Posts Tagged ‘Woods’

Kleeb’s Best Albums of 2010

December 13, 2010

Another year down in the music world, and there’s a tremendous amount of great stuff to talk about. On Death By Audio Records, we saw releases by French Miami and Coin Under Tongue, as well as a new album by Sisters. There have also been great releases this year by my friends in Golden Ages from Philly and EwwYaboo from Wilkes-Barre. Though I dabbled in a few different projects, this has been the first year in a long time that I didn’t really play a lot of music. Anyway, here are some links to lists from years past:

Best Albums of 2009
Best Albums of 2008

I had a really hard time narrowing down ten albums, especially with so much good music coming out of my house this year. I decided to single out my favorite EP of the year before I tackle the albums:

French Miami – Motor Skills

French Miami, the three-piece from San Francisco, recorded their first album in since 2008 and self-released it on Death By Audio records. Motor Skills is a six-song EP that showcases a wide range of talents, from finger-tapping math rock to synth-laden 80’s horror movie soundtrack. The melodies are contagiously catchy, and the most obvious example is “Older,” where a syncopated snare drum and finger-tapped guitar complement Heiselman’s reverb-heavy lyrics. The other obvious standout track is “Jon Odyssey,” an instrumental that is straight out of a John Carpenter film. It’s so evidently different from the rest of the songs that you have to wonder what’s in store for their next album. It’s a shame this one has only six songs.

10. Woods – At Echo Lake

After last year’s Songs of Shame, I became obsessed with Woods. The weird, lo-fi Neil Young-esque vocals, the folky campfire melodies, the fuzzy psychedelic jams. I couldn’t stop listening to it. Yet, for as catchy as parts of Songs of Shame were, other parts were drawn out and a bit tedious. This year, Woods trimmed the fat with At Echo Lake. This album is a mere thirty minutes and it’s solid all the way through. Leadoff track “Blood Dries Darker” is a poppy jaunt, drowned in that lo-fi vocal reverb that makes Jeremy Earl so distinct. The bright “Suffering Season” is contrasted by the dark “Death Rattles,” but both sides of Woods are effective.

9. Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz/All Delighted People

Last year, Sufjan Stevens came out of the blue for the first time since 2005’s Illinois with “You Are The Blood,” a 10-minute track on Dark Was The Night that combined his soft, soothing vocals with abrasive electronic sounds, brass fanfares, and a lo-fi piano interlude. It was one of the most experimental and amazing songs I’d heard in a long time, and a welcome change from the 50-states project.

When I first heard the All Delighted People EP in August, it was exciting to hear some of Stevens’ first work in five years. The song “All Delighted People” is the obvious highlight, with two versions to listen to, both clocking in at 11 and 8 minutes respectively. The rest of the EP is filled with quiet, stereotypical Sufjan filler, including the stellar “Heirloom,” then ends with “Djohariah,” a sprawling 17 minutes of choirs, horns, piano, acoustic guitar, and random electronic buzzes and beeps. Eight songs, over an hour long. Hardly an EP, but we knew what was on the horizon.

Less than two months later, Stevens dropped Age of Adz, chock full of weirdness and abrasive sounds. If you know about Sufjan’s past as an electronic musician (A Sun Came, Enjoy Your Rabbit), it would make sense that he would incorporate a heavy digital influence on an otherwise soft and melodic album. Tracks like “Too Much” and “I Walked” have pretty straightforward vocal melodies, like you’d find on Seven Swans or Michigan. What makes them unique is the digital drums, piercing beeps and hums, and vocal effects. Stevens doesn’t opt for accessibility on Age of Adz and that is what makes the album interesting. There’s none of the folky, banjo-plucking soft rock that everyone loved on Illinois. In fact, you’ll even hear him drop the F-bomb on this one, as the chorus of “I Want To Be Well” exclaims over and over, “I’m not fucking around!”

So it’s a serious, edgy album, although it ends on an optimistic note. 25-minute closer “Impossible Soul” claims “Boy, we can do much more together/It’s not so impossible.”

