Saturday, December 31, 2011

best of 2011: part four of four

I had to make an exception to my normal CD-length constraint for my mixes with this one. I still managed to make it a length that would fit on a 90-minute mixtape (and by that I mean that it can be separated into two sides, each under 45 minutes). Even with my modified limitations it was still unbelievably difficult to cut this mix down to an appropriate length. And then I got ahold of '50 Words for Snow' by Kate Bush AND 'Bad as Me' by Tom Waits. There were at least 15 songs that ended up on the cutting room floor. It's been a long road filled with carnage since approximately June of this awful, craptastic year. Mainly I refused to cut 'Await the Star.' That's how important I feel it is. As always I've been able to include songs from singles and EPs that weren't included in my ridiculous list. That said, it's been incredibly fun spending half of the year putting this together- almost as fun as listening to this 90-minute mix. Enjoy!

Best of 2011

song- artist- album

1. white noise- mogwai- 'hardcore will never die, but you will'
2. wash over us- the fresh & onlys- 'secret walls' ep
3. all gone white- disappears- 'live at echo canyon' ep
4. talking at the same time- tom waits- 'bad as me'
5. battery townsley- sic alps- 'battery townsley' 7"
6. robber barons- thee oh sees- 'carrion crawler/the dream'
7. so fucked up on valentine's day- the warlocks- 'unreleased 2010'
8. frost inside the asylum- crystal stilts- 'radiant door' ep
9. weight on my shoulders- the walkmen- 'weight on my shoulders' 7"
10. out of tune- real estate- 'days'
11. coming down- dum dum girls- 'only in dreams'
12. peeping tomboy- kurt vile- 'smoke ring for my halo'
13. doldrums- atlas sound- 'parallax'
14. common burn- mazzy star- 'common burn' single
15. among angels- kate bush- '50 words for snow'
16. await the star- bardo pond- s/t
17. nightingale- low- 'c'mon acoustic'

Friday, December 30, 2011

best of 2011: part three of four

Thee List

This year has been quite an overwhelmingly great year for new music. In this internet age I am surprised and delighted by how many new releases dropped down seemingly out of nowhere (I had no idea there was even the possibility of a new Kate Bush album until it appeared on the shelves). While last year had higher quality releases all around, the sheer number of great records this year was completely overwhelming. The top ten pretty much managed to pick themselves, as always. As if that weren't enough several bands managed multiple releases this year.

1) Low- ‘C’mon’- Subpop

This one has been at the top of the heap pretty much since I heard it way back in February. Besides being my favourite record of the year I’m hard-pressed not to go ahead and say that it’s my favourite Low record. Even to those who don’t agree that it’s their best, it’s unquestionably the best record they’ve released in almost ten years. It effortlessly achieves everything they’ve been reaching for since ‘Trust.’ “Majestic” I suppose is the most appropriate descriptor in this case. Not only is it loaded with the type of 3am slow-burning beauties that Low have always made their hallmark, but it also pushes their sound naturally into more accessible and open territory. It basically captures everything they were aiming for on ‘The Great Destroyer’ but didn’t quite achieve. Their show at Lincoln Hall this year was a personal highlight for me—one of those shows that has the capacity to restore your faith in one of your favourite bands and in humanity in general.

2) Kurt Vile- ‘Smoke Ring for my Halo’- Matador

I maintain that what Kurt Vile is doing right now is something entirely his own. I’ve heard people say that he isn’t doing anything new, but I would definitely argue that point. He’s managed to successfully meld folk song structures with psychedelic electronics and incorporate some elements of stadium rock in the process. It’s a combination that no one has been able to pull off successfully and I think that he deserves all of the recognition, success and adulation that is heaped upon him. No one is writing songs like these right now—they move between sentimental, cynical, beautiful and postmodern often in the space of a single verse. It’s just nice to hear about something that sounds this fresh and unique getting its due. This is another one that’s spent most of the year at the top of the heap. Despite seeing Vile perform twice this year I’ve sat out several of his stops in town. I continue to be baffled by why this is so—every time I make the effort to go and see him play in whatever permutation he’s touring with (so far it’s been completely different each time) I always see something new and incredibly engaging. It’s probably about time I started making the effort to catch him any time he’s in town, which will be quite an effort considering how much he tours.

3) Crystal Stilts—‘In Love With Oblivion’- Slumberland

For some baffling reason I was continually forgetting about this record amidst all of the other new releases, but this one belongs at the top. Their return after a three year silence was some of the best news to hear all year. Effortless artistic growth? Check. Improvement in fidelity without sacrificing what makes them distinctive? Check. A rock solid set of songs whose quality never dips even slightly throughout the course of the album? Check. Worth the three year wait? Absolutely. With ‘In Love With Oblivion’ Crystal Stilts have managed to blow the floodgates open making whatever previously perceived limits that they had completely insignificant. What’s more they were fantastic live all three times that I saw them this year revealing a lot of what I thought to be studio additions made for textural enhancement to have been there from the rehearsal room. I love a band that can pull all of these things off.

4) Tom Waits—‘Bad as Me’- Anti

A late entry, but an indisputable one. I almost didn’t bother checking this out before compiling my list, but I’m glad I did. Tom Waits is one of those artists who is impossible to resent for his complete critical immunity mainly because he proves he is worthy of it with every record. ‘Real Gone’ was plenty to tide me over for seven years (has it really been that long?!). This is being billed as a return-to-form (as in revisiting the pre-‘Swordfishtrombones’ era) and it’s true that it isn’t continuing on from ‘Real Gone’ (apart from the ‘bawlers’). I particularly enjoy the staticky, 78-esque production favored on ‘Back in the Crowd,’ not to mention that it’s the most beautifully sentimental song Waits has written since ‘Hold On’ from ‘Mule Variations.’ ‘Talking at the Same Time’ is indicative of what makes Waits’ music so great—it somehow manages to be distinctive despite using elements that seem obvious on their own and yet no one but Waits has put them together in nearly the same way. The sense of atmosphere that he pulls off so effortlessly is undeniable. This record features several that rank up with Waits’ best ‘bawlers’ (and there certainly are a lot). Of course, there are plenty of revved-up weird ones as well, such as the title track or ‘Get Lost.’ The Black Lips had the misfortune of being paired with the latter song in a recent diary playlist. It effectively wiped the floor with them, and I had picked my favourite track off of ‘Arabia Mountain’ too.

5) Thurston Moore—‘Demolished Thoughts’- Matador

This record is (for some baffling reason) taking a beating. I chalk this up to the fact that the country is in the throes of a really brutal recession so the number of music listeners who feel like sitting down and listening to a beautiful, introspective record with a lot of strings and not much to offer in the ass-shaking department are few and far between. I suppose most people right now would rather listen to something that will allow them to dance their problems out of their minds rather than make them think about how much of a bummer this year has been. Quite a shame as this is a gorgeous record made within some very strict parameters—all acoustic guitars, harp, strings and very little in the way of drums (Joey Waronker has never been so underused). It sounds like the most that Beck and Moore would cop to as far as vocal effects was doubling. The results are a soft and intimate listen. A lot of people claim it just sounds like Sonic Youth unplugged, which is true of maybe three of the tracks that approach the more rocking and dissonant side. The rest manages to cast Moore in a bit of a Nick Drake-type role. The song titles and the lyrics are impressionistic and full of a wonder that’s typical of Moore (i.e. ‘In Silver Rain with a Paper Key,’ ‘Blood Never Lies’). Although it won’t make you want to get up and dance I always found the songs to be incredibly uplifting and life-affirming, which is actually admirably atypical of most music that is labeled, ‘introspective.’ This record has gotten me through many a depressing commute that I simply didn’t want to be making. Insert mention of Moore and Kim Gordon’s separation here.

6) Thee Oh Sees—‘Castlemania’/’Carrion Crawler’/’The Dream’- Castleface/In the Red

So Thee Oh Sees make this list every year. This is mainly because I think of them as the most endlessly vital, prolific, beautifully ram-shackle bunch to come along in far too long. If someone were to ask me to name their influences I would have a really difficult time doing so. ‘Castlemania’ was released first and almost as a lark it seems—it’s a collection of John Dwyer’s solo tracks. They are mostly acoustic without eschewing any of the madcap chaos that the band are known for—some of the tracks are downright raucous and deranged. ‘Stinking Cloud’ has been my existential anthem this year. ‘I Need Seed’ is pure fun. Dwyer’s beautiful cover of ‘If I Stay Too Long’ is here in a much higher fidelity than the form it took on last year’s ‘Raven Sings the Blues Volume 2’ compilation. Come to think of it whoever mixed and mastered these tracks did an astonishing job—it’s clear that these were all made on a 4-track on the fly. When I heard that this record was coming out I was expecting it to be a bit of an old-style Oh Sees type of affair a la ‘Sucks Blood’ or ‘The Cool Deaths of Island Raiders.’ Ironically my expectations not being met ended up being a good thing. Then there’s ‘Carrion Crawler’/’The Dream’ which was conceived by Dwyer as a double EP release. While it’s true that the two sides are very different, they hang together seamlessly as a whole piece. It was a wise decision to make them into a single LP. On the rocked-up full-band Oh Sees release spectrum I’d say that it ranks with ‘The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night in’ or as a less noisy and reckless ‘Warm Slime.’ The songs are all stretched beautifully and the playing is air-tight. The only track I could do without is the instrumental on side one.

