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.