Thursday, December 31, 2009

Upcoming Shows: TONIGHT!

What better way to celebrate the New Year (and more importantly, a day off work tomorrow) than going to see some music? There are a few good shows but one stands out:

Screaming Females + Talk Normal, Frankie and the Outs @ Cake Shop | LES, Manhattan | $15
Screaming Fucking Females, y'all, the best guitar rock band on the planet right now. Talk Normal is experimental in a very cool way and Frankie is Frankie Rose of Crystal Stilts, Mayfair Sect and once upon a time, the Vivian Girls. And Screaming Fucking Females. [SF MySpace] [TN MySpace] [Frankie MySpace]

If Cake Shop isn't doing it for you for some reason, here are some other goings on:

Titus Andronicus, So So Glos @ Mercury Lounge | LES, Manhattan | $15
Titus Andronicus is one of the best hardcore punk bands to emerge in the last couple years. They put on an amazing live show. The So So Glos are another great hardcore band. This show is late, so you could probably go after the Cake Shop show if you aren't wiped out by 2 AM. [TA MySpace] [MySpace]

Patti Smith and Her Band @ Bowery Ballroom | LES, Manhattan | Sold Out!
This show sold out months ago, but if you can find a way to go you should go. Patti Smith is the universally admired poet laureate of original NYC punk. Bowery is a great venue and probably the most intimate place you'll have a chance to see Smith play.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Best Albums of 2009, Part 5: #5-1

PREVIOUS>>
Part 1 - Rules and Runners Up
Part 2 - #25-21
Part 3 - #20-16
Part 4 - #15-11
Part 5 - #10-5

#5

The Horrors - Primary Colours
XL

I've hated on the Horrors pretty seriously based on seeing them live, but after a recommendation from my punk heroes Fucked Up, I decided to give the album a fair chance. And I gotta put my foot in my mouth after those snide remarks. This band is what it would have sounded like like if Kevin Shields had been Joy Division's guitarist instead of Bernie Sumner. The guitar itself isn't mixed high, but its twisted reverb and overtones play off the tense Peter Hook-esque bass. The vocals are influenced by Ian Curtis in their flat, desperate melodies, but the delivery is slightly higher and younger - this is no aping. The songwriting may be a throwback to the 80's, but sonically, despite each component's obvious roots, Primary Colours sounds far more ahead of its time than it does retro. Moody but catchy, the Horrors' music is well worth the attention it's garnered. I'm sorry I didn't know that sooner.

How I found it: It was Fucked Up's Best of 2009 list that made me give it a fair chance
Track picks: "Mirror's Image," "Who Can Say"
Link: [MySpace]


#4

Pterodactyl - Worldwild
Brah

As I explained, this is a list of "most exciting" albums, and Worldwild is certainly that. It may not be as professional as the releases by been-around-the-block musicians like Sonic Youth, Raekwon and Flaming Lips, but it proves that it's still possible to find new directions for music in 2009. And though Pterodactyl sound like no one else, they are accessible and melodic. Fast, arpeggiated guitars, jumpy drums and soaring multi-part vocals combine for a totally fresh take on indie rock. The whole album speaks of exploration, energy and elation. Even the album cover, depicting two hikers under a glitchy, digital rainbow, evokes a strange and beautiful otherworld. Unjustly overlooked, Worldwild is good for your brain and your heart.

How I found it: They opened for Oneida.
Track picks: "One With Everyone," "Share the Shade"
Link: [MySpace]


#3

Wavves - Wavvves
Fat Possum

Last winter, Wavves was the first breath of fresh air for me as an indie reviewer. It's a return to the simple, minimal, poppy guitar punk of the 80's. There's no gimmick, there's no bullshit. I know something this simplistic doesn't sound revolutionary, but in a scene dominated by orchestral pop, self-aware art rock and pseudo-ironic hipster club tunes, someone needed to bring us to our senses. And who better than the 21-year-old slacker Nathan Williams whose four-track tunes exploded out of his bedroom and across the indie world last winter and spring, then crashed and burned its way out of the spotlight just as fast? We'll see if Wavves can dust themselves off from their sharp tumble and continue on, but what really matters is that in 2008 to 2009, they were exactly what indie rock needed.

Read more from the original RFR review...

How I found it: I don't remember!
Track picks: "California Goths," "No Hope Kids," "Beach Demon"
Link: [MySpace]


#2

Dinosaur Jr - Farm
Jagjaguwar

In the 1980's, Dinosaur Jr put lead guitar back into indie rock. Without their tuneful but heavy anthems, rock would not be the same today - they paved the way for grunge and 90's punk bands like Nirvana, who, um, might have influenced other bands to say the least. Though J Mascis has most of the songwriting credits, Dinosaur Jr's unique energy has always come from the friction among its three members. Farm can stand alongside the band's best (i.e. first) albums, and for those of us who weren't yet in kindergarten when the band first imploded, it's great to experience Dinosaur Jr not as some historical artifact but as something relevant to our time. They may have some gray hairs, but Dinosaur Jr haven't aged at all. And what could be more exciting than a truly great album by one of the greatest rock bands of all time?

How I found it: It's Dinosaur Jr, duh!
Track picks: "Pieces," "See You," "I Want You to Know,"
Link: [MySpace]


#1

Antlers - Hospice
Frenchkiss

Hospice is the kind of album that changes lives. Exploring the guilt that lingers after abuse and after loss, Hospice is a painful record. Tales of mental illness, terminal cancer and emotional abuse enigmatically intersect while singer-songwriter Peter Silberman comes to terms with the fact that love does not conquer all. Musically, the shaky, dark electronica creates a distinctive soundscape perfect for the psychological decay and hospital setting of the album, while Silberman's high, clear voice unnervingly reveals dark secrets and deep fears. It's rare that an album comes along with the power to mend people, to change their lives permanently. Hospice is one of these albums, surely not for everyone, but for enough of us to be numbered among the greats.

Read more from the original RFR review...

How I found it: Pop Tarts Suck Toasted
Track picks: "Two," "Atrophy," "Wake"
Link: [MySpace]

Best Albums of 2009, Part 5: #10-6

PREVIOUS>>
Part 1 - Rules and Runners Up
Part 2 - #25-21
Part 3 - #20-16
Part 4 - #15-11


#10

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Domino

Animal Collective have been charming indie ears for years with their quirky pop and for months before this album was released, leaks and buzz built it up to be the record of 2009. Inevitably, it's slightly overrated - many tracks just aren't that memorable. On the other hand, the best tracks on the album are, simply put, flawless. Every sound has been honed to perfection and mixed into a Brian Wilson-esque three dimensions. And as with the Beach Boys, the band's warm melodies are gently unforgettable.

Read more from the original RFR review...

How I found it: Only, like, the whole internet
Track picks: "Summertime Clothes," "My Girls"
Link: [MySpace]


#9

Sonic Youth - The Eternal
Matador

It's been a year of changes for Sonic Youth, putting out their first indie label release in twenty years and their first release with bassist Mark Ibold. The addition of Ibold, formerly of Pavement, sends the band in their most rock'n'roll direction maybe ever. With dense, heavy guitars, The Eternal is strikingly direct. For Sonic Youth, the songs are bite-sized, though there are still some sprawling numbers and while this is one of the band's more accessible efforts, it certainly sounds like no one else. To say Sonic Youth pushes boundaries isn't accurate because their music is so uniquely the band's own that it can't be described in relationship to rock's boundaries at all. The Eternal is no exception.

How I found it: N/A
Track picks: "What We Know," "Anti-Orgasm"
Link: [MySpace]


#8

Why? - Eskimo Snow
Anticon

Apparently, during the recording sessions for last year's Alopecia, the band recorded another set of songs entirely disconnected from their hip-hop roots. Eskimo Snow is country-tinged indie rock. And that doesn't sound appealing, at least not to me. However, instead, Eskimo Snow is a staggering accomplishment. Yoni Wolf's lyrics are always personal and always clever, but here, for the first time, the cleverness is never used as a shield - Wolf rips himself wide open. The lyrics reveal the deepest pains of early adulthood, and one astounding melody after another make this album extraordinary. Easily one of the year's best and most underrated releases.

Read more from the original RFR review...

