Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Well, here I am at the end of my first year doing this blog. I would love to be able to say something very profound at this point, but frankly, I'm just surprised I managed to keep it up for the entire year in a semi-regular fashion. Looking back at it now, I now realize why so many blogs litter the cyberspace as abandoned detritus - it can be pretty difficult to find something worth writing about on a regular basis. The bloggers who write daily or nearly daily are people to be admired. My sole aim when beginning this blog was to write about music I was passionate about and to write passionately about music. I may not have always achieved that goal, but I definitely tried. And for the most part (aside from a couple of rants and reviews of disappointments from artists I used to love), I've attempted to stick to the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" formula.
This blog has been an oddly apt support system during a fair bit of stress and strain this year; when I was a bit lonely and living in a different city for grad school, it became something to occupy my time and reach out beyond my small bedroom; when I was fretting and puzzling over my MA thesis over the summer, it became a way to refine my research and thoughts; and now while I'm desperately trying to find some sort of gainful employment, this blog is keeping me motivated, keeping me sane during the daily search through job ads. Through all this, I've truly met some extraordinary people, bands and fans, and they have made me feel less alone in my thoughts and tastes. They have also sometimes challenged me and made me think, which is just as great. I would like to thank all those artists and music lovers who have contacted me whether by email or by leaving comments behind, and I would especially like to thank a few regular commenters whom I now also consider my friends: Urban Gypsy, Rol, and of course JC, who has been a generous cheerleader from the day I got some hard-to-find Orange Juice off him. Your support has kept me at this when I've felt that I had no more words about music.
As my final gift to all of you for 2008, I'm leaving you with a New Year's Eve mix - play it at a party, big or small, and dance around like a maniac. It's called Party Like It's A Prince Reference, and it comes in as the longest mix I've done this year, featuring many hits of 2008 along with some very danceable songs of yesteryear. To top it off, I've included a not-so-dancey bonus track from El Perro Del Mar, which you can play when the clock strikes midnight before heading back into the mix. In some ways, perhaps, this exercise fulfills some preposterous DJ fantasy I have, and that's another thing that this blog has allowed me to do: fulfill some of my dreams for an audience that is larger than I would have ever expected back in January 2008.
Thank you, and good night.
Hallelujah (Club Mix) - Happy Mondays
One More Time to Pretend (Daft Punk vs MGMT) - Immuzikation
Wow - Kylie Minogue
Heart of Glass - Blondie
Blind - Hercules & Love Affair
Standing in the Way Of Control (Soulwax Remix) - The Gossip
Mercury (CSS Remix) - Bloc Party
Spit It Out (Alex Kowalski Remix) - IAMX
D.A.N.C.E. (MSTRKRFT Remix) - Justice
I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You (The Twelves Remix) - The Black Kids
Relax (New York Mix) - Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Ready For the Floor (LA Riots Remix) - Hot Chip
Lights & Music - Cut Copy
Money - Salon Boris
Love is My Drug (Remix) - Protocol
Radio Wolf - Kindle
Alsatian - White Rose Movement
Synthetiseur - Housse de Racket
The Sex Has Made Me Stupid (Stupid Sex Midfield General Mix) - Robots in Disguise
Kill Ya Stereo - Astra Moveo
Black Milk - Zeigeist
Kids (Pet Shop Boy Remix) - MGMT
Temptation - New Order
Kelly (Lifelike Remix) - Van She
Walking on a Dream (Treasure Fingers Remix) - Empire of the Sun
Paris is Burning (Cut Copy Remix) - Ladyhawke
Danger! (Mr. Pedro Remix) - The Sound of Arrows
Rebel Rebel (Soulwax Club Edit) - David Bowie
Personal Jesus (Boys Noize Remix) - Depeche Mode
You and My Pearldiver - TNT Jackson featuring Chris Corner
Supermassive Black Hole - Muse
Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
Paris (Justus Köhncke Remix) - Friendly Fires
Girls on Film (Night Version) - Duran Duran
This Boy's in Love - The Presets
Hearts On Fire (Hoshina Anniversary Remix) - Cut Copy
I Get Around - Dragonette
Bounce - MSTRKRFT featuring N.O.R.E.
Higher State of Consciousness - South Central
Crimewave - Crystal Castles
Love Song (Philadelphia Bluntz Remix) - Simple Minds
Love Shack (12" Remix) - B-52's
Repetition Kills You - The Black Ghosts
Debbie Does Montreal (Blondie vs Of Montreal) - team9 vs Stereogum
Apollo-Gize (Fred Falke Edit) - Digitalism
Spin Spin Sugar (Armand's Dark Garage Mix) - Sneaker Pimps
Runaway - Ladytron
Dead Sound (80KIDZ Remix) - The Raveonettes
Paper Planes (DFA Remix) - M.I.A.
Embrace (Fred Falke Miami Horror Remix) - PNAU featuring Ladyhawke
Auld Lang Syne - El Perro Del Mar
Party Like It's a Prince Reference (Megaupload)
Friday, December 26, 2008
October's albums was jam-packed with records from Empire of the Sun, Department of Eagles, The Sea and Cake, Eugene McGuinness, Of Montreal, Kaiser Chiefs, Keane, Euros Childs, Bloc Party (the physical version), Los Campesinos!, and AC/DC with their long-awaited return. There were also a couple of disappointments from The Cure and Cold War Kids. Snow Patrol demonstrated that they couldn't compete with Chasing Cars while Oasis produced another unneccessary album. And there were several antlered mammals afoot with releases from Deerhoof, Deerhunter, and The Dears. Again, there were several released in October that you've already seen in this series, namely, from Simon Bookish, Maps of Norway, Polarkreis 18, and Twig.
November saw records from We Are Standard, Glass Candy, Razorlight, Threatmantics, Max Tundra, Thieves Like Us, Kanye West, and The Killers. Of course November was also the momentous occasion of Guns 'n Roses' Chinese Democracy. I apologize, but as the year wound down, I didn't note any albums released in December except for an inexplicably successful comeback from Britney Spears.
To recap, the countdown thus far is:
40. The Penguin League - Antarctica Takes All!
39. This Gift - Sons & Daughters
38. Apocalypso - The Presets
37. Sea From Shore - School of Language
36. The Colour of Snow - Polarkreis 18
35. L'anthologie des 3 perchoirs - Duchess Says
34. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today - David Byrne and Brian Eno
33. For Emma Forever - Bon Iver
32. Seventh Tree - Goldfrapp
31. Die Off Songbird - Maps of Norway
30. Hercules & Love Affair - Hercules & Love Affair
29. The Devil, You + Me - The Notwist
28. The Jade Motel - Zeigeist
27. The Stand-Ins - Okkervil River
26. Evolutionary Sunset Call - stanleylucasrevolution
25. Oracular Spectacular - MGMT
24. Life After Ridge - Twig
23. V - Van She
22. Cut the World - Moscow Olympics
21. O My Heart - Mother Mother
20. Hold On Now Youngster - Los Campesinos!
19. Dear Science - TV on the Radio
18. Saturdays = Youth - M83
17. Aurora - The Deer Tracks
16. We Just Are - The Japanese Popstars
15. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
14. Do You Like Rock Music? - British Sea Power
13. Limbo, Panto - Wild Beasts
12. Surreal Auteur - Allegories
11. Everything/Everything - Simon Bookish
10. Ladyhawke - Ladyhawke
9. Velocifero - Ladytron
8. Lust Lust Lust - The Raveonettes
The Danish duo are on fire this year with both this brilliant album released at the start of the year and then four outstanding EPs spread throughout the rest of 2008. Kicking off with the distorted, brain-shredding wall of sound and dirge-like guitars in Aly, Walk With Me, Lust Lust Lust is a triumph from beginning to end, and after so many successful releases, it is even more of a victory. The reverb effects applied to their dissonant, clanging guitars produce some haunting, slightly Western film-tinged soundscapes; songs like Aly, Walk With Me, Lust, and Expelled From Love give you the feeling of trekking through a wind-sculpted desert of volcanic ash during a peach-hued sunset. These darker songs share space with peppier, sweeter songs like Dead Sound, Blush, You Want the Candy and Blitzed. This record achieves a perfect balance between JAMC/Sonic Youth fuzzy noise and chirpy melody. Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo have every right to sound aloof and cooler-than-thou - they are the kids with black lollipops in their mouths at the prom.
