• Attack on Moms: The Best Albums of 2012

    Dez 27 2012, 23h15

    I'm not writing new blurbs because I already wrote a bunch of blurbs for my Best Noise-Rock of 2012 list. Like blurbs? Read those.

    I will say that 2012 has clearly been the year of the single-word album title. And that there is an embarrassing number of Wesleyan-affiliated artists on this list. And that I was wrong when I said that the Walkmen record sucks.


    1. Port St. Willow — Holiday
    I wrote about a Port St. Willow performance here , for Wesleying. The crowd sucked. This album is phenomenal, though.
    [Key tracks: "Amawalk," "Tourist," "North"]

    2. Swans — The Seer
    I wrote about The Seer on my Best Noise-Rock of 2012 list. Scroll down.
    [Key tracks: "A Piece of the Sky," "The Seer Returns," "93 Ave. Bues"]

    3. Trespassers William — Cast
    I wrote about Cast here, for PopMatters.
    [Key tracks: "Believe Me," "Blue"]

    4. Cloud Nothings — Attack on Memory
    I wrote about Attack on Memory on my Best Noise-Rock of 2012 list. Scroll down.
    [Key tracks: "No Sentiment," "No Future/No Past"]

    5. Liars — WIXIW
    I wrote about a Liars show in June for Consequence of Sound. Here's that review.
    [Key tracks: "No.1 Against the Rush," "WIXIW"]

    6. METZ — METZ
    Obviously I also wrote about METZ on my Best Noise-Rock of 2012 list.
    [Key track: "Knife in the Water"]

    7. Ben Seretan — New Space
    I raved about this record on Wesleying a whole lot, because it's really fucking good.
    [Key track: "What Would You Do If You Were Me?"]

    8. Menomena — Moms
    Here's my review of Moms, via Consequence of Sound.
    [Key tracks: "Baton," "One Horse"]

    9. Beach House — Bloom
    [Key track: "Lazuli"]

    10. White Suns — Sinews
    Wrote a blurb for Sinews on my Best Noise-Rock of 2012 list.
    [Key track: "Footprints Filled"]

    11. Tindersticks — The Something Rain
    [Key tracks: "Show Me Everything," "This Fire of Autumn," "Frozen"]

    12. Japandroids— Celebration Rock
    [Key tracks: "Fire's Highway," "Continuous Thunder"]

    13. Ben Seretan and The Early — In Two
    Yes, I'm including Ben Seretan twice. This is a collaborative effort with Portland group The Early. I interviewed Ben about this record for Wesleying.
    [Key tracks: "Drive to Michigan," "Onion Boy"]

    14. Heems — Nehru Jackets
    Wrote some words about Heems on Wesleying this year. Also spotted him at the Tent Party, lol.
    [Key tracks: "Bad, Bad, Bad," "Womyn"]

    15. Odonis Odonis — Hollandaze
    Wrote a blurb for Hollandaze on my Best Noise-Rock of 2012 list.
    [Key track: "Busted Lip"]

    16. The Walkmen — Heaven
    The first time I listened to Heaven, in the car on the way to my cousin Jason's bar mitzvah, I fucking hated it. The following week, Sam Sklar and I went on a date to see the Walkmen at the Bowery Ballroom and I realized I was very wrong. That was one of the best shows I saw all year. I wrote about it here, for Consequence of Sound.
    [Key tracks: "Line by Line," "Heaven"]

    17. Lee Ranaldo — Between the Times and the Tides
    [Key tracks: "Xtina As I Knew Her," "Fire Island (Phases)"]

    18. The Men — Open Your Heart
    I wrote a blurb for Open Your Heart on my Best Noise-Rock of 2012 list.
    [Key tracks: "Please Don't Go Away," "Turn It Around"]

    19. Point Reyes — Golden
    Adam Lauria, you'd probably like this record
    [Key tracks: "Kaddish," "Hair White"]

    20. Bear in Heaven— I Love You, It's Cool
    I interviewed Bear in Heaven here, shortly after I Love You, It's Cool came out, for the Argus.
    [Key track: "Sinful Nature"]


    1. The Flaming Lips — The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends
    Wrote about one track from this album here , for Rolling Stone.

    2. Dirty Projectors — Swing Lo Magellan
    Live review here.

    3. The Babies — Our House on the Hill
    Full review here, via Consequence of Sound. I wrote it on Election Night while watching election returns.


    1. Kendrick Lamar — Good Kid, M.A.A.D City

    2. The Evens — The Odds

    3. Spiritualized — Sweet Heart Sweet Light

    4. Heems — Wild Water Kingdom

    5. Andy Stott — Luxury Problems


    1. Menomena — "One Horse"
    Blurb here.

    2. Swans — "A Piece of the Sky"
    Blurb here.

    2. Cloud Nothings — "No Sentiment"


    1. Laurie Anderson — Strange Angels

    2. McLusky — McLusky Do Dallas

    3. The Walkmen — You & Me

    4. Swans — My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

    5. Eleanor Friedberger — Last Summer


    1. Suede — Dog Man Star


    1. DIIV (then known as DIVE) and Teenage Cool Kids (2/25, Eclectic)

    2. Bear in Heaven (3/3, The Space in Hamden, CT)

    3. No Age and EULA (3/8, Eclectic)

    4. Cloud Nothings and Future Islands (4/26, Eclectic)

    5. The Walkmen (6/6, Bowery Ballroom)

    6. Liars (6/20, Webster Hall)

    7. Laurie Anderson and Geri Allen (7/17, The Stone)

    8. A Place To Bury Strangers, Cymbals Eat Guitars and Hunters (7/27, Music Hall of Williamsburg)

    9. R. Stevie Moore (9/22, Eclectic)

    10. Menomena with PVT (10/12, Music Hall of Williamsburg)


    1. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
    2. Flaming Lips
    3. Cloud Nothings
  • 50 Words for Kaputt: Top Albums of 2011

    Jan 1 2012, 3h53

    Etta James is terminally ill, Mark Prindle is retiring from record reviews, and Matt Likes Odd Future. Happy 2012.

