I’m happy to include some “local” (as in from the same state as I) cats on my list of top albums of the year. This is a blistering garage-blues record that further proves you don’t need a lot of fancy gadgets and studio trickery to make hard-hitting rock. They’re one of my favorite discoveries of the year.
This album is one of the best reactions to the year in politics that was 2017. Band leader Carl Newman has openly spoken about how the 2016 election and his battle with depression formed a lot of the songs on this record, but it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a lot of hope on this fine power pop album, and we all need a lot of that right now.
I didn’t expect to pick up a jazz fusion record this year, but this one is certainly outstanding and was all over the place in 2017. It made the top of many lists, too, and for good reason. It’s an incredible concept album about the day in the life of a guy who parties too much and knows he’ll probably regret it later. It’s the closest we’ll get to a Frank Zappaalbum any time soon.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got on a big post-punk kick this year and albums like this are the reason why. It’s a vicious takedown on corporate bigwigs, consumerism, and greed, and the music is sharp as a hatchet.
If you know me, then you’re not surprised that a Black Angels record made my top 30. They’re one of my favorite bands, and this album is one of their hardest-hitting in a long while. It, too, is a bit of a reaction to the 2016 election and the country we’re now living in and seeing on the nightly news, but the Black Angels also let us know that all things are transient and this, too, will pass.
We’re halfway to home! Who makes the cut? Come back soon to find out.
Who cracked the top 25 of my live shows I saw this year? Read on!
#25 – Temples – Valley Bar – Phoenix, AZ March 11th.
Temples were the last band to play on the Desert Daze lineup at the VIVA PHX music festival. It was my first time seeing them in a small venue, and they nailed it. They sounded perfect and delivered a solid set that earned them many new fans.
I’d wanted to see punk rock legends the Damned for a long while, and this show was pretty much what I’d hoped it would be. The crowd was a fun mix of punks, goths, and horror film fans, and moshing to “Neat Neat Neat” with the Damned only a few feet away was a delight.
#23 – Thundercat – Mamby on the Beach – Chicago, IL June 25th.
I’d heard a lot of good things about Thundercatprior to seeing him live at this music festival, and he didn’t disappoint. He and his two-man backing band played a great jazz fusion set in the middle of a festival mostly devoted to electronic dance music. He’s an amazing bass player, and seeing him shred live makes you appreciate his skill even more.
This performance from Italian prog / horror rock masters Goblin had a criminally light attendance, but they didn’t care. As usual, being at a Goblin show is like being in a giallo film. The whole atmosphere is creeping and fascinating. They also played a nice tribute to the late George Romero. Shame on you if you missed this one.
Who cracks the top 20? Tune in tomorrow to find out!
Keep your mind open.
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I don’t remember where I first heard of Thundercat (AKA Stephen Bruner), but I remember being amazed by his bass guitar skills. His fingers seemed to move on his guitar frets as nimbly as a spider racing across a web. I caught him live at Mamby on the Beach earlier this year, keen on hearing him live. He didn’t disappoint. He wowed the crowd with a jazz-fusion set that was unlike anything you heard the whole weekend.
His newest album, Drunk, is also unlike anything you’ve heard in a long while. It blends electronica with jazz, yacht rock, funk, and even a bit of trip hop. “Rabbit Ho” is a quirky intro with Bruner’s falsetto singing about friends coming and going from his life before it slips into “Captain Stupido,” which is a collaboration with one of his best pals – Flying Lotus. “I feel weird,” Bruner sings, perhaps speaking for all of us, as he struggles to get through the odd feelings that surround everyday activities like brushing your teeth. His bass and Lotus’ loops and beats are a killer combo.
“Uh Uh” is an instrumental showcase of Bruner’s stunning bass skills. Seriously, it will leave you dumbfounded. I have no idea how he plays that fast and that well at the same time. “Bus in the Streets” has Bruner watching the world go by and not wanting to get involved in the rat race. “Won’t you leave some things a mystery?” he asks in this age of everyone Tweeting, hash-tagging, and posting everything at every moment.
“A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)” is perhaps the greatest love song written to a cat of all time. Bruner sings about his admiration for his cat having nine lives, doing what he wants, and lying in the sun all day. “Everybody wants to be a cat. It’s cool to be a cat.” It has a groove as smooth as a cat’s walk, too.
