Archive for the ‘music’ Category

5 albums: 24 January – 30 January 2010.

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

1) and 2) Massive Attack: Protection (Virgin, 1995) and Mezzanine (Virgin, 1998). So much of my mid-90s was soundtracked by the Bristol trip-hop scene. As much as I loved these records at the time, they don’t resonate with me as a whole the way they did at the time (and the way Portishead’s Dummy still does), although several songs are still immensely mood-inducing.

3) Thalia Zedek: Been Here and Gone (Matador, 2001). Zedek has one of the awesomest voices in indie-rock, and I do miss Come.

4) the Decemberists: Her Majesty (Kill Rock Stars, 2003). My favorite Decemberists album overall is probably Picaresque, but Her Majesty certainly has a few of my all-time favorite Decemberists songs on it.

5) Josh Ritter: the Animal Years (V2, 2006). Ritter is such an under-rated songwriter, and this is probably my favorite of his releases. I always get a chuckle out of the fact that my mentioning his song “Girl In the War” in my “Best of 2006” round-up for the Washington Post‘s Weekend section got me mentioned on newsbusters.org, a blog dedicated to “exposing and combating liberal media bias”, for my (and I quote) “liberal/radical picks”. Ha! Sure, my political views are probably apparent in some of my writing, but c’mon, people– I’m just a music critic!

5 albums: 17 January – 23 January 2010.

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

This week’s summary will brief, because there is much to be read/written still today. In chronological order:

1) and 2) Galaxie 500: Today (Aurora, 1988) and On Fire (Rough Trade, 1989). It’s impossible for me to capture G500’s influence and impact here, especially when I am short on time, as I am today. These are outstanding albums, and it’s a crime that they appear to be out of print, both individually and in box set form. The song “Tugboat” still absolutely slays.

3) Love Spirals Downwards: Ardor (Projekt, 1995). There was a time when I was really into all of those Projekt/”love” bands– Lovesliescrushing, Love Spirals Downwards, Love Is Colder Than Death (the latter was not on Projekt). There is still something about Love Spirals Downwards’ ethereal dream-pop that is so captivating.

4) Cat Power: Moon Pix (Matador, 1998). You know, I am genuinely glad that Chan Marshall has gotten over her stage fright. But there’s something still so charmingly awkward about Moon Pix that her later albums have polished out; these songs sound as though she’s performing them as she always did back in those days– face completely covered with her hair as she stared awkwardly at the ground. I still remember vividly the Cat Power concert I saw in the late ’90s– she was obviously in complete agony standing in front of all of us, and I remember her mumbling things about how we didn’t even know who she was. It was a trainwreck of a performance– we wanted to hear the music, but we also just wanted her not to be so miserable up there. And this was in a small room in a house, with maybe 30-50 people in attendance. I can only imagine what some of her bigger shows were like at the time.

5) Fridge: the Sun (Temporary Residence, 2007). I would love to see these guys again. I would also love to be able to connect with Four Tet as much as I do with Fridge.

5 albums: 10 January – 16 January 2010.

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

This week’s non-writing listening, in roughly chronological order:

1) Ednaswap: Wacko Magneto (Island, 1997). I was in the mood to listen to Ednaswap this week because I thought I was reviewing a record with a cover of “Torn” on it. And then I realized that that review isn’t due for another few weeks (whoops!). This isn’t the original version of “Torn”; that honor belongs to Ednaswap‘s 1995 self-titled debut. But the band re-recorded that song for this album and turned it into a gut-wrenching, anguished performance. And then Natalie Imbruglia made it an almost-cheery pop song, and Ednaswap never got the big break that they so deserved. Chief songwriters Anne Previn and Scott Cutler have continued writing together (most notably, “Listen” from the film Dreamgirls), but they were really at their peak on this Ednaswap album– and “Torn” isn’t even the best performance here. Previn’s desperate shouts on “More”, her near-taunts on “YDWIBE” (‘you don’t want it badly enough’), and the skidding-off-the-tracks energy of “Stop Counting” all make this one of my favorite major-label albums of the late 1990s.

2) Holly Williams: The Ones We Never Knew (Universal South, 2004). Folksy, pretty ballads from Hank Williams’s granddaughter.