    50 Words for Kaputt: The Top Ten Albums of 2011

    1. Destroyer — Kaputt [Merge]

    On Dan Bejar’s shimmering ninth album as Destroyer, the cryptic Canadian artist ditches the acoustic guitars, indulges an overwhelming fetish for the textures of ‘80s smooth jazz and soft rock, and dares you to like it. The kicker is that it’s so hard not to: these songs are fabulous—a near flawless batch of richly labored melodies and sly lyrical triumphs dipped in almost unbearably sultry pool of jazzy synth textures, blaring Sanborn-style sax riffs, and silky female vocalists. Through it all, Bejar adopts the persona of world-weary aging partier, no longer “chasing cocaine through the backrooms of the world all night”, instead drinking wine from a porcelain cup and watching it all drown (“downtown!”). My favorite is “Song For America," a raving jazz-pop anthem that engages Bejar’s endless USA fixation before hitting AM gold in a female vocalist refrain about “animals crawl[ing] towards death embrace.” Yours may well be “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker," a glistening eight-a-half-minute collaboration with the eponymous modern artist whose influence projects a startling racial consciousness onto Bejar’s stories and riddles. Together, these songs comprise Bejar’s strangest album—and arguably his best. [Blurb adapted from my contribution to PopMatters’ Best 75 Albums of 2011.

    2. Kate Bush — 50 Words for Snow [Fish People]

    Boomerangablanca. Blown from polar fur. Whippoccino. As I wrote in November, Bush's tenth studio record (and first in over six years) is a "remarkably delicate, often meandering (though never purposeless) song cycle revolving around snow, imagination and longing, set to rich, spiraling piano compositions and deep open spaces." Wenceslasaire. Roundberry down. Mistraldespair. My first full listen—over Thanksgiving Break, en route from Wesleyan to Skidmore—concluded with a snowy, moonlit arrival in bougie Saratoga Springs. As November subsides into wintry night drives through the Vermont tundra, Bush has a point. Read more at PopMatters.

    3. Radiohead — The King of Limbs [self-released]

    King of Limbs has been criticized as maddeningly short, willfully obtuse, seemingly unfinished. Whatever. TKOL isn't really A Collection of Amazing Songs like In Rainbows was—it's an album's album, yo ("newspaper album," lol), possibly a song cycle about polyrhythms and percussion (see: "Supercollider," "The Butcher," double-drum live setup) or a mood-piece tribute to Krautrock, dubstep, and minimalism or an "expression" of "physical movements" and "wildness." Whatever. Its occasional missteps ("Morning Mr. Magpie") have been redeemed both by inspired live performances and the album's most unquestionable highs ("Bloom," "Codex," "Lotus Flower"). More baffling to me is the claim that the record lacks an emotional core (as Mark Prindle writes, "it’s just a collection of sounds arranged into patterns and placed in your ear by a bunch of foreigners"). If anything, the Side B apex ("Lotus Flower" --> "Codex" --> "Give Up The Ghost") is one of the warmest the band has ever done. True, the record is really short. As Ed O'Brien pointed out, so is What's Going On. Whatever.

    4. Chad VanGaalen — Diaper Island [Sub Pop]

    In which the Calgary-based recording artist produces two records by Women, emerges wild-eyed from his basement studio, and merges Soft Airplane's homespun psychedelic lo-pop with a new, visceral garage-grunge urgency to brilliant effect. "Willow Tree" fans will heed well the whistling melancholia of "Sara" and the eerie, piercing "Shave My Pussy," but they'll have to contend with the unexpected squall of "Burning Photographs" and "Blonde Hash" along the way. The result is the artist's most confident and distinctly band-sounding statement yet. Women is apparently defunct, but VanGaalen hopefully has more left turns ahead.

    5. James Blake — James Blake [ATLAS]

    Woozy post-dubstep wunderkind sonic sampler gorgeous soul laptop Feist choir-boy voice gorgeous and generous and restrained bumping bass sparse and sparse wobbling bass London producer Burial EPs manipulation Joni Mitchell sample snippets dubby bass vocal snippets piano voice manipulation minimalist post-dubstep samples wide-eyed hollow lonely sparse empty spaces cold looped synths wobbly wobbly beat wobbly vocoder skittering melancholia and bass and vocals and piano and vocals "Limit To Your Love" 2:40 silence silence silence Music Hall of Williamsburg bla bla bla bla.

    6. Panda Bear — Tomboy [Paw Tracks]

    2011: the year I finally launched my Tumblr To End All Tumblrs, only to realize I haven't nearly the time to maintain it. Among the few entries is Gary Reviews Indie Albums. Gary's astute micro-review of Tomboy consists of: "Pretty weird shit / Friendship bracelet for example." F'real, Dad. Tomboy doesn't really improve on the proto-Chillwave-psychedelia-whatever freak show of Person Pitch, but it does succeed in condensing it into well-contained song-size capsules. No wonder Noah Lennox cited J Dilla's Donuts as an influence this time around. "Nothing really waited around for very long," Lennox says of that record. "After doing these songs that took their time going where they were going on Person Pitch, I wanted to take those songs and squeeze them down into your hand like a little ball." He did just that.

