Dear Santa,
Even when I was being naughty, I tried to be nice. It’s just that things are so complicated these days. It’s hard to stay focused what with another great depression nipping at our heels, banks lending less and taking more, wars—and some of them want to die—and unemployment on the rise, home values in decline, global warming and pandemics right out of a conspiracy theorists cookbook. Not to mention the mindless divide along party lines that every issue is splayed against, leaving paranoia fully armed and the ammo shelves empty.

It’s disconcerting to say the least that we Americans have to accept the fact that other places in the world are equally good places, dare I say even better places for some to live. "Unfortunately the rest of the world is starting to become a better place" as Sarah Silverman put it. Other people and cultures may even know better than we do what’s best for them. Imagine.

This idea of global equality seems to be making some people here very angry. It’s as if they think because other people are getting more, they must be getting less. And no one wants less. But why am I troubling you with all this nonsense! You have important work to do. Here’s my 2009 wish list.
Happy Holidays,

PS: I already bought most of these because I wasn’t sure if you’d be too busy bringing presents to the people still living in the places we freed.

Zola Jesus
The Spoils: Zola Jesus is Nika Roza Danilova, a just-20-year-old making music all by her lonesome out of sung shards and pulsing noise. Infectious, dark and haunting.

Opinel Knife: Because everyone needs a good knife.

Circuit Des Yeux Sirenum: Siren songs from Lafayette, Indiana? Well, if Haley Fohr aka Circuit Des Yeux has anything to say about it, you betcha. Another solitary lonesome solo bedroom mix of haunted voices, crackling creaks, flutes, ghosts, piano, squall and strum all presented as if from a child’s murky remembered nightmare. It’s taken a few listens to get beyond the sound but once you do, there’s something strangely painful yet alluring lurking amid the sound globs, blobs and shrieks. Thanks to Stephen Mejias for reminding me about this one.

Emma Pettit Old Rare New: The Independent Record Shops: The book we all want (to read and have written). Includes 160 b/w and color illustrations. "Emma Pettit, formerly of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, has traveled across the UK and America into these eclectic spaces of musical exchange, interviewing record shop owners, collectors and musicians to provide a rich account of the increasingly rare independent record shop."

Cecil Barfield
South Georgia Blues: George Mitchell went down to Georgia in 1976 and recorded Cecil Barfield aka William Robertson. Cecil didn’t want his real name attached to that record for fear he would stop getting his disability checks. Cecil is another singular voice in Blues and it’s his singing that stands him out. Cecil sounds like he’s swallowed, digested and then exorcised these songs from his body. At times it’s like the tune takes over, making him mumble nearly incoherently one minute, grunting out a line the next and then it’s off on some wicked falsetto run. Listen to his version of "Baby, Please Don’t Go" for a taste of magic. From the liner notes: "The reason Robertson’s photograph is not on the cover of the album is that he fears anyone could turn a photo of him face down and kill him."

Sonic Youth The Eternal: After nearly 30 years, Sonic Youth remains vital. The Eternal picks up where your favorite SY album left off - no matter which one that is.

An Instrument
: We spend so much time listening to music, why not make some. I’m currently partial to the idea of owning a vintage accordion or Farifisa piano organ along with our guitars, piano, trumpet and harmonicas but any old instrument will do. If times are too tough, bang on a can or better yet a grumpy audiophile.

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou "The Vodoun Effect" 1972 – 1975, Funk & Sato from Benin’s Obscure Labels: The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou were genuine music machines, churning out hundreds and hundreds of songs from their native Benin. The tracks on this double LP are from ‘private’ sessions recorded in people’s homes on a lone Nagra and the sound is beautiful, alive, raw and hot.

Betty Davis
Is It Love Or Desire: Holy crap! What a great record mastered from the original tapes never before seen or heard since they were recorded in 1976. The Funk House-backing band is super tight and Betty is tighter than ever with her loose-lipped dirty-mouthed snarling sexiness going from straight ahead funk to bluesy bar room ballads to whispery soulful softness inspired by ex-hubby Miles asking her "Why don’t you sing soft songs?" "Any question you got, my body can answer."

Beer: For the second year running, Dale’s Pale Ale wins my "the beer most responsible for my increasing girth" award.

Rev. Charlie Jackson Wraped [sic or maybe not?] Up In Jesus/Lord Your So Good: This mind-numbingly powerful 45 was put out by the good Reverend himself on "Jackson Records" in the 1970s. Available from 50 Miles of Elbow Room, these are some rare birds. Like Herb Reichert said, this is real music.

