Friday, December 25, 2009
...and the winner is
Seriously, could there be any other choice? Whether you like Animal Collective or not, they have given us the year's most talked about album in "Merriweather Post Pavillion", which, in case you've been in a cave, was arguably the best release and definately the most influential of the past twelve months. From as early as Christmas 2008 various leaks of the album presented fans with the first glimpses of the wonderful album but when it was officially released all the praise was justified. I need not go into that praise to prove the importance of "MPP" but the mere fact that every critic---detractors and those who build the hype unnecessarily--had something to say about it. That is impact. Even those who heatedly can't stand it go to great lengths to decry the seeming 'conspiracy' to hype the album. Don't believe me....then go on any music review site and see for yourself how many more comments are attached to "MPP" than to any other release this year.
But, what ultimately differs "MPP" from their canon is the fact that it will be imitated to death. Already, of the many 2010 leaks, quite a few (I'll single out the engaging Toro Y Mi) have been influenced by a little "MPP" magic. The merger of indie and pop has now reached a climatic stage, one where bands who we love fiercely because they don't conform now can impliment R&B, bubblegum pop,ect into their ideas and manage not to sell out. Animal Collective are very much at the forefront of this revolution and "MPP" isbut yet another step in their remarkable evolution.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
10: The Fiery Furnaces
I’m Going Away
Here is rambling poetry juxtaposed with bar-hopping piano pop as only Matthew & Eleanor Friedberger can do. This is for the sophisticated, drunk on their own excess but the Brooklyn duo has broadened their bar act into a full-blown revue: Keep me in the Dark jazzes up things with a spiked guitar of all things. Ditto Charmaine Champagne, which interrupts its own flow with rambling Beat-like prose. Ultimately though, Eleanor lifts the bar with her lovelorn use of vocals, especially when the lights and her emotions get dark (Cut the Cake, Even in the Rain). It’s an ambitious turn around of musical direction but if accessibility encroaches on their art like this then they should unfurl even more.
9: The Sandwitches
How to make Ambient Sadcake
From its opening track, the deceiving Back to the Sea, one deduces that the alternative country genre has gotten a pleasant new addition, just not one to trouble the critics but that would be terribly wrong. By track three--- the bluesy The Revisionist---the band’s already drawing out intent with lines like, ‘God ain’t no friend of mine.’ The last half bites harder: Fire, a folk delight, recalls Fleetwood Mac in full flight while Marry Me one-ups St. Vincent’s recent effort with more feminine urgency. But the real impressive notion The Sandwitches explore here is that alternative-country can be exciting yet conform. In the process, through stompers like Wicked Inger, they’ve reminded Kathleen Edwards and even Nekko Case why we loved them in the first place: daredevils in this field are appreciated greatly.
8: Tanya Morgan
For their third album the members of Tanya Morgan (Von Pea, Donwill and Illyas) have retreated to a fictitious city. This is a location where phat beats are built upon concepts of other MCs without fear of imitation being limited to flattery. More important is the absence of modern swagger and in its stead is a holler back to a time when rap was concerned about its image. This allows the guys to bare their skills without obfuscation. There it is full blown yet playful on Never Enough and Blu. Another feature of the album is the sampling skill involved. The beats are not as outsized as Outkast but they cut nearly as deep. If I had to single out any track then it would be So Damn Down, where the band reaches a level of hypnotic groove that makes it impossible not to nod your head off.
7: Patrick Wolf
The opening track, Hard Times sums up in its pristine production and steely lyrics the state of Wolf’s mind and the recording industry at large (we have grown to ignore/ mediocrity applauded/ show me some revolution/ this battle will be won). One track in and we are welcomed to the world Wolf inhabits and the showman and dramatist in him shines superbly. The Bachelor, though over-reaching at times, is very much an epic statement, the type of artistic bravura that has almost vanished from pop music ever since the start of this decade. Swinging from personal politics to depression to falling in love, The Bachelor is an immediate indie experience.
Dark Young Hearts
Garrett’s geeky pop sensibility has years-worth of intuition, even here on the reworking of this album that eliminated nine of the original tracks. This is as fresh as pop music has been on an intellectual level lately as old standards have sadly descended into having nothing much to say (right, Pink?). Garrett brings a nerdy-level to his queer context, not the sappy sentimentality of an old queen (right, Antony Hegarty?). His outlook of music superbly blends pessimism and reality. For all the changes this is still a meticulously crafted yet subtle album that proves the process of growing up is fraught with self-loathing and questioning yourself endlessly but also that ultimate tool of triumph: reinvention. The best new artist of the year.
