the year in music – 2015

There’s two albums that have gotten more play from me – by far – than any other albums. It’s two of the three discs in a John Williams (the guitarist, not the film score composer) collection – “The Soloist” and “The Romantic.” These are the albums I listen to nearly every night as I’m trying to fall asleep. Yay tinnitus! I think we have to discount them as a result.

I bought 18 new albums (and two concert DVDs) in 2015, up from 2014’s eight, but for many of them, I waited until they were on sale for under $10 – and that includes the DVDs.

Now, on to the rest of the story. Here are this year’s top 10 most played albums. If you read my 2014 music missive, the top 10 hasn’t changed much. Whether or not this is unfortunate or not is another story.

10. AC/DC: For Those About To Rock, We Salute You (1981) (did not chart in 2013, #10 in 2014)

  • This ancient (2nd oldest in this list!) hard rock album exists in the shadow of its predecessor, “Back in Black,” but in many ways it’s a superior album. The BiB songs were largely written before Brian Johnson joined the band, and though the songs are good – it is, after all, AC/DC’s most-purchased album (the #2 album of all time with 36 million million copies sold worldwide – and a distant 2nd to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” – which has sold over 68 million copies worldwide) – FTATR is a more cohesive effort. BiB’s frumpy songs are super frumpy, and FTATR is all killer/no filler from start to finish. You’re only likely to ever hear one song from this album on the radio – the title track – but what a song it is!

9. Sarah Jarosz: Song up in Her Head (2009) (#4 in 2013, did not chart in 2014)

  • Even though I’ve got both of Jarosz’s other two albums, this one still blows me away every time I spin it. The raw, guttural emotions present and just utterly fantastic musicianship keeps this album in regular rotation. Her other two albums are good, don’t get me wrong, but this one is transcendent. Enjoying this album’s resurgence after a year of not listening to it much.

8. Dead Can Dance: A Passage in Time (1991) (did not chart in 2013 or 2014)

  • A greatest hits album of sorts for Dead Can Dance, a creative writing teacher introduced me to this album way back in college when it was only a year or two old. He used the song “The Host of Seraphim” to set an emotional state for a writing exercise. I don’t remember what I wrote or what his name was, but I went out immediately and bought this album.

7. Cake: Fashion Nugget (1996) (#8 in 2013, #6 in 2014)

  • From “Frank Sinatra” to “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” this is an album full of quirk. When it came out, it set the radio on fire with two singles – “The Distance” and “I Will Survive” – but few people then knew that three of the 14 tracks were cover tunes. Beyond the singles, the best track is probably “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” – one of the covers.

6. Kingdom Come: In Your Face (1989) (#7 in 2013, #8 in 2014)

  • What can I say? I still love this album after all these years. Good songwriting, fabulous playing, excellent guitar tone and Lenny Wolf’s great vocals! It’s like a time machine back to the days of big hair and concert pyrotechnics.

5. Joe Satriani: The Extremist (1997) (did not chart in 2013 or 2014)

  • While “Surfing With the Alien” brought Satriani to the forefront of rock/metal instrumental music a decade before this album came out, this one’s the top of his heap. Great, great album.

4. Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats: Mind Control (2013) (#10 in 2013, #4 in 2014)

  • This was my top album of 2013 (& #10 most played) and got tons of rotation in 2014 (#4 on the list).

3. Black Label Society: Stronger Than Death (2000) (#9 in 2013, #2 in 2014)

  • I still enjoy this album quite a lot (obviously), but it’s become that album that I measure all of Zakk Wylde’s other efforts against.  He hasn’t put out anything this good since this album – and he just might not ever again.

2. Cutting Crew: Broadcast (1986) (#6 in 2013, #3 in 2014)

  • This is another throwback album that still makes me happy. A great album to put on and just listen as it flows from one song to the next. The song sequencing is near perfect.

1. Mastodon: Once More ‘Round the Sun (2014) (#1 in 2014)

  • As in 2014, I just cannot get enough of this album. It is still averaging two plays a week and I’m not getting tired of it. Could be the sign of a modern metal classic!

Albums noticeably absent from my top 20 dating back to 2013: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chronicle; George Thorogood, Baddest Hits; Black Sabbath, 13; Volbeat, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies.