7) Dum Dum Girls—‘Only in Dreams’/’He Gets me High’- Subpop

I’ve been surprised by the amount of naysaying that the Dum Dum Girls have endured upon the release of their best album. I’m not entirely sure what’s not to like—I’ve come to the conclusion that people miss the hissy scrappiness of ‘I Will Be.’ I also keep hearing the phrase, “They could do better.” These are incredibly intimate and personal songs with fantastic lyrics. I don’t go in much for lyrics, but when they’re as consistently good as these are I can’t help but take notice. The insomniac yearning of ‘Bedroom Eyes,’ the incredible intimacy of ‘Hold Your Hand,’ the frank rawness of ‘Wasted Away’ plus the appropriate chorus for ‘Caught in One.’ I had a really shitty year too and this record was like a glimpse at the light at the end of a really long tunnel. Then, of course, there’s ‘Coming Down’ which is probably the best track the Dum Dum Girls have ever released. While I was watching their set at the Empty Bottle in October I couldn’t help but feel my heart sink when they announced that they were playing their last song of the evening and they hadn’t played ‘Coming Down’ yet. To my surprise they ENDED with it and people LISTENED at 1am on a Friday night. It was enough to restore my faith in humanity that a sold out capacity crowd of loud, drunken hipsters who were seemingly just there to see and be seen were lulled into silence by such a beautiful and graceful song. They could do better? I suppose if they all grew angel wings and flew off to heaven, which doesn’t seem to be too far off now. What’s more I loved the pristine production and vitality of the tracks on their EP ‘He Gets me High.’ It didn’t hurt that they covered one of my favourite Smiths songs so well, either.

8) Kate Bush—’50 Words for Snow’- Anti

This record just had to come out right when I’d gotten my year-end list compiled. ‘Hounds of Love’ ranks among my favourite records ever so it’s not much of a surprise that I absolutely love this record. There are times where I am listening to ‘Lake Tahoe’ and it seems as though Kate Bush’s musical genius has shown me what it would be like if Scott Walker, Nina Simone and herself were all in a room together. She has a way with strings that I can’t resist and wintry, piano-based stark songs are one of the quickest ways to my heart. Only Kate Bush could get Elton John to sing backing vocals and get such a graceful performance out of what sounds like a truly awful idea. The only track I don’t like that much is the title track, but I almost feel like every Kate Bush album is supposed to have one song that you’re not meant to like instantly (on ‘Hounds of Love’ it’s ‘Waking the Witch’ for me—except the intro, which is one of the most perfect, beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard). The gravelly, worn quality to her voice is a nice counterpoint to the brightness of her earliest stuff. Even gravelly voiced she is a fantastic singer—every time I hear someone do a Kate Bush cover it reminds me what a fantastic singer she’s always been. Who else could write as beautiful a song about trying to love a snowman?

9) Cave—‘Neverendless’- Drag City

Constantly late to the party, this is the first Cave record I’ve ever bought. Every time I listen to it I am filled with shame for ignoring them for so long despite the constant reminders from trusted musical companions that they were so great. I’m not sure where to begin… ‘This is the Best’ is a good start, I suppose, as it really is. ‘Neverendless’ is an album that somehow manages to be fun and serious at the same time. Very far-out, but also capable of effortlessly drawing you in. I’ve still never seen them live—which is lame as there’ve been ample opportunities at this point. I could’ve been walking out of New Wave Coffee on Milwaukee one day and heard them playing from the back of a flatbed truck, for the love of god.

10) Atlas Sound—‘Parallax’- 4AD

Another one to file under, ‘late to the party.’ Why, when Deerhunter have been one of my favourite new bands since I first saw them in 2007, have I never bought an Atlas Sound record until this year? While I don’t love ‘Parallax’ as much as 2009’s ‘Logos’ I have to give Bradford Cox some recognition for managing to sculpt his sound (which is based on some really trippy elements most of the time) into something this sharp and clear. There is a clarity of vision here that is admirable and yet not much of a surprise at the same time. ‘Mona Lisa’ is something that wouldn’t be out of the question to hear on the radio (or objectionable). There’s also the second side with bizarre piano-dirge ‘Doledrums’ and deranged Neil Young-circa-‘On the Beach’-style finger-picked beauty ‘Terra Incognita’ rubbing elbows with pure pop tracks like the soaring downer chorus of ‘Angel is Broken,’ the noir-ish title track and ‘Praying Man.’

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

best of 2011: part two of four

Honorable mentions

I listened to more new music this year than I ever have before. This is a list of ten releases that didn't make the top 10. I thought about expanding my list to a top 20 list, but I had a difficult time trying to rank these ten (or 11 or more depending on your tolerance for technicalities). In the interest of not whole-heartedly condoning the act of list-making and rating I decided to just leave them exactly as they are here.

Wooden Shjips—‘West’/Moon Duo—‘Mazes’- Thrill Jockey/Sacred Bones

I find it hard to separate these two records from both of Ripley Johnson’s bands. To me they seem so much of a piece that I can’t talk about one without mentioning the other. Both push each band’s sound into a cleaner production style with pleasing results. This isn’t always the case with bands that record their own material, but, as with Kurt Vile’s ‘Smoke Ring for my Halo,’ the songs benefit from a fresh production style. ‘West’ is the fuzziest and bounciest of all Wooden Shjips releases while ‘Mazes’ is the most varied and upbeat of all Moon Duo releases. Both are also more reigned in as both Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo thrive on stretched exercises in disciplined minimalism (which Moon Duo returns to on the ‘Horror Tour’ EP released around Halloween this year, again with pleasing results). It’s difficult to put much into the standard criticisms about Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo as their commitment to their sound is greater than their obligation to stylistic variation. This can have its minuses, but at the same time it’s refreshing to see a band pulling off what could be a lifeless and static sound with such skill. 2011 marks the year that I was finally able to fully grasp what each band was doing and now that I finally get it I could honestly not care less if anyone else in the world is on board. If you’re not, it’s really just a shame for you, I guess.

Woods—‘Sun and Shade’- Woodsist

What can I say? Another year, another brilliant album from Woods which continues on seamlessly and beautifully from last year’s excellent ‘At Echo Lake’ (which picked up from 2009’s formidable ‘Songs of Shame’ in similar fashion). This is a band on a creative tear—there’s not much to do but sit back, watch the sparks fly and enjoy the show. The stretched and spaced-out ‘Out of the Eye’ and ‘Sol y Sombra’ sit comfortably alongside the pure psych/folk/whatever pop of pretty much any track on the first side. They even come close to merging these two seemingly opposing sides on ‘White Out.’ As if that weren’t enough there’s plenty of their stark and murky dark tracks piled up at the end. They manage to cram an awful lot into a record this short. I would say that I can’t wait to hear what they do next, but then they released two 7”es that were also of similarly high quality and blending the psych-jammy-dreaminess with their folk-tinged pop. There isn’t any evidence of an upcoming misstep.

Bardo Pond—s/t- Fire

This is the best Bardo Pond record since ‘Amanita.’ Its main success is that it combines the formidable song lengths of their most recent releases with the accessibility of ‘Amanita’ without sacrificing any of the heaviness, unrelenting fuzz or completely wacked-out sounds that they pull off so easily. It’s a nice foil for ‘Dilate,’ which is the Bardo Pond record I return to the most. ‘Await the Star’ is probably my favourite song of theirs so far—it couldn’t possibly be more perfect—all 12 minutes of it.

Mogwai—‘Hardcore Will Never Die, but You Will’/’Earth Division’- Subpop

The latest Mogwai record took some time for me to appreciate, which is okay with me. It was nice to be challenged by a Mogwai record. In the grand spectrum of their body of work (which is pretty large and much more varied than I expected when I first got into them around the time of ‘Come on Die Young’) I’d say this is their equivalent of the Cure’s ‘Head on the Door.’ What I mean by this (in case you’re not a Cure obsessive like me) is that this record is vibrant and bright and bursting with new ideas and ground for them to cover and explore for years to come. It also means that this record is very accessible and probably the best starting point for anyone wanting to get sucked into their world. As if this weren’t enough, the download code included with the LP yielded a bonus track that is my favourite extended Mogwai track since ‘My Father My King.’ Entitled ‘Music for a Forgotten Future (The Singing Mountain),’ it clocks in at 23 minutes and features only two minutes of drumming. It unfolds slowly and beautifully from practically nothing and fades away in similar fashion. It’s the sound of a band that means business and that, to me, is what has always been Mogwai’s best feature—they aren’t fucking around. They feel what they are doing and believe in it very intensely. When I heard news of the ‘Earth Division’ EP (which was released in September) the description sounded encouragingly close to this extended, moody instrumental and I was not disappointed. It even has ‘Drunk and Crazy’ which explores the potential of ‘The Hawk is Howling’s standout track ‘The Sun Smells too Loud.’

Feist—‘Metals’- Interscope/Cherry Tree

Whenever I’d listen to ‘The Reminder’ I’d always find myself wishing that Leslie Feist had made the slower, more graceful songs the focus rather than spacing them out between light, cutesy pop fare. Then there’s that whole ‘1234’ nonsense, which I don’t really care about (although the version she sang on ‘Sesame Street’ was wonderful). Then this record arrived and I couldn’t help but feel like my wish had been granted. The only song I don’t like is ‘How Come you Never Go There.’ Kudos.

Florence and the Machine—‘Ceremonials’- Universal

Yes, I love this record. Even more than ‘Lungs.’ You can go ahead and read all about it here.

Panda Bear—‘Tom Boy’- Paw Tracks

At one point this record was vying for the top spot with Low. The only thing that knocked it out of the rotation was when I finally bought ‘Person Pitch’ on vinyl. Conceptually, I love this record—an album released entirely on a series of 7”es before the full-length release?! Yes, please! What’s more, I love Sonic Boom’s mixes and mastering—they add a brightness and sharpness that (from what I’ve heard) wasn’t present on the 7” mixes. ‘Scheherezade’ is my favourite Panda Bear track, without question. The only minus was that, being restricted to the 7” format, the songs lose that graceful progression that the songs from ‘Person Pitch’ gained from their expanded lengths (if you want to know what I mean, I’d advise you to check out this clip of Panda Bear’s performance of ‘You Can Count on Me’ on Jimmy Fallon). Granted, this is a rather minor gripe as these songs explore a more energetic side to Noah Lennox’s songwriting, which is developing into something more and more beautiful with each release.

