Monday, December 30, 2013

Lavender Diamond/The Queens of Sheeba - Split 7"

Lavender Diamond/The Queens of Sheeba – Split 7”
Cold Sweat, 2005
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2010
Price: $1

Christmas songs! HOW CONVENIENT! Considering that it is the Xmas season, I decided to go ahead and not refile this under Q since the Devandra Banhart led group claim the A side on this one. The Devandra-y ness of this 7” is a nice surprise, since I bought this for Lavender Diamond, who are one of those bands that inspires supreme delight. The Queens of Sheeba song is so pleasant! A laid back, pop-folk romp that just basically just repeats the same thing over and over for three minutes, or until holiday cheer is achieved. The Lavender Diamond track is about as pretty as you’d expect. Becky Stark’s lovely vocals skip over subdued instrumentation that sounds like it’s coming from the distant past. It doesn’t tie to the Christmas theme of the A-side, but it would obviously win the day if these two gorgeous folksy tunes entered the octagon.

Naturally, neither of these songs have a web presence and I for some reason don't have a USB turntable, so here is Lavender Diamond's latest single, "I Don't Recall."

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Favorite Albums of 2013

About ten years ago, Richard Buckner was my gateway drug to the wild, wonderful world of alt-country and Americana. Today, Americana makes up a fair sized chunk of what I like to listen to when just want to put something on to do the dishes or whatever. Richard Buckner’s latest is quiet and lovely, as you’d expect, but producer Tucker Martine brings a bagful of elements to the table that make this Buckner’s most intriguing record since Dents and Shells. It should go without saying that the songwriting is magnificent.

24. Volcano Choir – Repave
Though this is a collaboration between Bon Iver and fellow Eau Clare-ians Collections of Colonies of Bees, Volcano Choir has launched itself into full-fledged band mode on its second LP, and with Bon Iver apparently kaput (from the lips of Justin Vernon himself), Repave is absolutely laced with the emotional heft and sonic ingenuity of a band desperate to establish itself as a solitary entity that is much more than the sum of its separate parts.

Arctic Monkeys fifth album is an after midnight affair. It slinks, stalks, and has a dusting of sleaze. I spent years detesting Arctic Monkeys without ever listening to them and here I am in 2013, drooling over Alex Turner’s clever wordplay and crooning and marveling at that tiny part of the Venn diagram where the popular music is actually very, very good.

It’s impossible to talk about TWIABPAIANLAFTD without mentioning how bad their band name is. It’s equally impossible to talk about TWIABPAIANLAFTD without mentioning how this young New England band plays some pretty great, deeply felt Emo with a healthy dose of theatrical post-rock to make these songs sound positively end-of-the-world.

From out of nowhere (read: Canada) Basia Bulat has crafted an absolutely towering neo-folk record that is, quite simply, the loveliest record I heard all year.

20. Yo La Tengo – Fade
I feel like at some point in the mid-00s when I fell in love with Yo La Tengo I made a pact that their albums would always have a home on my year-end lists. It’s just impossible to ignore the fact that this ancient band has never stopped making amazing music. Fade should be like mama’s home cookin’ for indie rock nerds everywhere.

I hastily called Kurt Vile’s latest long-player “overblown” upon first listen. The title track is almost ten goddamn minutes long! But after listening to it every day on my commute to work for a solid three weeks, it’s safe to say I came to my senses. I was a HUGE fan (and still am) of Vile’s breakout LP Childish Prodigy, and where I felt Smoke Ring for my Halo was a bit of a let down, Wakin on a Pretty Daze, in all of its indulgent glory, highlights all of the weird things Kurt Vile does so incredibly well and is his first full-blown masterpiece.

Will Sheff is easily one of rock music’s best storytellers, so getting to hear him spin yarns about his childhood on The Silver Gymnasium is a real treat. Sure, the songs are cloaked in mystery and he has clearly made himself a quasi-fictional character but it still feels like the most personal collection of songs Sheff has offered up to date. To paint a portrait of the 80s in which these songs are set, the band adopts a slew of shimmery synthesizers to give their hearty indie folk-rock toward the nostalgia in which these songs swim.

The title of Jim Guthrie’s third album couldn’t be more accurate. Coming exactly ten years after the release of his jawdroppingly great 2003 album Now, More Than Ever, Guthrie has returned with an album that is…kind of weird. Guthrie has spent the last few years scoring video games, and that influence has very clearly worked its way into his off kilter pop songs. As it should! It took a little time to warm up to Takes Time, but the end result is an artist’s statement untouched by trends or genre constructions. It’s odd and pure and wonderful in the way Jim Guthrie’s songs often are.

I feel like Frightened Rabbit is like one of those dogs that looks like its owner, which is to say if I could show you what my soul looked like it would look like Scott Hutchinson’s songs. Pedestrian Verse isn’t my favorite FR album, but it is bigger and more ambitious than anything they’ve done to date and my admiration of their scope is enough to overshadow a couple of saggy tracks in the middle (which I’m OK with, since most of the album is comprised of some of the best songs FR have written). I’ve always loved Hutchinson’s gift of being able to wallow in heartbreak with traditional Scottish glumness while still painting the edges with a glimmer of hope.

