Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Video jam: Bad Books / "Baby Shoes"

Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra have teamed up to form Bad Books, and I like it. I remember listening to Manchester Orchestra's You Brainstorm, I Brainstorm, but Brilliance Needs a Good Editor EP a few years ago (can't recall how I stumbled upon it) but then kinda lost track of the band until now. I've heard this song and the one featured on Draw Us Lines earlier this year and dig them both, even though they differ greatly in the rockin' versus acoustic vibe. I think this live version caught my ear more, and I really like how they switch around from soft strumming and vocals to all-out jamming rock and back and forth again. The lyrics are interesting and engrossing, too. I won't get into what I think they might mean (because I'm not really sure), but I definitely like how they make me think deeply while I bob my head along with the rhythm and then have my train of thought get derailed by the squealing guitar parts and have to pick it back up again and then the song is over and I just hit "replay". Yeah, it's good.

[Found this on Spinner's website, where it says this was recorded at a party/show during CMJ this past fall.]

Monday, December 27, 2010

Stream of consciousness album review: The Velvet Underground & Nico

For all of the music bloggery in which I've been participating lately, it seems like I've stayed away from album reviews and similar static assessments of a piece of music's effect on me and my mind and my ethos and my what-have-you; rather, I tend to stick to concert reviews and brief blurbs about songs that represent my temporal and visceral enjoyment of those pieces of music. However, I recently read the 33 1/3 series book on The Velvet Underground & Nico and it was fan-fucking-tastic. I've read some books in that series that were terribly boring and some that were absolutely fascinating, so I wasn't sure what to expect from this one and was pleasantly surprised. This is such an influential and seminal and important album and it would probably be so easy to fuck up writing about it, so I give mad props to the author for doing an awesome job with it. I actually read the whole damn book (it's only like 100 tiny pages) on the MegaBus ride from Pittsburgh to NYC earlier last week, and along the way, it reminded me of this thing I had written a few years ago, and I was only just able to refind the document now. I wrote this "essay" during college, when I was at home over summer break (I didn't remember when, exactly, just knew it was sometime at home). So yeah, long story short (or already short story even shorter), I smoked a bunch of weed and sat in my room listening to The Velvet Underground & Nico on my headphones and wrote a "poem" that was basically a stream-of-consciousness review of the album, in the sense that I just typed out what I was thinking at the time and what the music reminded me of, and how it made me feel, and all that jazz. Yeah, I know, it's a fucking hippie idea, but in retrospect, I'm really glad I did it; when I started to play the album, I had already heard it probably a hundred times, but I thought that I should record this listen, that I should commit to this time and think hard, and record my thoughts, and that's a hard thing to do. Seriously, I recommend that you do it for your favorite album: make yourself recognize why you love it and what about it makes you think (or not think, as the case may be). Anyhow, I caught all these words down on record, and thankfully saved them on my external hard drive for posterity's sake (or at least my own morbid retro-curiosity's sake). So here they are, those precise words I typed onto my laptop about 5.5 years ago when I listened to this fantastic album in the middle of the night in my room, stoned and carefree, letting the language flow freely and feeling the music. Or whatever. Just enjoy it. (I recommend listening to the album and reading along slowly, trying to fit the words to the moods of the songs; the paragraph "breaks" correspond to new tracks, so you can time it right via that.)

“experiment two: album review”

paranoia sets in right away
and in the sense more
than figurative
it’s beautiful and slides right
through my ears and out my eyes
that close slightly
in wonderment
I’m watching out
for the world
the rising climb of heartbeats
settles in to rhythm
smoothly, with force
that calms the fingers
and now I know
the bangs are coming up next

a cadence rather
quick and controlling
that sways my eyes
and head
I see him dressed
in black
I see the man who strolls
and bounces, wild hair
flowing off the back
out from the straw hat
and I don’t seem to mind
the sense of time
that kills me
that I want to kill
that I can run away to
silence, muffled screams from
deep beneath the pillow
goodbye cruel father time
I’ll do you in with this here
and sigh
here we go again
listen to both sides, the waves
of tangled melodies on
here she comes

back and forth they run
across the viewscape
watching where they step like
hawks that circle
dying prey
the men she sees are like that
to her, spent with life and needing
one quick pick me up
a tease, a fatal flick
of fingertips
that sets off bells
that ring and ring
but never wake you
fading away

awake you now, from just
behind the blackened curtains
heavy with soot
and leather boot straps
what do you see?
I see her waiting you
fingering impatiently
while you humble
yourself on the rug
when is it time to pass out
like the homeless drunks
on the corner that spit
on the cats and expect
them to bow in return
to their majesties
taste this blood
this body
and drown me with
your sound
your voice
and plucking strings
and let us, weary, sick
and satisfied
play fool
to the devil’s snaring charm
shake me from my

quickly now
to the top of the mound
where we tumble back down
and right into the street
angels scream and battle
just above our heads for
recognition while the morons
in the alley just outside the bar
know nothing of the world-changing
minds that sit no more than
one hundred feet
from their sorry asses
the waitress wraps her toes
around the floorboards
flashing smiles that could
melt dark doorways with
the charm of sixty year old
birth marks
and pimples
why is it so much easier
to imagine the scum of
the earth
and the ones who threw it
all away
for fleeting passions

pity washes eyelids
from their tears
and plays with my emotions
now, approaching midnight
silky robes that float
behind the masques
of death will hold me
down no more
on Wednesday, Thursday
and Sunday’s doorsteps
where the friendless cry
and the bountiful
lie to the faces
of the very ones they think
they can believe in
and convince themselves of
every day
tomorrow will
be the same
no parties

here comes the genius
skating in on the wings
of a wavy tyrant
brandishing his fist
at the passers by mocking
his story, his written glory
of the kingdom
he never knew
and has been searching for
since he could ever know
what life was meant for him
the drops of white foam
dripping down the mouths
of the howling dogs will
not explain my desire
a thousand years pass
me by at sea
and here I sit capless,
clothes no longer
off my back but
rumpled staring back
at me from the closet space
like coughing flower buds
dying slowly
and reluctantly
thunder pounds the brain
now, smacking the rivers
of thought and pulling
at weeds and overgrown
patches of grass on the
I collapse on the front yard
and stare up at the sun
like a curious child

there it goes
all the time
around the sky
hit me, drop me to my feet
and clobber me
blue with the notion
of foggy minds and hazy
streets that call your name
over the passing clouds
flying away
and fly fly flying off
the lamp posts
like owls heading
for the moon

reflect me now
tangle me up in blue
and cross stitch the patterns
the jangles
and wind swept flower beds
into my eyes
twisting my mind
like the sunrise
choking on the mug
of hot coffee
that’s just too much
right now
I’ll be you tonight
you can be me
this time

ripping sunlight
off the roof tops
calling out loudly from
the dark, city streets
in the northern part of town
no one hears but the
and the men who have seen
the darkness before
ugliness abounds
and there goes the dawn
running off
like a blindfolded horse
that will dash like
a madman for the white
picket fences
as grandma rings the triangle
for supper time
and the whistle calls out
goodbye to the lonely remains
in the fields
I choose to move on

