best of 2007

I said I’d bend the rules a bit, but here’s the ten best albums I heard this year, in alphabetical order:

  • The Aliens — Astronomy For Dogs: add a Lone Pigeon to a few remaining Betas, and the result is funkiness. This album has more earworms than is safe. They are even better live.
  • Animal Collective — Strawberry Jam: I pretty much have to be alone and sitting down to listen to this. For Reverend Green especially; it’s all involuntary limb movements, sinuses exploding with joy (this probably doesn’t happen to you, I hope), and ullulating Oo oo weeuh yeh … ee yeh yeh etc for me. Other Animals didn’t do so badly either this year: Panda Bear’s Person Pitch was joyful, and even the bafflingly backwards Pullhair Rubeye from Avey and Kría had something.
  • Colleen — The Golden Morning Breaks (2005): very sparse but beautiful notes. I’ll Read You a Story is the sound that angels make.
  • A Hawk And A Hacksaw And The Hun Hangár Ensemble: featuring magyar madness, crafty cimbalom, and the only piece of bagpipe music that won’t make you want to hack your ears off with a meat cleaver. It’s doubly nice that it features Zach Condon actually playing with his heroes, rather than just trying to sound like them.
  • Ideal Free Distribution: lush 60s rhythm and harmonies, with a ton of mellotron laid on top. Poppy enough that no-one I’ve played it to doesn’t like it.
  • Dan Jones and The Squids — Totally Human: Dan has clearly listened to a lot of both Robyn Hitchcock and The Minutemen, and has come up with a noisy but thoughtful album, which we play all the time.
  • Old Man Luedecke — Hinterland (2006): merge sly lyrics with pretty clawhammer banjo, and you’ve got the Old Man. Bonus points for coupling the words “oracular bent” in a song, and getting away with it, too.
  • Ken Reaume — Four Horses: Ken quite modestly compares himself to Elliott Smith and Nick Drake. He’s easily the equal of both. Beautiful fingerpicking and whispered confessional lyrics.
  • Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter — Like, Love, Lust, & The Open Halls of the Soul: you’ll fall for Jesse’s world-weary lisp and the drawling psych guitar. I did (and unfortunately discovered her other two albums, Reckless Burning and Oh My Girl, are almost identical. Oh well; very good, but very samey).
  • Porter Wagoner — Wagonmaster: if you’re gonna go, go out on a high note. That’s exactly what The Thin Man From West Plains did. It’s very straight country, but the decades of experience polish it brighter than rhinestones.

2007 contenders

I’m going to play the blogger’s best of the year game differently this year, but I need to keep the rules roughly the same so that I am (for once) on the same planet. I’m going to choose ten best albums, but they’re what I discovered in 2007, not just those released in 2007.

So these are my contenders:

  • A Hawk And A Hacksaw And The Hun Hangár Ensemble — A Hawk And A Hacksaw And The Hun Hangár Ensemble
  • Air — Pocket Symphony
  • Akron/Family — Love Is Simple
  • Akron/Family — Meek Warrior (2006)
  • Animal Collective — Strawberry Jam
  • Architecture In Helsinki — Places Like This
  • Avey Tare & Kría Brekkan — Pullhair Rubeye
  • Bees — Octopus
  • Beirut — The Flying Club Cup
  • Black Lips — Good Bad Not Evil
  • Bonnie Russell and the Russell Family — Mountain Dulcimer Galax Style (1995)
  • Bright Eyes — Cassadaga
  • Caribou — Andorra
  • Cathy Fink — Banjo Talkin’
  • Colleen — The Golden Morning Breaks (2005)
  • Dan Jones and The Squids — Totally Human
  • Devendra Banhart — Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
  • Dock Boggs — His Folkways Years (1963-1968) (1998)
  • Donovan — Barabajagal (1969)
  • Donovan — Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968)
  • Donovan — Mellow Yellow (1967)
  • Donovan — Sunshine Superman (1966)
  • Enoch Kent — I’m a Rover (2006)
  • Erynn Marshall & Chris Coole — Meet Me In The Music
  • Feist — The Reminder
  • Fountains of Wayne — Traffic and Weather
  • Fred Spek’s Camp Combo — Rock Paper Scissors (2006)
  • Grinderman — Grinderman
  • Hamish Imlach — Cod Liver Oil & Orange Juice (2006)
  • Howe Gelb — ‘Sno Angel Like You (2006)
  • Ideal Free Distribution — Ideal Free Distribution
  • Jeffrey Frederick & the Clamtones — The Resurrection of Spiders in the Moonlight
  • Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter — Like Love, Lust, & The Open Halls of the Soul
  • Joanna Newsom — Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band EP
  • John Fahey — The Best Of John Fahey Vol. 2 1964-1983 (2004)
  • Johnny Cash — American I & II
  • Judee Sill — Judee Sill (2006)
  • Ken Reaume — Four Horses
  • Kevin Drew — Spirit If…
  • Kilby Snow — Kilby Snow: Country Songs and Tunes with Autoharp
  • Kimberley Rew — Ridgeway (2006)
  • Marissa Nadler — Songs III: Bird On The Water
  • Michael Hurley — First Songs (1964)
  • Mimi & Richard Fariña — Vanguard Visionaries – Mimi & Richard Fariña
  • Monica Grabin — Continental Village
  • Neil Young — Harvest (1972)
  • Of Montreal — Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
  • Okkervil River — The Stage Names
  • Old Man Luedecke — Hinterland (2006)
  • Otha Turner — Everybody Hollerin’ Goat (1998)
  • Panda Bear — Person Pitch
  • Po’ Girl — Home to You
  • Porter Wagoner — Wagonmaster
  • Radiohead — In Rainbows
  • Ragged But Right — Down Harmony Road
  • Robert Force & Albert d’Ossché — Tiger Dreams
  • Sons of the Never Wrong — Nuthatch Suite (2005)
  • Stew — Guest Host (2000)
  • The Aliens — Astronomy For Dogs
  • The Apples in Stereo — New Magnetic Wonder
  • The Arcade Fire — Neon Bible
  • The Besnard Lakes — The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse
  • The Carter Family — The Carter Family 1927-1934 (2001)
  • The Foggy Hogtown Boys — Pigtown Fling
  • The Harvey Girls — The Wild Farewell (2005)
  • The High Water Marks — Polar
  • The Houseplants — Livingroom
  • The Hylozoists — La Fin du Monde (2006)
  • The Icicles — Arrivals & Departures
  • The Ladybug Transistor — Can’t Wait Another Day
  • The Negro Problem — Post Minstrel Syndrome (2002)
  • The Polyphonic Spree — The Fragile Army
  • The Soft Machine — The Soft Machine (1968)
  • The Unicorns — Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? (2003)
  • They Might Be Giants — The Else
  • Tiger Lillies (with Kronos Quartet) — The Gorey End (2003)
  • Uncle Dave Macon — Classic Sides
  • Various Artists — Skiffle – The Best Of (2006)
  • Various Artists — The Old Time Banjo Festival
  • Vashti Bunyan — Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind
  • Wendy Arrowsmith — Now Then…?
  • Wilco — Sky Blue Sky
  • Willie Nelson — Red Headed Stranger (1975)

(Before you freak out at the number of CDs I bought, I do subscribe to emusic, so a bunch of these were MP3 only.)

The Apples in Stereo – Lee’s Palace, Toronto – 20 February 2007

In haste: The Apples in Stereo – Lee’s Palace, Toronto – 20 February 2007
(now updated to include better MP3s)

  1. (intro)
  2. Go
  3. Please
  4. Can You Feel It?
  5. The Rainbow
  6. Energy
  7. Strawberryfire
  8. Radiation
  9. Do You Understand?
  10. Open Eyes
  11. I Can’t Believe
  12. (apples in stereo mini-theme)
  13. Skyway
  14. (mini theme/tuning)
  15. Motorcar
  16. Tin Pan Alley
  17. Sun Is Out
  18. Same Old Drag
  19. (theme interlude)
  20. What’s the #?
  21. Ruby
  22. (encore intro)
  23. Play Tough
  24. Baroque


