Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 : JPB's Best Of


I didn't write about as many discs from 2009 as I would have liked—I was busy traveling, and completing my work for the semester, and getting ill—but I thought I'd close out my writing for this blog with a quick top ten.

10. Jason Crumer, Walk With Me
Restrained minimalist compositions which periodically descend into shredding noise. Read more | Listen: "Luscious Voluptuous Pregnant"

9. Fuck Buttons, Tarot Sport
I prefer the less polished raw energy of their 2008 debut, Street Horsssing, but this follow-up is still an undeniably fine selection of anthemic psychedelic stomp.

8. Mountains, Choral
This outfit, made up of former Apestaartje personnel, has released three fine albums of pastoral drone this decade. This newest one stayed in heavy rotation for me this year.

7. Sunn O))), Dimensions and Monoliths
The boundaries of the Sunn O))) project have grown broader with each release, absorbing more and more material like some kind of black metal Katamari. This album finds them experimenting with keening choirs ("Big Church") and transcendent horn playing ("Alice"). It's not always successful, but when it works it expands their scope breathtakingly.

6. The Antlers, Hospice
A staggering song cycle about death, loss, and grief. Best way to hear it is by yourself, in a slowly darkening room.

5. Freelance Whales, Weathervanes
This album filled the slot that was filled last year by Natalie Portman's Shaved Head's Glistening Pleasure, and in 2005 by Architecture In Helsinki's In Case We Die: indie-pop music, made by young people, charming, charismatic, polished, and addictively sweet. A slightly shameful pleasure, but also a true and abiding one.

4. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
This is the great indie-pop album of the year: upbeat, energetic, yet also somehow grandly sad. Read more | Listen: "Lisztomania"

3. Gregg Kowalsky, Tape Chants
The idea of creating music by playing recorded matter on 6-10 cassette tape players simultaneously may sound a bit like someone trying to update Philip Jeck's turntable installations and performances. But Kowalsky's project is really its own thing, with conceptual underpinnings that differ completely from Jeck's, and just one immersion into Kowalsky's invitingly smoggy low-fi drone makes it completely clear that this is a soundworld that must be appreciated on its own terms.

2. Dan Deacon, Bromst
The eleven pieces that compose Bromst mostly sound like the soundtrack an old-school videogame that you might have experienced in a dream: all velocity and candy color. But just when you're ready to dismiss them as whiz-kid geekery they open up into something lovely, possibly even holy. Listen: "Red F"

1. Jónsi and Alex, Riceboy Sleeps
Beautiful ambient tracks from this side-project of Sigur Ros vocalist Jón Birgisson. Each track arranges acoustic instruments, voices, crackle, loops and hum into a kind of billowing fog that permeates directly to my brain's pleasure pathways.

Jeremy Bushnell

2009 : 19-20 Jack Rose & Charlie Parr

Jack Rose and Charlie Parr are two guitars who are often called "new traditionalists." Finger-pickers harkening back to an earlier era, Parr plays traditional folk and Piedmont blues-style songs on 6- and 12-string guitars, and banjo; Rose comes from the John Fahey tradition, but also incorporates elements of Indian ragas and minimalist drone.

Parr's father grew up on a tenant farm in northern Iowa with 17 siblings and rode out the Great Depression on freight cars. He rode them to Appalachia and Texas and every other corner of the country. He finally settled into a job shoveling animal parts at the Hormel plant in Austin, Minn where he raised Charlie. Charlie dropped out of high school just one year in and left home to see the country. He settled in a rooming house in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis in 1985 learning songs by artists his father used to play on the record player: Elizabeth Cotton, Fred McDowell, and Doc Boggs among others.

Jack Rose grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He started playing the guitar at age 10 and joined the group Pelt in 1993. In 2001, he began recording more and solo acoustic guitar compositions, appearing on the seminal Wooden Guitar compilation on Locust Records. His open tunings and long form compositions never lost the psychedelic and rock flavors of his earlier music, almost defining the word "deltadelica."

Both Jack and Charlie carry a certain blues and folk tradition forward, while putting their own stamp on it, reinventing it, bringing their own influences to it. Here is Parr covering a Blind Willie Johnson song, "God Moves On The Water," while Jack plays his own composition, "Kensington Blues."

A sad footnote: Jack Rose died of a heart attack on Dec 8 at the age of 38.

Darren DeMonsi

Listen: Jack Rose >> "Kensington Blues" | Charlie Parr >> "God Moves On The Water"

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 : 18 "Blood Bank" by Bon Iver

There is no song this decade that makes me feel a feeling of atmosphere the way "Blood Bank" does. The cover of the EP shows this snow-covered car with the door slightly open. This song sounds like walking through the snow to get that photo. There is no other way to put it. You know what I am saying if you have ever walked through snow so heavy that you need to pick up your knees with every step.

I also love this song for the topic matter. How many other songs are about specific episodes of TV shows? The fact that it's about a episode of Northern Exposure makes it even better. I love the idea of looking at a bag of blood and trying to figure out whose it is. Are the things that make us who we are in our blood or someplace else? All these ideas keep me coming back to this song.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Bon Iver >> "Blood Bank"

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 : 17 "You Don't Have to Be A Prostitute" by Flight of the Conchords

When I hear this song I sing it for hours. I am not sure if it is because it is making fun of the police or because it is catchy in its own right. The Flight of the Conchords are the best musical humor act of the decade. I want to remind you that this is the decade that saw Nerd Core artists become well known. The Flight of the Conchords are still the best.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Flight of the Conchords >> "You Don't Have To Be A Prostitute"

2009 : 16 "Tokyo" by Telekinesis

Am I the only person who thinks that this song sounds like an old Banana Spilts theme? I mean that in a totally good way. I loved the Banana Spilts growing up. I love that they capture that emotion and feeling without having to be a parody. This song makes want to dance and sing. Any song that makes me feel that way is successful. It is the small pleasures a song can give that are the best.

I-I-I went to Toyko

Rich Thomas

Listen: Telekinesis >> "Tokyo"

Saturday, December 26, 2009

2009 : 14-15 Two tracks by The Decemberists

Okay, I'm a little biased. I've gushed about the Decemberists for a long time, but still—this is my pick for the album of 2009. It's surprising how many magazines and sites have given The Hazards Of Love borderline reviews. If you're not a Decemberists fan, you might dismiss these tracks. However, this album not only adds more complex storytelling but uses guest vocals for maximum effects.

