Albums Of The Year; 2009

There were a ton of amazing records released this year, and as you’ll see in a minute, most of them were released by Swedish bands (no, wait), I mean Canadians (uh, what?), let me rephrase that; oh just read…

25. Volcano Choir – Unmap (Jagjaguwar; September 22nd)

volcano-choir-unmapBon Iver‘s Justin Vernon and the guys from math rock outfit Collections Of Colonies Of Bees make their debut record; and it’s a fractured take on music, experimenting with sound and structure until the song itself doesn’t so much resemble an actual song as it does a collage of noise and textures. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not experimental in the “I can’t listen to this nonsense” way, it’s experimental in that it seeks to achieve musical harmony without traditional or conventional instruments. In fact, the studio itself is the main instrument on Unmap– that also doesn’t mean you won’t hear Vernon‘s trademark falsetto (it’s there in most of the songs); it just doesn’t dominate the landscape like it does with his day job. And there ain’t a whole lotta guitars on this records either; there’s an mbira, some auto-tuned vocals (that I hate to say really work nicely here) and more cuts and edits with a certain super-expensive premium music software program that I should hate, but strangely have endeared themselves to my ears far too often these past few months.

Key tracks: Island, IS; Husks And Shells, Still, Seeplymouth

24. Neon Indian – Psychic Chasms (Lefse Records; October 13th)

neon_indian-psychic_chasmsDo you miss your old Sega Master System? Cuz I miss mine; I was thinking about buying one off eBay so I can play Out Run and Alien Syndrome and Alex Kidd In Miracle World. See, this album by Alan Palomo (the one-man 8-bit army behind Neon Indian) has got me jonesing something fierce for my old video games. We weren’t as cool as the Nintendo kids, we got Sega for Christmas in 1986, while all of our friends were playing Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros., we had Hang On and Safari Hunt (the bastard cousin of Duck Hunt). Our friends would come over to play and treat the Sega as a leper, refusing to play or even look at it. That’s what this album reminds me of; the soundtrack to a childhood spent down my basement trying to get to the next level of Black Belt.

Key tracks: Deadbeat Summer, I Should Have Taken Acid With You, 6669 (I Don’t Know If You Know), Terminally Chill

23. Japandroids – Post-Nothing (Unfamiliar Records; April 28th)

japandroids-post-nothingApparently no one plays bass anymore. That ain’t a bad thing- just the other day I saw a bumper sticker that said “Everyone follows the bass” and I immediately blurted out (to no one in particular) “I fucking hate bass players”. Yeah, too bad everyone that starts a band nowadays either wants to be the drummer or guitar player. Later, bass. Vancouver garage duo Japandroids don’t need one anyway, their “heavy-on-the-toms-and-cymbals” sound fills the air with what could be some low-end notes, but a bass would really slow these guys down. They both share singing duties, trading back and forth or going at it together. If there’s one thing the Pacific Northwest can do is rock the shit out of a garage. Without a slow, plodding bass-playing jerk fucking them up. I fucking hate bass players.

Key tracks: Young Hearts Spark Fire, The Boys Are Leaving Town, Wet Hair, Rockers East Vancouver

22. Wildbirds & Peacedrums – The Snake (The Leaf Label; April 13th)

wildbirdsThese 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.

Key tracks: There Is No Light, Liar Lion, Island, Chain Of Steel

21. The Rest – Everyone All At Once (Auteur Recordings; April 21st)

The-Rest_fullBig, anthemic songs wrapped in heavily orchestrated strings- I’m hearing great hooks here; the vocals recall both the yelpings of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Alec Ounsworth and the plaintiveness of Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch; the music is akin to Arcade Fire’s brand of baroque pop with a dash of The National’s shadowy melancholia thrown in for good measure- but it doesn’t do this band justice by lumping them into those easy comparisons. Showcasing a vast array of styles, Everyone All At Once is exactly that- you get everything all at once. Retreating to the faraway northern woods of Ontario to record this record, this band has crafted a genuine masterpiece- fully realized, beautifully crafted and dynamic in scope; The Rest should be the next big band to come from The Great White North, and if they aren’t on critic’s “year-end/best-of ‘09” lists I’m formally lodging a criminal investigation to as why they aren’t.

