Top 25 Songs of 2012
A great song is a singular entity — something that stands out from the pack on a record, that distinguishes itself from everything it touches. The following 25 songs all happen to appear on albums that I liked, many of which I enjoyed largely because of the strength of these individual tracks and others. Some were huge singles, and others were local anthems. Some were big budget hits, and others were simple demos. Some made me laugh, more of them made me cry, but all of them made me feel something real inside. Behold, my 25 favorite songs of 2012.
Stream the 8tracks mix featuring all 25 songs in reverse order at the embedded link below. Read on and enjoy each song individually below that. As always, thank you for being supportive and reading my work. I appreciate it more than I can articulate.
25. The Magnetic Fields - “Andrew In Drag”
In a way that no other track on Love At The Bottom of the Sea succeeded, “Andrew In Drag” perfectly blends modern synths, beats, and textures with the lyricism of Stephin Merritt’s very best material as The Magnetic Fields. “Andrew In Drag” hits all the marks of being a classic Magnetic Fields track, from its twee bleeps and bloops to its unexpectedly soaring chorus, and its inclusion of gay humor for both romantic and comedic emotional appeal. It’s also got one of Merritt’s best lyrical characters in years — not Andrew, the cross-dressing titular subject, but rather the frustrating, confusingly lovestruck observer.
24. Joey Bada$$ - “Survival Tactics” (feat. Capital STEEZ)
While going over my completed list, I was actually listening to this song when I heard the news that Joey Bada$$ collaborator and Pro Era member Capital STEEZ had died of an apparent suicide at age 19. The effect was rather chilling, and probably not unlike hearing about the death of any of the now deceased 90’s hip-hop legends that Bada$$ and the Pro Era crew idolize. Before I heard the news, I was thinking about how STEEZ’s verse is what makes this song so great — such a stellar combination of 2012-nowness (to the point that it already almost feels dated) and childlike nostalgia. Bada$$, of course, is the star of the show throughout most of his 1999 mixtape, but right now, I think it’s probably more important to honor the awesome feature guest, who will sadly never grace another terrific track with his rhymes.
23. WHY? - “Sod In The Seed”
Far and away the best cut that the ever-unpredictable hip-hop act WHY? put out this year, “Sod In The Seed” is a hard-charging, fist-pumping anthem the kind of which Yoni Wolf & Co. have never before released. It drives along, driven in equal measure by a terrific bassline and Wolf’s nasally, bleeted raps, spat faster than nearly anything else in his discography, solo or otherwise. It’s a tour-de-force of a track from a strictly musical perspective, but Wolf’s hilarious lyrics are the real highlight. A road veteran, Wolf knows what he’s talking about when it comes to insincerity and vulturism in the music business, and is quick to call out all the “wordy blogger thugs” and their equivalents in the world with as much spite as he has humor. It’s self-aware, comedic, and laughable, but there’s more than a grain of truth to Wolf’s lamentation of the “first world curse.”
22. The Human Fly - “Moth”
“Moth” is the most pure and pristine distillation of the product that The Human Fly was trying to craft on Everything Feels Bad All At Once, the emotionally crippling debut from Robert Mathis’ solo project. Hell, its lyrics are even insect-themed. It’s really rather heartbreaking, posturing Mathis as the utterly insignificant ‘fly on the wall’ and subtly, beautifully conveying that feeling of total helplessness through its slowly overlapping guitars and Mathis’ deep, hushed vocals. He re-recorded this track and others with a punk band shortly after the release of the debut album, channeling that complacent grief into anger, but the effect is lost in that context. On the original, Mathis grieves solemnly, and is all the more evocative because of it.
21. Titus Andronicus - “In A Small Body”
This track may deserve its spot primarily for a single line, which happens to be my favorite lyric throughout all of Titus Andronicus’ new album Local Business. In between memorable figurative punchlines like “your dick’s too short to fuck the world” and references to Titus’ pals Diarrhea Planet, Patrick Stickles delivers some cold, hard truth: “What do you know about being no sort of slave?” he screams over dueling guitars, “I know some kids who’d kill for this kind of cage.” With that verbal wrecking ball, Stickles ideologically demolishes a number of his newfound Brooklynite peers, but he also cuts himself down to size. Stickles himself is the cage — a flawed, damaged, but still remarkably privileged one at that. If there’s anything that I wish Local Business would have done more of, it would be to acknowledge that more thoroughly.
20. Elvis Depressedly - “Road Side Memorial (repeat)”
Out of the context of his 2012 album Mickey’s Dead, Elvis Depressedly’s grim closer “Road Side Memorial (repeat)” paints a bleak and powerful portrait of a vague, tortured individual. In the context of the album, though, the listener realizes that it is a portrait of Mat Cothran himself — the remarkably damaged songwriter behind the Elvis Depressedly project. This knowledge doesn’t necessarily increase our perceived quality of the song, but it does make me at least very worried about Cothran’s stability and wellbeing. There is something so perilously honest about “Road Side Memorial,” from its reverberant, single chord throb to Cothran’s hard-panned multitracked vocals almost casually dropping lines like “burn my wrists with cigarettes / wash the blood out of my dress” and “I don’t want or need your fucking help.” Cothran, it seems, doesn’t literally need the “self portrait painted in vomit” that he describes in the second verse; this track is as wounded, flawed, and true as any self-portrait could be.
19. Hostage Calm - “Woke Up Next To A Body”
Hostage Calm want to be a pop band, but they can’t quite shake their punk rock roots. “Woke Up Next To A Body,” from this year’s Please Remain Calm, is something like their Archaeopteryx, miraculously blending a sunny, power-pop verse melody with one of the year’s greatest stage dive-inducing, fist-pumping shout-along choruses. It’s also one of the most personal tracks on Please Remain Calm, conveying the universal struggle for romantic validation through a distinctly millenial lens. The track’s closing line, “No longer young and in love and at war with the world,” may actually describe Please Remain Calm more accurately than the band’s chosen descriptor — “The punk rock album of the Great Recession.”
18. Dum Dum Girls - “Lord Knows”
All the praise that is being heaped upon Dum Dum Girls for their new EP End Of Daze, and its lead single “Lord Knows,” seems to focus on how much frontwoman Dee Dee has developed as a songwriter. I, however, maintain that at least since the Dum Dums’ second LP, she’s always been mature, poised, and hugely talented. If I had heard Only In Dreams last year, I guarantee that “Coming Down” would have graced the top 10 of my Songs of the Year list for 2011. “Lord Knows” doesn’t quite reach the highs and lows of that aforementioned drugged out lamentation, but it’s definitely a terrific track, floating breezily on a reverb-heavy chord progression that gives way to a terrifically unexpected chorus. Dee Dee may have always been a great songwriter, but now she makes it sound easy.
17. Grimes - “Oblivion”
At the Pitchfork Music Festival this year, I skipped Grimes’ set to get a spot in the front row for Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I don’t exactly regret it, but I do feel like I missed out on an important aspect of my potential 2012 experience. Even if it was just to hear this song, I would have liked to be a part of that communal existence — to take part in something that would only ever mean as much as it did in that very moment. Every year has a song like this, but no song I’ve heard has ever been like this, exactly. “Oblivion” is far-reaching in its appeal, accessible and catchy, bolstered by the year’s best video, and yet, it still feels like a great secret. I still feel like I could put it on a mixtape and not feel ashamed. In its best moments — the deceptively ominous chorus, the first time the “la la las” come in from the back of the mix, the “girl you know you’ve got to watch your health” line — it almost makes me want to love Visions as a whole. It doesn’t quite succeed at that, but it comes close.
16. Serengeti - “Go Dancin”
If Serengeti’s pitch with this year’s C. A. R. was for originality, then “Go Dancin” is his most successful sale. In its frantic, image-powered depiction of a decaying relationship (probably a marriage, given the context that the rest of the album provides), “Go Dancin” achieves in four minutes what countless minimalist indie films struggle to do in two hours. Geti’s constant lyrical contrasts, his increasingly emotional delivery, and the song’s brilliantly simple concept leave the listener struggling to decide whether to root for the narrator or to abandon him like his partner eventually does, as Geti’s last-ditch efforts for a meaningful life turn into empty promises and eventually selfish kiss-offs. It’s an emotionally wracked song that achieves remarkable pathos from relatively meager means.
15. Slow Warm Death - “Sleep”
The 2011 dissolution of emo revival firebrands Snowing left many wondering what direction frontman John Galm would take with his next project. He answered those questions to a certain extent when he dropped Slow Warm Demos, a demo collection released under the name of his new band Slow Warm Death. The record is perilously lo-fi, and mostly comprises gritty garage rock numbers in the vein of Ty Segall’s early material. One track, however, stands so tall above the rest that it would be criminal for Galm not to explore this style more in the future. “Sleep” begins with hollow acoustic guitar and strained vocals, calling to mind Galm’s rare solo material, but at exactly the one minute mark, the track goes supernova, evoking the massive sonic weight of Have A Nice Life with maxed-out guitars and a thunderous drum machine. Despite its demo quality, no other track blew my brains out the way that “Sleep” did this year.
