The End of an Era…

This edition of “how many records can be reviewed with as little words as possible” will sadly, be the last for me of this specific type. I’m channeling my energies into something slightly different; this whole trying-to-keep-abreast-of-new-releases thing is pretty freaking exhausting. The entire site is slated to undergo a change, so the morphing of my writing has been a long time coming. Further ado? I think not…

Meanderthals – Desire Lines (Smalltown Supersound; 5/12)

meanderthalsBased on the main components of Meanderthals (an electronic-based outfit; Two English dudes and a Norwegian guy) I’d say before even listening that it’s a recipe for disaster, but surprisingly it’s quite good. Using steel drums, tablas, growling basses- employing some different sounds than what I’m accustomed to hearing in electronic music (and while they may be made on synths) they sound organic. I can remember (vaguely) eating lots of ecstasy at the latter part of the nineties and listening to this Ibiza-chillout music early in the morning as it’s more or less “wearing off”- this is what that’s like (and probably what’s causing the warm feeling in my spine as I listen to it). Conventional wisdom would say this isn’t a great record, but nostalgia is winning out here. 7/10

Finding Fiction – Idaho By The Sea (self-released; 6/2)

finding_fiction“I know the bass player, man…” Whenever I hear people say that about a band I’m always like, “dude, go fuck yourself…” But I really do know the bass player in Finding Fiction, so- I’m one of those guys (tell me to go fuck myself next time you see me). Bassist Tim Farr, along with Mario Santana (vocals and guitar), Scott Eisenberg (drums/percussion) and Josh Coleman (guitar) craft a melodic brand of indie rock that’s short on irony and long on sincerity; which is a good thing- all too often the indie landscape is cluttered with bands that hide their weak chops behind a wall of insincere poseurism. Finding Fiction is refreshing in that they don’t have to hide behind that shit- wearing a huge heart on their sleeve and being proud of it; reveling in authenticity while displaying mastery of their respective instruments. Be that as it may, Idaho By The Sea is a by-the-numbers-indie-rock record; meaning that it’s merely a good album, but the elements are all there for FF to make us a great rock record in the future (based on the three exceptional tracks Time Of Day, Home and I’ll Buy). 7/10

Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue (Warp; 6/22)

ambivalenceThis is probably the best electronic album to come out this year; actually- it’s probably the best to come out in the last few. Bibio is Stephen Wilkinson and you’re about to hear him everywhere (from Toyota commercials to LL Bean), going down the Moby route to riches. Drawing heavily on influences like Boards Of Canada (the most obvious), Paavoharju (for his oblique take on electro/trad-folk) and steel guitar aficionados (he’s a pretty accomplished player in that department), he’s made a really beautiful record- situated halfway between the psychedelic folk of Nick Drake, the stunted beats of Kruder & Dorfmeister and the dark sound of Portishead‘s Adrian Utley & Geoff Barrow. Mixing folk with ambient electronica shouldn’t work; but on Bibio‘s Ambivalence Avenue it does to great success. 9/10

Jonsi & Alex – Riceboy Sleeps (Parlophone; 7/20)

riceboyIf you’re someone who likes ambient string-based music, then you’ll probably say this record’s near perfect. If you like hooky, short structured pop songs; you’ll probably hate this. I’m somewhere in the middle of those two statements, so in effect they sort of cancel each other out- I can sit for long-ass stretches of time just listening, or my ADD can get into hyperdrive where I don’t even finish songs (clicking >> over and over…). Since Jonsi is the mastermind behind Sigur Ros (and I think all of their albums are supremely awesome) I was pretty excited to hear what this side project was all about; it’s basically him, his boyfriend (visual artist Alex Somers) and the four lovely ladies from Amiina (who provide almost all the string work for Sigur Ros‘ recorded output). It’s as pretty a piece of music you’ll find all year (rivaling both MountainsChoral and OAE‘s self-titled debut)- that is if you can sit for 67 minutes just listening; this isn’t “car ride” music or biking to the store tunes, it’s “active” listening music- file under “headphone/eyes closed” music (for lack of a better term). 8/10

Imogen Heap – Ellipse (Megaphonic; 8/24)

imogenMan, the chick from Frou Frou has really come a long way- even though she did her first solo album before that collaboration; that’s the one that introduced the world to Miss Heap, so for all intents and purposes we can say that’s where we first know her from. So let’s thank (or smirk, or roll our eyes at) Zach Braff for including Frou Frou on that Garden State Soundtrack. In fact, that’s pretty much where Imogen’s music plays best at- apparently she’s had tracks featured on The O.C. (I’ve never seen it, was it a good show?) so that’s firmly entrenched in my mind as I listen to her newest. Basically, I’m listening to the background music when the two main characters on Grey’s Anatomy finally kiss (unless they already did, then I guess it’s suitable for two lesser characters to make out to one of these tracks; maybe the single First Train Home, or the track Swoon, it doesn’t matter because these songs are all very similar…) Either way, Miss Heap‘s pigeonholed her music into the whole “coffee-shop-and-sweaters-let’s-watch-One-Tree-Hill-together” set, which will probably sell her a ton of records. Good for you! 5/10