8. Caribou – Swim

Swim is the third proper release from Daniel Snaith’s moniker Caribou. A vast departure from 2005’s The Milk of Human Kindness and 2007’s Andorra, Swim is an exploration of digital music. It’s not like we didn’t see this coming. Caribou has been performing with samplers, electronic drums, and Ableton tracks for years. Of course, these were always taking a backseat to guitars and drums. On Swim, they’re at the forefront, and this album would be more likely categorized under “house” rather than “indie rock.” Take the second track “Sun” for example. The only lyrics are the song’s title, sung over and over with a wobbly synth line and driving drum beat. Or “Bowls,” an instrumental exploration of percussion, ranging from maracas to bells to castanets. This album does have its catchy moments too. Leadoff track “Odessa” stands out above the rest, a catchy melody that bridges the gap between Caribou the rock band and Caribou the club DJs.

After witnessing their 2009 performance as the Caribou Vibration Ensemble, complete with a boys’ choir and Marshall Allen from Sun Ra, I’ve gained a new respect for Caribou. Subsequent performances utilize more electronics than ever before. The drums are all digitized, linked up to an Ableton track. Samplers drive the beat, and Snaith alternates between keys, guitar, drums, or just maracas as he conducts his digital orchestra. I’d be lying if I said this performance wasn’t one of my primary influences when combining drumming with electronic music. I’m just excited to see what direction Snaith heads next.

7. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

For the first three minutes of This Is Happening, James Murphy may as well be whispering over a minimal drum beat and sparse synthesizers. Once “Dance Yrself Clean” kicks in, however, the next five minutes combine multiple synth lines into that unique LCD Soundsystem sound, complete with Murphy’s wails. The single “Drunk Girls,” the one song I can do without, is a testament to the club scene, and a lot of the lyrics hit pretty close to home. The pinnacle of the album is the one-two punch of “All I Want,” a Strokes-esque ballad, and “I Can Change,” a catchy pop song reminiscent of 80’s dance music.

Though LCD Soundsystem is pretty well nestled into their niche, they improve with each new release. This Is Happening has more introspection and less optimism than 2007’s Sound of Silver and as Murphy matures, his lyrics become more intense and his music more intricate. On “Somebody’s Calling Me,” the slightly off-key synth gives a unique abrasion to an almost lounge-y dance track. James Murphy continues to surprise and impress me, and I don’t even really like dance music that much.

6. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

In 2005, I considered Demon Days one of the best albums I had ever heard in my life. Damon Albarn’s cartoon creation had hit the mainstream, and the hip-hop collaborations and animated music videos made the Gorillaz one of the most unique bands (bands?) in existence. After five years, with little more than the flop Monkey Albarn came back in full force with Plastic Beach.

The collaborators on the new album are a bit more well-known: Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, and De La Soul. A brass orchestra opens “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” before allowing Snoop Dogg to take over and lay down some slow verses about pollution (plastic beach, get it?). The single “Stylo” is probably one of the best tracks, with a driving bassline guiding Albarn, Mos Def, and Womack along. Check out the video with Bruce Willis. With 16 tracks, there is a bit of filler. “Superfast” is a cheesy melody, though it has some entertaining lyrics about fast food and breakfast cereal. “On Melancholy Hill” is a fantastic, uplifting pop song, which breaks up the second half of the album nicely. Since five years have passed, it’s hard to compare Plastic Beach to Demon Days, but since I expected to dislike the new album after Albarn’s Monkey phase, it’s nice to have a surprise like this.

5. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Here’s an album that’s going to place on almost everyone’s year end list. In 2010, Arcade Fire solidified their place alongside iconic rock bands like U2 and Radiohead with The Suburbs, an album that hits close to home with young people growing up in an unstable economy with memories of the safety and security of their childhood. Tracks like “The Suburbs” and “Wasted Hours” reminisce about a past life, where working a 9 to 5 and raising a family was the norm and no one worried about losing their job or scrounging for financial security. Even the interactive album includes scenes from suburban sprawls, including a video for “We Used To Wait” that invites you to enter your childhood street address so you can go on a Google Earth adventure through your old neighborhood.

