Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The 7th Best Album Of 2009: Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. 2

Since hiphop writing by white, suburban 20-somethings is frequently terrible and usually embarassing, I'm going to try and be as straightforward as possible: I really like this album. Like a lot of people, I waited a long time for it, expecting to be disappointed, but I wasn't. Isn't that amazing? It doesn't have the airtight mafioso storytelling of pt. 1, but I don't think anyone was banking on that. Instead it's simply a collection of (mostly) excellent tracks, with top-notch guest spots by (expectedly) Ghostface Killah and (less expectedly) Method Man, among others.

Without sounding too dismissive, Cuban Linx 2 is this years' obligatory top-10 Wu-Tang record. Any other year, it would be a Ghostface album, and in many ways it is, as Ghost is consistently the most engaging MC on this record in particular, and arguably in hiphop in general. Like (I'd imagine) most other music writers, I'm predisposed to enjoying Wu Tang albums--their whole mythology, combined with their superior storytelling, out sized personalities and penchant for obscure, frequently nerdy pop culture references make them a perfect storm of crossover whiteboy appeal. Any person who has ever seen the Wu live knows this--that shit is whiter than a sack of rice.

Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. 2, the 7th best album of 2009!

I Fucked Up The Order of This By Misremembering My Own Damn List. . The 9th Best Album of 2009: Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms

It's fitting that a decade that (sort of) began with Daft Punk's Discovery would end with a record like Psychic Chasms, if only to illustrate how little things actually change. Neon Indian is, at its core, Daft Punk with a Wavves-esque lo-fi aesthetic applied to it. Its built on the same obscure samples, the same 4/4 beats. In the 9 years since Discovery, the technological means have increased to the point where any garage band fiddling around with Reason could create a reasonable facsimile of Daft Punk's sound--but Psychic Chasms sounds like a garage band is actually performing it.

Make no mistake, this is not a timeless album--it's the polar opposite. Neon Indian is a band that is wholly representative of the time in which it was released. This is recession dance music. Music for a time where the industry is so fucked up that its biggest stars are (gasp) songwriters!* and shouldabeen one-hit-wonders like Flo Rida (I know, right?) have multiple number 1 hits. It's all shit. This is no time for glossy-ass crossover hipster electro-pop; this is a time for slightly-more-lo-fi-than-usual crossover hipster electro-pop!

It's easy to rag on the whole endeavor, especially considering it's always referred to as "Alan Palomo's collaboration with visual artist [so and so]." And since that sounds really pretentious, and since the music has been unfortunately dubbed "chillwave" by the kinds of people who catalog new music by inexplicable subgenres, people rag on it a lot. Again, this is why Psychic Chasms is just oh-so 2009. 2009, when "hip" people listened to a style of music called "chillwave"! It's like looking at a photo of yourself when you had shoulder-length hair; sure it looks stupid now, but it was a lot of fun at the time.

And oh yeah, there's some really great songs on the record. But who cares about those? Any idiot can listen to songs--you need me to provide them with some sort of cultural relevance. Right? "Should Have Taken Acid With You" is my fucking ringtone. I have exemplary taste. C'mon.

Psychic Chasms by Neon Indian, the ninth best album of 2009!


*in reference to Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, who, if it were '99, would be relegated to passing off the hit singles they write to Christina Aguilera or something. 2009 popstars are sorta like real musicians. Weird, huh?

Monday, December 28, 2009

The 8th Best Album of the 2009: Future Of The Left - Travels With Myself And Another

No interesting insights about this one, I just like it a lot. The eighth best album of 2009!

The 6th Best Album of 2009: the Flaming Lips - Embryonic

Like a lot of others, I'm sure, I never asked for a new Flaming Lips album in the year 2009. It wasn't that I thought they weren't capable of it, or that their last album was particularly bad. It was that I hadn't really thought about the Flaming Lips at all. And why should I have? I've seen their live show, I've heard from people who have seen it more than once that it's always the same, so why bother? They do what they do, and they do it well. They can sell "Do You Realize?" to Mastercard for commercials for the rest of their lives and tour and Wayne Coyne can make public appearances to remind everyone how wacky and eccentric he is and the world will just keep on turning.