In "The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid," Shara Worden (of My Brightest Diamond) provides an excellent, compelling interpretation of the evil queen in the album's narrative. She's singing and acting at the same time—listen to her draw out the word 'repaid.' Her voice is stunning and controlling. Meloy wisely lets her have the listener's complete attention.

"The Rake's Song" is one of the most straight-up rock tracks that the Decemberists have written. Meloy writes the character as completely without redemption or qualities. How many songs have a narrator describing how he killed his children?

Charlotte I buried after feeding her foxglove
Dawn was easy: She was drowned in the bath
Isaiah fought but was easily bested
Burned his body for incurring my wrath

It's gratuitous and over the top, but perfectly fitting for a villian straight out of Victorian fiction.

The album needs to be listened to in its entirety, but these tracks are the best examples of the full story. It's an ambitious effort, and a great example of how guest vocalists (Worden and Becky Stark) can add to a song's atmosphere. The Decemberists have a specific style, and it's not for everyone—but it's hard to deny the efforts and dimensions that went into the narrative structure, which enhances the music greatly.

Jamie Yates

Listen: The Decemberists >> "The Wanting Comes In Waves" | "The Rake's Song"

2009 : 13 "Drunk As Fuck [Top Billin Remix]" by Tittsworth

Way back when this blog was covering 2000, I wrote about the Queens of the Stone Age's track "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," noting that it describes "a lifestyle so hedonistic that it would kill the majority of its listeners very quickly were they to adopt it." I also wrote that the track "evokes a special type of vicarious pleasure in the listener's head," and that this process "is one of the reasons popular music even exists in the first place." Hip-hop, of course, excels at the creation of very dense constellations of incantations and images that trigger the vicarious-pleasure parts of listener's brains: this, in fact, forms a key part of its appeal. A great example might be Tittsworth's "Drunk As Fuck," which celebrates just about every taboo one can think of: from the reeling intoxication identified in the track's title to, uh, genital torture. Anti-social? Sure. Take it seriously and it's actually disturbing. But take it as an opportunity to temporarily put on the costume of someone irresponsible and dangerous—to become "the king of all sleazy things" without any risk to one's self—and it yields a very concentrated form of ridiculous delight.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Tittsworth >> "Drunk As Fuck [Top Billin Remix]"

2009 : 12 "Demons Out" by Art Brut

On your visa it says "entertainer"
You'd better step it up or they're gonna detain you
It's all smoke and mirrors- don't go and see 'em
I wanted rock 'n roll- I got a science museum

I could have picked any of the songs from Art Brut vs. Satan. This is my record of the year. Every song makes me want to be 22 years old again, in a totally good way. Art Brut is smart, witty, silly and fun. Art Brut is the band for every Rob Fleming wannabe out there. They are the geeks with an apartment full of vinyl and comic books that actually decided to put together a band. What more can I say beyond the quote below.

How am I supposed to sleep at night
when no one likes the music we write?
Record buying public- we hate them
This is Art Brut vs. Satan

Rich Thomas

Listen: Art Brut >> "Demons Out!"

Friday, December 25, 2009

2009 : 11 "Poison Trees" by The Devil Makes Three

A lovely toe tapping little ditty with apocalyptic overtones.

April Walker

Listen: The Devil Makes Three >> "Poison Trees"

2009 : 10 "Effigy" by Andrew Bird

When I originally reviewed this album, I gave it some earnest praise, but felt that it didn't match up to Bird's earlier works. However, a few more listens have revealed a few ideas that I intially missed. Effigy" is moving, and musically, it's one of Bird's minimalist efforts. His penchant for combining varying vocal styles and multiple instruments is stripped down, making for what feels like a soft, singer-songwriter type track. His musical talents and acumen could have made this a longer, more complex song, but "Effigy" is a great example of less being more. Most importantly, it shows that he's comfortable in any given style.

Jamie Yates

Listen: Andrew Bird >> "Effigy"

Thursday, December 24, 2009

2009 : 08-09 Two tracks by Doom

I have said before that I would rather listen to Doom than Jay-Z. I know that says more about me than it does about Jay-Z. I think most of my friends would rather listen to Doom also. One of the reasons is because I can see no way Charles Bukowski would ever show up on a Jay-Z track. "Cellz" has such a good lyrical world. It really demands I pay attention.

I love "Still Dope" because Doom finds a way to re-use a sample he used on an older song, "Passion Flowers," in a way that makes the sample more interesting, not less interesting. Using it for this song makes it feel even better. It sounds to me like how a composer uses a theme to invoke the same feeling later in a work. That is the kind of idea I don't hear in other hip hop songs.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Doom >> "Cellz"| "Still Dope" (featuring Empress Stahhr Tha Femcee)

2009 : 07 "Lisztomania" by Phoenix

I spent a lot of time this year listening to this song and trying to make some sense out of its lyrics. The opening couplet reveals some sense of the futility of this task:

So sentimental
Not sentimental, no

If the underlying rhythm and melody weren't so joyous and energetic, one could mistake this tiny packet of self-canceling non-referentiality for a very compact Samuel Beckett play. The refrain doesn't exactly clarify matters:

Think less but see it grow
Like a riot, like a riot, oh
Not easily offended
Not hard to let it go
From the mess [?] to the masses

Um, OK? There's at least a noun here, relatively close to the pronoun... so... is this a song about the composer? Or about this film? Or... is "Lisztomania" a stand-in for popular manias of all sorts? That helps the "riot" lines to make sense, and maybe the thing about the "masses," but it doesn't really help with the stuff about being not hard to offend, or reveal anything akin to a point of view…

And so it went. The opacity of the song (the entire album, actually) bugged me, and then all it once it didn't anymore. When I was able to accept the lyrical content as rather inspired word salad, it freed me up to enjoy the album's bittersweet, nostalgic elation, which is actually communicated to the listener with absolute clarity.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Phoenix >> "Lisztomania"

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 : 06 Aught Music Roundtable: "This Tornado Loves You" by Neko Case

First Pass

It's what's on the inside that counts. For all the (well-deserved) attention to Case's sexy, almost campy album cover, the songs on Middle Cyclone were fantastic, with one or two misses. "This Tornado Loves You" is the perfect opening to what's superficially referred to as a 'nature album.' The melody is upbeat, the vocals are confident, and the lyrics are a great example of Case's gift for metaphor:

I carved your name across three counties
and ground it in with bloody hides
broken necks will line the ditch

Perhaps some might view this as a metaphor for a woman scorned, but for me, it goes beyond simple gender classifications. Sometimes, when we're trying to get someone's attention, we end up doing more harm than good.

