On the Horizon

2007 has drawn to a close (at least music wise. face it, it's over). Here's some of the stuff I'm excited to hear in the coming year. Now, a few of these have already leaked and I have already heard them, but this list is just in regards to things that will be officially released in physical form in 2008.
  • Atlas Sound - Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel (Kranky)
  • Xiu Xiu - Women as Lovers (Kill Rock Stars)
  • Why? - Alopecia (Anticon / Tomlab)
  • The Mae Shi - HLLYH (Moshi Moshi / Team Shi)
  • The Chap - Mega Breakfast (Lo Recordings / Ghostly)
  • Hot Chip - Made in the Dark (Astralwerks)
  • Evangelicals - The Evening Descends (Dead Oceans)
  • Boris - Smile (Southern Lord)
  • Panther - 14K God (Kill Rock Stars)
  • Parenthetical Girls - Entanglements (Slender Means Society (presumably))
  • Final Fantasy - Heartland (Tomlab (presumably))
  • Beach House - Devotion (Carpark)
  • Suburban Kids with Biblical Names - #4 (Labrador (presumably))
  • Clark - Turning Dragon (Warp)
  • Auburn Lull - Begin Civil Twilight (Darla)
  • DJ Donna Summer (Jason Forrest) - Panther Tracks (Cock Rock Disco)
  • Ben Benjamin (ex-Midwest Product) - The Many Moods of Ben Benjamin Vol. 1 (Ghostly)
(I think the Ben Benjamin record was just released the other day, but I haven't heard it yet...so I count it as something from next year. Makes sense, amirite?)

Things are shaping up nicely already!

Oh, and I just wanted to get this off my chest: I will freely admit that seeing Girl Talk this year was phenomenal. A really great experience with friends. But I am getting really annoyed by the whole Girl Talk / Dan Deacon "enforced fun" thing going on at their shows. It seems like the vibe is "you'd damn well better have the greatest fucking experience of your life and be willing to be tossed about in a sea of humanity or don't even show up because no one will like you." I hope that this vibe sort of fades in the coming year. Also, hows does a much-talked about live show translate into a great album? One does not equal the other, y'all.

That was me being cranky. Now I'm finished.

So this concludes the whole music listing ordeal for this year. Thanks to the invisible few who have been visiting and taking interest in my opinions. That's nice of you.


Top 10 Albums of the Year: #1

Deerhunter - Cryptograms (Kranky)
Whatever your stance on Deerhunter was over the course of this year, there's no denying they were pretty tough to avoid hearing about (whether it was for the right or wrong reasons). And that got annoying. Hype and such aside, the fact of the matter is I don't think I got as genuinely excited for any release or band as much as this band and this release all year. I've been blabbing about it since it leaked about this time last year, and my blabbing was rejuvenated when the Fluorescent Grey EP came out in the spring and I saw them live in Kansas City (they're a really great live band. luckily when I saw them they pulled no punches and just played a rock-solid set). Cryptograms blends perfect amounts of moodiness and noise and melody and shoegaze nostalgia and frontman Bradford Cox's commanding personality and rockin-ness and beauty and ambiance and just everything. And that's why I'm calling it my favorite record of the year.
"Lake Somerset" is an animal snarl of a track, coming forward with crescendos and pulling back with tense builds that are executed in expert fashion. Beatless numbers like "White Ink," "Red Ink" and "Providence" are not just mere fillers. They're fully realized components of the album as a whole, and stand up next to the output of many of Deerhunter's Kranky labelmates. The looping guitar echo, watery washes and worn drones on these tracks help bridge the more agressive tracks on the first half of the album and makes it so the weight of those songs doesn't become overwhelming. On the latter half of the record there is a bit less of ambient noodling (with the exception of the very nice "Tape Hiss Orchid") and a bit more direct pop / rock oriented songwriting. "Spring Hall Convert" thrills with it's synced near-relentless rhythm guitar and drum pounding and just sort of lifts off the ground with a plucked guitar and Cox's ethereal vocal chants. A lonesome bass opens "Hazel St.," but as the rest of the band joins in, the propulsive song spirals upward into one of the most glorious pieces on the album.
After spending a year with this album I'm still not tired of it. It pulls me in at all the right times and lets me float free in equal turn. The vocals are compelling when they come into focus and extremely effective when layered, looped, and coated with effects, making it another instrument (this was very apparently the case when seeing the band live). Knowing that this album was recorded as two separate halves over the course of a few years and under a number of intense personal struggles, I wonder whether being able to write and create new music in a more stable environment will produce even more focused work or result in a band too comfortable in it's sound. Who knows. With an individual like Cox, whose material seems so focused on youthful desperation and urgency, hopefully he will help guide Deerhunters efforts with the same sort of hunger and abandon that clearly fueled the recording of Cryptograms.


Top 10 Albums of the Year: #2

Panda Bear - Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)
Another stylistic turn was had by Noah Lennox (Panda Bear to most folks), precipitated seemingly by contrasting life situations. The last Panda Bear album, 2004's Young Prayer, was made in the wake of the death of Noah's father, and the bare, minimally adorned acoustic guitar and voice spoke volumes about his condition. Person Pitch was created under decidedly happier circumstances (marriage, a move to Lisbon, Portugal, and the birth of his child). Hence, Person Pitch has a different sound about it altogether: warm, full, and buoyant. I'm quite sure that no other album this year made me feel so damn good.
Like the previously mentioned No Age album, Person Pitch collects a series of 7" and 12" singles released on a variety of labels over the course of the past few years. Despite this, the construction of the album feels very organic. The song pacing doesn't seem haphazard or thrown-together in the least.
Now, a lot of this record might have a Beach Boys / Brian Wilson vocal harmony vibe about it. Fine, that's a given. But Noah seem to use this as a jumping off point for creating a sort of pop music that wears itself in and just dwells in its own melodies and sounds. Things keep moving forward, but there's never a rush.
You've already heard most of this, but it's a great album so it bears repeating. "Comfy in Nautica" and "I'm Not" hypnotize in their gentle, honeyed repetitions. "Take Pills" sways like the leaves of a palm tree during sunset and then picks up to a bonfire party tempo. "Good Girl / Carrots" travels through three distinct movements, from a tribal jam traveling in hyperspace to a walking-pace piano-anchored tune to something that sounds like a melted ice-cream truck chime. "Search for Delicious" and "Ponytail" let the album down easy, "Search" with its ambient textures and echoing vocals, and "Ponytail" with its simple autoharp-in-a-rainforest melody. The centerpiece of the album, of course, is "Bros," combining touches of tropicalia, folk, psych, and perhaps even a friendly dancefloor mentality into one of the best songs of the year.
You don't find too many albums with such an intense "good vibes" kind of feeling as Person Pitch. It is...instant levity.

