The Ten Best Albums Of The Year; 2009

The intro paragraph is totally over-rated as far as I’m concerned; I never use these to my advantage. I just blabber about nothing, trying to set up the article- that’s all you really want, right?

10. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt.II (Ice H2O Records; September 8th)

raekwonWhenever an album has Ghostface Killah on it, along with an absolute all-star production staff (that beef between Chef & RZA has been squashed over the disagreements in production of 8 Diagrams). 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 quelled, 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 Digital himself) which revisits the classic Wu style of yesteryear.

Key tracks: House of Flying Daggers (ft. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Method Man & GZA), Cold Outside (ft. Ghostface Killah & Suga Bang Bang), Black Mozart (ft. Inspectah Deck, RZA & Tash Mahogany), Gihad (ft. Ghostface Killah)

9. Atlas Sound – Logos (Kranky Records; October 20th)

atlasI love Bradford Cox; I swear that man could pee into my ears and just the sound it makes would be one of the twenty best records of the year. Logos, his second offering under his solo moniker Atlas Sound is a step further into accessibility away from his previous album; here he’s less into the murky atmospherics and sound collages and more into exploring structure and form- take the album’s centerpiece for example, Quick Canal. It’s an eight-and-a-half minute homage to Stereolab‘s influence on Cox, and for good measure the main voice behind the ‘Lab Laetitia Sadier is featured on vocals. Also featured on vocals is (guess who) the most visible performer of the year, Noah Lennox– I swear this guy has had more work doing back-up vocals than anyone in recent memory; check out the standout track Walkabout.

Key tracks: Walkabout (ft. Noah Lennox), Quick Canal (ft. Laetitia Sadier), Criminals, Shelia

8. The Clientele – Bonfires On The Heath (Merge Records; October 6th)

clientele-bonfiresSome bands are able to capture a feeling so well and set it to music it’s as if they were born to do it. Each of The Clientele‘s four proper full lengths are so apt at capturing a specific mood- here on Bonfires On The Heath it’s autumn all year long. The imagery of fallen leaves- oranges, yellows and browns; the English countryside readying itself for a foray into winter time; it’s one of the best “fall” records (makes me miss “real” season changes; we get off easy here in California). It’s sort of been the antithesis to all these “summer beach fuzz pop” records that have completely inundated the landscape; it’s more than welcome, too. In the land of perpetual summer, we need more than one season to be represented. Not all of us love the middle months.

Key tracks: Never Anyone But You, I Wonder Who We Are, Share The Night, Harvest Time

7. The xx – xx (Young Turks Records; August 17th)

the xxSometimes a record has such an undeniable pull on your psyche that it can’t be ignored. I gotta admit, the album cover is what got me (at first); it reveals absolutely nothing about the music within. Then a few listens through and it was like a hook in a fish’s eye; stuck beyond belief. This “too young to sound this sexy” quartet (now a trio) from south-west London made the sleekest and sexiest album of the year; singer Romy Madley-Croft sounds years past her age- think of Portishead‘s Beth Gibbons with less smoke in her lungs. Rounding out the sound is Oliver Sim‘s breathy vocals (not to mention deep basslines), all over top of Jamie Smith‘s minimal but perfect beats and samples. By far the best debut album this year, probably of the last few.

Key tracks: Islands, Crystalised, Shelter, VCR

6. White Denim – Fits (Downtown Records; October 20th)

white-denim-fitsProbably my favorite straight-forward “rock” album of the year; imagine a world where time machines exist- let’s put Grand Funk Railroad in a jam session with Pavement and see what happens. White Denim’s Fits, perhaps? GFR was a riff-heavy power trio and the Pave was the lo-fi, thinking man’s take on said “dude” rock. So to mash them two together would be the closest approximation to what White Denim appears to be going for; and to great success. Crammed full of riffs (the first five tracks); the musical ideas stretch briefly into some dub explorations (Sex Prayer), down home-style country boogies (Paint Yourself), a funky Boz Scagg-meets-Jeff Buckley falsetto number (I’d Have It Just The Way We Were), acoustic-tinged dream pop (Regina Holding Hands and Syncn)- just when I thought “indie rock” was getting boring, here comes something that’s forward-thinking by looking back.

