Friday, December 13, 2013

My Favorite Albums of 2013

This blog page of mine, though many years old, has now basically become a place for me to comment on the year's best music. Really, it's for my own enjoyment and serves as an annual check-in on my mind to make sure it's still there and hasn't been melted away from hours of Nintendo and the occasional binge of abusing my liver and lungs. Mostly I felt the need to write this due to the decay of thoughtful writing and the rise of BuzzFeed hacks. I included a blurb about each album and not a video with the caption 'Because 'Merica' on each selection.

BUT ANYWAY - here's another year-end-list to throw on to the seemingly endless scrap heap of content out there. Couple of surprises this year and plenty of good albums made it an interesting one but incredibly satisfying.

High Honors:

Alkaline Trio - My Shame is True
Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic 
Los Campesinos! - No Blues
Ra Ra Riot - Beta Love
Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold (technically from 2012, which is why it ain't in the Top 10) 
Washed Out - Paracosm
Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana
Surfer Blood - Pythons
Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse
Yo La Tengo - Fade

Top 10 of 13

10. Arctic Monkeys – AM

Everything I’ve read so far praising this album has been all, “the Arctic Monkeys are back” and “How Alex Turner got his groove back,” but the truth is that they’ve never went anywhere. Sure, they spun their wheels too much on “Humbug,” but since that record their songwriting and balance of style has only increased – and this is that record that perfectly balances it. Opener “Do I Wanna Know?” has a seductive hook that gives way to a traditional exploding Arctic Monkeys-style chorus, and even the chilled out “No. 1 Party Anthem” sounds like you’re just taking a break between parties at 3 am. But if that’s not quite your style, it’ll still sound great on a dark road at night.

9. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

For the first time, the National put out a record that I didn’t have to wait until daylight savings time to listen to. Not to say that the subjects in Matt Berninger’s 13 songs weren’t heavy or troubling, but more so at how laid back the band songs. “I Should Live In Salt” has a gentle strum in a 9/8 time signature that takes time for the band to all coalesce, while “Graceless” and “Sea of Love” soar in swelling crescendos that should be weighted by the subject matter, instead sound triumphant (unlike most of their last record High Violet). Probably the best thing about the band is that they can combine the bummed out with the humorous in their lyrics and the gentle and abrasive in their music. They’re not ‘dad rock,’ yet, bro. Let’s just enjoy it.

8. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

What do you do when you win an unsuspecting Grammy award (and get a nod from this guy athankyouverymuch) for ‘Album of the Year?’ This, apparently, because that was everyone in the blogosphere’s most anticipated question for the last three years. They didn’t need all the hype campaigning, but it sure got people talking about what working with producer James Murphy was going to do to them. For better or worse, that’s almost what this double album is verbatim. The first disc shows off their adventurous side, showing off a Haitian disco style of the band that they picked up after a trip to that country (cause they won a Grammy, right?). Disc 2 has a bit more of the band’s sound they’ve honed over the years, which isn’t a bad thing. Still, songs like “Here Comes the Night Time,” “Normal Person,” “Afterlife” and the title track rank with some of their best work thanks to all of that eclectic inspiration.

7. Danny Brown – Old

Since his verse on (RIP) Das Racist’s “Power” in 2011, I’ve been fascinated with Danny Brown. Likely because the second I heard his unmistakable snarl he’s been impossible to ignore, but more so because of his natural ability to shape-shift and make any style all his own – which is exactly what he does on Old. Side A of the album finds him at odds with himself - reflecting on his troubled Detroit upbringing, spinning detailed stories of getting jumped on his way to buy Wonder bread (“Wonderbread”), hearing relentless gunshots that sound like fireworks (“Torture”) and living off of his mom’s hair cutting money (“25 Bucks,” which features beat from the uber-hip Purity Ring).  The second side is all drug-fueled Danny Brown debauchery that anyone familiar with his previous efforts can expect. And really, just look at that cover art. 

