Best Albums of the last 12 months or so… Flight of the Conchords

May 18, 2009

Nearly June.  The year is 5/12ths over. Here’s one of 12 I enjoyed over the last 12 or some months…

Flight of the Conchords – Flight of the Conchords

(#5 of 12 in no particular order)

Like David Brent playing a pretty good acoustic guitar — there’s something intimidating about musicians that have chops but then choose to make fun of what they do.  Performing as a comedian/musician is a fickle thing… play original work and people may not know you’re joking, play too close to something else and you’re written off as a parody artist, or even worse, an impressionist.  FotC somehow manage to walk the funnyrope.

Songs that were rawer (but still hilarious) on their HBO show take on a new life on the LP — they clean up nice.  Specifically, you have to love the spotless production and prominent funk bass that now comes through beautifully on both “Ladies of the World,” and “The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)”.

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BPRB Updates – Turn Back the Clock this Spring?

February 6, 2009

New stuff added to the “Bored People Are Boring” things to-do list

Very suprised to see what bands will be making the rounds in the Spring.  Namely industiral music originators Throbbing Gristle will do two back-to-back shows at Epiphany (yes, that church place)… after playing NY and Cochella shows.

  • Throbbing Gristle, “What a Day” MP3 (c/o blog Farced)

 

Next on the suprise turn-back-the-clock list is Chicago’s own Red Red Meat.  The band’s roster is a who’s-who of Chicago indie rock icons, including Tim Rutili, Ben Massarella and Tim Hurley (of Califone), plus beloved producer Brian Deck (Liz Phair [when she was cool], Tortoise, The Sea and Cake, Modest Mouse).

 

 

Lastly in the old-news-made-new-news list this week, Bob Nanna (Braid, Hey Mercedes, City on Film) has a new full-band type project with ‘Mercedes bandmate Damon Atkinson called Certain People I Know and he’s twittering his little heart out about it.  As of right now, CPIK ranks as my third-favorite Smith-referencing bandname… right behind The Boy Least Likely To and Pretty Girls Make Graves.  Fittingly, the pride of the Illini are playing their first show in Urbana on March 13th at Courtyard Cafe and then make they’re way up to Chicago to play at The Beat Kitchen on the 19th.

  

*NOT The Cardigans.

Also of note is a band I randomly came across on The Next Big Sound site, Raise High the Roof Beam.  They’re doing not one, but TWO shows in the upcoming months.  The production value on these songs are iffy at best, but I do enjoy the sound.  It has the strum-and-pluck of solid indie pop (as the Salinger reference would infer) but I also hear a little bit of playful Johnathan Richman, and I can almost gurantee they’re fans of Wes Anderson.  Just a hunch.

 

All dates added on 2/6:

February:
Raise High The Roof Beam
GP Dreams
The Sundresses

March:
Certain People I Know
Women
Volcano!
Red Red Meat

April:
Lily Allen
Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head
Mason Proper
Raise High The Roof Beam
Throbbing Gristle
Flight of the Conchords


2008 Music: Good Stuff.

February 5, 2009

What an ego on this guy (me). Talking in the third person, jeez. Can’t possibly cut down a list of favorite albums to just 10. Way too many clever references to make, not enough blog space.

I do finally have my top 10, but the tough thing about doing a top 10 is that you can only list 10. So, below is a bunch of stuff I loved this year… alphabetically.

Fleet Foxes s/t:  Good stuff. Nice harmonies. Sometimes they sound like Appalachian hollerers, sometimes Pet Soundfetishists, the great part is they’re still so young still… such a promising band with so much on the horizon. MP3“He Doesn’t Know Why” (c/o Bridging the Atlantic)

David Byrne & Brian EnoEverything That Happens will Happen Today: On the other side of the rock spectrum are these two “oldies” that can still put together a great album. Yes, David, “These beats ARE 30 years old,” but the two of you have a feeling for song construction that has no expiration date. MP3: “Strange Overtones” (c/o Rollo & Grady)

Broke Social Scene presents: Brendan CanningSomething for All of Us: It’s a good sign that the worst criticism of this album is that it “sounds like Broken Social Scene”.  Since when is that bad?  Bored enough being awesome together, the Canadian collective has begun highlighting their individual members.  Now that everyone loves with the BSS sound, it’s fascinating to see what parts of this super-group come from which members… Mr. Canning is definitely an integral part. MP3: Take Care Look Up (c/o Lost In Your Inbox)

