Put It In Context For Me…

I don’t know where I read it, but basically there’s this whole school of thought out there that all popular music is just stolen from other popular music; I mean, there’s only twelve notes that can be played/heard, multiply that by “acceptable” chord progressions, rhythms, etc.- there’s really a finite number of “sounds”, and even though it probably numbers in the hundred millions (or even billions), music is gonna get recycled at some point. Or at least sound that way.

So, in reverence to the “classics”, I’m going to review some of the following records in context to their influences (or what I perceive their influences to be). I hope this starts some epic arguments, after all- if we heard everything the same, music would be boring…

P.O.S. – Never Better (Rhymesayers; 2/3)pos

I’m pretty sure I can call 2009 “The Year I Fell In Love With Hip-Hop Again”; in response to my lack of any rap coverage over the last few years I made a conscious decision to recommit myself to an art form I used to hold so dear and I haven’t been disappointed so far, thanks to the good folks over at Rhymesayers Entertainment. Enter Minneapolis-based P.O.S.– not your average rap artist; he produces eight of the 15 tracks on Never Better, he samples Fugazi (on Savion Glover), mentions the prog-metal band Isis on Purexed: they kick that gingivitis / them rappers got the ‘itis / catch me bumpin’ Isis in a crisis…” and generally has a “fuck you” attitude towards the major label rappers. What do you expect, he grew up obsessed with punk rock- so he can reference hardcore bands like Lifetime, sample Christian screamo bands (Underoath) and get fellow Minnesotan and Hold Steady singer Craig Finn to guest star (except all these things happen on previous records, Ipecac Neat & Audition). 8/10

Dananananakroyd – Hey Everyone! (Best Before, 4/6)danana

Dude, this is screamo-pop. And that means I should probably hate it but I don’t. I can hear influences as far ranging as Refused, Blood Brothers, Black Eyes, Les Savy Fav, Pretty Girls Make Graves, The Mae Shi and Los Campesinos! in here- but what would you expect from a band that’s name is a portmanteau of Dan Akroyd and the Batman theme (da-na-na-na-na-ak-royd!)? I mean, really- I for one, am sick to death with music reviews as an academic thing; this band pushes your head right into the crapper, fucking takes a huge shit on you then rips the fucking toilet seat off of its hinges, beats your face with it, scoops the dooky out of the commode, lights that shit on fire and throws it at your mother. I could’ve done this review in two words: FUCK YEAAAAAAAAAAH! 9/10

Wildbirds & Peacedrums – The Snake (The Leaf Label; 4/13)wildbirds

These Swedes rely heavily on larger-than-life vocals from Mariam Wallentin and drum circle beats from her husband Andreas Werliin. Now Bjork would be too obvious (because of Sweden’s proximity to Iceland) and I’m hearing something else in there as well; but it’s really hard to describe in the context of direct influences. This is pretty unclassifiable as far as a genre is concerned; they won the award for the Best Swedish Jazz Act of ’08- but it’s not quite “jazz” as much as it’s a freak-out, albeit a controlled one. There’s really no “instruments” besides drums, vocals and occasional ambient synth washes or a few notes here and there; oh, and drums. Did I say drums? Every song is a workout, there’s an amazing amount of range in Wallentin‘s voice (sometimes it’s bare, other times she’s multi-tracked over herself, I’m hearing Siouxsie, PJ Harvey, and Kate Bush) and the timbre of the drums go from warm to bright and open to resonant. Wildbirds & Peacedrums The Snake is one of the “dark horse” records of the year- coming from out of nowhere. I’m glad people are making music like this. 10/10

Super Furry Animals – Dark Days/Light Years (Rough Trade; 4/21)darkdays

I had a passing fancy with SFA a few years ago and couldn’t quite put my finger on their brand of fun, quirky Welsh pop. Then I revisited some krautrock lately (as I was trying to ready a piece on progressive rock that’s stalled a bit, maybe I’ll finish it soon?) and it hit me- they’re like a poppy version of Can; that four-on-the-floor motorik beat is present in a lot of their songs, as is the aural psychedelic landscape dotted with bliss-kissed synths and that funky experimentation. But singer Gruff Rhys has a much lovelier (yet less expressive) voice than either Damo or Malcolm. There’s even some singing in German (on the track Inaugural Trams, courtesy of Franz Ferdinand‘s Nick McCarthy). I’m really digging this record; I’m sure it’s going to grow on me as the year matures, and I’m currently immersing myself deeply into their back catalog. 8/10

Moderat – Moderat (BPitch; 4/28)moderat

I fucking hate techno. I can’t think of anything more boring and repetitive than this shit- this is the crap that’s playing when you walk into a store that you 1) immediately get dirty looks from the shitty Eurotrash wannabes working there 2) because they know you can’t afford anything anyway and 3) get in a huge fight with your girlfriend over how much she spent there that 4) eventually causes your break-up which is 5) good because she was an idiot that shops at a store with an unpronounceable name with awful people working there named Jens or Britta that like this terrible music. I’m also offended that this album took three fucking people to make- I thought the Germans were known for efficiency. Did they all get paid to click the same mouse? It’s like “Here’s beat #11, here’s bass line #3 and let’s drag and drop “ambient synth #43” on top, thanks ProTools! Because it’s all made on their laptops- ever wonder what those guys are doing when they’re playing live? You just paid 20 bucks to watch a guy check his e-mail, dumbass! This album cover saves this record from getting a zero, because that bitch punching herself in the face is an actual artist’s rendering of the first person to buy this record. 1/10

Thee Oh Sees – Help (In The Red; 4/28)theeohsees

The first time I ever heard The Velvet Underground I was probably fifteen; I don’t remember exactly, it didn’t seem that important at the time. It was probably another five years before I “got it” and understood the massive significance of their influence, I had to listen to them backwards (my term for getting into a band through their influences, e.g.- kids who like Interpol could follow them back to Joy Division, likewise; young folks who dig The National or The Hold Steady could easily then understand Springsteen). So what’s all this have to do with Thee Oh Sees‘ newest album? Let’s just say a fifteen year old discovering this record today could easily bridge the gap back to the Velvets or any other psychedelic/noise/garage band of note, in fact- I’d say just skip this record and put on anything by King Khan, BBQ, maybe the Black LipsLet It Bloom, no- actually, skip all them too and just listen to Sister Ray over and over. I think that’s what the MC5 and The Stooges did, and look at the bands they’ve gone on to influence, trickling all the way down to The Oh Sees, et. al. 4/10

Patrick Watson – Wooden Arms (Secret City; 4/28)watson-wooden-arms

I can think of one reason not to move to Canada: Patrick Watson. That’s the name of the singer/songwriter and his band. Pretentious much? His last album, 2007’s Close To Paradise, won a Polaris Prize (the Canuck equivalent of a Grammy, so yeah- pretty pointless). But who’d he beat out? Not only did he win over Leslie Feist‘s The Reminder but Arcade Fire‘s Neon Bible. Now, I haven’t listened to Close To Paradise, but there’s no way in hell that it’s a better record than both The Reminder and Neon Bible. But this record, Wooden Arms– is crap. I can’t think of a sleepier record, and not “sleepy” in a good way, like when I used to fall asleep to Efterklang‘s Tripper, I mean “sleepy” in bad way, like doze-off-on-a-four-lane-highway-and-into-oncoming-traffic-sleepy. When it’s not a snooze-fest, boring you to death; it’s annoying- using things you find around the studio for percussion instruments isn’t groundbreaking, interesting or even edgy. It’s just lame. And tired. I’m tired now. 2/10

John Vanderslice – Romanian Names (Dead Oceans; 5/19)romanian-names

In terms of melody, Vanderslice is par excellence and his lyrics are emotive and poignant without being overwrought or corny. That being said, he’s the most likely to break out to a bigger audience; I’m somewhat shocked he hasn’t already- he could should be bigger than that twit Bono and what’s their names? But as the mainstream public is usually slow to react to brilliance he’ll probably find his music being misappropraited into an episode of one of those awful CW shows like Gossip Girls or the new 90210. I can’t see JV letting that happen, he’s still “ours” for the time being. On Romanian Names, Vanderslice is at it again- a short and effective album; perfect three-to-four minute pop songs built around catchy-ass hooks that feature imaginative production values captured to two-inch tape in his all-analog studio. He’s a bit of a throwback and I think that’s why he’s so endearing, oh- and his songs, man. 8/10

Hoots & Hellmouth – The Holy Open Secret (MAD Dragon; 6/2)hootsandhellmouth

On the track You And All Of Us, H&H deliver a hearty ole foot stompin’ and hollerin’ right there in the studio; I can envision their live show because this basically sounds like a live album, all amped up with hoedown shout-alongs and hootenany rave-ups. This is old timey music; and a big “much respect” because they’re Philly boys- it’s nice to see a little scene like this going on in my old hometown. It also helps that Sean Hoots, Rob Berliner and Andrew Gray produced this with Bill Moriarty (who did both Dr. Dog‘s and Man Man‘s last records). It ain’t all uptempo songs, however; it’s nicely balanced out with some balladry and melancholia. The most inviting aspect of H&H‘s sound is the three-part harmonies worked to absolute perfection; vocals weave in and out of each other, under, around to create excellent songsmanship. And more props to their record label (MAD Dragon), owned and operated by the students and faculty at Drexel University; it’s actually the only student-run record label in the USA with a national distribution deal (with Warner subsidiary Rykodisc). That’s pretty rad- to think I wasted college on pursuing an education degree, I shoulda started a record label. I’m wasting my life… 7/10

Sonic Youth – The Eternal (Matador; 6/9)sonic_youth

I can’t claim undying allegiance to Da Yoof, not since 1992’s Dirty (in fact, I had to give the seven albums in between then and now a listen to see what I’ve missed out on) so at the very least I can say I’m somewhat caught up on the trajectory of their sound; which if you’re a diehard fan you’d probably agree that it goes from somewhat mainstream to nigh unlistenable from record to record- they can bend their sound to either end of the spectrum. But for the last 28 years no other band smells as much like New York as SY, it’s like riding the D train from Coney Island up to Fordham and back again- kind of scuzzy, a little scary, way-too-hip for someone who grew up in Philly; that’s Sonic Youth in a nutshell. But the songs are all there- Kim Gordon has moved over to guitar as Mark Ibold (ex-Pavement) takes over on bass, so now there’s more diversity on the low end of things, and more interplay between the awesome axe-wielders Ranaldo and Moore. Of course, since it’s their most diverse offering it’s also caused the most division among hardcore fans- “it’s not experimental enough” because it’s not like NYC Ghosts & Flowers; “it’s not as polished as Dirty” because uber-producer Butch Vig wasn’t twiddling the knobs, etc. I don’t care about SY‘s hardcore fans- I can appreciate them as a band that’s dedicated to maintaining a healthy relationship with itself while making music that’s at times haunting and dissonant but still extremely listenable. In short, it’s a damn fine album- I’ve listened to it more than any other album this year (because I burned it to CD so I could listen in the car). 9/10