6. Dr. Dog – B-Room

It’s almost unfair how Dr. Dog can make putting out another great album in a year seemingly effortless. In fact, from my count, they’ve been doing it since 2005’s Easy Beat, and this year’s B-Room is yet another stunning addition to the already brimming Dr. Dog canon. Singer-guitarist Scott McMicken’s opener “The Truth” seems to slowly emerge on airy strings and drifts along a catchy hook and eventual sing-along coda, while bassist Toby Leaman follows up with his boozy howls on “Broken Heart.” It’s that back and forth vocal play and overall soulful sound of the band that perfectly balances this record. “Distant Light,” “Cuckoo,” and “Nellie” are definitely some of Leaman’s best works vocally, and McMicken is not so bad himself with “Minding the Usher,” “Phenomenon,” and “Love.” Dr. Dog is and has been one of the best bands we have out there, and B-Room is no exception…and I think it’s safe to say that if they haven’t gone the Mumford route by now, they won’t be anytime soon.

5.The So-So Glows – Blowout!

In which the hometown hero brothers of Brooklyn step out of the boroughs and destroy everything in its path, Blowout! Is the group’s best and most concentrated effort to date. Its complete lack of pretense and a genuine garage punk swagger make it sound like a band that rose from the ashes of CBGB’s. Infectious guitar hooks and chorus sing-alongs are abundant on “Son of an American,” “Diss Town,” and “Wrecking Ball.” Brothers Alex and Ryan Levine’s songwriting skills have put the band in a place – that not unlike their good buddies Titus Andronicus – could earn them a crossover crowd of punks and hipsters alike. Don’t be worried, though, cause there is still a ‘fuck Hollywood’ song, and that’s some true east coast punk rock shit.

4. Kanye West – Yeezus

There are enough reasons to not want to acknowledge Kanye West as a person at all, so when I was looking at my top played songs in iTunes and saw “Bound 2” coming in at fourth I knew there was no denying the insanity that is Yeezus. At this point, somehow, all of his arrogance has proven to be simultaneously ridiculous, hilarious and brilliant. Who really knew what his next move would be after 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy except him, keeping the making of this record completely hidden and it’s guests (including now-bro Bon Iver) sworn to secrecy. Yeezus is an even darker, more raw Kanye then we’ve seen yet on opener “On Sight” and then gets even deeper on the following “Black Skinhead.” One of Kanye’s best songs might be “Blood on the Leaves,” it booms with production by soon-to-blow-up duo TNGHT and a Nina Simone sample. Oh, and it also compares a pregnant bitch sitting court side opposite you and your current girl to Apartheid (that I truly hope hip-hop fan Nelson Mandela was able to hear before he passed away). Then there’s the aforementioned closing act “Bound 2,” which is all soul-sampling, back-to-rapping Kanye that squashes any doubts that this is still a hip-hop album and West isn't going anywhere.  Damnit.

3. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

A band’s third album can often be the most difficult, especially when you have a pretty good following and other folksy British bands are in the Top 40 all over the world. Not to say that Glasgow, Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit’s last album was a clunker, but it seemed to leave fans wanting more based upon singer-songwriter Scott Hutchinson’s previous output and maybe a bit worried they’d become a soccer mom band. Luckily, the band refocused on Pedestrian Verse, choosing song craft over sound to great effect and produced their most concise album to date. Hutchinson’s lyrics and ear for melody have rarely been stronger than on “Backyard Skulls,” “Holy,” and “Late March, Death March.” Purists will be glad that they haven’t lost any edge in word choice either, as Hutchinson is still ‘that dickhead in the kitchen/Stealing wine from your best girl’s glass,’ he sweetly proclaims on opener “Acts of Man.” He even feeds off of the stadium energy the band aimed for on that last album in the towering “The Woodpile,” one of their best songs to date on an album that perfectly blends all of their strongest skills.

