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Best New Music: Q1 in Review

April 9, 2010

We’ve finally entered Q2 of 2010, so I thought I’d revisit some of the best music I’ve heard this year so far.


Beach House put out the best record of the year so far, Teen Dream. What we at Radio Cure call “beach pop” has been surging in popularity within the past year and a half and it all came down to Beach House’s third album release. It’s a doozie, romantic pop perfection. Buy it or may God have mercy on your soul.


Another one of the best beach pop releases of the year is the Something in the Way single by Best Coast. It’s a magical, pristine pop song that harkens back to ’60s rockabilly. Best Coast hasn’t released a full album quite yet, but they’ve been making huge splashes on the blogosphere with their great one-off songs, so definitely check them out.


Apparently even major label pop music is jumping on the beach pop bandwagon; Gorillaz recently released their oceanic third album Plastic Beach. It delivers in much the same way that their previous albums have, churning many great hip hop and rock tunes with a guest list nothing short of incredible. Damon Albarn and company continue to prove that major label acts can still deliver truly vital albums.


Grouper and Roy Montgomery put out a Split EP on the first day of the year that rivals other releases this year in terms of inventiveness. On Roy Montgomery’s side, epic, ambient middle-eastern guitar strumming. On Grouper’s side, wistful, understated melodies. Both are gorgeous.


Four Tet put out the stellar There Is Love in You in January, maybe the best electronic album since Flying Lotus’ Los Angeles. It’s minimal techno at its biggest and most physical, influenced by Hebden’s work with Burial. Hebden still has a way with organic sound and makes another dazzling album to fascinate until the next one.


The Knife along with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock put together the sprawling, progressive Tomorrow, in a Year, the opera based on the life of Charles Darwin as well as the history of the earth. It is difficult, abrasive and also incredibly beautiful and brilliant. If you’re up for a challenge, give it a listen.


Finally, Gil Scott-Heron released I’m New Here, his first new album in fifteen years, on XL. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard before, a moving mix of Scott-Heron’s strong vocals, post-industrial production, spoken word and awesome cover songs. If you are into poetry or want an eclectic set of tracks, this is a must-have.

What have YOU been listening to?


June 30, 2009

If anyone has been wondering where the hell my once-a-week updates have gone, or at least why they never came back during these Summer weeks in which I should have more free time, I am still alive. I’ve been rather busy lately with a job, family obligations, and doing some needed catching up with close friends. But I have several projects on the backburner that will get done soon enough. Some album reviews, an entire new page outlining a collection that I have, a giant long term project that may or may not see the light of day eventually, and the Pitchfork Festival is coming up and I’ll probably provide coverage on my experience with that. For now, these are some songs that I’ve been into lately.

The Strokes – What Ever Happened?

Dinosaur Jr. – Over It

The Jackson 5 – ABC (of course!)

Yann Tiersen – La Redecouverte

Flying Lotus – Comet Course

Missy Elliott – Work It

Elvis Perkins – While You Were Sleeping

Mariah Carey – Heartbreaker

Boris – Ibitsu

The Streets – Has it Come to This?

J Dilla – Airworks


5. Deerhunter – Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.

December 28, 2008


Deerhunter - Microcastle

Weird Era Cont.

Deerhunter - Weird Era Cont.

I’ve given up on trying to categorize Deerhunter. Every time I try to pin them, they maneuver out of it and regain total control. They are “garage rock” only so much in the sense that their rhythms are booming and steady. They don’t conform to any of the norms of “shoegaze,” although their reverb soaked sonic experiments cover more ground than My Bloody Valentine ever did and make a comparable racket. But “noise rock” would underplay their gentle atmospherics. There are hints of “ambient and “post-rock” – oh fuck it. These guys are a whole new breed. They seem to span genres ad infinitum without losing their distinctive sound or letting that sound weigh down their tight and inspired songwriting. Microcastle / Weird Era Cont. is a beast of an album, two separate, distinct albums that are, interestingly enough, completely essential to one another, like binary planets swirling near a colorful nebula. Microcastle is destined to be Deerhunter’s legendary album, loaded with catchy hits (Agoraphobia, Never Stops, Nothing Ever Happened) and addictive textural experiments (Little Kids, Green Jacket). Weird Era Cont. tears through its set with fast, muscular rockers (Backspace Century, Operation, VHS Dream) but it’s gemlike sonic experiments (Weird Era, Cicadas) also demand attention. It’s hard to believe, but every song here is classic Deerhunter: the singles, Cavalry Scars, Microcastle, Dot Gain, and Vox Humana are just a few highlights from a long list. Lyrically, Bradford Cox is at his most emotive and revealing, and it is a primary contributor to the songs’ substance. The momentum here is startling, and one can’t help but listen to the entire thing in one sitting while uncovering its individual accomplishments. I feel bad that I can’t think of a more clever way to sum up the accomplishments of this album, but I think listening to the album speaks for itself. It is a masterpiece and one of very few double albums with no wasted space.




