New Jersey slack-rockers, Real Estate are set to release their sophomore album “Days” on the 18th of October courtesy of Domino Records, and I am pleasantly looking forward to it. Their 2009 self-titled debut was a solid slow burn of quiet rock tunes that were reminiscent of Pavement, Bedhead, and Yo La Tengo. Although the album didn’t blow my mind, I knew this young band was one to watch. In the following two years, guitarist Matthew Mondanile has released a shit ton of music under his Ducktails moniker (which I am a huge fan of btw), and bassist Alex Bleeker also released an album with his band The Freaks. And of course, throughout all this, they’ve been playing shows and festivals and getting tighter and tighter…so I’m quite sure that their new album “Days” will be their finest collective musical output to date. Have a listen to early single “Green Aisles” below — it reminds me of The Stone Roses, and Pavement, and long drives down county roads in the yellow heart of autumn. In short, I dig. Check it.
Philadelphia singer/songwriter, Kurt Vile released the excellent Smoke Ring For My Halo in the spring of this year courtesy of Matador Records, and it’s been on constant rotation in my living room ever since. He first popped on my aural radar when he played at The Great Hall in Toronto as part of Canadian Music Week, opening up for J. Mascis. I caught the last song of his set and quickly realized his music was not to be ignored, Vile was not an artist to simply be left as a name constantly seen hyped and reviewed on music sites, but instead one to get immersed in.
And his fourth album, Smoke Ring For My Halo is definitely an immersive experience, offering up the best of Americana, reminiscent of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and the finest folk and lo-fi rock and roll. The beauty is in the subtlety and strength of his songwriting. Vile’s lyrics are dark and lonesome, delivered in a laconic style that’s all his own. He tends to drag out words or syllables providing the perfect counterpart to his skilled finger-plucking or guitar strums. Vile also seems to be working with the idea of restraint here, as many of the songs could easily blow up into full out jams, yet he and his backing band The Violators rarely let this happen. There is however a great fuzzy climax to “On Tour”, but even here the distortion never gets carried away — the listener is able to feel the closing kick, yet still be privy to the swirling combination of keyboard, harp, slide guitar, and mellotron orbiting Vile’s guitar. It’s truly great stuff.
Tracks like “Runner Up”, “Peeping Tomboy”, “Baby’s Arms”, and “Ghost Town” are slow, sparse, and poignant, and reveal Vile’s adeptness at being one of the best songwriters out there. He creates more than just mood here, he’s created a listening experience in the classic sense, one in which you put the album on and languidly float off for 45 minutes in Vile’s sonic yet relaxed musical realm.
Smoke Ring is buoyed by a pervasive lightness, it ambles along easily, sneers at you, shrugs, and yearns all in equal measure. The refrains and hooks will keep you coming back to the album time and again, and with each listen Vile seems to pull you a bit deeper into his slightly slanted yet inherently enchanted world. There ain’t a throwaway track on the album and the result, Smoke Ring For My Halo is one of the finest records of 2011.
INAUDIBLE is overjoyed to unveil his 2nd annual end of year listy list!
TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2010
25. Luke Abbott – Holkham Drones (Border Community)
Norfolk England producer Luke Abbott offers up a strong selection of electronic tracks that are modest yet immediately rewarding. Similar in a way to Boards of Canada, it’s rare that music primarily composed on a computer can also move a listener emotionally, striking between the invitation to dance or the opportunity to deliberate without diluting either approach’s effect. Abbott’s songs build in linear fashion, exploring psychedelic melody and synth-fuelled beats. I guess you could call it IDM, if people are still tossing that moniker around. Either way, it’s a smooth listen that works whether you’re both bobbing your head at a party or sunk comfortably into the couch.
Fave track: “Brazil”
24. Pausal – Lapses (Barge Recordings)
Pausal are a duo from Hampshire UK, and they create warm and impressionistic ambient soundscapes. Like Stars of the Lid, Mountains, and Marsen Jules, Pausal’s music has a sense of weightlessness and calm that washes over the listener, and the result is immersive and reflective. Lapses has sailed me off to soft slumber on many a night, and greeted many a morning with me as well. Warm and welcome layers of drone that pulse subtly and beautifully.
Hendrik Weber made a strong return this year with the follow-up to his much acclaimed This Bliss avec Black Noise and it does not disappoint. With chimes and marimba acting as aural touchstones throughout, Black Noise shows the further evolutions of Weber’s melodic-robotic dichotomy and his penchant for deep and infectious bass. And speaking of infectious, “Stick To My Side”, Weber’s collaboration with Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox will leech itself into your memory banks and have you humming and singing it for days. Weber does a great job of melding 4/4 hitters alongside of more sedate and moody tracks, and the effect is captivating.
2010 truly was a breakout year for chillwave and glo-fi musicians. I still find these names for sub-genres absolutely ridiculous, but Chad Bundick’s debut as Toro Y Moi is a slowburn of an album that just kept growing on me until I was completely smitten. I love his use of tape-hiss loops, cheap homemade beats, familiar samples, deep bass, and voice (not for the actual lyrics but for they way he uses his voice as added layers of sound). And although there are many other artists in the genre doing relatively the same sort of thing, Causers of This was the album I returned to most throughout the year. Fun, sunny, haphazard, and guaranteed to put a smile on any a hipster’s mug.
21. Bonobo – Black Sands (Ninja Tune)
Simon Green aka Bonobo released his fourth full length album and managed to somehow breathe new life into the weary genre of “chill out” and/or “downtempo”. Black Sands is no radical departure from his earlier musical palette, but Smith incorporates his love of world sounds, great string arrangements, a little dubstep, and amazing vocals from Andreya Triana, and fills the void left in the absence of new material from The Cinematic Orchestra. Black Sands is a groove-laden album that is sexy and introspective. Perfect for romantic dinner dates at home, where after the second bottle of wine, you’re up and shaking booty in the kitchen, making room for dessert. Check it.
