Tuesday, December 30, 2014

best of 2014: part four of four

Best of 2014 by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

song- artist- album

1. heard about you last night- mogwai- 'rave tapes'
2. diastolic- lightfoils- 'hierarchy'
3. killer in the streets- the raveonettes- 'pe'ahi'
4. diamond eyes- the black angels- 'clear lake forest'
5. memory camp- the brian jonestown massacre- 'revelation'
6. feel- ty segall- 'manipulator'
7. hard water- white fence- 'for the recently found innocent'
8. the tower- wye oak- 'shriek'
9. tarifa- sharon van etten- 'are we there?'
10. windows- angel olsen- 'burn your fire for no witness'
11. drive- warpaint- s/t
12. somersault- nothing- 'guilty of everything'
13. off screen- hookworms- 'the hum'
14. god is a gun- thelightshines- 'now the sandman sings'
15. always forgetting with you (the bridge song)- spiritualized- 'the space project'
16. lighthouse- grouper- 'ruins'

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

best of 2014: part three of four

10) Angel Olsen—‘Burn Your Fire for no Witness’ (Jagjaguwar)

Again, this one was a grower and a complete curveball. Even having heard preview tracks ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’ and ‘Hi-Five’ it turned out that my expectations were useless when first listening to this album. In terms of strength of individual songs the breadth of styles Olsen explores with her backing band on this album have definitely helped her songs grow in strength and confidence. While 2012’s ‘Half Way Home’ was a strong listen as a whole, there wasn’t a lot of musical or textural diversity present and mood-wise it tended to hover in the ‘brooding’ neighborhood. The times it would really spring to life would be on the occasional upbeat song—I’d secretly hoped that songs like ‘The Waiting’ were pointing the way to Olsen’s future. I was half-right in a way. The other half I hadn’t even imagined, which was great news. It’ll be interesting to see what Olsen does next as it’s taking her audience a considerable amount of time to get used to her making a bigger noise. When I saw her at Lincoln Hall back in May the audience was the opposite of every rock show I’ve ever seen—chatty and ‘let’s go get a beer during this one,’ during the louder songs and sitting at rapt attention during the quieter moments. I’m hoping she’ll immerse herself in the dreamlike vastness of a song like ‘Windows’ (which worked beautifully at that show, as did her band’s interpretation of ‘Half Way Home’s opening track ‘Acrobat’). Since she’s released the deluxe version of ‘Burn Your Fire…’ there are a handful of outtakes from those sessions with her band that point in that direction as well.

9) The War on Drugs—‘Lost in the Dream’ (Secretly Canadian)

This album is an interesting case. This year could easily be described as ‘the Year of the Grower’—this album and the Warpaint record would be the perfect examples. After numerous listens that have gradually built in enjoyment since the album’s release in March it seems obvious that a record so overflowing with lush, sonic detail would take a little longer than normal to fully absorb. I’m particularly fond of the extended instrumental section of ‘Disappearing,’ which sounds like it nails the sound that Wild Nothing have been chasing for years now. The boldness of opener ‘Under the Pressure’ is the perfect litmus test for the album—if you’re able to let go enough to let the tracks stretch out and enjoy the ride you’ll find the album a very rewarding experience. If you just find it boring and overlong then you’re not going to enjoy it much, which is a shame. It’s nice to see a band whose star is rising take the chance to rely on the patience of their audience. After all, ‘patience’ isn’t a word you see in print much any more.

8) Hookworms—‘The Hum’ (Domino)

Hookworms have done a good job of polishing the grimy edges off of their sound for ‘The Hum.’ It’s given them a Stereolab-like metronomic groove that builds on the squalling psych and drone storm that was last year’s ‘Pearl Mystic.’ While I’m not as impressed with ‘The Hum’ as the previous album, ‘Pearl Mystic’ was a real barn-burner—the type of record you put on the turntable and you can practically see the smoke rising from the grooves as it plays, ‘The Hum’ continues to push their sound into new and formidable territory. The way it’s laid out and flows nods to ‘Pearl Mystic’ by picking up the numbered order of the between song drones (i.e. ‘iv,’ ‘v’ and ‘vi’) but the individual songs themselves are highlighted far more and for good reason—there’s a lot more diversity making up these songs which points towards a promising future for them. I’m still holding out hope that they’ll eventually do a full-blown American tour since they’re on Domino now, but I’m sure it’ll happen when the time is right for them. If nothing else they’re a band who can be depended upon not to rush things.

7) A Winged Victory for the Sullen—‘Atomos’ (Kranky)

This is quite a departure from AWVFTS’s self-titled 2011 debut. They apparently only had four months to get the whole thing together—quite a feat for someone like Adam Wiltzie who moves at a slower and slower pace with every release. One of the highlights of last year was seeing Wiltzie’s other, longer-running and more drone-based duo Stars of the Lid at Lincoln Hall. During that show they played some new SOTL material as there is another album in the works for them as well. Then the ‘Atomos’ album was announced and delivered very quickly. In a lot of ways the immediacy seems evident on a lot of these tracks, but then there are examples of tracks where there isn’t much discernable difference sonically between them and tracks that Wiltzie and partner Dustin O’Halloran have spent years laboring over each tiny detail. The results make for an incredibly engaging hour-long listen. It’s not quite ambient music, but it’s not quite neo-classical either. The most important aspect seems to be that this is some jaw-droppingly beautiful and magical music. Now, hopefully that new SOTL album will come out in the next few years…

6) White Fence—‘For the Recently Found Innocent’ (Drag City)

Speaking of Ty Segall, Tim Presley’s latest White Fence was recorded in Segall’s home studio. Presley’s recordings as White Fence have always been done on his own exclusively on 4-track, but this time out he hit a wall developing these songs that way. ‘For the Recently Found Innocent’ sees him taking a far more direct approach, which serves these songs beautifully. It’s like a less insular version of last year’s excellent ‘Cyclops Reap.’ The songs are quick and immediate and it sounds like the record was cranked out in a very quick, inspired session. It’s tough to pick highlights because there seems to be one around every corner, but my go-to tracks for the moment are the first two scene-setting songs, ‘Hard Water,’ ‘Wolf Gets Red-faced,’ ‘Raven on White Cadillac’ and the jangly, bright lead single ‘Like That.’

5) Ty Segall—‘Manipulator’ (Drag City)

Ty Segall is still riding the same golden run that he’s been on since about 2010’s ‘Melted.’ ‘Manipulator’ is his first double LP and features his cleanest production to date which only shows that no one knows what needs to be polished and what needs to stay skuzzy better than Segall. Bright acoustics collide with grungey distortion as well as some crisp drum sounds and bright strings. None of it should work, but all of it does and effortlessly so. His songwriting continues to develop at a rapid pace as well. ‘The Singer’ is something anthemic and powerful that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on last year’s acoustic ‘Sleeper,’ but here sounds heavenly with Segall’s falsetto, strings and a lush arrangement. ‘Tall Man and the Skinny Lady’ is danceable and could appeal easily to a giant, massive audience without ceding any shred of Segall’s unique touch and personality. This record is a joy to listen to from beginning to end and the perfect soundtrack to Segall’s ever-ascending star. I hope he’s able to sell out stadiums in a few years at this rate—he certainly deserves it!

4) Grouper—‘Ruins’ (Kranky)

Liz Harris somehow manages to make an incredibly dreamy and ambient record using little more than a piano, her own voice and some textural background noise of frogs chirping and a few rainstorms. ‘Ruins’ is the follow-up to last year’s ‘The Man Who Died in His Boat’ and 2011’s keyboard-driven double album ‘A I A’ all rolled into one. It’s fascinating to hear music this stark and unadorned sound so mysterious and dreamlike without the aid of practically any effects (the only exception being the 11-minute misty ‘Made of Air’).

3) The Swans—‘To Be Kind’ (Young God)

‘To Be Kind’ is punishing, but not quite in the way that its predecessor ‘The Seer’ was. There’s a lot of dynamic schizophrenia at play which makes for some nice tension. ‘Kirsten Supine’ is almost anxiety-inducing in the underlying menace of the beauty of its opening section. The only track that’s all-out abandon is the nine-minute scree of ‘Oxygen.’ ‘Just a Little Boy’ is the one that really does it for me—12 minutes of slow-burning tension that explodes in small, unexpected bursts right at the end.