Top 10 Albums of the Year: #3

Patrick Wolf - The Magic Position (Low Altitude / Polydor)
Turning quite the corner after the beautifully stark Wind in the Wires (2005), The Magic Position is largely as gleeful and bright an affair as the cover art might suggest. The cover might also suggest that the music is unabashedly theatrical, melodramatic, and a bit of a guilty pleasure (which it is). It is also a stunning collection of pop songs, essentially another notch in Wolf's already well-notched (and now glitter-coated) belt.
"Overture" kicks things off at a solid gallop and a majestic violin melody. It gets the blood pumping and sets the pace for the rest of the album. Combined with the title track and "Accident and Emergency," the opening trio of songs dazzle with their energy and sheen. Wolf exudes plenty of charisma and personality throughout the album, so song lines about being placed in the "major key" and living through the clouds so you can see the sun come off as surprisingly endearing instead of stomach-turning (which they should be).
All of this flamboyant vivaciousness is countered well by a handful of tracks with a more somber tone ("Bluebells," the mournful "Magpie"). "Augustine" stands out as a sort of classically styled yet updated pop ballad, and it's a great example of how Wolf's vocal style are becoming both continually refined and distinct. Interlude "Secret Garden" makes for a bone-rattling palette-cleanser with its ominous rave-sirens and distorted drums. It is also intriguing because it might point to the sound that Wolf will be advancing to in the future, as he has said he will be working with Alec Empire and tooling a massive, aggressive concept album about war and stuff (I think).
Since this is Wolf's first major-label album, it makes sense that things would go bigger, bolder, bigger, bolder, bigaarrrrrrrrr! And in such a situation an artists' sound might collapse under its own weight, but it seems like Wolf is a big enough personality that he manages his shined-up pop sound very nicely. He continues to follow his muse with each release, and one can only hope that this habit will result in continued diverse efforts.
And yet another personal note, the song "Enchanted" was used for the first dance at my wedding this summer. So there's that.


Top 10 Albums of the Year: #4

No Age - Weirdo Rippers (Fat Cat)
This album couldn't have a more appropriate title. Is there a list of "most appropriate album titles of the year"? Because this might top such a list. A dirty, well-worn punk rock aesthetic combines with a willingness to experiment and play with effects. Weirdo? Maybe. Rippers? Oftentimes, definitely. With this collection of songs from a series of 7"s and 12"s, Dean Spunt and Randy Randall have grabbed lots of attention from all corners of the music scene, and deservedly so.
The concise length of Weirdo Rippers (a bit over 30 minutes) is to its advantage. The pair blow through rousing stompers with gusto ("Boy Void," "Everybody's Down"), but they also spend time developing more atmospheric, guitar-pedal-effect driven pieces ("Loosen This Job," "I Wanna Sleep"). These tracks don't wander on into extended jams. The more freeform elements of No Age's music, and really just everything about No Age's music, is about exploring a particular sound or idea long enough to have it fully conveyed, and then move on before anything outlasts its welcome. Get in, do your thing, and get out. The album never really drags because even after a static-cloud of song, up comes something with a bit more teeth.
I first fell for No Age when I heard the track "Neck Escaper" back in early spring, and it remains a high point on the record. A clicking drum rim and pleasant guitar melody lead the song in, making you think the song might be one thing, but then the drums get a-crashin' and the guitar puffs out its chest and it becomes something else, neo-punk blues with an electrical cord plugged into its back. Brief yet powerful.
And altogether that's what's surprising and captivating about No Age: their capability to explore a formidable amount of sonic territory and manage to mesh everything together so effectively into this sort of amped up heap of fuzzed-out anti/un-punk, making it all catchy and listenable and enjoyable. Also appealing is the entire d.i.y. aesthetic that Dean and Randy so fervently support. The fact that they got their initial vinyl records out on either the label they run or the labels run by friends, the fact that they're so deeply involved with Los Angeles all-ages venue The Smell (it's right there on the cover), the whole youthful energy about it is infectious and encouraging. From interviews I've seen and read, Dean and Randy would probably tell you that Weirdo Rippers and No Age are as much an expression of themselves as it is an expression of the scene that fostered them that they feel so close to. It's rare to come across a record so concise that makes such an encompassing statement about a particular time, place, and particular individuals. It's about putting on and going to shows and dancing and sweating and rocking out and then also making the space to push yourself and push your peers, to create something always, always, always.
And get jazzed for more No Age in the future: another full length is due on Sub Pop sometime in 2008, and a big tour with Liars begins in January. Yesssssssss.




