Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Kevin's Top 20 Albums of 2011

Since I am leaving for Florida to celebrate the New Year's, I felt it was about time to put up this post. It's only been, what, six months since our last post. You never know, this might light a fire under us for 2012. Before putting together my list, I wasn't sure that 2011, musically, was so great, but going back over the year I found it to be 1) more interesting than I first remembered and 2) it was actually harder to put together my list than I thought it was going to be. This is probably subject to change as time marches on, but I think, for now, I believe I have it nailed down. Without further adieu:

20) Phonte, Charity Begins At Home
Phonte was one half of the duo that was known as Little Brother until they went on indefinite hiatus. Phonte whether alone or in a group as always brought it. He really is an underappreciated and criminally unheralded lyricist, check out this one line from the first track on his album, "Dance In The Reign", "Flow so addicting it’s like habit forming
Flow so hair-raising it’s like rabbit farming"
I had to rewind it the first time I listened to it, because it's so amazing, and that's just the first track.

19) Doomtree, No Kings

Doomtree is a new(ish) collective of MC's and singers from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. They come here with 12 tracks of give-and-take hip hop, in that there are never fewer than two MC's on a track, and three tracks feature all five. The interesting thing is there are no stars here, and they all work to make the others looks as good as they make themselves, if that makes any sense. I won't go so far as to compare this to the original Wu Tang, but, in a way, it seems to be what they are striving for. This is definitely their bombastic statement of purpose. Frankly, they deserve to be bigger and more popular than Odd Future. Maybe it's because they are from the Midwest and more polite?

18) We Were Promised Jetpacks, In The Pit Of The Stomach

More goodness from Scotland. This was a grower for me, I found it to be a lot like their first album, These Four Walls, except this time darker and louder, which is just fine with me.

17) Le Butcherettes, Sin Sin Sin
Amazing, fiery garage rock that sounds like Bikini Kill and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had a baby.

16) Action Bronson, Dr. Lecter
Pat O'D hepped me to this Bronx native earlier in the year. He sounds like Ghostface and sort of looks like me. But it reminds me, well, of basically where he is from, he definitely has this old school, raw, East Coast vibe (sort of like Mista eXquire from across the river in Brooklyn) and he drops a lot of old school wrestling lyrics into his raps which also goes a long way for me.

15) Wild Flag, Wild Flag
Wild Flag reminds me of Sleater-Kinney and that's a good thing since, well, a lot of us miss Sleater-Kinney. I'm not sure of that's just Carrie Brownstein's influence or what. Keep doing what you're doing because it is working.

14) Parts and Labor, Constant Future
This is actually their sixth full length album, but it was the first time I had heard them and, obviously, I like what I hear. From what I understand, they've upped the ante in that they have added an electronic element (maybe just keyboard) to their art punk sound, and well, like I said above they should keep doing what they are doing, it's harsh, but melodic, a catchy as all get out.

13) Mastodon, The Hunter
The first, maybe, truly fun Mastodon album. I really like them, and I like the fact that they are such weirdos, and this delivers all these goods in spades.

12) Frank Ocean, Nostalgia/Ultra
To me, this, so far, is the greatest member of Odd Future. He's also the one who has managed to get the most work this year. This album (actually a free mixtape-he released on his own after getting the cold shoulder from Island/Def Jam which signed him a year earlier) He's not only a great singer, but an off-kilter song writer as well. One of his pop "remakes", "American Wedding" (he uses the Eagles in the background" has this line, "“thesis on islam…virgin brides and arranged marriage. Hijabs and polygamist husbands… those poor unamerican girls.' He might just be the best lyricist.

11) The Roots, Undun
This is odd but only because this is the first of two concept albums on this list, not that the Roots are on here, because The Roots consistently put out good to great material. But even this is on another level, I mean, it's kind of crazy, a concept album following the life and death of a street hustler, which sounds small but the album is really ambitious, it pretty much broadcasts it's intentions from the mountaintops. It shouldn't work out so well, but the focus is so tight and well executed, it works so much better than it seems like it should. 

10) Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes
This is much different than her debut album, Youth Novels, and it seems in the interim between album releases someone really broke her heart. Compared to that first album this is much darker than that. It's unfamiliar territory to her but it's new for us, and we get to meet her all over again.

