Sunday, December 13, 2009

Top 10(+) Albums of 2009

While I the last few years have been less than thrilling for new music, leaving the year-end lists a little underwhelming, 2009 has been an absolutely amazing year. My 2008 list (located here) featured a few stretches just to get to 10 (The Lodger, Deerhunter, and the Gutter Twins, while all good albums, really don't deserve to be on a best-of-the-year list), and does not feature a single album on my short list for the best of the decade. In contrast, I could easily do a top 20 for this year without straining, and I am sure one or two will make it on my decade list. Also, this is only for new stuff, otherwise Death's For the World to See would be number 1, without question. With that said, here we go:

11) (tie) Fleeting Joys - Occult Radiance / The Sleepover Disaster - Hover - As much as I love these albums, I simply can't completely get behind them. Both do an AMAZING job of pushing every shoegaze-loving button in my body (Fleeting Joys clearly channeling My Bloody Valentine and Sleepover Disaster going more to the Slowdive/Pale Saints side), but it's almost too easy. Neither of these albums take the slightest chances, and never go outside of the pre-defined shoegaze box. Neither band has any individual character at all, just a set of reference points to past glories in the genre. With that said, both albums feature tons of great songs. For the amount that I've listened to them and enjoyed them, I have to feature them on the list. I just hope both bands push themselves a little more on their next albums, and actually try to make music that isn't just a set of citations to their album collections.

10) The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Communion - On paper, I should kind of hate this. Double-disc prog rock epics are not usually in my sweet spot, but when you add absolutely ace song-craft, melodies and hooks galore, and a tight band that doesn't float away in the ether of the orchestrations, there is some different calculus going on. Over the course of 90 minutes and 24 songs, the band never loses its focus on the songs themselves. While there are some tracks that fall below the numerous highlights, the album never once sinks into embarrassing pretension. Now if only I could actually look at the cover art...

9) The Joy Formidable - A Balloon Called Moaning - At 29 minutes and seven songs, almost more of an EP, but they call it an album, so it fits here. The best pure sugar rush I heard this year, coming off like the bratty little sister to Velocity Girl - just tons of fun.

8) Handsome Furs - Face Control - I liked the first Wolf Parade album quite a bit, have not heard the second, and have been pretty unimpressed with what I have heard of Sunset Rubdown. With that out of the way, this second album from the side-project of Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner and his wife surprised me quite a bit. Pulsing dance-punk with hooks and attitude to spare. Including a great tribute/homage/cover to my favorite New Order song is not going to hurt my rating, obviously. Great cover art as well.

7) Mos Def - The Ecstatic - Not the best year for hip-hop, with some major disappointments along the way, but this one surprised the heck out of me. With as phoned-in as his last few efforts had been, it seemed that Mos had shifted his interests to his acting and other endeavors, putting the music on the backburner. The first track, "Supermagic" on his new effort, with its gnarled guitar samples and raging energy quickly put the lie to this belief. Tight, creative, ecletic, and focused in a way that hip-hop albums rarely are, this is a welcome comeback from an artist I had completely written off.

6) The Flaming Lips - Embryonic - Like Mos Def, I had written off The Flaming Lips as having mellowed out to the point that they were virtually Adult Contemporary - good, kind of weird Adult Contemporary, but Adult Contemporary nonetheless. Then this monster falls out of the sky. I still have yet to fully wrap my head around this album, or the bizarre videos that have accompanied it, but I know I like it. Dark, challenging, paranoid, unique - The Flaming Lips at their absolute weirdest.

5) A Place to Bury Strangers - Exploding Head - This is basically part two of their first album. Not a ton of growth, but no matter. This is a top-notch set of noisy, feedback-laden, aggressive, ear-splittingly loud, energetic tunes. I will be a bit disappointed if their third album doesn't exhibit some stylistic evolution, but for now, this is absolutely perfect.

4) Franz Ferdinand - Tonight - For as much as I love Franz Ferdinand's first two albums, I loved the sharp songwriting and rock attitude more than the dance beats, so the fact that they put out a pretty dance-heavy record initially disappointed me. However, as time passed, this grew on me quite a bit. It's not to the level of their first two albums, but it's still head and shoulders above their competition. Alex Kapranos still is one of the most underrated songwriters in the market, and his band is just top notch.

3) Asobi Seksu - Hush - I loved their second album, Citrus, which was a gigantic sugar rush of an album, so the more sedate, plaintive nature of this set confused me initially. Here they go back to some of the roots of their shoegaze origins, to the dream-pop of the early 80's and come back with an album that could have been released by The Cocteau Twins - and it would have been one of their best efforts as well.

2) Dinosaur Jr. - Farm - The confirmation that Dinosaur Jr. is genuinely back as an on-going concern. The first "come back" album featuring the original trio, Beyond, suffered from an over-abundance of enthusiasm, sometimes becoming tiring in its eagerness to please (and sometimes ruining potentially great songs with over-long meandering solos). Farm is a calmer, more even-handed record. This is the sound of a band that knows it's great and has nothing to prove to anybody. They just produce the best pure rock album of the year as if it was easiest thing in the world.

1) The Big Pink - A Brief History of Love - One of the most impressive debut albums of the decade. While their initial single, "Velvet" is still the best song they have produced, the fact that every song on the album competes with its brilliance is very impressive. Equally impressive is that, while it mines a lot of the same shoegaze and Jesus & Mary Chain reference points that many other bands are appropriating, this band manages to put a number of unique spins on the formula that shows that not only are they not a one-trick pony parroting the past, but they have a good handle on their own sound that indicates they are capable of even more. I have described the album to my friends as Automatic-era JAMC trying to be the biggest pop band in the world, and the description seems to hold up. Noise rock merged with big drums and incredible pop hooks, with the vocals right out in front. Easily the album I have loved the most this year, and one that I will be listening to for years to come.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In lieu of actual content, this is amazing.

Look for a real post later this week. In the meantime:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"We are the army you see through the red haze of blood" - Horror in Music

This comes a full one day after Halloween, as I completely forgot to post this yesterday. Think of this as giving you a full 364 day head start on your October listening for Halloween 2010 (which sounds like a terrible Stanley Kubrick/John Carpenter mash-up - The Monolith is Michael Myers!). ANYWAY, I am a notorious wuss when it comes to horror-themed entertainment, be it movies, books, or even music. Blood and gore doesn't bother me, and, while I hate BOO! type scares, those aren't really what I am talking about either. Instead, I am fairly easily scared by genuinely creepy things. The Shining, Romero's first three Dead films, the first Nightmare on Elm Street, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (if you haven't seen it, I recommend it, but be prepared), etc., those things scare me more than they should.

For the most part, music that is explicitly horror-themed just can't measure up. While horror-based rock music has been around for a long time (see, e.g., Screamin' Jay Hawkins). While I have an odd love for Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, even though they use plenty of horror elements in their lyrics, I have never found myself even slightly disturbed by a bit of it. It's kind of like the old Universal horror films, I know they are great, I know they're supposed to be scary, but, while I enjoy them, they don't bother me.

Likewise, the Misfits, the Cramps, and the Damned use LOTS of horror imagery, but their appeal is in more of the campy, B-movie horror variety. Tons of fun, but not scary in slightest - it's hard to take Danzig seriously while he's singing "I want your skull!" in his over-the-top "scary" voice, and even less so to hear Lux Interior (R.I.P.) singing "I've got 96 tears... and 96 eyes". This is not to knock any of these bands, as I love 'em to death, but they really are the Evil Dead 2 or Dead Alive of the scary music genre.

There are also the more "gothic" (and I use the quotes for a reason) bands, which call to mind more of the Interview With the Vampire, The Hunger, The Lost Boys, Near Dark (kind of), and even (ugh) Twilight. Basically, music that presents a more "romantic" view of horror themes. Some of these groups are great (I'll vouch for early Bauhaus any day, and The Cure (sorry Mike, you are right, though - Pornography is scary stuff) and Joy Division arguably somewhat fall into this category), but there is a TON of terrible stuff under this banner, which has recently sky-rocket due to the over-lap between the sub-emo "scene" that has embraced teen girls' obsession over Twilight.

The music that genuinely gives me chills comes from stuff that is a little more off the beaten path. Some of it is not necessarily meant to be "scary" music, such as some Robert Johnson, Leadbelly ("In the Pines" is a terrifying song), or even most Joy Division. It's scary music about the fact that everyday life is often really terrifying much of the time.

However, this is not to say that explicitly horror-themed music cannot achieve its goals - Liars They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, a concept album about witches, is one of the creepiest things I have ever heard. While the lyrics (including the title of this post) can be sort of absurd, the constant feeling of unease, odd sounds, creepy instrumentation (the drums most notably) all add up to an album that is really disturbing to listen to while walking or driving on a dark autumn night. Sonically, the closest parallel I can make is that it sounds like "Mole"-era Residents covering The Shining soundtrack (as if the Residents aren't creepy enough). Basically, it sounds like a David Lynch silent film about witches in audio play format. Likewise, while The Residents and Liars effectively evoke the the sense of creeping unease and absurdity that permeates Lynch's better work, His Name is Alive, perhaps the most under-rated genuinely scary band, pulls more from David Cronenberg's "body horror" sub-genre. HNIA's second album, "Home is in Your Head" is just really, really unnerving (I wish I had a better word, but the only thing I can think of when I think of that album is "GAH!", and that's not exactly poetic). Seriously, though what other word is there for this? It's a loose concept album (I think), which seems to be either about an abused woman killing her husband or him killing her and her coming back to haunt him. Either way, it's incredibly effective, and pulls its horror from a deep sense of uncertainty, jarring shifts in tone and sonics, and Karin Oliver's uncanny vocal resemblance to a ghost. While the follow-up Mouth By Mouth doesn't achieve the same sustained effect (mostly because it is decidedly more song-based and straightforward), it has sections that are among the most unsettling in recorded music. "The Dirt Eaters", "Lip", "Cornfield", and "Ear", for example, perfectly evoke that sense of disgust and horror of the human body and biological process that Cronenberg expressed in "Videodrome" and "The Fly". Both albums are highly recommended (they are genuinely great works), but just be advised of the mood you need to be in to listen to them.

