Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kate Nash's Made Of Bricks...

So last week I invited you, my readers, to take the challenge of contributing to this website. A few of you replied and now it's a we thing instead of a me thing, which is totally rad. So, as of now I'm trying to assemble either an all new site that encompasses everything relevant in this vacuum world we call "popular culture" OR a mirror site to this one where we'd keep all the music-related content here and the other would be all the miscellaneous pucky and whatnot.

I imagine it'd be a bitch to archive all of the content on this page and bring it over there, so for now this is it. I really don't want to say a whole lot while I'm bouncing ideas around with friends across the country and trying to give this thing wings. Without further ado, allow me to introduce the newest addition to The Musicologist's blog; Keri, and her review of

Kate Nash - Made Of Bricks (released January 8, 2008; Fiction Records)
My first exposure to Kate Nash was when I saw her video for UK single “Foundations” on Italian MTV. I was drawn to the style of the video first, then after I downloaded the song I realized what a knack she has for intuitive relationship commentary. Her album, Made of Bricks, finally reached the States this January, and it’s clear that when she’s writing pop songs, she’s very successful. It’s only when she tries for more experimental, bluesy songs that she falls short.

The album opens with “Play”, a minute-long spoken word piece with sparse instrumentation and faux- improvisational layered vocals. The lyrics are repetitious: “I like to play” ad nauseum. From there, it moves to “Foundations”, which displays her potential, utilizing a simple piano tune and claps to back up a catchy melody. It also shows her sarcastic but accurate view of bad relationships: they always drag out far too long because it’s more convenient to stay together than break up. The following song, “Mouthwash”, runs in the same instrumental vein, matching bouncy piano with a down-to-earth, ‘everygirl’ tune. The lyrics aren’t especially well written; “This is my brain/ and even if you try and hold me back/ there’s nothing that you can gain”, but maybe that’s why they’re so charming.

As far as musically successful songs go, “Merry Happy”, the album closer, sticks to the same formula and works almost as well. “Pumpkin Soup” changes it up with jazzy horns and a fuller sound, but doesn’t stray too far from the pop template. Its lyrics continue in her straight-forward, no nonsense style: “I’m not in love/ I just wanna be touched”.

It’s only when she tries to be Regina Spektor circa 11:11 that she fails. “Mariella” begins with dragging piano and cymbals, her alto voice attempting a vibrato and sharp trills. The tempo increases, and her voice becomes more natural, but alternates between sung and spoken phrases. The song becomes more frantic and ends on a semi-shriek and a disjointed drum roll. Next, “Shit Song” travels from accidental-on-purpose loose drums and throat clearing to an obnoxious keyboard riff to piano arpeggios back to the same riff, backed by coos and whistles. It’s as pointless as the lyrics: “Darling don’t give me shit/ cause I know that you’re full of it”.

It’s a shame the album overall isn’t more cohesive. It’s as if she’s unable to accept her pop leanings, what with the fillers and failed vocal aspirations. Her voice is strong enough as is, and her lyrics set her apart from typical radio pop. My favorite lyrics, from “We Get On”, unfortunately aren’t backed by a suitable tune. Still, they tell an instantly recognizable tale of a distant crush that doesn’t turn into anything. She isn’t obsessed with the boy, but in the back of her mind, there’s still an idea that maybe something could happen between them. Maybe this album isn’t for anyone male or over 25, but it’s sweet and appealing songs like this that sell her; hopefully she’ll play to her strengths in the future.

by Keri, 1-31-08

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Five Most Over-rated Albums of 2007...

I like music very much, so don't be put off by my last blog. There's always going to have to be an equalizer of sorts, and by knocking bands for what they just did against what they've done or could've done is such a muddled, grey area. Music criticism isn't a science, hell; it's not even an art. It's just one person's interpretation of what they're hearing.

As far as music goes, I like things like melody (absolutely essential), chord structures, and basic pop sensibilities. Songs that have a discernable beginning and end, built around the verse-chorus-verse framework, and the actual anatomy of a song should contain some or all of these elements.

I was going to call this "Don't Believe The Hype (5 Albums That Everyone Else Loved But I Didn't)", but maybe you didn't like these either.

The first two albums on this list were near unlistenable, but I think that was their point.

Panda Bear's Person Pitch and Animal Collective's Strawberry Jam
I've read so many interviews with these guys and as people, I really like them. They seem like right-on guys. But I can't stand their music at all. Believe me, I really tried because their name comes up so much, it's like you get a hipster merit badge if you mention either of these records when out in public. But I'm not going to compromise myself and say some shit like, "oooh, that last Panda Bear album was trenchant, really groundbreaking stuff..." because after a couple listens I realized all they were doing was
basically recording noises and looping or running them through a delay/flange/reverb/roto-leslie processor, which is what I used to do circa 2002 in my basement with Elliott at 927 County Line Road in Bryn Mawr. On acid!

Liars - Liars
There were a few tracks on here that were actually songs with rhythmic drum patterns and actual riffs, but for the most part, it was
drony and annoying, weird for the sake of weird. But they're not pretentious about their music, on their MySpace page under "sounds like" they posted "something you could do." I like that.

