Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 Albums: Honourable Mentions

The following are albums that narrowly missed the cut for my Top 30 Albums of 2013 or that I listened to too late or not enough.

Guided By Voices - English Little League
Guided By Voices - English Little League

Atoms for Peace - Amok
Atoms for Peace - Amok

Kris Kristofferson - Feeling Mortal
Kris Kristofferson - Feeling Mortal

Savages - Silence Yourself
 Savages - Silence Yourself

Gogol Bordello - Pura Vida Conspiracy
Gogol Bordello - Pura Vida Conspiracy

Elvis Costello & The Roots - Wise Up Ghost
Elvis Costello & The Roots - Wise Up Ghost


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Enjoy the next three and a half decades, Ian Watkins

This generally isn't a blog for criticising things. In the five years I've been running it, I've made only a handful of posts that are critical of anyone or anything. Having said that, Ian Watkins of Lostprophets, you are a massive cunt. Massive massive massive cunty cunty cunt cunt cunt. An instrument does not exist at present to measure how much of a despicable, detestable, execrable piece of rancid scum you are.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Top 30 Albums of 2013

Deer Tick - Negativity
30. Deer Tick - Negativity

Majical Cloudz - Impersonator
29. Majical Cloudz - Impersonator

Mount Moriah - Miracle Temple
28. Mount Moriah - Miracle Temple

Sarah Jarosz - Build Me Up from Bones
27. Sarah Jarosz - Build Me Up from Bones

Deerhunter - Monomania
26. Deerhunter - Monomania

Alela Diane - About Farewell
25. Alela Diane - About Farewell

Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
24. Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest

Iceage - You're Nothing
23. Iceage - You're Nothing

22. Iron & Wine - Ghost on Ghost

Haim - Days Are Gone
21. Haim - Days Are Gone

20. Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe

Tomahawk - Oddfellows
19. Tomahawk - Oddfellows

Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
18. Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork

Richard Thompson - Electric
17. Richard Thompson - Electric

Janelle Monáe - The Electric Lady
16. Janelle Monáe - The Electric Lady

Wire - Change Becomes Us
15. Wire - Change Becomes Us

Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus
14. Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus

Bill Callahan - Dream River
13. Bill Callahan - Dream River

Julia Holter - Loud City Song
12. Julia Holter - Loud City Song

Merchandise - Totale Nite
11. Merchandise - Totale Nite

My Bloody Valenine - m b v
10. My Bloody Valenine - m b v

Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels
9. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper - Ripely Pine
8. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper - Ripely Pine

Torres - Torres
7. Torres - Torres

Braids - Flourish/Perish
6. Braids - Flourish/Perish

Throwing Muses - Purgatory/Paradise
5. Throwing Muses - Purgatory/Paradise

No Joy - Wait to Pleasure
4. No Joy - Wait to Pleasure

Deathfix - Deathfix
3. Deathfix - Deathfix

Polvo - Siberia
2. Polvo - Siberia

Arcade Fire - Reflektor
1. Arcade Fire - Reflektor


Friday, November 29, 2013

Throwing Muses - Purgatory/Paradise

Throwing Muses - Purgatory/Paradise

Looking at the running times of each track on Purgatory/Paradise, a third of which hover around the one minute mark, it could be a film score. In a very real way, it's is the soundtrack to the last ten years in the lives of Kristin Hersh, Bernard Georges and Dave Narcizo, the book that comes with it being a treatment for the script.

Throwing Muses have always been an example to other bands; they had a whole scene built around them in the mid 80s, and when they settled into the mid 90s alt-rock scene, a scene they had a big hand in creating, they settled near the top. Another decade after that, Kristin Hersh became a pioneer of crowdfunding for music. The better part of another decade later, Purgatory/Paradise sets an example that not many are likely to follow, albeit the same one being set this year by a number of veterans, including My Bloody Valentine, Richard Thompson and Wire: how to make a great rock album in the early 10s.