I hitch-hike off the
dirt road leading to nowhere
but death
and dash to the airport
for a straight flight
to Paris
I feel green on the way
and vomit
like a sickened lover
in the metal bathroom
sky high
and ripped
torn by shards
of glass that scatter
from the circle
of rats that shiver and
scamper away
flying and landing
and resuming the journey again
no end in sight
for a weary traveler
of his forefathers’ lands
and glorified mountain passes
through the charted wilderness
the time has come
for the talk of endings
we sit calmly on the turbulent
as the other jet-lagged
passengers huddle in
the corner like beaten
I sip at a whiskey
and slowly melting ice
while you laugh and
flutter your eyes
but now we are gone
there is nothing
here anymore

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Video: Demetri Martin / If I (one man show)

Okay, not technically music-related here, but Demetri sometimes plays guitar, piano, harmonica, or bells (sometimes a bunch at once, like in Person!) during his standup, so it's okay. Plus, he's brilliant and I need to share this. I've loved his standup for a long time; I caught his Comedy Central Presents special on TV back in the day, then his hour-long specials, then the Important Things show, and he came to my undergrad college sometime during my junior year, too. They're all awesome: funny, insightful, intelligent, uplifting, etc. This is the kind of comedic style (and personality, even) that I wish I could embody.

I watched the first six episodes of Important Things on Netflix earlier tonight and it reminded me of how great the show is. I did some Googling to try and find a link to that sketch from the show on "Chairs" where the guy finds a piece of gum under his chair and then they play the scene backwards and find out where the gum came from . . . yeah, it's hilarious and ingenious, but I couldn't find the link. I did, though, rediscover these videos in the process. If I was Demetri's one-man show during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2003. In a way, it seems like it was a big gateway into his comedy career: I recognize some of the jokes from his early standup specials, and the overall theme of the show is describing his life and way of thinking and how he had come to realize that this is what he wanted to do and be and so on. It's inspiring and funny and you really need to watch it. All of it. So here it is:

I find it weird that each of these videos has a different number of views, because I can't imagine watching just one of these without seeing them all straight through (like I just did).

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Song Remains the Same-ish: MGMT + Passion Pit = "Sleepykids"!

[This is a "series" that lets me point out when two songs sound really similar. Its frequency obviously depends on me finding these similarities, so who knows when it will happen again. See the previous entry here.]

Artist: MGMT Passion Pit
Song: "Kids" "Sleepyhead"
Album: Oracular Spectacular Manners
Label: Columbia Frenchkiss
Released: October 2, 200 May 19, 2009

I'll admit, I didn't spot this connection/similarity on my own; rather, a friend posted this video (embedded below) on her Facebook wall and I listened to it and thought it was a pretty good observation. I don't think the connection is totally compelling, but it's similar enough that I could see people confusing the two songs if they've only heard them randomly on the radio once or twice while they're in American Apparel or something like that. Anywho, somebody put together a neat mashup called "Sleepykids". The intro is purely MGMT, but then the opening lyrics of "Sleepyhead" come in right over that, and then the synth riff is sped up to match the pace of "Kids", and then they just stay mixed together like that, racing forward at the same breakneck pace. It's pretty interesting, I gotta say. If you know these songs, try to pretend like you've never heard them before and treat this as a standalone single from the latest indie electro-pop buzz band from, I dunno . . . Brooklyn or Philly or some place like that. How does it sound? Does it work? What if Altered Zones named it top track of 2010 or some shit? Would you like it more? If you've never heard either of these songs, well, where the fuck have you been?

[Side note: I forgot how attractive Joanna Newsom looks in the video for "Kids".]

[Further side note: Here are some interesting cover versions of "Kids", because it is apparently a fucking popular song to cover - Allison Weiss - The Kooks - The Ooks Of Hazzard (seven ukeleles!) - Jason Yang (solo electric violin!) - Some teenage girl playing left-handed acoustic guitar and singing in German! - Some rando high school a capella group - Esther & Fatou (two girls playing acoustic guitar outside in a garden)]

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lester Bangs profile of Don Van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart)

In case you haven't heard, Don Van Vliet passed away yesterday 12.17.2010 :-( I've always found his music weirdly entertaining but, in retrospect now, I suppose I haven't given it enough chance to really move me and this has motivated me to go back and give it a few more earnest listens. By coincidence, I also happened to have read an interview with / profile of the one and only Captain Beefheart, included in Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader, not too long ago. I had honestly never read any of Lester's inimitable writing until a couple months ago (I know, right?) and sought out this book at the city library after seeing P4k Reviews Reviews mention him so frequently. It's a great read: a perfect example of Lester's passionate, free-flowing, and free-wheelin' but thoroughly insightful writing style, and it's a great description of Mr. Van Vliet himself. The L.A. Weekly blog posted the full transcription of the article (oroginally published in the Village Voice on 10.01.1980) just last night, but I'll quote here one of my favorite sections of the article. It's a quick burst of questions from Bangs trying to dig deeper into Beefheart's influences, musical or otherwise, and he ends up further away from his goal than when he started, but in a strange way, that tells you more about the guy than any "direct" answers possibly could. You'll see what I mean.

LB: Have you ever had somebody you idolized or looked up to as an artist?

DVV: Can't think of anybody, other than the fact that I thought Van Gogh was excellent.

LB: How about in music?

DVV: Never in music I never have. A hero in music. No, fortunately.

