Look, 2017 was a garbage year and I think we’d all just rather move on. Nazis roamed the streets, giant hurricanes ravaged densely populated areas, half of California is on fire, all of your favorite people who didn’t die last year got outed as sex offenders, and President Donald Trump managed to gut social programs and mortgage our children’s futures so he could give the 1-percenters a tax cut they absolutely do not need. Worst of all, Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, giving the Minnesota Freakin’ Vikings the opportunity to be the first team to play in a home-field Super Bowl. The silver lining? Well, we’re not in a nuclear war, so that’s good at least. Anyway, I guess some good music was released this year, and as usual my “year-end” list is not so much a list at all as it is a haphazard lumping of various albums that I mostly already wrote about. I do not really have an album of the year, usually when I declare such a thing I wind up wondering what the hell I was thinking a couple weeks later. But there was a lot of good stuff, most of which I haven’t heard, but hey. Only so many hours in the day. So here are my end-of-the-year awards – as usual, links to better, more well-thought out opinions when they exist:
Who could this mystery man with the terrible logo possibly be?
When I was 10, I had a fairly memorable dream. I was at the arcade, which for whatever reason now had a jukebox, and I was flipping through all the CDs and came across an album by The Police that I had not seen before. I remember the cover looking something like Reggatta de Blanc, but palette-shifted. Since The Police were my favorite band at the time (overwhelmingly so, in fact…I rarely listened to anything else) I immediately put all my quarters into the box and played all the songs in order. There were 12 of them; for some reason I can remember that. The first song started playing and…I woke up. So I just laid there, trying to remember the melody of the song, or anything on the tracklisting, then figured if I went back to sleep maybe I could recapture it. Nope. Lost forever in the deep recesses of my mind. Granted, had I stayed asleep, I probably would have found that all 12 songs sounded an awful lot like “Roxanne”. But, still, that’s the kind of dream that excites you as a young kid. An entirely unheard album by your favorite band!? What could be better?
The coolest thing about this album is that it entered the UK charts at #2. Gary Numan is a living legend of course, and the history of electronic music would be incomplete without him. But man, was this guy ever left for dead commercially – there was a time when a Gary Glitter comeback seemed more likely. In the early 80’s Numan shifted from being uninterested in hit singles to being really desperate for one, leading to a series of unfortunate choices that left him a prime target for mockery in the UK press. He’d adopted funk, hired some backup singers, and decided that the best way to sell records was to load ’em up with saxophone. All of which was like seeing your dog try on a pair of jeans. The story of Numan’s commercial collapse is best observed through his album covers; from 20’s noir to Mad Max to Blondie McSunglasses and his Blue Hair/White Face phase, Numan was searching fruitlessly for anything that would stick. Hard to believe the “floating head” look of Telekon would be something like an artistic peak for him, but there it is. By the time of Machine + Soul he’d been tucked into the lower right corner, as if to say “pay no attention to the man whose name is on the record”. After selling approximately 7 copies of that record, he decided he was due for a change. Even the president of his fan club (who he’d later marry) had to look him in the face and tell him that he sucked now.
“At least we’ll get some good music out of this”, they said. That half-thought was hardly any consolation the morning after – not only do we have to deal with him, but the Third Coming of Green Day as well? If any “great art” has come out of the reaction to the Donald Trump administration, I haven’t seen it yet. Yes, people are angry, and yes, people are motivated, but it’s not an inspiring anger. There’s no nuance to it. No cleverness. No finer point to put on it. The problem is not that his policies are harmful, it’s that they are blatantly so – we are now on our third round of “call your elected officials and tell them not to kill you”. The problem is not that he lies, but rather that he lies like a 5-year old with cookie all over his face. It’s not even the fact that his administration may have colluded with a hostile government, but rather how brazen and open they are about it. It’s not like any of this is a secret. His low approval ratings are unprecedented, especially given the circumstances he inherited. His healthcare bill and his tax bill are the two most unpopular pieces of legislation in modern history. If he was the villain in a Disney movie, he would be written off as too unrealistic; no one’s going to buy a character that’s this much pure ego, are they? He is beyond satire; even the great impersonators like Anthony Atamunuik don’t really make me laugh the way the GWB ones did, because the truth is always stranger than fiction. Trump deploying the term “Pocahontas” at an event to honor Native Americans? C’mon, that’s a gag in a C-grade SNL skit if I’ve ever heard one. Defending a pedophile because at least he’s better than some random Democrat? That’s a throwaway panel in a Tom Tomorrow cartoon. And so on.
The Bran Flakes are back and they’re looking good. Leaner, more muscular, a bit less frumpy and scatterbrained. Hell, you almost didn’t recognize them at first. They’re even talking about the internet now, just like everyone else. Last time you saw them they were trying to fit in with the college crowd, but those giant paper mache heads seemed to creep everyone out. Still…whatever happened to those guys?
Help Me is the first Bran Flakes album in eight years, and only their second album proper since the last one I reviewed, which, holy hell, was released all the way back in 2001. At one point the Flakes were a full-time proposition, releasing long albums on a yearly basis, but they’ve dialed it back since then, perhaps realizing that sampling the stuff gathering dust in the back of the church storage room wasn’t a great way to make a living. So they poke their heads out once every presidential administration or so and release something that gets criminally ignored, even though their music is more fun than a monkey on a pogo stick and twice as noisy. As of this writing, the only thing a Google search for this album will bring up is “Will Bran Flakes help me poop”. Okay, their music does make me a bit nauseous sometimes, but it’s never yet landed me in the bathroom. Your mileage may vary.
Just as the Silver Apples got things going again, they got derailed. Quite literally in fact. In 1998, the Apples’ tour van got into a massive crash, in which Simeon was pronounced dead on the scene. As it turns out he did not actually die, but instead suffered injuries to his neck and spine which required years of physical therapy. Slowly but surely, Simeon recovered, but the Apples’ suffered another pretty major setback in 2005, when Danny Taylor died of cancer. Perhaps Simeon’s been slowly getting his due, but Taylor unfortunately never did. It really is a shame that he never got sampled the way that say, James Brown’s drummers did – he was equally funky and even more off the hook.
For 25 years, the Silver Apples were dead. Both members got other jobs (Danny Taylor at a phone company, Simeon Coxe as a graphic designer), while the giant contraption responsible for their sound was washed away in a flood. So it was for a long time, until in ’94, the German bootleg label TRC released their two albums on CD, and suddenly the Apples revival was on. All this came as news to Simeon, who had nothing to do with the bootleg nor the renewed interest in the band. One day he runs into a man named Xian Hawkins at an art gallery, who recognizes Simeon’s name and asks him if he’s aware of what’s going on. He isn’t, but the encounter inspires him to pick up a number of albums he was an influence on, along with a 1996 Silver Apples tribute disc. Even though he was making no money from these bootlegs and Danny Taylor was nowhere to be found, Simeon saw a second chance to take a crack at the music biz, and seized the opportunity by forming a new Silver Apples, with Hawkins and a drummer named Michael Lerner, who would later play for The Antlers. And so it was on.