14. Jens Lekman - “I Know What Love Isn’t”
Like Giles Corey, my #1 album of the year pick for 2011, Jens Lekman’s I Know What Love Isn’t is best appreciated as a full album, not as a collection of songs. Unlike Giles Corey, I Know What Love Isn’t is a lot of fun to listen to. On an album full of great tracks, the song “I Know What Love Isn’t” is one particular highlight. Lekman throws caution to the wind over a jaunty acoustic guitar, shooting the shit with a best friend, ogling girls from afar and, for 3 minutes and 33 seconds, forgetting about the one who broke his poor little Swedish heart. By the end, you’ll realize that he’s still miserable and alone, but each time that the glockenspiel signals the beginning of the song, I can’t help but feel that there’s hope.
13. Beach House - “Lazuli”
Beach House have distilled their formula for dream pop bliss so perfectly on “Lazuli,” that the track doesn’t even need a chorus. The effortlessly beautiful and cool Victoria Legrand’s smoky falsetto simply hums along each time the verse gives way, arching skyward over a constantly rising synth loop while Alex Scally layers harmonic textures. They’ve been building towards “Lazuli” for years, and from here, I honestly don’t see how their aesthetic could get any better or any more refined. Given the quality of this track and the rest of Bloom, for that matter, I’m nevertheless excited to see what they do next.
12. Carly Rae Jepsen - “Call Me Maybe”
If I had released this list a week ago, nobody would have minded this choice. You might even have thought that it was ‘cool’ of me to include such a sugary, maximalist pop song on a list that mostly comprises music released on independent labels. But now that everyone from Pitchfork to Stereogum to probably Rolling Stone or something like that has included Carly Rae Jepsen’s summer smash “Call Me Maybe” on their end of the year lists, a lot of people are throwing the ‘pop tokenism’ card. I can’t say I blame them, given the track’s utter ubiquity, but to dismiss this as a token pick would be a disservice to just how great “Call Me Maybe” is. Although she goes for the ‘innocent teen girl’ market, 27 year old Jepsen’s anthem is remarkably empowering and even quite mature. On top of that, this synth-heavy treat is endlessly appealing. Even after hundreds of plays, on the radio, at parties, and in the comfort of my own home, “Call Me Maybe” has yet to grow tiresome for me.
11. Purity Ring - “Fineshrine”
If I can write about Carly Rae Jepsen for a little longer, I have to admit that I was made a little uncomfortable when I found out about her age. I had been imagining her as 19 at the oldest, and the realization that she was 26 when “Call Me Maybe” was released made me aware of just how powerful marketing can still be. Afterwards, the song made me feel kind of creepy and weird in a way that was definitely unintentional. Around that time, though, I was just starting to get into Purity Ring, another terrific pop act that also made me feel creepy and weird, but in a decidedly purposeful manner. “Fineshrine” is on par with Jepsen’s hit as my favorite straight up synth pop song of the year, but Megan James’ eerily sexual lyrics and self-imposed, childlike fetishization make “Fineshrine” the superior dark horse, despite its considerably lower budget. I’ve had “cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you” uncomfortably stuck in my head for six months, and that chorus shows no sign of leaving any time soon.
10. Self Defense Family - “Self Immolation Family”
I think we can stop calling them End of a Year now. The latest music from the newly re-christened New York band Self Defense Family bears little in common with the DC post-hardcore worship of the records released under their former name. The new Self Defense Family is decidedly more experimental, heavier, and much, much better, as their recent output indicates. The perfectly-titled “Self Immolation Family” is the a-side to a 7” they released on Deathwish, Inc. this year, recorded at Sigur Ros’ studio in Iceland. True to its Nordic origins, “Self Immolation Family” is frost-bitten and, at over 6-minutes, glacially paced. The band’s endearingly tuneless frontman Patrick Kindlon barks his bitter heart out with vigor, but the real highlight is the pummeling instrumentation, with interwoven guitars and bass that evoke post-rock more than the band’s once-signature post-hardcore style.
9. The Music Tapes - “Takeshi and Elijah”
Much has happened to the Elephant 6 collective in 2012. Jeff Mangum continued his second year of solo touring after a very successful return to the spotlight in 2011, and has possibly hinted at a Neutral Milk Hotel reunion for 2013. The Olivia Tremor Control continued their reunion, including a stop that I witnessed at Pitchfork Festival, until the untimely and mysterious death of frontman Bill Doss. Honestly, I think the best thing that happened to the closely-knit Athens, Georgia collective was the release of The Music Tapes’ new album Mary’s Voice. It’s really the first great album from Neutral Milk Hotel ex-pat Julian Koster’s longtime pet project, and the closing track “Takeshi and Elijah” is far and away the best song he’s ever written. It’s mostly a solo cut, featuring Koster’s strummed banjo and nostalgic lamentations and remembrances about his life, including his time with his old band. It’s actually rather sad, for the most part, but once the full band comes in at the end with Rob Cucchiaro’s horns blaring, it’s clear that there is still hope — for Koster, and for all of us.
8. One Hundred Year Ocean - “1576”
Often, the most profound memories are set off by the simplest remembrances. In “1576,” the heartbreaking standout from One Hundred Year Ocean’s Poison Smoak EP, Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak describes fumbling around in a messy car for a dropped marijuana joint, only to find “burned CD-Rs” and other mementos of a former life that now seems so distant. It’s a bittersweet paean to the confusion of life, the unfortunate necessity of companionship, and the bittersweet comfort of home. Shanholtzer-Dvorak wrote “1576” about his current home in the small town of Willimantic, Connecticut, but it could just as easily be about my hometown of New Haven, or any other town in America. “All cities are coffins,” he sings along with vocal harmonies from his wife, Katie Shanholtzer-Dvorak. The lyric is grim, but the sentiment is transcendent. “We’ve all got to die somewhere,” he sings in the guitar pounding final movement. He’s right.
7. Suns - “Crocodile”
“Crocodile,” the best track from Suns’ debut full length The Engine Room, creeps up slowly in a manner not unlike the animal that its title describes. Lithe, and swimming just beneath the surface, the track lures the listener into complacency with its spindly guitar line and soothing vocals, before exploding in a cataclysm of spiteful virulence at the end. There are lyrics there, but only two lines are discernable. “WHY DON’T YOU GET IT?,” screams frontman Will Rutledge. Later on, the sentiment is even more desperate and angry — he’s simply shouting “Oh my god.” The violent final minute of this song is my favorite 60 seconds of music from 2012, but it’s only so powerful because of the preceding three minutes of slowly building, restrained urgency.
6. Kendrick Lamar - “Swimming Pools (Drank)”
Last year I was at a party where somebody asked me to put on some music. I put on a track from Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 mixtape, and within a minute or two, somebody had exchanged it for some other song by a different artist. It was kind of depressing, but I understood it. Section.80 wasn’t party music material. From a certain standpoint, neither is anything on good kid, m.A.A.d city though, ESPECIALLY “Swimming Pools (Drank),” the super depressing alcoholism study that Lamar released as a lead single from his major label debut earlier this year. Why then, does Kendrick’s reedy flow and “Swimming Pools’” cavernous bass hum seem to follow me to every party I attend? Probably because it’s the best track he’s ever released. Hip-hop purists might prefer the 12-minute suite “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst,” but to me, this single has the perfect combination of eeriness and accessibility, pleasure and pain, and happiness and misery.
5. Spirit Night - “The Last Time”
Spirit Night’s “The Last Time” strikes a very similar emotional chord with me as One Hundred Year Ocean’s “1576,” which is appropriate considering that they were both released on Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak’s label Broken World Media this year. Like OHYO’s anthem, “The Last Time” is a sweeping piece of emotive, mid-tempo indie rock. It courses with the viscous, tangible energy of desperation, opening up slowly as frontman Dylan Balliett describes with just the right amount of vagueness a harrowing teenaged realization. “I don’t want to have to kill you,” Balliett stammers in the first chorus, “I don’t want to have to kill anyone…” By the time the chorus rolls around again, he sounds stronger in his convictions. The listener never learns exactly what “The Last Time” is about, but the music is so incredibly powerful that one can’t help but feel its innate confusion, sadness, and pain.
4. Frank Ocean - “Bad Religion”
So much of Frank Ocean’s breakout album channel ORANGE is effortlessly great, from the buttery soul of “Sweet Life” to the borderline rock chug of “Lost.” Of all the great tracks, only “Bad Religion” seems to take a genuinely painful emotional toll on Ocean. On “Bad Religion,” the California-based singer abandons his philosopher’s mentality for the first time and bares his soul to a humble taxi driver, unraveling a truly unexpected outpouring of sorrow and conflicted pain through his achingly gorgeous falsetto. The album’s accompanying letter gives Ocean’s pathos context, but more than all the other tracks on channel ORANGE, “Bad Religion” truly speaks for itself. No other song in 2012 made the tried and true topic of unrequited love so real, so intimately human, more than Frank Ocean’s solemn, quiet masterpiece.
3. How To Dress Well - “Ocean Floor For Everything”
“Ocean Floor For Everything” is the most formless song on How To Dress Well’s stellar Total Loss LP, but it’s also the most powerful, favoring pristine, nearly divine-sounding atmospheres over songwriting chops and structure. In that way, it almost seems like ‘post-music’, or perhaps something more pure and ancient, untouched by the musical conventions that humanity has developed over thousands of years of making noises just for the pleasure of it. Philosophy student Tom Krell, the mysterious electronic/R&B project’s unassuming mastermind, is still singing words of course — lamenting “the worst of things” that no amount of planning could prepare for. And yet, this isn’t a song about sadness, or even particularly a sad song. It’s an experience in and of itself: not a conveyer of emotions, but an objective constant from which emotions may come. It’s art for the sake of art, untouched by the perversion of the surrounding totality.
