Thursday, December 27, 2012

best of 2012: part four of four

Best of 2012 by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

song- artist- album

1. i'm gone- tamaryn- 'tender new signs'
2. will we be scared?- thee oh sees- 'putrifiers ii'
3. balance yr heart- white fence- 'family perfume vol. 1'
4. wave goodbye- ty segall- 'slaughterhouse'
5. free action- moon duo- 'circles'
6. summer chills- radar eyes- 's/t'
7. i am what i am- spiritualized- 'sweet heart, sweet light'
8. i want to hold your other hand- the brian jonestown massacre- 'aufheben'
9. feels like we only go backwards- tame impala- 'lonersim'
10. only heather- wild nothing- 'nocturne'
11. southern heart- the walkmen- 'heaven'
12. rock races- sic alps- 's/t'
13. your ghost is not enough- jessica bailiff- 'at the down-turned jagged rim of the sky'
14. varud- sigur rós- 'valtari'
15. all i can- sharon van etten- 'tramp'
16. irene- beach house- 'bloom'
17. ashen snow- dirty three- 'toward the low sun'

Friday, December 21, 2012

best of 2012: part three of four

10. The Brian Jonestown Massacre—‘Aufheben’ (A Recordings)

One of the most fascinating byproducts of the tangential nature of Anton Newcombe’s last two albums (2008’s ‘My Bloody Underground’ and 2010’s ‘Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?’) was the reaction of his supposedly devoted fanbase. Neither release was particularly beyond question for someone of Newcombe’s demented genius to create and yet it got so many peoples’ panties in quite the twist. I’m not sure who these people thought they were dealing with—expecting someone as unapologetic about anything as Newcombe is to do the expected seems misguided to say the least. When ‘Aufheben’ arrived in May it all made sense, though. The songs had already been leaked for the better part of a year, but as was the case with the previous two records the songs benefited greatly from a proper mix and master. The result is the most thoroughly satisfying BJM record since 2003’s ‘…And This is Our Music.’ I had to convince several to check it out as EVERYONE seemed skeptical when it first came out. As if that weren’t enough the new songs were all played live and sounded fantastic on the band’s latest rambling tour. ‘Aufheben’ is a German word that means simultaneously ‘to destroy’ and ‘to rebuild,’ after all.

9. White Fence—‘Family Perfume vols. 1 & 2’ (Woodsist)

Tim Presley has officially completed an impossible task with the ‘Family Perfume’ double set—a double LP in the truest sense and an indispensible one at that. The whole set doesn’t fit on a single CD, but fits neatly onto two separate and distinctive LPs that still manage to be pieces of a whole. ‘Family Perfume’ prompted me to dig out Darker My Love’s ‘2’ record and give it a few more spins. It’s difficult to imagine that the same man is largely responsible for both. It sounds like it could’ve been made in the 60s and yet there’s so much on it that would’ve been inconceivable to try then. What holds it all together is a dense set of solid songwriting. There are six or seven highlights that I can think of off the top of my head (‘Balance Yr Heart,’ ‘It Will Never Be,’ ‘Do you know IDA know,’ ‘Down PNX,’ ‘Breathe Again,’ ‘Lizards First,’ ‘King of the Decade’ all come to mind the quickest). I love that it was released separately first to test the waters and when both volumes quickly went out of print the complete version was made the only version.

8. Thee Oh Sees—‘Putrifiers II’ (In the Red)

Another year, another Oh Sees album. ‘Putrifiers II’ is nothing less than a delightful curveball, a dazzling surprise on their, what, 14th album in less than a decade?! Last year I crammed ‘Castlemania’ and ‘Carrion Crawler’ into a single spot. This record is almost as if the best elements of both records were mixed together perfectly with a dash of the beauty and grace of their overlooked mellow full-band period (2006’s ‘The Cool Deaths of Island Raiders,’ 2007’s ‘Sucks Blood’ and 2008’s haunting, audience-less live album ‘Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion’). When I heard that this album featured string arrangements I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but should’ve known that it would result in something as amazing as ‘So Nice.’ There’s more where this came from, too, as evidenced by their closing song at the late show with Ty Segall at Logan Square Auditorium as they played an amazingly psychedelic and driving song to close out the night. It was similar to seeing them play most of ‘Carrion Crawler/The Dream’ at Lincoln Hall in 2010 before the record had come out.

7. Tamaryn—‘Tender New Signs’ (Mexican Summer)

I reviewed this album as soon as the stream of it appeared on ‘Gorilla vs. Bear.’ My words were delirious and fawning, a fact that I remain unashamed of. It seemed to evoke a similar reaction in others, I found. The reason for this? Well, it’s a very passionate and dense album—it’s immersive and heartfelt. It’s a fresh take on a sound that’s been recycled so many times its initial impact seems to have been hopelessly lost forever. What’s more it takes that familiar sound and re-invigorates it and makes it their own. This is not an easy thing to pull off, but pull it off they definitely did. Again.

