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I Coulda Been a Contender 2008 March 8, 2009

Posted by reidmix in Album Reviews, Best of 2008, Free MP3, I Coulda Been a Contender, Indie, K Records, Kill Rock Stars, Labels, Lists, Merge Records, Music, Reviews, Series, SubPop, Warp.
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Well after 9 months since I first started this post, I decided I should finish it before the year is out.  As I’m wrapping up the 2009 songs in my queue, I look back to the coulda-beens of 2008 and how much happiness each band / album gave me.

I love this series as it gives me the off the path list of great bands that you may not have heard of from year-end lists.  This list is in no particular order and each album occupied my focus for some time during 2008.

Bright Blue Dream

This Glowing City

Bright Blue Dream / The Glowing City by {{{SUNSET}}}
I’m a big fan of Bill Baird’s moustache-y named {{{SUNSET}}} and I feel he produces pop gems that are smart and clearly underrated.  Plus, who can’t deny the magic of weaving steel drums with wailing guitars and jaunty piano into an indie song. Autobus is generous and gives us many samples from the two albums that they produced in 2008.  It’s a little bit country, a little bit folk, throw in some noise and it takes up lots of space.  Baird sings with an intimacy and conviction of an addict. Enjoy.
Buy Bright Blue Dream AutobusInsound
Buy The Glowing City AutobusInsound

Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles by Crystal Castles
In retrospect, I had no idea the kids were crazy over Crystal Castles, and Crystal Castles are just plain crazy.  You can see me taking pix on SPINs website (I’m the one over 30 in red).  But when they hit their first song of ROM-core based electronica (like Space Invaders in Air War), the acid musta hit cuz the boys and girls went fucking nuts and Alice Glass leaned into the crowd.  Despite the terror I felt during the show, the album is hard hitting, screaming, surprising (Tell Me What To Swallow sounds like HIIYH HNIA), and if produced in the 70s or 80s I know Crystal Castles woulda been a big metal-hair band.  This is not your mopey goth synths, it’s full of rock and pop, and catchy hooks and ambience.
Buy Crystal Castle
s Last Gang, Insound

Microcastle

Weird Era Cont.

Microcastle / Weird Era Cont. by Deerhunter
Another album that is wonderful in retrospect considering Bradford Cox’s solo effort Atlas Sound’s album this year.  Granted I know this “double” album was on the top 10 of many indie boys and girls last year. It clearly improved upon the potential of Cryptograms pushing the shoegaze-y envelope. Deerhunter are experts at fuzzing the line between indie guitar pop and electronica. Sometimes unstructured and sometimes the poppiest of pop, the album runs the whole gamut.  There’s strangely not a lot of mp3s to find off the album to share but plenty of music can be found on the prolific Deerhunter blog.
Buy
Deerhunter 4AD, Insound

Mountain Battles

Mountain Battles by The Breeders
I’m happy to say The Breeders are still rocking.  After a few duds, I feel like Mountain Battles put them back on the map and they are reaching back to their roots. Sure it’s no Pod or Safari, but it’s approximating those albums.  The title track has that raggaeton rock push that The Breeders like to toy with, you can hear it on “Bang On”.  Kim’s beautiful vox is again the starring role nestled with some fun guitar licks and melodies.  Most songs have the space in between notes that make me most think of songs like “Doe” and “Iris”, the only thing missing may be Tonya Donneley.  But The Breeders persevere, and I think this album may have been greatly underated last year and has a lot to offer if you give it a many listens.
Buy The Breeders Beggars Group / 4AD, Insound

Alegranza

Alegranza by El Guincho
You may have heard “Spanish Animal Collective” and labels are quick to wear and fall off even faster.  El Guincho has a psychedelic samba that keeps you rolling through his songs.  If the album cover, a party-parrot with spiderlike 8-irises, give you any indication, each song is a romp of Spanish whispers and South American electronics from el barrio.  There are plenty of samples to wonder at and regardless of the language or the roots that comprise this album, the songs are fresh and exciting, transcending genres just as their labels may maintain.  Discos Compulsivos made his first CDr, Folías, available for free.
Buy El Guincho Beggars Group / XL, Insound

