Dec 13, 2011

Listening Soundtrack 12.05.11-12.12.11

I knew it'd been a long time since my last paltry update around these parts, but I was stunned to see that it had nearly been four whole months! Life has been pretty busy and I'll not be making excuses this time. The birth of our son back on the 7th of September certainly changed our priorities significantly and, truth be told, it was no contest when I chose between holding him and updating a blog that no one reads. Anyway, I hope to be around a little more regularly in the future - both here and over at another new blogging project that is just getting underway (I'll link when the dust has settled over there). I'll be putting up my usual year in review stuff in the coming weeks as well, so there's that to look forward to. In the meantime, with nothing much better to write about today, how about a look at what I've been listening to over the past week?

Blut Aus Nord - 777 Sect(s)
Autopsy - Macabre Eternal [2]
Graveyard - Hisingen Blues
Husker Du - Land Speed Record [2]
Husker Du - In A Free Land EP
Girls - Father, Son, Holy Spirit
Husker Du - Statues/Amusement 7"
Morne - Asylum
Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch the Throne
King Krule - King Krule EP
Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness
Husker Du - Metal Circus [2]
The Black Keys - El Camino [3]
The Roots - undun [3]
Bitch Magnet - Star Booty +
Husker Du - Everything Falls Apart
Blood Ceremony - Living with the Ancients
Absu - Abzu
Crystal Stilts - Radiant Door EP
Husker Du - Eight Miles High 7"
The Decemberists - Newport Folk Festival 2011
Office of Future Plans - Office of Future Plans [2]
Killer Mike - Pl3dge
Bob Dylan - Planet Waves
Cave - Neverendless
Main Attrakionz - 808s & Dark Grapes II
Katy B - On A Mission [2]

As you can see I spent a lot of time listening to early Husker Du, thanks to Andrew Earles' (ultimately a little disappointing) recent book on the band. I don't feel like I learned a whole lot of new stuff about the band, other than what Earles thinks of their albums and how much he dislikes "thrash metal". Anyway, it was still a good reason to dig into an era of the band I've sort of glossed over in the past. Lots of catching up on 2011 metal releases that I had missed, thanks to seeing the names popping up in various year-end lists. I'm really a fan of that new Autopsy record and that Graveyard is some of the best pseudo-Zep I've heard. I also returned for some more time with that Katy B record, turns out I like that a lot more than I thought I did.

Aug 14, 2011

Amon Duul II Live on French TV

Yes, I've been beyond lax when it comes to this blog, new projects are in the work elsewhere but this hasn't been abandoned just yet. In the meantime, enjoy this fantastic performance of Amon Duul II live on French television.

Jun 17, 2011

Best Albums of 2011: January-June

The halfway point of the year is just about upon us, so what better time than now to look back on what the first had on offer? Looking back over the list of albums I've heard this year so far, 126 at last count, I was surprised by just how many I'd classify in the great-to-excellent category. Sure, there were a few duds here and there (White Lies, Lupe Fiasco, Ulver - I'm looking at you guys), but overall I've been really pleased with what I've heard this year. So here's a list, in no particular order beyond alphabetical, of the twenty-five best albums I've heard in the first six months of the year.

Battles - Gloss Drop (Warp)
While I didn't find this to pack the initial visceral punch that the excellent Mirrored did, this is nonetheless a thrilling album that finds Battles recovering nicely from the departure of Tyondai Braxton. This is a playful, vibrant bunch of songs with an energy level that never flags, bolstered by some great guest vocals turns by the likes of Gary Numan and Yamantaka Eye of Boredoms. The Matais Aguayo fronted "Ice Cream" is a bit too silly though, representing the only minor misstep on an otherwise winning album.

Black Lips - Arabian Mountain (Vice)
This record has only been out for a couple of weeks, but its already more than earned a spot on this list. I've been a fan of these garage rockers since 2005's Let It Bloom, but I've found their last two highly-hyped records to be a little too hit-or-miss. With the help of celebrity producer Mark Ronson (who really adapted himself well to the band's vibe), they knocked this one out of the park by loading it with 100% killer tunes from start to finish. If this record doesn't give them the wider attention they deserve, well, maybe people don't deserve these guys.

Crystal Stilts - In Love With Oblivion (Slumberland)
These guys came to my attention with their Slumberland full-length debut a couple years ago, although they were overshadowed, in my mind, by the excellent work of labelmates The Pains of Being Pure of Heart. This, their sophomore LP, is a marked improvement thanks to the band's slight swerve off into unexpectedly darker, murkier directions. Lead singer Brad Hargett is still the big draw (and stumbling block for many detractors), but you'll stay for the dense, menacing atmosphere that breathes new life into a band that was in danger of trends passing them by.

Destroyer - Kaputt (Merge)
I've really enjoyed watching Dan Bejar evolve his Destroyer project over the years, particularly as he's expanded his scope and vision by incorporating elements of midi-pop, jazz, and prog. For those that didn't pay attention to the EPs he released between Trouble In Dreams and this one, the headfirst dive into 1980s sophistipop may have been a bit of a shock. Steely Dan and yacht rock may not be the most obvious of reference points in 2011, but Bejar wisely uses them as a launchpad rather than a crutch, birthing one of 2011's most engaging albums in the process.

E-40 - Revenue Retrievin': Graveyard Shift / Overtime Shift (Heavy on Grind)
E-40 quietly spent the last two decades cementing his legendary reputation as one of the best lyricists in hi-hop, even as he watched newcomers rise and fall around him. His hardworking grind served him well when he dropped the first two stunning entries in the Revenue Retrievin' series last year. While it was a surprise to hear that he had another two(!) full albums worth of material to drop a mere twelve months later, it was an even bigger surprise to find out they were just as good as the first pair. If you've been sleeping on E-40 all this time, for whatever reason, you've know got four essential albums to pick up. And how many other rappers can say that over an entire career, let alone within twelve months?

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)
The pressure on Robin Pecknold and his band to equal their breakthrough debut album was so intense that they apparently had to scrap one recording session and completely start over. While I hate to with that intensity level on any musician I love, it sounds like it may have paid off this time around. By reaching further back into their parents' dusty record collections to spend time with CSN&Y and English folk, Fleet Foxes have given us a folk-pop epic record, the kinds of which we haven't seen in a long time. Other, less well-known bands have managed to hit on one essential piece of the folk-pop puzzle over the years (Midlake and Espers come immediately to mind), but none have done it as effortlessly as these guys have.

Friendly Fires - Pala (XL)
The first real surprise of 2011 as far as I'm concerned. I liked the singles off of their 2008 self-titled debut well enough, but I found myself returning to the Aeroplane remix of "Paris" more than anything off the record itself. I almost didn't buy this follow-up, but fortunately I came across a copy at a great price. This is exactly the dance-pop record that Cut Copy promised, but only partially delivered on. New Order gets thrown out a lot as an influence to any band that incorporates big basslines and dance beats, but in this case the descriptor is more than apt. An unexpected pleasure, to be sure.

