Wednesday, April 16, 2008

ACL Lineup Announced Yesterday

So it's been well over a month since my last post, and for that I apologize. To be quite honest, there hasn't been an incredible amount of stuff to write about aside from a fantastic (as always) performance by The Hold Steady at Emo's a couple weeks back and an excellent release from Man Man. In fact, let's talk about that for a second.

Prior to the release of Rabbit Habits, I would describe Man Man to my friends as, "You know, like the type of shit that pirates sing when they're having a party." However, like Strawberry Jam did for Animal Collective last year, Habits propels Man Man into the upper echelons of the indie rock community. Lead singer Honus Honus calls this the band's "pop album," but that's using pop in a very relative sense of the word. He's not that far off, as there are hooks on the album that will stay in your head for days, if not for the melody for the wordplay, such as the Big Trouble" refrain, "You look like a man/But you talk like a fool/You strut like a stallion/But you fuck like a mule." On the sparse, piano-based "Doo Right," the audience gets a rare glimpse at Honus' sensitive side, allowing him to show that he can do more than just impersonate Captain Beefheart. However, the band's quirks are not entirely gone, by any means. "The Ballad of Butter Beans" begins with a xylophone melody which can only be described as "Looney Tunes-esque," "Mysteries of the Universe Unraveled" consists of nothing but fireworks being shot off in the middle of Philadelphia streets (which can be seen here at, and the album closes with two 7-minute+ epics. This album is not for everybody, but for fans of Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart, or anything with a gypsy flair, then this is an absolute gem.
Key Tracks: "Hurly/Burly," ""Harpoon Fever (Queequog's Playhouse)," "Top Drawer"

Now, on to ACL

Every year, I look forward to finding out who will be playing at the Austin City Limits festival. Though ACL is not on the same level as Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo, it has become a fairly formidable festival with at least one performance every year that would publicly defecate myself in order to see. A few years ago, it was the Pixies, two years ago the Flaming Lips, last year LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire. When the months of anticipation ceased yesterday, I was a little bit disappointed to find this year's lineup to be a bit lackluster. Even the usual staple Wilco is missing. However, I'll examine the highlights, in no particular order:

1. Gnarls Barkley: Though the The Odd Couple is no St. Elsewhere, there is not human being more soulful than Cee-Lo Green (he may be disqualified for this award, however, because he is not a soul man like the rest of us, but, in fact, a soul machine). If this year's performance proves to be anything like their ACL show two years ago, then we can look forward to awesome constumes, random covers, and hilarious stage banter from the soul machine himself.

2. Beck: Sure, The Information was absolutely terrible and the guy is a Scientologist, but we should not forget how much excellent music this guy made up until a couple of years ago. Though I've never seen it personally, Beck's live show has been highly touted for its energy and theatrics, and if we're all very lucky, then he might bust out some old-school Midnite Vultures dance moves for us.

3. Okkervil River: Riding high off of last year's excellent The Stage Names and recent stage performances with Roky Erikson and The New Pornographers, Okkervil River comes home to Austin at the apex of their career so far. I can't wait to see if they maintain their brutal live energy of their earlier career or if their trademark thrift-store suits will finally turn them into the professional musicians they've been threatening to become for years.

4. Vampire Weekend: I say this for pretty much every band at a festival, but VW wins this year's award for "Band I'm Pretty Excited About Seeing at ACL, But I'd SOOOOO Much Rather See Them in a Club Setting." Even still, if I'm able to get close enough, then their adorable Ivy League charm and cool tunes should be able to keep the Texas heat at bay, as they'll surely end up with a daytime slot.

5. The Kills: This is a band who will end up with a daytime slot, and their show will be a massive disappointment because of it. Hotel and VV are, in fact, evil vampires who want to kill you. Hopefully they'll play an aftershow to give people an idea of what a real Kills show is like.

6. Drive-By Truckers: This brilliant and under-appreciated southern rock outfit should strive in the festival setting due to their huge riffs and "Fill the truck up with High Life" attitude. Expect to be surrounded by lots of drunks and lots of flannel.

7. Man Man: Read the above review of their album and then look up pictures of their live show; supposedly a deadly combination. The only reason I'm not more excited about this ACL show is that they're coming next week with Yeasayer (also playing ACL) to play a club show.

8. M. Ward: Love the guy, but this could turn into a very boring sunburn.

So, those are 8 performances that I'm legitimately excited about, which I suppose is not that bad. However, all of the big acts are artists that can only be called "slightly exciting." The main act is the Foo Fighters, and I think that Dave Grohl is one of the baddest dudes on the planet, and they have a real knack for writing kick-ass singles, but I have this looming feeling that this huge setting will force them into an hour and a half of appeasing stupid people by resorting to their many lighter/cringe-worthy ballads. The remaining biggies -- David Byrne, John Fogerty, and Robert Plant -- are all former leaders of bands that I may claim innocent human life to see, but in whose solo output I have absolutely zero interest.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Listenings of the Past Month

Alright, so it's been about a month since my last post. I'll try to do better in March than I did in January and February, but this should basically sum up what I've been listening to for the past little while.


