlikeable group of friends grew tiring. 3.5 out of 5

The Little Things (HBO Max): Denzel Washington and Rami Malek are great as cops on the hunt for a serial killer in noir ‘90s Los Angeles. And the first half is very entertaining, but Jared Leto enters the film in the second half and, although he’s usually pretty good, his version of this psycho is boring, slow, and not that interesting. 3 out of 5 stars

Framing Britney Spears (Hulu): The general biographical portion of the pop star’s life is really fascinating, but then the hour-long doc focuses on her ongoing conservatorship struggles with her dad, which is certainly sad and perhaps wrong but also bordering on the technical, which seems very out of place. 3 out of 5 stars

Dr. Sleep (HBO Max): I really enjoyed this book (although that can be said by me about nearly all Stephen King books), but this follow up to The Shining just has too much going on to make it a cohesive movie. Ewan McGregor is fine as Danny Torrence, but if I hadn’t been focused on how they adapted the book, I’m not sure I could have stuck with the full 2.5-hour running time. 2.5 out of 5

Woody vs. Mia (HBO Max): I love Allen’s books and movies. Like with Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, and others, this presents yet another artist who forces me to make a call on whether to still like someone’s art despite personal shortcomings. I’m obviously biased, but Farrow seems to hold a grudge against Woody for often choosing his art over his family. I watched the first episode but probably won’t watch the rest. 2.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

TV Snide: For January 2021

Other Music (Amazon Prime): For anyone, like me, who spent far too much time in record stores over the years, this is a must-watch documentary of the closing of a New York institution. It is so sad to see a beautiful, communal way of life ending in the U.S. 5 out of 5 stars

Sunset Strip (Amazon Prime): This one has it all for those who are infatuated with the most debaucherous part of L.A. From John Belushi and the comedy clubs to the hair metal and other music clubs and all the way back to the Rat Pack and Marilyn Monroe, the mystery of the Strip makes for a great documentary. 5 out of 5 stars

Echo in the Canyon (Netflix): Continuing my education on L.A rock history, this documentary from Jacob Dylan walks back through the history of the amazing music scene that has thrived for decades up above the Hollywood Hills in Laurel Canyon. With many greats like Beck playing the classic songs of the Mamas and Papas and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the mesmerizing story is dotted with essential new performances. 5 out of 5 stars

The Beach Bum (Hulu): This Harmonie Korine-directed movie got a lot of mixed reviews, but I thought it was a pretty brilliant hoot. Matthew McConaughey turns in one of his greatest appearances as Moondog, a poet who can’t stop having a good time, surrounded by wack jobs played by Zac Efron, Snoop Dogg, Amy Adams, and others. Like Florida Man in HD. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Da Five Bloods (Netflix): A beautiful exploration of modern-day Vietnam, long after the U.S. brought death and destruction there. This Spike Lee joint tells the way-undertold story of Black vets going back to try to better understand what the hell happened to them all those years ago. It's one of the best Vietnam movies ever. 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (HBO Max): How are there not more treatments like this of all the great rock stories that exist in the now nearly 70 year history of the art? Disco may be more fascinating to me because it happened during the years I was about 6 to 9, and I remember those as possibly the best of my life, but this Aussie band created an entire ... thing. They deserve to be rewarded for their ingenuity, and this movie is a great present for and to them. 4 out of 5 stars

The King of Staten Island (HBO Max): Pete Davidson is clearly one of the most talented members of SNL these days, but I delayed watching his star turn. I shouldn’t have. He is a remarkable lead as a loser tattoo artist who has to find his way in the world. Co-star Bill Burr is great as his fill-in firefighter/dad, and, as an aside, he also has one of the funniest podcasts in the land. 4 out of 5 stars

Between Two Ferns (Netflix): While the movie installment of this TV show lags in parts, Zack Galifianakis' interviews with celebrities throughout are worth the price of admission alone. He is a master bad interviewer, right up there with Martin Short's Jiminy Glick. 4 out of 5 stars