 If the film to which Purgatory/Paradise could be a soundtrack existed, it would be a disjointed, meandering narrative, telling the story out of order. Before the 32 song, 67 minute long album can take hold, what does make an impression is the sound. It's not lo-fi, but it's far from slick. It's very real, very human; the drums sound like drums rather than someone bouncing a basketball in an empty church. The album was mastered with an uncommonly light touch, and given the number of soft-loud transitions, it was the only way to do it. If the sound is human, then accordingly the music is direct. Whether it's a quiet, contemplative number or a strident rocker, you can imagine three people in the studio playing those instruments, and if there's any singer who sounds as if she might crawl through the speakers Ring style at any given moment, it's Kristin Hersh. Each of the songs carves out its own space while functioning as part of the album as a whole. Paradoxically for an album with so many songs, Purgatory/Paradise should be able to remind any willing listener of a time before they had thousands of albums and when their relationship with a song was deeper because of it. In 2013, releasing 32 songs that are worth listening to would have been enough, but it wasn't enough for Throwing Muses; these songs demand to be listened to.


50 Foot Wave - With Love from the Men's Room EP
Flux Capacitor: Throwing Muses - Untitled
My 200 Favourite Albums of All Time

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanks for the memories, Winamp

Sunday, October 27, 2013

RIP Lou Reed

Lou Reed

"One chord is fine. Two is pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz."

Besides George Harrison, Lou Reed has influenced my music collection more than any other musician who has died in my living memory.


My 200 Favourite Albums of All Time

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Polvo - Siberia

"No bell will chime to celebrate an aspiration past its prime" - so wrote Ash Bowie in Polvo's "Time Isn't On My Side" in 1993. Siberia calls bullshit on that. Ash Bowie is in his mid 40s, which admittedly seems like nothing when I see that my top whatever for this year will include My Bloody Valentine, Deathfix (ft. Brendan Canty) and Richard Thompson and makes it read more like a list from 1991. In any case, Siberia sounds like the work of musicians who mentally travelled back to their 20s and got to make an album that captures their youthful exuberance while benefiting from everything they've learnt in the two decades hence. 2009's In Prism was a worthwhile comeback album after 12 years broken up, and it, too, built on Polvo's past without lazily rehashing it. Siberia, however, is more fully realised. The songs are sturdily structured, but manage to find a place for Ash Bowie's circuitous guitar playing, whether he's going off on Neil Young-esque tangents or taking his time and anchoring the song with an arresting arpeggio. His voice, too, has matured and come to embody the wisdom he's accrued over the years. Siberia is one of the strongest cases for bands reuniting; if you can be this good after more than 20 years on and off, why wouldn't you?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Nirvana - In Utero (20th Anniversary Edition)

"Serve the Servants" opens In Utero with four stick clicks from Dave Grohl, followed by the crash of a wholly unmusical chord before it launches into its verse riff, which implies 7th chords - an extravagance for Nirvana. Then Cobain declares "teenage angst has paid off well/now I'm bored and old". It's a kiss-off to its Nevermind counterpart. Whereas on Nevermind's fourth track he found it unnecessary to breed, by that point on In Utero he's asking to be raped. The next track on Nevermind is named "Lithium" after the mind-dulling chemical; its opposite number on In Utero is about Frances Farmer, who underwent more primitive treatment in a psychiatric hospital. Almost half of In Utero is taken up by noisier, less hook-oriented songs that people hadn't previously associated with Nirvana, but Cobain hadn't forsaken the classicist side of his songwriting by a long shot; "Pennyroyal Tea" and "All Apologies" employ the soft-loud dynamic that worked so well before, and the radically re-imagined versions on Unplugged in New York confirm their conventionally appealing songcraft, as if it wasn't obvious already. The other In Utero track to make that setlist, "Dumb", is in its element there, being acoustic and adorned with cello in the first place. The first single "Heart-Shaped Box" has arguably the catchiest chorus Cobain ever wrote. These opposing elements are a lot to do with why some found In Utero confounding at the time, yet also why history has been so reverent to it.

