Monday, August 10, 2009

See What I've Been Listening To

[I always wanted to do one of these so let's see how it goes] [Update: so the links to stream songs didn't end up working at all -- except for me -- my apologies. So I added some more videos.] Some thoughts on what's been getting heavy re-play at RFC HQ...

As it hovers around the 90 degree mark today, it's not a bad time to reconsider the songs that hit my ears on cooler days. I guess we'll start at the beginning (of the iTunes library). One of my favorite albums from early this year belongs to one of the New Pornographers that isn't Neko Case, A.C. Newman. There isn't a bad song on Get Guilty though the front end is a bit stronger. It may not have an endless repeater like his 2004 tune "Drink to Me Babe", but this album features an a-bomb lead-off track in "There are Maybe Ten or Twelve..."

Then there's the album's catchy-as-hell, propulsive single:

Moving down the alphabet, and over to a different part of the pop universe, there's the more recent The Antlers album Hospice. I feel like these guys do for me what the Animal Collective doesn't, which is make highly listenable, atmospheric, slightly creepy pop songs. While I actually preferred 2007's In the Attic of the Universe, there's a rewarding mystery to these songs and in many ways Hospice is a more cohesive rock opera than Thownsend's ever written. They might not rise you out of any funks but they'll carry you along. Try out the friendly Bear when you get a chance -- in the meantime here's the pretty damn cool video for the song "Two".

Art Brut album is always good for great hooks and laughs and I have to mention a record that sings about the wonders of finding out about The Replacements. Featured line, "I can't believe I've only just discovered The Replacements / Some of them are nearly the same age as my parents" But the real gold in Art Brut vs. Satan has to be the epic Mysterious Bruises ("I can't remember anything I've done / I fought the floor and the floor won). It's hard not to get swept up into Art Brut's world of drinks, comic books and slap dash songs made for no cash.

It's also not hard to figure out why David Lynch digs Au Revoir Simone ("The Last One" from the new album Still Night, Still Night).

Okay, Bill Callahan... I was a big fan of his Smog albums and even enjoyed the (smog) days a little bit. But his last two albums under his given name have been something unexpected and special. His new album Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle is in the race for best of this year and Eid Ma Clack Shaw, Too Many Birds and Faith/Void are some of the best songs of the year. On any given day I might say that he's never topped Smog's Doctor Came at Dawn, but he's really making some of the best music around right now -- and I don't think I would have said that back in the 90's. His music was sparse and confrontational back in the day, and now it's sparse and beautiful without ever losing the dark voice he's always had.

Callahan's former label-mate Will Oldham also continues to shine though he hasn't gone back to his given name and doesn't look like he'll be dropping Bonnie "Prince" Billy anytime soon. But I wouldn't place any bets that there isn't some sort of name change or another around the corner. His last album of duets was a pretty collection, but his most recent album, Beware, has the most immediate impact, and feels like it has more staying power, than any of his work since Ease on Down the Road.

There's an old Palace song of Oldham's that's called "You Will Miss Me When I Burn". It features the line "When you have no one / No one can hurt you" and there's a great song on Beware that echoes that old tune in a sad yet playful way. It's called I Don't Belong to Anyone.

I'd never have imagined I'd say that an album by Jason Schwartzman would rank near the top of my list for most listened to, and enjoyed, album -- but here we are with Coconut Records' Davy. A Beatlesesque collection of super-catchy material that's obviously personal for Schwartzman yet never gets bogged down in pretentiousness. I'll use that dreaded word again, fun.

Another contender for album of the year is The Comet Gain's Broken Record Prayer. The album is practically a cross section of the past 30 years of music on one CD, in one lo-fi blast. By having the album opener, "Jack Nance Hair", begin with the female of the band speak-singing before launching into an addictive pop song -- it's like a hat tip to the sprawling, equally ambitious end-of-the-80s Sonic Youth epic, Daydream Nation. But the Velvet Underground tinged "Jack Nance Hair" is hardly representative of Broken Record Prayer. Before even half the album is over it's hopped from 2 minute CBGBs flavored punk rockers ("If I Had a Soul") to 5+ minute Feelies inspired jams ("Brothers Off the Block"). It's a helluva record.

