Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Top 30 Albums of 2014

30. Ex Hex - Rips

29. White Lung - Deep Fantasy

28. Flying Lotus - You're Dead!

27. Wye Oak - Shriek

26. Caribou - Our Love

25. Bob Mould - Beauty & Ruin

24. Guided By Voices - Cool Planet

23. Lower - Seek Warmer Climes

22. Mogwai - Rave Tapes

21. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - Give the People What They Want

20. Clark - Clark

19. Benjamin Booker - Benjamin Booker

18. Faust - j us t

17. Lorelle Meets the Obsolete - Chambers

16. Aphex Twin - Syro

15. Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn - Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn

14. Fucked Up - Glass Boys

13. Thurston Moore - The Best Day

12. Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire for No Witness

11. Lucinda Williams - Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone

10. Iceage - Plowing into the Field of Love

9. Hospitality - Trouble

8. Swans - To Be Kind

7. Cold Specks - Neuroplasticity

6. Boris - Noise

5. Survival Knife - Loose Power

4. Spoon - They Want My Soul

3. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2

2. St. Vincent - St. Vincent

1. Owen Pallett - In Conflict

Monday, October 13, 2014

Richard Thompson - Acoustic Classics

Nobody leaves me in awe with their mastery of the electric guitar quite like Richard Thompson. He pre-empted Television with "A Sailor's Life" when he was barely 20 and has never grown complacent since. Like fellow Stratocaster pioneer Hendrix, he speaks through the instrument; some players are better, many more are worse, but nobody sounds quite like him.

How such a guitarist sounds on an acoustic guitar is a test that many fail. I've heard what happens when Tom Morello picks up an acoustic, but I wish I hadn't. An electric guitar gives you presence; an acoustic makes you work for it.

Thompson, of course, has nothing to prove when it comes to playing acoustically. His best known song "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is already acoustic (making its inclusion here somewhat redundant), he recorded acoustic studio versions of almost every song on his live album of new material Dream Attic and he even runs an acoustic guitar camp. "1952..." aside, Acoustic Classics puts a mostly electric set of songs spanning most of Thompson's solo career to the MTV Unplugged test of whether they can cut it acoustically when they weren't necessarily designed to do so; even this is nothing new, as Thompson plays acoustic shows regularly; he wanted to release something that sounded like those shows, but couldn't find a live recording that cut it in terms of fidelity. An acoustic "Shoot Out the Lights" is a bridge too far, but elsewhere Acoustic Classics reveals the intrinsic beauty Thompson's compositions. In particular, "Walking on a Wire" and "Wall of Death" from 1982's Shoot Out the Lights, one of his slicker sounding albums, sound great with the greater sense of space offered here, while the Eastern modality of "One Door Opens" works just as well acoustically as electrically.

Acoustic Classics is a welcome release just a year after the well received Electric. Instead of an effortless cash-in, Thompson has issued a reminder of his greatness that merely sounds effortless.


The Rails
Richard Thompson - Shoot Out the Lights (live)
Richard Thompson - Electric
Richard Thompson - Dream Attic

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Warp 25

 Oneohtrix Point Never - "Problem Areas" from "R Plus Seven" (2013)

Tyondai Braxton - "J City" from Central Market (2009)

Battles - "Atlas" from Mirrored (2007)

Boards of Canada - "Dayvan Cowboy" from The Campfire Headphase (2005)

Squarepusher - "My Red Hot Car" from Go Plastic (2001)

Aphex Twin "Ventolin" from I Care Because You Do (1995)

Merge 25

Hospitality - "I Miss Your Bones" from Trouble (2014)

Polvo - "Light, Raking" from Siberia (2013)

Wild Flag - "Electric Band" from Wild Flag (2011)

Arcade Fire - "Rebellion (Lies)" from Funeral (2004)

Spoon - "Everything Hits At Once" from Kill the Moonlight (1999)

Neutral Milk Hotel - "Oh Comely" from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)

Superchunk - "Throwing Things" from No Pocky for Kitty (1991)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"Weird Al" Yankovic - Mandatory Fun

When "Weird Al" Yankovic's Off the Deep End came out in 1992, I was acutely aware that the source of the album's parodies ranged in age from seven months ("Smells Like Nirvana") to three and a half years ("The White Stuff"). The former was the perfect lead single, opening track and basis for the album title and cover art because it seized on a crucial part of the early 90s zeitgeist (you have to say "zeitgeist" at least once in a "Weird Al" review) while it was still fresh in the public consciousness. It underscored my first thought upon hearing "The White Stuff", a parody of New Kids on the Block's "The Right Stuff": he's just getting around to parodying this now?

