Monday, February 12, 2007

In Case You Missed It, Too...

I know what you're going to say: "Why didn't you review these albums last year?" Let's play the numbers game and I'll give you the answer. Let's say there are 52 weeks in any given year. If I listen to, say, 2 new albums a week, that's 104 albums I had a chance to listen to last year.

In any given week, there are 7 days. Of those 7 days, I worked an average of 45 hours from
Mondays through Fridays, not counting summer. Leaving those other 2 days (we'll call them "weekends") to do some serious album listening. Also, keep in mind I have something that remotely resembles a "social life" so maybe I had one solid day that I could dedicate to "active listening", which is required to objectively listen to an album to give it a proper review.

Then repeat that 4 or 5 times to give an accurate, in-depth review. So I was lucky to be able t
o actually pore over an album for an extended period of time for maybe 5 hours a week.

From that original number of albums, the hypothetical 104, take away one-third for trying to have a social life. That's a
bout 35 albums, giving us the new total of 69. Then there's things like sickness, vacation, work, yadda yadda yadda, giving me the chance to realistically listen to about 55-60 albums, slightly more than one a week.

So now- what's different? I have slightly more access to "free time", which I choose to spend writing. About music. Mostly...

Deerhunter- Cryptograms (Kranky Records, released on 2/6/07)

A choppy and churning, roto-Leslie effect on the guitar, its intent to possibly mimic a siren signals the start of Cryptograms. It's an ominous warning, no doubt, and Deerhunter wants you to take them serious. As in "dead" serious- it's an album wrought with imagery of death, as their own bass player died in a tragic skateboard accident recently. It makes for a sad trip of an album, back and forth between light and dark until finally eschewing the grief and moving towards the light.

Track-by-track the same rotary effect is applied as a segue between (White Ink literally sounds just as it's been named) with a few minutes dedicated to what amounts to white noise. But the ever-present theme of the album returns itself back to those densely layered, choppy delays to segue us away to Lake Somerset; which falls into a jam-band induced trance and drops you lightly into Providence with a toned-down reprise of that thematic and soupy churn of organs and guitar and finally into Octet-Stream.

Evoking both a psychedelic feel and emotive urgency, with that same disconnected lyrical and haunting musical recipe that worked so well in Grizzly Bear's excellent Yellow House last year. Other bands that come to mind when listening to this album: Slint's Spiderland, My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, and last year's debut album from I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness. (Side Note: albums I seem to give favor to often find themselves in company with other good albums.)

But at the halfway point of the album, that bubbling theme settles itself to a simmer with an ambient and atmospheric soundscape, and the album's centerpiece is revealed with Spring Hall Convert and a nice segue into Strange Lights. So it basically took us about 25 minutes into this album before actual songs (as in rhythm, melody, hooks, riffs?) decide to make an appearance- to see if an actual album materializes. And it does quite wonderfully, after the aptly-named Tape Hiss Orchid gives itself into the arms of Heatherwood and its chanting chorus "was not seen again" playing us out of the album.

In short, a great achievement, musically, lyrically. This is where maximum creativity has been reached, definitely one of the better albums of the year. Deerhunter, as a band, has moved on and ultimately accepted reality, which makes for beautiful art.
Overall rating: 94

El Perro Del Mar- El Perro Del Mar (Memphis Industries, released 11/7/06)

Twee as fuck! If there's one word I've overused the last few months, it's "twee". Scottish
for sweet, it perfectly describes that none-too-serious, catchy indie pop made into a brand name by the likes of Belle & Sebastian and others. But you know what? I fucking love it, and here's why:

1) Who the hell doesn't like smiling? I can't even try to think of pretending to stop myself in mid-smile while listening to the first track, Candy. Shoo-be-doo-wop-bop's aside, it's like going back in time to a simpler, less-realized version of life, when you could go out and get the paper in your slippers while the milkman pulls up with a few fresh qua

2) And God Knows lets you in on the secret of that life: "you gotta give to get back..." Commonly referred to as karma, it's a lesson that's as universal as free health care for all. In Sweden.

3) Sarah Assbring's (yes, that's her real name, and she is in fact very Swedish) vocals are simple yet lovely. Thi
nk a less-masculine version of Nico. Look, I'm not saying Christa Paffgen was a dude, she just sang like one. Okay, that comparison was weak, but they both have this in common: singing with slightly accented vocals AND their songs will never be played on the radio. Ever...

4) I thought it would be cool to make a list. I'm listening to this album and it puts me in such a playful mood, I feel like playing. With words. And lists. It's fun!

The 3-and-a-half-minute pop song will always reign supreme. Speaking of supreme, it's as if these tunes were pulled from the vaults of Motown and given the Scandinavian treatment. Motor city blues washed over by a Stocholm white-wash. So there- it's pop music your mom can listen to. With the family kitty-cat.
Overall rating: 74

Midlake- Trials Of Van Occupanther (Bella Union Records, 7/25/06)

Retro is so big right now. It's like Mugatu in Zoolander: "That damn retro is so hot right now!" Midlake is completely aware of this. Channeling both the spirit of 70's classic rock pioneers and a wholesome respect for pop melody, Trials Of Van Occupanther captures a vibe that died and is currently again in resurgence. Which I've been finding lately that most of these are completely hit-or-miss. I'm talking both my reviews and these albums. This one missed with me, or maybe I missed with it, whichever.

So here's the explanation: remember those commercials for TimeLife Music CDs, most specifically the AM Gold Collection? It was loaded with 70's-soft rock stalwarts Leo Sayer and Terry Jacks' classic, Seasons In The Sun. That's basically what
Midlake is all about. Sappy at times, over-dramatic lyrics, I'm trying to figure if this isn't a well-contrived ploy to sneak into that sub-genre "freak folk". I'm not sure if I like that term- it's more offensive to freaks than to folks. That was a bad joke. Like I said: hit or miss...

Also; when doing the "concept album" approach, let's try to have a good concept first. Okay, so Van Occupanther is either a van, or a panther. Occupying. Something... He's actually a traveller of some sort, a modern day Gulliver or Homer. Here Midlake tries to make an ethereal-sounding homage to Fleetwood Mac, yet it sounds more like it will end up in the display rack in a truck stop 10 years from now next to America's Greatest Hits.

I really don't want to waste a hell of a lot of time on this, it's bad, like bad poetry over bad stolen Jethro Tull music. Which is a lot like the real Jethro Tull...

Overall rating: 58

Subtle- For Hero: For Fool (
Lex Records, 10/3/06)

The East Bay has a posse of musical geniuses and lyrical malcontents,
and they keep on pushing the envelope. More than just your average hip-hop record, Subtle's For Hero: For Fool toes the line between all genres and is as uncategorizable as anything I've heard lately. If Nas is listening to this, hip-hop isn't dead, it's alive as ever. But here it changes its shape, bends previously held ideas and smashes pretenses with a jaunt back down memory lane and simultaneously throwing you so far forward into the future to assure you that yes, this is the new stuff you've been looking for.

And the scene in Oakland is as alive as ever, too. Just ask MC Adam 'doseOne' Drucker and the rest of his Subtle crew, because they're the ones holding the test tube filled with the formula to save hip-hop by taking it back to the days of Chuck D and KRS-One. In other words, what is really being presented here more closely resembles a running social commentary than some mere rhyme fest, and Subtle's latest offering picks up where 2004's A New White left off. Synth lines, crunchy riffs, old school beats- it has all the ingredients of what it takes to make a good record. What makes it great is the lyrical prowess of Subtle's mouthpieces.