Crystal Castles – s/t: Playing what sounds like 8-bit Nintendo sequences is nothing new anymore, but rarely is it done so menacingly and with such flair. I’m a big fan of it. And, according to interviews, instrumentalist Ethan Kath thinks he’s pretty great too. MP3: “Courtship Dating” (c/o Raised on Indie)

Girl TalkFeed the Animals: Stretching his digitentacles even further in the recesses of the American Mind and the American Top 40, Greg Gillis makes pan-generational dance gems. Quite possibly the only way your parents might ever get to hear a Ludacris song. MP3: “In Step” (c/o Selective Service)

Hercules and Love Affair s/t: The history of the disco is much like the history of many other musical-based cultural movements… soulful, relevant, moving music that crystallizes into a social identity.  Only to be adopted by the masses and fall into vacuousness, materialism, and eventual disdain. With the help of ghostly vocal contributions from Antony (of Antony & Johnson’s fame), H&LC has stripped off the materialist and empty glamor of later-day disco to get back to the soul of the movement. MP3: “Blind” (c/o Salad Days Music)

Hot ChipMade in the Dark: The dreaded sophomore slump can not be lobbed towards the blippy geek funk of Hot Chip. First of all… it isn’t their second album. Secondly, Alexis Taylor froze the preemptive naysayers in their steps by throwing a change-up.  Dark is not quite a reinvention of the band, but a proclamation that they’re not just a dance group hardwired to peddle the same pop gold like a monkey with a miniature cymbal. The album is a hodgepodge of tracks that don’t rely too heavily on the bands talent for addictive hooks, but continually push their obvious talents toward interesting ends.

Jamie LidellJim: Jamie Lidell will always be cursed by having one the most jaw-dropping, spazmatic live shows around.  Jamie shifts to Jim, and his booty-moving electro roots shift to the hip-swinging soul of his other obvious Detroit influence — Motown soul.

Lil WayneTha Carter III: (In which a pasty white blogger has to pretend he has taste in hip-hop).  Everyone said I should like this album… I listened to it, I did.  Lil Dub simultaneously lives the thug live, and makes fun of it mercilessly.  You have to appreciate the sort of self-awareness he spouts in a Hip-Hop world that increasingly is a parody of itself.

Lykke LiYouth Novels: Precocious, sexual, childish, foreign.  There are the qualities I think of when I hear Lykke Li’s voice glide through her much-anticipated downtempo electro LP.  At times her voice can be cute and charming, at other times the same lightness can sound sultry and mischievous.  MP3“Dance Dance Dance” (c/o Bridging the Atlantic)

Stephan Malkmus & The JicksReal Emotional Trash: The songs are getting longer, but three LP’s in, S.M.’s quality control has not diminished.  He’s good when he’s silly, he’s good when he’s… less silly.  His lyrics are fun when they’re free-associative or directly narrative. The songs will vary from3-minute ditties to 8-minute guitar jam epics but they’re always a good listen.

MGMTOracular Spectacular: It became obvious the blogosphere knew more about popular taste than the music biz this summer at Lollapalooza, when MGMT played a surprisingly early set to a crowd that dwarfed any other band that day save the headliners.  I’m more of a fan of the singles on this album than the entire LP, but MGMT is young, and inventive, and goddamn weird so I’ll look forward to their next release.

Natalie Portman’s Shaved HeadSecret Crush EP: Stupid like a FOX! NPSH are spastic, silly, unapologetic nonsense peddlers.  But it’s so damn fun.  They’re all cheesy synths and drum sequencers, hand claps and sarcastic deliveries.  They remind me of what Tilly & The Wall would sound like if they came out of Brooklyn instead of the midwest, and decided to just make fun of everyone instead of being so goddamn sincere all the time.

Re-Up GangWe Got it For Cheap Vol. 3 Mixtape: From what I’ve read, the first two mixtapesof this Clipse collective are better that this one, but all I know is what I got.   Mixtapes are primarily a vehicle for hip-hoppers to lob insult grenades at eachother between albums, and there’s plenty of that here.  My fav track is the most obvious statement Clipse will ever make in their life, “They Know Yeyo”.

