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

Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

Of Montreal- Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
(Polyvinyl, release date 1/23/07)

Dear Athens, Georgia, what the hell is in your water supply? And how much has Of Montreal been drinking? Psychedelia never sounded so good. Think the Beach BoysPet Sounds crossed with The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Except where BJM‘s Anton Newcombe fails, Of Montreal‘s Kevin Barnes succeeds, and succeeds with flair. Thinking backwards and borrowing from the past just as much as it thinks ahead and re-invents itself, Hissing Fauna‘s lo-fi psych-chamber folk-pop dizzily spins you in place while taking you to the far reaches of the cosmos and back again, all in the span of 51 minutes.

Suffer For Fashion, the first track on the album, starts off with a child’s singing and turns itself towards a dancy little number, with a perfect segue into some Beatle-esque la-la-la’s to start the next track, Sink The Seine. A few tracks later, Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse, beckons the chemicals to come on and do their thing. If I can sum the album up in one line borrowed from the record itself, it’s “we want our film to be beautiful, not realistic” and Hissing Fauna achieves this maxim. The funk of Faberge Falls For Shuggie hearkens back to some Check Your Head-era Beastie Boys crossed with some smooth Steely Dan-ish elevator soul, making for a weird, if not infinitely interesting listen.

So, it appears that Of Montreal is here to stay, and I thank the music gods in earnest. The effect that 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic had on me, and what 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins helped to further cement in my mind is more than merely replicated on Hissing Fauna, it’s like the last in a trilogy that completes the circuit and gives new meaning to their entire body of work. Concept albums are one thing, but conceptual continuity is a whole ‘nother thing, and Of Montreal is heading down a road that few others have, so mentioning them in the same sentence as Frank Zappa and King Crimson, two other bands that come to mind when thinking about continuing a concept over several years/albums worth of work, may be a heady concession, but I can wait and hope that’s where they’re going…

Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?