How I found it: several ways
Track picks: "Into the Shadows of My Embrace," "These Hands," "Eskimo Snow"
Link: [MySpace]


#7

Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II
Ice H2O

Few albums have been as long anticipated as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, the sequel to Raekwon's 1995 solo debut. It seemed unlikely that after so many years, Raekwon could live up to expectations - after all, his debut was considered one of the greatest rap albums of all time and the Wu-Tang Clan's prime has certainly since passed. But OB4CL2 is every bit what it should be - inventive, hard-hitting and simply a mess of amazing MCing and production. The credits are mindblowing, featuring the entire Wu-Tang Clan (except U-God, who cares), Busta Rhymes, Beanie Sigel, J Dilla, Dr. Dre and a whole lotta others. The only real problem with the album (other than it being a bit musically incohesive) is that it only fulfills expectations, it doesn't defy them. Nothing here breaks the Wu-Tang mold, but it still blows everything else of its kind out of the water.

Read more from the original RFR review...

How I found it: No great story here.
Track picks: "Broken Safety," "House of Flying Daggers"
Link: [MySpace]


#6

Flaming Lips - Embryonic
Warners

I don't think anyone saw this coming. Sure, Flaming Lips have put out great albums many times over, and they have never stopped evolving, but the appropriately titled Embryonic is a rebirth of sorts. Many bands have sought to stay relevant by incorporating electronics, and Flaming Lips numbered among these with 2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. But on Embryonic, the band looks back to roots, making their rawest, grittiest sounds in well over a decade. It's not a move backwards though. Embryonic is as bold a step forward as any the band has made today. The dark, hypnotic psychedelia is the band's most professional album, doing away with any hints of indie quirk in favor of large production and unwavering statements. Soft Bulletin remains the band's masterpiece, but Embryonic opens an exciting new chapter and makes Flaming Lips as relevant in 2009 as they were in the 90's.

How I found it: N/A
Track picks: "Convinced of the Hex," "Powerless"
Link: [MySpace]


NEXT>> Part 6: #5-1

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Best Albums of 2009, Part 4: #15-11

PREVIOUS>>
Part 1 - Rules and Runners Up
Part 2 - #25-21
Part 3 - #20-16


#15

The Zookeepers - Ballin' Outrageous
self-released

It's been a while I've heard a band that can play in a different genre on every track of an album without sounding like they are having an identity crisis. But Ballin' Outrageous is an explosive record, with creativity flying out in every direction. From the synth-pop anthem that opens the album to the folky indie pop of "Sicky Sweet" to the post-hardcore rant of the title track, it's clear within three tracks, no classification can hold this band. However, the whole album is held together as a single statement because each song captures the same youthful, quirky energy, along with a good sense of melodies and hooks. The album can seem slightly unedited, which is slightly frustrating. But it also makes me think as the band gets older, the next releases will just get better. And this one's pretty damn good!

How I found it: Artrocker, who by the way, has the best "Best of 2009" list I've seen so far.
Track picks: "Chicken," "Ballin' Outrageous"
Links: [MySpace] [FREE* Full Album Download]

*but please donate so they have money to make another album soon!


#14

Here We Go Magic - Here We Go Magic
Western Vinyl

I've been thinking for a while about how to make Here We Go Magic not sound bad. They've got a certain "world music" influence, as evidenced by the marimba-based groove in the opening track, and such nods to African and Asian music have been widely abused in the last few years. But HWGM does it right - it's understated and doesn't sound co-opted. It fits naturally, on an emotive level, with the type of music the band is trying to make. Like a darker Animal Collective, HWGM have enticing, quiet pop melodies and hundreds of tiny sonic pieces perfectly interlocking in intricate layers of sound.

How I found it: Lotsa places
Track picks: "Fangela," "Only Pieces"
Link: [MySpace]


#13

Screaming Females - Power Move
Don Giovanni

Screaming Females are everything a rock band should be. I don't think Power Move is their best album (Baby Teeth has slightly better songwriting), but it certainly their most sophisticated in terms of stylistic breadth and recording quality. Although the attention usually goes to guitar hero frontwoman Marrissa Paternoster, all three members are exceptionally talented musicians. The shredding, riff-rich guitar playing couldn't thrive without its more steady riff-rich counterpart on the bass. And the bombastic drumming keeps the whole thing from ever touching ground. This might be the greatest indie rock band on earth.

How I found it: They opened for Dinosaur Jr.
Track picks: "Bell," "Lights Out"
Link: [MySpace]


#12

Woods - Songs of Shame
Woodsist

The strange psychedelic folk-pop of Woods is certainly some of the most beautiful music of 2009. The amazing melodies remind me of Neil Young and the Byrds, but there's something more distant about Woods that makes their music haunting. It's a hint of something otherworldly, or like looking at something under water - something you can't quite understand or see clearly. The faint but nagging spookiness lurking in every song makes this album truly original and impossible to forget.

Read more from the original RFR review...

How I found it: the internet
Track picks: "To Clean," "Rain On"
Link: [MySpace]


#11

Songs for Moms - I Used to Believe in the West
Thrill House

This is one of those albums that completely dominated my life when I first started listening to it. I was impatient any time I couldn't spend listening to it, and I was even impatient when listening to it because I could only listen to one song at once. Folk/country-tinted punk from three California girls, Songs for Moms have put out a truly great album. The songwriting and arrangements are simple but brilliant, each part filling its roll in the music better than anything else could. Lyrically, the album is a remarkable achievement, the words startling in their honesty but endlessly clever and never cliche. I Used to Believe feels comfortable as an album, everything circling the same images and ideas without quite becoming conceptual. I can't imagine a better folk-punk album than this.

How I found it: Screaming Females via their "Best Albums of 2009" list
Track picks: "With Shotguns," "In the West"
Link: [MySpace]


NEXT>> Part 5: #10-6
Part 6: #5-1

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Best Albums of 2009, Part 3: #20-16

PREVIOUS>>
Part 1 - Rules and Runners Up
Part 2 - #25-21


#20

Bad Blood Revival - Tongue Twisting Tunes for Tiny Tots
Dead Broke

Bad Blood Revival sounds a lot like the Jesus Lizard and a little like Slint, so you know they're good. True, they also aren't the most original band on earth, but they do what they do so well that, especially in this era of wussy, conservative anti-rock indie music, it's great to hear someone who isn't afraid to use a distortion pedal from time to time. The post-hardcore songs are clearly influenced by metal and noise rock, with weighty guitars, rage-filled drumming and shrieks. However, under all that great, awful sound, the songs are well-written, with outstanding riffs and a lot of variety. It's not pretty. But it's awesome.

How I found it: a couple of places
Track picks: "Kindling," "Bitter Pill/Aging Punk"
Link: [MySpace]


#19

Wu-Tang Clan - Chamber Music
E1 Entertainment/Universal

Sure, this got eclipsed by Raekwon, and after a while, this record does turn out to be a bit thin - but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. It's a nice comeback after the train wreck that was 8 Diagrams, proving the Wu-Tang still got it. The production is outstanding, using old soul music to give the rap depth and timelessness, while excellent MC'ing from most Wu-Tang members and some pretty great guests is the best we've heard on a Wu-Tang album since the 90's.

Read more from the original RFR review...

How I found it: Sheesh...I think I was first introduced to Wu-Tang Clan by the AllMusic Guide many lifetimes ago.
Track picks: "NYC Crack," "Evil Deeds"
Link: [MySpace]


#18

Lightning Bolt - Earthly Delights
Load

Of course, after all the complaining I've done regarding the wussiness of contemporary indie music, it would be remiss of me not to include this raw explosion of pure energy. Lightning Bolt features one very distorted bass and one drum kit, both played as fast and loud as possible. The whirlwind, however, is made of intense musicianship and nothing is random. It's like a bomb going off in your face. If that sounds awful, this album probably isn't for you. That's sad because it's fuckin awesome.

Read more from the original RFR review...

How I found it: been knowin'
Track picks: "Sound Guardians," "Funny Farm"
Link: [MySpace]


#17

Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport
ATP

Experimental electronicians Fuck Buttons made one hell of an album. While they are still a long way from convention, Tarot Sport translates their noise/drone into something more easy to grasp. Deep, glitchy grooves dominate each track, while evocative layers drift in and out. The beats are dancy and the rest deeply emotional. Unfortunately, for the length of this album, Fuck Buttons are a one-trick pony and the excitement of track one will fade by the time you get to the end.

How I found it: "Jasper" mentioned it
Track picks: "Surf Solar, "Olympians"
Link: [MySpace]


#16

...and You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - Century of Self
Richter Scale

Trail of Dead putting out a great album isn't exactly headline news, because they've been doing that consistently for a while now. They haven't broken new ground in a major way with Century of Self, but their sound is still entirely their own. Equal parts prog, shoegaze and punk, Trail of Dead sounds simultaneously artistic, rich and youthful. Walls of guitar sound break into stunning harmonies but strong melodies and pure energy keep the songs from stalling. There's a lot going on, and I promise you'll still hear something new the hundredth time through.

