Dec 29, 2010

2010 Year in Review Part III: The Songs

I've decided to switch things up a little bit this year when it comes to my favorite songs of the year. Normally this list is composed of my favorite "singles" of the year, but as that distinction becomes more and more difficult to ascertain in the internet age (promo singles, "street" singles, video tracks, and different types of promotional tools really muddy the water), it made more sense to just call it "songs" of the year. Anyway, with that out of the way, here are 100 songs that via//chicago really loved this year, complete with YouTube links when possible.

100. "I Only Know (What I Know Now)" - James Blake
99. "Cheaters" - Teengirl Fantasy
98. "Returnal" - Oneohtrix Point Never
97. "Moses On A Snail" - Robert Pollard
96. "Solitude is Bliss" - Tame Impala
95. "American Slang" - The Gaslight Anthem
94. "Flash Delirium" - MGMT
93. "Breathe The Fire" - The Soft Moon
92. "You Put A Smell On Me" - Matthew Dear
91. "Forever and Ever Amen" - The Drums
90. "Mirrors" - Dam-Funk
89. "The Curse" - Josh Ritter
88. "Superfast Jellyfish" - Gorillaz f. Gruff Rhys & De La Soul
87. "Jesus Stole My Girlfriend" - Violent Soho
86. "Stay Close" - Delorean
85. "Friendly Ghost" - Harlem
84. "Valley Hump Crash" - No Age
83. "Beautiful Complication" - Guido
82. "Pyramid of the Sun" - Maserati
81. "Soldier of Love" - Sade
80. "Marathon" - Tennis
79. "Sleep Forever" - Crocodiles
78. "Apply" - Glasser
77. "Little Golden Age" - Wolf Parade
76. "A More Perfect Union" - Titus Andronicus
75. "I Was A Teenage Anarchist" - Against Me!
74. "The Haunted Rider" - The Jameses
73. "Daydream" - Beach Fossils
72. "Make Up Bag" - The-Dream f. T.I.
71. "One Life Stand" - Hot Chip
70. "Aston Martin Music" - Rick Ross f. Drake & Chrisette Michele
69. "Younger Us" - Japandroids
68. "The House That Built Me" - Miranda Lambert
67. "Good Intentions Paving Co." - Joanna Newsom
66. "Live In Dreams" - Wild Nothing
65. "Nothin' On You" - B.o.B. f. Bruno Mars
64. "Celestica" - Crystal Castles
63. "Born Free" - M.I.A.
62. "Angela Surf City" - The Walkmen
61. "She Makes Me Feel Alright" - Freeway & Jake One
60. "Sing" - My Chemical Romance
59. "New Yorker Cartoon" - Jenny & Johnny
58. "Playing the Part" - Jamey Johnson
57. "Boyfriend" - Best Coast
56. "Out of Tune" - Real Estate
55. "Right On" - The Roots f. Joanna Newsom & STS
54. "Love the Way You Lie" - Eminem f. Rihanna
53. "Telephone" - Lady Gaga f. Beyonce
52. "Swim Until You Can't See Land" - Frightened Rabbit
51. "Hard In Da Paint" - Waka Flocka Flame
50. "Zebra" - Beach House
49. "Destroyer of the Void" - Blitzen Trapper
48. "Sun Hands" - Local Natives
47. "There Are Listed Buildings" - Los Camepsinos!
46. "Shine Blockas" - Big Boi f. Gucci Mane
45. "I Can't Write Left Handed" - John Legend & The Roots
44. "Laredo" - Band of Horses
43. "Speechless" - Lady Gaga
42. "Rest of Our Lives" - Dum Dum Girls
41. "Lightweight Jammin'" - E-40 f. Clyde Carson & Husalah
40. "Written In Reverse" - Spoon
39. "Odessa" - Caribou
38. "Answer To Your Self" - The Soft Pack
37. "I Can Change" - LCD Soundsystem
36. "Winterwind" - Bottomless Pit
35. "Undertow" - Warpaint
34. "King Night" - Salem
33. "Shutterbugg" - Big Boi f. Cutty
32. "Madder Red" - Yeasayer
31. "Only Girl (In the World)" - Rihanna
30. "Rill Rill" - Sleigh Bells
29. "Cold War" - Janelle Monae
28. "We Want War" - These New Puritans
27. "Round and Round" - Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
26. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" - The National
25. "White Sky" - Vampire Weekend
24. "Yamaha" - The-Dream
23. "Cry" - Gayngs
22. "Window Seat" - Erykah Badu
21. "Airplanes" - B.o.B. - f. Hayley Williams
20. "Not Afraid" - Eminem
19. "Mr. Peterson" - Perfume Genius
18. "Crossed Wires" - Superchunk
17. "Mine" - Taylor Swift
16. "Spanish Sahara" - Foals
15. "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" - Arcade Fire
14. "Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)" - My Chemical Romance
13. "Wut" - Girl Unit
12. "End of a Spark" - Tokyo Police Club
11. "O.N.E." - Yeasayer

10. "Swim" - Surfer Blood
Blog-buzz couple Best Coast and Wavves got all the attention for being great summer records but, in my mind, there wasn't a single better tune this year to pull my mind immediately to the sunny beach, watching the waves crashing in. Part of the problem was that this single and its parent album were released way back in the darkest part of last winter, but this should have propped up many a summer 'Beach Mix'.

9. "Me and the Moon" - The Drums
From the insistent opening drums to the soaring chorus to the tightly-wound guitar lines, this is one of those absolutely timeless pop songs - though one that is especially indebted to 1960s pop and 1980s indie rock. Few songs in 2010 brought a smile to my face as large as this one did.

8. "Desire Lines" - Deerhunter
While most of us are well aware of the boundless energy and talents of Bradford Cox, the best track on Deerhunter's altogether excellent 2010 album featured guitar and vocals from one of the less, well, prolific members of the band. "Desire Lines" The first half, on its own, would have been an outstanding track, what with the uber-melodic guitar line. But it is the second half that endeared me and led it its placement on this list. As great as the entire album is, nothing topped the section where this really took off on the motorik groove and rode off into the krautrock sunset.

7. "Power" - Kanye West
The well-deployed King Crimson sample is what immediately pulled me in, but subsequent listens proved just how well crafted this song was and how well it worked as an opening salvo for his 2010 onslaught. If the rest of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was going be navel-gazing and soul-searching, it was important to lead it off with a defiant shot of adrenaline.

6. "Stylo" - Gorillaz f. Bobby Womack & Mos Def
On an album full of high points, this was easily the highest. A sleek and sexy electro beat that gave the soulful Bobby Womack plenty of room to do his thing. Whomever dreamed up this collaboration and made it happen deserves some sort of major award. This song is so engaging and memorable, it doesn't even matter that Mos Def's verse is a complete non-starter.

5. "Tightrope" - Janelle Monae f. Big Boi
I've spent a good chunk of this year enthusing to anyone within earshot about how amazingly talented Monae is and, if my target shows even the slighting interest in hearing more, I immediately point them to this song. I just love the way the tightly clipped verses explode into the soulful chorus, it was also a highlight of her live show. A great verse from Big Boi (who also had himself a stellar 2010) was just icing on the cake.

