...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead
Century of Self
I'll cut to the chase: This album kicks ass, lots of it, and in ways that it seems rock bands just aren't familiar with anymore. The sound is raw; guitar strings squeak, snare drums rattle, and the occasional synth parts it contains actually sound like they were recorded in the midst of the chaos instead of being layered flat on top. But beyond that, the music is classic AYWKUBTTOD, in that even the ballads make you want to destroy something with a baseball bat. All that said, it still isn't as good as Source Tags and Codes.
At first listen, I was pretty disappointed with this new A Camp album (A Camp being a "solo" project of Nina Persson from The Cardigans). And that disappointment came solely from the fact that, despite his full-fledged membership in the band and equally full-fledged marriage to Nina Persson, Nathan Larson's influence was nowhere to be heard on any of the songs. While his street cred comes from his days with Shudder To Think (I've read the phrase "guitar god" used at least once), he's more familiar to myself as the mind behind Mind Science of The Mind (now say it in pig latin!). Basically, the man is a wonderful musician who has created for himself a completely unique and recognizable style, some of which I was hoping would leak onto the A Camp album, but sadly did not. But after that initial let down, I keep coming back to it, and it's growing on me more and more. Stylistically, it's not too far from The Cardigan's "Long Gone Before Daylight" album... lush, organic adult pop rock. But some of the songs are almost theatrical in nature; the lyrics are smart, melodies don't always end up where you'd guess they would, choruses don't necessarily show up in the standard spots. Kind of like how Nathan Larson would write them. Hmm. Anyhow, the first track is like the opening number from some demented Disney musical (in scope, not execution, sorry). There's also a duet where Nina and a dude singer actually use each other's first names. That's always cute.
One of these days, someone is going to stand up and say, "Hey, every song AC Newman ever writes is exactly the same. What a hack!" Then most of the world will respond with "AC Who-man?" And then about 100 other people will say, "Yeah, you're right, semi-anonymous internet blog! Neko Case, too!" But guess what? Today isn't that day. Nor will tomorrow be. Because Get Guilty, despite having the worst cover ever, is just as great as his previous solo album, and just about every New Pornographers album. Hell, it's probably better than Challengers. And just because you probably couldn't distinguish its songs from any other AC Newman songs on your special shuffled "All A.C." iPod playlist, I can guarantee you that it is one hell of a playlist.
Shut Down the Streets
Totally sweet record, top to bottom, every track, everything you've ever loved about The New Pornographers and AC Newman's solo records, without everything you hated about Get Guilty and Together (and Challengers). And mostly stripped down to the basics; cool meandering melodies with just enough accompaniment to support it. I've been listening to it just about nonstop since Tuesday.
Marrow of the Spirit
This record is getting shit tons of positive press in the admittedly shallow end of the heavy metal world that I sometimes dip my toes into. People calling it "Metal album of the year" with little if any reserve, handing it golden statues and sacrificing mammals in its name. It is, it would seem, a sensation. And yet when I listen to it, all I can think is how Agalloch, the Metal Band Of The Year, and each and every one of their metal peers (black, death, thrash, prog, or otherwise), are about 15 years behind Opeth. Hurry up, dudes, you're about to get lapped.
Live at the Pershing
So this guy, Ahmad Jamal. You've probably never heard of him. He's pretty obscure. He's a real musician's musician type; Miles Davis and John Coltrane both called him their favorite pianist at one point, so I'm going to go ahead and call him the Harry Nilsson of jazz piano. Even though he's been putting out albums left and right for the last 60 years, his Live at the Pershing: But Not For Me record from 1959 seems to be the consensus favorite. Personally, I'm way into it. He has this very particular style, full of gaps and pauses, lots of time spent on the very high keys, interspersed with some short flurry bursts of complicated but fluid runs. Total laser focus. It's curious that he never ended up doing any sessions with the Davis's and Coltranes of the world, but it kinda makes sense. Despite its lightness and general calm, his playing demands attention, and doesn't take a backseat to anything else. Beyond his own talent though, the trio on this record is super tight, and plays some particularly unique rhythms. The last half of the last track, "What's New", features this fast 4-beat rhythm that sounds almost like modern hip hop, or even metal. And the most "famous" of his songs, "Poinciana," features a sort of South American tribal rhythm throughout that's like nothing I've really heard before. I'm probably not going to go much further into Jamal's massive discography (he seems to sort of plateau and coast for the next half century), and it's a bit disappointing that the recording quality on this one is a bit questionable (as is the quality on all of his 50's studio output), but Live at the Pershing is a great listen. I've been going back to it all week.
Sounds like every record she's put out in the last 12 years. I like it.
Live at First Avenue
Aimee Mann and Ted Leo played a show at First Avenue, and it was great, yes. Ted played solo with just an electric guitar, and Aimee played with a band of absolute pros (it's nice to see a band made of of legit musicians, even if they're a bunch of 50 year old LA studio guys), and busted out a trio of my favorite Magnolia soundtrack songs that very well could've made me cry if I wasn't a real man. But my biggest takeaway from the night was just how reasonable and nice and friendly they both seemed. I kind of had an idea going in, what with Ted's random calls into the Best Show on WFMU and Aimee's connections with Largo and the LA comedy world, but it was just so nice to watch them on stage and listen to their between song banter, because it all came from this totally pure, humble, self-effacing place or realizing that the whole rock show/tour/life is pretty ridiculous, without making a mockery of it. Plus the fact that, musically, they're both at the point in their careers, 20 years in, where they have absolute control over their craft, and haven't fooled themselves into thinking they are anything other than what they are, which sounds like an insult, but I think it's totally respectable. My point being: the show was a joy, and I'm glad Ted Leo and Aimee Mann exist.
Alice In Chains
Alice In Chains
Jar of Flies
It just occurred to me that I've never owned Jar Of Flies! "Wha-wha-whaat!?" As much as I liked Alice In Chains back in middle/high school (and today, even), my brother owned a copy of it, so I never bothered buying it. Next time I'm at Cheapo, I'm definitely going to pick up a used copy, which will cost me, what, $2.50? $2.75? It will also make me the last human ever to purchase a CD copy of Jar of Flies.
Alien Ant Farm
Alien Ant Farm
I swear to god, this Alien Ant Farm album is seriously legitimately good! I still can't believe it myself. They might be the only early-2000s nu-metal band (Deftones and Tool not included) that has the slightest ounce of integrity or talent. Honestly, it's a super fun listen and you should get over yourself and give it a shot
The new Andrew Bird album doesn't come out for a couple weeks now, but he has an EP (which I think comes with the real album) called Useless Creatures up on his website to listen to in full. I have to say, while it's just a suite of slightly rambling "experimental" instrumentals, it's much more in-line with where I think his music should have been focusing for the last 2 albums. By which I mean it's almost entirely violin-based, has hardly any guitar that I can hear, and no electronic drum loops. In fact, the little percussion it does have comes from Wilco's drummer Glen Kotche (who is dreamy). As I've been complaining about for a couple years now, Andrew Bird is a genuinely talented violinist, and yet it seems he's pushed that aspect of his music to the back, playing second fiddle to his slightly okay guitar playing and impressive-yet-redundant whistling. Part of me worries that he's put all his violin chops on this bonus disc and the album proper will contain more of the same as the last two. At least Dosh isn't involved.
After a six year delay, Andrew Bird has finally released the full-length follow up to his debut solo EP, Weather Systems. It's just what I've been hoping, for, but I can't help but to feel a little... bored? He needs to squirt some fun juice into those songs! Maybe his pal Dosh should help him out next time around, get some beats in there. That'll do the trick.
If you can't tell, I'm being ironic.
Live in Minneapolis, 12-10-09
This was going to be amazing. Andrew Bird. St. Marks Cathedral in Loring Park. Purely ambient PA setup. Entirely instrumental, mostly improvised. Something new. I was stoked, $40 tickets be damned (watch your language). Yet about halfway through the show, which I was enjoying, I couldn't help but think that it was a little disappointing. Not in the sense that he didn't perform well, or that the audio was bad, or anything like that. It was just, well, an Andrew Bird show. Nothing less, not a whole lot more. He plucked, he looped, he whistled (while he xylophoned), he played his awkward (in a good way) melodies, he sang big words. He bariolaged. It was all fantastic, yes. But we were in a church. I wanted glorious. He has a new 5-horn custom PA setup that was supposed to be a big deal for the show--using only those to produce sound that would fill the grand cathedral. In reality, they sounded fine, and you could get a little sense of reverb from the cathedral, but it wasn't much different than hearing him in any other venue. In fact, I'd almost say that those PAs weren't even very great. There was distortion at some points, and the generally had a very "PA" sound to them. And while he started the show with a nicely fleshed-out instrumental, he eventually just starting doing some of his old songs. He could've done one big hour-long shifting, meandering instrumental, which I was half expecting, but most of the pieces just randomly stopped. But here I am, complaining about a great show in a great venue (if you discount the numerous obstructed views and bad viewing angles), when I should just be happy that there's still someone out there with honest-to-God musical talent at leasttrying to do something new.
Break It Yourself
1.) Reiterate respect and appreciation for Andrew Bird's prodigious musical talent. 2.) Recall the wonders heard come from his violin in multiple live performances and recordings. 3.) Imply that his latest recording isn't up to the lofty standards he set over 10 years ago now. 4.) Reference The Swimming Hour as the high water mark of his compositional and musical output. 4a.) Concede that the album referenced in 4 is not his most "challenging." 5.) Posit theory regarding Andrew Bird and his self image and integrity in relation to musical trends of the time. 6.) Move onto current album (this:Break It Yourself). 7.) Bemoan excessive reverb and uninspiring pizzicato runs. 8.) Bemoan oblique lyrical content. 9.) Ask where all the fun went. 10.) Blame Dosh. 11.) Reference exact minute:second point where his virtuosity finally comes through. 11a.) Bemoan minute:second when it ends. 12.) Reiterate respect and appreciation for Andrew Bird's prodigious musical talents. 13.) Consider closing: Maybe next time?
Merriweather Post Pavillion
This really frustrates me. Completely. I first heard these guys back when Sung Tongs came out, and Pitchfork went totally head over heels for it. I listened, was mostly like, "Huh?", and pretty much ignored it. But one song on that record, "Who Could Win A Rabbit" totally blew my mind. I couldn't understand how four human beings could sit down and write a song like that; it's just so far outside of anything else out there, and yet completely catchy and singable. So my interest was peaked. Then they released Feels, and completely won me over. I actually told a friend once, "If they play their cards right in the next couple years, Animal Collective could seriously be the best band in the world." But wow. They've totally blown it. Strawberry Jam, I thought at the time, was a throwaway electronic experiment. So I've been unbelievably excited for Merriweather Post Pavillion, ready for them to get back to their more organic, acoustic foundations. But that didn't happen. This new one is just as soulless and electronic and unrelentingly harsh as the last one. And what's worse, at least one time through listening, is that there aren't even as many memorable tunes. It's just 60 minutes of unceasing pounding and hollering. Well, okay, that's a little harsh, but still, when compared to the best parts of Sung Tongs and Feels, it's absolutely not up to par. And thus, the Animal Collective joins The Microphones, Augie March, and Andrew Bird in the BTCHBBTJ club. And I'm sorry, but I don't feel like typing out that entire acronym. Just take your best guess.
Merriweather Post Pavillion
Okay. I was a little too harsh the first time around. It's growing on me, but a lot of my original criticism still stands; it needs more ups and downs, louds and softs, and less of a constant synthetic din of noise (and where's the guitar and drums?). Otherwise, once I've thrown my expectations out the window, I'm starting to enjoy it a little more.
Ugh. How can something so chaotic be so boring? I think it's time to take my copy of Feels and my copy of Sung Tongs and bid the Animal Collective adieu until they can get their shit together. Later, fellas.
Antony & The Johnsons
Antony & The Johnsons
The Crying Light
I have no coherent, worthwhile thoughts about this album yet (although my gut reaction after one not-so-intense listen is that it might be even better than I Am A Bird Now), but I can say this: Rarely does an album cover so perfectly suit the music an album contains as much as this new Antony & The Johnsons record. Spooky, dramatic, theatrical, sparse, and with lots of gender issues. Of all the albums I bought this week, this is the one I'm most excited to go back and give my time to. Now if only I could convince Libby to go to his Valentine's Day show at the Pantages...
Antony & The Johnsons
Antony & The Johnsons
The Crying Light
So after 4 or 5 listens, I've decided that I really like this new Antony album. In fact, even though I first thought it to be good but inferior to I Am A Bird Now, I'm now convinced that The Crying Light is actually a fuller, stronger album as a whole. The high points may not be as great (come on... "Hope There's Someone"), but every single track is successful here, whereas the last one contains a lot of eye-rollers. I'll even go out on a limb and say Antony's singing is much stronger this time around. Instead of just depending on the oddity of his warbling falsetto, he really stretches it now, proving he's a legitimately good singer, no matter the musical circumstance.
Antony & The Johnsons
Antony & The Johnsons
The Crying Light
Okay, I know this is my third post about this album, which is a little ridiculous, but I just can't help it. In the last few weeks, it's gone from "Boy, this might actually be better than his last album," to "Holy crap, every second of this thing is amazing and I can't stop listening to it." Antony's voice is the obvious focus the first few times listening to it, but lately I've been paying attention to the instrumental arrangements, which are incredibly subtle, restrained, and, if I'm not too macho to use the word, downright lovely. Between this and Joanna Newsom's Ys, it's nice to hear contemporary "pop" musicians use chamber instruments honestly and unapologetically, as opposed to dragging them out once in a while as signifiers of "drama" (Sufjan?) or some post-modern deconstruction of "tradition" (Godspeed!).
Antony And The Johnsons
Antony And The Johnsons
I don't know.
Antony And The Johnsons
Antony And The Johnsons
The early returns are in, with 25% of precincts reporting, and the outcome is not looking positive for Antony or his Johnsons. (Politics!). Basically, none of the magic from The Crying Light is here, in what sounds to me like a pretty rushed (not Rush-ed, mind you) collection of meandering, focusless songs. Top that off with overly dry recording, and a staid-sounding Antony, and I think I won't be coming back to this one too often in the future, especially when I still haven't gotten my complete fill of Crying Light yet.
Song Of The Pearl
I bought this album a couple weeks ago, but keep forgetting that I have it. I can't speak for Arbouretum's older work, but this album sounds a little like Built to Spill jamming Bonnie Prince Billy songs in their practice space. And while that does sound like a great thing, the album comes off like a less-amazing version of Shearwater's Rook album from last year. It's growing on me, though. We'll see if I'm still listening to it a couple months from now.
The Arcade Fire
The Arcade Fire
I'm not too proud a man to admit when I'm wrong. And while I still don't think I made a mistake in completely passing on the Aracade Fire's Neon Bible album, I concede that when it comes The Suburbs, I blew it. This thing came and went, people loved it, it won awards and topped a list or two, and I gave it the ol' limp-wrist wave and pretended it didn't even exist. I loved Funeral as much as anyone, it's an awesome, completely self-contained piece of work. I chalked it up to lightning in a bottle, a band exhausting their entire career on one grand statement. And Neon Bible came out and proved me right, along with a series of live performances where they came off as a groups desperate to make you believe they'll change your life. I couldn't take it. Then The Suburbs comes along and, come on! It's called The Suburbs! How am I supposed to take this seriously? They'd gone off the tweep end (hah!), and I didn't care to give them another shot. Until just yesterday, I happened upon a $1.99 copy of it at a thrift store, took note of the admittedly great packaging, and remembered "Hmm, there was that one song I heard on the radio that I liked." That song is the title track, and it starts off the album. And it's beautiful. Just a perfect little song, with warm, luscious production, and the feeling that it's been around for decades. Then the album keeps going, and, while it doesn't get better, or even keep up that level of greatness, it's still really good! Not over the top, no church organs, no cloying grand statements, no posturing. Just good tunes, good production, and a sense that they no longer care about changing anyone's life. Which is fine with me.
At The Drive In
At The Drive In
Relationship of Command
I liked Mars Volta*, and I liked Sparta*, and yet the thought of At The Drive In always bugged me. Too... punk? Too punk. But here I am, ready to admit I was wrong. This shit is pretty sweet.
(* At first, that is.)
Watch Me Disappear
I worried, from the samples I heard a year ago, that this was going to be Augie March's nail-in-the-coffin album; they'd perhaps become a little big in their britches down in Australia, and are finally recording purely radio-friendly bullshit. And I was only half right. This whole album doesn't have nearly the soul or the humanity of Strange Bird (a perfect album, in my opinion, and one of my all time favorites), and every song could be played on the radio. Cities 97 maybe? But at the same time, it's a beautiful album. It's clear, too, that Glen Richards, the singer and songwriter, is an extremely talented musician. He writes smart, heartbreaking songs, and has a voice to match. I still think these guys should be a big deal over here in the US, and I'm really not sure why they aren't.
Here I am listening to to Augie March's Strange Bird, already seven years since I first heard it. And my opinion of it hasn't diminished one bit, my opinion being that it is magnificent. Yet in these seven years I haven't seen a single review, a single news story, or a single mention of Augie March on any of my usual online music haunts. Or Rolling Stone, or whatever. Kills me. Totally kills me. On the flipside, it seems that they're huge in Australia. To the point that Australian music writers decry them for selling out. Which blows my mind, because nobody in this hemisphere has even heard their name.
Autolux really drives me crazy. They've been around for 8-9 years now, and yet they've only released one album. Now, 4 years after that first one, they're finally (maybe) getting around to releasing a second one. A year ago, they said it would be "mid summer." Then in April, they finally released a single and said the album would come out "soon enough." Now they're saying it will be "after New Years." Obviously. I guess I just don't get what could possibly take them so long. Oh well. There's a new instrumental up on their Myspace page to listen to, anyway. It's called "Fat Kid." But it's not going to be on the new album, so who cares.
Hmm. Sad to say, but nothing on this album is grabbing me right away. Maybe it's a "grower" or something, but a lot of these tracks sound more like B-side experiments than fully fleshed-out thoughts. Heck, somewhere in the last third of the record there's a song that's legitimately bad, a first for these guys. But most importantly: where did the drums go?
The new Autolux album came out today! I mean, Tuesday! And I had no idea!? What's wrong with me? I should have been marking days off my calendar in anticipation for today. 6 years it's been since their last one. Technically, since practically that entire album was on their demo four years earlier, I've been waiting 10 years for this thing. And I didn't even see it until I happened to check out the new release shelf at Best Buy? Sad. Plus, instead of actually listening to it, I'm writing about it on a blog. Pathetic.
Since I Left You
Well, it's decided: I think I'm going to buy the Avalanches album. 10 years of considering it is enough. I should probably just go for it before they release their second album in 2019.
Stranger Than Fiction
3 days ago my waking mind was hijacked in an outright guerilla ambush by Bad Religion's "Stranger Than Fiction" (the song). It's played through in my head somewhere around 70 times since Thursday, and I've physically listened to it about a half a dozen. It. Won't. Go. Away. Sure, I liked it when I was a teenager and everything, but suddenly I can't get enough. What's happening to me?
Recipe For Hate
I don't want this to be one of those, "Man I haven't listened to Recipe For Hate in ages and I just did and it's amazing," because, as a whole, it's not. About half of it is pretty bad. 20% is good but forgettable Bad Religion. But that leaves you with 4-5 tracks that are not only fun and cool and exciting, but have a very particular sound that is unique to Recipe For Hate. "Kerosene," "Man On A Mission," "Skyscraper"... I have no reference point for some of this stuff. No other Bad Religion album ever touched some of the musical and sonic tones that some of these songs did, much less any album by anyone else ever. And no, I'm not saying it's a work of genius or classic album or anything, but just--that pedal steel is pretty sweet.
Badly Drawn Boy
Badly Drawn Boy
Have You Fed The Fish?
Back sometime around 2003, this Badly Drawn Boy album was one in a stack of CDs that Jeff accidentally got stolen. And I didn't care too much, because I really, really disliked it anyway. But then last weekend, when Libby and I were at the Bryn Mawr garage sales, this guy was selling CDs for $3 each. Part of me thinks that this guy is the one who stole my CDs originally, because the stuff he was selling seemed straight out of my own collection. More specifically, it was straight out of the pile I would choose to sell if I needed to (really, someone else in this city likes Holopaw and The Incredible Moses Leroy?). Anyhow, the Badly Drawn Boy album was there, and since it was only 3 bucks, I figured I would buy it so I could at least have it back in my collection (and because in subsequent years, I realized that Jon Brion played some guitar and keyboard on it, so that in itself was worth the money). And guess what? I was totally wrong. It's a surprisingly good album. Yes, there are some embarrassing moments on it, but for the most part it is rock-solid. I think back when it first came out, I was just bitter because it is so much more heavily produced and arranged than Hour Of The Bewilderbeast, and that just turned me off. Listening to it now, with all this time to let that wear off, I realize that Bewilderbeast was practically a demo recording for what he really wanted to do, which is Have You Fed The Fish?. This really opens up a can of worms: Was Bewilderbeast merely accidental, and not truly a masterpiece? Can art be successful against its own intentions? If someone set out to paint the like Davinci, and ended up as Kandinsky, is he still a master? No matter how we answer those questions, this still remains: his next album really, truly, sucked.
Badly Drawn Boy
Badly Drawn Boy
Hour of the Bewilderbeast
Oh man, let's all just take a moment and remember the greatness of The Hour of the Bewilderbeast, can we? Thanks to BDB's inability to craft a decent album since this one came out, I feel like his integrity has gone to shit. Also, his multiple public stage meltdowns might have something to do with it. I'm fine with that. But we can't let the same thing happen to this album, which is a front-to-back gem of a record. It's a beautiful piece of work. An album's album with a common thematic and musical thread running through, weird stuff, hit singles, interludes, vision. God, it really is great, and I barely listen to it any more. And worst of all... it doesn't even appear on Pitchfork's People's List! Nowhere on list of 200 albums voted on by readers. Nowhere. Considering how this took the indie (and commercial!) music world by storm back in 2000, it kind of depresses me that it's sort of being lost to the fog.
Who would've thought that the best Mastodon album to be released this year wouldn't actually a Mastodon album? Baroness, ladies and gentlemen. Actually, they take more of the Skinnard-y, Zeppelin-y, Thin Lizzy-y stuff that Mastodon only hints at and run with it. This is the kind of metal that makes people who don't like metal admit that they might be wrong. Organic, musical, sometimes even funky. It won't go down as one of my all time faves, given that it sometimes gets too close to 'Mastodon ripoff' for its own good, in the vocals especially. But man, these guys know what they're doing, and are damn good at it. It is also a very late but worthy competitor to the Flaming Lips for Record Cover Of The Year.
Yellow & Green
I think I like this new Baroness album. I'm pretty sure. It's good, right? I might be getting fooled by the kickass cover art, but I think I'm comfortable giving it the thumbs up. But for being the current Pitchfork and NPR approved southern metal band of record, I worry that they sometimes lean just a little too far into Nickelback territory. Like, they haven't passed through customs yet, but just just crested a large hill and can make out the border compound on the horizon. They've got plenty of room to turn back, but it's getting dangerous.
EDIT:You know what? No! After listening to the rest of the second disc (which I didn't listen to carefully when I first wrote the review), I have a major problem with this album. The riffs are good, the arrangements are cool, the musicianship is great, but the singer can not sing. It's alright when he's doing his rough metal voice thing, but the whole second disc is melodic singing. And it's embarrassing. Just about ruins the whole thing for me.
Everyone always talks about "Atlas," and how it's "obviously" the "best" thing Battles has ever done, and how it's the "only" "fully formed" thought on Mirrored. Well I whole-heartedly disagree. "Race: In", people. So much better than Atlas, which is at its heart sounds like Mike Patton doing a throw-away remix of Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People." Seriously, listen to it. Race:In, meanwhile, is flawless. Anyway, their new album comes out tomorrow, and everyone's saying it's better than Mirrored, but those same people also like Atlas. So weeeeeee'll see.
Major disappointment with Gloss Drop so far. Everything I'd read leading up to it gave me the feeling I would love it, as everything I disliked about Mirrored (i.e. the vocals) are gone. But right now it sounds like the same song on repeat. Pretty boring. I also have to note that the packaging design is awesome, and totally stealing the concept I've had for record packaging for like 8 years now (although Wilco's A Ghost Is Born nearly did the same thing). I'll try it tomorrow with headphones, though.
The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys
I'm not going to sit here and make some outlandish claim about how Wild Honey is better than Pet Sounds or something like that, but man--I just love it. All the songs seem to just end after two minutes or so, and it probably could've used another couple months of tightening up in the recording studio, but it's fresh and fun and lightweight and there's not a bad tune to be found on the entire record. "Darlin'" might even be my all-time favorite Beach Boys song, aside from, well, "God Only Knows," "Caronline No," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Surfs Up," "Good Vibrations," "Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder," and "I Know There's An Answer." But beyond those, it's #1.
The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys
So my post over there in the "Food" section regarding the Mall of America's vaguely tropical nightmare restaurant Kokomo's lead me, obviously, to link to a video of the Beach Boys' nightmare anthem, "Kokomo." Funny, right? But then I watched the video, tried to ignore the shots of a sexy young Tom Cruise slinging drinks in Coctail, and just listened to the song. And, you know, if you ignore the corny reverbed percussion, the corny sax solo, the corny steel drums, the corny hats, the corny flowered shirts, the corny lyrics, and Mike Love, you're left with a pretty damn sensational song. The way the verse melody continually descends... the chord change at the 5th bar... the "baby why don't we go" melody appearing on top of the low vocals at the end of the chorus... it's all classic Beach Boys. And the "That's where we want to go..." line? Just imagine that being sung by the 1964 Beach Boys instead of the 1988 ones. It's fantastic, in theory. In theory.
This leads me to another point, something I read the other day that I'm totally down with. It was a Rolling Stone Q&A interview with Sting (yes, Sting), which was mostly stingingly annoying, but he threw out one gem that just makes me say, "Yes!" To paraphrase, he said, "A great pop song has to surprise you every 8 bars." He really summed up something I've been trying to verbalize for a long time now. I'd even go further, and say it needs to surprise you every 4 bars. After 4 bars, you're naturally ready for something to happen. Either those 4 bars repeat themselves, or something changes. It could be the chord progression, the melody, the addition of a new aural component, something. In "Kokomo", for instance, after 4 bars, you're expecting it to go back to bar 1 and repeat the melody. But instead, the chord shifts down to a minor (or minor 7th?), and it feels as if you're on a roller coaster that just dipped when you thought it would zig. It surprised you. The Beach Boys were masters of this, as were the Beatles (as was Harry Nilsson and as is Jon Brion). But I'm just surprised that reading Sting say it is the first time I've truly seen the concept articulated. It seems so obvious.
