Tuesday, December 31, 2013

shalloboi- 12.14.13- wnur 89.3fm

this is probably my favourite of all of our visits to WNUR, or any radio station for that matter. my only gripe is that i wish the guitar were louder during the last few songs, but that's it. i love the mix, it's just the right amount of reverb on our vocals plus we were able to pull the 'christmas suite' off without the strings. this version of 'swing low' is so good i considered putting it on the forthcoming 'chinese blue' double LP in favor of the more fully fleshed-out version of it i have- it definitely put to bed any notions i had of leaving that song off of the album.

the last visit to WNUR with the strings was really great, but it was nice to be able to play with such abandon- when we played with the strings that last time we had to keep it pretty restrained.

props to ethan simonoff who booked us for this session, engineered it and was the lone dj on duty that evening (and for playing some stars of the lid to set the mood)!

Monday, December 30, 2013

best of 2013: part four of four

Best of 2013 by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

song- artist- album

1. in the kingdom- mazzy star- 'seasons of your day'
2. jubilee street- nick cave & the bad seeds- 'push the sky away'
3. the one eyed king- jacco gardner- 'cabinet of curiosities'
4. last conversation- veronica falls- 'waiting for something to happen'
5. amethyst- low- 'the invisible way'
6. girl called alex- kurt vile- 'wakin' on a pretty daze'
7. queen lullabye- ty segall- 'sleeper'
8. only man alive- white fence- 'cyclops reap'
9. calling cards- neko case- 'the worse things get, the harder i fight, the harder i fight, the more i love you'
10. seven hours- the fauns- 'lights'
11. bottom of a well- implodes- 'recurring dream'
12. tenement kid- primal scream- 'more light'
13. prodigy- no joy- 'wait to pleasure'
14. toe cutter - thumb buster- thee oh sees- 'floating coffin'
15. endless drops- the warlocks- 'skull worship'
16. she found now- my bloody valentine- 'm b v'
17. in our time- hookworms- 'pearl mystic'
18. living room- grouper- 'the man who died in his boat'

Thursday, December 26, 2013

best of 2013: part three of four

10) Ty Segall—‘Sleeper’ (Drag City)

This is the record that I imagined ‘Goodbye Bread’ was going to be when I first read about it. I’m kind of glad that ‘Sleeper’ ended up being Ty Segall’s acoustic record because I wasn’t quite ready for such a thing around the time of ‘Goodbye Bread.’ After releasing three solid albums last year an acoustic record seemed a bit odd in context—Segall has nothing to prove as a songwriter at this point, but when I listen to this record it becomes clear to me that that isn’t even the point. I’m sure a lot of people are going to cry ‘foul’ over this record since there isn’t a garage-rocking track to be found on the entire thing. Instead it’s filled with fragile and confessional beauty and even some pretty thick darkness. There is some anger and bitterness in these tracks that hits harder in this context than it would in Segall’s typical lysergic garage rock mode. Who would’ve expected a line like ‘the youth is wasting the Earth’s last breath,’ from an artist like Segall? It seems that expectation isn’t even in consideration here and Segall continues to confound and elude it at every pass. Plus, this album is majestic.

9) No Joy—‘Wait to Pleasure’ (Mexican Summer)

Last year I had the pleasure of watching No Joy blow Lower Dens off of the stage during their opening slot at the Empty Bottle. Their songs had a brutal fury that was pretty amazing to watch, but somehow their recorded material never managed to get its hooks into me until I heard this year’s ‘Wait to Pleasure.’ This record represents a sizable jump for the band—every single one of these songs has the capacity to be an earworm. Just try and listen to opening track ‘E’ and not get swept up in the beauty and the majestic, cresting layers of distortion and feedback. It’s the distortion and brutality that blow you away, but it’s the chorus of sonorous ‘oooooohhhh’s that keep you coming back for more. Not only that but the record twists and turns through a variety of styles and sounds supporting the band’s most fully-realized songs. There’s never a dull moment and the record is over far too quickly. No Joy are often called a louder and more unforgiving version of Lush, but on this record I can’t help but feel that they’ve really started to develop a sound that’s all their own.

8) Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds—‘Push the Sky Away’ (Bad Seed)

Another deeply established artist with a brilliant, career-defining, self-released album. I couldn’t help but wonder what a Bad Seeds album would sound like without multi-instrumentalist (and foil to Nick Cave since the Birthday Party) Mick Harvey would sound like. I figured that they would continue on the path of call-and-response that was going on between the Bad Seeds and side project Grinderman, but then Grinderman called it quits and all bets were off. ‘Push the Sky Away’ does a great job of wiping the slate clean once again (something Cave has done several times during his lengthy and fruitful career) and here we have an album that has the beauty and fragility of 1997’s ‘The Boatman’s Call’ mixed with the intensity and menace of the earliest string of Bad Seeds albums (think ‘From Her to Eternity’ to ‘Tender Prey’). Then, of course, there are a few tracks that defy that description—there really isn’t anything like ‘Higgs Boson Blues,’ ‘Mermaids’ or ‘We No Who U R’ in Cave’s back catalog. The highlights for me have always been the slow-burning intensity of ‘Jubilee Street’ paired with it’s surrealistic twin ‘Finishing Jubilee Street’ (in which Cave describes an alarmingly vivid dream he has immediately after he finishes writing ‘Jubilee Street’). The title track is an interestingly eerie sort of anthem, which isn’t normally the type of song that Cave writes.