2. Title Fight - “Head In The Ceiling Fan”
Much as Grimes’ “Oblivion” video did a lot to increase my appreciation for that song, so too did Title Fight’s clip for “Head In The Ceiling Fan,” the breathtaking, anomalous standout from their otherwise merely solid Floral Green LP. That grainy VHS footage of friends laughing, jumping off rope swings, and playing baseball in empty parks contrasts in such an intensely heartbreaking way with the slow, building chaos of the song’s shoegazing guitars. When the drums crash in, godlike in their sonic density and heft, it’s hard not to be emotionally moved. All of this joy that comes with everyday life, the song seems to suggest, will fade just as unexpectedly as it arrived. “Head In The Ceiling Fan” is the sound of that happiness dying out. It is the sound of your entire life’s experiences meaning more to you than you possibly could have imagined at the time. It is the groaning, glacial progression of existence towards a formerly unwanted but ultimately welcome end.
1. Japandroids - “The House That Heaven Built”
I have been waiting for so long — at least since I first started consciously paying attention to new music — to find a new album like Japandroids‘ Celebration Rock that is as good as Celebration Rock, with a song as good as the lead single “The House That Heaven Built.” My favorite songs of the year for the past two years have essentially made me want to kill myself, but this is different. This is flawless, unforgettable punk rock makes me want to stay alive forever, and I couldn’t be more gratified that it exists. I could have chosen “Adrenaline Nightshift” or “The Night Of Wine And Roses” or “Fire’s Highway” or nearly any of the album’s eight near-perfect tracks to put in this place, but “The House That Heaven Built” somehow stands out in particular. It is the apex of an album about living life to the most ridiculously intense degree, about forgetting the rules and breaking them inadvertently, and ultimately, about transcendence. Isn’t that what we all want, at our deepest core? I can’t speak for anyone reading this, but if I ever achieve that primal goal, “The House That Heaven Built” will be blasting on my record player in the clouds.
Left of the Dial Radio Playlist - 11/2/12
Thanks for tuning in to my radio show last night on WNHU. Below is the full playlist, which, I’m happy to say, included a number of great requests. Thanks for that especially! Stream the available tracks via Spotify at the bottom of this post, and be sure to tune in again next Friday from 6 to 8 PM Eastern time.
- 1. You Blew It! - “The One With Marc”
- 2. Cock Sparrer - “Riot Squad”
- 3. Joan of Arc - “The Hands”
- 4. Joie De Vivre - “Maybe People Do Change”
- 5. Beach House - “The Hours” (Requested by myriad-harbour)
- 6. Simon & Garfunkel - “Bleecker Street”
- 7. Neil Young - “Harvest”
- 8. The Rural Alberta Advantage - “Tornado ‘87”
- 9. Neutral Milk Hotel - “Little Birds”
- 10. Akron/Family - “I’ll Be On The Water” (Requested by withlugosi)
- 11. The Music Tapes - “Freeing Song For Reindeer”
- 12. My Morning Jacket - “Wordless Chorus”
- 13. Sidewalk Dave - “Cayenne”
- 14. Man Man - “Black Mission Goggles”
- 15. Feist - “My Moon My Man”
- 16. The Hold Steady - “Barfruit Blues” (Requested by please-get-free)
- 17. Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) - “When You Are Done Living On Borrowed Time” (Requested by sea-fence)
- 18. Earl Sweatshirt - “Chum”
- 19. Hot Sugar - “Rat City” (feat. Big Baby Gandhi, Nasty Nigel, YC the Cynic & S@rah Miche11e Gell@r)
- 20. jj - “Things Will Never Be The Same Again”
- 21. College - “A Real Hero” (feat. Electric Youth)
- 22. PJ Harvey - “This Mess We’re In” (feat. Thom Yorke)
- 23. Gang Gang Dance - “Mindkilla”
- 24. Boards of Canada - “Chromakey Dreamcoat”
- 25. Radiohead - “Life In A Glasshouse”
- 26. Bright Eyes - “The Center of the World”
- 27. The Music Tapes - “Takeshi and Elijah”
Stream via Spotify:
Pitchfork Music Festival 2012: Day 3 Recap
I’m sorry for not posting this earlier. I meant to put it up yesterday but I didn’t get around to it. Anyway, the last day of the Pitchfork Music Festival surprised me by how great it was. My apprehension going in was not about the quality of the bands, but rather the quantity — the Sunday lineup was stacked with tons of great bands that I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch all of. Somehow, everything managed to work out nicely, and I ended up seeing more bands on this day than any other.
The day began with a 1:00 PM set by Dirty Beaches, the nostalgic rock & roll project of Alex Zhang Hungtai. Hungtai brought a silent, sunglasses-wearing guitarist along for the show, but his presence couldn’t really be felt until at least 10 minutes into the show. Dirty Beaches began with a lengthy and boring instrumental drone that they really could have done without, but once they kicked into “A Hundred Highways,” the show got a lot more interesting. Although they closed with the rollicking rockabilly number “Sweet 17,” they didn’t play either of their excellent quieter pieces, “True Blue” or “Lord Knows Best.” This was a disappointing start to the day.
As far as I’m concerned, the real kickoff to Day 3 began with the next band. Danish punks Iceage played the green stage, delivering their caustic brand of post-punk with utmost despondency. Numerous technical setbacks during their set only made the teenaged band even more despondent — It was hard to tell what they were saying due to their accents, but I’m pretty sure frontman Elias Rønnenfelt told the crowd to fuck off at least a few times. Nevertheless, the crowd ate it up. Iceage’s set incited the biggest and most intense moshpit at the festival since Japandroids’ set two days before. Iceage are frankly not an amazing band, but their set was loud and aggressive enough to get me into the pit, and ultimately that’s what matters.
Ty Segall Band
Although they didn’t surprise me quite as much as Sleigh Bells the day before, the next act definitely surpassed my expectations from them. The Ty Segall Band, who released their debut album Slaughterhouse this year after a string of Ty Segall “solo” albums, brought a rabid intensity to their live show that I only wish their album could have captured. When they played “Girlfriend,” a gem from 2010’s Melted, I couldn’t help but crowdsurf, eliciting a few surprised “It’s Intern Chris!” shouts from the audience. Damn, this band was just great. Although we missed Thee Oh Sees due to a set time conflict with Ty Segall, we headed over to the blue stage afterwards just in time to catch the second half of The Men’s set. The band performed mostly highlights from their new album Open Your Heart, including an awesome one-two punch of “Turn It Around” and the album’s title track.
The sun was beating down on Union Park by the time The Men wrapped up their set, and what other band’s music befits a sweltering hot summer day than that of Real Estate? We saw a sizable chunk of the New Jersey jangle pop band’s set from afar, and although John and I were itching to get back to the blue stage for Kendrick Lamar, it was really hard to tear ourselves away, even though I’d already seen Real Estate twice before. As it turned out, we probably could have stayed a little longer than we did; in keeping with apparent hip-hop tradition, Kendrick Lamar didn’t go on until well after his appointed set time. When he did go on, the mix was noticeably off and I found it hard to get into his set, even though I’ve really come to love Section.80. Also, Lady Gaga showed up for some reason and was hanging out on the side of the stage during Kendrick’s set. I guess that’s kind of cool.
The end of Kendrick Lamar’s set provided us with ample cool down time, so we headed over to the red stage to camp out for Beach House’s set. Although I’ve enjoyed everything that they’ve put out, I never really identified as a huge Beach House fan before their performance on Sunday. It suffices to say that their set thoroughly changed the way I view them as a band. I was blown away by the precision, the scope, and the sheer weight of their live sound, from Victoria Legrand’s majestic vocals, to Alex Scally’s lucid guitar lines, to the refreshingly real percussive sound of their newly added live drummer. Legrand’s vocals on tracks like “Norway” and 2012 song-of-the-year contender “Lazuli” particularly stood out, floating over the festival crowd like a welcome breeze under a setting sun. As great as Japandroids were on Friday, I’m tempted to say that Beach House’s set was the best out of all the performances at Pitchfork this year.
Frankly, I would have been content to have the festival end then and there, but Beach House did not close out Sunday night. That privilege was reserved for Vampire Weekend, the ludicrously popular indie pop band from New York whose first album, some might recall, is actually pretty good. Thankfully, much of their setlist was culled from that album, from which the band played every track save for “Bryn” and “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance.” The Contra hits were all there too, although they were considerably less enjoyable. The band also debuted a new song, featuring a classical guitar lead and some Elvis Costello-reminiscent vocal theatrics.