6. Godspeed You! Black Emporer—‘’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’ (Constellation)

Despite being their first release in 10 years Godspeed sound like they haven’t missed a beat here. To say that this release sounds ferocious is a bit of an understatement. Pick a few adjectives that you like, they all apply—‘cathartic,’ ‘harrowing,’ ‘passionate,’ ‘emotional,’ ‘transcendent,’ ‘intense,’ ‘sublime,’ etc. I’ve also been enjoying how the album came packaged on vinyl—it seems to make far more sense than the way it’s supposed to be listened to. I listen to the two intense, 20-minute pieces first and then the two shorter drones to come down. It hits on everything that they do best—incorporating field recordings without it being too much of a fuss, the grandiose power of their ensemble at full throttle and the pin-drop grace of the impressive restraint that they are also capable of.

5. Jessica Bailiff—‘At the Down-Turned Jagged Rim of the Sky’ (Kranky)

Like the new Godspeed album this one appeared practically from out of nowhere with an announcement on Kranky’s website that it would be out in barely two weeks. This record pulls Bailiff’s music out of that 3am music category with some prominent drums and heavy fuzz bass. Her songs are still wrapped in ethereal ambience, but the rhythm section is the focus here along with some of Bailiff’s most prominent melodies. A few songs could be radio-friendly if they were drowned in compression and auto-tune and such. It’s a good thing they aren’t here as they sound breathtaking as always wrapped in Bailiff’s careful production.

4. Sigur Rós—‘Valtari’ (XL/Krunk)

I waited to buy this album for about a week after it came out. I wasn’t that excited when I heard that Sigur Rós had ended their two year hiatus, either. I think a friend posted a link to one of the extra tracks that came with the pre-order download (‘Logn’). Despite being completely lyric-less (I’m talking not even their imaginary language ‘Hopelandic’) and largely arrhythmic it was ambient without being boring or unengaging. It was also intensely emotional and strikingly intimate. Naturally I went out and snagged the album and found that the rest was hitting me with the same impact. I’ve not always been on board for their more drifting, exploratory moments but this has to be my favourite album of theirs possibly ever. It’s most similar to their ‘( )’ album from 2002, but a much more enjoyable and fulfilling listen. Most of their albums seemed to hold you at arm’s length (except for ‘Takk…’ which drew you in with accessibility), but this one seems to wrap you into its own cocoon. So beautiful—my faith in them is completely restored.

3. Sharon van Etten—‘Tramp’ (Jagjaguwar)

I only recently discovered Sharon van Etten. At least I made it to the party in time for this third release of hers. Talk about fully-formed—last year’s borderline EP ‘Epic’ was packed with great and intense songs that made the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It also saw her pairing her songs with more of a band-driven format, but on ‘Tramp’ every song appears to have been arranged with a completely different band in mind. The stylistic and instrumental diversity is pretty staggering. The only choice I wasn’t wild about was having Sufjan Stevens sing on ‘We’re Alright’ but that’s mostly because I’m just not wild about his music. I have a difficult time finding a single song on here that doesn’t pack one hell of an emotional punch. ‘Warsaw’ is driving and fierce without being angry and without sacrificing subtlety, ‘Joke or a Lie’ is light, airy and minimal without sacrificing clarity or blending into the background. You’d think the jig would be up at some point, but so far it doesn’t appear to be any time soon.

2. Spiritualized—‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’ (Fat Possum/Doublesix)

This one was a shoe-in for the top of the heap. It got a head start, admittedly, when I heard all of the songs on the aforementioned Albert Hall bootleg back in November of last year. It’s greatest strength? These are all really great songs and the production is unique among any other Spiritualized release. They have a dry, precision cut and layered sound that expands and improves upon the sound of 2008’s ‘Songs in A&E’ (which was also their last album). It takes the focused songwriting that’s been developing steadily since 2001’s underrated ‘Let It Come Down’ to its apex. It’s no wonder that Jason Pierce has mentioned in interviews that he’d like to make a more electronic Spiritualized album next as it’s something he’s always wanted to do. Judging by ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space’ reissue bonus tracks ‘Rocket Shaped Song’ and ‘Beautiful Sadness’ this would be an appealing direction for him to take. Probably a wise choice as it might get him back to the more zoned-out atmospherics of ‘Lazer Guided Melodies’ and ‘Pure Phase.’ Truthfully there isn’t a lot Pierce could do that I wouldn’t find satisfying. It’s been a pleasure hearing his songwriting blossom over the last decade. Well done, Spaceman. Also, this is the best Spiritualized album since 1997’s benchmark ‘Ladies and Gentlemen…’

