Friday, April 30, 2010

The New Pornographers - Together

The New Pornographers – Together
Matador, 2010

To be honest, my biggest problem with the New Pornographers latest LP is its title, even though I think Together is a pretty perfect distillation of the band in 2010. It's just that I long for the simpler times, the times when albums with snappy titles like Mass Romantic, Electric Version, and Twin Cinema ruled my heart and made me quit doubting my love of pop music and embrace it for all its hooky goodness. Sadly, their last record Challengers, despite being a step forward and a stab at maturity, was a bit of a let down. It had some great songs, but it also had some that felt half-baked and despite really enjoying serious songs like “Unguided” and “Adventures in Solitude,” they made the album a bit uneven and, dare I say, a bit of a downer. Maybe that's why I put off listening to Together. I was nervous and pretty certain that the band's time had passed and while I would enjoy the record, it was still going to be Challengers-esque and...well, I was just so completely fucking wrong. This is an immensely satisfying record that I'm falling more and more in love with every single day.

Again, the title. I can see a few reasons for it, namely AC Newman's recent descent into wedded bliss. There's a new found joy and excitement in his songwriting, something he put on display with his 2009 solo album Get Guilty. I hated that record for a while, for some reason, and wrote a pretty mean review of it for KJHK, and then I got really into it and tracks like “All of My Days and All of My Days Off” and “There May Be Ten or Twelve” illustrated a potential return to form for Newman, who has over the decade become a sort of pop music messiah. I was totally right, too, because Newman is totally on his game, but with one big twist: The New Pornographers no longer seems to be the Carl Newman show, which was one of Challenger's biggest problems. This sounds like the New Pornographers show, and despite four different voices singing lead and harmony at various points and two different songwriters sharing the stage, it sounds like a unified whole for the first time in, well, the New Pornographers career.

Hence, the other possible meaning of the title, which I like, but still wish it had been titled after the album's monster jam “Crash Years.” But it's really not that important. What is important is that they sound like a well-oiled machine that pushes all of my pop buttons in the right way. It's got the bright, major-chord heavy pop jams that made me a fan in the first place, it never gets lost in slow jam territory, and it introduces new elements (a bevy of strings, a few perfectly placed horn parts, etc) all while staying true to the course the New Pornographers set out on with that opening keyboard part on “Mass Romantic.”

Notably, Dan Bejar's songs sound like New Pornographers this time around rather than Destroyer outcasts (or, in the case of “Breakin' the Law,” “Streets of Fire,” and “The Spirit of Giving,” actual Destroyer songs reworked for the band). “Silver Jenny Dollar” is easily the brightest thing Dan Bejar has ever written, and as a Bejar obsessive, I fucking love it. It's a pure pop song, plain and simple, that warrants a knee-jerk back-button mashing upon completion. Some may find it slight, given the grandeur of Bejar's songwriting with Destroyer, but I don't really care. Destroyer aficionados who find that song too upbeat will absolutely have no qualms with “Daughter of Sorrow,” which feels more like vintage Dan Bejar yet, with Neko Case's perfect perfect perfect backing vocals (in addition to the backing vocals of, well, pry everyone else), it's got that New Porny feel all over it! It's gorgeous and despite being a slower, more somber number, in the verses, the choruses just explode with energy.

Then there's Immaculate Machine's (and Carl Newman's niece) Kathryn Calder, who got off to a rocky start as a full-fledged New Pornographer on Challengers. She sang the mid-album dud “Fail-Safe,” and while her vocals on “Adventures in Solitude” were amazing and illustrated all of her potential, that song still feels out of place on that record. But here, shit yes, it's on. She takes lead vocals on “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” and pretty steps out of Neko's shadow to become her equal. It's a beautiful song, full of newfound orchestral shit, chimey keys, and a liltly little verse that breaks into a motherfucking triumphant chorus that sends the track into monster jam territory. Ok, maybe it's not a monster jam, because those are still reserved for Neko Case.

Neko takes on the role of classic diva on this record, and the album's first single, “Crash Years,” is a testament to why we love the New Pornographers, and moreover, why we love Neko Case. I'm sure there's a legion of haters that hate indie-pop's fiery haired chanteuse, and I will never understand how or why because goddamn, there's a pleasure center in my body that just starts going wild when I hear Neko Case singing. Her vocal range is effectively what saves mid-album slow-jam “My Shepherd,” which would pretty much fall apart without her voice to um, guide it (get it, like a shepherd!).

