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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.

Top 12 Albums of 2009 January 31, 2010

Posted by reidmix in 4AD, Album Reviews, Asthmatic Kitty, Beggars Banquet, Best of 2009, Carpark, Domino, Free MP3, K Records, Labels, Lists, Music, Reviews, Warp.
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I thought I’d mix things up and get my best albums of the year 2009 out first then work backwards through what I listened to (According to Last.fm). I must say this was an amazing year for music and I plead with my friends who “cannot find anything new to listen to” that they just need to listen around, become an ear slut, do what you have to do to get into all this great music.

Partly, this year for me has been a good one in music because I’ve been sitting at the computer so much after work and during the weekends building software.  I do best with headphones in and bittorrent up.  I only get a little distracted.  Because I listened to 4½ days of music from 2009, I think I’m entitled to 2 extra albums in my top pics of 2009 compared to previous years’ posts.  In fact I listened to over 12 days worth of music through the year, which is the most music I’ve ever listened to over a 365 day span (obsession).

Looking at this list, I noticed an interesting visual element.  The first half of my list are dark, black covered albums with brooding and spiritual themes. They pivot around Merriweather Post Pavillion (seriously notspoiler) which sits in its own illusion. Then the top 5 albums have a bold red-orange graphics, picturing albums that are orchestral, conceptual, and exceptional. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions:

Fleurs

Fleurs

12. Fleurs by Former Ghosts
I’m somewhat amazed that I needed to make room for this album on my list — but it makes sense, with the addiction I have with bandmate Jamie Stewart’s Xiu Xiu cover of Ceremony (live mp3), Fleurs seems to ante up to the same rich, throwback to early 80s goth and employ industrial’s use of found sounds, back when those genres were still novel and without rules.

Former Ghosts is a collaboration between Jamie, Nika Roza (Zola Jesus) and much of the lyric heavy lifting from band “lead” Freddy Ruppert. They draw so much from their influences that they have transformative powers: they are Joy Division, they are Bauhaus, they are Siouxsie Sioux. But instead of being derivative, contrite, or mere imitations, they transcend. The songs on Fluers goes to places these bands just could not because Former Ghosts are forging a new and different path.

And how the sum of their parts can be more than the whole? I’m sure — dear reader — you can spot a few duos and bands where this is true.  I cannot speak more in depth and with more love about this album now as it is still working its way under my psyche and given time (oh the woes of end of year discoveries) I’m sure it’d rise to the top of this list.
Buy Fleurs: Former Ghosts, Upset the Rhythm, Insound

xx

xx

11. xx by The xx
The xx took some time for me to unlock. When an album is impenetrable, I find that I have to find a “keysong,” the one song that will unlock the rest of the album and often the bands’ style. Sometimes this unlocking is immediate, like an epiphany.  On xx it was slow, tumbling adjacent songs, one at a time before they became familiar and yielded to me.  My keysong was “Basic Space” and all the versions that it took on the 12″ before I went “Ah”.

“Basic Space” is such a great keysong, because the title plays well with the band style.  They play notes which hang in the aether and spread apart like the particles of atoms: my god you could drive a bus right through the spaces between the notes.  And here is the contradiction of  a band of 20-year-olds.  New youthful bands play with fuzz and noise to fill spaces and with it, their inadequacies.  They do not make music around where the notes are not.  That’s just plainly too Zen for a debut album.

But the lyrics prove to me that The xx know this “Basic space / open air here / Don’t look away / when there is nothing there.”  And yet, their superpower is something else entirely, it’s the art of the understated love song.  Even talking about abstracts like “Basic space” they make sure to manifest exactly what it means in a relationship “I’ve been underwater breathing out and in / I think I’m losing where you end and I begin.” Now listen to the rest of the album with boy-girl vocals, soulful lyrics, understated electronic beats, and retro indie guitars.  Best debut of 2009, hands down.
Buy xx: Young Turks, Beggars Banquet, Rough Trade, Insound

Bromst

Bromst

10. Bromst by Dan Deacon
Deacon is the best show I’ve ever seen / participated in and I sought him out for the Bromst tour and (as you can see) was happy I did.  My goodness the man plays in the crowd when he’s not orchestrating it. The album cover is startlingly like Dept. of Eagles’s last album cover but the comparisons stop there.

Bromst ups the range that Deacon splashed on the scene with his prior album, Spiderman of the Rings.  The instrumentation is fuller — he toured with a 13 or 15-piece ensemble. Think: much more percussion — but the core sound is still the deeply entwined electronics that sounds like his setup he uses to make it.  He has not abandoned the Looney-Toons quality of his prior work that makes him such an endearing songsmith which is most apparent on “Woof Woof” where the backing beat is literally a dog barking in a tight loop.  If his music was paintings, they would be drawn by Anthony Ausgang.  But don’t shrug the man off as a clown or a hack.  His music is built with a care and can be deeply contemplative and can draw on tribal chanting and orchestral roots.

The jewel on Bromst is “Snookered” which begins with a lone bells and a soft melody before stating:  “Been round this road so many times / feel like its skin is part of mine / This taste of milk is almost gone / Still got no shame, but not for long! / Been wrong so many times before / But never quite like this.”  The song slathers on the electronics, discreet and interlocking noise and distortion before rolling in a stereophonic chorus of syncopation.  The notes become only samples of consonants and wordforms before winding back down into the electronics, back through the lyrics, and out with the soft melody and bells again.  A simple cannon, for a modern-day symphony.
Buy Bromst: Carpark, Insound

Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made

Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made

09. Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made by Fol Chen
I loves me some slide guitar, unless it’s in some full-on country song. Maybe a little country — if you throw in lots of psychedelia and a sweet vox (I’m thinkin’ Mazzy Star). Fol Chen pimps some slide guitar, horns, and funked-up whispered vocals; but it is against a massive electronic backdrop. Now think on a band like this covering of Prince and Junior Vasquez and Beastie Boys. What the eff (oh el)?