Top 10 Albums of the Year: #5

Stars of the Lid - And Their Refinement of the Decline (Kranky)
I have to admit that this album didn't hit me as hard as 2001's The Tired Sounds of... and as of right now it doesn't seem to stick to my music-listening ribs as much as the multi-part suites that made up a great bulk of Tired Sounds. This is not to say it's not a truly welcome return after some fully realized and fully excellent solo releases (from Adam Wiltzie's Dead Texan and Brian McBride under his own name), all the more welcome because of its double-disc length. And for me there's something, something that keeps me coming back to this album, something beyond the album's carefully incubated and plainly obvious beauty. Something gliding underneath the surface.
Talking about the songs themselves is a bit tough, since the point of Stars of the Lid albums has always seemed to be the collective effect of each composition working together. Strings swell and roll and sing, warm pads glow and recede, a trumpet or horn makes a noticeable yet elegant accent. Each song has its own distinct melody and flow (there's not much rhythm to be found here), but things tend to run into each other, especially if you're not listening close, but that's probably ok. This is music pretty clearly designed for quieter moods and / or sleep.
I'll try to speak of some of the highlights anyway. In "Articulate Silences Part 1" ambient textures and tones come in and out of focus, somewhat lulling the listener when, in the final minute, heart-wrenching string chords pull the ground from beneath you and leave you in a slow-motion deep-space free fall. After a lovely intro, "Don't Bother, They're Here" moves into a slowly repeating tone progression, like piano or chimes being played in the surprisingly warm heart of a glacier. "The Daughters of Quiet Minds" and "Tippy's Demise" both share perfectly evocative string arrangements. This adds an ideal accent to the aquatic organ of "Daughters" and along with some slight clarinet, creates one of the more visceral and truly sad arrangements Stars of the Lid have recorded in "Tippy's Demise."
And Their Refinement of the Decline is just as patient and beautiful as every other Stars of the Lid release, and further cements their status as a duo who is absolutely at the pinnacle of their craft. Personally, the songs here communicate a deep understanding of loss, death, absence, and distance. It's music that comforts the listener in its seeming understanding of the terror of the unknown, the magnitude of love, the weight of failure. But its not about despair, it's about confronting big things and dark times, not necessarily because we're brave, but because we must. (I listened to this album when the family dog was put down, not to get weepy.)
Anyway, Stars of the Lid are supposed to be touring the US this coming year, and that's a thrilling prospect. Also worth mentioning is Carte-de-Visite, which collects some rare b-sides and unreleased songs from various album recording sessions, and makes for a great addendum to Refinement.

Top 10 Albums of the Year: #6

Matthew Dear - Asa Breed (Ghostly)
It's been nothing short of a banner year for Matthew Dear. A 12" and plenty of remixes under his Audion guise kept dance floors moving and a bleak, almost apocalyptic-sounding full-length under the name False, titled 2007, was very warmly received by the minimal techno community. The highlight of his busy year, in my mind, has been the release of Asa Breed under his very own birth name, which merges the more strictly electronic elements from earlier Matthew Dear releases with a distinctly more pop-oriented sensibility (concise song lengths! real singing!). The result is a collection that sounds simultaneously fresh and totally forward-thinking while also retaining the familiarity and accessibility of the best pop music.
Tracks like "Neighborhoods" and "Don and Sherri" have the kind of thump you would want in a great dance track but they also have great hooks and Dear's excellent vocals. The vocals throughout the album are extremely effective and it makes it seem as though Dear is investing more of himself in his music. Often the vocals are low and dark, like on the steady and reflective "Deserter," but sometimes Dear switches into a falsetto which adds a unique atmosphere to a number of tracks, like the woozy "Will Gravity Win Tonight?" Themes surrounding relationships and (it seems) development as an artist crop up time and again throughout the album. While this is not the first time Dear has sang on record, it's a definite shift from earlier releases, and fortunately nothing ever sounds or feels forced in the slightest. As things progress some songs appear that have live, almost pseudo tribal / folky percussion and, perhaps more notably, acoustic guitar. "Give Me More," "Midnight Lovers," and the remarkable dusty neo-western album conclusion, "Vine to Vine" all have these elements, and they each seem to have a more "epic" or "grand" sound to them compared to the other tracks on the album. Dear has expanded his sound here, but not to a degree that it is out of his hands and too unwieldy for him to handle. Dear has always stood out for his sense of restraint in regards to the construction of his rhythms and melodies, and where other artists might be liable to get carried away with their ideas, Dear clearly has a perfect sense of where his boundaries lie.
Asa Breed stands as Matthew Dear's most assured, immediate, deep, rewarding and, thanks to the prominent vocals, emotionally available effort yet. Now that Dear is touring with a full band, one can only imagine where how his sound will develop as his recording career continues.
And on a personal level, I got my first listens to Asa Breed while I was in Seattle for an internship, so I will always associate this music with that experience. Which is nice.


Top 10 Albums of the Year: #7

Colleen - Les Ondes Silencieuses (Leaf)
Cécile Schott's third release as Colleen finds her stripping the elements of her music to their barest essentials. Absent are any of the more obviously electronic or processed effects that crept into her previous work and the recording quality is distinctly more sharp at the edges, deep as a well. This is all so the individual instruments (and the individual notes and chords they produce) can command the listener's attention. These instruments include clarinet, crystal bells, spinet (similar to a harpsichord), classical guitar and viola da gamba, which is somewhere between a cello and viola with more strings. Now I actually didn't like this turn to spare instrumentation at first. I thought things sounded really bare compared to Colleen's earlier work. The more I listened though, the more each composition sort of bloomed in my head into this full sounding thing.
"This Place in Time" invites the listener in with its slow, patiently bowed chords. "Sea of Tranquility" and "Sun Against My Eyes" each pair classical guitar with clarinet. When light guitar strumming enters halfway through "Sea," it's surprising that such a relatively gentle touch can cause such a palpable sense of tension, a small but real thrill, while "Sun" floats along like the saddest first day of spring. "Echoes and Coral" stands out on the album if for no other reason than the fact that it's the only track that features (solely) crystal bells being played. Schott gives ample time for their delicate tones to ring out and fade, bringing to mind a clear, near-motionless tide pool. "Le Bateau" brings the album proper to its close (the Japanese edition has some wonderful, clear live takes of songs not recorded in the studio). Plucked guitar leads into a quietly menacing viola da gamba midsection, implying the rocking of the boat suggested in the song's title, the imminence of capsizing. But the song is led gracefully back into the guitar melody we started with, and the boat goes bobbing along. The album as a whole is shot through with a definite thread of melancholy, and if you're in a great mood Les Ondes Silencieuses might not be a bit of a downer. But the songs, to me, don't imply an artist wracked with depressing thoughts or a depressing life. Instead the songs speak of a serene personality, aware of and in tune with the transient nature her experiences. Not to get all philosophical or anything.
I've read in at least one, perhaps more than one place that the music of Colleen is slow to the extent that it requires too much devoted attention, or otherwise it fades to the background. This is kind of a bullshit pan on music that's really exceptionally crafted. These songs are meant to stop the listener in their tracks. They don't beg for attention, but the really deserve it. Is it such a bad thing to actually listen closely to a song? To take in the richness of a tone wholly? And it seems like the fact that silence exists on this album might freak people out (I mean, it's in the title). But I shouldn't have to defend non-existent attacks on Colleen's music, because it speaks for itself and is perfect as it is. Those who enjoy some of the more popular indie-neo-classical-whatever composers around (Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sylvain Chauveau) need to listen to this. A pure, unpretentiously beautiful (and heinously overlooked) album.


