Top Albums of 2010

Posted 06 Feb 2010 by hornblower
Categories: music

Premature, you say? The first month of the year is hardly over, you say? Chicken noodle soup is better cold, you say? Prunes are your favorite dried fruit, you say? How about you just keep it down over there. An extreme amount of good music has been released so far this year, and even more has been leaked. So I’m going to do a little top 12. Here it comes.

12. One Life Stand – Hot Chip

11.IRM – Charlotte Gainsbourg

10. Black Noise – Pantha du Prince

9. Broken Bells – Broken Bells

8. Causers of This – Toro y Moi

7. Hippies – Harlem

6. The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night – The Besnard Lakes

5. Gorilla Manor – Local Natives

4. Ambling Alp – Yeasayer

3. Heartland – Owen Pallett

2. Contra – Vampire Weekend

1. Teen Dream – Beach House
We’ll see how the rest of the year shapes up. The new Hornblower EP is supposed to be a masterwork.

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Senior superlatives

Posted 29 Jan 2010 by hornblower
Categories: music

Concerts, albums… what’s left? Songs, of course.

Best song to sing a capella: ‘Two Weeks’ – Grizzly Bear. Gets even better if you have someone else do the “Ooooh-ooh-ooooooh-ooh” to your “Would you always?” and “Maybe sometimes”

Best song that got me to dance alone in my room like a madman: ‘My Girls’ – Animal Collective. Technically, this happened in the last week of 2008, after the album leaked on Christmas Day, but it’s a 2009 song so it still counts.

Best song on an overrated album: ‘Lisztomania’ – Phoenix. The album: good pop, excellent at times. This is one of those times.

Best Elliott Smith song that’s not an Elliott Smith song: ‘New Years Day’ – exlovers. Who the hell are these guys, even?

Most likely to get me funny looks on the D train if I sing it aloud: ‘Lust For Life’ – Girls. Whenever I sing “I wish I had a pizza and a bottle of wine” I try to sing it just like Christopher Owens, and I totally nail it and Bronxites think I sound a little bit funny. Also, there’s that part about wishing I had a boyfriend/loving man in my life. Sang that inside Borgatti’s Ravioli and Egg Noodle shop and got kicked out. Ouch.

Best transition from live to studio: ‘What Would I Want? Sky” – Animal Collective. Seeing this song performed live (and hearing a rip from some radio show)  I thought this was engaging for a while, but ultimately too unflaggingly repetitive to be a great song. Then, on the Fall Be Kind EP there was this crazy drum beat vocal mishmash intro to this crazy song and then hey it resolved itself into that Grateful Dead-sampling, hypnotic, 7/8 time tune I knew and sort of liked but about which I was ultimately ambivalent. And it was dope.

Most likely maybe to lose me some cred: ‘You Belong With Me,’ ‘Love Story’ – Taylor Swift, ‘Bad Romance’ – Lady GaGa. Umm, I’ll leave it at that.

Decades

Posted 29 Jan 2010 by hornblower
Categories: music

The title is a Joy Division reference, just to be clear. Hip.

Some people say the decade doesn’t end until the end of 2010. These people are overzealous and probably think they’re cool because they listen to Cold War Kids.

Hey, here’s a fun activity. Try to find out how many songs in your iTunes library use the opening drumbeat from ‘Be My Baby’ ! I bet it’s like a million. Just over the past few days, the “random” function has brought me to ‘Postcode’ by Orphan Boy, ‘Eighties Fan’ by Camera Obscura and some song by Au Revoir Simone from The Bird of Music the name of which escapes me at the moment.

Anyway, we were talking about decades, which are just periods of ten years, an example of which would be… 2000-2009. Great. Glad that’s cleared up. Let’s see if I can come up with some big things to say about the decade in music.

Best year for music: 2007. From Here We Go Sublime; In Rainbows; For Emma, Forever Ago; Untrue; Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?; Strawberry Jam; Person Pitch; Mirrored; All Hour Cymbals; Kala; Neon Bible, The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse; Sound of Silver; Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever; Myths of the Near Future; Marry Me; We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank; Wincing the Night Away; etc… Even if some of these weren’t as good as previous entries in their creators’ discographies, I still enjoyed them a lot. If someone were new to “indie” music and for some bizarre reason had to start listening only to albums from a single year of the Aughts, 2007 would be the one to pick.

Songs that surprisingly didn’t get some kind of high-profile exposure via t.v. or advertisements or something, or maybe they did and I just didn’t notice but how high-profile could it have been, though? or maybe the fact that I missed it says more about me than about the exposure:

‘Hey Now Now’ – The Cloud Room

‘Coffee’ – Motel Motel.

