Friday, December 11, 2009

ONA Year In Review: 2009

Click here for the 2009 Video Time Capsule.

Sometimes you have to hit bottom in order to learn what's really important to you. And did One Note Ahead ever hit bottom in 2009! Since ONA's inception in October of '06, I'd used MySpace to promote it. There were occasional problems with MS, but they were short-lived. Then during the first 3 or 4 months of 2009, ONA suffered a two-sided indignity: MS blocked all links to ONA, redirecting users to a page claiming that ONA was "very naughty" and was most likely a spamming, phishing, or virus website. (In truth, the problem was that certain other sites on this webhost were allegedly problematic, leading MySpace to block the entire domain -- this problem still exists on occasion.)

While the content and readership of ONA in 2008 were solid, I'd lost sight of the diversity that used to characterize the blog. As a result, I lost a lot of the diversity in my readership. Without realizing this, I just so happened to start reintroducing diversity into the blog -- but there wasn't necessarily an audience for it. I had to find a diverse readership once again, and I had to do so by deliberately posting more material that would interest different kinds of people.

I tried new methods of promoting ONA and tracking its visibility. Some of them worked, but jumping on yet another social networking bandwagon didn't do much good. Yes, One Note Ahead's Facebook page got a nice little group of "fans" including some ONA musicians, but it hasn't gone viral as I'd hoped. Despite the woes of MySpace, people apparently prefer it for keeping up with ONA.

I never wanted to give up One Note Ahead, but in July I decided that if it didn't appear to be back on the upswing by October, I'd end it before the year was out. The year is nearly over now; One Note Ahead isn't.

And now, some of the highs and lows of 2009.

My favorite ONA lines from 2009:

[about SuperJimenez] Then there's "Rescue Remedy," in which drummer Daz Coen lays down a subtle trip-hop beat and lead singer Ronan Cunningham comes in crooning a Dido-ish melody; this shouldn't work, but it does. (from Album Review: A Jimenez Most Super)

[about Bojibian] Incidentally, they're named in honor of rock legends Bo Diddley and Jibi Hendrix. Not buying that? Okay, fine: they're actually named after Armenian financier A. Randolph Bojibian, who funded their first recording session. Okay, fine! In truth, "Bojibian" doesn't mean anything. (from Now Hear This! - Vol. 2)

[about Matt Duke at the XPN festival, with Tim McGlone in his band] He also turned the lead spotlight over to Tim for one song, McGlone's catchy "Hollywood." During this number, a friend of mine was grooving along but nevertheless leaned over to me and said, "Not as good as Duke!" Well.....who is? (from XPoNential Function, Part One)

[about Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles at the XPN festival]
Meeting them afterwards, I found them to be every bit as fun and funny as they were on stage. Smart, too: Sarah had introduced a slowish number by saying that slow songs are a great way to get to know the person next to you, if you get her drift. Maybe so, but it was actually during a fast number that I found a new dancing partner, and I told Sarah as much after the show. "Did you meet someone?" asked Sarah with a surprising amount of enthusiasm, to which I replied, "I did! During 'Stop and Think It Over,' I believe." After getting over her enthusiasm, Sarah admonished, tongue somewhat in cheek, "Well: Stop! And think it over before you do anything." (from XPoNential Function, Part One)

[about Illinois at the XPN festival] My XPN member newsletter refers to them as "indie-rockers." Oh, really? At the festival, they played a stompin' folk-rock raveup, then a number with hip-hop beats and heavy synthesizers, then a piano ballad; their last song was a funky thang with a banjo and ear-splitting electric guitars. This ain't no indie-rock band. (from XPoNential Function, Part Two)

Michael is an extremely prolific film and TV composer. Kevin is a movie star. So are The Bacon Brothers any good or are they just trading on their success in other endeavors? Well........they're actually good! (from XPoNential Function, Part Two)

Norristown, PA, a scenic train ride from Philadelphia, is home to an up-and-coming bunch of rockers known as Reality Stricken. The title of their latest EP, Signal Fire, is fitting because.....this stuff is hot! (from EP Review: Get Stricken!)

And the "Please don't ever die again!" award goes to: (drumroll, please) Michael Jackson. A lot of people have complained that MJ was sent off too positively: many of his fans let him off the hook for things they'd hold against anyone else, and some in the media suddenly stopped treating him as a sideshow and started treating him as a saint just because he was dead. All true, but in my circle, the problem was not that people sent him off too positively; the most outspoken actually acted as if he never did anything good in his life, acknowledging his talent reluctantly if at all. One needn't approve of his personal behavior to feel a sense of loss now that he's dead; Frank Sinatra and James Brown didn't have the cleanest hands, but they were damn good (and extremely significant) artists -- their deaths affected me on that level. Though Michael Jackson reached a previously unseen level of public bizarreness, I can only judge him so much; I never even met the guy, and I really cannot know all the details of what happened in his personal life. I was appalled that normally reasonable people who were in the same boat nevertheless tore into MJ and anyone who stood up for his right to have an artistic legacy. I don't care whether MJ's detractors intended to take their anger out on appreciators of his talent; bottom line is, a lot of them did. The so-called debates that raged in the first 24 hours following MJ's death were good only for turning friends into enemies and complete strangers into instant adversaries -- I literally lost my appetite. One such "debate" started immediately after MJ's death had been confirmed, when one of my Facebook friends posted a status update which read: "One more child molester off the street." In response, ONA-approved Jim Boggia made the only worthwhile contribution that anyone (myself included) ended up making to the ensuing comment thread: "It was Off The Wall. Know your history."