Analog Clothes: If you want brand-new genuine Levi’s shrink-to-fit button fly 501 jeans that are 100% made in the USA including the denim, you have to buy them in Europe or Japan.

Lula Côrtes and Zé Ramalho Paêbirú: Originally released in 1974 and as the story goes, with most copies destroyed in a flood or fire (I’ve read both versions and it’s worth noting the four sides of this double are named after earth, air, fire and water),  this is simply one beautiful slice of Brazilian world-infused hippie mystical psychedelia.

C.G. Jung The Red Book: Jung’s "confrontation with the unconscious" which he withheld from publishing during his lifetime because he thought people would think he was crazy.  Includes over 200 color illustrations (beautiful ones to boot!) by Jung himself.
Lowell Davidson Trio: A huge record discovery (think Darwin-type big) is the Lowell Davidson Trio featuring Davidson on piano, Gary Peacock on bass and Milford Graves on percussion. Recorded 7/27/65. Tracks Side A - "L", "Stately 1″, "Dunce" and Side B - "Ad Hoc", "Strong Tears". This is Lowell Davidson’s only recording and what a pure and beautiful piece of music it is. Davidson studied pianoforte at age 4, composition at 8, harmony at 12, organ and then piano at 15. He graduated from Harvard (he was there on a full scholarship) with a degree in biochemistry. We can thank Ornette Coleman for this record because it came about due to his persistence with ESP's founder Bernard Stollman. I’d read about this record, forgot about it, then was reminded of it in The Wire’s Invisible Jukebox in the March issue which featured Joe Morris. Morris knew Davidson from Boston: "He used to talk about how music was really intended to alter the biochemistry of your brain so that people would evolve. He told me once, ‘It’s about evolution‘."

This record is full of colors, ‘formative clusters’ as a favorite teacher used to say, and a monster of a trio performance that leaves me nearly breathless (literally). Davidson’s playing is not familiar in a directly referential way yet it’s melodically and harmonically rich and always generous and inviting. I’ve never heard Milford Graves sound more part of a group and Gary Peacock is equally perplexing/inviting/stunning. This is a strange—as in not familiar— amalgam of musical stuff that adds up to one unbelievably moving experience.

Analog Shave: My grandfather, Corey Greenberg and more recently Sam Tellig got there first but it’s worth repeating that there’s no shave like the shave you get from a safety razor. The double-edged blades are way better and way cheaper (I got 100 for $15) than those high-rez over-priced multi-bladed—one pulls while the other entices—doodads. Do your face a favor.
Vivian Girls Everything Goes Wrong: I liked the first one fine but I like this one finer. Is it the new drummer? The better sonics? Less foggy fuzz to listen through? The extra three days—spending twice as long!—in the studio? I think it’s all of the above. Plus the Vivian Girls sound like they’re just making better music. How much better? On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give this a totally fucking fun. Some say they’re nothing but posers which I think they do well too.
Analog hifi: Get yourself a mechanical Victrola so you can play some 78s during thunder storms and a cassette deck so you can hear all the new cassette-only releases from bands that don’t want you to hear their music on the internet. If either of these propositions immediately brings to mind poor sound quality, never mind. I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to people who enjoy music first and foremost.

Hitoshi Kojo Ezo: Sounds coaxed from found objects mainly metallic in origin reverberate and drone right down to your soul. Enchanting, mysterious and ominous beauty from Hitoshi Kojo.

Ólafur Arnalds Variations Of Static: Is it that 21-year-old Ólafur Arnalds is from Iceland? Is it the subtle crackling bits of electronic haze and crude speech-synthesized MacInTalk voice-over reciting things like "Do you still remember when we were little? We would play in the park, and you asked me what happens when we die. I said you forget everything."? Maybe it’s the simple string quartet and piano setting and that this was recorded by Oli in his home. Or maybe it’s the icy gray blue vinyl that adds the last dollop of ache to this 10" EP which is so beautifully melancholy.

