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january 2006

2005 best-of lists coming soon. Been under the weather, so despite the vacation time it's taking longer than usual. Should have something for you starting tomorrow.

This is so fucking sad: Bryan Harvey of House of Freaks was murdered in his home on New Year's Day, along with his wife and two children. I don't even know what else to say about this.

I once maintained a web site dedicated to House of Freaks, and somehow or another I ended up in contact with Bryan (I was living in Charlottesville at the time, a little over an hour away from his home in Richmond). We exchanged several emails, my wife talked to him on the phone once, and my wife and I met his wife Kathryn at their store, World of Mirth; I still have the business card she gave me in my wallet. Over the course of a few years, he answered questions submitted by visitors to my site, he wrote behind-the-scenes stories for most of the House of Freaks catalog, and he even occasionally sent me unreleased demos.

He and his family were genuinely nice people, and I can't imagine what drove whoever did this to them. It's unbelievable, and it breaks my heart to think about it. Their families are in my thoughts and prayers; if you wish to offer your own condolences, they have set up a special email address.

More important links related to the Bryan Harvey tragedy:
  • The Harvey Family——A collection of all the stories on the Harveys published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

  • Remembering the Harveys——Another Times-Dispatch site where readers can share personal stories about the Harveys. If you have any doubt about what we have lost with their deaths, read this page.

  • Photo tribute to Bryan Harvey——Posted by a neighbor and friend of Bryan Harvey.

  •——A site in memory of Bryan, Kathryn, Stella, and Ruby.

That's all for today. I'm still devastated by this.

There are some good blog write-ups remembering the Harveys and covering this story:

For anyone who's in the area and interested, the official memorial service for the Harveys will be held this Saturday in Richmond. There is also a memorial fund for anyone interested in donating money in remembrance of the family. More details here.

The Richmond police have arrested two suspects who they say are responsible for the Harvey killings, along with the slaying of another family of three a few days later and another home invasion in which no one was killed. The whole disgusting mess was apparently just a robbery gone bad by two sick, sad individuals who can barely be called human after their actions over the past week.

I don't know whether that makes the Harvey tradegy easier or harder to comprehend: would it have appealed more to our sense of order and justice for this to have been a crime with a personal motive? Or does the randomness and stupidity of it make more sense, given the vibrancy and spirit of the victims? I guess it doesn't really matter that much——either way, Bryan Harvey and his family are still gone, and there's no motive that could have justified their murders, much less the brutal and vicious manner in which their lives were taken.

I don't know how to help remember them further, aside from reminding you again to look at the posts on the Times-Dispatch reader reaction site——hundreds and hundreds of people sharing their memories of this wonderful family, from their closest friends to people who saw one of Bryan's concerts 15 years ago or shopped in Kathryn's store. It's a moving experience whether or not you had any contact with the Harvey's or Bryan's music.

On a related note, I have four demos that Bryan sent me years ago, from a solo album that he never formally recorded and released, and it's been heartbreaking to listen to them this past week, just as heartbreaking as re-listening to the stuff from House of Freaks that many of you know and love. It was always his intention to share these songs with his fans at some point (there were other demos that he planned to send me, and when I had the whole album, it was his hope that I could allow visitors to my site to download the songs), and so I will plan to post links to them for a limited time at some point in the near future. The traffic on my site is so high now that I'm afraid I'd eat up my bandwidth allowance too quickly if I did it this week, but if you're interested in copies of these songs, please check back here in a couple of weeks.

I gotta admit, it's pretty ballsy of the Strokes to release their new record the week after Christmas, when almost no one is buying anything or is expecting any major releases to come out——it guarantees that they'll miss lots of extra sales from the holiday shopping madness. Add to that the fact that there's been very little marketing behind it and that no matter how good the record might be, it's likely going to receive a ton of backlash after all the fawning from their first two records, and it's like the band wants to find out exactly how big their fanbase is, because with all these things going against it, it seems reasonable to expect that there won't be too many TRL kids along for the ride this time.

I haven't heard the disc myself yet——I was taken by surprise on the release date, too——but I'm desperately hoping that it stands shoulder to shoulder with Is This It? Or at the very least that it will show an improvement over Room on Fire, which was only decent in my book, despite the continued accolades from other critics.

I've long been a big fan of Kristin Hersh (well, of her main band, Throwing Muses, anyway——her acoustic solo stuff has never done much for me), and that goes for her most recent project, 50 Foot Wave, a band she started recording/touring with a year or two ago. They're much more straightfoward than the Muses, who, while incredibly loud and intense at times, were also know for their serpentine guitar leads and their penchant for time signature changes.

Now their offering a free EP of unreleased music (appropriately titled Free Music) on their web site, and they are encouraging everyone to download it and distribute it however you might see fit. Here's the link; now go do it.

