Jan 31, 2008

Black Mountain - In the Future

A couple weeks ago I mentioned this record as one of the exciting new releases to check out and I promised to talk a little more about it at some point. Seeing as how I've had it in pretty solid rotation ever since first hearing it, now seems like a great time to dig a little deeper into one of the first great rock albums of 2008. And by rock, I very much mean just that - this is bone-crunching, gritty, psychedelic ROCK music in the best possible sense. These five Canadians combine the influences of bands like Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Hawkwind into a compelling mix that defies easy categorization and avoids the traps that more slavish devotees of said bands most often fall into.

The album kicks off with the fantastic "Stormy High", a riff-roaring slab of heaviness that sets the tone for what is to follow over the course of the album. The ethereal vocals of Amber Webber and the psychedelic mellotron (both of which play important roles throughout In the Future) play off the monster guitar riffs, giving the track an otherworldly feel. But it is the third track, "Tyrants", that really gives you a taste of how awesome this band is. The first part takes you on a swirling, cosmic acid trip before rudely yanking you back to earth with an absolutely crushing riff. Listening to the band shift gears so suddenly and so effectively is an absolute treat. "Wucan" and "Stay Free" take us on a stoner's odyssey through the Led Zeppelin catalog, emphasizing the plodding riffery of "Kashmir" on the former and the acoustic folk of III on the latter. "Evil Ways" is another instant classic, turning Black Mountain into a long-lost, shambling garage band with one absolutely huge organ sound. It provides for a nice blast of adrenaline following the proggy workout of "Queens Will Play" and sets things up nicely for the electric-folk mini-suite of "Wild Wind", itself serving as one final breath of fresh air before the centerpiece and high watermark of the album - "Bright Lights". "Lights" is a seventeen minute trance-rock odyssey that twists and turns through the jammiest parts of Hawkwind, The Dead, and Yes - all shimmering keys, fuzzy guitars, and acid imagery without sliding into the self-indulgent excesses that plagued each of those bands at one time or another. When that monster riff drops and is quickly followed by those evil organ stabs just after the four minute mark, prepare to have your mind blown without the need for illegal substances. It's such an intense trip that the album's last track, "Night Walks", is an absolute necessity to bring you back down to earth gently.

I think the greatest testament to the strength of this album is the simple fact that I've had a new favorite track nearly every time I queue it up. Right now I'm back to "Bright Lights", but last week it was "Wucan" and shortly before that "Evil Ways" and "Stormy High" were battling for that honor. I'm fully expecting this to be one of my favorite rock albums of the year, it'll be really difficult for another band to even approach, let alone maintain, the level of consistency and intensity required to best this beast. Below are a couple more tunes meant to goad you into buying the damn thing and experiencing it for yourself.

Black Mountain - "Wucan" (taken from In the Future)
Black Mountain - "Evil Ways" (taken from In the Future)

Jan 29, 2008

Catching up on 2007...

Or, at least catching up on a couple of 2007 releases that I hadn't gotten around to yet.

artist: Nicole Atkins
album: Neptune City
label: Columbia
sample: "Together We're Both Alone"
Quite possibly the first artist I've discovered solely thanks to a television commercial. The Nicole Atkins and the Sea American Express commercials had been piquing my interest for a couple months, but it wasn't until I read about two of her biggest inspirations being David Lynch (the eternally twisted director) and Angelo Badalamenti (frequent collaborator with said twisted director) that I decided she might be worth checking out. While she may not be quite as awe-inspiring as those two characters, she certainly has one hell of a set of pipes. She reminds me a little bit of Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley, but with a jones for Brill Building 1950s pop instead of americana/country. The sample track above, "Together We're Both Alone", is a perfect example of what she's doing right.

artist: The Rumble Strips
album: Alarm Clock EP
label: Universal
sample: "High Street Heaven", "The Boys Are Back In Town"
Ready for that ska revival? If these Devon boys have anything to say about, we may need to start preparing for its return. But if you're thinking Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Reel Big Fish, don't worry just yet. The Rumble Strips reach back a little further to the pop-infused ska of bands like Madness and English Beat. But you can also hear the resemblance to other pop bands of the era, Adam and the Ants or Dexys Midnight Runners to name a few. Sound fun? They really are, flavoring their blend of soulful pop with blasts of trumpet and saxophone. "High Street Heaven" represents the band at their zesty best, but its their cover of Thin Lizzy that's the real treat. I hope we see a stateside release of their full-length debut, Girls and Weather, sometime in 2008.

Jan 24, 2008


iTunes. shuffle. five songs. a few thoughts.

Sebadoh - "Kath" (taken from III)
Sweet and simple (by Sebadoh standards anyway) little Lou Barlow song off the recently reissued landmark III LP. This was apparently recorded all by Lou's lonesome at the bedside of his sleeping girlfriend. Awww.

Gui Boratto - "Xilo" (taken from Chromophobia)
What it would sound like if Kompakt provided the soundtrack to the next James Bond flick, cinematic string swells and the spy-theme guitar line flavor this track from Boratto's 2007 album. You can almost picture Daniel Craig flying down the nighttime Paris streets in his ultra-sleek Mercedes, chasing down the bad guys.

Dabrye - "In Water" (taken from Two/Three)
Bridging the gap between hip-hop and electronica with whip cracks and a muddy bassline, this brief track proves why the Ann Arbor based producer is so well respected by musicians in both circles.

Robert Pollard - "The Accidental Texas Who" (taken from Normal Happiness)
Another trademark Pollard hook, this from one of his more recent solo albums, helping to prove that the old man hasn't lost a step since disbanding Guided by Voices.

Witch - "Black Saint"
(taken from Witch)
Witch, in which J Mascis returns to his metal drumming roots. Pure Sabbath sludge worship/homage, but there ain't nothing wrong with that. I love the guitar tones all over this album, especially the ones on display during these solos. I also love the crazy tempo switch three-quarters of the way through.

Jan 23, 2008

Giving that band a second shot...

I thought I hated Times New Viking. I figured I would be just as happy to live the rest of my life without ever having to hear one of their songs ever again. Turns out I was wrong.