Kim Doo Soo 10 Days Butterfly: Stunning simple beautiful forlorn existential acid folk-song poems from Korea’s Kim Doo Soo. His 5th album but the first to be released outside of Korea and the first PSF (Japan) vinyl release in 5+ years!
The Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue, 1957-1965: "It isn’t necessary to imagine too much of what happened inside 821 Sixth Avenue from 1957 to 1965. Smith documented the goings-on with more than 1000 rolls of film (roughly 40,000 exposures), both inside the building and through his fourth-floor window. He also wired the building from the sidewalk to the top (fifth) floor and made 1,740 reels of audio recordings." Another remarkable obsession captured.
The Peter Brötzmann Octet Machine Gun [FMP0090]: Recorded in 1968, this is one totally brutally bitchin'—some say seminal—record. Originally sold as a cassette (if anyone has an original, please don’t tell me), FMP/Free Music Production put out the LP in 1972 withPeter Brötzmann, Evan Parker, Willem Breuker, Fred Van Hove, Peter Kowald, Buschi Niebergall, Sven Johansson and Han Bennick. A monster whirlwind angst, anger and ferocious energy gig (I’ve heard it called punk jazz) with some loony melodic snippets thrown in that loses no energy, bite or freshness even at 40+ years of age.
Tlahoun Gèssèssè Ethiopian Urban Modern Music Vol. 4: Early ’70s Ethiopian soul by "The Voice" Tlahoun Gèssèssè. Super powerful, super funky, super fly music with a backing band that James Brown would have killed for. Released as part of the Ethiopiques series by Buda Musique and on LP by L’Arome Productions for what promises to be another rich mine of unearthed gems.

New Music Resource
s: What would a gift guide be without a list of guides? Here are some of my favorites.
Aquarius Records
Forced Exposure
Important Records
Mimaroglu Music Sales
Not Not Fun Records
Other Music
Sacred Bones Records
The Wire
Volcanic Tongue

Lucian Freud etching: Back in the ‘80s I saw a show of Lucian Freud etchings and fell in love with Thistle. I could have bought it. Rather, I actually could have afforded it back then. For the price of fancy-ass cables, you can buy yourself some art to hang on your listening room wall and smile as you look and listen knowing that at least one other item in the room appreciates.

Bill Dixon/Aaron Siegel/Ben Hall Weight/Counterweight: Primal, elemental, brutal, forceful, quiet, serene and all that (free) jazz. Dixon accompanied by Hall on percussion and Siegel on percussion/vibes on one completely stunning brand-spankin’ new double gatefold LP release from brokenresearch. Dixon sounds at times like a Tibetan monk blowing some long-assed earth-shaking horn. At others more like some minimalist modernist who in a very silent way breathes echoed musical essence into spirit form (= he sounds just like Bill Dixon) while Siegel and Hall shudder, tinkle, trinkle, pound and thump some lava-like river of equally beautiful subtle force. Primal, elemental, brutal, forceful, quiet, serene and all that (free) jazz. One of my Records of the Year.
Analog versus digital: The measured difference between analog and digital means as much to me as the measured difference between dogs and cats.

I prefer listening to records and this preference is not restricted to or solely based on the sound coming out of my speakers.

Rather, it’s about the affect that shopping for, living with and listening to records has on my life and the relationship to music it inspires. In a word, that relationship is passionate exploration.

Reissues: There were so many essential reissues this year, I thought I’d list just a few more personalized favorites. Since these are nearly impossible to find, their artwork opens to full size in new windows to make your search easier.

All’s fair in love, war and hi-fi:
The music/hifi-related event which has brought me the by far greatest pleasure and some genuine peace and understanding this year has been listening to music with friends, live and on the hifi. And this friendly hifi listening has mainly taken place at John DeVore’s Monkeyhaus. I cannot tell you how important these Monkeyhaus happenings have become for me. What I can tell you is that everyone, every last one of you, should make a concerted effort to listen to music with friends. Often. You and your friends will be all the richer for it and no one can take these riches away. Not even the IRS or those wily bankers.

I think it’s time that more of us spread the good word and my friend Stephen Mejias at Stereophile is doing just that. Spreading the better word. It’s called enjoyment. It’s called enthusiasm. But you have to sacrifice some things to get it. Like the absolute certainty that you know things about hifi (or politics, religion, breakfast cereal, football, boxer shorts, economics, evolution, sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll) that everyone else needs to agree with. And you may have to listen to some music you might otherwise not listen to. Some of it might not even sound audiophile quality or familiar. Imagine. And you have to leave the comfort of the sweet spot.

Don’t worry, none of this hurts. Best of all, it doesn’t cost anything more than your time, attention and possibly the realization that most things are better when we listen to something other than self interest. Cheers and have a happy, healthy, peace-filled new year.