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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Top 10 Albums of 2007

January 11, 2008

Well. It’s been nearly a year since blizz-ogged on this page. But, I’m inspired by the STiTP/Kerchief Valhalla list, to post my own top 10 of the year. Like I do sometimes, I have to mention albums that are supposedly AWESOME but haven’t got my lazy-ass around to listening to.

Top 10 Albums of 2007

10. Y.A.C.H.T., I Believe in You. Your Magic is Real*
This one needs an asterisk. It took till ’07 for me to find, and fall head-over-heals with the bleeps, bloops and diary entries of The Blow. Early into 2007 Blow’s beatmaker, Jona Bechtolt, marooned singer/songwriter Khaela Maricich to pursue solo work under the name of YACHT. Since then, I’ve been left alone in a corner with no new Blow to enjoy. Bechtolt’s “solo” I Believe in You… consoled me – just like the friend whose consoling words don’t help but you appreciate them anyway.

MP3: “See A Penny (Pick It Up)”

9. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
One guy calls it “dad rock” and gives it a deece review and suddenly everyone’s off the Wilco wagon. Poppycock! This album is the real deal. In the last decade we’ve seen Tweedy grow from the guy that wrote the couplet “We should take a walk / But you’re such a fast walker, whoa-oh”, to becoming a abstract Dixie Cup Aquarium Drinker, to a Wheel/Bug/Hummingbird, to Jeff Tweedy. After all the band shifts, style shifts (fan base shifts?) Wilco emerged this year, confident in their LP’s, walking softly and carrying a big catalog. Tweedy sings sweetly, simply and directly after a few years of his free-associative and abstract lyrics. The band’s kraut-rock exercises have been distilled into a few efficient jam-outs. There’s just something impressive about Nels Cline, an avant-jazz squall guitarist, reigning in his tendencies enough to play a simple, clean Allman-brothersesque guitar duet. As Lisa Simpson once said – “It’s the notes they’re not playing.”

MP3: “Impossible Germany”

8. Flosstradamus / Kid Sister
Does not releasing a “proper album” mean you can’t get any love on year-end lists anymore? Not in this crazy inter-blag world. Although, technically, there’s no proper album out, DJ/Mash-up kids Flosstradamus and one of the duo’s kid sisters – Kid Sister, are churning out the jams. The bumpin’ beats, hip-hop mashups, old-school rhymes, and indie-happy samples have been Chicago dance/bar favorites for a while now, but it’s time for the big time. SxSW lost their brains for Floss’ remix of Matt & Kim‘s Yea Yeah, meanwhile Kid Sister’s “Pro Nails” found it’s way onto Kanye‘s Can’t Tell Me Nothing mixtape and the rest will be history… by the end of next year. Watch your back though Flossy, The Hood Internet‘s quick on your tail. (Photo Credit: Everyoneisfamous.com)

MP3: Kid Sister “Southside”

MP3: Flosstradamus “Overnight Star”

7. Bishop Allen, The Broken String
It’s been nearly half a decade since Bishop Allen dropped the self-released Charm School LP – an album whose hooks and lines you’d catch yourself singing constantly. The groups ring-leaders, Christian Rudder and Justin Rice, recorded the album with a microphone, a pre-amp, and ProTools while trying hard not to annoy their Bishop Allen Drive neighbors in Cambridge, MA. They’re a dynamic and fairly prolific pair… aside from the band both have cultivated what seems like their own brand — Rudder writing the hilarious entertainment section of the now-defunct SparkNotes.com, and co-creating the equally hilarious dating site (OkCupid) while both Rice & Rudder are pseudo-stars of the burgeoning “Mumblecore” film scene (Rice starring in Mutual Appreciation and Rudder as the love interest in Funny Ha-Ha). The Broken String is a triumph of sorts, a culmination of a plan that started more than a year before its release – to support the band by self-releasing an EP each month for an entire year. Each month was a new surprise – a new track that was a sure-fire hit, and the LP, while lacking some of the DIY charisma of the individual EPs, is an album full of pure pop gold. Bishop Allen are as fun as every, but stretch their creative boundries with a latin-tinged “Like Castanets” and the dramatic flair of “The Monitor”.

MP3: “Rain”

6. Radiohead, In Rainbows
Perfect timing. Every few years people start forgetting about these Oxfordshire lads they come along and blow the lid off of everything. This time it was more context than content, but the album is solid, and exciting. Most exciting, at least to me, is Thom Yorke using the word “I” again. An interesting question to be posed – Is it a coincidence that the most direct, “pop” album Radiohead has put out in a decade is the one that they’re giving away to listeners for whatever they want to pay? I.E., would a challenging album along the lines of Kid A compromise the ultimate commercial success of the album? If so, does operating “free” from the Music Industry effect an artists creative process just as much (or more so) than operating within the system? It’s a temple-tapper.

MP3: “Weird Fishes/Apregi”

5. Kanye West, Graduation
What a hilarious twist. Kanye, throwing fits at MTV Europe Awards about Justice vs. Simian winning Video of the Year, learned a few lessons about Euro Dance Pop. 1) Synths can be cool 2) Pasty White People can be cool 3) Daft Punk is fucking cool.