Sic Alps—‘Napa Asylum’- Drag City

Talk about a weird record. This is what I listen to on my commute when I want to feel like I’m on an impossible-to-replicate cocktail of drugs. What ties my head in knots the most about this record is the way that it’s mixed, as I find it amazing and a bit disturbing that Sic Alps have figured out a way to MIX their records in a way that will make you feel like you’re on drugs. This would’ve placed higher in the list if it hadn’t been a double LP. The first record is flawless and perfect, but the second gets a bit tangential and tends to meander a bit too much. As if that weren’t enough they managed to outdo themselves with the two 7” releases that came out right on the heels of this record, particularly with the near-perfect ‘Battery Townsley.’ All of that said I still have enjoyed this record immensely, as it’s the first Sic Alps stuff I’ve ever heard and it allows me the luxury of feeling like I’m on a bunch of drugs when I’m riding the train to work in the morning.

Real Estate—‘Days’- Domino

The only song on this record that I don’t like is the one sung by the bass player—it kind of interrupts what seems to be the carefully constructed impressionistic/narrative flow that this record seems to have. The self-titled Real Estate album is what got me through the doledrums of last summer and this record got me through this fall in similar fashion. Appropriate as the self-titled record is a perfect summer record and ‘Days’ a perfect fall album. Autumnal is harder to do than it seems. It’s easy to mistake for wintery, but autumnal this definitely is. It has all of the nostalgia and wistfulness that comes in the fall as the leaves change colours. ‘The winter was coming, but that was alright,’ is how Martin Courtney puts it in the heartbreaking college nostalgia of ‘Green Aisles.’ Courtney’s lyrics on this record are exactly the type of lyrics I wish more new bands would explore. Rather than pull more examples I recommend you get ahold of this beautiful record of the type of plaintive, earnest, indie guitar pop that most bands just don’t bother with any more and find out for yourself.

Disappears—‘Guider’/’Live at Echo Canyon’- Kranky/Plustapes

What an interesting year for Disappears. I wanted to put ‘Guider’ up in the numbered chart list, but I just couldn’t because it simply isn’t as good as ‘Lux.’ To be fair this is a case of the bar being set impossibly high. The follow-up EP ‘Live at Echo Canyon’ is a different story, though. Their first recording with Steve Shelley (who is appearing to be less and less of a temporary replacement as time goes on and the releases keep being churned out—‘Pre-Language,’ their third full-length and first LP with Shelley is due in March and looks to be fantastic), the five songs manage to outshine ‘Guider’s… errr… six. It manages to do this in a fraction of the time and pushes their sound into new territory. ‘Guider’ does have the benefit of containing the most interesting extended work-out of ‘Revisiting’ as the sole track on its second side, though.

Implodes—‘Black Earth’- Kranky

This is a beautiful record in a way that few recent releases from new bands tend to be. The songs are drenched in fuzz and all manner of odd noises, minimal cymbal-less drums and dreary vocals and yet they often manage to sculpt these elements into something transcendental and soothing. ‘Oxblood’ is a good example of this, or pretty much the entire second side (particularly ‘Hands on the Rail’).

Monday, December 26, 2011

best of 2011: part one of four

Best Discoveries of 2011

This is a new category from past years, as I'm always finding myself making new musical discoveries that I missed the boat on from previous years. Since these three records really added something to my music-listening life this year I figured there's no reason why I shouldn't include them in my year-end list.

Clear Horizon- s/t- 2003

This one certainly seems like a no-brainer considering how much I love Jessica Bailiff and Flying Saucer Attack. I’d always heard talk of a collaboration, but had never heard much more about it than that. I certainly didn’t know where to find it and both FSA and Jessica Bailiff’s respective discographies can be slippery enough to track down on their own, so such an obscurity, I figured, would be futile to seek out. I happened upon Clear Horizon during one of my marathon sessions trolling on ebay looking for Flying Saucer Attack vinyl (also futile, just so you know). The name escaped my orbit until I found the self-titled record on vinyl at Reckless Records one day. A few weeks later I was finally able to sell enough CDs to buy it (this was during what I’ll call ‘the lean times’ between jobs) and it has proven to be the most wonderful record I’ve heard in at least ten years. It’s not a surprise that it’s great considering the two people involved and their considerable talents and similarity of aesthetics on their own, but even given this truth the results of their collaboration could not possibly be more perfect. ‘Match made in heaven,’ is an understatement. A lot of the tracks are pretty much what one would expect—Jessica singing in her beautiful lilting voice over her strummed acoustic guitar chords while Dave Pearce cranks up the fuzzy washes and feedback in the background. In these cases, met expectations do little to diminish the undeniable beauty of the songs. If the record were made up just of these types of moments it would be more than satisfying, but the music never settles into any single, static form. On several tracks the two settle on an ultra-ambient, gauzy background wash that I have trouble believing is made up of guitars—it’s more on par with the types of noises that Sonic Boom is capable of coaxing from nothing more than a chain of effects pedals and patch cables using the mixing board as a conduit of controlled, formless tone. The best example of this would be on the stand-out ‘Sunrise Drift.’ This record has served as the perfect soundtrack for pre-dawn work commutes. Closing track ‘Open Road’ comes to life with an electronic beat and a melodic bassline in addition to the beautiful swirls of feedback colouring in the background. It almost sounds like a hip-hop track. Perhaps most delightfully to myself was the fact that Bailiff was not relegated to sole vocalist and Pearce relegated to sole noise-maker. There are textures employed here that have been hallmarks of Bailiff’s records for years and there is some acoustic strumming that evokes ‘Further’ in a way that is quintessential FSA. Pearce even contributes a few of his best vocal performances on this record to great effect. It would be great if these two would get back to their trans-Atlantic tape-trading and 4-tracking. As if that weren’t enough the production on this record (which was produced entirely on a 4-track) is to die for, ranking up there in the top tier of each artist’s (who both engineer and record their own music) production work that achieves a warmth that is missing from plenty of ‘higher fidelity’ recordings. It really puts a kink in the whole ‘lo-fi’ argument.

Sun Araw—‘Beach Head’- 2008

Another record that I use for my many pre-dawn commutes. I would’ve put this year’s ‘Ancient Romans’ in the list, but it simply doesn’t compare to this record. ‘Beams’ is my favourite track—built from delay-tinged, murky acoustic guitar plucking and chant-like vocals, it builds into this hulking, monolithic, unnameable paen to the beauty of fuzz. I almost lose my breath every time the music drops out leaving those twin, rising, feedback tones by themselves. This is what more drone bands would sound like if their heads weren’t firmly shoved up their own asses. My one frustration is the jealousy I feel when I listen to this record as this is pretty much exactly what I was going for on the shalloboi album ‘petals.’

Acetone—‘York Blvd.’- 2000

Every few years I rediscover Acetone all over again. This year I ordered a brand new vinyl copy of ‘York Blvd.’ They’re so criminally overlooked that their records are still in print and easy to find on vinyl. ‘York Blvd.’ is the final piece in the Acetone puzzle that ended when bassist/singer Richie Lee took his own life in 2001. The specter of his understandable disappointment is all over this record and it makes for a pretty eerie listen. This is the record where Acetone found the fuzz and the tension again and brought it back in spades while adding a keyboardist for good measure. The bitterness and anger are all there in the lyrics. Some of the muted minimalism of the self-titled record is present in the beautiful ‘Vibrato’ as well.

Biggest Disappointments of 2011

There are always a few records that I'm eagerly anticipating before they come out that end up leaving me feeling very disappointed for whatever reason. While I didn't hate any of these releases, I just thought that all of these artists could've done better (especially when they've made us wait so long). It happens. What can you do? In this case I made a short list.

Fleet Foxes—‘Helplessness Blues’

I’m curious to see how many people put this in their top ten this year as, judging from the meteoric rise to stardom this record seems to have raised the Fleet Foxes to, it will be a lot. My verdict—absolutely nowhere near as good as the self-titled record from three years ago. I wish they’d released the record they’d finished in 2009, as it was supposedly an ‘Astral Weeks’-styled album. Judging from the fact that so many artists have successfully mined that particular album for inspiration and come back from the well with consistently distinctive and impressive results (for example, Robert Smith cited it as an inspiration for 1980’s ‘Seventeen Seconds’ and Jason Pierce listed it in every interview as a reference point for 1992’s ‘Lazer Guided Melodies’) and from the standout ‘Lorelai’ (which is a pretty obvious result of said sessions) they should’ve just stuck with it. Would people have eaten it up as greedily and quickly as what they got? Well, maybe not. It still seems pretty obvious to me that this is the sound of a band struggling to drag themselves out of a confused mire and not quite succeeding. There are bright spots—namely ‘Lorelai,’ ‘Montezuma’ and the title track, but I can barely stand to listen to the last few tracks. I waited three years for this?!

PJ Harvey—‘Let England Shake’

This is the most disappointed I’ve ever been in any PJ Harvey record and I’ve been along for the ride since 1993’s ‘Rid of Me.’ ‘White Chalk’ was graceful and wondrous, but this is just… well, I don’t know. Shrill and irritating at times? ‘Written on the Forehead’ is so terrible I can’t even find words to voice my displeasure when I listen to it. The title track has a nice, creepy vibe that could’ve been explored more and I also love ‘Hanging in the Wire’—truly the type of beauty only Harvey is capable of. The rest of the record leaves me feeling a range from mildly to severely dissatisfied. Again, I’m interested to see this on the top 10 lists of countless others. I just don’t get it, I guess.