Fucked Up - David Comes to Life (Matador)
A punk rock concept album. If that phrase has you cringing while visions of Green Day pop into your head, fear not, this is a far more intelligent, engrossing, and visceral punk rock concept album than anything else you've heard before. Those who have paid attention to Fucked Up as they've evolved already know they are capable of great things, but this puts the band on a whole new level. Not only is their trademark slash-and-burn all over this record, but there are some surprisingly huge hooks and pop gems. It isn't necessary to engage with this as a whole, the individual songs really are that strong, but the fact that is all coalesces into a coherent, exciting, and meta story makes it even all the more thrilling.

Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact (4AD)
It's been interesting to witness Gang Gang Dance's slow evolution to the band they've become for this, their 4AD debut. To the delight (and chagrin) of many fans, the band's sound has grown more and more "accessible" with each release and this is certainly no exception. In fact, Eye Contact is easily the most listener friendly thing they've ever done. Which doesn't mean they've abandoned the delightful synthy and spacey explorations of albums prior, it just means they're more likely to get stuck in your ear (just check out "Adult Goth" if you don't believe me).

The Gates of Slumber - The Wretch (Metal Blade)
These crushing Indiana metalheads return to their doom roots with this one, toning down the traditional heavy metal nods of the previous two records to great results. This is a ferocious, rip-roaring album from beginning to end, playing to each and every one of the band's strengths. If you need some straightforward doom in your life, do yourself a favor and throw this thick slab of it into your player and get stomped.

Nicolas Jaar - Space is Only Noise (Circus Company)
Its a damn shame this gem is going to be overlooked this year, thanks to the overshadowing hype of the two other boy producer wunderkinds, James Blake and Jamie Woon, because this effortlessly outclasses either album by the other two. To be fair, Jaar is obviously exploring different territory than his peers and not aiming for pop success, but his explorations make for a far more engaging listen. Expertly weaving a rich tapestry of sample sources, jazz meanderings, and playful programming, this will be an album that envelops you.

The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar (Atlantic)
The 90s alternative rock revival has been hinted at for the last couple of years, as retro-minded bands flipped through their record collections and pulled out the early 90s shoegaze and indie pop kings for a closer look. This North Wales trio skips all that bedroom stuff though, and aims right for 1994 and 1995, when alt-rock ruled the airwaves thanks to bands like Smashing Pumpkins. In fact that particular band comes up frequently in reference to The Joy Formidable, but for good reason. Lead singer and guitarist Ritzy Bryan isn't afraid to rip off a blistering guitar solo right in the middle of an otherwise tame indie-pop tune, much like obvious inspiration Billy Corgan. Bryan's sweet vocals play nicely off the overdriven, guitar-based attack, making this an obvious choice for those of you missing the glory days of alt-rock radio.

KEN Mode - Venerable (Profound Lore)
Speaking of 90s throwbacks, here is another band that reaches back to the Clinton decade, but from a far different end than the radio-friendly approach of The Joy Formidable. Canadian's KEN Mode take inspiration from the metallic post-hardcore era bands like Botch and Converge birthed (this album is, coincidentally, produced by Converge's Kurt Ballou), an era that is often imitated but rarely improved upon. KEN Mode, however, manages to add another worthy entry in the canon with their throat-shredding, pummeling attack.

Krallice - Diotima (Profound Lore)
When guitar shredders Mick Barr (Orthrelm, Ocrilim) and Colin Marston (Dysrhythmia, Behold... The Arctopus) originally formed Krallice in New York City back in 2008, it seemed like just another in a long series of exiting projects involving the pair. But as Krallice has evolved into a full-time concern, it has evolved into one of the most essential and consistently jaw-dropping black metal bands in the United States. This third full-length is the most dynamic yet, with Marston and Barr tightening their approach to the point of even plowing ahead on the same riff at times, relying less on the complex interplay of records past and more on the subtle impact of focus. If you haven't been yet, it's time to start paying attention to one of America's most essential metal bands.

Lady Gaga - Born This Way (Interscope)
It seems to be increasingly rare in this ever-fractured world of our when one of the biggest-hyped and over-saturated pop albums of the year also ends up being one of its best, but that is exactly the case with Gaga's latest. The uplifting anthem "Born This Way" and the eighties montage scoring "The Edge of Glory" are both inescapable and inexplicably great, but they represent just the tip of the iceberg here. Plowing through styles, influences, and fads, Gaga has given her monsters a massive case of pop overload. Given her level of fame, this isn't exactly a surprise, but what is, is just how fun so many of these songs are. From the Mutt Lange produced "You and I" (that steals more than a little bit of Shania swag) to the German technopop of "Schei├če", Gaga is having her cake and eating it too. If you are looking originality, this isn't it. But if you want to maximize your fun around the pool this summer, this will be your jam.

Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)
While both "Little Bit" and "I'm Good, I'm Gone" received frequent spins around here, I never completely embraced the debut album by this Swedish darling. I found Youth Novels to be nice enough, but I didn't seem to be as won over by her as the rest of the internet. But by the time I finished my second play of this, her sophomore disc, she had won me over for good. Wounded Rhymes is packed with pop hooks and brilliant ides, each of its ten tracks is a pure joy to listen to, from the sexually empowering "Get Some" to oddly endearing "Sadness is a Blessing". I can know see that Li was deserving of all of the accolades and now I can't wait to see where she goes next.

Liturgy - Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey)
The reception this album has been getting all over the internet nicely illustrates one of the most frustrating aspects of the metal fan community in 2011. Because these guys come from Brooklyn and are signed to legendary indie label Thrill Jockey, Liturgy is being routinely dismissed and ignored as not being "true" metal and labelled a bunch of dilettante hipsters dabbling in music they don't have a right to be into. Which, beyond being the exact type of elitist crap that turns people off of new bands, is completely ridiculous. Aesthetica finds Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (originally the sole figure behind Liturgy) using black metal as a launching point, but pushing it into entirely new directions. Anyone dismissing these guys as "false" or "hipster" metal is, in addition to being willfully stupid, missing out on the second best United States black metal-influenced album of the year (behind the Krallice).

Mars Classroom - New Theory of Everything (Happy Jack)
By this point, it is no longer noteworthy that Robert Pollard is still cranking out songs, albums, and side projects at a prolific rate. So far in 2011 he has released two albums under his own name, one under the resurrected Lifeguards project with Doug Gillard, and this one, a brand new collaboration with guitarist Gary Waleik of Big Dipper and Bob Beerman of instrumental rockers Pell Mell. This resulting album is chock full of jangly indie-pop tunes anchored by Beerman's drums and brightened by Waleik's angular guitar work. Pollard's been on a bit of a winning streak over the last few years, but this injects even more fresh blood into his body of work and makes for the most fun front-to-back listen of his four so far this year.

