Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top 10 Albums of 2008

10. Ponytail- Ice Cream Spiritual
Less random than you might think at first listen, after you consider Molly Seigal's voice as just another piercing instrument.

9. Ra Ra Riot- The Rhumb Line
Beautiful strings and fun music- live and recorded. I liked them at first listen at the Wicker Park street festival this summer.

8. Mamiffer- Hirror Enniffer
Hauntingly beautiful instrumental music in the vein of Rachel's. If dreams were a movie, this could easily be the score.

7. The Cure- 4:13 Dream
Robert Smith does it again, and again, on this almost-double album. Dirty songs, love songs, and sad songs- diverse enough for fans and good for newcomers to The Cure (if there still are any).

6. British Sea Power- Do You Like Rock Music?
Though Pitchfork derides this album as a U2 ripoff, the only similarities I see are in the enormity of both bands' music with cutting guitars and worldly influence. I've never heard U2 reference Dylan Thomas, either.

5. Why?- Alopecia
Spanning genres between hip-hop and indie rock doesn't make Alopecia instantly more accessible. However, between abstract lyrics and live recorded instruments, the album unfolds in layers like an onion- and Jonathan Wolf's initially abrasive voice becomes endearing.

4. Wolf Parade- At Mount Zoomer
The intersection of many side projects worthy of praise in their own right, the follow-up to Apologies to the Queen Mary shows that frontmen Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner have a lot more sprawling, well-crafted music in them.

3. Portishead- Third
For a band that has been putting out releases for fourteen years, Portishead manages to stay ahead of the electronic crowd, forgoing new gadgets that create new hollow sounds for gizmos to enhance their musical capabilities. This translates well into their live show, as they are not standing statically behind a laptop, but interacting in and with the now.

2. The Wedding Present- El Rey
Contemporaries with The Smiths but less well-known, perhaps by design, UK's The Wedding Present still sold out of all its LP's of El Rey mighty quickly. This smart, Southern California eponymous punk album- recorded by Steve Albini- is as infectious as its fan base is loyal and hungry for anything they put out.

1. TV on the Radio- Dear Science
I know it isn't as good as Cookie Mountain, but Dear Science saw TVOTR take a new step in a more electronic-sounding direction- even with all the wind and brass instruments. As TVOTR is comprised of mostly former art students, they seem to know that artists always need to challenge their audience with new ideas, or become obsolete and irrelevant. Judging by the album's ultimate position on year end lists in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork's readers poll, and even Entertainment Weekly, TVOTR may know their audience better than previously thought.

Tip of the Hat: Oxford Collapse- Bits; Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks- Real Emotional Trash; ; The Walkmen- You + Me; Lucksmiths- First Frost; Lackthereof- Your Anchor; Love is All- A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night; Margot and the Nuclear So and So's- Animal; Crystal Stilts- s/t; Islands- Arm's Way; Calexico- Carried to Dust; Max Tundra- Parallax Error; Spiritualized- Songs in A&E;

Wag of the Finger: Margot and the Nuclear So and So's- Not Animal (they need to edit, live and recorded); Tapes 'n Tapes- Hang Them All; Does It Offend You, Yeah?- You Have No Idea What You Are Getting Yourself Into; Bloc Party- Intimacy; Of Montreal- Skeletal Lamping

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Top* 5 EPs from 2008

In no particular order...

1. Miss TK and the Revenge- No Biterz

Miss TK and the Revenge are in a very small category of artists who had their music featured in a commercial and didn't achieve more commercial success as a result. (See also: Smog [Cadillac commercial] and Noah and the Whale [Saturn commercial]) Their title song in the background of a Clearasil commercial is catchy enough, but must not be tied to a cool enough product to garner large success. Which is fine enough anyway, since the band hardly plays outside their home state of New Jersey, and don't seem to write their fun, hook-filled dance rock for anyone but themselves or kids who like cowbell in their female-fronted dance music. They poke fun of the scene in "Nano U Didn't," depicting someone learning all the words to a song to show their friends how into it he or she is, but still acting removed.

Favorite song: "Future Power" Sounds like a forgotten track from their no-holds-barred debut album, XOXO, and leads into their newer material well.

2. Mogwai- Batcat EP

Recorded in Scotland and Texas, Batcat came out a mere two weeks before Mogwai's full length, The Hawk is Howling. It seemed to be a smart move, as Mogwai's instrumental quality is still intact and expressive as ever, and the three track album only served to whet one's appetite for more. "Devil Rides" features Roky Erickson on vocals and is probably as much for the fans as for Mogwai.

Favorite song: "Batcat" This track also made it onto Hawk.

3. Vetiver-
More of the Past

Though mostly an addendum to their 2008 full length, Thing of the Past, the EP has its freak-folk roots planted strongly enough to stand alone. Well-chosen covers breathe a new life into the songs and fit as comfortably as your favorite worn-in sweater. Between just finishing opening for the Black Crowes on the Midwest leg of their tour, strangely, and a new release on Sub Pop due out in February, Vetiver is poised to explode.