Key tracks: I Start To Run, Mirrored And Reversed, Radio Milk How Can You Stand It, All Consolation

5. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Warner Bros Records; October 13th)

flaming-lips-embryonicI had pretty much made up my mind that I wasn’t even going to listen to this record, I had completely written the Lips off. Then a friend described it to me as “loose and spacey” so I decided to listen to it, and I’m totally glad I did. Not only is it one of the best records of the year, it’s one of the Lips‘ best (not a huge fan of either of the over-Pro Tooled Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi records, and I thought At War With The Mystics was rather weak) and it hearkens back to a simpler time; i.e. Clouds Taste Metallic-era Lips, sans guitar-centric approach. This album is actually heavier on the bass side of things; favoring the bottom-end as the featured (or dare I say “lead”) instrument. If they used Pro Tools here (and I bet they did, Dave Fridmann again helps out with production and it’s a well known fact that that guy loves the Pro Tools software) they’re trying hard to sound like they aren’t using it; most songs here sound like a minimum of tracks are being used- deep bass, minimal click-and-glitch drums, creepy synths, reverbed guitars, echoed vocals; that’s about it for most of the 18 songs on this double record. I haven’t even mentioned the guests that show up to help out (MGMT, Karen O and some German mathematician guy). How they created something so massively psychedelic, mind-bending, genre-warping, messy; this “thing” that sounds as if it’s going to spin out of control any second yet keeps it together; is the genius of Wayne Coyne and Company. Embryonic is a great title; some of these tracks don’t sound completely finished- there’s a sense of The Flaming Lips gestating this sprawling ball of humanity and birthing  out something so bare and beautiful.

Key tracks: Convinced Of The Hex, Powerless, Silver Trembling Hands, The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine

4. Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer (Jagjaguwar; June 23rd)

sunset2Roll 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.

Key tracks: You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II), Idiot Heart, Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!, Silver Moons

3. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp Records; May 26th)

grizzly-bear-veckatimest2009’s most highly anticipated album is like that calming voice whispering from beyond the shadows, telling you not to worry, take a deep breath, relax, you’ll get through this- we’re all going to get through this, but first; there’s the topic of trust- we have to take you somewhere, can you offer yourself to us for just fifty-two minutes? We promise to get you home safely, and it may just change you for the better. From the opening notes, it’s obvious that Veckatimest is a marked departure from Yellow House; for one- it’s a warmer sounding record. It has much brighter textures helped by a more developed and inclusive “group” feel to it- the vocal harmonies are wound much tighter. It’s benefited greatly from lead Grizzly Ed Droste’s insistence on including all four members as equals in the collaborative effort. From the subtle turnarounds on Fine For Now to the Hard Knock Life-aping piano riff on Two Weeks to the bass and drum interplay on Cheerleader to the interwoven vocals on Dory; it’s an album that has grown exponentially more interesting upon repeated listens- one of those fabled “sleeper” albums that doesn’t sink its teeth into you fully at first listen, although you know it’s something special. By the third, fourth, fifth listen it has become that record you find yourself listening to daily while on your lunch break or while taking the train, or any spare moment of alone time you have you find that you’ve let Veckatimest fill up those minutes.

Key tracks: Two Weeks, Cheerleader, While You Wait For The Others; Ready, Able

2. Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (Nettwerk; March 31st)

greatlakeswimI was trying to figure out why I loved this record so damn much; it’s by a Canadian band that plays a nice blend of folky Americana- then it hit me. Canadian bands do Americana better than American bands nowadays- I think that’s because whatever the American Dream once meant means more to Canadians than it does to Americans. Things like civil liberties, freedom of press and universal health care are all American pipe dreams; in Canada they are reality. Politicizing aside; Great Lake Swimmers make great, laid-back folky tunes in that whole echo-chamber aesthetic completed by mandolins, banjos and wistful church organs reminiscent of early-70s MOR light rock. This was the most surprising record of the year, I liked it just fine until I took a long car ride this summer and it made me fall in love with it; blame the vibraphones, jangly 12-string guitars, that aforementioned Hammond organ sound, actual church bells (recorded at Singer Castle), string sections, dobros; all done in various warm, resonant studios in an around the Thousand Islands area where the St. Lawrence River meets Lake Ontario.

