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March is shaping up to be a pretty funky month for me, as I have already seen two great funk groups live and plan on attending a few more similar shows.  I have been anticipating the Feb. release of a new Galactic album for some time now, despite having no intention of buying the record.  Galactic’s often instrumental blend of funk and New Orleans style jazz is a must see live, and even their own studio recordings hardly do it justice.

I was excited to hear that they were playing Park West in Chicago, as I had not yet been.  Though the venue consistently offers alternative/indie rock acts among a wide array of others, seeing a show there had eluded me for years (My first unsuccessful run-in with the place was in fact for a sold out 2007 or 2008 Galactic show featuring none other than J-5 member and Chicago’s own Chali 2na.  Obviously, not getting to that show remains one of my biggest regrets in life.  Later, I was out of town for a comedy show at Park West featuring JB Smoove as his character Leon Black.).  Needless to say, I was excited to finally get to a show there.

Galactic’s live repertoire always promises a few things:

1. Great opening act

2.  Intriguing collaborations (often with the opening act as well as others)

3. a Led Zeppelin cover

This show was no different.  Galactic brought with them from New Orleans the Soul Rebels, an amazing brass band complete with multiple trombones and trumpets, a saxophone, a sousaphone, and Mardi Gras style drumming (one person playing snare drum, one person playing bass drum and cymbals).  Their original tunes are funky and danceable, and they’ll surprise you with their range of covers.  “How does that instrumentation sound playing with Metallica?” “Will they play my favorite Eurythmics song?” Youtube says “amazing” and “yes!”

Last time I saw Galactic, they were joined mid-set for a memorable few songs by opening act Gift of Gab (of Blackalicious).  Galactic performs often (both in studio and live) with rappers, as their grooves lend themselves well to hip-hop.  This show though they had Corey Glover of Living Colour on standby, waiting in the wings to run onstage and belt out a few tunes.  As hoped and dreamed, they played “Cult of Personality.”  Need I say more?

Eventually the Soul Rebels made their way back onstage as well, and an extended jam ensued, in which sax players traded solos, trumpet players traded solos, drummers traded solos and even the tuba and bass guitar got in on a little back and forth action.  Check it out below if you have 12 minutes.

As promised, the night did not end until Galactic played a signature Led Zeppelin cover.  Drummer Stanton Moore can play lighting fast fills and pound away on crash cymbals, but, like Bonham, sounds best when just laying down a thick groove.  They played a song that I’ve heard them play before, “Kashmir,” but this was different.  Typically the band will play a pretty straight cover while the tenor sax plays the melody, but on this night they utilized Corey Glover, and he wailed.

I highly recommend checking out both Galactic and the Soul Rebels if you don’t already know them.  They provide insight to the birth of jazz and the unfortunate seeming death of authentic New Orleans music.  Such acts are a welcome respite.

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I’ve realized that the quality of an album has nothing to do with the quality of that band’s next album (Blood Sugar Sex Magik/One Hot Minute,  Houses of the Holy/Physical Graffiti…).  Thus I understand that it is hard to predict how an upcoming album will sound without actually having heard those songs before.  I will not make any such assumptions, but rather provide a list of bands who are supposed to be releasing new material this year.  Will any of the following be good?  No guarantees.

Note: Some bands have not yet titled there albums or provided a release date, though all are said to be released this year.

