Monday, January 10, 2011

Top Ten of 2010

Here it is, and only two months into the new year.

The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs10. The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

I'm not sure I want to meet people who think The Arcade Fire have had a consistent career. They're probably the sort of intense, tightly wound people who can't even enjoy Spongebob. The Surburbs is the kind of Grand Statement you'd expect from a bunch of guys who championed Obama even though they couldn't vote for him, but it's better than Neon Bible because despite its apocalyptic allusions, it doesn't sound as if they thought the world would end if it didn't end up exactly as they'd imagined.

9. Janelle Monae - Janelle Monae - The ArchandroidThe Archandroid

Oh boy is this album pretentious, and that's coming from someone with The Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett in his list. But that's OK, because a) ambition is enough these days, even if it crosses over into pretension and b) this chick knows how to have fun with a concept. It's long, jumps from hip-hop to rock to showtunes to funk while maintaining cohesion, and its concept - something about robots and cryogenics - is handled with knowing winks where appropriate, but never treated as a mere novelty.

Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky8. Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

I don't think I can sum it up better than my review, so just look at that.

Maximum Balloon - Maximum Balloon7. Maximum Balloon - Maximum Balloon

Some might say it's a coincidence that the only TV on the Radio side project I've listened to so far is the one from the white guy, but I swear it's just because I'm a vile racist. Maximum Balloon is stick-in-your-head-for-days synth pop, like Devo's latest album wanted to be.

Big Boi - Sir Lucius Leftfoot: The SonTale of Chico Dusty6. Big Boi - Sir Lucius Leftfoot: The SonTale of Chico Dusty

I don't know much about hip-hop, so I don't know what to say about this album. Some might say it's because I'm new to the genre, but I swear it's just because I'm the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. When my Aryan minions wipe out the lesser races, I will have Big Boi killed last.

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest5. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest

Halcyon Digest divides its time equally between guitar-derived soundscapes and traditional songcraft. It's hard to say if it's their most accessible album, it's definitely not their most cohesive, and if you don't "get" Deerhunter, it's unlikely to change that. On the other hand, it confirms a certain predictability on Deerhunter's part: the pleasant predictability of knowing that they're likely to infiltrate many yearly top 10s throughout the decade.

LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening4. LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening

James Murphy has been dropping hints that This is Happening will be the last LCD Soundsystem album - for example, if you put the CD in a modern car stereo, the title will read "Last Album". It'll be shame if that turns out to be true, but it'll be a hell of a high point. Fans might call it his "pop" album and detractors are probably calling it his "sellout" album; either way, "Drunk Girls" and "I Can Change" are massive hits in a paralell universe.

Owen Pallett - Heartland3. Owen Pallett - Heartland

It's a concept album about a 14th Century farmer in a land called Spectrum who is fully aware that he is a fictitious creation of Owen Pallett. "E" might be for "Estranged", but do you know what "P" is for? But who cares? You can attempt to decipher every nuance if you want, or you can just enjoy Pallett's string arrangment skills.

Autolux - Transit Transit2. Autolux - Transit Transit

Call me superficial, but after a six year wait I could have used some more "Turnstyle Blues" type songs to bang my head to. Hey, I said "a few"; you've gotta admire Autolux for not falling back on the Future Perfect formula, especially when it worked so well. Instead, Transit Transit is more about weird loops and a slower, more contemplative (but never ponderous) approach. And Carla Azar still gets to drum the shit out of that bitch.

Richard Thompson - Dream Attic1. Richard Thompson - Dream Attic

Mediocre musicians, a man almost as old as my dad is kicking ass and taking names while you're doing the reverse. I'm not going to go into Thompson's history - you either know it or you should - but basically he's been around too long to be topping top 10 lists, especially on the merits of the album itself and not just because there was nothing better. Dream Attic covers all the bases, yet sounds more inspired than any Thompson's done in at least a decade. Hey, if I knew how he did it I'd be out there tearing it up folk rock style instead of sitting here and writing about someone else doing it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Flux Capacitor: Sonic Youth - Goo (1990)

In an effort to force myself to update this blog at least every two months, I'm kicking off a series of classic album reviews. Maybe yet another obscure blogger's take on a much written about album is the last thing you'd want to read, but too bad. You're not reading this anyway, statistically speaking. I'll try to stay away from albums that have been hammered into the collective consciousness for decades such as Sgt. Pepper's or anything by Led Zeppelin, but I make no guarantees. And yes, I am aware that Coke Machine Glow or Tiny Mix Tapes or some other e-rag I don't read has or had a similar feature called The Delorean, another Back to the Future reference. You just watch how much fucking sleep I lose over that. So anyway, I want to tell you about my friend Goo...

Many people would have you believe that Sonic Youth's catalogue can be divided neatly and chronologically into a few groups, along with its fans: the self-titled EP through Daydream Nation are for aging indie fans and noise fetishists, Goo through Washing Machine is the point where the alt-rockers started taking notice, the awkward A Thousand Leaves through NYC Ghosts & Flowers period is for diehard fans who own everything else, and Murray Street through The Eternal is the entry point for young indie fans. Such profiling is obviously true to an extent, but really, Sonic Youth fans are as diverse a group as any, and their perspectives vary greatly.

Goo and Daydream Nation have never been as separate in my mind as for others, but it's easy to see why Goo is often seen as a clean break. It was the band's major label debut and found them a whole new audience, helped greatly by slicker production. On the other hand, it deals in the same odd tunings, feedback, dissonance and frantic hardcore-ish riffs, is thematically obscure and is only short in comparison to Daydream Nation. Old fans yelled "sellout" purely on principle. I mean did they listen to the fucking thing?

Oh yeah, the songs. I almost forgot about that. Goo sure has 'em! Kim Gordon's best song is here ("Tunic") and "Mote" is not only Lee Renaldo's finest moment, but also probably my favourite Sonic Youth song. That guy consistently manages to reduce an album's elements to a simple form and make a song that's all the better for it, but for some reason he's only ever allowed one song per album, if that. Shenanigans! Chuck D wins the award for Most Pointless Guest Appearance Ever for "Kool Thing", but nonetheless, that song is the perfect bridge between the "art rock" Sonic Youth (for want of a far better term) and the more straight ahead model that would see out most of the 90s. It'd be "Smells Like Teen Spirit" if there was no "Smells Like Teen Spirit". And by extension, Goo is the perfect primer for Nevermind, the production opus of future Sonic Youth collaborator Butch Vig; less accessible, sure, but built on the same clean, powerful sound (Steve Shelley's drums are rarely as prominent as they are here and on the Vig-produced follow-up Dirty), and, more importantly, similarly grand and ambitious, two traits that would be in increasingly short supply for rock music throughout the next two decades.

Sex, War & Robots