Best Albums of the last 12 months or so… Bon Iver

May 13, 2009

Still May.  Since the year is nearly half over, I’ll just post 12 or so albums I liked over the last 12 or some months…

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

(#4 of 12 in no particular order)

Not much more you can say about Justin Vernon… just ask Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold.

Hell, Great albums tend to have great backstories, and I was admittedly skeptical of how great this album could be based on the fact that those recommending it would talk more about HOW/WHY it was made rather than what it sounded like.  I can now accept that sometimes an album so patient, subtle, unassuming and redemptive will need that extra tangential push to make it up into the popular conscience and get the audience that it really deserves.

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Best Albums of the last 12 months or so… Passion Pit

May 1, 2009

Hey.  It’s May.  I continue to slack. Since the year is nearly half over, I’ll just post 12 or so albums I liked over the last 12 or some months…

Passion Pit – Chunk of Change

(#3 of 12 in no particular order)

As mentioned before, people are sick of sincerity. The world’s heart has hardened as year-after-year of more cloying emo bands  have clogged the brains of music fans and playlists of radio stations. When you hear something that’s confessional verging on embarrassing, it’s no longer a bold statement but a groaner.

Passion Pit, the nom de plum of Michael Angelakos, has the only acceptable excuse: these songs are not for you to hear. PP’s debut EP, “Chunk of Change” was recorded by him for an audience of one — his girlfriend.  Lyrics that would normally be cringe-worthy once again become sweet.  Grand imperfect love-sick gestures are somehow okay again.

What’s more, you can ignore all the lyrical content and you’re still hearing a brilliantly made laptop album. It’s an EP that mixes refreshing up-tempo samples, charmingly twee falsettos and occupational club-worthy bass. Their Vampire Weekendesque blog buzz has polarized critics, and the back-backlash should be starting soon.  Don’t worry about choosing sides… just give ’em a listen.

Their first LP, Manners, is dropping soon.


Best Albums of the last 12 months or so… Hood Internet

April 30, 2009

Hey.  It’s prettymuch May.  Can I slack any more?  I figure, since the year is nearly half over, I’ll just post 12 or so albums I liked over the last 12 or some months…

The Hood Internet – The Hood Internet vs. Chicago Mixtape

(#2 of 12 in no particular order)

Comprised of DJ STV SLV and ABX, The Hood Internet represent the future of the mash-up. Gone are the days where you mix one song with another song just because you can, or because they share a strange time signature, or because they make a hilarious song title. Technology is such (and GirlTalk has shown) that there is a way to mix any song with any another song and make it sound good. The next step, the step Hood Internet is going in, is voluntary restraint for the sake of clarity and craft — in this case, restricting the mix to only bands that share the city they all hail from.  Also, it’s my City, so I’m biased.

The best part?  It’s a Mash-Up so it’s FREE


Take My Stuff and Pay Me For It – Genesis (not the band)

February 23, 2009

I don’t like giving stuff away, even if it means getting money back in return.  This must change.

It seems I’m increasingly less impressed just by my collections of things, especially because I went about all such collections half-assedly. I also had to concede that, because most music is now bought and enjoyed digitally, having CD jewel cases on display not only seems like a waste of space, but also a somewhat dated (dare I say cliché?) male interior design choice.

Seriously – what’s the point of displaying jewel cases anymore – to prove that you go somewhere and buy proper albums instead of going online?  Is that a claim to fame nowadays?  It’s seems pitiable, and very nearly a failed attempt at elitism. Now, if I was a vinyl junky it would still be cool to have crates of that shit sorted in my apartment, Rob Gordon style, but I am not.  I never got into vinyl. I do not own a record player.  So it’s time to say “bye-bye” CDs and hello to whatever money a record store will give me.

I can’t get rid of ALL my albums at the same time though… they’re my most-prized, but still poorly maintained and disorganized collection. Baby steps.

I decided to start weeding out the ones I never listen to, or will feasibly never take out of their cases again.  Everything was fair game, so long as it is also stored on my external hardrive backup.  This logic only half makes sense. Apparently, I’m only comfortable giving up something I never use so long as I could feasibly use it sometime in the future.  However, this does explain why I have pairs of jeans in my closet that have never worn, never plan on wearing but can’t bring myself to give away.

“So”, I comforted myself, “you’re not really losing any of these albums, just the physical manifestation of them.”  Yes.  That’s still off-putting though, isn’t it?  What is it about saving things on a computer that makes you feel still slightly uneasy?  Why do we still print out important emails?  Why am I abstractly distrustful of Google’s “cloud computing”.  For me, I guess the physical presence of an item is a comfort — an increasingly wasteful, expensive, and unnecessary comfort.  (Just like most comforts!)