Jojo Rabbit (HBO Max): A quirky take on the story of a young German boy hiding a Jewish girl in his home, while he has guilty daydreams of Hitler lambasting him for his lack of being Nazi enough. A clever new telling of the horrific Holocaust. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Destination Wedding (2018): I watched this movie because I love Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. I didn't know they would be the only characters in it. But there is just enough witty back-and-forth to keep a minor effort interesting until the end. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Knock Knock (Netflix): Another flick I was drawn into because of Keanu, and he turns in a good performance as a family man who is a little too nice for his own good, ending up facing of pair of Manson-like breaking-in beauties. Directed by Cabin Fever and other torture-horror movie maven Eli Roth. 3 out of 5 stars

An Adam Sandler Netflix double header brought Uncut Gems (a little over-rated if you ask me) and Hubie Halloween (kind of awful but much more in the comfortable lane of Happy Gilmore) as a pair of 3 out of 5 star offerings.

Monday, January 18, 2021

My favorite 100+ albums of 2020

Best Reissues: 
This collection from Hall and Oates (Fall in Philadelphia: The Definitive Demos 1968-71) is less "reissue" and more "all demos of mostly later-fleshed-out songs," but it's a mellow yacht-rock keeper. Lou Reed's New York is one of my favorites and it got the deluxe treatment this year, with the best new stuff being a ton of live burners. The Replacements' Pleased to Meet Me Deluxe is packed with tons of new extras and, of course, there could never be enough versions of "Can't Hardly Wait." Lemonheads' Lovey 30th Anniversary Edition doesn't add much other than a disc's worth of live tracks, but this is one of the great underrated pop-punk releases of the 90s. Various Really Obscure Artists finally get their time in the sun on the early-R.E.M.-like-tastic Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground.

Biggest Disappointments:
Tame Impala: The Slow Rush (started out a few years back as one of my favorite new bands and have devolved over several releases into an adult-contemporary version of shoegazer rock. Boring)
Huey Lewis and the News: Weather (I was kind of actually excited about the return of these 80s pop-rockers, and Picture This is a far superior album to Sports, but this lays an egg)
Daniel Blumberg: On&On&On ... (there are three great songs on this one, but the rest is almost unlistenable, which is a shame since Blumberg is the former leader of one the last decade's greatest bands Yuck)
The Killers: Imploding the Mirage (it feels a little icky to say I've liked all this band's releases, and this one starts promisingly but devolves into some very bad disco without the hooks)
Prince: Sign O' the Times 2020 Remaster (why do so many people consider this his best release?; it has a few great songs, tons of filler, and is way out of the league of the likes of Purple Rain and 1999)
Smashing Pumpkins: CYR (a mere few days after I was reflecting on how great Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is, this also-long player came out and blew my mind with its overly dramatic awfulness)

Best EPs: 
Surfer Blood's Hardboiled is the top EP of the year, with excellent female guest vocalists on three of the five songs infusing a fresh sound to an always excellent little emo-rock band. Taking EP to a new level of art, Surfer Blood's Hourly Haunts is, again, a testament to one of the sneakily best bands around these days. As if one full-length wasn't enough from this cowboy this year, Orville Peck's Show Pony is an unstoppable force, including an anthemic duet with Shania Twain. CHIKA's Industry Games is a joyous hip-hop celebration. Ages and Ages' Nothing Serious showcases in a crib notes version why it is such a great Portland pop band. lazylazy's buddy is straightforward, pretty perfect indie rock. ROOKIE's On Audiotree Live is a throwback to 1980s loud production values, as if Tom Petty got in the studio with Motley Crue. Kailee Morgue's Here in Your Bedroom fits pleasurably somewhere between early Madonna and Courtney Barnett. 2nd Grade's Boys in Heat is a very brief blast of perfect power pop that's easy to miss but essential to not. Terrace Martin's They Call Me Disco is a blast of hip hop disco pop funk soul that may be the most danceable record on this list. A few songs of archival material from the brilliant Donnie & Joe Emerson were released this year; check them out. Bright Eyes’ Mariana Trench is a long-welcome return of extra-catchy Conor Oberst tunes. Pom Pom Squad's Ow is like a new, freakier version of the beloved Bettie Serveert. Tobin Sprout's output has seriously declined since he left Guided by Voices (a second time) so any little bit is great, and this is Simon-and-Garfunkel beautiful. Kurt Vile's Speed, Sound, Lonely KV is a pleasurably little finger-picked gem. Yo La Tengo's Sleepless Night is a slight release, but worth it if only for the cover of the Byrd's "Wasn't Born to Follow." Gold Connections' Ammunition is a sweet and funny ode to 90s indie like Pavement and 00s post-indie like Yuck.

