Saturday, December 19, 2009

Best of 2009

Although you would never know it from my sparse posting over the last twelve months, I have been listening to an awful lot of music this year. Reading a few of the year-end lists this month, I realized that today's tastemaking hipsters have very little to offer me. I listen to NPR for the information, not the bumper music, ya know? Case in point - if I see Merriweather Post Pavillion top one more list I am going to poke my ears out with some sung tongs. (Full disclosure - I do think "My Girls" is a really great song).

For me, the golden age of new music was approximately 1988-1998. And I'm talking multiple genres here - metal, hip hop, and of course the various shades of indie that I favor nowadays. Maybe that is my problem. Maybe it happens to every obsessive music fan. At some point, I started longing for The Way It Used To Be. I became that boorish asshole who insists that most seemingly new ideas in rock music were being done better while you [20-something hipsters] were still listening to Raffi.

And so, in some respects, 2009 was a great year for me. It was satisfying to see long-overdue redemption come for The Jesus Lizard and Merge Records. But this wasn't just the year of the aging hipster. There are a lot of kids out there making music The Way It Used To Be. Bob Pollard's myriad 2009 projects sound like Steely Dan compared to the droves of overmodulated, 4-track low-fi RAWK that came out this year.

I won't even try ranking. Grouping is difficult enough. Links for official, free downloads might come later as time permits. (Did I mention I have a job which requires lots of travel, plus two preschool daughters - one of them an 8-week old baby?)

The Bakers' Dozen, in alphabetical order:

Dinosaur Jr. - Farm
It would figure that my top list would start with one of the reborn maestros from my Golden Age. This is a great rock record in any year as far as I am concerned.

Floating Action - Floating Action / Floating Version EP
I found this one thanks to the awesomely reliable Ongabuka blog. There has been a lot of awesomely shitty "beach rock" the last few years. (e.g. Vampire Weekend has nothing to do with either vampires or weekends). Floating Action changes the game. Rough around the edges, and very likely stoned. I make a lot of long distance drives for my job. This was a favorite pick for summertime highway driving after dark. Bonus - dub/remix EP came out in July.

Japandroids - Post Nothing
Lo-fi, yet heavy. Noisy, but melodic. Sloppy, yet perfectly executed.

Knot Feeder - Light Flares
Don Caballero rolls on - in name only perhaps, but still rolling. Ian Williams has become a minor sensation with Battles. Even original bassist Pat Morris found a new home with The Poison Arrows. But for many years it felt like Mike Banfield (the only founding Don Cab guitarist, for what its worth) disappeared completely. Or if you live in Pittsburgh like me, and bump into Mike every once in a blue moon, if seemed like he became content in his life without performing music. Thank goodness then that his new project Knot Feeder, with some equally talented guys ten or fifteen years younger than him, is out now. Instrumental rock with emotion, The Way It Used To Be.

Mos Def - The Ecstatic
A forty-five minute head nod, rooted in 1993 yet affected by modern touches... minus the crunk and Louis Vuitton of course.

Oneida - Rated O
I saw Oneida play one time in 2003, and like a junkie I've been chasing that dragon ever since. They finally came through this year. Hard rock, groove, and drone, just like I've always hoped they would do on record.

Patton Oswalt - My Weakness is Strong
OK, this is not music. So what. If you don't get it then you don't deserve the gift of laughter.

Ourself Beside Me - Ourself Beside Me
Three ladies sounding like a cross between Velvet Underground and either Shop Assistants or Close Lobsters. This would make complete sense if they were from Brooklyn. They actually live in Beijing, which is astounding. I mean, how did they even hear the records that surely must have inspired their music? Trust me though, I would still rank this in the top 13 even if they really were from Brooklyn.

Polvo - In Prism
In their original 90s incarnation this North Carolina band pulled off an exceptional melding of Sonic Youth dissonance, Beefheart herky jerk, Chicago-tight production and asian scales. Ten years after, add to that mix a top shelf RAWK drummer and a willingness to jam. This is their best album. I hope they keep going a la Mission of Burma.

Sonic Youth - The Eternal
Is it just me, are did Thurston and Kim sing together a lot more on this record than ever before? It works.

Tanya Morgan - Brooklynati
Native Tongues-style hip hop for the 21st century. From Cincinnati. Who knew?

Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
Most people I know will only pay attention to this because Dave Grohl is on drums and John Paul Jones is on bass. Little do they know that Josh Homme has been on a roll the last few years. Queens of the Stone Age's Era Vulgaris is one of my favorite rock records ever, and the last couple Desert Sessions records pressed a lot of the right buttons for me, too. To my biased ears this may be a supergroup rhythm section, but Homme makes it a worthwhile listen.

