Posted on July 17th, 2010 in Music

Pitchfork Music Festival 2010, Day 2

A continuation of my P4k coverage for the lovely RadioK. Head over there for more exciting things (like interviews!).

Photos by Jules Ameel

The first chills-inducing moment of the day came from Titus Andronicus. On a stage decorated with American flags, Titus slayed the mid-90s heat with cameos by tourmates Hallelujah The Hills, including a full set with Andy Dick-lookalike/keyboard guru Elio DeLuca. These guys turned the stage into a party; I counted 9 people playing during the anthemic ‘…And Ever‘. Trumpets turned choruses into monsters, guitarist Amy Klein had The World’s Biggest Smile Ever glued to her face for the entire show, and Stickles was swimming in sweat by the time the set was up. At one point I looked over to see a guy with the longest handlebar mustache I have ever seen, fully decked out in an overcoat and longpants (in other words, exactly the type of Civil War-era dude Titus sang about on The Monitor).

By the time Titus finished, the heat had almost taken me to the grave, so I checked out some of the vendor tents, which featured dozens of stands manned by great poster artists and booths loaded with enough vinyl to make my hands tremble. Amp was giving away free screened t-shirts, and Toyota Antics (whatever that is) was offering free screened tote bags. I grabbed both.

Wolf Parade was the highlight of the day. The guitars were razor sharp, the songs were somewhat faster…and it was LOUD. Spencer Krug’s yelps seemed to have much more protopunk influence in a live setting. (I definitely got some Stooges and New York Dolls vibes at times.) Awesomely, the band played plenty of older stuff, including a thundering version of ‘Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts‘. They finished things off with the entire 10 minutes of ‘Kissing the Beehive‘, which led to all kinds of freakouts—including dancing makeout sessions in the crowd.

LCD Soundsystem brought the night to a close with a rave-up danceparty extraordinaire. James Murphy pulled no punches, going huge early—the second song was ‘Drunk Girls‘—and turning it to 11 from there. He had the crowd losing its mind 15 minutes into the set with a MONSTROUS version of ‘All My Friends‘ (one of the Festival’s highlights). People were hula-hooping, a six-year-old was dancing on her dad’s shoulders, the crowd was loving every second. The obvious comparison here is Depeche Mode, but LCD more than held their own tonight. After more than an hour of nonstop danceable jams, Murphy put an end to the night with the comedown of ‘New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down‘, which seemed strange at first (but was ultimately perfect).

Posted on July 16th, 2010 in Music

Pitchfork Music Festival 2010, Day 1

Hey all!

I went down to P4k fest this year to blog for the wonderful RadioK. Here is what went down:

Finally, Pitchfork 2010 begins! After eating a 2 p.m. breakfast at Louie’s Diner in Oak Park, I made my way over to the Festival—just as Tallest Man on Earth began his set. His vocals were absolutely spot on; an absolute perfect fit to begin the day. Most of Tallest Man’s set was from the new album, The Wild Hunt, but he played some older stuff as well.

Following Tallest Man, oddly, was El-P, but it took me only a few El-P songs to transition from Tallest Man’s sleepy folksy mood to hardcore hip-hop. He absolutely destroyed his set, bringing probably the most intensity of the day.

Photo by Marty Perez

I was super stoked to see Liars, whose performance-art-piece of a set was as weird as I was hoping. Frontman Angus Andrew was (creepily?) decked out in retro gym shorts and a Men At Work Tee, wailing around with limp wrists and frantic yelps while the band played almost entirely Sisterworld material. Andrew opened the set by telling the crowd to “have a go at the water station in my pants” anytime they felt like getting on stage. I’m just guessing, but I doubt that would have gone over well. His antics seemed vaguely Iggy Pop-ian, though an older woman next to me noted that she heard—and saw—some Korn (yes, that Korn) influence. Toward the end of the set, they broke into a cover of Bauhaus’s ‘In The Flat Field‘, which they seemed more energized by than their own songs. They closed out with a hypnotic version of ‘Proud Evolution‘.

Modest Mouse closed out the night with an amazing show, opening things off right with a superb, near-nine-minute version of ‘Tiny Cities Made of Ashes‘ that sounded almost like an entirely different song. The band almost looked like Broken Social Scene up there at times, with up to seven people playing at once—including trumpets, standup bass, an accordian and Brock’s own banjo. By the fourth song—a sexily slow rendition of ‘Satellite Skin‘—the crowd was throwing glowsticks and dancing and singing along. Other highlights included a Tom Waits-y version of ‘The Devil’s Workday‘ and several songs from The Moon and Antarctica. Modest Mouse definitely played more older material than anyone else on Day 1. After leaving the stage, they came back for a two-song encore, with a haunting version of ‘Gravity Rides Everything‘ and ending things for a good with the kick-in-the-balls of ‘Black Cadillacs‘.

Other odds ‘n’ ends:

-Thank God I saw no one wearing a Greenman suit. Hopefully this means the trend is finally over.

-The crowd was decidedly non-hipster. My Hipster Bingo Card was left virtually untouched.

Posted on June 30th, 2010 in Music

100 best albums of the aughts, part 7 (#40-31)

On to part 7 of my 100 best albums of the aughts list.

You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, and part 6 here.

Kings of Leon – Because of The Times (2007)
Kings of Leon’s gateway to full-fledged radio-ready arena rock; Because of the Times still has that southern grit (‘Charmer‘), but the brothers-and-cousin are clearly making the shift toward Cheap Tricky sheen here. ‘Knocked Up‘ and ‘Ragoo‘ are both excellent mashups of the band’s old and new tendencies.
Minus The Bear – Planet Of Ice (2007)
Suicide Squeeze Records
Planet Of Ice gets a little more proggy than previous Minus The Bear records…and its production sheen is nearly blinding (it works here, but was perhaps an early warning sign for the dreadful followup, OMNI). The blithely sexual lyrics remain; and amidst a sea of neo-prog guitar solos is an after-afterparty for those who don’t dig on LMFAO or 3OH!3.
The Organ – Grab That Gun (2004)
Mint Records
Grab That Gun—The Organ’s lone LP—is a voyeuristic joyride through every little sister’s teenage diary. The band’s namesake (yes, an organ) provides a warm breath of CPR for the album’s ultra-simplistic, razor-sharp guitar melodies and not-quite-drama-queen lyrics. Several blistering, hopeless jams from the outstanding Sinking Hearts EP appear—in updated, more fully realized forms—as well.
Brand New – Deja Entendu (2003)
Triple Crown
Deja Entendu contains all the trademarks of a post-hardcore record—narratives posing as song titles (e.g., ‘Good To Know That If I Ever Need Attention All I Have To Do Is Die‘); confessionalist songwriting and choked-up vocals; a focus on atmospheric aesthetics. But Brand New is also poppy, and that emo/pop-punk vibe means we can sing along and fake our tears at the top of our lungs. This record is pretty high on my nostalgia scale.
Spoon – Girls Can Tell (2001)
The first of Spoon’s albums to fire on all cylinders. (No single Spoon ingredient seems that great in and of itself, but together…together Britt Daniel’s dry delivery melts into churning rhythms, cymbal crashes dissolve into perpetual jams, choruses form what seem like endless grooves.) On Girls Can Tell, these parts are meticulously calculated, meaning this “whole” adds up to a whole lot—from classics (‘Everything Hits at Once‘, ‘Take the Fifth‘) to Spoon’s version of a ballad (‘1020 AM‘).
Auxes – Sunshine (2008)
Lovitt Records
Auxes bear heavy Les Savy Fav influence; but Sunshine isn’t just an LSV knockoff—it’s got punk charm (Dave Laney was an original Milemarker member). And Laney’s raspy vocals are a perfect fit for these lurching bits of hardcore-cum-punk. These tracks—13 in 34 minutes—stagger and jerk with just enough swagger to dance to. ‘Greeting Card Perfume‘ pays homage to Tom Waits, while anthems like ‘Brother‘ and ‘Radio! Radio!‘ recall Milemarker.
Black Lips – 200 Million Thousand (2009)
Vice Records
Notorious for puking and pissing and making out onstage, Black Lips’ music actually transitions surprisingly well to a non-live setting. 200 Million Thousand contains all the drug references you’d expect (e.g., ‘Drugs‘) and the vocals are AM-ready (check out the doo-wop of ‘Trapped in a Basement‘); Black Lips are well-versed in music history (knowledgable on African protopunk, attempting to tour the entire world—Iraq and China included) and it shows.
Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)
It would be impossible to overstate the influence or the acclaim that followed the release of Funeral. A conceptual chamber-pop record about death—featuring a collective of Canada’s best musicians—comprised of high emotions and brilliantly composed songs. Yes, Win Butler and Co. became the critical darlings of the decade with this release, but this record (somehow both somber and uplifting) deserved every bit of praise.
Kings of Leon – Only By the Night (2008)
Only By the Night solidified Kings of Leon’s shift to full-fledged arena rock (you’ve heard Sex on Fire every time you’ve walked into an Urban Outfitters or American Apparel). I am probably in the minority on this, but I prefer the radio luster of these songs over the Taper Jeans Girls of earlier albums. The stadium-ready, starry-eyed opener ‘Closer‘ might be the best track in Kings of Leon’s arsenal.
Blonde Redhead – Misery is a Butterfly (2004)
Kazu Makino’s voice is otherworldly—something between a dream and a birdsong—giving Blonde Redhead’s hypnotic music an enchanting dreamscape straight out of a Murakami novel. Misery is a Butterfly was the first Blonde Redhead album to seize on the band’s strong pop capabilities, and the result is startling and gorgeous; a murderous fairy tale.
Posted on June 12th, 2010 in Music

100 best albums of the aughts, part 6 (#50-41)

On to part 6 of my 100 best albums of the aughts list.

You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here and part 5 here.