1. Beach House—‘Bloom’ (Subpop/Bella Union)

The only album to conceivably oppose Spiritualized for the top spot. The tie-breaker? I compared the number of plays and this one won by a landslide even when I tallied up the number of plays I logged on the Albert Hall bootleg where Spiritualized played all of ‘Sweet Heart, Sweet Light’ that I listened to from last winter and the promo version of the album I have. Not too shabby for an album that didn’t blow me away at first. ‘Bloom’ is a grower in a way similar to ‘Devotion’—its consistency of quality throughout its running time can be a hindrance upon first listen. While I still don’t like it as much as ‘Teen Dream’ (which they may never top, who knows) this album is filled with amazing songs that stand out in Beach House’s body of work. Plus it has ‘Irene’—a serious contender for their best song. These songs are all much more ‘up’ sounding compared to anything else they’ve done before (as long as you don’t take the lyrics into account, that is). They move along with an urgency and a velocity that didn’t really exist before, or only did in isolated instances. They also pop and explode in dazzling new ways.

Friday, December 14, 2012

best of 2012: part two of four

Honorable Mentions

Dirty Three—‘Toward the Low Sun’ (Drag City)

As if it weren’t enough that the Dirty Three broke their seven year silence, they did so with this compact gem of a record—which is probably their best since 2000’s ‘Whatever you Love, you Are.’ These songs are passionate, intense and probably their most varied—the sonic palette is wide. The orchestral ‘Ashen Snow’ features piano and mellotron in addition to the standard Dirty Three base trio. More layers doesn’t mean that the songs lose their breathing room, either. The requisite yearning and intense emotion are all there in spades. Like many of this year’s great surprises it landed pretty much out of nowhere.

Moon Duo—‘Circles’ (Sacred Bones)

It’s interesting that Moon Duo’s full-lengths are proving to be the releases that they fill with their most compact songs. After the release of ‘Mazes’ last year I thought that that was just the direction they were headed in, but then after hearing the ‘Horror Tour’ EP and then, of course, the 21-minute track ‘High Over Blue’ I was proven incorrect. I can only conclude that their main concern with every release—whether it’s an EP, 7” or full-length—is how the entire experience is perceived as a whole and it’s clear that their full-lengths are imagined as varied, extended sonic journeys. This one reminded me of ‘Honey’s Dead’-era Jesus and Mary Chain and early Dandy Warhols at times. The crisp, clear production is a natural progression from ‘Mazes’ with a further emphasis on melody. You can even make out a lot of the lyrics. They continue to wring so much from what so many have been quick to dismiss as a narrow, one-dimensional sound.

Tame Impala—‘Lonerism’ (Modular)

I avoided this one for quite a while due to the overwhelming hype. Interestingly, once the hype began to backlash was when I searched it out. At first it didn’t seem like it was that special, but the album quickly became addictive. Now, I’ve still never heard Tame Impala’s debut ‘Innerspeak’ (which I’ve heard written-off as a Dungen soundalike), but what I liked the most about this album is the lightning-speed immediacy of it. The layers of synths and monumental mountains of effects piled onto pretty much everything on here works brilliantly where normally melodies and dynamics become suffocated under the weight. ‘Apocalypse Dreams’ is the rosetta stone of this album for me. It goes from driving and upbeat to dirgey and emotionally wrecked in its verse-chorus-verse structure. Despite the springy, sharp reverb and slapback of delay you can make out main man Kevin Parker’s lyrics pretty clearly throughout. The closing run starting with ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ is just perfect. They’ve also pulled off a remarkable feat in making a song in as odd of a time signature as ‘Elephant’ such an accessible and compact single. ‘Like an elephant shaking his big, grey trunk for the hell of it,’ actually does a lot to explain the appeal of this album—it seems effortlessly tossed-off and celebratory, but so beautifully and deliberately constructed.

Ty Segall—‘Slaughterhouse’/’Twins’ (In the Red/Drag City)

Ty Segall fulfilled nearly all of his promise in one blinding year—he released three records just as promised, each one better than the last leading up to ‘Twins,’ which is his strongest release to date and then giving his all on a multitude of high profile television appearances. Could he possibly break through into mainstream awareness? It didn’t seem that possible before, but it certainly does now. ‘Twins’ would certainly be a great platform to do so from. It’s like a more straight-ahead rocking version of last year’s good weird ‘Goodbye Bread.’ Every song could conceivably be a great single. He’s also toned the scuzz down just enough that it won’t be off-putting to listeners who crave fidelity, but it’s still there in all of its fuzzy glory. ‘Slaughterhouse’ gets a mention here because it’s his first record done entirely with his excellent live band. When you subtract the 10-minute feedback exercise closing track it’s really more of a mini-album, but it also features the gut-punching opening couplet of ‘Death’ and ‘I Bought my Eyes’ as well as ‘Wave Goodbye,’ possibly one of his best tracks ever, and the glorious crash-and-burn of ‘Diddy-Wah-Diddy.’ Oh yeah, and he also teamed up with White Fence’s Tim Pressley to collaborate on a record called ‘Hair’ that is entirely worth your time.

