By Alex Distefano
By Daniel Kohn
By Aimee Murillo
By Nick Schou
By Nate Jackson
By Nate Jackson
By Dave Lieberman
By Daniel Kohn
The holidays are a time of family, schmaltzy Christmas commercials that somehow make you cry and, for music journalists, list-making. Lots and lots of list-making.
Over the past few years, the availability of year-end critics' lists has multiplied faster than the worry lines on Ben Bernanke's brow. Just look: The Internet and your local Barnes & Noble's magazine rack are brimming over with head-spinning, eye-glazing permutations of praise for the following albums: Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, the National's Boxer, Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, M.I.A.'s Kala, Radiohead's In Rainbows, LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver and Battles' Mirrored.
If you want to parse the exact sequence of those records in your favorite publication or blog, feel free. We're going in a different direction.
In 11 cities from Miami to San Francisco, we asked musicians, MCs, DJs, athletes and, in one case, a Michael Stipe-impersonating electrician to tell us what music they loved most this year. It could be albums, songs, or an artist's collected works, and it need not be dated 2007. We just wanted to know what was moving our interviewees right now. Interviews with OC and LA celebs are included below, and you can find the rest online at www.houstonpress.com.
This just seems more like the way we listen to music now-with everything available to everyone, free and on demand, the old days of anticipating the release dates of and then treasuring new albums seem to be seriously on the wane.
—John Nova Lomax, executive music editor, Village Voice Media
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Christian Jacobs lives in a world of boldfaced, DayGlo images. He dwells in a realm in which all sentences end in exclamation marks and fun is as common as oxygen. A founding member of OC's legendary synth/pop/punk/ska band the Aquabats! and co-creator (with Scott Schultz) of the new children's television show Yo Gabba Gabba!, Jacobs (a.k.a. the MC Bat Commander) assumes cartoonish personae with earnestness and revels in goofiness with as much gusto as Jay-Z and 50 Cent luxuriate in their self-perpetuated, overblown mythologies.
As front man for the Aquabats!, Jacobs dons superhero garb (as do his band mates) and acts out a comic-book-style story line in which the group combats evil through its damn-catchy and ludicrously peppy songs that fall somewhere between Oingo Boingo and Devo at their most accessible. This they've been doing since 1994 over four studio albums and several international tours. The Aquabats! have weathered several personnel changes and continue to soldier on in their quest to subdue nefarious nemeses; to that end, they're currently recording a new album and touring sporadically.
Recently, however, Jacobs' time and creative energy also have been channeled into Yo Gabba Gabba!, which debuted on Nick Jr. in August and will air on the Noggin cable channel starting Monday. One of those rare kids' shows that appeals to adults, Yo Gabba Gabba! has become a cult favorite, garnering much YouTube synergy. It appears destined to launch its on-air talent-including DJ Lance Rock; Ricky Fitness; the toy monsters Brobee, Foofa, Muno, Plex and Toodee; and Jacobs himself, reprising his MC Bat Commander character-into something verging on mainstream stardom.
Yo Gabba Gabba! has drawn comparisons to such programs as H.R. Pufnstuf, Pee-wee's Playhouse, The Muppet Show and Banana Splits Adventure Hour. The regular appearance of music groups-including the Shins, the Aggrolites, Mya, Supernova, Rahzel of the Roots and Biz Markie-also harks back to MTV's golden age. If that weren't enough, Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh provides graphics for the show.
Alternadad author Neal Pollack has declared his love for Yo Gabba Gabba! on his blog: "This will be the TV show around which our movement rallies. Not that we have a movement, mind you, but if we did, this would be the TV show around which it . . . You get the idea."
On top of all of this Yo Gabba Gabba! success, the Aquabats! finally secured a production deal for their long-germinating superhero show. Amid increasing time constraints in his life, Jacobs (a father himself) miraculously found a few minutes to share "the songs I listened to the most, over and over, this past year."
Jerry Reed, "East Bound and Down.""C'mon! Haven't you ever been under the gun and had to drop the hammer down! I know I was all year. We would play this super-loud in the office when things were getting pretty bleak. And, you know, when Smokey's got his ears on and he's hot on yer trail, he aint gonna rest till yer in jail! So, bring it, Jerry, bring it! I'm not at all a country fan, but this song brings the goods . . . literally!"
