Friday, December 19, 2008

Nine Favorite Albums 2008

9. Bauhaus -- Go Away White

Bauhaus had been touring the reunion circuit for a few years but out-of-the-blue they decided to record something and put it out. And they immediately broke up and decided never to speak to each other again (obviously Peter Murphy pissed off the rest of the band). The album doesn't reach the halcyon heights of their original first three albums but it's not bad either. The album sounds almost like they just showed up at the studio and recorded whatever they felt like. And for an experiment like that, it's pretty great overall.

8. King Khan & The Shrines -- The Supreme Genius of King Khan

Already wrote about this dude here. From beginning to end, this album is made to get up and dance. A nice video here:

7. Local H -- 12 Angry Months

The best band in the world that nobody cares about. This album is about a breakup, a song each about each month after the breakup. It goes through all the phases: denial, depression, anger, rapprochement, farewell, back together, final goodbyes, etc. And it's all true. Michelle (singer's girlfriend) really broke up with Scott (singer). It's great and they probably are still the best two-man live band in the world.

An old song but a goodie:

6. School of Seven Bells -- Alpinisms

Refugee from the Secret Machines crosses MBV with Nico, gets two supermodels to sing with him. They make good sounds.

5. Nine Inch Nails -- The Slip

Department of Guilty Pleasures from Childhood. Trent delivers. Still crazy after all these years. Surprising but true.

4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds -- Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

The baddest motherfucker with a moustache.

3. TV On The Radio -- Dear Science

Who the hell knows what it all means.

2. M83 -- Saturdays = Youth

Already mentioned before. Fakes you out by making you think you're fifteen again. A completely unnecessary album but somehow beautiful.

1. Deerhunter -- Microcastle


Ten Favorite Songs 2008

In the spirit of all those people who are listing their various favorite things of the year (and not so favorite ones too), here are ten songs that I really liked this year that were not on my favorite albums. I don't want to spend too much time writing about them, but rather just present them with videos or mp3s. If there was one tenuous overriding theme, it's that most of the songs I liked this year kind of had a mellow vibe. And I included a couple of songs technically from last year 'cause I'm lame.

I will post a list of my favorite albums of the year in a few days (none of which, as I noted, include the songs below).

Anyway, here are the songs. In descending (or ascending, if you're dyslexic) order, from ten to one.

10. Blitzen Trapper -- Black River Killer

Beautiful song, a kind of modern day murder ballad. This is a band from Portland, Oregon. The song is from their album Furr.

Blitzen Trapper -- Black River Killer [mp3]

9. Vampire Weekend -- Oxford Coma

The hype about this band has gone through several cycles of back/lash/back/lash. People resent them because they are rich kids who went to an Ivy League school and live in Brooklyn. I could take or leave most of their stuff--it's too plain for me--but there's something about this song I really like. Who could not like a song about grammar that opens with the phrase "Who gives a fuck about an Oxford Coma?" The video is clever too. The album is self-titled.

8. Black Mountain -- Tyrants

A man must rock sometimes. Please go ahead and rock.

Black Mountain -- Tyrants [mp3]

A clip from a live performance:

7. Death Cab For Cutie -- I Will Possess Your Heart

I am not a fan of theirs. They seem too pretentious and all that. And while their lead singer has written a few good songs ("Such Great Heights"), as a band they're sort of lame. So it was a mild surprise to hear this song. It has a kind of odd rocking beat, is about the joys of stalking, and creates a suffocating atmosphere as it reaches the 8+ minute mark. Apparently, they know how to rock. The album is called Narrow Stairs.

6. Feist -- I Feel It All

Again, mellow girly stuff but something in there gets me. I like the fact that she feels it all, she's 100% committed to 'it.' This is very reminiscent of underground pop from the '80s like Beat Happening or something like that. After all the iPod commercials and the Sesame Street appearances, it's comforting to know that she's a good song writer. The album came out last year and is called The Reminder.

5. Fleet Foxes -- White Winter Hymnal

And who cannot like this song? Everybody seems to going nuts over this band, a band from Seattle who recently released their self-titled debut album to much acclaim. They are great singers. This song could have been recorded in the 1940s or 1950s.

4. David Byrne & Brian Eno -- Strange Overtones

I don't like David Byrne although I think his work with Talking Heads was brilliant. Brian Eno is worth a longer line of thought. Either way, they put out a pretty awesome album 25 years ago or something (My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts). They made a sequel of sorts (Everything That Happens Will Happen Today) which is much more pop-song-oriented. This song is great. It's got that whole meta thing going for it too. Even as it's describing someone writing a song, it's also describing the song that Byrne himself is singing. Ooooh, so clever, these old people. I would like to post an mp3 of this song but I'm afraid of getting dragged into court. So here's a crappy amateur video.

3. M.I.A. -- Paper Planes

She's now pregnant and about to have a baby somewhere in Brooklyn. Even as I speak. The song takes the Clash's "Straight To Hell" and makes it more awesome, if that was even possible. The album is Kala.

2. Radiohead -- House Of Cards

Also from last year but released as a single this year. I love this song. I love the music. I love the words. I love the video. The complete package. Apparently, this is one of the first videos in which no cameras or lights were used. Instead, we are told, the band and the director used 3-D plotting technologies. You can even "shape-shift" the video's raw data yourself and create your own video. See here.

1. MGMT -- Time To Pretend

An obvious choice, I suppose. I have been listening to this song constantly the last year or so. As far as disposable pop songs go, it is just fucking brilliant. And within this candy wrapper of a song is a surprisingly astute and sharp observation about the arc of a young person's life and the drawing realization that the search for fame, glory, and chicks ends with the obligatory 'choking-in-your-vomit' moment. A really really great song. All parties must end with this. I see the people dancing, raising their arms, confetti falling around, rejoicing the unglorious fall of the beautiful people. The album is called Oracular Spectacular.

While I cannot embed the video here, I urge every human being on the planet to go here to check it out.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Yerself Is Steam

Back in Pittsburgh, I saw Sparklehorse open for Mercury Rev, probably sometime in 2000, but Google tells me this must have been on June 14, 1999. Wow that was a long time ago, almost ten years ago. My distinct impression of Sparklehorse was that they fucking sucked (an impression that would change 180° within a few years). Mercury Rev were great as usual but nothing on the order of their incredible show a few years before, December 12, 1995 (thanks again to Google). Karen and I showed up at Pearl Street in Northampton, Mass and were so blown away by them that by the end of the show, we were literally lying horizontally, slouching on chairs, like most of the crowd, entirely motionless. We did not move. We did not need to move. We just lay there flat, the soles of our feet facing the band, who were bathed in some kind of weird maniacal light show with skulls and strobes and salamanders and sulfur. It was like standing in front of a jet engine washed by waves of noise, our ears made deaf, our bodies merely swimming in a sea of aural beauty.

Later on, Mercury Rev fell in love with Brian Wilson and has continued on a long love affair with him, occasionally sleeping with The Band on the side. They make pastoral music sprinkled with psychedelia these days instead of psychedelic music sprinkled with total fucking insanity. It's all very nice but not quite as bewildering as their first, greatest album Yerself Is Steam, without doubt one of the greatest pieces of music ever committed to vinyl/plastic. Simon Reynolds called it "an exquisite armageddon of tortured dementia." Meshing their love of noise with melody, reason with insanity, flutes without cheesiness, and feedback with tenderness, they made a helluva noise. You could almost take a bath in the music that came out of the speakers from Yerself Is Steam, particularly its first track ("Chasing A Bee") and the last one, lasting an eternal 12 minutes ("Very Sleep Rivers").

