Quick Review (LP): Moment Bends by Architecture In Helsinki

Architecture In Helsinki
Moment Bends
Modular; 2011

My Rating: C (46/100)

Best Tracks: "Desert Island", "W.O.W.", "That Beep"

Electro-pop as an affective disorder.

NOTES
– Their last album, Places Like This, was pretty good. There was a really nice punk-ish sound there.
– A little more pleasant here, not quite as abrasive.
– "W.O.W." is very nice. Very 80’s, reminiscent of a Cyndi Lauper ballad.
– Poppy, but seems a little vacuous. Where’s the beef?
– I’m sure I’m not the first to realize that these guys are basically a tropics-pop version of The Arcade Fire. Broken Social Scene with a lot more sunshine.
– FWIW, the breakdown in "That Beep" reminds me of the bass-voice Geddy Lee in "Roll The Bones."
– Despite the sheening pop sound, this one is a blah-fest. Check out the tracks I mention, ditch the rest.
Pitchfork was pretty generous to this one. I didn’t find it so deserving. Hope they recover some of the riotous energy and off-the-wall creativity of “Hold Music” and “Heart It Races” next time.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (3/5)
Consistency (3/5)
Consequence (3/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

Best of 2010 (LP): My Top 5 Albums

Here’s a list of what I reviewed in 2010, with links to each individual review. I knew what my top 3 were beyond a shadow of a doubt, and the other 2 won out because I felt like there were pretty grand achievements from established acts. Notably, you won’t find The Suburbs, Age of Adz, or Contra here. The grammy-winner was long on pretense and short on strong material, the Sufe-ster went too far into left field, and the prep-punks got a little too glossy and cute. That’s OK though, those acts still have their best days ahead of them.

Below you’ll find my Top 5 records for 2010. What’s on your list?

kathryn calder are you my mother beach house teen dream

5. The Books – The Way Out…When it comes to “soundscaping” types of record, I normally expect the ones I enjoy to be good background music (ie Boards of Canada). The Way Out goes way beyond the confines of its genre, achieving a sort of giddy, off-the-wall, and soulful poppiness that may not be quite radio-friendly, but says it might just be possible a few albums from now. Otherwise, this is a great record, remarkably listenable and appealling for “found-sound.” “Cold Freezin’ Night” never ceases to put a smile on my face, but “I Didn’t Know That” is pretty cool too. (original review)

4. The National – High Violet…With HV, The National has officially become the greatest indie band to emerge in the last decade, taking ideas pioneered by the likes of Joy Division, REM, Interpol, Radiohead, Wilco, and others and creating their own mesmerizing blend of gut-wrenching chamber rock. The big highlight here though is Matt Berninger’s vocal work, which goes way beyond anything he’s done before. He uses his world-weary baritone to maximum effect, bringing in realms of emotion that have heretofore reamined untouched for The National. To that end, “Afraid of Everyone” is one of the record’s highlights, and probably Berninger’s most gut-wrenching performance to date. (original review)

3. Follow The Train – Mercury…At some point, great bands stopped thinking in terms of stadium-sized rock and roll. Follow The Train appears to be trying to reverse that trend, and while they may not be playing actual stadiums quite yet, with Mercury, they’ve prepared a set of tunes that would certainly do the trick. In fact, I can’t think of a band that has dreamed of making GOOD rock and roll this grand since Pearl Jam hit the airwaves in the early 90’s. This record is quite simply a delight in every way. I don’t know what the future holds for Follow The Train, but after the glory that is Mercury, I’m hoping they will let the world hear more. “Movin” is the best place to start. (original review)

2. Kathryn Calder – Are You My Mother?…Here’s one I really didn’t see coming. When Kathryn Calder joined New Pornographers a few years back, I figured she was simply standing in for Neko Case and would be relegated to backing band status. When she announced a solo album earlier this year, I barely took notice. Yet somehow, I gave this one a shot, and I’m thrilled I did. Packed with melody, romance, optimism, and spaced-out folk tunes, Calder’s debut is the understated gem of the year, a record with a little something for everyone. While it might not make many year-end lists, that just makes me all the prouder to tout it on mine. I certainly don’t mean to be patronizing when I say that this is one charming little record. Here’s a live take of my favorite, “If You Only Knew.” Oh yeah, and another prime tune (and cool video), “Arrow.” (original review)

