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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