I briefly mentioned the new Kleptones album a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I got a chance to hear the episode of the Radio Clash podcast that included an interview with “Eric Kleptone,” the leader of the Kleptones. Hearing his perspective on his efforts was fascinating.

It turns out that he was in a band and that was unable to get the proper clearances for the sample-based music they were making, so they decided to eschew the legal approach to making and releasing music all together. At first, that might sound like the reaction of a spoiled refusing to play by the rules. But along with the legal approach, they have also eschewed any chance of receiving money for their efforts. They make their work available for free at no small cost (and no small risk) to themselves. And it’s not good just because it’s transgressive or novel. I found Eric’s description of 24 Hours as a sort of aural version of Ulysses or Finnegans Wake (my terms, not his) pretty convincing. And I think Night at the Hip-Hopera is one of the best albums of the decade.

And if you do decide to give any of their music a listen, by all means, download it via BitTorrent to save their bandwidth.

More End of the Year

More and more lists of the best albums of the year are being posted, and, for whatever reason, I’m finding them all very interesting. So interesting that, with a gift certificate I got from my employer, I got a bunch of the albums mentioned, including:

Black Sheep Boy – Okkervil River
Stephen Malkmus – Face the Truth
The Frames – Burn the Maps
Clap your Heads Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Serena Maneesh – Serena Maneesh
Vitalic – OK Cowboy
The Clientele – Strange Geometry
The Hold Steady – Separation Sunday
Silver Jews – Tanglewood Numbers
The Decemberists – Picaresque
Art Brut – Bang Bang Rock & Roll

Two albums that seem underrepresented to me are Eels’ Blinking Light and Other Revelations and Broken Social Scene’s Broken Social Scene. The Eels album in particular has to be just about the best album of 2005, and it hasn’t been mentioned anywhere I’ve seen yet. I’ve also found myself enjoying Rogue Wave’s Descended Like Vultures several times, and, of course, there’s Rebecca Turner‘s Land of My Baby. Rebecca’s a friend, so I’m not even going to pretend to be objective about her album, but I really do think it’s great.

One album that was well reviewed (though it hasn’t made any best album lists thus far) but that I won’t be buying is the Rolling Stones’ A Bigger Bang. I’m just not going to fall for it anymore. Yes, Rolling Stone says of it:

Let’s just get this out of the way: A Bigger Bang isn’t a good Rolling Stones album considering their age. It isn’t a good Rolling Stones album compared to their recent work. No, A Bigger Bang is just a straight-up, damn fine Rolling Stones album, with no qualifiers or apologies necessary for the first time in a few decades.

But then they also said of Undercover:

By now, the Rolling Stones have assumed something of the status of the blues in popular music – a vital force beyond time and fashion. Undercover, their twenty-third album (not counting anthologies and outtakes), reassembles, in the manner of mature masters of every art, familiar elements into exciting new forms. It is a perfect candidate for inclusion in a cultural time capsule: should future generations wonder why the Stones endured so long at the very top of their field, this record offers just about every explanation. Here we have the world’s greatest rock & roll rhythm section putting out at maximum power; the reeling, roller-derby guitars at full roar; riffs that stick in the viscera, songs that seize the hips and even the heart; a singer who sounds serious again. Undercover is rock & roll without apologies.

Funny, Undercover was released during those few decades when qualifiers and apologies are now said to have been necessary. And a few years later, in a review of Steel Wheels, they said that “the Stones’ last two albums, Undercover and Dirty Work… ranged from bad to ordinary…,” only to go on to say that, no, Steel Wheels is really the album on which the Rolling Stones recovered their former greatness (though it too was released during the decades of qualifiers and apologies). But I don’t think that anyone still believes that anymore either. The simple truth is that the Rolling Stones are never again going to make an album as good as those they made prior to 1973–they’ve stopped even trying. They’re still a remarkable live band, but they just don’t write songs like they used to. Some Girls was the essence of opulent decadence and Tattoo You was as slick an imitation of the Stones’ great albums as you’ll ever hear, but they’ve nowhere attempted the ragged Thanatotic glory of their run of albums from Beggars Banquet through Exile on Main St., and they sound absurd attempting the fresh, libidinal drive of their best work before then. They learned to be an adult rock band, but they couldn’t sustain it, so they’ve retreated to hooks and catch phrases delivered with great vim and vigor.

And just to round out the year in the music, I’m posting my final attempt with GarageBand for the year. It’s called “Modulations,” and it’s all about density and effects (and, well, monotony).

Let the Year End Begin

Pitchfork has released their list of the “Top 50 Albums of 2005.” It’s a pretty good looking list, and for the first time in years I’m actually in a position to say so. I already have ten albums on the list (and I’ll probably get more), which isn’t bad for someone hurtling into middle age.

I don’t know what’s different this year, but for the last several years, I would be lucky to even recognize ten albums on a respectable year-end list like this, let alone own ten of them. Maybe it’s the iTunes Music Store, which lets me buy all the music I want without further crowding my apartment, and my iPods, which let me carry it all with me.

Before I Go

Apple released some more free GarageBand loops for .mac members this week. They’re all symphony pieces. After a walk down to the river with Olive and my wife–on which I took a few pictures–I threw together “Viola Song” (a lame allusion to Nick Drake‘s “Cello Song,” which is actually good) in an attempt to catch my mood–a little somber, a little sprightly; a little Eastern, a little Western; a little acoustic, a little electronic. Give it a listen.

Confessions on a Dance Floor

Speaking of celebrity cult members, Madonna‘s new album, Confessions on a Dance Floor is surprisingly good. It’s a return to the deeper dance music of the Erotica and Bedtime Stories era, but still more trancey and less pop, and with less of a point to make than either of those albums. It seems to be a sort of re-grouping after the didactic dead end of American Life, its lyrics just a vehicle for what little melody there is.

It’s the kind of album that Moby would do under one of his pseudonyms. There is a certain sameness and anonymity to the individual songs. It’s actually much more interesting as a whole, which is one of the ways the iTunes Music Store sells it, as a sort of trance symphony.


I don’t know what’s more troubling: that someone has sampled Iron Butterfly’s “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida,” or that I recognized the sample immediately. Actually, the shame is that the song that sampled “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” isn’t very good–it should have been at least interesting.