Moon Duo - Mazes (Sacred Bones)
Between this, his side project with keyboardist Sanae Yamada, and his main band Wooden Shjips, Eric "Ripley" Johnson has been busy putting out some of the best kraut-inspired experimental rock this side of Berlin over the past couple of years. Considering an impressive back catalog that includes killer records like Dos and Escape, it really means something to say that Mazes just might be the best one yet. By toning down the exploratory meanderings of the Shjips and incorporating an easy-going vibe, Johnson and Yamada show off an entirely new groove for fans of psychedelic pop.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong (Slumberland)
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart burst onto the scene two years ago with a thrilling debut record that harkened back to the glory days of C86 indie-pop bands, you could just hear the chunky glasses and faded cardigans in the twee-inspired lyrics and hummable choruses. It wasn't particularly original, but the tunes were impossible to deny and the band's entire approach was utterly endearing on songs like "Young Adult Friction" and "A Teenager in Love". This time around they've broadened their sound, drenching the lovelorn tunes in feedback and distortion, recalling early 90s shoegaze and the arena-filling rock of the Smashing Pumpkins. Which makes sense, considering this was produced by Flood and mixed by Alan Moulder (the brains behind Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness). Its a great look for these kids.

Ringo Deathstarr - Colour Trip (Sonic Unyon)
And, speaking of shoegaze, I've yet to hear a better My Bloody Valentine imitation than the sound of the guitars that open the lead track here, "Imagine Hearts". Countless bands have, over the last two decades, claimed that they are channeling the spirit of MBV, but those guitars are the closest I've heard. Fortunately the rest of the song is just as good. It may sound dismissive, but I like to consider Ringo Deathstarr as "record collection rock". In other words, they're a band with their influences on their sleeves, but fortunately they weave them together in such a way as to avoid rote imitation. But with influences as great as MBV, Jesus and Mary Chain, A Place to Bury Strangers, The Smiths and The Cure, you realize that sometimes comforting nostalgia can be plain old fun.

The Skull Defekts - Peer Amid (Thrill Jockey)
I have to admit that this record was my first exposure to these Swedish post-punk inspired noise rockers, but it was good enough that I immediately went out and picked up their two previous records. This made for an interesting entry point, because this record marks the first made with former Lungfish vocalist Daniel Higgs. Taut with nervous energy, Peer Amid bounces and roils through extended drones, wiry attacks, and hypnotic rhythms. If you enjoy stuff on the noisier end of the post-punk spectrum (The Ex, knottier versions of The Fall), do yourself a favor and seek this out.

Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde (Fat Possum)
These Chicago kids made a big splash with their self-titled debut, thrashing and riffing through garage-inspired rock that put the "lo" in "lo-fi". Much like fellow Midwesterners Times New Viking, Smith Westerns buried their pop gems in layers and layers of fuzz and distortion, making it all the more worthwhile when you pulled the hooks out of the mire. Thankfully, they decided to not make you work so hard for the payoff this time around. The youthful exuberance is still in full force, but these songs have been given the old spit and polish and gussied up with more than a little glam stomp that would make Marc Bolan sit up and take notice. One of the sunniest garage-pop records of the year.

tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l (4AD)
It takes a really fantastic record to overcome a horrible band name that looks like a MySpace casualty circa 2006 and a marketing campaign that ticks off precious hipster signifiers left and right. I'd been purposely avoiding anything to do with this band since they started getting buzz for 2009's BiRd-BrAiNs, but a well written New Yorker piece by Sasha Frere-Jones made me question that decision. It turns out that Merrill Garbus, the woman behind tUnE-yArDs, had a lot more going for her than I was willing to admit. This is the sort of intelligent, well-written, engrossing pop that only comes around so often. Often built around self-made instrumental loops the musical beds are engrossing enough on their own, but when Garbus uses her stunning vocals to sing about issues of race, gender, and body image, this stuff more than proves its worth.

Zombi - Escape Velocity (Relapse)
Synth and drum duo Steve Moore and Anthony Paterra have quietly built up a serious following over the past decade as some of America's finest purveyors of instrumental music. Taking equal inspiration from classic horror soundtracks, progressive rock, metal drumming, ambient, and krautrock, Zombi crank out epic zoned-out track after epic zoned-out track. This time around they're leaning a little more heavily on the synth-end of things, adding a healthy dose of Giorgio Moroder to the mix, resulting in a spacy, minimal groove that will soundtrack your next neon-lit job around the space station.

Jun 7, 2011

My Somewhat Complicated Relationship with Elbow

While I was poring over some construction documents at work this afternoon I found myself in a very familiar predicament, wondering what to listen to next. I scrolled through my iPod library and plenty of worthy candidates flashed in front of me, but my eyes kept returning to something that I didn't think I really wanted to hear - Elbow's Build A Rocket Boys. Wondering if this was some sort of sign, I went ahead and clicked play, even as I was being mightily tempted by that free Enslaved EP from a couple months ago. And, I really enjoyed hearing it again. A couple of the songs clicked a little more with me ("The River", "Jesus is a Rochdale Girl") and made me like the album just a bit more than I did yesterday.

Now, I can just bet you are wondering why I'm taking the time to describe a relatively rote reaction to a situation I must face quite frequently. Well, you see, as I was thinking about this Elbow album a little more, I realized just how symptomatic that particular encounter was of my entire relationship with the band. I like them, lots at times. I own all five of their studio albums, the last four of which I have purchased the week of release. I always enjoy listening to them when I put them on. But here's where the weird bit comes in. I don't find myself reaching for their albums often. In fact, I frequently catch myself passing them over as I scroll through my library because I'm "so not in the mood for THAT right now". I'm absolutely certain that I've listened to their albums less frequently than I have albums by artists I know, on the whole, I like a lot less than Elbow. I would never claim them as a "favorite band". I would never quite say that I "love" them. However, I also know that if I were to pull the trigger and fire up one of their albums, I wouldn't complain in the least and would, in time, find myself completely absorbed.

This may not seem particularly odd to some of you, but I find this to be a really weird relationship with a band that I've been following for nearly a decade now. One easy explanation may be that I have this relationship with Elbow because they aren't a particularly easy band to love. They don't often load their songs with hummable, or immediately memorable, hooks. It often takes multiple listens to be drawn in. Fair points each, but I listen to a hell of a lot of other artists guilty on both counts. And usually I'll either dismiss them out of hand, or find myself wrapped up and in love with the artist in question. I don't do that with Elbow though. I listen once, then file the record back on the shelf for later. I never feel like starting the album over again as soon as the last track fades to silence. I don't go through obsessive phases with them, even when they release a new album. But, why?

I'm afraid I don't have any easy answer here, behind thinking that Elbow have become the aural equivalent of comfort food. I don't often feel the urge to seek it out, but once I let it into my system I realize that I've kinda missed it. But once the meals over, I feel content and realize that I probably won't need it again. And, that's okay. Not all of the music I listen to needs to provoke a visceral reaction or kickstart an obsessive love affair. Its good to have a few bands lying around your collection that do little more than fill a particular slot. They aren't the bands you get passionate about, you might not put them on any mixtapes, they don't end up in the high slots on your year-end lists, but that doesn't mean they don't serve a very important purpose. I'm okay with my complicated Elbow relationship. I'm glad I have them around.