Blonde Redhead - 23
First off, let me re-iterate that I don't "hate" any of these records on this list, I just think most critics over-rated them. If I had the time to do an actual Top 100 list this year, this record would've probably been somewhere in the low 60s. But it popped up in so many Top 10 lists that I had to almost double-take when it was rated as consistently high as it was. It has all the elements of good music, the songs are structured around melodies and nice instrumentation, and Kazu Makino has a fine singing voice, I just had to say that this was extremely over-rated. I'll probably like this album by June, however, and if that's the case I'll issue a public apology.

Battles - Mirrored
Again, I didn't hate this record. I quite like the prog-rock-meets-dance-punk thing they got going on, but I can't wrap my head around the fact that most critics fawned all over this album. Another record that I listened to a whole lot and would've been somewhere towards the bottom of a Top 100 list, it's just not something I'm going to rate highly based on what other critics have said about it. I really like their EPs, they have a focus and immediacy to them unlike a full-length, which on this record seemed to just drag on at points.

So in effect, this blog served mainly as a counterpoint to other critics' reviews of said albums, but also as an exercise in hype-bashing. The "big" indie music websites seem to get behind a lot of artists and drive their sales up by giving good reviews, and to a degree that's a good thing.

On the flip side of that coin, the sheep who hang on every word and every review may have been duped into buying these, and with no oppositional viewpoints, who's going to help the poor saps figure out if it's really a good purchase? I must admit, I fell into the hype and got these albums based on what was being written about them but thank god I have my own brain to be able to say, "I don't get it" or "No, this isn't for me" and not just mindlessly follow the flock.

I hope I helped you make some informed decisions this past year. Keep reading, I'm assembling a staff to help me out on here so there'll be more and more content. I hope to post something everyday from now on.

Next up: New reviews! New records! New artists! Most importantly - new writers!!!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Ten Most Disappointing Albums Of 2007...

Expectations lead directly to disappointment. And disappointment leads to resentment, and then on to contempt. I had huge hopes for the following albums, but alas, they've all been somewhat of a letdown.

I'm not saying that I resent these bands or hold them in contempt for their last offering, it's just that as a fan of almost all music in general I expect great bands to do great things every time they release an LP.

Plus, I get to be really critical and negative of the following bands instead of heaping sycophantic praise like you've seen on my best of lists. Consider this a "Worst Of 2007 (Honorable Mention) List".

Here's last year's greatest misses:

10. Pinback - The Autumn Of The Seraphs
I hate to knock a band for putting out a decent album, it's just that (again) their previous albums, including the awesome Blue Screen Life and near-classic Summer In Abaddon both show what this band is completely capable of; which is writing wonderful music.

9. The Go! Team - Proof Of Youth
I wish this band was never discovered, because
The Go! Team absolutely killed it on their last record, Thunder Lightning Strike. They utilized obscure samples, washed-out, barely recognizable vocals, and a lo-fi garage approach. It was chock full of fun-time party anthems. Here, it's still the same vibe, but way too overproduced, taking away from the urgency and immediacy of their sound.

8. Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover
I like Wolf Parade and the first Sunset Rubdown album very much, but I think I'm finally sick of Spencer Krug's voice. He's got himself too many side projects, actually, I don't know which band is his main focus. That's why this album has no focus. Possibly.

7. Charlotte Gainsbourg - 555
I listen to a lot of Serge Gainsbourg, her genre-bending, king-of-French-pop father. And she even used French superduo Air to produce and write most of the music, which should've been the formula for a great record. But sadly, it misses the mark entirely. Name recognition and a decent acting career are it for Charlotte, and why isn't that enough?

6. Dntel - Dumb Luck
Jimmy Tamborello, what've you done? I can't quite wrap my head around the fact that you gathered together some of the best and brightest names in the world of indie rock to make this record and the end result is a near-unlistenable album. I hope you and Ben Gibbard are back in the studio making the new Postal Service album, you need only him to make music with from now on.

5. Tegan & Sara - The Con
Dear Quin sisters, I'm sorry. I'll still listen to This Business Of Art & If It Was You, but not The Con...

4. Bishop Allen - The Broken String
No! I really don't want to do this to Bishop Allen, I seriously love Charm School to death, it's one of my favorite albums of the last few years. But guys, seriously, what're you doing? I really, really wanted to like this, no; I wanted to love this album but it's a total miss for me. I'm sorry I didn't like it, but I can't say that I do when I don't. Damn. I wish I could lie to myself like before. Honesty rots...

3. Andrew Bird- Armchair Apocrypha
fans love this album, and I couldn't disagree more. Where The Mysterious Production Of Eggs is a near-modern classic, this is a big step backwards. I've seen this record on many "real" critics' year-end best-of lists, and I can't figure that one out. I really wanted to like this, because I like Andrew's music very much, but after repeated listens it couldn't carry itself into my best-of list.

2. Minus The Bear - Planet Of Ice
Why stop doing what works? Much more subdued, it's as if MTB wanted to put out an entire album of Pachuca Sunrise-type jams. It's too chill and reserved, this band rules when they're killing it at 120 bpms or above. While the production values are quite excellent, it's a big disappointment.

