Beer and Pavement

Just Outside the Top 10 of 2011 (Albums)

Posted in Records by SM on December 13, 2011

Coming up with one’s ten best albums of the year is tough. I’ve done more than that, but narrowing a list to ten is a much more difficult task than simply naming all the albums you bought in a year. Also, I have the terrible habit of proclaiming albums to be the year’s best long before I should. Then, there are all the albums that simply have not been given the time they deserve.

That said, I have narrowed my list to nine. All I need is one more, but the list that follows is what I have left to consider. Sure, I might miss a few when it’s all said and done, but these are albums I’m still considering for one spot. Feel free to comment on what’s here and what isn’t. Keep in mind that I already chose nine to make the final cut. I just need one more…

The Albums I Haven’t Listened to Enough Even Though I’ve Had Them for Awhile: So, I’ve had some of these records almost since they were first released this year, but for whatever reason, I just haven’t had time to give them a proper listen. All of the albums in this group deserve serious consideration as I’ve spent some time over the past couple of weeks trying to get reacquainted.

Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
As I was considering my favorite tracks of the year, I rediscovered “Wake and Be Fine” on another list of top songs. It made me want to rediscover this album just to make sure I didn’t overlook it. I had. While the narratives and poetic flourishes Will Sheff normally demonstrates in his songwriting is somewhat subdued in order to make room for more hooks, the production and instrumental dynamics more than make up for it.

Joan of Arc – Life Like
Honestly, I could write something up that just tells you all I know and/or think about previous JoA records prior to this one and it might be somehow accurate in describing this record. However, I won’t tell you anything. Just know that it’s long overdue a sit-and-git. Maybe I’ll pour a beer also deserving my attention. Either way, I remember loving portions of it, but I never listened to it and it landed on the island of forgotten LP’s.

BOAT – Dress Like Your Idols
The poor man’s Yuck, possibly, deserves more listens. I’ve actually been playing the shit out of it lately, giving it a hard look for the final slot in my list. It’s loaded with all kinds of nods to my heroes and theirs (apparently). The aesthetic reminds me tons of the sort of nineties retro indie that The Soft Pack and Surfer Blood play. It’s good stuff but nothing earth-shattering.

Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
What a massively great album this is. Why isn’t it in my top-10 already? I really haven’t listened to it enough to make that decision. Maybe I’d hear that one bit that put it over the edge or make it unworthy of top-10 status. I don’t know. I blame the fact that Sub Pop’s digital download system didn’t work and I never bothered to follow up.

Low – C’mon
I loved this album a lot from the beginning, but I worried that I wasn’t giving it enough distance. Then, I gave it too much distance and nearly forgot. It seemed too perfect of an album to be Low’s and maybe I was missing something. That’s not saying Low doesn’t make great albums. I’m just surprised a Low album could contain so many memorable songs. Albums are their thing, not singles.

The Albums that I, for Whatever Reason, Did Not Purchase This Year: I know these bands are good. I’ve read and heard enough to know that these albums should be considered. Why I still haven’t purchased them is unknown to me. Luckily, there’s Spotify. I’ve been trying to catch up on some material I missed over the year. More than likely, I will own all of these albums by February. Still, they sit collectively just outside my top-10.

War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
I don’t know how one determines Spotify statistics, but I’m sure I’ve played this album more than all others over the past month while at my computer. For whatever reason, I didn’t buy this album, nor did I go see them when they came to town. It makes no sense and this record is pretty good.

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo
See above, aside from the not seeing him even though he was in town, because he was not in town this year. I loved his set at Pitchfork last year and loved whichever record I do own. The crime of not owning this record will be rectified soon enough.

Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts
I own the other two Moore solo efforts plus a handful of weird records he’s done over the years. I have been loving anything Beck produces as of late – maybe my producer of the year. I am a Sonic Youth fan of like 20 years. So, why don’t I own this record? I have no idea. Now, I’m seeing it pop up on lists and I’m wondering what I’ve missed. Better give it another listen on Spotify.

I Saw These Guys and Was Impressed, So Their Albums Deserve Another Look: The following two acts were among those I saw play live. Somehow, I don’t own either album they were supporting. Upon considering the shows I’ve seen this year, that was an egregious oversight on my part. I’ll rectify it at least by giving them props where props is due.

Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
I made sure to see Callahan while in DC earlier this year, but I didn’t buy the record. Even his track “America” made my top tracks list. It’s a crime that I don’t yet own this record.

Jay-Z/Kanye West – Watch the Throne
Going to see Jay-Z and Kanye West forced me to play this album a ton on Spotify as a way to prep myself. Typically, I don’t like hip-hop records because they are single-heavy and loaded with filler. This album was different as it was complete from beginning to end. So, it deserves some consideration.

The Bands I’m Just Not Sure About at this Juncture: For various reasons, a few bands fell into this category. Some I loved right away, but I don’t know that it’s a long-lasting love, like for life kind of love. These albums still deserve some consideration, though.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
At one point, I was ready to name this “album of the year”, but something made me reconsider. It may have been seeing so many bros in the Fleet Foxes camp or my general distaste for hippies. I don’t know. It’s still very, very good. I’m just not ready to commit to including it in the top-10, yet.

Beirut – The Rip Tide
This might be the most complete and realized album of Beirut’s string of excellent albums, but I don’t know that it qualifies this year. In year’s past when I’ve had a hard time thinking of ten albums I like, it would have held down a seven spot. However, I have found an embarrassment of riches in this year’s crop. Beirut’s record is good, but it might not be top-10 good.

Destroyer – Kaputt
This was another album I was ready to crown early in the year, but it seems its eighties aesthetic finally rubbed me the wrong way. Bejar writes a pretty awesome song and somehow harnessed bad Casios to sound cool and even contemporary, but I lost my patience for this record over time. Then, I saw it make a few lists of people I respect, causing me to pause for a moment. Should I reconsider Kaputt?

WU LYF – Go Tell Fire to the Mountain
This album popped up on my radar since its June release or sometime shortly before that thanks in large part to their underground marketing schemes online. It’s big, epic, and incoherent in ways I’ve never heard before. That usually means that it goes directly to my top-10 list, but this year’s list is loaded and I only just laid my hands on this record, maybe six months after its release. So, it may still take time to decide on this one.

Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
Bright Eyes has gone down hill, but this album grew on me for a while, especially after seeing the band on its final trip across the country. Also, it’s been receiving some recognition, making me think that I need to revisit. Of all these records, it may have the longest shot, but it’s still a worthwhile album.

Albums by Locals That Were Really Good and Maybe Could Use a Bump from the Coalition: I don’t often hear local releases that

Ptarmigan – The Forest Darling
I said it back in May and I’ll say it again, Ptarmigan put out a great record that stands out locally or beyond. Read what I thought here and I’ll let that stand on its own.

Dubb Nubb – Sunrise Sleepeyed
It’s hard to believe sometimes that Dubb Nubb are so young as their songs demonstrate a wisdom well beyond their years. On top of that, they have an infectious sound that’s hard not to notice. I’m looking forward to seeing them play again at True/False in 2012.

Jerusalem & the Starbaskets – Dost
Dost is getting some good press and deservedly so. Lo-fi and blues revivalism with a touch of country seem to be coming along at just the right time. The band is touring extensively, but I have to believe that their one big opening gig from breaking. People eat this shit up. I do.

That’s not even the final list. As mentioned before, I have nine other albums I love more than these, but I felt they all deserved some mention and the benefit of 100 page views. Which one would you pick to add to my top-10? Did any of these make your list? Comment freely. My top-10 will hit eventually. There will probably be something similar for beer as well.

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Destroyer’s Kaputt and Other Records

Posted in Records by SM on January 28, 2011

Dan Bejar is the New Pornographer I like best[1]. His songs are distinctive amongst a mishmash of sensible Canadian pop. He’s also the weirdest of the New Pornos in regards to appearance, songwriting, and vocals. That, in my mind, makes him the star. Plus, he’s part of the excellent Frog Eyes/Wolf Parade collab Swan Lake.

That said, Kaputt is by far Bejar’s most perplexing material to date. This is saying something for an artist so strange. Where past releases could be thought of as strange, weird, or challenging, this one doesn’t fit in that same context in the same way.  Kaputt challenges my sensibilities to no end, almost to the point that I begin to wonder if I have to pretend to like Destroyer now[2].

Someone somewhere[3] thought the eighties were pretty rad and that every fashion trend and musical style from the decade of Reaganomics, pastels, and sterilized soul music should be replicated in the most authentic way possible. Bejar, upon first listen, seems to have embraced that aesthetic. However, it somehow feels as though he’s come to it honestly. And for that reason, I find Kaputt pleasurable.