Key tracks: Modern Time Travel (necessities), Walk On Water (auspicious beginnings), Apples & Allergies, The Lady Vanishes

20. DM Stith – Heavy Ghost (Asthmatic Kitty Records; March 10th)

dmstithSince there isn’t a track on the record called Heavy Ghost, I’ll just have to say that the name captures the feel of the record- it’s somber, haunting and reflective. Stith’s vocals are lilting and ethereal, the sparse guitars and reverb-drenched pianos are at times juxtaposed by strange percussion (or none at all); it’s a charming and creepy psychedelic folk album that at times abandons what could be considered “western popular music structure”. DM Stith creates a creepy and fragile (yet insanely interesting and charming) alternate reality within this record- it’s a haunting reminder that some of our waking hours are inhabited by unseen forces that can be a burden; or we can acknowledge them and try to make peace.

Key tracks: Thanksgiving Moon, Pity Dance, Braid Of Voices, Isaac’s Song

19. DOOM – Born Like This (Lex Records; March 24th)

doombornxMF, Metal Face, Metal Fingers, Viktor Vaughn, Supervillain, King Geedorah. Whatever name Daniel Dumille wants to use, he creates a new persona just like that- and here on Born Like This, he uses all the top producers; Jake One and Madlib as well as a few unreleased beats from J Dilla (who is still the best producer in the game, three years after his passing). It never sounds recycled or stale- obviously the work of this gang of hard working crate-diggers is beyond anything anyone else is doing and the samples are getting more obscure. Should I also mention guest rhymers like Raekwon (rhyming over the slowed-down version of ESG‘s UFO) and Ghostface (appearing here as his Tony Starks character) straight slay the mic on their tracks; but they don’t steal the spotlight from DOOM– it’s his record and it’s full of verbal acrobatics.

Key tracks: Microwave Mayo, Yessir! (ft. Raekwon), Angelz (ft. Tony Starks), Gazillion Ear

18. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino Records; June 9th)

bitte-orcaAccessible? You bet- Dave Longstreth‘s music is usually a workout; it can be both hard to listen to and lyrically obtuse (but not even a little bit on Bitte Orca). This is more of a group effort and Dirty Projectors’ sound is rounded out by the lovely voices of Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman; as if their David Byrne-collaboration wasn’t a precursor to how awesome their music was about to sound; when this album leaked the internets basically shit themselves in anticipation, by the time the album hit the shelves the reviews were pouring in with accolades. Crafted with care, it’s artier components aren’t that much of a stretch (try listening to Slaves’ Graves & Ballads or the New Attitude EP if you want to be challenged), conceptually it follows the design laid out by Longstreth in previous releases- brown finches, sleepwalking through life, post-9/11 paranoia, war, etc. There’s music for stupid people and then there’s music for thinkers. Guess which one this is…

Key Tracks: Stillness Is The Move, No Intention, Cannibal Resource, Temecula Sunrise

17. Dark Was The Night – A Red Hot Compilation (4AD Records; February 16th)

dark-was-the-nightYou know; humanity’s defining feature, the one thing that gives me a glimmer of hope for this seemingly doomed world is the fact that when faced with adversity, we humans have a remarkable knack for banding together and breaking down our self-imposed barriers- so at a glance the musical pairings on this record would suggest the gap between artistic differences can be easily bridged. Some not so unexpected; Dirty Projectors have culled a huge influence from David Byrne’s catalog so I can totally hear how the album’s opener Knotty Pine works, Cat Power and Dirty Delta Blues (teaming up for a cover of Amazing Grace) have toured together, Leslie Feist’s collaboration with Ben Gibbard is well matched (both write really nice three-minute pop gems) and Conor Oberst paired with Gillian Welch is no stretch; two insurgent country mainstays sharing a track seems natural enough. What’s hard to believe that some of these songs would be considered “throw away” tracks, not making it on to these bands’ albums; The National, The Decemberists, Bon Iver, Yeasayer, Grizzly Bear, Arcade Fire and Beirut all have given excellent songs. The centerpiece of the album (placed at the end of the first disc) is Sufjan Stevens‘ cover of CastanetsYou Are The Blood, turning it into a sprawling and strange epic, an electro-classical magnum opus with piano breaks and brass sections over club-banger beats- it’s as if he’s trying to convey the entire scope of his musical output in ten minutes and fourteen seconds, joining the electronica of Enjoy Your Rabbit with his Seven Swans-era and those states-themed concept albums. Canadian hip-hopper Buck 65 remixes this track on the second disc, adding his two cents in the way of furiously spit verses.