‘Steady Rollin” – Two Gallants.

My favorite albums:

10. Apologies to the Queen Mary – Wolf Parade

9. From Here We Go Sublime – The Field

8. Alligator – The National

7. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? – of Montreal

6. Funeral – Arcade Fire

5. Feels – Animal Collective

4. Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven – Godspeed You! Black Emperor

3. Yellow House – Grizzly Bear

2. Kid A – Radiohead.

1. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver

My favorite songs:

13. ‘Ignition (Remix)’ – R. Kelly

12. ‘I Won’t Be Found’ – The Tallest Man on Earth

11. ‘Twilight’ – Elliott Smith

10. ‘Avril 14th’ – Aphex Twin

9. ‘I Believe’ – Simian Mobile Disco

8. ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ – Radiohead

7. ‘The Purple Bottle’ – Animal Collective

6.’Neighborhood #4 (Tunnels)’ – Arcade Fire

5. ‘King’s Crossing’ – Elliott Smith

4. ‘Skinny Love’ – Bon Iver

3. ‘Fireworks’ – Animal Collective

2. ‘Maps’ – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

1. ‘Heroes [Aphex Twin Remix]’ – Philip Glass

Best concert: Leonard Cohen at Radio City Music Hall, 17 May 2009

Artist of the decade: Animal Collective

Just heard another ‘Be My Baby’ drum intro: ‘Lewis Takes Action’ on the new Owen Pallett LP, Heartland.

Outstanding motion picture of the decade

Posted 10 Jan 2010 by hornblower
Categories: Raspy Thoughts

Tags: ,

It’s really no contest. You will find no braver film, none more honest or more daring or more heartfelt, in this or any decade. Jaleel White proves that his revelatory Steve “Urkel” Urkel was no mere fluke, as his Michael here is both hero and villain, protagonist and antagonist, potatoe-salad eater and potatoe-salad … well, let’s just say you’ll have to see the movie! With Eddie Griffin as the wisecracking cousin or best friend or something, probably.

Dessert of the year 2009: the Kouign Amann

Posted 10 Jan 2010 by hornblower
Categories: Raspy Thoughts

Continued crunch

Posted 09 Jan 2010 by hornblower
Categories: music

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Let’s talk albums. Once again, for the first seven months of the year or so, I was up on things, then I just kind of listened to old music for a while. This will be a highly personal review of the year.

Let’s get these three out of the way first: Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective, Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear, Bitte Orca by Dirty Projectors. These three albums were the subject of more hype than any other “indie” release this year by far, and to be honest there’s not much else to say about them than has already been said a hundred times before. But I will say things anyway!

MPP – the most influential album since Kid A, maturation and culmination of Animal Collective’s sound, instant classic, blah blah blah. Yeah, it is really good. I do believe that this probably the most unique and important band of my musically-mature years (the past five or six years). I don’t know if this is their best album, though. “Also Frightened” does not engage me, and the albums drags a bit with perhaps a little too much reverb and too little percussion at times (but when they drop that beat, oh man… finally hearing “In the Flowers” live the third time I saw them this year was wonderful), but overall it has one of the strongest claims on album of the year.
Veckatimest – perfectly, painstakingly composed and arranged, impeccable melodies & harmonies, everybody in the band can sing like Andrea Bocelli and dress like Beau Brummell, &c, &c. Though as a silly high-schooler I couldn’t always explain why, I always liked Grizzly Bear, eventually growing to love Yellow House like a brother. It took a while for me to get used to the new album, but it’s damn good. The drummer, Christopher Bear, gets love mostly just from music nerds, but anyone privileged enough to see him play right in front of you, the very definition of “controlled intensity,” would be able to see why he’s such an essential part of the band. Honestly, I’ve never been so happy watching a drummer’s performance.
Bitte Orca-Dave Longstreth finally makes his crazy genius accessible for a wider audience,  three excellent singers + 12-hr rehearsals = spectacular vocal tracks, each track stuffed full of ideas and brilliance, boopity boop boop. It’s all true. The “easiest” Dirty Projectors album, and arguably the best, it definitely rewards repeat listens, defies categorization and, hey, is pretty damn catchy. If there’s one guy who deserves to hang around with David Byrne it’s Longstreth.

There was, of course, more to the music scene this year than these three releases. A few albums, then, that I also have deemed worthy of mention, either because I think they’re one of the best of the year, or else a lot of other people did and I want to talk about that. We’ve got some top-ten material, some honorable mentions, some bop bop-a-do-bop. They’re not in any particular order, mind you. Well, they’re kind of grouped together, some of them. Like Motel Motel and The Rural Alberta Advantage. That was intentional.

