Archive for December, 2010

A Different Kind of Top 10 Music List for 2010

Its that time: We present our annual “Different Kind of Music List” for 2010;  If you missed prior versions, then here’s the deal with what makes this list different:

There are lots of Best of Lists out there, but most of them aren’t relevant to real people, i.e. adults (a group I have only recently begrudgingly joined). Those of you with families, careers, hobbies, etc. do not have time listen to 200 new CDs each year.

Hence, this list. Rather than cranking out yet another list of music you never heard, this is a more useful list: What a relatively informed music fan’s “Most played” albums were this year (at least, according to my iTunes).

These albums are what was most frequently spinning in the car/ipod/computer this past year — my personal soundtrack for 2010.

Those are the ground rules. Let’s have at it:

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Seasick Steve: Man From Another Time is a raucous, ferociously exciting collection of organic rock and blues. Home recorded, Steve displays a musical virtuosity and intensity that is belied by the simplicity of his approach. Never before has so much noise been coaxed forth from a single string. Seasick Steve cranks out solid, listenable rock and blues that will have you standing, clapping, tapping your feet.

2009′s Dog House Music is also worth a throw.

Bonus: Blues so good it makes George Thorogood weep.

~~~

Vampire Weekend Contra:

The sophomore effort was the disc I wanted to dislike for all too many reasons: At first listen, it sounded just like the debut disc, channeled Paul Simon constantly,  and sold out way too soon for a new band — their song Holiday seemed to be on every television commercial this year.

But the incessantly inventive, infectiously upbeat, constantly original music made this disc impossible to hate. Its catchy, jangling guitar runs layered with the immediately recognizable vocals are a sophisticated progression from the first album. The sound is immediately recognizable, yet remains fresh and interesting. In addition to the Graceland influence, you can hear bits of reggae, Brazilian funk, and ska.

The first disc had a great first four songs, then tailed off a bit. Contra is a consistently strong album — which probably accounts for why I played it constantly.

~~~

The Black Keys Brothers:

The Black Keys graced our very first “Best of” back in 2004. The reasons I liked it then — crunchy guitar riffs, soulful vocals over no nonsense drumming combining to sound like a lot more than two guys from Ohio — are the same reasons why this disc is on this year’s list.

Described as a “mysterious and heavy brew of seventies-vintage rock, classic R&B and timeless, downhearted blues,” the album poweres its way through track after a track til the very end.

The Black Keys have maturation as song writers and performers, and it shows in subtle ways on Brothers. For those of you who haven’t discovered this great power duo yet, this is their most approachable album.

Bonus: Tighten Up was produced by Danger Mouse

~~~

Ray LaMontagne God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise:

LaMontagne’s fourth album is funkier more upbeat and fun than any of his prior outings. Self-produced, recorded in two weeks at LaMontagne’s home, this album is full of pathos — stories of loss, desire and heartbreak.

Ray’s vocals perfectly suit his strong songwriting, with a killer band — the Pariah Dogs — providing excellent musical backing.

Steel guitars, jangly electrics, snare drums round out the sound to this album that falls somewhere in between Alt Country and Rock n roll.

The songs themselves are the stars here, and Ray’s gifts as a composer are on full display. A terrific outing.

~~~

Peter Gabriel Scratch My Back:

There are musicians and pop stars and rock and rollers. Then there is Peter Gabriel. From his early days as front man of Genesis to enormously successful solo career, from his use of new world instrumentation and musicians, his innovative videos and spectacular live shows, Peter Gabriel is a unique artist. It is not overstating things to say that he is one of the most influential musicians of the past 40 years.

Never one to play it safe, Gabriel decided to “re-listen to” some of his favorite songs from other artists — David Bowie, Paul Simon, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Radiohead — and reinvent their melodies in a no drums, no guitars orchestral arrangement.

It takes more than a single listening to — seeing the show at Radio City also revealed how intricate and poised this music is — but it is worth the effort.

The result is a fascinating and eclectic mix of familiar yet weirdly new songs, revealing the essence of the original. Sadly beautiful, strange, full of tenderness and remorse, this is an album only Gabriel could have created.

~~~

David Gray White Ladder:

This is a new category: “new found appreciation.” Its the album I changed my mind the most about this year.

I first heard White Ladder a decade ago — and while the songwriting was worthwhile, I couldn’t get past David Gray’s less than impressive vocals.

Then I saw him live, and it changed my entire view of him.

He was on a double bill with Ray Lamontagne, and I was all set to leave after Ray’s set was over. But a funny thing happened: We listened to the first song, then the next, and the next, and soon we had stayed for the entire show. Days later, the songs were still running through my head. The disc played constantly late Summer and into the Fall. Once you look past the vibrato-laden voice, his gorgeous melodic compositions make for unforgettable songs.

~~~

Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone:

When 2010 began, I never expected to fall for a Gospel album. Then again, this is not your run-of-the mill Sunday church music, and Mavis Staples is not your run-of-the mill baritone.

She has been cranking out Gospel, Blues and R&B for four decades. Her resume boasts collaborations with Curtis Mayfield, Bob Dylan, Prince, Ry Cooder and on this album, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.