4. "Dancing On My Own" - Robyn
I'm amazed that the average American STILL only knows Robyn for her late '90s hit "Show Me Love", because this girl should be mentioned in the same breath as the Britneys, the Kylies, and the Rihannas of the world. Not only does this track feature an undeniably great hook, I love how the narrator just keeps powering through her misery, refusing to cede HER dancefloor even if she is being forced to watch the object of her desire kiss someone else. Its hard not to project this dedication to the music onto Robyn in general, sticking it out through some thin years and becoming a critical darling all over the world. Now if only we could get her the same kind of mainstream love.

3. "Monster" - Kanye West f. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, & Bon Iver
Even if this entire song was Nicki Minaj's INSANE verse (a verse that is not likely to be topped by any rapper, male or female, for years to come) and Kanye's funky-ass beat, it would have claimed a spot near the top of this list. But add in an endearingly odd Ye verse and decent verses from Jigga and Ross, then sprinkle on some unexpected Justin Vernon on the outro and you've got the weirdest, most entertaining rap song of the year.

2. "Not In Love" - Crystal Castles f. Robert Smith
The original, album version of this track was fairly entertaining, but once it was reworked to allow the Robert Smith to add his inhuman wail, it became not only the most catchy thing the band has ever had a hand in, but also the most darkly gorgeous. I'd really love to hear a full-length collaboration between these two.

1. "Fuck You" - Cee-Lo Green
From this instant I heard this via the short-lived initial YouTube leak, I knew there was no other place for this track to land come end of the year list time - I was hooked from the get-go. As if we didn't already consider Cee-Lo as one of this era's master pop creators ("Crazy" alone guaranteed his place in history), he one ups himself and creates a tune for the ages. No matter how easily offended one may be by vulgarity, I challenge anyone to not be nodding a head, tapping a toe, or even singing along by the time this track reaches an end. The instrumentation is pure 1960s pop and just about as joyous as it could get, but it really is his charming delivery that pushes this song from one-off novelty to timeless classic. Ten years from now, this will be rivaling "Hey Ya" for a prominent spot on wedding reception playlists. And I'll be out there dancing every single time. Even if it is the "forget you" version.

Dec 27, 2010

2010 Year in Review
Part II: The EPs and The Non-Eligible Releases

We continue our look back on the music of 2010 by looking at via//chicago's favorite short-form releases, as well as some of the cream of the crop in compilations, reissues, live albums, etc.

The Top 10 EPs of 2010:

1. Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/Body Talk Pt. 2 (Konichiwa)
Some of you may be crying foul on this one, considering these were compiled as a full-length album at the end of the year, but it was through these two EPs that I fell for Robyn all over again this year. Sure, we got two of the best singles of her career in "Dancing On My Own" and "Hang With Me", but what was more surprising was just how consistent these were as a whole. From the electropop of "Fembot" to the digital funk of "In My Eyes", Robyn proved again that she deserves to be a worldwide mega-star and not just a critic's darling.

2. Torche - Songs For Singles (Hydra Head)
A lot of fans were hoping the third Torche full-length was going to drop in 2010 and I'm sure there were more than a few mutterings of disappointment when it was announced that this stop-gap EP would have to tide us over for a little longer. But after hearing these eight songs, I can only think of all the bands out there that wish their full-lengths were as good as this band's EPs. The blistering run of the first six tracks is breathtaking, all crunchy riffs and catchy melodies, but the final two tracks are the ones that slow down and show off Torche's range.

3. Sufjan Stevens - All Delighted People EP (Asthmatic Kitty)
The year-end lists popping up all over the internet would have you believe that The Age of Adz was Sufjan's 2010 masterpiece, but as far as I'm concerned, the electronic claustrophobia of that album doesn't hold a candle to this hour-long digital EP. The two versions of the title track showcase Stevens' ability to piece together exciting suites, but the seventeen minute "Djohariah" is my favorite thing he has ever done - channeling Neil Young for an epic guitar workout. While shorter tracks like "Enchanting Ghost" and "Heirloom" remind us about the gentle calm that made him so endearing in the first place.

4. Girls - Broken Dreams Club (True Panther Sounds)
Their breakthrough 2009 release, Album, had enough high points and engaging hooks to point to bigger and better things, but I don't think anyone expected the massive leap forward taken on this EP. From start to finish there isn't a bad tune in the bunch and I'm finding a new favorite every time I give it a spin. This is the kind of effortless, invigorating music that we just don't get enough of anymore and I can only hope this is the direction the band continues in when full-length number two comes our way. Gripping lyrics, wonderful instrumentation - this EP turned me from a casual observer to a full on Girls fan.

5. Cave - Pure Moods (Drag City)
Between the tongue-in-cheek EP title and the epic 13-minute closer that namechecks at least three different experimental music touchstones in its title ("Brigitte's Trip (White Light/White Jazz"), it is hard to take this Chicago band seriously on initial contact. But once you let their sound wash over you, they become even harder to forget. The word gets thrown around a lot these days, but this one of the few young bands that are able to naturally incorporate krautrock into their sound without simply aping the obvious influences.

6. Wild Nothing - Golden Haze (Captured Tracks)
Considering how many new bands get thrown at us as the supposed "next big thing" on an almost weekly basis, it gets easy to ignore a band like this that explodes onto the scene in such a short time. But, as it turns out, this one-man project by Virginia's Jack Tatum deserves every inch of blog space it got in 2010. While every new indie pop musician can list off the right combination of Kate Bush, Slumberland, and Cure records when asked about their influences, very few of them can actually back it up with songs that actually incorporate them in an exciting new manner. Tatum, however, is bursting with great pop tunes and this EP is no exception. Let's hope 2010 is just the start of a brilliant career.

7. Flying Lotus - Pattern + Grid World (Warp)
Considering just how brilliant and dense Steven Ellison's previous two full-lengths have been, it was easy to blow this off as an inessential, minor release from Flying Lotus. But the brevity and straight-forwardness of this EP doesn't make it any less thrilling, as Ellison packs more ideas and brilliance into these twenty minutes than most laptop jockeys are able to dash off over an entire career. Less jazzy and soulful than his full-lengths, this finds FlyLo embracing his more glitchy, 8-bit side. Consider it a quick buzz to tide you over until the next journey.

8. Beat Connection - Surf Noir EP (self-released)
It is entirely understandable if this got lost in the avalanche of chillwave and beach-inspired pop that choked the internet all year long, but don't let the title, cover art, or opening track scare you off. The surf guitar of "Sunburn" turns out to be a head fake, as the rest of the record quickly loses itself in dance-oriented, sun-drenched house beats. There is certainly room for improvement, but this Seattle gang has already made quite an impression.

9. The Clientele - Minotaur (Merge)
Considering how precious and fey their take on classic soft pop is at times, it can be a lot to digest a Clientele full-length in one sitting. Which is why I've found the EP to be a perfect format for this London-based band and this mini-album is no exception. There is plenty of the band's trademark sixties retro-pop on display, but the unsettling undertone of dread makes this one a bit more interesting. The twist on Greek mythology of the title track sets things up, but it is the spoken-word "The Green Man" that really sets spines to tingling. Probably not something that points the way forward for this band, but certainly a welcome departure.

