30 December 2009

Dismemberment Plan

Fireworks? Or terrorist attack?

Well, another year is upon us.

While I don't much care for New Year's celebrations, I do particularly like the idea of a new year, especially with graduation and potential permanent residency on the horizon for the 2010.

Now I don't much care for Christmas-themed music (because it almost always sucks), but I'll admit I get down to a few songs about the New Year. One of my personal favorites is a Dismemberment Plan track from 1997 called "The Ice of Boston". In it, Travis Morrison narrates his own New Year's experience, choosing to forego the messy Boston streets for a little naked R&R.

This song always gives me a (figurative) chuckle, and I hope it does the same for you.

03 The Ice Of Boston by regularexpress

To the year ahead!

28 December 2009

Best of 2009 (10-1)

1) Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs

They've managed to retain their style for over 20 years, yet continue to sound fresh and adventurous. One of the best bands in existence.

Fun with fruit:

2) Superchunk - Leaves in the Gutter EP

This EP completely rocked my shit for like three months straight.

3) Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

I know of at least one contemporary female piano player that I like. And it doesn't hurt that she covers both Harry Nilsson and Sparks.

Horse whisperer:

4) Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

This was the year in which we see Grizzly Bear become a household name, and for good reason.

Tripping balls:

5) Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle

Bill Callahan returns to his sparse, wry, and manically depressing songwriting. Because happy Smog just doesn't cut it.

6) Group Bombino - Guitars from Agadez Vol. 2

Unlike the first volume, this one is half acoustic, half electric. But it’s still completely raw and messy and awesome. What else would you expect from a Nigerien rebel group?

7) Piano Magic - Ovations

Girlfriend dump you? Take a bunch of ketamine? Paranoid that your heart is about to collapse into itself? Or just generally feel like offing yourself? Well, the good news is you’ve found your soundtrack.

8) Chrissy Zebby Tembo & Ngozi Family - My Ancestors

Technically a release from the early 70's, this album boasts simple melodies, fuzzed-out psych guitar solos, and heavy drums. This sounds a bit like Cream if they were Zambian and Clapton had any balls.

9) A.C. Newman - Get Guilty

Newman’s second solo album is more introspective than his first, but it’s still full of endless hooks and skillful songwriting. And it proves once again that he’s at his best when in total control.

10) Built to Spill - There Is No Enemy

It might not be Built to Spill's best album, but it's got everything they've come to be known for (namely, triple guitar beard attack). And props to them for including slide guitar again- "Hindsight" is a jam reminiscent of much of Doug Martsch's solo album.

Best of 2009 (11-20)

11) Bell Orchestre - As Seen Through Windows

Horn-heavy orchestrated post-rock. Less doom and gloom than some of their contemporaries, it’s at times lilting, pastoral, and ethereal. Definitely more cohesive than their previous effort.

Seizure city:

12) Dinosaur Jr. - Farm

The original Dinosaur Jr. line-up once again prove that they're capable of sounding exactly the same as they did 20 years ago. And who doesn't need another Dinosaur Jr. record? But if you're a fan of Mascis's guitar solos, beware. This album only averages 1.5 solos per song.


13) Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career

This sounds nothing like Belle & Sebastian! Where do people get this stuff? It's a girl singing...come on, Belle & Sebastian have a guy singer. A little wimpy one. So what if they're both Scottish bands. Wait, you're telling me that that little twee turd photographed one of Camera Obscura's album covers? And Belle & Sebastian have girls that sing too? Hmm. Did Wet Wet Wet release anything this year?

John McVie stand-in:

14) M. Ward - Hold Time

Last year's She & Him record didn't hurt M. Ward's cause at all. Hold Time features Ward's familiar songwriting and production skills, with a couple of cameos from everybody's mind-mistress, Zooey Deschanel.

Slow motion accident:

15) The Flips - That Girl Stacey 7"

Fresh out of Brew City, these girls marry the 60's girl-group sounds of the Shangri-Las and Martha and the Vandellas with the lo-fi aesthetic of the Vivian Girls (but much more classy and charming).