The Black Lips show last Saturday night was the first concert I've been to in a very long time, and it was a deliciously sloppy mess. I'm usually not one to hop in the mosh pit, but something about the band's mustaches and silly hats forced me to take off my shirt and tie and thrash about with the rest of the crazies. It's odd, though, because the Black Lips aren't really even that loud or aggressive; they're really just funny and trashy garage rock. I think that the reason that people go so crazy at their shows is that because of their wild reputation -- vomiting onstage, pissing into their own mouths -- people feel like they need to invoke that same spirit in themselves. For whatever reason, the crowd was going nutso and the band played very well, too, focusing mainly on their most recent album, Good, Bad, Not Evil. My friend commented afterward that he could have easily sang better than everyone onstage, and I don't think that anyone would deny that; however, that vocal homeliness created less of a separation between the band and the crowd. The show was not so much a celebration of The Black Lips' music, but more so an excuse to get drunk and act like a big group of idiots, and sometimes that's just what everybody needs.

New Music:

Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend -- Say what you will about how these guys are so obsessed with Wes Anderson that they used his Futura Bold font on the cover of their album, or about how they all went to Columbia, or how they rhyme "Louis Vuitton" with "Reggaeton" and "Benneton," if this album doesn't put a smile on your face, then you are most likely a douchebag. Taking a great deal of influence from South African music -- or perhaps just taking influence from Graceland -- VW creates excellently catchy pop music with clever lyrics and cheery melodies. As winter turns to spring, there's no better album to ride your bike to and smile wide enough for every one of your Ivy League comrades to see.

Key Tracks: "Walcott" (possibly the best melody of the year), "Oxford Comma," "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"

Magnetic Fields, Distortion -- In the past, I've never been a huge fan of Stephen Merritt and his band of sad sacks, but this new album finally has me on board. What's different here, as the album's title implies, is that the volume is turned up significantly and the sound is dirtied up a bit. This new sonic approach fits Merritt's sly baritone, most notably on the depressing and clever, "Too Drunk to Dream," which finally answers the question, "What would it sound like if Leonard Cohen sang for Soft Cell?" Merritt splits vocal responsibilities with Shirley Simms, who turns out the Phil Spector sugar on "California Girls," and the My Bloody Valentine sheen on "Drive on, Driver." Overall, Distortion is an excellent record, if not too heavily leaning on its influences.

Key Tracks: "California Girls," "Please Stop Dancing," "Too Drunk to Dream"

Stephen Malkmus, Real Emotional Trash -- I don't think this comes out until next week or so, but Soulseek is a beautiful thing. First and foremost, Real Emotional Trash is a fine record with some excellent guitar playing and some killer drumming. The addition of Janet Weiss to The Jicks allows Malkmus to play around with the meatiest band of his career, and he utilizes this gift by crunching out a litany of monster riffs. The problem here is that the songs tend to go on forever, and with three of them exceeding the six minute mark, they really do ramble. Malkmus' trademark wordplay is obviously still here, especially on the outlaw tale of "Hopscotch Willie." In the end, however, Malkmus' lyrics and catchy melodies work better in pop songs like "Stereo" and "Cut Your Hair," not 10-minute epic title tracks. While this album probably is still a fun listen, it makes me wonder when this former leader of the essential 90s band stops making essential music and becomes just another old guy.

Key Tracks: "Baltimore," "Hopscotch Willie," "Gardenia"

The Mountain Goats, Heretic Pride -- With his past three albums, John Darnielle seemed to be heading towards a great rift between himself and his listeners. Focusing on themes such as methamphetamine addiction, an abusive stepfather, and heartwrenching loneliness in the wake of a serious relationship, Darnielle's albums were just getting more and more personal, lowering his audience's comfort level with each release. On Heretic Pride, Darnielle returns his focus towards stories and characters, while also adding harder instrumentation to his repertoire. The key aspect to that new instrumentation? The addition of drummer Jon Wurster, who used to totally rip shit up in Superchunk, and continues to rip shit up with The Mountain Goats. Combining one of rock's most distinguished lyricists with one of the best drummers of the past 20 years, Heretic Pride proves itself to be a winning album.

