Wednesday, December 24, 2008

# 5

The number five choice is the best punk album of the year, or at least the most popular, The Chemistry of Common Life by Toronto's Fucked Up. This six piece has three guitars, an exciting and confrontational lead singer, and one of the more hilarious, eventful, energizing live shows in the country, usually ended with lead singer Pink Eyes half naked and covered in his own blood. They take a lot of influence from Husker Du, Negative Approach, The Ramones, and occasionally bands like Pink Floyd. A lot has changed for the band, who moved from Jade Tree Records (Kid Dynamite, Lifetime, Breather Resist) to indie giant Matador Records (Interpol, Yo La Tengo, Pavement) to release this album. Apparently they all hate each other and never hang out, in an interview i've read the lead singer says "being friends just gets in the way of making good music." I guess that's one way to look at it...

I applaud Matador for taking a risk on this one. Fucked Up are not the most marketable of bands, with their name, their notoriously destructive behavior, their abrasive music...But then again, subversive counterculture is easily co-opted and commodified into the dominant, indie hipster sphere. The haters will accuse Fucked Up of selling out, but in reality, with no less than 15 guitar tracks per song, they've made one of the highest quality of punk albums of the decade. Driving, propulsive rhythms and constant guitar attack, with throat shredding vocals contemplating and attacking religion, christianity, and conformity, This record is more concise, shorter, and to the point than their last record Hidden World, though apparently this is due to greater attention to songcraft. Many of the songs on that record were over six minutes long, which is particularly long for a punk band. This seems to be a positive change for the band though, as lead singer Pink Eyes has said that album was about twenty minutes too long.

I've seen a lot of people comparing this to Refused's landmark hardcore masterpiece The Shape Of Punk To Come, and though the sound is different, the approach and idea behind it seem to be quite similar. Their impact is in how they rip a lot of preconceived notions of what punk music can sound like to pieces, the notion of which was previewed in their 18 minute, piano-centered single "Year Of The Pig." The songs on here just sound fucking huge, with not a single second of empty space.

Fucked Up seem to be the modern day torchbearers of all punk rock, having broken many barriers, turned a lot of heads, caused a lot of wounds and heavy bleeding, attracted celebrity fans (i've seen both Davey Havok of AFI and J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. at shows of their's), all the while maintaining a seemingly uncompromising integrity about their work. It's one of those rare albums that seems to redefine a genre, a new point on a map in which you can organize all punk albums into new before and after categories.

Here's a video I took of them at South By Southwest last march. I liked them so much that I saw them play twice in one night.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Overlooked Albums 2008

In this entry, I'll talk a little bit about albums I caught onto a little too late in the year., or albums that I underappreciated and am now finally coming around to. They may have made the top ten if I had heard them a little bit earlier, but that's the way it goes. Seriously give these a listen!!

Grouper-Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill

With a collection of songs that sound as though they're coming at you from beyond the grave, maybe a deep, underwater grave, Portland Oregon's Grouper, aka Liz Harris, has created one of the year's most gorgeous, reflective works of art, one that I will be listening to well into the winter and through the spring. Drenched in reverb, ethereal and ambient noise, memories, stories and regret, this is more comparable to the sound of waves crashing onto an empty beach the night of a full moon than it is to Tara Jane O'Neill, Mirah, or any of her Portland contemporaries. Perhaps if Darren Aronofsky had directed "Titanic," he would have gotten Grouper to do the soundtrack instead of Celine Dion. That only makes sense once you listen to this.

Lemuria-Get Better

I saw this band play three summers ago with Rachel Jacobs and Karmella's Game, and I did not find them particularly memorable at the time. Little did I know that Lemuria would make one of the best punk albums of 2008! Get Better takes pretty clear influence from Dear You era Jawbreaker, Superchunk, and some Husker Du. The leadoff track "Pants" ended up on my streaming playlist sometime during my friday while at my dayjob, doing data entry at the AFL-CIO downtown, and it put an instant smile on my face. I felt like I had heard the song before, even though I hadn't, and I soon discovered that's how the rest of this album is. Instantly recognizable, instantly relate-able, as if you've been listening to and loving this band for years. Maybe you could have dreamt it up out of some longing for that perfect summery pop punk record, cause you've been stuck on Through Being Cool and Jersey's Best Dancer's for years and you want something new. Whatever your reason, this is pretty undeniable and irresistable for the young at heart, great pop punk/emo/power pop out of Buffalo, NY. Not to be missed!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

# 6

This was an incredible year for Temporary Residence, the New York based indie label known for its extensive catalogue of seminal post rock releases, from bands such as Explosions In The Sky, Grails, Envy, and Eluvium, etc. The list goes on. Perhaps out of not wanting to be seen as the definitive record label for a genre that is fast growing stale and boring, TRLtd took big risks this year by putting out releases that could at once alienate their base of listeners and bring in a new group of fans altogether. They are not afraid to grow and change, in fact they know that they must in order to survive, and that was exemplified by their release of "Old Wounds", the newest album from Louisville-based Young Widows, which I have chosen for my #6 pick of the year.

