Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Favorites + 2008 Faves Reconsidered

I haven't listed my year-end faves in a while, but if there's one thing the nation is clamoring for, it's the half-baked opinion of an old white guy. Anyway, the only film release I saw was Gravity, which looked great, but did not have much to say beyond pointing out that in space no one can hear you scream. So I'm going to list my favorite albums and then go back and reassess my favorites from five years back to see how they've held up.

1. Superchunk - I Hate Music. This is my favorite album of the year because I am nothing if not predictable. And I love this video because old.

2. Earthless - From The Ages. I don't know why it took so long for Earthless to make their third studio album, but I'm really glad they did. Their instrumental guitar-god psychedelic metal is almost the exact opposite of Superchunk's tight indie-pop gems, but I love this album almost as much as I Hate Music.

3. Hookworms - Pearl Mystic. Do I like retro-fuzz psychedelia with krautrock influence? Yes I do! So much so that I'm listing this album right after the Earthless one, even though they share a certain mentality. I found this band thanks to KEXP and they work for me like gangbusters.

4. Mavis Staples - One True Vine. She has marched on Washington, loved Bob Dylan, revitalized secular gospel, been in the business for more than 60 years, and she still has it in her to come up with something interesting and fun. Jeff Tweedy's production is sympathetic, too.

5. My Bloody Valentine - m b v. This album appears to be a time machine to my 20s.

6. Thee Oh Sees - Floating Coffin. Perhaps not quite as fantastic as the last few, but still very, very, very good.

7. Kurt Vile - Wakin On A Pretty Daze. I love Vile's music, but he's basically the hipster Jack Johnson, right? I mean, there's all this good-time/lazy-time vibe to all of his music. I like that he lets loose on the guitar on this album.

8. Wire - Change Becomes Us. I've run hot and cold on the third (or is this the fourth?) incarnation of Wire, but I really like this album, which mostly consists of rewrites of unrecorded tracks from the late 70s/early 80s.

9. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels. This album from El-P and Killer Mike is excellent all around. And hilarious.

10. Darcy James Argue's Secret Society - Brooklyn Babylon. Argue's big band-free jazz society made a fantastic concept album.

Special Mention: Sally Crewe - "Making Plans For Nigel." Excellent new single from Ms. Crewe.

Other albums I liked:

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
The Dexateens - Sunsphere EP
The Fall - Re-Mit
The Flaming Lips - The Terror
Melvins - Everybody Loves Sausages
Pink Avalanche - Wraiths
Richard Thompson - Electric
Yo La Tengo - Fade


In 2008, I had a Top 20 list, but here's the top 10 of those for consistency.

1. Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life/Year of the Pig EP
2. Boris - Smile
3. Oneida - Preteen Weaponry
4. The Instruments - Dark Småland
5. Why? - Alopecia
6. Robert Forster - The Evangelist
7. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
8. Black Mountain - In The Future
9 (tie). The Dexateens - Lost & Found
9 (tie). The Distant Seconds - Spectral Evidence
10. Earth - The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull

Five years later, I would change this list up only a little bit. While I still like the albums by Oneida, The Instruments, Why?, Robert Forster (which was the toughest to move down, actually), and Black Mountain, the Harvey Milk, Earthless, Torche, and Benko albums are so great that they need to be on this list. I had heard the TV On The Radio and New Year albums that year, but I ranked them too low. There were a lot of other albums I have subsequently heard and liked a lot, too, and the ones that were real contenders were by Atlas Sound, James Blackshaw, Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves, Fennesz, and Jay Reatard. All in all, though, not too bad a report card. I'll give myself a gentleman's B. Maybe a B-.

1. Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life
2. Boris - Smile
3. Harvey Milk - Life... The Best Game In Town
4. Earthless - Live At Roadburn
5. TV On The Radio - Dear Science
6. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
7. The New Year - The New Year
8. Torche - Meanderthal
9 (tie). The Distant Seconds - Spectral Evidence
9 (tie). The Dexateens - Lost & Found
9 (tie). Benko - Welcome To The Follow Through
10. Earth - The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Music Library: T-Bone Burnett, T. Rex, Talking Heads, Tall Dwarfs, Tamás Vásáry, Tammy Wynette, Tapes 'n Tapes, Tarnation

Talking Heads, fool.