But then they released Embryonic and--holy shit--it's really good. Good enough to make me start thinking about the Flaming Lips again--about their back catalog, their live show, their legacy--and more importantly, thinking about why I hadn't been thinking about them before. Like I said: it isn't as though they had slid into mediocrity; while I rarely listen to it, At War with the Mystics was a solid, if unspectacular, addition to the catalog and that was just one album removed from the critically-adored Yoshimi, which of course, was just one album removed from the even-more-critically-adored Soft Bulletin. Not to mention all the stuff they recorded when they were all raging junkies in the 90s.


I never listen to Yoshimi or Mystics. Yoshimi, i think, is little more than a Soft Bulletin rehash and I just don't need that much Flaming Lips in my life. All of this makes Embryonic all that much better for me. Because it sounds nothing like anything they've done before, but exactly like something that they should have done before. Initially you write it off as a throwback to their 90's stuff, until you realize just how much more complex and fully realized it is. And It's so far away from the technicolor glitter and confetti of their vaunted live show that I cannot imagine them touring behind it without overhauling the entire show. It's dark and complicated and thematically cohesive; it has all of the ambition and grandeur of the Soft Bulletin without any of the schmaltz. And it never sounds forced. Not even the track with MGMT.

It's rare for any band to take such a dramatic step forward, much less one as established as the Flaming Lips. At some point, expectations reach the point where any album that isn't a masterpiece gets written off as evidence that the band is slipping. The "dad rock" cries get louder every time Wilco releases an album that isn't another Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which they never will, and maybe they were dad rock the whole time, right? But let's not go down that road. What i'm trying to say is that Embryonic's very existence is basically impossible. Bands who have put in 20+ years don't just decide to switch up their whole sound and make their masterpiece. But the Flaming Lips did it. Good for them. Sixth best album of 2009!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Party Preparation Procrastination 2009 Best of List Spectacular

I always talk about my top 5s or top 10s of the year or whatever, but I rarely actually follow through with them. It's a largely pointless endeavor that's really only useful to online publications who are looking for more hits. The rankings don't really matter and by the next year, they'll probably looking pretty embarrassing. But sometimes people need to kill some time; hey, I could stand to kill some time right now! Hors D'Oeuvres can wait! Here's my top 20 albums of 2009.

20. Cold Cave - Love Comes Close
This is probably just a result of misguided Philly-homerism, but I don't care, I like this record. I'll probably still throw this one on every once in awhile through the next year, so i'd say that fulfills my nebulous year-end list criteria. It's dancey, but never obnoxious; dark, but not depressing. Plus they've got a New Order thing going on, which I'm a total sucker for.

19. Smith Westerns - Smith Westerns
There's a million bands out there doing this sort of punked-up 50s pop rock, but these guys do it particularly well. "Dreams" is my fucking jam. That opening riff. Jesus.

18. Lotus Plaza - the Floodlight Collective
Bradford gets all the press, but this was the best Deerhunter side project to release an album this year. It doesn't have anything as awesome as "Walkabout", but it's a way more consistent listening experience.

17. CFCF - Continent
This sounds like sexy weather channel music. That's a compliment.

16. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains
These guys tap into everything I like about 90s indie rock, so I don't particularly care that they aren't doing anything new. It's not like Modest Mouse or Pavement are releasing new albums.

15. Fever Ray - Fever Ray
For what it's worth, I've probably listened to this more than any Knife album.

14. Built to Spill - There is No Enemy
I almost mentioned these guys along with Pavement and Modest Mouse, but then I realized they somehow released a really awesome, totally relevant in 2009. Good for these old bearded dudes. I'm still never paying to see them live again.

13. Junior Boys - Begone Dull Care
So, it's not the best Junior Boys album, but it's got a handful of top-notch tracks and even the worst Junior Boys album is bound to be better than whatever flavor of the month bullshit is blowing up on Hype Machine right now.

12. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
11. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
10. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

There's nothing I can say about these albums that hasn't already been said a million different ways by a million different blogs. But let me ask you something: when was the last time you listened to MPP? Isn't it kind of bullshit? Outside of like, "My Girls" and "Bluish" I mean. I could probably throw together a 10 song mix that encompasses all the Animal Collective I need to hear for the rest of my life. I sort of hate all 3 of these bands, even if I do like a bunch of their songs.

9 through 1: Coming later, after I make dips for this mo'fuckin crudite.

Monday, November 30, 2009

New Review Notes! I Sorta Liked This One!

-ambient intro sorta sounds like broken social scene

-…or flaming lips, because this second song sounds like something from the Soft Bulletin; less lush sounding than the Soft Bulletin; vocals are definitely a little flaming lips, but yknow, not as good. Even the Flaming Lips realized they didn’t need to sound like this anymore. It’s not terrible, but this is seriously just like a song from the Soft Bulletin. Grandiose? I mean, that’s what they’re going for. With the strings and the horns and all. Hey! Take this song seriously, it’s got a military style drum beat and horns and strings people! Not bad, I can’t really hate on this too hard.

-OH NOOOOO! VOCODERS! ROBOT ROCK, Y’ALL! Lyric about Hovercars, refers to a woman as an “IBM.” Yikes. Guess what? This song is about THE FUTURE! It’s pretty catchy. It’s so dumb, though. The chorus is pretty fun; no vocoder on that. Man, tough call on that one.

-This is nice, a little BSS-y again. I don’t know how you go from singing about robot women and hovercars to this. That was pretty nice. This band has not impressed me, but they haven’t done anything to make me hate them. Vocoder song came close, though. But maybe not!

-Again, not bad. A little folky now, maybe? Horn arrangements are back. Banjo, too, I think. This sounds like something off of a Bright Eyes album, only without any of the lyrical handwringing. Totally like something off of Lifted but completely devoid of any emotional sentiment, for better or worse. They still sort of sound like the Flaming Lips.

-eh, interlude track. Oh hey, here’s a song we didn’t feel like finishing so we’re gonna make it sound like it’s being played through a tin can underwater and only be a minute long. I’m on to you guys.

-Alt Country-y ballad. “Here’s a Star”. This is adequate. Whole album, really. Would I ever listen to this again? If this band were playing a free show or opening for someone else, they’d be the kind of band that makes you think, “hey, these guys are decent, I should check out some of their other stuff sometime”…and then you never do.

-Back to the Flaming Lips well, I think. I don’t get these guys—they’re doing all of this stuff marginally well, and they aren’t some young band who hasn’t figured out where they’re going yet, they’re pros. DO SOMETHING NEW GUYS, EVERYONE HAS HEARD THIS STUFF BEFORE.

-These songs are all running together. This is frustrating in its mediocrity. If I weren’t paying attention on it for the purposes of the review, it would just blend into the background. There’s a compliment in there somewhere. Put it this way: if someone put this album on while I was doing the dishes, I wouldn’t ask them to turn it off.

-this is different. Well, it’s different for them. This is a krautrock song. Hey, I like krautrock. This is pretty rockin’; I’d listen to this song. Nah, I’d just put on Neu instead. At the very least, this song engages you. If I were doing the dishes and this song came on, I’d stop ask who it’s by. “Rules of Disengagement.”

-Ugh, this song again. There are basically 3 songs on this record; the robot voice song, the krautrock song, and the other one(s). HEY DID I MENTION SOMETIMES THEY SOUND LIKE A LESS INTERESTING FLAMING LIPS, CUZ THEY DO!

-This album is a 5 all the way. Middle of the mofuckin’ Road, man. This song is good. “Resignation Studies.” I really like this song. That’s why this album is a 5—some songs are good, some songs are forgettable; nothing sounds new, but nothing sounds terrible. Losing me with the sleigh bells here, guys. Eh, whatever, that was good.

-Finishing strong here. Bigtime BSS vibe here, they’re doing that anthemic horns and “la la las” thing that BSS always does. It’s working for them. Pushing their way towards a very serviceable 6 or so (and so could you, ladies! eh, sorry everyone). PIANO BUILDUP! I LOVE THE PIANO BUILDUP! Aww, no dice. Whatever, that was good too.

