2020 IN MUSIC (PART 4 OF 4) – ALBUMS 25-1

I began my yearly Pop music wrap-up with Part 1 Saturday, re-capping most of my thoughts about the year in general and broached my favorite 25 songs of the year. Part 2 continued with my favorite LPs 175-101 listed, and then capsule reviews of 100-51 (in 25 LP increments). Yesterday’s Part 3, covered my favorite LPs listed 50-26 with brief reviews to each record. Today’s final offering is my favorite 25 records of the year. Enjoy and Happy listening.

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2020 IN MUSIC (PART 2 OF 4) – Albums 175-51

I began my yearly Pop music wrap-up with Part 1 yesterday, re-capping most of my thoughts about the year in general and broached my favorite 25 songs of the year. Today I continue with my favorite LPs 175-101 listed, and then capsule reviews of 100-51 (in 25 LP increments). Part 3, 50-26 is here (the final installment, Part 4, covers records 25-1 and is here). Enjoy and Happy listening.

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2020 in Music (Part 1 of 4) – Favorite 25 songs

I can’t recall a recent year from memory that will leave such a stark set of distinct memories as 2020 will, the result of a year full of ominous events and much hardship. Major historical events came, from hellacious wildfires to a global COVID-19 pandemic, every week lurched forward as the months slowly passed, you gradually learned that getting out of bed meant scrolling what only promised to be more bad news. Then, at the end of May, more did come when a Minneapolis cop, Derek Chauvin murdered African-American George Floyd who was in his custody for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill. The punishment—putting the full brunt of his weight on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 full minutes, effectively suffocating him—was extreme for such a relatively small crime, or any crime for that matter. But given it was caught on video tape, it ceased to be merely another in a string of assaults, or worse murder, at the hands of the police, and sparked world wide protests in response. Some, in various degrees, remain. Then there was was the constant anxiety offered from the White House, whether it was impeachment at the beginning of the year, or a COVID-19 response that skirted scientists, preached the virtues of possibly drinking bleach as a cure, and generally always bordered on a circus clown show. Then, the eventual questioning of the democratic process as a whole, 2020 couldn’t go out any other way. More specifically to Pop, as any year can attest, we lost a number of true legends, from legendary pioneer Little Richard, drummer Neil Peart, Soul Makossa, soul singer-songwriter Bill Withers, folk balladeer John Prine, Afrobeat legend Tony Allen, trailblazer Millie Small (who authored ‘My Boy Lollipop’ one of the sweetest pieces of Pop confection you’ll ever hear), Phil May, Ennio Morricone (who touched Pop only briefly, but did hundreds of great soundtracks that have transfixed rockers since his earliest efforts), Peter Green, Wayne Fontana, electronic originator Simeon Coxe, Toots Hibbert, Johnny Nash, guitar maverick and virtuoso Eddie Van Halen, Gordon Haskell, Spencer Davis, Charley Pride, and Leslie West, amongst dozens of others.  

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My Favorite 150 Records of 2019

It was, by nearly all accounts, a tremendous year for Pop. Of course, given the nearly limitless ways new music can be offered out and streamed, this is true for any given year. There are never bad years for music, just as there are never bad years for movies, the only difficulty is perhaps the opposite; the extreme over-abundance of riches and the difficulty to stream all, or even a reasonable percentage of it. Meaning, I’m presenting a huge list this year because I listened to a lot, being blessed to work at a job where hours are spent working with headphones affixed in my ears for long passages. Thus, I got to well over 250 new releases this year, and sampled dozens more enough that I could make judgement. But still I know there are masterpieces that I haven’t even heard of, and probably never will. Such is life, but I do hope I offer enough of an argument to prompt listens to new music that a reader here wasn’t previously aware. I remain, as ever, a devoted follower in the Church of the Sonic Guitar.

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2019 OCTOBER HORROR-A-THON: THE SECOND ELEVEN

Horrors of the Black Museum (A. Crabtree… 1959)
Circus of Horrors (S. Hayers… 1960)

Anglo-Amalgamated Productions, the great rival to Hammer in late 50’s/early 60’s British genre cinema, has largely been absent from discussion when great works of the period are debated. Hammer had the heavies in front of the camera (Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley and Oliver Reed) as well as behind it (Freddie Francis, Terence Fisher, Jimmy Sangster) and, in the subsequent years, lucrative home video distribution deals, always insuring that their films were easily available in VHS or DVD packages across region. I wondered if that was why Hammer has so lapped AAP in genre fans opinions, as outside the two Corman UK Poe films made with AAP (Masque of the Red Death and Tomb of Ligeia) you don’t often hear the films uttered positively with the greats. Perhaps when you look through their catalogue you begin to see why: nearly half are Carry On films, the British version of National Lampoon; cheeky humor, often made solely to cash in on poking fun at prevailing popular movements and genres elsewhere (akin to ‘spoof’ movies). Then there are all the dramas: kitchen sink/angry young man films that they made about about a dozen of, many of which are masterpieces of their type, but decidedly not Horror. Criterion’s release of Peeping Tom (1960) more than a decade ago helped expose it to many American fans, myself included, but it was often stated on the back of Michael Powell’s shoulders, and not anything to do with AAP’s assistance. Taken all together, it’s not hard to see why they’ve lagged against Hammer then, Hammer was committed to one type of film and they poured out variations, some having more gore than others, all having a baseline in quality insuring they were the high-water mark (still) for British Horror. But AAP, at the dawn of the 60’s, managed three films in stark relief to Hammer’s supernatural hysterics and spooky period films. There’s the earlier mentioned Peeping Tom, one of Horror’s darkly subversive and perverse masterworks, and then there’s the two being considered today. Taken as a trio, remarkably, they’re nearly able to challenge the first wave of Hammer films that grossly outnumbered them. Continue reading