2) Warpaint—s/t (Rough Trade)

This one’s a grower. If you’re a doubter, I’m sorry but you’ll just have to put the time into this one. It doesn’t reveal its charms very quickly. It was months before I really loved it, but as a record I think it’s far superior to their debut ‘The Fool.’ It’s one of those records that sounds minimal and unadorned but filled with lush, intricate tiny details filling in almost every second of space. I remember reading Pitchfork’s review and them knocking how the bass and the drums were too prominently featured in the mix and relied upon too heavily to add form and melody to the songs and it occurred to me that this was not a bad thing. It’s the fact that Jennifer Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa have always been such a strong rhythm section that it seems like a no-brainer to mix them prominently on songs with drifting, stark melodic guitars, voices and synths. The band has also not been shy about talking about how it’s okay to find these songs sexy and they are definitely that. The best thing about this record’s particular brand of sexiness is that it’s one that’s mysterious, a little dangerous but also beautiful and poignant. It’s the type of record that makes people use the word ‘sensual’ and ‘slinky’ a bunch. I sometimes think that it’s the female version of ‘smooth operator’ music. Not much of a surprise that it’s more subtle, truthful and appealing.

1) Wye Oak—‘Shriek’ (Merge)

This position is almost always chosen for me. There’s always one record every year that I play over and over to death for myself and everyone around me until they want to kill me. This year it’s ‘Shriek.’ For a good month or two this record was all I listened to. I can’t quite put my finger on what I love so much about it—I never listened to the band before this record (in fact I think someone recommended I listen to ‘Civilian’ back in 2011 and I hated it), but these songs all jumped out at me they were so unique. It’s one of those records that does almost everything—the lyrics are great and engaging, the singing is fantastic, the sounds run the gamut from breathtakingly beautiful to hypnotically odd, it has a cohesive overall sound that is explored from a diverse number of angles during its running time. It’s just a fantastic record—I find myself struggling to describe what I like about it so much and the only parallel I can draw is ‘Hounds of Love’ by Kate Bush. I get into a similar state of having so many great things to say about it that I get completely tongue-tied when talking about that record.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

best of 2014: part two of four

Honorable Mentions

Lightfoils—‘Hierarchy’ (Saint Marie)

I often find myself wincing a little on the inside when I’m introduced to a new band that self-assigns the term ‘shoegaze.’ Perhaps this is a holdover from when I first became obsessed with that first wave of shoegaze and quickly found a legion of lackluster bands identifying under that umbrella as well—it was usually made up of half-assed my bloody valentine copyists that cheapened the descriptor and trampled upon everything that made it a distinctive and special type of music to begin with. As such I’ve always been a little cautious when first listening to local band Lightfoils. With ‘Hierarchy’ they’re doing what I’ve always hoped later wave shoegaze bands would do—take those sounds from that first wave as a jumping off point to build upon rather than to merely imitate. ‘Diastolic’ is the perfect example of what I’m talking about here—it’s a fantastic song with great melodies, awesomely trippy guitar sounds that don’t sacrifice clarity in their stacked effects held up by a great beat plowed through with gusto by an able-bodied rhythm section. There’s also plenty of sighing, mysterious beauty on this album, but above all else there’s a diversity of sounds that flies in the face of copyist complacency. It’s inspiring to hear and even more inspiring to have found an entire subculture of similarly-minded bands bubbling under the surface on the very strong online shoegaze movement.

thelightshines—‘Now The Sandman Sings’ (Great Pop Supplement)

A very last minute addition, thelightshines does an incredible job of walking the tightrope between jangly, psychedelic pop and some incredibly out-there trippiness. Initially available only as a self-released limited edition LP and digital download the colored vinyl version that came out on Great Pop Supplement has already sold out. I'd do almost anything to hear a full-length version of the three part ‘Kaleidoscope‘ without the fades. The record builds nicely, never delving too deeply into jangly brightness and never losing itself in self-indulgent layers of effects. Closer ‘God is a Gun‘ ties the whole thing together and leaves you wanting more, which can be acquired via a digital download of older material on the band‘s website called ‘Before the Sandman Sung.‘

Ex Hex—‘Rips’ (Merge)

‘Rips’ is the best thing Mary Timony’s done in years—probably since ‘The Golden Dove’ if you ask me. Even better, it’s nice to see her getting some positive feedback for it lately as she tends to get raked over the coals unfairly (and really always has been if you look at a lot of what was written about her during her days in Helium). It’s well-deserved—this is an air-tight album of hard-hitting power pop with just enough of Timony’s requisite jaw-dropping ability to shred paired with her take-no-shit lyrics. It’s great to hear her sound this invigorated after so many years and so many bands.

Sharon Van Etten—‘Are We There’ (Jagjaguwar)

While I didn't get as sucked in by this self-produced effort as I did with 2012‘s ‘Tramp‘ this is still a very strong album. The songs are far more consistent and the production is very controlled and disciplined—it was a wise decision to make the album with the band that spent two years touring with her for ‘Tramp.‘ There is less of a schizophrenic palate of sounds than on the previous album, which would have to do with the fact that it was made almost entirely with guest players and spread out over the course of a two-year period. These performances are very crisp and the mixes are bright and organic. ‘Tarifa‘ has always been the highlight for me, but there are a few decent intense offerings on here like ‘Break Me,‘ ‘You Know Me Well,‘ the suitably dramatic ‘Your Love is Killing me‘ and opening statement-of-intent ‘Afraid of Nothing.‘ A lot of the songs have a more optimistic tone, but one that is fragile and genuine. As a cycle of songs they are all tied together by the beauty, wonder, fragility and danger of giving yourself over completely to falling in love. It can be surprisingly uplifting when someone has the guts to tell it like it is and Van Etten has laid herself bare here.

Goat—‘Commune’ (Sub Pop)

I still have never heard Goat's 2012 album ‘World Music‘ so I have no basis for comparison. The general consensus I‘ve heard is that ‘Commune‘ is less concerned with accessibility than ‘World Music.‘ This album gets an awful lot done in its fairly short duration—it‘s the sound of a band going for broke with reckless abandon. Closing track ‘Gathering of Ancient Tribes‘ is my favorite here—it nails the intensity that the album has spent every second building up to. I’ve heard a lot of talk about what a spectacle the band is to witness live, I am curious to see if they spend as much time touring this time around. It seems that they’ve done a good job of translating their live intensity onto tape on ’Commune.’ It’s the type of record that sounds like it was made less than a week after returning from a lengthy and grueling touring schedule—the point at which a band is beyond exhausted, but when they pick up their instruments their instincts and emotions take over and run the show completely.

Thee Oh Sees—‘Drop’ (Castleface)

I feel kind of bad that I didn’t give this album the attention it deserved when it first came out. On first listen all I noticed was that it wasn’t as strong as ’Floating Coffin,’ which was probably the best of the many Oh Sees releases preceding it. It came out during what John Dwyer referred to as an ’indefinite hiatus.’ When most bands make this announcement it’s code for ’break-up.’ Dwyer moved to LA, reformed his previous band, the garage punk Coachwhips, reissued a few of their records and then headed to South-by-Southwest with them to play a million shows in a weekend, returned home, formed a new trio version of Thee Oh Sees and within a few more months they were right back to normal. I still haven’t witnessed this new iteration of the band live (both of their November shows at the Empty Bottle sold out well in advance) I’m guessing that this album is a good indicator of what they are aiming for live. What’s most fascinating about this set of songs to me is that they somehow sound polished and raw all at the same time. The title track is something that wouldn’t be out of the question to hear on the radio. Then there are the supremely out-there and fuzzed-up beauties like ’Transparent World’ and ’Savage Victory’ mixed with the slight menace and beauty of the strings and horns embellished ’The Lens.’ It’s a supremely weird record, even in the context of Thee Oh Sees.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre—‘Revelation’ (A Records)

As a record ’Revelation’ doesn't flow quite as well as 2012’s excellent ’Aufheben,’ but there are a few more standout tracks that manage to take that familiar 60s pastiche that the Brian Jonestown Massacre is known for and push it into unfamiliar territory on this newest offering. ’Memory Camp’ has that deliriously hooky, snaking, chunky melody building up through it until it fades out to the sound of it repeating for ever and ever. There is also ’Days, Weeks and Moths’ which builds on the dreamiest ’Aufheben’ track ’The Clouds are Lies’ and then there’s the title track of the preceding EP ’Food for Clouds’ which features Anton Newcombe pulling off his finest Ian McCulloch impression mixed with some infectious synth melodies and layered, driving acoustics. It seems that ’Aufheben’ may have been a launching pad for the newest phase of the band since it signals the return of a guitar and band-driven sound for BJM that many longtime fans have been hoping for since the release of 2010’s ’Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?’ While it is the return of that familiar template the make-up of the music and the songs couldn’t possibly be more different than it had been before 2005’s mini-album ’We Are the Radio.’