What bands do you feel this way about?

Jun 2, 2011

Listening Soundtrack 05.26.11-06.02.11

Okay, I totally stole this idea from Pretty Goes With Pretty (a great blog from the dude that wrote the excellent Slint 33 1/3 book), but I liked the approach. Being an architect, I'm a visual person and I thought it would be interesting to see a collage of the albums I listened to over the last week rather than just a lost of words.

Death Cab For Cutie - Codes and Keys
Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
My Morning Jacket - Circuital
Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires
Avantasia - The Wicked Symphony
Faust - Faust IV
Friendly Fires - Pala (2)
Avantasia - Angel of Babylon
Boris - Attention Please
The Feelies - Crazy Rhythms
Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance
Lady Gaga - Born This Way [Deluxe Edition] (3)
Art Brut - Brilliant! Tragic! (3)
Coldplay - Viva La Vida
Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die... But You Will
Thursday - No Devolucion (2)
The Kills - Blood Pressures
Michael Grimm - Michael Grimm
Lindstrom - Where You Go I Go Too
Blood Ceremony - Living with the Ancients
Trap Them - Darker Handcraft
Weekend Nachos - Worthless
Red Fang - Murder the Mountains
Tyler, the Creator - Goblin [Deluxe Edition]

Jun 1, 2011

Catching Up and Record Shopping Haul Report

Yes, this blog has lain dormant far too long and, again, the usual culprits of real life are to blame. Some days there isn't enough time to go around and, quite honestly, this blog is the first to get set on the back burner when push comes to shove. Anyway, I do have another project in the works that I hope to bring to the light of day very soon, so please stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, I just got back from a well-deserved break with family in Michigan. In addition to the relaxing and general hanging around, I was able to squeeze in a little bit of record shopping in a couple of my favorite stores in Ann Arbor (namely, Wazoo and Underground Sounds). Here's what I bought and some early thoughts. The drive home from Detroit this afternoon gave me plenty of time to dive into the pile.

Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance (DGC)
This has long been on my "to purchase" list, but I'm glad I was able to finally come across a reasonably priced copy that allowed me to pull the trigger. I knew I'd heard "Non-Alignment Pact" before, as well as several others I couldn't have recalled by name, but I was a little astonished how familiar the whole thing felt. These guys are an obvious touchstone for a lot of bands mining the post-punk vein over the past thirty plus years and it is easy to see why, these guys crammed a lot of ideas into this release. I'm ready to dig further into their catalog.

The Feelies - Crazy Rhythms (Bar None)
Full disclosure, I (ahem) downloaded a copy of this a few years ago when I was broke and having trouble locating the reissue so I'm not entirely new to this, but I am thrilled to finally have a copy of my own. This reissue sounds great, so much better than whatever had sourced my original download, and it really is one of those timeless albums. After such a crisp, clear listen, I'm starting to wonder why this one doesn't pop up on any lists of great guitar albums, because Bill Million and Glenn Mercer absolutely kill it all over this record.

Boris - Attention Please (Sargent House)
One of the two new albums Boris released in May, this was hotly tipped to be the more experimental of the two, finding the trio pushing their sound in a few unexpected directions. After an initial listen I can confirm that this is very much true and while quite a few purists are decrying the band for swinging to (gasp!) dance-pop and away from their trademarked low-end sludge and crawl, I'm so far finding this much more interesting than the awkwardly titled Heavy Rocks (not to be confused with the 2002 Boris album with a completely different tracklist), which seems to be more of the same old same old. I'm actually glad to have both approaches, because while you can't ever tire of Boris up to their usual tricks, it is great to hear them have a little fun too.

Art Brut - Brilliant! Tragic! (Cooking Vinyl/The End)
If you think too deeply about it, its kind of crazy to think that we are actually seeing a fourth album from Eddie Argos and company, considering how narrow their whole shtick was back when the debut came out. Don't get me wrong, it was a great schtick. Not only was Bang Bang Rock N Roll a fantastic album, they were an absolute blast live. It's a Bit Complicated, album number two, despite a few bright spots, only fed into the fears of a short lifespan for the band, finding them blandly rehashing some ideas from the first and unwisely attempting to mature in weird new directions. Album number three, however, was a definite contender for that whole "return to form" thing we always here so much about, a fun, funny and often affecting disc. So how does number four stack up? After two listens, I'm afraid it seems to fall closer to It's a Bit Complicated than either of the other two pillars of their catalog. There are certainly some charming winners here ("Bad Comedian", "Martin Kemp Welch Five-A-Side Football Rules", "Axl Rose"), but the attempts at stretching out can sometimes fall flat. I love the concept behind "Sexy Sometimes", a singer with a not-so-great voice expresses his desire to soundtrack a sexy cocktail party and woo the woman of his dreams, but it lacks the spark of the better moments. But two of the longer tracks actually wind up pretty well. "Is Dog Eared" is a great ode to being misunderstood and finding love in (and with) fiction, while "Ice Hockey" is a sweet little tune about saying goodbye. Maybe this will grow on me though, because the more I think about the individual tracks, the more I want to hear them all over again. A good sign.

Friendly Fires - Pala (XL Recordings)
This was one of the real surprises of the bunch so far. I picked this up on a whim, mostly because I still love the Aeroplane remix of "Paris" off their debut. I was really surprised by how much I loved the whole thing. I've always found bands that mine this dance-pop formula to be wildly hit or miss, but these guys know what they are doing. There are some obvious touchstones sprinkled throughout - I hear more than a little disco, Daft Punk, and New Order sprinkled liberally throughout, but never enough to distract or make it feel at all like a game of spot the influences. I need to spend more time with this, but sitting here a few hours later, I can name, off the top of my head, about five tracks I would wholeheartedly recommend - "Blue Cassette", "Hawaiian Air", "Pull Me Back To Earth", "Hurting" and the title track. A pleasant surprise.

Faust - Faust IV (EMI)
Another one that was, surprisingly, completely new to me. I've long been a fan of krautrock and krautrock-indebted bands, stretching all the way from Can and Neu! to Secret Machines and Wooden Shjips, but Faust has been one of those founders of the genre (literally in one way, the lead track on this thing named the genre) that I never spent time with. Its hard to grasp everything that is going on here with one listen, but I'm really kicking myself for not diving in sooner. The opener mentioned above is mesmerizing from the start, a series of drones and feedback hypnotizing for seven full minutes before (no hyperbole, one of the greatest moments of recorded music I've ever heard here...) the drums kick in and set the controls for the heart of the groove. Yes Virginia, this is EXACTLY the kind of thing that genres can and should be named for. The rest ain't too shabby either, finding the band playing with pop, noise, and groove in near equal parts.