5: Atlas Sound
Rapidly revolutionizing shoegaze, Bradford Cox’s solo output culminates here with an impressive array of sounds because there’s more craft here than experimentation. There’s no shortage of shoegaze talent but while a promising act like Tickley Feather still hasn’t pulled it together, Cox sits atop this mountain and he is seemingly alone. Tracks like Quick Canal and Washington School simply shimmer with his beautiful 80s arrangement far more effectively than his debut last year. The production is intricate yet refined to the point of resembling nothing else coming from the genre; a sure sign of Cox’s emerging genius. An Orchid is spare but notice how the guitars loudly lulling everything in place. The two stand-outs are nestled right beside each other, Criminal and the pop-laced Walkabout which features Animal Collective’s Panda Bear. A tremendous album because here at last the genre has found its master.
Brian King sings the line, ‘so we can french-kiss the French girls’, on Wet Hair with such a teenager’s supercharged energy that it’s frightening. That’s my first and continuous impression of this excellent album. Along with David Prowse, King presents broad chords stewed in mid-90s fuzz as far as sonically different from say, The Smashing Pumpkins yet expressing the same exhilarating glee. It’s catchy stuff too without trying self-consciously to be so. Sovereignty exerts it mojo with punishing guitars and a dense wall of sound while I Quit Girls uses the same tactics to retread from itself. Quite a decent trick from a punk band that’s just as ease baying at the moon or in the basement alone, drowning out the rest of us.
3: Bear in Heaven
Beast rest forth Mouth
It seems every year unearths a new band with a fantastic album that I’ve never heard before. This year it’s Bear in Heaven and their sophomore opus that, literally, rocks. The band sifts the Mid-western aura like sand. Casual Goodbye, the ender, swallows its spastic sonic glow with the assuredness of a grandmaster. Deafening Love employs power keg beats and bleeding vocals to great effect.This wholesome Americana texture is akin to bands like Yeasayer and Blitzen Trapper, especially the scope of the former and vocal nuance of the latter. It’s a winning combination to be sure and it’s made even surer by the uncompromising length detail. Lead vocal Jon Philpots manages to stay on track with his ideas and not, like other sound merchants, taper of with blurry instrumentals.
2: Grizzly Bear
Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen create the type of chorale music that sounds heavenly. The harmonies on Veckatimest are spun so tightly, so cleverly crafted that it leaves one gasping for breath afterwards. While You Wait for the Others, the centrepiece, reels out a steady brilliance that precedes even more of the same stuff. It’s not easy to attain such a level, a fact that most critics have put down to the long gestation of the album but it is this fanatic attention to detail that delights. Droste and Rossen play around each other while Christopher Bear connects whatever few seams that spill. You hear that guitar riffs lulling Two Weeks into precision, the jazzy undercurrents of Southern Point as well as the tenderness of All We Ask. Not to mention the beautiful, poetic lyrics that indicate the creative process involved on this project which, for all its fanciness, remains a chamber pop opus of the simplest order.
1: Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavillion
In the end it wasn’t close because with the release of MPP Animal Collective has topped all expectation and given us the most ideal embodiment of the freak/folk movement that has defined the decade in indie music. The trio has also now hit the rarefied air few bands ever find: becoming the standard of a particular genre. Witness their raw sound now morphed into headphone statements like the opening two tracks, In the Flowers and My Girls. Note the water-logged choruses of the Beach Boys-aping Bluish and Guys Eyes. What impresses mostly about MPP though is the variance of the style used. Whereas most bands in the genre cannot yet differentiate solid ideas on record, Avery Tare and Panda Bear are now at the point of looking back on the wealth of experience their creativity has afforded them. This is, therefore, their grown-up record, one where the personalities are no longer getting in the way but segueing with ease.
THE SINGLES FINALE...
Gold Guns Girls
The fabulous electro-based pop we’ve been waiting for in vain by Kelly Clarkson ends up here instead on Emily Haines’ tongue. She has stated in interviews that the song deals with the ennui that faces those who can never seem to get enough of whatever they reach for but the smartly-contrived pop beat underlines the complexity of this impasse. Pop music of late has offered anything this intelligent or probing outside of FrYars so it’s great to see Americans still clenching hard to a fleeting idealism.
9: Here we go Magic
My guess is that finally there’s a term to describe a Jewish vampire but you can’t go by my interpretation. What is clear though is the brilliant juxtaposition of the glossy soundscapes and an undeniable 80s vibe so much so that Luke Temple can reflect shimmering electro-hi claps at will.
