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"

2007 : 22 "St. Pauli" by Art Brut

Sorry if my accent's flawed
I learnt my German from a 7 inch record
Punk rock ist nicht tot!
Punk rock ist nicht tot!
Punk rock ist nicht tot!
Punk rock ist nicht tot!

On some level listening to Art Brut is like hanging out with my friends. They find a way to make me laugh even when I do not expect it. I wonder what Nick Hornsby thinks of Art Brut.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Art Brut >> "St. Pauli"

Sunday, November 8, 2009

2007 : 21 "My Moon My Man" by Feist

The abstract idea of "cute" depends on personal opinions, and can be used as an insult ("oh, that was cute.") However, Feist is one of the few musicians who can use cuteness as a benefit to their music. She sounds adorable here. While at first glance that may sound chauvinistic, it's anything but—her voice is stunning, her songwriting is terrific, and her sweetness works in stark contrast to the lyrics, which aren't as bouncy as the sound would imply:

My moon and me
Not as good as we've been
It's the dirtiest clean I know

Along with '1234,' this song was inescapable for quite some time. But going back, it hasn't lost any freshness, and Feist, in video and song, always makes me smile.

Jamie Yates

Listen: Feist >> "My Moon My Man"

2007 : 20 "Section 23: Get Up and Go" by The Polyphonic Spree

When you are having a hard time you need music that just picks you up. Music that seems to have an energy that you lack. Music that knows that the world is dark, but still choses to be bright. That is what I think of Polyphonic Spree's album The Fragile Army.

What amazes me the most about the Polyphonic Spree is how they have been able to put out three albums and get better with each one. It would have been so easy for them to just be a novelty. It would have been easy for each album to be a little less than the one before. Somehow each album has been a little more than the previous. That makes me excited to hear their next album.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Polyphonic Spree >> "Section 23: Get Up and Go"

2007 : 19 "Rue The Blues" by Oakley Hall

I know I said that being 34 sucked really hard. Lots of the songs From that time remind of of that. This song is about getting to the other side. The guitar-driven indie pop makes me think about picking myself off the floor and dusting myself off. That is an important moment. You can't go forward unless you pick yourself off the floor.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Oakley Hall >> "Rue The Blues"

2007 : 18 "Stay Tuned" by Robert Wyatt

From Wikipedia: "Recently the verb 'Wyatting,' named obviously after Robert Wyatt, appeared in some blogs and music magazines to describe the practice of playing weird tracks on a pub jukebox to annoy the other pub goers. The name was coined by Carl Neville, a 36-year-old English teacher from London, because one of the favourite LPs for this effect is Dondestan."

I can't help but think that this is unfair. Robert Wyatt's music may not be everybody's thing, but to use his music as a prank on hapless drinkers does the man a grave disservice. He never meant anyone any harm, he only has a simple song to sing. One listen to the sweet, broken and warbled "Stay Tuned" should be all the convincing one needs.

Neil Jendon

Listen: Robert Wyatt >> "Stay Tuned"

Saturday, November 7, 2009

2007 : 17 "White Kids Aren't Hyphy" by MC Lars


This song makes me laugh. Living in the Bay Area, I am not sure how many people in the rest of the world know what Hyphy is. I have the feeling that it never broke out like the way the kids in Oakland wish it did. This is MC Lars at his best. It counts a little too much on people already knowing what he is rapping about, but the sample of Skee-Lo's "I Wish" is truly inspired.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Mc Lars >> "White Kids Aren't Hyphy"

2007 : 16 "Water Line" by Sage Francis

Sage Francis is sometimes classified as "emo rap." I do not use this label myself, primarily because it is stupid. In a backhanded way, though, it does sort of tell you something about him; much of his stuff is not about straightforward narrative, but about psychology and, yes, emotion. If rap songs were novels, Sage Francis's would be short on plot and long on character development. This is not totally unique, or really all that new; think of the difference between NWA's "Straight Outta Compton" and the Geto Boys' "Mind Playing Tricks on Me." Sage's subject matter is very different, though, and his approach is to the material more abstract. He's also been one of the most exciting new discoveries for me in the last few years; had I been more on the ball, I would have posted songs from him for 2004 and 2006 as well. This is from his latest, and will accomplish more in two minutes than seems reasonable to expect.

John French

Listen: Sage Francis >> "Water Line"

2007 : 15 "Buckethead" by Carbon/Silicon


The Clash is the greatest band ever. One of the reasons is because when they broke up, they stayed broken up. There are some bands have retired so many times, even Sugar Ray Leonard thinks they have done it too much.

That being said, "Buckethead" really makes me think that Mick Jones still has that Clash fire inside of him. I do not want to write something stupid like "Carbon/Silicon is the Clash for cyberpunks," but I do love the science-fiction narrative of this song. The cost of carbon, Second Life, class conflict—all in a scary world. I think there is a great movie somewhere in this song.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Carbon/Silicon >> "Buckethead"

Friday, November 6, 2009

2007 : 14 "All My Mistakes" by The Avett Brothers

I made decisions some right and some wrong
And I let some love go I wish wasn't gone
These things and more I wish I had not done
But I can't go back
And I don't want to
'Cause all my mistakes
They brought me to you

This is the song Kate and I danced to as our first dance at our wedding. I think we both took mistake-filled paths to each other. It is great when you can look at that path and feel good about it. Who knows: if I avoided one of those mistakes, I might not be here now, with the woman I love. This song now takes me back to my wedding day and that is a pretty good memory to have impressed on a song.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Avett Brothers >> "All My Mistakes"

2007 : 13 "No Cars Go" by Arcade Fire

Quite a few Arcade Fire tracks, if not all of them, are almost begging to be heard live. "No Cars Go" is no exception. This is the indie-rock answer to the stadium anthems of the likes of U2 and the Rolling Stones. In 2007, I saw them perform this live at the Chicago Theater, and the acoustics of the venue were literally perfect for the rise and sonic atmosphere. The lyrics are simple and beautiful, but the music here always draws my complete attention. The background vocals serve as separate instruments, creating a stunning blend.

Jamie Yates

Listen: Arcade Fire >> "No Cars Go"

2007 : 11 "Superheroes 2007" by The Toxic Avenger

In the last years of the decade, I went back to listening to a lot of electronic dance music. Dormant since the late 1990s, this love was re-awakened by my discovery of terrific European techno acts like Daft Punk and Justice. Try as I might, I just can't resist this kind of music: my response to it, in fact, borders on the Pavlovian. Give me some fat synth lines and some dance-floor-destroying beats and my brain automatically responds by flooding my mesolimbic reward pathway with massive amounts of dopamine. Shameful, really.

Perhaps my reaction can be best illustrated with an audio-visual aid. Here's a video of myself dancing (in disguise no less!) to "Superheroes 2007," a track by The Toxic Avenger, an act who's less well-known than some of the other French techno practicioners, but every bit as fantastic. (Special thanks to K. for introducing me to him.)

(part of the Top Secret Dance Off)

I believe that my rubbery, blurry flailings say everything there is to say that's good about this music.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: The Toxic Avenger >> "Superheroes 2007"

Thursday, November 5, 2009

2007 : 10 "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse" by Of Montreal

I'm in a crisis
I need help
Come on mood shift, shift back to good again
Come on mood shift, shift back to good again
Come on, be a friend
Chemicals, don't flatten my mind
Chemicals, don't mess me up this time
Know you bait me way more than you should
And it's just like you to hurt me when I'm feeling good
Come on chemicals

The first half of 2007 was really hard. I was getting my ass kicked on several fronts. To say the least it was not fun. I remember getting Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? right before a business trip. I must have listened to this album three times a day while I was on that trip. The album made so much sense to me in that mental space. The album has an angry, energetic, let's-burn-the-whole-thing-down feeling, while being upbeat at the same time. I could feel bad but not wallow it at the same time. That is a great feeling.

I know it was not written this way, but I saw the chemicals in this song as my brain chemicals. I wanted my brain's own chemicals to help me out and lift me up. It seemed to make a lot of sense to me at the time.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Of Montreal >> "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse"

2007 : 09 "Harder Than You Think" by Public Enemy

I waited fifteen years for another Public Enemy song that made me feel like this. I kept on listening know there had to be another great Public Enemy song some day. I hoped that they would find that thing that made them so great back in the day. It turned out that the album How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? was the album I was waiting for. After a long period of Public Enemy missing the mark, this album made them seem just as important at they were in 1989.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Public Enemy >> "Harder Than You Think"

2007 : 08 "Outlaws" by Joe Purdy

The first thing I love about this song is the story; a classic Bonnie and Clyde type tale with a happy ending. The second thing I love about it is that it references Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash. The third thing I love about it is the way those two things combined with minimal piano make for such a lovely ballad.

April Walker

Listen: Joe Purdy >> "Outlaws"

2007 : 07 "Don't Lose Yourself" by Laura Veirs

I know lots of people love Laura Veirs. I have the feeling that she is singing only to me, even though lots of other people probably feel the same way. I hear her songs and I have a connection that I cannot explain to anyone else. I cannot tell someone else why to like her songs. I cannot be sure they make sense to anyone else. They must, because I know of tons of other people who love her. I feel she is telling me directly to not let myself be lost. Am I alone in this feeling?

Rich Thomas

Listen: Laura Viers >> "Don't Lose Yourself"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2007 : 06 "Plasticities" by Andrew Bird

They'll fight, they'll fight
They'll fight for your neural walls
And plasicities
And precious territory

As much as it fits the other songs and atmospheres of Armchair Apocrypha, Andrew Bird's "Plasicities" feels like it would have blended well on his previous work, The Mysterious Production of Eggs. With an amazing "orchestral-pop" backdrop and lyrics that blend art and science, this track represents the best of Mr. Bird. This song is especially poignant. The "they" mentioned feel especially ominous, paired with the battle cry to reclaim space, thoughts, and independence. It's indie pop meets dystopian future landscapes. This may not have been his original intention, but if a track can lend itself to such wild possibilities, that's not a bad thing.

Jamie Yates

Listen: Andrew Bird >> "Plasticities"

2007 : 05 "Walk Hard" by Dewey Cox / John C. Reilly

I am not sure how there can be another music bio pic for at least 10 years after Dewey Cox came out. It really makes fun of every cliche that music biopics have been living on for years. On top of that, the music was great. It is as good as Spinal Tap, as hard as that is to believe. It might be better because it is making fun of movies more than music.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Dewey Cox >> "Walk Hard"

2007 : 04 "Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo" by Jens Lekman

Euro heart-throb Jens Lekman has an outsized personality, and that personality seems sometimes to be an equal mix of arrogance and self-deprecation. This is a combination that understandably makes him hard for some people to take, but to dismiss him too fast would be an error: he has unquestionable gifts as a song-writer, and his best tracks are characterized by sharp wit and a precision of observation which remains all too rare in the indie-pop scene. Night Falls Over Kortedala, the 2007 follow-up to his well-regarded 2005 album Oh You're So Silent, Jens, misses as often as it hits, but it ends on the great "Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo," a track which trenchantly sketches the way urban hipster youngsters like himself think about small-town life. Lekman points out the way that he/we cheerfully fetishize half-imagined "quaint" qualities of "the country," while simultaneously imagining ways that we can transform it into something more hipster-friendly, a process that would annihilate whatever sense of difference drew us there in the first place. Clever, insightful, and spry: it's songs like this that draw me to Lekman and keep me coming back.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Jens Lekman >> "Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo"

2007 : 03 "Die Alone" by Ingrid Michaelson

I never thought I could love anyone but myself.
Now I know I can't love anyone but you.
You make me think that maybe I won't die alone.
Maybe I won't die alone.

It amazes me when I hear a song that says just want I am thinking at the time. I heard this song for the first time a few weeks after Kate moved in with me. I had spent a long time getting ready to spend my life alone. I would like to think that time was not wasted. That time helped me appreciate what I found in Kate. It is good to know that I am not the only person to feel that way.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Ingrid Michaelson >> "Die Alone"

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

2007 : 02 "Sea of Blood" by Taarma


What an age of wonders we live in that there is such a thing as Afghani Black Metal. Norway should just pack it up.

Neil Jendon

Listen: Taarma >> "Sea of Blood"

2007 : 01 "Can You Feel It" by Apples in Stereo

Oh, oh, turn up your stereo
Oh, oh, drown out the static on the FM radio

After Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples In Stereo are my favorite Elephant 6 band. I love Robert Schneider's power-pop-meets-Brian-Wilson sensibility. I think that New Magnetic Wonder is a masterpiece. It collects all the good aspects of Apples In Stereo and blows them out your speakers, making you want to turn the volume all the way up.

""Can You Feel It" is the best opening track of the decade. It sets the table for the rest of the album. It is a way to tell the listener that this album will be fun and exciting. My heart races just hearing the opening guitar riff. Right now I want to jump up and dance around.

In 2007 both Apples In Stereo and Of Montreal got out from under Neutral Milk Hotel's shadow for good. This album is a big part of that.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Apples In Stereo >> "Can You Feel It"