Sunday, January 22, 2006

Ah, David Rees:

(its too wide for Blogger)

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Top 30, Pt. 3

Sorry for the delay folks...

Image hosted by Photobucket.com10. Sleater-Kinney – The Woods

Raw, distorted electric guitars, booming drums, no bass and lovely female vocals: nothing all that new for Sleater-Kinney – ‘cept for the allegorical “The Fox” and the absurdly long for S-K guitar jam out “Let’s Call It Love.” Like all bands worth their weight in anything other than feces and Creed albums, S-K’s evolution continues without alienation (at least in my eyes). Another album produced with skill by Dave Fridmann (who shows that he can work outside of his comfort zone and produce something this fiercely raw), S-K remains inspiring not just for young girls out there who are looking for a musical role model that doesn’t lip-synch or suck, but for all fans of good music.

Representative track: “Modern Girl”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com9. The King of France – The King of France

Another odd source for me finding this band: Edward Norton. Over a year ago, pure curiosity struck me when on iTunes I saw his celebrity playlist, which had several KofF songs on it. I investigated and liked what I heard. I subsequently saw them live, picked up their album and have tried to spread the word to others. Their drummer, Michael Azzerad, is one of the finest rock journalist alive as well, which makes up for the fact their singer is a cocky, self absorbed bastard onstage (I have no idea of his off stage manner). But I love ‘em anyway. Certainly a promising debut (as a band – singer/songwriter Steve Salad put out an album under this name a few years ago, but it did not feature Azzerad.

Representative track: "Watch Out For The Man"

Image hosted by Photobucket.com8. Menomena – Under An Hour

From dancy, beat-driven indie rock to chamber music with a drum set, Menomena morphed between their first two albums like few bands I can think of (Liars and the Modern Lovers are the only two that come to mind). The three pieces that make up the album (quite literally under an hour – around 54 minutes) were commissioned by a dance troupe calling themselves The Monster Squad (awesome) and the band debuted the tunes live with the troupe last year. The album jumps out of your speakers with lots of horns, percussion and keyboards – it is truly an exciting cycle of songs. What is next, Menomena? Maybe they can convince me that deep down I really do like polka.

Representative track: "Flour"

Image hosted by Photobucket.com7. Scott Amendola Band – Believe

Back in the day I hear what I thought was a new Pearl Jam song on the radio. It turns out it was some guy named Mike Watt, and his buddies Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder were playing on that song, called “Against the 70s.” Well, that made me investigate Watt, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. From Watt I discovered guitarist extraordinaire Nels Cline, and through Nels, drummer Scott Amendola. Nels plays guitar on Amendola’s latest album, Believe and the results are fantastic. Featuring Amendola’s vision of “strings and percussion” exclusively, the album features bass, violin, drums and guitars courtesy of Mr. Cline and Jeff Parker of Tortoise. I suppose you could call the music jazz, but it is really more than that. It is in the pocket yet loose, experimental yet familiar and just flat out good.

Representative track: "Oladipo"

Image hosted by Photobucket.com6. Frank Black – Honeycomb

Solo for the first time since 1996, Black enlisted the help of Nashville producer Jon Tiven to bring this batch of songs to life. Tiven, in turn, brought together some of Nashville’s best – Steve Cropper (Booker T and the MGs, the Blues Brothers), Spooner Oldham (Neil Young), Anton Fig (The Late Show Orchestra), etc – to flesh out the recordings. The results are mixed – the songs are some of Black’s best, but the shotty production of Tiven leaves the album sounding flat and lifeless at times when the combination of talent should have burned through the tape. However, the songs are so strong, and certain performances so strong (like the extended Reggie Young guitar solo at the end of “My Life is in Storage”) that you can’t help marvel at the quality of the album even if, like so many other things, it could have been so much more.

Representative track: “Honeycomb”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com5. Calexico/Iron and Wine – In The Reigns

Like peanut butter and chocolate, some things were just made to go together. Sam Beam’s downtrodden characters feel more optimistic than usual when backed by the southwestern sounds of Calexico – the pedal steel especially brightens up the arrangements. The added instrumentation may seem unnecessary to some, but this is truly an inspired pairing, and one that I hope continues in the years to come.

Representative track: “A History of Lovers”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com4. Stephen Malkmus – Face the Truth

Equal parts of his chameleon-like debut and his jammy Pig Lib, Face the Truth feels a little bit like a crossroads for Malkmus – all of his other records (save Terror Twilight) felt like a progression from the previous, and this album feels a bit like someone taking stock of their back catalog of songs. Sure, there are a few tracks that really don’t reference his past (most notably “Kindling for the Master”), but for the most part we are in familiar territory. Which is NOT a bad thing at all – “Mama” is a bright piece of nostalgia pop, “Post-Paint Boy” sounds like the musical sequel to “Major Leagus” and “It Kills” should have been track 2 on Pig Lib. Will “Pencil Rot” and “Baby C’Mon” signal a move towards more loud guitar sounds in the future? Only time will tell.

Representative track: “Pencil Rot”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com3. The Bad Plus – Suspicious Activity?

The world’s greatest jazz band slows down the pace on their 3rd Columbia record. There are only a few cases of the band getting up to its usual speed, but the record does not drag – it simply invites you in and then, like a lazy river ride at a water park, carries you around for awhile. There are a few more studio parlor tricks this time around as well – like the keyboard introduction to “Rhinoceros is my Profession” and the processed drums on “Anthem for the Earnest.” “Let Our Garden Grow,” my personal favorite, is at first (and even second) listen an uncontrolled mass that occasionally has something resembling a melodic structure, but upon further listens, the track becomes as straight forward as “Happy Birthday” – you just have to listen enough to figure out the password. For the unadventurous listener: stay away (especially because there is only one cover song here, “(There From) Chariots of Fire”)

Representative track: “O.G. (Original Gentleman)”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com2. The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema

It is almost unfair how well A.C. Newman writes music. Simple songs that stick in your head all day long are not simple to write, but Newman does it with ease. This is by far the most diverse N.P.s album thus far, not that there are many songs that you aren’t singing along to half way through the second chorus, but the band has stretched out a bit. More ballads (if you can call songs about fables and human remains ballads), more diverse guitar sounds, and the most straight-ahead songs Dan Bejar has ever brought to the table. Neko Case, as always, is a doll face both in person and on record, and her voice lifts these songs to near-impossible levels. If the typical ‘every two years’ pattern of records is going to be the norm for this collective, then I’m a very happy man.

Representative track: “Sing Me Spanish Techno”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com1. Sufjan Stevens – Sufjan Stevens Presents: Come on! Feel the Illinoise!

One word: epic. This album is densely packed with marching band-horns, guitars, percussion and voices but never once feels cramped. Stevens paints a large canvas here, with songs about serial killers, superheroes, first ladies, zombies and cities in his second of the 50 States project. I could go on and on about his songwriting, vocal and arranging skills, but there are enough people out there saying the same things I’m saying. All I can do is very strongly suggest you pick up this record, and if it doesn’t hit you right away, wait until the shift in track 3 – if you’re anything like me (or Dan D’Ippolito) from that point on, you’re sold.

Representative track: “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!”

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Top 30 - Pt. 2

Image hosted by Photobucket.com20. Happy Apple – The Peace Between Our Companies

Happy Apple is a 3-piece band consisting of electric bass, drums and saxophone. They play what most would call jazz. Their drummer, David King, plays in another band you may have heard of, called The Bad Plus. I am certain that the last item in the above paragraph is how many people have come to know Happy Apple; it is certainly how I did. Besides the fact that they share a member, the Bad Plus and Happy Apple are also classic deconstructionists – they take what you think ‘jazz’ should be and crack it open and mess with its insides. The Bad Plus do it in a number of ways – covering rock and roll songs, playing with rhythms and time signatures, all the while insisting they are not a ‘jazz’ band. Happy Apple see their bet and raise them: the music is, in some places so stark and empty that you may be lead to believe the record is a strict stereo mix and one of your speakers is out. The band at times (such as the first half of “Paulie’s Quick Temper Has Gotten Him Into A Few Jams”) appears to come out of the gate as a three-headed monster, with all three players playing seemingly in sync, before unspooling into the kind of controlled chaos that is both exciting and nerve-wracking.

