Saturday, January 02, 2010

Track 20: "Eid Ma Clack Shaw" by Bill Callahan

Bill Callahan, who typically releases music under the moniker Smog, put out one of his best album to date with Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle. As you may have read in my brother's post earlier, we are on opposite ends of the spectrum as Smog fans (with me playing the role of fanatic) and yet we both toyed with the idea of making it our album of the year.

This is the second time Callahan has departed from his alias both in name and style. While it's not a full-blown sea change, here he's relied less on cryptic witticism threaded through the darkness made by single track recordings. Callahan finds himself once again pessimistic about romance, but the storytelling that follows is made much livelier by being allowed to have a less jagged and simplistic melody. The resulting effect of this new soundscape is less woe-is-me and cynical portrait that is more sagely in it's wounded reflection.

“Eid Ma Clack Shaw” is another break-up song and great representation of Callahan's transformation as the lo-fi superstar of the Drag City roster has allowed an nother to be involved with the recording and his distinctive, baritone voice is accompanied by French horn, piano, and strings rather crackle of the cassette.

20.) "Eid Ma Clack Shaw" by Bill Callahan

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Track 19: Stealing Tomorrow" by Great Lake Swimmers

I could be compelled to speak about the consistency of Toronto-based Tony Dekker's Great Lake Swimmers following the release of group's fourth album, Lost Channel. Something interesting happened here though when the album was marketed to and found some success with the adult alternative format. In a way, I wish I wasn't on the Nettwerk PR list so I'd be ignorant to the fact one of my favorite musicians of the past five years has become more NPR-friendly than indie-cool. Of course while talk radio puts me to sleep, some say that Dekker's calculated pacing is numbered sheep in a musical format.

I continue to love the reflective snail's pace though. Lost Channels was recorded in castles, churches, and community centers in and around the Saint Lawrence River's Thousand Islands. It's certainly a unique, or at least under-looked, pastoral kindred to a folk pop genre that seems to have a shamanistic connection to its settings.

The obscurity of Great Lake Swimmers has baffled me following the success of Bon Iver. Both artists conjure up a rustic sound accompanied by excellent songwriting. This album was certainly more optimistic than previous offerings, but I was able something adequately moody in "Stealing Tomorrow," which landed on many more mix tapes made by me in 2009 than "Blood Bank."

19.) "Stealing Tomorrow" by Great Lake Swimmers

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Track 18: "Jonesy Boy" by Cass McCombs

Catacombs is the fourth album from elusive singer-songwriter Cass McCombs. All relevant facts regarding the man or his albums are open to debate. It could be an artistic stunt of mischief as his website may suggest. It could be the artistic stereotype of a recluse typified by vague, but personally loaded lyrics and rumors that the musician has the tendency to frequently pick up stakes and find new home cities to be anonymous. Like most truths it's likely somewhere in-between. In the few remarks he has made to the press, McCombs discussed dealing with the inevitable, unfair pressures that have very little to do with the music process. It says something about the man's talents that even still more ink is ultimately paid to discussing the talent rather the lack of concrete biography. Aligning oneself to feelings rather facts is a quick way to gain a fan base. It's the type of thing that quickly endears itself to thirty-somethings with a love of music and a predisposition towards music-fueled depression.

Even as there has been a noticeable move from the lo-fi arrangements of his first album to the cleaner presentation of the latest, there's always been a sense of intimacy to each song. This isn't earnest folk, so much as it's romantic folk. "Jonesy Boy," as some may recognize, has unofficially become my end-of-the-quiz theme music following my night of hosting Geeks Who Drink at Jonesy's.

18.) "Jonesy Boy" by Cass McCombs

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Track 16: "Triangle Walks" by Fever Ray

The stage names and back-story rumors paired with outlandish costumes and masks helped make The Knife one of the easiest bands to write about. Here we can simply contend with the captivating voice of Karin Dreijer Andersson. The Knife frontwoman’s debut solo album is every bit as moody as it's predecessor was dance-y. Things are still coated in synth-heavy music and eclecticism, but the pacing is brought to a crawl. It sort of reminds me of when you spend enough time observing something completely normal, you start to see how strange it really is. It's not a hollow or overtly arty representation of electronic music, but an eerie, anxiety-inducing setting for Karin's personal dark musings and symbol-laden puzzles.

