Tape, "A Spire" (Häpna).
John Prine, "Glory of True Love" (Oh Boy!).
The Thin Man, "An Undertaker Muses . . . " (Contraphonic).
Big & Rich, "Blow My Mind" (Warner Bros. Nashville).
Snuff, "Jet Generation" (Narnack).
Mitch Benn, "A Minute's Noise For John" (Laughing Stock).
Dr. Israel, "Counting Out Stones" (ROIR).
Sway ft. Bruza, Skinnyman, Pyrelli, Bigz & Tripple Threat, "Up Your Speed Remix" (679).
Kero, "Chillin" (Baked Goods).
Ada, "I Love Asphalt" (Areal).
Robert Babicz, "Mister Head" (Areal).
The Bad Plus, "Prehensile Dream" (Columbia).
Triptych Myth, "Poppa's Gin in the Chicken Feed" (Aum Fidelity).
The Vandermark 5, "Vehicle (For Magnus Broo)" (Atavistic).
Most people come up with themes and make mixes for them; I do the opposite. I play records, dither around, cull songs I like, make the mix, and then I figure out what the theme is, however unintentionally it got there. This time, it's homage.
Usually, tribute albums are a good excuse to inch toward the door. As a blanket rule, though, it covers as much of Narnack's I Love Guitar Wolf . . . Very Much as manages to escape it. What I especially like about Snuff's "Jet Generation," though, is that while it evokes Guitar Wolf fine, what it really sounds like—exactly, precisely—is Motörhead. On I Love, it's followed hard by Puffy AmiYumi doing "Can-Nana Fever," which sounds nothing like Guitar Wolf or Motörhead but like damn charming bubblegum. Here, I opted to have Snuff lead into a British comedian's minute-and-a-half-long tribute to John Peel that I found on a giveaway CD with the year-end issue of U.K. monthly Uncut. It sounds approximately like every sloppy indie rock band Peel liked from about 1983 on, appropriately enough.
The only interesting song on the Vandermark 5's new double CD, The Color of Memory, is dedicated (as are all the other songs on the album) to a fellow musician, in this case trumpeter Magnus Broo. Tape's hypnotic "A Spire" isn't a tribute, but to my ear it does evoke a specific reference point: The tentative, careworn melodiousness of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, the ensemble led by the late Simon Jeffes and purveyors of some of the most disarmingly lovely English whimsy ever. Tape, by contrast, are a Swedish experimental electro-acoustic trio (Tomas Hallonsten and brothers Andreas and Johan Berthling) working on their new album, Rideau, with German producer- composer Marcus Schmickler. "A Spire," at 11 minutes and 45 seconds, is one of my favorite pieces of music this year, taking Jeffes and company's pastoralism somewhere rougher and more keening without losing sight of its essence.
Ada's electro-twiddle-boogie "I Love Asphalt" sounds like a tribute to Frogger. John Prine pays tribute to—hey, it's right in the title—the "Glory of True Love." (He isn't kidding, either, not that you'd want him to be or anything.) Big & Rich doff their cowboy hats at vaguely modal psychedelic rock, only their fiddles are much more Music Row than Middle East. And not only could the lead cut from Brooklyn dub maestro Dr. Israel's excellent new album easily be DJ-mixed into Damian Marley's "Welcome to Jamrock," Israel even admits Marley's influence in Talk Talk—a tribute to both artists.