Posts tagged ‘The Raveonettes’

April 7, 2010

Dum Dum Girls – I Will Be

I WIll Be

I’ve listened to this album at least once a day for the last five days. I adore it. I adored it from the first huge, driving drumbeat of epic sounding opening song “It Only Takes One Night”.

Dum Dum Girls is essentially one girl, Dee Dee (real name Kristin Gundred). Though, she has brought on three girls since she first started. They add pretty vocal harmonies and a really tight rhythm section. By the third track, “Oh Mein M” you’ll start to think, “hey this reminds me of The Go-Go’s a little, except noisier”. Turns out, the album was co-produced by Richard Gittenhrer, who produced The Go-Go’s first album Beauty And The Beat, which has “We Got The Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed”. (That whole album is great BTW.) He also produced the first two Blondie albums and The Raveonettes albums Chain Gang Of Love and Pretty In Black. The Raveonettes are both, in sound and lyrical themes, the perfect modern comparison. While Dee Dee wrote all the songs herself, it should be noted that Gittenhrer wrote the songs “My Boyfriend’s Back” (covered by The Raveonettes) and “I Want Candy”.

Dum Dum Girls clearly are influenced by all those reference points. But, there is no denying how great these songs are. Dee Dee has created ridiculously catchy girl-group pop-punk songs. The album has buzz saw guitars, driving drumbeats, lots of reverb, and lo-fi production. The whole album is somehow both dreamy and punky, both sunny and melancholic. The songs bounce, like the on “Jail La La”. The vocals are often sing-songy, like the opening words “Bhang bhang” on “Bhang Bhang, I’m A Burnout”. The lyrics deal with teenage concerns like love on “I Will Be”, drugs on “Bhang Bhang, I’m A Burnout”, girl-girl competition on “Lines Her Eyes”, and fighting authority on “Jail La La”. Dee Dee’s voice is pitched somewhere between Karen O and Cat Power. Coincidentally, Nick Zinner plays guitar on driving track “Yours Alone”, and it speaks to the overall songwriting and production aesthetic that you wouldn’t know it had you not read the liner notes. The whole album whips by fast (it also clocks in at 28:44), nearly every song is a burst of light, rocking and likable. But, as her cover of Sonny & Cher song “Baby Don’t Go” proves, Dee Dee can do aching balladry too. It’s a gorgeous cover. I Will Be will easily remain one of my favorite albums of the year, and it’s likable enough for me to recommend to anyone.

It Only Takes One Night

I Will Be

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March 11, 2010

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Beat The Devil’s Tattoo

Beat The Devil's Tattoo

I don’t really care if the critics don’t like BRMC, I still do. There’s a lot of talk about “authenticity” when it comes to them. I don’t think BRMC set out to reinvent music. It’s too easy to rip them for being too much like Jesus And Mary Chain, The Stooges or Velvet Underground. A lot of bands pray to those alters. I just happen to think BRMC do it better than most. Some critics think Howl, which was a turn towards blues and country, was their falling off. Some critics think Baby 81, a “return to form”, was. I’m sure Beat The Devil’s Tattoo, which combines all the elements from the previous four albums, will cause other critics to say that this album was the falling off point. Sure, there’s a degree of camp to an album title like Beat The Devil’s Tattoo, and to BRMC themselves. But, I’ve seen them play four times, and they just plain rock. And, so do their albums. It’s really that simple for me. They write good songs that I want to listen to. Everyone is influenced by someone. It’s what they do with it. And, BRMC write good melodies and interesting songs. Now they have a new drumer, Leah Shapiro, who toured with The Raveonettes. So, that has invited more comparisons. Shapiro even sings on “The Toll”, so maybe they’ll do their own “Sometimes Always” (the J&MC / Hope Sandoval duet). Over the past five albums, they’ve settled into a nice groove where you know what you’re going to get with each album.

Let’s take the songs off Beat The Devil’s Tattoo:

The Bluesy Ones: “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo”, “River Styx”
The J&MC Ones: “Conscience Killer”, “Bad Blood”, “Evol”, “Mama Taught Me Better”, “Shadow’s Keeper”
The Dirge Ones: “War Machine”, “Aya”
The Country Ballad Ones: “Sweet Feeling”, “The Toll”, “Long Way Down”
The Epic 10 Minute One: “Half-State”

There’s plenty of lyrics about “your bones are breaking” (Beat The Devil’s Tattoo), “I’m a preacher with a gun” (Conscience Killer), “as you walk out the door, my heart slips on the floor” (Evol), ” Oh, you’re so afflicted, your love keeps burning, it brings me down (Mama Taught Me Better), “Will you lay me down inside Heaven’s walls” (River Styx). You get the picture.

That’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Gritty, gothic psych-rock, and sneering vocals. Feedback, slide guitar, and dark lyrics. Maybe a little twang thrown in. You either can get over the reference points or not. I’ve read some people ask why BRMC should exist. I’m happy they do, because it means I have more good music to listen to and enjoy.

Evol

River Styx

January 11, 2010

The Ravonettes – Heart Of Stone live

This is my current ringtone. The video is shaky, but the audio sounds great. I’ve seen them twice, and I think you’ll agree they sound fantastic live. As is well documented on this blog, I adore The Raveonettes. As you can see in my review of their In And Out Of Control album.

December 10, 2009

25 Favorite Songs Of 2009

The xx


Every year I do a Top 10 Favorite Albums list. Frankly, I had a hard time listening to all the music I wanted to this year. This is partially due to it being an extremely strong year for music. It’s really one big cliche now, but in this day and age, I found myself much more listening to specific songs on my iPod, instead of whole albums. So, instead, I bring you the 25 songs I loved the most this year. I recommend all host albums as well.

1. Animal Collective – Summertime Clothes: For a long time I aggressively didn’t “get” Animal Collective, partially as a “fuck you” posture. This song was the key, because it’s an art-rave track. Art-rave. Merriweather Post Pavillion makes the rest of their albums make sense.