Grizzly Bear—‘Shields’ (WARP)

‘Veckatimest’ hasn’t aged so well for me. It shook off all the cobwebby weirdness of 2006’s ‘Yellow House’ in favor of a more accessible sound. While the songs on it were all pretty solid, that cobwebby weirdness is what made me love them so much in the first place. Here they’ve taken the weirdness and woven it back into a set of songs that leap off from the poppy accessibility of ‘Veckatimest’ and give them a substantial shot in the arm. These songs are pretty fierce, formidable and oddly constructed. Every song is a force to be reckoned with. While I still don’t think it’s better than ‘Yellow House’ it’s about as close as they’re likely to come as ‘Shields’ registers as a jumping-off point—a band with too many ideas to contain. These songs were the first where Grizzly Bear has written collaboratively and it shows in the joyfully schizophrenic structures. Keep it coming!

Wild Nothing—‘Nocturne’ (Captured Tracks)

I had high hopes for this record at the beginning of the year and it turned out to be one of the eagerly anticipated records that surpassed my expectations. It took some getting used to, but then so did 2010’s brilliant debut ‘Gemini.’ ‘Nocturne’ has grown on me in a similar way—initially I found the 80s angle a bit cumbersome, but soon the more subtle and dreamier aspects dripped into my ears as if through an IV. Songs I didn’t care much for became highlights depending on the day or the hour. As with ‘Gemini,’ Jack Tatum’s consistent care with his songs is what forms the heart of this album.

The Raveonettes—‘Observator’ (VICE)

It seems odd to think that in their 10+ years as a band that Raveonettes have never used a piano on any of their recordings and yet, when the instrument appears during the closing strains of lovely opening track ‘Young and Cold’ it’s one of those simple ideas that hits like a ton of bricks. So obvious, why hadn’t it happened before? There’s a lot about this newest Raveonettes album that carries similar weight. At first it doesn’t seem like there’s much to distinguish it from anything else they’ve done, but when paired up as a companion piece to last year’s chilly, synth-heavy ‘Raven in the Grave’ it seems like further evidence of 2007’s ‘Lust Lust Lust’ as a creative jumping-off point for the Danish duo (well, as long as you leave out the hiccups from 2009’s ‘In and Out of Control’). The Raveonettes have managed to create their own world while simultaneously being written off by so many as derivative. Perhaps the lack of respect has liberated them creatively—they do seem to release their best work when they aren’t trying to impress anybody. The double 7” release ‘Into Night’ is worth checking out as well.

Melody’s Echo Chamber—‘s/t’ (Fat Possum)

This one surprised me. Quite a bit. Just as Broadcast were always burdened with the inappropriate label of being Stereolab soundalikes, Melody’s Echo Chamber is so far being billed as Broadcast soundalikes. There is plenty of evidence to support such a label, but considering how distinctive Broadcast’s records were it seems pretty ridiculous to compare them to much of anyone. I’m inclined to think that the Broadcast comparisons stem from the creative spirit that Melody’s Echo Chamber show off on this self-titled debut (produced by Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker). What made Broadcast so great was their ability to meld experimental and avant-garde sounds to pop melodies in addition to a complete lack of reserve as far as genre-mixing and sound/instrumental juxtaposition were concerned. Melody’s Echo Chamber seem to be taking that spirit on this record and using it as their foundation as they already seem to be jumping off into a different direction from the same point.

Sic Alps—‘s/t’ (Drag City)

Last year when writing about Sic Alps’ double LP ‘Napa Asylum’ I spent a little time moaning about a ‘lack of focus’ or some other nonsense in relation to the second half of it. I understand in retrospect that the supposed ‘lack of focus’ is actually one of their greatest goals as a band—they will go wherever their songs take them whether it’s readily accessible or incredibly tangential. I also mentioned how ‘Goodbye Bread’ sounded to me like what a more polished and reined-in version of Sic Alps might sound like. These sentiments mixed with the string of excellent 7” releases they’ve been churning out steadily since last summer caused me to wonder what Sic Alps would sound like in a more chiseled and focused form. This record arrived as my answer and what an answer it is. The last two tracks are probably my favourites of theirs. When I heard that the record incorporated the use of string arrangements I was confused as to how this could possibly work (I thought the exact same thing about Thee Oh Sees’ 2012 release ‘Putrifiers II’), but ‘Glyphs’ gets things rolling nicely and puts any doubts swiftly to bed. They manage to sound accessible without sacrificing any of their strengths. I’m not sure how they did it even while I listen to the album, but it’s one of those cases where by the time I flip the record over to side two I’ve already quit caring. Does it matter? Not really—this is their most focused and cohesive album with their most beautifully and perfectly rendered songs. ‘Rock Races’ is simply gorgeous. ‘Lazee Son’ is hilarious and addictive. If you crave weirdness there are plenty of places to look for it in their back catalog (the ‘Vedley’ 7” for instance). They continue to be a band that I truly have no clue what they could possibly do next.