The Raveonettes—‘Pe’ahi’ (Beat Dies)

The Raveonettes continue a nice run with this self-released offering, many of the songs were inspired by a near-death experience that singer/guitarist Sune Rose Wagner had while surfing on the Hawaiian island that the album takes its name from. The songs are suitably dark, uncontrolled and unapologetic for such an inspiration. It’s one of the first albums I’ve seen to sport a ’Parental Advisory’ sticker since their prevalence in the early 90s. It matches the fury and noise of their debut EP ’Whip It On.’ Tracks like ’Sisters’ introduce a quickly-shifting dynamic element as the squalls of noise are broken into short bursts by stark, melodic breaks of sampled harp flourishes. ’Killer in the Streets’ moves with the urgent push of its sleazy electronic beat underneath its ever-shifting layers of vocal harmonies, guitar melodies and noises—it’s a great indication of how a majority of the album’s tracks have been carefully constructed.

Mogwai—‘Rave Tapes’ (Sub Pop)

While I wasn’t as impressed with ’Rave Tapes’ as I was with last year’s ’Les Revenents’ soundtrack it's still a testament to the fact that Mogwai are still capable of making a strong, bold move so many albums and years into their career. Tired and uninspired is definitely not what I hear when I listen to it, it’s more the sound of a band that isn’t afraid to take chances even if it means occasionally falling on their faces. What’s more this record features some of the band’s most distinctive-sounding tracks in years—’Heard About You Last Night,’ ’The Lord is Out of Control’ and ’Hexon Bogon’ are all to die for and outshine the finest moments on 2011’s formidable ’Hardcore Will Never Die, but You Will.’ I also really love the bonus track that came with my download code—’Tell Everybody That I Love Them’ would fall under that category as well.

Foxygen—‘...and Star Power’ (Jagjaguwar)

Interestingly a lot of what I find off-putting about this record is reflective of what I love so much about it—it’s beyond schizophrenic, completely uneven, at least half of it sounds carelessly tossed-off, but it’s a proper 70s style double LP in every possible way (and more). While I haven’t listened to it that much pieces of it come to me randomly at almost any time—for instance I caught myself singing the multiple hooks that make up the glorious weirdness that is ’Cosmic Vibrations’ multiple times today. What’s most surprising is that this is a record where even at its weirdest almost any moment on this record has the potential to inspire a similar moment.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

diary 12.11.14- polar waves

Diary 12.11.14- polar waves by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

My normal holiday-themed mix failed. Completely. Instead I ended up with this wintery, dreamy mix of songs that I've been obsessed with lately. It works.

song- artist- album

1. polar bear- ride- 'live at the roxy'
2. starfire- low- 'secret name'
3. days, weeks and moths- the brian jonestown massacre- 'revelation'
4. silver angel- helium- 'the dirt of luck'
5. hot and cold- ex hex- 'rips'
6. polar waves- lightfoils- 'hierarchy'
7. del rey mar- the stargazer lilies- 'we are the dreamers'
8. ocean- lush- 'spooky'
9. shriek- wye oak- 'shriek'
10. one more time- the cure- 'kiss me, kiss me, kiss me'
11. disappearing- the war on drugs- 'lost in the dream'
12. tell everybody that i love them- mogwai- 'rave tapes' bonus track
13. sing- slowdive- 'souvlaki'
14. soma- smashing pumpkins- 'siamese dream'
15. leaving on a train- mazzy star- copenhagen, loppen 2000 bootleg
16. traveling through a sea- grouper- 'dragging a dead deer up a hill'
17. lord can you hear me- spiritualized- edinburgh 1999 bootleg

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

best of 2014: part one of four

Biggest Disappointments

Real Estate—‘Atlas’

I guess disappointment might be a little strong of a word for this album, but considering how much I loved 2011‘s ‘Days‘ and their self-titled debut I couldn't help but feel let-down by the very placid nature of this album. It lacks that vibrancy and electricity that made ‘Days‘ such an engaging listen, plus Real Estate‘s particular style of indie guitar pop has always paired best with wistful reflection and introspection, so for whatever reason the bright, sunny nature of these songs seems to fall a bit flat here. It‘s a shame, too, since the production on ‘Atlas‘ is so bright and lush. The songs themselves could just use a little more spark and glow.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow—‘Sea When Absent’

I was sure this one would be a safe bet-I loved A Sunny Day in Glasgow's debut ’Scribble Music Comic Journal,’ ’Sea When Absent’ was gloriously funded through the band’s kickstarter campaign and then, upon release, it scored them their first Best New Music rating on Pitchfork. Then I listened to it and, for whatever reason, I found nothing on it that drew me in whatsoever. I guess I should’ve given it another listen, but of everyone I talked to who was gaga for it every single one of them claimed they loved it from the moment they started playing it. Not sure what happened there, seemed like a no-brainer, and yet... I have noticed people are awfully quiet about it now.

Best New Discoveries

Beach Fossils—s/t

It only took me four years to finally hear this album—but at least it finally happened. This album has a refreshing vibrance and melodic richness that enriches the wistful nature of the songs. It’s also a nice touchstone in the development of Captured Tracks, which has become a go-to label for dream pop of this caliber.

DIIV—‘Oshin’

Speaking of Beach Fossils the debut album from former Beach Fossils guitarist Zachary Cole is pretty special as well. It was fascinating watching DIIV go from opening for Wild Nothing at the Empty Bottle to headlining at the Vic in a little over a year. ‘Oshin’ weighs in as dreamier and more in the late-80s shoegazing area than the Beach Fossils debut. It‘s a shame that I missed DIIV's set due to a transit delay on my way to Pitchfork festival this year—it would've rounded out an already great day of live music.

Lost Gems of 2013

The Stargazer Lilies—‘We Are the Dreamers’

I really wish I’d heard this album last year—it would’ve made the list without any problems and would’ve been in very good company. This record is one of my favorite examples of a new band exploring the classic ’shoegaze’ sound and building upon it admirably by taking some familiar sounds and injecting them with some new life and vitality.

Lumerians—‘High Frontier’

Not sure how this didn't make it into the incredibly crammed list last year, especially considering how much I listened to this record. It almost seemed that Lumerians were able to pick up the torch from Cave and carry it off into even stranger territory—where Cave seems to be more concerned with grooves than psychedelic exploration, Lumerians have the two switched which means I’m looking forward to where they go next all the more.

Carlton Melton—‘Always Even’

Since there wasn’t room for the Lumerians record in last year’s list there wasn’t any for this album by Carlton Melton either. I like the way that this record juxtaposes the loud, heavier side of psych with the weightless, dreamy mass of ethereal soup that it can be as well.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

review: grouper- 'ruins' (kranky)

Somehow Liz Harris’ newest Grouper record, ‘Ruins,’ has managed to convey an unbelievable otherworldliness and abstraction without any of the elements that she has used on previous Grouper records. It’s mostly made up of piano and voice arrangements with some subtle field recordings. The closest it gets to affected atmosphere is tape hiss serving as texture. It would be easy to say that her earlier output owed most of its mystery and magic to the dense curtains of reverb she would cloak her songs in, but ‘Ruins’ would suggest otherwise. When I saw Grouper at Constellation for the Kranky Records 20th anniversary celebration last December she opened with one, possibly two songs from ‘Ruins’—it’s difficult to remember clearly as I’d never heard the songs before and each one seemed to melt into the next so seamlessly it was difficult to think of the performance in terms of specific songs—specifically ‘Clearing’ (and possibly ‘Call Across Rooms’ as well). She played the song on an electric piano with a decent amount of reverb and barely sang above a whisper, but the song seemed like the most straight-ahead thing I’d ever heard from her. Here it’s in an even more unadorned state, which does nothing to detract from its dreaminess. You can make out most of the words if you listen carefully enough, which is rare in Harris’ back catalog.

Last year’s ‘The Man Who Died in His Boat’ had a few moments that had a similar unadorned-yet-dreamy quality that were based around acoustic guitar-based arrangements (the title track and musically and emotionally stark closer ‘Living Room’). Isolation and inwardness has always been where the magic could be found in Grouper’s music and in that sense ‘Ruins’ succeeds even more effortlessly than ‘The Man Who Died in His Boat.’ There are a few instrumental pieces that serve to keep an overall emotional and textural continuity—opening track ‘Made of Metal’ is mainly just the pounding of some type of drum-like sound building quietly into the sound of frogs chirping until there is the sound of a tape machine being switched on and footsteps walking through a room before the start of ‘Clearing.’ In a recent New York Times interview Harris says that she’s been trying to use silence to create atmosphere and it appears to be working beautifully. Before these silences were filled with a sort of vacuum-like deep, ominous hum that would fill the gaps of slowly-decaying musical phrases. No matter how much of a pitch the music would reach you were always aware of this ominous, atonal hum. Here it’s been replaced by gaps of the type of silences that seem deafening in their demand for your attention.