1. Daft Punk - Alive 2007
Making a live album as an electronic act is just a bad idea. After watching about seventeen thousand clips of their shows from this summer on ye olde YouTube, I guess I'm suffering from "had to be there" syndrome. I probably would've had to have a glow stick and some MDMA, too. The rave scene here in the Yay Area is still really strong, I guess nobody out here got the memo that it died on the east coast around '96. But then again, we didn't get the memo from London that the rave scene's really been dead since 1990.

Wait, there's one more! The most disappointing album of 2007 is:

Interpol - Our Love To Admire
One of my favorite bands of the last five years, this was the second most anticipated album
of 2007 (after Radiohead's In Rainbows), and I couldn't have been any more pissed at its overwhelming mediocrity. They used a bunch of synth effects here and Sam Fogarino's drumming is better than ever, he's tighter than a space-station air-lock, but alas, it's not a great record. Putting out two back-to-back classics like Turn On The Bright Lights and Antics, poor Interpol's step up to a major label was ill-advised. This is merely a good record, but when your band makes great records, I guess the only way to go is down...

There you go.

I've got five more albums to bash, so I'm calling tomorrow's post "The Five Most Over-Rated Albums of 2007"

Then I'll get back to reviewing some new records for 2008, but so far, the pickings are mighty slim...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Top 50 Albums Of 2007...

The benchmark of success in the music industry isn't getting your singles played on the radio, getting videos on TV or even racking up staggering numbers of units sold. It's the album. It's an artist's interpretation of what's going on in their life, put to music. Plain and simple, it's a diary of past experiences, future hopes and dreams; poetically sung over chords and packaged together to represent themselves creatively. Here's my fifty favorites of 2007.

How'd I rate these, you may be wondering? Well, taking into account several factors such as: (obviously) the music; how many times I listened to it (play counts are somewhat important), overall cohesiveness of songs, album artwork and packaging, then finally my interpretation of what's being said (or done) and what it means to me.

Without further ado, let's get into this massive undertaking.

50. Beastie Boys - The Mix Up
This is all new, straight-up instrumental funk of high quality, just like the soundtrack from one of those Blaxploitation films starring Pam Grier or Fred Williamson, circa 1973. If Curtis Mayfield was still alive, he'd be proud of this...

49. Memphis - A Little Place In The Wilderness
Debut album from Torquil Campbell of Stars and his good friend Chris Dumont, this album is rife with ghost songs of past lives and loves lost.

48. Laura Veirs - Saltbreakers
Known for her stark and sometimes sterile approach, this is the cathartic, if not classic, "everyone's got to write one" patented break-up record. Coming back with a much more focused and mature sound here, Miss Veirs takes much more time in her wonderful lyric writing and focuses less on music, leaving it up to her new backing band, The Saltbreakers, to hash out her ideas this time. And the formula clicks beautifully (and at times a bit awkwardly, but that's her plan now, isn't it?)

47. Kanye West - Graduation
I think hop-hop is in a gestation period right now, a pregnant pause before another explosion of real talent finally hits us again. I don't listen to a whole lot of it anymore, basically all I want is east coast, pre-1996 stuff, or underground, more intelligent rhyme-spitters. Kanye somehow can bridge the gap between the two, and as Graduation isn't as cohesive as I'd like it to be, it's still a pretty decent album.

Ween - La Cucaracha
Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo can't be stopped. The duo known as Gene and Dean Ween come back with their 11th studio release. Genre-bending tunes and style-spoofing a-plenty here.

45. Minus the Bear - Interpretaciones Del Oso
Minus The Bear allowed some DJs to rework Menos El Oso, my 2005 Album Of The Year, way back before I was "The Musicologist", and I'd have to say it's a 50-50 compromise. Some of the tracks on here have been so over-reworked they don't even closely resemble the original. But when it's good, it's really good.

44. White Stripes - Icky Thump
Okay, Jack and Meg are getting heavier. Basically, I'll reiterate what I always say about this band: if Led Zep had been born 30 years later, were from Detroit and went all prog-rock on us, and happened to be brother/sister/husband/wife? Icky Thump is a bit more bottom-heavy than previous offerings.

43. St. Vincent - Marry Me
Annie Clark was a former member of Sufjan Stevens' touring band, and judging from her talent she got way too big to be confined as a side-act. I got this album right before I saw her open for The National back in September, and was immediately impressed. Quirky without being weird, she's like Regina Spektor crossed with a happier version of Fiona Apple.

42. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Some Loud Thunder
One day, I'll learn to stop comparing bands to other bands and compare them to themselves. In that tradition, the only knock on this album is that it didn't have the cohesiveness that CYHSY's debut had. The actual songs are pretty decent, but it's not an album per se, it's just a bunch of songs thrown together.

41. Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare
The songs on Favourite Worst Nightmare fit that same vibe as their debut: the downtrodden young Brit, soiled apron, walking home in the rain: here's to you, keep your head up, never let those bastards get you down!

40. M.I.A. - Kala
Arulpragasam's electronically-infused experimental world dance music sets the standard as far as that genre is concerned, she's in a class by herself. Club bangers, soca-dancehall patterns, Pixies references, 1970s disco strings, borrowing from Bollywood jams, and mad flow abound whether it be in English or her native Tamil, it's a trip around the world and back on Kala.

