Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dr. Dog

Hmm. Another month gone by again. I suppose it would be pointless to mention that I lost interest in another 2011 list. Oh well. With the sort of writing I do, one would think that I could at least use some pieces for cheap content.

Actually, that makes sense.

I've been skimming through the new Dr. Dog record that just came out. I had only known the Philadelphia-based band from their Architecture in Helsinki cover and a poster in the radio studio. But I had heard some good things about them, so my expectations were in that sweet spot between apathy and mild anticipation.

And those feelings were justified. I'm not feeling cruel enough to call it middling, I'd prefer something like "wants to be comfortably transgressive". Dr. Dog, again, is not a band with which I'm terribly familiar, but it's been a fair experience. When their energy picks up, they can be imagined as a supporting act for label/statemate Man Man.

The more I think about that comparison, the less I want to make it. Just go with "Dr. Dog is lightweight fun where heavyweights are unnecessary and unwanted". There, doesn't that sound importantly pointed?

Friday, January 6, 2012

15 Things from 2011

As I mentioned before, I wasn't entirely enraptured by 2011's music. Quite a few high-profile releases came and went (Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes) and several solid releases from other excellent acts did likewise. I guess I'm just feeling particularly obstinate in my lukewarmness. Many of my favorite things from last year where discoveries of noticeably older acts -- a forthcoming list. For some odd reason, my appreciation for music often devolves into singles-infatuation rather than concrete albums. While I still believe, or at least assert, that a release should be considered in its whole, some reptilian vestige in my brain continues to be fixated with little snatches of tunes here and there. Several of my favorites from 2011 ended up overshadowing their home albums. A common theme you'll probably notice is "I don't recall anything from Album x except this track 'y'". Given this unfortunate tendency, I'll focus on tracks alone, despite some legitimately enjoyable full experiences.

I've wasted enough paragraph as it is. Begin!

15) Danger Mouse/Daniele Luppi/Jack White/Norah Jones -- "The Rose With a Broken Neck"/"Black"
I'm a mild fan of both Danger Mouse and Jack White's body of work, so I was fairly excited to get Rome in the mail. Despite some middling reviews, the neo-Spaghetti Western theme held my attention fairly well, even if the "soundtrack" angle was a tad underplayed. The grime and gravitas of, say, a Leone picture doesn't translate through the decidedly polished sounds of Burton and Luppi. However, both men are excellent at crafting a track, and Jones and White are still no slouches in performance.

14) overlord -- "Battle Hymn of the Romantic"
One of the more obscure acts I discovered last year, overlord is a fairly innocuous, if oddly-named, band  from Brooklyn. In Soviet Russia, My Heart Breaks You had a nice bouncy, pleasant sound that was quite appealing initially. However, the album wasn't that long-lived in my mental jukebox, with the exception of the second track. "Battle Hymn of the Romantic would be my choice for the highlight -- a straightforward, bright single with just enough complexity to find a niche in the brain.

13) Man Man -- "Piranhas Club"
Man Man is known for their frantically energetic live shows and this track from Life Fantastic certainly displays that weird sensibility. Piranhas Club is an odd mixture of upbeat lunacy and laid back, instrumental cool. Just reading that sentence doesn't make a lot sense, but to be fair, this band demands that. Tear his limbs off!

12) Pepper Rabbit -- "Rose Mary Stretch"
I was able to catch Pepper Rabbit at CMJ. Unfortunately, it was to be their last show, as they broke up in December. On the bright side, they put on the best show during that week. "Rose Mary Stretch" is a good encapsulation of their aesthetic. It's lightweight and drifting, but there's an odd power underlying the notes. The volume at their final show made them uncharacteristically loud, which brought out this power in full force.

11) Smoove & Turrell -- "Slow Down"
This is a bit of an odd choice, at I'm usually not one for Soul-ish music. Coupled that with my first impression, which regarded the two as a sort of regressive equivalent to Gnarls Barkley. After a few listens, my opinions shifted. While less *now* than Burton and Green, S&T are undeniably talented in what they do. A lot of energy and enough sense to point that in a meaningful direction never hurt anybody.