How I found it: lots of places, obviously
Track picks: "Isis Unveiled," "The Far Pavilions," "Ascending"
Link: [MySpace]


NEXT>> Part 4: #15-11
Part 5: #10-6
Part 6: #5-1

Best of 2009 according to Screaming Females, Dinowalrus and Pterodactyl!

Why take my advice on the best albums of 2009 when you can take the advice of some of the best musicians of 2009?


Screaming Females

Jarrett's list:

1. JEFF the brotherhood - Heavy Days (Infinity Cat Records)
2. Cheeky - What the Heck (Freedom School Records)
3. Stupid Party - s/t (Freedom School Records)
4. Songs for Moms - I Used to Believe in the West (Thrillhouse Records)
5. Bad Blood - Tongue Twisting Tunes for Tiny Tots (Dead Broke
Rekerds/ Sweet Dreams Records)
6. Mattress - Babystar Gallactica EP (Self-Released)
7. Teenage Cool Kids - Foreign Lands (Protagonist Music)
8. Delay - Plain Language (Plan-It-X Records/ Salinas Records)
9. Double Dagger - More (Thrill Jockey Records)
10. Ex-Wife - Everything Was Beautiful (Self-Released)

Michael's list:

1. Songs for Moms- I Used to Believe in the West
2. Stupid Party- s/t
3. Jeff the Brotherhood- Heavy Days
4. The Thermals- Now We Can See
5. Bad Blood Revival- Tongue Twisting Tunes for Tiny Tots
6. Dinosaur Jr.- Farm
7. Cheeky- What the Heck
8. Pissed Jeans- King of Jeans
9. Cheap Girls- My Roaring 20's
10. Jay Reatard- Watch Me Fall
11. ANS- Pressure Cracks
12. Batrider- Why We Can't Be Together
13. Batrider- Bag Wine Forever
14. King Tuff- Was Dead
15. Arctic Monkeys- Humbug
16. Ex-Wife- Everything Was Beautiful
17. Lighten Up- Absolutely Not
18. Super Furry Animals- Dark Days Light Years
19. Kreamy 'Lectric Santa- Operation Spacetime Cinderblock
20. Delay- Plain Language

[MySpace]


Dinowalrus

Fifteen Albums that Pete Dinowalrus Fell in Love with in 2009 that Didn't Come out in 2009

The Chameleons UK - Strange Times
Cows - Cunning Stunts
Dizzee Rascal - Maths and English
Warren G - Regulate...G Funk Era
Trans Am - Red Line
Giorgio Moroder - From Here to Eternity
Gong - Angel's Egg
Guns N' Roses - GNR Lies
Happy Mondays - Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches
The Jesus and Mary Chain - Automatic
Neu - Neu 75
Venom - Welcome to Hell
Loop - Fade Out
Spectrum - Soul Kiss (Glide Divine)
Six Finger Satellite - Law of Ruins

[Dinowalrus MySpace]


Pterodactyl

grass widow - s/t (captured tracks)
dirty projectors - bitta orca
deerhunter - rainwater cassette exchange
yellowfever - s/t
telepathe - dance mother
strange boys - and girls club
pc worship - nyc stone age
marnie stern - this is it...
colorguard - shared planet
king tuff - was dead (Burger Records Reissue) - this one came out in 2008 I believe but this reissue was handed to us by a guy from Thee Makeout Party and blew our minds over and over and over again while on tour.

[Pterodactyl MySpace]

Monday, December 21, 2009

Best Albums of 2009, Part 2: #25-21

PREVIOUS>>
Part 1 - Rules and Runners Up

#25

Blank Dogs - Under and Under
In the Red

Most bands never succeed in carving out a sound that's entirely their own, but Mike Sniper's lo-fi goth doesn't sound like anything else out there. Deeply reverbed synthesizers and guitars take the best from the original goth movement, leaving the melodrama in 1980. What's left are intriguing, dark pop songs. The "lo-fi," effects-laden production buries distorted vocals, leaving everything hard to make out. The effect sends chills down my spine. It's the feeling of encroaching darkness and the sense that some profoundly disturbing secret is lurking in the shadows. If you've ever been in an abandoned hospital or a spooky forest or someplace similarly eerie at night, you know what it's like when you can't quite make out what's frightening or explain it to someone else, but you feel a tangible chill in your bones. That's what this album does to me.

Read more from the original RFR review...

How I found it: the internet!
Track picks: "Setting Fire to Your House," "No Compass," "Slowing Down"
Link: [MySpace]


#24

Cold Cave - Love Comes Close
Matador

Once again, I have to resort to quoting the press release because I can't paraphrase this and be as spot on: "equal parts romance and nihilism." Cold Cave's Matador debut draws from new wave synthpop, but just as much comes from krautrock, industrial and no wave music, making catchy music that's purposefully, powerfully vacant and inhuman. It's a statement of disillusionment and knowingly futile emotion. If Nietzsche had made an album of synth-based love songs, it would sound like this.

Read more from the original RFR review...

How I found it: They opened for Crystal Stilts and Love Is All last year.
Track picks: "Youth and Lust," "The Trees Grew Emotions and Died"
Link: [MySpace]


#23

Thee Oh Sees - Help
In the Red

I wasn't that smitten with Thee Oh Sees when I first saw them last summer, but when I put on their album for the first time, it immediately grabbed my attention. The band's fuzzy, lo-fi garage tunes manage a rare balance between strongly stated professionalism and youthful indie-ness. The songs are well-written pop tunes, but they take themselves seriously, with instrumentation and production that packs a real punch. These guys are fun, but they aren't just fooling around.

How I found it: bunch of ways
Track picks: "Enemy Destruct," "Peanut Butter Oven"
Link: [MySpace]


#22

Fever Ray - Fever Ray
Mute

Fever Ray, a.k.a. Karin Dreijer Andersson, the frontwoman of acclaimed electronic duo the Knife, released her solo debut this year. Dark, dense and wild, Fever Ray is an intensely primal album, both more earthy and more cryptic than the Knife's work. The music evokes dark images of untamed wilderness, ancient times and the occult, enigmatically hinting at the deep pain of some past trauma and an ensuing psychological deterioration. Andersson's powerful voice is one of the strangest and most evocative to emerge since Bjork's heyday, and here, it is fully unfettered.

How I found it: "Salvador" turned me on to it
Track picks: "If I Had a Heart," "Now's the Only Time I Know"
Link: [MySpace]


#21

Dälek - Gutter Tactics
Ipecac

Being the only group in the world (to my knowledge) that can be classified as "noise rap," Dälek never ceases to be exciting. Gutter Tactics may not be their best work to date, but it's still a remarkable accomplishment. Rap's usual rhymes and beats here meet screeching, jarring iceflows of pure noise. Drawing from shoegaze and ambient as well as industrial and krautrock, Dälek is one of those rare bands loud enough to slam you back against the wall the first time you hear them. The lyrics are smart and meaningful, but unfortunately, the MC's delivery can be a little bland. Still, Dälek is one of the most boldly original groups on earth - here's hoping they're a precursor of what's to come in the next decade of music!

How I found it: I first heard of Dälek when they did a split release with "no-gazers" IfWhen.
Track picks: "Gutter Tactics," "No Question"
Link: [MySpace]

NEXT>> Part 3: #20-16
Part 4: #15-11
Part 5: #10-6
Part 6: #5-1

Best Albums of 2009, Part 1: Rules and Runners Up

Some years in music seem better than others. Last year certainly had some great albums, but it still seemed unsatisfying. This year, on the other hand, was outstanding. From bigger and more established bands to undiscovered kids recording in their basements, this was a year to raise expectations of what a good album can be.

This year was also an important year for me personally. Thanks in part to the influence of "Jasper" and in part to a few bands I heard near the end of 2008 (namely Wavves, Titus Andronicus and Beluga), my tastes and interests shifted towards more confrontational music - in other words, "punk," at least in the broadest sense. In making this list, I've tried to balance my old priorities with my newer ones.

However, this list is a "Best of" list, not a favorites list. And what "best" means to me, at least when it comes to music, is "most exciting." Albums that push boundaries or explore new territory are the most exciting, but some albums are just exciting for being damn good, or for appearing in the right place at the right time or for reminding the world what music has the potential to be. Exciting can be challenging or it can be beautiful or it can be fun - and the most exciting music is all three.