Top 10 Albums of the Year: #8

Various Artists - DJ Kicks (Hot Chip) (!K7)
If you were so inclined, you could throw this album on at a club and it really should keep people moving for the duration of the album. People would call you lazy and you wouldn't be much of a DJ or really have much integrity, but I'm just saying, it could be done. That said, the content here is straight party from top to bottom. Brilliantly sequenced, this has everything a great mix should. Awesome throwback tracks you didn't even remember you loved which instantly pull your mouth into a smile? Check: Positive K's fantastic "I Got a Man" (which my good friend Joel would recite the refrain of at random intervals in ye olden days) and New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" are particularly great examples. Symphonic electro-pop? Check: "Short Road" by Wax Stag is a wonderful jetstream of thick keyboards and tinny drum machines. Classically styled techno (or what sounds like it to me)? Check: a live take of Gabriel Ananda's "Doppelwhipper" fills this order nicely. Self-conciously peculiar techno? Check: Nôze's "Love Affair" twitches along with a vocal part about personal grooming.
And so on. Dominik Eulberg's "Der Buchdrucker" slows things down at the start then ramps up into a skyward-arching melodic line. Al and Felix from Hot Chip apparently make up the duo Lanark, who contribute the somber but infectious "The Stone That the Builder Rejected." And yes, Hot Chip contribute an exclusive track to the mix, "My Piano," which stands easily, in my mind, among any of their other great singles. It's not the deepest listening experience by any means, but if you're looking for a good time, straight up, you'll find one here.


Top 10 Albums of the Year: #9

Shugo Tokumaru - Exit (P-Vine)
Shugo Tokumaru does a fantastic job of creating music that is expansive and filmic while also retaining a definite sense of the smallness of the individual (if that makes sense). This was the case with his last album, L.S.T., and remains the case with Exit. With Exit, Tokumaru further refines the elements that made L.S.T. the joy that it is and condenses his compositions into compact acousti-pop wonders. "Parachute" launches the album like a rocket with sprightly guitar and glockenspiel parts ricocheting off of each other in perfect time as light drums help to keep things together. Tokumaru's singing is, not surprisingly, all in Japanese, but it doesn't really matter. His repetitions of "par-shoo" throughout the song and the final "ah-ah-ah!" that pulls the song into its final instrumental breakdown communicates things just fine. This song is actually very simple (guitar, glock, drums and voice is really all there is to it), but Tokumaru's remarkable musicianship (and probably some multitracking) make this song sound ten feet tall (if something can sound ten feet tall).
"Green Rain" and "Clocca" both feature memorable melodica melodies (or at least that's what it sounds like). "Future Umbrella" and "D.P.O." make for punchy, bright interludes, the latter of the two sounding kind of a like a giddily drunken romp through a toy store. "Sanganichi" and "Hidamari" are some of the mellower, gentler tracks on the album. They sort of clean the listener's head after the more harried instrumentation of some of the other songs. "Wedding" closes the album in style: a gorgeous banjo piece that has just the right amount of twang. If you get the image in your mind, it really does somehow sound like a wedding. Really. Picture it in your mindbrain.
And the songs I didn't mention are all lovely as well. From start to finish Exit has both obvious polish and craft imbued in each song as well as the sort of genuine heart and warmth that one does not often come across in contemporary musics. It is the big full soundtrack to the invisible movie you didn't know you always wanted to see.

Top 10 Albums of the Year: #10

Pants Yell! - Alison Statton (Soft Abuse)
This is about as perfect of an indie pop album as you can hope for. There's nothing really radical about it, it's just an incredibly solid, tuneful, and personable record. Some of the songs, like "More Purple" and "Tried to be Good" sound like a slightly more reserved Love is All, with jangling guitars and bubbly, perfect horn and sax sections. "Tried to be Good" also serves as a great example of songwriting that is very specific but somehow feels like it could apply to a situation anyone has found themselves in: singer Andrew Churchman reminisces, "Remember at graduation / when the guy in that suit said that thing? / Ryan just laughed but to me / It really took out the sting." For some reason I really like this line. Moving on: "Evan's Way" swoons along with rainy-day slide-guitar and a darling glockenspiel accompaniment. "Magenta and Green" and "Reject, Reject" are would-be radio hits in a parallel universe with extremely sing-alongable refrains. The title track expands the group's sound a bit further to great effect, with piano and chimes. Throughout the album sophisticated stylistic touches like electric keyboards and faux-strings give many of the songs additional body and interest. Since the release of last year's Recent Drama, Pants Yell! have had to replace their drummer, but their sound and style has not suffered for it in the least. If anything, the songwriting and song construction seems more focused, relaxed and sure of itself. As I said, to my knowledge, you would be hard-pressed to find a better pure indie pop / twee album this year.


