Mike Adams at His Honest Weight
Mike Adams follows up his terrific album “Best of Boiler Room Classics” with 2016’s “Casino Drone,” a favorite album this year. Adams has much in common with Brian Wilson, and I’m not talking mid-west charm or thick plastic rimmed glasses. They are both multi-instrumentalists with a knack for orchestration and dreamy instant pop classics.
I was never a big Hüsker Dü guy, but I was way into Mould’s next group, Sugar. Since then, he has found success as a solo artist and is widely admired and influential. I was lucky enough to catch a show of his this year at Webster Hall where he blasted through song after song hardly moving from the mic and never changing his guitar. It was a masterclass in pop-punk-perfection.
If you’re a dude, it’s easy to try and hate on John Mayer, but let’s face it, it’s just jealousy. I guess I’m guilty, myself, but I ain’t gonna deny him his due. (As an aside check out the Impractical Jokers early foray into sketch comedy here) This track came out late in 2016 after a year that saw Mayer tour with remaining members of the Grateful Dead as Dead & Co. I’m not a big Dead guy so I dig this song even more in that it’s nothing but a chill pop song with a laconic groove that reminds one of a sunset windows-down drive along the ocean.
If you’re a thief, it’s important to consider what and how much to steal. On this track, Mars mines the 80s era disco and funk of Kool & the Gang, Earth, Wind & Fire and most specifically Zapp & Roger (thanks to eagle-eared J. Lynch & what’s with all the ampersands in the 80s?). The groove and production are so solid here that even the most ardent dance-averse metalhead would find it impossible to stand still. It’s a bummer the video and lyrics are a wee bit (!) inappropriate for the kids, I’d love to have this cranked up for a living room dance party. Guess they’ll need a kidz bop version.
The latest group of shock rockers, Ghost’s lineage goes back in time through Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Ozzy, KISS and Alice Cooper. What many of these have in common is an appreciation for rhythm and this track has it in spades. The “nod your head” track of the year.
I’ve been a fan of Butch Walker since his days fronting the excellent 90s trio Marvelous 3. Since then, Walker has tried on many hats both as a writer and producer for others (Pink, Katy Perry, Fall Out Boy) and in his own music which veered from hair metal to folk and country. After a brief period of time in which I lost interest in his prodigious output (and a tiny twitter tiff with the man himself) he came back strong on his latest record “Stay Gold” and I was, again, all-in. As the album title suggests, the music is full of 80s era anthemic rock (think Petty & Springsteen) and how could I not love a song dedicated to one of my favorite streets in Manhattan?
Sure it’s a cover, but no one today takes someone else’s tune and “makes it their own” like this dude. I think Cobain is a fan.
The best video to ever feature the creation of a clay half-dissected jackalope, this song is the slow jam off this “band of producers” third effort, “iii.” I love the samples and all the quirky sounds and even the computer-enhanced voice. The singer’s live vocals on their own fall short of their recorded perfection as I found out this year at the band’s record release show at Le Poisson Rouge.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
I don’t think there are many bands that have progressed as far as RHCP have since their early efforts. They were raw and amateurish in the late 80s but since have concentrated on what they do well and are now one of the biggest bands in the world. I saw a legendary double bill in 2000 when a little band called Foo Fighters opened for the Peppers in Jersey. This song was often my morning “shaving, ironing and dressing” soundtrack and got me going as well as any double espresso ever could.
What can you say? Hands down, the album of the year and a staggering artistic achievement. How fortunate he was, to write his own musical eulogy. When the album first came out, I was designing a newspaper page which contained the review of “Black Star.” A week later, sadly I was doing the same for his obituary. This track is the closer of the album and Bowie’s “last words.” Living with his illness in the biggest city in the world, the song’s title seems to have a double meaning alluding to both his desire for privacy and a dying man’s lament on what he leaves behind.
Some other honorable musical mentions for 2016
Best live radio appearances go to Julian Velard and his trusty keyboard on Dave Hill’s WFMU show.