8: Major Lazer feat. Santigold & Mr. Lexx Hold the Line
Even when tinkering with dancehall, Diplo and Switch grab Santi and explode gloriously.
7: Yeah Yeah Yeah
Heads will Roll
A swift rollick into the depths of punk, O-style (‘dance/ dance/ dance ‘til you’re dead’). The glamorous new wave style that the band champions is dipped in spectral synths and an urgent house beat.
6: Sunset Rubdown
Apollo & the Buffalo & Anna Anna Anna Oh
All of Krug’s tireless energy bound in one defined moment. Wrapped up in Greek mythology and fierce poetry (‘my God/ I miss the way/ we used to be’), Krug channels an inner demon we’ve never had the pleasure to witness before.
Bridging the gap between Antony Hegarty and Boy George and adding his own bookish, morose yet totally dance-driven aesthetics, FrYars gets moving.
4: Grizzly Bear
While you wait For the Others
In what must surely be the oddest collaborative effort of the year, Grizzly Bear enlist soul-man McDonald to help shape this sickly-sweet psychedelic wonder. There is a substantial amount of impatience driving the beat and vocal urgency here, as if positing a response to lack of action. Even without such deep meaning though, Grizzly Bear has come up with the nascent equivalent to the cropped vocal style that made Animal Collective’s MPP such a hit.
3: Animal Collective
The band’s most challenging song on MPP because the ambivalence of sexuality rears its head. The opening couplet is a clear fight for control, the type of fight men have been losing once their second head takes over. The dizzy, repeated vocal usage is apt as if to compliment the rush of blood that floods the mind when such sexual decisions arise. So whether this is an exploration of temptation to cheat or being bi-curious or plain masturbation, Guys Eyes is a clear step-up from the bizarre topics these guys used to sing about.
2: Patrick Wolf
By even his lofty standards, The Bachelor represents a triumph of passage that not even Wolf could’ve expected given the tumult that surrounded the album of the same name. Fed-up with his own securities and an expressive sexual tone that was proving worrisome to market, Wolf unfurls a ballad, somber in its own admission of that highest ideal of heterosexual bliss: marriage. Or more precisely his exclusion from it given the global Prop 8 stance that hinders gays to get hitched. This is a personal lament too however, one where the true Wolf, finally sheds his accustomed excess to strip himself bare and vulnerable.
1: Jay Z feat. Santigold
Brooklyn we go Hard
Leaked exactly a year ago for the Notorious soundtrack, the song was thankfully spared from being on Jay Z’s latest self-gratulatory album. Ignore its charm at your own peril though because this display of swagger reeks of the street chops he’s lost for the past few years. Santi’s opening couplet threatens to disrupt the flow but her verse grows in head-nodding strength as it should; the sample is from her own excellent track Shove It.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Part four, or, the Animal Collective edition. The band has a stunning three (3) tracks in this section. Catch the last part as soon as it gets published in the upcoming Sunday edition of The Observer (Bookends section).
20: Dead Man’s Bones
For Weddings and Funerals
Ryan Gosling as a band with fellow ghouls and this is very interesting. A little polka riff, some ghoulish vocals and Zach Shields utterly shivering wailing all combine for some pretty terrific stuff.
19: Andrew Bird
With his signature whistling to guide him, Bird takes arresting flight among the very same harmless psychos that he so lovingly describes.
18: Elvis Perkins
Heard Your Voice in Dresden
Its big-tent revivalism peels away layers of structure for an emotional connection that is refreshing.
17: Grizzly Bear
Like angelic choir music, Two Weeks is the track on Veckatimest that most enhances the band’s reputation for grand statement. It shows great maturity and adventure too. Quite a few pundits have noted how similar the track is to Dr. Dre’s Still D.R.E, with the persistent keyboard loops and indeed Grizzly Bear appear to be showcasing nuance in their choral aesthetic. Of course this can only be a good thing.
16: Animal Collective
In the Flowers
MPP’s opening track is a statement on a grand stage, with the directive of the band clear. For their many followers this was the tribute…the summation of what it feels like being on the road so far away from families, from partners, from a comfort zone. I won’t be this way too long, croons Tare and for a full minute as he loses himself into the psychedelic bliss, the whole thing collapses into shocking pink beauty. Then he cleans up in the end creating a type of cinematic sound that only a mature band could pull off.