Along with the memories, Arcade Fire addresses the present with tracks like “Modern Man” and “Rococo,” with biting lyrics about kids today following trends and not understanding the world they live in. The fiery passion we saw on Funeral has evolved into a mature, introspective look at the world. Sure, songs like “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” still have that signature Arcade Fire sound, and they’ve garnered enough respect to sell out Madison Square Garden (along with a live feed directed by Terry Gilliam). With this release, Arcade Fire has redeemed their reputation that was soiled by the sub-par Neon Bible, and will continue to appeal to both mainstream and indie audiences because of their concepts and lyrics.

4. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

I have every inclination to hate Kanye West. He’s an egomaniac, an asshole, and a crybaby. But goddamn, the guy is one hell of a song writer. This album, though probably not a 10.0, is a return to the brilliance we last saw somewhere between Late Registration and Graduation. In “Runaway” he even addresses his twisted ego with a “toast to the douchebags,” as if this will somehow forgive his Taylor Swift incident at the Grammys. Of course, when was there a superstar pop idol who wasn’t a lunatic? Take a look at Michael Jackson, his demise an eventual result of the pedestal he stood upon. Kanye is unabashedly picking up his flag, with a literal tribute to the King of Pop in “All of the Lights” as well as a parade in his honor in the ridiculous 35 minute music video for “Runaway.” So taking into account his self-centered lyrics, his excessive glamor, and his penchant for being the center of attention, whether positive or negative, and you can understand the genius behind My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

3. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

Every year or two, a songwriter comes around wielding a single acoustic guitar and proving his musical prowess solely through his vocal melodies and poetic lyrics. Channeling the nasely style of Dylan, Neil Young, and Devendra Banhart comes Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth. Although The Wild Hunt isn’t his first release, it’s a fantastic follow-up to his 2008 debut album, Shallow Grave. However, despite the thousands of Dylan comparisons, the one distinct difference between the two is Matsson’s placated lyrics, casting off the problems of the world and singing about the Scandinavian countryside and past lovers. While his style isn’t groundbreaking or completely original, you can feel the emotion in his voice when he reaches the chorus of “You’re Going Back” or “King of Spain” as he cracks and strains through the choruses. The anthemic end of the album, “Kids on the Run,” is a piano-driven ballad calling for a return to fleeting childhood memories. As a modern folk album, The Wild Hunt is beautiful and its melodies are addictively catchy.

2. Ariel Pink – Before Today

It’s hard to imagine that Before Today was released in 2010. So many sounds and melodies just sound so familiar. Didn’t I hear that bassline in a Cure song? Isn’t “Bright Lit Blue Skies” a 60’s doo-wop song? This amalgamation of vintage pop is what makes the new record by Ariel Pink so accessible. Ever the minimalist, Ariel Pink has been known for his lo-fi recordings. Up until this record, I never really gave him a chance. Once he teamed up with his current band, the Haunted Graffiti, everything took off. The polished sound of Before Today is on par with a mainstream pop album (at least in the 80’s it could be mainstream). Tracks like “Can’t Hear My Eyes” and “Round and Round” break into catchy choruses in the vein of The Police or Culture Club. Though usually not my cup of tea, Pink’s twist on the genre, the sound effects all made with his mouth, and the weird intrusions of jet plans, screeching tires, and telephones ringing make this album amazing. It’s by far the catchiest album of the year.

1. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

I was first introduced to Joanna Newsom’s unique shrill voice during college when my roommate incessantly played The Milk-Eyed Mender on repeat for weeks on end. At first, I found her unbearable, like nails on a chalkboard. I warmed up to her eventually, and discovered that she had a modern Shakespearean quality to her lyrics, as well as a flair for the harp. This combination of sprawling epic poetry and minimalist harp-plucking was reminiscent of some sort of transplanted traveling minstrel from hundreds of years ago. So when Ys was released in 2006, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the five songs made up an hour-long album full of metaphorical tales about monkeys and bears, and a grammatical conversation about the difference between “meteors” and “meteorites.” I became obsessed. Unfortunately, with the exception of a Van Dyke Parks rendition of a few tracks, we would hear nothing from Newsom for four years.

