Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fabienne Delsol

Looking for something a little sugary? a little sultry? a little 60's yé-yé garage pop? a little European? May I suggest a steaming dish of Fabienne Delsol.

In 2004, Delsol, the former lead singer of UK garage pop band, The Bristols, released her debut solo album. A few weeks ago, I finally learned about it and since then, I've been playing her album No Time for Sorrows over and over.

The disc is pure ear candy which, combined with the fact that Delsol is French, makes the album remind me a bit of Nouvelle Vague. Also like the singers on Nouvelle Vague, despite being French, Delsol sings mainly in English. The only exception is her cover of France Gall's "Laisse Tomber Les Filles".

Fabienne Delsol |
Laisse Tomber Les Filles (courtesy of Drugburn)
Fabienne Delsol | Chills and Fevers (courtesy of Drugburn)

Monday, January 30, 2006

US 5 | Norway 0

Leading up to this summer's World Cup, the US will be playing a series of friendly matches in an attempt to evaluate borderline players, get definite players into playing shape and bring some cohesiveness to the squad.

In the first match, on 1/22, the US played a scoreless draw against Canada. The match wasn't televised but based upon the post-match articles, it was a miserable affair and we were lucky it wasn't on TV.

Conversely, this past Sunday, a US team comprised of MLS-based players (the European players are in the middle of their seasons and unavailable for national duty) trounced Norway 5-0. Normally I would dismiss such a rout and chalk it up to Norway sending a weak team. (It was their Under-23 team.) However, earlier in the week, this same Norway team was leading Mexico 1-0 before losing 2-1. So, the team can't be that bad.

I don't think the game says much about the starting team the US will field in Germany this summer. But it speaks well of the depth of the US team these days. !0 years ago, when a US starter was injured, we fell apart. We needed to have our best eleven players out there everytime. Now, we can field a B team and still be competitive.

The Man of the Match was Taylor Twellman who knocked in a hat trick. However, , I still don't trust Twellman in a high pressure situation. He had a good game but it still doesn't erase the long series of golden opportunities that he's missed while playing for the US.

He even missed that sitter off the corner kick in the first half. The guy had the ball at his feet six yards in front of the goal with nobody on him and he put it over the cross bar. Next time you are near a soccer goal stand six yards back from it and look how hard it would be to kick it over the crossbar. The guy just hasn't proven to have Eddie Johnson's composure in front of the net. Hopefully, he'll prove me wrong over the next few months.

You can watch highlights of the match here.

The schedule for the next few US matches:

Feb 10th | Japan | SBC Park | San Francisco

Feb 19th | Guatemala | Pizza Hut Park | Frisco, TX

Mar 1st | Poland | Fritz-Walter-Stadion | Kaiserslautern, Germany

Mar 22nd | Germany |
Westfalenstadion | Dortmund, Germany

Stephen Malkmus | Bonnie 'Prince' Billy

My drive down to Boston flew by due to two live discs I brought with me. I enjoyed both discs so much, I was startled when I realized I was already paying the $0.75 toll on I-93 near Manchester. I had no idea so much time had passed.

The first disc was a Stephen Malkmus bootleg that a kind man had sent me. I had traded him the new Belle & Sebastian album for some soccer magazines he was done reading. Well, as a bonus he dropped this disc in the package and I'm very happy that he did so. Thanks, Paul.

Usually, I'm not much of a fan of bootlegs. I have a few dozen of them but, in general, I find the sound quality and mixes to be poor. However, this one is different. It's from a performance at a club in Buenos Aires in Ocotber 2004. There isn't any band with Malkmus. It's just him and an electric guitar; Billy Bragg style. This made it simpler for the person recording the show to get a clean copy of the show.

The other benefit of the show is the set list. The package that I received the disc in didn't inlcude a set list so I had no idea what I was in store for. So, being a big Pavement fan, you can imagine my surprise when he opened with "We Dance" and "Trigger Cut". From there he burned through a set that included a nice mix of his solo tunes, Pavement tunes and even Silver Jews' "Blue Arrangements". I couldn't have written a better set list and hearing them stripped down made me appreciate, once again, what good songs they are. Great bootleg.

The other disc that kept me company during the drive was Bonnie'Prince' Billy's 2005 live album Summer in the Southeast. Being a BPB fan, I don't know what took me so long to pick up this album but I finally got it last week. The only way to describe this collection of performances from his 2004 tour of small towns across the Southeast (GA, NC, MS & FL) is as a big beautiful rocking mess of an album.

It's such a mess...each band member comes in late at one point or another...instruments drift in and out of the mix for no apparent reason...BPB's voice cracks...Matt Sweeney's guitar overmodulates at times...Pink Nasty's background vocals disappear at times...but you know what? BPB somehow pulls it off. The guy is an emotional savant. Technically, it's a mess but BPB and his band drip with passion all over the performances which turn this disc into the most exciting live albums I've heard in a long time.

The only downside to the album is that the versions of the songs off of I See a Darkness are a few of the weaker tracks. I love that album but the highlights of Summer in the Southeast are the other tracks like "Master and Everyone", "May It Always Be" (w/ Pink Nasty on vocals), "O Let It Be" and "I Send My Love to You".

The nicest thing I can say about these two albums is that I never even turned my iPod on during the whole trip. It was just these two discs grabbing and holding my attention the whole way.

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy | O Let It Be (follow the link & choose free download)
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy | May It Always Be (follow the link & choose free download)

Stephen Malkmus | Trigger Cut (follow the link & choose free download)
Stephen Malkmus | Elevate Me Later (follow the link & choose free download)
Stephen Malkmus | Church on White (follow the link & choose free download)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Off to Boston | UPDATE

Well, I'm out of here.

Tomorrow morning, I'm heading down to Boston to spend a kid-free weekend with my wife who is already down there for a convention. It should be a good time of seeing friends and family; and just hanging out with my wife.

The only thing we have planned is seeing Jerry Seinfeld in concert on Friday night. Certainly not a very "edgy" comedian but it should be worth a few yucks.

Hey, let's do a little experiment. A few months ago, I got a lot of traffic to my site when I accidentally misspelled Ronaldinho's name (I forgot the "h"). Basically, a lot of people who made the same mistake with his name found my site after searching for Ronaldino. So, if I spell the comedian's name "Jerry Sienfeld" or "Jery Seinfeld", then we can see how many poor spellers there are out there.

One last note, I'm coming up on a blogging milestone...the 10,000 visitor to the site. You can track it by clicking on the site meter. It should probably happen sometime on Saturday. I won't be around to log who it is but thanks to everyone in general for reading this virtual fishwrap.

See ya next week.

UPDATE: The weekend was a bust. We learned just before dinner on Friday that our daughter was sick so we had to head back to Montpelier first thing Saturday morning. Rather than relaxing and having fun all weekend, we dealt with sleepless nights, fevers and cranky kids. Oh, the joys of parenthood.

We did see Jerry Seinfeld on Friday night. As you'd expect, he spent most of his time on safe subjects like retirement communities and the silly things people say in akward conversations. He did a small bit on the Middle East though which I was surprised by. His best line of the night was about the disclaimer at the end of the Cialis commercial that says, "If your erection lasts more than four hours, please contact a physician." His line was, "I'd like to know what a doctor is going to do about it." That was followed by his impression of a horrified doctor receiving such a call from a patient.