The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema (2005)
I haven’t been as excited about their recent releases, but The New Pornos brought it on this album. A.C. and Neko sound more at ease here (a lot of their later material seems forced to me). The charity-drive-anthem ‘The Bleeding Heart Show‘ could have been—perhaps ironically—the background music to every post-Mission Project wrap-up slideshow you’ve ever seen.
The Dandy Warhols – Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia (2000)
The Dandys are a perfect example of a postmodern band: tongue-in-cheek band name with witty song titles, self-indulgent music, clever in-song references, and a post-ironic attitude (seriously…two identical last names, Courtney?). That list may sound cynical, but its actually the reason I love this band. Taylor has a way of turning inside jokes into ridiculously catchy drugged-out singalongs that are both nonchalant and au courant.
The Sounds – Living In America (2002)
New Line
Another ultra-stylish neo-new wave band whose newer albums are lacking. In The Sounds’ case, the problem is the group’s attempt to move away from what made them so great—writing simple, modern takes on 80s synthpop anthems (and looking cool as hell). Sure, these aren’t the most technical songs—and the Blondie influence is everywhere—but you can’t deny that ‘Fire‘, ‘Riot‘ or ‘Living In America‘ will have you instantly shaking your ass on a sweat-drenched dancefloor.
Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People (2002)
Arts & Crafts
Critical darlings Broken Social Scene bottled up 40 years of pop music, put it in a blender, and released it to form this album. BSS utilize complex song structures, layers and layers of instruments, and shimmering choruses that are unpredictable, often brilliant, and always interesting. I haven’t been as enamored with other BSS projects (critics are), but this album is mesmerizing.
Moros Eros – Jealous Me Was Killed By Curiosity (2007)
Victory Records
Jealous Me Was Killed By Curiosity was the second and final album by Les Savy Fav disciples Moros Eros. Nothing too original here—Les Savy Fav had already broken these barriers years before—but originality isn’t the only requirement for a great album. These songs are ridiculously catchy, and they contain—by far—enough personality to merit their own successes.
Hot Panda – Volcano…Bloody Volcano (2009)
Mint Records
One of the more criminally overlooked records of the decade; Hot Panda defies description: some sort of schizophrenic take on Talking Heads-ish post-punk…with Little Tikes™-sounding keyboard riffs? ‘Whale Headed Girl‘ is a straight-up boogie, the breakdown is hypnotizing; ‘Cold Hands\Chapped Lips‘ births the devil in its chorus; ‘Gold Star Swimmer‘ ends on a Blue Album-era Weezer solo. All that, and this record manages to stay poppy and coherent. I have no idea where all the praise is.
Tom Waits – Blood Money (2002)
Tom Waits has an admittedly difficult learning curve, but once you’re in…you’re in for good. Blood Money features my three favorite Waits songs (‘Misery Is the River of the World‘, ‘God’s Away On Business‘, ‘Starving In the Belly of a Whale‘). As usual, Waits’ songs range from carnivals-in-Hell to Big Easy balladry; always complemented with brilliant lyrics and a jazz-educated, whisky-sipping vibe.
Wild Beasts – Two Dancers (2009)
Good Lord, Wild Beasts; gay-friendly lyrics, stylized falsetto, overtly sexualized, androgynous vocals (“This is a booty call; my boot up your arse hole. This is a Freudian slip; my slipper in your bits“)—all backdropped with the most intricate, haunting electronic pop imaginable. The line keeping Wild Beasts from Drag Queen Night at the bar is thin, but ultimately, Two Dancers knows exactly when to hit you and when to hit on you. Amazing.
A Place To Bury Strangers – A Place To Bury Strangers (2007)
Killer Pimp
With an arsenal of homemade effects pedals, Oliver Ackermann bridges the gap—20 years later—between MBV and JMC. With the possible exception of Glifted, I have never heard a band so perfectly meld those two bands into a coherent whole. Lost in the post-shoegaze shuffle was just how deafeningly loud those pioneering bands actually were. A Place To Bury Strangers helps remind us.
Frank Black and the Catholics – Dog In the Sand (2001)
What Are Records?
Frank Black’s strongest release in nearly a decade (since 1994’s Teenager Of the Year), Dog In the Sand harkened back ( ‘Stupid Me‘, and ‘St. Francis Dam Disaster‘ in particular) to the effortlessness of his early post-Pixies output. Black’s missteps have tended to come when treading too close to pure Americana—a pitfall he deftly avoids here.
Posted on June 6th, 2010 in Music

100 best albums of the aughts, part 5 (#60-51)

On to part 5 of my 100 best albums of the aughts list.

You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here.

Thurston Moore – Trees Outside the Academy (2007)
Ecstatic Peace
Indie’s ageless leader takes less chances now (the cost of growing older?) than back in the Sister days, which means safer songwriting…and a little less reward (no Tuff Gnarls or Teen Age Riots here). But while Moore’s newer songs may be less risqué in Thurstonian terms, that doesn’t mean he’s lost that coolly detached moxie we’ve all grown to love; he’s still cooler than we’ll ever be. And he knows it.
The Ponys – Turn The Lights Out (2006)
I love the black-leather nonchalance of Jered Gummere’s vocals; very chic, very chill (à la vintage BRMC). Turn the Lights Out has less bite than Celebration Castle (no Steve Albini), but I generally prefer the ultra-hip detachment here (e.g., ‘Exile On Main Street‘ and ‘Harakiri‘).
Portugal. The Man – Waiter: “You Vultures!” (2006)
Fearless Records
Portugal. The Man are one of the most remarkably prolific indie bands around right now (five LPs in five years, with several EPs and an acoustic LP interspersed throughout). The danger of being an experimental prog rock band can mean occasional failure (Church Mouth), but the highs (It’s Complicated Being a Wizard EP, Waiter: “You Vultures!”) are worth it. I also love this album cover.
No Knife – Riot For Romance (2002)
Better Looking
No Knife’s distinct San Diego flavor channels everything from Pinback (‘Feathers and Furs‘) to the early British post-punk or Wire and Gang of Four. Its best songs (the title track, ‘Flechette‘, ‘The Red Bedroom‘) even bring a little Fugazi to the table; bridging the gap between post-punk and hardcore. Riot For Romance was sadly the band’s final album, but it’s an excellent curtain call.
The Strokes – Is This It (2001)
Indie rock’s retro garage-rock phase was short-lived, but The Strokes were kings while it lasted. Later albums trended toward Julian Casablancas’s growing infatuation with synthpop, which just don’t compare to the blasé enthusiasm and memorable choruses found on this debut. (That may be unfair to say; a modern Is This It probably wouldn’t have the same impact as it did in 2001—but regardless, this record was perfect for its time.)
Killing Joke – Killing Joke (2003)
Zuma Recordings
Not to be confused with their 1980 self-titled album—which is an entirely different beast—this is Killing Joke’s leap into the post-metal arena hinted at on 1996’s Democracy. A six-year hiatus must have been what Jaz Coleman needed to complete the transition; he brings the crazy as usual, and Dave Grohl throws down hammer-and-guantlet tribal beats as guest-drummer. Killing Joke may be a different-sounding band than they were in the 80s, but their roots are alive, and Coleman seems as confident as ever.
Built To Spill – You In Reverse (2006)
Warner Bros.
You In Reverse is a bit more understated than other Built To Spill albums; Martsch is so on point, so often, there isn’t much time for the quivering, meandering Dinosaur Jr-isms that characterize so many of Built To Spill’s best songs. The guitar solos are still alive—this is Doug Martsch, after all—but they seem to have a more functional purpose here. Sadly, the album cover is incomprehensibly awful.
The Wrens – The Meadowlands (2003)
Absolutely Kosher
The Wrens seem to come and go Salinger-style—armed with something mind-blowing whenever they reappear. I love the dirty-folk feel of this record—a toxic blend of Jersey Turnpike Pollution and maudlin folk-pop (perfect for cool October afternoons). Boozy epics like ‘Everyone Choose Sides‘ and ‘Boys, You Won’t‘ are captivating, transfixing.
Sparklehorse – It’s A Wonderful Life (2001)
[RIP] Mark Linkous delivers the standard amalgam of hyper-surrealist bedroom pop—complete with guest-spots from P.J. Harvey, Tom Waits, Dave Fridmann, et al. Linkous’s already somber music is even more gloomy in retrospect, giving this record a haunting—even disturbing—vibe. The stunning title track is among the best songs Linkous has ever written.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz! (2009)
I wouldn’t say Karen O. has necessarily gotten softer with age, but her recent material is definitely (defiantly?) less abrasive than her art-punk roots would have predicted. With Karen, though, that’s not a bad thing; her Patty Smith-influenced, seXXX-charged vocals are a perfect fit for Nick Zinner’s churning guitar and the band’s newfound taste for new-wavy synth riffs. One of my all-time favorite album covers.
Posted on May 19th, 2010 in Music