7) Primal Scream—‘More Light’

‘What happened to the voices of dissent?’ Bobby Gillespie sings on ‘More Light’ opener ‘2013.’ It’s a surprisingly simple question to ask and it’s implication rings true. The answer is that no modern rock band has managed to be a voice of dissent as well as Primal Scream have continued to be. They’ve released a few confusing missteps over the years, but when they hit the mark it’s always a bullseye and ‘More Light’ is the perfect example. It rages with more fire than a lot of bands half their age are even capable of. Even the beautiful acoustic guitar lines of ‘River of Pain’ drip with anger, bitterness and urgency. As always they are able to come up with a seamless blend of genres that is difficult to understand or describe. Fortunately the need to do so is irrelevant as the Scream would rather show than tell.

6) The Warlocks—‘Skull Worship’ (Zap Banana/Cargo)

Every time Bobby Hecksher disappears from the public view after promoting the Warlocks’ last album I always fear it’ll be the end for the band—they’ve weathered so much and continued on despite setback after setback. It seems that after every tour Hecksher has to rebuild the sizable band from scratch, which must be exhausting. The gathering murk and shadows that surround the band currently seems to indicate that it is indeed exhausting for Hecksher to keep going, but this only emphasizes the fact that it’s never in question that the Warlocks has always been a labor of love for him. Each Warlocks record is an almost entirely new approach to a deceptively simple template—droning guitars and synths, Velvets-influenced drum beats (often doubled) and that unmistakable anguished wail. ‘Skull Worship’ is dark in the way that ‘Heavy Deavy Skull Lover’ was, the only difference is that the moments when it rages there is an entrancing desperation that wasn’t there before. ‘Heavy Deavy…’ had a darkness that was drenched in bitter anger. ‘Skull Worship’ has a nearly-defeated resignation that draws on an element of surprise. Even its most brooding tracks show their teeth at some point. Just when it seems that ‘Silver & Plastic’ is going to float along on its acoustic guitars and cellos those distorted melodies start to pile up in the background making it harder and harder to not take notice. ‘Endless Drops’ takes the riff from the 13th Floor Elevators’ ‘Rollercoaster’ and puts it through a fear-and-loathing blender riding an intense, terrifying groove filled with unexpected twists and turns. This is a very emotionally potent album that somehow turns desperation into a non-stop thrill-ride.

5) Mazzy Star—‘Seasons of Your Day’ (Rhymes of an Hour)

Like the new my bloody valentine album this is a great album by a band that hasn’t released anything in almost 20 years that fits in seamlessly with its other albums. I think of it as a more uplifting partner to ‘Among My Swan,’ which is an album that gets its staggering beauty out of the dark corners that it lives in. ‘In the Kingdom’ seems to pick up where ‘Look On Down From the Bridge’ left off—where one was about bringing about your own end and saying goodbye, the other is full of a refreshed and revitalized energy. This positive energy permeates ‘Seasons of Your Day’ giving even its most lovelorn moments a warmth and light that just wasn’t there before. ‘Among My Swan’ was an album made under intense scrutiny and pressure from a record company hungry for a second strike of lightning from a storm that they clearly couldn’t understand at all. That Hope Sandoval and Dave Roback were able to draw such a beautiful album out of such darkness was a miracle all its own, but not the type of miracle that their record label was hoping for. It seems that the experience left them so drained that when they could no longer fight they just curled up and played the waiting game and ‘Seasons of Your Day’ is the result. One of the most refreshing things about their return (and of other bands in their situation) is that they are able to use their lingering popularity to create something all their own and entirely on their own terms.

4) Grouper—‘The Man Who Died in His Boat’ (Kranky)

This is the year I got into Grouper finally. Liz Harris’ ambient songwriting project is the type of music that came along at exactly the right time in my life. What’s most fascinating about ‘The Man Who Died in His Boat’ to me is that it’s a set of cast-offs. Harris assembled the album from songs that she had leftover after the release of 2008’s excellent ‘Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill.’ This is music that nails the beauty and grace of loneliness and isolation better than anything I’ve heard to date. I’m not sure what it is about ‘The Man Who Died in His Boat’ specifically, but it’s the Grouper record I find myself coming back to the most often—it’s intense and fluid and so immersive and fulfilling. People often think that sad music is meant to spread sadness, but I’ve always argued that it is meant to provide a source of hope to the disenfranchised. The best music of this ilk draws you in with how vividly you can relate to it which keeps you engaged and makes you feel understood and therefore less alone. All of Harris’ albums seem to be structured for just such a journey—they almost always end on an uplifting note.