The immediately apparent news regarding both the remaster of the original album and the "2013 mix" is that, incredibly, far from being heavily compressed monstrocities, both are actually marginally more dynamic than the original master. In Utero was loud for 1993, but quiet for today. I've compared the original album to its remaster, though not exhaustively, and at this point I'd have to say the differences are nominal at best. The point, though, is that this version, which will be definitive version for future generations, fairly and accurately represents the album. The same is anything but true of the 20th Anniversary edition of Nevermind. The 2013 mix isn't just a different EQ job, but actually utilises different takes of some parts (including a vastly inferior solo for "Serve the Servants") as well as pushing some existing parts back and forward in the mix.

The inclusion of some early demos provides some insight into how some of the songs were perceived early on. "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle" is somewhat funkier in its original form. "All Apologies", though, is the real treat here. The countryness of the central riff wasn't lost on the band, as it turns out, and this might be the only real glimpse into Cobain's early days leading a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band. I'd love to have a version of it with proper vocals, but they're nothing but barely audible fragments in this recording.


Nirvana - Nevermind (20th Anniversary Edition)
Nirvana - Radio Friendly Unit Shifter (MTV Live & Loud)
Nirvana - Icon
My 200 Favourite Albums of All Time

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bill Callahan - Dream River

I was going to say that my first listen to Dream River wasn't the first time Bill Callahan's music had evoked a dream-like quality - and it's probably true - but more often it's a daydream. This is true of Red Apple Falls, A River Ain't Too Much to Love, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle and parts of most of his other albums. Dream River, however, definitely sinks into the subconscious. Callahan staples such as acoustic guitar strums, sparse arpeggios and snare cracks are de-emphasised or excised entirely in favour of phased electric guitar and hand percussion, the latter courtesy of Thor Harris, and a world away from the crazed thudding I was lucky enough to witness him perform with Swans earlier this year.

The first and last song take place in the "real" world while the others are dreams of the protagonist, or least take place inside his head. The reality is mundane - in opener "The Sing" we learn he's been sitting in a bar all day with a single purpose ("the only words I've said today are 'beer' and 'thank you' ") and "Winter Road" even tells us what's on the radio in the car ("a Donald Sutherland interview"). However, the real world concerns that occupy the reality also permeate the dreams. There seems to be a consensus that 2009's Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle draws its themes from Callahan's last breakup, or at least was influenced by it. Accordingly, Dream River could be the flipside, its writing having begun a year into his relationship with his now fiancée. But that's unimportant. The meta text isn't the point even with a teen pop idol such as Callahan and I shouldn't rehash what is no doubt all over the gossip rags. Either way, the importance of other people in any person's life is a significant theme. Callahan has claimed in the past that he "feels like an ex-con trying to make good", but if there's one universal truth to gleaned from Dream River, it's that being out of step with the world doesn't mean you have to navigate it alone.

Bill Callahan - Apocalypse
Bill Callahan - Rough Travel for a Rare Thing
My 200 Favourite Albums of All Time

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tom Waits

2013 is the 40th anniversary of Tom Waits' Closing Time and therefore his recording career. Here are 17 YouTube videos - one song for each of his albums*. It's hard to pick just one from most of them.

* There are differing opinions over whether certain Tom Waits releases count as official albums. My list is everything released on Asylum, Island or Anti, excluding compilations and live albums except for Nighthawks at the Diner.