T-Bone Burnett & Richard Thompson - "Welcome Home, Mr. Lewis." I don't have a whole lot of tracks where RT plays on other people's songs, but this one, a tasteful instrumental, is just peachy.

T. Rex - My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (as Tyrannosaurus Rex, 1968), Prophets, Seers & Sages - The Angels of the Ages (as Tyrannosaurus Rex, 1968), Unicorn (as Tyrannosaurus Rex, 1969), Electric Warrior (1971), The Slider (1972), Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow (1974). Man, the 70s did something weird to Marc Bolan's head where he abruptly shifted from hippie acid-folk of Tyrannosaurus Rex to the glam-fuzz-chamber-pop genius of T. Rex. Tyrannosaurus Rex was a folk duo that makes Devendra Banhart sound like the cover artist he secretly is while T. Rex was a guitar-and-drums duo (at its core, at least) that added layers and layers of fuzz and strings with Bowie's producer Tony Visconti as the conduit. Every single one of these albums is brilliant in its own way, although Zinc Alloy is starting to sound a little tired. Electric Warrior and The Slider are both utterly perfect, though. And geez, check out these videos. Marc Bolan basically invented Paul Stanley of Kiss's schtick, strutting around as if he doesn't notice that he has a damn congo player on stage. And he's wearing a t-shirt with his own face on it in the second video.

Talking Heads - Talking Heads: 77 (1977), More Songs About Buildings And Food (1978), Fear Of Music (1979), Remain In Light (1980), The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads (live album, 1977-81), Speaking In Tongues (1983), Stop Making Sense: Special New Edition (live album, 1984), Little Creatures (1985), True Stories (1986), Naked (1988), Bonus Rarities And Outtakes (compilation, 1977-1991), Popular Favorites 1976-1992: Sand In The Vaseline. Unlike everyone else who loves rock, I love the Talking Heads. They legendarily started out calling themselves either The Artistics or the Autistics depending on how they felt that evening. Their first single was the sublime "Love -> Building On Fire," which is sometimes my favorite song. Then they added Jerry Harrison, formerly of the venerable Modern Lovers, on keyboards and second guitar. Then they made a great album (77), followed by a brilliant album that more or less provided a blueprint for nerdy indie-rock funk (More Songs). Then they brought in Brian Eno to help develop Byrne's obsession with Fela Kuti and afrobeat in general into something completely new (Fear Of Music and Remain In Light). Then there's The Name Of This Band, which provides a different dimension on all of this creativity by showcasing their live persona, an impossible blend of aloof and impassioned music with Byrne's "I just landed here from Mars" stage presence. It is also perfect. Then there's their embrace of domestic funk with Speaking In Tongues and Stop Making Sense, still the greatest concert-film of all time. Little Creatures gets a bad rap for being lesser, but it is not really any lesser than Tongues, just obsessed with gospel and Southern jangle-pop. Even True Stories, the music to a weird, not-entirely-successful film attempts to connect with country music and is pretty phenomenal, all things considered. Naked, though, flounders on the second side, with Byrne sounding bored, despite the tropicalia tribute music blooming all about him. Bonus Rarities, for the most part, demonstrates why these tracks were outtakes or alternate takes left on the cutting room floor. Sand In The Vaseline has a few more nonalbum tracks, but none are that interesting. And now some videos! Here's a stunning live version of "Love -> Building On Fire" from The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads.

Here's the brilliant opening of Stop Making Sense. "Hi. I have a tape I want to play."

"I Zimbra" on Letterman.

Here's Pops Staples singing "Papa Legba" in True Stories, somehow made better by David Byrne and John Goodman's overdubbed German.

Tall Dwarfs - Hello Cruel World (compilation, 1981-84), The Short And Sick Of It (compilation, 1985-86), Dogma EP (1987), Fork Songs (1991), 3 EPs (1994). The mighty Tall Dwarfs were a New Zealand-based duo consisting of Alex Bathgate and Chris Knox who made bathtub psychedelia by home recording all manner of instrumentation over their simple-but-effective punk-based songs. It is impossible to overstate their influence on, say, Beck or Neutral Milk Hotel. Of these, Hello Cruel World and Fork Songs are my favorites, but all Tall Dwarfs albums are great.