But man, that slide guitar backing the lyrics when the male lead (who?) confesses “Fuck your friends they don’t care … I stole a picture of you and your sister in Jericho.”  It’s a slow waltz of both deep guitar buzz and jangly acoustics the builds into a percussive crescendo.  And like this song, they create an atmosphere that is surprising in its straightforwardness.

Nearly every track is a star on John Shade. Sometimes their songs are understated, slight tinkering of notes, and other times the go for big beats of electronic percussion. But somewhere in the middle they always find balance between the instrumentation, the lyrics, and their addictive little melodies. Even if the fundamentals are drawn from the same source, each song has it’s own personality and story.

“Everybody here / Thinks I’m and idiot / Everybody here / Can’t stop laughing / How can that be true / If I’m in love with you” slowly made it’s way to become a bit of an unlikely theme song for me.  Schmaltzy, for sure, but there is a sincerity here that you cannot deny. I’m surprised this album seems to have slipped under the radar, could this be why? Please put this on album on your next top 10 list and thank Asthmatic Kitty for the free The Longer U Wait EP.
Buy Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made: Asthmatic Kitty, Insound

The Crying Light

The Crying Light

08. The Crying Light by Antony & The Johnsons
Antony is not easy, he requires your full attention.  I think this is why I could not crack into prior listens but I was determined. At Coachella, I heard how he had reconfigured his songs to have a electronics to accompany his backing band.

This decision certainly made the torch-songs more palatable on festival hearing, and I took the advice of a lady standing behind me when she said to her friend to pay attention to the lyrics of “Another World.” On the opening refrain I simply and undramatically burst into tears.  Typically, I’m not a lyrics man, but to hear “I need another place / Will there be peace? / I need another world / This one’s nearly gone,” I could not hold back.

There is one word to describe this, it is called “power,” Antony, in his shy demeanor and fey clothes is an unsuspecting source of this power.  He’s got power in his voice which is androgynous but full of weight.  He’s got power in his delivery that is equal to the agony and the personality of the Butoh dancer that strikes the album cover. He’s got power in those lyrics which bring out the most maternal instincts in the crowd and the listeners who want to shield and protect him like a lost child when you hear him utter the lyrics of “Epilepsy is Dancing.” He begs: “Cut me in quadrants / Leave me in the corner / Oh now it’s passing / Oh now I’m dancing.”

The secret is that he needs no protection from us, we need it from him and his brutal honesty and the self-actualization found in these songs.  The power that he has is of possession and haunting.  And he owns you with his words.  They need little accompaniment, they take you down and they won’t let go. I highly suggest the free DC concert by NPR’s All Songs Considered.
Buy The Crying Light: Secretly Canadian, Rough Trade, Insound

See Mystery Lights

See Mystery Lights

07. See Mystery Lights by Y.A.C.H.T.
I’ve been a fan of Jona Bechtolt, and his band/brand Y.A.C.H.T. so long I cannot bear to un-acronym the name. I’ve grown with his positivity in outlook over the years and can be found to quote the title of his last album I Believe in You.  Your Magic is Real. and I think this was the album I was most excited about in 2009. I’ve enjoyed his previous collaborations like Mikhaela Maricich’s The Blow but when Claire Evans became the yang to Jona’s yin, their message came pounding through fully amplified.  The two share a symbiotic spiritualism that is explained in full detail in their Mission Statement.

See Mystery Lights is their child and the platform on which they build the Anthem of the Trinity, a set songs that sound like and sound off on their notions of afterlife and ufos, light and darkness, and rejection of materialism and center around connection: “It may come as a surprise / But you are not alone / All that you have is not what you own”.  See, the music is all tied up in these lofty ideals.  But that is where new-age mysticism ends, their message is rooted in the every day, even inspiring that “You can live anywhere you want.”

Also so unlike new-age harps and wind-chimes is the sound of See Mystery Lights — there is a reason why they moved to DFA, the home of LCD Soundsystem.  What Jona can do on his Mac (he loves his Mac) approaches genius.  The cover of Rich Jensen‘s “Psychic City (Voodoo City)” had the most plays in my car and on last.fm for the whole year.  The song is multilayered and multifaceted, as slick as the Mac OS X interface, catchy as fuck, chanty as heaven, dance-y as indie can get.  You might choose to “Hang around baby, baby / We’ll be making a cake for you” and you find that “We’ve been holding this moment for you / We told you your dreams would come true.”
Buy See Mystery Lights: DFA, Insound

Merriweather Post Pavillion

Merriweather Post Pavillion

06. Merriweather Post Pavillion by Animal Collective
Released within the first week of 2009, I forget what an amazing album MPP is — taking my iPod to bed to get to know it “a little better”. Sure, it is easy to reject claims that the album was the best in 2009 for those statements were presumptuous at best. But you cannot deny that AC have found the formula to traverse borders musically and top lists across all sorts of listeners.

For me, Feels and Sung Tongs are my favorite pair of their albums (and are the last where guitars make an appearance). Those albums do have a few meandering tracks which spring from their ethos: experimentation, combined with testing in front of a live audience which in turn inform future album successes. But what make those albums so memorable for me, if not pivotal LPs, is that they create their own tonal atmosphere and terrain that takes a bit of listening to wrap your head around and requires your own discovery. Sure MPP, has it’s “sound” but the surprises are fewer, they are perfecting the formula that is MPP.  The songs are a perfect bubbly mix of tribal-chants, sonic illusion, underwater sounds, and rhythms that hook you in the way that most pop songs do.

Clear standouts are the title tracks “My Girls” (shockingly topped with Taken by Trees cover), “Summertime Clothes” and “Brothersport”.  The latter a fraternal love letter to Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox’s brother to “open up your throat” (and sing) after, presumably, their father’s death: “I know that it sucks that Daddy’s done / but you gotta think of what you want”.  The lyrics a little awkward in their gay-soundingness-but-not-really yet — like most of Lennox’s writing — they are sincere and comforting.

