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2016 Favorite Albums December 30, 2016

Posted by reidmix in Album Reviews, Best of 2016, Carpark, Domino, Grand Jury, Greenway, Indie, Merge Records, Mom + Pop, Music, New Releases, Paper Bag, Sacred Bones.
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Last year was a good music year for me, there was far more albums that stuck with me than the (only!) four I picked in 2015. I must reveal now, that I have two picks for favorite album, because I’ve kept picking them back up to listen again and again throughout the year.

On that same note, when compiling the list of 2016 Favorite Songs (Pts. 1, 2, 3), I decided to add two albums back onto this list because I felt like rediscovered them and they deserved to be in my “Best Of” list.

If I had to classify my favorites this year, I’d have to say each of the albums felt bigger than any one song, that the world they painted were grander and more realized and thus transported me. Maybe I was looking for that textured, complicated place to dive within.  Or I just like the moody ones.

When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired by Mothers

When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired

The first album I re-added back to my year-end favorites.

On “Too Small for Eyes”, the sparsity of instrumentation rolls off like a music box, with Kristine Leschper‘s haunting voice making a bridge from aching and longing.  A wish for a childhood memory, that you can no longer claim.

But then Mothers can turn it out, bringing the jangly bounce of an alternative 90s sound like in “It Hurts until It Doesn’t.”  The loud-soft-loud template that made the great songs of that era.  Waxahatchee does this. Think of bands like Breeders on Pod.  Or Sonic Youth on the slower songs.

I’d also recommend finding the early demos on YouTube, the songs are even more stripped down but with the same level of emotion.

Love Yes by TEEN

Love Yes

The second album re-added.

The transition from the crunchier motorik-folk which made up TEEN‘s earlier sound — likely fueled from Kristina Lieberson‘s contribution in Here We Go Magic — to the clean R&B vocal-driven albums has been a bumpy one (for me).

What carried me through is the off-kilter instrumentation that has always been so much a part of the band’s sound and it seems to have paid off with Love Yes. The angularity is more committed here, the vocals are more integrated.  There is an ease to every song and they relate to each other.  As listener, I’m now able to let the music capture me and allow it to bring up the story it wants to tell.

Skip a Sinking Stone by Mutual Benefit

Skip a Sinking Stone

Some albums are sticky, in that they stay with me in that I return to them for a listen.  Some albums are too slick and slip pass me and that’s not a problem.  Those that are both beautiful but not sticky are the worst, they have one listen but hang around in my collection for years.  My fear is expunging them not know if I really *got them*.

Skip a Sinking Stone is one of those truly sweet albums that isn’t very sticky.  But every time I return to it, it feels so natural, so peaceful, like it has a place to beat alongside my heart, and I cannot bear to be without it.  Then a few weeks or months go by and I go through it all over again.

For the folk fans and those of C. Duncan, Fleet Foxes, and The Acorn.

“July 6” by Rachel Haden

July 6

I know that dog. more for their mythology in the 4AD cannon (Guernica, more precisely) than I’ve become actually entwined in their music. I consider that more about time spent than any conclusion made about the band.  But if band-member Rachel Haden’s “July 6” has anything to do with it, the newest that dog. in 19 years bodes well.

“July 6” has this otherworldliness, a place you go to in order to discover who you are, in which you come back forever changed.   There are songs where Haden is giving up secrets to a close, intimate friend (embarrassments maybe, honestly surely) from her life.  Not so much for me or you, but for her to find herself.

As a His Name Is Alive fan, I can’t help but notice Warren Defever‘s eerie guitar skills. Sometimes, the collaboration feels akin to Defever’s collaboration with Ian Masters on ESP Summer.  The album would have fit nicely on the timeSTEREO roster.

Not many YouTube vidoes, but her bandcamp has the full album, some of my favorites to sample are: the Red House Painters meloncholy of I’m Away, Elizabeth Frazier vocal tumbling of Get Out, and the solemn, fuzzy beauty of 12 Monkeys.

FLOTUS by Lambchop

FLOTUS

One of the idiosyncratic, “country” artists of 90s Merge Records era, Lambchop created one of my all-time favorite of all-time (Mark Robinson remixed) songs, The Militant.  Lambchop has not stopped putting out albums in 25 years, but his latest has stepped more mightily into the light.

The album is sprawling.  The opener, “In Care of 8675309” referencing Tommy Tutone‘s number,  clocks in at nearly 12 minutes and it’s not the longest song.

