More 30-Second Reviews!

I’m not even going to make any excuses anymore, this whole “short review” thing is kind of fun to do; I hope they’re fun to read. Glaring omissions aside (and by that I mean both records I’m just straight up not even going to try to listen to and what’s left out of reviews by cutting them down from a thousand words to barely a hundred), I’m going to keep at this all year. My goal in January was to listen to 100 releases from 2009. Well, I’m half-way there.

Zu – Carboniferous (Ipecac Recordings; released February 10th, 2009)zu

Holy fuck this is a heavy album, and I don’t mean heavy like heavy metal; I mean heavy like sludgy, post-rock jazz prog-metal. I don’t even know what to call this, it’s so immense. It just feels like “weight” if you catch my drift. Barreling headlong into so many different styles can be both a blessing and at times confusing- it has prog’s weird time signatures, chunky, churning riffs like sludge metal, drumming that would make Buddy Rich blush and that post-rock cinematic grandiosity. It’s an intense listen. That being said, it gets bogged down in the aforementioned sludge at times, but there’s so many different facets to this record it’s at least an above average album. Grade: 7/10

Mountains – Choral (Thrill Jockey Records; released February 16th, 2009)mountains

Barring a Brian Eno record in the next eight months, I’d say this is the best ambient album of the year. These two art-school chums (Koen Holtkamp & Brendon Anderegg) make aural art with a slow, atmospheric record- designed to both entrance the listener and melt into the background. As much as you want to walk away from it, it holds your attention. Like a sculpture you didn’t know was in the room and when you suddenly realize it’s there, it’s like the most important thing in there. Remember those cheesy New-Age Pure Moods albums with Enya and Moby from the late 90s? Yeah, fuck those. This album is the shit- floating out there in the ether somewhere between Discreet Music and that Fennesz record from last year. Grade: 8/10

Fol Chen – Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made (Asthmatic Kitty Records; released February 17th, 2009)folchen

From Fol Chen‘s bio on Asthmatic Kitty‘s website: You know that mysterious black object that the creepy family is staring at on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Presence” album?  Fol Chen sound like that. So Fol Chen sounds like a 12-inch square black dildo? Not exactly, but they revel in extraordinary pop music of the future; it’s got synths, 808 hand claps, bass lines out the wazoo- but they’re not a dance band per se, more of a sway band. Tracks like No Wedding Cake and Cable TV are there to get the party started, while songs like The Believers and You And Your Sister In Jericho shut it down. If there’s such a thing as post-pop, Fol Chen is it. So that’s what that damn family is staring at… Grade: 8/10

These Are Powers – All Aboard Future (Dead Oceans Records; released February 17th, 2009)thesearepowers

I was hoping this band was British because you can never have enough reasons to hate on the English. Then I saw that they’re from Brooklyn. That sounds about right. I was going to give it a three, but look at this album cover. I mean, really- this is why sometimes you gotta love those shitty reviews in Vice Magazine, because my immediate knee-jerk reaction to this album was, “God damn it, do they even know how to match up the drums and bass, or are they doing it on purpose to be edgy?” Then the album cover convinced me, they really have no idea… Grade: 2/10

Kurt Vile – God Is Saying This To You (Mexican Summer Records; released March 3rd, 2009)kurtvile

Please, send me your address so I can mail my fist to your face for not listening to Philly’s Kurt Vile. Sometimes member of The War On Drugs, Mr. Vile‘s two albums have been in heavy rotation for the past two weeks. Three reasons I miss living in Philly: the Phillies’ World Series Win last October, cheesesteaks and probably being able to run into Kurt Vile at a.k.a. Records. It’s like a trip down memory lane listening to this record- that is, if I was alive to hear early 70s AM radio; so I’m imagining that memory anyway. With Vile‘s classic voice and the fractured way he pastes his lyrics and songs together, another record that’ll be up near the top of a year-end list. Obviously any album I give a nine or ten to I’m recommending highly. Duh. Grade: 9/10

Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs (Barsuk Records; released March 3rd, 2009)sayhi

No. Just no. I saw this guy at the Khyber a few years ago as Say Hi To Your Mom, actually discovered his music from a skate video- his first three albums are aces; really nice bedroom recorded glitchy emo-pop. Then he dropped the “To Your Mom” part from his name, and in the process lost a lot more than three words. I think part of why I’m not being as objective as I should be is because I met this guy and he was kind of a dick. Oh well- I guess moving to Brooklyn to start a band will do that to a person.  Grade: 1/10 (which is as low as I can go, I’m saving the zero for something really awful)

Bishop Allen – Grrr… (Dead Oceans Records; released March 10th, 2009)bishopallen

Bishop Allen‘s 2003 debut album, Charm School is a great record. Bishop Allen‘s 2006 12 EPs (one for every month of that year) are really good little records. Bishop Allen‘s 2007 album, The Broken String is a terrible record. Bishop Allen‘s 2009 album, Grrr… is an average album. Jimmy Mac’s 2009 review of Bishop Allen‘s career is awful because he uses superlatives and hyperbole like “great”, “good” and “terrible” which they teach you to never do in rock critic school. In indie rock school (unless your band is named Vampire Weekend), using strings in almost every song is not allowed. Bishop Allen breaks this rule early and often. Grade: 6/10