The songs that Bryan Harvey wrote for House of Freaks have been running through my head a lot the past couple of weeks, and it's downright eerie how many of his lyrics give you chills after the events of January 1. I guess it's not too surprising, given his southern gothic influence that frequently employs themes of violence and death, but it still raises the hairs on the back of my neck. Some tracks are especially freaky, most notably "Hey Hey Hey Hey" from the Freaks' final album, Invisible Jewel:

Who's that man coming
Says hey, hey, hey, hey
Sharpens his knife singing
Hey, hey, hey, hey
Flashes of pain...hey, hey, hey, hey
Heartbroken woman...hey, hey, hey, hey
In the basement...hey, hey, hey, hey
Begs him for mercy...hey, hey, hey, hey

For those of you who haven't read the news reports, Bryan was murdered by two strangers in the basement of his home, along with his wife, Kathryn, and their two children, Stella and Ruby. They were severely beaten, cut with knives, and left to die in a fire with their throats slashed.

I'm not the only one who has noticed this coincidence, either: aside from "Remember Me Well" and "Ten More Minutes to Live", both of which more obviously address mortality, "Hey Hey Hey Hey" is the song that visitors to my site have most frequently searched for since the slayings became public last week.

In the same way that I'll never be able to listen to Lucinda Willam's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road without being reminded in some way of Katrina tragedy, I'll never again be able to listen to House of Freaks without thinking of Bryan and his family and their horrifying final moments on this earth. I did not know Byran well, but everything that has been said about him by those close to him confirms every good impression he gave me during our interactions, and the more I try to wrap my head around what happened to him and his family, the more depressed I get.

And just because I don't want this entry to be a complete downer, here's a nice eulogy for Bryan by John Miller of the National Review. Also, a memorial fund has been set up in the family's name; click here for details on how to donate to the fund.

So far for the month of March, I have tickets to see Belle & Sebastian, the Pogues, and Stereolab on seperate dates at the 9:30 Club in DC. By a weird coincidence, these are three bands that my friend and fellow music blogger Sliced Tongue spent a significant amount of time writing about, all before ANY of them had announced their tour plans. So he's going to all three shows with me, which will mark the first time I have been to a non-Wilco or non-Decemberists show in a couple of years, and also the first time I have seen him in a couple more.

Belle & Sebastian I expect to be pristine and near-perfect (especially in light of their recent download-only live CD, If You're Feeling Sinister Live), the Pogues I expect to be a joyful mess, and Stereolab...well, I don't really know what to expect from Stereolab, as I'm not nearly as familiar with their catalog as Sliced Tongue. But I'm really looking forward to all three shows, not in the least because I'll get to spend some time hanging out with a good friend who I haven't seen in far too long.

The latest Out Hud disc, Let Us Never Speak of It Again, didn't really make much of an impression on me when I got it last year, but I've recently been listening to a playlist with all the music that I have that came out in 2005, and every time a song from that record pops up, it blows me away. I'm going to try listening to it straight through for a day or so to see if it's really that good, or if it has the same kind of effect as The Raveonettes records——excellent in small doses, but annoying for a long stretch.

"Photo Jenny" and "String Bean Jean" have been running through my head a lot recently. I'm really hoping Belle & Sebastian will trot out a lot of their older material for the concert in March. Of course, I wouldn't mind hearing "Piazza, New York Catcher" or "If She Wants Me", either. But please, let's just avoid the travesty of Fold Your Hands.

Writing for this site has had a strange effect on me: now, I want new records to come as much because I need something to write about as I do because I actually want to hear the music. Is there something wrong with that? I think there might be something wrong with that.

With titles like "The Black Hawk War, Or, How To Demolish An Entire Civilization And Still Feel Good About Yourself In The Morning, Or, We Apologize For The Inconvenience But You're Going To Have To Leave Now, Or, 'I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!'", you have to wonder if it didn't sometimes take Sufjan Stevens longer to come up with the titles for Illinois than it did for him to write the songs.

Even after all these years, I still miss the Smiths.

Pretty much no matter which album or track you pick, Broken Social Scene is an ideal companion for those slow, sad, weary days, where you have just enough hope left to go to bed and dream of a different day tomorrow, those days where rain and fog and melancholy envelope everything. And it's been raining here a lot recently.

I don't mind some of the other Jay-Z Black Album remixes, especially The Slack Album (which uses Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted) or The Double Black Album (which uses Metallica's Black Album), but really, none of the dozens of other remixers came close to touching Danger Mouse's Grey Album (which mixed Jay-Z's rhymes with samples from the Beatles' White Album).

Oh, and please don't send me any snotty little notes informing me that Metallica's Black Album was really self-titled, just like the Beatles' White Album. I know, I'm just choosing to reference their popular names.

I think the 19th century college student's dream of reading every book in his university library has been replaced today with the dream of downloading the complete music library of every hard drive on campus. Which is appropriate for the 21st century student: it's easy, it's free, it's probably illegal, and absolutely nothing is going to be learned by acheiving that goal.

I've started hearing one of those Next Big Thing buzzes for the Arctic Monkeys, a working class rock band from Sheffield, England. I'm always wary of such labels, but for once, it might be justified. I mean sure, the albums from last year's contenders, Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand, are pretty decent, but they never caught fire with me the same way that say, the Hold Steady, did.

