Archive for December, 2010

The Best of 2010 part 5

Posted in Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 by Legalize

This is it.  If you’ve taken nothing from all of this:

5.  Past Lives – “Tapestry of Webs”

Former members of Seattle’s Blood Brothers releasea paranoid trip that would make “Rosemarry’s Baby” blush.  Over slow-building music, we hear about a woman – probably the opening song’s namesake — “Paralyzer” of the title.  A song about the ultimate anxiety and, well, paranoia you get when you meet a girl you like.  Reminiscent of the now departed early 2000s art-metal gods, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Past Live infuse desperate guitars and driving rhythm with a jazz thing.  We get an oboe, sax and a crippling austerity  of emotion behind what really really is northwestern punk rock.  It’s a gorgeous record.

4.  Sleigh Bells – “Treats”

He’s a punk rock mainstay.  She’s a school teacher.  Together they’ve had a hell of a year.  You’ll either love the electro-proto-metal-dance-punk thing.  Or you’ll hate it.  Frankly though, it’s kind of impossible not to love.  Beneath the distortion, and mind-numbing mid range piled on top of bass and treble, what you really have is a dance record.  With James Murphy and MIA obviously lending influences, so do AC/DC, and the girl groups of the 50s.  Increasingly funny and clever lyrical takes on doing your homework and getting good grades, we land in the middle of the record on ‘Rill Rill,’ which you could confuse for the latest pop hit by Lady Gaga or Beyonce.  Except when you turn it up, the balanced fuzz and glitter takes you where you want to be.  Later on ‘A / B Machines’ repeats “got my a machines on the table, got my b machines on the floor.”  For 3 minutes.  What’s an a machine?  What’s a b machine?  And respectively, what are they doing on the table and the floor?  Who knows?  What’s “Louie Louie, me gotta go” mean?  Who knows?  Just love it.  ‘Rill Rill’ is one of the songs of the year.

3.  LCD Soundsystem – “This is Happening”

Here’s the thing about James Murphy: he does everything better than your band does.  Eno?  Bowie?  Lou Reed?  Iggy Pop?  Check.  “This is Happening” is a fitting exclamation point on what is probably the last LCD dance/punk joint.  LCD Soundsystem isn’t for writing about.  They are for listening to and talking about.

Just get it.

2.  Surfer Blood – “Astro Coast.”

It’s a testament to a record that comes out in January for it to slip all the way to number 2 after a whole year.  This year’s entry into the “we’re 19 and love 90s bands” like Pavement and Built to Spill club.  This is no road record like last year’s effort from Cymbals Eat Guitars’ ode to Modest Mouse.  This is more like “Crooked Rain / Crooked Rain.”  It’s a tight, smart, expertly crafted, guitar-focused, highly technical love note to nerdy stuff.  The constantly thick bass drives the thing along, while the vocals sound like they were recorded down the hall.  Which is appropriate because the mood reminds me of taking a walk down a long hallway looking at pictures of people you don’t know, in situations you haven’t experienced, but somehow you know what they’re thinking.  ‘Anchorage’ is such a shockingly sophisticated build up of repetitive bass, drums, and guitar over wistful lyrics, and then transitions to a peppy Beach Boys-esque ode to “taking off at the right time, and working it out …. We’ll be alright.  Oooh oooh.”  All the songs are fantastic.  ‘Swim,’ ‘Anchorage,’ ‘Catholic Pagans,’ and ‘Floating Vibes’ all stand out among all of the great songs.

1.  Titus Andronicus – “The Monitor”

“If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher.  As a nation of free men, we will live forever … or die by suicide.”

Celebrating the 149th Anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Rhodes.  Simultaneously a concept album about the civil war, a bad breakup, and failing to make it in the big city.  We spoke earlier about earnestness and songs meaning what they say.  Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.  Modern rock rules generally don’t allow for that.  Usually we expect irony, apathy, cynicism, and the like from our hip gods.  Well New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus deliver all of that, but with an honest dose and steady diet of reflection upon assholes from your past, lost loves, failure, self-loathing, and simple reflection on what the fuck it was all for anyway.