Tamás Vásáry - Chopin: Piano Works [Nocturnes . Waltzes . Ballades . Scherzi] (recorded 1966). Is pretty piano music. I feel unqualified to say anything further about it.

Tammy Wynette - Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad (1967) and D-I-V-O-R-C-E (1968). I admit that I sometimes get Tammy Wynette's songs confused with Loretta Lynn's. I mean, both are feminist country songwriters who burst out of the late 60s in a fury of rural women finding their voice. Tammy Wynette is the one where all her songs of this era are about dealing with the assholish chauvinism of rural men, whereas Loretta Lynn is more about kicking someone's ass for messing with her stability. Subtle but important difference! Man, dig this lady's wit.

Tapes 'n Tapes - The Loon (2005) and Walk It Off (2008). Pretty straightforward indie-rock beholden to Pavement without their wit and creativity. Not bad for what it is, but what it is is just okay.

Tarnation - Gentle Creatures (1995). This is alt-country through the lens of Patsy Cline's weepier music and David Lynch's goth-pop-rockabilly sensibility. It is quite, quite good.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Music Library Catch-Up: Belle and Sebastian, Cramps, Dexateens, Dylan, High Fidelics, Lou Reed, Sparklehorse

This is yet another post in which I discuss a few albums that I've picked up since I covered the artist in question.

Belle and Sebastian - The Third Eye Centre (compilation, 2003-13). This is a collection of EP and b-side tracks that was released this year. It's not as comprehensive as 2004's Push Barman To Open Old Wounds compilation, but I still like it. I wish I'd double-checked to see how many of these tracks I already had, though.

The Cramps - Smell Of Female (1983). I generally hate live albums because they are so often, in the words of Camper Van Beethoven, greatest hits played faster. This Cramps live album, however, captures the sound of a show where flat-out anything could happen. This is the kind of music that begs to be called "blistering." I'm willing to grant it.

The Dexateens - Sunsphere (2013). Alabama's mighty Dexateens, a band I love, dropped this EP earlier this year. It was actually recorded in a flurry of action in 2009, the same year as the band's last album Singlewide. I guess this means that it features the last line-up. Anyway, it rocks most righteously.

Bob Dylan - Biograph (compilation, 1962-81) and "Watching The River Flow." I never realized that there were nonalbum tracks on this box set. These are those tracks! Most of them are quite good and some are utterly essential, so I recommend them for the semi-obsessed Dylan fan. "Watching The River Flow" is a nonalbum track from Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II, which I have (or at least used to have?) on vinyl. Anyway, I picked this up, too, because "semi-obsessed Dylan fan" are words that could possibly be directed at yours truly.

The High Fidelics - The High Fidelics (2012). This is a first-rate surf-influenced instrumental rock band from Alabama. They have a Shadows-like willingness to mix other retro-exotica-cool sounds in with their surf music, and the interplay between guitarist Edwin Cleverdon and organist Robert Huffman is excellent fun. The rhythm section is no joke, either. Highly recommended. The spacey "Theme From Kismet" is my favorite of their tracks, but they are all worth a listen. Check them out here.