Jamie Yates

Second Pass

This song is built around an amazing notion. There is something scary and thrilling in the idea of being loved by a tornado. I think the literal idea of this song is better than the figurative idea. I think we all love the Tornado, but I am never sure the Tornado loves me back. I guess Neko Case is sure.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Neko Case >> "This Tornado Loves You"

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009 : 04-05 Aught Music Roundtable: These Four Walls by We Were Promised Jetpacks


When I came across We Were Promised Jetpacks' debut CD These Four Walls in my local record shop I bought it solely based on the name of the band and the cover design. And, as it turns out, that was absolutely the right decision. Their songs have shades of Explosions In The Sky but with lyrics (sung in a lovely Scottish accent). There's something about the songs that just clicked with me right away and I found myself listening to the album on repeat for two days straight. "Conductor" is my current favorite off the album. The use of the word conductor as both a conductor of an orchestra and a simple conductor of electricity really tickles me.

April Walker

"It's Thunder and It's Lightning"

It makes me happy that a band with the name "We Were Promised Jetpacks" is enjoyable. I like the post-Indie-Rock sound they have put together: a straight-ahead rock sound that is unassuming. I like the way I can choose to dig into the song or enjoy it just for what is on the surface. Yes, I bought this album for the band's name. Sometimes you get luck with something like that.

Rich Thomas

Listen: We Were Promised Jetpacks >> "Conductor" | "It's Thunder and It's Lightning"

Monday, December 21, 2009

2009 : 03 "Luscious Voluptuous Pregnant" by Jason Crumer

Jason Crumer's Walk With Me is my favorite noise album of the year: it's an almost perfect hybrid of scouring intensity and measured restraint. (The first five or so minutes of this track—an irregularly looping set of piano motifs—sounds like it could have been an early Terry Riley piece or something from an academic conservatory.) Fineness notwithstanding, it still feels wrong to publicly admire a track with a title like "Luscious Voluptuous Pregnant," sort of like discussing one's own fetish(es) in mixed company. But, uh, I actually think it's a great title—sexy in a sort of upside-down way—and a good sign that noise music (even measured, restrained noise music) hasn't lost its sense of the taboo.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Jason Crumer >> "Luscious Voluptuous Pregnant"

2009 : 02 "In These Arms" by The Swell Season

I want to tell Jeremy to postpone the write up for 2009. I want to ask him for another three months or so. After writing about all these other songs, I want a few more months to live with the ones from this year. They are still too light and unattached. They lack the emotional weight and attachment the other songs have gained. I want him to wait because I will understand 2009 a lot better in two or three years. I know the world will not wait for that understanding.

I can tell you I love "In These Arms." The second Swell Season album is good in a different way than the first one. I hear some things here that remind me of my wife. Yes, my wife. I am married now, which I was not when 2009 started. In another year or two I will have a better understanding of what 2009 means.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Swell Season >> "In These Arms"

About the delay


Whoops, sorry.

End-of-semester workload + holiday shopping + travel = slightly longer hiatus between 2008 posts and 2009 posts than I had really intended.

Everything's OK. We will still complete our review of the decade before the end of the year! New 2009 posts commence today.

Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 : 01 "Summertime Clothes" by Animal Collective

Upon reflection, it's staggering to remember the varied albums that came out, of all the months, in January. Andrew Bird, A.C. Newman, Morrissey, Franz Ferdinand...but, no album set the tone quite like Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion. I was working in Seattle before this disc dropped and had the fortune to work with and become good friends with Terrance Terich, co-founder of After long discussions about music, he burned me a copy of this album, among others. I immediately agreed with him (and everyone else) that this was already one of the best albums of the year. "Summertime Clothes" is an addicting single, with a varied mix of sounds and influences. The emphasis here is on the notion of "collective"--this is a true group effort. I love how the group blends sampling and small sounds (listen carefully--it almost sounds like there are sound effects mixed in) with vocals and guitar that could have come from the 1970s. I played the crap out of this during the dreary winter, and it helped alleviate the depression of Lynnwood, Washington.

Jamie Yates

Listen: Animal Collective >> "Summertime Clothes"

Saturday, December 12, 2009

2008 : 23 "The Girl You Lost to Cocaine" by Sia

There is something about a well-crafted pop song that is hard to describe. It is easy to make fun of pop music and look down upon it as making money in the world of the least common denominator. It is easy to think that pop music is all about fluff and nothing else. Everyone has a pop song they cannot stand for good reason. I think that is what makes good pop songs so rewarding.

I love "The Girl You Lost to Cocaine" because it has a dark nature that most pop songs do not have. On first listen you might not hear those dark undertones, but after a few listens those undertones are so sweet. It is like you discovered something not everyone will find.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Sia >> "The Girl You Lost To Cocaine"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

2008 : 22 "L'effaçage" (excerpt) by Radu Malfatti

Literally, the erasure, the deletion, the suppression, the annulation, the invalidation, effaçage, effacement, etc.

erased dekooning by robert rauschenberg

Radu Malfatti L'effaçage (b-boim, 2008)

What happens when you erase not just lyrics, melody, solos, harmony, rhythm, but also pitch, notes, technique, tone, touch, and dynamics? Is a piece "music" that is constructed entirely out of a series of bass drum tympani rumbles that arise from and melt into large stretches of silence? Does boredom and extended repetition have a place in music? Can sounds be bland? What happens to the listener and the music between (the) sounds?

radu malfatti

"In a roomful of shouting people, the one who whispers becomes interesting."
- Peter Schmidt

Radu Malfatti has been working with these questions for the better part of two decades, releasing most on his in-house CD-R label, available primarily by emailing him directly. And yet despite this extremely limited niche he works with (visually, think Barrett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, and Robert Rauschenberg at their most ultra-minimal), he has produced work of some range: works for bass drum (L'effaçage), piano, string quartets, sine waves, saxophones, and string orchestra.

"Innovations be damned, it's a boring century."
– Morton Feldman

Malfatti's possibly dogmatic dedication to an intensely precise and austere soundworld, will strike many as cold, sterile, and moreover, a conceptual dead-end, musical entropy. But for others, it may seem like a needed antidote to the practically overwhelming busyness ("gabbiness" to quote Malfatti himself) of almost all forms of contemporary music.

"If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all."
– John Cage

See also: Taku Sugimoto– Italia (A Bruit Secret, 2001)

Darren DeMonsi

Listen: Radu Malfatti >> " L'effaçage (excerpt) "

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2008 : 21 "Snakes of Hawaii" by Army Navy

Jeff jumped around the room and danced when "Snakes of Hawaii" came on. He got on the bed and started to air guitar and sing along with the track. Jeff knew if his wife or kids came home right now they would think it was funny. Jeff was not the type of man to jump around to a song. In his late 30s, this was the type of thing he could get away with in his teens. A video of this moment, if the universe was unkind enough to allow it to be recorded, would be one of those instant YouTube hits.