Apr 19, 2011

Now Playing:
Esben and the Witch - Violet Cries (Matador)

This Brighton-based band sort of crept onto my radar at the beginning of this year as I started to take notice of the blog buzz that included a few phrases that perked my ears right up, particularly "goth-pop" and "Pornography-era Cure". Yes, I could definitely see a need for more of that in my life, thanks. Plus their album was being issued here in the States by Matador, a label I've long come to trust, even well after all the hipsters abandoned them. The label is almost always guaranteed a spot or three on my year end list it seems. And they may pull such a feat again this year, but it won't be this album. As opener "Argyria" built its full head of steam, I started to get really excited, thinking this was really going to hit the spot for me. Yet, just as the song built to that glorious moment when someone like Robert Smith would have let loose with some spooky wail to draw us into a world of misery... the song kind of tailed off and fell apart. Disappointing, but it was the first track after all, maybe this was just a teaser for what was to come. Instead, as I got deeper and deeper into the disc, I realized that instead of being a teaser, "Argyria" served as the perfect summation of the album as a whole - lots of creepy mood, dynamic atmospherics, but absolutely nothing when it came to pairing these with a memorable tune. There are a few moments that make for some unsettling background music, "Marching Song" (particularly when paired with the off-putting video) and "Warpath" among them, but little that stuck with me even after multiple listens. I get what these guys are trying to do and I think they are halfway there, but next time I'd love to hear them come up with some actual songs to finish off these moody crescendos.

Apr 11, 2011

Now Playing:
The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar (Atlantic)

I find sometimes that the hardest records for me to write about are the ones I'm currently the most passionate about, particularly when they come from a new artist that I've fallen head over heels for. Its one thing to pound out a couple hundred words about the latest killer album from a long-time favorite, especially when you've had years to consider and contemplate your relationship with the music, but this become so much more difficult when you are still poking and prodding at the edges and trying to figure out why this music appeals to you so. This is precisely the predicament I find myself in every time I sit down to write about The Joy Formidable. On the surface, it isn't hard to see why The Big Roar would appeal to me, the band mines a guitar-heavy alt-rock sound that was extremely formative to my musical tastes at an impressionable age, but I'm at a loss to explain why this particular trio instead of others striking a similar vein. As I listen and re-listen to the album over and over again, trying to understand just why it has such a hold over me (not at all as much of a chore as that sentence may imply), I think it comes down to moments more than anything else. The moment, just about four minutes in, when "Whirring" goes from just a fantastic indie pop song to a cathartic guitar explosion. The drumroll that ushers in the chorus of "Cradle" and the buzzsaw guitar line that follows. The moments of respite that "Maruyama" and the first half of "Llaw=Wall" offer. The arena-filling "A Heavy Abacus". I could go on and on and on, but I'd run the risk of closing this tab to go listen to the album again to find even more. I think part of me was a little scared to love this as much as I did initially, I didn't want to know I was that susceptible to nostalgia and able to fall for the first trio with a crush-worthy lead singer and an aspiration to the more stadium-worthy aspects of the Smashing Pumpkins at their prime. Fortunately I was able to get over myself long enough to remember that one of the reasons I connected so deeply with music during those impressionable years was the comfort it offered and The Joy Formidable is comforting as hell, be it 1995 or 2011.

Apr 10, 2011

Music Diary Project Day 7
And here is the final entry for the Music Diary Project. Not a whole lot of music listening for most of the day, spent a lot of time catching up on TV with my wife and even more time out in the yard. We did watch our DVR'ed episode of last night's Saturday Night Live, so we did see:
Foo Fighters - "Rope"
Foo Fighters - "Walk"

Other than that, most of my music listening was sitting at my computer or doing some laundry, so I tossed on an iTunes smart playlist of stuff from 1993-1996 (note that I didn't clean this up, so there were some comps from this period that contained older music):
Blur - "Sunday Sunday"
The Stones Roses - "Going Down"
Oasis - "Alive (demo)"
Primus - "Southbound Pachyderm"
The Black Crowes - "Ballad in Urgency"
Silver Jews - "The Country Diary of a Subway Conductor"
Jimi Hendrix - "The Star Spangled Banner (live)"
Pearl Jam - "Not For You"
Better Than Ezra - "At Ch. DeGaulle, Etc."
Frank Black - "Big Red"
Ween - "Baby Bitch"
The Roots - "Do You Want More?!!!??!"
Pavement - "Forklift"
The Flaming Lips - "Chewin' The Apple of Your Eye"
Frank Black - "Space is Gonna Do Me Good"
2Pac - "Only God Can Judge Me"
Dinosaur L - "In the Cornbelt (Larry Levan Mix)"
Guided by Voices - "Chicken Blows"
Phish - "Chalk Dust Torture (Live at MSG NYE 1995)"
The Velvet Underground - "I'm Set Free (Closet Mix)"
Elliott Smith - "Kiwi Maddog 20/20"
Babybird - "Baby Bird"
Dr. Octagon - "A Visit to the Gynecologyst"
The Stone Roses - "How Do You Sleep"
Destroyer - "Streets of Fire"
Radiohead - "Lozenge of Love"
Smoking Popes - "My Lucky Day"
The Fall - "Spencer (Peel Session)"
Slayer - "213"
Built to Spill - "Distopian Dream Girl"
Belle and Sebastian - "Expectations"
Stereolab - "Klang Tone"
Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "Slip Away"
Kyuss - "Odyssey/Conan Troutman/N.O./Whitewater"
Depeche Mode - "Judas"

Favorite Track Heard Today: Smoking Popes - "My Lucky Day"
Favorite New Track Heard Today: Foo Fighters - "Walk" (by default really, but it wasn't bad)
Least Favorite Track Heard Today: Babybird - "Baby Bird"
Music Diary Project Day 6
Yesterday was a pretty unusual day, as I didn't get a chance to listen to very much music at all. Spent the day doing yardwork and running errands before eating dinner at a friends house, so other than listening to The Joy Formidable's The Big Roar while running around town for different errands, I heard nothing but incidental music being piped into various stores. I tried to note what I was hearing, but nothing really stuck with me. I do know I heard Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" and a Justin Bieber song at one, but that was about it.

Favorite Track Heard Today: The Joy Formidable - "Austere"
Favorite New Track Heard Today: nothing new again today
Least Favorite Track Heard Today: that Justin Bieber track, not sure which one it was

Apr 9, 2011

Music Diary Project Day 5
This update for yesterday's listening is a little late, but here it is.

Pretty much a similar deal as it was all week, we had the local classic rock on in the car on the way to the train station and heard:
The Who - "My Generation"
Thin Lizzy - "The Boys Are Back in Town"

On the train, the walk to work, and for the first few minutes of checking email and planning out the day I listened to:
The Velvet Underground - Peel Slowly and See (Disc 4)

Not a whole lot of music for the rest of the morning, as I spent time catching up on some of my podcasts, particularly the Judge John Hodgman and Football Weekly ones. I did have a little time to switch over to shuffle though:
Women - "Heat Distraction"
Dinosaur Jr - "Raisins (BBC Session)"
Oneohtrix Point Never - "Emil Cioran"
The Horrors - "Draw Japan"

Oddly, there was no music playing at the deli where I went to lunch. I'm not sure if it would have felt as odd if I wasn't focused on looking for it, but it did make the place sound eerily silent.

