Dec 312009

1. Bad Veins, “Gold and Warm”
2. Them Crooked Vultures, “Caligulove”
3. The Avett Brothers, “Kick Drum Heart”
4. A.A. Bondy, “I Can See the Pines Are Dancing”
5. Monsters Of Folk, “The Sandman, the Brakeman and Me”
6. Silversun Pickups, “Catch & Release”
7. Morrissey, “Something Is Squeezing My Skull”
8. Franz Ferdinand, “Ulysses”
9. Wilco, “Country Disappeared”
10. A.A. Bondy, “Oh the Vampyre”
11. Third Eye Blind, “Bonfire”
12. Jarvis Cocker, “I Never Said I Was Deep”
13. Neko Case, “This Tornado Loves You”
14. Silversun Pickups, “It’s Nice To Know You Work Alone”
15. The Dead Weather, “Hang You From The Heavens”
16. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, “Air Mattress”
17. Wilco, “Bull Black Nova”
18. Neko Case, “Magpie To The Morning”
19. Molly Lewis, “Poker Face (Lady GaGa cover)”

This was an incredibly hard year to narrow down to just one album. Also, this was the first year that I have had more than one artist with more than one track on my “Best Of” mix. (I’ve been doing these since 2005 so they predate the blog by a few years.)

Any songs not on my mix that are on your person Best Of list? Any songs I included that should be relegated without comment to the dustbin of musical history? As always, commentary and recrimination can be directed through the comments section.

Nov 052009

“Til the winds on the Prairie / Whip the tears from my eyes”

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As much as I like Neko Case’s new solo work, it’s really a pity that she’s drifting away from her Country roots a little.   Country and its hipper, rougher cousin Alt-Country both really need voices like Case.  Here’s a gorgeous, sad, lonesome ballad from her Neko Case & Her Boyfriends era.  It’s called “Set Out Running” off of her 2000 Furnace Room Lullaby album.

Oct 212009

Updating WP Again

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Hey, updating WordPress to 2.8.5 here in a few minutes.  Give me a holler if it breaks anything.

In the meantime, here’s Neko Case performing “Hold On, Hold On” from her excellent album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood:

(Hat tip to my friend Ann for reminding me today just how awesome this tune is.)

Mar 112009

Intro: I really don’t have anything to say here, other than that I came home today to find my cat cuddled up to my headphones, which were blaring Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia on repeat.

Listening: So if you haven’t already gotten it, go grab the new Neko Case album, Middle Cyclone.  Now it may take you several hours to get that first song of repeat (lord knows it took me at least that long), but the whole album is downright phenomenal.  Take for, instance, “People Got A Lot of Nerve”, which lurches into motion and then gallops along with catchy guitar licks and cathartic lyrics.

And then there’s that brilliant opening track, “This Tornado Loves You”.  Catchy vocal hooks and incisive, powerful lyrics (“Their broken necks will line this ditch until you stop it.”) form a strong core to the tune. Galloping drum beats and soaring melodies polish it off into a truly brilliant track.

And it’s a perfect opener, since the whole album is full of exactly this sort of rolling, pacey drum lines supporting catchy melodies.  “This Tornado Loves You” sets the musical paces for the whole album.  Of course, as with previous albums, the aesthetic focuses mostly on Case’s expressive voice which ranges broadly from pensive to roaring, and the album profits greatly from that.

Truly a great album which further establishes Neko Case as one of the best vocalists and songwriters in music today.

Upcoming: So the rest of this month doesn’t look too impressive release-wise from where I’m sitting.  I’m really excited about the new Decemberists album (I’m a bit behind on their singles series, but am stoked about their new LP).  And new Rakes and KMFDM albums, which is kind of cool.  Other than that, well, you tell me.  Is there anything else in March to get excited about?

Thinking: 1.) So I’ve been thinking lately of getting another record player to replace my old one that gave up the ghost last year.  I’ve got some LPs already and am inordinately fond of vinyl as a musical medium.  Any suggestions from the audience for a simple, no-frills record player that I could run through a stereo amp?