Radiohead—‘King of Limbs’

I love the ‘Supercollider’ 12” (speaking of which WHY THE FUCK AREN’T THOSE SONGS ON HERE?!), but this full-length (can it even be called that really?) just feels lifeless, like it was churned out on auto-pilot. Radhiohead have always been too good to their fans, taking great measures never to let this happen, but here it is, nevertheless. ‘Codex’ is to die for as is ‘Give up the Ghost’ and the closing track, but the rest is a bunch of fridge buzz interrupted only by the bright spot of ‘Lotus Flower.’ I must’ve listened to this record ten or twelve times before finally giving up. It doesn’t really matter much, though, does it? They’ve achieved a Cure-like level of journalistic immunity. I suppose this was just a good way for that truth to be confirmed finally. ‘In Rainbows’ was a record that managed to get me excited about them during a time when I barely listened to them any more. ‘Hail to Thief,’ despite its reputation as the most boring Radiohead record, has a good deal to redeem itself when it comes to stylistic variation, but this just sounds like they finally ran out of gas. I suppose it was inevitable, but does that really make it any less sad or disappointing? That said I’m going to check out ‘Live from the Basement’ ASAP because I’ve heard that it takes these songs and makes them shit-hot (which I’m inclined to believe—my faith isn’t entirely shaken).

Lost Gems of 2010

I always miss out on at least a handful of great records right after they come out. I’ve decided to start writing about them in the current year-end best-of list from now on. Just because I’m perpetually late to the party doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy myself any less once I get there.

Wild Nothing—‘Gemini’

How did I miss this one last year? It’s the perfect combination of shameless nostalgia, both thematically and aesthetically. Plus, the songwriting is strong, varied, hooky where it needs to be, but not nagging, obnoxious or contrived. As a bonus the songs are tempered with a shimmery, vaguely shoegazer-y kind of vibe. A lot of the influences are immediately apparent and yet are woven together in ways that sound fresh and heartfelt. This is one of those records that I listen to a lot where my favourite song depends entirely on my mood. I would also like to add that I LOATHE jangly music and hipsterish 80’s revivalism, but find this record entirely impossible to resist.

Warpaint—‘The Fool’

Another ‘late-to-the-party’ scenario, I was introduced to Warpaint by the violin player in shalloboi after hearing about them for a few years due to their frequent stops at the Empty Bottle. I hear a lot of people crying ‘foul’ over this record after the EP ‘Exquisite Corpse’ but I’m hard-pressed to figure out what’s not to like here. In some ways I feel like all of my favourites are crammed onto the first half, but then all of the sad, slow stuff is on the second half. It’s laid-out like a Cure album, features some beautiful female harmonies, some nice effects-laden and melodic guitars, how can I resist it? The answer? I can’t. End of story.

Tamaryn—‘The Waves’

I was just too broke to buy this around Christmas time last year when it was released. I heard it and thought it was fantastic, bought the ‘Mild Confusion’ 7”, kept hearing about how the vinyl was only limited to 1000 and was going fast, but still was never able to get my hands on it until the new year. Kind of a relief as this would’ve wreaked havoc on my year-end list. This is another one of those records that I allow myself to have the audacity to assume that it might have been made just for me. There’s a wintery theme going on here, some shamelessly dense use of delay, a stubborn analog-loyalty, buried drums and a female singer. What’s more half of the songs are slow-burning, loud brooders that they played live when I saw them open for the Raveonettes. These things are the quickest ways to my heart. In some ways it seems to me to be a shameless bit of old-school shoegaze imitation, but when I go through the old-school shoegaze stuff I find there still isn’t a lot of this kind of stuff in the vaults there. They are able to make it their own and push it forward. Could more people do this, please?

Monday, December 19, 2011

diary 12.10.11- choirs of winter

the end of the year is upon us. with my 'best of 2011' entry now numbering just below 6000 words i figured it'd be a good idea to space it out a bit. i'm kicking things off with the december diary playlist. a few holiday-themed songs on here, but for the most part it's a mixture of songs that ended up getting cut from the 'best of 2011' playlist (which is finally done and quite a doozy), winter-themed songs and then a few inserted in the standard method (i.e. whatever's indicative of my mood and entered my music-listening life at the appropriate time). enjoy!

song- artist- album

1. snowflake- kate bush- '50 words for snow'
2. choirs of winter- tamaryn- 'the waves'
3. contraption/soul desert- thee oh sees- 'carrion crawler'/'the dream'
4. don't mess up my baby- the black lips- 'arabia mountain'
5. get lost- tom waits- 'bad as me'
6. bike- pink floyd- 'piper at the gates of dawn'
7. do you believe in destiny?- the fresh & onlys- 'secret walls'
8. dark eyes- crystal stilts- 'radiant door'
9. it's alright- kurt vile- 'so outta reach'
10. lay myself down- mazzy star- 'common burn' single
11. out of the eye- woods- 'sun and shade'
12. day dreamy- ringo deathstarr- 'colour trip'
13. little stars- holly golightly- 'little stars' 7"
14. blood never lies- thurston moore- 'demolished thoughts'
15. when i die- lush- 'split'
16. criminals- atlas sound- 'logos'
17. goodnight, goodnight/silent night- spiritualized- union chapel acoustic mainlines bootleg

Saturday, November 26, 2011

review- thee oh sees at the empty bottle 11.23.11

Thee Oh Sees early set at the Empty Bottle was a show for which the term ‘bring the ruckus’ was created. I bopped like a mental patient the entire hour-long set (which refused to even begin to let up) along with the other three-hundred odd people in the crowd. I am not the type of person who moves much at shows either, but even I could not resist. Not bad for a night that was over before ten o’clock.

The band played most of the new (and excellent) ‘Carrion Crawler’/’The Dream’ full-length and the songs were gloriously noisy, incredibly dynamic and air-tight. The Siamese twin-effect dual drumming of Mike Shoun and Lars Finberg was a nice addition to the last time I’d seen them, which was at Lincoln Hall last year after the release of ‘Warm Slime.’ Brigid Dawson and John Dwyer’s harmonies were glistening and spot-on as always, Dwyer’s guitar playing flung back and forth from disciplined and precise to sheer noise with the greatest of ease (often while holding his guitar and aiming it like a machine gun) and suspenders-wearing cake-tattoo sporting bass player Petey Dammit bopped to his own locked-groove lines all night, only looking to Dwyer occasionally for dynamic cues. How they are able to maintain such a ferocious, unrelenting pace for so long and keep it so simultaneously anarchic and controlled is truly confounding. It’s a thing of great and rare beauty. They are able to transform any room into a party-zone.

I was a bit bummed that they didn’t play rocked-up versions of any of the ‘Castlemania’ songs (like they did with ‘AA Warm Breeze’ on their tour split with Total Control), but there couldn’t help but be canyon-like omissions from their back catalogue considering its size. ‘Carrion Crawler’/’The Dream’ is their 13th proper full-length release. What’s more they played my favourite track from the new record (‘Robber Barons’ in case you’re interested) and the elation I felt during that song and during the excellent extended version of ‘Block of Ice’ from ‘The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night in’ made any absences very minor gripes. They also played the ‘Help’ centerpiece ‘Destroyed Fortress Reappears’ with some modified lyrics (I couldn’t figure out if they were saying ‘be somebody’ or ‘eat somebody’ or both) before diving into a 10+ minute version of a rather unsuspecting song from ‘Dog Poison’ (essentially a Dwyer solo record) called ‘Dead Energy’ that weaved in an out of the song’s main structure over and over through meandering and psychedelically-fried extrapolations that rendered the song somehow simultaneously hypnotic and punishing. This would be where the beautiful part comes into play.

Well done Oh Sees. They played nearly a completely different set from the Lincoln Hall set last year. It’s a rather sizeable regret that I hold onto that I wasn’t able to make their show at the Bottle in July (it was on the only night everyone else in shalloboi could make to play the last strings show) as well as their free set at the Logan Square Monument. There are times I even get annoyed with myself that I didn’t get off of my ass and catch them at Schuba’s back in 2009. They are certainly not to be missed and who can even tell where they are headed next—the only certainty is that no one will see it coming.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

ruminations (well, sort of): 20th anniversary of 'loveless'

Oh, the irony. I missed the 20th anniversary of the release of My Bloody Valentine's 'Loveless,' which has been one of my two favourite records since I first heard it when I was 16 years old (the other one is the Cure's 'Disintegration' in case you missed all the fuss when it was reissued last year). I'm a bit hesitant to wax too philosophical about it, namely because it's been done to death quite frankly. If ever there were a record that was hopelessly futile to write about then 'Loveless' would be it. Fitting, I think, that there is little to no fanfare. A remaster has existed since 2008 (contrary to popular belief Kevin Shields upheld his end of the bargain and actually finished the 'Isn't Anything' and 'Loveless' remasters, for whatever reason the record company refuses to release them. The last rumor I've heard is that the writing of liner notes is what's holding things up) but has remained shamefully unreleased. Truthfully I have them both (as does anyone who posts or lurks on the MBV forum) and I never found either to be that much better than they were on the first go-round- I'm one of those hopeless nerds who has the original vinyl for both records. The analogue remaster of 'Loveless' does sound a hair better than the original CD, but the difference is negligible. This always seemed quite the underscore to the futility of improving something like 'Loveless.' Jason Pierce was smart enough to recognize that his year spent mixing 'Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space' was worthwhile as the original album wasn't in any need of remastering when the time came for the 2009 reissue.

