Friday, February 19, 2010

Tactical Bakeoff

Other new records I bought and liked in 2009:

Future of the Left:
Travels with Myself and Another (reviewed here)
Grand Atlantic:
How We Survive (reviewed here)
Hex Dispensers:
Winchester Mystery House (mentioned here)
Marked Men:
Ghosts (reviewed here)
Obits:
I Blame You (reviewed here)
Venice Is Sinking:
Azar (reviewed here)

My favorite new songs of 2009, in a zip file:
Tactical Bakeoff
(See comments for track listing.)

And 2008's favorites: Legacy Management
(2008 tracklist here)

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Underestimated in '09

I read somewhere a critic's opinion that you only need one Super Furry Animals album. I would have a hard time choosing just one. Their records may be uneven, but there have been many great songs scattered across them. One of the things I admire about SFA is their ability to perform songs in so many different genres of pop music from the past five decades. The last album, Hey Venus, was perhaps too consistent -- I like the Furries better when they throw in the kitchen sink, stylistically speaking.

The first song on 2009's Dark Days/Light Years starts as a Neptunes-style falsetto funk number, but it morphs into a mid-Seventies hard rock workout. It is followed by the glam rock of "Mountain" and the single "Inaugural Trams", a synth pop number that sounds like "Pop Goes the World" (with lyrics that poke fun at public transportation in Germany, of all things).

So when does SFA sound like SFA, rather than a band of musical mimics? Try "Cardiff in the Sun", a beautiful ode to the band's hometown. "Lliwiau Llachar" is a glorious addition to their Welsh language pop songs, and "The Very Best of Neil Diamond" is one of the finest songs of Gruff Rhys' career. The album ends with "Pric", ten minutes of motorik which proves (again) that SFA is capable of mastering any musical genre.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

TV Baby

This Sunday evening (February 13), the PBS program Austin City Limits will feature an hourlong performance by Them Crooked Vultures. The band will be in Atlanta tomorrow (Feb. 11) at the Tabernacle.

If you have the LinkTV channel (on DirecTV or the DISH Network), keep an eye out for
Sleepwalking through the Mekong, a documentary about the band Dengue Fever and their visit to Cambodia. It will be broadcast on February 21, 22, and 23. You can also visit the film's website for more information.

The Pied Piper of Hutzovina is another fine documentary on LinkTV, which follows Eugene Hutz (of Gogol Bordello fame) on a visit to Gypsy camps and his native Kiev. Show times are March 1st and March 3rd. Hutzovina is also available on DVD.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Quizzical Graffiti

Musical virtuosity doesn't seem to count for much in the indie rock scene. It is valued more in genres like jazz, bluegrass and metal. Dexterity and speed are impressive, but feel is equally important (though less quantifiable). On the debut album by Them Crooked Vultures, the sense of pleasure is palpable in the collaboration between Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones. The three are masters of their respective instruments, and the grooves are lock-tight. I really liked the last two albums by Queens of the Stone Age, but they were missing the rhythmic drive that pushed Josh's twisted riffs to the classic heights of "No One Knows" and "Go with the Flow". (If you are a QOTSA fan, or a fan of Mark Lanegan's vocals, check out "Death Bells" and "Unbalanced Pieces" by the Soulsavers. These two songs from the 2009 album Broken rock harder than the last Soulsavers collaboration with Lanegan.)

I don't listen to a lot of metal, but I enjoyed the 2009 albums by Georgia bands Mastodon and Baroness. I think Baroness'
Blue Record is the better of the two. Blue Record is ambitious but tighter than the sprawling Crack the Skye, and John Dyer Baizley is a better singer than either Troy or Brent (who does a pretty good Layne Staley impression on "Oblivion"). Kylesa's Static Tensions was powerful in small doses, but a bit of a chore to listen to from start to finish. Kylesa is a crusty Savannah metal band with two singers and two drummers. Not quite as awesome as the double drumming of Dananananaykroyd (which isn't really a metal band, but Hey Everyone is both heavy and exhilarating).

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Overshadowed in '09

I'm not going to tell you that the records I enjoyed most are the best of 2009. But I will suggest that you might like a few things if your tastes and mine are simpatico. The band Canadian Invasion made a great record called Three Cheers for the Invisible Hand. They didn't get a lot of blog love, except when they covered a Vampire Weekend song. (I preferred their Fugazi cover.)

The only place I saw Canadian Invasion in a Best of 2009 list was at Magnet Magazine. Magnet apparently thinks that Canadian Invasion sounds like Teenage Fanclub, but I hear the Pernice Brothers, especially in the witty lyrics, delivered in a cool and tuneful voice. And what's not to love about a song called "Standing on the Shoulders of the Corpse of John Mayer"?

The Australian trio Love of Diagrams was hailed as post-punk heirs to Pylon, but they were dropped after one album for Matador. It's is a shame, because in many ways
Nowhere Forever is better than its predecessor, 2007's Mosaic. "We hope Matador hear it and shit their pants," the band told Tiny Mix Tapes.

When the single "Forever" was released earlier this year, it was clear from the insistent, overdriven guitar and the laconic vocal that Love of Diagrams had begun to incorporate a shoegaze influence into their sound. "Look Out" is my favorite from the new album. The minimal lyrics read like a haiku:

Time has come, better
Look out before you're overrun
They said to look out

Like Pylon, Love of Diagrams understands the hypnotic appeal of repetition. According to bassist Antonia Sellbach, "For me, repetition has always been a way of expanding a song, of sitting on a word or a lyric or a moment in time or an idea and allowing it to grow, instead of continually moving on with the narrative."

Canadian Invasion:
Wave of Mutilation
Canadian Invasion:
Public Witness Program
Love of Diagrams:
Cool
Love of Diagrams:
Look Out

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