10) Battles -- "My Machines"
Gloss Drop proved to be a good display of the band's elasticity. Bereft of their founding guitarist/sometime frontman Tyondai Braxton, Battles made an admirable show of finding a stride that could have easily been missed. Bringing in a host of guest musicians, Battles went a somewhat lighter approach, but still maintained their art/math rock enthusiasm. My initial favorite was the Adult Swim-plasterer "Ice Cream". On repeated listens though, the Gary Numan-fronted "My Machines" grew on me. The slightly dark edge is a nice counterbalance to the hyperkinetic sound that permeates the rest of the album. Another point in its favor is the spatially ambiguous music video:

09) Decemberists -- "This Is Why We Fight"
Moving in rather Country-esque direction, The Decemberists' The King is Dead and followup EPs were a good entry point for what had previously been near-ignored in my genre territory. The hyper-earnest "This Is Why We Fight might have been too affected to get my full enthusiasm, but regardless, I'm still enjoying the song a year later.

08) M83 -- "Midnight City"
This album spent a good month and a half on top of my college station's charts. Let me be one of many who will defend those weeks as deserved. M83's cleaned-up chillwave act is not anything particularly unique, but it held a lot of appeal for those new to the sound or jaded by its predecessor acts. The dreamlike themes added a lot of punch in the nostalgia department, which helped ensure Hurry Up, We're Dreaming's continued place in the consciousness.

07) Movits! -- "Sammy Davis Jr."
I believe I have Colbert to thank for raising this Swedish act's profile enough to merit the station finding this gem. To be fair, I shouldn't downplay the group's raw appeal. Part of the fun in hearing swing-inspired, Swedish hip hop is self-explanatory. "Sammy Davis Jr." also has a cool, skittering organ riff and saxophone solo done right. Not much to the band beyond the fun, but do you need to ask for more?

06) The Vaccines -- "Wolf Pack"/"Norgaard"/et al
The Vaccines, on my peripheral knowledge since 2010, had a fairly sold debut last year. The British old-school Rock and Roll aesthetic was a shot in the arm (forgive the necessary pun) after efforts from the Arctic Monkeys and the Strokes had failed to reach me. The exuberant style --almost neo-surf at many points -- benefited from truncated lengths. Hearing lightweight songs about sex and drugs doesn't work all that well when the sound is sludgy and overlong *coughSuckItandSeecough*. It's good to see a band use that knowledge to their advantage.

05) John Maus -- "Believer"
The bedroom aesthetic might have been in full force last year, but John Maus was able to remain mentally relevant enough to ensure his place on the list. The polished lo-fi approach to electronica was oddly unsettling in the first few listens, but something about We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves became compelling enough to reverberate in my subconscious. I've brought up this album in numerous other posts, but it still gives me enough enjoyment to merit inclusion.

04) Memory Tapes -- "Yes I Know"
 Another chillwave-esque release, Player Piano got a far more tepid reception than it deserved. While a lot of critics compared it unfavorably to Memory Tapes' (admittedly stronger) preceding album, I found it to be a fairly solid midsummer entry. "Yes I Know", a cold, mournful track, was the highlight. It probably won't be a decade highlight, but it's more than enough keep me excited to receive Dayve Hawk's next album.

03) Okkervil River -- "Rider"
Okkervil River is one of those bands that I'm comfortable name-dropping, but for some reason, never quite took hold in my head. Whenever listening to them, the tend to just whisk away without leaving a clear memory. "Rider" is a notable exception to this trend. Frontman Will Sheff introduced the song as "It's like the kind of lullaby that you sing to your kid after you've been out sort of galloping across a great swath of a continent just like, burning down villages and killing people". Not sure how well that holds, but the pounding keyboards and percussion react with some fantastic imagery. I guess that's pretty close to Attila.

02) Princess Chelsea -- "Cigarette Duet"
Continuing my impression that every band birthed from New Zealand is a force for good, Princess Chelsea had a pretty strong reaction at the station. After hearing nothing but praise from my boss, I checked out "Cigarette Duet" and was hooked. I'm a sucker for a good (almost) organ riff, but also ambivalent about the whole twee aesthetic. Somehow, the cutesy angle gets relayed into some odd, slightly twisted songs. I realize that sort of juxtaposition is hardly unique, but Princess Chelsea does a fantastic job adding another twist to the unsettling child-adult circus mashup.

01) Tycho -- Dive
This is the only entry I'm completely given to endorse as a complete album. Tycho's mellow chillout electronica was a welcome addition to the end of a long year, and I fell for it very quickly. The synths instantly evoke the dusty lines and heady intoxication of a dream ever better than M83 or any of the chillwave acts from this year. I don't have any complaints about this release. It's probably not for everyone, but anyone remotely interested in soundscapes or IDM will find something to love in Dive.

New Year and So On

Oh, I had blog once...

Anyway, the old problem of vacations breeding anti-work wreaked as much havoc as a semester's work breeding anti-work, at least in regards to (admittedly superfluous) writing. But various things have appeared on the horizon -- or have come close to disappearing -- so let's throw a few thoughts into the ether and see if any stick and become a post above this one.

  • Political Garbage
    • The Republican candidacy race has been fantastic to watch for those who enjoy comedy gold and/or those not affiliated with the party and/or those who hunger for facepalms. The "let's briefly support someone who's not Romney" approach yielded a few high-profile clowns that (merciful be the Elder Gods!) quickly fizzled out due to incompetence, creepiness, or simple pollster's remorse. Cain's out now, Trump been gone long enough to sound like a bizarre joke rather than a serious contender, and Representative Bachmann finally dropped out. Also, no one ever mentioned Thaddeus McCotter, so he left as quietly as he entered. We have a few people left.
    •  The candidates left may still provide hijinks. Representative Santorum seems to have become the newest flavor (hah!), inexplicably gaining a lot of exposure before Romney maintained his lead. Gingrich, wonderful human being that he is, seems to be diving back in place. Everyone is still ignoring Huntsman. Also, RON PAUL.
    • I suspect that Romney will still get the Republican nomination. He's not a particularly arresting candidate, but he's not everyone else running. Santorum's legacy is a bit too lunatic, I hope, for most of the electorate to support. Despite being juvenile and politically interested, I don't really find Ron Paul to be appealing as I should. But barring any talk of my positions or the man's good points, I'm having difficulty imagining "Dr. No" getting establishment support. I also suspect that Paul's positions that aren't "End the Drug War" and "Foreign Intervention?" would turn off many more, although a ROSS PEROT 2012 would certainly be interesting. I still have weird fantasies about voting "Huntsman/Johnson 2012", but that looks less likely as President Perry.
    • Oh yeah. At this point, I'm not seeing ay scenario before 2016 that does not include Obama remaining president. But we'll see what glorious shenanigans transpire over the next season.
  • Music
    • Now that I've gifted you with all the political wisdom an undergraduate can muster, let's take a look at something I'm almost qualified to assert. As a sort-of critic -- the kind who shouldn't be introduced as such but still gets money for writing --  I feel somewhat in error for not playing up the end of 2011 with lists and pomp. Truth be told, I'm not feeling all that passionate about the releases I saw last year. There were certainly a lot of quality excursions, but not a lot that will keep me swooning into the next decade. I partially blame burn out for this lack of enthusiasm -- working for The Man ruins everything.
    • Now that I've spent a paragraph detailing the absence of lists, I feel compelled to compose two. Weird how rebellion warps one, isn't it? I'm thinking something to the tune of "Tracks n' Albums from 2011 that would be sorely missed had I not heard them but somehow knew that I missed them" and "Best Albums I discovered in 2011". There will probably not be any overlap between the lists, but my mind could change. I'm also considering making other lists for the hell of it, so another music-related one could sneak inside these digital walls.
    • I will talk about C418's Minecraft work very soon.
  • Pictures
    • My usual fallback from no content concerns ridiculous images. I am shocked and appalled that no such shit posts arose over the last month. In response to such gross negligence, here's a picture of Darth Vader drinking coffee.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Late-year Update

So I'm probably not going to continue the postponed CMJ log. It's been nearly a month after that would have been prime material. I've long since lost interest in doing a day-by-day thing. There's still a small chance I'll break down and talk about the shows, but I repeat, very small.

What I would like to do, aside from finish my semester work and start aggressively doing nothing, is talk about other music-related things that have crossed my path. Or I may just pretend that these short previews were adequate. Oh well.

The Avalanches -- Since I Left You

God-tier left-field pop mostly/entirely constructed from samples. Reminds me of a more psychedelic, nostalgia-trippy version of DJ Shadow's first album. Brilliant stuff that deserves more than a few rambling paragraphs.