39. Joan As Police Woman - Real Life
Silky smooth vocals over excellent instrumentation equals pop stardom. I often wonder aloud (much to the chagrin of anyone within earshot of me) how an act like Joan As Police Woman isn't ridiculously huge right now.

Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew - Spirit If...
Kevin Drew is Broken Social Scene, and after listening to this album on heavy repeat after its release I'm convinced he doesn't need the rest of BSS; they're merely his backing band. But nice guy that he is, they all share equal billing.
Technically, Canada is a socialist state, and so is Kevin's musical vision.

37. Elvis Perkins - Ash Wednesday
Losing his famous actor/father to AIDS (Anthony Perkins, of Psycho fame) and his mother to the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Elvis had plenty to write about while coming to terms with burying both parents before his 26th birthday. Sad and emotive, tinged with country revelry, this is a very heavy album.

The Sea & Cake - Everybody
Late night dream-pop inflected with jazzy elements, both playful and elegant. Lead singer Sam Prekop's mellow voice takes you home and puts you into bed as sparse, yet funky bass lines carry the tempo under a pleasantly reverbed and mildly delayed guitar. All this while the Fender Rhodes makes minor excursions into another world of sleepy jazz jams that all sit atop excellent and understated drum beats.

35. Jay-Z - American Gangster Soundtrack
There were only two good hip-hop albums this year, and this was the better of the two. I can't understand why everyone puts Lil Wayne on their records nowadays, his flow is like a river in the arctic during January, virtually non-existent. But the Jigga also had the sense of mind to put both Beanie Sigel and Nas on this album. Thanks for coming out of retirement and erasing the bad memory of your last album...

Air- Pocket Symphony
Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin serve up some new fare which can be described as both silky and smooth, light and creamy, with just a hint of trip-hop-adelica.

33. Jose Gonzalez - In Our Nature
The formula for In Our Nature is the same as Veneer, his last album; weird open-cord guitar tunings,
Jose's lovely voice, understated basslines, hand drumming, and the hiss of the two-inch tape are all that Gonzalez ever needed to make an album. No need to ever differ even slightly from the formula he's concocted, I hope it'll be a long time before he stoops down by using electricity.

32. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
Jeff Tweedy and Co. are back, with a new line-up and a slightly modified sound. This offering is a little more raw and stripped-down from A Ghost Is Born; meaning: no 10-plus minute prog-rock excursions like Spiders (Kidsmoke) and Less Than You Think, actually, no song on here is longer than 6 minutes. It has a homier feel to it, hearkening back to early-Wilco, a la A.M. and Being There, when their primary focus was writing concise and polished songs in the alt-country vein.

The Pipettes - We Are The Pipettes
Direct from the UK, these three reformed riot grrrls take on an updated version of 60's girl pop, and it's as refreshing as it's alarming- not only because they lie to guys, because they have a whole lot of fun doing it!

30. Of Montreal- Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Thinking backwards and borrowing from the past just as much as it thinks ahead and re-invents itself, Hissing Fauna's lo-fi psych-chamber folk-pop dizzily spins you in place while taking you to the far reaches of the cosmos and back again, all in the span of 51 minutes.

29. Elliott Smith - New Moon
Basically a reissue here from Kill Rock Stars Records to mark their 10th anniversary, and what a better way to do that than release an album of Elliott's tunes from the vault. Not a reissue per se, it's just that a lot of these are on the Basement II Demos album, or are demo versions of other songs appearing throughout Smith's impressive catalog. It's exactly what to expect, acoustic melancholia, beautifully melodic and stripped bare both emotively and technologically. Four-track bedroom recordings capture something a booth in a studio never could...

28. Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
Making a coherent concept album, which seems to be Modest Mouse's modus operandi, is a tough task. But they tackle competently the ills and woes of modern living, from war to global warming to checkered pasts- we Americans love our heroes to have checkered pasts.

27. Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
Excellent production values, lushly orchestrated string sections, more "adult" themes here- the growing up album that everyone in music has to make eventually. Maybe all that hanging with Bruce Springsteen and Michael Stipe forced Conor Oberst to grow up a little quicker than he wanted to.

Patrick Cleandenim - Baby Comes Home
Cabaret-inflected jazz/pop/rock from New York City's East Village via Lawrence, Kansas; Patrick Cleandenim made one hell of an album right here. Big band and swingy rhythms bounce out of the speakers and gently assault listener's ears, kind of like what you'd hear in an old campy spy movie or what you'd twirl your dame to at the Cotton Club circa 1933 alongside wanna-be Fred Astaires and Ginger Rogers while Cab Calloway leads the band into another number.

The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse
The Besnard Lakes are just another example of the rampant creativity floating around in the cold air of Montreal, Canada. Imagine atmospheric/dream-pop, like Brian Wilson fronting My Bloody Valentine. Call it baroque-pop, chamber-pop, whatever you want. I call it amazingly good music.

24. Sondre Lerche - Phantom Punch
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 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. He allows them to let go a little; perhaps a wilder, less refined backing band makes for a really great album...

Band Of Horses - Cease To Begin
SubPop Records consistently finds the best bands, and they never have to look very far, in fact their home backyard of Seattle is overflowing with talent. After forming a few years ago they relocated to South Carolina, which kind of fits their alt-country-indie-rock sound a bit more than the Pacific Northwest, historically known for heavier, grungier acts that like to growl lyrics instead of actual singing. However, lead singer Ben Bridwell is one of my favorites right now, and yes; I'm familiar with who he's often compared to...