Aly, Walk With Me - The Raveonettes
Dead Sound - The Raveonettes
7. A Certain Feeling - Bodies of Water
This Californian band was so impressive live when I saw them early this year in Toronto that I bought their debut album, Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink, on the spot. Then they released their sophomore album this summer and I continued to be enthralled with their rich harmonies and inventive song structures. The epic album opener Gold, Tan, Peach, and Grey still plays my vertebrae like a xylophone, and the choral gusto of Under the Pines that strips the breath from my lungs. Throughout the album, there's a fragility juxtaposed to a straining intensity and a keening mourning abutting an unbridled celebration. Styles are hard to pin down in this record as they swirl and eddy around your knees, threatening to drag you under and stir you into the sand. It's a baptism worth experiencing.
Gold, Tan, Peach, and Grey - Bodies of Water
Water Here - Bodies of Water
6. The Midnight Organ Flight - Frightened Rabbit
This sophomore effort from Scottish band Frightened Rabbit is a continuation of their brand of painful, almost self-flagellating, honesty over shambolic folk and taut, whip-snap percussion. Singer, Scott Hutchison, sings in a ragged, broken wail that can sometimes remind me of Conor Oberst and sometimes of Gary Lightbody back when he was in Polar Bear not Snow Patrol. They may have grown more accessible, but they are no less stingingly accusatory or violently truthful. Like the modern leper in the album opener, the band sounds like it's going down kicking and screaming against a senseless world full of heartbreak and internal conflict. But like a slight brightening at the edge of the horizon during a thunderstorm, The Midnight Organ Flight tempers the gloom and harsh proclamations of the human condition with a sliver of salvation in the gloaming.
The Modern Leper - Frightened Rabbit
Keep Yourself Warm - Frightened Rabbit
5. In Ghost Colours - Cut Copy
And so the last of the Modular artists on this countdown makes their appearance. When I first heard So Haunted, the first song released prior to the album, I wasn't convinced that Cut Copy was heading in a direction I could follow them into. I had been so immersed in their first album, Bright Like Neon Love, and its cooler, airy genre of electro, that it took awhile for me to adjust to the higher energy, brighter style. Now I've come to the conclusion that In Ghost Colours is actually an unexpected, but massive leap forward in the Cut Copy sound. I would even go so far as to elevate them to the same innate feel for melodic dance music as that of New Order in the 80s. There's a shimmer and twinkle to the album that ranges from the twee sprays of baby's breath of Feel the Love, Unforgettable Season, and Midnight Runner to the pumping, technicolour electro-disco of Out There On the Ice, Lights & Music, Hearts on Fire, Far Away, and Nobody Lost, Nobody Found. At least two thirds of the album have been or should have been hit singles, and I never tire of listening to it. It's like listening to a rainbow so dazzling that you hope you never find the pot of gold.
Feel the Love - Cut Copy
Far Away - Cut Copy
4. Intimacy - Bloc Party
While all their Brit Invasion of 2004 contemporaries have either produced disappointing second and third albums or faded away all together, Bloc Party has forged onwards with a respectable second album, and this year, a genius third. Their Gang of Fouresque minimalist post-punk has exploded into a razor-sharp hybrid of stark, crisp guitars and electronic acrobatics with interludes of vulnerable candor. The album begins with the brain-searing volley of Ares, Mercury, and Halo as the band wields their guitars like machine guns before dipping into the delicate melancholy of Biko, Signs and Zepherus. The bonus tracks, Letter to My Son and Your Visits Are Getting Shorter, included on the physical copy of the album that released well after the digital copy are equally gorgeous; in the latter track, the overlapping samples of Kele Okereke's voice emulate a scattered and conflicted stream of consciousness perfectly. And of course, Okereke's lyrics over the whole album are as beautifully poetic and insightful as always, creating deft allegories and intelligent commentary on human behaviour and relationships; the words are sung with such urgent passion that you can feel the desperate searching of another's eyes, the aching need of the mouths depicted in the album's cover art, and the turmoil over recoiling from closeness with another.
Mercury - Bloc Party
Biko - Bloc Party
3. Skeletal Lamping - Of Montreal
It would have been difficult to top Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer?, but Kevin Barnes manages at the very least to equal it in boundless imagination and myriad stylistic turns. If anything, Skeletal Lamping is labyrinthine in its construction as it blazes through glam, funk, psychedelia, twee rock, and electro, often all in one track. This unpredictable mixture was deliberate as Barnes created the most experimental and ambitious album of his career and attempted to flit through musical and lyrical ideas which seem to last about thirty seconds each. The genius comes in the composition because despite the seemingly capricious insanity, the album hangs together as a coherent, intricate whole without disintegrating into self-indulgent proggy wanking. You also get the feeling that Barnes isn't taking himself so seriously and is there to entertain, a flair that extends to his famously flamboyant live shows and his alter ego, the black she-male, Georgie Fruit. Barnes has the ability to innovate and the panache of the legends he channels on this record, including David Bowie and Prince, but he takes these attributes and stretches them into the farthest reaches of his psyche and libido, daring to tread beyond his heroes.
Nonpareil of Favor - Of Montreal
Beware Our Nubile Miscreants - Of Montreal
2. American Demo - The Indelicates
This highly literate, arch English duo have gotten nowhere near the amount of attention they should have from music fans and critics. This debut album made me believe in brilliantly witty lyrics again, and what's more, the music lives up to the words with its melodic sensibilities and propensity for gushingly expansive anthems. I like artists who make me think about things from a different angle, and The Indelicates do that more than the majority of new bands I've come across in the past few years. Their lyrics are definitely on par with anything Morrissey or Luke Haines created, and they make American Demo a piece of zeitgeist literature, a document of a mass media fatigue and disgust at a bloated, meaningless popular culture. They lambaste everything within reach, including feminism, sacred cow idols like Jeff Buckley, the rotting music industry, and youth itself. Perhaps the most surprising and startling track is Unity Mitford, an extraordinary song from the point of view of Mitford and her sympathetic love for Hitler - the concept and the lines "the indescribable beauty/Of a million hands raised to salute you/Like poppies lean when winds caress them/Cut flowers pressed to solemn duty" are enough to forgive the Gallagheresque guitar solo. Unity Mitford is a far cry from the trendy use of communism and fascism mocked in the song Sixteen while stand-out track New Art For the People, which acts as the theme for the album, is a bittersweet epic of a pathetic couple with all the romance of tragedy drained from them. These anthems make you believe in ideas like you did when you were young - they're like an adrenaline shot in the heart. I get chills every time I listen to the song Heroin and its rushing merge into We Are the Kids, the culmination of a generation frustrated by promises of inspiration in art, but which rather ironically provides the inspiration it violently mourns.
Unity Mitford - The Indelicates
We Hate the Kids - The Indelicates
1. Vanilla Swingers - Vanilla Swingers
Many months ago I stated that this album was my frontrunner for album of the year, and lo and behold, Vanilla Swingers managed to fight off all the other bands snapping at their heels. This self-titled debut is a concept album about two people who fall in love in the present, run away to the past (specifically, the 1980s), lose each other on their return to the present and then meet again in the future. It's a fluid work of art that takes John Gray's philosophical book Straw Dogs, which denies the progress myth of the human race, and weaves it into a narrative that defies progress by its convoluted, non-linear use of time. The London duo, comprised of Miles Jackson and Anne Gilpin, spin their tale over a backdrop of bittersweet, hushed melodies, which showcase the interplay between their diaphanous vocals and the intelligent beauty of their lyrics. This album makes me think about the innate human capacity to tell stories and to create myths in order to understand the world and humans themselves. Without our stories we are nothing. And these myths include one of the most perpetuated ones alongside progress: romantic love.
Vanilla Swingers deconstructs and plays with this myth as history erodes it from all sides and dimensions. At the same time, this album makes me understand why we cling to the myth of romantic love: romantic love provides us with an escape from reality, but in its bittersweet tragedies, it also gives us just as much pleasure from pain and heartbreak. Songs like I'll Stay Next to You and Back to the Present are romantic precisely because they present the transience of love and speak to our fetishization of the fleeting. The music complements the theme elegantly as it flows like quicksilver in an hourglass and period details of the 80s creep in with bubbles of electro and washes of Pet Shop Boys synths. In the world of this album, there is no golden past, there is no improved future, and there is no true escape from the present. But human salvation and self-preservation comes in the form of storytelling. In the track Goodbye Lennon, which is set to the sound of a heartbeat and a ticking clock, a graceful fusion of different measures of time, the following lyrics appear: "I didn't find myself back there/But I lost myself in you/And it felt so.../It doesn't have to end this way/Cos you can always start again/It's just a possible world." And that is how Vanilla Swingers transcends the rest of the albums this year; Vanilla Swingers have shown how humans can make an ellipsis pregnant with meaning and how our survival is bound up in the creation of possible worlds.
I'll Stay Next To You - Vanilla Swingers
The Hive - Vanilla Swingers
The honourable mention for this final installment is Brett Anderson's Wilderness, a rather welcome surprise after what he has produced post-Suede. While I didn't find too much exciting about his debut solo album and his not-so-impressive reunion with Bernard Butler as The Tears, Wilderness is an acoustic guitar-led, intimate album that made me believe that there is some talent left in Anderson after all. There is an almost dark medieval tone to the record as Anderson sheds his former self-assured preening for an unguarded glimpse of his exquisite fraility.
Funeral Mantra - Brett Anderson
And so ends the countdown and a crazy year of New Kids on the Block reunions (an event that I was convinced was a practical joke for months) and of RIAA reassessments; of Chinese Democracy and of threats to Blogger MP3 blog democracy; of Russell Brand's fall from grace and of Noel Gallagher's tumble into the monitors at the Toronto Virgin Festival. Thank you for coming along for the ride down my rather bumpy lane of musical memories. This weekend brings the final part of my weekly mix round-up, and as an extra special gift for the end of 2008, there will be a New Year's Eve mix waiting for you on Tuesday.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
So, I was watching the news a few nights ago and this year it seems the Canadian news has bothered to report on the UK Christmas number one. Apparently, it's newsworthy this time because three versions of Hallelujah are competing for the top spot: the original by Leonard Cohen, the cover by Jeff Buckley and the cover by Alexandra Burke, some woman from X-Factor. The saddest part of the story was the fact that the X-Factor version was winning. To be clear, I don't ever really care what the Christmas number one is, especially when that type of thing is usually dominated by transitive pop acts and/or Cliff Richards, but this time I feel the vitriol rising in me. Maybe it's a combination of how much I see Christmas as a hypocritical commercial sham, how much I despise music "talent" shows, and how much I loathe the popular music industry right now.
I've never seen X-Factor despite having lived a total of at least a year in the UK over the past eight years of various trips, but I gather that it's like Pop Idol and all its nefarious, ubiquitous versions. To attempt a fair assessment, I did bother to listen to the X-Factor version. It boggled my mind how a song that can nearly bring me to tears when done by Jeff Buckley could make me feel so utterly devoid of feeling when sung by Alexandra Burke. I had always thought that Cohen's song was so incredible for the very fact that its composition, lyrical and musical, made it a song that will always swell and break your heart. I thought that minor fall and the major lift was guaranteed to tap into your soul. I was wrong. Though I've never been hugely fond of Cohen singing the song himself, especially when compared to Buckley, Burke manages to miss the point of the song entirely. The fragility is gone. In it's place is an overdone mess filled with so many unneccessary runs that it's like a cheap, shredded nylon stocking. And the choir backing her just compounds the ham-fisted approach of plastic spirituality.
This musical sacrilige shouldn't bother me as much as it does when these are the same people who bought enough singles to force that Band Aid song into the number one spot three times. Real music fans don't care about Christmas number ones, nor about participating them, so it shouldn't matter. The Black Arts' wonderful mockery of the whole stupidity of the Christmas number one, which I included in my Christmas mix, was rather predictably beaten by a long shot by another X-Factor winner last year. Perhaps equally depressing was the fact that the Christmas classic from The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl was also beaten by X-Factor. And Burke's win this year means singles from the X-Factor have been Christmas number ones for four consecutive times. That's abhorrent. It's also evidence that the general public isn't composed of music fans, which I also shouldn't find surprising.
In the same news report about the Christmas number one, there was story about how music sold this year - apparently, in times of economic crisis, people stick with what they know, thus putting Coldplay, AC/DC and Metallica into the top album slots for this year. I don't think this kind of consumer behaviour is restricted to economic recession - it's what most people do on a regular basis in every facet of their life. People like to be comfortable; they don't want to think too much or be inconvenienced for the sake of truth or multiple versions of truth. It makes me grieve a little for those who never take a chance on something new or who always desire the utterly artless and artificial, which they deem "reality." These are the people driving the world, let alone the music industry. It only proves that the music industry as it stands is a rotting corpse for a necrophiliac public, and that music that actually is innovative art needs to find new channels and keep going if only to keep real music fans from losing their minds.
It's now official that Burke's version of Hallelujah trumped Buckley's, whose version came in second. I suppose in the end it's fitting that the musical equivalent of tinsel or a blow-up Santa on the roof won such a silly contest for a holiday that has seemingly lost all its beauty and meaning. But so as not to leave everyone on such a sour note for this Christmas, I will give you a couple of gifts that actually speak to the beauty that humans are capable of creating, a beauty that is simpler and more wonderful than the manufacturing blitz of the holiday season. Enjoy Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah and IAMX's spine-tingling French rendition of Silent Night. No matter what you believe or don't believe for the holiday season, these songs will at the very least remind you that real music conveys something beyond comfort and joy.
Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley
Douce Nuit - IAMX
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Year-End Round-Up Part 2
Monday - No and the Maybes
Monday Morning - Pulp
Weekly Mix #16 – For Audrey Download
1. Daughter Like Mother – Nathan Larson
2. 23 – Blonde Redhead
3. Song to the Siren – This Mortal Coil
4. Lush (What Becomes You) – Soundpool
5. Apres l’orage – Peppermoon
6. Skating – Melys
7. Mother Stands For Comfort – Kate Bush
8. Frou Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires – Cocteau Twins
9. Chinaberry Tree – Mew
10. Surfing on a Rocket – Air
11. Over Over – Dejesus
12. Are Mothers Saints – Manic Street Preachers
13. Sun Dew – Fern Knight
14. Heaven is Inside You – I Monster
15. Scattered Blacks and Whites – Elbow
16. Hoppipolla – Sigur Ros
17. Yoga Means Union – Ambulance Ltd
18. Mansfield and Cyclops – Espers
Weekly Mix #17 – More Tracks Than a Heroin Addict Download
1. Vegas – Calvin Harris
2. Idiot Drugs – White Rose Movement
3. Special K – Placebo
4. Junkie Slip – The Clash
5. Drug Drug Druggy – Manic Street Preachers
6. I Wanna Be Sedated – The Ramones
7. Caught By the Fuzz – Supergrass
8. There She Goes – The La’s
9. Heroin – The Indelicates
10. Golden Brown – The Stranglers
11. Mother’s Little Helper – The Rolling Stones
12. I’m Waiting For the Man – The Velvet Underground
13. Ashes to Ashes – David Bowie
14. Sorted for E’s and Wizz – Pulp
15. Horse Pills – The Dandy Warhols
16. Kisses Like Heroin – Cupcake
17. Days Without Paracetamol – Snow Patrol
18. Heroine – Suede
19. Never Let Me Down Again – Depeche Mode
20. Sugar Pill – Ambulance Ltd
Weekly Mix #18 – It’s Never Over Yet Download
1. Dancing With Myself – Nouvelle Vague (Original: Billy Idol)
2. I Don’t Wanna Grow Up – Cold War Kids (Original: Tom Waits)
3. Like a Virgin – Ryan Adams (Original: Madonna)
4. You Will – Snow Patrol (Original: Bright Eyes)
5. It’s Not Over Yet – Goldfrapp (Original: Grace)
6. I Wanna Be Your Dog – Emilie Simon (Original: Iggy and the Stooges)
7. Gimme Shelter – Patti Smith (Original: The Rolling Stones)
8. Here Comes the Sun – Nina Simone (Original: The Beatles)
9. Dear Prudence – Siouxsie and the Banshees (Original: The Beatles)
10. Sunday Morning – James (Original: The Velvet Underground)
11. I Just Came to Tell You I’m Going – Jarvis Cocker and Kid Loco (Original: Serge Gainsbourg) 12. The Headmaster Ritual – Radiohead (Original: The Smiths)