Key Tracks: "Lovecraft in Brooklyn," "In the Craters of the Moon," "San Bernardino"

Alright, so that's pretty much all I've got for this time around. I'll certainly have another post within the next week, most likely reporting on Sunday's Built to Spill show.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

There Was Blood, and It Was on the Wall

Alright, so I finally saw There Will be Blood a couple nights ago, and it was probably the most compelling and thought-provoking film I saw in the past year. I didn't walk out of the theater with my jaw on the floor; I walked out with my jaw resting in the palm of my hand, "Thinker" style. There are so many themes and concepts throughout this picture that I've been piecing it all all together since I saw it. That's not to say that it's some kind of Daron Aronofsky mind-fuck or anything; it's just that the story is so perfectly told and its themes are so shockingly overt that the film can be applied to so many aspects of modern American society. Let's look at it from the basic film perspectives.

Direction: PT Anderson has always shown himself to be a fantastic director, sometimes showing signs of absolute genius. There Will be Blood solidifies that reputation and puts him at the vanguard of modern cinema. In addition to brilliant pacing, tones, and staging, Anderson's film is so filled with shots that make your jaw drop that by around minute 48, the viewer begins to expect sheer brilliance with every angle. The script and concept may not be as original as Boogie Nights or Magnolia, but Blood is the most visually stunning film of the twenty-first century.

Score: Johnny Greenwood officially surpassed Noah Lennox for the role of "Most Badass Year in Music" with the unfair tag-team of In Rainbows and the There Will be Blood soundtrack. With a combination of classical-style compositions and post-rock percussion pieces, Greenwood puts together a crushingly epic score which accompanies the film perfectly. While some of the work may come of as a bit too modern for the the period piece, Anderson and Greenwood come together to make it work.

Acting: Daniel Day Lewis. I feel like I'm not even qualified to try to talk about him as an actor or this performance. Pure genius. Also, Paul Dano is excellent in this breakthrough performance as twin brothers Paul and Eli Sunday, the latter of which, rumor has it, Dano only had days to prepare for, making his troubled performance that much greater.

I'd rather not get into plot or themes (cop out?) because I want all of you to see it for yourselves and get from it what you will. Point is, the film is incredible, and it just gets better the more you think about it in the following days.

In other blood-related news, Blood on the Wall just came out with a new album, Liferz. They're an indie-punk band that bites more people from the nineties than Hannibal, but they actually sound pretty fresh in today's uber-hip alternative landscape. The chick bassist sounds pretty much exactly like Kim Gordon, the drumming sounds like Superchunk's Jon Wurster is pounding the skins, and the male vocals and guitar playing are like when Stevie Malkmus forgets to take his Ritalin. The redeeming result of all this carnivorous biting? It fucking rocks. It's one of the only albums I've bought in a while that required a second listening immediately after the last song ended. The only other band I can think of out right now who can capture that great '90's underground sound is the Ponys, but the advantage of Blood on the Wall is that dude can scream and yell as well as anyone, and he's also capable of finding that perfect note of feedback to elevate a song from "decent punk tune" to "public headphone headbanging anthem." If you're a fan of bands like Superchunk, Pavement, Jawbox, and Sonic Youth (which, if you're reading this site, you probably are), then you should check out Liferz to remind yourself that you're not the only one who remembers how people used to rock out before synthesizers and drum machines took over.

Also in blood-related news, former Blood Brothers (RIP) Cody Votolato (guitars) and Johnny Whitney (vocals, keyboards) have finally emerged from the rubble of their brilliant former band to create Jaguar Love, a project with former Pretty Girls Make Graves drummer Jay Clark. From the looks of the two songs on their MySpace, the band is radically different from the hardcore Blood Bros. sound, but still retains Whitney's apocalyptic lyrics and melodies which we've all come to know and love. What's even more exciting is that the two demos on the site (which sound better than most bands' singles) were recorded just two weeks after the band formed, meaning that they essentially have no ceiling. They did a brief tour with Queens of the Stone Age, meaning that they're already playing with bigger boys than the Blood Bros ever did. Excitement.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Les Savy Fav is better than your band, sing it.

Hey everyone, and welcome back to the Indie League. I haven't posted in about a month, but I was in Jackson during that stretch, so it's not like there were any big concerts to report on (unless, of course, you're talking about the Politically Correct Holiday Show, which was a massive success). However, I'm back in Austin now, and I've had a couple of fun nights of live entertainment to talk about.

Two nights ago I attended probably the most bizarre show I've seen in Austin. It was at the Mohawk, so it was outside, and it was January, so it was about 28 degrees. Also, the line to get in snaked around the block and took about and hour to get through. This would have been fine if it was a rock and roll show, where there would be dancing to keep everybody warm; however, this was a comedy show with Michaels Ian Black and Showalter, so everybody was standing still and being cold and pissed off. Apparently, it is customary in Austin to go to a comedy show solely for the purpose of being a jackass publicly, because I had never seen so many hecklers at a single performance before. Perhaps due to his lack of experience in the stand-up world, Showalter's actual material was pretty limited because he took the time to address every single heckler's cry. This did, however, produce some pretty entertaining banter, specifically when he was asked to do a little bit of Doug, his most famous character from The State, and he responded by saying things like, "I'm Doug. I have attempted suicide five times by overdosing on pills. I dropped out of college and now have no job. I'm out of here," just so that he could fulfill his obligation while still a smarmy asshole.

