Monday, August 31, 2009

2004 : 16 "The Cloud Prayer" by A.C. Newman

A.C. (Carl) Newman is one of the main protagonists of the New Pornographers, a band characterized by their seamless integration of the multiple points of view of the musicians involved. They are one of my favorite groups. However, I really adore Newman's solo album as well. It's much less busy, but its beauty sort of sneaks up on you. I had a very hard time choosing a track to feature from it; at least half the album is my "favorite". Pulling his light, clear voice and straightforward pop sensibility from the occasionally overwhelming orchestration of the New Pornographers is like enjoying one perfect berry from a bowl of fruit salad.

This particular track breaks my heart all over again each time I hear it. If the sad, perplexed opening line of "You don't think I tried for you" doesn't strike some sort of chord inside, either you have never been in a dysfunctional relationship, or you are a pitiless monster. The song has a way of pressing its fingers into bruises you didn't even realize you had.

Angela Smith

Listen: A.C. Newman >> "The Cloud Prayer"

2004 : 15 "Bottle Rocket" by The Go! Team

If you had told me I'd love a song with a harmonica solo I'd call you a fucking liar. But here we are! Anyway, this song is such an aggressive sugar shock that it's like a chlamydia test with a candy cane. It's straight up Saturday Morning cartoon theme music. I used to love to walk home from work blasting this on my iPod. When I crossed the Walnut Street bridge and this would come on I'd feel like a super hero on a victory lap. It's totally the aural equivalent of a high-five, and you're supposed to take that as corny and unironically as possible.

James Specht

Listen: The Go! Team >> "Bottle Rocket"

2004 : 14 "Section 12 (Hold Me Now)" by The Polyphonic Spree

There is a pure joy to The Polyphonic Spree that keeps me coming back to them. The first album felt like someone was trying something they were not sure if it was going to work, but they were going to try anyway. The second album, Together We're Heavy, sounds like they have no doubt it is going to work.

I think the tough thing about projects like The Polyphonic Spree is the ability to keep them going after the first album. It is so easy to not find any additional artistic ideas after the first album. I was impressed that they were able to make a second album that surpassed the first. I love The Polyphonic Spree because it is large and seems to be beyond cynicism. There is a place for that in my world.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Polyphonic Spree >> "Section Twelve [Hold Me Now]"

Sunday, August 30, 2009

2004 : 13 "College" by Animal Collective

Sung Tongs is the album I think of as Animal Collective's "breakthrough record"—the first of their studio albums that lived up to the energy and promise of their live shows. As such, there are a lot of tracks worth writing about ("Leaf House" and "Who Could Win A Rabbit" are both exemplary) but when it came time to sit down and write, I immediately knew I wanted to pick this tiny incidental bit, less than a minute in length. Its emphasis on vocal harmonies and odd sonic textures make it instantly plain why some consider Animal Collective to be the "Beach Boys of the Aughts," but my fondness comes less from the way the song affirms some party line and more from its lyrical content. That's pretty funny, since the song only has one line, but when I hear it I never fail to imagine some high school kid not that different from myself at age 17—let's say sensitive, troubled, introspective and overwhelmed. I imagine him hearing the seven words this track has to offer, ideally through a haze of epiphany-making THC, and having his life suddenly change direction. I imagine that one day he will remember hearing this song as the exact moment at which everything began to get better.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Animal Collective >> "College"

2004 : 12 "Sara" by Rokia Traorï

To understand why Rokia Traoré is one the most important and significant artists of the Aughts, it's crucial to know a little something about who she is and where she comes from.

Ms. Traoré is from Mali, the village of Kolokani, born into the Bamana tribe. The caste to which her family belongs discourages music making. Furthermore, in two-plus years of living in West Africa, I never saw a woman play an instrument. It is unusual for a female to play a guitar and sing; most female lead singers are of the Miriam Makeba, Oumou Sangare, and Cesaria Evora chanteuse / diva style. While her father was stationed abroad as a diplomat, Ms. Traoré traveled to Algeria, Saudi Arabia, France and Belgium, but attended both lyceé and university in Mali, where she began performing her own songs on acoustic guitar. She soon learned to play the ngoni (lute) and balafon, as well as incorporate complex vocal harmonies in her songs, which is again atypical for Malian music.

Her first album, Mouneïssa was released in 1997, and Wanita in 2000. Both albums on Label Bleu would strike even a seasoned African music aficionado as unique because of the way in which she isolates and juxtaposes traditional Malian instruments in small groupings that resemble a chamber ensemble. This clearly isnt mbalax, or afrobeat, or Wassalou, or jali praise songs, or toureg. "I'm not a Malian traditional singer", she says, "I can't say what style I am". Despite the rich polyphony of the vocals, and the counterpoint of the instrumentation, there is an airiness, a sense of letting the sounds breathe and have space to flex, that distinguishes Ms. Traoré's music from other African music styles and singers. She writes and arranges all of the music herself.

Her outspoken lyrics regarding the role and oppression of women in West African society has made her a bit of an outcast in her native Mali. She has addressed such sensitive and controversial topics such as polygamy, forced marriage, female circumcision, and gender inequalities in education, while at the same time, singing the praises of Malian families, and the religious tradition.

On the song "Kôté Don," she sings in her native Bamana

Ever changing, I dislike what is rigid, set
What "is" without knowing why
All that is hierarchical, static
I respect my ancestors,
But tradition is not infallible
It is not absolute
Time passes, we all change
Nothing remains the same.
This is for you, young people,
Let's dance the kôté.

In 2006, Ms. Traoré was involved in writing and performing a new work for the New Crowned Hope festival, staged by the maverick director Peter Sellars, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birthday. Her typically unconventional work (an opera) imagined that Mozart was born as a griot, a musician by birth, back in the time of the great Thirteenth century ruler Soundiata Keita, whose Mande empire was centered in what is now Mali. The instrumentation included traditional West African instruments, guitar and bass, violin and clarinet.

This track is from her third album, Bowmboï.

See also: Ali Farka Touré Savane (Nonesuch, 2006)

Darren DeMonsi

Listen: Rokia Traoré >> "Sara"

Saturday, August 29, 2009

2004 : 11 "Peach, Plum, Pear" by Joanna Newsom

This is unlike the story
It was written to be
I was riding its back
When it used to ride me

When I first heard the line, "This is unlike the story it was written to be," this song had me and I knew it would have me forever. Now when I hear the harpsichord intro to this song, the hair on the back of my neck stands up, knowing that I am going to get a treat. I am going to have something wonderful, for a few minutes at least.

Thanksgiving 2004 Jeremy gave me a copy of this album. In 2005, all the people I knew were rocking on this album. At least all the freaky music fans I know were. There was something about Joanna Newsom's elfin voice and choice of instruments that told you that this album was something special. The harp, organ, and harpsichord on the same album is something to behold. I often find myself drifting when I hear this album.