LB: So you didn't listen to like Delta blues and free jazz and stuff before you started to---

DVV: Not really. . . I met Eric Dolphy. He was a nice guy, but it was real limited to me, like bliddle-liddle-diddlenopdedit-bop, "I came a long way from St. Louie," like Ornette, you know. It didn't move me.

LB: Dolphy didn't MOVE you?

DVV: Well, he moved me, but he didn't move me as much as a goose, say. Now that could be a hero, a gander goose could definitely be a hero, the way they blow their heart out for nothing like that.

LB: Is that because you think that people generally do it for purposes of ego?

DVV: Um, yeah, which I think is good because it gets your shoes tied. You know what I mean, it doesn't scare old ladies, you get dressed. So I think that's nice.

LB: You don't think it's possible to create art that's egoless, that just flows through you?

DVV: That's possible, I'm tryin' to do that, on this last album definitely.

LB: Well, one thing I find is that the more I know the less I know.

DVV: Me too. I don't know anything about music.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010 Yearend List: Albums of the Year

I guess I'll throw my metaphorical hat into the metaphorical ring, assuming that makes any kind of sense, metaphorical or otherwise. In compiling this list, I had the same sorts of troubles I had with my list of jams: Was this album even from this year? What did I listen to the most? Should I rank by frequency of listening, or musical innovation? Does anybody even care about my "favorite" albums from this year? Eventually, I put together a long list of candidates and tried whittling that down to a smaller list, finally settling on a Top 13. Yes, 13; I'd like to simultaneously break out of the Top 10 mold and dispel the belief that 13 is unlucky, all at once. Check out the short list below, along with accompanying blurbs of opinion, album arts, and video jams (and links to info about the artist and places to buy the album), then check out the "long list" at the bottom of the page for all of the candidates. And understand that I'm just one guy with some thoughts and this is my list of "favorites"; they're not necessarily the inherently "best" or "ground-breaking" releases of this annual calendrical period. That said, I like a lively discussion, so please comment with your opinions!

The Short list (Top 13):

13. The Soft Pack / The Soft Pack [Kemado]

This quartet of guys from San Diego used be known as The Muslims but after "a slew of nasty emails" they changed their name to the term for "a fake flaccid penis that can be worn in the trousers of someone who doesn't have a penis that wants to convince people otherwise". That said, their brand of rousing, fast-paced, fuzzy, guitar-heavy, pump-your-fist-and-shout-along-with-the-chorus punk/rock makes perfect sense. And it's mighty satisfying. These 10 songs clock in at just over 30 minutes, and only "Mexico" slows down the pace below "blistering". The whole thing leaves you wanting to reexperience it again, but even louder and faster.

The Soft Pack: Website, MySpace
The Soft Pack: Kemado site, Insound, eMusic, Amazon

12. Citay / Dream Get Together [Dead Oceans]

It's tough to have a 7+ member band and have the songs come across sounding uncluttered and clean; Citay manages to make these songs sound perfectly uplifting and fun, at the same time, and they deserve much praise. Ezra Feinberg lays down the main vocals with two female backers, while three guitarists play some delicious riffs born from bright, running-on-the-beach-and-collapsing-into-the-waves California sunshine. It's fun to listen to, humming along with the guitars and letting the mood completely engulf you. Tack on a wonderful cover of a Galxie 500 tune and you've got yourself a solid album.

Citay: Website, MySpace
Dream Get Together: Dead Oceans site, Insound, eMusic, Amazon

11. Dum Dum Girls / I Will Be [Sub Pop]

I'll admit it: I'm a genuine sucker for catchy garage rock. But when it's done really well and with an interesting twist, I feel like my interest is more deserved, somehow. Dum Dum Girls certainly fall into this category, and the beautiful female vocal melodies and soft, sweet, and slow songs (including a cover of Sonny and Cher) put them in a class above all others. They're completely captivating live, too; I felt like singer Dee Dee's eyes were burning through my soul while I watched them, and I'm not sure now that she even looked in my direction the whole time. No matter, listening to the album makes me feel the same way, and that merits a lot of artistic credit.

Dum Dum Girls: Website, MySpace
I Will Be: Sub Pop site, Insound, eMusic, Amazon

10. Dr. Dog / Shame, Shame [ANTI-]

I'm finding it hard to describe what's ultimately really solid and listenable pop music. Dr. Dog fits together the guitars and drums and piano and vocals so well and unlike anyone else, really. You can hear the influences of 60s pop and folk music and current indie rock and whatever else you want to hear, really, but the bottom line is that they sound like no one else but themselves, especially given the fairly unique vocal stylings of the two main singers. These songs make me try to whistle and sing along simultaneously, and I hate them for making me want to do both at once and necessarily failing, but I love them for making such infectious and enjoyable music. "I do believe that there's no more tricks up my sleeve"? I beg to differ, Dr. Dog!

Dr. Dog: Website, MySpace
Shame, Shame: ANTI- site, Insound, eMusic, Amazon

9. Love Is All / Two Thousand And Ten Injuries [Polyvinyl]

There's something magical about the songs of Love Is All, and there must be something special about this album, in particular, because since finding it randomly via some Polyvinyl "garage sale" I've gone back to their older albums but didn't feel the same smile-inducing wonder as with this one. Admittedly, Josephine Olausson's vocals are kinda "love it or leave it" but count me among the totally-infatuated/love-is-all-I-have-for-it camp; it's tough to figure out her words (they're in English, but the heavy Swedish accent and tipsy warbling make it tough) but I think it's a fun game, and if I get distracted by the awesome guitar/bass jams in the meantime, I'm not gonna feel bad about it. Seriously, tell me that you aren't instantly caught by the opening drum/bass riff of "The Birds Were Singing With All Their Might" or the strained vocals over a bare bass line in "Early Warnings" or the stop/start guitar/drum intro to "Repetition" or . . . I could do that for every song on this album, and that's hard to ignore.

Love Is All: Website, MySpace
Two Thousand And Ten Injuries: Polyvinyl site, Insound, eMusic, Amazon

8. Meeting Of Important People / Quit Music EP [Authentik Artists]

At first, I thought that maybe my liking of this album was influenced by how frequently I've seen (and thoroughly enjoyed) MOIP playing live, but after looking back on the playcounts on my media player and iPod and thinking for a bit more, I have to admit that I really liked this album and listened to it a lot. And for good reason! Garage rock, punk, grunge, folk, reggae, this album has it all, and everything's filtered through the super fun, leg-kicking, toe-tapping, rock-out-like-nobody's-watching stylings of Josh, Matt and Aaron. They've put together a slick (albeit short) collection of upbeat and original pop-rock songs, plus a fun cover of a 60s bubblegum tune. I could listen to every one of these songs over and over and over, and you should too.