1. Beach House – Teen Dream…On their third album, Beach House went for broke, and nailed it. Teen Dream contains ten pop masterpieces, songs that can’t be contained by studios or venues or any other confined space that you might dream up. From the epic swell of “Zebra” to the closing credits of “Take Care”, this a record that you’ll fall in love with, in large part due to the moonlight wails of Victoria Legrand, a vocalist that certainly ranks up there with the likes of Neko and Stevie Nicks. Words fail with this one. If you haven’t heard this yet, then what in the world are you waiting for? Here’s “Walk in the Park“, which was a runner-up for my year-end track list next to “Zebra.”  (original review)

Best of 2010 (Tracks): 80 Minutes of the Best Music

Before I get around to telling you my 5 favorite albums of 2010, take a few minutes to consider this little mix of what I consider to be 80 minutes of the best music released last year…

image

Now the tracklist isn’t in any particular order, but below I’ve written up what I consider to be the top 8 and linked to where you can listen for yourself. Enjoy!

My Top 8 tracks of 2010

1. “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” by Arcade Fire…Somehow the best track got tucked away at the tail-end of The Suburbs. Regine Chassagne sounds so good. On past efforts, her contributions were always welcome additions, but over the electronic backing here, she delivers a stark and captivating performance that steals the show. Lyrically, this is the most stunning track I’ve heard in ages. As a pop song, it sounds like it’s a lost synth-pop classic from the 80’s. Simply brilliant. (listen)

2. “Movin” by Follow the Train…There is a tiny minority out there that knows what I am talking about when I say, “World, it’s high time you meet Follow The Train.” And there’s no better place to start than this transcendent piece of freaked-out, soulful, symphonic space grunge. Dig those strangz dawg. (listen)

3. “All Delighted People” by Sufjan Stevens…Don’t call it a come back. The Age of Adz still hasn’t grabbed me like I hoped it would, but Sufjan made such a grand return with the preceding EP that I’ve pretty much shrugged it off. The EP’s title track is quite possibly the most glorious thing he has yet recorded. It takes everything that we’ve grown to love about the mild-mannered Suferman, vamps it up to a grand symphony, throws in a fireworks display, makes a joyful noise, and then pushes it completely over the top. Now THAT is how you make a return to centerstage! (listen)

4. “Zebra” by Beach House…The most elegant song on this list, it’s an impressionistic little waltz that, as I’ve said before, somehow becomes a stadium-sized thunder track. Between Victoria Legrand’s vocals and Alex Scally’s instrumentation, what on paper appears quite simple becomes dream-like and absolutely gorgeous. (listen)

5. “If You Only Knew” by Kathryn CalderWrote about it here. For those wondering what AC Newman was thinking when he asked his mousy niece to play Christine McVie to Neko Case’s Stevie Nicks, this should give you some indication. My pick for the backporch singalong track of the year. Too much fun…

6. “Bonfire” by Strand of Oaks…Imagine if you will a character in an 80’s slasher flick who sits by a campfire and sings a lonely song that is simultaneously terrifying and pathetic, all while, unbeknownst to him, his cohorts are butchered in the cabin just across the water. You have just imagined “Bonfire” by Strand of Oaks, and it is actually one of the most touching and atypical love songs you’ll ever hear. (listen)

7. “A Cold Freezin’ Night” by The Books…Found sound usually isn’t this giddy and delightful. The bottom line is, this reminds me of all the good things about being nine years old. Who needs verse-chorus-verse? And the video is BADNESS…

8. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” by The National…It was hard to pick just one track from High Violet. I can think of 3 or 4 great tracks that could have been here as well. But ulimately, the lyric “I still owe money/to the money/to the money I owe” was just too good to pass up. (listen)

What were some of your favorites?