Michael Ian Black proved himself to be the true performer, delivering over an hour's worth of top of the line comedy. He relied very little on the material from his recently released comedy album (the excellent I Am a Wonderful Man; Showalter's Sandwiches and Cats is also very good), throwing in a good amount of jokes directed solely at the Texas crowd. He closed his set with a reading from his forthcoming collection of essays, similar to his blog reading at the end of his CD. In spite of the fact that it was way too cold outside to be standing still, it was a show that I was very glad to have been a part of and would recommend to anyone living in a city on their tour.

Les Savy Fav

So, Les Savy Fav is just flat out nasty. There's no other way to describe their brand of dancey-yet-trashy punk rock. I was only able to catch one of the opening acts, Fatal Flying Guilloteens, and they set the mood for the main act by playing some high-energy, high-volume rock and roll that makes you feel just a little bit filthy on the inside, like a mix between The Dismemberment Plan and The Blood Brothers. However, once LSV took the stage, with Tim Harrington dressed as a fat, bald, bearded African poacher and blasted into "The Equestrian," it was as if the Guilloteens had never existed. Let's Stay Friends is so well produced and catchy that you don't even realize how abrasive all the songs are until you see them performed live. "What Would Wolves Do," one of the "quieter" songs on the album, sounded as heavy and intense as anything else in their catalog. PErhaps the reason for this heightened intensity was the fact that Harrington is, plain and simple, a crazy person. His drunken onstage antics, which included humping photographer's face and feigning his own hanging with the microphone cord, were almost wild enough to make you forget how tight the rest of the band was playing. The other members of LSV almost seemed like squares compared to Harrington's insanity, but perhaps that balance is what makes their appeal so great: at some point this guy with his hand in his pants had to sit down with a bunch of very talented musicians and write great rock songs.

The best songs live were probably "Rage in the Plague Age," and "The Year Before the Year 2000," probably because they make you want to pump your fist even while listening to them on headphones, so with a huge crowd of crazed fans the bar was raised a few pegs. For their encore, they played mostly cover songs, with the exception of the ultimate thrasher, "Who Rocks the Party?" off of The Cat and the Cobra. The best of these covers was "Debaser" by the Pixies which seemed to be the only one that everyone knew, and thus sent the entire crowd into a frenzy. The entire time, Harrington kept insisting that everyone in the building was in a band called the Honeybees, which was a confusing and bizarre thing for him to say. However, walking away from the show after giving myself whiplash and sweating on all my new friends, it really did feel like we had all created something great under the leadership of a true madman.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Top Thirsty Albums of 2007: 5-1

5. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
As I mentioned earlier in this list, Britt Daniel absolutely loves being cool. Throughout his band's consistently excellent career, Daniel has portrayed himself in a way that befits his sunglasses and button-down attire. This onomatopoeic record follows the minimalist and sometimes redundant pieces of Gimme Fiction with songs so jubilantly alive that they almost make Daniel lose his cool. At a mere 10 tracks, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is over way before you want it to be, but the songs are so good that it's not a bad idea to just start the album again once time expires. From the opening chords of "Don't Make Me a Target," Daniel's cool oozes out of the speakers and, through osmosis, you, the listener, become cool yourself. The growl of the vocal during the chorus shows that the Kill the Moonlight Daniel is back, replacing the lazy noise fills of Fiction with exciting guitar leads. I don't agree with the inclusion of "The Ghost of You Lingers," which is the only step back on the album. The slow, eerie piece detracts from the propulsive energy of the other songs, which is swiftly continued with "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb." Featuring horns and an excellent xylophone breakdown, the song shows that the band is exploring more space in the studio than they ever have before. After a few more tracks of groovy bass and catchy choruses, the album closes with the band's best closer ever, the inexplicably titled "Black Like Me." Daniel starts things off with just some acoustic accompaniment, but eventually the rest of the band joins in the fun with blasting harmonies and "Oh Yeah!"s. It's shorter than the rest of the band's other albums, but in the end, it's probably the best batch of songs they've ever put together.

Key Tracks: "Don't Make Me a Target," "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb," "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case," "Black Like Me"

4. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
This one is kinda hard, because I stole a leak of it before Thanksgiving of last year. I've known this album for what seems like forever, and I feel like what could possibly be said has already been said. However, it needs to be noted (once again) that this is an incredible departure lyrically for Kevin Barnes. Where previously he settled for the mundane musings of quirky storylines, here he focuses on the true depression of an honest heartbreak. This album provides the most profound juxtaposition of the year, as he sets this depressing tone of misplaced love with the most jubilant and celebratory music of his career. While previous work elicited offers from Outback and various cell-phone companies, this collection of songs could only be sought out by the specific groups of dance-obsessed depressives. The most notable example of this comes in the 12+ minute epic, "The Past is a Grotesque Animal," which reflects the exact pain of being rejected by one's beloved while still finding time to throw in the occasional funky bassline. Most of your probably forgot that hi even came out this year because it has so replaced previous perceptions of Of Montreal's philosophy, but if you haven't, then this is an excellent example of an enlightened viewpoint on life and heartbreak.

