The Year’s Most Unappreciated Records

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2009 by peteymenz

The general consensus last year was that 2008 was a mediocre year in terms of music.  Despite the triumphant return of Portishead, the brilliance of No Age, and the epic drones of Fuck Buttons, 2008 simply didn’t live up to its immediate predecessor, 2007, or really any other year in the 2000s, which turned out to be a damn good decade for music.

2009, on the other hand, has been met with much praise; Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion, Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest have all been called masterpieces, something that eluded most albums released in 2008.  But despite all this praise, there were several records that didn’t get the love they deserved.  Four albums, to be exact; Mos Def’s The Ecstatic, Jim O’Rourke’s The Visitor, Annie’s Don’t Stop, and Dan Deacon’s Bromst.

MOS DEF- THE ECSTATIC Even in “underground” hip-hop, large personalities dominate.  Perhaps even more in underground hip-hop- Kanye never declared himself a supervillain as MF DOOM did.  And that might be the reason that Mos Def’s The Ecstatic didn’t get the attention it deserved.  Sure, Raekwon’s comeback Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. 2 was a better album, but The Ecstatic was more of a comeback.  It brings Mos back to the largely mellow grooves of 1999’s Black On Both Sides and provides just as pleasurable a listening experience; if Mos doesn’t blow you away as much as he did a decade ago, then that’s a shame and probably the primary reason this album didn’t get as many positive accolades as it deserved.

JIM O’ROURKE- THE VISITOR Jim O’Rourke shot himself in the foot with this one; it’s a single 40-minute track, but not a full out drone piece like 1997’s Happy Days.  It’s a brilliant piece of orchestral pop, but it’s still a 40-minute long instrumental.  With this paradox, Jim alienates both the people who love him exclusively because of his rock and roll records like Insignificance and the people who love him exclusively because of his free jazz background.  Both of these groups could find something to love in The Visitor; it’s a tremendously interesting and beautiful piece that never resorts to clichés of instrumental pop music.  Most importantly, there are no prog moments.

ANNIE- DON’T STOP Most of the criticism from this album resulted from the fact that the two great singles- “I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me” and “Anthonio”-  Annie released before this LP were ultimately not included on the album.  This is indeed a shame- both songs are fantastic, and their inclusion would definitely have aided the album.  Still, what’s invigorating about Don’t Stop is how it constitutes a significant artistic step for Annie; she’s making straight up dance pop now, not the dance pop she was making on her first album Anniemal.  As great as that album was, continuing in the same vein would have been a dead end (taking the beat from one hipper-than-thou disco epic, as she did on “Come Together,” was enough.).  Don’t Stop is more of a regular dance-pop album; what makes it special is how catchy it is. Two reservations; there’s nothing as transcendent as Anniemal’s “Heartbeat,” and The Breakfast Song” is awful.

DAN DEACON- BROMST I classify this as underrated because it hasn’t been praised to high heaven.  Dan Deacon has never had any difficulty with engendering euphoria in his listeners, but he’s never succeeded as much as he has here.  When he gets philosophical, he makes Snookered,  the best song of his career.  When he gets artsy, he makes Wet Wings, one of the most interesting songs he’s ever recorded.  The first four songs- Build Voice, Red F, Paddling Ghost, and Snookered- are the greatest opening salvo in electronic music since Massive Attack put Angel, Rising Son, Inertia Creeps, and Teardrop at the start of their masterpiece Mezzanine.  Best of all, Bromst isn’t even front-loaded.  Masterful.

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The Song Of The Decade: A Pre-Pitchfork Prediction

Posted in Track Review with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2009 by peteymenz

Despite the fact that this decade is in no way over, Pitchfork Media is still going ahead and publishing their top 500 tracks of the 2000s. Though I hope that Lightning Bolt’s new album, Earthly Delights (out Nov. 13) includes at least one track that makes the Pitchfork writers sorry they jumped the gun, the truth is that there’s probably nothing left in the 2000s that will significantly affect Pitchfork’s list. Which is not to say they didn’t mess up; if listing 300 tracks without a word of description for any isn’t a cheap trick, then I don’t know what is. However, I’m not here to review Pitchfork; I’m here to beat them to the punch and name my best track of the 2000s, which won’t be bettered in the next four months and probably not in the next four years. Yes- All My Friends is just that good. Read on; For all of its virtues, Someone Great never struck me as a particularly emotionally resonant song. Something in James Murphy’s falsetto lends the song a certain archness that’s been apparent in nearly every LCD Soundsystem song, from Losing My Edge to New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down. So, as good as Someone Great is, it seemed to lack a genuine emotional push, which is probably because Murphy made the music (taken from 45:33) before the words, which he probably made up on the spot. It was the “emotional” (quotation marks very important) song I expected LCD to make; musically fantastic, lyrically witty, and with a raised eyebrow All My Friends is a bit different, as it marks the point where even though Murphy references Steve Reich with the piano, he doesn’t need to make the song about Steve Reich and how he was totally into Music For 18 Musicians before you and your friends were. It’s a cutting song, but the damning lyrics are sympathetic, unlike pretty much every other song Murphy ever wrote. All My Friends is about living a hedonistic life and finding it hollow, about aging and regretting, and, despite the first person, about Murphy himself. Losing My Edge, LCD’s first song, was also about Murphy. But the difference between this and All My Friends is the difference between Rodney Dangerfield and Woody Allen. What Losing My Edge lacks is transcendent; what All My Friends lacks is the designation of best song of the decade. Coming from me, it doesn’t matter too much, but if any song represents the general mood of the 2000s (slightly elegiac, darkly humorous, emotional), it’s this one. And you can dance to it.

Elevator Music: Two New Songs

Posted in Stupid Bands, Track Review with tags , , , , , , on July 7, 2009 by peteymenz

Today, I legally downloaded the first single, Boy 1904, from Sigur Ròs frontman Jónsi Birgisson’s side project with his lover Alex Somers, listened to it, and found the absolute nadir of ambient music.  

It’s easy to see why people like Sigur Ròs; it’s absurdly beautiful music that’s also essentially meaningless.  The lyrics are sung in a nonsense language made up by Birgisson, meaning uptight parents don’t have to worry about the band spreading any messages dealing with Satan, vegetarianism, or gay lifestyles, no one has to worry about getting the words wrong (it’s all phonetic anyway), and no one has to bother looking for any artistic message whatsoever.  The good thing is that this it’s pure pleasure music, and thus pretty listenable.  Boy 1904 is listenable too.  But what makes it so much worse than Sigur Ròs is that it’s pretty much the same thing they always do; anthemic melody stretched out and slowed down, but never to mind-boggling lengths.  The Ramones had more complexity than this.  There are no layers to this music; repeated listening doesn’t reveal anything at all.  

What strikes me most about it is how it’s even more meaningless than the usual stuff from the group; it features a recording of the last castrato singer, which doesn’t add anything to the song (Jónsi sounds like his balls were cut off anyway), the title doesn’t even pretend to be something in Icelandic, and worst of all, it’s treated to sound like some old record.  The song wants the air of something antiquated and epic, but it just rings false.  The album, Riceboy Sleeps should be more of the same.

Right after that song finished, my iTunes library switched to “If I Ever Feel Better” by Phoenix, which has pretty fluffy lyrics and might be just as meaningless.  But it’s infinitely better than Boy 1904, simply because it has a beat.  

 

AIR has a new song out too, from their upcoming album Love 2; like Boy 1904, it follows the same pattern, but it’s a hell of a lot more successful, simply because AIR is more fun to listen to than Sigur Ròs.  Do The Love even indulges in B-movie synths and the cheesiest vocoding effects these Frenchmen have used yet.  It’s an immensely enjoyable and lightweight track.  

3 Out of 5 Ain’t Bad: Capsule Reviews

Posted in Record Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2009 by peteymenz

 

Sadly, Jim ORourkes influence is only felt on the bizarre cover art.

Sadly, Jim O'Rourke's influence is only felt on the bizarre cover art.

In the last month or so, there have been a flurry of releases that attract lots of attention, be it because the band is famous (Wilco, Sonic Youth), the band and/or record is really, really good (Phoenix, Dirty Projectors), or because the band is really good and Pitchfork gave one of its songs a 10 (Grizzly Bear).  With all of this stuff getting released at once, you may be forgiven for not knowing which ones to pick up/which one should be first in your downloads queue.  Thus, here’s a helpful consumer guide for the age where Robert Christgau gives everything an A-.  

 

 

Wilco: Wilco (The Album): Jeff Tweedy (The Increasingly Boring Frontman) and co. serve up another scoop of vanilla songwriting, complete with cutesy lyrics (I’d like to believe that “Wilco will love you baby” has some level of irony to it) and the lack of a production job by Jim O’Rourke (The Guy Who Saved Wilco AND Sonic Youth).  In addition, the death of Jay Bennett (The Foil) probably means Wilco (The Horrible Band) will only get worse.