3) Jucifer: If Thine Enemy Hunger (Relapse, 2006). First concert of 2009: Jucifer. First concert of 2010: Jucifer. Coincidence? I think not! Seriously, though, there’s such a disparity between Jucifer’s melodic, powerful metal albums and the sheer wall of sound that emits from the tower of amplifiers behind this duo live. The contradictions don’t end there; frontwoman/guitarist/vocalist Amber Valentine is charmingly girly, with her vibrant minidresses and flowing wigs— but when she opens her mouth, she emits the most stunningly guttural growls. I have seen them three times in the past year (and before that, in 2000 on their tour with Enemymine), and while I do greatly prefer their studio sound to the earsplitting tornado that is their live attack, I also love watching a performance by people who fully and completely embrace what they’re doing. Photos by my pal Brandon for the Washington CityPaper can be seen here.

4) and 5) Beach House: Beach House (Carpark, 2006) and Devotion (Carpark, 2008). Is it cheating to count two albums that I listened to in preparation for something I’m writing this week? Who knows. It’s always so nice to get lost in Beach House’s stunning swirling watercolor sound.

5 albums: 3 January – 9 January 2010.

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

One of my goals for this year is to listen to five albums every week beyond what I’m reviewing. The “beyond what I am reviewing” clause didn’t get added until late this week, so I have an exception granted for this week’s list. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to blog about my 5 albums every week or not; I’ve been keeping a list of everything I listen to since April of 2001, so you can always check in there to see what I’ve been piping into my earbuds.

With that said, here are my thoughts on what I listened to this week, in roughly chronological order:

1) Scratch Acid: the Greatest Gift (Touch & Go, 1991). My love for this group is no secret: in addition to the Cobain-adored Scratch Acid, these guys were members of some of my all-time favorite bands (the Jesus Lizard, Rapeman). This album (really, a compilation of all of their recordings from 1982 to 1986) was the perfect way to end a particularly rough week at work.

2) Phish: Lawn Boy (Elektra, 1989). I know that listening to Phish is probably even less hip than listening to the Grateful Dead, but I listened to this album a lot back when it first came out. That was probably less because I enjoyed it than because I (with my contrarian nature) would listen to just about anything that wasn’t on mainstream radio at the time. Hadn’t listened to this one in about 15 years, and it surprised me how much I remembered it (especially the uber-catchy “Bouncing Around the Room”)– these songs are poppier than most people give them credit for. Probably won’t be in my regular listening rotation, but it was a nice blast from the past.

3) Codeine: the White Birch (Sub Pop, 1994). Slow and bleak, this is the perfect album to listen to on a winter’s day that looks a lot like the cover photograph. It would be more perfect only if it were actually snowing outside.

4) Vic Chesnutt: About to Choke (Capitol, 1996). I was going to write a post about the musicians that died in 2009, since there were a ton– Michael Jackson, Mary Travers, Jack Rose, Rowland S Howard, Lux Interior, Jay Bennett, Les Paul, Ron Asheton, and Jerry Fuchs, to name a few. But Vic Chesnutt‘s death on Christmas Day hit me particularly hard; I’d been listening to his music since the mid-90s, and I have always loved his songs. There’s a story I heard once about how when Michael Stipe produced Chesnutt’s first two albums, he carried him up the stairs to the studio since there was no wheelchair entrance– I don’t know if that’s an urban legend or whether it’s actually true, and it doesn’t much matter: Chesnutt persevered despite his paralysis, and words cannot express how sad I am that he’s no longer with us. I count myself truly lucky that I got to see him live once (October of 2004), and I kick myself for staying home the last time he came through town; too many other shows that week seemed like a good enough excuse at the time, but I wish I’d made time to go to that show. I remember at the show I saw how he could make us chuckle with his exceedingly bleak humor (“when I ran off and left her, she wasn’t holding a baby; she was holding a bottle and a big grudge against me”). I’m pretty sure that About to Choke is my favorite album of his, even if Drunk has a few songs that are even more exceptional (most notably “Supernatural” and “When I Ran Off and Left Her”).

5) Vetiver: Tight Knit (Sub Pop, 2009). Listening for a review, which should be out in about a week. I liked this more than I thought I would; I saw this group open for Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart in June of 2004, and I was so impressed with Newsom and Banhart that I sort of forgot about Vetiver. But this is a solid folk album; I wish it didn’t sound insulting to say that it makes for great background music, because I don’t mean that in a negative way: this album is an exceedingly pleasant listen, even if it doesn’t grab your attention with look-at-me! flash.

