Archive for the ‘Rock’ Category

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2010 Rocks

May 26, 2010

So, folks, it’s been just about a month since I last gave a big summary of my favorite albums of Q1 of 2010, and I’ve already heard a slew of new, awesome music. 2010 has been an incredible year for music so far, and here’s some more great albums.

I’ve provided youtube samples, but do know that their sound quality is going to be a lot lower than the actual recordings. I’d really recommend getting the albums if you like what you hear.

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Clubroot - II:MMX

I admit to not being an ardent follower of dubstep in general, though I do dip into the genre on occasion. Anyone who knows me knows that I pretty much listen to Burial every day of my life, and I got pretty excited about the Luvstep mix earlier this year, and hell, I would just about never turn the stuff off if I ever heard it on the radio (never have). So I’m not beyond getting excited about a good dubstep release, and this new album by Dan Richmond, known as Clubroot, might be the prime example of the second most intelligent dubstep producer that I’ve heard (all due respect to those I haven’t). Clubroot’s sound is slow, deliberate and contemplative, and creates one hell of an aural environment of atmospheric dubstep; echoing synths and string samples hover in the air over visceral and subtly groovy dubstep beats. The result are melancholy mood pieces, and though they take a while to develop, once your ears are attuned to them it is easy to get addicted. The first Clubroot album last year was tasty, but II:MMX takes the style to the next level with cleaner production and more memorable melodies. No one is going to pretend that Dan Richmond is trying to push things forward half as much as William Bevan, but we’re still all the better for his excursions.

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LM1 - Blue Mountain EP

I’ll preface my next recommendation with yet another claim of ignorance; I may not know drum ‘n bass in and out, but I know good drum ‘n bass when I hear it. The Blue Mountain EP by LM1 is such music, energizing and completely smart. LM1 is the work of Allan Cowie, and it’s apparent that he is the master of the breakbeat. The beats themselves are propulsive but in no way intrusive, and the atmospheric touches he brings to his songs do a lot with a little. Ambient flourishes give the tracks on this EP a lot of volume. Particularly, the title track matches its title and creates a vast, expansive sound world with ambient textures. The other tracks are just as strong, slowly developing but fast moving ear candy for electronic fans. The big question: where did this come from? Well, it turns out LM1 is the founder and owner of Offworld Recordings, which he created after releasing a string of recordings on other record labels. Offworld already has four releases from a multitude of artists, and it turns out they rule too. The Blue Mountain EP has blown the top off of this exciting new project, and you can be sure that we’ll have coverage on all of it soon. In the meantime, go here for more information as well as an Offworld showcase, which indicates that this is truly the new revival of drum ‘n bass.

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Sleigh Bells - Treats

How old am I again? Well I feel like I’m about fifty five, scowling at legions of young music aficionados about how despite the fact that there is a lot of cool stuff going on in music at the dawn of this new decade, the fact stands that rock music just isn’t cool anymore and these kids don’t know what they’re missing. Sleigh Bells’ music may still be pop at its heart, but it rejuvenates the lost concept that it’s really cool to be really fucking loud. And loud Treats is. Blisteringly loud. The guitars cut like razors and their drums sound like running giants. The volume is going to be the first thing most anyone notices about the vast majority of these songs, but like Psychocandy before it, the noise encases a really down to earth pop album. The heart of this concept is heard most apparently on the sublimely jangly “Rill Rill,” which is Treats‘ most obvious accomplishment because it lacks the sheer volume that the rest of the tracks have. It’s slightly distorted and rough around the edges, but above all else it’s delicious pop music. The keystone of the album, it makes the other tracks seem less violent and more good-natured. You can tell “Crown on the Ground” wants to be on Kid’s Bop, but it got rejected because it had tourettes. “Tell ‘Em” was to be a high school fight song, but it got mangleded in a car accident. They’re fractured pop songs that you can more than relate to and side with, because despite the fact that they will destroy your cochleae, they just sound right.

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Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma

Steven Ellison, known as Flying Lotus, made one of the best records of 2008, Los Angeles. It is just a fact, and one that I have taken a few years to come to grips with and fully appreciate. In electronic music, it’s easy to see Flying Lotus becoming an important figure, and so it’s easy to see a new FlyLo album as an important occurrence. Cosmogramma pulls together an environment as rich in style as Los Angeles, with many notable aspects: Lots of live instrumentation, strong jazz elements, strings and harps, and a sense of mysticism. Also notable: while many of Los Angeles’ beats trailed behind bars by fractions of seconds, on Cosmogramma those beats lead the measures at a similarly minute speed, which makes for an album that is fully excited and running at a high speed but never trips over itself, because it is in the hands of a master. And as usual, there is a slew of sounds here that you would never find anywhere else. Describing those moments are almost impossible, but they stand for themselves; the super high frequency “Nose Art,” the free jazz experimental “Arkestry,” the awesome collaboration with Thom York on “…And the World Laughs With You,” and the heavy “Recoiled” are just a few such highlights, but they by no means stop there. This is yet another truly important electronic record from an artist with incredible talent. The future of music clearly lies with this man, and with that said, the future always seems to be bright.

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Autechre - Oversteps

Electronic producers Rob Brown and Sean Booth have been making music as Autechre for about twenty years now, and their new album Oversteps is their tenth. Throughout their flabbergasting career arc, they have invented, reinvented and refined not only their sound but contemporary progressive electronic music as a whole. Anyone who knows albums like Tri Repetae and LP5 know that a new Autechre album means a whole new world of sound, and Oversteps is no exception. The album is filled with jittery, mysterious productions, and it shows the group at their most melodic state since 1998’s LP5 (with the exception of several moments on 2008’s great Quaristice). A lot of times, and as is certainly the case for Oversteps, Autechre songs have sleeper qualities, puzzling at first and then later sinking in for heavy thinking. It stands that being an Autechre fan is incredibly awarding. In their ten album and twelve EP (give or take) career, they have crafted just about every song into its own sonic world, and with each album have built unshakable statements. Oversteps initially feels like a strong, logical progression. It’s possible that if it is given time, the yeast will rise and it will stand even taller. But what’s even more exciting and puzzling than these tracks is that Autechre are set to release another album this year. Move of Ten is due out on July 12, and a quick examination of the cover art certainly makes me surmise that the new album may be a companion piece to Oversteps. What that means is that we may still only have part of the full picture here, and thus Oversteps as well as Move of Ten may have new developments to explore.

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The National - High Violet

I have missed The National’s live show twice. I traded their show at Lollapalooza 2008 for a good spot at Nine Inch Nails, and their show at Pitchfork last year for a set from The Black Lips. At the time I wasn’t sad about having to make those choices at all. The National were always a band that were pleasant enough, had a specific style that I’m sometimes in the mood for, and made a handful of really cool songs that I liked a lot. But the fact stood that The National, in general, just bored me. It’s only now that High Violet has come out that I’m finally kicking myself for missing them and really getting excited about seeing them at Lollapalooza this year. Don’t get me wrong – the National have always been a good band, but High Violet really brings them above and beyond. A lot of these tracks are immediate National classics. The excellent first single “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” with its dramatic lyrics and melancholy atmosphere that the band are known for, only scrapes the surface of this album’s highlights. “Sorrow,” “Anyone’s Ghost” and “England” in particular show the band locking in and delivering some of their most savory, melodic moments on any of their five albums. High Violet is the work of a band that has had years to build, refine and experiment with their sound. Admittedly, High Violet and it’s overall sound are very similar stylistically to what The National has done before with such successful albums as Alligator and Boxer, but if you’re into this band, this may be their best album yet.

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Chicago Music Festival Report

April 14, 2010

In 2008, I went to a single day of the Pitchfork Music Festival and all three days of Lollapalooza. In 2009, I did the opposite and went to all three days of Pitchfork and a single day of Lollapalooza. This Summer I’m happy to say I’ll be able to do all three days of both. I have my lovely grandmother who bought me Lollapalooza tickets a a surprise.

A dramatic reenactment of our phone conversation:

“Grandma! Those tickets must have been awfully expensive!”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ve been saving up quarters.”

Anyway, I thought I’d give my two cents on both festivals’ lineups.

Lollapalooza has ace headliners this year, and they’ve got the goods to call on legions of rock ‘n roll fans throughout the country.

The more mainstream leaning headliners are very strong. Soundgarden is this year’s alt-rock headliner, and the festival’s older devotees and 90’s rock fans will jump to see one of the band’s first reunion shows. Green Day, though they have lost some indie fans since their glory days, have more than enough star power to fill a stadium, and they will probably change the face of the crowd this year. But the real game changer this year, on a brilliant booking move by Perry Ferrell is the pop juggernaut Lady Gaga, who will sell thousands upon thousands of tickets for Lollapalooza. She’ll attract pop fans, preteens and hipsters alike. It stands that not many, if any other festivals have the means or the balls to pull this kind of headliner.

