Man, it’s been quiet around here…
Last night was my seventh wedding anniversary. We opted to stay in and have a nice dinner, much to the chagrin of my three-year-old. After all, my partner is the best cook in this town (not counting chefs and even then it’s close). It was steak and loads of veggies from our CSA.
Normally, such an occasion calls for a ridiculously boozy imperial stout of sort or another, but I opted for the nice Port Brewing Anniversary Ale my friend Alex sent me. My wife had wine and the kid drank her milk and water dutifully.
Anniversaries are for reliving important moments in our lives. I attach conversations, food, drink, and music to these moments in time. I still remember the shot of Żubrówka I downed at the conclusion of the ceremony as well as the one I had after the pictures were all taken. Then there was that first homebrewed hefeweizen (courtesy of my FiL) and a blur of an evening. All these memories come rushing back every year on July 9th.
Breweries like to commemorate their anniversaries as well. As mentioned, my seventh was spent nursing one such beer from Port Brewing. With its fruitiness and boozy heft, the Imperial IPA stood up well to our top sirloin steaks. I may have held onto the beer too long to fully enjoy the hoppy nose I’m sure it offered when fresh, but the beer was so masterful in all other areas that it didn’t really matter. While it certainly was a proper brew for anniversaries - mine and theirs – I wouldn’t hold onto one until the next. Drink it now if you are lucky enough to find a bomber.
The music last night also hearkened back the days leading up to our wedding. My partner has particular tastes and isn’t always interested in what’s new. In those days, we wore out my copy of Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It in People. So, it seemed apropos to put the album on.
I like anniversaries. They don’t have to be big events. Sometimes a nice, quiet dinner with my two favorite people and a good beer is all I need.
When a blogger is struggling for material, his best friend is the list. Just come up with a list of best/worst of or whatever, and you’re bound to produce a coherent message and definitive opinion surely to strike up a conversation. When they’re good, the comments fill, Facebook notes are written in response, and traffic numbers spike. Even when the list is dumb or lame, there is sure to be no less than five comments.
The list is my slump-buster as it were. I haven’t posted in over two weeks for various reasons. Someone contacted me and asked me to post a top-ten records of the year. So, I’m working on that. When we’re all done, a bunch of us will post it on Tumblr or something. In the meantime, I have a list to create.
Making a fine, thought-provoking list requires several things. First, there’s the preliminary list off the top of your head. If you can just think up items to include on a list without any reference, said items probably deserve at least some consideration. Of course, something will be left off and it behooves the list-maker to search out some forgotten gems before submitting the final draft.
As mentioned above, I’m sorting out my list of top ten albums of the year. In the past, I’ve asked others to make my lists or have written lists for the number of days in December and beyond. Sticking to ten requires commitment and no fudging. I will pick ten, no more or no less. It will be ten definitive albums for 2010. Of course, one will have to take this list into context. I am a working stiff in his mid-thirties with a two-year-old. So, my scope is a bit limited despite my credit card debt and hours logged at P4k this year. That said, here’s the preliminary list with which I’m working, eventually to chisel down to ten. Let me know where I’m going wrong and what’s missing.
The Walkmen’s Lisbon was not an obvious choice on first listen, but it has grown on me. No other band sounds like mid-August quite like the Walkmen do on their last two albums. Hazy evenings. Crickets. Drinks on the deck. I am a bit biased when it comes to this band, but they are incapable of making a bad record.
Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest has honestly not received the attention it probably deserves, so this one is still under review. However, knowing Bradford Cox’s typical output, I will find something that will sneak Halcyon Digest into the top-ten.
Pavement didn’t release a proper album of new tracks this year. What they did do is answer my prayers with a reunion tour and released maybe the single greatest best-of album I’ve ever heard. Besides, how could I leave my favorite band off the list, especially with them in the name of this blog?
Arcade Fire’s Suburbs is the safe call, but is it too safe? This album is solid from front to back and possibly the group’s most complete effort thus far. Sure, it doesn’t have the hits like on Funeral or the complimentary pieces of Neon Bible, but it is something neither of those albums could be. Sometimes, the most obvious pick for a top-10 list is the best one.
Let’s Wrestle snuck into my consciousness through a compilation created by my sister for my daughter. That and their name comes from a Joan of Arc line I can’t believe I haven’t tattooed on my arm yet makes them all the more enticing. In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s is maybe my surprise hit of the year as I had discarded any pop-punk from my collection long ago. It’s juvenile and poppy, but I love it. It’s easily my sing-along album of the year.
The Tallest Man on Earth just sounds like Dylan if he were still around. The Wild Hunt is something fresh, something new in a very familiar package of rhyme, grainy vocals, and acoustic gee-tar. That’s hard to do and should be appreciated whenever we hear it.
Liars’ Sisterworld is dark and brooding and somehow punk. I can only listen to this record once in a while, because it angers me so. It’s good to reserve a place at the table for such a record.
Broken Social Scene disappointed some with Forgiveness Rock Record. For me, the band has taken on a new persona after seeing them a couple of times in the past couple of years. Before that, they were always a studio band for me. Then, once I put a face to the group, I began to hear them more sonically. This is the record that brings the live show to fruition. It’s their Wilco album.