Back at the office, after spending an uncomfortable amount of time wrestling with 40 pound drawing sets for a project going out to bid, I had the iPod on shuffle again:
Return To Forever - "Celebration Suite Part I & II"
Oneohtrix Point Never - "Months" (shuffle must have been feeling this today)
Rocket from the Crypt - "Can You Hear It"
Diddy-Dirty Money f. Grace Jones - "Yeah Yeah You Would"
The Sounds - "Yeah Yeah Yeah" (sadly no Yeah Yeah Yeahs to follow up this stretch)
The Fall - "Slang King (edits version 1)"
E-40 f. Bun B & Slim Thug - "That Candy Paint"
Blue Oyster Cult - "Fire of Unknown Origin"
Amon Amarth - "The Last Stand of Frej"
MellowHype - "GRAM"
Mastodon - "Divinations"

Switched off shuffle for a couple albums:
The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
More on this soon, but this is rapidly turning into one of my favorite albums of the young year so far.

The Kills - Blood Pressures
Still loving this, although I'm starting to notice that the quality dips for a stretch near the middle.

And back to shuffle while I killed off the last bit of a slow Friday afternoon at the office:
Blood Ceremony - "The Hermit"
Diddy-Dirty Money - "I Hate That You Love Me"
Iron & Wine - "Love Vigilantes"
Girl Unit - "Wut"

On the train for the ride home I spent time with another album from 2011 that I absolutely adore:
Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
I've loved her since I came across "Little Bit" a few years ago, but I really feel like her second album is great through and through, while the debut had a few outstanding singles it had a few toss-offs sprinkled in. This one though, wow, not a single wasted track or moment.

Friday night was a quiet night in with the wife while we spent some time with Netflix streaming, where we watched Do The Right Thing (I was shocked that my wife had never seen this!) and the pilot episode of My So-Called Life. Each of which featured heavy use of a song from its time period:
Public Enemy - "Fight the Power"
R.E.M. - "Everybody Hurts"

Before crashing for the night, we watched about half an hour of Courtney Love's Behind the Music, so we got to hear lots of Nirvana and Hole stuff.

Favorite Track Heard Today: E-40 f. Bun B & Slim Thug - "That Candy Paint"
Favorite New Track Heard Today: nothing new at all today
Least Favorite Track Heard Today: The Sounds - "Yeah Yeah Yeah"

Apr 7, 2011

Music Diary Project Day 4
Another fairly typical day today, not really any huge deviation from the normal routine. I've noticed that a lot of people involved in this project have been noting a little more about how they are hearing this music and who they are hearing it with. To answer the latter first, about 90% of what I listen to is by myself - on the train during my commutes, during work. On a typical day the only music I listen to with other people is in the car with my wife or sitting at home when we are both working on our laptops. As to the how, all of the music I play at work and on the train is through my iPod Touch and my Skullcandy ear buds (don't laugh, I've done plenty of research into cheap headphones that sound good but wouldn't cause me horrible heartburn if I lost them, and they aren't bad at all for the price). At home I'm usually listening through my laptop that outputs the music via AirTunes to our Philips surround sound system. Not exactly the ideal audiophile approach, but with limited space in our small house, it works well enough. If I'm doing private listening at home I would normally listen through my Bose AE2 cans but, much to my chagrin, the jack plug recently broke so I'm in the process of researching replacements. Anyway, with that boring information out of the way, on to what I heard today.

Much like yesterday, the first music I heard was lying in bed listening to the WFMU stream on my iPod. I tuned just in time to hear a cool little stretch of hip-house:
Doug Lazy - "Let It Roll"
Monie Love - "Grampa's Party"
Jungle Brothers - "I'll House You"

After that I went to sleep and didn't listen to anything else until morning. Today's car time was split between B96 and WXRT:
Katy Perry f. Kanye West - "E.T."
The Wallflowers - "One Headlight"

For this morning's commute I listened to:
Lifeguards - Waving at the Astronauts
Another one of the three albums Bob Pollard has released this year, this time resurrecting his collaboration with Doug Gillard first heard on 2003's Mist King Urth. This project allows Pollard to dig a little deeper into his prog-rock fascination, but there are still plenty of his trademark pop hooks. His batting average this year is pretty high so far, but I'm anxiously awaiting the upcoming Boston Spaceships 2xLP.

Walking from the train to the office I switched to shuffle, where I stayed for the first part of the morning while I cleaned up some drawings:
Captain Beefheart - "Ella Guru"
Glassjaw - "Two Tabs of Mescaline"
Wild Nothing - "Summer Holiday"
The Mountain Goats - "Birth of Serpents"
Electric Wizard - "Barbarian"
Joy Division - "Twenty Four Hours"
Deerhunter - "Slow Swords"
Quasimoto - "Return of the Loop Digga"
Britney Spears - "Big Fat Bass"

I took a break from my music for a bit this morning to listen to the Sound Opinions podcast, where I heard significant snippets of the following songs:
Pinetop Perkins - "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie"
Le Butcherettes - "Dress Off"
Glasser - "Apply"
The Bewitched Hands - "Happy With You"
P.S. I Love You - "Facelove"
Esben and the Witch - "Marching Song"
tUne-yArDs - "Bizness"
Dominique Young Unique - "Music Time"
Wild Flag - "Glass Tambourine"
The Strokes - "Under Cover of Darkness"
The Strokes - "Taken For a Fool"

Then it was back to full albums while I picked up some redlines on another project:
Young Galaxy - Shapeshifting
See my previous entry for more thoughts, but I like this album more and more every time I hear it.

James Blake - James Blake
The same cannot be said for this one though, I'm just still not feeling it. I've tried approaching it from a few different angles now, trying to get a feel for it, but it just continues to hit me in the wrong way. I'll still return to "The Wilhelm Scream" and his Feist cover, but the rest leaves me cold. I just don't get the hype.

Lunchtime and since the weather was pretty crappy, I hit up a cheap pizza place just down the block. They had some pop radio station on, but the volume was really low and I could only pull two tunes out of the noise of the place:
Cee-Lo Green - "Forget You"
Rihanna - "Umbrella"

I spent a lot of time during the afternoon on the phone and collaborating with a co-worker on one of his projects, so I didn't spend a whole lot of time listening to music, but I did get through:
Mars Classroom - The New Theory of Everything
It was a Pollard kind of day and, why not? Still really liking this one and I'm glad ol' Bobby is still able to bring in new collaborators to keep things fresh.

Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
Because sometimes you just need to hear an old classic. Still amazing.

The commute home was a long one again, since I had to catch the bus home from the train station today too:
Radiohead - The King of Limbs
Even though this is still probably my least favorite Radiohead album since Pablo Honey, it keeps growing on me. Today I was head-over-heels for the closer, "Separator".

Young Galaxy - Shapeshifting
Because I had bits of it stuck in my head from earlier.