2. Annie – Don’t Stop: Annie does intelligent indie electropop, which she calls “pop with strange edges”. This song is one of three truly new songs on her 2009 version of the album Don’t Stop. The heavy (but not in your face) beat, the twinkling synths, the whole production by Paul Epworth add up to a pop song that doesn’t sound pop. Her breathy sweet vocal on top ties it together. Few singers can sing breathy AND with bravado like she does. That is why Annie is special.

3. Bat For Lashes – Sleep Alone: Natasha Khan mixes some Indian guitar, a huge bassline, a stuttering pounding beat, some maracas, synths, and her gorgeously sad voice for a bewitching track about her literally casting a spell to combat her loneliness. She deserves to be said in the same company as Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks, and I point to a track like this as proof. Except Natasha Khan can do beats better than most electronic producers.

4. The Big Pink – Velvet: The British do epic electronic rock better than anyone else, and this track comes in line with that grand tradition. Headphone filling.

5. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career: Phil Spector reverb. And Campbell’s vocals which say her maudlin career is over, but sound like it’s not. Yeah, that’s Camera Obscura. What made me love this song is that twinkling upward piano line that runs throughout.

6. Neko Case – This Tornado Loves Me: It’s a obsessed love song expressed by a personified tornado. And it breaks your heart. Enough said.

7. Delorean – Seasun: This house song makes the world feel glorious. It sounds like sunrise over an ocean. Such a thrill when that beat drops halfway through.

8. Franz Ferdinand – Live Alone: It’s just a classic FF track. Lots of swagger, great synth chorus that sends the song skyward, and lyrics that somehow make not moving in together sound totally awesome.

9. Girls Aloud – The Loving Kind: Co-written with the Pet Shop Boys. If the Spice Girls had had songs that sounded this effortlessly good to your ears, they might still be around. Girls Aloud knocked this song out on their FIFTH album. Girl group perfection.

10. Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks: If the Beach Boys were still together and went indie-rock.

11. The Juan MacLean – Tonight: Disco house epic. Easily one of the very best tracks out of the DFA house so far. It’s how I feel about going out in song form: Melancholy, but hopeful and glad. I’ve played the song many times driving fast down the highway on my way out or back home late at night. The trumpet solo 5:30 – 6:45 makes life feel infinite.

12. Lady Gaga – Bad Romance: The first 35 seconds dominate. Frankly, this is the peak of Lady Gaga. It’s her on all cylinders, and makes me believe she’s a contender despite her bullshit. Sure, rave has existed for 20 years, but she’s managed to bring it to the masses like few else. Oh, and “Ra-ra-ah-ahah-roma-ro-mama-ga-ga-ooh-la-la.”

13. & 14. Major Lazer – Hold The Line / When You Hear The Bassline: Diplo and Switch’s dancehall creation was my favorite driving album this year. Shit is hot. The first two songs are the perfect example of how you start a mix. Atmospheric spaghetti western guitars begin “Hold The Line”, then the dancehall beat hits, and Mr Lex and Santigold sound badass. Love that Nokia vibration sound. It really makes your head vibrate. “When You Hear The Bassline” turns shit way up with that pounding… er bassline. I’ll put these two songs, and the entire album, against any hiphop, dancehall shit you play me, and it’ll be hotter.
Hold The Line:

When You Hear The Bassline:

15. Monsters Of Folk – Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.): Jim James, M. Ward, and Conor Oberst do some sorta trip hop sensual song. As a letter to God. I saw them live this year, and this song is gorgeous live.

16. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – The Tenure Itch: This to me is the sweetest, prettiest track off their album. For a debut album, they did their My Bloody Valentine indebted (heavily) thing really well, and this was my favorite moment. A song this romantic and shy is why their band name is the best name they could have.

17. The Phenomenal Handclap Band – All Of The Above: From an album that sounds like it was recorded in the 70’s, I think I listened to this song the most because of the strutting bassline that kicks in 47 seconds in.

18. The Raveonettes – Suicide: Their In And Out Of Control album was the Raveonettes embracing the pop part of their, in my opinion, iconic style. Which is appropriate, given Lust Lust Lust’s embrace of their feedback part. “Suicide” blew me away, because it is the sweetest, prettiest singing of the word “suicide” that has probably ever been committed to tape. And, the lyric is “Lick your lips and fuck suicide”, for the record. Only The Raveonettes.

19. Saint Etienne – The Sea: This track comes from the double disc reissue of a 1997 album that was previously Japan only, called Continental. “The Sea” comes late in an album filled with Saint Etienne’s usual pristine take on house and pop. Suddenly, Etienne drop a drum ‘n’ bass track. And, it’ll stand up to any drum ‘n’ bass track you’ll play me. Such is the greatness of Saint Etienne.

20. Saint Etienne – Girl VII (Richard X Remix): Taken from Richard X’s Foxbase Beta album, a remix of Saint Etienne’s entire debut album Foxbase Alpha. According to the commentary track to Foxbase Beta (yes, really), Saint Etienne say they wrote “Girl VII” to represent their impression of the glamour of London. Richard X takes “Girl VII” to such lush heights, you feel the glamour all the more. It’s one track on Foxbase Beta that I truly prefer to the original. And, that is rare in a remix. Somehow Richard X recreates “Girl VII” into a 4:30 minute constantly evolving and changing beast, yet all the elements came from, and follow, the original track. Epic. Perhaps the best remix I’ve ever heard.

21. Sally Shapiro – Mircale: Like others, I wasn’t as enamored with My Guilty Pleasure as much as Sally Shapiro’s debut. That’s what happens when you create a debut that’s borderline perfect. But, this electro track will always rank as one of her best. It’s Sally Shapiro at her most muscular and anthemic. And, for someone as breathy and shy as her, it was a welcome surprise.

22. Britney Spears – Womanizer: Why Britney is Britney.

23. The xx – Crystalized: I’m a huge sucker for male/female vocals. The way The xx weave their vocals together on “Crystalized” is magical. They do the atmospheric, minimalist, dreampop thing so well, and listening to this track and its host album breaks my heart in the best way possible.