Jeff was not ashamed to be dancing around to this song. Every once in a while a song should make you feel young. There is no reason at 37 a song can't make you feel 17. That is "Snakes of Hawaii."

"Maybe there's no Snakes In Hawaii, Maybe there's not snakes at all," came out of Jeff's mouth at full volume. He felt the energy that the song was supposed to make him feel. After the song was over he heard clapping behind him. He turned around to see his four-year-old daughter, Donna.

"Daddy, can I dance with you this time?"

"Sure, darling, let's play that one again."

Rich Thomas

Listen: Army Navy >> "Snakes of Hawaii"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

2008 : 20 "The Healer" by Erykah Badu

I wasn't actually a huge fan of Erykah Badu's 2008 album New Amerykah—but this track, "The Healer," was, to my mind, the single most invigorating piece of music the year had to offer. Badu's decision to marry the concepts of healing and pop music isn't in and of itself very interesting: any number of lesser talents could take those two ideas and emerge with a garden-variety homily about the enduring power of music. The greatness of this track comes from Badu's decision to use this framework as a structure into which to jam all sorts of left-field weirdness, ending up with a salvo that's a deeply compelling mish-mash of metaphysics, resistance politics, science fiction, and what may or may not be pure nonsense:

"We ain't dead," said the children
Don't believe it
We just made ourselves invisible
Underwater stove top blue flame
Come out with your scales up

The lyrical content is a great fit with Madlib's stoned-sounding production, last appreciated on this blog here.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Erykah Badu >> "The Healer"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

2008 : 19 "Love Is" by Ringo Starr

This is 100% what I want out of Ringo Starr. It is soft and sweet, heartfelt and loving. I have always felt like Ringo understands love. Liverpool 8. was supposed to be about his whole life. It was him looking back over the decades and sharing wisdom with me. That is what I want out of a Ringo Starr song

Rich Thomas

Listen: Ringo Starr >> "Love Is"

Saturday, December 5, 2009

2008 : 18 "red light" by Rod Modell

If Jacaszek's "Lament," which I wrote about not long ago, is like what house music would sound like if it emerged from a Transylvanian castle, then Rod Modell's blurred, smeary track "red light" is what house music would sound like if someone were playing it to you in an attempt to bring you out of a very deep drug-induced coma.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Rod Modell >> "red light"

2008 : 17 "Don't Haunt this Place" by The Rural Alberta Advantage

The Rural Alberta Advantage is 100% of what I want out of an Indie Rock band. They have it all.

Lo-fi production — check.

Slightly sad vocal — check.

Driving beat — check.

Extra female vocals — check.

Sad lyrics — check.

This is an album that came out of nowhere for me in 2008. I felt like I was the only person who knew about it. That is an amazingly satisfying feeling.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Rural Alberta Advantage >> "Don't Haunt This Place"

Friday, December 4, 2009

2008 : 16 "Librarian" by My Morning Jacket

Finding beauty and sexiness in a quiet, alluring librarian? No, this isn't a Whitesnake song. This is a beautiful evocation of the kind of connection that all of us have every now and then, admiring someone from a distance and letting daydreams run wild. My favorite line is one that is only a part of the set-up:

Ramble up the stairwell, into the hall of books...
Since we got the interweb these hardly get used

This almost makes the song a sort of rambling inner dialogue, but it builds into a beautiful love story. The lyrics are a bit more direct than Jim James and company usually go for, but the difference works amazingly well, combined with their atmospheric music.

Jamie Yates

Listen: My Morning Jacket >> "Librarian"

Thursday, December 3, 2009

2008 : 15 "This Will Never Be Our Town" by Jason Anderson

Vince was driving around Portland when "This Will Never Be Our Town" came up in the shuffle. Somehow he knew this song was about him and here. He knew that Portland was a temporary home for him. He would never be able to stick here. He can't find the thing that connects a person to a place. His friends tell him his is being silly when he feels this way. One verse in the song hits him hard:

Six months ago almost to the day
It's weird to think how much is different and how much is exactly, exactly, exactly, exactly, the same
On the trip back I remember saying to myself our town looks cute
and then instantly thinking
this will never be our town

Six months in the future, Vince is loading the U-haul for his move to Reno. He thought about how true some moments are.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Jason Alexander >> "This Will Never Be Our Twon"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

2008 : 13-14 Two tracks by Jenny Lewis

"Acid Tongue"

As I've written about Lewis before, I'm utterly convinced she would have been just as relevant and emotional had she been singing in the 1940s or 50s. This song is no exception. The combination of sadness and hope are perfect, with neither one dominating, but blending into an atmospheric haze. It's the soundtrack of sitting in a bar after a bad week and feeling a little sorry for yourself.

To be lonely is a habit
Like smoking or taking drugs
And I've quit them both
But man, was it rough.


I'm sure that most of my co-workers have wished bodily harm against me, since I've played this song dozens of times. It's unbelievably catchy and a piece of alluring storytelling. I can easily imagine the Decemberists covering this one:
They come to town when the war is over
Dirty boots in the middle of the night
Trolling the bars, hitting on the soldiers
Boys give it up without a fight
They say, "Hey, boy, how about your place?
I know you really want to take me home"
Drop the bags off on the bedroom floor
They make love with the lights on

It's also a testament to Lewis's prowess as a vocalist that she can duet with a legend like Elvis Costello and completely overshadow him. That's not to say that he doesn't fit in on this track; but there's no denying that this is a Jenny Lewis song, despite the amazing collaborations on the entire disc.

Jamie Yates

Listen: Jenny Lewis >> "Acid Tongue" | "Carpetbaggers"

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

2008 : 12 "Arms Like Boulders" by The War On Drugs

There is a song you hear on the radio
It's a funeral march so you change the channel
But it's all you hear as you're driving up the 101 from Mexico to California
There's no snow when you're looking for your sweethearts
Yeah there's no snow when you're looking for your answers

There is something about this song that makes me think the singer is singing to someone who is lost. Like he is holding out his hand, but the person cannot quite reach it. There is a fog the singer is trying to cut through, but the person cannot make him out.

I like this song because it reminds me of Bob Dylan. I can imagine Bob Dylan singing these lyrics. I think it says a lot of about the lyrics.