At one point this evening I had to make quick run to Target with my wife and it was like hair-metal mania on the classic rock station:
Bon Jovi - "Bad Medicine"
Aerosmoth - "Love in An Elevator"

After dinner and catching up on some television, it was time to respond to some work emails and update this very blog, so I jumped around between iTunes and videos from blogs:
Death Cab For Cutie - "You Are A Tourist" (via YouTube video, twice, yes, I really like this song!)
The Byrds - "Eight Miles High (live from Royal Albert Hall)"
Kelly Clarkson - "Miss Independent/Walk Away/Since U Been Gone (Medley)" (via Popdust video)
Cake - "I Will Survive"
Can - "Smoke"
Liquid Liquid - "Cavern" (via YouTube video)
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five - "White Lines" (via YouTube video - thanks Flaming Pablum!)
Can - "Tango Whiskeyman"
Can - "Spash"
Spiritualized - "Come Together"

Favorite Track Heard Today: The Byrds - "Eight Miles High (Live)"
Favorite New Track Heard Today: P.S. I Love You - "Facelove" (surprised me too, I expected to hate this considering the name copped from a depressing rom-com)
Least Favorite Track Heard Today: tUnE-yArDs - "Bizness"
Now Playing:
Young Galaxy - Shapeshifting (Paper Bag)

Prior to hearing this album, the only thing I knew about Canada's Young Galaxy was that they used to release albums on Arts & Crafts and had some tie to the Broken Social Scene collective. I never really had much of a reason to check them out, but once I started reading the press buzz around Shapeshifting, their third full-length, it was immediately added to my "must hear" list. What could suddenly make me care about a little-known indie pop band? Them deciding to work with a fantastic producer, in this case Dan Lissvik, one half of Swedish production team Studio. If you haven't heard their work, I suggest you immediately stop what you are doing and seek out either West Coast or Yearbook 1 - you'll thank me later. Studio's music, while electronically based, manages to pull in a wide swath of influences (particularly krautrock and 80s synth-pop bands) to create their own stellar sonic stew. It isn't common for their driving, dubby original songs and mixes to stretch out well into double digit running times, with not a single excess second included. Apparently Young Galaxy recorded the basic tracks before sending them over to Lissvik in Sweden who gave them a thorough reworking. As expected, he brought Studio's trademark sound to each of the tracks, but trimmed the minimal, exploratory beats down to pop single length instead of the usual monster jams. When combined with Stephen Ramsey and Catherine McCandless' near-perfect approximation of icily detached early 80s synth-pop vocals, the album turns into a cosmic wine bar from twenty-five years ago. Which, to be completely honest, ends up an acquired taste that some people may never gain. The first time I heard the record I was really disappointed that these questionable vocals were ruining such great Studio jams, but with time I learned to appreciate what they added to the equation - this is like space-age yacht-pop. Though, I would still be thrilled to hear a vocal-less version full of 10 and 12 minute Studio dub remixes.
Death Cab For Cutie - "You Are A Tourist"
Lead single from their upcoming album, Codes and Keys, to be released on May 31st. I've been a long time fan of the band, particularly since 2000's We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, but this is the first single in a few years to really get me excited. Love the guitar.

Apr 6, 2011

Music Diary Project: Day 3
Today was a return to the normal routine, for the most part, so the listening was far more representative of a typical work day for me.

Technically the first music of today was last night before I went to sleep. I was having trouble falling asleep, so I grabbed my iPod Touch and tuned into WFMU with the handy little app and heard:
Costes - "I Hate Noise"
Naked On the Vague - "The Fridge"

The first music I heard upon waking up was on my train ride this morning, where I decided I needed something a little loud and distracting to wake me up, so I went with:
Thou - Peasant
I discovered these Louisiana doomsters through last year's awesome Summit, and while this isn't quite as stunning as that full-length was, its still a potent slice of sludgy doom.

Since I still had a few minutes left on my ride when that album ended, I switched over to shuffle for the last few stops and the short walk to my office:
Mastodon - "The Wolf is Loose"
Blue Oyster Cult - "Cities In Flames (Live)"

After catching up with the email and messages I missed while I was out sick yesterday, I dove into construction drawings for a small remodel project I've been working on and stuck with the shuffle:
Joy Division - "Exercise One"
The Fall - "Pat-Trip Dispenser"
Deerhunter - "Revival"
Disappears - "Little Ghost"
Nachtmystium - "High On Hate"
Tim Hecker - "Analog Paralysis, 1978"
Public Image Ltd. - "Go Back"
Yelawolf f. Raekwon - "I Wish"
Stereolab - "Equivalences"
Dungen - "Barnen Undrar"

The Kills - Blood Pressures
Decided to jump back to this album and liked it even better on the second listen. I'm glad they laid off the playground chants from Midnight Boom, those nearly ruined that record for me. I'm a much bigger fan of the dingy-blues they churn out.

By this point it was well past time for lunch, and my stomach was ready to jump out of my body and start chewing on my arms, and I decided to use the walk to the Depaul Center to spend some time with another recent album that has been getting lots of attention on the internet:
Katy B - On A Mission (Tracks 1-3 on the way to lunch, tracks 4-8 on the way back, and tracks 9-12 back at my desk)
Really liked this on first listen, much more than I expected to. I'm still very much a dilettante when it comes to dubstep, but I really liked the way this rubbed me. It helped that Katy B has bucketloads of charm and a great voice. Another one I'm looking forward to spending time with.

While I was at lunch, the radio in Quizno's was tuned to a local top 40 station which gave me the following accompaniment while I ate:
Erasure - "A Little Respect"
Nickelback - "Savin' Me" (this one I actually had to look up on the station's website when I got back to work, I had mentally noted it as "some shitty post-grunge, Nickelback-lite power ballad")
Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Otherside"
Beyonce - "Halo"
That run started and ended well, but quite a crap sandwich in between.

Back at work, after wrapping up the Katy B record, it was back to full album listening:
British Sea Power - Valhalla Dancehall
I wanted to give this another spin because I knew I wanted to try to write something about it tonight (see previous entry). I'm not sure I was able to hit on just why this record works so well for me, but I really wish more people gave them a fair shot.

The Chamber Strings - Gospel Morning
This is a fantastic album, a completely under-appreciated piece of 1990s indie pop that takes the obvious influences of Big Star, Nikki Sudden, and early 70s Rolling Stones and rolls it into some absolutely joyous pop. Well worth tracking down.

After rushing through a fire drill at the office (not a literal one, but I ended up having to call a whole bunch of contractors to help spread information about a project out to bid right now - I learned I would never make it as a telemarketer), it was time to head home on the train:
James Blake - James Blake
As much as I was impressed by the Katy B record, I was let down by this other dubstep buzz artist. There were a few moments that I connected with ("The Wilhelm Scream" and his Feist cover) and I think they guy has a great voice, but I just wasn't feeling the under-stated beats behind his vocals. I get that the minimalism is part of his whole approach, but I found myself bored more often than I was engaged. I'm still willing to give this another go though, there must be something that so many other people are hearing.

Quasimoto - The Unseen (Tracks 1-10)
Just one of the many brilliant Madlib projects.