Radar Eyes—‘s/t’ (Hozac)

Ending the string of self-titled albums by bands both old and new is the debut from Chicago locals Radar Eyes. This album couldn’t be more perfect if it tried—it’s a higher fidelity recording than much of the Hozac Records catalog, but it’s got just the right amount of scuzz, it effortlessly mixes psych and garage into a balanced stew, just the right amount of reverb, a nice amount of nicely woven analog keyboard lines amongst those beautifully realized interwoven guitar lines. The drums work that minimal, insistent beat and incorporate some nice percussive colours into the mix as well. While they’ve taken a lot of the same lift-off points as fellow locals Disappears (who also turned in the excellent ‘Pre Language’ this year) they really don’t sound like them at all. Some tracks are nicely extended to dazzling effect (‘Disconnection,’ ‘I am’) while others pack a quickly served wallop that’s usually more typical of punk rock (‘Summer Chills’). The closing track manages to sound like Joy Division without even meaning to. A lot of the new material that they’ve been playing live takes a much darker turn and bears very little resemblance to this formidable debut. How has the fertile psych/garage-melding scene in this fair city continued to elude national notice? At one point during Radar Eyes’ show-opening set at Lincoln Hall with the Fresh & Onlys there were more people gathering to hear them than had bothered to stick around for all of the headliners’ set.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

ruminations: unwound- 'live leaves'

click to buy at

Even though I couldn’t put this record in with the others for my end of the year best-of list, I can’t resist the urge to post about it. When Unwound broke up ten years ago it was sudden and came with absolutely no warning. The casual nature of their post on the Kill Rock Stars site saying they were cancelling their European and Japanese tours in support of their amazing final record ‘Leaves Turn Inside You’ because they were breaking up hit me like a ton of bricks. I was crushed. I’d just started digging into their back catalog. They’d played at the Granada in Lawrence only a few months before the announcement and I hadn’t gone as it had fallen during a period of time just before I’d gotten ‘Leaves Turn Inside You.’ In the announcement, however, they had promised a live compilation culled from the tour where they’d expanded to a five-piece and there was talk of a live recording archive website. As time continued to pass it seemed as though this was not to be. I continued to search out the records in their diverse back catalog. They were proving to be one of my favourite bands of the indie rock ilk—in a lot of ways it seems like that classic idea of indie rock died with them. A lot of bands on independent labels these days are mining material from very different sources. The punk roots and ethics are less of a concern these days.

Unwound were always an incredibly unique band. I recall hearing them dismissed as everything from Fugazi soundalikes to second-rate Sonic Youth imitators. I always found it a bit odd back then, but listening to them now any comparison seems baffling. I’d always heard that they were a force to be reckoned with live—they were certainly well-traveled. This live set is something else though. As if I weren’t already kicking myself for never having seen them live hearing this live compilation has sent me from ‘kicking myself’ to ‘completely gutted.’ These recordings are all technically bootleg quality, but honestly they seem to suit the songs better than the coarse sterility a lot of soundboard sourced recordings tend to have. I enjoy the slew of talkers during ‘Below the Salt,’ the sound of the odd clinking beer bottle (I have some live recordings from the Granada that feature this sound heavily) and, perhaps best of all, the stage announcement at the end of the jaw-dropping ‘Arboretum’/’Below the Salt’ onslaught. ‘You have 15 minutes to finish your beers.’ Very nice touch.

While the emphasis is on the ‘Leaves Turn Inside You’ material (it is called ‘Live Leaves’ after all) the old stuff isn’t completely forsaken. Nearly every other Unwound album is represented here—‘Valentine Card’ was always a personal favourite of mine from ‘Fake Train’ and is represented here, for instance. Their older tracks sound great in their five-piece format. It’s clear that the liner notes are being a bit self-deprecating—it’s hard to imagine a band that is clearly at the top of their game having a mediocre night. I guess it’s just a symptom of coming of age in the 90s—there was something that existed called ‘modesty.’ Most remarkably this set doesn’t reek of nostalgia—its delay wound up being a virtue that has helped solidify Unwound’s place in an independent music world that has become increasingly disjointed. They were one of the bands in the trenches paving the way for countless artists working today. What I’m most relieved about is the fact that this has put them back at the forefront of my mind and listening where they’ve always belonged. Sometime around when all of my cassette tapes were stolen out of my van in 2005 and I switched to an iPod shortly thereafter there were tons of bands that I used to listen to constantly that became mere passing thoughts. Unwound was one of those bands and whenever I would be reminded of them I would realize that if any band didn’t belong in those forgotten recesses of my shifting awareness it was them. As much as I enjoy the type of great new music that I’m constantly being bombarded with these days, I do miss these days when anything seemed possible. Unwound were always one of those bands that made me think this—they made amazing music that was bursting with ideas, existed seemingly independent of any other band or musician past or present and seemed to work from an endless well of amazing ideas and concepts that were entirely their own. Plus they were an honestly hard-working, brilliant and modest band—there are fewer and fewer of them these days.

