BETS EP – Rooftop Lover

Just checking out this new EP by BETS, and it’s a set of four sweet tracks that are all built around her languid, sultry voice.  Rooftop Lover is definitely my favorite, with its loungy organ in the background and the playfully melancholy story of a pretty girl all dressed up and with nowhere to go.

Check out the video here:

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Dirty Projectors – Swing Low Magellan

Dirty Projectors Swing Low Magellan (July 10, 2012 Domino Records)

Right out the gate, I’m loving this new release from Dirty Projectors.  “Offspring are blank” sways from a drippy beat clap underneath the telltale harmonies I love so much, to a noisy guitar, and then back.  Then “About to Die” with its crazy warped off-beat drumming, sounding like a record being slowed, then suddenly breaking into sweet melodies.  The rest of the album swings around the musical spectrum, hitting soft acoustic notes, smoky jazz moments, and back to noisy electric guitar.  I guess that’s how I’d characterize this one…it’s a group of somewhat diverse sounds that work really well together.

After Mount Wittenberg Orca with Bjork, I wasn’t sure where these guys could go that would continue to make me happy, but they managed to do it.  Love it!  And they’re coming to the Fox Theater on 7/27/12!

Dirty Projectors – Swing Low Magellan Jul13

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The End of an Era…

This edition of “how many records can be reviewed with as little words as possible” will sadly, be the last for me of this specific type. I’m channeling my energies into something slightly different; this whole trying-to-keep-abreast-of-new-releases thing is pretty freaking exhausting. The entire site is slated to undergo a change, so the morphing of my writing has been a long time coming. Further ado? I think not…

Meanderthals – Desire Lines (Smalltown Supersound; 5/12)

meanderthalsBased on the main components of Meanderthals (an electronic-based outfit; Two English dudes and a Norwegian guy) I’d say before even listening that it’s a recipe for disaster, but surprisingly it’s quite good. Using steel drums, tablas, growling basses- employing some different sounds than what I’m accustomed to hearing in electronic music (and while they may be made on synths) they sound organic. I can remember (vaguely) eating lots of ecstasy at the latter part of the nineties and listening to this Ibiza-chillout music early in the morning as it’s more or less “wearing off”- this is what that’s like (and probably what’s causing the warm feeling in my spine as I listen to it). Conventional wisdom would say this isn’t a great record, but nostalgia is winning out here. 7/10

Finding Fiction – Idaho By The Sea (self-released; 6/2)

finding_fiction“I know the bass player, man…” Whenever I hear people say that about a band I’m always like, “dude, go fuck yourself…” But I really do know the bass player in Finding Fiction, so- I’m one of those guys (tell me to go fuck myself next time you see me). Bassist Tim Farr, along with Mario Santana (vocals and guitar), Scott Eisenberg (drums/percussion) and Josh Coleman (guitar) craft a melodic brand of indie rock that’s short on irony and long on sincerity; which is a good thing- all too often the indie landscape is cluttered with bands that hide their weak chops behind a wall of insincere poseurism. Finding Fiction is refreshing in that they don’t have to hide behind that shit- wearing a huge heart on their sleeve and being proud of it; reveling in authenticity while displaying mastery of their respective instruments. Be that as it may, Idaho By The Sea is a by-the-numbers-indie-rock record; meaning that it’s merely a good album, but the elements are all there for FF to make us a great rock record in the future (based on the three exceptional tracks Time Of Day, Home and I’ll Buy). 7/10

Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue (Warp; 6/22)

ambivalenceThis is probably the best electronic album to come out this year; actually- it’s probably the best to come out in the last few. Bibio is Stephen Wilkinson and you’re about to hear him everywhere (from Toyota commercials to LL Bean), going down the Moby route to riches. Drawing heavily on influences like Boards Of Canada (the most obvious), Paavoharju (for his oblique take on electro/trad-folk) and steel guitar aficionados (he’s a pretty accomplished player in that department), he’s made a really beautiful record- situated halfway between the psychedelic folk of Nick Drake, the stunted beats of Kruder & Dorfmeister and the dark sound of Portishead‘s Adrian Utley & Geoff Barrow. Mixing folk with ambient electronica shouldn’t work; but on Bibio‘s Ambivalence Avenue it does to great success. 9/10

Jonsi & Alex – Riceboy Sleeps (Parlophone; 7/20)

riceboyIf you’re someone who likes ambient string-based music, then you’ll probably say this record’s near perfect. If you like hooky, short structured pop songs; you’ll probably hate this. I’m somewhere in the middle of those two statements, so in effect they sort of cancel each other out- I can sit for long-ass stretches of time just listening, or my ADD can get into hyperdrive where I don’t even finish songs (clicking >> over and over…). Since Jonsi is the mastermind behind Sigur Ros (and I think all of their albums are supremely awesome) I was pretty excited to hear what this side project was all about; it’s basically him, his boyfriend (visual artist Alex Somers) and the four lovely ladies from Amiina (who provide almost all the string work for Sigur Ros‘ recorded output). It’s as pretty a piece of music you’ll find all year (rivaling both MountainsChoral and OAE‘s self-titled debut)- that is if you can sit for 67 minutes just listening; this isn’t “car ride” music or biking to the store tunes, it’s “active” listening music- file under “headphone/eyes closed” music (for lack of a better term). 8/10

Imogen Heap – Ellipse (Megaphonic; 8/24)

imogenMan, the chick from Frou Frou has really come a long way- even though she did her first solo album before that collaboration; that’s the one that introduced the world to Miss Heap, so for all intents and purposes we can say that’s where we first know her from. So let’s thank (or smirk, or roll our eyes at) Zach Braff for including Frou Frou on that Garden State Soundtrack. In fact, that’s pretty much where Imogen’s music plays best at- apparently she’s had tracks featured on The O.C. (I’ve never seen it, was it a good show?) so that’s firmly entrenched in my mind as I listen to her newest. Basically, I’m listening to the background music when the two main characters on Grey’s Anatomy finally kiss (unless they already did, then I guess it’s suitable for two lesser characters to make out to one of these tracks; maybe the single First Train Home, or the track Swoon, it doesn’t matter because these songs are all very similar…) Either way, Miss Heap‘s pigeonholed her music into the whole “coffee-shop-and-sweaters-let’s-watch-One-Tree-Hill-together” set, which will probably sell her a ton of records. Good for you! 5/10

Datarock – Red (Young Aspiring Professionals; 9/1)

datarock-redNorwegian electro-rock duo known for the awesome songs Fa-Fa-Fa and Princess from 2005’s Datarock Datarock– here on Red there’s less electro and more rock; the songs work more cohesively as a full album. That being said, Datarock is still doing it Datarock style- which is to say: tongue-in-cheek lyrics, synth-driven explorations, pounding drums (both live and machinated) and clean guitar riffs. If these guys had a TV show everyone would be all “Flight Of The who…?” because these guys write funnier songs (their overall, self-deprecating vibe plays much better over the funky, disco-punk thing) and are much better musicians (plus the fact they’re Scandanavian; catchy hooks are written somehow into their DNA coding). Comparisons aside; the whole nerds-with-guitars-and-Pro-Tools thing is pretty rad; even if your biggest shows are to SXSW crowds you’re still rock stars, albeit not in the traditional piles-of-coke-with-groupies-on-the-tour-bus way. If there was ever a sequel to the awesome 80s BMX movie Rad, please have Datarock do the soundtrack. 8/10

Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation; 9/8)

blueprint_3I’m going to do something that I usually don’t do as a review; a track-by-track “running” review of Jay‘s Blueprint 3. So, as it goes-

Song 1; What We Talkin’ About (with Luke Steele): kinda cheesy, I mean; it’s the dude from Empire Of The Sun on backing vocals over a synthy track that doesn’t work as an album opener at all. 3/10.

Next; Thank You: awful; that vocal hook is terrible. The music itself is more representative of what Jay‘s all about, but still- that weak attempt at a hook is so detracting: 5/10.

D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune): finally a Jay-Z track, dismissing the use of auto-tune (hopefully this will effectively sound the death knell of that terrible T-Pain et. al…) 7/10.

Run This Town (featuring Rihanna & Kanye West): one of the year’s best tracks, everything Rihanna touches turns to gold. And Kanye; at first I hated his verse, but it’s grown on me (and after his Taylor Swift debacle it’s more and more obvious the man is seriously crazy, as is his dis of his own fans on this track: “whatchu think I rap for? / to push a fuckin’ Rav-4?” I mean, really? About 90% of your fans push something similar to a Rav-4 and that’s how it is? You’re a sick fuck, Ye…) Jay kills; it’s a classic. Anyway; this is a great song, so here’s a 10/10.

Empire State Of Mind (feat. Alicia Keys): another nice track, the same can be said about the peerless Miss Keys as I said previously about Rihanna; now that’s a fucking vocal hook- you got me with this one (production from Al Shux is super tight as well, reminiscent of “that ole Jig rhythm“…) 9/10.

Real As It Gets (with Young Jeezy): meh. Filler material. Jeezy can’t flow like Jay, he slows the momentum with his southern version of DMX‘s style- he’s just a weak rapper, why would you feature him, Jay? And the backing track isn’t anything special. 4/10.