    8. Oneohtrix Point Never — Replica (Mexican Summer)

    Replica is a "song cycle based around lo-fi audio procured from television advertisement compilations." Somehow, Daniel Lopatin's use of found sounds, tape loops, and repeating phrases tends towards both melodic and droney ends, often at the same time. Despite its reliance on distant-sounding vintage synthesizers, Replica is effortlessly forward-thinking, unquestionably new-sounding—a refreshing shift from Ford & Lopatin's ongoing nostalgia trip.

    8. Washed Out — Within and Without [Sub Pop]

    If Within and Without hasn't gotten the end-of-year cred it deserve, maybe that's cuz it's one of the most slyly back-heavy albums ever: "Before," "You and I," and "Within and Without" are three of the choicest grooves Ernest Greene has wrought yet, casting sliced vocal loops, downcast synths, and fuzzy piano flourishes with a confidence "Feel It All Around" only hinted at. Greene used to record songs in his bedroom at his parents' house in the middle of a peach orchard in Macon, GA. Now he records in the studio with Ben H. Allen next door to Goodie Mob. Chillwave didn't sell out, it just got more chillwavy.

    9. John Vanderslice — White Wilderness (Dead Oceans)

    JV's records have always been distinctly insular and laborious creations, meticulously crafted from hours, weeks spent recording alone, playing every instrument and tweaking endlessly in his Tiny Telephone Studio. The process resulted in masterpieces on Cellar Door and Emerald City, but brought fatigue sometime around Romanian Names. White Wilderness is somewhat of a revolution: Vanderslice hired the Magik*Magik Orchestra, let orchestra leader Minna Choi arrange the songs, and recorded the whole thing live in three days. It's an exercise in spontaneity and collaboration, and it results in one of JV's freshest albums yet, pushing him towards chaotic orchestral fantasies on "The Piano Lesson" and "Overcoat," towards minor-key melancholia on "Convict Lake" and "20K."

    10. Akron/Family — S/T II The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT (Dead Oceans)

    Akron/Family supposedly spent prerecording sessions exploring “underground Japanese noise cassettes, lower case micro tone poems and emotional Cagean field recordings," layering “thousands of minute imperceptible samples of their first recordings with fuzzed out representations of their present beings to induce… many momentary transcendent inspirations." Recording took place in an abandoned Detroit train station. Results appeared on the label doorstep, in a cryptically labeled cardboard box. Still, as I wrote in February, S/T is still "at its best when it capitalizes on the sort of gorgeously layered, acid-damaged psych-pop this group has excelled at since 2005." The best tracks—"Island," "So It Goes," "Cast A Net," "Fuji II"—may or may not have emerged from Cagean field records and Detroit train stations, but they capture the best of this band's prolific six years.

