Interview with indie-popper When I Was 12

November 5, 2009

*cough* Hi… well, um, Twee is back, sorta.  You know?

Depending on which circles you hang around in, Twee is either hailed as “punker-than-punk“, or maligned as “music for bedwetters.”  Nevertheless, the most misunderstood pop genre continues to tout cuteness over coolness and has the market cornered on Growing Up Awkward.

Twee has always been the most unapologetically emasculate sect of “Indie”, but it always seems to hover, smirking, just on the outskirts of popular music.  It’s too catchy to ever be marginalized, but it’s just too fey for the trampy-or-macho American taste.  Pitchfork’s excellent essay of all things Indie Pop, “Twee as Fuck” said it well:

…”indie” and “alternative” became popular in precisely the hard-rocking, masculine, centralized form that indie pop usually shied away from. The mainstream honed in on the underground’s hard-rock side, and, acts like Superchunk and Modest Mouse would go on to become Important Bands; acts like Tiger Trap and Heavenly would, for good reasons and bad, fade into history. And there on the television, ironically, was the K-tattooed Cobain, still wearing his cardigans and covering songs by the Vaselines.

So there twee sits, like the kid not picked at recess, rewarding anyone willing to seek it out.

Maybe it’s because of the excellent Juno soundtrack, but twee artists seem to be on the rise again.  The playfull Architecture in Helsinki, sallow Vivian Girls, the spider-fearing Boy Least Likely To, and the self-referential spunk of Los Campesinos!, have all attracted the blogosphere masses in the past few years (and, oddly, a large number of television commercials to boot). Fast on their heels are artists like New Jersey’s When I Was 12 – producing the sonic equivalent of a painfully joyous (or joyously painful?) prolonged adolescence.

I ran across WIW12 searching a now-defunct music site and really enjoyed their aesthetic.  The endearing strum-hook-and-harmony style burrows deep into your head and doesn’t go away — like a library volunteer into Franny & Zooey.

Earlier this year their principle songwriter, Adrianne, was nice enough to swap a few Q&A emails with me before their first non-basement gig of her young career:

Brian B (BemBang): First things first… Who’s in the band, or is it a “swinging door” type thing where there’s a core and people come and add vocals and accompaniment etc?

Adrianne Gold (When I Was 12): First things first… When I Was 12 consists of two main members: Adrianne Gold and Camille Bayas. Then some other beautiful revolving members; our friend Brianne Evans did some harmonies on “Dear Eskimo” with her angelic voice, and my guitar teacher, Mike Yelle assisted with lead guitar. When we play live friends Jenn Diaz plays bass, and Will Samtur on drums. We are so lucky to know so many wonderful people.[ …] It’s been a little hectic we’ve been getting offered shows and things lately!.

BB: Good to hear you’re busy… I hope things are going well. Is there some sort of tour in the works? When I hear the name “When I Was 12″, I immediately think of both the charming and awkward aspects of that transitional age… was that the aim?

AG: We still have two more months of high school so we’re not exactly planning a tour but we’ve been getting offered a lot of shows lately! I suppose so about the name, I mean we definitely try to be charming and I definitely am a bit awkward!

BB: Ha. Since there’s not much info about you guys online I couldn’t tell if you were in high school, or if you were just channeling your inner-highscooler to write the songs.

Your music, lyrics, production, etc seem very attuned to what I would consider classic indie-pop/twee. That is to say; sweet, clever, and fixated on youthful experiences… even when the person singing may be 30+ years old.

Ha. You’re the real deal, apparently.
What inspiration do you draw from … musically or otherwise?

AG: We are the real deal! We write about things on a high school level because it’s what we know! It’s what we are familiar with. But like I said only until June! We are so excited for summer and then of course for college! We are inspired by so many things.

Camille really likes bands such as: Los Campesinos! Beirut, The Submarines, and Seabear. I on the other hand am insanely inspired by Bright Eyes (of course, who isn’t!) Tilly and the Wall, Mates of State, and Saturday Looks Good to Me. We were actually just featured on an online mix CD, “Birdsongs, Beesongs – Eardrums Spring Compilation 2009″ and so was Saturday Looks Good to Me! So that was exciting to see!