Just as the flow of the album seems straightforward and established over the next few tracks the aching beauty of ‘Holding’ kicks in slowly—notes are played on the piano cautiously, as if they’re being heard by the person playing them for the first time until they slowly grow into hypnotic, spare patterns that are then augmented by Harris’ distinctive self-harmonies. The lyrics are so clear that a narrative can almost be made out—a desire to disappear into the embrace of someone else. It’s a beautiful sentiment that’s almost perfect in its impossibility and clarity. While the song stretches on for nearly eight minutes, culminating in the sound of lightly falling rain it almost seems like it’s receded too quickly. What’s most surprising to me about closing track ‘Made of Air’ is that it was recorded by Harris a decade ago and while it seems to resemble her older material on a superficial level it works perfectly to close ‘Ruins.’ It’s difficult to tell what instrument is disguised underneath all of that inky reverb—it could be anything, really, but the track works perfectly to play you out of the tiny single-room world that ‘Ruins’ has created in its 40 minutes. I’m constantly amazed by how Harris is able to put together coherent releases from pieces that she’s had lying around for years—‘The Man Who Died in His Boat’ was made up mainly of outtakes from the time of 2008’s ‘Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill’ and ‘Ruins’ was recorded mostly while Harris was staying in Portugal in 2011 (it’s easy to assume that she was staying in an empty room with nothing but a piano and a 4-track). Being able to pull seemingly disparate parts together to create a fluid selection of music with such carefully attuned emotional resonance is what has been garnering more and more attention for Grouper’s music over the past few years.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

diary 10.15.14- we're a yard apart

Diary 10.15.14- we're a yard apart by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

very autumnal. also a lot of sad, wistful and dreamy songs- many of them about breakups (for some reason) and several from self-titled albums. not sure what that's about but whatever.

song- artist- album

1. sweetness and light- lush- s/t
2. youth- beach fossils- s/t
3. apple orchard- beach house- s/t
4. the singer- ty segall- 'manipulator'
5. swagger vets and double moon- white fence- 'live in san francisco'
6. lullaby- siouxsie & the banshees- 'downside up'
7. it's alright- spacemen 3- 'taking drugs to make music to take drugs to'
8. teese- warpaint- s/t
9. superstar- nina nastasia- 'run to ruin'
10. medication #4- the gris-gris- 'for the season'
11. i know they say- spectrum- 'highs, lows and heavenly blows'
12. suffering- the war on drugs- 'lost in the dream'
13. starla- smashing pumpkins- 'pisces iscariot'
14. atomos xii- a winged victory for the sullen- 'atomos'
15. la vie en rose- edith piaf- 'the very best of...'

Thursday, September 25, 2014

diary 9.24.14- a secret you might know

Diary 9.24.14- a secret you might know by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

song- artist- album

1. under the pressure- the war on drugs- 'lost in the dream'
2. undo the taboo- spectrum- 'highs, lows and heavenly blows'
3. lo boob oscillator- stereolab- 'refried ectoplasm: switched on, vol. 2'
4. tall man, skinny lady- ty segall
5. i never loved her- the starfires- 'i never loved her' 7"
6. nero (has a lot to think about)- white fence- 'white fence/jack name' split 7"
7. the end of august- jacco gardner- 'the end of august' 7"
8. lights out- angel olsen- 'burn your fire for no witness'
9. caught beneath your heel- mojave 3- 'out of tune'
10. the golden age of bloodshed- rowland s. howard- 'pop crimes'
11. feeling yourself disintegrate- the flaming lips- 'the soft bulletin'
12. i think i'm in love- spiritualized- 'royal albert hall october 10 1997'
13. nowhere- ride- 'live at the roxy, LA, april 10th, 1991'
14. i need no trust- my bloody valentine- 'feed me with your kiss' EP

Monday, August 25, 2014

diary 8.25.14- it speaks of distance

Diary 8.25.14- it speaks of distance by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

this was supposed to be an end-of-summer themed mix. it turned into this weird, dreamy, atmospheric sad kind of thing- which i guess isn't that surprising, really. all vinyl rips too!

song- artist- album

1. deep blue day- brian eno- 'apollo atmospheres and soundtracks'
2. machine gun- slowdive- 'souvlaki'
3. already there- the verve- 'a storm in heaven'
4. dozen- alison's halo- 'dozen' 7"
5. melanie's melody- the black angels- 'phosgene nightmare'
6. unknown- the brian jonestown massacre- 'revelation'
7. raven on white cadillac- white fence- 'for the recently found innocent'
8. i got nothing- dum dum girls- 'end of daze'
9. sisters- the raveonettes- 'pe'ahi'
10. vital- grouper- 'the man who died in his boat'
11. take good care of it- spiritualized- 'fucked up inside'
12. biggy- warpaint- s/t
13. sad colored tears- the stargazer lilies- 'we are the dreamers'
14. mary is mary- wye oak- 'the knot'
15. awake- black rebel motorcycle club- 'live in london'
16. rollercoaster- spacemen 3- 'live at the new morning'
17. i'm less here- mazzy star- 'i'm less here' 7"

Monday, July 21, 2014

slowdive at pitchfork 2014

‘You’re here for Slowdive aren’t you?’ my friend Nick said almost immediately as I stopped by his Flatstock booth to say hello before heading to the green stage to stake out a good spot. Guilty as charged. If Pitchfork 2014 hadn’t been one of only two American appearances that had been announced (once Sunday sold out the band announced a comprehensive US tour in October including a stop at the Vic) by the newly reunited band I wouldn’t have been there. There were many others who I saw floating around in the crowd such as myself—someone in their mid-30s sporting some kind of late 80s/early 90s British indie band T-shirt (I chose Spacemen 3; one guy had a Ride shirt that looked pretty well-worn). While the mania behind my bloody valentine is easily understood, Slowdive remain an influential and top-tier band from the original shoegaze era that will probably never get their due. Their songs were the height of dreaminess, their fuzzy squalls more soothing than abrasive, they were never as concerned with quaking, overwhelming noise as they were with well-constructed songs. While their music was dreamy and hazy there was always a solid, clear foundation to keep it grounded. They were incredibly introspective even for an introvert-friendly genre like shoegaze—their transformation into acoustic-based, mellow, melancholic, country-inflected group Mojave 3 wasn’t much of a shock. The harmonic vocal chemistry between Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell was even deeper and more bewitching than Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher’s. They’re a band that I never realized I’ve had on constant rotation since first hearing them in 1997. In that sense it seems fitting that their legacy is a surprise as well.

My day at the festival underwent a few hiccups on the way there—I’d planned to catch DIIV’s set at 1:45, but once I was halfway to the festival I realized that my phone was dead, which contained the email with my tickets’ barcode on it. I’d also forgotten to stop for two bottles of water. I ended up having to turn back and then not leaving until around 2:30 so that I could get to Union Park in time to catch Dum Dum Girls. I wasn’t expecting too much from their set, to be honest. I haven’t even bothered with their latest, ‘Too True’ as none of the tracks have really pulled me in enough to check out the whole thing. They fought through some sound issues at the start of their set, but pushed through it admirably and I was impressed by the ferocity of the whole thing—plus it was dotted with material from most of their releases. I liked the two tracks they played from the ‘End of Daze’ EP—‘I’ve Got Nothing’ and ‘Lord Knows’—the best. They also played two from the ‘He Gets Me High’ EP as well as one from their debut ‘I Will Be’ and two highlights from ‘Only in Dreams’—‘Bedroom Eyes’ (a song that somehow mixes ruminating about insomnia with emotional double entendre) and my favorite of theirs, ‘Coming Down.’ I’ve always found it admirable that they close with a mid-tempo slow-burner like ‘Coming Down,’ but it always works.

After wandering around the festival grounds and stopping for a few of Goose Island’s hourly offerings (the Rasselbock and the K├Âlsch were both fantastic), some affordable local food (I’m pretty sure that you can’t get a slice of Connie’s pizza at Lollapalooza for $4) I staked out a spot in front of the green stage in anticipation of Slowdive’s set. I had a mild desire to watch Real Estate at the Red stage, but they’re another band that I used to love whose new record I haven’t bothered with—plus I could hear it pretty well from where I was standing anyway. It was a more energetic set than they treated the festival to in 2012—they played ‘It’s Real’ from their 2011 album ‘Days’ as well as ‘Out of Tune’ (which is my favorite from that album along with the wistful beauty of ‘Green Aisles’). The main reason I haven’t been able to get into ‘Atlas’ (which I’ve heard several times now) is because it leaves behind that wistful beauty that was so evident on ‘Days’ and on several tracks from their debut.