    The Rest

    11. Wye Oak — Civilian [Merge]

    12. Grouper — A I A: Dream Loss [Yellowelectric]

    13. Cymbals Eat Guitars — Lenses Alien [Barsuk]

    14. Wild Flag — Wild Flag [Merge]

    15. St. Vincent — Strange Mercy [4AD]

    16. PJ Harvey — Let England Shake [Island]

    17. Shabazz Palaces — Black Up [Sub Pop]

    18. The Caretaker — An Empty Bliss Beyond This World [Haft]

    19. Explosions in the Sky — Take Care, Take Care, Take Care [Temporary Residence]

    20. Co La — Rest in Paradise [self-released]

    21. Tom Waits — Bad As Me [Anti-]

    22. Widowspeak — Widowspeak [Captured Tracks]

    23. The Flaming Lips with Neon Indian — The Flaming Lips with Neon Indian [self-released]

    24. The Dodos — No Color [Frenchkiss]

    25. The Fall — Ersatz G.B. (Cherry Red)

    Top Five Disappointments

    1. Deerhoof — Deerhoof vs. Evil (Polyvinyl)

    2. Wilco — The Whole Love (dBpm)

    3. The Field — Looping State of Mind (Kompakt)

    4. Bon Iver — Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)

    5. Woods — Sun and Shade (Woodsist)

    Top Five Discoveries

    1. Cocteau Twins — Heaven or Las Vegas (4AD, 1990)

    2. Drive Like Jehu — Yank Crime (Interscope, 1994)

    3. Pere Ubu — Dub Housing (Chrysalis, 1978)

    4. Mark Hollis — Mark Hollis (Polydor, 1998)

    5. The Walkmen — Bows & Arrows (Record Collection, 2004)

    Top Ten Shows, Chronological

    1. Bear Hands, 1/29, Eclectic Haus

    2. Superhuman Happiness, 2/25, Eclectic Haus,

    3. Lightning Bolt, 4/29, Eclectic Haus

    4. The Walkmen, 5/5, Spring Fling

    5. Guided By Voices, 6/18, McCarren Park

    6. Dinosaur Jr., 6/23, Terminal 5

    7. Wye Oak, 9/10, Eclectic Haus

    8. Yo la Tengo, 9/23, Toad's Place

    9. Radiohead, 9/28, Roseland Ballroom

    10. Wild Flag, 10/13, Eclectic Haus
  • Of Violet Dreams and Well-Dressed Beaches: The Top Albums of 2010

    Dez 16 2011, 18h52

    The Top Ten Albums of 2010

    1. Joanna Newsom — Have One On Me [Drag City]

    I’m still humbled by this fucking record. Gone—for good, I’ll assume—are the screeching vocalisms of Milk-Eyed Mender (Newsom’s voice, which changed permanently after developing vocal cord nodules in 2009, has grown wonderfully) and dense orchestral gymnastics of Ys. In their place: well, songs—two hours worth of the most earnest, personal songwriting of Newsom’s career, smartly split into three easily digestible, 40-minute discs, and running the gamut from sparse, harp-driven balladry (the haunting “Baby Birch” and “Jackrabbits”) to fiercely confident excursions into jazz- and piano-pop (“Easy,” “Good Intentions Paving Company”). The result feels to me like her own Blood on the Tracks; like a 1975 Dylan, she has scaled back the most polarizing elements of past woks without sacrificing artistic integrity and come up with her most emotionally direct work yet—a densely woven song cycle loosely linked by themes of love, loss, and moving on. Have one on me, Joanna. And ditch that Samberg prick.

    2. Beach House — Teen Dream [Sub Pop]

    “When I hear you listening to Beach House, that’s when I know it’s time for bed,” says Shelley, who lives next door to me. She’s right: if I’m bumping Teen Dream (or 2008’s Devotion), it is almost certainly between 1:00 and 5:00 AM. That’s when the Baltimore duo’s narcotic blend of icy, textured dreampop and Victoia Legrand’s dusty, weathered moan—“coiling like smoke in the arches of the church” (Boston Phoenix)—feels most seductive and most right. “Every single step of the way, we've just tried to go more, go further,” recalls Alex Scally of the album’s recording, and it shows. I’ve largely given up on deciding between Teen Dream and Devotion. But the layers and depths they’ve reached on this record— “Norway”’s sighing choruses, “Take Care”’s soaring final fadeout—remain unparalleled, owing far more to classic ‘90s dreampop (Slowdive, Mazzy Star) than anything in today’s indie landscape.

    3. Gorillaz — Plastic Beach [Virgin]

    My favorite Gorillaz album is almost certainly their most confusing yet. There are the standard fare hip hop guest spots from Mos Def and De La Soul (cartoonish cereal-funk rap “Superfast Jellyfish” just feels like the worthy heir to 2005’s “Feel Good Inc.”), but also a twitchy Snoop Dogg ranting about “a gang of pilgrims,” a manic Bobby Womack squealing lead single “Stylo” to paranoid space-funk heights, even the Fall’s Mark E. Smith confusedly yelping atop one glitchy interlude. (Oh, yeah: Lou Reed also shows up.) There’s the usual merging of electro-pop, hip hop, and funk influences slyly fitting Albarn’s distinctive drawl (“Rhinestone Eyes,” “Broken”), but also a gorgeous latter half largely weighted by weary, sweeping melancholia. Somewhere along the way emerges a concept album loosely linked by themes of environmental disaster and disposability—I think? Welcome to the world of the plastic beach.

    4. The Roots — How I Got Over [Def Jam]

    How pathetic: it takes guest spots from the likes of Joanna Newsom, Dirty Projectors, and Jim James to reignite my interest in current hip hop? Well, no—those are extraneous. How I Got Over is one of this group’s tightest joints ever, moving briskly and purposefully from its urgent opening alarm cries to its triumphant final verses—and flowing as smoothly as anything this side of Things Fall Apart. I’ll never forget our initial listening party last summer, late-night speeding through Pittsfield, MA. But six months later, I’m still as floored.

    5. Yeasayer — Odd Blood [Secretly Canadian]

    On paper it sounds like a disaster: talented if unoriginal Brooklyn-based psych-folk group drops acid in New Zealand, holes away in upstate New York, emerges with this brassy, twisted ‘80s-worshipping electro-pop fantasy, where raucous, queasy synths and pitch-shifting vocoders swiftly obliterate the organic flavor of 2007’s All Hour Cymbals. For me, bafflement eventually gave way to captivation—most notably after seeing it performed live on Governor’s Island last June. Though released in February, this is a summer album above all—and it works, if only because the band’s <a href="">colorful sonic explorations</a> so fiercely augment and overwhelm but never undermine its sharp songcraft.]

    6. The Books — The Way Out [Temporary Residence Limited]

    Five years after Lost & Safe (with a score for a French ministry building elevator somewhere in between), The Books are back to their usual tricks. And by “usual tricks” I clearly mean freely sampling Indian peace activists and homicidal children, composing tributes to irrational numbers and Hip Hop the Rabbit, merging all of the above into a free-association collage that makes as much sense as a Rube Goldberg device, but sounds a lot better. Because the cliché holds true: The Books sound like a lot, but nothing else quite sounds like The Books.

    7. Grinderman — Grinderman 2 [Anti-]

    “We sucked her and sucked her dry. I was Mickey Mouse. He was the Big. Bad. Wolf!” “You know they call my girl the Serpent Wrangler: eating inchworms down by the bill-a-bong.” “She got hands as white as milk. And she weaves a loop of Spider's silk that glistens . . .When my baby comes.” “I keep hanging around your kitchenette. And I'm gonna get a pot to cook you in. I stick my fingers in your biscuit jar. And crush all your Gingerbread Men.” “I'll sail around the waters for you! Kill your sons and daughters for you! Put me on a big white horse! Send me down to Banbury Cross!” Nick Cave should have midlife crises more often. Shame the album title Buzz and Howl Under the Influence of Heat was already taken.