And you're, you're the kind to hide your eyes from the sun
And in your world the strong survive
But won't you lay your body down
Yes and now, now's the time to wrap your ears around the sound
Of your train coming round
You'll have to lay everything down

Rich Thomas

Listen: The War On Drugs >> "Arms Like Boulders"

Monday, November 30, 2009

2008 : 11 "Lament" by Jacaszek

Treny, the 2008 album by Jacaszek, can perhaps best be described by saying that it's what house music would sound like if house music emerged from a pre-industrial Eastern European castle instead of from the dance floors of post-industrial Detroit. (Or you can say it's like that band Enigma, only good.) Gloomy, crepuscular, capital-R Romantic, and pretentious: this is the kind of music that puts me in touch with my sexiest inner Goth. Envision blood and candlelight.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Jacaszek >> "Lament"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

2008 : 10 "Long Division" by Death Cab For Cutie

As much as I love Ben Gibbard and company, as much as I appreciate their evocative, poetic lyrics and soft accompaniments, it's refreshing to see that they can rock out now and them. Long Division doesn't sacrifice any of the lyrics that Death Cab has been known for since Day One:

The television was snowing softly
As she hunted for her keys
She said she never envisioned him
The type of person capable of such deceit

The atmosphere is still the same as you'd find in their slower numbers. Perhaps this is a case of 'don't fix it if it's not broken,' but a little energy can go a long way, as this song proves.

Jamie Yates

Listen: Death Cab For Cutie >> "Long Division"

2008 : 09 "Stephen Stephen" by Apples in Stereo

I cannot tell you how much I geeked out when I saw Robert Schneider on the Stephen Colbert show. This is one of those moments where one of my favorite bands is on one of my favorite shows. He even wrote a song about Stephen Colbert. Yes it is those little things that are really important, in a silly, silly way. On top of that, it is a great song. What more can I ask for?

Rich Thomas

Listen: Apples In Stereo >> "Stephen Stephen"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

2008 : 08 "Bedroom Costume" by Natalie Portman's Shaved Head

For as much as pop music ostensibly concerns itself with physicality and sexuality, it's surprisingly rare to find songs that really evoke the particulars of erotic exchange with any degree of specificity. So when I find one, I end up appreciating it with special zeal. Remember 2001, when I posted "Love With The Three of Us," to my knowledge the world's only great song about menage-a-trois? Anyway, now we're in 2008, and here's "Bedroom Costume," which is likely the world's only great song about the mutually beneficial relationship between a voyeur and an exhibitionist. Note especially the moment when the exhibitionist finally delivers her version of events, around 1:30—it's a moment that's equal parts heartbreaking sweetness and unbearable erotic ferment.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Natalie Portman's Shaved Head >> "Bedroom Costume"

Thursday, November 26, 2009

2008 : 07 "Ragged Wood" by Fleet Foxes

It's so odd that the Fleet Foxes have been compared to 1960s folk acts, when in fact, at least in my opinion, they (almost scarily) sound like My Morning Jacket. However, despite this similarity, they still manage to retain their own style and creativity. This track is uplifting, folksy, and yet has just enough echo and reverb to sound haunting. A lot of criticism in pop music focuses on technology and production overtaking the actual process of singing and creating music. The recording on this track is all about the song, yet there's just a hint of recording manipulations that add just a touch more atmosphere.

Jamie Yates

Listen: Fleet Foxes >> "Ragged Wood"

2008 : 06 "Oliver Square" by Cadence Weapon

"What is there not to like about the Cadence Weapon album?" PJ asked Loud Mike.

"He is a rapper from Edmonton Alberta Canada, and he raps about Edmonton. How rough it is to live there. I would think the hardest thing is putting up with the winters."

"Come on, every city is tough. We have never been to Edmonton; maybe it is a really hard place."

PJ and Loud Mike had to stand on BART because the Bay Bridge was closed again. "In that case, you get out in Oakland and tell the kids Edmonton is a hard place to live."

"You have to admit that the samples are tight and Cadence Weapon has a great flow."

"Yeah, he has a great flow and the samples are what keep me listening to the album. Listen, if you name a rap album Breaking Kayfabe, it better be about pro wrestling or about how how rap star are just working angles like pro wrestlers. I like the idea of rappers hiding behind a secret code. Too bad he does not do that."

PJ knew that he had to be strong here. "I still love this album. He has a sound that carries the album. It is strong, even if you don't like the title."

Rich Thomas

Listen: Candace Weapon >> "Oliver Square"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

2008 : 05 "Time to Pretend" by MGMT

Let's make some music
Make some money
Find some models for wives

Earlier this fall, I sent the following to Twitter:

OK, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the song isn't really about marrying models--the title alone gives that away. But it should still be possible to write a song about pretending to be a huge success that would be a sort of free-wheeling celebration of lavish fantasy, and that isn't really what this song does either. In fact, on one level the song actually functions as a critique of the imagination, presenting it ultimately as a withdraw from the pleasures, sensations and interpersonal connections provided by existence:

I'll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms
I'll miss the comfort of my mother and the weight of the world
I'll miss my sister and my father, miss my dog and my home
I'll miss the boredom and the freedom and the time spent alone

And yet the song's crowning touch is its assertion that, even despite these many sacrifices, total withdraw into insular fantasy ultimately remains preferable to bearing the disappointments of reality:

Yeah its overwhelming
But what else can we do
Get jobs in offices
and wake up for the morning commute?

The song takes a familiar rock-star fantasy, and by looking at it from a slightly different angle, reveals the suicidal ideation at its heart. This is genius at its bleakest, a glossy, upbeat anthem that seems intended for blasting on infinite repeat as you prepare your overdose.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: MGMT >> "Time To Pretend"

2008 : 04 "You, Me and the Bourgeoisie" by The Submarines

So here I am, "in the center of the first world," or anyway, maybe considerably left of center, in my kitchen in my tenement building in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, in November of 2009, which will, I assume, be historically notable as the time just after Maine voted down marriage equality when people of conscience again had to try to reconcile our hope for humanity with the fact that human rights was dealt a blow by a small plurality. Or maybe I'll remember this as the year I got mice in my apartment and the month in which my cat actually killed one.