100 best albums of the aughts, part 4 (#70-61)

On to part 4 of my 100 best albums of the aughts list.

You can find part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – And This Is Our Music (2003)
Tee Pee Records
Anton reached his zenith a few years before this release, but his remarkable ability to channel his heroes (the Stones, et al.) is still readily apparent here. In addition to typically brilliant BJM tunes (‘When Jokers Attack’), Newcombe delves into a druggy instrumental world, which he further explores on subsequent material.
PJ Harvey – Uh Huh Her (2004)
PJ Harvey brings back the sexy, grungy danger of her early albums, but with it comes a more sophisticated—and daring—sense of songwriting. Uh Huh Her runs the gamut of her strengths, from the Harvey-shrill of ‘Who the Fuck?‘ to the Sade-like quasi-R&B of ‘Shame‘; and of course, that Rodleen-Getsic moan that Harvey is known for. (Also one of my favorite album covers.)
Silversun Pickups – Carnavas (2006)
From the big-muffed guitar fuzz to the Celtic-inspired typeface, Carnavas is a no-holds-barred celebration of [The] Smashing Pumpkins. However, the songwriting has enough originality to leave it at that. A celebration. This record is unquestionably modern; it may wear its inspiration on its sleeve, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Pinback – Blue Screen Life (2001)
Ace Fu Records
I generally prefer the simplistic production of Pinback’s earlier records to the dense, orchestral feel of their recent material, because it gives Rob Crow’s signature guitar lines room to breathe. Crow’s distinct melodic flavor is impossible not to recognize at this point in his career, and Blue Screen Life is an unrivaled showcase of his ability to craft gorgeous vocal harmonies backed by rapid-fire guitar melodies.
Mazarin – We’re Already There (2005)
I and Ear Records
Quentin Stoltzfus’s nasally delivery will remind you of The Walkmen or The Wrens, but Stoltzfus’s music is slightly more charming, if more sad. The entire record contains an almost innate hopelessness. ‘Louise‘, in particular, is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard. That’s not to say the album is riddled in despair, though, because it isn’t; Stoltzfus’s voice gives it a lovely, even endearing quality.
The Magnetic Fields – Distortion (2008)
Nonesuch Records
Stephen Merritt gives his sarcastic (‘Too Drunk to Dream‘), sexualized (‘Three-way‘) songs the Psychocandy treatment; the result is an oddly sunny-sounding record…hollow and distortion-drenched, made whole by Merritt’s distinct baritone. Merritt’s genius is hard to overstate, and Distortion is genius more often than not. (The album cover is regrettable, though, to say the least.)
Band of Horses – Cease to Begin (2007)
Sub Pop
I think this is what I always wished My Morning Jacket sounded like. If such a quality as an Americana Anthem exists, Cease to Begin has it. Ben Bridwell has a gift for writing monster choruses (‘Is There a Ghost‘, ‘Ode to LRC‘, ‘Cigarettes, Wedding Bands‘) that could burn the roof off of any arena. (Bonus points for naming a song after former NBA cult-hero Detlef Schrempf.)

Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005)
Sub Pop
Isaac Brock’s darlings did not disappoint on their highly-anticipated debut. [Dan] Boeckner and Spencer Krug share the same frantic, ambiguous frog-warble (sort of a Canadian-sounding version of Brock), giving standouts like ‘You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son‘ and ‘Grounds For Divorce‘ a punch-packed frenzy that also seems tidily subdued.

Japandroids – Post-Nothing (2009)
Unfamiliar Records
Japandroids (one of my all-time favorite band names) mix Beach-Boy harmonies with lo-fi production and a healthy dose of punk energy to create something…exciting. This lo-fi pop-punk sound is the current vogue in indie rock, and Japandroids are head and shoulders above the rest, thanks to superior songwriting that doesn’t need the lo-fi production to make the songs listenable. More bonus points for one of my favorite album covers.
The Notwist – Neon Golden (2002)
In 20 years, The Notwist have evolved from heavy metal to gloomy indie pop to ego-stroking electronica. Neon Golden marks the period just before the latter. Genre-bending stunners like ‘Pilot‘ and the title track will stick with you for weeks. Stay away from the U.S. release, though, which tacks on three boring and completely forgettable tracks.
Posted on May 12th, 2010 in Music

100 best albums of the aughts, part 3 (#80-71)

On to part 3 of my 100 best albums of the aughts list.

