Archive for December, 2008

Damn, another list…

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

List, List, List…here we go, 2008. Lotsa of jams (in no order):

Thee Oh Sees – The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In, Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion (CD/DVD), Peanut Butter Oven EP
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a John Dwyer (Coachwhips, Pink and Brown, Yikes) fanboy. Luckily his newest band, Thee Oh Sees, remain prolific. Three great releases in one year.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – My Bloody Underground
Just like the title suggests, the Brian Jonestown Massacre unapologetically combined their My Bloody Valentine and Velvet Underground influences and we get another great psychedelic LP. Worth the four year wait?

The Fall – Imperial Wax Solvent
Since The Fall basically release and album every year, they will always be on my list. They are the most consistent band of all time. This, their twenty-something-th release, still delivers.

The Black Angels – Directions To See a Ghost, Black Angel Exit EP
More awesome Texas neo-psychedelia. Nothing has changed with this band and that’s a good thing.

Times New Viking – Rip It Off
I think everyone enjoyed this abrasive lo-fi as shit pop music.

Sic Alps – U.S. EZ
Noisy San Francisco experimental garage rock that can’t be beat.

Group Inerane – Guitars From Agadez (Music of Niger)
Sublime Frequencies delivers the goods as usual. I think they describe it best: “Group Inerane is the now sound of the Tuareg Guitar Revolution sweeping across the Sahara Desert and inspired by the rebel musicians that started this music as a political weapon used to communicate from the Libyan Refugee camps in the 1980s and 1990s”

Dead Meadow – Old Growth
Heavy pot music.

Awesome Color – Electric Aborigines
The young 21st century Stooges. I think their first album was better but this certainly is a band to keep watching.

Reissues/Not New

The Clean – Compilation
A classic reissued on vinyl.

Pavement – Brighten The Corners: Nicene Creedence Edition
Another great issue of the continued spiffy Pavement remasters. I especially enjoyed the many Pavement psych-jams and covers included on the second disc, including covers of Faust and the Fall.

King Khan and The Shrines – The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines
Big-band doo-wop garage rock? Awesome. This collects the best of their past material in one nice package.

Wooden Shjips – Volume 1
Modern kraut-rock jams. This release collects all their hard to find/limited edition early vinyl releases.

Flat Duo Jets – Two Headed Cow
Various live material from the past collected for the new documentary of the same name. Loud fuzzy Link Wray jams.

Sun City Girls – You’re Never Alone With A Cigarette
“Recorded in July of 1988 during the sessions that produced Sun City Girl’s most popular recording, these nine tracks represent the other half of songs which were originally prepared as a 2-LP demo version of ‘Torch of the Mystics’ for Placebo Records in 1989.”

Henry Flynt (with C.C. Hennix) – Dharma Warriors
Totality of liner notes: “Recorded to boombox Woodstock, New York 1983.” Two more lengthy “celestial rockabilly” jams that no one but Henry Flynt can deliver. Keep these archival releases coming…


My Year Of Music, 2008

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Ah, the holiday season, when we all dream of sugarplums (whatever those are) and the music critic’s thoughts turn to compiling year-end lists. I always feel sort of funny about doing a best-of list for the year, since I have mixed feelings about best-of lists in general. First of all, it’s part of America’s obsession with list making, which is so well known that even criticizing America’s obsession with list making has become a cliche. The other thing I don’t like about year end top ten type lists is that it suggests that the year is this discrete, objective entity, in which the same music is experienced by everyone equally. I think this idea of the experience of one year that is shared by everyone is especially invalid for music. Sometimes, the “album of the year” for me is not an album released that year, but an album that I hadn’t gotten around to listening to until that year. My album of the year for 2007, for example, was probably Wolf Parade’s “Apologies To The Queen Mary”, released in ’05. My album of the year for 2006 was probably “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)”, by the Wu-Tang Clan, released in 1993. Most of the music listening a person does during the year is catch-up, not just new releases. What’s more, I tend to miss a lot of the year’s big releases, for a variety of reasons. I would have liked to have spent more time with Beach House and The Dutchess and The Duke, but I just never got their albums. On the other hand, critics are raving about TV On The Radio‘s Dear Science, but TV On The Radio just has never done anything for me. I heard a few cuts off the album, but it sounded like the same ol’ same ol’, and I never felt compelled to give it too much time. My friend Sam thinks I’m History’s Greatest Monster for not loving Fleet Foxes, but even though I gave it the old college try (heh heh), I just am not well disposed towards toothless, airy indie-folk harmonies. And though folks loved Hot Chip‘s release this year, I will stick to the opinion voiced in my original review of that album for KWUR: overwhelmingly mediocre. Yes, even “Ready For The Floor”. And ugh, am I done with Vampire Weekend. Which is to say that I did listen to that album a whole lot. And I got so sick and tired of it. The music is still somewhat interesting, but I got to the point where I decided that I could no longer hear the line “coffee on your kaffiyeh” again.