By attacking mainstream America with the blazing and overtly political tracks Middleclass Stomp and Middleclass Kill, Subtle sets out to provoke Mr. Status Quo and ask about his "well-dressed daughter". Since this isn't your ordinary hip-hop album, casting off the shackles of conformity is a must- and nothing is safe here. Remember your 10th grade physics class and Charles Darwin's ideas? MC doseOne provides a refresher course, for this may be the headiest entry in the rap world since the re-emergence of what I like to call "intelligent hip-hop" (you know who I mean: MF Doom, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, Jurassic 5, Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, the whole "anti-bling" contingency).

If Jack Kerouac grew up in the 1990s addicted to hip-hop culture, his free-associative beat poetry would resemble the stylings of doseOne's flow- and one can sit and ponder over just how much influence exactly the beat generation has exerted over Subtle's songwriters. But what's also showcased here is the versatility of several styles of rhyme- lightning fast at times, a slow drawl at others, old school and off-beat, new school slang; it's less a battle of said styles than a perfect blending- an organic meld instead of a forced or contrived feeling throughout the album makes it extremely accessible.
To find hip-hop alive and well, you may have to just go underground for it...
Overall rating: 89

Next Week:
Minus The Bear - Interpretaciones Del Oso (Menos El Oso Remixed)
Explosions In The Sky - All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone

Thursday, February 8, 2007

...what you been Listening To?


Okay, you get it- I like music, and I'm guessing if you landed here, you might like music, too. So we can get this out of the way early: we're here for music. We as in me and you, for I have no real staff (to speak of...). Technically, am I even staff? I do this for free. So if you'd like to send any requests, submissions, complaints, or general "whatever", take a holler at me,

Anyway, I was just thinking that I should be writing so now I'm here writing. And listening to tunes. And writing about said tunes. For no reason (if any) other than I actually have this thing, I should use it, right? So here's what I'm absolutely tripping on the last few weeks/month/years...

Interpol, Obstacle 1-
Still my favorite song of the last few years, my go-to jam whenever in doubt. My old iPod registered 36 plays of this song. It's pretty much my "get hype anthem" when I skate.

Air, You Make It Easy-
The masters of the chill on Moon Safari, this track has been banging me over the head lately- highlighted by sultry vocals from Beth Hirsch. I fall asleep to it, wake up to it, it's everywhere, man, and I can't wait to hear their new stuff!

LCD Soundsystem, 45:33 Nike+ Original Run-
The Crystal Method also did one of these for Nike last year, but I haven't listened to Busy Child in years and I can only think that's what theirs would sound like, like a super-extended mix of their only good jam. But James Murphy brings it here, and I can say that it's good, up and down, the intro is like almost 3 minutes and the cool-down is about 8 minutess. it's all about peaks and valleys here, and this may be the most listenable 45 minute song ever. How do you review a 45-minute song? Give details related to the time? At 11:15 there are these really cool bells that make an appearance... How's that?

Lily Allen, Smile-
It seems as if every track coming out of England recently has been venom aimed at our shitty president. I guess Tony Blair is too boring. But thank you, Miss Allen, for writing a lovely little song about a love gone all wrong, and a nice piss off with the whole "When I see you cry- it makes me smile..." thing she got going on.

Morrissey, Sister I'm a Poet-
Still makes me reel, every time i see the Moz DVD Hulmerist and he gets literally mugged by fan after fan and never misses a beat. "I still cannot speak French. I am very lazy..."

Prince, When Doves Cry-
That Super Bowl Halftime show was, well, super.

(Check out this dude's name: iownhalo2. That's fucking great, good for you. We all now know that you in fact definitely own the game Halo 2. You so rule. You know it's true, too, and this is why you rule.)

But that's so tired and so old news only four days after the fact, but in this accelerated society it's won and done and filed away quickly, and then we remind it later for trivia questions. Like this one: what makes When Doves Cry so different from all the other monster jams from him? Yes, he played all the instruments on this but left out the bass. Actually, this song was the last song written for the Purple Rain album. And then there's that sick-ass synth line at the end, ripped straight from Beethoven 's crib notes.