In early 2010, Joanna released the triple LP Have One On Me. Alternating between solo harp ballads and full-band orchestrations, her new album allows you to digest 18 tracks in three sittings (or if you lack a record player, as many as you want). It’s about two hours long, and the melodies switch between slow, sprawling lullabys (“Baby Birch”) and comparatively fast-paced jaunts (“Good Intentions Paving Company”). It’s impossible to describe the layers of orchestration or lyrical intensity on this album, and I’m certain most people will despise her style upon first listen. For me, I’ve fallen into the category of Joanna Newsom fans who crave the dense orchestration and intense lyrics.


Best Albums of 2009

January 7, 2010


So it’s the end of the year and I feel compelled to list everything I enjoyed in the last 12 months. Music this year was all over the map genre-wise, but 7 out of the 10 artists are from Brooklyn. I guess that says something about this past year.

10. Akron/Family – Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free

My relationship with Akron/Family is back and forth. With 2007’s Love Is Simple, I fell in love with the spastic freak folk that fell in and out of chaotic improvisation. I looked into their back catalog, the phenomenal split with the Angels of Light, especially “Raising the Sparks,” ignited a small obsession with this band. In 2009, I saw them at All Tomorrow’s Parties as a three-piece, a big change from the 7-piece supergroup I saw at the Andy Warhol museum the year before. With Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free, the group loses a lot of the magic of their previous albums. The percussive intro of “Everyone Is Guilty” shows promise, but the following tracks drift toward yawn-worthy territory. “River” has flashes of brilliance and then there are three tracks that lack any sort of surprise. Of course this album wouldn’t be on this list if it weren’t for tracks like “Gravelly Mountains of the Moon,” almost 8 minutes of elaborate Akron/Family greatness. It begins with a crescendo of flute and french horn that builds into chaotic guitar feedback and lyrical harmony that made songs like “Raising the Sparks” so good. After this obvious centerpiece, it’s hard to get excited until the final three tracks. “They Will Appear” has the contagious singalong ending that is hard to shake, followed by “Sun Will Shine” and “Last Year,” the build up and the denouement ending, respectively. Though I love this band still, I feel like about half of this album could have been cut. Still, I look forward to whatever territory they’re heading into next.

9. A Place To Bury Strangers – Exploding Head

Little did I know what I was getting myself into moving into Death By Audio. I had not even listened to A Place to Bury Strangers beforehand, but was instantly absorbed into the wall-of-sound lifestyle perpetuated by Oliver Ackerman and his custom-designed guitar pedals. With names like “Total Sonic Annihilation” and “Fuzz War,” the pedals almost describe the feel of Ackerman’s live show: epileptic lighting accentuated by massive amounts of fog, overwhelming ear-shattering guitar, projections of television static, and a pulsing drum and bass to drive each song. “Keep Slipping Away” could probably be the radio single, with its catchy riff and vocal line, but I think the best song on this album is the dark “Ego Death,” loaded with enough noise to be a viable advertisement for Death By Audio guitar pedals.

8. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

Dave Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors has one of the most unique voices and guitar styles I’ve ever heard. On his earlier work, he showcases these almost inaccessible time signatures and warbling that verges on annoyingly shrill. With Bitte Orca, it’s hard to think he hasn’t compromised for a more mainstream sound. Still, “Temecula Sunrise” doesn’t subscribe to 4/4 time, and “The Bride” drifts around a steady tempo before breaking into a solid chorus, so they’ve stayed relatively true to form. Of course, this is before the Nico-influenced “Two Doves” (“These Days,” anyone?) or the superb call-and-response of “Remade Horizon.” Longstreth’s trio of female vocal accompaniment has always added a refreshing alternative to his sometimes grating voice, and they show their full potential here. The stellar “Stillness Is The Move” is almost a Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera pop-diva single. Seeing it live, with Amber Coffman stealing the show away from Longstreth and showcasing an unbelievable vocal range, was jaw-dropping.

7. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic

I’ve had a long relationship with The Flaming Lips, and like a long girlfriend, we’ve had great times and rough patches. The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots were the good old days. Psychedelic rock with catchy melodies, live shows with balloons and confetti cannons, Wayne Coyne in a giant hampster ball. It was too good to be true. Then came Zaireeka, which was a valiant attempt at something interesting. Then, as other bands entered my life, and the Lips released At War With The Mystics, I was almost certain our time together had come to an end. The hampster ball was old news, Coyne was recycling music, and they were playing “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” live, as if it were on par with “Do You Realize?”

Then came Embryonic, and like a romantic weekend together, the Lips and I were rekindled. Buried in fuzz and overprocessed drums, Coyne comes at his music from a different angle. It’s like every song was recorded at max volume through iPod headphones but still retains the majesty of Coyne’s voice. “Convinced of the Hex” and “See The Leaves” prod along like a 1970’s Can album. Then there are spastic instrumental tracks like “Aquarius Sabotage” and “Scorpio Sword.” Of course, with 18 tracks, there are a few that fall short. But by the time we get to “Watching the Planets,” coupled with its shocking almost-porn music video, we know the Lips have outdone themselves yet again.

6. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

As a drummer, I was never a big fan of bands that keep the drummer subdued. I like loud, raw drumming that is in the foreground and as unprocessed as possible. Maybe that’s why it took a long time for me to like Grizzly Bear. The slow tempo and mellow vocals started out as “working music” or “going to sleep music,” and then I slowly, slowly started to really like this band. Veckatimest has a few really great songs. I don’t think I have to talk too much about “Two Weeks” or “While You Wait For The Others,” both amazing standout tracks that have received almost too much praise this year. I think the album closer “Foreground” made this album for me, a simple piano melody with a subtle bass drum. Or maybe it was the chaotic end of “I Live With You,” or the bass-driven “Southern Point.” If the whole album were as consistent as these tracks, this could be a viable #1 album of the year. I think there are still too many points where I just yawned and shrugged.

5. Jeff the Brotherhood – Heavy Days

“This will be your new favorite band,” I was told when I moved into Death By Audio. Jeff the Brotherhood, by name and birth parents, are a guitar and drum duo from Nashville. With only three guitar strings and a three-piece drum kit, these guys manage to put on one of the most rocking live shows I’ve ever seen. Influenced by 1960’s garage rock, Heavy Days is raw, catchy, and loud. The title track fades in with the sound of a swarm of bees and breaks down into an instrumental chorus full of crunchy guitar and syncopated drums. Sticking with the theme, “Heavy Damage” is a singalong that encourages the crowd to learn the words “I got so much to do/ Can’t even talk to you/ Gotta go do a thing now baby/ We can hang out next week maybe.” There’s even a ballad (“The Tropics”) and an instrumental complete with a metal breakdown (“Heavy Krishna”). The poppy “Bone Jam” would be almost cheesy if the lyrics weren’t “I’m gonna grind your bones to make my bread.” Closing the album is “Mind Ride,” a slow, sludge-metal track that suddenly warps into double speed and repeats itself before catapulting into an ending smothered in wah-pedal glory. Catch this band live if you have the chance.

4. Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

On the other end of the spectrum is Bill Callahan, or Smog, however you want to refer to him. He’s been under the radar for quite some time. Monotone and short, he is almost talking more than he is singing. Still, he is never off-key, and he floats his baritone voice over beautiful compositions of orchestral strings and acoustic guitars. Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle opens with “Jim Cain,”as Callahan states “I started out in search of ordinary things” and how he “started telling the story without knowing the end.” The dark “Eid Ma Clack Shaw” starts out bitterly before morphing into a nonsensical chorus full of made-up words. “The Wind and the Dove” alters beautifully between major and minor chords while “Too Many Birds” is a simple 1-4-5-minor6 progression. Over both of these tracks, Callahan is singing about what he sees. As with much of the album, the songs are descriptive and mostly about observation of nothing in particular. The closer “Faith/Void” has a stroke of insight, as Callahan repeats, “It’s time to put God away” in an atheistic anthem. If Callahan has accepted the fact that the void exists, maybe he’s just become content singing about birds and trees. I’m perfectly fine with that.