Kurt Vile - Childish Prodigy
I accept the fact that lo-fi has become a stylistic choice rather than a fiscal necessity. I acknowledge that 2009 overflowed with high quality digital releases (allegedly) created with four track tape recorders. Neverthess, this record stands out.

Runners Up
Amen Dunes - Dia
Cave - Psychic Psummer
The Curious Mystery - Rotting Slowly
DOOM - Born Like This
Double Dagger - More
Eat Skull - Wild and Inside
Flaming Lips - Embryonic
The Fresh and Onlys - The Fresh and Onlys
Future of the Left - Travels With Myself and Another
Hole Class - Hole Class
The Mint Chicks -Screens
Motorpsycho - Child of the Future
Nisennenmondai - Destination Tokyo
NOMO - Invisible Cities
Obits - I Blame You
Pterodactyl - Worldwild
Ty Segal - Lemons
Sholi - Sholi
Superchunk - Leaves in the Gutter EP/Crossed Wires 7"
The Thermals - Now We Can See
Wale & 9th Wonder - Back to the Feature mixtape

Akron/Family - Set 'em Wild, Set 'em Free
Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue
Black Crowes - Before The Frost / Until the Freeze
Blank Dogs - Under and Under
Cheater Slicks - Bats in the Dead Trees
The Clean - Mr. Pop
dälek - Gutter Tactics
Deleted Scenes - Birdseed Shirt
Deerhunter - Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP
The G - Hold My Gold 12"
Gangligans - Monster Head Room
Intelligence - Fake Surfers / Crepuscule with Pacman
Jay Reatard - Watch Me Fall
LSD March - Under Milk Wood
Odd Nosdam - T.I.M.E. Soundtrack
Selfish Cunt - English Chamber Music
That Fucking Tank - Tankology

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Death of Samantha - Where the Women Wear the Glory and the Men Wear the Pants

This is a quick one since the Feelin' Kinda Froggy blog is MIA.

Almost an entire year ago I posted Death of Samantha's Come All Ye Faithless LP and Laughing in the Face of a Dead Man EP. User "robgronotte" requested Where the Women Wear the Glory and the Men Wear the Pants. Here it is.
My previous descriptions still apply - RAWK.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Zoom - (zoom)

This was requested several months ago. Sorry I'm just getting to it now.
If you look up "mid-90s midwestern indie rock" in the dictionary, you may well find this album's cover in the accompanying illustration. It doesn't get more midwestern than Lawrence, Kansas, home of the flash-in-the-pan powerhouse Lotuspool label. For about 29 months, Lotuspool completely owned it with releases from local darlings like Panel Donor, Bully Pulipit, and Zoom.
Then Lotuspool disappeared.
I can relate.
If you liked the tight arrangements and quiet-loud dynamics that ruled CMJ "Core" radio playlists in 1991, check this out.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

Various Artists - Red Hot + Bothered: the indie rock guide to dating

The track list speaks for itself.  These were mostly (entirely?) unreleased or alternate versions of songs by eighteen of 1994's hottest indie rock superstars.  It hearkens back to the day when lo-fi was often a fiscal necessity as much as it was a stylistic choice.  

Obviously, this was an early release in the now long-running series of Red Hot releases benefitting AIDS education, treatment and research.  As far as I can tell, this comp has been out of print for many years.  So, you should not feel guilty about downloading it today.  You are not taking Atripla out of anyone's mouth.  Nevertheless, if you are so inclined, please stop over to the Red Hot web site.  Poke around, learn some, maybe make a donation.

"Sensational Gravity Boy" performed by Freedom Cruise
"Still Flat" performed by Built to Spill + Caustic Resin
"The Mirror Is Gone" performed by Lisa Germano
"Mouthwash" performed by Noise Addict
"Indierockinstrumental" performed by Folk Implosion
"Some Fantasy" performed by The Verlaines
"Little League" performed by Liquorice
"Hazmats *" performed by Babe The Blue Ox
"Mainland China *" performed by Juicy
"The Fontana *" performed by The Sea and Cake
"Sotto Voce" performed by Cradle Robbers
"Rex’s Blues" performed by Jay Farrar + Kelly Willis
"Empty Yard" performed by Grifters
"Miracleland" performed by East River Pipe
"Snail Trail *" performed by Heavenly
"Hopeless *" performed by Future Bible Heroes
"Servicing Man *" performed by Flying Nuns
"Quietly Approaching *" performed by Gastr Del Sol

Coral - Altamont in Dub

By popular demand - i.e. one person requested it - here is Coral's second and final LP.  All the remarks I made in my previous post about their first LP basically apply here, too.  The title is more than just a clever turn of phrase, though.  There are reggae-affected bass lines throughout.  You won't confuse this record with The Upsetters, let alone Fugazi, but the intent seems obvious to my ears.
Ever since I posted Pillow Talk, I've been listening to these two Coral LPs more in the last few weeks than I have in the last ten years.   As the saying goes, these records have aged very well.  Very well.  With all the chamber pop that passes for "indie rock" these days, it's refreshing to hear some authentically atonal vocals backed by a real Power Trio and put to tape (tape!) with bare boned clarity.