13. Ceremony – Galaxie 500 (Original: New Order)
14. All My Friends – John Cale (Original: LCD Soundsystem)
15. Only Love Can Break Your Heart – Saint Etienne (Original: Neil Young)
16. Frontwards – Los Campesinos! (Original: Pavement)
17. Get It On (Bang a Gong) – The Power Station (Original: T.Rex)
18. Let’s Get Physical – The Black Ghosts (Original: Olivia Newton-John)
19. Always on My Mind – Pet Shop Boys (Original: Elvis Presley)
20. Sunglasses at Night – Tiga (Original: Corey Hart)
Weekly Mix #19 – Summer of ‘08 Download
1. Another Sunny Day – Belle & Sebastian
2. Summershine – Strawberry Whiplash
3. Summer Swirl – Bouquet
4. Summer Days – Phoenix
5. British Summer Time – The Boyfriends
6. Sunny Afternoon – The Kinks
7. Mr. Blue Sky – ELO
8. A Summer Chill – This is Ivy League
9. Le soleil est pres de moi – Air
10. Swim – Ambulance Ltd.
11. Summer Babe (Winter Version) – Pavement
12. Holiday Hymn – Orange Juice
13. Beach Bum – Flowers Forever
14. Pool Side Music – Bridge
15. Pacific Palisades – Ash
16. White Palms – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
17. Noisy Summer – The Raveonettes
18. Hot in the City – Billy Idol
19. Summer Party – Breakbot
20. Heatwave – IAMX
Weekly Mix #20 – Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk Download
1. Fire – Arthur Brown
2. Runaway – Super Furry Animals
3. Higher and Higher – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
4. Underwater Moonlight – The Soft Boys
5. Lichtenstein Painting – Television Personalities
6. The Village Green Preservation Society – The Kinks
7. Penny Lane – The Beatles
8. Arnold Layne – Pink Floyd
9. Ride a White Swan – Tyrannosaurus Rex
10. Sunshine Superman – Donovan
11. Zig Zag Wanderer – Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
12. You’re Gonna Miss Me – 13th Floor Elevators
13. The Hedgehog Song – The Incredible String Band
14. The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke – Queen
15. Baby Lemonade – Syd Barrett
16. Seahorse – Devendra Banhart
17. Loch Na Fooey – Fern Knight
18. Storybook Love – Willy DeVille
Weekly Mix #21 – For Harald Download
1. Hero – Neu!
2. Nach Haus – Abwaerts
3. Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen – Nina Hagen
4. Abstieg & Zerfall – Einstruzende Neubauten
5. Trans-Europe Express – Kraftwerk
6. Verschwende deine Jugend – DAF
7. Father Cannot Yell – Can
8. J’ai mal aux dents – Faust
9. After the Fall – Klaus Nomi
10. 99 Luftballons – Nena
11. Einer – Kettcar
12. Nur Ein Wort – Wir Sind Helden
13. Pick Up the Phone – The Notwist
14. Arcadia – Apparat
15. Pogo – Digitalism
16. Vogue (12” mix ) – KMFDM
17. Night Falls – Booka Shade
18. Discosau – Siriusmo
19. Vergiftet – Boys Noize
20. Fly – Tiefschwarz
Weekly Mix #22 – Obligatory Road Mix Download
1. Here Comes Alice – The Jesus and Mary Chain
2. Get Away – 120 Days
3. We Rise – Chris Corner
4. Piccadilly in Sepia – Nemo
5. An Honest Mistake – The Bravery
6. Autobahn Music Box – Cut Copy
7. Burning Up – Ladytron
8. Sex City – Van She
9. Hungry Like the Wolf – Duran Duran
10. Little Red Corvette – Prince
11. Like a Motorway – Saint Etienne
12. The Cutter – Echo and the Bunnymen
13. 19-2000 – Gorillaz
14. Cars – Gary Numan
15. My Sharona – The Knack
16. Car Jamming – The Clash
17. Chase – The Cinematics
18. A Trip Out – British Sea Power
19. Motorcycle Daydream – Bedroom Eyes
20. Obligatory Road Song – The Brunettes
21. Let’s Get Out of This Country – Camera Obscura
Weekly Mix #23 – Canadian Content Download
1. I Was a Pre-Teen McCarthyist – Propagandhi
2. Blood on Our Hands – Death From Above 1979
3. Monster Hospital – Metric
4. Black Flag (Juan Maclean Remix) – Duchess Says
5. Teacher Teacher – Dragonette
6. The Looks – MSTRKRFT
7. In the End It’s Your Friends – Shout Out Out Out Out
8. Call Me Up – Chromeo
9. You’re a Hologram – Hexes & Ohs
10. Dacha – Montag
11. Neighbourhood #4 (7 Kettles) – The Arcade Fire
12. My Radio (FM Mix) - Stars
13. Falling Through Your Clothes – The New Pornographers
14. Lola Stars and Stripes – The Stills
15. Fine Young Cannibals – Wolf Parade
16. Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961) – The Weakerthans
17. Still Life – The Russian Futurists
18. Drifters – Patrick Watson
19. You and I Are a Gang of Losers – The Dears
20. Shampoo Suicide – Broken Social Scene
21. Present of Future End – The Most Serene Republic
Weekly Mix #24 – I Don’t Wanna Grow Up Download
1. Eanie Meanie – Jim Noir
2. Childhood Memories – British Sea Power
3. Pumpkin Soup – Patrick Wolf
4. Sixteen – The Indelicates
5. Pretty Young Thing – Blondfire
6. So Young – Suede
7. One More Lie In – The Delays
8. Time to Pretend – MGMT
9. Baba O’Riley – The Who
10. Teenage Lust – The Jesus and Mary Chain
11. Stay Beautiful – Manic Street Preachers
12. The Prayer – Bloc Party
13. Antmusic – Adam and the Ants
14. You Were Young – The Associates
15. Once and Never Again – The Long Blondes
16. Alright – Supergrass
17. You! Me! Dancing! – Los Campesinos!
18. Burn Baby Burn – Ash
19. Teenage Thunder – Sigue Sigue Sputnik
20. Rebel Yell – Billy Idol
Weekly Mix #25 – Ecoutez Download
1. Game and Performance – Deux
2. Poney, Pt.2 – Vitalic
3. Waters of Nazareth – Justice
4. One More Time – Daft Punk
5. Peach – Louis La Roche
6. Danceteria – Indochine
7. Couleurs – M83
8. Once Upon a Time – Air
9. One of These Days – Pix
10. Desert – Emilie Simon
11. Laisse-moi – Chantal Goya
12. Nos ballades – Peppermoon
13. La valse des vieux os – Yann Tiersen
14. Je t’aime moi non plus – Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin
15. Voir un ami pleurer – Jacques Brel
16. Psyche – Nouvelle Vague
17. Mary’s Garden – Mary Goes Round
18. No Directions – Rhesus
19. Alphabetical – Phoenix
20. Foux du Fafa – Flight of the Conchords
Weekly Mix #26 – More Than Meets the Ear Download
1. Arcade Robot – Boys Noize
2. Kicking and Screaming – The Presets
3. The Lake – Muscles
4. Robot Love – Ganymed
5. Robot High School – My Robot Friend
6. The Anthem – Bitchee Bitchee Ya Ya Ya
7. Mr. Roboto – Styx
8. Robots – Flight of the Conchords
9. Too Many People (iamchemist Plus One Remix) – The Retrosexuals
10. Disko Eskimo – Salon Music
11. Professional Suicide – Ladyhawke
12. Bunny – Zeigeist
13. Wow (MSTRKRFT Remix) – Kylie Minogue
14. Neue Strassen – Metropakt
15. Heartbeats – The Knife
16. Someone Like You – Revl9n
17. Girl – Robots in Disguise
18. We Are Rebels – Alice in Videoland featuring Maja
19. The Negative Sex (US Version) – IAMX
Weekly Mix #27 – The UK Made Me Download
1. Six – Mansun
2. Vendetta – Adorable
3. All the People I Like Are Those That Are Dead – Felt
4. Chinese Bakery – The Auteurs
5. She Said – The Longpigs
6. Obscurity Knocks – Trashcan Sinatras
7. Calliope! – The Veils
8. I Feel Better – Frightened Rabbit
9. You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve – Johnny Boy
10. We Hate the Kids – The Indelicates
11. Kill Everyone – Codename Sparrow
12. Don’t Forget to Remember – Puressence
13. Total Recall – The Sound
14. Hey Bunny – The Cherubs
15. Bloodbeat – Patrick Wolf
16. The Novelist’s Wife – frYars
17. The Far Too Simple Beauty – Trembling Blue Stars
18. England Made Me – Black Box Recorder
19. The Campaign For Real Rock – Edwyn Collins
Weekly Mix #28 – Luftwaffle Download
1. Does Your Mother Know – Ash (Original: ABBA)
2. Ballroom Blitz – The Damned (Original: Sweet)
3. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Devo (Original: The Rolling Stones)
4. All the Young Dudes – The Skids (Original: Mott the Hoople/David Bowie)
5. Magic Dance – Kelley Polar (Original: David Bowie)
6. Heaven – Lorraine (Original: The Psychedelic Furs)
7. Love is the Drug – Kylie Minogue (Original: Roxy Music)
8. 1234 – Bikini (Original: Feist)
9. The Boys Are Back in Town – The Cardigans (Original: Thin Lizzy)
10. The Man Who Sold the World – Ed Kuepper (Original: David Bowie)
11. Zombie – Ephraim Uzomechina Nzeka (Original: Fela Kuti)
12. She’s Lost Control – The Raveonettes (Original: Joy Division)
13. Sand – Einsturzende Neubauten (Original: Lee Hazelwood)
14. Drive – The Veils (Original: REM)
15. Crown of Love – This is Ivy League (Original: The Arcade Fire)
16. Everybody Hurts – Bodies of Water (Original: REM)
17. Late Night – This Mortal Coil (Original: Syd Barrett)
18. A Forest – Bat For Lashes (Original: The Cure)
19. All Cats Are Grey – Band in Box (Original: The Cure)
Weekly Mix #29 – Spin Me Right Round With Tears In My Eyes Download
1. More to Lose (12” Extended Mix) – Seona Dancing
2. If You Leave (12” Spiral Mix) – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
3. The Sun Always Shines on TV – a-ha
4. We Run – Strange Advance
5. Just Can’t Get Enough – Depeche Mode
6. Take Me Home – Don Juan Dracula
7. It’s a Sin (Disco Mix) – Pet Shop Boys
8. A Little Respect (Extended Mix) – Erasure
9. Tangiers – The Screaming Trees
10. Big Blue World – Paul Haig
11. No Stars – Figures on a Beach
12. Pale Shelter – Tears for Fears
13. Deep Blue – Ladytron
14. The Color of Love – Beborn Beton
15. Face to Face – Heart to Heart – Twins
16. Brilliant Mind – Furniture
17. Fade to Grey – Visage
18. Newsreel – Fad Gadget
19. Last Goodbye – Screaming for Emily
20. The Chauffeur – Duran Duran
21. Ghosts – Japan
Weekly Mix #30 – My Kingdom For a Kiss on the Shoulder Download
1. I Would Die 4 U – Prince
2. Protege Moi – Placebo
3. No I in Threesome – Interpol
4. M’aidez (Acoustic Version) – Sneaker Pimps
5. Pictures of You – The Cure
6. Forest Fire – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
7. L.O.V.E. – Orange Juice
8. Friends & Lovers – Bernard Butler
9. The Saturday Boy – Billy Bragg
10. Letter to Hermione – David Bowie
11. Alison – Elvis Costello
12. Fistful of Love (featuring Lou Reed) – Antony & the Johnsons
13. Foolish Love – Rufus Wainwright
14. Lover, You Should Have Come Over – Jeff Buckley
15. The Man With the Child in His Eyes – Kate Bush
16. Baby, I’m Not Sure This is Love – Club 8
17. Heart – Stars
18. Beyond Love – The The
19. You’re the Conversation (I’m the Game) – Chris Corner and Sue Denim
Friday, December 19, 2008
The latter half of summer, namely August, saw records from Vanilla Swingers, The Faint, Noah and the Whale, Late of the Pier, The Stills, Ra Ra Riot, and Pop Levi. There were also records that have already appeared in this countdown, including those from Van She, The Deer Tracks, and Duchess Says. August also brought the solo debut by Conor Oberst, which I confess confused me since I figured he essentially was Bright Eyes, and The Airbourne Toxic Event released their debut album, culminating in pointless, unwinnable wars with Pitchfork. And there was the seemingly inevitable comeback album from The Verve that I frankly didn't need.
16. We Just Are - The Japanese Popstars
Though this debut from Irish electronic outfit The Japanese Popstars is yet to release in North America, I'm still counting its release as in 2008. It is everything I've been waiting for in an electronic record after the excitement over Justice, Simian Mobile Disco, Boys Noize, and Digitalism last year. There are mind-shattering moments of violent electronics balanced with gentle percolation of synth sound and flashes of laser. In essence, there's a sophistication to the gritty power of the beats - it's a bit like being bloodily taken out by a hitman in a very nice suit.
Sample Whore - The Japanese Popstars
Delboys Revenge - The Japanese Popstars
15. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
I'm not an expert on Nick Cave - I only own some Birthday Party and his From Her to Eternity album. But I like to think I know a fantastic album when I hear one and the latest from Cave and his Bad Seeds is just that. After his Grinderman project, Cave appears to have returned to his older group in fine form with dark, vivid storytelling and his haunting habit of weaving a spell on par with mysterious religions; Cave's rich, raspy voice is that of a worldly preacher who has already seen plenty of fire and brimstone here on Earth, but who has also encountered the ridiculous in humanity's flaws and had a good, smoke-rattled laugh about it. I already included the excellent single that shares its title with the album in a previous mix, but that gives me an opportunity to showcase some of the other great tracks on a record which takes you on a journey through raw rock soundscapes and dusty midnights the colour of loneliness. If anyone can commune with the recently raised from the dead and show them a good time, it's Nick Cave.
Night of the Lotus Eaters - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
More News From Nowhere - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
14. Do You Like Rock Music? - British Sea Power
British Sea Power's third album seemed to crash through the barricades at the start of this year, raising the Brighton-based band's profile around the world. This record fuses the band's trademark arcane wit with heart-fluttering songs that recall the spiritual intensity of artists like The Arcade Fire. Songs like No Lucifer and Waving Flags took unlikely subject matter of impending apocalypses and immigration and created anthems of inspiring beauty, and then songs like Lights Out For Darkier Skies, Atom, and Down on the Ground justified the record's title a thousand times over. A light aura seems to permeate the entire album with a gentle glow that works its way into your blood until every cell in your body is singing.