Do you like quarter notes? Do you like vague, dispassionate background vocal harmonies? Do you like Mazzy Star or Low, but always wish they'd add about 4bpm to their songs? Then buy this album! It will completely wear out its welcome by the opening notes (quarter notes) of the third track, but Pitchfork gave it a 9.0, so it's great!
I hate to say it, but this is growing on me. Just a little. I mean, it's still pretty hard to listen to the entire album without wanting to punch a wall, but two or three songs worth is actually a pretty nice listen.
Since the music press is already dubbing Bloom "The greatest album ever bestowed unto us by our loving and gracious God," and "a work of art that makes Revolver sound like the gaseous wheeze of a desiccating beached whale" (not even paraphrasing!), and since I would've really liked Teen Dream if it wasn't for all the monotony ("Zebra" was great though), I'm diving right into Bloom. But I accidentally had my iTunes set to shuffle and didn't realize it until it was playing the 16 mintues of silence at the end of the last track. Experience ruined! Either way, still too many goddamn quarter notes. Syncopation, Beach House! Syncopation!
I gave this Beach House record another spin the other night, just to give it a chance to win finally win me over. It may have been partially contextual--late night, a chill in the air, all that--but I will fully admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Make no bones about it, Beach House still infuriates me with their endlessly repetitious eighth notes and mid temp 4/4 dullery. But I've decided that accepting them for what they are, listening to their album specifically as a Beach House album (in the same way that one should always judge a Woody Allen movie as a Woody Allen movie), swallowing my pride and just zenning out, this is a pretty enjoyable album. I mean, that's a ton of qualifiers, but there. I also think that it speaks volumes about the melodic sensibility and voice of their singer. As in: just imagine how good they could be if they'd stop worrying about being Beach House.
The Beatles: Rock Band
Even though I've been telling people it's the perfect "party game", I just got done playing Beatles Rock Band with guitar on expert for about an hour and a half by myself. It was a ton of fun. And I know I've ranted about this before, but this Beatles version of the game has absolutely strengthened my position on Rock Band as a whole. I read tons of stuff, mostly from online music critics, about how Rock Band is somehow bad for music. Either it stifles creativity, or cheapens artistic works, or keeps kids from actually playing real instruments. Those are the standard gripes. And that drives me crazy. I honestly think that not only is Rock Band not bad for music, but it is an immensely positive tool for learning about performance, composition, rhythm, and all that kind of stuff. Seriously. How many times have you listened to "Dear Prudence?" Dozens? Hundreds? But how many times have you really focused in on the guitar work at the end, the counter melodies and two-guitar harmonies? Probably not very often. And how close have you really listened to Paul's bassline on "Eight Days A Week?" These songs are so ubiquitous that they are barely heard, instead they are remembered, if that makes any sort of sense. But when you sit down with your plastic Wii guitar and are forced to follow along with every single little note George plays in "Something," you get a whole new appreciation for the music. It almost becomes new again. It's little things, too, like when the game suddenly makes you press three buttons at once when the guitar plays a 7 chord, but only two buttons for a 5; as a guitar player, it feels right. The standard blues riff on "Revolution" feels like you're playing a standard blues riff for real. The awesome lead guitar part on "And Your Bird Can Sing" has every little hammer-on and pull-off. The same can be said for regular (non-Beatles) Rock Band. What other reason would a 12 year old kid ever have to study the bassline to Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way"? Sure, this isn't teaching anyone how to actually play a guitar, but I'd argue that it's teaching you to feel the guitar, to feel the music and get inside of it in a way you can't do when you're driving down the highway with Kool 108 on the radio.
A Hard Day's Night
The world doesn't need a music and food blog to tell it that the Beatles are good any more than a cow needs a bell to... tell it... to... moo? Something like that. But for your own good, because I bet you don't do it too often of your own choosing, go put on A Hard Day's Night, skip forward to "And I Love Her," and remind yourself, even at their most stripped down and simplistic, just how much better the Beatles were than their closest competition. Orders of magnitude.
The Beau Brummels
The Beau Brummels
You might know a song by these guys, but hell if I can remember which one it is. Notable mostly to record store weirdos and people who think they're better than you, Bradley's Barn is one of those albums that quietly forged a new genre, and then disappeared while a dozen other bands did a much better job of it. I've been looking for it for a year now, and finally found it, only to be entirely unmoved by it. But good for them.
Belle and Sebastian
Belle and Sebastian
Write About Love
"I Want The World To Stop" is great, "Write About Love" is great, and "I Didn't See It Coming" is alright, but otherwise I think what we have here is Belle & Sebastian's first real stinker since Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like A Peasant. (Which, based on its album title alone, should've been the best B&S album ever. What a perfect name! And the opening track was really solid, classic Belle and Sebastian. How did they blow it so bad? "The Chalet Lines" was good too I guess. But I digress, as this is not a review of Peasant. You can stop reading now.)
Belle and Sebastian
Belle and Sebastian
Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant
I recently (like, yesterday) referred to Fold Your Hands Child as a "stinker." After further review, however, I was totally wrong, and was actually thinking of The Boy WIth The Arab Strap. That one's a total stinker. But Fold, even though I've always considered it "lesser" B&S, holds up surprisingly well. In fact, after listening to it yesterday for the first time in ages, I'm kind of upset that I never gave it much of a chance in the last 5-6 years. There are a couple classic songs on it ("I Fought In A War," "The Model", "The Chalet Lines"), and a couple that, at the time, seemed a little to poppy, but make so much more sense after hearing the three albums the band subsequently released (i.e. Belle And Sebastian mark 2, i.e. Belle And Sebastian Finally Learn How To Play Their Instruments). And, yes, there are a couple stinkers. We can all agree on that.
Belle and Sebastian
Belle and Sebastian
Jonathan David EP
In finding a beautiful vinyl copy of Belle and Sebastian's "Jonathan David" EP (and Panda Bear's Person Pitch and The Smiths' Strangeways and Meat Is Murder and a couple Replacements albums and some legit old Beatles records and a pristine copy of Nilsson Schmilsson, with poster), I'm officially ready to admit that, by god, the Half Price Books in Highland Park is actually a great place to find records. And schizophrenics.
A Love Extreme
Nothing much to say here. I just found a cheap copy of the Benji Hughes album on vinyl, and wanted to pass along a link to "The Mummy," which is still the best thing ever. The other thing is that Benji apparently did a Thursday night residency at the Largo (Jon Brion's usual home) in July. This blows my mind and makes me ridiculously happy. It also drives me crazy that I don't live in LA to be able to have seen it. (And if Jon Brion performed with him on stage, I don't want to know about it, because that's the sort of thing that will haunt me for the rest of my natural life).
Sir Lucius Leftfoot
First you're like, "Ohmigod, this is the best thing I've ever heard." Then you're like, "Maybe Big Boi is the real genius behind Outkast after all. Like Matt Sharp and Weezer." But then you're like, "Dammit, why didn't the record company let Andre 3000 onto this thing?" And then you're like, "Aauuuuugh! If Andre was on it this would be classic!" So then you're like, "Shit. Why doesn't Outkast just release another album? Big Boi is wasting himself on this solo stuff!" Which leads you to be like, "Outkast!!!! Where are you!!!?????" So by the time the record is done, you're like, "That was okay I guess. The opera samples in that one song were pretty cool. And I like 'Shine Blockas.' I wonder what Andre 3000 is up to?"
Goddammit why can't Outakast just put out some new music already!!?
Waltz for Debby
Bill Evans. Piano guy. Played on Kind of Blue, a bunch of other stuff. The standard line is that pretty much every other jazz pianist since 1960 is trying to do their own interpretation of what he did. Every pianist since 1960 can copy Evans' styles and modes, but they can't copy (WARNING: this is going to be corny) his heart. He plays with an honesty and passion that can't be faked. Waltz For Debby makes this apparent. It's a beautiful album, cut from a live performance in 1961 (see also: Sunday at the Village Vanguard). It's generally slow, low-key, nothing hyper, played with his trio, and absolutely solid front to back. Totally moody, loverly stuff. Oh, and only a few days after it was recorded, the bass player died in a car accident and Evans retreated into depression and heroin. That makes it better, right?
I shoulda known, from the garish 70s album artwork to the album title Symbiosis to the fact that he's got a beard and a ponytail in the cover photo. Clearly by 1974 Bill Evans was lost in a mess of funk, schmaltz, and cocaine. Mostly cocaine. And schmaltz. On the upside, vinyl copies are supposedly hard to find, so maybe I can make a buck or two off this copy I found and never have to listen to it again. When it comes to 1970s avante garde modern jazz symphonies, I'll stick with Mingus. (See Let My Children Hear Music, review coming soon).
The Black Keys
The Black Keys
I don't have too much to say about Brothers yet except for this: Listen to the first track and try to not sing T-Rex's "Mambo Sun" along with it. Can't do it, can you? Me neither. Also, it has kickass heat-sensitive ink printed on the disc. Take that, downloading!
Blinker The Star
Blinker The Star
I'm having, for the first time in years (many of them!), a bit of an August Everywhere renaissance. It pretty much never enters the rotation, being just so high schooly, and don't nobody got time for that. But out of nowhere I got "Your Big Night, Sandy" (of all songs!) stuck in my head the other day , and had to remedy the situation. I still think it's a sweet album. I kind of see why it never got big or anything, but front to back it's all good, and pretty unique (but not like weird unique). Also, I really like spelling the word "renaissance." One of my favorites.
(Ahem)... TV On The Radio, Vampire Weekend, Animal Collective, Television, The Cure, The Clash, Tool, The Mars Volta, The Secret Machines, Hella, Rush, The Stooges, Blue Cheer, Sleater Kinney, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Mogwai, The Fantomas but not Mr. Bungle, Black Flag, Konono No. 1, Fela Kuti, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Sun Ra, Fishbone, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Arrested Development, Motown, atonality, legitimacy, and, while we're at it, District 9.
Christmas In The Heart
Ignore everything bad you've heard about this Bob Dylan Christmas album. It's awesome. Completely ridiculous. Completely unnecessary. But it somehow more legitimately Dylan that anything new he's released since who knows when. I don't know if he's taking it seriously, or if he's just messing with us. But either way, this is a classic and timeless Christmas album that will definitely be a mainstay in my (admittedly spare) Christmas music rotation.
Some good stuff, some less good stuff, a few annoying blues numbers, one surprisingly listenable epic about the Titanic, a terrible album cover, a dumb song about John Lennon, onto the next one.
Blonde on Blonde
I've been taking a break from Blonde on Blonde for the last couple years. But I'm back on board. All the way.
I'd love to write a post here telling you how great this new Bobby Birdman album is (as he's been a favorite of mine since 2002), but since his record label/distributer/henchman is seemingly unable to send me an album (or even a download code for said album) I ordered from them a month ago, I am not able to do that. I bet it's great, too. I hate everything.
They finally sent me a download link. It's a promo download link. There are audio watermarks on it. The album isn't great anyway. I don't care anymore.
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
I don't know if I'm too excited about this one. Will "Bonnie 'Prince' Billy" Oldham (just wanted to do the quote thing!) is still one of my favorite people in America right now, but this album just seems not-quite-right. He's sort of going for a straightforward country western sound, with pedal steels and cooing female background vocals, and all that stuff, but there's just something dead about the final product. It's neither upbeat or sad, energetic or calming, scary or funny; it's the musical version of that weightless, textureless, floating gray orb that Scott and I have oft discussed (in an entirely different context). I mean--there's a jazz flute solo in it! It should be awesome, right? I don't know. Check back in a few days and maybe my mind will be changed.
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
The Wonder Show Of The World
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy snuck another new one out this week. I haven't given it it's due yet, but I already like it better than Beware and The Letting Go. It's definitely a 'night' album, that's for sure. Or maybe a 'driving through the desert' album. Very morose, calm, not a lot of excess. Basically just what you'd hope for in a B'P'B joint.
The Way Out
The Books. While I'm not necessarily a 'fan' of them, I have been fascinated by their music since I heard some pieces of Thought For Food back around 2003 or so. Their sound is refreshingly unique in that it is, well, unique. Too organic to be "electronic," too ambient to be "pop," yet too musical to be "collage." Too constructed to be "folk," too thoughtful to be "dada," too fun to be "sound poetry." And I get the feeling if you even called it "art" they'd laugh you out of the room. Whatever they do, it's no surprise that they perform at places like the Walker rather than First Avenue. But I'm sure they've played there too. Anyway, I just read this description of the Books in a Cokemachineglow review the other day, that probably sums up what they do more than anything I could write (emphasis mine):
...gathering the detritus, ephemera, afterbirth, and diarrhea of the known aural-verse and repurposing it all, with uncalled-for care, into something digestible.
"Uncalled-for care" really does it for me. I really get a sense that if they weren't making this music, no one else would. Or could. And while I admittedly don't often listen to their music, I'm glad these guys are out there doing what they're doing.
Oh, and the album's alright.
This is the second album I've bought this year solely because Jon Brion has somehow been involved (the first one being an entirely disappointing and insignificant recording from Christina Courtin, who I'm sure is a lovely and well-meaning gal, but otherwise leaves me with absolutely nothing else to say). Brion is only (big fingerquotes on "only") credited as the producer, with no instrumental or writing credits at all, which is surprising considering usually he'll play an instrument (or five) on anything he produces. So obviously this isn't about Brion, this is about Mehldau. And let me say this about Mehldau: This kind of music usually bores the crap out of me on record. In person, sure, I can enjoy pleasant piano jazz, but recordings of it usually do nothing for me. The music on this record, however, is downright beautiful. I have absolutely zero insight about the modern jazz scene, and only the most basic historical knowledge, so I can't make any qualified statements about what Mehldau is doing or who he's channeling, or what makes this better or even different than the hundreds of other jazz pianists out there. But what I can tell is that there is a sort of spirit, a soul to this record that I just want to wrap myself in. It sounds like an April morning smells. Like coasting downhill feels. I'm still on my first listen, and scared that it might end.
Hah ahaha ah ha ah ahah ahahaha! So much for not wanting the album to end. Turns out it's actually a double album and I was listening to disc two that entire time. Unbelievable. So now that I know how it ends, maybe I should go back and listen to the entire first half of it. My whole listening experience is ruined! Jon Brion would be pissed!
Fevers And Mirrors
Conor Oberst was way better back before he was whatever it is he is now. Truth.
I didn't even know Trish Keenan's name before today, when the news of her death appeared all over those particular parts of the internet that would notice such an event. I only knew her as the voice of Broadcast, a band who I've had great respect for since 2003, despite only owning one of their albums, Haha Sound. Broadcast is a great example of how experimentation and noise manipulation in music need not happen at the cost of melody. Broadcast is a band that sounds like no one else but Broadcast, and Trish Keenan's voice was integral to that sound. But the thought of this previously-nameless woman dying of something as prosaic as pneumonia, while on tour with her band, makes me sad. Because when someone like Elliott Smith goes, you at least know he'll have a legacy. When a Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake dies, they leave behind classic recordings that will create fans for decades. But I just feel like that sort of posthumous acclaim isn't in the cards for someone like Keenan and Broadcast, an anonymity in death that makes it that much harder to stomach.
Only about 6 songs into this new Brother Ali album, but I think I can already just about sum it up: Fantastic production by Ant. Unique, interesting, exciting, all that stuff. Ali's rhymes are fairly strong, and his subject matter is varied and actually interesting (one song about moving apartments, another parallelling the dual-lives of Somali Minnesotans and closeted gay high school kids) but nothing so far is as explosively perfect as his first album. All in all, it is a rare "slow burn" rap album. You'll actually have to listen to this thing a couple times--slowly and patiently--to really appreciate it. Oh, by the way, did I mention that I saw Brother Ali eating lunch at The Cardinal a few weeks back? He ordered an ice tea. This somehow made me respect him more.
Man, some of this Brother Ali album is downright amazing. I wasn't kidding when I said it's a grower of an album. Whereas Shadows On The Sun came sprinting out of the gate and smacked you around from the first track, and other songs like "Forest Whitaker" and "Dorian" are very obvious and easy favorites, the great stuff on Us really takes a little bit of concentration. His wordplay isn't as tricky or explosive (save for one great double entendre using the word "Poppy"), but the stories he's telling are far more intriguing than anything most other rappers even attempt. One entire track has him telling his life story as a parable about a leper son of a slave owner being adopted by the slaves. And it works so well that I can't even make fun of how ridiculous it is. Another is a surprisingly touching story of his high school friend who was killed by a stray bullet in his house in Minneapolis. I don't know... I just think this Brother Ali guy is really something special. He has an amazing command of the language, both verbal and tonal, and has such a passion for his craft that every verse of every song, whether it's a battle or an ode to his mother in law, sounds like the most important thing in the world at the time he's saying it.
Showroom of Compassion
This new Cake album might be good, but I can't tell, because it was engineered and mastered by a trained bear. A very noble achievement for a trained bear, I will admit, but this particular trained bear apparently took little interest in the crispness or clarity of the recording.
I'm going to go ahead and clump this in with The Fresh And Onlys' Long Slow Dance as two albums that have come out in the last month, generally critically acclaimed, that I bought out of blind deference to this critical acclaimity (acclaimitude?), and that I can't even finish listening to. Not because they are bad or annoying, but because they're just so dulllllllll. Egad! So dull! By the third track of both of them I feel like I'm wasting my time just by listening. I'm way behind on Talk Talk albums, I need to listen to disc two of The Lamb Dies Down On Broadway again, and I have barely even touched that new Swans monstrosity; I don't have time for this! And then there's new Dinosaur Jr. today, and a Grizzly Bear album I'm going to need to convince myself to like! I can't do this Cat Power! I just can't!
The Lady Killer
What I love about Cee Lo, beyond his obvious talent and taste, is that everything he does really seems to come from the heart. He's not jumping on trends or fishing for hits, he's just doing his shit. And just like "Crazy," the public is actually right about "F*** You." It's a killer song. Although I would Harry Nilsson did it first.
The Lady Killer
Listen, right now, to "Old Fashioned." Feel free to skip ahead to 2:41. That is all you ever need to hear to understand the damage that auto tune has done to pop music. Because you hear him belt out that note, and my god it's real. That's what a human singing his heart out sounds like! How quickly we forgot.
Chad VanGaalen is a singer songwriter basement-recorder guy from Calgary (home of the Saddle Dome!). Cokemachineglow.com gave him a bunch of praise in their year-end round-up last week, and I really liked what I heard of him. After listening to the album a few times, I think he has a lot of potential to record an amazing album sometime, but this one isn't quite it. Still there are some good songs on it, and the video for "Molten Light" is really... really... something.
A bunch of noisy bullshit from a man otherwise capable of pure melodic sublimity (or, rather, the sublimely melodic). Can you feel my disappointment?
Mingus Ah Um
Are we still picking sides here? I want to be on Team Mingus.
Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
This is some crazy shit. I barely even know how to process it. It's like avant garde big band. It's like three jazz quintets playing three different compositions at the same time, meeting at the same chord once every 32 bars. It's not very fun, it's not very pleasant, but it's astounding.
The Headphone Masterpiece
Cody Chesnutt, if I was to write a list of artists who have most frustrated me over the years, would possibly take the #1 spot. Once or twice a year, since 2002, I've come back to The Headphone Masterpiece and marveled at about 15 of the 30-some tracks on what was his first, only, and borderline-insane album. We're talking master-level songwriting, and a raw, lo-fi intimacy that is completely unheard of in the R&B world (even though what he's doing is above and beyond R&B, hinting at 60s pop, rock, hip hop, and Elliott Smithian honesty). Unbelievable stuff, and frustrating in that The Headphone Masterpiece was not a masterpiece at all. Jeff Mangum gets a lifetime pass for releasing Aeroplane, because it is a flawless, un-impeachable success. He can disappear and go the rest of his life releasing no more music, and I feel like he's given us enough. But the fact that Cody Chesnutt threw us this bone back in 2002 and then gave us nothing really gets me riled up. Because it's hinting at miraculous, but is overflowing with ridiculous.30 tracks, and half of them are unlistenable. But that other half... wow. Yet it's been 8 years and we haven't heard a peep more. It looks like he will finally be releasing something new soon, but I'm wary. How many artists have captured something and held it for this long? What will it even be? I'm worried, but oh man I can't wait.
Landing on a Hundred
10 years. 10 years I've been waiting for this album. It was 2002 when Cody Chesnutt put out his debut album, a two-disc monstrosity that was about 60% garbage, 20% fun cool stuff, and 20% genius. It was seriously, like, this guy is going to be the future of American music, he's a visionary savant that's going to bring together everybody from every walk of life in peace and love and musical bliss, and he's going to write the classics of the decade. But instead, he just disappeared. So. Now, finally after 10 years (did I mention it's been 10 years?), he pops his head above ground again with Landing on a Hundred. By anyone else's standards, in a pure vacuum, this is an amazing modern soul/rock album. It sounds amazing. The songs are solid. The arrangements are classic. It's neck and neck with Frank Ocean's Channel Orange opus as the best of the year. But unfortunately I can't judge it by those standards. I can only judge it by the expectations I've been carrying for the last decade that Cody Chesnutt has the ability to change popular music as we know it. And as much as it makes me just about want to weep, this album is not going to change popular music as we know it. But goddamn it's good.
Oh, speaking of turning into an obnoxious record collecting jerk: On that same trip to Roadrunner as my previous post, I also convinced myself to pay $25 for an obscure 1970's singer songwriter record that I've never actually heard before. But in my own defense, it was the first solo album from Colin Blunstone, lead singer of The Zombies, an album that I've kind of been looking for, but have had no luck finding until tonight. It's a great record, too, lucky for me. Totally one of those "They don't make 'em like this anymore" records (Antony notwithstanding), beautiful music from beginning to end. But I could listen to Blunstone sing from a goddamn microeconomics textbook and it would be worth whatever price I paid for it. Hell, it probably also would've helped me pass microeconomics.
Wild Mood Swings
I'm no Cure purist (Curist?), never was never will be. So that leaves me, unlike the legions of 30/40-somethings raised on Disintegration and Boys Don't Cry, open and unafraid to claim that Wild Mood Swings is an incredible album. I've been saying that since 1996, albeit not as confidently as I do now, since I was just a snotty high schooler who didn't give enough of a shit about The Cure to care to make an honest comparison. But here, 15 years later, I'm blown away by the pure energy and composition of these songs. It sounds entirely unique to itself, and its clear that everyone involved in its creation was truly passionate about it. "Mint Car"! By god! You can't fake that! There is a cheesiness to the whole thing, a sort of embarrassing earnestness that is easy to make fun of, but also admirable. It's as if they completely ignored not only what was popular in 1996, but what made them popular in 1986, and just made the best music they could. Yet here it sits with only 3 stars on AllMusicGuide, lost and forgotten by most everyone, it seems. I mean, I've never actually spoken to a Cure fan about it, but I can imagine.
The story of Voodoo is a pretty fascinating one. Far more fascinating than you'd expect from a late 90's neo soul album. Check out interviews with ?uestlove about the whole thing. Basically, it goes: D'angelo spends years crafting some of the most subtle and precise R&B of the decade, with a band featuring the best session players around, gets all sexy and naked in a video for one of the singles, goes on tour and gets screamed at by women in the audience the entire time, gets depressed and ashamed of the fact that he's seen as a piece of meat instead of the musical genius he is, becomes a recluse and disappears for a decade. ?uestlove (who is probably at least 50% responsible for the pristine instrumental arrangements here) tells it a lot better than I just did. But anyway, the fact is that Voodoo is a sweet listen. And it has more to do with the absolute tightness of the backing band than it does with D'angelo's actual singing, which is more of a subtle embellishment to the music instead the focus. Even though it's prototypical neo-soul in one sense (D'angelo helped create the entire genre for cripes sake), it's different than anything else out there. Prince gets thrown around a lot as a reference, but I think the level of refinement and restraint involved with this is much more than Prince could muster. Anyway, apparently he's been working the last few years on an epic experimental follow up to this. Can't wait.
Keep It Hid
The singer of the Black Keys has a solo album out. It sounds like B-sides from the last Black Keys album. Not bad, but not too exciting. People seem to like it though. Libby thinks he's cuter than me.
The Best of Gloucester County
I would've loved this back in 2002, then hated it two years later. But as for 2011, I thought I'd love it, but am finding myself at odds with it. Like Danielson is purposefully distancing itself from me so I can never fully grasp what's happening. "People's Partay" is fun, though, if completely impossible to get down to.
Yeah, so I like the Darkness. So what? I think they're great. If you don't, you're just missing out, and you're probably a humorless, joyless creep! The cover of this album is a painting of three hot babes covered in maple syrup laying on giant pancakes! It's incredible! And they do a balls-out heavy metal cover of Radiohead's "Street Spirit"! The fact is, that despite being silly and goofy and being a make believe 70s-80s glam rock band, these guys have better musical and compositional chops than most real 70s-80s glam rock bands. They're, like, real musicians, man.
Live at First Avenue
Every touring band in America should be obligated to attend one Darkness concert before they're allowed to plug in a guitar publicly. These guys put on a goddamn rock show. And they know it. It's amazing to see a band playing like that, realizing that for once your'e actually seeing something, getting your money's worth. Even if other bands don't wear spandex body suits and do high leg kicks while jumping off the dumset, they can at least care realize that it's part of the job to try.
I don't know how to write about jazz on here without sounding like an asshole. Thing is, I finally hit the point in my life where jazz (particularly, at this moment, late-50's early-60's cool jazz) is exactly precisely what I need in my life. My musical life, at least. For years and years, I've been keeping it at arm's length, knowing full well there are worlds and worlds of recordings to explore, but not really having the energy or wherewithal to do so. I've been saving it for a rainy day, so to speak. Well that rainy day is here, and I'm all in. And thoroughly enjoying the discoveries so far. Kind of Blue was the obvious first step (which I'd listened to many times before, but I'm now suddenly far more attuned to appreciating it), and next came the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Time out, which was apparently an absolutely huge album at the time. Bigger than we can really fathom in a world so far from 1959. I think to real jazz dudes, this is sort of Kindergarten level stuff. Jazz 101. Like if you're starting into rock music via Fleetwood Mac's Rumors. But I love it. I think it's great. I'm not even really going to go into details, other than that it's a wonderful combination of composition and improvisation, with some wild eastern European time signature insanity, and a general feeling of lightness and joy. I'll have plenty of time to get obscure and elitist (let me tell you about Ahmad Jamal!), but for now I'm content.
Station To Station
With a recently purchased (like, 3 minutes earlier) Station To Station LP under my arm, I walked into French Meadow to buy some chocolate cake (hey, this could be in the Food section, too!). Enter waitress with hip haircut:
Waitress: Hey, great record.
Me: Oh, actually the sleeve is empty. I just carry it around with me so people think I'm cool.
Waitress begins to form a response, but instead chooses to walk away.
That's why I never got dates in high school. Or college.
The Next Day
Not too great. Not too great. Better than it probably needs to be, particularly in the instrumental arrangements and production choices, but the songs just aren't there.
