Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Best Songs of 2012: Lotus Plaza - "Dusty Rhodes"

Best Songs of 2012

Dusty Rhodes // Lotus Plaza

Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt's second album sounds a lot like Deerhunter, and naturally so being Pundt, somewhat under the radar due to Bradford Cox's fame, co-wrote Halcyon Digest. The melancholy melodies and quiet vocals suggest isolation, but an isolation of want and not imposition. This is loner music. For headphones and train rides and solitary car trips. And it's the best of its kind to be released this year. 

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list

Best Songs of 2012: Converge - "Aimless Arrow"

Best Songs of 2012

Aimless Arrow // Converge

Converge watered down is still scarier than most horror movies you've ever seen, but a restrained version of this +20 year old hardcore staple on All We Love We Leave Behind allows for more melodic tones and a greater range in songwriting. There's still fury here though, just listen to Ben Koller blast through fills and beats faster than most people can tap their fingers and tell me otherwise. 

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list

Best Songs of 2012: Indoor Voices - "So Smart"

So smart from Indoor Voices on Vimeo.

Best Songs of 2012

So Smart // Indoor Voices

Indoor Voices are another of many My Bloody Valentine-inspired shoegaze outfits, but they execute the gorgeous melodies and male/female vocals so well it's impossible not to be impressed. Looking forward to hearing more after a very promising EP, which you can download here.

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list


Indoor Voices - So smart

Judging by how much I’ve been posting them lately, my inbox has been flooded over with excellent music videos. Here is the latest from Toronto artist Jonathan Relph in a collaboration with director Scott Kaija and feating the dead-eyed gaze of Irene Cortes that I’m thrilled to premiere for y’all. Heady, beautiful stuff.

Get this self-titled EP on ltd. wax from Bleeding Gold Records.

Previously: “After (feat. Sandra Vu)”

Best Songs of 2012: Beach House - "New Year"

Best Songs of 2012

New Year // Beach House

You've read it so many times now that the word dreamy is synonymous with Beach House, but you can't knock a perfect descriptor. Bloom is a continuation of the more accessible sound from Teen Dream, but with deeper textures, catchier beats and greater production value. With its triumphant chorus and a My Bloody Valentine-inspired bridge, "New Year" is an, as Filter puts it, "ethereal journey."

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list

Best Songs of 2012: Bat For Lashes - "Laura"

Best Songs of 2012

Laura // Bat For Lashes

I was unenthusiastic about watching Bat For Lashes' new video. I had a predisposition to dislike it. The heavy-hearted look of Natasha Khan as she peers into the camera, the weird, ambiguous actress at the heart of the subject matter, the fact that it's a piano ballad; none of these things appealed to me. But then that chorus hits, those victorious soft trumpets sound, and you realize "Laura" is simply too powerful to ignore. A 2012 top 5 track. 

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list

Monday, December 17, 2012

Best Songs of 2012: Father John Misty - "Hollywood Cemetery Forever"

Best Songs of 2012

Hollywood Cemetery Forever // Father John Misty

Joshua Tillman, previously of 'the drummer from Fleet Foxes' fame, finally broke out after seven years of releasing records under his own name as well as the moniker Father John Misty. Although Fear Fun doesn't take many chances, Father John covers a wide spectrum of influences and condenses them into folksy, pop-friendly tracks. "Hollywood Cemetery Forever" is the one that really stands out; a simple open hi-hat beat in 4/4 languidly carries a twangy minor chord progression while Tillman delivers some strong, infectious lines. The video featuring Aubrey Plaza is one of the best of the year as well. 

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list

Best Songs of 2012: The Evens - "Wanted Criminals"

Best Songs of 2012

Wanted Criminals // The Evens

Fugazi has been on hiatus for nearly a decade but that hasn't stopped Ian MacKaye from working on other projects. The Evens, a duo consisting of Ian and his partner Amy Farina in a set up nearly identical to the White Stripes, have been recording since even before Fugazi's hiatus, but The Odds is their best collection of songs yet. "Wanted Criminals" is the highlight, a song fueled by MacKaye's signature left-leaning lyricism and a Fugazi-esque culminating breakdown. The Odds might never make us forget how amazing this was, but as MacKaye eclipses age 50 he's proven he and Amy Farina can still innovate the post-punk circuit. 

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list

Best Songs of 2012: Nas - "Loco-Motive"

Best Songs of 2012

Loco-Motive // Nas

"This for my trapped in the 90's n*ggas."