Waving Flags - British Sea Power
Atom - British Sea Power
13. Limbo, Panto - Wild Beasts
This record was unexpected in that it completely marches to its own drummer. And the drummer is a fey public school boy with a multiple personality disorder and a touch of satyriasis. The Klaus Nomi-inflected vocals with Finn Andrews-like anguished growls paired with the quirky patchwork of musical styles and equally offbeat, though literate, lyrics made for an endlessly interesting listen. Some may hate this album, but I love it. And I suppose, in the end, it's one of those kind of records.
Vigil For a Fuddy Duddy - Wild Beasts
Woebegone Wanderers - Wild Beasts
12. Surreal Auteur - Allegories
While I may not listen to all that much ambient music on a regular basis, Canadian duo Allegories transcends this particular genre, and all other genres for that matter. The intricate tapestry of this debut album is composed of three major movements that wash over you with unknowable yet familiar sounds, connecting with parts of you that you didn't know existed until its gauzy web tapped into your nervous system. This record reaches inside you and plants roots, ensuring your imagination will blossom with your own narratives.
Grass Toboggan - Allegories
Acro(nym) - Allegories
11. Everything/Everything - Simon Bookish
This album defines the current Information Age where everything comes at you all of the time, and classically-trained songwriter/musician Simon Bookish (real name: Leo Chadburn) has the skills to communicate the hubbub and overload via music perfectly. The jumble of musical styles and tempos convey urgency and apathy in equal turns as it bounds from brass clarion calls to vaudeville chamber pop to electronic whizzbangs. Bookish's hushed baritone is the voice of our times as he ruminates from what sounds like a fortress designed by Roald Dahl.
The Flood - Simon Bookish
Victorinox - Simon Bookish
10. Ladyhawke - Ladyhawke
And so the parade from Modular continues - their A&R people deserve many an accolade. Ladyhawke AKA Pip Brown had been skipping about my radar a long time before her debut album actually released. She has managed to glean and utilize all that was good about 80s electronic music without sounding passé or ironic. The high drama of Magic mingles with the streetwise cool of Manipulating Woman, the disco inferno of Paris is Burning and the driving shimmer of Back of the Van. Her voice has just the right amount of laidback distance and husky attitude and her music is like the solidification of all your favourite, but ephemeral, musical memories.
Magic - Ladyhawke
Professional Suicide - Ladyhawke
9. Velocifero - Ladytron
Another lady, so to speak. This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and thankfully, it delivered brilliantly. It will always be difficult to top Destroy Everything You Touch, but this record battles towards that territory with self-assured, measured steps. The fuzzy beats, crisp drum machines and austere synthesizers circle each other in an emotionally taut dance. Highlights include the glam stomp and celtic chant of Ghosts, the clipped rhythm and haughty chords of Deep Blue, and the incessant pulse and infectious groove of Runaway. Named after a stylish Italian scooter, this album projects an atmosphere of clandestine meetings and daring escape. Absolutely mesmerizing.
Ghosts - Ladytron
Deep Blue - Ladytron
The honourable mention this time is the self-titled album from Eugene McGuinness (perhaps I should have made this a countdown of my top albums from slightly eccentric wordy people). This album is full of gleeful jabs of repartee and impish rapiers of drollery while also including melodies bristling with energy and invention. I first became aware of McGuinness via my friend, Lisa, who found a music video on YouTube; his songs about being down a rabbit hole define both of our lives most of the time, so it figures she's the one who found him first. Life is strange and so is this album, which suits me fine.
Moscow State Circus - Eugene McGuinness
Thursday, December 18, 2008
I happened to be on London-based musician, frYars' MySpace page and discovered that a full-length album called Dark Young Hearts is in the works. After two excellent EPs, I was excited, and when I discovered how he was accomplishing it, I was intrigued. frYars is using Bandstocks, an organization that acts as a fairer middleman between fans and musicians, allowing fans to invest in the artists in return for both some of the profits and recognition. I signed up for a free download of the new frYars MP3 entitled Visitors (which features some vocal help from Dave Gahan), glanced briefly over what Bandstocks was and frYars' proposal to potential investors, and then went on my merry way to mull things over. I was reminded about Bandstocks again when I was sent the free MP3. In the process, I also discovered that frYars (real name: Ben Garrett) was, in fact, the first artist to sign up with Bandstocks' funding model.
Apparently, an investment of £10 buys you:
- a download (except for VAT) of the whole album
- a name credit on the album and on the Bandstocks website (if you want one)
- the right to buy (at extra cost) a special limited edition of the album signed by frYars
- special booking privileges for concerts
- special merchandise offers
- a share of the net receipts generated by the album
For this funding model, though, you have to be a UK resident over the age of 15, and if you're not, you would have to appoint a trustee in the UK to act on your behalf. Also, Bandstocks ensures that the artist receives 50% of the net profits, which seems a much better deal than with major label contracts (at least to my knowledge). And the catches already seem to be presented up front: you are not guaranteed any money back and you get a free, high-quality digital copy of the album you invested in (notably not a physical one, but you get a chance at a discounted price for the physical ones). It's all very interesting, but this isn't the first business model for musicians to emerge in the wake of the music industry crisis.
Sites like Amie Street, an organization which offers music initially for free download, but with an increasing price tag as the music gets more popular; Sellaband, a very similar set-up to Bandstock created by ex-major label executives two years ago; and Slicethepie, a site which allows fans to invest in musicians both financially and via scouting and review-writing, are also attempting to re-write the rules on how the music industry works. If anything, these sites are opening up the exact same music industry system that has existed for the past eighty years to anyone with some money to spare and an interest in music, which isn't a bad thing. How well these models are working at the moment is difficult to gauge. Then again, it can be difficult to determine the value and success of art outside of the financial framework. There are many musicians out there making music that I assign a lot of value to, but who aren't making very much money off their work at all.
Perhaps what I find most interesting about frYars decision to use Bandstocks and fans' investments is the fact frYars isn't exactly an unknown artist. He has been critically acclaimed by several "official" sources, including even the generally out-of-touch NME, toured with the likes of Goldfrapp, and worked with people in the music industry like Luke Smith, ex-Clor guitarist, and now Gahan. I would think his profile is sufficiently high enough to gain a record contract in the traditional way. This then leads me to believe that this was a conscious choice on frYars' part, a choice which eschewed the regular channels of the major labels and their subsidiaries, a choice which puts power in the hands of those who already feel emotionally invested in his art, a choice which makes frYars seem rather smart. I would think this is a way to be accountable to the people who matter the most to an artist: the fans. Interestingly, Patrick Wolf, who shares some similarities to frYars in terms of offbeat style and who has already found relatively large success around the world with the major label release of his last album The Magic Position, is also due to release his fourth album Battle by using Bandstocks. Wolf explains his reasons for doing so a lot better than I can here.
As of yet, I haven't invested in any artist via these channels, but I like to think I still have invested by continuing to purchase music, especially from independent artists and labels, by attending concerts when I can (sometimes even when I can't), and by maintaining a blog like this that attempts to give free publicity to the artists I want to see succeed. Being a real music fan is also a sizeable emotional investment that I'm prepared to make to those who warrant it. Perhaps I will invest in some bands up front in the future, especially when I'm gainfully employed, and I'm eager to see where this new system of capitalistic patronage will end up. It's not exactly a new music industry, but it's a start.