Favorite Songs of the Year

It should be noted that these songs are not on any of my favorite albums or EPs that have been or will be listed. These are just too good to let go without mentioning.
  • Venetian Snares - "Colorless" (from My Downfall (Original Soundtrack) on Planet-Mu) On the whole My Downfall didn't seem to measure up to the stylistic breakthrough that it is sort of a spiritual sequel to, 2005's Rossz Csillag Alatt Született. However, I thought this first track was just totally arresting: like an Arvo Pärt choral arrangement compacted into two minutes. Like a lake of ink on a cloudless midnight. Totally. I want any album's worth of this!
  • Daso - "Meine" (from the Meine Idee EP on Spectral Sound) This combines a steady disco beat with some chilly staccato synth chords and lifts into a swirling, panning, and utterly amazing melodic refrain. The build ups and climaxes are paced just right, the tune is catchy as hell, the beat is supremely danceable. It sounds like it maybe belongs in a city that's all neon-edged like in Tron or anime cyberpunk movies. This track is just about as classy as it gets, but it isn't too cool for the room. So good.
  • Thieves Like Us - "Drugs in My Body" (from the Drugs in My Body / Fass 12" on Kitsuné)When I was originally flipping my lid over this song and sharing it with dear friend Jason, he astutely summed it up as sounding something like "Hot Chip meets The Field." I think that hits the nail on the head. A looping micro-sampled guitar hook pushes this kinda pleasantly snotty and fey sounding track along. An irresistible 80's style drum-pad break halts things up before the refrain drops back in one last time. A pop brain with a house heart? Or vice versa? Tops in any case.
  • Bonde Do Rolê - "Geremia" (from With Lasers on Domino) This album and Bonde Do Rolê in general is pretty obnoxious and irritating. I'm a sucker for a marching cadence, though, and "Geremia" has just that. Bass drums that sound like they'll cave the roof in, salacious-sounding Portuguese raps, and, putting things over the top: slide whistles and kazoos! Fucking YES. I can appreciate a shot of humor in a dance tune, and this track has it in spades (and it doesn't hurt that the beat's good too). Avoid the album though. What a mess.
  • JDSY - "See Me" (from the New Faces EP on Ghostly)A fractured pop song from a hacked NES cartridge. Nice deadpan-ish vocals not entirely dissimilar to labelmate Matthew Dear. A boisterous beat that will get your head bobbing. Check check check. Mm-hm. Unfortunately I can't think of much more to say about this. That doesn't mean you shouldn't look into it.
  • Kleerup feat. Robyn - "With Every Heartbeat (Tong & Spoon Wonderland Remix)" (from a bunch of singles and 12" on a variety of labels) Robyn's radio-ready vocals make this track a bit melodramatic, but it doesn't matter. They go great with the beat and the swooning pseudo-orchestral melody. From the first second the beat is nice and roud, solid but not rigid (if that makes sense). The lovely arpeggios in the closing segment of the song sound like glitter falling from the dancefloor ceiling. Fab indeed.
  • Flosstradamus (as Ravestradamus) - "Act a Fool (Remix)" (from the internets) Take Lil' Jon and 3 Six Mafia's krunk klassic "Act a Fool," simply mix in Zombie Nation's ubiquitous rave anthem "Kernkraft 400" and you've got a clean, straightforward, and fucking unstoppable party jam. It's ingenious how this works together. Another credit to Jason for spinning this at my wedding, making for a great close to the evening.
  • Professor Murder - "Dutch Hex" (from the Dutch Hex 12" on Brothers Label) A ferocious dancefloor burner that proves there's still some juice to squeeze from the dance punk orange (so to speak). P-Murder keeps it fresh with their semi-tropical style, unmissable tom-toms and funk-tastic bass. What seals the deal is the giant refrain, with giant synths and a giant vocal part that absolutely begs to be shouted with / back at the band at a show ("Of course they fuckin' do!!!").
  • Caribou - "Melody Day" (from Andorra on Merge) Now I like Caribou's other albums a great deal, and Andorra is decent, but it's pretty flat compared to earlier work. "Melody Day" is the sort of penultimate refinement of the Caribou sound. Sunny psych-guitars and falsetto vocals, flute trills, and awesome drum blowouts. Things seem to be timed out just right, the song held by wires, everything a sort of controlled chaos. Wonderful.
  • Animal Collective - "Fireworks" (from Strawberry Jam on Domino) Strawberry Jam is probably Animal Collective's most uneven and lumpy album (which isn't to say it's bad, it's fine, it just seems to lack some focus). Despite this, they managed to record "Fireworks," undoubtedly one of the best songs in their entire catalog. Echoing drums and an elastic guitar part that sounds like its being played in a storm drain pair with Avey Tare's hooting vocals. Hearing this for the first time was truly surprising. Like unwrapping some big multicolored ball of foil to get to who knows what in the middle. Most of you have probably heard this already so I don't need to keep going on about how great it is.
  • Yellow Swans - "Mass Mirage" (from At All Ends on Load) Probably the best noise track I've heard all year (even though it's not really strictly "noise"). Four gargantuan, gorgeous, heavy-as-the-world guitar chords swell and undulate throughout the song as they are buffeted by waves of roaring static and manipulated vocals. Yellow Swans seem to be very good at merging honest-to-god noise with a sense of melody and direction (as opposed to your just kind of fuzzy, bratty "noise pop"). This track stands as a perfect encapsulation of where they are now and where they might go in the future.
  • Strategy - "Stops Spinning" (from Future Rock on Kranky) Sexiest song of the year? I think so. A warmly pulsing foundation lies under the underwater hi-hats, melted organs, sly bass and tasteful (not retarded, as is sometimes the case) vocoder vocals. For the sweaty, tail-end of a drunken dance party. Smoove.
  • Jens Lekman - "The Opposite of Hallelujah" (from Night Falls Over Kortedala on Secretly Canadian / Service) This could be easily exchanged with "I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You" or "A Postcard to Nina." But anyway. What can you say except that Jens writes a mean pop song? Heartstring-tugging vocals, drum part that's full of pomp, lovely strings, a subtle mandolin in the refrain. What's not to love?
Yeesh, this is starting to get a bit exhausting. But we're having fun, right?

I might take the weekend off before I starting listing the real top 10. We'll see.


You May Have Missed...