Here Lies Love
David Byrne deserves at least this much credit: He sees his art through to the end. A dadaist collection of PowerPoint presentations and corporate signage? Sure. An abandoned warehouse turned into a playable instrument? Check. A double disc dance opera about the life of Imelda Marcos? Why not? I'm convinced that this truly is a project, not necessarily an album. Judged as an album, on the same level we would judge Look Into The Eyeball or Remain In Light or even Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, Here Lies Love fails, because it simply isn't terribly enjoyable to listen to. I mean, we're talking an hour and a half of music here. The music is purposefully gaudy in its production, but simple in its composition. The sound is a combination of 70s/80s club and Broadway musical fantasy, and the lyrics are very much in line with the project's goal. This isn't some half-assed 'rock opera' that claims to be about something but isn't (coughgreendaycough). These songs are bluntly and unapologetically about Imelda Marcos and her childhood friend. The first track on the first disc and the second to last track on the second disc are both great songs, but sadly everything else is, musically, forgettable. But I really don't think David Byrne set out to make a great album here. He set out to create a piece of art, which just happens to take the form of two music CDs. And on that level, I think he nailed it.
Castaways And Cutouts
Enough years have past now that I'm just going to go ahead and say it: I think Castaways and Cutouts is the Decemberists' best album. Yes, everything they've done since has all been excellent in its own right, but there's something about Castaways that lets it dodge some of the potholes that their later albums occasionally hit. Since it was their first album, there's a certain lack of self-consciousness that makes all of the ridiculous lyrics seem just a little more honest, and the arrangements are interesting, upbeat, but never overblown. Basically, they weren't trying to outdo themselves yet. Funny how when it came out, everything written about them compared them (favorably and otherwise) to Neutral Milk Hotel. And now, listening to the record years later, that comparison doesn't enter my mind for a second.
Always The Bridesmaid: A Singles Series
After looking for weeks to find it, I finally came across the Decemberists' "Always A Bridesmaid" records at the Cheapo on Snelling. It's a series of three vinyl-only singles (and B-sides) that aren't on any other albums or EPs, and are well worth the somewhat ridiculous pricetag. They all have beautiful die-cut and silver leafed packaging, and (as usual) cool illustrations by Carson Ellis. But beyond all that, the music is all really solid--especially first song "Valerie Plame," which is probably the best song they've done since "The Sporting Life." Most of the songs really prove a point I made on my previous Decemberists post; for all the focus they've put lately on big "proggy" arrangements and epic, quirky historical English-major lyrics, they might be at their best when sticking to simple pop tunes with much simpler lyrical themes. I mean, really, would you rather spend your time listening to "The Infanta," or "Grace Cathedral Hill"? And no, the answer can't be "neither."
The Hazards of Love
11 tracks into the new Decemberists record and I've yet to actually hear a song. Lots of intros, a couple choruses, a handful of bridges, and a vamp here and there, but nothing that I would qualify as a "song." If you told me 5 years ago that the Decemberists would release a dark, heavy, experimental rock opera, I would've taken an entire bottle of sleeping pills and set my alarm for March 2009, because it just sounds too perfect. But now that it's here... I don't know. At least I have my new Mastodon album to look forward to. I just hope it's not a collection of anachronistic folk pop ditties about sailors and scallywags.
The Hazards Of Love
Well, it seems that they've done it. The Decemberists have released an album that I just plain don't like. You can read my previous post about the album if you really care about why I don't like it, because my opinion hasn't really changed since then. Hell, you could read just about every other Decemberists post on here, because the theme has remained the same: They're just a better band, and Colin Meloy a better songwriter, when they stick to more humble pop songs. I don't mean that to bash them or something; their "humble pop songs" are exponentially better than 99% percent of their peers'. But it seems to me that they've already proven with The Tain that they can do a hard rockin' conceptual song set, but have also proven with The Crain Wife that they maybe shouldn't stretch that into an entire full length. I'm already just about tired of listening to it, and I can't imagine coming back to it much in the future, which is something I can't say for any of their other releases. Oh well; six out of seven isn't too shabby, I guess.
Always The Bridesmaid EP
"Valerie Plame" is still a great, great song. And listening to it today really made me long for the 'old' Decemberists, despite the fact that the song could probably be considered 'new.' (Are we looking at two Decemberists, like how we have two Metallicas? Pre-Crane Wife and post-Crane Wife? Seems fair to me.)
Castaways and Cutouts
Splendidezine (or just "Splendid," to remove the wonderfully anachronistic descriptor "e-zine" from the title) was once a competitor to the now-mighty Pitchfork, but called it quits back in 2005. It's funny to go back and look at the site, which is still online, nowadays. It's like a time capsule, stuck a half decade in the past, with outdated graphic design, and randomly loading reviews on the front page from bands you and I have never heard of, and will never hear of again. But in the upper right of the page is a link, still alive, to the last feature interview they every did, with Grizzly Bear, years before they became the indie powerhouse they currently are. And in a way, that's perfect, because it really sums up everything that was great about Splendid. They ignored trends, they reviewed everything they received, and they never gave anything a quantifiable grade. They simply described what the music sounded like, who it might appeal to, and what positive attributes it had. Nothing was panned, nothing was ripped, nothing was lionized. And best of all, they offered audio samples of every record. That doesn't sound like a big deal now, but back in 2002 it was practically unheard of. Even Pitchfork only recently started linking to samples. Splendid had one for every album, right there on the page (in RealAudio format. Talk about dated.) But all these things combined to make Splendid the best place to actually find good new music. Hell, they pointed me towards the Decemberists months before they were even on the radar at most other music sites. And now they're dead.
The King Is Dead
A breath of fresh air after Hazards of Love and The Crane Wife, that is for sure. Easily their most earnest work yet, albeit not nearly their best. A little overkill on the harmonica and pedal steel, as well. But still good. Good. As odd as it sounds, however, I'm struck by a feeling that this could very well be the last Decemberists album. I have no reason to believe that, and please don't go around giving them any ideas, but something about the vibe here makes me think that they've hit that, "Okay, we've accomplished everything and maybe it's time to move on" point. If I was in the band, I wouldn't know where to go from here. They did the build up to the prog rock opera (uh, twice), and now are doing the solid country rock studio band thing. Where else do they go? Their separate ways, that's where. Don't say I didn't warn you.
The King Is Dead
What's funny is that the more I've listened to this album in the last few days, it hit me that this "new" "radio friendly" version of the Decemberists is actually closer to their very first EP, 5 Songs, than any of their ensuing full lengths. I could easily imagine an alternate universe where The King Is Dead was the major label debut of the band after some A&R guy discovered 5 Songs, as if the intervening seven years never happened, and "My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist" was just a one-off novelty, as opposed to the basis for the rest of their career. Also funny, when you listen to King and 5 Songs back to back is how the Decemberists have taken a similar route as Belle And Sebastian in transforming themselves from scrappy amateurs to impeccable studio vets; they may be the same band, but by god they can actually play their instruments now.
The Crane Wife
Get this: The Crane Wife is actually pretty great. Wow. I guess I couldn't really appreciate it until I lived with the Hazards Of Love monstrosity for a couple years. Well played, Meloy.
I know this album came out last year, but I just had one of those "Holy cow" listening experiences with it yesterday. I mean, Deerhoof is Deerhoof, and you get pretty much exactly what you expect. But it really blew me away this time just how out there they are. Yes, this is rock music, and it's nothing more than drums, bass, guitar, and voice, but these guys are really coming from a different place. They're playing chords that are seemingly being invented on the spot, and melodies that are so devoid of comparisons and references that you'd think they're coming from a group of culturally innocent outsider savants who only discovered music the day before. Beyond that, the engineering and recording on Offend Maggie is some of the crispest and purest I've ever heard. You may as well be standing in the middle of their practice space. And that distorted guitar tone, wow! The whole album is really a thing of amazement, and I'm a little bummed I hadn't really given it the respect it deserves, since from afar it appears to be "just another Deerhoof album." Sure, you could try to create a comparison mixing Shudder To Think and Japanese pop and who knows what else, but you'd be better off to admit that, for better or worse, Deerhoof is simply operating on a different plane as everyone else.
Deerhoof Vs Evil
On a superficial level, this is the kind Deerhoof album I've been waiting for. Mellow, layered, unique, but still undeniably Deerhoofian. Yet here I sit, only two songs to go, unmoved. Oh well. I'm not too concerned, considering Deerhoof and I have an every-other-album kind of relationship, and Offend Maggie was possibly their best work. Next time, then.
Interesting new Deerhoof album. Not one of their best, but maybe one of their most consistent. Everything sounds a little broken, overdriven, discombobulated, and programmed back as a more danceable Deerhoof. Like Deerhoof made a remix of the real version of the album, but accidentally left off the good stuff.
Ooh, this is a tough one. But I think Iron And Wine wins the January 25th Showdown of Thoughtful Singer Songwriters Earnestly Invoking 1970s Soft Rock Cliches On Their New Albums. This is still a pretty sweet record, though. And track seven, "Downtown," totally apes the theme to Twin Peaks.
Nevermind. This tops Iron & Wine after all.
Lonely People Of The World, Unite
Devin Davis' website says he's hoping to have a record done "in time for the holidays." I'd be excited by that, but I'm afraid he's referring to the 2008 holidays. If I was rich, I'd send this guy a big stack of money right now for him to finish recording whatever it is he started 5 years ago, because Lonely People still holds up superbly, and Devin Davis is far too talented to be worrying about where he's going to get money to make his borderline genius power-folk-pop.
Dinosaur Jr. has been around since 1985, are total critical and music-dude darlings, and are always on the shortlist of "bands that gave birth to grunge in the 90's". Seminal, one could say. And yet until yesterday, I never really had any idea what they sounded like--or so I thought. But when I was looking around at Treehouse, this song started playing on their speakers. It was a catchy and repetitive little distorted guitar riff, detached and melodic vocals, and some sweet solos. Simple, slightly dumb, but I loved it. And even though there was no way for me to know, I didn't even find it necessary to ask the guy behind the counter what he was playing. "Oh, this must be the new Dinosaur Jr. album" my mind told me. It was like that time I heard "Screaming Infidelities" on the radio for the first time, and thought, "Oh, this must be Dashboard Confessional.Yikes." After I got home, I checked into it, and yes. It was in fact the new Dinosaur Jr. album. So I picked it up this afternoon, and have a few thoughts about it already. First, these guys are a great band, and I feel dumb for having ignored them all these years. Secondly, this album, for being a sort of late-career reunion album, is shockingly good. And finally, it sounds like total shit. The guitars are completely dry and way to high up in the mix, the drums are too low, and the bass is seemingly nonexistent. It has all the subtlety of a kick in the ass. Maybe that's a lame critique to make of a band who helped invent the idea of sounding like crap on purpose, but the quality of their songcraft and technicality of their performance deserves a better mix than this.
Can't. Stop. Listening. To. This. Album. Very. Loud. Makes me. Separate. Words. Very. Tediously. Wish. It was. 1990. Again. I'd be the coolest 4th grader ever. Way cooler than that one kid who wore Def Leppard t-shirts every day. Sometimes he'd wear a very loose mesh football practice jersey over the Def Leppard t-shirt. He seemed like a real rebel at the time. In hindsight, I think he was just a textbook case of white trash. But man, if I could've shown up to school with a Dinosaur Jr. shirt, things really would've been different.
The Dirty Projectors
The Dirty Projectors
I'm only on the second track here, but I can already tell this is really something. It's some unholy (yet wholly original) combination of Shudder To Think, Battles, Ted Leo, Xiu Xiu... uh... The Blow... R Kelly... and, I don't know, that Esteban guy from the infomercials.
The Dirty Projectors
The Dirty Projectors
Swing Lo Magellan
A few moments of "Yes! Yes!" scattered amidst a bumpy field of "Hmm." I'd say it's disappointing and I'd prefer to listen to Bitte Orca, but according to my iTunes "Last Played" information, I haven't listened to that since 2009. Yikes. But I won't fault them for trying.
First you're like, "Hey, this Doug Paisley guy is pretty good." And then a few songs pass and you stop paying attention until you find yourself thinking, "Hey, this is a pretty good Will Oldham album."
Skit I Allt
What's Swedish for "I don't think this band is ever going to get back the magic they had on their first album, because they've put out three since then and it just isn't the same, even though it's still perfectly decent and listenable"?
Rich, lush, and soulful to a degree that the Fiery Furnaces don't often reach, but lacking, with the exception of two, maybe three songs, the level of perfection they are capable of. Still, I'd choose to listen to this 100 times over before trying to sit through Matthew Friedgerber's solo record any time soon.
My new theory: If we didn't know who Elenor Friedberger was, and the Fiery Furnaces didn't exist, we would hear this record and go completely bonkers. 'A genius' we'd say. 'A true auteur'. The more I listen to it, the more things start to gel a bit, and it is a succulent gel. More than anything, it's about the lyrics. And I guess that's a big part of the FF's, too, the lyrics. But she's writing from reality here, instead of her usual fiery furnace flights of fancy. Real honest shit. Street shit. "Her mom went blind with the third baby / oh shit that's crazy." Oh, and did I ever mention I sat by her once at a Jon Brion concert? Totally did.
For years I've stood by Either/Or as being my favorite Elliott Smith album, perhaps, more than anything, from its being a pure distillation of of everything Elliott Smith is about. The songs are all great, but it's also Elliott Smith at his most Elliott-Smithian. But you know what? No. XO is it. Go listen to this thing with some good headphones and just enjoy it. It has a different energy, sure, but just about every second of it is as good as it gets. Luscious production, awesome instrumental performances, classic songs. And Jon Brion's even hiding in there. From here on in I'm shedding any preciousness towards Either/Or (still great, mind you), and casting my lot with XO. So be it.
I just made the inconceivable realization that, in all the years that since converting my CD collection into iTunes, I somehow never managed to import Elliott Smith's Figure 8! This is crazy. I don't know how it happened. I'm reeling. Reeling. This means—and my memory backs this up—I haven't listened to Figure 8 since about 2005! Don't worry, I just imported it, and I'm on "Everything Reminds Me of Her," and time has done wonders for it; I remember my reactionary 19 year old self being a little down on this when it came out, but listening to it now, it's nearly flawless. Just not as flawless as XO. And way more flawless than Basement On The Hill, which was basically one giant flaw. But holy hell. Every now and then this happens, and I notice a gaping hole in my iTunes library, and it makes me wonder where I'd be today had I just remembered to import the thing 7 years ago.
Pieces of the Sky
I think I finally "get" Emmylou Harris. Earlier this year when I doubled down and got three of her albums on nothing more than a hunch and her reputation (and the fact that they were dirt cheap good condition vinyl at an antique store), I was a bit let down. It was just so country, like, nothing particularly unique or different about it, nothing particularly amazing about the songs, nothing particularly mind-blowing about her performance. But giving Pieces of the Sky another go-round yesterday, maybe I was in the right mood or something, because I was like, "Oh, yeah! This is exactly what it's supposed to be!" Every note in the right place, every vocal lilt used to perfection, super talented session musicians. It's very lovely. Very lovely.
Ooh la La
Picked this up randomly at Cheapo today. All in all good stuff, I'd say. Rod Stewart certainly had (has?) a set of pipes, that's for sure. Good guitar work. "Cindy Incidentally" and "Just Another Honky" are both particularly good. But can I just go ahead and say it? "Ohh la La" the song is the winner here. And can I also go ahead and say that that last scene in Rushmore where "Ooh la La" plays while they're dancing and the curtain drops has to be one of the best uses of a song in any movie ever? It's just perfect, and I'm not so jaded that I won't admit it.
Failure is releasing Fantastic Planet on vinyl, and I am in the mood to reflect. Fantastic Planet was, of course, possibly the single definitive album of my high school years, one that completely changed the way I listened to and judged music to this day. And yet on the rare occasion that I listen to it these days, I don't find myself enthralled by it in the same ways I did as a 16 year old. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. Really, when I listen to music I loved from that 1996-2000 era, there are a handful of albums that I'm much more impressed and inspired by here in 2010. Mind Science of the Mind. Downward Is Heavenward. The Ballad Of Hope Nicholls. Okay, maybe just those three. On Planet, some of the lyrics come off as a little trite and silly, and some of the compositions themselves are a little too of-their-era ("Pitiful", "Leo", "Saturday Saviour", et. al.). But listening to "Heliotropic", "The Nurse Who Loved Me", and "Another Space Song," with the gift of hindsight,prove that Fantastic Planet is, above all, a masterpiece of production, engineering, and arrangement. Even "Stuck On You," the most obvious and radio-friendly tune on the record, is unbelievably layered and sculpted, every sound and every chord placed precisely where it needs to be for maximum impact. Beautiful, really. Given where the members went post-Failure (Autoux, On, borderline-lame production jobs from Ken), I both wonder and fear what they would've recorded had they released one more record.
I've been revisiting Magnified quite a bit in the last week. And enjoying it. Quite. There's some really good stuff happening on this record, and although the 17 year old Steve would disagree, part of me really thinks it could compete with Fantastic Planet as a whole. Certainly fewer low points. Most surprising to me is my newfound appreciation for "Moth." I always liked it enough, but hearing it now I'm struck by the sophistication of the chord progressions and the construction of the song as a whole. The whole tune is in constant motion, looping and circling and building. Really a great piece of songrwriting, even if Ken Andrews' lyrics are a little lacking. Incredible production, though. It just cuts. Like a damn diamond. Or a plaster frog.
Father John Misty
Father John Misty
Go ahead and buy this one for the astounding packaging, but don't worry about listening to it. Lush alt country folky pop from a guy who was in the Fleet Foxes that you'll not really need to hear twice.
There's an old joke. A guy sits down to listen to a Fennesz album, which he just purchased for three bucks because it's a little scratched up. And it's not until three minutes into the third track that he realizes the CD has been skipping the entire time. Well, that's essentially how I feel about IDM.
The Fiery Furnaces
The Fiery Furnaces
My love of The Fiery Furnaces' Blueberry Boat album is well-known and unabashed. In fact I would almost go as far as to classify it as a "They should've quit right there because there's no way they can top it" album. The official follow up (as the grandma album doesn't really count, and EP was, uh, an EP), Bitter Tea, let me down just about as much as an album can let someone down. I felt like they were trying to be as "weird" as Blueberry Boat, but totally forgot about all of the "not weird" stuff that album had to offer--great songs, great instrumental performances, and even greater songs. So needless to say, I haven't listened to it much since it came out. Last night, however, a song from Widow City (their most recent album, which I liked a fair amount more than Bitter Tea upon its release) came up on my iPod, and I decided I should give Bitter Tea another spin. And while it's still not their best (or second best) work, I have to say I judged it all wrong. It's actually a much better album than Widow City, at least, and has a lot more character than I originally gave it credit for. It was probably the first time I actually got enjoyment out of listening to it, now that my expectations weren't nearly as sky-high as they were back in 2006.
The Fiery Furnaces
The Fiery Furnaces
I'm Going Away
The Fiery Furnaces will never top Blueberry Boat. This is a fact that I've stated before and will state again, and one that I am becoming more comfortable with. I know now that everything they release is of its own world and should be judged entirely on its own scale. That said, this newest one is easily the most listenable and memorable album they've released since EP. (By the way, is EP actually an EP, or a full-length? I'm really not sure. I'll just say "yes" and move on with my life). The minor problem, which I never would've imagined complaining about with an FF album, is that it almost isn't weird enough. One thing that makes the Furnaces great is when they go completely unhinged, taking their perfect little pop songs and skulling them with a baseball bat and a wah pedal. Blueberry Boat did this masterfully, making 90 degree turns and randomly exploding at the best possible moments; guitar solos, drum machines, tempo shifts, devils, whooping cranes. On I'm Going Away, for as good as the melodies and performances may be, the element of surprise is nowhere to be seen. This is really an experimental concept album of a very different stripe, the experimental concept being "we're a band playing music." And for as much as I've wanted these guys to make an album just like this one, I'm surprised to find myself longing for a few more curveballs thrown in the mix.
The Fiery Furnaces
The Fiery Furnaces
Im Going Away
Good golly, I practically forgot that this record existed! And danged if it isn't a fun little listen.
I passed it off as girl-power-Lilith-Fair junk when I was a teenager, passed it off as mid-90's detritus when I was in college, and passed it off as her radio-friendly early career work when I finally started paying attention to Fiona Apple back in 2005, when she released Extraordinary Machine. But I'm eating crow. Big time. (This is a food blog too, right?) Tidal is great! Exclamation point great! I feel like a schmuck for being such a schmuck about it (and her) all these years. Other than "The First Taste," which sounds like a throwaway track from a Sade album (in a good way), everything here seems pretty much flawless. Especially "Criminal"; I heard it so often back then that it lost any impact. But hearing it now, and really listening to it... what a song! Just a great piece of songcraft, with hilariously obvious Jon Brion flourishes, which I never bothered to notice or care about back when I was too busy convincing myself this was crap. Which it is not.
The Idler Wheel...
I'm amazed at how many words have been written in the last few months about Fiona Apple, and what she means to modern music and how she's handling adulthood and her angsty lyrics and her powerful stage presence and on and on. It's like she disappeared for 5 years and came back a living legend, and every 30-something music geek is melting into a puddle in front of her feet. But with all that, I feel like there's comparably little being said about the actual music on this album. And the music is great. Of course. But nothing written about it that I read prepared me for just how odd it is. Good odd. Take the strangest moments of Extraordinary Machine, strip away 90% of the orchestration, and imagine what the demo recordings of it must've sounded like. There's not a single rock/pop drum beat to be found here; the percussion is truly percussive. Organic loops of stomping and knocking, only the occasional upright bass pounding away. Choices are made all over the thing to break songs apart and put them together, pretty much laughing at the idea of composing a hit single. It's all very assaulting, but smart. And she can still sing like nobody's business.
Paul McCartney just put out a new album with a dude from Killing Joke, who now produces for U2 and some other big bands. From what I've heard of it so far, it sounds better than it actually is. Literally. When you hear it, it sounds like it has to be great; a return to some of McCartneys heavy hitting rock stuff with that other band of his. But then when you stop and really listen, the tunes just aren't there. Like his last couple albums, it's so, so close to being great. But it just doesn't get there. I need to give it a more thorough listen, though.
The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips
The Soft Bulletin
Let's face it: The Flaming Lips will never, ever record another album as good as The Soft Bulletin. Not even close. For as much as everyone wanted to like Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, and for as much press as it got and for how much play "Do You Realize?" received, that album really paled in comparison. At War With The Mystics didn't even hold my interest for one listen. But The Soft Bulletin is just a perfect record, from beginning to end. It's one of those cases where everything just fit into place; the sound, the songs, the lyrics, the performances, the artwork, the live shows. Everything is just right. Like when you're sitting at a red light with your blinker on, and the car in front of you has his on, and then suddenly they sync up. But then before you know it, they're just slightly out of sync again, and the band is making Christmas movies about aliens and recording Madonna covers. Sure, they're cool and everything, and I'll buy the next thing they release without a second thought. But let's be realistic here. From the first drum fill in "Race For The Prize," they peaked, and it went slowly downhill from there. Luckily, it's a very large hill.
The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips have gone and made themselves an uncritiquable album. This thing is a textbook, and rare, case of a band making an album simply for themselves. Not for the fans, not for the record company, not for the critics, nobody else. They set out with an artistic goal, something they needed to strive to achieve. And they nailed it. It does absolutely everything it sets out to do, containing new sounds, a creative spirit, and pure energy. Unfortunately, it is absolutely no fun to listen to. It might make a good late-night road trip album (like a 3 a.m. driving through the middle of Nebraska road trip), but in terms of pure listenability, you're much better off with The Soft Bulletin, Clouds Taste Metallic, or even At War With The Mystics. But none of that matters, because that clearly isn't the point of this album. The Flaming Lips needed to hit the reboot button after a decade spent becoming one of the biggest bands in the world, and that's exactly what they did. It's got a sweet fucking album cover, too.
The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips
The Soft Bulletin 5.1
Congratulations, Steve, you just paid $50 for a CD you already own. But it's worth it, because it's a 5.1 surround sound mix of The Soft Bulletin. And if any album has even deserved a surround sound mix (other than Zaireeka), it's The Soft Bulletin, right? And it's actually pretty cool. The band (although probably mostly Wayne) was involved entirely in the mix, and it actually comes across as pretty different than the original. Not only can you hear little things that were lost before, but they added some parts and changed the mix enough that it sounds like a whole new experience. Plus there are a couple tracks on it that weren't on the original album (although they might've been on a European release or something.) All in all, I dare say, it was worth the money. And it's way easier than a Zaireeka party.
The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips
Unfortunately, this is the first Flaming Lips release where all I can really say is, "Wow, I don't care." Not bad, just totally unengaging.
Florence & The Machine
Florence & The Machine
I'm not sure who the Machine is, but I like Florence and think she's got a great voice (and better yet, great control of her voice). I was convinced of this with her kick ass performance in David Byrne's "Here Lies Love." The problem with Lungs, if you want to call it a problem, is that by the time I'm four of five songs into it, I've already forgotten everything I've heard. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it, and on paper there's a lot right with it. But it somehow just goes in one ear and out the other. I'm not giving up on it yet, though, and I'm definitely not giving up on her. "Here Lies Love" and "Dog Days Are Over" are enough to convince me that Florence is a legitimate player, with or without this "machine" of hers.
First of all, to paraphrase any number of sleazy fictional entertainment industry agents of the last five decades, Frank Ocean has it. His first real album and he's already got the whole country eating out of his hands. He's talented, sure, but his taste level is through the roof. Pretty much every decision he makes in his writing and production is the right one, and how often does that happen? That said, the whole of this album is a bit of a let down, simply because the song "Pyramids" is so good. Sort of like "Hey Ya" on Andre 3000's album, or "The Rat" on that second Walkmen album. When the quality is that high on one song, it makes me want that much from every other song. And most of them here only get to about 85% of that. Still. I'll take it.
David Comes Alive
Finally, an album to put on my shelf in between Fuck and the Fucking Champs, not only alphabetically, but spiritually. But maybe that's pushing it. Anyway, there's a marvelous album squeezed in between the 18 tracks here, a thing of beauty, a classic. But unfortunately there's just too damn much of it. The first 6-7 songs here are truly remarkable, in the sense that I want to remark about them. And so I will: This is obviously a hardcore band (their singer, at his weakest, sounds like Dicky Barrett at his strongest), but it's also obvious that the guy writing and arranging this music has very little interest in hardcore. Incredible chordal interplay; not chord 'progressions,' per say, but almost a jazz-like willingness to let two guitars break free of each other every once in a while. They have three guitarists in the band, and they treat them more like the two hands of a pianist than an all-out assault. Don't get me wrong, this isn't Deerhoof or something, this is still punk rock. It's also 18 damn tracks long, each one of them sounding like a finale. Newsom-like levels of patience testing. After those first 7 tracks, I started getting ancy. Hoping for just 5 minutes of acoustic something, or some other reprieve from the pounding and hollering. Then I spent the last half hour of it thinking it was ready to finish. And it never did. I think it's still going right now. Which is fine, really, because the average of those 18 tracks is one really awesome one.