Bands whose album we’d be a lot more excited for if this was 1996:

Pearl Jam

Alice in Chains

Green Day

Smashing Pumpkins

Soundgarden

Soul Asylum

New albums I won’t buy, but will legitimately try to see the artist live:

Galactic, Carnivale Electricos (2/21/2012)

Rodrigo y Gabriela, Area 52 (1/24/2012)

Andrew Bird, Break it Yourself (3/6/2012) 

Geezers who will be releasing music this year, so look out for potential tour dates in which they play their old songs:

Paul McCartney, Kisses on the Bottom (2/7/2012)

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Wrecking Ball (3/6/2012)

Van Halen, A Different Kind of Truth (2/7/2012)

Black Sabbath

Potentially sexy album covers:

Paul McCartney, Kisses on the Bottom (I mean with a title like that…)

Fiona Apple

Carrie Underwood

Ingrid Michaelson, Human Again (1/24/2012)

Kellie Pickler, 100 Proof, (1/24/2012)

Bret Micheals, Get Your Rock On

Worth Mentioning:

Regina Spektor, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats (May 2012)

Smith Westerns

The Mars Volta, Noctourniquet (3/27/2012)

Lambchop, Mr. M (2/21/2012)

Gift of Gab, Next Logical Progression (3/27/2012)

Too good to be true?:

                          

Jukebox the Ghost (supposed to be released this spring)

Ben Folds Five (reunited)

John Frusciante (rumored, though as of yet no word from the man himself)

The best television programming of 2012 will no doubt be March Madness, perhaps only to be outdone by the MLB season.  I’ll save commentary on either for a more appropriate time, should the gracious editor-in-chief of this esteemed website allow for it.  For now I’ll address what I believe to be the only non-sports programming and TV art form worth my regular viewership.  I talk, of course, of the sitcom.

Workaholics– Season 3

For those of you unaware of this supremely funny show, Comedy Central’s Workaholics follows the domestic and occupational lives of three men who not only share a home, but also a cubicle.  The show has been renewed for a third season which I hope will begin this spring (Season 1: 10 episodes in spring 2011, Season 2: 10 episodes in fall 2011) and shows no signs of slowing.  The main characters, much like those of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, are far too self-involved and disillusioned to leave room for the sappiness, romance and sentimentality that has plagued The Office and will too soon kill (dare I say it?) Parks and Recreation.  I’ll borrow a phrase from the show’s character Adam to simply describe the essence of the show as, “tight butt-hole.”

30 Rock– Season 6

30 Rock has returned after a brief hiatus.  Huzah!  The show is hilarious and its return to NBC’s Thursday night lineup is definitely welcome.  Need I say more?  But don’t take it from me, check out this ultra enticing promo for season 6!

The following movies, television programs and music are already on my radar for 2012.  These aren’t any guesses as to what may happily surprise us this year, or any bold predictions regarding bands we’ve never heard of.  These are lists of things that I know I will enjoy, and/or for which I am otherwise and already on the lookout.  (Note: TV and music to follow).

Films:

Uncharacteristically, I am excited about two movies, set to be released in theaters in 2012.  I genuinely hope these are the only two movies I see this year.

The Hobbit

I am new to the Lord of Rings universe and fan club, having just read The Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring in 2011. (Footnote: I hope to have read the whole trilogy before I see The Hobbit movie).  Peter Jackson will be directing the film, as he did the trilogy, which begs a few questions.  First, why make The Hobbit after the trilogy, though it was written first and chronicles a journey before the time of the later books?  Second, in which order shall newcomers, such as me, see these films?  The answer to the first question is likely irrelevant, but the second is crucial.  Perhaps it’s intentional, and having seen the trilogy offers an enhanced watching of The Hobbit.  As with Star Wars, should it not matter?  Would anyone have made it to A New Hope had they first seen The Phantom Menace?  I’ll need until December to get my shit together.

Moonrise Kingdom

The combination of Bill Murray and Wes Anderson has become formulaic, though not in an overdone or cliché sense at all.  Moonrise Kingdom will be funny, and it should be no surprise to anyone who has seen their past workMurray is a regular in Anderson’s films, typically alongside a Wilson brother or two, but this flick only features other regular Jason Schwartzman.  Interestingly, the rest of the cast includes Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton.  Set in small town New England, Murray and McDormand play the parents of a youngster who, along with her boy-toy, run away from home.  Willis is set to again reprise his role as John McClane… wait, no, that can’t be right.