Now that I'm older, time passes by faster and I'm less aware of the pop charts, so when Yankovic parodies a song that is a year old, the original might as well have come out yesterday. But Yankovic does study the pop charts - he has to - and his business model is becoming outdated. The old cliche goes that a week is a long time in football; in pop music, a week can mean a hundred amateur YouTube parodies. A year is a lifetime. This probably has a lot to do with why Yankovic intends Mandatory Fun to be his last album.

Yankovic has been using videos to complement his songs since 1985, when they were a nascent form, but this time he's made the unprecedented move to not only make videos for eight of Mandatory Fun's songs, but to release them one by one over eight days. But of course augmenting a song with a video becomes a curse when you're left without it on the album, and this time that's the case with two thirds of it. "Word Crimes" loses something without its animation, as does "Foil" without Patton Oswalt as a [spoiler].

Nothing on Mandatory Fun is a Yankovic classic, but it is his most consistent album, with only "Handy" (a parody of Iggy Azalea's "Fancy") and the obligatory polka medley (the latter being a personal thing on account of my indifference and obliviousness to the source material) being the only real bombs. "Handy" opens the album, but things pick up after that inauspicious start with "Lame Claim to Fame", an original about people who talk up tenuous connections to celebrities (did I mention I used to work with one of the Osbournes' former nannies?). "Foil" (Lorde's "Royals") is sort of a meta comment on Yankovic himself, making the listener ask themselves "would he really write a song about aluminium foil?" and then answering the question: not exactly. "First World Problems" is a style parody of Pixies, which I appreciate, although like Liam Lynch's attempt at the same, it just doesn't stack up to "Motherbanger". "Word Crimes" (Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines") is dear to my heart because it mercilessly mocks ppl who need too improve they're grammar.

If Yankovic is not tempted into making another album (for example, by the fact that Mandatory Fun is his first album to reach number one, let alone debut there), hopefully whatever forms his comedy takes will still include the occasional song. This New Yorker cartoon suggests the reason for Yankovic hanging up his musical satirist boots. My response: will there ever not be such a time?


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Every "Weird Al" Yankovic Polka

Every polka except "Now That's What I Call Polka" (1984-2011)

"Now That's What I Call Polka" (2014)

Some of My Favourite "Weird Al" Yankovic Songs

In honour of "Weird Al" Yankovic's (possibly) last album, here are some of my favourite songs of his from the rest of his catalogue.

"One More Minute" from Dare to Be Stupid (1985)

Yankovic's juxtaposition of smooth 50s balladry with the persona of a psychotic spurned lover produced his first really great song. He made good use of the same kind of lyrical dissonance throughout his career - see ahead.

"Dog Eat Dog" from Polka Party (1986)

I can't honestly say this is actually one of my favourites, but I put it here because a) it's a style parody of Talking Heads that's better than most of what the band itself was putting out at the time and b) the absolutely hilarious bridge that brilliantly twists "Once in a Lifetime" to Yankovic's purpose.

"You Make Me" from Even Worse (1988)

There's no official video for this one, but the surreal visuals are best left to the imagination. "When I'm with you I don't know whether I should study neurosurgery or go and see the Care Bears movie". Enough said.

"Good Old Days" from Even Worse (1988)

Another one from the "violence is funny" pile.

"When I Was Your Age" from Off the Deep End (1992)

More horrific nostalgia, but this time from a victim's point of view.

"You Don't Love Me Anymore" from Off the Deep End (1992)

A better violent breakup song than "One More Minute".

"Harvey the Wonder Hamster" from Alapalooza (1993)

When I looked for a video, I was disappointed to find out that Harvey was real and the song dated back to Al TV in the 80s. I wanted Yankovic to have written a 24 second song about a hamster just because. But it's still a 24 second song about a hamster.

"Amish Paradise" from Bad Hair Day (1996)

Leave it to Weird Al to go to the trouble of writing a song that ridicules a culture that will never hear it.

"The Night Santa Went Crazy" from Bad Hair Day (1996)


"Albuquerque" from Running with Scissors (1999)

If you have to ask...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Faith No More - Be Aggressive (live)

Roddy Bottum wrote these lyrics about sucking cock just to see if Mike Patton would sing them (Bottum is gay, Patton is not).

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bob Mould - Workbook 25

In late 1988, following the dissolution of Husker Du in one of the most acrimonious breakups of the decade, Bob Mould settled into a house in the country and went about making a clean break from the past. He decided the best way to do that was to turn the amps down closer to 1 than 11 and record an album more muted and contemplative than probably even he would have thought himself capable ofa few years earlier.

For Workbook, Mould relied heavily on the 12 string acoustic guitar he starting playing towards the end of Husker Du, replaced his Flying V with a Stratocaster and added strings to his arsenal. Where Husker Du filled its songs with blankets of distortion and rapid drum fills, Workbook is spacious and unhurried.

Of course, none of this is to say that Workbook is the work of a man at peace with himself. In fact, the album's duality lies in the fact that Mould had anger and resentment to spare. There are times when those emotions take centre stage. "Lonely Afternoon" is as indignant as it is introspective, propelled by multi-tracked vocals that complement the notion of a man at war with himself. Mould was Kurt Cobain's first choice to produce Nevermind, and Cobain had clearly taken cues from Mould's self-directed anger. "Poison Years", a merciless attack on Grant Hart, throws subtlety out the window; "treason is the reason for my poison years". For the most part, though, the album benefits from restraint and balance. When the intentionally jarring rocker "Whichever the Wind Blows" comes along to close the album, it feels as though Mould has earned the right to cut loose.

Workbook 25 celebrates the you-know-what anniversary of the album by giving it decent remaster and a bonus track ("All Those People Know") and pairing it with a recording of a concert from May 1989, a month after the album's original release. The set includes every song from Workbook as well as "All Those People Know", and a cover of Richard Thompson's "Shoot Out the Lights" and closes with solo acoustic versions of Husker Du's "Hardly Getting Over It", "Celebrated Summer" and "Makes No Sense At All". The stark, vulnerable rendition of "Hardly Getting Over It" is the highlight for me. The reissue also comes with extended liner notes, including contemporary reviews and an essay by Michael Azzerad to which this review owes credit for some of the details of the album's back story.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Pixies - Indie Cindy

Pixies - Indie Cindy

Evaluating Indie Cindy as if it were recorded in a vacuum might be the fairest thing to do, but while I might be capable of that kind of objectivity, I'm not inclined towards it. I can and will judge it on its own merits, but not without first addressing the obvious concerns that almost always accompany a "comeback" album. Resurrecting the Pixies name opens the door for people to question the wisdom of adding to an arguably flawless catalogue that was sealed off over twenty years ago. I don't begrudge middle-aged musicians for doing what they love, but I've looked in vain for what is so Pixies-like about Indie Cindy that it had to be released under that portentous name. There are people young enough for this album to serve as their introduction to the band, but I'm not one of them.

Many people will point to the absence of Kim Deal in their criticism of Indie Cindy, so I'll start there. Though technically average, Deal is an intuitive player. She is modest and restrained and she knew it rarely took more than four notes to set the stage for Black Francis and Joe Santiago's histrionics. Her approach to songwriting is nothing like that of Francis, yet her few (but noticeable) songwriting contributions always complemented his. Indie Cindy isn't the only Pixies album without a Deal-penned song on it, but it is the only one from which she is absent altogether, and it shows.