Even though David Wingo makes his money scoring films for such fantastic indie filmmakers as David Gordon Green and Jeff Nichols, the Austinite has put together an absolutely rock solid collection of dreamy, country-folk tinged indie rock songs for his third album. The songs are unassuming, and caught me totally off guard. One of those albums I caught myself listening to by default. There’s an atmospheric quality here no doubt gleaned from Wingo’s work with fellow Texans Explosions in the Sky on the soundtrack to David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche, and those subtle post-rock elements make this the perfect album for driving down lonely roads in the middle of the night.

Cerulean Salt is a collection of simple (but not simplistic), charming, and gut-wrenching songs from my favorite new breed of singer-songwriter: the ex-pop punk rocker.

On The Kenny Dennis LP, Serengeti mashes up the lovably hilarious joke persona of Kenny Dennis with the emotional core and heartbreakingly detailed non-KDz work to paint a surprisingly touching, often hilarious portrait of a working class Chicago man with a love of brats, supreme devotion to his wife, and a heart of gold.

The pride and joy of Lawrence, Kansas. While some critics may feel obligated to include local music on their best of lists, the best praise I can give Hospital Ships is that I don’t give a shit if they’re from my adopted home town, I would love this album if they were from Brooklyn (and I HATE that every goddamn band on earth has to be from Brooklyn if they’re gonna be the next big thing). OK, they would never be from Brooklyn. Their music is too embroiled in down-to-earth midwesternness.

I still feel like I’m making up for lost time with Superchunk. I missed the boat. I should have been jamming out the Chunk in high school and didn’t really start listening to them until I’d been out of college for a year. AND I WORKED AT A FUCKING COLLEGE RADIO STATION FOR FOUR YEARS. Fucking inexcusable. I should have been barred from the temple. Alas, better late then never. Majesty Shredding ruled my world in 2010 and I gotta say, at first I Hate Music left me a bit cold. But naturally, because I’m a good boy and know what side my bread is buttered on when it comes to indie rock, I came the fuck around. And it’s so comforting to know that grown ups can rock out with more ferocity and honesty than bands half their age.

My love of Spencer Krug knows no limits, and while the dissolution of Sunset Rubdown still upsets me, watching Krug display his wild and unhindered motivations on progressive Moonface records has been a marvelous revelation. There’s nothing but piano and voice on this one, and when you’re as talented a songwriter as Spencer Krug, that’s honestly all you need.

Stereogum noted that it was impossible to talk about this album without talking about its controversy in the metal community. It mostly bugged me because of the impossible. It was totally possible to talk about Sunbather as a gorgeous, sprawling blend of black metal, shoegaze and post rock without mentioning that some black-clothed metal nerds were up in arms about Deafheaven not being metal because WHO THE FUCK CARES WHAT A BUNCH OF METAL NERDS ON THE INTERNET WERE SAYING ABOUT DEAFHEAVEN. I can only chalk up the constant chatter about Deafheaven’s metal-ness to the fact that the album was just so flawless that people had to find something to complain about (this is the modern world after all where, even if by some miracle we achieved peace on earth people would still take to the Internet to complain about all of the insufferable peace and goodwill). 

Oh, Neko Case made another great record that may or may not be her finest achievement to date? I’d be hard pressed to find an album as restless as Case, who has never allowed herself to become content and, album after album, finds new ways to break your heart in the best way.

Nothing is more satisfying than going into an album expecting to turn up your nose only to find yourself lost in its majesty. I enjoyed Vampire Weekend, loathed Contra, and am ready to call Modern Vampires of the City a towering masterpiece brimming with playfulness and the most supremely lovely harpsichords I’ve ever heard.

Mark Mulcahy for two things: Singing the theme song to The Adventures of Pete and Pete and having a bunch of great artists put together a tribute album in his honor after his wife's sudden death. When the tribute album, Ciao My Shining Star, was released a couple years ago, I don't think I was the only one who said "Who the hell is Mark Mulcahy?" I listened to that album though, and I had one of those rare and wonderful experiences where you discover a goldmine that has been under the ground you've been standing on all these years. In this metaphor, the ground is 1990s alternative and indie rock and the gold is Miracle Legion, the band in which Mulcahy spent his glory days. Mark Mulcahy's latest solo album is a spectacular affair. It's equal parts playful and emotional gut-punch and an absolute treat. 

And here I thought pop punk was dead. Killed by the Fall Out Boys and their like who rushed in post-Blink 182 and salted the earth. But nope! These wonderful, wonderful folks in Ohio are making the sort of music speaks to me in power chords and earnest declarations of existential crisis and wonderfully observed notes on the human condition. As I get older, I find myself retreating to the music I loved when I was 16. Mostly because I never stopped loving this stuff. Full of piss and vinegar and incredibly catchy. If I could be in a band, I’d be in a pop punk band. I don’t mean to pigeonhole Mixtapes, especially since their take on the genre a lovingly nostalgic place. What they accomplish here is more heartfelt than anything any of the buttoned-up indie rock bands that populate the musical landscape could ever even imagine.