What separates Kaputt from your run-of-the-mill eighties revivalists is that Bejar turned to the studio to create this ungodly sound instead of the bedroom. Where many hipster musicians are going the cheap Casio over tape recorder route[4], Bejar stepped into a professional studio and pieced together an excellent album that recalls the forgettable eighties in caricature. After Neutral Milk Hotel, Sufjan Stevens, and Beirut, I never thought I could hear a more acceptable use of horns[5] in an indie rock song, but, again, Bejar makes sense of the eighties puzzle. And over all this is his elfish voice and unique lyrical delivery. And those lyrics. Bejar fits so much message in so little space. Sure, his narratives can lose you and challenge you to the point of frustration, but these words engage the listener like very few songwriters can. Truly, this is a record I never should have liked and did not expect to, but somehow it is worming its way into my ears.

What’s the longevity for such a record? I mean, once the newness of the content and nostalgia wears off, will I be able to tolerate the aesthetic? I honestly don’t know. This is the first new record of 2011 I’ve heard[6] and it’s great, but somehow I suspect it won’t make my top-10 come December. The appreciation of this Destroyer record will most likely be fleeting, much like the faux soul posturing disguised as New Wave and New Romanticism did in the decade of my childhood. That said, I’ll just enjoy it now and wallow in its complexity.

—-

Now, for the latecomers…

At the end of every year, there are all these top-10 lists and in those top-10 lists lie hidden gems I missed. So, a yearly practice is to pick up some of these records before diving headfirst into the new year. As of this week, only the above record had arrived, but a few 2010 records came weeks ago[7]. I’ve ordered others, but I don’t know that they’ll arrive before this post is published. Here’s a quick rundown of records I missed in 2010. I’ll warn you, I do a lot of lazy comparisons to bands you know in this post. So, forgive me.

Born Ruffians – Say It
If Vampire Weekend had balls, Talking Heads their youth, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah a future as a rock band, they might sound like Born Ruffians[8]. What a raucous good time this record is. How did it not catch my attention upon the first listen? Herky jerky songs over some excellent early rock ‘n roll crooning remind me of every band in Brooklyn at the moment, but the songs stand alone. Good stuff, this.

Double Dagger – Masks
Double Dagger are a hot, hot mess. There just aren’t enough rock bands who sound as ruinous and live as this band does recorded[9]. Feedback, broken drum kits, and vocals that yell describe what I’m talking about. The fast-paced tracks attack and never let up. Toddlers love this shit and so do their dads. Trust me.

Screaming Females – Castle Talk
There just isn’t enough female early nineties’ classic rock packaged as “alternative” in indie today. Had Smashing Pumpkins chosen to play rock music as well as a strong female voice instead of letting Voldemort whine[10], they would have been called “Screaming Females.” One gets a ton or Runaways and Joan Jett from this band. It’s pretty aggressive stuff to dance to and may fill quite a bit of my allotted 2011 listening time.

All three were great finds. Although I may be sorry to have missed them the first time around, I’m making up for lost time at this very moment[11].

Notes:
1Neko Case is a close, close second, but there’s another factor that Dan Bejar does not possess.
2I don’t pretend to like Destroyer. I like them for reals, yo.
3I blame hipsters in Williamsburg.
4Normally, this agrees with me, but the eighties thing recorded using nineties’ methodology doesn’t do it for me. I want my eighties new wave to be crisp and overproduced.
5Bejar actually uses more cheesy saxophone than trumpet, like those other indie acts.
6Iron and Wine was released as well, but my copy didn’t arrive in time for this review. Somehow, I suspect it will let me down as every Iron and Wine album fails to outdo the last.
7To be honest, these three records arrived in December. I just haven’t had time to really give them a good listen until now.
8These were my first impressions, but the kind of material Born Ruffians really remind me of are all those Brooklyn bands that showed up after The Walkmen showed up.
9That said, I’d love to see this band live.
10Billy Corgan.
11Come back later. I’ll update this post if something comes in at the end of the week. According to UPS tracking, I have records coming on Thursday (I’m writing this Wednesday evening) and Friday.

Too Old for Music

Posted in Life by SM on January 12, 2011

I’m 35, married, and a parent, but I somehow do alright when it comes to keeping up with music. I receive about a record a week. My pace of seeing bands live over the years has hardly slowed despite my move to a sleepy college town. My RSS reader is loaded with music sites and blogs. I keep up.

