December 30, 2009

The Year in Photos 2009

The additional east coast coverage from Ms Victoria Masters really stepped our visual game up this year. So it's no surprise that, after browsing the library here on this freezing afternoon in Boston, we selected most favorites from her batch.

And it's all linked up:

Animal Collective @ Prospect Park Bandshell, Brooklyn, NY

White Rabbits @ Maxwell's, Hoboken, NJ

The xx @ Webster Hall, New York, NY

Yeah Yeah Yeahs @ Coachella, Indio, CA

Suckers @ Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY

Friendly Fires @ Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY

Dirty Projectors @ Williamsburg Waterfront, Brooklyn, NY

Girl Talk @ Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros @ Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA

Little Joy & friends @ Webster Hall, New York, NY

TV On The Radio @ Prospect Park Bandshell, Brooklyn, NY

The Flaming Lips @ Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA

Grizzly Bear @ Town Hall, New York, NY

NYE Mixtape: The Power Hour of The Decade

Nate just hit me with a rather fun idea and well here it is in his own words:

Download | The Power Hour of The Decade

In honor of the past decade I put together a “Power Hour” mix. It’s filled with your favorite songs from the past ten years. All the infectious pop, breakthrough indie acts, and Beyonce you can handle. In lieu of putting together a heavy-handed decade mix, I think this party game does the wild decade better justice. If you don’t know the rules to a power hour, they are as follows: A song plays for a minute, you drink a shot of beer (or mixed drink), the next song plays, you have another shot and so on for an hour. Now, I’m not advising excessive binge drinking here, I don’t want this mix to kill anyone. So if you want to participate, be aware of your tolerance. Instead of a shot, maybe just take a sip. I guarantee you will be buzzed by the end of the hour, whether it is from all the alcohol or all the spinning memories in your head from a decade’s worth of songs that we all grew up to. Cheers. - Nate

Happy New Year. Have fun. Be safe. Get weird. Sorry about that one Jet song.

December 22, 2009

Top 9 Live Shows of 2009

Like last time, here's a ranking of my favorite memories from California's concert season for the sake of listmaking, and to link up some old posts. Criteria: I had to be there (thus excluding Victoria's wonderfully photographed NYC shows - but there are talks of a 'year in photos' post), and a limit to one appearance per band. 

09 Destroyer @ Echoplex 
"like a wizard doing a monologue."

 "You could say they fit the bill."

"Nic Offer and I shared a Springsteen/Courtney Cox moment. Then again, he may have humped the entire front row. In my next life, when I front a band, I will dance like Nic Offer."

"Gillis' nonstop toilet-paper-gun assault started with Nirvana, peaked at Kelly Clarkson, and ended with fireworks."

05 Antony & The Johnsons @ Coachella Sunday
"At least there are times when our lives seem cinematic; when a moment is so beautiful we watch from outside ourselves." more

04 The Dodos @ El Rey Theatre

"The Dodos have this rare ability to rework all your previous notions of live music as you know it. Read: go see them immediately." more

03 Paul McCartney @ Coachella Friday

"The idea of seeing this in my lifetime had never really occurred to me, a possibility. Surreal. An older gentleman actually feinted into my arms at one point – I wouldn’t make that up." more 

02 Animal Collective @ Hollywood's Music Box

"Animal Collective have entered such a stride in their live set. It’s perfectly sequenced and seemingly scientific in respect to human response and crescendo." more

01 Thom Yorke with Flea and Co @ Orpheum Theatre 

"Thom Yorke, arguably the most vital and prolific artist of our generation (try me), can do that. He can rally four master musicians for a "jam" at the Orpheum Theatre. He can (generously) invite relative unknown art-house locals (and appropriately named), Lucky Dragons, to open. He can turn his own solo album from skeletal, electronic ice, to full-blooded, freewheeling fire. He can unite music nerds with Hollywood's elite** under one long, standing ovation, before the show even starts. 

To think, all this time, The Eraser was a sprawling dance-punk album in disguise" more

And the best part of all was the people I got to share these experiences with. So, thanks and here's to many more in 2010.