Thanks for the kind words about going over 10,000 visitors. Due to us returning early from Boston, I was able to see the info for the 10,000 visitor. It was somebody from Waterbury Center, VT who came to my site via a link on Highgate to read about The Jazz Guys. That's a good all-around Vermont visitor.


So, who's going to be the hot new band of 2006? I have no idea but I like what I'm hearing from Editors.

Coming out of Birmingham, England, these guys have actually been together since 2000 but have switched band names and labels a few times. They finally settled on a name and label (Kitchenware Records) in 2004. Last year, they released a few singles and their debut album, The Back Room, in England. However, they are just now starting to receive some attention in the US where their album has yet to be released.

Their sound is clearly a part of the retro new wave movement that's been going strong for the last two years or so. Heavy echo on the vocals, trembly guitars and a pronounced drum beat. Generally, I haven't been enamored with a lot of these retro new wave bands but Editors' songs are better than most. Specifically, I'm a complete gooner for their song "Lights".

Unfortunately, until we can our grubby American hands on the album at non-import prices, we are left to pick through the internet for their music.

  • You can stream the entire album at this site.
  • Earlier this week, they wrapped up their brief six-stop tour across the US in Boston. Bradley's Almanac has posted mp3 files from their final show at Great Scott. According to Bradley's Almanac, they'll be doing a more extensive tour following their performance at SXSW this spring.
  • Last month, extrawack! posted a review of their performance at Brixton Academy in London with some killer photos.
  • You can download four acoustic tracks they did for a French radio program here.
By the way, there is another band called Editors whose songs are available on iTunes and elsewhere. Be careful you don't buy their stuff...unless you like their stuff.

Editors | Lights (courtesy of Tonight Let's Dance)
Editors | Fingers In the Factory (courtesy of Rock Insider)
Editors | Munich (courtesy of Rock Insider)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Jazz Guys

I just heard these guys today for the first time (courtesy of Underpants Records;I knew that site would yield gold) and I'm loving them.

Hailing from Burlington, VT, The Jazz Guys are four guys who don't play jazz. Since their site is short on bio info, I don't know much else about them. However, they seem to have a damn good sense of humor.

Musically, they bang out infectious guitar-driven rocking numbers. The hook to them is that all of the band members sing at once. They aren't necessarily harmonizing but it still lends a very layered sound to the vocals. I'm also loving the drummer. The guy seems to be all over the kit at once.

From what I can tell, they aren't signed to a label. However, they recorded an EP last fall that they aren't selling yet. The two tracks below are from that recording session. Hopefully, they'll be selling it soon though because I'd love to hear the other three songs.

The Jazz Guys | The Best Five Minutes of Your Life
The Jazz Guys | Amanda

Chipmunk Toaster

OK. For a few weeks, I've been joking about my friend Chad's former band Chipmunk Toaster and how Peter Wolf and J. Giels stole the song "Centerfold" from them (obviously, not true). Well, I'm finally getting around to posting their cover of the song. I'm also including a cover of "Sympathy For the Devil" by Chad's other band Gas Station.

Both songs fit the bill for what makes a good cover. They take a well known song and reinterpret it.

On "Centerfold", they pick up it's pace, take the riff towards punk/metal, double up the vocals and be sure to stick around for the blistering coda and whistling finish.

In Gas Station's hands, "Sympathy for the Devil" takes on a more country/bluegrass feel. It sounds like a folk song harkening to the musician-blessing devil at the crossroads rather than the political evils that The Stones pointed towards.

By the way, after being without a band for a while, Chad went to see Art Brut in Chicago recently. After hearing Eddie Argos sing "Formed a Band", he decided he had to form a band. I hope I'm not around when he hears Bonnie "Prince" Billy sing "Death to Everyone".

Chipmunk Toaster | Centerfold (follow the link & choose free download)
Gas Station | Sympathy For the Devil (follow the link & choose free download)

Buch Spieler Speaks

Earlier today, I received an interesting comment from the folks at Buch Spieler regarding my post from last Friday, Just Kill Me. It started a noteworthy dialogue so I decided to pull it up into a full post so it would get more attention.

My post on Friday was basically me bemoaning the fact that Patti Casey, Kristina Stykos and Susannah Clifford-Blachly all made the list of top albums at Buch Spieler.

This was the comment that Buch Spieler's left this afternoon:

We at Buch Spieler only wish that a title like Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane was our #1 seller. We could fudge the charts and include a band like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (an in-store favorite) but we do believe in truth in advertising. The fact that 6 out of 10 of our Top 10 sellers are local artists is very telling about the state of our industry (actual CD sales vs. downloads, among other factors). Or is it that Vermonters just like supporting other Vermonters?

Just for clarification, our biggest selling (and personal favorite) Christmas recording of all time is Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas. If the store was out of it on the particular day you came to buy it, we should have had more the next day. In this day and age of instant gratification, we sometimes fail. It's what makes us human in a faceless, corporate culture of capitalist greed.

The real question is where are the people who will buy more, if any, of the titles you (and we) like? Where are they?

I then responded with:

Hey Guys,

I think you're misinterpreting my post. I love Buch Spieler. I wasn't complaining about the store. I just dislike a lot of the artists that are popular in the area and use your Top 10 list to show what is popular around here to people outside the area.

You guys do a good job of meeting the demand for music in the area. I just don't care for what people are demanding.

As I've said before, if your racks reflected my tastes the place would go out of business. But that doesn't mean I can't rant, rage and joke about the local music scene.

As for where are the people that will buy the music we love, I think they are all around us. I don't think people dislike the music we love. I think they are just unaware of it. They haven't been exposed to it. So, in my tiny little way, that's a part of this blog...exposing people to music I love.

Most of the people who read this site are from outside the area. However, I know of a few people in town that have learned of bands on this site and bought the CDs in Buch Spieler.

Unfortunately, there are only about 80-100 people visiting this site each day with only about 25% of those readers being from VT (and an even smaller percentage from the Montpelier area).

Which prompted this response from Bush Spieler:

Hey Flatlander, I like your blog. You've got me hooked.

So, what to do about exposing the masses to new music, the kinds of tunes that will never be broadcast by the likes of Clear Channel. You're absolutely right about there being people out there who can and do appreciate the kinds of music we like. Now, if only they had a way to hear it. This is the problem. Poor exposure and complacency. The public, for the most part, seems to accept homogenized mediocrity. It's our cultural plunge towards the lowest common denominator and I don't see any concerted effort to reverse this trend.

So after an initial misunderstanding, it sounds like we are on the same page. The question is how do we expose people to new music. What do you think of this idea?

Between this blog, Latitude 44.2N and Analog Giant, there are three blogs in the local area promoting lesser known bands. We each typically focus on a band or two each week. Perhaps, you could use one of the shelves on the "New Releases" rack to display the CDs of the bands we are promoting with a sign that says something like "As Heard on Analong Giant, False 45th and Latitude 44.2N". K (of Analog Giant), jds (of Latitude 44.2N) and I could then include a line in our posts saying "This album is available on the 'Blogger's Shelf' at Buch Spieler in Montpelier".

This way our blogs could almost function as a listening station for your store and it would be good cross promotion. We'd be directing readers toward your store and when people ask about the shelf, you could direct them back to our blogs.

I haven't spoken to K and jds about this but knowing their interest in preserving downtowns, I'm guessing they'd be up for it.

