Wednesday, December 06, 2006

2006 Year End Survey | Neil Cleary

With all of the excitement surrounding the new trailer for the upcoming documentary about The Pants, I figured it would be a good time to post Neil Cleary's response to our survey. Cleary is now living in Boston but has been a longtime member of the Vermont scene. Besides playing in The Pants, The Essex Green and other bands, Cleary also has a solo career with his third full-length solo release expected to come out next year.

1) What was your favorite song of 2006?

Young Folks, Peter Bjorn & John
One of the things I always think a song should have is a great first line, and wow: If I told you things I did before, told you how I used to be / would you go home with someone like me? I mean, they had me at their totally tight bare-bones lo-fi groove, and then there was that whistling hook, WTF? But I've been served up shit songs on a silver platter before, so I'm a bit wary. By the chorus though, it had become my favorite song ever. It's like the grand slam of singles. I can thank Casey Rea's podcast for hipping me to this one.

Laisse Tomber Les Filles, France Gall

For some reason, this Gainsbourg-penned song from 1964 got stuck in my head to the point this year where I had to learn how to sing it in French, armed with only the internet and what pronunciation skills remain from my 7th grade foreign language education. It's a dangerously catchy song, as well as an amazing recording. Kicks every modern 'twee' band in the teeth and is all the while cuter and sneakier than the whole cardiganed lot of them.

2) What was your favorite album of 2006?

In the interest of hiding how little of this year's music I actually got hip to, I'm instead going to take this opportunity to shamelessly name-drop and promote the projects of my friends:

Dutch EP, Cotton
The long-germinating instrumental project from Brooklyn bassist/composer Andy Cotton, a former Burlingtonian and longtime cohort of mine. The Dutch EP loosely collects Andy's many influences -- free jazz, afropop, salsa, trad folk, blues, c&w, r&b, fusion before it went horribly wrong, etc -- and views them through the woozy, introspective lens of dub reggae. Unbelievably, none of this is even as remotely horrible as it sounds. Quite to the contrary, it's strangely intoxicating and pleasantly mystifying. Hard to imagine? Well luckily, generous motherfucker that he is, Andy's giving it all away for free.

An Austin band, Peel actually have nothing officially out yet -- unless you know someone in the band, and luckily I do: the adorable teeny red-headed guitarist/spazz case that is Dakota Smith (he & I bear matching scars from our brief time together in The Neal Pollack Invasion). Peel are slated to have something come out on Texas label Peek-A-Boo as soon as they can, I dunno... get their act together and decide it's finished? I'm not sure what the problem is. But the castaway mixes & odd tracks that I've heard hint at a possible Favorite Album of 2007: messy, frantic beats, careening guitars, pushy keyboards, perfectly cluttered, haphazard recordings... and makes its own broth! It's music that makes me feel buzzy and overwhelmed like I'm drunk in a bar with too many pretty girls.

Guitars Forever, The World Record
(out now on Tallboy Records, or listen at
To quote Jack Black in Tenacious D's "Death Of A Dream" episode: "It's a cream dream!!" I mean, can pop music possibly get better? I submit that it cannot. I met The World Record's Andy Creighton on tour last fall when we both served in the lovely & talented Annie Hayden's band. Somewhere around Montana he casually threw on some mixes of Guitars Forever and he might as well have walloped me on the back of the head with a 2X4. It was blazingly perfect, melodic, sentimental, rockin and blew my mind like my first pot high (like "wow, have I ever felt ANYTHING before?" or "I never KNEW Snickers could be this AWESOME!!"). It's the kind of thing that's so good it smarts. I was almost angry at him for not having revealed to me upon our meeting a week prior in the parking lot of a San Diego Motel 6 that he was a pop genius. Here I had just thought he was a lanky, humorous fella with a moustache who played bass & liked ELO. Anyway, now Guitars Forever has apparently found a home on something called Tallboy Records and, if there's any justice in the world, will be responsible for the purchase of ostentatious houses in Malibu for everyone involved.

House Full, Fairport Convention
I just have to state here that in 2006, I re-purchased and rediscovered one of my favorite albums of all time by the kings (and erstwhile queens, although not here) of English folk-rock, Fairport Convention. A legacy that stretches from the mid-60s to the present, this album (a live album, from the tour promoting their album Full House) finds the band in 1977 at perhaps their most visceral and rocking. They manage to play the world's most reticent and mannered folk music (ie. English) with a crackling, bristling intensity that remains unparalleled. Somehow, their rock & roll approach to traditional music doesn't come off as flippant, disrespectful, or worse yet satirical. Instead, they approach it with diligence, intensity and vigor and find that it responds vigorously with a life heretofore unknown. Richard Thompson's blistering guitar is reason enough to make these recordings notable, but add to it the wild flair of Dave Swarbrick's electric violin and Dave Mattacks' politely thunderous drumming, and it becomes something else entirely.