"Triangle Walks" represents yet another track clearly representing it's world music influences while completely re-imagining the context. The Caribbean beats recall not as much a bouncy, sunny retreat, but dangers settling into a paradise after the sun goes down.

15.) "Triangle Walks" by Fever Ray

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Track 15: "Audacity of Huge" by Simian Mobile Disco

I'm not declaring Temporary Pleasure by Simian Mobile Disco one of my favorite albums of this year. While they continued to make dance music for people who hate dance music and packed the album with guest performers (Beth Dito, Gruff Rhys, Jamie Lidell), the album quite flat. Nonetheless, I had to make room for the one track that is worthy of attention.

That exception is the single "Audacity of Huge." Featuring Chris Keating from Yeasayer (see Track #9), the song is lyrically one of the most fun things I've heard in some time. It's a clever glimpse into what we only could wish music from white rappers would be. "I got a bag of Bill Murray" may be the actor's second best cameo of the year.

15.) "Audacity of Huge" by Simian Mobile Disco (feat. Chris Keating)

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Track 14: "It Don't Move Me" by Peter Bjorn and John (Miike Snow remix)

This next selection has a few stories behind it. First of all, I loved the new Peter Bjorn and John album, Living Thing, even though it seemed to offend everyone wanting another "Young Folks." Secondly, this gives me a chance to acknowledge Miike Snow, another trio (of Swedish producers and an American singer), who have put out some great remixes, but whose own 2009 was just okay. Finally, this is a chance to point towards my favorite 2009 source for free music, especially remixes and up and coming indie bands:

14.) "It Don't Move Me" by Miike Snow vs. Peter Bjorn & John


Track 13: "Earthquake" by Little Boots

Each year my list seems to require one album not yet available in the US. Hands was released this summer and was supposed to see a release here in the Fall, since moved to 2010. Mind you the album was actually recorded in LA, the first single raised ears in the trailer for the movie Jennifer's Body and it's the most radio-friendly thing on my mix.

The hardest admission is that I preferred this album to the sophomore release of the comparable Annie (it was a really close call). Little Boots is Victoria Hesketh, a former Pop Idol reject, and the girl is not afraid to release a mainstream pop album to the indie crowd. It doesn't when she endears herself to fans by doing stuff like covering 80s synthpop in her pajamas on YouTube. I believe this makes three years in a row for a Treasure Fingers remix at years end.

13.) "Earthquake (Treasure Fingers' Epicwave Mix)" by Little Boots

Track 12: "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) the Lionheart Remix" by Florence + the Machine

I initially crossed paths with Florence + the Machine while following the various projects of Devonte Hynes. The booming white-girl soul of Florence Welch, tinkered by a stable of noted producers, existed somewhere between Annie Lennox and Kate Bush and didn't immediately strike a chord with me.

That changed when I heard a remix of the second single. The direction of the remix is somewhat ironic considering that the Mercury Prize-nominated debut album was held up as an alternative to the UK's 2009 female electro-pop starlets. Singer/songwriter Jamie T (with frequent collaborator Ben Bones) is usually grabbing headlines overseas for his post-punk revival, but here he lays down my favorite remix of 2009.

12.) "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) the Lionheart Remix" by Florence + the Machine

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Track 11: "I Walk Alone" by Music Go Music

Expressions would be pretty high on my list if it weren't for that fact that it's merely a collection of singles and b-sides from the band's three 12" releases and that I included one of them on last year's mix. Still, it is nice to finally see all the songs in one place. The Los Angeles-based (of course) trio administers a dose of vintage, sugary 70's pop a'la ABBA and ELO in such a convincing manner, it might be mistaken for something found in a dusty thrift store bin. Surprisingly there is no guilt involved or at least I don't feel any.