The scope of “The Monitor” is audacious, brazen, and too foolish to even contemplate for mere mortals.  The record is broken up into bits by grainy, faded readings by Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and Walt Witman.  Really?  Oh yes.  And in between the history lesson and poetry 101 we get the constant snarl and desperation of the 20-something bearded-in-chief troubadour, Patrick Stickles.  The songs are unconventional in the sense that there is no verse, chorus, verse.  They are stories.  Many clock in at 7 minutes or longer, and all of them turn on a dime in style and in tone.  Ultimately they are about leaving home, and the path you take to get to your destination, in this case, Boston.  And finding out that you’re not as smart and cool as you think you are.  Titus Andronicus worship at the alter of Springsteen, the Pogues, Billy Bragg, the Clash, and Wilco.  Oh, and hardcore punk.  The opener ‘A More Perfect Union’ is a rousing opus invoking, well all of the above.  The songs have moments rather than parts.  Story-telling that grabs you differently each time.  Stickles sings about hanging “Jeff Davis” from a sour apple tree one moment and the Garden State Parkway in the next.  Unwinnable wars, and getting drunk in Kevin’s basement with all your friends.  Brilliant women who are still just kids, and being prepared to be told that your interests are “gay, dude.”  Pounding anthems one moment, bagpipes and trumpets the next.

“The Monitor” is not just the album of the year.  It is the front-runner for album of the decade.  The aforementioned ‘Perfect Union,’ the epic fight song, ‘Four Score and Seven,’ bar room hymn, ‘Them Song from Cheers,’ and the closing masterpiece (which is even more epic), ‘Battle of Hampton Rhodes,’ are all among the top songs of the year.

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2010 by Legalize

Here’s 10 through 6:

10.  The National – “High Violet”

The National have given us another record that takes many listens to get in to.  I didn’t get into “Boxer” very much until I was studying for the bar exam every night after work for a month in 2008.  My drive  home was about 25 minutes, which is just enough time to hear about half the record.  And “Boxer” was pretty distinctly 2 halves.  As is “High Violet.”  The National are about your 30s.  20 years ago they might have been about your 20s.  I initially thought that this was a step backwards for their sound, with “Boxer” being the pinnacle of big, rich, warm, driving rock songs and brooding ballads.  High Violet is even more brooding.  More monochrome.  Right, even MORE monochrome.  The solution to a difficult to find sound is to turn it up louder and to listen to it longer.  Then you find it in “Bloodbuzz Ohio,’ which is one of the best songs of the year.  Everything preceeding builds up to ‘Bloodbuzz’ which ends the first side.  Everything AFTER on the second side maintains a similar intensity.  “High Violet” is kind of like a frustrating work day.  Or any frustrating day.

9.  Spoon – “Transference”

“Transference” is a good analog to “High Violet.”  Spoon have always been jagged.  You either get all chorus and no melody or no chorus and all melody.  Evidently “Transference” is a lose collection of demos.  The songs are buried behind vocals at times and the vocals are buried behind songs at others.  This was intentional.  Which was maddening at first.  Very maddening.  I felt let down – disappointed – cheated.  But it didn’t last.  Spoon always have a plan and the plan kicks in with the third song “Mystery Zone” where the jaggedness of the songs and the vocals all see to even out.  From that point on there is constant wavering, but always behind a firm, but almost synthetic, clanging beat.  The talent of the band comes out here because even when it sounds like pots and pans have taken over the room, a thick bass ties it all back together, and a Beatles-esque “la la la” thing helps you out.