Still, I somehow feel music is passing me by. Many of the bands I follow are either from the nineties or sound like they’re from the nineties[1]. There are a load of shows set to fill the coming months, but I’m just not that enthused about any of them. Is this where I slow down with my music obsession? Is this where I grow out of it?

Granted, slowing down doesn’t equate giving up music forever. No one’s actually too old for music. However, it certainly becomes less important as one grows older. Plus, a downward trend has to start somewhere. Is this where I lose interest?

I was recently shopping in my favorite record store[2], Insound.com, for pre-orders coming out in early 2011. To my chagrin, few excited me. The records were either by bands I’ve purchased in the past who underwhelmed or bands I have never heard of. The first issue is an effect of buying so many records over the course of my fanaticism[3]. That, I can live with, but it does limit my options. The second issue is mostly a case of me no longer reading half the music blog posts that hit my Google Reader everyday. Sure, I’m paying way more attention to beer these days than I used to, but I’m just not that interested in buying new music.

Even the bands I did order, aren’t really that exciting. I ordered records by Danielson[4], Iron & Wine[5], Destroyer[6], and Bright Eyes[7]. All these bands have been around for a while. Danielson and Destroyer are difficult listens. Sure, they both can be brilliant at times, but I have to be in the right place to really connect with their music. Iron & Wine and Bright Eyes have been around forever and haven’t released anything that interesting for a long time. We’ll see, but I’m not expecting much.

Then, there’s the lineup of bands coming to town to play, not to mention bands stopping in nearby St Louis and Kansas City. Liz Phair[8], Tokyo Police Club, Cold War Kids, Tapes ‘n Tapes, Menomena, etc. are all playing town in the coming weeks and months. Meh. Most of these bands haven’t recorded anything worth listening to in years and the others are just plain uninspiring. Although I’m sure something worthwhile will come through town, I’ll at least save some money this winter.

So, what do I do? How do I regain some of that passion or at least my interest in music?

Well, the first step in this recovery is to return to what got me here: underground, often local, music. Someone was telling me about this motley group of musicians who get together and write songs in 48 hours just to turn around and have a shotgun battle of the bands. That sounded great, exhilarating. I had forgotten how many creative types and musicians just hang around college towns. Right after that, the same guy Facebook-invited me to a free show of locals at a club I frequent. Then, another friend invited me to a gig featuring his band. So, there are things to see and hear.

The hope is that I’ll regain my indie rock legs by going out to watch bands with a little more urgency and something new to say. That’s how I got into independent music. I went to crappy clubs and watched a lot of shitty local bands. Some of those bands were good or would have one good song. Still, the passion they put into playing for a sixer of PBR and a hangover the next morning was incredibly good for my soul.

Hopefully, I’ll have something to report in the coming weeks as I make myself go to clubs and watch some local bands for a change. It still kills me how out of touch I am with this scene. It’s time for that to change and for me to remember that I’m actually not too old for music[9].

Notes:
1Even when they’re from the past decade, I’ve been listening for 8-10 years. That’s hardly new music.
2OK. So, a website doesn’t really constitute as a record store. However, when you live in a town without a good, physical facsimile of a record store, you do what you can. I’ve found that I can get any record I want from one website. I’m cool with that as I know there is a small group of kids trying to make this thing work. I can support that. I want Insound to be around for a while, maybe long enough to build real stores across the country…
3I am way more efficient a music buyer than I used to be. Now, I can get a sample of pretty much any band I want via the internet. That and the numerous blogs and music sites keep me pretty informed. It was never this easy in the nineties when you had to read zines and go to shows or watch MTV. (MTV used to show videos with music.)
4Hipster Christian you’re the only one.
5The beard is back with songs that sound more like the Eagles with every passing release.
6Always weird and easily the best New Pornographer, but this video and song aren’t doing it for me yet.
7Don’t give me a hard time over this one. I have a history with this band and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
8This one has already been postponed. I predict it won’t happen. I’m convinced I was never intended to see Liz Phair as every opportunity has passed me by in one manner or another. Nowadays, I’m not sure I would even want to see her live just to hear her crappy new material.
9But maybe Liz Phair is. JK, Lizzie! BFF’s 4eva! ❤ U!