Despite an elaborate set-up that begins with alias and ends with live performances on a staged, made-up program, removing the curtain, you will find members of the group Bodies of Water accompanied by a revolving door of other California bands noted for their own love of retro pop. I sort of loathe the attempt to be anonymous as it seems to suggest there is intentional irony. I want to believe someone loved this music and is trying to create the grandest tribute to it. Gala Bell aka Meredith Metcalf has one of the most enchanting voices you will ever hear and the rest of Music Go Music do a fine job at dousing out those burning disco albums and giving them a second life.

I think I've posted most of the songs on the album at one point or another. I choose this one because as Expression's opener, it does a fairly good job at shaking up the mood at the half-way point of the mix...where things start to take a dancier turn.

11.) "I Walk Alone" by Music Go Music

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Track 10: "I Want You To Know" by Dinosaur Jr.

Farm sounds like a vintage Dinosaur Jr album sacrificing nothing despite a two decade lapse and even exceeds their first reunited effort, 2007's Beyond. That album blew away everyone's expectations and brought new life to a band seemingly doomed to be remembered for it's internal strife rather than as one of the most influential underground bands of the late eighties. This is no longer an unlikely reunion, but a revitalization.

Where Beyond was a return to early Dinosaur and it's masterful distortion, this album offers a listen into what may have been if Lou Barlow had not left the band and continued into their nineties output. It was then that group finally found the right balance between noise and melody. Shredding guitars wait for the right moment to tear away on a solo as Mascis' underrated songwriting carries an emotional weight as wrenching as the feedback. And yes...Farm did have the best cover art of the year.

"I Want You To Know" sounds like it was lifted off the classic Where You Been album that brought the band commercial notoriety amidst the alternative boom of the early nineties. The group sometimes jokingly undersold the genesis of their sound being a love of metal and and a discovery of jangly pop. While they in fact listening to a very diverse list of bands, there's no doubting this is awfully catchy for something awfully heavy.

10.) "I Want You To Know" by Dinosaur Jr.

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2009: The Best They Had to Offer ( Josh Chimes In)

Hi there. Does anyone still visit these parts? I continue to not be so much up to the task of going into depth about my favorites. I'll just drop this list and wish '09 good riddance.

9 for '09:

Silversun Pickups "The Royal We". Swoon was a great, cohesive album from beginning to end and I know that I will continue to listen to it for many years. They deserve all the success and related accolades they received this year

Bill Callahan "Eid Ma Clack Shaw" Not a big Smog fan but I'll be darned if I didn't love Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, this one track in particular which is brilliantly conceived and thoroughly outstanding.

The National "So Far Around the Bend" The National continue to do no wrong. Forget that they wrote and sang the line "Praying for Pavement to get back together" in a year when just such a venture was put into action (wouldn't it be great if Stephen and company covered this in the Park next year?). The Nats' Aaron and Bryce Dessner compiled the best Red Hot compilation in like forever with artists that really mattered. New album allegedly on the way and I can't wait.

The Rural Alberta Advantage "Don't Haunt this Place" Great song that I will forever associate with getting back on the dating wagon in 2009. Didn't make it past the 2nd date but at least for once some gal introduced me to a cool new band!

The Cave Singers "Beach House" Each Cave Singers album has been good for one song that completely blew my mind. This was the culprit this time around.

The Boy Least Likely To "The Boy Least Likely to Is a Machine" The first band Jay and I wrote about on Audio for Drinking returned with an excellent 2nd disc. There were many stand-out tracks on the disc but this brilliant number stands out for its hypnotic use of the banjo.

The Avett Brothers "I And Love And You" You had me at Brooklyn.

Scotland Yard Gospel Choir "One Night Stand" Imagine you made an excellent new album and while on the road to promote it your fan flipped over and nearly killed you. That is the horrible fate that befell this Chicago group in 2009. They are still all recovering. I had tickets to see them here in Brooklyn and then again in Chicago and hope I'll be able to see a fully recovered kick-ass performance from the group in the near future.