Key tracks: Pulling On A Line, Palmistry, She Comes To Me In Dreams, Everything Is Moving So Fast

ALBUM OF THE YEAR…

Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle (Drag City Records; April 14th)

bill callahanCallahan is a writer’s songwriter- I only have a few Smog records but the general theme of his music that stands out to me is that he’s a master of self-deprecation. Not so much here; it’s still somber and melancholic, but Callahan takes it easy on himself, instead he’s using his supremely masterful wit and deadpan black humor to take shots at the political and religious right. He’s at his most capable when he’s wringing the emotion out of every last word with his dry delivery, aided here by bare bones instrumentation with occasional strings. I’ve listened to this record far more than any other this year (even bought the vinyl copy as well) so not only is it getting the “Best Album of 2009” award, it’s one of the best of the decade and the best of Callahan‘s career. Occasionally a record speaks to me on so many different levels; this year this was the one that hit home the most points. The opening lines of the album worked like a hook into my brain: “I started out in search of ordinary things / How much of a tree bends in the wind / I started telling the story without knowing the end…” and then Bill sets about telling us nine stories without ever knowing the end. There’s the one about half-remembered dreams of the perfect song, another couple songs about birds, wind, or flying in general. There’s a song for a departed friend, and then the almost ten-minute album closer Faith/Void; with its repeated refrain “it’s time to put God away (I put God away)…” I think I know what Callahan‘s talking about here- how to find peace and solace in this crazy world without faith; a level-headed, secular, humanistic way to approach serenity. And that’s why this album is a complete success; the artist formerly known as Smog has accomplished a perfect synergy between music and words; both serve to support each other

Key tracks: Too Many Birds, Jim Cain, Faith/Void, Eid Ma Clack Shaw

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!

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

Ten Albums…

A.C. Newman – Get Guilty (Matador; 1/20)get-guilty

I’ve been slow to warm up to The New Pornographers; which is weird considering I really like both Neko Case and Destroyer‘s solo work. Most of my nit-picking with the Canadian supergroup is irrational; I’m just not huge on their brand of power pop. So I blame Carl (A.C.) Newman for that. I’d call his solo efforts New Pornos-Lite, as if you could water-down their treacle even more; he renders it down to a sub-aspartame quality of sweetness. Which is nice if you wanna impress your date by popping this CD in the car’s stereo before bringing her to a coffee shop after a Renee Zellweger movie, but if you’re that type of person I seriously doubt you’re reading independent music websites to inform your tastes. Anyway, if you like catchy indie pop like Rilo Kiley and Death Cab, you’ll like this. Grade: 5/10

Matt & Kim – Grand (Fader Label; 1/20)matt-kim

Touted as the younger, hipper version of Mates Of State; I’d say that’s only accurate in that the similarities they share are: yes, they’re a couple and yes; they play layered, synthy electro-pop. The comparison ends there – Matt & Kim are fun; while Mates Of State are a duo that sounds as if they’re stuck in a never-ending couples therapy session and every little marital slight and inadequacy is written down and set to music. Back to Matt & Kim; too much Matt, not enough Kim– when she finally does appear (not until track 6, Lessons Learned) her vocals are (big surprise!) pushed way down in the mix in deference to Matt‘s annoying vocal affectations that are akin to that awful singer from All-American Rejects. I said it was fun, but fun doesn’t necessarily equate to good. I guess this is how their relationship works; it’s basically a Matt solo project and he’s letting his girlfriend sing some la’s. Oh, she plays drums, too, but it seems as if most of the tracks have a drum machine. It was probably his idea she get hit by that bus… Grade: 3/10