The indie rockers will be drinking tears of joy this year based on the presence of The Arcade Fire alone, who are due for a tour and a new album. They have been out of the live circuit for a while, but they are more than strong enough of a band to make the headliner slot. The Strokes are also a dazzling attraction. Like the Arcade Fire, they’ve also been out of commission for a long time and they’ll enjoy widespread excitement and ticket sales in response to their headlining spot. But the year’s left field headliner is Phoenix, who due in large part to their 2009 album “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” have skyrocketed to the top of the indie food chain, and this slot will be great for Lollapalooza as well as Phoenix, who will consequently get a huge crowd and massive cred regardless of who they go up against in the lineup.

There’s more than enough other shit to keep just about everyone shelling out cash for at least a one day ticket:  Jimmy Cliff and Devo for the older crowd, Slightly Stoopid for the hippies, The Black Keys for the blues fans, AFI for the emos (they’re still around?), Erykah Badu for R&B and funk fans, and Social Distortion and Gogol Bordello for the punks. Perhaps more importantly, there is a large selection of big indie names on the lineup: The New Pornographers, Spoon, The National, Hot Chip, The Dirty Projectors, Yeasayer, The xx, Stars, Matt & Kim and, my favorite, The Walkmen.

Lollapalooza may have a lot of great acts, but Chicago’s biggest indie festival The Pitchfork Music Festival is comparable if not greater in terms of amount of sheer talent.

As with previous years, there is a whole slew of artists at the Pitchfork Festival that you won’t be able to see in too many other places this summer. From the start, Pavement was the festival’s big seller, probably being the major reason that three day passes sold out within the week they were available. The band have reunited for a tour in support of their compilation album “Quarantine the Past,” and we all couldn’t be happier to have the chance to see them live. The other two headliners, Modest Mouse and LCD Soundsystem, are also sought after bookings this Summer, and they sealed the deal.

But there is much more to rabble about beyond the headliners. Wolf Parade, Liars, Broken Social Scene and St. Vincent are also strong sellers. Other stuff you’ll hear me making noise about: Sleigh Bells, Alla, Kurt Vile and The Tallest Man on Earth.

The festival’s hip hop lineup this year is as strong as it has ever been, featuring the likes of Raekwon, Big Boi and El-P. You’ll see me in the crowd for all three.

There are some other very special acts that you probably won’t be able to see in many other places this Summer, particularly Robyn, Panda Bear, Dam-Funk, Major Lazer, and Lightning Bolt.

In terms of the past year’s up and coming Beach Pop scene, Pitchfork has nearly half of the major bands covered: Beach House, Delorean, Real Estate, jj, Girls, Neon Indian, Surfer Blood, Best Coast and Washed Out will all make appearances, plus the likes of Local Natives, Free Energy, and The Smith Westerns, who are though not exactly beach pop are closely related in style and popularity.

Lollapalooza will always have the capacity to bring together acts that will sell hundreds of thousands of tickets, and still have a strong selection of indie bands on tap. Though smaller and more geared towards a specific crowd, The Pitchfork Festival’s lineup this year has finally matched Lollapalooza’s in terms of sheer talent and diversity. We’ve got two great major music festivals lined up for the Summer, and I’m excited for both.

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Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

March 12, 2010

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

Back in 2001, I experienced the first Gorillaz album in the way that all parties involved may have found ideal: with absolutely no context. I was eleven, and I hadn’t heard of Damon Albarn, Dan the Automator or Del tha Funkee Homosapien. Just about the only thing I knew about Gorillaz was that they weren’t real, but I still struggled to put animated faces to voices, sounds to instruments and some kind of method to the madness. The album was to me the most alien thing I had ever heard, an amalgamation of rock, pop, punk, hip hop, electronic, dub and world music. Nothing could have prepared me for it.

Once again, I was eleven, and mostly used to listening to pop radio, whatever that might have been at the time. Everything changed for me after Gorillaz. “Re-Hash” became my Summer anthem and “Que Pasa Contigo” melted the winter freeze. I stared at my crappy stereo in confusion and wonder during “Sound Check (Gravity),” I daydreamed to “Man Research,” and I nearly shit my pants when I first heard “Left Hand Suzuki Method” (For an idea of exactly how naive I was, I thought the bong hit sample at the beginning was the opening of a can of soda). It’s even still a bit unsettling for me to hear the album now, if only because of my history with it. In a world of its own and on its own terms, it pushed its own boundaries incredibly far, and I’ll always love it.