Quick Review (LP): Heartland by Owen Pallett

HeartlandOwen Pallett
Heartland
Domino; 2010

My Rating: B-

Best Tracks: “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”

I’m completely unfamiliar with Pallett’s work as Final Fantasy, but there’s no denying he’s some kind of prodigy. This is his solo debut, and I was turned on to it by the excellent single “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt,” one of the best tracks of 2010. I’ve given this LP a few listens, but it has failed to grab me in the same way. Where that track was an intense and symphonic rush, Heartland overall is unfortunately soft in the gut and encumbered by complication. Don’t get me wrong, it’s obvious that Pallett has more musical talent in his pinky than some of my other favorites could ever approach, but it seems as though that wizardry is exactly the thing that prevents him from casting the right spell here. While he creates a magnficent melodic sound, those same sounds effectively obscure the wit and vigor of the emotion he’s trying to convey. That’s a shame, because considering the extreme merit of “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt,” this album could have been a lot better.

Myspace site
Artist website
Pitchfork review
Metacritic reviews

Quick Review (LP): The Suburbs by The Arcade Fire

arcade fire the suburbs The Arcade Fire
The Suburbs
Merge; 2010

My Rating: B+

Best Tracks: “The Suburbs”, “Ready to Start”, “City With No Children”, “Suburban War”, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Montains)”

I can’t make up my mind about this record. On one hand, it’s undeniably a strong album, but on the other hand, I want more than strong albums from The Arcade Fire. I want more like “Sprawl II (Mountain Beyond Mountains)” and less like “Month of May.” I want more Regine on vocals and less Win. I want more quiet and melodic and less overwrought bombast. If this band can make one of the greatest rock records of all time (Funeral), then it can make another one. All of this being said, there are some great tracks here, of which the title track and the aforementioned “Sprawl II” are the best and will probably both find their way onto my year end best tracks list. There is plenty of emotional resonance here but too much reliance on the wall of sound and some filler as well. The Arcade Fire is banging their head on the wall of sound at this point, and it is time for them to break out of it and find some greener pastures.

Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews
Band website

Quick Review (EP): The Years by Memoryhouse

Memoryhouse
The Years
Arcade Sound Ltd.; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Track: “Sleep Patterns”

Debut EP’s have a long and storied history. I count among my favorites REM’s Chronic Town, Voxtrot’s Raised By Wolves, and Fugazi’s self-titled debut. I think it’s perhaps the best way for a new band to introduce its sound to the world, because the EP length leaves us well-informed but thirsting for more. Additionally, most bands, in their first year or two, have not really achieved what can be called a fully-formed sound. Arcade Fire is a good example. Their first EP, while decent in its own right, comes nowhere near the epic glory of their debut LP. All of this is to say that I think Memoryhouse has released one of the best EP’s of the year with their debut, The Years. It’s short even for an EP, only 4 songs in all, but we have here a reasonable introduction to what can be expected from the band in the future. “Sleep Patterns” is the obvious standout, a lo-fi pop noir hybrid of Beach House and Joy Division, and “The Waves” is a quick interlude of New Age electronica. The other two tracks are solid as well, and given the fact that the EP is free, I expect the band to gain a significant following from it. I question whether they can pull off a really solid LP though. Bands with this sort of sleepy sound generally approach terminal attention around track 8 (witness: Boards of Canada), so I for one am hoping for a long career of lengthy EP’s. Still, if Tortoise can do LPs, why can’t Memoryhouse? We’ll see what they come up with.

Download it for FREE here
Pitchfork review
Band Myspace page
WeAreBandits.com

Suspending Judgment: Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”

I’m not quite sure what to make of Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. I, like most everyone else, came to love the band for their incredible 2004 debut Funeral, and I stuck with Neon Bible long enough to realize that it’s actually a pretty decent album. But The Suburbs hasn’t been easy for me. I’ve heard it compared to London Calling in scope, but I’m not convinced.