16) Mulatu Astatqe & the Heliocentrics - Inspiration Information Vol. 3

Steeped in the Ethiopian jazz that Mulatu came to patent and popularize, and coupled with the funk backbone of the Heliocentrics, this album is reminiscent of the Ethiopian Quintet’s Afro-Latin Soul.

17) Implodes - everything I heard on myspace

They released a cassette on plustapes this year, but since I don't own a cassette player anymore, it did me no good. Shoegaze guitar tones for creaming jeans.

18) Zombi - Spirit Animal

If this album were a spirit animal, it would be a shark being eaten by a rhinoceros being ridden by Geddy Lee.

19) Other Animals - Other Animals

Debut from Chicago-area dudes sounds like Explosions in the Sky, but with less explosions and more sexy guitars.

20) Tyondai Braxton - Central Market

Battles meets 20th Century composing. Complete with Wizard of Oz munchkin vocals (and even some human vocals).

22 December 2009

Santa Baby

Christmas is right around the corner, as I'm constantly reminded by the vast array of horrible Christmas songs and gaudy Christmas displays polluting the urban environment. I'm amazed and disgusted by the sheer amount of no-name and big-name performers cashing in on covering traditional Christmas songs, without any attempt at making a quality recording. Last year I posted a few Christmas songs that I thought were actually worthwhile, though they've since been lost in the internet ether. (If anybody wants me to share them again, just leave a comment).

It's come to my attention that one Christmas song is a bit more prurient than I had ever realized. People always mention "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" as being dirty, but "Santa Baby" is by far dirtier. (It's also despicably comsumeristic, which I thought was only a phenomenon that's come about in the last few decades.) But it's the overt sexuality that gets me on this song, with such lines as "come and trim my Christmas tree" and the constant pleading for Santa to "hurry down the chimney tonight". Dirty bird!

This is probably the most famous version, as sung by Eartha Kitt. It's funny how the coy and semi-conservative sexuality of music stars in the 50's and 60's is by far more appealing than the overtly desperate sexuality of the stars of today. All I can think of when I hear names like the Pussycat Dolls or Rihanna is a roaring case of the clap.

15 December 2009

Real Estate - Real Estate

This album is pretty chill, if totally overhyped.

The water theme on this album is really prominent- "Beach Comber", "Pool Swimmers", "Black Lake", "Green River", and "Let's Rock the Beach" (which doesn't rock at all). There's a pretty clear correlation between this theme and the music- it's summertime surf jams, all barbeques and limeade, rooftop parties and bike rides.

Real Estate is a relaxed, lo-fi album with good pop sensibilities. The singer is also a member of Ducktails, who shares a similar aesthetic of tropical grooves, relaxed jamming, and mountains of reverb. Maybe mountains isn't the right word, since all that reverb makes it sound like they recorded this stuff underwater (check out the vocals on "Pool Swimmers"). We'll say...eddies of reverb.

Much like Ducktails, some of the jammier songs on this album tend to lose me a little bit. since a lot of the songs are on the slower side of things, some of the jammy parts tend to plod along unconvincingly. Fortunately it picks up again about halfway through, starting with "Atlantic City", then "Fake Blues", and "Green River" (which is in no way related to the CCR song). "Suburban Beverage" starts out with a promising build-up, but eventually ends up in another half-baked jam. The album does end on a high note, with the inappropriately titled "Snow Days". It's all harmonies and slide guitars (and, from what I can tell, the only song with acoustic guitar), until it warps into a country jam, all drum rolls and fake endings.

As much as this album is generally decent, the main issue I have is that it's all a little same-same. The instruments, tone, and tempo are all the same song after song. So while a lot of the songs are good individually, they're not entirely memorable as individual songs. And while the album is generally good, there's too much idle jamming to make it memorable as a whole, replacing memorability with a vague notion of enjoyment.

Snow Days by regularexpress

10 December 2009

Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young

So what can one expect from a solo album by the Strokes singer?