Laura Stevenson is another member of that aforementioned favorite new singer-songwriter (the ex-pop punker) of mine, and while the comparisons between Stevenson and Waxahatchee are multiple (record, location, subject matter, etc), Stevenson just has so much more soul. For some reason, I can’t stop comparing the two bands in my head, and I can’t even avoid bringing it up on this little blurb. But Wheel really became a masterpiece in my head when I had something to compare it to. Stevenson’s idiosyncrasies made for an album that’s a little bit all over the place, but Wheel feels like the portrait of the artist spilling their guts and there is an honesty to her songs that is both incredibly appealing and absolutely heartbreaking.

Once again, I have to amend a pretty much set-in-stone list to accommodate another fourth quarter release from Los Campesinos!. My love for LC! is well documented and I barely even need to mention that I’m a fan because you can practically smell it on me. While I absolutely loved the bleak and morose Hello Sadness, I was totally willing to let some of the joyfulness from the bands earlier, more twee-leaning releases back into my heart (“Avocado, Baby,” is one of the most devastatingly great pop songs of the year and is basically pure bliss every single time I hear it). No Blues is LC!’s most balanced record to date, incorporating the cleverly detailed mopeyness with sing-a-long pop brilliance with the most brain-melting hooks of the year.

There was a solid month where I listened to nothing but this album on my work commute. When I was biking, I’d hum “Brilliant Dancer” as I crossed over the Ford Parkway bridge and marveled at the Mississippi River. It was such a magical thing when I was growing up, and there I was, shuttling over it five times a week like it was nothing. There’s something about the sunsets on the river, and the air in the springtime and the stiff breeze that would pop up as soon as you hit the bridge. Sometimes it’s impossible to disassociate music from where you were when you fell in love with it, and I love those memories. I love albums that immediately take me back to a specific time and place where I knew I was experiencing something special. Where I knew I was listening to an album I would turn to at various points over the rest of my life. A lofty statement, for sure, but Lemuria’s third album is one of those albums that feels timely and timeless. As you can tell from this list, I am pretty much set in my indie rock ways and I’m fine with that, but when a band comes along and shakes up the formula I like to sit back and marvel. “You made something out of nothing!” I think. The Distance is So Big is an absolute joy from start to finish.

I cannot remember the last time I was so wholly charmed by a record. In a busy world where I try to keep at least my little finger on the pulse of new music releases by my favorite bands, it’s a triumph if a record (even a great one) sticks with me longer than four months. I’ll always come back to it and remember how great it is (especially at the end of the year), but usually there are places to go, records to listen to. And yet, Frontier Ruckus’ third album has followed me around like a dog desperate for a good home. And I gave it a good home for the better part of 2013.

Though Eternity of Dimming was released in January, I was totally unfamiliar with the group until I saw their cover of Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” on the AV Club’s Undercover series. I was won over by their earnestness. The way they poured genuine love for that awful song that dominated the airwaves in the summer of 1997. I am of an age with these gents, and admired the way they so perfectly captured the strange nostalgia of that time period. They took me back to twelve years old, growing up in the suburbs, hearing that song a hundred times a day and genuinely living the best life any kid could ever live. I got their album and saw that 1990s bildungsroman vibe magnified by a thousand. To say I identified is an understatement because the details Matthew Milia pours into this gargantuan double album are the sort of details that are infinitely more affecting than any “Things You Remember If You’re A Child of the 90s” list on Buzzfeed.

When I was growing up, the 90s were a strange time lacking the stark definition of decades past and now they feel about as garish as the 80s. Milia’s way of painting a gorgeous portrait of boyhood in a garish time is the thing that makes my heart swell up the most on an album that still makes my heart swell every time I put it on. It’s all in the details. In the ugliness of the stadium-lit car dealerships that line the highway and the pure delight of summertime where everything is beautiful and nothing is impossible. The parts of department stores where you can get lost when you’re shopping with your parents and soccer practice and childhood birthday parties. The album shows a loving image of these memories as they fade with adulthood and responsibility, and Eternity of Dimming feels like Milia’s desperate attempt to capture the old memories before they are forgotten. There’s a frantic feel to the writing, a stream of consciousness to get down every last detail and every little thing.

It’s an admirable effort to say the least, and indulgent in the best way. The running time stretches to 85 minutes and every second feels vital to the album’s aim of capturing suburban upbringing in the Midwest. The band’s bluegrassy folk is beautifully arranged and layers in banjos, singing saw, big old pianos, woozy Wurlitzers, and an arsenal of folk rock technique. It keeps Milia’s display of gut-spilling from going overboard and sustains the emotional tone of Dimming with grace. Eternity of Dimming feels timeless, even if it’s always going to remind me of a specific time in my life just as much as it reminds me of my childhood.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Forty Favorite Songs of 2013 - Part Two

20. Waxahatchee – “Peace and Quiet” (Cerulean Salt)
It was practically impossible to pick one song from Waxahatchee’s fantastic second album, because there are at least six or seven songs on that album that are just as outstanding as “Peace and Quiet.” Ultimately, it came down to the track that most embodied the essence of Cerulean Salt and the brittle melodies Katie Crutchfield lays over her clean electric guitar, and there’s something about the haunted quality of this track that reminds me why Cerulean Salt was one of the best albums of 2013.