See, I first heard about this Columbus, Ohio trio early in 2007 after the release of their second Stiltbreeze record and their signing with Matador. Everything I read about them indicated that I would love them - noisy, lo-fi, bargain basement recording techniques, twisted pop sensibility - sounded like a great thing to me. I was expecting a younger, more exuberant version of Guided by Voices or something. Turns out that was my mistake. After my first listen to Present the Paisley Reich I didn't get it. Yeah there were a couple of decent melodies in the music, but you had to suffer through some of the most horrible production I'd ever heard. I mean, really bad production. Like guitars being played through blown out speakers and recorded into a busted four-track tape recorder floating in a piss-filled toilet while the lead singer bellows from another room. These kids made Guided by Voices sound like, I don't know, fucking ELO by comparison. I just couldn't get past the tinny, treble-y production that was killing me ears. It wasn't worth suffering through that much for a couple lousy hooks. I gave the album a couple more spins as the year went by, but every listen became an absolute chore so I ended up deleting the album from my iPod completely.

Who knows why, maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but for some reason I decided to give their Matador debut (Rip It Off) a chance to see if they'd improved at all. The first thirty seconds didn't make me hopeful, it was just as noisy and painful as anything off the last disc. I skipped ahead to the next track, "(My Head)", and suddenly everything fell into place. An instantly engaging melody emerged from the muck and I found myself nodding along as the band sang one of the most undeniable hooks of this early year. Sure, it was still noisy and tinny and everything I didn't like about the last album, but all that mattered was that hook. It was like listening to the most incompetent kids in the world trying to bash out an exuberant tune from the garage next door. The song was downright charming, in a way that the most slickly produced pop song could never be. The rest of the album flew by and I was picking up hooks and melodies all over the place. Some time in the last year, Times New Viking took a dramatic leap in songwriting abilities and it has paid off in spades. The noise and distortion, which struck me as a too carefully constructed gimmick on the last album, suddenly made complete and perfect sense as an aesthetic decision. I was really glad I gave these kids another chance, this record is a real treat. But, as usual, don't take my word for it.... have a listen for yourself (and... if you are new to Times New Viking... yes, it really is meant to sound like this...)

Times New Viking - "(My Head)" (taken from Rip It Off)
Times New Viking - "Faces On Fire" (taken from Rip It Off)

Jan 22, 2008

10 Things I Hate About Tuesday...

Not really, but a pun on Heath Ledger's first American movie seemed more appropriate than the string of Brokeback Mountain jokes soon to be upon us. But seriously, I was pretty shocked by Ledger's sudden death today and I feel completely awful for his daughter and the rest of his family. I wasn't always a fan of his work, but his performance as Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback convinced me that he was not an actor to be taken lightly. I was looking forward to seeing him in I'm Not There, not to mention his upcoming role as the Joker in the latest Batman movie. RIP Heath... it's a shame to see such a talented guy gone at such a young age, no matter what personal demons he may or may not have been battling.

Ledger's shocking death kind of overshadowed the other big movie news of the day, the 2008 Oscar nominations. No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood (both of which I'm dying to see in the near future) led the way with 8 nominations each, but I think the biggest surprise to me was the recognizing of Juno. I loved the movie, but I never would have dreamed that it would received nods for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress for Ellen Page. Page certainly deserves some sort of award for her outstanding portrayal of Juno MacGruff, but it will be difficult competing with the likes of Julie Christie and Cate Blanchett. The nominees made me realize just how much catching up I have to do in the next couple of months. Biggest crime of the day? Eddie Vedder getting shut out of the Original Song category in favor of THREE songs from that Enchanted flick. Come on people.

On the music related front, I completely forgot to mention two good new releases in yesterday's post... the latest from Southern rockers Drive-By Truckers and the debut from MGMT, produced by Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Sparklehorse). Both are well worth checking out.

Jan 21, 2008

new releases: January 21st

Looking for some good new music to blow your hard-earned cash on? Here's a couple new releases set to drop tomorrow that you may be interested in...

artist: Cat Power
album: Jukebox
label: Matador
Chan Marshall's second disc full of cover songs follows up where 2006's The Greatest leaves off, featuring the Dirty Delta Blues Band backing her up as she takes on James Brown, Frank Sinatra, and Hank Williams (among others). Reactions so far have been pretty mixed with most people saying it doesn't hold a candle to 2000's The Covers Record, but Chan's voice is still beautiful and this may well be worth a listen. Most intriguing to me is the limited bonus disc that finds her covering "I Feel" by the Hot Boys. Yeah, those Hot Boys.

artist: Black Mountain
album: In the Future
label: Jagjaguwar
sample: "Tyrants"
The week's release that I am personally the most excited about. Their 2005 self-titled album was an awesome exercise in psychedelic stoner rock, striking the perfect balance between bruising and cruising. This eagerly anticipated follow-up has been getting rave reviews, especially the 17-minute tour de force "Bright Lights". I've managed to hear most of it and let me tell you, it really rocks. Expect more from me in the days to come.

artist: The Whigs
album: Mission Control
label: ATO
I'm also pretty excited about this one too. I've been a fan of this Atlanta band (not to be confused with the more dour Whigs of the Afghan variety) since reviewing their last album, Give 'Em All A Big Fat Lip, for Static a couple years ago. It was a promising debut from some talented youngsters, and from everything I've heard this one looks to be even better. A good place to get your garage rock fix.

Jan 20, 2008

Pullin' up the covers...

A quick and dirty update for this late Sunday night. An exhausting, yet highly productive, road trip to Bay City over the weekend (and the extreme cold) has left my brain cells dead and/or dying so this one will be nice and easy... a couple recent cover songs that I've been in love with.

"Get Ur Freak On" - Eels (originally performed by Missy Elliott) (taken from Meet the Eels)
Alternative bands covering hip-hop hits often dwell on pure "hey look at me!" novelty, but this is quite a cool reinvention of the Missy classic. It's a trip listening to E approximate Timbaland's Bengali beat on guitar, not to mention Missy's various vocal exclamations ("hollaaaaaaa"). A really, really fun cover.