And then there's Carl, who is still the team leader, but has a greater understanding of teamwork. He takes lead vocals on the strings-heavy opener “Moves” and the sweeping, film-score-esque strings-heavy closer “We End Up Together,” effectively book-ending Together with two of the album's best songs. He also takes lead on the late-album pop-jam (a standard for the New Porns) “Up in the Dark” and my favorite track on the album, the uber-sweet “A Bite Out of My Bed,” which is treated with some pretty amazing horn parts that give the song an ebullient bounce perfect for a new love's mix tape when paired with missing-someone-bad lyrics. It feels carefree, which is an excellent thing. It's a ditty! A great ditty! Also, the vocal line on the chorus of Newman and Case's duet “Valkyrie in the Roller Disco” is the stuff of legend. It's a gorgeous piece of work that showcases all the different strains of talent that run through this band.

Actually, I could say that about this whole album. It not only feels like a return to form, but also a step in the right direction. The band is growing up, and rather than coming off as a bunch of overgrown twenty-somethings, they sound like adults without sacrificing their masterful grasp of pop music. It's a windows down spring and summertime album just when I needed one. It's not quite a masterpiece, but it is a faith-restoring album that makes me think that maybe the New Pornographer's best album isn't always going to be Twin Cinema and that they may have another masterpiece up their collective sleeves. Whether the title refers to the band as a unified working unit or Carl Newman's love life (I just realized that "We End Up Together" has, um, the word TOGETHER in it), maybe time will reveal it to be a great album title. Either way, it's a great album!

Enjoy the title track!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gut Feeling: The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever

The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever
Vagrant, 2010

My love for the Hold Steady is pure and unflinching. If you ask me if there was one band, and only one band I could ever listen to every again, they would be in the top three. This is an absolute truth. I am not lying to you. I know people that hate this band and while I never cared much about religion, or hell, even people's political opinions, I will actively tell my friends that they are wrong and have something fucked up in their head if they don't like the Hold Steady. I will simply cease to understand them. I know this isn't right, I shouldn't do this as a rational human being, but I mean, seriously! How can you not love stadium anthems sung by a would-be bar band. And hell, if you can't get past the genre and want to say it's schlocky, how can one deny Craig Finn's unmatchable ability to spin a yarn about the druggy modern age and, occasionally, craft that yarn into a goddamned rock and roll quilt. Ok, that sounds pretty lame, maybe tapestry is a better analogy. The band's preceding four albums feel like acts in a play, each one building on the one that came before it. Separation Sunday is my clear favorite, but mostly because of my love for concept albums, nitrous oxide tank baptisms (I won't lie, I've been trying to get cavities for YEARS to no avail), sweet stuff stuffed into socks, and the Hold Steady at their absolute finest. So, imagine the elation that ran through little Ian's blood when he found out they were bringing back Separation Sunday producer Dean Baltulonis. However, this could not make up for the tragedy that will forever haunt Heaven is Whenever and what ultimately makes it the Hold Steady's least solid record to date: The lack of that goddamned mustacioed Franz Nicolay. It's not just about what he brought to the band not only as keyboardist and back-up vocalist, but what he brought in spirit, and I'm having a really hard time adapting to the new Hold Steady.

Now, you probably noticed that I avoided calling this a bad album. I did this because it's not a bad album. You know that I'm a Hold Steady obsessive, and that is probably making you think that my opinion is skewed in their favor, but honestly, I'm approaching this thing as objectively as possible. Ok, well, as objectively as I can when I'm talking about one of my favorite bands. One of those bands that has saved my life on more than one occasion. I'll preface the meat of this review by saying that in my list of the top 3 best shows I've ever attended, the Hold Steady takes up the number 1 and 2 slots. Once in December of 2006 at the Bottleneck, which was the most satisfying, unifying thing I've ever been a part of and the other in Austin in 2008 at the Mohawk (at :55 in that video, I am right behind that speaker and I am three feet in the air and screaming) in which I pushed past all the posers standing with their arms folded to find those 25 or 30 members of the unified scene up front, and while the posers flashed me dirty looks I almost stopped to ask why they weren't losing their shit like I was but I realized I couldn't, because goddamnit, I had to get right up in front of the ever dapper Franz, who was swilling a bottle of cheap red wine that night. Explaining my love for the Hold Steady is a hard thing to do. It's just something that's there, and it's something I'm evangelical about. Jenny converted when we started dating, and is now a true believer. When I watch the Hold Steady, it's like watching a sermon. When I listen to the Hold Steady, it's like listening to a sermon on tape.

Ok, now that that's out of the way, Heaven is Whenever isn't as good as I hoped it would be, but it's missing exactly what I expected it to be missing. The thing is, I can't fault Franz for leaving. He cited the band's dynamic never changing too much as a factor, and that's respectable, but please, Franz, if you ever stumble upon this on the internet, please know that I'm hoping for a tearful reunion and a comeback album. I miss your back-up vocals, I miss your swirling keyboard lines, and I miss the sense of unbridled joy that is absent from this album. Yet despite not being as satisfying as any of the Hold Steady's prior releases, it's one that still manages to hit me in the guts, albeit in a different way.