While Sonic Youth came out with The Eternal this year, and it's got some good tunes (I'm a fan of "The Antennae" in particular), it's their old pals Dinosaur Jr. that continue to release rocket-powered face melters -- keeping one of the most unexpectedly successful reunions going strong. Like Portishead did a couple years ago -- it amazes me that a band can get back together after such a long break and not only pick right up where they left off but improve upon it. Dino J's second life it practically unheard of.

Dirty Projectors is one of the bands that pulled a fast one on me this year. I didn't much care for 2005's The Getty Address which lacked just about anything resembling a melody or a toe-tapping tune. But then Bitte Orca comes along and I couldn't get away from the fawning responses so with some skeptisicm I checked it out and then I found I couldn't stop listening to the thing. That's partly due to the great beats the album has and therefore being my go-to album to listen to while doing my bad back exercises. Llama!

If you like your rock n' roll recorded in a barn while a storm knocks on the door and the musicians are working on a case of beer and keeping the first take, then you will enjoy Woodstock, New York's Felice Brothers. They've released some great music prior to 2009, especially Tonight at the Arizona, but their recent is called Yonder is the Clock and it's got some new classics on it. I turn your attention to "Cooperstown". (But since there's no good video for anything off their new album... here's a highlight from Arizona.)

But let's get back to the face melting. Future of the Left is the band that rose from the ashes of Mclusky -- the only band that I would pay to see a good tribute version of. Mclusky made three of the best manic, hole-in-the-wall rock records of the decade and Future of the Left's second album, Travels With Myself and Another, improves upon the first post-Mclusky album and touches greatness at times. Angry, questioning, funny and above all, rocking. Who can't like an album with a song called "You Need Satan More Than He Needs You"?

Jarvis Cocker's been around a lot longer than you'd think by looking at the guy. The Dick Clark gene seemingly having kicked in about 20 years ago, Jarvis has been on the scene making quality mod rockers that keep the croon alive since the late 70s with Pulp. Recently, he's gone solo and grown a salt and pepper beard that allows him to show his age a little bit, but he's also stepped up his game. On Further Complications, he's gotten some assistance form Steve Albini and he's created a stellar album that from front to back is my favorite thing he's ever done. The hilarious song "I Never Said I Was Deep" features my favorite chorus of the year: "I never said I saw deep / But I am profoundly shallow / My lack of knowledge is vast / And my horizons are narrow"

When I saw Mastodon live a couple years ago in the middle of a bright, hot, sunshiny day in the middle of a Chicago park, it was euphoric. For the rest of my life I'll carry that amazing collision of sun, dirt, pot smoke and metal with me and I'll probably always look forward to their next mind fuck of a record. This year's Crack the Skye is a bit more prog-y than their others, but it's no less filled with jaw dropping moments that make me smile. And I absolutely admire the storytelling that goes into these albums -- this one being about an astronaut that does some inadvertent time-traveling and... well, see for yourself.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson is going to be my one cheat for this list. Technically his self titled album came out over a year ago, but it's remained my favorite stumbled-upon album of the year. He's very much in the singer-songwriter mode but used dynamics and slow-builds to great effect. Love his voice, love his lyrics and it doesn't get much better than this tune, the first of the album and a perfect gateway to the rest of the fantastic album.

Two albums going by oddly similar names, Dark Was the Night & Dark Night of the Soul will finish out this behemoth of a post. Dark Was the Night performs some rehab on a format that usually gets nothing but leftovers and cast-offs. Three years in the making, the brothers Dessner from the great band The National called in some favors and ended up with a sort of state of the union of the indie rock scene -- Yo La Tengo, My Morning Jacket, Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear... There are 2 CDs of songs far better than you'd think you would find on a Red Hot compilation.

Dark Night of the Soul is another beast altogether. A bizzaro colaboraiton between Sparklehorse, Danger Mouse and David Lynch, there was a distinct possibility this project would result in a mess, but in fact it is a perfectly crafted and executed album that feels complete and fully realized. I'm not sure if the Dark Night of the Soul is the future or the first and last of its kind. Actually, it isn't even really the first since EMI blocked the music from even being properly released. The limited edition book featuring a gorgeous collection of Lynch's inspired by the music photographs came with a blank CD, to be used as you see fit. Before EMI pulled the plug on the music, you could find it streaming on different websites and in the usual places you might yet to be officially released music. To me, this is like letting the fans finish the project and it just adds to it its beauty -- and it really is a beautiful project to absorb and it'll be a tough one to top this year.

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