Honorable mentions for 2015:

11. Baroness: Yellow & Green (2012)

  • My friend Jon (whom I used to play with in metal powerhouse CRASHLANDER!) turned me on to both Baroness and Ghost in 2015. I can’t thank him enough. This double-album contribution from Baroness is equal parts inspiring, prog, metal and bizarre. Baroness is probably my favorite band of 2015, and this may be my top-rated not-new album of the year.

12. Various Artists: Maiden Heaven (2008)

  • I had to resort to eBay to track down a copy of this CD that was originally included with the August 2008 issue of Kerrang!, a UK music magazine. It features bands you’ve heard of like Metallica and Dream Theater, along with popular but lesser-known bands like Black Tide, Avenged Sevenfold and Coheed & Cambria, as well as bands you’ve never heard of like DevilDriver and Fightstar. The best song is probably “Wrathchild” by Gallows. Holy crap is it good.

13. Luka Bloom: The Acoustic Motorbike (1992)

  • A really fun, spunky and emotional album from the Irish king of open-tuned sorta-pop songs.

14. Pink Floyd: Animals (2011 Remaster) (1977) (#13 in 2013, #10 in 2014)

  • Still my favorite PF album by far, and getting regular – though somewhat less – rotation.

15. Enigma: MCMXC A.D. (1990)

  • I went through a big Enigma phase this year, just grooving on their beats and melodies. Fun stuff. Their other three albums rank in the top 35, but their debut holds a special place in my mind.

16. KXM: KXM (2014) (#9 in 2014)

  • dUg Pinnick of King’s X, George Lynch of Dokken/Lynch Mob and Ray Luzier of Korn came together for this one-off collection in 2014, and it still melts faces and shreds speakers. Whoa. A much better offering than the album Lynch did with Michael Sweet, though that album isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. Also better than the Pinnick Gales Pridgen album, but I’m looking forward to their 2nd release.

17. Monte Montgomery: 1st & Repair (1998)

  • A singer/songwriter that many haven’t heard of, he plays the acoustic guitar like it owes him money. It’s a shame he’s not more popular than he is.

18. Cinderella: Long Cold Winter (1988)

  • More hair metal memories – way, way better than their debut album and with a lot more depth to the production and songwriting.

19. The Outfield: Voices of Babylon (1989)

  • Weird that this album got more attention than “Play Deep,” which is definitely my favorite Outfield album. I wonder why?

20. King Giant: Black Ocean Waves (2015)

  • One of my friends is a guitarist in KG, and this album is fan-fucking-tastic. If you dig Black Sabbath, you *will* like this album. Get it. Now!! http://kinggiant.bandcamp.com

Albums Released in 2015:

  • Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats: The Night Creeper (ok, but not as good as “Mind Control”)
  • Sweet & Lynch: Only To Rise (OK, but not amazing)
  • King Giant: Black Ocean Waves
  • Ghost B.C.: Meliora (HOLY SHIT THIS ALBUM IS FANTASTIC!)
  • Foo Fighters: Saint Cecelia (EP) (Good. Solid. As expected.)
  • Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color (Good 2nd album from a quirky, female-fronted retro-rock band.)

Other Albums Purchased This Year:

  • Baroness: Purple (2015; arrives 18 Dec.)
  • Baroness: Red (2007)
  • Baroness: Blue (2009)
  • Ghost: If You Have Ghost (EP) (2013)
  • Ghost: Infestissumam (2013)
  • Ghost: Opus Eponymous (2011)
  • Sarah Jarosz: Build Me up From Bones (2013)
  • Al Di Meola: Splendido Hotel (1980)
  • Al Di Meola: Elegant Gypsy (1977)
  • Black Sabbath: Live Gathered in Their Masses DVD (2013)
  • DIO: Live in London, Hammersmith Apollo 1993 DVD (2014)
  • Lenny Kravitz: Strut (2014)
  • Poison: Native Tongue (1993)
  • Triumph: Live at Sweden Rock Festival (2002)

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19 dead so far this year in school shootings

Including the murderer and the murdered at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, OR yesterday, 19 grade school and colleges students have died in what we now so casually call “school shootings” in 2014.

It’s barely June.  19 people.

Stay with me, this isn’t going where you think it’s going.