Top 111:
111. Mayer Hawthorne: Man About Town (this is really groovy soul for an L.A. hipster who hasn't released much after a flurry of great output about 10 years ago)
110. Black Lips: Sing in a World That's Falling Apart (good yee-haw fun that is true to it's title and impossible to leave off a year-end list)
109. Phantom Planet: Devastator (this band came back seemingly out of nowhere, but you can't go wrong with any of their releases when you need a little quiet/loud power pop)
108. Calexico: Seasonal Shift (a sometimes goofy but often beautiful album to add to the Christmas cannon)
107. Snarls: Burst (at first I thought they were just an ingenuine knockoff of Bully, but then repeat listens changed my mind considerably)
106. Are We Static: Accepting the Universe (a band I know nothing about, but the big guitars and harmonies are infectious)
105. The Streets: None of Us Are Getting Out of This Alive (one of my favorite under-the-radar rappers, this is one of his less engaging releases but still pretty enjoyable) 
104. Deap Lips: Deap Lips (the Flaming Lips meet an equally experimental L.A. girl duo that, together, create an arguably entertaining mishmash of psych pop)
103. Bob Mould: Blue Hearts (this is a pretty incidental record, but it still represents what wouldn't be a bad offering into the Husker Du catalog)
102. Yukon Blonde: Vindicator (catchy new wave dance pop will never go out of style)
101. Blitzen Trapper: Holy Smokes Future Jokes (how these latter-day hippies stay so calm and mellow in 2020 is amazing, and a pretty beautiful thing to cherish)
100. Rose City Band: Summerlong (somewhere between the Dead and Beachwood Sparks, this was recommended by a friend, which thankfully bailed me out from listening to Bob Dylan's latest yawner)
99. The Bird and the Bee: Put Up the Lights (there's no need to be cynical about a Christmas album. If there were a time to tune in to such a joyous collection, it's 2020)
98. White Lies: FIVE (I'm pretty sure nobody needs another Interpol knock-off, but this is really groovy goth wave that just deserves to be listened to)
97. Bobby Conn: Recovery (this guy is always super weird when he comes back around with new music. Not for any time of the day, but super interesting stuff regardless)
96. Mandy Moore
: Silver Landings (now that she's out from under the negative influence of ex Ryan Adams, Moore has found her voice and inspiration)
95. Public Enemy: What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? (it's always the right time for a new PE album, but this feels right-er than ever in this year of Black Lives Matter rising into the mainstream)
94. Rufus Wainwright: Unfollow the Rules (he's carrying the torch for indie pop songwriters whose every song could be the basis for a killer Broadway musical)
93. Sturgill Simpson: Cuttin' Grass - Vols. 1 and 2 (my young daughter came prancing into the room while I was listening and said jubilantly, "this is cowboy music." Can't disagree)
92. Cults: Host (another enjoyable wave pop release from this NYC duo)
91. The Lemon Twigs: Music for the General Public (I was expecting, frankly, much better things from this freaky band of brothers, and while the middle part of the album is great, there is way too much aimless excess elsewhere)
90. Eels: Earth to Dora (this is a typically understated Eels release, and excellent in the process)
89. Eminem: Music to Be Murdered By (there were lots of critics who could only commit to half-liking this album, but it's exceptional rap/hip hop all of its long way through)
88. of Montreal: UR FUN (this band excels at being weirdly avantgarde and accessibly poppy, and this is probably its best, most rejuvenated-feeling effort in at least a decade)
87. Adam Green: Engine of Paradise (Green has been teasing a modern-day Lou Reed-like masterpiece for years now; this one snuck up and finally delivered)
86. Mystery Jets: A Billion Heartbeats (these psych popsters have been churning out quietly exceptional noise for a decade and a half, starting back when their leader was 12)
85. Peter Bjorn and John: Endless Dream (nobody ever thought these early 2000s one-hit "Young Folks" wonders would still be making super-catchy pop, but this album is really fun)
84. Nana Grizol: South Somewhere Else (the return of some key players from the 1990s musical collective Elephant 6 offers a mature version of their psych pop rock n' roll)
83. Ryan Adams: Wednesdays (this is a surprise release after serious abuse allegations; while redemption may not be in his cards, these are haunting songs that testify to what must have been a miserable 2020 - deservedly - for Adams)