Best small room gigs: Valley Lodge at Piano’s and Mercury Lounge, Brown Sabbath at Music Hall of Williamsburg The Cult at same, Butch Walker at Rough Trade, Spooky Ghost at Rockwood, Chris Trapper at same.
Best medium room gigs: Ringo Starr & His All Star Band at St. George Theater, Pete Yorn at Irving Plaza.
Best big room gigs: David Gilmour at MSG, Black Sabbath at same.
Best comeback gig: Leona Naess at Rockwood.
Best local gigs: The Flying W.A.S.P.s (x2) at Mother Pug’s.
Miscellaneous musical moment of the year: “Rush: Time Stand Still” documentary on the big screen.
I’m writing on behalf of your fans of which there are many.
I sincerely hope that this Monday you will accept the ride to & from the City of Jersey to appear on the God Damn Dave Hill Show (LLC) on WFMU.
From your previous call-ins, I know you think there are people who dislike you, and perhaps there are. We refer to those people as idiots (FBRs). However, I’m confident that there’s a much greater number who look forward to your calls and who genuinely care about you with, dare I say, something like love (or as much love as one can give to a disembodied voice).
On a personal level, I am looking forward to your live, in-studio appearance with a similar level of anticipation as if it were a Dokken concert, a movie starring one or both Wilson brothers or Christmas morning.
I think Dave is a good judge of character and he knows a good character and a good dude when he sees (or rather hears) one. I’m talking about you, YngDave (from before), here in this most recent sentence. Do us all a solid and be the Yng of our dreams. Warmest wishes to YngMom and be sure to bring at least 12 effects pedals along with you.
your fan Dave
(a completely different individual than the aforementioned one)
It has taken me a while to post this. I was shocked when I opened this document to write some more of it and noticed that the last time I had done so was at the beginning of November, almost exactly three months ago. Time passes so quickly and seems to accelerate. The past few decades, for me, have gone by in a flash. A year ain’t what it used to be. There is a cautionary lesson in this, for you as well as me. I hope I heed it.
In the Beginning…
My family is Italian, a good part of that Sicilian, and from Brooklyn. I say this as background to explain that we are all crazy to varying degrees. But we are also passionate. That is mostly a good thing, but the concoction can be volatile, and unfortunately, feelings get hurt, disagreements fester and sometimes people totally cut one another out of each other’s lives. I’m sure this happens with other cultures, but I don’t think to our warped level.
There are too many family members that I have fond memories of that have essentially become only memories in the present day.
My cousin Vince Musacchia almost became just that. A relation on my dad’s side of the family, he was the first relative I met as a youngster who was a “real live artist.” The other family artist was my mom’s eldest brother, Tony, who passed away in 1989. Vince could draw ANYTHING, but it was what he chose to draw, that fascinated my brothers and I. Superman, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Popeye. He would later develop his own style, but back then, and all his life, he could draw these characters absolutely perfectly in the style of the artists he admired. To most, Bugs Bunny is Bugs Bunny, but artists, and obsessed fans know the difference between a Chuck Jones Bugs and a Tex Avery Bugs. Well, Vince was both an obsessed fan and an artist and to watch his chubby fingers wrapped around a marker making lines on a page, was to witness a God-given gift.
The Best Medicine…
Among Vince’s best traits is his laugh. His laugh is guaranteed to make you laugh, whether you were in on the joke or the butt of his joke. He came from a family of terrific jokesters, his late mom, my Aunt Chenzie and his dad, Uncle John, who we lovingly called “Kukla” due to his dental shortcomings, both had cartoon-worthy laughs. In the right circle of influence and in a later time, they could have landed on South Park. I am fortunate to have memories of our extended family sitting around the dining room table in hysterics, entertained by the rudimentary fart machine made with rubber bands, a bent length of shirt hanger and a metal washer and by tales of Kukla breaking the chops of an elderly family friend who “had the shakes.”