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list

Best Songs of 2012: Maritime - "Peopling of London"

Best Songs of 2012

Peopling of London // Maritime

Davey von Bohlen has been writing songs for 15 years. "Peopling of London" proves he can still write a perfect piece of pop rock when he puts his mind to it. 

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list


Maritime - “Peopling of London”

The Promise Ring reunion was phenomenal last night, and in listening to a lot of Promise Ring and Davey von Bohlen side projects over the past few weeks I completely forgot Davey’s current band, released an album this year. It’s a solid if unspectacular record but “The Peopling of London” is up there with some of the best von Bohlen tracks.

Best Songs of 2012: Kendrick Lamar - "The Art of Peer Pressure"

Best Songs of 2012

The Art of Peer Pressure // Kendrick Lamar

If there's one song that best sums up good kid, m.A.A.d city  it's "The Art of Peer Pressure." The autobiographical story of a night spent riding around town and wreaking havoc with his buddies, Lamar concedes he is a "sober soul" and a pacifist at heart but when he's rolling with his crew, peer pressure becomes a more powerful force than his moral fortitude. The subject matter is universal and the story is told brilliantly, full of intro and outro "skits" and a humorous cliffhanger. The beat provided by Tabu is one of the album's best and Kendrick's flow is reminiscent of Andre 3000, possibly lending credence to the idea that the title, "The Art of Peer Pressure," is giving props to Outkast's "Da Art of Storytellin'."

"The Art of Peer Pressure" is one of the best songs on the best album of the year. 

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Best Songs of 2012: Grizzly Bear - "Yet Again"

Best Songs of 2012

Yet Again // Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear return from a three year hiatus with a collection of songs darker than anything they've recorded yet. With its rich, sustained guitar chords, Droste's skillful vocals and a unique outro, "Yet Again" is Shields' best track, and one of the best of the year.

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list

Best Songs of 2012: Japandroids - "The House That Heaven Built"

If this isn't one of the most life-affirming songs you've ever heard, well then I don't know what's wrong with you. 

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list

Past Japandroid posts

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Best Songs of 2012: Evy Jane - "Sayso"

Best Songs of 2012

Sayso // Evy Jane

When artists as mainstream as Taylor Swift say their new record is influenced by dubstep you know the genre's jumped the shark. But Evy Jane pull off a successful resurrection with "Sayso," a song built off of slick production and the wistful voice of Evelyn Mason. 

Best Songs of 2012: Chromatics - "These Streets Will Never Look the Same"

Best Songs of 2012

These Streets Will Never Look the Same // Chromatics

If you're looking for a sequel to the excellent Drive soundtrack, Kill For Love is your best bet. Chromatics were Initially penned to provide the movie's entire score, but Refn decided  a variety of artists would be more effective. They still provided the creepy, anxious "Tick of the Clock" for the film's opening scene. Chromatics mixes 70's/80's new wave and modern day reverby electronica, giving them a sound that epitomizes Drive-style noir. "These Streets Will Never Look the Same" is the highlight, an epic, 8-minute long auto-tuned masterpiece.

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list

Best Sogns of 2012: Cloud Nothings - "No Sentiment"

Best Songs of 2012

No Sentiment // Cloud Nothings

Remember when Pitchfork used to shit on emo? I was really surprised by their take on Attack on Memory after years of reading reviews like that one. But music is cyclical and rock is back. Regardless of where indie publications used to lean on emo and post-hardcore influenced music, they're right about this one, Cloud Nothings have created a killer record. I waffle (mmm, waffles) between "No Sentiment" and "No Future/No Past" as my favorite track but in the end I lean towards the former. That obnoxiously loud and distorted one note picked and bent ever so slightly before bursting into chaotic tremolo, the rhythm power chords, the crashing symbols, the nasally, off-key Cobain inspired vocals; what's not to love here? 


Tell me this song doesn’t rock hard, I dare you to.

Best Songs of 2012 rolling list

Monday, December 3, 2012

Best Songs of 2012: Metz - "Headache"

It may be a year late, but hard rock has returned to indie in 2012. Metz is partially responsible. Their debut doesn't deal much in variation, but this throwback to 90's era rock and post-hardcore contains a few excellently crafted tracks, none of which can top the opener. "Headache" begins with a tom-driven beat before barreling down on you with crashing symbols and a monster guitar riff. Alex Edkins' vocals, which hearken to Ian Curtis, are perfectly complementary, and the production execution is spot on. Metz might be a bit too one note as a whole, but damn if these dudes haven't re-energized my love for simple, potent guitar riffage. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Best Songs of 2012 Introduction

It’s that time of the year again, that time when all of us “pasty white dudes” begin typing our year end “best of” lists. Boy have these lists become divisive. I wonder if it’s because those who criticize them are growing older and more cynical of the music industry. Or maybe the music industry really has changed for the worst and these lists have become less about content and more about whoring your blog out for year end pageviews. Is it that the internet has become so convoluted with dudes like myself, who compile year end lists on dime a dozen music blogs, that most of them are meaningless? It’s probably all of those things. It’s probably, just as we music nerds enjoy criticizing the larger publications’ year end lists, the more sardonic pop culture enthusiasts enjoy criticizing the practice itself. But I love this time of year; I can’t wait to read Pitchfork’s and Stereogum’s and Fantano’s and Lewis’s lists for the content, and even NME’s and Rolling Stone’s and Spin’s for the funnies. More than anything though, I love making my own list. Collecting all of my favorite songs and sharing them is not only fun, but it keeps me actively engaged with current music. I don’t want to become my parents just yet, talking about how the last great album was Physical Graffiti. It’ll probably happen someday, but that day does not reside in 2012.

So, thanks for sticking with me. Tomorrow I will begin posting my 25 favorite songs of 2012. As opposed to compiling one entire list of songs, I’ll use tumblr’s format to my advantage and post a song or two a day. I hope you enjoy.

Get acclimated with my 2011 list.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Antlers - Hospice

Release Date: August 18, 2009

Heavy on atmosphere and light on hooks, The Antlers’ Hospice was a critical darling in 2009 due to its aspirations and execution, but it lacks replay value. A sort of concept album based around the relationship between a hospice worker and terminally ill female patient, the ambition Peter Silberman writes with is admirable, but is this a topic that needed to be expressed in the format of a record? Songs like “Two” and “Bear” are lively enough to revisit, but overall Hospice too often feels claustrophobic and monotonous. To match the concept of the lyricism the tone is no doubt calculated, and no one can fault The Antlers on execution. Nursery rhyme-like synths dominate the songwriting, things build slowly, textures are added subtly, percussion is minimal, and Silberman’s croon is soft enough for perfect bedside manner. There is some debate as to how autobiographical and how fictional Hospice is, and this not only helped to add to the record's intrigue but also gave The Antlers an added amount of helpful publicity. But regardless of fact or fiction, dealing with the death of loved ones is one of the toughest things any of us has to go through. The Antlers should be applauded for providing a voice to those who might be going through the same thing. The thing is, I already went through the death of a loved one and I know I’ll go through it again; so do I need a record to act as a perpetual reminder?

Related Artwork: Here

Friday, November 2, 2012

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

Release Date: January 6, 2009

★★★★★ Tracks:
My Girls
Daily Routine

2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion was a landmark record; its sound epitomizing the new decade’s acceleration towards rock and pop’s reliance on digital production. It’s also often been compared with the Beach Boy’s masterpiece, Pet Sounds, in its composure; a mix of pop, psychedelia and the use of latest sound production technologies, its ambition and its perceived responsibility in shifting the musical landscape. There are striking similarities in the lyrical content; how, in an age where American culture was shifting rapidly (with Pet Sounds paralleling the youth movement of the ‘60s, and MPP paralleling social media’s ascension in the new millenium), the Beach Boys and Animal Collective focused less on the cultural phenomena of the time, and more on the simple, timeless things in life like the pursuit of happiness and love, almost as if intentionally rejecting these pushes toward the future on the surface, with lyricism, while embracing them beneath, with instrumentation. AC no doubt intended on these similarities, and why not try and replicate a modern day version of one of the greatest records ever made? Most agree they succeeded; Merriweather Post Pavillion is one of the most universally acclaimed records of the past thirty years. So as a self-proclaimed music nerd it lends to the question I ask myself whenever I play MPP: why don’t I feel the same way?