Here in all its glory is "Chasing a Bee." The feedback that comes in at around 3:03 sounds like a FUCKING SUSPENSION BRIDGE COLLAPSING INSIDE YOUR HEAD.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


A recent trip to Lisbon.

Nice things.

On the way home I listened to this song on my headphones.

My beloved Mogwai.

"Helicon 1."

Coincidentally, it captured the feeling.

Best experienced live with the band or on headphones.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


I haven't had a chance to write about this but recently (November 14), I went to see M83 at Webster Hall here in New York. I didn't know what to expect although I've liked them for a while. I'd bought an earlier album (Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts) which was largely electronic with swashes of My Bloody Valentine-inflected shoegazer influences. I liked it but hadn't listened to it in a while. It had long instrumentals that repeated melodies ad nauseum.

Well, the new album, Saturdays = Youth, is very different. First, here there are actual short songs. Second, as I've noted before, what hits you is that this is music clearly grounded in 1980s-era British pop, particularly, the Smiths, the Cure, Cocteau Twins, and other melancholy acts. Yet, it doesn't the sound the least bit dated. It's actually quite a beautiful album with subtle melodies, bringing together both male and female vocals in a sheen that sounds very contemporary. The two major singles ("Kim & Jessie" and "Graveyard Girl") are wonderful slices of '80s pop and wouldn't be out of place in a teen movie about running away from home or something like that.

The concert was great. Given the amount of electronics on the album I didn't know how they would reproduce the experience on stage. Although they had prepared loops and such, they also had a four-piece live band (two guitars, keyboards, drum, no bass), and completely fleshed out sound on stage. M83 is basically a single French guy, Anthony Gonzales (with sidehands for the live experience). The show covered the new album and a few tracks from previous albums, reproduced with great care. The encore was fantastic as the music shifted into total electronic/dance mode and I have no idea if the last songs lasted minutes or hours. I was suddenly transported back to a club in 1989. I was wearing black, she was wearing black. We were subbakulcha.

This isn't cynical music. It's very earnest which makes it easy to make fun of. But the beauty of some of the melodies and the production are designed to make you forget your higher instincts and for an hour or so, you can let yourself go into nostalgia, youthful nostalgia. It's the kind of music that makes you yearn for something (nostalgic music?) that might actually be happening while you are in the act of yearning. In that way, M83's album and show are, as Frederic Jameson might have said, nostalgia for the present. And sometimes that's not so bad.

The video of M83's "Graveyard Girl":

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Supreme Genius of King Khan

On Saturday, a bunch of us went to see King Khan & BBQ Show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. There was a little confusion. The man who is King Khan has two alter egos, one a straight ahead punk rocker (with strains of doo wop) that he does as a two-man band. This is King Khan & BBQ Show.

Then there is King Khan and the Shrines which is a full on garage/funk/Bollywood band with horns and the whole bit. We were under the impression (well, I was under the impression) that we were off to see the Shrines but we ended up seeing the BBQ Show. Not that that was all that bad -- but I expected a little more depraved insanity from the King who seemed rather subdued in Brooklyn.

Who is King Khan? He is the baddest ass rock'n'roller in existence on the planet these days. He's an awesome vocalist, a little bit like James Brown crossed with Prince; he's not afraid to wear women's underwear, Bollywood villian costumes, and dracula capes, and he will rock your world. He also has one of the tightest funk bands in existence (the Shrines), with musicians who have played with Tina Turner, Bo Diddley, Curtis Mayfield, and Stevie Wonder. I hope to see them in concert one day.

King Khan is of Indian origin, raised in Canada, and apparently now lives in Germany. Various tracks from King Khan and the Shrines' recent e.p.'s, singles, and albums have been collected in a U.S. compilation album, The Supreme Genius of King Khan.

See some awesome pictures from his now-legendary performance at the Pitchforkmedia festival in Chicago this past summer here.

And one of my favorite songs by him:

King Khan and the Shrines -- Torture [mp3]