The Killers, "When You Were Young (Jaques Lu Cont's Thin White Duke Radio Edit).""I thought the album cut was okay, but this remix is way better. Say what you want about the Killers, but I think they're really good, and with a little help, they're way better."
M.I.A., "XR2" and "Jimmy.""This whole album [Kala] is crazy, and I love it. Wow! 'Where were you in '92?' This song is such a mind-blower. It's so frantic and slamming, but somehow super-smooth, like a ninja knife hit at the 1985 Video Game Olympics. The beat is insane. It pumps so many crazy feelings it goes off like a bomb. I guess M.I.A., being no stranger to bombs going off, really has a knack for blowing things apart while still somehow looking fresh in pink '80s stretch pants. Then her track 'Jimmy' takes us to the sixth-grade Bollywood disco party and doesn't disappoint. M.I.A. is way more gangsta than anything on MTV. Sorry, all ya Fergie dawgs."
The Futureheads, "Worry About It Later.""I know this came out last summer, but I listened to it so much this year that it may as well have come out this year . . . again. It's so simple, but super-good. It's what I say to my co-workers every day, so why wouldn't it be my favorite song? Catchy and punchy: two great tastes that taste great together."
Arcade Fire, "Antichrist Television Blues.""This song is so gnarly. I can't really explain it, but as lead singer Win [Butler] sings in the guise of a down-on-his-luck dad praying for a child so he can raise her up to put on television and sing the gospel so he can make money, well . . . it's complex, layered with all these weird emotions, and so very American that you can't help but get swept away by it. When he sings, 'My lips are near/My heart is far away/Now the war is won/How come nothing tastes good?' and then the 'angel bird' background singers start to sing, 'WAAAA AAOOOO WAAAA AHHAOO!'—I get the chills every time. This song is about as anti-American Idol as it gets, and it's about time! Brilliant."
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Margaret Cho's Sensuous Sides
Margaret Cho has had her own TV show, a couple of best-selling books, a Grammy-nominated comedy album and two feature films based on her national tours, but 2007 saw a new conquest for the comic: She became a viral video queen. Cho's sexy, traveling-circus-like spectacle, The Sensuous Woman, which melds music, comedy and burlesque and is performed by herself and several of her talented pals, was a critical success in LA, New York and Chicago. But when a clip from the show showing the comedienne twirling her ta-tas with awe-inspiring speed, clad in nothing but panties and tasseled pasties, was posted on YouTube and subsequently every blog on the net, Cho became not only a national cyber-sensation, but also a champion for voluptuous women everywhere. "I got really good at twirling those tassels. It was very popular online and quite controversial," she says. "Women loved it and felt empowered, but a few straight guys were furious because I challenge the stripper archetype."
But then, challenging preconceived notions and stereotypes is what Cho does. The Korean-American funny lady has always had a strong political and cultural viewpoint, and her work has explored not only her Asian background and upbringing, but also her views on homosexuality (currently married, she claims to be bisexual) and the government (big shocker: she's anti-Bush).
Perhaps inspired by the hubbub her half-naked gyrations caused on the web (but more likely just another extension of her never-ending quest to challenge the status quo), Cho's next project, titled Beautiful, will be a standup show that ponders the age-old question of what real beauty is. It will be her first standup show since the Assassin tour in 2005, and her personal blog will play a role.
"Right now, I am doing a big list of who I think is beautiful," she says. "People can log on to margaretcho.com to see if they made the list. It's famous people to friends to anyone who happens to catch my eye."
Surely, there'll be some musicians on the list. Cho, who just got tattooed like a rock star on TLC's LA Ink and made a splash emceeing Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Tour this past year, is definitely a music enthusiast with diverse tastes. She can be seen in the Dresden Dolls' "Shores of California" video (which parodies David Lee Roth's "California Girls"), and even directed a clip for one of her '07 faves. Here are the sounds she wiggled to this year.
Ryan Adams,Easy Tiger."The best album of this year. I just listened to it over and over and over and over. It makes me feel like I am one of those girls who can wear a very, very short dress with cowboy boots, and I don't have to wear tights because my legs are perfect and tan. I also saw him play with his band the Cardinals at the Wilshire Theatre, and I screamed myself sore."
Crowded House,Time on Earth."It's amazing. I love Neil Finn and have had a solid crush on him for nearly 23 years. I got to tell him so after their awesome show at the Greek Theatre this summer. Love them."