But before I get to that let’s talk about the positives. The first single to be released, “My Girls,” is unquestionably one of the new millenium’s pivotal tracks. Panda Bear and Avey Tare sing of how they strive only to better the lives of their families while foregoing “material things” and “social stats.” Either culturally genius or circumstantially fortuitous (or both), Animal Collective nailed the symptoms of the upcoming years. “Summertime Clothes,” is the best example of their seamless explorations into electro-psychedelia, grounded by the simple, excellently delivered line, “I want to walk around with you.” “Daily Routine” combines a schizy blend of beats and synths before culminating into a gorgeous mix of dreamy samples and vocals. “In the Flowers” and “Also Frightened” are also solid. All of these highlights reside on the first half of the record, marking an admittedly strong half but giving way to a Side B of largely filler. I also think the accessibility of Animal Collective’s music here, even at their most straightforward, is overstated; it can often feel muddled, claustrophobic and, dare I say, a bit pretentious. But before I offend anyone (if anyone has read this far), perhaps I should admit that I prefer my rock and pop to contain guitars; some non-digital, organic instrumentation, and I always will. Being a skilled if unsuccessful guitarist (humblebrag?) for many years, my natural reaction has been to resist electronic music-- most likely some narcissistic survival instinct. And however much I might have become more open-minded to it over the years, I prefer a more accessible brand of electronic music than what MPP provides. The thing is though, as a fan of all music and its place in history I’d be ignorant to suggest this record isn’t of significance, or that I didn’t admire its ambition; some records are made to change the musical landscape, and it’s up to us to decide whether we want to go along for the ride or get left behind.

Related Artwork: Here

Related Audio: Here

Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha

Release Date: February 26, 2002

★★★★★ Tracks:
Simple X

As far as solo musicians go, there isn’t a current artist more inspiring than Andrew Bird. With his use of a violin, guitar, array of pedals, voice, whistle and computer mechanisms, he is a one-man band. His shows become epic sweeps of technical skill and song experimentation; he is unafraid of the slow build, adding extra layers and loops, warping the components of the original recordings to make each song uniquely different for each performance. For the past few years he has brung Martin Dosh along, multi-talented percussionist and programmer, who adds a heartbeat to Bird’s cerebral, live performances. My introduction to Bird was 2007’s Armchair Apocrypha. It’s an undeniably confident sounding record, full of inventive lyricism and unorthodox songwriting. And Bird’s signature whistling, which I’ve heard some declare a nuisance, is so honed and refined, it helps to further distance himself from his counterparts.

The first half of Armchair Apocrypha is the poppiest group of songs Bird has ever written, and that easy accessibility helped to turn me on to his more challenging work. “Fiery Crash,” a fast-tempo track layered around a soft electric guitar sounds like more an outro than an intro. “Imitosis” is eccentric, reminding me of a more cerebral-sounding Beck, and reading the lyrics and/or watching the video for “Imitosis” further projects the image:

Why do they congregate in groups of four
Scatter like a billion spores and let the wind just carry them away?
How can kids be so mean?
Our famous doctor tried to glean as he went home at the end of the day

Some complain Bird is borderline nonsensical in his quest at sounding highbrow, but he has some absolute lyrical gems on tracks like “Armchairs” (time is a crooked bow), “Plasticities” (think life is too long / to be a whale in a cubicle / nails under your cuticles) and “Darkmatter” (do you wonder where the self resides / is it in the head or between your sides).

As good as the more inviting first half of Armchair Apocrypha is, it’s the middle and later portion of the record where Andrew Bird is at his finest. The seven-minute long “Armchairs” is a refrained masterpiece, ambient strings and violins introduce a slow piano as it builds into an explosive culmination where Bird sings those lines, “time is a crooked bow.” The excellent “Simple X” is the only song co-written by Dosh, it’s skittery percussion driven rhythm an outlier to most of Bird’s other material. On “Cataracs” and “Spare-Ohs,” Haley Bonar’s twangy backing vocals beautifully contrast Bird’s soft voice, marking the best portions of both songs. And then there’s “Scythian Empires,” a song where Bird, who’s a classically trained violinist and whistler but self-taught guitarist, shows how naturally all instruments come to him with an incredible display of finger-picking. The thing is, Armchair Apocrypha isn’t even his best album. The Mysterious Production of Eggs is up next.

Related Artwork: Here

Related Audio: Here

Download from: iTunes | Amazon

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Source Tags and Codes

Release Date: February 26, 2002

It Was There That I Saw You
Another Morning Stoner
How Near, How Far
Relative Ways
Source Tags & Codes

It’s probably been about ten years since I first heard ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. They were the musical guests on Conan’s show some time ago. A much simpler time; back when I was still in college and Conan still hosted good musical acts... But I digress. Singer, Conrad Keely, doesn’t have the strongest of voices, but the energy Trail of Dead played “Relative Ways” with was so infectious I drove over to Vinyl Fever (RIP) the very next day to pick up a copy of their new and critically acclaimed album, Source Tags and Codes. It did not disappoint.