My old friend Doug, currently writing for Dusted and otherwise living the dream in NYC, probably said it best in a Halloween-themed column: 

Schick’s later outing in Coral marks its territory as the most depressive, backbiting, hopeless rock music ever committed to tape, with drops of your own blood. Altamont in Dub was the last release for the stalled Fistpuppet imprint; its title alone should clue you in to what’s in store: a dark, disturbing, intensive reinterpretation of a tragedy. Musically, Altamont is top notch, determinedly metallic, mostly uptempo, and pregnant with deep rhythms, but this is a cursed album that feeds into your insecurities and misgivings, fueling their cold fire but inevitably leaving you assed out once it’s all over. Do you dare find out for yourself?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tanner - (Germo) Phobic

Lots of good stuff was coming out of San Diego in the early 90s.  Rocket From the Crypt (RIP) got lots of the attention, and deservedly so - you would be hard pressed to find a band more dedicated than RFTC to the absolute entertainment and enjoyment of every fan at their shows.  Of course, one of frontman John Reis' other bands was arguably far more influential.   Indeed, Drive Like Jehu is one of my all time favorites, and undoubtedly inspired a few others.  

One of Jehu's later tour partners were fellow San Diegoans Tanner.  One time ubiquitous indie behemoth Caroline even released their first LP, Ill Gotten Gains.   And if you search the interwebs for a minute or two you should be able to find a copy for yourself.  (If not, let me know.  I'll be happy to upload upon request).  

The follow-up LP (Germo) Phobic was far more difficult to find.  Not just in today's blog- and P2P-driven communities.  I mean that when the CD was hot off the presses you could not find the fucker anywhere.  The label never even serviced my old college station, WRCT - and in those days, EVERYONE serviced WRCT.  I never saw a copy at my local record store, either, and it was not for a lack of looking. The scarcity continues today.  Google doesn't seem to know about any other blog uploads, so I'm just trying to do my part.

Enough with the preamble.  If you like Jehu and similar-minded tight, tense, and intense guitar-driven rock, get to clickin'.

Spoon - Live at Emo's [December 4, 2004]

If you are wondering why I'm making such a flurry of posts lately after several months of near extinction, here's the deal.  My company is doing so well in this slow economy that they decided to give me and everyone else in the organization one week off - unpaid.  This is my week.  Legally... technically... I am not supposed to do any work for my employer this week.  Fair enough.  

You must know Spoon by now.  They definitely got more popular after being dropped by a major, and IMHO got better, too.  This is a bootleg from a hometown show at the venerable Austin, TX rock club, Emo's.  This happened just a few months before Gimme Fiction was released.  That's the one post-major Spoon album I don't really like.  No biggie though; the setlist draws liberally from the entire Spoon catalog up to that point.  

It sounds awesome, too.  Kudos to the entrepreneurial fan and/or sound man who made this pristine recording.

French Kicks - One Time Bells

In my mind this is an obvious follow up to my previous Natural History post.  More early-oughts NYC indie pop, with their own unique twists.  French kicks were more apt to put some abrasion in their guitar tones.  At the same time, their vocal harmonies could be sweeter and smoother than their gotham contemporaries.  

The reviewer who caught this album at pitchfork invoked Hall & Oates as a referential put-down.  In my book, that's a compliment.  Blue eyed soul never got any smoother or sweeter than that Philly duo's peak run a couple decades ago.  For what it's worth, I think there's a touch of Prince in some of the vocals and songwriting, too.  

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cell - Slo*Blo

As I've mentioned before, there was a time when record store cut-out bins were stacked to the ceiling with all the WTF major label signings.  If you dig around long enough you probably still can find a handful of vintage 1993 DGC promo copies of this record at my local  favorite.  

I probably haven't listened to this since I first dismissed it as just another typical major label cash-in on my beloved "underground" sound.  But a funny thing happened recently.  I stumbled back upon the DGC Rarities, Vol. 1 compilation, and it turns out that the Cell track on there is pretty fucking huge.  One thing led to another, and I ordered this CD for one penny plus shipping.  