Yes please!

I didn’t find myself buying as many new albums this year as I have in recent years, though that is not to say that 2011 didn’t offer its share of great new music.  The following are my favorite releases from the past year:

Yuck, Yuck

-This London band’s debut draws easy and favorable comparisons to groups such as Sonic Youth and Yo la Tengo.

Listen: “The Wall”

Beastie Boys, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two

-Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D are old, but they still have the dopest beats.

Listen: “Make Some Noise”

CAKE, Showroom of Compassion

-The elements of CAKE; Jon McCrea’s bizarre vocal syncopations, trumpet, and vibraslap, create a distinct sound that may never lose its appeal.

Listen: “Sick of You”

Dub Trio, IV

-Dub Trio has an incredibly full sound for just three dudes.  It’s not studio trickery though, as these guys flawlessly pull off the reggae meets metal meets electronic sound live.

Listen: “Swarm”

Ben Folds, Best Imitation of Myself

-Although this is not an album of entirely new material, it contains much of the best music “released” in 2011.   Plus, a Ben Folds Five reunion cannot go unmentioned.

Listen: Ben Folds Five, “Tell Me What I Did”

No thanks!

I didn’t find myself buying as many new albums this year as I have in recent years, and that’s at least partially due to these stinkers.

Deer Tick, Divine Providence

-I really like their first few recordings, but “Let’s all go to the Bar” is the next despicable beer commercial.

Bon Iver, Bon Iver

-I don’t get it.

The Black Keys, El Camino

-If you like the raw blues-rock that this duo puts out, you may not like this album either.

The Weeknd, House of Balloons

-Despite all the hype, I can’t get excited about this album.  Good news though, that appears to be a breast on the album cover.  The album is free on The Weekend’s website, so (other than my opinion) you have no reason not to check it out for yourself.

Retort with your favorite/least favorite music of 2011.  Also, mark the calendar in your palm pilot for a new installment this time next year, as by then, presumably, we will have listened to another year’s worth of albums.

         -Bro Dimaggio

Album of the Year (2011): Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues

Seattle band Fleet Foxes quickly became one of my favorites upon my first hearing their self titled debut album.  Thus for myself, and I suspect many others, the release of their second full length LP was not without great anticipation.  Upon learning of the release date of this record I had hopes and dreams and expectations that it would contend for a spot as the best album in 2011.  The eventual decision was easy.

It seems to have the refreshingly simple elements and characteristics that were so appealing in their first recordings (including the Sun Giant EP): folk rock instrumentation, and strong vocal melodies and harmonies.  The subject matter, however, is markedly different.  Their previous album evoked visions of mountains and woods, you know, lumberjack stuff.  Helplessness Blues, as the title suggests, conjures thoughts of existentialism and Camus. This isn’t necessarily to suggest that lyrical depth has an effect on listening pleasure; it was just a remarkable difference.  The title track’s lyrics are subtle however, compared to the melody, “If I had an orchard, I’d work til I’m sore,”  a line repeatedly stuck in my roommate’s head (and thus mine).

Songs “Lorelai” and “Battery Kinzie” offer an upbeat pop feel, while “Bedouin Dress” downright grooves.  The album occasionally intensifies as “Sim Sala Bim” and the title track display ferocious strumming by singer/songwriter/guitarist Robin Pecknold.  A high point on the album for me occurs during “The Shrine/An Argument,” which showcases the band’s rhythmic expertise, as the triplet plucks of the acoustic guitar remain consistent while the band transitions flawlessly between even and odd time signatures.

Here you’ll find a good sample of these songs live from an NPR broadcast (Fleet Foxes live at the Newport Folk Festival is another gem offered by NPR).  I had the opportunity to see these gentlemen over the summer while supporting this album, and was delighted to find that these songs were just as strong live as in the studio.  Not too fancy and certainly no auto-tune, these songs, this band and this album are top notch.

-James K. Folk