The journey was a little longer than usual because I to catch a bus to meet up with my wife at a friend's house, where she was babysitting their three children. Unfortunately I made it there after the kids were already asleep, so I didn't get to spend any time with them. On the drive home later on, the car radio was tuned to the local alt-rock station and I was "treated" to:
Switchfoot - "The Sound"

Then it was time to write about the British Sea Power album and type up tonight's entry between blog reading and general internet dicking around:
Drive-By Truckers - "Assholes"
British Sea Power - "No Lucifer"
British Sea Power - "Waving Flags"
British Sea Power - "Living is So Easy"
British Sea Power - "Thin Black Sail"
The Brother Kite - "The Finest Kind"
Burzum - "Jesus' Tod"
Burzum - "Vanvidd"
Death Cab For Cutie - "Home is A Fire" (via Pitchfork stream)
Death Cab For Cutie - "You Are A Tourist" (via YouTube video)
Gang Gang Dance - "Mindkilla" (via Pitchfork stream)

I've noticed a lot of people offering some little tidbits at the end of their posts about the Music Diary Project, so I thought I would join in with the fun:
Favorite Track Heard Today: "The Wolf is Loose" - Mastodon
Favorite New Track Heard Today: "Witches Brew" - Katy B/ "You Are A Tourist" - Death Cab For Cutie
Least Favorite Track Heard Today: "Savin' Me" - Nickelback
Now Playing:
British Sea Power - Valhalla Dancehall (Rough Trade)

People just don't seem to get British Sea Power at all, particularly not here in the States. While they seemed to generate some positive buzz with their first two albums (The Decline of British Sea Power and Open Season), it seems that people just don't know what to do with them anymore. As the band has evolved over the course of their career, critics seem to be confused about how seriously the band should be taken. They hear the soaring anthems with big choruses and lazily dismiss them as U2 or Coldplay imitators, but those people are completely missing the point or, at the very least, not listening to anything beyond the singles. Because, as this record proves, BSP have evolved well beyond such easy dismissals. Sure, they are still pouring part of themselves into arena-rattling anthems from time to time ("Who's In Control", "We Are Sound" and "Heavy Water" are three of them here), but that is such a small portion of their sound that it becomes disingenuous to only focus on that aspect. Valhalla Dancehall finds the band stretching in several different directions at once. On one hand they're cranking out the rousing anthems we've always known they're capable of, but they're also reaching into more atmospheric terrain - particularly on Neil Hamilton Wilkinson's songs, including the 11-minute "Once More Now" and the 7-minute "Cleaning Out the Rooms". Each of these songs evoke stark landscapes and endless horizons, providing a brilliant counterpart to the short bursts of energy. Which isn't to say that BSP doesn't stretch out within the more tightly structured songs as well. "Living is So Easy" is an unexpected joy of a synth-pop single, while "Mongk II" makes great use of layered guitars for a more aggressive take on early 90's shoegaze. The gorgeous "Baby", another Hamilton tune, is the most evocative of the entire album, conjuring up images of the gently rolling sea with what almost sound like whale songs bubbling beneath the surface of this gentle, glacially-paced ballad. What ties the entire record together is the band's sense of dynamics and how skilled they are at working the quiet-loud-quiet formula. And no, this isn't as simple a case as the Pixies quiet verse bursting into a loud chorus, the turns here are often more subtle and gentle. Even "Thin Black Sail" manages to traverse wide ground in its 106 seconds, shifting from a thrashing punk attack to a twisted, "psychedelic" bridge before ending up back where it started. By allowing their three fantastic songwriters to pull the music in multiple directions at once, British Sea Power have evolved into a truly engaging unit that manages to surprise at nearly every turn. Its just a shame that so many people aren't willing to take that ride along with them.

Apr 5, 2011

Music Diary Project: Day 2
While yesterday represented a fairly typical workday for me, things worked out quite a bit differently today. I woke up with a severe headache and a nasty stomach bug, so I got out bed just long enough to send an email to work about not coming in before I went back to sleep. By mid-afternoon I finally felt well enough to get out a bed and attempt to eat some food, so I finally turned on some music while I checked my work email and read a little bit.

For most of the afternoon it was catching up on some recent albums:
Mars Classroom - The New Theory of Everything
This is the third project Robert Pollard has put out in 2011, this time a collaboration with Gary Waleik - guitarist and singer of legendary indie pop band Big Dipper. The first run-through sounded really great and while it didn't rely as heavily on the Big Dipper sound as I hoped, there were enough great guitar leads to keep it fresh. Pollard is on a surprisingly strong run this year.

The Raveonettes - Raven in the Grave
Granted, I wasn't giving this my full attention, but nothing really jumped out at me, it didn't sound like the band was really making any exciting new strides. But I think I'll give it a few more spins before I try to pass any judgment.

The Kills - Blood Pressures
Ever since I reviewed their second album, No Wow, back upon its release, I've been a big fan of this duo. I wasn't terribly thrilled with Alison Mossheart's time with Jack White in The Dead Weather, so I was really looking forward to her teaming back up with Jamie Hince. On a quick first listen, this sounds really close to what I was hoping for - I'm excited to spend some more time with it.

At the risk of coming across one of those nostalgic fools, I spent a big portion of my evening listening to Nirvana to mark the 17th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's suicide. Not to celebrate his cowardly act, mind you, but to celebrate what was at one time a very important band in forming my musical tastes. Without Nirvana I wouldn't have discovered the Pixies or Sonic Youth or Husker Du or Dinosaur Jr or, well, countless other bands I now love. And, let's face it, Nirvana was a damn great band in their own right, no matter what history wants to make of them.
Nirvana - Bleach
Decided to start with the 2009 remaster of the first full-length, which has traditionally been the album of theirs I've listened to the least but, whenever I do, I'm not quite sure why - it's pretty solid.

Nirvana - From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah
Since this was up next in my iTunes after Bleach, I just let it keep rolling. I love the versions of "Aneurysm", "Sliver", and "Negative Creep" on here.

Nirvana - In Utero
I couldn't let the day pass without a spin of my very favorite Nirvana album now could I? I've always thought this was a perfect balance of the band's split persona - the pop and the noise.

By this point my wife had returned from work and brought a much appreciated dinner, now that my stomach was feeling ready to attempt a real meal. After catching up on reruns of The Daily Show and Colbert, I was cherry-picking some tunes to listen while I wrote some emails and surfed around (you'll be able to see just where I wandered back to):
The Weeknd - "The Morning"
James Blake - "The Wilhelm Scream"
James Black - "Limit To Your Love"
Katy B - "Katy On A Mission"
Katy B f. Ms. Dynamite - "Lights Out"
The Clash - "Something About England"
Nirvana - "Verse Chorus Verse"
Nirvana - "Old Age"
Nirvana - "I Hate Myself and Want To Die"
Nirvana - "Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip"
Nirvana - "The Other Improv"
Nirvana - "Serve the Servants (acoustic)"

Now, as I write up this entry and get ready to head back to work in the morning I'm listening to:
Zombi - Spirit Animal
What better way to end a weird day?