2018 in music, my favorite 90 records

I tweak how I present my top 50 every year, sometimes picking a top disc and then offering the next dozen or so unranked. Other years I merely put the 50 selections in three tiers, and then separate out a definitive, standout top 5. Sometimes, I’m straightforward, and do a full 50-1 ranking in the best order I can manage. In attempt to always mirror what I feel is most appropriate given the years output, this year, I’ve found a clear top favorite, but also a number of terrific EPs. Thus I’ve included many EPs this year in an otherwise strictly albums list. The additional twist this year is I’ve gone all the way to 90, since I listened to so much new stuff this year, and attempted to include most of what I thought was truly exemplary. Then, I tried to thanklessly rank it all, knowing full well that after about 10 or 20 it’s all pretty arbitrary, and I hope that the small right ups will provide enough information for listeners to potentially hone into stuff they might find particularly agreeable.   

Happy listening. Protect your ear drums boys and girls, you only get one set.

My Favorite Album of the Year, 2018:

1. IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Merely attacking toxic masculinity is low-hanging fruit, but discussing its systemic roots in song is altogether more illuminating. But why IDLES second is so tremendous is that they also offer ways out, or refuge for the victims of such an environment. That it is often heartbreakingly touching and always at the cusp of noisy, brilliantly performed rock n’ roll music, it was places it at the top of my list. The best songs—the pro-immigration ‘Danny Nedelko’, the depression lifeline ‘Samaritans’, the tense ‘Colossus’, and the body image drenched ‘Television’—are some of the best of the year, and after their triumphant display on their Jools Holland introduction, you’re in for the next of the great English rock bands. They’re here.  Continue reading

Songs I Love: ‘Hey Old Lady and Bert’s Song’

The other day, probably in response to Ken Burns’ new miniseries Vietnam War, I saw a discussion online about pop songs that should never be used again in service of soundtracking the events of US involvement in southeast Asia in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. You could guess the ones overused; Hendrix’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son’, Jefferson Airplanes ‘Volunteers’, Grand Funk Railroad’s ‘Closer to Home’, the Doors ‘Break On Through’ or ‘The End’ etc, all good songs to be sure, but all heavily overused in pop culture on the topic (I’d even seen a few people calling the Stooges ‘Search and Destroy’ overused what with its opening line concerning a ‘heart full of napalm’). So then the conversation turned to what to use instead? It’d need to be anthemic, or at least righteously angry on the topic at hand (and made in the era in question), and catchy enough to prompt something akin to familiarity on first listen. I started to drift around to many options, it was the first real era of mainstream searing electric guitar. Continue reading

Get the Led Out (of Here)

A funny joke of a pun started the idea behind this months mix—one that any hard rock fan who counted the Who over Led Zeppelin in their formative years has probably thought at least a hundred times. With dozens of friends over the years, not to mention classic rock radio DJ’s, insisting that Led Zeppelin, and not the Who, where the best English rockin’ band featuring a gonzo drummer, an incredibly gifted and underrated bass player and, and a cocksure front man with golden locks to his shoulders (oddly enough these aren’t the only two that fit that description!) it was nearly enough to drive us Who fanatics insane. I’ve alway remained steadfast that the Who are where it’s at—in many ways Led Zeppelin to me were birthed in an attempt for Jimmy Page to have his own Who to himself. Thus, via the very definition of ‘derivative’, Led Zeppelin were always a slightly more sluggish, prodding, less cerebral Who. In effect, a Who for the bar crowd who were thicker than any Porter on the menu.  Continue reading

Allan Fish Online Film Festival 2017

Today, Thursday, May 11th Wonders in the Dark will be hosting a 16 day Allan Fish Online Film Festival (Allan Fish OFF), of which I am a part of. The rules are simple; each day will see a new chairman host the festivities and select a film that is available to be watched by anyone, online for free from a popular streaming site (youtube, vimeo, dailymotion, etc.). The host for that day will decide how the film they chose will be presented; an essay, a sparse teaser introduction, or ‘other’ (the creativity seen on the blogosphere for film commentary knows no bounds as we all know). Thus, conceivably the film festival could be nearly real; people anywhere on the globe watching the same film, at roundabout the same time. It’s named in honor of our dear friend and film scholar Allan Fish, whose birthday was May 11th, and will be an annual event from this day forward. He found so many of his treasured Obscuro’s doing just what we’re setting out to do with this Festival, so it seemed the most fitting way to remember him. More information on the festival can be found here, with the first post here.


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