10. The Get-Up Kids - Simple Science (Simple Psyence Recordings)
I'm sure this selection is at least partially colored by nostalgia for the wayward emo years of my youth and the heartbroken nights I spent with Something To Write Home About, but to my ears these guys sound completely rejuvenated after their hiatus and have me looking forward to the full-length due in early 2011.

The Top 20 Non-Eligible Releases of 2010 (live albums, compilations, reissues, etc):

1. The Cure - Disintegration (Deluxe Edition) (Rhino)
One of two absolute no-brainers for this particular list. The Cure's ongoing reissue campaign has been top-notch since the beginning, but they truly outdid themselves when it came time to spruce up their most beloved release. In addition to the radically improved sound on the album itself and the bonus disc of demos and outtakes, we also got an improved and expanded edition of the classic Entreat live material. An absolute must-own.

2. Weezer - Pinkerton (Deluxe Edition) (Geffen)
The second no-brainer and one of via//chicago's all-time favorite albums, this time enhanced with a boatload of B-sides, demos, and alternate takes. Not everything is essential, but there is enough great stuff here to make you forget all about the current incarnation of Weezer for an hour or two.

3. Refused - The Shape of Punk To Come (Deluxe Version) (Epitaph)
Another hugely influential album, both in terms of my personal listening tastes and heavy music in general. The live disc isn't exactly essential, but does provide deeper insight into just why this band is still so heralded by fans around the world. I just appreciate having such a crisp and solid sounding version of a visceral, gut-punch of an album.

4. Dwarr - Animals (Drag City)
I love it when stuff this awesomely weird crawls out of the darkness. Dwarr is a (mostly) one-man metal project that has been cranking out music since the mid-1980s. This was his second full-length album and must be heard to be truly appreciated. If you like weird metal and outsider music, this will be right up your alley.

5. Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos 1962-1964 (Columbia)
For those of you that have been drowning in Dylan bootlegs for decades, little of this is going to be new to you, but I'm sure it is great to have it all in one place and in outstanding quality. For those of us who have just recently begun to really explore Dylan's back catalog, this stuff is a godsend and a thrilling look into his early days. I'd always avoided the very early, more folksy Dylan, but now I'm learning that was a dumb move on my part - the brilliance was there from the start.

6. Earth - A Bureaucratic Desire For Extra Capsular Extraction (Southern Lord)
Finally the uber-influential Earth's debut recordings available on one disc! This is absolutely essential for any fan of bowel-shaking, sludgy, heavy rock.

7. Bruce Springsteen - The Promise (Columbia)
How often do we get treated to two(!) discs worth of previously unreleased music from one of the world's greatest songwriters hailing from the era when their skills were at a peak? Not often enough, but that is exactly what we got with this package - twenty-one songs that The Boss recorded between Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge of Town, and not a dud in the bunch.

8. Mark McGuire - Tidings/Amesthyst Waves (Weird Forest)
A compilation of recordings from Emeralds' Mark McGuire, previously available only on cassette, that warp your brain with trance-inducing, droning guitar landscapes. Definitely worth checking out if you enjoyed this years Emeralds release.

9. Neu! - Neu! '86 (101 Distribution)
Not exactly as groundbreaking as their 1970s material, but well worth the time of any krautrock fan who has worn out their copies of the first three records.

10. Neurosis - Live at Roadburn 2007 (Neurot)
Even though scores of younger bands aping their sound have threatened to lessen the impact of this groundbreaking group, Neurosis is still a force to be reckoned with as evidenced by this killer live set from Roadburn 2007.

11. The Fall - The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall (Omnibus Edition) (Beggars Banquet)
12. Wooden Shjips - Vol. 2 (Sick Thirst)
13. Harvey Milk - Harvey Milk (Hydra Head)
14. Dead Meadow - Three Kings (Xemu)
15. Queens of the Stone Age - Rated R (Deluxe Edition) (Interscope)
16. Doves - The Best of Doves: The Places Between (Astralwerks)
17. Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine (2010 Remaster) (Bicycle Music)
18. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - III/IV (Pax-Am)
19. Soundgarden - Telephantasm (A&M)
20. Andrew W.K. - Close Calls with Brick Walls/Mother of Mankind (Steev Mike)

Dec 26, 2010

2010 Year in Review
Part I: The Introduction

It may not have started out very promising, but as we reach the finish line for 2010 - I have to admit that the year ended up being pretty damn great. On a personal level, not only did I finally receive my architect's license after an intense year of studying and exam-taking, but I also began a fantastic new job back in August. When it comes to the music I heard this year, it felt pretty much the same. If you'd have asked me at any particular point during the first 7 or 8 months of the year, I'd have told you I was pretty underwhelmed by what I'd been hearing. There were a lot of albums that I liked, but few that really and truly blew me away from the start. And pop radio? Even more dismal than 2009, particularly when mediocre talents like Drake, Ke$ha, and Katy Perry dominated nearly every moment. There were bright spots, to be sure, particularly the unexpected success of La Roux's "Bulletproof" (via//chicago's #20 single of 2009) in America and Cee Lo Green's internet-fueled breakthrough, but I pretty much spent the year avoiding the radio and chasing down different, more exciting paths.

As anyone who has followed this blog over the last couple of years, you've noticed that I've increasingly found new and exciting sounds in the world of metal and its multitude of off-shoots and crossbred sub-genres. This year was no exception. Old favorites delivered big time this year, as were granted amazing new material by groups like Nachtmystium, Enslaved, Kylesa, High On Fire, and Electric Wizard. But many new (and just plain new to me) bands caught my ear with thrilling material. Agalloch, Thou, Ludicra, and Christian Mistress all dropped albums well worth hearing by fans of any forward-thinking music, not just metalheads.

Hip-hop was in a weird state of flux this year and I found very little to get excited over. A lot of the big talk this year was surrounding Drake's mainstream breakthrough and, honestly, I've yet to hear a more boring "rapper". The square quotes are necessary because the guy has one of the laziest and most lackluster flows I've heard in years, even his sung hooks are snooze-fest. I can't wait for his 15 minutes to be up. There was also a lot of rumbling about Waka Flocka Flame and continued buzz about Gucci Mane, but, outsides of the former's "Hard In Da Paint", I'm just still not excited about either. I'm encouraged by some of the stuff I've heard from Yelawolf and the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All crew (once I got past the obvious shock lyrics), but we'll have to see what 2011 holds. For me, 2010 in hip-hop was all about the veterans bringing their 'A' game. After months of leaks and internet buzz, Big Boi (he of Outkast fame) dropped a front-to-back classic early in the year, but the bigger surprise came in the form of the Bay Area's E-40 and his two Revenue Retrievin' albums. A more exciting, sprawling mass of hooks and killer verses was not to be found this year. Of course I can't mention rap this year without Kanye and his impressive statement album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I hope to spend more time talking about this in a longer post dedicated solely to it, so I'll keep it short here and just say that, yes, it really is good, but far from the classic status that people so desperately want to grant it.

