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.

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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.


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)


Speed Reviews

April 25, 2008

m83: Saturdays = Youth

Best album Anthony Gonzalez has put out BY FAR. The rolling sonic washout of “shoegaze” is still in the mix here, but the vocals, dreamy as they are, are put to the forefront. The thick electro dissipates a bit to make these gorgeous songs shimmer without overwhelming you. m83 was never “inaccessible”, but this one hits the pop palate a lot more than his previous work. A few reviews point out this could be the background synth soundtrack to a never-made Brat Pack movie… sounds crazy, but totally true, and it totally works.

RIYL: French electro, stereo bliss, John Hughes

MP3: “Graveyard Girl”

Biirde: Catherine Avenue


A well-paced strummy summer winner. Definite Rilo Kiley L.A. sound going on here with deliberate midwesterness with some top-of-the-line west coast production values. It’s an exercise that’s pop one minute but often wanders into Ballad Country. Wistful guys and girls swap songs and versus, while songs build and fade tastefully. “Catherine Avenue” is the single they’re pushing (on the website), but the real winner is the cover of “Who Were You Thinkin’ Of” where charmingly hilarious lyrics are underlayed by a jaunty organ wheeled into the studio straight from Haight and Ashbury.

RIYL: The 1900’s, Saddle Creek Records, California mythos

MP3: “Who Were You Thinkin’ Of”

Cut Copy: In Ghost ColorsI’m trying to limit the number of Madchester-esque dance/pop bands I claim to love, but I can’t deny that this is a flippin’ great album. A record meant for oscillating wildly to on beer-soaked bar floors and shiny disco ones (and maybe Pitchfork Festival maybe?! Plllllease?!). These guys would tear up the outfield grass in no time. In Ghost Colours will surely usurp Justice’s Cross as THE default records to spin this season — it’s what the Junior Boys would sounds like if they stopped being ethereal and just shook their asses. Standouts include “Out There On the Ice”, “Lights and Music” and the can’t-miss club banger “Hearts on Fire”.

MP3: Hearts on Fire 

RIYL: half-dancing, half-bouncing, New Order