MOIP: Website, MySpace
Quit Music: Authentik Artists site, eMusic, Amazon

7. Woods / At Echo Lake [Woodsist]

This might be another band where the singer's voice could turn you off completely, but I find Jeremy Earl's high-pitched, ragged, mic-effect-driven melodies totally endearing. It fits right in with the general lo-fi, psyechedelic folk-rock vibe of the band (and their label, Woodsist, as a whole, too), and it's to their credit that they achieve that without sounding like they're screwing up the audio quality for the sake of doing so; rather, it generates the perfect feeling of sitting on the floor of your friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend's basement, sipping whiskey straight from the bottle, and having a raucous sing-along jam session. Opening track "Blood Dries Darker" (see video below) really sets the mood for the album, jumping right in with a riffy psych-guitar solo and letting those falsetto vocals really shine. Other numbers run along that vein, like "Suffering Season" and "Get Back" and "From The Horn" (a fun raga-influenced instrumental, in fact) but now that I'm playing the album straight through again for critical purposes, I can't help noticing how many of these tracks are on the slower and softer side. It doesn't feel like a slow or sad or downkey album, though; Woods just sneaks those songs of respite in and you're caught up in the ride so you don't even notice. That's a testament to their power to wrap you up in their fuzzy, reverberating blanket of sound and keep you all comfy and cozy.

Woods: Website, MySpace
At Echo Lake: Woodsist site, Insound, eMusic, Amazon

6. Sharon Van Etten / Epic [Ba Da Bing!]

I kept hearing about SVE from the guys on NPR's All Songs Considered. I mean, Robin Hilton said that he cried at one of her SXSW concerts. I had to check her out, and I'm glad I did. If these 7 songs don't move you deeply and forcefully, then I just feel sorry for you, because you're missing out on an intense emotional experience that only music with this kind of raw honesty, brutal heartache, and beautiful sound can induce. Even listening to this one on my iPod, it feels like SVE is in the room with me, pouring her heart and soul into a cup, adding in some strummed acoustic guitar, some lap guitar riffs, some plinky piano and percussion, some dirgeful, drawn-out guitar (I think?) sounds, and of course her stirring and hauntingly beautiful vocals and, in the end, making a wonderful, languid mixture of sounds and words. It's amazing how I still feel the same emotional power every time I hear the beginning of "Save Yourself" or the crest after the long, opening crescendo in "Don't Do It" and . . . yeah, I really love the first 3 songs on this one since they have the most immediate pull (for me anyway) but the second half of this short album has been a real grower. Please, at least listen to this album once, straight through. If it doesn't hit you, sobeit, but if it does, you'll thank me. Better yet, thank her.

Sharon Van Etten: Website, MySpace
Epic: Ba Da Bing! site, Insound, eMusic, Amazon

5. The Black Angels / Phosphene Dream [Blue Horizon]

This is definitely a rehashing of 60s psych-pop, but I really don't care; they recreate that sound and feeling so well, right down to the 13th Floor Elevators-esque jug on "Entrance Song" and the microphone effects on the howling screams in "Telephone". At 36 minutes, this album is much shorter than their other LPs (59 for Passover and 70 for Directions To See A Ghost), a reflection of their choice to stick to quick, upbeat radio-single songs instead of the long and haunting and mostly instrumental stuff they've done previously. But I like that change and they've pulled it off magnificently; if I'm fixin' for some of their older stuff, I'll go listen to that, but for now I'm welcoming the new style. The guitar riffs in their songs are so tight and clean and catchy that I find myself humming along and playing air guitar immediately without even realizing. Also, despite the inherent "poppy" sound here, this album is still full of gloomy imagery and dark, sinister sounds. The opening track, "Bad Vibrations" (video below), has an awesome eerie vibe and lyrics about "eating hearts", and then there's a straight-up ghost story on "Haunting At 1300 McKinley". There are no bad songs on here, and I love the overall sound. Great stuff.

The Black Angels: Website, MySpace
Phosphene Dream: Band site, Insound, eMusic, Amazon

4. Beach Fossils / Beach Fossils [Captured Tracks]

I'll admit I wrote this band off early on for being just another surf rock buzz band. Lesson learned: never judge a band by its name. Beach Fossils sounds much, much better than the name indicates, and main man Dustin Payseur admits that it was a bad choice. No matter, I'm glad I finally gave this album a chance. It's truly simple (as in, not dense (as in, clean and uncluttered)) jangly guitar rock and simple (as in, not so complicated) drum rhythms, layered over with Dustin's vocals, and then everything's washed over with a little bit of fuzzy lo-fi echo. (Luckily, the record comes with a lyric sheet so I can actually understand everything.) It's a simple formula, I suppose, but it's so hard to do it this way and be infinitely repeatable. I've put this on the turntable so many times since buying it over the summer. At first, it felt like a perfect "end of summer" record, then it felt like a great "beginning of autumn" record, and now it just feels like a perfect "anytime" record. Part of what I like about it is the homogeneity and the way I can just listen to it straight through and feel the sound style envelop my mind. I honestly can't even name half the songs off the top of my head, which might make it sound odd that this is #4 on the list, but that just stems from the fact that I play this one and kinda space out. Favorite records don't require endless fandom on the order of memorizing the alternate touring bassist's mother-in-law's birthstone or shit like that, you know? Beach Fossils just has perfect little jangly pop songs and I want to listen to them all in a row and do it over and over again.