You can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness – Fear Is On Our Side (2006)
Secretly Canadian
Excellent post-hardcore out of Austin, Tx.; Fear is on Our Side feels like the logical progression of what Interpol’s later records should have sounded like. It’s a slow-moving crawl with a striking unease that sounds best on cold, rainy nights. This record hasn’t aged as well I thought it would, but its best songs (‘Lights‘, ‘At Last is All‘) remain powerfully nostalgic for me.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Underground (2007)
Vinyl International
Underground is technically the first entry in Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti series, but was the last—most of his material originally saw only limited release on cassette—to see a widespread release. Pink’s outsider-art tendencies are less blatant here (less fractured, less psychedelic/insane), but the songs are still unabashedly lo-fi, and definitely among his best.

Juno – A Future Lived In Past Tense (2001)
DeSoto Records
A Future Lived In Past Tense delicately balances the line between gorgeous post-rock and furious post-punk; encompassing mammoth crescendos, shimmering guitar lines and even some traces of early emo. ‘Up Through the Night‘ sounds suspiciously like the Twin Peaks theme, though not in any way related to it. Juno (now defunct) had such an amazing ability to combine aggression with tenderness…that this record maintains a tremendous sense of urgency almost a decade later.

Tom Vek – We Have Sound (2005)
Go! Beat Records
The abrasive production on We Have Sound is among my all-time favorites—with nods to 70s protopunk (Richard Hell, Television, Suicide), and early-80s post-punk (Public Image Ltd., Talking Heads). It’s brash, melodic and entirely in the wrong time period. Still, as out-of-place as this record sounds in the 2000s, something gives it a semblance of modernity amidst its throwback vibe.
Benoît Pioulard – Précis (2006)
Précis is one of the most haunting, graceful albums I have ever heard. Pioulard draws on his history of field recording to add touches of ambiance and atmospheric electronics to every available note and passage. Between stunning breathtakers like ‘Ext. Leslie Park‘ and ‘Palimend‘, he inserts found-sounding segues that could moonlight in a Gus Van Sant film.
BOAT – Let’s Drag Our Feet (2007)
Magic Marker
BOAT interweaves Pavement-at-a-carnival vocals with frequent trips to falsetto-land; melodies and choruses enter and exit like 6th- or 7th-grade girlfriends; songs-within-songs abruptly change time and switch tempo…yet, the record flows flawlessly. Let’s Drag Our Feet is a post-Pavement record brilliantly updated for the new millennium.
65daysofstatic – The Fall of math (2004)
Since this release, 65dos has sadly gone the way of more conventional post-rock, but this album still destroys everything in its wake. The pulsating, mechanized drums and apocalyptic melodies give it a fevered intensity somewhere between Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music and Explosions in the Sky. There’s just no bullshit here—the songs are short and to the point (in post-rock terms), with no extraneous detail to diminish their strength(s).

The Distillers – Coral Fang (2003)
Another album that I now unfairly undermine due to lackluster later material (Brody Dalle’s awful subsequent band, Spinnerette). Dalle’s guttural punk vocals are effortless and fiery-intense—a quality Courtney Love has been trying to recapture for over a decade now. I more-than-loved this record when it was released, and it still maintains a strong emotional attachment.
Engine Down – Demure (2002)
Lovitt Records
Engine Down was and still remains one of the more underrated bands in recent memory. Keeley Davis [one of my favorite musicians working right now] is the king of minor chords and dissonant melodies, and Demure is no exception—Davis’s harmonies are as instantaneously recognizable and fervent as ever. Demure has more in common with the understated zeal of Denali than Engine Down’s ensuing self-titled magnum opus, but it’s an absolutely necessary listen regardless.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – The Doldrums (2004)
Paw Tracks
The first of Pink’s records released on Paw Tracks, The Doldrums is fragmented; [possibly] insane; sporadically brilliant, weird, and oftentimes both. (Think kaleidoscopic GBV melodies tagged with LSD and doused in Valium.) I came late to the Pink party, but after listening to all of his proper records, this stands out at the top.
Posted on May 12th, 2010 in Music

100 best albums of the aughts, part 2 (#90-81)

On to part 2 of my 100 best albums of the aughts list.

You can find part 1 here

Handsome Furs – Face Control (2009)
Sub Pop
Handsome Furs sound like a post-punk version of Wolf Parade. Face Control is even more instrumentally bare than its predecessor, and that’s a good thing. (Dan Boeckner’s songwriting is so strong, it doesn’t need added frills.) This record brings to mind vintage 80s post-punk (particularly The Sound’s From the Lion’s Mouth—one of the most overlooked albums of the 80s.).
Weezer – The Green Album (2001)
The Green Album has been unfairly criticized for not rehashing the reference-laden, blissful distortion of The Blue Album nor the Albini-esque bite and emotional openness of Pinkerton. That criticism is entirely unwarranted in my opinion—this record is as catchy as Weezer has ever been. It may be somewhat bland lyrically, but, it’s Weezer! Minus a few witty references and some irony and sarcasm, this is quintessential Weezer. Fittingly, the night after I wrote this, I got into an argument with a dude at a bar who said everything post-Pinkerton sucked. Wrong.
Spoon – Gimme Fiction (2005)
Gimme Fiction is prototypical Spoon; as groove-laden as ever, poppy, subtly hypnotizing, and damned enjoyable. Britt Daniels’ voice (and delivery) is especially engrossing; when added to his rhythmic jazz- and reggae-influenced guitarplay, it becomes downright intoxicating. Gimme Fiction is not Spoon’s best, but it is far from their worst.
Bear In Heaven – Beast Rest Forth Mouth (2009)
Bear In Heaven combine bits of psychedelia and electronica with colossal, shoegazey choruses. Parts of Beast Rest Forth Mouth hint at MBV, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin—at times even bringing to mind Brian Eno. Don’t let that confuse you, though; this album is quite cohesive and sounds distinctly “new”.