Lou Reed - Lou Reed (1972), Rock 'n Roll Animal (1973), Sally Can't Dance (1974), Lou Reed Live (1975), Coney Island Baby (1976), Rock and Roll Heart (1976), Street Hassle (1978), Take No Prisoners (1978), The Bells (1979), Growing Up In Public (1980), Bottom Line NYC (bootleg, 1983), Mistrial (1986), Songs For Drella (with John Cale, 1990), Magic & Loss (1992), Set The Twilight Reeling (1996), and Ecstasy (2000). Let me start by saying that I have about half of these on vinyl, but never felt the need to pick up digital copies until Lou's passing, when suddenly I wanted to listen to everything again. But the thing is that while the Velvet Underground is one of my favorite bands, Lou's solo stuff generally suffers from piss-poor quality control. Here is a blog post from 3 1/2 years back that I wrote about the few Lou albums I had digitized. I'm pretty hard on the lyrical content of New York in that post, and, well, I don't feel as harshly towards it anymore, although I think the bones I pick with Reed are still valid. So, to back up: Lou Reed has The Man playing a Donovan-like chamber-folkie, reworking a number of VU demos, but it is still much better than any album with hummingbirds on the cover has any right to be. Rock 'n Roll Animal, Sally, and LRLive all continue Lou's Transformer-and-Berlin-era glam maestro period. The former and latter are, in fact, carved from the same show with what was essentially Alice Cooper's backing band behind him. All are quite good in their own way, although after all this time (I mean, I first heard these albums when I was 16 or so) I still don't quite enjoy Lou's Maximum Rock & Roll period. What I love about the VU is that they were minimalists, never using million-note theatrics to express something that could be said with a two-note squalling drone. Coney Island Baby and R&R Heart have Lou going back to different basics, where he experiments with confessional folk and doo wop-influenced rock. I hated them when I first heard them back when I was a teenager, but I like them much, much more now, especially Baby, which sounds like all of the cracks and weariness that grew from Lou's glam persona and pushed him to be honest. I find Street Hassle a lot more uneven than I used to, although the title song is still one of the best things that came of the 70s. Even its clunkiest line (the one about how someone turning so blue means you'll never fuck again) can't unhorse its relentless drive. Take No Prisoners is, of course, his Havin' Fun With Elvis On Stage, where the massive amount of speed that he has taken derails his live show into what is essentially a rambling comedy routine. Since what I like about live shows is the uncertainty, the feeling that anything could happen, I love Take No Prisoners, because what happens is utterly unexpected and impossible to reproduce. I specifically mentioned in my previous Lou write-up that I did not think I needed a copy of the The Bells, and I am here to say that I was wrong. Growing Up In Public is so-so. Bottom Line NYC is the audio from a show that was out on video and I am grateful for whoever the mad genius was who ripped it because it is an AWESOME document of the Lou-vs-Quine guitar histrionics, way better than Live In Italy. I find Mistrial, Drella, and Magic all pretty mediocre, with far too few great moments. Twilight, despite the silliness of songs like "Egg Cream," is pretty enjoyable, and Ecstasy is an album I wish I'd heard back when it came out. But, y'know, I was too used to being disappointed by Lou to bother.

Sparklehorse - Chords I've Known EP (1995), Rainmaker single (1996), Rainmaker 2 single (1996), Someday I Will Treat You Good single (1996), Maria's Little Elbows single (1998), Sick Of Goodbyes single (1998), Distorted Ghost EP (2000), Gold Day EP (2001), Knives Of Summertime single (2006). After covering Sparklehorse's full-lengths recently, I realized that emusic has a lot of Mark Linkous's singles and EPs, so I picked those up. And, y'know, these are b-sides and throwaways. The ones I have listed as EPs are all pretty good, though. Definitely worth an investigation by fans.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Music Library: Superchunk, Swamp Dogg, Matthew Sweet, Sword, Syd Barrett, Jesse Sykes

Superchunk - Superchunk (1990), No Pocky For Kitty (1991), Tossing Seeds (Singles 89-91), On The Mouth (1993), Foolish (1994), Incidental Music 1991-95Here's Where The Strings Come In (1995), Indoor Living (1997), The Laughter Guns EP (1997), Come Pick Me Up (1999), Here's To Shutting Up (2001), Cup Of Sand (compilation, 1993-2003), Leaves In The Gutter EP (2009), Majesty Shredding (2010), and I Hate Music (2013). What sets Superchunk apart is their consistent commitment to avoiding bullshit. This is not a band that will attempt to blow your mind with their musicianship or their arty song cycle (not that there's anything wrong with that), but they will attempt to move you with their straightforward pop songs built on solid hooks, smart lyrics, and passionate delivery. As far as the albums go, the band was still working things out with Superchunk, although "Slack Motherfucker" was a 90s anthem for a really good reason. No Pocky For Kitty and On The Mouth show a band hitting all of their marks. I mean, this is what 90s "alternative music" was all about: great, loud, punk-influenced pop music with dynamic structures and odd, smart subject matter. And man, is "Precision Auto" a fantastic song, too. Tossing Seeds is the first compilation, reaching back before the first album to show that Superchunk was a great singles band even before it become a great album band. Foolish is my favorite 90s Superchunk album. Every song is a killer. Most bands struggle through a whole career to come up with songs this good. Incidental Music is another compilation of (mostly) singles, covers, and nonalbum tracks, including covers of songs by the Magnetic Fields, Motorhead, the Verlaines, and the Chills. I love it. I don't have much to say about Here's Where The Strings Come In or Indoor Living, other than that both are fantastic. Most of The Laughter Guns appears on Cup Of Sand, but the track "Hero," which doesn't, is good, too. Maybe not worth hunting down an EP, though. Come Pick Me Up brings in Jim O'Rourke as producer to shake things up, and O'Rourke adds some horn and string accompaniment that does provide a little depth without breaching Superchunk's no bullshit rule. The flourishes continued with Here's To Shutting Up, a lovely and emotional album that again breaks ground with keyboards, horns, and other accompaniment without breaking Superchunk's essential band-ness. The band was on a sort of hiatus for much of the 00s, with the occasional appearance but with no albums. Cup Of Sand is yet another excellent collection of b-sides and nonalbum tracks, including a cover of Bowie's "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)." Leaves In The Gutter is a 2009 EP with the new song "Learned To Surf" and three older unreleased tracks. Then there's Majesty Shredding, which is now my second-favorite of their albums, the sound of a band doubling down on their essential sound with the benefit of age to help them appreciate the simplicity and wonder of doing something very, very well. God, it's good. It's a bit like when the Go-Betweens got back together and starting making music that was among the the best of their careers. This year's I Hate Music is just as good.