9) Das Racist, Relax
Even with their copious free mixtapes they released it took me a long time for me to get into Das Racist. There was some mental block there. But then around the time Relax came out, I started reading more about them and listening more to their music, actually listening, and it's interesting, being so prolific you can see them become more assured of themselves musically even in the short year or two they have been releasing stuff, and I think Relax for now, is the culmination of that. Their beats and their lyrics have progressed in such a positive direction in that they are much more focused then they used to be. Actually they've always been really good lyricists, I think their beats have become more tight. However, you want to cut, it is pretty great. "They say I act white, but sound black
But act black, but sound white
But what's my sound bite supposed to sound like?
I think I sound aight
I sound tight
They might be the next step in the evolution of hip hop. Or they might burn out, who knows?

8) Radiohead, The King Of Limbs
While maybe not the left turn that people were expecting from Radiohead, but, I mean, what could people really expect from them anyway? I guess everyone has to answer that themselves. Me? I like this somewhat bare, minimalist album.

7) M83, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
Maybe a little overlong, but Anthony Gonzalez took three years to just put layer upon layer on everything in sight. Mostly he goes for big, synth show stoppers, which will either appeal to you or grow tired really quickly. I'm not sure if it is even my favorite M83 album and maybe I was just excited that a new one came out, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

6) The Joy Formidable, The Big Roar
Just, a big, loud, soaring record that hits my sweet spots. Truth in advertising from the album title there.

5) Iceage, New Brigade
Showing what the young people can do, four guys from Denmark who are barely of drinking age put out a pummeling debut that's barely 25 minutes of Scandinavian hardcore and gloomy, post-punk. It's pretty sweet destruction.

4) Lady Gaga, Born This Way
Simply put: the best pop album that came out this year.

3) Wugazi, 13 Chambers
I'm not sure if this actually counts as a proper album, it being a free mash-up mixtape, but few things have brought me as much joy as 13 Chambers did this way. Combining Fugazi and the Wu Tang Clan seems like a dubious proposition, but it turns out that done right it can be two great tastes that taste great together (ugh). This could have been really half assed too, but these guys did a tremendous job, not only crafting unique beats out of Fugazi songs, but finding outtakes and alternate lyrics from Wu Tang songs, and coming up with actual, new songs. No matter what Joe Lally says, this was a really fun accomplishment, and I thought they did a great job.

2) TV On The Radio, Nine Types Of Light
TV On The Radio, to me, is much like The Roots above, where they are on this really unbelievable streak of releasing good to great albums. Nine Types Of Light seems like an ideal followup and even continuation of that they started on Dear Science, in which they make music that makes you want to both dance and fight the power.

1) Fucked Up, David Comes To Life
And finally, here is our second concept album of the bunch. This album is just as ambitious as The Roots's concept album. Fucked Up’s epic tells a story of love,loss,and guilt put across by lead singer's Damian Abraham’s relentless shout and by guitars that range from punk-y grind to classic rock. Also, the best show I saw this year.

Runners Up:
Monotonix-Not Yet
Absolutely-Learns To Love Mistakes
Mr. Jason-Mr. Jason Presents: Frankensteez
OFF-First Four EP’s
Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire-Lost In Translation
Owen Hart-Earth Control
Veronica Falls-Veronica Falls
 Maritime-Human Hearts
Beastie Boys-Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
Kanye West & Jay-Z-Watch The Throne


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Matt's Top 20 Albums of 2011

While I'm fairly new at creating a top 20 list of my favorite albums of the year, I can't imagine it getting any more difficult than this year.  There were so many great releases to which I was exposed and oftentimes I found myself not being able to fully digest many albums since I kept trying to hear other new releases.  In a sense, I was plagued with a lot of ADD this year and I still feel like there was a lot that I missed out on.  It's quite clear to me that with the technology we have today and the sheer amount of quality music coming out that I will never be satisfied in my musical knowledge.  Having said that, I think I have created a list that while far from perfect, is pretty close to my overall impressions this year.  So here we go.

                                        20)  Deer Tick – Divine Providence

A more bar-friendly rock album you will not find this year.  These guys just lay it all out and take you through what is mostly a forty minute in your face ode to partying, drinking, and a night out on the town.  Placed in there are a few ballads that bring the speed down but the overall sentiment is there.  At times it lays heavy on the partying (complete with retching sounds no less), but for the most part, it’s a great rock album.

                    19)  Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

The best evening/chill album of the year for me goes to this four piece from Texas who plays a style of music known as “Post Rock”.  Never heard that term before but I definitely like what I hear, which is strictly instrumental ambient music that when at its best starts from nothing and builds to a huge crescendo that bursts through the speakers in a way that few others do.  With only six tracks, the album clocks in at just over 45 minutes so each song takes you on a relatively long, yet very satisfying and exciting journey.

                                          18)  Panda Bear – Tomboy

This album took some time to grow on me but after a few months, I really saw how amazing it was.  Panda Bear (AKA, Noah Lennox) takes a much simpler approach than his previous and much more convoluted album Person Pitch which for me was a welcomed change.  However, some of the concepts and styles of this album are still very much in the same league as his previous solo efforts and those with his other group, Animal Collective as the album is chock full of electronics and beautiful harmonies that echo all over the place.  It’s not something many will like, especially right away, but upon repeated listenings you can really hear some amazing stuff going on here.

                                17)  Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials

What I can best describe as “Orchestral Rock”, Florence’s sophomore effort picks up from her first and does not deviate much from her boisterous sound that pretty much includes a full-blown orchestra complete with harp and background gospel singers.  She tops it off with a unique and powerful voice that is one of the best on the scene today.  Though the album is a bit long (over 70 minutes), most of the songs here are quite inspiring and at times even send chills down the spine.

                                       16)  Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

Sweden’s newest export is also one of its best.  Lykke Li came out with a great album that varies in song structure but keeps an overall production quality that is very reminiscent of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, and oddly enough, Li’s voice has a very Ronnie Spector type sound to it.  Mixing between slower, somber tunes and upbeat dance tracks with sticato timpani, Li has created an excellent album that bodes well for her future.

                                      15)  M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming

80’s synth-pop enthusiasts can take comfort that the genre isn’t totally dead as 2011 saw much welcomed returns from Duran Duran and the Cars, but the true accomplishment in this vain was this double album from the French musician, Anthony Gonzalez.  Throughout the 70 + minutes on this double album, Gonzalez doesn’t hold much back and gives us all hope that this type of rock was not just a fad and has a place in the 21st century. 

                                            14)  Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Critics love this band that is mostly the brain-child of Justin Vernon.  Unlike their debut album which is mostly stripped down acoustic songs, Bon Iver takes a different approach as a much fuller and produced effort that includes more electronics than its predecessor.  A very melancholy atmosphere permeates the album that compliments Vernon’s yearning falsetto nicely.  While I am not as much in awe of this band as others, I really appreciate this album which also may include some of the best yacht rock ever heard.  Particularly the phenomenal closer, “Beth/Rest”.

                                   13)  Middle Brother – Middle Brother

Touted as a “Super Group”, this debut album from the front men of Deer Tick, Delta Spirit, and Dawes is a very complete album divided almost perfectly by the three members who trade off on beautiful ballads with lush harmonies and all-out folk/roots rock.  “Super Group” may be a little overstated here as most people are unfamiliar with the three bands these guys come from, but for those of us who are familiar with their work, the title is not only apt, but the results far exceed any expectations this venture may have brought about.

                                              12)  Tom Waits – Bad As Me

Oh man, is this guy on some other level.  Waits is sometimes hit or miss for me and at times I need to listen to his stuff over and over again before I can truly begin to enjoy it.  But for some reason, it seemed easier with this album that is chock-full of that traditional junkyard rock as well as heartfelt ballads that Waits does so well.  Despite the fact that it seems harsh and unfamiliar, at the heart of each song is a great melody or blues riff that is hard to resist. 

                                       11)  PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

The first Harvey album I ever delved into has become one of the more intriguing albums I have heard all year.  Critics have always praised her stuff, but I never took a listen until last month.  This at times haunting and eerie album also has moments of funk and jazz as it incorporates a variety of instruments including horns, xylophones, and a crisp, light, and ambient guitar sound.  I can see why some feel Harvey’s piercing voice gets wearying, but I find it to be a great contrast to what is otherwise a very palatable and beautiful album.