Brother Ali – The Truth Is Here EP (Rhymesayers Entertainment; 3/10)brother-ali

Brother Ali got some flow. He’s got the rhymes, he’s got tight beats, he’s got enough balls to put out a nine-song, 34-minute record and call it an EP. He’s got the respect of the underground hip-hop community as well as the attention of rap magazine/bible The Source and got a little blurb in Rolling Stone‘s New Artist To Watch column. With three full-lengths and two EPs under his belt, Ali (real name: Jason Newman) seems poised to step up to the level of Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, Kool Keith, Sage Francis, the anticon. collective, El-P, MF Doom, Del, Murs– all the “underground” stars. His raps are confessionals; he’s adept at telling you exactly where he’s at in plain English but ain’t afraid to mix it up with superb metaphors and inoffensive tact. Ant of Atmosphere did the music (this collaboration is infinitely more interesting than his last record with Slug) and there’s so many great hooks and phenomenal samples. I’m also using this review as a soapbox to pledge to my readers that it’s a start in covering more hip-hop. Grade: 9/10

Asobi Seksu – Hush (Polyvinyl; 2/17)hush

Dream pop without the fuzzy guitars just doesn’t seem all that appealing- apparently their last album Citrus, from way back in ’06 was closer to shoegaze and got kick-ass reviews. Maybe I’ll listen to it someday. For now I’m stuck with Hush; its gentle melodies, soft atmosphere and breathy vocals- the album’s title implies exactly that, save for the track Me & Mary (there’s some fuzzy guitar). Asobi Seksu is Japanese for “casual sex”, so if you’re looking for something that you can spend one night with and never have to see again, you found it in recorded music. Let’s just hope this album doesn’t get all stalker-esque on you and start trying to message you on Facebook- we said “no strings attached” and didn’t exchange phone numbers. Please, just go… Grade: 4/10

Vetiver – Tight Knit (SubPop; 2/17)tight_knit

Remember when SubPop was known for exploiting that Seattle Sound about twenty years ago, all the way to the bank? Seems these days they’re hitting us with waves of easy-listening folk-rock from Band Of Horses, Blitzen Trapper, Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, Tiny Vipers and the newly acquired Vetiver; banking heavily on their blend of bland acoustic/slightly amplified naturalismo/nuevo-hippie pap. It’s about half-interesting, half-boring in that I can listen to it as a critic and vaguely understand what it is they’re trying to do- they do that well; as a fan of music in general I can listen with reserved incredulousness that there’s yet another band blindly thrown into the mix playing this same ol’ shit again and again. With regards to Vetiver‘s talent- they’re a fine band, serviceable even. With regards to their overall sound (what I’m basing this review on) is that Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Oh, I fell asleep. In short; whatever. Grade: 5/10

Royksopp – Junior (Astralwerks; 3/23)royksopp-junior

If I had a time machine I know what I’d do with it. Not go back and stop Hitler, or AIDS, or ask a different girl to the prom circa 1993- I’d go back and kill those fucking robots that call themselves Kraftwerk so that electronic music would’ve never happened. Now wait a minute- that means no Brian Eno, New Order, Depeche Mode, etc. but I’m willing to take that risk so that bands artists performers computer geeks like Royksopp and that god-damned Daft Punk would never exist as well. For every electronic musician that kicks ass, there are five that should’ve never happened at all. In this regard, I could go back even further and kill Karlheinz Stockhausen, considered by nerds everywhere to be the father of electronic music, but no one listens to him anyway (you can’t snort coke and dance to his music). Plus, Brian Eno could’ve then been a famous painter, New Order could’ve found an Ian Curtis-sound alike and stayed Joy Division and Depeche Mode… you know something- someone else could’ve made Violator in 1990 (INXS, possibly?) and no one would’ve missed out on anything. That album is the shit. Royksopp‘s Junior is just shit. Even the album cover makes me angry. Also, I haven’t figured out how to put the little dots over the o, because it would just be a waste of time and search engines don’t care about umlauts anyway. Grade: 1/10

Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (Nettwerk; 3/31)lost_channels

I was trying to figure out why I liked this record so damn much; it’s by a Canadian band that plays a nice blend of folk and Americana- then it hit me. Canadian bands do Americana better than American bands nowadays- I think that’s because whatever the American Dream once meant means more to Canadians than it does to Americans. Things like civil liberties, freedom of press and universal health care are all American pipe dreams; in Canada they are reality. Politicizing aside; Great Lake Swimmers make great, laid-back folky tunes in that whole echo-chamber aesthetic completed by mandolins, banjos and wistful church organs reminiscent of early-70s MOR light rock. Grade: 8/10