Beach Fossils: MySpace
Beach Fossils: Captured Tracks site, Insound, eMusic, Amazon

3. Lower Dens / Twin Hand Movement [Gnomonsong]

I'm very glad I happened to see Lower Dens live earlier this spring, but it meant I had to wait a number of months for their album to drop, and that was painful. They were awesome in person, projecting an incredible wall of sound from the stage, full of shimmering guitars and rollicking bass lines and metronomic drum pounding and ohmygod Jana's voice is super and sexy and amazing. Part of the allure of their performance and this album is the enigmatic nature of the muffled vocals and washes of guitar sounds. It feels like I'm talking to a guru who can only give me advice in cryptic nuggets of wisdom like "A donut with no hole is a danish". I think "Tea Lights" is a good example of that vibe, but some other songs have a decidedly punkier punch to them, like "A Dog's Dick" or "Rosie", whereas songs like "Hospice Gates" let the swirling, shoegazey guitars lead the way. In short, there's a lot of innovative song structuring and sound-crafting going on here, and all of it is incredibly catchy without fitting into any standard genre classification or sounding like any other bands. I like that. A lot. And I really love "I Get Nervous". It's so fucking pretty that it almost hurts:

Lower Dens: Website, MySpace
Twin Hand Movement: Gnomonsongsite, Insound, Amazon

[Side note: the folks of Lower Dens are downright nice people, too, and lots of fun to hang out with.]

2. The Spires / Curved Space EP [Beehouse]

Maybe it's strange that a 7 song, 23 minute EP could rank this high on my list, but that's a true testament to just how much I've enjoyed these songs. I'd been a fan of The Spires for a year or more since randomly finding them on the interwebz, and was actually eagerly awaiting the release of this one and downloaded it on eMusic the day it came out. It's markedly different from their previous albums which focused more on clean, sunshiney guitar pop and catchy sing-along strummers. This time, they took their whole sound and fed it through entire clouds of reverb and fuzz and it came out sounding even better. Sometimes, this type of lo-fi scuzz is a defense mechanism to mask poor songwriting, but not here; far from it, even. I'd argue that these are some of the best pop-songs the group has put together, but it just happens that they chose to smother these in delicious layers of guitar fuzz and vocal echoes. "Kent Studies" kicks the whole thing off with some foot-stomping percussion and it just never stops. Every song on here is catchy and makes me want to hum and sing along, if I could only figure out the damn words! Seriously, overall, this is the album I listened to this year the most, by far: on my iPod walking to and from campus, on my laptop in the office, on my speakers at home, etc. And apart from the overall appeal of the album, there are just tons of little moments that grab my attention every time and keep me waiting for that part in the song to come up so I can say to whoever else is listening with me, "Ooh ooh, wasn't that so good?" Examples include: the way the word "Telephone..." echoes away into the ocean of reverb on "Kent Studies", the way the guitars almost stop around 1:15 in "Curved Space" but then they kick back in again even louder, when singer Jason Bays breaks into "It's taking control" in "Dreamer In My Mind" (definitely belted that one out during a long car ride with the windows down), the entire song "Held", the drum fills leading into the choruses in "Orange Yellow", the feedback intro to "Today Was Tomorrow", and the way that spacey and mellow instrumental "Yellow Orange" winds everything back down, leaving you wanting to experience the whole thing all over again. I cannot wait to see what else The Spires can accomplish in this paradigm. Or if they abandon it completely, who really cares, since I'll still have this gem of an EP to cherish.

The Spires: Website, MySpace
Curved Space: Beehouse site, Insound, eMusic, Amazon

[Side note: The band posted some videos of live alternate takes of songs from Curved Space that sound a bit more stripped-down. They're different but also quite awesome. Check them out.]

1. Tame Impala / Innerspeaker [Modular]

Shamefully, this is another band I almost wrote off at first without giving them a fair shot. Yeah, I saw they got a good Pitchfork score and the album cover was kinda trippy or whatever, but for some reason I just didn't feel compelled to investigate, until the guy at P4k Reviews Reviews kept raving about them (the description of "a sumptuous slab of psychedelic joy" really piqued my interest). I sampled some previews at eMusic and liked it enough to download the whole thing, and I've been listening to it nonstop since. It really is a perfect psychedelic rock record, filled with shimmering waterfalls of guitar sounds and effects and glorious, pounding drum fills and skippy rhythms, plus some seriously druggy lyrics (opener "It Is Not Meant To Be" is ostensibly about a failed romance because she doens't like "sitting around smoking weed") that still sound as sweet as honey and marshmallows (but not together, eww). I'm incredibly impressed by the song-crafting here, but it's also an outstanding studio production. I can't imagine the kind of work it took to put all of the effects together in such a well-balanced way: nothing sounds too echoey or too dampened or too loud or too soft or anything that's not fucking perfect. Every song on here is outstanding, not a note or tune out of place, but the 3 song run of "Lucidity", "Why Won't You Make Up Your Mind?", and "Solitude Is Bliss" right in the middle of the record really steals the show, for me. For a while, I would just play that section over and over on my iPod when I walked around town. Lately, though, I've been playing it straight through at least twice a week, and I can't imagine ever not listening to at least a few songs on this album in any given week. It's that good.

Tame Impala: Website, MySpace
Innerspeaker: Modular site, Insound, eMusic, Amazon

[Interesting observation: Of these 13 albums, I own 8 on vinyl, purchased 4 on eMusic, and got 1 as a free CD at a live show (thanks MOIP!). So fuck you, people who don't pay for music.]

Honorable mentions:
The Black Keys / Brothers [Nonesuch]
Kurt Vile / Square Shells EP [Matador]
Mariage Blanc / Mariage Blanc [Self-released]