82. The Lees of Memory: Moon Shot (the former leader of Superdrag is back with this power-pop collection. The first half sounds like Teenage Fanclub and the second Foo Fighters)
81. Tyler, The Creator: IGOR (ethereal hip hop with great backing vocals throughout that often sound like little-kid Michael Jackson era)
80. Badly Drawn Boy: Banana Skin Shoes (much like PBJ above, this is another blast from the past that I thought I'd just listen to and forget, but I kept listening to it over and over and couldn't forget)
79. Morrissey: I Am Not a Dog On a Chain (much as I don't want to like the Moz and his wack-job viewpoints anymore, this is a darn good collection of pop tunes)
78. Mac DeMarco: Other Here Comes the Cowboy Demos (a super-mellow and relaxing and relaxed effort that is another edition to DeMarco's increasingly strong discography)
77. Eyelids: The Accidental Falls (a bit of an indie-rock supergroup, consisting of members who have played with Guided By Voices, Stephen Malkmus, and many others; very enjoyable)
76. Nada Surf: Never Not Together (this feels like one of NS's slighter releases, but there is still Greatest Hits-type material like "So Much Love " and "Come Get Me")
75. Soccer Mommy: color theory (not much more of a hyped release came out of the indie-rock world in 2020, and while there are a handful of classic pop tunes, there are an equal number of complete snoozefests; shoulda been an EP)
74. Greg Dulli: Random Desire (the Afghan Whigs frontman puts together a weird but soulful and heart-wrenching solo release)
73. Thurston Moore: By the Fire (a highly-listenable mix of the former Sonic Youth leader's typical postpunk experimentation and blindingly beautiful and catchy pop-guitar moments)
72. Mura Masa: R.Y.C. (the year's best "electronic" release, mixing in major elements of hip hop and rock)
71. Grouplove: Healer (this album hits after not-a-word from the band since 2017, and they remain as rowdy and catchy as ever)
70. Yacht Rock Review: Hot Dads in Tight Jeans (yes, everything about this entry is admittedly ridiculous, but who can argue with new classics being added to the 70s light-rock cannon?)
69. Hazel English: Wake UP! (I know nothing about this singer with a glorious voice and catchy hooks and upbeat shoegazer sunny-afternoon laziness in abundance)
68. Peach Pit: You and Your Friends (I know nothing about this band, but it is pop bounce that always will put you in a good mood, even when under quarantine)
67. The Avett Brothers
: The Third Gleam (this qualifies as a disappointment for these excellent folkies, but only because it's a bit of a minor release albeit still quietly beautiful)
66. My Morning Jacket: The Waterfall II (this is a typically excellent MMJ release that is even more impressive for essentially being the fully-formed leftovers from The Waterfall I)
65. Neil Young: Homegrown (although this legend has had some debatable releases lately, this one is my favorite kind of NY: laid-back country, Harvest-style)
64. Built to Spill: Plays the Songs of Daniel Johnston (these songs aren't much different from either artist, which makes them the perfect songwriter for the band to cover ... enjoyably)
63. Jake Xerxes Fussell: Out of Sight (I saw this folk storyteller last year open for Bill Callahan and he was tremendous, and he's maybe even more tremendous and melancholy on this album)
62. Cornershop: England is a Garden (the "Brimful of Asha" 90s wonders are back with their best album)
61. Sunshine Boys: Work and Love (this is in the vein of the power pop-folk of Buffalo Tom, which makes sense since Freda Love of Blake Babies is on drums)
60. Coriky: Coriky (Fugazi's Ian MacKaye is back with a little punk-pop release that goes down rocking and easy)
59. Hinds: The Prettiest Curse (a bit of a letdown for a band of Spanish women who set the bar high on their first releases, but still wonderfully weird and melodic)
58. Dent May: Late Checkout (this L.A. new wave pop songsmith is back with a killer EP and pretty decent LP)
57. Destroyer: Have We Met (another killer solo effort from this member of The New Pornographers; the best art-prog-pop artist of the past decade)
56. The Strokes: The New Abnormal (critics like to criticize them for never reaching the heights of their debut; but that's plain unfair, and the first half of this release is almost as good as Is This It)
55. Childish Gambino: 3.15.20 (despite universal appraisal, he has been hit-or-miss; but this one, after a slow start turns into a joyous party in which Prince is helping spirit lead)