Key Tracks: "She's a Rejector," "Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider," Labyrinthian Pomp," Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse"

3. Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare
God, did I try to avoid this bandwagon. Anytime that NME claims a debut record of a band of teenagers to be one of the top five British albums ever, you should avoid that band like the Libertines (who apparently have the plague, as evidenced by Pete Doherty). However, with this second album, the Arctic Monkeys prove themselves to be one of the absolute best rock bands in the world. If you can start out an album with a song as hilarious and energetic as lead single "Brianstorm," and then have that song be the worst one on that record, then you know that you've done something right. It's almost impossible to pick a favorite song off of this record, because all of them are REALLY that good; however, that honor must go to the brutally realistic breakup anthem, "Do Me a Favour." Featuring the quote, "Do me a favor/and ask me to go away," and the closing line, "One last 'fuck off' would be too kind," the song shows that head Monkey has done a lot of growing up since his "I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor" days. The real attribute to this album that is so intriguing, aside from the lyrics and songwriting ability, is that the guitarwork is consistently faster than the drumming. This adds an immediacy to the record which wasn't there on Whatever You Say I Am, That's Exactly What I'm Not. This is a band which feature nobody over 23, which is just plain scary when you think about where they'll go from here. It's like Keven Durant this season: The ceiling might as well be made out of clouds, because sky's the limit.

Key Tracks: "Do Me a Favour," "Balaclava," "505," "D is for Dangerous"

2. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
Jens Lekman may just be Sweden's greatest pop export of all time. No, he didn't write "Dancing Queen" or "Lovefool," but the man may have created an album better than those two classics combined (just kidding. that's impossible). Lekman had hinted at greatness with his previous releases, but he has cemented his place at the vanguard of pop songcraft with this collection of gems. Lekman shows here his uncanny ability to -- in his secondary language -- create profundity out of ordinary situations. The key example here is "Your Arms Around Me," whose chorus sounds like a cliched love song, but the verses prove it to be the story of a bloody mess surrounding an avocado-slicing incident. Another prime example comes in "A Postcard to Nina," which brilliantly tells the true story of when Jens pretended to be the boyfriend of his lesbian friend in order to dispel her father's conservative ideas. From there, the album goes into stories of depressing nostalgia, underwhelming relationships, and drive-in Bingo games. As my brother declared about the Bonnie "Prince" Billy album this year, this album is full of songs to fall in love with. Every listen reveals witty lines which you didn't notice before (before writing this column, I listened to it for the 26th time and noticed lines in every song which I hadn't noticed before). Ladies out there, Jens is -- depressingly -- single and quite handsome. Don't blow this chance.

Key Tracks: "Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo," "A Postcard to Nina," "It Was a Strange Time in My Life," "Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig"

1b. Radiohead - In Rainbows
Alright, so I cheated. Technically this didn't come out this year in physical form, so I got to include it while not making an honest ranking on it. For real though, this is the best Radiohead album since the mindblowing Kid A. It's a strange album, as its tracks were pretty much gathered from throwaways from tours over the past few years. However, all of these songs have been reworked into new versions which reflect the specific zone which the band is in right now. The album starts with "15 Step." At first it seems like the band is only getting more electronic; however, the song later proves that the band is going into a jazzier, more R & B sound which accents both Thom Yorke's shockingly soulful falsetto and the band's development into a more mature, more all-encompassing entity. From there the falsetto plays an even greater role, as on the beautiful "Nude" and the Beatles-esque "Faust Arp." It's strange hearing Thom Yorke speak in terms of real love, as he does on "House of Cards" and on "All I Need," but it makes sense in the context of this album. This is, like Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, a record which is not as long as it should be, but that is just a reflection on how great it is.