8.  BRMC – “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo”

Ah, America’s coolest band.  Not America’s best or favorite.  Just the coolest.  This was one I was also down on when it first came out.  (That’s not a picture of the record up there by the way).  I thought, they hate me so much but know I’m a BRMC homer and I’ll get anything, so they just gave me a bunch of b-sides from “Take them On On Your Own.”  And maybe the did.  But they just do heavy, glittery, black sunglasses thing so so so well.  They just do and I can’t help it.  So it stayed in my CD player for a long time.  Unlike their previous efforts, there’s not much of a plan here.  They just let go and give you different parts of themselves in equal quantities Dillon, VU, Spacemen 3, Jesus and Mary Chain, even a little Ministry.  Sometimes you just love a band, and in the process of getting over the fact that they hate you, you realize that they’re doing it for your own good.  The last song, “Half-State” is a 10 minute epic, replete with repetitive jamming, fuzzy pounding, and anthemic rises and falls – like their live show boiled down to 10 minutes.  Another one of the year’s best.  If you can see white back lighting and fog, you’re in the right place.

7.  Los Campesinos! – “Romance is Boring”

Haha.  Los Campesinos!  I shouldn’t like them but I do.  I love them.  They’re emo-pants and I don’t care.  Snide and Scottish (I think.  They’re Scottish right?)  Funny and nonsensical song titles be dammed.  I think they were in their late teens when their first record came out a couple of years ago, and you could tell they were so full of “wow, we’re going to college and we’re gonna stay up late and listen to punk rock, and be hip.”  Then they got to college later that year with their second record, and they were all like “wow, I’m hungover.”  With “Romance is Boring,” the kids are all growsed up and life is kind of a drag.  I told you it was emo-pants.  Mrs. Kentucky Fried Freedom hates them.  She gets sucked in with the opening jingle on that Budweiser commercial and then realizes who it is and gets angry because they’re so emo-pants.

I have no future in music blogging.

6.  The Soft Pack – “The Soft Pack”

This thing is so fun.  A 10 song collection of Midwestern-infused punk rock with a certain post-punk jaggedness to it.  And they’re from San Diego.  The sound is big, clear, and snotty.  “Answer to Yourself” is one of the year’s best songs.  I’m terribly impatient and it’s getting worse.  The Soft Pack are a good remedy for that.  The songs are quick, loud, pretty fast, jangly, pounding, funny, and carry with them a certain sing-songy quality.

Almost done ….

The Best of 2010 part 3

Posted in Uncategorized on December 22, 2010 by Legalize

We’re now into the home stretch as far as the vast bulk of my listening this year.  Lines are bound to be drawn, hearts to be broken, livestock to be slaughtered.

15 through 11:

15.  Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs”

What?!  Only 15th?!  I know; I know.  It’s like learning that, in fact, Radiohead did not release 11 of the top 10 records of the ’00s.  Look, the Arcade Fire have always been a critics’ band.  They’ve also released 3 really good records, one of which, “Funeral,” is a transcendent, generational effort.  Here at KFF we don’t engage in sports metaphors very often.  But “Funeral” is the LeBron James of records.  It was great immediately; it held up; it got better; and people in Cleveland don’t appreciate what it did for them for so long.  “Neon Bible,” however, was a punt on 4th and long with the game wrapped up, that pinned the other team inside the 1 yard line.

“The Suburbs” is the b-side compilation to “Neon Bible.”  The logical progressive regression to what the Arcade Fire are all about – pining for the days of morse code and when it would take a month to travel from Montreal to Toronto.  The Arcade Fire finally get around to morning modernity.  They got past Springsteen and moved on to post-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Wilco.  I mourn post-YHF Wilco as well, so I get that.  They also got around to making, again, a better record than the vast majority of bands this year.  With really good songs that sprawl like the title would suggest.