The Monkeys' full length was just released in their native England, but it won't be out here for another month, so I've gone ahead and downloaded their two EPs, I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor and Five Minutes with the Arctic Monkeys, off of iTunes to tide me over until it arrives. I don't ever like to have my first music purchase of the year be a bad record, because I'm superstitious about the tone it sets for the rest of the year, but I don't think I've made a mistake here.

I'm not saying their going to change the world anything, or that they're ridiculously original, but so far I haven't been able to stop listening to them, and that's good enough for me. And really, how can you not like a band named the Arctic Monkeys?

I've been putting off my end-of-year lists for a while now, but since it's the end of January, it's time to either do this or just forget about it. And since I'm loathe to give up any easy content opportunity, here's my list of the top 10 singles from 2005 in reverse order (meaning I save the best for last):

Stars——"Calendar Girl"
I have mixed feelings about Stars' Set Yourself on Fire, but I absolutely adore this song. I know we're not supposed to compare them to their countrymen the Arcade Fire, but if I were to do that, I'd have to say that this track comes closest to the sweet melancholy that is the primary theme of Funeral.

Animal Collective——"The Purple Bottle"
I know I'm supposed to put "Grass" here, and while that's an excellent song as well, I like this one better. I think it's the last two minutes of craziness that puts this track over the top.

Fiona Apple——"Extraordinary Machine"
Easily the best track from her new record, which is probably why she named the album after this song. She also wisely chose to make minimal adjustments to the unreleased Jon Brion version, keeping the official version pretty much in line with his arrangement. Too bad Fiona didn't follow that plan on a few more songs——I bought the official version because it was The Right Thing To Do, but I'll be damned if I can bring myself to listen to it when Brion's version is sitting right there next to it in my iTunes library.

Sleater-Kinney——"Modern Girl"
The Woods was a loud, raucous comeback roar from one of America's best bands, but "Modern Girl" starts out relatively quietly with just a voice over two intertwining guitars. It eventually gets to level-busting volumes, but never loses it's sweetness.

The White Stripes——"My Doorbell"
It would have been too easy and obvious to pick "Blue Orchid", although it would have been a serious contender for this if I hadn't imposed an artificial condition on myself to only choose one track from a given artist. But as good as "Orchid" is, listen to both tracks and you tell me: which one gets stuck in your head? See? That's why "My Doorbell is on this list.

The Decemberists——"The Bagman's Gambit"
"On the Bus Mall" was a lock to make this list almost from the first time I heard it, until I saw the Decemberists perform "The Bagman's Gambit" in concert. After that, there was no going back: something was revealed to me during the live performance, and since then this song kills me every time I hear it.

Sufjan Stevens——"Come On! Feel the Illinoise!"
Like most of the singles in the top 5, "Come On!" had some stiff competition from at least one other song on its album, and in this case it was "Chicago". But when I was flying back from Chicago, drifting away from the city over Lake Michigan, "Come On!" was the first song that my iPod selected for me to listen to, and it damn near brought me to tears. Who am I to argue with the gods of shuffle?

Kanye West——"Touch the Sky"
I know "Gold Digger" was his big hit single, and he has said that "Heard 'Em Say" is his favorite song he's ever recorded, but there's a reason that he's using this track to reignite his album sales as we enter the awards season. Late Registration has a ton of great tracks (although none of them really comes close to "Jesus Walks"), but this one finds a way to stand out.

The Hold Steady——"How a Resurrection Really Feels
I love this record so much that almost any track from it could have been inserted in this spot on the singles list, but this song, the final track, serves as kind of a reprise, name-checking the people and places on the rest of the album and giving us what little resolution there is to be had from their stories. It's hard to pick just one song to represent this whole disc, but since those are the rules, "Resurrection" is the song I'm going with.

Wolf Parade——"I'll Believe in Anything"
I knew that something from Apologies to the Queen Mary would end up somewhere on this list, and for a while I thought it would probably be "You Are a Runner and I Am My Father's Son" and that it would be somewhere in the lower half of the list. But then I had an epiphany, and it became instantly clear to me that "I'll Believe in Anything" was not only the best song from this album, it was the best song released this year. And that's all there is to it.

Runner-ups: any of several tracks from LCD Soundsystem's self-titled disc; "Old Nude" by Out Hud; "I Turn My Camera On" by Spoon; "Blue Light" by Bloc Party; "Sweet Spots" by the Fiery Furnaces; "Gameboy/Homeboy" by Beck; and "Major Label Debut (Fast)" by Broken Social Scene.

I don't like splitting up the multiple entries about my 2005 album wrap up, so I'll use today to tell you about the CDs that I bought earlier this week, my first brick and mortar purchase of the new year. I got three brand new CDs and one used: the Strokes' First Impressions of Earth, the Gossip's Standing in the Way of Control, Cat Power's The Greatest (those are the new ones), and Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, which I was able to grab for $9.

So far I'm pleased with this year's early crop: the Gossip have taken a little bit of a left turn, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, Cat Power's touches of horns adds that something extra to her work that easily makes this my favorite record from her, and the Strokes seem to have changed things up just enough to keep people from getting bored with their signature sound without really abandoning that sound.