54. Brendan Benson: Dear Life (the return of one of the top power-pop kings is every bit as innovative and catchy as expected)
53. Drive-By Truckers: The New OK (one of two Truckers' releases this year, it's not one of their many classics but it's got a lot of great southern rock-pop winners throughout)
52. Diet Cig: Do You Wonder About Me? (this is the 2020s version of the Blake Babies, with great pop hooks and soaring indie-rock vocals)
51. Lily Hiatt: Walking Proof (another great country chanteuse added to this list, this one is super catchy)
50. The Dears: Lovers Rock (somewhere between The Smiths and The Style Council is this always-amazingly cinematographic new-wave band of storytellers)
49. Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated Side B (if this is truly the leftovers from 2019's Dedicated, then this top 40 regular is jaw-droppingly talented and prolific)
48. Paul Weller: On Sunset (not as brilliant as his release last year, but the former leader of The Jam just keeps knocking out complex pop albums at a pace nobody could have expected)
47. Surfer Blood: Carefree Theater (this band has carved itself out a nice spot as a bit of a Vampire Weekend light, and this is part of a tear of recent output and creativity)
46. The Weeknd: After Hours (the superstar has somehow issued a very understated dance-pop release, while also being epic in length and great throughout)
45. Drive-By Truckers: The Unraveling (how does this Southern rock band in the vein of a modern-day, woke Lynyrd Skynyrd just somehow keep getting better?)
44. Eric Hutchinson: Class of 98 (wacky songs with an absolute lovable happiness about them, perfect for a depressing year)
43. Car Seat Headrest: Making a Door Less Open (this release out-Strokes the new also-very-good Strokes album)
42. Kathleen Edwards: Total Freedom (a long break for this country-pop master thankfully ends with more of her easy-listening joy. She never makes a bad song)
41. Secret Machines: Awake in the Brain Chamber (a party pumper for new-wave fans)
40. Bright Eyes: Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was (a typically haunting and upbeat collection of new tunes from the excellent Conor Oberst)
39. Whitney Rose: We Still Go to Rodeos (this is a beautiful slice of Americana. She's still little known, I saw her at Hill Country with about 30 people attending, but if there were justice, that will change soon)
38. Illuminati Hotties
: Free I.M.: This is Not the One You've Been Waiting For (somewhere between unlistenable and impossible to turn away from, like a mix of riot grrrl and 90s prime-era Sebadoh)
37. Green Day: Father of All ... (what really needs to be said: this band may be getting better with punk age rage)
36. Pist Idiots: Ticker (a rowdy group straight out of the early Replacements/Lemonheads guitar punk school. Short and delicious)
35. Lady Gaga: Chromatica (I was never a big fan until A Star is Born. This sounds like that amazing soundtrack mixed with what Madonna could have been if she didn't suck now)
34. Anna Birch: If You're Dancing (this one is a soft, slow-grower; like her brilliant debut release, this is beautiful, weird, and creative)
33. Young Jesus: Welcome to Conceptual Beach (a slow grower with a voice like Antony and the Johnsons and a jazzy meandering, this Rough Trade release is a classis in the tradition of Slint)
32. Versus: Ex Voto (New York City lifers bring a pop-punk pleaser with a jab of math-rock guitar, like a softer Sleater Kinney or Polvo)
31. Nick Piunti and the Complicated Men: Downtime (somewhere between early Bryan Adams and Tommy Stinson, this one gives the Old 97s a run for the power pop/dadrock release of the year)
30. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: Temple (this is the highest of the weirdo albums on the list, but every time I think I'm going to stop liking this band, they come back with an even better release. Hypnotizing)
29. Beabadoobee: Fake It Flowers (this messy and mesmerizing debut LP is deep and a grower; it may someday prove to be worthy of a higher ranking on this list)
28. 2nd Grade: Hit to Hit (24 songs would normally be a bit much, but these short nuggets are a throwback to the 90s bubblegum of Teenage Fanclub and BMX Bandits and is one of the most welcome efforts in an otherwise awful year)
27. Bill Callahan: Gold Record (the Smog leader offers a book of wisdom as he wanders across the desert plains once explored by the likes of Johnny Cash)
26. Taylor Swift: evermore (at first, it seemed Swift's second release of the year was a bore, but as usual, with more listens, it grew into a brilliant celebration of pandemic isolation)
25. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Reunions (a perfect release for a pandemic, making you long for the good old days and tap your alt-country foot at the same time)
24. The Flaming Lips: American Head (in a return to Soft Bulletin-style after years away in the experimental wilderness, this freaky release is hard to stop listening to)
23. Soul Asylum: Hurry Up and Wait (this would be the album of the year if there weren't several stinkers; but several of the power-pop highlights are among the year's best tunes)
22. Taylor Swift: folklore (a bit long, but it was deemed by many the first real album of the pandemic; repeat listens transform it from a mellow jam to the work of a deeply talented songwriter)
21. CeeLo Green: Is Thomas Callaway (his sneakily best album is pure pop-soul-funk pleasure)
20. Mac Miller: Circles (I had never heard anything by Miller before he died, but this posthumous release is undeniably the catchiest hip-hop album of the year)
19. HAIM
: Women in Music Pt. III (great backing music fuel a large batch of songs that remain catchy and creatively sung after many many summertime listens, by far the band's best release)
18. Guided by Voices: Mirrored Aztec (this one has some of the Dayton band's best work at the front and back ends, with lots more that may take a long time to sift through in between)
17. Jeff Tweedy: Love is the King (not monumental like a Wilco release, but there are a lot of examples showing why it makes sense that this guy just literally wrote a book on songwriting)
16. Low Cut Connie: Private Lives (this is the modern, and better, version of The Black Crowes, perfect for a post-pandemic generation)
15. The Jayhawks: XOXO (this band is quietly in my hall of fame; it touches on so many different levels of pop and alt-country perfection; out-Wilco-ing Wilco)
14. Bully: Superegg (the best screamopop band around; yet another great release to this band's catalog)
13. Mary Bue: The World is Your Lover (this renaissance Minneapolis rocker has put out perhaps the most pleasant surprise on this list based on the fact I'd never heard of her before this release)
12. Orville Peck: Pony (this is in the running for my favorite new artist; he's certainly the strangest, landing on the prairie like Morrissey stuck in Johnny Cash's body)
11. Stephen Malkmus: Traditional Techniques (a psychedelic mostly-acoustic slow-grower from the former leader of Pavement continues his string of always-unexpected and instant-classic releases)
10. Guided by Voices: Surrender Your Poppy Field (it's just unfair. Even a GBV release that isn't perfect still beats most of the rest of the field. That said, this is a serious grower over time)
09. Lydia Loveless: Daughter (she is in a dead tie with Waxahatchee for best country singer of the year; a powerfully emotional and catchy album all the way through with several song-of-the-year candidates)
08. Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud (a beautiful country turn by an artist who was already putting out some of the most excellent rock around) 
07. Best Coast: Always Tomorrow (a perfect bouncy, good-mood pop-punk album for our not-so-good-mood times)
06. Laura Jane Grace: Stay Alive (a quiet yet rowdy anthem of an album for our year, this old punker just keeps getting better with age)
05. Guided By Voices: Styles We Paid For (unlike the other inevitable GBV releases on this list, it's instantly lovable and right up there among the band's many classics)
04. The High Water Marks: Ecstasy Rhythms (this is by far the poppiest release from the legendary Elephant 6 collective, and all the better for it, shelving the experimentation and launching into bursts of perfect songs the whole way through)
03. Old 97s: Twelfth (Dallas Cowboys' fans will love the cover art, 90s alterna-rockers will love the songmanship and Evan Dando-like crooning, and dad-rockers may find this their soundtrack of the year)
02. The Beths: Jump Rope Gazers (this had the #1 album locked up until Paul came along at the end of the year, and I don't know what Jump Rope Gazers are, but they amount to perfect power pop. These girls top a female-heavy year of monumental rock n'roll, which is never dead, of course)
01. Paul McCartney: McCartney III (nobody, not even my other favorites like Pollard, Westerberg, and Tweedy can come close to Sir Paul when he is firing on all cylinders. This one takes a few listens before the pop weirdo brilliance all comes together to make the indisputable album of the year. It even went to #1 with the mass public in its first week of release)

