Monthly Archives: November 2011

Missing the Forest for the Trees

While I admire both of your EP lists, I don’t buy enough EP’s in a year to comment intelligently (though that rarely stops me, heyamirite?!?!?). Instead, I want to talk about something I just discovered on a trip to my local record store. First, though, a bit of background.

As a junior in high school, I discovered the music of Elvis Costello. I came to his discography right as it was being reissued (for the second time in less than ten years) by Rhino. Each CD reissue included a full bonus CD of material (singles, b-sides and demos, mostly) and a booklet of notes about the process of making each record by Costello himself. I devoted all my spare cash during this period to acquiring these reissued and spent hours poring over the essays included to get an idea of what these records were about and trace the development of his sound. (This probably goes without saying, but I didn’t date much in high school).

One night during the winter of my senior year I found myself in a Best Buy, charged with buying a TV as a birthday gift for a friend. I took the opportunity to also pick up The Soft Bulletin by the Flaming Lips and the reissue of Imperial Bedroom, Elvis Costello’s 1982 orchestral pop confessional masterpiece. I listened to it five times that night. It’s been my favorite album ever since then. While I have numerous thoughts about Bedroom, that’s not the focus of this post.

In the liner notes that accompanied the record, Costello detailed the influences on the album’s recording sessions. While most of these were classical or jazz artists, EC noted that he’d spend a lot of time listening to a collection by a band called the Left Banke. I’d never heard of those guys but once I got my own PC for college that fall, I spent a lot of time downloading music and I checked out a few Left Banke songs. I was immediately taken by the theatricality and scope of the songs. I added their collection There’s Gonna Be A Storm to my list of things to always check for in record stores. As it was in print for less than a year, though, it was impossibly difficult to find.

This past Sunday, I discovered that the band’s two 1960’s LP’s had been reissued this summer. They’re remembered today for being one of the first baroque pop bands and for one semi-hit, the maudlin (in a good way) ballad “Walk Away Renee.” That song, written by keyboardist Michael Brown about bandmate Tom Finn’s girlfriend, is sampled in the Jens Lekman song “Maple Leaves. ” (Another tenuous connection!) It’s a lush, orchestral piece about unrequited love that is a pretty good example of what Brian Wilson called “Teenage Symphonies to God.” I think they’re among the most underrated bands of the late 60’s and I’m happy to finally have physical copies of their two records.

All of this brings up two questions. First, how did I miss that these records were getting reissued??? I spend all my free time surfing the internet reading boring, nerdular music websites looking for this kind of thing and I somehow missed it for nearly half a year. Secondly, though, this made me curious about the current reissue craze. Every time I read anything about the music industry, all that I hear is that nobody buys CDs anymore. Pitchfork commented in their review of the Beatles box two years ago that its release marked the end of the album era. If that’s the case, then why would anyone bother reissuing the two (mostly) forgotten records of an obscure 60’s band that nobody cares about? Especially if the only song 99.9% of humans would want to hear by that band plays with some regularity on oldies radio? Does anyone have any ideas?

 

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Come Meet Me Down Here (in the comments section) Tonight

One nerd’s technicality is another’s perpetual playlist! I feel duty bound to register my protest in behalf of the middle child of the music product family, the EP, because due to either my failing attention span or all those memos and mergers I’m always so busy with, it seems like I turn to this format the most. But you called the EP lovable, so I’m not really disagreeing with you about anything (other than that small heresy of deviating from only constant and effusive praise of Jens Lekman, but I can let that one slide in the interest of “remaining calm”); here are several more good EPs released into the wild this year.

Clams CasinoRainforest EP (Tri Angle)
Elementary/ elemental kick-and-snare patterns measuring out slow time, echoing, wordless vocal samples, and a precarious infrastructure of bass synths compose this brief collection of meditative, emotional near-instrumentals. The opening track, “Natural,” is my favorite of the five.

The Soft MoonTotal Decay (Captured Tracks)
This was released on Halloween and totally sounds like it. Actually, it sounds like Joy Division playing the Super Bowl halftime show on Mars. I like the way the drums are so repetitive, relentless, and vaguely tribal (basically “Atrocity Exhibition” played twice as fast); and how the vocals are squeezed and squelched through enough crazy filters to qualify as sound effects. I never gave their full-length from last year a fair shake, and I wonder if their oppressive aesthetic would wear on one after a while. It doesn’t matter here: Total Decay performs its claustral, psychedelic maneuvers confidently under 15 minutes.

Beach FossilsWhat A Pleasure (Captured Tracks)
The reverb- and synth-heavy production on this release is a bit of a letdown after last year’s perfect and perfectly bare-bones affair Beach Fossils, but it’s hard to protest too much when the guitars are still so pretty and intricate. I saw them live this year and can report that their enthusiastic playing was visceral and irresistible.