3) What was your favorite concert of 2006?

Like the band geek who now & then gets to hang out with the cool kids, I'm always secretly psyched when I get to be part of a current phenomenon. Few times in my life have I been as well-prepared for a show as I was for The Streets' set at Bonnaroo: true, I'd bought A Grand Don't Come For Free (the 2nd album) first and only later gotten into his first, Original Pirate Material (albeit less), but the timing of those two discoveries (in addition to some well-placed news mentions) were somehow perfectly timed such that I was frothing at the mouth like a true fan when The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living was released. I bought it as soon as it came out. So imagine my thrill when I found out I'd be at Bonnaroo (with an artist pass, no less!) in time to see his big show! In preparation, I spent the many hours of a tour between Denver and Calgary in a rented maroon Dodge Magnum rocking out to the album. When the day finally came, I dragged my hungover ass out of my hotel bed to make sure I was early for his crack-of-noon set, and I was not disappointed. His style was priceless, with a kick-ass live band sporting matching orange gear in the style of Scarface's lair (apropos to his recent promo material), and Skinner engaging the crowd with his alternately shy & cheeky rhymes. I spent his set jumping up and down by the side of the stage holding aloft a plastic cup filled with Patron & some citrus-based soft drink, feeling so unabashedly INTO IT. I felt like a 15-year-old girl at a Dixie Chicks concert, complete with all the ambiguously homoerotic sentiments.

I want James Kochalka Superstar to be famous so bad I can taste it. He's so ready and accessible and multifaceted and fun for young & old! I've been a fan ever since I first saw him perform on New Year's Day 1995 at the late Club Toast, and have since made an armchair hobby out of scheming his rise to fame. This year, with the long-awaited release of "Spread Your Evil Wings and Fly" on Rykodisc, I finally got out of the armchair and helped book him some shows to promote the album. I've honestly got to say the set he & his band played at NYC's Mercury Lounge on October 20 was one of his greatest shows ever (and I've seen more than my share), if not one of the greatest shows I've ever seen. Gone was the regular sometimes-endearing-sometimes-frustrating shambling quality of his sets. Instead, his mighty band (his best yet) rolled confidently from song into song with a minimum of bullshit -- and with fucking segues, even!! -- and Kochalka stood atop it all and beat the shit out of everyone. I swear it brought tears to my eyes. It was as though a curtain had been dropped and behind the comedy act was suddenly this roaring rock n' roll beast. It made me realize that, like KISS or Phish, the key to breaking the Kochalka phenomenon is the live show. I'm still putting my bets on him, in fact now more than ever.

I have to mention one more show, as it holds the distinction of stopping me dead in my tracks as I was walking by some bar on Mission St. in San Francisco, October 8th, and made me turn around, pay the cover and go in. Toshio Hirano is San Fransisco's Japanese Jimmie Rogers, probably not a hotly contested title, but no less deserved. He plays Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizell, and honky-tonkers of that era with a refreshingly unabashed zeal and hokey happiness that today's alt-country mopers wouldn't dare touch with a rolled-up copy of No Depression. I got the feeling watching him that, like Hank and Woody Guthrie before him, he was sorta playing up his country roots, except his country was Japan: he bows quickly and repeatedly, is effusively thankful and generally gives the impression that he has a kinda loose, comical grasp on English, much to the amusement of his young audience. But hey, it works for Eugene Hutz & Borat, so what the hell? Anyway, country music has always been a bit of a put-on, but whereas Americans seem to reach for it as a stamp of some grizzled macho authenticity, Toshio Hirano puts it on just to delight himself and his audience.

4) What was your favorite thing about 2006?

I don't know how it happened, but I was able to be a musician full-time for the first full year of my life, ever. The luckiest, most unlikely, most unbelievable things kept happening, and somehow the rent got paid 12 times in a row. Most unbelievable of all, I got to spend a week with 3 guys I dearly love to resurrect our band of 10 years ago and play a show to 600+ people. Now I believe almost anything is possible and for someone with already-unrealistic expectations, it's probably gonna prove to be a real problem.

5) What are your best wishes for 2007?

That the forthcoming Missy Bly single become a blogosphere phenom.
That the Canal St. Tavern in Dayton, OH stay open.
That I can step up & prove worthy of the lucky breaks I've been given.
That Canada retain its cultural sovereignty.
That the Democrats have the balls to investigate the role of the Project For A New American Century in the 9/11 attacks.
Oh, and a lot more of this.

Cleary's website
Cleary's myspace site
Buy Cleary's albums
My post about Cleary's show at Langdon Street Cafe in March

Peter Bjorn & John | Young Folks | Buy
Neil Cleary | That Girl's In Love

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