I guess the most frustrating thing for me is that I feel like the band is stagnating in both sound and vision. While The Suburbs most definitely has some killer songs, I guess I was hoping for something more revolutionary and ambitious, something that would threaten to both alienate old fans and gain legions of new ones, a record we could really divide into camps over. Instead of going all Radiohead on us with a Kid A (and setting the tone for the decade to come), the band has delivered what, in my mind, is their X&Y. And by the way, I like Coldplay.

Anyway, here’s what I do like:

  • “The Suburbs” – Great lyrics – “I want to hold her hand and show her some beauty before all this damage is done.”
  • “City With No Children In It” – Nifty sound. This is probably the most unique sounding track on the record, easily my favorite.
  • “Suburban War” – I love the stark, almost apocalyptic sound of this track. Very nice McGuinn-style guitar playing here.
  • “Sprawl II (Mountain Beyond Mountains)” – Makes a strong case that what this band needs more of is Regine on lead vocals. I thought the same thing when I heard Neon Bible‘s “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations.”

All in all, The Suburbs is a good, maybe even great third effort from The Arcade Fire. I just wish it was something I was breaking down doors to tell the uninitiated about.

Best Breezes: 2010/05/10 – 2010/05/16

Best Breezes brings you the most notable threads of the past week in great music…

Jason Noble Benefits Spell Reunions from Cerebellum, others…

This weekend saw several benefit shows in my hometown of Louisville, KY for Jason Noble of Rachel’s, Shipping News, and Rodan fame.  Not too far back, Jason was diagnosed with cancer, and the outpouring of support over the last few months serves as a better tribute to him than I can possibly do here.

The big name to reunite was of course Endpoint, who played together for the first time since 1994. Sunspring joined them on Friday night, also for the first time since 1994. The biggest deal for me though was Cerebellum, who played together for the first time since 1989. Cerebellum morphed into Crain, who were one of the greatest bands to come out of Louisville and recorded the classic album Speed.

Cerebellum were great in their own right, charged through with youthfulness and optimism. Their sole release, a self-titled cassette on Slamdek Records, has gotten the re-release treatment on Noise Pollution, with the added bonus of five newly recorded “oldies.” To give you some idea of how awesome this is, it is sort of like Minor Threat getting back together and recording some early, proto-Fugazi tracks.

Check out Cerebellum playing “Calm” here…



New Arcade Fire on the way…

All the music websites were abuzz with the possiblity of a new record from Arcade Fire. Nothing particularly concrete yet, but the band’s website definitely alludes to something big coming our way soon

Free Josh Ritter concert…

The Frontloader has a complete audio recording of Josh Ritter’s 5/8/2010 performance at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Band sounds great, Josh sounds great, recording sounds great. Why don’t you have this yet?

Lala shutdown

Major bummerooski as Lala.com announces that it is closing its door for good. This was by far the most useful website to come along in, well, ever…I hope something comes along to take its place soon.

Wax Fang rising

Wax Fang are a sort of prog-punk from Louisville, featuring drummer Kevin Ratterman, formerly of Elliott. It sounds like they are making a huge buzz on the international scene right now, and they have just re-released their only full-length LP, La La Land, on Absolutely Kosher Records. Check them out here:

New Low Anthem track...

Brought to us by HearYa…live video of a new track from The Low Anthem, “I’ll Take Out Your Ashes.”

Is it just me, or is 2010 turning out to be the best year for music in recent memory?