Later as I turned my back on the corporate life my schooling had prepared me for, Vince was there with advice for me, and my worried parents. He had made himself a worthy example for a wanna-be like me, carving out a career as an advertising artist and later creating art for both Warner Brothers and Disney out in Los Angeles. Just imagine that—a kid from Brooklyn, coming of age in the salad years of animation at both studios, later working for BOTH of them. It is an accomplishment that should make his family proud, as I am, and his colleagues a bit envious (as I also am).
Fast forward to the more recent past. Vince and his family had moved back to good old Red Hook coming full circle back to where it all began, for both him and I. We reconnected on Facebook, as people do these days. I was reminded of his talents and great humor in his posts (another commonality we shared is our love for music and specifically playing drums) and he greatly enjoyed my posts—especially when I posted artwork made by my daughter Sophia, now nine. I got to know a few things I never knew about my cousin, including his spending time with John Lennon via his childhood pal from Brooklyn, Jimmy Iovine. In private messages we discussed his desire to meet Sophia and her sister Juliet and we made plans to get together sooner, just the two of us.
After some fits and starts, we made plans to meet at The Society of Illustrators for an exhibit of comics created for alternative weekly newspapers in the 80s and 90s, a subject close to my heart in that I got my illustration career started via the Village Voice and contributed hundreds of drawings for their rival NYPress. The Society was also displaying, in its handsome third floor bar and dining room, part of the collection of comics and cartoon art owned by artist and publisher, Craig Yoe. Years earlier, I had worked with Craig as a freelancer, creating illustrations for various publications he was working with and even drawing most of an educational comic book. Much more recently, my cousin Vince collaborated with the very same Craig Yoe, drawing brand new Popeye stories for a series of new books. I was thrilled at this confluence of events—the graphic arts community, as with many subcultures, feels much smaller than it actually is.
We met in the main gallery at the Society and hugged. After perusing the newspaper comics show, we headed upstairs to view, in awe, the Yoe collection and to have a few drinks. We sat a while and talked of old family memories and current family news. We laughed much and even cried a little. That Italian passion thing again. At the end of the night, we took the same subway headed home. I hopped off in lower Manhattan to catch my Staten Island bus and he stayed on headed for Red Hook. On my way home, I reflected on the night. It made me very proud to spend time with my cousin Vince, after all the years, as colleagues in our profession, talking shop in the shadow of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Time passed, all too fast and it’s now almost a year to the day from that night. Between then and now, my cousin Vince and I continued to correspond online. At one point he had posted some gorgeous Winnie the Pooh drawings he did while at Disney. Excitedly, I told him Pooh (or “Poohy”) is my Sophia’s favorite. And we tried, unsuccessfully, to plan another get-together. Ominously, he sent regrets on a planned meeting, telling me he hadn’t been feeling very well. Not long after, in almost no time at all, four months or so, he succumbed to pancreatic cancer. That was October 14, 2015.
I know Vince Musacchia touched so many people’s lives, through his music, his art and his larger than life personality. He leaves a staggering legacy of amazing work—worthy of an exhibit of his own, which will hopefully happen someday, before too much more time passes and is gone.
I never saw David Bowie in concert, but I did see him once in-person (more on that later). I woke yesterday morning to news of Bowie’s death starting to filter out on my Facebook feed. Disbelieving, I checked other sources saddened once the news was confirmed. Helping get the kids off to school, I stood at the kitchen sink, coffee in hand, listening to tributes on the clock radio with tears welling up in my eyes.
Less than a week prior, I designed a newspaper page for the Asia and Europe editions with a review of Bowie’s recent album “Blackstar” as the main story. Looking through the available photographs of Bowie I thought to myself, “wow, he still looks amazing.” The morning that the page was set to go to press, news broke of the death of an obscure composer. There was a flurry of emails from editors wondering if a coming tribute might bump the album review off the page. At some point it was determined that the obituary would not arrive in time for the Asia edition deadline, but perhaps in time for Europe. I sent off an email to one editor, sarcastically remarking that it was no big deal since Bowie doesn’t have all that many European fans. In the end the Bowie review stuck.
Now on this Monday morning, the flurry of emails was about trashing the planned layouts to make room for tributes to Bowie. I did so as soon as I arrived at my desk and am honored that the only other piece of non-Bowie related art on the page is an illustration I created.
