• Pop Music 2010: Inventory

    1 Feb 2011, 17:48

    I spend a ridiculous amount of time and money on popular music. At this point, keeping up with new music qualifies as my primary hobby, and as a result I feel like the pursuit of quality tunes should not only bring me enjoyment, but result in something tangible. Maybe in my thirties I’m becoming insecure about spending so much time thinking about and chasing after music that is primarily aimed at teens and college kids. Then again, one could make the argument that with more classical forms of western music caught in a perpetual loop of sterile tonality warping experiments and other academic musical exercises, and the jazz world primarily concerned with rehashing the glory days, that popular music is the only vibrant and evolving auditory artistic medium for consumption by the general population. In 2010, I purchased 98 albums, and roughly 20 EPs and Singles that were released throughout the calendar year. I traveled to two multi-day music festivals that required the use of an airplane. I attended over 20 other shows in four states and three foreign countries. I don’t know how many times people have told me, “you should have a music blog.” The truth is, my job keeps me far too busy, and my disposition makes me entirely too undisciplined to engage in such a task. I greatly respect the people who take up this thankless hobby—I’m too selfish to include the needs of others in my music discovery process (unless I’m insisting to my friends that they just have to listen to the new Fergus & Geronimo record!). Yet it seems important that all this time, money and effort I put into Pop Music 2010 should result in something. The following posts will create that something.
  • Unexpected Album Obsessions and The Vinyl Blackout Period

    9 Ago 2010, 18:20

    I've recently decided to take a new approach to this music journal. My previous posts tended to adhere to a schedule/format that seemed to imply that I was anticipating the content would be consumed by an outside reader. This generally is not the case, so I have decided to now write about whatever the hell I find interesting at the moment instead of what I feel to be "timely" or "relevant" for an audience. I think that this will result in both a more enjoyable "blogging" experience for myself, and a more interesting read in the off chance someone else does end up here. With no further delay, here are today's ramblings:

    I'm having my first Unexpected Album Obsession (lets call it a UAO for short) of the year. I enjoyed Here We Go Magic's S/T debut quite a bit (and more than most music critics), but did not expect to be completely blown away by their sophomore release. I thought for sure that this record was a prime "emusic download candidate" and nothing more. That all changed when I caught a brief bit of their set at [event=]Pitchfork Music Festival 2010[/event] and was instantly intrigued. The Balance stage was extremely overcrowded by this point in the afternoon, and I a bit woozy from a day of sun and beer. So instead of working my way into the action, I headed to the Secretly Canadian stand in the festival record tent and picked up a vinyl copy of the new LP, Pigeons. Upon my return to Rochester, I was treated to an album that has completely and utterly destroyed my expectations. Apparently the band has expanded from a single dude working in his bedroom to a full five piece band. The effect is an album that maintains the feel and overall vision of the S/T release but expands the sonic palette and ambitions of that initial release. Interestingly, I feel like the A side of the new record is a direct musical descendant of the B side of the first album that was often trashed by the professional reviews of that work, mostly because it wasn't much like the much praised side A track, Fangela. The B side of Pigeons again diverges into completely new and exciting territory. Almost like band leader Luke Temple saves the "good stuff" for the flip side of the record.

    You might notice that I am referring to an A side and a B side of what for most folks will be an uninterrupted string of 11 MP3s (or a completely disconnected compilation of 11 independent works issued in random order by Ipod randomization algorithm). This is because I have listened to this record over 10 times, only on the vinyl format. The reason for this is an eccentric habit of mine, that I call "The Vinyl Blackout Period." The idea is that if I elect to buy an album in the vintage, premium-priced format of vinyl LP, I can only experience the music in that format for a defined period of time (typically 2 weeks). The idea is that I develop my familiarity and opinions of the work in the traditional format for pop music. It has been a rewarding, but difficult policy. There is nothing quite like the process of playing a vinyl record to immerse you in the listening experience. MP3s often become passive background noise for whatever else is going on in your life, but records demand attention and provide a far more active and engaging experience. Of course, this engagement requires effort and time to happen. For me, this isn't a problem as I don't really watch TV or have much interest in other forms of entertainment like video games or motion pictures, so listening to music is what I am doing when I'm not at work, the gym or out on the town (probably at a concert/show). If anything, the evening's Phillies game might become the "background images" to my album listening experience (and I might divert my attention in time to notice that another critical member of the lineup has injured themselves or Brad Lidge has blown another save--but that is another topic entirely). As a result the albums I buy on vinyl often become the records that I have the strongest and most well defined opinions of, whether they be good or bad.