Representative track: “Paulie’s Quick Temper Has Gotten Him Into a Few Jams”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com19. 50 Foot Wave – Free Music

Even though they released a full-length album earlier this year, 50 Foot Wave’s most effective release was a 5 song EP that is found free at their website ( The band simply works best when the track listing represents the band: quick, lean and loud. The EP hits you hard and quick and leaves you wanting more, the way all good music should.

Representative track: “Vena Cava”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com18. Liz Janes and Create (!) – Liz Janes and Create (!)

See if you can follow this: a San Diego based singer-songwriter with a folksy bent hooks up with a Los Angeles based free jazz collective and they record an album live in the studio using only acoustic instruments and they only play old spirituals, reworked and rearranged to fit the instrumentation. The result is a somber and sparse record that makes you feel like you were in the woods with the band as they recorded it. Janes’ voice sounds far older than her years and the song choices really show off her range, and Create (!) play it relatively straight (at least for a free jazz collective!).

Representative track: “Run, Old Jeremiah/Keep Your Hands on the Plow”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com17. Paul McCartney – Chaos and Creation in the Backyard

Somehow, every ten years or so, Paul McCartney makes a good album. And it is usually hailed as a return to form. However, McCartney has not made 2 great albums back to back since McCartney and Ram, and it is doubtful that he ever will again. But this may be a good start. Produced with skill by Nigel Goodrich, most famous for his work with Radiohead, Beck, Pavement and other indie-rock types, the album is McCartney putting the lease amount of schmaltz on a record since the Nixon administration. Not for everyone (my parents thoroughly dislike it), but a very nice piece of music considered it was recorded by the same guy who wrote “Say Say Say.”

Representative track: “Anyway” (And peep the electric coda)

Image hosted by Photobucket.com16. Clor – Clor

Still available as an import-only (I’m so ahead of you bitches I get my jams overseas), Clor’s self-titled debut is an energetic collection of synthy pop songs played with sharp guitars and great vocals. This is not one of those “wow, this is something totally new!” sounding albums, but it is a natural refinement on so much of the garbage 80s retread garbage getting modern rock airplay right now. It is tighter, better arranged and more exciting than just about anything you’ll hear on a modern rock station.

Representative track: “Love + Pain”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com15. El Ten Eleven – El Ten Eleven

I never thought I would say this in this context, but thank you Entertainment Weekly. Your brief description of this band’s “Lorge” in the Download This! Section of your magazine got me to shell out 10 bucks for this CD, and it was well worth it. A duo from So. Cal that use a double necked guitar and lots of layering that makes really interesting, exciting and approachable instrumental rock (i.e. you won’t be intimidated by the shredding and/or atonality, because there is none of either). Apparently they can faithfully recreate it live – I hope they brought a few loop pedals. And I hope they tour the east coast soon.

Representative track: “Lorge”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com14. Minus the Bear – Menos El Oso

In my college radio days, I was once at a party that Minus the Bear was playing at and I was thoroughly impressed. I somehow got a promo person at AAM to give me one of their CDs, but it got lost in the shuffle of what was a whirlwind week of drinking and music. Well earlier this year I rediscovered the band’s CD whilst moving, and was hooked all over again. I went out almost immediately and ordered Menos El Oso, their latest release and was again impressed. Gone are the long, silly titles and they have refined their sound a little bit, but all the exciting parts are still there.

Representative track: “Fulfill the Dream”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com13. Devendra Banhart – Cripple Crow

“Freak folk” as it has been dubbed in the press, is something that is simultaneously attractive and repulsive: playing with the established pattern of songwriting (good), having a collective of like minded artists supporting each other (very good), singing more about nature (so-so), really unkempt musicians who don’t shower very often (not so good). Despite his matted hair (both on his head and on his face), Banhart is charming in every way on Cripple Crow. This is the perfect “wake up in the AM, make coffee, do a crossword puzzle and listen to a record” record. Funny, peaceful and sprawling, this record has something for everyone (well, everyone who enjoys lyrics like “if I lived in China, I’d have some Chinese children”) and should be the perfect soundtrack to your next hangover.

