Worst. Song. Ever.

So this wonderful event took place last weekend at Espresso Bueno in Barre. Jen Dole’s been honing her hosting skills for over a decade now and it shows–she’s assured, fun, and reliable at drawing a good crowd. Many brave performers stepped up and essayed some of the worst pop music the world has to offer. I mean, check out the trophies on offer.

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Right? Right??!! This time at least, I was not among the players: I went all by my lonesome and enjoyed good cider and bad music. My notes about the performers follow. Opinions about the latter performances may or may not have been affected by the quantity of cider.

1. A rather dapper guitarist/singer out of Montpelier calling himself The Thing. Wow, that’s a really interesting and offbeat version of “Achy Breaky Heart.” Already gets my vote for most offbeat, WTF number of the night.

2. Folks I’ve known casually through the local trivia/bar crowd for years, performing tonight under the moniker Cheddar, Blue, and Lionel. Not only are they doing Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” they got special t-shirts made up with some of the Swahili words from the song. Bass, congas, and ukelele. They’re really fun. Alas, rhythm has wandered far afield. Ah, melody has now followed.

3. “Alone Again, Naturally” done by two women, acapella aside from a couple of shakers to help keep rhythm. Man, Vermont’s really white, look around this room. We have great hats, though. I’d put this roomful of hats up against any locale in Williamsburg or Portland. Why does this song have so many verses?

4. Finally, an exotic import! The Moneymakers have a guy from the faraway land of Connecticut. He’s really hot and his wife is makin’ him show off the goods. They can actually play, that’s a nice change. “Take Me Home Tonight,” who did that? Oh RIGHT, Eddie Money, “The Bad Boy of Rock and Roll”! (Two people in the whole world might get that joke, both from Natchitoches.)

5. *sigh* Yet ANOTHER lesbian covering Corey Hart on the Turkish balaga. I’m so sick of that trend. Actually she makes this song kind of tolerable . . .

6. All right, another guy who can really play guitar. Say, this Creed song sounds pretty good. Must be time to stop ordering drinks.

7. FUCK YOU Manic Pixie Dream Girl, “No Scrubs” is an awesome song!

8. Even more than most people I hate Anne Murray. I see nothing before me but an empty black plain of rage and disdain.

9. OK I know Gotye is overplayed, but I still love this damn song. Somebody that I used to know-owwwwwwwww

10. Why is she getting so many cheers? I mean, she’s OK and all. *looks around room* Ah, high school friends. Go Spaulding!

 

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Best music of 2012, part 6

Done! The final post for my favorite music of 2012.

Asteroids Galaxy Tour, Out of Frequency: Classic pop is enjoying a nice resurgence lately: witness the music of Adele, Rumer, the School, and Nikki Jean. Asteroids Galaxy Tour takes a more adventurous approach, incorporating hints of soul, early disco and psychedelia. This Danish act aren’t just content to recreate—they’re adding new, 21st century touches to retro pop in a really exciting way.

Sweater Girls, . . . Were Here: Sweater Girls bring something to the table that too many twee pop bands lack: talent. Their music is sunny and cute and touching and immediate, but it’s also WELL PLAYED. The L.A. Group arranged an album with greatly varying textures that shows great intelligence for a debut. They know when to be noisy, when to be sweet, when to be dark, and when to get excited.

Dr. John, Locked Down: This album belongs as much to producer Dan Auerbach as it does to Mac Rebennack. And that’s surprising because it’s a total return to early 70s form for Dr. John. This is the freakier outskirts of funky 70s rock, owing as much to Frank Zappa as it does to James Brown. Every track is sinuous and groovy, insidious and tight. A surprising reminder that Dr. John isn’t just another classic rock dinosaur; he’s still got something worth saying.

A.C. Newman, Shut Down the Streets: One of the most important songwriters in Canada, Newman was in Zumpano before founding indie pop supergroup the New Pornographers. This album leans more toward the acoustic and introspective than his previous power pop work, but it’s sure a good fit. Newman is always surprising; the melodies never quite go where you think they will, the chord changes tend toward much longer phrasing than typical pop music. No one else sounds like this, and it’s always good to hear more sophisticated pop.