7/10 songs on this record are great. Out of those, maybe 4/10 are absolutely outstanding and the remaining 3 are awesome. I will now song-by-song this thing:

1.) “The Sweet Part of the City” - Anchored by a twangy little acoustic guitar line, not necessarily the kind of righteous jam I was expecting from the Hold Steady, but this establishes the record as something that takes my expectations and puts them outside. It closes with the line “We were bored so we started a band/We like to play for you,” which officially makes this the Hold Steady's equivalent to GBV's “A Salty Salute.”

2.) “Soft in the Center” - This one has a bit of an identity crisis. It flips between upbeat power chords that sound EXACTLY like some other Hold Steady song (I think it's “Chip's Ahoy”), and since that chord riff starts the song off, I'm predisposed to think it's a bit of a toss off. And it kind of is. I like a lot of Finn's lines in this song, but they just don't feel too natural. It sounds like he's writing for an arena full of thousands of people rather than the kids huddled around the stereo in their living room (see: “We Can Get Together,” which is the perfect song for kids sitting around stereos) or the barflies. The guitar solo is massive, but it just feels like Tad Kubler is compensating for the lack of the Franz, and that's not a bad thing. He tries REALLY hard to compensate, and he's an excellent guitarist but goddamnit, you just can't replace the stache! I do love the sentiment of the girls you get being the “ones you love the best,” though. But that's because I'm sap.

3.) “The Weekenders” - The most righteous jam on this album, and one that's going to end up on a Hold Steady Best Of someday. It's probably the best song on the record, the one that lives up to the quality we've come to expect from Finn and the boys, and it also pushes the sound forward by combining the down-tempo sad loser vibe they've been perfecting on the slower songs for the last three albums and hitting with a fucking gut-punch of a chorus that sends everything into extra innings. And though the line“the theme of this party's the industrial age/ You came in dressed like a trainwreck” feels like it might have been a bit too constructed to be a great line, it's a fucking great line. Thematically, this one might be the best song about having someone you occasionally hook up with and the complications that ensue. “It's not gonna be like a romantic comedy/ In the end I bet no one learns a lesson,” sings Finn. He's right about that one. I also read that this is a sequel to “Chips Ahoy!”, which is awesome.

4.) “The Smidge” - Well, there goes the high and sense of restored faith I got from “The Weekenders,” because this is maybe the weakest song the Hold Steady have ever committed to tape. It sounds like a half-assed pastiche of recorded by a Hold Steady tribute band that decided to record an original song and only used that “classic-rock” tag that shows up in most reviews as a reference point. It sounds like a b-side, one you listen to and you're like “This is OK, but I'm glad as hell it's not on the record.” The end of the chorus sounds like a cheesy song from the 90s, but I can't remember the band's name. I think the song was in Dumb and Dumber, though, so you know where I'm coming from. The song feels half-formed, half-assed (did I say that already?), and like a demo for a song that might have been decent if it had more time to develop. Or maybe not.

5.) “Rock Problems” - When this track leaked, I didn't like it too much and I got worried about the forthcoming album. Now, I'm OK with it. But then again, after “The Smidge,” anything sounds great. Kubler tries his and at the piano and organ, and it just makes me miss the Franz. The riff on this one is a little flimsy and over simplified to the point of sounding a bit boring, but it's catchy enough. But man, were there always this many guitar solos on Hold Steady records? The one here sounds like Thin Lizzy, which is fine and all, but it's just kind of...there.

6.) “We Can Get Together” - This is the big moment of redemption. Halfway through this record, my feelings were mixed and this is the one that makes me love it a little. There's a perfect sweetness here, delivered with so much heart, unlike a few of the earlier tracks. This feels like true direction. Granted, I am a sucker for music references, especially nods to bands I'm currently obsessed with or was at one time. The nods to Husker Du kill me, and I find the line “Do you remember 'Makes No Sense at All'” to be incredibly clever due to a.) My love of that song and b.) the play on the translation of the aforementioned band's name blah blah. And I swear, “Heaven is whenever/ We can get together/ Lock your bedroom door/ And listen to your records” is the most perfect description of Heaven I've ever heard. It sounds perfect, and it's hitting my heart strings because my courtship with Jenny involved a lot of lying around my room listening to Neutral Milk Hotel and, natch, the Hold Steady. So there you go. On top of that, they mention my favorite twee-pop band, Heavenly, with biographical detail, and really, this feels personally tailored so I can overlooked the schmaltzyness of the “let it shine down on us all” part and just love the hell out of it.