Tthe joy of this album can be found in a trinity of underwater carnival sounding tracks “Bluish”, “Guys Eyes”, and “Taste.”  The songs feel as if the band is relaxing and letting their colors shine.  Often AC albums peak and go into a more ambient self-reflective state after smash of the first singles, and these songs are a treat: modularizing on harmonizing and offering many facets with each refrain.

I am conforted with AC’s last 2009 EP from the album, Fall Be Kind.  The songs are either enrapturing or forgettable. Its encouraging to see the are still exploring and finding what brings them delight not just returning to the prior formulae to cash in on.
Buy Merriweather Post Pavillion: Domino (UK) (US), Insound

Hospice

Hospice

05. Hospice by The Antlers
The Antlers have redefined / revived the concept album.  Usually, a bank of songs following a thematic or narrative quality, concept albums found their way out of country and folk roots to begin their rise in 6o’s rock and fall in 70’s space prog and singer-songwriter introspection. Sure, there are examples of concepts in the indie world, (yes, Yoshimi but my favorites come from Viva Satellite!) but nothing like the likes of  Hospice.

The concept is simple: the weeks spent in a hospice surrounding the submission to cancer of the protagonist Sylvia and the months after the narrator copes with the loss of their dysfunctional relationship.  All of which is understandably existential for him.

The narrative is heart-wrenching, Peter Silberman sings his part jumping from whispers to arias, full of blame and shame, dodging porcelain figurines being thrown against the wall. Where Hospice succeeds is the vivid magical reality created by the luscious lyrics. Here is the light, offsetting the story in the rhythmic mumble of acoustic guitars, toybox sounds and resperators, and gentle bass drums.  The band has been succussful in transitioning the intimacy of the album into a live act, you can hear several songs on their Daytrotter Session.

I’ll leave you with my favorite scene in “Two” where the doctor explains nothing can save Sylvia and his reaction is exquisite: “Something in my throat made my next words shake, and something in the wires made the lightbulbs break. There was glass inside my feet and raining down from the ceiling, it opened up the scars that had just finished healing. It tore apart the canyon running down your femur, (I thought it was beautiful, it made me a believer).”
Buy Hospice: Frenchkiss, Insound

Logos

Logos

04. Logos by Atlas Sound
I read that this album is a collection of first takes but Bradford Cox, who is Atlas Sound, is known to tell stories. I tend to think that he’s is playin’ a right good one with us. Logos shows him coming out of an introspective spell.  He’s tightening up his sound and expanding his horizons on two song collaborations.

These songs are the crown jewels of the album — it seems — that the rest of the songs are gilding around them (but still gold!) Cox’s style remains, a blurring between shoegaze guitars and modern indie electronica, yet he is a chameleon, taking the best of his partners and infusing it into his work.  The effect is seemless, as if he snatched their spirit and wrought it into his own.

“Walkabout” is the first song with Noah Lennox, imbued with all of Panda Bear’s layers and facets, play-yard sounds, and childlike lyrics framed in addictive melodies: “What did you want to see? / What did you want to be when you grew up?” The phrase “want to see” becomes a homonym of “watusi” which is both what you want to do (dance) and the tribal influence the layers of sound takes on. Clocking at over 8 minutes, “Quick Canal” is a Stereolab organ-gasm, kraut-fuck of a song sung by Lætitia Sadier. Again, you can pick off the influences and the song even drives off the road and into a percussive jam half way through — a common signature of Stereolab. It’s still all through the Cox filter that is always subdued, dreamy, full of fusion without being cloying or overproduced.

Having followed Cox under the Deerhunter moniker, as Atlas Sounds, or keeping up with his proliferation of tracks on his blog, the progression is becoming clear: He is a musical genius and it matters not if the songs were not recorded first take. Here are 11 perfect songs that are so refined and lyrically contradictory and exciting that they’ve blown off any work that has brought Cox to this point.  The album is angelic and dangerous and you can begin to understand why he sings: “My halo burned a whole in the sky / My Halo burn a hole in the ground / My Halo is part of my crown / My halo is a part of my cry”.
Buy Logos: Kranky, 4AD, Insound

Clangour

Clangour

03. Clangour by Sin Fang Bous
Clangour is Construction Paper Folk. Seabear‘s Sindri Már Sigfússon builds songs that seem to have the simplicity of a child working with bright thick paper. His music is like the album cover of this, his first solo effort where he is a sunshine hippy wearing a beard made of streamers, makin’ music best akin to The Moody Blues. His voice is soft, Icelandic, fully submerged into the snips and glue of his brand of indie pop / folk / electronica.  What makes it work is how the collage of all the pieces fit together to create a picture that is united and glorious.

Sin Fang Bous is the child-like sage.  The title track is cut through with statements of a zen naturalist: “I will be the lumberjack and you will be the tree / I will be the boat and you will be the sea / I will be the fire and you will be the home.”  And on “SinkerShip,” he reminds us that he’s still human, riddled with regret, where real knowing comes from: “I need to forget some words I said yesterday / Change them away from memories.”

All the songs are rich, full of sounds and softness, of whistling and paddling, upbeat and downbeat and crossing from one to the other effortlessly.  Any connection with a computer is the cut and paste of a savant, the songs breathe in and out a life that is so organic you can smell the pine nettles and hear the echoes bounce off the slushy ice-flats.  I want to shout over the cacophony that you must buy and this album and listen to it like a prize.
Buy Clangour: Morr Music, Insound

Actor

Actor

02. Actor by St. Vincent
Annie Clark is St. Vincent and she makes dark, dense orchestrations that unravel like the best of songs by Kate Bush without sounding anything like her. Like the songs of Hounds of Love or The Dreaming, you need approach St. Vincent from the side, deciphering the lyrics, listening to all the clues, separating the voices from the choir and peeling back the secrets.