"Goin' To Acapulco" - Jim James and Calexico (originally by Bob Dylan) (taken from I'm Not There O.S.T.)
We go from a fun, but relatively inessential, cover to one of those covers that absolutely manages to improve upon the original. Dylan's original never really stood out among the other gems on The Basement Tapes for me, but this recent cover is absolutely beautiful and captivating. This is, quite simply, one of Mr James' best vocal performances ever - and, considering My Morning Jacket's stellar discography, that is really saying something.

Jan 16, 2008

2007 Idolator Pop Critics Poll results...

For the second year in a row, I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in the Idolator Pop Critics Poll - a descendant (of sorts) of the legendary Christgau/Village Voice Pazz & Jop annual poll. This year 451 different music critics from around the world submitted their votes for best albums, tracks, artists, and reissues of the year. Thanks to the boundless determination and energy of critic and author Michaelangelo Matos, all these lists have been tabulated and the results posted for all to see. Any music (or statistics) lover can spend hours poring over the overall lists and the individual ballots. If you've paid attention to my year-end lists, you already know who I submitted for my favorites albums and tracks of the year, but here are my votes for the artist of the year category (for some reason I had trouble getting the online ballot to register my reissues):

1. Kanye West
2. Battles
3. LCD Soundsystem
4. Animal Collective
5. Electrelane

A few thoughts on the overall poll results. LCD Soundsystem was the overall winner and I can't say I'm surprised since James Murphy seemed to be a critic's darling all through the year. It probably helped that he kept releasing killer material all through 2007, keeping him fresh on voters' minds. Nor was it surprising to see the other two big critics darlings finish right behind, M.I.A. in the second slot with Radiohead coming in third. Seeing Against Me barely miss out on the top twenty was a pleasant surprise, I'm glad to see a deserving band getting some critical love (especially since their fans seem to be ditching them left and right for "selling out" - damn haters). My only complaint, and one that I've noticed on quite a few other lists this year, is how predictable the results were. I probably could have guessed nine of the top ten without batting an eye. My personal favorite finished just outside the top ten, at 11, so I'm not terribly disappointed.

On the singles front, Rihanna took the top spot with "Umbrella" and I can't say I can argue with that one. - that track was ubiquitous this year. Nice to see UGK cracking the top ten for their hot single, but can we get off the "Young Folks" love? Its over a year old and played to damn death, let's let it go people. I did gain faith in my fellow critics though, when one of this year's inescapable annoyances (Soulja Boy's "Crank Dat") was shut out of the Top 50 and Fergie didn't make an appearance until 188 (where both "Glamorous" and "Big Girls Don't Cry" were tied).

Radiohead walked away with the best artist award, unsurprising after all the press and critical fawning over both their album and the way they chose to release it. But I'm not complaining, they were my number five choice before I bumped them for Electrelane at the last minute. Nice to see both Lil Wayne and Miranda Lambert crack the top ten, I think we'll be hearing much more about both of them in the next couple of years to come. By the way, I want to kiss whoever voted for "T-Pain's talk box" as artist of the year - awesome!

Jan 15, 2008

Real Emotional Jick

I got my first peek at the new Stephen Malkmus album, Real Emotional Trash, earlier today and I gotta say that I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it just yet. A proper listen when it drops on March 18 may help me sort out my feelings a little more, but for now I was left kinda uninspired. On the one hand, this sounds like yet another Malkmus solo album - lots of excuses for his guitar pyrotechnics, iffy lyrics, and several jaunty melodies to get stuck in your head. And, sadly, very little of the impish charm that made Pavement such a joy to behold throughout the nineties. But on the other hand, there are flashes of life behind the drumkit that keep things from growing altogether too stale thanks to new Jick and former Sleater-Kinney member Janet Weiss. Don't get me wrong, this still holds a whole lot of potential and Malkie cranks out a solid handful of awesome guitar solos, but I didn't feel anything stick like the best moments of Pavement or even the first couple solo discs. I'm not going to give up though, and you should most definitely take a listen for yourself.

Stephen Malkmus & Jicks - "Baltimore" (via Matador's site)

Jan 14, 2008

Conflicted feelings on one of rock's greatest vocalists...

This post was inspired by a recent spin of Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger album and my subsequent reflection on the career of lead singer Chris Cornell. In the intervening years since I discovered Soundgarden (via 1994's Superunknown), I've developed a pretty messy love-hate relationship with the guy.

As I mentioned, I initially fell hard and fast for the band and its rock-god/banshee vocalist through Superunknown, being far too into hip-hop in 1991 to care much for Badmotorfinger when it originally came out (although I do remember really liking "Rusty Cage"). The release of Superunkown dovetailed with my full-on immersion into the "alternative" explosion of the early-to-mid 1990s. It was dense, epic, and satisfied my hard guitar jones like no other album since Metallica's ...And Justice For All. But as much as I loved Kim Thayil's axe work, it was Cornell's voice that hooked me for good. THIS is exactly what a rock vocalist should sound like - shrieking and wailing his way through the surrounding maelstrom. His work with Temple of the Dog, which I also discovered a little late, further piqued my interest.

But I slowly started warming to the other side of Cornell's work - the calmer, albeit rarer, and acoustic singer-songwriter type stuff. It started with the obligatory "Seasons" from the Singles soundtrack, which provided a nice contrast to Soundgarden's more brutal contribution, "Birth Ritual" (also quite excellent). The song that truly made me fall in love with his voice was, however, the acoustic version of "Like Suicide" that appeared on the criminally underrated (and out-of-print) soundtrack to the pretty bad 1994 Reese Witherspoon vehicle S.F.W. (also containing some great tracks from Monster Magnet and Cop Shoot Cop, among others). I couldn't stop playing the song and ended up putting it on countless mixtapes during the Fall of 1994.

By 1996 and the release of Soundgarden's final album, Down On the Upside, I was firmly entrenched as a fan and bought the album as soon as I could get my hands on it. But, outside of a few strong exceptions, the album didn't resonate strongly with me and I quickly lost interest in favor of some of the other interesting records coming out that same year. I only picked up the compilation A-Sides out of sheet loyalty, giving it only a few cursory spins for the earliest tracks I didn't already have. With Cornell's future uncertain, I continued to move on and let my rabid fandom fade.