22. Bloc Party - A Weekend In The City
Musically, it's much more polished and refined, a less-dance-more-rawk formula. Lyrically, there's still a good amount of venom in Kele Okereke's poisoned pen. My guess is that's him casting off his past towards the end of the album, which is his transformation to the next stage of life- the more "adult" phase realized in the late 20s, the eventual shift away from isolation towards intimacy.

21. Peter Bjorn and John - Writer's Block
Technically an '06 release, it didn't hit stateside until February 6th of last year, so that's why it's here, just in case you're wondering. What else can be said of this album that hasn't already been said by getting Kanye West's attention a la remix and getting a song into a Hewlett-Packard ad? Sweden keeps pumping out amazing songwriters and bands and PB&J are near the head of the class with this fine offering. The only problem is getting these tunes unstuck from your head.

20. Stars - In Our Bedroom After The War
Sharing lead singing duties, Montreal's Stars' Amy Millan and Torq Campbell's self-effacing lyricism provides a comfortable and healthy form of
therapy, whether it's internal strife or relationships that got you down, allow yourself to be healed by their melodic and wonderfully crafted brand of indie pop. It's an exercise in diametrically opposed viewpoints; both eloquent and at times understated, unassuming and over-reaching, it's as complex as it's simplistic.

19. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
Sam Beam must've enjoyed playing and recording with Calexico so much that his sound has undergone such a transformation, moving away from guitar-and-vocal constructions that permeated his last few releases and come to
realize himself as a member of a fully-functional band. Here on The Shepherd's Dog, he's built himself a new niche which he can call home, and we're all invited.

18. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Recorded in the icy confines of
a northern Wisconsin log cabin during the unforgiving winter months, this album has both a warmth and a chill to it. Depending upon Justin Vernon's mood at the time, whether it's bitter, reticent, or alarmingly forthright, it's one of my favorite debut albums of 2007.

17. Cass McCombs - Dropping The Writ
Third full-length release from Chicago-based Cass McCombs, and judging from all the places he's lived around this country, his styles are as varied as his former locales. Written and recorded in SoCal, he grew up in NorCal, later moving to Baltimore, then settling in New York (where he lived during the 9-11 attacks), back to SF, then southern California, then finally Chicago. Go where the music takes you, and after a few listens through Dropping The Writ, you'll feel as if you've been to all those places. I actually have been to all those places, but I can throw on a pair of headphones and revisit whenever I want.

16. Do Make Say Think- You, You're A History In Rust
An excellent album- only to be listened to from start to finish, each song in context to the next. And as an album, each song stands alone as nothing; but together, as eight. Do Make Say Think goes way out on a limb by eschewing any association to the "mainstream" by placing a different focus on sound, for example the concept of sound as color.

15. Devendra Banhart - Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
The Naturalismo movement is alive and well, and for me it begins and ends with Devendra. Acoustic folk ramblings that sound like they've been spawned around a late-night campfire, then brought into a recording studio/hippie commune that Banhart calls his home somewhere in the hills of southern California. There's also more of an electric feel on here, with some proggy excursions, Spanish love songs crossbred with late '60s folk-rock, tunes that could've been chart-toppers on 70s AM radio, it's as Devendra as it gets...

14. Beirut - The Flying Club Cup
Travelling through France last year, Beirut's wunderkind Zach Condon pieced together another beautiful album, using as his backdrop the same formula from Gulag Orkestar. Infusing a different part of Europe into his repertoire for this album, the gypsy melodies are still intact, and I imagine a cafe in Nantes full of revellers raising a glass to toast the fall of the Reich circa 1945.

13. Deerhunter - Cryptograms
Deerhunter wants you to take them serious. As in "dead" serious- it's an album wrought with the imagery of death, which makes for a sad trip of an album, going back and forth between light and dark until finally eschewing the grief and moving towards the light.

12. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver
LCD Soundsystem isn't the beatbox, synthesizers/sequencers and turntables of yesterday, here he's going for a full-band approach, relying more on live instrumentation than previous efforts. It seems as if James Murphy has gentrified his act a bit, but still retaining his edge.

11. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
I've been calling him The Morrissey Of Scandanavia since we discovered each other a few years ago, because Jens' lyrics speak to me on an entirely different level. He's so human it's scary. He can take the most mundane of situations and put such a sad, romantic or witty spin on it and make almost anyone relate, if you don't relate a little bit, check yourself to see if you actually have a soul in there. If you don't like him, chances are you sold your soul to Milhouse for five bucks.

10. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
This is exactly what good rock music is supposed to sound like. There's horns and tambourines all over the place, and singer/songwriter/producer extraordinaire Britt Daniel hit the nail right on the head here. This band keeps getting better and better with every release, it's only a matter of time before they're a household name.

9. !!! - Myth Takes
Dance-punk's finest outfit come back with one of the most supreme offerings of the year, blistering listeners' eardrums with popping basslines and some of the most heavily dance-able grooves ever laid to tape.