"I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" from Closing Time (1973)

"(Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night)" from The Heart of Saturday Night (1974)

"The Piano Has Been Drinking" from Small Change (1976)

"Burma Shave" from Foreign Affairs (1977)

"Whistlin' Past the Graveyard" from Blue Valentine (1978)

"Mr. Siegal" from Heartattack and Vine (1980)

"Swordfishtrombone" from Swordfishtrombones (1983)

"Rain Dogs" from Rain Dogs (1985)

"Yesterday is Here" from Franks Wild Years (1987)

"Such a Scream" from Bone Machine (1992)

"Oily Night" from The Black Rider (1993)

"Hold On" from Mule Variations (1999)

"No One Knows I'm Gone" from Alice (2002)

"God's Away on Business" from Blood Money (2002)

"Hoist That Rag" from Real Gone (2004)

"Hell Broke Luce" from Bad As Me (2011)

Tom Waits - Bad As Me
The Cookie Monster Has Been Drinking: Brilliant Tom Waits/Cookie Monster Mashup
Tom Waits Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

10 Songs with Awesome Outros

I use the term "outro" loosely because a distinct outro as in a coda is less common than an intro. "Songs that end awesomely", basically.

1. Fairport Convention - Matty Groves

2. Built to Spill - Broken Chairs

3. The Beatles - I Want You (She's So Heavy)

4. Pixies - No. 13 Baby

5. Deerhunter - Nothing Ever Happened

6. Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator)

7. The Rolling Stones - Can't You Hear Me Knocking

8. Augie March - Brundisium

9. Hunters and Collectors - Run Run Run

10. Sonic Youth - The Diamond Sea

10 Songs with Awesome Intros

Monday, July 22, 2013

10 Songs with Awesome Intros

1. Midnight Oil - River Runs Red

2. Pixies - Space (I Believe In)

3. Super Furry Animals - Slow Life

4. Eels - Cancer for the Cure

5. Gogol Bordello - Through the Roof 'n' Underground

6. Sonic Youth - 'Cross the Breeze

7. My Morning Jacket - One Big Holiday

8. The Clash - Rebel Waltz

9. Radiohead - A Reminder

10. Built to Spill - Time Trap

10 Songs with Awesome Outros

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ersatz Electric Hedgehog

Apparently I can get Spotify up in this bitch. Listen to this playlist 1000 times and you've paid for the artists' next lunch.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

RIP Alan Myers

Alan Myers, formerly of Devo, died of brain cancer on Monday at the age of 58. Meyers was Devo's drummer from 1976 to 1986, playing on the band's first six albums, including the classic first three Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978), Duty Now for the Future (1979) and Freedom of Choice (1980).

On this song from Devo's second album, the verses are in the highly unusual time signature of 11/8.

The original version of "Jocko Homo", released as the b-side of Devo's first single "Mongoloid". This is also in an unconventional time signature, being entirely in 7/8 (the band added a bridge in 4/4 for the rerecorded version that opens Are We Not Men?).

This version is in the style of the "stiff" version found on Pioneers Got Scalped: The Anthology. That mostly means "faster".

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Happy 20,000 views, SWR!

20,000 views in just under 5 years - not too shabby, if you have a poor understanding of the word "shabby". In honour of this milestone, here is a photo of an adjustable spanner.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Extempore #12: Fuck you, Apple

I'd heard of this before, but it hadn't happened to me until just now. I synced my iPod, having ripped two CDs into iTunes yesterday, and got a message that said something about having to authorise my computer for purchased content, namely Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d. city. I purchased it, but not from iTunes. Like I said, it's a CD. Apple seems to think I need its permission to transfer my CD's music to my iPod using my computer. Furthermore, I can only authorise five computers. I can't foresee ever having six or more iTunes libraries on six or more computers, but I should be allowed to if I want!

Since possession means so little to Apple, I'm going to walk into my nearest Apple store and steal me an iPhone.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Extempore #11: YouTube guitar pedal reviews

Rules for reviewing a guitar pedal on YouTube:

1. If you can't make a decent quality recording, don't bother. A scratchy webcam video isn't going to give people an idea of what the pedal sounds like.

2. People are watching the video to hear the pedal. Nobody wants to watch you unbox the fucking thing,

3. You know how action movies usually start with an action scene before they spend some time building the story? Play something before you start talking.

4. If you're reviewing with one or more other people, spare us the comedy routine.

5. Refrain from playing 10 minute blues jams and play some fucking chords once in a while. This is paramount if you're reviewing a distortion pedal.