Sam Sparros/t:  If “back to bones” disco is why Hercules & Love Affair is commended for their LP this year, Sam Sparro should be rewarded conversely for pushing the genre further out into space.  It has the kind of bounce that you would hear at the club, but adds elements of funk, french electro, and soul that fit perfectly together.

She & HimVolume 1: I sort of slammed Paste as putting this down as their #1 album of the year but it definitely is a great listen.  Zooey DesChannel and M.Ward both share a “timeless” vibe that make these songs charming and their choice of covers wholly appropriate.

Sigur RosMeð suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust:  Gotta admit, every time I hear Sigur Ros has a new album out I’m ready to be off the band wagon, but the shit is just too good to quit.  Jon Thor Birgisson is lightening up a little, okay with songs under 4-minutes, okay with joy, okay with uncryptic album art, okay with (OMG!) singing in English, if only briefly.

T.I.Paper Trail: Can a guy do MORE guest spots?  Seriously.  Yes, there’s nothing really earth-shattering about T.I. but what he does he does so well… namely talk-singing about inane rap-type things, but goddammit if it’s on in a bar, you’re lip syncing along and pointing at the ground with finger guns

Times New VikingRip It Off: Perhaps a bit overrated, and difficult to distinguish one song from the other, but cut through the fuzz (and the obnoxious recorded-bad-on-purpose aesthetic) and these are sure fire-melodies that deliver like a sugar pill wrapped in flannel lint. MP3“Drop-Out” (c/o Bridging the Atlantic)

Vivian Girlss/t: “Oooooo-Ohhhhh-La-La-La-La-La!”  Ack!  It’s the ghosts of twee past!With magnetic ribbons of C86 mix tapes fluttering confusedly around it!  It has teeth, and fearsome sarcasm, and haggard pop harmonizing, and unrelenting indifference to the fact that indie pop is supposed to be adorable.


Passion Pit Drives Schubas Crazy

January 28, 2009

Just reviewed Passion Pit for UR Chicago here.

Will re-post the article below, and extend it with some more rambling commentary…

 

In a giddy fit of keyboards, falsettos, and saccharine dance beats, Boston newcomers Passion Pit are charming their way west during their first national tour.  P.P. bounced their way through a congenial but criminally short set last night at Schubas, as Michael Angelakos engaged the audience with the same disarming manner and sky-high vocals that seep through every track of his debut EP, Chunk of Change.

PassionPitSchubas1.28-7 

The set started out playful and keyboard-heavy with Angelakos’ ear for pop melody pushing to the forefront.  Flanked a guitar, drums, two Rolands, a Moog, and sitting behind a Yamaha synth himself, Angelakos’ dare-you-to-sing-higher-than-me octaves pierced through riffs, piano lines, and programmed back-beats. Espousing sentiments that in lower vocal ranges might be cringe inducing diary entries, the proper set ended with the dance-happy electropop of “Sleepyhead” and “Better Things” to which the sellout crowd lost their collective brains to, bloggers and ALTBros alike.

Angelakos apologized repeatedly for the abridged set, but, the audience couldn’t blame them for succinctness – Passion Pit just haven’t been around long enough to have a full set.

In a backstory that’s impossible not to repeat; Passion Pit’s origins couldn’t be more endearing: Originally a late Valentine’s Day present for Angelakos’ g/f, the “Chunk of Change” CDR made the rounds at Emerson University, made waves in Boston, and made headlines after some stellar sets at this year’s CMJ music fest in New York. A few months later, after some east coast practice gigs, they’re on tour backed by new label Frenchkiss, playing the six songs that everyone knows and road-testing a few new ones.

Passion Pit’s sincerity and DIY style fits with just a few other bands who somehow dodge be criticized for being goddamned “sincere” all the time — people have seemed to get really sick of that recently. (The fact that, as 20-something culture consumers, we already have issues with earnestness is fodder for a different blog).

I see Angelakos along side other singer/songwriters like Khaela Maricich (The Blow), Ben Gibbard (a-la The Postal Service), and Robert Wratten (Field Mice) as artists that manage to be shmultsy but nevertheless loveable.

Let it be a lesson to those aspiring coffeehouse guitar wankers… if you’re inspired to put your love / breakup letters to music and share it with the world, do two things:

  1. Sing higher and/or softer than you’re comfortable
  2. Put some good fucking beats behind it

You’ll be a blogosphere hero in no time.