7.) “Hurricane J” - OH SHIT! Things are really heating up now, especially after the fucking sweet transition between “We Can Get Together” and “Hurricane J” is like the aforementioned hurricane slamming into the harbor mentioned at the end of the song. This plays second fiddle only to “The Weekenders” in the race for “best fist pumping classic Hold Steady jam” on this album. It's more in line with previous tunes than “The Weekenders,” and it's the only one I've been singing along to in the car. At top volume. In the middle of traffic, fuck it, this one is pretty great and it's one of the few times Franz's absence is forgotten and the Hold Steady's makeshift new line-up really, really works. It's just a fucking blast. It's not as masterfully penned as most of Finn's best tunes, well, the first few verses. Once we get to the bridge, he lays it down hard. That “She says if heaven's hypothetical” line kills me. I'm a little lamb, looking up. And then that outro, goddamnit. It's a great fucking pop-rock song. And what's with all the references to heaven on this album? I mean, ok ok I KNOW the fucker's called Heaven is Whenever but it's like, at least 6 songs have a heaven reference, interesting.

8.) “Barely Breathing” - A wonderful little critique and analysis of the late 80s hardcore scene. It's an upbeat little beer-swilling barroom backroom jaunt with a simple message: “The Kids are all distracted” and “No one wins at violent shows.” It's slight, but still a fun track and a pretty damn good one.

9.) “Our Whole Lives” - Another song that finds the Hold Steady trying to be the old Hold Steady with a Springsteeny fist-pumper. And it works, pretty damn well. Not as memorable as any of the songs it reminds me of, but I can imagine seeing this one in a live setting, and in my imagination I'm getting really excited and yelling “OH FUCK YES!” when they lay into this one. I used to feel the same way about “You Can Make Him Like You” until I heard it live and now it's a hardcore favorite. I also can't tell if there's an actual saxophone on this album or if they're just really good at mimicking a sax on the guitar. I'm starting to wonder if I'm just pissed that the Hold Steady aren't coming to Lawrence OR Kansas City on their upcoming tour. I mean, SERIOUSLY GUYS don't you remember how fun that Bottleneck show was? YOU GOT CUPCAKES! WE BROUGHT CONFETTI AND THREW IT IN THE AIR AT THE PEAK OF “FIRST NIGHT”! Come onnnnnn! I know like, three or four people in this town that will show up and make it one to remember! Play Liberty Hall, it's the perfect venue for you! It's big but it's intimate. I'll admit, the last time you were here at the Granada almost killed me, but that's just because the sound is the worst ever there and that place is just generally horrible. And my girlfriend is trying very, very hard to convince me to drive to Omaha to see you and I'm sticking by my principles...for now, I will probably break down but still! I am saddened by this. But yeah, I wanna see this song live...and every song live.

10.) “A Slight Discomfort” - Easily the most different thing on the album. A spacious, echoy slow-burn jam that fucking slays. It sounds like the Hold Steady doing the closing credits track to a western or something. It's not like, westerny or anything like that, it's just got this totally engaging, epic feel that sprawls out, pushes you away and pulls you in and then halfway through the martial drums kick in, the track switches up and I'm bought and sold. Though this song is about New York City (or feels like New York City), this feels strategically placed since the rest of the album seems to have its heart and mind in Minneapolis. “And you say you're a princess/ But I remain unconvinced/ I've seen the guys that you've been with/ They don't seem much like princes,” Finn sings, his voice getting wrapped in reverb leading up to the triumphant ending, which comes as close to controlled chaos as the Hold Steady get.

I was hoping for a monster jam to close the album, given that every Hold Steady album follows the same pattern, and while this is no “Slapped Actress,” “Killer Parties,” “How a Resurrection Really Feels,” or “Southtown Girls,” it works, and it feels like the logical end to this album which finds the band, for the first time, in transition. They've fundamentally tweaked their sound, wandered into new territory all while clinging to their safety net with varying results. In the end, I like this album but I just don't think I'll ever be able to love it, and I feel like a lot of diehard fans might have that same problem. There just isn't that immediacy that the other four albums have. That getting sucked in from the first chord or riff and taking a ride with the Hold Steady. It's different, and while it's more detached, tracks like “We Can Get Together,” “The Weekenders,” and “A Slight Discomfort” hit me in places no Hold Steady songs have hit me before. The album's last line pretty much sums up everything I've been trying to convey: This shouldn't hurt, but you might feel a slight discomfort. I've still got my fingers crossed for a teary-eyed Hold Steady/Franz Nicolay reunion, but I'm not holding my breath and I'm ready for whatever. Now I just need to figure out if I'll have enough vacation days to cover a trip to Omaha this Summer.

Sigh. Note 1:32, where a peeved Craig Finn flips off the camera dude. To film the Hold Steady is a bit of a sin, I'd say, but then again, I often find myself watching youtube videos of their live sets.

And the only photo I've ever taken at a Hold Steady show was this one:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

End of LPs!

LPs are done!
A through Z = $2503
Comps = $90
LP Collection = $2593

That is correct! All of the LPs currently in my possession have been reviewed and now it's time to move on to 7"s! I'm excited. It's been a long time since I started this project and since then it's helped me to pare down my collection quite a bit. Ok, not too much. It's still very hard to sell records on a personal level given my attachment to sort-of inanimate objects. It's Record Store Day, which is less of a holiday and more of an excuse to patronize the friendly neighborhood record shoppe you haven't frequented in quite a while. I feel a little guilty since I started putting up the Insound links, but I rationalize this because the reason I started putting them up in the first place was to help those who don't have the best record store in the country in their hometown. I'm fortunate to have Love Garden for all most of my impulse buying needs, but for those who don't, follow the little links because Insound is the first really good alternative I've seen for getting new records online. But yeah, support your local record store...unless you local record store is lame, then you know, do whatever.

I only spent $23 today, and I was ready to spend a good $50 had that new Hold Steady vinyl bene there. It would have been bad and as I previously mentioned in the last post, I was very relieved when I found out they didn't have any because it got delayed or whatever. This is probably the biggest Record Store Day I've been to, and it's weird how it's starting to spread. Sadly, selectionwise it seemed a bit like a bust. I mean, reissues of Deerhoof albums are OK I guess but it mostly seemed like a lot of pre-packaged singles of songs you already have but with a Record Store Day sticker on the front. Basically, it was like promotional materials available for the general public and a slew of reissues. I remember a couple years ago when you could just get a bunch of free shit, and they seemed to cut that out completely this year. And for some reason there's like, a 7" for Neil Young's "Heart of Gold." What's that all about? Eh, if it keeps the local record store in business then it's nothing but a good thing I guess! Mostly, though, I get the vibe that a lot of people are just scooping up the rare/exclusive stuff to turn a profit on which in the long run seems to be be antithetical to the Why are There So Many Records in My Life Project. I mean, yeah, you see some rareass shit at Goodwill or the first Bright Eyes record on vinyl at the Antique Mall, you pick that shit up! But buying new records you're not even gonna listen to when there are people out there who will love and cherish that exclusive shit just bugs me. But that's the way it is! And this Pavement best-of is pretty rad. Listening to it a second time around as I type! So if you haven't hit up your local record store, go now and pick over the remnants of what's left! Surely there will be some copies of the Let's Wrestle/Love Language split, which I can vouch for!

I've recently taken up employment at Half Price Books, which I plan on using to acquire more LPs and to fill in the gaps since they mostly dabble in older stuff. The employee perks make it impossible for me not to hound the buy counter whenever someone brings in a stack of vinyl. It's re-invigorating my inner record is getting paid a decent wage, but as I witnessed to day, I've gained a little self-control in the interim. Well, that and the mountain of student loans I'm in the process of paying back, that helps me not blow wads of cash too.

Anyway, the 7" section is going to be a lot of fun given that instead of slogging through albums (this is in reference to the stinkers I encountered along the way) it's just handfuls of songs. A lot of them are really great, but there are a bunch in there I haven't listened to so I'm hoping to come across some little gems I had all along. I'm also gonna start writing up more new stuff because 2010 is turning into the new 2007.

Thanks for reading! Comments, recommendations, differences of opinion and questions, yr bands MP3s or whatever, all that stuff is always appreciated!

And just cuz:

Pavement - Quarantine the Past: The Best of Pavement (Record Store Day edition)

Pavement – Quarantine the Past: The Best of Pavement (Record Store Day edition)
Matador, 2010
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2010
Price: $16

How coincidental! I'm wrapping up the LPs section of this blog on Record Store Day! I woke up bright and early today (9:30! WOW!) and walked down to Love Garden in hopes of snatching up one of the hyper-limited copies of the new Hold Steady record. In all honestly, I was hoping they hadn't come in and all of my stress would be relieved because the joy of getting a copy wasn't going to be as good as the pain of watching someone else get probably the only copy the store got and promptly selling it on ebay. Oh, would you look at that! It's already up! $100! Yeah. Anyway, it was a lot of stress walking down there because goddamnit, that's just what happens. Naturally, there were a ton of people there and fortunately, being at the end of the line didn't make much of a difference in the bum-rush to the back where all the “exclusives” were. Hearing that they didn't get any copies of Heaven is Whenever was like sweet, sweet music and also fortunately, most of the stuff didn't look that exclusive and it was all stuff I could live without.