                                        10)  Dawes – Nothing is Wrong

The sophomore effort from this Southern California band is very reminiscent of the rock styles that originated in that area in the 70’s when Jackson Browne hit the scene, which is why it’s even more appropriate that Browne guests on this album that is loaded with great rock melodies and harmonies.  There are also reminders of Crosby, Stills, and Nash and the Band here but Dawes somehow makes it their own sound.  And though admittingly I am not much of a lyrics person, the ones found here are some of the best I’ve heard.  It might not be as good as their debut from a few years ago, but a sophomore slump it is not. 

                                           9)  Foster the People – Torches

This year’s breakout indie rock band is a trio from L.A. who blew up the spot with their hit “Pumped Up Kicks”, which is the catchiest song ever written about chasing down a bunch of kids and firing bullets all over the place.  No matter.  Torches is a full-blown pop-indie masterpiece that demands head bobbing at the very least and an all-out spontaneous dance party at the most.  Fans of 80’s synth pop will find plenty to love here and snobby hipsters will have a tough time pretending they don’t like it just because they heard “Don’t Stop” one too many times on those stupid Nissan commercials.

                                               8)  Wild Flag – Wild Flag

Ever since one of my all-time favorite acts, Sleater-Kinney, went on “indefinite hiatus” in 2006, I only hoped that one day they would reunite.  While that has yet to happen, 2011 was the second year in a row that one of its lead members produced an excellent album; this year it was Carrie Brownstein’s turn.  She returns with SK drummer, Janet Weiss and members from two lesser known bands, Helium and the Minders, and produced an all-out kick ass indie rock/punk album that is much more reminiscent of SK’s sound than last year’s effort by Corin Tucker in the Corin Tucker Band.  While I still hope for SK to get back together, as long as albums like this are produced, that itch will remain scratched.

                                          7)  Wilco – The Whole Love

The eighth album from one of my all-time favorite bands begins with their most experimental song in some time, and then continues to take you through a variety of different rock, pop, and folk songs that span all kinds of emotions.  Some have said that this album represents a band that has truly come to know itself and is comfortable and knowledgeable about what it does well.  After repeated listenings, it’s hard to argue with that.  This is the sound of a band truly hitting its stride.

                                                     6)  Adele – 21

I don’t know who the dude was who broke this woman’s heart, but whatever he did, it must have been on an epically transcendent level of doucebaggery that has rarely been replicated before.  There is no other explanation for the passionate, personal, and emotional roller coaster that this album of blues, pop, soul, and folk takes you on.  The fact that Adele was only 22 when she started recording it is even more amazing.  Every so often an album comes around that regardless of what type of genre one likes, most anyone can get down to it.  21 is that album for 2011.

                                 5)  Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones

The surprise album of the year for me is the fourth LP from this English artist who does an amazing job of melding folk and punk rock that oftentimes results in all out sing along anthems.  I knew some of Turner’s work before and liked it fine, but I was just blown away by this album that not only includes the punk and folk rock mentioned above but also has some great English/Irish traditional sounds to it that brings me back to the Irish pubs I hung out in back in Dublin in 1998.  And it could very well include my favorite song of the year “I Still Believe”. 

                                    4)  Radiohead – The King of Limbs

Even when Radiohead miss it is still a hit for just about anyone else.  Despite the fact that this could be my least favorite Radiohead album, it’s still amazing and in typical Radiohead fashion, gets better with repeated listenings.  With their eighth studio album, the band has seemed to revert back to its Kid A sounds that includes very little guitar and more electronics.  But what really puts this album in the next level is when you hear and see the band perform it live.  They’ve recruited a second drummer to enhance the intricate percussion going on here and the fact that a band can replicate a highly produced album with little traditional instruments is very special.  Particularly when they make it sound even better live.

                                        3)  The Black Keys – El Camino

After last year’s release of Brothers, I didn’t think the Keys would top it, at least not within the span of one year.  Yet it appears they have as El Camino doesn’t mess around with any slower ballads.  Now I don’t mean to knock ballads, as the Keys do that style fairly well.  It’s just that they truly shine when they go upbeat.  With Camino they opt for straight up blues rock much in the way they did in their earlier efforts, but this time they combined a more lush and produced sound that truly amplifies their talents.  It also comes in at a very digestible 38 minutes that leaves you begging for more when it ends.

