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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.

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. 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 EPs and Singles January 4, 2014

Posted by reidmix in Album Reviews, Best of 2013, Captured Tracks, Carpark, Labels, Lists, Music, Polyvinyl.
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Here are my favorite EPs in 2013 and probably tops my list over the LPs.  I’m returning by keeping it simple.
So without further ado, in no particular order:

(more…)

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