7. Gregor Samsa – Rest

December 19, 2008


Gregor Samsa - Rest

The second studio album by post rock band Gregor Samsa states its condition with its front cover. Rest sounds like it is created by a single person who has been traveling for a long time in this landscape and as the sun goes down, stops in a single place (a place like, say, Ain Leuh, Morocco) for the night. While most all movement is stopped, what compels the traveler is still a concern. Their mind races, questions, laments, and seems ready to cave in on itself, and by midway through the album, we question the reality of this “rest,” as it seems as if the introverted narrator will never truly find it. They seems to grieve over their self as much as their condition, although it is perhaps not quite as unmanageable as Franz Kafka’s lifesize cockroach traveling salesman from which the band draws its name. Male and female vocalists sing lightly “it seems the devil’s got a grip on me” in the lengthy, segmented Jeroen Van Aken, named after the birthname of the fifteenth century Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch. As we can see, Gregor Samsa seem to be a culturally literate band, but their knowledge isn’t restricted to a couple artistic references. Gregor Samsa craft this album as carefully planned art. If anything, it resembles ancient art of the far east: it is minimalistic, acute, and utilizes the void in much the same way a wood block might, in that empty space seems to jut off forever outside of the music’s boundaries. The melodies are simple but quite memorable, and are more concerned with substance over style, but are not without their creative flourishes. What ultimately makes Rest such a successful venture is that it instead of forcing the listener in a particular direction as most post-rock seems to, Gregor Samsa makes the direction a gentle, irresistible suggestion, and for that reason we do not have a hard time becoming the traveller ourselves.

Gregor Samsa

Gregor Samsa


8. Mudhoney – The Lucky Ones

December 17, 2008

Mudhoney - The Lucky Ones

After their brief stint with politically charged protest punk, grunge pioneers Mudhoney returned to not giving a shit with this punk gem. The Lucky Ones may not be the most original punk album in the world – it takes many cues from The Stooges’ punk masterpiece Fun House – but really, Mudhoney aren’t the kind of band to care about who they borrow ideas from, and luckily their fanbase doesn’t care either, because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, The Stooges would be pretty flattered by this one. Twenty years after their loud beginnings, Mudhoney are riffing and rocking better than ever, and it is arguable that they are truly the only grunge band that has not lost their luster. Granted, they might not be utilizing any shock tactics from their early days or eclectic sounds from their mid-career, but these guys still sound like the garage band down the street who rocked the whole neighborhood whether they liked it or not, and actually ended up hitting it big. The album’s high points are blisteringly loud and fast, namely The Open Mind, the funkier title track, and Tales of Terror. While Soundgarden, Nirvana and the rest of the grunge giants made intellectual advances and intelligent record progressions that landed them all in different places and earned them critical praise, Mudhoney never changed much nor got much radio play, which is good, because no one really wanted them to. Although they seem to think different – Vocalist Mark Arm screams with the same power he had twenty years ago on the aforementioned title track, “The lucky ones are lucky they’re not around!” It’s almost as if they are punk vampires that have been trying to kill themselves for two decades by snorting bad crack and jumping off of roofs, but they just can’t seem to hurt themselves bad enough to find reason enough to stop making these awesome punk records.



9. TV on the Radio – Dear Science

December 14, 2008

TV on the Radio - Dear Science

A little less edgy than their previous work, TV on the Radio’s fourth studio album might not show the band blazing trails like on their previous work, but it is unquestionably their most fun album yet and possibly their best. While their breakthrough album Return to Cookie Mountain was at once both dark and challenging, Dear Science is a bit easier on the ears but by no means subdued. It is a loud, ass swinging electro-funk album that achieves the same kind of dreamlike psychosis which can be found in their earlier work, but it is now less of a fascinating nightmare and more of a pleasurable trip. If anything, it is immediately memorable for its idiosyncrasies. TV on the Radio have never tried full on pop music before, and as weird as it sounds or as much as one might want to think they have sold out, the straightforwardness pays off, and they make another genre their own. The songs can at times be almost surprisingly catchy, as with Halfway Home, Golden Age, and the burning funk classic Red Dress, and at other times subdued. Love Dog echoes of the wavering vocal line of Tonight off of Cookie Mountain, indicating that the band haven’t lost their fundamental tools. But when they most completely derail might be the most rewarding; you can almost see Tunde Adebimpe outside your window nervously holding the ring whispering his fragile vocals during Family Tree. TV on the Radio Play all their cards here, and they will further impress and charm anew.

TV On the Radio


Grouper – Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill

October 17, 2008

What a pleasant surprise that two of 2008s best releases are somewhat stylistically similar. Both Gregor Samsa’s Rest and Grouper’s Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill are introspective melancholy masterworks that deserve great praise and attention, but the latter might be both more difficult and rewarding.

Grouper is actually the work of a single individual, Portland Oregon’s folk/noise aficionado Liz Harris. There is very little information available on the artist. But this album will surely spark interest and cause a greater population of listeners to continue searching, in vain, for more information. But until the inevitable day when she hits it big, pretty much all that listeners will have to go on is her distinctive style which she articulates quite extensively on her studio albums, the latest of which is Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill.

As far as style goes on prior releases, Grouper’s genre is hard to pin down, perhaps most appropriately described as creepy atmospheric music, but on Dead Deer, Harris’s style is reduced to a singular approach. Almost every song consists solely of Harris on guitar and vocals, but the trick is that both of these instruments are multiplied. A very thick layer of distortion covers both like a blanket, causing them to resonate out into the atmosphere, and the vocals are occasionally doubled for harmonic effect, although their lyrical content is almost completely indecipherable.

This is probably the album’s most frustrating quality; the vast majority of Liz Harris’s vocals here are impossible to understand, too muddled under the thick distortion to decipher. What little is understandable is not passively heard. One has to concentrate on the vocals of the songs to realize their content, which mostly involves sleep, water, and dissociation from reality. However, the effect the distortion has on the lyrics is outweighed by what the production does for the music, which in turn matches these lyrical preoccupations quite well. From the opening chords of Disengaged, the production ruminates of stormy waters, the sparse melodies threaten to lull the listener into a deep sleep, and lonely, sad, and yearning chord progressions carry along.

All of these qualities, especially strung out over an entire release with little stylistic diversion, would presumably come together to make a very cold, unwelcoming album, but in fact the opposite is true. The production actually does the album’s atmosphere good, causing chords to echo out into the darkness like a flickering candle. In theory this should be a very creepy sounding album, but it is instead both startlingly melancholic and warmly emotional.

Perhaps what makes it so affecting are its subtle intricacies. Songs often times match their titles, namely the aforementioned excellent opener Disengaged, but even more recognizably the longest piece on the album, Stuck, whose progression is in constant conflict with itself and cannot seem to move on. Also very atmospherically distinctive and appropriately named are the barren Wind And Snow, and the following Tidal Wave, the album’s two most important songs, and opposite sides of the same coin.

These more texture based pieces work in good conjunction with the album’s more memorable melodies, namely the easy pick for best song Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping, the faster paced Fishing Bird, and the fractured title track. But the highlights don’t stop there. At first glance Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill seems like an awfully samesy album, but upon repeated listens the subtle differences between tracks flesh themselves out and each song becomes its own entity. Perhaps the most startling piece on the album is the quiet Invisible. Harris lightly sings, once again barely interpretable, “Invisible/I’ve become invisible” over her most simplistic, almost childlike melody on the album.

It is here that we realize that Dragging A Dead Deer up a hill is an album filled with secrets that will most likely never be fully understood. Even the title and art seem to be extremely important to the overall product, and yet there is no evidence as to what they mean. It is hard to say whether this was intended to simply be a collection of songs or a sort of narrative either literally or symbolically based off of the album’s creepy title, but in any case Dead Deer has an eerie, unexplainable cohesion. In this way the album’s form matches the style of its songs. It is easy to feel the presence of what is there behind the music when considering all of its subtle intricacies and almost tantalizing questions that are constantly asked but never quite answered, and for this reason, the music itself is that much easier to cling onto and appreciate. Because of all of these elements, Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill proves to be one of the most complex and rewarding albums of the year.