    It was a conversation with a blogger (tympanogram) that really made me reflect upon the Vinyl Blackout Period (VBP?), and how my crazy little policy has reaffirmed my belief in the album as the most vital form for pop music, and deepened my appreciation of works that I may have otherwise not connected with in a significant way. While the download card for Pigeons will tonight become eligible for use, I'm hesitant to do so for fear of "breaking the magic." Then again, I'd really like to listen to that album at work...
  • Mid Year Review - My Favorite Albums So Far (#6-10)

    2 Ago 2010, 18:56

    OK...here is the rest of the mid-year top ten. I start to get less enthralled by the end of this list, and I really doubt that 9 or 10 will make my end of year top 20.

    6) Local Natives - Gorilla Manor

    At first I was indifferent towards this record, then I was curious, then I was impressed...and finally today, I am in love. They expand upon the Fleet Foxes sound by creating gorgeous harmonies AND interesting music.

    7) Here We Go Magic - Pigeons

    This is something completely new. While many artists are doing the "mild psychadelia with keyboards" thing, these guys have found a fascinating sound that you can't make lazy comparisons to explain.

    8) Liars - Sisterworld

    This is a dark and moody record that rocks surprisingly hard at times. Is this the current generation's goth rock?

    9) Caribou - Swim

    This is not as good as 2007s Andorra, but that was one of the decade's finest records. More of a dance record, Swim is an enjoyable although less "enduringly interesting" listen than its meatier predecessor.

    10) The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

    This is a fantastic record that started to feel a bit played out after 7-8 listens. I wonder if the Besnard Lakes formula needs a shakeup to freshen things a bit?
  • Mid Year Review - My Favorite Albums So Far (#1-5)

    27 Jul 2010, 16:46

    Ah, its that time of the year again. When music nerds throughout the world get antsy and can't wait for the year to be over to start compiling their best of lists. Well I am a bit late, but no less antsy (or nerdy for that matter), and it's time to share my opinions with the world (and by world I mean the two people who will ever read this). Overall, it has been a middling year for me. There have been several outstanding releases, and in my opinion, the top three albums on my list are five star discs. Otherwise, there have been many good, but not great releases. Also, for some reason there have been several albums that I have had intense but brief connections with ( Hot Chip and Yeasayer I am looking at you). I'm also still discovering amazing stuff from 2009 (one of the best years I can remember), and that may have me a bit distracted. That said, I do quite enjoy the five records listed below:

    1) Beach House - Teen Dream

    Every song on this is great, but the whole thing works as an album experience as well. These guys continue to grow and develop at an amazing rate, and I'm really looking forward to seeing them play this stuff live later in the year.

    2) MGMT - Congratulations

    Wow, this one is wild. Definitely one the weirdest (and greatest) changes a major label artist has made in some time.

    3) Owen Pallett - Heartland

    This is his greatest work to date, and the most purely "beautiful" record of the year. Pallett continues to have the most unusual/gorgeous sense of melody in music today.

    4) The Radio Dept. - Clinging to a Scheme

    Every spring I seem to fall for some hazy pop record, filled with massive hooks and pretty vocals. Last year it was The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, this year it is these guys.

    5) Janelle Monáe - ArchAndroid

    This seems to be the best reviewed record of the year, and I can clearly see why - Monae does about 20 different things well on this record. I dig everything about this album from the wild genre hopping to the epic sci-fi storyline.