So here I am, "in the center of the first world," on the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, writing about a song which uses language popularized by a manifesto published one-hundred-sixty-one years ago, that shaped history from then until, arguably, today. "You, Me and the Bourgeoisie" was released on October 21st, 2008, and, about nine months later, this celebratory anti-capitalist song was widely publicized in a commercial for a three-hundred dollar phone. The Submarines tell us that "we're not living the good life / unless we're fighting the good fight," and I'm sure I'm not the only one at this very moment who is a little confused about what that good fight is for, exactly. Although I am relieved to find out it's not "higher ceilings," which sounds kind of petty, and anyway, all these old Boston buildings have very nice high ceilings, thank you. Listening to this song, which I too discovered while watching the commercial (sitting on my best friend's floor and drinking too much wine in an interlude between episodes of a vulgar cartoon show that has been on television since I was seven years old (two years before the Berlin Wall fell)) and then bought for ninety-nine cents on iTunes, I feel as if history has collapsed wetly in on itself.

Someone wrote earlier on this blog that "You can't go forward unless you pick yourself off the floor," and right now I am trying to figure out how we are going to pick ourselves up out of the puddle of history we seem to have sunk into. But I think that, though we can all agree, from our perspective here on the damp floor, that at the "center of the fist world," it is "too easy just to fall apart," there has got to be a way out of this and into someone else's catchy new vision of an equitable future.

Amy Clark

Listen: The Submarines >> "You, Me, and the Bourgeoise"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

2008: 03 "(I Don't Want To Die) In the Hospital" by Conor Oberst

Like a lot of great tracks, this one can either resist strict genre classifications, or it can be viewed as a blend of a few different ones. The opening honkytonk piano is almost too brief, but the rest of the track keeps up a strong, folk-rock tempo. Perhaps I'm way off, but the lyrics can be easily interpreted into a folk-protest song, not unlike a faster Pete Seeger song for the 21st century.

I don't give a damn what the doctors say
I ain't gonna spend a lonesome day
I don't wanna die in the hospital
You gotta take me back outside
They don't let you smoke and you can't get drunk
All there is to watch is these soap operas

I see a ton of excellent metaphors here. I could get into some slightly outlandish hypotheses, but I think anyone can come up with their own views. Or...maybe Conor just really hates hospitals.

Jamie Yates

Listen: Conor Oberst >> "I Don't Want To Die (In The Hospital)"

Monday, November 23, 2009

2008 : 02 "Psychotic Girl" by the Black Keys

Musically, 2008 was a bit of a depressing year for me. Musicians that I thought could do no wrong (Conor Oberst and Hold Steady I am talking about you) put out mediocre albums that left me feeling blah. Nostalgia for the past moved in and I pined for days when the music was good.

Cue the Black Keys, who with their 5th album, Attack & Release are sounding as good as ever. They have taken a history of southern rock, blues, gospel, minimalist stomp, psychedelia, and a touch of hip-hop and combined it to perfection. Polish is not something I usually enjoy on my music, but producer Danger Mouse seems to have taken grit and turned it to gold.

There are many Black Keys fans who believe this Danger Mouse collaboration ruined the pure raw energy that made previous albums so refreshing, but I enjoy the variety here. Although the guitar and drums groove is still central to their songs, the addition of a choir, tribal drums, flutes, banjos, organ, and xylophone give each song a hidden gem hiding within the boom and gloom.

This is a nostalgic album in every sense from its sound to its lyrics, which means, unfortunately that the album could sound like it was made deep in the past. Luckily this is not the case, and the largest exception to this is "Psychotic Girl," which, after its banjo intro, proceeds into a very Gnarls-Barkley-sounding funk. I am a bit surprised by my love of this song. I have always been a vocals and lyrics kind of girl, and although Dan Auerbach does have a great pair of pipes, vocals are kind of subdued on this one. Hearing the synth and banjo coexist so perfectly more than makes up for it.

E. P. Johnson

Listen: The Black Keys >> "Psychotic Girl"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

2008 : 01 "Inner City Pressure" by Flight of the Conchords

Neon signs, hidden messages.
Questions, answers, fetishes.
You know you're not in high finance.
Considering second hand underpants.

I love Flight of the Conchords. I have convinced my wife to love Flight of the Conchords. After two seasons, I can't wait for the third season to hit the air. The show works because both the situation comedy and the musical comedy are excellent.

This song is a great example of that I love about them. This song is a clear take-off on the Pet Shop Boys. They do lots of different song styles on the show. I love them the best when it is clear who the song is making fun of. They really nail the style of this song.

The lyrics of the song are also great, just being a little off from what would expect from a pop song on this subject. The lines about second hand underpants, being a concert flutist, and having to stand there because they sold the chair are just a little out of place. You might miss them if you are not playing attention.

On top of all of that, it is all in the service of the comedy of the show and running jokes in the show.

You don't measure up to the expectation.
When you're unemployed, there's no vacation.
No one cares, no one sympathizes.
You just stay home and play synthesizers.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Flight of the Conchords >> "Inner City Pressure"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Week of Rest


And so we draw the curtain on 2007. This blog will now rest until Sunday, November 22, when we will begin posting tracks from 2008.

Friday, November 13, 2009

2007 : 38-39 Aught Music Roundtable: Love Is Simple by Akron/Family

Roundtable Part One: "Ed Is A Portal"

When this album was released, I wrote that Love Is Simple is "[t]he latest entry in the attempt to write the great American psychedelic folk roadtrip album, and one of the most successful I've ever heard. This album is the triumphant album of experimental folk-rock that acts like Califone, Wilco, and the Flaming Lips have been almost-making for a decade now (and that Camper Van Beethoven were almost-making 20 years ago), but it also breaks from that framework periodically, expanding into ecstatic mind-expanding jams—jams that locate the choice middle ground between the sloppy, shambalic, "No Neck Blues Band" type and the more polished, technically-efficient, "Phish" type, and consequently are more effective than either. Mystical in orientation, singular in vision: at its best, it's like a backwoods Americana version of the Boredom's Vision Creation New Sun."

I don't actually think that I have anything to add to that, beyond saying that this track, "Ed Is A Portal," nicely sums up what I'm talking about. You can spare the seven and a half minutes. Trust me.

Jeremy Bushnell

Roundtable Part Two: "Phenomena"

Phenomena, phenomena, phenomena.

There are two kinds of songs that get stuck in your head, the kind that you can't wait to get rid of and the kind that you want to stay there stuck for as long as you can. "Phenomena" is in second category for me. I love the kind, flowing sound of the instrumentals and the dreamy tone of the vocals. It really makes me want to sing "Phenomena" over and over again.

I found Akron/Family's third album Love Is Simple because eMusic suggested it to me. Love is Simple is the perfect title for this album. I can hear a love for the music and a simple approach to making the music. The songs on the album have a deep, rich sound without sounding over produced. This album really caught me by surprise when I first heard it.

