Category Archives: Music — 2000s

The Holy Bee Retires…Sort Of (The Top 20 Albums of 2012)

Timeliness has always been a watchword here at Holy Bee World HQ, so it may seem odd to post my Top 20 Albums of 2012 in March of 2013. Ordinarily an eagerly-anticipated feature of January, there has been a bit of a drift around here, and I have to ‘fess up to what’s causing it.

Looking back on 2012, I see that the most acclaimed albums are from the likes of the xx, Swans, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, Shonen Knife, Flying Lotus, Cloud Nothings, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Bat For Lashes, Chromatics, Beach House, Purity Ring…

…and I’ve decided they can all go die in a fire. To my ears, they all kinda sound like shit, and wash by in a clatter of forced artiness, or smug haziness, or often, downright tunelessness. Sometimes all three. I blame Radiohead. Fuck those guys and what they’ve wrought. Someone needs to tell that emperor he’s buck naked.

I kind of hate them.

I kind of hate them.

Yes, I’ve always been a proud classicist and defender of old-school dinosaur rock, but I felt I balanced that with an eagerness to explore other areas and a respect for those breaking new ground. But now, I can no longer pretend to be interested the newest and different-est. In fact, I may have been faking it for quite some time, because time spent trying to like the Mountain Goats was less time I got to spend listening to Led Zeppelin.

I realize that this is on me. I own this, it’s my failing. If you like the kind of music listed up there, I’m not judging your taste, I’m judging mine. You don’t have to write me to say “you couldn’t be more wrong about the xx.” I know I’m wrong. But my ears are now dead  to the sound of what is still frequently called “indie” music. Which is sad, because ever since I (and a lot of people my age) lost touch with the “mainstream” well over a decade ago, “indie” (which has, admittedly, lost any true meaning as a descriptor, but it’s handy) was the discerning music-lover’s haven. And now that has passed me by, too. It all leaves me cold. I guess there’s something to be said for the mainstream trending back toward roots music, but I can’t stomach Mumford & Sons either, so where does that leave me?

It leaves me as someone who no longer considers music a central facet of his existence, which is a difficult truth for me to face. I used to go hungry to be able to buy a CD. I’d have some sleepless Monday nights waiting to get Tuesday’s new releases. I have written more on music than any other subject, and had more conversations about it with more people than any other subject. But the flame has gone out. And it’s not an age thing. Several of my friends my age and a little older still have the passion. Great rock writers like Anthony Decurtis, Jim DeRogatis, Greg Kot, and many, many others are a decade or two older than me, and are still forward-thinking, ever on the prowl for the cutting edge. I think that’s fantastic…but they’ll have to carry on the mission without me. Continue reading

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The Best & Worst of the Solo Beatles, Part 4: Ringo Starr

Part 1: John Lennon

Part 2: Paul McCartney

Part 3: George Harrison

OK, this is the one I’ve been dreading. Most folks who lead normal lives are blissfully unaware that the former drummer for the Beatles has released sixteen solo albums. That is not a typo. But the experience of listening to all of them actually turned out not to be excruciating. Read on…

Starr may have been the Beatle who least matched his public persona, a persona created out of thin air by the early-’60s media (especially the American media, who initially had trouble telling them apart) and reinforced by his “Ringo” character in A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, and especially the ridiculous Beatles Saturday morning cartoon. He was the mascot, the goofy dimwit, condescended to and put upon by the others, but always childlike and cheery. Out of the spotlight, however, the real-life Richard Starkey could be just as cutting and sarcastic as Lennon, as moody as Harrison, and as savvy as McCartney.

He was the oldest Beatle, and the others have all reminisced about how much more cool and sophisticated Starr seemed before he signed on with them. In fact, “Richy” (his spelling) was considered something of a tough customer, rising up from the lowest of the Liverpool slums (a place called “The Dingle”) to become the powerhouse drummer for the hardest-rocking band on the local “beat” scene, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes. He drove a sporty car while his future bandmates still scrounged for bus fare, wore flashy jewelry (hence the stage name, which close friends never referred to him by), and cultivated a cool bohemian beard as early as 1960.