Key Tracks: "Reckoner," "Arpeggi/Weird Fishes," "15 Step," "Videotape"

1a. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
Animal Collective were another band which I was not comfortable riding the bandwagon for. I had liked certain tracks off of their other albums, but hadn't truly fallen in love with their work until this record. Strawberry Jam is, if this is fair to say, much more of a sequel to Pet Sounds than Smile is. The harmonies present here are incredible, and the band shows that it's okay to make beautiful music without using too many live instruments. The sample-heavy group eschews the acoustic-folk sound which made Sung Tongs so great and confusing and replaces that with an electronic-based sound which proves Avey Tare and Panda Bear to be more intellectual than their previous records may imply. By that same token, the most notable change between this effort and previous works such as Feels is the developed sense of lyrical structure. No longer accepting, "We tigers/we tigers/woop!" as legitimate lyrics, Tare has adopted a more linear philosophy towards songwriting, while Panda Bear has further developed his ability to display his optimistic worldview through song. The opening track, "Peacebone,"finds Tare demonstrating quips such as "The other side of take-out is mildew on rice," which teaches that the most inspiring moments of life come from improvisation. Panda Bear, on the other hand, shows through the manic, "Chores," that life's small responsibilities can turn out to be its simple pleasures. The back-to-back power punch of "For Reverend Green" and "Fireworks" show that AnCo are capable of writing basic rock songs while infusing them with their uncanny ability to build tension. Strawberry Jam ends with the powerful pair of "Cuckoo Cuckoo" and "Derek," which are respectively some of most emotionally revealing work of Tare's and Panda Bear's careers. Now that the band finally reined in its brilliance, their next album should be kind of a big deal.

Key Tracks: "Peacebone," "Unsolved Mysteries," "Chores," "For Reverend Green," "Fireworks," ""Winter Wonder Land," "Cuckoo Cuckoo," "Derek"

I got a day or two behind, but get over it. Have a happy break.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Top Thirsty Albums of 2007: 10-6

10. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Living With The Living
There's nothing really separating Living from the rest of Ted Leo's catalog, dating all the way back to his Chisel days. It's still loud, fast, catchy, and politically-charged, the way it always has been and most likely always will be. However, it'll never get old, so long as Leo always has enough energy and power to carry his punk monster into the hearts of us all. Really, he's got everything you could possibly want in a rock god: he's a guitar hero, writes awesome lyrics, kicks out the jams, and has terrible teeth. Those jams he kicks out on Living are the best and most consistent he's put out to date. Lead single "The Sons of Cain" starts off the album so fast that you have to assume that Leo's forearm is about to fall off after every take. From there it's a roller coaster ride through Irish drinking anthems ("Bottle of Buckie"), reggae groovers ("The Unwanted Things"), and even a 6+ minute power ballad ("The Toro and the Toreador"). At fifteen tracks, Living is almost completely without filler, making it the strongest and best punk album of the year.

Key Tracks: "La Costa Brava," "Who Do You Love," "Colleen"

9. Okkervil River - The Stage Names
While it lacks to the cohesive brilliance and ultraviolent imagery of Black Sheep Boy, The Stage Names shows Okkervil River to be a more mature, more focused band. The Austin collective show here that, while most of their songs are about jilted or failed rock stars, they have the heart and idealism of the common rock and roll fan. Will Sheff appears wiser on this release, partially because of his lyrics, but mostly because he - for the most part - eschews the Oberstesque whine which held back previous, otherwise great work. That maturity is present from the very start of the album, which opens with the skin-crawling "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe," where Sheff proclaims, "It's just a house burning/But it's not haunted," showing a surprising optimism in the face of depression. "A Girl in Port" shows a romantic side of Sheff, where he matches his whimsy with pity on a troubled female. In spite of this maturity, Sheff occasionally can't help playing fun games with his songs, such as the rock history exercise, "Plus Ones," in which Sheff adds one to a series of famous rock numbers -- "Nobody wants a tune about your 100th luftballoon." Perhaps the most impressive moment on the album comes at the end on "John Allyn Smith Sails," where the band interrupts its tale at sea by seamlessly seguing into "Sloop John B;" I honestly didn't even notice it until the second time through.

Key Tracks: "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe," "A Girl in Port," "A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene," "John Allyn Smith Sails."

8. Art Brut - It's a Bit Complicated
Upon first listen, Complicated seems to be a bit of a regression for Art Brut. While Bang Bang Rock and Roll was an exercise in complete punk-rock hilarity, the sophomore album is a band growing into its own, sacrificing ironic one-liners with devoloping songcraft, partially attributed by the addition of rhythm guitarist and consummate showman Jasper Future. However, further listens show that lyric-man Eddie Argos has added poignancy to his bag of tricks, making Complicated a more mature, and in the end, better accomplishment than the critically lauded Rock and Roll. The one-liners are still there, as shown by the so-awkward-it's-true opener, "Pump up the Volume," an ode to the never-ending battle between the lovely lady and the background music for lovemaking. Argos also tops his rock-history love affair of "My Little Brother" with "St. Pauli," where he displays his respect for obscure Eastern European music by saying, "I'm sorry if my accent's flawed/I learned my German from seven inch records." The aforementioned poignancy, however, comes in the second half of the album, most notably on the excellent anthem, "Post Soothing Out." Argos shows his uncanny ability to find the noteworthy out of the mundane in this story of "the saddest text message ever," as Argos turns in his greatest indictment of rock cliches in the quip: "River deep and mountain high/Are lyrics that I'll never write/Because I never lie awake at night/Thinking of river depth and mountain height." In the end, an album which was at first underwhelming proves itself to be the British Boys and Girls in America.