    6-10 coming soon...
  • Traveling Songs

    10 Mar 2010, 3:48

    I tend to build strong connections between songs and events in my life. This can happen for any number of reasons ranging from the obvious (song playing in the background when associated event occurred) to the obscure (slanted lyric matches to overheard conversation). Each time I travel there tends to become one or more songs that become the soundtrack of that trip. I recently traveled to San Francisco to attend the Noise Pop 2010 Festival (more on that in a later post), and there were two songs that clearly became the sound of my trip.

    The white witch by A Sunny Day In Glasgow

    One of the last records I purchased in 2009, I haven't had a chance to really give Ashes Grammar a close listen until recently. I like the record more and more every listen, and this track in particular is becoming a favorite. When it came on my MP3 player on the flight out to SF, I was really connecting with the dreamy vocals and instrumentation and how they are matched up with some very energetic drum work. This is the perfect sound for walking around the streets of San Francisco. These guys are not at all what you expect from a Philadelphia band, I have to grab some more of their stuff.

    The Machine Will Tell Us So by Papercuts

    When I travel, I like to load up one of my MP3 players with albums by artists from the city or region I am visiting. I this case I had one of my Sana Clips loaded with Bay Area musicians. Papercuts have the distinction of being the only major artist discovery I have made at a show in my new town of Rochester. They opened for Camera Obscura and I enjoyed the set so much I walked back from the South Wedge with a vinyl copy of their newest record. I love the organ in this track. It has a sound right out of the classic Psychedelic era. This is a great little dreamy, shoegazey track, and the perfect sound for a sunny afternoon by the Bay. I was really hoping these guys would play noise pop. Hopefully they will next year, and hopefully I am able to make it out again.

    Writing this post has made me think back on several past trips, and the songs that go with them

    Art Decade by David Bowie (Orange Bowl Trip January 2006)

    I was deep into the Berlin Trilogy when I went on this trip. I was waking up every morning 1-2 hours before everyone else and I would listen to side 2 of Low over and over again while I read. I particularly associate Art Decade with this trip as a result.

    Airlane by Gary Numan (Brisol, UK March 2006)

    I remember waking on the the plane, downing a cup of coffee and complimentary donut stick thing, and listening to the cold mechanical instrumental introduction to Numans 1980 classic, The Pleasure Principle. Since then, I've always queued up some Tubeway Army or Numan solo when I touch down in the UK.

    Rainstorm Blues by Flying Saucer Attack(Outback Bowl Trip 2007)

    How did the ambient noise that comprises the first track of Further become the soundtrack of chilling on the hammock by the Gulf of Mexico. I have no idea, but the link will always exist in my mind.

    The Good, The Bad And The Queen by unnamed Damon Albarn project (London Feb 2007)

    I was obsessed with this album during my first London trip. I probably listened to it from beginning to end 20 times, and the title track many more times by itself. Hard to get more London that this record and it was the perfect fit. The next time I visited (July 2007) I saw them play the whole album in the moat of the tower of London.

    Separate Beds by Squeeze (Denver October 2008)

    After years of waiting, the special edition of Argybargyfinally saw release. The whole record got some serious plays during the trip, but this forgotten classic (which doesn't appear on any of the greatest hits comps for some unknown reason) got the most plays of all. What does it have to do with Denver...beats me.

    Stay Alive by The Pains of Being Pure At Heart (Chicago July 2009)

    Walking from the Antlers performance after it was over, I could hear the drums of this song clearly through the trees. As I walked closer to the other stage the song slowly took shape and became the defining song of my Pitchfork Music Festival experience.
  • Album Purchases 2010 So Far Pt 2

    17 Feb 2010, 18:50

    Here is part 2 of my “catch up” posts. Starting next Monday I will review each week’s purchases, including back catalog stuff.