Destroyer "Bay of Pigs" Mesmerizing. (Originally available only on vinyl you can find this single over at the iTunes store)

A Few other honorable mentions: Dinosaur Jr.'s released Farm which was thoroughly classic Dinosaur, Andrew Bird's Noble Beast satisfied year long, Brendan Benson's "Feel Like Taking You Home" and "A Whole Lot Better, AC Newman's "There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve", The Decemberists' Hazards of Love which renewed my faith after losing me at The Crane Wife, Neko Case for covering Harry Nilsson so brilliantly, Noah and the Whale for a top notch break up album (The First Days of Spring), Portugal the Man, Richard Swift, Elvis Perkins' "Shampoo", "You Never Know" which was the first Wilco song to excite me in long while, Steve Earle's astonishing ode to friend and mentor Townes Van Zandt, guilty pleasure Muse and "Ships With Holes Will Sink" a great song title from a band with a great name: We Were Promised Jet Packs. Lastly (literally), the last album I've bought this year, Joe Henry's Blood From Stars is as good as his Scar, one of my favorites of the last decade which is a whole other list.

If the forthcoming Midlake album which I've already heard is any barometer, 2010 shall be f'n awesome.

By the way, in case anyone is curious as to what I've done to fill the empty space in my ego since we stopped regularly contributing to the world of music blogging, you can check out the Present music seres I've been curating for the last 5 years over at

Friday, December 25, 2009

Track 9: "Tightrope" by Yeasayer

My #2 album of the year is the double-disc album Dark Was the Night, curated by members of The National to benefit the Red Hot Organization on it's 20th anniversary. The album raised thousands to fight AIDS/HIV while offering a bountiful collection of original music and covers from a generation's worth of notable independent artists. The list is mind-boggling and there is nary a throwaway track...hardly believable to you hear it.

Uber-hyped Dirty Projects start things off, collaborating with long-time Red Hot contributor David Byrne. Sufjan Stevens' provides the 10-minute epic "You Are the Blood." The unholy alliance of Feist and Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard put together a fitting hymn about loss. Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon makes two appearances. My Brightest Diamond puts together a powerful rendition of the signature jazz tune "Feeling Good" that is remarkably faithful to the greats that have done it before. Long-time faves such as Spoon, Arcade Fire, Decemberists, Iron & Wine and Yo La Tengo also make appearances.

In arranging DWtN, the National's Bryce and Aaron Dessner have even surpassed the amazing collection of artist's found on 1993's No Alternative, that decade's "it" indie benefit album. An amusing side-note several reviews pointed out: Pavement notably name-dropped REM on their No Alternative track and here the National slyly name-drop Pavement, singing "praying for Pavement to get back together" (which they coincidentally did months later).

Despite all the big names associated with the project, my favorite track would be a toss-up between that of the project's curators* and this one from the experimental, polyrhythmic tinkerers, Yeasayer. One of many indie darlings in 2007, they contributed this track while putting the finishing touches on their delayed 2010 sophomore album.

9.) "Tightrope" by Yeasayer

*My brother should drop the National track on the site soon (it's #17 on my mix)

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Track 8: "True or False" by Bishop Allen

As my brother and I discussed potential bands of the decade, with a prerequisite of four solid albums, I had to wonder if I could use Bishop Allen's appearance in the movie Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist as number four because I've really enjoyed their three albums. That particular high-profile moment led to several publications feeling obligated to review their latest and subsequently thrash it as being too simple, too twee, too cute, too condescendingly pop. Of course I've long shared my favorite of the five digits with any critic that thinks music must be challenging to be good. Spin called it a "charming diversion" as if that was a bad thing.

Grrr may not sound as immediately pleasing as the band's earlier efforts, but I feel like the decision to strip down to this type of simplicity is intentional as the group put together something pure fun after the well-reviewed Broken String and their expansive EP project. I'm not saying the album isn't overtly cute, but it is deceptively pulled together by a menage of folk instrumentation behind the sugary pop. It's hard to not have fun listening to Bishop Allen.