Friday, December 7, 2012

best of 2012: part one of four

Best New Discoveries

The Heads—‘Relaxing with…’ (1996), ‘Everybody Knows We Got Nowhere’ (2000)

I took the plunge and bought the vinyl reissue of the Heads’ debut album ‘Relaxing with…’ when it came out this year even though I realized it would likely lead to years of hopeless chases, maxed out credit cards from ebay and discogs purchases and a heaping helping of vinyl-addict self-loathing. Based in Bristol the Heads have been fighting the good fight harder and longer than any other psych band of the last 20 years and with less recognition. Even Anton Newcombe has managed to reach the level of reverence that he has always deserved. With the Heads, this doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to happen and they couldn't possibly care less. They mix sludgy Mudhoney-esque fuzz with mind-melting psychedelic tangents, Spacemen 3-esque repetitious drones and throw in a great deal of their own unique weirdness in spades. They’re coming from a similar place to Bardo Pond—pure volume as altered state. Where Bardo Pond are often languid and slow-burning, the Heads are known to subject their listeners to lengthy pile-driving arrangements. Their debut led me to their second record ‘Everybody Knows We Got Nowhere,’ which was released four years after their debut failed to catapult them into the popular music stratosphere. It raises the bar on the level of sonic pummeling set on their formidable debut and expands a lot on the atmospheric scope. I’m not sure where to go next with them as ‘Everybody Knows…’ is painfully difficult to find on vinyl and everything they appear to have released since runs the gamut from singles/live sessions compilations to extended jam sessions that were recorded in their practice space (a new slab of which will be shipping to me from the UK in a week or so). Many were released in microscopic runs on CD-R only. The Heads have proven to be well worth the heartbreak thus far, though.

The Fauns—‘s/t’ (2009)

Another band from Bristol, the Fauns released this excellent debut in 2009. I happened upon them through twitter—they were one of the first followers of shalloboi on there. This beautifully-crafted debut forgoes a lot of the overwhelming fuzz that they seem to favor in a live setting (at least judging from the youtube videos of their performances that I’ve seen—the Fauns have yet to tour the states). Even sections that are wrapped in distortion highlight the radiant grace that these tracks are blessed with. They make great use of synth sounds as well on this record, blending them with layers of billowy guitars and this record has a ‘less is more’ kind of feel, which is atypical of most dream-pop/shoegaze/gauzy music (or whatever you want to call it). They also wisely left vocalist Alison Garner’s vocals free of effects (save a bit of effective doubling).

Biggest Disappointments

Sun Araw—‘The Inner Treaty’

As any fan and follower of psychedelic music will tell you the best music is often the most ‘out-there’ stuff—music that has the power to put you into an altered state just by listening to it. It is transformative and transporting. This is a delicate line to walk, however, which is what makes it so entrancing when it works. Most of the bands I listen to are great at walking this line, so much so that I often find myself asking ‘If this works how far is too far out?’ Well, here’s my answer. Sorry Mr. Stallones, but you’re desperately needed back here on earth. Where Cameron Stallones’ work as Sun Araw has always thrived on minimalism and stretched repetition, last year‘s ‘Ancient Romans’ seemed to finally over-reach the boundaries that Sun Araw had always managed better than anyone on ‘Beach Head,’ ‘On Patrol’ and ‘Heavy Deeds.’ Perhaps it was the silly synth sounds that I found so distracting, but then the FRKWYS collaboration with M. Geddes Gengras and the Congos came along. It seemed to be pointing in a positive direction back to the focus that even Stallones‘ most stretched-out early work presented so effectively. Plus the production was immaculate and the tracks were incredibly beautiful and other-wordly. When a new Sun Araw record was announced I was excited to see if this trend would be expanded upon and, as it turns out, it was pushed even further in the opposite direction. While listening to ‘Like Wine’ my heart sank—it seemed like the completely incoherent work of someone who was totally fargone. Despite that initial reaction I did still manage to check out the rest of the album. It took me three tries before I could even make it through the first track without turning it off. It’s a shame mainly because it was the death of a titan who’s diverse output I looked forward to with every subsequent release. The only good thing that can be said is that sometimes it’s good to find the line by crossing over it. That way you can at least know how far is too far.