I could write about any song on this album. I think the album is a masterpiece; I could listen to the songs forever. They are simple and complicated, deep and easy, light and emotional, surreal and meaningful all at the same time. At times I feel like she is singing right into my soul, bypassing any defenses I might have.

I get a smile on my face whenever I hear "Peach, Plum, Pear." It reminds me of a specific time in my life, but it is still worth listening to in the here and now without those memories. I know there are elements of Joanna Newsom's music that not everyone will love, but somehow that makes the music even more special.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Joanna Newsom >> "Peach, Plum, Pear"

2004 : 10 "Getsu to Oji" by Kenji Ninuma

If I can step outside of the field of music for a moment, I'd like to point out that 2004 was the year that marked the release of Katamari Damacy, a video game for the Playstation 2 that constitutes a cultural touchstone of the decade in its own quirky Japanese way.

Katamari Damacy—and its sequel, We Love Katamari (2005)— were beloved among people who didn't ordinarily love video games, and there were undoubtedly a lot of reasons for that. Some were won over by the game's innovative mechanics, others by its cutesy character design.

I kind of doubt that the game's kicking J-Pop soundtrack was the deciding factor that won over any holdouts, but on the other hand it probably didn't hurt. And even if you never played the game, you should still check out the music, if you have any interest in what global pop looks like in the Aughts. (This track backs the levels "Make A Star 2" and "Ursa Major.")

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Kenji Ninuma >> "Getsu to Oji"

2004 : 09 "Terrible Angels" by CocoRosie

I saw CocoRosie play live before I ever heard their album. They were headlining a show that Diane Cluck was playing. I remember being stunned by their stage show. On some level it was more like performance art than an indie rock show. They did not interact with the crowd. The two of them sat on chairs and sung. From time to time they would bring someone else out to play with them. It was interesting because they really focused on the music. When they played "Terrible Angels" one of them held a child's toy that they were using to make sounds against her chest, like the way country artists used to play the autoharp.

I love the way CocoRosie uses children's toys and sound effects as instruments. It fits in really well with their vocal style. It does not sound like a gimmick with a song like "Terrible Angels." It gives the song a do it yourself feeling that is nice, like something I would make playing around in a friend's studio.

CocoRosie is one of those bands that benefit greatly from the internet. The music would never translate to being played on radio. There is something about radio that restricts the theme and tone of music. When I turn on the radio I am not looking for challenging or experimental. I love CocoRosie because it is not what I want to listen to when I want radio music.

Rich Thomas

Listen: CocoRosie >> "Terrible Angels"

Friday, August 28, 2009

2004 : 08 "Evil" by Interpol

Interpol was formed in New York City in 1998. Their music takes me to a place that I just want to linger in for unhealthily long periods. It is somehow darkly comfortable to listen carefully and imagine stories for the creative lyrics that accompany their songs.

Their sound reminds me a bit of the post-punk bands from the late 70s and early 80s that helped lay the groundwork for alternative rock to follow. Bass-heavy, bright snares, and catchy rhythmic guitar work provide a net for strangely timed and uniquely sung lyrics. I was instantly hooked on the vocal style and the sonic production choices they use to effect their instruments.

My track of choice is "Evil" from the album Antics. I feel it is fairly representative of their sound and style. Enjoy!

Dave Evans

Listen: Interpol >> "Evil"

2004 : 07 "Human Behavior" by The Decemberists (covering Bjork)

I did not expect "Human Behavior" to be the perfect Bjork song for the Decemberists to cover. The Decemberists not only do the song justice, they also bring a different dimension to it. While the Bjork version has the feeling of one robot singing to another, the Decemberist version feels like Geppetto singing to his creation. I just love the way this song is the same and different at the same time. It makes for a great cover song.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Decemberists >> "Human Behavior"

2004 : 06 "Campfire Song" by The Bunkbeds


If I were asked to make a dictionary with songs to define words this song would be the entry for "dreamy." The extreme dreaminess of the song was really cemented for me on a trip to Scotland in 2005. My boyfriend and I were driving through the fog-soaked Scottish highlands and "Campfire Song" came on the iPod just as we rounded a corner and the fog parted to reveal craggy peaks and a rainbow directly in front of us. So, that's what this song feels like to me, something unexpected, perfectly timed and amazingly beautiful.

The Bunkbeds aren't a band so much as a Scottish guy in his bedroom with some cheap n nasty (as he describes it) recording equipment. The results are mixed but when they are good they are, in my opinion, quite wonderful. I will be ever grateful for whatever internet rabbit hole I was following when I stumbled across this little gem.

The Bunkbeds artist page on SoundClick:

April Walker

Listen: The Bunkbeds >> "Campfire Song"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

2004 : 04-05
Aught Music Roundtable: "Good News For People Who Love Bad News" by Modest Mouse

Roundtable Part One: "Bukowski"

Yes, yes, yes. The obvious choice would be "Float On," and while that is one of the great songs of this decade, I've always had a soft spot for "Bukowski." When I first listened to this song, I immediately assumed it was a fun homage/criticique of the notorious author, but in fact, it's much more. Charles Bukowski is merely an example in the lyrics, which are much more profound than they appear at first. The song is an open-ended question of problem of goodness combined with human nature. In essense, nobody is spared, not even God:

If God controls the land and disease,
keeps a watchful eye on me,
If he's really so damn mighty,
my problem is I can't see,
well who would wanna be?
Who would wanna be such a control freak?
Well who would wanna be?
Who would wanna be such a control freak?

Issac Brock's scratchy, guttural voice is pitch-perfect for the tough questions of this song. The music is somewhat jarring, at times sounding like a mash of notes that get jumbled, but right themselves just in time. It's not a particularly easy listen, since the lyrics are sometimes rushed and mumbled, and the instruments (especially the banjo sequences) almost sound angry in some way. However, despite appearing cynical, the song works as an almost metaphysical query. If this is true, then it works like a Bukowski short story: underneath the hard exterior, there are some intelligent ideas and sympathetic questions.

Jamie Yates

Roundtable Part Two: "Float On"

I was on my 2004 trip to Portland the week Good News for People Who Love Bad News came out. I could not turn a corner without seeing a poster for this album. I think they were coming to town that week also. Let's say there were everywhere in Portland when I was there. I took it as a sign and bought the CD. It became an album that I listened to in my car for the next three months. I could not get enough of this album.