                                        2)  My Morning Jacket – Circuital 

My Morning Jacket is slowly becoming one of my favorite acts.  Along with their stellar performance at Bonnaroo this year, Circuital is making that fact apparent to me.  This album, while simpler than their previous effort Evil Urges, expands their sound a bit but in a way that is truer to their roots.  There are some epic rock tracks, dramatic tunes that sound like they came out of a James Bond film, and some of the most beautiful ballads heard all year.  From start to finish, this is an amazing album and a very promising assertion that this band is here to stay.


                                   1)  The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

The year’s best album for me is a very simple release, but one that reminds me of my true pleasures in listening to music.  I loved this album from the minute I heard it and I have yet to lose any interest.  Front man Colin Meloy diverted starkly from 2009’s convoluted and epic rock-opera The Hazzards of Love and came back to earth to produce an album full of folk/rock/pop gems that he stated is really where the band’s roots are.  It also doesn’t hurt that in doing so he channeled R.E.M. and Springsteen which is highlighted beautifully in “Down by the Water”.  I’ve listened to this album around 20 times and I find it nearly impossible to listen to it and get the smile off my face.  If that’s not qualification for album of the year, I don’t know what is.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Love Affair with Radiohead: Part 5 - Amnesiac

Man, time really seems to go faster and faster the older you get.  This past June represented the ten year anniversary of the release of Radiohead's fifth album, when in actuality, it feels more like its fifth anniversary.  I anticipate this will only get worse as the years go on.  By the time Amnesiac was released in the spring of 2001, I was totally hooked on Radiohead.  I probably listened to Kid A fifty times already (or at least it felt like I did) and I waited in anticipation for the so-called second installment to that classic record.  I was very much looking forward to a more guitar-driven album that had been promised through several reviews and word of mouth conversations.  I was still living in California during this time and continued to have virtually zero disposable income but unlike my previous experience, I was not hesitant to buy this album.  I made sure I had enough cash scraped together and the day it was released I walked to Amoeba Records in Berkeley after work (which to this day remains the greatest record store I have ever been to) and picked up a copy.  I can remember devouring the plastic wrapping to get to the CD so I could pop it in my Discman and listen to it immediately.  Say what you will about the benefits of digital media and MP3s and the future of the music industry, but few experiences and feelings will match those of actually purchasing a physical copy of a much anticipated album and tearing through it to give it that first listen.  I’m starting to feel like and old man, but screw it, it’s true.  When I was younger, buying music was much better than the way you kids do it these days, blah, blah, blah,………

I specifically remember the opening of “Pack Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box”.  It was electronic, but much more palatable than “Everything in its Right Place” the first time I heard it.  As I listened I was surprised to find zero guitars in the first few songs.  It wasn’t until a few listens that the “more guitars” promise I was given was understood to include only a few songs that were much more guitar-driven than any song on Kid A.  Though this was true and many songs were electronically driven, I still found this album easier to digest than its predecessor.  I remember seeing the video for “Pyramid Song” which also represents the last time I saw a new Radiohead video on MTV (or pretty much any video on MTV for that matter.  They gave that up years ago in favor of quality television programming).  The band was not pictured at all and the viewer was simply treated to a colorful display of a silhouetted figure swimming through a vast ocean as an eerie and syncopated piano part played in the background.  It was still weird, but more familiar.

Amnesiac also includes the only time the band ever released a different version of a previously recorded song.  “Morning Bell” is one of the last tracks on Kid A which was a song I liked very much, and despite the fact that Amnesiac is a much more user-friendly album than Kid A, its take on this song which is entitled “Morning Bell/Amnesiac” is more bizarre than the original.  Instead of the infectious and tempered drum beat and soothing electronic synths of the original, this new spin was much stranger and avant-garde.  And for some reason I was able to understand the lyrics better and realized that this song about divorce included the previously indecipherable lyric that was much clearer (and therefore also disturbing) in the new version: “Cut the kids in half”.   How cold can you get?