2.) So since I got addicted to Power+Light (which I’m still listening to at least once a day) I’ve been interested in Kristin Hersh’s CASH Music project.  These days it’s rare to see the words “music” and “non-profit” used in the same breath, and it’s almost a bit suspicious when you do see them.  It’s hard not to look at a project like CASH and think “huh, okay, so what’s in it for YOU?”

But CASH seems to be genuine in their simple desire to, as their website says, “[improve] the music experience for artists and listeners alike.”  And that’s pretty cool.  It’s rare these days that musicians take time to simply work on the craft and artistry of making music instead of on the craft of selling music.  I have to say: I’m very much a fan.

News: There’s no part of this All Tomorrow’s Parties concert film idea that I don’t like.  M.I.A may or may not have named her child “Ickitt”.  Apparently Tom Morrello has started yet another band.

Song of the Week: Here’s Neko Case’s “This Tornado Loves You”, off of Middle Cyclone.  Ha!  Now I won’t be the only person with this tune on permapeat!

Mar 052009

Intro: Sorry for missing last week and being late this week.  Blame me if you must, but I blame a particular East-Coast customer (which shall remain nameless) which spent a couple weeks waking me up early and keeping me at the office late. . . . Also Guitar Hero III, to which I’ve recently become fiercly re-addicted.

Listening: So the new M. Ward album is crazy good.  Especially “Epistemology” and “Stars of Leo”, which have been on permanent repeat (from here forward to be termed “permapeat” because it amuses me) for the better part of a week.  It’s the same sort of understated, bluesy folk that I loved on Transfiguration of Vincent.  I would say that this latest album, Hold Time, plays up the religious things and takes a corresponding musical swing towards a vaguely gospel sound, which actually work quite well.  (For this, see especially “Epistemology”.)

Other than that, I’ve been listening to my Dropkick Murphys albums.  The show I went to Saturday kick-started my old love of the Murphys something fierce, and Sing Loud, Sing Proud! and The Meanest of Times have spent quite a bit of time in my CD player since then.  I will say, I think Sing Loud… is by far my favorite of their albums.  It’s consistent without being homogenous and it’s unrelentingly energetic and fun.

Upcoming: New Neko Case album out today, which I’ve just now purchased.  I’m pretty stoked about it.  I’m a huge fan of Neko Case, and I’m excited to see how Middle Cyclone lives up to the awesome precendent set by Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.

Next week must be “Talent Deficiency Awareness Week”, as there are new releases from Kelly Clarkson, Chris Cornell, and New Found Glory.

Thinking: 1.) It occurs to me that the New Pornographers are probably the best modern example of a Reverse Supergroup.  They’re basically a musical pipebomb of awesome that’s given us solo work from Neko Case, AC Newman, and Dan Bejar.  Not to mention the various collaborations its members have been involved in.

2.) Oh man the Dropkick Murphys show was so good!  Those guys really know how to work a crowd.  They had amazing energy and charisma and were musically brilliant.  They played a good selection of newer and older material, with a few covers thrown in for good measure.  (Of special note was their awesome version of the Kingston Trio’s “MTA”.)

I will say, though, that the highlight of the show was Ken Casey singing “Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced” while trying to navigate a huge throng of adoring female fans that had been brought up on stage.  To his credit he did a great job with it despite (because of?) getting jumped several times during the tune.

The openers I was less impressed with.  The first opener, Civet, were a competent hardcore band, but technical difficulties, lack of stage presence, and fairly unimaginative tunes made their 40-minute set feel like it was about 20-minutes too long.

H2O had more going for them.  They owned the stage a lot more, were more energetic and actually had a sound that was distinguishably their own.

3.) The new Showbox venue is really nice.  Plenty of space, good acoustics, and a well-positioned stage.  The bar (to which I retired a few times to rehydrate) has a limited view and muffled accoustics due to a separating wall, but the main floor is awesome.