So instead of trying to pick out the absolute best albums of the objective year in music experienced by everyone, I’m just going to try and take you through a long, meandering tour of my year in music. Before I do that, however, I have to note one great release that really dominated my listening during the winter of ’07, even though it was technically released in ’08. Pattern Is Movement’s All Together is not just a great album, but a unique musical experience. The combination of the simple production, the use of various homemade-sounding electronic loops, and the soaring and swaying vocal harmonies on this album gives it a peculiar feeling of intimacy, with the raw emotional content of reading a middle schooler’s diary. It’s an album that really sounds like nothing else out there right now.

Overall, didn’t care much for this year in music, the new releases, anyway. A lot of mediocre stuff, dud albums: here, I am chiefly thinking of Of Montreal‘s new album, but I was also disappointed, unlike most critics, by Wolf Parade‘s new release, which I thought lacked the vitality and the pop craftsmanship of Apologies To The Queen Mary. Everything this year sounded bored with itself, dead-ended. I really didn’t care for the set of airy, Fleet Foxes sounding stuff, with the exception of Beach House, or a lot of the noisier stuff, which didn’t do a whole lot to distinguish itself from older noise. A lot of it sounded overly derivative to me, and a lot sounded escapist, totally detached from the year in which it was made, dangerously distant from increasingly troubled times.

The winter and spring of ’08 sounded like We Brave Bee Stings And All by Thao and The Get Down Stay Down and Rabbit Habits by Man Man. Thao Nguyen succeeded in crafting the perfect winter album, the warmest sounding CD this side of vinyl. Beautiful, lyric-centered, simple pop songs anchored by Nguyen’s distinct voice, rich and resonant as an old violin. You put this record on, and you feel no hurry to go anywhere; things are basically ok, and if you wait a while, they’ll get better. Rabbit Habits dominated my spring this year, and it’s probably my pick for best album of the year. I’ve noticed that a lot of music listeners and music critics don’t share my rabid enthusiasm for Man Man, and honestly, I can’t understand it. If Man Man is my blind critical obsession, so be it, but I will champion this band until they start recording Nashville covers of Christmas songs with Britney Spears and Zac Efron (in which case, I will describe the resulting album as a “rare misstep that deserves a second listen”). First of all, the sheer virtuosity of this band has to be noted. Not that virtuosity itself makes Man Man a great band, but it’s a joy to listen to a Man Man song and guess at the inventive instrumentation (Is that a marimba? Are those kazoos?). When you combine the inventive sound with a bluesy pop sensibility and a soulful, all out delivery, you get an album that somehow sounds both experimental and warmly human, like a homemade appliance. It says something about this album that it has, in my opinion of course, one of the most fun, most party songs of the year (“Mister Jung Stuffed”) and one of the most moving songs of the year (“Whalebones”). I can think of no other album this year that I would describe as a masterpiece, but this is a masterpiece in the very literal sense of the word: masters of their craft carefully constructing a piece in which no time, no note is wasted, a piece that sticks in your head for a long time after.

The summer for me meant listening to a lot of hip-hop. I had a boring, stay-at-home job, and I decided to kill time by listening to Jay-Z’s entire discography, along with a lot of Biggie and Nas. Well, surprising nobody, it turns out that this Jay-Z fellow is pretty good. I personally prefer Jay-Z to Nas, and not just because of a geographical affinity (I too, am a Brooklynite). Nas’ insistence on the romantic conception of the artist, opposed to the market, gets boring. But there’s something really brilliant, interesting and subversive about Jay-Z’s embrace of the ultra-capitalist conception of rapper-as-producer/rap-as-commodity. For my money, his best albums are “The Blueprint”, “Reasonable Doubt”, “Life and Times: Vol 3”, “The Black Album” and “In My Lifetime”. Again, not exactly a critical coup, but my opinion, for what it’s worth.