Key Tacks: "Pump Up the Volume," "Post Soothing Out," "People in Love," "Blame it on the Trains"

7. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
If !!!'s Myth Takes is the year's best sleaze party, then Sound of Silver is the best music history lesson. With a shocking lack of pretentiousness, LCD genius James Murphy does more for the Talking Heads career than anything in David Byrne's solo catalog. From top to bottom, this is Murphy's love song to the groove-based idols which came before him. While the eponymous debut was a series of bass-based rave-ups suited for only the hippest of dancefloors, Sound of Silver finds Murphy exploring the more introspective and soulful sides of dance music. The first single, "North American Scum," proves to everyone exactly what everyone at Pitchfork was saying in declaring LCD a punk band. Amid cultured drumwork and funky bass, Murphy throws in clever lines about the American experience such as, "And for those of you who still think we're England/We're" This cleverness stems from the fact that, while Murphy improvised in the vocal booth for almost all of the debut, he went into this album with meticulated lyrics. Nowhere on the album is that more apparent than on the instant classic, "All My Friends," which builds upon from a single keyboard line into a vibrant and complex soundscape. While I would disagree with him on this issue, Murphy sounds so damn sincere when he says, "I wouldn't trade one stupid decision/For another five years of life." The album ends with Murphy turning in his most emotional track to date, with the the crushing, "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down," which reveals the feelings of an NYC lifer who feels uncomfortable in a post-9/11 environment. The line in the opening verse, "New York you're safer/But you're wasting my time/The records all show/you were filthy but fine." This Woody Allen-esque quip shows that Murphy has more to him than access to a sampler machine, but the rest of the album proves that that sampler machine is pretty damn cool.

Key Tracks: "New York, I Love You..." "All My Friends," "North American Scum," "Watch the Tapes"

6. Panda Bear - Person Pitch
This has been quite a year for Noah Lennox. He starts it out releasing Person Pitch, then follows it up with the even better Strawberry Jam (hint, hint). Lennox transcends the hipster image of "I'm too cool for everything" by presenting a completely optimistic viewpoint on life. He opens his solo epic with the fantastic "Comfy in Nautica," which in its title alone shows that he is happy to enjoy all of life's pleasures, even if they might tread on his indie-cred. The chorus of the song, "Try to remember always/Just to have a good time," is the kind of sage-like advice which we've been looking for in a stoner since the heyday of Timothy Leary. The rest of the album is a demonstration of Beach Boys love mixed with modern technology. The second track, "Take Pills," shows that he has an enlightened viewpoint on his druggy lifestyle, as he proclaims (in perfect harmony), "I don't want for us to take pills anymore." However, it's on the 12+-minute epic, "Bros," that Lennox shows his absolute mastery of auditory bliss. Building around a simple acoustic refrain, he shows that repeating a simple chord progression and adding the occasional perfect vocal accompaniment can prove to be the definition of "music therapy." Though I don't use drugs other than alcohol, I feel like this music is a drug, as it provides an immediate escape into a much better, less judging world. Noah Lennox is a gentle, fragile artist who acts upon his impulses, which is something that more musicians these days should strive to become. It also doesn't hurt that the title, Person Pitch, demonstrates the extent of his musical gifts.

Key Tracks: "Comfy in Nautica," "Take Pills," "Bros," "Good Girls/Carrots"

Friday, December 14, 2007

Top Thirsty Albums of 2007: 15-11

15. Iron and Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
Sam Beam has really been on a roll recently, coming off of the two excellent EPs, In the Reins (with Calexico) and Woman King. The new LP builds on the magic of those two EPs, taking the intensity of Woman King and utilizing the musicianship of Reins. "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car" tricks the listener at first into thinking that this will be another low-fi campfire affair with the bearded singer, but once the drums and piano kick in, it becomes abundantly clear that this is a fuller, more mature affair. The tracks that follow create a more diverse sound than anything Beam has put out before, from the trippy pagan-folk of "White Tooth Man" to the "I didn't know that wanted to do it to Iron and Wine" funk of "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog." On "Innocent Bones," Beam even busts out the leis and limbo poles for a nice calypso jam, complete with enough ratchet to satisfy even the most stubborn land-lubber. The brilliant lines don't come as frequently as on a Will Oldham or John Darnielle affair, but it's nice to see that Iron and Wine has finally broken through to new musical territory. Perhaps one day Beam will even be able to put that whole Garden State thing behind him.