    Artist: Four Tet
    Album: There Is Love in You
    Released: 2010
    Purchased: CD (Lakeshore Record Exchange)
    Review: This is a collection of interesting but unremarkable pieces of electronic music. Rarely does the record rise above the status of background noise. The pacing and repetition is perfect for the workout room, so this does have purpose.
    Rating: * * * 1/2

    Artist: Toro y Moi
    Album: Causers of This
    Released: 2010
    Purchased: CD (Lakeshore Record Exchange)
    Review: What we have here is a fascinating hodge-podge of music. It is being labeled as “glow-fi,” but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The strongest and most interesting elements come from experimental electronic genres like glitch. I’m 4-5 listens in and the record is only starting to take shape in my mind. I will spend some serious time with this.
    Rating: * * * *

    Artist: Eels
    Album: End Times
    Released: 2010
    Review: So Hombre Lobo was the “in love” record, this is the “breakup” record. A return to the standard bleak fare this guy is known for, End Times is not something that it is desirable or healthy to listen to repeatedly. Not bad in the right setting, but not something that I see getting serious spins over the course of 2010.
    Rating: * * *

    Artist: Hot Chip
    Album: One Life Stand
    Released: 2010
    Review: A fantastic pop record from beginning to end, Hot Chip have really delivered here. While maintaining the geeky charm of their previous work, they have created a set of songs that will no doubt lead to a significant widening of their fan base. I predict at least one song off of this will catch public attention due to use in a national TV commercial campaign. The title track is the first killer single of the year.
    Rating: * * * * 1/2
  • Album Purchases 2010 So Far Pt 1

    16 Feb 2010, 20:07

    OK, that was a big break from updating this thing. No one reads it, so I’m not disappointing anyone, but it is something I should keep up with. With all this music I buy, it often is hard to reflect upon and digest it all that I acquire. This is a great way to absorb and remember. To start, I will catch up with all the new releases I purchased so far in 2010. Here is part one:

    Artist: Vampire Weekend
    Album: Contra
    Released: 2010
    Purchased: Digital (Amazon)
    Review: Why are these guys so controversial? It is just humble pop music to enjoy in a casual, somewhat disposable manner. This record is old fashioned shut off your higher brain and feel good pop music. Got this one on Amazon for 4 bucks, so that’s a buck thirty-three per star.
    Rating: * * *

    Artist: Owen Pallett
    Album: Heartland
    Released: 2010
    Purchased: Vinyl (Lakeshore Record Exchange)
    Review: Pallett was formerly known by the name Final Fantasy but has switched to his given name to avoid a lawsuit by the maker of the JRPG video game. This is a beautiful record. Not as strange or dark as the previous two Final Fantasy LPs, but the eccentric, warm feeling is truly unique. Again the focus is on Pallet’s looped violin work and gentle vocal style, but the instrumental texture is filled out with even more lush orchestral work this time around. Not a weak track on this record. This is absolutely gorgeous pop music.
    Rating: * * * * *

    Artist: Spoon
    Album: Transference
    Released: 2010
    Purchased: Vinyl (Lakeshore Record Exchange)
    Review: This is a clear attempt to return to the rhythmic, minimalist sound of records 2-4, but with little of the magic of those classic records. Was Spoon afraid of becoming too popular? This seems like the kind of album designed to shake off the new fan base. I loved those early recordings, but sometimes you can’t go home again. While Brit Daniel and co. have not made a terrible record, they have made a highly disappointing one.
    Rating: * * *

    Artist: Beach House
    Album: Teen Dream
    Released: 2010
    Purchased: Vinyl\DVD (Amazon)
    Review: These guys are developing at an extremely rapid rate. This is exemplified by how much the song “Used to Be” has expanded and developed since the original 7” single back in ’08. This is the perfect record that the original cult following will love, but should grow whole new legions of fans. A collection of potential singles, but yet a true album that rewards a concentrated sequenced listening session.
    Rating: * * * * *
  • My Music Week in Review 11/24/08

    26 Nov 2008, 2:27

    I'm buying so much music right now I have a bit of a backup. Some of the stuff purchased this week will be pushed off until the December 1st edition.