15: Animal Collective
Dub-step meets persistent electronic waves of distortion; trust Animal Collective to unearth a sub-genre within their cadre of sound. The great thing about MPP is how relatable it is to everyday situations. With the global recession still raging, the shadowy concern on Also Frightened feels terribly real. The imagery of a parent watching over their kids wondering if they are as frightened of the future as they are is worrisome but the song rises to the challenge with a defiance that gives heart. The concern seems mainly fatherly, as if welcoming a new birth into the world and wondering so many things simultaneously.
While his fans continue to wait in vain for one more brilliant entire album, Prince has at least rewarded them with this gem reportedly written for Selma Hayek’s daughter. The chorus playfully recalls his heyday of effortless yet provoking music
13: Swan Lake
Soul-weariness manifest yet evinces great strength even as Krug, Mercer and Bejar tackle a conventional topic such as marriage.
12: Animal Collective
A lovesick Panda Bear gets erotic in describing his lust and love for the woman he loves but the intimacy of the detail espoused is shocking. One never thinks freak/folk as a sexual genre but here the thought of cunnilingus comes to mind in the purest love-making way. The title may refer then to the indescribable feeling the persona gets after the act and relaxing still on a high. The bubbly soundscapes juxtaposed to the low-wattage vocal style compliments the feeling of calmness.
A seamless beat ripped up with flowing Brit poetry and undoubting wry sensibilities. ‘Here on your final hour/ take your shelter/ in the shower/ I’m on your side/ in this life, in this life’, rails Garrett in a sublime fit of crashing beats and evocative multiple vocal work.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Part three (3)
30: Polly Scattergood
No, it’s not Tori Amos recovering her mojo but 22 year-old Scattergood who has recorded the best Amos track of the year. With swelling honesty juxtaposed with slurring innocence and girly recollection the track builds on a decidedly electro-meets-party vibe that spills over once Scattergood blows it all towards the end.
29: Franz Ferdinand
A camp delight, especially with its smart lines like, ‘I put your number into my calculator’. The band’s punk style has definitely cooled but suffusing it with dance/pop has definitely started to pay off.
28: Jenny Wilson
Wilson has channelled her interpretation of a Simone de Beauvoir quote into an existential brilliant pop number. When she breaks out the final couplet, it collapses into this breathless, giggly thing.
27: Bat for Lashes
Fits the sprite imagery best on her sophomore Two Suns. Khan adjusts her spare atmospherics with drums and fabled lyrics and comes up with a winning combination.
Glittering cut and paste methodology works well because Mica has learnt to craft her timing.
25: Tanya Morgan
So Damn Down
Where the band reaches a level of hypnotic groove that makes it impossible not to nod your head off.
24: Fever Ray
When I Grow Up
Stunning how Dreijer manages to effortlessly juxtapose her cold soundscapes and monotone and unearth undeniable funk.
A track that obsesses wryly over death and a criminal cover-up. When Garrett tears into the final couplet it becomes the sheer bliss that Antony Hegarty hasn’t produced in years.
Rainwater Cassette Exchange
Dreamy shoegazing with lovely doo-wah twitches, proving that Cox can dip his hands into pop whenever it suits him.
21: Blackout Beach
Cloud of Evil
Epic in its giddy scope, Mercer croons his longing for Donna, the fictional character that crops up throughout his latest solo effort.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
40: Jenny Wilson
Like a Fading Rainbow
A pas de deux that she alone inhabits its space, replete with groovy synths and an uncanny vocal workout that is as subtle as it is urgent.
39: Bear in Heaven
Lo and behold the Midwestern delights come caving in with the lo-fi atmospherics run through a grated sound that strums handsomely along.
38: Ola Podrida
Your Father’s Basement
Expands nicely like an adolescent soundtrack to things vaguely remembered but always close at hand.
Her Rotating Head
Life courses through this electronic effort easily, not quite Bjork but sufficient enough.
36: The Sandwitches
A stunning yet totally feminine perspective on a marriage proposal, Marry Me gives insight to what such a process means and, more importantly, what it does not.
35: Solilloquists of Sound
Its multiple vocal female work interrupted ever so slightly by Swamburger is a sublime fit especially the overdubbed parts.
34: Ebony Bones
Smiles and Cyanide
A brittle hip/hop-pop mash up that shines despite its robotic casing.
A grand mess replete with all the trappings of punk behind it. What the band achieves here is the stylistic trick of drag juxtaposed with bleeding guitars. The bass-line pops with a catchy chorus and the most gleeful cheese since the heyday of Sublime.
Never Forget You
While we pine for Amy Winehouse, here is the best refrain she’s never expressed on record.
31: The Love Language
Old school heartbreak, 1950s style and it works!