Youthful energy:

Mastering the craft:

Freakin' perfection:

...And here is where I stop myself from posting Superchunk videos for the rest of this post. But seriously, this one has John Darnielle as a dentist and then Jon Wurster murders a drummer.

Swamp Dogg - Total Destruction To Your Mind (1970) and Rat On (1971). Yes yes yes I said yes already. One of the biggest regrets of my life was not going to see Swamp Dogg play the Continental Club in Austin when my pal Gary was visiting. He said it would be a good show, but I was worried about the cost. The moral of this story is that I'm an idiot. These are freakin' amazing albums. Plus the cover to Rat On has Swamp Dogg sitting astride a giant rat.

Matthew Sweet - 100% Fun (1995). Missed this one when I covered Matthew Sweet's output back in 18-ought-22. If you follow Sweet's career, you will not be surprised to learn that it is excellent power pop.

The Sword - Age Of Winters (2007), Gods Of The Earth (2009), Warp Riders (2010), and Apocryphon (2012). The Sword do the type of metal meant to be animated by Ralph Bakshi, where sword & sorcery is just a step away from sci-fi. They freakin' rock. Which of these albums is best? ALL OF THEM. They are all best.

Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs (1970), Peel Session 1970, and Barrett (1970). All from 1970? I guess so. Barrett was Pink Floyd's martyred cracked genius and the inspiration for so much of what Robyn Hitchcock does. The Mapcap Laughs may be a bit too far into "The Gnome"-style whimsy from the first Pink Floyd album, but Barrett has a lot going for it. The Peel Session is pretty sweet, actually.

Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter - Marble Son (2011). I've been holding onto this one for a while! I covered the first Jesse Sykes album back in 2009 or 2010. Anyway, this one drops the alt-country and goes for some complex psychedelic folk-rock with a throwback feel. Sykes has a great voice, and this is a great album.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Music Library: Summer Hymns, Sun Kil Moon, Sun Ra, Sunburned Hand Of The Man, Sunburst, Sunn 0))), Sunset Rubdown

Summer Hymns - Voice Brother & Sister (2000) and Clemency (2003). This is a pleasant Athens, GA-based band with quiet, sometimes barely-there folk-songs with little odd psychedelic flourishes.

Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts Of The Great Highway (2003), Tiny Cities (2005), April (2008), and Among The Leaves (2012). This is Mark Kozelek's latest music project following the Red House Painters and his solo albums. Kozelek seems to be getting quieter as he gets older, although he occasionally unleashes his inner Neil Young and kicks it electric. His songwriting is excellent throughout all of these, with the exception of Tiny Cities, which is a cover album/acoustic reworking of Modest Mouse songs.