Fave tracks: “Stay The Same”, “Kong”, and “Animals”
Let’s be honest here, Fly Lo’s space odyssey is pretty damn dope and sprawling and ambitious, but it just never got the heavy rotation on my stereo that Los Angeles did. I know he felt he needed to rise above the countless producers who’d been biting on his style since 1983 and Los Angeles came out, and also wanted to create an aural homage to his musical family tree, and overall I think he was successful in those two realms, but in the end his late 2010 EP Pattern+Grid World had me more excited than Cosmogramma. That said, I still think he does a helluva job meshing drum-n-bass, hip-hop, jazz, psychedelia, and house to smashing effect, but at the end of the year, it just didn’t blow my head up the way I had originally anticipated. And to be honest, I think a lot of it just sounds like Squarepusher. There I said it. I’ve somehow managed to diss one of the most creative electronic artists alive today. But let me give him props by saying I look forward to all his future evolutions, be they missteps or the right steps.
19. Beach House – Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
Baltimore’s Beach House followed up the lovely Devotion with Teen Dream and revealed the perfect evolution of their sound, adding steady drums to the mix and offering up a mature collection of groovy and sexy tunes. Victoria Legrand’s voice has never sounded stronger or more emotionally assertive. The interplay between Alex Scally’s guitar and Legrand’s keyboards is smooth, gloomy, and warrants repeat listens. “Norway”, “Take Care”, and “Lover of Mine” are my favourite tracks, and what’s perhaps most telling is that the album is a generational crossover smash, inspiring teens and seasoned adults alike. Dream pop at its finest.
18. Onra – Long Distance (All City)
Onra changes things up with Long Distance, casting aside the old world samples that became his trademark in Chinoiseries, and 1.0.8, and adopts a smooth 80′s vibe instead. I imagine it being the sound of the 1980′s New York underground, and Onra lays it on thick and chilled. Dirty funk bass, hand clap beats, soul breaks, old skoool scratching, Lionel Ritchie guitars, moments reminiscent of J.J. Fad and bad 90′s muzak, plus some great guests makes this definitely one to check out. His live show in Toronto with Buddy Sativa was a bass-heavy throwdown and a live highlight of the year for me. I love everything this man has put out and look forward to his next shit.
17. Mount Kimbie – Crooks and Lovers (Hotflush)
While not quite as absorbing and heart stopping as their earlier EP’s Maybes and Sketch on Glass, Mount Kimbie‘s full-length debut still found itself on heavy rotation in my living room this year. I just kept putting it on again and again. It’s one of those albums that you can choose to either get completely absorbed in or just have on in the background as you do your thang, and its slowed down dubstep inflect is just right. As dubstep continued to grow, Mount Kimbie were a breath of fresh air in an oversaturated genre, because the young duo have their own definitive style which makes them stand out. Seeing them play live also revealed their strengths as they chose to play without laptops and did a fantastic job of recreating their bass-laden style in front of a crowd. Dig it!
Beach Fossils emerged out of the hipster muck of Brooklyn and crafted a beautiful self-titled debut album, that effortlessly played out as the soundtrack of the summer. Comparing them to the xx seems a bit of a stretch, but just as the xx’s debut was the soundtrack to the grey days of last summer, Beach Fossils’ debut plays out as a pristine pop album for your pool party on a sunny day. There’s a bit of a surf rock feel, a bit of indie rock, Halifax pop, and a touch of Joy Division, making it an incredibly easy and fun record to listen to. That said, it breaks no new ground or boundary, but it’s a definitive grower of an album and comes highly recommended for a day at the beach or with a few drinks in the backyard.
Fave tracks: “Wide Awake” and “Daydream”
15. Scuba – Triangulation (Hotflush)
Hotflush head honcho Paul Rose aka Scuba continued his label’s thrilling run with a proper full-length of fluid, melodic dubstep that sounds beautiful and aggressive in equal measure. The album flows brilliantly building on dark mood, melodicism, and grimy beats. “Three Sided Shape” works alongside the territory Burial carved out, using cavernous bass drops and haunting vocals, while “You Got Me” leads in with propulsive bass that is perfect for crowded and dark dancefloors. “Lights Out” could find itself on any Echochord release or even as an old Theorem B-side and is the perfect closing track. Scuba’s had a great year, also putting out his Sub:stance mix in the early months of 2010, which is a fantastic set and a perfect primer into the world of dubstep, bass heavy music, and Hotflush records.
James Young and Aiden Whalley take a bold leap forward and backward with their debut album North, and help their label Hyperdub diversify in the process. The two-step beats and funky grime you’ve come to expect from Darkstar, have been replaced with cold synth lines and dark pop vocals courtesy of James Buttery. Essentially what we have here is a synth-pop album in the style of Junior Boys, yet where Junior Boys have worn their formula ragged, hackneyed, and thin, Darkstar add new life in the genre. Early standout track “Deadness” illuminates this quite well, with smooth synth, gently processed vocals, and an amazing darkwave guitar-line coda that evokes plenty of emotion and rainy day pathos. North is an emotional album full of slick production and great vocals.
