Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The best music of 2007?

When some of my friends hear me prattle on praising the best music of the year, they return kind but quizzical looks. “I couldn’t name a single record released in 2007,” one confessed.

To the person not paying attention, the music business is just another struggling, mainstream behemoth adjusting to the chaotic forces of a millennial market ecology. To me, it’s the anti-business of amazing artists arriving at the mysterious threshold to perpetually massage my ears, head, and heart.

While I cannot name the day when I went from being a serious music fan and zinester-turned-blogger to an obsessed pop music fanatic, webzine editor, festival frequenter, and weekly radio host, my appreciation for great music in 2007 can be measured in part by how much of my free time I devoted to this third career. Of course, I remember this reckless rock and roll ache from my high school days: the unquenchable ecstasy of slipping out on weeknights to catch shows and staying up until dawn to write about them.

As I read in a recent Rolling Stone news blip, many industry insiders predict that the portable, digital jukeboxes of the online subscription services will pave the future of for the serious fans. I must confess my unequivocal concurrence. While the brand-name matters little (for me it’s Napster-to-go and a compatible Creative Zen player), the construct has changed my listening habits in seismic shudders of sheer ear-bleeding bliss. Now, I know that “instant gratification” gets a bad rap in some circles, but to me, music acquisition has never been so soothing and seductive an adventure, with me lovingly clicking away at the laptop to access the universe without ever unhooking the headphones. Radiohead’s visionary gesture to bypass it all and offer its injection of fuzzy confection directly to fans was the download heard round the world. I’m still trying to reckon with the In Rainbows hype and backbite and may be for some time to come.

Back in “oh-four,” Bush-bashing was the bait on every agit-prop artist’s hook, and while anti-war anthems continue to populate many of the year’s best records, a topical shift has us treading on waters even more choppy with the waves of fear and future-shock. Eight years since we partied like it was 1999, global dread has grown into a pop commodity of delectable desperation.

Whether it’s Yeasayer transporting us to the year “2080” or the Klaxons clamoring about the “Four Horsemen of 2012,” whether it’s the “Doomsday” clock ticking inside Billy Corgan’s head or Conor Oberst going to Cassadega to commune with the dead, whether it’s Arcade Fire’s church-choir churning out the symphonies for the next great flood or Eddie Vedder’s stripped-down soundtrack to a tree-hugger’s traumatically romantic suicide wish, the end-of-the-world never sounded so simultaneously comforting and creepy. Wasted like Amy Winehouse, drunk on absinthe and the apocalypse, I remember the sword-swallowing performance artist who told me in 2006, “I never had a drinking problem when that Democrat was president.” As the calendar crashes toward another turn, rock’s growl and grime and synth-pop’s glam and slime are our answer to the sub-prime crisis, once again mortgaging our souls to rock and roll!

Beyond a faithful, begging obsession with songs about the end, my tastes turned south—as in down South—this year. More and more, I’ve been listening to homespun discs of Appalachia-meets-Americana roots rock. In literature, music, and life, my interests have always drifted to the down-home and the down-there darkness of sexy spirituals—but lately, I’m rooted there more than ever before. Perhaps the Tennessee spring water or the local ‘shine has finally got to me, but from the annual Bonnaroo to frequent trips to the Ryman, I’m getting more and more comfortable with the musical mood of my chosen place of residence.

One: Band of Horses—Cease to Begin

Frankly, I can’t turn this record off. It’s one to listen to every day and do to your soul like orange juice and yoga. Perhaps it’s the general darkness of the times that adds to the seductive denial of this disc’s sunny disposition. Born-again southerner Ben Bridwell brings the happy noise—a heart-swell of sing-a-long indy lushness, something to soothe the people pining for the next My Morning Jacket record.

Two: The Arcade Fire—Neon Bible

All the ink spilled and inspiration testified regarding this record: it’s all true and then some. When Neon Bible snuck into my ears in late winter, it wrecked me. The prophetic surge of this sonic collective caressed my brain’s brawn and belligerence. Beyond protest poems, these piercing hymns of hypnotic hopelessness are too believable and beautiful to deny. When I saw this group live in early May, it was one of those moments for permanent memory and bragging rights. Months later, the mystery and magic hold.