Phenomena, phenomena, phenomena.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Akron / Family >> "Ed Is A Portal" | "Phenomena"

2007 : 37 Aught Music Roundtable: "Paper Planes" by M.I.A.

First Pass

Back when we were covering 2005, I wrote that M.I.A. might be the Artist of the Decade, in part because she was the living embodiment of a number of important trends that defined music in the Aughts more broadly. To see that logic continue to play out, one need merely examine the rise of "Paper Planes."

It was released on M.I.A.'s second album, Kala, in 2007, but wasn't the lead single. (That was the likably weird "Boyz.") This track lay dormant until used as the backing track for the Pineapple Express trailer in early 2008, whereupon it blew up in a big way, permeating the culture until even the people who are arguably the biggest musical superstars in the world had to pay tribute. It's easy to see why: the second "Paper Planes" starts playing (about a minute in) is the exact moment this trailer starts to become cool:

Once upon a time it may have been possible to keep your categories separate: movie trailers over here, viral YouTube clips over here, music videos over here, commercials over there. But the Pineapple Express trailer neatly collapses all of these categories: I'd say that it single-handedly sold more copies of "Paper Planes" than any commercial could have, except that it actually is a commercial, for both the movie and the song. Except that it isn't. Except that it is.

One might see this as dispiriting: straight-up evidence that capitalism continues to mutate and evolve, spawning ever more pervasive forms. (The fact that the explicit topic of "Paper Planes" is the circulation of capital can be read as a crowning irony.) Or one might see it as a symbol of the unpredictability and ultimate richness of cultural cross-transmission. Probably it's a little of both, but the fact that a simple dance track can invoke these kinds of questions pretty much exemplifies the enjoyment that I derived from M.I.A. this decade.

Jeremy Bushnell

Second Pass

I fly like paper, get high like planes
If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name
If you come around here, I make 'em all day
I get one down in a second if you wait

There is something about this song that just captures me. Maybe because it is violent, but sung by a woman. Maybe it indulges the part of me that likes to watch gangster movies. Maybe it is because I like to sing along with the part about murder as I am at the gym. Maybe it is because I want to think the song is about running a lunch truck like the YouTube video.

Anyway, I love this song. It totally sucks me in, like an action movie. This song is total escapism for me. This is one of the best work out songs on my iPod.

Some some some I some I murder
Some some some I let go
Some some some I some I murder
Some some some I let go

Rich Thomas

Listen: M.I.A. >> "Paper Planes"

2007 : 36 "Intro" by Graham Lambkin


You move into a new apartment, and you find that the former tenants have left behind a box of old cassettes, they are tattered, with labels peeling, and faded writing, and you put one in the boombox, and press the button hard to place the head firmly on the magnetic tape, and the sounds on it are masked and decrepit and slightly warped, and there is some unidentified classical music which actually sounds nice behind the patina of dust and age, and then there is a sharp garbled transition to another moment, and at some point in the life of the cassette someone tried to tape over it (perhaps accidentally) and you hear on top of the piano and strings and song (which is Shostakovich going about its business) the sounds of laughter and breathing and the pitter-patter movement around the house of a person, a child, a family, a life, along with birds chirping in trees and distorted wind and windchimes hanging from the window over the vase, near the sink with water running and voices, and you wonder what the former tenants were like and what they did for a living and what their life was like, the little gestures, and the bigger movements, and if they were happy living here, and if they were happy.

See also: Nmperign & Jason Lescalleet – Love Me Two Times (Intransitive, 2006)

Darren DeMonsi

Listen: Graham Lambkin >> "Intro"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

2007 : 35 "Impossible Germany" by Wilco

Even today, I'm still on the fence in regard to my opinion of Sky Blue Sky as a whole. I genuinely like the album, but I don't get the same intangible feelings generated by their earlier works. Also, I remember reading more than one review that classified it as Jeff Tweedy's "happy album." With Wilco's music, there's usually so much more to think about in terms of music and lyrics, so determining or classifying an album by so generic an emotion as 'happy' or 'sad' seems utterly pointless. However, this is my favorite song featured. There's a definite melancholy in the lyrics:

But I know you're not listening
Oh I know, you're not listening

If this is supposed to be "happy," then the reviewers must be borderline suicidal. A lot of Wilco songs seem to deal with strains in communication and understanding between two parties, and "Impossible Germany" is an excellent example of this. Also, despite the well-documented control that Tweedy has over Wilco's sound and production, this track feels like a true group effort.

Jamie Yates

Listen: Wilco >> "Impossible Germany"

2007 : 34 "Turn On Me" by The Shins

I love the sound of this song. It is amazingly resigned for a break-up song. It is like the singer knew that it would never work out. He is resigned to the fact that there was nothing he could do. He knew that she would turn on him. He might even be happy that it worked out this way. It is a very interesting way to approach a break-up song.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Shins >> "Turn on Me"

2007 : 33 "Circadian Rhythm" by Son Volt

I bought The Search when it first came out. I listened to it some, but nothing really stayed with me. I would listen and it would just go away when I was done. That is, until I saw them play live on tour for this album. I was just blown away by seeing them play "Circadian Rhythm" played live. They played a 15-minute version of this song. James Walbourne layered his guitar over and over again using the effects pedal as the rest of the band got ready for the next song. It just gave me goose pimples. Now every time I hear this song, I am back at that concert.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Son Volt >> "Circadian Rhythm"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

2007 : 32 "Don't Make Me a Target" by Spoon

This track is deceptively simple. I went through a few different ideas for a write-up on this one, but nothing seemed to work. More than once, I've written about some songs here sounding like inspired jam sessions, and this one is no different. A little research on Wikipedia proved my hypothesis correct, as it states that Britt Daniel and company went through quite a few trials on this track, attempting to find the best sound. The bass line is blunt, and the lyrics work almost like a protest song against an ambivalent but worrisome opponent. The final two lines offer what sound like some awesome novel titles:

Clubs and sticks and bats and balls
For nuclear dicks with the dialect drawls
They come from a parking lot town
Where nothing lives in the sun

Jamie Yates

Listen: Spoon >> "Don't Make Me A Target"

2007 : 31 "Shine In Exile" by Beat The Devil


Met a Man
St. Augustine
In Ray Bans
dressed in black
Against the tide
Against the beach
the neon tourist traps
He said, "My baby I've learned to live inside my head."
"My baby I've learned to live inside my head."
Imaginary landlords
and imaginary rent
No recognition of population
the demons left you spent
My baby I've learned to live inside my head.

