My Favorite Song of the Year: "Nina, Olen Palasina" by Risto.
Maybe it's the chorus that sounds like a bunch of kids all shouting in unison, or maybe it's the upwardly cascading structure of the song itself, but something about this burrowed meaningfully into my cranial cavity and has made no overtures that would indicate a looming departure. I first bumped into it last April on a Fonal Records compilation called Summer and Smiles of Finland, and in a spiritual sense, it's a worthy answer song to Madeleine Chartrand's "Ani-Kuni", which it seems I overplayed last year. (Like I said, I apparently have a thing for songs with people all shouting in unison.) Now if only they'd worked a pick-slide into the mix, I'd be jumping on top of my desk and doing karate kicks at Liz Berg or Maria Levitsky (also big fans of this number) every time I heard it. [Download MP3] | [Stream Real Audio] | Risto on Fonal Records
Best Night Out Below 14th Street: The Ex at the Knitting Factory
For years, I've declared the Dutch art/punk/activist group the Ex to be the only band I would drop anything to go see live. I'm proud to say that I've made regular practice of catching them at the Knitting Factory on every single tour since 1995 and they are always paint-peelingly good, no matter what the incarnation. (To avid enthusiasts, they can appear to be something of a collective, with certain members dropping out of the live lineup, but then re-appearing on subsequent tours. They've also done extensive collaborations with the late avant-cellist Tom Cora, and have a new record out that pairs them with Ethiopian saxophone legend Getatchew Mekuria.) The Ex's December 13th show in NYC was 150% bring-the-house-down amazing, with the band wheeling out one goosebumps-on-top-of-goosebumps stomper after another. A live Ex performance permanently endorses everything good about being alive, and for that, I can't think of another band more deserving of their many accolades. Brace yourselves now for their upcoming live session on Brian Turner's program on January 9th, and check their website for pics, videos, and a full arsenal of free MP3s. Streaming Real Audio Links: Frenzy | Huriyet/Prism Song | Stone Stamper's Song
Best Shameless Nostalgia Trip that involved riding in the back seat of a Volvo: Sticks & Stones reunion at Asbury Lanes
This late, lamented New Brunswick band signified everything about the punk rock stance of my youth, while simultaneously validating all the horror of experiencing that youth in the wastelands of suburban New Jersey. Using the mythically regarded Scott Hall and Middlesex County College matinees as their platform, Sticks & Stones gathered a small but devoted audience of clench-fisted artists, writers, outsiders, and exceptional fuckups, all of whom waved the flag of their personal discontent with an acute sense of tenacity. The determination and style with which they put forth their strident jams (and the legend-status it posthumously vaulted them to in the minds of kids too young to have seen them) resulted in a recent discography on Chunksaah Records, and a string of reunion gigs at which the band completely blew doors, minds, and all related appendages. Never mind about Burma, Birdman, or whoever else is making the rounds on the revival circuit this week... This was my class reunion, not somebody else's. [Streaming Real Audio Trifecta: Theme Song for Nothing | Along the Way | Saved] || [YouTube link to followup acoustic show at CBGB]
The Music that Makes me Proud to be Human: Jonathan Kane's "I Looked at the Sun"
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Few things in life warrant a 60 megabyte download. The video of Jonathan Kane's February performing live in WFMU's Love Room is a glaring exception. This subsequent EP said more with two songs than most bands can say in a lifetime. Funny that, as both tracks are instrumentals. [Streaming Real Audio: "I Looked at the Sun" | "BQE"]
Most Infectious Pop Song: "Posters" by Jeffrey and Jack Lewis
"The History of Punk on the Lower East Side" [Download MP3] was and remains a well-deserved WFMU epic-length hit, and this song from the recent "City and Eastern Songs" LP totally changes gears by working true pop wonders with staggering efficiency. [Listen to "Posters" in streaming Real Audio] | [Watch the Video on YouTube]
Best Argument for Outlawing All Medications for Clinically Demented British People: Queen Adreena's The Butcher & the Butterfly
"Holy shit, this is the girl from Daisy Chainsaw," I yelled upon first previewing this CD in advance of my radio show. Typically, no one responded. (OK, the room was empty at the time.) Then I started walking around the WFMU broadcast complex repeating aloud in each room that "Holy shit, this [was] the girl from Daisy Chainsaw." Finally, I found fellow DJ Scott Williams, who not only remembered Daisy Chainsaw (and the trashy, one-hit-wonderment of their song "Love Your Money" [Click for Streaming Real Audio],) but who agreed with the holy-shittyness of the matter and further agreed that this Queen Adreena CD was a great, filthy, strung-out-on-all-the-right-drugs, destructo-rock good time. Turns out the Holy Shit girl is named Katie Jane Garside, she has a solo record coming out in 2007, and she has a certifiably 100% batshit awesome website which Scott and I can't stop looking at. [Streaming Real Audio Links: Medicine Jar | Pretty Like Drugs | Razor Blade Sky] || Watch Streaming Video of "Medicine Jar" (Kinda NSFW, like if you work in a church...)