The Fresh & Onlys—‘Long Slow Dance’

I was looking forward to this release when it was announced as it had been among my highest hopes for this year. With the announcement of every Fresh & Onlys offshoot (guitarist Wymond Miles released an EP and an LP this year, for instance) it seemed like we wouldn’t get a follow-up to 2010’s highlight ‘Play it Strange.’ I was hoping they’d marry ‘Play it Strange’ with 2011’s ‘Secret Walls’ EP and instead they released this curve-ball of an album. There are a handful of tracks on this album that I love, but for the most part it seemed like it featured some of the most awkward lyrics since their debut. It’s never a good sign when the bonus 7” you receive with your pre-order features your favourite track on the b-side. I admire them for attempting to write more accessible material, not to mention write such lovelorn and romantic songs (which at least yielded the absolutely perfect title track) but it just seems forced here at times. When I saw them at Lincoln Hall last month they admirably stuck behind these songs and some of them were enriched by being played passionately live, but there were still several that I just couldn’t get into. The perfect case in point would be ‘Foolish Person’—I would say that it’s the dividing line between the songs that I think work and don’t on this record. Sometimes I listen to it and like it and other times I hate it. I’m sure that they’ll bounce back as they don’t seem to be a band that has any problem coming up with new ideas. One of the most admirable aspects of their show at Lincoln Hall was how they tore into their songs with a fierce conviction despite a dwindling crowd—it shows a true passion that is immune to missteps.

The Chromatics—‘Kill for Love’

Just go read this.

Lost Gems of 2011

Mikal Cronin—‘s/t’

With the crush of great albums that overwhelmed me last year several serious contenders simply got left in the dust. This self-titled debut from Ty Segall’s bassist Mikal Cronin was set to be in the list for much of the year. If it hadn’t been for the one-two punch of Disappears’ album ‘Guider’ and ‘Live from Echo Canyon’ EP this would’ve been on the list. Cronin shows a diversity that’s rare on a debut. He could spin off in any direction that he wants after this—heck, it was a strong enough album that it caught the attention of Merge—which is incredibly exciting since this is the first case of a resident of the fertile crescent of garage rock (aka San Francisco) getting picked up by a label that has the potential to draw mainstream attention. There are some biting, fuzzed-out rockers (‘Green and Blue‘), some wistful crooners (‘Slow Down,‘‘Hold on me‘) and one of the most charming and fun closing tracks I’ve heard in ages. Try not to smile like an idiot while listening to ‘The Way Things Go‘ fall to pieces in its extended closing section.

Ty Segall—‘Goodbye Bread’

I was never even able to pick this one up in 2011—it was sold out nearly everywhere until the year was over. Despite Ty’s trio of great albums released this year, this is the one of his that I am continually coming back to. It was billed as an acoustic, classic-sounding album, ignored and dismissed by critics for being derivative (seriously, though, WHAT?!) and difficult to get ahold of despite being Segall’s first release on Drag City. My interpretation is that it was such an interesting mish-mash of influences and angles that no one knew what to think of it. ‘I Can’t Feel it’ is among the most accessible of the tracks on here. ‘This is going to be weird,’ Segall announces at the beginning of the track. He isn’t wrong, but this is definitely the good kind of weird. What a lot of these songs ended up reminding me of was what a more consistently focused Sic Alps might sound like. I wasn't far-off judging by their self-titled release from this year.

Veronica Falls—‘s/t’

This was one of those cases where the hype machine got a slower start and didn’t really get rolling until the year was pretty much over. If a hype machine must exist it would be nice if it functioned in this manner all the time as Veronica Falls are riding a smooth wave upwards and onwards. I’m glad a band has challenged the notion of twee at last—while these are dark songs delivered in the form of a sugary pill they’ve wisely left in a healthy air of menace. There’s also a very ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ aesthetic on here that reads as mildly confrontational and passionate. Pair that with the fact that they achieve a muscular sound with a bare-bones setup without having to resort to piling on the fuzz or reverb and it becomes difficult to deny the quality of these songs. If they went the way that most bands go with songs like this they’d sound like nothing more than a cheap Jesus & Mary Chain imitation. Instead they have a sort of 60s aesthetic filtered through the cynicism of the 90s and have thrown in some Velvet Undergound-influenced minimalism and just a dash of 80s Sonic Youth ferocity via pure attack.

The Raveonettes—‘ Raven in the Grave’