I’d probably have to say that my favorite track of this album is “You and Whose Army” which does a great job of taking a somber and slow-paced intro with a creepy combination of Yorke’s lead vocals and a background chorus of ooohs all put together by a slow strumming of non-distorted electric guitar.  All of a sudden a strong and urgent piano part comes in and takes you into a crescendo of a chorus that lasts a little over a minute but could go on for about five and you still wouldn’t want it to end.  I read a review somewhere in which the critic stated it was like “Hey Jude” in that he wished it kept going and going and I immediately understood what he was saying.

 I think it’s worth mentioning that the last song on the album “Life in a Glass House”, which is just another example of how creative and original this band had become, includes a crazy and jarring horn section that features a clarinet part that the band hired jazz great Humphrey Lyttelton to play on.  While Amnesiac wasn’t as groundbreaking or met with as much critical praise as Kid A, I think it is better in terms of how expansive it is.  There are still elements of the liquid and electronic type sounds of its predecessor, but there are more pop/rock/jazz oriented sounds as well.  In an interview, Yorke described the two albums and the differences between them: "Something traumatic is happening in Kid A… this is looking back at it, trying to piece together what has happened."  I still think trying to pick apart any meaning for Radiohead albums in general is difficult and fairly pointless for me, but I do like this explanation and can make some sense out of it.  Having said that, I don’t feel by listening to Amnesiac I therefore understand Kid A any better, but it is nice to juxtapose them against each other, particularly since they were recorded at the same time.

It would be several years before the band would release another album, but it was nice to have a live album released shortly after Amnesiac entitled I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings which was named after one of the tracks off Amnesiac, to tide us over.  While there are only eight songs on that album and seven of them are off Kid A and Amnesiac, the highlights include a previously unreleased and acoustic guitar-driven track “True Love Waits” (which remains for me one of their most beautiful songs) and a haunting live version of “Like Spinning Plates” driven by a walking piano part as opposed to the backwards electronic looping of the original version off of Amnesiac.  It makes you see the song in a total different light which is something the band became very good at doing and is one of the reasons I like them so much.

Overall, I don’t have as many specific memories with this album as I had with their previous recordings.  I will always associate it with that time in my life when I lived in California and started to become consumed and obsessed with the band.  It was also a very exciting time for me because I was treated to two new albums in less than a year which was a very common practice back in the 60’s but is essentially non-existent today.  Most importantly though, is that it gave me a glimmer of hope for their future.  I had read several articles and interviews about them that touched on the possibility of the band’s breakup or how difficult it had been to put these two albums together.  And while Kid A was a very depressing and disturbing album, Amnesiac acted more as a pick-me-up record with its more accessible sounds.  Lucky for me (and all of us, really) this glimmer of hope proved to be warranted as it would only take two years for their next album to be released.  The band had gone through a very trying time in the wake of the tour for OK Computer, and created two albums which highlighted their feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety in the dawning of the new century.  I think they got some of those negative feelings out of their systems and they became more focused and comfortable continuing on as a band.  This would result in them releasing an album that truly solidified their determination and desire to move forward in the years to come which was very good news for all of us.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Bonnaroo 2011 - Day 1

My sixth consecutive year attending Bonnaroo came to an end almost two weeks ago and like all previous years it was a blast and over way too fast.  It was amazing how quickly the weekend went and by the end of the event, I found myself thinking that a major festival like this is little more than sensory overload and it can be hard to describe what was seen or experienced.  Shows ran together and it became easy to forget how the sequence of each day went.  So while I will attempt to capture my experiences and all the acts I saw here, I’m sure I will neglect to include some memorable moment or revelatory observation that no doubt crossed my mind.  Maybe next time I should take a notebook or something just to jot things down.

We had a very large crew this year that included a ton of family members.  Uncle JB made his regular appearance as did his two sons, John and Shea, but the big addition to the group was JB’s wife and my aunt, Gail, who actually almost bailed at the last moment.  Two other cousins, James and Johanna, made the trip as did JB’s buddies Marty and John.  We left early on Wednesday morning and eventually met up with some other friends as well as some more family members including my uncle Billy and his kids Dan, Kevin, and Lauren from New York.  Lauren’s friend Stephanie also came.  It was almost like a family reunion, and come to think of it, Bonnaroo is a great place to have one, especially if everyone is down with the music as we all were. 