The Long List:
Beach House / Teen Dream [Sub Pop]
Beach Fossils / Beach Fossils [Captured Tracks]
Bear Hands / Burning Bush Supper Club [Cantora]
Belle and Sebastian / Write About Love [Merge]
Best Coast / Crazy For You [Mexican Summer]
The Black Angels / Phosphene Dream [Blue Horizon]
The Black Keys / Brothers [Nonesuch]
Blue Giant / Blue Giant [Vanguard]
The Books / The Way Out [Temporary Residence]
Breathe Owl Breathe / Magic Central [Hometapes]
British Sea Power / Zeus EP [Rough Trade]
Broken Bells / Broken Bells [Columbia]
Citay / Dream Get Together [Dead Oceans]
Deerhunter / Halcyon Digest [4AD]
Disappears / Lux [Kranky]
Dr. Dog / Shame, Shame [ANTI-]
Dum Dum Girls / I Will Be [Sub Pop]
Dungen / Skit I Allt [Mexican Summer]
Frightened Rabbit / The Winter Of Mixed Drinks [Fat Cat]
Charlotte Gainsbourg / IRM [Elektra]
Glasser / Ring [True Panther Sounds]
Holy Fuck / Latin [Young Turks]
Lohio / Family Tree EP [Self-released]
Love Is All / Two Thousand And Ten Injuries [Polyvinyl]
Lower Dens / Twin Hand Movement [Gnomonsong]
Maps & Atlases / Perch Patchwork [Barsuk]
Mariage Blanc / Mariage Blanc [Self-released]
Meeting Of Important People / Quit Music EP [Authentik Artists]
Moon Duo / Escape [Sick Thirst]
The New Pornographers / Together [Matador]
of Montreal / False Priest [Polyvinyl]
Amanda Palmer / Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits Of Radiohead On Her Magical Ukulele EP [Self-released]
Ty Segall / Melted [Goner]
The Soft Pack / The Soft Pack [Kemado]
The Spires / Curved Space EP [Beehouse]
Spoon / Transference [Merge]
Strand Of Oaks / Pope Killdragon [eMusic Selects]
Tame Impala / Innerspeaker [Modular]
Titus Andronicus / The Monitor [XL]
Sharon Van Etten / Epic [Ba Da Bing!]
Kurt Vile / Square Shells EP [Matador]
The Walkmen / Lisbon [Fat Possum]
Warpaint / The Fool [Rough Trade]
Wavves / King Of The Beach [Fat Possum]
Woods / At Echo Lake [Woodsist]
Woodpigeon / Die Stadt Muzikanten [Boompa]
Wye Oak / My Neighbor, My Creator EP [Merge]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cover jam of the day: "The Killing Moon"

Artist: Pavement (covering Echo & The Bunnymen)
Song: "The Killing Moon"
Album: Brighten The Corners (Nicene Creedence Edition) (orig. Ocean Rain)
Label: Matador (orig. Korova)
Released: December 9, 2008 (orig. May 8, 1984)

I like this song. If you've seen Donnie Darko, the film, you undoubtedly like it, too. I was only reminded of this song when it came up as an answer during the "name that tune" section of pub quiz earlier tonight at the Brillobox. I spotted the Echo & The Bunnymen version on the first chord or two, and it immediately reminded me of the Pavement version, for whatever reason. It's not like there are other songs that instantly bring to mind other cover versions, so it was interstingly striking that this one stood out without a second thought.

Anyway, here's the original song:

and here's the cover version:

It's pretty faithful, but it definitely plays the Stephen Malkmus hipster-irony card in a vague sense, somewhat muffling the emo/ghost-story haunting vibe of the original but maintaining the enigmatic intrigue. Yeah, you know what I mean, motherfucker.

2010 Yearend List: Top 10 Live Shows, plus all Draw Us Lines posts

In case you didn't know, I also write some articles for Pittsburgh-based music blog Draw Us Lines. It's a pretty sweet gig, I gotta say, and I'm grateful to Jim and Blake for giving me the chance to share my thoughts and words with their audience. In the spirit of this week and all the 2010 yearend lists, I've collected here all of the stuff I've written that's posted on their site, including my list of Top 10 Live Shows of 2010 from this week's listorama. Check 'em out and be sure to follow Draw Us Lines, as well, for plenty of good stuff!

Concert Reviews:
09.13.2010 The Black Angels / Fillmore Jive @ Diesel
09.30.2010 Pavement / The Beets @ Central Park, NYC
10.11.2010 Lohio / Donora @ Brillobox
10.13.2010 Mariage Blanc / New Shouts @ Brillobox
10.21.2010 Meeting Of Important People / Ceiling Stares / Neighbors @ Howlers
11.09.2010 Frightened Rabbit / Plants & Animals / The Phantom Band @ Diesel
12.01.2010 Jenny Owen Youngs / Wakey!Wakey! @ Brillobox

10.08.2010 Allison Weiss
11.11.2010 Lower Dens

Show Previews:
09.28.2010 Quest For Glory Tour @ Garfield Artworks

Band Profiles:
10.26.2010 The Spires
11.03.2010 Old Canes
11.16.2010 Bear Hands
11.29.2010 Bottomless Pit
12.10.2010 Reading Rainbow

Song Diaries:
10.06.2010 The Spires / "Held"
10.11.2010 Sharon Van Etten / "Save Yourself"
11.01.2010 Belle and Sebastian / "I Want The World To Stop"
11.30.2010 Warpaint / "Undertow"
12.06.2010 Atlas Sound / "Here Come The Trains"

Record Store Recons:
10.18.2010 RSR #2, Academy Records
11.19.2010 RSR #4, Wicked Discs

Sunday, December 12, 2010

2010 Yearend List: Jams of the Year

This is the first year I've attempted to do any kind of yearend summary/critique of "best" or "favorite" albums/songs/concerts etc. etc. etc. It usually seemed like a silly idea to me. I mean, songs don't really care whether they were "released" into the public before or after some arbitrary calendar cutoff, you know? But whatever, we human beings like to categorize and organize and find order in chaos, and we sure as hell love to debate. So I tried making a list of favorite songs that I listened to a lot this year. In the process, I realized I was grossly underprepared for this task: I could think of a few off the top of my head, but mostly because they came from the top albums I listened to this year, but I wanted this list to encompass singles that don't necessarily come from great albums; also, I must not really pay attention to when music is released because I had to check on a lot of stuff and a good portion of it was from 2009; I also skimmed through my record collection to find some that wouldn't get picked up by Banshee's playcount ranking, and scanned some other folks' yearend album lists to scour for other ideas that slipped through the cracks of my mind. Basically, in the future, I need to keep these lists going all year and then weed out the shit later on. That's much easier than trying to build a big list from scratch at the end.

So anyway, here's a long list of songs I really liked this year. They're in alphabetical order by artist name, so there's no inherent ranking to the list. I'll likely add some more stuff over the next couple of weeks as they continue to come to mind, so keep an eye out for that. The "listen" link after each one will take you to a YouTube video or place to download/stream an mp3 file, depending on what I could find. Enjoy!