Datarock – Red (Young Aspiring Professionals; 9/1)

datarock-redNorwegian electro-rock duo known for the awesome songs Fa-Fa-Fa and Princess from 2005’s Datarock Datarock– here on Red there’s less electro and more rock; the songs work more cohesively as a full album. That being said, Datarock is still doing it Datarock style- which is to say: tongue-in-cheek lyrics, synth-driven explorations, pounding drums (both live and machinated) and clean guitar riffs. If these guys had a TV show everyone would be all “Flight Of The who…?” because these guys write funnier songs (their overall, self-deprecating vibe plays much better over the funky, disco-punk thing) and are much better musicians (plus the fact they’re Scandanavian; catchy hooks are written somehow into their DNA coding). Comparisons aside; the whole nerds-with-guitars-and-Pro-Tools thing is pretty rad; even if your biggest shows are to SXSW crowds you’re still rock stars, albeit not in the traditional piles-of-coke-with-groupies-on-the-tour-bus way. If there was ever a sequel to the awesome 80s BMX movie Rad, please have Datarock do the soundtrack. 8/10

Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation; 9/8)

blueprint_3I’m going to do something that I usually don’t do as a review; a track-by-track “running” review of Jay‘s Blueprint 3. So, as it goes-

Song 1; What We Talkin’ About (with Luke Steele): kinda cheesy, I mean; it’s the dude from Empire Of The Sun on backing vocals over a synthy track that doesn’t work as an album opener at all. 3/10.

Next; Thank You: awful; that vocal hook is terrible. The music itself is more representative of what Jay‘s all about, but still- that weak attempt at a hook is so detracting: 5/10.

D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune): finally a Jay-Z track, dismissing the use of auto-tune (hopefully this will effectively sound the death knell of that terrible T-Pain et. al…) 7/10.

Run This Town (featuring Rihanna & Kanye West): one of the year’s best tracks, everything Rihanna touches turns to gold. And Kanye; at first I hated his verse, but it’s grown on me (and after his Taylor Swift debacle it’s more and more obvious the man is seriously crazy, as is his dis of his own fans on this track: “whatchu think I rap for? / to push a fuckin’ Rav-4?” I mean, really? About 90% of your fans push something similar to a Rav-4 and that’s how it is? You’re a sick fuck, Ye…) Jay kills; it’s a classic. Anyway; this is a great song, so here’s a 10/10.

Empire State Of Mind (feat. Alicia Keys): another nice track, the same can be said about the peerless Miss Keys as I said previously about Rihanna; now that’s a fucking vocal hook- you got me with this one (production from Al Shux is super tight as well, reminiscent of “that ole Jig rhythm“…) 9/10.

Real As It Gets (with Young Jeezy): meh. Filler material. Jeezy can’t flow like Jay, he slows the momentum with his southern version of DMX‘s style- he’s just a weak rapper, why would you feature him, Jay? And the backing track isn’t anything special. 4/10.

On To The Next One (feat. Swizz Beatz): again; blase blah. Swizz sucks, always has- I just went through his production credits; he’s got nothing. Nothing, yet the man has tons of work. I must be out of my mind. Anyway; this whole track is just awful. Pure shit. 1/10

Off That (feat. Drake): three weak-ass tracks in a row; oh, how Jay has fallen. Drake blows. This record is strating to make me angry; it’s really just sub-par to mediocre guest after guest (with the exception of Rihanna & Alicia Keys every collaboration is a head-scratching WTF moment). Yo Jay, your boy Drake need to shut the fuck up. 3/10

A Star Is Born (feat. J. Cole): not a bad track; not a great track. J. Cole is alright; the track is so-so, what makes this song decent is Jay‘s roll-call and shout outs to all the NY rappers over the years; he gives his props where props are due. Much respect. 7/10.

Venus vs. Mars (feat. Cassie): awful. Again, more shit piled on top of more shit doesn’t hide all the shit underneath. 2/10.

Already Home (feat. Kid Cudi): Kanye should stick to what Kanye‘s best at: PRODUCING. This is a really tight track; unfortunately (again) an awful vocal hook by Cudi ruins what could’ve been a great song, and one thing this album needs is great songs because all I’m hearing is shit. Slightly above average, 6/10.

Hate (ft. Kanye West): I don’t know why I like the vocals in this song, they’re both playing back-and-forth, kinda jokey and corny but for some reason I’m digging it. Uh oh, this must be “pity”. I’m feeling sorry for Jay (after all, Reasonable Doubt & The Blueprint are two of the best hip-hop albums of all time) and who doesn’t both hate and pity Ye these days? Damn, they getting points from pity… 7/10

Reminder: this is only the third track from B3 that doesn’t feature help from anyone; it’s a somewhat decent* Timbaland-by-numbers leftover that probably got nixed from either the last Missy Elliot or Nelly Furtado record. I can see Jay calling Tim: “Yo, you got anything for my Blueprint 3 coming up?” Tim: “Oh-oh, uh, yeah I got a brand new track I been working on…” right after Missy was all, “Tim, this sounds like 2001 all over again, I ain’t gonna use you on my next record.” Because this song just reeks of estrogen. * – somewhat decent = just average: 5/10.

So Ambitious (ft. Pharrell): yeah, this doesn’t work for me either. Remember that Pharrell/Jay-Z collab from 2003, Frontin’? That was the best song that year. I guess lightning only strikes once, fellas… 3/10.

Young Forever (ft. Mr Hudson): this song appeals to me because 1) it’s basically a hip-hop version of Alphaville‘s Forever Young; 2) Jay saying (reluctantly) good-bye to his youth; and 3) Kanye does a great job on the track, again; this is just another reason why he needs to stick to PRODUCING and just SHUT THE FUCK UP. 9/10.