Tracks of the Decade: “Lost!” by Coldplay

“Lost!”
by Coldplay
from VIVA LA VIDA OR DEATH AND ALL HIS FRIENDS (2008)
Coldplay shot to international super-stardom like no other band this decade, simultaneously wooing legions of adoring fans and generating scores of vitriolic detractors with the memorable and tuneful songs of Chris Martin. Most have cited the omnipresent “Clocks” as Coldplay’s contribution to the decade’s musical canon in a sort of cynical one-off (“Oh yeah, there’s Coldplay too”), grudgingly acknowledging its brilliance because even the losers get lucky sometimes. Me? I’ll go with “Lost!” The breathtaking spiritual center of the band’s masterwork VIVA LA VIDA, Martin scored an iconic hit with the track in the vein of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” U2-esque histrionics may abound in Coldplay’s catalog, but Martin’s pathos ring true in this case. The song can be construed at once as pleading denial, optimistic cry in the dark, or prophetic warning. For its universal grandeur, the lyrics are simply brilliant. Lines like “Just because I’m losing/Doesn’t mean that I’m lost” are simply spine-tingling, yet the one that sticks with you is the off-handed denouement “I’m just waiting til the shine wears off.” Conceptually, “Lost!” wins out over Arcade Fire’s “Intervention” for the use of church organ here, succeeding on the souls lifting to heaven front where “Intervention” succumbed to mockery. One of the most beautiful pop songs ever written, “Lost!” proves with finality that Chris Martin is a songwriting and conceptual force.

lost“Lost!”
by Coldplay
from VIVA LA VIDA OR DEATH AND ALL HIS FRIENDS (2008)

Coldplay shot to international super-stardom like no other band this decade, simultaneously wooing legions of adoring fans and generating scores of vitriolic detractors with the memorable and tuneful songs of Chris Martin. Most have cited the omnipresent “Clocks” as Coldplay’s contribution to the decade’s musical canon in a sort of cynical one-off (“Oh yeah, there’s Coldplay too”), grudgingly acknowledging its brilliance because even the losers get lucky sometimes. Me? I’ll go with “Lost!” The breathtaking spiritual center of the band’s masterwork VIVA LA VIDA, Martin scored an iconic hit with the track in the vein of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” U2-esque histrionics may abound in Coldplay’s catalog, but Martin’s pathos ring true in this case. The song can be construed at once as pleading denial, optimistic cry in the dark, or prophetic warning. For its universal grandeur, the lyrics are simply brilliant. Lines like “Just because I’m losing/Doesn’t mean that I’m lost” are simply spine-tingling, yet the one that sticks with you is the off-handed denouement “I’m just waiting til the shine wears off.” Conceptually, “Lost!” wins out over Arcade Fire’s “Intervention” for the use of church organ here, succeeding on the souls lifting to heaven front where “Intervention” succumbed to mockery. One of the most beautiful pop songs ever written, “Lost!” proves with finality that Chris Martin is a songwriting and conceptual force.

Thank You Emusic

This blog is not about advertising, but given that I have a healthy dose of writer’s block tonight, I thought I’d switch gears and just appreciate the fact that Emusic has pretty much drowned me in music over the last month.

1. There’s the standard 37 tracks per month at $15.
2. I purchased 100 tracks using a $30 gift card in August.
3. Last night, they gave me 50 extra downloads for being a loyal customer through their transition in bringing Sony onboard.
4. I will shortly be receiving 10 more downloads for rating 10 albums. Yes, I select stars for my favorite records, and I will get 10 free songs.

That’s 197 tracks in one month at $45.  That’s 23 cents a tracks. Muy bueno.

And what did I purchase? Well, here’s an incomplete list:

1. Modest Mouse, No One’s First and You’re Next EP
2. 12 tracks from Bob Dylan’s first two greatest hits volumes (i.e. “All Along the Watchtower”, “I Shall Be Released”)
3. 5 tracks from Pearl Jam (i.e. “Nothingman”, “Once”)
4. Nathan, Jimson Weed
5. Hem, Funnel Cloud
6.  Neu! 75
7. Arcade Fire EP
8.  The Swell Season
9.  The Inbred, Kombinator
10. Sandra McCracken, Red Balloon
11.  The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime (43 tracks for the price of 12!)
12.  5 tracks from Modest Mouse’s Sad Sappy Sucker
13. Son Volt, The Search (Deluxe Edition)
14. Sandra McCracken, Gravity/Love
15.  Dinosaur Jr., Farm
16. 6 tracks from Modest Mouse’s Epic releases
17. Bruce Springsteen, Hammersmith Odeon London ’75

And while there’s more where that came from, I’m not even done buying yet. I don’t know of a deal that even comes close to that in music downloads. So if you haven’t done a free trial with eMusic, what are you waiting for?