19. Serengeti – “Directions” (The Kenny Dennis LP)
My love of Chicago emcee Kenny Dennis is well known, and his monumental eponymous LP is the year's best album about hip hop problems, true love, sausage, other grilled meats, helping the young'uns, and street livin' on Chi-town's mean streets. The second half of "Directions" may sound like the secret code to a Nintendo game, but this is merely a repetitive manifestation orchestrated so that KDz can teach you a life lesson, son. 

18. Basia Bulat – “Tall Tall Shadow” (Tall Tall Shadow)
I’m a huge sucker for Rhodes piano, and the opening notes of these songs are basically like a siren song. Luring me in, but instead of killing me, rewarding me with one of my surprise favorite albums of the year. Canadian folkie Basia Bulat is best known for knowing her way around an autoharp, but based on this big, glorious, earthmoving track I can only hope she’s on her way out of niche folk into bigger and better things.

17. The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – “Gig Life” (Whenever, If Ever)
TWIABPAIANLATD’s Whenever, If Ever is full of big, post-rock-meets-early-90s-emo reverb anthems, but it’s the downplayed road song “Gig Life” that ties that whole album together.

16. Neko Case – “City Swans” (The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You)
The most immediately satisfying track on Neko Case’s triumph of a new record. The low notes that accompany the line “I can’t look at you straight on” drive that line right down into my gut every time.

15. Hospital Ships – “Come Back to Life” (Destruction in Yr Soul)
The most perfect sonic realization of sun shining through cloud coverage. Also caused a Pavlovian longing for Lawrence every time I listened to this song in Minneapolis.

14. Jim Guthrie – “The Rest is Yet to Come” (Takes Time)
I find something incredibly calming about Jim Guthrie’s music. This standout from Takes Time was the most uplifting and Jim Guthriest of the lot.

13. Yo La Tengo – “Ohm” (Fade)
It’s Yo La Fucking Tengo, goddamnit. This band has been around longer than I’ve been alive and they are still making some of the best records you’re ever gonna hear.

12. Deafheaven – “Sunbather” (Sunbather)
Title tracks often encapsulate the essence of an album, and never is that more true than on Deafheaven’s towering sophomore effort. The group’s synthesis of black metal, shoegaze, and post rock absolutely fucking shimmers on “Sunbather.” The ringer this track put me through was one of the most intense musical experiences I had all year.

11. Superchunk – “Low F” (I Hate Music)
Speaking of bands who have been around longer than I’ve been alive…Ok, I was 4 years old when Superchunk’s eponymous debut came out, but they’ve been around for forever and are still basically the champions of indie rock. They won. I Hate Music is a slow burn joy end to end, but the way the guitars chime in the chorus of “Low F” kills me the most.

10. Mixtapes – “Like Glass” (Ordinary Silence)
Part of what makes Ordinary Silence such a spectacular album is that there are at least 8 songs from that album that could occupy this spot on the list. The songs are built on pop punk structures with brainmeltingly catchy hooks and pack a surprising emotional punch, and I think “Like Glass” does it the absolute best, but ask me again in ten minutes.

9. Moonface – “November 2011” (Julia With Blue Jeans On)
Spencer Krug could make an album that was nothing but a synthesizer programmed to pitch-shifted farts and I would still probably call it a masterpiece because of course he would find a way to make it beautiful. Not that he did something that drastic on Julia With Blue Jeans On, but he’s had a habit of inhabiting different genres and styles on his Moonface records, and this one, which consists solely of piano and voice, is his best yet. It’s an incredibly romantic album, and while most of the tracks dabble in Krug’s standard crypticisms, “November 2011” makes this album’s love story sound like the most motherfucking epic love story of all time. “You can stay as long as you would like to stay,” Krug sings in the song’s final lines, and considering the amount of passion poured into those lines I can’t imagine how the song’s target wouldn’t want to stay forever.

8. Okkervil River – “Down Down the Deep River” (The Silver Gymnasium)
Welcome to Will Sheff’s childhood. “Down Down the Deep River” is the third track on The Silver Gymnasium, but it’s most certainly the centerpiece. The crux of the bildungsroman. The cipher for the heartbreaking details of youth. I have a severe amount of respect for Sheff’s ability to spill his guts.

7. Vampire Weekend – “Ya Hey” (Modern Vampires of the City)
If you caught me singing to myself this year, you almost definitely caught me singing “Ya Hey.” In my perfect world, this is what all the glossy mainstream pop would be replaced with. Infinitely accessible, infectious, and inventive without calling attention to itself. I think I’m still in shock that I love love love love love Vampire Weekend’s latest album after slagging so hard on Contra, but you can’t choose who you love. Or I guess you can, but this is one of those songs where I can’t imagine how anyone throwing shade wouldn’t secretly think it was the jam.