Young Widows are another band often associated with their member's punk rock pedigrees. Guitarist Evan Patterson has spent the last decade and a half playing in some of the more influential bands in hardcore, including Black Cross (which he was in with brother Ryan Patterson, who is now the frontman of Coliseum), National Acrobat, and most recently Breather Resist, which bassist Nick Thieneman was also in. The band has experience and taste, and they're armed with a giant wall of custom made amps, telecasters, and buttoned up flannel shirts.

After listening to the first minute of the album, on the song "Took A Turn," there's no doubt this band is from the midwest, taking its cues from Chicago Touch & Go bands of yesteryear, such as Jesus Lizard, Scratch Acid, and the Melvins, yet transcending these influences to make a record that is unmistakabley their's. The hypnotic, heavy as shit, driving and sludgey bass pattern that lays the foundations behind Patterson's vocals for the first 45 seconds makes this song the perfect opener, and anyone who doesn't get a smile on their face when Patterson introduces Jeremy McMonigle's first beats on the toms by simply uttering "drums" needs to lighten up a little bit. Once the drums come in, they lock into the deepest, simplest, and most shitgrinning of grooves you have heard all year, and you feel a little different afterwards. They go through ten more tracks of what some have called "Indie Drone," whatever that means. At points, the album doesn't quite pay off or go quite where you want it to go, but the moments when it does make the rest of it completely worth it. My other complaint is that drummer Jeremy McMonigle(what a great fucking name, ps) sounds far less innovative, consistent, and takes fewer risks than their previous drummer Geoff Paton, whose skull-crushing, earth shattering grooves were 90% of what made their last album, Settle Down City as good as it was. But it's alright in the end, cause Patterson and Thieneman up the ante here and more than compensate, seeking instead to write solid, hypnotic, trance inducing indie grunge, such as the track "Swamped and Agitated," certainly one of the best songs of the year, sure to be on many mixtapes in the near future, and makes for the perfect closer.

To get more of a "live" sound, the band brought producer Kurt Ballou (Converge) on the road with them to record their live tracks, and through what must have been a painstaking mixing process, they put best live cuts of each part of each song onto the final product. At the end of some of the tracks, Ballou kept the crowd applause in the mix, which on each track sounds empty and underwhelming compared to the ear splitting dissonance that has just assaulted your ears. It sounds like maybe one or two people applauding politely, going along perfectly with the thematic content of the songs, with lyrics about alienation, emptiness, wanting to start your whole life over again, regret, fucking up, ie the lyrical content of most hardcore records of today and ever. While I still don't totally get the approach, I trust that somehow this process had a lot to do with the finished product being a great improvement on the sound they started honing on Settle Down City.

So anyway, swill back some PBR, put on your flanel, get out that old Kurt Cobain poster you've long since taken off your wall, roll a fat blunt if that's your thing, turn your speakers up as loud as they can go, put on this record, and prepare to be entranced. The packaging for this release is also impressive, with three different covers for the vinyl release, on many different colors. Temporary Residence should be really proud of this release, it will still be in my CD player well into the next year and beyond.

Enjoy the videos below!

"Old Skin," a fucking killer killer track with one of the best grooves of the year.

"Feelers" and "Swamped and Agitated"

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

# 7

For ny number 7 record of the year, I'm gonna have to choose The Meeting After The Meeting by Greensboro, North Carolina's Citified. This is a seven song EP that came out at the very beginning of the year, and had me coming back for more and more. I wrote a lengthy review of the album on this very blog, that you can find here. If I hadn't been living in Greensboro at the time, this album might have sounded like a boring indie rock album, but as I drove around the streets and avenues of Greensboro with this CD blaring through my speakers, it seemed to perfectly paint everything that was going on around me at the time, using bright colors, reflection, melancholy, and crucial fender twin reverb guitar tone as well.