I digress. Yes, the album is unbelievably influential. Then there's the storied tale of its troubled creation. There's an entire book filled with useless writing and fantastic quotes from the entire band (check out the 'Loveless' book in the 33 1/3 series- Kevin Shields' quotes alone make it worth a read even though the style it's written in is incredibly obnoxious), so go read it if you feel like reliving all of that drama. The truth of the matter is that it all matters so little when listening to the album. True, it remains unmatched as a fully-conceived sonic achievement, but there are other records with similar credentials in the history of pop music. I'd like to talk about the songwriting on the album as that is what very few people mention when talking about Shields and My Bloody Valentine, which is a shame as he is an undeniably talented songwriter. If the songs weren't able to hold up to the test of time it wouldn't matter how labored over they had been in the studio. No one would care. The 16 year old me that was listening to that copy of 'Loveless' with my friend were completely silent as 'To Here Knows When' played and it was a mixture of the beauty of the song itself in addition to the overwhelming uniqueness of what we were hearing that is what bowled us over. 'To Here Knows When' remains possibly my favourite song ever mainly because I find the melodic content and the way the chords melt into each other in incredibly subtle ways so captivating. It's almost like hearing music for the first time- it doesn't seem like it came from reality. How someone was able to wrestle their vision into reality as clearly as they have here is simply astonishing- not just in terms of production, but guitar playing and in bringing a song like this to fruition. I've gotten my hands on a guitar tab of the song that actually sounds accurate (this is always a tenuous thing with My Bloody Valentine songs) and to me the beauty of the song becomes all the clearer when played on an acoustic guitar. It's clear that the song was conceived every bit as carefully as the production itself. What I find so continuously disappointing about all of the writing about MBV and Kevin Shields is how often this fact is overlooked. The strange siren-like whines that open 'Only Shallow' not only grab you with their formless weirdness, but also serve as a melodic hook as do the vocal melodies in the song. There is a subtlety at work that so often goes unnoticed. Considering how indecipherable the actual lyrics were, the melodies were impossible to deny even when they were simple moaning 'ooh's and 'aah's (which is quite a bit in the MBV catalogue).

What's more, each song on the album seems to have been just as carefully conceived. When stripped of its similar production elements the songs are all quite different in their melodic structure and a lot of the time the arrangements are revealed to be rather standard. Another tab I have for 'Sometimes' reveals it to be something that wouldn't sound out of place in a strictly folk context- it has a folk-styled open tuning. 'Loomer' has some truly mind-boggling dissonant guitar madness going on in it that somehow manages to enhance its beauty rather than destroy it. The songs that most resemble each other on the album are 'When You Sleep,' 'Come in Alone,' 'I Only Said' and 'What You Want' mainly due to the fact that they are fairly standard (well, in their own way) electric guitar-based rock songs. I've always found those four to be the weakest on the album mainly because they are the most similar and they don't quite measure up as songs when you compare them to similar songs from 'Isn't Anything' or something like 'Honey Power' off of the 'Tremelo' EP. In context this is not as negative of a statement as it seems. They're the type of songs that I'd often hear on records that I wouldn't be able to fully appreciate until hearing them played live. A lot of them even have clearly detectable source material- namely Hüsker Dü and the loud/quiet dynamic of the Pixies and yet their execution is anything but formulaic. 'When You Sleep' has that weird, surfy flute-sounding melodic loop and that very strong verse vocal harmony/chord change overlap that's incredibly striking, 'I Only Said' is built on relentless repetition interrupted by that glittering bridge change that comes out of nowhere and leaves just as quickly and 'Come in Alone' is built almost entirely on lumbering, loud guitars that are bent into hooks despite themselves. Again, all just as reliant on songwriting and dynamics as on production. One of the main elements that makes the music on 'Loveless' so distinctive is the way that Shields builds the chord structures of his songs around alternate tunings that allow him to achieve the types of melodic dissonance and texture to achieve what he is after musically and emotionally. I've always found My Bloody Valentine songs to be a pretty good source of emotional content and mood even if I can't understand the lyrics. One doesn't always need to understand the lyrics of a song to connect with its emotional pull. Listen to a full Cocteau Twins album and it's difficult not to connect with on an emotional scale despite the fact that the lyrics are most likely a bunch of baby talk. It's the way that the melodies are structured that are getting the emotion across. Production only serves as enhancement.

So please, for the love of god, just stop going on and on about all of the sensationalist nonsense surrounding this album and just enjoy it for what it is- a fully-conceived album of beautiful and rewarding songs.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

the brian jonestown massacre- maxwell's, hoboken, nj 2002.02.17

If you look over to the right in the links area you'll see one link entitled 'Johnny Love Fuzztone' which, if you click on it, is sadly dead. That blog was by an individual who shared some really great stuff through his blog- mostly bootleg live shows and rarities. He posted regularly on the Keep Music Evil forum, which is a gathering place for fans of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. He was a nice guy who fell upon a lot of hardship and took a lot of shit and I always admired him for sharing so much great stuff. Since all of the links are now gone I thought I'd revive a few over a time. The first is the best find that I got off of his site- this is a BJM show from 2002 from Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey. It's quite the intense little gem- 'Johnny Marr is Dead,' 'Straight Up and Down' and 'Sue' for a start, plus the rarely played 'Open Heart Surgery.' Here it is for you to enjoy-


1. Johnny Marr is Dead
2. Nevertheless
3. Servo/Swallowtail
4. Jennifer/Nailing Honey to the Bee
5. Whoever you Are
6. Vacuum Boots
7. Who
8. Sue
9. Wisdom
10. (joke)
11. This is Why you Love me
12. Open Heart Surgery
13. Telegram
14. Fucker
15. That Girl Suicide
16. Satellite
17. Straight Up and Down

Monday, November 7, 2011

review- atlas sound- 'parallax'

Upon the release of Deerhunter's 'Halcyon Digest' the first thing I noticed when I put it on was how much 'Earthquake' sounded like it could've been an Atlas Sound song. During most of the record I found several other examples- 'Sailing,' 'Helicopter,' even something like 'Basement Scene.' While putting 'Parallax' on for the first time I had a similar feeling about a few tracks- several of them wouldn't be the slightest bit out of place on a Deerhunter record. 'Angel is Broken' moves forward with a driving, immediate urgency similar to much of what can be heard on 'Microcastle.' 'Parallax' is Bradford Cox's most wide-eyed and lucid work as Atlas Sound to date. A few of the songs sound radio-ready (this is not meant as an insult just to be clear). It fulfills the promise of many of the acoustic-based tracks in the four-volume 'Bedroom Databank' series that Cox released through his blog last year. 'Mona Lisa' from volume three makes an appearance here in a nicely fleshed-out form. On 2009's 'Logos' it seemed like Cox had taken his undeniable gift for hazy, spaced-out, atmospheric songs to the limit. Here, much of the sleepy-eyed feel has been shaken off in favor of some very crisp and clear production. This is Atlas Sound's 'Microcastle'- an appropriate parallel as both records were made at Brooklyn's Rare Book Room.

Dedicated to Trish Keenan (the singer of the Broadcast who passed away tragically and very suddenly within the first two weeks of this year, their last American tour having been opening for Atlas Sound in 2009) and with a cover that immediately struck me as an homage to Jeff Buckley's 'Grace' cover, a great deal of the music has a very classic feel to it- deliberately staking its own place in a vast continuum of music. The title track has sonic nods to 60's music similar to 'Weird Era Continued's 'Vox Humana' and 'Terra Incognita' has some acoustic plucking that reminds me of mid-70's Neil Young as well as an uplifting, anthemic chorus. The aforementioned 'Mona Lisa' is clean, shiny and driving and sounds radio ready. Then there is the woozy and beautiful 'Doldrums' where Cox takes his gauzy piano playing and feeds it through a maze of looping delay pedals over a backdrop of leaden, watery drums. Even on the trippier tracks there isn't much in the way of reverb and a great deal of the ambience on the record is the result of room sounds lending it a dry, hospital-room feel similar to Spiritualized's 'Songs in A&E.' The second side is dominated by the more ambient and dreamier songs with a few exceptions- namely 'Angel is Broken' and the upbeat, sunny closing track 'Lightworks.'

It's surprising to me how long it's taken for me to start paying attention to Atlas Sound considering how much I've always loved Deerhunter as it seems to me the two have such a yin/yang relationship. It's similar to the interplay between Nick Cave's work with the Bad Seeds and Grinderman over the past six years only on a more frequent scale. 'Let the Blind Lead those Who Can See but Cannot Feel' has a heavily electronic feel where 'Cryptograms' has more of a guitar-based take on ambient rock, 'Logos' favors hazy dreaminess where 'Microcastle' favors clean production and sharp, clear song structures. Such is the case between 'Parallax' and 'Halcyon Digest.' I only had to listen to 'Parallax' once to get a good feel for it, whereas 'Halcyon Digest' took me three listens to warm up to. This Atlas Sound/Deerhunter call and response can go on forever and bleed together as often as possible- especially if the results prove to be this consistently stunning.

diary 11.5.11- wasted in time

road tested. this one kind of cooks, i have to admit.
next month i'll be doubling up with another diary playlist (possibly holiday themed) and my best of 2011. the amount of writing that will be posted around that occasion will be nothing short of astounding. i've been carefully compiling data all year and it's been quite a bit of work just keeping with the overwhelming amount of great new music that's come out this year.

song- artist- album
1. dear rose- nina nastasia- 'dogs'
2. breadhead- sic alps- 'breadhead' 7"
3. apathy- mikal cronin- s/t
4. sleep forever- crocodiles- 'sleep forever'
5. green aisles- real estate- 'insound studio session'
6. it rained- atlast sound- 'let the blind lead those who can see but cannot feel'
7. in/out blues- kurt vile- 'woods/kurt vile tour split'
8. skull- woods- 'woods/kurt vile tour split'
9. u- mirror mirror- s/t
10. polly- nirvana- 'live at the paramount'
11. all this remains- bert jansch- 'edge of a dream'
12. beams- sun araw- 'beach head'
13. comet- astrobrite- 'crush'
14. hair shoes- pale saints- 'in ribbons'
15. mary- spiritualized- albert hall 2011 bootleg
16. if i love you- the brian jonestown massacre- grog shop 2001 bootleg
17. kotton krown- sonic youth- 'sister'

Thursday, November 3, 2011

ruminations: mazzy star- 'common burn' single etc.