6. If you're reviewing anything other than an overdrive or distortion pedal, shows us what it sounds like in tandem with one or both of those effects.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Boards of Canada - Reach for the Dead

This video for a new Boards of Canada track called "Reach for the Dead" emerged recently. If it is an official Boards of Canada video, I think that would make it the first. It is the first official Boards of Canada video. It was directed by Neil Krug, who previously directed a fan video for "In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country".

There are elements of every stage of BoC's career from Music Has the Right to Children onwards in this track; the synth line that runs through the whole thing sounds like something from The Campfire Headphase,  the drums evoke the first two albums and the arpeggio that comes in around 2:20 brings to mind the In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country EP. I hope the rest of Tomorrow's Harvest is a bit more upbeat, but to be honest I'll take what I can get.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bad Film, Great Soundtrack

Countless keystrokes have been spent discussing the relationship between music and film, and frankly, I'm surprised I haven't touched on it in the five years I've been running this (admittedly sparse) blog. More often than not, a film's soundtrack exploits that relationship in the most superficial way possible, by trading on the film's name in order to con the consumer into buying a CD they'll probably listen to twice in its entirety and then stick the three or four tracks they like onto their iPod. Indie film soundtracks are bound to be stocked with bands you're familiar enough with to either already own their contribution or to know that you don't care to. The latest big romcom's soundtrack's biggest drawcard is likely to be something like a poorly remastered Sinatra song that's available on countless better compilations, or worse, a cover of the same. Sometimes, though, the soundtrack is inextricable from the film, the songs underscoring the emotional resonance of the scenes they accompany.

This piece will not discuss cynical cash grab soundtracks, as if there could be enough room on all the internets and interwebs combined. It also won't discuss film and soundtrack pairings such as Trainspotting or Pulp Fiction, instances in which the soundtrack has effortlessly leapt the high bar set by the film. Bad Film, Great Soundtrack - pretty self-explanatory. With a couple of exceptions, these films are not merely mediocre or overrated, but notably bad, and the one thing they have in common is that their soundtrack inexplicably stands alone as a great set of songs despite having nothing to prove.

9. Touch (1997)

There's nothing really bad about this film - it's just that there's nothing particularly good about it either. It's an adaptation of a non-crime Elmore Leonard novel about a faith healer. With an averagely popular cast aside from Christopher Walken (Skeet Ulrich, Bridget Fonda, Tom Arnold, Breckin Meyer), and a screenplay too average to earn the praise or the ire of critics, it passed by mostly unnoticed. Unfortunately so did its soundtrack, a mostly instrumental deal written by Dave Grohl (technically it's both the score and the soundtrack). This assignment, the likes of which Grohl hasn't taken on since, allowed him to experiment with build and nuance in ways he should in his regular gig in which he's made a living out of verse-chorus-verse pop rock songs for which Bob Mould should receive royalties. A couple of those were thrown in for good measure, but they didn't help raise awareness of the more interesting bulk of the album.

Lost in Space
8. Lost in Space (1998)

This one wasn't that bad; it had a few things going for it. For one, Gary Oldman hamming it up in a good, actually that's it. A brief soundtrack and score were released as a single album and the soundtrack is made up of late 90s electronica artists such as Apollo Four Forty and Fatboy Slim. It's a fairly commercial affair while still being far better than the film deserves.

The Virgin Suicides
7. The Virgin Suicides (1999)

I didn't get this damn film. If I recall correctly, and I probably don't, there were a bunch of sisters who were virgins (some of them young enough that you'd assume this to be the case ) who commit suicide one by one, except  Kirsten Dunst's character, who either loses her virginity or doesn't commit suicide, or both - I honestly don't remember which one it was. The score (as opposed to soundtrack, but let's not be pedantic here) is Air doing what Air does, which is be French, electronic and slightly aloof.