Favorite song: "See You Tonight" Feat. singer/songwriter Johnathan Rice and fiddle accompaniment.

4. The Cool Kids- The Bake Sale EP

Usually when artists are too self-aware their art suffers, but The Cool Kids use their keenness to their advantage. Unmistakably from Chicago in their lyrics and Detroit in their production, they are refreshing in the face of the over-stylized Kanye and, concurrently, an homage to J Dilla. Cool Kids Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish utilize more storytelling than name calling, play easily off of one another, and use simple beats to showcase their true talent. The self-described "new black version of the Beastie Boys," are as good at being self-reflexive and adroit at nerdy name-dropping as they are at writing their own instructions for their brand of hip-hop - which they kindly give to you in "Bassment Party." Step one- move to Chicago.

Favorite song: "One Two" Nursery Rhymes evolve and set the tone for the next eight songs on the loosely defined EP.

5. Maps & Atlases- You and Me and the Mountain

In a newfound show of togetherness, Chicago's (loosely) Maps & Atlases, New York's The Walkmen, and Germany's The Notwist all have different incarnations of "You and Me" in their titles this year. All of their releases are also commendable, but Maps & Atlases may be the most exciting, as the sound of an eccentric band coming into their own weirdness is audible. Similar to Hella and Cex with high-range guitars that seem to mimic synthesizers, held together with strong drumming.

Favorite song: "Daily News" With rollicking drums and TV on the Radio-esque vocals, it truly sounds of this year.

Tip of the hat to:
Bon Iver- Blood Bank ; The National- The Virginia EP; Passion Pit- Chunk of Change; Minus the Bear- They Make Beer Commercials Like This (reissue); The Mountain Goats/ The Mountain Goats and Kaki King- Satanic Messiah EP/ Black Pear Tree EP

Wag of the finger toward: ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead- Festival Thyme; Minus the Bear- Acoustics EP

*Not the best, but favorite, as
I know there are many, many EPs I haven't heard.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Obligatory Christmas Mix

1) "Let's Techno For Christmas"- Single Frame Ashtray
2) "The Ice Storm"- The Go! Team
3) "No Christmas While I'm Talking"- The Walkmen
4) "Winter Must Be Cold"- Apples in Stereo
5) "No Christmas"- The Wedding Present
6) "Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto"- Belle and Sebastian
7) "Sister Winter"- Sufjan Stevens
8) "Christmas at the Zoo"- Flaming Lips
9) "Christmas Blues"- Saturday Looks Good to Me
10) "Listening to Otis Redding During Christmas"- Okkervil River
11) "Amen"- Otis Redding
12) "Hallelujah"- Leonard Cohen

Download here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blurbs: The Current Relevancy of the Smashing Pumpkins, Chicago Figureheads, Atomic Records, and Retro-styled Headphones

  • Billy Corgan himself isn't an asshole, but the musician in him is an arrogant prick, he tells the Chicago Tribune, in essence. Other highlights: James Iha is "negative," and drove Corgan "literally insane," but he was invited to join the band again. Corgan also admits rock bands aren't supposed to last 20 years, however, he places the Pumpkins on a level comparable to Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. The differences being that Young and (maybe) Springsteen were better artists, and wouldn't berate their fans, especially after subjecting them to songs with kazoos.
  • Arrogant Chicago figureheads apparently swear a lot. On why the Pumpkins still retain their name: "It’s my band. Anyone who doubts the legitimacy of this band can go [expletive] themselves," Billy Corgan, poet, 2004-never. Also, "I've got this thing and it's fucking golden," Rod Blagojevich, Governor of Illinois, 2002-2008.
  • Atomic Records, my favorite record store in Milwaukee, is closing for good. I will miss buying concert tickets and receiving a complimentary PBR, informative weekly newsletters, knowledgeable service, and its extremely accommodating owner, Rich Menning. I wrote an article for the Marquette Tribune extolling the virtues of vinyl, and he was one of the most helpful people I've ever interviewed. He e-mailed me a well-researched article on the surge in vinyl popularity to help me with my piece. His quotes were colorful, and hard to disagree with: "What satisfaction is there in stealing an MP3 vinyl off the Internet? I propose that labels release their music on vinyl and include a free CD of the content so that those who still give a damn about music - by paying for it - can have the best of both worlds. Atomic will be missed, but always still treasured.
  • The Pumpkins playing "Siva," acoustically, at Atomic
  • On my holiday wish list: retro headphones.

WeSC Oboe Headphones

I liked these better at first, for pure aesthetics. However, that silver grill is just for show, and the sound quality isn't that good all-around. They don't even carry volume that well, for being voluminous.

Panasonic RP HTX7

These aren't as colorful, but come in two other colors, and match my Nintendo DS lite, which I will be outfitting with an i-pod homebrew. Awesome lows, and decent midis and highs. These are selling at UrbanOutfitters, but look for them somewhere else for a better price.