Key Tracks: "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)," "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car," "White Tooth Man," "Flightless Bird, American Mouth"

14. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
When I was but a wee tot, my friend Thomas Jefferson told me that all men are created equal. I doubted this when I first saw Michael Jordan play basketball, and now that I've witnessed Andrew Bird, I know that ole' TJ was full of baloney. I will never be as smart, talented, or good looking as Andrew Bird. I will never be able to write an entire song which features palindromic lyrics. I will never be able to play the violin and xylophone at the same time. I will never be able to whistle into registers only audible by canines. Most importantly, though, I will never be capable of writing as perfect a chorus as "Plasticities." While in his previous work Andrew Bird made clear his prodigiousness and his sense of melody, never has he combined these two elements as much as on Apocrypha. Hell, I'll be honest, I don't know what half of the song titles mean on this album, but I'll be damned if Bird doesn't create beauty out of an unreasonable IQ. You know a great album when you can't think of a logical step forward for the artist, and that is the exact feeling the listener gets when listening to this work.

Key Tracks: "Plasticities," "Heretics," "Scythian Empires"

13. Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover
A Pitchfork whom I'm too lazy to cite once noted that once Silver Jews released American Water, they became no longer Stephen Malkmus's side project, but instead the ruler by which further Pavement releases would be measured. This is the same relationship which Spencer Krug experiences between Wolf Parade, his significantly more famous band, and Sunset Rubdown, his significantly better band. Shut Up I Am Dreaming proved that Krug was the driving force behind Wolf Parade's more experimental tendencies, but it did not separate itself from the pack in the same way that Random Spirit Lover does. Spirit is a dense, difficult, indulgent work, though it proves to be more and more rewarding with each listen. Song such as "The Mending of the Gown" display Krug's prowess on the keys, while still showing his impeccable sense of songcraft. Sunset Rubdown songs require a certain inquisitiveness of the listener, as he never has a clue as to what might come next. While unorthodox and completely modern, Rubdown creates the most epic and expansive pop music of anybody in the Canadian -- or, with the exception of Animal Collective, American -- music scene.

Key Tracks: "Trumpet, Trumpet, Toot! Toot!," For the Pier (And Dead Shimmering)," "The Taming of the Hands that Came Back to Life"

12. Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends
Les Savy Fav hadn't come out with an album since 2001's hit-and-miss Go Forth, and then they dropped this bomb on the world. Let's Stay Friends shows no signs of weariness or slowing down, but also adds a reflectiveness not present in the band's younger days. "Pots and Pans," the opener, seems to be an autobiographical tale about a loud, obnoxious band who most people hate but some people think are awesome. Sounds pretty accurate. They've gotten rid of all the disco/synth elements which held Go Forth back so much, and replaced them with a newly energized rock sound which hasn't been matched since the Emor EP. First single, "The Equestrian," finds Tim Harrington shredding his vocal chords above agit-punk accompaniment, only to bring it all in for a terrific blast of a chorus. The following track, "The Year Before the Year 2000," shows that Harrington can do more that just scream, turning in the catchiest chorus of album and closing things out with a delightful fist-pumping chance. If "Pots and Pans" proves a newfound maturity, "Rage in the Plague Age" shows that the band still remembers what it was like to be young and to have a good time. The ode to youthful debauchery delivers the Les Savy Fav's life credo: "Pull up the drawbridge/Draw down the blinds/Everyone inside is getting high tonight/Waiting for the plague to move one/Nobody's getting sober til the liquor's all gone!" Drink accordingly.

Key Tracks: "Rage in the Plague Age," "Patty Lee," "Year Before the Year 2000," "Scotchguard the Credit Card"

11. Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond
Most comeback albums either feature a bunch of old farts trying to recreate "that old magic" and failing miserably, or trying something new to prove that they were doing something during all those lost years. Fortunately, Beyond demonstrates neither of these qualities, as there is absolutely nothing on this record that Dinosaur Jr. haven't already done, and it thus sounds like the logical successor to their classic 1989 Bug. Sure, J. Mascis may be a fat, white-haired casualty of years of smoking his brains out, but I'll be damned if he can't still wail on the guitar and deliver the most endearingly sincere vocals of any of his contemporaries. Lead singles, "Almost Ready," and "Been There all the Time," display in full form the freewheeling rock and roll of previous gems like "In a Jar" or "Tarpit." Lou Barlow and Murph still make up a fantastic rhythm section with Murph's tight -- if not predictable -- fills and Lou's "it may look like a bass but I'm gonna play this son of a bitch like a guitar" approach. The most exciting aspect of the album, though, is that, possibly as a result of that pot smoking, Mascis is still in the exact same emotional state as he was in 1989. "We're Not Alone" might be the band's most heart-wrenching song to date, but it still features the uplifting chorus line, "I wanted you to say that you'd be around, like you are now." With that simple line, Mascis seems to apologize completely for all those years of feuding with Barlow, and now that they're together again it's obvious how much of a shame it is that this didn't happen sooner.

Key Tracks: "We're Not Alone," "This is all I Came to Do," "Been There all the Time."