 

14.  Crocodiles – “Sleep Forever”

Crocodiles are the most improved band of 2010.  By far.  Whereas their first record “Summer of Hate” was really an unlistenable mash up of feelings and moments from Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, and the Jesus and Mary Chain, with like one real song on it, “Sleep Forever” took the logical step for a band like Crocodiles, and said, “fuck it,” let’s just copy those guys!  And they did.  From the opening drone and synth of ‘Mirrors,’ “Sleep Forever” proceeds to not kill your idols, but bring them out for a victory lap.  The songs are focused and pick out the best of the aforementioned influences, especially from “Automatic” era Jesus and Mary Chain.  Since I have an special place in my heart for such, Crocodiles didn’t have far to go to get me on board.  I mean, there are songs called “Stoned to Death,” “Girl in Black,” and “All My Hate and My Hexes are for You.”  That last one is probably the best.  Never be afraid to take on the Velvet Underground’s more mellow tunes.  This is the mistake Crocodiles avoid – taking on VU’s most bombastic numbers.  It’s smart, and the songs are good.

13.  No Age – “Everything in Between”


If Crocodiles hadn’t already come along and shown us their work, No Age would have the most improved record of the year.  Not by shoring up, but by tearing apart.  2008’s “Nouns” was a pretty compact and tight rock record, with a couple of stand-out hits.  “Everything” is just that.  The band seem less interested in selling you their ability to reign in the madness, and more interested in admitting that mad is what they are.  The sound is more aggressive and punk rock at times, but it is also more quiet, melodic, and brooding at other times.  This was really missing on “Nouns.”  They seem to have taken the lead from their boys in Deerhunter in that regard – trippy mixed with aggressive works.

12.  Surf City – “Kudos”

Surf City are from New Zealand.  With a name like Surf City you might expect a Jesus and Mary Chain influence.  And you’d be right.  That’s what last year’s fantastic EP adhered to almost exclusively, but with a hint that they could break out their new wave / post-punk shoes.  Was this a signal of things to come?  Yes.  And they answered in a big way with a fully realized rock record unafraid of taking on the cerebral and more “mature” song writing of Wire and Joy Division.  But yeah, more surfy.  The almost 8 minute ‘Icy Lakes’ is a stand-out and one of my favorite tracks of the year.

 

11.  The Black Angels – “Phosphene Dream”

There’s not much else I can add to the views on “Phosphene Dream.”  The fact that it’s only number 11 on my list this year is a testament to 2010, not a comment on the quality.   The Angles are known for their almost inaccessibly long and muddy psychedelia.  They did the thing that most bands shouldn’t do – take on the Velvet Underground’s big noise and try to contain it.  They did it better than anyone else has ever tried before.  And almost better than VU actually.  But on “Phosphene” they made an obvious decision to make themselves something your neighbor could listen to, and be like, wow they sound like the Doors.  Which they do.  But they also sound like 13th Floor Elevators and Pink Floyd.  With songs clocking in at 3 minutes instead of 14, they now get gigs on Letterman and a song or 2 on the radio.  But don’t be fooled.  They didn’t sell out to get airplay.  They just now do the flip-side of what naturally occurs to them, and it happens to be more accessible, and happens to sound more like a collection of singles like a box of chocolates, rather than one big chocolate cake.

See ya

 

 

 

 

 

The Best of 2010

Posted in Uncategorized on December 21, 2010 by Legalize

Alright, alright.  Settle down.  Here’s 20 through 16.

20.  Frightened Rabbit – “Winter of Mixed Drinks”

This year’s foray into the Scottish emo thing.  “Winter of Mixed” drinks is best described as a solid rock record reminiscent of the Hold Steady and Wilco circa “AM.”  The songs are about surviving cancer or something, and the sound is large with a fairly generous drone from time to time.  But mostly it’s folky and earnest.  Too earnest?  Some would say so.  More on that later in the count down.  If you want something that is simultaneously loud an unoffensive, “Mixed Drinks” is for you.  It’s the kind of thing you can listen to in the car when you’re taking your granny to the eye doctor, and no one will complain, but after you drop her off at the door you can turn it up pretty loud while looking for a parking spot, and be like, “this rocks in the same way that the Hold Steady and ‘AM’ rock.”

 

19.  Charlotte Gainsbourg – “IRM”

This isn’t the cover of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s new record.  But it is a picture of what Charlotte Gainsbourg’s new record sounds like to hipsters (It also happens to be a picture of CG herself).  Why?  Because Beck helped her make the thing.  Also a record about cancer or something, Gainsbourg sort of re-invents the indie cred thing that not-really-rockers can grab for themselves in the rock world.  How’s she do that?  Beck helped make the thing.  If you like PJ Harvey there’s no reason why you shouldn’t like “IRM.”  If you LOVE PJ Harvey, you probably won’t LOVE “IRM” because PJ didn’t need Beck to give her an edge.  The edge came to PJ (arguably she lost it, found it, and then threw it in the river, but we’ll probably talk about that this time next year).  Anyway, Charlotte is French, and yadda yadda, she’s Serge Gainsbourg’s daughter.  The record is quiet and loud all at once, which makes it one of those things I can never decide if I want to listen to or not.  When I do, I always discover something new in her voice or in the background twang.

18.  Quasi – “American Gong”

I love Quasi’s new joint.  It’s not quite as good as that old one from the 90s with “Birds” in the title.  But it’s back to the old snotty dueling girl-guy thing this divorced couple are known for.  It’s never quiet, often groovy, always snide, and there’s a dog at the end.

17.  Fresh & Onlys – “Play it Strange”

This is an intriguing thing from a group I had not heard of prior to this year.  I still know nothing about them.  What’s curious about the Fresh & Onlys is that on the surface they appear to have no ambition; they only seem to want to do that one thing that sounds like Crystal Stilts – the whole really mellow surf thing mixed with a little quiet haze and psych rock.  However, what the band lacks in ambition, they make up for in the quality of songs and seeming self-consciousness about what they’re doing.  Like, yeah, we listened to a lot of Cure and Echo and a little Joy Division.  We’ll be a little quieter and a little more surf.  How’s that?

 

16.  Besnard Lakes – “Are the Roaring Night”

Ok wow.  Besnard Lakes (from Canada, and I think Besnard Lakes is actually a place in Canada) definitely put out the biggest sounding record of the year.  They took shoegaze and clarified it so that every drum pound, and every droning guitar note sounds like something really expensive exploding.  But seriously, the comparisons to “Loveless” have to stop.

Till tomorrow

 

The Best of 2010 (Lists, Bitches)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 20, 2010 by Legalize

It’s that time of year again, i.e. a reason to justify having a blog no one ever reads, most likely because I never enter any, um, entries. Anyway, since it’s the thing to do, I’ll give you my top 25 in bursts of 5 every day this week, ascending to Numbers 5 through 1 on Friday:

25. Aloha – “Home Acres”

24. Wavves – “King of the Beach”

Look at the cover. I mean look at it. There’s a song called “Post-Acid,” and the dude is routinely busted for pot possession. That should give you an idea of what’s going on here. A big step up from last year’s “Wavvves,” in that the songs are intelligible.

23. Woven Bones – “In and Out and Back Again”

A very cool record that lasts about 25 minutes. Almost scary in its garage authenticity. Yet enough of a groove to hold on to while nodding off. Think of a lazier, poor (ok homeless) man’s Warlocks. In the year of the bedroom pop thing, Woven Bones are a welcome mix of scuzz, sludge, and probably a screen with car accidents being played over on a loop if you saw them live.

22. The Ponys – “Deathbed + 4”

Now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve always loved the Ponys. This one is just an EP, but the last 2 songs are the shit. They’re just big, pounding, nasty, repetitive rockers, with that traditional Ponys-new wave-80s-Cure-Television scream. “And we are, the pop culture, uh uh.” Something like that. It all makes sense really loud in the car actually.

21. Citay – “Dream Get Together”

A very surprising pop effort. I never bought it, but I should have. It would probably stay in my car for a while. It’s kind of Dandys meets Built to Spill, meets the Apples in Stereo. Yes, the 90s – that’s what I was looking for.

See you tomorrow,