Finally, it was time for the main event and Brian Eno’s ‘Deep Blue Day’ come on over the P.A., Slowdive came out and started with their eponymous debut single, including the B-side ‘Avalyn.’ Could there be a more perfect beginning? I had a great spot—much closer than I normally am willing to go at a huge festival, but the crowd was euphoric, the weather was nicer than can reasonably be expected in mid-July and it was all about as perfect as could be expected. ‘It sounds AMAZING!!!’ someone called out aloud after the first song. It did—definitely the best sounding set I’ve ever heard at Pitchfork. During ‘Catch the Breeze’ the band was incredibly dynamic lifting the song’s soothing cascades into some really crunchy loudness. It was LOUD and clear and heaven-sent. Halstead and Goswell’s vocals were effortlessly on-point and the rhythm section (drummer Simon Scott and bassist Nick Chaplin) were incredibly strong. They played a few tracks from 1995’s minimalistic ‘Pygmalion’ (‘Crazy for You’ and ‘Blue Skied an’ Clear’), then launched into ‘When the Sun Hits’ and ‘Alison,’ both of which were surprisingly emotional. After a fresh airing of ‘Just for a Day’ track ‘She Calls’ (which had the same dynamic power as the earlier ‘Catch the Breeze’) they ended with their cover of Syd Barrett’s ‘Golden Hair.’ It seemed like an odd choice for a festival set closer until they got halfway through the extended ending—it rose and swelled several times beautifully and loudly. The overall vibe in the crowd was electrifying as well—my disdain for crowds is well-documented, but this one was a pleasure to be a part of. It was the type of festival experience that I thought could only exist in dreams.

After that I stopped by the Goose Island tent for one last beer before heading home from a very satisfying evening. Do I wish that there had been a few more bands that I wanted to see? Sure. Do I wish that the ticket prices to the festival weren’t so expensive? Absolutely. Since it ended up being such an impossibly beautiful day weather-wise and since Slowdive had been the most ecstatic set I’d seen at the festival since I’d first gone in 2007 there was way more to be happy about than be annoyed with.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

diary 6.24.14- i tried to be happy, but it wasn't easy

Diary 6.24.14- i tried to be happy, but it wasn't easy by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

song- artist- album

1. some summers they drop like flies- dirty three- 'whatever you love you are'
2. blue moon revisited (song for elvis)- cowboy junkies- 'the trinity session'
3. taking chances- sharon van etten- 'are we there?'
4. cross bones style- cat power- 'moon pix'
5. sick talk- wye oak- 'shriek'
6. high & wild- angel olsen- 'burn your fire for no witness'
7. half a person- the smiths- 'louder than bombs'
8. elegie- patti smith- 'horses'
9. save me- frankie rose and the outs- s/t
10. razzle dazzle rose- camera obscura- 'let's get out of this country'
11. how we lost- the stargazer lilies- 'we are the dreamers'
12. snowbleed- alison's halo- 'eyedazzler'
13. no way out- warpaint- coachella 2014
14. who sees you- my bloody valentine- new york 2013
15. open invitation- black rebel motorcycle club- 'live in london'

Monday, May 26, 2014

the screaming stars- 'iii'

third screaming stars record is finished (ironically while the second record hangs awkwardly in limbo) and posted on soundcloud. highly recommended if you're ever having trouble sleeping. this record was meant to document the weird transition from winter to spring this year.

Friday, May 16, 2014

diary 5.17.14- havin' a hellride

Diary 5.17.14- havin' a hellride by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

song- artist- album

1. linda's gone- the black angels- 'clear lake forest' 10"
2. baby's going underground- helium- 'the dirt of luck'
3. something goes wrong- medicine- 'part time punks'
4. imaginary person- ty segall- 'melted'
5. fifth in line to the throne- camera obscura- '4ad sessions'
6. calendar- alison's halo- 'dozen' 7"
7. love is to die- warpaint- s/t
8. red eyes- the war on drugs- 'lost in the dream'
9. night still comes- neko case- 'the worse things get, the harder i fight, the harder i fight, the more that i love you'
10. dreaming my dreams with you- cowboy junkies- 'the trinity session'
11. saturn song- beach house- 'the space project'
12. the lens- thee oh sees- 'drop'
13. undone- the stargazer lilies- 'we are the dreamers'
14. be above it- tame impala- 'live versions'
15. just a little boy- swans- 'to be kind'

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ruminations: neko case at the chicago theater 5.13.14

I can’t review a Neko Case show—to review something implies impartiality, which I’m just not capable of with Case’s music. It was the perfect ending to a joyfully surreal day that started with me heading to Reckless to pick up the new Swans record, which I then listened to in its entirety before heading to a friend’s house to drink a bunch of awesome homebrewed beer and then on to the show. Between this show and the new Swans record was the knock-out punch to lift me out of a recurring funk that I’ve been falling in and out of over the past few months.

Her new record’s release last year saw me feeling a bit ambivalent initially—my first listen wasn’t necessarily a delirious one and I was completely confused and underwhelmed by the single ‘Man.’ I ended up buying the record digitally and then falling in love with it right before the holiday season and can now honestly say, without any stars in my eyes, that ‘The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, The More That I Love You’ is her best record since ‘Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.’ When her set started off at the Chicago Theater it sounded a bit rickety to me, until Kelly Hogan announced ‘We’re going to play a make-out song now,’ before the band launched into ‘Lion’s Jaws’ which has been a favorite of mine since I first heard ‘Fox Confessor…’ (it’s those heavenly backing vocals) and it was the moment right near the beginning of every Neko Case show that I’ve been to where I end up thinking, ‘Well, there’s your money’s worth right there—three songs in.’ She remains one of the only artists I’ve been listening to for as long where this is true—in 2007 it happened three songs in when she played ‘Favorite,’ in 2009 it was after ‘Middle Cyclone’ and this time it was ‘Lion’s Jaws,’ which I’ve always wanted to hear live and it was absolutely flawless.

Her current live band has swapped in Eric Bachman of Crooked Fingers for long time live guitarist Paul Rigby and the band has more of a minimalist sound than it did before, which suits the new material perfectly. Bachman is also able to switch between keyboards and formidable backing vocal duties as well. They played all of the new record apart from only a couple of songs, a good chunk of ‘Fox Confessor…’ as well as several from 2009’s ‘Middle Cyclone.’ ‘Deep Red Bells’ from ‘Blacklisted’ and ‘Set Out Running’ from ‘Furnace Room Lullabye’ made an appearance as well. To call this set ‘generous’ is a bit of an understatement—by the end of the night the band had played for more than an hour-and-a-half and with plenty of surprises—I had no idea that Case had a song on ‘The Hunger Games’ soundtrack. Her first of two encores featured a duet with Bachman on Crooked Fingers track ‘Sleep All Summer.’ Starkness was the name of the game and it worked beautifully.

This show brings me to another rather surreal phenomena—people bringing their children to concerts. It seems like I can’t go anywhere I used to without being in the presence of tons of children, which I suppose reflects my age group more than anything else. I was in a lone seat up in the box section of the lower balcony—very comfortable and roomy—in the booth behind me was a family of four. In the end it wasn’t any more annoying than I usually find general crowd behavior, there are always people at shows to talk loudly and obliviously during quiet sections of songs to interrupt the trance you’ve been blissfully falling into. At least these were kids and their parents were trying to keep them quiet during the show—perhaps they were trying to teach their kids this type of etiquette at a young age. It was hilarious to hear Neko deliver so much profanity-laced onstage banter while hearing these tiny voices behind me asking their mother to explain what was being said. Then there was the fact that Case performed ‘Nearly Midnight, Honolulu’ after which someone yelled out ‘THAT WAS FUCKING AMAZING!’ ‘Yeah,’ Neko replied, ‘Chicago Tribune—one line—Neko Case at the Chicago Theater—“That was fucking amazing!”’ My favorite moment in this regard remains when Case declared into the microphone, ‘Now I’ve got a camel toe to go with these awesome pants,’ and once the gales of laughter died down I enjoyed the delight of hearing the mother of a seven-year-old girl trying to innocently explain what a camel toe was. They also left at the beginning of the first encore, ‘It’s time for bed,’ the mother cooed to her children.

review: angel olsen at lincoln hall 5.4.14

I can’t help feeling that tonight was one of those nights where nearly everything went wrong. I’m going to do my best not to let that colour my experience seeing Angel Olsen at Lincoln Hall tonight, but the fact of the matter is that this was one of those nights I wouldn’t have minded staying in and doing not much of anything. First of all Lincoln Hall was completely oversold tonight and more packed than I have ever seen it before (the previous holder of that title was Stars of the Lid in December). The bouncers even gave up on keeping the stairways clear—they settled on keeping one side of each stairway clear instead. It was so packed in there I had my first moment of legit claustrophobic panic in my life—during ‘White Fire’ the woman in front of me kept backing up into me and I was already cornered by a column and the ramp and railing on the left side of the room. I started to see stars, had trouble breathing and spent the entire song worried I might pass out. There were a lot of barriers to my enjoyment of the show—which happens sometimes when you go out in a giant crowd of people. Sometimes the rabble of nitwits you’re stuck in a space with can make it real hard to get your purpose accomplished, even if that purpose is something as simple as taking in some live music.