After the introductory instrumental, the first full song, “It Was There That I Saw You,” could be seen as Trail of Dead’s mission statement, an extraordinary blend of 70’s glam, post-hardocre and those excellent quiet/loud dynamics established during the 90’s; the pinnacle of the track comes during the instrumental passage about halfway through, where Conrad Keely and Jason Reece dual it out with guitar arpeggios, trading punch for punch before chaos erupts. “Another Morning Stoner,” the highlight of the album, almost solely relies on those guitar arpeggios from start to end, which allows the drums and bass to not only carry the melody, but the shift in dynamics from soft to loud. On the late 90’s screamo-sounding “Homage,” Keely displays how effortlessly he can go from quiet croon to guttural howl. “How Near, How Far” foregoes the standard 4/4 for a near constant snare-fill beat, driving the song momentously to a signature instrumental interlude before chaos ensues. Curtain call and title track “Source Tags and Codes” is the album’s softest entry; the distorted guitar picking melodies give it an undercurrent of gloomy discord, and the minute-long strings outro mimicking “How Near, How Far” cap off a damn near flawless hard-rock record.

American Football - S/T

Release Date: September 14, 1999

★★★★★ Tracks:
Never Meant

When Cap’n Jazz broke up each member began a new project that furthered the spread of 2nd-wave emo. Of those spin-offs, the instrumental outfit Ghosts + Vodka was created by guitarists Victor Villareal and Sam Zurick, The Promise Ring, created by Davey von Bohlen was the poppiest and most successful of the spin-offs, Joan of Arc, created by Cap’n Jazz frontman Tim Kinsella, the most pretentious and avant-garde, and American Football, created by drummer and brother to Tim, Mike Kinsella, has the sound that most closely resembles late 90’s/early 00’s emo. Not quite as eccentric, Mike enjoys and excels at writing luscious guitar melodies (further evidenced by his later solo spin-off project, Owen), and as the drummer in Cap’n Jazz, Mike shows how multi-instrumentally talented he is by combining those intricate guitars with math rock time signatures. This might sound a bit pretentious, but I’d say good musicians simply enjoy the challenge of writing complex material. And the hooks are still hooks. The opening track on American Football’s self-titled album is its best; “Never Meant” builds upon some technically savvy hammer-on and finger-slide electric guitar picking with oddly syncopated drums and Mike’s signature soft tenor, drummer Steve Lamos speeds it to half-time for good measure halfway through. Through the opening four minutes of the album you can hear the makings of 100s of emo bands to follow. “The Summer Ends” follows with a long instrumental interlude before Mike comes back in with youthful love and the insecurities that always come with it. Then comes “Honestly?” with the album’s best lyrics:

Honestly I can’t remember
All my teenage feelings
And the meanings
They seemed too see-through
To be true

A long instrumental passage follows after the second verse, closing out the other strong highlight on American Football. Kinsella and Co. were highly influential to a lot of music most people never listened to, this is true. But other than the two highlights listed above, I rarely find myself revisiting American Football’s only full-length; I’m a pop fan by nature, and my inclination keeps me fully entrenched in Davey von Bohlen’s camp. His interpretation of this underappreciated genre with The Promise Ring is the paragon of the Cap’n Jazz spin-offs, Cap’n Jazz included, actually.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The American Analog Set - Know By Heart

Release Date: September 4, 2001

Punk as Fuck
The Postman
Choir Vandals
Kindness of Strangers
Aaron and Maria

You’re on a road trip with your pals. You’ve been on the road now for a few hours and the sun’s going down. The conversation has hit a lull and you begin to retreat into your head. The highways start to turn into monotony, and you begin to focus on the endless white lines and reflectors as you reflect on your life. This is when you pop in Know By Heart by The American Analog Set. The percussion beats on softly with little separation in timing between songs, allowing your concentration to remain steadfast as you continue to stare out your window. Acoustic guitars and keyboards litter the landscape. The occasional xylophone twinkles over the atmosphere as the stars begin to shine. A person with a lesser attention span might find this all a bit dull; they might never know how great soft, nonindulgent pop can be. As a friend might do to keep the entire group entertained, singer Andrew Kenny interrupts the long bouts of silence with intermittent, whispered vocals. “I’m on your side,” he begins on the ironically titled “Punk as Fuck,” mimicking the quiet camaraderie you feel with your friends. “Keep me like a key I’m the only one” he pleads on “The Only One.” On “Like Foxes Through Fences” and “Slow Company” though, he refrains from adding any vocals at all, allowing the instrumentation to work its way into you. And it will.