    Album: My Aim Is True
    Artist: Elvis Costello
    Released: 1977
    Acquired Via: Yourmusic.com (Queue Shipment)

    I decided to start at the beginning of Elvis Costello's catalog and work forward. I'm a bit surprised the amount of apparent filler on this disc, for what many consider to be a classic. Not terrible by any means, but the well known tracks Alison andWatching the Detectives are definitely the clear highlights. There are other great songs like Less Than Zero but the whole thing feels a bit padded to me. Rating 3.5/5 Stars

    Album: Sunday At Devil Dirt
    Artist: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
    Released: Last Tuesday
    Acquired Via: City Lights (CD)

    More of the same, but not nearly as good. It doesn't feel like a collaboration anymore. Is Campbell only interested in writing songs for Lanegan now, this release lacks the chemistry of the first record by this duo. Rating 3/5 Stars

    Album: Signals, Calls, And Marches
    Artist: Missison of Burma
    Released: 1980 (EP), 2008 (Reissue Compilation)
    Acquired Via: City Lights (CD)

    I missed the release of the Mission of Burma reissues earlier this year. I had been waiting on them for some time since I heard That's When I Reach for My Revolver on XM44, Fred. This was well worth the wait. The original EP has been repackaged with both sides of a great single and some rarities that fill out the disc nicely. One of those bands I've always wanted to dig deeper into and I'm very glad that I did. Rating 4.5/5 Stars.

    Album: Plays to Please
    Artist: Final Fantasy
    Released: Last Month
    Acquired Via: Emusic download

    This EP is disappointingly predictable. Where is the experimentation and weirdness I've come to expect from this guy? Rating: 2.5/5 Stars.

    Album: Up in Flames
    Artist: Caribou
    Released: 2003 (original), 2006 (repackaged)
    Acquired Via: Emusic download

    A reissue of the Manitoba album after the artist found new success under the name Caribou. This album has all the wonderful spacey electronic moments of the new Caribou project without the great pop hooks. Still a very pleasant listen I definitely prefer the current direction taken by Dan Snaith after the name change. Rating 3/5 Stars.

    Album: Green Imagination
    Artist: Sunshine Fix
    Released: 2004
    Acquired Via: Amazon Marketplace (Used CD)

    When I first put this disc on, I could not understand why so many considered it to be a major disappointment. Then it became apparent that this album is completely frontloaded. The first few tunes are great specimens of pure pop music, that move even further from the territory of Bill Doss' previous band, The Olivia Tremor Control than the first sunshine fix release Age of the Sun. By the midpoint, the whole thing becomes very bland, and this awful choir of children come in and ruin any enjoyment I could be having. Rating: 3/5 Stars.
  • You Gotta Run, Run, Run, Run, Run, Take a Drag or Two (Music to Run to Part 1)

    21 Nov 2008, 21:22

    Despite the song I used for the title, this post isn't about addiction (unlike every Velvet Underground song it seems), it's literally about running, and the music to go along with it. I've started a new program, and as always, a key element of my keeping to the schedule of said program is choosing effective music for my Sansa (never mind Apple and their shit product).

    I bought my first MP3 player, a rather humble Nike branded device that held a mere 64 megs of music, for the sole purpose of my runs. With that low capacity the selection of a varied playlist of songs was key. I could barely even fit a full album on at 128 kbps, and to avoid the continual loading and unloading of music via USB 1.1, I took great care in selecting a carefully curated set of high energy tunes.

    Once high capacity players came about (> 1 gig), the whole game changed and I was able to dump several entire albums onto my player and select one (or several depending on the length of the workout) and head out to the trail. Over the years the stuff I have picked for this music application has varied greatly. I have often leaned towards the high energy, aggressive type of sounds that one would typically associate with "workout music," but there have been some odd choices mixed in as well. Here is a quick review of some of the music that has accompanied my runs over the years.

    Artist: Depeche Mode

    The first artist I remember becoming a regular part of my running routine was Depeche Mode. This was as much due to the suitability of the tunes for exercise as it was my 2001/02 era obsession with the band. It would be some time until I completed my collection of DM's classic albums (everything 1984 and after), but I played the crap out of what I did have. I especially remember listening to Ultra frequently during my early loops around Tudek Park. Looking back, this stuff is made for running; The driving, repetitious nature of the song structure, the pacing which not to fast or slow to be distracting. If I hadn't played this stuff out when I was in my early twenties I might still be running to it.