Key tracks: Tightrope (Yeasayer), Sleepless (The Decemberists), Knotty Pine (Dirty Projectors + David Byrne), You Are The Blood (Sufjan Stevens)

16. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (V2 Records; May 26th)

wolfgangamadeusphoenixI wanted to hate this so bad. I knew what it was (electro-synth pop/rock), knew who made it (the French) and have read so much hype on this band before the album was even out that I was rolling my eyes every time I saw their damn name. Phoenix Phoenix Phoenix Phoenix Phoenix Phoenix every-fucking-where. You know something, it’s a really great record. Songs like 1901, Lisztomania and the album’s closer Armistice are a few of this year’s better tracks, and they’re all on one record. It’s like that damned MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular– initially I hated its freaking guts, but it kept polluting my mindscape until one day I let my guard down and BAM! I got it. And I get this- it’s supposed to be fun, dancy keyboards-and-guitars pop for the iPod generation. That’s exactly what it is. Can’t fight that…

Key tracks: 1901, Lisztomania, Armistice, Fences

15. jj – n°2 (Secretly Yours; July 1st)

jjn02This album has a stickiness factor of nine; once you get these songs in you you’ll be humming them to yourself throughout the day. They seamlessly jump from genre to genre; at once they’re dipping down low into downtempo chillout trip-hop jams next to African-influenced sing-alongs up against tropicalia beach tracks then on to an acoustic, folky number and back again… Are these kids for real? Oh, they’re Swedish, so they were born with the “Scandanavian pop melody gene” inherited from ABBA and heard in Jens Lekman, The Knife, et al. I knew they were too good to be true.

Key tracks: Ecstasy, Things Will Never Be The Same Again, Are You Still In Valida?, My Love

14. Taken By Trees – East Of Eden (Rough Trade; September 8th)

Taken-By-Trees-East-of-EdenMy god, this is a beautiful record- another Swede (damn they’re talented) named Victoria Bergsman (who you may remember as the female voice from Peter Bjorn & John‘s ubiquitous song Young Folks) made one of the surprise albums of the year by traveling to Pakistan to record with local musicians; let’s just say the effect is stunning. Perfect pop sensibilities crossed with Eastern instrumentation infused with polyrhythmic drumming and Sufi vocalizations from Sain Muhammad Ali. There’s a theme running through East Of Eden; of ancient harmonies given current twists- Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox stops by to lend his ethereal lilt to a track, as well as give his blessing to a cover version of one of his band’s songs. In short; a Swedish singer doing Beach Boys harmonies over Middle Eastern music.

Key tracks: Watch The Waves, My Boys, To Lose Someone, Anna

13. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino Records; January 20th)

merriweatherEnvision The Flaming Lips having an orgy with The Shins on really strong microdot while channeling Brian Eno and Robert Fripp’s tape-loop manipulations, all the while conjuring up a seance with Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds harmonies; that’s a pretty close idea to what Animal Collective has done on Merriweather Post Pavilion. And the artwork is pretty rad; stare at it long enough and you’ll get the sensation of movement. Maybe you can still see it with your eyes closed. Maybe, you can get yourself into that “tunnel” and really trip out. Who out there knows what I’m talking about? Indubitably the Collective’s Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist have been inside that lysergically-induced mind warp and this record will probably serve as some sort of spirit guide for a new generation of chemically experimental kids, much like Dark Side Of The Moon or Sgt. Pepper’s did thirty-plus years ago.

Key tracks: My Girls, Brother Sport, In The Flowers, Summertime Clothes

12. The Love Language – The Love Language (Bladen County Records; February 10th)

thelovelangWhere’s this band been hiding all my life? Ahh, North Carolina, Raleigh to be exact. Okay, next question: how do you get that delicious reverb coating on your songs? This whole record has that wonderfully lo-fi Tascam four-track feel to it (or could be Fostex) and the aesthetic works to great avail; the songs are so wonderfully melodic they could’ve been recorded underwater and I’d still get the point. The back story is also too good to ignore; lead singer/main songwriter Stuart McLamb gets kicked out of previous band, breaks up with abusive girlfriend, drinks a lot, ends up in an overnight holding cell, moves in with parents, sobers up and writes/records this album. I swear, Hollywood writes shit like this; but it’s too good to not believe- and I for one am a believer. Another huge surprise album for me in a year filled with nice surprises.

Key tracks: Lalita, Sparxxx, Two Rabbits, Stars

11. A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Ashes Grammar (Mis Ojos Discos; September 15th)

ashes_grammarAshes Grammar is a 63-minute icicle of ambient-electro-shoegaze-dream pop from the Philadelphia sextet known as A Sunny Day In Glasgow (they got the name from a former band member who spent some time in the lovely Scottish city); there are hints of murky psychedelia, club/dance beats half-buried under said murk and noisy passages strung all throughout the journey here- think My Bloody Valentine crossed with Stereolab produced by Brian Eno. It’s got some of the most gorgeous music I’ve heard this year, there are little bits of the record where it drags at times but if you can just sit through those few awkward minutes, you’re rewarded with some true aural beauty, time and time again.

Key tracks: Close Chorus, Shy, Curse Words, Failure

Stay tuned for albums #10 to #1, coming tomorrow!

Albums Of The Decade, Part 8

Now we’re breaking into the forty best records of the aughts. Stylistically, I’m all over the place with these- experimental, folk, dance-punk, drone, noise pop, hip-hop, post-hardcore; it’s hard to keep track of all the newly invented genres (that mostly sound like slurs and epithets) just to classify all these records. I would have just two genres: good and bad. Maybe a third; so-so music. Or- great, good, so-so and bad. So we got through all the good records, let’s do the great ones now…

The Decemberists – The Crane Wife (Capitol Records; 2006)

TheCraneWifeOne part prog-folk song cycle, one part hyper-literate indie rock. That seems to be The Decemberists‘ formula as of late, the general idea being to make music both a listenable endeavor and as theatrical as possible. And to deliver a concept album-slash-rock opera as your major label debut, well now… I’ll let you in on a little secret, too: four Decemberists‘ records in my top 40 (really). So, if you’re not into melodramatic and sea-shanty based folk music rendered into a pop structure; well then. Here’s the review I wrote back in 2006 for this record:

Japanese folk-tale: impoverished man finds injured crane. Brings it in and nurses it back to health. Crane leaves. Enter beautiful woman, whom the man proceeds to fall in love with and marry. To make ends meet, wife weaves wonderful clothes from silk, but here’s the catch- he may never watch her at work. His greed increases, she works harder. She becomes ill. He peeks in on her to discover that she is in fact the crane that he nursed back to health and she weaves these beautiful garments from plucking her own feathers and weaving them into the loom. She flies away, never to return. Then Colin Meloy and his band sign to Capitol Records and he writes ten songs about it. I mean to say that he writes about the Crane Wife, not signing to Capitol. Although now that I think about it, I’d love to hear that album, too. Beloved indie band signs to major label. Because Colin could write about anything and I’d totally dig it, maybe even eat the peanuts out of his shit. In my world, Mr. Meloy is approaching Morrissey-level status. I mean, for fuck’s sake, he did a six song cover album of Morrissey tunes! I mean, what else does he have to do? Write the best album of 2006? Deliver the best tour of ’06 to the world? And on the seventh day he rested! Stylistically, this is closer to The Tain (prog rock) than Picaresque, although not too much unlike it. They changed without changing. So, asking me to pick a favorite song is really tough, but…

It’s funny how history can be revised, or; how that album (while still dear to me) fell from the #1 spot of ’06 and is all the way down to #40 of the decade- it should be in the top 10, but that’s how history and time can change your ears, I guess.