While this is not a traditional Gospel album, it manages to remain true to its roots by mixing both the secular and the sacred, with bluesy guitars, steel pedal, and upbeat hymns. The element that ties it all together is Staples world weary, smoldering voice.

Runner ups: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, I Learned The Hard Way and Robert Randolph and the Family Band, We Walk This Road.

~~~

Elvis Costello: National Ransom

I am always interested in anything Elvis Costello records, but this disc caught my attention for its cover art — a wolf in Banker’s top hat and tails, fleeing a crisis, the carpet bag he clutches trailing flaming cash the whole way. It is an arresting vision of the economic crisis, too close to the truth for most people’s comfort.

Costello is in fine form on the this album. He has always been idiosyncratic, and this eclectic disc is no different: Tasteful and lyrically sophisticated, it meanders through genres from hard edged rock,  New Orleans jazz, acoustic jazz, country, ballads, blues, with a little of the the old “Elvis Costello and the Attractions” thrown in for good measure. All the shifts in style and form are to further the narrative each song presents.

This is an album that rewards the patient listener — its not in your face (i.e., Vampire Weekend) but is filled with little subtleties. It gets better with subsequent listen.

Bonuses:

1) Elvis’s home page is a wiki;

2) Courtesy of VF, you can stream the entire album here:

~~~

Sade Soldier of Love

From the file “music to listen to that won’t make your wife annoyed” –

I used to occasionally listen to Sade back in the day — it was pleasant enough, inoffensive “seduction pop.” Sade’s sensual voice was the highlight of their music, even if the song’s quickly became overplayed, even cliched.

Soldier of Love is Sade’s most mature, sophisticated album. It has less pop hooks, and more eclectic, quirky and even joyous melodies.

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Favorite Mash Up:   Girl Talk All Day

Any hip hop album that begins with Black Sabbath’s War Pigs gets my attention.

Add to that the free download, and the killer graphic of all the artists used, and you have the making of an instant hip hop classic.

There are 372 samples in the album, all instantly recognizable hooks. The mega mash up serves as rehabilitation for disposable pop of days gone by, lovingly assembled in a stupendously danceable form.

Bonus: Your teenage kids will be impressed you even know this.

http://www.illegal-art.net/allday/

~~~

• Favorite Electronica: The Chill Lounge – 26 Chilled Euro Tracks (iTunes)

Follow this progression: A reader sends me an MP3 of LTJ Bukem’s Logical Progression (from the out of print disc of the same name). I go ahubting for it, can’t find it, but stumble across this chill mix of etheral beats, containing a song from LTJ Bukem.

Airy jazzy, euro synth driven tunes, good for a relaxing massage or bubble bath.

~~~

Box Set of the YearBruce Springsteen: The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge of Town Story

What do you do after a monster success like Born to Run? This set reveals not only how Darkness on the Edge of Town was made, but how Springteen was handling the challenge of new found super-stardom. “An unprecedented look into Springsteen’s creative process during a defining moment in his career.”

This is no ordinary box set– it includes six hours of film, two hours of audio across 3 CDs and 3 DVDs, along with an 80-page notebook, It also features The Promise: The Making of ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town,‘ a ninety-minute documentary film directed by Grammy- and Emmy-winning filmmaker Thom Zimny.

The album itself shows Bruce’s talent for editing himself — no easy task for any artist. There are 22 unreleased songs in this package, and they could have easily slipped into The River or Born in the USA without disrupting much.