Some of the most exciting stuff I heard this year didn't exactly fall into easy to define genres. The hip-hop influenced Flying Lotus album was huge for me this year, but its jazz and techno tendencies made it hard to pigeonhole. The ambient-drone trio Emeralds, out of Ohio, made some great noise this year, as did the instrumental trio Rangda (featuring Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance and Sir Richard Bishop) - the latter of which featured some of the greatest guitar work of the year. Definitely a record to recommend if you are into extended psych jams. And I was truly blown away by this year's record from Toronto's Holy Fuck, an instrumental orgy of dance beats, keyboards, and guitars. There was so much great stuff out there if you took the time to seek it out.

Without spoiling the lists that will be unveiled over the next several days, I have to say that even some of the old standbys made strong showings this year. Albums from Spoon, Caribou, Bottomless Pit (formerly Silkworm), Deerhunter, Superchunk, My Chemical Romance, and The Fall made the year worth living. But, as I always love to see, lots of new names pop up here for the first time - Gayngs, Jaill, The Drums, Tame Impala, The Soft Pack, Glasser, and Warpaint all made me excited for what is to come in the years ahead.

So join us over the next couple of days as via//chicago explores the best in 2010 music.

A quick look back at past number ones:

2003: Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
2004: Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
2005: Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
2006: Mastodon - Blood Mountain
2007: Battles - Mirrored
2008: Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
2009: The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

2003: "Hey Ya" - Outkast
2004: "Take Me Out" - Franz Ferdinand
2005: "Since U Been Gone" - Kelly Clarkson
2006: "When You Were Young" - The Killers
2007: "Stronger" - Kanye West
2008: "Time To Pretend" - MGMT
2009: "My Girls" - Animal Collective

Dec 2, 2010

np: "The Haunted Rider" - The Jameses

I've been spending a lot of time this year listening to Blank Dogs, particularly the band's two most recent full-lengths - Under and Under and Land and Fixed. As I learned more about Mike Sniper, the genius mind behind Blank Dogs, I discovered that he also runs the sweet record label out of Brooklyn by the name of Captured Tracks (who released Wild Nothing's Gemini - an album sure to rank highly on my end of year list). Now I'm starting to dig a little deeper into the label's roster and tonight has found me really getting into Florida's The Jameses. So far they've only released two seven-inch singles, but all four tunes are winners. The early favorite for me is "The Haunted Rider", which head fakes with a twisted organ intro before surging into a great little tune that sounds pretty timeless to these ears and definitely shares a spiritual kinship with Nuggets garage rock. Check it out.

Nov 29, 2010

np: "Russian Mind" - Oneohtrix Point Never

Sometimes it is best to just set aside all the bone-shattering metal, mind-melting guitar solos, and bombastic rap in favor of something that just washes right over you. Oneohtrix Point Never is great for that, but don't read that as some sort of backhanded compliment about "ambient" or "background music"... this is fascinating stuff that you could just absolutely lose yourself in. And you don't even need the trippy video, but it helps.

Nov 28, 2010

via//chicago discovers a classic:
Songs For Beginners - Graham Nash (1971)

Of course I'm not completely new to the ouevre of Graham Nash. Being, as I have been for over fifteen years now, a huge fan of Neil young meant coming across him a number of times, most frequently in the context of that on-and-off again context of Crosby Stills Nash & Young. Beyond that, my exposure to Nash was pretty much restricted to whatever Hollies, CSN, or solo single the radio stations I listened to deigned to play (and many of these times, I have to admit that I didn't even know this guy was involved until much later!).

Fast forward to last year and I was rifling through the racks of a local Border's, hoping to find something intriguing that would help me use up a coupon that had been burning a figurative hole in my pocket. Just as I was about to give up and head back to the books, I came across a decently priced copy of Nash's second solo album, 1973's Wild Tales. Between the awesome folksy/hippy cover photo and the guy's reputation, I figured it had to be worth a couple of bucks at least, and, it certainly was. It was a revealing look at a well-respected musician that I'd previously paid little attention to. Didn't hurt that Nash had help from friends like Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, and long-time Young associate Ben Keith on pedal steel, but the overall vision was Nash's and it was one well worth hearing.

All of which meant I was more than ready to dig deeper into Nash's discography when I chanced across a very well-priced (i.e. ridiculously cheap) vinyl copy of Songs For Beginners last month. What a treat this discovery has been, another one of those records that I find myself wishing I'd have made time for it sooner. "Gorgeous" is a word that gets tossed around a lot when used to discuss music, I'm certainly just as guilty of this as anyone else, but that was the word that kept popping to mind after my first couple of listens. The production on this is really crisp and clean, even on a battered old vinyl copy it felt really warm and inviting, an interesting contrast to the sense of uncertainty that creeps into many of the lyrics. The calm beauty of "Sleep Song" and "Simple Man" offer the listener a warm embrace, even while the latter shows off Nash's fearful state of mind in lines such as, "And I can't make it alone". But, as may have been expected when one scans the names on the inner sleeve, this record really shines when Nash enlists the help of his really talented circle of friends. I found "I Used To Be A King" a really pleasant surprise, what with Phil Lesh appearing on bass and Jerry Garcia providing some really lovely slide guitar. The Dead were really on a roll as the 1970s kicked-off and it is always a treat to hear their fine instrumental work from this era - even more so when it is completely unexpected. Another favorite of mine drops by to play piano on "Man In the Mirror", Mr. Neil Young, this time credited under the Joe Yankee pseudonym. But even aside from these big names, the instrumental performances throughout are impeccable and really breath life into Nash's compositions. As it turns out, I wasn't wholly unfamiliar with this record, as I've been hearing "Chicago" and "We Can Change the World" on classic rock radio nearly all of my life without ever knowing who performed it. Again, a pleasant surprise here, ending the record on an uplifting note. Crosby, Stills, and Young may have garnered more of the recognition in the mainstream, but this record alone proves that the 'N' in CSN&Y brought just as much, if not more, to the table as those other guys.

Nov 22, 2010

np: "Speak Now" - Taylor Swift

As you may or may not have noticed, this blog has lain dormant for far too long this year. Since no one reads this anymore I don't really need to make any excuses, but life priorities switch around when you are knee deep in a feverish job search and again, thankfully, when you do land that great position you were seeking. S0, yes, I'm attempting once again to breathe some life into this thing and return to action. As per yesterday's post, I certainly plan to continue the 200 of the 2000s project, but I also hope to keep cranking out new content on a more frequent basis. I had forgotten how great of an outlet this can be. There should be plenty to talk about in the coming weeks, in addition to highly anticipated albums being released lately (Kanye and My Chemical Romance to name but two), we are rapidly approaching one of my favorite times of year - list season! And, of course, I'm always discovering great music that I want to talk about. I'd really like to get some of my readers back, if you are still around - leave a comment, won't you?

As you can see by the song I was playing when I started this post, I finally caved in and picked up the new Taylor Swift album thanks to Best Buy's sale today. I'm sure some of you are crinkling your noses right now but, you know, you really are missing out. Yes - she is (at best) a mediocre live singer and she is well beyond over-saturated at this point. She is, however, also a really engaging songwriter, no matter what her age. I'm only part way through my first listen, but this really is a solid listen so far and she appears to be maturing in all the right ways. Dismiss her at your own peril.