December 17, 2009

Friday Send-Off | Studio's West Coast [Decade December Edition]

Today's pick is understandably absent from most decade talk. It wasn't 'groundbreaking'. It had no proper single or mp3 to pass around (having arrived just before the real blog boom of 07' and initially only on vinyl). But damn, does this ever continue to be a good listen, outlasting most heavyweights in the battle for permanence on my iTunes.

Our own Shred Wednesday author, Ian, used to question electronic music in general (its ability to connect, sustain, emote, etc), and it was West Coast, the debut LP from Swedish duo Studio, that finally converted him, big time. Below is a video that looped on their website at the time of release - basically a sampler of tracks, but way cooler than that sounds:

Download | Studio | West Coast (2006)

You name it: 80s new wave, ambient, afrobeat, Italian disco, hazy reggae dub (which I think really hooked the Old Prospector), West Coast weaves in and out of territories without ever claiming just one as its own. The 16-minute opener "Out There" might even cover all that in one swing. "Life's A Beach" starts off almost grimy and ends literally on a coastline. "Self Service" brings in some Duran Duran vocals and for some reason, that doesn't feel out of place.

For something that does require patience, this thing is awfully addicting. Highly recommended.

With a Christmas Mixtape, and an 09' blurb fest, it's been a great week, and now it's time to chill.

Have fun. Be safe. Get weird.

December 16, 2009

The Top 50 Albums of 2009

50 is superfluous. And yet 50 fills up pretty fast. Especially in 2009, a generous* year that saw strong releases come from all directions; some trails familiar, others totally blazed.

More importantly, 50 stays for anyone in search of a lead (and yeah, because "people love lists"). A friend told me that he test drove all of last year's countdown, album by album. So I wouldn't want to withhold that extra 35 from him.

50. The Mountain Goats - The Life of The World To Come
49. Dan Deacon - Bromst
48. Music Go Music - Expressions
47. Zola Jesus - The Spoils
46. HEALTH - Get Color
45. Mountains - Choral
44. Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue
43. The Dodos - Times To Die
42. Passion Pit - Manners
41. Ducktails - Landscapes
40. Handsome Furs - Face Control
39. Nite Jewel - Good Evening
38. Here We Go Magic - Here We Go Magic
37. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Up From Below
36. Blank Dogs - Under and Under
35. Micachu and the Shapes - Jewellery
34. Ganglians - Monster Head Room
33. Kate Simko - Music From The Atom Smashers
32. Matius Aguayo - Ay Ay Ay
31. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
30. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains
29. Hildur Guðnadóttir - Without Sinking
28. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz
27. tUnE-yArDs - BiRd-BrAiNs
26. Memory Tapes - Seek Magic
25. Cass McCombs - Catacombs
24. Julianna Barwick - Florine
23. Antony And The Johnsons - The Crying Light
22. Real Estate - Real Estate
21. Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer
20. The Antlers - Hospice
19. St. Vincent - Actor
18. White Denim - Fits
17. Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms
16. Fever Ray - Fever Ray

15 The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

An utter mess, Embryonic restored The Flaming Lips as the most fearless ‘megaband’ around (edging out Radiohead only for the fact that the Lips have ‘failed’ before). It's 70 minutes long. It feels more like 90. Seemingly wherever possible, something was off; something was blitzing the easier listen (and harder is sometimes more fun).

Drums exploded, planets aligned, harps bled, and the ego was dead...this wasn’t a dose of serotonin; this was aggressive therapy.

14 The xx - The xx

How it unfolded from the buzzworthy summer debut attached to “four 20-year-olds from South London who make predominantly slow, furtive pop music, mostly about sex”, to this intense and mature, space-out staple of the fall, is one of those questions that if explored, might risk snapping me out of it.

13 Smith Westerns - Smith Westerns

As previously stated, this was unbridled youth in a box; endearingly bratty, surprisingly nostalgic and insanely replayable, the clear standout in a busy and somewhat indecipherable year for garage pop.

My question to anyone surprised by Smith Westerns’ alleged misbehavior on tour: have you listened to this album?