The songs seem to perfectly describe tense, small-town, everybody knows everybody anxiety, where monotony can easily set in and the same faces occupy the same dive bars night after night. Greensboro is on few if any maps that measure hip-ness or thriving music scenes. It's an unassuming town that seems to lie off the nation's radar, which is exactly what makes this band and this EP work so damn well, and in addition seems to create an environment with many terrific local bands. There's something to be said for living in a town with an awesome band like this, when you know the street corners, dive bars, strip malls, water towers and highways that inspire them is the same physical geography that you experience, observe, and interact with day after day. Maybe their album was no particular commentary on Greensboro itself, but I believe a piece of art such as this cannot be removed from the environment in which it was created. It seemed as though, through sound and through their melancholy lyrics, they were describing everything about my life at the time. I couldn't help but feel a connection with this, Greensboro was too small of a town not to. It was the soundtrack to the thaw, a goodbye to winter and a hopeful, crossing-your-fingers welcome to springtime.

You can read more about the sounds of the album in the old review, but this is definitely not something to sleep on, even if you're not from Greensboro. The album proved to stick around and its relevance and impact have not faded away all year. I actually listened to this a lot when I was in California in August, walking around the streets of San Francisco and contemplating a home I had just left behind a few months earlier. The deeply reflective, wistful sounds, will strike you with instant nostalgia, for things and people you never thought you'd be nostalgic for. Once the drummer of this band was hitting on a friend of mine and I interrupted to tell him how much the record meant to me and how I had listened to it often on my travels throughout the American west this summer, and he seemed rather annoyed with me. That was pretty funny.

Anyway, enjoy the video below and check out their myspace to hear the songs "Read Like A Number," "KL Gala," "Weddings" and "Line The Streets," all amazing songs that make for great singles as well.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

a moment's not something you keep...

So i'm taking a break from listening to Ghostface Killah and doing data entry at my temp job to interrupt my year end countdown and write some thoughts down on the newest song from Greensboro's own Giant, or as I understand they are now called Oh Brave Young because some 80's band with the same name threatened to sue them. But I think I might be wrong about this, will someone please clarify this for me?

A few weeks ago, these fellas posted a new sixteen minute song they recorded to their myspace account. The song, called "The Days That Sat In Front Of Everything," can be heard here. From what I understand, this track is one of several new songs that are thematically arranged around the concept of growing older, and aging. As the title indicates, this song comes off as a sort of funeral dirge to youth, innocence, days where there wasn't much else to do but ride your skateboard around all day and break into pools at night, or whatever sort of punk rock activities one can find themselves engaged in. It comes with a great sense of perspective, of staring deeply into the past and searching for meaning, context, and inspiration to a life now lived in limbo, where one has to face adult challenges of every day life, ie jobs, money, school, and the ever constant threat to those involved in DIY punk of becoming jaded and giving up hope. I don't know if it's what these guys were thinking when they wrote this, but it's what comes to my mind when I listen to this.

People have criticized this song and other new ones like it for being too long and building up without ever culminating or reaching a climax, leaving you hanging and waiting for a moment that won't come. I was beginning to agree with a friend of mine who was relaying this thought to me when I suddenly realized, maybe that's the entire point of this song!

The track spends sixteen minutes floating through ethereal space, eventually locking into a groove of sorts about 12 minutes into it. With my pre-conceived expectations of what post-rock bands such as Envy, Explosions In The Sky, Mogwai, etc. all do, you're usually waiting for some kind of explosion that is supposed to melt your face off. With this song, you get that explosion, but it only seems to last about 30 seconds, and upon first listen I was left wanting and expecting more of a climax until suddenly, the song ends before it seems appropriate. You can't spend sixteen minutes building up to a point that only lasts 30 seconds, right! I kind of felt cheated. But then I realized that, Giant had ingeniously tricked me. It was this truncated ending that left me coming back for more, and more, and more, until I realized I had listened to the song about 10 times in a week, which is a lot for a sixteen minute track. The listener is left wondering what's next, what would have come afterward, why they stopped before it seems like they were finished...and then I thought, these thoughts are similar to the patterns that seem to have flooded my mind over the last two years as I contemplate becoming an adult, aging, getting older, facing real life decisions and real life consequences.

The song seems to build up to something that will never come, much like many people spend their lives waiting for some enlightenment that will also never come. The fact that I even expected there to be some grand culmination is perhaps a reflection of the typical western viewpoint that our means our irrelevant as long as we can achieve some satisfying form of ends, of results. After asking myself why I was continuously drawn back to listening to this song, I realized that, the appeal is in the journey this band takes to get to the end point. The goal is the process, just like it should be for a life well lived. And once they do get there for a brief, fleeting moment of crashing cymbals and crushing guitars, it;s over before you know it even hit you. Much life the more perfect moments in your life. Gone before you can even appreciate them, most of the time. These are all things that I've been thinking about as I get older, and having a song like this has given me a piece of art onto which I can transfer this energy and process these emotions. Isn't that exactly what great art is supposed to do?

I don't know of what their intentions were, but this song has done a lot for me in the last few weeks, and has come along at a pretty appropriate time in my life. They are really nice guys, and a fantastic band, whose dedication and professionalism not only to their art but to their hometown of Greensboro, is impressive and something to admire. I highly suggest you check these guys out if you haven't already!!

Monday, December 15, 2008

# 8 "Let's go on pretending, that the light is never ending"

I'm having a lot of fun with this countdown thing. I clearly miss my days of college radio. Anyway, having a blog is almost more interesting right now, at least I have no responsibility and I can do things at my own pace. Sike, I miss WQFS more than anything. Anyway...

My Number Eight record of the year is the second release from Baltimore's own Beach House, entitled "Devotion," which came out way back in February. Beach House are a male/female duo comprised of Alex Scally(guitar/keyboards) and Victoria Legrand(vocals/keyboards). Apparently Victoria's uncle is some famous french guy. I had recently lost interest in this release even though I had been listening to it pretty regularly for most of the year. I put it on again the other day, and to my surprise the therapeutic and calming feelings of warmth and nostalgia that made me melt into the floor when I first heard it back in February came right back to me. It came out at a time when I was just beginning to get over major depression. Last winter was not so good for me, and if I am kidding myself I'd say this period of depression lasted only a couple months, but those who know me best would remind me it was more like the majority of 2007, and into the first couple months of 2008. When February came around and I was beginning to put things in greater perspective and started feeling better about my life and the choices I had made, this album came along and helped me out a lot. It was right at that period that comes at the end of winter when it's not necessarily getting warmer, but it's getting less cold, and that was more than enough for me. It was a reminder that things could soon be good again. That change comes, and that a period of brightness can only follow a lengthy period of darkness like the one I was coming out of.

The sea of wistful, lazy, reverberating nostalgia you find yourself floating through upon first listen is comfortable and familiar, like you've heard this album before, or maybe this is just the album you've been waiting for. Perhaps if Nico was the frontlady for Grizzly Bear, or Cat Power got Danger Mouse to produce her next album, it might sound a little like Beach House.

Victoria's vocals are haunting and beautiful, particularly on standout tracks like "Turtle Island," a song that seems to promise you that times of fleeting, simple, calm, and hopeful youth are not all over like the winter so assured you they were, her vocals make this song absolutely marvelous. "Gila" and "You Came To Me" are two of the best songs of the year hands down. Their cover of Daniel Johnston's "Some Things Last A Long Time" is chilling to the bone, and what's best is they make it their own rather than giving us an exact replica of Johnston's well known tune. The slow and bluesy "Heart Of Chambers" is oddly sexy, and Victoria's vocals over Alex's arpeggiated guitar scales make her sound years and years older, wiser, and more mature. Her voice sounds worn and tattered, yet vibrant and beautiful, like that of a veteran singer even though this is only Beach House's second album. The great sustain and production values on her vocals sound like they're coming at you from the opposite end of a long, wide, wooden hallway in a 16th century celtic house while she sings at you from 100 feet away. Basically her voice is like the vocal version of John Bonham's drums. Not really.

This is a soothing record for the spring time that you might want to put on on a bright sunday morning, or perhaps when you're stoned in your bedroom or driving around on a late early summer night. Definitely deserving of its place in any top ten, I am glad that they call Maryland home. I've never gotten to see them play live and this must change ASAP!! Enjoy the videos below, two music videos to aforementioned songs. Definitely check this album out if you haven't already, I don't think you'll be dissapointed.


"You Came To Me"

Sunday, December 14, 2008

# 9

For my Number Nine record of the year, I am going to choose "Microcastle" by Georgia's hypest of the hype bands Deerhunter. I sort of wrote Deerhunter off last year due to their constant presence in the Pitchforkmedia news section, as well as their frontman Bradford Cox's reputation as a particularly insane and unstable person, going on tantrums and scary rants at shows, telling everyone how much he misses his family as well as how fucked up on pills he is. Then, after a long day of drinking at CMJ 2007, I saw them play a show with No Age, Dan Deacon, and Ponytail, and I was thoroughly impressed by them.

The songs on Microcastle are more concise, shorter, and more structured than their 2007 debut Cryptograms, which got heavy comparisons to My Bloody Valentine and every other shoegaze band. After seeing them at CMJ, I realized Deerhunter is a hype band that, underneath the thick layers of hype and bullshit that tend to cloud them, lies a band with an ear for tasteful composition, almost taking Neil Young's "less is more" approach and ironically applying it to Shoegaze, a genre where supposedly, the more pedals and noise you have, the better. Just when every band in the genre is trying to one up each other, Deerhunter take the road that is now less traveled and make a simpler record than their last one.

The songs here have more "hooks" and are far more memorable and individually satisfying. This does, however, mean that there are more throwaway tracks, making an all-the-way-through listen a little harder than it may have been with Cryptograms. Perhaps this is Deerhunter for your iPod. This might be as close as Deerhunter could come to writing a "hit" record.

and the lyrics, my god the lyrics, they're quite depressing. If you ever feel like you've nearly reached the bottom of a bottomless pit, just listen to this shit and be thankful that you're not Bradford Cox, whose lyrics are more narcissistic than they are empathetic. But like many great artists, perhaps his self destructive ego is required in order to produce the startling honesty evident in his lyrics. Lines such as "I had a dream/No longer to be free/I want only to see/Four walls made of concrete" paint a pretty grim portrait, on top of "It's winter/In my heart/It never stops."

As far as other influences go, they remind me a little of Spiritualized and Spacemen Three. Really beautiful melodies with a dark, isolated, agoraphobic sense of paranoia to boot, this is a definite inside, winter, sun going down at 4:30 pm kind of record. Which sounds perfect for right about now considering the upcoming winter solstice. So enjoy this album for the appropriate soundtrack it paints to the dreary winter, just remember the days are about to start getting longer and longer and it won't be long before you'll be listening to Born To Run with all the windows rolled down.

weird music video for "Agoraphobia"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

year end wrap up! Part One!

So with this entry, I begin my countdown of the ten best releases of the year. I will do them one record at a time, the first one being number 10, which is "Rialto" by the Northern Virginia ex-member supergroup Verse En Coma.

Upon first listen I was blown away by this release, and believed it lived up to the pedigree of the members oft-mentioned former and current bands: Pg. 99, Darkest Hour, City Of Caterpillar, and Haram. The release particularly calls to mind the work of Malady, and from what I understand a lot of this music came from writing sessions that were intended to be new Malady songs, before they broke up in 2006. Featuring just the melodic, soaring and unconventional guitar-work that you would expect from guitarist Jeff Kane(City Of Caterpillar), laid on top of Ryan Parrish(Darkest Hour)'s relentless and pummeling percussive attack. It's good to hear him doing something else besides galloping 4/4 double bass metal shit.

One thing that makes this releases particularly memorable. the CHORUSES man, the fucking choruses. Each chorus on this album is epic as hell, with everything coming together with enough power and climactic energy to tear a new hole in the universe. Not really, but shit is enough to really catch your attention and move you. I hear a lot of influences from bands outside of the hardcore/punk genre, as the NoVa hardcore scene is known for doing. Seems that with each release that the ex-pg.99 crew puts out, they get further and further away from the Born Against/Sonic Youth thing, but I appreciate this dedication to keep pushing in new directions. Can these folks put out a bad record?

The one frustrating thing is that the lyrics are sometimes questionable and don't seem to always fit. They're written in a pretty straight forward, storytelling style, which works at points and then doesn't work at others. "DCC Cassette" is a sad tale of a friend's death, the same friend who got the vocalist into punk rock by making a tape for his brother that he then stole and changed his life from listening to it over and over again. I've always felt an essential feature of punk rock is a sense of immortality, or quite the opposite, a reckless sense of accepting mortality, as Modern Life Is War said once "death is more perfect than life, that's why we already died." So anyway, these lyrics aim well but miss the mark kind of. "the tape was for her/but i stole it away/the sticker you put on is rubbing off/but THE TAPE STILL PLAYS!!!" uhh, good idea, bad execution, bro.

I also have no idea if this band has played any live shows, or is even still a band. They have never announced any shows nor any intention to play any. It may be just a recording project, which is dissapointing, cause I know these songs could be really powerful if performed live.

Anyway, definitely give this record a shot. It was released on 10" with a digital copy inside by Robotic Empire. You can also get it on iTunes. Their myspace is, if you would like to listen to mp3's.

so that's Number Ten, y'all!! Check back soon for Number Nine!!