So, in summation: 81 total points divided by 15 songs equals 5.4 overall. I’m basically seeing a trend with Jay-Z‘s work this decade; every OTHER album is great, the ones in between are pretty much shit. Case in point: The Blueprint (almost perfect), followed by the crap-tastic Blueprint 2, then coming back with a game changer like The Black Album (again; near perfect record), then the “comeback” record Kingdom Come (I listened to it once and deleted it off my hard drive; it’s that bad- the fucking Coldplay guy is on it for fuck’s sake) followed by his “real” comeback album American Gangster (not a “soundtrack” album per se, more of a concept album based on the movie; it’s some real gangster shit yo). Now here’s the instantly forgettable (musically regrettable) Blueprint 3. Do yourself a favor; skip this, skip every other Jay-Z record. On a good note, conventional wisdom dictates that Jay‘s next album is going to be awesome, though… 5.4

Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II (Ice H2O; 9/8)

raekwonOf the two most anticipated hip-hop releases this year (both released on the same day), guess which one is better? No brainer; obviously The Chef‘s is gonna be the tighter of the two- whenever an album has Ghostface Killah on it, along with an absolute all-star production staff (that beef between Rae & the RZA has been squashed over the production of 8 Diagrams– more on this squabble later…) 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 quashed, 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 Dig) which revisits the classic Wu style of yesteryear. Even if i give this record a ten, that only makes it twice as good as Jay-Z’s, when in actuality it’s 4 to 5 times better. 10/10

More on the rift between Rae & RZA- Chef thought the beats and production for the last few Wu records wasn’t up to par, so he took away the full production credits from Rizz for this record, basically giving tracks to whoever would do them. Apparently RZA has hundreds upon hundreds of tracks just “sitting around” and didn’t want to give up his best stuff, instead saving it for the next full Wu-Tang record (which is fair). You may have heard that Rae, Ghost & Meth are doing an album together- so what’s up with the future of the Wu? Stay Tuned…

September Catching Up

Now’s a better time than ever to weigh in on The Beatles‘ 2009 remasters, or re-remasters, or re-released re-remasters, whatever… since they came out this past week (9/9/09). I’ve only had the pleasure of listening to Abbey Road & The White Album, since they’re the two best records in their catalog and the two I associate with their deserved reputation as the greatest rock-and-roll band of all-time. Basically; they’ve been improved by making them less “muddy” (not to say Sir George Martin‘s original production was muddy, he did the absolute best with what was available at the time), but there seems to be more “space” between each instrument and the vocals; it’s definitely “louder” and “crisper”, take the mix on I Want You (She’s So Heavy) from Abbey Road; the snare has much more “punch”, the cymbal hits are more present, Paul‘s bass feels as though it’s way more upfront, actually, everything feels like it’s more forward in the mix- the layered vocals during the chorus are actually distinguishable in that you can hear each part separate in the left/right channels (seriously; mess with your speaker’s knobs as the chorus plays if you wanna hear what I’m talking about.) Anyway- totally worth it if you’re a Beatles‘ fan.

Some of these albums aren’t worth the plastic they’re pressed on, but whatever…

maudlin Of The Well – Part The Second (self-released; 5/14)

maudlinThis record was one of those accidental finds- all I can say is it’s been one of the year’s most challenging listens for a number of reasons. maudlin Of The Well is an avant-garde art-prog outfit that veers dangerously close to post-rock; Part The Second is not an album you can throw on and clean the house to- it demands you pay close attention (for there are subtle nuances hidden all over this record) which ultimately leads to the record’s downfall; it’s challenging in that its overt influences make it somewhat pretentious; while the playing displays unparalleled virtuosity, the blending of rock with jazz saxophones and classical string arrangements make it too unfocused, the noodly guitars border on masturbatory, the vocal effects are annoying at times; it’s not a study in what prog should be (or could be), and for that I need my classic 70s stuff (Yes, Jethro Tull, et al.); there’s a reason the genre died- no need to exhume the bodies and study them again. This album is free if you want it, here’s the link. 5/10

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – ‘Em Are I (Rough Trade; 5/19)

jeffrey-lewisJeff Lewis is best experienced live- that being said; his albums are exercises in patience in that he’s as much a visual performance artist as he’s a musician, the music itself leaves a lot to be desired. His comic books are component pieces to his music; the time I saw him open for The Mountain Goats, his folk-punk story-telling was endearing because it was set as a narrative to his gigantic flip book of drawings (The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane and others). Furthermore; his web/TV show is pretty awesome- he’s huge in the UK where most of the episodes are set, as is his record label. Anyway, for this album it’s more vintage Jeff Lewis (lyrically it’s self-deprecating in that whole “I’m a dirty poet that can’t get laid, Oh how I have to suffer for my art…” thing) which isn’t all that endearing on celluloid- again; plays great on the camera and the canvas, but here’s it’s trite as fuck. Musically, it’s more mature (read: better production, better musicians, etc.) so that saves it a wee bit, especially the eight-minute jam-out The Upside-down Cross, but for the most part, it’s just a so-so version of the Lower East Side’s punk-folk scene- which even the best of that is probably just below average… 5/10