 

Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca: The only reason it took Dirty Projectors this long to make an album this good is because their frontman Dave Longstreth insisted on doing things like covering Black Flag’s Damaged from memory and being diverse in an ADD kind of way.  Now he’s past all that, and guess what?  Bitte Orca’s great.  

 

Sonic Youth: The Eternal: Actually, there are several good things about this album.  

1) The length of the album is not in fact eternal, though sometimes it feels like it.  

2) If you’ve ever gotten depressed by listening to a Sonic Youth album because you think you and your band could never do something as great as this, this album should be a good pick me up.

3) If you’ve ever felt bad about thinking Kim Gordon is sexy, this album should be a good cure.

4) Like… cool album art, dude.

 

Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix: Finally, forty plus years after the Beatles and the Beach Boys, the world produced a pop band that it’s 100% cool for everyone, from hopelessly square teenage girls to tragically hip Pitchfork bitches to enjoy.  So, yeah; it’s a really fricking good album.  

 

Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest: Whenever I can’t decide whether or not I should do something, like tell you to buy Grizzly Bear’s latest album, I make a list of pros and cons.  And so…

Pros: Beautiful production, some great songs, New York band, guys in said band seem nice enough.   

Cons: Not quite as good as their last record, silly cover art.  

So the pros barely win out.  But, the cons are pretty slight.  Buy it.  

Record Review: Yesterday and Today by the Field

Posted in Record Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2009 by peteymenz

Gee, dont you wish theyd take some inspiration from the Beatles?  http://cache.consumerist.com/assets/resources/2007/03/beatlesyesterday.jpg

I admit it; I trashed the Field when I reviewed their latest single, “The More That I Do”. Now that the album it was taken from, Yesterday and Today, has been released, I find that I dislike “The More That I Do” even more, as it stands as possibly the only blight on an album that’s nearly as good as the Field’s debut, 2007’s From Here We Go Sublime. Overall, what makes the album worse is the lack of novelty; it’s so similar to the debut that I half expected Axel Willner to call it Still Going Sublime. But like the music of the Field itself, the repetition doesn’t hurt, except in the zero-inspiration cover art, which kind of sucked the first time.  Aside from that and “The More That I Do”, Yesterday and Today is damn good. First track “You Have The Moon, I Have the Internet”, sounds a little bit like the first six or seven minutes of Lindstrøm’s magnificent space disco track “Where You Go I Go Too”, though to Willner’s credit, the song doesn’t come off like a Field remix of said Lindstrøm track, though it’s just as lush and enjoyable. The Norwegian disco producer is a major influence on this album, with the last track “Sequenced” being almost an Italo disco track. Second song “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime” is notable for its use of a beat other than 4/4 time, a great step forward for Willner. But the best song on the album, hands down, is the title track and collaboration with Battles drummer John Stanier, which is, though not quite as insane as a minimal house version of Atlas would be, a brilliant track. Though Yesterday and Today contains no mindf**k Lionel Richie sample moments, as From Here We Go Sublime did (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcpoXD_TKY8), it’s an undeniably solid album. And there might be a Lionel Richie sample in there somewhere; perhaps  the annoying vocal samples from “The in More That I Do” aren’t from Cocteau Twins after all.

King Of The Dogs: This Song’s A B***h

Posted in Stupid Bands, Track Review with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2009 by peteymenz

 

King of the Reasons to Die Young

King of the Reasons to Quit While You're Ahead

Iggy Pop is not the greatest singer in the world.  Yes, he is the first and foremost reason people listen to the Stooges, but what he does is not so much sing as talk loudly (as best heard on the seminal “I Wanna Be Your Dog”) or talk excitedly and scream and whoop (nearly all other songs by the Stooges).  As I see it, the only time when Iggy actually sang in a normal manner and did this successfully was on 1977’s Lust For Life, his best solo album.  

Iggy Pop does not attempt to sing in a normal manner on his newest song, “King of the Dogs”, but it pretty much sucks nonetheless.  Simply put, he sounds like a weak Disney villain cranking out his musical number.  The plausibility of this is shocking; Iggy hasn’t done anything worthwhile in years, he’s pretty much lost any aura of danger, and he voiced a baby in the Rugrats movie.  I have concluded that Iggy Pop was slated to appear in a new Disney movie until executives decided it was a horrible idea.  His next album, Préliminaires, is not an album about French philosophy; it is the scrapped soundtrack to the movie, an excerpt of which appears below.