Of course, I’m not much of a Vampire Weekend fan, nor was I particularly excited about seeing them play at this festival, but I will admit that I enjoyed their set on Sunday. Standing under the night sky in a newly familiar city, surrounded by real life friends, internet friends, and people whom I didn’t know but I’m sure I would get along with, there was really nothing I’d rather be doing than singing along to “Walcott,” unironically enjoying music that I’d always thought I’d hate. Even though their set (which was full of annoying Ezra Koenig stage banter) reaffirmed everything I’ve always claimed to dislike about Vampire Weekend, I couldn’t help but have fun. I never thought that something associated with Pitchfork would actually bring out the anti-hipster within me, but that’s exactly what happened this weekend.
To check out all of my previous Pitchfork Music Festival coverage, click HERE.
Pitchfork Music Festival 2012: Overall Recap
Well, that was a weekend. This year’s Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park was my first experience with a big out of state festival, and all in all it was an overwhelmingly positive one. Along with my great friend John Branch, I saw a ton of bands — many more than I actually expected to see — and immersed myself in the festival lifestyle to the extent that I genuinely felt at home as I stepped off the El Train platform each morning at the stop outside of Union Park.
Over the course of the past three days, I got the chance to see some of my favorite currently active bands perform. Many surpassed my expectations, delivering electrifying and engaging live sets, while others paled in comparison to their recorded material. Some bands even managed to surprise me with sets that far outshone their records. Overall, the performances were great, and I left the park each day viewing the music of numerous artists in a very different, more positive context.
The community at the festival was also wonderful. For the most part, the loud, snapback-wearing bros stuck to the shadows, coming out in full force only during the sets of acts with larger draws, such as Sleigh Bells and A$AP Rocky. Elsewhere, from the visceral moshpits at Japandroids and Iceage to the massive, silently adulating throng watching Beach House, the crowds were largely engaged and intentful listeners. Even though everyone was ultimately at the festival with the vague motivation of “having a good time,” the music was mostly respected. That made me happy.
Speaking of which, I must say that it was absolutely incredible and awesome (if a bit strange for me) to be approached by so many people who recognized me either from this blog or from The Needle Drop. I got to meet up with a lot of internet friends and met a bunch of new ones who appreciate my work. It’s especially funny to me because I had never been to Chicago prior to this weekend.
Anyway, in the next couple days, I’ll be rolling out recaps of some of my favorite (and least favorite) moments from this year’s festival. To view a complete list of all the bands I saw, head over to the Lewis and his Blog facebook page and check out my complete set of photographs from the festival.
Left of the Dial Radio Playlist - 4/27/12
Thanks for tuning in to Left of the Dial last night. By popular demand, I’ve decided to start posting my weekly radio playlists on Spotify, even though not all the songs are available. If you would like to stream the playlist on Spotify, I’ve embedded it below, sans the 7 songs that weren’t available. The full playlist can be found directly below, but I’ve only attached links to the songs that weren’t available on Spotify. If you’re not on Spotify already, hopefully this will provide you with an incentive to get on that!
- 1. Ceremony - “Into The Wayside Part I\Sick”
- 2. Ted Leo and The Pharmacists - “Dial Up”
- 3. Bomb The Music Industry! - “Everyone That Loves You”
- 4. Titus Andronicus - “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus”
- 5. The Fucking Cops - “Paycheck”
- 6. Screaming Females - “It All Means Nothing”
- 7. St. Vincent - “KROKODIL”
- 8. Andrew Jackson Jihad - “Heartilation”
- 9. Ceremony - “Citizen”
- 10. One Hundred Year Ocean - “Poison Smoak”
- 11. Desaparecidos - “Greater Omaha”
- 12. Beach House - “Lazuli”
- 13. Fang Island - “Sideswiper”
- 14. The Guru - “Pirate’s Cove”
- 15. The Format - “She Doesn’t Get It”
- 16. Sufjan Stevens/Rosie Thomas - “Here I Am!”
- 17. Serengeti & Polyphonic - “Bon Voyage”
- 18. Aesop Rock - “Labor”
- 19. Zammuto - “Groan Man, Don’t Cry”
- 20. Jack White - “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy”
- 21. Elvis Costello - “Every Day I Write The Book”
- 22. Simon & Garfunkel - “Cecilia”
- 23. Red House Painters - “San Geronimo”
- 24. Cameron Boucher - “27”
- 25. Into It. Over It. - “Raw Bar OBX 2002”
- 26. Sigur Rós - “Varúð”
Today I went to Redscroll Records in Wallingford CT around 9 AM to do some shopping for record store day! Prices were marked down 15% for everything in the store, and they also had a number of exclusive Record Store Day items. I almost bought The Money Store by Death Grips but decided against it because I didn’t want to spend another $15 or so.
Clockwise from top left:
- LCD Soundsystem - “Losing My Edge” b/w “Beat Connection” (Disco Dub version) 12” DFA Records
- Sufjan Stevens & Rosie Thomas - Hit & Run Vol. 1 split 7” Sing-A-Long Records
- St. Vincent - “KROKODIL” b/w “Grot” 7” 4AD Records
- Beach House - “Lazuli” b/w “Equal Mind” 7” Sub Pop Records
- Grandaddy - The Sophtware Slump (2011 reissue) 12” The Control Group
- Bomb The Music Industry! - Vacation (2011 original pressing) 12” Really Records
I think I made a good haul today, and I’m particularly proud of the three 7” records I bought, all of which were Record Store Day exclusives. The colors of the St. Vincent and Beach House 7”s are particularly beautiful. The Bomb The Music Industry! LP is half clear and half red, which makes it look like a Pokeball. I’m excited to spend some time with these records in the coming days.
Redscroll also gave me a goodie bag that came with a 7”, a few CDs, pins, stickers from The Needle Drop, and a Topshelf Records 2011 sampler, which has my face on the front.
Did any of my followers go out for Record Store Day today? Photo-reply with some pictures of the records your bought!
Left of the Dial Radio Playlist - 4/13/12
Apologies for not posting this yesterday. I got caught up in writing the review of that excellent new LP from The Act Of Estimating As Worthless and then had to go to band practice. Anyway, I hope those of you who tuned in to my show on Friday (the thirteenth!) had a good time. Here’s the playlist below, along with a link to stream each song.
- 1. The Get Up Kids - “Holiday”
- 2. Elvis Costello - “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”
- 3. Into It. Over It. - “Discretion & Depressing People”
- 4. Beach House - “Myth”
- 5. Destroyer - “Suicide Demo For Kara Walker”
- 6. Grandaddy - “The Go In The Go-For-It”
- 7. fun. - “All Alone”
- 8. Suns - “I Could’ve Made Time”
- 9. Iceage - “White Rune”
- 10. Refused - “The Deadly Rhythm”
- 11. Titus Andronicus - “Upon Viewing Breughel’s “Landscape With The Fall of Icarus”
- 12. The Arrogant Sons Of Bitches - “Disappointment At The Taco Bell”
- 13. Defiance, Ohio - “Oh, Susquehanna!”
- 14. Laura Stevenson and the Cans - “The Healthy One”
- 15. By Surprise - “Realometer”
- 16. Dikembe - “Scottie Spliffen”
- 17. Jimmy Eat World - “A Praise Chorus”
- 18. Pavement - “The Killing Moon” (Echo & The Bunnymen cover)
- 19. Cloud Nothings - “Stay Useless”
- 20. The Act Of Estimating As Worthless - “My Left Thumb”
- 21. Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s - “Skeleton Key”
- 22. Elliott Smith - “Bled White”
- 23. Local Natives - “Who Knows Who Cares”
- 24. First Aid Kit - “Emmylou”
- 25. Bright Eyes - “On My Way To Work”
- 26. Andrew Jackson Jihad - “Love In The Time Of Human Papilloma Virus”
- 27. Low - “Done”
- 28. The Mountain Goats - “The Mess Inside”
I won’t be doing my show next week because I’ll be going to WQAQ’s Festapalooza (with Titus Andronicus, Bomb The Music Industry!, The Front Bottoms and more!). Find more information about that day long Connecticut festival HERE.
Lewis and his Blog March 2012 Mix
Welcome to the third installment of my monthly 8tracks mix series, which I started at the beginning of this year in an attempt to provide a retrospective overlook of each month’s new musical releases. To view an archive of all the past mixes, simply click the “Monthly Mixes” tab in the lefthand links sidebar on my blog. I hope you enjoy this mix in particular, because I love the music on it and I had an especially fun and difficult time choosing the songs on it.
1. The Men - “Turn It Around”
As a whole, The Men’s heavily hyped new album Open Your Heart doesn’t grab me as much as I’d like it to, but I’ll be damned if the opening track isn’t the most immediately gripping song I’ve heard all year. “Turn It Around” plays out like a breakneck-speed trip through the annals of Rock ‘n’ Roll history, with charging, overdriven guitars, bluesy vocals, and even a drum solo. It’s a stunning amalgamation of the numerous styles of music that the electric guitar has led, from blues to pop to punk, hardcore, grunge, and modern indie rock, all condensed into four minutes of joyful fury. Open Your Heart is available now on Sacred Bones Records.
2. Martin Luther King - “Boneflower”
After undertaking something of a hiatus when their band members went off to college in the fall, Martin Luther King are back with an excellent new EP. Simply titled EP, the three-song set is helping to establish them as one of the most excitable bands in the area, with a rabid punk energy that begs to be set free. Any of the three songs on the record could have merited a place on this mix, but “Boneflower” sticks out to me for its dynamics and its unpredictable melodic sense. Download MLK’s new EP on their bandcamp page HERE.