UK scenesters, Foals, returned with Total Life Forever, the follow-up to their 2008 debut Antidotes and offered up a softened version of their sound with a fairly mature collection of songs. The first four tracks start the album off at a great pace, mixing moments reminiscent of Talking Heads with the earlier Foals sound to great effect. “Black Gold” is my fave track on the album and reveals the band’s new found maturity when it comes to composition. “Spanish Sahara” is their breakout hit, a slow-downed, mournful seven-minuter, that blasts into a cathartic emo kick in the end. Although, it was not where I expected their sound to go, I have returned to it many times during the year, and find it packs an emotional punch, while still retaining the inherent groove of a good rock album.
12. Crystal Castles – II (Fiction)
I don’t care about any of the hype or the bad press or the douchebaggery or the hoopla, I just care about the songs. Crystal Castles’ sophomore album is punk rock electro clash awesomeness. 8-bit beats and dirty and gorgeous analogue. Their sound is slightly less abrasive and a bit more poppy here than on their debut, but I find it a solid evolution of their Aphex-inspired DIY punk rock aesthetic. Alice Glass’ vox sounds great meshed in with Ethan Kath’s haphazard yet infectious production. The album was recorded at various locations, including a church in Iceland, a cabin in northern Ontario, and an abandoned convenience store in Detroit. This adds to the DIY pulse I dig so much. They can keep pissing off whoever they like, and I’ll just keep on listening.
Fave tracks: “Suffocation” and “Violent Dreams”
11. Pawel – Pawel (Dial Records)
Pawel’s self-titled long player was years in the making, but well worth the wait, because it’s a surprisingly tight and refreshing collection of smooove tech-house beats reminiscent of Audion, Theorem, and his Dial buddies Sten and Pantha du Prince. Tracks like “Coke” and “Dawn” get things cooking with that classic Kompaktesque four on the four vibe that’ll have you up and dancing, until he slows it all down with “Mate”, a beautifully atmospheric and subdued composition marking the album’s middle. He then turns it right back up with “Muscles” and “Crillon”, the disc’s heaviest hitters, and closes shop with two excellent tracks: the emotive and pulsing “Kramnik” and the fantastic, vocally-charged, “Wasting My Time”, which may actually be the album’s highlight. Dial Records has been incredibly relevant this year and Pawel started it off just right. More please.
10. The Fun Years – God Was Like, No (Barge Recordings)
Ben Recht and Isaac Sparks, the duo that make up The Fun Years, returned this year with the follow-up to the much revered Baby It’s Cold Inside with the excellently titled God Was Like, No. From the opening minutes of this album, when the minor chord guitar begins you immediately get pulled into their world — and it’s a bleak place, full of moody drones and post-rock guitar. This is a dark album, one that sucks you in and holds you there, yet never by force, because once it starts you want to hear it through to the end.
The album is broken up into eight tracks, but the whole thing flows as one 40 minute movement into the darkest post-rock and sensorial abduction. One could argue The Fun Years sound like a slowed down, pitch dropped Mogwai circa their Come on Die Young days. However I guess more genre specific references would be Ben Frost or Fennesz — still the post-rock vibe flows throughout, and may be one reason why I love it so much. Like their debut Baby it’s Cold Inside, God Was Like, No is unsettling music, but all I can say is, as the weather’s grown colder this album’s been on steady rotation. Here’s to a frozen and bleak next couple of months…
Michael Cottone has been quietly making music under The Green Kingdom moniker since 2006, and with each release he further refines his brand of introspective ambient bliss. Cottone skillfully uses digitally enhanced acoustic guitar, strings, bells, and a myriad of samples and field recordings to create his compositions. Within his arrangements, melody and space work in tandem in an attempt to manifest what Cottone has called an “optimistic nostalgia” for the listener — an aural experience that can provide a momentary reprieve from the frenetic, fast-paced world that surrounds us. And indeed his music is perfect for contemplative mornings and quiet evenings, where the vibe is to “slow down” and to “reflect”. Prismatic is one of the finest ambient albums of 2010, and a prime example of electronic and organic sounds working together so effortlessly. Fans of Helios, Nest, The Boats, Kiln, and Susumu Yokota should check out The Green Kingdom immediately.
Fave tracks: “Wetlands” and “Radiance Reflected”
8. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor (Frenchkiss)
Local Natives appeared on the scene early in 2010, and at year’s end feel as if they’ve been around for years. Upon first listen, their influences seemed a little too apparent. They sounded a bit like Fleet Foxes, a bit like Grizzly Bear, with a touch of Pinback and Band of Horses — but after a few more spins, one quickly realizes Gorilla Manor possesses a dark, spiraling beauty. The band is perfectly capable of delivering big anthems strong on memorable hooks — the likes of “Shape Shifter” and brilliant opener “Wide Eyes” are sure to swim around the listener’s head for days. The rhythm section is tight, the guitars interweave wonderfully, yet the young band’s best asset are their strong and varied vocal talents. Quieter tracks like “Cards and Quarters”, “Cubism Dream”, and “Who Knows Who Cares” reveal their voices best, remind me of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and offer up some lovely and emotional hooks.
Seeing them live made me appreciate their debut even more, as they presented their songs without a hint of pretension or rock-star attitude. They were just five young dudes having a fucking blast on their first headlining tour, and they played an amazingly tight set. In the end, Gorilla Manor is no classic — it’s still too indebted to its makers’ influences for that. But it is a strong, striking debut that exceeds expectations and should open enough doors for the band to ensure that their second album be one of the most anticipated records of the year. Lovely.