The Draft – In a Million Pieces (2006)
The Draft is basically Hot Water Music sans-Chuck Ragan. But, as much as I love Ragan, I’ve never been able to dive too deeply into Hot Water Music. Admittedly, it’s probably heresy to acknowledge, but I prefer this over the band’s Ragan-fronted era (similarly, I prefer the post-Danzig Misfits). In a Million Pieces is in no way revolutionary, but it’s a solid, well-written and anthemic record.
Against Me! – As the Eternal Cowboy (2003)
Fat Wreck Chords
Against Me’s lackluster, overproduced recent material has unfortunately clouded my opinion of their earlier work. I say unfortunate because whenever I go back and listen, I remember that this is an outstanding folk-punk (punktry?) record with no immediate weaknesses. I also love the ridiculously clever song title, ‘Cliche Guevara‘.

Deftones – White Pony (2000)
I still remember staying up all night and leaving early to buy all three versions of White Pony on the day of its release; it was (and still remains) Deftones’ most ambitious record. Chino’s vocal stylings are as schizophrenically divine as ever, and his lyrics are typically fragmented and ambiguous (both good things). It really is too bad Deftones got lumped into the unfavorable (and ill-fitting) “nu-metal” genre.
Deerhunter – Microcastle (2008)
The difference between Deerhunter and Atlas Sound is pretty negligible to me. (Deerhunter has slightly less ambiance, I suppose.) Regardless, Bradford Cox’s fingerprints are all over this; his best songs (‘Nothing Ever Happened‘, ‘Never Stops‘) are absolutely dripping with layered melodies. (Play them loud!) Bonus points for one of my favorite album covers.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell (2003)
Probably the most noticeable aspect of Fever to Tell (with YYY’s recent albums as context) is its simplistic, raw (mids, mids and more mids!) production. Karen O’s art diva cachet was already oozing through the seams, though, and accordingly, several classics (‘Rich‘, Maps‘, ‘Pin‘) and probably the most underrated song in YYY’s catalogue (‘Y Control‘) will keep this record from being forgotten.
Local H – Twelve Angry Months (2008)
Shout! Factory
A concept album about a 12-month breakup written by Local H? Yes, please. As usual, Scott Lucas’s lyrics are biting, snarky and brilliant. (“Give me my Zeppelin CDs you know you took them I know you did/Where’s my Pretenders record you know the one the one with ‘Kid‘/Wheres all my AC/DCs my Interpol my Libertines/Where’s all my Kyuss records you never liked them untill you met me“) Mix that with Local H’s typically thunderous riffs and an hair-raising, climactic 8-minute closer, and you have an outstanding record.
Posted on May 11th, 2010 in Music

100 best albums of the aughts, part 1 (#100-91)

I was recently inspired by my friend to make a list featuring the top 100 albums of the aughts. You knew I would instantly have to make my own, right?

Thus! The following albums are my favorites from the year 2000-09. There are a few caveats; namely:

– This list is not meant to be academic! Importance; or significance; or otherwise albums that I am “supposed” to like do not mean added/weighted rank. Instead, I focused just on how much I alone adore them—like, by myself. You know? So you will probably notice some glaring omissions. (As much as I appreciate Animal Collective and The National, I just don’t find myself listening to them very often.)

– These were HARD(!) to rank. The albums at the top of the list are all basically perfect, but you could still probably make a convincing argument on reordering several of the top choices and I’d have a tough time refuting.

– No EPs allowed. No remixes either. Just regular-ol’ long-play goodness.

– There are no albums from 2010. The year is not done, sillies!

– I also found a ton of albums that I had completely forgotten about. That is always awesome.

On to the list(!!!) ( !!! is not on the list). #100 through 91:

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (2005)
It seems like ages ago when Blognation erupted in flames over this album. I still enjoy it, but not quite as much as when it first came out. (Neo-David Byrnian vocals seem oddly placatory in 2010.) ‘Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood‘ remains an ridiculous anthemic closer that will overtake your soul, though.
Ambulance Ltd. – LP (2004)
TVT Records
Ambulance LTD is like Yo La Tengo Lite. This LP (aptly named … LP) takes a tour of indie rock’s guitar-centric past but transcends it with ridiculously catchy choruses (‘Anecdote‘) and hints of Lou Reed (‘Primitive‘). ‘Heavy Lifting‘ is the song that originally put me in the Ambulance, but the rest of the album begins to reveal itself after more listens as well.
Vincent Gallo – When (2001)
Warp Records
Vincent Gallo has always been polarizing and narcissistic, but he’s also damn talented; and he always seems to be at the forefront of art culture—notably, playing in a band with an uknown Jean-Michel Basquiat in the early 80s. Gallo’s voice is surprisingly gentle (his dad was also a singer), and these songs are charming and delicate; similar to the tracks he composed for the Buffalo ’66 soundtrack, but more fully realized.
Atlas Sound – Logos (2009)
Kranky Records
Bradford Cox is one of indie rock’s more prolific musicians right now; but surprisingly Logos was his only release in 2009. The album features guest spots from Noah Lennox and Laetitia Sadier, both of whom fit in nicely with Cox’s vision. Bradford’s penchant for dreamy, trance-like melodies is manifest beautifully.
Liars – Liars (2007)
Mute Records
The very nature of what makes Liars great is also what prevents me from listening to their records as much as I’d like; that is, the deconstructionist, No Wave vibe so present in their music. Liars dangle hooks like bait only to pull them away at the last second. The songs on this album are slightly more accessible (eg. ‘Sailing in Byzantium‘) than some of their others, but it’s a challenging (and rewarding) album nonetheless.
Local H – Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles? (2004)
Studio E Records
Local H combine witty lyrics (I particularly love the wry cynicism of ‘California Songs‘) and rock-your-ass-off riffs to make a two-person band sound twice as big. They also know when to hold the punches, though. The 10-minute quasi-ballad ‘Buffalo Trace‘ seems to meander aimlessly before ultimately turning on the shred for a Through The Fire And Flamesesque outro.
Primal Scream – Evil Heat (2002)
I prefer the darker, machine-like tone of Primal Scream’s later material to the more critically acclaimed dub-influenced psychedelia of their earlier records. ‘Rise‘ was apparently originally titled ‘Bomb the Pentagon‘, but was changed after the 9/11 attacks, which I think is kind of idiotic—why are you writing a song called Bomb the Pentagon if you don’t mean it?
The Life and Times – Suburban Hymns (2005)
De Soto Records
Allen Eppley expands on his work with Shiner—more hooks, more layers, less math rock; however, his thick, smoky vocals remain. Eppley has always excelled at writing melodies, but this album ups the ante, especially on its excursions into dreamy, post-shoegaze balladry (e.g., ‘Muscle Cars‘).
Phoenix – It’s Never Been Like That (2006)
I’m not as high on Phoenix as some, but they definitely have their place in my listening repertoire. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix solidified their jump from cult heroes to legitimate indie stars, but I actually prefer this album—it’s slightly sexier; and if you have ever seen these dudes’ dress, you know just how sexy they can be.
Grandaddy – Sumday (2003)
Sumday isn’t as instantly memorable as other Grandaddy albums, but it’s a great record in its own right. Strangely, despite the wintry album cover, hopeless song titles (e.g., ‘Saddest Vacant Lot in all the World‘) and typically isolationist lyrics, Sumday just doesn’t sound as depressing as Jason Lytle can often be. (There’s a glimmer of hope here.)
Posted on January 2nd, 2009 in Music,Year End

Top 25 albums of 2008

2008 kind of sucked for music. there were just a few utterly amazing records, and really only 20-25 good ones. i didn’t feel too terrible about any of those that didn’t make it on the list. BUT, here are my favorites anyway.