Inspiration otherwise would of course include every boy i’ve ever known, even if only for five minutes. The boys who’s hearts I’ve broken, the boys who have broken my heart, and the boys who have yet to break my heart. Boys in bookstores, coffee shops, New Brunswick basements, and any other place you can imagine. However! I did write about my grandmother, “You Me & Symmetry” is about my grandmother, I love her. We still do arts and crafts together.

BB Hahahaha yes, the album is definitely heavy on the boy-crazy.
So…  you brought it up…  you’re from Jersey.

NJ tends to get a bad rap; some of that probably because you’re so close to the self-proclaimed cultural capital of the world.

Many big names spent time in New Jersey… , George Clinton/P-funk, Les Paul, Sinatra, Springsteen among them. What are your feelings about ‘repping from a place that has been home to many musicians but also the target of many a joke?

AG: Well I’m going to college in Philadelphia so soon i’ll have that rep and I can’t wait! It’s such a great area and so many opportunities arise there! However New Brunswick is a pretty fun area in New Jersey just last friday, we played a basement show there! Such a great vibe, I mean those are people who love and understand music! Unfortunately I cannot say the same for those at my high school!

BB: Congrats on going off to school next Fall… where in Philly? You’ve started playing a few shows in the area — will you be doing that this summer as well?

AG: Yes! We have a show tomorrow in fact, and then another one this coming friday and then the next! It’s all very exciting, I’m even starting to manage my stage fright a bit! I’ll be attending Drexel University actually so I’m absolutely pumped!

BB: That’s really cool that you were on the same comp as Saturday Looks Good To Me. How did that whole Birdsong, Beesongs thing happen? Are you familiar with any of the other artists on the album, or are they from all over?

Do you find yourself playing alongside / opening for the same bands… like, is there a like-minded scene in Jersey, or are you on your own singing to whoever listens?

AD: To be honest I am not sure how we were spotted but I am glad! The band Thunder Power from Omaha Nebraska on Slumber Party Records spotted us on the compilation and have now asked us to play a show when them they come through New Jersey touring! And we got invited to play a show in Brooklyn! We’ve been having so much fun and meeting so many wonderful people!

BB: What happens after this Summer. Will Camille be in the general area? Will When I Was 12 go on the back-burner once you start school up again?

AG: Camille will be attending Cornell, (Congrats to her! It’s really a great accomplishment!) On the contrary, once college begins, I hope When I Was 12 will be going full throttle! Because I write most of the music, melodies and lyrics, I am going to look for permanent members once I arrive on campus! You’ll have to wish me luck!


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.


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.


Muttering Retreats Say Something, then Depart

November 10, 2008


The Muttering Retreats  – Originally uploaded by thegrue76 /TDAOC

This little Q&A with The Muttering Retreats‘ Tim Thornton unfortunately did NOT make it to (Internet)press on time, but far be it for me to deny you insight on this Cleveland-based little band that could.

Aside from playing their first Chicago venue show earlier this summer the day before Pitchfork, TMR has stayed busy this year… dropping their first proper LP (complete with adorable Wes Anderson-y art direction) and recently releasing a cover of Belle & Sebastian’s “Sleep the Clock Around” (Mediafire) — one of my personal favorites twee-as-fuck songs.  They also just learned a bunch Beck songs to perform as America’s Most Acceptable Scientologist for a Halloween show at The Beachland.

If you’re in the vicinity of Ohio in the next few weeks, make sure you stop by to catch Muttering Retreats open for Casiotone for the Painfully Alone; the band that wouldn’t stop touring, on 11/22 at Beachland.

  • The Muttering Retreats – “Sleep the Clock Around” MP3
  • The Muttering Retreats – “The Capitalist & The Communist Vie For Our Hero’s Affection” MP3 (c/o  A Cloud of Starlings)
  • The Muttering Retreats – “Pastiche” MP3 (c/o I Rock Cleveland)

 

 

And now to go back in time to late July when Tim discussed “crusty” recording, album cliches, and being in a band while also living actual lives with 9-to-5 jobs…

Arms, Distance (Brian): First of all, congrats on the release of the self-titled full album! Though, this technically isn’t your first official release — The Muttering Retreats released a limited edition tape last year didn’t you?

