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?

Apr 4, 2011

Music Diary Project: Day 1
As I mentioned last night, I will be taking part in Nick Southall's Music Diary Project for the next seven days. Here is what I listened to throughout today:

The first music I heard this morning was the radio as I rode to the train station with my wife. I'm not a huge fan of morning talk radio, so we usually jump around the presets to find a station playing actual music. Today we wound up on the local classic rock station and I heard:
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - "The Waiting"
Aerosmith - "Dream On"

Then I was off to catch my train, where I was able to take a little more control over what I heard. After wrapping up the latest episode of The Tobolowsky Files that I had started before bed the previous night, I switched my iPod to shuffle mode:
Deerhoof - "Almost Everyone, Almost Always"
J.S. Bach - "Brandenburg Concerto #2 in F Major: Allegro Assai"
Dum Dum Girls - "Take Care of My Baby"
Public Image Ltd. - "Memories"
Blue Oyster Cult - "Teen Archer"

After settling in at the office, I switched over to album mode while I reviewed some drawings:
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez - Mantra Hiroshima
This was my first time playing this record, a surprisingly solid improvisational record featuring Zach Hill on drums. Sometimes Omar's non-Mars Volta work can be really spotty, so I was glad to hear this one.

Pearl Jam - Vs. [Expanded Edition]
I swore the allure of three loosely-defined "bonus tracks" wasn't going to be enough to get me to pick up these new reissues, but I found them for an incredibly low price over the weekend. This has never been my favorite Pearl Jam album, but it sounded pretty good today and I love finally having a high quality studio version of their excellent "Crazy Mary" cover.

After that I was having some trouble deciding what to listen to, so I switched back over to shuffle:
PJ Harvey - "The Last Living Rose"
Frank Ocean - "There Will Be Tears"
Gatekeeper - "Mirage"
Cut Copy - "Alisa"
Broadcast - "I Found the F"

Then it was time for lunch and I headed over to a nice little pizza place a couple blocks away from the office, they had a local pop station on:
Lady Gaga - "Born This Way" (last half)
Rihanna - "S&M"
Britney Spears - "Till the World Ends"
Bruno Mars - "Grenade"

Back to the office for a slow-moving afternoon:
Velocity Girl - Copacetic
Outside of the few videos I remember from 120 Minutes back in the day, I never really investigated this band until recently. Wishing I would have gotten around to them sooner.

Tennis - Cape Dory (2x)
Listened to this twice this afternoon to better firm up my thoughts before that previous post.

Wrapped up the work day with a little more shuffling:
Captain Beefheart - "Safe As Milk (Take 5)"
The Beets - "Dead"
Akron/Family - "Another Sky"

With that, back to the train for the ride home. I've been rereading Game of Thrones prior to the premiere of the new HBO series, so I wanted something that wasn't too vocal-oriented:
The Soft Moon - The Soft Moon
A really great 2010 album from Captured Tracks, more of a post-punk vibe than the label's acts usually have.

Then my eyes got tired from staring at drawings all day, so I finished off the train ride with:
The Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck
At least the first seven tracks anyway. Still absorbing this one, but early reports have it sounding like another winner from Darnielle.

My wife picked me up from the train station tonight and she still had the classic rock station on in the car:
Alice Cooper - "I'm Eighteen"
J. Geils Band - "Centerfold"
Cream - "White Room"

After dinner and watching a few shows with my wife, I spent the last few hours of my evening surfing around and catching up with some blogs, my musical ADD kicked in and I was all over the place:
Thee Oh Sees - "Enemy Destruct"
Them Crooked Vultures - "Elephants"
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Belong"
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Anne with an E"
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "My Terrible Friend"
Kate Bush - "How to Be Invisible"
Kate Bush - "An Architect's Dream"
Muse - "Undisclosed Desires"
Rush - "Red Sector A"
Shellac - "Song Against Itself"
Now Playing:
Tennis - Cape Dory (Fat Possum)

On paper, this should be something I completely hate. Wait, actually that's not fair of me to say. I wouldn't be able to completely hate it because I'd never have given it a fair shot in the first place, having immediately written it off as pretentious hipster garbage. (Sidenote: Yes, I do hear you complaining that I often listen to stuff that could be dismissed as "pretentious hipster garbage" and, fair play, that I sometimes do. But even I have my limits.) See, the ultra "cute" (and, by cute, I mean obnoxiously sickening) back story behind Tennis is that this record was inspired by the year that founding couple, Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, spent on a sailboat sailing up and down the East Coast and falling in love. Which, you know, isn't in and of itself such a terrible story, but the way it gets flogged in every interview and built up as the band's myth makes it a little more than off-putting. Combine that with a band and album name that conjures up only the whitest of whitebread privilege, a tendency to wear shorts and boat shoes on stage, the most embarrassing hipster retro-kitsch cover art in years, and you're left with a band that seems custom designed for blog buzz that won't outlast a week's news cycle. So, yeah, all indications were that this was going to be a band to hate or, at the very least, wisely ignore.