The Twilight Saga
6. The Twilight Saga: New Moon/Eclipse (2009/2010)

As much as I'm loathe to simultaneously bash two films I haven't seen, come on...sparkly vampires. While the first film's soundtrack was a bit too goth/nu metal for my taste, the first two to follow seem to have acquired the services of every credible artist who wasn't too embarrassed to be involved. Between the two of them there's Thom Yorke, Band of Skulls, St. Vincent, Battles, Metric and Florence & the Machine, just to name a few.

5. Singles (1992)

This one is the grunge equivalent of the #2 entry and, well, it is in fact a cash grab, but in this case the film itself seems little more than an afterthought. However, it merits inclusion here because of the quality of what's on offer and the fact that most of the songs are either exclusive to the soundtrack or close enough, or by artists in the second tier of popularity during the early 90s such as Mother Love Bone. Sure, Alice In Chains and The Screaming Trees' best known songs "Would?" and "Nearly Lost You" respectively are here, "May This Be Love" is a reminder that Jimi Hendrix was also from Seattle and The Smashing Pumpkins are shoehorned in despite not being from there, but there's also two Pearl Jam b-sides, another from Soundgarden and songs by Chris Cornell and Mudhoney written for the film.

Magical Mystery Tour
4. Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

Since dropping acid is probably a prerequisite to appreciating this film, perhaps I'm not qualified to comment on it, but suffice it to say I got nothing out of it. The film and the soundtrack are the yin and yang of The Beatles' foray into hallucinogenics, the latter boasting "I Am the Walrus" (the rest could be a 40 minute version of "Revolution 9" and that one would still make it worthwhile), "Hello Goodbye" and the extremely underrated "Blue Jay Way".

Batman Forever

3. Batman Forever (1995)

Batman Forever was the one with Jim Carrey as one of the least intimidating and amusing villains in a Hollywood blockbuster and the first one to have a guy in tight pants following Batman around, yet it wasn't the one that forced the character into an eight year hiatus. It does, however, contain the only known footage of Tommy Lee Jones laughing. The soundtrack, featuring PJ Harvey, Massive Attack, Sunny Day Real Estate and The Flaming Lips, seems to be designed to accompany a film that's as good as those responsible seem to think it is, but what's the audience? People who loved one or both of the commercial focal points, Seal's "Kiss from a Rose" (which isn't so bad as far as those things go) and U2's "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me" (which is actually excellent) and were either too stupid to buy the singles or decided to shell out $25 on the off chance they'd get something out of Method Man or The Offspring? People who were willing to do the same for a decent mix CD in the pre-iTunes/torrent days and didn't die of embarrassment every time they looked at the cover? Whatever the case, people bought it in droves because that's what people do.

The Big Chill
2. The Big Chill (1983)

This one really is the ultimate case of a soundtrack in search of a film. I'll bet you there are people who own the soundtrack and can recite the tracklist, but can't tell you what the film was about. I know it involves friends reminiscing over the late 60s and early 70s, and the soundtrack is based on that theme. Specifically, it's mostly Motown and includes Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and Aretha Franklin. It hammers home the point that every generation thinks its music is the best, and at a time when the New Romantics were taking over, it made a good argument.

1. Spawn (1997)

Let's not mince words here: Spawn is a straight up abortion of a film and anyone who likes it is a bad person. It's a poor man', a destitute man's Crow: dude dies, then gets to come back and wreak revenge, but a hyperactive John Leguizamo in a clown suit stands in for the crow and somehow, somehow lacks the mythical gravitas. The only thing the film really excels at is reminding us that things were looking pretty grim for Martin Sheen before The West Wing came along. The soundtrack was curated by the same people responsible for that of Judgement Night (which looks good next to Spawn); whereas that one paired up hard rockers with rappers, this one is about fusing rock with electronica. Filter and The Crystal Method, Tom Morello and The Prodigy, Silverchair and Vitro...yeah, it's true to say that most of these artists didn't transition smoothly into the 2000s, but the soundtrack makes a good case for why they were popular. In a way, it's my generation's Twilight soundtrack.

Sex, War & Robots