Real Estate’s self-titled debut sat on my shelf for a bit, but then I heard the band live and gave them another chance. It’s a nice gem among the P4k’d crap. I don’t know that it will make the final 10, but it deserves a mention. Update – I just realized Real Estate was released last year. So, I only have to eliminate nine records.
Wolf Parade’s Expo 86 is another one of those albums that disappoints, but I’m not entirely sure why. It’s more complete, coherent than previous releases and therefore is often seen as boring or conventional. I don’t know how long it will stand the test of time, but it’s here, on this list for a good reason.
Best Coast gets ripped daily on Hipster Runoff. So, I was ready to write them off before even listening to a single track. Then, I caught them live. This is a nice record that fits well between my stacks of mid-nineties indie rock.
Beach House lost me with their first two records and I didn’t want to bother with this one, but that was my problem. Again, seeing the band live helped me get them and for that I’m thankful. There’s not a bad track on this record. That’s just not done anymore.
Here We Go Magic was suggested to me and I listened. I listened a lot, but then I became busy with other records. So, before this one makes the list or doesn’t, I will have to listen to it again.
Los Campesinos!’s Romance Is Boring is pretty fun and probably deserves a spot next to Let’s Wrestle. It’s good that the Brits are listening to our indie rock and doing all they can to replicate it. This has worked out well for them (the British) in the past (see The Beatles, Rolling Stones).
The Soft Pack used to be Muslims before converting. The result was a pretty angry record with intense focus and drive. The anger is felt and the focus and drive carry the record from start to finish. I don’t know that it will make the final ten, but it’s good enough to be considered.
Quasi is the Rodney Dangerfield of indie bands, make that indie super bands. American Gong will make no one’s best of list and that’s a shame. For that reason, it may have to make mine.
Spoon’s Transference is not the greatest Spoon record ever. Of course, 99% of the bands out there would love to make an album this good. I will have to think long and hard about this one. I may leave it off, because, well, I have to leave something out.
Corin Tucker Band is a bit of a surprise in several ways. First, I never thought Tucker would do a solo project outside of parenting and whatever she currently does for a living. Second, this record is so not a Sleater-Kinney-light record. Third, Corin Tucker can write a good song. I don’t know why all this surprised me. I think I just saw Tucker as a piece in Sleater-Kinney, something that was greater than its parts. I need to listen some more, but this album is streaking down the stretch.
A conversation on Facebook has me considering
The Badus Band, Disappears, Weekend, Scarecrow Frequency, Jim O’Rourke, Born Ruffians, Tame Impala, Screaming Females, and Double Dagger. However, I doubt I will have time nor money to listen to all of those releases before my final list “goes to press”. So, in the meantime, comment on what you see here. Am I missing something? Am I way off on something? What should my final ten look like?
As always, comments are welcome and the footnotes explain so much more about my thinking.
1Which for me is a lot. I haven’t finished a post here in over two weeks. And often when I do publish a post, it’s unfinished.
2However, I recognize how superficial a list can be. I hate that Rolling Stone just does lists now, lists that they often re-remember by conveniently forgetting that they panned Smells Like Teen Spirit or whatever. The list lacks depth, but it opens the door for more interesting discussion. Hell, I’m writing a list that will lead to another list.
3Even if a third of the comments are mine and another third happen on Facebook or Twitter. I suspect three of you (or hopefully more) will comment here; I’ll respond twice; and one or two of my FB friends who hate to comment on this blog will comment there.
4Typically, the term “slump-buster” is reserved for that one-night stand that ends a long slump without getting any action. Since I blog and am happily married, this is my slump-buster. I wonder how many hits I’ll get for using the term “slump-buster”?
5There will be a beer angle as well, just not a separate best of 2010 beer list. It feels forced to do both. Besides, I have a great idea for working in some great beers to this list.
6Oddly, she used to sleep a lot more and I had more time for blogging. Now, night time is a full-on major undertaking and I’m too exhausted to write.
7However, as will be explained later in this post (above the footnotes), I don’t have time nor money to listen to all of your suggestions. So, it may be best to just comment on what’s here and not much that isn’t.
8To some, this will sound blasphemous, but The Walkmen are my new Pavement. I haven’t worked out exactly why, but they do for me what Pavement once did and I suspect they will have the same staying power when I’m old and gray. This is surely a post to come.
9I’ve noticed that seeing a band live and in support of a current release often elevates said release in my estimation of its greatness. Half of these records would never be on my radar without seeing the bands live. Something can be said for that. I guess I just did.
10Who has impeccable taste for a two-year-old.
11First, I said “yet”. Second, that would have been cool/sexy when I was a skinny college kid with an indie addiction. Now, it’s probably just creepy.
12Such a lazy comparison, but every time I put this record on, someone inevitably makes the Dylan comparison. It’s more in the aesthetic than in the message, but it’s apt.
13Which means that everything they release from here on out will suck in that sort of benign al.country way and invite douche-bags in hats and granolas to dance drunkenly in endless circles in whichever arena they choose to play next.