3) Thee Oh Sees—‘Floating Coffin’ (Castleface)

I know that there’s an Oh Sees record or two in every one of my lists and has been for the past four years. I’m just as confounded as anyone that that is the case—how they are able to churn out such great records year after year has now officially left the realm of logical sense reeling in the dust. After last year’s ‘Putrifiers II’ it seemed like they could’ve gone anywhere they wanted and with the arrival of ‘Floating Coffin’ it seems that even that was somewhere better than I could’ve possibly imagined. Not bad for a band’s 14th full-length release in under ten years. At this point in time if anyone wanted to ask me what Thee Oh Sees were about this is the record I would play them—it has everything: their past, their present and probably their future. Punky garage rock that is drenched in psychedelic menace/paranoid overtones and sublime layers of impossibly fuzzy drones plus those hypnotic, childlike male/female vocal harmonies. It doesn’t make sense in a sentence and certainly shouldn’t in a band and yet, here it is. I’ve now stopped asking, “How does John Dwyer do it?” and have just resigned myself to going along wherever the ride leads me. The best thing about this record to me is that they don’t even have to make a better record than this one for it to be richly and generously satisfying.

2) Hookworms—‘Pearl Mystic’ (Gringo)

This record is amazing. It does almost everything that I want a psychedelic record (or any record for that matter) to do—it creates it’s own vivid and beautifully self-contained world. The popular myth about great psychedelic music is that it’s escapist—the truth is that it’s a type of music that aims to put you into an entirely different state of mind. In that sense this record delivers the goods in spades and there’s no single way that it goes about it, either—there are beautiful drones wrapped in fuzz, tremolo and mysterious vibes. Some of the songs are pummeling and others are curled in washes of feedback and distorted melody that beckon you to get completely lost in them. Few moments in the past five years have delivered the goods as perfectly as the first time I heard the nameless feedback drone melt into the closing track of this amazing album. Having listened to this record over and over again has failed to dull the impact, either. There’s nothing quite like when a closing track nails the landing of a fantastically put-together record.

1) my bloody valentine—‘m b v’ (self-released)

I’m going to skip all of the histrionics about the lead-up and release of this album because it’s all well-documented everywhere else. The fact of the matter is that this is a fantastic record—it fits perfectly alongside my bloody valentine’s other two seminal albums. I still don’t know which of the three is my favourite and I couldn’t care less—each one gives me something different. All of those parts form a whole picture of what has made mbv my favourite band since I first heard them when I was 16. The songs on this record are vital, passionate and vibrant. I actually find the production style of ‘m b v’ to be more to my liking than that of ‘loveless’—the thick, chunky sheer force of these tracks makes ‘loveless’ sound a little over-compressed. It’s appropriate as this is an entire record made exactly as Kevin Shields wants it. I continue to be confounded by those who found cause for complaint in this record. Really? A famously reclusive musician releases his first album in 20+ years and this is a bad thing? Was it worth the wait? Who cares—it’s not like anyone was just sitting in a room rocking back and forth for the entire time going ‘When will it come? When will it come?’ To me it’s something I never thought would exist, so to have it released and be a great record bursting with new ideas the fact that it had taken so long seemed besides the point to me. To me it’s just a great record by my favourite band that I never thought would exist.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

best of 2013: part two of four

Honorable Mentions

Veronica Falls—‘Waiting for Something to Happen’ (Slumberland)

If only more bands going for a bright, jangly pop sound would make records like this. My favourite thing about Veronica Falls has always been the minimal but chunky sound that they are able to get with so little. This is the perfect example of a group of ordinary people making great music together. What causes this record to best the band’s considerably brilliant self-titled debut is the fact that they’ve traded in the winking melodrama for heart-felt wistfulness. They were able to do this both in the music and the lyrics without sacrificing their gift for bright texture and effortless hooks. I’m kicking myself that I wasn’t able to secure a copy of their forthcoming double A-side single because I’m dying to hear what they’re going to unveil next.

Neko Case—‘The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight the More I Love you’ (Anti-)

When this record finally arrived I’d managed to convince myself that I was over Neko Case. ‘Man’ was an odd choice for a preview track since nothing else on the record is like it at all. It wasn’t until I heard ‘Night Still Comes’ that I thought it would be worth checking out. It had been a long four years since ‘Middle Cyclone,’ after all. There were a few previews and streams listened to but it wasn’t until I was riding around commuting and listening to the album on headphones after a long day that it started to get into my bones like all of her best records do. The moments she is able to grab and stretch into songs continue to get smaller and smaller but expand wider and wider, which I find might be what I’ve always loved about her songs. ‘Calling Cards’ is the only song I’ve ever heard where someone can sing ‘blah blah blah’ after a few heartfelt, bittersweet lines and manage to enhance the gobs of wistfulness and lonely disconnect. ‘Ragtime’ might be my favourite closing track on any of her albums and it’s a bright, optimistic closer that was definitely earned. For a woman who made the dark, twisted, noirish sounds of ‘Blacklisted’ something palatable this record has some really dark and intense moments.