Fortunately life had other plans for me and I happened to come across "Marathon" while listening to an internet streaming radio station (can't for the life of me remember which one, but it was likely KEXP out of Seattle). The sticky-sweet melody, Moore's cooing vocals, and the way the chorus crashed the shore on a wave of drums and jangly guitar all had me from the get-go. It was an earworm of the most immediate variety and I couldn't resist its charms. And, as luck would have it, that song was a fair indication of what the rest of the record held. Cape Dory is thirty minutes of summery pop built around Moore's lovely voice, Riley's twisting guitar lines, and shuffling drums. Its a rather simple formula, but one that evokes a timeless feel, combining the best of 1950s pop, surf music, and beach-slacker indie. There are moments when I'm reminded of recent lo-fi garage pop by practitioners like the Vivian Girls, but with a much brighter, candy-coated veneer. Each song is about sailing, love, or a combination of the two; with lyrics that straddle the fine line between cute and cloying ("we'll make a family in the quite country / you and me, in simplicity"). If the melodies weren't as striking and the tunes as well crafted as they are, the overwhelming cheerfulness would wear thin by track three. Luckily Tennis keeps things tight and compact, never allowing the album to outstay its welcome. This isn't for everybody, hell, even people with a high tolerance for mushy, bouncy pop will find it hard to stomach in large doses, but at the right time and in the right mood Tennis really hits the sweet spot. So, let this be a lesson in reminding you that the inane back-stories interviewers love to latch onto don't mean anything, only the music does.

Apr 3, 2011

The Music Diary Project

The always wonderful to read Nick Southall has come up with a fantastic idea for this coming week - The Music Diary Project. I will be using this space to update my contribution and a list of what I'm listening to over the next seven days.

Apr 1, 2011

Now Playing:
Minks - By the Hedge (Captured Tracks)

Based on what little I'd heard and read about New York's Minks, this was going to be another winner for the always excellent Captured Tracks label and a surefire new favorite band for me. The chiming guitars, the male and female dueling vocals, the pop sensibilities, the nods to great bands like My Bloody Valentine and The Cure - this was going to be right up my alley. I really wanted to love this record and this band, I could hardly wait to get my hands on a copy. When the package finally came from the label, I grabbed this disc out first and popped it right into my stereo, prepared to fall in love. Except... well, I never did. I heard bits and pieces that I loved, but the entire record seemed washed in gray and I was having trouble connecting with it. I gave it a go on my good headphones and a few songs started to grow on me, I loved the interplay between the vocalists on opener "Kusmi" and "Cemetery Rain" (this neat trick was sorely under-utilized throughout the album) and the snatches of shimmering guitar. But on the whole, this was a wearying listen. Despite the brilliant pop of "Cemetery Rain" and the standout "Ophelia", too many songs wallowed in lazy melodies and a monochromatic palette. In particular songs like "Life at Dusk" and "Indian Ocean" are nearly crippled by monotonous singing and too similar approaches.
But, with time, a few other songs started standing out, sometimes for both good and bad reasons. The soaring chorus of "Funeral Song", a track that generated plenty of blog buzz, is one of the brightest bits of the entire album, but the warbling vocals on the verses are just painful at times, with the vocalist sounding like your friend's very worst Bob Dylan impersonation. Other bits fared much better, the meandering guitar solos of "Ophelia" and "Cemetery Rain" are real treats and help wipe away some of the gloom. And the band nails a particularly neat trick on the former when the whole track starts to drag, sounding exactly like an old Walkman slowly running out of batteries. "Bruises" is another highlight, absolutely nailing the woozy My Bloody Valentine sound that so many other bands strive for. The strongest moments all come on the second half, leading me to believe that better sequencing might have helped to balance this record by spreading out the monotonous first half a little. This is by no means a terrible, or even bad, record, but the brilliant moments make the dull ones stand out all the more. Taken on their own, "Cemetery Rain" and "Ophelia" are fantastic pop songs, but By the Hedge on the whole gets to be a bit of a wearying, dour listen when taken as a whole. Now that I know this band is capable of the moments I had hoped for from the first reviews I read, I'm expecting more of them next time around.
Now Playing:
The Beets - Stay Home (Captured Tracks)

Even though the band themselves deny it, chalking it up to pure coincidence, I prefer to think that these guys really are named for the fictional Beatles knock-off from the criminally underrated Nickelodeon animated show, Doug. And for all I knew when I originally approached Stay Home, they could have actually been that very same band. Increasingly a rarity in these days of RSS feeds, blogs, and Twitter, I came into this record completely ignorant of The Beets or what they sounded like. While I was on the Captured Tracks site awhile back, ordering the recent Minks (more on that particular record later) and Soft Moon records, I threw this one into my cart for the hell of it, knowing that this label has been on such a roll lately that this album had to be worth hearing as well.
The charmingly off-putting cover art, looking almost exactly like the type of margin doodles a particularly odd former classmate of mine used to draw during architectural history lectures, keyed me in early on The Beets' sense of humor. Stay Home consists of thirteen tracks that I can only describe as garage-folk played with cheerful abandon. At first blush, this New York City band's sound is deceptively lo-fi, sounding like an infinite number of artists recording delightful pop tunes in garages and bedrooms the world over. But several songs in, one notices that its really only the vocals that sound recorded on the trusty 4-track. The guitars and drums reveal themselves to be crisp and clear, particularly the latter, even as they pound out reckless rhythms. Such a simple formula seems destined to wear itself thin over the course of thirty minutes, but it's surprising how much they wrangle out of so little. Ranging from tossed off silliness ("Flaxing Seed") to hummable pop nuggets ("Knock On Wood"), The Beets have no trouble drawing you into their insular world. A world that is expertly summed up by the song "Let It Dim", ostensibly a nod to the Beatles and Stones songs that are a clear influence, but with a shut-in's sense of dark humor that ties the record's theme to the goofy cover art. These guys aren't shying away from their fair share of fun, but damned if they'll leave their couches to find it. A charming and replayable album that has me thrilled at still being able to pull off a blind listen in 2011 and coming away with a winner. You should try it sometime.