Tim Thornton of The Muttering Retreats: Yes. Our initial release was also technically self-titled, but it came to be known as “The Letter Tape,” due largely in part that the alphabet was a bit of a concept with the tape. [The original “pressing” featured music on side A which was then played backwards on side B. The second batch was labeled side C and D, and so on].

Roughly two weeks before our first show in April 2007, I decided that we absolutely needed some sort of product/souvenir of the show, so we cobbled together 15 minutes of audio … and we made a super lo-fi collage and put it on a 30 minute tape. The other side of the tape are those same 15 minutes, only backwards. We did three runs of the tape … but we only have a couple copies left and aren’t making any more. It’s a real ramshackle affair, I wasn’t expecting to keep it in print this long.
As for the choice on the format, it was just a foregone conclusion by that point. We wanted to have something really simple and charming that was also an artifact of a certain point in the band’s career. The super-crusty sounds on that tape really sum up what we were early off.

AD: I wanted to touch on that, actually. It seems that the use of dated technology, like the cassette tape, fits well with the aesthetic of the group. Aside from the nod to indie pop history, making tapes instead of CD-R’s is just one of the voluntarily analog, or organic, or like you said “crusty”, processes The Muttering Retreats seem to take in crafting music. Was this cultivation of your sound just a natural process, or more of a back-to-basics type manifesto?

T: It wasn’t at all a statement about analog or digital or sound clarity or any of that. All of the material on the tape had entered the digital realm at one point, so it wasn’t purism in any form. Rather, it was done as a reminder to the audience that the material on the tape wasn’t meant to be taken so seriously, as it was something cobbled together in such a short amount of time that we couldn’t really even begin to approach it as a traditionally commercially viable product.
 
AD: How does that compare to the new CD?

T: We went a totally different route. We tried to make the full length more cohesive, more of a full length statement. We really went out of our way with what might seem like minor details, such as sequencing.

We didn’t want the album to sound like we had one or two ‘singles’ and put them first on the album. We didn’t want to have a slow, sappy closer. We still fell victim to a couple of sequencing cliches, but we’re still happy with what we came up with. Also, there are a few things about the physical CD that can’t be translated over to a digital format. I won’t go into detail as to what they are, but they are all compact disc specific “Easter eggs.”
 
AD:Sounds very cool, and a nice reward for buying the actual album instead of getting a leaked copy. Hmmmm, what’s the worst sequencing cliche you can fall prey to?

T:I think the biggest faux pas is putting your weakest song as the second to last track … I’d say that putting some of your best stuff on the second half of an album is such a great reward for listening to the whole album. One example I looked to for this album was the newest Spoon record. “The Ghost of You Lingers” is the kind of track most bands would put as the second to last track, but they put it as the second song! Such balls! Even though they put such a difficult song as track 2, they put (arguably) the best song as the second to last. “Finer Feelings” is by far my personal favorite on the record… it’s such a great example of how thought out sequencing can help an album a lot.

We really tried to emulate that brave approach, putting an atypical song as the first track, then putting a completely opposite song as track 2 and so on.

AD: To that point, it’s obvious T.M.R. has put a lot of thought into this album. From how you’ve progressed as a band, to the sound production nuances, to the art direction and liner notes. Is the release of this album a turning point for the band? … Any thoughts about the progression of
this project?
 
T: Well, the band is still relatively young. We officially formed on the second to last day of 2006, and didn’t play a show until April of last year. Releasing this CD isn’t really a huge step, but rather our biggest project so far. We’ve already got a few new, small projects in the pipeline already. We’re planning a couple of new small-run releases, including a quasi-live cassette collecting a bunch of our favorite performances and adding new material right on top of it. Also, we’re contemplating a possible collection of remixes and a 7″.

The three of us have very normal lives with the responsibilities that go with them, including 9-5 jobs, student loans, and upcoming wedding plans. [Tim and Cari are currently engaged]. We can’t live the life of a ‘career’ band, at least not in the sense that you can expect us to pack up and go on tour for weeks on end.

Right now we’re happy to play Cleveland regularly and make day trips out to surrounding cities. With gas prices the way they are, we might even be trailblazing a whole new model, but we can’t really say that it was our intention.

As far as “progression” in the band, the CD is a definite raising of the bar for us. I’m already looking forward to the next one. But we even know it’s not time to quit our day jobs.

