Best Albums of the last 12 months or so… Neon Neon

April 26, 2009

Hey.  It’s almost April 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 Eternal Question

In talking to my friends, the year 2008 was felt to be an underwhelming year for individual artist accomplishment. When I sit down and think of the albums I was obsessed with these last 12 or so  months, it was very hard to pick 10 out of the bunch, and then decide who gets a #1 over a #10. While there were not any monumental KILLER albums, 2008 saw the emergence of a few very interesting trends that continue to mature as we close out this first decade of the 200o’s.

The trend I find most exciting is the burgeoning globalism of pop music. Perhaps it’s the Internet, perhaps it’s the slow death of mainstream radio and, or pre-fab rock stars, perhaps it’s even American awareness of global conflict that has inspired them to search outside the typical boundaries of inspiration. Whatever caused it, it’s making pop music a LOT more interesting. There was an explosion of Aussie electro, Scandinavian pop, Icelandic atmospherics, backwoods midwest soul-searching, 80’s obsessed French synths, and, of course, the much-ballyhooed return of Afro-pop….

Here’s one I liked:

Neon Neon – Stainless Steel

(#1 of 12 in no particular order)

Gruff Rhys, aside from his full-time gig as part of  Super Furry Animals, is half the double-whammy of  Neon Neon — teamed with hip-hop producer Boom Bip and a slew of hiphop collabos.  The resulting product is an amalgam of glossy late-80s rock and synthy hip hop that tells the story of coke-and-tit fueled carmaker John Delorean (d. March 2005).

Stainless Style finally dropped mid 2008, amid little hype and a mess of other 80’s-informed electro crossovers.  What’s remarkable is that the project was nearly complete 3 years ago.  Heaven knows how much of a splash it would have made if it released around the time they played SXSW in 2006.

Theoretically, this LP could have been hot on the heels of The Rapture, Radio 4, Hot Chip, Junior Boys and LCD Soundsystem’s nostalgic disco revamps.  Viewing it in the time frame that, quite frankly, they just plain missed, Stainless Style could have been an  genre-defining/defying album.  The fact that it still sounds relevant years later among other like-minded 80s rock/Electro-rap clones is a testament to this clairvoyant one-off.

Mp3: Neon Neon – “Trick For Treat” (c/o The Daily Growl)

Video For “I Told Her on Alderaan / Trick for Treat”:

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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.


2008’s “Best Of” Best Of (Continued)

December 17, 2008

Rolling Stone and Spin have released their top 50/40 so here are the updated “Best Albums of 2008” if you broke them all down number-like:

Top 10 based on any TWO nominations (by Rolling Stone, Spin, Paste, Meta, Mojo, Uncut)

1. B.B. King – One Kind Favor 3.00 (tie)
1. Shearwater – Rook 3.00 (tie)
3. TV On The Radio – Dear Science 7.50
4. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend 8.00
5. Beck – Modern Guilt 8.75
6. REM – Accelerate 9.50
7. Sigur Rós – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust 9.67 (tie)
7. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago 9.67 (tie)
9. Amadou & Mariam – Welcome To Mali 11.00 (tie)
9. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Real Emotional Trash 11.00 (tie)
9. The Bug – London Zoo 11.00 (tie)

Top 25 based on minimum THREE nominations (by Rolling Stone, Spin, Paste, Meta, Mojo, Uncut)

1. TV On The Radio – Dear Science 7.50*
2. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend 8.00
3. Beck – Modern Guilt 8.75
4. Sigur Rós – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust 9.67
5. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago 9.67*
6. Randy Newman – Harps And Angels 11.25
7. Santogold – Santogold 12.00
8. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive 16.00
9. Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark 17.33
10. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes 20.33*
11. Portishead – Third 20.50
12. The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lone 20.67
13. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) 21.00
14. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid 22.33
15. Fucked Up – The Chemistry Of Common Life 22.33
16. Duffy – Rockferry 24.00
17. Hot Chip – Made In The Dark 30.00
18. Kings Of Leon – Only By The Night 35.00
19. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! 35.00*
20. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III 35.33
21. Lucinda Williams – Little Honey 37.75
22. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular 39.80
23. Metallica – Death Magnetic 40.25
24. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges 42.50
25. No Age – Nouns 44.67

*Nominated in ALL SIX Magazine’s “Best Of” lists.


2006 Albums of the Year, Late As Usual

January 28, 2007

Top Albums 2006

Ahhhh! It’s the obligatory “end of year list,” and obligatorily posted late, by moi. Okay. I would like to mention that I can only rank albums that I’ve actually listened to. Here’s 10 (+5) albums from 2006 I’ve listened to a lot and have actual insight on:

Preface: In keeping with the concept of the Arctic Monkeys’ debut “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Am Not” I will say that The Arctic Monkeys are good, and that they deserve to make any and every “top 10” list.