Clark is more sinister than her debut, Marry Me, the guitars are darker. Where the songs from the first album were full, these are busting at the seams.  The album begins with “Lover, I don’t play to win / For the thrill / Until I’m spent / Paint the black hole blacker.” It is an stinging opening volley and credo for the album.  She continues to wind up the “The Strangers,” pouring guitars like oil over the other instruments and over an incessant bass-drum before letting it unravel and quietly exiting with a little French accordion.

Even when the compositions are stunning in their beauty and full of wonder, Annie makes sure to keep it heavy it with her humor: “We are sleeping underneath our bed / To scare the monsters out / With our dear Daddy’s Smith & Wesson / We’ve got to teach them all a lesson.”  Here children are portrayed as the worst LA cops: “Stop right where you stand / We need a chalk outline / If you can put your hands where we can see them please.”

And her songs become instantly nostalgic as one title suggests “Just the Same but Brand New”.  She plays it like an acoustic ballad in a Thompson Twin daydream. Floating and soft, strings humming, strummed out and as it departs, you are left behind as a mixture of tears and ash.  The song is about finding meaning and has a meta quality where you are also searching for the meaning. Even now I’m trying to follow the lyrics: “And anything you wrote I checked for codes and clues / The letters stopped unceremoniously in June.”

Actor may be interchangeable with my #1.

St. Vincent is about to be epic. You can quote me.  She’s not about potential and almost. She doesn’t need to refine to blow your mind.  She doesn’t have to find her voice, she doesn’t need to find a point of view.  She’s not nearly there, she’s already arrived.  I wonder if you found your way to meet her?
Buy Actor: Direct, 4AD, Beggars Banquet, Insound

Veckatimest

Veckatimest

01. Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear
Every song on Veckatimest is a testament to the endless talents of Grizzly Bear.  And yet, like St. Vincent’s Actor, every song is instantly nostalgic — I think there is a perverse reason they had Michael McDonald sing on an alternate take of “While You Wait for the Others.”  But unlike Annie, until Veckatimest, they’ve been on an expedition: on safari (Deptartment of Eagles), searching (collaberations), scaling (being remixed), finding a hold (EPs), and now they are hyper-realized and have reached the top of their crest.

No longer can you box them into indie-folk.  No longer can they be directly compared to The Beatles’ euphonious harmonies.  No longer will reviews expect them to fulfill their potential.  Like the cover, the songs of Veckatimest are multifaceted, deeply layered, fully integrated, subdued and full of bright color and dark hues.  It’s musical comparison to Frank Lloyd Wright: a musical breakthrough akin to the Arts and Crafts movement, producing songs that are graphic as the Guggenheim, deeply spiritual and natural as Fallingwater.  They seem to know it: “Our haven on the southern point is calling us / And faced with all the obvious, so carry us.”

The songs on Veckatimest have a monumental quality. A slight reverb on the guitar makes it sound gigantic.  The synthesizers are delicate, integrate filigree. The vocals are wide as prairies and harmonize so beautifully you cannot pick out any individual voice.  When Grizzly Bear lets you pick out each members vocals, their parts play off each other like schools of fish or flocks of birds, moving together as a single entity, mesmerizing in they way they glide over the song.

But if you wish, you are certainly allowed to compare them with the works of The Beatles. Come on!  It’s not sacrilege and it’s about time we move forward 50 years after the fab four formed.  They seem to know it: “I’m cheerleading myself, I should have made it matter / Go on let it go / It doesn’t mean a thing / Chance is on nothing changing.”  They too can say so much with few words, repeating the choruses like a trance, spinning you into a frenzy.  They can move a song from Act I to Act II, creating vignettes, going off topic. Sometimes they leave you hanging and don’t make it to Act III.

Despite how big they may become, in sound or popularity, they have an intimacy of a lover.  They can whisper dream nonsense into you pillow-bed ear “Would you always / Maybe sometimes / Make it easy / Take your time.”  They can stare at the ceiling and wonder on their hopes and dreams, “And all we want / Another voice / To lead us on”.  And they can slip their hands under the covers and hug you close “I can’t get out of / what I’m into / with you” and you are all the more special for it.
Buy Veckatimest: DirectWarp, Insound

Ghostly Two for Ten March 8, 2009

Posted by reidmix in 4AD, Album Reviews, Free MP3, Ghostly International, Indie, Labels, Music, Reviews.
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Deastro "Keeper's"

Deastro "Keeper's"

School of Seven Bells "Alpinisms"

School of Seven Bells "Alpinisms"

On the night of Ghostly 10 Year Anniversary here in LA, two 2008 albums I’ve been recently excited about are from Deastro and School of Seven Bells.  They are not playing, AFAIK, but I debating whether I should pop over.

Both bands seem to be a response to my lament “There will never be songs like this, again” when talking about New Order.  The irony is that I wrote that post because of a song on a Ghostly compilation, so we’ve come full circle.

Both bands are guitar driven, shoegazey with youthful vocals, but distinctly electronic and danceable.  And both bands veer away from easy correlations with 80s bands to bring their own take and brand of music to the world.

Keeper’s is a collection of greatest hits from Randolph Chabot’s demos culled from 10 years of demos.  I think what is surprising is how consistent and coherent an album it is.  The songs are all very bright and despite being electronic, it’s gritty, distorted vocals, and the lyrics are full of contradiction “the uncertainties are all I know for sure” in “The Green Harbor.”  The album cover I believe is hand-drawn by Chabot and reminiscent of the music, cuddly, monstrous and all-seeing, and sparkly.

Buy Deastro
Ghostly, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

Ben Curtis and sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza are School of Seven Bells. I’m gonna go out on a limb and dub them “NewGaze” the next wave of shoegaze that is more worldly and uplifting, less introspective and omphaloskeptical. The sisters’ vocals are clear and their words sagelike, born of those ethereal sounds of Cocteau Twins but much more accessible.  In the lyrics for “Face to Face on High Places”, they say: “It’s safe to say, saving you, saved me.”  There’s  plenty of electronic exploration in the land of Alpinism and they can save you too.

Buy School of Seven Bells Ghostly, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

Top 10 Albums of 2008 March 5, 2009

Posted by reidmix in 4AD, Album Reviews, Best of 2008, Free MP3, Indie, Labels, Lists, Music, Reviews, Slender Means, SubPop, Tomlab.
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Forgive me for I am late — so so late — but here is my top 10 albums of 2008!  I really struggled with this list because I felt very confident with my top 10, but the order I rearranged over and over, struggling with what I loved in CD-R form, what I loved earlier in the year, and what I love now.

Some choices were released in 2007, which surprised me and I will start a new series: Hey You! Last Year.  Even though I keep this list within 2008, one selection (Bon Iver) was “technically” released in vinyl form in 2007.

Last year I looked forward to good things to come based on singles, EPs, and CD-Rs but I’ve never put those in my top 10.  This year I have two EPs in my top 10 and I really do believe this was the year of the EP.  In once case (High Places), I have a compilation of singles and rarities.

There are no rules to albums you really love.

Entanglements

10. Entanglements by Parenthetical Girls
I really looked forward to this album and anxiously trolled Zac’s site for updates.  News of a Tomlab release made me happy — one of my favorite labels as of late — and then a peek at an OMD cover had me swooning.
Entanglements is a vast, orchestral siege.  It is not the twee little confections that were the panic pop of albums past.  The glockenspiel is still there but it’s now only a single voice amongst the movements of full symphony in each song.
What make most of the songs impenetrable are the lyrics.  Gone are the dirty little vignettes that made the cast of “Love Connection” or “I Was the Dancer.”   Those lyrics took a little tinkering to get the essence and (with great glee) the perverse irony out of them.  Conversely, the words that make up the songs of Entanglements are subconscious, delivered in secret language or with dream-time meaning that are tongue in cheek and full of innuendo and rhyme: “his legs gave way like pages / from a pop-up book / and i had to look.”  In the end, you derive your own message from each song, and with each song a mood that is meticulously crafted by Pennington & Co.  On the whole, the album cannot be easily cast aside.  Much care was put into the production and its soul is too sincere.  You are left wanting more, to know more, to be entrenched more, and with any album what more can you ask?
Buy Entaglements
: Slender Means, Tomlab, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

Chunk of Change

09. Chunk of Change by Passion Pit
The first EP of the list, Passion Pit is Bee Gees for the Indie world.  I say this with the highest regard to Michael Angelakos and his Gibb-like falsetto that graces each song on Chunk of Change.  Sure there may be room for improvement, but here is a set that is more interesting than most full length LPs I listened to in 2008.
The songs are sticky sweet, multilayered candy.  The recipe may be full of synthpop, but there is enough playfulness and exploration of melody and percussion to keep things fun and surprising. Each song is dancible with the gold lamé of disco and the pathos of every great 70s love song.  In the title track, “Live to Tell the Tale,” the poetry goes: “Whatever happens to me / I hope that I’ll fall asleep / Knowing that you’ll always be / The story with no ending”
I must talk about “Sleepyhead” which was most of our introduction to Passion Pit and recorded later than the rest of the songs on the EP.  Here’s our departure from the love note of an album and for me, shows what we can expect.  Big beats that shake through the song while holding onto its playfulness, M.I.A.-like in its worldliness, more confident in its falsetto-ness. The melody is adept and smooth and the song is just too short.  This EP has enough going for it to last until the full-length release in early 2009.
Buy Chunk of Change: Frenchkiss, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

In Ear Park

08. In Ear Park by Department of Eagles
I have mixed feelings about In Ear Park.  It is certainly good enough to be in my Top 10.  The songs are strong, especially in the first half of the album, and are worthy of all the praise the album has garnered.  I love the lyrics as epistles to Rossen’s recently passed father, they often hold a perspicacious view on life and how we live it.  The delivery approaches what McCartney and Lennon gave us in the late 60s, and what makes them pop gems are the repetition and variations on questions and phrases.  In “Phantom Other” the lyrics ask “What would it take? / What would it take to make you leave? / What would it take? / What would it take to make you listen? / My God, in heaven / What were we thinking?”
There are other musical nods — like on “Teenagers,” I imagine to the Dion and The Belmonts — hints of 50s AM radio doo-wop over jingly guitars.  But the Achilles heal of the album for me is how close to Grizzly Bear it sounds, and my first reaction was that it sounded half-of-that-band.  And certainly, if In Ear Park is Rossen’s farewell letter, I have rationalized that may be why what Fred Nicolaus brings to the table has taken a lesser role.  The exceptions is “Around the Bay” (my favorite song) and “Classical Records” which are full on Mothersbaugh percussive elements, bangs, clunks, doorslams, noisemakers, cello strings and blips to create a microhouse symphony standing mere inches behind Rossen’s vocal harmonies. The album is a thing of stark beauty and gothic-folk, but I still want all the cylinders roaring on that Beta Band trip-hop that fueled the first album.
Buy In Ear Park: 4AD, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

Nouns

07. Nouns by No Age
I’m a big fan of No Age and their tongue-in-cheek noise-pop sensibilities.  Last year their compilation of singles ranked #4 on my Top 10.  Their full-length debut was another album I looked forward to in the spring and was stuck on repeat in my car in the summer.   The funny thing is that Nouns didn’t stick like Weirdo Rippers did.  Perhaps the sound was too polished, the edges a little too smoothed out.  Well I don’t care, every album has a halflife, I just may have burned through Nouns a little too quickly, not the fault of No Age!
The album first catches hold on “Teen Creeps” in a guitar and fuzz-off and has lyrics that read like adolescent anthems: “I hate you more I hate this place / I know why I feel this way / Teen creeps please don’t leave me dead, dead this way.”  The elastic sounds of “Things I Did When I Was Dead” has both a intimacy and a rawness that makes me wonder if Steve Albini recorded the track in the same vein as my early 90s faves like PJ Harvey or Pixies / The Breeders.  Other times, I feel like the songs like “Cappo” and “Keechie” are a nod to their experimental progenitor, Sonic Youth, with wide open spaces full of chutzpah and guitar.  Nouns gives us something a little more laid back, having less to prove, nonetheless with a lot of care. In the instrumental “Impossible Bouquet,” you feel their sense of joy in the making of their brand of rock that is quite beautiful.
Buy Nouns: SubPop, Insound, Amazon, iTunes

In Ghost Colours

06. In Ghost Colours by Cut Copy
In Ghost Colours, I feel like I’m cheating you at #6, please forgive me! You are one of the ones who’ve snuck up the charts in the writing of this list (you may glare at #1, if you dare).  I’ve asked before, how can a band so young throw-back to the best of the 80s synthpop and yet sound so new?  In Ghost Colours is not a hodgepodge of the great underground dance tracks, New Order, or nods to Top 40 connundrums like Fleetwood Mac, but a neat a holistic album where each song flows naturally from one song to the next.  The movement to each song is surprising and not forced, like the intro into “Lights & Magic” where you don’t realize the switch between songs is a fade but register it as a progression, and the full movement of the song doesn’t occur until you hit the chorus.
Unlike much electronic based music, In Ghost Colours remains organic through role of fine vocals and libral use of guitars. Even in the most Big Beat moments, they are connected with a sincerety in lyrics and composition between the spaces which keeps the album real and accessible. Cut Copy is not a one-note wonder, tripping genres and ripping rifts right off bands like the Pixies’ “Break My Body” like they do in “So Haunted” all the while danceable, moshable, thrashable, whatever works to keep your body moving with each song.  To fill out their sound, plenty of sound samples, tape loops, blips and the best of glitch to keep your ears entertained.   There is so much good on this album, it’s hard to believe we’re halfway through this list!

Buy In Ghost Colours: Modular Interscope, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

Spectrum, 14th Century05. Spectrum, 14th Century by Final Fantasy
I adore Spectrum and Final Fantasy’s EP almost took top honors for me this year.  The 5 songs about this imaginary land that lives somewhere betweeen the mind of Owen Palette and the production of Beirut’s Zach Condon make up one of the most perfect EPs.  Begin with “Oh Spectrum,” where we entranced by the chirps of outdoor creatures to a build that reminds me of the bright horns in a West Side Story showdown (Hello, I’m talking Bernstein and Sondheim here!)  Somehow this song flows into a steeldrum masterpiece “Blue Imelda” with horns and heavenly chorus betray the words of a farmer, who works both the soil and his plow.
The lyrics are priceless and crafted with anachronism that make up songs like “The Butcher”  to tell the tale of a preacher at the end of days: “Every morning I listen to confessional / Couldn’t give a shit ’bout the bulk of it / Still I keep it professional” all the while in the same song to quote the great internet meme: “All your bases belong to us!”  The music is gorgeous, full of strings, and piano, against the backdrop of the outdoor bugs and birds forever present.  The wordplay is key against the castanets we learn of the “Cocktrice” in a self-referential song about self-existentialism before entering, I believe, the finest medieval lyrics about a gay bar “But I’ve seen them in the commons with their kerchiefs and tattoos” and “They are fathers without sons or daughters” and homophobia: “And a bunch of those together / Can only do the Devil’s work, and it’s the Devil’s work they do.”  A thing of genius!
Buy Spectrum, 14th Century: Books Recording Club, Amazon, iTunes

Vampire Weekend04. Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weekend
I love me some Vampire Weekend and read on eMusic a quote that put them into context: “Third-wave ska goes prep, with enormous results.” (Would this be another wave? Who’s counting?) I’ve had love affairs with The English Beat, Madness, and saw Mighty Mighty Bosstones play the same set twice because they had so few songs.  I can say that 90s mainstream didn’t do ska much good for me.
Ok, to go “prep” means for me, those cardigans of the 80s, those thin ties, raybans and the sweet music of Ezra Koenig’s “Upper West Side Soweto.”  There isn’t much new to say about Vampire Weekend other than to thank Stereogum/KEXP for getting me in at the ground floor and scoffing up those early 45s and finding the CD-R.  The XL release is remastered, fuller in sound and quality, some of the songs got renamed, but the sequence is the same.  The lyrics are fresh and full of fun cultural references, “Cape Code Kwassa Kwassa” still being my favorite: “As a young girl, Louis Vuitton / With your mother, on the sandy lawn / As a sophomore, with reggaeton / And the linens you’re sittin’ on.” I feel fortunate I got to see the band twice, once at the Echo upstairs, certainly one of the busiest nights I’ve seen for a Monday, and full of a much more varied agéd crowd that made me conclude that I was amongst the true earlier adopters of music greats that are my peers.  Even though I may have listened to the songs off this album ad nauseum even before it debuted, I look forward to what comes next.
Buy Vampire Weekend
: Direct, XL Recordings, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

For Emma, Forever Ago

03. For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver
This unsuspecting, spare album will arrest your velocity and place you firmly in it’s orbit.  Justin Vernon’s falsetto harmonies are startling, full of so much emotive quality, he puts most singer / songwriters in a lower class.  The creation of For Emma is equally entrancing, recorded over several winter months in Wisconsin alone in a cabin after a breakup.  And you can almost infer those origins simply by listening to it.
Even with that said, you might feel the album is cold, self-indulgent but Bon Iver provides the warmth in each song, wailing on a song like on “Skinny Love” with enough ire to not take himself too seriously: “I told you to be patient / I told you to be fine / I told you to be balanced / I told you to be kind.”  These are glorious creatures that reach upward to the sky and the sun, despite their current predicament or where the may have come from.
You can get lost in the melodies and rhythms and a subtle crescendo in several songs that sneaks up on you.  I personally love “Re: Stacks,” a sort of final resolution of the album after the title song, a way out of it’s inner depths, “It’s hard to find it when you knew it / When your money’s gone / And you’re drunk as hell” but you find that “It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away / Your love will be safe with me.”  And with For Emma, Forever Ago you believe it’s true with a self-realization you did not possess before.
Buy For Emma, Forever Ago: 4AD, Jagjaguwar, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

03/07 - 09/07

02. 03/07 – 09/07 by High Places
High Places makes music with so many of the elements that I love in music and have loved for many many years now.   Boy-girl vocals, music-box melodies, odd sound creations and sampling, electronic in its creation but organic in sound, sweet (twee) lyrics that are so precious you want to squish their little eyes out.  They compose songs in a way I loved most about HNIA and has so much character and psyche rock to keep it interesting over months and months of listening.
Here is an eMusic collection of rarities that some how come-off as more coherent than their full length that was released later in the year.  What binds them together is an exestentialism like in “Cosmonaut” that wonders: “And we’re all full of questions / And we would like to know just exactly where we came from /And exactly where we’ll go” and considers that “I’ve read a lot of books about the future of the sun / And how my great-great-great-great-grandfather might have been a monkey’s son.”
These songs have a joy of life, humor, and innocence about them and are the epitome of what keep me so interested in new, independent music and remind me where I’ve come from and why I spend so much time online keeping my ears wide open.
Buy 03/07 – 09/07: Thrill Jockey, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

Skeletal Lamping01. Skeletal Lamping by of Montreal
Of Montreal has been on my music periphery for the past several years, but never landed square in the middle of it nevermind the top of it. Each release capturing my attention more and more, I believed that Hissing Fauna would come the closest. When Skeletal Lamping arrived, I read many posts about its schizophrenia, it’s lack of focus and direction, it’s cringe-worthy lyrics.  Wrong.  It’s simple, they didn’t stick around to get to the meat of this amazing album. Fuck’em if they cannot handle the ride.
I had a friend who’s defense mechanism when first meeting him was to repeat in oh-so-many ways, “I’m gay! Gay! Gay gay gay, I’m gay!” And boy was he!  But after you got used to his fey qualities and need to prove his queeritude, there was a real person kicking around in there, complex and deeply sensitive.  Skeletal Lamping is this friend and the more you listen, the more you want to hear his story.
Sure, it’s about Kevin Barnes’ Ziggy-esque alter ego. “I’m just a black she-male / And I don’t know what you people are all about” but what’s more interesting is that “I’m a motherfucking headliner, bitch you don’t even know it!” exclaims Georgie Fruit with an attitude that’s all Hedwig.  For every song that may have put off cautionary reviewers, there’s something going on under the surface.  Sure, “We can do it softcore if you want, but I take it both ways,” but later Georgie confesses, “The mutual conclusion was I’m not worth knowing because I’m probably dead.”  It’s both sad and wonderful, an album of cinematic quality, full of vignettes and unexpected turns down dirty alleyways and into backdoors of Studio 54s.
The music is exquisite, perfectly crafted, unique and with a purpose.  Because each song shifts and turns doesn’t make it erratic, it’s theatrics and the headliner may be fucking with you (“Don’t be afraid Lille Venn of violence / I’m only poisoning you, not going to stab you”), may be fucking you (“I want you to be my pleasure puss / I want to know what it’s like to be inside you”), may be getting real with you (“He’s the kind of guy who would leave you in a k-hole / To go play Halo in the other room, remember?”), may be regarding a mood (“Plotting midnight raids on the Swedish plum trees”), or may be questioning his existence (“Why am I so damaged, girl?”)
You’ve got to listen carefully because I know Skeletal Lamping will be remembered when Of Montreal raised the stakes.
Buy Skeletal Lamping: Polyvinyl, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

Thanks for hanging in to the end, please let me know what you think.

Top 10 Bands in 2008 (According to Last.fm) January 26, 2009

Posted by reidmix in 4AD, Band Reviews, Best of 2008, FatCat, Free MP3, Indie, Labels, Lists, Marriage Records, Music, Reviews, States Rights.
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Unlike my Top 12 Bands 2007, this year is a throwback to all good things ’80s and ’90s (kinda-sorta).  Because I like to blame Tim Peysar for my musical deviations, I will continue to do so for he led me, kicking and screaming, against my will, against my better intentions, against the will of my wallet, to buy all the Cure deluxe re-issues.

As I’d like to give him that full credit — I’ll also give him The Radio Dept. — I continued to buy re-issues of The Smiths (7″ Singles: hawt!), and a deluxe re-issue of Beck Odelay (did DGC forget Mellow Gold?) all by my lonesome.  I’ve been avoiding those Sonic Youth re-issues.

If anything, it stands as a testament that this year in music was a grab-bag into the past instead of the push forward I’ve seen over the past few years.  Sometimes those leaps aren’t so obvious, or aren’t mined from the depths for years from now, but it gave me some time to discover and re-discover some of my musical roots.

The downside, this has been one of the most frustrating posts to put together and I know why I love my indies and give them all my money every chance I get.  To the major labels of my 80s and 90s icons and their weakness to share: they make it impossible to legally link to any mp3s.  High margins for them — no downloads for you — but you’ve probably heard it all before.

01. The Cure on Fiction, thecure.com
I swore off The Cure with Wild Mood Swings.  I didn’t buy Bloodflowers. Alt.End: What.Was.That? I didn’t need the deluxe reissues, I had everything I wanted on LP, tape, and CD, Boxset, OMG.  Then the I Am a Cult Hero single was on one of the Reissues, then some of the non-Curiosity Anomolies, then I saw the packaging, in person with those wonderful liner notes.  After Robert Smith’s vocals made an apparance on The Orb Orbital’s Paul Hartnol “Please” single, and the once a month campaign of CD Singles leading up to 4:13 Dream, I got sucked back in.  The Verdict: stay with the classics, they’ve held up to the test of time and bought up by the majors which is probably why their MP3s are on lockdown.  Re-issue Disintegration already!

02. Cut Copy on Modular Interscope, cutcopy.net
If you listen to any songs from In Ghost Colours you might be inclined to wonder how did you miss them on you last 80s comp you bought.  Didn’t they come out of pre-Madchester with the sensibilities and guitars of New Order?  Even their debut album, Bright Like Neon Love,  cover art is oh-so-Nagel. But as implied by their name, the genres are exquisitely cut from different pieces and blended seamlessly like a crossed memory.  There’s the edge of The Pixies on “So Haunted” and the comfort of Fleetwood Mac on “Strangers in the Wind.”  There is an urgency of youth in the tapestry of songs.  I feel very lucky to have discovered Cut Copy and had the chance to see them at Coachella last year.

03. The Radio Dept. on Labrador, Shelflife, theradiodept.com
If Pet Sounds was the epitome of 60s-era genius, you could say that Pet Grief is analogous to 90s shoegaze on par with My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.  What’s surprising, like Cut Copy, is that they have arrived within this decade!  From Sweden.  What I love about The Radio Dept. is that their take on shoegaze isn’t groundfacing, overdriven with guitar bloat.  It’s crisp as a leaf on a fall day, bringing the best of Cocteau Twin-sy ethereal without getting lost in the sirrus.  Hints of Johnny Marr, Robin Guthie run side-by-side with synth and piano, vocals receding alongside them. So many free downloads it makes you want to learn more about Labrador!

04. Lucky Dragons on Marriage, 555 Recordings, hawksandsparrows.org
I’d been looking forward to see how Luke Fischbeck and Sarah Rara would follow up Widows but to my surprise, winning tickets to see them perform at LA’s The Smell, I saw what Make a Baby was all about.  It’s hard to explain, nearly religious in experience, where the audience to become participants in Lucky Dragon’s collaborative music making — Make a Baby, because, participants have to touch skin to affect the music.  I highly recommend!  There’s plenty of free music on Luke’s site, a copy of Dark Falcon, Bleach on Bleach (A Nirvana “remix” album split with Y.A.C.H.T.).  I was happy to discover to Pierre Henry‘s “Atelier” on his site, perhaps giving insight to Luke’s influences.

05  French Kicks on Vagrant, frenchkicks.com
I burned through all of French Kick’s albums this year but was stuck on Swimming, their latest release.  The first song “Abandon” is maybe one of the best jumps into an album, with bright guitars, deep bass, clapping, and the dulcet voice of Matt Stinchcomb.  I think it’s one of those albums that is burdened by it’s past, comparisons to their post-punk debut “One Time Bells” or the shimmering electronics of “Two Thousand” somehow undo what I feel is an album that can stand well on it’s own.  And I wonder, if the weight of the past was lifted, would we be more receptive to let Swimming soar?

06. Department of Eagles on Isota, 4AD, departmentofeagles.com
I feel like I can address that wonderful album The Cold Nose.  When they were known as “Whitey on the Moon UK”, their approach is freer, consuming abandon of The Beta Band and downing it with a good dose of trip-hop. In”Gravity’s Greatest Victory / Rex Snorted Coke,” Rossen’s beautiful pipes are still there, but now we can gleam the 50s scifi-beatnics at their finest.  On their rarities album, songs are overdubbed with both whimsy and what makes “In Ear Park” so beautiful.  On a live performance of “Sailing by Night” we are introduced to “Señor Buttmerge” and a “Cat named Johnny Glaze” who “knows his ways around all the public bathrooms / always has a cookie in his pocket.” Yeah. All over the Rossen harmonies that make us think of the Beatles.

07. Beck on Geffen/DGC/Interscope, beck.com
What can I say about Beck that isn’t already covered.  I bought the Deluxe Reissue of OdelayModern Guilt was better than The Information but still not as good as Guero. I wished that I had bought Midnight Vultures when it came out in ’99, I think 10 years has aged it pretty well tho. I’ll still buy Beck albums and one of these days I’ll make it to The Echo for one of his free shows (I hope!)

08. The Smiths on Rough Trade, Rhino
I love the Smiths.  I love mexi-goths for their love of Morrisey.  I bought the Singles Box set for the dirty pictures — uh, original cover art.  There are a few songs that illicit such a precise feeling in my adolescence the way that “How Soon Is Now?” does.  The late discovery of “Jeane,” I swear it sounds familiar: “We tried and we failed.”  The tumble of the locks at the end of “Rusholme Ruffians” and all that walking home alone sums up my high school years so succinctly. Sweetness, sweetness, I was only joking I would like to mash every tooth in you head.

09. Silje Nes on FatCat, myspace.com/siljenes

I wish there was more Silje Nes in the world — I had to dig deep to find the NPR feature on “Shapes, Electric,” where the DJ is equally awestruck on how she composes this warbled little affair.  You feel deeply seated in between the ears and within the mind of Silje and just want to know more.  An Ames Room, a forced perspective illusion, is an appropriate metaphor for the album, where Silje can grow to unexpected sizes with that childlike singsong that make you want to ask along with NPR, “How’d she do that?”  It’s not all an experimental hodge-podge, i said before, it’s rooted and organic, subtle in its wash,  a stretching of cassette tape and static. The songs are like pills that’re easy to swallow, Alice-like and precocious. One of my top 3 in 2007 if I had heard it in 2007!

10. Bauhaus on Beggars Banquet, bauhausmusik.com
Oh boy did I ever feel at home amongst my peeps at Coachella watching Love & Rockets, the Bubblemen, missing Peter Murphy, and seeing the goth-glam-goth come full out and close the festival.  With Bauhaus, I have lived primarily on “1979-1983” Parts I & II, “Swing the Heartache,”  “Crackle,” and somehow I never bought the originals.  Oh what a trip to listen to the songs in their original inception some wildly different, others right on par.  “A trick of the light and too much caffeine, he thought.”

Next: no surprises in my Top 10 Albums of 2008.