Rome – Flowers From Exile (Trisol; 6/26)

romeAnother record I completely stumbled on by accident, how often do you find yourself perusing “industrial folk” duos from Luxembourg? I didn’t even know that genre existed, let alone the bold, deep baritone of lead singer Jerome Reuter‘s voice- which is at once both startling and comforting; he recalls Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Tom Waits and The National‘s Matt Berninger. Add Patrick Damiani‘s production (complemented by field recordings, foreign voices, ambient textures, dark and brooding industrial-type rhythms, Spanish guitars, etc.) and you have an interesting listen to say the least. The story line follows that of the Spanish Civil War; making the album dark and apocalyptic in its scope, revealing a narrative of a war-torn and displaced people, soldiers, isolation, desperation- acting as a modern-day protest record in itself. It’s as European an album I’ll find all year; it’s making me want to delve deeper into the Old Continent’s vast expanses of undiscovered music reserves to find something as new and rewarding as this. 8/10

Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Chamber Music (E1 Music; 6/30)

wu-tang-clan-chamber-musicBasically a mix-tape made by the RZA, even though only five of the Clan are featured (RZA, U-God, Ghostface, Raekwon and Inspectah Deck) it’s still a Wu release and for that I’m grateful. It’s the Wu, motherfucker; it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be available. That’s all. But you can’t put Tony Starks, the Chef and Bobby Digital in a room together and it not be good, again- it’s Wu, mother fucker. Plus, New York legends Masta Ace, AZ, Cormega, Sean Price, Havoc of Mobb Deep, Kool G Rap and Brand Nubian’s Sadat X all show up for guest appearances and Brooklyn-based funk/soul band The Revelations provide live instrumentation for eight of the 17 tracks; it’s an interesting combination. Working with various producers (Andrew Kelley, Bob Perry, Noah Rubin, Tre Williams of The Revelations and Fizzy Womack of M.O.P) give this album a cohesive feel; after RZA‘s production on 8 Diagrams created beef between him, Ghost and Rae for not having that “classic Wu sound” this can be seen as a return to that darker, sinister sound. Tracks like Harbor Masters, Evil Deeds and Ill Figures are all cut from the classic mold of Shaolin street knowldge; if you like hip-hop you’ll like this. If you like the Wu, you’ll love this. 9/10

Cass McCombs – Catacombs (Domino; 7/7)

catacombsThanks to Jason Dill for introducing me to Cass McCombs. If you’re unfamiliar with Dill, he’s the pro skater that was pals with Jack Osbourne on the first season of The Osbournes, the dude who had a bottle of Jack Daniels among his possessions. Anyway, Dill skated to a McCombs‘ song (What Isn’t Nature) for his video part in DVS’ Skate More (2005) and Jerry Hsu followed suit a year later, skating to a different McCombs‘ song (Sacred Heart) for his Bag Of Suck part. So there’s your skate-video-music-cross-referencing-nerd-shit that I do. So onto the review of this Cass record now; I’d like to add that with each subsequent release, Mr. McCombs becomes a little more refined, his songwriting gets a little better- he’s moved away from the ethereal sounding, churning dream pop and towards a more “American” sound (which is to say a countrified brand of folk-rock that isn’t too much of either). I prefer McCombs‘ albums A and PREfection to this record, as well as his last (2007’s Dropping The Writ). It’s still a decent album. One thing McCombs does that I really like is this idea of “conceptual continuity”, carrying related themes and threads of consciousness from record to record. 7/10

Clark – Totems Flare (Warp; 7/13)

clark_totems_flaresJust a quick peek at Clark‘s labelmates on Warp Records and you have an idea what they are before clicking play: !!!, Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada, Flying Lotus, Prefuse 73 and Squarepusher would all lead you to assume it’s electronic (correct) and dancy (somewhat) which would immediately raise an eyebrow- I like most of those artists (someonly for their visual collaborations; I’m looking at you Aphex Twin) but for the most part, I eschew any association with danceble electro music. Clark’s Totems Flare (minus the four songs that have vocals) is a decent album that doesn’t sway too far into hardcore techno or the other way into sleep-inducing downtempo trip-hopping; the other seven tracks are enjoyable as background music- never encroaching fully into your consciousness but hovering just below the line of noticeability. And for that, it’s a below average record. 6/10

The Duke & The King – Nothing Gold Can Stay (Ramseur Records; 8/4)

nothing-gold-can-stay“Is that Cat Stevens?” says my girlfriend from the other room. Dear The Duke & The King: immediate musical fail. Now before you freak out and say, “YOU DON’T LIKE CAT STEVENS!?!?” I’ll interject with; I like the Cat Stevens, I don’t like post-millennial ripoffs, the man is still alive for Allah’s sake. You know, I don’t like this neo-country folk stuff all that much, there’s no dividing line that separates it from all the other lousy drivel- there’s just no hook. At least Sam Beam and Justin Vernon (Iron & Wine and Bon Iver, respectively) have that hook, I can’t put my finger on it in so many words, but whatever it is they do have, The Duke & The King don’t have it. This makes me glad I didn’t experience 70s AM radio firsthand, I don’t think I can get through this whole record without at least one suicidal thought. When you see me next, say thank you for listening to all this crappy music so you don’t have to. I’m taking a bullet for you… 3/10