24. Yacht – Afterlife: Here’s some sing-songy jaded female sung funky techno indie guitar shit. I’m still waiting for The DFA to get their due as a label. People mention labels like Jagjaguwar, Secretly Canadian, and Saddle Creek. The DFA constantly shepherd incredible dance music, and I never hear their name mentioned unless LCD Soundsystem release music. Shame.

25. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero: Answered the question, “What if the YYYs added synthesizers?” Answer: Sound like the YYYs. Happily confirmed when the synthesizers become guitars after the first chorus. What a rush. They’re one of the very best bands we have right now.

October 10, 2009

The Raveonettes – In And Out Of Control

In And Out Of Control

The Raveonettes are one of my very favorite bands. Why? It’s in the wicked reverb guitar solo in “Gone Forever” and the blistering guitar line that opens “Heart Of Stone”. It’s how sweetly they can sing a line like, “boys who rape should all be destroyed” in the song of that name. I’ve never heard another band sing a line like, “lick your lips and fuck suicide” in such a singsongy, and convincing, way. I also love them because they wear their influences like a badge of honor. “Bang!” directly takes its guitar line in the verses from The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me” and marries it to a huge thump of a beat during the chorus. In And Out Of Control embraces their pop side, in stark contrast to their previous album Lust Lust Lust. That album was filled with dark, jaded shoegaze, embracing their love of Jesus And Mary Chain and The Velvet Underground. Their trademark feedback is still all over In And Out, most prominently in the beginning 1:30 of “Break Up Girls!”. That song in particular seems there to remind you they can still do an “Attack Of The Ghost Riders”, but “Break Up Girls!” is more mature and refined. It’s as if when writing a song, they can turn a dial in one direction or the other, and get different shades and permutations in their shoegaze / 50’s rockabilly / Ronettes spectrum. But, their girl group pop sensibilities are the clear focus here. With The Raveonettes, it’s very easy to list their influences. They’re in their very name. But, in my opinion The Raveonettes have an acute sense of melody that sets them apart from other genre aping bands like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. It’s in the almost Beach Boys like woos and the bells of “Last Dance” and the ahs of “Suicide”. I point to The Raveonettes as maybe the finest example of a band that flouts their influences in such a way that transcends them. This is a great album, another in a growing career of them.

Bang!

Heart Of Stone

May 3, 2009

Music Snobbery

Much of music writing is surrounded by saying “____ sounds like / pays homage to / is influenced by / rips off ____”. I do it myself. I think it has value as a reference point, since music writing is attempting to put in terms of written language something that is aural. But, I think to get hung up on it as “_____ sucks because _____ did it first” only leads to denying yourself great music. I think at this point in history, 2009, there is little that has not been done before. No band or artist truly defies comparison anymore. Even Animal Collective, who are about as an original sounding band as you can find today, can be compared to the Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Orb, etc. Getting hung up on this kind of thinking is what separates a snob from someone who appreciates and enjoys good music. I think a term like “retro” is losing it’s utility. Music, whether from the 50’s or from the 80’s, is all part of the world’s collective consciousness now. The question is, do you find it enjoyable? You like the Jesus And Mary Chain. Great. The Raveonettes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are clearly influenced by them, and have made enjoyable albums that recall their sound. Saying “I liked them better when they were called Jesus And Mary Chain” only serves to make you, who didn’t create either music, feel superior. All that ultimately should matter is whether or not you enjoy what you hear. I think most people, if they get past the nose aloft snobbishness, would realize that The Raveonettes take all their influences and write great songs. But, we all can’t be innovators in life. It’s insane, and probably leads to hypocrisy, to expect that of the music we listen to. To put a fence around the sound My Bloody Valentine pioneered, and say “no others shall drink of this well” would deny the world great music like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. Talent is less subjective. I can’t write or play shit. After all, music is an art form and not all of us are artistically inclined. But, I think to simply define musical talent as “were you the first to create this sound” is far too strict and limiting. And, that is what you do when you dislike a band simply on the basis of “yeah, I liked them better when they were called ____”. Music makes the world a better, more bearable place. Snobbery only denies yourself a life enhancing, at times life changing, thing.

Finally, there’s a subtle distinction to be made between enjoyment and artistic appreciation. And, a lesson I had to learn in life is to separate the two. I had to stop caring if music I enjoyed listening to was also critically highly regarded. I enjoyed Britney Spears’ last two albums, but will I say she herself is talented? No. Think of it this way: I don’t like onions. People ask me, “How can you not like onions?” And, my only answer is, “They go into my mouth, and something in my brain says that I don’t like how they taste.” Music, in the end, is the same. Taste can be refined over time, especially if you take in more and more music. Perhaps if I ate more onions, more kinds of onions, I’d appreciate them more. It took a long time for me to appreciate Steely Dan. And, maybe all it took was a maturing of my musical palate. Yes, I just compared Steely Dan to onions. But, maybe I won’t ever like onions, just like I have never really liked The Cure. And, that’s OK.

November 27, 2008

Top 10 Favorite Albums 2008

This year has been a weird one for me. I think I’ve listened to music less this year then I ever have before. Some of it has to do with less free time, too many podcasts (which I’ve cut down on), too much news watching and obsessing over the election, my job taking a huge toll on me. An album had to really stand out for it to demand my attention. And, in the end perhaps this is a better list for it. That’s not to say I haven’t listened to a lot of music this year. I’ve heard the Bon Iver, Cut Copy, Shearwater, Deerhunter, She & Him, Santogold, etc albums. And, I do recommend those albums as well. But, this list represents what I put on repeat this year. In order, but in no way claiming it’s the “best” music of the year, my Top 10 for 2008:

10. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive: I became a believer with this, their 4th album. I had read so much about how well respected and liked The Hold Steady are. While I definitely agreed that Craig Finn is a charismatic singer and gifted storyteller, I felt musically little on their first three albums stood out. Stay Positive is a whole other story. The songwriting is so much stronger this time. Sure, I can point to the usage of harpsichord on “One For The Cutters”, or the gothic banjo tinged song “Both Crosses”, or the non-cheesy use of a talkbox on “Joke About Jamaica”. But, even the traditional Hold Steady rock songs are memorable this time. What an awesome rock anthem “Constructive Summer” is, especially that piano-led bridge. Favorite Songs: Constructive Summer, Both Crosses, Joke About Jamaica