News: Comb your mullet and wax your Camaro, Faith No More are getting back together!  Win Butler of Arcade Fire and Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips are having a bit of a pissing match.  I’d go on, but I think that last sentence just ODed me on ego for the week.

Song of the Week: Here’s the title track and debut single off Hold Time, by M. Ward:

Not my favorite track off the album, but still pretty damned awesome.  Also, kudos to Merge Records for allowing embedding on their official YouTube channel!

Feb 172009

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.2.17

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Intro: This week’s column may be a bit monotonic since the music part of my brain is completely stuffed full of a potent combination of Power+Light and Sasquatch! Festival excitement.  That being said, I’ll probably also mention the new Morrissey album, though only in passing.

But enough of the preview…

Listening: So, I got the new Morrissey album, Years of Refusal in .mp3 download format.  (Which, BTW, is on sale today at for just $4.  Helluva deal, that.)  It came out a day later than the CD, so I only just got it today and haven’t had much of a chance to listen to it yet.  What I’ve heard, though, I like a great deal.

Other than that, I’ve still been totally digging on Power+Light.  It’s embarrassing how addicted I am to it.  I listen to music about eight to ten hours a day, and for the past two weeks not a day has gone by where half of that time or more is devoted to that EP.  It’s crazy good.  If you haven’t heard it yet, PLEASE go give it a listen.

Oh, and I also grabbed the new M. Ward album today, but I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet.

Upcoming: As mentioned above, Morrissey and M Ward have new albums out today.  In the next few weeks, look forward to new material from JJ Cale, Hatebreed, U2, and Neko Case.  (Random aside: the Neko Case, Middle Cyclone, sports some of my favorite album art in a long time.)

Thinking: 1.) In bands whose name is [Definite Article] [Noun], should the definite article be capitalized?  Should it be (e.g.) the Rakes or The Rakes?

2.) Sasquatch Festival!  As I’ll expound below, the lineup’s been announced and I am crazy stoked.  I’ve already started plotting with my good friend and long-time Sasquatch ally Mike, and the concensus is that this year’s festival is going to be a month’s worth of awesome crammed into a 3-day weekend.

News: The Sasquatch! Festival lineup has been announced!  Or at least according to the super-awesome unofficial Sasquatch Festival blog.  The main Sasquatch site for 2009 isn’t up yet, but I imagine it will be within the next day or two.  I’m extremely stoked about the fact that this year will see the return of Nine Inch Nails, The Decemberists, TV on the Radio, Calexico, and others.  Among the fresh new faces that I’m happy to see are A. A. Bondy, Silversun Pickups, Gogol Bordello, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

It should be noted that every place carrying the lineup also carries the wording “…and more to come” or equivalent, so there’s strong potential for even more awesome.  (Rumors abound that Sasquatch veterans Death Cab for Cutie and The Shins might added to the lineup.)

Tickets will be sold in the tiered pricing scheme of previous years, with cheap (~$155) 3-day passes going on sale the weekend of the 28th and prices going up from there.  It should be noted that these cheapest tickets will be on sale for ONE WEEKEND ONLY.  So if you want to save at least $40 on three days of Sasquatch awesomeness, then I strongly encourage you to get them then.

If anyone’s planning to attend and wants to meet up, drop me a line in comments.

Song of the Week: One of the many Josh Ritter songs I discovered a few weeks ago during my binge was this off of his album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter.  It’s called “Mind’s Eye” and I think it’s crazy awesome.

Feb 102009

Tuesday Playlist for 2009.2.10

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Intro: I have a lot of fawning and squeeing to do this week, so let’s just get right to it.

Listening: So my entire playlist for the past week has pretty much been 50 Foot Wave’s Power+Light EP and the new Franz Ferdinand album.  The Franz Ferdinand album, well, I want to love it, but so far it’s felt like listening to either of the Scottish rockers’ first two albums: really good at times, yes.  And even what’s not excellent is at least fun, well-crafted, twee-ish rock.  But, see, I’m having a hard time really falling in love with it, because I have a hard time listening to it all the way through at the moment.