I'm not sure what made me decide to pick up his solo debut (because, let's face it, early 90's dudes didn't exactly have a strong track record for engrossing solo albums), Euphoria Morning, when it dropped in 1999; but I did, and I was pleasantly surprised. Lead single "Can't Change Me" was about as good as non nu-metal radio rock got in 1999 and both "Preaching the End of the World" and "When I'm Down" earned multiple mixtape placements. It wasn't great, no, but it renewed my faith in Cornell's work and showed that he could work a few places in between the quiet acoustic and full-on rage modes.

Speaking of rage, I don't think words can express how excited I was when I first heard about Cornell teaming up with three/fourths of Rage Against the Machine for a project that eventually came to be called Audioslave. One of the most inventive guitarists of the 1990s and one of the most powerful vocalists of the past decade being backed by one of the hardest hitting rhythm sections around? Shit yeah! Where do I sign up? And lead single "Cochise" raised my hopes even higher - a jolt of retro alterna-metal with a most kick-ass lead-off riff. Then I heard the album and slowly realized my absurdly high expectations were a little off base. Audioslave, taken as a whole, sounded fairly weak and uninspired. Aside from a couple rare occasions, gone were all of Tom Morello's fireworks and the intensity of Rage's former rhythm section. It was a minor let-down, but little of it indicated the depths to which this new collaboration would sink.

"Be Yourself", the lead single from second album Out of Exile, was a pretty putrid attempt at self-help radio rock that showed how far the band had fallen. I didn't even bother buying or even listening to the rest of the album. Follow-up singles "Your Time Has Come" and "Doesn't Remind Me" only served to show that I had made the right choice. By the time third album Revelations came about, I cared so little that I don't think I ever willingly heard a single track off of it. So I was slightly less than caring when Cornell announced his departure from the band in early 2007, I really didn't have the desire to follow him into another abysmal project. He has since gone on to release a second solo album, Carry On, which I also haven't had the energy or motivation to check out. The review I've read have indicated that its pretty bad and, honestly, I don't have high expectations at all.

So I love his work with Soundgarden, really like his first solo album, hate most of his work with Audioslave, love his version of "Ave Maria", and even sort of liked his James Bond theme. Probably one of the artists I am most conflicted about and, bar any amazing late-career renaissance, I don't see that ever changing. And as long as I have my copies of Superunknown, A-Sides, and Euphoria Morning - I think I'm okay with that.

I leave you with my ultimate Rough Guide to Chis Cornell tracklist, presented in chronological order:

1. "Nothing To Say" - Soundgarden
2. "Get on the Snake" - Soundgarden
3. "Rusty Cage" - Soundgarden
4. "Outshined" - Soundgarden
5. "Say Hello 2 Heaven" - Temple of the Dog
6. "Seasons" - Chris Cornell
7. "Birth Ritual" - Soundgarden
8. "Black Hole Sun" - Soundgarden
9. "The Day I Tried To Live" - Soundgarden
10. "4th of July" - Soundgarden
11. "Like Suicide (acoustic)" - Chris Cornell
12. "Blow Up the Outside World" - Soundgarden
13. "Rhinosaur" - Soundgarden
14. "Can't Change Me" - Chris Cornell
15. "Preaching the End of the World" - Chris Cornell
16. "Cochise" - Audioslave
17. "Shadow on the Sun" - Audioslave

Jan 13, 2008

Further Impressions of First Impressions...

I was hoping to kick off the new year with a veritable flurry of new posts, so as to keep me from falling into a slump of not updating this blog frequently enough... but as sometimes happens, life had other plans for me. I spent the last four days out of town for my grandmother's funeral and, needless to say, other things took priority over posts on a silly little blog that hardly anyone reads. It wasn't an unexpected passing, although it did come a bit more quickly than some of us might have expected. She will most definitely be missed and I'm very fortunate for having had her in my life. Towards getting back into the swing of things, the below is a post I had been kicking around early last week.

Every now and then I get the itch to spend a little time with those albums that seem to get lost in the shuffle of time and pile of new releases to get through. Those albums that may have stuck around for a little while after I first heard them, but didn't really stand up well enough to make it into more permanent rotation. These aren't bad albums, just the albums that weren't quite good enough for me to call up on a more frequent basis. The Strokes' third album, First Impressions of Earth, is definitely such a disc.

I remember being absurdly excited by the lead single "Juicebox" when it was tossed out on the internet late in 2005, spending time playing it over and over again on iTunes shortly after downloading. A couple days later the full album leak floated around, but I decided to shy away from it. I was excited about hearing the album and I wanted to kick it old school: ignoring the leak and getting my first taste on the day of physical release. Call me old fashioned, but I still like the idea of an "album" and anticipating its "release". Anyway... January 3rd came and I popped the disc in as soon as I got home from work. I liked the epic feel of the album before I even heard a note - the liner notes with different artwork for each song (reminded me of Soundgarden's Superunknown) and the idea of fourteen tracks was very nice. But I found the actual album itself to be a little overlong, a bit of a chore to sit through. It got off to a great start, but it was getting a little tedious towards the end. I remember classifying it as a "grower" after that first listen, hoping to dig in a little deeper on those tracks filling out the second half. Which I did, over the next couple of weeks and months. I certainly didn't overplay the album, but I gave myself plenty of chances to warm to it and I eventually did. I appreciated the attempts to stretch the band's signature sound and I could get behind the experiments that may have fallen a little short (namely, at the time, "Ask Me Anything"). I ended up ranking it my 49th favorite album of 2006, but I don't know that I pulled it out too often after that (certainly not as often as Is This It or Room On Fire anyway).