Jose Gonzalez, Heartbeats-
"...One night to be confused. One night to speed up truth. We had a promise made, four hands and then away..." I just like that.

Iron & Wine, Passing Afternoon-
Another song, like You Make it Easy, that you can both fall asleep/wake up to. This song has been the first/last thing I listen to more times than I can count.

John Denver, Annie's Song-
If you got married in the south after 1974, there's a 75% chance this was your wedding song and your (first) wife had a Charlie's Angles hairstyle. I heard this song covered by Vienna Teng, solo, on piano, last year on WYBE, the other Philly-based public TV channel. I like this song quite much because I'm sappy like that. And that's a plug for both John Denver and Vienna Teng, (check her out!)

Toto, Africa-
This song is great for that wonderful "boost" right before the chorus, where every track is raised (a la multi-track production booth skills) after that drum breakdown. Bordering on cheesy, this is an early 80s-synth/wuss/soft rock classics that can be no doubt heard 4 times a day if you work at Walgreen's. When I think of the awesome 80s, I think of songs like this, A-ha's Take On Me and Van Halen's Jump. 80s synth rock!

Arcade Fire, Ocean Of Noise-
Slow churning, it just burns me up with those anguished organs and violins. There's even a little hurdy-gurdy playing about in there somewhere. Really lovely, and this new album's gonna be so great.

Bloc Party, The Prayer-
This chorus won't leave my head. Never mind the fact that I spent like 3 days listening to this, 2 or 3 times a day, and now it's stuck here. This guy really can write some good hooks, vocally on A Weekend In The City, guitarically* on Silent Alarm.

*- new word!

Carla Bruni, Quelqu'un m'a dit-
Les chanson pures de bruit de gens de France est musique à mes oreilles. (Somebody Said To Me- Pure folk pop songs from France is music to my ears.)

Devendra Banhart, Long Haired Child-
Donovan-inspired, faux-1967 freak folk from one of the best (in his respective genre at least). Nicest breakdown into a bridge I've heard in a while. "Baby, that's for sure (sh-bop, sh-bop!)"

Radiohead, A Punch Up At A Wedding (No No No No No No No No)-
The bassline, the drums, the piano. Maybe my favorite Radiohead song? I'm not sure, right now, yes. All-time? Why am I talking about this? Do you even care?

The Beatles, You Never Give Me Your Money-
I'm trying to learn this on the piano right now, so it's in my head big time...

Beirut, My Family's Role In The World Revolution-
Another great piano song, big horns hit you in the face. Please get this EP from Beirut!

Okay, that's it. Look for these every Thursday or Friday or every other week, I don't know...

Monday, February 5, 2007

New Albums For February 6th...

So last week, only one album. "Huh, there's not a lot of content here" I bet you said. Or better yet, "pssshhht" or something like that- please go ahead and scoff, I give you full permission to. My whackness is only outshined by my lack of professionalism. Or the lack of any good albums released last week. Coupled with the crappy downloading services I use, I couldn't get a few records I wanted to review, and the only way to get stuff before it comes out is to actually pay for it...

...which I'm not about to do. Unless it's good, then I'll buy it. So, in classic fashion, here's me, telling you what to buy:

Bloc Party- A Weekend In The City (Vice Records, 2/6/07)

Oh man, what a let down. Probably the biggest disappointment, musically speaking, since everyone told
me to check out Bright Eyes. Listen, whoever thought I'd like that shit is a complete ass. What I mean is, err, I guess it's okay if you like it, I'm just not down at all. But Bloc Party? What happened? This is an entirely new direction for these lads, and I'm not 100% sure if I'm going to follow. Clinically speaking, where Silent Alarm spreads like an undetected lymphoma, A Weekend In The City is very much unlike that devastating form of cancer, it never fully metastasizes.

