By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
In this Brokeback moment of making visible that the essential meaning of homosexuality is not simply a sex act but emotional reverie (love) meshed with sexual desire (fucking), Mark Weigle has delivered the most dangerous and courageous album of the year. Soulsex is a two-disk album. On disc one, Wrestling the Angel, he once again proves himself as accomplished a country songwriter as the late Mickey Newbury. He sings in a voice as butch sweet as Vince Gil. On disk two, Versatile, he puts gay sex front and center. The kind of sex that drives Jon Stewart's writers to make funny but depersonalizing jokes and comedians in The Aristocrats one up each other on the outrageousness of anal penetration. Weigle's songs celebrate cocksucking, boot licking, bear hugging, and penis and asshole worship that would make Ginsberg, Whitman, Vidal, and Baldwin fully tumescent.
Cherish the Ladies' Woman of the House is a perfect album in a genre where aiming for perfect is usually the problem. Heidi Talbot's cross between Lucinda Williams and Enya acheives an impossible balance that places her somewhere to the left of Karen Carpenter at her best. "The Green Fields of Canada" sums up the Irish diaspora in the new world in six and a half minutes.
For nearly a decade, the eight girls with gusto of Mediaeval Baebes have tackled arrangements of traditional motets with their self-described "Baebe Attitude." Fifth release Mirabilis (from the Latin, translating to "miraculous") features many Baebe-composed songs based upon pagan themes of the supernatural. The ladies fluidly vocalize in Middle English, Manx, Cornish, medieval Italian, 18th-century Swedish, and of course, Latin. They particularly delight in ballads about men tricked and tormented by the paranormal, especially in the form of faeries. When not warbling gothic, the Baebes are bright in other careers, such as model and comedy writer, author, fashion maven, child psychologist, and physical therapist.
The girl groups box set One Kiss Can Lead to Another isn't just a bounty of undiscovered or forgotten treasures. I don't think I've received a Christmas present that inspired so much envy since I got that tiny kitchen with an actually working (sort of) faucet back in kindergarten. Everyone I mentioned it to immediately wanted to hear more and, well, once I showed off the pink-and-black hatbox and the way the liner notes look like a diary and all the CD cases look like vintage compacts with mirrors inside and all the CDs look like powder puffs and no, I won't trade it for your Barbie. Not even your best Barbie.
My favorite concert experience of 2005: going to see Gwen Stefani with my daughter's college-age birthmom, her new husband, and her best friend. Everybody got dolled up for the event. Afterward, BB's Tummy Mommy declared, "Not one peep out of you critics! I loved it, I love Gwen, and that's all I need to hear."
My favorite rock and roll moment of the year happened in March when the Drive-By-Truckers played free for 125 kids at the Missouri high school where I teach. They rolled our their tour bus, set up in about 10 minutes, and played a brilliant acoustic set filled with songs (like "Outfit," "Never Gonna Change," "Lookout Mountain," and "The Day John Henry Died") that they'd specially selected for the audience. In between, Hood, Coley, and Isbell talked about the inspiration behind their writing and dispensed much wise advice for budding rockers. Afterwards, they signed autographs over cafeteria chocolate milk for 20 minutes, talked one-on-one with several student musicians, and at their show at a local venue that night, dedicated a song ("Buttholeville"the choice was inspired not by the song's subject matter but by its killer riff) to the kids.
What I remember most about M.I.A.'s show was that Nick Catchdubs was thonking big bass favorites and mashing and mixing in a way that lets you know you are in New York and New York is not like those other cities. In New York, the bump is always nuclear, on some gotta-prove shit, so they only play tracks you cannot live without at bin-bursting volumes. This happens sometimes, late and accidental in spring and summer, in Chicago, except with much less expensive shoes stubbing out much cheaper cigarettes. All I could think was what bills I could hold off paying in order to buy stacks of 12"s to bring home and drop like anchors at parties.
Because I can't vote for DJ sets like Mylo's unbelievably headtwisting set at the Tribeca Grand earlier this year, I'll vote for his Destroy Rock and Roll, which is just as satisfying in a totally different way. His DJ ing is marked by this crunchy, textured sound that's got a bit of dark edge. It's not really electro or house, it's not the filtered disco of the Daft Punk era, and yet, it's not really the new "electro house" micro genre either. It's Mylo. Destroy Rock and Roll is less dark, even more catchy and party-ready and reminds me a bit of the Avalanches' Since I Left You, but it's not trying so hard to be a pastiche.