Ólöf ArnaldsÓlöf Sings (One Little Indian Records)
Best for last! A collection of four stirring covers, this one knocked me off my feet, coincidentally, the same day that I watched the Arthur Russell documentary Wild Combination. I think this speaks for itself reasonably well:

Arnalds also manages to reverse my “No Neil Diamond!” general rule, at least for the time it takes her to sing “Solitary Man,” and for that I suppose I’m grateful.

To say something about your Maybe Pile, I think the Junior Boys album is the grower of the year, and if it were me I’d also include the LPs from Panda Bear, Lykke Li, John Maus, and Tim Hecker. But hey it’s your list, no one’s forcing you!

Play me out, Arthur Russell!

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thankless

This probably doesn’t qualify as a task, but I’ve begun sorting through my 2011 music purchases and I’ve managed to eliminate eleven of them from consideration for my favorite albums of the year.  As a part of my endless quest to annoy even myself, I list those eleven here, in categories and with explanations.  Let me know if you guys ever work out the kinks on that suicide cocktail.

TECHNICALITIES

I bought five EPs this year (such a strange and lovable format, right?), which range in quality as follows:

1. Dum Dum Girls – He Gets Me High – Thankfully the 2011 release of full-length Only in Dreams guarantees them a spot on the final list, because this trio of originals and solid Smiths cover add up to a pretty great fourteen minutes of music.

2. Here We Go Magic – The January EP – I’m glad that Brandon convinced me to catch these guys at The Basement several months ago — Luke Temple commands one of those bands that always seems on the edge of delirious musical collapse, and this EP would inspire anyone to work his way back through their catalog.

3. Jens Lekman – An Argument with Myself – 2007’s Night Falls on Kortedala was a high point in a brief career already full of them, so my feelings about next year’s proper follow-up would best be described as dangerously optimistic.  This wordy stopgap dampens expectations only slightly, as it leans heavy on charm and light on ideas, but I’ll still pre-order with abandon.

4. Bonnie “Prince” Billy & The Phantom Family Halo “The Mindeater” – Will Oldham released three EPs this year, but the other two are vinyl-only and I’m one of the weirdos that only buys CDs.  This one hasn’t opened up for me yet, but I’ll continue to revisit it as only a psycho-fan can.  Where will LP Wolfroy Goes to Town end up on my albums list?  TUNE IN SOON, O YE OF LITTLE SATISFACTION IN LIFE!

5. Weekend – Red – No, not The Weeknd.  And not Vampire Weekend.  Plain old Weekend put out their decent-to-good debut Sports last year on personal favorite Slumberland Records.  As so many do, this EP marks a transition in sound for this San Francisco three-piece from Sports‘ noisy if somewhat monochromatic pop to … well, I can’t shake the fact that some of it sounds like something Maynard James Keenan might have recorded last decade.

I also regretfully disqualify The Radio Dept.‘s stellar Passive Aggressive compilation, as it repackages A-sides and B-sides from almost ten years of singles.  If you don’t know this Swedish dream pop band, buy this immediately.  You might know their stuff from the excellent soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s frustrating Marie Antoinette flick.

REGRETS

I wish I could include Amor de DíasStreet of the Love of Days, but I just never got an angle on this sleepy side project from  Alasdair MacLean (indie pop heroes The Clientele) and Lupe Núñez-Fernández (Pipas, of whom I must claim ignorance).

I bought only one hip hop album this year, leaving me wildly unqualified to make any declarations about The State of that particular genre.  Last year’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy finally won me over to Kanye West, but he can be so embarrassing that I’d hardly call myself a fan.  Jay-Z is much easier to love, but saying that their collaboration Watch the Throne is better than 2009’s The Blueprint 3 is faint praise, indeed.  Spike Jonze’s video for “Otis” is irresistible and “Niggas in Paris” is gonzo fun, but ultimately the album disappoints, frustrates, and exhausts me.

Finally, I just haven’t spent enough time with Tinariwen‘s Tassili, a Malian rock record I came to via a Four Tet remix of a song featuring TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe.

REJECTS

Kiss Each Other Clean, Sam Beam’s fourth album as Iron & Wine, sounds very expensive.  As the follow-up to 2007’s technicolor The Shepherd’s Dog, however, it underwhelms.  All the studio trickery in the world can’t cover up these shallow attempts to beat Sufjan Stevens at the baroque pop game.

Similarly, Justin Vernon takes the prize for the most overrated album of the year: Bon Iver, Bon Iver adds bells, whistles, auto-tune, and saxophone, but garners diminishing returns after the stripped-down and stunning For Emma, Forever Ago.