Now that you’re completely tuned, you notice there isn’t much separation in sound throughout Know By Heart. It’s intentional. Until the halfway mark at “Million Young”, a song driven by distorted guitar and organ, The American Analog Set envelop you with soft dream-like pop. And these are the record’s highlights. Ben Gibbard supplies vocals on “The Postman,” and sounds completely in his element. The slow moving “Choir Vandals” never breaks rhythm, lulling you into a stupor. “Punk as Fuck” and “The Kindness of Strangers” feature incredibly unique xylophone accents. And then there’s excellently Brooklyn-inspired “Aaron & Maria,” which sounds like something Wilco might have written circa Yankee Foxtrot. Know By Heart rode under the radar when it was first released in early September of 2001 (just a week before 9/11 might have had a lot to do with that), and while The American Analog Set is outstanding, in the ADD-riddled information age I can see why they never gained mass appeal. And while now Know By Heart is a little known piece of brilliant, introspective pop, it will undoubtedly continue to pick up stragglers down the road.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Alice in Chains - "Would?"


Dirt was one of the first compact discs I ever owned. One of those early pieces of music that continues to transition you from one genre of music to another. In order to hide any evidence of poser-dom I had recently thrown away all my C&C Music Factory and Color Me Badd cassette tapes and replaced them with Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Alice in Chains’ Dirt came soon afterwards as a 13th birthday present from an older friend and neighbor. I hadn’t gotten into the harder stuff yet, and what I now realize was a covert attempt to push an elder friend’s tastes on an impressionable new teenager had worked. While Dirt, a record revolving around heavy drug addiction performed by disturbed drug addicts, was far too bleak and depressing for a kid of my age, it did open up the door to some of the harder rock I would get in to soon afterwards (Helmet, Ministry, Rage Against the Machine). And there was “Would?”, a ridiculously incredible hard rock single that found the band firing on all cylinders. Lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell wrote it, and Layne Staley, with that dark, raspy voice so many awful bands would soon imitate, fleshes out the vocals. “Would?” is also a snapshot of a 90’s trend that has been mostly lost in the new age of pop/rock; great songwriting and technical prowess. Half-step tuned down guitars flourish over the low bass notes the song sits upon while Sean Kinney supplies hefty amounts of bassy percussion and a gripping, head-banging fill section in the song’s outro. While I no longer carry the entire record as an adult, “Would?” remains one of my favorite tracks of the 90’s. And Alice in Chains may not net you many style points, but those two underrated, soft-rock releases (Sap, Jar of Flies) that bookend Dirt suggest Alice in Chains are more innovators of the era than grunge-fad flameouts.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Albert Hammond, Jr. - Yours to Keep

Bright Young Thing
Back to the 101

A couple of years back, Chavez wrote a great post about the weaknesses in both Julian Casablancas’s and Albert Hammond, Jr.’s solo material. You should give it a read if you haven’t done so already. In summary, he states that Hammond, Jr.’s shoddy songwriting can’t be saved by his great guitar riffs, and on the other hand Casablancas has a lot of great songwriting ideas, but doesn’t have Hammond, Jr.’s chops to tie those ideas together. I agree with just about everything he wrote. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Yours to Keep contains the best Strokes-related material outside of a Strokes records to date. If “Back to the 101,” with its Television-like guitar work, was sung by Casablancas it could fit neatly anywhere on Is This It or . And the slow building, music box sounding “Bright Young Thing” was easily one of the best tracks of 2007. Yours to Keep isn’t essential by any stretch of the imagination, but a Strokes fan could surely find a few gems to mine here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Afghan Whigs - Gentlemen

When We Two Parted

Ladies let me tell you about myself
I got a dick for a brain and my brain is gonna sell my ass to you
Now I’m ok but in time I’ll find I’m stuck
‘Cause she wants love and I still want to fuck

Greg Dulli croons on “Be Sweet” before the guitars and drums build into an excellently ugly bridge. These ugly truths Greg Dulli so candidly confesses populate the entirety of Gentlemen, and it’s what makes this collection of songs so compelling.

Gentlemen, a record that was released in late 1993, propelled The Afghan Whigs to the fringes of mainstream. At a time when grunge was dominating the airwaves, Dulli and Co., soaked up some airplay with a hard rock that was more soulful than the majority of what their counterparts were producing. The guitars didn’t rely so heavily on the power chords that had become so prevalent at the time; Greg Dulli and Rick McCollum combined melodic distortion with slide guitars, octaves and pedal effects. The strings combine with off-kilter 4/4 percussion and odd bass drum syncopations, and in reality The Afghan Whigs have a lot more in common with 90’s post-hardcore/indie groups Fugazi and Jawbox than they did with Nirvana or Stone Temple Pilots.

My introduction to The Afghan Whigs was when that memorable (and now humorously dated) music video they released for Gentlemen’s title track was played on MTV. As a new teenager who had just began guitar lessons, the distorted high string guitar strums and its interplay with the percussion was something I could only wish to replicate in my shitty garage band. In following one of the few 90’s formulas they did have in common with their grungy brethren, the quiet verse shifts into a loud chorus and Dulli yells “Understand! Do you Understand?!” Fuck, was I hooked to that track. I never bought the record though, and the seldom times I heard it at my best friend’s place nothing caught my ear quite like “Gentlemen” did.

My cousin however remained a steadfast fan throughout the years, and when he told me he picked up tickets for us to the Terminal 5 reunion show this fall, I decided it was time to finally download a copy. The aforementioned “Be Sweet” is a highlight, as well as the intensely guitar driven “Debonair” and “Fountain and Fairfax.” But the only track that nearly matches “Gentlemen” in songwriting prowess, with its slide guitar leads and Dulli’s signature implicatively confessional yet self-aggrandizing lyrics, is the ballady “When Two We Parted.” The second half of Gentlemen tails off a bit, but re-familiarizing myself with The Afghan Whigs has me pretty fucking excited for that reunion show in October.

Check out my cousin's post here.

A Change in Plans

When Did I Download This was originally created as a way for my cousin and I to delve through our respective iTunes libraries and write a few words on each and every artist contained within. As a way to add some structure, my cousin took the alphabetical route while I went in the reverse. Well my cousin went MIA after a year and I've lost my way after two, and with the wheels falling off the blog's become a disorganized mess with little discernibility from anything else out there. In order to reinvigorate this little creation of ours I’m going to start from scratch with ‘A’, while using tumblr, with its perfect format for such a blog, as the host site. I plan on writing one primary entry a week, while sprinkling in the occasional artist picture, track, quote, etc. relevant to the main post.

Where Did I Download This has a new look, and I’m excited to get started again! I (We?) don’t have a ton of followers but this little blog has been growing. I know most of you tumble-heads don't want to read more than a few sentences so if you've made it this far I appreciate it.

Andy (Rich Alan)

Click here to view the original blogspot page.

Click here to view the story behind how we got started.

And click here for an awesome Kurt Cobain gif. Because Kurt Cobain gifs are rad.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Spoon - Girls Can Tell


Everything Hits at Once
Lines in the Suit
Anything You Want

Spoon is more of a singles group than a group I play entire albums from. The three records that host the majority of those singles were released all in a row, starting with 2001's solid Girls Can Tell. The best track is its opener, "Everything Hits at Once" is a chilled-out piece of pop that conjures Rubber Soul and Revolver era Beatles. Britt Daniels and Co. are unabashed 60's fanboys, the bare-bones instrumentation of drums/bass/guitar, the occasional electro-keys, and Britt's infectious voice the results of mimicking those Zombies, Stones and Beatles records they're so influenced by. Although they more often lean towards the poppier era of the 60's, they do have the occasional rockers like the Zeppelin-influenced "The Fitted Shirt" and the more modern indie-sounding "Take a Walk". But their at their best when digging up those flowery, psychedelic sounds and reimagining them, as "Anything You Want" and "Lines in the Suit" can attest to.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Spy Versus Spy - Little Lights and Various


Waiting for Centralia to Sink
Best Man Nomination
Red Cars Go Faster
Game Ruiner

I’ll be honest, I ripped this record a long time ago. Pre-torrent and mediafire days, but post Napster. Anyone remember Kazaa? Audiogalaxy? Damn, you could find just about anything between those two sites. Audiogalaxy had some of the rarest stuff you could find on the internet. And with the little known post-hardcore outfit from Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom, it was the only way I was able to get a copy of the excellent Little Lights. Knowing how difficult it was to find Spy Versus Spy material I’ve carried that same rip with me for over a decade now. Regulars who’ve read my Strikeforce Diabo or Twelve Hour Turn posts know how much I dig the oft-mocked math-rock/screamo/hardcore genres. The now defunct Spy Versus Spy are one of the best at combining all of that late, Fugazi-influenced rock.