As a side note, I didn't really follow rap this year, so its representation in this list is pitiful. Sadly I can't keep up with everything at once, but I'm sorry that rap specifically has lately fallen through the cracks. Next year, I will do better, I promise!

And now for the honorable mentions! These didn't quite make the cut, but are well worth checking out:

    The Brakes - Touchdown (Fat Cat) [MySpace]

    Eat Skull - Wild and Inside (Siltbreeze) [MySpace]

    Ex-Wife - Everything Was Beautiful (self-released) [MySpace]

    Fiery Furnaces - I'm Going Away (Thrill Jockey) [MySpace]

    Japandroids - Post-Nothing (Polyvinyl) [MySpace]

    Jeff the Brotherhood - Heavy Days (Infinity Cat) [MySpace]

    Mos Def - The Ecstatic (Downtown) [MySpace]

    Wild Beasts - Two Dancers (Domino) [MySpace]

Next>> Part 2: #25-21
Part 3: #20-16
Part 4: #15-11
Part 5: #10-6
Part 6: #5-1

Friday, December 18, 2009

Most Overrated Albums of 2009

This isn't going to be the most surprising list, but I don't want a miss a chance to hate on some bad music!

5. A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Ashes Grammar Borrrrrring. They may make some cool sounds, but they can't write a song to save their lives. And I used to be a big fan of the band. Easily the most disappointing album of the year. [MySpace]

4. Health - Get Color The album art is awesome, but the music, not so much. Like ASDIG, poor composition lands them on this list. This music has been made before and here, it's neither new nor improved. [MySpace]

3. Girls - Album Unlike the two above, Girls succeed as songwriters. Great melodies and tight pop compositions abound. It's just that this is some of the most un-edgy music to come out this year. Don't get me wrong. It's enjoyable. But one of the best albums of the year is young man imitating the Beach Boys in an attempt to get laid as much as possible? I don't think so. [MySpace]

2. The XX - xx This band is just so generic. I don't hate the music, but I don't understand how anyone can get excited about it. Hype works in mysterious ways. [MySpace]

1. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca OK, who didn't see this coming? Dirty Projectors suck, folks. They are offensive on too many levels to count. They go against everything rock music was ever supposed to be (as evidenced by their version of Damaged). Hell, they go against pretty much everything art was ever supposed to be. And I still maintain the band is unfeminist, though I know it's only a matter of time before someone loses their shit at me for saying that. (Go ahead...) This band is the distillation of everything wrong with indie music today - the privilege and entitlement that dominates the Brooklyn music scene, the thinly masked 1950's-esque conservatism and the complete, total lack of having any balls. This music is cowardly and unbearable. [MySpace]

Live: The For Carnation

When: 12/17
Where: Knitting Factory

Mountains openned the show last night. They play ambient, instrumental noise-folk with acoustic guitars and crap ton of electronics. At first, I enjoyed the rise and fall, the noisy dissonance and the sheer volume. However, with no melodies, no rhythms and no real surprises, I got pretty bored and left after ten minutes. [MySpace]

I came back just in time for The For Carnation, the band of ex-Slint/Squirrel Bait experimental rock genius Brian McMahan. Squirrel Bait's hardcore punk forshadowed Nirvana-style grunge back in the 80's. By the time Nirvana started changing in the indie scene, McMahan had moved on to the highly experimental, angular, sends-chill-down-your-spine music of Slint, helping spark (for better or worse) the post-rock movement.

After Slint, McMahan formed TFC and began creating much more subdued, gentle music. That may sound like a terrible direction, but it isn't always bad. When TFC is at its best, it has the same disturbing tension of Slint, but without ever providing release - the music just retreats further into its own sinister mystery. Unfortunately, TFC hasn't been that consistent - in fact, there's so much variation, I have to give you a song-by-song review.

Songs #1, 4 and 8 were TFC at its best. Minimal, desolate pieces with hints of jumpiness, these represent the logical sound of grown-up Slint. Song #7 was similar but got a little dreamer and sweeter in places. But still, something unsettling was lurking beneath the surface.

Song #2 was a bluesy number with an almost avant-garde guitar solo. Not my favorite.

Song #3 was folky and featured McMahan's lyrics sticking way out in front. They were about finding stuff in your house that reminds you of your long-gone wife. It would be banal even if it weren't cliche.

Song #5 sounded like Yo La Tengo being extra chilled out. Yawn.

Song #6, I've just forgotten.

The hit-and-miss set was made worse by McMahan's choice in bandmates. Certainly, with his reputation, he could put together a good band, right? But instead he's playing with these guys. The bass player seemed pretty solid and did a lot of strumming very well, which isn't easy to make sound good. Because of the style of music, I couldn't figure out the guitarist's skill level, but at least he didn't do anything offensive.

The real problems were the synth player and the drummer. The synth occasionally worked, but at other times, it stuck out like a sore thumb. It basically destroyed the last song (#8, which otherwise was great). Holding down the root in a hyper-oscillated, slow-attack setting just distracted from the music. Maybe if I didn't know about synthisizers, it wouldn't have bothered me so much, but I just kept imagining what was going through the keyboardist's (or songwriter's) head when he thought that'd be really cool. I love me a good slow attack, but because the sound itself was so stark, fading in on every note just drew attention away from the song itself.

And worst of all, the drummer! Brian McMahan, why are you playing with this guy? The dude is awful, seriously awful. Okay, I have a hang-up about playing cymbals with timpani mallets because it sounds like crap. You don't have to be a trained percussionist to listen to something and realize it sounds terrible. Even when he hit the cymbals with real drumsticks, they sounded bad. The toms also sounded like shit, and he abused his hi-hat in a way I haven't seen since high school (i.e. using it as a crash cymbal). I know I sound like a snob, but this isn't about following arbitrary rules, it's about making the instrument sound good.

His beats were also pretty lame, though not as bad as his tone. He wasn't the world's steadiest, but I only heard him screw up the beat badly once. As a time-keeper, he was perfectly adequate, but there were so many missed opportunities for better beats and fills. Sadly, his failings distracted me from the music and cost me a lot of enjoyment.

McMahan, on the other hand, is great. He's been in music long enough that he seems semi-comfortable singing, but still delivers a lot of his vocals in vaguely tuneful spoken monologues. I've never heard anyone pull this off but him, and he still does it, just like he did with Slint. His voice is simple and soft and his manner of speaking renders the songs even more uneasy. With Slint, he established himself as an enigmatic, haunted figure, and with TFC, when they're good, he's only buried himself deeper in his psychological darkness. He's still the real thing. [Fan MySpace]

[Note: I accidentally spelled Brian McMahan's last name "McMahon." It's been corrected now. Brian McMahon was a guitarist in the Electric Eels, also an amazing but obscure experimental musician from the heartland, but definitely a different dude.]

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Live: The Slits

When: 12/14
Where: Highline Ballroom

The only time I really research anything music-related is when I'm writing a review, so often, I check out albums and concerts with really no idea what to expect. So at the Slits show at Highline, I didn't realize only singer Ari Up and bassist Tessa Pollitt were still in the band from its heyday. I thought Viv Albertine was playing with them again, but apparently, that was a one-off deal earlier this year. Bummer that.

However, Ari Up's personality is so huge that even the absence of my favorite Slit wasn't that glaring. Ari was in fine form. Despite her apologies, she really did sing well, and as for the dancing, well, she's still got it! Pollitt seems a little worse for the wear, but she's still a great bassist - just a little stiff in her stage presence.

The Slits choice in band members was certainly interesting. Hollie Cook (the daughter of Sex Pistol Paul Cook) is listed as the keyboard player, but the woman I saw was definitely not Cook. Whoever it was, she was the best of the non-original members. She seemed so genuinely swept up in the moment that she'd often forget to sing/shout her backup vocals into her microphone, being too busy jumping up and down and yelling at the top of her voice. Despite being the newest member, she owned her parts. She even did a clumsy dance with Ari and attempted a solo on train-whistle. I'm not sure I've ever seen someone have so much fun on stage. And if you're playing with the goddamn SLITS you better be having fun!

Drummer Anna Schulte also proved herself up to the task. It must be tough coming into a legendary band, and especially for a drummer, who is ultimately the person with the most control over the music. But Schulte didn't waver - her reggae beats were authoritative and flawlessly executed and she seemed well amused by her bandmates' antics. On guitar, Michelle Hill didn't do so well. She's a great guitarist, but watching her, it was obvious she was playing music she didn't write. That may be true, but Schultz and the unnamed keyboardist/back-up vocalist both made the music their own, not by hijacking anything but by putting their own personality into every note. Hill played well, but she seemed more like a session player than a Slit.