9. Los Campesinos! – Hold On Now, Youngster…: British twee pop/punk with shared male/female lead vocals and seemingly the rest of the seven-piece band on background vocals. Plus glockenspiels. Plus violins. Plus whatever else. The band earns its exclamation point. Each song is a controlled mess, seemingly about to go off the rails, yet it never quite does. Instead it’s just really fun to listen to. The six-minute “You! Me! Dancing!” doesn’t seem any longer than the the two-minute “My Year In Lists”. For me, what makes the band really stand out is the wittiness of the lyrics. There are great lines that stick out all over. “I’m taking far too many chances on these less idealistic romances”, or “Four sweaty boys with guitars tell me nothing about my life”, or “The opposite of true love is as follows: Reality” are just a few great examples. If only every indie pop/punk band were this intelligent about their emotional issues. Favorite Songs: Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats, My Year In Lists, You! Me! Dancing!

8. Gang Gang Dance – Saint Dymphna: This is clearly their “pop structure” album. Gang Gang Dance have taken their stew of Brooklyn indie guitars, tribal drumming, beats, ambient synths, and the exotic vocal mews and wails of Liz Bougatsos and tightened it all into (slightly) more structure. Hell, there’s even a hiphop track with a guest rapper, UK grime artist Tinchy Stryder, on “Princes”. All the songs flow into each other, much like previous album God’s Money, but especially on tracks like the out and out er… house jam of “House Jam” there are actual resemblances to songs. You can tell apart the tribal-punk of “First Communication” from the techno of “Afoot”. Clearly, this band is talented enough to go all out dance-pop if they wanted to. They’re all the better for subverting pop into their own unique hypnotic soundscapes. Favorite Songs: Afoot, House Jam, Desert Storm

7. Hercules & Love Affair – Hercules & Love Affair: Hey look, it’s the annual DFA production on my top 10. This is modern disco. But not cheesy. Instead, it’s classy, sophisticated, mature. Which makes sense, as it’s been 30 years since disco’s peak. “Blind” is the peak of the album, melancholic lyrics about growing older and finding yourself alone set to a pulsing dancefloor backdrop. Everything sounds lush and gorgeous. There are live horns all over the album, for example on the extended outro of “This Is My Love”, creating a jazzy Manhattan atmosphere. Finally, I must add what an achievement it is that they have cast Antony of Antony And The Johnsons in the roll of disco siren, a role that I don’t find irritating at all and actually feel perfectly suits his androgynous vocals. Favorite Songs: Blind, This Is My Love, True False/Fake Real

6. Portishead – Third: Do I need to tell you about Portishead? If so, get yourself an education already. Their third album will not surprise you in its mood. It’s suffocating in its dark mood, and filled with heartbreak and dread. The sound is still modern noir, blues, and ::sigh:: trip-hop. And it’s still gorgeous. That’s not to say the songwriting is more of the same. In fact, nothing on their previous two albums sounds like the pulsing drone of “We Carry On” or the powerful industrial track “Machine Gun”. It takes two minutes before Beth Gibbons makes her entrance during the krautrock of “Silence”, which begins the album with a sample of a man talking in Portuegese. What may be surprising is that 11 years after their last album, it easily is an equal of their first two, now considered classic, albums. I really hope 11 years doesn’t pass before their fourth. Favorite Songs: Silence, The Rip, Machine Gun

5. Neon Neon – “Stainless Style”: You know all those bands who have been aping 80’s moves? It took Gruff Rhys, the singer from Welsh rock band Super Furry Animals, and Boom Bip, hiphop/electronica producer, to realize the obvious: Why not make actual 80’s music!? A concept album about John DeLorean (think Back To The Future), most of the songs are lush with new wave synths, canned snare hits, falsettos, echoed guitars, and synthy bongo drum percussion. But with no irony, no winking. It’s serious. And seriously fun. Me and my friend Ian drove around listening to this album one day and we kept breaking out in laughter. You can’t listen to the opening 1:20 of “Raquel”, where they ride the beat before the melody even arrives, and not feel they’re having a blast creating this music. The lyrics, “Michael Douglas” being the perfect example, totally evoke the sad decadence of the era. Add to this great hip hop songs fronted by Spank Rock, Yo Majesty, and Fat Lip, and it’s almost too great of an idea to believe it exists. Favorite Songs: I Told Her On Alderaan, Raquel, Michael Douglas

4. Annie – Don’t Stop: This album wasn’t officially released. Annie, saying she’s being a “typical Norwegian”, decided to go back and work on more songs. Just recently Annie said she has severed her relationship with her record label because they didn’t want to give her a concrete release date. Either way, the album was leaked. Annie produces what I call Intelligent Pop Music (IPM). I could talk about every song on the album, but here’s the highlights. “I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me” is the adult version of Lavigne’s “Girlfriend”. Sexy and self-confident, where Lavigne can only manage teeny brattiness. “Loco” combines dance-pop with the britpop guitar of guest Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos. “What Do You Want (The Breakfast Song)” is on the surface ridiculously silly with its cheerleader chant of “What do you want, what do you want for breakfast”, but listen to the complexity of the drums and beat structure. The song also gets less silly when you realize she’s talking about matters of the post-coital variety. If she thought this wasn’t good enough to release, I cannot wait for the official release to find out what is. Favorite Songs: I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me, Loco, What Do You Want (The Breakfast Song)

3. Robyn – Robyn: The Swedes and the Norwegian have it all over the rest of the world. I don’t want to beat a dead horse about the pathetic state of pop music. Lets just say I’m not a fan of Katy Perry. Yes, this is Robyn of Show Me Love fame. In the 11 years since that album she’s somehow quietly managed to perfect pop music. This, her third album, was almost all cowritten by her and released on her own label. She’s capable of singing (really singing!) honest, emotional songs, like on the epic techno ballad “With Every Heartbeat” or the dance-pop “Be Mine!”. She’s capable of doing cute rapping on the fun “Konichiwa Bitches” or improving other people’s songs and outdoing Mad Cobra on her cover of the Teddybears’ “Cobrastyle”. She’s even capable of sounding right at home at the cutting edge of electronica like on The Knife produced “Who’s That Girl”. And she’s capable of it because of her obvious talent and her personality that shines throughout the entire album. Every song is a potential hit single, and eight have been released so far. People need to start paying her millions to write songs for them. Favorite Songs: Konichiwa Bitches, Be Mine!, With Every Heartbeat

2. Lykke Li – Youth Novels: Pop music that does so much with so little. The album was produced by Bjorn Yttling of the excellent Peter Bjorn & John. Some songs often have barely a synth, piano or guitar, a beat, and singing, but unless you pay attention you won’t even notice. The sparseness makes it all the more beautiful when the songs become more ornate. Like the strings that grace “Melodies & Desires” or the saxophone that dances around toward the end of “Dance, Dance, Dance”. She’s Swedish, so naturally all the songs are tinged with sadness and melancholy, as all great pop music should be. It permeates through the dance kiss-off of “I’m Good, I’m Gone” or the gorgeous Spanish guitar balladry of “This Trumpet In My Head”. An exception is “Melodies & Desires”, which attains a poetic sensualness I’ve rarely heard. Not for those who cringe at pixie European-accented female vocals, which I happen to adore. Favorite songs: Melodies & Desires, Dance Dance Dance, This Trumpet In My Head

1. Fleet Foxes – Sun Giant EP/Fleet Foxes: Epically gorgeous folk music. The lead singer’s voice, the vocal harmonies, and the instrumentation are beautiful on the same level that classical composers must have been reaching to Heaven with their oratorios and cantatas . On top of that, the songwriting is not just merely pretty, but also complex and surprising. Somehow the album encompasses all four seasons in its sound. It’s a masterpiece, all the more so for being a debut album. The kind of album that I imagine would make other musicians burn their instruments in defeat. Favorite Songs: English House, Your Protector, Blue Ridge Mountains

Honorable Mention: Girl Talk – Feed The Animals: Night Ripper Version 2, different songs, same awesome.
Honorable Mention Pt. 2: Flying Lotus – Los Angeles: You know the great instrumental hip hop interludes on Adult Swim. This guy does them. Total ear candy.
Biggest Disappointment: My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges: What a snoozefest.
Band I Still Can’t Quite Get Behind: TV On The Radio – Dear Science,: Everything I read tells me they’re geniuses. But, I just don’t find myself enjoying them as much as I apparently should? I dunno, their music sounds like aural soup to me.
Notice Something Missing?: Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend: Because I feel empty after listening to it. It inspires nothing out of me.
Finally: The Raveonettes – Lust Lust Lust: Was included on last year’s list since it was released in Europe in 2007.

March 26, 2008

The Raveonettes on Letterman

I love that after The Raveonettes play a 75 second squall of feedback Letterman’s response was “that was nice” and “we should all go to Denmark” sounding like he actually means it. I hope they scared people with this performance. People in this world need to be scared. I think this performance is just about the coolest, most beautiful thing.

December 3, 2007

Top 15 Of 2007

Top 15 Of 2007
This year was the strongest year for music I can remember since 1997, frankly. I own at least 60 albums released this year, and wish to hear more. As always, these are my favorite albums, not the “best”. I’m not about to insist I listen to the “best” music. Anyhow, here is my lengthly discussion of my

15. Field Music – Tones Of Town: British baroque pop at it’s best. What makes this album stand out for me, and be so listenable, is the inventive song writing. It’s not just that they have strings and pianos, it’s how they’re employed. The strings are often the main part of the melody, not just embellishment, like in “A Gap Has Appeared” or “Kingston”. But, then they can turn around with a song like “Closer At Hand” which is a great guitar-based song. The thing I love the most about this album is the percussion. Lots of interesting bells, tambourine, drum patterns, cymbals, etc. “Sit Tight” is the perfect example, even incorporating beatboxing at the end of the song. The songs are complex, despite constantly clocking in at around three minutes or less. A couple times, like with “A House Is Not A Home” where the song segues seamlessly into “Kingston”, lending the album a unifying progression that is clearly deliberate. And, I must mention the lovely vocals which remind me of the Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills, & Nash or maybe a little Steely Dan.

14. Grinderman – Grinderman: Savage, brutal, and funny. Not 20 seconds goes by in the first song “Get It On” before “motherfucker” is said. “Get It On” primes you for the rest of the album, electric guitar, bongos, and piano with the lyrics creating a lowdown character with “words of wisdom” of “get it on”, drinking panther piss and “fucked the girls you’re probably married to”. This is really a guy’s album, and “No Pussy Blues” is a song only a guy can really understand and it’s one of the best songs Nick Cave has ever written. The verses detail everything he tried to win over a girl. Then the song explodes into a blistering chorus yelling “damn” and “woo” in a way that most guys who have felt frustrated and a little emasculated in life will recognize. Nick Cave knows he’s one of the most charismatic singers in rock, calling “all right, come on Grinderman” during the pulsing outro of “I Don’t Need You (To Set Me Free)”. He uses his ability to tell an engaging story to full effect creating the myth of “Electric Alice” or “Depth Charge Ethel”. There’s balls out garage rock like “Honey Bee (Lets Fly To Mars)” and “Love Bomb” and slow sinister songs like “Grinderman” that use sparse jagged guitar. It all creates a mood of dirty, macho, wild fun. Yet in a serious way this album is Cave’s musical portrayal of the struggles of masculinity.

