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Category Archives: Music

Best I Heard, 2018 Edition

Best I Heard, 2018 Edition

Every year, during the first third of it or thereabouts, I hear a stunning piece of work that makes me say “this is the first real contender for Album of the Year.” Of course, with the plethora of albums released every year, what this means in practice is “here, wear this target on your back for the next nine to eleven months.” Most years, that’s how it plays out; I’ve been doing this for forty years now, and in all that time, three albums I started out saying that about actually ended up Album of the Year. The first appeared in February 1987; to this day, King Diamond’s Abigail remains, for me, the greatest concept album ever released. The second was Merzbow’s Ikebukuro Dada, which climbed atop the mountain in March of 2002 and was never topped. The third? Read on.

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Best I Heard, 2016 Edition

Best I Heard, 2016 Edition

It may be the third time in the past five years I’ve said it, but it’s been true every time: this has been the best year for music since I started keeping track. 2016 was the third year this decade, following 2012 and 2014, where not only did I have multiple Album of the Year contenders right down to the wire (and as a side note, this is the first year where the album that ended up being Album of the Year was not one of the original contenders when I made the first draft of my list*), but I ended up having to tweak things because there was so damn much good music that it seemed leaving stuff out would be a crime against humanity. As a result, this year, for the first time in the history of my Album of the Year lists, the Honorable Mention section has been expended to twenty-five. Because no less than thirty-five albums this year deserve mention as being impeccable avatars of their respective genres.

And here’s something that has been gradually coming, but really exploded into its own this year: this is a really wide-ranging list. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past six or seven years really trying to get out of my cocoon and be aggressive about listening to stuff outside my comfort zone, to become more inclusive in my enjoyment of music. The way I was when I put out that first top-ten list all the way back in 1979. And there’s no denying that my lists have gotten more diverse, but man, this year. There’s stuff from damn near every corner of the musical spectrum represented, and it’s all stellar.

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The Best I Heard 2014: The Ten Best Albums (plus ten Honorable Mentions)

You know how this goes. The book and movie lists it’s just what I saw/what I read during the year, with no thought of when it was actually released. But for music, it’s limited to what was released in 2014. So it’s reasonably up to date! Who’d’a thunk? In any case, without further ado…

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Abenteuerliches Herz (2002): Gotos =/= Kalanda

Allerseelen, Abenteuerliches Herz (Aorta, 2002)

[originally posted 22Nov2002]

A phallic rock stands before a stone tablet on the album cover.

Where the demons dwell. Where the banshees live, and they do live well.
photo credit:

It pains me to write this…

Allerseelen first caught my attention seven years ago with the brilliant “Santa Sangre,” a contribution to the Im Blutfeuer compilation (Cthulhu, 1995). I picked up Ultra!’s comp, The Nitha Fields, based on the strength of it, and the two Allerseelen songs on it (“Alle Lust will Ewigkeit” and “Traumlied”) were similarly brilliant. So I acquired their latest album, Abenteuerlichers Herz (Adventurous Heart). And it is painful.

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Night of the Demon (1981): Big Love

Demon, Night of the Demon (Clay Records, 1981)

[originally posted 14Feb2002]

Two hands claw at a tombstone made of flesh on the album cover.

Get out of the grave, Alan.
photo credit:

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away there lived a biker-rock-cum-metal band called Demon. Demon were part of what came to be known as NWOBHM (the New Wave of British Heavy Metal), but were overshadowed, as so many early-eighties British metal bands were, by renewed interest on this side of the pond in the bands that had come before—Judas priest, Slade, et al. And so, despite the best efforts of a young, barely-known American band called Metallica (through numerous covers and the NWOBHM compilation album in the mid-eighties) to bring American attention to these acts, many of them faded into obscurity quickly.

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White Monkey (2001): Papa Don’t Preach

Danielle Spencer, White Monkey (EMI Australia, 2001)

[originally posted 19Feb2002]

A picture of Danielle Spencer looking pensive adorns the cover.

Black and white artist photo on cover: moody, acoustic singer-songwriter music. Guilty!
photo credit:

Danielle Spencer is Russell Crowe’s on-again off-again girlfriend. [ed. note 2014: they’re married now.]

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, one wonders if her longstanding relationship with Crowe (which goes back some twelve years, to the two of them filming a painfully bad indie film called The Crossing in 1990) has eclipsed, rather than enhanced, Spencer’s long and obscure musical career. Over the past three years, she’s jettisoned the bands she’s been working with and set out to write her own
material. White Monkey is the first full-length showcase of the results. And while it’s an inconsistent piece of work, the first word that comes to mind is still “brilliant.”