Hours ahead on the clock in Europe, photo editors had assembled dozens of Bowie shots to accompany the coming news coverage. Seeking two photos, I opened the folder in Photoshop Bridge which allows a user to preview as many photos as can fit on screen. Here, I was struck by the chameleon-like quality of the artist. Everyone knows that about Bowie, but seeing it all on my Mac and knowing he is gone was an awe inducing experience.
After some indecision and soliciting of opinions, I decided on a mid 1960s shot of Bowie, which carried an embedded caption that he was still David Jones at the time. He is glancing upward with a pensive expression framed against a crimson backdrop. There was a sadness to the photo that I felt appropriate, but also it carried the notion of an artist at a pregnant moment when the world was wide-open to him — a world largely unprepared for the kind of artistry he was about to unleash for the next four-plus decades.
In the early 90s I was self-employed as a freelance illustrator. Without the social media of today, it was quite a lonely occupation, but it suited my demeanor at the time. It afforded me a great deal of free time, only being shackled to my bedroom studio when I needed to meet a deadline. Otherwise, I was like that young Bowie, less talented and certainly less good-looking, but still with the world as my oyster.
Always a lover of music, I started spending time on the lower east side of Manhattan in the late 90s and early aughts, enjoying the $3 drafts that are still available at Local 138 (albeit in smaller glasses) and the music coming from The Living Room, which at the time was on Stanton Street in a tiny corner storefront. It was all about the singer-songwriter scene and the perfect place to sit alone drawing in a sketchbook discovering new music while waiting for the one you showed up to see. It’s where I “discovered” Regina Spektor and where I saw Norah Jones, popping in to hang out after she won a few buckets full of Grammy awards.
It is also where I saw David Bowie who had come to see and meet Spooky Ghost, a one man act, Gerry Leonard and his wizard’s trove of guitar artistry. I became a fan of Gerry’s via his collaboration with Duncan Sheik, a favorite musician. Not long after, Gerry was recording with Bowie. Then touring in his band. Then Bowie’s musical director. Gerry was perfect for the role, humble, affable, hilarious and tremendously gifted.
My heart is broken for all of us, but mostly for Gerry who I have been lucky to call a friend. We all lost a singular artist, one who gave life and inspiration to so many that came after. My friend lost his.
It gets harder and harder to find 10 songs in any given year in that most contemporary music is roundly awful (just ask your dad or uncle!) but I was able to mine my mind and come up with these bright spots in the year that was. Feel free to comment below or get your own dag blog!!!!
The Wombats “Greek Tragedy”
The year got off to a bang with this track from the UK’s “The Wombats” off of their terrific album “Emoticons.” I had no idea who this band was when I saw them cold at Webster Hall in the spring (thanks Bill Ard!) and they quickly became a high-rotation band on my iPod. I caught them again at the much larger Terminal 5 in the fall and it was like a victorious homecoming for them, especially since they often close their sets with a song called “Moving to New York.”
Kacey Musgraves “Biscuits”
I started listening to this song since it’s one of the only “appropriate” videos I can show my girls on the Music Choice channel (even though it references “pissing in my yard”). It’s sort of the perfect song for the Facebook era (“I’ll just do me and honey, you can just do you”). To me she sounds a bit like Dolly Parton and seems to have a bit of her sassiness.
Eric Church “Mr. Misunderstood”
Eric Church stunned fans by dropping this single and a whole album completely out of the blue. I give him and his team major props for being able to keep this a secret in this day and age. This song hearkens more to Springsteen than Haggard and even name drops Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. I’m happy E.C. wears his heart and influences on his sleeve, and that he don’t wear a cowboy hat.
Adele “When We Were Young”
How often do you get to witness potential legendary greatness forming right before your eyes? Adele released her single “Hello” and nearly broke the internet (or at least YouTube). I prefer this song and especially this live version where she just completely kills it vocally.