If anyone from outside the area has any good examples of what has worked in their neighborhoods, we'd be interested in hearing about it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Art Brut | Coming to Montreal | April 2nd

Geez. I can't even get to any regular posts with all of these new tour dates being announced.

Here comes another "must-see" tour. Art Brut, the new Guided by Voices (in the sense of playing fun punk/indie rock with a great frontman and a healthy dose of self-awareness), will be playing La Sala Rossa on April 2nd. It's a Sunday night.

Like Arctic Monkeys, I wouldn't be surprised if this show gets moved to a larger venue. There is a huge buzz around Art Brut right now and their album Bang Bang Rock & Roll is expected to be released in North America sometime over the next few months. However, you can get it right now from iTunes for just $9.99; well below import price. If you want a physical copy, Insound has it on sale for $13.99.

Here's extrawack!'s review of their show at Maxwell's in Hoboken during their last tour in November. Plus, the picture above is from extrawack!'s site. Here is a bit from his post:

Singer Eddie Argos is the best live frontman I've seen since Pelle Almqvist of The Hives, and the entire band were fantastic, even on the new songs that they've not really played much live yet. Argos ventured into the crowd a few times mid-song, whipping up some frenzy while not missing a beat. At one point in the show he picked people out in the crowd and gave advice. His advice to me was to "go out and form a band. Then you can thank Art Brut for making your life better."
That sounds like a good time. I hope to be there.

Art Brut | Good Weekend
Art Brut | Emily Kane

Monday, January 23, 2006

Arctic Monkeys | Coming to Montreal | Mar 22nd | UPDATE

When it rains it pours and it looks like I'm going to be making yet another drive through the farmland of southern Quebec.

I could have just stuck this as an update in my last post but I think it deserves extra attention. On March 22nd, Arctic Monkeys will be playing La Sala Rossa in Montreal.

Their full-length debut has been leaked like a Chinese dam and it's getting rave reviews. I've been running through it about once a day for the last two weeks or so. It's one of those rocking albums that make you want to jump around like a moron. I imagine hearing the songs while packed into a small club with a bunch of fellow fans would make for a mighty fine show.

I just tried calling the club and they said they don't sell the tickets for the shows. We have to get them through Admission.com. However, I just checked the site and they show isn't listed yet. I guess they are waiting for the album to release in late January and all of the main stream press to hit.

All of the US/Canada tour dates are available on Brooklyn Vegan.

Arctic Monkeys | A Certain Romance (courtesy of Stereogum)
Arctic Monkeys | When the Sun Goes Down (courtesy of Tonight Let's Dance)

UPDATE: As a result of their growing popularity, the Arctic Monkeys show on March 22nd has been moved from La Sala Rossa to the 1,200 person capacity Le Spectrum. Additionally, tickets are now on sale via TicketPro. It would have been a blast to see them in a tiny room like La Sala Rossa but getting tickets for the show won't be the mad scramble now. Plus, Le Spectrum is a good room and they don't seem to oversell the place. When we saw Calexico/I&W there last month, it was sold out but we were able to make our way up to about 10 feet from the stage. It should be a good show.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Maple Corner Hold'em

Are there two places in the US more distinct from each other than Las Vegas and Maple Corner, VT? Vegas is showy, glitzy, new and a little sleazy. Maple Corner is not.

Maple Corner is a tiny anachronistic community about 15 minutes northwest of Montpelier. To get there, you basically head north on County Rd. for a while until it becomes a dirt road. When you see a general store on your left, you're in Maple Corner.

Last night, a friend and I made the trek through some crappy weather (to quote Dylan, "The wind it was howlin' and the snow was outrageous.") to play in a Texas Hold'em Poker Tournament at the Maple Corner Community Center. The MCCC is a century-old building that is more used to hosting pot-luck dinners and community meetings than nights of drinking and gambling. However, the unusual atmosphere (nor the weather) didn't stop about two dozen folks from showing up to toss some cards around.

Technically, to keep it legal, the event was a charity event. However, if anyone besides the organizers could name the charity, I'd be surprised. Folks were there to play cards.

My favorite aspect of the night was the contrast between this tournament and the ones you see on TV from Vegas. Rather than guys with sunglasses and cowboy hats, this tournament was filled with guys sporting a lot of mid-winter facial hair and funky smells. Rather than sitting at a table of uber-serious players, I had a lady breastfeeding her child at the table (and never missing a deal). Rather than being surrounded by the faux-luxurious trappings of guady carpeting, excessively large chandeliers and security cameras, we had wide colonial pine planks running under our feet, exposed beams traversing the ceiling and a few sconces on the walls for lighting.

My least favorite aspect of the night was the crappy cards I kept getting. If I was responsible for the blind, I was pulling 2's and 6's. Otherwise, the poker gods would tempt me with a face card and 3 which would keep me in the deal long enough to piss away a bunch of chips and to never see a matching face card appear on the table. Eventually, I think I was the 4th or 5th person to go out.

However, the night wasn't a total loss...I had the pleasure of actually meeting a guy who builds treehouses for a living...only in friggin' Vermont.

By the way, I spoke to a friend today that also played in the tournament. He said everyone enjoyed it so much, that they are thinking of making it a regular event; perhaps once a month. So, if you are interested in playing some Maple Corner Hold'em, let me know.

Mr. Lucky & the Gamblers | Take a Look At Me (follow the link and choose free download) | fun little garage band rocker

Friday, January 20, 2006

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah | Tickets Now On Sale

Tickets for the April 11th Clap Your Hands show at Higher Ground went on sale today. In Montpelier, you can pick up tickets at Riverwalk Records on State Street.

I saw CYHSY back in September down in Northampton, MA when they opened for The National. Their set was only about 45 minutes but it was one of the best sets of music I saw all year. The room was bouncing from the first beats and never stopped. I'm looking forward to seeing what their show has progressed into after a long six months of touring and now being headliners.

The show is scheduled to be in the large room at Higher Ground which shows the level of interest that the bookers at Higher Ground are expecting. As jds pointed out a few weeks ago, Higher Ground stopped booking indie shows late last year after a series of disappointing crowds for indie rock acts. I'm guessing that they are using this show as a test to see what kind of market is available for indie rock shows.

Besides being on a Tuesday night, the show is perfectly set up to be a success. UVM will be in session and final exams won't have started yet. CYHSY are hot right now and their album was just the top record sold at Pure Pop over the last week. Plus, the show will be a part of Seven Days Hot Ticket promotion series.

Basically, if this show doesn't sell well...nothing will in VT. So, if you care about seeing indie rock in VT, even if you aren't crazy about CYHSY, I'd suggest going to this show...and bring a friend.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah | The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah | Details of the War

By the way, no word yet on the opening band(s).

Just Kill Me!

I'm not going to write up a full Vermont Music Update right now but I wanted to point out the top albums for Buch Spieler in Montpieler this past week.

1. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals — Nothing But the Water
2. Matisyahu — Live at Stubb's
3. Patti Casey — The Edge of Grace
4. Vorcza - Corner of the Morning
5. Rusty Romance — Who Brought the Fun?
6. Neil Young — Prairie Wind
7. Kristina Stykos — In the Earth's Fading Light
8. Susannah Clifford-Blachly — Middle of the Night
9. Thelonius Monk Quartet & John Coltrane — Carnegie Hall Concert
10. Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run 30th Anniversary Edition

A few weeks ago, I went on a rant about the soulless milquetoast crap (as a friend described it) that is "Kristina Casey Blachly". Well, the music gods had a good laugh at my expense. Look who wound up on the list of top albums sold.