1. Hot Chip, Hot ChipThe Warning

Oh Man. You can’t hate on this CD. This is the kind of record that changes people opinion on a “sort” of music. I.E., my friend Jimmy’s 30-something pseudomentor Chad (that’s his real name). Chad said something like… “I really like that ‘Hot. Chip’ song. Even though it’s kind of, ‘dancey’.” Join the club Chadly! The LP is just too catchy, too poppy, too funky, too damn fun to categorically deny because of dudes with keyboards and silly mustaches.

Free mp3: “And I Was A Boy From School”

2. The Hold SteadyBoys And Girls In America

Everyone’s afraid to put this album at number 1. It SHOULD be. (Hypocrite warning). This is an album I would recommend, without hesitation, to anyone. It’s a straight-ahead rock n roll album… which I thought didn’t exist anymore. I thought every band needed some sort of concept, prepackaged backstory, or clever nod to whatever retro-trend in the band is aping. The Hold Steady has straight-up rock swagger that reminds me most immediately of Guided By Voices. But the content… oh my… the tales Craig Finn talk/sings are wonderful. They’re the kind of personal/universal “‘member when?” youth stories everyone relates to even if you’ve done nothing of the sort: Betting on ponies, drinking, smoking, troubled kids, raging parties, first loves. All of them done in this anthemic, Glory Days-meets-Chuck Klosterman type storytelling. Indifferent to cliché, Finn’s immediate literature reference, “…There are times when I think Sal Paradise was right,” sets a tone for a terrific and shambling LP.

Free mp3: “Killer Parties”

3. Junior BoysSo This Is Goodbye

This is a sexin’ album. It’s an album by and for th’ sexin. I didn’t think Junior Boys would be able to top their previous release, Junior Boys – Last Exit, but they did… well… he did… as one half of The J.B. left before this album got made. Yet another reason why the band can’t be mentioned without a casual name-drop of sonic frères’ m83. This stuff blows m83 out of the water. Transcendental, groovy, electronic but deeply soulful, the understated crooning (and sometimes just cool breathing) of hit single  “In The Morning” would have to be my favorite single of the year.

Free mp3: “In The Morning”

4. HeadlightsKill Them With Kindness

“Kind of a new record slipped into a list old safe ones… verrry PUSSY!”. Ha. Guilty. I got this record very late in the year, but, as Last.FM would testify, I’m enjoying very very much. Nothing exciting has come out of champaign, IL since, ohhhh… Braid, until now. I’m a sucker for girl/boy vocals, and this was THE album for me in the last few months. Think Stars (especially Amy Milian-like vocals, minus all the fatalistic/melancholic/depressive lovesickness, then sprinkle with a few exciting influences… occasional Mates of State keyboard fun, some navelgaze dabbling, a track that reminds me a bit of Broken Social Scene, and that standard “We’re twee But We’ll Include One Adorable Techno Track To Show We Can Do It” song. (Ahem, Belle and Sebastian – Electronic Renaissance, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir – Topsy Turvy). Check ‘em out.

Free mp3: “Owl Eyes”

5. The Radio Dept.Pet Grief

Tim (The Muttering Retreats) turned me on to these guys. What a fabulous album. It’s this kind of new wave revivalism that makes me despise legwarmers and oversized belts a little less. It’s tough not to “influence pick” on the album, but it wonderfully re-creates a poppy The Jesus and Mary Chain thang in a haze of keyboards and drones and looooooooove.

Free mp3: “Against The Tide”

6. DecemberistsThe Crane Wife

Mad props for jumping to a major label and putting out an uncompromised LP, especially 10+ minute song sagas. Though, Castaways & Cutouts and Her Majesty… are still my personal favorites, Colin Meloy & Co went from your libraries favorite chamber pop band to a synth-soloing Genesis-nodding pop/progrock hybrid — quite a feat. And a little unsettling.

Free mp3: “Sons & Daughters”

7. The PipettesWe Are the Pipettes

I think, technically, this album hasn’t been released in the U.S. yet. I don’t care. Good music travels fast. Records labels can’t control product if the fanbase or buzz is large enough. The Pipettes bring back that girl group era to modern-times, a-lah Camera Obscura, but where C.O. delivers wispy lovelorn tunes with some occasional twang, The Pipettes have style, sass, swagger (and handclaps) to spare. The Pipettes – Your Kisses are Wasted on Meis a gem among an album filled with…well… other gems. The only downside is that the “we all have slightly different personalities and dress in polka-dots” seems suspiciously like a marketing ploy, you really can’t hate on these girls. 1 year from now, the re-united The White Stripes will have the Pipettes open for them. I predict it… it will come true.