The Apples In Stereo / "Hey Elevator" / Travellers In Space And Time [Yep Roc] listen
ARMS / "Emily Sue, Pt. 2" / ARMS EP [Self-released] listen
A Sunny Day In Glasgow / "Drink drank drunk" / Autumn, again [Self-released] listen
Atlas Sound / "Here Come The Trains" / Bedroom Databank Vol. 2 [Self-released] listen
Beach Fossils / "Sometimes" / Beach Fossils [Captured Tracks] listen
Beach House / "Norway" / Teen Dream [Sub Pop] listen
Bear Hands / "Belongings" / Burning Bush Supper Club [Cantora] listen
Belle and Sebastian / "I Want The World To Stop" / Write About Love [Matador] listen
Best Coast / "Crazy For You" / Crazy For You [Mexican Summer] listen
The Black Angels / "Yellow Elevator #2" / Phosphene Dream [Blue Horizon] listen
The Black Keys / "Howlin' For You" / Brothers [Nonesuch] listen
The Books / "Group Autogenics I" / The Way Out [Temporary Residence] listen
Blue Giant / "Target Heart" / Blue Giant [Vanguard] listen
Breathe Owl Breathe / "Swimming" / Magic Central [Hometapes] listen
British Sea Power / "Zeus" / Zeus EP [Rough Trade] listen
Broken Bells / "The High Road" / Broken Bells [Columbia] listen
The Ceiling Stares / "Tunnel Through The Air" / EP I [Self-released] listen
Citay / "Careful With That Hat" / Dream Get Together [Dead Oceans] listen
Cults / "Go Outside" / Go Outside (7" single) [Self-released] listen
Dandelion Snow / "The Grand Scheme Of Things" / The Grand Scheme Of Things [Big Bullet] listen
Das Racist / "hahahaha jk?" / Sit Down, Man [Mad Decent / Greedhead / Mishka] listen
Deerhunter / "Revival" / Halcyon Digest [4AD] listen
Disappears / "Magics" / Lux [Kranky] listen
Dr. Dog / "Mirror, Mirror" / Shame, Shame [ANTI-] listen
Dum Dum Girls / "Bhang Bhang, I'm A Burnout" / I Will Be [Sub Pop] listen
Dungen / "Högdalstoppen" / Skit I Allt [Subliminal Sounds] listen
Sharon Van Etten / "Save Yourself" / Epic [Ba Da Bing!] listen
Field Mouse / "Tracing The Map" / You Are Here [Self-released] listen
Free Energy / "Bang Pop" / Stuck On Nothing [Astralwerks] listen
Frightened Rabbit / "Swim Until You Can't See Land" / The Winter Of Mixed Drinks [Fat Cat] listen
Charlotte Gainsbourg / "Heaven Can Wait" / IRM [Because] listen
The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger / "Jardin Du Luxembourg" / Acoustic Sessions [Chimera Music] listen
Glasser / "Apply" / Ring [True Panther] listen
The Happy Hollows / "Big Bad Wolf" / Spells B-Sides [Self-released] listen
Harlem / "Friendly Ghost" / Hippies [Matador] listen
High Highs / "Open Season" / [Self-released] listen
Holy Fuck / "Red Lights" / Latin [Young Turks] listen
Japandroids / "Art Czars" / Art Czars b/w Racer-X 7" single [Polyvinyl] listen
LCD Soundsystem / "Pow Pow" / This Is Happening [DFA] listen
Lohio / "Family Tree" / Family Tree EP [self-released] listen
Los Campesinos! / "There Are Listed Buildings" / Romance Is Boring [Wichita] listen
Love Is All / "The Birds Were Singing With All Their Might" / Two Thousand And Ten Injuries [Polyvinyl] listen
Lower Dens / "I Get Nervous" / Twin Hand Movement [Gnomonsong] listen
Maps & Atlases / "Israeli Caves" / Perch Patchwork [Barsuk] listen
Mariage Blanc / "Rag To A Bull" / Mariage Blanc [self-released] listen
Meeting Of Important People / "Leap-The-Dips" / Quit Music EP [Authentik Artists] listen
MGMT / "It's Working" / Congratulations [Columbia] listen
Moon Duo / "Motorcycle, I Love You" / Escape [Woodsist] listen
The National / "Anyone's Ghost" / High Violet [4AD] listen
Netherfriends / "I'm Gonna Start" / Barry and Sherry [Lateral] listen
The New Pornographers / "Moves" / Together [Matador] listen
New Shouts / "Answers On A Postcard" / Digital Single 01 [Self-released] listen
Thee Oh Sees / "I Was Denied" / Warm Slime [In The Red] listen
of Montreal / "Coquet Coquette" / False Priest [Polyvinyl] listen
Amanda Palmer / "High And Dry" [Radiohead cover] / Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits Of Radiohead On Her Magical Ukulele [Self-released] listen
Pepper Rabbit / "Red Wine" / Beauregard [Kanine] listen
Plants & Animals / "The Mama Papa" / La La Land [Secret City] listen
Reading Rainbow / "Always On My Mind" / Prism Eyes [Hozac] listen
Ty Segall / "Sad Fuzz" / Melted [Goner] listen
The Soft Pack / "Answer To Yourself" / The Soft Pack [Kemado] listen
Sonny and the Sunsets / "Too Young To Burn" / Tomorrow Is Alright [Soft Abuse] listen
The Spires / "Held" / Curved Space EP [Beehouse] listen
Spoon / "Written In Reverse" / Transference [Merge] listen
Laura Stevenson & The Cans / "Landslide Song/The Dig" / A Record [Quote Unquote] listen
Strand Of Oaks / "Alex Kona" / Pope Killdragon [eMusic Selects] listen
Strange Boys / "Be Brave" / Be Brave [In The Red] listen
Surfer Blood / "Floating Vibes" / Astro Coast [Kanine] listen
Tame Impala / "Solitude Is Bliss" / Innerspeaker [Modular] listen
Titus Andronicus / "Theme From 'Cheers'" / The Monitor [XL] listen
Twin Sister / "The Other Side Of Your Face" / Color Your Life EP [Infinite Best] listen
Kurt Vile / "I Know I Got Religion" / Square Shells EP [Matador] listen
Villagers / "I Saw The Dead" / Becoming A Jackal [Domino] listen
The Walkmen / "Blue As Your Blood" / Lisbon [Fat Possum] listen
The War On Drugs / "Comin' Through" / Future Weather EP [Secretly Canadian] listen
Warpaint / "Undertow" / The Fool [Rough Trade] listen
Wavves / "Take On The World" / King Of The Beach [Fat Possum] listen
Woodpigeon / "Woodpigeon vs. Eagleowl (Strength in Numbers)" / Die Stadt Muzikanten [End Of The Road] listen
Woods / "Blood Dries Darker" / At Echo Lake [Woodsist] listen
Wye Oak / "My Neighbor" / My Neighbor, My Creator EP [Merge] listen