So here we are just over two years after its initial release, and it seemed like a good time to give the album another go-round. The verdict? Still a really solid album that more people (fans and non-fans alike) should give a fair shake to. "Juicebox", "Heart in a Cage", and "You Only Live Once" still stand up as pretty good to really good singles, but its some of the other album cuts that really made my revisit worthwhile. Most striking to me, this time around, was "Electricityscape". The song starts out as a typically taut Strokes song, what with the circular guitar riff and dominant drums. But the song starts to shift gears from there, faking you out with one pseudo-chorus and another before bringing in the song's first guitar solo. After that its another pseudo-verse and pseudo-chorus before the second guitar solo, culminating in an abrupt and untimely end. It certainly isn't a "Juicebox" or a "Last Nite" that reveals its charms right away, instead it coyly curls up next to you and flirts with you a little bit before bolting out the door just before the big payoff. Its a dirty, rotten trick but it certainly works. And really, dig Fab's drumming throughout the song. The underrated "Ize of the World" and "Evening Sun" also stand up really well upon reflection, and I think "On the Other Side" would have made a terrific fourth single if this album would have performed better than it did. But I still think the clunky lyrics completely sink "Ask Me Anything", absolutely a dud.

The end result? Still a really good album by a great band that people seem to be ditching left and right, (have you seen how many used copies of Is This It have been turning up lately?) and well worth the time it takes for another listen. I'm not sure if I would change its ranking in my year-end list from '06, maybe I'd end up bumping it up a few places, but #49 was about right - a solid release that didn't quite live up to expectations, but had enough highlights to keep me anxious for LP number four.

Check out a couple tracks and maybe give the album another chance yourself:
The Strokes - "Electricityscape"
The Strokes - "On the Other Side"

Jan 8, 2008

Finally a reason to get excited about the Pumpkins reunion...

It only took until the first week of 2008, but for the first time since the first live show recordings surfaced on the web - I'm actually kind of excited about the Smashing Pumpkins being back together. As anyone who knows me and/or has followed my thoughts about the Pumpkins on this blog will tell you, I'm a huge, huge fan of the band but I've been more than a little underwhelmed by them getting back together. I had hoped that the new album would kick enough ass to dismiss some of my fears about the reconfigured line-up, but it didn't. The album was, with a few exceptions, a lackluster effort and a pale imitation of what the band has been in the past. So then I started to hear good things about the live shows, so I thought seeing them in person might improve my sour opinion. But, for whatever reason, Billy has not yet decided to grace his eternally supportive hometown with even a single show. So I'd been pretty nonplussed about the whole thing until earlier this week when I got a chance to hear the band's latest digital only (at least here in America) release. Entitled American Gothic, this is a four track EP that showcases the quieter, more acoustic based side of Corgan's songwriting. And boy is it ever promising. I haven't spent enough time with these songs to tell you how they will stand up in the Pumpkins' overall discography, but I can say that each of these tracks shows more promise than half the tired retreads dumped on Zeitgeist. Listen to one of my early favorites and see for yourself. (You can buy all four of the new tracks on iTunes)

Smashing Pumpkins - "Sunkissed" (taken from the American Gothic EP)

Jan 7, 2008

"I see a mansard roof through the trees..."

After a preliminary investigation today, I realized that this is probably the only music-centric blog on the entire interwebs yet to mention Vampire Weekend. So, in keeping with the Indie Blog Buzz Band Accord of 2005, here is my mandatory post about this young band about to blow up big time. I'm kidding, but I actually am here to further spread the gospel about this band that really is on the cusp of blowing up in a big kind of way. Like maybe Feist big. Or even Arcade Fire big. So big, that maybe, just maaaaaybe, people who don't obsessively read every music blog on the net might even hear about them!

See, like some of you out there who may be completely sick of this band without hearing a single recorded note, you may be more than a little wary of yet another New York band that all the blogs are whipping themselves into a froth over. I mean, look how well that worked for Clap Your Hands Say Sucky Second Album (but I do still love the debut). I avoided these guys for that very same reason, I didn't want another marginally talented band forced down my throat by every Tom, Dick, and Stereogum. Plus, the whole thing about them being smarty-pants East Coast, preppie, yacht cruising, polo shirt wearing types kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, of all the styles for the indie kids to co-opt, that one? One that revives the Blane from Pretty in Pink look? Isn't Duckie more of an indie kid? I wanted to hate these kids from the start.

Anyway, I eventually caved and listened to a couple songs. Holy trust fundie on a polo horse are these kids good. I mean really, really, really good. Ignoring the image, ignoring the buzz - these guys have themselves a handful of brilliant tunes. Instantly engaging melodies, witty lyrics, and a flair for rhythm picked up from African pop music via Peter Gabriel. In fact, Peter Gabriel is a pretty good touchstone for Vampire Weekend - but, you know, young and energetic and exuberant and not afraid to drop the 'F-bomb' and stuff. The self-titled album comes out at the end of the month on XL, buy it. Really. In the meantime, listen to these two tunes off their demo album from last year. They're really, really good.

"Mansard Roof" - Vampire Weekend
"Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" - Vampire Weekend

Jan 4, 2008

2007 Year in Review V: The Albums (part 5)
Here we are... the top 20 albums of 2007 according to via//chicago.

20. The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (Merge)
Topping Funeral was never going to be easy. It would be next to impossible for this band, no matter how talented they may be, to live up to all the pressure and expectations placed on their sophomore album. So I wasn't terribly surprised when this was a little bit of a letdown upon first listen - but that was before I had time to work my way into the album and discover its strengths.
Recommended tracks: "Keep the Car Running", "(Antichrist Television Blue)"

19. Pela - Anytown Graffiti (Great Society)
There is nothing grand or groundbreaking about this disc, just a handful of the simple and straightforward indie rock songs that seem to be in short supply in recent years. Tuneful and literate, these guys deserve a wider following after putting out a solid album like this. I hear hints of U2, but without the grandiose posturing that can spoil Bono for some.
Recommended tracks: "Tenement Teeth", "Waiting on the Stairs"

18. Dinosaur Jr - Beyond (Fat Possum)
J, Lou, and Murph are undoubtedly back! The reunion tour was a nice taste of nostalgia for Dinosaur Jr fans, but the real treat was the original trio's first album together in almost twenty years. They haven't lost a step in the intervening years, leaving this album sounding like a great lost treasure from the essential years. J's guitar playing is as incendiary as ever, the primordial glue that holds this stuff together.
Recommended tracks: "Almost Ready", "Pick Me Up"