Friday, January 15, 2021

Great Magazine Reads: 7 Things to Know About AC/DC's Back in Black

AC/DC continuously amazes me. Not because any of their most recent albums are very good. But because I will come across one of their old tunes - the catalog is very deep - from the 70s and even 80s and almost always be massively re-impressed.

AC/DC's rock 'n roll story is great too. Classic Rock Magazine, never one to skimp on salacious excess, featured a cover story on the making of 1980's Back in Black in the April 2020 issue. Here are 7 things every rock fan should carry in their useless-but-what-life's-all-about brain storage:

  1. It was recorded in Nassau, the Bahamas, a new locale for the Aussie band.
  2. Angus Young says the album was a dedication to Bon Scott, the singer who died supposedly of a heroin overdose in the early stages of making Back in Black. Put another way, by newly appointed singer Brian Johnson, Scott died "because he vomited when his neck was twisted."
  3. Rolling Stone writer David Fricke reviewed it: "the first LP since Led Zeppelin II that captures all the blood, sweat and arrogance" of "heavy metal art."
  4. Def Leppard shared a manager at the time with AC/DC, and Lepp singer Joe Elliot said Johnson looked like Andy Capp (that's still a hilarious comic strip, about a little guy with a Brian Johnson-like cap who drinks and fights and humiliates an entire British village) but sounded great.
  5. Speaking of Led Zeppelin, AC/DC was touring when word arrived that Zep drummer John Bonham had died in a similar way to Bon Scott (although it was 40 literal shots that did him in instead of heroin).
  6. Classic Rock calls the album perhaps the greatest comeback for a band in history. That seems like the wrong category for an album that could be tops in lots of other categories. After all, lead singer change or not, the equally classic Highway to Hell was released the year before.
  7. It's the second biggest selling album of all time, behind Michael Jackson's Thriller.