Visitors - frYars
The Novelist's Wife - frYars
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I'm a pretty big fan of The Mighty Boosh. Though I used to find Noel Fielding quite endearing, my favourite half of the duo is Julian Barrett and his character Howard Moon (with whom I share a kinship of cockerel eyes and surreptitious Chinese burns). Having said that, when I discovered there was a band out there named The Vince Noir Project, named for Fielding's character, I still stopped and took a listen. I only became aware of this Phillippines-based band a few weeks ago, but I was rather surprised at what I heard. Their self-titled album, which released earlier this year, isn't filled with the whimsy of motorbikes of jealousy or man-sized kingfishers pecking you between the eyes. Instead, it is some rather great low-key electronic music (dare I use the term trip-hop) with a fantastically detached female vocalist akin sometimes to Tahita Bulma from New Young Pony Club and sometimes to Pip Brown of Ladyhawke. Not so much affable quirkiness in skinny jeans and white cowboy boots; rather more a femme fatale robot in heat. In fact this band may bear more resemblance to Fielding's girlfriend, Dee Plume's band Robots in Disguise (at least their debut album).
Vocalist Alessandra Tinio provides a cool, emotionally distant voice that often shifts into a staccato rapping of sorts. The album begins with Release It To the Wild, featuring Tinio at her seductive, lowest register as the track slinks along to a laidback downbeat until it descends into laser chaos. This is followed by 6 Million Gigabytes, a kinky, euphemistic song about...computers. Alter Ego uses rather grunge-sounding guitars, but paired with the dreamier side of Tinio's vocals, they don't seem out of place on this record. Market Love features chugging, stuttering rhythms and some deliberately vacant rapping a la Sarah Nixey that recounts a distinctly London narrative, which eventually declares that the artist scene is too much and that the narrator is "gonna get out of Bethnal Green." Metallic guitars slice through Alavet as Tinio references The Stranglers and Joe Strummer before the song starts to bounce along to a cheeky, punky beat and it oscillates between the two for the rest of the song before it's revealed that "alavet" is the phonetic spelling of "I love it." Taste the Rust starts with murky noise bubbling under scratchy guitar strings and Tinio raps again in her laconic fashion.
The only song explicitly about Fielding's character is Who's Vince Noir?, which is littered with Mighty Boosh references galore, including Cheek Bone magazine, mirrorball suits, affairs with polar bears, ponchos, Carlos Santana exercise suits and real French dukes. It is also the most upbeat, synthpoppiest track on the album and is built for being the perfect novelty song for Boosh fans. One of the released singles, Wha' a Git begins with the lines "This song reminds me of losing my virginity" as bass synths burble infectiously beneath minimalist drums; apparently Tinio caused a stir with her duct tape bra in the original music video, which then had to be censored. Tinio's vocal delivery switches between breathy sing-song and more tongue-in-cheek, matter-of-fact rapping that self-proclaims the narrator as a slapper. There's a slightly schizophrenic feel to the song as cool violin-like synths come in and a lounge feel kicks in. The record takes an unexpected turn with Rainbow in the Ocean, a twee-inflected, acoustic guitar-led track that namechecks Phil Spector and eventually tapers into a pleasant chorus of "shoop, shoop, shoop doo lang doo lang." The album concludes with Don't Need Anything From You, which sees the band switching back into buzzing electronic elements. The album also includes radio mixes of Release It To the Wild and Wha' a Git.
While this album could have descended into one-note novelty, it ends up maintaining your interest through the unpredictable variety of songs and genres. The Vince Noir Project, like their namesake, are good fun with a flashy facade that belies the wit and intelligence behind the fashionable, eye-catching exterior.
Release It To the Wild - The Vince Noir Project
Who's Vince Noir? - The Vince Noir Project
Friday, December 12, 2008
24. Life After Ridge - Twig
I have a feeling this isn't a typical top album of 2008 choice. Maybe because most people haven't heard of the Swedish band Twig, especially because it can be difficult to search and find them when there are other bands with the same name. Or you may just end up with sites on actual twigs. To me, they manage to mash together the feel of The Smiths and New Order behind a flamboyant, Edwin Collinsesque voice. The album ranges from the unbridled jubilance of Ciao Ciao Bomb to the melodical moodiness of Indigo, and they manage to work within a cataclysm of the New Romantic and jangle pop. This is their first official release apart from several singles for Cloudberry Records, where their honest and quirky pop fits perfectly. There is something stubbornly C86/post-punk about them and I am completely disarmed.
Ciao Ciao Bomb - Twig
Constance and Her Cousin - Twig
23. V - Van She
Here's another group from the Modular roster. This debut LP (Van She has previously released an EP) was long awaited and it delivered beyond what I had expected based on the previous work by this Australian foursome. V is full of atmospheric, mind-bending psychedelia in addition to some of the expected 80s-influenced electropop and a gentle hipness reminiscent of retro hipsters Phoenix. The hissing mind explosion of Cat & the Eye, the pumping sophistication of Changes, the pouting slinkiness of Strangers, and the revamped anthemic exhilaration of Kelly push this album into the playlists for cool kid parties all over the world. Refreshing as a turquoise swimming pool.
Strangers - Van She
Kelly - Van She
22. Cut the World - Moscow Olympics
Like Twig's Life After the Ridge, this album by Phillippines-based band Moscow Olympics may seem an odd choice and probably won't appear on anybody else's lists. That's hugely unfortunate because this album is a twinkling gem of a shoegaze album. It's as if the whole album is made of spun sugar, fragile but glittering with grains of sweet luminosity. With a dreaminess reminiscent of The Radio Dept. and New Order's Ceremony, this record hangs in the air like the fragnance of lilacs on a summer day. A truly staggering debut.
Carolyn - Moscow Olympics
Cut the World - Moscow Olympics
21. O My Heart - Mother Mother
This sophomore album from Canadian band Mother Mother is a genre-smashing effort full of offbeat lyrics and phrasing. The band's taut energy alternately bangs its head, croons passionately over folk textures, and spikes holes through pop bubbles - sometimes all in the same song. They've developed that organic several-working-as-one-body aesthetic that they came out with on their debut album; now they are flawlessly combining elements that likely shouldn't belong together, and they do it with an insouciant aplomb. The relatively simple track Ghosting still gives me goosebumps when I listen to it. This album is the sound of a band that doesn't take itself seriously, but who have some serious talent.
O My Heart - Mother Mother
Hayloft - Mother Mother
20. Hold On Now Youngster - Los Campesinos!
As with MGMT, I attempted to resist Los Campesinos! for as long as I could because of their hype, but in the end, I had to admit the Welsh band made a cracking debut album. Their music is as exclamatory as their name and song titles (many of which wordy emo bands would kill to have written), and they feel like a younger, wittier Broken Social Social Scene. Melodies blast forth from within the punky cacophony and their shouty vocals are infectious. Though Los Campesinos! ambitiously released their sophomore album We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed later this year, their debut is the one that has had the most effect on me. They've made an art form of cantering about like verbose children, playfully splashing about in their own stream of consciousness.
Death to Los Campesinos! - Los Campesinos!
Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks - Los Campesinos!
19. Dear Science - TV on the Radio
When TV on the Radio first started getting buzz, including some from David Bowie, years ago, I took note and definitely appreciated their work on EPs and their debut album. However, Dear Science has made this significant band more accessible and memorable for me, and thus connected with me at a deeper level than before. The musical styles have fused beyond gospel, beyond electro, beyond funk, beyond hip hop - Tunde Adebimpe's raspy, soulful falsetto has reached inside me and nestled in my solar plexus. The dexterity in this record's lyrical phrasing is so complex and brilliant, you have to acknowledge the musicality of language itself. Through this lyrical, rhythmic quality, I have also come to realize just how intelligent and poetic TV on the Radio's lyrics are; for example, on Family Tree, the lyrics run, "We're laying in the shadow of your family tree/Your haunted heart and me/Brought down by an old idea whose time has come/And in the shadow of the gallows of your family tree/There's a hundred hearts soar free/Pumping blood to the roots of evil to keep it young." That is art.