13. Peter Bjorn & John – Writer’s Block: The first of three Scandinavian artists on my list. “Young Folks” is a classic single. Everyone I know who has heard it loves it. It’s warm and romantic in the very best way. A man and a woman who are deciding to trust each other despite being hurt in the past. Who can deny that whistle? They are able to write irresistable pop melodies like “Let’s Call It Off” using hand claps and steel drums over a funky drumbeat. PB&J balance this with the kind of forlorn lyrics about unsuccessful love which makes people fall in love with great pop songs. “Objects Of My Affection” is a jangling rocker that is a kiss off to a former lover. But things are not that simple, as while the singer will “laugh more often now, cries more often now, I am more me” he will on ” some days, lie around and hardly exist”. The song “Up Against The Wall” with a slightly muted slow rock build has further complexity in the lyrics, saying “maybe we could make it work” but feels “almost that I wish we hadn’t met at all.” Clearly, the lyrics often express a sad mature look at love. You might think the whole affair would sound depressing. Yet, the album is not at all depressing. The inventive song writing makes sure of that: the soaring bongo enhanced chorus to “Young Folks”, the whistling in “Objects Of My Affection”, or the pretty acoustic guitar plucking of “Paris 2004”.

12. Faithless – To All New Arrivals: They are really the most consistent electronica act currently recording. Look at how poor the output of The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Fatboy Slim, etc has become. Every album by Faithless has been well done and enjoyable from start to finish. They’re able to create politically minded music and emotional music without sounding preachy or detracting from being enjoyable and dancable. This album, a concept album about children, is no exception. “Bombs” is lyrically very political, yet a tremendous sounding dance song. Listen to the title track or “I Hope”, and you’ll hear a great song to dance to with lyrics of concern, hope, and love for children that come from their hearts. That is a rare feat, in my mind. “Bombs”, which starts the album, seems to be their take on the state of the world, putting the rest of the album in context. They’re concerned about what future the world is leaving our children. The song “Music Matters” might just be their mission statement, and there’s nothing cuter than the little kid featured right before it. Last track “Emergency” seems designed to remind you they can still throw down a trance rave-up like few else.

11. Nellie McKay – Obligatory Villagers: I’m waiting for McKay’s full fledged Broadway musical. She is that talented, and she truly shows it here. Her last album, Pretty Little Head was good but did feel too bloated at 21 tracks. This album has 9 tracks at is barely 30 minutes, which is perfect. This album is clearly (the start of) her political commentary on the state of America. We are the villagers who have been obliging the president the past 7 years. “Zombie” is a fun bluesy number with actual grunting zombies. Nellie clearly is blaming the South for putting Bush in office for 8 years, especially in the outro with lines like “torture isn’t that bad” and “they hate our freedom”. The first song, “Mother Of Pearl”, where McKay lists criticisms of feminists, seems to confuse people as to what her intent was. I read one review written by a man that said she is literally making fun of feminists. I think it’s shortsighted to take the song literally, especially given McKay’s flat vocal. I think she wants to make you laugh at how ludicrous the whole situation is, saying “feminists have a tumor in their funny bone” balanced with a man comically saying responses to her lines like “take it off”. Nellie ends the song with an amusing “I am Dennis Kucinich, and I approve this message”. The whole album is filled with complex lyrics where Nellie McKay is expressing her political point of view, and it’ll take many listens to get a complete sense of what she is saying here. I could spend a long time discussing each track. It’s the venue she expresses herself, in the style of Broadway musical, that will keep you listening over and over. And the album quite proudly states “all songs written, arranged and orchestrated by Nellie McKay”

10. Klaxons – Myths Of The Near Future: It’s nice when hype pays off, and this mostly happened with Klaxons. Though, they were hyped as nu-rave, and having listened to rave for 15 years, I can say little on this album is even close to rave. Other than the shouts of “DJ!” and the klaxons in “Atlantis To Interzone” and the bridge of “Forgotten Works”, you need to turn to the remixes like Erol Alkan’s gorgeous remix of “Golden Skans” for the rave. The hype did pay off in that clearly Klaxons are very talented at crafting music that recalls 70’s art punk, 80’s new wave, 90’s electronica, yet retain a sound that is Klaxons and very of the present. As I said, “Atlantis To Interzone” has elements of rave, but when it kicks into the blistering chorus there’s no mistaking that this is a band influenced by Gang Of Four. They even turn 90’s house hit “Not Over Yet” by Grace into a art punk track with new wave vocals. “Golden Skans” takes all this new wave nostalgia and actually does something with it creating an exciting modern version of new wave that betters most classic new wave. The hyper breakbeats in “Magick” are far more fun in an art punk setting. All the mythology and literary references to Allen Ginsberg and Alister Crowley in the lyrics is kind of dorky, but also kind of endearing and it’s nice to hear a band who clearly has a brain. The majority of time when a band is hyped the final product is underwhelming. I actually think Klaxons’ first album is better than the hype suggested it would be. Instead of “nu-rave” you get 11 songs that are each different and exciting to listen to. I’ve read they want to go prog next, and I can’t wait.

9. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black: What has happened to Amy Winehouse is really a shame, because there is no denying her voice, her talent at singing and honest lyric writing. I listened to this album because someone was doubting the authenticity of her lyrics, and I became intrigued. I don’t think any doubt can remain of whether the lyrics in “Rehab”, “You Know I’m No Good”, or “Love Is A Losing Game” are authentic. The title song is an instant classic and about as powerfully emotional as music gets. The song can stand proudly next to classic soul songs of the 50s and 60s. It’s heartbreaking, and anyone who has been heartbroken in a complicated relationship knows Winehouse means every word. I honestly feel there is little else original to say about this album. Musically, the live instrumentation coupled with modern beats breathes new life into classic soul music. Winehouse’s vocals and lyrics aside, it’s a great sounding album and very enjoyable start to finish. Winehouse adds the charisma that makes the music so wonderful.