Wolves In The Throne Room – Black Cascade (Southern Lord; 3/31)black-cascade

So as I’m record shopping last week over at the Berkeley Amoeba and I’m in the little metal section checking out the newly released vinyl Mastodon LP; I overhear two metal-heads- and one says to the other his favorite album this year is Wolves In The Throne Room‘s Black Cascade. Oooh, I think- what’s that? I hear the one say “it’s black metal” and the other was like, “No, man- it’s black ambient metal…” Duh, dude. I have no idea what the fuck that means, but as an audiophile it got me interested. I mean, “metal” is a relative term- like “heavy” and “black” (no, wait; black is absolute). Anyway, here goes a review: I have never listened to black ambient metal, my initial impression is that it’s sort of like superfast heavy metal played over synthesizers (like the ones you’d hear on side two of David Bowie‘s Low) that add “atmosphere” to the mix. So since I have no reference point to weigh this record against anything in its genre or compare it to (except speed metal on top of Brian Eno‘s keyboard washes) I’m going to say it’s a “demanding” listen, for the simple fact that it’s almost fifty minutes of skull-crushing drumming and endlessly droning power chords. I’m hearing elements of prog, hardcore punk and obviously thrash metal played with serious speed and technical prowess. There are some nice “soft” passages as well- the middle section of Crystal Ammunition is actually quite “pretty”, but the shortest song is ten-and-a-half minutes for Satan’s sake. It’s not for the faint of heart, and with song titles like Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog and Ex Cathedra, I’d say dudes who write endless hours of programming code in their parent’s basements (only stopping to play World Of Warcraft and chug Red Bull while never getting laid underneath their Lord Of The Rings posters) love this shit. Because those are the two dudes that I was eavesdropping on… Grade: 6.66/10

Crocodiles – Summer Of Hate (Fat Possum; 4/28)crocs

Can anybody tell me why I love this insanely fuzzed-out guitar pop? By all intents and purposes I should hate it- I grew up with an undying allegiance to and an appreciation for over-produced clean sounds, which carried into my 20s. Maybe it’s a subconscious rebellion slowly taking over in my mind. Anyway; I’m digging Crocodiles’ Summer Of Hate– it’s all the things I’ve been loving lately about music (see: No Age, Wavves, any reverb-heavy fuzz-pedal shit in general) that apes the whole Jesus & Mary Chain aesthetic. I could never fully get high on J&MC until re-visiting it through the ears of the aforesaid bands, but I blame Johnny Marr and Robert Smith for that; or any of the other bands I was into circa 1986. Grade: 8/10

Pink Mountaintops – Outside Love (Jagjaguwar; 5/5)pinkmtntops

I’ll get this out of the way first: best album cover yet this year. I’m loving the faux-Danielle Steele book cover set against a rumpled blue velvet background. It’s a harbinger of what’s to come from Stephen McBean‘s side project; he of Vancouver psych-rock outfit Black Mountain. It’s all dirgy and full of ballads of unrequited longing yadda yadda yadda… Basically the opposite of Black Mountains‘ in-yer-face wall of guitar sludge. I’m trying to feel this album because I’m a sensitive guy, I appreciate the heart-felt emotional output, but for some reason it just sounds hokey- sappy strings, corny crooning, things I abhor unless it’s coming from Morrissey or Bryan Ferry. Grade: 6/10

A Coat Of Primer…

Disclaimer: Rock music is for rock music fans. Music criticism is for music criticism fans.

I’ve been trying to reconcile the two for five-plus years now and I’m even more clueless as how to do this than when I started. I can tell you why something sounds good (or bad) but there’s really no way to accurately describe a piece of music without listening to it several times- so in effect I’m taking the guess work out of it for you, or basically disseminating my ideas on this here website and trying to give you an idea of what you’ll be in for.

Please feel free to disagree with me and stick up for your favorite bands.

I’ve read somewhere that the most boring conversations are the ones where everyone agrees, and if you agree with everything I’ve written I’m not doing my job properly. I’m merely a “rough guide” to music, what I really want is to open discourse about this music.