Destroyer – Bay Of Pigs EP (Merge; 8/18)

bay-of-pigsIf this record was made by anyone else I wouldn’t have given it the time of day. But since Dan Bejar has released three of the best records of the last ten years (2000’s Thief, 2001’s Streethawk: A Seduction & 2006’s Destroyer’s Rubies) he gets special handling. Why? Because it’s a damn disco record, an “ambient” disco record at that, clocking in at a bit over thirteen-and-a-half minutes. Halfway between casual dining music and 16-bit video game music (sorta like playing Sega Genesis at that hip Belgian place in the Mission) it doesn’t suck (completely) but it’s not gonna score high marks outside of the fact that it’s really a stretch for Destroyer, and going outside of your comfort zone is a big risk. But as far as the music goes, I’m not the type to hang out at Italian discos wearing guyliner and $700 shirts, so I’m gonna pass on Destroyer‘s Bay Of Pigs– at least the first track anyway. Track 2, Ravers, is a vocals-synth-and-organ tune that’s not as out of place as the EP’s title track, yet it’s not as interesting. It works out to be a confusing piece of music, all 21-plus minutes of it. 3/10

BLK JKS – After Robots (Secretly Canadian; 9/8)

blk-jksI’m going to contradict myself now; I said earlier that prog should rest in peace- I meant to say “only if it’s done poorly” as in the over-indulgent, self-aggrandizing form of the genre. Here comes South Africa’s BLK JKS (obviously pronounced black jacks) who can make rock music that’s both proggy and arty, sans wallowing in pretense. An exercise in energetic guitars, spastic drumming, deep-bottom basses, emotive and soulful vocals relating poignant lyrics from a part of the world that’s been sorely under-represented in popular music. They put out the best EP of the year so far (back in March, titled Mystery) and one of the best live shows I’ve seen this year; file them under Best New Act of 2009. The re-working of Lakeside (the stand-out track from the EP) on here isn’t as urgent and raw as it originally appeared, it fits with the overall mood of this record. If it remained as it did on the short-player it would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb; instead producer Brandon Curtis (of Secret Machines) made it a slower, more refined, vocals-up-front-mix. The album has a “dark cloud” sort of moodiness to it, all the while hinting at some type of silver lining; exploring dub rhythms, churning synths, interwoven guitar lines, out-of-this world drumming- BLK JKSAfter Robots is a welcome addition to any music fan’s library. 8/10

Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs (Matador; 9/8)

popularsongsThis is YLT‘s 309th release and their 373rd year together. Not really, but it feels like it, am I right or am I right? More like 25 years strong (17 with current line-up) and 46th release (18th full-length offering) would have you believe that the gang ain’t going anywhere anytime soon- and with their latest, Popular Songs, they’re right back at it. With other bands, the term “paint-by-numbers” would come as a dismissal that they were mailing it in, but paint-by-numbers Yo La Tengo is a good thing because they’re better than your average band; I wouldn’t want them to put an album of garage punk classic out now, would I? Oh wait, they did that… Anyway, that’s exactly what’s so endearing about YLT; the fact that all three members have an equal say; all three have shared songwriting credits since 97’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One– and here on Popular Songs it’s an obvious group effort. Classic YLT would prescribe that the band can’t be hemmed into one specific genre; so there’s the fuzz-tone jams, something for the shoegazer in us all (By Two’s, I’m On My Way), their noisy brand of pop (incorporating strings in If It’s True and Here To Fall), a heavier reliance on the Hammond B-3 sound and long experimental-type songs (The Fireside, And The Glitter Is Gone). In summation, a YLT album is a very, very good thing. 9/10

I’m On A Boat…

The Lonely Island – Incredibad (Universal Republic; 2/10)incredibad

You know, I really didn’t want to review this record- I’ve been listening it for four months now and didn’t want to denigrate its awesomeness with a review. But there are too many great songs here to deny that it’s one of the best albums of the year- from the SNL Digital Short skit-based jams everyone already knows (the insanely viral Lazy Sunday with Chris Parnell, Dick In A Box with a metro-beared Justin Timberlake, a dirty-ass Natalie Portman on Natalie’s Rap) to the new ones (song of the year nomination goes to the T-Pain assisted I’m On A Boat; the hilarious ode to premature ejaculation Jizz In My Pants; lampooning corporate leadership skills on Like A Boss) and all the guest stars here: Julian Casablancas of The Strokes (Boombox), Norah Jones (Dreamgirl), an uncredited Joanna Newsom on the reggae-spoofing Ras Trent, hyphy Bay Area legend E-40 clowning Carlos Santana‘s foray into the sparkling wine biz with Santana DVX, it’s the funniest album since… since… (don’t say Flight of The Conchords, those dudes are only mildly funny at best). The only weak spot is the Jack Black (Sax Man) song, someone must’ve forgot to tell these guys he’s several years past his prime. Still, it’s one of the best this year, or the year 3022- the year of Space Olympics. 10/10