Ugh! All three made the list. However, not one of them made the lists for any of the other VT indie record stores. Big fish in a small pond. Plus, they must have a lot of friends.

At least Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was the top album at Burlington's Pure Pop this week.

Thanks to Seven Days for the list.


Do you want to hear some new music that matches your music tastes but struggle with human interaction? Intimidated by record store clerks? If so, then Pandora may be the site for you.

Here's how it works:

  • You enter a band or song that you like.
  • Based upon what you entered, it'll play a song that it believes is similar.
  • Then you guide them by clicking on "like it" or "don't like it".
  • They'll then play another song based upon what you've liked and disliked and so on and so on.
Eventually, you'll have a radio station that is tailored to your tastes. Despite my snarky first sentence, I actually think this is a cool site. It's recognized every band I've entered and has introduced me to a lot of bands I've never heard of before.

The other nice feature is that it remembers your preferences from prior visits so you can jump right back into a "station" that you created. You can even email the station to your friends if you think they'd enjoy it.

If you like a song, you can click on the song's title and buy it from Amazon or iTunes.

You do have to register for an account after a few songs but it's free (as long as you don't mind a few banner ads) and they don't collect much personal info.

However, they do collect your age, zip code and gender which gives them some decent demographic info to tie to your listening preferences. That info is probably valuable to record companies so I wouldn't be surprised if they are selling the data to them. I also wouldn't be surprised if the site gets bought by Amazon or iTunes (or another online music store) so they can steer all of the traffic to their shop. It's a great application to tie into a music store.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Best of 2005 | Other Songs

OK. This should finally wrap up my Best of 2005 until next January when I'll post about the 2005 albums that I bought in 2006 and fell in love with.

Every three months, I create a playlist on my iPod and dump my favorite tunes from the last few months into the list. So, here is a dump of the songs that came out in 2005, made one of the playlists but weren't on one of the albums I already mentioned (and I could find a link to).

Archer Prewitt | Judy, Judy (courtesy of Shake Your Fist) | folk pop

Brendan Benson | The Alternative to Love (courtesy of Shake Your Fist) | indie rock

M. Ward | Hi-Fi (courtesy of Last Sound of Summer) | folk

Iron & Wine | Woman King (courtesy of Bows & Arrows) | folk

The Foxymorons | Harvard Hands | indie rock

Sambassadeur | Between the Lines | swedish pop | highly recommended

Magnolia Electric Co. | Leave the City | alt country

Cass McCombs | Sacred Heart | indie rock

Laura Cantrell | 14th Street | folk pop

Mohawk Lodge | Making Music | folk

Architecture in Helsinki | It's 5! (courtesy of Skatterbrain) | australian pop

Math & Physics Club | Weekends Away (courtesy of January is Disasterous) | twee pop

The Cloud Room | Hey Now Now (courtesy of Death to FM) | indie rock | highly recommended

Doveman | Honey | mellow folk

Dangerdoom | A.T.H.F. (courtesy of nialler9) | hip hop

Iron & Wine and Calexico | History of Lovers | folk alt country

The Spinto Band | Crack the Whip | indie rock

The Light Footwork | Coastlines Are Landmines (courtesy of You Ain't No Picasso) | indie rock

Pelle Carlberg | Riverbank | swedish pop

Peter, Bjorn & John | Far Away, By My Side| swedish pop

Chris Brokaw | Move | indie rock

PAJO | Manson Twins (follow the link; choose free download) | folk

Thomas Denver Jonsson | Silverboy| swedish pop

The Zincs | Beautiful Lawyers | indie rock

Tapes 'n Tapes | Cowbell | indie rock

Monday, January 16, 2006

Best of 2005 | Other Albums I Loved

I had meant to write this post right after my post about my favorite album of the year. However, these year-end posts take me a long time to type and I've been busy and lazy. So, I'm finally getting around to it now. Please don't interpret my delay in writing about them though as a lack of enthusiasm for the albums. I spent a lot of time enjoying each of these albums this year.

In no particular order, here are the other albums I loved this year:

Antony & the Johnsons | I Am a Bird Now
Why They Made the List: Sonically, this album is an outlier for me. It doesn't sound like anything else that I listen to. It's dark, somber, piano-driven music that generates the feeling of an artsy European cabaret. Antony's singing is the tipping point though. Either you love his quivering pleading vocals or you want to rip your ears off your head. I still have my ears in tact. By the way, the album beat out Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, Coldplay and MIA earlier this year to win the Mercury Prize which is awarded to the best album by an Irish or British band.

Mitigating Factor: Who the hell thought it would be a good idea to ask Lou Reed to do a spoken word piece at the beginning of "Fistfull of Dollars"?

Antony & the Johnsons | For Today I Am a Boy

Bonnie "Prince" Billy & Matt Sweeney | Superwolf
Why They Made the List: Bonnie "Prince" Billy is one of those unique artists who gets more powerful the quieter he gets. He leaves you with your eyes closed, rocking back and forth, your good ear tilted to the speaker and thinking, "Damn, this is a great album." His genius is in the control of the tension he creates and releases; not just sonically but also with his lyrics. The songs "What Are You?" and "Only Someone Running" were two of my favorites of the year. Plus, the album also spawned my favorite video of the year for "I Gave You".

Mitigating Factor: The album has a pair of clunkers in the middle of it. "Goat and Ram" and "Rudy Foolish" just don't do it for me.

BPB & Matt Sweeney | What Are You? (follow the link)

The Decemberists | Picaresque
Why They Made the List: This album probably should have been in my list of contenders for my favorite album of the year. However, it leaked in late 2004 (more than three months before it was released) and I burned myself out on it by the end of the summer. It's no fault of the album; that's just the way it goes with year-end lists. The disc is a nice combination of being fun and smart. Although they have the songs to back it up, The Decemberists choose to not take themselves too seriously. They remain playful despite writing some artistically strong tunes.

Mitigating Factor: Regardless of how playful and relaxed your band is, a ten-minute accordian driven song about a "Moby Dick like" seafarer experience is a bit over-indulgent.

The Decemberists | The Infanta

The Mountain Goats | Sunset Tree
Why They Made the List: Thankfully, I grew up free of any abuse. However, if I hadn't, this would have been my album of the year; a dozen tales chronicling the abuse John Darnielle suffered at the hands of his step-father. But it's not just tales of abuse. It's an aural roadmap for escaping the resulting misery that enveloped him which leaves you feeling better about tomorrow. Musically, Darnielle employed a full band for the album which rounds out the songs into foot-tapping sing-alongs. The band also gives the album a more diverse feeling from song-to-song than his other albums.

Mitigating Factor: Since I don't follow reggae and didn't know who Dennis Brown was, I thought he was singing about Dennis Franz the first few times I listened to "Song for Dennis Brown". I kept thinking, "When the hell did Dennis Franz' lung collapse?" But I guess that's more my problem than Darnielle's.

The Mountain Goats | This Year

Andrew Bird | The Mysterious Production of Eggs
Why They Made the List: What's not to love about a whistling violinist? However, Bird is a lot more than some novelty act on a subway platform. He blends his violin and whistling with a wide range of instruments and beautifully written songs to create an album that is easy to get sucked into. With lots of pop hooks to go around, there are four or five songs on the album that have been my favorite since last May when I picked it up.