I purposely choose this song because I struggled with accepting songs where Justin Rice wasn't the primary vocalist. I certainly can't profess that a band is allowed to change it up every now and then and not be okay with this change of pace. Though, for the record, my favorite song on the album is "South China Moon."

8.) "True or False" by Bishop Allen

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Track 7: "When We Swam" by Thao with the Get Down Stay Down

A good album about bad relationships. That is the best way to sum up Know Better Learn Faster. I'm left wondering if it's strange that I find Thao Nguyen singing about failed relationships so seductive. It's the way she can hang on a syllable and make you want to dance even when the topic is sad sex. The songs as a whole capture an accurate portrayal of love lost as she pleads with the lover to stay one moment and needs them to go the next. It is one of the most familiar, but interesting observations within the "moving on" process and shows what a keen eye as a songwriter that Thao has on the human experience.

7.) "When We Swam" by Thao with the Get Down Stay Down

Everyone obsessively latched themselves to "Bag of Hammers" off the previous album and "When We Swam" seems to be fan favorite here despite the official single being the title track (featuring Andrew Bird). It's the "bring your hips to me cooing no doubt.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Track 6" "Islands" by The XX

Sex in the dark, drum machines and a Young Marble Giants-like aesthetic of less is more sums up this massively hyped debut album. With a tribute to R&B re-imagined as minimalist post-punk, the XX have self-produced an album worthy of pre or post coital playback. I just hope there's someone special in your life because this one deserved repeated listens. It somehow manages to lack the pretension or excess you'd expect from such a youthful group. Each track seems to have been calculated carefully to appeal both lyrically and as a mood. The XX have tapped into something beyond their years.

In the short between the albums release, cataclysmic explosion of blog coverage and their recent prepping for a Spring US tour (with former classmates Hot Chip), the group lost their keyboardist to exhaustion and will continue on as a threesome. One can only hope the shake up won't affect the emerging sound of a band that's earned its countless end-of-year nods.

While many have agreed about the album's status as one of this year's best, there's quite the argument going about the signature track. There's the commercially successful “Intro” as well as the tidy "Crystalised," but I have to side with fans of the album's cool cucumber love song featuring dueling vocals.

6.) "Islands" by The XX

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Track 5: "Monday to Saturday" by The Legends

The Legends have been around for seven years and it seems every time they release an album, it's met with some minor critical praise, but never enough rightful adoption by US-based music fans. In fact I've already seen this year's Over and Over mentioned on two "albums you might have missed" end of year lists. The group has become the primary musical outlet of Labrador Records founder and Swedish indie mainstay Johan Angergård, who has a revolving membership of friends performing his latest creations. Noted for dramatic shifts in muscical styles, over the course of four long-form releases listeners have been treated to four different sounding albums. They've accurately described the music as a "modern mix of white noise, 60’s girls pop, indie, ambient and krautrock."

This may be the nosiest album to date for The Legends, where Angergård's typically polished pop production is intentionally washed in ear-cracking cacophony. Songs range topically from drugs, heartache and sadless to the impending results of old age. The gratuitous noise for the sake of noise has put off a lot of listeners, especially those who expected more of the new wave sheen found on their previous release. Ultimately, the groups unsettled nature will be deemed genius by some and waved off by others as ego and unnecessarily mischievous. I choose to see it as a wry smile worn by the gifted, but typically ABBA-clean pop visage of Sweden.

Once again I'm arguably paying a great disservice to the album by including an atypical track on my mix. "Monday to Saturday" moreso sounds like it might have been a holdover from one of Angergård's earlier projects, specifically the also under-looked Acid House Kings. The C86-inspired singalong also features guest vocals from Karolina Komstedt, who with Johan performs as Club 8 (aka my favorite Swedish group).

5.) "Monday to Saturday" by The Legends

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