14This has been an interesting time to listen to all these “new” bands that just sound like the bands I saw in clubs 15 or so years ago. It’s been nice to hear a familiar aesthetic in new music.
15And after working on all these stupid footnotes, I have had a chance to listen again. It really is a good, varied record. Considering it for the list as I type this.
16I think they’re actually Welsh, so “Brits” is not meant as an insult if it is an insult.
17It was just a name change.
18Someone described it as “Pop songs stripped to the core and made weird.” This simple phrase paints Transference in a new light for me. There is much about which to think.
19Because there is no way she’s living off Sleater-Kinney royalties, unless they made a shit-ton of money opening for Pearl Jam a few years back.
I had a lot of ideas for blogging post-Pitchfork, but figured most of you would just want a rundown of the bands. Included are a few of the pictures that actually turned out. I’m decent with close-up angles and whatnot, but I can’t get the hang of the zoom, holding still, or context from a distance. So, there are very few good pictures to share .
So, without further ado, here’s my take on this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival…
The train actually arrived somewhat on time for me to catch a cab to my hotel and make the Metro with enough of a window to make The Tallest Man on Earth’s set (or at least part of it). However, I soon realized my ticket was still in my hotel room. So, I missed the first performer on my list to see. No worries as it gave me time to figure out the festival layout, grab some food, drink a beer, and buy a Pitchfork t-shirt for my child.
First up for me was Liars. Something can be said for a man in a sleeveless Men At Work t-shirt providing deep, foreboding vocals over a dark, punk rawk onslaught. Well, the t-shirt was a one-time thing, me thinks, but the rest of it was all Liars. They absolutely assaulted the crowd with their uneasy, tension-heavy, Slint-like dirges. I don’t know what it is, but dark, ominous bands like this work for outdoor summer music festivals. The contrast is striking. They don’t give a shit as their pale skin burns in the sun and the band expects nothing less than for the audience to pay attention, bobbing heads to the beat of their somber message. To say the least, it was a quite a start to the weekend.
For something lighter, I headed to the Balance stage for the comedic stylings of Wyatt Cenac – yes, that Wyatt Cenac. Before the Daily Show correspondent came on, Hannibal Burress was wrapping up. He was comfortable and fluid, even at ease with the crowd of music fans and hipsters. Then, Cenac came out. He started slow and built some momentum before he completely flopped. Something changed. I don’t know whether a joke missed or what, but Cenac just sort of stuttered through the rest of his bit. I chose to move on instead of watching this sinking ship.
I opted to skip Robyn and wait over at the Connector stage for Broken Social Scene to commence. And commence they did as the current line-up bounced around their catalog seamlessly. They were much more focused than the last time I caught them. Of course, the set times at a festival such as Pitchfork mean more concise setlists. Still, BSS were a lot of fun. That was apparent as they started with new rocker “World Sick” but followed it with the BSS classic “Stars and Sons”. The set was about as perfect as could be expected.
Modest Mouse closed out the first day on the main stage, also known as the Aluminum. I was beat from the day’s travel, so I hung back to for the set. As I wore a 13-year-old Modest Mouse t-shirt, I remembered the days of seeing this band in small clubs. I appreciate those opportunities so much more now as Modest Mouse has long ago made the transition to this sort of stage and spot in a festival lineup. Funny, the one song that probably put them in that position (“Float On”) was not a part of the setlist, but “Dramamine” was and I was taken back to the show where I bought that t-shirt in a club with washing machines in Cincinnati. It reminded me that I still like Modest Mouse, possibly more out of a feeling of nostalgia than anything they record these days. Either way, it was a nice way to close out the evening.
I beat the crowd and searched out a bar with a nice tap and bottle list. I sipped a Two Brothers Hop Juice which was the perfect antidote for a road-weary traveler. I liked the beer so much that I made a point to bring a bomber home, among several other select brews. More on all that in a future post.
This was my first full day in the city, so I intended to take advantage. Near Union Park where the festival was being held, there was a restaurant/bar called Twisted Spoke. A graveyard of motorcycles sat out front, but inside was an impressive bar with even a more impressive beer selection. The list was so good that I contemplated hanging around for a late morning beer or at least a return for beers in the evening. However, it was not in the cards. Instead, I loaded up on calories with a passable breakfast burrito. Still, the Twisted Spoke will be on the list for my next Chicago trip, whenever that is.
There were a lot of early performers on Saturday’s lineup I wanted to at least catch a glance so as to form a more complete opinion of their work. First up was Netherfriends, a Chicago band whose releases are put out on the Columbia, MO label Emergency Umbrella. They were much sharper in my opinion than last summer’s EU showcase. I made sure to catch Free Energy over on the Aluminum stage and just couldn’t get into the cheesy hippie vibe they were selling. Think of every cheesy pop-rock hit of the 70′s and 80′s and there you have Free Energy. It’s funny how recycled sounds in music are often confused for innovation.