Mitigating Factor: At nearly an hour long, Bird could have trimmed this project down by three or four songs. Another example of an artist trying to fill up the expanded recording time of a compact disc.

Andrew Bird | Fake Palindromes

Black Mountain | Black Mountain
Why They Made the List: These guys can't get a break. First they record a great album which deserves a lot of attention. However, they chose the song "Druganaut" as the single which is OK but nowhere near as good as "Modern Music". If bloggers had been linking to "Modern Music" all year rather than "Druganaut", I think they would have sold more records. Second, they won the golden opportunity to open for Coldplay on their US tour. However, Black Mountain got detained at the Canadian border and they missed some of the shows. Then they finally set out to tour and promote the album on their own and their equipment got stolen in Brooklyn. Plus, now that they are back in Vancouver, there are rumors that some guy is selling their instruments on a street corner back in Brooklyn. So, give these guys a break and spend a few minutes listening to their wonderful "Black Sabbath meets 60's psychedelic rock meets Neil Young" music.

Mitigating Factor: It's songs like "Heart of Snow" that makes frat boys want to beat up indie rockers. Eight minutes of directionless bland noodling.

Black Mountain | Modern Music

Smog | A River Ain't Too Much to Love
Why They Made the List: Like every other Smog album, it took about four or five months before this album grew on me. Now I can't stop listening to it. Bill Callahan has stripped his sound down even more on this album than his normal lo-fi one-man band sound. However, the songs are as compelling as ever. The moment at 3:43 into "Say Valley Maker" when he takes the tempo up a notch and forces you to listen to his climatic conclusion of redemption is worth the album alone. Fantastic control.

Mitigating Factor: You really have to invest a lot of time into his albums. You can't expect to listen to it a few times and be able to get a strong sense of it. Hell, I had relationships that I didn't work this hard at. It pays off in the end but it doesn't comes easy.

Smog | I Feel Like the Mother of the World

Fruit Bats | Spelled in Bones
Why They Made the List: I have no idea why these guys occasionally get lumped into the freak-folk genre. This album is straight ahead folk-based pop tunes. The structure may change throughout the songs, however, the changes aren't jarring; closer to a traditional bridge than the 180 degree turns that Animal Collective take. If anything, they deserve more comparisons to the Elephant 6 sound of the 90's than the freak-folk of the 2000's. This is another album that has about four or five different songs that have been my favorite at various times. Solid the whole way through.

Mitigating Factor: What nitwit decided to close the album with a minute or so of bird sounds?

Fruit Bats | Lives of Crime

Wolf Parade | Apologies to the Queen Mary
Why They Made the List: I saw Wolf Parade open for Arcade Fire last April up in Montreal and gave them a solid "shrug of the shoulders". And then when I heard the early leaked tracks, I still didn't feel anything for them. However, around September, a friend sent over a few of their songs and they clicked. What had previously felt uneven and jarring suddenly felt rocking and melodic. Since then, it's been in regular rotation on my iPod. The most shocking moment was when my "Phish Phan" sister-in-law called last month to say that she had heard them on the radio, liked them and wanted to hear more of their album. Perhaps their appeal is more universal than I had thought.

Mitigating Factor: They stuck "Disco Sheets" on their EP which also came out in 2005. It's a great song that deserved to be on the full album.

Wolf Parade | Shine a Light

Devendra Banhart | Cripple Crow
Why They Made the List: Not being a fan of freak-folk, I had been leary of Banhart. However, I'm glad I overcame my "freak-folk bias" because this album plays a bit like Antony (of Antony & the Johnsons) fronting The Fruit Bats. Banhart's vocals quiver throughout the album and is caked in echo but it works. Occasionally, the music can become a bit too free-form but for the most part, the songs are well-built with catchy melodies and nice complimentary instumental pieces jumping in and out.

Mitigating Factor: Do you remember earlier when I was complaining about artists feeling the need to fill up a compact disc with music rather than editing it down to just the prime tracks? Well, this sucker clocks in at 79 minutes. What's the matter, Devendra? You couldn't find something to fill that last minute?

Devendra Banhart | I Feel Like a Child

Sun Kil Moon | Tiny Cities
Why They Made the List: This album of acoustic covers of Modest Mouse tunes is a perfect example of the type of cover tunes I like. I don't care for covers of well-known tunes that sound a lot like the original. I prefer artists to either (a) bring attention to an obscure song by covering it straight or to (b) show their musicianship by recreating a known song. Mark Kozelek took the latter approach to Modest Mouse's tunes by exploring the melodies hidden under MM's sonic blizzard.

Mitigating Factor: I don't like Modest Mouse.

Sun Kil Moon | Neverending Math Equation

Thursday, January 12, 2006

False 45th | Political Blog

Hey! Did you know this was a political blog? Me neither.

However, the kind folks over at Politics1 have added me to their list of Vermont political blogs. Besides saying that speed drumming is kind of silly, I don't recall ever posting anything political on this site. They must have assumed that since I occasionally rant in the comments over on the PoliticsVT blog that this site is about politics.

Whatever. I'm happy to have any new visitors....even if they are disappointed once they arrive.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Those Crazy New Yorkers

Here's a link dump involving a bunch of New Yorkers:

First up is an artist in NYC who decided to hang his art himself in The Brooklyn Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Natural History. His pieces were discovered and removed within a few days from the NY Met and MoMA but the other pieces stuck around for a while. I bet you could try that at Shelburne Museum and it would be around for months.

I'm about a month late on anything dealing with John Lennon's assassination but this audio clip is still worthwhile. It's a interview segment from Mike & the Mad Dog on WFAN that explains how the nation learned about the tragedy from Howard Cosell during Monday Night Football. The story is interesting and is a good reminder of how different things were before the 24-hour news channels.

I don't know what is more entertaining...this story of a guy buying a carp in a Chinese market to set it free in the East River...or the ensuing fight in the comments section over the guy's ethics and judgement.

In some sort of bizarre Dr. Moreau cross between The Real World and Baseball Tonight, the station that broadcasts the Yankees in NYC (YES) is looking for a few nutters to live in a house with other nutters and attend all 162 Yankee games this year. I love the Yankees but this may be the equivalent of getting someone to stop smoking cigars by forcing them to smoke a whole box in a closet. By the way, I like the questions on the third page of the application.

What would you do if you saw a suicide jumper on a ledge? What would you do if you saw a suicide jumper on a ledge four feet off the ground? Well, the hilarious NYC improv troupe Improv Everywhere decided to find out how people would react to such a scene. By the way, Improv Everywhere is the group that pulled off The Best Gig Ever gag on the Burlington band, Ghosts of Pasha.

I don't think this girl is from New York but it's still an amazing video to watch. It would take me about ten minutes to do what she does in 7.43 seconds. Unfortunately for her, she's been blessed with a completely unmarketable talent. Perhaps she should try out for the World's Fastest Drummer competition.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Belle & Sebastian | New Pornographers | Pink Martini | Coming to Montreal

Latitude 44.2N has a great post up right now about the current state of indie rock shows in Burlington as opposed to Montreal. He also has a nice list of upcoming concerts for both cities that are worth checking out.

Just to add to his list of upcoming shows in Montreal, on Feb 26th, the great double-bill of Belle & Sebastian and The New Pornographers will be playing at Metropolis. Tickets haven't gone on sale yet and when I called the box office they said they didn't know when they would be going on sale. The lady suggested that we just continue to hit "refresh" on their show calendar until it pops up. I guess it's easy to get cranky when your fielding phone calls from jerks like me all day butchering their language and begging for show info.