We Brave Bee Stings and All

We Brave Bee Stings and All by Thao
I’m very excited for Thao Nguyen, this years album put her smartly on XMU. Who knew that her and the Get Down Stay Down’s second album would elevate their status in the indiesphere? But last year, I could not stop listening to the strange phrasings of “Beat (Health, Life, and Fire)” and her slight accent shining through the “Bag of Hammers.”  What makes Thao special is what sets her music apart, it sounds different, like nothing on the radio, surely folk and punk influences are there, but they are incorporated into her song structures and smart lyrics full of lush imagery and experience.  And who doesn’t love a banjo?
Buy Thao
Kill Rock Stars, Insound

Verbs

Verbs by Au
Oh Au (pronounced “Aye-You”) is the symbol for gold. Verbs is this years’ Ruby Suns. A worldly folk (yes, the freaky kind, if you must) that goes from one song to the next without missing a beat or a pause to distinguish them.  “Are Animals” is lush, full of whoops and yowls and somehow hook-y and addicting by the time the fast-paced bass kicks in below the synth-y saxes.  I have to say I listened to this album over and over on my way home on the Metro and barely became wary of it.  Sweet vocals and boy-girl harmonies both can take second place to the sound-scape and also be elemental to the structure itself.  The songs have epic Act I, II, and III structures that keep things interesting, weird and circus-like, and wonderful.
Buy Au Aagoo and on cool vinylInsound

Swimming

Swimming by French Kicks
Anthemic, one of the my favorite words to describe a band, album, song.  Abandon is an anthem in its approach.  I remember reading posts where everyone was whining about how Swimming wasn’t like French Kick’s first punk-inspired album. I say, “That’s progress, they become better musicians, they grow up, they produce something wonderful, why not go along for the ride?”  I could listen to Abandon without abandon and the songs that follow with melodic guitars, soft drums, hushed lyrics.  Their approach is more subtle now, but all the more captivating and, yes, they can crank out a good effin anthem.
Buy French Kicks Vagrant, Insound

The Rhumb Line

The Rhumb Line by Ra Ra Riot
Typically I love covers, but Kate Bush covers typically suck.  Ra Ra Riot’s deeply sacred cover of “Suspended in Gaffa” either makes me want to listen to more of The Rhumb Line or break out The Dreaming depending on my mood.  Both are good outcomes.  I’ve read that Ra Ra Riot were contemporaries of Vampire Weekend until the unfortunate death of their drummer put their debut on hold.  To me their songs remind me more of Spent than Vampire Weekend, and that is a pretty good thing too.  They are softer, have rich strings and sweet vocals, deeply sad and introspective lyrics: “And if you were here, winter would not pass so slow.”  I couldn’t agree more.
Buy Ra Ra Riot Barsuk, Insound

Kontpab

Kontpab by Mahjongg
Mahjongg makes electronic music that breathes.  Kontpab is organic, dark, fun.  Over their discography, each album builds upon the last and this last one hits the mark.  I love how they are on krecs, proving the record label should not be categorized easily — granted much great music in the great northwest has come from K.  Kontpab easily crosses the line back and forth between sparkly electronic music and punk-revival, each song an independent statement in sound and often was my dishwashing music to keep me moving-moving and dancing-washing.
Buy Mahjongg K Records, Insound

Drippers

Drippers by Black Moth Super Rainbow
I have a soft spot for Black Moth Super Rainbow.  Their vocoder and cloyingly-sweet music-box sound doesn’t bother me one bit and is certainly the charm of the band.  The Drippers EP is a collection of rarities, remixes and unreleased tracks from pre-BMSR 1999 on thru to the present.  The songs are uniquely unified and construct a great expression of what the band is and what kind of music they create.  “Zodiac Girls” starts off right where the kaleidoscopic works of Dandelion Gum left off, deep synths, girl vox and Tabacco’s vocoder. My favorite is the Mark E. Smith inspired “I Saw Brown” repeating “I open my eyes / was that brown?” over and over in different variations.
Buy Black Moth Super Rainbow Graveface, Insound

Red Yellow & Blue

Red Yellow & Blue by Born Ruffians
Ever since “This Sentence Will Ruin / Save Your Life” came out I’ve been a nascent Born Ruffians fan waiting for their debut LP.  Red Yellow & Blue is an excellent start with great songs like “Hummingbird”, “Foxes Mate for Life”, and “Little Garçon”.  Not to mention the best Grizzly Bear cover on Stereogum during the same era.  Born Ruffians create lovely indie tunes and harmonies without becoming too twee or straying from their punk underpinnings.  They may be compared to the 3rd wave prepped-up ska ala Vampire Weekend, I’d say they have more akin to the Clash in their song structure and sound.
Buy Born Ruffians Warp, Insound

That sums up my 12 contenders for 2008, a day before I begin working on my 2009 list!

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I Coulda Been a Contender 2007 June 11, 2008

Posted by reidmix in Album Reviews, Arts & Crafts, Best of 2007, Carpark, Domino, Free MP3, I Coulda Been a Contender, Indie, Labels, Lists, Merge Records, Music, PawTracks, Reviews, Series, SubPop, Tomlab.
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My final 2007 wrap-up in June, oh my! One of my most visited blog entries was my prior I Coulda Been a Contender 2006 which listed great, wonderful albums that for one reason or another did not make my Top 10. Alas, why should these albums be put out to pasture just because there were 10 other albums ahead in line?

I think another thing that makes this post so joyful is its sheer eclecticism — the strange sitting alongside with the obvious, the rare with the (indie) popular. The major condition to be on this list is that I listened to these albums. Alot. Or, I enjoyed them. Alot. These are ordered (sorta) alphabetically and that’s it! I hope that you find something new, too.

QTomlab Alphabet Series: Q by Alig Fodder
Tomlab has this wonderful series of 7″ records that has been coming out over the past several years, each one for each letter. Alig Fodder from Family Fodder fame shows up on letter ‘Q’ and later as an Idol Fodder EP. Addictive elements both aboriginal and electronic, and looping laughs.

Strawberry JamStrawberry Jam by Animal Collective
First album released on Domino, hailed as their most pop-oriented yet. For me, this album was eclipsed by drummer, Panda Bear’s, solo album, and Sung Tongs and Feels are still landmark albums in my mind. Nonetheless, Fireworks (and the live blending with Essplode) and For Reverend Green do stand out as the best Animal Collective songs ever made.

Neon Bible by Arcade Fire
The slow leak that was their sophomoric album on Merge could not contain the raw excitement over their debut, Funeral. Any band that starts with a landmark album automatically sets themselves up for failure, no matter how good the follow-up. I’m happy that they received KROQ love, but their listeners only knew Intervention at the amazing Greek performance. Take another listen to the following layered, dark gems and lookup my favorite, (Antichrist Television Blues).

In Camera by Arthur & Yu
I became so captivated by the first Hardly Art (a SubPop sublabel) release that I have the promo disc as well! The finest folk this side of the Mississippi, as many readers know I discovered them on the 5th track of Dntel’s Dumb Luck. They remind me of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, like OP8 featuring Lisa Germano, and everything good about Peter, Paul and Mary.

Load Blown by Black Dice
I’ve known about Eric Copeland by proxy on other Paw Tracks releases, most notably from The Sailor by Terrestrial Tones, although I didn’t start listening to Black Dice until Mr. Copeland opened for the Animal Collective show at the Henry Fonda. It was very LOUD but it perked my interest enough to buy their latest album, full of quirks, beats, and other transporting soundscapes.

Spiderman of the Rings by Dan Deacon
Another great artist on Carpark, and his video is the cheesiest. I saw Dan Deacon at Coachella this year and I have to say it was the best show at the festival, the best show I’ve ever gone to and I need to posted pics and movies later. Dan Deacon is interactive, he’s a fun sing-along, with electronic cannons made with casiotone sugar. Also get all of Dan Deacon’s old MP3s

The Enemy Chorus by The Earlies
I think I love this Secretly Canadian release if only for the song When the Wind Blows. This Austin based band plays it with syncopated electronic beats, power chords on what sounds like a baby grand, and softened with melodic strings. Yet when I hear this bluesy proggy, and ambitious album, there is so much that is good with it, it simply takes its time to sneak-up and arrest you.

We Don’t Just Disappear by Future Conditional
I read a pan of this album somewhere and I conject you are not ready for Piano Magic‘s side project or the 80s electropop seems to slippery to grasp. Both of these of which I fell victim. Still, for the sheer hotness of The Switchboard Girl should give you enough pause before moving on. Below the surface of this album are 80s drum machine references to New Order (Substance Fear) and other musical nods I’ve yet to place (Typos).

Panic Prevention by Jamie T
My only major label (Virgin), I love these hyper-masculine, boyish rhymes, (rap, um, not so much) from Jamie Treays debut. I listened to these tracks intensely for about a month and even won a Flavorpill trivia contest to see him at the Troubadour but alas I had (writing) class. Still, almost a year later songs like Calm Down Dearest and So Lonely Was the Ballad are emotional charged and poignant. I hope for good things to come.

Broken Social Scene Presents: Spirit If… by Kevin Drew
Arts & Crafts is certainly becoming one of my favorite labels, steered in part by Broken Social Scene founder, Kevin Drew. His first solo album in what will be a Broken Social Scene Presents series featuring each member, it is both a departure from the mega-group’s broad arrangements, and also an amplification of the intimate chamber pop that makes it so good. My only regret is how little I’ve listened to this album.

Loney, Noir by Loney, Dear
SubPop has been pushing all their releases into my life this past year, and this swede is no exception. With almost english titles, I previously proclaimed that I bought the title track, I Am John, within 30 seconds of hearing it. Along with the cutest video, and a 7″, his prior releases (anything before Sologne) are difficult to find. Have a listen to this multilayered, pop-stylist. It’s addictive and sweet as Swedish Fish:

Sticking Fingers into Sockets by Los Campesinos!
I had the pleasure of seeing this this Wales band from Arts & Crafts at the Troubadour last Saturday with the Parenthetical Girls and they are Twee as Fuck. They have a firm understanding of the C-86 bands: not to say they’re only as sweet as Sarah Records, they firmly put their own little punk spin on their collection of songs. Plus, I think they’re a little fey — makes me go all smiley inside.

Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? by Of Montreal
Their latest release on Polyvinyl is both the band’s darkest and best release to date. I find it rare that a band gets better with each release, but when that happens, it’s a joy to hear how the album becomes more refined while pushing its own limits. Hateful dance hippy intellectual glamrock. It’s ABBA’s evil twin, but better. How can you go wrong?

Book of Bad Breaks by Thee More Shallows
Here is a case where anticipating a bands latest release, their first on Anticon, I fall in love with their prior albums. And that’s what happened, I listened to More Deep Cuts to a dirty grave (ironically, Ave Grave being my favorite song on the album) and then Monkey vs. Shark. I still intend to wrap my head around the Book of Bad Breaks, but I still am charmed by earlier moody releases. Alas!

Our Ill Wills by Shout Out Louds
I’m not sure I did the right thing by not having their first Merge album in my top 10. Another case where I happened upon their first album Howl Howl Gaff Gaff first which stuck to me like Swedish Superglue (Re: Loney, Dear). It took a little while to warm up to Our Ill Wills, the maritime flagship of a follow-up album. “Yeah, but they sound like The Cure!” Um, hush now and and have a good listen.

Tromatic Reflexxions by Von Südenfed
Two parts Krautrock inspired Mouse on Mars and one part Mark E. Smith, the punk pioneer and The Fall‘s repetitious frontman, their Domino debut proves (against all odds) to be amazingly harmonious, integrated, and awesome. The deep beats of the DJs fully support the rhyming rhythms that play within that structure to make for some unique and playful songs that together raises the stakes on the sum of its parts.

