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

SCORE! 20 Years Of Merge Records: THE COVERS!

score

Various Artists – SCORE! 20 Years Of Merge Records: THE COVERS! (Merge Records; April 7th, 2009)

I usually don’t get jazzed up about compilations, but this year can be the rarest of exceptions. Less than two months ago, the good folks over at Red Hot put together the all-star jammy-jam of the millenium. So, not to be outdone, Merge Records co-founders (and Superchunk-ers) Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan (who’s also the man behind Portastatic) put together their own ridiculously awesome compilation, this one to showcase the collective talent of their own label’s bands.

But here’s the catch; it’s all covers of Merge artists’ songs done by non-Merge artists. That’s one hell of a hook- to be able to wrangle bands like The Shins, The National, Bright Eyes, Ted Leo, The New Pornographers, Les Savy Fav, Ryan Adams and Death Cab For Cutie; covering the likes of Arcade Fire, Robert Pollard, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Magnetic Fields and Destoyer (also there’s four songs by the label’s flagship band).

I call Superchunk Merge‘s flagship band because that’s exactly what they are; Mac and Laura started the label to self-release their early 7″ singles as well as their friends in and around the Durham, North Carolina area. And the rest is history; twenty years of independent music history. It’s funny that people label so many bands as “indie rock” when in fact whenever I’ve thought of if indie rock even had a distinct sound, it’d be precisely what Superchunk sounds like (as well as bands like Sebadoh, Archers Of Loaf, Guided By Voices, Pavement, et al.) but it seems like everything released on an independent label these days is considered “indie”. That’s a whole ‘nother essay, someday…

Let’s just shut that off and get into the music; there’s 75 minutes of tunes here, so we have a lot of ground to cover. I’m just going to gloss over the weaker tracks and delve into what makes this record a worthwhile listen, and as most compilations are; a worthwhile cause.

Four Superchunk songs get the do-over: Ryan Adams does well for himself by speeding up his version of Like A Fool and The Hive Dwellers render My Noise as a completely different piece altogether- getting freaky and minimal. But the two standouts are Les Savy Fav sounding identical to on their cover of Precision Auto and Death Cab‘s really nice re-working of Kicked In.

The Shins shine on their cover of Tenement HallsPlenty Is Never Enough, and The New Pornographers play The Rock*A*TeensDon’t Destroy This Night, both songs penned by Chris Lopez, the voice behind both of those bands. Other standouts would be the beautiful Sleep All Summer (Crooked Fingers) duet by St. Vincent and The National, Bill Callahan‘s gruff and curmudgeonly work-over of VersusSanta Maria, John Darnielle‘s excellent guitar-vocal-Panasonic boomboox rendering of East River Pipe‘s Drug Life, Broken Social Scene‘s cover of The Clean‘s Complications (“this song was written before Born To Run” says the small child’s voice before the song- I can’t confirm if this is true; Born To Run was recorded in 1974, The Clean didn’t form until 1978. Hmmmmm…)

Other tracks worthy of mention- two Magnetic Fields‘ songs; Bright Eyes doing Papa Was A Rodeo and Tracey Thorn with Jens Lekman on Yeah! Oh, Yeah!

Now for the bad news (boo!) Okkervil River, The Apples In Stereo and Lavender Diamond: your songs are all terrible.

Dear Robert Schneider (of The Apples In Stereo),

Please, please, please stop making music. How is it you can cover a Neutral Milk Hotel song and make it unlistenable? I hate you- please retire posthaste.

Signed, Jimmy Mac

Also, that aforementioned Hive Dwellers rendition of Superchunk‘s My Noise: the worst song on the record, by far. When I said “freaky and minimal” I meant “lousy and awful”. There is one song I’m quite indifferent to, I like it and I don’t: Times New Viking on Arcade Fire‘s Neighborhood #1. See, I love the song. And it seems that ever since TNV released their album last year i go out of my way to slander them; alas, this isn’t as terrible as their album. It’s still got that annoying fuzzy reverb but there’s an acoustic guitar in there and the vocals aren’t as washed away. I think I like it. I’m not sure- ask me in a month.