EP of the Year: Eligible EP's are contemporary releases which I own and gave full reviews or referred to repeatedly on ONA in 2009: Tim Laigaie's Out of Focus, Jake Snider's The Seven, Panic Years' eponymous debut, and Reality Stricken's Signal Fire. These are all good, but the two strongest contenders are Panic Years and Signal Fire. Signal Fire is simply a mind-blowing rock EP, a non-stop wild rush of face-melting mania with sophisticated songwriting and excellent production. Then again, Panic Years presents a sound that's hard to describe and even harder to forget: derivative in theory, distinctive in practice; raw and crude on the surface, beautiful and delicate at heart. Both releases are all killer, no filler affairs whose songs reveal more and more depth with every listen, and anyone who wants proof that some of today's best rock music can be found in Philly needs to hear these EP's. That said, I'm gonna risk my hide and give the nod to Panic Years. Incorporating a wider range of influences than Signal Fire, Panic Years is more representative of what I've actively sought to embrace with ONA this year, namely the synthesis of diverse elements into one complex-yet-accessible whole.

Album of the Year: Same eligibility criteria as EP of the Year. Candidates are The Guggenheim Grotto's Happy The Man, SuperJimenez's BANG, Butterfly Boucher's Scary Fragile, Tim McGlone's Street Sounds, Diane Birch's Bible Belt, Tippy Canoe & the Paddlemen's Parasols & Pekingese, and The Swimmers' People Are Soft. Wow, a lot of interesting albums here, and a lot of fascinating stories surrounding them, but this award must go to Happy The Man. Unless you're a close friend of mine, you have no idea how miserable I was in January. Then I listened to Happy The Man, and for a young man going through (cliche coming in a major existential crisis, it was a life-changing experience. It didn't answer all my questions, nor was it alone in helping me come to better understandings about life, but it did give me quite a lot to think about and it soothed my wounds while I was thinking. Besides, it really is a consistently great album; to my ears, there are no throwaway tracks. While I can say the same thing about Scary Fragile and People Are Soft, Happy The Man gets the edge because of its profundity and, like the Panic Years EP, its effortless synthesis of surprisingly diverse musical elements.

That said, I am extremely happy that my Scary Fragile review was quoted in a Butterfly Boucher press release (although as of this date, typing in will only get you here indirectly -- but it's the thought that counts!).

Must-Hear Track of the Year: "Breakdown" by Tim McGlone. This was the first track I raved about in the Now Hear This! series, and with damn good reason! While I'm at it...

Live Moment of the Year: Tim McGlone and The Turn were performing at World Cafe Live's Beta Hi-Fi Festival. Going from memory, I'd say the date was August 17th. Audience members voted for their nightly favorites, and Tim and the Turn won. Not surprising considering the level of showmanship: for the dramatic reprise on his closing song "Confidence," Tim slung his guitar behind his back, grabbed his mic from out of the stand, stepped onto a vacant chair in front of the stage, then stepped onto the vacant table in front of that chair, leaned back, and shouted: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I GOT this WAY with CON-fidence!" He sure did.

2009 has been a rough year, but we sure have had some excellent music to talk about here! I thank you all for either standing by One Note Ahead, coming back to it, or getting into it this year and I hope you'll stick around for next year. As long as people are reading and I have the time, I'll keep ONA going. All the best for whatever holidays you're celebrating and as always, stay tuned -- you never know what'll be on One Note Ahead next!

Copyright © 2009 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.

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One Video Ahead: 2009 Time Capsule

As previously announced, I decided not to do One Note Ahead Live this year, but I did decide to make a video time capsule with a mix of videos. Not all of these videos are from 2009, but they are all about artists I've featured here in 2009. Not every ONA artist from this year will be included; basically, these are current artists who interest me most and/or have the best relevant videos online.

Let's start with two from last year's holiday season:

Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles previewing "Do It For Free"

Sharon Little (and Scot Sax) performing "Follow That Sound" --

Now that we've got you in the holiday spirit, let's move on...

Panic Years profile and performance (I was there when this live footage was shot)

The Guggenheim Grotto performing "Her Beautiful Ideas"

The Swimmers performing "A Hundred Hearts"

Tim McGlone and The Turn performing "Breakdown" --

Butterfly Boucher performing "Gun For A Tongue" --

And to close, two particularly interesting pieces.

Tippy Canoe in the super-cool music video for "Mass Transmissions"

And finally, some of The Bacon Brothers' XPN festival set was packaged as an episode of the PBS TV series On Canvas. If you watch this episode, look towards the bottom right-hand corner during the performance segments....see if you can spot a certain dancing machine wtih a 'fro and a striped shirt.....(ahem) --

Continue to the Year In Review.

Text copyright © 2009 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.

S.J. Dibai on MySpace - One Note Ahead on Facebook