8. Feist - The Reminder
No one else's voice melts me quite like Leslie Feist's. The way it breaks, the way her vocals always sit upon the music perfectly, her timbre, her lyrics... Emotions abound here, happy, sad, longing for love, losing at love, she's picking up exactly where she left off with Let It Die, there's something for everyone, hell, even my mom loves Feist.

7. Explosions In The Sky - All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone
Explosions In The Sky sets out to create lovely music sans lyrics by enveloping you in the imagery of their world of bursting clouds, dying supernovas, crashing waves, gently rising suns, melting lava flows and the lost days of youth; those long summer days when you played and played and the sun didn't set until almost nine o'clock, when we had to finally go in for our nightly baths.
This is music to read to, to write to, to paint to, to draw to, to fall in love to, to watch those sunsets to- all in hopes of capturing what you lost by growing up...

6. Radiohead - In Rainbows
More than four years since Hail To The Thief was released, the most anticipated album of 2007 had to be In Rainbows, and the lads from Oxford seemingly can do no wrong. Dark and brooding, at times heavy, at times sparse and open, it's exactly what I expected and more. And Thom Yorke's as always stunning lyrical imagery and creepy falsetto add a terrifying dimension to the mix. Also, mad props to Radiohead for giving a big middle finger to the music industry by giving this record away for free. I paid $10 for it, and still feel like I ripped them off.

5. The Shins - Wincing The Night Away
Going in a new direction sometimes will get you lost. The Shins' new album sets out in this "new" direction but manages to still embody all the elements that make The Shins, well, The Shins. While many bands try to eschew their old sound by completely overhauling it, Wincing The Night Away presents a fuller, more self-realized sound without abandoning the New Slang slash Pink Bullets sound we've come to know and love.

4. Menomena - Friend & Foe
Portland's Menomena is an all-hands-on-deck three piece that share instrumental duties as well as singing, so there's no real frontman here. Swapping guitar, piano, live drum-kit and bass duties
all back and forth while recording and their live shows, this album's also full of drum machines and looping technology. It's hard to believe there's only three of them, at times it sounds like a carnival of sound. Quiet, loud, acoustic, funky, rawky, it's all here- which makes them hard to categorize. And for me, that's a good thing. Actually, it's a great thing- and this is a great album.

3. Sigur Ros - Hvarf/Heim
Nevermind that I can't speak Icelandic- it's all about the music with Sigur Ros. They always warm me from the inside with ambient and textural sounds cut right from the volcanic landscape of their homeland. It's a pianos by the fireplace vibe here, sharing smiles from another time when people didn't feel the need to louse up a good time with words. Jonsi Birgisson's beautiful falsetto sits atop the music, in and of itself becoming an integral and fully realized instrument, just as the bass, guitar and drums are. The
Heima DVD that complements Hvarf/Heim is as visually stunning as the music.

2. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Lyrically, Win Butler is as emotionally open as the wounds he's trying to heal through his art. It's a cathartic yet healthy soul-bearing journey, and musically, it's exactly what I expected, as in: pure excellence. Stylistically speaking, it's full of what Arcade Fire does so well; churning organs, soul-wrenching strings, and the ballads composed seemingly from an entirely different world.

1. The National - Boxer
No other album I've heard this year got me like this one. From the opening piano riff to the last fade-out, lead singer/songwriter Matt Berninger's lyrics cut right through me, turning over rocks to expose things inside of me that I didn't even realize were there. Some listens through this album made me uncomfortable, while other times I took solace in the fact that someone else felt like me and could put to words all the overwhelming emotions I've felt all these years. Thanks for making a little more sense of my world, thanks for being there for me, Boxer.

There it is, in all of its sickening glory. It took forever by the way, and if anyone out there's interested, I'm expanding the content on this site, so if you're interested in submitting anything music/movie/culture related, hit me up...

Next up: The Ten Most Disappointing Albums of 2007...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Top 20 Music Videos Of 2007...

Remember when MTV used to play videos? And when the video was more than just another vehicle for an artist's creative expression? Too bad the M in MTV no longer stands for music, hell, I don't know what the M stands for now. Mediocre? Middling? Moderate? Mannoying? (I made that last one up, all you loser Hills fans can suck it!)

Anyway, YouTube is the new music television, and here's my 20 favorite videos of the year. Enjoy! (PS - you don't have to watch them all. But you really should...)

20. Justin Timberlake - What Goes Around.../...Comes Around
Uhhhh, Scarlett Johansson? Mmmmmm... You may want to watch this one alone, if you know what I'm saying. YouTube won't allow me to embed it, so click this link to watch.

19. Gui Boratto - Beautiful Life

18. Band Of Horses - Is There A Ghost?
There's this theory I recently read about that if you sleep on someone else's pillow you will dream their dreams. If they've slept on that pillow enough it can leave a psychic imprint and you'll pick that up. Watch and learn...

17. Jens Lekman - Sipping On The Sweet Nectar
Apparently Jens has his pilot's license. And the Swedish countryside is beautiful, no?

16. Alanis Morrissette - My Humps
Anyone who makes fun of The Black-Eyed Peas is cool in my book.

The National - Apartment Story

Menomena - Wet & Rusting
This is obviously a spoof on that old Van Halen Right Now video, but with the premise that it's Menomena's last day on Earth. If Death comes a-knockin' you best not answer the door...