Three: Kings of Leon—Because of the Times

In this crunchy, country barbecue of bass lines and drum fills, we find a relentless local recipe of guitar riff and lyrical myth. Lithe and lethal, my Kings of Lebanon have littered rock’s reputation with their own reckless revision of the rags to riches myth. Basically, these are some young men with a serious yearning and willingness to bypass the brutal trenches that makes permanent bar-bands of too many of their potential peers.

Four: Radiohead—In Rainbows

Thom Yorke’s yummy yawp gives years to the moment, extending the instant of the download-heard-round-the-world into an eternity. The gritty weightless gravity of Greenwood’s guitar can crush the buzz about the band’s anti-business decision to basically give the album away. There’s too much good about this band and this gesture to package into a “best of” summary—this is the business of isness: something historical, something special, and something transcendental.

Five: Yeasayer—All Hours Cymbals

Let the choir sing! Too gospel to be either pop or punk, this band is gooey and gritty enough to be both. Yeasayer’s yumminess pushes the boundaries of indy-everything into tribal effervescence. We can hear echoes of TV on the Radio and Talking Heads and town square sing-a-longs. Tapping the spiritual advantages of a mixed-up and magical musical messiness, this Brooklyn brew begs new definitions of brilliance. A harrowing urban hoedown of hope and secular holiness. A band my spirit has been waiting for!!

Six: The Cave Singers—Invitation Songs

We all know that folk is punk in too many ways, yet here we go again: not another ensemble of ex-rockers turned motherfolkers! But the labels and litanies don’t really matter when the mojo gets you in the guts of darker regions. From the depths of your heart’s imaginings, this collection of hypnotic campfire hymns could conjure hope or hate or any other idea or emotion—bringing beautiful songs like water from the well, like heaven from hell, like honey nectar from the root of nothingness.

Seven: Bright Eyes—Cassadega

Many might learn about the backlash before they dig the devout musical and lyrical brilliance in Bright Eyes. Sure, it’s sometimes hard to stomach a prolific prodigy, but make that pretender the person of Conor Oberst, dubbed the “frog prince of emo,” recently blamed by one blogger for this year’s Omaha shootings, and we have the makings of a critical mess. Listeners would best leave behind internet inferences and fleeting reputations. Instead, just cue-up Cassadega, a convincing folk-rock epic that’s even more emotionally relevant when divorced from the “emo” tag and all its baggage. Look, let’s just check the band’s references: the likes of lush-alt-country goddess Gillian Welch is willing to open for Bright Eyes at the Ryman, and from this, we might accept that all the comparisons to the freewheeling young Dylan are more than so-much hype for a post-hippy prophet in his own right.

Eight: The White Stripes—Ikky Thump

Nothing complicated about the bullshit-skewering white-boy blues brought by Jack White as it rips back the meat to suck on the bones. Dueling doubt, this duo disses the dressed up music of every other genre, offering straight shots of Tennessee moonshine and pure injections of Motor City mojo. Friends like to tease me about how much I love this band for its red-and-black, Tennessee-to-Detroit shit-kicking axis of anti-evolution, and I don’t mind. I love to listen to the girls that love Jack and the boys that love Meg and all the old-school primary colors of genius generated by the many stripes of our fandom.

Nine: Iron and Wine—The Shepherd's Dog

Years ago, friends tried to turn my head to Iron and Wine, but my attention wavered and went elsewhere. With this new record reckoned “a significant departure,” I’m joining the club of faithful without reservation. Sweetly soothing songs from Sam Beam could carouse with the dead. Just the delivery could turn anyone on to all night séances with everything—but then there’re the lyrics. With this collection, surrealist verses stir the heart muscles of adept students listening to their lessons from a stoned William Faulkner-meets-Shel Silverstein shaman.