“Sometimes you have to let it go,” Bruner sings in the opening of “Lava Lamp.” The song moves as languidly as its namesake. “I’m so tired. Where can I lay my head?” Bruner asks. It’s a common theme for a lot of us in these times. We’re so overwhelmed that we’re losing time to decompress. Flying Lotus comes back on “Jethro,” and brings wicked beats with him. “Show You the Way” has powerhouse guests Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, and both men show they can still slay a microphone (and a keyboard, too, in McDonald’s case). It’s a glorious return of yacht rock that you won’t realize you missed until you hear this track.
The special guests keep on coming as Kendrick Lamar drops some guest vocals on “Walk on By” – another groovy, smooth track. “Blackkk” is the smoothest song about overcoming fear of death I’ve ever heard. “Tokyo” would be great to have in your ears as you cruise through the city. Bruner sings about eating too much fish, blowing all his money on anime, and wanting to stay another night there.
“Jameel’s Space Ride” has Bruner dreaming about driving into space as he’s pulled over by the cops. “Friend Zone” is a sharp dis on someone keeping him at arm’s length instead of embracing him as a lover. “I’m your biggest fan, but I guess that’s just not good enough,” he sings as his bass and Mono/Poly’s synths deliver dance beats. “Don’t call me, don’t text me after two a.m., unless you plan on giving me some, ‘cause I got enough friends,” Bruner sings. Ouch.
In contrast, “Them Changes” (the first single) has Bruner singing about heartbreak. “Nobody move there’s blood on the floor, and I can’t find my heart. Where did it go? Did I leave it in the cold?” His bass groove on it gets into your circulatory system and won’t leave until you dance. Flying Lotus’ beats sure help, too (as they do on the next track, “Where I’m Going”). “Drink Dat” is a slow jam for people starting to wind down after partying in the late hours. “Can’t open my eyes, girl, ‘cause I’m just too wasted,” Bruner sings between raps by Wiz Khalifa.
“Inferno” is the most psychedelic track on the record with Lotus’ trippy beats. “3AM” has Bruner still awake despite being (according to the theme of the album by now) drunk and tired. His bass groove in it is something Christopher Cross hears in his dreams. “Drunk” gets as wobbly as its namesake thanks to Bruner’s reverbed bass and Flying Lotus’ melted cheese synths.
“The Turn Down” is a witty song about the aftermath of too much partying. Bruner laments the mess in his house, the location of Captain Planet (who might be one of Bruner’s cats), and guests who have lingered too long. Pharrell teams up with him on the track, and Bruner has said multiple times that Pharrell’s contribution to the track blew his mind. He does nail it.
The album ends with the great, keyboard-driven “DUI.” Bruner’s night went from drowning his sorrows, to a fun time, to exhaustion, to annoyance, and then either back home, jail, or the grave. “I’m so tired,” he sings again just before the keyboards turn into the sound of screeching tires and then fade into distortion. Did he crash? Did he make it home? Is he in the hoosegow?
Drunk is masterfully crafted, and the best-engineered and mixed album I’ve heard so far in 2017. It’s a stunning, eclectic piece of work. Only good things are ahead for Thundercat. Get Drunk.
I had never attended an electronic-themed music festival before my wife and I went to Chicago’s Mamby on the Beach at Oakwood Beach this year. They’ve been running this festival for a few years now, and I’ve been meaning to get to it since it’s practically in my back yard. This was also the first time I’d been to a beach in a long while.
The weather was good, although the wind did whip across the beach and adjoining park now and then. This was especially cold on Sunday night, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
One of the first things we discovered upon entering the festival is that large bottles of sunscreen aren’t allowed inside it. “You can put some on before you come in,” said the man checking our bags. He let me keep a small keychain bottle of it, but they were apparently worried I might be smuggling drugs or booze in my new bottle of SPF 30 lotion. Heaven forbid I try to take sunscreen to a music festival on a beach.
We cheered up when we saw the “Silent Disco.” It’s a clever idea. Everyone gets a pair of wireless headphones and the DJ’s set is live streamed to them.
It looks weird at first, because it appears to be a bunch of people dancing to nothing.
I like the idea, as did a lot of others. I thought I might have to try this when I get my DJ skills up enough to do such a thing.