So, recalling some Buddhist-like advice (“It doesn’t matter where you start, only that you finish,”)  I grabbed my topmost CaseLogic that was topped by a fine layer of dust, and opened it up to the M-through-P discs.  I then sat my ass down in front of my cheap sleek Sweedish black-painted wood media center and got crackin’…

I’ll try to document my little adventure more later this week.


Lolla Predictions… already?!

February 13, 2009

Chicagoist has thrown the gauntlet down in predicting who might make it to this year’s Lollapalooza… in a “purely speculative” way.

It seems that Lolla guessing has gone the way of political campaigning, in that the speculation begins as soon as the last year’s event has ended.  So, despite it being 6 months away, I can’t help but continue the rumor mill… heavily abbreviated via c’ist:

we are almost positive Jane’s Addiction will headline with their original line-up. They’ve already played a few small shows in L.A. … We also wouldn’t be surprised if The Smashing Pumpkins headlined a night …

And there’s one band we’re really hoping plays this year, and that’s Blur with Graham Coxon in the line-up .. And how could we forget Pavement?

Okay.  Pavement, granted.  Yes, there’s been plenty of rumor talk about that, and I would be thrilled to see them play.  Watching Stephen Malkmus do Pavement covers alone at Pitchfork was sort of satisfying but made me yearn for the whole she-bang… you know… it’s like picking the salt off a pretzel and eating it. (ed. note: work simile ever)

As far as Jane’s Addiction, that would be interesting.  But leave it to Perry Ferrel to book his own band as “the big surprise. ” Ferrel’s current project, Satellite Party, is completely mediocre but P.F. keeps on putting them pretty high-up on the Lolla band list despite the crowd’s collective indifference.  At least Jane’s Addiction reforming would be worth touting.

Blur would be great. Fingers crossed on that one.

I HIGHLY doubt Smashing Pumpkins would do Lolla, considering how few times they even play in the greater Chicago area (or its outlying casinos) not to mention Billy Corigan’s penchant for tantrums and cancellations.  Quite frankly, based on the reviews the last tour received, I don’t know if I’d even WANT to see them play.  Without D’Arcy or James Iha, it’s really not the Pumpkins anyway and I’ll rot in hell before they get Iha to sign on (or find which corner of the world D’Arcy ran off to).

So, if we’re being purely speculative, not based on any actual information, here’s my Lolla wishlist:

  • The Beatles
  • The Velvet Undergrond (special appearences by Nico and Warhol)
  • Leonard Skynard (original line-up)
  • Nick Drake (special appearance by Zach Braff)
  • Dogstar

Update: The Smiths!


Hush Now

January 5, 2009

Rather than just talk about a band I would recommend going to see tomorrow night at Schubas, I asked Michael Hush, lead of pop-rockers Five Foot Nine, to tell me his favorite pop culture tidbits from 2008 (Now that it’s over).

Before I get all list-y, the Five Foot Nine play fresh, clever, well-arranged rock that most immediately reminds me of Brooklyn’s Bishop Allen. Both bands combine tasteful guy/gal harmonies, tight rhythm sections, and great sing-along choruses with charm to spare. Local swaggering glam-punk poppers The Handcuffs are also playing.

MP3: Five Foot Nine, “Back to the Tunnels” (file courtesy of Radio Free Chicago)

Here’s were Mike’s Pop Picks of 2008.

Books: as for fiction… Here are 3 novels that I really admired this year

  • Denis Johnson, “Tree of Smoke”
  • Michael Chabon, “Yiddish Policeman’s Union”
  • The Lazarus Project, “Alexander Hemon”

Movies:

Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky

  • The Visitor
  • Frozen River
  • Happy Go Lucky

Music:

  • Los Campesinos
  • Bonny Prince Billy
  • The Hold Steady

Commercial:

  • Probably Holiday Inn Express spot where the geeky marketing dude displays his dope rhyming skills on the corner in NY…

Pop Culture Moment:

  • got to be Grant Park on election night


Well Why Don’t You Just TELL Me the Best Album of 2008?

December 4, 2008
She & Him

In trying to think of my favorite albums of the year, I was looking around on other sites to see what albums actually came out this year (why this tag info doesn’t come up in iTunes baffles me).  I’m trying to listen to as MUCH 2008 music as possible in the next few days in order to make some decisions, but so far my opinions were more like Steve from Coupling’s thoughts on Fabric.