My baby I've learned to live inside my head.
Where there's no, "Pleased to meet you"
and no
"Glad you noticed"
It's a Carnival Cruise Line
without Kathy Lee Gifford
And I'm in love with myself.
You can buy some time
for change again
but the world
is really flat
He sailed the oceans
When blood turned blue
and put shackles on the map
My baby I've learned to live inside my head.
Where there are dancing bears
drinking grape flavored Kool-Aid
large breasted women
Large breasted men
Oh I'm in love with myself.

I rarely just paste all the lyrics of a song in my write-ups. I can usually find just a few lines that can express what I love about a song. For some reason I just could not pick it for this song. The lyrics of this song so totally capture me, I just had to add all of them.

This is a song I sing to myself for days after hearing it one time. The lyrics and haunting voice of the singer just stay in my head. It just keeps on bumping around in my skull. It is the kind of song when I hear one time, I want to put it on repeat and listen to it a dozen times.

The first half of 2007 was a really hard time for me. Things were just not going my way. On some level I felt this song was perfect for me. I had to find a way to live inside my head. That is part of what makes this song ring out to me.

If nothing else, what else could you ask for than a Kathy Lee Gifford reference?

Rich Thomas

Listen: Beat the Devil >> "Shine In Exile"

2007 : 30 "Trial of Champions" by 3 Inches of Blood

It's your time, do what must be done! Music for PvP. All you need to know. Stop reading; fire up the blades!! Like hard metal acts such as Linkin Park and Coldplay, 3 Inches of Blood covers Chuck Norris with a plum.

Justin Timberdrake

Listen: 3 Inches of Blood >> "Trial of Champions"

2007 : 29 "The Mesopotamians" by They Might Be Giants

We've been driving around
From one end of this town to the other and back
But no one's ever seen us (No one's ever seen us)
Driving our Econoline van (And no one's ever heard of our band)
And no one's ever heard of our band
We're the Mesopotamians
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh

The music geek and the history geek in this song just collide. I love when musicians sing about music, and I can see how a band like They Might Be Giants might identify with obscure unknowns.

This was the first They Might Be Giants album I loved since college. It was like we were on different paths and we found each other again. I just hope that I get the chance to see them tour as the Mesopotamians.

Rich Thomas

Listen: They Might Be Giants >> "The Mesopotamians"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2007 : 28 "Brunettes Against Bubblegum Youth" by The Brunettes

This song never gets old for me. It's a sly wink at pop music, both as criticism and homage. Take these lyrics on their own, separate from the song:

I love to call you 'baby'
When we're this spaceship

Sappy? Yeah. Surreal? A little. But the Brunettes know exactly what they're doing, making this an intentional mashup of pop, rock anthems, and a little bit of soul for good measure. However, the kicker is that it doesn't feel like any sort of hipster irony; there's a lot of love here. I've put this track on countless mix compilations for people, yet nobody seems to share my enthusiasm. This always gives me a little boost of energy.

Jamie Yates

Listen: The Brunettes >> "Brunettes Against Bubblegum Youth"

2007 : 27 "The Coolest Kid in School" by The Teeth

I was told by my friend Peter that The Teeth was the best band I never heard before. That was the day he gave me copy of their album. It turned out he was right. I could not not stop listening to that album.

I did not want to like this album. I wanted to prove Peter wrong. I wanted to discount all the praise that he heaped on the Teeth, but in the end I could not. There is something about The Teeth that appeals to the geeky music lover in me. Their sound is big and complex. It it like they recorded it so you want to think about every choice they made. I had to admit that they were as great Peter said.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Teeth >> "The Coolest Kid In School"

2007 : 26 "Lament of the Highborne" by Russell Brower

In the Burning Crusade, an expansion to the popular (12 million players) World of Warcraft, a quest in the Ghostlands, a new zone south of Silvermoon City (home of the Blood Elfs), has you find a ring for Lady Silvanas, Queen of the undead Forsaken. Lady Silvanas resides in Undercity. When you give her the ring, she says, in so many words, that it was her sister's, and is meaningless, something from another life. This is a dissappointment. But then, belying her indifference, out of nowhere Sylvanas sings the Lament of the Highborne. It's a moment of narrative genius in a game that continues to surprise.

Justin Timberdrake

Listen: Russell Brower >> "Lament of the Highborne"

Monday, November 9, 2009

2007 : 25 " We're The Trees" by A Sides

Rejoice in the pop hook. Embrace all the happiness and joy the hook can bring you. Amaze at the way you can use multiple pop hooks in the same song. When I thought I knew everything, I hated the pop hook and the way it tried to manipulate me. I had learn that I did not know everything to embrace the pop hook. I think the best indie-pop songs embrace the pop hook and make it their own. That is what I like so much about this A-Sides album.

Rich Thomas

Listen: A Sides >> "We're The Trees"

2007 : 24 "Sad Songs" by The Frames

Too many sad words make a sad, sad song

I could not stop playing this song in the first half of 2007. It was on over and over again for me. From that first note of the song, it has me. It reflected me back to myself in a way I could not deny. As you try to wear your brave face you have to remember: too many sad words make a sad, sad song. It was an idea that clung to me like a smell that was too strong to wash off.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Frames >> "Sad Songs"

2007 : 23 "Sexfaldur" by Amiina

If M.I.A.'s Arular was the first album I ever bought on the strength of tracks downloaded from MP3 blogs, then Amiina's Kurr was the first album I ever bought on the strength of hearing tracks through a streaming music service, specifically, one of those websites that builds up a profile of what you've listened to in the past and then puts algorithms to work all in the name of figuring out what else you might want to hear. You liked Band X? You might like Band Y. That sort of thing.

The fact that these services exist still strikes me as quite amazing. Some virtual bot somewhere is hard at work identifying patterns in some vast torrent of data, just waiting for me to query it as to what it thinks I'll like? Even if the outputted results were crap, this would still qualify as a sign that we're living in a piece of science fiction. The fact that the outputted results are good— that a band like Amiina was among the first results the service ever gave me —is even more stirring: it fills me not just with wonder but also hope. We're in the future, and it isn't totally broken!

Amiina is a group comprised of four women, best known for their occasional service as Sigur Ros' backing band. Their music has all the elements that I admire in Sigur Ros— mystery, grandeur, icy beauty —with very little of the (masculine?) showboating that I sometimes detect in Sigur Ros' work: consequently, they're pretty much a perfect band to serve my way.

There will be some people who lament a culture in which people get our music recommendations not from other people but from robots. That may, in fact, be why you're here, reading this. So this is me, a fellow human, telling you that I think you should buy this record.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Amiina >> "Sexfaldur"