That’s largely because I have a hard time going an hour without listening to Power+Light.  I seriously think I need an intervention.  It’s brilliant.  I think it’s the best thing that 50 Foot Wave have done.  It’s grunge-y, noisy rock music not just done right, but done sublimely.  It’s 26 minutes of well-structured, energetic cacophony.

And the icy on this dark, fuzzy cake of rock awesome?  The band is streaming the whole thing right now, for free.  Go click on that link.  Now.  Go do it.  Listen.  This is what Noise Rock should sound like.  Kristin Hersh’s caterwaul vocals, Victor Laurence’s haunting cello, Bernard Georges’ thundering bass, and Rob Ahlers’ drum work (at times clockwork-precise and at others blistering and messy) combine to make a truly epic and truly genius piece of work.  It’s music like this that made me stop rating things on a zero-to-ten scale.  Because this is an eleven with a bullet and a bag of broken glass and a guitar cabinet with pencils jammed in it, Link-Wray-style.  Which I guess is my way of saying that it defies rating, but suffice it to say: it’s good.

Seriously, folks: Go. Listen.

I may have more thoughts about Franz Ferdinand next week, if Power+Light sees fit to release me for long enough to listen to it.  We’ll see.

Upcoming: Well, there’s that new Moz album coming out next week, which is cool.  For those of you who like your band names unecessarily long and emo, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead are coming out with a new album next week.  M. Ward and Architecture in Helsinki will also be coming out with albums next Tuesday, which excites me.

Beyond that, it looks like it’ll be March before anything else intriguing comes out.  The first week in March will see new material from Neko Case and U2.

Thinking: So, I’ve been thinking a lot about the CDs lately.  I almost never buy CDs anymore.  Only if an album really grabs me or I want to give one as a gift do I buy a CD.  Instead, all my music gets purchased through various digital music retailers (mostly Amazon.)  And until recently, I’ve been pretty sure that CDs would go the way of casettes (as opposed to the way of LPs, which are still around and still being pressed by contemporary artists.)  But it occurs to me that there will probably always be SOME market for nicely-packaged, physical instantiations of a particular album.

One reason for this is one I mentioned above: gifts.  While it’s all good and well to give a person an iTunes gift card, but it’s a more powerful gesture to lay in their hands an album that you want them to hear and to have.  And let’s face it, my hand-writing sucks and my home-made copies of albums always look tacky (even when I try to do them up fancy, which is rare.)  I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

Another reason is an analogous one to what’s kept LPs around so long: collectors.  Many people like having a physical record of their music collection.  True-fans will definitely pay more for limited-run tokens of their favorite band, and will shell out extra money for well-designed, well-made physical media.  A perfect example of this is Trent Reznor’s success with Ghosts I-IV.  Some of it was available for free (9 of 36 tracks) by digital download.  The whole album was available for download cheap ($5).  On CDs for a little more ($10).  A deluxe edition with a DVD, CDs, downloads, and some other extras was available for about what a good box set costs ($75).  And then there was the limited run of 2500 Ultra-Deluxe edition packages which sold for $300 each.  Those Ultra-Deluxe editions sold out.  $300 x 2500 = $750,000.

Collectors will pay more for nice physical goods.

So now that I’ve done some thinking, I think it will, at the very least, be a long while before we see the end of CDs.  And when we do it won’t be because the Internet music revolution killed them, but because we’ve found a better form of physical music media.

News: Right, well no lineup yet, but at least we have a date for the lineup announcement.  Courtesy of the Sasquatch Music Festival blog:

“Memorial Day Weekend | May 23, 24, 25, 2009
The Gorge | Quincy, WA

Line-up to be announced Tuesday, February 17”

So, you can probably guess what next week’s column will be all about: squeeing over the Sasquatch lineup.

In other news there, uh, really wasn’t much other news, other than the Rihanna allegedly getting abused by her thug of a boyfriend.  Not a fan of her music, but still, here’s wishing her a speedy recovery.

