Initial Reactions (2011): Battles, Twin Sister

It’s hard to review all of the new releases I’d like to, especially as you really need 5-10 listens to form something approaching a conclusive opinion about a typical LP. Initial Reactions is my solution to that problem. This will be my way of keeping up with the latest and greatest. I’ll give each of these records at least two full listens, and I’ll apply a blanket qualification to what I write here by saying it’s more of an intuitive reaction than a fully formed opinion. Plus, I can cover more than one band per post this way.

If I’m going to go much past two listens with a record, you’ll probably see a longer review at some point in the not too distant future.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget to check out the rating key down below. Letter grades don’t seem appropriate for initial reactions, so I’m going with something a bit more basic.

Battles – Gloss Drop – [ind]: This was a record I was expecting to like quite a bit, essentially based on descriptions of the band. I like post-rock, as uncool as that apparently is now, and to be sure, Battles comes off as the perfect post-rock act, cross-pollinating the sounds of Tortoise and Don Caballero. However, as cool as some of these tunes are, the record as a whole left me unimpressed after multiple attempts. A little too hyper-active and noisy, you know? Give me some space, give me some soul. ("Ice Cream")

Twin Sister – In Heaven – [****]: Great stuff! I really didn’t know what to expect with this one, but the most obvious comparison seems to be the perfect mix of Puro Instinct and Stars. There’s also a Euro-pop-ish element, reminiscent of Saint Etienne. It’s really something all their own though. There’s fantastic, versatile songwriting throughout. "Kimmi in a Rice Field" is beautiful and pure (think "Take My Breath Away"), and the rest of the album goes from funky groove rock to indie soul pop. Possibly one of the best records this year. ("Kimmi In A Rice Field", "Stop",  "Saturday Sunday")

KEY:

[****]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. Rare. This has to be a real screw-up.

Best of 2010 (EP): Top 3 Extended Players

I’ve never been a fan of filler, so I prefer a great EP to a decent full-length, especially because bands often reserve their most obtusely interesting moments for them. Chronic Town, 7 Songs, A Beautiful Place Out In The Country…I could go on. EP’s are less frequent affairs though, so I’m restricting the list to a Top 3 in this category. The competition was stiff. I reviewed 6 EP’s in the last few months of 2010 alone, and I gave 4 of them A’s. Wye Oak and Real Estate both put out strong offerings in this category, and I didn’t even get around to reviewing Crocodiles’ Fires of Comparison (def. solid) or any number of short offerings from newcomers.

 

from famous-painters.org

My Top 3 EP’s of 2010

3. The Seance EP by Stars…With the exception of the last one, the tracks here certainly rival most of the material on The Five Ghosts as synth-pop heavyweights. Exceptionally mix-worthy, as they say. These are the songs you listen to on the way home after the show has ended, with the windows rolled down and the cold night air keeping you awake. And the last one may not be as poppy, but it recalls The Cure’s darker and more ambient work, which fits the same vibe. Nicely done. (read my original review) [listen to “Opinion vs. The Sun”]

2. The Years EP by Memoryhouse…”Sleep Patterns” is fantastic enough to make a new Nickelback EP worth a listen (no it’s not), but the fact is that the other three tracks here measure up as well. This is super-sleepy, even for dream-pop, and it’s the ambient layers that make all the difference. Where a similar act, say, Beach House, emphasizes dynamics and the wall of sound, Memoryhouse prefers drones and blurred over synth effects. Heck, “The Waves” is a dead-ringer for 90’s infomercial new-age ambient kings Enigma. Gotta respect that. So, yeah, Memoryhouse – fantastic nostalgia-rock, chanting Hindi dude not included. (read my original review)  [listen to “Lately”]

1. All Delighted People EP by Sufjan Stevens…Already raved about “All Delighted People.” The rest of the EP is incredible too. Thought I could have done without a “Classic Rock” version of the title track, there’s no denying that Sufjan represents here. “Heirloom” and “From the Mouth of Gabriel” are favorites, and the vocal work on “Enchanting Ghost” sends chills up my spine. Still, it’s “Djohariah” that’s the true wonder here, a birthday tune he wrote for his little sis. Dang prodigies… (read my original review) [listen to “Heirloom”]