So, there you have it; another really good compilation album in 2009. There’s at least five tracks on this that’ll be entered in the song of the year running come December, which had me thinking; should compilation albums and songs from them be considered as album of the year/song of the year finalists?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

Tracklisting:

01 Quasi: “Beautiful Things” (3Ds cover)
02 Les Savy Fav: “Precision Auto” (Superchunk cover)
03 The Shins: “Plenty Is Never Enough” (Tenement Halls cover)
04 St. Vincent and the National: “Sleep All Summer” (Crooked Fingers cover)
05 Broken Social Scene: “Complications” (The Clean cover)
06 Ryan Adams: “Like a Fool” (Superchunk cover)
07 Bright Eyes: “Papa Was a Rodeo” (The Magnetic Fields cover)
08 Lavender Diamond: “New Ways of Living” (Destroyer cover)
09 The Apples in Stereo: “King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 3” (Neutral Milk Hotel cover)
10 Laura Cantrell: “Cowboy on the Moon” (Lambchop cover)
11 Bill Callahan: “Santa Maria” (Versus cover)
12 Barbara Manning: “Through With People” (Portastatic cover)
13 The Mountain Goats: “Drug Life” (East River Pipe cover)
14 The New Pornographers: “Don’t Destroy This Night” (The Rock*A*Teens cover)
15 Tracey Thorn and Jens Lekman: “Yeah! Oh, Yeah!” (The Magnetic Fields cover)
16 The Hive Dwellers: “My Noise” (Superchunk cover)
17 Ted Leo & the Pharmacists: “The Numbered Head” (Robert Pollard cover)
18 Okkervil River: “All You Little Suckers” (East River Pipe cover)
19 Death Cab for Cutie: “Kicked In” (Superchunk cover)
20 Times New Viking: “Neighborhood #1” (Arcade Fire cover)

SCORE! 20 Years Of Merge Records

The Mountain Goats @ Bimbo’s 365 Club

The Mountain Goats at Bimbo’s 365 Club, San Francisco, 2/29/08 with Jeffrey Lewis & The Jitters and Okay.

I’m going to be completely honest. Usually when attending a concert, I try to get there as close to when I think the headliner is playing. I don’t want to sit through a shitty band, or possibly two. Last night was no exception. I’m looking at the tickets, and I’m like, “hmmmm, doors at 7, show at 8, we should get there about 8:45 or so…” Again, I don’t want to sit through shitty music for one minute.

So we timed it pretty good, getting there at 8:45, but alas, how dare an opening band still be playing? *gasp* Not realizing there was another band on before the supporting band, I was shocked after a few minutes to learn that they didn’t suck. They were actually Okay, from right here in the East Bay.

Then, all my dreams of making fun of the supporting band were dashed as they took the stage. They were fucking great, Jeffrey Lewis & The Jitters from some place called Brooklyn. Jeff Lewis is a master storyteller, starting their set with an ode to Ramen noodles. Yes, we’ve all had times in our lives when we subsisted on nothing but the rectangular packages of shrimp-flavored non-nutritional noodles, as Lewis reminded us that all the “artistes” in the Lower East Side do. Or maybe there was a time in my life when I did too, but having a few extra quarters to also get some day-old bagels.

Their set was excellent, and as it went on I realized that I’d heard them before. He’s they guy who wrote the Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror, if you’ve never heard it, do yourself a favor and click the link on his name and listen to that now. It’s pretty fucking hilarious. Lewis’ set was also punctuated with his story books, as he told stories while flipping pages to his drawings to tell his stories. “The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane” was funny as shit, as I also haven’t eaten acid in a long time and can no longer relate to Grateful Dead or Phish fans, having traded my tie-dyes and sandals in for regular clothes. I now dress like an ordinary guy, too.

I was glad we got to see both opening bands, I’m pretty sure Jeffrey Lewis is my new favorite artist.

Jeffrey Lewis & The Jitters, rocking the crowd…




Then The Mountain Goats took the stage about 10:30. John came out, all smiles, and all the women swooned as Peter took up his bass. I swear it got warmer in there by about 10 degrees. John was wearing a death metal band T-shirt, apparently all he listens to is death metal and reggae. Imagine that, being something of an indie icon and not even listening to indie rock at all. That’s why he rules.

Acoustic-based folk metal ditties by John Darnielle…











In full swing now…






Here’s a look at the setlist. They played almost the whole new album, and of course some old favorites. Not playing The Best-Ever Death Metal Band or No Children, two songs I really wanted to hear, are forgiven when you have like 456,743 songs, it’s tough to play them all. And they’re playing two more shows this weekend, so I’m sure the crowd at The Independent or the Bottom Of The Hill will get those jams…

Michael Myers Resplendent
Heretic Pride
You Or Your Memory
Peacocks
How To Embrace A Swamp Creature
Sinaloan Milk Snake
Marduk T-Shirt Men’s Room Incident
Going To Georgia
So Desperate
Waving At You

November Love Song

In The Craters On The Moon
Sept. 15th 1983

San Bernardino

Lovecraft In Brooklyn

Encore
Dance Music

This Year

Houseguest*

Second Encore
California Song

* – on John loving the crowd: “You guys are my favorite, and I’m not just saying that. Go on archive.org for all the live shows on there and I’ll prove it to you…”
















If you aren’t yet a Mountain Goats fan, seriously, what’s wrong with you?