17. Electrelane - No Shouts No Calls (Too Pure)
I got to see these girls open up for Arcade Fire earlier this year and they absolutely blew me away. Of course, now that I've become a rabid fan, they announce that they are heading for an indefinite hiatus soon. Luckily they left us with the best album of their too-short career. My best description is Kraftwerk meets Sonic Youth meets Stereolab, but check them out for yourself.
Recommended tracks: "To The East", "Tram 21"

16. A Place to Bury Strangers - A Place to Bury Strangers (Killer Pimp)
This Brooklyn trio churns out loud and noisy dream-pop that swirls, squalls, and screeches. Underneath all the noise are some very lovely melodies and hypnotizing drones, placing the band somewhere in between Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, and early 80's pop.
Recommended tracks: "The Falling Sun", "To Fix the Gash in Your Head"

15. Panda Bear - Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)
Noah Lennox, one of those Animal Collective geniuses, gave us his highly anticipated third solo album and dropped a whole lot of jaws in the process. Veering away from the campfire madness of his main band, Person Pitch stretches back to the 1960s and, most especially, Brian Wilson. Killer harmonies float in and out of awareness as Noah's controlled madness sucks you in.
Recommended tracks: "Bros", "Comfy in Nautica"

14. Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare (Domino)
Another band with a difficult first album to top, but these Brit youngsters ably step up to the plate and hit another one out of the park. Alex Turner is still one of the most promising young lyricists in rock right now, tossing off captivating tales of everyday life that cut right down to the heart of things. And the rest of the band fires on all cylinders as well, making for an engaging listen.
Recommended tracks: "Fluorescent Adolescent", "505"

13. Working for a Nuclear Free City - Businessmen and Ghosts (Deaf Dumb & Blind)
Technically this is an expanded reissue of a different album, but since this is the first we've seen in America from this band I'm going to allow it. Gary McClure and Phil Kay make up this duo that mixes up ambient, pop, and electronica in a wholly original way that recalls early '90s Madchester and early New Order in equal measures.
Recommended tracks: "Rocket", "Heaven Kissing Hill"

12. Chromatics - Night Drive (Italians Do It Better)
I never thought I'd hear a disco album I liked, but this group's modern take on the genre was a pleasant surprise. Captivating music that sounds great behind the wheel of a car, it certainly lives up to the title. Plus one of the best Kate Bush covers I've ever heard!
Recommended tracks: "Night Drive", "Running Up That Hill"

11. Deerhunter - Cryptograms (Kranky)
I've had a really hard time describing this to friends over the last couple of months, but it seems to really captivate anyone I play it for. Bradford Cox, despite the confrontational face he likes to put forward, is one hell of a creative guy, coaxing beauty out of pure noise. Unfortunately it looks like, for the time being anyway, this debut is going to be their last full-length.
Recommended tracks: "Lake Somerset", "Cryptograms"

10. Bright Eyes - Cassadaga (Saddle Creek)
Conor Oberst is maturing as a songwriter at an alarming rate, by the time this dude is 30 he is going to be completely unstoppable. This time around Oberst tones down the melodramatics and allows his love for country and folk music to shine right through. Cassadaga finds Oberst crawling across America, exposing the characters and feelings we all know and share.
Recommended tracks: "Four Winds", "If the Brakeman Turns My Way"

9. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (Polyvinyl)
Another former member of the Elephant 6 collective breaks out in 2007 with a stellar pop album, this time infused with dance rhythms and extended grooves. Who knew a nervous breakdown could be this much fun?
Recommended tracks: "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse", "The Past is a Grotesque Animal"

8. Earthless - Rhythms From a Cosmic Sky (Tee Pee)
Three tracks and forty-five minutes of interstellar sonic groove. A little metal, a little progressive, a little Hendrix, and a lot of fire. One of the few bands that makes it exciting to sit through a twenty minute jam.
Recommended tracks: "Godspeed", "Cherry Red"

7. The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters (Fat Cat)
My nominees for rookies of the year, these Scottish lads managed to capture the piece of my heart that's been pining for the Smiths for so long. Not to say these guys sound so much like Morrissey and company, but this album captures the pain of adolescent love and loneliness like few others. And a brilliant live band as well.
Recommended tracks: "That Summer at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy", "And She Would Darken the Memory"

6. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver (Capitol)
James Murphy is the man, there are no two ways about it. A laundry list of legendary singles, 2005's outstanding debut album, and now a heartbreaking work of endearing genius. Murphy's trademark rhythms and cowbells are in attendance, but his lyrics have never been so moving and universal. "All My Friends" and "Someone Great" are both among the most beautiful songs I heard all year.
Recommended tracks: "All My Friends", "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down"

5. Radiohead - In Rainbows (self-released)
Moving beyond all the hype about how they released this, Radiohead have bounced back from one of the more iffy albums of their career to give us a disc that will stand up with the many other gems in an already stellar discography. This truly feels like the release that ties their entire career together, melding The Bends with Amnesiac and coming up with something (once again) that only Radiohead could give us.
Recommended tracks: "Jigsaw Falling Into Place", "Bodysnatchers"

4. Boris with Michio Kurihara - Rainbow (Blue Chopsticks)
In which the Japanese doomsters team up once again with guitarist Michio Kurihara to fill up a disc's worth of mellow psychedelic groove that show off the less abrasive side of Boris. This is an absolute must for anyone that loves delicately rocking guitar music.
Recommended tracks: "You Laughed Like a Water Mark", "Starship Narrator"

3. Kanye West - Graduation (Roc-a-fella)
Let's see, what do we have here? An absolutely killer single of the year ("Stronger"), two more that are amongst the best he's ever done ("The Good Life", "Can't Tell Me Nothing"), a Can sample ("Drunk and Hot Girls"), a Steely Dan sample ("Champion"), a track with Chris Martin that doesn't suck ("Homecoming"), and a heartfelt "tribute" to Jay-Z ("Big Brother"). Take away the annoying skits from his last two albums, and you're left with an outstanding album.
Recommended tracks: "The Good Life", "Flashing Lights"

2. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam (Domino)
These four individuals just continue to get better and better with each release. This time around the collective relies less on ambient sound collage and more on immediate melodies and actually discernible lyrics(!). But they never lose the childlike sense of wonder that has permeated every song they have every recorded.
Recommended tracks: "Fireworks", "Peacebone"

1. Battles - Mirrored (Warp)
A mostly instrumental album created by a veritable supergroup of experimental and math rock musicians may at first seem like a strange choice for my favorite album of the year, but I couldn't deny the way this thing kept pulling me back in for more and revealing new layers. The first time I heard it I thought, "hmmm... this is, well, interesting" and the second time I was ready to file it away for good thinking I'd gotten all out of it I ever would. But when I gave it one more spin a couple weeks later, "Atlas" hit me like a ton of bricks and I could not get enough of the song. Slowly other tracks started doing the same thing - first it was "Leyendecker", then it was "Tij", and later with "Tonto". Eventually every single track on the record sounded absolutely essential and enjoyable to me. I felt more energy and enthusiasm in these eleven tracks than I did in any other album I listened to all year. I wish more albums made me feel as excited about music as this one did.
Recommended tracks: "Atlas", "Tonto"

Jan 3, 2008

2007 Year in Review V: The Albums (part 4)
And we continue with albums 40-21 today...

40. Baroness - Red Album (Relapse)
After several highly respected EPs, this Georgia band blew a lot of minds with their debut full-length. Epic, progressive metal with a southern flair that is as original as it is mind-blowing.
Recommended tracks: "Rays On Pinion", "Wanderlust"

39. The Shins - Wincing the Night Away (Sub Pop)
Three albums in and I'm convinced these guys can do no wrong, several of these tracks are better than anything else they've done to date.
Recommended tracks: "Phantom Limb", "Black Wave"

38. Robert Wyatt - Comicopera (Domino)
This album is one of the reasons why the term "achingly beautiful" was coined. If Wyatt's poignant lyrics and heartrending voice don't move you, you must be one heartless bastard.
Recommended tracks: "Just As You Are", "A Beautiful Place"

37. Bat For Lashes - Fur and Gold (Caroline)
Natasha Kahn is one of the most striking female artists to burst onto the scene in 2007. A quirky, creative mind and a distinctive voice invite comparisons to Bjork, but Kahn is her own woman.
Recommended tracks: "What's A Girl To Do?", "Prescilla"

36. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala (Secretly Canadian)
This Swede is an absolute joy to behold live, and his records aren't too shabby either. His second North American full-length is overflowing with candy-coated pop delights that cut straight to the heart.
Recommended tracks: "The Opposite of Hallelujah", "A Postcard to Nina"

35. Field Music - Tones of Town (Memphis Industries)
Thirty near-perfect minutes of energetic pop, that's really all there is to say about this album. I challenge anyone to sit through this without cracking a smile or tapping a toe.
Recommended tracks: "Give It Lose It Take It", "Working To Work"

34. High On Fire - Death is This Communion (Relapse)
This brutal album is all about Des Kensel's insanely massive drumming and Matt Pike's intense guitar shredding, their best full-length yet.
Recommended tracks: "Cyclopian Scape", "Death is This Communion"

33. Voxtrot - Voxtrot (Play Louder)
It doesn't quite live up to the promise of their unforgettable EPs, but this is a pop gem that too many wrote off without letting all of its charms sink it.
Recommended tracks: "Kid Gloves", "Real Live Version"

32. Devendra Banhart - Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (Beggars XL)
The hippie wunderkind fills out his sound with a full band, allowing him to shoot off in several new directions. His schtick may be a little stale, but the dude is a genius songwriter.
Recommended tracks: "Seahorse", "Rosa"

31. Black Lips - Good Bad Not Evil (Vice)
Garage rock's most notorious road warriors finally get it together to lay down the superb studio album we all knew they had in 'em.
Recommended tracks: "O Katrina!", "Cold Hands"

30. Jesu - Conqueror (Hydra Head)
One man band Justin Broadrick crafts one of the year's more beautiful releases - weightless, epic drone rock with a twist of metal edge.
Recommended tracks: "Weightless and Horizontal", "Brighteyes"

29. Menomena - Friend and Foe (Barsuk)
Inventive, hypnotic tunes that sound like pop music from another world. Creative arrangements and well-placed saxophone makes these guys an act worth checking out.
Recommended tracks: "The Pelican", "Wet and Rusting"

28. Shout Out Louds - Our Ill Wills (Merge)
More Swedish pop brilliance! This band filters the poppy side of 1980's Cure through the modern sounds of bands like The Shins on this unexpected delight.
Recommended tracks: "Tonight I Have To Leave It", "You Are Dreaming"

27. Liars - Liars (Mute)
The always exciting Liars confound expectations yet again - this time by releasing one of the most straightforward "rock" records of their career. And its just as intense as you might expect.
Recommended tracks: "Sailing to Byzantium", "Plaster Casts of Everything"

26. Apples in Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder (Simian)
Another left-field surprise for me, these Elephant 6'ers bounce back into the public eye with a album full of buoyant pop tunes.
Recommended tracks: "Can You Feel It?", "7 Stars"

25. Bloc Party - A Weekend in the City (Vice)
These Brits build upon their outstanding debut with this darker and more muscular pseudo-concept album dealing with work, life, and sex in the heart of the cold, impersonal city.
Recommended tracks: "A Prayer", "Hunting For Witches"

24. Caribou - Andorra (Merge)
Dan Snaith further explores the electronic sunshine psychedelica he has perfected over the last couple albums, emphasizing the poppier melodies this time around.
Recommended tracks: "Niobe", "Melody Day"

23. Okkervil River - The Stage Names (Jagjaguwar)
The multi-talented Will Sheff continues to grow as a songwriter, turning out a cinematic masterpiece that details the trials and tribulations of the modern day entertainer.
Recommended tracks: "Savannah Smiles", "John Allyn Smith Sails"

22. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)
Fairweather Wilco fans demanding another Yankee Hotel Foxtrot are writing this off as boring, but they are completely missing this album's subtle beauty. This contains some of my favorite guitar playing of the year.
Recommended tracks: "Impossible Germany", "Hate It Here"

21. Justice - (cross) (Downtown/Ed Banger)
More than just "D.A.N.C.E.", Xavier and Guy prove themselves to be the most fun French duo since those two helmeted robots that make up Daft Punk.
Recommended tracks: "D.A.N.C.E.", "Waters of Nazareth"

Jan 2, 2008

2007 Year in Review V: The Albums (part 3)
I hope you are all having a wonderful 2008 so far, we return with the countdown of my favorite albums from last year...