It’s been my experience that the only non-fiction writing I really enjoy reading is about music, and music criticism in particular. Every day I read the good, the bad and the ugly. I buy my music here. I take suggestions from all these sites, try different things, etc. I come up with opinions on everything and almost have to write them down; because as a fan of music and writing the two are inextricably linked forever in my mind.

So here’s more of some of the albums I’ve been listening to, albums that piqued my curiosity and albums that I hope to never listen to again. I’m just applying the coat of primer, you have to do the actual painting…

Dent May & His Magnificent Ukelele – The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukelele (Paw Tracks; Feb. 3rd)dent-may

Who thought ukelele music would be so rad? Everything about this album is screaming “no no no” but it feels so right. Nerd jokes aside, it walks a fine line between tragic melancholia and tongue-in-cheek clowning; it’s somewhere between a schmaltzy bow-tie Ramada Inn lounge act and kitschy elevator music. A song about smoking weed in your pajamas all day? Try College Town Boy. A torch song to a faded tennis star? Give God Loves You, Michael Chang a go. Have a drinking problem? May admits he’s powerless on I’m An Alcoholic. Beware: this record is ridiculously infectious! Grade: 8/10

William Elliot Whitmore – Animals In The Dark (ANTI-; Feb. 17th)whit

This might be the worst album I’ve tried to listen to this year- maybe the past three years. I say tried to listen to because I couldn’t get through it completely (shame on me). I kept hitting the “next” button; just the song titles made me shiver: Who Stole The Soul, Hell Or High Water, Hard Times… He even used the vocal hook from The Roof Is On Fire on the song Mutiny. It’s like Whitmore picked up a book of overused cliches and wrote an album about that, except it’s political at its core. So in effect, it’s a concept album. The concept is how to suck by writing trite protest/white-boy blues/tired-folk/blue-eyed soul songs. Even the album cover is terrible. Grade: .5/10 (Yeah, that’s a “point five”; I’m really holding on to the “zero” for something more awful…)

Odawas – The Blue Depths (Jagjaguwar; Feb. 17th)the_blue_depths-odawas_480

Imagine if the vocal stylings of Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon and Fleet FoxesRobin Pecknold were thrown into a musical punnet square. The resulting offspring would sound like Michael Tapscott‘s ethereal voice, but that’s just a basic (and reductive) way to describe what Odawas‘ lead singer/songwriter is capable of. This is one of those beautiful “Sunday Morning” records that plays well when the world is slowly rising to wipe the sleep out of its eyes and stumble into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. It’s a record steeped in psychedelia as well as ambient textures, subdued electronica and good ol’ American folkiness. Grade: 8/10

Gun Outfit – Dim Light (Post Present Medium; Feb. 17th)gun-outfit

Boy-girl-boy. Pacific Northwest. Two guitars and drumset. One guitar plays intricate lines. One plays thrashy riffs. Drums pound. Heavy on the tom rolls. Sometimes girl sings. It’s rock and roll like it’s supposed to sound. I hear their sound informed by the likes of Sonic Youth and Sebadoh; they can go noise or they can do straight “indie” rock (whatever the fuck that means). Also, big ups to No Age drummer Dean Spunt for signing these cats to his PPM label, let’s hope added exposure and some heavy touring in the near future. I’d love to see this band live. Grade: 8/10

Here We Go Magic – Here We Go Magic (Western Vinyl; Feb. 24th)here-we-go-magic

Subliminal folk melodies, (at times) barely there lyrics, instruments slowly fading in and out of the murky, churning under-current of “songs”, yeah it’s another one of these albums. And I say that as endearingly as possible; if my tone sounds mocking please forgive me, I’ve been forced to grow up in this world with things like pro wrestling and house cats, how could everything not be a joke to me? Anyhow, I put the word songs in quotes back there because about three of the tracks on this record are merely ambient drone instrumental pieces, but of the other six they are honest-to-god songs, just without that boring AABA format; bridges and choruses are virtually non-existent. It’s a study in both electronically-induced sonic atmospherics and organic-sounding timbres; banjos and acoustic guitars over synths-and-drum-machines- creating a contemplative state for the listener. Grade: 8/10