My penny saved is your penny earned (yeah yeah, not my best metaphor, I know).  Never mind this album is one of the more notorious relics of that borderline-psychotic post-Nevermind major label feeding frenzy.  After fifteen years, Slo*Blo actually holds up really well with such time-lapsed objectivity.  I am obligated to mention Sonic Youth here - Cell's drummer was a SY roadie before hitting the big time, as it were - but save for that relationship and being signed by DGC, that's where the similarities end.  This record is full of loud, midtempo rock songs with soaring guitar duels and anthemic choruses.  If I had to pick an indie rock icon as a reference, I would have to say Lungfish.  That's right.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Crystalized Movements - This Wideness Comes

What the hell am I going to say about this?  I am not worthy to describe it accurately, but I will try anyway.  Crystalized Movements was the first in a long succession of bands led by underground psychedelic guitar icon Wayne Rogers. Eric Arn (of Primordial Undermind, and an underground guitar icon in his own right) played second guitar in earlier lineups of Crystalized Movements.  Prior to releasing This Wideness Comes in 1990, Arn was replaced by longtime Rogers collaborator and partner Kate Biggar.  The rest, as they say, is history.  

Most songs start out as melodic psychedelic rock, dive into one or more heavy freak-out rabbit holes, and occasionally splash around in the quicksand of Sonic Youth style noise.  Like I said, I cannot describe this accurately.  Take my word for it, this record is pure joy.  

I have never seen this album in any of the usual blog circles.  Why not? I would say that This Wideness Comes set the tone for the next eighteen years (and counting) of Rogers-Biggar creations.  After one more Crystallized Movements LP (Revelations From Pandemonium, 1992) the pair continued to expand their mind-altering vision of rock music in Vermonster, Bongloads of Righteous Boo, Magic Hour, and - currently - Major Stars.  

For fans of Twisted Village, Forced Exposure, rock music, and w33d.

Some Velvet Sidewalk - Whirpool

Some Velvet Sidewalk were contemporaries of Beat Happening in the late 80s/early 90s Pacific Northwest scene.  Not surprisingly, K Records released most of their recordings.  They shared Beat Happening's minimalist approach to rock, but Some Velvet Sidewalk were a bit more... there is no way to candy coat this... talented.  

Even then, it took SVS a couple albums to really get their stride.  Whirlpool is my personal favorite album of theirs.  It was certainly heavier than their earlier releases, but it was also more sprawling in its sound and tighter in its performance.  No doubt this was thanks in large part to production by Steve Fisk.  

If you like slightly atonal, sometimes noisy and droning, occassionally childlike, but ultimately melodic indie rock typical of the early K Records persuasion, check it out.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Saturday, January 31, 2009

RIP Myron - Go Steelers

The Most Secret Method - Get Lovely

Where to start?

I suspect that some subscribers to this blog have their own  forgotten favorites, as I do.  Bands who were criminally unknown in their time.  Music so transcendent that I cannot believe I am the first to post it for download in teh blog-o-sphere.

I live in Pittsburgh but I have a few friends in DC.  In my single days that was a no-brainer weekend roadie, with time to spare for post-show Ben's Chili Bowl plus a Saturday afternoon record shopping and billiards spree in Fells Point.  

I first saw The Most Secret Method play in 1999 at the Move Studio in Pittsburgh, a dance studio/indie rock show space in a distressed suburb called Wilkinsburg.   I can't remember for sure who they opened for (I think it was Juno), but I know they made a lasting impression.  I made at least three trips after that to catch them in DC, including their sweltering farewell show at the Black Cat in August 2002.  Every trip would have been a blast regardless, but the Most Secret Method was the reason.

How to describe them?  Take the SG-driven sound of Fugazi, combine it with the post-hardcore pop slant of Jawbox, add the male-female vocal dueling of X, arrange it with the minimalistic economy of the Minutemen, front it with a Broadway-caliber singer, and back it with a fretless bass virtuoso.  If you liked the DC sound of the late 90s but you never head them before, The Most Secret Method are your new favorite band from that scene.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Coral - Pillow Talk

I subscribe to several other like-minded blogs - far more prolific than my own, for the most part.  There was a minor Honor Role sensation over the last few weeks when at least two of you posted the Rictus album (see here and here).  One or two follow up comments mentioned singer Bob Schick's next band Coral.  That reminded me that I've never been able to find a digital copy of Coral's first LP Pillow Talk.  

Apparently, I could not find find mp3s of that album because no one ever bought it.  There is a seemingly endless supply of  "sealed, mint condition" Pillow Talk CDs in virtual cut-out bins all across the interwebs.  I am still gainfully employed, thankfully.  Doing my part to end the recession, I sprung for a frivolous luxury and ordered myself a copy ($5 postpaid!).  

So here you have it.  If you like Bob Schick's vocals (not everyone does), read on.  If you liked the indie-blues arrangements of Come, and if you dig Crazy Horse devotees like J. Mascis, Silkworm and Karl Hendricks, this is very much in the same vein.  If you slept on this record 15 years ago, here is your shot at redemption.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gear Jammer - Horsepower 2000 7"

Here's a response to a recent post by our like-minded friends at [shiny grey monotone]

This was Hazelmeyer's short-lived post-Halo of Flies band.  They only released two 7" records as far as I know.  Check out the other one here.