Family – Le Loup. Sounds a bit like old Animal Collective, with more “folk” in their freak-folk — including banjo. Frontman Sam Simkoff sounds like Panda Bear sometimes, but when the tempo picks up his vocals and phrasing style are entirely his own.

Album – Girls. I downloaded this album during the latter half of the year, while I was trying to isolate myself from the hype storm that any regular reader of music blogs weathers (and even embraces). Word eventually spread to me, though, about the praises being sung to this release. So I listened with critical ear and, looking down my critical nose, couldn’t really find too much to criticize. I told the Good King Martinslas a while ago that the fifties were going to be the new hot revival decade and he said some fool thing about blues making a comeback in the indie world. This is why he’s the king and I write about music. If you can deal with singer Christopher Owens’s somewhat affected (some might say whiny) delivery, you’ll have a good time with this one, whoooo.

The xx – The xx. Here’s another band that rode the hype wave all the way to Bombay this year. They’re good, I like them, but 3rd best album of the year? I wouldn’t go that far.

Gorilla Manor – Local Natives. I think this album is only out in Europe now, but I’m not going to wait, because by this time next year they’re going to be too famous for me to mention them on here without risking losing big-time credibility. And, let’s face it, I have precious little credibility to begin with, here. So yeah, this is a big old pop record, really, with big old voices using big old reverb on big old catchy choruses. Think Fleet Foxes, Annuals, maybe some Arcade Fire without Régine. This record might not stand up to ubiquity like Fleet Foxes — we’ll see — but for now it’s great to listen to straight through once in a while. If only I had the same restraint with Danish butter cookies — I overindulged and now I can’t stand them. HA! Just kidding. That could never happen.

Hometowns – The Rural Alberta Advantage. This album was released last year, but was re-released this summer on Saddle Creek, so let’s go ahead and count it, hey. Singer Nils Edenloff has a bit of a Jeff Mangum thing going on and I hear a little Billy Corgan in there, too (no offense, Nils. I’m sure the similarities don’t extend to being really wack and doing really wack things). The songs are plaintive, honest (I hope!) and since Neil Young is a little busy right now doing his electric car thing and releasing everything he’s ever recorded, it’s nice to see some Canadians doing what would probably be called Americana except yeah right, you wish, these colors don’t bleed, why don’t you go back to where you came from foreigners? take your socialism back to the Arctic, tea party, SP2012. So maybe we’ll just call it “music for white people.”

New Denver – Motel Motel. Another record that technically debuted in 2008 but saw re-release this past summer (on 7 July, weirdly enough the same day as Hometowns), this time by the Rebel Group, which may explain why it hasn’t seen even the modest acclaim afforded to the RAA record. If only for showstopper “Coffee” this album would be worth your time, but you should go ahead and give the rest of it a shot, because there’s a lot of good Americana going on, here. And they’re actually Americans.

If I were you I’d be looking forward to seeing another post later with some more thoughts on some other albums, possibly including Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, The Antlers’ Hospice and maybe even a little record I like to call Celebrity, by *NSYNC.

Year-end crunch time

Posted 04 Jan 2010 by hornblower
Categories: music

Here it is, readers. The end of the year. And the end of an era. The end of 2009. And the end of December. The end of the rope. And the end of the week. The end of the line. And the end of the word “refrigerate.” The end of my last breath. And the end of a curtain that I thought about buying for my new apartment but ended up not purchasing because of space concerns and because I am a poor person. The end of the last meal I had. And the end of the first meal I had. The end of a circle. And the end of a square. The end of whoever is still reading this nonsense. And the end of my ability to hold a conversation. The end of that one song you wrote when you were 15 and thought that you “had a shot.” And the end of a cowbell that maybe has seen better days. The end of your pet iguana, Stevie Harbaugh. And the end of a box of Count Chocula. The end of a mushroom cap. And the end of this goddamn paragraph, finally.

This year was an interesting year for me, in terms of music-listening and concert-attending. Over the course of the first seven-and-a-half months of the year I saw 42 concerts (that’s including the latter half of the My Morning Jacket concert on New Year’s Eve — they had left the stage, and came back on just after midnight and played for an hour more; it counts) but since 23 August 2009, when I saw Radiohead in Prague, I have not been to a single concert, save for the odd ska-band-at-a-street-festival at 3:30 a.m. A sudden shift, but not a hugely difficult one. I wasn’t completely cut off from the show-going world, though — I did buy a pair of tickets for Pavement’s first reunion show in New York. Holler?