Representative track: “Lazy Butterfly”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com12. Ween – Shinola, Vol. 1

The only “compilation” on my list doesn’t feel like a compilation. Ween has been scouring its archives for a series of albums focusing on their unreleased output. Somehow this collection of outtakes that spans a decade sounds more focused than Quebec, their latest album. Like most week albums, there are some hilarious moments, some great performances and overall, a lot of brown.

Representative track: “Boys Club”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com11. Low – The Great Destroyer

Low further their reputation of being post-rock’s lowest flying satellite with this album. Dave Fridmann’s influence pushes this album into more conventional terrain, with songs like “Monkey” becoming far denser than previous Low albums would suggest. The theme of aging is heavily present on the record, especially the 2nd half. That doesn’t mean that the songs are meditations on grey hair; they are interesting, complex and sometimes sad pieces that deal with the realities of playing rock and roll outside your 20s.

Representative track: “When I Go Deaf”

Tomorrow brings #s 10-1 - Same bat time, same bat blog.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Top 30 - Pt. 1

Well, that time is here again - Brian's Top 30 albums of 2005. This year i gave serious listens to the almost 60 albums in my posession released in '05 (and i missed a whole bunch i still wanted to hear - Art Brut, the Books, Digitial Ash in a Digital Urn, etc.), and narrowed it down to my top 30 (although i could have done a top 40, i thought that was a bit overkill). Nearly a third of the list is EPs, proving my theory that it is an equally appropriate way to deliver music and that the LP should share some love with its junior counterpart. I am sure many of you will disagree with my choices, so please, post your own favorites as comments. And if anyone would like my two-cd set of all the 'representative tracks,' IM me and we'll work something out. Or leave a comment. Whichever.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com30. Animal Collective - Feels

Like everyone else in the universe, Animal Collective was listening to the Arcade Fire last year. This album still has a lot of the elements of Sung Tongs but on the whole has less found sound and more typical song structure. Overall, the album is an interesting refinement that begs the question of where will they turn next?

Representative track: “Grass”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com29. Prefuse 73 – Reads the Books

The best way to describe this collaboration is to say that it is like if someone were to make a collage out of pieces of other collages. The Books are masters of manipulating field recordings and simple guitar and cello parts into beautiful soundscapes. Here, Prefuse 73 (Scott Herren) takes those pieces and chops ‘em up again and creates something equally impressive out of the parts.

Representative track: “Pagina Ocho”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com28. Petra Haden – Sings The Who Sell Out

“Challenged” by Mike Watt to attempt this project, Haden (daughter of jazz great Charlie Haden and former member of that dog. and the Rentals) sang all the parts of the Who’s great Sell Out album – all the guitars, drums, bass and vocal parts. The result, you would expect, might appear silly or gimmicky, but the strength of Pete Townsend’s songwriting shines through to make this a unique and fun record.

Representative track: “I Can See For Miles”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com27. Kanye West – Late Registration

Still not the most gifted MC on the planet, Kanye knows how to surround himself with top-notch talent. Co-producer Jon Brion brings sonic qualities usually not associated with hip-hop and, with a really great group of samples, works through West’s sometimes forced rhymes to make the best mainstream hip hop album of the year.

Representative track: “Gold Digger”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com26. My Morning Jacket – Z

The album that now is the lowest alphabetically in my collection, Z brings out all the potential that MMJ has shown over the last few years. The songs are significantly stronger and more tightly focused than on any of their other records, and the band takes a few more liberties in the studio (even breaking out a synthesizer now and then!). As much as people loved their southern rock meets indie rock before, I don’t think anyone expected an album this sophisticated this soon. Oh, and if you don’t like reverb and beards, don’t pick this album up.

Representative track: “Off The Record”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com25. Iron and Wine – Woman King

Sam Beam has had a consistently amazing track record since emerging on the scene. Two brilliant full lengths, equally (if not more) brilliant EPs, a successful collaborative EP (see later in the list), and of course, his cover of “Such Great Heights.” Woman King breaks new ground in its introduction of electric guitar into the mix, but the basics are still there – great, melancholy songs sung in the hushed whisper that he does so well.