The set was mostly reggae, as I expected. Reggae and dub, of course, evolved in tandem with punk in the late 1970's and early 1980's, especially in the UK, and many of the original UK punk bands went in an increasingly reggae-inspired direction as they progressed as musicians. The band did balance their reggae numbers with some punk tunes, including the Slits classic "Typical Girls." At one point, the venue threatened to kick the band off the stage - apparently there was a mix-up about the set time - and Ari Up told them what was what. Despite it all, though, seeing the Slits today is definitely not at all the same as having seen them in 1977. But they are still a great band, and for anyone with an interest in UK punk, anyone who's ever read England's Dreaming*, it's still amazing to see Ari Up in person. She's as crazy as ever. Maybe even more so.


*Okay, I have a funny story, and this seems like as good a place as any to share it. One time, I was reading England's Dreaming on a bench on the Upper East Side. There were two very elderly women sitting next to me and the one closer to me suddenly struck up conversation, which went something like this:

Old lady: What are you reading?
Me: It's called
England's Dreaming.
Old lady: What?
Me:
England's Dreaming! It's about punk. Punk rock.
Old lady: England's dreaming??? I'm from England! I'm still dreaming!
Me: Oh, how long have you lived here?
Old lady: Since 1962! Where are you from?
Me: I'm from Chicago. [FYI, I tend to lie about where I'm from]
Old lady: Chicago? I've never been to Chicago.
Me: It's a nice city.
Old lady: [Pause] You're from England?
Me: No, I'm from Chicago. You're from England.
Old lady: Oh...

At this point, she tries to look at my book, but she clearly can't read and doesn't have glasses with her, so I flip to the pictures in the middle of the book.

Old lady: What's that?
Me: It's a band.
Old lady: What's that? I can't read it.
Me: It's a band. It's the Sex Pistols. A punk band. Punk.
Old lady: What? I can't hear!
Me: It's the Sex Pistols.
Old lady: What?
Me: It's the Sex Pistols.
Old lady: What?
Me: It's the Sex Pistols.
Old lady: What?
Me: It's THE SEX PISTOLS! THE SEX PISTOLS! SEX PISTOLS!

At this point, I realized I'm sitting on a bench yelling "sex pistols" repeatedly at a 92-year-old woman I just met. And I'm getting some pretty funny looks from passers-by. Meanwhile, the other old lady is cracking up - I think she was following the conversation much more lucidly. Anyway, I said it was nice to meet them and excused myself before someone called the cops.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Live: Fiery Furnaces + Shilpa Ray

When: 12/12
Where: Bowery Ballroom

It's been a while since I've checked in with the infamous Ms. Shilpa Ray and her Happy Hookers, so I braved the chill to see her with Fiery Furnaces last weekend. First of all, I'd like to say this is one of the best opener-headliner pairings I've seen in quite a while. Ultimately, the two bands don't sound at all alike, but they have enough in common that I think each of their audiences would enjoy the other: strong female vocals, a certain pre-punk/60's influence and total insanity.

Ray and her Hookers were in fine form Saturday. They started off soft and built it up - a lot of bands try this and fail, but these guys are definitely good enough to pull it off, building suspense rather than failing to grab attention. Ray didn't even start yelling obscenities until about halfway through. Her songs are the same seamless combination of 60's psychedelic rock, blues, folk and soul that they've always been, expertly written and arranged. As always, the quality of the songs was consistently high.

Ray is backed by some of the best musicians in the Brooklyn indie scene. The rhythm section was actually entirely flawless throughout this set. I mean that! Really perfect. The guitar and keys didn't leave much to criticize either. Actually, the only negative thing I can say about anyone on stage is that the backup vocals by Andrew Hoepfner were way out of tune at the beginning of the set. If that was a conscious choice, it was a bad one for the style of music. However, the problem mostly resolved after the first couple of songs.

And Shilpa Ray is, as always, front and center, yelling, pogoing, flapping her arms around, cussing, giving people the finger and mumbling some completely illogical banter between songs. Even if you aren't that into Ray's music, there are a couple of things to be learned from watching her live. First, the songwriting and arrangements are exemplary. Second, she is one of the best examples I can think of of what makes a great frontperson great. She's not easily ignored or easily forgotten. [MySpace]

And then Fiery Furnaces took the stage. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I didn't know what instruments would be on stage, I didn't know if there would be anyone but the core brother-sister duo that make up the band, I didn't know what sort of music they might play. I was pretty surprised all around.

First of all, the instruments on stage were guitar, bass and drums. For some reason, I thought there'd be synthesizers and electronic insanity, but instead, it's just your rock'n'roll standard. There were more than two people on stage - two people joined the band to cover the rhythm section. The band also played a great cross-section of their music, from the early material to the most recent. Unsurprisingly, the band has reinvented their older songs. Some were recognizable, but others had morphed so that only the lyrics indicated to me I'd heard it before. The new versions weren't better or worse and didn't require knowing the originals to appreciate - which means, a good show for people who've never heard the band before and for people who know the albums by heart.

Fiery Furnaces are one of the most totally nutso bands I've ever heard. Every little piece of their music sounds quite normal, with the kind of pre-punk stylings even my parents would like. But when they string it all together, it's suddenly baffling. If someone with multiple personality disorder and severe ADD wrote music, it would sound like this - completely jumping styles every few bars. It does circle back to the same themes eventually, and though defying any conventional logic of composition, the arrangements don't seem arbitrary at all. Musically and lyrically, it's a sort of story-telling, though no one knows what the stories are, except that it were probably written by someone on a lot of acid.

Despite their self-deprecation in their band bio, Fiery Furnaces are extremely skilled musicians. Guitarist Matthew Friedberger can kill on guitar as he skips without self-awareness from jazz to metal to indie pop. And his sister Eleanor Friedberger can sing. I didn't realize the full strength of her vocals until seeing her perform live. Her voice is rich and controlled and well-suited for the band's strange story-telling ways. She seems most comfortable in jazzy and bluesy scales, but can pull of the rambling indie pop parts just as well.

The band's stage presence is a great fit with their music as well. Eleanor can be dramatic or coy or slightly awkward, but she is comfortable drawing the attention to herself, as it's clear her brother is less of a showman. She doesn't do anything particularly outrageous, mostly just wanders around the stage and semi-dances to the music when not singing. It's simple enough not to distract from the already schizoid music, but shows focus and passion, never detachment.

The band did play a bizarrely long encore, which seemed kind of presumptuous. It was nearly as long as the original set. On the other hand, they did use it as an opportunity to honor a request or two, which was pretty sweet and extremely rare to see a band do these days. So, it's hard to complain. [MySpace]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Upcoming Shows: The For Carnation, Fiasco + more

[Upcoming Shows Playlist]

TONIGHT!!! Tuesday, December 15

The Antlers + Sharon van Etten @ Bowery Ballroom | LES, Manhattan | SOLD OUT!
The Antlers are a very sad trio who make very noisy ambient songs about abuse and loss. Their 2009 album is easily one of the best of the decade. Comparisons to Radiohead, Arcade Fire and Neutral Milk Hotel are in order. [MySpace]

Cold Cave, Small Black @ Music Hall of Williamsburg | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | FREE!
Since the above show is sold out, try this one. It's free with RSVP, which it's apparently not too late to do (click here). All they ask is your e-mail address so they can stalk you and bombard you with liquor adverts for the rest of your life. But, um, it's free! Cold Cave is awesome, playing despondent electronic music really loudly. Small Black is pretty good too, also using the synthesizers. Check it! [CC MySpace] [SB MySpace]


TOMORROW! Wednesday, December 16

Raekwon @ The Fillmore | Union Square-ish, Manhattan | $23 adv. / $27 dos.
Raekwon is one of the best MCs of the Wu Tang Clan. His long-awaited album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II is one of the best hip-hop albums of the year. His cool delivery sets him apart from most hardcore rappers, but he's as hardcore as any of them.


Thursday, December 17

The For Carnation @ Knitting Factory | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $15
I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS SHOW!!! The For Carnation is the band of Brian McMahon, ex-Slint and Squirrel Bait. McMahon brought us two of the most original and important bands of the late 80's/early 90's and you should go see him play (even though it's a little expensive).