Duncan Sheik “Distant Lovers”
I was thrilled that Duncan Sheik released a pop record this year in the midst of more theatrical leanings (the revival of his “Spring Awakening” on Broadway, the upcoming Broadway version of “American Psycho” and a musical on the life of author Carson McCullers in collaboration with Suzanne Vega). This is a record full of heartbreak and brave revelatory lyrics (“I’m a difficult boy, with a difficult mother”) awash in the most electronic soup he has ever cooked up.
This band opened for Mike Adams at His Honest Weight at Brooklyn’s Bell House and I picked up their EP. They have a great energy live and this video is a nice postcard for Halloween in NYC.
Miike Snow “Heart is Full”
The band’s next record is not due out until spring 2016, but they dropped two singles on YouTube and while both are great (the other is called “Genghis Khan”) this one’s classic R&B vibe makes it a home run. I’ve yet to catch them live and hope to next year.
For King & Country “Out of the Woods” (Taylor Swift cover)
While the hipsterrati were agog for Ryan Adams’ track by track covering of Taylor Swift’s “1989″ record, I fell hard for this cover, after Ms. Swift gave the band props for it on social media. I’m not really a fan of the “Imagine Dragons” ilk of bands that play wacky instruments and have 10 people on stage, but these guys may prove the exception. The rare pop song that rewards being played really loud.
Major Lazer & DJ Snake “Lean On”
This side project of DJ Diplo (the dude in that phone commercial!) produced the ear worm of the year…it’s a terrible shame that the hook “blow a kiss, fire a gun” took on strange meaning in a year of too many mass shootings and gun violence.
Foals “What Went Down”
If Foals puts out a record every year, I’m pretty sure they will top my Best Of list in every year. This year they put out a record called “What Went Down” which was teased ahead of its release with a video for the title track. I was excited by the song on its own terms, but I knew this was the type of Foals track that would be ferocious when performed live, and I was not disappointed when the band played it during their encore at their December Terminal5 gig. I had the pleasure of interviewing lead singer Yannis Philippakis in late summer while they were prepping for a festival set in Poland. We had a great chat. Foals are the best band to surface in the past 20 years and currently the best live act out there. Try ’em, you’ll love ’em!
I art directed and designed the layouts for when cyclist Floyd Landis exposed Lance Armstrong’s legacy of lies.
Layout, photo illustration and type treatment for a story on college football rivalries.
Illustrations of World Series champs/beard enthusiasts, The Boston Red Sox and HBO’s ‘True Detective.’
Graphics for story on Tiger Woods’ performance when wearing various colors and an icon for a WSJ online feature.
Icon for a WSJ recurring feature and a specialized headline treatment for a US Open tennis story.
Icons for a WSJ story on walking the length of the Chamber’s Bay golf course and one made in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
The following are headlines I wrote for various sports and entertainment stories (I also art directed and designed all the pictured layouts).
The following is the “director’s cut” of an article I wrote for the WSJ’s speakeasy blog after speaking with Foals singer Yannis Philippakis.
Many bands recognize that their songs take on a different vibe when played live. This is definitely true of Foals, whose first single, “What Went Down,” (from the album of the same name on Warner Bros.) best captures the group’s live energy.
That energy is well-represented by lead singer and guitarist, Yannis Philippakis, who spoke with the Wall Street Journal ahead of a performance in Krakow, Poland. Foals, formed in Oxford, England 10 years ago, has played a great number of music festivals in Europe this summer. Philippakis has an interesting take on such performances. “Whether this is just in my mind, I look at [festival shows] as more adversarial. I like to look at it as more of a challenge, like combat in some way whereas our own [headlining] shows are obviously more like a celebration. Psychologically sometimes, when we’re in front of, what can look like, a baying mass, it’s kind of helpful to look at it, at least for me, like it’s something that needs to be subdued or conquered in some way.”
The track “What Went Down” is quickly becoming a favorite of both fans and the band. The single was released in June with a video that nicely illustrates the aggressive, almost primal nature of the song. “We did one show in particular in Spain the other day in a place called Benidorm,” said Philippakis. “We started playing the opening chords…and the whole place was singing the chorus before we even kicked into the song. It was pretty awesome.”