2. Queens of the Stone Age - …Like Clockwork

On a recent episode of Marc Maron’s popular podcast WTF, QOTSA mastermind Josh Homme revealed to Maron that in the six years since the group’s last album he almost died. Not in the Keith Moon or GG Allin kind of way that you’d expect from a rock and roller, but instead by a MRSA brought on by his constant working schedule and the number it did on his immune system. Homme understandably took a few years off and seemingly distilled his demons into his best work in a decade. …Like Clockwork is another record that champions song over sound, as longtime fans won’t hear any extended tracks that ‘pound rhythms into your head.’ Slow-burning opener “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” rides in on a dark wave and soars with driving guitar and drums as a panicked Homme yelps “Over and over/gasping in horror/so breathless you surface” as he literally comes back to life. Follow up track “I Sat By the Ocean” and “My God is the Sun” sound as if they’re leftover from the Songs for the Deaf sessions in the best way possible, and falsetto and creshendos make tracks like “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” downright thrilling.

1. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

This was easily the best album that I’ve heard this year for plenty of reasons, but even the first time I hit play on the opening track “Obvious Bicycle” I could almost sense that this was a special one. Modern Vampires of the City is the first Vampire Weekend album that plays like an actual album rather than songs strung together, mostly thanks to front man Ezra Koenig’s lyrics about growing up, getting old, and swooning over the sound of someone spinning Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” into the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown.” Swirling organs and hand-claps lighten things up on “Unbelievers” and “Step” is a perfect song that captures everything that the band does well with a hip-hop beat and harpsichords. “Diane Young” is definitely the liveliest track on the alum and works this album’s version of ‘Cousins.’ “Ya Hey” ponders over religion with help from some vocal effects and and synth skills courtesty of keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij. Most importantly, this is the kind of album this band needed to make if they wanted to remain at the forefront of the music landscape. And so now that they did make it, it seems safe to say we don’t have to wonder if they’ll be able to do it again.

Friday, December 14, 2012

My Favorite Albums of 2012

It's been a while, but I thought, "Hey kimosabe, now's as good a time as ever to shake the rust off and brush up on those writing chops." So that's what I did. After reading countless blogs each day, I decided to give my top 10 list a go...which wasn't easy. Lots of good music this year though, bro.

Extremly High Honorable Mention:

David Byrne and St. Vincent - Love This Giant
Dr. Dog - Be The Void
Titus Andronicus - Local Business
Hot Chip - In Our Heads
El-P - Cancer For Cure
The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten
The Walkmen - Heaven
Hospitality - Hospitality 
Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan

10. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory

Opening with a dark piano riff, it’s immediate that this isn’t the same Cloud Nothings that Dylan Baldi started just a few years ago. With thundering production from Steve Albini, Attack on Memory charges through eight songs of post-punk fury. Most often heard are echoes of Fugazi (“Wasted Days”) and the Descendents (“Stay Useless”), but Baldi is able to draw on his influences and make something completely his own. With a chorus consisting of “I thought there would be more than this,” he blistering “No Sentiment” reeks of youthful abandon that condemns the past and demands a better future. After releasing this as his band’s only second proper album, it seems that a better future is imminent.  


9. Swans – The Seer

I’ll be the first to admit that before I heard this album, I knew very little about Swans - despite them making music for 30 years.  As a new listener or as long time fan, The Seer is easy to get lost in and demands your attention for nearly two and a half hours. The chanting battle cry opener of “Lunacy” sets the stage for a dark voyage into the galloping and frantic panting of “Mother of the World,” eventually breaking to vocalist Michael Gira’s nasal scowl. Things get funky at times on “The Seer Returns,” demonic jazz on “93 Ave. B Blues,” and even Karen O shows up on “Song For A Warrior.” By the time you’ve come out on the other side, you’re completely convinced that this album comprises everything the band has been doing for three decades. 