Micachu – Jewellery (Rough Trade; April 7th)micachu

“Infinitely interesting post-glitch pop with vaudevillian theatrics…” is how I’d define this three-piece from the UK. Mica Levy (Micachu) and The Shapes (Raisa Khan & Marc Pell) make music on what sound like broken instruments; but in fact they’re homemade. Things like a “chu” (which is a Mica creation- a prepared guitar played with a hammer) and a bow-like instrument made from a discarded CD rack. Umm, there’s even a vacuum cleaner on the track Turn Me Well, but it isn’t employed like this guy has been known to. On paper, this album appears to be a complete mess. On your earholes, it’s a pleasure to introduce the two. Calling it “post-glitch pop” actually does it a disservice; it’s actually post-everything, as if Mica came from the future to show us that all you need to make music is all around you- that frying pan can be a drum and that jar of coins is a maraca. I’m just sayin’ is all… Grade: 9/10

Metric – Fantasies (Last Gang Records; April 7th)metric-fantasies

Emily Haines can write some catchy-ass hooks. That being said; there isn’t much else to this record in that it’s basically just a collection of somewhat cohesive tunes designed to support the single Help, I’m Alive. Each song sticks to the prescription laid out in that song, only deviating slightly from the formula; slick and over-produced pop that’s for the masses. If this is Haines‘ last shot at super-stardom, I’d say she nails it. But that’s only if she wants to be mentioned in the same breath as Kelly Clarkson and Ashlee Simpson. Grade: 5/10

Silversun Pickups – Swoon (Dangerbird; April 14th)swoon

Smashing PumpkinsSiamese Dream was one of my favorite albums in high school. It had big, anthemic radio-friendly sing-alongs (Today & Rocket), sludge-metal riffage (Quiet), string-infused acoustic ballad (Disarm), seven-and-eight minute tracks structured in the vein of prog-and-post-rock (Hummer, Soma & Silverfuck); I still listen to that album every few months and I am instantly transported back to the summer before my senior year. That album gets a 10/10 in my book. Wait, is this supposed to be a review of the new Silversun Pickups album? Oh, yeah. In that case, fast forward from ’93 to ’09, but keep in mind that what was once awesome and trenchant is now tired and lame. I can’t understand some bands’ fascination with mid-90s alt-rock sounds; I think we all voted and decided that those guitar sounds and production qualities a la Butch Vig and Steve Albini were to be left alone. Sorry you guys weren’t invited to that conference. On the one track I sort of was getting in to, It’s Nice To Know You Work Alone, lead singer Brian Aubert sounds af if she‘s saying “it’s nice to know your wear cologne…” Yeah, that’s right- I said “she”, because that dude has a chick’s voice. Grade: 3/10

Japandroids – Post-Nothing (Unfamiliar; April 28th)japandroids

Apparently 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 (see above; Gun Outfit) is rock the shit out of a garage. Without a slow, plodding bass-playing jerk fucking them up. I fucking hate bass players. Grade: 9/10

Mika Miko – We Be Xuxa (Post Present Medium; May 5th)mikamiko

Channeling old-school three chords and a cloud of dust punk rock circa 1981. I’m a sucker for lo-fi shit these days, and I love this record because a) it reminds me of late-80s cassette-tape punk I used to rock out to in my Walkman, skating at the Manoa Shopping Center before they put up all those “No Skateboarding” signs, and b) it literally sounds as if they recorded all the instrumentation on one track and the vocals on another. It’s like they forgot they had two more tracks to use on their little blue Tascam four-track device. And I fucking love that shit, man. There’s two odes to turkey sandwiches, a saxophone shows up in a few songs and it’s all over in 23 minutes. Even though four of Mika Miko‘s five members are women, they don’t feel the need to play up their sexuality or use it as a feminist pedestal- they just came to rock your balls off and go home. Grade: 9/10

Akron/Family – Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free (Dead Oceans; May 5th)akron

I have to admit that I am confused by Akron/Family. One minute they’re doing straight acoustic folk and the next it’s all techy with weird sound collage-type things. Experimentally inclined, psychedelic influenced, bits of funk and post-rock seep into their sound, three-part harmonies; it’s all over the place. But it’s still folk, with dashes of electro all about. Kinda like feeding granola to a robot, I guess. Grade: 6/10