Friday, December 10, 2010

Video jams: of Montreal, Bear Hands, Twin Sister, No Joy, Lower Dens, The Greenhornes, Wye Oak

I have a list of posts that I've been meaning to write and it's been growing quickly as of late, so I thought I'd share a slew of videos all at once. Most of these are quite new, and they're all from within the last few months (except for The Greenhornes one, which is a couple years old). Enjoy!

of Montreal / "Coquet Coquette" / False Priest [Polyvinyl] (2010)
One of the standout singles from this year's album, and it sounds like it could have easily been on an older album, like Satanic Panic In The Attic, instead of amongst all of the neo-Prince funk/rock of False Priest. I ain't complaining though; it's a rockin' little number chock full of Kevin Barnes' odd yet witty lyrics and a correspondingly bizarre video that seems like the visual interpretation of a short story that could have been written by a hybrid of Robert Louis Stevenson and George Orwell and George Romero, on Ecstasy. You'll see what I mean. I think.

Director: Jason Miller

of Montreal / "Famine Affair" / False Priest [Polyvinyl] (2010)
Another great song from this album and an interesting concept for the video: what if you were the only guy at an all-girl party? Sounds fun, right guys? Not if that party is life and you're an outcast, nobody feeding you strawberries, the door shut in your face when the "adults are playing", no one will dance with you, everyone wants you out and punches you in the face, and yet when you try to run away, they just chase you down and bring you back. Crazy. And never mind that whole thing with the yellow cup . . .

Directors: Nina Barnes & Jason Miller

Bear Hands / "Crime Pays" / Burning Bush Supper Club [Cantora] (2010)
I've been a Bear Hands fan since seeing them live back in February 2010. "What A Drag" is a great single, and their debut album finally came out in October and it's solid. This is the opening track and really captures their sound stylings. The video itself is a slowish-motion montage of various criminal acts, of sorts, kinda artsy and such but it's fun to watch. Plus, keep your eye out for a quick shot of Mike Tyson (WTF!?) and the album title on a soon-to-be-smashed window.

Twin Sister / "All Around And Away We Go" / Color Your Life EP [Infinite Best] (2010)
This band made a pretty big splash on the blogosphere this year and have a bunch of cred to their name considering they've only officially released a couple of EPs. They're both solid, though, and all the buzz is deserved, I say. They also put a bunch of demos and unreleased versions on their website, including a series of ringtones. This video is pretty cheeky, with cheesy dance moves and animation and swirling, colored lights and a camera panning across the band members with totally serious looks on their faces just barely hiding outright laughter at their own silliness.

Director: ?

Twin Sister / "Daniel"
Here's the band playing a live version of an unreleased (I think) track for the LaundroMatinee series. Look at how young (and attractive) they are!

Twin Sister - Daniel from LaundroMatinee on Vimeo.

Twin Sister / "Ginger" / Vampires With Dreaming Kids [Infinite Best] (2008)
Okay, last one from them, I swear :-) I just like this song and I only came across this video because it was made and posted by Pitchfork Reviews Reviews, one of the funniest and most interesting music blogs out there. I can't seem to find the link anywhere, but I remember reading somewhere that he was thinking of how this song reminds you of when you've been away from New York City (or whatever your home town/city is) for a while and then you're coming back and you're driving in and you see the skyline again and it reminds you of all of your memories there. Yeah, that's a nice thought.

No Joy / "Hawaii" / Ghost Blonde [Mexican Summer] (2010)
Ah the good old days, when we used to hop in the back of our friend's pickup truck, drive out to the woods, make out with each other, smear berry goop and dirt all over our naked bodies, and . . . wait, you didn't do that? Hmm, me neither. Must be some hazy drug memory that we're vicariously experiencing through this video. It's hard to imagine anything else happening during this skittery, fuzzy, psychedelic, thumping and guitar-heavy track, though, yeah? And can you feel the whole trip melting away at the end when they bathe in the river and the guitars fade out? Pretty cool.

No Joy - Hawaii from Mexican Summer on Vimeo.

Director: SALAZAR
(Note at 2:20 mark: if only my teeth could stay that white while I roll around in the mud!)

The Greenhornes [feat. Holly Golightly] / "There Is An End" / Dual Mono [Telstar] (2002)
I'm glad I found this band on eMusic earlier this year, because I've played this album so often on my walk to and from campus that I've probably worn out the mp3 files. (You'll notice that the playlist I posted last week has 2 songs from them, too, including this one.) There's not too much going on in this video, aside from the outstanding song and some slow-moving, colored lines and shapes and faded images, but it really fits, somehow. One of the top comments on YouTube for this video is "one of the greatest songs to get pissed to". Yes sir, yes it is. (Pissed = drunk, ICYDK.)

Lower Dens / "Batman" / "Batman" b/w "Dear Betty Baby" 7" single [Gnomonsong] (2011)
This song doesn't appear on Lower Dens' outstanding debut album Twin Hand Movement, but it did appear on a demo CD they sold on their tour this past spring and it will be out on a 7" single b/w "" in a month or so (order that here from Gnomonsong). It's a live show staple, though, and this is a lovely version put together in the studio for Yours Truly in San Francisco. Jana's voice is sweet as always, and Will's guitar work is super tight. This band is so good please love them now thank you very much.

Yours Truly Presents: Lower Dens "Batman" from Yours Truly on Vimeo.

(Thanks to Baltimore Musically Informed for the link.)

Wye Oak / "My Neighbor" / My Neighbor, My Creator EP [Merge] (2010)
This one is from much earlier this year, but I just found it myself, so I had to share. It's fascinating to watch Andy Stack's simultaneous drumming/keyboarding, and this is one of the better tracks from this year's EP. It's got a wonderfully rough, jagged sound to it here, compared to the album version, too. This band is so good please love them now thank you very much.

Wye Oak - My Neighbor - Luxury Wafers Sessions from Luxury Wafers on Vimeo.