The daunting, terrific “Waiting for Centralia to Sink” is Little Light’s first track, a nearly 9-minute long epic jam I can still put on repeat to this day. Its three-minute long breakdown, so prevalent to all those late and great 90’s emo outfits, is its highlight -- a groove so fucking slick they make it sound easy as they glide along in 6/4 time. “Red Cars Go Faster” hits full force with an off-kilter drum beat while the guitars dual start/stop melodies to perfection, reminding me of some of the best Hot Water Music material from the mid-90’s. “Best Man Nomination” is consistently erratic, doubling its speed, stopping and starting on a dime, mixing screams and howls with whispers and soft vocals. I was able to grab a few tracks not included on Little Lights, (“Game Ruiner”, “Union Station Still”, “Rich Girls’ Mistletoe”) which follow the same unique formula Spy Versus Spy patented.

I know this isn’t for everyone, but these dudes created some of the best screamo/post-hardcore we’re ever going to hear, and it’s a shame they never garnered the success that some of their counterparts (Braid, Hot Water Music) have.

Monday, January 23, 2012

St. Vincent - Actor


Actor Out of Work
Laughing with a Mouth of Blood
The Party

I thought Actor was overhyped when it first came out. It was strange, it was intimidating, its hooks were subdued, it was artsy. But then Strange Mercy dropped two years later and I couldn’t stop playing the damned thing. Revisiting St. Vincent’s sophomore record has led to the discovery of an incredibly strong Side B. I first heard the bizarre “Marrow” on a Letterman episode and was impressed by the musicality of the whole thing. Her performance was solid, but it took me a half dozen listens to fully embrace its groovy glory, its wind and brass led instrumentation, the brilliance of its mechanical sound pairing with Clark's pleas to no longer be controlled.

The song that immediately hit me was “The Party”, a beautiful piece driven by a slow, refrained swing, which backs the story of a budding romance. “The Bed” has a haunting feel, complete with the harnessed echoes of Disney music that has, as far as I’m concerned, become her trademark; the effects and its theatrical nature hearkens to Andrew Bird. The best of the best is “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood”, which begins with an expertly crafted, finger-picking riff and opens up in to an upbeat, almost hip-hop like rhythm. When the acoustic riff comes back in Clark sings my favorite lyrics on the record: “All of my old friends aren’t so friendly / All of my old haunts are now haunting me”. It turns out there’s an amusing video for the song as well, Portlandia fans should be pleased.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy


Northern Lights
Strange Mercy
Champagne Year

Back to the grind, but at least I get to start back up with one of the best records of 2011. When I was reading reviews and watching music videos and live performances from St. Vincent in preparation for this post, I stumbled across an up and coming music critic in Anthony Fantano. The reason I mention him is because he beat me to the punch in what I thought was a clever way to describe St. Vincent’s music: a sort of warped mixture of rock'n'roll, art pop and Disney fairy tale scores. While that might sound unappealing, Annie's beautiful voice in combination with her contemplative lyrics makes the whole thing work. Instead of idealistic romance she sings of realistic love; the complications of politics in relationships, her struggles with equality, and honest confessionals of her own wrongdoings and shortcomings.

St. Vincent's first single, “Cruel”, is a solid introduction, although not an accurate representation of the record as a whole. It's the poppiest of the bunch, bouncing along cheerfully enough that one might not notice the undercurrent of sadness Clark projects as she sings about objectification and its guilty exploiters. It's hard to know where to go from here, and it's because the sum adds up to more than its parts. There aren't any duds on Strange Mercy but highlights include the tragic title track "Strange Mercy", "Northern Lights" with its the TV on the Radio like production, the solemn, tongue-in-cheek “Champagne Year”, and "Surgeon", which contains some of the best guitar licks you've heard in years. And damn, Annie Clark can play with the best of them. Her fret work is the stuff of experts, and her cutting-edge use of effects and pedals is awe-inspiring. I urge you to watch her work on “Surgeon” and “Strange Mercy” in the video posted below. It’s phenomenal stuff.

St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy is one is one of 2011's best records. I still have it on regular rotation, and the more I listen the more I pick up subtle, rewarding nuances in the layers upon layers of instrumentation St. Vincent includes. Annie’s combination of songwriting, studio technique, guitar prowess, beautiful voice, and honest lyricism are pushing her towards the mainstream. And yea, her looks don’t hurt either. Perhaps that's one of St. Vincent’s conundrums, for all the emphasis Clark puts in her distaste for objectification, the audience can’t help but do so. The blogs and the youtube fan videos (especially this one) and comments sections can attest to this. It adds more intrigue to Strange Mercy and the Annie Clark persona though, which in turn increases her popularity. However these are minor issues attributed to her success, if they're issues at all. For now she's undoubtedly celebrating the fact that she's one of the best artists and performers on the circuit.