7. Nest – Retold (Serein)
Otto Totland, one half of neo-classicist duo Deaf Center, teamed up with Serein label head Huw Roberts and released Retold, a subtle masterpiece in piano-based ambience. Even on first listen, this record excels on every level as a piece of cinematic, modern classical composition. Each song is slow and deliberate evoking mood and solitary wonder. Using piano as the cornerstone for each song, samples, and strings are gently meshed to startling result. “Trans Siberian” features the distant blare of a locomotive, wintry drones, fractured strings, and what sounds like drops of rain hitting a piece of paper and the crackle of a fire, as it swirls moodily along. Retold is truly a special album and one that you must discover for yourself, as it grows with each successive listen and yet always sounds fresh. I’ve returned to this album time and time again, and consider it the finest in the genre of modern-classical released this year.
6. Wild Nothing – Gemini (Captured Tracks)
I’ve really loved the indie pop 80′s revival that has been becoming more and more prominent in the last year or so, and no one does it better than Virginia native, Jack Tatum, the man behind Wild Nothing. So often in these cases, where bands are attempting to sound like the heroes of their youth, I end up saying to myself, well shit, I’d really just rather listen to The Smiths or New Order, than some dudes who are trying to sound like them. But with Wild Nothing, even though his influences are startlingly apparent, there’s still something riveting about it. Because after I recognize the outside influence on a track (The Smiths, Cocteau Twins, The Cure, New Order, Belle and Sebastian, et al.), I forget about it and it becomes all Wild Nothing.
Gemini and the recently released Golden Haze EP are pure pop genius. Tatum possesses a keen ear for melody and composition and plays the bass just as well as the guitar. Chugging and veering basslines in “Confirmation”, “The Witching Hour”, and “Your Rabbit Feet” from Golden Haze carry the tracks from really good to fucking awesome. His guitar work is also worth mentioning as he tends to use two weaving guitar lines accentuated by synth and he uses distortion and reverb to great effect.
The fact that Tatum plays all the instruments on the album, allows him to always stick to his musical vision, and also reveals his uncanny ability to write songs that stick in your head but never get stale. I’ve listened to Gemini so many goddamn times this year it’s embarassing, and yet I keep going back again and again. “Pessimist”, “Chinatown” and “The Witching Hour” are fantastic pop songs that everyone should have stuck in their heads. I look forward to new material in the coming year, as well as, his first live show in Toronto in February. Shoegazers unite!
5. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam)
I have a lot of guilty pleasures when it comes to mainstream music. Rihanna: Love her. Aaliyah: Would’ve died for her. Katy Perry: Secret shame. Usher? Craig David? Justin Timberlake? Jay-Z? They’ve been known to set me off as I get ready to go out for the night. I can’t help it. I grew up listening to cheesy pop music and bad R&B, so how can I turn it off now? I cannot and I will not.
Now, I’ve always had a soft spot for Kanye West. Ever since College Dropout came out you could occasionally find me blasting his tunes, learning his weak rhymes, and dancing to his ever slick production. And even though with each release he was becoming more and more a caricature of himself in the media, his music kept getting stronger and stronger. The man is a sponge, sucking up influences from all over and he’s got the money to make it happen. When I moved from Montreal to New Brunswick, Late Registration was my soundtrack, and when I left NB to move to Toronto, it was Graduation that I was playing as my outro from the Maritimes.
Flash forward to 2010. Kanye’s media attack has really been nothing short of brilliant. From his impromptu a-capella rap at Facebook HQ, to his “Power” it’s not a video it’s a painting, to his incessant Tweets, to his 30 minute beautifully shot, terribly acted, yet no less captivating short film, “Runaway”. And with each one of these media plugs he slowly gave us tastes and snippets of his new opus, and in the process he effectively sucked me in.
The excitable folks over at Pitchfork decided to give Fantasy a perfect 10, and while it’s a far cry from a perfect album, it is still one of the most exciting listens of the year. “All of the Lights” is an absolute banger, that is so undeniably thrilling I truly cannot believe it. The second half of “Runaway” reveals some of the most innovative work written with Auto-tune thus far. “So Appalled” is fucking ridiculous but I still love it. Opener “Dark Fantasy” features a perfect hip-hop beat and helps us all find bravery in our bravado. “Lost in the World” with Bon Iver is an amazing crossover hit and a fitting closer. And overall, the album plays out smooove from start to finish. Truly, the “Runaway” short film helped make this album what it is — its viewers craved the best moments of the album before it was released, and it revealed Yeezy is more than just a musician, he really is an “artist”, even if he has an entire team of people helping him become one.
At the end of the day, I don’t care, yo. I still love this album.
To paraphrase CyHi Da Prynce from the album: “If God had an iPod, Ye’d be on his playlist.”
The Suburbs is an album that blossoms a bit more with each successive listen, and one that is full of dynamic and proper indie rock songs that subtly recall your favourite musicians from the last 30 years. A small list: The Boss, The Beatles, The Byrds, The Who, The Doors, Heart, Cyndi Lauper, U2, Yo La Tengo, Broken Social Scene, Bon Iver, David Byrne, oh yeah, and Arcade Fire. It is an amazingly calculated and mature collection of songs that immediately churns up a strong sense of nostalgia and emotion. But for this listener, the reason The Suburbs is such a genuine winner, and the reason it rests near the top of my list for 2010, is the lyrics. They really resonate with me.