I Coulda Been a Contender 2006 February 5, 2007

Posted by reidmix in Album Reviews, Best of 2006, Carpark, Domino, FatCat, Free MP3, I Coulda Been a Contender, K Records, Kanine, Kill Rock Stars, Labels, Lists, Matador Records, Music, Reviews, Series, Tomlab.
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Here’s my last year-end list for 2006. I know, I know Febuary 4th! These are the albums I was considering for best albums of 2006 that did not make my Top 10. Each album made an impression on me whether it be hype, a song, or my affection for the artist. These albums are in no particular order — well, not really — I just didn’t feel like ranking them 🙂

Bedroom Walls - All Good Dreamers Pass This Way (Small)All Good Dreamer Pass This Way by Bedroom Walls
I heard these guys in Ameoba Records and liked what I heard. They are charming and twee and the only fault I can find is that I haven’t listened to this album enough.
In Anticipation of Your Suicide, Somewhere in Newhall

Beach House - S/TBeach House by Beach House
eMusic loved them, Pitchfork loved them, everyone loved them. I loved their subtle musicbox sound and summer faire feel but it hasn’t stuck yet. Another one that I need to come back to.
Apple Orchard, Saltwater

Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye (Small)So This is Goodbye by Junior Boys
So good that Pitchfork reviewed it twice. “In the Morning” is piece of synth magic that I discovered through a Mobius Band remix. Unfortunately, the magic ended there – check our their first album.
In the Morning

CSS - Cansei de ser Sexy (Small)Cansei de Ser Sexy by CSS
“Tired of Being Sexy” is the translation of the Bazillian, electroclash band and the self-titled album with the same sexy vibe as Peaches. Boomkat loved them and who could argue?
[Sorry, no downloads]

Anna Oxygen - This Is An Exercise (Small)This Is an Exercise by Anna Oxygen
As an alternative to CSS, try Anna Oxygen. This album is the epitomy of everything good in 80s New Wave music, but for 2006! These songs get better with each listen.
Fake Pajamas

I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass - Yo La Tengo (Small) I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass by Yo La Tengo
Amusing title aside, some excellent tracks, but seem to respond to the fear that they straying from Velvet Underground roots. Still, I prefer the spacepad jazz of And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.

Let’s Build a Fire - +/- Let’s Build a Fire by +/-
A very polished album from James Baluyut’s post-Versus band. I still long for the playful innocence, experimentation, and simplicity of Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album.
Steal the Blueprints, Leap Year

In the Maybe World - Lisa Germano (Small)In the Maybe World by Lisa Germano
One of my favorite artists, Lisa Germano’s epic about death is hard to unlock. I hold 1998’s Slide, so close to my heart that I doubt any other will compare: this latest comes close.
Too Much Space

Mistake Mistake Mistake Mistake - James FigurineMistake Mistake Mistake Mistake by James Figurine
Jimmy Tamborello under the Figurine moniker comes up with amazing electronica that’s surely under-recognized and is clearly the talented side of Postal Service. 55566688833 and Apologies are the standouts. Lame video @ stereogum.

Paper Television - The BlowPaper Television by The Blow
Parenthetical Girl Zac Pennington says “Khaela makes music that sounds like she might want to sleep with you, but hasn’t completely made up her mind yet.” Yup. Addition of Y.A.C.H.T.’s Jona Bechtolt is essential.
Pile of Gold, Parentheses, Hock It [Y.A.C.H.T. Remix]

He Poos Clouds - Final Fantasy (Small)He Poos Clouds by Final Fantasy
This enigmatic album still hasn’t given up it’s secrets. The only song I’ve been able to unlock is This Lamb Sells Condos. First album was a joy, so I’ll keep listening to this one.
This Lamb Sells Condos

Music for Plants - Mixel Pixel (Small) Music for Plants by Mixel Pixel
The singles off this album are marvelous. With covers of Momus, honest lyrics, references to the best 80s atari video games. But I wished that the other songs filled out like prior release, Contact Kid.
Coming Up X’s, You’re the Kind of Girl

Sirs - Welcome (Small)Sirs by Welcome
Well, I just love this album. It’s like a soft Sonic Youth dream — forgive the oxymoron. I have to say sunny Bunky is my favorite track and shows that good things will come from this band. More at FatCat.
All Set, Bunky, Sirs