A lot of people are going to say that guns are the problem. The majority of guns used in these incidents have been legally-obtained weapons, either purchased legally by the shooter (such as the shotgun-toting Aaron Ybarra & stabber/shooter Elliot Rodger) or taken without permission from people who bought them legally.

Saying the problem is guns is easy, but it’s only part of the problem. There are so many guns in the United States that they’re simply everywhere. If you don’t own a gun yourself, you know somebody that has one – at least one. Depending on where you are right now, you might be sitting next to somebody who has a gun on them right now. The vast majority of guns are owned by law-abiding citizens that could never imagine using them in any capacity other than to defend themselves, their family or their property.

The only way to make guns NOT a part of this problem is to remove them from the equation. ALL of them.  Nobody but the military & the police have guns and that becomes the new reality of the United States of America.

That isn’t going to happen. Period.  It’s time, therefore, to stop talking about guns as being the problem.  Gun ownership laws (aka gun control laws) aren’t going to change enough to remove guns from the hands of the vast majority of citizens of the USA.

What else can we point to?  Bullying?

Maybe.  Maybe bullying is a problem.  That cowardly little asshole Elliot Rodger felt bullied by other kids and rejected by women.  Those kids that shot up Columbine High School felt bullied and mistreated.  Bullying has been going on since school started and while it’s always been a shitty thing, millions of people have dealt with it in other ways than shooting up their classmates. Are we not teaching coping strategies to our children?  Are we telling our children, “Oh, well, if that football player picks on you, it’s OK to shoot him in the face, then empty your gun into the pep rally attendees in the gymnasium.”

Of course we’re not.  Bullying, then, isn’t the problem.  (Don’t get me wrong – it’s A problem, but blaming these school shootings on bullying is what I’m talking about.)

I’m going to go out on a limb here, then, and say that guns and bullies aren’t causing these school shootings.

The media is at fault.

NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, even NPR – they are the reason we’re seeing an increase in the frequency of these school shootings.

Every time one of these cowardly little assholes takes an assault rifle into an elementary school and blows away a bunch of kids, these “reporters” and “anchors” and “experts” spend unimaginably countless hours on TV and radio dissecting every aspect of his personality, digging down into his psyche, his motivations, his difficult childhood – any aspect of the shooter’s life that gets them a little more air time, a few more ratings points.

What it turns into is a fetish, a cult that worships these little fucking assholes who think shooting their classmates is going to get them attention. Why do they think this? BECAUSE IT’S TRUE.

It used to be for the average American to get on TV, they had to streak across the 50-yard line during a nationally-televised college football game.  That was a one-and-done event, a laugh on the news that night.  Now you too can get talked about on TV for endless hours simply by buying a gun (legally) and using it to attract the media.  If you shoot up a school – you don’t even have to kill anybody – then the talking heads on TV and radio will discuss your life in minute detail for days, weeks, even months.  They’ll talk about you now. They’ll talk about you when your trial comes up.  They’ll talk about you in a year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years.

(Think they’ll forget about it in 20 years?  Guess what – it’s the 20th anniversary of the murders OJ Simpson was acquitted for. Guess what they’re talking about on TV this week?)

Shooting up a school has become the newest, best way to achieve immortality in our corrupted culture. There is no more sure way to achieve the goal of people paying attention to you than to shoot up a school, movie theater, fast-food restaurant, etc. You’ll be on the “news” and achieve immortality.

The problem, then, is us.  That’s right – you and me and every other American. Not the guns, not the bullying, not the misogyny alone – but all of it.  USA! USA! USA! We’ve done this to ourselves by creating a culture that glorifies “media,” that thrives on TV shows like America’s Got Talent and American Idol.  Our society, our empire, is crumbling around us every day and we’re so oblivious to it that the only way to get any attention now is to get on TV – and what surer way to get on TV is there than to kill classmates?  It’s a guaranteed way to get your picture into every American household, to make your name a household conversation piece, to get you mentioned on every channel, station and newspaper in the country.

The solution, then, is for the media to simply stop talking about these events in such morbid depth.

Like eliminating the guns, though, that’s never going to happen.  As a society, we have no self-control, and we simply won’t be able to do it.  Ever.

We live in the country we’ve built, and we deserve exactly what we’ve created for ourselves.