12 Pictureplane - Dark Rift

Dark Rift earned every mention it got here (even if S&S is the bumbling mascot Pictureplane never asked for). It kept a mystical and rather profound aura throughout, which you don't often see in electronic music. And instead of going up high with all these concepts for us to marvel at, Dark Rift was always within a dance party's reach. 60+ plays and counting. If only iTunes kept track of reality shifts and glitter...

11 Atlas Sound - Logos

If this is the last of its kind (not likely), so be it. Bradford Cox giveth enough. If this particular dream-movement ends tomorrow, we’ll at least be left with Logos. If it's possible to think of it separately, and not as another thread in what seems like an endless string of progression, Logos might shine brighter. In other words, play this for me in 2006, and I'll grab you by the shoulders and ask who, what, where, and how.

10 Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Wolfgang’s first three tracks, arguably the most carefree 12 minutes of 2009, cast such a shadow over the rest of this thing that it must have been a deliberate move. Especially coming from Phoenix, a band that’s been pumping out solid pop albums since Passion Pit was in middle school.

“Love Like Sunset” starts a very worthwhile second act - an act secretly responsible for sending the ridiculous phrase Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix to the top of just about everyone’s list. You have singles albums. And you have album albums. Rarely do you have both.

09 Night Control - Death Control

It's not hard to picture Chris Smith in his ‘bedroom’ for long stretches of time, recording what would become Death Control, without the faintest idea of what it might turn out sounding like. It makes sense then to learn that it's actually 10 years of experimental work, very selectively sewn together. A few seams are showing. It's better that way, like one of those rad quilts.

One minute he’s as soft as velvet (underground), the next he’s completely imploding under warm fuzz-droned feedback, and another he’s ripping solos that sound like "Neil Young waking up in the morning."

08 Grizzly Bear - Veckatamist

They assumed their role as Valedictorian of the chamber pop/harmony class of the late 00s, and you can't hold that against them. Not when their speech was this beautiful. Hype hangovers are dangerous. Let's not forget for every "Two Weeks" and "While You Wait for Others", there's an "I Live With You" about to erupt, a "Ready, Able" primed for hypnosis, and a delicate "Foreground" opening for all to get lost in.

07 Circlesquare - Songs About Dancing and Drugs

My most isolated relationship this year, Songs About Drugs and Dancing lived inside a pair of headphones. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the excerpt that initially baited me rang truer with every listen:
"The whole record feels like you went out clubbing and partying and there was a big rush of sensations and you stayed out very, very late and then all your friends went home, and now you're back at your laptop with a midi board, and maybe the sun is coming up, and you should drink some water, and all the loud pulsing sounds, the firebomb bass and siren swirl, are still echoing somewhere in the back of your skull."

06 A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Ashes Grammar

Giving writers no choice but to pull words like 'angelic' and 'ethereal' out of retirement, Ashes Grammar buried anything in its path with bliss. It also appears to be one of the most unblurbable forces I've ever encountered. Truly something meant to be felt in your core.

05 Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

P90X Extreme Home Fitness DVDs run for approximately an hour - you start with a 10 minute warm up, then a 40 minute space mountain climb, then a triumphant climax (sometimes greeted by a marching droid army of drummers with shooting stars overhead), then you transcend the physical world, and end with a cool down. P90X Extreme Home Fitness DVDs have a "music off" feature which allows you to supplement with your own musical preference.

04 Built To Spill - There Is No Enemy

This band should have no enemies. Plenty of 20-somethings not knowing as much as they should about the band's discography (myself included), but certainly no enemies, no one hastily rejecting what they do hear. Built To Spill make guitar driven, like it on your first listen-love it on your 15th, indie rock songs. Does their lack of colorful sub-genre hyphens therefore make them colorless? Not when something like There Is No Enemy can fill your living room with swirling riffs, over and over, and never go bland.