Sun Ra - The Nubians of Plutonia (with His Myth Science Arkestra, 1959), Jazz In Silhouette (with His Arkestra, 1959), Angels and Demons At Play (with His Myth Science Arkestra, 1960), We Travel The Spaceways (with His Myth Science Arkestra, 1960), The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (with His Arkestra, 1961), Bad and Beautiful (with His Arkestra, 1961), Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow (with His Solar Arkestra, 1962), Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy (with His Myth Science Arkestra, 1963), The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra (with His Solar Arkestra, 1965), The Magic City (with His Solar Arkestra, 1965), The Heliocentric Worlds Of Sun Ra, Volume Two (with His Solar Arkestra, 1966), Strange Strings (with His Astro Infinity Arkestra, 1967), Continuation (with His Astro Infinity Arkestra, 1968), Soundtrack To The Film Space Is The Place (with His Intergalactic Solar Arkestra, 1972), Space Is The Place (with His Astro Intergalactic Solar Arkestra, 1972), Astro Black (1973), Lanquidity (with His Arkestra, 1978), Nuclear War (with His Outer Space Arkestra, 1982),  Reflections In Blue (Sun Ra Arkestra, 1987), Purple Night (1990), and The Singles (compilation, 1955-82). Born Herman Blount in Birmingham, AL, Sun Ra was a cosmic philosopher and jazz musician who hailed from Saturn and woe becomes the person who does not believe. His jazz music ranged from bop and swing to avant-garde fusion with the Singles album delving into doo wop, rock & roll, and even disco. Although I have 20 Sun Ra albums, this is a drop in the bucket of the hundreds he released. The earliest are straight-up bop and swing. Around 1961-62, the Arkestra apparently relocated to New York and began embracing free jazz. Bad And Beautiful has a bit of free jazz tossed in, but Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow is a full-on free jazz album, as lovely and chaotic as free music at its best. From there, Sun Ra's music took on cosmic significance all the way to Space Is The Place, a conceptual album and soundtrack album to accompany Sun Ra's film of the same name. The later albums aren't quite as exciting, although Nuclear War is excellent (the title track was covered by Yo La Tengo), Purple Night is pretty extraordinary, and The Singles is mindblowing. However, the albums on this list between Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow through Space Is The Place are all five-star, must-have albums. I'd say my favorite is The Magic City, but I'm not sure I would say the same five minutes from now.

Sunburned Hand Of The Man - Jaybird (2001). Trippy psych-folk-avant-jazz-rock that is sort of like Comets On Fire jamming some Sun Ra tunes.

Sunburst - 3-Song Demo (2000), WPRB (2003), 2003 Demos. These are some outtakes and demos from a band with Glenn Mercer and Stan Demeski of the Feelies along with some of the members of Speed The Plough. I don't think that Sunburst ever had a proper release, but this is good stuff.

Sunn O))) - The Grimmrobe Demos (2000), The Flight of the Behemoth (2002), White 1 (2003), White 2 (2004), Black One (2005), Oracle (2007), and Monoliths And Dimensions (2009). For a band that basically has one gimmick (Satan-dudes play long, loud, droning chord-noise!) in a genre that sounds like a joke (ambient metal?), Sunn O))) sure has a lot of tricks up their sleeves. I think the Grimmrobe Demos are a little dull and Flight of the Behemoth is a little more interesting thanks to the inclusion of noise-artiste Merzbow. The two White albums, though, are basically a battering ram of textures in the drone that pummeled me into submission. Black One goes further, working all kinds of unlikely sounds into the evil drone, surprising me with its depth, which becomes even more interesting on Oracle, which is practically a minimalist composition, and Monoliths, which has so many unlikely sounds that it may not even qualify for minimalism. I mean, don't get me wrong. We're still talking about music that 99 percent of listeners will only hear as an annoying drone pastiche of brown notes, but once you have ears for that sort of thing (and the intestinal fortitude, natch), it's amazing how it opens up for you.

Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover (2007) and Dragonslayer (2009). This is emotional indie-rock from Canada built on a solid foundation of classic rock tropes, and no I am not talking about the Arcade Fire, although it sure seems as if I could be. Anyway, the second of these is better than the first, so here's a video from that one.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Music Library: Strange Attractors, Streets, Strokes, Stuff Smith, Subset, Subtle, Sufjan Stevens, Sugar, Suicide

The Strange Attractors - Sleep And You Will See (2009). This is an interesting and quite compelling indie-rock band from Austin who make heavily layered bluesy psychedelic-ish indie-rock in the vein of Roky Erickson or Wooden Shjips with a thick haze of analog keyboard noise. Excellent stuff.