    Artist: Delerium

    OK, this one is a bit odd. Again, this was very much due to a listening obsession of the time. Not only was I regularly working out to the electronic tribal fusion of Delerium's later years, I often had the earlier ambient indstrial and spacey instrumental stuff loaded into my player. Again, in retrospect, this was actually great for running. The repetition of the early works (e.g. Monolith) creates a trance like running groove, and I still think that Otherworld is a great way to end a workout.

    Artist: The Kinks

    The early Kinks singles are great running material. The pacing, energy and mood of those classic tracks is perfect. During the peak of my Kinky running days I had recently broken up with a rather self absorbed girl, and the jilted classic Who'll Be The Next In Line combined with intense sprints became a favorite way to blow off steam.

    Album: Up the Bracket

    I have probably run to this album more than any other. What makes this Libertines record the perfect workout album for me is not clear. It's on my running Sansa as we speak. Also note: this album is a perfect accompaniment for the drinking of whiskey as well.

    I will do a part #2 for this post someday to talk about what is on my running Sansa these days...
  • My Music Week in Review 11/17/08

    18 Nov 2008, 17:14

    More Elephant 6, and some new stuff.

    Album: Tone Soul Evolution
    Artist: The Apples in Stereo
    Released: 1997
    Acquired Via: Amazon Marketplace (Used CD)

    My Apples collection is now complete. This was the one random major label release by Robert and company. They definitely made no compromises in their retro, lo-fi approach to pop. Much more like what would come (Her Wallpaper Reverie) than what came before (Fun Trick Noisemaker), but like all AIS albums, it has a unique self contained mood and feel. It is a rather mellow album for the Apples, and the hooks are a bit more subtle. Rating: 3.5/5 stars.

    Album: Pyramid Landing and Other Favorites
    Artist: Marbles
    Released: 1997
    Acquired Via: Amazon Marketplace (Used CD)

    This release is a collection of Robert Schneider home recordings predating The Apples in Stereo. Despite the disclaimer from Robert contained in the liner notes, these songs easily stand tall alongside his greatest work with the Apples. The humble recording techniques and makeshift instrumentation only serve to highlight the gorgeous melodies and irresistible hooks. Maybe my third favorite Schneider album after Fun Trick Noisemaker and New Magnetic Wonder. Rating: 4/5 stars.

    Album: The Bright Lights and What I Should Have Learned
    Artist: Duels
    Released: 2006
    Acquired Via: Amazon Marketplace (Import CD)

    I have the habbit of watching a show called "London Live" on Mojo HD in the morning before I go to work. Generally they play live performances from bland UK "indie" bands like Snow Patrol or Keane, but occasionally I'll catch an interesting English act I would have never discovered otherwise. Duels is one such band. These guys are part of the same Leeds scene that brought us the best band to complement copious amounts of Carlburg beer, The Kaiser Chiefs. They are a far different beast however, with a more reserved, less anthemic approach to songwriting. Animal is a great song despite the incredibly silly chorus (You Animal/Me Animal x5). Fun, tightly constructed English pop record. Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

    Album: Christmas on Mars Original Film Score
    Artist: The Flaming Lips
    Released: 2008
    Acquired Via: City Lights (CD)

    One of the nice things about shopping at a small record store regularly for several years is the relationship you can build with the people who run it. At this point, the owner/operation of City Lights has a pretty good feel for my tastes and makes some great recommendations. For some reason "A Fantastical Film Freakout" sounds right up my alley I guess. The film is very strange, and not particularly good, but the soundtrack is great. Reminds me of middle-period (Spheres II) Delerium. I'm seeing this becoming a staple of my workday. Rating 4/5 Stars.

    Album: Sad Robots
    Artist: Stars
    Released: 2008
    Acquired Via: EMusic

    This EP collects unused songs from the early days of Stars. Quality is decent thoughout but the whole package doesn't measure up to the four LPs. Rating 3/5 stars.