Bardo Pond—‘Peace on Venus’ (Fire)

Not sure what to say about this one. It’s like their excellent self-titled record from 2011—all of the noisy, fury, beauty and trance-like repetition but condensed to fit neatly onto a single LP. Where the self-titled album had the beautiful and expansive ‘Await the Star,’ ‘Peace on Venus’ has the thunderous opener ‘Kali Yuga Blues’ which manages to steamroll you with it’s layers of warm fuzz, add in some hypnotic and mournful flute only to somehow pile on a mind-bending guitar line that has no equal in their discography. Then there’s ‘Taste’ which does what ‘Just Once’ did a few minutes quicker. ‘Peace on Venus’ reaches back to pick up where the band’s earliest fuzzed-out records left off—where the self-titled record seemed to incorporate elements of ‘Amanita’ and the acoustic-based ‘Dilate’ this one seemed to incorporate the darker elements of ‘Ticket Crystals’ and ‘Lapsed.’

White Fence—‘Cyclops Reap’ (Castleface)

Tim Presley has turned in another solid set of self-recorded weirdness with ‘Cyclops Reap.’ It’s hard to tell where this one fits in the overall context of White Fence since it can’t help but be measured in the considerable shadow of the ambitious double record set ‘Family Perfume.’ Like ‘Family Perfume’ it’s easy to spot the standouts. I’ve come to think of ‘The Only Man Alive’ as somewhat of a Rosetta stone for Presley’s songs—it’s an abstraction based in a simple, emotionally resonant premise with a few joking lines thrown in for good measure (‘go to a snake funeral’ anyone?). Musically it’s acoustic-based but arrangement-wise it’s throwing ideas at you faster than you can absorb while new ones are still being thrown into the mix every few seconds. Sometimes I think that I might agree with the idea that Presley’s recordings as White Fence could benefit from time in a real studio, but then I listen to something like ‘Make Them Dinner At Our Shoes’ or ‘To the Boy I Jumped in the Hemlock Alley’ and realize that his complete unwillingness to reign his ideas in is more than half of what makes White Fence so entrancing and unique. Plus, overall, the fidelity of these recordings is more consistent and of higher quality than ‘Family Perfume’ or any of the other White Fence records. I also used to wonder what it would be like if he were to record with his highly capable live band, but then ‘Live in San Francisco’ arrived on Castleface last month and, again, such a wish seemed superfluous. I guess that’s what makes Presley such a great artist to begin with—he allows his songs to exist in whatever context they are in in whatever moment, no matter how strange or seemingly ill-advised.

Jacco Gardner—‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ (Trouble in Mind)

I bought this record on a whim based on a youtube video or two. Dutch multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner wrote all the songs, played all the parts and recorded these songs himself. In the process he has made a refreshingly atypical neo-psychedelic record—one filled with paranoia, disquieting turns and alternately lulling and menacing dynamics. His instrumental choices are often baroque and his chord progressions seem to be tailor made to create an uneasiness that’s difficult to pinpoint or describe.

Low—‘The Invisible Way’ (Sub Pop)

I was wondering what Low would do with ‘The Invisible Way.’ It was the follow-up to their best record in ten years (2011’s ‘C’mon’) and produced by Jeff Tweedy. All I remember hearing about it is that there would be a lot of piano on it. On their live EP ‘Plays Nice Places’ there was the new track ‘Waiting.’ When I listened to it I occasionally had trouble feeling sure that it was new and not just some long forgotten gem hidden somewhere in their huge back catalog. That might be the perfect analogy for ‘The Invisible Way’—it somehow finds a way to take Low’s tried-and-true aesthetic and make it sound fresh and new. Where ‘C’mon’ was larger in scope and bigger in size ‘The Invisible Way’ is almost completely acoustic and self-contained. There’s a curious lack of acoustic-based success in much of Low’s past music, which I’ve always found odd considering their emphasis on slow-burning quiet but here they are finally able to nail that sound. It’s the type of sound that they should’ve pulled off ages ago but had somehow never tried.

Implodes—‘Recurring Dream’ (Kranky)

It’s been a bit frustrating waiting to hear the recorded versions of these songs since I heard Implodes play them during a set opening for Disappears early last year. There’s also a live video of ‘Bottom of a Well’ floating around that I must’ve watched a million times. What I found so interesting about ‘Black Earth’ was how the parts of each song were mixed to form a whole giving the music this distance that worked to enhance the dark mood of the songs. It was the type of music where it was difficult to figure out how people were creating those sounds. ‘Recurring Dream’ makes this mystery a bit clearer—there are more identifiable tones and instrumental lines to be sure. What ends up happening is that the melodic makeup of the songs themselves is what becomes so unsettling rather than the overall ambience. Where ‘Black Earth’ was menacing from a distance ‘Recurring Dream’ is menacing from every angle and it’s surrounding you. The band use this emphasis on clarity to work on more diverse dynamics and variation between songs.