Anyway, while I love the Halloween season and the music that goes along with it. I will be somewhat glad to turn my iPod away from music that doesn't cause me to eye with unease the dark trees I run past with my dog in the evenings. It's almost time for Christmas music to make it's way onto my listening schedule, and you can't be too scared while this masterpiece is playing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dancing About Dancing About Architecture

I will admit that, despite my literary aspirations and my need to keep updated on my legal knowledge, I am far more likely to pick up a book about music than about anything else. My favorite book is Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus (a pretty literary music book, to be sure, but still). Anyway, I just finished a couple of the many books on my growing "to be read" shelf, so here's what I thought of them.

Joe Carducci, Rock and the Pop Narcotic - This book is infuriating on at least two fronts, some intentional and some unintentional.

The intentional one is Carducci's constant, and almost pathological, interest in tearing down sacred cows and accepted theories regarding rock music. More to the point, he enjoys tearing down these idols with a pointedly foul mouth. While much of this is funny, and he usually makes a valid point, it gets a bit old over the course of book.

Further, Carducci's staunch political conservatism starts to grate as he constantly rages against "hippies", "liberals", and "feminists". While I am more than happy to read disparate viewpoint, Carducci's screeds have an unsufferable grating, pedantic tone. This carries over into his dismissal of much of the music industry and music criticism in particular. Carducci is obsessed with his long treatises on how out-of-touch music writers are to the music they cover, a fair point, but one Carducci beats into irrelevance by his constant repetition.

Carducci's intentionally limited view of what rock music is can also be irritating. Rock is defined as heavy music using drums, bass, and electric guitar, period. He summarily dismisses synth-based and other music that falls outside of this box as not "rock music", and seems insulted that it could ever be confused as such. There is a major flaw with this categorization which I never was able to overcome. I will agree that the umbrella of what the public deems rock music to be is absurdly large, as it basically covers all popular music that is not hip-hop, R&B, or vocal pop (and even then there is some cross-pollination). Truthfully, I can endorse Carducci's thesis here, that the definition of rock should be limited, and I can even accept his definition. However, in throwing out a number of styles, Carducci makes so attempt whatsoever to classify them as anything other than "not rock"- leaving the whole endeavor pretty pointless. Ultimately, its a straw man argument that Carducci puts up to say that his favorite bands are somehow more authentic and of greater value than bands he dislikes. Ultimately, Carducci's entire theme throughout the book is that the music industry and critical press is outdated, out of touch, and terminally flawed as it was unreceptive to Carducci's idea of the perfect rock band, Black Flag.

As down as I am about much of this book, what makes this discussion difficult is that I can't legitimately pan it and say it is of no interest. Carducci is brilliant, and parts of this book are exceptional. He has some insights into the music industry that are truly unique and fascinating, particularly the titular discussion of the "pop narcotic" which dooms bands to irrelevancy. A good and tough editor could have made this one of the great music books. Instead, it remains an irritating, over-long, infuriating, sloppy, one-sided, hopeless gem of a book.

Greg Prato, Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music - In the tradition of Please Kill Me and We've Got the Neutron Bomb, this book attempts to draw together the recollections of those involved in the boom times of Seattle music at the beginning of the 90's to present a definitive history of the era. For the most part, Prato is successful at achieving his goals.

The first 1/3rd of the book, where Prato solicits memories of acts pre-dating the grunge era, does suffer from some major problems, the most egregious being that its pretty boring overall. Most of the anecdotes are some variation of "this band was really cool" or "punks weren't well regarded by the rest of society" or "everyone was really friendly and communal, before it got all commercial". Part of the blame for this is on the subjects, as they just don't present very interesting stories, but part of the blame has to fall on Prato, who needed to either ask better questions of his subjects or realize that, as he didn't have very interesting material, he needed to cut back on his coverage of that era.

Once the book gets into the Green River/Mother Love Bone era, though, things start to pick up. Prato assembles a very strong and diverse range of subjects, with only a few notable omissions (no Cornell, Lanegan, Novoselic, Grohl, or Love), but almost everyone else, including all of Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, the surviving members of Alice in Chains, the rest of Soundgarden, Tad Doyle, the Van Conner brothers, etc. For the most part, everyone is willing to discuss things from a "warts and all" perspective, and it is interesting to see events that are fairly well known in music circles from alternate perspectives (for example, seeing both sides of the infamous Green River show where the guest list was made up almost exclusively of music industry people who didn't bother to show up or realizing that Jerry Cantrell really does seem to be that much of a callous jerk). Prato has some issues with editing, in that he tries to have the book arranged by subject but also chronologically, leading to some confusion about exactly when certain things occurred in relation to others, but for the most part he keeps things moving. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 14, 2009

So have we ever reached a consensus on what this decade is even called?

First of all, thank you to everyone who came out to the Cleveland Music Industry Panel. It was an amazing event. I met some great and fascinating people and learned a TON. I cannot wait for the next event from the Modern Revival Media people.

Ok, as we reach the last gasp of this decade, I've started thinking about lists - the perennial "best albums of the decade". What I find interesting and startling is that there seems to be a paucity of records that I just KNOW are going to be on all the critics' list at the end of this year. Every previous decade has had those albums that just stood out above the pack (i.e., for the 90's, Nevermind, Slanted & Enchanted, OK Computer, Odelay, Loveless, Screamadelia). There just doesn't seem to be one of those watershed albums that sort of defines this decade. Don't get me wrong, there was a lot of great music, but much of it either did not make enough of a long term impact to really reach that level of importance (let's face it, while Nevermind was a great album, its impact on the music industry, fashion, culture, etc. was what really made it one of the best albums of the 90's) or was so backwards looking in its inception that it couldn't really represent this decade (i.e., the countless bands doing the 80's revival thing).

Anyway, in lieu of trying to make an actual "best" of the decade, here is my unranked short list of my favorite albums of the last 10 years. Expect this to be updated constantly, and look for my final ranked list at the end of the year.

Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker
Might not be on my final list, but this album continues to amaze me. It's a true pinnacle of the alt-country genre, right as many of Adam's peers were either shifting away from the genre or becoming self-parody. Adams quickly proceeded to do both of those things, and has not been a consistent presence since, but that first album (and half of the second) and his Whiskeytown records remain true gems.

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
I have a feeling their first album will be what is on most of the top lists, but it is a bit too twee to me (though parts of it are amazing, "Wake Up" most of all). This album was regarded as a bit of a step back for most fans, but I love it. It's a "big, important" rock album like those made by U2 or Springsteen, but absent the pretension that makes those records so insufferable at times.

Ash - Free All Angels
Without a doubt, the best pop(-punk) record of the decade, and probably the record I've actually listened to the most for the decade. The addition of Charlotte Hatherly (who would leave after the next album, sadly) on guitar and vocals adds a nice extra element to a band that was already extremely strong. I love this record, from the spry "Burn Baby Burn" to the swinging "Candy" to the swooning "Shining Light" to the wistful "Sometimes". Top-notch.

Asobi Seksu - Citrus
Pretty firmly established as one of the most consistent bands to come out of the decade, with three sublime albums. This one is their best, melding indelible melodies on top of some of the prettiest noise possible, but somehow always maintaining an aggression and propulsion that prevents second of this album from being boring.

The Decemberists - Castaways and Cutouts
I love The Decemberists, and their live show is a ton of fun. On record, though, their quirks and schtick can sometimes get the better of them. That's why this record works so well for me. It has a germ of the tropes they would later blow up into the basis of their work, but it's mostly just a great, quirky alt-country record with accordions.

The Dirtbombs - Magical Dangerous Noise
Oh man, I love this record. My favorite record of my favorite currently active band. Noisy, catchy, danceable, rocking, soulful, perfect.

Doves - The Last Broadcast
In the wake of Kid A, a number of British bands stepped up to the plate to take the "big emotional British guitar-rock band" throne that Radiohead abdicated to play with their electronics and soundscapes. Coldplay was the clear commercial winner of the ensuing fight, but Doves were the artistic winner, and this is their zenith.

Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic
Probably the greatest musical tragedy of the decade. Brilliant and exceptionally promising young band releases their first album, goes out to tour behind it, and encounter a tragic accident which claims the lives of many of the members. These guys could have been, should have been, huge. Instead, we just have this perfect scrappy garage-rock masterpiece to remember them by.

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink

Say what you will about The Flaming Lips output this decade- it's AOR, mom-rock, whatever, and I will probably agree with at least part of what you say. I'm sad they lost the guitars as well. However, this record is GORGEOUS. When you have songs like "Fight Test" and "Do You Realize", who cares if people's parents like it? Everyone would fall in love with this record - it transcends every gap, like only that rarefied strata of pop music can.

Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
Of all of the bands riding the odd mid-90's neo-disco-punk wave, Franz Ferdinand was always the one that seemed to have an actual chance of sticking around after the fad ended, as their lyrics, tunecraft, and musical diversity were way ahead of the pack. This has clearly turned out to be the case, as the other promising bands (i.e., Bloc Party, The Futureheads, Maximo Park) have failed to live up to their initial promise. I'm sure it helped that they were actually some of the older players in the game, and had some serious chops to back them up. All three of their albums have been top-notch, but its their first album which still impresses me the most. "Take Me Out" and "Dark of the Matinee" are just perfect songs.

Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
The best soul album of the decade. If Al Green had kept playing the sonic innovator and not become a traditionalist (not that I'm bemoaning the great albums he made this decade), he would sound like this. Their second album, The Odd Couple may be even better, but this one has "Crazy" on it, so it's the one on this list.

Guided by Voices - Isolation Drills
With this album, GBV embraced the chance to make a big rock record, and they drilled it. "Chasing Heather Crazy", "Glad Girls", "Skills Like This", and the rest are big and bold rock anthems with a ton of heart. While I love lo-fi GBV, it always seemed like Pollard that embraced that style out of necessity or novelty rather than because it emphasized his songwriting or the talents of his band. As anyone who has been to a good GBV show knows, these guys rock, and it was great to see them make their rock statement.

Idlewild - 100 Broken Windows
Loud, anthemic quasi-punk rock with a singer who sounds like the guy from Trashcan Sinatras mixed with mid-period Michael Stipe. About as solid, durable, and lovable an album as came out this decade. Prior to this, they were a scrappy pop-punk act, following this, they moved toward bigger and bigger sounds (producing the indelible "You Held the World in Your Arms Tonight", by the way, which is easily among the top songs this decade), but also began to sink into some mid-tempo boredom. This album is their zenith so far, perfectly mixing fist-pumping ravers with beautiful ballads, and an easy recommendation to just about anyone.

Jay-Z & Danger Mouse - The Grey Album
I loved The Black Album, I love the Beatles, and after this record I knew I loved Danger Mouse. Is it a novelty record? Sure, but it's an ingenious one, and one that actually improves on The Black Album. The original version of "99 Problems"? Awesome. The Grey Album version cutting "99 Problems" with "Helter Skelter"? Crazy-Awesome.

Madvillian - Madvillainy
My favorite hip-hop album of the decade. Fabulously blunted beats with incredibly witty and impressive rhymes. As much as I love Madlib and DOOM separately, this album is just a huge step above anything else they have produced. It's a hard record to dissect briefly, because it is so dense, so, until I get the chance to devote a larger discussion to it, let's just leave my description as "brilliant".

Malory - Not Here Not Now
Is this a massive Slowdive rip? Absolutely. Is this incredibly entertaining and beautiful neo-shoegaze? Absolutely. Does this belong on a list of the best albums of the decade? Absolutely.

Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica
I would never use the word "sellout" to describe Modest Mouse. While their last two albums have certainly been more polished than their earlier work, it is still highly idiosyncratic and uniquely their own sound. This album was the start of that process, and their most effective and consistent start-to-finish album.

The National - Alligator
This record really snuck up on me. I was a little less than impressed the first time I heard it, but after about the third listen, I was enthralled. Smoky, smoldering rock which builds to beautiful and cathartic climaxes. A perfect record for late-night drives.

Okkervil River - The Stage Names
Black Sheep Boy may actually be the record that makes my top 10, but for now I'll leave this one. Perhaps the best lyrics of any record this decade - with impressively developed characters, clever jokes, tangible emotion, and just enough subtext and tricks to keep you on your toes. "Plus Ones" and "John Allyn Smith Sails" are brilliant inside baseball treats for record geeks like me, as well.

Old 97's - Satellite Rides
Sorry alt-country die-hards (God bless you for keeping the faith), but the twang is gone (it did come back, kind of). In its place, Old 97's created an indelibly strong set of Kinks-ish pop-rock. "King of All the World" is a perfect song, and "Rollerskate Skinny", "Buick City Complex", "Question", etc. are not far behind.

A Place to Bury Strangers - A Place to Bury

Beautiful, beautiful noise. While The Jesus & Mary Chain made perfect pop songs and bathed them in feedback and gnarled white noise, APBS's songs are simply built out of the stuff. This thing is punishingly loud even at low volume. I love it.

Primal Scream - XTRMNTR
I remember buying this album the day it came out in 2000 and just being thrilled at the idea that this was the way music was heading in the new decade. There is perhaps nothing more upsetting to me than the fact that this simply didn't happen. Primal Scream completely transformed themselves with this record, and created a series of exciting, complex mash-up of styles and attitudes that was genuinely inspiring, and it was pretty much ignored. The agit-punk-techno of "Swastika Eyes" and "Exterminator", the jazz-electronica of "Blood Money", and the shoegaze-industrial of "MBV Arkestra" (featuring Kevin Shields in one of his rare appearances of the early half of the decade) all could have supported an entire career for other bands. Not to mention that the lyrics and the tone of the album eerily pre-sage the Bush era of politics. This should have been the defining record of the decade, but instead, it's just a great, inspiring rush of an album.

The Red Telephone - Cellar Songs
If this list inspires you to buy one album, make it this one. The most over-looked record of the decade, without a doubt. Coming out on the ridiculously obscure Raise Giant Frogs label, this album melds Bends-era Radiohead's guitar workouts and atmospherics to a solid nineties power-pop melodic foundation (the press kit at the time compared them to Wilco, but I don't really see it). This is a GREAT album, front-to-back, and infinitely more people need to hear it.

Sloan - Never Hear the End of It
At the time this came out, Sloan was in a bit of a rut, putting out solid, if unexceptional records on a regular basis. They had their die-hards who would buy everything they released (guilty party right here), but they didn't seem like a band that would be taking any chances anytime soon. This is why this album, an 80+ monster that crammed a CD to its brim with a seamless suite of stellar songs (I seriously did not intend for that to turn into a tongue-twister). For my money, this is the best album Sloan has ever released, and it's certainly the most ambitious.

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
It's cliche to say, but no album captured that post-9/11 dread and apprehension quite like this album. Without intending to (as the record was recorded before that date), Wilco captured the mood I was feeling at the time. It's a perfect comfort record that came out at a time when a lot of people really needed a comfort record.

The Wrens - The Meadowlands
Right now, this is my album of the decade. Stunning melodies, incredibly poignant and moving lyrics, great production, everything about this record clicks. On a personal note, this album really has managed to sort of clock my growth this decade, with the mournful tone soundtracking my mopey early twenties and the mature lyrics about love and loss speaking to me as a slightly more mature person. I've probably listened to it more than any other album this decade, and I imagine it will be the album I come back to the most in the future. As perfect as rock gets.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Got Live if You Want It!

Though I am pretty sure everyone who reads this is already well aware of this already, I will be speaking on legal issues affecting independent artists and labels at the Cleveland Music Industry Panel this Saturday, August 8 (

Should be an interesting and entertaining day at the zoo.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Building Has Every Convenience...

One of the benefits of having an hour long bike commute to and from work is that I have time to listen to at least two albums a day. Two weeks ago, I started out Monday morning listening to Talking Heads’ first album, Talking Heads: 77, the remastered version of which I had just added to my iPod, along with the rest of the band’s studio albums. This turned into a week-long listen to the band’s entire back catalog, including not only the studio albums, but also their live sets Stop Making Sense and The Name of this Band is Talking Heads.

An important, and somewhat embarrassing note before we get into a discussion of my thoughts: I have never really listened to Talking Heads’ studio albums before two weeks ago. I had heard the original CD versions of some of the early album, and the incredibly trebly mix as compared to the remastered live albums turned me off of exploring any further.

The mix on the newer versions is a revelation to someone who only heard the original CDs. The increased clarity and, especially, the significantly strengthened low end is essential for this band. Tina Weymouth’s bass is the driving instrument for the Heads’ sound, and without her busy melodic lines, the band can become static and, frankly, quite boring. “Heaven” exemplifies the power Weymouth wields, transforming a pretty, but uneventful song into an absolute masterpiece by simply never falling into a real groove; her constant runs emphasizing the unease in David Byrne’s lyrics. Put simply, if you have not heard Talking Heads outside of the original CDs of the studio albums, you have not heard Talking Heads, which is a situation you might want to think about taking care of.

That being said, I would still direct any newly interested parties to the two live albums first, as this band really excels in that setting. While The Name of this Band... is the superior album, I would recommend starting with Stop Making Sense, simply because it has more of the “hits”, and works a bit better as a primer (it also makes one of the studio albums redundant, as I mention below).

As every fan of the band will note, though, no amount of remastering can alter the fact that the band’s output follows a too common trajectory, with ’77, More Songs about Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and much of Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues being absolutely vital, with the rest pretty forgettable. The reason for this downward trajectory is notable in that it exemplifies one of the more notable qualities of their early triumphs. Talking Heads: ’77 came out in its titular year, the height of Punk Rock, and the band cut its teeth in the same scene that helped to birth that movement. However, I have always found it difficult to mentally define Talking Heads as a punk band. It’s not the sound of the music, as I have a fairly broad view of what punk rock can be musically; it was something else, something intrinsic. During the course of listening to everything, I finally put my finger on it.

If one gets to the bottom of everything, every musical genre/movement has at its core a specific emotional basis. Rock & Roll, at its origin, was about youthful exuberance, rap is empowerment, metal is masculinity, country is longing, etc. (yes, I know there are TONS of exceptions to all of these, but I think the core is there, but I would love to hear alternatives). Punk rock, at its emotional core, is the music of anger, and anger’s cousin emotions of frustration and indignation. Post-punk, as a genre, on the other hand, has at its emotional core anxiety, fear, and nervousness. Where Punk is an attack against the status quo, whether that be the government or the fact one’s girlfriend dumped him, post-punk sees that status quo and accepts it as inevitability – you can’t fight the status quo, but you can certainly be scared of it. For example, The Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen in Love” deals with a similar factual situation as Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. The difference is how the narrators deal with the same set of facts. Pete Shelley seethes at the difficulty of situation, but offers the glimmer of hope in “we won’t be together much longer, unless we realize that we are the same,” holding forth a possible way to save things. Ian Curtis doesn’t permit this speck of hope, deeming the failure of the relationship not just imminent, but inexorable – “Love WILL tear us apart, again.” Similarly, one can compare The Clash’s “Career Opportunities” to Talking Heads’ “Don’t Worry about the Government” – while The Clash fight the impulse to settle into a menial job, David Byrne accepts it as a inevitability, he is going to have to settle into his modern building with every modern convenience to allow him to give up his life to work, except for the few times he is able to slip away because his “friends are important”. Byrne’s “Psycho Killer” is far from the swaggering, evil sociopath of horror films, but a troubled, jittery, compulsive mess, who just genuinely cannot control himself.

Ultimately, while Talking Heads pre-dates post-punk, they have an emotional core much closer to that later movement than they do that of what has become accepted as punk. There are a few other early punk-era bands that have similarly out-of-sync emotional cores that become much easier to categorize if they are considered as precursors to post-punk, such as Television and Pere Ubu. Talking Heads are the best example, though, as they basically epitomize the nervous end of post-punk’s anxious core. Everything is on edge and over-caffeniated, from the previously-mentioned bass lines to the skittery guitar lines to Byrne’s hiccuped vocals. Even when they add more percussion, it’s largely amped up and unsettling. Byrne’s lyrics follow suit, finding worry and anxiety in every aspect of modern life – buildings, animal, art, love, and even Heaven itself are all sources of concern. Byrne offers no answers, no hope for escape from the unease, just a constant reminder that things aren’t nearly as simple or as harmless as they seem on the surface. “Once in a Lifetime” decries the feeling of realizing that one has no idea how one’s life turned out the way it has with the simple mantra, “same as it ever was” – modern life is by its very nature unsettled, and that isn’t going to change.

Tellingly, the only real call to action Byrne issues is during “Girlfriend is Better”, when he exhorts that everything, “stop making sense,” as the only way to avert the sheer crushing inanity is to stop acting following logic and do something unpredictable. It is notable that this call to action, as minor as it is, comes on Speaking in Tongues, the last really good Talking Heads album, as it shows how the trajectory of the quality of their music traces the trajectory of their driving philosophy. Simply put, once the Heads stopped being nervous, they stopped being as musically interesting. Some bands are able to shift from their initial emotional core to embrace another, and maintain their vitality. Most aren’t, and Talking Heads falls apart like so many others when they start to grow emotionally and feel less trapped by the causes of their initial nervousness.

Thus, the first two albums and most of the third represent their artistic high points. Everyone needs to own these records. Remain in Light alters their sound by bringing in their noted afro-beat percussion, which, in and of itself, doesn’t hurt, but the songwriting drops off in the second half, with the notable exception of “The Overload”, where Weymouth’s bass finally drops to the bottom, the beats become darker and murkier, and Byrne’s nervousness finally succumbs to genuine fear. It’s a huge break from anything they had done before, and they would only really revisit it (mostly successfully) on the second half of their last album. However, Remain in Light is the last Talking Heads album I can fully endorse as a purchase.

Speaking in Tongues has the songs to be a great album, but it is also the album where recording in the 80’s finally catches up with them. Even remastered, the album is so tinny and bottom-light that it feels weightless and boring. There are any number of great albums that have suffered due to poor production, from ...And Justice for All to Give ‘Em Enough Rope to Raw Power (which may actually have accomplished the rare feat of being misproduced twice, sorry Iggy, but pushing EVERYTHING to 11 does not equal creating a more dynamic mix, it just means everything is one louder). Thankfully, the songs trapped in Speaking in Tongues' poor mix have an edge over those on these other albums, as Stop Making Sense has infinitely superior versions of all of the good songs on this album. Basically, buy that, avoid the studio album, as, except maybe for the studio version of “Burning Down the House”, it never comes close to its live counterpart.

Little Creatures and True Stories are completely forgettable records, with the notable exception of the former’s “Road to Nowhere”. Little Creatures is really where you can see Byrne trying to write more optimistic songs, and the nervousness of the band waning rapidly. Unfortunately, at this point, Byrne isn’t very good with this writing style, and they ultimately come of as flat and uninteresting at best, and pedantic and insulting at worst. The one bright spot is Byrne’s vocals as he begins to push toward the more soulful vocal style he would use in his solo work.

Naked isn’t quite a return to form, though it is better than the previous two albums, especially the last half, which revists the darkness of “The Overload”, reinserting some of that existential unease that was missing since Remain in Light. The only problem that I have with this album is the sequencing, in that “(Nothing But) Flowers” should have been the last song, as it perfectly sums up the situation in which Talking Heads, as a band, is no longer needed. The song, one of the band’s best, tells of an urban setting which, for reasons unexplained, is reverting back to nature – kind of like “Big Yellow Taxi” in reverse. Talking Heads, in addition to being the epitome of nervousness, is also the epitome of an urban band. Therefore, in the world of this song, a band that sings about finding a city to live in and taking the highway that runs next to the buildings, that rants about not trusting animals, that decries rural America with the pithy “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me too” (as ironic as these things are, of course) is no longer of value. Ultimately, for as nervous as Byrne was about modern city life, it at least was something he could express. Ultimately, Talking Heads wrote the song that defines their own obsolescence, the feeling of finding themselves in world they can no longer operate in and no longer grasp the parameters. It’s a perfect send-off for the band, and it is too bad it is widely seen merely as “that song that was in Clerks II.” (though it worked fairly well there). He ends “Flowers” with the perfect send-off, not just for the song, but for the band itself as an idea whose time had come, “I just can’t get used to this lifestyle.”

Friday, July 10, 2009

Hypebusting- pt.3 (Dirty Projectors)

Continuing our series of reviews with Mike from Central Target, which takes us to Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca

Mike :I already WAY prefer this music to the last album, but the vocals are already driving me crazy

These are about as prototypical "indie" vocals as one can get, both male and female. I don't even know what that means, but it's all I can think of. I like the song, but the way the vocals are mixed hurts it.

Mike: Yeah. Completely in the same court. This is way less infuriating than I remember their music being.

You know, when the girls aren't singing, this is quite enjoyable.

Mike : I could see you feeling that way. But this second song's vocals are making me disagree. I hate the lyrics too

Yeah, the second song came on right when I wrote that and killed what I was saying

Mike: it's like he's doing Doobie Brothers-type tenor soul vocals or some crap like that

Melodies, we don't need melodies

Mike : oh, a rhythm turnaround. Isn't that supposed to be a sign of musicality? But didn't Rod Stewart do that, too?

Holy crap, I just got the Doobie Brothers vibe. It manifested as a cold shiver down my spine.

Mike: I with the sun would never rise over Temecula, so the plants wouldn't get sun, they wouldn't produce oxygen for animals to breathe, and everyone there would die.

More so, it's bad Van Morrison

Mike: Oh, that's PERFECTLY ACCURATE. And I HATE Van Morrison.

I did a guitar solo like this once. They threw me out of Guitar Center

Mike: HA! I wanna just drink until this sounds better. We're only TWO SONGS IN!

Strap in, big guy... this is going to be a bumpy ride.

This third song is far more like Jeff Buckley's Van Morrison covers than anything on that last album. And it's no good. None at all.

At least the guy from Grizzly Bear had the voice to pull off a Buckley copy. This guy just doesn't

Mike: Yeah. Falsetto can just as easily lead you down a road that ends up at Anthony Kiedis. And NOBODY wants to go down that road.

Whoa whoa whoa

I like this song, "Stillness Is The Move". So far, that is.

This sounds like some serious 80's white guy synth-funk

There's actually a song here, that's a plus.

Mike: this could be like a Vanity 6 track or something. Yeah, this isn't bad.

we're going to have to discuss some other time how we feel about the hype surrounding the actual records, vs. the music on it's own. That's another LOOOONG discussion.


Mike: But how can can album that is almost unlistenable until the 4th track get "Best Of The Year" hype BEFORE IT EVEN COMES OUT?!?!

I think we're in agreement that none of these three are likely to appear on our top 10 of 2009 lists

Probably not even on our top 10 of the first half of 2009 lists

Mike: I would entertain the possibility that Animal Collective could end up in contention for my first-half list

to be clear.... MAYBE be a POSSIBLE OPTION to POSSIBLY get on the list. Not a chance with the other two

Fair enough
Mike: But no way would any of them end up on the end of the year top ten

I was actively annoyed too often by the Animal Collective record for that to happen.

Mike: all three of them are awash in their own self-importance, which really kills it for me. Seriousness is one thing, but it's like once someone believes that they're a genius 'cause they've been told so many times.

It is interesting to think that someone heard that Animal Collective record and thought, "this is almost certainly the best thing I am going to hear all year."

"Two Doves" is another pretty, but unexceptional track.

Mike: Take this song. It's not bad, but it's not a good enough song to warrant all the trouble that went into the arrangement.


But your comment on the AC record? Perfectly put.

Just checking out the reviews, allmusic says "Two Doves" sounds like A-Ha's "Take On Me", and they say that as a compliment.

Mike: Everything about that concept is wrong.

I don't hear the similarity AT ALL.

Mike: Me neither, and while "Take On Me" is a nice song, it's no measuring stick for other tunes, you know?


Mike: "Well, this record is either as good as Take On Me, or it's not...."

That's how I judge EVERYTHING from now on.

I like that the start of "Useful Chamber" sounds like a neutered version of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer"

Mike: Ha... after jogging to Nine Inch Nails this morning, that's an extra funny comparison.

"I wanna cuddle you like an animal."

This guy needs to stop with the falsetto

Mike: Yeah

Ok, so "bitte" is german for "please" (and, to a lesser extent, "you're welcome")

I'm really hoping that the album's title is being used like ODB's album title. "Orca, PLEASE!"

Mike: actually, he's unintentionally slipping into Kiedis territory with that melisma vocal thing he's slipping into at 4:40 of 'Useful Chamber'

He's way past the Kiedis line

These female vocals remind me of some of the Residents backing singers

Mike: I could see that. The female vocals are mixed so weird, you wouldn't know that they're in tune as harmonies

It's like they are mixed for maximum annoyance value

Mike: let's check out what Mark Prindle says about Dirty Projectors: "Quirky Brooklyn band with kooky ideas like a concept album about Don Henley and an art-pop "reimagining" of Black Flag's Damaged LP. In addition to normal rock instruments (and occasional brass or strings), they also use tons of multi-vocal harmonies, bizarre sound loops and all kinds of crazy things. Certainly quirky, I'll give them that. Near unlistenable at times, but they definitely have their own thing going on."

I like the weird space/dub bassline to this

This groove, this little moment, is nice

With the 2&4 drum hits

Right before it fades out

It is nice. I even like the little guitar lines

Mike: oh wait, it's not fading

yeah, this one is groovy and enjoyable. So far, that's 2 songs out of 7.

that's a 26.7% grade

I liked the first song, so 3 out of 7

It's like they get a good groove going, and then realize they need to do something weird with their vocals or something, and so they just throw something into the middle.

Yeah, this track is quite nice.

Mike: yeah, this weird little un-reverbed guitar solo is irritating me

like if I was plaing guitar along with an album I've never heard.

They couldn't just have a nice guitar solo there, could they?

Mike: While this album is different than say, Matchbox 20, it's not really any more interesting to me, and I HATE Matchbox 20. Refuse to listen to them, if they come on somewhere, I change it or leave the room.

I expected to like this one better than the other two, but I can't honestly say that I do at this point.

Mike: Does this feel at all like a f***ed up sort of Paul Simon goes-to-Africa vocal style?

Yes. Oh good grief, just stop that.

Mike: I expected to like this least, but wanted to like it the most, to prove that I was being a judgmental old crank.

I just realized something, and I should have noticed it earlier, but this guy DESPERATELY wants to be David Byrne

Mike: But it's not disappointing, in the sense that I like it LESS than I expected to.

Yeah, I could see the Byrne thing.

I will say that I quite like their song with Byrne on that "Dark Was the Night" comp.

Mike: I've heard that once, and it was nice enough.

This must be what indie hipsters rock out to, like the way that fratboys love Umphree's McGee or the String Cheese Incident.

Oooh.. the sultry Sade-style ballad

It saddens me to think of someone rocking out to this album

Mike: Oh, they make out to this song.


Mike : "Flourescent Half-Dome"

I think this is an indie-rocker dorm-room sexin' staple, and this is the afterglow ballad.

which retroactively makes me wish I'd dropped out of college

That's the most awkward sex music ever

Mike: Yeah.

I'm already thinking of what I'm going to put on when this endless song finally stops making me hate.

the next minute cannot be over soon enough, but I will persevere. For science!

Man, this is as soulless as any music ever

I like this little last 20 seconds, for the same reason as I liked the intros to the AC album

OK, so we did it.
Ok, Let's give our final grades.

Animal Collective: C+
Grizzly Bear: C+
Dirty Projectors: D
Maybe a bit generous

Mike: Animal Collective: B+
Grizzly Bear: C
Dirty Projectors: D- (I get it, I just don't get why anyone would DO it!)

Any final words to say to anyone who's still reading?

If you honestly like any of these albums more than Dinosaur Jr.'s "Farm", we probably don't have much in common.

Mike: I'd like to second that, and claim that I feel that at least 50% of the people who claim these to be "great albums" don't fully know their reasons for saying that. They may like them, but they cannot tell me why.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hypebusting- pt.2 (Grizzly Bear)

[UPDATE: I have sense come around to this record quite a bit, to the point where, were this the barren wasteland of great music like last year, it would have been in contention for my top 10 of the year. As 2009 has been lousy with great records, it still won't be on my list this year, but it's a solid B+/A- record, and well worth your time.]

Continuing our series of reviews with Mike from Central Target, which takes us to Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest

Mike: it's weird hearing an acoustic guitar now.

Yeah, this is a huge downshift.

Mike: Comparatively, this is like Neil Young to me right now

Pretty decent comparison, actually

Mike: dusty, dramatic Ennio Morricone soundtrack music

I like that surge. That was quite nice.

Mike: yeah, that's a nice rush. It's already certainly more trad-pop leaning

But that's not a bad thing

Mike: i'm liking this backwards tape thing

but after all the pretty ambience in the earlier record, it sounds a lot darker to me

The harmonies are quite nice. It's much more downcast

Mike: yeah. Ooh... another nice shift in tone in the song

I am really enjoying this

Mike: it's nice

I will say though, I'm having trouble clearing my mood from the last album, which was so much less organic. I feel like I'm a barn or something, wood all around.

This guy's voice reminds me of someone I cannot place

Mike: someone from the mid-80s, and I can't place who that is either, for me

Ugh, that's going to bother me.

Mike: On another day, I'd most likely feel a different way, but I think I, so far, prefer the Animal Collective.

I'm the opposite.

Mike: Distant fingerpicked electric guitar combined with no hooks? Tha has a home, my friend. And that home is called "Secretly Canadian".

Well, at least nothing here has annoyed me yet. There are hooks here, I just think they are kind of subdued. This third track is not nearly as good as the first two, though.

Mike: This isn't bad, but for me it may as well be by Songs: Ohia or something (the album, not the song.)

I do think the first two songs were better, as well.

See, I don't see that as a bad thing.

Mike: True, I like that type of music.

I can see having this on in the background. I can at least see a place for it. I don't know what my mood would need to be to want to hear that Animal Collective again.

Mike: This just doesn't distinguish itself from the pack at all, really. I guess it's determined genre-sitting annoys me.

Is it wrong to judge this by what it ISN'T? Like, I want to like this a lot, but I'm mad at it because it's so average

It's pleasant, well-mannered folk-pop

Mike: and that it's averageness has annoyed me annoys me even more. It's basically a hate-spiral opening up and swallowing my heart.

I'd make a snide Palace comparison, but I've only listened to Palace enough to know i don't like them

JEFF BUCKLEY; that's the voice. Reminds me of Jeff Buckley.

It's Buckley without the Zeppelin fixation.

Mike: Yerp.

Mike: Not just the falsetto, either. It just took falsetto to help me realize.

I think I like the other vocalist better. The one who sang the first track. A little less dramatic.

Mike: yeah, the other guy was a little less affected was certainly my preferred vocalist

I know he has a side project band, Department of Eagles, I want to say. I might check that out.

Mike: I can't say that this is bad, but based on this, I wouldn't be interested in the side project. There's nothing offensive about it to me, it's just boring to me. Like Band Of Horses.

fair enough. It's certainly nothing especially exciting. I've already forgotten how the previous songs sounded.

Mike: Yeah, me neither.

It's making my mind wander to that "indie rock hype" game where you combine two unlikely artists and put them in a weird situation. Once you decode what it's saying, it's meaningless.

"Neil Young meets MF Doom in a Saugerties, NY chicken coop"

"James Taylor and Sun Ra having a cookout on the moon"

"Van Morrison and Phillip Glass guest star on an episode of 'Little House On The Prairie"

"The Raveonettes and Bootsy Collins doing the limbo in Cancun"

Mike: is this the loop from the end of Sgt. Pepper that starts off "Dory"? The one in the locked groove?

ooh! I like yours!

Philip Glass on Little House is an amazing image

Mike: just giving a creepy look to Michael Landon the whole time


Mike: that look

Awesome. Did you ever see the Landon bloopers that were floating around videogum?

Mike: No... I'll have to look that up, though.

Good stuff? Little House or Highway to Heaven -era?

Little House

Michael Landon was awesome

Mike: Weird... I wanna see those.



Mike: I always thought he was supposed to be a drunk or something, like an abusive a**hole

I could be completely wrong though.

Right, Michael Landon's estate?

heh heh heh...

You know, that's about as good a review of this record as we can give. It's less interesting to talk about than Michael Landon bloopers.

Mike: I was just thinking that. There's this little punky sixteenth-note rhythm under this that I keep waiting to just explode, but it never does, it just turns into harp glissandos

I think that's why I liked the first two songs better than anything following, they actually let out some of the building energy.

Mike: This track is like a boring, dirge-like version of Animal Collective.
"Ready, Able" for those of you not listening along.

that's a fair comparison

Mike: now, "About Face"'s verses sound like me messing around in my room on a song before I write words or a hook or a second riff

This one is just teasing me. They up the volume on a distorted guitar, then cut it out right before it would slam in. Perfectly appropriately, I might add.

Yep, Grizzly Bear hate you

That is a really, really effective tease

Mike: This is like the worst aspects of Jeff Buckley without any of the good.

at least, "Hold Still", is the shortest song on the album.

It's about as static a song as I've heard

At what point does it go from a song to just playing a few notes over and over?

Mike: Never.

It never did.

"Big Rock Song"?

"While You Wait For The Others" isn't any more interesting to me, but at least it's a little more propulsive.

I think "Two Weeks" was also a big rock song, compared to the others.

I like the chorus to this one quite a bit.

Mike: It's certainly a standout for me

Oh, good, here comes the big string & chorus-laden ballad right near the end of the album

of course

Mike: a saxophone trio in there too... huh...

this is the "need to get a beer" portion of their live set, I'm sure

Mike: I'd need to find another venue

This album is largely hookless, meandering, a bit self-important, and enamored of the texture that folk music would add to their sound, without bringing any actual other elements of folk music.

As I told you when we spoke, my wife's response to this band's live show was perfect. They had been on for a good thirty minutes, and she turns to me and says, "when are they going to start playing?"

With a few exceptions, I think that review is dead on.

Mike: She is either wonderfully innocent, or the craftiest, meanest, sharpest comic I've ever known.

either way, you win

I think it's both

Mike: Oh god, there's another song to listen to.

Yeah, "I Live With You" gets my award for the most overblown pile of nothing that I've heard in a while.

Mike: If there had been a center to that candy, I might have liked it, but it was like biting into what you think is a cherry cordial and finding out it's only the thin, outer chocolate shell.

At least the last song was pleasant enough

Completely dull, but not aggravating

Tomorrow we'll finish up with a look at Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hypebusting- pt.1 (Animal Collective)

Mike Hiltz at Central Target and I had the bright idea to do a marathon listen/chat through Animal Collective's Merriwheather Post Pavilion, Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest, Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca. These records have each been named the "best record of 2009" by various outlets as early as December of 2008, and we thought it was our duty to see if any of them actually deserved the extravagant hype. My comments appear in italics below. I'm breaking the chat up by albums, so for today's post we have Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion. After all of the chats are up, I'll be back with a proper post to sum up my thoughts.

Before we start listening, maybe we should predict how much we'll like each of them.

Mike: sounds good... I'm gonna say "pretty good, B" to Grizzly Bear, C+ to animal collective, and a D to Dirty Projectors. I should say though, I've only heard bits and pieces of any of the bands' other work. Those grades are really basically random

I've heard the last album by Animal Collective, "Strawberry Jam", and the lead singer's last solo album, "Person Pitch". I heard Grizzly Bear play at the Pitchfork Festival, and was very unimpressed. Dirty Projectors, all I've heard is their song with David Byrne on the "Dark Was the Night" charity record and a few stray tracks. Oh, and I know they covered Black Flag's "Damaged" in its entirety.

Mike: I love David Byrne. I've only heard Projectors material from that Damaged cover album. As a Black Flag fan, I had to hear it. Oh, and my typing is terrible, as our readers will find out.

How were the covers? I know of it, never heard anything

Mike (1:13:23 PM): Written from memory, allegedly, not actual re-listening. It was like if you and I tried to cover Cracked Rear View from remembering what it sounded like. Allegedly. I don't buy any of that crap, but whatever. By being so contrived and theoretical, it made it pretentious

Now I'm trying to imagine how I would actually want to cover Cracked Rear View.

Mike HA! We have more important things at hand though

A Place to Bury Hootie

Mike: *ugh*... so where do we start? who's up?

Let's do this chronologically and start with Animal Collective.

Mike: oh, wait... I'm an ass. So real quick: what's your grade for this one?

I'm guessing a C or C- for this one.

Mike: Oooh! Let's rock it...ready?


Mike: alright.... GO!

Ah yes... "Maggot Brain" I love this album

I can't fault an album for starting with what sounds like a toilet flushing

Mike: (By the way, Dogdoguwar readers... I'm the snide one in the group. Nice to meet ya!)

Yeah I was thinking more "bong-y".

oh. psychedelic handclaps. Oh boy.

I think i can hear that they have beards.

I don't know how I can tell.

Because only bearded hippies play drums like this

Mike: Yeah, true

I long for the golden days when it was just an ambient thing. Pre-drums.

When the song started, I thought "I hope this picks up!", and now I wish I hadn't said that.

My sociology-sense just goes nuts when they start trying to do the "tribal drumming" thing

Mike: yeah

I'm trying hard not to judge this on people I knew in college's taste, to take it for itself, but big 'drum circle' drums and underwater ambient bits worry me

The outro wasn't bad

Mike: yeah

OK, this one sounds like Tangerine Dream.

In a good way?

Mike: Sorta. Not in a BAD way. But that synth riff that faded in was very TD. The vocals are throwing it off a bit. Actually, I'm sort of enjoying this vocal arrangement. But I'm on decent headphones.

WHOA! what the hell is that?

This is better than the first track. What surprised you?

Mike: The thudding percussion coming in, breaking up the space rock ambience. All low and squelchy.

See, I like this one a bit less than the first one, because this sounds like a lousy Beach Boys song from the "Still Cruisin'" era.

I thought it kind of worked well

Mike: it does. unexpected, I guess

Yeah, it is a bad Beach Boys song, but that's better than a bad song one would hear at People's Park

Very fair. And I think the Beach Boys thing comes from the singer sounding like a cross between Mike Love and the guy from They Might Be Giants.

Good point.

This song does go one about 2 years too long

Mike : Much like Mike Love's ego.


I'm finding the sudden urge to wander into the next room and grab a snack.

Ok, this song can just shut the hell up now.

Mike: Not because this is awful, but because it's just like nothing.

None of it seems to belong in the same song

Mike: Immaculately recorded, so I guess it's does SOUND really neat in the stereo field and all the reverb and whatnot.

You know when you're listening to something on your computer and then open a YouTube window, crushing the two audio sources together?


Mike: It's like Squarepusher, Bright Eyes, and an oompah band. I'd like to see that browser history.

You know what I do when that happens? I try to find one of the sources to turn it off. Animal Collective lets it run for 5:16.

Mike: We still have a minute and a half.

I think your time is better served by getting a snack

Mike: wait, it's getting nice... like shoegazer looping

Well, for a few seconds. Neat stereo panning...

You think "Summertime Clothes" is going to be the "big rock song"

It's going to be the big "rock" song

Mike: If I ever write a proper review of this album, I'm going to call this "Animal Collective's 'Takin' Care Of Business'".

It is the best thing so far on the album

Mike: I'm going to disagree. I feel that ambient MOMENTS in the first few songs were actually really great, in an Orb-like way, but this, so far, is the best SONG.

I'll agree with that

Mike: That uber-chipper double-timey rhythm kinda thing rubs me the wrong way though. Overdone since '05... like when they put that Sufjan Stevens song into 'Little Miss Sunshine'

It's got a real Yes or ELP vibe to me.

Mike: This vocalist is driving me crazy, but that's because I think he sounds like Conor Oberst, and I have a bias against Bright Eyes.

I say bring back Mike Love

I already regret saying that.

Yeah, it's a no-win scenerio

Mike: So does Mike Love get all the techno songs, and Conor Oberst gets the drum-circle ones?

A touch of Rivers Cuomo in Mike's voice, too.

That little repeating riff is pissing me off

Mike: agreed

Yeah, I hear the Cuomo comparison.

Ok, when I said I hated that riff, that didn't mean I wanted to hear more of it.

Mike: Oh, everything else is fading, but it's staying.

I can't really win.... they're good at the ambient intros and outros, but no good at spacing out parts of the song. When they go spacey, I want them to rock and move a little more, and then they do, and I don't want that once I hear it.

it's weird though. I'm getting, so far, a "more than the sum of it's parts" vibe from this one

I'm liking it objectively a little more than I expected. But I bet fake Conor Oberst is going to drop by and make me a liar.

It's not bad, to be sure, but I can't fathom getting very excited about it.

Mike: Nowhere near that pre-emptive "best of the year" hype, so far. But to assume that it won't end up on the list would be doing the same thing I've damned the press for doing previously.

It will end up on all the lists, but I have yet to hear anything that makes me feel like it deserves to be there.

Mike: I could, however, see this in my largest group of contenders for "Top Ten". Based on what I've heard so far, it would probably lose out in the first round of whittling. It's not great, but if I can put that Meat Puppets on my list, I could see it in the candidates

But I've already heard 10 albums this year that I like more than what I've heard on this.

I was, however expecting more "organic stringed instruments" on this. Like recognizable acoutstic guitars that sounded rusty or something.

It's more electronic-psych than I expected.

It sounds about like their last record, which, as I said, I liked well enough.

Mike: Makes sense. The pseudo-samba thing I'm hearing now is pissing me off

because it feels like they're using that whole style of music with all it's history at the most surface level, almost like HYPERirony. So ironic they're not sure if they get it and genuinely think it's awesome, like hipsters and yacht rock.

When they do come across an enjoyable sound, they don't hold it long enough. They play the hell out of the annoying parts, though.

Mike YES!

Again, I can't state enough how nicely recorded the space parts are. the intro to this song sounded WONDERFUL on my headphones.

Then Mike Love comes back with a Modest Mouse song and ruins the mood.

This one is alright, well until I started typing.

Now that you mention that, I want to hear 60's Mike Love sing "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes"

Mike: you're right about them repeating things. "Guys Eyes", which just started to do that thing the Beach Boys did, but without any of the payoff of a good countermelody vocal coming in.

Yeah, a good lead vocal coming in across that vocal bed would have been excellent. Without that, it's just kind of nothing.

Mike: i don't need my psych-rock to sound like music that came before it, but if it DOES recall obvious touchstones, try to meet the standard. Like, I'm not going to try to make a record that sounds like the Zombies, but if I clearly wrote a record just like the zombies, I'd try to make one that was good in that sense of "good"

You know, the Beach Boys never went full prog-hippie, which one might of expected, given Mike Love's Maharishi leanings. This is kind of what that might have sounded like. I'm very glad they didn't

Mike: yuck. agreed.

"Repetition in the music, and we're really gonna use it. Repetition in the music, and we're really gonna use it. Repetition in the music, and we're really gonna use it."
-Mark E. Smith, The Fall

On paper, just putting together the touchstones of this, I should like it. Beach Boys, shoegazer, psychedelia, etc.

Mike: They started a song called "Lion In A Coma" with a digeridoo? And it's CONOR singing? Screw this band.

Agreed on the touchstones

There's always an appropriate Mark E. Smith quote for an occasion.

Mike: i think that's the reason i'm not being harder on it. I think, "Well, it's sorta like X, and you LIKE X, so this must be alright."

Ok, I actively hate this song

Mike: The weird time signature in this one is irritating the hell out of me. I like weirdly-timed music, but this one feels like, "Look how good we are at musician-ing!"

"Hey, we listened to Captain Beefheart that one time!"

Mike: "Remember that?!? Let's DO that!"

Alright, I'm liking the start of this song. Now, let's see how long it takes to switch to something more irritating.

Mike: Let's mark once it gets screwed up.


There's a thin line between being atmospheric and being boring.

Mike: This is like if "Summertime Rolls" by Jane's Addiction didn't have any foreward momentum, and that was written and recorded by a bunch of heroin addicts.

I'm gonna hate this song.


Mike: and it's SIX MINUTES LONG!

Oh God


Mike: The Lion Sleeps Tonight with a Casio samba?!?

We're gonna do this

are they yelling "sports bra" in the background?

oh, "Support Your Brother", I think.

It's sports bra

Mike: I wrote this song when I was six and just started mashing my fists on my friend's Bert and Ernie keyboard.

If you want to get angrier, just imagine the day-glo colored scenester kids just going nuts doing the hippie dance with their hands to this song.

Mike: ah crap... thanks for that

Probably wearing a Ninja Turtles t-shirt and Kanye glasses. Are ironic mullets still a thing?


Mike: When did this go to a house song? With calypso vocals?

I think I get why hipsters and indie kids like this. I'm having a moment.

enlighten me

Mike: There are SO MANY STYLES on this record, often all at once, something in the brain registers that it must be good if it's that layered and wide-ranging. It's a mash of everything you commented on above, combined with heavy psych and prog, electronic dance music, hippe jam bands, the earthy side of Krautrock, a la Amon Duul II, soul, pop... on and on. It's without a doubt EPIC and swooping, but for me, those elements aren't glued together right

Thank god that ended

Mike: having that epiphany during that joyful energy burst at the end of the track was sorta nice though.

Come back tomorrow as our tour takes us to Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I'm going to refrain from using any, "It's a Shame About..." jokes

This review post is done in collaboration with the excellent Mike Hiltz over at Central Target. We both gave a listen to the new Lemonheads cover album Varshons, and are posting our first impressions. This is in preparation for our marathon listening and hype-busting extravaganza coming soon.

First things first, I like the Lemonheads. I really like the Lemonheads. I'm not as fanatical as Mr. Hiltz will likely tell you he is, but I expect that when I hear a Lemonheads record, I am going to enjoy it. That was certainly the case with Varshons. Despite the negative reviews I read from other outlets, I expected to enjoy this record quite a bit. I chalked it up to the other reviewers just not being fans of Evan Dando's style. While one can question whether a top-notch songwriter with a history of chart success with mostly covers should be playing into that by releasing an entire covers album, but that's beside the point. Good songs are good songs, and good songs played by Dando logically should make for a fun record.

Except that it doesn't. At all. This is a boring album. There is really not much more that needs to be said, and really, not much more that can be said. The song choices are fine, if fairly unexceptional. With the exception of "Dirty Robot" and "Dandelion Seeds", they are all played as acoustic country ballads. For some of them, this results in a minor change (the Parsons and Van Zandt tracks, for example); for others, it's a complete reinvention (Wire and G.G. Allin). The band plays competently, if unexceptionally. The production is restrained and tasteful. Liv Tyler and Kate Moss turn in perfectly acceptable vocal performances. Neither are going to be accused of being singers anytime soon, but I've heard much worse from starlets-slumming-as-singers (see, e.g., Ms. Johannson), though Moss is saddled with the most bizarre track on the album, the ill-advised synth-disco of "Dirty Robot" (which I will admit is more fun than it should be, maybe simply because it breaks the otherwise overwhelming monotony of the album). The problem is that nothing rises above the competent or the professional. Everything is so smooth that there is nothing to get excited about.

Dando is the worst offender on this point, contributing some incredibly sleepy and uninspired vocal performances. If Dando cannot bring himself to get excited about singing these songs, how can he expect listeners to do so? Dando is a fine singer, and could have brought these songs to life (listen to "Into Your Arms" again to see how well he can invigorate a song). He doesn't do that here, and he kills whatever interest his band creates by just not seeming to give a damn.

Covers are tricky beasts. Ultimately, the success of a cover is whether a listener would prefer to listen to the cover version over the original in any respect. This can be done by either re-imagining the song, making it different enough that it exists as a different creature altogether, or by just killing a straight interpretation of the song such that your version is simply better. I simply can't say that I will listen to any of Varshons songs over their original counterparts (maybe the G.G. Allin song, because I hate G.G., but that's a different story altogether), and for that reason, as much as it pains me, I cannot recommend this record.

I still do like the Lemonheads.

Rating: D+

Friday, June 19, 2009

I'm only going to do one post about this, unlike some other people I know

I apologize for the significant delay between posts. As most of the people reading this know (as I'm pretty sure almost all of you were there), in the interim I got married, went on a honeymoon, and moved into a new house. Kind of takes time away from randomly spouting off about music on a blog.

Anyway, for my return post, I am going to honor a request from someone who likes this subject ( and discuss Green Day's newest album, 21st Century Breakdown. I must say, I am amazed at how much I enjoy this album. It's not a perfect album, but, considering that I was expecting an out-and-out disaster, the fact that I enjoy most of it is remarkable. Most of the reviews I have read discuss it as a slightly lesser American Idiot, but that is a bit of a misnomer. American Idiot was, if not a true punk rock album, at least owed a significant debt to indie and punk sonics, while 21st Century Breakdown ignores those tropes almost completely and goes straight for the Big Rock Album jugular. If American Idiot's target comparison was Zen Arcade, 21st Century Breakdown is Quadrophenia. It's big, it's sprawling, it's a bit messy, it's overlong, but overall it's a solid collection of arena rock songs, immaculately produced and performed. It's no longer fair to even call Green Day a punk band anymore, or at least to use any punk descriptions for this album, anymore than it is fair to call U2's latest a post-punk album. This is arena rock, shooting for that same level as 70’s-era Who, with the Big songs and the Big production to match. As such, it sometimes goes a bit over-the-top, but that’s what comes with the territory when a band aims for the rafters of bombast like Green Day has here.

It is noteworthy how bits and pieces of the band’s side projects have found their way into 21st Century Breakdown. The opening of “Christian’s Inferno” sounds like a dead ringer for some of The Network stuff, while there are elements of their Foxboro Hot Tubs garage scattered around (they also straight-up nick The Hives’ “Main Offender” riff for “Horseshoes and Handgrenades”, which isn’t a huge deal, except that I really hope The Hives get wind of it, just because I want to read the press release they would put out). Lyrically the record is a bit clunky, but pretty strong overall. While I cannot claim to fully grasp the story, it doesn’t hamper the power of the songs one bit. It is a bit strange how many reviews cite the impenetrability of the story as a major criticism, begging the question of what they are comparing this album to – the powerful narrative of Tommy and Quadrophenia? The clear story-telling of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway? The well-developed characters of Zen Arcade? Concept albums are just generally not exactly well-known for their coherent stories, and holding Green Day to that standard seems disingenuous and a bit of nit-picking.

In short, while I don’t see myself reaching for this album as much as I do Dookie, Warning, or Kerplunk, that has more to do with personal preference than anything else -

What is perhaps most startling is noticing just how far this band has come since its days on Lookout! Records. While the transition from Kerplunk and their early EPs to Dookie is fairly unremarkable (it’s basically just a cleaned-up version of the same style), their finalized transition from a pop punk to pure power pop band with Warning was a much more substantial and noteworthy transformation, and they really have not made the same album ever since. The idea that a band could, in a five year span, produce a dark synth-pop record (The Network), a pure 60’s garage throw-back record (Foxboro Hot Tubs), a long-form punk rock opera (American Idiot), and a full-fledged arena rock behemoth (21st Century Breakdown) is kind of astounding. That they could do that with a consistent core trio is even more surprising, especially as this is the same trio that seemed pretty much relegated to being a band that would come out with another set of solid pop-punk tunes every few years to a steadily dwindling core base. Now Green Day, yes that Green Day, the Dookie guys, are, in 2009, the hoped-for saviors of the CD medium and the floundering recorded music industry. Just think about that for a little while.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

This (Hype) Machine Kills

For much of the history of rock music, one of the genuine differences between the American and British music scenes has been the journalism covering musicians and reviewing records. While U.S. music journalism has always been centered in monthly music magazines and scattered newspaper columnists, the U.K. has had, in addition to excellent monthly magazines like Mojo, at least one weekly newspaper exclusively devoted to covering music (currently only the NME is still running, having merged with Melody Maker in 2000). The different market needs of the British and American forms of music media created dramatically different attitudes and types of coverage, with the U.K. press rapidly developing a need for constant news, whether real or manufactured, and a reputation for repeated and rapid idol-creation and destruction. While the U.S. has, up until now, avoided the worst excesses of the U.K. media model, the shifting of the primary focus of music journalism from traditional magazines and columns to rapidly updating websites and blogs seems to be taking us down that exact path. [Please note, I am well aware that almost every contention I make here comes with numerous caveats and exceptions. I’m dealing in very broad generalities at best, I admit.]

For those who are unaware of why this is worrisome, it is worth discussing just what the British music press does, and how that effects both the music and the fans. In journalism, the amount of content that must be filled by a certain deadlines inexorably effects the quality of the material presented. An equally skilled feature writer with a month-long deadline is going to be more accurate and more insightful on a subject than a beat reporter covering and reporting on events daily. Similarly, CNN providing breaking coverage of an international incident is not going to provide the detailed analysis of a Foreign Affairs article released three months later discussing the same event. One of the major criticisms of the 24-hour news cycle of cable is that the rush to fill the entire time with fresh and timely content, faulty, under-investigated, and oftentimes blatantly false information is put forward as news. There is no time for reflection or review on a prior story, because the media’s gaze so quickly shifts to newer, less traveled paths as soon as they are discovered. You have to cover the hot new exciting story for ratings sakes, but at what cost to what came before?

In the music press context, the NME model inevitably promotes the coverage of music as spectacle and the ebb and flow of idolization and dismissal of new acts while the longer monthly Rolling Stone model allows for and rewards deeper review and more careful analysis (which is not to say that Rolling Stone has consistently exercised its benefits in this regard). The British press is notorious for crowning new bands “The Best Band since [insert one of the following: The Beatles, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Clash, The Last Band We Did This To] after they release their first piece of music, be it demo, single, EP, or album. Inevitably, this band will be all over the paper for a couple of weeks. However, by the time that band is able to release a follow-up, even if its just the debut album following that first single, the slightest perceived drop-off in quality gets the group immediately declared has-beens. The problem here is three-fold: 1) most of the music receiving the initial hyperbolic praise don’t deserve the hype, 2) most of the bands receiving this hype aren’t developed enough to capitalize on it, and 3) many of the cursory dismissals cut short promising careers of talented young bands that could be great with some breathing room.

For example, take The Stone Roses. They release a string of amazing singles and an absolutely superb album. They look cool, they act cool, they are good interviews, and they fit in with the constant craving for the new scene. The NME and Melody Maker fall all over themselves to declare them the saviors of music as we know it. As a huge Stone Roses fan, I can say this without any hesitation – The Stone Roses were not going to “save” rock music. Except for a few scattered tracks that had some funk/dance rhythms, their entire initial catalog could have comfortably fit on Nuggets – great, great songs, but not earth-shatteringly different than what had come before. However, all of sudden, this band making great pop music is thrust into a role their music didn’t support, and they spend years and years trying to make a follow-up that lives up to that role (and, truthfully, taking lots of drugs), eventually releasing the crushingly disappointing Second Coming (it’s better than it gets credit for, but it’s pretty bad, and it’s especially hampered by atrocious sequencing). It’s all speculation, but who knows what the second Stone Roses album could have been had it not been for the artificially inflated hype and resultant expectations of the too-eager press?

There is a really odd record store near me that mostly specializes in hip-hop and over-priced used CDs, but has an astonishing cut-out bin where I’ve actually been finding many of the cast-aways from the British press for a quarter. Some of them are amazing – Witness deserved far better, for instance. Many are good-but-not-great (The Enemy, Gay Dad, The Coral). Some are atrocious (Starsailor, Gomez). What they share in common is that they were trotted out as something special and new, when none of them really were able to support that contention. I plan to talk about distinguishing potential from flash-in-the-pans in an imminent post, but I’ll just leave it that all of the aforementioned groups were mostly unrealized potential at best (even where I liked the records). Not every band is going to be The Smiths and spring forth fully formed. Many need time to grow, and an over-hyping music press makes that process difficult.

Perhaps the event that makes me most upset about the British music press, and concerns me most going forward in the new blog-driven media environment, is the forced death of British shoegazer brought about by the NME and its ilk. Has their ever been another genre that was cut down by a backlash not just prematurely, but at the very height of its creative zenith?

The problem wasn’t the music, obviously, the problem was paper sales. The shoegazers were notoriously unexciting as celebrities. The Britpoppers that replaced were the very epitome of “Celebrity” as a concept, even if they were being so ironically (looking at you, Jarvis). If one is in the press, and needs to sell papers, “Liam Gallagher Punches Brother and Spits on Photographer” is a far, far, far sexier front-page than “Kevin Shields Discovers Really Neat Guitar Tone in Studio Last Week.” The shoegazer movement just didn’t fit in with the needs of the U.K. press, and were therefore thrown under the bus to make way for their commercially more appealing but (for the most part) creatively inferior successors. It’s hard not to blame this premature media backlash as the reason that some of the great shoegaze records of that era, Slowdive’s Pygmalion and Swervedriver’s Ejector Seat Reservation chief among them, from getting the type of attention they deserved and allowing them to have a proper U.S. release at the time. It’s one thing to give a band a pre-mature free ride and then throw them under the bus at the first sign of trouble (cough, The Libertines, cough). It’s quite another to dismiss an entire vibrant scene because it doesn’t generate enough scandal.

As I stated before, the U.S. has avoided most of the worst excesses of this behavior, though, as I said before, there are more exceptions than I want to attempt to list. For the most part, however, the U.S. music press has allowed its favorite sons a bit of room to grow and develop, and has just generally been a more welcoming environment for musicians. Say what you want about Rolling Stone or Spin, but fickle is not an especially accurate term for either of them, and if anything, they tend to swing too far the other way, giving too much credit for past successes when an artist’s current output does not live up to those earlier efforts.

Unfortunately, this seems to be shifting as print music magazines fade away with most other forms of print journalism, to be replaced by blogs and on-line news and review sites, there seems to be an adoption of the fickle tendencies of the British model, which concerns me mostly because I do not see a strong counter-balance to this type of rampant hype and discard impetus. The aggregator of this new content is telling by its moniker – The Hype Machine. Even more so than the British weekly press, the need for websites to have constant updates and regular visitors again puts undue emphasis on the new and sensational, leading to an accelerated ebb and flow of interest in artists. Take Tapes n’ Tapes, a band that released one pretty-good album, was hyped to exhaustion, recorded a big-budget follow-up that didn’t quite live up to the first album, and was completely dismissed by all sides. How much interest do you think a third Tapes n’ Tapes record will have if it was announced today? I loved Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah’s first album (what a terrible band name, by the way), which was similarly lauded, was disappointed, like most reviews I read by their Dave Friedman produced follow-up, but I still hold out hope that they will produce worthy music in the future. Are they going to get a fair hearing of their next effort? Their recent disappointing performances on late night talk shows and complete the dismissal by the music press of those performances indicates otherwise. Again, we have to ask the same questions we ask about any of the overhyped British acts of the past – does pre-mature hype stunt the creative growth of bands? For example, while the 2008 debuts by The Vivian Girls and Lykke Li were decent, it indicated to me that they both had the potential to create something much stronger by exploring some of the more atypical elements in their respective sounds. With the amount of attention their debuts received, will they be willing to risk alienating their fans by making such an exploration? If so, will the Hype Machine be willing to go along on the trip with them even if they make some stumbles along the way? Recent history has made me skeptical.

The last thing I want to do is to decry the blog-oriented media, as it does currently represent the best way to find and sample new music. For all the lumps that Pitchfork gets (my personal aggravations mostly center around those people who take it all a little too seriously, not the site itself), it is actually an excellent site that has introduced me to much of the good music I have heard in the last few years, and I thank them for that. Stereogum, Popmatter, Tinymixtapes, and Idolator are other excellent sites well worth exploring.

Instead, the emphasis is going to have to be on finding alternate voices that provide a more reasoned analysis not as contingent on daily page views. Those voices still seem to mostly be in print form, with The Big Takeover, Under the Radar, Magnet and Skyscraper standing out as strong sources (especially the first one). What we really need are voices that laud long-term growth and the development of an actual body of material. Allowing the Hype Machine and its minions to continue to raise up untested new bands to unwarranted heights only to dash them on the rocks below at the first sign of perceived weakness is to do great harm to the artists, the music press, and, ultimately, to listeners wanting to experience great music that can only come from artistic growth and development.