Nov 21, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:
The White Stripes - De Stjil (2000, Sympathy for the Record Industry)

Even though a vast majority of White Stripes fans, myself very much included, didn't get around to hearing this album until after they officially blew up a few years later with "Fell In Love With a Girl", this album was nonetheless the band's first big statement. Even though I think they've made better albums (well, only one was better actually) and this doesn't contain many of their very best songs, there is something about De Stjil that makes it the ultimate White Stripes statement. Of course you have the obvious blues influence, including their absolutely stunning take on Son House's classic "Death Letter" (a performance so fantastic that it alone backs up any and all of Jack White's claims to blues legitimacy), but you also get detours into everything else that makes the band so interesting. You've got the songs built entirely around killer guitar riffs ("Why Can't You Be Nicer To Me", "Little Bird"), the surprisingly touching nostalgia trips ("Sister, Do You Know My Name?"), the lo-fi garage fuzz ("Let's Build A Home"), and even the simple throwaways that become essential and endearing over successive listens ("Jumble, Jumble"). But what really makes this album complete are the detours that don't slot nicely into one of the Stripes' trademark genres. The melodic acoustic guitar line that leads off "I'm Bound to Pack It Up" puts me in the mind Led Zeppelin III, while the steady back porch cadence of "A Boy's Best Friend" reveals just how well this band can arrange a tune. Meg and Jack would reach higher peaks later in their career, but I think this will always stand as the most concise record of the band's aesthetic.

Jul 22, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:
Andrew W.K. - I Get Wet (2001, Island)

There's a good reason why this particular album sounds just as fantastic here in the summer of 2010 as it did when it originally appeared in the Fall of 2001, because it is one of those truly timeless records. This isn't because it is one of those perfect albums that will stand the test of time or something, rather I Get Wet is timeless because it has never felt of a piece with everything going on around it. Sure, back in 2001, we were inundated with the whole "garage rock revival" with The Strokes and The White Stripes and although this really was pure rock, it couldn't have felt further removed from the times. Between the overwhelming Mutt Lange on eleven, wall of sound production and the huge glam metal riffs anchored by synths and piano, this was never going to be mistaken for some serious statement. As it shouldn't. This is pure, unadulterated, exuberant joy in one thirty-five minute package. If I were to ever encounter someone who wasn't fist-pumping along with "I Love NYC" or "Fun Night" or "Girls Own Love", I would seriously question the existence of said person's soul.

Jul 20, 2010

Evaluating the Teargarden Part 5: Freak

And we roll on, ever so slowly, into the second EP now...

EP #2, Track #1: "Freak"
Well this one certainly gets off to a blistering start with one of the best riffs I've heard from the Pumpkins in years. I mean, really, this riff absolutely kills and that awesome guitar tone certainly helps. This bodes well for the second EP, especially given the diminishing returns of the first one. The vocal melody piggy-backs off that heavy riff before spinning off on its own and we're treated to angry Billy, at least lyrically. While he seems to have lost that clenched teeth growl that made gave life to some of the more impassioned songs from his youth, the lyrics reveal Corgan lashing out at that oft-unnamed "they" that "poison our sweet mother earth" and "march to the beat of killing machines". It comes across a little like that high school junior kid who knows he's angry, but can't exactly clarify who or what it is. Still, the repeated line that makes up the chorus salvages things slightly even with the awkward working. "Life is not a dream when you can't wake up from the dream you wanted" is quintessential Corgan - mostly nonsensical, but downright poetic the way he delivers it. The chorus is definitely catchy, turning this into the type of alt-rock anthem that was his bread and butter in the '93-'96 era. It isn't perfect, I would have loved to hear him tear off a chaotic solo at some point, but I'll certainly take it as a nostalgic throwback. This second EP is off to a tremendous starts.

Rating: 8.2/10.0

Jun 30, 2010

Halfway There... the best of music in 2010 so far

Apologies (yet again) for the lack of updates and progress on my albums of the decade project, but real life intrudes. To offer an olive branch of sorts to anyone left reading this blog, I've thrown together a quick list of the albums and songs I've really enjoyed this year. I've decided to abandon any sort of ranking this year, for two main reasons. First, since I've been so busy these past few weeks I don't really feel that I've given enough time and effort to really give this stuff a fair ranking. Secondly, and the thing that's really been running through my mind of late, I'm sort of tiring of the ranking approach to list-making. I don't mind tossing out a list of stuff I love, but the process of objectively saying Album X is better than Album Y but not as good as Album Z is starting to feel more like work than anything else. And that certainly is not how music enjoyment should feel. Will I still feel this way during end of the year list-making time? We'll see. For now, here's an alphabetical list (by artist) of albums and tracks that really impressed me over the last six months.

Against Me! - White Crosses (Sire)
Alcest - Ecailles de Lune (Prophecy Productions)
B.o.B - B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray (Atlantic)
Beach House - Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
The Besnard Lakes - Are the Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar)
Bison B.C. - Dark Ages (Metal Blade)
Blitzen Trapper - Destroyer of the Void (Sub Pop)
Caribou - Swim (Merge)
Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM (Because)
Citay - Dream Get Together (Dead Oceans)
Coffinworm - When All Became None (Profound Lore)
The Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis (Season of Mist)
Dum Dum Girls - I Will Be (Sub Pop)
Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh (Universal Motown)
The Fall - Your Future Our Clutter (Domino)
Field Music - Measure (Memphis Industries)
Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma (Warp)
The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang (SideOneDummy)
Gayngs - Relayted (Jagjaguwar)
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach (Virgin)
Harvey Milk - A Small Turn of Human Kindness (HydraHead)
High On Fire - Snakes for the Divine (E1)
Ihsahn - After (Candlelight)
Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid (Bad Boy)
Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me (Drag City)
Kaki King - Junior (Rounder)
LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening (DFA)
Los Campesinos! - Romance is Boring (Wichita)
Love is All - Two Thousand and Ten Injuries (Polyvinyl)
Ludicra - The Tenant (Profound Lore)
Nachtmystium - Addicts: Black Meddle, Part 2 (Century Media)
The National - High Violet (4AD)
Pantha du Prince - Black Noise (Rough Trade)
Phosphorescent - Here's To Taking It Easy (Dead Oceans)
Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek) - Revolutions Per Minute (Warner Bros.)
Roky Erickson & Okkervil River - True Love Cast Out All Evil (ANTI-)
The Roots - How I Got Over (Def Jam)
Shooter Jennings & Hierophant - Black Ribbons (Black Country Rock)
Spoon - Transference (Merge)
The Soft Pack - The Soft Pack (Kemado)
Surfer Blood - Astro Coast (Kanine)
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks (Matador)
The-Dream - Love King (Def Jam)
Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra - Kollaps Tradixionales (Constellation)
These New Puritans - Hidden (Domino)
Triptykon - Eparistera Daimones (Century Media)
Twilight - Monument to Time End (Southern Lord)
Vampire Weekend - Contra (XL)
Wolf Parade - Expo 86 (Sub Pop)

Against Me! - "I Was a Teenage Anarchist"
B.o.B f. Hayley Williams - "Airplanes"
BLK JKS - "Zol!"
Dam-Funk - "Mirrors"
Eminem - "Not Afraid"
Erykah Badu - "Window Seat"
Foals - "Spanish Sahara"
Freeway & Jake One - "She Makes Me Feel Alright"
The Gaslight Anthem - "American Slang"
Janelle Monae - "Cold War"
Janelle Monae f. Big Boi - "Tightrope"
Jay-Z f. Mr. Hudson - "Young Forever"
Lady Gaga - "Alejandro"
Paramore - "The Only Exception"
Rush - "Caravan"
Say Anything - "Do Better"
Spoon - "Written in Reverse"
The-Dream - "Love King"
The-Dream f. T.I. - "Make Up Bag"
Vampire Weekend - "Giving Up the Gun"
Violent Soho - "Jesus Stole My Girlfriend"

May 12, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:

My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade (2006, Warner Bros.)