They opened the gates at 7:00 Wednesday night but it wasn’t until 9 that we got in line.  Our wait was a short one though as we entered the venue and parked our RV around 11:00.  This gave us plenty of time to set up our campsite and to get a good night’s sleep which is typically a rare event on the Wednesday night before the festival.  The other great thing about this was that it allowed us almost an entire day on Thursday to just hang out which was probably the longest period of pure socializing we had all weekend.  We played all kinds of games, had some beer, ate some food, and listened to tunes.  JB’s buddy O’Reilly had some excellent speakers set up and we took turns playing DJ throughout the weekend.  Our RV was parked right next to one of the main roads and right across a set of port-o-potties which meant a lot of people were subject to our musical selections, and the cool thing was that many people who walked past us seemed to sing along or dance to the music we were playing.  Before the weekend was over, we would receive all kinds of compliments.

I was also sending text messages back and forth with a few friends who were making the trek separately.  My friend Vanessa was coming from the Boston area with her roommate Gwen and my friend Mishka was coming from New York with her friend Tara and a few others.  I originally thought it would be easy to meet up with them if we kept sending text messages but I soon realized this was going to be more difficult than I thought.  I sent them both messages on Thursday morning but I did not hear back from them until much later that day.  Apparently, my amazingly awesome iPhone is rendered quite finicky at Bonnaroo.

Eventually the day moved on to where it was time to head out to catch some live shows.  We hadn’t seen one band yet but it felt like the weekend was already half over.  I’d have to go ahead and say that this was the best Thursday I’ve ever had at Bonnaroo.  This was capped off by a phenomenal spaghetti and meatballs dinner that was basically unheard of before this year.  Having my aunt Gail there was awesome enough, but it got even better when she decided to cook us all a big meal before we left.  It might seem fairly simple to you, but believe me, it was a big deal.  For someone to cook a full blown meal in that small “kitchen” in the RV was quite a feat.  And it was delicious.  Actually, I’m not even sure if it was on Thursday or Friday that she cooked this meal, but it is certainly worth mentioning. 


1)  The Futurebirds: 
The year got off to a good start with a set by a little known band from Athens, Georgia.  I chose to see them because while during my research, they seemed to be the best of the choices available.  Sometimes that’s just what you have to do as invariably there will be times when you aren’t dying to see any of the acts playing and while many take these times to relax, hang out, ride the Ferris wheel, shop, etc, I make sure I’m checking some band out.  This is when I stumble upon something great and have an amazing time.  The band was pretty solid playing a mix of country and rock tunes and they emphasized those sounds with the addition of a banjo and slide guitar.  They didn’t blow me away, but they were a lot of fun.

2)  Freelance Whales: 
Going into the festival, I was excited to hear this band that includes five multi-instrumentalists who play an indie/folk/pop type of music that almost always includes the xylophone.  I love seeing bands whose members constantly change the instruments they’re playing.  It shows a level of talent that many bands do not have.  Most bands and artists specialize in one or two instruments but when you have a group that specializes in three or four each, well that’s something unique.  I particularly liked the box accordion and the prominent sound of the xylophone in several songs.  At one point, one of the members played the xylophone and the bass guitar at the same freaking time!  Never saw that before.  This went down as one of the two best shows that I saw on Thursday night. 

3)  Best Coast: 
After Freelance Whales I tried to catch the end of Karen Elson’s set who happens to be Jack White’s wife (actually, I later learned that the two announced their divorce the next day.  Jack White is just severing all kinds of ties this year).  I knew she was a model but was not aware that she was a musician as well.  I thought I would be able to see a few songs but she was just ending as I arrived, meaning that she cut her set short about fifteen minutes.  Now artists may need to do this for one reason or another, but why bother advertising a set that is supposed to last an hour when you only do 45 minutes?  For dudes like me who try to see a lot of acts, this can get annoying.  At any rate, I headed over to check out the set by Best Coast whom I was familiar with and while I do enjoy the album they put out last year which is chock full of 50’s style pop songs with a distorted, low-fi twist, I have to say that this was probably the most disappointing set of the weekend for me.  They just didn’t sound good.  At one point the lead singer made a comment about people not looking like they were having a good time.  Think she wondered later if that was because they sucked?  I think that is bound to happen sometimes.  With today’s technology and production heavy albums, it can be hard for some bands to put on a good or comparable live show.  Sometimes the live sound is just way different and less enjoyable than the stuff created in the studio.  I toyed with the idea of trying to give them more of a chance, but my mind was made up.  I was off.