8. The Shins – Port Of Morrow

Dating back to 2009, it didn’t look like the Shins were ever going to record again: frontman James Mercer fired half of his bandmates, and went off with producer Danger Mouse to do pseudo-space rock with Broken Bells.  Thankfully, once the new lineup released Port of Morrow earlier this year, the band was not only back in the game, but right on top of it. Lead single “Simple Song” is catchy enough, but the sunnier “No Way Down” might prove catchier, and the floating “September” wouldn’t sound out of place on their debut album.  The great “Fall of ‘82” bounces along nostalgically right beside some of the band’s best, and things wrap up out in the upper atmosphere along with Mercer’s falsetto on “Port of Morrow.” He and his new lineup remind us what we’ve been missing for the past five years. 


7. Bob Mould – Silver Age

For 52-year-old Bob Mould, much of 2012 was spent on preparing and discussing his upcoming tour celebrating his former band Sugar’s landmark album Copper Blue.  And rightfully so – it got the 20th anniversary deluxe reissue treatment a few months back as one of the seminal power-pop albums of the 1990s. Bob also had something else up his sleeve, however, when he released his return-to-form tenth solo album Silver Age. Joined by Jason Narducy on bass and Superchunk/’The Best Show’’s Jon Wurster on drums, the power trio picks up right where Sugar left off. The opening string of ‘Star Machine,’ ‘Silver Age,’ and ‘The Descent’ alone are enough to convince you that Mould is not only still relevant but not going anywhere anytime soon. Sit back and enjoy the ride…or start rocking-out in your living room (recommended). 


6. Grizzly Bear – Shields

This year marked what was supposed to be more exciting to all the hipster kids – the Brooklyn Class of 2009, comprised of Animal Collective, the Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear, each made their returns after their breakthroughs of that year. Three years have seen the indie landscape shift to be more electronically flavored it seems, but nevertheless Grizzly Bear has kept things moving forward. Their most focused record to date, Shields finds the bands looping guitars and downright jamming on “Sleeping Ute,” crooning through orchestrated chaos on “Yet Again.” Vocalists Ed Droste and Dan Rossen trade vocals on highlights “Gun Shy“ and closer “Sun In Your Eyes” sounding more cohesive then ever. Fads in music come and go, but this album makes it certain that Grizzly Bear won’t.

5. Tame Impala – Lonerism

Tame Impala’s second long, strange journey begins way off in the distance of your speakers with a freight train of drums charging closer to reveal a whispered refrain of ‘Gotta be above it.’ Once the laser beam guitars strum a chord a minute or so in, you find yourself in the middle of a 52-minute acid trip that you won’t want to end. “Will I ever get up/Does it even matter?” asks band mastermind Kevin Parker during the spacey, piano driven “Apocalypse Dreams,” which sums up the dream-like feel of the entire David Fridmann (Flaming Lips, MGMT) production, although Fridmann does a great job of not letting it go too far off the rails.  Amid all the swirling keyboards and phaser pedals is “Elephant,” an outlaw-style rocker that finds that band aims for the arenas of the past. Just as anyone who was as enthralled with their first album had hoped, Parker and his band mates are the real deal.

4. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

Much like the way The Seer works as a culmination of all of Swans’ work through their career, Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel… sounds like the album she’s been waiting to make her entire (now four album) career. Instead of going with staple producer Jon Brion’s and his wall-of-sound-like production, Apple and drummer Charley Drayton produced the record themselves. This stripped down sound allows Apple to stretch out vocally on “Every Single Night” and “Left Alone,” in which the latter finds her at her jittery, neurotic best. Percussion and piano dominate the sound of the record but manage the to play a different role in each song. Brash snares and the lower end of the piano help elevate Apple’s sandpaper scowl on the chorus of “Regret,” timpani dominates the semi-round of “Hot Knife,” and street style glass bottle skitters along with piano and bass on “Anything We Want,” which may be the closest thing to a love song Apple has ever written. The Idler Wheel… sits at the top of Apple’s work as a record that adapts all of the best elements of her songwriting throughout her sporadic yet influential career.


3. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

With a name like Celebration Rock, what better way to start off your album than with fireworks? Thanks to the infectious single “The House That Heaven Built,” the Vancouver duo became the biggest little band on the scene since the album’s May release. And rightfully so – the album is exactly what it says it is, with infectious hooks, pounding drums, buzzsaw guitars and plenty of ‘oh oh oh oh’ refrains. Vocalist Brian King’s lyrics are abundant with lost youth and bombast, and “waiting for a generation’s bonfire to begin” on “Adrenaline Nightshift.” This may also be the one instance where recycling a song has worked out well, since “Younger Us” still stands as one of the band’s best and was first released as a single in 2010. Japandroids are one of the most exciting bands on the indie music scene at the moment, being passed the torch from the likes of bands as recent as The Hold Steady and as far back as the Replacements. Here’s hoping the party never ends, bro. Grab me a beer.


2. John K Samson – Provincial

As part of Canadian punkers Propagandhi and later fronting the folk-rock Weakerthans, John K Samson knows a few things about songwriting. On his first proper solo record, Samson brings it all back home to focus on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in his native Winnipeg, Manitoba to tremendous results. Much like the Weakerthans, songs seamlessly blend folk and punk aesthetic while painting the picture of small town struggles: a failing business on “Grace General,” an affair between teachers on “The Last And,” and even a rally to induct Reggie ‘The Rifle” Leach into the Hockey Hall of Fame on “Petition.” Samson’s writing is poignant enough to the point where you think he is video gamer aspiring for greatness on “When I Write My Master’s Thesis” or the TB-stricken patient at the Manitoba Sanatorium in “Letter In Icelandic from Ninette San. ” His songs have a way of burrowing their way in and never sounding stale or trite, which is exactly what this record has proved to do since it’s release in mid-January. Samson may not get the attention or praise he deserves, and this album only reasserts that notion exponentially.


1. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

One of my personal favorite things about music is its ability to surprise. With the internet beyond saturated with music sites praising this and panning that, the artist or groups themselves end up becoming the main focus instead of the music itself. Such was the case with Odd Future, whose success skyrocketed after Tyler, The Creator and Hodgy Beats rode on Jimmy Fallon’s back on late night television. The blogosphere was abuzz about all things OF with the group only having a few mixtapes…awful mixtapes, might I add.
So enter Frank Ocean. Ocean, part of the OF collective, had released a mixtape in 2011 as well, the acclaimed ‘Nostalgia Ultra.’ Given that association, I paid little attention to it. Not until I saw his performance of “Bad Religion” on Jimmy Fallon (ironically enough) did I start to pay attention. After listening to the first few songs on channel ORANGE the first time it was more than apparent that Ocean is no Tyler, The Creator or anyone else in the Odd Future group. Channel ORANGE is truly a masterpiece.

As this album tops most year-end lists, and at the risk of sounding redundant, I will only offer one observation about this album and about Ocean himself: he is an excellent songwriter. Much like Samson above, Ocean tells stories in his songs and paints pictures of his world. He’s not the drunk guy on the roof in “Super Rich Kids,” nor is he the ‘in love with a stripper’ on “Pyramids.” He’s the yearning romantic on “Thinkin Bout You” and “Bad Religion” that knows how to make a great song.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Live Review: Alkaline Trio @ Paradise Rock Club, 8/11/11

Halfway through the set, when Matt Skiba changed his electric guitar for an acoustic, the singer-songwriter for the band Alkaline Trio proclaimed he was in love. "I met the most amazing woman!" he yells, and then dedicates "Clavicle" to said woman. It was one of the cutest things I've ever seen.

Err... let's try that again.

photo (6)

Through all my years of enjoying traditional pop-punk bands, it's almost startling to reveal that I have never seen Chicago's famed Alkaline Trio. Singer-guitarist Matt Skiba has had my attention since the Asian Man Records days and the track "Goodbye Forever," and it seemed that they just didn't come to the area much. For the third or fourth time this year, I reverted to a high-school freshmen part of myself that I didn't know still existed.