8. Isobel Campbell & Mark LaneganBallad of the Broken Seas

When Isobel left Belle and Sebastian I was 95% sure her success would nearly match that of Looper. I picture, mid-Storytelling tour, Stuart Murdoch turns to Isobel on the tour bus and “Oi, Ah quite like your voice eeen that, buh eeets a bit wyrd, ya know, that one song you du, ‘The Sunrise Song’, eh?” Isobel promptly gives Stu’ the finger, jumps off the bus with a small, adorable, Scottish-looking suitcase, meets Mark Lanegan in a cowboy bar near the airport, and after a weekend in a motel, they decide to record an album. Isobel then flutters her eyes, forgets Mark for 3+ years and gives him a ring when she gets board spooning her cello.

Free mp3: “(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me”

9. TV on the RadioReturn To Cookie Mountain

Good, solid album, and a welcome return after a disappointing debut LP. I feel this one was a bit over buzzed, but it’s still incredible. A good listen, all the way through, the standout being the rollicking, driving assualt of “Wolf Like Me”. It’s SO hard to tell people there’s an indie band who combines, art-punk, trip-hop and Peter Gabriel and have them still pay attention to you. But, the word’s out on them, there will have to be no convincing.

Free mp3: “Wolf Like Me”

10. IslandsReturn to the Sea

Who woulda thunk it??? Especially now that all The Unicorns are dead. Turn the weirdness level down about two-notches, and what appears but yet another fabulous pop band out of Canadia. But to be honest, I kind of miss the previous weirdness levels, but their beginnings of silly instrumentation, deliberately incomplete songs structures, and childish deliveries allowed the .666Unicorns to flank the standard pop-rock formula and conquer all. Now… about Th’ Corn Gang.

Free mp3: “Jogging Gorgeous Summer”

Honorable Mentions:
11. Belle and SebastianThe Life Pursuit
Free mp3: “White Collar Boy”

12. Sufjan StevensThe Avalanche: Outtakes & Extras from Illinois Album

13. Jenny Lewis With The Watson TwinsRabbit Fur Coat
Free mp3: “Rise Up With Fists”

14. José GonzálezStay In The Shade

15. Camera ObscuraLet’s Get out of This Country
Free mp3: “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken”

Mad shoutouts to an indie kids’ savior: The Hype Machine.

And the blogs I stole mp3’s from:
http://skyscraperlife.blogspot.com/
http://www.girlpants.org/  (not making this one up, promise)
http://res1999.blogspot.com/
http://www.michaelmieler.com/blog/ Mike Went West
http://timedoor.textdriven.com Timedoor
http://tracemyface.blogspot.com/ Red Blondehead
http://www.blogotheque.net/sommaire.php3 La Blagotheque


Hot Chip, Cool Bar

November 14, 2006

Remember the time when people said “synthesizer” instead of keyboards? Incidentally, it was also when fashionable gals were wearing like, tights under skirts, and um, leg-warmers. Well, my nostalgia-prone friend, for better or for worse, that time is back.

When Hot Chip (nay “Hawt Chip”) took the stage at The Metro earlier this month, four-fifths of them took their stations behind a wall-o-synths. Shaking the venue’s collective booty as much as 5 pasty Brits can shake an equally pasty crowd, they started the set with the throbbing dance-funk of “Boy From School” and carried the energy through the set. Mind you, Hot Chip is NOT a poke-around-behind-a-laptop band. The emphasized live element makes for a terrific show — for every electric drone and bass beat there’s dreamy pop harmonies, guitar hooks, and yes, even the beloved cowbell that’s all the rage these days. Can’t wait for the triangle to make it’s homecoming.

For the encore they banged out a riotous version of “Over and Over” and a few days later someone reminded me I screamed “SYNTH GODDDS!” at some point. Probably when the song segued perfectly into a cover of New Order’s “Temptation” — a well-deserved nod to the Kings of Pasty Dance-Pop.

While my friend was busy slurring tequila infused come-ons downstairs at Smartbar, the remainder of our group took two quick lefts out the door and ducked into arguably the most tolerable bar in Wrigleyville: The Gingerman Tavern. An oddly shaped spot that occupies the wedge between N. Clark and Racine. It’s no coincidence this bar is stumbling-distance from The Metro. The mix-matched chairs, tables and billiard balls complement it’s equally eclectic clientele. That said, if anyone knows of a better Wrigleyville bar, I’d like to hear it, drink there, and then tell you why you’re wrong.

photos by Pegs. Thanks Pegs.