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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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Top 10 Tracks I Listened to in 2008 (According to iTunes) January 10, 2009

Posted by reidmix in Best of 2008, Free MP3, Indie, Lists, Music, Reviews, Slender Means, Song Reviews, States Rights, Tomlab.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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So I’ve consolidated my iTunes onto one computer this year, but as it is with the nature of music, my listening mode has changed.  I’ve begun digging into the past for history and inspiration, and expanded on favorites with re-issues and deluxe editions from the 60s through the 90s.  Despite that, most of my top tracks over the year remained in 2008 territory.  3 tracks that weren’t came from 2007.

Compare with my top 10 albums of 2008 and, for many, this is not a surprise! Since I pretty consistently blog these end of year lists and they are the most popular, I’m giving them a little more meat, especially since this is the one time of year I bring up some of these bands, I want to be able to give them more of their due and love.

01. Blue Imelda by Final Fantasy
Love. Love. Love. A dream of steel drums shared with Beirut in the imagined land of Spectrum.  The song is filled with chirps and lush beats that introduce us to “Blue Imelda / She is the saddest bitch of Spectrum.” This song comes on high from a West Side Story rumble “Oh Spectrum” and the switch to the Caribbean flavor is seamless.  The song sets the mood for the whole EP which is counter-point to Plays to Please (see below), another Final Fantasy EP released at the same time.  Every song on the EP is a winner, but Blue Imelda gets you in the door.
Listen:[YouTubeBuy:[Blocks Recording Club / Blue House]

02. Man’s Heart Complaint by {{{ SUNSET }}}
I believe Bill Baird’s {{{SUNSET}}} may be one of the most underrated bands to come out of 2008.  This song is a great introduction to the layers and whispers of his surf psychedelia, but certainly is not the limit of it.  He also goes into that steel drum territory on Bright Blue Dream, along with more esoteric experiments like “Mobius” which can play indefinitely looped upon itself.  Here is another artist who released two albums, the second This Glowing City, in the same year along with a slew of limited edition tapes (Eternally Dead, Pink Clouds), I look forward to hearing more from Baird.
Listen:
[mp3] Buy: [Autobus]

03. Head Spins by High Places
Coming in multiple versions and remixes, the original is my favorite because it is direct and cuts to the core of their take on tribal electronica and musicbox rhythms. Yes, steal drums make another appearance in this self proclaimed “Hawaiian / Hardcore / Chinese pop,” I like this moniker because it hints at the bands eccleticism.  The lyrics have a UFO-like sageness while constrast has a childlike-wonder: “The words he spoke that night / They struck a chord / He struck a chord / We talked about all kinds of things / Like dinosaurs and seagull wings / And where the ocean meets the forest.”  Certainly all the songs from this eMusic EP are cast in the mold and are full of joyful whimsy, addictive pop-hooks and static.
Listen:[mp3] Buy:[Thrill Jockey]

04. Sleepyhead by Passion Pit
Unless you were in the Bostonian inner-circle (of CD-Rs), this was most of our introduction to Michael Angelakos’ Beegees-esque gem (read: Castrati vocals) and certainly this track stands apart from the others in it’s ethnic beats, but as an addendum on the Frenchkiss release, it finishes of the EP strongly.  The songs were originally composed as a valentine to his sweetheart, you can get an understanding of that from the syrupy lyrics and dance beats that feel like a warm hug. Sleepyhead begins to trek away from the intimacy of those first songs but makes such a strong statement in its 8-bit glory.
Listen:
[mp3][YouTube] Buy:[Frenchkiss]

05. In Ear Park by Department of Eagles
Was it a Grizzly Bear spinoff with Daniel Rossen in the band?  This song certainly sounded like it with spare Beatles-esque harmonies and acoustic guitars.  But after waiting months (without any knowledge of their prior releases as Whitey on the Moon UK’s “The Cold Nose”), this song gave to something not quite Grizzly Bear, half of Grizzly Bear.  The jangly folk and percussive freakouts that make their appearence on the sometimes sparse songs following In Ear Park infer Fred Nicolaus’ glee that is easily heard on the first album, and perhaps he is the missing part of the equation that make Department of Eagles work so well and stand apart from it’s counterpart.
Listen:[mp3] Buy:[4AD]

06. Four Words by Parenthetical Girls
I have a fanboy crush on the Parenthetical Girls.  “Four Words” opens the latest installment and first Tomlab release, Entaglements, which I refuse to believe is “The most disappointing album of 2008,” as posted on the (((GIRLS))) website.  The song is rich, layered, textured, symphonic, joyful, a Gordian knot of rhymes and meanings that are as impossible to unwind as are the best Kate Bush songs.  And that’s what the “Four Words” reminds me of, the most complex and revered songs like “Sat in Your Lap” and “Get Out of My House” which express themselves as smart, bizarre and difficult to put down.
Listen:
[YouTube] Buy:[Tomlab]

07. The Onliest Thing by Idol Fodder
“The Onliest Thing” snuck onto my charts from last year via Tomlab’s Alphabet Series and later on Bäbytalk, from the wonderful Pregnancy Series.  Heavy cellos on a deep loop open up this EP to the evolving refrain, “When your lonely / I will hold you / I guess you are only / Little baby.”  Only to be met with harmonized response of “But the onliest thing is that is that you need me / And the onliest thing is that I love you too,” matched with scratchy guitars and echos from any ole CBGBs friday night. The EP continues this formula of repetitive lyrics on the backdrop of looped world-instruments , giggles and post-punk guitars.
Listen:[mp3] Buy:[States Rights][Slender Means Society]

08. Touched Something’s Hollow by Of Montreal
Although, there are 15 songs on Skeletal Lamping each song modulates through many moods, it feels like 70 songs from start to finish to create a composite of shiny little mirrored squares that it could be a disco ball.  I don’t know how “Touched Something Hollow” snuck onto the scene, a torchsong that asks, “Why am I so damaged, girl / Why I’m so much poison, girl / I don’t know how long I can hold on / If it’s going to be like this forever.” It’s the closest that Georgie Fruit (Kevin Barnes’ alterego) comes to meeting Ziggy Stardust and is a ballad untouched by any modulation, underscored only by essential piano that’d make Hedwig swoon.
Listen:[last.fm][YouTube] Buy:[Polyvinyl]

09. Skinny Love by Bon Iver
I feel lucky to have seen Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver perform, even on his worst day (he had a cold!) and probably the only reason this song ranked so low is that it played on repeat in my car for months at a time.  There are so many jewels on For Emma, Forever Ago, it doesn’t seem fair that this song gets the spotlight, but it does for good reason.  The song is so rich and full-sounding, it’s hard to believe the instrumentation comes down to a few guitars and light percussion. Vernon can sing the high and low parts, “Now all your love is wasted? / Then who the hell was I?” It’s the emotion of the song make “Skinny Love” so good.
Listen:[mp3] Buy:[4AD][Jagjaguwar]

10. Ultimatum by Final Fantasy
I typically remove songs from the same album from these lists, but Owen Palette produced two different EPs this year, including this Pregnancy Series EP, Plays to Please, full of covers from Deep Dark United.  “Ultimatum” features the whistling magic of Andrew Bird while it gallops with piano and string instrumentation as if running along the Santa Anita racetrack.  And the Alex Lukashevsky’s lyrics are wicked, “You want him ’till I tap your tits / He’s gonna caution your clits” and they couple nicely with the next amazing song, “Moodring Band,” like: “Penis pokes pussy.”
Listen:[mp3] Buy:[Slender Means Society]

I’ll leave you on that note.  Next: my last.fm song stats for 2008.