Superchunk—‘I Hate Music’ (Merge)

It would be too easy to lump this album into the ‘90s nostalgia’ category, which is a shame as it deserves more consideration than that. When ‘Majesty Shredding’ was released in 2010 it was very much a new beginning for the band—it revisited their classic sound and infused it with a world-weariness that wasn’t there before. ‘I Hate Music’ feels almost like a sophomore album in this context—which is an odd position for a band over 20 years into their career to be in. Superchunk have always been comfortable being in a unique position among their peers, though, and this album is no exception—the songs seem nostalgic on the surface, but there’s so much more to them than that. The world-weariness that the band was kind of poking fun at on ‘Majesty Shredding’ resonates deeply and beautifully here, somehow incredibly at ease and at home amongst the bouncing palm-muted old school indie rock spirit and drive. ‘Staying Home’ has more punky attitude than any pop punk band making mall-friendly music these days to be sure. It’s the depth of the imagery of songs like ‘Trees of Barcelona’ that really draw you in—such attention to detail, such context that’s come with hard-earned and hard-won experience. This is what makes Superchunk the perfect band to root for—they’ve always been the ones to put in the hard work, the time, the effort and the boundless enthusiasm and come out with energy to burn. They’ve seen it all and while that’s been a lot it’s never been anything they can’t handle. What I also love about this record is that it has the fire and energy of a band who thinks this might be their only chance—for Superchunk it seems that they are making every record as if it could be their last these days. That is a feeling on record that few other bands will ever be able to capture as well as Superchunk will simply because with them there’s no room for doubt that the feeling is real.

The Fauns—‘Lights’ (Invada)

This is one that I’ve been awaiting eagerly since I heard that the band were recording it way back in the earlier half of the year. I discovered their self-titled debut last year and its been slowly working its way into my regular rotation since. I shelled out a ridiculous amount of money to get their Record Store Day release—the Clint Mansell rework of their beautiful track ‘Fragile’—but it was worth every penny. What they’ve managed to do on ‘Lights’ is take nearly every familiar facet of shoegaze and dream pop and blend it together seamlessly into a mix that’s all their own. There are remarkably subtle electronic touches here and there and the tracks float with Alison Garner’s husky vocals in a thick dreaminess that often gives way to layers of vivid distortion and fuzz without falling victim to the usual traps that such dynamics often fall to. A lot of these songs are too hard-hitting to work as fluffy dream pop, but they have such an irresistible sweetness to them that they can’t help but lure you in.

Bare Mutants—‘The Affliction’ (In the Red)

I never cared much for the Ponys. I don’t know why—I saw them open for Dinosaur Jr. back in 2005 and I saw them play an amazing triple bill in late 2004 in Portland that was rounded out with the Hunches and the Gris-Gris, but I just never got what the fuss was about. Since living in Chicago I’ve seen a lot of Jered Gummere’s other projects but none of them have hit me quite as hard as Bare Mutants. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this record since seeing them open for Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees at Logan Square Auditorium last year. This is another one of those records that’s come along at exactly the right time. ‘I Suck at Life’ is a sentiment I’d been tossing around in my head for years before I heard the song—now it’s a shorthand for when I’m having a really shitty day. The caustic and grim lyrics work so well too—they really appeal to my eternally melodramatic sad bastard sensibility in a way that I don’t get from a lot of the music I listen to. But then there are also songs on it like ‘Devotion’ that burst into transcendent, distorted glory that are all the more special for their context. It’s like the soundtrack for my ‘what the fuck am I doing with my life?’ moments that grow ever more present as I get deeper into my 30s.

Monday, December 16, 2013

ruminations: stars of the lid, loscil at lincoln hall 12.15.13

I wasn’t prepared for the musical experience I was about to have when I arrived at Lincoln Hall during Loscil’s set. How enveloping and surprisingly loud Loscil’s lightly beat-driven ambience was ended up being an indication of things to come and I enjoyed it quite a bit. This was the final show in the series of shows celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Kranky Records—all four shows sold out well beforehand and featured a diverse range of musical acts that employed varying degrees of ambience but all shared an adventurous nature that Kranky is famous for fostering and nurturing.

Once Loscil was finished the final preparations were made for Stars of the Lid’s entrance—there were chairs and music stands filling the stage as the band had brought along an 8 or 9 piece small orchestra of strings players. Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride were set up at opposite ends of the stage facing each other and there were at least three projectors providing some beautiful and exhilarating images behind them that were mostly layers of mirrored washes of light and colour. The evening started off with mostly orchestral pieces that built slowly and were based around an overlapping call-and-response of simple melodies. McBride and Wiltzie mostly manipulated the sounds of the live strings—sampling them and looping them and providing additional textural flourishes. After playing a few pieces to another beautifully silent crowd (two in one week—that’s definitely a first for me in 18 years of going to live shows) Wiltzie announced that they would play some new material and that’s when things really started to get interesting. If I could think of two words to describe tonight they would merely be ‘impossibly beautiful.’ ‘Amazing’ doesn’t even come close to covering it. I’ll admit that I’m not terribly familiar with the band’s material (I’ve only heard a few of their albums to be honest and have spent a lot of time listening to the related A Winged Victory for the Sullen record) but it seemed to me that this new material is a pretty big leap from what they’re more known for. Where the first few pieces that they played were in line with the placid and beautiful ambient orchestrations that can be found on ‘Avec Laudenum’ there was a more visceral element to the new material. If anyone who’s reading this is going to be seeing the band in Brooklyn on Tuesday—you’re in for a real treat as that is the only other live date in the US that the band is playing this year.

There was a sort of hypnotic tension that built and built and built over the course of their set coming to an intense climax with their penultimate piece (which I believe was ‘December Hunting for Vegetarian Fuckface’ off of ‘…and Their Refinement of the Decline’)—it had the drive and emotional impact of any of the best Sigur Rós songs but without the aid of drums. They built an ornate velocity just around repeated string patterns that looped in a massive round punctuated by a rising and ebbing tide of huge bass tones that pounded against my body—these bass tones by themselves were about as intensely physical as those that I heard/felt during my bloody valentine at the Aragon last month. The piece just kept building and building and building into a sort of joyful, trilling cacophony—it was unexpected and thrilling. I definitely wasn’t expecting an emotional rush of that magnitude at this show, but it ended up being a high point amongst many emotional highs I’ve experienced at shows this year. Talk about a fitting conclusion to a weekend of shows celebrating one of the most unique labels in music today.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

ruminations: grouper, benoit pioulard, christopher bissonette and justin walter at constellation 12.13.13

‘This room is filled with the type of people who go to parties and sit in the corner all night not talking to anyone,’ observed a woman sitting on the floor behind me following Justin Walter’s excellent set at Constellation. This is the second of four shows celebrating the 20th anniversary of Kranky Records—I skipped seeing Disappears and Implodes at the Bottle last night and I’m not going to the show tomorrow night since my band is playing on the radio that afternoon (and it sold out due to the growing popularity of Tim Hecker’s newest record), but I will be attending Stars of the Lid’s one of only two live shows this year at Lincoln Hall on Sunday night.

Few musical discoveries have been as rewarding for me this year as immersing myself in the Grouper back catalog. When these shows were first announced I had my fingers crossed that Grouper would be on the bill of one of the shows since I missed Liz Harris’ set at the Empty Bottle in April this year. I’ve always been curious about Benoit Pioulard and Justin Walter as well—who’ve both turned in notable albums on the Chicago label.

I have no superstitions about Friday the 13th—in fact, most of the times I’ve gone to shows or played shows on that ominous date they often end up being the most memorable (for a perfect example check out my review of Disappears and Implodes at Lincoln Hall last year) and this was no exception. I’ve only been to Constellation once and that was when it was still the Viaduct Theater. Not much has changed—it looks like it’s been polished and well-maintained since the transition, but the layout hasn’t changed at all. When I arrived there was standing room only and I found that everyone was sitting cross-legged on the floor who hadn’t gotten there early enough to get a chair in the seated sections that line the walls. Justin Walter stepped out from behind a giant projector screen and started playing right after I found a corner to sit down in. His set was heavily ambient and spacey but also had hints of spare, driving rhythms and he brought along a drummer who filled out the sound nicely. He mostly uses an Electronic Valve Instrument, which is a wind controlled analog synthesizer that he had hooked up to a series of samplers and effects and the tones he was able to get out of it were incredibly diverse. There were some loud, rumbling bass frequencies as well some sparkling bright overtones throughout his brief set.

Next up was Christopher Bissonnette, who played a decent set from behind two laptops. The giant projector screen was for visuals to complement his very slowly-evolving electronic ambient music. It was built slowly from some textural field recordings around arrhythmic and bent tones—some of them menacing and others very bright and beautiful. After that the projector screen was moved to reveal the stage where Thomas Meluch’s (aka Benoit Pioulard) and Liz Harris’ equipment was set up. At this point people stood up and crowded closely around the stage like at a rock show. Meluch came out and played a set entirely made up of guitar and voice—some of the songs were built on live looped guitar sounds that he created using a drumstick and a bow. For the most part, though, his songs were just shimmering electric guitar chords and vocals. Someone near the front had a seizure right at the beginning of his set and had to be carried out. I enjoyed the Benoit Pioulard set immensely—Meluch’s songs are beautiful and emotionally resonant and his last song was particularly stirring.

The main event was definitely Grouper, though. I’ve never seen a room full of people be so unbelievably silent for so long—it was amazing. Liz Harris sang quieter than I’ve ever heard anyone sing in a live setting as well. She played a keyboard-based set and the first two songs were new, the other two were ‘Come Softly’ and ‘Alien Observer’ from the second ‘A I A’ album. The first song she played had a clear and beautiful melody that wouldn’t have been out of place on ‘Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill’ or this year’s ‘The Man Who Died in His Boat.’ The second was mistier like something off of ‘Dream Loss,’ the first ‘A I A’ album. ‘Alien Observer’ saw her begin to push her voice creating that impenetrable cloud of reverb effect that she’s always getting on her records. It sounded really beautiful, dark, mysterious and hypnotic and she stretched the song out into a 20-minute drone. A lot of people started leaving the longer it went on, but it was fascinating to watch her manipulate the sounds onstage—she’s so uninhibited and not at all self conscious. She certainly didn’t rush anything and I felt like my patience was rewarded for listening to the whole thing. It was like being at a classical music performance—there was no clapping until the set was over and Harris had left the stage.

As the lights came up (well, sort of, it was really dimly lit in there) I headed outside and when I opened the front door I was nearly blinded by the streetlights and the falling snow. It was one of those occasions where I catch a bus almost immediately when it’s running only once every 20 minutes and then transfer to a train within a few minutes as well. All told I was home in 30 minutes. It was a quintessentially Kranky evening and one that exemplified what I love about the type of music that they’ve been releasing for so long. Friday the 13th—eh, whatever.