I’ve picked 28 albums that will definitely make the final list, leaving 12 slots to be filled by some of the Maybe Pile, presented here for your complaints and suggestions:

Battles, Gloss Drop; Beyoncé, 4; Big Troubles, Romantic Comedy; Björk, Biophilia; Cut Copy, Zonoscope; Dominant Legs, Invitation; Gem Club, Breakers; Handsome Furs, Sound Kapital; Tim Hecker, Ravedeath, 1972; Hunx and his Punx, Too Young to Be in Love; Junior Boys, It’s All True; Lady Gaga, Born This Way; Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes; Cass McCombs, Humor Risk; John Maus, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves; Jessica Lea Mayfield, Tell Me; Oh Land, s/t; Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica; Pallers, The Sea of Memories; Panda Bear – Tomboy; Radiohead, The King of Limbs; Caitlin Rose, Own Side Now; Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx, We’re New Here; Still Corners, Creatures of an Hour; TV on the Radio, Nine Types of Light; Thao & Mirah, s/t; Thundercat, The Golden Age of Apocalypse; Times New Viking, Dancer Equired; Vetiver, The Errant Charm; WU LYF, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain; Wilco, The Whole Love; Youth Lagoon, The Year of Hibernation

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Every Single Day and Every Night

And we’re off!

Not to turn this thing into a Slumberland soapbox, but I have to admit to being completely bowled over by Big Troubles’ labelmates Veronica Falls, a quartet of Glaswegians and Londoners who put out their debut album back in September.  I hear Beat Happening (chugging guitars, morbid lyrics, mopey pop) and Camera Obscura (disaffected female vocals, Britishness) and that’s enough for me, lazy comparisons be damned.  I’m not sure that Veronica Falls are doing anything new (the complaint du jour in our crossed-arms indie circles), but, for me, they’re doing something right.  Lindsay Zoladz called their sound, “shoegaze that looks you square in the eye,” and (speaking of irresistible) I’ll get on board with that.

You can still stream their whole album over at Stereogum.  It might be my favorite debut of the year.

Shifting gears, I’m less than 24 hours away from the Nashville premiere of The Skin I Live In, Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s eighteenth feature.  I’ve seen 14 of those, marking me out as one of “those” fans.  Reviews for this one have been mixed and I wasn’t that impressed with the book it’s based on, but I’ll see it at least twice during its run at our Belcourt Theatre … and I’ll probably love it.  That’s what happens when you basically learn what film direction is during a viewing of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at age 16.

(For the record, I think the trailer is pretty lame.)  I can heartily recommend Slate‘s recent features where June Thomas watched all of Almodóvar’s movies and then ranked them.  While I’d certainly quibble with that list, I had a blast reading both pieces and I’d love to know what you guys (at least one of whom shares my enthusiasm for the man) think of them.

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I Lose My Mind

Nice post! I’m automatically hooked by that song. Like you, I probably never stood a chance. One thing that surprised me, though, was that this is a completely new song; on hearing it I assumed it was 20 years old! It makes me wonder how often I would make this mistake if I always listened blindly. What bands actually sound like now? (I’m asking.) But I think I also made that assumption because the song manages to sound really authentic in a way I’m sure I can’t name. And authenticity seems like a valid question right now in indie rock, particularly concerning its social orientation. I won’t try to elaborate, because I like how Bradford Cox talked about this, about the absence of a counter-culture in music, in a recent Pitchfork interview.

I wanted also to say something quickly about music it seems I was predestined for. I think a lot of times it resists over-explanation, but is kind of just the result of a confluence of accident and interest. A few years ago (and still) I was really into Neil Halstead’s bands Slowdive and Mojave 3 at the same time that I was in love with a few of the Balearic beat-influenced Scandinavian-based indie pop bands. And so of course I came across a band from Sweden combining these two things, even referencing the title of a Slowdive song in the title of their only album. Caught the Breeze was released in 2007 and I’m never not listening to it, but it’s not that I think it’s an objectively great piece of music; it was just very obvious that this was something meant for me to find and move my head a little bit to on my own (without getting too sentimental about it).

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Never Not Good

Hey guys. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I thought it might make kind of a good introductory post so here goes: Big Troubles has been in my playlist a bunch in the past few days and I was struck by how it sounds like it was custom-made for me. Here’s the particular song that’s been bouncing around the cavernous recesses of my skull:

So for whatever reason, there’s something about this kind of 90’s-ish, guitar-driven indie rock that I’m defenseless against. Here are the reasons why:

1) It’s generally (and vaguely) about some sort of romantic longing, which is a feeling that I’ve had every second of every day of my adult life for the past eight years.

2) I’m a sucker for melody/chiming guitars.

3) It’s “teenagery” in the best and worst senses of the word. It reminds me of a time of my life that was simultaneously optimistic and crushingly depressing, although I didn’t really process it at the time.

4) It’s easy to like.

So what do you guys think? What kinds of music always do it for you?

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