In Evening Air
In Evening Air isn't growing on me per se, since I liked it from the beginning. But it has, stealthily as Tony Stark's blood toxicity levels, been thoroughly infiltrating my music selection, to the point that if I'm not listening to a podcast (sorry, music), there's about a 40/60 chance that I'm listening to Future Islands. Quite a feat considering that I can barely communicate what it is I even like about them.
In Evening Air
Everything about Future Islands points directly at me hating them. Or at least ignoring them. I don't like Joy Division, I don't like New Order, I don't like Tom Waits, and I don't like megahyped blog buzz bands from Baltimore. (It's not that I don't like them, but you could say that I'm very, very wary of them. How's that?) So why is it that this band comes out of nowhere (and Baltimore), sounding like Tom Waits singing in a Joy Division/New Order tribute band, writing songs that aren't particularly smart or memorable, and I love it? Eating it up, in fact. I think the key is that despite all the referential sounds they're making, none of it seems silly. It all feels honest and heartfelt, and somehow overcomes its own referentiality. And he sings like Bowie sometimes, too. I like Bowie.
Gang Gang Dance
Gang Gang Dance
I'm digging* this new Gang Gang Dance record, despite the fact that they are on my long list of bands I passed off as Mid-2000s-Blog-Buzz-Bullshit. This was mostly because they are called "Gang Gang Dance," an embarrassingly cliche early 2000s Bullshit-Buzz-Blog combination of repeated words and a reference to dancing. And while they're not going to win any songwriting awards any time soon, I have to admit that Eye Contact sounds pretty sweet. Vintage synths and live drumming, carefully recorded and tastefully arranged. Sure, why not. It sounds like a sweet Battles dance club jam. A new singer would be welcomed, however.
* I totally never say "digging." Ever.
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
I never imagined I'd ever find myself hunting down mid-70's Genesis records to add to my collection, but it happened, and I'm just going to have to live with it. As it stands, I'm happy with my decision. I'd always heard that Genesis, before they were terrible, were good. But I also heard that about Journey, and who has time for that? Geez. But after seeing this album, as well as Selling England By the Pound listed as two of the top ten prog rock albums of all time, my interest peaked, and I dipped my toe in and liked what I heard. I haven't had time to digest all of it quite yet, but my thoughts are: they sound like a talented and slightly poppier Yes, Peter Gabriel has a great voice, and the title track "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" kicks ass. The rest of it is all good, but a bit of a blur. I still hold Yes up as the unchallenged pinnacle of prog rock (as long as we're not counting Pink Floyd as prog rock, which I'm not), but I'm perfectly comfortable putting Genesis (these two albums at least) in the running for second banana.
Demo de Merrier
The Goldenrods. Benji Hughes. "Never Ending Pary." "A Christmas Song." "Plants." "Leaving Tonight." Aaaaaand... that should do it.*
* (This post was written for no other purpose than to create some sort of search-engine-friendly record that The Goldenrods, side project of Muscadine's Benji Hughes, once did exist. See, I loved Muscadine back in the short time they were around, but they have been pretty much lost to time. The Goldenrods, Hughes' band that came a few years later, had an even briefer presence. They did, however, offer up 6 songs from their website, most of which are beautiful. But nothing happened. Just like Muscadine, they disappeared--without releasing an album, even! Finally, years later, Benji has essentially "made it" as a solo artist, which is great. But I'm depressed that these Goldenrods cuts have been lost to time. One of the only references I can actually find to it on Google comes from, uh... me. Worst of all, the mp3 files I have of their 6 songs have somehow gotten corrupted in the last 9 years. So if you are reading this, and found this website via a Google search for Benji Hughes, and you happen to have these Goldenrods mp3s, please send them to me. Thank you.)
Bring It On
Gomez just released a 10th anniversary collectors edition version of their (still awesome) first album Bring It On. Two which I respond: "What!?" It's been 10 years? This blows my mind. I'd never really been hit by the shock of a anniversary edition of an album I've liked before, so this is a new feeling. I can so clearly remember hearing Gomez for the first time on 120 Minutes, going out and getting their album at Down In The Valley (used, nonetheless) the next day. And the fact that 10 years has passed between then and now is something I can't quite fathom. And now that I think about it, Failure's Fantastic Planet has to be 11 or 12 years old by now! Kids who were covered in placenta when it was released are now awkwardly talking to girls and, I don't know, swearing! We're all getting old.
A New Tide
Pretty much every review of this new Gomez album says the same thing: "Blah blah blah Gomez won the Mercury Prize in 99 blah blah they've released many good and varied albums blah blah blah blah this one is totally dull durp durp durp but 'Airstream Driver' is an awesome song." And they're all totally right. I have nothing more to add.
Just Like The Fambly Cat
I think I remember liking this when it came out, but that might be a little cognitive dissonance on my part. All I know is that in the years since its release, I've mostly sated my Grandaddy urges with The Sophtware Slump and Sumday, which I still think is their best. But even though I've been passing off Fambly Cat as insignificant, listening to it right now, very loudly, on a good speaker system, might be changing my mind. More so than Sophtware Slump (their "art" album) and Sumday (their "pop" album), Fambly Cat is clearly Grandaddy's "rock" album, even if every song isn't a barnburner. I'd still place it at number three behind those other two, but I think I've been wrong to ignore it all these years. If anything, it gave us "Geez Louise" (seriously, play that song at max volume. Holy shit!), and "Where I'm Anymore," two legitimate Grandaddy masterpieces. And now that I'm thinking about it, the EP they put out before this album had a couple legitimately good songs on it too. In hindsight, they could've thrown a couple of those ("Fuck The Valley Fudge," specifically) onto Fambly Cat, and it could've been a much stronger album as a whole.
Excerpts from the Diary of Todd Zilla
I had "Fuck the Valley Fudge" stuck in my head all weekend. Funny, odd, great Grandaddy song. I'm realizing years after they "broke up", Pumpkins style, that Grandaddy was way better than most people gave them credit for–even people who liked them. Funny that a band who played catchy pop rock songs about suburban technological dystopia–and that's all!–could be so good at it, and create such a respectable body of work from it. They wrote Grandaddy songs. Period. And they wrote them really, really well. How many bands can you think of that have released 4-5 quality albums with such a laser-focused raison d'être? The Smiths come to mind. More recently The Walkmen, maybe. I don't know. I also claim Grandaddy started the whole beard thing back in 2000. But that's a separate post.
Grant Lee Buffalo
Grant Lee Buffalo
Mighty Joe Moon
My second random thrift store CD purchase from the weekend is Grant Lee Buffalo, who I've known for a while as being an underappreciated, Largo-approved "songwriter's songwriter," a "musician's musician." Say no more. I get a bit of that from Mighty Joe Moon, but I'm more taken aback at how much this sounds like 1994; I'm pretty sure a few of these songs probably appeared in an episode of My So Called Life. But good 1994. Like, you could've told me a couple of these songs were Pearl Jam B-sides and I wouldn't have argued with you. But behind that facade there is definitely good stuff going on.
The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead
Wake of the Flood
I don't plan on digging too deep into the Grateful Dead catalogue--seems a little musty down there--but I'm pretty satisfied with where I'm at. Workingman's Dead sort of stinks (that "don't murder me" song needs to take a hike), but Wake of the Flood hits the spot. I might give Anthem of the Sun and Blues For Allah a chance, but otherwise I'm good. That'll be all.
21st Century Breakdown
There's a good quote I read recently about Quentin Tarantino. I'll paraphrase here: "Quentin Tarantino knows more about movies than anyone I've ever met. But he has the worst taste in the world." I think the same could be said of Billy Joe Armstrong. The guy knows pop music. He can write a downright perfect melody without even trying. Just about every song he's written since Warning (and a high percentage before that) have had the potential to be "hits." And that goes for Green Day's "Foxboro Hot Tubs" side project as well. Hell, those were almost better than some Green Day fare. Yet, how does he, a 37 year old multi-millionaire, choose to present his borderline-genius pop sensibilities? By writing a pop-punk "political rock opera" about two rebellious teenage outcasts trying to make a world for themselves in this crazy mixed up country. And sure, it was new and exciting when he did it with American Idiot (that is, if you completely ignore the story and most of the lyrics), but did he really have to write a second one? Did anyone ask for this? Not only is it inferior to American Idiot in just about every way, but you couldn't even tell it was a "rock opera" if the press hadn't been salivating at the phrase for the last 3 months. Where are the 10 minute long song-suites? Where are the epic horn sections and choirs? Hell, half the songs completely rip off melodies from Idiot. If you're going to follow up a rock opera with another rock opera, you've got to at least try.
Despite the fact that I'm listening to it right now, I can't imagine the type of person that, when confronted with the question of "What should I listen to now?" would pull out Insomniac. I mean, if you're going to listen to Green Day, fine. But the obvious albums one would choose would be (in no particular order) 21st Century Breakdown (because it's the newest), American Idiot (because it's still awesome), Dookie (because some people like to reminisce), Warning (because it is still the best album they've ever recorded, according to this guy), Nimrod (because it's officially when Billy Joe became a songwriting behemoth), Kerplunk and/or 10,000 Something Or Another Slaphappy Something (because I'm sure there are a handful of "I knew them before they were big" Green Day traditionalists out there. And I can't imagine what they've been going through in the last 15 years). But Insomniac, despite having a few good songs on it, seems so insignificant compared to pretty much everything else they've ever released. Of course, as soon as I typed that, "Brain Stew" started playing and suddenly it's 1995 again. Holy cow. I had forgotten this song existed. And that it was awesome. And to think MTV played this WITH its tagalong song "Jaded" back in the day. A lot. But if it hasn't already, it will eventually disappear to history, overshadowed by everything else the band ever did. Speaking of which, I just remembered their video for "Redundant," off of Nimrod. That was pretty great. See, now I have to go find that album and give it another listen. Stop reading this. Leave me alone.
Welp! I think Green Day has officially lost it. I've been as much of a defender as you could find over the last decade, but it seems like they've just plain run out of steam. Between this and !Uno! (and I'd assume !Tre! as well, whenever that comes out), all the pieces were there for something great, and it just flops around like a floppy old fish. A flop fish. There are some cool melodies here and there, and the single is pretty great, but all in all I think BIlly Joe Armstrong has hit his mid-life decline. He's trying his damndest to make something, but you can tell the passion isn't there. Funny enough, when they did that Foxboro Hot Tubs album a few years ago, the passion was totally there. In spades. In a way, this Uno/Dos/Tre thing is a three-album rehash of that Foxboro experiment, and you can just hear everything that's missing here. Shut'er down!
This Grizzly Bear album is probably good, and I'm sure they're nice people, but thanks to the godless homosexual abortionists that planned the city of Seattle's senseless street configuration, I will never be able to listen to it again without getting a subconscious urge to drive (or, given the situation, hurl) myself into oncoming traffic.
Am I missing something? I'm missing something, right? Yeah, I think I'm missing something. There's something that Grizzly Bear does that I must not hear. Everyone else hears it and loves it, but it's like a dog whistle or something. I can tell that there's something happening, something fussed over, layered, trying to approach some ideal of lush euphoria, trying to transcend something, but it's fleeting. I try to grab it but there's nothing there. No bones. The melodies never lead anywhere, the harmonies are harmonic, but to what end? There's no payoff. Still, it's way better than Veckatamist.
Speakers? No. Headphones? Better. Either way, you're likely to forget every song on this album before you've heard the next one. Rough one, Gruff.
Nilsson Sings Newman
I don't know what's happening to me, but I've very recently found myself thoroughly obsessed with Harry Nilsson. He was always one of those "People like him, maybe I'll check him out someday" guys, until that "someday" finally came a couple months ago, when I picked up Nilsson Scmilsson for a couple bucks at Circuit City's going out of business sale. Funny thing is, I wasn't even that impressed with it after my first couple listens. But it slowly grew on me, until I finally realized that this Nilsson guy really knows what he's doing. Then a couple weekends aqo when she was in Phoenix, Libby bought me a copy of A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night at a Goodwill. We listened to it the other day and I was suddenly completely won over. Great voice, great taste, great songwriter. Weirdo. How could it get any better? Oh, how about the fact that he recorded an entire album of Randy Newman songs with Newman on piano! As soon as I read that, it became my life's goal to find a copy of that record, listen to it, and then live out my remaining years sitting quietly waiting for death to come. My grand search lasted all of two days, because when I walked into Roadrunner Records today, and the first record I saw, in the front of the first pile of new arrivals, was Nilsson Signs Newman. It was as if God had simply floated it down to me, all glowing and gilded and whatnot. But like that guy in the Twilight Zone, who finally got all the time in the world to read, only to have his glasses accidentally and irredeemably destroyed, the album was a cheap re-release, with different cover art and no liner notes. So there I stood, faced with the greatest ethical dilemma of my adult life: Do I buy this lamer, lesser album and still go home and enjoy the music at face value, or do I make the final transformation into an unbearable record collector prick and wait to find an original pressing? Not unlike Robert Frost before me, I decided to buy the damn record and live with it. And it's amazing.
Son Of Schmilsson
I just wrote a big long post about Harry Nillson's Son of Schmilsson, but after reading it a couple times, realized it was completely useless. So in lieu of a new related article, and because I never programmed a 'delete post' function into this blog (among the many other things I didn't program into it), I'll simply leave you with a link to the song "Joy," which is all you need to hear to be as confused about the recording career of Harry Nilsson as I.
I don't know if I'm crazy or what, because I can't find a single written reference to it, but it sounds to me like Nilsson is actually using tape loops and electronic percussion on a few songs on The Point. Am I imagining this? Listen to "Me And My Arrow" and tell me you don't hear it. "Poli High" is the other one. And really, every other track is Nilsson's story narration, which features repeating bars of music in the back. Even those sound so perfect that there has to be some sort of looping happening here. I just don't understand why nothing I can find to read about this album talks about this. It was only 1971; electronic elements in music weren't exactly en vogue yet. In fact, according to most sources, 1971 marked the first time that any pop artist featured electronic percussion in a single, that being a slightly obscure cover of a Sly And The Family Stone track. I really need to dig deeper into this, because it's kind of blowing my mind.
Roadrunner came through again for me, this time with a pristine vinyl copy of Sandman, one of the latter-day Nilsson albums where he's pretty much completely wasted and not taking his music the least bit seriously, and yet still making some stupidly funny, smart, catchy numbers. Just listen to these lyrics to his song entitled "How To Write A Song": "If you write it on guitar, place your guitar upon your knee. If you write it on piano, don’t do that." The guy is making a total mockery of the very idea of songwriting, yet succeeding at it at a higher level than practically anyone else in 1976.
Steve's Harry Nilsson Fandom Update: I've slowly been buying Nilsson's mid/late career "lesser" albums over the last few months, and all are mixed bags. It seems there's usually 2-3 good songs and a bunch of filler, and it all reeks of Harry just not trying too hard. But I'm surprised with Harry, which sounds a whole lot closer to Aerial Ballet than anything else, and much of it very good. But now that I'm looking at it, it seems Harry is from 1969, which isn't mid/late Nilsson at all. My mistake. It's not as good, or at least as immediate, as Aerial Ballet, and his vocals seem slightly passive. It has a more mellow vibe in general, I guess. But one great standout is a cover of the Beatle's "Mother Nature's Son," which is just as strong as the original. Less impressive is his cover of Randy Newman's "Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear," which seems a little too fluffy and tossed-off in comparison to anything on Nilsson Sings Newman. All in all, it seems that for as strong as this album would be in a vacuum, just about every track on it seems like a slightly inferior version of something he'd either already recorded, or would record in the future.
So the new Heiruspecs album is finally out, and I gave it a listen this morning. My first impression is that while there's nothing inherently bad about it, there just wasn't any one track that really stuck with me. And with 21 tracks on the damn thing, you'd think the odds would be in its favor! I think it all comes down to hooks, or the lack thereof. The rapping is solid, the lyrics are fine--if a little too self serious, and the band's backing beats are top notch (except for some questionable "hard rock" experiments), but there just aren't any hooks that do the job as well as, say, "Heartsprings" or "5ves." Both of those tracks are setting the bar incredibly high, I'll admit, but it's still a bummer that they can't get back up to that level. But oh well, maybe it will grow on me after a couple more listens.
There's a button, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, connected via low-voltage copper cable directly through my chest into my gut, that's labeled "soul-crushing nothingness disguised as sadness". The button gets pressed every now and then, visiting mediocre antique stores at closing time, seeing old people eating salisbury steak at restaurants, reruns of The Guns of Will Sonnet. It usually makes me feel miserable. But when Hem hits it, which they do nearly every time I hear them, it's a different sort of miserable; like a self-inflicted misery formed into the precise inverse of pleasure, confusing me into feeling both simultaneously. They're maybe the most capable and professional act in the world of mild Americana (I just made that up), but it's hard to be passionate about a band that makes you feel like you're home sick from school, half asleep watching The Secret of Nimh. It's best to respect them from arms length and indulge only occasionally.
Departure & Farewell
What I love about Hem (beyond their rock-solid musicianship and melancholy harmonic sensibilities) is how absolutely un-punk they are. There is not a second of scuzz, fuzz or irony to be found on any of their recordings. It's the soundtrack of 1,000 horse paintings. But really good horse paintings. What they do is not so different than someone like Lambchop, but you get the feeling listening to Lambchop that they are pissed at you for buying their beautiful piano-and-pedal-steel soaked record, and that they could drink you under multiple tables if given the chance. Hem doesn't even realize they've recorded an album, because they're too busy hugging their children and tuning their mandolins. Consequently, it's hard to get too passionate about their music, but it's always good for a spin or two when you're feeling particularly pastoral.
Academy Songs, Volume 1
As far as I can tell, this new Holopaw album, against all odds, kinda kicks ass. At first blush it sounds like the last couple Holowpaw albums (both of which were major disappointments in my eyes after their super intriguing debut), but so much better. And bigger. There are some post-rock touches here and there, compositional choices that go well beyond the emotional folk-rock of their early stuff, and real actual honest-to-god musicianship! Like, the drummer totally rips! Take that, Beach House! It's the stuff that modern day classics are made of. I'm not saying it is a modern day classic, just that it is made of the stuff. I think it's missing the hooks and memorable melodies that even Holopaw's first record had. If it had those, man... hoo boy. But as it stands, it's a great album, well worth hearing if you're into that sort of thing. I'm excited to give it another spin tomorrow.
Downward is Heavenward
This is just my weekly notice to the public that I think Hum is awesome. Now go back to your business.
Live in Chicago, 12/31/08
After listening to (and obsessing over) them for over a decade, Scott and I finally saw Hum perform live, on New Years Eve at the Double Door in Chicago. Such a momentous event in ones life should really bring about thoughts and feelings worthy of many paragraphs of reminiscence, critique, and joy. But all I can really say is this: It was very, very loud. And good. But loud, also.
Turn On The Bright Lights
I'm going to come off as a big idiot dork loser for saying this, but here it is anyway: Interpol is the perfect band to listen to in New York City. Aside from being catchy melody-makers and a case study in a rhythm section perfecting the art of being a rhythm section, their music is a precise balance of rigidity, coldness, and fashionable cockiness that is very much of the city. When I was waiting for the train outside of the airport, I put on "NYC" just for kicks (and to continue my somewhat embarrassing tradition of choosing apt music when entering new states). It took about two measures to realize why people went crazy for these guys back in 2001; because New Yorkers decide what people get to go crazy for, and this stuff must've cut straight to the souls of New Yorkers. It also helped me realize why the Midlakes and Augie March's of the world will never get the Williamsburgy blog credit they deserve. Although it still leaves me confused about Antony. Oh, wait... the cross dressing thing. Fair enough.
Iron and Wine
Kiss Each Other Clean
The songs aren't necessarily his best, but the instrumental arrangements on this record are a thing of beauty. 70s AM rock radio tropes are everywhere, and yet none of it comes off as cheesy or novel. Raunchy sax, raunchy flute, the occasional Rhodes solo, all of it somehow melts together into a sound that remains 100% Iron And Wine. This one may or may not stand the test of time, but you have to give him credit right off the bat for doing it right.
Iron And Wine
Ghost on Ghost
I've given this new Iron and Wine 3 or 4 spins already, and I need a few more to make my mind up. As a whole, I love what it's trying to do. Sam Beam is clearly a fantastic performer and songwriter, and the idea of lining up a bunch of legitimate musicians (musician's musicians) to jam out on this stuff gives it a feeling of pure class. But on the other hand, and this has been the prevailing criticism of the record as far as I can tell, is the feeling that there's a great Iron and Wine record here, hiding behind a bunch of unnecessary razz-a-ma-jazz smoke and mirrors. Maybe I'd categorize it under "Great, but could be better."
Several Shades of Why
I've been excited about this one to come out, but it's hard to maintain that excitement when it's... just... so... slow.... There will probably be a night this Spring or Summer when I put this on and everything clicks into place, the light going on, so to speak. But for now I will be patient with it and take solace in the fact that there's always Farm.
Right now, in early April 2013, if you go to just about any thrift store or record store in or around Minneapolis, you'll probably find at least 2 or 3 copies of this record. About two months ago, they all just started appearing, en masse, still sealed and in mint condition, everywhere a store was willing to take them; the Bloomington Savers location has about 9. I don't know who J.D. Shug is, nor does anybody else, based on my brief web queries, but clearly somebody locally had something to do with this record, and is now getting rid of a garage full of them. I've seen it around so many places recently, that curiosity got the best of me and I shelled out three bucks to give it a shot, because maybe this guy's a secret genius, right? Sort of a Rodriguez, Nick Drake type of thing. Not quite. It's mostly a bunch of obnoxious country western cover songs with unfortunate 80s wet-drum production and the occasional gross sounding synth effect. If I had a garage full of these I'd be trying to get rid of them too. Funny thing is, there are two Shug originals stuck between cover songs, and they are by far the best songs on the record. One song "North Fort Worth" in particular has a certain catchy appeal to it that makes it understandable that someone would've convinced this guy to press 1,000 records instead of 100.
I sometimes think that my 17 year old self was way cooler then the 27 year old version. Nowadays I may listen to some "independent" or "lesser-known" bands like, I don't know, Midlake or Deerhoof or The Moore Brothers or whoever. But whoop dee doo, what college-educated, white bread, bearded 27 year old doesn't? But Jack Drag? Mind Science Of The Mind? Muscadine? Who the hell listened to any of that stuff back in 1997? Half the stuff I'd listen to I discovered simply by flipping through piles of random used CDs at Down In The Valley and listening to the ones that looked interesting. There was no tastemaker, no gatekeeper. No Pitchfork or Cokemachine glow saying, "This is good. This is bad." It was a crapshoot, but one with great returns. The Day I Fell Down, one of my favorites from that era (and to this day one of the few albums I'd dare say is "perfect,") wouldn't get the time of day in 2009, from myself or from just about any website who takes the responsibility to decide what deserves to get that time of day. And even though it's almost easier than ever to simply "browse", online rather than in the used bins, the returns now are constantly diminishing, as everyone and his brother is able to record music, however awful, and put it online. The gems are harder and harder to find. And those few left are already being recommended by someone, not simply left for you to find and critique on your own. To this day I don't know what anyone else thinks about Jack Drag. Maybe they were hated. Maybe they were local Boston darlings. I don't know and I don't care.
It's evident right off the bat that Blunderbuss is better than anything by The Raconteurs or The Dead Weather. I'll even go ahead and say that it's better than at least the last three White Stripes albums. You know, the ones with the red and white and black cover art. Those ones. If we're keeping score, I'd also say it's better than the last couple Black Keys records, too. The pinnacle of White Stripes, for me (and I feel comfortable comparing this directly with the White Stripes catalogue because, come on), is White Blood Cells. This is still well behind Blood Cells just in songwriting alone. But if you threw a red wash on the cover, swapped out the competent studio drummer with Meg (who is obviously not a great drummer, but neither is Bob Dylan a great singer), you've got a landmark White Stripes album on your hands. Whereas their final three, in my mind, were all just marking time and going around in circles, this is truly a step forward, both in composition and in songwriting. It doesn't have the hooks, but it's definitely worth spending some time with.
One part Jamey Lidell, one part Antony, sifted through that one Bon Iver song with the autotune, thrown shattered on the floor and glued back together as the exact inverse of what it originally was. Incredible, actually, not just as a music recording, but as a piece of work that (nearly) lives up to its impossible hype.
All this time I thought I liked Jamie Lidell. I got into him back when Multiply came out in 2005. Experimental electro guy realizes he has a kickass set of soul pipes, so he starts making electro-soul music. Awesome. Then Jim comes out a couple years later, and I'm super excited, because I loved Multiply, right? But I'm disappointed. Too bland. And now Compass had me all excited, because it sounded far more experimental, freaky, and unique than even Multiply. Cool. But again, I can't help but to be let down. This time, it's because the songs just aren't there. Bummer. This leads me to go down through my iTunes collection and take another listen to Multiply, only to find that--what? What's this song? I don't remember this. And this one? Hmm, this one's kind of annoying. And I just want to skip through that one. The title track is awesome, and it has a play count of 15. But every other song is only between 3-5. One only has 2! Could it be!? Did I never actually really like Multiply? It seems I just liked the title track of it so much that I convinced myself that I also liked the rest of the album. But the truth is in the numbers, I guess. And the truth is that Jamie needs to write better songs.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about this album. I've listened to it front to back, read the rave reviews, meditated and marinated. And as a result of all that thought, I've composed a multi-page essay, with footnotes and appendices, pie charts and photo plates, in my mind. It is very thorough. I've proofread it and everything. But I won't write it here, because not only will it bore you to death, but it will shock you with its subtle hints of possible racism and sexism. What it all boils down to (the "thesis", as you learned in 7th grade composition class), is this: The ArchAndroid, while nowhere close to the modern masterpiece that everyone wants it to be, is the noble attempt of Janelle Monae to make the album that she's always wanted Andre 3000 to make. It is, 5 years later than expected, the natural evolution of "Hey Ya" from song to genre. It is an interesting collection of quirky production and arrangements, with a couple catchy tunes and some respectable work from the studio musicians, but if everyone would just take a deep breath and take a step back and ignore the fact that she's a cute girl in a tux dancing like MJ, we'd see that this album is little more than a big-budget game of musical dress-up. And Janelle Monae is no Andre 3000.
Department of Disappearance
Way, way better than his first solo album, particularly because it actually sounds like a Grandaddy album (because Jason Lytle is, in effect, Grandaddy). But it would probably be the worst Grandaddy album. Tough competition though.