Philippakis continued, “there’s something about [this song] at the moment where I actually need to find a way to deal with it. [After playing it] I’m coming off-stage and I’m just super charged and I don’t know how to release that energy. I feel like I’m spent at the end of the gig but then I get backstage and I’m just absolutely wired off it. There’s something about it that’s so animalistic…I’m not myself anymore when I play that song.”
The members of the band, Philippakis included, are all multi-instrumentalists, but they are Jack Bevan, drums, guitarist, Jimmy Smith, Walter Gervers on bass and Edwin Congreave, keyboards. Foals has enlisted different producers, and recorded in varied locales on each of their four albums. This time around, James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, handled production, recording the band in a former farmhouse in Provence, France. “We were there during the changing of the seasons in a relatively remote, isolated, but quite expansive studio. We lived in the studio and kind of cut ties with the outside world for a few months,” said Philippakis. “It was an encouraging place to work. We’ve recorded in other places [where] the actual environment was an impediment. This one wasn’t like that.”
In terms of their process, he stated “on this record, we were more prepared going into the studio than we’ve ever been before.The songs were fixed coordinates…we knew what each song was getting at and kind of how it would end up…a lot of that is down to James Ford being a big fan of decisiveness.”
The second video released from the forthcoming album was for the song “Mountain at My Gates.” It was directed by Nabil Elderkin, and utilized the latest GoPro camera spherical virtual reality technology. Philippakis said of the director, “I’d seen some of his Frank Ocean videos [so] I got in touch with him on the last record and I kind of badgered him to come and do a video for us, which he did and then we hit it off. [This time] we wanted to do something that was more harnessing of the visual technology that’s out there now and was pushing the boundaries of what you can do with technology that everyone has in their pocket now. I think it’s cool to do something that is playful and accessible-anyone with a smartphone becomes the director.”
While many of their songs reach for U2-like arena-rock grandiosity, in the states Foals have mostly played smaller clubs and theaters. Philippakis reflected on some great pockets of fans that don’t happen to live in Los Angeles or New York City. “We’ve always had really great shows throughout California, some of our best shows have been in San Diego and Sacramento. Portland is always great. I remember going to New Orleans-we’d never played there before and had an awesome crowd there. Milwaukee, as well!” He continued, “being a British band in the states is not something where you can go and predict necessarily what it’s going to be like from gig to gig. (It can be) kind of up and down but we’ve had some great crowds in some of those towns.”
The band just announced a bunch of small club dates in the UK this fall. While no US dates are officially announced, Philippakis promised “some dates before Christmas.” Of such smaller venues Philippakis said, “when we were playing mainly in sweaty clubs I was in love with sweaty clubs. I think I romanticize it a bit. [But] I like to have the band…do as many small shows as feasible. There is something more physically direct in these shows. I thrive at shows where it’s like in your face.”
As for the future, beyond “What Went Down,” Philippakis seems not be concerned with the band fitting in with any current trend or even with their own musical past. “We feel like if we write a song it’s going to sound like Foals,” he said. “There isn’t any parameter or boundary on what we should be doing.”
This July, the extended Bamundo family visited Sunny Hill Resort in the Catskills; Greene County to be exact. It is the same trek made yearly by the family for the past three plus decades. While I have sat out a few years in the 90s, my older brother, Vin has gone up every summer since we three brothers were two bony teens and a slightly chubbier tween.
While many of the other surrounding Catskills resorts have been abandoned or bought quite often as tax havens by religious groups, Sunny Hill has remained a great place for a golf or family vacation. There was a brief time where the accomodations had grown a bit shabby and it looked like good ole Sunny Hill might not make it, but then the family doubled-down and made many improvements to retrain and attract families with young (and young-at-heart) kids. For this, I’m grateful, for it is really one of the most beautiful places in all the world.
This year, it dawned on me that it is the perfect place for panoramic photos. I rarely had used the iPhone feature, but this year I shot a bunch which are all below for you to enjoy. Please click each to view full size and download if you would like.