4)  School of Seven Bells: 
As soon as I arrived at this set, I wished I had been there from the beginning.  I heard a little of their stuff before leaving for the weekend and I thought their atmospheric rock/pop sound was interesting enough to check out.  I only saw a few songs as they closed their set but to me they seemed much more polished and enjoyable than Best Coast. 

5)  The Drums: 
My other favorite act of the night was by this group of Brooklyn pseudo-Smiths wannabes.  I just found all of their songs to be upbeat and catchy and for a band that I’ve never heard of, it was a lot of fun getting into their music right away.  Probably the most striking aspect of their set was the dancing styles of the lead singer which seems to deliberately trying to channel the 80’s.  Very good set from a band I would like to get more into.

6)  Sleigh Bells: 
Earlier in the evening, I made a phone call to JB, which didn’t go through, as many calls didn’t throughout the weekend, and after a few rings a plethora of text messages came through that most likely went back to the beginning of the day.  Vanessa and Mishka were texting me their various locations throughout the day and who they were seeing.  It was at this moment that I realized I could not receive a text message unless I made an outgoing call.  Not sure why the iPhone was acting such a way, but it’s basically how I had to operate throughout the weekend.  Anyway, I had somehow managed to connect enough with Mishka to secure a meeting place for Sleigh Bells who played right after the Drums.  I had a pretty good spot and decided to stay there to wait for Mishka.  As soon as the Drums left the stage the crowd started plowing forward to get closer for Sleigh Bells.  I soon found myself in what would turn out to be the most crowded shows of the weekend and one of the most crowded of my life.  As people pushed past me I tried to keep my position as it was since the further I got up, the more crowded it would no doubt be.  After a few minutes of trying to just remain standing, I heard Mishka’s voice call over to me.  She was just a few people over so I made my way to meet up with her and her friend, Tara.  We talked for a bit and the show began which was very loud and included a huge number of flashing lights that came from behind the band making it very difficult to see them.  People were dancing and going crazy and we were just trying to stay alive.  I was able to make out the setup on the stage which was basically a series of giant speakers.  No guitars or drums or keyboards, just a huge set of speakers.  After about four or five songs we decided to make our way out of the tent to get to a more comfortable spot.  The amount of feet I stepped on and people I bumped into was too many to count.  Although Mishka and Tara started off right behind me, it wasn’t long before we were separated and by the time I got to an area that was merely somewhat devoid of mass amounts of people I had lost track of them.  After a few moments they made their way through the sea of people unscathed.  We stayed outside the tent for a bit before they went back to their tent.  I stayed for the rest of the show and while I enjoyed it, it turned out to be not as fun as I would have liked.  The lead singer’s voice wasn’t all that great when I was able to hear it over the blaring beats coming from the speakers and I’m also just not a huge crowd guy.  Maybe I’m getting old or maybe I’m not cool enough but being in a huge crowd like that is just not my idea of a good time.  Overall it was a decent set.  I’m just glad we didn’t get hurt.

7)  Childish Gambino: 
Sometimes a band gets notoriety just because of its members.  Childish Gambino is fronted by comedian Donald Glover who is best known for his role as Troy on the NBC comedy “Community” (which is a really good show by the way).  I’m not saying Gambino isn’t good or that they’re only out there because of its famous member, but I’m sure that has helped them accelerate their career.  Glover also put on some comedy shows throughout the weekend but in the six years I have attended Bonnaroo, the only comedian I’ve seen is Chris Rock and that’s only because he played the main stage and there was no problem getting a spot for that set.  The comedians perform in the comedy tent which requires you to wait in a long line and miss some dope music.  So every year there are some great comedians, and I always pass.  But I was glad I got to see Gambino which is a hip-hop outfit.  By this time in the evening I was pretty tired and only stayed for about four songs.  What I heard I liked and what was most noticeable was Glover’s crazy voice which at times reminded me of Nicki Minaj.  It was almost a panicking sound.  I wished I was up closer and that I wasn’t so tired, but by this point I had enough and turned in for the night.