For the first few listens I thought Lambchop went the way of Bon Iver with autotune on every song.  I wasn’t able to figure out why it was successful until I realized it was a  vocoder (I think!) because the singing didn’t “step into” each octave.  The important difference is voice alteration vs. voice correction.  The effect is a hushing, nearly a mumbling, that exposes the underbelly of the songs that is soft, tender and inviting.

Inexplicably to me and paradoxically, the album shyness transforms it to be more available to the listener, more open to dig into the words, more curious to lean-in and hear its message and nostalgia.  The country sheen is wiped away with drum machines, soft patters, motorik and humble horns.  A micro-electronica Björk and Psapp would be proud of.  You can hear this best on 18 minutes of The Hustle, which in fact makes you want to do the hustle.

Songs from the Haunted South by Old Fire

Songs from the Haunted South

Oh the great collaborator-producer musicians.  In league with my favorites, those being This Mortal Coil (Ivo Watts-Russell), Parenthetical Girls (Zac Pennington), His Name Is Alive (Warren Defever), Piano Magic (Glen Johnson),  and now Old Fire (John Mark Latham).   Thus finally realizing the decade-long dream that was born out of early works under the moniker The Late Cord.  And it makes sense this is how the album was made, with a long cast of characters, each with their own full catalog as artists, some suggested by Ivo.

At first blush you may want to conclude its a continuation to This Mortal Coil’s trilogy, but I think that’s does a disservice to both bands.  The bridge between them isn’t so solid as perhaps the blueprints on making an album like Songs from the Haunted South may indicate.  They are different beasts, with different hearts charging within them.

The album can be summed up with “Bloodchild”.  A delicate filigree is an ode to a dear friend’s death.  It’s that moment you want to share an thought, a thing, an experience with a family member or friend, but realize they’re no longer with you.  The hopes and dreams you have for them are now carried within you because you’re now the sole keeper of them. I cannot listen to this song without thinking about the passing of my mom and I think that’s what takes it from a personal connection to a universal one.

Here’s a song-by-song commentary of the album.

Says You by The Luyas

Says You

The only EP on my list, my hope is these ideas and soundscapes transport to a full album.

“Engineers” was the first single off Says You, and its the jewel of the release.   Not only for yowling of the guitar and the fun bleeps and bloops that bedazzle the song, but for the strong love for the human ingenuity, existing absent the belief for God.

“I’m a creator / and also I don’t believe in God / But Engineers had more respect”  who build “By our hands / By our meaning / By our methods”

It’s matter-of-fact statement, delivered in that confident and understated ways.  Something you wouldn’t expect for someone who understands there’s no life-after-death when thinking of their legacy.

“And we thought that we knew / but we didn’t know shit / I thought I’ll be something enduring / Hell, no!”

The whole EP unfolds in this way, subtle and irreverent, confident in its demise, irresistible in its sweetness and earnestness.

Summer Is Gone by Bill Baird

Summer Is Gone

This is Bill Baird‘s strongest, most captivating work to date.  He is at his high-water mark. Like The Luyas, it’s subtlety delivered.  Where it differs is the lushness, the varied instruments (plinking piano, swelling strings, electronics and synthetic voices) striding their way through every song.

It’s astonishing that Baird is not endeared by a much wider audience over his decade-long career — but I believe his reverence growing release by release.

There’s plenty of instrumentals, 3 songs are revisited from earlier work.  This is common of Baird, who’s last release earlier in the year were more polished versions of his earlier songs.

What adds an extra layer is the 250 remixes that was made for this release.   They are bundled together in the ever-changing album at http://www.summerisgone.live which regenerates the 10 songs using the remixes based on time and location. It creates “An album that’s about memory that’s unique for every listener

Blood Bitch by Jenny Hval

Blood Bitch

Jenny Hval was my exciting discovery of the year.  She’s got that Ann Magnuson truth in sexuality.  She’s got that Laurie Anderson flair for performance.  Her songs are Witch House, imperfect, electronic, uncomfortable as Xiu Xiu, gothic, terrorpop, gorgeous and so fully realized as a skillfully constructed woman’s work.

She could be play with Zola Jesus.  She could have been at the founding of Warpaint.

Listening to “Conceptual Romance,” it’s as if she’s crouching in to talk you at a club, she’s telling you a story, drunk off her rockers, shouting her truth because all filters are off.   And it sounds so good, she does this song after song.

As I do with new-to-me artists, I travel back or forwards through their catalog.  Hval’s work spans a decade back to when she called herself Rockettothesky, strong performances as far back as 2006.  If I could I’d also put Apocalypse, Girl on this list (or last year’s list) simply for the twin songs “Take Care of Yourself” and “The Battle Is Over.”