Let’s keep this post to the concerts. Later we’ll move on to other topics — albums, cheese, horseflies, &c, &c.

First, the bad.

Drawlings

21 January 2009, Bowery Ballroom

Any band opening for Animal Collective has the potential to be either great in a new and exciting way (Grouper) or awful in a new and unfortunate way (Drawlings). This performance included loops of a baby crying, which maybe sounded interesting in the conception (no pun intended) stage of the song but after four or five minutes of on-stage performance was just downright unpleasant listening.

Ratatat
23 April 2009, Terminal 5

I remember the first time I heard Ratatat (“Seventeen Years,” given to me on a mix cd in ninth or tenth grade) I thought they were pretty rad. My brother and I would play that song in the car and freestyle over it, and it was good. Four or five years later, though, I had come to realize that all their songs sound pretty much the same and they were popular enough that their concerts could be expected to be a big, sweaty mess (and not the good kind, like No Deachunter). I went anyway, because the Good King had decreed that it be so, but I turned out to be right, and the show consisted mostly of me shoving people and throwing apples and gargling salt water.

The Beets
3 July 2009, Bruar Falls

Have you ever heard of the Beets? This is a band that is awful. They are just as awful musically as the previous sentence is stylistically. Their songs just sound like someone’s little brother decided to make a racket and whine a lot. Probably you should just try to avoid them, if you can.

And now, the best. This list was a lot harder to make, but since I had three bad concerts I’ll keep the good to three as well.

David Byrne
27 February 2009, Radio City Music Hall

Talking Heads are one of the few bands my mother and I can agree are fantastic, and though they, along with most of the other bands in that élite club, no longer exist, David Byrne certainly does (all right, Tina, Jerry and Chris do, too), and thankfully he still performs their music live. I managed to get pretty good seats for this show, and it happened to be at a time when I was deep into a Talking Heads-loving period of my life. From the opening, oddly moving “Strange Overtones” to the rousing “Burning Down the House” that had me hopping joyfully like an Easter bunny on uppers to the closing cooldown of “Everything That Happens,” I had the time of my life at this show. For pure happiness, this was the best concert of my life.

Leonard Cohen
17 May 2009, Radio City Music Hall

A pretty different experience from David Byrne, and even more extraordinary. Before I went to the show, I had read glowing reviews of previous concerts on this tour, and to be honest I was a little skeptical. People were describing it as the best show they’d ever seen, and I wasn’t sure how that could be. The last truly great concert I had seen was David Byrne, and most of the other “greatest concerts of my life” had been great for similar reasons: kinetic exuberance and animated collective joy. While I loved Leonard Cohen’s oeuvre, his songs don’t exactly fit the bill for that kind of show. But it didn’t matter. This show, like the entire tour, was a celebration of one of the greatest artists of the past century, but it was much more than just a victory lap. It’s impossible to convey the majestic presence Leonard Cohen has onstage, which is partly why I couldn’t have imagined how powerful this concert was going to be. Seeing him sing, hearing that voice, you can’t help but to think that he believes wholly in whatever he’s saying and whatever he’s saying is the most important thing you could be hearing at that moment. He could read the back of a cereal box and make you think it was Keats. And while his singing and his talking aren’t too far apart these days, it doesn’t really matter — especially when the words are some of the greatest lyrics ever written.

(tie)

Signal performing Steve Riech’s Daniel Variations and Music for 18 Musicians
31 January 2009, Vassar College-Skinner Hall

Terry Riley, Kronos Quartet and Ensemble performing Terry Riley’s In C
24 April 2009, Carnegie Hall-Perelman Stage

All right, so these are two concerts, making four for the category. Did I promise to trim the list to three? Yes. Do I care about my promise? No. You just go ahead and deal with it. How am I supposed to pick just one great performance of a minimalist masterpiece? It’s just impossible. The Reich piece was great because I was close enough to see the expressions on the faces of the musicians, and they looked like they were having an incredible time, smiling at each other as they burned through Music for 18 Musicians like hypnotic bank robbers getting away with something huge. And In C was an incredible event, with Philip Glass and the composer himself (plus a couple of the guys from the National, for indie cred) among the 60-plus musicians on stage — not to mention the incredible music and spectacular sound that comes from such an assemblage of talent performing such an iconic piece at such an extraordinary venue. It simply would not be fair to exclude one of these two events.

But if I had to pick one, I’d go with the Vassar College performance — maybe because I like the piece better, maybe because it happened first, or maybe just because I like Reich’s baseball cap (he was at the performance, though not on stage) better than Riley’s beanie.