Real Estate took over Connector. What came out was a pleasant surprise as they recalled my entire college years of going to see bands trying to emulate Pavement with their oddly hooky melodies and odder guitar tunings. They were good enough to make my list of bands with LP’s to purchase. Part way through, I caught a moment or two of Sonny & the Sunsets at Balance…but I really don’t remember much. They were poppy, entertaining, sort of doo-wop retro or something. They weren’t as annoying as Free Energy, but they also weren’t as memorable either. So, I returned for the rest of Real Estate’s stellar set.
I watched a couple of pointless minutes of Delorean before heading to Balance for Kurt Vile. Where Real Estate reminded me of the local bands I used to see and love, Vile reminded me of many of my nineties heroes. With his long hair in his face, shoegazing, I was reminded on several occasions of another Kurt. His form of garage rock made me think of everything from the hinted-at Nirvana to Guided By Voices to Dinosaur Jr. Kurt Vile’s catalog certainly deserves a closer listen than the one EP I currently own.
Sadly, I had to leave Vile’s set early in order to catch the opening of Titus Andronicus’ Connector performance. Although leaving before Vile completed was unfortunate, it was well-worth it as Titus put on one of the more impassioned sets of the festival. I knew they would be a great live band, but it was even better than expected. Luckily, the next act on Connector was another rawk outfit in The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. JSBX was in mid-nineties form and quite possibly was the best-dressed act of the weekend. The band ripped through a mixture of the old and newish, showing the kids what rock ‘n roll is all about. The last two times I had seen them, they played too little (about 10 minutes) and way too much (somewhere in the ballpark of 2.5 hours). So, it was great to hear/see a blistering sub-hour-long set from the old men of rawk.
I quickly made it over to a rather crowded Aluminum stage for Wolf Parade’s turn. I’ve loved this band for a while and have greatly anticipated seeing them. Keeping the pace set by Titus and JSBX (sans a brief and awkward interruption from former Wu Tanger Raekwon), Wolf Parade did not disappoint, opting for little banter and preferring to just play. The cool synth sounds of Spencer Krug balanced perfectly with Dan Boeckner’s rock licks. This was something I’ve always known, but it actually translated live in the early evening sun.
Originally, my plan at this point was to skip the last two acts and hit a brewery, but the long day took it’s toll. I opted instead to stay for Panda Bear and LCD Soundsystem. Panda Bear was interesting, even somewhat enjoyable. However, it was a bit of a snore for an outdoor music festival. LCD Soundsystem, on the other hand, were really pretty good, revealing to me their appeal. LCD is a rock band making dance music or DJ’s making rock music or something like that. Anyway, I enjoyed much of their set, but had to sneak out early in preparation for day 3.
Day 3 was easily the best day of the festival. Besides the headliner, the day was loaded with the best buzz bands and most eclectic mix. I spent more time at the Balance stage than the first two days as its lineup was packed with interesting bands all day long. At some point, sacrifices had to be made.
I saw very little of CAVE, a Chicago band with Columbia connections, due to a 20 minute thunderstorm which wreaked havoc on the stage’s sound system. The stage was running behind for the rest of the day. With CAVE’s late start, I decided to head over to see Allá. Despite the Latin flair in their promotional material, I didn’t catch much of a Latin presence aside from three of the band member’s perceived ethnicity. What I did detect is some good, old-fashioned grunge. This band would have thrived circa 1992. Sunday, they were good enough to demand some attention. I later returned to see CAVE’s rather impressive finale.
At this point, the dance between stages had only begun. I moved between sets by Cass McCombs (think Elvis Costello pop sensibility in front of a garage band), Best Coast (surprisingly great), Girls (infinitely better than the last time I saw them), Local Natives (White Rabbits with more punch and harmonizing, if that’s possible), Beach House (more below), Lightning Bolt (freakishly entertaining), and Surfer Blood (also see below).
I bought the first Beach House record and haven’t really gone back for more. The record was good, but I didn’t really grasp what they were doing that was so great. This year’s release was getting a fair amount of pub, so I made a point to check them out on Sunday. I’m glad I did as their sets was easily one of the top five of the festival. The music reminded me of Cat Power, pre-R&B obsession and without all the crazy. I get their appeal now. Beach House won me over this weekend.
Another band I was not sold on was Surfer Blood. Their debut was fine enough, but I wasn’t sure what it was doing. Was it alt.country? Was it straight-up rock similar to Soft Pack? Was it bland adult-alternative crap? Their live show cleared up the confusion. More than almost any other band in this year’s lineup (along with Real Estate), Surfer Blood reminded me of Pavement. The vocals were more American-meets-Manchester and the musicianship may have been better, but it was very Pavement-esque. They’re not a Pavement clone, but they’ve gleaned enough to make some pretty compelling rock music.
This was the point in the day I made a decision. I didn’t need to see any other band besides Pavement. I skipped out on Here We Go Magic, a band I was really wanting to see. I did this just so I could set up shop 10-15 feet from the Aluminum stage where Pavement would play three hours later. From this spot, I “watched” St. Vincent tear up the Connector stage. She was really impressive, much more so than when I saw her open for Andrew Bird, but I didn’t leave my spot. I survived Major Lazer and waited through Big Boi just to stay near the stage.