Like Mikal Cronin’s album, I died a little inside when this one got edged out of the list (the last minute Kate Bush and Tom Waits releases bumped everything down two spots). ‘Raven in the Grave’ was exactly the type of album I’d hoped they would follow 2007’s ‘Lust Lust Lust’ with. It seems to pick up the creative momentum that the Raveonettes seemed to pick up with the release of ‘Lust Lust Lust’ and its dual companion digital-only EPs. If you subtract the more contrived parts of 2009’s ‘In and Out of Control’ there’s quite the continuum of brilliant and diverse songs with a very natural flow leading up to this year’s lean and excellent ‘Observator’ and EP ‘Into the Night.’ Whatever they’re doing appears to be working wonders as well—they’re selling more records and attracting more attention while signed to VICE records than they did during their major label days. Their laid-back headlining set at this year’s Green Music Festival was quite the live highlight for me—I showed up, paid $5, they were onstage within a half-hour and they played two of my favourites of theirs that I never thought I’d get to hear (‘Blush’ and ‘Love Can Destroy Everything’) in addition to offering a sneak peak of a few of ‘Observator’s best tracks. ‘Raven in the Grave’ is one of the records I’ve bought on vinyl new that didn’t come with a download code, but I’ve found the vinyl rip I listen to through my headphones couldn’t possibly suit it better—it’s fuzzy and warm with some beautifully melancholic synths and keyboards woven into the songs so beautifully. In addition to some of their gloomiest material there are lush, lovelorn, romantic tracks like ‘Summer Moon’ and ‘My Time’s Up’ that melt my heart every time.

The War on Drugs—‘Slave Ambient’

This record has now slipped through the cracks twice. Last year I didn’t get ahold of it until November and it became a victim of ear-fatigue. This one needs time to be appreciated. Once I gave it a few more listens after the dust had settled it was a nice and clear facepalm kind of moment. How in the hell had this record’s beauty and brilliance eluded me?! It was an album that somehow managed to be beautiful and ambient while also rocking. It took some nicely woven layers of electronics and digital manipulations into a warm foundation with tube-rich electric guitars and crisp, clear acoustics. A stadium-ready cymbal-light drum sound doesn’t hurt either. It’s also the first great case I’ve seen of an argument for the merits of digital recording. At first I think I just heard it as a Kurt Vile-soundalike record, but I love it more and more with each listen. There is a nice emotional core resonating from the heart of these songs (which are all very solid in their own way). A friend recommended I catch them during their stop at Lincoln Hall last year and I didn’t for some doubtlessly silly reason (probably work-related). If only I’d gone I think that the brilliance of this record would’ve been obvious from the first listen. Here’s hoping they get a great follow-up out next year.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

diary 12.6.12- my heart waits in winter now

winter/holiday themed mix. the middle part is sort of random, i suppose, but the songs seemed wintery-sounding enough to fit in with the rest of it.

song- artist- album

1. sunday morning- kelley stoltz- 'the velvet underground & nico' by castle face and friends
2. winter now- broadcast- 'haha sound'
3. the blizzard- camera obscura- 'the blizzard' 7"
4. the blizzard of 1996- the walkmen- 'black & white'/'everyone who pretended to like me is gone'
5. blue christmas- elvis presley- '...sings christmas songs'
6. santa claus- the sonics- 'here are...'
7. long way around the sea- low- 'christmas'
8. at the chime of a city clock- nick drake- 'bryter layter'
9. snow days- real estate- 's/t'
10. long slow dance- the fresh & onlys- 'long slow dance'
11. without you- bare mutants- 'without you' 7"
12. no friend of mine- bleached- 'no friend of mine' 7"
13. killing time- veronica falls- 'my heart beats' 7"
14. trees and flowers- dum dum girls- 'end of daze'
15. no exits- tamaryn- 'tender new signs'
16. into night- vestals- 'forever falling toward the sky'
17. snow andes crash- melody's echo chamber- 's/t'
18. baby it's cold outside- sharon van etten & rufus wainwright- 'holidays rule!'
19. another day- this mortal coil- 'it'll end in tears'
20. silent night- spiritualized- 2009 barbican recording

Sunday, December 2, 2012

'christmas suite'

It's that time of year again. The four christmas songs were finally properly mastered. Enjoy!

new tracks

1. 'deprivation'

This song was written and recorded very quickly- possibly a week each. I was finally able to get Stefanie into the studio to record her own parts. The idea here was to go the other way from where I've been going lately, which is to write songs with one to three chords max, and have as many chords as I could think of to fit. It worked out pretty well, I have to say. The layers underneath were supposed to be similar to the loops that I used to make, but this time they were done live and sub-mixed. There's also a return to a lot of backwards recording which I used to do a ton of. I'm very happy with how this turned out and should be a great song to play live (whenever we get another show).

2. 'glimpse of heaven'

This was also written and recorded very quickly. I did this by myself and it only took two days. I had a lot of trouble writing this considering it's only two chords, but once the ball got rolling it all came together very quickly. The vocals have a ton of effects on them, as does pretty much everything else, which I hadn't done in a long time. I mainly wanted to see if I could pull something that was driving and dynamic rhythmically that didn't have drums. It's supposed to combine 'Recurring'-era Spacemen 3 with Tame Impala (who I'm listening to constantly right now).

Not sure what will become of these tracks, honestly. I think 'deprivation' will probably end up on 'lost forever' since it's kind of an expanded version of 'daisychain' and 'glimpse of heaven' might end up on 'chinese blue.'