Ten: Ryan Adams—Easy Tiger

For the last few years, I’ve finally taken the time to gently gravitate into the albums of artists whose reputations more than preceded them. Among many other new loves, this is the year I finally embraced the indy-twang of the incomparable Ryan Adams. Since my ears for music always need to keep pace with my eyes for good music criticism, I rarely arrive at an artist without expectations. With Adams, let’s just say the road I had to walk was steeper than with others. But after seeing an unforgettable live set on a rainy October night, my appetite for the albums increased infinitely. And I’m still unschooled enough to really dig Easy Tiger without comparing it to previous works.

1. Band of Horses—Cease to Begin

2. The Arcade Fire—Neon Bible

3. Kings of Leon—Because of the Times

4. Radiohead—In Rainbows

5. Yeasayer—All Hours Cymbals

6. The Cave Singers—Invitation Songs

7. Bright Eyes—Cassadega

8. The White Stripes—Ikky Thump

9. Iron and Wine—The Shepherd's Dog

10. Ryan Adams—Easy Tiger

11. The National—Boxer

12. Wilco—Sky Blue Sky

13. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss—Raising Sand

14. Editors—An End Has A Start

15. Eddie Vedder—Music for the Motion Picture Into The Wild

16. Amy Winehouse—Back to Black

17. Puscifer—V is for Vagina

18. Akron/Family—Love Is Simple

19. Kanye West—Graduation

20. Rilo Kiley—Under the Blacklight

21. Okkervil River—The Stage Names

22. Feist—The Reminder

23. Future Clouds and Radar— Future Clouds and Radar

24. Bruce Springsteen—Magic

25. Dirty Projectors—Rise Above

26. Common—Finding Forever

27. Neil Young—Chrome Dreams II

28. Elvis Perkins—Ash Wednesday

29. Celebration—The Modern Tribe

30. Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals—Lifeline

31. Marie Siouxx—Faces in the Rocks

32. the everybodyfields—Nothing Is Okay

33. Aaron Ross—Shapeshifter

34. Sigur Ros—Hvarf Heim

35. MGMT—Oracular Spectacular

36. Annie Lennox—Songs of Mass Destruction

37. Against Me!—New Wave

38. Joni Mitchell—Shine

39. The Nightwatchman—One Man Revolution

40. Blonde Redhead—23

41. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club—Baby 81

42. Maria McKee—Late December

43. Cabin—I Was Here

44. Smashing Pumpkins—Zeitgeist

45. Dr. Dog—We All Belong

46. PJ Harvey—White Chalk

47. Interpol—Our Love to Admire

48. The Good, The Bad and The Queen—The Good, The Bad and The Queen

49. Mavis Staples—We’ll Never Turn Back

50. Michelle Shocked—ToHeavenURide

51. Menomena—Friend and Foe

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

TOTR Playlist 13 for 12-10-2007

For my 13th show, more than 13 hours of the best music of 2007!!

Thanks so much for all the emails, text messages, phone calls, and posts on the Facebook wall, etc.

When I began this project back in September, my only real fear (despite the occasional technical faux pas) was a lack of audience. Friends, colleagues, fellow deejays, and former students—you have inspired me more than you can know with all the positive feedback. Because of you, this Teacher on the Radio will come back with an even better show in 2008. We return in January with “The Unofficial History of Punk Rock” on 1-14, “Dreaming On for Dr. King” on 1-21, and a “Band of Horses Special Edition” on 1-28.

Chapter One: Out of the Zone (6:10pm-7:50pm)

Coheed & Cambria - No World For Tomorrow

Coheed & Cambria - The Hound (of Blood and Rank)

Coheed & Cambria - Gravemakers Gunslingers

Puscifer - Sour Grapes

Saul Williams -No One Ever Does

Kanye West - Homecoming\

Kanye West - Big Brother\

Common - The People

Common - Southside

Common - Forever Begins

Wyclef Jean featuring Paul Simon

Bad Brains - Send You No More Flowers

Bad Brains - Peace Be Unto Thee

Against Me! - Up the Cuts

Against Me! - White People for Peace

Against Me! - Stop!