I am unsure if a twenty-year old listener would feel the same way, but I wonder: what contemporary album has had lyrics that actually, truly speak to my generation? “A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido?” I think not. The Suburbs is the Nevermind of twenty years later, where we no longer want to oh well, whatever, nevermind — now what we want to do is remember the past, and take hold of all the stupid mistakes and amazing strides we made to get to exactly where we happen to be now. To reflect on the past and laugh and shake it all off and keep on keeping on whatever good paths we’ve set for our futures…
“Month of May”, “Ready to Start” and “We Used to Wait” are solid and tight rockers that you can blast in your living room and get swept away in. “Modern Man” and “Rococo” are also great songs with strong lyrics, and “The Suburbs”, “Deep Blue”, “Suburban War”, “Sprawl I / II” pack the emotional wallops with tight changes and great orchestral accompaniment to boot. And then the lyrics of the end reprise sums it all up beautifully:
If I could have it back
All the time that we wasted
I’d only waste it again
If I could have it back
You know I’d love to waste it again
Waste it again and again and again
3. Ben Swire – From Here to There (Preservation Records)
San Francisco based musician Ben Swire came out of nowhere this year and released the gorgeous From Here to There — a sweeping album of enveloping ambience and thoughtfully processed acoustic instrumentation. Swire skillfully weaves electronic elements, field recordings, and conventional instruments (guitar, bass, percussion) into fluid, meticulously arranged set-pieces that retain an experimental edge without losing sight of musicality and melodicism.
There’s a jazz motif and a minimal techno pulse that runs throughout the album as well, making it by far the smoothest album of the year for me. From Here to There has been my soundtrack to writing essays for school, studying, reading, waking, sleeping, long walks, trudging streetcar rides, and more. It’s an album that defies defintion, being moody, dark, light, airy, and carrying a strong pulse and steady rhythm throughout. Not surprisingly, it is my most listened to album of the year according to my computer’s playlist, and one that will continue to be played wholeheartedly in 2011. L’amour it!
2. Autechre – Oversteps / Move of Ten (Warp Records)
In honour of the fact that Autechre have been making robots dance for two decades, Rob Brown and Sean Booth released twenty new tracks in 2010 split onto two separate albums, both just as equally captivating and haunting. Oversteps and Move of Ten are melodic and strangely emotive records that emit far different sonic vibrations than the duo’s last three full-lengths.
There’s no conscious way one can fully understand the compositional mind of Autechre, you just put them on and know that patience will reward. But with their new work, the duo’s vibe will immediately pull you in and have you convinced machines must feel love before Oversteps opener “r ess” is done. Their signature klings, klangs, and syncopated rhythms are in full effect here, and with repeated listens they become infectious, full of darkened corners strobed with light. Autechre is one of the reasons I fell in love with electronic music in the first place. Tri Repetae, along with Music Has the Right from Boards and Aphex’s Richard D. James album (the Warp trifecta), effectively helped foster my love of electronic music, and helped me push the boundaries of my own musical pallette. Music need not be linear or have build-ups and crescendoes, it just needed to eke out emotion, and somehow Autechre’s always been able to do that for me, even though their methods have been completely methodical and computer-based.
Years ago, Jake Mandell put out an album entitled Love Songs for Machines, and with Oversteps and Move of Ten, Autechre have truly done exactly that. Two decades of pushing the boundaries of composition and leaving hundreds of copycat artists in their wake, none even remotely close to them in style and execution and fear and emotion.
Both Oversteps and Move of Ten are not beat heavy albums at all, in fact the tempo is more subdued and textured throughout, which reveals a definite maturation of the duo’s sound and synthesis. As usual, both albums are not the easiest of listens, yet will reward the patient listener and become much more than just the sum of their parts, in fact they become Autechre’s strongest output in half a decade. Furthermore, in many ways Autechre have put out homages to the other heroes of the Warp trifecta — “nth Dafuseder.b” sounds very much like a BoC track, while “M62″ could have been mined from Aphex’s archives. Still, their strongest tracks are ones that are abstract and build on the strange digital emotion they are able to pull out of the wireless air. Tracks like “O=0″, “see on see”, and “iris was a pupil”, reveal this the best.
I hope to see Autechre on my top list again in another decade, and wonder if their music will have morphed into an inaudible sensation that one experiences remotely from space. Thank you Ae and Warp for twenty years of groovy mindfuck. More please. New Boards in 2012 is my friend Mat’s call. Let’s hope we make it there.
I was really quite surprised not to see this album on many top lists this year. I wonder if Sufjan had instead released a sprawling opus to Massachusetts or Wisconsin or Texas and stuck to his earlier indie-rock sensibility and sensitivity if this album wouldn’t be resting high on the top of the big lists this year. But alas, it is not, and I can only believe it is because listeners didn’t give it enough of a chance. And to be sure, I remember feeling overwhelmed and spent after my first complete listen of The Age of Adz. Like the title of the album’s second track, it really felt like “too much” — but I knew it was full of magic and amazing production and uncompromising emotion on a grand scale. And so I kept listening.
The new material from Adz is above and beyond anything Sufjan has produced thus far, mixing folk, electronica, pop, cinematic orchestra and indie rock, and filtering it all through the sensibilities of a Broadway musical. Its production value is what makes it a challenge, as it’ll take a few listens for you to take it all in, but what makes it brilliant is that by the second listen, you’ll already find the melodies glued to your brain. You’ll wake up humming the chorus to “I Walked” and end up singing the coda of “Vesuvius” in the shower. The repetitive nature of the lyrics and the simple melodies hidden under the surface makes Adz a highly accessible album, yet some may still find it too “electronic” or “layered” for their tastes, but for me I couldn’t have asked for a better amalgamation of my ear’s favourite things — electronic production smashed together with perfect pop melodies.
The album is book-ended brilliantly, beginning with “Futile Devices”, Sufjan alone with his guitar, pulling at your heartstrings immediately, before the album veers off into more abstract territory. At the end of the 25-minute “Impossible Soul”, the old Sufjan resurfaces out of the esoteric splendour, and closes the album alone again with just his voice and guitar. In five minutes out of seventy, he effortlessly reveals he is still one of the finest singer-songwriter’s out there, with the uncanny ability to make you want to cry, yet cheer for the future. But he has bigger aspirations, and no longer needs to write an album full of emotive ballads anymore.
Highlights for me are “Get Real Get Right”, “Vesuvius”, Too Much” and “Impossible Soul”. “Impossible Soul” is my favourite song of the year, as it embraces and exploits practically every genre of the last fifty years — from 60′s rock to Disney-esque orchestra to hip-hop to techno to simple folk. What other song features a raunchy guitar solo, an inspirational sing-a-long, and some kick ass Autotune? And more importantly, what other song smashes all these genres together and does it so effectively? I’ve yet to find any other.
My attempt to describe this album falls way short of articulating the true grandeur of what occurs throughout the span of the record. His live show was the best concert of the year for me, just as The Age of Adz is my favourite album. It’s not an album I can put on at any time of the day or night, but it’s one that will be played time and again for the rest of my life. Give it a real listen and discover its beauty.
Yes! I made it to the fucking end!
Loscil – Endless Falls (Kranky) Marc Houle – Drift (Minus Records) Pop Ambient 2010 (Kompakt Records)
Donato Dozzy – K (Further Records)
Erik K Skodvin – Flare (Sonic Pieces)
The Besnard Lakes are The Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar)
Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal (Editions Mego)
Ikonika – Contact, Love, Want, Have (Hyperdub)
Shed – The Traveller (Ostgut Ton) The Chap – Well Done Europe (Lo Recordings)
The Sight Below – It All Falls Apart (Ghostly International)
R.I.P. Jay Reatard (1980-2010)
Thanks for reading everyone!
Best wishes for 2011!
L.A. scenesters Local Natives played their Toronto debut to a sold out crowd at The Mod Club this Tuesday, and wowed with strong vocals and a tight live performance. The young band was brimming with energy and enthusiasm as they showcased tracks off of their critically-acclaimed album, Gorilla Manor.
The crowd sang and chanted along with the band, making it feel as if Local Natives were seasoned veterans in the scene, rather than rising stars on their first headlining tour. What impressed me most was their live vocal chops, as they effortlessly hit every note, whether in chorus or alone, reminding me at times of the powerful harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young — which is no small feat.
The band emitted an air of subtle class on stage, void of rock star status, letting the music speak for them, which I found very refreshing. Highlights for me were “Wide Eyes” and “Who Knows Who Cares” (which the entire crowd sang along with), their version of the Talking Heads hit “Warning Sign”, “Cards and Quarters”, and “Sun Hands”, which they played as their encore and brought the crowd to a frenzy.
I almost didn’t go to this show due to an early morning, yet I was super glad I did, as it ended up being one of the best live shows I’ve seen this year, and at the same time reminded me how much I love Gorilla Manor. I’ve been listening to the album every day since the show, and have fallen in love with it all over again.
Funny concert moment: Singer-keyboardist Kelcey Ayer saying: “It’s great to be here in Vancouver!” and then quickly realizing his mistake and running red-faced off the stage . . . we’ll let it slide this time since his voice sounded so damn good during “Cubism Dream”.
Local Natives are definitely a band to watch because they are only going to get bigger and better. Awesome album and amazing show. Check ‘em if you’ve yet to do so…
UK indie rockers, Foals, returned to Lee’s Palace on Monday in support of their sophomore release Total Life Forever and played to a sold out crowd. The band got off to a moody start with a somewhat choppy version of “Miami”, as it seemed to take frontman Yannis Philipakkis a couple tracks to get into the mood of the set. Also, guitarist Jimmy Smith suffered from constant technical difficulties with his guitar, which halted the momentum of the show on quite a few occasions. Still, Foals blasted through tracks off of Total Life Forever and Antidotes to the crowd’s delight. The crowd danced and screamed and sang along, reaching frenzy during the kick in “Spanish Sahara”.
I thought it was a good show, but wasn’t as impressed as I was after their first stop at Lee’s in the spring of 2008. And I’ll tell you why: firstly, they did not play “Black Gold”, which is my favourite song off of their new album, and arguably the strongest song they have written to date. Secondly, I found the show to go completely against everything the band has claimed they have become (more mature, dynamic, and understated) since the release of Antidotes. At this show, Yannis acted like a bit of a rockstar, kicking over mic stands and beer bottles, running into the crowd with his “wireless” guitar, jumping on the bar and (accidentally) smashing a light. Sure, it’s all good showmanship, but there was something in his overall manner and attitude that took away from the authenticity of it all. To me, it seemed like he would’ve rather been somewhere else. The rest of the band fulfilled their duties well, bass and drums as tight as ever, and keyboard dude still just as superfluous.
Lastly, and perhaps this is what irked me the most, was that instead of nurturing this new maturity and dynamism on stage, their live show was overly loud, prone to drawn-out jams, and at times down right sloppy. I had expected their live performance would have gotten tighter and stronger since their first trip across the pond, but instead they relied on older material and amplifier volume to fill in the blanks and in the end it fell flat. Nevertheless, Total Life Forever will still be up there on my end of year list and it was a good show, but Foals still have some growing up to do.
Post rock legends, POLVO, played a tight set at Lee’s Palace on Friday night in Toronto, giving aging fanboys one last chance to get their rocks off to the twisted tunings and weirdo time signatures that made Polvo revered and adored in the mid-nineties. Polvo called it quits in 1998 after the release of their sixth album Shapes, but returned last year with the excellent In Prism, and luckily Toronto was one of the stops on their brief summer tour with Versus.
On paper this line-up is my high school wet dream: Polvo and Versus playing together! It seemed too good to be true . . . and in the end, it was. Versus’ drummer, Ed Baluyut, was a no-show because his wife had a baby, so the drummer for opening band Soft Copy filled in. Under the circumstances, he did a great job, but was obviously hesitant. They managed to play hits “Blade of Grass”, “River” and “Be-9″ from The Stars are Insane, which ended up sounding pretty good, but overall it just wasn’t how I imagined it.
Polvo hit the stage next and were amazingly tight. Ridiculously tight. Hard to explain how good they were. They opened with an extended version of “Fast Canoe” that varied from the original but sounded fantastic. They debuted a new song, and played “The Pedlar”, “Right the Relation” and “Beggars Bowl” off of In Prism, “Thermal Treasure”, “Lazy Comet”, and “My Kimono” from Today’s Active Lifestyles, “Bombs that Fall from your Eyes” from This Eclipse, “Feather of Forgiveness” from Exploded Drawing, “Enemy Insects” from Shapes and other hits. In short, it was a great show. You really couldn’t complain.
But overall it made me feel strange. As if I shouldn’t be allowed to see Polvo again after all these years. They are a memory and should stay that way. All these reunion shows over the last few years have us churning up nostalgia in massive quantities, watching older versions of the heroes of our youth trying to relive the days of their youth — and even though it’s wonderful to be able to see your favourite band again, it’s just never quite the same.
Ian Cohen’s review on Pitchfork of The Suburbs by Arcade Fire says that the main focus of their new album is on the “quiet desperation borne of compounding the pain of wasting your time as an adult by romanticizing the wasted time of your youth.” There is something very profound in this quote that resonates with me, and my experience of seeing a decade older Polvo blast out the hits made me think of this. You see, I’m a sucker for nostalgia, a goddamn sap, I love to stir up old feelings that I can’t quite comprehend anymore, love to secretly get weepy over times gone by — but now as I’m figuring out how to step confidently into my early thirties, I feel it’s time to leave this old stuff behind, it’s time only for constant steps forward and further and onward.
Sure, it’s nice to go back every now and again, but that was it for me. The clincher. Seeing Polvo and Versus was the culmination of the very end of my youth. There. It is done. I am a motherfucking adult. Finally.
Thank you Polvo and Versus for helping me affirm this once and for all.
This just in: yet another up and coming band quietly explodes out of the over-saturated borough of Brooklyn, but instead of having “wolf” in their name, they opt for “beach” instead.
I can only imagine that Brooklyn has the highest concentration of hipster douche bags in the entire world. I bet there are more tattoos, bicycles, deck shoes, moustaches, and “bands” in Brooklyn than in all of Western Canada. It must be a seriously disgusting sight. As if VICE Magazine created a hipster machine and it overheated and exploded, barfing out fey dudes in skinny jeans by the thousands, and lovely, distracted and disinterested girls, all of them smoking cigarettes and talking about Godard or Palanhiuk or something useless like that.
Nevertheless, young band Beach Fossils have emerged out of the hipster muck and crafted a beautiful self-titled debut album, that effortlessly plays out as a soundtrack to your summer. Comparing them to the xx seems a bit of a stretch, but just as the xx’s debut was the soundtrack to the grey days of last summer, Beach Fossils’ debut plays out as a pristine pop album for your pool party on a sunny day. There’s a bit of a surf rock feel, a bit of indie rock, Halifax pop, and a touch of Joy Division, making it an incredibly easy and fun record to listen to. That said, it breaks no new ground or boundary, but it’s a definitive grower of an album and comes highly recommended for a day at the beach or with a few drinks round the campfire.
Catch them in the U.S. and Canada on tour with Warpaint and Javelin in July and August. For those of you in Toronto, don’t miss their show at Wrongbar on August 11th. I’ll be the dude wearing an American Apparel t-shirt with a moustache in the front row.
UK scenesters, Foals, return this spring with Total Life Forever, the follow-up to their 2008 debut Antidotes. When I first heard the pre-released singles, I was at my friend Stew’s house and we were having a few drinks before going out somewhere. He played “Spanish Sahara” for me, and I became immediately irate, screaming: “Coldplay! Coldplay! No!” and then I smashed a beer bottle on his living room floor. Stew told me to relax and then played the second single “This Orient” for me. I leapt from the couch, punched Stew in the face, screamed “Bloc Party! Bloc Party! God, no!” and then promptly passed out on the floor in disappointment. When I came to, it all seemed like a bad dream. Foals is a band I hold in high regard, and I anticipated their new release to be a different beast entirely. Why would a band with so much raw energy and post-rock infectiousness, turn to seemingly less dynamic songwriting and more obvious influences?
Ahh, the curse of the sophomore album. Before beginning this review I listened to every song Foals have released to date, and I noticed a steady shift and softening of their sound from their earliest EP’s, Hummer and Try This On Your Piano, to Total Life Forever. And so, it does in fact seem that this ‘softer’ version of the young band is a natural progression, slowly developing over the last four years. However, at the same time, I can’t help but feel it all seems a bit calculated — an attempt to widen their fan base, a desire to get BIG, and not just indie rock big, but (ahem) Coldplay big. There is a definite Parachutes-era Coldplay feel to this album. And this clever calculatedness can be seen all the way down to the album cover, which evokes one of the biggest albums of the last twenty years (I’ll let you guess which one).
Yet, although I was initially disappointed with the early singles, upon listening to them within the context of the entire album, I discovered that Total Life Forever is solid, and the band’s progression, whether calculated or not, has them writing their finest songs to date.
After the release of Antidotes, the band began immediately dismissing it as “flawed” and not a fair representation of their overall aesthetic. For me, I found their debut a great album, with a tight rhythm section, and excellent kicks and hooks. However, critical reception for the album was mixed, and I can’t help but think this may be one reason for their public dismissal of Antidotes, and their desire to open up their music to a larger audience. I mean, we have a group of guys who dropped out of Oxford University to become rock stars, and perhaps when Antidotes didn’t blow up the way they had hoped, they decided they had to go bigger, friendlier, with less weird time changes and guitar tapping chord progressions . . . we gotta prove to our friends and family that dropping out of college really was the right decision. Believe me Mum, we’re still gonna make it!
I feel like I had to note this, but with that said, the songs on Total Life Forever are very well written, emotional, and have great guitar work and changes. The sound is softened from their earlier releases, but somehow because of this, the album packs more of a punch. The first four tracks start the album off at a great pace, mixing moments reminiscent of Talking Heads with the earlier Foals sound to great effect. Title track “Total Life Forever”, surprisingly lifts its opening lyrics from “Into Your Arms” by The Lemonheads, as if they’re trying to rewrite the 90′s ballad for the next generation, giving it a funkier punch and vibe.
“Black Gold”, on the other hand, stands out as truly their own, and features an amazing change halfway through the song, with a great build-up and kick, coupled with Yannis Philippakis singing: “Now that spring is finally here / in your hollow heart, your hollow heart!” The song totally works and is a perfect example of their new found “maturity” when it comes to composition. After “Black Gold”, the album slows down with the 7-minute “Spanish Sahara”, and as I said earlier, the quiet track works well as a midpoint within the album. Highlights on the flipside are “Alabaster” and “2 Trees”, which are slow burners that resonate well, and recall to mind the best moments of Coldplay’s debut, and quieter Bloc Party tracks, while at the same time, still sound very much like Foals — just at a clipped pace.
In the end, I dig Total Life Forever. I have returned to it many times, and find it packs an emotional punch, while still retaining the inherent groove of a good rock album. Although, it is not where I expected their sound to go, I still hope it gains them the fan base they seem to want so badly, but also hope in the end, that they’re still doing it all for one thing: the music.
Post-rock darlings Tortoise played to a packed house at Lee’s Palace on Thursday night in Toronto and effortlessly showed the crowd why they are one of the best bands in the business. Playing choice tracks from their extensive repertoire, they had us hanging on every note, synth line, and cymbal crash — and I gotta say, the crowd at Lee’s was one of the most agreeable Toronto audiences I’ve experienced in recent memory. Strangers cheered and slapped each other five, all of us momentarily morphing into a contented collective that was simply enraptured by Tortoise’s good vibes.
Tortoise are professional musicians that love what they do, and it’s wonderfully apparent on stage, as they’re grooving and smiling and rocking out a fabulously tight set. With two drum kits up front, and synths, Vibraphone, guitars, and an electronic xylophone set up around them, the quintet played tracks from their latest release “Beacons of Ancestorship”, and fed the crowd hits from “TNT” and “Standards”. They came out for two encores and ended with one of my all time faves, “Glass Museum”. It was an emotional, nostalgic, and mature set that never failed to impress. Simply put, you can’t go wrong seeing these guys.
Tortoise and I have a long history together. I have been with them since the beginning. I’ve seen them play live 7 or 8 times. I saw them at The Magic Stick in Detroit for their “Millions Now Living” tour way back when, where they showed up on stage silent like automatons with little headlamps and played “Djed” in its entirety. Jeff Parker wasn’t even with them yet. And now over a decade later, they’ve only gotten tighter and classier at their craft, and it’s amazing that at the same time they remind me of good times and great memories from the past, they’re also launching me into this new and bright decade. Love ‘em.
Yes, I know this album came out a few months back, and yes of course, I know that it’s been Pitchfork’d and deemed by the ostentatious reviewer as a winning album worthy of repeat listens, but guess what? The P-fork team actually got it spot on for a change. The xx‘s debut album really is a melancholic grower of ambient indie-pop goodness.
The band are mere kids, just graduating from the Elliot School of Music in London where Hot Chip, Burial and Four Tet are also alumni. But whereas the latter graduates are all heavily steeped in leftfield electronica, The xx are writing sparse pop songs for shattered hearts, introspection, and the coming grey weather.
Upon first listens, I kept feeling like I wanted more. A loud distorted swell of guitars at the end of a song, a ridiculously catchy hook, or at least one verifiable “hit” for Christ’s sake, but the album gave me no such thing. I thought back to Bloc Party’s “Silent Alarm”, and how infectious “Banquet” was – aka the verifiable hit. I also remembered that even though “Silent Alarm” was uber-hyped, it was still an amazing album that you couldn’t help but want to slap on repeat and play extra loud. But The xx’s debut is a different beast entirely, and should really in no way be compared to Bloc Party or any other “rock” band coming out of the UK at this time.
The album is minimal, slow, and moody. The vocals a very accomplished attempt at the boy and girl back and forth. Their lyrics contemplate sex, the idea of love, and experience. The drums are programmed but done with style and class. The guitars jangly, reverbed, and simple, but every so often the bass will just drop about 50 decibels and wobble your chest (and maybe your heart?) and this is when you begin to notice there’s quite a lot more going on here. And of course, this is when the album grows like an ill-fated relationship, doomed to cause that beautiful sadness you hate but also secretly love to wallow in.
A damn good album, an impressive debut, and pretty much all alone when it comes to trying to classify. Give it a few listens in the mornings, or better yet, try it out at night with candles flickering on the nightstand and lips puckering on the bed.
Edit: The XX’s self-titled debut hits number 7 on my Best Of 2009 List!
Edit 2: Check out my review of the xx in Toronto on April 4, 2010.