Fans of Springsteen will find this material fascinating; those of you who are unsure if this work will be to your liking should check out the outstanding reviews at the LATimes and especially Pitchfork.

~~~

Beatles Covers: And speaking of Box Sets: Forget the Beatles on iTunes — anyone who wanted the full digital Fab Four catalogue bought the Box Set and ripped it lossless in 2009. Thsi year, I’ve been getting my Liverpool fix from various Beatles cover albums.

Here are a few are worth mentioning:

-LJ Plays the Beatles (plus  Volume Two) Paul McCartney’s guitarist from his Wings period, Laurence Juber, recorded two albums of Lennon & McCartney music — all finger pickin, all acoustic guitar. Very mellow versions, that make for an interesting surprise when mixed into other playlists.

-Rubber Soulive:  Imagine the Beatles covered by a jazzy retro groove band, recorded live-in-the-studio, sounding both old school and fresh at the same time. The drumming is all over the place, with a thumping jazz bassline. The essence of the melodies are all here, but the band takes them off in different directions. A very different, surprisingly fun find.

(You can stream the album at their site here)

-Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band: From the band that brought you Dub Side of the Moon, comes this reworking of the Beatle’s classic album, infused with reggae rythms. Its an upbeat, joyously fun outing, one that reworks Sgt Pepper’s surprisingly well.

Guest appearances by Steel Pulse, Matisyahu, Michael Rose [Black Uhuru], Luciano, U Roy, Bunny Rugs [Third World], Ranking Roger [English Beat], Sugar Minott, Frankie Paul, Max Romeo and The Mighty Diamonds.

Check out a few tunes here.

Category: Friday Night Jazz, Music

TheStreet.com: Motown Records of the Financial Web

Before there even was a financial web, there was TheStreet.com. Before Yahoo Finance had 23 million users, before there were blogs, before there was any real online trading worth mentioning, before anyone was doing market-related stuff on the web (mainstream media included) – there was TheStreet.com.  November of 1996 to be exact, I became a…Read More

Category: Financial Press, Web/Tech

US Overseas Grants & Loans

Cool display of US overseas aid: > click for interactive site Source: Tableau Software

Category: Taxes and Policy, War/Defense

INVESTING IN A STRUCTURALLY UNBALANCED WORLD

Peter T Treadway, PhD
Historical Analytics LLC
www.thedismaloptimist.com
pttreadway-at-hotmail.com
305 761 4718
852 9409 1186
December 31, 2010

>

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

INVESTING IN A STRUCTURALLY UNBALANCED WORLD

MACRO/INVESTMENT THEMES FOR 2011

1. US Net Exports Have to Pick Up — Since 1992 the US has been registering ever larger current account and net export deficits.(Net exports are the major item in the current account.) At the same time other so-called developing countries, notably China in recent years, have registered massive current account and net export surpluses. This trend was only partially reversed by the cyclical fall off in US imports during the Great Recession in 2008. These massive current account and trade deficits have to be financed and this financing has resulted in equally massive dollar reserve holdings by China and other so—called developing countries. They also are also consistent with the view that American manufacturing jobs have suffered from this process.

Simple economic theory would suggest that capital intensive developed countries like the United States run current account surpluses with the relatively less capital intensive developing world. Developing labor intensive countries like China would run current account deficits. Admittedly this simple picture is complicated by the role the dollar plays as the world’s international currency. The United States needs to provide dollars to the world (something it has done with unbridled enthusiasm.)

Still on a structural basis one would expect that this trend of large US current account and net export deficits cannot go on forever. One might expect that the economic signals—including a cheaper dollar against the countries of East Asia– would favor US exports. My forecast would be that US companies that have an international scope and are able to access capital will fare relatively well in the coming years (assuming no major global recession). Moreover US has an expertise in technology. Approaching this from a macro top down perspective, I would conclude that larger companies with comfortable cash positions, global brand names and preferably technology niches would be well positioned as this necessary structural change in the global economic order unfolds.

2. Buy Gold, Sell Treasuries — The international monetary and domestic banking systems will continue to provide an inflationary global bias. In issue after issue of The Dismal Optimist I have argued that the global and domestic financial systems are inherently inflationary and dysfunctional and lack automatic mechanisms to correct imbalances. Thus China can hold down the value of the renmimbi by buying dollars thereby inflating Chinese high powered money supply, increasing Chinese holdings of US dollar assets and lowering US interest rates. Thus the Federal Reserve can get away with reckless printing of US high powered money, aka QEII, and finance the burgeoning US government debt.

Several respected economists, notably Gary Shilling, have argued persuasively that the US will be in a real estate driven debt deflation for the next several years and that long term Treasuries are a good investment. I might agree with this if the United States operated in isolation. But I think the global picture is inflationary thanks to the dysfunctional international monetary system and the army of money printing and currency manipulating central banks around the world. Inflation will creep into the US from abroad even as painful debt deflation continues to affect the domestic consumer. The worst of all worlds.

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Category: Think Tank

Searching for the Truth in an Age of Disingenuousness

On the last day of the year, I like to think back about the truths I learned this year. Some were revealed accidentally, others were the work of challenging data analysis. We happened upon some Truths during deep contemplation, and occasionally stumbled across them accidentally. And of course, there was Wikileaks. Regardless of your method,…Read More

Category: Investing, Legal, Philosophy, Really, really bad calls

May You Have Good Luck All Year . . .

Insane . . .

Category: Video

Washington’s Blog strives to provide real-time, well-researched and actionable information.  George – the head writer at Washington’s Blog – is a busy professional and a former adjunct professor. ~~~ As I wrote last year: Some of the top economists say that America has suffered a permanent loss of jobs: JPMorgan Chase’s Chief Economist Bruce Kasman…Read More

Category: Think Tank

December 2010 Mortgage Performance Observations

> In yesterday’s post Slowest States to Foreclose, I referenced material from LPS Mortgage Monitor. Several commenters and emailers asked for the original source — December 2010 Mortgage Performance Observations — I posted it in the Think Tank. Its filled with great charts and tables. Go check it out . . .

Category: Real Estate

LPS Mortgage Performance Observations (December 2010)

2010 12 Mortgage Monitor

Category: Foreclosures, Real Estate, Think Tank

Afternoon Reads

Here is what is on my Instapaper, including a few “Best of 2010″ lists: • Top 10 Technical (Charting) Developments in 2010 (StockCharts) • Meredith Whitney Overreaches With Muni Meltdown Call (Bloomberg) • Three-way split: America, the euro zone and the emerging world are heading in different directions (Economist) • Out of Lehman’s Ashes Wall…Read More

Category: Financial Press