Big Troubles @ Cake Shop | LES, Manhattan | $7
Big Troubles just played my showcase on December 4. They are a newish band from New Jersey who aren't too cool to admit they like the Smashing Pumpkins and who play REALLY REALLY LOUDLY. Highly recommended, but for that it means missing The For Carnation. [MySpace]

Pterodactyl @ Cameo | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Pterodactyl are one of the most innovative bands in the NYC scene right now. Their music is fast and complex but melodic, and their live show is outstanding. But you should still go see The For Carnation instead. [MySpace]


Friday, December 18

Fiasco @ Death By Audio | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Fiasco are an awesome hardcore/post-hardcore band. They are really young, but they are really great at their instruments and perhaps it's their youth that prevents their punk/speed metal from getting to big a metal:punk ratio. They are one of the best bands I've heard live recently. [MySpace]


Saturday, December 19

False Prophets @ ABC No Rio | LES, Manhattan
MATINEE! Classic hardcore punk.

Eric Bachmann (ex-Archers of Loaf) @ Mercury Lounge | LES, Manhattan | $12
Eric Bachmann was in Archers of Loaf, which means he's a hero to everyone who ever loved 90's indie rock.


Monday, December 21

Nymphets @ Mercury Lounge | LES, Manhattan | $8
The Nyphets are a minimal poppy DIY punk lo-fi garage [insert adjectives and genres here] band. They are a good time. [MySpace]


Tuesday, December 22

Whatever... Holiday Party: True Womanhood, Drink Up Buttercup + more @ Glasslands | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
My new friends at the "Whatever..." blog are having a little party with - of course - awesome bands playing. True Womanhood are creepy, experimental, ambient-inspired rock and Drink Up Buttercup are more straight-forward indie rock. Both are good! [TW MySpace] [DUB MySpace]

[Upcoming Shows Playlist]

The long view...

December
23
Fiasco, Shapes @ Shea Stadium

29-30
Patti Smith @ Bowery Ballroom (Sold Out)

31
Titus Andronicus + So So Glos @ Mercury Lounge
Patti Smith @ Bowery Ballroom(Sold Out)

January 2010
2
Mattress @ Death By Audio

13
The Drums + Surfer Blood, Depreciation Guild @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

15
Gang Gang Dance, DJ/Rupture @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

16
Dinosaur Jr @ Bowery Ballroom (Sold Out)

17
Dinosaur Jr @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

25
Cheap Trick @ The Fillmore

29
Sounds Like Brooklyn: Les Savy Fav, Vivian Girls (yick) @ Brooklyn Academy of Music
Mission of Burma @ Bowery Ballroom

30
Mission of Burma @ Bowery Ballroom

February
3
Atlas Sound @ Bell House

4
Cold Cave @ Mercury Lounge

5
Sounds Like Brooklyn: Ra Ra Riot, the Antlers @ Brooklyn Academy of Music

6
Don Giovanni showcase: Shellshag, Screaming Females, Jeff the Brotherhood + more @ Bowery Ballroom

9
The Residents @ Webster Hall

13
The Magnetic Fields @ Brooklyn Academy of Music

19
Fucked Up @ Europa
Andrew W-K @ Santos Party House

March
5
Muse, the Silversun Pickups @ Madison Square Garden

12-13
Henry Rollins @ The Fillmore

[Upcoming Shows Playlist]

Live: Jeff the Brotherhood, Dinowalrus, Sisters

When: 12/7
Where: Mercury Lounge

I'm almost getting caught up on my live reviews...

Sadly, I missed Coin Under Tongue, the first of four great bands to play Mercury Lounge last week Monday. When I arrived, Sisters were setting up the stage. I've said enough about Sisters to try to keep this short. Sisters are two guys of different heights who play noisy indie pop songs with exceptional melodies and youthful exuberance. Aaron Pfannebecker makes a really lot of noise with his guitar and Matt Conboy sounds like at least three drummers playing at once. They are endearingly awkward but also confrontational, and make the music our inner 90's-reared teenagers would make if they could play instruments that well. [MySpace]

Dinowalrus were up next. Pete Feigenbaum mentioned to me over e-mail after my last review that their new material is more "baggy" a la Happy Mondays. And watching this set with that in mind, I could definitely see the band turning towards more bobbing acid-house grooves. It's difficult to compare Dinowalrus to anyone, though, past or present. They are definitely doing their own thing. Masterful beats, noisy drones, sparkling guitars, bizarre blasts and electronic pulsing - the band covers a lot of ground, synthesizing a myriad of influences into a single, cohesive style. It's not easy music, but it's not unbearably challenging either - the beats and melodies are strong enough to translate the experimentalism into something easily head-nod-able and very certainly fun. [MySpace]

The infamous Jeff the Brotherhood headlined to a pretty big crowd. Brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall play some of the best guitar rock around, using only three guitar strings and drum kit. Their heavy guitar riffs and great songwriting draw from psychedelic and grunge. With one foot in the late 60's and one in the early 90's, JtB are somehow still fully 2009.

Jeff the Brotherhood (photo from myspace.com)
Jeff the Brotherhood (photo by someone named Kahan, I think)

The Orrall brothers, like the other former members of adolescent punk outfit Be Your Own Pet, are children of the Nashville music industry, in this case, the sons of musician Robert Ellis Orrall. If I were them, I'd probably be sick of people pointing out my music pedigree, but it does help explain Jake and Jamin's commanding stage presence. Most musicians their age (early 20's), even when they consciously put on a great show, don't seem to fully step into the role of rock star as performer. Rock star as musician is great, but a concert is an experience that transcends just the notes played. Jake, with his slight 'stache, leather pants and pointed stare, cuts a memorable figure on stage without doing anything over the top. He pulls off a guitar hero pose or two while Jamin's relaxed smile balances the scene.

They may be young, but their old-school common sense and musical skill prove them more professional and mature than most indie rockers will ever be.

What the fuck am I talking about? Geez. Their music is fucking good. That's all needs be said. [MySpace]

Monday, December 14, 2009

Live: Stupid Party, Shellshag, Slingshot Dakota

When: 11/28
Where: Death By Audio

What more can I say about Stupid Party? They are too cool for words. They bang out punky rock and roll with raw energy and a fuck-all attitude. There has been one change, and it's a biggie - the addition of a second guitarist. Ultimately, it wasn't nearly as disastrous as it could have been. Adding a member usually seems to cramp everyone's style, but from what I could gather in this situation, it just helped jack everything up a level. I'm not sold yet - I can still see it weighing the band down and costing them spontaneity. I'll check them out again soon and report back. [MySpace]

I'd never heard Slingshot Dakota before and frankly, they confused the hell out of me. There's a dude who plays drums and a chick who plays keyboards and they both sing (though she sings more) and the whole concept provoked my immediate disdain cause I like guitar and keyboards are usually cheesy. And here's the thing - it was cheesy! The band just played sappy, over-the-top pop songs. Yuck! Right?

But for some reason, I really liked it. The band slammed out their songs with passionate disregard for precision. Each number came out as one simple, sloppy, heartfelt wail. Carly Commando's voice is perfect, tuneful and strong, but with raw, punk-rock abandon. The music as a whole comes unrefined, unpolished and desperate from the bands' hearts to your ears.

The only real problem came between songs. This is one of those bands that thinks it's a super idea to tell everyone what all the songs are about, which kind of ruins them for me. I'd enjoy a song more not knowing for sure that it's about a van. They also got a bit preachy, with the longest little speech regarding sexual assault and rape in the indie scene. I have mixed feelings about this - they said to anyone out there who's experienced this, "we believe you." On the one hand, as a human being, I can't fault anyone for using whatever platform they have to give that message - having someone say they believe you is so necessary and so much harder to come by that it should be, and I'm sure there was more than one person the audience who life was touched by hearing those words. But the music critic in me was unhappy because it indicated that the songs were moralistic,* and if there's one thing I hate, it's overtly preachy music. I prefer to think of music's messages as more sublime. That said, if you have to go all political and have "messages," at least this one is personal.

All rambling aside, I would definitely go to hear this band again. And I'd buy their albums too. In fact, I'm getting a little antsy not being able to get my hands on their music right this second. [MySpace]

Shellshag recently played at my Radio Flyer Review showcase, so I can't decide if reviewing them so close to that is tacky or not. It's definitely not as tacky as reviewing them immediately beforehand, though.

Shellshag are an awesome duo with drums and guitar. I think they are certifiable, which is why they are so awesome live. You just never know quite what to expect - except awesomeness, obviously. They play very minimal hardcore music with out-in-the-open vocals and unconventional drums (a tom-based kit and a drummer with bells tied around her so she has to bounce around in time to the music). At the end of the set, they smashed a drum. [MySpace]

* "Moralistic" does not equal "moral."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What I Missed in 2008

Gearing up for the year-end lists and decade-end lists, here's a list of the albums that should have been in my "Best of 2008" list but weren't.