This was truly a show for the band's longtime fans, as the room screamed with delight to Skiba's strumming the chords of Godammit! opener "Cringe." Many songs played were from the early part of their career, when Skiba's lyrics which much more playful ("Mr. Chainsaw," "Nose Over Tail" and "Old English 800.") Bassist and singer Dan Adriano got to showoff his excellent songwriting skills with "In Vein" and (arguably my favorite Alk3 song0 "Blue Carolina." Skiba and Adriano perfectly play their often-dramatic songs with the same passion and theatrics put into them. With this year marking the band's 15 year anniversary, here's hope that the guys have it in them to put out another album.


Cringe/In Vein/Private Eye/Nose Over Tail/Goodbye Forever/I Lied My Face Off/Old School Reasons/Mr. Chainsaw/Maybe I'll Catch Fire/Blue Carolina/Mercy Me/San Francisco/This Could Be Love/If You Had A Bad Time/Clavicle/You've Got So Far To Go/Blue In The Face/Old English 800/Radio

Encore: My Friend Peter/Crawl/'97

photo (3)

photo (7)
photo (2)

Monday, July 18, 2011

New Zooey Deschanel, "So Long"

While it is indeed the height of summer and another breezy, built-for-cruising-in-a-convertible She & Him album would sound perfect right now, both M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel seem to have other things occupying their time at the moment. M. Ward is currently recording his latest solo album and heading out on tour, while Mrs. Gibbard is seemingly everywhere - from covering 1920's standards to Tuesday nights this fall on FOX. Z & M are still busy, however, as they recorded tracks for the upcoming (20th?) Winnie The Pooh movie - official credited to Zooey and featuring M. Ward on guitar. Stream, swoon and toe-tap below.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Craig Finn Goes Solo; The Hold Steady Gear Up For LP6

A few months ago, video surfaced of The Hold Steady's wordy frontman Craig Finn playing a tune called "One Single Saviour" and left the group's dedicated fan base scratching their heads. Rather than a one-off gig, Finn will indeed make a detour into solo LP land, as announced on his recently formed Tumblr. "I'm down in Austin making a record with Mike McCarthy. This one is a solo project," claims his artsy and photogenic 'Do What You Feel' blog.

This isn't the end of his band, however, as his solo news was prefaced with a simple, reassuring sentence: "The Hold Steady begin writing for record #6 in September." Hopefully, the record will be released in the summer like the last two records and sound a little more like the first three records. Either way, follow Finn on Tumblr and Twitter and take a stroll down memory lane with the video for a song from one of the best albums of all-time.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Girls LP2 Details

Fans of Girls (the band), rejoice! After some cryptic teases and tweets over the past few weeks, Christopher Owens and Chet White revealed via their mailing list that their sophomore follow-up to 2009's stellar Album will be titled Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Apparently the band is counting last year's also-excellent Broken Dreams Club EP as their second 'record,' according to the artwork. Look for it September 12th on Fantasytrashcan/Turnstile and check out the artwork and track list below. Stare at it long enough and maybe you'll see some twisted Magic Art or something.

1. Honey Bunny
2. Alex
3. Die
4. Saying I Love You
5. My Ma
6. Vomit
7. Just A Song
8. Magic
9. Forgiveness
10. Love Like A River
11. Jamie Marie

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wilco LP8 Details

It's almost as if this year's Solid Sound festival was an exclusive preview of things to come for Wilco, with the release of their new single "I Might" and the band showcasing several new songs over two evenings. For all of us who couldn't make the trek to North Adams, Massachusetts, Jeff Tweedy and co have given the rest of us the details on their forthcoming LP - the final title being The Whole Love. LP8 will be out on September 27 on their own label, dBpm Records. Check out the cover art, track listing, and the first single below.

1. “Art of Almost”
2. “I Might
3. “Sunloathe”
4. “Dawned On Me”
5. “Black Moon”
6. “Born Alone”
7. “Open Mind”
8. “Capitol City
9. “Standing O”
10. “Rising Red Lung “
11. “Whole Love”
12. “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”

...aaannnd the new single/track 2, "I Might"