We arrived early enough on Saturday to catch most of Ravyn Lenae‘s set at the Beach Stage. It was an adjustment to go from our usual “dancing in clubs” to “dancing on sand,” but we managed well. Ms. Lenae had a fun time performing in front of a hometown crowd and put down a nice R&B set. Her cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” was delightful.
We headed to the MixMag Tent to see British DJ Will Clarkeafter that. He had a great set and seemed to be having a good time. It was inspiring for me, as my digital turntables have gone ignored for months while I’m finishing a book on disaster movies. I later Tweeted that his set inspired me to dust them off. He replied, “Do it.”
After a nice snack of Leghorn chicken sandwiches and free Vitamin Water, we went to see electro trio Marian Hillplay at the Beach Stage. They turned out to be the best band we saw all day on Saturday. They were funky, sexy, and even a bit trippy at times.
Crowd favorites Miike Snowwere on after them, and they had a lot of us singing and jumping as the night got cooler and more people got higher. For the record, other people must have been allowed to bring in more than sunscreen because there was a lot of weed being blown at this festival, more than some of the Levitation festivals I’ve attended and those are psychedelic rock shows. We had to move to different places in the crowd multiple times to escape so much MJ smoke.
We ended Saturday by checking out part of Tchami‘s “future house” set at the MixMag Tent. It was big, bright, and booming.
It was also packed. The crowd couldn’t fit under the tent and extended well beyond it onto the beach.
We got back to our Air BNB place tired, sandy, and a bit sunburned, but ready for Sunday. We spent most of Sunday morning and early afternoon at Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade with friends, but then headed back to the beach in time to see STRFKRplay a fun set of dance rock that came complete with dancing and crowd-surfing astronauts.
We had time for some steamed chicken buns and turducken sausages before moving to the Park Stage for the first time all weekend to see Thundercat play a wild jazz fusion set that left some people confused and others (like me) wowed by the virtuosity of it.
We zipped back to the Beach Stage to see Cut Copy, who delivered the best rock set of the whole weekend. They came to kick ass and apply sunscreen, but they were denied the sunscreen. The whole crowd was bumping, and beach balls and rolls of toilet paper (“I feel bad for anyone who ends up sad in one of the port-a-potties,” said my wife) flew in every direction.
We ended the night, and the festival, with Flying Lotus. I’d been keen on seeing him for a while, and it was worth the wait. The sun had set and the temperature had dropped at least ten degrees from the start of the festival into the low 60’s by the time he started his set. Mandy was wrapped in a blanket and a lot of us were huddled in the crowd like penguins trying to stay warm off each other’s body heat.
It was a great set, full of stunning 3-D visuals and great mixes of both dance tracks and deep trip-hop stuff. One beautiful moment was when he mixed in Angelo Badalamenti’s theme to Twin Peaks.
The whole set was a mind trip. I wish I would’ve had 3-D glasses, but when I mentioned to a guy behind me how the visuals were 3-D he said something along the lines of, “I’m glad I’m not seeing it in 3-D. That would probably freak me out.”
It was a good time. Mandy summed up a lot of the crowd well. “It looks like a lot of people missing Greek culture over summer,” she said. Don’t get me wrong. We didn’t run into any douchebags. We did bump into a lot of trashed people, however. One woman was sobbing as we all left the venue. I stopped to make sure she was okay. She hugged me, told me I was “a good soul,” and then disappeared into the crowd.
Will we go back? We might, if the dates work out and the lineup is good. I sure wouldn’t turn down a press pass!
Thanks to everyone who tuned in for my WSND show last night and the big Mamby on the Beach preview. That went longer than I’d planned, so I didn’t get to the Mondo Moment or Holiday Music segments. They’ll be back either next week or the week after that. We didn’t have a winner in First and Foremost either, so that means I get to keep another cover song in my back pocket for future use.
Bass guitar whiz, rapper, singer, and producer Thundercat(Stephen Bruner) is one of the funkiest musicians around right now. His music ranges from funk to soul to psychedelia to prog-rock (and he also plays bass in Suicidal Tendencies). His collaborations with Erykah Badu, Flying Lotus, and Kendrick Lamar have all earned him wide acclaim (and a Grammy). His June 25th set at Mamby on the Beachis sure to be a must-see.