Indie Rock: For Sale

December 7, 2009

So, in advance of my trip overseas for New Years, I figured I should clean house on my CD collection and sell some on eBay.  With the advice from TeeCycle Tim, I bundled them in groups of 5 to 10 based on categories.  Some of the categories are a bit of a stretch, but I think I did a good job.  If you’re curious…

  • 6 Rap / Hip Hop CD Bundle here*
  • 6 CD Bundle: Folk and Indie Singer/Songwriters here
  • 9 CD Bundle: Emo Punk Rock here
  • 6 CD Bundle: Brit Pop and Brit Rock here
  • 9 CD Bundle: Alternative Grunge 90s Rock here
  • 6 CD Bundle: Female Singer/Songwriters here
  • 7 CD Bundle: GREATEST Rock Artists of All Time here
  • 8 CD-DVD Bundle: Rock and Pop here **
  • 5 CD Bundle: Punk Indie here
  • 6 CD Bundle: Punk Indie Emo here
  • 7 CD Bundle: Indie / Pop here
  • 8 CD Bundle: Indie/Electro here
  • 6 CD Bundle: Indie Rock here

*(yes, I purchased a Limp Bizkit album.  I was young).

**(Hilarious.  Though, I will defend to death why I bought each of these albums)

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Indie Fantasy

March 26, 2009

With Fantasy Football a long ways away, and with Fantasy everything else sucking, we have created the obvious next step in “fantasy gaming”…. Fantasy Indie Rock.

Is there any better way to monitor the commodity that has become “indie” than by drafting artists as properties and tallying points?  I don’t think so.  It’s a simple formula:  Their name gets mentioned on Pitchfork or Stereogum news, you get a point. Simple as that.

So me, Curran, Kenny, Matt and Rob sat down and did our inaugural “Indie Rock Draft” this week, and began tallying points.  The scoreboard is on a Google cloud spreadsheet so everyone can make changes and update their rosters as need be.

I’ll keep you updated on it’s progress, but for your enjoyment (and so I can tag the shit out of this post), here’s how the draft went (please note, Matt came late):

Round 1

  1. Curran    Kanye West
  2. Kenny    Wilco
  3. Rob    Animal Collective
  4. Brian    Colin Meloy

Round 2

  1. Brian    M.I.A.
  2. Rob    Lily Allen
  3. Kenny    Radiohead
  4. Curran    The Decemberists

Round 3

  1. Curran    Neko Case
  2. Kenny    U2
  3. Kroll    Conor Oberst
  4. Rob    Girltalk
  5. Brian    Death Cab For Cutie

Round 4

  1. Brian    Peter, Bjorn & John
  2. Rob    Sigur Ros
  3. Kroll    Ladyhawke
  4. Kenny    Andrew Bird
  5. Curran    Grizzly Bear

Round 5

  1. Curran    Jane’s Addiction
  2. Kenny    Bruce Springsteen
  3. Matt   Jesus Lizard
  4. Rob    Dangermouse
  5. Brian    No Age

Supplemental Draft

  1. Matt    Crystal Stilts
  2. Matt    Pains of Being Pure At Heart

The strategies were interesting… do you draft small-time bands with their SXSW stock rising, do you try to take a big guess on who’s going to be announced at Lollapalooza (or the billion of other festivals doing press releases),  do you risk taking the frontman of a band in the hopes you can double-up on points for their solo AND group material, or pick-up a producer who has his hands in a LOT of recordings but sometimes isn’t mentioned in shorter news articles.  Ohhhh, strategery.

If you’re curious, here are the top-5 scorers as of yesterday, 3/25:

1. Animal Collective – 6
2. Dinosaur Jr – 5
3. Death Cab For Cutie (tie) – 4
3. Passion Pit (tie) – 4
5. *13 bands tied with 3 points each* Beach House, Billy Corrigan, Black Lips, Conor Oberst, Department of Eagles, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, Jimmy Chamberlin, Kanye West, No Age, Soundgarden, Vivian Girls, Yeah Yeah Yeahs


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.


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.


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


Coldplay: Follow-up Thoughts

June 16, 2008

Really good comments from my pals Chuck and Tim, and also in a few drunken bar conversations this week. A few more points, and clarifications on my Coldplay rant below:

Bombastic, challenging albums will always exist, thank God. I have nothing against broad experimentalism (even when it is unsuccessful), and quite frankly would hope every artist continually pushes themselves to create, and challenge their own fans in the process.

Songs like Deathcab For Cutie’s new “I Will Possess Your Heart,” the soaring Sam’s Town, even Green Day’s concept-y American Idiot are all good examples of this … and all good albums. I’d also throw out there Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Half the Radiohead catalog, and as you guys mentioned: Pet Sounds and Sgt Pepper, irrefutably yes; incredible albums that redefined pop music. Also, the failures … Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, Bob Dylan’s Street Legal, these are bold movements, sometimes embraced, sometimes disregarded.

A lot of those albums and songs we’ve listed above challenge the rules of rock music, be it in content or sonically, and prove you can create (and succeed?) outside “the formula”, and ultimately push what people consider popular music.

I think Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head is an incredible album, a completely unexpected jump, and rightly heralded as one of the best albums of 2000. Rush… could be added to those albums listed above — an LP that changed the way you think about a band and their capability to expess. For Coldplay, that album was sonically daring, revolutionary, even confrontational, but this success exists completely outside the realm of injecting yourself in socio-political conflicts.

I’m now referring directly to the “Violet Hill” video (released virally-only). It opens up with Department of Defense test colorbars, a rocket missle launch with Bush overdubbed with monkey sound effects. The rest of the video focuses on various political figures dancing, bomb/firework footage, and George Dubbs conducting a “war orchestra” while Tony Blair plays backup guitar.

Here’s the thing: This is very “safe” criticism. They’re taking potshots at Blair, who stepped down from being the British PM more than a year ago, and a lame-duck President who is already the most universally-loathed man to ever hold the position. This is easy, safe, empty criticism.

Mind you, criticizing these two was not always okay to do, and had this focused outrage came out 2+ years ago, I would be a lot more impressed and receptive to the message. For instance the Dixie Chicks (of all bands) who saw massive radio station boycotts, their records burned, and received death threats after expressing their displeasure with the Texas-born Prez.

Or, when Conor Oberst sang “When The President Talks to God,” live on The Tonight Show, asking the middle American crowd if they think George Bush “ever smells his own bullshit,” live on national television; three years ago. At that point, as I mentioned before, Chris Martin was more concerned about making trade fair.

Coldplay alt video for “Violet Hill” 5/20/08:

Bright Eyes, Live on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno ~5/04/05: