Beer and Pavement

Reviewing 2014: Tracks

Posted in Records, Review by SM on December 29, 2014

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I will skip the pleasantries and get to what is typically the easiest of easy blog posts: lists of videos. These videos are of the 20 best tracks of the year according to me. Most are found in my favorite albums, but a few outliers are there as well. Also, keep in-mind that I typically like to keep these lists to one-per-artist/band. So, here are 20 separate efforts by 20 separate entities.

Taylor Swift “Shake It Off”

Let’s just get this one out of the way right now. Look, that beat is killer and my daughter loves her some Taylor Swift. Plus, it’s a good message for my kid. So, I stand by it.

Viet Cong “Continental Shelf” (Warning: video NSFW)

Mark these dudes as my most anticipated full-length debut of 2015. It’s dark, dank, foreboding… Reminds me of a ridiculous black IPA. Man, I’m thirsty.

Ought “Today More Than Any Other Day”

I could have chosen so many songs from my band of the year, but I went with the one that has everything. There’s the stripped-down, slow build. Metacognition. Disillusionment with modern society and commercialism. A rousing chorus. Danceability. Da-da-da’s. Entropy. Everything.

Parquet Courts “Instant Disassembly”

A sloppy rocker – almost Pavement-esque – with a touch of faux Britishness, “Instant Disassembly” is the best kind of ear worm. Not only does the melody stick, but the singer’s problems aren’t too far from the listener’s own.

Your Friend “Tame One”

I almost went with “Bangs” for this one, but I don’t think I could go wrong with either. The voice, the drone, the build all make Your Friend a band/solo artist to watch this coming year.

Alvvays “Archie, Marry Me”

I like Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura, but while the former messes around with pop music and that latter has somehow fallen off my radar, Alvvays will have to do. “Archie Marry Me” is all kinds of John Hughes angst and is a standout for the year.

Angel Olsen “Forgive/Forgotten”

SO MANY SONGS. I could list all the songs off Angel Olsen’s excellent Burn Your Fire for no Witness, but I will stick with my arbitrary rule to only list one song per artist/band. For this list, you get a rocker.

The War on Drugs “Red Eyes”

I honestly did not like the direction The War on Drugs took this year. It’s way more Springsteen than Vile, but they’re still a pretty good band as evidenced by the moving “Red Eyes.” That Springsteen-esque “woo” is pretty nice, but I sorta wished there was more of this on the entire record.

Sharon Van Etten “Your Love Is Killing Me”

I sort of lost touch with Sharon Van Etten this year until the above video for “Your Love Is Killing Me” crossed my path last month. It’s sprawling and Van Etten’s voice holds up as a powerful accomplice.

Ex Hex “Don’t Wanna Lose”

When an album kicks you in the teeth, it should do it from the first moments of the first track. Congratulations, Ex Hex. This album rawked like we all rawked in 1984 at a drunken high school party in a corn field. Thank god for Mary Timony finding her muse.

Sun Kil Moon “War on Drugs Suck My Cock” (NSFW)

The most interesting thing Sun Kil Moon and The War on Drugs did this year was to have a pseudo-feud. I actually appreciate Mark Kozelek’s crankiness as we are misunderstood curmudgeons. The song is actually quite funny despite its dark tone.

Caribou “Can’t Do Without You”

I know all the words to this song and they just repeat over and over in my head. Hit play and you’ll understand. It will cause you to either love or hate me.

Future Islands “Seasons (Waiting on You)”

One of the moments of the year for indie music was when Future Islands debuted this song on Letterman. The official video is good as well, but you needed to see why Future Islands broke this year and “Seasons (Waiting on You)” will land on many, many year end lists, often at the top.

New Tongues “El Condor Pasa”

The best covers are usually covers of misappropriated songs. I have no other evidence of this fact outside of this track. New Tongues flat-0ut destroy Art Garfunkel’s afro and strip the blood diamonds from the soles of Paul Simon’s tiny shoes.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks “Lariat”

“We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever. Talkin’ ’bout the 80’s!” All kinds of nostalgia in this one and it perfectly summarizes Mirror Traffic.

Swearing at Motorists “Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role”

Love, regret, drugs, faking it are all common themes Swearing at Motorists squeeze into every 2-minute anthem.

Tweedy “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Misunderstood”

I could have pulled several tracks from the Tweedy record, but I liked how this one encapsulated the project’s effect on the elder Tweedy. It’s not quite a punk rock banger, but it’s certainly a step back toward the cow punk of his past. Spencer’s work on the skins is pretty impressive as well.

Peter Matthew Bauer “Latin American Ficciones”

I like a good stripped-down rocker now and again. I had no idea that the dude playing keys and bass for the Walkmen had this sort of frontman, guitar-licking persona inside him. This track alone made the record a must-buy for me.

The Afghan Whigs “Algiers”

A nice take on the “Be My Baby” drum beat opens The Afghan Whigs return. I don’t even mind the auto-tune.

Hospitality “Inauguration” (Merge 25 version)

Trust me. The version they released via the Merge 25 Or Thousands of Prizes is superior IMHO to the LP version. I couldn’t find it online, so I give you the version above.

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Top 10 Albums of 2011

Posted in MoL, Pavement, Records by SM on December 16, 2011

OK. I’ve waited long enough. Here are my top-10 albums of the year. Most should come as no surprise, if you’ve been reading this blog all year. To start things off, we have the #10 album that I picked from a list of albums just outside the top-10

10. War on Drugs – Slave Ambient

I currently do not own this record. I missed their show in town. Finally, at some point in November, I gave the record a listen on Spotify and was blown away. Ever since, I’ve been playing the shit out of this record. I don’t think it cracks the top-9 as they have stayed constant all year or at least since they’ve been released. Either way, this is a strong, strong record. It has that lazy garage rock mumble former member Kurt Vile does so well, but there’s an aura of shoegaze and shitgaze all in one album. It’s cool and hauting, even beautiful in some parts. I still regret not seeing this band when they came to town. Oh well. I’ll make up for it by propping their album up as one of the best of 2011, a year that has turned out a surprising amount of good-to-great music.

9. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Although “boring”, there is nothing wrong with this album and that should count for something. After falling instantly in love, I soon decided that it was my mission to hate it. I couldn’t. Somehow, Justin Vernon achieves epic soundscapes, big noise, soul, urgency, and bitter cold in the most subtle of ways. I want to hate this record, but I can’t. It just feels right. Gone are the quiet, hushed log cabin recordings of yesteryear, but the intimacy is still there. This album is a major achievement and should be recognized as such.

 

8. Eleanor Friedberger – Last Summer

I missed this album’s release somehow. Insound was having a sale on Merge albums and I grabbed it since I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of Friedberger’s material with Fiery Furnaces. Anyway, this record is incredibly more approachable than the FF’s stuff. It doesn’t hurt that she was so cool hanging out the night she played St. Louis. I have a soft spot for artists who are nice people. Anyway, the album held up that night and I haven’t stopped listening since. Equal parts Patti Smith, Stephen Malkmus, and Joni Mitchell. It’s a really strong album from beginning to end. I can’t wait to hear what Friedberger does next.

7. Thao & Mirah – Thao & Mirah

I loved Thao Nguyen’s We Brave Bee Stings and All and saw she and Mirah perform some covers online. That was all I needed to purchase this largely overlooked yet timely album. Aggressive, percussive, completely danceable, and very fun, Thao & Mirah was a strong contender for this list from the first time I listened to it. This is a powerful record by two accomplished female artists about which I want my daughter to know. If this album somehow missed your awareness this year, go buy it and have some fun.

 

6. Cults – Cults

I don’t know what it is with all the nostalgia for Phil Spector these days, but Cults captured that and more with this solid effort, turning in the song of the summer in “Go Outside”. The album was a breath of fresh air since its release last spring. There was a time when I considered it an outside shot at album of the year. It captured my imagination that much. I worry that the band will struggle to put out anything as good as their first, but this isn’t a bad legacy to leave either.

5. Tune-Yards – W H O K I L L

Something about Tune-Yards was rubbing me the wrong way. Not sure what it was, but it didn’t last long. Everywhere I went, this record was playing. In fact, my favorite hangout often had this record spinning. I couldn’t resist. It’s infectious, raucous, fresh. I love the mixture of a lo-fi, nineties, guitar thing mixed with this dance-centric, percussive aesthetic all the kids are going for these days. I could listen to this album over and over, something I could say for any of these records, but especially for this one.

 

4. Wye Oak – Civilian

Wye Oak’s earlier material did next to nothing for me. Then, they did a couple of those AV Club things where they played cover songs. Then, they released a video and I was taken back to some mid-nineties indie. Stuff like Throwing Muses or Madder Rose when all these female voices began to emerge above the feedbacked fray of that era. This album is pure retromania for me and it’s plain good from first track to last. Jenn Wasner’s deep voice over a cacophonous racket fills my nineties nostalgic needs, much like the following albums on the list…

3. Yuck – Yuck

I have gushed enough about the nostalgic love I hold for this band and this release, but I have to say more so as to justify its placement in my top-10. And this is coming from a guy who doesn’t actually like the bonus material on the deluxe version of the record. Not everything these youngsters touch is gold. So, with this in mind, one has to consider that it’s impressive how right they got it when they put together an album that should have come out 15-20 years ago. Feedback, angsty lyrics, more feedback… It’s as if they invented the 90’s indie aesthetic and not Pavement or Sebadoh. I love this record. It’s nothing new or groundbreaking, but it perfectly captures what will be some pretty perfect moments in the development of my musical tastes.

2. Wild Flag – Wild Flag

When I heard this group was getting together, my head nearly exploded at the thought of all the possibilities. Then, they toured and my head blew up again re-imagining the ruckus Sleater-Kinney used to cause back in the day. Then, the music began to trickle out. Early on, the urgency detected in “Future Crimes” made me realize that this band was going to blow away all expectations. Wild Flag’s self-titled (a lot of these lately) debut is the perfect mix of S-K riot grrrl, Helium-style classic rock, garage punk, Runaways barnstorming, and indie sensibility. This album may be an all-time top-10 pick forever, assuming their follow-up isn’t more awesome. The guitar and vocals interplay between front women Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein is only surpassed by the work Rebecca Cole and Janet Weiss are doing with backing vocals and holding down the low end. This is the super group to end all super groups.

1. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Mirror Traffic

Yes, I’m biased, but how is this album not on every end-of-year list. I either missed the memo or have yet to change out of my Pavement-tinted glasses. I’ve never thought a Stephen Malkmus solo album to be a top-10 record much less a #1, but Mirror Traffic is different. The prog wizardry and blues riffs have been taken down a notch with the perplexing and sly wit of Malkmus’ songwriting coming to the front. Plus, the accumulation of talent in this band is pretty insane considering the ramshackle band Malk fronted for a decade made some of the most memorable music of my lifetime. This is the first album he’s done that doesn’t feel like the continuation of Terror Twilight, a complete break from his former trajectory and an album that sounds like another band wrote and recorded it. Then, there’s the production which is quintessential Beck Hanson all over. This is the easiest Malk album to which to listen since those halcyon days of Slanted & Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. In fact, I’d say Mirror Traffic falls somewhere between those two great albums and Wowee Zowee. Yeah, I said it. So what?

I’m rambling a bit now, but that’s the list and I stand by it. (BTW, it’s no accident Janet Weiss is part of the top-2 records of the year.)