    8. The National — High Violet [4AD]

    The National has always occupied a pleasant space between the gloomiest mope-rock and the most agreeable indie-pap: Tindersticks meets Grizzly Bear, say—music as at home on Letterman as in your headphones at 3 AM. Sometimes this feels like a frustrating compromise, but on High Violet—and especially the early string of “Little Faith,” “Afraid of Everyone,” and lead single “Bloodbuzz Ohio”—it works. The smartest comment I’ve read regarding this album discusses its seasonal resonance: “They picked the wrong time of year to release it. Maybe once it turns chilly and overcast again I'll appreciate it more.” It’s chilly and overcast. And I do.

    9. LCD Soundsystem — This Is Happening [EMI]

    “James Murphy makes dance music for people who don’t normally like dance music,” writes TIME in a particularly asinine 2010 music roundup. Fuck that noise—James Murphy crafts broodingly funky, thrashing, post-DFA love letters to Eno & Bowie, for anyone and everyone who finds “I Can Change” as catchy as “One Touch” is terrifying. Though not as flawlessly wound as Sound of Silver, This Is Happening is no exception, and it belongs on this list for “Dance Yrself Clean”’s build-up alone.

    10. Women — Public Strain [Jagjaguwar]

    The Calgary-based quartet’s sophomore effort bleeds and snarls like a fractured tribute to Evol-era Sonic Youth. Hooky in parts, fiercely noisy and lo-fi in others (the recording process reportedly made use of boom boxes and tape machines), Public Strain was oddly produced by Chad VanGaalen, whose Soft Airplane was one of 2008’s greatest (and most underappreciated) albums. Nearly as overlooked (but not quite as pretty), Public Strain is also a promising hint at where the band’s headed next. (Unless it has already broken up. Which is uncertain.)

    11. Flying Lotus — Cosmogramma [Warp]

    12. Neil Young — Le Noise [Reprise]

    13. Sufjan Stevens — The Age of Adz [Asthmatic Kitty]

    14. How To Dress Well — Love Remains [Lefse]

    15. Menomena — Mines [Barsuk]

    16. Big Boi — Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty [Def Jam]

    17. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse — Dark Night of the Soul [self-released]

    18. The Black Keys — Brothers [Nonesuch]

    19. John Vanderslice — Green Grow the Rushes EP [self-released]

    20. Liars — Sisterworld [Mute]

    * * * * *

    <big>Top Five Concerts of 2010</big>

    1. Joanna Newsom [3/18, New York]

    2. Dirty Projectors [5/6, Wesleyan]

    3. Built to Spill [9/29, Northampton]

    4. Bear in Heaven [10/2, Wesleyan]

    5. Yeasayer [6/5, Governor's Island]

    Top Ten Discoveries of 2010

    Slowdive — Pygmalion [Creation/EMI]
    Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — Let Love In [Mute]
    Harry Nilsson — Son of Schmilsson [RCA]
    Slint — Spiderland [Touch and Go]
    Beach House — Devotion [Carpark]
    Leonard Cohen — Death of a Ladies’ Man [Columbia]
    Isaac Hayes — Hot Buttered Soul [Enterprise]
    Os Mutantes — Os Mutantes [Omplatten/Polydor]
    The Beta Band — The Three E.P.s [Astralwerks]
    Mazzy Star — So Tonight That I Might See [Capitol
  • Why There Are Embryonic Eskimos: My Top Twelve Albums of 2009

    Jan 3 2010, 3h52

    Why There Are Embryonic Eskimos: My Top Twelve Albums of 2009 or Twelve Albums More Interesting Than Veckatimest

    1.Animal Collective — Merriweather Post Pavilion [Domino]
    So maybe MPP really *is* the album everyone says it is. Maybe it’s also much more—at once overwhelmingly dense and unapologetically poppy, like dance-pop psychedelia beamed straight down from Mars. Think of the wildly fruitful five-year journey since the landmark Sung Tongs. Now try to envision five more. I know, right?

    2.Flaming Lips — Embryonic [Warner Bros]
    [My blurb from PopMatters’ year-end list:] Embryonic is a thinly veiled refutation of near everything that’s made this band a national treasure these past few years—the studio-manicured symphonic pop, the adorable “Yoshimi” singalongs, the Kraft salad dressing commercials. Maybe the animal costume shtick got tired. Maybe Christmas on Mars bills no longer need paying. Or maybe Wayne just got bored. Whatever the reason, Embryonic is here, and it’s glorious—a dark, seething, psych-rock masterpiece, careening recklessly between stomp-box fuzz-metal (“Worm Mountain”), hypnotic Krautrock tribute (“Convinced of the Hex”), and Bitches Brew-style space jazz (“Scorpio Sword”). There are sugary melodies to be found, of course—but only if you sift beneath the Daft Punk-style vocoder (“The Impulse”) and roaring noise blasts (“Watching the Planets”). I’ll freely admit this is a confusing, messy beast of a record. Because really, that’s what makes it so refreshing.

    3.Dirty Projectors — Bitte Orca [Domino]
    You know what? Fuck that Precious Oscar-bait noise; this is the real heartwarming success story of the year, and it’s better than fiction. In June, Dave Longstreth admitted he was still crashing on friends’ couches on tour. Six months later, his band gets cred from sources as Baby Boomer-centric as Time Magazine. What the hell happened? Bitte Orca happened, a colorful pop masterpiece with one foot firmly planted in the avant-garde kaleidoscope that is Dirty Projectors. For proof, witness “Stillness is the Move,” which merges a Beyoncé beat, ringing guitar riff, and vaguely Eastern harmonies into sheer pop bliss.