Key tracks: Shankill Butchers, The Crane Wife 1 & 2, The Island: Come and See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel The Drowning, The Crane Wife 3

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Liars – They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top (Blast First Records; 2001)

liars32Debut album from noiseniks Liars; mixes danceable drums and angular post-punk guitars with shouted lyrics and heavy, oppressive bass lines everywhere. This sort of hints at where they were headed- the record’s title is a play on the media’s insistence on lumping them into the dance punk scene; they don’t sound like they share too much in common with LCD Soundsystem (much spazzier) or Out Hud (or !!! for that matter; much dirtier) or Death From Above 1979 (not as formulaic) or The Rapture (less polished) or early stalwarts ESG (although they do cover an ESG song on here, the result is sloppier and “meaner”, for lack of a better descriptor). The final track, This Dust Makes That Mud is an entire half hour of repeated riff/bassline/beat that not only tests the limits of the listener’s patience, it’s also an exercise in trend-killing; seeking to destroy the so-called genre of “dance punk” it sets about alienating its audience and proving that you can only repeat yourself for so long until people tire of you. This album changed the way a lot of those aforementioned bands would make music; some of them would break up or be forgotten, some would rise to greatness. I guess the jury’s still out on that one…

Key tracks: The Garden Was Crowded And Outside, Grown Men Don’t Fall In The River Just Like That, This Dust Makes That Mud, We Live NE Of Compton

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Dirty Projectors – Rise Above (Dead Oceans; 2007)

DP_Rise_AboveI recommended this album to a Black Flag fan about a year ago; I never asked if they listened to it, but I’m guessing they didn’t because I never got punched in the face. The reason being (for the uninitiated) is because this record is lead-Projector Dave Longstreth‘s re-imagining (entirely from his teenage memory) of the 1981 hardcore punk classic Damaged. But done in an art-school sort of way; with fluttery guitars and Justin Timberlake-meets-Tiny Tim kind of croon, flutes, spastic drumming, dub basslines- on paper it sounds like a complete friggin’ mess but the result is really quite beautiful. The fear, isolation, teen angst, paranoia; all the original themes visited by Henry Rollins and crew are given an interesting slant here- if not an updated one. The fractured song structures, complete forgetting of lyrics (most often made up on the spot), everything that made Damaged a great record almost 30 years ago makes Rise Above a great record today. Musical styles may not be timeless, but the theme of man’s struggle over himself is.

Key tracks: Police Story, Rise Above, What I See, Thirsty And Miserable

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Jay-Z – The Blueprint (Roc-A-Fella Records; 2001)

jay-z-the-blueprintShawn Carter just turned 40 years old last week, which is a pretty big deal considering where Jay came from (his story of running crack on the streets of Trenton and Brooklyn is legit; unlike his targets on the dis track Takeover, where he pretty much slaughters all his competitors with crisp and sharp lines like):

I don’t care if you Mobb Deep, I hold triggers to crews / You little fuck, I’ve got money stacks bigger than you / When I was pushin weight, back in eighty-eight / you was a ballerina I got your pictures I seen ya

and

You said you been in this ten / I’ve been in it five, smarten up Nas / Four albums in ten years nigga? I can divide / That’s one every let’s say two, two of them shits was due / One was nahhh, the other was Illmatic / That’s a one hot album every ten year average

The Jigga wasn’t taking any prisoners on The Blueprint, it basically established him as the emcee to beat this millennium- as far as mainstream circles go. You’ll eventually see a few more hip-hop albums on my list higher than this record (and Jay would eventually lose his crown); but they don’t have the reach and scope of this record (they also don’t have the luxury of major label distribution). They also don’t have killer beats from Just Blaze & Kanye, and an appearance from Eminem. But hey, if you had the net worth of Jay, you’d drop gems like this too:

I rhyme sicker than every rhyme spitter / Every crime nigga that rhyme or touch a mic because my mind’s quicker / I’m a eighty-eighter, nine-six to Reasonable Doubt / Temper short, don’t take much to squeeze you out / Yeah you shinin but the only thing you’re leavin out / You’re a candle in the sun, that shit don’t even out

– from Hola’ Hovito.

Pure swagger.

Key tracks: Takeover, U Don’t Know, Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love), Never Change

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Fugazi – The Argument (Dischord Records; 2001)

fugaziI was reading an article recently by writer Simon Reynolds (click here) about the slant of most critics’ decade-end lists leaning towards the first four years of the decade- which is also true for mine (somehow 2006 was the third-best year for music in my poll, maybe I’m just being overly sentimental there…) Anyway; this record, which would also be Fugazi‘s last since taking an indefinite hiatus in ’02 has stood up amazingly well- another album that sought to smash the confines of a media-imposed genre conundrum. It takes a bow in every direction; towards jazz, math and post-rock, dare I say prog? It’s all held together by airtight drumming from Brendan Canty as he lays out irregular and odd time signatures (not to mention drastic rhythmic changes as well), creating a pocket for Joe Lally‘s superb bass fills and groove-oriented mechanics. The whole thing is presented by both Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto‘s guitar dynamics- both intricately woven up and around each other, all the while having as much freedom as they need to make these huge walls of noisy, aggressive feedback. Lyrically, it’s as politically charged as ever- themes range from poverty, living in the nuclear age, nationalism, greed, modern ennui, globalization and then there’s self-examination; quiet introspection, detachment and selfishness. It’s Fugazi‘s most mature offering, recorded around the time they were all turning 40. It’s an enduring statement from four of the most ethical and intelligent musicians to ever grace the stage; to stare millennial dread right in the eyes and come away from it not only intact, but stronger and on their own terms.

Key tracks: Oh, Cashout, The Kill, Epic Problem

And if you haven’t gotten a chance to, please vote in The Musicologists 2009 Reader’s Poll…

Eight Record Reviews…

Been quiet over this way lately; in the way of words, yes, but in the way of great music (and some not so great) it’s never quiet…

The Felice Brothers – Yonder Is The Clock (Team Love; 4/7)yonderistheclock

I take a lot of shit for the fact that I don’t really like Bob Dylan. You mean you plugged your guitar in at a folk festival? Wow, man- that’s edgy! You took so many amphetamines that you were able to crank out an album every nine months through the sixties? No wonder people think you’re prolific; you didn’t sleep for about eight years straight. Don’t even get me started on his “lyricism”. The list of complaints go on and on; I get all emotional and pissy when confronted with my earnest dislike of Dylan and his over-rated abilities. My biggest beef with Bobby Zimmerman is all this awful “American folk-rock” he spawned, and The Felice Brothers are another end result of this generation’s fascination with his flaccid brand of protest songs and over-arcing romanticized poetry. Enough, already. I didn’t like you the first time, what makes you think I’d like this? I get it, good ole Bobby D. must’ve rolled through upstate New York 25 years ago and fathered these triplets, right? You guys wrote a song about Ty Fucking Cobb on here, too. What, was Hitler unavailable? 2/10

Art Brut – Art Brut vs. Satan (Downtown; 4/21)artbrutvssatan

Lucky for these guys they hit it big in ’05, right when the whole post-punk revival was smack in the middle of a renaissance- but Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand did it better, Liars and The Rapture had moved on to “new” genres, Interpol and Editors were doing the “atmospheric” thing, I can go on ad nauseum. The thing is, especially with Art Brut; if your lead singer can’t sing (in the case of Eddie Argos) then music critics will say your band is “increasingly self-aware” because he’s basically talking the lyrics. Sometimes he shouts, but basically no lead vocal melodies here. The only thing Argos is aware of is how much his singing voice sucks. If thinking out loud about how much your life is fucked can be considered “increasingly self-aware”, every homeless person is Friedrich Nietzsche. It doesn’t hurt (nor help) that this record is produced by Charles Thompson– it actually sounds really crisp, that’s because their brand of choppy guitars mixed way up front over minimal bass lines and danceable drums has become so formulaic, thanks to the blueprint laid out by Gang Of Four and Wire. Too bad this record wasn’t released four or five years ago, then it would’ve been a) timely and b) exactly like everything else they’ve done. 5/10

Alasdair Roberts – Spoils (Drag City; 5/5)alasdair-roberts

Beautiful Scottish folk songs set against the backdrop of bare bones instrumentation; Roberts’ tunefulness is balanced by stark and appropriately placed (as well as alternately picked/strummed) ancient-sounding acoustic guitars, violins, harmoniums, harpsichords, hurdy-gurdies and dulcimers. Employing adjectives in his lyrics like threadbare and downtrodden, which accurately describe both his music and himself; he also mines the darkest caves for themes ranging from grief and joy, peace and war, inspiration and boredom, all the while joining classical music to a progressive brand of folk-rock. Add all that to his keen historical analysis of the Bible’s implications towards a present day mindset through an imagined conversation with the Irish saint Columba and you come up with a darling little record. 8/10

Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers (Columbia; 5/18)manic-street

Yes, this band is still around- and they still suffer from what I call the “Pond Effect”; they sell massive amounts of records to gushing critical acclaim across the pond but have barely managed to scratch the surface in both areas over here. Another band whose CDs I bought in the early-to-mid-90s during the post-Smiths/next-big-Brit-pop-band fiasco I’ve tried to distance myself from by saying it never happened (but sadly; yes, I owned albums from Oasis, Suede, Blur, Catherine Wheel, Soup Dragons– basically any UK band that was on 120 Minutes circa 1993). Anyway, getting back to my earlier point- this band is still around, still making music, still using missing/dead member Richey Edwards‘ lyrics and riffs (he’s been missing for 14 years now, his status was changed to “presumed dead” during the recording of this record- although he’s been spotted shopping for mangoes in Goa markets and snorkeling in the Canary Islands… with Elvis, Tupac and Michael Jackson no doubt). I haven’t mentioned the music yet; it’s good as in “Steve Albini-produced, loud and muscular riffs from glammy guitars, lyrics either penned by a dead man or inspired by, song after song of radio friendly tunes (that’ll never be on any radio, at least on this side of the pond)”. 7/10

Method Man & Redman – Blackout! 2 (DefJam; 5/19)blackout2

Clifford Smith and Reggie Noble are back with the sequel to Blackout! ten years after their initial collaboration- and the result has some of the nicest flow/lyrical interplay and beats from Havoc, Pete Rock, Erick Sermon and DJ Scratch; it as consistent as its predecessor. It doesn’t hurt that Keith Murray, Bun B, Raekwon and Ghostface all stop by for verses- this album could’ve come out any time during the last ten years and slayed any and all pretend MCs; Meth and Red still got it, in fact- they write the rules and everybody’s just trying to catch up. It’s nostalgic without sounding dated, none of that cheesy caricature shit from their wack-ass How High movie; instead focusing their charismatic personalities on the rhymes- and it shines through with the superbly produced music. 8/10

Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino; 6/9)bitte-orca

Accessible? You bet- Dave Longstreth‘s music is usually a workout; it can be both hard to listen to and lyrically obtuse (but not even a little bit on Bitte Orca). This is more of a group effort and Dirty Projectors‘ sound is rounded out by the lovely voices of Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman; as if their David Byrne-collaboration Knotty Pine (for the Dark Was The Night compilation) wasn’t a precursor to how awesome their music was about to sound; when this album leaked the internets basically shit themselves in anticipation; by the time the album hit the shelves the reviews were pouring in with accolades (even from lame duck publications like Entertainment Weekly and Spin; I’m surprised you both took the time to notice a band that isn’t Coldplay or U2). Crafted with care, it’s artier components aren’t that much of a stretch (try listening to Slaves’ Graves & Ballads or the New Attitude EP if you want to be challenged), conceptually it follows the design laid out by Longstreth in previous releases- brown finches, sleepwalking through life, post-9/11 paranoia, war, etc. There’s music for stupid people and then there’s music for thinkers. Guess which one this is. 9/10

Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer (Jagjaguwar; 6/23)sunset

Roll the 12-sided die against the troll now, and save your hit points for the wizard on level 9- he has illusion magic. Seriously; this album makes it cool to say you were once into Dungeons & Dragons (even if it was only for a few weeks while you were a Boy Scout in 1988). Sunset Rubdown‘s third full-length is a progressive rock concept album with all the imagery of medieval mythologies, twisting melodies, soaring guitars, midi-influenced instrumentation- and for all the shit I’ve given Spencer Krug about his voice; here it works to amazing and eccentric avail. Anyone who has spent more than three minutes talking to me about music can walk away while holding me in contempt for my mentioning how awesome early-70s prog rock is; well, this is akin to that. I have to say I’m really loving this record; all the geekery I once partook in has been neatly packaged into a 49-minute aural landscape of sorcerers, meteors, ancient Greek muses, ghosts and dragons. 10/10