The Streets - Original Pirate Material (2002) and A Grand Don't Come For Free (2004). I enjoyed the Streets/Mike Skinner's oddball and somewhat crude take on hip-hop back in the early 00s because it seemed quite original and charming for a working-class British kid to take an American artform and turn it into something new, but in truth, I think now that this was just my unfamiliarity with the fluidity of hip-hop. This kind of repurposing had been done before and better, too, and The Streets still sound clunky, but that is much less compelling to my ears now.

The Strokes - Is This It (2001). Decent and fun guitar rock. It may be a rehash of the clean, guitar-centric sound of the Feelies or Television by a bunch of rich kids, but what the hell is the problem with that?

Stuff Smith - Time And Again (1936-45). Top notch swing violinist.

Subset - Overpass (2000) and Dueling Devotions (2003). Quite good Austin power-pop band that I didn't realize were pretty much only locally known. These are good albums!

Subtle - Exiting Arm (2007). This is a fairly poppy and psychedelic album. I wouldn't classify it as hip-hop, although I think the band identifies more or less as working in that genre. It is led by Doseone, aka Adam Drucker, who was a founder of the Anticon Collective and previously was a member of the truly mindblowing cLOUDDEAD. There are some songs on the album, though, that work as hip-hop, and here is one.

Sufjan Stevens - A Sun Came (2000), Enjoy Your Rabbit (2001), Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State (2003), Seven Swans (2004), Come On Feel The Illinoise (2005), The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras from the Illinois Album (2006), The Age of Adz (2010), All Delighted People (2010), and Silver & Gold (2007-11). Stevens embodies many things that I dislike in indie-rock, but he is so amazingly talented that I cannot help but enjoy his albums. Most of them, at least. The first two here are  a bit dull (A Sun Came) or unfocused jammy electronica (Rabbit), but the major leap forward with Michigan is nothing short of astonishing. I mean, yes, Michigan is precious in so many ways: the chamber pop strings, the goddamn banjo, the mannered and studied lyrics, the earnest religious talk, the ultra-long titles with enthusiastic asides in them, and yet it all works like gangbusters. Stevens' time in the Danielson Famile is on the plus side, though, as is his obvious love for Terry Riley's music. Seven Swans is precious acoustic music that nevertheless still works, and Illinois(e) perfects the obnoxiousness and then brushes it all aside with the strength of Stevens' vision. Man, that is a near-perfect album of chamber-pop sweetness. The rest of these are quite good-to-great, as well (well, The Age of Adz, which leans more into oddball electronics, is a bit lackluster). I have Stevens' earlier Christmas album, too, but I reviewed it some time ago. Anyway, here's a video to make you feel extra-precious and a little awkward at the Vacation Bible School social. Geez, every time he opens his mouth, I want to punch him a little, but I still really like his songs.

Sugar - Copper Blue (1992), Copper Blue Deluxe Remaster (1992), Beaster EP (1993), File Under: Easy Listening (1994), File Under: Easy Listening Deluxe Remaster (1994), and Besides (1995). Almost the exact opposite of Sufjan Stevens is Bob Mould's 90s band Sugar, which was completely unforced and direct. As in Husker Du, Mould's songs bury pop melodies under crashing guitars, although less deep. Copper Blue is chock-full of excellent songs, and the reissue adds some b-sides and a live show from 1992. The CD and LP versions apparently include a remaster of Beaster, too, but that did not come with the digital version I bought. Beaster, though, is an EP of pure rage, mostly focused on religious hypocrisy, quite unlike the two full-length Sugar albums with their pop sensibility. FU:EL is even more radio-friendly, and the remaster adds a live show from 1994 that was previously released as The Joke Is Always On Us, Sometimes. Besides collects odds and ends, some of which appear on the reissues.

Suicide - Suicide (1977). Ominous, oppressive, angry, and utterly unlike anything else that self-identified as punk (a descriptor coined by Suicide), Suicide built on the keyboard-plus-vocals stripped back sound of the Silver Apples with layers that were unavailable to the more hippyish Apples. Brilliant, brilliant stuff. This version adds bonus tracks and live tracks, including "25 Minutes Over Brussels," which records a Suicide concert that descends into a riot.

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