I never choose to listen to Ys. It chooses me. No joke. The first time I listened to the album (and you've heard this story before) was while driving alone in the pitch black wooded mountains of rural West Virginia. I can imagine no better circumstance to listen to this record. So when I'm scanning through my iPod to find something to listen to, I always zoom right by the "Joanna" section. Because, really, will I ever enjoy it as much as those first few times (yes, I listened to it about 4 times in a row that first night)? But every once in a while, like tonight, I'll put my iPod on shuffle, one of her songs will start playing, and I turn into a big pile of mush. But only at night. I don't think I've ever even listened to it during the day, which sounds stupid and pretentious and asinine, but it's true. I almost hope she never releases anything else, because there's just no way she can top it.
Have One On Me
I'm glad I was able to buy this two days early, because at this rate I will be able to have fully digested it by August 6th, 2017 instead of August 8th, 2017. I'll check in with you then.
Have One On Me
This is like watching Magnolia, and an hour and a half through someone switches it with Andrei Rublev. I mean, they're both classics, but I'd rather watch Magnolia, you know?
Have One On Me
I feel silly trying to write about this album on a music blog. I don't want to sound like a pompous jackass or something, but the fact is this: Have One One Me doesn't deserve to be critiqued on the same level as other music albums. There are songs here, yes. There is singing, rhythm, melody. But this is something new, and I don't know what it is. Theater? Literature? There's a purity here that is nearly impossible to come by in "pop" music. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea certainly comes to mind. Pink Moon. "Hey Ya." That's not to say that a year from now I'll want to listen to it, or that I'll even be able to read this write-up without feeling completely embarrassed for myself. But all I know is that right now, only a week into Have One On Me, I feel emotionally and physically taunted by it, and I've barely scratched the surface.
Here's this kid (literally, he's 17) coming out of Brooklyn (that Brooklyn, not that Brooklyn), rapping like it's 1990 over some sweet, mellow, organic beats, and he's doing it right. Totally, totally right. This is technically just a mixtape, not an official album, so I won't bother going to deep into it, other than to say check it out. You can tell this kid really gets it, and while it's smart and tasteful (Pitchfork lurves it), it's still pretty raw, energetic, and even fun, and, except for Frank Ocean, runs circles around all that Odd Future junk.
Dammit John Legend. Your new album is not very good. Motherfucker. And yet Andre 3000's appearance on the second track makes it almost worth the 8.99 I paid for it.
Synecdoche, New York Soundtrack
We went to see Charlie Kaufman's new movie Synecdoche, New York on Saturday, and while I haven't glued enough pieces of my exploded skull back together to give any reasonable critique of the movie, I am pleased to say that my boy-toy Jon Brion did the soundtrack for it. The music wasn't too prevalent in the film, but from what I heard (and the clips I listened to on iTunes) make it seem like a pretty nice listen. I'd say it's more similar to Eternal Sunshine than to Punch Drunk Love or Huckabees. Very score-y, although there doesn't seem to be any one overarching melodic theme. And it's topped off with a couple of jazzy pop songs he wrote, which are (unfortunately, in my opinion) sung by a female jazz singer. Pretty good stuff nonetheless. And the movie is a thing to behold.
Synecdoche, New York Soundtrack
I finally gave in and bought Jon Brion's Synecdoche, New York Soundtrack on iTunes last night (I know, I know), and my first impressions were pretty much correct. It's very score-y. BUT, the last song on it is this little 40's-50's sounding ode to Schenectady, that was quaint and cute at first, until I realized that the male choir that was singing was entirely Jonny Boy Brion himself! Totally singing in this put-on archaic-choir-guy voice. I couldn't believe it. And then I listened to the lyrics, and they were all about death, and regret, and those sorts of things, which is pretty amazing, given the tone of the song, and the themes of the movie, it was yet another Jon Brion triumph!
Of Montreal Remix EP
Okay, so technically this is Of Montreal's Jon Brion Remix EP, not the other way around, but 'tomatoes tomatoes,' right? Wow, that phrase doesn't really work when typed. Anyway, I'm just not sure about this one. Jon Brion can do no wrong usually, but these remixes seem barely even remixed. Honestly, the first track left me wondering what even made it different than the original. The second is an 'acoustic' version of the same song, which is cool, but at the same time it's really not very special by Jon Brion's standards. A couple of the instrumentals at the end are a little more jubilant and Briony (although they focus heavily on bloopy bleepy 8-bit electronics, which aren't really his cup of tea), but still not to the point that convinces me that this EP needs to exist. I'm never going to complain about an official Brion release of any sort, since they're certainly not easy to come by, but this one seems a little phoned in to me.
I finally got my hands on a copy of Harry Nilsson's Aerial Ballet, a beautiful record that I won't waste my time slobbering over on this stupid blog that no one will ever read. But what I discovered on this record is something that really blows my mind. Blown like a Gary Anderson field goal, even. So a couple tracks into Aerial Ballet, there's a song called "Together." It's a fantastic tune, with this circular melody that is one of those that makes me wonder, "How does someone sit down and write something like this?" Anyhow, I'm listening to it and enjoying it, but there's something very familiar about the whole thing. And then towards the end, he sings the lines "Life isn't easy when two are divided / and one has decided to bring down the curtain / and one thing's for certain there's nothing to keep them together." Unbelievable wordplay, but more to the point: Holy shit, that's what Jon Brion sings as background vocals at the end of Aimee Mann's cover of "One" on the Magnolia soundtrack!. Of course it was only a matter of time until my long-time-love for Jon Brion and my newfound fascination with Harry Nilsson would collide in a way that makes me wonder why I haven't been listening to Nilsson for the last 8 years. But it gets better. I go online to just see what has been written about Brion's little reference (since "One" was written by Nilsson and is also on Aerial Ballet it makes a ton of sense that he threw it in, but is even more amazing in that the line fits perfectly, and caps off the song in a way that I would dare say makes it the superior version, apologies to Three Dog Night), and while there was no reference to Brion singing a part of "Together" on the track, it is referenced on Wikipedia that the very opening sample of "One" (the part that goes "Okay, Mr. Mix"!) is actually a sample from an earlier Harry Nilsson recording "Cuddly Toy"! But Wait, There's More! All that stuff got me really excited, and I went back and listened to the Magnolia version of "One" a few times, when at the 2:54 mark, there is this other memorable Jon Brion background part, essentially an un-verbal harmony that verbalizes into "Oo wa, oo wa, ow wow wow." At this point I'm thinking that it sounds an awful lot like how Nilsson would vocalize those notes. So I go back to Aerial Ballet, and right away on the first track, "Good Old Desk," Nilsson sings, "Oo wa, oo wa, ow wow wow." Jon Brion, you sly old dog! So now he's recorded an Aimee Mann cover of "One" that references 4 separate Harry Nilsson songs in a way that %0.001 of the listening audience will ever realize, all because he's Jon Brion and this is the kind of shit he does, and he's better than you and that's just how it is. And, oh yeah, the song "He Needs Me", that anchors Brion's Punch Drunk Love soundtrack and was originally written for Robert Altman's Popeye movie? Guess who wrote that one. Yep. Fuck.
Since Jonny Boy Brion has released so little music in the last couple years (the Synechdoche New York soundtrack was the last thing he released... he's done a couple other minor soundtracks since then, but nothing that's been released) I've been eagerly anticipating his work on the ParaNorman sountrack, even if I wasn't eagerly anticipating ParaNorman itself. And while it's perfectly good, above average even, as a soundtrack, I'm pretty disappointed in it as a piece of Jon Brion original music. It's just too soundtracky. No real "aha" moments, no memorable melodic themes, and worst of all, no rock songs. It's total kids horror action movie score stuff. Meaning: Elfmanlike. Can't blame him, I guess. Gotta serve the movie. It'll be a fun thing to play on Halloween I guess.
No Beginning No End
I was a little standoffish with this guy at first—a little too D'Angelo meets NPR meets open mic night at the Dakota for me to take seriously. But you know, other than the uncomfortably dry engineering on the vocals (I'm going to go ahead and assume that that's a real thing) it's growing on me.
I thought I would like Julia Holter's music because it sounds like the perfect middle point between Kate Bush, Animal Collective, Joanna Newsom, and The Blow. But it turns out I don't.
Phrazes For The Young
Julian Casablancas just released a solo album which combines the fluid melodies and impeccable arrangements of The Strokes with the danceclub energy and of instrumental dexterity of Ratatat. And one of the songs sounds like it could've been written by Randy Newman. Sign me the fuck up.
Phrazes For The Young
Boring story, but it totally made my day, and I need to tell it. Follow along if you'd like. So I really like this Julian Casablancas album. A bunch. I even like the packaging. But a couple weekends ago, I must've had it in my coat pocket, in the parking lot of the Lowes parking lot in Plymouth, where I believe it slipped out. The CD wasn't in the case, mind you, it was just empty. But since I actually enjoy having the cases (this one in particular), and I collect these things, I was pretty bummed about losing it. So this weekend, when I was at the Electric Fetus, I decided to just buy a new copy, since it was only $8.99. As I was checking out at the register, the girl asked me, "Hey, you don't want an autographed copy of this album do you? We have a bunch left." Well, yes, I would, in fact, like an autographed copy. Thank you. So she went back and grabbed a new case, sans CD, and gave it to me to keep along with the new copy I just bought. I then told her the funny and ironic story about how I was just buying it again because I lost the case, and I now have two CDs and two cases. Christmas gifts! It was then that she happily offered to just give me the autographed case, and return the real one I just paid for. It totally made my day! So not only did I get a free case to replace my lost one, but it was autographed, to boot! You don't see Treehouse going around doing nice things like that. They'd probably just make fun of me for buying a Julian Casablancas CD. Rather, they'd make fun of me for buying a CD.
Rope And Summit EP
So this is Jose Gonzalez's band. Did you know he had a band? I don't think anybody did, and by that I'm mildly shocked. Before we all saw that Sony ad with all the bouncing super balls in San Francisco and became enchanted by the force of nature in the voice of Jose Gonzalez, why hadn't we already been equally enchanted by the EP Junip had already released? I mean, this music is essentially Jose Gonzalez performing his songs backed by a crack-shot post rock band, perfectly attuned to maximizing the mantra-like nature of his music. Had we been introduced to this guy's music via Junip as opposed to that ad, we'd be saying, "Holy shit, Junip is unbelievable!" But as it stands, Jose gets to go do his thing around the world, and the other dudes in the band get to stay home in Stockholm or wherever and mope. (Though I'd bet you 100 kroner at least one of them plays in a jazz combo in his spare time).
In a surprise upset, the award for Best Album Released On September 14th By A Swedish Psychadelic Rock Band goes to Junip, defeating Dungen's Skit I Allt. Handily. This is a beautiful record, even better than the EP they put out a month ago. I dare say it's even better than the last Jose Gonzalez solo album. A lot more upbeat than expected, too.
The 20/20 Experience
Boy. Pretty long album, huh? There's some cool fun stuff on it though, mostly from Timbaland. I could've used a few more catchy tunes. But I guess I like all the codas and interludes and outros. You don't see Lance Bass pulling that off. Good for a party as long as no one's paying too close attention. I just wish it wasn't entirely exhausting to sit through.
808s & Heartbreak
As much as I want to hate Kanye West, I just can't do it. Because despite his cartoonishly narcissistic public persona, when it comes to music he clearly gets it. And not only does he get it, but he actually is out there trying to do something interesting with his career. So he had a huge debut album, and how does he follow it up? "Oh, I'll hire Jon Brion to record a bunch of orchestral swells and organ ditties." And then decides to be the third Daft Punk for a while. And now, out of nowhere, he's like "Hey everyone, I'm Kanye West and I'm going to release an entire album of minimalistic, electronic, Peter-Gabrial-inspired songs, where I don't rap, and channel all my vocals through a vocoder." And not only did he do it (pretty well, might I add), but he did it on a whim! This guy is one of the most popular and biggest-selling artists of this century, and one day he just decided to forgo the typical months-long gestation, record company approval, and peer pressure, and recorded an album of music he just wanted to record. And then slapped some beautiful artwork on it, and released it a matter of a month or two. Forget Radiohead (they weren't the biggest music celebrities in the world when they slaved over Kid A), Kanye is the goddamn Beatles.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I'm only three songs into this mess, but I'm already sure it isn't the perfect 10, all time classic that everyone's claiming it is. But the packaging? Perfect 10. All time classic.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Thought #3 (thoughts #2 and 1 temporarily withheld): This record contains some technically masterful production. Sounds I've never heard, alien beats, at an epic scale. Some real holy shit moments. But it is no fun. No fun at all.
Dead End Kings
Have I talked to you about Katatonia? Probably not, probably not. They are a metal band from Sweden, loosely related to Opeth, similar in a few ways, but also quite different. You'd never confuse the two. Anyway, Katatonia, and this new album in particular, occupies a peculiar corner of the metal world in my opinion. The guitars are heavy, the drumming is complex, it would not be confused for anything but metal. But the feeling it gives me is warmth, comfort. Like a big cozy blanket. Their vocalist turned to entirely clean-sung vocals about 12 years ago, and their song structures are more pop than prog, melodies and chords taking precedent over aggression and bludgeoning. You can barely headbang to it, and it's slowly getting smoothed and rounded off that I (for three albums now) worry they're going to wander into Evanescence territory. But they don't. And this new Dead End Kings situation totally has its claws dug into me. I couldn't hum you a single melody off the thing (everything seems to loop around and never really find any hook), and there's hardly any fun air-guitar moments to freak out to. But I can't stop listening to it. I just feel better when I'm hearing it.
Much like how we shouldn't judge Pearl Jam because of Nickelback, or Led Zeppelin because of Poison, I prooobably shouldn't judge this Keith Jarrett dude because of the collected works of every ponderous, schmaltzy adult contemporary pianist of the last 40 years. But it's hard. Real hard. It's a pleasant listen, and impressive that he constructed it all on the fly, but personally I feel the moments of brilliance come few and far between. But they're there. And still, it's a majorly respected recording, that absolutely has merit and a pedigree, so I'm going to keep plowing ahead with it, Yanni be damned.
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City
Either I've been totally brainwashed by the tsunami of critical acclaim this Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City record has been getting, or else I'm fully convinced that it is seriously work of capital-a Art. I can't decide. But for now I'm going with Art. The lyrics, the delivery, the production, even the between-song skits (!) all come together in a way that is rare in the rap world and form something that is way bigger than the sum of its parts. There are no singles, no real hooks, nothing to play at a party. But it has this energy and narrative to it that's like reading a good book, or watching a great movie. And a legitimately emotionally jarring ending! When's the last time you've been moved by the ending of a rap album? Pretty amazing. Now I just need to get over the fact that he aped his style from Andre 3000 and Lil Wayne, and I'm totally on board.
You and Me
Bought this sort of as a fluke. I heard a couple good things about it, then saw it get a pretty positive write-up in Vice Magazine (which is saying something for an album that is neither freaky nor angry nor anything else the least bit Vicey, which I suppose in effect makes it very Vicey.), and just decided to go for it. It is fun and nice for about 4 songs, but then hits a wall. Oh, and Joanna Newsom plays piano on it, which sounds exciting until you remember she's not a very good piano player. So, yeah. It pretty much makes me wish the Magic Numbers would hurry up and release their new one.
In the Wake of Poseidon
I had given up on my King Crimson binge last summer, after both Larks Tongue in Aspic and Discipline proved to be fairly underwhelming. But I just picked up In the Wake of Poseidon, and I've gotta say, it's pretty sweet. A great continuation of In the Court of the Crimson King's sound and style. Still, this is about as far as I'm going to go.
Shaking The Habitual
This album would be awesome if it wasn't 90% nonsense.
Smoke Ring For My Halo
A couple years ago I heard the song "Freeway," by Kurt Vile. I tapped my toe and bobbed my head and said "I like this Kurt Vile. I must find more." And so I did. And none of it was as good as "Freeway." Three or four albums came and went, and still nothing that did for me what that song did. In fact very little of it was even in the same genre. And now Smoke Ring For My Halo comes out, supposedly bringing him back to the energy that made "Freeway" great. But it too just disappoints me. I wish I could say otherwise.
Smoke Ring For My Halo
Growing on me. Growing. I realized that despite its monotone grayness, its downbeat lack of fidelity, Smoke Ring is, deep down, a headphones album. That is to say: don't even try to listen to it out of your laptop speakers. Headphones. And a clear mind. And try not to focus too much on the singing.
Wakin on a Pretty Daze
I keep preparing myself for Kurt Vile to blow the roof off of everything, to put out an all time classic record that rewrites the rules of indie rock, and simultaneously completes the circle of classic rock, filling in one last tiny void that we never realized needed filling in. And this album is so close. But it doesn't get there. And I think it's all in the vocals; Kurt Vile's vocals are his calling card, his stoner intonations different than anyone else you've heard, but I worry he uses it as a crutch. The guitar work and instrumental arrangements and recording quality here is top notch, really interesting cool and correct stuff. But those mumbled vocals keep it all from rising to the next level. Sure he's becoming an extremely respected artist in the world of indie rock blog types, but I can't help but feel that he could be so much more. I don't know if anyone's going to be listening to Kurt Vile records 20 years from now. He's more than capable of recording something that will last that long, but I worry he's keeping himself down.
Let's Build A Roof
A regrettable purchase. I'm not sure what situation will lend itself to getting maximum enjoyment from this album. It probably involves making enough of a racket that the music disappears into the background. Something like charades. Or building demolition. I'm sure the members of Lake are perfectly nice people (and probably from Portland), but geez, guys. Loosen up a little bit. Just because you're on K Records doesn't mean you have to be a bunch of miserable louts wincing your way through a recording session. Project!
Be Set Free
I think Langhorne Slim is just trying too hard nowadays. His old stuff is all pretty spare, just acoustic guitar, stand-up bass, drums and the occasional banjo, and yet it was supremely energetic and energizing. Since then, like on this new album, it's as if he's trying to manufacture the energy through some generic idea of, uh, epicness. Every song is the same sort of slow build, ending with pianos and strings and choruses, and I don't know. Watch this guy live and you'll see all he needs is a guitar and a microphone, and he's a force of nature. But now he's trying to make these grand statements, and it's all just coming out sounding the same.
The Way We Move
Musically, it's his best material since When The Sun's Gone Down. Instrumentally, the best performances since then as well, maybe even better. More passionate than his last two. More energetic than his last two. But the whole thing is dragged down, smothered and buried by nasty production. Dry, flat, dead. Kind of depressing, actually, that something as innocuous as a recording engineer could ruin something that could've been great. Makes you realize there's a reason why Steve Albini makes such ridiculous money.
Sing to the Moon
This sounds like an exact 3-part mix of Amy Winehouse, Janelle Monae, and Julia Holter, and I want so, so badly to love it. It has so much going for it, especially for a major label album. Patience. Restraint. Sophisticated arrangements. But unfortunately, because it sounds like an exact combination of Amy Winehouse, Janelle Monae, and Julia Holter, it is very hard to love. But I like it.
Songs of Love and Hate
Leonard Cohen's Songs Of Love and Hate. Okervil River's The Stage Names. The Sugarcubes' Life's Too Good. Palace Music's Days In The Wake. The Anniversary's Your Majesty. New Order. The Cocteau Twins. R.E.M.. The Magnolia soundtrack. All these and more where miraculously for sale for $1.99 each at the Value Village Thrift Store in Richfield this evening. I only let myself buy three.
Songs of Love and Hate
I mean, no, I don't want to be the guy who rips on Leonard Cohen or anything here in 2010. It's been long enough and he's a certifiable genius and is an American treasure and Jeff Buckley and all that. Okay. But if it is 1968 right now and I'm listening to this guy, all I can think is "Dylan. Dylan." What I wonder is if it's even remotely acceptable to bring that up nowadays. May I?
Tha Carter III
Apparently this Lil Wayne guy is a big deal. I'd heard of him, of course, but I had no idea until the last few weeks that he was pretty much the #1 everything this year. Everyone from Source to Pitchfork raves about how he's practically the best rapper in the world, and this newest album of his has been on just about every top-10 list I've seen this year. Stuff like this drives me crazy, because I could've walked by Lil Wayne on the street, while he's rapping his hit songs and I wouldn't know who he was. So I gave in and listened to some samples and thought he actually sounded pretty good (and the "Andre 3k" reference certainly won me over), so last night at Target I bought it on a whim. And after almost getting all the way through it (stupid 70 minute rap albums!), I have to say I'm still curious, but a little disappointed. Clearly, the guy can rap. He's smart, witty, good with words, has a good voice and uses it well. But the beats and the songs themselves mostly don't interest me at all. It's just so scattered and random and--uh--dumb. But I tell you what, if someone can take the beats and music from the new Heiruspecs album (which are really fantastic) and get Lil Wayne to rap over it, sign me the hell up. Otherwise, I might just have to stick with thoughtful, sensitive pop rock.
It's not bad, in the sense that no Low album will (or can) ever be bad, but C'mon does not excite me in the same way as The Great Destroyer or Sparhawk's recent Retribution Gospel Choir work. I have huge respect for their music and take pride in their Minnesota-ness, but on a fundamental, primal level, I think I just like Low better when they rock.
Oh, just listening to M. Ward's newest: Hold Time
It's a little more happy and jangly than his work in the past - more along the lines of She & Him, his side project with Zooey Deschanel. I'd be happy too, if i was engaged to Zooey Deschanel (or so I heard). That's really what I think of while listening to cute tunes like "Never had nobody like you," on which she sings. They just seem like they would be so cute together in person and in love and in love with making music together and what fun! I'd like to marry them both, together and we would be a tripod of love and music and peanut butter pancakes on Sunday mornings (if they don't like peanut butter, chocolate chip is fine or I'll bust out the wild rice blueberry to really impress them).
The second part of the record is more mellow. I don't know how to be a music critic.
He's coming to town at the end of April. Let's go!
The Magic Numbers
The Magic Numbers
Those The Brokes
Listening to the Magic Numbers right now. These guys are so underrated and unrecognized it makes me sick. Sick. Okay, not that sick. But they're really, really good, and all I can think of is when they opened for the Flaming Lips at the State Fair (well, middled for them is more like it, but that's a long story), and everyone around me in the audience seemed to be downright annoyed by the fact that they were the openers. Sure, they're not the most experimental or outlandish band, and their music can occasionally border on "cute," but they're incredibly talented and honest, and with two full lengths under their belt, have yet to write a sub-par song. I can't think of many other bands that make me feel so nice when I listen to them; every song is sunshine and blankets, free of dissonance and cynicism, yet still smart, studied, and well-crafted. And however their guitarist manages to get that electric guitar tone, I want to eat it for breakfast and bathe in it at night.
Never Seen The Light Of Day
Imagine my shock when I discovered that Mando Diao released a new album in 2009 that I never once heard about until this year. Are you imagining it? Now, like, quadruple that shock, and you can guess how I felt when I discovered last week that they also released a new album in 2008 that I also heard nothing about. That's two albums they've put out--granted, in Europe only, no American release--that have gotten zero attention on any of the music sites I visit on a daily basis. Not a peep! It's sort of sad to me, because I love these guys, and despite being part of a sort of trendy early 2000s garage rock genre along with the Strokes/Hives/Libertines, I think they are a uniquely talented and worthwhile band that deserves at least a little more attention than they currently get. Which apparently is none.
I've grown to absolutely love Talk Talk's Laughing Stock. And absolutely like the rest of their catalogue. If Laughing Stock was Mark Hollis' way of stripping down Talk Talk's music to its most pure and primal pieces, then this, his solo album, is his way of stripping down Laughing Stock to its barest. I can't say any of the songs are particularly memorable, or that there's anything too musically or technically impressive happening, but it is a thing of beauty to hear an artist expressing exactly what it is they mean to express. It's deep, in a very real way, and you can tell this is exactly the music this guy wanted to make.
The Mars Volta
The Mars Volta
The Mars Volta are a fancy, wiggly rubber lure, and I am but a mere sunfish, enjoying a swim and looking for something to eat. Preferably something wiggly. And they get me every damn time. I always seem to forget that their previous album was borderline unlistenable, as was the one before that and the one before that. And yet I purchase every one of them, hoping that this time--this time--they'll hit the jackpot and produce the all-time classic that I've been waiting for them to produce for the last six years. This new one is a little closer; at least it has songs on it. But even though they've gotten rid of a lot of the "masturbatory" incoherence (by the way, that phrase as it applies to the Mars Volta is worthy of an entire essay someday), but in my mind it is the combination of this masturbatory incoherence and revelatory hooks and rhythms that made those--sigh---two songs on their first album so perfect. I probably need to stop kidding myself. They're just not going to get there. But mark my word, about 16 months from now, when they release their next album, with its fantastic artwork and press release hype, the Mars Volta will be pulling a bloody hook out of my lip and frying me up with some cracker crumbs and butter. And tartar sauce.
The Mars Volta
The Mars Volta
Frances the Mute
I can't get over how great the Mars Volta potentially is. I had a couple Frances the Mute tracks pop up on shuffle today, and my god when they were firing on all cylinders they were devastating. Just raw talent, pure energy, great melodies and everything you could ever ask for. But no band has ever been more in need of some record company suit to step in and say "Hey, maybe you guys oughtta cut 7 minutes out of that last one. Maybe add a chorus. You know, something for the kids." If they just could've followed the money and shot for the top 40, they might've been some of the greatest sellouts ever.
I'm listening to Remission right now, which I don't do often because Libby is allergic to music that totally rocks. The last two Mastodon albums have both been so good (particularly the last one) that I sometimes forget how ass-kicking and unique their first one is. They've gotten a lot more "musical" and "traditional" on the last two--in a good way, mind you--but Remission is something I can only describe in language that should only be used by guys with Slayer tattoos. Like, say, "brutal," "sick," "devastating," and, I don't know, "ferocious." With help from the thesaurus, I could also describe it as "lupine," "sanguinary," and yes, even "truculent." Hell, the first track is called "Crusher Destroyer" for cripes sake! How much more truculent can you get?
Crack The Skye
Now here's an album that is not only a heavily conceptual thinkpiece and a stylistic left turn for the band, but also a successful one. You can tell I'm serious because of all the italics. Are you taking notes, Decemberists? I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone unfamiliar with Mastodon to make this their starting point with the band, as it lacks a certain Je Nous Se Qua (translation: that thing that makes you want to tip over a police car and sacrifice a goat... but my French might be a little rusty). The whole thing has more in common with the Mars Volta than it does with early Mastodon, but unlike the Mars Volta, you actually want to go back and listen again once it gets to the end.
Crack The Skye
Not sure how it happened, but my opinion about Crack The Skye has somehow shifted from "Sort of a bummer," to "Sort of kicks ass."
Parallax Error Beheads You
You probably already heard this from E! News Daily, but the new Max Tundra album came out today. I'm excited. Max Tundra is this British dude who makes electronic pop music that openly laughs in the face of other electronic pop music. He is stupidly talented on both the "electronic" and "pop" halves of the genre, and basically makes a mockery of every other artist who has every tried to combine a melody and a cut-up beat. That said, I think this new album is really good, but becomes complete overkill at some points; it's like listening to The Jackson 5 on your walkman in the middle of a rave while chewing on sugar cubes... and then getting punched in the face.