Here are some releases you and / the general populous may or may not have missed over the course of the year. They are worthy and deserving of your attention.
Boxcutter - Glyphic (Planet-Mu)
With everyone going apeshit over the new Burial album (which is a fine album, don't get me wrong), and Pinch's Underwater Dancehall getting a lot of recognition as well, it's a shame that this Boxcutter album has been (it seems) largely ignored. Like the Burial record, Glyphic pushes dubstep past its typical boundaries, refreshing a genre that has quickly become extremely stagnant. Whereas Untrue is unique in its retoolings of r&b and trip-hop vocal tropes, these songs add splashes of jazz elements and leans a bit more heavily on traditional dub / reggae effects. The skittering, near-relentless drums on "Rusty Break" rub up against guitar and flute that sounds like it's being amputated from an old lounge / soul record. "Foxy" does the same with some organ and male croons, and punctuates the later part of the tune with some tasteful horns. "Windfall" and "J Dub" evoke ghosts of actual dub, with its snare cracks that echo like they're being played in a mineshaft. Even with a couple tracks towards the end of the record veering weirdly into the realm of Aphex acid (and this could even be seen as sort of a palate cleanser), Glyphic emerges as a studiously composed collection of smart tracks that are mindful of both the past and the future. As stodgy as I make it sound, this is really a fun, captivating thing.
Kickball - Everything is a Miracle Nothing is a Miracle Everything is (High Fives and Handshakes)
We saw this three-piece during the first night of What the Heck? Fest this year. They rocked the place and I can say with some certainty that they stole everyone's heart (all the hearts that didn't already belong to them). Very endearing ragged rock-pop that sort of reminds of Joan of Arc in its spare angularness and creaking, nervous, sometimes screaming male vocals. It's messy, not mathy. Many of the songs will have you singing along (or wanting to sing along) after one listen. "Fight" has a wonderfully insistent vocal refrain and great guitar hooks as well as clicky snappy drums. Album opener "Underground Husbands" pulls you in with a scruffily sad guitar part and harmonized whistling, and it just sighs and groans and rumbles with some sort of longing. "Pocketknife" opens up with quiet vocals that ascend into a threadbare howl. Then the drums come in and you're dancing. I wouldn't call this album "cute" but something about it is totally endearing and smile-inducing. Like a love letter written on a paper bag. Yes.
Black Mustang - Blackout (LOAF)
If all acid-disco sounded like this, the acid-disco world would be a much better acid-disco place. The mysterious Black Mustang did a remix for the mysterious Black Devil Disco Club. Now there's this mysterious 12". "Mad as Hell" is a collaboration with Luke Vibert's Kerrier District project, and bounces along steadily with an infectious, buzzy melody and hip-moving cowbells. Things get a little strange with echoey smears of sound, but it just adds more character to a song that already has a lot of 'tude. The Sleeparchive remix of "Mad as Hell" turns a track once ready for the club into a misty, throbbing drone piece that is definitely not ready to get anyone dancing. The two part "Blackout" suite follows, fully sending the dancefloor into outerspace with retro guitars and a hypnotically arpeggiating melody. Some really unique cuts that leave you wanting to know and hear more about this Black Mustang.
Bogdan Raczynski - Alright! (Rephlex)
Last we heard of Bogdan Raczynski, he was remixing Bjork (!), collecting his drum n' bass tracks under various pseudonyms, and singing songs about love and heartbreak with accordian and trumpet. That last bit, about the love songs, was 2001's Myloveilove. It's been a long time. All of a sudden, *pyow!* Bogdan bursts back onto the scene with an explosion of energy-drink fueled rave-tastic anthems. Nintendo melodies, acid blasts, hyperactive drum breaks, and general life-affirmation is what you'll find on these 8 selections. These songs don't quite have the same distinct personality and bite as found on earlier releases, but all of the melodies sound like they're coming from a Commodore64 that knows how to breakdance, which means you know it's a Bogdan Raczynski album. Join the raveolution, won't you?

Also perhaps overlooked:
  • BARR - Summary (5RC)
  • Skeletons and the Kings of All Cities - LUCAS (Ghostly)
  • Japanther - Skuffed Up My Huffy (Tapes Records)
  • Panther - Secret Lawns (Fryk Beat)
  • Rhys Chatham - A Crimson Grail (Table of the Elements)
  • Bark Bark Bark - Haunts (Retard Disco)
I'm too tired to do write ups for all this stuff. Just Google it all, will ya.


Top 5 EPs of the Year

Christopher Willits - Plants and Hearts (Room40)
We have here a 21 and a half minute long guitar drone compisition on a cute lil' 3" CD. It follows the shoegazey atmospherics meets clicks/cuts/edits of last year's Surf Boundaries on Ghostly, and nestles itself among a consistent flow of collaborative works between Willits and other artists / composers (i.e. Taylor Deupree, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Brad Laner). According to the label site, this piece involved Willits experimenting with:
"4hz isochronic pulses and panning at the same frequency, this work encourages the formation of 4hz brainwave patterns associated with states of meditation, deep relaxation, enhanced creativity, light sleep and lucid dreaming."
If this all sounds very sciencey to you, well, maybe it is, but it doesn't sound like it, and that's the important thing. This is a warm, inviting piece that pulses like an aurora Borealis and reminds a great deal of Keith Fullerton Whitman's phenomenal Playthroughs. Chords shift gently from one to the next, resonating in a very clean and whole way. It's as though each chord change corresponds to a slight physical ascension or descension. A really pleasant, calming, and unassuming work.
Mount Eerie - Mount Eerie Pts. 6 & 7 (P.W. Elverum & Sun)
Now I'm talking just about the music here. The gorgeous book in which the gorgeous picture disc containing these songs is housed is great and shouldn't be ignored, but I'm talking 'bout the songs. This release follows the sometimes stark and bare-bones sonics of No Flashlight and returns to chest-thumping grandiosity of the Mount Eerie full-length (back when you could call Phil The Microphones). There are the distorted cymbal and drum crashes that you've come to know and love, the choral vocals, the guitar solos, the harmonium, the themes of self-doubt in the face of nature and the world at large. Everything that makes us like what Phil does. He's not breaking any new ground really, but he doesn't need to. No one else really has quite the same kind of musical vocabulary or maintains such a uncommon narrative universe. So why shouldn't he just continue expanding on his favorite ideas (even though the end of Mount Eerie supposedly involved death and universal revelation)? As long as he keeps improving and shifting his sound by degrees, the continued mining of the Mount Eerie vein should remain worthwhile.
Batfinks - Towards the Pipet (LOAF)