3. Titus Andronicus - “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus”
Titus Andronicus’ new single has been floating around the internet for a while, but it finally saw an official release earlier this month when Titus Andronicus included it on their new official bootleg collection known as Titus Andronicus LLC Mixtape Vol. 1. With embittered lyrics filled with references to everything from the Trojan War to Woody Guthrie, the track harkens back to their existentialist Airing Of Grievances days. Meanwhile, the stepped-up production values and harmonizing guitar leads suggest an ambitious new change in direction, almost calling to mind artists like Thin Lizzy. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise…. After all, that mixtape also includes a live cover of “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Download the 23 track bootleg HERE.
4. Poliça - “Dark Star”
Comprising members of GAYNGS and backed by heavy plaudits from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Poliça seem practically destined for blog credibility, although they certainly deserve a great amount of it. The Minneapolis-based act finds its groove between the 1980s-inspired indie rock of the past few years and a bold undercurrent of electronics, molding new wave drums and bass with synths and autotuned vocals. “Dark Star” is probably the most sensual track on their new LP Give You The Ghost, with Channy Leaneagh proclaiming her independence (“Ain’t no man in this world that can pull me down from my Dark Star”) over a defiant layering of horns and bass. Give You The Ghost is available to purchase now from the Poliça webstore.
5. Beach House - “Lazuli”
Beach House’s new record Bloom leaked two months early, giving fans like me a chance to ease into it and avoid some of the hype that will inevitably surround its official release. Although I definitely feel sad for the band that the record leaked so early, I’m really glad that it did. I’ve been listening to this record the only way that I really can appreciate Beach House’s music, soaking it up in languid moments of relaxation and calmness. I always find myself coming back to “Lazuli,” the immediate standout track, and losing myself effortlessly in its wispy wordless chorus. Sigh…. Where was I? Oh, right — Pick up Bloom when it comes out on May 15th.
6. The Magnetic Fields - “Quick!”
As the stellar single “Andrew In Drag” suggested, The Magnetic Fields came through on their latest album Love At The Bottom Of The Sea. Although “Drag” is probably the most immediately appealing track, I’m finding myself increasingly drawn to some of the Claudia Gonson-sung pieces, including the penultimate song “Quick!” With its arching synth rhythms, “Quick!” represents the Fields’ best use of electronics on the new record, which is their first to feature synths since 1999’s 69 Love Songs. Merritt’s lyrics are in top form on this track as well, and Gonson sings them with just the right amount of spite and bitterness. “Get me a drink of something quick between your outrageous remarks,” she bites, “like the mating calls of sarcastic sharks.” Brilliant. Read my full review of the record HERE. Love At The Bottom of the Sea is out now on Merge Records.
7. Fishing The Sky - “You Just Got Niced!”
The Massachusetts-based musician Rob Hughes (aka Fishing The Sky) released his debut album Thank You this month, featuring four tracks of engaging, unpretentious post-rock with a particular focus on melody and electronic rhythms. “You Just Got Niced!” is an outlier track of sorts, trading in guitars and bass for a more refined musical palette of cold keys and skittering electronic beats. Fans of Dntel take note. Read a full review of Thank You HERE and purchase the record on the Fishing the Sky bandcamp page.
8. Alcest - “Beings of Light”
On Écailles De Lune, the last LP from the French black metallists Alcest, the band evoked moonlight, rain, and nighttime atmospheres to great effect. Their new record, Les Voyages De L’Âme, aims to do the opposite, channeling the incomprehensible power and energy of light and of the sun into a raging musical fireball. The album’s title track, translated into English as “Beings of Light” is perhaps the best singular example of this in effect. It begins with soothing, ethereal vocals, and soon layers on pounding blast beats and heavily processed shoegaze guitars, creating a powerful contrast between the calmness of the harmonizing voices and the aggression of the instrumentation. I’m seeing Alcest perform tomorrow night in New Haven, and I’m particularly excited to hear the new material. Les Voyages De L’Âme is out now on Prophecy.
9. Bruce Springsteen - “Wrecking Ball”
In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band debuted their then-new song “Wrecking Ball” at a show at Giants Stadium, which was to be closed and demolished soon thereafter. Now, three years later, the song has endured so well that Springsteen ended up naming his whole album after it. The track was recorded for the new album, which was released at the beginning this month, and it stands out as by far the best song on it. For its nearly 6 minute duration, “Wrecking Ball” recaptures that unique feeling of inspiration and just plain understanding that Springsteen seemed to so effortlessly exude throughout the 70s and early 80s. Sure, it’s corny, and it’s certainly overblown, and Springsteen himself has probably never been more distant from the ‘common man’ that he’s targeting with this song, but as long as those horns are blaring and the electric amplifiers are on, it just doesn’t matter. It also helps that the track is one of the very last to feature a saxophone solo from Clarence Clemons, the legendary E Street Band player who died last year. Pick up Wrecking Ball now from Springsteen’s website HERE.
10. OFWGKTA - “Oldie (feat. Odd Future)”
“Oldie” is not the best thing that Odd Future (or any of the individual members therein) has ever done, but it is quite a relief to all of us who hopped on the bandwagon in the past couple years. In its ten minutes of exuberant, self-hyping glory, “Oldie” reminds us what was so exciting and different about this rap collective in the first place, combining in no small parts every element of their style into a cohesive, engaging, and most importantly FUN piece of music that is wholly worth listening to all the way through. It almost doesn’t even require Tyler, The Creator’s dramatic closing verse, in which he asserts, “Not only are we talented, we’re rad as fuck” — It practically speaks for itself.
Left of the Dial Radio Playlist - 3/23/12
Last night’s show went really well. Thanks to everybody who tuned in and enjoyed the programming. Next Friday I will probably not be able to do my show because I’ll be performing in New Haven, but if that ends up not happening for whatever reason, I’ll probably be back in the studio doing another broadcast of Left of the Dial. As always, here’s the playlist from the show last night with links to stream each song. A number of these tracks were culled from the records I listened to while I was in Paris this past week, which I wrote about yesterday HERE. I also devoted the final segment of the show to Mitch Dubey, who was murdered a year ago today here in New Haven, Connecticut.
- 1. Ben Kweller - “Wasted & Ready”
- 2. Weezer - “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here”
- 3. Pavement - “Elevate Me Later”
- 4. Titus Andronicus - “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus”
- 5. Okkervil River - “Unless It’s Kicks”
- 6. Japandroids - “Darkness On The Edge Of Gastown”
- 7. The Unicorns - “Jellybones”
- 8. Street Smart Cyclist - “Hoods Up!”
- 9. Wingnut Dishwashers Union - “Never Trust A Man (Who Plays Guitar)”
- 10. Defiance, Ohio - “The List”
- 11. The Cure - “In Between Days”
- 12. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - “Falling Over”
- 13. Belle and Sebastian - “If She Wants Me”
- 14. Beach House - “Lazuli”
- 15. Polica - “Dark Star”
- 16. Passion Pit - “To Kingdom Come”
- 17. College - “A Real Hero (Feat. Electric Youth)”
- 18. Venetian Snares - “Öngyilkos Vasárnap”
- 19. Knife City - “Just Trash”
- 20. s / s / s - “Beyond Any Doubt”
- 21. People Who Love People - “Obligatory Sad Song”
- 22. Titus Andronicus - “My Time Outside The Womb” (acoustic demo)
- 23. Swear Jar - “Charles Bronson (The Man, Not The Band)”
- 24. Rites of Spring - “Deeper Than Inside”
- 25. Snowing - “Pump Fake”
- 26. Into It. Over It. - “Wicker Park”
- 27. Trash Talk - “Blind Evolution”
- 28. Connecticut - “Clean Streak”
- 29. My Heart To Joy - “All Of Life Is Coming Home”
My Soundtrack To Paris
Last night I flew back home after spending the previous week in Paris, France. Did you miss me? Although my trip (which consisted mostly of visiting museums, eating, and wistfully sighing at all the beautiful architecture of the city) prevented me from doing very much blogging, I did get a chance to listen to a lot of music, particularly on the two bookending 9 hour flights. Now that I’m back, I thought that it would be a nice way to return from my vacation by briefly discussing some of the music that I listened to on the trip. Some of these were new, some of them I had listened to before, and others were among my favorite records. They are listed in the order in which I listened to them, thanks to last.fm.
Also, just as a head’s up, I will be doing my radio show tonight from 6 to 8 PM, so get ready for that.
The Cure - The Head On The Door (1985)
This post-punk gem marked a transition for The Cure from the depressive goth rock of their earlier records to the glittery new wave and shoegaze that characterized their later material. The opening track “In Between Days” is the one that everybody knows, and there’s a good reason for that; it was probably the first great pop song that Robert Smith ever wrote, and it remains a career highlight for the band to this day. The rest of the tracks aren’t quite as shiny or immediately appealing, but they’re still pretty interesting; “The Blood” explores religious themes over a danceable latin beat, and “Close To Me” somehow makes the combination of handclaps and panflute sound fantastic.