Parallax Error Beheads You
I've listened to this Max Tundra album about 4 times in the last 24 hours. It's total insanity, but I can't stop. Not that it's totally mindblowingly amazing or anything... I just feel that my life is a little bit better when I am listening to it.
Totally astonishing 20 minutes of metal. And I don't throw "astonishing" around loosely. Listen to this in a pitch black room with some excessively loud headphones and your ass will be tonished. Apparently this EP, and its follow up full length Catch Thirty Three (equally hypnotic and bludgeoning, but not quite as astonishing) has recently given birth to an entirely new genre of metal, called "djent." But I can assure you no "djent" band can possibly pull off what Meshuggah pulled on on this thing. At some point it isn't even metal anymore; it's created from a similar palette with a similar tenor, but its ultimate effect is that of mind bending instead of head banging. Whatever it is, no one will ever do it better.
The Black Album
Wherever I May Roam came up on my iPod's shuffle function today. It really reminded me how unjustly the Black Album is criticized by people nowadays. So your Coors-drinking, high-school-dropout second cousin likes it--so what! Have you really listened to it lately? It's crisp, pristine, and HUGE. But if it isn't suddenly 1994 again, I would guess that answer to that question would be no.
And Justice For All
The criticism of Metallica's 1988 ...And Justice For All album is the awful, awful recording quality. Specifically, its noticeable lack of bass. Cliff Burton had recently died, and whether it was out of spite, remorse, or whatever, they just pushed the new guy's bass back practically to zero in the mix. Basically, it sounds like it was recorded with cardboard microphones. In the last week or two, I've been snooping around the net a little bit to find if anyone has ever actually gone through and re-recorded the bass parts over the existing record (like a guy did a few years back to a White Stripes album), just to hear what it might sound like. And wouldn't you know it, thanks to the ease of digital audio nowadays, there's a lot of it out there. Some guy actually posted a bunch of recordings on YouTube with "enhanced original bass" on them. The bass is actually way too loud in the mix, but it's incredibly interesting to hear the parts that are supposed to be on the real record. Then tonight I downloaded the entire album that some guy "remastered" himself; basically he beefed up the sound, added some reverb and a little bass (but didn't re-record anything or use any master tracks). While that was fairly interesting to hear, it really makes me hope that some day the band decides to take the master tapes of the album and do a legitimate remastering job on it. But really, as long as the album has "One" and "Dyers Eve" on it, the other seven songs could be kazoo solos recorded with a Fischer Price cassette tape recorder and it would still be better than just about every metal album recorded before of since.
And Justice For All
Whether you want to picture Metallica's career as a pyramid, a parabola, or a preternaturally precarious precipice, it's hard not admit that the graph's paramount peak (pinnacle?) is precisely positioned (okay, I'm done now) at the 4:33 mark of ...And Justice For All's fourth track--that part in "One" where the drums start going "duddleuh-duddleuh-duh, duddleuh-duddleuh-duh." The whole song is a thing of perfection, but when that breakdown starts and you know all hell is about to break loose, it just doesn't get much better than that. And there isn't another 3 minutes in the Metallica catalogue that is as tight, focused, and flawless as the last three minutes of that song. I love every beat of it. In fact "One" is buried so deep in my consciousness that when I listen to it under just about any circumstance, it takes control of my entire nervous and circulatory systems. I think it must be the same thing that makes crazy Baptists speak in tongues and Himalayan monks keep from freezing to death. And that dual-guitar solo at the end. Holy moly.
Here's some amazing food for thought: Metallica is currently at the same point in their career, time-wise, as the Rolling Stones were in 1991! 27 years as a band. I'm not a little bit blown away by the fact that, for all the shit that people give Metallica, their releases still seem vital, and are judged on an even playing field with their 80's releases, even if that means they get panned. People still expect something out of them. In 1991, the Rolling Stones were practically a nostalgia act.
An uninteresting sequence of events* led me to sit and listen to "The Unforgiven II" this evening, for the fist time in a long time. A very long time (for as much as I love and defend Load, even I have to admit that ReLoad is total B-squad material.) My first impression: Not bad! It still holds up as being a very nice little song, some good vocal lines, good guitar parts, and it ties in to the original "Unforgiven" without coming off as tacky or disrespectful. All in all a great effort. My second impression: Oh my god is that Autotune??? Seriously, on a handful of the harmony parts, and maybe one or two pieces of the lead vocal, I heard the distinct remnants of Autotuning; vocals that are just a bit too smooth and perfectly-pitched to actually be James Hetfield singing live. I mean, this album came out in 1997, so it's borderline. I know Cher's "Believe" was the first mega hit to openly use it, but that was 98. A quick check says Autotune was originally released in 97, so it's possible. It's just crazy to think about, since back then we never would've noticed it; it simply wasn't something people did. Now, where most (probably every) Top 40 pop hits are swimming in Autotune, it's far easier to distinguish real and fake. And when I listened to the Metallica track, I swear it was Autotune. Very weird. Makes me want to go back to other songs from back then and see if it's hiding anywhere else.
* (I was skipping through my iTunes randomly, and landed on "The Unforgiven III" from Death Magnetic. I had completely forgotten they tried to stretch this thing into a trilogy. Part III, however, is clearly the black sheep of the group. It's a different key, different tempo, shares none of the lyrical or melodic themes as the first two. It just seems like they named a random song "The Unforgiven III." There's a cello/guitar part at the end that comes from the original, which is nice, but that's all it has going for it.)
Far be it from me to start getting my music recommendations from NPR, but here we are. This guy is a British singer songwriter who is compared to both Van Morrison and Bill Withers, and goddamit they're right! It sounds like a slightly rougher Bill Withers singing over backing tracks from Astral Weeks and it's great. Just great. The music and production here is almost too throwback-y, almost to a fualt; not a single hint of modernity to be found. But when this dude starts singing over it, and his melodies just burn perfectly, you just can't deny it. Apparently he's getting pretty big in England, so I'm sure we'll be hearing plenty from him in the future. I think he can top this record, for sure, but if he doesn't I'm certainly happy to have this one.
The Courage Of Others
Hmm. I've been waiting for this album for a long time. It's probably the one record I've been anticipating most over the last year or two. So, as usually happens in these situations, color me disappointed. It starts off really nicely, with a great mellow tune called "Acts Of Man." But it never really builds up any steam. They've been touting it as a folk-inspired album, reaching back to old British Fairport Convention type stuff. But in reality it isn't too different (in tone, instrumentation) as Van Occupanther (an all time favorite of mine). The only problem is that for all its aesthetic similarities, the melodic creativity and basic energy just isn't there. But I'm sure I'll come back and listen to it a few more times this week, for sure. It might just be a slow-burner of an album. (I've even been giving Beach House its fair shake. The verdict: still boring..)
Live in Minneapolis, 5-25-10
I'm going to be totally honest: I only went to this show to see them play "Roscoe." Don't get me wrong; I love Midlake, I think they're a fantastic band, and I certainly like more of their songs than just "Roscoe." But the fact is that I'm 28 years old, I haven't been to a show in a year and a half (Hum in Chicago on New Years 2009), and frankly I just don't have the patience for these things anymore. But Midlake is one of those bands that I always felt would be a must see act. Plus, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy was opening for them. Plus, I knew I could by Van Occupanther on vinyl at their merch table, since I've been looking for it for ages at records stores from here to Seattle to Brooklyn. So I went. And they were good--truly a throwback to a time when dudes with guitars actually paid attention to craft and detail. Seven dudes (and six beards) on stage, completely focused, every chord and note played solely for the benefit of the composition. A drummer and bassist truly acting as a rhythm section. It was a refreshing sight. And then they played "Roscoe." And then I left.
This Miguel record has been the hot item of the week in the music blog world, at least until Kendrick Lamar's new album came out (which I won't be buying, 9.5 on Pitchfork or not!). And I can see why; there are some cool production choices on this thing, which is perfect for making 30 second samples on iTunes sound enticing, but then you listen to the entirety of it, and the songs go nowhere and Miguel himself has a decent enough but kinda dull voice (and nowhere near the character of a Frank Ocean or a Cody Chesnutt [foreshadowing next week!]), it's a recipe for pure boredom. I haven't even gotten through the second half yet, and I don't think I will.
Kind of Blue
Kind of Blue is the Tiger Woods of jazz records.
Porgy & Bess
This is good. They ought to make it into a musical or something.
Mind Science Of The Mind
Mind Science Of The Mind
Mind Science Of The Mind
The year is 1997. Or maybe 1996. I don't quite remember. The place is the Down In The Valley in Golden Valley. Or maybe Crystal. I don't quite remember. But there, in the "Used cutouts" bin, sits a record by a band called Mind Science Of The Mind. A young man by the name of Steve Marth, having never heard of Nathan Larson, having no interest in Shudder To Think, and considering The Cardigans nothing more than than that annoying group who plays that stupid "Lovefool" song, picks up this record, and is thoroughly intrigued. The music is like nothing else; heavy, sure, but equally soulful and jazzy and dissonant. Well, it's about 10-11 years later now, and not only is "Lovefool" one of my all-time favorite songs, but this Mind Science Of The Mind album still kills me, every time I listen to it. Knowing now what I didn't know then, that it was just a vanity side project between Nathan Larson from Shudder To Think (who, 10 years later, I still don't really care about) and Mary Timony from Helium (ditto), I never would've hoped for a follow-up. But it's probably better that they never did one, because as far as I'm concerned, it's a practically perfect album. Nathan Larson went on to marry the chick from the Cardigans, release a surprisingly respectable R&B/soul album, and Mary Timony probably kept playing a violin or something. I'm sure neither of them care one bit about their 1996 collaboration anymore. But right now in 2009, I'm probably the only person in America who is listening to Mind Science Of The Mind, and I'm still enjoying the hell out of it.
The Moore Brothers
The Moore Brothers
I can't believe I almost missed this; The Moore Brothers put a new album out today! And one of the songs features Joanna Newsom on harp! And suddenly I have no more reason to drive a car into the Mississippi (other than the fact that I don't have a car, and that driving a car into a river is a terrible, terrible idea). The Moore Brothers are a fantastic folk duo, who you can't help but compare to Simon and Garfunkel, but in the most positive way possible. Their music, while beautifully composed and performed, could probably be considered "humble," or worse yet, "meek," meaning they'll never break through to the "big time," unless some seismic shift occurs in how the music press (and blog-o-something) reacts to new music in the near future. Of course, the little I've read about this album today all frames it as "Hey, it's a band that toured with Joanna Newsom, and she plays on their record she has a funny voice isn't she great!" That's all well and good, I guess, but for now, consider The Moore Brothers our little secret.
The Morning Benders
The Morning Benders
All I keep reading about this damn Morning Benders album is how it was produced by a guy from Grizzly Bear, and how it's amazing and sounds like Grizzly Bear and everyone loves it and everyone loves Grizzly Bear. I don't want to take the time to elaborate my thoughts on Grizzly Bear, but the fact is that this album succeeds despite the Grizzly Bear production, not because of it. The songs are good, the performances are good, but it is insanely and unnecessarily over-produced, and would be a much, much better piece of work if it had more character of its own. Layers everywhere, reverb, tinkling pianos, doubled guitars, stuff, stuff, more stuff. At some point all this crap, when it hasn't been carefully and purposefully arranged (thank you very much, Sufjan), just gets in the way of the songs. And reverebed vocals--stop it! Just stop it! My Morning Jacket gets to do that shit. Maybe Andrew Bird and Neko Case. But as soon as Band Of Horses yawned their way into the picture, someone should've drawn a line. Anyway. Like I said, despite all my negativity, this is still an enjoyable listen. Better than Veckatamist at least.
While it's otherwise disposable, a mere shadow of the former greatness of The Microphones, this album can genuinely freak you out if listened to under the right circumstances. Like being alone in a dark house after reading pages and pages of stories about mysterious disappearances, unexplainable lights, and human combustion.
Clear Moon is Phil Elverum's best album since The Glow, Pt. 2 back in 2001. It's beautiful front to back. Similar-ish to Wind's Poem, but almost a complete inverse of that record, and totally upends Sigur Ros' new one in the category of "lush atmospheric mood records released by pantheon bands who peaked a decade ago." So, it's great. But what really knocks me out about it is the downright handsome packaging. Stately. Sublime. There's nothing too shocking or novel about it, it's just perfect. Lavendar tinted foil stamp of "CLEAR MOON" over a hazy, hazy picture of the moon over a mountain, in a font that's been out of style for the last 30 years, but it totally works. Skinny little lyric book with more mountain photography and no-nonsense typesetting. Clear vinyl record. Black watercolor illustration on the label. The whole production, just like the record itself, is pure class and no bullshit.
As I'm becoming a bit of a Mount Eerie completist, plus the fact that he's on a bit of a hot streak and I wasn't about to miss this one, I picked up Ocean Roar, the third in a bit of a trilogy of ruminations on the natural world (imagine that!). And I kinda don't like it as much as Wind's Poem and Clear Moon. There are a couple cool high points, but a lot of it is turning into a formless, droning, damn-near-black-metal wall of sound. But whatever.
Despite the album cover leading your assumptions directly into post rock, stoner metal, or the artier end of Interpol-y post punk, Mount Moriah lands squarely on the line between alt-country and straight-up indie rock. With the lead female vocals aping (honoring?) some combination of Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, and the band existing comfortably and capably on the R.E.M. / Decemberists continuum. Earnest. Totally earnest. It's the kind of album where I can't point out any particular song or melody that I love, but I want to keep on listening to it. All the time. It will continue vaguely impressing me, month after month, until sometime around 2016 when I'll wake up and realize, holy cow, how did Mount Moriah become my favorite band?
The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats
The Life Of The World To Come
Despite the running joke of my supposedly unabashed love for The Mountain Goats, I had never actually owned any of their (his) albums until this one. At first I enjoyed it, but didn't think much of it. But after a week or two, I found myself constantly revisiting it, finding something there that kept me hooked. Now after a month or two, I can honestly say it's one of my favorite albums of this year, some songs being the most heartbreaking I've ever heard, and others being so stupidly catchy that they leave me with no choice but to enjoy them. It's all in the lyrics, as this guy is clearly a writer first and a musician second. But there are some gorgeous, stand-out lines in some of these songs. "Drive til the rain stops / keep driving." "People screaming when the engines quit / I hope we're all in crash position when we hit." "I remember seeing you / my tongue struck dumb / When you first came here from wherever it is you came from." But I'll stop that now, lest I become the kind of idiot who quotes song lyrics on the internet.
The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats
All Eternals Deck
Hmm. Not feeling it yet. I'll let you know.
The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats
Continuing right along with their last album (only about a year ago), I can't really point at a single thing wrong with this new Mountain Goats record, but it doesn't excite me at all. I totally respect what they do, and still absolutely love The Life of the World To Come, but it seems now about 15 years into their (his?) career, they're starting to tread a little water.
Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band
Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band
Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band
Since I was in Seattle last week, I decided what better memorabilia to buy than the debut album of Seattle's hottest new band! And not unlike one of those "all I got was this lousy T-shirt" T-shirts, I'll probably never take this out to listen to ever again. They seem to be trying really hard (too hard?), but it just doesn't work. I heard a great quote from Jon Brion recently, in reference to Of Montreal. To paraphrase, he said, "I like Of Montreal because they actually sound like they're making music, not just doing their impression of what they think music should sound like." Yes, yes yes. This perfectly sums it up for me. That is really the major line between the handful of great bands and the endless swarms of mediocre bands out there nowadays. And unfortunately Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band is just another part of the swarm.
I bought this National album today. It feels like everyone loves this band, and I feel like a total outsider. They seem like a perfectly respectable if forgettable rock group, sort of like The Doves, or Elbow. But the amount of praise they get from every corner of the music world is pretty astonishing. So seeing this new one for 7.99 at Best Buy, I figured I may as well just dive right in. Wish me luck.
I don't have a single complaint about this album, yet I don't like it nearly as much as Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. Maybe it will grow on me. I don't know. Really, all I need from Neko Case is one CD with 17 tracks on it, all of which are "Hold On, Hold On".
Times of Grace
MY VOLUME KNOB WILL NOT GO ANY FURTHER TO THE RIGHT! LOUDER! LOUDER! AAAAAAHHHHHHH!
Neutral Milk Hotel
Neutral Milk Hotel
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Somehow it keeps getting better and better. At this point I'm convinced that 40 years from now we'll talk about Aeroplane in the same way we talk about The Rite Of Spring or Kind of Blue or "Guernica" or Ulysses.*
* To 68-year-old Steve, if you can still read this: Hopefully you were right. If you weren't, 28-year-old Steve apologizes for being such a windbag. Also, I hope you've read Ulysses by now, because someone is bound to have brought it up in conversation, and I'd hate for you/me to seem like you don't know what you're talking about.
Not as actively upsetting as Challengers, but still not up to the quality of their first 3 albums. I'd categorize this as SBTTMEE (Still Better Than Most Everything Else). The extra T is for 'Typo.'
Aerial Pandemonium Ballet
So first of all it turns out that there's a record store on Nicollet and 30-somethingth called Yeti Records. Who knew? I was on a bus the other day and saw it out the window as we drove by, and was shocked enough that I yanked on the cable and got off at the next stop. It turns out to not be the best place ever, comparable to Shuga Records up in Northeast. But they did have Nilsson's Aerial Pandemonium Ballet, which isn't rare or anything, but I don't see it all that often, so I picked it up. It's an odd record; a combination of his first two releases put together onto two sides of a single record. I never really wanted it before, but recently found it that the tracks are actually re-recordings, alternate takes and remixes of the original. And that's fun. That is all.
Pandemonium Shadow Show
Is it official? Can I be a Nilsson fan now? I finally own (sort of) a copy of Pandemonium Shadow Show (sort of). Sort of. I know I could've downloaded it on iTunes or anywhere else a two years ago, and I could've ordered the record off Ebay a dozen times by now. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. It's just no fun! Where's the thrill of the search? Well the search ended this evening (sort of), when I found a German import of a CD containing Pandemonium, Aerial Ballet, and that dual record Aerial Pandemonium Ballet. It's the fist time I've found any version of it, so I had to snatch it up. So sue me. Anyway, I just gave it a passive listen, and it's as great as could be expected. Although at at the moment I'd claim that Aerial is a better record, there are plenty of amazing things happening here. Not the least of which is his take on the Beatles' "You Can't Do That," which is sort of an achievement all its own. His use of other Beatles melodies inside of the main song's arrangement makes Jon Brion's use of Nilsson songs in his version of "One" that much more perfect. I couldn't be happier. Except, you know, if it was the actual record and not a bargain basement German kompelateon.
Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails
Awesome awesome awesome awesome. I think I have a very similar post on my Myspace 'blog' section about this album, but I just have the same reaction every time I decide to dust it off and give it a spin. It just sounds so 'current,' even now. And for all the talk (and criticism) Trent Reznor gets for his music's "aggression," and "darkness," and "et cetera," what makes this album (both discs of it mind you, no small task) so perfect is its subtlety, grace, and flow. Yes, he can come off as Angry Dude, but it's clear when you listen to The Fragile, that this is a man while complete control of his art. Like hearing Otis Redding sing a soul song, or watching Joe Mauer swing a bat. Most of his work in the last couple years has been solid (and how bizarre is it that he's become this hugely respected independent music figurehead?) but I don't think it will ever get any better than this.
Black Birds Echo
This is a beautiful, sublime, life-affirming album. That is, as long as you're listening to it with headphones. At night. With the temperature between 29 and 49 degrees. And you're walking. And not concentrating on anything else. Otherwise, it's a little dull and occasionally embarrassing. But if you're listening to it with headphones at night while it's 29-49 degrees and you're walking and not concentrating on anything else, it's beautiful, sublime, and life-affirming. Trust me.
Olivia Tremor Control
Olivia Tremor Control
Play this album very loud and sit very close to the speakers and turn off the lights and maybe in your car and think about how some 20-something kid actually created it with some four-tracks and cassette tapes and effort and turn it up a little more and you're a failure.
Hey you: go grab your copy of Ghost Reveries (I can wait), go to the last 1:40 of "Reverie/Harlequin Forest," and sit back and listen to it. Then maybe go back and listen to it again. And again. Is there any other metal band that has the guts and the patience to pull that off? No, there's not. As an aside, I almost felt like writing an entire rant about how this album is Opeth's soul album (Mikael Åkerfeldt could be on Scandinavian Idol, I swear), but I'll save that for later.
I totally underrated Ghost Reveries when it came out. I think it's become possibly my favorite Opeth album, other than Still Life, Blackwater Park, Deliverance, and My Arms Your Hearse, of course. Sorry, Watershed.
Sounds like: A very angry Danny Elfman remixing a box of long lost Christopher Cross demo tapes. I think I like it?
Sorrow and Extinction
Pallbearer isn't nearly as good as all of the Metal Album of the Year accolades they've been receiving (there's plenty of promise here, conceptually, but the performances are just not up to snuff), but I'll give them this: Kickass Band Name of the Year. For sure.
I've always heard rumors that a lot of McCartney's solo work is sub-par, but yikes! This is a mess! I can't even imagine what Back To The Egg must sound like.
"The Fixer" sounds exactly like some other song I've heard before. And I have no idea what that other song is. It might take me a full week of listening to every album I own, but I will find the doppelganger. You bet giant Cat In The Hat hat I will.
1996. The year of the criminally underrated music release. Pearl Jam's No Code. Soundgarden's Down On The Upside. Alice In Chains' self titled. Stone Temple Pilots' Tiny Music. And Load. I could write an entire essay about the mistreatment of Load. Tragic. Anyway, in all these cases, these were bands that were already supposed to be past their prime, old fogey farts were part of a trend a few years earlier, and were now either just selling out or not being "true" to "themselves" because maybe they didn't "rock" as much as they "used to". Call me crazy, but with the exception of Metallica, all of those albums are the best thing those bands ever released. It was a perfect point on the venn diagram where they were still young enough to give a shit, but bored enough to experiment. They were rich enough to afford a ton of studio time, but not so rich that they blew it all on drugs (except Weiland, of course. And Staley). But beyond all that, in each case, their songcraft was at its peak. And also in each case, the end followed quickly. Pearl Jam has been treading water for 14 years. Alice In Chains got killed by Layne Staley. Soundgarden dissolved and Stone Temple Pilots tiptoed around Weiland until they gave up, and Metallica made the mistake of giving in to the critics and became a cartoon. But for one year in 1996, everyone brought their goddamn A-game. And I feel like I'm the only one that noticed.
We Are The Only Friends That We Have
I mentioned earlier, regarding the Webb Brothers, that their Maroon album would be on my imaginary list of Favorite Albums That I Would Never Consider My Favorite Albums. Well throw this one right behind it. Piebald's previous album was okay at best (save for one unbelievably amazingly astounding song, "Grace Kelly With Wings"), and after this one their lead singer got some crazy major throat surgery, and completely changed how he sings, so their later stuff isn't quite up to par. But this album is so much fun, and so smart and well-constructed that I'd hate to meet the person that doesn't like it. And while Piebald isn't anything close to being "forward thinking" or "experimental," I have no idea how one would even classify them. Pop punk? Power pop? (Sigh...) Emo? Whatever. They wrote a love song about their tour van that takes place 10 years in the future, so they're better than I'll ever be.
Anyone who says Pink Floyd was better with Syd Barrett is an idiot.
FOR SALE: One flawless CD copy of New Zealand indie rock sensations Popstrangers' new album Antipodes. Scored a *9/10* on popmatters.com, playing SXSW this Spring! Features the hit single "Heaven" (Pitchfork.com Featured Track, Oct. 11 2012). RIYL Husker Du, My Bloody Valentine, Cloud Nothings. 2013. Digipack. Out of shrink-wrap, but near-mint. Only played once.
The Postal Service
The Postal Service
The thing about this Postal Service album is, for all its surprise popularity over the last ten years, all the ubiquity of the songs in car commercials and reality shows and rom coms, and for all the hubbub surrounding the ten year anniversary–it's still really, really good! Really mind-blowing how this thing has held up. It launched a thousand laptop-pop bands into mediocrity (Metric, mostly), and for a while became a de-facto favorite of people who like to look like they're paying attention–along with the Shins–all the while remaining comfortably in the high esteem of otherwise jaded music lovers. All of this for a one-off side project! Pretty incredible to think about. And Incredible that they never bothered going back to record a follow up, no matter how much cash they could've made from it. But I'm still not sure what Ben Gibbard is singing about when he says he's like a "goalie tending the net in the third quarter of a time game rivalry." Soccer has halves. Hockey has periods. Basketball doesn't have goalies. What the heck, Gibbard?
Automatic For The People
After years (decades?) of hearing "Everybody Hurts" coming out of tape players, MTV, FM radio, dramatic TV shows, gum commercials, grocery store speakers, Chris Farley movies, Applebees restaurants, and my own subconscious, I am just now sitting and listening to it, patiently and consciously, in a good pair of headphones. It's fun to do that sometimes, you know. Actually pay attention to music. And it makes an incredible difference. What I felt for years was an overblown, hyper-emotional ballad, sounds humble and quiet. The famous guitar arpeggios is nearly equaled in the left channel by an organ, which you can barely hear in any radio mix. It's really a pleasant little song. Plus, and this really gets me... this is practically an Otis Redding song! Listen to it. Imagine Otis moaning "When day is long..." Perfect, right? It could stand up right next to "These Arms Of Mine" and "Pain In My Heart." And when they hit that F# and the drums come in on the bridge? Awesome.
Imagine, if you will, two lines, black on a white field, one angled at 60 degrees, the other at -60, sitting apart from each other but leaning in and meeting at a point. At this point is a dot, clearly marking the vertice where the upward and downward slopes meet at the peak. Above this dot, set handsomely in 12pt. Helvetica Bold, are the words "Paranoid Android."
After voting on Tuesday, Libby and I poked into Treehouse Records really quick, and I picked up a used copy of Randy Newman's Sail Away. I had never heard the title track before, but when I cued it up to play when I got home, it ended up being pretty much the perfect post-election song to listen to. In America you'll get food to eat / Won't have to run through the jungle / And scuff up your feet / You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day / It's great to be an American. How very true.
I know I posted about Sail Away already, but I hadn't gotten all the way through it until this morning. And let me tell you, the final cut on the album, "God's Song," is unbelievable. If you ever wanted proof that Randy Newman is more than just hokey Disney soundtracks, listen to it. The piano work--despite being a basic 12-bar blues pattern--is beautiful, and the lyrics are equal parts cynical, scathing, and funny. (The Youtube version linked to here is okay, but the album recording has a much better pace).