First, there's the mildness of Song For Clay (Disappear Here); the intensity is here, but not those chunky, distorted blasts of staccato-charged guitar pyrotechnics showcased on the debut. You have to wait for what should be the album's opener, Hunting For Witches at track 2. But no real,
solid bangers like all over Silent Alarm. I could cite this album for the excellent production value but this album legitimately could've been titled Bloc Party Lite. Same can, same great taste, waaaay less filling. These guys held back so much, went for a more commercial approach, and I would think that Bloc Party is a much more capable band than what is displayed on this album. So much more adept playing their instruments at such a really good level, what's really here is just a bunch of giant, over-fed stadium sized vocals. And a conversation with a robot on Uniform. And a promise to still "love you in the morning" on Sunday.

Is this trying to be their Dark Side Of The Moon, their "au revoir to youth" album, that youth we try to eschew much too quickly and then try to return ourselves back to that innocence? Knowing more about the world as we get older, it's pretty easy to be depressed all the time. And this brand of English depression sells well, just ask Radiohead or Morrissey- and that's why
we may see Bloc Party on their way to be that band who rises up from relative obscurity to be discovered and completely mainstreamed and therefore swallowed whole by the world of TRL.

Lyrically, there's still a good amount of venom in Kele Okereke's poisoned pen. That's him casting off his past towards the end of the album, which is his transformation to the ne
xt stage of life- the more "adult" phase realized in the late 20s, the eventual shift towards intimacy. Okereke has been known to be less than accomodating to the press as of late, and maybe this is his plea to be left alone. Just like Michael Jackson begged of us in 1989 to leave him alone, just like we left Syd Barrett alone to watch his Brit soaps on the telly and of course, Bobby Brown always had his prerogative (until Britney wanted it too!) making the world collectively throw our hands up and proclaim "WTF, man?"

In summation: mediocre, painstakingly so; or just quite average from beginning to end. Great live show, however...
overall rating: 66

Beirut- Lon Gisland EP (BaDaBing Records, 2/6/07)

Aww, everyone's littl
e darling made a follow-up EP to last year's critically-acclaimed Gulag Orkestar. Haven't heard of Beirut yet? Quick bio: Zach Condon, 20 years old, one-man band, native of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sounds like: an eastern European pop band influenced by Neutral Milk Hotel, or just think indie-folk gypsy-pop. Now that you're acquainted with Condon's Beirut, let's give it a listen.

Released digitally (Steve Job's powerhouse music empire got a hold of it first, back on December 12th of last year) I've had a chance to give it several in-depth listens. And it glistens as a 16-and-a-half-minute romp in the back of a caravan climbing through the western Carpathian mountains
of Transylvania. Beirut encompasses so much more than the traditional stylings of the Doina or Banat, and by including the indigenous folk music from this area of the world, Condon makes it his and in turn makes it accessible for all. Remember when you were a kid and you were messing around with your older cousin's Casio keyboard? And all the weird-named beats with high tempos that appeared once you pressed the "rhythm" key? They're all here!

The Lon Gisland Ep (pronounced lon guy-land, get it?) is being released as a stand alone EP from BaDaBing Records, but the recently reissued Gulag Orkestar has these songs tacked on as bonus tracks. I don't know why 4AD, Beirut's "proper" label, wouldn't distribute this, seeing how it ended up on nearly every year-end best-of list. But these songs...

Songs? There's only 5 here, a
nd at the outset you are greeted with the impulsive, ever-present and up-front Balkan brass, right at the top of the mix, shining through high and bright on Elephant Gun and the deft, quick jabs of piano work on My Family's Role In The World Revolution, best title of a song since The Smiths' There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. It's a Scenic World, so sit back and enjoy the journey, before too long we'll take a ride on the ferris wheel at the carnival with The Long Island Sound. Then you are taken for a ride on Carousels, from Coney Island to Bucharest and back again in less than 20 minutes.

I'm recommending you take this trip. Now!
Overall rating: 93

Apples In Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder (YepRoc Records, 2/6/07)

"Can you feel it? Turn up the stereo!"
lead singer Robert Schneider beckons you, right away on the album's opener Can You Feel It? Right you should turn that hi-fi
way up, if you like to have fun. Because Apples In Stereo sincerely wants you to have fun. Go ahead, it's okay! Have big fun, it's on us!