60. Wooden Shjips - Wooden Shjips (Holy Mountain)
San Francisco band renews the hippie vibe on this outstanding debut, giving us a unique combination of garage rock snarl and psychedelic swirl.
Recommended tracks: "Blue Sky Bends", "We Ask You To Ride"

59. The 1900s - Cold & Kind (Parasol)
One of my favorite Chicago bands of the past year, the 1900s give us a full-length chock full of male/female harmonies and breezy pop in the vein of Belle & Sebastian (but less twee).
Recommended tracks: "When I Say Go", "Cold & Kind"

58. Dalek - Abandoned Language (Ipecac)
Another stellar album of dark, damaged, and delirious hip-hop from this groundbreaking trio. Definitely not for those that think Soulja Boy is the epitome of good hip-hop.
Recommended tracks: "Paragraphs Relentless", "Corrupt (Knuckle Up)"

57. The Early Years - The Early Years (Beggar's Banquet)
A little bit of Spritualized's drug-inspired dizziness, some of Mogwai's epic build-ups, with a hint of Kraftwerk's motorik groove. An exciting debut.
Recommended tracks: "Brown Hearts", "Song For Elizabeth"

56. Pig Destroyer - Phantom Limb (Relapse)
Quite simply one of the most aggressive and unrelenting discs I heard all year, brings to mind the unforgiving debut of Slayer. But some fantastic lyrics underneath it all as well.
Recommended tracks: "Deathtripper", "Girl in the Slayer Jacket"

55. Minus the Bear - Planet of Ice (Suicide Squeeze)
A pleasant new discovery for me in 2007, the third album from Seattle's Minus the Bear perfectly captures the essence of its' title. Stark, icy, angular, yet beautiful indie rock.
Recommended tracks: "Knight", "White Mystery"

54. Love of Diagrams - Mosaic (Matador)
Surprised I didn't hear more about this Australian band last year, this is a fantastic patch on the nostalgic post-punk flashback other bands have tried recently.
Recommended tracks: "Pace or the Patience", "Trouble"

53. Gui Boratto - Chromophobia (Kompakt)
Chalk up another hit for Germany's Kompakt. Boratto flits and flashes through ambient chill tracks as well as surefire floor fillers.
Recommended tracks: "Beautiful Life", "Terminal"

52. M.I.A. - Kala (Interscope)
While not as immediately captivating as her debut, M.I.A. returns with another international banga filled with global rhythms and blitzkrieg beats.
Recommended tracks: "Jimmy", "Paper Planes"

51. Between the Buried and Me - Colors (Victory)
Progressive, technical, schizophrenic. Another winner from one of the most forward-thinking metal bands working today.
Recommended tracks: "Ants of the Sky", "White Walls"

50. Interpol - Our Love To Admire (Capitol)
This one took a little while to grow on me, but one of those albums I'm glad I put the effort into. Not quite as breathtaking as the debut, but much more atmospheric and soaring than the last one.
Recommended tracks: "Mammoth", "Rest My Chemistry"

49. Mannequin Men - Fresh Rot (Flameshovel)
A blast of reckless burst of energy that reminds you just how much fun rock music can be when there's that hint of danger lurking around the corner.
Recommended tracks: "We Are Invisible", "Dead Kids"

48. Against Me! - New Wave (Sire)
The best mainstream punk album I've heard in quite some time, the perfect mix of politics, passion, and pop hooks.
Recommended tracks: "Thrash Unreal", "White People For Peace"

47. Band of Horses - Cease To Begin (Sub Pop)
These guys follow up their promising debut with another stellar disc of aching and yearning tunes. My only complaint is that its so short.
Recommended tracks: "Is There A Ghost", "Detlef Schrempf"

46. Fields - Everything Last Winter (Atlantic)
Another surprising find for me in 2007, this London band gives us a most captivating blend of rock, pop, and folk.
Recommended tracks: "Charming the Flames", "You Brought This On Yourself"

45. The Noisettes - What's the Time, Mr. Wolf? (UMVD)
Spunky and spastic pop from this energetic trio featuring the unbelievable voice of Ms. Shingai Shoniwa, who has one of the greatest squeals this side of Karen O.
Recommended tracks: "Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit)", "Don't Give Up"

44. Lupe Fiasco - Lupe Fiasco's The Cool (Atlantic)
My favorite rookie of '06 returns with an album that very nearly tops his stellar debut in every way. His flow is impeccable this time out and the production is outstanding.
Recommended tracks: "Go Go Gadget Flow", "Little Weapon"

43. The National - Boxer (Beggar's Banquet)
A much more subdued effort than the excellent Alligator, Boxer finds The National engaging in the post-party comedown. Call it their drunken lullaby album.
Recommended tracks: "Mistaken For Strangers", "Squalor Victoria"

42. Maximo Park - Our Earthly Pleasures (Warp)
For some reason this failed to generate the same kind of buzz their debut did, but I'm at a loss to explain why. Another batch of wiry, intelligent pop songs from this Newcastle bunch.
Recommended tracks: "Our Velocity", "The Unshockable"

41. The Field - From Here We Go Sublime (Kompakt)
Dreamy, droning ambient electronica carefully crafted from tiny snatches and samples. The best Lionel Richie sample of '07.
Recommended tracks: "A Paw in My Face", "Sun & Ice"