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Abe Messiah (2001): The Dream Must Stay Alive

The Tribe, Abe Messiah (Sanctuary, 2001)

[originally posted 19Feb2002]

Pitch-perfect Kiwi pop from the best YA TV show you've never seen. photo credit:

Pitch-perfect Kiwi pop from the best YA TV show you’ve never seen.
photo credit:

These days, it’s the rare country on the planet that hasn’t been made aware of the New Zealand young adult-themed show The Tribe. America is, unfortunately, one of those rare countries, thanks in no small part to the operating budget of the channel (WAM, a part of the Encore/Starz network) that has exclusive American rights to the show. The Tribe has been making waves all over Europe and Asia; the upcoming season 1 DVD releases are in the top 2,000 ranked Amazon purchases at on preorders alone. Why? Because aside from the obvious draw of soap opera, the show’s producers, Cloud 9 Entertainment, did their best to come up with a top-notch cast of actors. Most every main character in the show, and not a small number of minor folks, have a respectable number of film and theater credits backing them up given their ages. Some of them also have relatively extensive musical backgrounds. So the producers hatched on an idea—why not have the cast sing the John Williams-written theme song? Meryl Cassie (Ebony, on the show) took lead vocals on the opening theme, and the closer is an ensemble piece. Both hit the charts almost overnight. Next logical step: an album.

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Capsule Reviews (vault): July, 2014

Peter D. Hipson, What Every Visual C++ 2 Programmer Should Know (Sams, 1994)

[originally posted 19Feb2002]

A "just the facts, ma'am" cover with the red title on a green background.

Even more dated now than when I wrote this review.
photo credit: ebay

What Every Visual C++ 2 Programmer Should Know is the perfect compliment to Gurewich and Gurewich’s Master Visual C++ 2. Both put out by Sams in the same year. Coincidence? Probably not. Everything the Gurewich book lacks is covered here. The detail and amount of code examples is lacking in comparison, but given the topics covered, that’s an excusable oversight.

What Every Visual C++ 2 Programmer Should Know looks at the more advanced features of Microsoft’s primary development platform: programming with Unicode, OLE, ODBC, multithreading, etc. It’s more a reference book than a how-to manual, but the user who’s followed and mastered the Gurewichs’ book should already have enough coding under his belt to integrate the information presented here without much trouble. The two books, taken together, provide the best introduction to Visual C++ 2 on the market, and are highly recommended for those still programming in DOS/Win3.x/Win95. *** ½

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Capsule Reviews, June 2014: From the Vault

Enemy at the Gates (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 2001)

[originally posted 12Dec2001]

Joseph Fiennes and Jude Law dominate the movie poster.

War is hell. But war is pretty hell.
photo credit: Wikipedia

It’s hard to tell what you’re going to get when you find yourself watching a Jean-Jacques Annaud film. Some of his output deserves instant classic status; some should never have seen the light of day. Enemy at the Gates balances on the thin line between the two, but does eventually manage to fall on the side of the former.

Annaud teams up with Alain Godard (as in most of his truly fine efforts) to offer up a screenplay about two snipers, Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law) and Major Konig (Ed Harris) during the 1942/43 siege of Stalingrad. The two are backed by a solid cast of minor characters, including the off-kilter-genius casting of Bob Hoskins as Krushchev. And while Annaud and Godard use the story of Zaitsev to examine the pros and cons of propaganda, they thankfully never lose focus on the real story– two guys trying to kill each other while a war rages around them. It doesn’t sound all that interesting when stripped down, and there are certainly a few places where the film drags, but overall it works much better than one would expect it to. Jude Law is, as always, a pleasure to watch onscreen, and Ed Harris gives one of his better performances (though he can’t seem to decide if he’s supposed to be speaking in a German accent or not). Worth a rental. *** ½


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Sepsis (2001): Digging in the Dirt

The Hollowing, Sepsis (Live Bait Recording Foundation, 2001)

[originally posted 12Feb2002]

photo credit:

We can’t show it to you because the Internet fails us (and it’s packed away somewhere I can’t easily get to it).

The Hollowing have been making a name for themselves over the course of the last couple of years with select live appearances add the odd comp track here and there. Sepsis is the act’s first full-length studio release, and it lives up to the promise.

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