UGK – UGK 4 Life (Jive; 3/31)4life

Four years ago an album by Houston-based rapper Mike Jones hit the streets- it was all I could listen to for about two months that year, imagine me rolling in a silver Suzuki Forenza bumpin’ that jam all day long. Seriously, I even made Back Then my ringtone. Then, as quickly as it came into my life, it was gone. UGK‘s Bun B spit a verse on one of those songs, I remember thinking “is this the dude who rapped on Jay-Z‘s Big Pimpin back in the day?” Yeah, that’s Underground Kingz– the duo of Bun B and Pimp C. Some of this album was finished after Pimp died in December of ’07, so it’s as if he’s rapping from the grave on some of these tracks. Nevertheless, it lacks the infectiousness of some recent hip-hop favorites (Clipse‘s Hell Hath No Fury is one I can think of). Some of the tracks are bangers, re-calling their 2007 International Player’s Ball (I Choose You); you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting that song two years ago. But, some of the songs are straight clunkers (all that new jack R&B shit is just whack- singers Raheem DeVaughn and Akon kill the momentum with their shmoove shit); but songs featuring West Coast legends Snoop Dogg, E-40 and Too Short are all tight. When it’s hip-hop, it’s a hell of a record, when there’s all those corny R&B hooks, it’s just hurtin’. Pimp C, rest in peace. 7/10

Suckers – Suckers EP (IAMSOUND; 4/14)suckers

First off, four songs at sixteen minutes is too short, and I’d only say that because this is good enough that I want more, at least 40 minutes of it. Second, Suckers make a unique brand of pop-meets-spiritual music in that they share a musical sensibility that’s equal parts Yeasayer and MGMT– so it’s both a gospel-esque sing-along (or shout-along) as well as rhythmic enough to get your head nodding, even danceable at times. Suckers are your urban hippies with synths- when music comes away from the campfire and into a studio full of electronics and midi sounds; the result is sublime- It Gets Your Body Movin’ is one of the best songs I’ve come across this year. 9/10

Magnolia Electric Co. – It’s Made Me Cry (Secretly Canadian; 4/18)magnolia

Jason Molina has a voice that could stop traffic- or melt your heart; depending on what your tastes are, I’d say he’s a somewhat acquired one that puts an arrow in my chest upon every listen. Bordering somewhere around a high nasal register and adenoidal warble, his lofty vocalizations are a cross between Neil Young‘s falsetto and Colin Meloy‘s whine. This four song EP was released specially for Record Store Day, and while it’s classic in its Molina-ness; three of the four songs feature piano rather than guitar, and it’s only six-and-a-half minutes long. It’s basically a stop-gap between 2006’s Fading Trails and next month’s Josephine. “Stop-gap” sounds kind of shitty; in actuality it’s a benefit record for the late Evan Farrell‘s Memorial Fund, Magnolia‘s bass player that died in an Oakland apartment fire in December, 2007. Only 1,000 were pressed, so if you have a copy, consider yourself lucky because I haven’t been able to find one anywhere… 8/10

Cryptacize – Mythomania (Asthmatic Kitty; 4/21)cryptacize

Mythomania is the outdated terminology for “pathological lying”; but there’s an earnestness in Nedelle Torisi‘s voice and something ancient in there as well. Ex-Deerhoof guitarist Chris Cohen‘s subtle studio wizardry (as well as singing lead on two tracks) is a perfect complement to their kitschy psychedelia. I’m drawing comparisons to a stripped-down Stereolab here; it reveals the wonder of a world we forgot (or never experienced)- the late 1950’s post-Sputnik sparseness of their sound is pleasureable in that it sounds simultaneously like something I’ve heard before and like nothing I’ve ever heard. It’s a musical conundrum that falls midway between a joke and high art; the riddle is how does this record sound so complex when it’s really so simple? I think that’s its instant appeal, however- it begs repeated listens, showing this listener more and more upon the next play and the next. 8/10

Diamond Watch Wrists – Ice Capped At Both Ends (Warp; 4/28)ice_capped

Hella drummer Zach Hill and the ever-prolific Prefuse 73 (aka Guillermo Scott Herren, whose latest record was just reviewed in the post here) unite for a genre-bending offering of the WTF variety, equal parts prog-rock mess and incoherent folk-via-hip-hop; exactly what you’d expect if you’ve ever delved into Hill‘s take on spazz-core kit skills (he’s the best in the game; if you say Don Caballero‘s Damon Che, you’re not only wrong but an idiot- everyone knows he’s a total megalomaniacal dick and he edits his own Wikipedia page entries). Uh, anyway- Prefuse‘s glitchy take on music combined with Zach‘s crazy rad drumming is one of the year’s most head-scratching collaborations, and it works to some avail. That’s the good part; the bad is that some of the almost 38 minute album drags along at times, periodically being rescued by Hill‘s beats (which P73 occasionally gives the “screwed & chopped” treatment to, slowing it down like it was sipping that Purple Drank). Battles’ Tyondai Braxton shows up on a track, but that’s about it for the highlights. 6/10

The Wooden Birds – Magnolia (Barsuk; 5/12)wooden-birds

Heartfelt, emotionally overwrought folk-rock; I usually love this shit (Iron & Wine and Bon Iver are immediately called to mind) but this is the main dude from The American Analog Set– and while I like their older stuff (they influenced one of my favorites, fellow Austinites Explosions in The Sky and got them their first record deal) they’ve veered towards a safer route as of late. This record follows that same “plays-it-safe” route as well; its songs are all four-minutes-or-less, adhering to that rootsy Americana formula AmAnSet frontman Andrew Kenny‘s been delving more into, and away from the seven-plus minute sadcore jams his real band used to play. Do we really need another album like this? 4/10

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glassnote; 5/26)phoenix

God, I 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 not half bad. Songs like 1901, Lisztomania andthe 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… 8/10

By The Numbers…

I know- you’re wondering where all the full length reviews are, right?