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.


volcano!… ‘Splosians!

September 23, 2008

This was originally posted on URChicagos site, but far be it for me to deny my own blog some musical gold:

volcano! at The Empty Bottle Thursday

Lying dormant for nearly three years, experimental rock trio volcano! (note the lowercase “v”) has recently released their second LP, Paperwork.  Their much-acclaimed debut album Beautiful Seizure, released by UK label Leaf, was met in late 2005 with enthusiastic acclaim here and abroad (scoring them an early appearence on oft-imitated music performance site La Blogotheque). The debut album shook; not just the pavement, but the pervading stigma that “art rock” bands can only be one thing or the other – art or rock. volcano!’s sound rectifies this disparity—simultaneously heady and accessible, intricate and forceful, ethereal and dynamic.

volcano!’s fluid creations can shift from jagged guitar squall to delicate instrumentals backed by the atmospherics of multi-instrumentalist Mark Cartwright, their song’s pop structures can quickly devolve into poly-rhythmic improvisation care of percussionist Sam Scranton.  Meanwhile, vocalist/guitarist Aaron With always seems to have a trick up his sleeve, with a lyrical range that wheels from mischievous wordplay, to urgent exclamation to staccato abstraction—often in the same track.

Paperwork is its own little bundle of surprises, as the hilariously titled “Africa Just Wants to Have Fun,” bounces and jabs at celebrity-turned-philanthropists with a nod to guitar-led Afropop—both of which seem all the rage these days.  The album has a bunch more surprises and creative twists, with Scranton mentioning a load of  diverse influences from track-to-track, including the otherworldly psych-pop of Animal Collective to the shameless R&B come-ons of  R. Kelly.

volcano! returned this August to do their first live show in two years, a CD release party for their new full-length. The Chicago-based band will be playing again this Thursday, 9/25, at The Empty Bottle. Check out a Q&A with percussionist Sam Scranton on the UR Chicago Online Exclusives page.

MP3:  volcano! – “Africa Just Wants to Have Fun” (site)(myspace)(facebook)
-Brian Howe Battle


Lollapalooza Plan of Action: Friday

August 1, 2008

I promised myself I wouldn’t do Lolla this year (after doing all three days the last two years), but dammit, they really do book a fucking awesome show.  And the sheer size of the event allows C3 to hedge their band bets:  covering all the bases just by booking every band in the entire universe to play in Chicago on one weekend.  (Note to self: Buy PBR now before the entire town runs dry).

Thankfully, I’m able to volunteer this year, which means I miss a bit of the middle-shows, but I’m seeing what I can for free-ninety-nine. 

Here would be my recco/wish-list of who to see today:

Anything before Noon:  I have no idea, so, go crazy. 

Holy Fuck: Should be fun.  Band was made to play live, and they’re damn entertaining.  Also, maybe they’ll play their mix of the Radiohead’s “Nude” they entered in that contest.

Rogue Wave: I hear they’re actually not that great live, but c’mon.  How cool would it be to hear “Lake Michigan” right next to Lake Michigan?

Yeasayer:  Why not?

Tiny Masters of Today:  Badass little kids.  CSS, Karen O., and !!! love them, so why can’t you.  What thread connects all these bands —  the fact that their lyrics are terrible but it doesn’t matter. 

The Black Keys / Golgol Bordello:  Meh.  This might be a good time to take a late lunch.  These are definitely the two bands you should prolly see, but I’m not particularly a huge fan of either.  Do you prefer your rock bluesy or gypsy-y?

 Mates of State: Adorable

Grizzly Bear: A swell combo of pretty and creepy.  Pretty Creepy.  And a bit Sleepy.  If you’re not up for this, I’d recco heading straight over to…

VHS or Beta DJ Set: VHS or Beta played a REALLY good live Lolla set two year back, but now they’re just here to DJ, which is a bummer.  That said, there’s plenty of Robert Smith-leads-a-dance-punk-bands these days.  20$ they play Cut Copy.

The Cool Kids / CSS:  Can’t really go wrong here, but CSS will probably be the most entertaining, but then again, Chicago Party Rap is the new Brazilian Electro Pop.

Radiohead: duh.

 

(view image larger here)