As for the new stuff, I have to say, Tha Carter III at least grabbed my attention. It’s a tremendously interesting (in this case, read: peculiar) sounding album. Lil’ Wayne’s rhymes range from inspired to lazily waiting for syllables to match up. Lil’ Wayne’s flow is also noteworthy: a petulant, adolescent hazy wheeze that might explain his appeal to similarly high, immature suburban teens. But bottom line, when Wayne’s hot, he’s hot. See: “Mr. Carter”, or the downright amazing “Dr. Carter”.

The album of the summer for me, hands down was Mates Of State’s Re-Arrange Us. I once played the title song (according to I-Tunes, one of my top ten played this year) for our music director, Daniel Burton saying “This is everything you could possibly want in a song”. A lot of critics have picked on this album (and Mates Of State in general) for hitting all the same old pop notes and being too sappy. Maybe, but that’s sort of the point: an unbridled pop jouissance, that includes every great pop song tendency. Sing-along vocals, ABBA-like call and response and harmonies, lovely lyrics, great, driving piano lines and that good ol’ call and response, this album has basically everything I like about pop music.

Although I personally didn’t get to spend too much time with this album, I’d hate to overlook The Bake Sale by The Cool Kids. This album might be the most fun album ever made, just genuinely playful and cheerful. Dig the amazing deconstruction of hip-hop on “What Up Man”. It’s a wonder, in this age of the vocoder, to see how the spare production and goofy lyrics here add up to a great album. These guys are just having a blast, making it look easy and letting you join in.

I spent a great deal of time this fall with The Menahan Street Band‘s debut release, Make The Road By Walking. I don’t know how they did it, but somehow, they captured a soulful Brooklyn summer night and put it on record. It’s a joy to listen to this record. Once again, Daptone’s got some of the best musicians anywhere, and they lay down some prime funk, but it’s also just a rare, happy record. It kinda sounds like the day after election day this year felt.

The album of the end of the year, and an easy runner up to Rabbit Habits, is A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night by Love Is All. This album is my favorite kind of pop: twisted, angular, sounding as if it were an alternate universe version of mainstream pop. Josephine Olausson’s voice is an eccentric, no wave sounding kind of voice, and the songs are fast, fun, and just plain crazy catchy. These songs, weird as they are, get stuck in your head. They become like a dream you remember as reality.

Those are my albums. But there are also quite a few songs that I dug, even if I wasn’t crazy about the album as a whole. Call ’em honorable mentions, if you will:

Chad VanGaalen‘s album, Soft Airplane, is pretty swell, but the song “Willow Tree” is a freakin’ masterpiece. The echoing, high vocals, the simple lyrics, laid over a casual banjo line, are piercing and haunting.

I thought The Walkmen‘s new album, You And Me was pretty disappointing, but “In The New Year”, with that lethal seven note decrescendo and the marvelous drum swells, is the kind of song that feels like it could change lives.

Again, great song on an otherwise disappointing album: “Language City” by Wolf Parade. This is the kind of song I loved on Apologies To The Queen Mary: multi-part masterpieces, downright brilliant piano, pounding drums and vocals, a song that sounds so naturally pop that it seems grown rather than written, delivered in a heart-stopping, breathless manner that never fails to prompt a sing-along.

The Watson Twins have some of the best voices around, and when they’re given time to really pound out a song, like on the ballad “Old Ways”, you get something absolutely worth listening to.

I know, I know, I’m a sucker for the bombastic stuff, but you gotta give it up for the big chorus on “Waving Flags” by British Sea Power. I hear the whole album is good, but I haven’t really gotten a chance to listen to it.

At the risk of getting attacked by my own DJs (heck, my own exec staff), I have to say that I generally found No Age‘s album uninteresting, with the exception of the song “Teen Creeps”, one of those Replacements-sounding noisy punk numbers that remind you what it was like when you were in high school, angsty and loud, a fist in the air number.