    4.WHY? — Eskimo Snow [Anticon]
    When I interviewed WHY?’s Yoni Wolf in September, I had listened to Eskimo Snow only three times. I wish it had been more; with its warm, twisted folk and caustic delivery and potent one-liners, this record deserves *far* more to sink in. It’s worth it, too. Critical opinion will tell you this is Wolf’s least hip hop-flavored offering yet. How odd, then, that these feel like the songs he’s always been meant to write.

    5.Cymbals Eat Guitars — Why There Are Mountains [self-released]

    6.Micachu and the Shapes — Jewellery [Rough Trade]

    7.Polvo — In Prism [Merge]
    First, some history: in the ‘90s noise-rock sweepstakes, Chapel Hill’s Polvo were once every bit the equal of Shellac and the Jesus Lizard. They broke up in 1998, never to return—until now. In Prism, their reunion offering, often trades their signature noise assault for dreamier, more subdued explorations, and it pays off—especially on the gorgeous “Lucía.” Most reunion efforts seem content to rehash a band’s past glories. In Prism is the rare exception with something new to say.

    8.Laura Barrett — Victory Garden [Paper Bag]
    Anyone whose MySpace-listed influences include XTC, Harry Nilsson, *and* Devo is alright by me. What’s more, she covered Weird Al on her debut EP. But Laura Barrett will be compared to none of the above; her clearest reference point will always be Joanna Newsom, which is understandable—both artists share a childlike voice, an unusual instrumental palette (Barrett’s main muse is the kalimba), inimitably clever lyrics, and an overall mystical post-freak-folk sensibility. But it’s also limiting. Victory Garden is very much its own work; Barrett describes her songs as a “blend of prog-folk, dystopic-stage-musical, acoustic-glitch” about “amorphous terror, planned obsolescence, and mind-body dualism.” I can’t top that. True, it’s endlessly whimsical, but it also has the eclectic melodicism and sincere warmth to warrant each of Barrett’s indulgences—particularly when she experiments with more varied arrangements, as on “Chidya,” “The Sharper Side,” and “Rien à Declarer.”

    9.Andrew Bird — Noble Beast [Fat Possum]
    [My blurb from PopMatters’ year-end list:] Noble Beast, with its formless interludes and bulky track lengths, may well be Bird’s most expansive work yet, buoyed as usual by eccentric wordplay and dense, inspired melodicism. The freedom allows Bird to stretch in opposite directions at once, from cluttered electronic territory (“Not a Robot, but a Ghost”) to organic, majestic folk (“The Privateers”, “Effigy”)—and with almost unequivocal success. And at the center of it all sits “Anonanimal,” which pairs gorgeous, overlapping interplay with some of his most tongue-twisting lyrics yet (“the seemingly innocuous plecostomus though posthumus,” anyone?).

    10.Mountains — Choral [Thrill Jockey]
    Choral contains either the poppiest drones or the droniest pop I’ve ever heard—a predominantly live palette of acoustics, keyboards, and voices that build, float, and soar. Why can’t it be both?

    11.Wilco — Wilco (The Album) [Nonesuch]
    Post-millennial dread be damned, for Sky Blue Sky was no fluke: Wilco has officially given up paranoid experimentation for breezy dad-rock. But if Tweedy continues to write songs this evocative (see: “One Wing,” “Bull Black Nova,” “I’ll Fight”), is that really such a crime? Shocker: I guess it’s not.

    12.Sonic Youth — The Eternal [Matador]
    The snarling one-two punch of “Sacred Trickster” and “Anti-Orgasm” says it all. Like the Lips’ Embryonic, The Eternal is a sudden, jagged refutation of a band’s decade-long journey into elegance. Truly, this is SY’s most immediate, punkish beast since 1992’s Dirty; and when it ends, only one question remains: can Kim Gordon really be my mom’s age?
    Full review at PopMatters:

    A List of Nineteen Wonderful Albums From Years Past That I Discovered in 2009

    1.Talk Talk — The Colour of Spring
    2.Michael Jackson — Thriller and Off The Wall
    3.Dinosaur Jr. — You’re Living All Over Me and Bug
    4.Squeeze — Argybargy
    5.Shellac — At Action Park
    6.Slowdive — Souvlaki
    7.Prince — 1999 and Purple Rain
    8.John Coltrane — Blue Train
    9.Joy Division — Unknown Pleasures
    10.John Vanderslice — Emerald City
    11.Neil Young — Trans
    12.XTC — Apples & Oranges
    13.Harry Nilsson — Nilsson Schmilsson and Son of Schmilsson
    14.The Jesus & Mary Chain — Psychocandy
    15.Ride — Nowhere

    Finally, my personal top ten albums of the decade, as printed in the Wesleyan Argus, can be viewed here:
  • The Top Seventeen Albums of 2008

    Jan 20 2009, 0h52

    According to me.

    1. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes and Sun Giant EP: Sincere, expansive, rural. Worth the hype.

    2. Destroyer – Trouble in Dreams: The yin to the New Pornographers' yang. The logical follow up to Destroyer's Rubies: another rich, breathtaking piece of work from Bejar. My review.

    3. Deerhoof – Offend Maggie: For those who can't find a real true rock album from '08. As visceral as anything the 'hoof has done, even if not as spontaneous. Pound that shit, Greg. My review.

    4. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals: Twenty+ years of pop. Compiled with love, compressed with manic energy. Sample sample sample. My review.

    5. The Roots – Rising Down: Game Theory Part Two? Not quite, but just as fiery, just as politically charged. "Get Busy" kills. ?uestlove in '16! Hip hop album of the year for the . . . fifth time?