6. Frontier Ruckus – “Careening Catalog Immemorial” (Eternity of Dimming)
The back half of the second disc of Frontier Ruckus’ indulgent coming of age opus, Eternity of Dimming, was the most impressive string of songs I heard all year. The songs (“In Protection of Sylvan Manor,” “Dealerships,” “Funeral Family Flowers,” “Open it Up,” and “Careening Catalog Immemorial”) flow together and share melodies and lyrical references and choosing just one track is tricky since I see them as one big, loving and sad portrait of suburbia in the 1990s. The seven-minute plus “Open it Up” is the album’s climax and ties together all of the loose themes that populate the record, but it’s Eternity of Dimming’s denouement that really captures the bittersweet joy of the youth detailed over the album’s 86 minutes.

5. Laura Stevenson – “The Wheel” (Wheel)

“Runner” was the single and the song on Wheel that best illustrated Stevenson’s range, charm, and ability to be an indie rock superstar, but it’s the breathtaking, heartbreaking title/closing track to Wheel that showed why Laura Stevenson deserves to be exceedingly well known for her talents.

4. Frightened Rabbit – “The Woodpile” (Pedestrian Verse)
Scott Hutchinson is an alchemist who turns Scottish glumness into solid gold hooks. There’s a little breakdown towards the end of “The Woodpile” that sort of noodles around and then suddenly (I mean, you know it’s coming but it’s like OH SHIT!) brings the track’s marvelously catchy chorus back into the fold one last time and I just sit back, hands in the air, grinning with joy before replaying the track one more time.

3. Los Campesinos! – “What Death Leaves Behind” (No Blues)
Speaking of alchemists who turn gloominess into pop majesty, Los Camp’s Gareth Campesinos is the goddamn king. When my favorite band releases a single to tease a forthcoming album, usually I’m pretty cautious. I don’t want to fall in love too quickly because there’s always a chance I’ll be let down, but man I fell so hard for “What Death Leaves Behind” I swear if No Blues wasn’t a masterpiece I probably would have died. Just spontaneously combusted or something. Fortunately, it was, and another bullet dodged, but holy fuck this song makes me want to run through a goddamn brick wall. Every part of it! Despite the mass exodus of players, Los Campesinos! have somehow only been made stronger. This band is a miracle.

2. Mark Mulcahy – “The Rabbit” (Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You)
I feel like this is the part of the list where I break the word “Captivating” out of my lexicon and use it to DEATH. At least it feels that way, but that’s the only word I can think of without cheating and hitting Shift+F7. Charming, Attractive, Appealing, Fascinating, Enchanting, Charismatic, and Entrancing are my other options, but captivating is the best on for “The Rabbit,” a sparse little number tucked away in the back half of Mark Mulcahy’s strange and wonderful Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You. Enchanting works too, I suppose, and works with the track’s magic theme, but it still doesn’t do justice to the way this song will break you down to your bones.

1. Lemuria – “Brilliant Dancer” (The Distance is So Big)
This song is so, so, so fucking great until it shifts gears halfway through and goes sublime. It’s not often a song goes sublime, but this track, holy fuck. I’ve listened to it over a hundred times, and every single time I find myself emulating Alex Kern’s excellent drumming and hopelessly attempting to emulate Sheena Ozella’s magnificent range (which only seems to grow album after album). This is pure bliss. It’s familiar but totally surprising, inventive, and I think I could listen to it another hundred times without getting sick of it and I probably will. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

My Forty Favorite Songs of 2013 - Part One

40. Prissy Clerks – Bruised or Be Bruised (Bruise or Be Bruised)
Minneapolis is well known for its music, but the only local band I could get into was Prissy Clerks. While their album Bruise or Be Bruised is a fine affair of blissfully lo-fi indie pop, my actual favorite song of theirs was their version of Beck’s “Don’t Act Like Your Heart isn’t Hard” which was recorded for…something. I can’t remember. I kept hearing a fifteen second clip of it on the Current when the thing I can’t remember was being promoted and thinking, “Boy, I wish I could hear this song in its entirety because this is SENSATIONAL!” But props to Prissy Clerks for keeping it real in the land of the windchill factor.

39. Bill Callahan – The Sing (Dream River)
“The only words I said today are ‘Beer’ and ‘Thank You,’” sings ol’ Billy C on his latest depressing romp, which is full of beautiful fiddles, crackerjack acoustic finger-work, and husky vocals from one of modern Americana’s elder statesmen.

38. Shearwater and Sharon Van Etten – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around 
Best cover of the year, hands down. Jonathan Meiburg’s Tom Petty and Sharon Van Etten’s Stevie Nicks do a bang up job of doing this classic rock radio classic major justice.