8. The Raveonettes – Lust Lust Lust: I think they have recorded their perfect album. Romantic, sexy, sad, and beautiful. For example, a song titled “Lust” has lyrics like “nothing much to say” and “everywhere I roam life is one big lie”. They proved with their last album, Pretty In Black, they don’t need feedback. Here they prove they’re worthy of following the tradition started by My Bloody Valentine and Jesus & Mary Chain of making feedback beautiful, as almost every song is awash in it. The production is very specific, with guitars usually playing a surf rock melody up front, their pretty harmonized girl-group vocals somewhere in the middle, and the feedback all around, and a drum machine and bass underneath it all. This causes Lust Lust Lust to be their most cohesive sounding album since the Whip It On Ep. The Raveonettes wear their influences on their sleeve. Their name is half a title of a Buddy Holly song thus creating a bastardization of the name The Ronettes. I think the word bastardization is key, as that is what The Raveonettes do. They mash these styles with the guitar feedback of My Bloody Valentine and dark lyrics about love, lust, and loss. I think with Lust Lust Lust there is no question that they have solidified into a band with their own unique sound. I think one listen to “Aly, Walk With Me” or “Dead Sound” will convince you of that. “You Want The Candy” is a girl-group song on which is added reverb, feedback and lyrics about candy, lollipops and asking for a “dirty treat” and talks of “hearts not meant to last”. There you go.

7. Bat For Lashes – Fur & Gold: While I do like current female songwriters like Feist and Regina Spektor, I can’t help but compare them to Joni Mitchell or Tori Amos and the like. I think Natasha Khan, who is Bat For Lashes, has a witchiness that can be compared to Bjork or Kate Bush. But, I think she has a sound and style all her own. Probably you can tell from her chosen name, there’s a lot of gothic mysticism and a enchanted quality to her sound. Even the faster paced songs like “Horse And I” or “Prescilla” have a particular sparseness to them. Much of the album, with it’s harpsichord, hand claps, and songs about “The Wizard” asking you to “drink his blood and he’s our leader”, evoke Renaissance folk. The throbbing “Trophy” tells of a trophy she made that “everyone who touched it found a heaven on Earth” and how it fell into the wrong hands. Khan’s voice can be beautiful and expressive, as in the quiet harpsichord driven “Tahiti”, or powerful as in the slowly building “I Saw The Light”. In “What’s A Girl To Do?” she takes the classic drum pattern of “Be My Baby” and loosens it up a bit. Lyrically, the song looks down the line of a relationship asking what she’s to do when her “heart grows colder with each day” and her “dreams are on a train to trainwreck town”.Quiet piano ballads like “Sad Eyes” or “Seal Jubilee” lull you into a dream like state. She even makes a Bruce Springsteen song, “I’m On Fire” sound like a Bat For Lashes song. And that tells me Bat For Lashes are already on the road to becoming very much their own artist.

6. !!! – Myth Takes: This is the album they’ve been promising us since they first started. The first five songs are unstoppable. I’ve never heard another album that has a stronger first half. The swagger of “Myth Takes”, the hectic art punk of “All Our Heroes Are Weirdos”, the hedonistic dance party “Must Be The Moon”, the slinky disco “A New Name”, and the epic funk of “Heart Of Hearts”. This is a band who loves to play, dance and have fun, and the whole album is infectious in its enthusiasm. Sixth song, “Sweet Life” is an all right song, but kills the momentum for me. “Yadnus” brings the funk back with galloping drums reminiscent of “Rock And Roll Pt. 2” by Gary Glitter (think about it) and that awesome synthy guitar riff that starts things off. “Bend Over Beethoven” is a classic !!! eight minute punk funk workout in the vein of “Intensify” or “Shit Scheisse Merde”. Few bands have !!!’s charisma and the ability to put a big goofy smile on your face. They can write great tunes like “Must Be The Moon” and “Heart Of Hearts”, yet they are capable of big electronic breakdowns like at the end of those songs. I guess !!! feel a need to give you a break with songs like “Sweet Life” and the ending comedown “Infinifold”, but when the rest is the most fun you’ve ever had listening to music…

5. Menomena – Friend And Foe: This album makes me glad I am alive. Three band members who play a wide variety of instruments, record various parts with each instrument, and digitally assemble them into a finished song. Each song is a sound college, yet the album never sounds a mess. The layers of instrumental elements don’t bury each other, instead they are building blocks that create a whole song. In fact, this is album is clearly a cohesive artistic statement. Many of the songs lyrically deal with struggling in relationships and with identity, lending meaning to the title Friend And Foe. Evil Bee talks of “oh to be a machine, oh to be wanted, to be useful”. The soaring epic “My My”, with it’s slashing guitar riff and gorgeous piano asks “what if all my enemies were dead, and I could forget everything they said, could I be then who I really am?’ At times, especially with “Air Aid” the band approach Philip Glass territory with it’s repetitive baritone sax riffs. I won’t really say much more about the music, except to say there are piano, xylophones, horns, organ, bass, drums all cut up and put together. There are seemingly millions of musical ideas started and stopped and yet it never sounds overstuffed. You’re just left with the exciting feeling that original art balanced with emotion is something still possible in music even in the year 2007. Speaking of art, the album cover is simply gorgeous and must be seen.

4. Long Blondes – Someone To Drive You Home: A female Pulp. That I am not saying the Long Blondes “sound like Pulp” says everything I need to about this album. I never thought someone could compare to Jarvis Cocker, but Kate Jackson and the lyrics she sings stands almost shoulder to shoulder with him. So rarely can I find a band or artist who writes songs about relationships whom I can relate to as an adult. This album is almost a concept album of Kate Jackson telling younger women she “knows how it feels to be your age” as she says in “Once And Never Again”. Elsewhere he relates her own stories as a single adult looking for love, often finding herself passed by for boring women, such as in “Giddy Stratospheres”. There’s a weariness that comes with age, such as when she says she “won’t kid myself about happy endings, I’m too old for that now” in the epic “You Could Have Both”. Meanwhile the music not only stands up, but betters the Brit-rock and Post-post punk of the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Art Brut, etc. Listen to the gallop that starts “You Could Have Both”, and then they dial it down immediately coasting on Jackson’s lovely worldless vocal. By the end it turns into a pounding expression of romantic frustration. Songs like “Lust In The Movies and “Separated By Motorways” have a fun punky flair. Others like “Giddy Stratospheres” and “Weekend Without Makeup” bounce along thanks to a fantastic melodic rhythm section. I could spend a lot of time quoting this album. There’s a great deal of wit. I relate to songs like “Madame Ray” and “Only Lovers Left Alive”, songs about being put on the back burner while your love interest pursues people clearly wrong for them. It’s why I fell in love with it.