Songs sung in that typical strained croon. [✓][✓][✓][✓][✓][✓][✓][✓]
Songs about NYC. [✓][✓]
Songs about drinking. [✓][✓]
Songs about regret. [✓][✓][✓][✓][✓][✓]

So why is this different from a Strokes record? For one, the production is cleaner. Two, the songs are long. Three, it's a lot more varied than any Strokes record to date. There's the typical fast rock songs with berating keyboard ("Out of the Blue", "River of Brakelights"), Nashville gospel lament ("Four Chords of the Apocalypse", "Ludlow St."), straight-up pop songs ("Left and Right in the Dark", "11th Dimension"), and a couple of snoozers at the end ("Glass", "Tourist").

Incidentally, the pop songs and country laments are the best on the record. While both pop songs are synth-heavy, the underlying pulsating guitar in "Left and Right in the Dark" make this the best song on the album. And while "11th Dimension" (is that a reference to string theory?) is ear candy to the, er, 11th degree, it's a song that gets tiresome after multiple listens. But it's exactly at this point that following "Four Chords of the Apocalypse" and "Ludlow St" start to stand out. The former is the type of song featured in a romantic comedy, about three-fourths of the way through, when the lead characters have gotten into a fight and have both independently decided that they should get back together- female character looks vaguely sad while staring through a rainy window, male character walks the boardwalk alone, ruefully watching laughing couples, cue missed phone calls, an aborted flirtation with a blind date, and Drew Berrymore and Zac Efron are back together, more in love than ever. And Ludlow St, a song about dranking and the bitterness that so often accompanies a failed relationship.

The songs that sound most like the Strokes are ok, but they're in need of serious edits. All the songs on this album clock in at over 4 minutes, and about half are at least 5. If some of these songs were streamlined (really, who needs a mandolin solo? What is this, Medeski Martin and Wood?), they'd prove to be a lot more effective. This album- 8 songs, 40 minutes- would probably do better as a 5 song EP.

There's this guy Frank Sartor- he used to be Mayor of Sydney, now he's a member of the State Cabinet- who came to speak to my class. "It's all about managing expectations," he said. "If you give a girl flowers every day, she'll come to expect them. But if you only give her flowers once a year, you look like Don Juan." (I'm paraphrazing). And after the last Strokes record, this could have been half as good and still smelt like roses.

02 Left & Right in the Dark by regularexpress

07 December 2009

Felt - Forever Breathes the Lonely Word

Felt is one of those bands that I've always meant to listen to, but for one reason or another, just haven't. Someone once mentioned to me that Yo La Tengo, especially in their early years, were clearly influenced by Felt. Yep, they were right. If Ira Kaplan sang more like a mix between Lou Reed and Tom Verlaine, as Felt's main member Lawrence Hayward does, some of these songs would sound indistinguishable between the two bands. "September Lady" has it all- the Hammond organ, 80's treble-heavy arpeggio guitars, and soft female backing "oohs" and "aahs".

The first two songs on this album- "Rain on Crystal Spires" and "Down But Not Yet Out" are upbeat, catchy indie-pop numbers. The Hammond riffs are particularly stand-out on these tracks. "September Lady" changes the pace slightly with a more sentimental bent- it's Marquee Moon's "Guiding Light", if you will. "Grey Streets" is another impressive organ-heavy track with hooks galore.

Unfortunately, the album's centerpiece, "All the People I Like Are Those That Are Dead", doesn't get the job done. It starts slow, and ebbs and flows over its lengthy 5 minutes. Hayward whispers the chorus for much of the last few minutes. Whether it's in an attempt to be creepy or poignant is besides the fact- the song simply meanders. It's long in length and short on ideas.

After this track, it's a little difficult to get back into. "Gather Up Your Wings and Fly" returns to opening form with upbeat guitar and organ, and, once again, those same pleasant backing vocals. However, it's not quite as strong as the first half of the album. "A Wave Crashed on the Rocks" is a bit of a throwaway track. There's nothing wrong with it, it just simply doesn't stand up to the memorable tracks on this album. The closer "Hours of Darkness Have Changed My Mind" is another slow track with little to show for it. "September Girls" would have made a more appropriate closer, though the album is obviously front-loaded, and stuck at the back end that song wouldn't have gotten its just desserts.

Overall the album is definitely something to return to, if only for the upbeat pop songs. It's 80's and British in all the right ways. While the album tries a little too hard in some spots, the only real disaster is "All the People I Like Are Those That Are Dead".

Felt - Forever Breathes the Lonely Word


Before I stray too much from that Fugazi post from last week, I also wanted to post this Peel Sessions recording from 1988. Two tracks from Fugazi, and two from the then yet-to-be-released Repeater.

Although the songs don't generally sound as clear as on record, they definitely highlight how fervent the band was live. Guy's songs are definitely the more intense ones- just check out the screeching guitar at the end of "Glue Man" to see what I mean.

There's not that much to say about this really, but assuming most Fugazi fans are pretty hardcore Fugazi fans, this is worth grabbing.

1) Waiting Room
2) Merchandise
3) Break-In
4) Glue Man

Fugazi - Peel Sessions 1988

Jack Rose

While I'm on the subject of guitarists influenced by John Fahey, I'd like to pay respects to Jack Rose, an extremely talented solo guitarist who sadly died today of an apparent heart attack. While Rose was strongly influenced by Fahey, he also incorporated eastern music, especially raga, into his vast body of work, much like Sir Richard Bishop and Robbie Basho. Rose also played in a prominent drone band (as prominent as a drone band can be, I mean) called Pelt.

Rose was immensely talented, somewhat prolific, and hardly well-known throughout his 15+ year career. His music was characterized by its often dark style of folk and blues, the result of playing a 12-string slide guitar. There's a lot of solitude in his music, especially evident on the excellent s/t release on Tequila Sunrise. It was also released on CD after the LP version sold out, which is available here and here. I picked up that record without knowing anything about it really, and I've since invested serious hours into it.

Although much of his work is generally pretty haunting, here's one of his more upbeat ragtime songs off the Kensington Blues album.

07 Flirtin' With the Undertaker by regularexpress

M Ward - Transfiguration of Vincent

M. Ward - Transfiguration of Vincent

This album is good, but not great. While it's similar in most ways to his more recent albums, it lacks the distinct charm and breeziness of Hold Time and Post War. What's immediately apparent on this album, both through the instrumentation and lyrics, is the degree of melancholy with which most of these songs are written. Songs of sorrow, sadness, and heartbreak are all too cliche for the sensitive singer-songwriter type, and without the constant guitar work that's become Ward's M.O., this album as a whole is not something I'd return to regularly with such better albums in his discography.

Not surprisingly, the stand-out tracks are the few upbeat numbers like "Duet for Guitars #3" and "Helicopter". The former is an instrumental John Fahey-esque jam, while the latter is a pretty straightforward folk-rock song with a melody line lifted straight out of Paul Simon's "Graceland". The album also features a horribly depressing version of Bowie's "Let's Dance", which, quite frankly, is a song that's only notable for its staccato guitar and percussion (which Ward does away with completely) and video of two teenage Aboriginals dancing in an outback bar, and then suddenly transferred to a busy Sydney street, being forced to do manual labor. For a video that makes such a strong statement, the song itself does not. And for a song with seemingly very little meaning, it's a strange choice for an acoustic cover whose foundation is the lyrics. On a high note, Ward definitely had his Grand Ole Opry style production down already on this album, which certainly makes this album worth a listen at least once.

Here's a video of the aforementioned "Duet for Guitars #3" (performed solo, as it were), which starts about 2:30 in after some pretty impressive jamming.

03 December 2009


I was hoping to post this yesterday, though work obligations prevented me from doing so. In the time between then and now, Pitchfork has gone ahead and stolen my thunder (which, I realize, I initially stole from Chunklet anyway).

This is 45 minutes of stage banter between Fugazi (really just Ian and Guy) and the crowd. Most of that banter is essentially crowd control and calling out excessively violent morons in the crowd. But they harp on these people better than stand-up comedians are sometimes able, and at the same time manage to exude such love and respect for their fans. It's entertaining, funny, affronting, and kind of life affirming at the same time.

Fugazi Talks Talk