Another lovely bit of American twee-pop from that powerhouse Elephant 6 Collective. So, when your best friends are bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, Olivia Tremor Control, Elf Power, Beulah, how can you do any wrong? This album is one big commercial for fun, packed up in 24 songs clocking in at 52.3 minutes of speeded up, over-caffienated candy-coated goodness that will attack you at the sweet spot in your soul, and rob your teeth of precious enamel.

Encrusted between songs are these ten little gumdrops of hyper pop sugary treats- mmm mmm good- not a one lasting more than a minute and a half, serving to either coalesce or confound the listener, I haven't decided which yet. My only knock (and it's a big one) is this album doesn't stand up after repeated listens. It's initial "yeah, man, this is FUN!" vibe wanes after the second, third, and fourth listen. I usually like to listen to an album 5 or 6 times for a review, but Schneider and the Apples wouldn't let me. I ate too many gummy worms and I got sick...

...but, hey, don't let me tell you what to do, I mean if you like fun, you found it right here.
Overall rating: 73

Sondre Lerche- Phantom Punch (Astralwerks, due out 2/6/07)

"Cuz they say two thousand zero zero party over, Oops out of time- So tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1999"
...wait a minute, who is this? Is Sondre Lerche channeling Prince on the album's title track here? I mean the cool Prince, not the name/symbol-changing Prince who does Super Bowl Halftime Shows. No, wait, I lied- he's changing it up and doing a little ska-punk (The Tape, sounding strangely like a Hot Hot Heat song...) and all these little bits of radio-friendly punk (Face The Blood) and acoustic melancholia (After All). Now, the acoustic melancholia, yes, Sondre does that, does that quite well, just listen to 2004's Two Way Monologue. But this, this is unchartered territory. He must've learned a bunch of minor ninths and major sevenths and all those assorted jazz chords and got his freak flag out. Which I must say, is not a bad thing at all...

So if last years jazz/swing album Duper Sessions taught him that, then take the ball and run- wait, he's Norwegian, so he'd be apt to, er, send a cross into the box and hope it gets sent on past the goalkeep, right? This album scores on so many levels- showing his versatility, his love for crafting a beautiful melody, soulful excursions into American rhythm & blues, you name it. Essentially European in scope, Lerche shares a label with the heavyweights of the scene across the pond: Air, Badly Drawn Boy, Basement Jaxx, The Chemical Brothers, DFA, Doves, Brian Eno, Fatboy Slim, Hot Chip, Neu!, Beth Orton, Primal Scream, Royksopp, Sparklehorse, VHS or Beta and XTC. Pretty good company to be in, might you say?

What Mr. Lerche does do so well (and I'm calling him Mr. Lerche out of respect, a respect well deserved, mind you) is crafting the aforementioned beautiful pop melodies. Not as twee as previous releases, he seems to be hitting his stride here, and it's all thanks to his backing band, The Faces Down. Does he allow them to let go a little, perhaps a wilder, less refined backing band makes for a great album? Think Bob Dylan and his backing band on The Basement Tapes. Yes, I just made the assertion that Sondre Lerche is the Norwegian Bob Dylan. I feel confident in making this concession, I mean, go ahead and challenge me. Name one other Norwegian musician and I'll undoubtedly prove it to you that they are in fact Swedish!

So that wistful melancholia is reigned in, but it leaks through in the form of Tragic Mirror, a tell-all self confessional. Or is it a portrait of the artist as a young man? She's Fantastic; a full-on party or an ode to "her"? All this delicious ambiguity, it's hard to stop listening to this album. Another early contender for my year end list, no doubt...
Overall rating: 90

Next Week: absolutely nothing! (psyche) No, some unreviewed albums from last year and one (or two) from this year that I missed...