3. M.I.A. – Kala: Everyone made such a big fuss over Kanye’s new album because it used more synths and whatever else. To them, I point to M.I.A. She makes anyone else currently making hip hop look lazy and behind the times. Like Arular, this album is the driving album of this year. The beat in “Boys” is absolutely punishing. The synth stabs in “Hussel” are dirty and cool as fuck. The beat on “Paper Planes” built on gunshots, hammer click, and cash register (blam blam blam, click, ch-ching) might be fun to blast but literally might be dangerous in the wrong neighborhood. Though lets face it, we learned on Arular that M.I.A. creates beats on a completely higher level than most out there. On Arular she incorporated styles from all over the world, African, Asian, Brazilian, etc. and she does so again on Kala. On “Bamboo Banga” she samples a Bollywood song. Then later she betters a Bollywood song by covering and rewriting the lyrics on “Jimmy” from the 70’s movie Disco Dancer. On “Jimmy” we also find out she can actually sing and has a nice voice! She uses actual aborigine Australian children on a quiet hip hop song about fishing called “Mango Pickle Down River”. It says a lot that the least radical song might be “Come Around”, the only song produced by Timbaland. Some may say M.I.A. depends on producers, but while Diplo did all of Arular, he only produced three songs on this album. Switch did much of the rest. Yet it sounds like a natural extension of Arular, which tells me M.I.A. is in artistic control.

2. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala: Perfection. On this album Jens Lekman does no wrong. You rarely find a songwriter that can combine sadness, humor, honesty, sweetness, and romance all into one song like he does in “A Postcard To Nina”. He can go from the epic grandeur of “And I Remember Every Kiss” to the naked heartbreak of “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You” to the sweet dedication to a hairdresser “Sharin”. Lekman can do fun dance pop songs like “Sipping On The Sweet Nectar” or sweet songs like “Your Arms Around Me”. He works mostly on a laptop, and isn’t afraid to show it off. He bends and manipulates the samples he uses. He even samples himself singing when he was a child in “It Was A Strange Time In My Life”, which is really sweet and fun. I should stress that I am discussing sampling with an artist who performs chamber pop music. Not hip hop or dance. Sometimes you can’t tell at first if he’s using real instrumentation or a sample, then he cuts it up like at the end of “Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig” . But make no mistake, “The Opposite Of Hallelujah” or “Your Arms Around Me” demonstrate he can write for actual strings. The details he puts into his lyrics are so unique and lends a constant feeling of honesty to his songwriting. He can talk about small town Swedish life in “Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo” or cutting avocados in the kitchen in “Your Arms Around Me”. In every which way, Jens Lekman is a musical genius and a joy to listen to.

1. LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver: Perfection again. There isn’t a bad song. In fact, there isn’t song that is not worthy of being on a mix CD. Maybe James Murphy, music nerd that he is, wants it that way. Much can be and has been said about how he employs drum machines, live drums, bass, cowbell, etc.. The album’s pacing is perfect, “Get Innocuous!” explodes out of the gate, combining the synth line from Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” and a Bowiesque vocal. Then, he takes it down a peg with funky “Time To Get Away”. The dancefloor filler mid-section of “All My Friends”, “Us V Them”, and “Watch The Tapes” is euphoric and exhilarating. The comedown of the quieter yet still dancable “Sound Of Silver” and the ballad “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” is the right way to end the album. It was a lovely, unique experience to hear the instrumental version of “Someone Great” in the 45:33 album (my #4 album last year), and then to hear this album for the first time and recognize it. But, I never would have guessed Murphy would use it to put a complex emotional lyric to. Of course, his social commentary in “North American Scum” and “New York…” is always intelligent and mature, and always welcome. There is not a false note on the entire album. There is a meticulous craft involved in the making of this album, and every layer and detail sounds thought out. This album sounds like James Murphy is beginning to put himself in the same category as the great artists like Bowie, David Byrne, Brian Eno, Mark E. Smith, and the others he so admires.

Look, Radiohead and Bjork Released Albums: In Rainbows and Volta
I do really enjoy both of these albums, but I’m always left with a feeling like nothing will compare to The Bends, OK Computer, Post, and Vespertine…

Best Album You Haven’t Heard: Kathy Diamond – Miss Diamond To You
Modern, classy disco at it’s best, produced by Maurice Fulton. This album has the clearest production I think I’ve ever heard. Somehow he’s able to make the record sound stark yet lush, best shown off in the song “Over”. I had to order it directly from the German label.

Over-rated: Justice / Simian Mobile Disco
I’ve been listening to all forms of dance music since I was 12. I do not get what the fuss is about. We already have a crappy Daft Punk. They’re called Daft Punk. I guarantee the same hipsters listening to Justice and SMD laughed at Fatboy Slim, despite it all sounding like his remix of “I See You Baby” by Groove Armada. I heard “D.A.N.C.E.” spun at a club, and it still wasn’t good to me.

Biggest Disappointments: Arcade Fire – Neon Bible / Air – Pocket Symphony
– Air finally delivered on all the potential they’ve hinted at since their first EP: the potential to be boring. Somehow they made Jarvis Cocker boring. That’s a feat. There are some nice songs, but nothing to stand up to anything in the past.
– The Arcade Fire added a church organ to their bombast and left out actual tunes. I don’t care how much people gush over this album, except for “Keep The Car Running” not one song stands out to me.
LCD

July 20, 2005

What you should be listening to.

Best of 2005 (Jan – Jun)

10. Death In Vegas – Satan’s Circus
9. Queens Of The Stone Age – Lullabys To Paralyze
8. Gorillaz – Demon Days
7. Beck – Guero
6. Out Hud – Let Us Never Speak Of It Again
5. M.I.A. – Arular
4. Martha Wainwright – self titled
3. The Raveonettes – Pretty In Black
2. Annie – Anniemal
1. Sleater-Kinney – The Woods