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