37. Guided by Voices – “Islands (She Talks in Rainbows)” (English Little League)
I wasn’t that into GBV’s fourth album in two years (and only of 2013, hey, I was more than thankful for Let’s Go Eat the Factory and the rest has basically just been gravy), but this Tobin Sprout cut was the highlight. My love for Bob Pollard is well known and widespread, but I always felt like Tobin Sprout gave the group its soul. And this song is just so beautiful and short and bears replaying a hundred time like all of Toby’s contributions.

36. Low – “Holy Ghost” (The Invisible Way)
Man, Mimi Parker. Just man. I barely have words for the transcendental loveliness of this track. I do have words for Low though, who totally pissed on a bunch of people’s toes at the Current’s Rock the Garden fest this year when their set consisted of a 30-minute long performance of their song “Do You Know How to Waltz?” Fucking awesome. So cool. Let the haters hate, Low are still making records like it’s 1996.

35. Dead Meadow – “Six to Let the Light Shine Thru” (Warble Womb

I kept meaning to listen to Dead Meadow’s latest stoner rock opus all the way through but could never seem to find the time or the mindset to sit down with the album. I did listen to this track a bunch of time as it’s the first one on the record and while I failed to make it into the meat of the record, the way the great melody shines through the sludge on this one is a wonderfully listenable ploy.

34. Daughter – “Human” (If You Leave)
English trio Daughter’s debut LP on 4AD was an accomplished collection of alt-folk that was maybe a little bit too reigned in at times, but when the band really let their hair down, as they did on “Human,” they shook out some powerful stuff.

33. The Pastels – “Check My Heart” (Slow Summits)
Is it Springtime yet? I can’t wait to spend another March with Slow Summits. 

32. Parenthetical Girls – “A Note to Self” (Privilege)
Indie pop never sounds as chaotic and dramatic as it does when it’s coming from the mouth of Zac Pennington. “A Note to Self” is just fucking irresistible on every front.

31. Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle – “You Missed My Heart” (Perils from the Sea)
The chorus on this one is pure magic. Mark Kozelek was a busy man this year, releasing albums with Jimmy LaValle of the Album Leaf and Desertshore, a covers album, and a slew of live albums. I spent a lot of time with Perils of the Sea whilst playing iPad games and getting in the mental space to work on fiction, and despite its title, this song does strange things to ticker.

30. Richard Buckner – "When You Tell Me How It Is" (Surrounded)
It’s borderline sneaky how inventive Richard Buckner’s music is on his latest album. I don’t know why I always expect Buckner’s deep, mournful vocals to be accompanied by just an acoustic guitar when they’ll play well with damn near anything.

29. Arctic Monkeys – “Do I Wanna Know?” (AM)
Arctic Monkeys basically being the new Rolling Stones.

28. The Hold Steady – “Criminal Fingers” (“Criminal Fingers” 7”)
This b-side from Heaven is Whenever returns to the seamy underbelly of the Twin Cities. I honestly feel like I moved to Minneapolis for two years just so I could have a point of reference for Hold Steady songs, I love this band that goddamn much. That said, there’s a bit in the chorus where the character is living “on Columbus between 28th & Lake” and I not only know exactly where that is, but I know that it’s two blocks from Chicago Lake Liquors, which is on the diciest part of Lake Street (which exists in a state of consistent dicey-ness between Lyndale and Hiawatha). I don’t miss it, but I remember that city fondly, and I appreciate the Hold Steady more than I ever did, and this b-side is great and unsettling and not what you would expect from the World’s greatest party band.

27. Islands – “Wave Forms” (Ski Mask)
Nick Thorburn sounds like he’s getting back to Vapours territory after a couple of weird years. While “Wave Forms” has the first signs of childlike joy he’s displayed since the late 00s with its glockenspiels and silly synths, it fortunately keeps intact the maturity he’s been cultivating since the destruction of the Unicorns.

26. Keaton Henson – “Lying to You” (Birthdays)
Everybody loves a song that makes you want to curl up in a ball and sob. The music video is wonderful though.

25. Ola Podrida – “Not Ready to Stop” (Ghosts Go Blind)
It’s not like David Wingo is reinventing the wheel. He’s just a normal dude from Austin who composes film music for some of todays best indie filmmakers and puts out solo albums as Ola Podrida from time to time. The lead-off track from his third album, Ghosts Go Blind, was in constant rotation in my car stereo. Somewhere mid-year I made a mix of songs from albums I really wanted to listen to before year’s end so I could make my list with the sense of comfort I get from listening to a certain percentage of a year’s releases. This track led to that mix being replaced with this album and it’s a wonderful blend of Texan post rock a la Explosions in the Sky (whom Wingo collaborated with for the soundtrack to David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche) and down home, sensitive man alt-country tinged indie rock.

24. Frog Eyes – “Claxxon’s Lament” (Carey’s Cold Spring)
Carey Mercer had a way worse year than you. He got throat cancer and his dad died, hence the frigid title of the latest Frog Eyes album. “Claxxon’s Lament” has been floating around for a long time. I know it from the cover Wolf Parade did for the Believer magazine Music Issue in 2005. I always found it strange that I could never find the Frog Eyes version, and it was frustrating because I thought it as such a beautiful song. Turns out, it was never recorded. Mercer had just been keeping it in limbo. Until now. I read an interview where he said he was at his dying father’s side in his last moments and played his father this song as he slipped out of the mortal realm. There was something profoundly touching and comforting about that.