Paramore - crushcrushcrush

Paramore - Hallelujah

The Almost - Say This Sooner

The Almost- Amazing, Because It Is

Chapter Two: A Gospel of Girls, Good New Songs by the Good Ol’ Boys, and More (7:50pm-10:30pm)

The Killers - Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll

Cake - War Pigs

Rilo Kiley - Silver Lining

Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight

Rilo Kiley - Give a Little Love

Jana Hunter - Oracle

Tegan and Sara - Burn Your Life Down

st. vincent - Jesus Saves, I Spend

Eleni Mandell - Wings In His Eyes

PJ Harvey - Before Departure

Amy Winehouse - You Know Im No Good

Joss Stone - Bad Habit

Annie Lennox - Sing

Feist - Sealion

Maria McKee - Late December

R.E.M. - #9 Dream

U2 - Wave of Sorrow

Bruce Springsteen - Gypsy Biker

Bruce Springsteen - Girls In Their Summer Clothes

Neil Young - Beautiful Bluebird

Neil Young - Boxcar

Neil Young - Shining Light

Neil Young - The Believer

John Fogerty - River Is Waiting

John Fogerty - Summer Of Love

The Nightwatchman - One Man Revolution

Steve Earle - Sparkle And Shine

Steve Earle - Come Home To Me

Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals - Say You Will

Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals - Lifeline

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Killing the Blues

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Please Read the Letter

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Your Long Journey

Over the Rhine - If A Song Could Be Presiden

Lucinda Williams - Everything Has Changed

Joni Mitchell - Bad Dreams

Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi

Joni Mitchell - Shine

Michelle Shocked - Study War No More

Mavis Staples - Turn Me Around

(Brief interlude with Delta Spirit and Danger & the Steel Cut Oats while restoring lost playlist)

Chapter Three: Already Classic Alt-Rock, Etc. (11pm-4:00am)

Dubconscious - Stereotype

John Butler Trio - Better Than

Kaiser Chiefs - Loves Not A Competition

The Bravery - Believe

Modest Mouse - People as Places as People

The Smashing Pumpkins - Doomsday Clock

Arcade Fire - Keep The Car Running

Arcade Fire - Intervention

Arcade Fire - (Antichrist Television Blues

Kings of Leon - On Call

Kings of Leon - Ragoo

Bright Eyes - Four Winds

Bright Eyes - Hot Knives

Bright Eyes - No One Would Riot For Less

Iron Wine - Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car

Iron Wine - Carousel

Iron Wine - Flightless Bird, American Mouth

Wilco - Either Way

Wilco - What Light

Wilco - On and On and On

The National - Fake Empire

The National - Squalor Victoria

The National - Slow Show

Ryan Adams - Two

Ryan Adams - The Sun Also Sets

Ryan Adams - I Taught Myself How To Grow Old

Band Of Horses - Is There a Ghost

Band Of Horses - Ode to LRC

Band Of Horses - Marry Song

Band Of Horses - Cigarettes, Wedding Bands

Okkervil River - Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe

Okkervil River - Savannah Smiles

Okkervil River - The Stage Names

White Stripes - 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues

White Stripes - Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn

White Stripes - Rag And Bone

White Stripes - A Martyr For My Love For You

White Stripes - I'm Slowly Turning Into You

The Good, The Bad and The Queen

The Good, The Bad and The Queen - A Soldiers Tale

The Good, The Bad and The Queen - The Good, The Bad And The Queen

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (B.R.M.C.) - Killing The Light

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (B.R.M.C.) - American X

Foo Fighters - Come Alive

Foo Fighters - Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running)

Foo Fighters - Home

Editors - Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors

Editors - When Anger Shows

Editors - Spiders

New Pornographers - Unguided

New Pornographers - The Spirit Of Giving

Cabin - I Was Here

Cabin - Dance with Me

Blonde Redhead - 23

Blonde Redhead - My Impure Hair

M.I.A. - The Turn

Interpol - All Fired Up

Klaxons - Atlantis to Interzone

Radiohead - Bodysnatchers

Radiohead - All I Need

Radiohead - House Of Cards

Yeasayer - Sunrise

Yeasayer - Many Waves

Yeasayer - Red Cave

Eddie Vedder - Hard Sun

Eddie Vedder - Society

Eddie Vedder - End Of The Road

The Cave Singers - Helen

The Cave Singers - Dancing On Our Graves

The Cave Singers - Elephant Clouds

Explosions in the Sky - The Birth And Death Of The Day

Chapter Four: Freak Folks, Obscure Oracles, Mellow Meditations, and Other Freaky Folks for 4am Friends (4am – 8am)