The opening band was deliberately chosen as a statement of intent it seemed—Promised Land Sound from Nashville, Tennessee did a great job of playing some very well-tread-territory type of music. There were flashes of the passion that Neil Young’s best songs exude, but they were only flashes. The lead guitarist did some impressive wah-wah work and had a lively, fresh approach. Everything else sounded rather generic. The only exceptions were when the band slowed things down and played something yearning and beautiful—again, a forecast for what was the follow.

Much has been made about the heavier, more rock-based sound of ‘Burn Your Fire for No Witness,’ which Olsen made with a full band. Where her previous work dabbles in country and Patsy Cline-esque 60s pop as well as some beautiful, plaintive starkness, ‘Burn Your Fire for No Witness’ features the sludgy pop rock of ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’ and ‘Hi-Five.’ Wearing a baseball cap that covered her face and chugging down beers for most of the set, Olsen was standing behind the more rocking material, but it was always the emotionally arresting beauty of songs that she performed from 2012’s ‘Halfway Home’ and 2010’s stark ‘Strange Cacti’ that held the crowd’s attention. Basically, it was the opposite of every other show I’ve ever been to—at this show people were heading to the bar to get another beer during the louder songs and everyone sat at rapt attention during the quiet songs. Considering what an anomaly this is I begin to struggle with the necessity of the rockier material—her best-written songs on the new album are the more emotionally bare pieces like the solo ‘White Fire’ and the cathartic closer ‘Windows’—those two tracks were the clear standouts of the evening from the new record. The band she’s assembled is nice and heavy and the songs sound fully fleshed-out and vivid (props to her for taking Implodes bassist Emily Elhaj along on this tour), it’s just that those tracks seem a little forced to me. Olsen is in her element most when she’s commanding a crowd on her own, which was true the first time I saw her at the Empty Bottle back in 2010—she’s one of the only performers I’ve seen bring the din of conversation at the Bottle to a deafening silence by playing ‘Some Things Cosmic’ by herself (which she ended with tonight as well). The full-band versions of older songs like ‘Free,’ ‘Miranda’ and ‘Drunk and With Dreams’ were magnificent as well. While I say that the more rocking songs on ‘Burn Your Fire…’ seem forced, it’s at least nice to hear that Olsen has a strong desire to push her sound in a different direction. One thing that ‘Burn Your Fire…’ has that her older records don’t is her fullest and richest-sounding vocals to date.

Monday, April 14, 2014

diary 4.12.14- time goes slowly by

Diary 4.12.14- time goes slowly by by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

So winter is over... well, kind of.

Either way, this is a mix heavy on the psych and garage. It's also all vinyl rips except for the last track. The more typically eclectic type of mix that I normally make with return for my birthday diary version in a little over a month.

song- artist- album

1. endless life- the verve- s/t EP
2. rhymes of an hour- mazzy star- 'among my swan'
3. b & e- nothing- 'guilty of everything'
4. endurance- bardo pond- 'ticket crystals'
5. chameleon- the warlocks- 'skull worship'
6. slide thru my fingers- tame impala- s/t EP
7. lux- disappears- 'lux'
8. high frontier- lumerians- 'high frontier'
9. tired of wasting my time- coachwhips- 'hands on the controls'
10. the hardest walk- the jesus & mary chain- 'psychocandy'
11. widowmaker- the heads- 'relaxing with...'
12. indian bones- dead meadow- s/t
13. baxter corner- white fence- 'live in san francisco'
14. hare tarot lies- no joy- 'wait to pleasure'
15. in another way- my bloody valentine- 'm b v'
16. spread your wings- spiritualized- ace theater los angeles bootleg

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

ruminations: cowboy junkies- 'the trinity session'

One of the great curiosities to me out of all of the music I listen to are those albums that I come back to again and again after lengthy breaks. Last week on a night when I was scanning my ipod for something to suit my solitary, wistful, reflective kind of mood I landed on ‘The Trinity Session’ by the Cowboy Junkies, which I hadn’t listened to probably since 2010. Since that was such a difficult year I’ve come to realize that I ended up purging most of the music I was listening to back then from my awareness. I always thought that that whole ‘bad associations’ talk was just bullshit. Great music is great music regardless of your associations with it, but then that crap-storm of a year steam-rolled me and I found that I was only able to hold on to a few albums by simple virtue that I never stopped listening to them so the bad memories never stuck to them. ‘The Trinity Session’ is one where they stuck.

I was introduced to this album the way everyone was, through the Cowboy Junkies’ cover version of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sweet Jane.’ My girlfriend in high school and I used to argue that whole cover version vs. original point because of that song. She was always on the ‘I like it better because it’s the first one I heard’ side. ‘I like it,’ I’d said, because I did, ‘but it’s impossible for it to be better than the original. Nothing can top the original! Plus, she changed all of the lyrics—what the hell is up with that?!’ I’d never listened to it closely enough to realize that husky-voiced singer Margo Timmins had used the lyrics from the ‘Live With Lou Reed’ version, which, in fact, are better than the lyrics on the ‘Loaded’ version. The band also took that stripped-down, half-asleep feel from the live version as well. What’s most interesting about this cover is that due to the fact that it’s a cover version of an alternate version of a classic song it’s completely faithful to its source material while sounding completely different from the version most people are familiar with. So it kind of puts that whole respect-the-original vs. make-it-your-own argument to bed. Regardless I bought a live album by the band on cassette that I’ve long since forgotten as I’ve never seen it anywhere and certainly don’t have it anymore. I listened to it a few times, was annoyed by how many other cover versions were on it (I claimed to loathe Bruce Springsteen around then—kind of stupid as now I really wish I could hear that live version of ‘Nebraska’ Suicide-nod ‘State Trooper’) and lost track of it by the time I left for college.

In 2008 or 2009 Stefanie and I used to housesit for two poster-artist friends in Evanston—they had a greyhound named Seth and two cats named Ocho and Akiko. We used to housesit for them several times a year and one thing I used to do while I was there was look through their CD shelves for music I hadn’t heard and that’s where I finally found ‘The Trinity Session.’ I ripped the audio, loaded it onto my ipod and one of those mornings when I was riding the Purple line to work ‘Blue Moon Revisited’ came on while passing over Calvary Cemetary into Howard when we stopped before pulling into the station and I watched the sun rise while it played and that’s one of those rare moments where I remember the exact moment that an album first got its hooks into me. The route between Belmont and Evanston was one I made a lot while I was at Columbia, too. Since it runs over three different beautiful cemeteries it would always lend a lot of weight to whatever music I was soundtracking my angsty existential thoughts to that day and this album was transporting me back to those days. As depressed as I was at Columbia I really loved riding the train all the way up to Evanston, which I find more than a little ironic now.

‘The Trinity Session’ was recorded in a church in Toronto using a single mic (an ambisonic mic to be exact) giving it a contradictory sound—the instruments seem distant and dripping with the wet ambience of the church and simultaneously unadorned, raw and very intimate. There’s an immediacy mixed with the electricity of a captured moment, but the album’s so rich in tone and imagery that it takes dozens of listens to soak everything in that’s going on. It has a surface starkness that’s incredibly deceptive. There are hints of jazz, blues, folk and country but it sounds unmistakably timeless and distinctive. It’s an album that if you close your eyes while listening to it you are inside that church with the band set up around you, Margo singing softly in your ear.

The songs are incredibly restrained, but emotionally vivid—there’s some startling loneliness in guitarist Michael Timmins’ reading of an iconic melody on ‘Blue Moon Revisited (Song for Elvis)’ that is only intensified by the extra notes and passages that he adds. Extra notes and all it’s surrounded by yawning gaps of empty space. A similar effect occurs on ‘Dreaming my Dreams with you’—which is built over a meaty bassline dense with room reverb (you can even hear the bass causing the snare to rattle a bit during the intro if you’re listening on headphones). Other than the base elements of drums, bass and guitar (which are so locked-in that it’s easy to hear them as different parts of the same instrument) harmonica, accordion and the occasional stringed instrument drift in and out of the mix. America has Mazzy Star, which is the perfect music for driving while stoned through an endless desert with the windows down, England has the Sundays who take pastoral imagery, bright, shimmering tones and pair them with sad lyrics and then Canada has Cowboy Junkies representing a wintery desolation that doesn’t quite translate down here in America. One thing I forgot to mention—this magical commute where I first fell in love with the Cowboy Junkies was during the winter.

Monday, March 17, 2014

review: the war on drugs- 'lost in the dream' (secretly canadian)

Sometimes the season that a record arrives can have as much of an impact as the music itself and the new War on Drugs is the perfect record to come out during the first stages of spring after a long, cold winter. ‘Lost in the Dream’ builds on 2011’s ‘Slave Ambient’ by piling on the wistfulness and longing. The production has been smoothed out even more this time out at the expense of the warmth at the core of ‘Slave Ambient’ (perhaps it’s a better record to listen to on vinyl). Nevertheless the songs on this record fall into that category of impressionistic songwriting that aims to take the essence of the tiniest, most subtle moments and magnify them in vivid detail. There were only hint’s of singer-songwriter Adam Granduciel’s ability to do this on ‘Slave Ambient.’

Stylistically it’s a more laid-back affair than ‘Slave Ambient’ with the emphasis turned to more reflective material. The songs are also incredibly expansive, especially during the album’s second half—which starts with the gracefully slow-burning ‘Disappearing.’ Sounding like the type of dreamy, shimmering wistfulness that Wild Nothing specialized on ‘Gemini’ it takes its time winding down—the ending instrumental section is practically half of the song’s running time. This un-rushed energy has a similar effect to the pop epic sound of something the Cure are known for doing on songs like ‘Pictures of You’ off of ‘Disintegration.’ It’s something of an ensemble approach to songwriting that highlights the intricacies of the overlapping instrumental parts just as much as the vocal melody and the chord progression. In such extended instrumental sections you’re able to immerse yourself in the layers and focus on them individually and draw more out of them—the bounce of the delayed drum sound on ‘Disappearing,’ the carefully overlapped sparseness of each part of the title track, the fact that ‘In Reverse’ builds and closes so carefully. Considering how often the Cure have been name-checked as an influence by countless bands it’s always been interesting to me that so few have really taken the time to build songs and highlight the pure instrumental beauty of their songs like the Cure did during their late 80s heyday. That, to me, is ‘Lost in the Dream’s greatest strength—that it’s successfully taken this approach and applied it to some really great songwriting by a band that has already established their own lush and immersive sound.

Monday, March 3, 2014

review: nothing- 'guilty of everything' (relapse)

Philadelphia-based band Nothing has quite the back story—frontman Dominic Palermo used to spend his time driving around in a car loaded with cocaine and guns while blasting My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ through the speakers. Following some time in prison and a four year period of soul searching he emerged with a new band called Nothing (he’d previously been in hardcore bands Horror Show and XO Skeleton) and this impressive debut for Relapse Records.

‘Guilty of Everything’ covers a pretty wide tonal palette—the lyrics and vibrant melodies ooze a hope that comes from a very dark place as well as redemption and regret while the music pummels and pounds with a layered, yet raw force that’s lacking in the music of most bands riding the 3rd wave of shoegaze. In fact shoegaze isn’t an entirely accurate label for Nothing—while listening to ‘Guilty of Everything’ I found it reminding me of a beefed-up version of ‘Low Level Owl’ by the Appleseed Cast. The music has an anthemic, celebratory quality that doesn’t come across in most music placed under the shoegaze umbrella. Even when the relentless wall of guitars cools to a breezy shimmer there’s a clarity and thickness that demands attention. For a new band treading such well-worn ground the band covers a diversity of style that suggests a lot of as-yet untapped potential. The no-nonsense production by Jeff Ziegler (who’s also produced Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs), which sounds like it could’ve been tracked live in a mere matter of hours, reinforces this suggestion.

Like any debut by any band worth it’s salt it’s not perfect, suggests more than it delivers and provides exciting hints at future directions that a band could take. In most ways this is preferable to a perfect debut—a band that arrives fully-formed into the world often has nowhere else to go. Nothing have staked a nice claim with ‘Guilty of Everything’—a band that favors loud, layered walls of guitars and loud/quiet dynamics who have firmly established a no-bullshit methodology where most bands mining a similar sound disappear into a world dripping with pretentious sonic noodling or resort to half-assed copycatting. This is a record that makes me excited to hear what they do next.

Friday, February 14, 2014

diary 2.14.14- i watched you as you disappeared

Diary 2.14.14- i watched you as you disappeared by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

song- artist- album

1. cherubs- arab strap- 'elephant shoe'
2. a sunny day (one afternoon)- the asteroid #4- 'hail to the clear figurines'
3. eighteen is over the hill- the west coast pop art experimental band- 'a child's guide to good and evil'
4. romneydale- weyes blood- 'the outside room'
5. elemental finding- tara jane o'neil- 'where shine new lights'
6. the bloom- lumerians- 'the high frontier'
7. heart-shaped box- nirvana- 'in utero'
8. girlfriend- ty segall- 'melted'
9. she's on top- sic alps- 'she's on top' 12"
10. cupid come- my bloody valentine- 'isn't anything'
11. taste- bardo pond- 'peace on venus'
12. blues hour- mogwai- 'rave tapes'
13. hi- warpaint- s/t
14. feel it now- black rebel motorcycle club- 'howl sessions'
15. between circles- death and vanilla- self-titled EP
16. cupid's trick- elliott smith- 'either/or'
17. watch her disappear- tom waits- 'alice'
18. some things cosmic- angel olsen- 'strange cacti'

Monday, February 10, 2014

rediscovery: tom waits- 'alice'

‘It’s dreamy weather,’ goes the opening line of Tom Waits’ 2002 album ‘Alice’—which is made up of music that Waits wrote for Robert Wilson’s adaptation of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ for the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg, Germany in 1992. I’ve been ripping CDs and dumping them all on a backup drive lately—it’s a time-consuming process for me right now due to the constant state of malfunction that is my circus of Macintosh laptops. In 2012 I split the cost of a refurbished Macbook Pro with my wife since we were both doing a bunch of telecommuting online-based work—when it came it had a lot of problems including the fact that the USB hubs never worked (the headphone jack has to be jiggled in order for it to work). Our other main laptop is a 2006 refurbished Macbook that I bought with my birthday money in 2008. Since the USB hubs on the regular Macbook work we have to update our ipods and such on it, however, the superdrive croaked in about 2010 and then the replacement external superdrive that I bought in 2011 croaked early last year. Ripping CDs now involves ripping them into the Macbook pro and then Blue-toothing the files to the Macbook so that they can be backed up. In short it’s quite a time-consuming process that I’ve found a curious sort of zen-like appreciation for lately. Now I’m forced to prioritize what’s most important to me to listen to and backup. As I do this I’m selling the CDs back for trade at Reckless and discovering a fair amount of music that’s been collecting dust on our 1TB backup drive.

While ripping the three discs of ‘Orphans’ I discovered ‘Bone Machine’ and ‘Alice’ that I must have backed up in 2007 or 08. When I loaded ‘Alice’ onto my iPod I found it difficult to stop listening to it and continue to two weeks later. It’s one of those oddly-timed correlations with time, place and re-discovery of something old and forgotten at just the right time. I’m finding ‘Alice’ to be the perfect post-holiday winter album. I think it’s been a particularly brutal winter for most, but for me it’s been a strange and wonderful one. The past two winters have been far too mild having an overall more negative effect on the constant whingeing that seems to be what everyone in Chicago does from about mid-January clear up until the first few days that the temperature edges past the 60 degree mark at some point in April. You hear a lot of ‘I’m moving to California—who needs this?’ and ‘I need 80 degrees and sunshine.’ People who live here their entire lives fall to pieces in February claiming they can’t take it any more even though they know full well that an early Spring is a nothing more than a cruel mirage. My love of winter is well-documented and I’ve always figured that if I can maintain this stance while living here then it’s not just a contrarian type of pretension. The only thing that sucks is that all I hear during my favourite time of year is complaining from everyone surrounding me. Meanwhile during those difficult summer months I find that I am expected to keep my mouth shut. Because of this I seek out a very specific type of music to listen to during the season—it’s usually sad, beautiful, mournful and filled with a great sense of intangibility. ‘Alice’ has all of these things in spades.

Besides the opening track I found the carnival-chant ‘Kommienezuspadt’ charming and perfect. Then there was the first time I heard ‘Watch Her Disappear’—it was one of those golden ‘holy shit!’ kind of moments. Where ‘Circus’ from 2004’s ‘Real Gone’ had previously held the title of my favourite Tom Waits spoken-word piece it was completely blown-away by the dreamlike eeriness and staggering beauty of ‘Watch Her Disappear.’ Every line is perfect—it’s just abstract enough in its heightened dreaminess deliriousness. It makes me curious as to how this song was used in the play—describing dreams in prose is always a thorny type of business. It’s a device I cop to constantly in my own writing and I have no idea if I do it well or not. In songs it’s usually easier, but often works better in an impressionistic sense. The imagery of ‘Watch Her Disappear’ is more vivid than lyrics have any right to be. Since I’m struggling with specific lines to quote I’d rather just print the lyrics below—

‘Last night I dreamed that I was dreaming of you
And from a window across the lawn I watched you undress
Wearing your sunset of purple tightly woven around your hair
That rose in strangled ebony curls
Moving in a yellow bedroom light
The air is wet with sound
The faraway yelping of a wounded dog
And the ground is drinking a slow faucet leak
Your house is so soft and fading as it soaks the black summer heat
A light goes on and the door opens
And a yellow cat runs out on the stream of hall light and into the yard
A wooden cherry scent is faintly breathing the air
I hear your champagne laugh
You wear two lavender orchids
One in your hair and one on your hip
A string of yellow carnival lights comes on with the dusk
Circling the lake with a slowly dipping halo
And I hear a banjo tango
And you dance into the shadow of a black poplar tree
And I watched you as you disappeared
I watched you as you disappeared’

Somehow each line bleeds into the next—the images are so crystal clear and alarmingly vivid. It strikes me as a type of out-of-season fever dream where everything is hyper realistic and overwhelming. There’s also the issue of the voyeuristic nature of these observations at odds with their stirring and longing beauty. It’s the perfect example of exactly what makes Waits such an unparalleled songwriter.

Then there’s ‘Poor Edward,’ which is a tale of a boy who is born with two faces—one is his own and the other is his female devil twin. The two can’t be separated without causing his death and yet the two are completely at odds—his good nature eventually caving to the terrible things she says causing him to resort to suicide in order to kill them both. The irony being that the lyrics describe this action as solidifying an eternity in hell for the two of them—possibly the devil twin’s intention all along. Such a bleak song can only be followed by the amusing ‘Table Top Joe.’ ‘Fish & Bird’ is one of those songs that creates an impossible love story between two animals that are doomed to never be together—it’s the story of a whale that falls in love with a bird. Then there’s the closing instrumental ‘Fawn,’ built on a rickety-sounding mournful violin. So much arresting power crammed into 48 minutes—perfect for such dreamy weather.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

diary 1.25.14- devastating stare-downs

Diary 1.25.14- devastating stare-downs by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

song- artist- album

1. the frost in winter- windy & carl- 'we will always be'
2. the hours- exitmusic- 'from silence'
3. incinerate- sonic youth- 'rather ripped'
4. in the roses- wooden shjips- 'back to land'
5. spiderwebs- carlton melton- 'always even'
6. life without skin- lumerians- 'the high frontier'
7. he looks good in space- the warlocks- 'skull worship'
8. tower & the wall- ocs- 'ocs 4: get stoved'
9. excave- benoit pioulard- 'hymnal'
10. patterned sky- bloodbirds- 'psychic surgery'
11. teresa, lark of ascension- broadcast- 'berberian sound studio'
12. if it's alive, it will- angel olsen- 'strange cacti'
13. mercy- black rebel motorcycle club- 'howl sessions'
14. condescend- low- 'songs for a dead pilot'
15. crawl away- bardo pond- 'set and setting'
16. music for twin peaks episode #30- stars of the lid- 'the ballasted orchestra'

Thursday, January 2, 2014

most anticipated records of 2014

So much great music came out in 2013 including so many albums I'd been waiting for for so long that it never occurred to me until about a week ago that I had no idea what albums I was looking forward to hearing in 2014. I thought it would probably be a slower year, but there are already a handful of releases that I'm eagerly awaiting and I'm sure there will be more to follow that I didn't even realize I was excited for.

Warpaint- s/t

It's been a long four years since 'The Fool' was released and I happened upon the pre-order links for the self-titled album completely by accident. The album was produced and mixed mostly by Flood (apart from two tracks that were mixed by Nigel Godrich) and if the two tracks that have been previewed are anything to go by ('Love is to Die' and 'Biggy') we're in for quite a treat. Fortunately the wait will only be a few weeks now.

Mogwai- 'Rave Tapes'

It's hard to think that it's been three years since Mogwai released 'Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will,' mostly since Mogwai released the excellent soundtrack to French zombie miniseries 'Les Revenents' (which aired here in the states under the name 'The Returned'). While the soundtrack was a solid set of beautiful tracks by the band it's always nice to see them getting back into the mode of making a record that comes entirely from them. 'Rave Tapes' appears to be taking more of an electronics-based road (similar to 2001's 'Rock Action') and while I wasn't that blown away by the first preview track 'Remurdered' I found 'The Lord is Out of Control' immensely satisfying in the way that Mogwai's best music is. They're one of the few bands who can make something I wasn't expecting at all sound so satisfying. Plus, 'Hardcore...' was a grower for me to say the least... Again, the wait won't be long.

The War on Drugs- 'Lost in the Dream'

2011's 'Slave Ambient' continues to surprise me with every listen. Somehow I managed to overlook it's greatness with my first few listens but it's one of a handful of records released over the past few years that I find myself coming back to time and time again. 'Red Eyes' is a nice extension of what made 'Slave Ambient' such a distinct record, it somehow manages to take that sound and make it even richer and more melodic.

Sharon Van Etten

I heard through a post of Van Etten's facebook page that this record is, in fact, finished. While it has no release date or an announced title I've been pretty excited about the idea of it since hearing her play a few new songs (that I assume will be on it) during her set opening for Nick Cave back in April. I definitely remember hearing 'Tarifa' at that show and being impressed with its strength even without the aid of Van Etten's backing band. What I'm mostly curious about is what route she'll take with the songs- it seems like she's more in the mindset of sparseness, but her songs work in any context and she's never been shy about switching arrangements when the situation warrants it.

Beach House

I haven't heard anything to the effect that Beach House are working on a new album, or have even had much time to record anything over the course of the last year. It seems like they've just gone from tour to tour to tour, similar to their never-ending tour in support of 'Teen Dream.' Right now, though, they're scheduled to play a handful of Gene Clark tribute shows and nothing else is listed beyond that. I've heard rumors about growing tensions in the band (which isn't much of a shock considering the speed at which they've been moving for about five or six years), but it's mostly hearsay and I'm hoping that I can expect another new Beach House album right on their two year schedule. There are always a few in my little lists that end up moving to next year, anyway.

Panda Bear

2010 was an incredible year for music and one of the albums that made me think so was Panda Bear's second solo release 'Tom Boy.' I hadn't realized, but it's been four years since that second album came out, which came out three years after 2007's 'Person Pitch.' It'd be nice if Noah Lennox were to pair up with Sonic Boom again as his bright mixes and crystal clear mastering did a lot to enhance 'Tom Boy,' but another part of me would like Sonic to finally finish a new Spectrum album (he's been talking about 'On the Wings of Mercury' like it would be done in a few months since 2009 rendering the title hopelessly ironic). Either way it would be great to hear another record from Panda Bear.

Spiritualized

During their stop at Lincoln Hall in July (which I missed) the America-based version of Spiritualized played nearly an entire album's worth of new songs. Several of them still sounded like they were in the rough, early (but promising) stages, but the stately 'A song,' 'D song' as well as 'Here it Comes (The Road Let's Go)' had been played in various formats since the band's 2012 European tour and are coming along beautifully. I still struggle with figuring out where I stand on this newest incarnation of the band as the band that stopped at the Metro in 2012 put on the hardest-hitting performance that I'd probably heard to date from Spiritualized. Either way the band's been pretty quiet since their last mini East Coast tour back in September and their lone live engagement is a Valentine's Day stop in Los Angeles to play 'Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space' in its entirety. This is another album that's in the category of those that I expect will be moved back a year. It seems like Jason Pierce is having trouble getting a record out more often than every four years. At least it's easy to tell when the wheels are in motion.