Tony Bennett, For the News Tribune
EPs are big nowadays. It seems that many musicians are choosing to address what they see as shortening attention spans on the part of music listeners by releasing small batches of songs. Maybe they're right — maybe there's just too much in the way of distractions currently, and a modest meal is more palatable than a buffet.
Against all odds, The Flaming Lips are still here and still relevant. Once upon a time, they were mostly known as a mid-'90s one-hit-wonder due to a song about someone who preferred petroleum jelly on their toast over other more reasonable food-based options ("She Don't Use Jelly"), but their 1999 album "The Soft Bulletin" made the band a critical darling and their chaotic, hyper-colorful live performances made them fan favorites on the festival circuit.
There's a thing that musicians and their press agents do a lot these days: they turn their new album into an opportunity to spin a narrative. Sure, the press is all too happy to transmit that narrative, as it's always nice to have a framing device in which to write a review or an article, but it seems to mostly be something that the musicians are willfully putting out there. Call it the Bon Iver Effect — back when Justin Vernon's first album came out, the story of a sad guy all alone in a cabin making his art became a story that people loved to tell, a hook to grab people.
Some people say that Republican administrations are good for music. The idea is that a conservative in the White House gives typically liberal musicians something to rage against, a target to criticize. Conversely, a Democratic president is seen as being bad for music, as it causes musicians to get complacent. Now that Barack Obama is on his way out and Donald Trump is on his way in, a lot of folks have been voicing the hope that music will "get good" over the next four (or more) years.
At this point, reviewing Rich Mattson is really difficult. What more is there to say about the guy? He's as consistent as the seasons and as reliable as the tides. Everything he releases is good. Really, he makes it look easy, and it is not. Whether it's as a member of the Tisdales, Ol' Yeller or with his newest outfit, the Northstars, he's the guy you want if you're looking to hear some hooky rock 'n' roll that touches on country, pop and psychedelia.
The end-of-year "best-of" list is common — just before Christmas, we published our own rundown of the highlights of local and international music in 2016. But what about the ones that got away — the albums that ended up being quite impressive, but for whatever reason didn't get covered? So, as an act of contrition, in the interest of making good, we're going to start off 2017 with a quick look back at music from last year that was excellent, but that we didn't get a chance to spotlight with a proper review.
When Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails returned from four years in mothballs with the 2013 album “Hesitation Marks,” it seemed like the perfect moment for the Roger Waters of the ’90s to let fly with a concentrated dose of his fangs-bared, pummeling industrial rock. Instead, the album was a mostly limp, insular thing that largely eschewed guitars for beats and didn’t come close to the intensity that Reznor made his name on. It seemed that, while it wasn’t exactly bad, the air had gone out of the whole enterprise.
Here we are, staring 2017 in the face, another year about to fade into memory. The popular stance is that 2016 was a nearly unendurable march of death and destruction, and, while there’s plenty of evidence to support that take, one bright side to it all would be that at least we had good music to listen to while we all watched the news and clung to our blankies.
When Gaelynn Lea looks back at her 2016, it may just be that she’s the only one in the world who thinks, “Hmm, now that was a pretty good year.”...