Dancing Choose - TV on the Radio
Family Tree - TV on the Radio
18. Saturdays = Youth - M83
Now that Anthony Gonzalez has taken complete control over French musical entity M83, he has managed to produce an airy album in tribute to all those 80s American teen movies, and more importantly, what those movies signify - that belief that the underdog can fight back against the unfairness of the high school pecking order, that belief that impossible romance can culminate at prom, that belief that being a teenager is one of the most tragic and sweet times of one's life. Gonzalez melds all these emotions into a swirling, expansive soundscape of emotional intensity, and with the aid of Morgan Kibby's ethereal vocals, he creates a record of breathy anticipation and latent hopes. One of the songs of the year should surely be Kim & Jessie, a soaring anthem that sounds like how an evening summer breeze would feel against bare legs under a cotton skirt - the pumping synths take you back to unironic, youthful fantasy, prompting memories you wish you had.
Kim & Jessie - M83
Couleurs - M83
17. Aurora - The Deer Tracks
This Swedish duo has created the musical equivalent of lying on your back on a hill and picking out shapes in the clouds. Their shimmering musical palette keeps subtly shifting before you until it creates an entirely new formation of imagination and wispy curliques of curiosity. You can feel the strength of damp, living earth behind your spine as the misty images conjured by synths and keyboards drift dizzyingly above your head, and for a moment, you can tell the Earth is rotating. I also encourage you to watch their breathtaking video for the song Slow Collision. Named for the ephemeral displays of light in the night sky, this album is humming with an unseen magnetism from a parallel dimension where thoughts manifest themselves in the static-filled sky.
Yes, This is My Broken Shield - The Deer Tracks
127 Sex Fyra - The Deer Tracks
The honourable mention for this part of the countdown is Transient Blood by The Kid. It's not a very typical choice - hey, even I was caught a little off-guard. But I can't deny that I love this album's effervescent electropop aesthetic. It is unapologetically catchy, and yes, the track Transient Dance does feel a lot like New Order's Krafty, but they take it somewhere else that I find absolutely blissful. Plus they have a song that goes "Sometimes I scare children and I like it."
Transient Dance - The Kid
Next Friday's installment will crack the top 10 when I cover numbers 16 through 9. And this weekend the Year-End Round-Up for weekly mixes begins.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
One of my MySpace friends is part of a band/musical project called Ear of the Rat, and listening to their work prompted me to think about experimental music and ask some important questions of myself that I haven't done in awhile. You see, Ear of the Rat produces highly experimental pieces, some more accessible than others, and provides them all for free download. Are these people the true artists? They aren't doing it for any financial gain whatsoever and they have uploaded their work to Open Source Audio, a site where music is truly shared for the creative good of everyone participating. But what is music as an art? Is all this endless criticizing, reviewing and proselytizing about music a load of rubbish in the end?
There have many experimental music projects, especially since advances in both communication and music production technology. The early 20th century saw French composer Erik Satie become the father of both ambient music and muzak. He called what he was doing "furniture music," and for him, it represented the aesthetic of boredom, music deliberately produced to be ignored. Then, decades later, John Cage pushed music in a different way by developing the I Ching into a strategy for making experimental music. Of course the likes of people like Brian Eno then took this concept further. In many ways, Ear of the Rat reminds me of early Pink Floyd (in fact, they do a version of Interstellar Overdrive) and The Velvet Underground with their seemingly endless experimentation and spontaneous musical "happenings." There's also something vaguely Ariel Pink about them. Like many bands from past and present, Ear of the Rat don't appear to have an agenda except to continue being creative. They plunder samples and ideas from other pieces and produce them as lo-fi as possible. What's one of the terms for music like that of Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, and Brian Eno? Art rock. Isn't all music art? At what point does it become sufficiently "arty"?
Whenever I think of aesthetics and questions of art theory, I'm reminded of Tom Wolfe's book The Painted Word, his criticism of modern art criticism. Essentially, Wolfe argues that the art came first and then the people in the ivory tower and at the top of the social ladder created a reason for it. In order to see a work of art, in this case a painting, there has to be a persuasive theory behind it. As Wolfe states, "Not 'seeing is believing,' you ninny, but 'believing is seeing,' for Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text." Isn't this what most pretentious art critics, including those who write in-depth reviews of music, work off? The potential to get bogged down in academic musings and theories when discussing art is massive. It's as though the world has said "art serves no practical purpose, thus it must be justified." In fact, every faculty of arts in university is dedicated to analyzing and developing meaning for things that can't be put to practical use. It is this kind of education that leads me to write babbling propositions like this about modern art. I've been effectively trained to look for meaning in everything, which while enlightening, may have also killed my ability to feel art for art's sake and nothing else. So, to attempt to answer my earlier question of when does music become art, I suppose music becomes art when enough people with influence agree it is. The modern art critic is the equivalent of the indie hipster.
Does theory and the meticulous extrication of meaning from art matter? Is it all part of experiencing art? Do I need to understand art before I enjoy it? Replace the word "art" with "music." Do the answers change? If pushed to answer, I would have to say that there are pros and cons to theorizing and understanding context. Back when I knew much less about music and its history, every album or artist I listened to sounded new and I responded to it on a purely emotional level without overthinking things. Now I find myself comparing the music I listen to with others and placing it in some sort of context for myself in order to evaluate its worth. Like the critics in Wolfe's book, I sometimes realize that I'm trying to make excuses for certain music and trying to understand why it should be considered valuable. Of course it becomes very reassuring to have the artists themselves come to me and say that I completely understood what they were trying to do (this has happened more often than I would have expected) - at least in those cases I know I didn't shoehorn them into some sort of pre-meditated framework. Oh, the occupational hazards of being a music critic, as amateur a version I may be.
Along with the pushing and testing the limits of genres and musical possibilities, artistic advancement has also developed alongside the capacity to participate and share in music creation; the line between listener and performer has blurred. A strong, and perhaps simpler, example of this process in action is Phil Kline's Unsilent Night, where people in a particular locale all bring out their portable stereos to blast whichever Christmas music they happen to have and walk through the streets together. Supposedly, the ever-shifting soundscape comes to represent community and a non-hierarchical performance in which everyone's ability to perform is equal. Musical communism in a way. Via faster computers and Internet service, sharing information, including music, has become possible at an unprecedented level. But aside from wholesale downloading of completed tracks and the sampling done in the hip-hop and electronic world, would all that many "regular" people bother collaborating on musical projects over long distances? Do artists need to bother? Isn't creating music always going to be an indirect collaboration anyway?
Art comes from art. It took me a relatively long time to learn that, but it's true. There's nothing original in this world, just original ways of re-assembling. To declare some band as utterly revolutionary is always a fallacy. They didn't create in a vacuum (and if they did, they may be suffering from the lack of necessary gaseous elements), so like John Milton said, plagiarism of a work occurs only "if it is not bettered by the borrower."
But does this highly experimental music have a chance at resonating more than a tightly produced four-minute track with that many people? There are times when listening to a twenty-minute track of noodling and improvisation that you start thinking this is what reading Finnegan's Wake would be like. If I'm completely honest, most of the music I own and listen to on a regular basis is accessible. I would say 90% of it is based on some recognizable semblance of musical structure and the songs are usually under eight minutes long. Is it pretentious to love and champion the music that pushes the limits so far that it becomes inaccessible just because it is inaccessible? I think it only becomes pretentious when you're not being honest about it.
I'm not going to attempt justifying Ear of the Rat's output, nor am I going to explain why I would likely listen to New Order or The Smiths more readily than Ear of the Rat, or even Pink Floyd for that matter. Nor am I going to worry too much about what that says about me as a music lover. I think there's a difference between finding a piece of music interesting and truly loving a piece of music; some music is meant to be furniture music for me. I admire artists like those in Ear of the Rat for doing the art they do for the reasons they do it for, but I don't want to fall into a "believing is hearing" state of mind. I live for those songs that I will never be able to explain my reactions to. It's that incommunicable connection with certain pieces of music that keeps me listening and believing.
Wind Cries Mary - Ear of the Rat
Interstellar Overdrive - Pink Floyd