- Key track: “In Between Days”
OFWGKTA - The OF Tape Vol. 2 (2012)
As far as I was concerned before listening to the new Odd Future mixtape, this was the album that would make or break the group in my eyes. Now that I’ve listened to it, I’m still not really sure what side I’m on. Overall, it’s a more enjoyable listen than Tyler, The Creator’s Goblin, the last high profile release from the OFWGKTA camp, but it suffers from its understandable lack of coherence and its general tone. It seems that at times, the group has confused its own particularly unique brand of humor that defined records like Tyler’s Bastard and Earl Sweatshirt’s Earl with something much more generic. Still, the group seems very strong in their convictions. As Tyler says at the end of the lengthy highlight closer “Oldie,” “Just admit, not only are we talented, we’re rad as fuck.” It’s pretty hard to argue with that, especially with Earl Sweatshirt back in the fold.
- Key track: “Oldie”
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven! (2000)
I’ve been listening to a lot of Godspeed lately in an attempt to gear up for what will surely be a fascinating performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago this year. I’ve never completely understood the scope of the appeal of Skinny Fists, although I have enjoyed listening to it in the past, but playing it on the plane over the Atlantic Ocean gave me the different perspective I needed to enjoy it even more. I listened to it through my earphones while watching some shitty romantic comedy with the sound turned off on the screen in front of me, and I think it might have given me an epiphany…
- Key track: “Sleep”
Various Artists - Drive OST (2011)
Drive was one of my favorite films of last year, but I only wish that I had delved into the soundtrack more directly when I first saw it. After a deeper exploration, this soundtrack is genuinely one of the best releases of 2011. Much like the film, it’s a deeply moving, evocative work, and just as it complements the movie’s visuals, it also stands up just fine on its own. The majority of the soundtrack, scored by Cliff Martinez, is moody instrumental electronic music, soothing in its gentle ambience but steeped in dark themes and soundscapes. The real highlight comes in the first five tracks, however — experimental dancefloor tracks that sound like Bizarro versions of 80s eurodance hits.
- Key track: College - “A Real Hero (Feat. Electric Youth)”
Beach House - Bloom (2012)
Luckily for me, the new Beach House album leaked just a few days before I left, months in advance of its release date and even before an album cover had been released. It must be pretty embarrassing for the band, but it’s pretty great for me; I got to listen to this just as I was dozing off on my brief connected flight from Amsterdam to Paris. I’m not sure if it was my near catatonic state or just the record itself, but that first listen afforded me a lot more entertainment than the band’s previous release Teen Dream did. The formula is essentially the same on here as on that album, but the execution seems more sharp. Woozy synths and Alex Scally’s clean guitar lines lather themselves over punctual drum machine beats, and Victoria LeGrande’s wonderfully deep voice undercuts it all. It’s a great record to drift off to, but it could use a few more hooks.
- Key track: “Lazuli”
Venetian Snares - Rossz Csillag Alatt Született (2005)
Here’s a novel idea: What if you took a bunch of classical music composed by the likes of Stravinsky, Bartok, and Mahler, cut it up into neat samples, and recorded frenetic, aggressive drum and bass music over it? That’s what Venetian Snares did on this record, and believe it or not, there are times when it actually works. Sometimes, the contrast between the droning strings and the livid breakbeats becomes too great, but when the emotion of the classical samples matches the catharsis of the electronics, the effect is captivating. To the credit of Aaron Funk (the mastermind of Venetian Snares), he always manages to throw in the beats when the listener least expects it.
- Key track: “Hajnal”
Desaparecidos - Read Music/Speak Spanish (2002)
One of the many highlights of my Paris trip occurred a few days in, when I decided to wake up early and enjoy a morning run along the Seine river. For a running soundtrack, I decided to listen to Read Music/Speak Spanish, the one and only full length album from Conor Oberst’s short lived Desaparecidos project, a punk rock band that he fronted in 2002 before dissolving it soon thereafter. It’s hard to believe that Conor Oberst wrote and released two fantastic albums that year (the other was Bright Eyes‘ Lifted) but it’s true; this really is an excellent punk record, with the cathartic aggression of 90s emo and the distinctive lyrical pen of Oberst himself. It’s angrier than anything he’s ever done, and also more outwardly political in its lyrics. Sometimes I wish Conor would get angry instead of getting sad more often.
- Key track: “Manana”
Borsalino - Metropolitain (2011)
I picked up this CD of French swing jazz music when I saw Borsalino perform an impromptu show on the steps of the Musée d’Orsay. With a lively instrumental mix of guitar, clarinet, accordion, bass, and violin, it certainly sounds like Paris. If you enjoyed the soundtrack for Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris last year, you’ll definitely like this. I wouldn’t be surprised if this band was actually featured on that film’s soundtrack. I couldn’t find any of the music on this particular CD on youtube, but here’s a video of the band performing live on the street in Paris that’s worth watching.
Titus Andronicus - Titus Andronicus LLC Mixtape Vol 1 (2012)
This collection of Titus Andronicus singles, demos, and various other odds and ends is a definitive “fans only” compilation. Do not listen to this as your first taste of Titus Andronicus. That said, fans of the New Jersey-based punk rock band should definitely get on this. Among other things, the ‘mixtape’ boasts early recordings of pre-The Airing Of Grievances material, demos from the The Monitor sessions, sloppy live covers of artists such as Thin Lizzy, Weezer, and The Replacements, along with the new TA single “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood of Detritus.” Download it for free here at the band’s official tumblr page.
The Unicorns - Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? (2003)
Writing about them briefly in my piece about The Shins last week made me want to revisit The Unicorns, and so I gave a listen to their beloved 2003 LP on the plane trip back, only to remember that the album’s first song “I Don’t Wanna Die” references a plane crash. Oops. Anyway, I found the relisten very rewarding. As someone who writes and records music myself, it’s fascinating to analyze the way other independent musicians do their recording work, and Nick Thorburn certainly has a unique approach to recording. The record’s aesthetic reminds me of a psyched up Mt. Eerie, and Thorburn’s vocals even evoke those of Phil Elverum. Unlike Elverum’s work, however, this record is just a lot of fun, and can be enjoyed passively just as much as it can be deeply scrutinized.
- Key track: “Jellybones”
Ben Kweller - Sha Sha (2002)
Ben Kweller’s 2002 debut is a similarly whimsical and light-hearted affair, although it’s clear that Kweller had his heart in a place where Thorburn’s was not at the time of this record’s release. The sincerity of this record is endearing, and it makes Sha Sha’s faults a little more forgivable. I’ve heard this album compared to Weezer, and that influence certainly manifests itself in the grungy power pop aesthetic and in Kweller’s affected nerdy lyrics. The overly sentimental piano ballads (particularly the too-long “In Other Words”) are a little much, but they’re balanced out by intricate, well-arranged rockers like the highlights “Wasted and Ready” and “Harriet’s Got A Song.”
- Key track: “Wasted and Ready”
Polica - Give You The Ghost (2012)
The Minneapolis-based band Polica just released their debut album Give You The Ghost this week after generating some impressive buzz at South By Southwest. After listening to this record, I can assure you that the buzz surrounding it was justified. This is a fascinating piece of art pop, with amorphous, multi-tracked female vocals cloaked in tasteful auto-tune, dynamic synths buzzing underneath, and subtle atmospheric inflections throughout. The songs are there too — engaging and catchy new wave-style gems with strong hooks and surprisingly emotive lyrics. There’s a lot of musical influence taken from Sufjan Stevens‘ The Age Of Adz, but whereas that record focused on mind expansion and otherworldly themes, Give You The Ghost is very grounded and relatable. It was a nice end to a very musical trip!
- Key track: “Dark Star”
2010 Albums of the Year, part 1 (#50-21)
50. The Books - The Way Out
Folk, Electronic, Sample-based
The Books return after a painful five year break with a record that finds their folk/electronic formula beginning to grow stale. Unlike their cold and disorienting masterpiece Thought for Food, The Way Out is warm and soulful, and features samples from motown and pop records in addition to their traditional offbeat vocal samples. The resulting album is frustratingly familiar yet characteristically well made. It is clear that with The Way Out, The Books have retained their meticulous ability to create collages of sound, but may have lost some of their creativity along the way.
49. Defiance, Ohio - Midwestern Minutes
Folk Punk, Indie Rock
After 2006’s The Great Depression, which I regard as one of the very best folk punk albums, and the worthy 2007 follow up The Fear, The Fear, The Fear, folk punkers Defiance, Ohio seem to have lost some of their edge. It is a rare moment on Midwestern Minutes that I am filled with that great feeling of youthful heart-fluttering that envelops me every time I listen to “Oh, Susquehanna!” While rare on this album, those moments are great. “The White Shore” is an angry yet uplifting punk song, and the subsequent track “A Lot to Do” is a great singalong anthem. Unfortunately, Midwestern Minutes lacks the consistency and immediacy needed to make music of this kind great.
48. Suckers - Wild Smile
Psychedelic Pop, Indie Pop
Despite coming directly from the overcrowded and increasingly boring Brooklyn indie rock scene, Wild Smile by Suckers is a refreshingly original sounding album. From the opening line of “Save Your Love For Me”, desperately sincere yet bordering on sounding pathetic, the listener is brought to attention. “Save Your Love For Me” is a monstrous track which builds and builds upon itself to create an undeniably great psychedelic pop anthem. Unfortunately, the band fails to maintain this level of brilliance throughout the remaining ten tracks, and the album suffers from its length and lack of consistency.