AkronFamily - Ed Is A Portal

AkronFamily - Lake SongNew Ceremonial Music For Moms

AkronFamily - Theres So Many Colors

AkronFamily - Love, Love, Love (Reprise)

Dirty Projectors - Six Pack

Dirty Projectors - Thirsty and Miserable

Dirty Projectors - Rise Above

MGMT - Of Moons, Birds Monsters

MGMT - The Handshake

MGMT - Future Reflections

Future Clouds and Radar - You Will Be Loved

Future Clouds and Radar - Wake Up and Live

Future Clouds and Radar - Christmas Day 1923

Super Furry Animals - The Gift That Keeps Giving

Super Furry Animals - Let The Wolves Howl At The Moon

Drug Rug - The Sound Alone

Dr. Dog - Alaska

The A-Sides - Sinking With The Ship

The Polyphonic Spree - Section 30 (Watch Us Explode [Justify]

LCD Soundsystem - All My Friends

Pela - Anytown Graffiti

Georgie James - Cheap Champagne

Jesse Malin - Love Streams

The Shins - Phantom Limb

Stars - Set Yourself on Fire

Apostle of Hustle - National Anthem of Nowhere

Sunset Rubdown - WingedWicked Things

Sunset Rubdown - Colt Stands Up, Grows Horns

Manchester Orchestra - Where Have You Been

Menomena - Wet And Rusting

Andrew Bird - Simple X

Jason Isbell - The Magician

Bishop Allen - The Broken String

Hayward Williams - Redwoods

Mariee Sioux - Wild Eyes

Mariee Sioux - Two Tongues

Lee Bob Watson - Come on Home

Aaron Ross - Looking Glass Mass

Aaron Ross - Sin is a Spell

Elvis Perkins - All the Night Without Love

Elvis Perkins - The Night

the everybodyfields - Aeroplane

the everybodyfields - Lonely Anywhere

Angels Of Light - Star Chaser

Art In Manila - Spirit, Run

Mum - Blessed Brambles

Sigur Ros - Salka

Sigur Ros - Hljómalind

Sigur Ros - Í Gær.wma

Sigur Ros - Von

Monday, December 10, 2007

Final Exam: Chapter Outline

Tonight, for Teacher On The Radio’s 13th (and final) installment of the semester, I have a mix of 184 songs prepared on my laptop to play between 6pm and 7am. Depending on how the night goes and who shows up (and when) for morning rotation, I may exceed my thirteen-hour shift.

To the best of my knowledge, every song was released in 2007.

A complete playlist will follow, but here is my outline for the evening and the morning, divided into chapters. All times are estimates, of course.

Chapter One: Out of the Zone (6pm-7:30pm)
It’s supposed to be music variety, and I’m going out of my comfort zone just a little here with some recent prog metal, hip-hop, and pop-punk. Several shout-outs and dedications in this segment…….Not what we regularly hear on this show, but yo, so what!!!

Chapter Two: A Gospel of Girls, Good New Songs by the Good Ol’ Boys, and More (7:30pm-10pm)
B-sides, live tracks, and the intelligent babes of the music biz. And so much more. Too many of my favorite rock records of the year were recorded by men. But around 8pm, expect a hefty dose of aural affirmative action and estrogen energy with many of my favorite female vocalists of the year featured here. And most of the best of the best are younger than me. But many of WTTU’s deejays weren’t even born when I started listening to some of the artists featured in this section. Who said old fogies can’t kick it? Since I don’t expect my faculty friends to make it all night with me, there are several tracks here I think they will love.