Deal's absence wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that the other original members as we knew them aren't all present either. Twenty-three years and a million solo albums later, Frank Black has filed off most of what he and Black Francis had in common. Joey Santiago was a student of Neil Young's "learn it and forget it" approach, but now he's learnt it again. David Lovering's drumming is the one element that hasn't been streamlined in his middle age.

This long awaited "new album" is really neither of those things - it is in fact a consolidation of the two EPs released last year and the earlier standalone "Bag Boy", padded out with three new songs, but however lazy its assembly, Indie Cindy is not entirely without merit. "Bag Boy" is the oldest song of the lot, and to anyone who had already heard it, an unfortunate red herring. With its synth bass and drum machine that give way to the tactile thud of Lovering's kick and snare, Francis' spoken rant and the dead simple, appealingly loud guitar work from Francis and Santiago, it would not have been cause to despair if the song had been more indicative of what was to come. Other attempts at straight up rock such as "Blue Eyed Hexe" are more prosaic, but welcome nonetheless. "Magdelena 318" is the album's most Pixies-sounding song and could almost be slotted into Bossanova. Unfortunately, though, Indie Cindy lacks the lively production of Bossanova or any other Pixies album and spends too much of its time on emotionally inert pop-rock that feels simultaneously under and overcooked. It's sad when a band so bereft of what codified them as that band in the first place fails to recreate the intangible magic they once possessed - sad, but unsurprising.

Slowdive - When the Sun Hits

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Johnny Cash - Out Among the Stars

 Johnny Cash wasn't the only veteran artist who had trouble with the transition into the 80s, but his case was one of the worst. Cash blamed Columbia, and infamously, his biggest hit of the decade was "Chicken in Black", an attempt to bite the hand that fed him. It's understandable that Cash would be inclined to shelve an entire album if he thought Columbia had no interest in promoting it.

I'm equally partial to the Tennessee Two/Three and American Recordings eras that bookend Cash's long career; Out Among the Stars was recorded just after the dissolution of the Tennessee Three. Cash might have had trouble selling albums in the 80s, but it wasn't as if he didn't try, and although three decades stand between the album's recording and release, it isn't a timeless album. I recently listened to Cash's last interview in which he made it clear that he embraced pragmatism over traditionalism when it came to recording (he even mentioned Pro Tools), and in light of that, it doesn't surprise me that he would have availed himself of the latest technology of the day and intentionally made an album steeped in the slick sound that immediately dates it in the early 80s.

Slick or not, it's not as if Out Among the Stars is Cash's "sellout" album. With his new band came a new sound that didn't owe a whole lot to his past and he took the opportunity to test out the band with various styles and tempos. It's a sound that Cash obsessives and country aficionados are likely to appreciate more than me. John Cash jr started going through his father's vaults shortly after his death and it took ten years to find Out Among the Stars, so it's likely we'll see more releases in the future. It's also likely that Cash's best music was released while he was alive. Out Among the Stars is a decent addition to Cash's catalogue without being a boost to his legacy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Extempore #14: Chad Channing

"Can you tell whoever looks after Chad Channing that he isn’t being inducted… It is just Dave, Krist and Kurt."

That cowardly text message says it all. Nirvana was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year after the minimum requisite period of 25 years after its first release, the "Love Buzz" single. Chad Channing played on that single and all of Bleach. Channing's contribution to the band is underrated by too many people who think of him as the guy who kept the drum stool warm for Dave Grohl, but the powers that be at the Hall of Fame should know better. Fuck those cunts. Fuck them right in the ear.



Friday, March 21, 2014

Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps, the following people are glad you're dead*

Pansy Division

Bob Mould


Frank Ocean

Owen Pallett

Elton John

* I don't actually presume to speak for any of those people, but I'm sure they're not heartbroken.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Extempore #13: 10,000 Maniacs

There's a colossal disparity between that band's striking name and the music they made.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Happy Birthday to the Following Albums

Happy 10th birthday, Arcade Fire's Funeral

Happy 20th birthday, Soundgarden's Superunknown

Happy 30th birthday, Hunters & Collectors' The Jaws of Life

Happy 40th birthday, Neil Young's On the Beach

Happy 50th birthday, Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' and Another Side of Bob Dylan

Sex, War & Robots