Flight Tonight
Since I Left You

The Chameleons -- Script of the Bridge

Murky post punk? Foreboding alt-rock? Oddly lyrical near-gothic dirge? This one's got a faint impression of the old angst generic sticking to the sound, but the craftsmanship handles it delicately and the music is too beautiful to be sunk by conventionality. It also helps that this is the forerunner to said sound, so they would have gotten a free pass anyway.

Here Today

 Indie Game Music Bundle

Ten soundtracks from ten indie games. For a dollar (if you're cheap like me). This looks like it was a fantastic deal. I'm currently in the midst of downloading the rest of the titles, but I have no complaints so far.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

CMJ - Wednesday

Around mid-morning, my associate signed us in to the event. Badges!, Pamphlets!, and Advertisements! followed. We then wandered across town in search of food. A Pakistani(?) diner gave us an absurd amount of food for cheap. Fantastic. I also got to watch a prayer service at Mecca on their TV set. Didn't learn much beyond the fact that non-Muslims are really going to hate themselves on the day of judgment. Speaking of which, Harold Camping's new, new, new, new date of the Rapture is Friday.

After a bit, we ambled off to a hotel lobby where We Are Augustines were performing. I passed on their EP and album earlier this year for being boring, middle-of-the-road indie rock.

Honestly though, they put on a decent show. The live-sound/studio-sound divide is pretty severe in this case. I take their polished sound to be endlessly moderate, but with a healthy degree of volume and sweat, the emotional edge begins to erupts. Good pounding heavy stuff. Musically, it's still kind of generic. But I'd consider paying to see these gents again. After WAA left the lobby, we charged off to see Gangstagrass -- the best bluegrass/hip hop act around. Unfortunately, we ran into the whole "not-21-so-you-can't-do-things" problem. Oh well. There was another venue nearby that would let me in. Terrorbird, my current favorite promotion agency, was hosting a party with several bands crammed into a tiny black basement.

 Eternal Summers

Eternal Summers was slamming something really loud. Much like We Are Augustines, the live aspect brought out something loud and ferocious in the band. Unlike We Are Augustines, I generally liked Eternal Summers' previous studio exploits. Nothing mind-blowing, but the mellow-weird vibes are fun. I got to speak with the frontwoman a bit after the show. They're currently mixing a new album in between basement shows. Also, they gave me a shirt. Afterwards, I went upstairs and chatted with a Terrorbird representative.

Next up in the basement venue was the Cloud Nothings. I watched them for a bit. Then I remembered that I don't like Cloud Nothings. So we left.

We were getting tired of walking by that point, so my associate and I wandered off again in search of lodging and/or food. Eventually, it was 10:00 PM and we were watching alien conspiracy theories on the History Channel.

Too lazy to get a good angle, but this guy wasn't trying either.

More fantastic noir vibes from our window.

This is Eternal Summers playing in the same venue last year. The show I saw was about three times louder and with no lights.


As I might have mentioned in passing before, I am a manager at my college's radio station. Seeing as we're tangentially involved in the music business, an associate and I were shipped out to NYC for this:

A couple things should be noted.
  • The venues I was able to attend were limited. The vast majority of shows were held in bars that kicked me out for not having a fake ID. Pity.
  • I will not be posting pictures of the events.For one thing, I only have my cameraphone that can't handle motion, dark rooms, or anything all that well. Second and of slightly greater importance is the fact that CMJ hates attendees taking pictures. If I posted any blurry shots of sweaty men in v-neck shirts, they might send me a strongly-worded letter. Or shoot my dog.
  • I will be posting pictures of non-CMJ things. Since my associate has a much nicer camera than me, I might be able to get good shots posted later.
Not much happened the first evening. I sat in a plane for several hours while a couple several seats back attempted sex. After various shuttle rides, we reached our claustrophobic hotel. Then I watched New York television.

I believe these gentlemen were preaching some African Nationalist variant of Christianity. They use the Catholic canon. He did not explain the armor.

Anyway, the television here is great. I can get Al Jazeera, Jewish Life Network, various knock-offs of major specialty Networks, countless religious channels, the all-escort-commercials-all-the-time channel, seven HBO spinoffs, four public access, C-Span (1,2, and 3), New York Legislative, the mayor's channel, the UN channel, various "city spotlight" spaces, and 1000+ on demand channels. And Jimmy Swaggart re-runs.

Also, our window view is nice.