Also coming to Metropolis in February is Pink Martini. I've never seen them live but I like their disc Sympathique. However, I've heard they are a fun live show. Unfortuantely, the shows (Feb 20th & Feb 21st) are the same week as the B&S|New Pornographers hootenany. There is no way, I'm dragging my ass to Montreal twice in the same week. Plus, it's a busy time of the year for me at work.

A little closer to home, the constantly-touring Of Montreal is coming to Dartmouth's Fuel Rocket Club on March 6th. Just to remind everyone of the how much you'll spend on tickets and drinks at The Fuel Rocket Club...$0.00. Gratis, baby! Since the students are still on break from school, the site for The Fuel Rocket Club hasn't been updated with the spring semester shows. However, Pitchfork is there to prove that I'm not a liar.

By the way, tickets for shows at Higher Ground can now be bought at Riverwalk Records in Montpelier. I don't know what fees they are charging but I doubt it's more than ordering them over the phone or web ($1.75 per ticket). Plus, if it's a busy show, you won't have to deal with will call.

One last note, if you were impressed that Feist was playing a venue as large as Le Spectrum, prepare to collapse. According to Metropolis' website, due to heavy demand for tickets, the show has been moved to Metropolis which holds 2,300 people. Now, that's what I call a town that loves its indie rock.

Belle & Sebastian | Act of the Apostle (courtesy of An Aquarian Drunkard)
The New Pornographers | Use It (courtesy of m3 online)
Of Montreal | Disconnect the Dots (courtesy of You Ain't No Picasso)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Fire the Cannons | Langdon Street Cafe | Jan 6th

On Friday night, I got an early start on my New Year's resolution to spend more time checking out Vermont bands. Based upon a small write-up in Seven Days, some friends and I went downtown to Langdon Street Cafe to catch the Burlington-based band Fire the Cannons.

Langdon Street Cafe is a cool little place that I had been to a few times for lunch. However, I hadn't been there for any music until this weekend. Langdon Street is run as a collective (only in Vermont do you find bars run as collectives; I love this area) which adds to the laid back artsy atmosphere of the place. I wasn't sure how that atmosphere would jive with a rocking, non-folky, non-jammy band but it meshed very well. I'll definitely make a point of checking out more shows there this year.

When we got there, another band (with what seemed like a dozen members) was finishing which I quickly learned was Nest Material. That was a fortunate discovery since I had been reading the blog Highgate recently which is written by one of the members of Nest Material. So, I finally got to hear what they sounded like.

Someone described their sound as an exploration of non-Euclidian soundscapes but that's just a bunch of cool words thrown together that doesn't mean shit. I only got to hear the very end of their set but to me they sounded like a cross between the mellow atmospheric technicians of Tower Recordings and the dadaism of Sun Ra. You can stream and download a few of their tunes from their myspace site. I'd recommend "The Ship Begins to..."

During their set, I also got a chance to talk to the guy who writes the blog, Underpants Records, and works at Buch Spieler. The cool thing he said was that Buch Spieler has sold about 30-40 copies of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah over the last few months. That may not sound like a lot but for a small town like Montpelier, I'm very heartened by the fact that there are 30-40 copies of that album floating around town.

After a little while, Fire the Cannons took the stage. They're a trio. Guitar, bass and drums. Female vocals. Nothing fancy. There not trying to throw anything new at you. But they are writing some good catchy and rocking tunes. I'd say I liked about half of the songs which, for a band that just formed this summer, is pretty good. Rather than try to explain their appeal, it's easier to just suggest listening to them on their myspace site. I'd recommend "Nowhere Feels Like Home".

The most entertaining part of their performance is watching the bass player. The guy plays the bass like a guitar with chords and frantic strumming. The only downside was when the drummer decided to play barechested. Was it really that hot in there?

At some point during the set, I got a chance to meet TMoore from Nest Material who writes Highgate. We had exchanged a few emails previoulsy but had never met. So, it was nice to be able to say hi in person. By the way, the photo above is one of his shots from his review of the show. Thanks, TMoore.

Overall, it was a fun night and a good start to learning about Vermont bands. By the way, I think the bands are playing together again tomorrow night (1/9) at One-Half Lounge in Burlington.

More Vermont Music Blogs | UPDATE

Just a quick note to point out a few more blogs by Vermonters touching on music.

The first one is Underpants Records. The site is brand spanking new and therefore, limited in its posts. However, it may be a good one to bookmark. Bobby Domino is going to regularly post tracks that's he recording; both his stuff and other bands that he's working with. I've heard a few of his tracks and they were pretty good. Hopefully, he'll put them up on the site.

The next one is Highgate. It's written by a guy who plays in the Burlington band, Nest Material, and works at the indie music store, Pure Pop. It largely deals with his personal dealings with daily life. However, when you play in a band and work in a record store, a lot of those personal dealings involve music. Check out his comments on Friday's show (which I'm going to get to in my next post).

The last one is Analog Giant. The site largely covers politics, music and the Chicago Bears (another classic blog combo of topics). Musically, he tends to focus on hip-hop but will occasionally admit to liking an indie band or two. Hey, he has My Morning Jacket in his iPod rotation.

One other blog to shine the light on is (( stereojoe )). The blog has been around for a while but I wanted to note that he's been counting down his top twenty songs of the year. As of yesterday, he was down to #9 (Taxiride's "Oh Yeah").

UPDATE: I got a good tip on another Vermont music blog this morning. The two guys who run Icebox Records in Burlington keep a journal of crap they find on the internet, music, running a record label and whatnot.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Tapes 'n Tapes | The King Club | Jan 4th

Back in November, I posted about the most recent fab band hitting the blogosphere, Tapes 'n Tapes. Well, last night in Madison, WI they started their two-week mini-tour of the midwest and northeast. I wasn't within a thousand miles of WI but my friend, Tom, was there and he emailed me this review of the show.

Tapes 'N Tapes
King Club
Madison, WI
Jan. 4, 2006

Quality band, cheap price, small venue. It was difficult to go wrong with Tapes 'N Tapes playing the King Club in Madison Wednesday night.

I keep wondering what the catch is with the Minneapolis-based group. Albums like The Loon shouldn't have to be ordered to be bought at your favorite local indie record store and bands like Tapes 'N Tapes sure as hell charge more than a $4 cover.

The Loon is still somewhat below radar but it's hard to imagine that lasting for long. As a result, I'll put all other curiosities aside and simply relish the best bang-for-buck show I've ever seen.

It seemed like about a dozen people in the place were truly paying attention to the band. It didn't help its cause that Tapes didn't take the stage until after midnight on a midweek evening.

About the only complaint was that it was tough to hear the vocals on a couple early tunes, even more the case on numbers like 10 Gallon Ascots. Because the King Club is so tiny, when the band brought the sound down for softer, slower interludes, you had to contend with the chatter from the back half of the bar.

Still, the band sounded tight and played with great energy. On 10 Gallon Ascots, the keyboard player borrowed a page from The Arcade Fire playbook and started bashing away on the other side of the drum kit when the band cranked up.

Tapes 'N Tapes was equally adept at taking things down without dragging tempo as it was cutting loose. Such was the case on Buckle, a personal Loon favorite of mine, and the band ripped through versions of Insistor and Cowbell.