Before moving on, I have to write something about Major Lazer. Major Lazer is a DJ, hype man, and various dancers. That hype man and the two featured female dancers simulated sex on stage while downing copious amounts of alcohol. I’m no prude, but this was some raunchy-ass shit. We’re talking doggy-style, legs wrapped around waists, and even sexual acts involving one participant launching himself from a ladder onto his “dance partner”. Of course, the music is sexually charged as anything I’ve heard. Whatever. It was highly entertaining. I can’t say that I’m a Major Lazer fan, but it could have been worse.
It was as if they had never left. The band, somehow frozen in time, took the stage in their customary positions – SM on the left, Ibold center-stage, Spiral Stairs on the right, Nasty & West in the back – and promptly false-started their first song. The second try at “Cut Your Hair” went much smoother. This was exactly as I remember my favorite band even after eleven years of silence. They were perfectly imperfect from the beginning. There’s so much more for me to say about Pavement that won’t fit in this post. I’ll do another just on their set later this week. Just know that it was as good as advertised. I can’t wait to see them again in September.
That was my weekend. I had some time on Monday to wander Chicago and grab some more beer to take home. The train was over an hour behind schedule, but that didn’t dampen my mood. There will be more on Pavement and Chicago’s status as a beer destination later this week. So, stay tuned. In the meantime, read through the footnotes.
1And I use the term “good pictures” rather loosely.
2This is where I am in my life now. I buy rock concert t-shirts for my kid. It’s no longer about me proving to everyone how rock ‘n roll I am. It’s now about proving to everyone how rock ‘n roll my kid is. I don’t know whether it’s pathetic or sweet.
3He claimed to have a gig with Saturday Night Live. I believed him, but I thought for sure Lorne Michaels had a one-black-dude limit. I could be wrong though.
4I think it had to do with the noise from the other stages.
5If I want pop, I’ll go to a Brittney concert. Seriously, from what I could hear, it was downright awful. Of course, I know some dudes who would disagree.
6Although, Brendan Canning looked like a middle-aged woman with his slightly over-sized glasses, bright tank top, and feathered hairdo. Kevin Drew looked like a skinnier, younger Jeff Tweedy in his panama and sunglasses. Still, they were quite excellent musically.
7This breaks maybe the biggest rule in my concert-going rulebook. You should never be that guy who wears a band t-shirt for the band you are seeing. However, I considered two facts as exceptions to the rule. First, this t-shirt, along with JSBX and Pavement t-shirts worn the next two days, is more than a decade old, featuring bands from my college days. Second, outdoor summer festivals have different rules in general regarding such things. I believe I was well-within my right to wear these t-shirts.
8I will not lose any sleep over this fact.
9It’s called Sudsy Malones. I had a beard and wore a thrift store sweater like every day back then. We actually got to meet Isaac Brock that night. He offered us beers, giving three of us one and keeping one for himself as he hit on a female companion of ours and our brother’s roommate who had similar Buddhist-inspired tattoos as Brock.
10Encores were put in place for old people like myself to slip out before the kids clog the exits.
11My beer adventures were not that impressive on this trip, but I do have an impression as to what kind of beer city Chicago is.
12I really wanted a Founders Cerise, but figured 11:00 am was too early for a beer. And with the temperatures expected in the 90′s, getting an early start with the alcohol was not the best of ideas.
13Yes, I do recognize that many of the bands I praise on this blog do the same thing. However, they often emulate bands I also like. So, reinvention is great when it’s something worth recycling.
14Mentioning this band will undoubtedly get me some SPAM comments from real estate agents. I was able to Tweet one thing about Real Estate and I now have real estate agents from all over the country following me.
15In all fairness, Delorean played really hard. They just aren’t my cup of tea. I’m OK with synth music and music intended for dance clubs. I just don’t like a lot of it disguised as an indie band. Is that close-minded? Probably. Do I care? Not really.
16I realized that Vile toured with Dinosaur Jr upon purchasing a concert poster in the fest’s gallery of poster makers. It’s a Dinosaur Jr poster featuring a wine bottle just before it is de-corked. Kurt Vile is listed as an opener.
17The EP isn’t terrible. It’s just full of a tracks that sound like he’s fucking around. Vile’s live show is way more compelling than fucking around.
18Although I am not anti-keyboards, I grow weary of them after a while. Just play some guitar, dammit.
19I am particularly talking about Jon’s pants. He wore black vinyl with neon green stitching and he owned those pants.
20Oddly enough, that show was also a summer festival in a major city, sponsored by an entertainment rag. It was the inaugural Village Voice Siren Festival on Coney Island.
21OK. I am also not anti-hip hop. I love the Wu and a lot of other hip hop acts. I just often have a hard time with alt rock festivals throwing some hip hop acts into the lineup and then watching a bunch of middle-class white kids getting all gangsta for an hour. It’s fine if it’s your thing. I’m just not that into it.
22But it allowed me to check out some of the vendors a little more closely. I picked up the 33⅓ take on Wowee Zowee which I digested on the train ride back to Missouri.
23Lightning Bolt is two dudes. One plays bass. The other plays drums with some sort of mask. There’s a mic inside the mask which muffles everything the drumming screamed over their music. Oh, and they played ridiculously fast. If you ever get a chance to see them live, do it.
25Almost to the point that he was by himself, playing toward his band mates.
26I suspect this was a lot easier to read than past posts, given that I now have added anchored footnotes. Thanks David for the idea.
Sorry for the inadvertent two-week layoff. Time just got away from me. I did start about three posts in that time period which is my typical schedule1. Now, on with the post…
Usually I like to list the best records at the midpoint of the year. So, below, you will find a rather pathetic list as I’m not sure I’ve purchased ten good records2 to include at the midpoint of 2010, but I must keep up with the Jones or whatever. This list is in no particular order and is surely missing something, but I’m sure you’ll tell me what that is in the comments.
Spoon – Transference
I know some people don’t like Spoon. They’re too whorish. They smirk too hard. They demand attention. They only put on a good show half of the time. Their frontman is named “Britt”. This is all forgotten as one puts the needle to the record. Britt Daniel writes how I think. It’s not always PC, but it’s brutally honest. The production on a Spoon record is like nothing else3. It’s sparse and it echoes. It’s textured without being too much. Spoon doesn’t make bad records and Transference is just another example of this fact.
Let’s Wrestle – In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s
I love naiveté in my indie rock and these boys bring it wrapped nicely in a Billy Bragg package. It’s punk without being cliched. It’s fun without being too stupid. In the Court of the Wrestling Let’smakes me feel young. I sing to it in the car. My 21-month-old likes it. It’s on Merge. How can you hate this record? The answer is that you can’t. No matter how hard you try not to, you love this record. This is the album you will grow to love soon.
Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring
So emotive Brits singing anthem after anthem about sex and getting drunk and dancing doesn’t do it for you? That’s fine. This record is big and fun without losing touch.
The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack
There’s not enough straight-up college rock anymore4. This was what they called music before alternative and indie that wasn’t hardcore or on the radio. The Soft Pack have hit that nerve. They’re like a post-90′s-indie Smithereens5. It’s nothing flashy. It’s just good.
Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
I went into this one with low expectations and came out happily surprised. The pleasure from this record has carried over the last month or so since the record was released. Sure, it’s not the best BSS album, but I’ll listen to it a ton more than that outtakes record. Really, it is one of the top ten albums this year. However, I still contend the last two tracks are two of the weakest in the BSS canon.
Wolf Parade – Expo 86
Like BSS, these Canucks6 are graded by a different set of criteria than everyone else7. Though this is their third-best record, it’s better than 99% of the crap that passes for music these days8.
The National – High Violet
Everyone’s album of the year had to make my list. It really is that good. I can’t guarantee that it will finish at the top of the heap by year’s end, but it will certainly be on the list. That and there’s something there to which I’m connecting. It could be the Ohio-centric narrative or the album’s struggle to break free of the limitations of adulthood or it’s just a really cool-sounding record.
Quasi – American Gong
I was close to writing this band off. Then several folks in my circle saw them live and reported that the band was doing well. It seems adding a bassist and replacing the keys with some strings has worked. American Gong is maybe the band’s best work in 10 or 15 years.
The Tallest Man on the Earth – The Wild Hunt
The new Dylan has arrived9. I don’t mean to make it sound like TTMONE writes songs as timeless and inspiring as Dylan, but he comes close. That and he sounds a shit-ton like the old man10. That has to count for something in this post-pop, post-hip-hop world.
Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Rock ‘n roll did not die. Bruce Springsteen has seen to that if not in his own material it happens in his influence on music. TA is maybe the most Springsteen-like band making music right now. They don’t always sound like the Boss or write like him, but the feel and urgency of a Springsteen album is here. They’re like Arcade Fire with balls or Cono Oberst with a PBR11. It’s guttural. It’s meaningful. It’s Jersey12.
Bonus: Pavement – Quarantine the Past
I hate including compilations. They typically suck and leave out so much great material while including the worst in a band’s discography. That said, this is maybe the best best-of I’ve ever heard. Of course I’m biased, but I couldn’t have put together a better comp that fills my need for nostalgia13 while properly educating the masses to the greatness that was Pavement. Seriously, it’s worth a listen and your dollars.
Before the year’s out, I need to check out albums by The Besnard Lakes, Midlake, and The Black Keys. I am also awaiting deliveries/releases from the likes of Arcade Fire, Superchunk14, Fleet Foxes, The Shins, Here We Go Magic, and Kurt Vile15. Are there others I’ve missed?
As a super double bonus, here are my top five beers of the year so far. Again, this list is in no particular order and your comments are welcome.
Russian River Supplication
It was too bad I only had one of these beauties. The guy who organized the order said that it was one of his favorites was right. It was just the right amount of sour. The balance and complexity of flavors made the $20 I laid down for 12 ounces16 worth it. It’s made me somewhat obsessive about spending more time with this brewery…even considering their inappropriate use of Comic Sans.