Favorite albums of 2000-2009.

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

So Pitchfork did a huge P2K feature on the decade in music, and I’ve finally gotten around to posting my 100 favorite albums of 2000-2009. It’s been a few months since I submitted my list to my editor, so I’m sure things would change around a bit if I started my list from scratch today. There’d probably be more of 2009 albums on the list, although 2009 was by far not the least-represented year on the list (that would be 2004, with only 4 albums on my final list). Plus, this was a list submitted for tabulation with other writers’ lists, so there was some anticipation of others’ tastes going on (in other words, I would’ve put more than one Mastodon album on my list if I thought that more than one would make it onto Pitchfork’s final list).

It’s interesting to look back and see how my #1s did for each year; I don’t have my top 10 lists from before 2004, but here’s a summary of my #1s from 2004 through 2009:
2004: Joanna Newsom: The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City) – placed #16 overall on my decade list.
2005: Sufjan Stevens: Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty) – #3 overall.
2006: Mastodon: Blood Mountain (Reprise) – did not place, because I went with Leviathan instead.
2007: Iron and Wine: The Shepherd’s Dog (Sub Pop) – #5 overall.
2008: Earth: The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull (Southern Lord) – #8 overall.
2009: Mastodon: Crack the Skye (Reprise) – did not place (see 2006, above). This album also didn’t really sink in with me until much later in the year.

Favorite labels, based on their representation on this list: Sub Pop (7 albums), Touch & Go (6 albums), and Matador/ Merge/ Secretly Canadian (4 albums each).

There were a couple of really great years in this decade; I’m surprised at how many albums from 2001 still really hold up over time. A lot of those have personal significance (Girls Can Tell and Know By Heart remind me of living in Austin; the Argument reminds me of moving to DC; and Things We Lost in the Fire reminds me of going on tour with Low), but I think that music is always associative, and there are probably many albums from other years that I tie to significant moments in my life. Ever since I started writing about music (in late 2001), though, I began consuming and absorbing music differently, and it’s weird to reflect on the decade and see how my listening habits have changed over time.

NP: Codeine, the White Birch.

Favorite albums of 2009.

Friday, January 1st, 2010

There is much opportunity to reminisce about the year that has just ended, but for now, I have just posted my top 50 albums of 2009.

My top 10 includes bands I’ve loved for years (Mastodon, Tortoise), bands that rose from the ashes of other bands I love (Future of the Left), bands that remind me of bands I grew up with (the Pains of Being Pure at Heart), and a band that gave a killer performance at the P4k festival (the Very Best).

Those in the 11-20 range include an artist that i wanted to see this year but couldn’t because I had made other plans months before her concert was announced (Rokia Traoré), bands/artist that I’ve listed on my year-end list just about every time they’ve released an album (Animal Collective, Antony & the Johnsons, Bill Callahan), another band that grew out of one of my favorite bands (the Wooden Birds), and a band that has been on the periphery of my radar for years (the Handsome Family).

Those in the 21-30 range include more bands that have been around forever (Yo La Tengo, Califone, Sonic Youth), an a cappella act that blew me away live (Sonos), a friend and talented artist (Zak Sally), and a solo act from a band that I’m still sad does not exist (Sir Richard Bishop).

Perhaps this post would’ve been more interesting if I hadn’t IDed the bands I was describing….

NP: Yeasayer, “Sunrise”.

“Cheer Up, Emo Dude”: my five favorite sad songs of the moment

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Here are five sad tunes that have been keeping me company over the past month, listed in reverse chronological order:

1) “Casimir Pulaski Day” – Sufjan Stevens (2005).

I’ll admit, I was slightly disappointed when I saw this on the Illinois album tracklist and realized that this song was not, in fact, a Big Black cover. But Soof won me over, despite his religious under-/overtones, because of that gorgeous banjo melody, his hushed mention of “cancer of the bone”, and the ripples of sorrow that permeate this tune.

2) “Have You Forgotten” – the Red House Painters (1996).