23. Volcano Choir – “Comrade” (Repave)
There’s a weird auto-tuned breakdown towards the end of this song that I feel like I should hate, but inexplicably love. I’ve been a huge fan of Justin Vernon’s since 2008 when I literally buried myself under blankets and listened to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago in my darkened bedroom. Volcano Choir’s ornate music is a great vehicle for Vernon’s falsetto and Repave is one of those albums where you can tell that the band is having some serious fun. It all comes through on “Comrade,” which is what I imagine the future of adult urban contemporary to sound like.

22. The National – “Sea of Love” (Trouble Will Find Me)
I’ve had issues with both of the National’s albums since Boxer. It’s not that these guys aren’t talented, it just feels like they’ve forgotten how to make an album with heart and soul. Fortunately, both High Violet and Trouble Will Find Me had at least one track that left me on the floor. I feel like I’ll revisit these albums down the line and understand their inner workings and become a fan, but at the moment they inspire nothing but boredom. Except “Sea of Love,” which not only has an amazing music video, but does what the National do best: shed their buttoned-up and chilly exterior and craft a song that exudes warmth. I gotta say though, I mostly love this song because it recreates step-for-step a bizarre Eastern European music video, and god knows I love a seemingly VERY serious band with a sense of humor.

21. Kurt Vile – “Wakin on a Pretty Day” (Wakin on a Pretty Daze)

I used to think this song went on noodling too long, but now I appreciate all of the rambling weirdness with all of my being. This shit is downright captivating.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Al Larsen with Katrina Mitchell - "Change Everything" 7"

Al Larsen with Katrina Mitchell – “Change Everything” 7”
K Records, 1995
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $1
Some Velvet Sidewalk’s Al Larsen and Pastels drummer Katrina Mitchell team up for a set of spastic weirdo-pop that sorta sounds like Jonathan Richman with a cold. I honestly don’t know how these International Pop Underground keep finding their way into my record collection (oh wait, yes I do. I keep buying them because I see that shield around the K and my heart skips a beat even though the IPU stuff is very hit or miss).

Here's Some Velvet Sidewalk's "Mousetrap" from Larsen's glory days:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Land of Talk - "Speak to Me Bones" 7"

Land of Talk – “Speak to Me Bones”/"Death By Fire" 7”
Label Fandango, 2007
Acquired: Half Price books, Used, 2013
Price: $1
I thought this was some dirgey indie rock until I realized Land of Talk’s singer was a woman and that I hadn’t set the turntable to 45 RPM. I was kind of into it. At proper speed, Canadian trio Land of Talk are a pretty good distillation of the dance-beat tinged post-punk revival of the late 00s. There’s a strong reverence for Sonic Youth on “Speak to Me Bones,” which strikes with a quick burst of indie rock glory. It’s not the most original thing in the world, but the track is competent and refreshing. The AA side “Death By Fire,” is awesome. Elizabeth Powell’s vocals break towards an aching loveliness as the band spins a downtrodden indie rock in a way much reminiscent of Baltimore’s Wye Oak. Land of Talk are best known as the group Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon produced shortly after breaking it big, which is unfortunate because they’re good enough to stand on their own two feet.

"Speak to Me Bones"

"Death By Fire"

Monday, December 9, 2013

LA Tool and Die - "My Brother-in-law Won't Go to Your Show" 7"

LA Tool and Die – “My Brother-in-Law Won’t Got To Your Show” 7”
AAJ, 2008(?)
Acquired: KJHK Music Staff, New, 2008
Price: $0
It makes sense that the only LA Tool and Die related thing I can find on Discogs is their contribution to a Tullycraft tribute album. Because LA Tool and Die is such an awful band name (the band is named after a film dubbed “the Return of the Jedi of gay male hardcore porn”), this is the first time I have listened to this 7”. It sounds a lot like Tullycraft—Borderline twee with references to other bands and wry humor—but it’s really, really rough. While twee pop prides itself on shambling, both tracks here fall flat. The lyrics to “My Brother-in-law Won’t Go to Your Show” are actually really funny (“Now every time we talk he wants to know what happened to the Silver Jews/ That David Berman’s pretty sweet/ And Stephen Malkmus can’t be beat”) but the rhymes are goofy and stilted and while I know these guys aren’t taking themselves too seriously (the b-side is called “1983 (The Year Corey Hart Exploded in My Pants)”), they just don’t quite have the chops. “My Brother-in-law…” is hilariously edited for college radio.

"Don't Touch My Mustache" (the only LAT&D clip I could find online that wasn't for the Kickstarter for the live stage adaptation of the aforementioned gay porno. I am only assuming this is the same band, as this doesn't really sound anything like the tracks on this 7".)