Although the two huge singles from their breakthrough album hinted at these guys being much more than just another brooding Hot Topic mall-punk band (let's face it, they were never really emo), I'm not sure anyone expected them to turn into the bombastic modern-day version of Queen on the much anticipated follow-up. But when The Black Parade came out, it was clear that Gerard Way and his band had been doing a lot of homework in the meantime. Between studying Brian May's electrifying guitar solos and many close listens to Green Day's American Idiot, My Chemical Romance came up with a huge sounding rock opera of their very own. Loosely centered around the life, death, and memories of "The Patient", The Black Parade is packed with more sing-along melodies and anthemic choruses than your average Broadway musical ("Mama" and "Teenagers" make very clear that the connection was very much intentional). In lesser hands, this could have been a fantastic failure. But thanks to Way's charisma and thrilling production, the entire record is a joy to hear. Its easy to understand why the critics were quick to bash these guys for being completely over the top, but I wish more current rock bands would be willing to deal in such bombast. I can't wait to hear what these guys do next.

May 11, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:

The Rapture - Echoes (2003, DFA)

In retrospect, from the viewpoint of a music fan in 2010, it is easy to question why everyone got so excited about the whole "indie kids are dancing again" vibe of the dance-punk renaissance. A quick listen to Echoes, however, reveals that there was initially plenty to be excited about, at least until the Hot Hot Heats of the world reduced it to mere formula. Not only does this record contain "House of Jealous Lovers", one of the defining singles of the entire dance-punk era (the other being !!!'s "Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard"), but it also presents a livelier, more varied approach than any of the trendhopping latecomers were able to take note of, let alone try to build upon. While "House of Jealous Lovers" and "I Need Your Love" deservedly got much of the love from the dance-floor packing DFA acolytes, I think the most exciting tracks are those that mine the depths of post-punk skronk in search of great beats. "Heaven", "The Coming of Spring", and the title track rely on live instrumentation and angular guitars to approximate that jittery, hyper-intense sound that made the original run of post-punk so exciting. It isn't hard to imagine several of these being released as Factory 12-inches early in the 80s, while some of the ultra-skronky sax comes across straight up No New York. But what makes this all work so well is the sense of urgency and energy packed into the album, from the cowbell-bashing build of "Jealous Lovers" to the Mick Ronson guitar riff in "Love is All" to the "1 2 3 4 kick that fucker our the door" exhortation in "Killing". The energy is electrifying throughout, even when a few curveballs get thrown. A particular favorite for me is "Open Up Your Heart", a sparse ballad featuring subtle drums, bass, and piano which is basically a bop jazz tune dressed up as indie rock (trust me, it's all in the drums). Everything wraps up with "Infatuation", a murky acoustic ballad that could pass for Amnesiac-era Radiohead by simply replacing Luke Jenner's quirky yelps with Thom Yorke's moaning. In a genre that was defined early on by the 12" single, The Rapture proved with Echoes that dance-punk could easily sustain a full-length album when approached correctly.

May 10, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:

Lupe Fiasco - Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor (2006, Atlantic)

While Kanye West and Common spent 2005 raking in the love and critical acclaim afforded by their two monstrous releases, another personality was starting to build buzz throughout Chicago and the hip-hop blogs. Lupe Fiasco, formally introduced to the wider world via West's terrific "Touch the Sky", was a self-proclaimed nerd that brought a novel approach to hip-hop thanks to his off-beat passions and pride in his Muslim upbringing. When the fantastic single "Kick, Push", a triumphant blast of nostalgia featuring a smooth horn-laden beat backing up a truly compelling metaphor, it was clear that Chicago was home to yet another brilliant young mind and Lupe quickly shot to the top of "next big thing" lists. The single was endearing, charming, and impossible to deny. But was that disarming approach going to be enough to help Lupe last in an increasingly fickle genre? When the debut full-length came out in the fall of 2006, it became very clear that there was more to Lupe than skateboard videos and an easy-going flow. With a whole host of big name collaborators (Jay-Z, Kanye, Neptunes, Jill Scott), Food & Liquor introduced us to a Lupe that was ready to tackle all the big issues without losing touch with what made him such an individual presence. "Hurt Me Soul" detailed his love-hate relationship with the misogyny and violence of hip-hop music, while broadening the scope to take in struggles around the world. From the psychedelic sample that makes up the hugely lovable "Daydreamin" to the thrilling meta-concept of "The Cool" (later expanded on to fill out his second album), it was clear that this was a man of many ideas and, more importantly, he was able to turn them into engaging music. "Sunshine", with its retro-futuristic, digital vibe, gave us a peek into the world Kanye would explore a few years later with 808s & Heartbreak. Another standout was "Kick, Push II" which flipped the sunshine nostalgia of the original into a darker place, reflecting on the troubled worlds that pushed a ragtag group of misfits into the streets and onto their boards. A bittersweet tale that hints at dark, dark depths, but also an example of the masterful storytelling that doesn't appear enough in hip-hop music these days. A truly stunning debut by a rapper that, in retrospect, was the driving force behind today's crop of quirky young rappers. For better or worse, I don't think we'd have a Drake or a Kid Cudi or a Wale today without Lupe.

May 1, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:

Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond (2007, Fat Possum)

I didn't realize how much I missed the classic era of Dinosaur Jr. until I popped this in my car CD player and the first bit of feedback burst through the speakers, followed quickly by an absolutely killer riff. By the time that first track, "Almost Ready", finished melting my eardrums, it felt like they'd never really gone anywhere. Truly one of the most impressive comebacks since Mission of Burma's several years previous. It isn't like any of these guys had disappeared in the time since their decidedly less than amicable split, quite the opposite in fact, but it was amazing how easily their talents coalesced once again to create that easily identifiable Dinosaur Jr. sound. The surprisingly melodic vocals, the rumbling guitar feedback, the incendiary guitar solos, all of it anchored by Murph's steady drumming. Whole "Almost Ready" serves as a perfect re-introduction to the band on this record, I think the second track "Crumble" really reflects the true Dino Jr. vibe - wrapping a 1980's indie pop tune in layers of Crazy Horse guitar. This is quickly followed by the record's big epic, the six and a half minute "Pick Me Up", which features a truly eerie guitar tone and a guitar solo that eats up nearly half the track's running time. Love it. The rest of the record unfolds pretty much as you might expect, with varying levels of feedback-laden guitar wankery and hummable vocal lines. We do get a little bit of a curve-ball thrown to us, courtesy of the back to back pairing of "We're Not Alone" and "I Got Lost". The former keeps the fiery guitar solo but utilizes a very clean guitar tone and shuffling drum approach to give a laid-back vibe, while that latter is even more soothing - exciting any sort of solo and featuring actual acoustic guitar! It makes for a nifty little detour and sets up the closing 1-2 retro punch of "Lighting Bulb" and "What If I Knew". Really it all boils down to little more than the classic Dinosaur Jr. line-up doing what they do best, but considering how thrilling that is, who could really ask for more?

Apr 26, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:
Idlewild - 100 Broken Windows (2001, Capitol)

I find it kind of interesting that this album never gets brought up in the conversation about bands from the earliest part of this decade that drew heavily from the post-punk/new-wave spectrum of the eighties, because it is chock full of signifiers from that era. Sure, none are quite as obvious as those found in contemporaries like Interpol or The Strokes, but they are easily revealed on close inspection. Perhaps this is because Idlewild's influences are a little less cool than what the other guys drew from, the jangle-pop and vocal counter melodies of early R.E.M. and the anthemic, guitar-led choruses of U2 are a much more obvious target. But don't let those names fool you into thinking that Idlewild were simply recycling the boring, easy targets on this album. Instead, these guys melded their influences with a particularly Scottish stream of punk rock, layering overdriven guitars on top of soaring choruses and not being afraid to shout when a whisper just won't do. "Little Discourage", the album's lead off track, puts you in the right mindset from the get-go, what with the angular guitar lines melded to a huge and hooky chorus that is downright undeniable. It's a formula that works really well throughout, but fortunately Idlewild knows just when to take a right turn to keep the album from ever growing stale. The jangle-pop intro and synth line in "These Wooden Ideas" is the first sign that these guys really know what they're doing, while the relatively dissonant "Rusty" and the anthemic "Let Me Sleep (Next to the Mirror)", complete with Edge-inspired guitar chimes, seal the deal. Their debut full-length, Hope is Important, was a passionate, if a little unfocused, burst of punk energy, but 100 Broken Windows finds them aiming higher, ably integrating their influences, and striking upon a truly engaging, exciting sound. Shame it all started to go downhill after this one.

Apr 22, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:

Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer (Sub Pop, 2008)

I remember reading early feedback on this album after it originally leaked and shaking my head. Lots of vocal listeners on blogs and message boards alike seemed to be more than a little disappointed with what they had been hearing. I don't remember many of the specific complaints, but it all seemed to boil down to it not being a worthy follow-up to the highly lauded Apologies to the Queen Mary. Which, on initial reflection, seemed like it certainly was possible - Wolf Parade wouldn't have been the first band to stumble while trying to follow-up a huge debut. Seeing as I was deep in the midst of a phase where I absolutely refused to sample any of my highly anticipated albums until I could hold them in my hand and hear them in full, I could only patiently wait and speculate as to what went so horribly wrong. More advance reviews trickled out and started to point to one of the largest concerns, that the album lacked the immediate, earworm pop tunes that the first contained. By the time the album actually came out, I had moved on to other albums and several weeks passed before I finally picked it up and several more before I even bothered to give it a good listen. And when I did give it a chance, I understood some of the complaints, there wasn't anything that immediately struck me as a great pop tune, but I also felt like many of those disappointed were completely missing the point. This wasn't Wolf Parade's pop record. This was Wolf Parade giving into their proggier, artier side and absolutely losing themselves in the details. Which ended up making an album just as enjoyable, but for entirely different reasons. Songs twist and turn through shifting tempos and moods, referencing at different times bands like Genesis (the outro of "Bang Your Drum") and Steely Dan (the guitar work on "California Dreamer"). The epic eleven-minute closer, "Kissing the Beehive", brings this all together, combining propulsive drums, twisting guitar lines, and bubbling synths underneath. Then a funny thing happened after a few listens, those pop melodies that seemed to be missing started to pop up all over the place - all over "Language City", throughout "The Grey Estates", even in the chorus of "California Dreamer". No, this wasn't as immediate as Queen Mary, this was another thing entirely - a thrilling record to get lost in, one that rewards close listening.

Apr 19, 2010

Evaluating the Teargarden Part 4: Astral Planes

And we've arrived at the fourth and final track of the first EP, how does this stack up against what we've heard thus far?

EP #1, Track #4: "Astral Planes"
Well before I even downloaded this latest track, I was hoping for an epic feedback-laden guitar workout ala "Silverfuck" or "Gossamer" to wrap up the first EP. Upon seeing the track running time of four minutes and six seconds, I figured that definitely wasn't to be the case. After my first listen, however, it seems I was only half wrong. "Astral Planes" certainly has the feel of one of those songs that Corgan and company could stretch to epic lengths in concert, but in this recorded form I can't help but feel we're getting a truncated, neutered version. In a way, I'm reminded of the edited radio version of my absolute favorite Pumpkins track ever, "Drown". Decent enough in an abridged version, but it loses 98% of the passion and fire that make the full length version essential listening. This version feels like a teaser trailer, but even worse in that there won't likely be a full-length payoff. The song starts out fairly promising, erupting immediately into a fuzzed-out guitar drone anchored by a nice bass line and decent drumming. Things get even better after the first "verse", when the guitar spins off into the atmosphere for a brief bit, giving a taste of Corgan's space-rock love. The guitar work is absolutely fantastic this go round, reminding me of how underrated Corgan's playing has always been. The song's biggest weakness is its clear lack of structure, cycling between the pseudo-verses of repeated mantras and guitar wankery with a little "pop" bridge tossed in for good measure. Which leaves no room for any build or climax, just a constant state of forward motion with no hint of drama or dynamics. If I were rewarded with ten full minutes of the space-rock guitar freakout hinted, I would be a little more accepting. As it is, however, the lack of structure only serves to underscore how this feels more like a snippet of something larger, rather than a fully formed track of its own. Maybe live this track will take on a life of its own, but this version just leaves me frustrated and wanting much much more.

Rating: 6.8/10.0

To sum up the first EP:
1. "A Song For A Son" 7.9/10.0
2. "Widow Wake My Mind" 7.2/10.0
3. "A Stitch In Time" 6.7/10.0
4. "Astral Planes" 6.8/10.0

EP #1 Average = 7.2/10.0
Overall, this has been better than I expected, but each track seems to disappoint me a little bit more than the previous. "Astral Planes" could have been a thrilling end to the first EP, but it just doesn't work like it should. I'm interested to see what comes next, as this has been far from the train wreck it could have been.