Best of 2010 (Albums): Honorable Mention

Before we get too deep in 2011, I thought I’d put a bow on 2010 this week. I’ll be listing a CD-R’s worth of my favorite tracks, my top 5 albums, and maybe a few other things this week. Too start things off, a list of great albums that deserve some sort of honorable mention…

cerebellum tewligans

Cerebellum 1989 (via Slamdek.com)

 

While these albums didn’t quite make my top 5 this year, I don’t think there is any doubt that I will be listening to them frequently for years to come.

She & Him – Volume 2: I almost didn’t even bother here, but I’m really glad I did. Discovering this was like finding out about an old rock masterpiece. There’s a lot of warmth in ZD’s voice and songwriting, and M. Ward’s flourishes round out the best traditional pop record of the year. (listen to “Lingering Still“) Read my original review.

New Pornographers – Together: I’m not really sure how AC Newman keeps getting such inspiration out of this wacky ensemble, but Together, as its name would imply, manages to achieve both a stunning overall unity and the most idiosyncratic performances from each of the key players yet. Neko’s at her best on “The Crash Years”, Dan’s a wacky loverboy on “Silver Jenny Dollar”, Kathryn Calder shines on “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk”, and Dr. Newman rounds out just about everything else. Fantastic artsy power pop, fabulous performances, a great experience all around. (listen to “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk“) Read my original review.

Venice Is Sinking – Sand & Lines: This is what rainy Saturday mornings feel like. The great thing about this record is that you can get up close to it or leave it on in the background, either way you enjoy it. As I’ve said before, I wish more bands would just hang a microphone from the ceiling and play a set. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for ViS. (“Bardstown Road“) Read my original review.

Frontier(s) – There Will Be No Miracles Here: Chris Higdon returns 7 years after the demise of Elliott with a record heavy on the DC-style hardcore. As packed as this one is with melodic, chunky riffs, comparisons to Jawbox seem obvious but entirely appropriate. Oh yeah, and it grows on you too. (“Abul Abbas“) Read my original review.

Bruce Springsteen – The Promise: Recorded in the late 70’s, this is a gold mine for just about anyone who cares about rock and roll. Did we really need a reminder of what a monumental and unique talent Bruce Springsteen is? The Boss himself seems to think we did, and for that, I’d like to shake his hand. (“Someday (We’ll Be Together)“) Read my original review.

Stars – The Five Ghosts: Stars fully embraced 80’s synth-pop on this record, and what came of it was one of the most listenable and catchy collection of tunes imaginable. With all their earnestness, I get a feeling it’s becoming less and less cool to like Stars, but don’t let that hold you back. This is some serious ear candy, so just indulge your sonic sweet tooth already. (“Wasted Daylight“) Read my original review.

Cerebellum – Cerebellum: How could this not be awesome? Cerebellum came to a pre-mature end in 1989, leaving only 5 studio tracks (collected here) and a handful of other unrecorded songs. They recorded them for posterity this year, and it’s remarkable just how much these guys sound like they are picking up right where they left off. The big highlight is the mighty “Crawl Out of the Water”, which existed as an inferior Crain demo. It’s in all its glory here. (“Crawl Out of the Water“) Read my original review.

Quick Review (EP): The Seance EP by Stars

stars_band_photo Stars
The Seance EP
2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “Opinions vs. The Sun”, “The Five Ghosts”

This feels a lot like the hardcore desolation electro-pop of Depeche Mode. I’m not sure what the “V. Album Leaf” and “v. Montag” means here, but the best track is probably “The Five Ghosts” anyway. Like any good EP, this has the complete and impactful feel of a solid short story. Perhaps these tracks were considered afterthoughts to The Five Ghosts LP-proper, but I think they measure up just as well to anything on that record, except perhaps “Fixed” and “Wasted Daylight.” As far as EP’s go, this is everything a good one should be.

Snob’s Music review
The Seance appreciation thread