In August I bought Libby a record player for her birthday. It's a new Sony turntable that has a USB port to connect to a computer, so you can import your records onto your iPod or whatever. So today I finally experimented with it using a copy of Randy Newman's Little Criminals that I bought last night. I'm having annoying problems with it so far; after about a minute of recording, it turns into a mess of distortion and doubled audio. I haven't figured out why that's happening yet. But, the little bit that it did record is surprisingly high quality... the hisses and pops are minimal, and the sound is full and beefy. There's also something a lot more personal and engaging about the process of importing from a record that you don't get when just ripping a CD into iTunes. Despite the time and effort it takes, your copy of the music will sound entirely different than anyone else's. Plus, while you're importing it, you have almost no choice to to sit and actually listen patiently to the music while it's being recorded. Imagine that.
Good Old Boys
I know this is Randy Newman's record about the south, so this is a cheesy thing to say, but: Oh my god! This album is perfect to listen to when you're driving around Mississippi and Alabama. Just perfect.
Hype won out, and I picked up this Real Estate album that everyone is talking about (or: was talking about three months ago, until they moved on to Cloud Nothings). I shouldn't even write about it, because I haven't been able to get past track 5 without getting bored and turning something else on. There are hints of good tunes every now and then, and the first two tracks actually got me excited! But then it's just more jangly guitars, more uninspired vocals hidden in pointless reverb, more dull basslines and mediocre drumming. Chalk it up to another case of music blogs not actually, you know, really listening to the music they champion. These guys aren't ready to be whatever Urban Outfitters is trying to make them. But you know who is? The Crystal Skulls. Five years ago. Seriously, go listen to Outgoing Behavior and tell me it's not doing everything Real Estate is trying to do here, but with a level of skill and craftsmanship (and fun!) that is completely lacking from this thing. And way less reverb.
Retribution Gospel Choir
Retribution Gospel Choir
I love this. When every eye-rollingly trendy band is releasing music that the Pitchforks and the Stereogums describe as either "drone-pop," "haze pop," "shit gaze," or any other asinine combination thereof, the guy partially responsible for all of it (thanks, Low) decides to take out his guitar, turn his amp up to 12, and blow every other bullshit "glo fi" band out of their beards. Shit. Maybe I'm just getting old, but in a world where every half assed band with a bad microphone and a reverb filter (and a good back story) gets to spend a month as the "next big thing," I'm glad that bands like this are out there doing it right.
Retribution Gospel Choir
Retribution Gospel Choir
I'm almost mad at how disappointing this is. It should've been amazing. Two 20 minute tracks of epic guitar rock from a band more than capable of bringing the house down. Plus a guest appearance from Nels Cline. This should be a goddamn colossus. But it's just dull. Poorly recorded, hastily written. It's a mess, really. The second song is nearly saved by Nels Cline's guitar work, but there's nowhere for it to go. Oh, and the cover art stinks too.
Bedroom electro R&B from a Danish man who sounds disturbingly like Sade, without any of the nonsense that makes Sade occasionally awful. But also without any of the stuff that makes Sade, more often than not, incredible. So, like, take all of Sade's decent mid-album filler material, and have the xx remix it, and give it a cool mysterious black and white album cover. You'll be shocked at how much you like what you get.
Even though I've always liked them from afar, respecting what they do and appreciating the fact that they exist, I've never actually owned a Roots album. So after listening to a fantastic podcast interview with Questlove (on Moshe Kasher's podcast "The Champs"), and being blown away by Quest's work on D'Angelo's Voodoo album, I decided to pick up Undun out of sheer obligation. Just to say 'Hey, I like what you do, you deserve my money.' So I did. And I respect what it is, and I appreciate that it exists, but I will continue to like them from afar.
"April Fools" is an awesome, awesome song. Just everything you could ask for in a pop song, really, and amazing that it was created in 1998. I remember hearing it a lot since 2000 or so, and liking it enough, but not giving it (or Rufus) much thought or energy. But after picking up his first album at a thrift store the other day, the song came on and I was just blown away. Love it, love it. And of course, as all roads lead this way it seems, Jon Brion is partially responsible. Of course.
Soldier Of Love
I really like this thing that Sade does. Call me crazy, but her (their?) music is just so smooth, so nice, so right. Everything is in its place, everything fits, nothing extraneous, nothing fake. All is sleek, efficient, and thoughtful. Granted, after the first two tracks, the album sort of dissolves into a pleasant fog, but those first two tracks are exciting and remarkable enough to make the whole package worth the price. (The first track in particular, "Moon And The Sky", has this little sped-up sample of her singing "Not gonna let you go" that pops up, out of nowhere, maybe 4 times in the entire song. They easily could've gone overkill and had it play every 4 bars or something, but it just comes in and surprises you, then disappears just when you're expecting to hear it again. Awesome.)
The Sea and Cake
The Sea and Cake
I've bought every Sea and Cake album since Oui, and none of them have been as good. This one isn't either. But there's this one song, "A Mere," which is the one thing they've done since Oui that sounds like it's up to snuff.
Subliminal Plastic Motives
Tonight I was flipping through the used new arrivals at Cheapo (often times a complete goldmine in this 'post-CD' era of ours), and noticed that clearly someone had gotten rid of practically their entire CD collection. That's pretty common, really, but in this case it was particularly funny because this person's collection may as well have been my own. It's happened before, but I for a quick second I actually do get a little scared, like, "Oh my god, I think someone sold my CDs!" But then a cooler head prevailed, and I was able to buy a copy of Self's Subliminal Plastic Motives, a huge favorite of mine from high school. I must've lost the CD a long time ago, because it never made it onto my iPod, and I didn't find it when I was doing a big CD ripping marathon thanks to my new 120gb iPod. (This post is going absolutely nowhere, sorry. Just rambling.) To close, I must say I still really like Self. It's sort of funny how they never really found a bigger audience. They were really not right for their time; too quirky (or about 2 years too late) to be big in the mainstream, and too 'commercial' to hit it big in what became the 'indie' behemoth we know today. Matt Mahaffey has done relatively well for himself since '99, I suppose, but man... they really got knocked around by the industry for an entire decade there. Hopefully they put out something new in the near future.
Breakfast With Girls
Simile time! Self songs, I've decided, are like moving a hide-a-beds into and out of a really cool third story stair access apartment. Sometimes it's just the right shape and you take the corners perfectly and you can't believe how easy it was. Sometimes it takes too long and you have to take the door off its hinges and you just feel exhausted and wonder what why you bothered. But at least it's a nice apartment.
Breakfast With Girls
It's fun to check back in with these old Self albums every few years. My feelings about them vary, from "ugh, this is so 1998" to "this guy should've been a superstar." Breakfast With Girls is happening at the moment, and my current stance is "I totally understand that too-cool music dudes didn't go for this, but damned if this guy didn't know to craft an audaciously produced power pop song."
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten
Aaahh, so this is who Zoe Deschanel is desperately trying to be!
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten
All Zoe Deschanel bashing aside, this Sharon Van Etten seems to be the real deal. Which is to say she actually makes music. She plays confidently, sings earnestly, and best of all, writes melodies that can only be called Sharon Van Etten-esque. And the more I listen to and muse about music ("of the populist ethos," to quote Moby), I feel like that's really 90% of the battle. Every melodic line moves towards a predictable end, but blows right by it and keeps going for another 4 or 8 beats and makes you realize you don't know shit. By the way: My top albums of 2010 list? Updated.
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten
I had a nice time with Tramp on my bike ride tonight. We're really getting to know each other pretty well. I'm finally getting over the fact that it sounds like The National, and it's starting to get over the fact that I will always like Epic just a little more, if only on principle. But in the long run, Sharon's going to need to find another notch or two in her vocal range if we're going to make this a long term thing.
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten
I'm going to start a new home business where people can send me their CD copies of Tramp and I'll take out my bandsaw and power sander and compass and pencil and cut off the outer inch or so in order to make sure it ends after track 7. Or if it's vinyl, I'll just paint a big thick red X over side B. She'll make way more Best of 2012 lists that way.
Shearwater's Rook is probably my favorite album that came out this year. If I was the kind of jackass who made lists of such things (which I am), it would be right up there on the top. I listened to it last night while sitting in the Target Center watching Kevin Garnett and the Celtics kick the Timberwolves' collective ass. It's the perfect soundtrack for the Kafka-esque internal struggle that is a Minnesota Timberwolves game.
The Golden Archipelago
Rook was and is a spectacular piece of work. And unfortunately for Shearwater, I think it was also the best they can do. Not only was it the best they could do, but it represented the purest epitome of their very particular sound. So they're not going to top Rook, and they're not going to go release a dance record or an electro-pop record, and we're left with a perfectly respectable Golden Archipelago, thinking, "Boy, I really want to go listen to Rook right now." Shame. (It comes with a cool book, though. Something about aborigines? I don't know.)
Makes me want to climb a mountain. Makes me want to punch a lion. Makes me want to jump through a window. Makes me want to blow up a blimp. Makes me want to throw a kick drum off a cliff. Makes me want to stand on top of a moving train. Makes me want to eat a live cobra. Makes me want to hit stuff with a pipe. Makes me want to listen to Rook, which was just a bit better.
Oh Inverted World
With enough time for hindsight and comparisons having elapsed, I'm ready to declare that Oh Inverted World is the best thing the Shins have released. And it's pretty safe to say they aren't going to top it. Also, Zach Braff.
Port of Morrow
I don't know how much I have to say about this new Shins record. Well, actually, I do know how much I have to say about it, which is: a lot. But It's all pointless rambling nonsense that has nothing to do with the record, and everything to do with everything else surrounding it, and the Shins, and the career arc of the Shins, and Zac Braff and domestic abuse and taco trucks and Dangermouse and who knows what else. I mean, just go back in time to when Oh Inverted World came out and nobody really gave a shit, short of an 8.0 Pitchfork review, which is very much worth going back to read in these tumultuous times of latter-day Shins. Back then they were just a poppy, sort of low-fi indie band, with a singer compared to Jeremy Enigk and a unique sense of melody and lots of tremolo. There were half-assed comparisons to The Kinks and The Beach Boys that proved as off-base as the Neutral Milk Hotel references that followed The Decemberists in their early days, but ultimately it sounded like, and only like, The Shins. It was humble, but it was honest and sort of perfect, really. But now, instead of sounding like and only like The Shins, or even the Kinks or the Beach Boys, they sound like Nothing. Or even worse, Everything. It's all bombast and ephemera, and not a single song that is essential to the Shins canon. Even Wincing The Night Away had one or two. Here, we get "For A Fool," which gets close I guess? And the last song is pretty nice. But you could pull this whole album out of their discography, and I wouldn't miss it. Same goes for Wincing. The confusing part is that it's not bad! Really. Nothing here is poor in any sense. None of it is embarrassing, or totally off mark, or even skippable. And it has the bonus qualification of being back-loaded, the back half being quite a bit superior to the front half, which is pretty rare. It's a nice album, and I have no use for it. But really, go get out your copy of Oh Inverted World and give it a whirl. Don't they sound like the kind of band that disappears after one release and gets everyone wishing, years later, that they hadn't?
Shudder to Think
Shudder to Think
I picked this up a while ago, since Cheapo was practically giving away used copies of it (because, really, who's going around looking for used Shudder to Think CD's these days, much less entirely-forgotten late-era Shudder to Think CD's with water damage and cracked jewel cases?). My relationship with Shudder to Think (heretofore referred to as S2T) rests solely on these facts. One: Nathan Larson, their guitar player, is the man responsible for one of my all time favorite random music discoveries, the insanely underrated/overlooked side-project Mind Science of the Mind. Two: S2T's "classic" album Pony Express Record is a mixed bag, but contains the incredible song "X-French Tee Shirt," which you need to hear. Three: I absolutely respect what this band does, even if I don't care for a lot of their music. So the point is, late this summer I picked up 50,000 BC, their final album as a band, which was released around 97 or 98 to universal apathy and critical shrugs. I listened to the first three songs, and was sorely disappointed. It sounded like radio-ready alt-rock schlock. Not at all the aggressively unique post-punk-prog of Pony Express Record. I listened no further. Months later, I came back to it at random, skipping those first three tracks and starting on the middle third. And I was blown away! Awesome, awesome stuff! Some of their best material is stuffed into the middle of this record, and I nearly missed it forever, just because I gave up so quickly the first time around. And then the last few songs don't do much either. But still. Much like The Walkmen, I'm going to file Shudder to Think under BTCHAATCABCTBSOTDBOAAMB: Bands That Could Have An All Time Classic Album By Combining The Best Songs Of Their Discographies, But Otherwise Are A Frustratingly Mixed Bag.
And finally, my six year quest to purchase a Shugo Tokumaru album is complete. Ever since Night Piece garnered a bunch of highly respectable reviews back in 2005, each successive Tokumaru album has hit me with equal amounts of intrigue and frustration; each one is more critically praised than the last, and yet not a single record store seems to carry the damn things. So now that Port Entropy finally got its US release, I've been going from store to store trying to find it (God forbid I order it online, right?), and finally scored a lone copy at the Uptown Cheapo, of all places. And only one listen in, I already wish I hadn't missed these last five years of Shugomania. In short: Damn this guy's good! "Sufjan Stevens meets Cornelius," yes, yes. That is obvious. But the first three songs on here made me want to weep with joy.
This guy is awesome in theory, but at some point you hear enough 5/4 jaunty bouncy xylophone pop and you've just about had enough. There's a constant stream of impressive banjo licks and chord progressions and flutes, but for what? Shugo has hit this point, many albums into his career, that he has become almost too good at this thing that he does. Nobody else could do it, that's for sure, but he's able to put together these little mini LSD symphonies with such ease that each one feels more inconsequential than the last. I'd direct him towards Sufjan (the only real reference point to the music this guy makes) as an example of how you can throw in every last handclap and whistle and prime-number time signature until the cows come home, as long as you balance it out with a some legitimate melancholy. (Or even some contrived melancholy. Whatever it takes.)
There should be a rule where at least once a year everyone should have to take out their copy of Agaetis Byrjun and remember how fyrking amazing it is and how much better it is than anything else ever. And also, once someone invents a time machine, we all need to go back to 2002 and string together a mousetrap-esque series of calamities which force Sigur Ros to disappear, Jeff Mangum style, into relative obscurity while the mystique of Agaetis slowly grows over time to become legendary, instead of simply classic.
Did you know Sigur Ros just put out a new album? Really. It was news to me, too. And it makes Takk sound like goddamn Megadeth. Take Agaetis Byjrun, cut out all the parts where something happens, and mix it with Takk and () playing quietly in the background, and you've got Valtari. Huge bummer.
I guess this is one of those Smile records, an urban legend of an album that was recorded in the early nineties, shelved by the record company, and slowly created its own genre over the next decades as bootlegs and demos were circulated. The fact that it was shelved by the record company is no surprise considering it's one single hour long track of droning stoner sludge metal with no starts, stops, breaks, or, uh, melody. And it's mostly all one chord. E flat, I think. It's hypnotizing, that's for sure. And actually listenable, if you're willing to be hypnotized for an hour by the same two repeating chords of distorted bass and a howling man. And there's a pretty sweet guitar solo about 40 minutes in if you're willing to make it that far.
Three things: 1.) This is not the classic album you think it is. Lots of filler. 2). Production is pretty sloppy. Definitely a speakers album, not a headphones album. Hum engineered circles around this. and 3.) I don't know what if any acclaim Jimmy Chamberlin gets in the drumming world, but I think he is one of the best. Ever. I like what Corgan was doing, of course, but Chamberlin brought it all to the next level. His drum parts in just about every Pumpkins song harmonize with the guitar, rather than simply pushing a rhythm. It's beautiful to listen to, really, and the only comparison I can make, again, is Hum. If only Billy would've taken some extra time to mic the guy a little better.
The Smashing Pumpkins
The Smashing Pumpkins
This new Smashing Pumpkins album sounds like I fabricated it in a dream. And not like, "It's the album of my dreams!", but more like, literally, if I was to have a dream about hearing a new Smashing Pumpkins album after their long hiatus, with all of the specious reasoning and incongruous connections that dreams like to have, this is what my brain might create. It sounds like the Smashing Pumpkins, sort of. The essence, at least. The pieces. But it's wrong. Melodies don't quite move where they otherwise would. Little segues appear where they wouldn't. The drummer looks like Jimmy Chamberlin, but isn't him, man. Like when you dream of visiting the Grand Canyon, but it's actually a sledding hill and you're having fun sledding, but it's the Grand Canyon, and then you wake up and realize that it wasn't really all that fun.
Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness
I'm listening to Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness right now. Very loudly. In a small room. It's awesome. I will fight anybody who thinks otherwise.
The Queen is Dead
Today being Valentine's Day and all, I want to take a moment and confess my love for Roadrunner Records. While the Electric Fetus, and to a lesser extent Treehouse and Cheapo, are all superior when it comes to CDs, I've found that Roadrunner constantly and consistently blows them away with their vinyl selection. In fact, I've found records there that I couldn't even find at record stores in Seattle, Brooklyn, and Greenwich Village. Take that, cool cities!. And today, it was topped off when they had a copy of The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead, which you wouldn't think would be so hard to find, but I've never seen it anywhere before (in fact, I've only seen a small handful of Smiths albums at all; Jive Time in Seattle had a couple EPs, and Treehouse had Meat Is Murder once). The Cheapo in St. Paul even has a big note on their Smiths placard that basically says, "You probably won't find any Smiths records here." But sweet, sweet Roadrunner had it there, in their New Arrivals section. I mean, it probably isn't a first-pressing, and it's a US version, not a British. But whatever. It's in great shape and was only twenty bucks. So not counting all the hard-to-find Nilsson record's I've found there, the Conlin Blunstone, the early copy of Meddle and the early pressing of Pet Sounds that was in stock there today, this alone was enough to cement my appreciation for what I used to think was a crummy little random record store on Nicollet.
In my ongoing attempt to really dig into the world of prog rock (see: Genesis), I picked up a highly recommended Soft Machine record, Third. Not into it. At all.
On the bright side, this is the best full album Sondre Lerche has put out, maybe ever. The downside to that being, if I was a music rating sort, this thing only about a 6.9 or 7. I get frustrated with this guy, because he's one of the few pop musicians out there with real, hardcore compositional chops. Like, he actually manipulates chord structures. 7ths! 9ths! Augmented 6ths! And I want so much for him to write some classics. He's only done it once, with "Two Way Monologue." And that was seven years ago already. This record has some tracks that are starting to sniff at that level again, but he's still a ways out. Good stuff anyway, though.
Ass = kicked. Thank you, 1994.
Buckle up! This album is like a roller coaster ride! But like a really old creaky wooden roller coaster that violently jerks to a start, moves really slowly while jarring and banging you around for a little while, then finally goes down an awesome hill. It's not as big a hill as some of those newer roller coasters, but it's a minor rush at least. But then as soon as you make it down, it jerks left and gives you whiplash, and that guy next to you pukes on your knee.
It's a Wonderful Life
Damn, this album is goo-oo-ood. I've been away from it for years now; it was in constant rotation back in my college days, maybe to the point that I got a bit sick of it as of 2004. But dusting it off now is pretty eye opening. It's aged beautifully, and is somehow managed to become more depressing with the knowledge that this guy killed himself a few years ago. Is that a selling point? I feel gross now.
Steve's Favorite Albums of 2011
Steve's Favorite Albums of 2011
The thing about 2011 is that the music kind of stunk. I can't really point at any one truly great album that came out during the year, which is pretty rare. Through February of this year, there's already at least 2 albums that would've made at least the top 3 last year, if that says anything. So anyway, just because I want to have this up here for the sake of posterity, I apathetically give you my favorite records of 2011. Sigh... there aren't even ten of them.
1. The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
2. Mastodon - The Hunter
3. Shugo Tokumaru - Port Entropy
4. Jonathan Wilson - Gentle Spirit
5. Opeth - Heritage
6. Eleanor Friedberger - Last Summer
7. Future Islands - On The Water
That's it, I guess. Top 7!
Steve's Favorite First 3.5 Tracks of the 2000s
Steve's Favorite First 3.5 Tracks of the 2000s
I already made a list of my favorites of the 2000s. But in an alternate reality, where every album ends after 3.5 tracks, things look very different. Pointless? Yes. But...
1. The Microphones - The Glow, Pt. 2
2. Dungen - Ta Det Lungt
3. Joanna Newsom - Ys
4. Animal Collective - Feels
5. Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byjrun
6. Midlake - The Trials Of Van Occupanther
7. Xiu Xiu - Women As Lovers
8. Opeth - Blackwater Park
9. Antony And The Johnsons - The Crying Light
10. Meshuggah - Catch Thirtythree
Steve's Favorites of 2008
Steve's Favorites of 2008
1. Shearwater - Rook
2. Lambchop - OH (Ohio)
3. Max Tundra - Parallax Error Beheads You
4. Black Keys - Attack and Release
5. Xiu Xiu - Women As Lovers
6. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Lie Down In The Light
8. David Byrne And Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
8. Benji Hughes - A Love Extreme
9. Randy Newman - Harps And Angels
10. Opeth - Watershed
Steve's Favorites of 2009
Steve's Favorites of 2009
And so the year comes to an end, and I was unable to secure (and unwilling to buy online) the new Katatonia and the new Holopaw. So in lieu of either of those somehow blowing my mind, here's my list:
1. Dinosaur Jr. - Farm
2. Antony And The Johnsons - The Crying Light
3. The Mountain Goats - The Life Of The World To Come
4. Maxwell - BLACKsummer'snight
5. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes For The Young
6. The Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
7. Arbouretum - Songs Of The Pearl
8. The Antlers - Hospice
9. Bob Dylan - Christmas In The Heart
10. Mastodon - Crack The Skye
And I was going to write my 10 favorite songs, but it's pretty pointless; nothing was exceptionally great this year. Maybe I don't like music anymore.
Steve's Favorites of 2012
Steve's Favorites of 2012
1. Shearwater - Animal Joy
2. Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again
3. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
4. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
5. Katatonia - Dead End Kings
6. A.C. Newman - Shut Down The Streets
7. Cody Chesnutt - Landing on a Hudnred
8. The Walkmen - Heaven
9. The Darkness - Hot Cakes (seriously.)
10. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp
ALBUMS THAT I EMPIRICALLY UNDERSTAND ARE TECHNICAL AND ARTISTIC MASTERPIECES, BUT GODDAMN THEY ARE JUST NO FUN TO LISTEN TO:
1. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city
2. Swans - The Seer
3. Lambchop - Mr. M
4. Julia Holter - Ekstasis
Steve's OTHER Favorites of the 2000s
Steve's OTHER Favorites of the 2000s
I realized, after writing my previous list, that there are a handful of albums which I love, in the sense that I have listened to and enjoyed them regularly since their release, yet they simply aren't the type of albums that I would ever consider my "favorites." Why this is, I don't know. Perhaps they're all just too nice, not really standing up and making a statement that would allow me go get any emotional connection to them. Or maybe I'm just a pretentious, self-aware jerk that wants people to think he has good taste. But I still listen to them constantly, and always find myself saying, "Man. That's a really good album," then promptly forget about them.
1. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - How I Long To Feel That Summer In Your Heart
2. Superdrag - In The Valley Of Dying Stars
3. The Magic Numbers - Those The Brokes
4. Summer Hymns - A Celebratory Arm Gesture
5. Grandaddy - Sumday
6. Benji Hughes - A Love Extreme
7. Amy Winehouse - Back To Black
8. Hem - Rabbit Songs
9. Eddie Vedder - Into The Wild Soundtrack
10. Holopaw - Holopaw
Steves Favorite Albums of 2010
Steves Favorite Albums of 2010
#1 is a clear and obvious #1, far and away the best record anyone released this year as far as I'm concerned. It's so good that I barely even listen to it--but how often do you ever sit down and watch Magnolia, right? Or read Infinite Jest? Not too often. But when you do, it's awesome, literally. #2 is so good that it would be the obvious #1 if #1 wasn't #1. Oh, and by the way, I haven't actually read Infinite Jest. Onto the list!
1. Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me
2. Brad Mehldau - Highway Rider
3. Future Islands - In Evening Air
4. Villagers - Becoming A Jackal
5. Retribution Gospel Choir - 2
6. The Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt
7. Cee Lo - The Lady Killer
8. Owen Pallett - Heartland
9. Sharon Van Etten - Epic
10. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part Two
Steves Favorite Songs of 2010
Steves Favorite Songs of 2010
1. Joanna Newsom - "Good Intentions Paving Company"
2. David Byrne & Florence - "Here Lies Love"
3. Big Boi - "Shine Blockas"
4. Owen Pallett - "Lewis Takes Action"
5. Cee Lo - "Fuck You"
6. Villagers - "The Pact (I'll Be Your Fever)"
7. Belle and Sebastian - "I Want The World To Stop"
8. Retribution Gospel Choir - "Hide It Away"
9. Sufjan Stevens - "All Delighted People"
10. Future Islands - "Walking Through That Door"
11. The Walkmen - "Juveniles"
Steves Favorites of the 2000s
Steves Favorites of the 2000s
Apparently the 2000's are ending. I know this because Pitchfork released a list of the best albums from them. Their list was wrong, of course, so here is a better one:
1. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
2. The Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat
3. Joanna Newsom - Ys
4. Augie March - Strange Bird
5. Opeth - Blackwater Park
6. Jon Brion - Meaningless
7. Jon Brion - I Heart Huckabees
8. Catfish Haven - Tell Me
9. The Decemberists - Castaways and Cutouts
10. Midlake - The Trials Of Van Occupanther
11. Sigur Ros - Aegaetis Byjrun
12. Belle And Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress
13. The Sea And Cake - Oui
14. Opeth - Deliverance
15. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
16. Langhorne Slim - When The Sun's Gone Down
17. Cornelius - Point
18. The Webb Brothers - Maroon
19. Joanna Newsom - The Milk Eyed Mender
20. Dinosaur Jr. - Farm
Special bonus section for three perfect EPs which were nearly as good as to render their follow-up LPs unnecessary:
1. Catfish Haven - Please Come Back
2. Meshuggah - Eye
3. Aereogramme - Seclusion
And finally, because why not, my favorite songs of the 2000's:
1. Jon Brion - "Knock Yourself Out"
2. Belle And Sebastian - "Jonathan David"
3. Midlake - "Roscoe"
4. Xiu Xiu - "I Do What I Want, When I Want"
5. Catfish Haven - "Please Come Back"
6. The Fiery Furnaces - "Chief Inspector Blancheflower"
7. Opeth - "The Leper Affinity"
8. Super Furry Animals - "Juxtaposed With U"
9. Cornelius - "Brazil"
10. Little Wings - "Boom!"
And that's all because I could do this all day, and there isn't nearly enough day left.