I really got into The Dutchess and The Duke‘s Simon-and-Garfunkel-like punky acoustic number, “Strangers”. If someone would be good enough to lend me the album, I’d be much obliged.

And some old-school numbers that caught my ear:

“Fool, Fool, Fool” Barbara Acklin – Definitely the best song I played on my show, Hippocleides Doesn’t Care, this year. An infectiously simple wood block beat and walking bass, soulful back-up singers and Barbara Acklin’s unbelievably big voice. This song makes you just plain happy to be alive, which is kinda strange, since it’s about dating an asshole.

“She’s Gone, Gone, Gone”, Lefty Frizzell – Zak, our folk director, got me listening to this classic. Boy, I love those strings and that aching twang. I’d like to see that make it back into pop music, fuck, even country music.

“Harlan County”, Jim Ford – Another gem recommended by Zak. Jim Ford was a country/soul guy who wrote a bunch of songs for Aretha Franklin and Bobby Womack. This song really has it all: country guitar, horns, insistent drums, a charming, almost hokey old school song structure, and Jim Ford’s desperate, psych-soul era vocals.

That was my year in music. Not great, but it had its moments. Hope you had a good year in music, and I’m looking forward to a great one in ’09.

R.I.P. Dock Ellis, 1945-2008

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

“Dock Ellis, who infamously claimed he pitched a no-hitter for Pittsburgh under the influence of LSD and later fiercely spoke out against drug and alcohol addiction, died Friday. He was 63.”


NPR Interview from March 2008, “An LSD No-No”


Monday, December 15th, 2008

Hey folks,

I promised a little poll thing last week, but life got in the way and I didn’t get around to making it until this weekend. Thus, without further ado…


Okay, a few things. First up, yeah, it looks like the Pitchfork poll but that’s because the survey generator they used is super easy to work with. All of the music listed in the best album/etc. was played on KWUR this past year (with a single exception, which should be pretty easy to pick out). So, yeah, the list may not be comprehensive, but it’s what we’re playing. It’s a great opportunity to see what you like/hate, and also what we’re missing or you’d like to see us play more of.

Most importantly, if you take the survey and give us your email at the end, you will be entered to win an Of Montreal schwag-pack – including the new album, Skeletal Lamping, on vinyl, CD, a poster, and pins. Take the survey before someone steals it! (oh yeah, we’re not gonna do anything with the email addresses after that, just need a way to tell you that you’ve won)

DO IT!!!

the Saturday Evening Post-up (Sunday edition)

Monday, December 15th, 2008

SOOOO, uh, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s not Saturday. I didn’t quite make it to the station yesterday, so please accept my humblest humblest apologies.

Every once in awhile, a CD slips through the cracks here at KWUR. Sometimes no one picks it up to be reviewed and sometimes it literally slips into a crack and is lost for like six months. There often are stacks and stacks of unreviewed CDs at the end of the semester, and for every ten discarded turds there’s a real gem. So, this week, I’m going to take a look (via DJ reviews, as always) at a couple of CDs that didn’t quite make it onto the new release shelf this year. I’ll offer a few brief comments after each review, as well. Let’s show ’em some love:

David Byrne and Brian Eno – “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today”

These two draw on a lot of genres here – sun bleached pop, jazzy lounge, folk – and combine them to make a diverse and enjoyable album. Eno’s production is top-notch and Byrne’s croons are as falsetto as ever.

RIYD: Talking Heads, older Eno, Radiohead

Play: 1 (sun bleached, layered pop), 2 (ambling folk), 3 (textured jazz), 4 (standout – beautiful pop), 11 (great finish)

(ed. note)
This album, like Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” or Nine Inch Nails’ “The Slip,” was released via the internet long before it met any kind of official physical release. Because of this, we only just received it, although it’s been in circulation for quite some time now. This was the year of self-releases, and if other major bands (such as those aforementioned) follow the trend, it’s going to shake up the entire industry, from the (honestly outdated anyway) Big 5 (Universal, et al) to lowly college radio outfits like us. The times, they are a’changin’.

Land Of Talk – “Some Are Lakes”

Saw them open for Broken Social Scene and fell in love with Lizzie Powell’s voice. Solid album with quite a few shining moments. Good blend of drum beats, kind of jagged guitar riffs and dreamy pop-esque vocals. Give them a listen.