Jeremy said to me he found Modest Mouse less interesting when he was not worried about Isaac Brock being close killing himself with drugs. I am on the other side of this. I think the team of "I'm still alive, now what?" is very interesting. I think it is what makes Good News for People Who Love Bad News an interesting album to listen to. I hear that idea all through the album.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Modest Mouse >> "Bukowski" | "Float On"

2004 : 03 "All The Wine" by The National

The National has always struck me as a band that's very much concerned with the project of narrating and interrogating what it means to be an adult male in the 21st century. For a taste of how they approach this project, you could check out their 2004 EP Cherry Tree. The seven songs here are models of male expression: from flirtatious and articulate to emotionally inept, from recklessly accusatory to sincerely conciliatory. No catalog of masculine musical modes, of course, is complete without a brag, and Cherry Tree contains a really good one in the form of its second track, "All The Wine." Listen to Matt Berninger's precision with language, his fresh approach to image and metaphor, and his controlled delivery. Dare to identify with the character he gives voice to here and you too can feel this confident, this competent, this, er, manly. You too can feel like you're put together beautifully. Like God is on your side.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: The National >> "All The Wine"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

2004 : 02 "Nights of the Living Dead" by Tilly and the Wall

I don't know very much about the Midwest that doesn't come directly from bands and their songs. Maybe Nebraska (where this band is from) is technically the Great Plains. If this album in any way represents the region, call me a bus bound for Omaha. This song is snarky and rock-out. I play it so loudly out of my car on a Saturday night. Everyone should. And whether tap-dancer substitutes for drums are novel or weird, they are adorable.

Amanda Doimas

Listen: Tilly and the Wall >> "Nights of the Living Dead"

2004 : 01 "The Rat" by The Walkmen

You've got a nerve to be asking a favor
You've got a nerve to be calling my number
I'm sure we've been through this before
Can't you hear me? I'm beating on your wall
Cant you see me? I'm pounding on your door

I have wanted to scream this before. There are several times in my life where I have wanted to ask people where they got the nerve to treat me in a particular way. I think that is the simple reason this song works. The lyrics are great and the music fits the lyrics. Ding, ding, ding: we have a winner.

When I used to go out I'd know everyone I saw
Now I go out alone if I go out at all

Rich Thomas

Listen: Walkmen >> "The Rat"

Monday, August 24, 2009

2003 Day of Rest


And thus we draw the curtain on 2003. This blog will now come to rest momentarily, and will resume with write-ups of music from 2004 later this week (Wednesday?). The tracks from 2000 and 2001 will be taken down soon, so get 'em while you still can.

Remember that parties interested in participating can e-mail me for an invite: "projects" at

Thanks to everyone who provided write-ups and tracks so far!

Jeremy Bushnell

Friday, August 21, 2009

2003 : 48 "Across The Universe [Naked Version]" by The Beatles

When Let It Be... Naked came out my friends talked about where it fit into the history of the Beatles. I was, and still am, of the mind that it is outside the canon of the Beatles' career. As much as people say that this is what the Beatles wanted at the time, you cannot know that is true. They let Phil Spector take control of producing the album and Let It Be was the result.

On the Let It Be... Naked side of the argument, my friends say that it is truer to what the Beatles wanted. My problem is that too much time has passed. The Beatles might say they remember what they wanted, but as years go by, how can they be truthful? The passage of time is meaningful when it comes to art.

I love the Let It Be... Naked album, but is is still outside the Beatles' career for me. It is like a classic movie re-edited because that the director did not get the final cut, but that is still secondary to the original release. It does not mean I did not enjoy having Let It Be... Naked all these years later.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Beatles >> "Across The Universe"

2003 : 47 "Best Friend" by Rhythm & Sound w/ Love Joy

My love of funky Germans knows no bounds.

From 1993 to 1995, Berlin dance music producers Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, operating as Basic Channel, took the crystalline edges of techno and transformed them to liquid and vapors, obscuring the beat matrix until it was little more than a retinal afterimage. The sound was at once distant and warm as bath water, the throbbing comedown after the endless Friday night of Detroit/Berlin dance floor motivating.

There was a third city in the mix: Kingston, Jamaica. Oswald and Ernestus's post-BC work is a steady progression away from the techno and deeper into dub. As Rhythm & Sound, they turned down the BPMs and brought together an all-star team of dance hall artists to make Rhythm & Sound w/the Artists. Rather than overwhelm with their signature abstractions, R&S lay back, giving wide berth to a series of stand out vocal performances from legendary Jamaican artists. Check out the low smolder from Love Joy on "Best Friend."

In addition to the few R&S records, they have reissued several titles from the American reggae label Wackies. These reissues are a treasure trove of sides that were formerly only available to obsessed and thick-walleted collectors. If you like deep, sprawling dub and stony dancehall, seek out these discs.

Neil Jendon

Listen: Rhythm & Sound w/ Love Joy >> "Best Friend"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

2003 : 46 "The Soldiering Life" by The Decemberists

Jeremy and I have a debate about the Decemberists. He has told me that he finds the Decemberists to be to pretentious—and he is a man with a high threshold for pretentiousness. He says that he cannot stand any Decemberists song that has a subject matter pre-1960.

I am on the other side from this. I am not listening to a whole bunch of bands who are singing about history all the time. Clearly there is a space for two or three bands that are making music that likes to remind you of the past. If this was a whole musical genre I might have a different feeling.

I cannot think of another indie-pop song that is about being a World War I infantry man in the trenches. There not many bands I think can pull off a song like this. Not only it the topic interesting, but the lyrics are amazing. There is so much in the lyrics that I often have a different feeling what this song is about. I think some of that pretentiousness makes the song better.

But you
My brother in arms
I'd rather I'd lose my limbs
Than let you come to harm

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Decemberists >> "The Soldiering Life"

2003 : 44-45 Two tracks from The Civil War by Matmos

So around the time this blog first turned its attention to 2003, my sometimes-collaborator Laura Janine Mintz and I exchanged a few e-mails about doing a joint write-up on Matmos' The Civil War. We set up a collaborative Google document into which to post various fragments of commentary, with the idea that we'd somehow shape it into a finished product somewhere down the line.

We never quite managed to finish this. A bit of a shame, really: it would have reflected nicely upon the record, which, made by partners / lovers M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, is as fine a piece of harmonious musical collaboration as this decade has to offer.

Or is it? The album intially seems like an extended comment on life in contemporary polarized America—due in part to its sonic emphasis on militaristic sounds such as marches (listen, for example, to the album's opener, "Regicide") and due in part to the timing of its release (three years into the Bush presidency). But then you have Daniel himself claiming, in The Wire, that the album was at least partially inspired by "the domestic civil war between us as boyfriends and bandmates." So perhaps the creative dysfunction that de-engineered our fledgling roundtable was the more appropriate homage? Entropy saluting entropy? This is, after all, a band who has acknowledged a criticism that "all our songs are essentially the same: they start out with an orderly grid or set of patterns and then they fall apart and unravel."

But The Civil War builds things back up as much as it tears them down. Look, for instance, at "Reconstruction," which begins with "a noisy, chaotic section" and then resolves into "a very tranquil, melodic end." I include it here not only to make a point about creative processes but also to do justice to a statement by Laura, salvaged from our broken-down notes, where she says "This album is one of the best examples of an albumy album that I can think of. Sure, you can listen to one track, but you can't understand any of them without listening to all of them, and all hang together superbly without really sounding very much alike, apart from the endless beat of the march."

Jeremy Bushnell (and Laura Janine Mintz)

Listen: Matmos >> "Regicide" | "Reconstruction"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

2003 : 43 "Retrieval of You" by The Minus 5

They call me DJ Minimart
cause that's where I work

I love music about music. For some reason it is usually people singing about being on the bottom of that exchange. It might be easy to sing about being a failure, has-been, or never-will-be. This decade has a whole bunch of good examples of music about music.

What is interesting about this song is how the music is light and upbeat, but the lyrics are dark and ominous. The revenge lyrics are more fitting for heavy metal than they are for indie pop.

Everybody knows I fell afoul of fame
And you're to blame that I am What's-his-name
I'm setting an example - you're the one I choose
For page two news, it's my Retrieval of you
For right behind you, don't turn around
I was the one who cut your first song
Get in the backscat, keep your head down
Didn't I shout it all night long?
Now you're a fabled rekkid star.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Minus 5 >> "Retrieval of You"

2003 : 42 "We Will Become Silhouettes" by The Shins (covering The Postal Service)

I sure do love a cheery-sounding little ditty about a nuclear apocalypse. I prefer this version to the original precisely because of the incongruous cheeriness.

April Walker

Listen: The Shins >> "We Will Become Silhouettes"

2003 : 41 "Let A Good Thing Go" by Gemma Hayes

Now every feeling it kicks me to the bone
And takes me under to a place that I have known
There goes my quiet life I used to keep me warm
In the shade of this moment I am born

When you are lonely, some songs appeal to you because they remind you of that loneliness. Those are the songs you commiserate with. "Let A Good Thing Go" is one of those songs for me. It hits a note on the xylophone of my soul, hard and true. This song vibrates through me, reminding me of the lonely days of 2003. It is not where I am, but the song is still strong enough to bring up those memories.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Gemma Hayes >> "Let A Good Thing Go"

Monday, August 17, 2009

2003 : 39 "Freetime" by Kenna

I used to work in a retail store which received frequent deliveries of new and promotional albums from Sony. Kenna's album New Sacred Cow was one of these. We played it in the store a few times, and while no one else had much of an opinion on it, I was hooked. Not to be confused with Keane, Kenna is (I recently found out) an Ethiopian-American artist who opened for Dave Gahan in 2003. This track is synthpop which is so heavy on the pop that it's almost a bubblegum Depeche Mode; Kenna's voice is heartfelt, although the lyrics are not terrible deep. I found it addictive. It is the shiny, fruit-flavored lip gloss of music. Kenna, as Wikipedia informed me years later, was dropped from Sony without little fanfare and never really found a niche. It's a shame. This song is the perfect soundtrack for all your activities which call for a whole lot of style and not a great deal of substance.

Angela Smith

Listen: Kenna >> "Freetime"

2003 : 38 "Handshake Drugs" by Wilco


Felt like a clown
They were translating poorly
I looked like someone
I used to know
And if I ever was myself
I wasn't that night
Exactly what do you want me to be?
Exactly what do you want me to be?

I saw Jeff Tweedy do a solo concert back in 2005. It was amazing when he played this song. It really changed the whole tone of the concert, at least for a few songs. The audience sang along with him, almost in a show of support. It felt like a moment of courage. He was willing to say something about himself and expose himself to the audience. We returned that courage with love and support. Before the song he said something about having problems.

The song feels personal and open. I have no idea if it is or not. At the time I felt that putting this song out on an EP (More Like The Moon) was a way to say something to the Wilco fans, the people who really cared.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Wilco >> "Handshake Drugs"

Sunday, August 16, 2009

2003 : 37 "I've Lived On A Dirt Road All My Life" by Manitoba

Here's how I imagine the Manitoba album Up In Flames came about: Kieran Hebden, a vinyl-collecting nerd, secludes himself in his bedroom with a trove of purloined break-beats which he proceeds to integrate into new sonic constructions, full of ornament and embellishment. To this task, he brings an omnivorous sensibility, raiding, in approximately equal measure, the fire energy of 60s jazz, the blasted-out, disorienting energy of late-80s-early-90s shoegazer rock, and the twentieth-century avant-garde love of sound for its own sake. He emerges with ten tracks that resemble Cornell boxes: idiosyncratic, meticulously built, self-contained, slightly airless yet weirdly vast. It's a deeply cerebral project, yet, like the best hermetic projects, it has, as its end, the aim of discovering something that is beautiful, blissed-out, and ecstatic.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Manitoba >> "I've Lived On A Dirt Road All My Life"

2003 : 36 "Farewell Transmission" by Songs: Ohia

Long dark blues
Will of the wisp
Long dark blues
Will of the wisp
(The big star is falling)
Long dark blues
Will of the wisp
The big star is falling
Long dark blues
Through the static and distance
Long dark blues
A farewell transmission

I am not sure what I can say about Jason Molina, Songs: Ohia, and Magnolia Electric Co. I love that the song "Farewell Transmission" is on the last Songs: Ohia album. I think it is a great statement to make as an artist. It is a great song to start off an album with. With that said: all of the members of Songs: Ohia went on to be members of Magnolia Electric Co., so I am not sure that this was much of a final album. Yes, Magnolia Electric Co. went a different musical direction than Songs: Ohia, but that does not mean the name needed to change.

I love that this song is over seven minutes long and feels epic. I can forget that I am listening to the same song. The vocals, guitar and drums are just straight head. I think it pulls on that line between and rock. It is one of those songs I keep going back to.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Songs: Ohia >> "Farewell Transmission"

2003 : 34-35
Aught Music Roundtable: Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project by Mirah and Ginger Takahashi

Roundtable Part One: "While We Have The Sun"

This wonderful little album is valuable for many reasons, but not least because it functions as a documentation of a particular creative process. As explained in the liner notes:

"Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn and Ginger Brooks Takahashi went to Black Mountain, North Carolina in the cusp between summer and fall of 2002 to create music ... For one month, Mirah and Ginger lived a life that combined summer's carefree nonchalance with autumn's diligence. They stayed in a friend's grandmother's house, rode bikes through the six-block town, cooked with vegetables from the garden across the street, and played music every day. And they invited friends to come down for a few days at a time and help make an album to document it all."

One month is about a perfect chunk of time to complete a humble, human-scale creative project, and many of the songs on this album are essentially commenting on what it feels like to live a humble, human-scale, creative life. This crystallizes memorably on "While We Have The Sun," a tender meditation upon life and death:

If you want to shake whatever separates you from
The holiness you want to make your life on earth become
Live your life with a compassion you can be proud of
Then let your last breath fade away with dignity and love

Jeremy Bushnell

Roundtable Part Two: "Oh! September"

This is the right time of year for this song. September is coming and the summer is ending. This song makes me think of the last few weeks before school starts. Those weeks when you try to squeeze all you can before you need to go back to reality. Between the bass line, the horn blare and the clapping, you would not be able to keep me off the dance floor with this song. I love any song that can put a smile on my face right away. No matter how I am feeling, this song puts me in a better mood. Bring on the carefree days when we still can.

Meet me at the back shack, baby
You'll bring your little ukelele
Oh take-up reel, make it all right
Let's make a song on the eight track tonight
Meet me at the back shack, baby

Rich Thomas

Listen: Mirah & Ginger Takahashi >> "While We Have The Sun" | "Oh! September"

Saturday, August 15, 2009

2003 : 33 "Plea from a Cat Named Virtue" by The Weakerthans

A song sung from the perspective of a cat who is worried about its owner's depression. Brilliant idea, brilliant lyrics, really engaging song.

All you ever want to do is drink and watch TV
And frankly that thing doesn't really interest me
I swear I'm going to bite you hard
And taste your tinny blood
If you don't stop the self-defeating lies
You've been repeating since the day you brought me home
I know you're strong

April Walker

Listen: The Weakerthans >> "Plea from a Cat Named Virtue"

Friday, August 14, 2009

2003 : 32 "Dying in Stereo" by Northern State

There is something about this Northern State album. I listened to it over and over again. I got it right before a road trip I took. I just could not stop listening to it. It was like there was a code for me to break. It was a strange combo of lo-fi hip-hop, conscious rap, and post-riotgrrrl rock. I am not sure how many rap albums can I use the term feminist with a straight face. One of the things makes Dying In Stereo interesting is that lacks the overproduced sickness that is all over '00 hip-hop. The only disappointment is that their later albums lack what makes this album so special.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Northern State >> "Dying In Stereo"

2003 : 31 "When U Love Somebody" by The Fruit Bats

This love song contains four lines, which is really all you need in a song that sounds like summer. This jangly love-mad song makes everything but the idea of love disappear—it is a bright, light feeling of the present, recalling a brief memory "on the bus" to fix the flighty sense of desiring and then the flood of feeling and music washes everything else away with it. It leaves only this joy of love in the movement of the music. You want to say more, but—"bite your tongue"—it needs no more, more would break the spell.

Amanda Doimas

Listen: The Fruit Bats >> "When U Love Somebody"

Thursday, August 13, 2009

2003 : 30 "Hearts of Oak" by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists was one of those acts that everyone was talking about before I ever heard them. When I say "everyone" in 2003, I mean everyone on Live Journal and the blogs I was reading at the time. There was so much blog hype about the Hearts of Oak album, I thought it could not be as good as everyone said. It was not what everyone said it was: it was better.

It has what all my favorite rock acts of this decade have: a straight-ahead approach to music, just enough production, and a little sense of humor. Ted Leo is proof to me that there always going to be a new rock act that will catch my attention. As often as I think there is no new rock left, there is always a little more. That is reason enough to listen to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists >> "Hearts of Oak"

2003 : 29 "Cathnor" by Keith Rowe and John Tilbury

One of the pleasures of Keith Rowe and John Tilbury's Duos for Doris is that we're invited to understand the double-album (comprised of three long, fully-improvised duets) through the situation surrounding its recording. The poet Muriel Rukeyser once wrote that the universe is composed of stories, not atoms. I buy it. Or, at least, I buy that narrative-making is pretty high in the hierarchy of cognitive devices that make up subjectivity. But narrative-making is a double-edged sword for me when it comes to music appreciation. In my experience, the impulse to frame through story is irrepressible and automatic—like a Netflix pop-up. And sometimes it's almost as irritating as a pop-up. For instance, while I'm listening to my favorite recording of Beethoven's 9th—conducted by Furtwängler and performed by the Berlin Philharmonic during WWII—Nazis often crop up in my head. And it isn’t just generic Nazis—whatever those might be—it's usually baby-faced Nazi soldiers sitting in the audience in full regalia, scared straight by the paranoia & tenderness of the 4th movement, weeping at the full weight of their sins. Then one begins to slide his armband off involuntarily. And so on. Can I just get back to the music please??? But with Duos for Doris, framing the soundscape through narrative is encouraged as a way of getting closer to it; given my habits of mind, this pleases me immensely! The album is dedicated to John Tilbury's 96-year-old mother Doris, who, according to the inscription on the album cover, passed away two days before the recording session. Consequently, hearing Tilbury's Feldman-esque piano improvisation as an attempt to address his feelings on the passing of his mother, and honor her in the process, is better than acceptable—it's probably expected. The album is called Duos for Doris after all. Additionally, Keith Rowe (guitar/electronics) makes it clear in the album notes that his sense of musical space during the session was highly influenced by Doris' passing and his close relationship with John. So, the framing story is the passing of Doris and the musicians’ feelings about it. Understood in that context, it's quite moving to me how unsentimental Duos for Doris is. The album could be kitschy and fond; the story could be "devoted son expresses feelings for dear sweet mum," or "I’ll see you soon in the glorious dove-white kingdom of heaven." Instead, Tilbury and Rowe honor Doris with probing, pained, slowly unfolding pieces that come across as honest explorations of fundamentally perplexing and new terrain. What is this like? What do we see here? Feel here so soon after she left us? Of course, it's Tilbury's mother that died, and knowing that transforms his clean touch, in places, into a form of contact with Doris. It also transforms Rowe's detached wintry sheets of static into a kind of sophisticated caress. He keeps his distance, providing support by giving Tilbury the space he needs. And Tilbury takes it—there are long stretches of nearly quiet, meditative space on this double-album. Reviewers like David Toop and Brian Olewnick see overwhelming restraint in these stretches. I do hear restraint in them, a holding back, but mostly I hear their glacial tempo and spareness differently, more as a kind of intense, watchful, carefulness born of exploration in an emotional landscape that is shockingly new to Tilbury and Rowe, musicians who have played together since 1965 (since 1981 in the avant-garde ensemble AMM). They know each other so well... and yet here Tilbury and Rowe find themselves in a new place, one of anger and loss, heat and tremendous hollowness, Doris and John, Keith and John, excitement at the newness of it, sadness at the newness of it, and relief that they’re here together. This album is heartfelt and honest and, yes, a little bit strange—in the way all good eulogies are. It brings loss alive. The excerpt here is from "Cathnor," the first piece on Duos for Doris.

Eric Burger

Listen: Keith Rowe and John Tilbury >> "Cathnor (excerpt)"

2003 : 28 "Brand New Colony" by The Postal Service

I love how this song starts. It conveys the feeling of an eight-bit video game sound effect. I know that sound is trying to manipulate me and my love for eight-bit video games. I still love that they decided to start the song that way. This is one of those songs that captures my attention no matter where I hear it. It has the kind of feeling of joy that makes music special.

The Postal Service album Give Up is my favorite album of this decade. I might say that a few times during this project, but I cannot say there is an album that is better. For that reason I would like to say Death Cab for Cutie is the Band of the Decade. I know this is a strange claim about a side project, but listen. Ben Gibbard is half of the Postal Service. Chris Walla produced a number of acts including the Decemberists and Tegan & Sara. That is a pretty far reach.

This is one of those albums that make my eyes light up when I talk about it. It is perfect in the way that something with no follow up can be perfect. I doubt there will every be another Postal Service album that will ruin how I think of it.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Postal Service >> "Brand New Colony"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

2003 : 27 "Invisible" by Fischerspooner

The very first time I heard the jet sample that kicks off the first track on this album I fell in love with it. It was one of those albums that for whatever reason struck me in such a way so that I will always remember where I was when I first heard it. In this particular case I happened to be visiting with a good old friend out in Arizona. He put the album in his car's CD player and we started to drive around Phoenix. Since that time I have listened to this album hundreds of times. I just love the place this album takes me and the state it puts my head in. I find this album really easy to program to: I believe it has something to do with the pulsing synth bass and melody lines as well as the uniquely artificial sounding percussion. The vocal effect treatment lends an ethereal or other-worldly quality to the imaginative lyrics and I like that many tracks feature both male and female leads. Overall I find that the sound design reminds me of the (progressive?) electronic music from the late 80s and early 90s. There is definitely a video-game-like quality to a lot of the bass lines and melody lines as well as a good bit of dance and disco too. All of the tracks on this album are very good so I suggest listening to one of my favorites— "Invisible" —which is representative of their sound.

Dave Evans

Listen: Fischerspooner >> "Invisible"

2003 : 26 "Never Did No Wanderin'" by The Folksmen

The greatest moments of musical parody during my lifetime have been performed by one band. I do not care if you call them Spinal Tap or The Folksmen, they know how to make fun of a genre like no one else. They hit another home run in the movie A Mighty Wind.

This song is great because it is a road song about having never traveled. It really goes out on one of the big topics in folk music. Every folk musician has a tramp song; it is a key part of the genre. The Folksmen say they "Never Did No Wanderin'" and ask why so many folk acts like to claim to be hobos. It is a brilliant idea.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Folksmen >> "Never Did No Wanderin'"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

2003 : 24-25 Two songs by Atmosphere

Track One: "Cats Van Bags"

A world-weary but impassioned hip-hop song about being on tour; in spirit, it reminds me of Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" (I mean no disrespect to either song with that comparison).

Lock eyes with a thousand people at the same time
They minds believin' us, my style of graffiti is
Squeezing just the Midwest sweat out of my shirt
And leavin' with my life essence embedded in your dirt

Plus the bass line is, as they say, sick.

Track Two: "Reflections"

This is, hands down, the most cleverly seductive hip-hop song I've ever heard. Yeah, it treads some familiar territory—famous rapper on tour, sleeping with lots of women--but without the misogyny and sense of entitlement which plague so much of the genre. I can't choose a single line to quote because they are all excellent. The best song Atmosphere has ever done, and one of my favorite songs, period.

This is not by any means the only piece that Slug has ever written to warn women away from him; I can imagine that it is only effective as reverse psychology, since there are so many people for whom intelligent self-deprecation is like sexy, sexy catnip.

Angela Smith

Listen: Atmosphere >> "Cats Van Bags" | "Reflections"

2003 : 23 "New Year" by Death Cab For Cutie

So everybody put your best suit or dress on
Let's make believe that we are wealthy for just this once
Lighting firecrackers off on the front lawn
As thirty dialogues bleed into one
I wish the world was flat like the old days
So I could travel just by folding the map
No more airplanes or speed-trains or freeways
There'd be no distance that could hold us back

I can say that "New Year" is one of those songs that expressed something I had felt for a long time, but never shared with anyone. There was something about my under-employed 20s. I would get together with friends for New Year's. There were parties going on around us and we did not have the money for them. We had resort to house parties instead. Sitting around drinking cheap beer and wine, not going out to the places where people were dressing up and spending money.

Under this song for me is the feeling being confined by one's life. When you are under-employed there is so much more you want. You have no idea where your life is going or how to where you want to be. I love how this song captures this.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Death Cab For Cutie >> "New Year"

Monday, August 10, 2009

2003 : 22 "London Still" by the Waifs

Occasionally, I have a strong resistance to things people have recommended to me, especially music. There are several reasons for this, with varying degrees of rationality: sometimes it's who the recommender is, sometimes it's because I already have some kind of negative association with the band or the album or the genre, and sometimes its because the recommendation seems to me to be based on a dubious comparison (as when Amazon tells me that because I like Nirvana, I might like Nickelback). Sometimes it's just that they like it too much, and I worry that I will disappoint them by liking it less.

The Waifs' Up All Night was one such record for me, one that I resisted listening to for one reason or another. But it was recommended to me by a co-worker who burned me a copy, and so, knowing that I saw her everyday and that she would inevitably ask me about it, I gave it a listen out of a sense of duty. And, as happens so often when I have this reaction, I was surprised to discover that no, in fact, my tastes are not an unbreakable code, and sometimes other people do in fact know what they are talking about.

The record is pretty good all the way through, but I have become an evangelist for "London Still;" if I happened to make a mix for you in the last five years or so, this song would certainly have been on it. It's sad in a way that I think we all need to be sad sometimes, and it captures perfectly the feeling that comes with realizing that even when what you think you want really is what you want, getting it sometimes still means losing something else that you would like to have held on to.

John French

Listen: The Waifs >> "London Still"

2003 : 21 "The End Has No End" by The Strokes

The end has no end the end has no end
The end has no end the end has no end
The end has no end the end has no end
The end has no end the end has no end

I cannot stop this song when I hear it. I cannot stop singing "The end has no end." I will sing it 50-60 times after hearing this song. Usually I listen it to it three or four times when it comes on the iPod. The rest of the song rocks also. It is just what I want out of a pop-rock song.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Strokes >> "The End Has No End"

2003 : 20 "b" by So

One of my favorite musicians of all time is Markus Popp, aka Oval, who memorably explored the aesthetics of glitch, digital error, and algorithmic noise through a string of excellent albums in the late 1990s (most notably Systemich (1994), Dok (1998), and Szenariodisk (1999)). For most of the Aughts, however, he's been laying low: there's been no release under the Oval name since 2001, and the only other release Popp's been involved with since then is a 2003 collaboration with vocalist Eriko Toyoda, released under the name "So."

There are rumors that he's got something new in the works, but if he'd hung it up for good So would be a fitting swan song: it's perhaps the most delicate and affecting of any of the projects he's been involved with. Toyoda's vocals are wispy and fragile, and using them as source material has the effect of tempering Popp's tendency towards fragmentation. The aesthetic of sonic disassembly is still very much at work, but here it feels gentle, tender, maybe even romantic—less at exploding and more at undressing. The result is a vaguely erotic atmosphere of sound, a kind of polymorphous haze, through which we can glimpse mingled elements of men and women, ghosts and machines. A very fine, very beautiful, very human album.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: So >> "b"

Sunday, August 9, 2009

2003 : 18-19 Two songs by the New Pornographers

Track One: "From Blown Speakers"

So can you tell me why in every version of the events shown here,
there's another season that crawls by like years, from blown speakers clear?
It came out magical.

The New Pornographers album Electric Version is one of those albums that just grabbed me and would not let go. The first time I heard it I went, "Wow, who are these guys?" I downloaded it from eMusic just because of the name of the band. My breath was taken away by how much I liked it. Within a few weeks all my music fan friends were listening to this album.

"From Blown Speakers" is a great example of the songs on this album. It has this sound that has the feeling of retro mod 60s rock without being buried by that sound. It has the cruchy sound, but is still cleanly produced.

I love the idea of a song being better coming out from a blown speaker. It says something about how I view the world. Often your mistakes are more rewarding. It sounds very much like this decade to me.

Track Two: "Testament To Youth in Verse"

I was getting ready for my first National Novel Writing Month in October of 2003 and I was listening to this song. The people I was with suggested writing a story to loosen myself up. I heard this song and the story came right to me. It was the story of a guy having a dream about dancing in the street like it was some kind of musical and "Testament To Youth in Verse" was the song they were dancing to.

"Testament to Youth in Verse" is one of those songs that makes me feel like I have been sitting too long and makes me want to dance. It is a song that I want to sing along to. It makes me want to be dramatic and loud. It has a wonderful bridge that would make it amazing in a jukebox musical.

The song is both joyful and sad at the same time. It really touches something in me that can only be touched by music. It is that part of me that wants to dance like my life is a musical.

None of my friends liked the story I wrote. None of them knew of the song at the time so they did not think it worked that well. I never went back to edit the story, but I think of it every time I hear the song.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The New Pornographers >> "From Blown Speakers" | "Testament To Youth In Verse"

Saturday, August 8, 2009

2003 : 16 "New Partner" by the Frames (covering Will Oldham)

We all know what we know
It's a hearts one to know
When you think like a hermit
You forget what you know
And you were always on my mind
And you were always on my mind

Right after Kate moved in with me I walked her to work. As I walked back to the apartment, listening to my iPod, "New Partner" by The Frames came on. I started to dance my way across the intersection. I heard the song before, but I never retained the words. I thought of Kate when I sang the verse to myself. "And you were always on my mind." I am dancing and thinking about Kate as I am walking home.

I listened to this song five or six times in a row that time. The world kept on ringing in my head. I kept singing this song to me. The line "When you think like a hermit, You forget what you know" stuck in my head. Kate moved in with me after only a month. I had been alone for a long time. There is something about being alone that gets you stuck in your head. There comes a point where you get to choose either becoming more of a hermit or being closer to someone. It was strange to go from being a hermit to living with someone again. I never had a doubt I did the right thing. I knew I had a new partner.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Frames >> "New Partner"

2003 : 14-15 Aught Music Roundtable: A.R.E. Weapons by A.R.E. Weapons

Roundtable Part One: "Bad News" "Don't Be Scared"

In the story I heard, A.R.E. Weapons were signed to Rough Trade on the menacing energy of two early songs: "Black Mercedes" and "Street Gang." These songs are built around smoggy, murky electronics, and they feature vocals that mumble transgressive stuff about drugs and violence. Transgression sells, and it's easy to imagine the record company happily imagining that they were sitting on the next Suicide.

"Black Mercedes" and "Street Gang" are buried way at the end of the resultant full-length, however, and every other song on the album is in a completely different vein: specifically, a cheesy fist-pumping inspirational vein. It's pretty easy to imagine most of these songs as the soundtrack for a training montage in a 1980s sports film: the track "Bad News," in fact, is an explicit homage to the Bad News Bears.

The album never really loses its transgressive edge, though, so it almost ends up seeming like it's engaged in the project of prying the emotional pleasures of "positive" anthemic music away from jocks and giving it to the burnouts, druggies, and losers. Consequently, you end up with bonkers stuff like "Don't Be Scared," which contains verses like the following:

People think you're a sleaze
Cause you're down on your knees
Suckin dick, every night
Aw, that's alright
People think you're retarded
Maybe even cold-hearted
Cause you only care about yourself
You don't care bout no one else
People think you're a spazz
Just because you're a spazz
So what?
Spazz on, spazz
People think you're wrong, kid
Take it from me
You're doin all right
You're doin all right

Er... OK... but... are you just pulling my leg here? Is this some kind of album-length experiment in irony? Anyone who's ever felt like a loser can surely enjoy the endorphin rush "Don't Be Scared" provides, but is it really all right to only care about yourself?

I've been listening to this album steadily since 2003, and still can't quite puzzle out exactly what the band is up to. I intend this as nothing other than the highest praise.

Roundtable Part Two: "Hey World"

The kids still don't have a radio station that they can believe in

I think this song tries to justify school shootings because kids are bored and do not have anything to do. There is something disturbing about this song and that is why I cannot turn away from it. I have to listen over and over again. My question is: why do kids need a radio station they can believe in when they have the internet?

Rich Thomas

Listen: A.R.E. Weapons >> "Bad News" | "Don't Be Scared" | "Hey World"

Friday, August 7, 2009

2003 : 13 "Ambulance" by Saturday Looks Good To Me

It was difficult to choose a favorite from this catchy bubble gum pop album by Saturday Looks Good To Me. I prefer the female vocalist's tracks, but the combo of ethereal, melodic female and hang-dog heavy male vocals gives this melancholy song the right tinge of pep. A bitterly beautiful industrial hymn of secrets, dreams, ghosts, and history. What urban symbol is more tragic than a fistfight in an ambulance?

Amanda Doimas

Listen: Saturday Looks Good To Me >> "Ambulance"

2003 : 12 "Young Pilgrims" by The Shins

But I learned fast how to keep my head up 'cause I
Know there is this side of me that
Wants to grab the yoke from the pilot and just
Fly the whole mess into the sea.

I am standing in the San Jose airport, waiting in line to check my bags. In front of me is a mother with two children: a baby in her arms, and a toddler who is in full meltdown. She cannot hold the baby, keep her place in line, move the bags, and pay attention to the child. The child, maybe four or five years old, keeps on acting out. He does not want to be at the airport. The three of them are all on edge of a meltdown.

I am standing behind them in line listening to "Young Pilgrims" on my headphones. I am thinking about line about the line about flying the whole mess into the sea. It seems like the right idea at the time. The woman looked really tired as she sat at the gate waiting for the flight. It felt like the Shins really got this song right.