So, because I like Excel documents, I grabbed a few of the top 50-or-so lists (Paste, Mojo, Uncut) which, btw, is NOT a good sample of publications…  so I grabbed MetaCritic’s “Top 30 Best Reviewed Albums” and added it to the list too.  With a straight average (regardless of how many times they were referenced), here is the top 10 w/ their average ranking:

  1. She & Him – “Volume One” 1
  2. The Last Shadow Puppets – “The Age Of The Understatement” 2
  3. Plush – “Fed” 3
  4. Vampire Weekend – “Vampire Weekend” 4
  5. Fleet Foxes – “Fleet Foxes” 4.25
  6. Bon Iver  – “For Emma, Forever Ago” 4.75
  7. Neil Young  – “Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968” 5 (tie)
  8. Okkervil River – “The Stand Ins” 5 (tie)
  9. The Bug – “London Zoo” 5.5
  10. Shugo Tokumaru – “Exit” 6

After seeing this very odd top 10, I have to mention that 6 of the Top 10 didn’t make the top 50 of any other list.  How can this be?  How can the best album of the year (according to Paste) be completely disregarded by all other mags?  What does this say about the world of criticism?  Well, in my humble opinion, every magazine, despite all being able to listen to the same LP’s in 2008, need to have their own little “things”.  They all feel the need to champion records to exalt their superior tastes — whether this means gushing over a record no one went super-crazy for, or one no one else has even heard of.

The Bug

I cannot claim to be completely informed about new music, but it does annoy me that 3 of the top 10 artists:  The Last Shadow Puppets, Plush, and Shugo Tokumaru; I haven’t heard peep about until now.  You can chalk that up to me living under a rock, or, as I’d rather; chalk it up to critics keeping their favorite records a secret and then sticking an obscure album way high in their Best-Of List, thereby solidifying their status as super cool, music insider/outsiders.

So, to get rid of the Let’s-Mention-an-Album-No-One-Else-Will epidemic, I will eliminate all albums mentioned only once in all four Year-End lists.  THEN, our top 10 looks like this:

  1. Vampire Weekend – “Vampire Weekend” 4
  2. Fleet Foxes – “Fleet Foxes” 4.25
  3. Bon Iver  – “For Emma, Forever Ago” 4.75
  4. Neil Young  – “Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968” 5 (tie)
  5. Okkervil River – “The Stand Ins” 5 (tie)
  6. The Bug – “London Zoo” 5.5
  7. Shugo Tokumaru – “Exit” 6
  8. Paul Weller – “22 Dreams” 6.5
  9. Girl Talk – “Feed the Animals” 7
  10. Sun Kil Moon – “April” 8

This works more like DEMOCRACY!  Or, more like parliamentary procedure, like, you know, when one guys like “I move to nominate Girl Talk”, and then some other dude in a headband and American Apparel short-shorts is like “I second that!”…  The Girl Talk motion passes!

  

Now, we’ll cut the fat again, here is a list of albums that made three of the four 2008 Best-Of Lists (in an act divine intelligence, there are exactly 10 albums that did this):

  1. *Fleet Foxes – “Fleet Foxes” 4.25
  2. *Bon Iver  – “For Emma, Forever Ago” 4.75
  3. *Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!”  9.25
  4. Portishead – “Third” 10
  5. *The Hold Steady – “Stay Positive” 12
  6. Drive-By Truckers – “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark” 17.33 (tie)
  7. Randy Newman – “Harps And Angels” 17.33 (tie)
  8. Sigur Rós– “Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust” 17.33 (tie)
  9. *TV On The Radio – “Dear Science” 19.25
  10. MGMT – “Oracular Spectacular”  30.33

*Appeared in all four Year-End lists

You can of course argue that reducing editorial content and criticism to averages strips the rating of any validity… I would probably agree with you. 

But here’s what the list above does:

  • It devalues the one-offs that a critic just had to put in the list for rep’s sake. 
  • The obligatory high ranking for the band that posed for your cover is marginalized. 
  • What emerges are albums that were universally liked — albums that you “buried” deep in your top 50 because they were too obvious, too mainstream, or were afraid to rank too highly.

What we have with this bottom list is 2008 albums that found favor with a diverse amount of critical publications — two iffy “rock” mags, a singer/songwriter obsessed one, and a computer aggregate site.  The result is LPs that span an array of tastes despite the gerrymandering that may effect one individual publication.

I’ll put my personal faves up later this month, and follow-up with a revised page when Stereogum, Pitchfork, and Tiny Mix Tapes, Coke Machine Glow, PopMatters, etc start to mention their favorites.