Why write 1,500 words on one album when I can spread 2,000 words out on 10 at once? Since we’re in an economic downturn, I’m trying to save words like I’m trying to squeeze every penny. And since eMusic changed their rates by adding 200,000 new tracks and getting all “major label” on us; inking a deal to bring on artists from Sony and their subsidiaries Columbia, Epic, RCA and Arista; which now means Springsteen, Miles Davis, Wu-Tang, The Clash, OutKast, et. al.

Now we’ll only be getting 50 downloads a month at $19.99 instead of the 100 for $24.99, effectively raising the 25 cents a song fee to 40 cents per. It’s nice to know someone’s still making a killing when the rest of us are losing our jobs and re-mortgaging our homes and all that awesome stuff you thought wouldn’t happen before something did last September 15th…

…oh, yeah. Music reviews!

Peter Bjorn & John – Living Thing (Almost Gold, 3/31)peter_bjorn-john

Man, that Young Folks song was pretty awesome, huh? It was everywhere back in ’06-’07, I swear you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting that song in the face. Even Kanye sampled it. So did it really take almost three years to make this record? Because I gotta say, Peter, Bjorn and John, that you guys really half-assed it. You Swedes write hooks like Ikea sells strange-sounding cheap mode furniture, and there’s only half an album’s worth of hooks here. This record literally hurt my feelings; where Writer’s Block was an overflowing bag of hooks of delicious Scandanavian pop goodness that we as a public didn’t deserve, this record offers me nothing when I feel we deserve more. It’s like PB&J drew a line right down the middle of this record, saying: “songs 1-6 will have spare melodies, we musn’t bother too much with infectious hooks because that’s what everyone expects from us- so that’s our big ‘fuck you’ to everyone”. Then songs 6 through 12, we’ll basically take a shit into the microphone so people really know that we mean “fuck you”. If you bought this record, the jokes on you. 3/10

Telekinesis – Telekinesis! (Merge; 4/7)telekinesis

I remember a time when Death Cab For Cutie didn’t suck so bad- I’m thinking back to pre-Transatlanticism days now, so what’s that, like 2003? So yeah- that’s what my first impression of Telekinesis does for me; bedroom indie-pop that’s both suffocatingly self-aware and completely hummable (which doesn’t always translate to “good”). And here’s the rub- Chris Walla (of Death Cab) produced this record, so that’s where it goes horribly wrong. Besides for the two Decemberists‘ records he’s done (Picaresque and The Crane Wife) and the four decent records his own band has done, Walla‘s production is perfectly suited for Michael Benjamin Lerner‘s Gibbard-cloning sound; right down to the echo and reverb vocals heard on Company Calls Epilogue (from 2000’s We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes, my fave DCFC record), that faux 4-track tape hiss- I mean, really; were you trying to make another Something About Airplanes or The Photo Album? I recently read this guy passed up a major label deal with Columbia to sign with independent stalwarts Merge, but I think that’s only so he can gain some of that oh so hard to get “indie cred”. Anyway, Death Cab For Cutie comparisons aside, Telekinesis! is better than their last record, but only by a little bit. 4/10

Easy Star All-Stars – Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band (Easy Star, 4/14)easy-stars

When this band released Dub Side Of The Moon, I was firmly entrenched in my dub phase and went ape shit for that record. Likewise Radiodread, it was important in that reggae was a vital third world music. I think reggae’s been surpassed as the most urgent voice of the struggle now that there’s so much wonderful music coming out of Africa, and I’ve been having a hard time taking reggae serious as of late. Reason being; how is it possible to take something serious that on one hand deplores Babylon and its commercialism yet relies on it for income? If you want to “bite the hand that feeds you”, release an 80-minute album of straight noise (like Lou Reed‘s Metal Machine Music.) That being said, why this band would cover The Beatlesfifth best album is completely beyond me; plus- why they’d include a corny Hasidic rapper-toaster (Matisyahu) with legends like Luciano, The Mighty Diamonds, Max Romeo, Sugar Minott, U-Roy and Steel Pulse renders this project moot and destroys its credibility. Reggae’s been dead for a long time now; it’s merely a reproduction of itself in its glory days that seemingly will carry on ad infinitum as long as this brand of campy, sentimental “cover” album-project shit exists. 1/10

Prefuse 73 – Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian (Warp; 4/14)prefuse

Who’s more prolific? Guillermo Scott Herren or Omar Rodriguez-Lopez? It doesn’t matter anyway, by the time you’ve finished reading this both artists will have put out at least three more records under whatever moniker they’re using right now. You’re also probably wondering why the hell I’d drag Omar into a review of a Prefuse 73 album; because I was trying to think who P-73‘s contemporaries would be- he’s too progressive to be thrown in with J Dilla, Peanut Butter Wolf or DJ Shadow; uses the craziest and obscure samples so I can’t compare him to Girl Talk; so I went the other way and lumped him in with that crazy guy from The Mars Volta who never sleeps and puts out like 12 albums a year. I imagine P-73 doesn’t sleep; and this record sounds like a disturbed electro-phonic nightmare. I heard that if you take Ambien but force yourself to stay awake you have crazy patterns of behavior which you won’t remember in the morning. I think that’s what Herren did here. I’m going to call this album Everything She Touched While On Ambien. Pretty all-over the place, in a good way; or at least in a way that you won’t remember in the morning. Why is there a fucking lawn chair on my roof? 7/10