13. Spoon - The Underdog
One continuous shot. I wonder how many takes to get this perfect?

12. Feist - 1 2 3 4

11. Beirut - Elephant Gun

10. Of Montreal - Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse
LSD is so 1969...

9. Iron & Wine - Boy With A Coin

8. Modest Mouse - Dashboard
A sea shanty she isn't, but Isaac Brock and Co. really make it look like one.

7. The Shins - Australia
Set them free!

6. St. Vincent - Jesus Saves, I Spend
I was once a Boy Scout, so this vid resonates with me. If they had those merit badges, I may have stuck around and made Eagle Scout...

5. Bloc Party - Flux
"If your right hand is causing you pain, cut it off, cut it off..." Power Rangers never were this cool!

4. Menomena - Evil Bee

3. Grizzly Bear - Knife
Creepy and beautiful, like the old man from Family Guy...

2. Kanye West - Can't Tell Me Nothin' (Alternate Version)
If Zach Galafiniakis and Will Oldham were gangsta-ass farmers, you'd watch their hi-jinks, right? Do yourself a solid and watch this one, even if you skipped all the rest.

1. Menomena - Rotten Hell
This is one of my biggest childhood fantasies played out in slow motion. No, it doesn't involve a threesome with me, Daphne (from Scooby Doo) and Barbara Bach (Daisy Duke from The Dukes Of Hazzard). Menomena is by far the best "video band" of the year, with three songs in the Top 20.

So there you have it. Twenty videos ranging from weird to creepy to beautiful to WTF to funny and back again. '08 has some work to do if they're going to outdo last year...

Next: The Top 50 Albums Of 2007

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Top 25 Songs Of 2007...

Every now and again when I'm listening to an album, there always seems to be that one stand-out track, the one song that encompasses either the album's overall general feel or sets itself apart from the rest. Most of my favorite tracks from this past year aren't even singles, meaning that I had to dig into the meat of the album to come up with the one that gets me. I had a pretty shitty year and have no one to blame but me, so as you're reading through some of these encapsulated reviews, you'll see me writing once again as a form of therapy.

Because isn't that what music is all about? Medicating the soul through good tunes and associating those good tunes to good feelings...

25. White Stripes - 300 MPH Torrential
Outpour Blues
The Stripes (for me) are either hit or miss, meaning that when they're on, they're on and when they're off, it's so far from the target it's kind of scary. This jam is dead on, probably the best lyrics of Jack's career. So far...

24. LCD Soundsystem - All My Friends
James Murphy basically wrote my autobiography with this one. I realized this year that you can't go back to the life you once had, and I chased those old ghosts that used to haunt me until I hit a new bottom which left me spiritually bankrupt. I think he's been there, too.

23. Devendra Banhart - Lover

22. Stars - Window Bird

21. Band Of Horses - Is There A Ghost?

20. Spoon - The Underdog
Everybody loves the underdog, right? Britt Daniel and Company are now poised on the edge of being the next big thing in the world of mainstream (they were on a major label for four months back in '98). Can another major sack up and sign these guys this year?

19. Jose Gonzalez - Teardrop

Massive Attack's Teardrop is a bonafide trip-hop anthem, and it gets the folk-roots treatment from Jose here. The way this guy can reinterpret "dance" songs and make them his own is amazing.

18. Hezekiah Jones - Cupcakes For The Army

17. Iron & Wine - Wolves (Song Of The Shepherd's Dog)

16. Modest Mouse - Missed The Boat
With backup vox from James Mercer of The Shins, this was my favorite track from an excellent album. These guys get better and better, although the douchebag purists who've "been with these guys since the start" would have you think otherwise. Oh, and Johnny Marr. I needn't say anymore...

15. Cass McCombs - Windfall

If you haven't heard Cass McCombs yet, go punch yourself in the face.

14. Arcade Fire - My Body Is A Cage

13. The National - Green Gloves
Best band I've discovered in the last few years. Or did they discover me? Anyhow, Matt Berninger writes the deepest lyrics that strike me on a level that makes me a wee bit uncomfortable because it forces me to come to terms with who I am. "Falling out of touch with all my/ friends are somewhere getting wasted/ hope they’re staying glued together/ I have arms for them/ Take another sip of them/ it floats around and takes me over/ like a little drop of ink in a glass of water..."

12. Feist - 1 2 3 4

11. LCD Soundsystem - North American Scum

10. The Shins - Sea Legs
I love the drum beat, the bassline, the outro-jam section, the lyrics, the vocals, oy vey! It's hard to pick one stand-out track from Wincing The Night Away, as usual it's an album thing with The Shins, with all the songs having a cohesiveness and stickiness that makes the whole way bigger than the sum of its respective parts.

9. Beirut - Scenic World (Version)

8. Menomena - Wet & Rusting
Do I have relationship issues? Yeah, you bet. Here's the soundtrack to self-fulfilling prophecies and all that co-dependent bullshit. Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it in spades... "I made you a present, you’ll never expect it/ And when you unravel the secret will travel/ It's hard to take risks with a pessimist/ I hope that this shaking will help us awaken/ Separated by skin ‘til we let ourselves in/ It's hard to take risks with a pessimist/ It's hard to take risks/ I hope one will burn me, I know you’ll desert me/ (This is the closest I’ve come to touching you the way I want)/ The hope can be painful, I’ll try to be faithful/ (It’s hard to take risks)..."