Song of the Week: At the risk of sounding sycophantic or redundant, 50 Foot Wave, Power+LightGo Listen.

Aug 292007

The New Pornographers, Challengers

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Artist: The New Pornographers
Album: Challengers
Label: Matador
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.8.21
Score: 9/10

It’s fair to say that I think that The New Pornographers are one of the most interesting bands recording today. Combine that with the fact that my aesthetics definitely favor interesting music (which is sometimes in opposition with the music being very listenable) and you could probably infer, quite correctly, that I’m a huge New Pornographers fan. I’m also an unapologetically huge fan of vocalists A. C. Newman and Neko Case. So Challengers is, to be perfectly fair, an album from a band that was basically tailor-made to get its hooks into me.

I say these things in the interest of full disclosure. And so that when I say that it’s the best power pop album I’ve heard so far this year, my detractors will be able to accuse me of being biased towards my own tastes. I imagine them sneering, raising their noses, and carrying on with the polite fiction of “objective” criticism.

I also imagine them all wearing berets and smoking clove cigarettes through ludicrously long holders, but that’s probably beside the point.

What’s particularly remarkable about Challengers is its consistency. It lacks the scattershot feel of Twin Cinema and Mass Romantic. It also eschews some of the edge found in both those albums, and trades it for a much lighter, more straight forward feel. While the lyrical and musical complexity remain (“All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth” is particularly strong evidence of that), the band seems to have threaded the various complex strains together so that the album feels much more consistent and cohesive. Whereas Mass Romantic felt like a collection of songs, Challengers is most definitely an album, in the finest music-snob tradition. To listen to any one song off of Challengers is to miss a big part of the experience.

Which isn’t to say that the songs can’t stand on their own. There’s some of the catchiest, most interesting, and all-around best songs I’ve heard in awhile in this album. (“Myriad Harbour”, in particular, has been stuck in my head since I got the album.) Tunes like “Entering White Cecilia” seem tailor made to catch the ear of any listener who has an inclination towards power pop or clever, hooky music. The Steely-Dan-esque chorus is positively charming, as is its reverb-laden bridge.

Challengers is a brilliant album shot through with the kind of two-faced levity that could just as easily be a grimace as a grin. “My Rights Versus Yours” backs lyrical descriptions of “empires in rags” with smile-inducing melodic hooks and wonderfully upbeat harmonies. “Mutiny, I Promise You” similarly combines broad, sweeping, melodic swells and jaunty, bright chord progressions with emotionally mixed lyrics (e.g. “What’s the weight of the world worth? / … / And here is where you got lost / and here is how you got by / and here’s the mutiny I promised you”). The effect is one of powerful cognitive dissonance. But while New Pornographers excel at exploiting such emotional conflicts between lyrics and music, they are most in their element when they are when they direct all their musical energies in one emotional direction. Such is the case on the wistful, redemptive “Adventures in Solitude,” a song of survival, homecoming, and redemption with thick, lush (almost choral) vocal work.

I think the thing that I found most surprising about Challengers was how much it reminded me of classic 70s power pop. Tunes like the polyvocal, slightly surrealistic “Myriad Harbour” wouldn’t be out of place in the song books of any of the good psych rock bands of the late 60s or early 70s. The use of mandolin, melodion, a diverse percussion section, banjo, and other instruments give many of the tunes the kind of folk tinge which hasn’t really been in vogue in pop/rock genres for the past few decades.

Challengers is a brilliant album. For fans of good pop music, especially those who appreciate folk influences, Challengers is definitely an album to consider picking up. It is musically rich, lyrically interesting, and as emotionally powerful as any album I’ve heard this year.

May 202007

Sasquatch Preview: Neko Case

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This is the first in a series of Sasquatch! Festival preview posts. The plan is for one a day, featuring a music video from one of the artists who will be at the festival this year and about whom I’m particularly stoked. First up: singer/songwriter Neko Case (who some of you may know through her work with the New Pornographers.) Here’s a video of her and her band performing “Hold On, Hold On”: