Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of 2011: Wilco - "Black Moon"

The strongest arrangements since Yankee Foxtrot reside on The Whole Love. I'm always a sucker for subtle finger-picking and string accompaniments, which makes "Black Moon" one of my favorite songs of the year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best of 2011: The War on Drugs - "I Was There"

Slave Ambient often borders a little too closely on sleepy, adult contemporary pop, but the lush, cool melodies of "I Was There" prop it above most of the other songs included to make it one of the best tracks of the year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best of 2011: James Blake - "The Wilhelm Scream"

David Byrne said it best: "The robotic repetition of the few words that he uses starts to build up and it becomes this emotional incantation. Maybe I'm completely reading into it, but it's really amazing that it's not just electronics-- there's actually heart in there somewhere."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Best of 2011: Shabazz Palaces - "Are You... Can You... Were You? (Felt)"

This one is tough. "Swerve..." is such a great song but it gets all the love so I'm going with "Are You... Can You... Were You? (Felt)" as Shabazz's top track. The chill groove is so slick, and should we expect less from the part of the trip responsible for "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)"? Both of these songs by Shabazz Palaces would be included if I extended the list out a few songs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Best of 2011: WU LYF - "Cave Song"

WU LYF intend to inspire on an epic scale; the sort of sweeping compositions that hearken to Explosions in the Sky. The key difference: whereas Explosions is all instrumental, WU frontman, Ellery Roberts, sings with one of the most distinguishing guttural growls you'll ever hear. Somehow the blend works perfectly. "Cave Song" is the highlight, a relentlessly momentous, up-tempo rock anthem.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Best of 2011: Unknown Mortal Orchestra - "Nerve Damage!"

I've been waiting all my life for someone to embrace Peter Frampton's talking guitar. And I'll most likely continue to wait, but at least Unknown Mortal Orchestra start "Nerve Damage!" with a sweet introduction. The guitars, the weird mix of falsetto and baritone vocals and the surfy/psychedelic vibes make this a 2011 favorite of mine.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Best of 2011: St. Vincent - "Northern Lights"

Over the past few years there hasn't been a more exciting guitarist than Annie Clark. When you hear her wonky guitar licks and solos you envy her skill-level, when you hear the use of all her pedal and digital effects you gasp at her originality, and when you hear her expertly complex yet catchy compositions you realize there isn't a better pure guitarist and songwriter working today. The new record, Strange Mercy has exceeded all the already high expectations she set for herself, and is without a doubt her best collection of material to date. There isn't a dull track to speak of so it's hard to pick a favorite. I'm going with "Northern Lights," a momentous song with abrasive, mechanical guitar chaos and a production style that would fit right in with TV on the Radio's best work.

Another great song as an example of how sick her guitar skills are (skip to 1:38 if you don't wanna wait): "Surgeon"

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Best of 2011: Cass McCombs - "County Line"

"County Line" is just good old-fashioned singer/songwriter heartbreak, and it's a top 5 track of the year.

I feel so blind
I can't make out
The passing road signs

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best of 2011: Caveman - "Decide"

Saw these guys open for Yuck back in April at the Bowery Ballroom, prompting me to search for a download as soon as I got home. The strongest track they played I recognized immediately, "Decide" has a Grizzly Bear feel, complete with reverb guitar and falsetto harmonies. The album as a whole is a bit uneven but there weren't many tracks I played more than this one in 2011.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Best of 2011: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Heart in Your Heartbreak"

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart further 90's influenced indie rock's surge with their new record. Traces of Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine can be heard throughout, but the best song here sounds like an homage to early Belle and Sebastian. "Heart in Your Heartbreak" is too damn catchy to leave off a best tracks of 2011 list.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Best of 2011: Destroyer - "Blue Eyes"

Who doesn't love the smooth sounds of Kenny G? I know I don't. But somehow Destroyer implements those completely unhip smooth jazz sounds of the 80's into one of the best records of the year. "Kaputt" has the great video but the strongest track is "Blue Eyes," with its bluesy female back-up singer and it's jazzy sax, shit don't get much sexier than this.

"I thumb through the books on your shelves."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Best of 2011: Fucked Up - "The Other Shoe"

Fucked Up is making some of the most melodic, forward-thinking punk rock I've ever heard. On "The Other Shoe", by fusing the angelic voice of Sandy Miranda with the guttural scream of Damian Abraham they somehow harmoniously unite the opposing worlds of pop and hardcore. The instrumentation steps beyond the distorted, three-power-chord progression it begins with, adding arpeggio guitar licks and volume effects, while the rhythm section continues to build the song to its mid-song climax. A top 5 track of the year for me; it's great to hear good hard rock still being created.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Best of 2011: Cities Aviv - "Coastin'"

Echoes of all your favorite 90's hip-hop in Cities Aviv, but this isn't derivative by any stretch. A sample of Shirley Bassey's "Easy to Be Hard" sets you up and a 4/4 beat pulls you in. Remember when rappers rapped about things? Cities does. "Don't call it a comeback, just call it a grand entrance."

Monday, December 5, 2011

Best of 2011: Beach Fossils - "Face It"

Absolutely gorgeous bass and clean-tone guitar melodies, perfectly blended male/female harmonies -- even without the presence of solid percussion, "Face It" is a top track of the year.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Best of 2011: Yuck - "Shook Down"

Yuck dances around all your favorite 90's indie rock melodies while avoiding outright plagiarism. Sure, it's not the most original of material but they embrace the sound so wholeheartedly you can't help but be affected. They sway between soft ballads and noisy guitar distortion, both of which they do so well. It's so hard for me to pick a favorite but I'm going to go with "Shook Down", the song with their strongest melodies and harmonies.

The official video is too strange for the song, but check it out here if you want (NSFW penis/titty/vagina shots).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Best of 2011: Bon Iver - "Minnesota, WI"

Congrats to Bon Iver for their song of the year Grammy nomination with "Holocene." The best song on the album though is Minnesaot, WI by a wide margin.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Best of 2011: Kavinsky - "Nightcall"

Drive was a divisive film, but just about everyone found something to like on the soundtrack. Perfect mixes of 80's nostalgia and modern day electronica are what most of the songs consist of, the strongest of which is "Nightcall". Spooky synthesizers driven by a slow, plodding beat set the scene for a conversation between a man and a woman and their uncertain, mysterious relationship. After you've really listened you realize "Nightcall" is a Drive microcosm.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Best of 2011: Real Estate - "It's Real"

Many of Real Estate's strongest moments are in their long instrumental interludes, when they allow their easy melodies to breathe and flow. But I can't help but feel the best track on Days is "It's Real", the most economic and radio-friendly song of the bunch. It maintains all of Real Estate's characteristics while adding increased accessibility. Though Days', an open and immediate record, wouldn't require one, "It's Real" turns out to be the groups' perfect single.

Best Tracks of 2011 Main Page

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Stills - Oceans Will Rise


Everything I Build

After Logic Will Break Your Heart The Stills switched gears with their next record. From what I remember Without Feathers was an homage to 70’s style arena rock, and I didn’t care for it much. The Stills latest record, Oceans Will Rise is a mix of both styles. Somewhat successful attempts at arena rock singles can be heard in “Being Here”, “I’m With You” and “Don’t Talk Down”; “Snakecharming the Masses” and “Everything I Build” bring Radiohead to mind; then there’s songs like “Snow in California” and “Hands on Fire” that follow The Stills founding blueprint. Some enjoyable songs here for heavy consumers of indie rock but surely nothing essential.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Stills - Logic Will Break Your Heart


Changes Are No Good
Let’s Roll

The Stills first record sounds like The Strokes on an emo kick. Coincidentally I bought Logic WIll Break Your Heart during the same trip to the record store I bought Room on Fire, and I enjoyed the hell out of both of them some eight years ago. But while the second Strokes record has aged exceptionally well, the first Stills record has gone stale. Tim Fletcher sounds like he’s trying too hard. He writes gloomy, introspective lyrics; his defected, injured croon conjuring all your 80’s indie favorites (Morrissey, Robert Smith, Bernard Sumner) -- it’s hard to tell whether he takes himself too seriously or if he's on the conquest for groupies. Probably both. Just about anyone would hope being in a band would increase their chances of getting laid, but that should come naturally, I don't want to hear it in the music. Getting past Fletcher’s shortcomings will net you a few solid tracks though, my favorites being the depressing yet danceable “Changes Are No Good”, and the escapist “Let’s Roll”.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Stone Temple Pilots - Purple


Interstate Love Song
Big Empty

This disc still includes some shitty second-hand grunge, but it's hard to dislike STP's quality singles. The DeLeo brothers (guitarist and bassist) are responsible for most of the writing, as is the case with the two really fantastic tracks here, their first single "Big Empty" and third one, "Interstate Love Song". When "Big Empty" came out as a single promoting STP's upcoming record as well as The Crow soundtrack, a cult classic, it marked a strong shift towards pop rock for the Nirvana/Pearl Jam copycats; the jazzy bass line, 7th chords and acoustic slide guitar giving the group some much needed uniqueness.

A few months later came perhaps one of the most recognizable singles of the 90's, "Interstate Love Song". Encompassing classic Americana, Pop and only a slight tinge of Grunge, it's STP’s most timeless track, and whereas “Plush” is a guilty pleasure of mine forever trapped in the 90’s, “Interstate Love Song” will forever be a classic.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Stone Temple Pilots - Core



I remember a trip to the Keys with my parents and a big group of our friends. We all stayed in the same hotel, and during the evenings our folks would go out and get hammered while us kids were left to fend off boredom in the hotel rooms, with the eldest member acting as babysitter. All of us were sitting on the floor around the TV making fun of each other while intermittently checking in on MTV, waiting for our favorite music videos to play.


“Plush” was manufactured rock’n’roll - built off trends and plagiarisms and insincerities - but it didn’t matter to this twelve year old. The hooks were on point and the video contained all the supercool imagery one kid could ask for. It was the summer of 1993 and the apex of grunge; the genre had me hook, line and sinker. My dad took a quick break from the drink a day or so later and took me to the record store, probably in hopes of a new record momentarily stopping my whining. But soon even I realized the rest of Core sucked; it would not see the Discman many times thereafter. “Plush” however would easily sit near the top of a list of my favorite guilty pleasures to this day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Stooges - Fun House


Down on the Streets

Punk rock’s foundations are agreed to have begun sometime in the late 1950’s. But in my mind the first band to embody punk rock as we now know it is The Stooges. And it all starts with Iggy. Here on Fun House he screams, squeals, barks, claps, burps, cajoles, and sings as abrasively as he can for thirty minutes, trying his damnedest to replicate the energy from his legendary stage persona. And what a stage persona. A man willing to do anything to rile the audience, he would roll in glass, throw up on stage, dance like a lunatic, and his most lasting antic, stage dive into the audience, being the first to attempt what is now a concert past time.

As much as I like punk rock though, The Stooges are a group I appreciate more than I rotate regularly. Fun House is solid but I think punk rock works best in compact doses. The repetitive melodies are effective and outstanding on the shorter songs here (“Down on the Street”, “Loose”) but wear out their welcome on anything +5 minutes (“Dirt”, “1970”, “Fun House”). Still, I love to hear the roots of the genre. Everyone from the Wire to Fugazi to Nirvana to NOFX owes to the music of the The Stooges. And just as Iggy created his persona out of his idols (Jim Morrison in particular), countless others would study and follow in Iggy’s steps. Shit, Ozzy should be sending him regular royalty checks.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Strikeforce Diablo - S/T EP


All Four, Pussies

More great hardcore from Gainesville. When will the hard stuff be hip enough to listen to again? Until then no one’s going to pursue it seriously. Age has made us soft. But no matter, while we wait for the music industry to grow a pair we’ve got four tracks and ten minutes worth of pure, power-chord driven, crash symbol pounding, say it aloud with me; “SCREAMO”. Now scream for joy as I post a free download link for the EP.

Download Free EP (Download winrar or unrar (Mac) if you don’t have an uncompressor)

I promise you this shit will rock your socks off, even those thick wool ones you’ve got ready for the winter. Twelve years after its release and this is still my go to record when I need that extra shot of adrenaline right to my veins. Seriously, queue this up on your headphones and take a stroll around town: NO ONE WILL FUCK WITH YOU.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Strokes - Angles


Taken For a Fool
Life is Simple in the Moonlight

First Impressions of Earth was a spectacular letdown, but because the first two Strokes records are so great I'll continue to give them chances. Most of us were amped for the first single we would hear in five years, and in some ways it shares commonalities with our favorite Strokes songs; the distorted vocals are back, the chorus is great and Fab is drumming with the same purpose he always has. But, where at one point the intricate weaving of duel guitars was the group's strength, they've developed a habit of trying to fit too many ideas into 3-minute pop tracks. The riffs throughout the intro and verse for "Under Cover of Darkness" are so exaggerated they undermine the overall quality of what could be a great song.

A few weeks after hearing that first single, but before the release of Angles, the Strokes performed on Saturday Night Live. They opened with a performance of the single they had been pushing for the past month, but the highlight was their closer. Always saving the best for last, the Strokes played the album's last track, “Life is Simple in the Moonlight.” It's one of their most unique song since Is This It. A ballad by Strokes standards, the melody flows naturally, and the restrained solo by Valensi hearkens to the discipline they harnessed in their prime. It surprises me in the least it’s one of two Casablancas solo compositions on Angles.

So there was hope again.

Unfortunately, after countless times streaming Angles upon its release, nothing matched the quality of “Life is Simple in the Moonlight.” One of the few highlights is “Taken For a Fool,” the closest thing you’ll find to Is This It or Room on Fire. The Tom Petty influenced “Two Kinds of Happiness” is surprisingly enjoyable but loses focus during its course. And for the few solid songs there are equal duds. “You’re So Right” follows the awful “Juicebox” approach to mechanical rock’n’roll, “Games” is something between a New Order and Madonna mash-up, with awful execution, and then there’s “Metabolism”, some sort of waltzy-gothy-indie concoction. The rest fall into comfortable mediocrity

The Strokes have gathered a lot of great ideas for an EP’s worth of material, but when stretched unnaturally over ten songs, Angles is disjointed, lacking a clear trajectory. By choosing "Under Cover of Darkness" as the album's first single The Strokes can't say they didn't prepare us adequately.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Strokes - Room on Fire


Most of Them

Room on Fire is the perfect follow-up record to Is This It as far as I’m concerned. Why fix something that ain’t broke? Fuck all that noise about evolving and maturing -- the second time around should simply be about the continuation of writing great songs. And we get another collection of brilliant guitar-rock here; some of the riffs are even more intricate than anything on Is This It. A perfect example is the album’s second single, “Reptilia,” and The Strokes highlight as much with long camera shots on the fret work by both Albert Hammond, Jr. and Nick Valensi in the music video.

A few of my favorite Strokes songs are here. “12:51" is where were first introduced to the keyboard-effect Valensi implements throughout Room on Fire. One of my favorite traits about Casablancas as a lyricist is the humor and sarcasm he often includes in his songs, but he might even be fooling himself when he sings “Never needed anybody / Never needed nobody” on “Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” even if the bright two-chord progression suggests happiness. “Automatic Stop” features Hammond, Jr. pitching into the songwriting process for the first time. And as with Is This It The Strokes save the best for last in “I Can’t Win,” a simple little track about accepting failure.

Mila Kunis and Eva Mendes either trying to get their careers off the ground or fans of good music. Or both.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Strokes - Is This It


All of Them

In 2001 my record collection was running on fumes. Most of that great music I had collected from the 90’s had been destroyed or stolen. All that was left was a tattered lot of punk and emo records, most of which were perpetuating my frequent foul moods. The mainstream landscape, being inundated by shitty “bling”-rap, bubblegum pop and agro hard-rock, was even worse. MTV was dying, the radio had been dead for years -- my one true hobby was becoming warily dull.

But then, in one of MTV’s last redeeming moments, a buzzworthy video unlike anything they had played in over a decade was aired. The quintet, ragged and dirty and appearing on a stage resembling classic bandstands or Ed Sullivan shows, seem a bit aloof, a bit distracted, some might even say a bit lifeless. But they looked cool as shit. And once Julian Casablancas begins with his distorted voice and nonchalant cadence, you realized rock’n’roll hadn’t been this danceable in decades. Nodding your head as Albert Hammond, Jr. throws us back with a great solo and Casblancas comes in with one last chorus -- “Last Nite” was a reminder music is supposed to be fun. In songs like “The Modern Age” and “Someday” Casablancas tells tales of heartbreak similarly to most of the sappy shit I was listening to, but he does it with sincerity instead of superficial earnestness, attitude instead of whiny self-pity. Perhaps The Strokes' strongest trait, the guitar interplay between Hammond, Jr. and Nick Valensi isn't necessarily masterful, but it's incredibly melodic and expertly written, my favorites of which can be heard on “Soma” and “Take It or Leave It.”

A whole new realm of music opened for me with the release of Is This It. I rediscovered a lot of great 70’s rock they had borrowed from. It turned out music didn’t need constant drum beats, hard rock breakdowns, or electronic blips and beats after all. Although, as Chavez stated in his Albert Hammond, Jr. solo post, The Strokes aren’t one of the most original bands, they completely reinvigorated the sound they pay homage to. I hadn't had that much fun listening to a record since being a teenager. I think most everyone felt the same way, and perhaps it wasn’t pretentious himpsterism that set The Strokes and indie revivalism in New York City in motion, but a conjuring of excitement for good music again.

Easily one of the best records of the past twenty years.

(Guided by Voices appearance in this video for extra hip points)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Strung Out - Twisted by Design

★★★★★ Tracks:


After Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues it would take two years for Strung Out to release another full length album, and I was about out the door and on my way to college when it arrived. The 90's punk rock I spent a lot of my teenage years listening to was left behind, but nostalgia still found me shelling out $15 for the occasional Fat Wreck-chords release. Twisted by Design further emancipates Strung Out from the Bad Religion/NOFX copycat moniker by the group's continuing slide towards pop-punk. That I still carry this with me some thirteen years later must say it still holds up decently, or maybe I'm just a punk-rocker at heart... as I type this in slacks and collared shirt on my lunch break. “Exhumation of Virginia Madison” and “Deville” are the best representations of the album as a whole, songs which might call to mind early Blink-182, but the highlight is “Paperwalls.” Take a song about relationship struggles and put it in the hands of sophomoric Fat Wreck-chords punk-rockers, you are begging for a piece of shit, but Strung Out defies the odds as they do with most of Twisted by Design.

Strung Out - Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues

★★★★★ Tracks:


I think Strung Out was my favorite band for about two weeks in my first year of high school. This was probably only because all of the other Fat Wreck-Chords bands like NOFX, Lagwagon, Face to Face, were claimed by my other friends, naturally forcing me to pick a group no one else had. Truth is Strung Out’s first album wasn’t very good, but when Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues came out the group added some pop sensibilities to the trashy, metallic punk-rock they ripped from their influences (Circle Jerks, Husker Du, Bad Religion). Poppier, catcher, crisper, the group that some ancient months ago was my favorite group had a legitmate record, at least as far as underground skate-punk was concerned. There are some songs that surprisingly hold up very well, one of which I still regularly stuff in my playlists -- “Solitaire,” I had always though to be a simple little love song, might actually be a somewhat cryptic account of first-hand struggles with drug addiction.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Stryder - Jungle City Twitch

★★★★★ Tracks:
Summer Coat
This Is the Time

The Stryder was in heavy rotation when I first met my wife. And she must have found it more silly than stupid as I half-sang/half-rapped along to the ultra-cheesy lyrics sung on songs like “Crook” (Let me pat you down / Are you wired? / Don’t you make a sound / Were you hired?), or “Billy” (And you’ve been trying way too hard and got too much to prove / When all you gotta do is do the things you gotta do), or “Summer Coat” (It’s the first day of summer and I’ve already worn my winter coat) because she's still with me today. As I sit here now and play Jungle City Twitch I can’t help but feel embarrassed knowing the few readers here will laugh their asses off listening to this clip, all the while still helplessly digging the thrashy punk rock, amateur rap and boy band fusion The Stryder attempts to hilariously mash together.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sublime - 40oz. to Freedom

★★★★★ Tracks:
5446 That’s My Number
Let’s Go Get Stoned

As I stood there in the hallway, my Dixie cup full of beer freshly tapped and poured from the keg out back, I watched another twenty-something take at least a serving’s worth of beer through a funnel. “Badfish” began playing on Pandora and the room around me began to shift out of focus, as memories pushed themselves to the forefront. A friend's parents away for a weekend vacation leaving us teenagers alone for a few days; where the one of us that lost the rock-paper-scissors contest would have to go into the supermarket with our fake IDs and put the deposit down for a keg; where we would promptly invite our friends over and they would invite their friends over and they would invite their friends over; bong rips by the pool, keg-stands in the kitchen, all bathrooms occupied by porcelain-hugging fuck-ups, and then someone inevitably yelling from out front “5-0!”

“Ain’t got not time to get old
Lord knows I’m weak
Won’t somebody get me off of this reef”

“Hey...hey...hey! ...The keg is tapped."

I’m transported back to the hallway I was standing in. People are starting to pass out. The keg’s tapped. The party’s over.

"White Castle?" he continues.

I’m thirty now, not that invincible seventeen year old I used to be. It was fun while it lasted, but it’s just not quite the same. Neither is Sublime. Every now and then though, when the setting’s just right, “Badfish” sounds like one of the best fucking songs to have ever passed through those speakers.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunny Day Real Estate - The Rising Tide

Well, Jeremy Enigk’s conversion to Chirstianity was no secret during the making of LP2, and based upon the cover for The Rising Tide his transformation to half-man/half-angel is well underway. Enigk's vocals even sound forcefully angelic. Hopefully he's found peace of mind, but the new SDRE sound is too holy for my tastes.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sunny Day Real Estate - The Pink Album

★★★★★ Tracks:
Theo B
Red Elephant

LP2, The Pink Album, Self Titled, whatever the fuck you want to call it is the SDRE album I still come back to often. I know Diary is better written and more unique, in fact LP2 just sounds like a continuation or a B-sides to that album. But some of the tunes here are catchier than most of Diary. It's also not quite as lengthy as its predecessor, which often wears out its welcome with a 53 minute run time.

“Theo B” has a nice guitar jingle with an up-tempo rhythm that drops into the signature SDRE distorted-octave chorus. “Red Elephant” sounds like something U2 might have come up with if they rocked a little harder. “5/4” is named after its tempo, a highly difficult time signature to write a pop song in, but SDRE is up to the task. Perhaps my favorite track to ever be produced by the group is “8,” which was cut originally for a 7” but beefed up and put on LP2. It takes a while to start, with Jeremy Enigk singing quietly to a slow strummed guitar, but blows up into soaring octaves and a great swing beat before settling into those great palm muted power chords I can never get enough of.

The band was in heavy conflict during the recording of LP2 and would disband soon afterwards. Rumor has it the band was fed up with Enigk’s born-again Christianity and his increasing artistic dominance over the band’s direction. They would never match the quality of these two records when they made their comeback a few years later.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sunny Day Real Estate - Diary

★★★★★ Tracks:
In Circles

My grandfather passed away while I was in my junior year of high school. My family drove up from Florida to attend the funeral, but not before I picked up a bag of shwag for the few boring, dreary nights I’d be spending at Nana’s house. On one of the rare chances my dad and I were able to peel away from the family, we did one of the few things we naturally enjoyed together, which was taking trips to the record store. It was on this trip that I bought two completely dissimilar records, Sublime’s 40 oz. to Freedom and Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary. At night when everyone would go to sleep, I’d head out to my grandmother’s huge yard, smoke a bowl, come back in and put my headphones on as loud as I could take. I didn’t know my grandfather all that well but it was still a somber moment, and Diary fit the mood perfectly.

When I got back to FL I played Sunny Day more and more. At the time, when most of what I was listening to was punk and rap, Sunny Day’s instrumentation made me think about lead guitar in a different way. Not that it had never been done before, but Sunny Day’s left and right split of both guitars allows for constant leads and intricate weaving of tone. The quiet/loud/quiet dynamic of the 90’s is further built upon as well. William Goldsmith, bored by the frequent monotony of rock/pop percussion, attacks the drums with a barrage of constant snare hits and performs fills and rolls at any moment’s notice. Not to be outdone by the drumming and dueling guitars, the bass is highly technical, and, with the guitars dueling leads, often carries the melody exclusively.

Diary isn’t on regular rotation like it once was. It’s tone, mostly dreary and slow in tempo, make it a record for a specific mood, or maybe it just always reminds me of when I bought it. It’s a highly influential record though, and phenomenally performed. The two stand-outs tracks here are some of the strongest rock cuts to come out of the 90’s. Diary’s opener, “Seven,” is the hardest and most upbeat of the lot, where the drum attack of the intro and transitions from verse to chorus are its highlight (the song is cut short due to MTV’s wishes of bands sticking as closely to a 3:00 run time as possible, the full track clocks in at 4:45).

The best track however resides near the end of the collection, “48” attempts to take the quiet/loud/quiet approach to new extremes, with a serene, almost classical sounding melody during the verse giving way to blaring, distorted octaves as Jeremy Enigk screams at the top of his lungs.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Surfer Blood - Astro Coast

★★★★★ Tracks:

Surf rock made a big comeback a few years ago, weaving its way into the indie arena, with California up-and-comers (Girls, Best Coast, Wavves) wanting to incorporate the sounds of the most renowned of California groups. Surfer Blood hails from the East Coast in Florida, where there’s more humid rain than ocean breeze and the waves aren’t all that great, but they wanted in on the beach party too. Astro Coast didn’t take much time to warm up to initially. “Floating Vibes” and “Swim” are the catchiest of tunes, mixing early 2000s indie rock (The Shins, The Strokes) with their surf influences. “Harmonix” is a personal favorite, its name coming from the harmonic sound one can make by just barely placing a finger on a string above a fret, and it’s those harmonic notes the song is built off of.

The bad news is I completely forgot about this record weeks after hearing it. It doesnt have much staying power, and I've now grown bored by a lot of the songs I liked initially. I’ll keep a couple of the stand-outs and most likely scrap the rest. But unfortunately for my home state, looks like California wins again.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs

★★★★★ Tracks:
Love You
Dark Globe
Here I Go

Syd Barrett felt like he might just be one bad trip away. While Pink Floyd was the soundtrack to the fun, hallucinogenic trips of my high school days, Syd represents what happens after you indulge too much. Paranoid, delusional trips that you can’t escape, engulfing six or more hours of your life at a time. Things you never even thought might bother you begin to itch and claw at your mind, leaving you paralyzed and helpless. Syd knows all about it, but unlike most of us who stay away from the stuff after a bad trip or two, he kept at it, damaging his already unstable psyche stemming from his adolescence. And it’s no wonder Pink Floyd was so worried about Syd’s decaying frame of mine and its effects on the band, he was the best songwriter the group produced to this day.

The Madcap Laughs is a difficult and depressing record, but it shines brilliantly. Even the more upbeat tracks have an undertone of deep isolation and paranoia. “Here I Go” is a little swing track which is somehow eerily up-tempo, almost as if the notes being played by the guitar are hiding an undercurrent of madness. Syd Barrett is heartbroken by a girl he likes who doesn't like his songs, preferring the big band he was once in. On “Love You” Syd Barrett uses strange and incoherent wordplay mixed with a bizarre, carnival-like piano line to capture his feelings for a woman.

For the most part though Syd plays slow, wandering guitar lines and sings in suggesting riddles, as his melancholy songwriting bleeds out unto the microphone capturing his loneliness in space and time. “Dark Globe” is especially heartbreaking as Syd pleads, “wouldn’t you miss me at all!” to a successful band that no longer needs him. But the best song just might be the opening track, as Barrett wittingly sings of two fish in love.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Taking Back Sunday - Where You Want to Be

★★★★★ Tracks:
Set Phasers to Stun
A Decade Under the Influence

I remember buying Where You Want to Be at Best Buy in the $9.99 section soon after it came out. It hit #3 on the Billboard charts in the first week, signifying emo’s takeover of the mainstream, an unthinkable feat to me at the time. But with the look of all these sensitive gloom-rockers, their black-painted nails, black-bobbed haircuts and black eyeliner, they were essentially the natural next step in manufactured boy bands. I always dug this type of music though, it’s typically not your typical 3-chord 4/4 rock in a major scale, and it’s refreshing to me to hear groups try and break out of the status quo. But then emo turned itself into the status quo of the early 2000s, churning out countless dopey teen rockers taking themselves entirely too seriously; rock’n’roll is supposed to be fun after all. And so a trend being a trend, MTV latched on and that marked the death knell of the ‘M’ ever being associated with the ‘TV.’

The first couple of tracks on Where You Want to Be I can’t help but still like. I never make it through the entire album though, and I’d rather disassociate the music from the images. However that would be untruthful. They are who they are.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Taking Back Sunday - Tell Your Friends

★★★★★ Tracks:
Cute Without the ‘E’
Timberwolves at New Jersey

Third-wave emo; when the more pop-oriented singing and songwriting of groups like Jimmy Eat World and Saves the Day were combined with the screaming hardcore of Refused or Shai Hulud. It's an attempt at a fresher and more economical take on the downtrodden genre. Resonant, reverby clean tone abruptly gives way to distorted power chords and palm muting on most everything here, the quiet/loud dynamic established in the 90’s very much at play. I’ve grown out of most of it but loud music is harder and harder to come by these days. Taking Back Sunday, their cutesy teenage lyrics aside (“Everything I know about breaking hearts / I learned from you / It’s true” is one of the many gems), are up to the task, and Tell Your Friends has a couple of great songs, although I cant help but cringe to videos like this.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Talking Heads - More Songs About Buildings and Food

★★★★★ Tracks:
Thank You for Sending Me an Angel
With Our Love
The Good Thing
Artists Only
Take Me to the River

More Songs About Buildings and Food is easily my favorite ‘Heads record. The group is still in its rock’n’roll phase, but their sound is greatly enhanced with Brian Eno at the helm for the first time in what would prove to be a long, fruitful relationship between band and producer. Eno, still very early in his musical career, and riding the success in helping to shape the sounds of Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy,” had a keen ear for the direction in which the ‘Heads were attempting to take their music. On Buildings and Food he doesn’t want to fiddle much with the sound but rather tinker with the way it comes to your speakers. He tightens up their studio sessions and therefore the quality of the songs themselves, he gives the guitars a bit of a mechanical feel, and allows the spastic, nervous energy the band creates to seep through the recording. The results are fantastic; 11 of the weirdest, grooviest tracks to come out of the 70’s. “Thank You For Sending Me an Angel” is the perfect opener, but “With Our Love” is the ‘Heads’s mission statement; a computerized, rinky-dink guitar charges ahead while David Byrne neurotically sings of the strange complexities of relationships between male and female.

The album culminates in what might be the best track of the album, a cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” The Talking Heads slow it down, strip it of its brass section, add a little synth, and Byrne adds his eccentricities to perfection. Alongside "Remain in Light" and "Burning Down the House," "Take Me to the River" would end up being one of the most recognizable songs the 'Heads ever produced.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Talking Heads - '77

★★★★★ Tracks:
Uh-oh, Love Comes to Town
New Feeling
The Book I Read
Psycho Killer

As creative as the Talking Head’s were when they started to implement afrofunk on Fear of Music and Remain in Light, I enjoy their earlier work a lot more, when they were a more straightforward rock’n’roll group. But even in the beginning I imagine the 'Heads are probably one of the first bands to be classified as ‘art rock.' While the label has always sounded rather pretentious, it just seems to make sense when identifying groups that write cerebral and strange lyrics or compose more complex instrumentation thank your average pop/rock outfit, or in the case of the 'Heads, both. And really, David Byrne seems like a pretty pretentious guy anyways. But as evidenced by ’77, the entire record being written by Byrne, he backs that arrogance up with some of the most unique music of the late 70's and early 80's.

The guitar work here is elaborate, and implements a bit of the funk they would further incorporate a few years later. Byrne talks a bit about the government (“Some civil servants are just like my family” in “Don’t Worry About the Government”) about every day problems (“they say compassion is a virtue / But I don’t have the time” on “No Compassion”), about how great he is (“I’m a know it all / I’m the smartest man around” on “Uh-oh, Love Comes to Town”), but one of the odd, most reoccurring themes is his fascination with social politics between men and women (“Girls ask and I define decision / Boys ask and I describe their function” on “Tentative Decisions”), and all of these lyrics further the image of the frontman as a rather distraught weirdo; the anxious, rambling voice the sound of a man who should be medicated. His neuroses are our gain though. And who doesn’t love to give it their all when singing “Psycho Killer” on Rock Band?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Talking Heads - Remain in Light

★★★★★ Tracks:
Crosseyed and Painless
The Great Curve
Once in a Lifetime

When I play a Talking Heads record I inevitably think about how awesome it would have been to have been around during the CBGB heydays of the late 70’s. It was probably an intimidating scene, with a crowd made up mostly of social outcasts hoping to catch a glimpse of punk rock pioneers like the Ramones or Television or Patti Smith or Blondie (wow). With their business-casual attire and pretentious, artsy demeanor, the Heads must have been the oddballs of the bunch. They probably fit in much better with the white-collared Manhattanites surrounding them. Furthering the image, David Byrne’s nervous, edgy, even chaotic, vocal style makes him sound incredibly smart, but incredibly strange, as if his brain holds more information than one brain can capably handle. He sounds like what I imagine the late 70’s and early 80’s represented in general; it was the dawn of sensory overload. And while most of the CBGB crew were busy revolting against the changing times, the Heads and the music they created appeared to embrace the epoch of green-screened computers, fast-paced financial activity on Wall Street, and car-polluted freeways surrounding it. Perhaps though, the group was simply approaching the revolt in a different manner.

The first Heads song I heard was “Once in a Lifetime.” The video, one that got heavy MTV circulation even into the late 80’s, in a lot of ways introduces the audience to what the band is all about: the Heads’ frontman, a well-dressed David Byrne massaging his ego and exercising his creative control over the band, is the only member of the group to appear; it uses cutting edge analog and video effects for the time; the music is rhythmic and percussive but monotonous in melody; and Byrne’s vocals sound like an anxious stream of consciousness, a consciousness perplexed by the speed of which life can pass one by.

Ironically Remain in Light wasn’t recorded in the urban sprawls of America, but on the tropical shores of the Bahamas. Married and gaining success from their music, drummer, Chris Frantz, and bassist, Tina Weymouth, purchased an apartment in Nassau, where they quickly gained a fascination for Caribbean and African music. Byrne came down to visit the band soon after the purchase and they immediately began working on their next album, with the idea of heavily incorporating Afro beats, polyrhythmics, and reggae into the record. The finishing product remains true to the process. Every song here is uninflected in melodic structure, as the chord progressions never change throughout each song, but the rhythms are deep in multilayered percussion, and the songs build in strength as more instruments are gradually layered on top of one another. Phenom producer Brian Eno has a lot to do with this, as they essentially used a copy+paste method of recording loops and layers from the band's long studio jam sessions, but remember, this was before we had the convenience of digital music editors. A new method of recording music had been born and no one knew it yet. Always inspired by soul, the Talking Heads were now featuring the building blocks to rap and hip-hop in their music, and even though it took a trip to the Bahamas to inspire the group’s new approach, back in their hometown of New York City hip hop was already beginning to thrive. Perhaps some of this is pure coincidence, but Remain in Light nonetheless showcases how well their music epitomized the time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt

★★★★★ Tracks:
The Wild Hunt
Burden of Tomorrow
You're Going Back

“Aww Xavier's on the border of the sun
Swings on the chambers of your guns
And tries to shoot the chord and light the path

Aww but hell I'm just a blind man on the plains
I drink my water when it rains
And live by chance among the lightning strikes”

I don’t know what the hell The Tallest Man On Earth is singing about most the time, maybe I’m just not paying enough attention or maybe I’m too wrapped up in the music. It doesn't matter though, The Wild Hunt perks my ears up every time it sets in motion; Kristian Matsson has quite the gift for the 6-string, and his biting voice, rambling lyrics and bare bones instrumentation bring to mind the days of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the introspective less preachy version of his many personalities. The album’s run time is just fine but, as regular readers might know by now, I can get burnt out quickly by percussion-less music, even with guitar virtuosity as fine as this. Still, a lot of these songs simply cannot be discounted, most notably; “The Wild Hunt,” “Burden of Tomorrow,” and “You’re Going Back.”

(Best audience still shot ever?)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tegan and Sara - Various

★★★★★ Tracks:
My Number
Walking With a Ghost

Soon after college I ended up with a desk job for a large accounting firm. It was a low-level department filled with tons of recent college graduates like myself, making for the most fun and fucked up work environment I will most likely ever be a part of. Endless hours of goofing off in the mail room ensued, and in that mail room we would blare our favorite tunes; anything from Wu-Tang to Garth Brooks on the domestic front and 3 Canal to Ninet Tayeb from the international scene. When management realized shit was getting out of hand, we were dispersed about the office like disciplined first graders in order to settle things down, but that didn’t stop us from using the inter-office instant messaging system to send mp3 files back and forth to one another. It was at this time that one of my closest musical counterparts introduced me to the first Tegan and Sara track I would ever hear. “My Number” has a new wavish, folksy sound hearkening to those singles from the 90’s femme movement (Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, etc). If I make out the lyrics correctly it sounds like Tegan is recounting her issues with identity and sexuality, which makes the song even more interesting knowing what we now know of her.

When I told my friend I had played the shit out of that track, she sent me "Walking With a Ghost" next. In this song, it was obvious the duo had evolved, borrowing heavily from those punk and garage records they must've been collecting over the past few years. Instead of leaning entirely on acoustics and string accompaniments they were blaring electric guitars with distortion while pushing the pitch of their voices to newly grating levels. They began to harness their originality though, and “Walking With a Ghost” became the blueprint for a lot of the group’s later work. Not long afterwards the White Stripes would cover it for an EP. Tegan and Sara are often branded as The Jonas Brothers for the indie teen, and the nod by such a respected rock'n'roll group gave the duo some much needed musical credibility. And as I listen to both tracks back to back a few times over, Jack White’s version can’t touch the original.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tegan and Sara - The Con

★★★★★ Tracks:
The Con
Knife Going In
Back in Your Head
Burn Your Life Down

My wife: “Turn that down! Our neighbors are going to think we’re lesbians...”

Me: “Come on, it’s not that bad,” just as Tegan sings, “I felt you in my legs / Before I ever saw you.”

...Alright, she has a point.

Tegan and Sara - Back In Your Head (Live Conan O'Brien 2007)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tegan and Sara - Sainthood

★★★★★ Tracks:
Don’t Rush
Paperback Head
The Ocean

Most anyone who enjoys Tegan and Sara will take a defensive stance when speaking of them, a stance that only arises in the case of guilty pleasures. Just look at that album cover ... I understand the criticism to their perceived packaged hipsterism, the gimmicky imagery of are they lesbians / are they twins / are they lovers / maybe all three? But when I play a track all of that never comes to mind because they craft such great pop rock. They remind me of Fleetwood Mac or Tom Petty for modern day indie enthusiasts; taking bits and pieces of all that great rock over the past 25 years and impressively compartmentalizing it. As well as its infectious nature, the duo have incredible talent for building pop songs from the bottom up, as they write all the material themselves.

I’m starting with their latest release because it’s not only their best work yet, but it also garners the lowest “cheese factor” of the bunch. As these twin siblings have grown and matured before our eyes so has their music. Tegan and Sara pull from all of their influences this time around; the album’s named after a Leonard Cohen lyric (“Came So Far For Beauty), “Alligator” sounds like a Madonna throwback, “The Ocean’s” fast tempo and open-stringed strumming brings Jimmy Eat World to mind, on “Hell,” one of the first tracks to have ever been co-written by both sisters, they show how easily power-chord driven punk rock comes to them, and their increasing infatuation with 80’s new wave is harnessed in songs “Don’t Rush,” “The Cure,” “Arrow,” and “Paperback Head.” Chris Walla of Death Cab fame produces T&S for the second time and he markedly improves the recording quality here, everything sounds crisp, with one of the most impressive aspects being the top-notch, forceful drumming and percussion -- the aspect of the music which really carries these songs forward.

Tegan and Sara - Hell

And sure, there is still plenty that could likely be heard backing the credits to a romantic comedy, or some awfully awkward scene to one of those WB shows my wife might or might not watch; in “On Directing,” even Sara herself realizes her sugar-coated lyricism (“Go steady with me / I know it turns you off when I / I get talking like a teen.”) can induce dry heaves. In the end though I just can’t ever seem to let T&S’s immaturity get to me because the hooks are so fucking good. They'll most likely always write with naive and sometimes immature sincerity, and combined with those abrasive tomboyish voices, the unamused will quickly grow disinterested. But 2009’s Sainthood brought Tegan and Sara from oft-played guilty pleasure to a group producing one of my favorite records of 2009.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Television - Marquee Moon

★★★★★ Tracks:
See No Evil
Prove It

They were mainstays at CBGB during its heyday in the late 70's, that was about all I knew of Television before their free Central Park show a few years ago. My wife and I walked in a bit late, bought our $12 beers, and watched them play what I now know is the title track to Marquee Moon. The song runs over ten minutes long, with an instrumental interlude spanning the majority of its playtime. They embellished on it live, and what felt like fifteen minutes in I was already finding myself pretty damn bored by the whole thing. It sounded like a garagey version of Phish, a sort of meandering piece of music that never found the hook it seemed to be searching for. Maybe everyone was tranced out or I missed the mushroom party, but the crowd appeared lifeless. The band lacked energy or any sort of stage presence, and at the time I thought these bros from the 70’s just didn't have much steam left in them. But maybe they were playing with heavy hearts. We stayed for a few more tracks and left disappointed.

Undeterred, I bought a copy of Marquee Moon a few weeks after the show. It floored me how immediate and infectious it was. About half way through a live performance I didn't understand the appeal but the opening riff to "See No Evil" left me wearing an unshakable grin. What phenomenal guitar play. I immediately thought of one of my favorite albums, The Strokes’ Is This It (insert typical hipster joke here); I could see Casablancas and Hammond, Jr. sitting around some years ago, picking apart the guitar licks on Marquee Moon while gathering ideas for the dynamic guitar interplay on their debut album some 25 years later. Television uses a dual left/right guitar approach (and as it is with most complex guitar bands, mono is not a good option when playing this record), sometimes layering as many as four and five guitars on to a track at once. Songs like “Venus” and “Friction” have guitar leads that last their entire lengths, mixing in multiple and frequent guitar solos. All too often the solo will sound like such a pretentious piece of shit in rock’n’roll music, but Television uses precision, allowing the solo to improve the overall structure of the song while simultaneously attacking its conventionalism, and they do so with confidence, not arrogance.

I admit I still skip over the sprawling “Marquee Moon” most times through, but damn if their live show didn’t give me a false impression, because Marquee Moon is rock'n'roll guitar virtuosity at its finest.