Friday, December 13, 2013

diary 12.12.13- listen, the snow is falling

Diary 12.12.13- listen, the snow is falling by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

song- artist- album

1. tiniest lights- angel olsen- 'strange cacti'
2. lovestruck- the fauns- s/t
3. happy- mazzy star- 'among my swan'
4. last snowstorm of the year- low- 'trust'
5. no christmas while i'm talking- the walkmen- 'bows + arrows'
6. winter wooksie- belle & sebastian- 'push barman to the door to open old wounds'
7. snowblinder- lilys- 'in the presence of nothing'
8. silver & plastic- the warlocks- 'skull worship'
9. wind and snow- grouper- 'dragging a dead deer up a hill'
10. iceberg- thee oh sees- 'thee hounds of foggy notion'
11. when were you happy?- laura marling- 'once i was an eagle'
12. ragtime- neko case- 'the worse things get, the harder i fight, the harder i fight, the more i love you'
13. the thinner the air- cocteau twins- 'victorialand'
14. what are they doing in heaven today?- mogwai- 'les revenents' soundtrack
15. spread your wings- spiritualized- 'pure phase'
16. listen, the snow is falling- galaxie 500- 'this is our music'
17. december will be magic again- kate bush- 'experiment iv' 12"

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

'christmas suite' and 'lost forever' single

the 'christmas suite' for your holiday enjoyment. the band will be playing the whole thing on 'airplay' on wnur 89.3fm (wnur.org if you want to listen online) on saturday at 5pm. we'll be playing a bunch of new songs that we've never played on the radio as well including a little something from our new digital single 'lost forever' (which is made up of a few outtakes from the 'deprivation' sessions).

happy holidays and hope you enjoy both!

Monday, December 9, 2013

best of 2013: part one of four

Biggest Disappointments

The Black Angels—‘Indigo Meadow’

Alright. I came around to ‘Phosphene Dream.’ It had good songs despite the record label weirdness that came with its release. As long as I skipped the pandering ‘Telephone’ I found it to be a good record—the songwriting was more varied than it had been before. I still think it was unsatisfying as an album—would it’ve killed them to put one or two more songs on it?! But ‘Indigo Meadow’ is the embodiment of everything I have grown to hate about the new psychedelic movement. I was hoping they’d make good on the promise of ‘Phosphene Dream’ and continue to develop, but this whole record feels phoned-in and half-assed. ‘Evil Things’ made me incredibly excited to hear this record with its Dead Meadow fuzzed-out droniness, but as it turns out nothing else on the record even comes close. As it turns out ‘Don’t Play With Guns’ was the preview track that was most indicative of things to come—flimsy, heavy-handed, trite, ham-fisted lyrics over by-the-numbers pop psych. Hey, it’s gotten them into bigger venues and they played at the Vic this year like BRMC. The difference between the two? BRMC still have a long history of strong songs to draw from and released their best album in years this year and the Black Angels have this half-baked album that took three years to arrive. Meanwhile the Warlocks play an amazing comeback set (their first in four years) to around 50 people at Subterranean. It’s almost enough to make you think that the dream is dead.


If you can’t admit that this is the weakest record Deerhunter have put out you are in denial. It’s not helped by Bradford Cox’s contrived over-the-top persona that he’s adopted to promote it. I know that the general musical landscape is lacking in dangerous devil-may-care types, but the way that Cox is trying to fill this void is coming off as incredibly pretentious. What’s more he was already a distinct character before adopting this punk-obsessed persona. It’d be like if Robin Williams suddenly started acting like Joaquin Phoenix during his post ‘I Walk the Line’ talk show appearances. To be honest I don’t think ‘Monomania’ is a terrible record, it’s just that it’s the only Deerhunter or Atlas Sound record that has ever felt forced. The contrived nature of the attention-grabbing publicity push surrounding the record is reflected a bit in the music and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who finds it a bit unsettling. It has some lovely moments, though. Why couldn’t he have emphasized the self-deprecating nature of the closing track—it’s a lot more relatable and honest. It’s definitely a feeling I’m familiar with—I think I might’ve thought I was cool for about five total minutes in my entire life. I guess I’m just stuck in the 90s mentality where I expect everything to be heartfelt and genuine and not so calculated.


I can’t help but feel like I’m listening to white boy jam band funk when I start listening to opening track ‘Sweaty Fingers.’ Where ‘Neverendless’ and every other Cave release feature some mind-bending trippiness mixed with repetitious motorik rhythms ‘Threace’ seems incredibly middle-of-the-road. ‘Neverendless’ piled on the drone nice and thick and it made for a mesmerizing combination. I knew something was up when my excitement at watching the ‘Shikaakwa’ video melted away as I heard a saxophone embedded in the restrained white boy funk grooves. Has guitarist Cooper Crane just spent all of his dazzling trippy powers in Bitchin’ Bajas? It certainly doesn’t seem like he’s having the best time confined to just his guitar duties. One of the best elements of ‘Neverendless’ was his droney and sometimes driving organ playing which is almost nowhere to be found here—when it does appear it’s usually confined to the background which is not where it belongs.