    6. Benny Sings – Benny… At Home: If a Swedish Justin Timberlake hooked up with Nigel Godrich . . . and grew a beard. My review.

    7.. Chad VanGaalen – Soft Airplane: Colorful, death-obsessed indie-pop from a Canadian recluse. My review.

    8. The Felice Brothers – The Felice Brothers: The band that could beat Robert Zimmerman in a Dylan Soundalike Contest. Upstate New York has never sounded so . . . raw. A grittier alternative to Fleet Foxes.

    9. Q-Tip – The Renaissance: 11.04.08. Obama's wasn't the only triumph. Except this is a comeback. A triumphant one. And waaaay overdue.

    10. Animal Collective – Water Curses EP: The first truly post-Panda Bear AC album; a brilliant Merriweather Post Pavilion warm-up that seemed to fly under the radar. My review.

    11. Laura Barrett – Earth Sciences EP: Finally, an EP for those interested in Joanna Newsom covering “Weird Al” Yankovic parodying Nirvana. I couldn't have said it better myself. Oh, wait . . . My review.

    12. The Cool Kids – The Bake Sale: Do the smurf, do the wop, baseball bat/ Rooftop like we bringing `88 back. Retro never sounded so . . . awesome.

    13. Sin Fang Bous - Clangour: Colorful psychedelia. Iceland: officially more than just Bjork and Sigur Ros.

    14. Times New Viking – Rip It Off: Pop music from within the "harsh, nasally bandwidth you’d normally associate with a walkie talkie conversation" (Drew Hinshaw, PopMatters). Joyful all the way.

    15. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges: WTF, My Morning Jacket? Following up a masterpiece with three bizarre EPs in one: terrible faux-funk, gorgeous Adult Contemporary Americana, and pure face-melting rock. Two out of three ain't bad.

    16. Spiritualized – Songs in A&E: Amazing Grace was a misstep; this is a return to form. More strings. More catharsis. More self-pity. More drugs. My review.

    17. Various Artists – Vicky Cristina Barcelona soundtrack: As eclectic, lively, and joyful as the film that spawned it. My review.
  • Television, Apples in Stereo, Dragons of Zynth, 6/16/07

    Jun 18 2007, 5h33

    Sat 16 Jun – Television, The Apples in Stereo, Dragons of Zynth

    Show review: Concert Review: Dragons of Zynth, Apples in Stereo and Television in Central Park, 6/16/07

    Posted by me:

    "We only came for Dragons of Zynth."

    Approximately one month ago, guitarist Richard Lloyd announced that he was leaving Television after thirty years of genius guitar interplay (which strangely only produced three studio albums). However, before he departed to pursue brighter pastures (ie: his solo career), Television announced one final show with Lloyd at Central Park's Summerstage. A free show! Weee!

    Richard Lloyd sadly wasn't present at his own final show because he went and got pneumonia (the asshole!), but some guy named Jimmy Something (not his real last name) happily learned the songs and filled in. This unexpected state of affairs did not stop us troopers from arriving at Central Park over two hours early and camping out (or "chilling", as you kids say) in sweltering heat with nothing but Fruit Roll-Ups for comfort. After all, did I mention it's free?

    Anyway, the billing was advertised as "three generations of alternative rock", swiftly ignoring the fact that the 80's apparently missed the memo. The first band to take the stage was The Dragons of Zynth, a group of gentle men produced by TV on the Radio (whom they resemble visually quite a bit, as well). As the Summerstage booklet described them, "Dragons Of Zynth combine punk, dub, funk, soul and heavy metal in a way so fresh it’s been given its own name: Afrotek. Critics have described the group’s live shows as “insane” and “bonkers,” though the band itself prefers to call them “audio-physio-psychic” experiences."

    Hilbert_Cheesecake prefers to call them "crap". The first song they performed managed to dick around in ambient soundscapes for at least seven minutes, culminating in absolutely nothing. While the following songs were at least more satisfying than this anti-climatic sludgefest, the band never really delivered the goods. Grating noise (not in the good way), irritatingly pointless vocal freak-outs and occasionally awesome percussion all added up to a performance that was far more fun to watch than listen to, considering the group's elaborate stage costumes. Hear the band at and decide for yourself, goondog.

    Stephen Colbert's Favorite Band!

    Next to take the stage were Elephant 6 alumni Apples in Stereo, an irresistable pop group existing somewhere in the grey area between New Pornographers and Fountains of Wayne, with a fuzzy production sheen reminiscent of the Elephant 6 heyday, yet bearing no resemblance to Finger Eleven. The type of live group that smiles a lot while performing in their colorful outfits; ultimately, the performance was ten billion times more enjoyable than Zagons of Drynth. I bounced along and somehow managed to know all the songs that I'd never heard before in my life. I'm told much of the setlist was culled from the groups new album, "New Magnetic Wonder", including "Can You Feel It?" and "Same Old Drag", both complete with addicting vocal harmonies and borderline-perfect melodies. "Energy" is another perfect pop song, with a relentless chord progression and (surprise!) more background harmonies. See, kids? Noisy and fun!

    It must've been about the fourth or fifth song when Mr. I'm-A-Balding-Thirty-Something-Year-Old-Guy-Who's-Still-Hip-With-The-Hipsters Singer (I don't know his name) (Nevermind, Wikipedia says his name is Robert Schneider) (Haha! His name is Rob Schneider!) (It also says he's from South Afirca, so perhaps we should ignore Wikipedia) casually pointed to the red-head guy in the back rocking the tambourine (who also lended occasional keyboards and background harmonies). Schneider says: "Alright, give it up for Bill Doss playing melodica on this next track! The one and only Bill Doss! Seriously, there's only one Bill Doss in the world. Really. And now we'll play some more...songs. As opposed to just standing here, not playing songs..."

    Bill Doss?


    The Bill Motherfucking Doss?

    Yes, Bill Doss of the Olivia Tremor Control was in attendance, lending his incredible skills to the Apples in Stereo live show (as he has for a while now, though no one told me). I recognized the name immediately and freaked. Of course, I spent the rest of the performance completely fixated on a middle-age man with long red hair playing tambourine, but it was the best tambourine performance I've seen since that James Taylor concert in the late nineties.

    Bill Doss!

    Anyway, this didn't take my attention away from the melodic and noisy "Play Tough", or an incredibly bouncy track that Mr. Schneider announced as "a new song. But not from the new album." He didn't give a name. Perhaps ten minutes into the show, the rain began to fall. The band responded with the song "Sun is Out", a failed attempt to stop the rain. In fact, the rain was refreshing and nutritious, and I hardly even noticed while bouncing around violently to Apples in Stereo. I intend on buying "New Magnetic Wonder" quite soon, after singing along to a plethora of songs I'd never heard before. Video:

    (Ah, did I neglect to mention the keyboard player in the space suit?)

    After a short (and by short, I mean long) break, Televsion took the stage. Tom Verlaine announced that Richard Lloyd was in the hospital and couldn't make it. He insulted the city of New York for having bad microphones. This was essentially the extent to which he spoke or even made eye contact with the crowd the entire show.

    Disclaimer: Tom Verlaine is old. His hair is turning grey. His voice sounds thin and weak (perhaps due to the sound system often drowning out his vocals with guitar). He seemed to be in a bit of a daze the entire show. He potentially even forgot some words.

    The setlist was a bit more..confusing than expected. The band placed a major emphasis on slower, jammier songs, many of which I wasn't familiar with. For example, "Little Johnny Jewel" was a highlight, with its simply yet effective guitar riffing and sleazy vocal contributions. After the first two songs, both of which I enjoyed and neither of which I recognized, the band jumped into a fluid version of "Venus"; the crowd roared at the intro and perhaps this is where the concert truly began. Despite Verlaine's mumbling vocal performance, the song was right on.

    (All you Television fans out there - where were all these songs coming from? Are they on the 1992 reunion album that I still haven't heard? Solo Tom Verlaine? Answer me, phantom Television fans! I summon you!)

    Also worth mentioning was an energetic rendition of "Glory", the only "Adventure" track that was performed. Billy Ficca banged the skins like it was no one's business and Fred Smith stood awkwardly on the side, since that's what bass players like to do. Ya know, even if "Adventure" is obviously not quite a "Marquee Moon", it's still packed to the brim with good songs. Too bad it was so under-represented.

    I'd be lying if I didn't say that I hoped they'd perform "Marquee Moon" (the album) in its entirety. Instead, they played an enjoyable version of "Prove It" (Verlaine: "Here's a...cover....of one of our older tunes."). Was I the only one who noticed that they entirely skipped over the descending guitar riff in the chorus, instead returning to a bass groove and mumbling the title? The song was pretty goddamn enjoyable nonetheless, as were Verlaine's guitar work in quite a few other songs I don't know the name of.

    The show was scheduled to end at 7:00. At approximately 6:55, Verlaine and Jimmy struck the brilliant opening riff to "Marquee Moon" and the crowd went apeshit.

    Duh nuh! (Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah)! Duh nuh! (Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah)!

    "The cadillac...pulled up the graveyard!"

    As I hoped, the band fucking nailed the song. While Verlaine was visibly engrossed in the orgasmic guitar solo (see: Great Songs entry), a Summerstage employee (security guard, perhaps?) began pacing the side of the stage and making eye contact with the substitute guitarist. Points at his watch. The international signal for "End the fucking song."

    In the middle of "Marquee Moon"? No thanks, Tiger. Song rolls on past the 7:00 mark. I lost track of the time. Mr. Stage-Guard-Man continues signaling. Verlaine is 100% oblivious. The solo builds up, the crowd's enthusiasm with it. As the crowd members begin to notice the guy's increasing frustration, the more they encouraged the band, went insane. The song gets bigger and bigger as Mr. State Guy becomes visibly angry, more violent with his motions. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry; at one point, my friend and I saw him walk towards the control board and honestly though he was gonna cut the power. Seeing this occurence during the middle of "Marquee mothafuckin` Moon" made my decade. Of course, eventually the song ended. I couldn't tell you if it was eight minutes or twenty-eight. The Summerstage employees immediately came out, denying an encore. Nothing could take away my shit-eating grin after that last track. (I'm desparately waiting for a Youtube video to surface. Anyone??) Ah, the post-concert headache (From the noise? From the jumping? From the smoke?) and ringing ears.

    So, to recap:
    -Dragons of Zynth sounds like TV on the Radio on valium...not worth my left nut.
    -Apples in Stereo makes me want to form a power-pop band....after I buy "New Magnetic Wonder" and marry Bill Doss.
    -Television, while a bit more restrained than I expected (no doubt due to Lloyd's unfortunate absence), still delivered the goods and more on aforementioned highlights. Verlaine will always be among my favorite guitarists and it was well worth seeing the legend.

    Happy performance of "Venus":

    Goodnight and good luck!

    Bill Doss! Bill Doss! OMG LOL.