On the occasion of Mazzy Star's long overdue return with their new single from their forthcoming album I began this entry without having heard the whole thing. On my commute home on Monday night I threw on the band's 1996 album 'Among My Swan' which is the last proper album of new music from the band for reference/reverence. I'll probably listen to the album's worth of as-of-yet largely unreleased songs from an audience recording of the band's last tour in 2000 in copenhagen, denmark at the legendary club löppen. On this tour the band played a set comprised mostly of new stripped-down, probably unfinished but also ridiculously beautiful new material. Of those seven songs only one has seen release on Hope Sandoval's beautiful second solo record with her band The Warm Inventions, 2009's 'Through the Devil Softly.' That would be 'For the Rest of Your Life' and in a very different form from what is heard on the Löppen bootleg. Since hearing these recordings back in 2005 or 2006 I've always been curious as to whether they would ever see release, however, since the new single is two songs that aren't present on this Löppen recording it almost makes me wonder if I want these mostly acoustic live tracks to ever see a proper release as they are so gorgeous as they are and, from what I've heard on the new single, it sounds like they've moved on from them anyway.

'Among My Swan' is an album that I've owned since its release and I remember being largely alone amongst my friends in even knowing it had been released. Despite the fanfare surrounding 'Fade Into You' the follow-up album somehow managed to fall through the cracks despite what a dramatically huge step forward it was from 'So Tonight That I Might See.' One can only imagine the fight they had to put up to get it released. Without a 'suitable follow-up single' the songs run a huge gamut from acoustic softness a la 'Flowers in December,' the starkness of the haunting reverb-drenched 'All Your Sisters,' the heavily-vibed 'Roseblood' to the unparalleled tone poem 'Umbilical' all leading up to the crushingly desolate closer 'Look On Down From the Bridge' (which remains one of my favourite songs ever). I remember using 'Look On Down From the Bridge' as the closing song for a play I wrote in high school called 'Soon'- one day I had to sub for the actor doing the final monologue before it played and becoming so overwhelmed that I had to go for a long walk through the empty halls of my high school in its after-hours darkness. It's a poignant memory that could only be one from when I was 17. It was a time when I was in over my head emotionally to the point where even I was unaware of how much trouble I was in- it was a premonition of a depression that spiraled out of control once I left home for Columbia College here in Chicago. I would not bathe or was my clothes for weeks at a time, spent most of my time along wallowing in endless regret and guilt. I wasn't able to pull myself out of it until I was 19 and found, to my horror, that I'd retreated back to Kansas City from where I really wanted to be and was now stuck there. Not to mention how many new friends I'd met who tried to help me see ways to pull myself out and how they'd given up when I'd stubbornly refused to listen to them. There was even a possible relationship in there that I ruined. Goodbyes that were never said. Feelings that were never expressed, or reciprocated. It's a lot for a five minute song to dredge up, but that is what 'Look On Down From the Bridge' does.

Ironically these feelings of regret and longing for one of those 'one that got away' type of feelings is what 'Common Burn' is about. I definitely feel the common burn when I listen to 'Among My Swan.' Stylistically, 'Common Burn' sounds about how one would expect- it sounds like Dave Roback playing on one of the drumless acoustic tracks from 'Through the Devil Softly' (think 'Lady Jessica and Sam' meets the lead guitars from 'Disappear'). What is most interesting to me about it is how it sounds and feels like a 50/50 collaboration between Sandoval and Roback- the guitars were clearly playing by Roback and the recording bears his production stamp, but Sandoval obviously played the vibraphone, harmonica and tambourine in addition to her singing. Previously it seemed as though she would mostly sing and add a few percussive flourishes to a song that Roback had already built from the ground up (which even feels like the case with something like 'Give You my Lovin' off of 'She Hangs Brightly'- the two chord song had been written and conceived by Sandoval, but Roback fleshed the whole thing out in a way that only he could). 'Lay Myself Down' is the one of the two that sounds the most like older Mazzy Star. It has all of the hallmarks, but with an additional country vibe that Mazzy Star never fully explored. I suppose really what I mean here is that there is a very present and effective pedal steel. All told these are two very promising songs that are hopefully the precursors to even more new ground covered. The likelihood that I will listen to these songs fifteen years down the road and have them transport me right back to this incredibly trying time is very high. This is strangely comforting to me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

review- real estate at lincoln hall 10.31.11

I have a tremendous amount of difficulty understanding what exactly it is about Real Estate that makes me love them so much. When I think about their music I feel like it's conceptually very thin and rehashed, but when I throw either of their magnificent records on the turntable it always sounds unlike anything I've ever heard. It all seems obvious enough and yet no one has even come close to making the type of music that they make. I recently read a review of 'Days' comparing it to 'Oh, Inverted World' by the Shins and it occurred to me that that might be apt, but then the more I think about it the less true it seems. They couldn't possibly come off as any more unassuming than they do. Their sound is instantly identifiable, but conceptually seems so analogous and yet no two songs sound alike apart from a predilection for phaser and light delay. On record the songs seem so placid and laid back, which one would think would make for a dull and joyless live show. What I found while watching their excellent headlining set at Lincoln Hall was an incredibly impassioned, fun and driving set of songs. One of my favourite moments of the night was when the band launched into the gorgeous wistfulness of 'Green Aisles' after a stretch of five covers (more on that later) and feeling a rush of joy rise in everyone in the crowd. Such moments are increasingly rare.

The first time I heard Real Estate was when they opened for Woods last year at Lincoln Hall just before the release of the 'Reality' EP. I was stuck in the front of the bar in a booth with my wife and two friends and I remember being able to hear them playing in the next room very clearly. The entire time I alternated between thinking, 'Eh, this isn't that good' and 'This is fucking beautiful. I want to get my ass out of this booth and into that room to listen to this properly.' I didn't get ahold of the first self-titled record until the beginning of this summer, despite having heard a co-worker play it at work constantly over the last year or so, the rave reviews and the aforementioned enjoyment of their live set opening for Woods. I bought my ticket for this current Lincoln Hall show on a lark not even aware that they had a new record coming out. I was initially going to wait until the night of the show to buy 'Days' but after watching their Insound Session videos the suspense was unbearable and I found myself dropping by Reckless Records on the way home from work the day it was released specifically to buy it. 'Days' is currently in heavy rotation- it's the perfect foil to their self-titled record- somewhat more polished, staying true to their aesthetic yet effortlessly plunging into new, exciting territory. It's a very tight little record and, indeed, seems the perfect winter foil to the summery feeling of the self-titled record.

The band took to the stage dressed in fairly subtle costumes (mostly just funny hats). They opened with a few from the first record, played the bright first track off of 'Days' and then launched into a five-song cover set in honor of halloween- a very inspired and obviously fairly spontaneous stunt that I feel like they pulled off. It's something that a curmudgeon like me should loathe, but I found very unexpected and enjoyable. They played a Clean song, 'Coffee and TV' by Blur and 'Holiday' by Weezer, for example. After the covers set they removed their hats and started a beautiful, solid stretch of songs from 'Days' starting with 'Green Aisles' (which is probably my favourite song on the record). The setlist built upon itself keeping the energy and the vibe going. Not many bands can start a song like 'Suburban Dogs' and you can feel a lift in the crowds' collective spirits, but that's what happened when the drummer started the stark beat. It sounded absolutely breathtaking and perfect. They closed with the closing track off of 'Days' and they even came out for an encore. Try as I might to describe how they managed to play such laid-back sounding songs with so much energy and drive I can't even begin to start. All I know is that the 'downer indie' label that was lazily cast onto the band in their Time Out Chicago listing for this show proved to be the biggest crock I've ever heard. My one complaint- they didn't play 'Out of Tune.'

Sunday, October 30, 2011

ruminations: nirvana- 'live at the paramount'

Let the 'Nevermind' 20th anniversary madness continue. After having lived with the newly released 'Live at the Paramount' DVD for over a week now I have come to regard it as a treasure. It shows Nirvana in their absolute prime playing a hometown headlining show with Bikini Kill and Mudhoney that can only be described as 'triumphant.' 'This is about big, sweaty redneck men who rape,' Cobain deadpans before launching into an early version of 'Rape Me' which is lit by women in black leotards and clown masks doing a dance routine with handheld spotlights. Simply glorious. Once again time shows us that the band did, indeed, know how to put on a show. Considering the fact that Cobain is so stationary at the microphone stand for so much of the night he thrashes and moves for much of the time he is there which is not to mention all of the rolling-around-on-the-floor moments during the guitar solo in 'Breed.' I've always loved the performances from this show that could be found on the 'Live Tonight: Sold Out' video and DVD. This is probably my favourite 'Polly.' I love how Dave Grohl requests that they play it, clearly because he is in need of a well-earned breather. The Fernandes guitar with the 'Vandalism: Beautiful as a brick in a cop's face' bumper sticker living its final, glorious hour. My eyes get teary during the shot where one of the cameramen manages to get Cobain, Grohl and Krist Novoselic all in the same frame during this song.

They even play several songs from 'Bleach.' I get a similar feeling from this performance footage as from the 'Year Punk Broke' footage- they are clearly enjoying themselves onstage and truly putting everything into what they're doing. Cobain was never one to hold back for any reason- one of the most engaging things about his scream being how torn, ragged and worn-down it could become without losing an ounce of its potentcy. It is the scream of a man who is incapable of holding back. While watching it does carry a bit of a sense of foreboding- there are times when they seem uncomfortable with the immensity of what they now find themselves a part of. There is a bit of that malaise that is captured so clearly (and quite uncomfortably) in the 'Live Tonight: Sold Out' video, but really if you look at the timeline Cobain and Courtney Love aren't married yet, there is no omnipresence of tabloid trashing so far but it is possible (I can't really remember the timeline that clearly) that Cobain has begun his period of extended heroin use.

What remains most important is the ferocity of the performance. Ferocious it definitely is: 19 songs stretched over 72 minutes. Probably the best 'Endless Nameless' live performance. The 'Nevermind' songs burn with an intensity that is missing on the record. 'Aneurysm' has always been a live Nirvana favourite of mine to hear on bootlegs and I always thought it was pretty amazing that they used to open their shows with a B-side. Not just any B-side, mind you, but one that outshines so many other bands' best A-sides. It's also always been a joy to watch this performance as well as the ones in 'The Year Punk Broke' and be able to pick out moments that were inserted into the 'Lithium' video.

My one beef: I'd read reviews saying that the DVD included in the 'Nevermind' 4-disc box set included this performance as well as all of the 'Nevermind'-era videos. I was a bit bummed when this showed up on my doorstep without those videos. I've told my wife about the 'In Bloom' video tons of times but it always ends with me making it sound stupid, kind of like when I would try to describe 'Kids in the Hall' sketches to her. Has to be seen to be believed. The 'Come as You Are' video has also always been a favourite of mine among their videos- probably the first Kevin Kerslake video I'd ever seen of all of his excellent videos (i.e. 'Fade Into You' by Mazzy Star, 'Beauty Lies in the Eye' and 'Shadow of a Doubt' by Sonic Youth).

I'm not sure why I was surprised that I would absolutely love this DVD, but for some reason I put off buying it because I'd heard that the 'Live at Reading' one wasn't that good (I still haven't gotten that one, but I probably will now) and was worried that this live set would be disappointing. One thing I still find mystifying about its existence is why it's taken so long to be released- professionally shot, recorded and mixed by Andy Wallace... why has it taken so long to surface? I'm looking forward to the 20th anniversary of 'In Utero' in two years as I'm hoping they'll release the entire live set from MTV's Live New Years Eve special (yup, MTV used to put together some decent bills for these- New Years Eve 1993-94 was supposed to have Pearl Jam and Nirvana but Pearl Jam pulled out of it at the last minute and Nirvana stepped in and gladly picked up their slack- kind of like they had with 'In Utero' when 'vs.' showed up and was kind of weak) as I think I only saw the whole thing once. Not even my best friend had a video-taped copy of it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

review- florence and the machine- 'ceremonials'

Yup, I got my dirty little mitts on the new Florence and the Machine record early. A friend recommended I listen to 'Lungs' one night after hearing me rave about Neko Case (as anyone who knows me will tell you, I often rave about Neko Case). 'Lungs' has always been somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me- I'm not sure why, there's really nothing embarrassing about listening to it- it's very powerful and provocative pop music. I suppose any blatantly pop music that I listen to, I do so with a bit of trepidation and 'Lungs' would fall firmly into that category. What I found was that I liked several of the songs a great deal, but often despite a particularly light pop chorus or some kind of production flourish that I often found annoying in most typical pop fare. There were some undeniably powerful songs and ideas being knocked around throughout that little pop album, though, there was no denying it. This is what made my first listen to 'Ceremonials' such a joyful event- basically Florence Welch took the massive commercial capital that she has been tirelessly building over the last two years and not only expanded immensely on all of 'Lungs's best attributes, but she managed to mature light years as a songwriter, artist and arranger in the process beyond my wildest imaginings. 'Ceremonials' is a fantastic album, period. The fact that it will doubtlessly blow up Florence's already gargantuan popularity even further does nothing to diminish this either.

Of the songs on 'Lungs' my favourites were always 'Dog Days Are Over,' 'Cosmic Love' (possibly one of the most fascinating love songs I've ever heard) and 'Blinding.' Somehow these songs have all been managed to be met and bested in this set time and time again. The album simply never lets up. To me the closest thing to a 'weak' track would be 'Lover to Lover.' It's a bit like listening to 'Purple Rain' and being amazed that 'Computer Blue' is the weak track. The songs are infused with a graceful vibrancy that can't be faked (most try and fall on their faces) and a great deal of the imagery that fills the lyrics concerns the surreality of memory, the elusive beauty of life and even a healthier-than-expected serenity that shouldn't be so firmly entrenched in someone so incredibly young thrust so quickly into the spotlight. And yet, such is just a part of Florence's substantial gifts. She wisely retained her backing band, obviously utilized their talents as a springboard for her ideas and songs to their absolute maximum effect and somehow maintains a humble perspective over something which her cult of personality could easily tower over. Call it a miracle of English reserve- most would crumble under mountains of hubris were they in her shoes. Isabelle Summers remains the fulcrum of the band, an emphasis on percussion continues to be the recipe for what moves everything forward, plenty of harp and beautiful use of strings continue to be the main order. Somehow these songs all blossom in this particular arrangement in wildly unpredictable ways that never even hint at falling into anything even remotely resembling familiar territory. The gospel backdrop that is wrapped around several tracks here (the most notable example being the five minute plus single 'What the Water Gave Me') is nothing short of breathtaking. These elements should not work together, and yet here they do as if that were the only way they could. It's like listening to an entirely new musical vocabulary being created. It reminds me of listening to 'Hounds of Love' for the first time.

The extras on the deluxe edition are worth their weight as well. The acoustic version of 'Breaking Down' actually bests the full arrangement from the album and the extra tracks do little to validate their place as extra tracks- they hint at vast and exciting future possibilities themselves (i.e. the Siouxsie Sioux-worthy murk of 'Bedroom Hymns,' which could/should be twice as long as it is).

Florence has been quoted often as saying that the album was easy to make. This would explain the way that it seemed to appear completely out of nowhere right on the heels of an American tour that could only be described as a victory lap. Florence, we kneel before you. If only all of our guilty pleasures were as good to us as you have been.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

diary 10.6.11- and here we are, nowhere...

diary playlist for october, which is turning out to be quite a strange month full of high highs and low lows. i've gotten a jumpstart on the november playlist- so much cool stuff coming out. mixcloud link to follow soon.

song- artist- album
1. teenage riot- sonic youth- '1991: the year punk broke'
2. magnetic moon- crystal stilts- 'shake the shackles' 7"
3. crystal baby- dum dum girls- 'coming down' 7"
4. vulture like lovers- wild nothing- 'golden haze'
5. overload- the cardigans- 'super extra gravity'
6. undiscovered first- feist- 'metals'
7. lover of mine- beach house- 'teen dream'
8. 14 horses- mary timony- 'the golden dove'
9. vibrato- acetone- 'york blvd.'
10. the ballad of richie lee- spiritualized- 'amazing grace'
11. dancing on the highway- elliott smith- b-sides
12. does this always happen?- mogwai- 'earth division'
13. tonight's the night- solomon burke- 'tonight's the night' 7"
14. let it loose- rolling stones- 'exile on main street'
15. sea of sound- pale saints- 'the comforts of madness'
16. nowhere- ride- 'live at the roxy 1991'
17. i'm coming home (parts 1 & 2)- the staple singers- 'the best of the vee-jay years'

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

ruminations: '1991: the year punk broke'

With the big 20th anniversary of 'Nevermind' the sharp contrast of how differently the record industry functions now as opposed to then has never seemed so readily apparent. The catapult-like rise of Nirvana has left one of the most indelible marks on my music-listening life, as I'm sure it has nearly everyone in my age group. Thinking about it now it seems so much more serious than it did at the time. I suppose that's the case with witnessing a cultural shift- you can never be sure that one's even happened until much later after it's gone, but it is beyond a doubt to me at this point that Nirvana was at the epicenter of the biggest cultural shift of probably the last 40 years. I was 12 years old when 'Nevermind' came out and there really was nothing like it. Like most popular things amongst a vast majority of people, I found its quality suspect but it was always undeniable how great the record and the band actually were when I would sit in my room listening to music while doing my homework. It was unlike any other record I'd ever heard both stylistically and in its construction- the trajectory of quality spread across the tracklist is nothing short of masterful. Radiohead are famous for getting into band-breakup causing arguments over the tracklistings for their records. 'Nevermind' is a good example why- it is probably the platonic example of a perfectly constructed tracklist. My version of the CD was an early pressing that didn't have 'Endless, Nameless' after 20 minutes of silence, so what I had was a 12 song album that clocked in at just over 42 minutes. The album does have two distinct sides as well (as any Nirvana enthusiast will tell you, this was deliberate- during the planning stages of the album Kurt Cobain had seperated the album into two distinct sides: a boy side and a girl side). I was always partial to the second side (which I suppose was the girl side, maybe)- it was 'Drain You' that made me fall in love with the band- such a beautiful and strange song. That said the quality of the first side was unquestionable- 'In Bloom,' 'Breed,' 'Come as You Are,' 'Lithium,' etc.- all great songs. The second side had all of the darker, less run-of-the-mill songs- 'Drain You,' 'Lounge Act,' 'On a Plain' and 'Something in the Way.' Those were the songs that would blow me away every time when I would listen to the record alone in my room- the way that 'Stay Away' collapses and crashes to death in the whir of a dying tape machine, the disquieting 'did I just hear that?' guttural moaning sounds at the end of 'Lounge Act,' the rubber ducky noises that manage to have such an air of menace during tense middle section of 'Drain You,' the a cappella harmonies that end 'On a Plain' giving way to the rather harrowing, stark beauty of 'Something in the Way.' This is the kind of stuff that really drew me in in a way that I had never experienced before. All of the things I describe do much to bely the whole 'tossed-off, right-place right-time' kind of talk that surrounds this album. These are textural additions that were borne out of spontaneous moments that the band were smart enough to recognize as adding something to the overall proceedings and therefore purposely left them in. There's a reason that the songs are so great- because the person writing them was a great songwriter. There's a reason that the record connected with people- because the people making the record figured out ways to do so. To write it all off as dumb luck does so much to cheapen what makes the record and the phenomenon so special.

Now that I've set the scene I'm going to talk about '1991: The Year Punk Broke,' which finally came out on DVD (a prospect that has been talked about since 2004). It is a documentary that simultaneously pays homage to and makes fun of 60s concert documentaries. The subject in this case is a two week tour of European festivals that Sonic Youth invited Nirvana on with them just before the release and explosion of 'Nevermind.' This would be what Nirvana did instead of accepting stadium tour opening act invitations from Guns 'n Roses and U2. The film plays so matter-of-factly and seems tossed-off and unable to take anything seriously except for the music- which constitutes a wealth of fantastic live performances from Sonic Youth and Nirvana as well as Dinosaur Jr., Babes in Toyland, the Ramones and Gumball. Ironically the tossed-off nature has been rendered unbelievably poignant and beautiful in the aftermath of Cobain's suicide, which is to say nothing of how unbelievably different the music world is now. The performances are ragged, raw, noisy and incredibly passionate. Nirvana actually sound like they are ENJOYING performing 'Smells Like Teen Spirit.' To put things into perspective further, Nirvana's performance at the 1991 Reading Festival is documented here- it is more than a bit curious to consider it next to the DVD of their headlining performance at the next year's festival. Their offstage antics show them in such a wide-eyed and innocent phase that irrevocably shattered once they became platinum-selling artists, which is incredibly poignant in its own way. It's almost heart-breaking to see them this way. This documentary also sold me hook, line and sinker on Sonic Youth when I watched it in 1994 on loan from my best friend in high school. I remember watching videos for 'Kool Thing' and 'Dirty Boots' when they were still new and not being impressed until I saw the video for 'Daydream Nation's 'Teenage Riot' on an episode of '120 minutes' hosted by Thurston Moore on which Beck was the special guest (it was when they smashed a telephone with baseball bats during the interview) in 1993. Then there were these versions from 'The Year Punk Broke' which made me a convert. I still pine for this era in Sonic Youth's history- fresh off their best run of records- 'EVOL' on through 'Goo.'

What ended up happening for me with Nirvana was I ended up liking Pearl Jam more until the release of 'In Utero' and then the 'Unplugged' set (the DVD of which is one of the best of many great gifts given to me by my sister). I do, indeed, remember the details of the day when Kurt Cobain's body was found. My sister was home sick and had been watching TV all day and told me the second I walked in the front door. I spent the rest of the day (and the next two or three days probably) watching the endless loop of MTV coverage and when that finally stopped I watched my taped copy of 'Unplugged' over and over again. Ask anyone in my age group and they have a similar story.

Had I never heard of Nirvana there are so many of my favourite bands that I never would've heard of (this would definitely include Sonic Youth, for instance). They brought indie music to suburban kids everywhere- I grew up in Kansas and listened to Sebadoh and My Bloody Valentine. Without hearing of Nirvana I see no way that this would've been possible. I'll close with an appropriate anecdote: in 1995 the band I was in with my two closest friends were playing a punk show at the Harmon Park Pavilion that we had set up ourselves. We did a really heartfelt cover of 'Territorial Pissings' which elicited some wiseass comments from some of our high school-aged peers at this show, some of whom went on to play some truly by-the-numbers pop punk in their respective bands. My best friend and I were talking about it after we played and he said, "What the fuck ever. None of these kids would even know what punk was if it hadn't been for Nirvana."

Friday, September 16, 2011

naysayer- wild flag

I’ll just go ahead and say it—I’m a bit disappointed in Wild Flag. I shouldn’t be—I should be beyond thrilled: Mary Timony, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss all in the same band—what’s not to love?! Well, I’ll tell you. It’s impossible to see them live, buy their new record or buy into that line of crap that they’re trying to feed people about how they’re trying to ‘work up to being their own band.’ No. You are in an indie superband and if you’re not going to own it it’s going to piss people off (like me, for instance). You’ve all already paid your dues, so play some bigger sized venues so that your fans who want to see you can get the opportunity. I actually would’ve liked to have had the opportunity to entertain the notion of catching them at the Empty Bottle had both shows not sold out in a fucking instant. Sorry, folks, but this probably means you might have to play at Lincoln Hall or maybe even (heaven help me for even saying this) the Metro regardless of whatever illusion or delusion of maintaining your cred you are operating under. People are going to want to see you based on your past musical endeavors whether you want to admit it to yourselves or not. That said, I suppose it is refreshing to see a little humility for a change.

And now, the recorded output: I have attempted to listen to a total of three Wild Flag songs and have, as of right now, failed to make it much further than the minute mark in any of them. I would like to add that I was a huge Sleater-Kinney supporter (until I read the lyric sheet for ‘One Beat’—a subject for another time) and that I have the softest spot in my heart for all Helium releases as well as Mary Timony’s absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful first two solo albums ‘Mountains’ and ‘The Golden Dove.’ In fact, Timony, in my mind, has always ranked high up there in the category of highly acrobatically capable guitarists who are able to balance their unparalleled shredding abilities with a wicked instinct for composition. The two are often mutually exclusive, but not so for Timony. An apropos confession—while living in Portland Stefanie and I bought tickets for a Sleater-Kinney show at the Crystal Ballroom only to see Mary Timony perform her opening solo set. We left after she was done. No shit. This brings me to a lot of my beef with the Wild Flag recordings—a lot of what put me off was the fact that it picked up right where I left off regarding my disappointments with both Sleater-Kinney and Mary Timony’s musical directions when I jumped off of each one’s respective bandwagon. I may have heard ‘The Woods’ once. I’m not sure. I seem to remember hearing it in a record store while I was browsing once. I believe my blind opinion differed very little from what it would’ve been had I known that I was, in fact, listening to the only Sleater-Kinney album I have ever deliberately not purchased. My verdict, I remember, was I liked a handful of the tracks, was annoyed at the drawn-out ‘jammy’ nature of the music (mainly because it was coming from a band that had always had a firm ‘no-bullshit’ stance which they held to enough that they never bothered to get a bass player) and also the bloated and crappily ill-fitting nature of Dave Fridmann’s production. This was a problem I also had with ‘The Great Destroyer’ by Low. Fridmann is the perfect producer for a band like the Flaming Lips. He was also a fantastic production foil for Mark Linkous on Sparklehorse’s brightest moment ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Mogwai’s ‘Come on Die Young’ was so well-suited to his penchant for obscenely bombastic drums coupled with crisp, digital production. Mercury Rev would never have worked with any other producer in the world. I actually really like his production. It’s when he all of a sudden became such an in-demand producer that he was being put into contexts where he just didn’t belong—i.e. working with Low and Sleater-Kinney for example—two bands that had always had a very firm no-bullshit, analog stance and had turned in multiple albums supporting their firmness in this stance. Had Low made 'C'mon' with him, for example, it would've been a bombastic disaster! Why would Sleater-Kinney want to work with someone who was so ensconced in the world of Protools? Probably the same reason that a band that had always built their reputation and artistic credibility on being no-bullshit and minimalist would want to stretch their songs out and make them ‘jammier.’ It just all seemed a bit forced to me. I remember watching them at the Crystal Ballroom (this was a previous time to the aforementioned show) as they pulled out such tired rock clichés as forced crowd singalongs, similarly forced-sounding jammed-out sections as well as backing tracks. No shit. When Nirvana bothered to finally mount a stadium tour they at least had the decency to just bring along a second guitarist and build an arty, unique stage set that was in line with their already firmly-established aesthetic. They were able to meet expectations while staying true to themselves. I just could never bring myself to listen to Sleater-Kinney again after that—it was such a far cry from what I’d seen at the Bottleneck only two years before on their tour supporting ‘All Hands on the Bad One’ which seemed to point towards a good path for them to make their music more accessible in a way that still seemed like artistic development.

So that’s where I left Sleater-Kinney. Mary Timony I left after her fourth solo record (the name escapes me). In her case it always seemed to be suppressed potential—she was capable of making these dense, engaging and gorgeous records completely on her own and yet all anyone wanted her to do was rehash what she was doing in Helium. The irony of this to me was that Helium also made dense, engaging, gorgeous records. I suppose the difference was that people thought they ‘rocked’ more, whereas something like ‘the Golden Dove’ is more of a dark, soft and insular creature. What’s the journalistic buzzword? Ah, yes: introspective! You don’t hear it a lot any more because now it has such a negative connotation. Times are bad enough without people having to actually think about the dark corners of their own psyches. We want rock, not to think about anything or contemplate a little beautiful music that doesn’t feel the need to beat us over the head and stab our eardrums and make us dance. I always felt a great amount of sadness that Timony didn’t continue down the path she had set with ‘Mountains’ and ‘the Golden Dove.’ Instead it always seemed to me that she retreated into what she thought others expected of her after Helium. ‘Ex Hex’ had some great moments, but the record’s songs were always more at home in the live context—maybe she should’ve tried to make her ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ with that one. The closer that she would perform from that record always melted our brains into mush when we would see it live. On the record, though, not so much. As if that weren’t enough Timony is relegated to a background player on a lot of the Wild Flag stuff that I heard. Her mad shredding skills were taking a bit of a back seat as well as her singspeak vocal style (which I would take over Brownstein’s similar singspeak vocal style any day). It’s stupid to have someone that musically capable pushed to the background. She can play and write circles around 90% of the talentless hacks in indie rock today (or any day for that matter). Listen to that Spells 7" from forever ago and see what I mean. I suppose this is just the nature of the indie rock climate these days, which is why I’ve found that I’ve grown further and further away from it as I’ve gotten older. It does a lot to explain the current lo-fi garage rock trend that all the kids are so nuts about these days. A postscript—if this pisses you off in any way please bear in mind that I am a 32-year-old college grad who works in a hotel coffeeshop who sunk all of his funds and future into a failed band endeavor. Wild Flag’s record is sold out of every record shop in town and every show on their tour is sold out.