Thursday, December 31, 2009

On the Road.. to 2010, and Barcelona

In the last 3 days my sister and I drove from Baltimore to Las Vegas, some 2300 miles. Also just yesterday, I bought my Primavera Sound Festival tickets. Yes, I am referring to the three day long, 4 pm to 7 am extravaganza hosted in Barcelona, Spain, and featuring headliners Pavement, the Pixies, and Wilco. Also announced to show so far are the Antlers, the XX, Panda Bear, Circulatory System, the New Pornographers, Here We Go Magic, Dr. Dog, etc. I obviously don't need to hype this, it speaks for itself. Forget the green paper and get yours here, or at least read a little more about all the fun we'll be having without you. In honor of both this and my recent trek through the desert, I give you a Pavement song I once heard Robert Schneider call "the most beautiful song I've ever heard", which if nothing else probably explains a thing or two about the Apples in Stereo:

"Range Life", 1994

Now, with nothing to do but await the New Years celebration in Vegas tonight, and being just a little excited for it, I put together a little ten song 'New Years' playlist. Featured is a selection of old and modern classics which either look forward, back, or at least have some general relation to the passage of time. Download link below, enjoy.

1. The Past Recedes - John Frusciante
2. Yesterdays World - Circulatory System
3. This Will Be Our Year - The Zombies
4. In The New Year - The Walkmen
5. This Time Tomorrow - The Kinks
6. Countdown - Phoenix
7. Time Has Told Me - Nick Drake
8. Time Trap - Built to Spill
9. Memory Lane - Elliot Smith
10. When It Begins - Kevin Drew

Download here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Universal Congress Of

Without a doubt one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated bands to grace this modern age, Universal Congress Of spawned from the wreckage of Joe Baiza's seminal jazz-punk group Saccharine Trust (who were signed to the venerable SST Records during its heyday). While they certainly bear some similarities to their forebears, Universal Congress Of dispense of the cryptic lyrical waxing in favor of a chimerical blend of jazz, funk and whatever else that grooves. It would be folly to call theirs is a simple act; intricate snare rolls and unusual horn riffs permeate their work, all anchored by heavy funky basslines to create an effectual anomaly in terms of genre.

It was only whilst looking for more adventurous material by guitarist Joe Baiza that I chanced upon Universal Congress Of -- it took me a long time thereafter to track down this particular album. I was eventually rewarded with what I consider to be a veritable pontificate of modern jazz, The Sad and Tragic Demise of Big Fine Hot Salty Black Wind. If the title alone doesn't intrigue you, the persistent driving rhythms and infectious funky basslines should pique your interest. Though it may have been released some twenty years ago, I still consider this reputable album UCO's most enduring record to date, and most certainly an imposing statement for generations of jazz enthusiasts to come.

I wish half the shit I scooped off Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus tasted this good.

Try It.
Buy It.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Royal Bangs vs. Clues

I don't really know why I've always associated these records with each other. Maybe its that they were both sparsely noticed 2009 releases. Maybe because of the similiarly themed artwork. Or maybe just because I burned them on the same blank CD. Either way, these are definitely two bands to be aware of, even if thats where the similairities end.

I picked up on the Clues self titled debut when seeing it praised on a 'best of the decade' list. On a first listen it didn't leave much of an impression, but after a couple it grew. The album is fairly consistent and cohesive, and exists in a place that apart from being indie rock is all the groups own. That said, there is a huge lack of stand out singles here. Let's just say I've never caught myself humming a Clues song. Still a worthy record though that you can check out below.

'Remember Severed Head', 2009

Try It
Buy It

The Royal Bangs on the other hand have the opposite problem. On this album there are at least four well written catchy tracks, but the rest of outing fails to live up. The record is titled 'Let it Beep', and appropriately so, as everytime the songwriting lacks the mix is muddled with distracting and largely distasteful MIDI style effects. That being said, "War Bells", "Poison Control", "Waking Up Wierd", and "Maniverse" are first rate high energy tunes that any band would be proud to have in their catalog. Check these out as well.

'War Bells', 2009

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Buy It

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cop Shoot Cop

Cop Shoot Cop were a controversial New York band that existed in a short window between 1987 and 1994, playing into the role of the burgeoning "industrial/alternative" loop that somehow fed clubs with Reznor fans and shitheads alike. It's pretty easy to see where they diverge from this stereotype. Early works like Consumer Revolt and White Noise were deep seated in sarcasm and abrasion, taking an almost ephemeral quality to the musical structure. Things changed after a while, but for the entirety of the band's existence, they purposefully avoided the road towards popularity (or a lead guitarist, for that matter).

Cop Shoot Cop appends nihilism to the growing list of influences which you could attribute to them; artists like Big Black, Killing Joke and Foetus certainly spring to mind. With the aid of a competent producer, their 1993 masterpiece allowed these influences to bloom into the turgid mess known as Ask Questions Later, arguably one of the most powerful "alternative" albums of the decade. Lead bassist (that's not a typo) Tod A.'s caustic songwriting dances furtively between disillusionment and affectation, burning one of the least travailed bridges between the mordant and the accessible. If nothing else, Cop Shoot Cop did what nobody else on the industrial/alternative fence could do -- make an album worth giving a damn about.

Just listen to the first track, it's enormous -- "Surprise, Surprise":

Try It.
Buy It.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thinking Fellers Union Local 282

Sometimes the greatest of things go completely unnoticed.

In this case it's not a far cry to call Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 true visionaries. Their name reeks of pretension and self-importance -- thankfully, neither are applicable. This whimsical group made deceptively simple pop recordings during the late '80s and up until the new millennium, in the same vein as label-mates Guided By Voices and Pavement. While their recording style embraced the lo-fi aesthetic of their brethren at Matador Records, their songwriting style meandered a completely different path.

Thinking Fellers Union Local 282's records were, for most respects, just plain fucking weird. In their early years, most songwriting passages get interrupted by disunited and disorganized excerpts of noise. By the time they signed to Matador Records in the early '90s, TFUL '82 cleaned up their records, but retained their same whimsical sense of humor and execution. The result: a brilliant post-apocalyptic mess that somehow managed to garner a minor college rock hit, Strangers from the Universe.

In the past few months this record has ascended my depth chart of favorite albums. It's an amalgam of everything I love: idiosyncratic indie rock and really unusual (but otherwise groovy) pop melodies. It sounds like someone shoved Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain through a blender and ported the great steaming mess into a thirteen-track take. Although the band tries their best on this album to obliterate any chance of landing a top forty hit, they do fuck up occasionally and produce a truly memorable song, like this one here entitled "Cup of Dreams":

And while TFUL 282 never really received the critical attention they so deserved, this album is a summary exploration of their career's material. So much of this album is expressive of their wide grasp of musical innovation, and their love for it. Sadly, the Fellers have since amicably dissolved, but their existence leaves an indelible impression of what's so wonderful about music in the first place.

Try It
Buy It

Monday, December 21, 2009

Best Albums of 2009

Here's my 20 picks from 2009. While this hardly includes every album I enjoyed, the cream rose to the top. The defining factor to every album on this list is consistency. This year saw Sufjan Stevens, the master of the album as a concept, complaining that he didn't even know what the point of the LP as a musical format was anymore. All the more reason to salute those who are keepin it alive.

20. Amy Milan - 'Masters of the Burial'
  • A very pretty folk record which finds itself close in nature, but a little more breathable than her first.

19. Mos Def - 'The Ecstatic'

  • Some really original sounds in a time when hip-hop can struggle to stand out

18. Dead Mans Bones - 'Dead Mans Bones'

  • Where did this one come from? Completely original atmospherics.

17. Andrew Bird - 'Noble Beast'

  • This record didn't have the easy accesibility of 'Armchair' or 'Eggs' so it was easy to toss off. A few listens reveal yet another great release from one of the technically best musicians performing.
16. Bowerbirds - 'Upper Air'
  • An album that stays in the same vein as their last, yet improves on it in everyway. A very enjoyable listen.
15. Yo La Tengo - 'Popular Songs'
  • This one bothered me for awhile, mainly because I wasn't a fan of the single, and some of the songs sounded like phoned in genre experiments. But hey, it grew. A lot. Not to mention the 30+ minutes of the final three cuts are great.
14. God Help The Girl - 'God Help The Girl'
  • If you're a sucker for Stuart Murdoch's wry lyrical style, here he's in a form not heard since 'Lazy Line Painter Jane'.
13. The Fiery Furnaces - 'I'm Going Away'
  • This one also needed to grow on me. At first I was shocked by how not ridiculously shocking it was. Eventually I just liked it for what was there. The full cover version the band did of their own record, 'Take Me Round Again', is pretty quality too.
12. Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson- 'Breakup'
  • Actually recorded before the She & Him record and the terrible Johansson debut. Which is interesting because this one is good. Thanks Pete.
11. Atlas Sound - 'Logos'
  • One of the most accessible ambient pop based releases I've ever heard.
10. Portugal. The Man - 'The Satanic Satanist'
  • How did this one slip under the radar? Good rock records like this are to few and far between.
9. Charles Spearin - 'The Happiness Project'
  • This album is built off the melodies of conversational speech. While this could be gimmicky, as a post rock record it manages to run through more genres and styles than most, and do it all pretty well.
8. John Frusciante - 'The Empyrean'
  • Yes, this is what he quit RHCP for. No, you've never heard anything like it. Yes, it's worth a listen.

7. Sunset Rubdown - 'Dragonslayer'

  • This is progressive rock in the 21st century. Not to worry, King Crimson would approve.
6. Cymbals Eat Guitars - 'Why There Are Mountains'
  • Large, bashing, crashing, jangly, epic indie rock. Turn it up.
5. The Antlers - 'Hospice'
  • A masterful blend of post rock, ambience, and singer song writer aesthetic, centered around a storyline of a child with cancer. I put on this album while hanging out with my girlfriend once and got really depressed. She was confused.
"Two", 2009

4. Here We Go Magic - 'Here We Go Magic'
  • This was the big surprise of the year for me. I'm always amazed when simple elements are arranged in new ways to blow me away. I haven't yet found a word which accurately describes what genre this falls into.

"Fangela", 2009

3. Clay Nightingale - 'Clay Nightingale'

  • A record for all the lost 20-somethings out there. Lyrically this blew me away. "Last Paycheck" was on our Best Songs List, but here I'll give ya something a little more to the point: drinking, friends, music, and road trips. Somehow they make it sound epic though, not juvenile.. hence geniuses.

"How We Outdrink The Silver Pines", 2009

2. Dirty Projectors - 'Bitte Orca'
  • One word for every performance on this album: virtuosic. The vocal chops here make me drool. Maybe not the most representative Projectors tune below, but probably the prettiest.

"Two Doves", 2009

1. Madeline - 'White Flag'

  • I can't rave enough about this album. Have a listen for yourself.
"Jive Talkin", 2009

How did I feel overall about this year? Well, some of my favorites let me down. The Flaming Lips, for instance. I loved the 'Priest Driven Ambulance' stuff, but 'Embryonic' was not a return to the zany brand space rock before 'Soft Bulletin'. It was a high polished musical farce. The studio obviously has become a crutch for these guys, and writing more dense and muddled songs doesn't distract from that. Well, it does for the critics. I love Built to Spill, but the guitars on 'Enemy' just don't have the raw kick I felt from 2006's 'You In Reverse'. Wilco went further down the alt contemporary road but still penned a few good tunes. Other albums I was looking forward to but didn't love: A.C. Newman, Circulatory System, Howling Bells, Le Loup, Monsters of Folk, and the Pink Mountaintops. I'm not necessarily saying not to listen to these records, just check out the 20 above first. 2010, lets go.

(Sidenote: Next year are we allowed to say oh-ten? Or would that only be applicable if we had this year said oh-oh-nine? Do we just have to say, ten? Cause I don't think I can handle that.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best Songs of 2009

It is more or less impossible to sum up a years worth of music in a thirty song playlist, but not to worry, I'm just arrogant enough to take a shot at it. Please keep in mind, these are just one critics opinions. As I always say though, just cause its an opinion doesn't mean I'm not right.

30. Nurses - "Technicolor"
29. Mos Def - "Auditorium"
28. Charles Spearin - "Anna"
27. Wavves - "No Hope Kids"
26. Wale - "Wordplay"
25. Girls - "Lust for Life"
24. Feist & Ben Gibbard - "Train Song"
23. Atlas Sound - "Walkabout"
22. Apostle of Hustle - "Xerses"
21. The XX - "Crystalised"
20. Tune-yards - "News"
19. Bibio - "Lovers Carvings"
18. The Most Serene Republic - "Heavens to Purgatory"
17. Bowerbirds - "Northern Lights"
16. Grizzly Bear - "Cheerleader"
15. Phoenix - "1901"
14. Bell Orchestre - "Elephants"
13. Chiddy Bang - "Get Up in the Morning"
12. Clay Nightingale - "Last Paycheck"
11. Here We Go Magic - "Fangela"

10. Fuck Buttons - "The Lisbon Maru"

-I ran my first half marathon this winter, and in the cold ten minutes leading up to the start this was the track throbbing in my headphones. It is relentless yet reserved, accessible yet dark, and as consistently fascinating as it is simple.

9. Dinosaur Jr. - "See You"

-When I hear Dinosaur Jr. I can't help but earnestly believe that this is what popular modern rock bands (Daughtry, Nickelback) should sound like, and would give their left hands to sound like. But then again I've never understood the mainstream. No one else rips like J. This song is pure classic rock.

8. Do Make Say Think - "Do"

-Charles Spearin had a big year for me; solo and with his band here. If you're a post rock fan this one won't let you down. It has a raw, live feel absent from much of the genre, and some great hooks throughout.

7. Neon Indian - "Deadbeat Summer"

-I didn't get into the glo-fi chillwave movement at all really this year, but this track is the perfect blend of strong pop songwriting with lo-fi psychedelic aesthetic. Too many such bands forgot that style only brings you so far without hooks.

6. The Antlers - "Two"

-This is the kind of song that just rips your heart out. Absolute beauty. The heartache compounds when it gets stuck in your head.

5. The Wooden Birds - "Seven Seventeen"

-Highly underappreciated new act from Andrew Kenny, mastermind behind underappreciated old act The American Analog Set. The lyrical content never quite lets you be completely at ease while the lilting rhythm and folk guitar lull you in. The juxtaposition of the two gets under your skin, even if it makes it crawl a little.

"Seven Seventeen", 2009

4. Dan Deacon - "Snookered"

-Everyone made a big deal out of the emotional weight carried in this tune. That observation is obviously relative. When the vocals break down and the beat changes you will start to understand how Dan Deacon is changing a genre.

"Snookered", 2009

3. Cymbals Eat Guitars - "Wind Phoenix (Proper Name)"

-Indie rock has been slightly trivialized by a huge slew of followers trying to do more of the same, and ultimately just weakening a genre. Cymbals Eat Guitars do it right though, making inspired crashing epics which retain the spirit of originals like Pavement and The Microphones. This one blows me away every time.

"Wind Phoenix (Proper Name)", 2009

2. Madeline - "White Flag"

-The best female folk singer-songwriter today pens her self-affirming anthem. "It takes a few drinks to get the devil off your sleeve.." Keep that white flag down Madeline, keep it down.

"White Flag", 2009

1. St. Vincent - "Marrow"

-This song has it all. Creepy ambient atmospherics, electronica beats, distorted saxophones, and the crunchiest avant-garde breakdowns I've ever heard in the context of a pop song. All from a skinny white girl. It blows my mind that music this original can sound so natural. Don't take it for granted.

"Marrow", 2009

There you have it, the top 30. It honestly killed me to have to leave off some of the tracks that I did, but thats just a testament to the ones that made the cut. Yes, no Animal Collective. I'm not sayin its bad, don't crucify me, but seriously, reverb laden synth pop might not be what they do best. Just throwin it out there. Stay tuned for the best album's of 2009 coming soon, where we'll talk a little bit more about the year in general. And if your interested, check out the entire list for download below.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Boogie to the Elf Dance!

So its that time of year when the only acceptable music to be played at gatherings is of the yuletide nature- and yes most of it is rather painful. But not to worry, there is more to Christmas music than Manheim Steamroller and Johnny Mathis. For five years running up until its public release in 2006, Sufjan Stevens was secretly recording little collections of Christmas classics and originals for family and friends. Three years ago they were released together as the 2 hour long, 5 disc set "Songs For Christmas". Despite being a pretty avid Stevens fan, I foolishly ignored the collection until now. Stevens has a knack for diving wholeheartedly into the spirit of whatever his musical inspiration at a given time is (ie. the BQE?) and this pays off here. In fairness, some of the originals come off as slightly overemphatic, but what Stevens album doesn't? It is the reinterpretations of Christmas classics which are most rewarding here, often coming across in breathtaking 'Casimir Pulaski' style beauty. This makes sense as much of his body of work carries spiritual undertones regardless. Check out a sample cover and original from the set below. You have a new Christmas party playlist.

'Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing', 2006

'Sister Winter', 2006

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hold Tight

So, among the many things I can't get enough of is sloppy fuzzy garagey pop. Back in the 60's one of the groups doin' it best was Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich (suck on that name Peter Bjorn and John). Theyre a little more centered than The Monks but a lot sloppier than the Stones. The track below has this tight, nervous, frenetic feel. If it didn't all break loose on the chorus you could almost here some Spoon in it. Mainly a singles band, check out their best of. And of course, the track below..

"Hold Tight", 1966

Friday, December 11, 2009

"the first post has to be EPIC."

Life in this universe is hardly replete with anachronism. Or so it goes.

We live in a world revolving around its own continuity: unwavering, static, deliberate. And rarely do those discontinuities that occur in our world get lauded with the admiration of history's retinue. No! Instead they get tossed under the colossus of obscurity and contempt, forever doomed to rot alongside the monotonous and disreputable alike. After making no error in their time besides possessing a poor fate, what justification do we have to tread upon their existence? Or, for that matter, what right do we have to disavow our readers of the opportunity to learn of it?

And that, dear readers, is what prompted our hand. We too have been victims of popular culture's indomitable stranglehold on what we read, watch, and listen to. And while those former two items raise our ire enough, it is with utmost certainty that we are most well-versed in the latter. Apart from being aspiring musicians ourselves, we have a somewhat modest collection of musical oddities spanning a few generations. We felt it was merely time to begin disseminating the seed of pretension to all willing constituents possessing an index finger and / or a working eardrum.

So, my children, it is with insurmountable boredom and astonishing haughtiness that I birth the life of this humble blog in grand fashion. But know this: we do not deign to prove expertise or preeminence in our field of pleasure, nor do we suggest that our preferences in music are the right ones. We simply strive to serve a musical universe long in need of a helping hand. And hopefully in the process, provide some music worth listening to.

Fuck, out.