Cult Following by Little Scream

Cult Following

My first #1 album of the year.

I think this is a concept album.

I know that happens at the end of a relationship or perhaps it just an ending.  I know that she goes looking for a lover.   I know there’s a man as captivating as a cult leader.

He can read her mind, he can see the future.

What’s not clear is which relationship is abusive.  It’s not clear if she’s experiencing each song for the first time or if she’s just remembering.   Its not clear how it all falls apart and into rolling shambles.

Sometimes Little Scream’s Laurel Sprengelmeyer is channeling Prince or Micheal Jackson.  She has pulled in great voices to sing with her like Sharon Van EttonMary Margaret O’Hara (!!!), Kyp Malone (TV on the Radio).  She’s has pulled in great musicians to play with her as Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy), the Dresser bothers (The National), The Barr Brothers.  It’s the kind of productions we see in documentaries about bands from the 60’s and 70’s.  More akin to filmmaking/theatermaking than a band recording a song.

The songs are danceable, shoutable, swoonable, rock’n’rollable, reflective, self-inflicted, wasted and floating.  You know, the gamut of emotions.  All tied up in this tight little album.  The non-album performancesnon-album performances are pretty amazing too.

On a personal note, this album jogged several ideas I’ve been having for a story and acted as catalyst to bind them all together.  One of which is that I’ve been wanting to write a book called Cult Hero after The Cure‘s side-project/song.  One of my favorite lyrics on Cult Following is “what if my best memories are dreams” and two of my ideas are exactly that, they come from dreams I’ve never forgotten.  So here is my hat-tip and thanks to Sprengelmeyer’s inspiration.

Gumption by Your Friend

Gumption

My next #1 album of the year.

I’ve known for over a year now that I’ve sported a deep and unyielding love for Gumption.  I had discovered Your Friend‘s earlier Jekyll/Hyde EP and live sets right before its release.

On the surface,Taryn Miller’s voice is a Patsy Kline‘s aching croon.  She sings over looped textures and melodies that are signature production techniques of Owen Pallett and tUne-YarDs.  Sometimes a jangly guitar, always a brooding drum.

The weight of her songs is her finding her place in the world.  Sometimes she’s just rhythmically asking “How did I get back here?” or “Who will I be in the morning?” or”Is that how I see you / you see me?”  It’s a meditation, each one.

For me sometimes, Gumption feels like His Name Is Alive‘s Livonia.  That is if she had arrived first, bringing her midwest (Kansas) sensibilities and sussed out a country drawl that can be found on the title track.  If I could put Warren Defever and Taryn Miller together for collaboration, I would.

“Come Back  from It” has the same persistent knocking present in “Some and I”, “To Live With” has the sloshing atmospherics of “How Ghosts Affect Relationships” and robotic mechanics of “Fossil”.  Gumption has little sounds hiding everywhere, they are bugs under rocks and moths in the closet.   It could even be brought more broadly into the 4ad cannon where I could argue that her enigmatic, sometimes indecipherable lyrics are like that of Elizabeth Frazier (Cocteau Twins).

Yet Gumption is a distinct work, certainly a singular vision of Miller’s — and maybe that’s what I’m responding to.  As much as I want to fit this work in context of those I most love, her voice, her sound, her approach is like no other.

“Nothing Moved” sits in the middle like a pearlescent treasure.  Shimmering and spinning with electronic and flute vibrations.  (Even now I want to compare it to the best Yo La Tengo song on And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.)  Inside this sulky anthem, Miller draws out a little laughter “We would die laughing / shallow as a bathroom sink.” The song continues to crescendo, amplifying the little screams of guitar effects, raising your hackles along the way.

The album is best listened on wintery, nighttime car-rides, flying over dark roads etched into empty, desert hills.

Here is a Spotify playlist, which currently does not include the Rachel Haden songs.

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2016 Favorite Songs, Pt. 3 December 28, 2016

Posted by reidmix in Best of 2016, Carpark, Cover, Domino, Fire, Free MP3, Grand Jury, Indie, Light in the Attic, London London, Music, New Releases, Song Reviews.
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I present to you Part Three (Part One and Part Two here) of my favorites songs of the year and consequently, for obvious reasons, my most played songs this year. I’ve left out songs from my favorite albums to give everything a good mix, plus you’re going to hear of those songs anyway. Offered in a plays-well-together order, count-down for purely dramatic effect.

1. I listened to this Dirty Projectors every morning and night for weeks on end. So heart breaking that little sample “we don’t see eye to eye” is the crack in David Longstreth and Amber Coffman‘s relationship come apart… and then she comes out with her song 2 weeks later.