Gorillaz

By the time I was fourteen, I was in high school and had begun to branch out a bit. I listened to Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins, and my Led Zeppelin t-shirts were starting to develop pit stains. I anticipated the release of Demon Days for months, and when it finally came out I bought it in Best Buy (what seems even for now to be a relatively dated practice). A dark, brooding pop album, it frustrated me as much as it entertained. There were familiar elements, but mostly it was new and uncomfortable, for me an early exploration into dirty, dark hip hop and experimental pop music and a collection of ideas and styles just as diverse as those on the self titled album. Even more strange names were credited in the liner notes, most of which I had not heard of, but I came to associate Danger Mouse with this kind of an edgy, diverse sound. He did Demon Days well, and I wondered for years how it could be followed.

Demon Days

And now, with the release of Gorillaz’s third studio LP, Plastic Beach, I can reasonably expect not just an album of music, but an experience. Of course, the band has relaunched their website and the first of no doubt many music videos. Various release versions of Plastic Beach contain storyboards, videos and other exclusive content, and a story is being slowly spun to outline the virtual band’s current state. In short: All of the world’s trash and pieces of its history have floated to the middle of the Indian Ocean to form a massive artificial island known as The Plastic Beach. Gorillaz, consisting of singer 2D, bassist Murdoc, guitarist Noodle and drummer Russel, have now made it their home and production studio, where they have crafted a new concept album that deals with, among other issues, pirates, consumerism and modern living. It is a big production to keep track of, but it is important to zone in on what is really the vital event here, the release of a new Gorillaz album.

I concede that I was expecting something much different than what I got from Plastic Beach, perhaps something much more sinister, in the vein of the demented Demon Days, but in fact Plastic Beach is far more accessible than either of Gorillaz’s previous studio LPs, smash hits included. Damon Albarn has even said it is the poppiest thing he has ever been involved with; this may be a stretch, but it is easy to see where he is coming from. The album is bejeweled with orchestral strings, melodious pop hooks and whimsical electronic textures. The majority of the victory achieved in Plastic Beach can be attributed to Albarn himself and his penchant for pop songcraft. Many of the album’s best songs are ones that feature him exclusively, and he handles the vast majority of the production work on the album, choosing not to collaborate with a guest producer such as Dan the Automator or Danger Mouse.

But the Gorillaz camp still features an ever revolving cast of guest collaborators, even if it’s most distinguishable feature is its now well established groundwork. De La Soul once again provides playful rhyming and Mos Def makes two appearances: The freestyle massacre “Sweepstakes” and the lead single “Stylo.” “Stylo” doesn’t quite get off the ground and flying like prior Gorillaz hits, but it’s probably much more compelling, featuring a mysterious melody, great work from Mos Def to coincide with his recent comeback and a soaring vocal part from the great jack-of-all-trades Bobby Womack.

Stylo

But the more obscure guest spots are perhaps even more effective. Grime rappers Bashy and Kano kill it on the dual-spirited “White Flag,” the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music provides melodic strings on the same track and Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano sings wonderfully on two of the album’s best songs, “Empire Ants” and “To Binge.” The album seems to hit nirvana on the former, which morphs from gentle seaside guitar strumming into rhythmic ambient techno bliss, while the latter provides a longing, romantic melody, and is the most real this unreal band has ever been. Some of the album’s other guest artists, particularly Snoop Dogg and Lou Reed, seem like novelty inclusions, but they play their parts well and only further highlight the fact that since the beginning, the Gorillaz project has been a whole hell of a lot of fun.

And so we ask, if Damon Albarn wants his projects to feature prominent alt-rappers alongside indie heroes, why not? Behind an animated facade, he can do just about anything without it seeming awkward, and we give his and Jamie Hewlett’s characters the benefit of the doubt, perhaps more than he himself. This accounts for how many curveballs Plastic Beach throws, and how often they hit the mark. From front to back, just about every track here features unexpected elements. The professional orchestrations on “White Flag” and “Cloud of Unknowing” are idiosyncratic but genuinely charming, Mark E. Smith and Lou Reed get silly, and the closing “Pirate Jet” is about the most understated ending imaginable for such a big-thinking album. We trust all these elements because they earn our respect legitimately and are all around pleasures on their own terms.

Which isn’t to say that Plastic Beach as a whole doesn’t deal with some pretty poignant issues, most prominently undercurrents involving consumer culture. This is nothing terribly new for Gorillaz, who have always had the idea of commercialism at their hearts. By the time Plastic Beach is done with its chart assault, Gorillaz will almost certainly have sold over twenty million albums. It’s hard to delegitimize that kind of success, especially now when being a Gorillaz alumni yields much greater profit than simple street cred; it results in incredible rewards and songs that a lot of people like myself hold dear for years and years. Certainly this will be the case with Plastic Beach as well, though it reaches that ends by a much different means. It’s worth exploring why, and we might end up doing that until the next Gorillaz LP, but for now this album is already well on its way to building another legacy.