Portugal. The Man – Censored Colors
Equal Vision
Portugal. The Man’s brief history is already quite inconsistent. Their brilliant debut was followed by an amazing EP, which was followed by a starkly disappointing full-length just a few months later. Which was followed by this—possibly their most consisent record (whether that’s good or bad i’m still not sure). Still, Censored Colors more or less flows from beginning to end, albeit without the highs of their first album or the lows of their second.
Beck – Modern Guilt
Possibly Beck’s most cohesive record to date, Modern Guilt is drenched in sublime melodies and sunny rhythms and sing-along choruses. Beck doesn’t rely on his chameleon-like musical ability as much as he has in the past, and as a result the album flows seamlessly from beginning to end.
The Faint – Fasciination
Fasciinatiion moves away from the orchestral direction of Wet From Birth and back to the machinistic vitality of The Faint’s earlier records. Unfortunately it falls short in its attempts to revisit the deceptively simple melodies and hooks of those efforts. A solid album, but we have come to expect much more from them at this point.
The Black Angels – Directions to See a Ghost
Light in the Attic
The Black Angels’ second full-length harkens back to the 60s even moreso than their first, resulting in an undeniably amazing trip through a dreamed-up-decade of faux Vietnams and LSD and Woodstocks. Yet, as much flower-power decade nostalgia The Black Angels possess, they still manage to sound simultaneously modern, which gives them resonance and reason to look back on the past and recreate it on their terms.
No Age – Nouns
Sub Pop
Nouns picks up where the highly acclaimed Weirdo Rippers left of — bursting with fuzzed-out guitars, abrasive melodies and barely audible vocals. Yet, buried underneath the layers and layers of noise and dissonance are sugar-coated hooks on par with some of the best indie pop bands around, which gives this record a disarming warmth.
MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
MGMT’s first full-length is a sort of savvy melangé of vintage Bowie and late Flaming Lips — juxtaposing sunny psychedelia with dancey anthems that compliment eachother beautifully by turning keyboards into acid flashbacks and acid flashbacks into dancefloor epidemics.
Tall Firs – Too Old To Die Young
Ecstatic Peace!
Too Old To Die Young meanders and stumbles through muddy melodies and half-drunk confessionals that are equally intrinsic and calming and sad and accepting of themselves. Dave Mies’ fatalistic vocals seem both at peace and self aware — melding perfectly with the band’s intricate guitar arrangements; brooding softly and peacefully, like a moon, setting in the sun’s sky.
Colour Revolt – Plunder, Beg, and Curse
Fat Possum
Colour Revolt’s first full-length tones down the raw, abrasive attitude found on their EP in favor of a muddier, introspective tone — lending the record a mature, slow-paced drawl that snakes around like a dirty southern creek littered with weeds and leeches. Yet, this subtle shift in songwriting enhances the band’s strengths even moreso, resulting in a strong record that reveals more of its secrets with each successive listen.
The Dandy Warhols – …Earth to the Dandy Warhols…
Beat The World
The Dandies’ tongues are firmly in cheek and their middle fingers raised high on their latest record — their trademark sarcasm and wit as good as ever. Such snide megalomania is what makes this band successful and they’ve come close to perfecting it here, with an album that brilliantly blends the hooks and neo-psychedelia of their early work with the fuck-you-i’m-better-than-you attitude they’ve spent so many years cultivating.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre – My Bloody Underground
A Records
Eccentric madman Anton Newcombe’s first album in four years is a hallucinogenic journey through the mind of the mentally insane. Most of the tracks found here are much less songs than strange, meandering collections of ambience: brain synapses, otherwordly anthems, mistake-ridden solecisms and druggy psychedelia. My Bloody Underground is neurotic and restless and moody and brilliant.
The Magnetic Fields – Distortion
Stephin Merritt’s latest thematic undertaking is drenched in reverb — brilliantly accentuating Shirley Simms’ sugary vocals, which in turn act as delicious adversaries to Merritt’s deep, miserablist delivery. Merritt’s arrangements are melodic and sunny as ever, lending Distortion a sort of strange happy-but-sad temper that feeds off its own simplistic beauty.
Health – Disco
Lovepump United
Disco brilliantly blends Health’s noise-rock melodies with tumultuous beats and grinding synths that cycle in and out of focus while simultaneously stomping heads and making love. Each mix is unique and interesting, never boring, giving the record a linear feel that darkly (and murderously) straddles the line between man and machine.
The Dodos – Visiter
Essentially The Dodos’ third album, Visiter furthers the delicate guitarplay of Meric Long, dueling splendidly harmonic vocal melodies, slightly dissonant interludes and Long’s penchant for driving (almost tribal) rhythms that appear and disappear and reappear throughout the record’s (grimy? possibly) entirety.
Foals – Antidotes
Sub Pop
Foals utilize myriad influences (everything from the madchester sounds of The Stone Roses to the current neo no-wave of New Young Pony Club), creating a dichotomy of cool — a mature, multicultural sound that staccatos along at a deliberately slow pace and still feels fevered and energetic; kind of like the assured international shitstorm of a U.S. oil spill near the Russian border.
Murder By Death – Red of Tooth and Claw
Murder By Death’s fourth full-length is a soulful deathride through tumbleweeds and deserts and ghost towns, characterized by cryptic string arrangements and haunting passages that brilliantly accentuate Adam Turla’s deep, guttural vocals.
Kings of Leon – Only By the Night
Only By the Night takes Kings of Leon’s despondent southern rock to new, anthemic heights that are draped in a polished sheen not found on their previous work. Still, it works — providing the songs a glisten and shimmer that brings to the forefront the melodies that were often dirtied and muddied in the past.
Local H – 12 Angry Months
Shout! Factory
A concept album about breakups, this record perfectly encapsulates the withered energy required to sustain a useless and fruitless relationship. Musically, the band moves forward where P.J. Soles left off — at times willing to bare some vulnerability while still maintaining the thunderous power of past releases. As usual, Scott Lucas’s lyrics are witty and on point and smothered in a backdrop of pummeling, skullcrushing rhythmic passages.
Black Francis – Svn Fngrs
Cooking Vinyl
This mini-album from Frank Black is easily his best work since Teenager of the Year. Svn Fngrs is loaded with explosive riffs and supercharged dynamics — topped off with delicious, dripping melodies reminiscent of his prolific early-90s work.
Islands – Arm’s Way
Islands’ second full-length finds the band coming into their own as a band with an actual voice instead of just a post-Unicorns project. Arm’s Way is significantly darker than its predecessors, but it’s dark in that sort of way that makes you kind of want to just solitarily confine yourself while you listen to your own insanity and dance happily and think about murdering past lovers and then dance some more.
The Kills – Midnight Boom
The Kills’ latest is as raw and catchy as ever. VV’s vocals are spot on, with a heavy reliance on melodic PJ Harvey-styled causticity. Conversely, the mellow moments add a delicate, complimentary flavor to the edgy mood that surrounds.
Auxes – Sunshine
Former Milemarker Dave Laney’s new project is a stunning amalgam of corrosive melodies and spastic dynamics that come together like the offspring of some kind of Tom Waits-meets-At the Drive in mutation. Abrasive and beguiling and raw, and ultimately brilliant.
Thinking Machines – A Complete Record of Urban Archaeology
This Philadelphia trio’s third full-length is an exclamatory blend of post-punk dynamism and melodic discord that seamlessly connects to its roots but never denies its willingness to explore new sonic territory.
Pidgeon – Might as Well Go Eat Worms
Absolutely Kosher
Criminally underrated Pidgeon’s sophomore album takes more chances than its predecessor — consistently bait-and-switching the tempo; switching songs in the middle of songs; filling melodic passages with delightfully ear-splitting screams while simultaneously adding even more melody. Might As Well Go Eat Worms is a Pixies album on crack — taking extremes to the extreme all while brilliantly coalescing into one amazingly beautiful godlike sound.
Witch Hats – Cellulite Soul
Witch Hats first full-length continues the no-holds-barred, thunderous direction hinted at on their EP. Kris Buscombe’s rasping vocals perfectly match the band’s grungy, Nirvana-influenced palate, while the surrounding noise gives the record a fevered, frantic tone, creating a sort of catastrophic sounding cacophony of beautiful noise.
Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
Last Gang
Crystal Castles’ long awaited full-length is smothered in 8-bit terror and synthy aural candy and out-of-this-world vocal manipulation and otherwise pure insanity. The new tracks stay true to the band’s renowned nightmare-freakscapes while adding an even more dancable vibe, creating a blistering fusion of intensity and melody.
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