On To The Next One (feat. Swizz Beatz): again; blase blah. Swizz sucks, always has- I just went through his production credits; he’s got nothing. Nothing, yet the man has tons of work. I must be out of my mind. Anyway; this whole track is just awful. Pure shit. 1/10

Off That (feat. Drake): three weak-ass tracks in a row; oh, how Jay has fallen. Drake blows. This record is strating to make me angry; it’s really just sub-par to mediocre guest after guest (with the exception of Rihanna & Alicia Keys every collaboration is a head-scratching WTF moment). Yo Jay, your boy Drake need to shut the fuck up. 3/10

A Star Is Born (feat. J. Cole): not a bad track; not a great track. J. Cole is alright; the track is so-so, what makes this song decent is Jay‘s roll-call and shout outs to all the NY rappers over the years; he gives his props where props are due. Much respect. 7/10.

Venus vs. Mars (feat. Cassie): awful. Again, more shit piled on top of more shit doesn’t hide all the shit underneath. 2/10.

Already Home (feat. Kid Cudi): Kanye should stick to what Kanye‘s best at: PRODUCING. This is a really tight track; unfortunately (again) an awful vocal hook by Cudi ruins what could’ve been a great song, and one thing this album needs is great songs because all I’m hearing is shit. Slightly above average, 6/10.

Hate (ft. Kanye West): I don’t know why I like the vocals in this song, they’re both playing back-and-forth, kinda jokey and corny but for some reason I’m digging it. Uh oh, this must be “pity”. I’m feeling sorry for Jay (after all, Reasonable Doubt & The Blueprint are two of the best hip-hop albums of all time) and who doesn’t both hate and pity Ye these days? Damn, they getting points from pity… 7/10

Reminder: this is only the third track from B3 that doesn’t feature help from anyone; it’s a somewhat decent* Timbaland-by-numbers leftover that probably got nixed from either the last Missy Elliot or Nelly Furtado record. I can see Jay calling Tim: “Yo, you got anything for my Blueprint 3 coming up?” Tim: “Oh-oh, uh, yeah I got a brand new track I been working on…” right after Missy was all, “Tim, this sounds like 2001 all over again, I ain’t gonna use you on my next record.” Because this song just reeks of estrogen. * – somewhat decent = just average: 5/10.

So Ambitious (ft. Pharrell): yeah, this doesn’t work for me either. Remember that Pharrell/Jay-Z collab from 2003, Frontin’? That was the best song that year. I guess lightning only strikes once, fellas… 3/10.

Young Forever (ft. Mr Hudson): this song appeals to me because 1) it’s basically a hip-hop version of Alphaville‘s Forever Young; 2) Jay saying (reluctantly) good-bye to his youth; and 3) Kanye does a great job on the track, again; this is just another reason why he needs to stick to PRODUCING and just SHUT THE FUCK UP. 9/10.

So, in summation: 81 total points divided by 15 songs equals 5.4 overall. I’m basically seeing a trend with Jay-Z‘s work this decade; every OTHER album is great, the ones in between are pretty much shit. Case in point: The Blueprint (almost perfect), followed by the crap-tastic Blueprint 2, then coming back with a game changer like The Black Album (again; near perfect record), then the “comeback” record Kingdom Come (I listened to it once and deleted it off my hard drive; it’s that bad- the fucking Coldplay guy is on it for fuck’s sake) followed by his “real” comeback album American Gangster (not a “soundtrack” album per se, more of a concept album based on the movie; it’s some real gangster shit yo). Now here’s the instantly forgettable (musically regrettable) Blueprint 3. Do yourself a favor; skip this, skip every other Jay-Z record. On a good note, conventional wisdom dictates that Jay‘s next album is going to be awesome, though… 5.4

Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II (Ice H2O; 9/8)

raekwonOf the two most anticipated hip-hop releases this year (both released on the same day), guess which one is better? No brainer; obviously The Chef‘s is gonna be the tighter of the two- whenever an album has Ghostface Killah on it, along with an absolute all-star production staff (that beef between Rae & the RZA has been squashed over the production of 8 Diagrams– more on this squabble later…) Tracks by Dilla, Pete Rock, Marley Marl, Erick Sermon, The Alchemist, Dr. Dre and Mathematics, guest verses a-plenty from Tony Starks, Inspectah Deck, Meth, RZA, GZA, Masta Killa, Jadakiss, Busta Rhymes, Beanie Sigel & Slick Rick. How could this album not be completely awesome? Four years in the making, label changes, beefs arise and beefs quashed, it’s the best hip-hop album of the year, a title previously held by both DOOM and Mos Def’s terrific records from earlier in ’09. So many standout tracks- House of Flying Daggers, Cold Outside, Black Mozart, Gihad, Penitentiary, Surgical Gloves, 10 Bricks, the ODB-tribute Ason Jones and contender for track of the year New Wu (with Ghost & Meth, produced by Bobby Dig) which revisits the classic Wu style of yesteryear. Even if i give this record a ten, that only makes it twice as good as Jay-Z’s, when in actuality it’s 4 to 5 times better. 10/10

More on the rift between Rae & RZA- Chef thought the beats and production for the last few Wu records wasn’t up to par, so he took away the full production credits from Rizz for this record, basically giving tracks to whoever would do them. Apparently RZA has hundreds upon hundreds of tracks just “sitting around” and didn’t want to give up his best stuff, instead saving it for the next full Wu-Tang record (which is fair). You may have heard that Rae, Ghost & Meth are doing an album together- so what’s up with the future of the Wu? Stay Tuned…

Not Necessarily New – November

bbBowerbirds – Upper Air (Dead Oceans, 2009)

So this is rather new, but NNN doesn’t preclude new music. Bowerbirds may be quickly rising as one of my favorite folky bands. I found them, as I often find new music, listening to Pitchfork’s Forkcast. I just have it on in the background while I work, but when something makes me stop and say “what the hell is this great shit,” I put down what I’m doing and check it out. I did this when I heard the track “Northern Light” off Upper Air, which is Bowerbirds second album. They made a name for themselves touring with The Mountain Goats, and I can see how they’d fit perfectly with John Darnielle. This is an incredibly sweet album, featuring the tender voices of Phil Moore and Beth Tacular. It’s quiet and a bit melancholy, much in the same way that Elvis Perkins’ Ash Wednesday was, but without all the wrenching pathos. In particular Silver Clouds, Northern Lights, and House of Diamonds hooked me.

Bower Birds


caribouCarribou – Andorra (21 August 2007) – Polaris Prize Winner 2008

Daniel Victor Snaith

I first heard Carribou on PitchforkTV (a live version of “After Hours” below), and I found myself returning to the video over and over again. There was just something about the energy of Daniel Snaith and some other dude who’s name I can’t find drumming head to head (and not in some lame jam band way) that captivated me. Tracks on Andorra like After Hours and Melody Day feel like they’re reaching back into the 60’s, characterized by a lot of high-energy melodies coupled with whispery, almost ethereal lyrics. Having just re-read that sentence I think I would have passed if I hadn’t heard them, but check it out cause it really works:




zk1cnZoe Keating – One Cello x 16 (Self Released 2004), One Cello x 16: Natoma (Self Released 2005)

The thick, moody sound of the cello has always been something that I’ve loved, but oddly enough, not something I’ve sought out. It’s just not an instrument I think about that much. So when someone introduced me to Zoe Keating, it was one of those unexpected boons to my ears. One Cello x 16 and One Cello x 16: Natoma both feature Keating alone with her cello, and she uses a lot of sampling and repetition to give her music a rich and layered texture. She employs sounds I’d expect from a cello (long, drawn out melodious moans), but also unexpected sounds as well (choppy, discordant, almost screeching sounds), and she mixes them together into an emotional pattern that, to me, can evoke pretty big emotions. Whenever I have it on, I feel like I’m sinking, or being drawn into it like quicksand. It’s the kind of ambient music that feels like a narrative in the sense that you feel like you’re being immersed into a different world like you might in a story. Listening to Zoe Keating is a wonderful experience, and it reminded me a lot of Rachel’s, which I’m now revisiting because of her. Below I’ve linked to two of my favorites, so check her out.

Zoe Keating


tvTiny Vipers – Tiny Vipers (EP 2007 re-release Luckyhorse Industries)

Tiny Vipers is Jesy Fortino and her guitar, and from the minute I heard her voice I totally fell in love with her. She has this haunting, scratchy voice that she seems to be pressing into an urgent appeal in every song. Listening to “They Might Follow You,” I always find myself leaning forward, straining to hear what she’s saying, shaking my head each time trying to figure out why the song ends with a clip of Arriana Huffington talking about Bill Clinton’s election in ‘92. Why Jesy, WHY? Couple these poetic voices with her lone guitar, the music swims from a kind of ghostly fairy tale (The Book, Shipwreck) to a kind of furious growl (Yesterday, The Ocean Song). I can’t stop listening to it.

Tiny Vipers


rngRodrigo y Gabriela – 11:11 (ATO RECORDS / RED 2009)

I love love love Rodrigo y Gabriela. I was once heckled as a noodle-dancing world music loving hippie because of it, and I don’t even care one fucking bit. Just their story is awesome. They grew up playing in a thrash metal band in Mexico City, eventually moving to Europe where they perfected their music. They made ends meet by playing on streets and in restaurants playing what sounded like that bland, touristy crap that is supposed to be providing atmosphere. What it actually was, though, was them taking Metallica and Pantera sounds and slowing it way the fuck down. They realized that they had something there, and started blending traditional music with the metal they loved so. The result is nothing short of fucking magic. The guitar duo play a blend of flamenco and metal, and when I first heard them I totally stopped dead in my tracks and my brain short-circuited, the earth shook and my ears bled. I don’t think I understood the power two acoustic guitars could have until I heard Tamacun. I thought it couldn’t get better than that and then I saw them live. I thought that couldn’t get any better and then I heard 11:11. Again with the magic. Below are a few tracks…if you don’t like these they RyG is not your thing. And you’re retarded.

P.S. Gabriela is the hottest woman on the face of the earth as far as I’m concerned and if she told me to jump into an erupting volcano I probably would.

RodGab

September Catching Up

Now’s a better time than ever to weigh in on The Beatles‘ 2009 remasters, or re-remasters, or re-released re-remasters, whatever… since they came out this past week (9/9/09). I’ve only had the pleasure of listening to Abbey Road & The White Album, since they’re the two best records in their catalog and the two I associate with their deserved reputation as the greatest rock-and-roll band of all-time. Basically; they’ve been improved by making them less “muddy” (not to say Sir George Martin‘s original production was muddy, he did the absolute best with what was available at the time), but there seems to be more “space” between each instrument and the vocals; it’s definitely “louder” and “crisper”, take the mix on I Want You (She’s So Heavy) from Abbey Road; the snare has much more “punch”, the cymbal hits are more present, Paul‘s bass feels as though it’s way more upfront, actually, everything feels like it’s more forward in the mix- the layered vocals during the chorus are actually distinguishable in that you can hear each part separate in the left/right channels (seriously; mess with your speaker’s knobs as the chorus plays if you wanna hear what I’m talking about.) Anyway- totally worth it if you’re a Beatles‘ fan.

Some of these albums aren’t worth the plastic they’re pressed on, but whatever…

maudlin Of The Well – Part The Second (self-released; 5/14)

maudlinThis record was one of those accidental finds- all I can say is it’s been one of the year’s most challenging listens for a number of reasons. maudlin Of The Well is an avant-garde art-prog outfit that veers dangerously close to post-rock; Part The Second is not an album you can throw on and clean the house to- it demands you pay close attention (for there are subtle nuances hidden all over this record) which ultimately leads to the record’s downfall; it’s challenging in that its overt influences make it somewhat pretentious; while the playing displays unparalleled virtuosity, the blending of rock with jazz saxophones and classical string arrangements make it too unfocused, the noodly guitars border on masturbatory, the vocal effects are annoying at times; it’s not a study in what prog should be (or could be), and for that I need my classic 70s stuff (Yes, Jethro Tull, et al.); there’s a reason the genre died- no need to exhume the bodies and study them again. This album is free if you want it, here’s the link. 5/10

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – ‘Em Are I (Rough Trade; 5/19)

jeffrey-lewisJeff Lewis is best experienced live- that being said; his albums are exercises in patience in that he’s as much a visual performance artist as he’s a musician, the music itself leaves a lot to be desired. His comic books are component pieces to his music; the time I saw him open for The Mountain Goats, his folk-punk story-telling was endearing because it was set as a narrative to his gigantic flip book of drawings (The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane and others). Furthermore; his web/TV show is pretty awesome- he’s huge in the UK where most of the episodes are set, as is his record label. Anyway, for this album it’s more vintage Jeff Lewis (lyrically it’s self-deprecating in that whole “I’m a dirty poet that can’t get laid, Oh how I have to suffer for my art…” thing) which isn’t all that endearing on celluloid- again; plays great on the camera and the canvas, but here’s it’s trite as fuck. Musically, it’s more mature (read: better production, better musicians, etc.) so that saves it a wee bit, especially the eight-minute jam-out The Upside-down Cross, but for the most part, it’s just a so-so version of the Lower East Side’s punk-folk scene- which even the best of that is probably just below average… 5/10

Rome – Flowers From Exile (Trisol; 6/26)

romeAnother record I completely stumbled on by accident, how often do you find yourself perusing “industrial folk” duos from Luxembourg? I didn’t even know that genre existed, let alone the bold, deep baritone of lead singer Jerome Reuter‘s voice- which is at once both startling and comforting; he recalls Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Tom Waits and The National‘s Matt Berninger. Add Patrick Damiani‘s production (complemented by field recordings, foreign voices, ambient textures, dark and brooding industrial-type rhythms, Spanish guitars, etc.) and you have an interesting listen to say the least. The story line follows that of the Spanish Civil War; making the album dark and apocalyptic in its scope, revealing a narrative of a war-torn and displaced people, soldiers, isolation, desperation- acting as a modern-day protest record in itself. It’s as European an album I’ll find all year; it’s making me want to delve deeper into the Old Continent’s vast expanses of undiscovered music reserves to find something as new and rewarding as this. 8/10

Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Chamber Music (E1 Music; 6/30)

wu-tang-clan-chamber-musicBasically a mix-tape made by the RZA, even though only five of the Clan are featured (RZA, U-God, Ghostface, Raekwon and Inspectah Deck) it’s still a Wu release and for that I’m grateful. It’s the Wu, motherfucker; it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be available. That’s all. But you can’t put Tony Starks, the Chef and Bobby Digital in a room together and it not be good, again- it’s Wu, mother fucker. Plus, New York legends Masta Ace, AZ, Cormega, Sean Price, Havoc of Mobb Deep, Kool G Rap and Brand Nubian’s Sadat X all show up for guest appearances and Brooklyn-based funk/soul band The Revelations provide live instrumentation for eight of the 17 tracks; it’s an interesting combination. Working with various producers (Andrew Kelley, Bob Perry, Noah Rubin, Tre Williams of The Revelations and Fizzy Womack of M.O.P) give this album a cohesive feel; after RZA‘s production on 8 Diagrams created beef between him, Ghost and Rae for not having that “classic Wu sound” this can be seen as a return to that darker, sinister sound. Tracks like Harbor Masters, Evil Deeds and Ill Figures are all cut from the classic mold of Shaolin street knowldge; if you like hip-hop you’ll like this. If you like the Wu, you’ll love this. 9/10

Cass McCombs – Catacombs (Domino; 7/7)

catacombsThanks to Jason Dill for introducing me to Cass McCombs. If you’re unfamiliar with Dill, he’s the pro skater that was pals with Jack Osbourne on the first season of The Osbournes, the dude who had a bottle of Jack Daniels among his possessions. Anyway, Dill skated to a McCombs‘ song (What Isn’t Nature) for his video part in DVS’ Skate More (2005) and Jerry Hsu followed suit a year later, skating to a different McCombs‘ song (Sacred Heart) for his Bag Of Suck part. So there’s your skate-video-music-cross-referencing-nerd-shit that I do. So onto the review of this Cass record now; I’d like to add that with each subsequent release, Mr. McCombs becomes a little more refined, his songwriting gets a little better- he’s moved away from the ethereal sounding, churning dream pop and towards a more “American” sound (which is to say a countrified brand of folk-rock that isn’t too much of either). I prefer McCombs‘ albums A and PREfection to this record, as well as his last (2007’s Dropping The Writ). It’s still a decent album. One thing McCombs does that I really like is this idea of “conceptual continuity”, carrying related themes and threads of consciousness from record to record. 7/10

Clark – Totems Flare (Warp; 7/13)

clark_totems_flaresJust a quick peek at Clark‘s labelmates on Warp Records and you have an idea what they are before clicking play: !!!, Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada, Flying Lotus, Prefuse 73 and Squarepusher would all lead you to assume it’s electronic (correct) and dancy (somewhat) which would immediately raise an eyebrow- I like most of those artists (someonly for their visual collaborations; I’m looking at you Aphex Twin) but for the most part, I eschew any association with danceble electro music. Clark’s Totems Flare (minus the four songs that have vocals) is a decent album that doesn’t sway too far into hardcore techno or the other way into sleep-inducing downtempo trip-hopping; the other seven tracks are enjoyable as background music- never encroaching fully into your consciousness but hovering just below the line of noticeability. And for that, it’s a below average record. 6/10

The Duke & The King – Nothing Gold Can Stay (Ramseur Records; 8/4)

nothing-gold-can-stay“Is that Cat Stevens?” says my girlfriend from the other room. Dear The Duke & The King: immediate musical fail. Now before you freak out and say, “YOU DON’T LIKE CAT STEVENS!?!?” I’ll interject with; I like the Cat Stevens, I don’t like post-millennial ripoffs, the man is still alive for Allah’s sake. You know, I don’t like this neo-country folk stuff all that much, there’s no dividing line that separates it from all the other lousy drivel- there’s just no hook. At least Sam Beam and Justin Vernon (Iron & Wine and Bon Iver, respectively) have that hook, I can’t put my finger on it in so many words, but whatever it is they do have, The Duke & The King don’t have it. This makes me glad I didn’t experience 70s AM radio firsthand, I don’t think I can get through this whole record without at least one suicidal thought. When you see me next, say thank you for listening to all this crappy music so you don’t have to. I’m taking a bullet for you… 3/10

Destroyer – Bay Of Pigs EP (Merge; 8/18)

bay-of-pigsIf this record was made by anyone else I wouldn’t have given it the time of day. But since Dan Bejar has released three of the best records of the last ten years (2000’s Thief, 2001’s Streethawk: A Seduction & 2006’s Destroyer’s Rubies) he gets special handling. Why? Because it’s a damn disco record, an “ambient” disco record at that, clocking in at a bit over thirteen-and-a-half minutes. Halfway between casual dining music and 16-bit video game music (sorta like playing Sega Genesis at that hip Belgian place in the Mission) it doesn’t suck (completely) but it’s not gonna score high marks outside of the fact that it’s really a stretch for Destroyer, and going outside of your comfort zone is a big risk. But as far as the music goes, I’m not the type to hang out at Italian discos wearing guyliner and $700 shirts, so I’m gonna pass on Destroyer‘s Bay Of Pigs– at least the first track anyway. Track 2, Ravers, is a vocals-synth-and-organ tune that’s not as out of place as the EP’s title track, yet it’s not as interesting. It works out to be a confusing piece of music, all 21-plus minutes of it. 3/10

BLK JKS – After Robots (Secretly Canadian; 9/8)

blk-jksI’m going to contradict myself now; I said earlier that prog should rest in peace- I meant to say “only if it’s done poorly” as in the over-indulgent, self-aggrandizing form of the genre. Here comes South Africa’s BLK JKS (obviously pronounced black jacks) who can make rock music that’s both proggy and arty, sans wallowing in pretense. An exercise in energetic guitars, spastic drumming, deep-bottom basses, emotive and soulful vocals relating poignant lyrics from a part of the world that’s been sorely under-represented in popular music. They put out the best EP of the year so far (back in March, titled Mystery) and one of the best live shows I’ve seen this year; file them under Best New Act of 2009. The re-working of Lakeside (the stand-out track from the EP) on here isn’t as urgent and raw as it originally appeared, it fits with the overall mood of this record. If it remained as it did on the short-player it would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb; instead producer Brandon Curtis (of Secret Machines) made it a slower, more refined, vocals-up-front-mix. The album has a “dark cloud” sort of moodiness to it, all the while hinting at some type of silver lining; exploring dub rhythms, churning synths, interwoven guitar lines, out-of-this world drumming- BLK JKSAfter Robots is a welcome addition to any music fan’s library. 8/10

Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs (Matador; 9/8)

popularsongsThis is YLT‘s 309th release and their 373rd year together. Not really, but it feels like it, am I right or am I right? More like 25 years strong (17 with current line-up) and 46th release (18th full-length offering) would have you believe that the gang ain’t going anywhere anytime soon- and with their latest, Popular Songs, they’re right back at it. With other bands, the term “paint-by-numbers” would come as a dismissal that they were mailing it in, but paint-by-numbers Yo La Tengo is a good thing because they’re better than your average band; I wouldn’t want them to put an album of garage punk classic out now, would I? Oh wait, they did that… Anyway, that’s exactly what’s so endearing about YLT; the fact that all three members have an equal say; all three have shared songwriting credits since 97’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One– and here on Popular Songs it’s an obvious group effort. Classic YLT would prescribe that the band can’t be hemmed into one specific genre; so there’s the fuzz-tone jams, something for the shoegazer in us all (By Two’s, I’m On My Way), their noisy brand of pop (incorporating strings in If It’s True and Here To Fall), a heavier reliance on the Hammond B-3 sound and long experimental-type songs (The Fireside, And The Glitter Is Gone). In summation, a YLT album is a very, very good thing. 9/10

Another Six Minutes…

I’m thinking of doing away with these intro paragraphs, I never know what to say. Anyway, here’s another six reviews that should take you about six minutes to read…

The Antlers – Hospice (self-released; 3/3)

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Slow-burning anthems of melancholic regret weaved in and around a loose narrative of nurse falling in love with patient; the story line goes like this- lead Antler Peter Silberman moves to the big city, spends two whole years sequestered from society writing this album, losing touch with family and friends along the way only to emerge with this stellar offering of dolorous melodies and heartrending storytelling. Think Radiohead-meets-Bon Iver with an Arcade Fire fascination and you can begin to draw a line connecting The Antlers’ influences to one another. If you like pop songs structured around ambient textures and falsetto-styled vocalizations with anthemic aspirations, Hospice may be your favorite album of the year. 9/10

Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications (Rough Trade US; 5/19)

cocker

So the guy from Pulp is releasing another solo album. I say this with disdain because it seems whenever Morrissey‘s prowess is being discussed there’s always some little Jarvis sycophant that sticks his nose (and unwanted opinions) into the conversation. Look, Morrissey‘s a snarky, sad recluse who is ill at ease among his fellow humans and was the frontman for the greatest band of the last 30 years, while Jarvis Cocker is a gregarious, model-dating ladies man that could steal your girlfriend off your arm with his wit and charm and you’d thank him for doing so and gladly pay his cab fare. And that’s kind of why I’ve always disliked the man; he’s everything Mozza isn’t and he’s introduced into those conversations too often, so this is me knocking him down a peg. Similarly revered by Brits, Cocker is a glammy, sometimes scuzzy rocker; and Further Complications is a rock album in the tradition of lecherous middle-age man seeking early-20s model; think Bryan Ferry (that’s a more accurate comparison and I usually interject that to deflect from anyone challenging Moz‘s superiority; likewise Cocker is at his best on this record when he’s veering into Roxy territory). It’s a look at the mind of a recent divorcee that’s trying to reconnect with hip young ladies (Angela), meeting a woman at a museum (Leftovers) and casting off pretension (I Never Said I Was Deep)- an exploration into a mid-life crisis that’s both endearing and pathetic. 6/10

Terry Urban – Southerngold (Gold Coin; 6/1)

southerngold

Thank god for the mixtape culture that’s pushing both hip-hop and mash-ups to the next level. This mixtape by Terry Urban and Gold Coin Clothing almost didn’t happen- he sent the mixes to Santigold who was like “this is awesome, put this out” but her label, Downtown Records, was all “hell no!” Ironically, they’re the label that signed Danger Mouse after he gained fame from his Grey Album thing (Jay-Z‘s Black Album mashed into The BeatlesWhite Album). Basically, Southerngold is all the top southern rappers over the backing tracks of Santigold‘s debut album; and everyone’s here: Ying Yang Twins, Andre 3000 (OutKast), Bun B (UGK), Slim Thug, Mike Jones, T-Pain, Lil’ Wayne, Rick Ross, Trick Daddy and Young Jeezy. It ain’t gonna win any awards and isn’t groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it sure is fun. Download it for free here. 7/10

Pelican – Ephemeral [EP] (Southern Lord; 6/9)

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I said “uh oh” when I saw that Pelican had made the leap from Hydra Head Records over to Southern Lord. From being on Isis‘ label and going to Sunn O)))‘s label; please, no collaborations! Okay, good- they left you alone, the hooded douches from Sunn O))) aren’t on this EP (thank Satan!) Anyway; Pelican does what Pelican does- which is blaze neatly meandering instrumental post-metal trails into the ether of the stratosphere, built on top of jet-like riffage, walloping basses and punchy drums. A cover of Earth‘s Geometry Of Murder (with the infamous Dylan Carlson) rounds out the three-song, 21-minute affair with brutal ardor. Pelican is set to release another full-length in late October titled What We All Come To Need and it has that dreaded Sunn O))) collaboration that I’m fearing. Oh well, there’s always this EP… 8/10

Future Of The Left – Travels With Myself And Another (4AD; 6/23)


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I couldn’t stand Mclusky, so I was glad to seem them go the way of the dodo bird. So Future Of The Left, with two members of that Cardiff-based three piece have given us Travels With Myself And Another; it’ alternates between screamo shouting and cabaret call-and-response over Queens Of The Stone Age styled-wank. Great, it’s the British equivalent of “cock rock”. Except it’s all edgy and political. Oooh. I still do not like. Sharing a common thread with another band from that part of the world that I don’t “get” would be Northern Ireland’s Therapy?, FOTL is so ridiculously Anglocentric that I feel like I need to sit with a Brit slang dictionary with the Beeb on the telly so I can get their whole vibe down. But then the actual music underneath the Welsh-inflected is quite lousy, so I shant be giving this any further listens. 4/10

Discovery – LP (XL Recordings; 7/7)

discoveryThis wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to b… no- wait, there’s the auto-tuned vocals. Okay, well at least your indie cred can remain intact for a… no- let’s discard that as well. Wes Miles, frontman of Ra Ra Riot (not a fan, but apparently the rest of the music world has been eating the peanuts out of their poopy for about a minute) and Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend) basically made you a synth-pop album, inviting Dirty ProjectorsAngel Deeradorian and fellow Vampire Ezra Koenig along for the glitz-fest. Oh joy. They add nothing spectacular. What I’m about to say is going to be awfully sexist (probably) so if you’re easily offended, stop reading now. Still here? Okay, this kind of music is only remotely okay to make if you have a female singer because if you’re a man and you’re making this soft-ass treacle pop shit you’re basically a gigantic pussy. 3/10