The fact that the proto-Fab Three had coveted him and his drums for years should certainly say something about how his skills were regarded at that time, and the fact that the great Ringo Starr ditched his sweet gig with the Hurricanes and deigned to join these upstarts should say something about Starr’s own musical judgment. [ADDENDUM: I’ve recently (Nov. 2013) read the first volume of Mark Lewisohn’s exhaustive three-volume Beatles biography, and it shed a lot of light on this era. Evidently, the Hurricanes were stagnating — Ringo had already quit them once — and the Beatles, far from being “upstarts,” had been top of the heap in Liverpool for some time, and were clearly poised for bigger things.]

Maybe his role as the “runt” stemmed from the fact that he joined the band at the last moment before they skyrocketed in late ’62. Maybe it was the fact that he was three inches shorter than the others, or wasn’t quite as handsome (that nose, y’know.) What seems clear is that the dismissiveness people sometimes projected onto Ringo as a personality began to spill over to his skill as a drummer, and that’s just plain unfair. Continue reading

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Top 20 Albums of 2011

#20. The Beastie Boys — Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two. A welcome return after a cancer scare for Adam Yauch, and their overwrought and just-no-damn fun-at-all previous album, 2004’s To The Five Boroughs. Although the Beasties love an epic sprawl, you gotta admit their albums are often about five tracks too long. Hot Sauce Committee is succinct and tidy, never wears out its welcome, and the wordplay and beats are more reminiscent of the classic Paul’s Boutique than anything they’ve done in between now and then.

#19. Raphael Saadiq — Stone Rollin’. Sometimes it’s hard not to hold a person’s artistic past against him or her. (For example, in order to finally be taken seriously as an actor, Mark Wahlberg had to take years to overcome the stigma of being the tighty whiteyflashing teen rapper “Marky Mark,” which — to his credit — he did with grace and good humor.) Raphael Saadiq started out as a member of the ultra-slick, super-shallow New Jack Swing outfit Tony! Toni! Tone! in the late 80’s. He finally hung up his poofy Hammer pants in ’96, and began making solo records that hearkened back to ’60s soul — not so much in the smooth, jazzy Motown mold (which is great in its own way), but the more stripped-down, beat-oriented sound of Memphis R&B (with occasional flashes of funky West Coast psychedelia — love that Mellotron!) Saadiq plays most of the instruments himself. He’s a passable guitarist, and a great bassist, but the most immediately noticeable thing on most of the tracks is his absolutely gleeful bashing around on the drum kit.

#18. Cut Copy — Zonoscope. My love/hate relationship with electronic music comes down pretty firmly on the “love” side regarding Cut Copy. Human fingers moving across real instruments made of wood and metal will never (ever, ever, ever) be bettered by mouse-clicks and microchips, but the artifice and machine-assisted pulse of such creations can weave their own weird spells. Like Frankenstein’s Monster, true humanity reflected in a less-than-human simulacrum can be riveting to experience, if concocted by people still connected to emotions rather than simply sounds. This is why artists such as Cut Copy (with songs like “Take Me Over,” one of the best singles of the year) will always have longevity and resonance, as opposed to shallow sonic dog-shit like Skrillex. (I’m going to start a Kickstarter page to raise money to hire someone to punch that stain in the face.) Continue reading

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Top Albums of 2011: Honorable Mentions

I thought 2010 had been a great year for music, but it was really just a prelude to the embarrassment of riches 2011 has brought. As always, my Top 20 of 2011 list will be brought to you some time in early 2012 long after everyone has stopped caring, and as always, I begin December by taking a quick look at the albums that are worth hearing, but didn’t quite make the cut.

THE VETERANS:

R.E.M – Collapse Into Now. We all had to say goodbye to one of the cornerstones of modern rock when R.E.M. called it quits after 29 years. In this writer’s opinion, they should have done it after original drummer Bill Berry quit in 1997. The three albums after Berry’s departure were lackluster and hollow. (Some people still like Up, though.) But just when they were about to be written off as totally irrelevant, they came back to life with 2008’s aggressive Accelerate, and now this — their final album, which recaptures their signature sound. (“Oh My Heart” is the R.E.Miest song R.E.M. have ever done.) Glad they’re going out on a high note.

Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto. Always commercial-oriented (remember when “Clocks” was everywhere?), Coldplay doesn’t lose a step, putting out an album that captures the sound  of  “Top 40 Radio in 2011,” but proving those big, glitzy pop/R&B grooves don’t have to restrict themselves to brainless fun. If you program your ‘pod to skip some of the weaker Melancholy Ballads (TM) that are also Coldplay’s stock in trade, this would make a good “summer” album.

THE THROWBACKS:

Black Lips

Pains Of Being Pure At Heart — Belong. Some great hooks to be heard here, but man do these guys wish it were 1988 and they were opening for My Bloody Valentine. Belong is a meticulously crafted homage to those halcyon days where straightforward pop like The Outfield began co-mingling in listeners’ ears with the stuff coming from the fuzzy underground. They re-create it so well that it’s almost distracting.

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears — Scandalous. Retro soul of the Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings variety, but lacking that outfit’s dark edges. This is a party record through and through.

Black Lips — Arabia Mountain. A Georgia punk band formerly known more for their onstage antics than for their music, they’ve finally began developing some real chops over their last three albums. They’ve dug a nice little niche between the primal garage rock of the 1960s and the hardcore sound of 1980s acts like Husker Du and the Minutemen. They’re still a little inconsistent over the course of an entire album, but I predict their arrival in my actual Top 20 within their next few releases (if they don’t electrocute themselves or OD in the meantime.)

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The Best & Worst of the Solo Beatles, Part 2: Paul McCartney

I have a little theory: Paul McCartney is insane. Batshit nuts. I don’t know quite when the cheese slid off his cracker, but I’m guessing about twenty-five years ago. Yes, he’s always been a little goofy, but lately? From his bizarre hair-dying experiments to the interviews that are about equal parts inane platitudes, vegetarian propaganda, and total gibberish accompanied by a cheery thumbs-up, he’s been leaving a trail of crazy wherever he goes since the mid-1980s. It’s not train-wreck, flame-out crazy, like Martin Lawrence wandering through traffic with a  handgun. It’s a subtler crazy, as if during the recording of Press To Play, alien beings had made off with his brain and attempted to replace it with an exact replica, but assembled it from poorly-translated instructions.

That’s not what happened of course. What happened is that his ownership of many valuable song publishing rights kicked in about then, he became a multi-billionaire instead of a multi-millionaire, cut himself off from anything resembling reality, and has been living in a totally self-generated bubble-world ever since. And I don’t blame him. If I became a multi-billionaire, I would reach foaming heights of crazy that would make Andy Dick look like a Presbyterian deacon.

For reasons directly related to his billionaire-induced craziness, Paul has become the most-maligned Beatle. With every misfire album and every cringe-worthy quote, his light dimmed a little more. But make no mistake — he was the driving creative force of the Beatles in the second half of their career, and that’s no small thing. He always valued the concept of being in a band more than the others. Lennon gets credit for being the witty, rebellious iconoclast, Harrison gets credit for being the quiet mystic, and let’s face it, both of them get double-extra-credit for being dead. Everyone loves a corpse, because they never disappoint. They’re not around to release mediocre albums anymore. But both of them tired of the “band” concept long before Paul did. In the 70’s, Paul tried to keep the idea alive by putting together a bunch of hirelings and calling it “Wings,” but even he knew they weren’t a real band — they were his employees, and various members came and went like the clock-punchers they were.

(At the start of his solo career, he followed the example of Lennon and installed his wife as full creative partner. His second solo album is officially credited to “Paul & Linda McCartney.” On John & Yoko’s joint albums, Yoko contributed full songs. Horrible, horrible songs. But songs, nonetheless. Linda’s contributions consisted of 1) hilariously flat backing vocals placed super-high in the mix, and 2) helping to write some lyrics. The conceit fooled no one, but co-crediting songs kept their royalties from becoming “frozen assets” in the morass of the Beatles break-up lawsuits going on at the time.)

At times, Paul seems to be resented by fans for simply still being alive and somehow tarnishing the image of the Beatles by his very existence as a living, breathing doofus, which can’t be helped. This can result in some unfair treatment. (There’s a song buried in the second half of Off The Ground — if you make it that far– called “Winedark Open Sea,” a kind of sparse, dreary piano ballad that I suspect would be hailed as a “classic” if it came from Springsteen or Neil Young. Those guys can get away with almost anything.) Other times, it’s entirely his own fault. The parallels with George Lucas become obvious if you’re petty enough to examine them (which is my stock in trade). The younger creative genius gives us several gifts we all cherish, things that beyond providing hundreds of hours of entertainment, may even have molded us as people. He then ages into the older billionaire crank and starts doing stupid shit, such as going back and futzing with the legacy. McCartney’s bone-headed attempt to change the songwriting credits on “his” Beatles songs from “Lennon-McCartney” to “McCartney-Lennon” a few years ago is the musical equivalent of Greedo shooting first. Continue reading

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Top 20 Albums of 2010: #9-1


Well, this is thoroughly shameful. Every website, every major music magazine, even the goddamn
Grammys, have already weighed in on the best of 2010. My excuse for not posting the second half of my best-of in a timely manner is pretty much unacceptable: the demands of a day job, plus too many good books to read and shows to watch in the hours off from the day job. And a lot of single-parent crap (despite my fervent wishes, enormous slag-heaps of laundry do not do themselves). Some of the material you will be reading below was composed months ago for the the official Institute of Idle Time website, some was composed over the last few hours in a hazy, sweaty white heat fueled by vodka, over-the-counter Benadryl, and desperation.

The Walkmen’s recordings are sparse — simple but effective tick-tack drumming, flashes of almost flamenco-style electric guitar strumming, and Hamilton Leithauser’s straining rasp — but they weave a melancholy spell that stays with the listener long after the last sad song has faded. The Walkmen have attempted to flesh out their sound a bit before (2006’s A Hundred Miles Off owes more than a little to the cluttered, rustic sound of the Basement Tapes-era Dylan*), and although their stock-in-trade is wistful meditations on loss and regret, they certainly do have a sense of humor (witness their track-by-track re-recording of Harry Nilsson’s 1974 cult classic Pussy Cats), but here they play to the more subtle strengths that have carried them since their 2002 debut.

#8. Dr. DogShame, Shame
Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog has been a band I’ve been listening to for quite some time, just waiting for them to do something great. The potential was always there, but they seemed content to work within a certain template, where their classic rock influences (usually the Band, late-period Beach Boys, and the Beatles) were paid respectful homage, and they ended up chasing their tails. Now, their training wheels are off, and they’ve broken through with an original sound, and their influences — great as they are — are finally where they should be: buried deep, seeping into their material like an unseen, underground spring feeds a river. Shame, Shame is a fast-paced, jittery album for the most part, percussion and rag-time piano in the forefront, with a clarity of purpose and unity of theme that previous albums lacked. Even if the material was weak, Dr. Dog could always rely on its secret weapon to put a song over — gorgeous, harmonized backing vocals — and that trait is out in force and better than ever on Shame, Shame.

#7. LCD SoundsystemThis Is Happening Continue reading

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Top 20 Albums of 2010: #20-10

#20. Old 97’sThe Grand Theatre, Vol. 1
The Old 97’s continue their winning streak, even they did just squeak in at #20 (beating out all theHonorable Mentions, many of whom could realistically occupy this space.) This powerhouse country-rock quartet once again makes its traditional appearance on the Holy Bee’s Best Of list. The Old 97’s are my musical comfort food, and while they may never again reach the heights of Too Far To Care or Satellite Rides, their charisma and eminently agreeable blend of rollicking Tex-Mex and bubblegum power pop is something I can listen to at any time in any mood. Old 97’s are the old standbys. Bless ‘em.

#19. The Constellations Southern Gothic
This mixed-gender collective presents a travelogue through the sometimes seedy nightlife of their native Atlanta. Harnessing a jam-band mentality to a hip-hop framework, the best Constellations songs are so insanely catchy that they border on commercial jingles (“We’re Here To Save The Day,” “Felicia”), and even their worst make you admire their moxie (a nine-minute cover of Tom Waits’ “Step Right Up”? Really?). A word of warning: visually, they’re a nightmare, encapsulating everything hateful about insufferably smug “quirky” hipsters. (Avoid pictures of them. They will make you stabby. OK, click here at the risk of ruining your enjoyment of their music.) Continue reading

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