The Cliks,Snakehouse."An incredible record. I went on the True Colors Tour with them and also directed their video 'Eye In the Back of My Head.'"
BjÃ¶rk,Volta."This was in heavy rotation. I love her, and she is insanely cute. On the cover, she looks really Super Mario Bros. or Donkey Kong. Her fashion sense is crazy. So cool."
Antony Hegarty."When he's singing, he sounds like he is clutching the pearls around his neck and spilling a gin and tonic all over the place."
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Dave Navarro's Instant Gratifications
Looks like Dave Navarro is going to be all about instant gratification next year. The LA-born and -bred guitarist, who launched his own Internet TV show and directed his first porno in 2007, has obviously become inspired by both the immediacy the web provides and the quick turnaround of the adult-film industry.
"These things come out during that burst of inspiration"—no pun intended?—"whereas with records, by the time you're talking about it, it's something you created long ago," he explains. "That's one of the things I'm looking forward to with future music projects—I'm just going to immediately put out stuff online as I record it, song by song."
And though the status of Navarro's last proper band, the Panic Channel, featuring his former Jane's Addiction band mate Stephen Perkins, is "up in the air" after a less-than-well-received Capitol release in late '06, Navarro still has music to make and fans eager to see what he'll do next. That might include performances with his all-star cover band Camp Freddy (also the name of his radio show on LA's Indie 103.1), jamming on live guitar over his pal DJ Skibble's scratch attacks for select club dates, or one day maybe even re-forming Jane's.
"There haven't been any conversations, but at the same time, it's something very close to my heart," he says. "It seems there's such a space right now for great live bands. If the Eagles can get together and do another tour, I don't see why we can't."
In the meantime, making more artistically minded porno films might be in the cards. In fact, he got an e-mail during our interview notifying him that Broken, the flick he co-wrote and directed for Tera Patrick's production company, Teravision, had just been nominated for five Adult Video Network awards, including best director.
Spread TV, the talk show he launched this past spring on Mania TV (the same web station Tom Green calls home), is definitely his main focus. Airing every Thursday at 5 p.m., the show features everyone from actors to local freaks to people with problems (he often brings on psychotherapists to help). Think Dr. Phil, Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart with a rock & roll twist.
"The overall feel of the show is fun and lighthearted, but at the same time, we want to get into serious issues," says Navarro, who did his time on "real" TV, co-hosting both editions of the CBS singing competition Rockstar and starring in a reality show with then-wife Carmen Electra. "My show is anything and everything me and my partner Todd Newman find captivating."
That includes up-and-coming bands, which often play live on the show. A few have become favorite artists for Navarro to listen to off-air as well. Dave's current musical addictions follow:
Gravenhurst,The Western Lands."I discovered them while watching The Unit, the TV show about an undercover military group. During the end credits on one of the episodes, I heard this song called 'Black Holes In the Sand.' It just struck me. I'm never one to search for something online that I happened to hear on a television program, but it just really hit me hard. They're pretty mind-blowing-my favorite band right now. Instant melancholy. I have to be careful what time of day I put them on because I could easily find myself in a suicidal state, which is actually saying quite a lot if a band can evoke that much emotion out of you."
kHz,Reality on a Finer Scale."I played on a track from their next album. They're a metal band from New York with an amazing lead singer named Raiana. She's got this beautiful operatic voice that goes on top of this real hardcore metal. Just a really nice juxtaposition. A lot of females in the metal world try to emulate the singing chops of men. She remains feminine, and the combination is really sexy."
theSTART,Ciao, Baby."A great band. Love Aimee Echo's vocal abilities."
Mickey Avalon."Don't believe he's put anything out this year, but I think he's just an incredible genius. His personality really comes through in his vocals. The music is very simplistic, and there's something to be said for that. It's all about highlighting the personality, and he does that really well."
The Procussions and Mr. J."Kind of a hip-hop thing. Real emotional. Stripped-down and positive lyrical content. These guys came on my show with a microphone and a drum set and pretty much blew everybody away."
Datarock,Datarock."Fun. Kind of reminds me of Love and Rockets with the sax and the hokey guitar stuff."
Daniel Johnston."He's a bipolar schizophrenic who's a really brilliant songwriter. Heavily influenced bands like Nirvana and Sonic Youth. I would highly recommend looking into this guy and the documentary about him [The Devil and Daniel Johnston]."