Great Lakes Brewing Lake Erie Monster DIPA
This beer was found by accident. In a drive-through17 in Bellefontaine, Ohio, there were four-packs of this beauty. I tried desperately that night to drink all four, but my morning the flight the next day told me to leave it and dream fondly of the citrus and pine with which this divine concoction graced my tongue. Hopefully, Mom finds some more for me when she drives out here next week.
Brett and coffee in the same beer? Yes. And it’s good? Yes. What a great surprise this beer was. There was so much going on in this brown-with-brett brew. Perfect for pairing with almost anything. I wish I had another right now.
Mikkeller 1000 IBU
1000 IBU’s shouldn’t even be drinkable18. Sure, it will be hoppy as hell, but some balance is nice once in a while. Well, Mikkeller somehow figured 1000 IBU’s out a way to make it work. This beer is so smooth and drinkable. It’s quite surprising. They figured out a way to capture the actual taste of hops.
Ken Schmidt/Maui/Stone Kona Coffee Macadamia Coconut Porter
I don’t normally go for porters but this one is hard to resist. The coffee, macadamia, and coconut meld perfectly to brew a beer that is just sweet enough to delight. This beer and the black pilsner Stone also collaborated to make are two of my favorite beers of the last couple of years.
Bonus: My go-to beer of the year is Lagunitas Hop Stoopid
Everyone has to have that inexpensive beer they can pick up whenever from the store at a moment’s notice without spending a wad of cash. At $4 a pop, 22 0z. of this hop bomb is all I need. It seems every time I go to the store to buy some beer, I leave with a Hop Stoopid as well.
Look to see if any of the albums or beers on this list hold up in December. I figure most if not all of the beers and about half of the albums will make the year-end top-10′s. What have I missed?
1Plus, I have this Tumblr thing going and a kid, etc.
2Partly this is due to saving some money and partly due to chillwave.
3One of the two best Interpol tracks I’ve ever heard was recorded by Britt.
4Except that if you read this blog, that’s all I write about.
5For the record, I never really like the Smithereens that much. The comparison just fits, me thinks.
6My sister used to just buy records based on the fact they were reviewed in Pitchfork and the band was from Canada. The Pitchfork thing doesn’t work as well anymore, but the Canadian thing does…except for Nickleback and Barenaked Ladies.
7Possibly a Canadian indie band criteria?
8Cranky, old record store clerk line.
9I’m sure that I’m the first to say this.
10My father-in-law couldn’t get over how much this dude reminded him of Dylan.
11In this sentence, “balls” and “PBR” are interchangeable.
12I think I just wrote New Jersey’s new state motto/tagline.
13I wish someone had gone back in time with this album on cassette tape, handed me a copy, and told me that this would be my favorite band. It sort of feels like they did.
15The last two will join Pavement, TTMONE, Titus, Wolf Parade, and Broken Social Scene for P4k. I’m really looking forward to that weekend in July.
16I know. I know.
17These are big in Ohio. You drive through a building with beverages and snack items lining the walls. You order without getting out of the car, pay, and drive off with a load of beer. I used to think every state had drive-throughs. I found out I was wrong.
18It is thought that most people can only taste up to 100-120. Your hoppy beers start in the 50′s and usually top out in the 80′s. Crazy hop bombs usually claim 100 IBU’s. 1000 IBU’s is insane.
19I nearly forgot the footnotes. You’re welcome.
There’s this guy I know who has a pretty realistic perspective on movies. If he reads on various film review sites that it’s a C movie, he looks for it to be the best C movie it can be. No one went to Gigli expecting Citizen Kane. If someone actually pays money to see a Gigli, they hold it up to I Know Who Killed Me, Glitter, or Showgirls. My friend lowers or raises his expectations based on reviews before entering the theater, allowing for the most enjoyment possible for lesser cinematic fair1.
Music sort of works that way for me as well. If I read some lukewarm-to-bad reviews of albums, my expectations are automatically lower. The same goes for bad performances or a string of less-than-stellar releases. I only expect the album to be so good. If it meets that low expectation, the album has done the best it can do in my eyes. Sometimes, that’s OK.
Enter Broken Social Scene’s Forgiveness Rock Record.
Every person or outlet I trust thought this was a lame duck at best and a crap sandwich at worst. I was beginning to regret pre-ordering the thing as visions of the last two Broken Social Scene Presents… inhabited my nightmares2. There was virtually no reason for me to like this record.
Then I listened to the record.
Forgiveness Rock Record is as varied and textured as any other Broken Social Scene record. It may not be the best effort from the Canadian super-group, but it has to be better than 90% of the crap that passes for music these days. It has highs and lows, but it was fine. The record wasn’t anywhere near as bad as folks wanted me to believe. It met and exceeded my expectations.
But what if I don’t take those reviews into account? What if I judge the album on its own merits? What’s wrong with this record?
The LP opens with “World Sick”, as big a BSS rave as any song in their catalog, starting easy and breazy only to blow up into a chorus that’s all “hey, everybody on stage NOW” kind of a moment for which BSS is known. “Chase Scene” is just what the title suggests. Imagine every chase scene in the history of action movies and then imagine a mashup of all the accompanying songs played during those scenes. There’s urgency, horns, and some cheesy-ass keyboards3.