It was weird being around record nerds again. Since I quit buying vinyl months and months ago, I've distanced myself from my old obsessions and now only buy the essentials, or at least stuff I'll listen to frequently rather than stuff I'd let languish on my shelves for a good long while. My eye was caught by this new Pavement best-of, which is an alternate version of the one that was officially released last month. It's got a different tracklist, the “most imaginative” fan submitted tracklist as chosen by the band. I was initially bothered by the absence of super-jams like “Frontwards,” “Gold Soundz,” “Range Life,” and “Summer Babe,” but seeing that it had “Shoot the Singer,” which wasn't on the regular release, it had to be scooped up. That and I missed the thrill of buying goddamned records. The cover art on this thing is beautiful, and there are a handful of awesome tracks I never really listened to because I never really got into Pavemenet like a normal person.

“Shoot the Singer (1 Sick Verse)” is a song I'd never heard til Danny started playing it during band practice once last summer and I was all “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THAT'S A GREAT SONG!” Though I picked up this record for that song, the rest of it is pretty fucking great and worth the $16, easy. Good to have on hand, and I can finally feel OK about getting rid of my copy of Wowee Zowee now that there's a second Pavement album in thee collection. Anyway, that's it! This is a great collection of songs which is already pretty obvious because despite the spottiness-issues I have with Pavement's LPs (I'm sure people feel the same way about Guided by Voices records, so I'm not hating! Hell, even I think there's spottiness on almost all GBV records), that's just a matter of personal opinion and Stephen Malkmus' strength was always having at least 6 or 7 of the best songs ever written on almost all of the albums. And though this isn't that, i.e., this isn't the proper version of this greatest hits collection, all the songs are good, and this is going into the stack of records that pile up on the right speaker i.e. the stack for when I'm too lazy to flip through and just want to listen to something good. However, I am pretty pissed that they didn't put "Gold Soundz" on this because, I mean, COME ON! It's got the titular line!

Why? - Eskimo Snow

Why? - Eskimo Snow
Anticon, 2009
Acquired: Christmas Gift, New, 2009
Price: $0

Buy it at Insound!
While this isn't a particularly strong record, the third act of the trilogy of Yoni Wolf's broken heart is a great record. Honestly, though, it's pretty hard to match the pain captured on Elephant Eyelash and the sad brutality of Alopecia. If the former is about going through a break-up (well, that's what I always thought it was about) and the latter is about the aftermath (which was perfect for when I first listened to it in 2008), then Eskimo Snow was all about making peace and moving on. Naturally, that kind of subject matter isn't as compelling and for someone like Yoni Wolf who's raw honesty to the point of discomfort is one of Why?'s strongest attributes. But in a year that I marked for moving on, this couldn't have come at a better time. I got to see him play a few tunes from this solo at SXSW in 09, and it was a pretty shitty set. He only played for 20 minutes and with his back to the audience. Ok, actually the set was pretty rad, and I only say “shitty” because I'd been standing for like 45 minutes waiting for him to go on. Otherwise, it was great, and the way these songs stand up on solo-piano is a testament to just how fucking good they are.

It's not as cohesive at the other two, but I don't really mind too much. Wolf cites it as “the least hip-hop thing [they've] ever done” and my favorite songs are the slow, piano-y ones. Like the title track, which Luke directed me to a live performance of before this album was even announced. It's gorgeous, sad as fuck, and right up my alley. A perfect platform for Yoni Wolf to establish himself as a top 10 songwriter of right now. If you avoided this album due to the middling reviews, bad on you! It's some shit I would do though, so I can't really point fingers. But yeah, this is a good'un, and one that I've been putting on a lot lately whenever I need something to go on the turntable.

Here's that video I was telling you about.

Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer

Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer
Jagjaguar, 2009
Acquired: Christmas Gift, New, 2009
Price: $0

Buy it at Insound!

Sunset Rubdown's Random Spirit Lover was a pretty big deal for me. I obsessed over that album during the summer of its release (or pre-release, surely I had a leak) and it ended up becoming my favorite record of 2007, which in recent times has come to be known as my favorite year in music of the last decade. While I loved the theatrical quality of Random Spirit Lover, I think the warmth exuding from Dragonslayer is an improvement and I think I might like this one more than that one. Well, maybe. Let's just say I see them as equals. I love the overdubbed guitar riffs and the business of Random Spirit Lover, which feels like a vaudeville revue stuffed to the gills. I also love the warmth of the live-recording of Dragonslayer, and the immediacy that comes with that. The band feels like a band rather than a series of elements perfectly placed to form a whole. There's cohesion here, and the best moments on Dragonslayer are just as good as those on Random Spirit Lover.