Chapter Three: Already Classic Alt-Rock, Etc. (10pm-3:30am)
As much as I love other genres of music, alt-rock is, has been, and probably will always be my first and true love. In five hours of music and at least a few minutes of chatter from me, check out some of the best of the best of 2007. This is the stuff we will hopefully still listen to a year—or years—from now.

Chapter Four: Freak Folks, Obscure Oracles, Mellow Meditations, and Other Freaky Folks for 4am Friends (the graveyard shift til dawn and such)
Okay, you should be sleeping. And if you are awake, beware and prepare. Teacher on the Radio is going to massage your ears with the sounds of your dreams and your fears. This is where I play the stuff you never heard of and may never hear of because you should be sleeping. And at this point, I should (or may be) sleeping at the controls. Don’t worry, I will wake up to hobble home, just in time for the morning deejay to take over.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Final Exam: The Music of 2007

For my last radio program of the year, I will host a 13-hour marathon featuring the music of 2007--my favorites, widely-recognized notable notes, and your requests.

Tune in this Monday from 6pm until you fall asleep. Listen while studying, writing papers, grading papers, or just plain praying to pass a class or get your grades posted with your sanity in tact!

Tell me when you are most likely to listen and send your requests of songs released in 2007 to asmith(at) tntech (dot) edu --okay!!!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Playlist 12 for 12-3-2007

"Not Another Seasonal Show!
Weird Winter Wax and
Some Soulful Spiritual Tracks"

Chanticleer - Agnus Dei
James Iha - Winter
Tori Amos - Winter
Drug Rug - Winter Time
Mum - Winter (What We Never Were After All)
Octopus Project - I Saw the Bright Shinies
Puscifer - Indigo Children
My Morning Jacket - X-Mas Curtain
Iron Wine - Peace Beneath the City
the everybodyfields - Over and Done
Jeff Tweedy - Airline to Heaven
The National - Gospel
Over the Rhine - New Redemption Song
The Soulsavers - Revival
Bruce Springsteen - Reason To Believe
Bruce Springsteen, E Street Band - Merry Christmas Baby
Michelle Shocked - God Bless the Child
Mavis Staples - This Little Light of Mine
Mahalia Jackson - Go Tell It On The Mountain
Dar Williams - The Christians And The Pagans
Sarah McLachlan - Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
Sarah McLachlan - The First Noel-Mary Mary
Tracy Chapman - O Holy Night
Simon Garfunkel - 7 OClock News/Silent Night
Annie Lennox - Into The West

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Rocking the Playhouse, 11-28-2007

Thanks to all the folks and fans who came out to support the first of many shows that your teacher on the radio and WTTU will be booking and promoting at the Backdoor Playhouse (and other venues at Tech or around town).

This first successful gig combined a wide range of musical content in the two featured acts. We began with Simply Put, who offered an incredibly lively set that had people dancing in their seats and in the aisles. This fearless four-piece plays an ineffable fusion, with songs as shining, funky psalms of reality, rooted in an original style and sound, traversing emotional geographies and transcending musical genres.

To complete the evening, we welcomed Cabin who traveled from Louisville, Kentucky, to offer us an hour of honest, epic, emotional Indy rock. From Sarah's fiddle and Noah's vocals to both of them trading keyboard duties, backed byBilly's and Dave's blistering rhythm section, the melodic mood of an amazing Wednesday was complete.

Playlist 11 for 11-26-2007

TOTR 11 for November 26, 2007

featuring Simply Put, live in the studio

Chumbawamba - Pass It Along
Nina Simone - Do I Move You
M.I.A. – Jimmy
Saul Williams - No One Ever Does
Arrested Development - Its Time
Joan Armatrading - Down To Zero
Tracy Chapman - All That You Have Is Your Soul (Live)
Magdalen Hsu-Li – Everything

Cookeville's own Simply Put: songs, in studio interview, & live set
Funky Yum Yum (Live)
Love Me
Habit (Live)
Chop Stixx

Radiohead - Everything in Its Right Place
Radiohead - All I Need
Cabin - In the Wake of
Cabin - Note to Self
Cabin - I Was Here
Coldplay - The Scientist
U2 – Desert of Our Love
U2 – Rise Up