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the Maximization of Cycle World magazine

Change is always hard for some people to accept, yet it is, by its very nature, completely unavoidable. When it comes to our media institutions, though, we expect them to look the same year after year, decade after decade.

CW1Motorcycle magazines are suffering the same attrition that motorcycle manufacturers are. As the recession – though improving – continues to linger, people are spending less of their discretionary money on luxuries like motorcycles and magazines. Add to that the downward spiral being suffered by all print media outlets as the internet age marches on. The advent of the iPad (& other tablet computers) has really taken a giant bite out of magazine subscriptions.

In some ways, I support that move, the move to digital, but in other ways, not so much. There is still something special about getting a magazine in the mail, seeing that 8.5×11 cover (or bigger, if you used to get Rolling Stone or Vintage Guitar, but even RS has gone to a more standard format recently) and looking at the table of contents as you walk back to the house. Plus, face it, taking your iPad into the bathroom is just a little creepy, because you never know when the NSA is going to co-opt the onboard camera & microphone and start checking out your bathroom habits.

(I bet if you weren’t worried about that before, you are now!)

I read several motorcycle magazines – Cycle WorldRider, Motorcycle Consumer News (which, honestly, is the best of the bunch) and Iron Butt Magazine (which I also work for) as well as some BMW-specific magazines – BMW Motorcycle MagazineOwners’ News (magazine of the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America) and On the Level (magazine of the BMW Rider’s Association). They all have their particular style and charm, from the stark, workmanlike aesthetic of MCN to the flashy, perhaps even Euro-trendy look of BMWMM.

(Yes, I am the kind of person who spots typos, spelling & grammar errors in magazines.)

A few months ago, I got my first copy of the redesigned Cycle World. At first, I was kind of excited about it. The new look was bright, colorful, flashy, bold and thorough – they left no stone unturned, no aspect of the magazine unchanged. After reading through the first new-look issue, though, I felt … strange. Unsatisfied. I went back and flipped through the magazine again, slowly, just looking at the graphics and layout rather than reading the articles.

That’s when it hit me. Cycle World was emulating Maxim. If you’re not familiar with Maxim, it’s kind of like a lightweight Playboy without full nudity. The magazine is filled with photos of beautiful celebrity women, often wearing nothing more than the skimpiest of swim suits or even just covering their juiciest bits with their hands/arms. The content is largely of interest to men and boys – lifestyle items like watches or fashion brands are treated as objects as much as the women between its covers are. There’s not much in the way of news or anything resembling actual journalism in it, but that’s not surprising as Maxim isn’t about news/journalism. It’s about image.

That’s what I mean when I say “the Maximization of Cycle World” – CW has become more form than function. In the current issue, September 2013 (rec’d 5 Aug), it’s not until page 34-35 that any one article takes up more than a half-page. Nearly every odd page (on the right side of the spread) is a full-page ad; the only exceptions are pages 3 (table of contents), 15 (Yamaha YZ450F “first ride” by Jimmy Lewis – and 1/3 of the page is taken up by a silly waste of space running some numbers in a grid) and 25 (has a full-spread ad taking up the bottom half of both pages). When we finally do get something substantive, Peter Egan’s piece, it’s not news but rather a column – one of Egan’s great stories about his adventures on classic and/or vintage motorcycles. Still, though, the piece is broken up by another of the silly number-based graphic grids and the 2nd page of the column has a half-page ad on it. The first actual in-depth, interesting article about anything truly motorcycle-related starts on page 40 – their look at the new Yamaha FZ-09. Even then, this brand-new (and quite impressive) bike gets a full-spread photo and just one (ad-free) spread of content – that’s 2 measly pages on a brand-new bike that’s sure to set the naked bike fans afire.

I’m not even going to get into the weird mish-mash of typefaces they’re using other than to say holy crap!

CW2One of the other “substantive” “features” compares 5 bikes to each other, but each bike gets barely a half page and the giant (and beautiful) photos mean that there’s only a couple paragraphs of content.

It’s sad, really, to see Cycle World go the route of the short attention span. While on the one hand it’s great to see them printing larger, slicker photographs, it’s a shame they’re doing so at the expense of the content. It’s as if they’re saying “Words don’t matter – only images matter.” I definitely disagree and will be letting my subscription to this magazine expire without renewal.

Until then, though, I’m going to enjoy the photos, because that’s really all that’s left to love.