Representative track – “Woman King”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com24. Ray Davies – Thanksgiving Day

Perhaps the 60s act that’s work has dropped off the least, the former Kinks frontman puts out a short teaser for his full length solo debut, due in February. Both versions of “Thanksgiving Day” put it among the best songs released in 2005 and some of the best work Davies has done since the early 70s. The other tracks are all fantastic as well, and I for one am salivating for his album to drop.

Representative track: “Thanksgiving Day”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com23. Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene

I avoided this album for a few months because I literally almost had a panic attack reading an article about it. The article interviewed 3 of the principle members of BSS and was focused on how long it took and how hard it was for them to complete this album. As someone who is starting to record an album himself, this really made me panic – if the 12 people in the band (counting their producer) couldn’t finish an album, how can one guy (me) do it? But once I grew up and checked it out, I am very glad I did. Perhaps not quite as strong as You Forgot It In People, but undeniably great. Plus, who doesn’t love that drum sound?

Representative track: “7/4 (Shoreline)”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com22. Deerhoof – The Runners Four

The Bay Area’s Deerhoof combine early 60s rock and roll with avant-garde weirdness and some heavy guitars to create something that is pretty indescribable. Over the past few albums their songwriting has become more refined and accessible, but no one would ever accuse this band of selling out. ‘Cept maybe Yoko Ono.

Representative track: “Sirustar”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com21. Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, Its Morning

Every few years someone emerges as the “new Gram Parsons.” A few years ago it was Ryan Adams, and now it seems that Connor Oberst, a.k.a. Bright Eyes, is looking to fill that void (coincidentally, on both of their most Parsons-ish records, Parsons’ ex, Emmylou Harris, sings). This album features some of Oberst’s best work played in its most country-ish manner, and the result is a really stunning collection of songs played immaculately. Even though many emo-kids identify w/ Oberst, he is no Dashboard Confessional – his music won’t sound childish to a 23 year old the way that D.C.’s does.

Representative track: “At the Bottom of Everything”

Stay tuned tomorrow for #s 20-11...

Friday, January 06, 2006

High Five in O-Five

2005 Wrap-Up (Stolen From Erin and Eileen)

1. What did you do in 2005 that you'd never done before? Worked a full calender year w/o going to school in between
2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year? Sort of and yes
3. Did anyone close to you give birth? I don't think so
4. Did anyone close to you die? Yes
5. What countries did you visit? The USA
6. What would you like to have in 2006 that you lacked in 2005? A bit more money, a better vacation and some finished music to show for myself
7. What date from 2005 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? this may sound sad, but there is not one singular day this year that stands out all that much. that is a bad thing
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Successes at work
9. What was your biggest failure? Failures and work/not playing enough music
10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Just the usual stuff and wisdom teeth
11. What was the best thing you bought? lots of good music and some good concert tickets
12. Whose behavior merited celebration? The Bad Plus, Ira Glass, George Clooney and Sufjan Stevens for advancements in the arts
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? W.
14. Where did most of your money go? Rent/bills
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Good music and good times with friends/family
16. What song will always remind you of 2005? "Love and Pain" - Clor (no subtext here - its just a damn fine piece of music)
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
happier or sadder? about the same
richer or poorer? a little richer
thinner or fatter? about the same, maybe a bit thinner
18. What do you wish you'd done more of? music and traveling
19. What do you wish you'd done less of? eating
20. How did you spend the holidays? working (sort of) and with family and friends
21. Did you fall in love in 2005? already was
22. How many one-night stands? i watched two episodes of the HBO stand up comedy series of the same name if that counts
23. What was your favorite TV program? Arrested Development
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year? No
25. What was the best book you read? EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE - Jonathan Safran Foer
26. What was your favorite film of this year? GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK
27. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2005? slightly beyond college
28. Whom did you miss? friends and the p'zone tv commercial
29. Who was the best new person you met? i either have a bad memory or i didn't meet that many people this year
30. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2005: that i'm too old to get petty over small things.