Thursday, December 22, 2011

Still More 'Best of 2011' + An Open Letter to Brian Wilson

Records 2011 [new and not new]

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black; Lioness
Every listen goes deeper, and the loss widens.

Throbbing Gristle / Drew Daniel, 20 Jazz Funk Greats
Daniel’s well-written, thoroughly entertaining 33 1/3 book drew my attention to this freaky, “ambient” album (the better to sneak into your subconscious and fuck your brain).

Atlas Sound, Parallax
Halcyon Days, Bradford Cox’ last Deerhunter outing, still has fresh legs, and his latest solo/bedroom album has joined a particular shelf in my collection: Records that sadden and stump me when they’re over and I need to decide what comes next.

Harry Nilsson, Nilsson Plays Newman
Who’s Harry Nilsson and Why’s Everybody Talking About Him helped me realize there’s more than one Nilsson album (Nilsson Schmilsson) and there are better, more compulsively listenable albums than the be-robed one.

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, Lick My Decals Off, Baby
Come back, Captain Beefheart.

Florence + the Machine, Ceremonials
Flo always traumatizes me when she’s on SNL, but this album convinced me she’s schooling the western pop world on extended technique.

Wild Flag, S/T
Long live jump-splits and kneeling solos. And fuckyeahmarytimony.

St. Vincent, Strange Mercy
Revenge of the listener/player.

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, Mirror Traffic
The album SM’s been (implicitly) promising since he became Stephen Malkmus.

Laura Marling, I Speak Because I Can; A Creature I Don’t Know
Marling’s music changed my year, thanks to a friend’s insistence that I listen (cheers, K8!). What a songwriter, guitarist and singer! Still getting used to the heavy production on the new one, but I Speak Because I Can is devastating.

PJ Harvey, Let England Shake
PJ and all do some crazy borrowing and layering on this one [Let it burn burn burn!], and she brings the old assertiveness.

Shabazz Palaces, Black Up
I’m super free!

Lambchop, Thriller
Your fucking sunny day!

Destroyer, Kaputt
Seems like this came out a couple years ago. It’s still gyrating against me. Slowly.

Crystal Stilts
I wanna know why [echo echo echo]

Bill Callahan, My Apocalypse
Callahan gets a bit conceptual, but remembers the songs.

Vinyl Reissues:
Serge Gainsbourg, Histoire de Melody Nelson
Mercury Rev, Deserter’s Songs
Animal Collective, Sung Tongs
Milton Nascimento and Lô Borges, Clube da Esquina
Lô Borges, S/T

More music-related books:
Sara Marcus, Girls to the Front
Will Hermes, Love Goes to Buildings on Fire

Jeff T. Johnson is Editor in Chief at LIT, and is an editor at Dewclaw. He is Music Reviews Editor at The Rumpus. He is working on a book of musicological poetics called Trouble Songs. For more information, visit

An Open Letter to Brian Wilson

Dear Brian,

Hey man.  Did you put out Smile again?  My buddy Kris said he heard it and it “sound[ed] good.”  I thought you put that shit out already, like, 7 years ago?  I was confused.  But yeah, you did it again.  I gave it a few listens.  Sounds good.

But hey man, what I really wanted to tell you is that you’re killing this thing.  And by thing I mean legacy.  The thing that made what we knew of the Smile sessions so iconic was that we didn’t know the final product.  What we knew was that you were making it.  You, the man who made Pet Sounds in response to Revolver, was making a record in response to Sgt. Pepper’s!  And it was to eclipse Pet Sounds in every way possible!  And you never finished it, but we have these scraps!  And the scraps are fuggin’ awesome because we knew they were going to be even more awesome when you were finished putting them all together!  But we could never imagine just how awesome they would actually be because: 1. there wasn’t an official final version released we could quantify it by, and, so; 2. we could never possibly understand the depths of your artistic genius.  We actually went on believing that this magical record-that-never-was was going to be the ever elusive ‘perfect album.’  Then you started making it again.

You’re an amazing artist, Brian, don’t get me wrong; but you’re just not as crisp as you used to be.  The ‘done’ you perceive now is probably a slightly different ‘done’ than your 26 year old self would have thought, and that’s cool.  But there’s just something in Wild Honey and Friends that’s missing from Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin and In the Key of Disney, imho.  Twenty-six year old Brian wins, hands down.  See?

So please man, stopping putting out Smile.  We get it: the album is fucking awesome.  Stop trying to prove it to us.

Yours still,
Mark Mangini

Mark Mangini can be found manning the register at Caliban on Sundays. Also, he hates when songs sound like trains.

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