MP3: “Flashing Lights”

4. Architecture in Helsinki, Places Like This
There were hankerings. After the last few loops around the U.S., AiH had subtly shifted from a twee band you could dance to, to a dance band you could drink chamomile tea to. Half the band disappeared and all of the sudden these Aussie’s were doing fun chant-along world beat tunes. Cameron Bird, who’s vocal stylings on their debut LP Fingers Crossed rarely raised above a childish whisper, now growls and yalps and screams – the fun juvenile spirit is still present in the band but now it’s like their at recess.

MP3: “Heart It Races”

3. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
Regardless of the criticism that Sound of Silver is nearly a song-for-song repeat of their debut LP, it still sounds better than nearly everything else out there. James Murphy, and his DFA clan can churn out the beats, that much is known. But if S.O.S. is a duplication of LCD Soundsystem it’s its doppelganger – imbedding criticism and actual emotion into dance tracks. Sarcasm and cynicism is a refuge (and a cash crop in Williamsburg) and Murphy trumped expectations by turning the scene’s discoball mirrors back onto themselves.

MP3: “All My Friends”

2. M.I.A., Kala
Dude. This some crazy shit. “Paper Planes” is easily my favorite song of the year — with or without gunshots. I LOVED Arular when it dropped and I’m so pleased that her follow-up is just as bombastic, vaguely political, vaguely danceable, but wholly original. I guess I’m happy we live in a cultural climate that an album as globally scatter-brained as this can find such a wide, receptive audience.

MP3: “Paper Planes”

1. The National, Boxer
I’m not a lyrics man. In fact, I’ll really only pay attention to the lyrics if the song sufficiently interests me. Lucky for The National, the urgent, heavy but not inaccessible sound begs you to read into their lyrics. Boxer’s content, just like its sound, is dark and brooding, but offers glimpses of romance, desperation, charm, and touchstone imagery. Beyond the discussion of the album’s cryptic Willy Loman storyline, what can’t be stressed enough is that the album is a true pleasure to listen to. A great album all the way through, and an LP that begs you replay it as soon as the last measure ends.

MP3: “Green Gloves”


November: Bored People Are Boring – Brian’s Stuff To Do

November 9, 2006

Fri 11/10
Metro 10pm
Hot Chip
London’s Hot Chip is a frontrunner in the dancing-crazy-is-the-new-standing-still rock category. Equal parts digital and organic, the most immediate comparison is with DFA labelmates LCD Soundsystem but while the latter can come off disaffectedly NYC, Hot Chip’s modus operandi is definitely “Get Those Asses Moving”. It’s pop, it’s funk, it’s electronic and it’s just plain fun. Shy Child and Born Ruffians open. (Song Streaming here)

Sat 11/11 12pm to 5pm
SOUTH UNION ARTS MARKET (1352 S. UNION in Chicago)
Do you feel holiday mall shopping sucks the “cool” right out of you. Well, my crafty, “indie”, closet Gilmore Girls fans – I have a solution. Check out the hipper-than-thou S.U.A. Market, which, although still pre-Thanksgiving, is spinning this as a Holiday sales event. Grrrrr. Local vendors will sell a variety of handmade items: clothing, journals, photography, poster art, paper goods and more. Plus some ‘lil sweets sold by TipsyCake. Musical accompaniment by Heligoats, Octagon Island, WE/OR/ME.

Wed 11/15 – 9pm
Subterranean
NORFOLK & WESTERN
Norfolk & Western, the pseudonym of singer/songwriter Adam Selzer, has roped in his amour, Rachel Blumberg (former Decemberists’ drummer), and a handful of other musicians in order to craft intricate, literate arrangements that may rival that of Blumberg’s previous Portland-based “collective”. Chicago-based Darling open.
FREE N&W MP3 here.

Sun 11/19
Beat Kitchen
Bishop Allen
Former Bostonites now Brooklynites, Bishop Allen knows their way around a pop song. Lyrics are clever and sincere, and their sound incorporates early Talking Heads, catchy hooks, sing-songy vocals, Brit-invasion guitar and even a bit of urban twang. 2003’s under-the-radar pop gem Charm School put them on the map, and in the meantime they’ve stayed busy releasing an EP each month this year with what seems like a sure-fire hit on each one. Lots of free tunes on their homepage.

Tue 11/21, 5pm
Val’s Halla Records, Oak Park (239 Harrison St)
Val’s Halla Records Movie Night
This Tuesday, like every Tuesday, is Val’s Halla movie night. The renowned record shop has recently relocated elsewhere in Oak Park to a place that can fit like… more than eight people. Crate dive for some discount vinyl, grab some free promo stickers, and enjoy some music videos and music-themed films. Crank it up to 11.

Fri 11/24, Sat 11/25
Logan Square Auditorium
Andrew Bird
A homecoming of sorts for this original Chicago-bred talent. Logan Square Auditorium hosts a two-night stint for Andrew Bird, known for putting on enthralling and inventive concert performances. Bird’s sets are lush with layered sounds of percussion, orchestral flourishes, his talents on multiple instruments especially the violin, and yes, even his hypnotic whistling skills. All this is complimented by Bird’s penchant for quirky endearing lyricism. His whimsical sound draws easy comparisons to Sufjan Stevens, Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley. There won’t be snacks.