“Texico Bitches” is a moving, danceable ditty with odd word-play found all over BSS records. In “Forced to Love”, the band picks up the pace and devolves4 into something electronic with the entrance to “All to All” which reminds me of a Stars song through and through. The movie meme returns with the bombastic and Motown/Stax horn-driven “Art House Director” calling into memory the band’s cinematic collaborations5.
The sleepy “Highway Slipper Jam” breaks the momentum with hushed vocals, looped acoustic guitar, and whistling. The poetic profanity that makes me smile whenever I listen to a BSS record kicks in with “Ungrateful Little Father”6, bouncing over a blip-heavy percussive love-fest. “Meet Me in the Basement” is proof that no one does an instrumental like BSS by including prog rock, pop flourishes, and that ever-present urgency. This leads into the quiet opening to “Sentimental X’s” which continues the Stars love as it speeds into some blips, bleeps, and more prog.
A cool, white-boy R&B track known as “Sweetest Kill” comes in to kill the mood in a good way. The song cheeses its way to the following track, “Romance to the Grave”. I don’t know whether it’s supposed to be Northeast country-western, Canadian surf, or just another indie movie soundtrack, but this instrumental leads into basically a Sea and Cake song, complete with Sam Prekop vocals7.
After such a strong start and middle, the album fades a little. “Water in Hell” is the all-American rocker BSS rarely plays. The album continues to jump genres, eras, and made-up clichés as they play a song comfortable on any grassroots rock record from 1974. It might be the low-point of the record, but it’s inoffensive enough to simply ignore. “Me and My Hand” opens like a Wayne Coyne ballad complete with off-kilter guitar strums and off-key vocals. It doesn’t close any better.
Despite the two final tracks, I find very little wrong with Forgiveness. It’s a crisper sound than previous work, more hi-fi than lo-fi. There are an annoying amount of blips, bleeps, and blops, but they’re harmless enough. The prog touches are a bit off-putting, but they generally work with the material. I see where a BSS fan would be disappointed, but this is a seriously good record.
I place a lot of the blame/credit for all the new sounds on producer John McEntire8. This record just sounds like a Tortoise/Sea & Cake record. That’s all and I’m fine with that. Sure, BSS broke down a lot of limitations put on (indie) rock in the mid-nineties, particularly by bands from Chicago. However, their willingness to embrace these origins and influences is a great strength of the Toronto collective. To prove this point further, BSS enlisted the help of such folks as the aforementioned Sam Prekop, Spiral Stairs, Doug McCombs, and Sebastian Grainger9.
Broken Social Scene’s ability to create new music that also nods to its forefathers is something I admire in the group. It sets them apart from so many hipster acts who merely rip-off their predecessors. There’s a collaborative aura around BSS already, but when they include indie rock luminaries the result becomes rich with substance and context10.
Forgiveness Rock Record has nothing for which it needs to apologize. I get why folks might not like it, but it speaks to me loud and clear. Broken Social Scene is still the most engaging, exciting band in the scene at this very moment. Sure, one can argue that other acts are more esoteric, post-ironic, or punk, but those bands are not as consistently good as BSS.
So, were my expectations lowered? Sure, but that only allowed me to be open to what this record had in store for the listener. I can hear Broken Social Scene at its best as well as all their influences in Forgiveness. I can appreciate the Chicago post-everything scene from which McEntire developed. It’s all there and that makes for a complex, thrilling, and emotive record I will put on repeat throughout the summer11.
1Except that this means most movies with great reviews will likely not meet expectations. So, my friend sees a lot of crappy movies in the process. Of course, he can always be counted on to see a summer blockbuster at a minute’s notice.
2This explains why I have yet to purchase the massive 10-song EP they released of outtakes. Who does that? Even a band like Pavement waits for the re-issue to tack on the outtakes. No one releases 10-song outtakes. Hell, Caribou’s last record only had ten tracks and it’s an LP!
3Actually, the lyrics are a bit silly. They remind me of something straight out of Team America: World Police with its rather literal lyrics about the scene of his life. A little silly, but an interesting track nonetheless.
4Actually, the only thing that’s “electronic” is in “All to All”. It’s sort of hard to tell when one track ends and the next begins here.
5Well, there’s really only been that teacher/crack-addicted hipster movie a few years back, but there’s word that they are composing soundtracks for a couple projects as I write this.
6I guess “mother fucker” is a synonym for “father” in a way. Kind of makes me feel dirty.
7And is it just me or does Kevin Drew often call upon his inner-Prekop on such tracks? A little post-modern to actually include Prekop in the proceedings.
8I am not much of Tortoise fan and have learned to tolerate Sea & Cake’s development over the years into Tortoise-light.
9Which barely speaks to my point, but he’s another name to add to the list. Sadly, no J Mascis this time around.
10Who’s not hoping that they’ll join the stage with Pavement on any of the bands’ corresponding tour stops. My bet is on the Toronto show where my sister will surely give me a full report.
11I realize that records cannot generally be put on “repeat”. The iPod will play this album a lot this summer and I will drop the needle as often as I find time at home. I hope this clarifies everything.