 

THE NEW FILM FROM DISNEY: JOHNNY AND THE KING OF THE DOGS

Johnny, a nice all-American-verging-on-Aryan youth walks into a dark cave.

JOHNNY (frightened): Gee, I sure hope I don’t meet the king of the dogs!

On cue, the King of the Dogs, voiced by aging punk rocker Iggy Pop, comes out.

King of the Dogs: Muahaha!

The King of the Dogs begins singing a song, entitled “King of the Dogs”.  It should have a cheesy jazz backing track, highlight none of Mr. Pop’s talent (self-mutilation, shooting up on heroin, being ripped, being bored in a transcendent manner), and generally suck.  Lyrically it should be clichéd and uninspired, but not in any enjoyable manner.  

Johnny stands in shock.  The song finishes.

JOHNNY (confused): Didn’t you use to be really cool and stuff? And make music that started punk rock?  And make a much better song about dogs? 

KING OF THE DOGS: Well…. it’s a step up from the Weirdness, isn’t it?

 

 

If you really want to hear the song, here it is on Pitchfork Media.

The Art of the Mixtape

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2009 by peteymenz

 

Look at that outdated technology!

Look at that outdated technology!

From Elvis’s Presley’s “All Shook Up” to Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby”, from Big Black’s “Precious Thing” from their album “Songs About F*****g” to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl”, popular music is largely about love; sexual, platonic, unrequited, or otherwise.  This wealth of material is what makes the mixtape a fantastic courting mechanism for all the boys and girls too shy to walk up to their loved one and begin playing the Velvet Underground’s “After Hours”.

 

However, shyness does not correspond to fantastic musical taste, no matter what indie pop bands may have convinced you of.  So, in order to help all you people who would give the girl, boy, transsexual, eunuch, whatever of your dreams a mix filled with emo, nü metal, and 90s industrial rock, I have written this guide to make perfect mixtapes, or at least ones that won’t get you a restraining order.  There are four rules to making great mixtapes, and here they are.  

1. The lower fidelity the song, the more sensitive you will appear.  Compare Spoon’s “The Agony of Laffitte”, a vitriolic attack on a A&R man, with Oasis’s “Wonderwall”, a sappy and soaring love song.  Despite all the strings and cheesily romantic rhymes (‘maybe’ and ‘save me’ stick out in particular), “Wonderwall” doesn’t seem more endearing than “The Agony of Laffitte”, which is not a love song by any means.  From this we can begin to gauge the awesome powers of lo-fidelity.  Like all rules, this has an exception; badly recorded live bootlegs are not the best mixtape material…

2. …unless they are by the Velvet Underground.  Everything the Velvet Underground ever released can be put on a mixtape, except for 30-minute jams on Sister Ray.  And even that will work sometimes.  But seriously- if no other popular music existed besides the Velvets, mixtapes would still work perfectly.  From live recordings (“We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together”) to proto-shoegaze demos of songs Lou Reed would later make worse as a solo artist (“Ocean”), to the actual studio tracks, every single song is a mixtape gem.  An added note; the easiest way to make a great mix is to simply burn a CD/make a tape of the third and fourth albums by the Velvet Underground, “The Velvet Underground” and “Loaded”, respectively.  

3.  B-sides and demos are your god.  The problem with the mixtape is that ultimately, you’re going to find somebody with good music taste.  This means that there is no excuse for you to give he or she a mixtape.  But fear not- there is a way around this; the almighty B-sides and demos.  Unless your beloved has impeccable music taste, they will not have these tracks.  And neither will you.  But if you love this person and have no guts, you will get these tracks.  This of course complicates the situation; it can be tough to find the perfect b-side, when so many are filler or bad live tracks.  Demos are even worse; though I said before that lo-fi is fantastic, there may also be a point when it goes too far.  The optimal collection of demos are the one for Wilco’s 2002 album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, which would be a mixtape staple if everybody didn’t own it already.  These demos are great for two reasons; 1) the person you are giving this mixtape to probably already likes Wilco and 2) if he or she doesn’t, these songs are probably better than the released version of YHF and should win him or her over.  Not all demos can be like this, but the closer a demo or b-side comes to this standard, the better it will be on your mixtape.

4. Resist the urge to put Belle and Sebastian on your mixtape.  Yes, they’re indie.  Yes, they’re sensitive.  Yes, they’re literate.  Yes, they’re lo-fi.  Yes, they’re Scottish.  Yes, they’re shy and you can probably identify wit that.  But please, please, please put the Smiths on instead.