First off, these should have at least been considered:
  • Eat Skull - Sick to Death (Siltbreeze)
  • Jay Reatard - Matador Singles (Matador)
  • Parts & Labor - Receivers (Jagjaguar)
Now here's what's most glaringly missing:

4. No Age - Nouns (SubPop)
I had some misconceptions about No Age that caused my brain to subconsciously dislike whatever I heard by them. Then one day last spring, I was listening to Nouns and suddenly I got it. Noise pop/punk at its absolute best.

3. The Mae Shi - HLLLYH (Moshi Moshi)
This one I just totally missed. It's a ballsy noise rock album about bible stories and religion. I like to holler along.

2. TV on the Radio - Dear Science (Interscope)
I think I made up a rule for myself specifically to disqualify this album because I could not properly wrap my brain around it. Turns out the only problem was I was trying to hear it as a rock album. If you need to contextualize music you listen to, this is a tricky one because you have to think of it simultaneously as an indie rock album and as an R&B/soul album. When you do, it makes perfect sense why this album was #1 for so many people. It's stunning.

1. Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador)
This one also came in totally under my radar. It takes hardcore punk to an entirely new level. It should have been my #1. (Sorry, Marnie!)

The great thing about blogging is that it's never too late to fix your mistakes! Lots more lists coming up soon!

Live: Screaming Females, So So Glos

When: 11/25
Where: Bell House

I know about 50% of my recent posts have been about Screaming Females. But that's only because they're probably responsible for at least 50% of what's good about the current music scene. So deal with it.

First, though, the So So Glos opened. I reviewed them once before, and my reaction this time was basically the same. They are a really solid hardcore punk band. They aren't doing anything that hasn't been done before, but their songs are well-written and their performance basically involves all of them jumping up and down the entire set, which is excellent.

This time, though, part way through the set, the band dipped into something much more subtle and restrained than anything I expected to hear. Yes, it was a little disjointed, and yes, I like loud-fast music, but the temporary change in pace was smart. It illustrated not only that the SSGs have a knack for arrangement and composition, but also that they may have far more tricks up their sleeve than they usually let on. I'm intrigued.

And then they went back to their fun, catchy hardcore, pogoing and yelling to the end of their set. Hooray! [MySpace]

OK, so here it comes. Screaming Females! Anyone who's ever been in a band knows that all your equipment will work fine until it all suddenly malfunctions on the same day. And this night at Bell House was that day for Screaming Females. Marissa Paternoster's guitar kept cutting out (due at least in part to the flailing audience hitting the power switch connected to her pedals). Meanwhile, a de-facto drum tech kept popping out on stage to fix something, I'm not even sure what. The many problems put a dent in the set's momentum, but the band did their best to carry on with minimal interruption.

However, despite overcoming the barrage of technical difficulties, it was a bit of a lackluster set, as compared to the others I've seen recently. The reason was simple - the set list just wasn't great. Aside from "Bell," the band skipped over most of their best tunes (and they have so many best tunes). It was disappointing, knowing how much better it could have been.

Screaming Females (photo by Eddie Austin)
Screaming Females (photo by Eddie Austin)

However, for anyone who doesn't know how good this band can get, the set was plenty good enough to make an impression. My two friends who heard the band for the first time that night can confirm this. No matter what songs they're playing, all three Screaming Females are exceptionally talented. So much as been said about Paternoster's guitar-playing that it's hard to contribute anything new to the discussion. Meanwhile, just out the spotlight, Mike Abbate is playing some of the best bass guitar I've ever heard. The trio displays a seamless musical chemistry that's rare in young bands, locking in so effortlessly you'd think they share a brain. (Hmmm...)

The band also skipped the whole encore thing, which I appreciated. Every show, no matter if it's great or only mediocre, has an encore these days. The audience hardly even claps or yells because it's just expected. Why go through that fanfare? Paternoster just said "so this is where we leave and you all clap and we come out and do one last song, so we're just going to play that now, and then we're really done, ok?" I like dumb traditions as much as anyone, but sometimes it's time to cut the crap. Yeah: "Screaming Females: Crap-Free Music Since 2005." [MySpace]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Live: Sonic Youth

When: 11/24
Where: Bowery Ballroom

Sonic Youth is one of those bands that's hard to review, because they've been examined, analyzed and explained by thousands of critics at every step of their three-decade career. But Sonic Youth is also constantly changing, pushing themselves in new directions (albeit some directions better than others) with each album. Most recently, their 2009 album The Eternal went more rock'n'roll, with heavy, direct songs (direct for Sonic Youth, that is). They've also mixed things up by adding a fifth member, bassist Mark Ibold of Pavement.

It's not the first time Sonic Youth has added a member. A few years back, experimental guitarist Jim O'Rourke was a full-time member on guitar and bass. I saw that incarnation play once, O'Rourke and Lee Ranaldo involved in some avant-garde guitar conspiracy on stage right. Where O'Rourke's presence further abstracted the music, though, Ibold focuses it, keeping the band just heavy enough to stay on the ground.

Also unlike O'Rourke, Ibold doesn't play guitar. He stays on bass, freeing Kim Gordon to sing unencumbered by an instrument, to play guitar or - best of all - to double up on bass. Two bass guitars are almost always better than one! It's nice to see Gordon in a more versatile position. Although she's always been integral to the band, her creative input stood out more than ever at this show.

The rest of the band is unchanged. Despite quite a lot of gray hair, the band doesn't seem to be aging. Thurston Moore is still his boyish self, climbing on speakers and amps and attacking his guitar with unrivaled intensity. Lee is as calm and deliberate as ever while drummer Steve Shelley, with his content, steady smile, is even more agile on his kit than I remembered.

The band played a great mix of new and old songs. The set was by far the most focused and straight-forward I've ever heard from them, and I can't even remember how many times I've seen them now (never before with Ibold, though). I've seen sets at the opposite extreme, where Thurston and Lee just make feedback for an hour, and I definitely felt more like I got my money's worth at this show. There were some noise freak-outs, which is good, because it's not Sonic Youth without that. They just didn't take over the majority of the set. And the selection of old songs was great. They played some of their less obvious classics, like "Catholic Block," "Tom Violence" and "Silver Rocket." Sadly, they skipped "Teenage Riot," but did get "Schizophrenia" into the encore.

All in all, it was a classic Sonic-Youth-at-the-top-of-their-game show. It's not 1988, but that's not Sonic Youth's fault. They've done more than any other indie band to keep themselves from growing stale, and while their efforts have been hit or miss, I'd say this era is right on target.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Upcoming Shows: Slits, Reagan Youth, Fiery Furnaces + more

[Upcoming Shows Playlist]

TONIGHT! Tuesday, December 8

Parts and Labor @ Brooklyn Bowl | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | FREE!
My new friends at The End of Irony caught this, which was somehow missing from my calendar. Parts and Labor are easily one of NYC's best bands. They make intensely, intensely loud music using bass, drums and electronic noise. It's like a jet engine in your face. This din, however, supports wide-open, heartfelt pop melodies. Bring earplugs. [MySpace]


TOMORROW! Wednesday, December 9

Darlings, She Keeps Bees @ Cake Shop | LES, Manhattan | $6
Get there early, the good bands are first! Darlings mix pop hooks with completely bizarre, unexpected arrangements for music that's smart and interesting but still easy to enjoy. She Keeps Bees are a minimalist blues band disguised as an indie rock band, and their singer, Jessica Larrabee, is really good. [Darlings MySpace] [Darlings RFR Review] [SKB MySpace]


Thursday, December 10

Reagan Youth @ Trash Bar | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $8
Reagan Youth were one of the original NYHC bands of the early 80's. Playing political hardcore punk in the greatest American tradition, Reagan Youth were stars at CBGBs and the A7 club back in the day. Go see them. [MySpace]


Friday, December 11

Fiery Furnaces + Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers @ Music Hall of Williamsburg | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $15 adv./$17 dos.
The Fiery Furnaces are one of the most insane bands ever. They are a brother and sister, but if a classic evil villian living alone in a castle at the top of a mountain in Romania were going to make an indie pop album, it would sound pretty much like Fiery Furnaces' Blueberry Boat. Assuming that evil villain knew quite a bit about writing hooks and melodies. And Shilpa Ray is opening. Her raw blues-punk is centered around her hand-powered harmonium and ability to scream the f-word very loudly. (That's a good thing.) [FF MySpace] [SR&HH MySpace]

Forgetters @ Market Hotel | Bushwick, Brooklyn
Forgetters are a punk band formed by Blake Schwarzenbach of Jawbreaker and Jets to Brazil, along with Against Me! drummer Kevin Mahon and visual artist Caroline Paquita. There is no one on earth who can conceive of how deeply I love Jawbreaker. Um, fuck yes.