AD: Wow, lots of stuff in the works. That is an interesting point, too — that the cost of a “proper” tour must be astronomical now with gas prices. Maybe gas sticker-shock will foster stronger musical communities, supportive hyper-local scenes, etc.

So, you’re multi-tasking this weekend too — attending the Pitchfork Music Fest while you’re in town. What bands are you most excited about seeing? Which of the bands on this year’s docket would you most want to play with? Besides Spoon I guess.

T:Personally, I would really not ever want to play with Spoon, they’re just too good. I’m excited to finally see Spiritualized. They’re a perfect example of the kind of band we’re trying to be … Spiritualized can make their songs work with a 100 piece orchestra or just a guitar and a vocal. We’re really interested in that sort of songwriting.

An obvious choice would be The Apples in Stereo, but it’s warranted, they’re a great band. Most of the bands I’m really excited to see are the ones who dare try to pull off something really unique live. Health, High Places, Animal Collective, Atlas Sound, !!!, Caribou, etc etc… all of these bands have a lot of nerve to go up and try to present (to a festival crowd, no less!) a really unique live set, and I really hand it to them for that. It’s hard enough to try to play a simple pop song to a crowd, let alone a song/set of something completely different.

Oh, and Public Enemy… just because that set is going to be the most fun moment of the summer.

AD: It’s going to be a nice three+ days of music (and people watching).

You mentioned Spiritulized songs can work simply or with lots of components–in that way, how does a Muttering Retreats set work? Your music has elements of both straight-up pop but I know you’re also big into sound experimentation. You feature a fair amount of guest instrumentals and some of the production can also be quite dense: how does all this work live?

AD: Well, sometimes it just doesn’t work. But we try, honest. Our live setup at the very beginning was very convoluted and complex, it just led to a lot of technical difficulties. We had a laptop up there, midi controllers by the drums, wires everywhere, headphones… all this stuff. That didn’t last long.

Our live set depends on our resources. Sometimes there’s a drum set, sometimes not. Sometimes we’ll need a sax, other times a clarinet will do. Recently, we’ve even been messing around with completely re-arranging songs… adding new parts, having someone else sing, playing it faster/slower/on different instruments…

A lot of bands are out there with six or more people up on stage and we simply aren’t one of those bands, though I could see people making that assumption listening to some of our songs. Every once and a while we’ll get someone extra to come up and play drums or trumpet or something, but it’s less often than you might assume by listening to the CD.

We’ve all been getting into the business of making a bit of a soundscape under our songs. There’s a bit of that on the record, but it’s something I like to create in a live setting using loops and such. Chris is currently working on a setup that will allow him to make loops/soundscapes of his violin and piano, but that project is still in the works.


Church Rock Epiphany

July 18, 2008

 Well, it’s not necessarily a NEW idea, but it’s still a pretty novel concept.  I recall early tweer-than-fuck Belle & Sebastian holding concerts in churches, and I think Arcade Fire decided to do some of their Neon Bible shows in church too (obvious much?). 

As of recently though, many bands have made the move to use churches as recording spaces rather than venues.  The aforementioned Neon Bible, and B&S’s Lazy Line Painter Jane EP were both recorded exclusively in churches — both to great effect.  Off the top of my head, I The Decemberists also recording Picaresque in a church as well.

 

 (L) Low plays cathedral, (R) Belle & Sebastian flier

Anyway, this is a LONG way to get around mentioning that I just saw Cleveland’s The Muttering Retreats play at South Union Artsyesterday (interview with T.M.A.’s Tim Thornton to be posted soon). Aside from S.U.A. being the first German-language school ever built in Chicago, it also operated as the Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church before South Union Arts took over the space… the highlight of the cathedral is a GIANT NEON CRUCIFIX… more creepy than the one from Se7en.  Jealous much, Arcade Fire?  You shoulda played here.

 

(L) South Union Arts in Chicago, (R) Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible cover art

So yeah, Indie Rock in a church is an interesting experience.  Which is now why I have to mention that both Jenny Lewis and “slowcore” legends Low, will be playing what Oh My Rockness is referring to as “Epiphany” in September.  Epiphany is, indeed, Epiphany Episcopal Church on 201 South Ashland.

Easter Worship 

(L) Epiphany, (R) Jenny Lewis


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”