The band didn't play Omaha and I heard a couple of complaints about people wishing they played longer. Unless they were start playing covers, I'm not sure exactly how long a band with one album and one EP is supposed to play.

I almost felt guilty walking out, like I should have tipped the band for the performance they gave at the cost. Instead, I thought of some of the disappointing shows I paid to see and figured a night like this makes up for those and then some.

Approximate set list

Just Drums
Beach Girls
10 Gallon Ascots
Jakov's Suite
It sounds like a good show. Thanks for the review, Tom. I wish they were playing somewhere close to VT but no dice. Here are their tour dates:

Jan 4 2006 King Club Madison, WI
Jan 5 2006 Quiet Storm Pittsburgh, PA
Jan 7 2006 The Delancey New York, NY
Jan 8 2006 Pianos New York, NY
Jan 9 2006 Mercury Lounge New York, NY
Jan 10 2006 The Fire Philadelphia, PA
Jan 11 2006 Talking Head Club Baltimore, MD
Jan 14 2006 Schubas (Tomorrow Never Knows Fest) Chicago, IL
Jan 20 2006 St. Olaf College (The Paws) Northfield, MN
Feb 3 2006 the Cave (Carleton College) Northfield, MN
Feb 4 2006 Terminal Bar Minneapolis, MN
Mar 10 2006 The Cavern Dallas, TX

It'll be interesting to see what the NY tastemakers think of their shows this weekend. A few gushing comments from the big NYC blogs and it'll be a heck of a 2006 for the boys from Minneapolis.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Best of 2005 | Top Album and Contenders

Over the year, there were five albums that I considered for my Album of the Year. However, in the end, my favorite was:

The Go! Team | Thunder Lightning Strike
Why It Was My Favorite Album: Bo Muller-Moore of Eat More Kale fame said it best when he was lending his copy of this album to a friend. Bo told his friend that if he didn't like The Go! Team, he may not be able to be friends with him anymore. Knowing Bo's big heart, I'm sure he would have forgiven his friend but it's a good story to describe the love that can be had for Thunder Lightning Strike.

The album is a freak. Put together by London DJ Ian Parton, the album is actually a layered collection of clips from other songs. However, it doesn't sound like a DJ mix. It plays like eleven distinct band-performed tracks. In creating brand new songs from the various musical clips, Parton is more Dr. Frankenstein than he is DJ Shadow.

The result is an album that sounds fresh and familiar at the same time. The melodies and beats are almost immediately infectious. However, there is so much going on in the different layers of sound that the album never grew old for me. I always find something different to groove to each time I spin it. It's a little Motown...a little Sonic Youth's wall of noise...a little TV theme music...and a lot of fun.

Due to the nature of how the album was created, the production quality is not very high. As the man behind underpants records described it, "It sounds like a band was playing and somebody was just standing there with a mic recording them." However, if you listened to any of the lo-fi indie bands of the 90's like GBV, Pavement, Palace, Smog, etc. then you shouldn't be troubled by the production quality. It just adds to the charm of the disc.

Mitigating Factor: Their live show stinks.

The Go! Team | Huddle Formation (courtesy of The Camera As Pen)
The Go! Team | Ladyflash (courtesy of Nialler 9)
The Go! Team | Junior Kickstart (follow the link) (courtesy of Music Slut)

In no particular order, here are the other four albums that I considered for the top slot:

Nouvelle Vague | Nouvelle Vague
Why It Made the List: I first heard of Nouvelle Vague when I received a few tracks in an email that described them as "French electronica covers of 80's new wave tunes". My initial reaction to that description was a gigantic rolling of the eyes and a quick smack of the delete key. However, I didn't delete the files and thank goodness for it.

While that initial description was accurate, it implied something much less desireable than what I ultimately heard. The album is a collection of covers of new wave tunes (The Clash, Dead Kennedys, Joy Division, New Order, etc.) but each one has been so reworked that none of them resemble their former selves. In fact, the female singers on the album had never heard the originals and were not allowed to hear them until after they had finished recording. This ensured that the singers would put their own interpretive spins on the tracks. Plus, while the two French DJs/musicians behind the project do use electronic beats, the sound is much more bossanova than electronica.

The result is an infinitely enjoyable album that swings. Over the year, I've shared the album with seven or eight people and everyone has loved it; regardless of whether they knew the originals or not.

Mitigating Factor: The cover of Killing Joke's "Psyche" is the one dud on the album.

Nouvelle Vague | I Melt With You (courtesy of The Camera As Pen)
Nouvelle Vague | Too Drunk to Fuck (courtesy of Moist Works)
Nouvelle Vague | Teenage Kicks (courtesy of Moist Works)

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah | Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Why It Made the List: What's left to say about this album? It's been blogged and blogged and blogged since last June. Based upon the lower than expected rankings it received in a lot of year-end lists, it seems there has been a bit of a backlash against the boys from Brooklyn. However, it isn't their fault that a lot of people wrote about them and it doesn't make me smile any less when I play the album.

There isn't a second of ground-breaking material on the album and Alec Ounsworth's vocals are almost entirely indecypherable. However, none of that matters. The songs are great. It's all about the songs. Big loveable beats and basslines provide the undercurrent for jangly guitar melodies. Oh, and did I mention the comically cheesy synth keys? Love 'em.

Plus, I loved their story. In June, they started selling their CDs through their website and by December, their tunes were being used on a network TV show. In between they sold tens of thousands of albums and became only the second band to ever sign a deal with Warner Distribution without signing to a label. It's been a nice ride for them.

Mitigating Factor: Worst opening song of a debut album ever.

CYHSY | The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth (courtesy of I Guess I'm Floating)
CYHSY | Heavy Metal (courtesy of Interpretations Diverse)

Sufjan Stevens | Illinois
Why It Made the List: With this album, Sufjan Stevens went from "that Christian guy that makes those nice albums" to one of the biggest names in indie music. It's a staggering work in it's beauty, composition and...research. Who the hell does research to write a rock album? Well, I guess Stevens does.

The album has an almost orchestral feel to it as one song sweeps into another. However, it changes sounds throughout the disc. At times, it's layered with horns, background singers, keys, etc. while other times it's just a plaintively strummed acoustic guitar or heavy rocking electric guitar. But somehow, Stevens makes it all flow in a one huge work.

By the way, Stereogum has a story today about Stevens quitting music for a while. It's only a rumor and I don't believe it but take it as you will.

Mitigating Factor: I can't say it any better than this comic strip did.

Sufjan Stevens | Chicago (courtesy of Interpretations Diverse)
Sufjan Stevens | Decatur (courtesy of In House Radio)

The National | Alligator
Why It Made the List: If I wasn't happily married and had suffered a tough break-up this year, this would have been my album of the year. It has to be one of the best break-up albums of all-time. From that boiling cauldron of pain came fourteen tortured tracks of beauty, despair and hope.

While the two rocking tunes from the album ("Mr. November" and "Abel") got the most attention from bloggers this year, the greatness of this album is in the quieter numbers. That's when Matt Berninger's vocals and lyrics dominate. The guy is a savant of torment as he sells you on his misery. For these reasons, the album is best listened to on a damp, gray day with a chill than in the invigorating sunshine of summer.