03 Girls - Album

Whether the notions of sunshine, love, drugs, heartbreak, hitch-hiking, sheltered upbringings, ambiguous kisses, a mythological San Francisco, gutter punk, "Earth Angel", "Heal the world", Buddy Holly, Elvis, The Beach Boys, Costello, Cobain, Sonic Youth, Guns and Roses... were embedded in the music itself, the way it was presented, or in our own projections onto it, is irrelevant. These songs, these direct and refreshing expressions of simple emotion, are really fucking good.

Perhaps 2009's most lasting imprint will be seen in the way its two most significant releases crossed art-house arrangement with downright catchiness. These mass indicators of the avant-pop shift were celebrated for achieving that long-desired balance. Which is exciting and all, but on a personal level, they land where they do on this list because I also dug them the most. Crazy when that happens.

02 Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

In some impenetrable talent bubble, Bitte Orca sounds as though it was envisioned by aliens. They came down, interpreted modern music and responded with their own gorgeously bizarre version of it.

Dave Longstreth (genius, composer, not alien) made an invitation out of a formerly intimidating off-kilter style. And the ladies vocally stole the show. I'm still in awe.

01 Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
[No more runnin says my mind]
[Some kind of magic in the way you're lying there]
[If I could just leave my body for the night]
Merriweather Post Pavilion was human nature. Over ten years ago, I found these intangible, indescribable sonic and lyrical connections in OK Computer, which very well might be the founding moment of an impossible search for a similar feeling (as seen in this here music obsession). Not for a similar kind of record (we've seen plenty of those) but for a similar reaction to one. This delivered, in it's own way, Animal Collective's way - a distinct brand which fascinatingly continues to evolve at will.


* the hypothetical honorable mention never looked so good. If there's one more to add it's Bill Callahan's Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle - falling in love with it, as of yesterday. And there were too many excellent EPs this year - including one wouldn't be fair to all. Ambient/instrumental/minimal electronic releases could fill a list of their own as well (a few made this one) - still figuring out how to measure those outside of their context/genre. Lastly, what were your favorites? There are so many gems out there, I'm just one dude with a blog.

December 14, 2009

A Christmas Mixtape | "Just Come On Home"

I thought I heard footsteps on my Internet last night, then fell back asleep. Lo and behold, sitting in the gmail this morning was another seasonal mixtape from old saint Nate. He even left a note:
There certainly isn’t a lack of holiday tunes out there. It’s impossible for a band to resist the glowing temptation of recording a classic Christmas cover or seasonal inspired original. You can’t argue the rational; putting out a Christmas song all but guarantees repeat play for a whole month for years to come. Putting the capitalist agenda aside, it's nice to think that these band put these songs out as gifts to their loyal fans. And what better gift is there than music? It keeps on giving and giving with each push of the play button. Music has become as synonymous with this holiday as trees and lights. So to decorate your Itunes this year, I’ve put together a collection of some of best Christmas songs of past five years or so. Some of these songs have become modern traditions of my own and others are like new fresh snow ready to be trampled on and played with. The album’s title “Just Come on Home” is lifted from Slow Club’s acoustic grower “Christmas TV” and the theme of home is all over these songs. Being home for the holidays is far beyond a cliché, by now, it’s practically a birthright. So whether you’re home, or wishing you were, may you find the warmth, cheer in tradition alive and well in these songs. And don't be afraid to regift this mix, unlike that J. Crew sweater, these songs should fit on anyone. Merry Christmas!
Download | A Christmas Mixtape | Just Come On Home

Those who claim to dislike Christmas music are likely referring to the generic renditions that get set to 'overkill' by every public establishment during the holidays (and even then, there's a small place in our hearts for those). This mix primarily collects relative unknowns in the satellite radio circuit; refreshing enough to sway the biggest Scrooge, sentimental enough to still feel festive. And the few traditional exceptions are welcome to stay (see: Dylan's cover of "I'll Be Home For Christmas").

View the tracklist

Suckers @ Knitting Factory Brooklyn [NYC; 12/10/09, in photos]

Brooklyn's own Suckers had a 7-inch record release party last Thursday in Williamsburg. Our own Victoria was there to snap a few.

With their self-titled EP, Suckers had us pretty excited back in April. And according to Victoria, the local buzz is still on the up. "A little wet behind the ears", they sounded solid while their stage presence is almost there.

Side B of that 7" worth partying about is a Yeasayer remix of "It Gets Your Body Movin'" (both the remixer and the remixee have moved their way onto the Best of 09' mixtape, and speaking of Yeasayer, Odd Blood is on repeat). Side A is the unreleased and stellar, "Save Your Love For Me".

Now feel free to try making some sense out of this underwater trip for the other single, "Easy Chairs":

December 11, 2009

Friday Send-Off | Shut Up I Am Dreaming [Decade December Edition]

In case you missed it, December Send-Offs are praising a few of the decade's best albums. Specifically, the ones that could use a bit more love.

Today's visual aid is less visual than usual. But the real show is in the nuanced expressions of Spencer Krug, one of the most imaginative and prolific songwriters of the decade (see: Wolf Parade, Swan Lake, Sunset Rubdown, etc). And also, the final 40 seconds.

Download | Sunset Rubdown | Shut Up I Am Dreaming (2006)

Like anyone has over four years, I've changed locations, apartments, jobs, computers and so on. We allow ourselves a few security blankets along the way and here's one of mine. Hell, all I have to do is glance to the top of this screen for the album's opening track.

In "Stadiums and Shrines II", there's definitely "a kid in there" and the rest is up for interpretation. The kid/man reappears throughout Shut Up I Am Dreaming and although Krug's cryptic cues place the figure in "distant shores", "miniature rooms", and various exchanges with lovers, it might be the compositions themselves that offer up the most vivid escapes.

Shoutout to anyone who remembers this taking the #1 slot on my 2006 list, back in the myspace days.

December 9, 2009

Shred Wednesday | If Sonic Youth Were A Carpenter

Baby Baby Baby Baby Oh Baby. Ian writes in brown.

Song: “Superstar” by Sonic Youth
Skater: Jerry Hsu
Video: Enjoi; Bag of Suck (2006)

Prospector’s Top 3:
1. Switch Ollie (2:42)
2. Line: Nollie Backside 180 Heel; Fakie Kickflip; Fakie Frontside Tailslide (2:14)
3. Backside 180 (1:08)
Shred returns to part II of Jerry Hsu’s magnum opus. When selecting the Prospector 3, the goal is to try to not be so obvious and choose the final trick (which is usually the best one). Here, the closing Nollie Backside Heelflip down the Lincoln 13 is ridiculous and deserving of a mention anyways. In fact, anything past the 2:42 mark is “ender” material and therefore trying to narrow this part down to 3 is impossible. Great part, great song (thanks for sending me this one, Canu).

As a reader, you may be humming the melody to this song before realizing what it's from. The original is an old ballad by The Carpenters. Our generation may best know it as the one David Spade and Chris Farley cry/sing while driving in the film Tommy Boy. Sonic Youth is the perfect band to cover it. They put their own noisy, droney, feeback laden spin on it, while at the same time nailing down what’s most important, the melody.

Download | Various Artists | If I Were A Carpenter (1994)

Sonic Youth pulverized this Carpenter's classic, and got away with it. They're the only band that could have pulled this off. Just watch the video. As for the 1994 tribute album from which it first appeared on, I haven't heard half of these Carpenter originals so this plays more like a time capsule of 90s alt-rock era. And now almost 15 years later, that's something to appreciate as well. Babes in Toyland, The Cranberries, 4 Non Blondes...

If I Were A Carpenter got some extra attention after a scene in the film
Juno. When it's good, it always comes back. Expect an Atlas Sound cover by 2015.

December 7, 2009

The xx and Friendly Fires @ Webster Hall [NYC; 12/5/09, in photos]

While I was hanging with Girls in LA, Victoria and her camera were getting their xx/FF on, roughly 3000 miles east.

The xx and Friendly Fires have very little in common stylistically. There's an obvious crossover in fan base, and both acts have proven themselves on the road, so these recent shows worked in their own way. Start the night in a moody trance, end the night in a sweaty dance (bad, sorry).

BrooklynVegan has the story. We'll just give these choice shots a home.

Thanks, Vic!