3. Woods – Songs of Shame

Surprise, Brooklyn again. Woods have perfected a very specific sound: their entire folk band and creepy high-pitched vocals of frontman Jeremy Earl are recorded with super lo-fi equipment. It’s to the extent that the band sings through old radio microphones when they play live. Earl sounds like he’s singing into a tin can. The drums are barely audible, and occasionally a distorted guitar appears out of nowhere, strikingly louder than the rest of the instruments. It was so striking that I originally thought Death By Audio was testing out pedals the first time I played this album. Haunting melodies on “The Number” and “Down This Road” sound like eerie campfire songs, while the low fi rendition of Graham Nash’s “Military Madness” bounces along like a 1940’s transistor radio hit. “Rain On” is one of the best tracks on the album, a spiteful anthem showcasing the vocal range of Earl, his high-pitched melodies reminiscent of Neil Young. I think this album is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with this band.

2. Antlers – Hospice

Brooklyn’s Antlers, fronted by beautiful lyricist Peter Silberman, were introduced to me by my roommate April back in February. Their third album Hospice tells the tale of a man meeting a bone cancer patient at a clinic, then falling in love with her, and eventually watching her die. “Kettering” starts the tale, as Silberman almost whispers the description of the hospital room and the hopelessness of the situation. His voice trembles as he says “I didn’t believe them when they said there was no saving you.” This album isn’t all quiet, as “Sylvia” follows with an explosive waltz, a call for compromise, to “let me do my job.” The metaphorical “Bear” is my favorite track, comparing the cancer to something that’s “living inside your stomach” and has been “kicking from within.” The wavering chorus alters between “We’re too old” and “We’re not old at all,” a perfect description of facing death at an early age.

“Two” dates back to childhood, spending youth in a cancer ward and not eating. It follows Peter and Sylvia as they move to New York and are abandoned by their friends. It has the most optimistic chord progression with probably the most depressing lyrics. With Sylvia’s death in “Shiva,” the aftermath of “Wake” showcases Peter’s depression in a depressing 8 minute anthem. As the melody from “Kettering” comes back in “Epilogue,” we can feel the pain of the funeral, waking up alone, and the lasting memories of the hospital. Beautiful, depressing, almost too painful because it’s true. Hospice is a masterpiece of 2009.

1. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion

Surprise! This album stands miles above the rest of 2009, a landmark for Animal Collective and a culmination of their entire careers, from Brian Wilson-esque lyrics to layered samples, to insane time signatures. Combine this with live shows utilizing giant projection orbs and huge sets involving a flowing ocean with sharks and tiki heads and you have one of the most innovative and creative bands of our time. I can’t say anything about Merriweather Post Pavillion that hasn’t already been said. Just listen to “In The Flowers” at about 2:30 and “you’d smile and say I like this song.” The album doesn’t let up, either. There’s the catchy chorus of “My Girls,” the driving pulse of “Summertime Clothes” and the 5/4 (I think?) verse of “Daily Routine” which gives way to a draaawwwnn-out lyrical ending. When seen live, this culminates into fifteen minutes of brilliant crescendos and cymbal crashes, a majestic centerpiece to the album.

Merriweather Post Pavillion could almost be viewed as our generations’ Pet Sounds, the layered instrumentation and vocal harmonies that dubbed Brian Wilson the genius of his time has been modernized. Samples, both digital and analog, combine with reverb-heavy vocals to make a beautiful, layered masterpiece. This is miles away from the low-key abstract folk of Sung Tongs that brought Animal Collective their initial acclaim, and many will say they’ve catered their sound to a mainstream audience, but with progression comes change. Instead of recycling this style, they’ve managed to build upon it with each album. Finally, everything has fallen into place with an accessible album that doesn’t compromise originality. Isn’t that the most important thing?