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.

CoMusic Review: Ptarmigan – The Forest Darling

Posted in Records by SM on May 9, 2011

Here’s a review I wrote last week that was published over the weekend. I originally intended to have a beer post up, but Mother’s Day was a long day and left me without much time, energy, or motivation to finish the post. As you can see, I’m getting pretty deep into the local scene here as promised. It’s really sparked my overall interest in music lately. Surprisingly, it’s actually inspired me more when listening to new music by decidedly non-local bands. Still, there’s some good stuff here that stands on its own. The following review is no joke. Ptarmigan’s record is great, even if it doesn’t come in vinyl.

How is it that our little college town is blessed with so much great musical talent? Depending on your perspective, as long as these bands keep making music and don’t tour, they should remain our little secret forever. However, if a band like Ptarmigan takes their latest album, The Forest Darling, on the road, we won’t be seeing much of them anymore.

The Forest Darling is as good a record as I’ve heard this year. The trio pull from a wide array of influences to form a rather coherent eleven-song album that you should really check out. Those influences? The ones I hear and have read about include but are not limited to Peruvian forest sounds, early Modest Mouse, Born Ruffians, and The Flaming Lips. So, one can instantly see the appeal this record carries.

“Stillborn Kings” opens straight outta a mid-nineties Flaming Lips release before picking up the pace. The layered vocals create depth and complexity that is almost otherworldly. The song varies the tempo and has several pieces, all before building to a big crescendo and revealing some pretty fat/phat bass lines.

A steady groove carries “Where” with guitar licks floating just above the surface. Again, layers of vocals add to the overall musicality of the track. The bass lines really take hold in this track, revealing another aspect not often heard from a band that doesn’t include Mike Watt in their roster. There’s even some synthesized sounds in there that could easily make room for a horn section, demonstrating a rather high amount of diversity in just one track.

“Of the Hills and the Hurt” is a babbling brook. Intricate guitar noodling, keyboard flourishes, and tinny sounds I can’t quite place fill much of the space. Then, some noise comes just after the quiet, before settling into intricacies again.

The bass leads the way in “Primrose and Snapdragon” as sparse drumming joins the fray before some pretty ascorbic guitar work, falsetto, and a loud quiet dynamic that never grows old. To this point, this is the album’s shining, mid-tempo rocker du jour.

The somewhat bluesy “We the Forest” utilizes a nice start/stop dynamic that isn’t prevalent enough in rock music. This track is the most outward in regards to the forest theme with both its content and some well-placed bird samples. Maybe Patarmigan and Believers should get together for a bird sample competition. If you begin to notice a trend of bird noise in music, know that it started here in Columbia.

“Delta” is heavy on falsetto a la Caribou and some rock guitarin’ fun. So far, so good.

“The Quadrille” starts with hiking in the night forest before going all ragtag on you. Honestly, it’s my least favorite track of a stellar collection, but it also happens to be the most ambitious of the set. So, for that reason, they get kudos for taking some chances. Like most great music, it’s more interesting than bad. Certainly, this song deserves more discussion than this one paragraph.

“Sentient” opens like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah doing their best Cure impersonation and blows up into a Born Ruffians romp. If I haven’t convinced you yet to download this record, nothing will. This track is a real dancer as the guitar moves your feet and the bass your ass.

The best parts of Interpol are realized on the intro to “My Mind Bleeds” just before bassist and vocalist Peter Marting breaks in with some Denielson-esque whining. Guitarist Evan Walton actually carries this track with his dreamy guitar playing and drummer Ted Carstensen dutifully backs up as he does his best Jeremiah Green impersonation. Of all the tracks, musically this one reminds me most of early Modest Mouse.

“Migratory” starts with what sound like thunderstorms and some light acoustic guitar strumming. The dual vocals singing about a “southern feeling” are a nice touch that add more depth to a subtly great track. The song really picks up halfway through, complete with handclaps.

“Metronome” is a perfect ending to a great album. A slow build into a disco beat and quick tempo moves along until finally decomposing into a nice dance/rock song. The song breaks into a whole second part that just drives and grooves with subtle piano bits in the background.

This record is loaded with imagery and sounds from that aforementioned Peruvian forest. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes in your face. The aesthetic certainly pulls the entire piece together the way a good album should. Additionally, the multilayered vocal tracks and the up-front bass sets this record apart from many a indie rock release.

Ptarmigan demonstrate why three is a good number for a band. There’s balance between the three musicians in ability and dynamic. This is truly a gem that not enough people will hear and that’s okay with me. I like keeping local treasures a secret. However, I doubt they’ll stay that way for long if they keep putting out records like The Forest Darling.

Try a sample: Stillborn Kings (MP3)

Buy it: Bandcamp

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