47. Girl Talk - All Day
Hip-hop, Electronic, Mashup
Girl Talk is admirably good at what he does. Using hip-hop vocal tracks and idiosyncratic beats, he creates fun and hip mashups to play at parties. Unfortunately, that’s it; All Day is, by nature, void of any depth whatsoever. At its best, it is clever and well-made, and at its worst, it is only slightly above a novelty.
46. Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs - God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise
Contemporary Folk, Folk Rock, Country
Improving upon his last two albums Till the Sun Turns Back and Gossip in the Grain, Lewiston, Maine singer/songwriter Ray Lamontagne harnesses a fuller new sound on God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise. This change can largely be attributed to the Pariah Dogs, a remarkably capable folk rock band that adds a degree of thickness and push to the overall sound. The dirty roots rock instrumentation compliments Lamontagne’s gravelly voice, but the best moment on the album occurs when the band decides to tone it down a bit on “Beg, Steal, or Borrow”
45. Foxy Shazam - Foxy Shazam
Glam Rock, Pop/Rock
Queen’s iconic frontman Freddie Mercury has been reincarnated as an equally flamboyant hipster who currently sings for the band Foxy Shazam. Foxy Shazam makes music that sounds a lot like Queen’s Jazz, but without all the cringeworthy “experiments”. Very obvious Queen comparisons aside, Foxy Shazam have truly crafted an album as wonderfully anthemic and soaring as nearly any of Queen’s greatest hits. This album blatantly and unashamedly rips off the aforementioned band, but it does a damn good job at it.
44. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Dream Pop, Psychedelic Pop
Deerhunter disappointingly continue on the logical path from Microcastle with Halcyon Digest, a dream pop album that lacks much of what made Deerhunter cool in the first place. Instead of the noisy passive aggression of Cryptograms or the dense shoegazing sound of Microcastle, they have delivered a fairly ordinary sounding dream pop album. While songs like the lead single “Revival” are catchy and quite good, they lack that unmistakable Deerhunter sound. On Halcyon Digest, that sound is only truly displayed on the epic closing track “He Would Have Laughed”, which is fantastic. Nevertheless, this album is pretty good if only because it’s a Deerhunter record.
43. Weekend - Sports
Shoegaze, Noise Rock
With Sports, Needle Drop favorites Weekend face the opposite of Deerhunter’s problem. Sports is an undeniable landmark in the ability of a record to shred one’s ears and somehow maintain an interesting 90s slacker vibe while doing so, but lacks almost any melodic sensibilities whatsoever. If My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless was the perfect balance of beauty and noise, Sports is a very imperfect balance of, well, ugliness and noise. Thankfully, these imperfections tend to fade away when being blasted through your ears at full volume.
42. Girls - Broken Dreams Club
Power Pop, Indie Pop, Alt-Country
Girls’ new EP Broken Dreams Club is an exercise in self exploration. With a little extra money and some more experience, Girls have made a record that sounds far removed from the lo-fi bedroom pop stylings of Album. Though it retains some of that charm, Broken Dreams Club is comparatively hi-fi. With horns, pedal steel guitar, and other unique instruments, it certainly sounds fantastic. Often it feels like such instrumental and production embellishments are being used to cover up mediocre songwriting, such as on the title track and the forgettable “Substance”. However, on “Thee Oh So Protective One” and the magnificent “Carolina”, the complex instrumentation and high production values only corroborate the simple brilliance of the songs.
41. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
Forgiveness Rock Record, the newest release from ‘aughts indie supergroup Broken Social Scene lacks both the frenetic immediacy of You Forgot it In People, and the epic grandeur of 2005’s Broken Social Scene. On the first few listens, it feels both like a tired cash-in and a back-to-basics do over. And yet in the five years since this Canadian band released an album, the indie scene has changed dramatically. Neither of the sounds that those two records captured and helped to create would be welcome in 2010, and it is admirable that Broken Social Scene have evolved. This straight up indie rock style may seem played out, but when was the last time you heard such an album? 2007? 2006? Not in 2010, and not like this. If all of these songs had been as good as “World Sick”, this would be a top ten album for sure.
40. Beach House - Teen Dream
Dream Pop, Indie Pop
Beach House’s Teen Dream is probably destined to be a modern indie classic, but all the press that it gets will never make it more than just summer record. Sure, it’s a damn good summer record, and maybe among the best of its kind, but it lacks the versatility needed to sustain my interest well into the fall and now the winter. These days, Victoria Legrand’s unbelievably sexy voice can still warm me up, but the music never seems to make sense.
Sidenote: I have like 10 2k10 bands with “Beach” in their name…chillwaves.
39. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma
Instrumental Hip-Hop, IDM, Electronic
Flying Lotus’ album Cosmogramma is one of the most sonically impressive electronic albums in years. Cosmogramma whirs, beeps, and reverberates through one’s skull with pulsing beats and odd samples, the most interesting of which comes from a life support machine used by FlyLo’s aunt Alice Coltrane and recorded while she was in the hospital. It has hip hop tracks, Aphex Twin-like IDM experiments, and even a guest vocal performance from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, but with all this ambition, the resulting album needs to be brilliant to work. Cosmogramma is an example of style over substance; FlyLo tries to do so much with it, but rarely does he follow through with a brilliant piece of music.
38. The New Pornographers - Together
Power Pop, Indie Pop
Vancouver indie poppers The New Pornographers return with their best album since 2005’s Twin Cinema. Lacking the charming fuzziness of that album, Together sounds more like their previous album Challengers, but it has better tunes and catchier melodies. The vocals of Neko Case and Carl Newman are placed front and center, and ring clearly over the lush instrumentation. Together also features guest appearances from Beirut’s Zach Condon, Annie Clark, and Okkervil River’s Will Sheff. Together proves that The New Pornographers are still better than many of the countless Canadian pop bands they inspired, but at times, Together’s excess seems less like a triumphant confirmation of legendary status and more like a grasp for fleeting relevance.
37. Menomena - Mines
Indie Rock, Art Rock
Mines is the Portland trio Menomena’s most straightforward album to date. Although it doesn’t have the experimental instrumental squalls and entertainingly harsh dissonance of The Fun Blame Monster, their debut, it makes up for that lack with great songs. Menomena have clearly gotten much better at writing songs and jamming less, as displayed on the restrained “Taos” and “Tithe”, and Mines is an admirable and impressive forward step in their evolution, hopefully not into ‘just another indie band’.
36. The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - Formlessness
Emo, Indie Rock, Math Rock
Willimantic, CT band (take a breath) The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die released one of the most surprisingly brilliant EPs of the year. I downloaded it in anticipation for their upcoming December 30th show with Castevet and Snowing, and was struck by how good it was. Formlessness is beautiful but aggressive, and atmospheric but grounded. It initially seems like a familiar sounding album, yet it’s also unique. Synthesizing the atmospheric qualities of American Football with an original and nostalgic tone, Formlessness is a wonderful record. I only wish it were longer.
35. The Tallest Man on Earth - Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird
Contemporary Folk, Indie Folk
2010 was a great year for EPs, and Swedish folk singer The Tallest Man on Earth’s Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird is no exception. Riding on the success of his LP The Wild Hunt, which was also released this year, Sometimes the Blues… feels like both an experiment and also an affirmation of Kristian Matsson’s great talents. On the experimental side, it features a sharp electric guitar on one track. This song, “The Dreamer” is a midtempo lo-fi ballad, the chorus of which contains the EP’s title. In addition, the EP features more of Matsson’s signature folk music, which is nearly as good as anything on The Wild Hunt or 2008’s Shallow Grave.
34. sadnes - Fill My Head
Chiptune, Indie Rock, Shoegaze
Three EPs in a row? I must be crazy. Regardless, the debut EP from solo artist sadnes, aka OxygenStar, aka Carl Peczynski, is the highest ranking record from a local Connecticut artist on this list. Improving on his OxygenStar project, which I wrote a little about here, Peczynski adds vocals and guitars to his 8-bit beats and rhythms. The result sounds like a brilliant mix of Smashing Pumpkins and Anamanaguchi, owing more to the aforementioned 90s shoegazers than the chiptune-influenced power pop band. The vocals are amazing, and the self-deprecating and ironic lyrics fit the icy tone of the music perfectly. sadnes may seem as dark as his stagename suggests, but maybe he just wants a hug.
33. The Morning Benders - Big Echo
Lo-fi Indie Pop, Surf Pop
Accuse The Morning Benders of being trend hoppers as much as you want, but that doesn’t take away from their ability to craft fun, stimulating California pop songs. With surprisingly intellectual lyrics, instrumentation derived from 1960s sunshine pop, and some of the most playful harmonies this side of Merriweather Post Pavilion, nearly every song on Big Echo manages to stick in the listener’s head for weeks. Like Beach House’s Teen Dream, Big Echo will probably never transcend “summer album” status, but if this was the postcard from the summer of 2010, I’d be entirely okay with that.