Best New Discoveries

Talk Talk—‘Spirit of Eden’

Not sure how this band has managed to escape my notice for so long, but they definitely have. I’m surprised that I didn’t become obsessed with this album when I was listening to tons of Cocteau Twins, Mogwai, Echo & the Bunnymen and Slint in the late 90s. Seems like it would’ve fit in nicely with everything else I was listening to, but it was not to be. Instead my interest in this album was piqued by some discussion on the Spiritualized forum and hearing the ‘I Believe in You’ B-side ‘John Cope’ and promptly tracking a copy of the 45 down followed soon by the ‘Spirit of Eden’ album itself. Now that single edit of ‘I Believe in You’ sounds almost criminal to me. So listen to me my fellow ignorant Americans—Talk Talk were one of the originators of the post-rock style. If you disagree just listen to this album once. As a bonus this one works well for my pre-dawn commutes. It’s mellow but it has a lot of nice, unexpected dynamic shifts and explosions to keep me on my toes. Highly recommended.


I still haven’t checked out Slug Guts even though this album is pretty great. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all—based on the name and the description I was expecting something more sighing and softly noisy. This record tore through me in a way I wasn’t expecting. A lot of people talk about the first time they heard ‘Loveless,’but this record reminded me of the first time I heard ‘Isn’t Anything.’ That closing track is truly to die for—it has an exuberance and desperation paired with a youthful noisy abandon that’s usually wasted on the young. The rest of the record is solid as well. Apparently my vinyl copy is one of only 100. Last I heard they still had copies at Permanent Records.


There’ll be more about Grouper later on in the list, but I can’t think of an artist who I’ve listened to more overall this year. To be fair I had a lot of catching up to do—something like eight records? I still can’t find a copy of that first self-titled CDr, but tracking down every release by Liz Harris I could find on vinyl has been a pleasure. I can’t remember the last time that an artist’s music has found me at exactly the right point in my life, but my discovery of Grouper this year definitely fits the bill. If you care to read a thousand more words, there’s more on this here. Since I’m so new to Harris’ body of work you’d think I’d have an easy time picking a favourite, but that is simply not the case. The truth is that there’s a Grouper record for every different type of loneliness and alienation that I feel. Yes, there are different types of loneliness and isolation. Check these records out.

Lost Gems of 2012


I’m truly embarrassed that this record wasn’t in my list last year. I’m even more embarrassed about how long I’ve known about Swans and haven’t gotten into them. It’s not okay. I remember talking about Swans to a waitress at an IHOP when I was 19. She had been admiring a my bloody valentine t-shirt I was wearing and when I described what I liked about them so much she nodded and said, ‘You should really check out Swans. I think you’d love them.’ If you care to read more about this embarrassing oversight, please read more here.

Jessica Pratt—‘JP’

I get very few musical recommendations from Pitchfork any more. My feelings on their reviews are well-documented on this blog, so I’ll go no further. The first track from this record that I heard was on Pitchfork, though. I clicked through the purchase links there as well in order to snag a copy of this record on Tim Presley of White Fence’s Birth Records imprint. Similar to how I love most of what John Dwyer talks about enthusiastically, I take Tim Presley’s gushing endorsements very seriously because there are so few of them. On the surface this is just another folky female singer-songwriter with an earnest and quavering voice. This sort of thing normally sends me running for the hills, but these songs are all incredibly beautiful and filled with impressively unexpected lyrical turns, unshakable melodies and vivid emotion. It’s the type of music that fits nearly any season or setting and considering it’s mainly just Pratt's eerie voice and guitar picking that is no small feat. I really wanted to put this in my 2012 list, but it just barely didn’t make the cut. I wanted it in the list so badly that it was one of the LPs that I put in a pile and took pictures of for the banner.

Angel Olsen—‘Halfway Home’

While I might like ‘Strange Cacti’ a bit more for its raw material and how much stronger the songs are overall, this record would’ve made it into my list last year had I heard it in time. Somehow I just never got to this record even though I’d been hearing about it all over the place. A friend who I used to work with used to room with Angel Olsen in Humboldt Park and played her set of Dolly Parton covers for me fairly often. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard more than a few of her out-of-print cassette releases. I even knew about ‘Strange Cacti’ when Olsen was selling her self-released vinyl copies early on but still didn’t jump on it. WHY?! This record is a good example of when the singer-songwriter does a good job of following up that raw first release with more fully fleshed-out arrangements of their songs (the best parallel that springs to mind is Jolie Holland's 'Catalpa' followed by 'Escondida'). These arrangements are so light that they seem barely there at times. That said my favourite songs on it are ‘Free’ and ‘The Waiting’ which are the two most lushly arranged songs. They succeed in pointing out that Olsen could become the new Patsy Cline if she wanted to. I’m interested to hear her Jagjaguwar debut in the New Year mainly because I want to see if she can pull off what Sharon Van Etten did with ‘Tramp’ last year (which continues to be one of my favourite records of 2012).