Two Fingers – Two Fingers (Paper Bag; 4/14)twofingers

Some call it drum and bass, some call it jungle- I can remember (barely) going to some “jungle” parties back in Philly, mid-to-late ’90s. I remember taking a ton of ecstasy and dancing all night. I remember saying to the person who took me, “Man, this deejay has been playing for a long time”, to which he replied, “Dude, there’s been like ten different deejays since we got here.” Yeah, I thought it all sounded the same- I couldn’t tell LTJ Bukem from Reprazent (I think they were the two headliners). So fast forward to present day- Two Fingers uses that classic cut and paste d&b sound as the context for a hip-hop project; producers Amon Tobin and Joe “Doubleclick” Chapman fashion an interesting mix of underground genres (more well-known in the UK as grime/dubstep) with the excellent Sway rapping over six tracks, as well as dancehall legend Ce’Cile and former Missy Elliott protege Ms. Jade on the remaining songs. The two instrumentals on here take on Turkish violins (Keman Rhythm) and glitchy click-core rhythms (Moth Rhythm). Definitely worth checking out. 8/10

The Horrors – Primary Colours (XL Recordings; 4/21)the-horrors-primary-colours

This album is dark- as dark as the production team of Portishead‘s Geoff Barrow, author Craig Silvey and video director-turned-producer Chris Cunningham (the guy who did those creepy Aphex Twin videos) could get. It’s got creepy churning synths underneath everything, drony basswork and the too-low-in-the-mix vocals of Faris Badwan sound amazingly like the Psychedelic FursRichard Butler. So in effect this sounds like shoegazer zombie music- as if The Cramps grew up listening to bands like Ride and The Jesus & Mary Chain and were produced by an undead Martin Hannett. It’s so undeniably British as well, and as most hyped Brit-rock bands lately totally suck (Doves, Elbow, Frightened Rabbit, Muse, etc.) this doesn’t suck at all, not even a little. 8/10

Isis – Wavering Radiant (Ipecac; 4/21)isis

Whenever I get jaded out by wuss-rock, it’s good to know there are bands out there like Mastodon, Red Sparowes, Russian Circles, Pelican and Isis. Just to remind me that huge walls of jagged guitar riffage are there to rip my fucking face off if need be, then settle me down in passages of serene eloquence before crushing my fucking skull once again. Isis makes heavy (but listenable) post-metal (although the “post” thing has been done to death, they really do push the envelope past what conventional metal allows) with nods to post-rock’s slow-building towers of grandiose moodiness, all the while planting one foot firmly in prog metal by concocting epic mountains of technical excess (each song ranges from seven to eleven minutes, unless of course the “passage” title track at just under two minutes). One of the better metal albums of the year, but I’m only saying that because I don’t listen to metal. 8/10

Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band – Outer South (Merge; 5/5)conoroberst

Conor Oberst is the type of artist that needs to suffer in order to make great art; there’s something about the urgent immediacy of 2002’s Lifted… or the follow up to that, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning– both trenchant and revealing albums, a snapshot of a tortured soul struggling through early adulthood. Now that he’s almost thirty, and somewhat “sober”, his art has suffered as he’s escaped relatively unharmed- his stories aren’t as fascinating as the womanizing, drug-taking young artist lost in New York City. In fact, this new record is just boring- middle of the road alt-country that borrows from Wilco, The Eagles and ironically, himself (in another lifetime). Underwhelming and mediocre. 5/10

White Rabbits – It’s Frightening (TBD Records; 5/19)white-rabbits

I wish that I could just review a record without having to find out who produced it; when a record sounds as fully-realized as It’s Frightening does, I have to take a peek as the press packet to see who was twiddling the knobs on the other side of the glass. Spoon‘s Britt Daniel is (in my opinion) the best producer in music today- just listen to any of his band’s albums from 1998’s A Series Of Sneaks up to now; he’s best at getting the songs to sound exactly what they’re supposed to sound like- this snare goes here, this guitar there, etc. Basically: perfect records. So White Rabbits entrusted Mr. Daniel to take their sound and do as he sees fit- the result is a heavily percussive affair (Percussion Gun) with piano lines doubling as bass lines (Midnight And I), layers of rhythm (Right Where They Left), textured bits of ambient passages (Lionesse)- White Rabbits are poised to make a surprise run at the top of some year-end lists. 9/10

Black Moth Super Rainbow – Eating Us (Graveface; 5/26)eatingus

A friend told me about these guys like a month ago; sorry, I got to the party late on this band. But 2007’s Dandelion Gum would’ve been one of my albums of that year, in case I was going to do any last minute revisions to a list that’s been done for about seventeen months now. Oh well. Anyway, what does Black Moth Super Rainbow sound like? Imagine that one good Air album (Moon Safari) run through crazy analog synths and vocoders, recorded somewhere in the woods near Pittsburgh on what I would consider copious amounts of mind-altering chemicals. Eating Us is stylistically a continuation of their previous record; they’ve added a live human drummer and overall it takes less risks but is still infinitely interesting in that all these sounds are made from vintage, pre-digital equipment like mellotrons, Echoplex delay looping and Arp Odyssey mini-Moog synthesizers. It’s old school made futuristic, and all I can say is when they eventually start filming porn in outer space, this is the band that’ll be playing the soundtrack. Like an orgasm in orbit, y’all. 8/10