Most Soul-Crushingly Beautiful Song of the Year: Brother JT's "That's What They All Say" from the Not My Life CD
This man's a genius, a gentleman, and as Brian Turner would say, a true class act. Several years ago, after a devastating solo acoustic set at the WFMU Record Fair, I awkwardly attempted to foist some travel-expense money into his hands for coming all the way from Pennsylvania to play at our fundraising benefit. He politely refused, adding that he was happy to have come to help out the station, and that he'd "enjoyed the drive." (Actual quote.) Spine tinglers like this song, when coupled with that kind of humble and honest sincerity, perfectly encapsulate why JT is such a hero to so many of us here at the Magic Factory. Fills me with the reassurance that all of this is still worthwhile. [Download MP3] | [Streaming Real Audio] | Brother JT Homepage
Best Unrehearsed Live Experiment Pulled Off in the Presence of Book Nerds: Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3 with George Pelecanos at Magnetic Fields, Brooklyn NY.
George Pelecanos books are among the most effecting I've ever encountered, with narratives involving drug dealers, crooked cops, addicts, private dicks, moral shepherds of the working class, and countless other heroes and villains operating in the peripheral orbits of urban America. His contributions as writer for the HBO dramatic series The Wire only further add to the enormous amount of respect I have for this man, and I was proud to have welcomed him as an in-studio guest on the August 14th edition of my radio program, during which I geeked out with the hero worship, and where he humbly elaborated on the details of his career while spinning the Blue Oyster Cult and Lalo Schifrin vinyl. He wrote the song "Cindy, It Was Always You" [click for streaming Real Audio] for Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three, which perfectly suited the band's often noir-ish sensibilities, but this live collaboration was a different beast entirely. The band, as lead by the affable former frontman of the Dream Syndicate, played an improvised jam in the spirit of 70s Miles Davis, while Pelecanos read from the first chapter of his recent novel, The Night Gardener. No one--least of all the performers--really knew what to expect, but all agreed that it was a smashing success. [George Pelecanos + Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three on YouTube] | [Real Audio of George Pelecanos on WFMU] | George Pelecanos Homepage | Steve Wynn Homepage
Best Hip Hop Track of 2006: Krisma featuring Sinisista - "No Competition"
Push Bin host Lou Ziegler knows that nothing voids my interest in a new hip hop track like sweeping, orchestral samples. Unless you're Nas--and I'm fairly certain that you're not--sweeping, orchestral samples totally put the t[u]rd in "tired". Or whatever. Enter this track from the Urban Intelligence Presents Homemade Bombs: The Irish Hip Hop Mixtape compilation. [Click to stream Real Audio] Shoot-to-kill-beats! Rat-a-tat-tat vocal delivery! Inexplicable counting to the number seven! It's everything I liked about hip hop when I was a 12 year old kid staying up all night to listen to Chuck Chillout and Mr. Magic on KISS-FM and WBLS respectively. And hell, they're from Ireland! Somewhere, no less a man than Billy Jam nods his head in approval.
The Other Best Hip Hop Track of 2006: The Muffletoes - "I Want Candy"
No bad samples here, just the inspiring genius of a bunch of NYC 5-10 year olds and Mr. Dave Soldier, orchestrator extraordinaire of Da Hip Hop Raskalz project, which puts said kids in the driver's seat for making their own music. The whole disc is great, and in no way do the kids sound coaxed or like they're participants in some nefarious plot on behalf of Mr. Soldier, as this guy seems to suggest. (He even goes so far as to call it "a ready-made collection of in-jokes for the WFMU crowd", and then somehow quotes me to make his point.) Oooooo-kay... Let's hear it for the "WFMU crowd", (whatever that means) and god bless The Muffletoes. [Download MP3] | [Streaming Real Audio] | Hip Hop Raskalz Homepage
I Can't Believe I'm Admitting to Liking: "Free" by Deniece Williams. Yes, that Deniece Williams. It was effectively described to me by fellow freeformer $mall Change of the Nickel and Dime Radio franchise as the "ultimate end of the night show-closer". [Click to stream Real Audio] Only I am more disturbed than you are by the fact that 2006 was also the year that I finally learned how to appreciate the mind-blowing depth, sincerity, and uniquely British sensibility of Sade. Which is the most perfectly inappropriate segue to tell you about...
The Most Wonderfully Creepy and Enthralling Album of the Year: K. Ross' "That Dirty Clown"
You know K. Ross as Clay Pigeon from WFMU's currently-off-schedule but hopefully-back-soon Dusty Show, and fans of that program will find the same sort of captivating and unsettling monologues on this disc, a re-issue of the 1996 "micro-cult classic" that employs analog tape manipulation and other no-fi atmospherics to craft a narrative of disturbing fluidity. Trust me, you've never heard anything like this before. [Download Sample MP3] | Dusty Show Archives | K. Ross on MySpace | Buy "That Dirty Clown"
Best random discovery: Beverly Kenney's "Brooklyn Love Song"
It's all thanks to WFMU's own DJ Tamar that I first discovered this 1950s Jazz vocalist from WFMU's own backyard of Harrison, NJ. (A town that is also home to my least favorite PATH station, among other things.) Seldom does this kind of music inspire me to do more than cursory googling, with perhaps an obligatory visit paid to that frustrating old bitch on the block, the All Music Guide... But this song, in all its fanciful and evocative splendor, was quickly tapped to be the soundtrack to the first wedding dance I shared with the lovely lady I married in October, and for that it retains a place of special reverence. $65 import CDs on Amazon be damned! [Click here for Streaming Real Audio]
More WFMU DJ Best of 2006 Lists are here.