I love the album Chutes Too Narrow. Every song on this album ranks at 4 or 5 stars for me. I must have listened to it 100 times when I got it. This album sounded like the end of 2003. I was alone after a relationship that did not work. I was working at a company recovering from the bust. It was a year about getting myself back together. This album was perfect for that.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Shins >> "Young Pilgrims"

2003 : 11 "The Multiverse" by Voivod

"What really matters is the anti-matter," affirms Voivod on 2003's "The Multiverse." These are the same dudes who, when not singing about Angel/Rats, chronicle life in a hyper-cube. It's about escape in the obvious way that escape is always about where you came from. The guys in Voivod are Canadian (like Alpha Flight—yeah, that's how I roll, this ain't no DC thing...), and could doubtless hear the Bush era call to harm. Space time warped. Orwell channelled. The Multiverse. "It is now reality / Never say Never." Still, working in one's basement, somehow getting it right, has yet to get us to the other side of racist imperial policies. Back to work!

Justin Timberdrake

Listen: Voivod >> "The Multiverse"

Thursday, August 6, 2009

2003 : 10 "You Are the Everything" by Jeffrey Foucault (covering R.E.M.)

The first time I heard this version of this song I was sitting on a friend's couch in DC halfway through a road trip from New Hampshire to South Carolina and back. It took my breath away, brought tears to my eyes, and I fell in love instantly. I have loved "You Are the Everything" for years (it was on the first mix tape I made for my boyfriend, now of 12 years) and hearing Jeffrey Foucualt and his wife Kris Delmhorst sing it together fills me with dreamy teary happiness to the point where I think I actually prefer this version to the original. This is a song that I can say not only do I love but I am in love with.

April Walker

Listen: Jeffrey Foucault >> "You Are The Everything"

2003 : 09 "Stay Loose" by Belle & Sebastian

Just listen to that organ intro. I could listen to that over and over again. It is both retro and not retro at the same time. It is just that right mix. It is one of those sounds that always makes me take notice.

With Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Belle & Sebastian really changed for me. They went from this band that played kind of depressing music that might be making fun of me for listening to it, to playing upbeat tunes that make fun of me for listening to their old albums. It is an amazing transition for me. It seemed to be a perfect idea for 2003.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Belle and Sebastian >> "Stay Loose"

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

2003 : 08 "Form" by Martin Siewert & Martin Brandlmayr

Martin Siewert acoustic & electric guitars, lap steel, electronics, synthesizers

Martin Brandlmayr drums, percussion, vibraphone

The West Pier is a pier in Brighton, England that was built in 1866 and destroyed by fire, waves, and wind in 2003. Originally the West Pier had an open deck with only six small ornamental houses of oriental design, two toll houses and glass screens at the pier head to protect visitors from the wind and sun. In 1875 a central bandstand was added. It remained essentially intact for 100 years until 1975, when it was closed off from shore due to safety concerns. After a partial collapse in 2002 due to a winter storm, it caught fire twice in 2003, both times arson was suspected. The first fire came only three months after a walkway connecting the concert hall and pavilion fell into the sea after being battered by storms.

During its heyday in the early part of the century, the pier had its own resident orchestra (Elgar conducted it). The theatre presented plays, pantomimes and ballets all year round. New landing stages in 1894 made it possible for steamboats to use the pier as a terminus for travel to France, the Isle of Wight, Bournemouth, Weymouth and Dover. The pier also employed divers and aquatic entertainers. Two noted early West Pier divers were Professor Reddish and Professor Cyril. Professor Cyril was "the great exponent of High, Swedish and Fancy Diving". In May 1912 as he was performing his "sensational bicycle dive" in which he cycled off the end of the pier, he fell sideways and cracked his skull, dying instantaneously. Later, a manacled strongman also dived into the sea on a bicycle, this time his clothes aflame. He later drowned as hundreds of onlookers watched. The last famous West Pier diver was the Great Omani who, during the 60s, performed the "death dive", based on an original Houdini act, which involved jumping into the sea from the pier, hooded, bound and padlocked.

The physical decline of The West Pier started with the damage it sustained during the World War II. The pier was closed during the war and large chunks were cut out to prevent it from being used as landing stages by the Germans. In the 60s and 70s, the pier began to fall into decline. Trade ebbed away and visitor numbers declined as the pier's income fell. In the 1970s, it became a popular for recreational fishing, and several greasy spoon cafes opened, complete with cracked teacups. The pier soon fell on hard times, as did most English seaside towns. People started to go abroad more, to exotic places on package holidays. Seaside towns in the postwar period failed and piers failed in consequence. The flames have left just the cast iron and metal skeleton of the derelict pier standing.

Begin with a single note, a single flame.


See Also: Burkhard Stangl and Christof Kurzmann – Schnee (Erstwhile, 2000)

Darren DeMonsi

Listen: Martin Siewert & Martin Brandlmayr >> "Form"

2003 : 07 "The Turnaround Road" by Diane Cluck

Cars' three-point turns make pentagrams in the dirt
At the end of the road where I sit in the morning
The weeks have been hazy but something is changing
I watched the sun convince the weakest cloud to let it through
It said "I would have gone crooked but for you"

There is a line in a Bob Dylan about reading an old book of poetry and feeling like every line was already written on your soul. That is how I feel about "The Turnaround Road" by Diane Cluck. I cannot say how I feel about this song. It touches me on a level that I just cannot communicate. When I hear this song alone in my car, I sing it with all the emotion and heart I can muster.

There is something about the line "I would have gone crooked but for you." I am not sure who the narrator is singing about, but I know what she means. It is not a kind of knowing that I can describe to another person. It is the kind of knowing that someone else must have beforehand for them to understand.

And red ants are moving with their sick and withered comrades
They carry the bodies of the withered in their mouths
Because it is no big deal
Hey, what else is there to do
But set your sight on something and pull your tangles through

Rich Thomas

Listen: Diane Cluck >> "The Turnaround Road"

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

2003 : 06 "Mika Rasvaa Maan Sisalla (Part VII)" by Uton

When trying to describe the one-man Finnish act Uton, I sometimes refer to it as "forest drone." But what the heck does that even mean?

Imagine it like this: you're deep within a Finnish forest, surrounded by whatever kind of old-world botany they've got there. Mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns. At dusk, you come upon a dark grove which contains has a weird cairn of slime-coated stones grouped around the base of a metal apparatus, which looks like a set of organ pipes with some kind a crank attached to it. It might be some forgotten European municipal project from the 1960s; it might be three hundred years old. Tough to tell. The crank is badly corroded, but you're still able to turn it. After you've given it one complete revolution, expecting nothing, the pipes tremble, cough out some brackish water, and then start to emit this music. Darkness continues to fall, and all at once the bioluminescent slime coating every surface around you begins to glow.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Uton >> ""Mika Rasvaa Maan Sisalla (Part VII)""