Saturday, December 12

Fiery Furnaces + Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers @ Bowery Ballroom | LES, Manhattan | $15 adv./$17 dos.
See above.

Tyvek @ Silent Barn | Ridgewood, Queens
I want to mention Tyvek because they are from Michigan so you can't see them any old time. They are a punk band. However, they come to NYC pretty often and Silent Barn is an awful venue, so I'd skip it. [MySpace]

A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Jaguar Club @ Union Hall | Park Slope, Brooklyn | $10
I've kind of cooled off on electrogazers ASDIG after their disappointing album earlier this year. Jaguar Club, on the other hand, is an unquestionably awesome rock band. Maybe not anything to write home about, but definitely a great way to spend a Saturday night. [ASDIG MySpace] [JC MySpace]


Sunday, December 13

Blank Dogs, Led Er Est, Silk Flowers @ Monster Island Basement | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $7
Blank Dogs play extremely lo-fi gothy post punk. Led Er Est are also goth-influenced, playing minimal electronic-based post punk with a psychedelic edge. I haven't decided how I feel about Silk Flowers, but they involve synthesizers and slurry, neanderthal-styled dark post punk music. So basically, this line-up actually makes sense, with each band sounding different from the others, but all fitting into the gloomy, measured style of the early 80's, and all putting their own experimental spin on that sound. [BD MySpace] [LEE MySpace] [SF MySpace]


Monday, December 14

The Slits + Sisters, the Sundelles @ Highline Ballroom | Chelsea, Manhattan | $15
The Slits were one of the greatest punk bands of the initial punk explosion in London in 1977. These ladies hung with the Sex Pistols and were as just as badass. Their influence on punk, indie pop, grunge and riot grrrl is immeasurable. Also, apparently, whoever is picking out their opening acts has the same tastes as me, since Sisters and Sundelles just played at my showcase Friday and were totally awesome. The Sundelles play energetic, balls-to-the-wall garage rock. Sisters play lo-fi noise pop with insane drumming and hummable songs. This is worth way more than fifteen bucks, don't miss it. [Slits Website] [Sisters MySpace] [Sundelles MySpace]


Tuesday, December 15

The Antlers + Sharon van Etten @ Bowery Ballroom | LES, Manhattan | $13 adv. / $15 dos.
The Antlers are a very sad trio who make very noisy ambient songs about abuse and loss. Their 2009 album is easily one of the best of the decade. Comparisons to Radiohead, Arcade Fire and Neutral Milk Hotel are in order. [MySpace]

[Upcoming Shows Playlist]

The long view...

December
16
Raekwon @ The Fillmore

17
The For Carnation @ Knitting Factory
Pterodactyl @ Cameo

29-31
Patti Smith @ Bowery Ballroom

January 2010
15
Gang Gang Dance, DJ/Rupture @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

16
Dinosaur Jr @ Bowery Ballroom

17
Dinosaur Jr @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

25
Cheap Trick @ The Fillmore

29-30
Mission of Burma @ Bowery Ballroom

February
6
Don Giovanni showcase: Shellshag, Screaming Females, Jeff the Brotherhood + more @ Bowery Ballroom

9
Residents @ Webster Hall

13
Magnetic Fields @ Brooklyn Academy of Music

[Upcoming Shows Playlist]

Monday, December 7, 2009

Thanks!

Thanks everyone who came to the show Friday! It should go without saying, the bands were all amazing. Everyone sounded the best I've ever heard them, seriously. I want to thank all four bands not only for putting so much energy into their sets, but also for helping me organize and promote the event. And thanks especially to Ric Leichtung of Market Hotel for helping me out with the whole process and for taking care of all the logistics so I didn't have to run around in a state of panic on Friday! Ric is awesome.

Monster Island Basement were wonderful hosts, and I have to mention the sound engineer in particular, because for a DIY basement venue, the sound was unbelievable. For any sort of venue, the sound was unbelievable.

Thanks again everyone! It was a really fun night! And if you didn't make it out, check out these bands another time, cause they are seriously fuckin awesome!

Shellshag - "The White Stripes on steroids and crack" (Jersey Beat 2007) [MySpace] [Official Site]

Big Troubles - "Big Troubles is Ian and Alex, two guys from Ridgewood, New Jersey looking to give you a sonic shoulder rub if you can stand it. Just as their fellow Ridgewoodians Real Estate tend to dunk theirs underwater, Ian and Alex blanket most melodies in loads of fuzz and distortion. Lots of kids are doing it these days, few are doing it as well as these two." (The Tripwire) [MySpace] [Official Site]

Sisters - "The Brooklyn duo Sisters pull nineties alternative rock into the twenty-first century, skillfully tempering Gen X slacker aesthetics with an earnest optimism and youthful vigor." (The New Yorker [!!!]) [MySpace] [RFR Review]

The Sundelles - "The band's sound is as classic garage as you can get and there is something reminiscent of Sid Vicious in the singer's voice. This track is filled with youthful exuberance and defiance. Definitely mixtape worthy!" (Rock Insider) [MySpace]

Friday, December 4, 2009

TONIGHT!!! Shellshag, Sisters, Big Troubles, Sundelles

December 4 @ Monster Island Basement


Shellshag - "The White Stripes on steroids and crack" (Jersey Beat 2007) [MySpace] [Official Site]

Big Troubles - "Big Troubles is Ian and Alex, two guys from Ridgewood, New Jersey looking to give you a sonic shoulder rub if you can stand it. Just as their fellow Ridgewoodians Real Estate tend to dunk theirs underwater, Ian and Alex blanket most melodies in loads of fuzz and distortion. Lots of kids are doing it these days, few are doing it as well as these two." (The Tripwire) [MySpace] [Official Site]

Sisters - "The Brooklyn duo Sisters pull nineties alternative rock into the twenty-first century, skillfully tempering Gen X slacker aesthetics with an earnest optimism and youthful vigor." (The New Yorker [!!!]) [MySpace] [RFR Review]

The Sundelles - "The band's sound is as classic garage as you can get and there is something reminiscent of Sid Vicious in the singer's voice. This track is filled with youthful exuberance and defiance. Definitely mixtape worthy!" (Rock Insider) [MySpace]

It's at Monster Island Basement a.k.a. Secret Project Robot art gallery* a.k.a. 210 Kent Ave., at the corner of Kent and Metropolitan. Doors at 8 PM, costs $7.

[Edit: Apparently it isn't technically a.k.a. Secret Project Robot, that's a difference space in the same building. The show is at Monster Island Basement, my bad! Sorry for any confusion.]

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Live: Jesus Lizard

When: 11/17
Where: Irving Ballroom

To be honest, I missed most of the Jesus Lizard set at Irving Ballroom for reasons I won't go into. That really sucks because I love Jesus Lizard and also because I bought a ticket and it wasn't cheap. And also because I saw the set list and I know they played a lot of my favorite songs from the first three albums before I arrived. Nevertheless, I caught enough of the show to have something to say (surprise!) so here goes...

Jesus Lizard has always been a nasty, ugly band. Their music epitomizes the best of the Midwest's golden era - that post-hardcore, pre-thrashy alt metal window where bands like Big Black, Naked Raygun, the Effigies and Killdozer mixed punk's DIY ethos and teenage-boy aggression with far more sophisticated musical ideas. Although the bands of this scene have vastly varied sounds, most of the best pushed the extremes of weight and volume while at the same time learning from the UK's post-punk grooves. The result was music simultaneously more caustic than most punk or metal and with more melodic and rhythmic flow.

Jesus Lizard certainly embraces this. Their noise rock influences make their sound jarring and asymmetrical. Over the distorted, two-ton bassy riffs, David Yow crafts equally bilious, hateful vocals.

So what of their live show now? Even the best reunited bands seem to lose a little excitement when they reach a certain age. But not Jesus Lizard. Apologies to average-looking 50-year-olds everywhere, but having a half-naked, pale, slightly flabby, sweat-drenched one repeatedly screaming "MOTHERFUCKER" at you is even more disturbing than having a sweaty 27-year-old repeatedly screaming "MOTHERFUCKER" at you. Jesus Lizard is about making people uncomfortable, and though Yow and company aren't inherently ugly, they embrace ugliness as an ultimate unsettling aesthetic. Sonically and visually, they'll send most people running for the door, and those people are running faster than ever. And that's why we love this band.

[MySpace]