7. Devendra Banhart - Seahorse

This is actually three songs in one, it's a tad over eight minutes and it's the most ambitious thing Devendra's ever done. It starts as a ballad, moves into a Dave Brubeck Take Five jazz-type jam and comes to a head with a prog-rock section with exploding cymbals and a searing guitar solo before recomposing itself back to the opening chords.

6. Arcade Fire - Ocean Of Noise

"...You've got your reasons/ And me I've got mine/ But all the reasons I gave/ Were just lies to buy myself some time/ I'm gonna work it out/ Cause time wont work it out/ I'm gonna work it out/ Cause time wont work it our for you/ I'm gonna work it on out..."

5. Kanye West - Can't Tell Me Nothin'

This is Kanye looking at himself through someone else's eyes; it's as if his therapist took notes, gave them back to Mr. West and he rhymed the shit out of it.

4. Bloc Party - The Prayer

3. !!! - Bend Over Beethoven

2. The National - Slow Show
"...made a mistake in my life today/ everything I love gets lost in drawers/ I want to start over, I want to be winning/ way out of sync from the beginning/ I wanna hurry home to you/ put on a slow, dumb show for you/ and crack you up/ so you can put a blue ribbon on my brain/ God I’m very, very frightened/ I’ll overdo it..."

1. Hezekiah Jones - Mississippi Sea

If Kurt Vonnegut was born a musician, this would've been exactly what he would've written. It's about a post-apocalyptic world where just 16,080 survivors are assigned to rebuild earth, casting away all the old and starting over with new ideals:
"It's real quiet now no one has TV/ We communicate with our minds we all have ESP/ And we grow our own food we all know where it's been/ Everyone knows love no one believes in sin..."

Next Up: The Top 20 Music Videos of 2007

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Johnny Miles - Sign Of The Times (Tree Records, released 12/4/07)

If 2006 was my year of bigger, more anthemic indie rock, then 2007 is my year of Americana. It seems that rootsier, folkier music has replaced electric driven tunes and pushed them to the back of my mind. Don't get me wrong, I'm still in love with that bombastic rock with huge, hooky choruses; it's just maybe as I age and everything's becoming more and more technologically advanced, I'm looking backwards to make sense of it all. Back to an easier time, where all you needed to record a great album was a bunch of people playing instruments in a room with a mic dangling in the center.

Which is exactly what Philadelphia-based songwriter/performer Johnny Miles accomplished beautifully here on Sign Of The Times. I'm sure he used a different recipe, and judging from the sparkling production values there was a bit more than just a mic hanging in front of a group of musicians. And what excellent musicians Mr. Miles assembles to complete his vision; the performers section in his liner notes reads like an All-Star Philly music team.

The album opens with a solo effort called Die In Debt; just a man, his acoustic guitar and harmonica pouring out emotive and powerful imagery confirming society's ills and finding refuge from it in the love of a good woman. Faces In the Wind goes from a jangly and rushed first three measures of each verse and slows itself down to a walk for the last line in each stanza, a wonderful device if I've ever seen one.

Gasoline is a Wilco-esque rocker, as if Miles was channelling Jeff Tweedy's midwestern malaise and bringing it home to the eyes, ears and hearts of Philly's collective consciousness. One of my favorite quotes from this album comes in the tracks' opening verse: This is a song about gasoline/ about golden arches and nicotine/ about hand guns and ice cream/ this is a song about a tight-rope...

The middle section has three gems in a row, acting as the centerpieceof the album. Nothing Gold, Sign Of The Times and Sailors- the first of the three is a political song. So without being preachy, Johnny breaks down the current regime's (almost) irreversible policies; America as a money-hungry corporation, 47 million without any kind of health insurance, environmental ennui, impoverished souls in the world's richest nation, and this costly and unjust war, all set to incredible piano riffs.

If you haven't been paying attention to the nightly news, allow Mr. Miles to act as the medium, and he continues his message with the album's title track. This mid-tempo ballad, however, may be about the war within each of us; the search for peace and serenity in a world gone completely mad. How do you stay sane when everything around you is crumbling? Johnny Miles' answer to the madness: "...the only thing that I can think to do is yell about it in a ballad."

Then my favorite track on Sign Of the Times, Sailors. That mandolin pulled on my heart-strings so taut that they finally snapped at the song's denouement; when banjo, mando, organ and Miles' emotive cries build to an amazing and focused crescendo.

The sonic jam at the back end of Follow Us Down may be my favorite section of music on the album, tying up the one-two punch led off by Turn & Draw, an alt-country/punk tune that lends a nod to both The Replacements and Uncle Tupelo.

Miles closes the album as he began it; solo. Sowers is a lovely little finger-picker that ties up Sign Of The Times quite beautifully. And it's a gorgeous record when I think about where it has taken me, not only musically, but the photographs that flash in my mind from Johnny's accomplished lyricism. To be affected by how he captures images and puts said images into words, that's really what great music is all about.

Overall rating: 86

Stay tuned for my Best Of 2007 list, coming in the next few days. I'm back, baby!