Portpatrick, with the Gimp faux lomo effect
Portpatrick, taken with a Fujifilm MX-1200 pretending to be a lomo

For probably no better reason beyond babbittry, I’ve always half-wanted a lomo. Half-wanted, that is, because of my previous experience with “Russian” photo gear (I’ve had a Lomo TLR, a Fed rangefinder, and a Pentacon six) and its legendary quality control. I’m also so done with film.
A while back, Donncha wrote about a  GIMP Lomo Plugin. While it looked handy, the link to the code is now dead. You can find what I think is the same one here: (or a local copy here if that link dies: lomo2.scm). Just pop it in your .gimp-2.2/scripts/ directory, and it’ll appear as a filter. The original author‘s comment on Donncha’s blog contains good settings: Vignetting softness=1, Contrast=30, Saturation=30, Double Vignetting=TRUE.

I knew there was a reason I retrieved my old 1.3 megapixel Fujifilm MX-1200 from my parents’ house. And that reason is fauxlomo!

All the printers I’ve ever owned …

bird you can see: hp print test

  • An ancient (even in 1985) Centronics serial dot-matrix printer that we never got working with the CPC464. The print head was driven along a rack, and when it hit the right margin, an idler gear was wedged in place, forcing the carriage to return. Crude, noisy but effective.
  • Amstrad DMP-2000. Plasticky but remarkably good 9-pin printer. Had an open-loop ribbon that we used to re-ink with thick oily endorsing ink until the ribbons wore through.
  • NEC Pinwriter P20. A potentially lovely 24-pin printer ruined by a design flaw. Print head pins would get caught in the ribbon, and snap off. It didn’t help that the dealer that sold it to me wouldn’t refund my money, and required gentle persuasion from a lawyer to do so.
  • Kodak-Diconix 300 inkjet printer. I got this to review for Amiga Computing, and the dealer never wanted it back. It used HP ThinkJet print gear which used tiny cartridges that sucked ink like no tomorrow; you could hear the droplets hit the page.
  • HP DeskJet 500. I got this for my MSc thesis. Approximately the shape of Torness nuclear power station (and only slightly smaller), last I heard it was still running.
  • Canon BJ 200. A little mono inkjet printer that ran to 360dpi, or 720 if you had all the time in the world and an unlimited ink budget.
  • Epson Stylus Colour. My first colour printer. It definitely couldn’t print photos very well.
  • HP LaserJet II. Big, heavy, slow, and crackling with ozone, this was retired from Glasgow University. Made the lights dim when it started to print. Came with a clone PostScript cartridge that turned it into the world’s second-slowest PS printer. We did all our Canadian visa paperwork on it.
  • Epson Stylus C80. This one could print photos tolerably well, but the cartridges dried out quickly, runing the quality and making it expensive to run.
  • Okidata OL-410e PS. The world’s slowest PostScript printer. Sold by someone on tortech who should’ve known better (and bought by someone who also should’ve known better), this printer jams on every sheet fed into it due to a damaged paper path. Unusually, it uses an LED imaging system instead of laser xerography, and has a weird open-hopper toner system that makes transporting a part-used print cartridge a hazard.
  • HP LaserJet 4M Plus. With its duplexer and extra paper tray it’s huge and heavy, but it still produces crisp pages after nearly 1,000,000 page impressions. I actually have two of these; one was bought for $99 refurbished, and the other (which doesn’t print nearly so well) was got on eBay for $45, including duplexer and 500-sheet tray. Combining the two (and judiciously adding a bunch of RAM) has given me a monster network printer which lets you know it’s running by dimming the lights from here to Etobicoke.
  • IBM Wheelwriter typewriter/ daisywheel printer. I’ve only ever produced a couple of pages on this, but this is the ultimate letter-quality printer. It also sounds like someone slowly machine-gunning the neighbourhood, so mostly lives under wraps.
  • HP PhotoSmart C5180. It’s a network photo printer/scanner that I bought yesterday. Really does print indistinguishably from photos, and prints direct from memory cards. When first installed, makes an amusing array of howls, boinks, squeals, beeps and sproings as it primes the print heads.