Let's talk about those moments, shall we. Just look at the opening piano line on “Silver Moons,” the album's lead-off track. There's something incredibly gripping about that that pulls you right in and while the rest of the album is often more complex and much weirder than the fairly straightforward epic pop-jam that “Silver Moons” is another feather in Spencer Krug's cap. Maybe it's just his voice that makes everything come out of his mouth sound like the end of the world. But I'm just an obsessive and will gladly worship at the altar of Spencer Krug until the world falls apart. While Wolf Parade is often held up as an example of how indie-rock got into the hands of junior high school kids, fuck that shit. It's a great record, it's catchy and the songwriting is great and you saw pretty clearly that Krug, Boeckner and the boys had no intention of playing to anyone's expectations with At Mount Zoomer. And here we have Sunset Rubdown, which I think has artistically overshadowed Wolf Parade. Out of the realm of side projects and into the realm of this is a band I'm going to be listening to in my thirties as I recall with fondness “the old days.” The old days where I listened to this all winter on my commutes to and from work in Olathe, through snow storms and rain and frigid nights.
Basically, Sunset Rubdown have found a way to be absolutely grandiose without seeming silly. Just listen to the pseudo title track, “Dragon's Lair,” which I am currently blasting from the stereo and singing along. It's sprawling, packed full of mythologies, beautiful turns of phrase, and loaded with lessons learned from Krug's Swan Lake compatriots Dan Bejar and Carey Mercer. It hammers the point home for this record full of longing, or chasing after some dream that's long gone. “Dragon's Lair” is like an elegy for a conquering hero, in my head. The hero returns to praise and parades after returning form years of destruction. I don't know, Sunset Rubdown always cause me to conjure up images. If I ever had a hundred grand to blow, I'd use it on making the video for “The Mending of the Gown” that's stuck in my head. Fortunately, someone already made a pretty epic video for “Dragon's Lair,” which is eerily similar to the version I had in my head, only with a little girl, which somehow makes it way more awesome. Anyway, listen to this record if you haven't. For some reason, it's a 2xLP vinyl which I hate, but you know, I'll live.

Now, behold the video for "Dragon's Lair" in all its glory!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cass mcCombs - Catacombs

Cass McCombs – Catacombs
Domino, 2009
Acquired: Christmas Gift, New, 2009
Price: $0

Buy it at Insound!
I never went ga-ga over this record like everyone else last year, but I really, REALLY wanted to. So I asked for this for Christmas and I figure, if I listen to this once a day for a week and keep a copy in my car, I can be loving it within a week. All the elements are there: This is music that I like. Deftly crafted, singer-songwriter indie-folk-whatever, it appeals to me on multiple levels. When Jenny and I first started dating, I put “Dreams-Come-True Girl” and “You Saved My Life” on a mix for her and a year later, I would still put those songs on a mix for her and they would mean the same thing. It's the timelessness that does it, really. “You're not my dream girl/ You're not my reality girl/ You my dreams-come-true girl.” It takes the piss out of cliched sentiments and portrays them as something real and just plain honest. I wanted to own this record, and I'm glad I own this record, because this is one I'm going to be able to put on fifteen or twenty years from now and it's going to sound like lisetning to Harvest or After the Goldrush now. It's going to sound really, really good. Little pieces of this album kill me, and they sneak up on me. There's something about the vinyl that makes this hit in a way the mp3s didn't. Later album tracks that I never paid too much attention to like “Lionkiller Got Married” and “Eavesdropping on the Competition” are hitting me right in the guts this morning. Maybe I just needed to listen to this one before noon, it's perfectly suited for my coffee-and-sitting-on-the-couch-and-chilling-with-the-dog time I usually have when I don't work in the morning and Jenny's at work. There's a little Leonard Cohen at work here, a little Elliott Smith (see “Jonesy Boy”) and as well as the aforementioned Neil Young (a lot of it in the guitars, see, again, “Jonesy Boy”). It's a pretty fantastic record that I need ot spend more time with, but it's pretty clear that this is a great one.

The Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic

The Exploding Hearts – Guitar Romantic
Kill Shaman/Dirtnap, 2003
Acquired: Christmas Gift, New, 2009
Price: $0

Everyone knows the story of the Exploding Hearts, easily one of the worst tragedies of the 00s. Basically, they put out their debut and everyone loved it because it's just a fucking amazing punk/power-pop record full of swagger and pure bliss. Then all but one of the members were killed when their van flipped on the highway. Every song on this record sounds like a single, and people just don't make records like that, ever. This is special and unique despite being firmly in the pocket of stuff people have done before, notably the Undertones, etc. I don't know what it is, but whenever I hear “Rumours in Town” it sounds like the best song I've ever heard. Honestly, I don't even want to write any more about this because you have A.) Probably already heard it and agree with me in thinking that it's a small, unfuckwithable masterpiece or B.) You haven't heard it, for whatever reason. If you are a member of the latter, I don't care what your taste is, run out and get this right now. Have a friend burn you a copy, whatever, because I think it's hard not to appreciate the raw enthusiasm and sheer love of music that these guys had and spilled all over this record.

For me, "Rumours in Town" is precisely where it's at. It was the MP3 I downloaded years and years ago when this record came out that convinced me to pick it up. Hopefully it does the same for you (again, assuming you haven't heard this little gem)! Lissen!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

And You on Summer Buzz and Summer Heat

I will continue to blare this out my car window in an effort to egg on the springtime. This is from Dusk at Cubist Castle, which I stupidly sold to CD Tradepost when I was trying to get enough money to buy my PS3 and I'm seriously consider buying it back tomorrow, my last day. I still haven't warmed up to the noise interludes but everything that resembles a song on this record is just completely fucking sublime. If anyone has this on vinyl and wants me to take it off their hands for a reasonable price please please please let me know!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Dead Girls - Out of Earshot

The Dead Girls – Out of Earshot
Rocket Heart, 2010
Acquired: Cameron Left it On My Doorstep, New, 2010
Price: $0

The perks of being a rock chump is that your friends will leave records on your porch. And Dead Girls front man Cameron Hawk was generous enough to give me one of the limited edition copies on the orange vinyl! It's a gorgeous package, and as a fellow record geek and obsessive, I'm sure this is almost as exciting as opening for Kiss a few months back. Sonically, the Dead Girls sound like an amalgam of all the bands they cover. I've seen them do Thin Lizzy, which comes out on the sick guitar riffage in “Te Quiero,” and I've heard them do the Replacements, and here and there they sound like all over the place here and there. And then there's the Adventureband thing, where the guys covered all the songs from the Adventureland soundtrack that I sadly, sadly missed. I don't know if they played Big Star's “I'm in Love With a Girl,” but opener “Later” and “She Can Turn it On” are reminiscent of the late great Alex Chilton. There's a little Teenage Fanclub and Husker Du thrown in for good measure, and then there's of course the Ultimate Fakebook connection, which I don't really see other than A.) It's wicked good power pop and B.) It's music I loved/would have loved in high school. And no, that's not to belittle the Dead Girls debut LP, because that's the shit I still love today. Honestly, I'll take wicked good power pop any day over whatever hip indie-rock experimental electro dance music is hip. It's like teaching an old dog new um, can't do it.

One of my favorite things about this record is that it sounds like the band made exactly the record they wanted to make. The production is crisp and clean, in stark defiance of the neo-lo-fi revolution sweeping the underground and, notably, the local music scene. And I won't lie, I prefer my jams with a little distorted with plenty of fuzz, but shit, most bands just do that because they can't afford to go into the studio. And this is a good start! My only quibble is that it sounds like they've been spending too much time playing as tribute bands and not enough time working on their own sound. But they're all incredibly capable musicians, so I'm sure coming out of the cocoon of influence won't be too hard. And it doesn't matter too much, because this is a pretty damn enjoyable pop record.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Destroyer - City of Daughters/ Thief

Destroyer – City of Daughters/Thief
Nominal Records, 2009 (Re-issue)
Acquired: Christmas Gift, New, 2009
Price: $0

Buy it at Insound!
If Dan Bejar writes a song in the woods, is there a rabid fanboy there to hear him sing it? I'd like to think that rabid fanboy is me, someone who fawns over Dan Bejar the way some people do the Beatles, or what have you. For everyone who says that there's no good new music, you no longer need to desperately cling to the past. City of Daughters is Bejar's first proper LP, following a couple of really muddy cassette releases (which awesomely feature early versions of “Breakin' the Law” and “Streets of Fire,” which later went on to be recorded with much success by Bejar's other band, the New Pornographers). Lots of acoustic guitars like the tapes, but it sounds like it was recorded in an actual studio which lets Bejar's amazing voice out of its cage and into the hearts of people whose thing is nasally rage. Daughters is uneven, but there are a handful of monster jams on it that always cause me to overlook that. “No Cease Fires!” and “The Space Race” serve as a precursor to the full band stuff Bejar would work on with Thief and motherfucking perfect with Streethawk: A Seduction, which ended up pretty high on my best of the decade list.

Thief was another highly positive step for Bejar. The songs are hookier, tighter, and he's whipping his band into perfect form. Granted, they're not as tight as the band Bejar has been working with since This Night, but you know, whatever, this is ALMOST Streethawk. I read somewhere that this is an attack on the music industry, which makes loads of sense and it's pry as close as Bejar gets to a concept album despite how cohesive his records tend to be. That, and the words falling out of his mouth are better suited for books of free verse. Anyway, you can see it pretty clearly in tunes like “Destroyer's the Temple” and “Canadian Lover/Falcon's Escape.” It's a fantastic record and the last Destroyer record I got around to, which made me feel stupid once I finally did. I mean, it's worth it just for that bit at the end of the title track where the distortion kicks in and the album burns to a chaotic finish. Two classic LPs in one sweet little package hell yes!