Handsome Furs – Face Control (SubPop Records; released March 10th, 2009)handsomefurs

I wanna say this band is “The Kills, Part Deux” because electro-rock duo Handsome Furs are a Canadian version of them. The husband-wife team of Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade) and Alexei Perry create an album rife with the imagery of high-stakes Russian club culture- songs like Talking Hotel Arbat Blues, Passport Kontrol, Nyet Spasiba and Radio Kaliningrad reference the post-Soviet party, all over jagged guitar riffs and pulsing beats. It’s a sleazy, post-apocalyptic dance party with skinny blonde Russian mail-order brides and mobsters and all that, like that episode of SVU a few weeks ago… Grade: 6/10

The Mountain Goats & John Vanderslice – Moon Colony Bloodbath (Cadmean Dawn Records; released March 18th, 2009)mooncolony

So this is a split EP between Darnielle and Vanderslice– recent tourmates (as this is a tour-only release) trading 1-2 punches; tracks 1, 3, 5 and 7 go to JD and 2, 4 and 6 to JV. Both are master songwriters, both have keen, almost overly aware powers of perception and the ability to put it into words and from there to melody. Upon repeated listens, there seems to be a common thread- three songs mention Colorado hills, one mentions the desert outside LA and on references the moon. Maybe something about harvesting organs in there as well. Grade: 8/10

Condo Fucks – Fuckbook (Matador Records; released March 24th, 2009)condofucks

Condo Fucks is not Yo La Tengo. Yo La Tengo is Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew. Now; (follow me here) Kaplan, Hubley and McNew are Condo Fucks. Got it? Basically, it’s their new “project”, more of a lo-fi garage sort of thing that totally rocks. I was just thinking the other day, “Man, I need a summer album…” Well folks, this is probably gonna be it, unless Wavves or No Age drop a record in the next three months, which, considering their output, isn’t that far of a stretch. Anyway, Yo La Tengo Condo Fucks would love to have you believe that they’ve been around for years, even going so far as to make a “fake” bio on their Matador Records page. I could care less, this record fucking rocks. Covering songs by The Small Faces, Richard Hell, Beach Boys, Electric Eels, Troggs, Flaming Groovies and Slade– it’s pretty much a raw-ass, gritty sounding record and I love Yo La Tengo Condo Fucks. Grade: 10/10

Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career (4AD Records; released April 21st, 2009)cameraobscura

Twee as all fuck. It’s an easy listen- and if there’s anything I hate more than an easy listen it’s getting drowned in velveteen and chenille, because that’s exactly what this record feels like; cheap showy fabric designed to hide the fact that there isn’t a ton of substance. It’s the elevator muzak version of Belle & Sebastian, which is as close to being an elevator version of itself as any band on the planet. There’s the nice strings, soft melodies, vocal harmonies that would make Madison Avenue circa 1963 ad men jizz in their drawers. Only two listens, no more, please! Grade: 3/10

The Breeders – Fate To Fatal EP (self-released; April 21st, 2009)breeders

Kim Deal, what’s yr deal? A cover of Johnny MathisChances Are? Whoa now, shark jumping aside, really? I should’ve known this EP was gonna really suck because they self-released it. Did they give it to 4AD (who released last year’s Breeder‘s average-at-best Mountain Battles album) and the label was like, “Uh, yeah, Kimmy, babe- we don’t want our good names sullied by this crap…” and Kim and sis were like, “Fuck you guys, we’re doin’ it…” and then I paid a dollar for it on eMusic and even I feel ripped off? I never feel ripped off- but these four songs (three suck, actually the first song I kinda like) are why people “steal” music off the internet, If I paid .37 cents I would feel okay about it, because that’s what it’s worth to my ears. Any typos in this review? I don’t care, I’m fucking mad as hell at The Breeders and I can’t type when I’m mad… Grade: 37 cents on the dollar

The Shins – Wincing The Night Away

The Shins- Wincing The Night Away
(SubPop, release date 1/23/07)

Going in a new direction sometimes will get you lost. The Shins‘ new album sets out in this “new” direction but manages to still embody all the elements that make The Shins, well, The Shins. Basically, what I mean is this: it’s new without being too new. Make sense? I didn’t think it would, but here’s the gist- while many bands try to eschew their old sound by completely overhauling it, Wincing The Night Away presents a fuller, more self-realized sound without abandoning the New Slang slash Pink Bullets sound we’ve come to know and love.

There’s a little bit more distortion and feedback on here, used wisely, but still using that tambourine-snare combo that gives it a sixties-cum-modern folk feel, emblematic of their sound. Every song is rather good, which probably made it extremely hard for the band and the label to pick Phantom Limb as the single. My pick would’ve been Sea Legs, starting with a hip-hop beat and finishing with an amazing “jam” that lasts a few minutes, fading out beautifully. Split Needles is also an amazing track, with its soaring vocals and melodies, fuzz toned guitars, stop/start drum beat, and sampled synth lines.

Written over the last year and partially recorded in his basement studio, lead singer/songwriter/guitarist James Mercer got married, battled insomnia and struggled with some personal issues. So lyrically, it’s introspective, nostalgic and sentimental, but at the same time very forward-thinking. This will undoubtedly be on many critics year-end lists.

Look for it near the top of mine…

Wincing the Night Away