Songs In The Key Of Life
Matt's has not only the best burger in town, but the best juke box. Pure class. And I dominated that thing tonight. "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder, followed by Rod Stewart's "Maggie May," and capped off by the lovely "More Than This" by Roxy Music. I saw four different people dancing or singing along to "Sir Duke" within the first few bars. They didn't know what hit them. And the burger was stellar as always.
(Wait, this is a food post, too!)
So this really is it, isn't it?
All Delighted People
Sufjan Stevens released this "EP" completely out of nowhere this weekend, which I think is great, and is something artists should do more often. And while I'm only halfway through the first track (the 11-minute title track), the only thing that keeps coming to my mind is how similar it is, in a few different ways, to the music and arrangements on the new Joanna Newsom album (other than the fact that this is an EP and that was a triple LP). Which is awesome.
The Age of Adz
I don't know.
The Age of Adz
I've given this a couple admittedly unfocused listens so far, and am left not feeling strongly in one way or another. It's definitely a grower. It's definitely a headphone album. And it's definitely the best use of trombone from an indie rocker this year (although Joanna's "Good Intentions Paving Company" seemed like the runaway trombone song of the year). Beyond that, we're left with a bunch of squelching, squealing electronic experiments, which may or may not have good songs hidden under them. I haven't figured that part out yet.
The Age of Adz
That 25 minute song at the end of The Age Of Adz, the one which I skipped the first time around because 'come on, it's a 25 minute track at the end of the album!", turns out to be the best thing on the album. Who'da thought? Between that and the 11-minute title track and the 17-minute "Djohariah" from his All Delighted People EP from a few months ago, he could've had an incredible 3-track record, which would still clock in at nearly twice the length of Weezer's green album. And I would've been a happy camper. But as it stands, he's put out 3 tracks of genius and 16 tracks of filler this year, which, mathematically, is not in his favor.
Superdrag and the Smoking Popes. Bear with me. Both formed in the early/mid 90's. Both played above average power pop. Both scored a minor hit in the mid 90's. Both released one practically flawless album in the late 90's. Both saw their singer become a born-again Christian in the early 2000's. Both subsequently broke up because of it. Both singers released surprisingly good and embarrassingly cliche faith-based material during their Christian periods. Both bands released best-of compilations in the meantime. Both eventually got back together to tour. Both then released shockingly boring and sub-par, though not terrible, 'reunion' albums in the last year, this Superdrag one being so forgettable that I don't even care enough to be mad about its stupid cover art. Discuss amongst yourselves.
In the Valley of Dying Stars
Enough time has passed and I'm ready to call it: This record is fucking perfect. 10. It didn't sell any copies, and didn't get much press, and everything Superdrag did before and after is fairly hit and miss. But if you are going to judge music as the interaction between melody, countermelody, harmony, rhythm, tone, volume, texture, morphemes, phonemes, poetry, prose, charisma, sympathy, expectation and surprise (and you should!), Valley of Dying Stars nails it. And I'm actually not joking. I've totally grown to love this album over the years. It's perfect. Listen to it, you.
Breakfast In America
As I was listening to Supertramp this evening while nearly stepping in front of an oncoming light rail train on a slick sidewalk, it occurred to me that if there's anything you wouldn't want on your iPod as the medical investigator scans through it to piece together the situation, Supertramp would have to be pretty high on the list.
I'm halfway through track 2 of this, and it's great and I like it and all, but I've got the rest of this disc plus a second disc to go, and I just don't know if I can make it. It's like listening the the musical realization of Cormac McCarthy's unpublished dream journal.
This isn't all too timely of a post, but for posterity's sake I wanted to make sure this website has at least one fawning take on Talk Talk's Laughing Stock. I'll admit straight up that not only have I ignored Talk Talk my entire teen and adult life, but they've barely even been on my radar. 7 months ago I wouldn't have been able to tell you the first thing about them, and even now I can't remember the name of their one huge hit single that Gwen Stefani eventually covered. And while I'm admitting things, I'll also go ahead and admit that it was a review of the rerelease of Laughing Stock on Pitchfork that perked my curiosity. So, yeah, I didn't "discover" Talk Talk, I just did what Pitchfork told me to do. But I don't care, because this record, and it's predecessor Spirit of Eden are staggeringly good. Staggeringly. I am staggered. They stagger me. Especially Laughing Stock, although I'm sure plenty of people would disagree, and that's fine by me. But anyway, think post-rock-soul music. Think Kid A as recorded by actual humans. Or maybe rather Amnesiac as recorded by a jazz trio on mushrooms. I mean, that Radiohead reference is the obvious one, and I bet somewhere out there you can read Thom Yorke citing Talk Talk in some interview or another. But this moves me so much more than any latter-day Radiohead has. It's contemplative and meandering and "weird," but it's full of heart. I just can't recommend it enough, for anyone and everyone. No funny quips from me here. Just seriously go listen to it.
The Tallest Man On Earth
The Tallest Man On Earth
This guy is the real deal. Believe the hype. (I think there's hype, right? Yeah, total hype. So believe it.)
The Tallest Man on Earth
The Tallest Man on Earth
There's No Leaving Now
You know what? Yeah! This is good. I like it a lot. This guy. This guy is really doing it right. I'm not about to go out and join the Tallest Fanclub on Earth or anything (that exists, right? It should), but I'm totally down with the music he's making. I also appreciate that this album (his third, but I'm going to go ahead and consider it his second), actually has its own unique sound compared to The Wild Hunt, while still sounding very "Tallest Manny". Maturation and whatnot. If Dylan could do it, why can't he? Also noteworthy in that he's really toned down his vocal histrionics, which is a good idea on his part if we're to expect another 30 years of this stuff.
Found two copies of Omnibus at the St. Vincent De Paul thrift store for, like, $0.60. Tariko, as if y'all don't know, is Colin Meloy's old band from his college days in Montana. I never bothered buying it in the last five years when Kill Rock Stars released it, being that it's an old band, before his prime, not really meant to be heard by me. And most of the reviews I read on it were luke warm at best, calling it generic college rock, bar rock, frat rock, all that stuff. To which I can only respond, "Well... maybe?" It's rough around the edges and maybe only about three-fourths baked, but still: This is Colin Meloy. If you tried to convince me these were old Decemberists demos, you wouldn't have to do much convincing. His voice and songwriting, at least melody-wise, were already shaping up soundly. The only real drawbacks are the sometimes ham-fisted performances (this is a frat band, afterall), and the fact that the lyrics aren't about wharfingers and whipperins. Otherwise, shit. I have no problem with anything happening on any part of this two-disc collection. I'm glad I finally got it. And you can too, as the second copy of it is probably sitting at that thrift store right now. It's on Lake and Chicago. Good deals on old 4H trophies, too!
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
Hearts of Oak
I've just discovered that Ted Leo & The Pharmacists are the perfect band to play out of your crappy laptop speakers. This album in particular is so tinny and rough to begin (in a good way, mind you) with that there really isn't much difference when it's channeled through a tiny little set of speakers. Hell, I bet you could just play it really loudly out of your headphones and it would still sound perfect.
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
The Tyranny of Distance
I picked up Living With the Living a few weeks back on a whim (and cheap price tag), and was surprisingly disappointed. Something about it just didn't work. But that bad taste has been washed clean with The Tyranny of Distance, which I also picked up on a whim (and a cheap price tag). Honestly, I haven't gotten all the way though it yet, so I can't compare it outright to Hearts of Oak, but I like what I hear so far. I will be sure to let you know.
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Tedeschi Trucks Band
This album makes you think someone opened up a Famous Daves inside of a Starbucks. And yet "Midnight In Harlem" is looking more and more like my Summer Jam of 2011. It's just so pleasant!
The Bloom and the Blight
The first half of this thing, I'm all excited, like, "Wow, it's about time an energetic modern alt-country/folk band decided to go the Led Zeppelin route instead of the Mumford And Sons route!" Heavy guitar, wailing vocals, hell yeah. But then on Side B they end going the Mumford And Sons route anyway. Buh.
So here's the thing: I like Umphrey's Mcgee. And I'm only partially ashamed to admit it. If you've never heard of Umphrey's McGee (and if you're my friend, you probably haven't), there are three things you need to know. First, they are a jam band. There is no way around that. I have seen them in concert, and they extended songs to 10-15 minutes of endless guitar noodling and keyboard humping, and the crowd, o how they did dance and twirl. It was a terrible experience. Which leads me to the second thing you should know; their fans have a name. Umphreaks. I could not make that up. And if I did, it would be too stupid to type. The third thing, however, is that despite those first two huge warning signs, I think their music is often very good. Their records (at least their first one and this new one... their second album was pretty bad) are actually borderline prog rock, not the stupid Phish/Dead/Rusted Root bullshit you'd expect. So when I heard that this new album Mantis was actually more "proggy" than their earlier work, I was actually pretty excited. And about halfway through it here, I'm pretty happy with it. This is the kind of music that it's hard to recommend to people without first apologizing, but really, it's pretty good. And you have to appreciate the musicianship and general disregard for "cool" that is all over it. And still, while it's not Liars or Xiu Xiu or something like that, it still contains some subversive and "experimental" elements, especially for the scene that it exists in. However, I doubt anyone like Antony (see below) will be taking them on tour any time soon.
Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?
Two quick things:
1.) A while back, I wrote a quick little thing about how Ted Leo's Hearts Of Oak album sounds perfect when played out of cruddy laptop speakers. I'm now finding that this Unicorns album is another rare case of a recording that somehow sounds perfect when coming out of the tinny little din of a MacBook, like this is how it was supposed to be listened to.
2.) I'd been thinking something for a long time, and recently found some random dude's blog (a best of the decade list, actually), where he put the same idea into words. And that is this: The Unicorns' Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone is the perfect musical summation of the entire decade of independent music. A little dance rock, a little garage rock, a little twee sing-song, a slight hip hop influence, lyrics that are simultaneously goofy and deathly serious (and meta), lo-fi, singers that aren't talented but can still hold a tune, minor electronics, a hand-drawn cover (with rainbows!), and a "The" in their name. Plus, they're from Quebec! But best of all, despite seemingly doing what 1,000 other bands did last decade, they did it all better than nearly everyone.
It's like the first Vampire Weekend album, except instead of using their studio time to actually write catchy songs and tighten their performances, they apparently just f'd around on some new electronic music software and listened to Animal Collective albums (read: the last two Animal Collective albums). Yikes! This one's an "Oxford Yawna"!
Okay, I was wrong. The album isn't completely useless. The last minute and a half of the last song is actually pretty nice. But then it's over.
Modern Vampires of the City
I don't know if it's truly 9.3-on-Pitchfork worthy, and it's certainly not better than their classic first album, but I can't seem to find a single thing wrong with this new Vampire Weekend record. Okay, one thing: the type setting on the front cover is a little clunky. Actually, to be slightly more serious, I do have a minor problem with the excessive production flourishes that are all over every track here. Part of what makes their first self-titled album so incredible (I'll say it, a modern classic) is the absolute efficiency of it. There's no excess, not a wasted sound or note or instrument. Each song is written tightly, and arranged precisely so that every melody, every counter melody, every rhythm has a mission. Nothing is there just for the heck of it. On Modern Vampires, they seemed to have taken the opposite approach--every sound is filtered through something. Phasers, pitch shifters, samples and loops, whatever. It's all tasteful, and gives the album its own character, but I'm not sure it's adding anything to the songs. But that's less a rip on Modern Vampires as it is praise for their first album. Point is, these guys have officially proven that they're good at music.
Van Dyke Parks
Van Dyke Parks
If you know who Van Dyke Parks is, you can imagine astounding it was to see him perform at the Cedar earlier this week. Although he deserved a sold out crowd and a 40 piece orchestra at the State Theater, he performed without a hint of cynicism for about 100 people in folding chairs in a little dump in Cedar-Riverside, at an electric piano with a bassist and drummer at his side. But he exuded such talent and charisma that it was impossible not to sit and grin through the whole thing. As soon as he finished, Libby leaned over to me and half-sarcastically said, "What a delight!" Which was hilarious, because throughout the whole show, I was thinking exactly that. "What a delight!" A jaded 30 year old shouldn't be responding to things with such crackerjack oh-boy-isms, but it was the perfect sentiment. Just pure joy. This is a guy who, VDP 101 here, certified musical genius(TM) Brian Wilson turned to for help on his certified masterpiece(TM) Smile. His first solo album was, at the time, the most expensive album ever produced, and now stands as one of the most unique, unclassifiable works of pop music ever. He worked with Nilsson, Newman, and Newsom! He even appeared on an episode of Twin Peaks! And yet the first thing he did when he got on stage was talk about how he just went to a member of Grizzly Bear's wedding, and how he's about to go on tour with Fleet Foxes, and the shameful circumstances of Vic Chesnutt's death. He may be 70, but he knows what's up. Then he goes on to play, with the vigor and enthusiasm of a jazz pianist half his age, and the charisma of a southern dandy band teacher, some of the most well-crafted pop compositions you'll ever hear. So great, every minute of it. Go listen to Song Cycle, go listen to Jump!, and go listen to Discover America, then if he ever, ever comes to town again, go see him. He's a goddamn delight.
Van Dyke Parks
Van Dyke Parks
Look, I love Van Dyke Parks. Song Cycle is obviously amazing, Jump is way better than it deserves to be, he's done hall of fame level work with Brian Wilson and Joanna Newsom and everyone else. He appeared on Twin Peaks. He put on a fantastic show at the Cedar last summer. He's better than the rest of us, and seems like a super nice guy at that. But Discover America is too much for me to handle. It's just too weird. I can't do it. There's some good stuff on it, but man, it's tough. Maybe a spin or two purely to try to wrap your head around it, but after that, I can't imagine sitting down and listening to it for pleasure. Sorry. I take that all back. It's a pretty fun record after all. I mean, it's a collection of calypso-inspired mini symphonies about J Edgar Hoover, Jack Palance, and Bing Crosby. There's a song called "FDR In Trinidad"! There's an all steel-drum version of "Stars and Stripes Forever." It may be half unlistenable, but it's also half amazing. That it even exists is enough to appreciate it.
Until recently my only experience with Van Morrison is the classic "Brown Eyed Girl" / "Moondance" stuff. Sweet and catchy and all, but whatever. And then, randomly and unexpectedly, KEXP played "The Way Young Lovers Do" last week. And suddenly I see why people love Van Morrison. Astral Weeks, at least. This whole record is just a big sloppy pile of soul. I doesn't seem to demand close scrutiny, but from a distance it's a pretty flawless recording; the backing musicians are feeling it, and Van is doing whatever it is he does that makes us think he knows a heck of a lot more than we do. I can't make out half the words, and my throat hurts just listening to it, but soul, man. Soul.
I finally got around to buying a Vic Chesnutt album. It's good stuff, but I can't get over the fact that I simply don't like him. Not as a singer or a songwriter... but as a person. This is especially difficult to say considering he's a recovering alcoholic who is paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. But when I listen to his songs, I get the same feeling I get when I listen to Jim O'Rourke and the Super Furry Animals--no matter how nice and well-crafted the music is, it is far less enjoyable when the words come from the mouth of a cynical jerk.
Becoming A Jackal
It's as if Grizzly Bear, Bishop Allen, and Conor Oberst's older, less-obnoxious brother all got drugged, hog-tied, and thrown headfirst into Harry Belafonte's grave, along with some Sam Cooke records and a radioactive spider. Then after the police are alerted to the scene, all they're able to find is this Villagers album. And they're like, "Yeah, this is alright."
Villagers put out a pretty stellar album a couple years ago with Becoming a Jackal, which was not just a well written, enjoyable record, but one that set a high bar for the future of a potentially great songwriter in Conor O'Brien. This album, save for the opening track and maybe the big single "Nothing Arrived," does nothing to further anything. It's a big bloated bore. I'm going to chalk it up to being his sophomore slump (if such a thing still exists) and give him another couple years to figure his shit out.
Bows + Arrows
If I was a relief pitcher, an MMA fighter, a WWF wrestler, or a professional wall runner througher, "The Rat" would have to be my entrance music. The fact that it isn't already every relief pitcher and MMA fighter's entrance music can only be explained by the existence of "Enter Sandman." A worthy choice, yes, but come on! It's "The Rat"! Listen to it! Even through my laptop speakers it makes me want to go demolish something! Like a train engine. Or a small planet.
I want so, so badly for this to be the best Walkmen record, finally one that I can sit through from beginning to end and enjoy thoroughly. And it's so, so close. So, so. So. But in the end it's par Walkmen. Not because there's anything bad on it, but because there's nothing transcendent. Every Walkman record up until now has contained one knockout song, just an absolute killer, then a few good ones, and a bunch of forgettable ones. And it all averages to, like, a solid B. Heaven lands on a B by having 14 tracks in a row that all register at the same B level. Maybe one B+ and one B-, but otherwise it's just one big ol' B. So yeah, it's the most consistently listenable Walkmen record to date, but doesn't contain a single Walkmen classic that I've come to expect with each release.
The Webb Brothers
The Webb Brothers
Sorry, whoever you are reading this (most likely Libby), that everything I ever post about music basically boils down to, "This album is good and I like to listen to it," or variations on that theme. That said, I've been listening to this old Webb Brothers album for the last couple days. I happened upon these guys back in early college, and was a little shocked at the time that they weren't popular at all. The released one (less great) album a year or two later, and pretty much disappeared into thin air since then. But this Maroon album is all I ever really need from them anyway. It's a big--and successful--concept album about partying and drugs ("But isn't every rock album a concept album about partying and drugs?") that is filled with perfect songs, smart lyrics ("All the cocaine in the world can't bring back the girl"), and sweet vocal harmonies (there's something about siblings that harmonize. These guys, the Moore Brothers, The Magic Numbers, The Goddamn Beach Boys. There's a whole other post to be made about that, I think). It's probably one of my all-time favorite albums that I would never actually consider to be one of my all-time favorite albums (get that?). It is good, and I like to listen to it.
Unreleased 2002 demos
The Weezer conundrum. Mind-boggling. Absolutely mind-boggling. How did a band responsible for Pinkerton and The Blue Album (and, yes, even The Green Album and Maladroit) ever make it to the point where they felt comfortable releasing the horse shit of the last 5 years? I mean, have you listened to Make Believe? Have you listened to The Red Album? And oh my god I forgot entirely about Raditude. Blame it on whatever you want, be it the loss of Matt Sharp, the sting of criticism and/or wave of success after Green, or a straight-up psychological disorder, but there is no denying that the last five years of Weezer has been offensively bad. And it hadn't occurred to me until I recently found them on an old hard drive, but the big thick line drawn between "Good Weezer" and "Bad Weezer," like that of a quarreling sitcom couple's apartment, can be drawn right down the middle of the band's scrapped demos from 2002. Right after Maladroit, they started writing a new album, and experimented with a keyboard/organ player. I believe they actually offered up the files for download back at the time. And there's some good-to-great stuff hidden in there. There's a couple dozen songs total, and respectfully sophisticated pop songwriting and gentle instrumentation is all over the place. Songs like "The Organ Player" and "Hey Domingo" don't as much harken back to the 'good old days' of Pinkerton or anything, but actually move the band forward. There are a couple stinkers in there, including "Reason To Worry", sung by a band member other than Rivers (a huge mistake they'd repeat on Red) and "Mo Beats" (the title alone should've been a HUGE warning about what Weezer had in store for us). But generally the songs are all totally solid, and could've moved =W= into a respectable middle age. But no. They scrapped it. And what did they release instead? "Beverly (fucking) Hills." What happened??? What was it about these demos that made this band take a left turn into complete embarrassment? Granted, these songs aren't necessarily classics, but they're heads and shoulders (and toes) better than what followed. I can barely even wrap my head around it. But maybe that's part of the problem; they weren't classics. Was it Rivers' attempt at writing "traditionally", and he realized he didn't have it, so he instead went for the easy dollar with songs about, uh, Oakley sunglasses and Hurley vests? Oh my god, I forgot about Hurley, too. Ack.
The Blue Album
I've been toodling around on my guitar a lot lately, and today decided to look into finding some Weezer songs to play. Blue Album, obvz. And I'm blown away with how deceptively complicated these songs are! You assume it's all just basic power chord stuff, but Rivers is really throwing in lots of twists and turns and compounds and dissonants into the regular A5s and D5s. Serious songwriter stuff–– surprisingly tricky to play, too. Bust most of all, it once again reminds me just how great Weezer once was.
Wilco (the album)
This, more than Animal Collective, more than The Decemberists, and more than whoever else, was my most anticipated album of this year. Sky Blue Sky, in my mind, was their best album, and the couple times I saw them live made me a firm believer that Wilco is currently the Best Band In America (TM). Hands down. Not only was that last album great, but it opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the band to take its sound (although, really, they've done that on every album they've released). But, as everyone could've guessed, I'm a little let down by it. It's not a bad album at all. It just doesn't have enough of any one thing going for it to make it a great album. The songs are okay--"Wilco (the song)" is already a classic--but the compositions are often slighted by unnecessarily fussy arrangements. Nels Cline, their new secret weapon, has some cool guitar parts, but they never really get off the ground, or completely explode before liftoff. Really, they're existing in an awkward middle ground between Untouchable Singles Band (Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) and Experimental Jam Band (Sky Blue Sky, A Ghost Is Born), and not really excelling at either. But to be fair, I didn't like Sky Blue Sky after the first couple listens either, so we'll see where this goes.
Sky Blue Sky
Can't sleep. Dwelling on the fact that music critics continue to belittle Sky Blue Sky as being one of Wilco's 'lesser works.' No, no, no, no, no. I just read some review that half-bashed the new My Morning Jacket record (while still liking it), and comparing it unfavorably to Sky in this joking, sort of snotty manner. I mean, geez, if you're going to compare the new MMJ record to Wilco records, the obvious choice should be Wilco The Album. Sky is way more in line with It Still Moves, people. And Z is Summerteeth and At Dawn is Being There and they have no Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Get it right, you nincompoops!
Women As Lovers
The first track off of Xiu Xiu's Women As Lovers album, which came out way back in January of 2008, is a little tune called "I Do What I Want, When I Want." And for the last 12 months, I've been completely in love with it, though I haven't really talked to anyone about it, or made anyone listen to it. The reason for this is because I think most of you would hate it, and then, in turn, hate me after I recommend it. But this song absolutely hooked me, all year. Song of the year, by far, hands down, no contest. The melodies are just everywhere, and they flow and move and cascade and stop and start, and sounds come out of nowhere, sounds that seem to have no business suddenly appearing. And while the whole song is very pop-structured (and catchy as hell), no 10 seconds of it sounds like any other 10 seconds of it. The bass drum will play a bunch of notes in a row and then stop. A descending distorted keyboard line just keeps descending until it turns into mush. A zombie saxophone. 4 bars (and no more) of female vocals. And those stupid little "do do do do do do" vocal parts keep popping in to anchor the whole song, just to prove that Xiu Xiu is better than you. Anyway, the point it is, I can't contain my enjoyment of this song. And the best part is that Women As Lovers is, as a whole, the first entirely listenable album Xiu Xiu has put out since Knife Play (and how listenable that album is can certainly be argued).
Dear God, I Hate Myself
Pretty much what I feared. They're back to being a two-man band, and their sound has reverted back to the infuriatingly inconsequential Le Foret days. A couple catchy tunes, but nothing as memorable as a "I Luv The Valley OH!" or "I Do What I Want, When I Want." And the only thing shocking on the entire record is a straight-forward cover of "Cumberland Gap," a traditional folk/bluegrass song. Also probably the most interesting thing here, too. Shame.
Xiu Xiu has become a well-oiled machine. Which is a shame, because I think they were better when they were a rusty, creaky, spark-spewing deathtrap. Between Dear God, I Hate Myself and now Always, they've (he's) somehow managed to take everything I thought was great about Xiu Xiu, and maximize it to the point that I'm beginning to feel I don't want it anymore. "Ice cream for breakfast!" we all wanted as children, and there's a reason we didn't get it. Old Xiu Xiu albums were a slog to get through. Noise, aggression, non-sequitors, shocking lyrical admissions. Those things were downright unpleasant, and then suddenly you'd get treated with a perfectly constructed, catchy, beautiful synth-pop masterpiece. And you appreciated it more for having lived through the other 9 tracks. But now, as much as I hate to say it, 9 out of 10 tracks are perfectly constructed, catchy, beautiful synth-pop. Not masterpieces, necessarily, but they're good anyway. And it somehow lessens the Xiu Xiu experience. So somehow when you hear the dude sing "When I look between my thighs all I see is death," on a song called "I Love Abortion," you're not even shocked by it anymore. No surprises I guess.
For the last 11 or 12 years, I've been trying and trying to build some sort of relationship with XTC. It started around 2000 when they put out Apple Venus, and I kept hearing XTC put up there with the Beatles and the Beach Boys as these genius pure pop classicists, one of the best bands of the 80's all that. But all I heard was new wave junk. "Dear God" did not help my opinion. Nor did "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead". Nor did "Making Plans for Nigel." I hated all of these songs. Still do. And to top it all off, Andy Partridge is one of the rare lead singers who, to me, gives off in his vocal performance the feeling that he is a total unlikable jerk (see also: Gruff Rhys of the Super Furry Animals). So the cards are stacked against them, and yet I can't shake how much people revere them. Cut to yesterday, and I'm at a Savers thrift store looking through CDs (side note: thrift stores are becoming a great place to dig for music. So many people are getting rid of their entire collections, and at only $1 or $2 a CD, you can't really beat it), and clearly somebody got rid of their entire XTC collection. A quick check of Allmusic.com confirms that Skylarking is probably their best album, five stars, AllMusic pick, etc., so I bite the bullet. Skylarking better hook me. And it did! From the opening track, I'm sold! It's great! Smart, moody, cheeky, really well constructed and arranged, catchy. XTC, goddammit, you got me. I still don't buy the Beatles and Beach Boys comparisons (despite the occasional Beachy harmony here and there), but accepting that they were a band confined to the sonic palette of their era, looking past that, embracing it even, I think I get it.
Simon And Garfunkel's "America" is a great song. There is no doubt about that. But have you ever listened to Yes's cover version of it? Holy cow. It might just be my favorite cover song. The first time I heard it (as a bonus track on the end of the CD version of Fragile), I didn't know it was the Simon And Garfunkel song at first, since, you know, their version doesn't start with a 5 minute psychedelic jam interspersed with portions of "America" from West Side Story. Then suddenly the guitars and keyboards drop out, and the vocals start, and the next 20 minutes or so (possibly exaggerating there) are just pure bliss. The best part of all is in the middle section, when the band suddenly decides that, even though they're an uptight British prog band, the best way to sing a song about America is by turning themselves into fucking Lynyrd Skynyrd. The whole thing is beyond awesome. And then their keyboard player quit the band to produce a ice-skating musical about King Arthur.
Everything I've read about Relayer positions it as being the album that made everyone hate prog, and a shining example of everything wrong with the genre as a whole. And while I can't argue with that stance, I have to say it's not so bad. It's got everything on it that makes Yes cool, except for, you know, songs.