-Hey, it’s over. Not bad; I count 3 or 4 songs I wouldn’t mind listening to again. Nothing earth shattering; perhaps the definition of average. Hey, the first song sounds like the big anthemic second to last song! Continuity!

-There’s a bonus disc with some remixes and covers (ELO and Alicia Keys, of all people) Neon Indian remixes “Here’s a star” and I love Neon Indian but, like, why? It sounds like a Neon Indian song, but not as good. There’s nothing about “Here’s a Star” that needs a chillwave remix. Here’s an idea, if you want to make a song that sounds like it came out in 2009, try writing one next time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I'm writing reviews elsewhere now, here are my notes.

I'm going to review some albums for Prefix--yeah, I don't know what that is either--but I'm going to try and do records that I'd never listen to anyway. Here are some notes I made while listening to Hearts by Awesome New Republic. Guess how awesome they are. Go ahead.

Hint: they're less awesome than the name may lead you to believe!

-An overly polished Hot Chip with lyrics that are too cliché to actually be earnest.

-Vocals ranging from mediocre faux-prince falsetto to something you’d hear on an 80’s soft rock station

-Waaaaay too many vocals. Bigtime 80’s/electrohouse thing going on here.

-This is really bad; it’s the vocals. This would be serviceable in the hands of some Swedish Balearic pop dudes, but these guys are seriously out of their element. This guy has the least cool voice I’ve ever heard. It’s proficient in the way the dude’s voice from King of Leon is; it is so out of place here. I can’t believe I’m thinking it, but I want him to sound more detached and ironic.

-This is so by the numbers. These are not good dance songs. These are not good songs.

-If this is meant to be a joke, it’s even worse than if they’re serious. There is some seriously uninspired proficiency at work here. It’s like when commercials can’t afford song rights so they hire some songwriter to do similar genre stuff.

-Oh no. Acoustic guitar. This is probably going to turn mid tempo dancey soon. These guys make MGMT look like the beatles. This is the best song so far, I think? Track 5. It would be Cut Copy’s worst song. Falsetto works much better than his “soft” voice.

-Uh oh, soft voice again. Whoa, these guys are really bad. Of course they’re from Florida. I almost forgot these guys are called “Awesome New Republic.” What the fuck did I expect? This is MGMT for the mentally handicapped. “I feel like Darth Vader inside?” Oh my god. They said it again. I think it’s the chorus. No no no no no. Now I feel like Darth Vader inside. Thanks, Awesome New Republic.

-I like this beepy thing, it’s the most pleasing sound in this song. Consider the bar lowered.

-Ooooh! Club track! Electro-saw-synth thingy. Falsetto! This song might just be inoffensive enough to work! I don’t even know how to evaluate this record anymore. I’d probably feel really embarrassed to be listening to this around other people, but in the context of this record, it’s pretty good. This should be playing over the credits of an 80’s movie. I don’t even know if this is good or not, but it’s not horrible like the rest of this album. “Deep Love”, track 8.

-DANCE PUNK ALERT!! Is that a saxophone? This song is pretty goofy. AHHH dance punk thing again, it’s really not working for them. This is the worst Franz Ferdinand song ever.

-Weird Al. That’s what the guy sounds like when he’s singing in his normal voice. Not nasally jokey weird Al, but like, serious singing Weird Al. He probably doesn’t sound anything like him, but something like that. UGHHHHH. EXTENDED METAPHOR ABOUT BIKES FOR THE WHOLE SONG!? THIS SONG IS ABOUT SEX TOO. I HATE MUSIC NOW.

-Ooooh title track/album closer. Let’s do this shit, Awesome New Republic; let’s get motherfucking serious. Good, start off boring…now build it up for me! Really wow me with this one, I know you’ve got it in you. Sad montage music for a crappy movie? Check. This album is everything bad about the last 5 years of crossover hipster dance pop. Really, that’s it? That’s your big finish? You guys suck. Go back to Florida.

-Well, it’s a short 35 minutes. So, uh, awesome.