32. Beach Fossils - Beach Fossils
Lo-fi Indie Rock, Surf Pop, Dream Pop
Beach Fossils’ self-titled debut album sounds exactly like you would expect an album from a Brooklyn band called “Beach Fossils” to sound like. It’s lo-fi, jangly, reverb’ed, and uniformly white-washed, just like the wall on the album cover. All of these attributes are well and good in moderation, but the scene has already been saturated with music like that for years. Beach Fossils’ saving grace is their overwhelming laziness, manifested as some sort of hazy 90s slacker sound. This general “I-don’t-give-a-shit” attitude sets them apart. Beach Fossils are the punkest chillwavers around.
31. Jaill - That’s How We Burn
Garage Rock, Indie Rock, Power Pop
I saw Jaill play at a bar in Milford CT in October, but nobody else did. Yes, you read that correctly. Nobody else came to see them. These Wisconsin garage rockers have come a long way from home since their album That’s How We Burn was released on Sub Pop earlier this year, and frankly it is just plain unfair that they have not gotten the widespread recognition they deserve. This band plays some of the smartest and sharpest indie rock I’ve heard all year. Reminiscent of the punkish early stylings of Elvis Costello, and despite the ludicrous album cover of a girl with a dolphin hat hanging out at the beach, this album is void of all irony and filled to the brim with catchy and self-aware garage rock. That’s How We Burn is one of the great overlooked albums of 2010.
30. The Black Keys - Brothers
Blues Rock, Garage Rock, Soul
As if the no-bullshit album cover didn’t make it clear enough, The Black Keys play it straight. They don’t give a shit about relevance, hipness, or culture, and their new album Brothers is a great example of why this is a great thing. Just because the cool kids don’t like Led Zeppelin anymore doesn’t mean they don’t still rock. Taking influence from those guys and more, Brothers is soulful and tender, but never loses the edge that The Black Keys became underground famous for. It may seem odd that Brothers was the album that brought them into pseudo-mainstream territory, but in a lot of ways it makes sense. Though it’s not actually anything new, it realy feels like it. In this way, Brothers is refreshing.
29. Baths - Cerulean
Chillwave, Electronic, Glitch Pop
2010 saw the absurdly-titled and loosely-defined “chillwave” movement rise to mainstream popularity and then slowly fizzle out as hipsters moved away from the entry-level and on to the equally bizarre and then-underground genre “witch house”. ‘09 chillwavers like Neon Indian and Washed Out played shows and gained acceptance in 2010, but while they were partying, Baths was hard at work meticulously constructing Cerulean, which is to be known from here on as the best chillwave album ever. Trading in the stereotypically lazy production value and samples of chillwave for glitchy beats and gorgeous vocal harmonies, Baths created a record that was incredibly intricate and engaging, but at the same time remarkably chill. Yes, Cerulean is the best chillwave album ever, and one of the best electronic albums of 2010.
28. of Montreal - False Priest
Soul, Indie Pop, R&B, Funk
In response to a negative Pitchfork review of False Priest, the new album by of Montreal, frontman Kevin Barnes wondered -
Why does pitchfork always assign my albums to flaccid puritanical sex hating half humans?
Why indeed. As he himself goes on to confirm, Kevin Barnes is not tired of sex. Unfortunately for him, it seems like a lot of people are. In the context of the band’s past few albums, it would seem that False Priest offers nothing new thematically. However once one removes the album from that harsh context, you find a wonderful album filled with too-bizarre-to-make-up (yet somehow relatable) sexual anecdotes set to a funky beat and sung by a crazy bisexual dude who wears a lot of make up and sometimes decides not to wear clothes on stage. In addition, False Priest features Janelle Monae and Solange Knowles, two of indie R&B’s greatest upstarts (the former of which I hope will take on mainstream R&B with the speed and precision that she has taken over the blogs in 2011). From beginning to end, this album is fun. Pure, ridiculous, intelligent, self-deprecating fun. What’s wrong with that?
27. Los Campesinos! - Romance is Boring
Indie Pop, Twee Pop
“Let’s talk about you for a minute”
These were not words I ever expected the self-obsessed Gareth Campesinos! to utter, and yet so begins “In Medias Res”, the opening track from the new Los Campesinos! album Romance is Boring. As the frontman for the Welsh indie band Los Campesinos!, Gareth has spent the past two years either bemoaning or praising himself, but never focusing on anyone else. He’s acknowledged that he has screwed people over and that people have screwed him over, but we’ll never know anything else about them.
Romance is Boring is different. The entire album, a noisy and loud 48 minutes composed almost entirely of fist pumping twee-punk anthems, reads like the transcript of a breakup written by Gareth himself. This formula is very interesting, but causes Romance is Boring to feel like a bit of a transition album. If this is the direction in which the band is headed, I’m incredibly excited to hear what they do next.
“Is this something that would interest you? Would this interest you at all?”
26. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks
Pop/Punk, Punk Rock, Indie Rock
Over the past ten years or so, Ted Leo’s output has been incredibly consistent. On The Brutalist Bricks, the latest installment in his already storied career, he and his band rock out harder than ever. Leo, now 40, has managed to maintain that Rivers Cuomo-like appearance of eternal youth and tracks like “The Mighty Sparrow” and “Gimme the Wire” show that it is not only a facade. These are energetic and youthful punk rock songs that never sound try-hard or fake. Despite a couple songs that seem to misfire, and a production style that verges on sounding overdone, the straight up great songs on The Brutalist Bricks make it just too good to pass up.
And just as a reminder, Ted Leo’s playing a solo show at The Space in January! More info here! (via Manic Productions)
25. The National - High Violet
Indie Rock, Chamber Pop
Coming in at number 25 is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2010. The National’s High Violet builds on the band’s previous two albums, and features everything one might expect from a National album: sad songs, deep vocals, and heavy drums. Still, High Violet feels a lot more subdued than Alligator and Boxer. Suffice to say that there are no songs as aggressive and angular as Boxer’s ”Mistaken For Strangers” on this album. However, The National have clearly gotten better at writing slower songs, as evidenced by the gorgeous High Violet opener “Terrible Love”. There is not much else to be said about this album that hasn’t already been said. While it may not live up to all the hype it gets, High Violet is a very good record by a very accomplished band.
24. Castevet - The Echo & The Light
Emo, Post-Rock, Post-Hardcore
Though largely flawed, Castevet’s 2009 album Summer Fences helped revitalize the emo scene which had stagnated over a period of roughly seven years with remarkable new energy and post-rock sensibilities. While fascinating and refreshing, Summer Fences always felt to me like there was something missing. After a hard year of touring, Castevet have come back with plenty of experience. Their new album The Echo and the Light improves on their original formula. The post-rock is still present, but the crescendoing interludes don’t feel like they come out of nowhere anymore. On The Echo & the Light, everything feels organic. The clean math rock guitars contrast with the relatively low screamed vocals, but the drums make it all come together. These drums sound fantastic, and wouldn’t feel out of place on an Explosions in the Sky record. The drums, which occasionally give way to ear-blasting walls of sound and noise, add that post-rock element to Castevet’s mix, and make The Echo & the Light much more than just another emo album.
23. Belle and Sebastian - Belle and Sebastian Write About Love
Indie Pop, Chamber Pop, Twee Pop
Belle and Sebastian’s new album Belle and Sebastian Write About Love features a despondent looking girl gazing out her window on the cover. Combined with the overly self-aware album title (which from me will always provoke the response “duh”), this almost seems like a play on the band itself. Though I’m sure Stuart Murdoch has long been aware of the fact that Belle and Sebastian has always primarily been a band for somewhat disaffected indie girls, it seems that he has finally accepted it. Belle and Sebastian Write About Love,and that’s okay. Perhaps it was coming to terms with this that allowed Stuart to write the songs contained on this album. Stuart comes off as more open and more accessible than he has ever seemed. He’s not the fragile boy who mused about whether he could ever be loved on Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister, but instead he is a grown man teaching the future Stuarts of the world the truth. Girls think it’s okay for a boy to be sensitive. Being sad is good sometimes. Being happy can be a choice. Everyone take notes.
22. The Love Language - Libraries
Indie Pop, Chamber Pop
If there was ever a band that Write About Love was written for, it’s The Love Language. Stuart (!!) McLamb, a young, black haired upstart and the chief songwriter for The Love Language may even be Stuart Murdoch’s protege. Having studied Dear Catastrophe Waitress and The Life Pursuit, McLamb and his band have it in their power to craft indelibly catchy and life affirming pop songs so perfect that they will make you want to sing, dance, and write songs of your own. McLamb draws lyrical motifs straight from the aforementioned Belle and Sebastian albums, but crafts them in his own very personal style. If you are sad, see this band live, they will make you want to live.
21. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
Indie Rock, Power Pop, Surf Rock
Surfer Blood’s Astro Coast can be described thusly: if your favorite Weezer song ever is “Surf Wax America” from their self titled 1995 debut record, you will love this album. Actually, if you love any of the other tracks on Weezer, you will also love this album. Astro Coast is filled with that same glorious, harmonious power pop that was so brilliantly perfected by Weezer that it almost feels like they created it. In the fifteen years since that record was released, nobody has managed to get that sound or that feeling of lively and youthful energy down without feeling cheap or unoriginal. Surfer Blood have done it, and Astro Coast is the gleaming, surf-inflected product that all people who were ever in a Weezer cover band should aspire to.
Check back here tomorrow for my official top 20 albums of 2010! I hope you enjoyed this list. Let me know if you want a link to any of these albums.