Field Report: If nothing else this album shows how far our collaborators can push us. It’s a debut album from a longtime pedal steel player who’d never written any songs before. But Porterfield started out playing with artists who we now know as Megafaun and Bon Iver, and their influence shows in every line. This is Americana at its starkest and most honest. Reminiscent of Springsteen and Dylan at their best, Field Report is a band to watch.

the Staves, Dead and Born and Grown: Europeans sure seem to love California. The Staves are English sisters recreating the California folk-rock sound for 2013. They’ve got those tight matching harmonies that you only get from sibling acts, delicate work on the acoustic guitar, and an intuitive feel for the best aspects of Laurel Canyon.

Royal Thunder, CVI: I admit it, I’m more prone to like metal bands with female singers. It’s got nothing to do with sex appeal or girl power. Women are just way less likely to shriek like Donald Duck or yell like Cookie Monster. Atlanta’s Royal Thunder are a welcome addition to the modern stoner/doom metal scene. And there are welcome influences here from the more alternative side of 80s hard rock—I’ve never heard a woman sound so much like Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, and some of the playing is reminiscent of eary post-hardcore bands like Hüsker Dü and Band of Susans.

Exitmusic, Passage: Dark, dynamic, and soaring, Exitmusic takes their cues from bleeding-edge artists like Radiohead and Sigur Rós. The unearthly voice of Aleksa Palladino (also a successful actress) puts a unique spin on a uniquely American post-rock. I guess other reviewers don’t hear this, but to me Exitmusic is also carrying on the work of adventurous goth acts like Siouxsie and the Banshees, This Mortal Coil, and Cocteau Twins.

the Mynabirds, Generals: Quite a change from one album to another. The Mynabirds started out as part of the California folky revival, but you wouldn’t know it from this album. Singer Laura Burhenn keeps that smoky voice, but now it’s over blippy electronics and dark piano and guitars. This is a great and particularly American contribution to the great modern electronic pop coming out of Europe.

the Menahan Street Band, The Crossing: Why isn’t instrumental popular music more, well, popular? The Menahan Street Band is a side project from NYC soul and afrobeat musicians. These aren’t weathered soul veterans—most are young white kids who’ve turned out an album tight enough for the Stax house band. Soulful without getting repetitive, expert, funky, and flawless.

Frank Turner, Last Minutes and Lost Evenings: A former punk who moved toward protest songs and English folk? No it’s not Billy Bragg, it’s Eton graduate Frank Turner. He’s been working in England for a while now, but didn’t really have an American presence. This compilation and B-sides/rarities collection aims to change that. He’s honest, optimistic, invigorating, personal, and political in the best sense of the word.

Best music of 2012 (part 5)

It’s already halfway through January, I need to finish these!

Joe W’s favorite music of 2012

 Jimmy Cliff, Rebirth: Unbelievable. After all these years, after so much history, Jimmy Cliff is still making some of the tightest, most beautiful reggae in the world. His voice has weathered and aged, but it’s still probing, honest, and direct.

 

 The Tallest Man On Earth, There’s No Leaving Now: With his confident picking and raspy voice, Kristian Mattson sounds like Bob Dylan on first listen. And with further attention he sounds even more like Dylan—simple and perfect rhymes, just the right amount of additional instrumentation on top of his essentially solo pieces, and thoughtful but opaque lyrics like:

But the lesson is vague and the lightning
Shows a deer with her mind on the moor
And now something with the sun is just different
Since they shook the earth in 1904

More delicate beauty from Sweden; the folk scene needs more music this good.

 Doomtree, No Kings: I’m a sucker for this kind of rap—rhythmically complex, eclectic, incorporating soulful singing and dubstep beats together with the whole of American hip hop. The diverse Doomtree collective out of Minneapolis is greater than the sum of its already talented parts. Look at videos of them together to see the ways the members push and inspire each other.

 Dustin Wong, Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads: The truest heir to prog rock guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, Wong takes a break from recording with Ponytail to release a jaw-dropping album of layered guitar music. The album is angular, edgy, and virtuosic without ever feeling like it’s just a guy showing off his chops.

 Fun., Some Nights: This album had no right to become a giant success. Grandiose, theatrical, and sincere aren’t really titles we associate with great indie rock. Wait, I think the problem’s with us! I take it back, this album had every right to become a huge success. Nate Ruess is one of the best lead singers in the world and the band as a whole delivers exciting, relevant, modern arena rock.

 Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself: Fiddler / singer / whistler / genius Andrew Bird is back, and he’s changing things up. This feels less experimental than his last few albums, with more folk influence coming through. Above all it’s less about the production and atmosphere and more about the performance of a band that’s coalesced around Bird himself.

 Chelsea Wolfe, Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs: A spooky, dreamlike collection of material from Wolfe. Making an acoustic album is a bold move for an artist who usually incorporates lots of electronic atmosphere on her tracks. This works though, kind of like early p.j. harvey or a more fully realized Julee Cruise.

 Tamaryn, Tender New Signs: Yeah it’s another shoegaze album. Shoegaze is awesome. It’s the first niche genre of music I became really expert in. Tamaryn aren’t content to subdue their guitars under mountains of reverb—there are delicate but strong riffs here to make each track stand out.

 Alex Winston, King Con: Complex production and busy arrangements can’t hide Winston’s powerful little-girl voice. Between Winston, fun., Pepe Deluxe, Muse, and others I think we’re heading for another period of great theatrical rock, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the mid-70s.

 

 Torche, Harmonicraft: It takes giant brass balls to put out a metal album with this cover: rainbows and clouds against a pink sky, whimsical goats everywhere. That’s Torche, though. Wedding the best kind of catchy emo riffs to sludgy stoner rock just shouldn’t work, but here it really does.

Best music of 2012 (part 4)

For Spotify users, here’s a link to the whole playlist: Joe’s favorite music of 2012

Frankie Rose, Interstellar: Rose’s second solo album ditches the noise of her earlier work with New York artists. It kind of even fits into the New Wave revival of the past decade; there’s more of Talulah Gosh here than Sonic Youth. An unassuming album that rewards close attention.

2:54: I wish there were more bands like 2:54. Not grinding industrial, not pounding electro, not aimless darkwave synths. Just straightforward goth rock with a declamatory alto singer, Daniel Ash-ian guitar playing, and a steady beat that lets you bob around making weird hand motions in the air.

Galactic, Carnivale Electricos: Embarassing truth: the New Orleans I grew up in wasn’t a great music city. It was resting on its laurels, pumping out predictable trad jazz for tourists. There were bright spots (there always are) like Dash Rip Rock and the Neville Brothers, but little innovation. Man, has that changed. Artists like Trombone Shorty, MUTEMATH, and Galactic are breathing life back into the scene. Galactic are grizzled veterans at this point, bringing modern jazz and funk together with traditional NOLA sounds. One of their best albums yet, Carnivale Electricos throws Brazilian samba and a bunch of guest stars into the mix.

Gift of Gab, The Next Logical Progression: For my money Gift of Gab is the most accomplished technician in hip hop. He’s got fantastic flow and here he’s using it over sunny, funky beats reminiscent of D.A.I.S.Y.-age De La Soul. There’s real meat and substance here, but with so much joy going on the listener never feels preached at.

 Shearwater, Animal Joy: I think indie rock musicians are finally comfortable enough with themselves to be grandiose. Maybe we need to give them permission to do that, to let them know that being all countercultural and niche and indie is perfectly compatible with strutting proudly onstage, pounding the piano keys, and declaiming in a gorgeous voice, head held high and eyes closed in exquisite beauty. Shearwater’s learned that lesson well, and they’re not afraid to reach right out and grab for your heart.

Air, Le Voyage Dans La Lune: Ever so cool, ever so subtle, ever so French. Air has always strolled a narrow boulevard between fantastically interesting trip-hop and pointless retro indulgences. Experimental synth noodling, licks from old disco records, Sixties easy listening, and bleeding-edge electronic pop combine here to make one of the best chill out albums of the year. Bonus? The whole thing is a soundtrack to the first ever science fiction film.

Tin Hat, The Rain is a Handsome Animal: It’s safe to say that Tin Hat are never going to be a hit band. A world where that could happen would be TOO good, a world we would not deserve. But we can listen to the indescribable, eclectic beauty of Carla Kihlstedt and company adapting e.e. cummings’s poems to a beautiful song cycle. It’s not quite jazz, not quite pop, and not quite art song, but partakes of the most noble aspects of all three.

 Metric, Synthetica: Another year, another great Metric album. Hard to believe they’ve been around for ten years now, but there you have it—one of the first 80s synthpop revivalists is still one of the best, making polished dance music for a bold new age.

Lost in the Trees, A Church That Fits Our Needs: A searingly personal album shows what eccentric American freak-folk can do at its best. The intricate arrangements and sometimes precious vocals never detract from the power of this song cycle about a mother’s suicide. “Put your arms around my mother / I burned her body in the furnace / ‘Til all that’s left was her glory.”

Baroness, Yellow & Green: Still the overall best metal band working today. With smoky-voiced singing that stays far away from both Cookie Monster and Donald Duck, Baroness flirts with Southern rock, post-punk, commercial hard rock, and goth influences but always manages to sound most like themselves.

Best music of 2012 (part 3)

father john mistyFather John Misty, Fear Fun: The reborn sounds of Laurel Canyon continue to gain steam. Father John Misty writes laid-back folk pop a la the Mamas & the Papas or CSNY; even his voice seems like a throwback to early 70s radio. Fortunately he’s not just imitating a sound—his songcraft is impeccable and his wit cuts off any tendencies at over-earnestness.

Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind: Metal and punk should get together more often. The genres share an emphasis on speed, loudness, and defiance, but cultural differences in their origins usually keep punk and metal far apart. Converge weds punk brashness and noise to the breakneck mosh of thrash and even throws in some virtuosic math rock for good measure.

Of Monsters And Men, My Head Is An Animal: Man, there’s something in the volcanoes in Iceland. There just aren’t that many people there, yet the island nation keeps breeding up great acts like Bjork, Sigur Ros, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and now Of Monsters and Men. Romantic, sophisticated, and assured, this album weds grand chamber pop to fun, shambling folk. Truly an outstanding debut.

bob mouldBob Mould, Silver Age: Bob Mould in a trio playing loud power pop? Cool, it’s 1992! Silver Age is very similar to Copper Blue, Mould’s first album with Sugar. There is no bad in that—this new album is everything modern guitar rock should be.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, The Heist: This is the hip hop album that I keep going back to this year. Confessional and honest, Macklemore concerns himself here about manliness in the best sense of that word. He’s got great flow and a unique voice in modern rap that can speak to struggles with alcohol and fun in thrift shops on the same album.

Café Tacuba, El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco: One of indie rock’s absolute best bands, but not well-known in the States because they’re Mexican. Café Tacuba are long-time veterans of the music scene with twenty years’ worth of recording under their belts. Never content to rest on their laurels, this album brings bold new production and a 21st century sound barely recognizable to fans of their early work.

Field Music, Plumb: Sometimes it’s a fine line between delicate chamber pop and swaggering prog rock. Field Music tap dance on both sides of that line, recalling both XTC and ELP. It’s complex pop music that remains accessible and satisfying. If only more music like this made it onto American radio stations!

Martin Rossiter, The Defenestration of St. Martin: For fans of Antony & the Johnsons and other heart-renders. Rossiter’s songs sound like solo Morrissey pieces with a wider sense of melody. Confessional, adult, and deeply touching.

Julia Holter, Ekstasis: Beautiful, delicate, literate, and layered, Ekstasis is contemporary art song as much as it is indie pop or post rock. It’s an album that rewards careful listening. Holter reminds me of no one so much as a young Laurie Anderson, and I hope that bodes well for her career.

First Aid Kit, The Lion’s Roar: For my money, the feel-good music story of the year. Talented sisters who nurtured a love for American folk rock in the snows of Sweden, the  Söderbergs started recording and putting out YouTube videos as young teenagers. It took a few years of records and touring, but The Lion’s Roar broke the act to real success. It’s a gorgeous album, and one that I’m sure I’ll be listening to for years to come.

Joe’s favorite music of 2012, or see below the cut to look at a list.

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