rocky votolato

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Albums I Enjoyed in 2007 — 20 to 16

In handy table format!

Essie Jain
We Made This Ourselves
Ba Da Bing

This year for me was all about harmony. I discarded almost everything that wasn’t in tune, and if there was a good harmony, I jumped on it with both feet. Which is not an appropriate metaphor for the delicate songs on an album with butterflies on it. But still.

Jain most closely resembles Dido without the beats; probably another reason I like her. But though her harmonies are sparing, they are transcendent. I’m not as fond of the lyrics, which are fairly ambiguous (perhaps punctuation would help), i.e. You’re a worthless thing / that is everything / but precisely / what I asked for. Still and all, the beauty of such songs as “Haze” tend to overshadow the weak lyrics.

Angelique Kidjo
Djin Djin
Razor & Tie
Ae Ae

Representative of all the so-called world music that I picked up this year, but with celebrity status. Kidjo apparently toured with Josh Groban this year and gained legions of fans, so congrats to her. But I didn’t need Groban’s approbation to love the album, since it is gorgeous from the first chord of “Ae Ae” to the last clear note of “Lonlon,” Kidjo’s version of “Bolero.”

Readers of this blog will have already noticed that I wrote about Kidjo earlier in the year, so I won’t say more than, this is what Afropop is all about for me. I don’t understand the language so I can’t follow a message, and I’ll admit it; I’m just here for the sound, which Kidjo has in spades.

Rocky Votolato
The Brag & Cuss
Whiskey Straight

You all know how I love me some Rocky. That said, I was not as enthused about this record as I was about “Makers.” Most of the songs sounded Rockyesque, but tired. Maybe all that tourin’ has been wearing him out a bit.

Standout tracks are “The Wrong Side of Reno,” which has a little bounce, and “Whiskey Straight,” which showcases his trademark stripped, straight-up lyric: Why do you keep running? The pace is hurried but you’re never closer to what it was you thought you wanted. It all keeps changing — and now something else is missing. Ain’t that the truth.

The Bees (Band of Bees)
(This Is For the) Better Days

Half this album is so spot on with its poppy craziness. I chair-danced madly to “Who Cares What the Question Is,” probably about a thousand times. And when they stay in the footsteps of their predecessors, these guys hit the nail on the head. It took me two weeks and my husband to figure out what was nagging me about “Love In the Harbour” — it’s a dead ringer for something off of “On the Threshold Of A Dream.” Groovy! Not many people outside the Simpsons reference the Moody Blues anymore.

The Bees do a lot of genre switching, adding a sexy bass swing to “(This Is For the) Better Days” and a sitar (and a boingy-boingy thing, who knows what that is) to “The Ocularist.” And “End of the Street” is chock full of wicked weird noises. The album’s not perfect, and some of it fails, but honestly, it’s just so nice to hear a band having fun with music and all the genres that comprise it.

PJ Harvey
White Chalk

Everyone who’s anyone spent a lot of time with PJ in the 90s. She rang my earphones, growling even through my crummy walkman, and I growled right along with her. “Rid of Me” was my album of catharsis — I’m one fifty foot queenie; sheela-na-gig, you exhibitionist. So even though I couldn’t really expect the same of her, fourteen years later, I was still disappointed at the understatement of “White Chalk.” Excepting the heartbeat in “When Under Ether,” there is almost no beat, no growl. I missed the growl. Then I listened again to “White Chalk,” and I heard it.

I know these chalk hills will rot my bones, she says like a curse. Scratch my palms / there’s blood on my hands. It’s understated to the point of nonexistence, but it’s running through the songs just the same — the same loneliness, the same search for forgiveness and love. It’s the PJ I remember, docile perhaps on the outside in her white dress, but still growling.

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Top 10 2006; 8

Rocky Votolato
Makers (removed. contact me for a copy.)

At the risk of getting disgustingly personal, I want to talk about a feeling. No, no, don’t run off! I think you’ve felt it too. Let me try to describe it — suppose you’re standing somewhere very beautiful. In the area that I live, it’s the beach; facing the Pacific Ocean is a transcendent experience, no matter how many times you do it. So anyway, you’re standing somewhere very beautiful. Your choice of place. But you know you have to leave that place — you can’t stand there forever. So at the same time that you’re awash in beauty, you’re sad because you have to leave it. Now it’s important here; you can’t be sad after you leave. You have to be sad at the exact same time that you’re the happiest. Have you had that feeling? Of course you have. Well, there’s probably a word for that feeling in German or French. In English, it’s called Votolato.

Minimalism is the name of Votolato’s game; in less words than it takes me to write that first paragraph (thankfully!), he nails the heart of it. Life keeps on changing / tell it to stay still but it won’t listen / I just want you near me like you are now for good, he says, and All those evenings on the back deck of our first apartment / they meant everything but the wind just carried them off / and you can’t go back now / just a passing moment gone. Perhaps some of you reading this are making a face at the screen. Sentimental nonsense, you’re thinking. Well, it isn’t something that the 18 to 24 demographic can quite pick up on, but as life goes on, it speeds up. Where is the secret magic past world that you only notice when you look back at it / and all I want to do is turn around? One day you look up, and years have gone by like miles on the highway, and you aren’t really sure where they went.

Though he sometimes descends into the same twisted phrasery that made “Suicide Medicine” hard to follow (i.e., from “She Was Only In It…,” she swore out the lights when she dammed herself to sleep / her thirteenth finger my whiskey drink), almost every song on “Makers” is perfectly listenable. In homage to Votolato’s talent for turn of phrase, I named this site after one of the finest images I have had the pleasure of hearing: heaven or heavenless, we’re all headed for the same sweet darkness.

This record is the best definition of folk music, in that it’s music by a person, for people, about things we’ve all felt. I’ve seen Votolato perform twice, and he’s an unassuming guy. You’d walk right past him on the street, but then he picks up a guitar and starts tapping his boots and suddenly he’s bringing life to life. And to my mind, it’s music like this that stays with you: it is the function of music, after all, to resound with the listener; to say, “I understand”; to strike true.


I feel like I really ought to say something profound and interesting. But, having gorged on an entire bag of TJ’s chocolate pretzels, my brain can only say, “BZZZZZZZZ.”

So! I was at the gym the other day, and listening to the Mountain Goats while watching an insanely thin girl doing her workout. The super duper thing about gyms in L.A. is that there is a very high percentage of Beautiful People, doing their crunches and whatnot while you sweat through your workout, grind your teeth, and hate them.

Therefore, I present our first mix: songs referencing body parts in their titles. Make no mistake about it, I have more songs than this. However, I thought I’d spare you the live VH-1 version I have of Kelly Clarkson singing “Behind These Hazel Eyes.” Oddly enough, this mix referenced mostly the top half of the body. Why do I have so many songs about teeth? Freaky.

Welcome to Bon Ton! BZZZZZZZZ

Twin High Maintenance Machines: A Bon Ton Mix

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]

1. Neutral Milk Hotel – Two Headed Boy
2. Ryan Adams – Expressway To Yr Skull
3. Mountain Goats – Lion’s Teeth
4. Tarkio – Devil’s Elbow
5. the New Amsterdams – All Ears
6. Rocky Votolato – Without Eyes Still Seeing
7. Iron & Wine – Teeth In the Grass
8. The Format – Sore Thumb
9. the Decemberists – Red Right Ankle ( Live at the Quad in London 11/15/2004)
10. The Old 97’s – Big Brown Eyes
11. Flogging Molly – Rebels of the Sacred Heart
12. Blanche – Redhead
13. Air – Dead Bodies
14. Bishop Allen – Corazon
15. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! – Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth

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