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"
Ass = kicked. Thank you, 1994.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.)
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.
Antony And The Johnsons
Antony And The Johnsons
I don't know.
The Age of Adz
I don't know.
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.
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.
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"?
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.
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."
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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).
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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'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.
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?
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.)
Sounds like: A very angry Danny Elfman remixing a box of long lost Christopher Cross demo tapes. I think I like it?
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.
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.
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..)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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"!