Mitigating Factor: I thought Berninger handled the scene poorly in Northampton last summer when he walked off the stage before the encore and left his band searching the building and street for him. Ulitmately, the band (sans Berninger) came back on stage to try to salvage the encore but it was a mess. If he wanted to end the show prematurely, he should have told his bandmates rather than leaving them up on stage looking lost.

The National | Looking for Astronauts (courtesy of So Much Silence)
The National | Karen (courtesy of Aquarium Drunk)
The National | Secret Meeting (courtesy of Shake Your Fist)

By the way, one note about choosing these albums: I used the US release date to decide whether an album was eligible for 2005. So, while The Go! Team and Nouvelle Vague had 2004 European release dates, their albums came out in 2005 in the US. Conversely, I couldn't include Art Brut's Bang Bang Rock and Roll in this year. I guess I'll be writing that one up next year at this time. Eighteen months after first hearing "Good Weekend".

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Best of 2005 | 2004 Redux

I figured a good way to start talking about my favorite albums of 2005 would be by updating the list of my favorite albums from 2004. The reason for this is also one of the reason I struggle with year-end lists. The fact is that I didn't stop buying 2004 albums when Dick Clark dropped his ball (although I guess, technically, Dick wasn't there last year due to his stroke) and I'm not done buying 2005 albums yet.

So, while we all call our lists "The Best of 2005", the real titles should be "The Best Albums of 2005 That We Bought in 2005". But that title is unwieldy so it's easier to just post an update a year later when I've had a chance to hear more 2005 albums.

Last year, here is what I posted on BigSoccer regarding my top albums of 2004:

1 Arcade Fire - Funeral
2 Ambulance Ltd
3 Of Montreal - Satanic Panic in the Attic
4 Old Crow Medicine Show - O.C.M.S.
5 Magnetic Fields - i
6 Giant Sand - All Over the Map
7 Iron & Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days
8 Hanalei - We're All Natural Disasters
9 Animal Collective - Sung Tongs
10 Tie - Wovenhand - Consider the Birds / Chris Stamey & Yo La Tengo - V.O.T.E.

I'm not touching the top four albums nor I&W's Our Endless Numbered Days but everything else is being wiped off that list. Not because they aren't good albums but because I discovered eight other 2004 albums this year that I liked more.

The other thing I'm changing is the numbering. A wise man named Chad visited me in the middle of the night during the holiday season and spun some sound logic about the foolishness of worrying about which album is #5 vs. #6. So, rather than ranking the albums, here is just a list of other 2004 albums that I really enjoyed this year:

Eux Autres | Hell is Eux Autres
Why They Made the List: I came upon this album late this year but it's dominated my iPod ever since. It's chock full of cool guitar riffs and singable pop hooks. That western-twangy riff in The Sundance Kid is worth the album alone but there is so much more to this album. I've gone a whole week with the line from "The Things They Carried" stuck in my head..."Fourteen hours a day. Ninety-five degrees in the shade."

Mitigating Factor:
That song "Carolina" is ponderous. A musical speed bump to the album. Plus, I don't understand why two people from Omaha feel compelled to sing in French.

Eux Autres - The Sundance Kid

The Black Keys | Rubber Factory
Why They Made the List: If the only good song on the album had been "10 A.M. Automatic", then I probably still would have included the album on this list. The song is that damn good. However, the album is packed with many rocked-up blues riffs that sound spanking fresh next to a lot of the smoother pop crap I play. Plus, their live show completely fulfilled my high expectations. More energy than Hydro-Quebec.

Mitigating Factor: While "The Lengths" is a highlight of the album, they seem to lose their way when they downshift for the slower songs. They start sounding like an ordinary neo-blues band. Thankfully, tracks like "Act Nice and Gentle" and "Keep Me" are exceptions to the greatness of this album.

The Black Keys | 10 A.M. Automatic

Les Breastfeeders | Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe
Why They Made the List: Les Breastfeeders perfectly nail the frantic pre-punk sound of 60's garage rock. The album somehow feels sophisticated and fun at the same time which is a tough combo to pull off. While they don't get the press that other Montreal and Canadian bands are getting these days, they are another cog in a cool Montreal music scene.

Mitigating Factor: Their whole website is in French without an English equivalent which makes it a pain in the ass to keep up with them. Plus, I think they lost their Québécois minds with the last track of the album. I have no idea what the hell they were thinking with "Concerto Pour Rien du Tout".

Les Breastfeeders | Mini-Jupe et Watusi

The New Year | The End Is Near
Why They Made the List: Before meeting New Year bass player, Mike Donofrio, earlier this year, I didn't know the Kadane brothers had formed a new band. So, having been a Bedhead fan in the 90's, I was jazzed to discover this album. Their sound is a continuation of Bedhead's earlier work but the quality of the tracks is more consistent from track to track than it was in the 90's. You can read my full review of the album for Seven Days here (however, right now, the links to all the reviews seem to be down).

Mitigating Factor: Geez, that bass player is a train wreck. Ha!

The New Year | Chinese Handcuffs

The Legends | Up Against the Legends
Why They Made the List: Imagine The Jesus & Mary Chain (circa Psychocandy) using tambourines and handclaps to tweak the poppiness of their songs and you get an idea of what The Legends sound like. Fuzzy guitars and that Swedish knack for writing hooks makes this album a fun listen.

Mitigating Factor: The fact that I could easily digest the songs and the lack of variety in the tracks allowed me to burnout on the album after a month or so. However, I'm listening to it right now after a long absence and it sounds great.

The Legends | Call It Ours

Bonnie "Prince" Billy | Sings Greatest Palace Music
Why It Made the List: This album is a wonderful combination of Bonnie "Prince" Billy's best songs and that beautiful sweeping studio sound that made Nashville famous. I hate the crap that gets passed for pop country these days but I have a soft spot for that older Nashville sound which BPB wrapped his catalog in for this album. I also love it when artsits rework their own songs into new creatures. It shows great musicianship.

Mitigating Factor: The album is BPB' equivalent of Yo La Tengo's Fakebook. A great stand alone album that non-BPB fans can easily embrace. However, it doesn't sound anything like his other albums so it doesn't work well as a gateway to his other albums.

Bonnie "Prince" Billy | Gulf Shores (follow the link)

Blanket Music | Cultural Norms
Why It Made the List: I don't know why I never blogged about these guys. I was turned onto them by the old Cranky Sales Clerk feature at Insound and it was a great suggestion. There aren't many indiepop bands that use jazz undertones for their songs. Therefore, the album has a nice fresh feeling. The quartet is from the thriving music scene of Portland, OR but have failed to gather the attention they deserve.

Mitigating Factor: The last three songs on the album stink the joint up. In the vinyl era, the album would have been released with only nine songs and it would have been fine. However, it's a good example of how the larger storage space of CDs leads bands to include superfluous crap.

Blanket Music | You Shouldn't Have Said That

The Hidden Cameras | Mississauga Goddamn
Why It Made the List: I didn't know about these crazy Torontonians until I heard Jens Lekman cover one of their songs at his Bennington show. Lekman described them as a very good band that is horrible at selling records. That seems to be an accurate description. Lush hooky chamber pop melodies combine with sing-along lyrics has made the album one of my favorites since October.

Mitigating Factor: The sing-along nature of the lyrics works against them at times when the lyrics are about cleaning out your boyfriend's underwear. Since reviewers tend to focus on those lyrics, as Lekman said, they are horrible at selling albums.

The Hidden Cameras | I Believe in the Good of Life