November 2006

Rune Grammofon 50th ReleaseEvery year, in the back of my head, in a place that really doesn’t matter to anyone other than myself and possibly a couple of my more seriously hardcore music friends, I pick out my favorite record labels each year. I comprise this list in a rather rough way, based on how many releases I enjoy by that label out of their total slate for the year, the packaging on those releases, and if the label has been putting out interesting stuff on a consistent basis (this last qualifier makes it hard for a new label to shoot to the top of said list during their first or even second year).

Having said all of the above, I’m going to have to pick out Rune Grammofon as my favorite label of 2006. While none of their releases knocked me for a loop as much as some of their past efforts, I enjoyed every single thing that they put out this year (okay, maybe not so much the Moha!), and most of their releases were simply outstanding. Supersilent’s 7 is worth watching at least once simply to see the mindblowing senergy of great live, improvisational musicians, the re-issue of the self-titled album from Phonophani is killer, Come Up For Air by The White Birch will be among my favorites for the year, and both Humcrush (Hornswoggle) and Susanna and The Magic Orchestra (Melody Mountain) put out excellent second albums. Throw in continued great packaging design from Kim Hiorthoy and the result is an adventurous label putting out some of the more exciting music being released over the course of the past couple years (Deathprod still has sections of just about every single gloomy day all carved out to himself).

In a close second place this year is long-time favorite Kranky Records, who not only largely moved to a different packaging look, but had one of their strongest batch of releases in several years. The latest Charalambides (A Vintage Burden) is a stunner, the debut from Benoit Pioulard (Precis) is outstanding, and Keith Fullerton Whitman released some of his best work (in my opinion) on the Lisbon EP. Oh, and in case that wasn’t enough, the label continued their track record of mind-melting ambient releases with great stuff from Chihei Hatakeyama (Minima Moralia) and Tim Hecker (Harmony In Ultraviolet). Hopefully they’ll just keep on kicking my butt in 2007…

Lastly, I figure I should mention Type Records. They’re still kinda the new kids on the block, but they’ve been coming on strong the past two years with some excellent releases and a constant great look with their packaging (and their website). As a smaller label, it seems like they’re doing just about everything right and have some nice little branches that extend out from their regular release schedule (from the excellent downloadable podcasts to the limited 7″ releases). They’re definitely someone to keep an eye on.

And They All Sang by Studs Terkel When I heard that Studs Terkel had a new(er) book out that was comprised entirely of interviews with musicians, singers, and composers, I did my best to track it down right away and move it to the top of my must-read pile. If you’ve been looking at this site at all in the past year, you know that Terkel is one of my favorite compilers of the human condition with his writing. He consistently manages to conjure up some of the most meaningful statements I’ve ever read, and the words usually come from “ordinary” people.

And They All Sang differs from his other books in part because all the people he interviews within are rather well known (at least within their particular field). Even though I follow music in general rather closely, I have to admit ignorance in terms of many of the people in the book (mainly opera singers and conductors).

While the above fact didn’t keep me from enjoying the book, I feel like it did hold back what I got out of it. The first one-third to one-half of the book focuses in on these singers and their craft before moving on to different sections that focus on composers (including Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copeland) that I really enjoyed a lot. From there, he’s onto jazz (including Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Keith Jarrett), blues/folk/rock (including Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Janis Joplin), and even includes an interview with Alan Lomax.

Out of all the interviews, the ones with Seeger and Lomax were by far my favorite. The Dylan interview was interesting, but like many done at the peak of his early mysterious phase, it seems much more leading and even slightly more fawning than Terkel usually gets. Seeger flat out had an interesting life and is an amazing storyteller, while as expected Lomax has some great tales to tell as well. His recollections of carrying around the amazingly heavy early “portable” recording equipment are practically worth the price of the book alone.

As a whole, And They All Sang had some great moments, but didn’t engage me quite as much as the usual work from Terkel. If I had a larger appreciation for opera, I probably would have enjoyed the book all the way through, and while there were definitely still interesting things to glean from their interviews, I wished I could relate more.

At approximately 7:20 a.m. this morning, I turned 32 years old. I was still sleeping at that juncture, and would continue to sleep for approximately 1 hours and 20 minutes past that time, which was only one nice part of a very good day. After waking up, I did a bit of internet reading, then opened some presents from TG (books! books! books!) then played with the dogs in the backyard before TG and I met up with some friends at a local Indian restaurant for an all you can eat buffet. It’s one of my favorite meals in town.

After lunch, we went to an opening at the textile gallery that TG helped curate, then came home and went for a walk with the dogs, as the sun was already starting to retreat at 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon. We both got some writing done, then had some dinner and a bit of carrot cake (also one of my favorites). To close it all out, we watched a couple Kids In The Hall episodes (including the infamous “Sausages!” skit) and again did some writing. All in all, a great day. I look completely goofy in the accompanying photo, but I guess that’s part of having a birthday too.

32nd birthday cake

After 2000 and 2004, I made a conscious effort this year to try and not get excited about any sorts of possibilities for Democratic gains in mid-term elections. I’d been burnt too many times, and while there were candidates that I was really excited about, I did my best to contain any real excitement that they in fact could possibly win, while talking to everyone who would listen about how great they were.

Now, election day has come and gone and the Dems have managed to gain control in both the Senate and the House. They picked up 6 seats in the former and what is currently a minimum of 29 in the latter (with several still being contested). They picked up several governor spots and didn’t lose an incumbent seat in either the Senate or the House. All in all, it was a rather amazing night of events.

A couple local candidates (Scott Kleeb and Jim Esch) that I was really impressed with didn’t win their races, but they’re both young and I have a feeling that each one of them will be back again in the near future. In addition, a crazy proposed amendment that I think really would have hurt our state (especially our educational institutions) went down in flames and our very own Ben Nelson (who’s not my favorite Senator, but anyway…) wiped the floor with a wingnutter opponent. I guess there were a few bright spots in the state.

On a national level, the Dems have now been put into an interesting spot. They’ve been given a majority, which I hope that they actually use to get some important issues tackled. The vultures will be waiting with knives drawn for any mis-steps, and I’m hoping for the good of the country that some party differences can be swallowed for the greater good at some point. Given the political climate of the past couple years, that’s a hell of an order, but for now my glass is half full (after seeming near empty for so, so long).