2. David Bowie is a Blackstar. RIP

3. Who knew that the Animal Collective would have another lovely moment in them, this time through Deakin‘s cassette.

4. Oh the 90s angst of the great women of rock, Mothers pay it forward.

5. Jherek Bischoff & Amanda Palmer tributes to David Bowie after his death.  Its another universe Bowie, perfectly different.

6. How could I not love His Name Is Alive?

7. I have the previous HNIA song along this Virginia Wing in a playlist and inexplicably they seem to go together.

8. It’s nice to see TEEN get a fritzed out over their newly R&B vocals.

Find these songs on my Spotify playlist.

Next up, Best Albums of 2016.

2016 Favorite Songs, Pt. 2 December 24, 2016

Posted by reidmix in Anti-, Best of 2016, Drag City, Free MP3, Ghostly International, Indie, Joyful Noise, Mexican Summer, Music, New Releases, People in the Position to Know, Polyvinyl, Song Reviews.
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I present to you Part Two (Part One here) of my favorites songs of the year and consequently, for obvious reasons, my most played songs this year. I’ve left out songs from my favorite albums to give everything a good mix, plus you’re going to hear of those songs anyway. Offered in a plays-well-together order, count-down for purely dramatic effect.

9. Echoes of Divers from Joanna Newsom, it didn’t make the cut but still shines on its own.

10. Andy Schauf‘s album The Party may be one of those albums I moved past too quickly even though I fell in love with the understated masterpiece that is the first single.

11. There are times when I feel like Busman’s Holiday is channelling The Beatles, but in a way that is hard for me to put my finger on.  Also, those horns, yo.

12. “The Shredder’s not what he was / His buddies believe its because / The last spill left him shook-up / He’s had enough / The concrete’s unkind” Little Wing‘s tiny rock opera (Pt. 1 and Pt. 3)

13. It was hard to decide between this and the title track from Plaza, Quilt‘s last release.  I picked this one because of its allure and the quiet way it digs into your ear.

14. Listening to synth-pop on your old cassette tapes until they break is Black Marble.

15. Kevin Barnes cross-dressing and singing a feminist anthem is somehow his most authentic of Montreal release in years.

Bonus: another gender-bender of a video:

Find these songs on my Spotify playlist.

Next up is my favorites 1 – 8.

2016 Favorite Songs, Pt. 1 December 23, 2016

Posted by reidmix in 4AD, Best of 2016, Captured Tracks, Carpark, Cover, Free MP3, Heartworm, Hit City U.S.A., Indie, labrador, Lists, Music, New Releases.
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I present to you Part One of my favorites songs of the year and consequently, for obvious reasons, my most played songs this year. I’ve left out songs from my favorite albums to give everything a good mix, plus you’re going to hear of those songs anyway. Offered in a plays-well-together order, count-down for purely dramatic effect.

16. This hidden shoegaze gem by Tanukichan.  Lush-lovers take note.

17. “Strange love is coming in over me” by Low Hum take on post/surf-punk.

18. One of the rare beauties on a fairly mediocre album by Wild Nothing. I really tried Jack!

19. This devastating bit of lyrical wordplay on Daughter‘s glorious Not to Disappear.  Think of the gloomier older sister to The xx.

20. Cold Cave covers New Order with nearly Cure-like instrumentals while channelling Ian Curtis vocals.

21. C Duncan covers Cocteau Twins with floaty acoustical flair. Hail to the Scots.

22. The Radio Dept. doing their thing on their latest Running Out of Love.

23. TV Girl digging up the beats and melancholy perspectives of relationships and how they break up.

Find these songs on my Spotify playlist.

Next up is my favorites 9 – 15.

2013 Top Albums February 9, 2014

Posted by reidmix in Album Reviews, Arbutus, Best of 2013, Don Giovanni, Fat Possum, Joyful Noise, Labels, Lists, Lovely Sorts of Death, Matador Records, Merge Records, Morr Music, Music, Mythryl, Pau Wau, Reviews, Videos, XL Recordings.
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In my tradition of February sharing my favorite and most earwormy albums of the prior year, I give you the 2013 list.

partygoing

10. Party Going by Future Bible Heroes

Stephin Merritt et. al. at his finest.  Underrated but pure pop.

“John Waters soirée we spun the Warhol” and “At Mink Stole’s birthday in gay Provincetown I came to DJ and left with the clown”

How can you go wrong?

Along with this release there was a vinyl release of all the Future Bible Heroes releases that was a joy to revisit.

Blue-Hawaii-Untogether9. Untogether by Blue Hawaii

Something was lost in the last Braids album, I don’t know what it was, but it just didn’t stick like their debut did.

The good news is that Raphaelle Standell-Preston put all her genius in her duo with Alexander Cowan on the Blue Hawaii release.

The vocal + electronic manipulations are mind-bendy, especially at high-volumes.   She’s channels Karin Oliver dreamy-ness to the n-th degree.

altthumb8. Flowers by Sin Fang

Mr. Seabear returns with another album as Sin Fang (shortened from Sin Fang Bous).

An intricate melding between organic and electronic sounds that the Icelanders are so well-known.

Along with the Half Dreams EP from the year prior — the two seem like a pair — they secure a footing in the woodsy-spacy-folksy orchestral pop.

Bonus from Half Dreams:

ole-1034-majical-cloudz-impersonator-537x537-13687140697. Impersonator by Majical Cloudz

I am reminded of Branden Perry’s The Carnival Is Over.

Sometimes when I hear Delvon Welsh sing, he’s like a ghost from a great band’s past.

The sparsity of his loops and the grandness of his song played over it is imbued with an assertive significance.

The first three songs alone are difficult from keeping on a tight repeat.

“If this is all that I have / If this song is the last thing I do I feel so good / That I sang it”

a3548728279_106. Lanterns by Son Lux

After being challenged by NPR to produce a full album in the 4-weeks of February, when he spent 4 years on his debut album, it could have been an impossible task.

One that he was ultimately successful, built with a patchwork of lyrics that upon repeating gain a undeniable spirituality.

Bonus:  His beats have an almost trip-hop effect.

“Easy, easy / Pull out your heart / To make the being alone”

Bill Baird - Spring Break of the Soul5. Spring Break of the Soul by Bill Baird

I’m happy to say that Bill Baird, out from behind his {{{SUNSET}}} moniker, still makes just plain good music.

He’s so prolific, never sacrificing quality or cheek.  Don’t let his esthetic in the videos trick you, he’s not lofi.

The songs are fun + clever pop, experimental, surfy (in fact each side of this album spells S-U-R-F), have moody marimbas, properly executed feedback, and understated vocals.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjfZz1iUM-8

Bonus: Chris Christopherson sad covers FTW.

vw-13666577354. Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend

It doesn’t surprise me this album won best Alternative Album of the Year, it surprises me that the Grammy’s and I agree on anything.  Only a matter of time before the reached critical mass appeal.

Despite them, after VW’s meh Contra rested on their laurels from their debut and the worst use of autotune since Bon Iver, with their 3rd album they didn’t fall in the same trap.

Inevitably, their words and their sound is Vampire Weekend, diplomats and currency and communist revolution from the Upper East Side.

“A gardener told me some plants move / But I could not believe it / Til me and Hannah Hunt / Saw crawling vines and weeping willows”

Waxahatchee_cerulean_salt_cover3. Cerulean Salt by Waxahatchee

Channelling the best parts of Kim Deal and Liz Phair, Katie Crutchfield lands into my top three easily on her own two feet.

Messy and ethereal and, like all clouds must be, lonely:

“The atmosphere is fucking tired it brings us nothing / If you think that I’ll stay forever you are right and,
I’ll give you everything you wanted when I can”

Bonus: Pod-love

1386331137_cover-32. The Time Has Come to Shoot You Down…What a Sound by The Flaming Lips and Various Artists

A late entry into my top-10, one that is so perfect in its reconception of The Stone Roses eponymous debut I’m forced to go back to the original and reconsider the bright sun-shine psychodelia.

Part of what makes this album so great is HOTT MT’s presence on several tracks including the divine jewel that is Waterfall.  My only complaint was how great Fool’s Gold was the first time around, it just doesn’t hold up here.

One of those 500 super-extra-limited edition RSD releases (if you have one to sell that is much less than $300, let me know), you can hear the full album on Soundcloud.

I Wanna Be Adored:

Waterfall:

e62eaf251. Wondrous Bughouse by Youth Lagoon

This album came out early in the year, I felt I’ve had to hold on to it, returning to it, listening to the greatness of it, to make sure it didn’t get overshadowed by novelty.

A carnival-ride, with so many layers and back alleys, this album represents the fruition of Youth Lagoons debut.  Like looking through a lens, if given the production time and equipment, it makes you wonder what what the fragility of The Year of Hibernations may have transformed into.

Who knew this 4-track wonder would become so psychedelic and anthemic.

“You’ll never die / You’ll never die”

Bonus:  Through the Mind and Back / Mute