I can't give you much of a backstory (read: any backstory) on the individual behind this release. I can tell you that he released a few EPs on the web label Hippocamp prior to this one, and that's really it. And that he's probably from the UK. Jazzy hollow-body guitar gets flung atop electro squiggles, amen breaks and distorted howls. Dusty, well aged synth arpeggios are paired with a bunny-hopping beat and equally bright hook. A ukulele or something comes up against what sounds like circuit-bent hardware and a children's rhyme picked out of the gutters in Candyland. And it all works! Seriously! There's a definite heavy flavor of post-Aphex Twin programming style here (not to mention a certain shared daffiness with Aphex's more oddball selections), but its contextualized in such a way that it sounds extremely fresh. The only problem is the near-criminal exclusion of the mini-epic "Stages," which is like the 2nd cousin of Max Tundra's classic "Children at Play." This song is on the same previously issued digital EP as 3 of the 4 songs on Towards the Pipet. But this is a pretty minor gripe, and quite the digression. Bottom line: a totally fun update of mid-90s era "IDM" (shudder...can you believe some people still refer to it as that?), well worth tracking down and a standout release among the LOAF label's ever-diversifying catalog.
Deerhunter - Fluorescent Grey (Kranky)
This EP followed hot on the heels of the album Cryptograms, and shares aspects of that album while refining them into a quartet of tracks that pack an efficient wallop. The title track ticks and seethes like a living time bomb before erupting into a cathartic swell of chugging guitars, expansive vocal moans and formidable, steady drums. "Dr. Glass," with some sort of asthmatic-sounding electric organ melody and "Like New," its layered vocals and guitars gentle yet propulsive, form the dreamy center of the release. "Wash Off" brings things to a clattering, bass-driven close, with chanting lyrics about eternal adolescence. The total result of these songs is a brief but powerful reflection on death, youth, aging, and the ways they connect. They stand strongly on their own terms as a fully realized collection, not just the afterthoughts / outtakes of a recording session.
High Places - High Places EP (Ancient Almanac)
A gust of fresh spring air on a sunny day. An Alka-Seltzer for your earholes. A dancing cactus (with sunglasses). The music of High Places is / is like all of these things. Four songs are here and gone in a dazzling nine minutes. A guy (Robert) and a gal (Mary) based in Brooklyn conjure these songs from neo-tribal percussion elements, processed picked electric guitar, gulping electronics, and sweet but not too sweet female vocals about dinosaurs, a duck in a desert, silent clouds, and so on. Precious but intricate, deep enough to listen closely to but light enough to tap / shuffle your feets to, long enough to get a good feel for things but short enough to leave you wishing it was just a little longer. It will be a surefire lift to your day, nay, your very life. A full length is (apparently) in the offing, which is exciting, because this EP is super-promising. You can download a track from it as well as a few other songs at the band's page: myspace.com/hellohighplaces .

Special Mention: Non-Music Album

Patton Oswalt - Werewolves and Lollipops (Sub Pop)
Now I'm no comedy aficionado, and I know there were probably some other worthy comedy albums released this year (is that Michael Showalter album any good?), but as far as I can tell, this is some of the funniest stand up I've ever heard. Oswalt has a very relatable, down-to-earth style that makes his comedy approachable. It doesn't scream at you and wave its hands in your face. It relies on solid writing, keen observation, and great timing. The utter lack of gimmickry is what makes Oswalt's material so refreshing. The KFC Famous Bowl, a film called Deathbed: the bed that eats people, and a science class called "Physics for Poets" are among just a few of the subjects tackled. Patton is totally aware of his nerdiness, and he revels in it, which makes it easy for him to poke fun at himself, and should make it easier for geeks everywhere to laugh at their own goofy behavior. I could go on but really its something you need to listen to. I can almost guarantee it will turn any bad day around, and will make a good day that much better.


Bottom 10 Albums of the Year

So this is the beginning of my year end music blowout thing. Mostly lists, and a few observations and stuff. This will almost certainly be the longest post of this whole thingee, so bear with me.

These are in *no particular order*, unlike my top 10, which will be in order.
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (self-released)
Now, I know XL Records is putting out a slightly different version of this album early next year, but I'm including their self-released cd-r version now because I want to. Fun, light, jangly pop that at times reminds of fellow New Yorkers The Walkmen. Sounds range from the slightly Afro-beat ("Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"), to a somewhat ska tone ("A-Punk"), and string accompaniments add a bit of drama to a number of the songs. It seems like a few people have called these guys out for sort of ripping off Talking Heads or for being young white kids who are trying to ape African bands who do the same sort of thing. These criticisms may be true, but good is good and fun is fun. And that's what this album is. Oh, and I would wager you will be hearing about them non-stop next year. P-fork and all. Just so you know.
Kim Hiorthøy - My Last Day (Smalltown Supersound)
After quite a while away from producing any music of his own, all the while keeping busy with design work (perhaps most notably for the Rune Grammofon label), Norseman Kim Hiorthøy released his first proper album since 2001's Hei. While this album doesn't quite have the sense of surprise that Hei did, or the unbridled over-the-topness of 2004's Live Shet, the collection here manages to find / create its own niche, and is as thoughtfully constructed and melodically pleasant as anything Hiorthøy has done in the past. The songs here are in turns aggressive and dance-ready ("Album," "I Thought We Could Eat Friends," "Alt Går Så Langsomt") to more subdued and pensive ("Beats Mistake," "Wind of Failure," "Goodbye to Song"). Unidentifiable field recordings and samples creep into many parts of the album, giving things a very warm and human touch. Like the favorite sweater you wore to a rave a few times. Or something.
Pantha du Prince - This Bliss (Dial)
For me I would say this is the best strictly-electronic / techno album of the year. Is this technically techno? I'm not sure. In any case, this is a genuinely beautiful album with a great sense of space. Gentle ringing tones / pads resonate against smart rhythm sections. Not quite minimal, but spare enough to give all the elements of each song room to breathe. Everything has a great sense of drama and little touches that just set things off (check out the mini-meltdown at the 3 and a half minute mark of "Moonstruck." Nice.) No one track is less than 6 minutes, but things always feel to be moving along (with the single of exception of "Urlichten," which drags itself to a slow death in its last 3 minutes). Aside from this misstep, This Bliss manages to stand out handsomely among the unending torrent of techno and minimal music released into the world week upon week. Like an updated collection of tracks from the Artificial Intelligence era of Warp Records, just humming with that same uniquely icy warmth / warm iciness.
Studio - Yearbook 1 (Information)
Probably the best example of "Balaeric pop" or "yacht pop" that appears to have come to prominence this year. Trebbly plucked electric guitar hooks, steadily repeating drum machine beats, retro sounding synths and plenty of dub / echo effects add up to a John Hughes movie soundtrack on psychedelics. Not in a fried, freaked-out guitar solo way. In a nearly 16 minute long song kind of way, a pleasantly zoning out swaying side-to-side kind of way. There are some shorter, more digestible and radio-friendly cuts as well ("No Comply," "Self Service," "Origin"). The tracks are danceable and ready for your more tasteful dancefloors, but also highly listenable, and ready for your chill out rooms and sunset beaches. The Swedes do it right yet again.
Tenniscoats - Totemo Aimasho (Room40)
I was only sort of vaguely aware of the existence of Japanese duo Tenniscoats (Saya and Takashi Ueno) prior to this year thanks to a few mentions on Jens Lekman's blog. It seemed like they were just a cute, slightly off-key pop folk act. This album steps far outside such boundaries into a great variety of musical territories. Influenced by their travels and many collaborators and nudged by Room40 label head Lawrence English, the Uneos craft songs that combine folk, pop, and electronic elements into something that is very much their own and, to my ears, doesn't have any other real sonic touchstone to be compared with. Saxes and horns are featured regularly, like on the dissonant and mournful "Cacoy." "Donna Donna" is one of the more traditionally folk styled songs, with a swaying beat and steady acoustic guitar. "Herei" comes across almost as a sound sculpture / field recording, and the gloriously mellow "Jitsurei" is the perfect lazily pitch-shifting accompaniment to an afternoon in the beaches and forests of the northwest (as I found through my own experience). It's tough to describe in words, but its well worth seeking out. Also, a shorter release this year from Tenniscoats, Tan-Tan Therapy (available on the Häpna label) retains a similar vibe to Totemo Aimasho, but I'm mainly mentioning it so I can post the lovely artwork. See:

!!! - Myth Takes (Warp)
Party-starters / rable-rousers of the year !!! bring the durrrty dance grooves on their 3rd LP, their first for Warp records and a big step up from the disappointing 2004 release of Louden Up Now. Following the split of Out Hud (to which a few members of !!! belonged), it seems that the ensemble has absorbed a number of electronic / house-y-ish elements, all for the better it seems. The sprawling "Bend Over Beethoven" climbs to a guitar-reverb and drum-pulse soaked climax not entirely dissimilar from the fondly remembered 'Hud. The title track also shows the band in slightly different but very fitting form, sounding like a meatier version of Tussle. There's plenty of !!!'s signature funk-stomp here; "All My Heroes Are Weirdos" and "Heart of Hearts" stand out as anthemic crowd-movers. The right kind of album to lose your brain to. And get your shoes all dirty while dancing among alcohol-fueled masses.
Battles - Mirrored (Warp)
Now I'm not totally crazy for this band like some folks seem to be, but there's no denying how accomplished and technically impressive Mirrored is. After ramping things up at a snails pace by releasing a couple EPs in 2004 and staying rather mum until now, this record is, if somewhat engorged, pretty mesmerizing. You have to give it up to a band that can stay as tight as the snare John Stanier is wailing on during songs like "Ddiamondd." And even though things might get overly precise and mathy (the splash of coins on the song previously mentioned sounds carefully planned and executed), the rhythms punch hard and the tunes will burrow into your head. This is great stuff, even if it lacks a bit of an emotional core. For all the backtalk I'm giving this album, I really do like it. Honestly. "Atlas" is one of the best songs of the year. I mean it.
A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Scribble Mural Comic Journal (Notenuf)
This is a great shoegaze-revival style record that is faithful to / owes its existence to its sources (your Slowdives, your Rides, your MBVs, etc) while creating a personality all its own. Full, woozy, watery textures and eternally cooing female vocals dominate the compositions, while drum machines and banging snare try to hold the smear together. Whats so engaging about this album and at the same time somewhat frustrating is that there are all these songs just overflowing with ideas and tunes and it's all really good but often things don't get a chance to develop and breathe into something fully realized. The closing trio of tracks, "Watery (Drowning is just Another Word for Being Buried Alive Under Water)," "Things Only I Can See," and "The Best Summer Ever" give a maddeningly fleeting glimpse into what happens when this group gives their ideas enough room to stretch their legs. A gorgeous swirl of sound, an astonishingly strong debut that only bodes well for the band.
The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters (Fat Cat)
This four-piece band appears to be picking up right where fellow Glasgow natives Mogwai left off before they lost their balls and their direction. There's perhaps a bit more pop than rock in what The Twilight Sad are doing, but when they come down they come down hard, with a refreshing and unpretentious intensity. So the vocals might come across as a bit emo, I will concede this point, but big deal, who cares? Lead singer James Graham's thick Scottish accent, thick enough to call it a drawl, is perfect paired with wailing guitars and thunderous drums. An additional concession: the album gets a bit samey when listened to straight through. Fair enough. But each track, on its own, is very well done and very listenable. Hostile and bitter in the best, most satisfyingly grey and rain-drenched and Scottish way possible.
Von Südenfed - Tromatic Reflexxions (Domino)
Another one that's a bit tough to pin down. The guys from Mouse on Mars had Mark E. Smith of the fall do vocals on one of their songs a few years back. This is a whole album's worth of that. It's as impossible and improbable as it sounds (or something). Smith's unmistakable vocal delivery functions in an eerily effective way with Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner's production work. While I can't say how Smith's contributions stack up to recent releases with The Fall, as I'm not a big fan, I think it's safe to say this is some of the best music Toma and Werner have worked on in some time. The skittering bounce of songs like "Family Feud" and "That Sound Wiped" (a reprise of the track that generated this whole ordeal) blend with Smith's sung-spoke vocals seamlessly. It's like Mouse on Mars should have always sounded this way. "Flooded" approaches / reaches dancefloor accessibility with a bunch of grimey low-end thumps and honks as Smith intones about literally flooding a club. Literally. It's a baffling, giddy, and decidedly singular release. One can only imagine what further collaborations will result in.

I apologize for the endless stream of contradictory and non-sensical descriptions. I'm reaching for more concrete and less impressionistic writing but I still can't break free.

I actually have to work tomorrow.

Anyway, more to come in the days ahead.