Apr 13, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:
Dizzee Rascal - Showtime (XL, 2004)

While his debut album, Boy In Da Corner, introduced him to hipsters looking for an easy way into an unfamiliar scene and his more recent pop collaborations have brought him well deserved chart success, I have always found this sophomore record to be the most compelling. With his formula well established by this point, Dizzee was able to fiddle with the edges and create some of the most engaging beats he would ever work with. From the stunted disintegration of the near industrial rhythms on "Hype Talk" and "Face" to the tweaked and twisted old-school 808 vibe of "Get By" and "Knock Knock, the beats are just as worthy of your attention as Dizzee's unique flow. I firmly believe that an instrumental version of this album would have placed just as high on my list. But I'm certainly not out to disparage the Rascal in the least, because its his engaging personality that breathes life into the production. A particular highlight is the Dizzee gone Disney of "Dream", in which he flips Biggie's "Juicy" into a childlike ode to growing up. He may have reached higher highs before and after this record, but I don't think he'll ever be this consistently thrilling again.

Apr 12, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:

Chromatics - Night Drive (Italians Do It Better, 2007)

I certainly have no trouble admitting to be one of those people who only "dabbles" in electronic music, mostly when the mood strikes me. I'm sure I'm one of those people that absolutely drives the purists bonkers, but I'm not about to start apologizing for my tastes now. Being such an infrequent visitor to these waters makes it all the more surprising when something like Chromatics swims by and completely captures my imagination for a good, long while. I first came across this record via a YouTube link of the Kate Bush cover, "Running Up That Hill", an icy cool yet reverent treatment that struck out its own aesthetic ground. On the basis of that track alone, I ordered the album and couldn't believe how fortunate I was. That bleary-eyed, early morning vibe was carried into tracks such as the carefree title track and ethereal yet insistent "I Want Your Love". The first three tracks were complete bliss, but none prepared me for the turns the album would take, be it the horror movie dread of "The Killing Spree" or the sightly more organic vocal performance on "Mask". From the Balearic guitar melodies wrapped around "Night Drive" to the 15-minute closing epic that borders on droning krautrock at times, "Tick of the Clock", I couldn't help but feel like this album was tailor made for my tastes. A thrilling reminder of why it is sometimes a great idea to dip your toes in unfamiliar waters.

Apr 6, 2010

np: "Shadows Fed to Tyrants" - Landmine Marathon

Apologies for the lapse in posts, but the last several weeks have been packed with family trips and taking the next to last exam for my ARE, not to mention the continued job search. I promise to return to the 200 of the 2000s countdown quickly, with tomorrow quite possibly finding a brand new entry. For now I wanted to acknowledge the completion of the first quarter of 2010 and toss out a quick list of my 20 favorite albums of the year thus far. Just alphabetical order at this point, not ready to rank any of these just yet. But if the year were already over, these would be my 20 favorites.

Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) (Motown)
Field Music - Measure (Memphis Industries)
Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM (Elektra)
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach (Virgin)
High On Fire - Snakes For the Divine (Koch)
Ihsahn - After (Candlelight)
Local Natives - Gorilla Manor (Frenchkiss)
Los Campesinos! - Romance is Boring (Arts & Crafts)
Ludicra - Tenant (Profound Lore)
Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me (Drag City)
Pantha du Prince - Black Noise (Rough Trade)
Robert Pollard - We All Got Out of the Army (Guided by Voices)
Shooter Jennings & Hierophant - Black Ribbons (Rocket Science)
The Soft Pack - The Soft Pack (Kemado)
Spoon - Transference (Merge)
Surfer Blood - Astro Coast (Kanine)
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks (Matador)
These New Puritans - Hidden (Domino)
Titus Andronicus - The Monitor (XL)
Vampire Weekend - Contra (XL)

Honorable mentions to Landmine Marathon, Beach House, Liars, Four Tet and Free Energy.

Mar 25, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:

Blackalicious - Blazing Arrow (MCA, 2002)

When the decade wrap-ups started appearing all over the internet in the latter half of last year, I was surprised to not see this album pop up on more lists - especially because I've always felt like it inspired quite a bit of the best of the underground leaning hip-hop of the decade. I can hear strains of a lot of what was to follow in here including Mos Def's comeback, Common's mid-decade rise, and especially the forward-looking funk of Erykah Badu's latest round of work. Magnetic tongue-flipper Gift of Gab and beat-crafter par excellance Chief Xcel reached heights on this album that they'd only hinted at previously and, perhaps disappointingly, haven't come near since. Sure, a lot of the big names dropping by helped out (Ben Harper, Lyrics Born, Cut Chemist, Gil Scott-Heron, Questlove, etc.), but without the duo laying down a fantastic base, all of the guest stars in the world wouldn't have helped. A particular favorite is the epic "Nowhere Fast", which features Questlove on drums and James Poyser on keyboards. It starts off with a funky bounce that mutates into a slinky groove as the track rolls on, definitely pointing the way towards future collabs with Ms. Badu. That particular track is followed by the jaw-dropping "Paragraph President", with verses so tightly-wound and densely-packed that it becomes impossible to deny Gab's talented flow. The record hits on many moods over the course of its run time - slinky jazz, psychedelic haze, slow jam grooves, and on and on - but it all comes together surprisingly well and forms one of the most thrilling hip-hop statements of the decade. I just wish it was still receiving more props.

Mar 24, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:
Silversun Pickups - Carnavas (Dangerbird, 2006)

As a music fan that really blossomed in the early 90s, mostly thanks to bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, and Soundgarden, I've often been disappointed that of all the strains of 90s alt-rock that could have been carried forward in to the next decade it had to be the angst-ridden sub-grunge of Creed and Candlebox that took hold. I'm talking about all the Three Days Grace, Seether, and Puddle of Mudd crap that is still clogging up the pores of whatever few alt-rock radio stations are still out there. Thankfully the past decade saw a band willing to strap on their guitars, stomp on their fuzzboxes, and rock out to a slightly different vein of the 90s. On this, their debut full-length, Los Angeles' Silversun Pickups picked up the torch dropped by bands like the aforementioned Pumpkins and Hum; unafraid to drown their pop songs in feedback and aim for the arenas without the navel-gazing self-pity and teenage angst. It is, to be certain, a well-worn formula but one the band wears well, just listen to those undeniable riffs on "Little Lover's So Polite" or their breakthrough hit single, "Lazy Eye". This kind of thing doesn't work for everyone, but as a guy that really latched onto this sound in his formative years - the Pickups roll right up the middle of my alley.

Mar 23, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:
Cobalt - Gin (Profound Lore, 2009)

This intense record was one of last year's more pleasant surprises and one of the best indications that there is plenty of ground left to cover when it comes to United States black metal. Front to back this thing is absolutely massive and crushing, from the thunderous riffs to the huge sounding drums ready to crush careless skulls into tiny bits and pieces. But what makes it such a special record, beyond being so relentlessly heavy, are the many moods and phases it manages to swing through while beating you about the head and face. Much of this is due to Erik Wunder's absolutely stunning approach to his drumming, choosing to thrill with his rolling, tribal style instead of plowing through each song as rapidly as possible - an approach that can become very tiresome over the length of an hour-long album. It almost seems like the dark mood comes from what Wunder is holding back, not what he unleashes. Toss in some acoustic interludes and other sparse throwbacks to American traditional folk music (a vibe more than reinforced by the field recording of a prison gang on the hidden track) and you've got one of the more creative approaches we've seen in a subgenre all but left for dead by many critics and fans.