Play: 4, 6, 7, 10

(ed. note)
As noted in the review, these guys opened for Broken Social Scene at the Gargoyle about a month ago. I’ve been to my fair share of shows, and I’ve only been truly impressed by openers a handful of times – and I’d easily include Land of Talk in that handful. Whereas most openers tend to be watered down versions of the headliner, or even just flat out suck, they truly stood out on their own merits. It’s indie pop, no doubt, but with razor sharp edges and a lot of tension boiling under the surface.

Annuals – “Such Fun”

Nice, country laced indie pop. Anthemic stuff, and lots of nice instrumentals. The vocals are a little annoying at times, got a little pop-punky, but the musicality of the band really makes this record worth your time.

Play: 2, 3 (good build), 6 (rockin good orchestration), 9 (nice piano), 10 (pretty)

(ed. note)
Back in 2006, Annuals basically exploded onto the indie scene from the ever-fertile fields of North Carolina via their debut “Be He Me.” This was around the time I really started getting into “indie,” and one of my friends burned it for me. I hated it. Here was a band that was lauded as excellent by a number of prominent music blogs (this was also ’round the time the “blogosphere” came into full effect, I think) and I just didn’t get it. Yet, this album didn’t get half the press or praise their first did, and I liked it a hell of a lot more. I don’t know what that says about anything – other than maybe I shouldn’t read Pitchfork so much.

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – “Sunday At Devil Dirt”

Former female vocalist for Belle & Sebastian teams up again with Screaming Trees frontman (and Tom Waits doppelganger) Mark Lanegan. Really downbeat ballads, slow, ominous folk/country. Their voices blend well together, and really fit the music. All of these were arranged by Isobel, and they’re all really good.

Play: 2, 4, 5, 6, 9 (really sweet), 11

(ed. note)
What the hell happened to Belle & Sebastian? They recently released “The BBC Sessions,” but it’s been, like, a billion years (actually 3) since they put out new material, and 10 since “If You’re Feeling Sinister” (which is arguably their best work). I suppose none of that is relevant here, as Isobel’s no longer a part of the group. She is, however, doing fine work with Mr. Lanegan – this album isn’t groundbreaking but it’s damn fine nonetheless. I think (and hope) time will be kind to their work together.

Last charts of the yeaaaaar:

Rank Artist Recording Label
1 WOMEN Women Jagjaguwar
2 VIVIAN GIRLS Vivian Girls In The Red
3 JENNY LEWIS Acid Tongue Warner Bros.
4 I’M FROM BARCELONA Who Killed Harry Houdini? Mute
6 PAST LIVES Strange Symmetry [EP] Suicide Squeeze
8 TOUGH ALLIANCE A New Chance Modular
9 STARFUCKER Starfucker Badman
10 BOUND STEMS The Family Afloat Flameshovel
11 MENAHAN STREET BAND Make The Road By Walking Daptone-Dunham
12 THESE UNITED STATES Crimes United Interests
13 GENTLE GUEST We Are Bound To Save Some Souls Tonight Amble Down
14 ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS Another World [EP] Secretly Canadian
15 ETTES Look At Life Again Soon Take Root
16 PARTS AND LABOR Receivers Jagjaguwar
17 SEBASTIEN GRAINGER Sebastien Grainger And The Mountains Saddle Creek
18 TOBACCO Fucked Up Friends Anticon
20 PINK SPIDERS Sweat It Out Mean Buzz
21 WINTERSLEEP Welcome To The Night Sky Labwork
22 LITTLE ONES Morning Tide Chop Shop
23 HER SPACE HOLIDAY XOXO Panda, And The New Kid Revival Mush
24 FUCKED UP The Chemistry Of Common Life Matador
25 PORTUGAL. THE MAN Censored Colors Equal Vision-Approaching AIRballoons
26 LITTLE TEETH Child Bearing Man Absolutely Kosher
28 OF MONTREAL Skeletal Lamping Polyvinyl
29 ARIZONA Glowing Bird Echo Mountain
30 JAY REATARD Matador Singles ’08 Matador

and that’s it folks. I’ll catch you again in a few weeks – enjoy the holiday.