Dinosaur Jr. – Farm (Jagjaguwar; 6/23)farm

Okay, I’m ready to drop my hatred for J Mascis– I’ve been holding on to a grudge against him for so long now I forget why I hated him in the first place. Oh, that’s right- for kicking the immensely talented Lou Barlow out of DJr, which, in retrospect- no booting of Lou, then no awesomeness that is Sebadoh, I guess. I still refuse to listen to any non-Barlow Dinosaur records, and that’s just how it is with me. Plus, I’m not really missing anything- all those records are basically Mascis solo records, I mean, he even booted Murph out before recording 1994’s Without A Sound (with that awful Feel The Pain song, but hey- Spike Jonze‘s golfing-through-midtown-Manhattan video was rad, right?) and starting a love affair with the mid-90’s fratboy set that fortunately for everyone involved died shortly after as DJr went on a ten-year hiatus. So I’d be remiss if I don’t mention previous offering Beyond (first album with the original lineup since 1988’s Bug); Farm is a rocking continuation of that record; if you’re not bowing at the feet of Mascis‘ guitar prowess right this minute, light a candle and hit your fucking knees at the altar, bitch. His walls of guitar noise, feedbacked distortion that’s been processed perfectly, Lou‘s basslines thudding and plodding on top of Murph‘s metronomic drumming, it’s the best pure “rock” record I’ve heard this year. What can I say about an almost nine minute song (I Don’t Wanna Go There) that’s isn’t the least bit boring, including an extended scorching solo? Of course, Lou gets his obligatory album closer- so there’s something for everyone. 9/10

TV On The Radio @ Fox Theater, Oakland- May 22nd, 2009

TV On The Radio

with Dirty Projectors

Fox Theater, Oakland, CA

May 22nd, 2009

TV On The Radio thoroughly rocked the crowd last night at Oakland’s newly renovated and re-opened Fox Theater- which is the most gorgeous venue I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing a show at. Dave Longstreth‘s Dirty Projectors opened the show, running through a mere handful of songs in their allotted 36 minutes, closing with the stellar Fluorescent Half-Dome. Let’s catch up with them in a few weeks when their new album Bitte Orca hits us, but tonight was all TVOTR‘s.

“They were really intense, like so into it” said some girl to her date as the crowd shuffled out. Yeah, my sentiments exactly, except without the California accent and ride back to Walnut Creek. I kid, I kid; I had a long day and I really don’t like people all that much.

The intensity of said music was mirrored by the excellent lighting effects and psychedelic patchwork tapestry backdrop- after all, lead singer Tunde Adebimpe and musical mastermind Dave Sitek are art/film school guys, so I’m pretty sure the arty visual vibe was conceived to match up with TVOTR‘s space-age synth-drone-soul-art-rock thing they got goin’ on. Actually, that’s more of a disservice than anything else- trying to describe their sound or force them into a genre is so above them- talk about square peg, round hole (don’t fit…)

They played the whole new album (almost, save for Lover’s Day– which I read in an interview they’ll never play live, just listen to the lyrics and you’ll understand why). Standout tracks from the dark Return To Cookie Mountain (the driving, shout-out to the balcony jam Blues From Down Here, one of 2006’s best songs Wolf Like Me, the churning and anthemic Dirtywhirl, and an all-percussion encore with the song A Method) as well as the two songs from their debut album that caught my attention way back in 2004; Staring At The Sun and Dreams.

Setlist:

Love Dog

Dreams

Blues From Down Here

Halfway Home

Golden Age

Wolf Like Me

Crying

Dirtywhirl*

Staring At The Sun

Red Dress

Shout Me Out

Dancing Choose

DLZ

ENCORE

Family Tree

Stork & Owl

A Method

* – during the outro of Dirtywhirl, the band did the refrain from Warren G‘s Regulate (the last verse; “if you smoke like I smoke / then you high like every day / and if your ass is a buster / 213 will regulate” sung by Nate Dogg. Remember that jam? The under 25 crowd there looked completely clueless, and I wasn’t about to explain it to the high school kids next to me or the Urban Outfitters’ employess behind me…)

Pictures? Oh yeah, we got pix (click on image to enlarge):