Gorillaz

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Lil' Jarvis

February 27, 2010

I guess I feel a little apprehensive about spreading pictures of artist’s children, but it seems like this was in public, and who wouldn’t want to show off a lil’ Jarvis?

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Stationary/Moving Pictures

February 24, 2010

It is early in the evening and I am reading John Dos Passos. And I am listening to Stars of the Lid, because Stars of the Lid make the only music that I can listen to while studying. Their drones and long-held notes frame my existence for short periods of time before they shift into another form.

I have been extremely tired lately. Tired, apathetic, lethargic. But not depressed or anxious, which is a big change. But my limbs are very heavy, I don’t have much motivation to do much, and I can’t seem to get excited about anything. This is not to say that I feel that things bore me or that I feel as if I’m above being excited by anything in my life right now. I realize that this is a personal problem and I would like to rectify it, but I’m not sure what I can do. Exercise is a possibility, but the thought of going to the gym makes me tired and uncomfortable, but it would still most likely be a good idea. In any case, I just find myself wanting to retreat to bed almost all the time, and when I have time planned to do something like study, read or write, I’m often just stricken with a really overwhelming sleepiness. If I then do go lay down on the couch or my bed, I can’t close my eyes and go to sleep, and so I get bored, get out of bed, go somewhere, and the cycle begins anew. Writing and music are still things I spend time on, but mostly because I’m bored, and they don’t really excite me like they used to. Maybe someone would just call all of this laziness, and it very well might be, but that I haven’t really pinned it as this makes me think there is more to it than that. My psychiatrist didn’t seem to take much notice of it when I told him about it, but my counselor did. I’ll ask my psychiatrist about it again when I next see him, and I’ll continue to explore the issue weekly with my counselor.

I feel like I need to remove myself from this time and place. I can’t do either but I can at least pretend, and maybe that would make me feel somewhat better. I’m going to take a cheese grater to my jeans tonight. I’ve been showering every other day, and I don’t find myself to be smelly. I’ve been listening to Love Battery and Hole, and Nirvana are beginning to excite me again. I’m going to buy converse sneakers, next time I need a new pair of shoes. I’ll probably buy a pack of Turkish Golds and get rid of the pack very, very slowly. I’m wondering why it is exactly that I want to do all this. I’m thinking there may be a deep seeded reason, some kind of desire for a certain culture that I never got to experience. A lot of people may call it pretending to be something I’m not. I don’t think that. I think it’s finally becoming someone I want to be. My biggest hate is people pretending to be someone else. “Myself” is someone I know deeply and closely, and it’s about time I let him out as much as humanly possible.

This week I’ve been reading Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” for my class on American Literature from 1865 to the present day, and I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it. Granted, the thing is exhausting. I can typically only stand to sit and go through about five to ten pages at a time, because the way it is written is exhausting and hard to follow. But it seems pretty self-evidently brilliant. Faulkner’s characters are just incredibly human, despite the fact that their actions and the way they are written is quite surreal. The story seems to be viewed through a blurred looking glass, the immediate, stream-of-consciousness perspectives of individual characters. It is a willfully difficult story and Faulkner clearly knew this, but still there are many rewards to be found here, though I’ve yet to isolate more than a few of them, and there are no doubt more. I need to teach a class session on this book, and I’m looking forward to that. I think it will be refreshing and informative to have a conversation with my class about this book.

I am looking for things to take pictures of. I want to get through this last roll so I can develop what I have and get back the pictures of the snow filled Washington DC. It is supposed to snow again tonight, a lot. I’ve heard upwards of a foot. Maybe more pictures? Hopefully my aunt will send me the old camera soon, the antique. I would love to take pictures with it. I want to pursue photography now that I have a camera, even though I’m not in a photography class anymore. If you would let me take pictures of you, please let me know.

For now, more Stars.

Best

ATB

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NEW DEVO: "Fresh"

February 23, 2010

Devo

The brilliant new wave art-rockers Devo released a new song on their website, clubdevo.com. Honestly, do I even have to say anymore? It’s freaking Devo. Just go get it and celebrate the fact that it is actually pretty damn good. It’s closer in form to their material circa Freedom of Choice than, say, the fractured post punk of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, so it’s a catchy, whimsical electro-pop tune. Clean production, but we can’t blame them on that; fame actually suits Devo very well, which is why we get excited when they do stuff like, I don’t know, play the Winter Olympics. The new Devo album is due soon, so look out for that. In the meantime, relish in the utter delight that is Devo.

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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009