Sometimes, all it takes is just to remember the innocence of happier times to trigger pangs of sadness, and the seriously underrated Mark Kozelek is at his nostalgic peak (or, rather, nadir) here as he remembers the simpler moments of a childhood gone by. The simple question at the core of this song (Have you forgotten how to love yourself?) really cuts right to the core of our weakest moments: as easy as it is to blame our sorrow on the failings of others, our disappointments are more often rooted in ourself.

3) “Love Will Tear Us Apart” – Joy Division (1980).

This one is almost too obvious– I mean, read the title and you know it’s going to be a sad tune. But this one is sad to me not so much because of the content of the song itself but because of its obvious personal-ness: you hear this song, and you know exactly what Ian Curtis was going through. There’s almost certainly a reason his wife had these words inscribed on his tombstone after he committed suicide a few months later, but we’ll never really know if it was to broadcast Curtis’s obvious pain or to punish herself for not being able to fix it.

4)¬†“Hey Hey What Can I Do” – Led Zeppelin (1970).

Let’s face it: if Robert Plant circa 1970 couldn’t keep his woman happy and satisfied, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

5) “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” – Bob Dylan (1963).

Admittedly, I have a love/hate relationship with Dylan: I love his songs but generally can’t stand listening to him sing them. I was reminded of this song recently by a haunting a cappella version, but it’s Dylan’s raspy, broken melodies that really channel his mood. Even as he ponders the ultimate choice (I gave her my heart, but she wanted my soul), he pretends that he’s able to pick himself up and move on. Of course, we all know better. You just kinda wasted my precious time, indeed.

Save me, San Francisco.

Monday, November 9th, 2009

I saw Train tonight at the 9:30 club. Train is a band that I’m surprisingly really torn on; I find their albums to be pretty schmaltzy mainstream fare (my review of their latest, Save Me San Francisco, for Express, can be read here), but they absolutely blew me away when I saw them about five years ago at the Birchmere. That was an eye-opening experience, for sure: it was about the fourth show I’d ever reviewed for the Washington Post (my review can be read here), and I remember going into that show full of hipster arrogance about how awful this stupid mainstream radio band was going to be. And then Pat Monahan opened his mouth to sing, and my hipster stock plummeted as I stood in awe of his voice. Sure, Train’s original songs are kind of lame and cheesy, but at this show, they did a ton of classic rock covers that just blew me away: a note-perfect version of Aerosmith’s “Dream On”. The Beatles’ “Get Back”. Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle”. And– my personal favorite– Led Zepplin’s “Ramble On”. (John Bonham died when I was too young to go out to concerts myself, so seeing a band cover Zep is the closest I’ll ever get to seeing the real thing.)

Without going all Garden State on you, the show really surprised me and made me think about music differently: I went into it with this whole scathing review written in my head, and then I had to take it back and write something much more positive– and genuine.

But, as for tonight’s show, I’m really not sure why I went. It was a weird show for a different reason; Monahan’s voice was pretty shot, which you could hear in everything he sang (and he even apologized for his lack-of-high-notes, especially in “Dream On”, which is the only cover they attempted). And there’s just something about the 9:30 club– yeah, it’s my favorite venue in this town, by far. But it also doesn’t have the same intimacy as the Birchmere did, and having seen them once in such a small venue, I could sense that some of the impact and intensity was missing. And, thinking back to that show from 5 years ago, even though I knew at the time that all the lame moves were totally calculated and predictable (bringing girls onstage to dance, etc), they feel way more so when you’ve already seen the same gimmicks before.

The other weird thing about tonight was this intense realization that I didn’t fit in there. This was A-OK fine by me– i certainly didn’t expect to. But there was the couple standing in front of me, sucking face during the entire concert. There were the girls who got pulled onstage to sing and dance who looked like they stepped right out of an Abercrombie ad. Just judging from how dressed up some of the crowd was, I’d guess that most of the people in attendance tonight go to a half-dozen concerts per year, tops. It’s a really weird feeling to be standing in a room full of people who connect with music in a very different way than I do, and I became acutely aware of being such an outsider (which one of the dudes in the crowd pointed out to my face, when he yelled at me for reading a magazine between bands. hey, dude, whatever.). I’m not really sure what kind of concert or crowd I do fit in at, but it’s most certainly not this one.

NP: Tortoise, “Along the Banks of Rivers”.