Friday, December 6, 2013

La Scala - The Harlequin EP

La Scala – The Harlequin EP
High Wheel, 2008
Acquired: KJHK Music Staff, New, 2008
Price: $0
High Wheel Records’ website states that La Scala has an “old world sense of melody,” which means that they make their guitars sound like Balkan instruments. It also means that they are basically following the path Devotchka already paved and also attempting to lure in some fans of Gogol Bordello. This is the sort of music that sounds like it is in dire need of an accordion. I don’t think it’s a conscious attempt to cash in on the Balkan Buzz of the late 00s, and it’s hard for me to trash talk a Chicago band because us Midwest folk gotta stick together in a progressively East Coast world. La Scala lack spark and unfortunately have the sound of an opening band you really don’t want to sit through. It’s not bad, just not terribly interesting. The band incorporates Eastern European sounding melodies but none of the actual Eastern European instruments. Ultimately, the tracks sound like the bland modern rock of, say, Silversun Pickups. Ok, better than fucking Silversun Pickups. There’s a gothy, quasi horror-pop vibe on the last track (“Draculina”) that illustrates the band’s obsession with “nefarious areas” and “dark corners” of Chicago listed on their website bio. Mostly, this 7” just puts the whole world of music into perspective, because we got TONS of 7”s and CDs that had this sound. Not bad, just not really enough for you to sink your teeth into.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Korea Girl - "Reunion" 7"

Korea Girl – “Reunion” 7”
Asian Man Records, 1997
Acquired: Asian Man Records Mail Order, New, 2002
Price: ~$.50

I don’t know why I always think any Asian Man Records release I put on my turntable is going to be ska punk. Though AMR released a bunch of ska-punk in the 90s (great ska punk, I might add, because I’m assuming you thought it didn’t exist), they also gave shelter to a burgeoning Alkaline Trio and more recently Laura Stevenson & the Cans, Lemuria, and Dog Party. Socially conscious punk rock for the win. Korea Girl offer up more of a understated, post-grunge, mid 90s indie rock. Their music is pretty, slightly shambling, charming, and melodic. The sides of the records show two different sides of the band. The Elizabeth Yi fronted “Reunion” is all clean guitar and understated melody a la a less twee Softies whereas the Tobin Mori fronted “Launched” is a more propulsive indie rock track in the vein of Pavement. Either way, I love this unpretentious mid-90s stuff.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Dillinger Four - Versus God

Dillinger Four – Versus God
Hopeless, 2000
Acquired: Mississippi Records, Used, 2013
Price: $4
One of my favorite places to eat in Minneapolis was Town Hall Tap. I always wanted to go to Town Hall Brewery, but it was downtown and I fucking hated going downtown. Not even for locally brewed beer. And then I found their little outpost taproom like ten blocks from our house and anytime Jenny couldn’t decide on what she wanted for dinner, I would just end up driving us over there. I highly recommend the fried chicken sandwich, it is unbelievable. So is their Masala Mama IPA. Plus all beers are served as 20 oz imperial pints and affordable. This weekend a lot of people asked us if we missed MPLS, and both Jenny and I shared the same response: “Not really. Just the food.” And the beer. And the fact that I lived in the same town that birthed Dillinger Four, one of my all-time favorite punk bands.

I equally hated going to Cedar Riverside, but I got a little chill every time I drove past the Triple Rock Social Club on my way to the Cedar or the colossal clinic we went to for our first prenatal visits. “That’s Eric from Dillinger Four’s bar!” I would tell Jenny and she would say “I don’t know what that means.” I’m sad I never attended a show there. Anyway, Dillinger Four are near and dear to my heart. I played their third album, Situationist Comedy, to death my last year of high school and I feel like my sarcastic brand of left wing politics was forged by the Versus God track “Let Them Eat Thomas Paine” (Tell me are the colors of the flag much prettier to see/ When viewed from the requisite comfort of the knees/ Were a loyal little chorus still singing out ‘please’/ I can’t understand/ Don’t tread on me” and “Where taxes paid is like a spade to a dog with a thrift store bone” are just a couple of my favorite lines). This is the shit that was vital. Eric Funk’s nasal vocals were about the most unsingery thing I had ever heard and Paddy’s gruff barking was the second most unsingery thing I had ever heard. And their vocal exchanges were just the fucking best. They still are. This is party music with a brain. Music to blare as society crumbles.

I read something on the Internet that said one’s musical/cultural taste is basically decided by the time they are 14 years old. That sounds like bullshit, but I can’t argue too much considering how much I still love the stuff I loved when I was 16, 17, 18. I have done very little “I loved that so much in high school” lately. You know, when you try to act like your tastes are so much more refined because you’re no longer listening to pop punk and The National is music for adults. I did that a lot in my mid-twenties, but now at the back half I’m settling into the shit I just fucking love unapologetically. Big, booming, bratty, hilarious punk rock in the case of D4, who’s brainy and comical Midwestern socially charged dogma is something I still very much adhere to. As they say on "How Many Punks Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?", "I guess that the more things change the more they stay the same." 

"Let Them Eat Thomas Paine"