Monday, December 18, 2006

I've Been Bottling This Up All Year

... and now it's time to purge.

Originally, I thought I’d throw one or two of these reviews up a day (and even started to do that with the Black Angels review), but then I faced the mirror and realized if I haven’t had the energy to post here but twice since April, what the hell am I thinking I’d post every day? That’s insanity right there. Insanity, I tell you.

Nevertheless, I did compile a list of my favorite music of 2006. And I am presenting it here, alphabetically, by artist. If you insist on knowing my absolute top pick of the year, I’d say it’s a toss-up between Yo La Tengo, Fujiya & Miyagi, and LCD Soundsystem. Or maybe TV on the Radio. Or perhaps Band of Horses. Tapes ‘n’ Tapes is good, too. So is Mew…

... now, maybe, you see why I’m throwing these up alphabetically instead of order of awesomeness (to brazenly borrow a line from My Name Is Earl).

Since I want you to decide you like these CDs, too, I have provided a link to an MP3 file of a cut from the CD being discussed. And since I want these artists to continue to make a living so I can hear more great stuff from them in the future, I am setting this post up so you can click on the album art and link to an on-line retailer (of my choosing, ha!) that will be more than happy to sell a copy of the CD to you.

Finally, do yourself a favor and sign up for eMusic, which is the best $20 monthly music investment I have ever made, period. You can download several of the CDs on this list from them (including Califone, Fujiya & Miyagi [if your account is set up somewhere besides the US, unfortunately], Tim Hecker, Tapes ‘n’ Tapes, and Yo La Tengo) legally, in their entirety, at bitrates between 128 and 220 kbps, and without any DRM attached whatsoever, for around $2 an album. That, my friends, is quite a deal.

(And hey, if you check out eMusic and it sounds good to you, send me an email first. They have a tell-a-friend promotion that would put free downloads in my cart if I refer you. And I like free downloads. A lot.)

And now, with no further ado, my list:

Band Of Horses
Everything All the Time

When I first heard them, Band of Horses struck me as sounding awfully similar to The Shins, as both bands produce soaring power pop with distinctively high-pitched vocals. But a mid-day Pitchfork Music Festival set under the searing Chicago sun last July demonstrated to me that Band of Horses are less intent on scoring the closing credits of the latest Fox Network primetime teen soap than crafting deliberately heartfelt country-tinged melodies about weed parties and salt lakes. To my ears, “The Funeral” soars above the rest of the record, but there really isn’t a bad cut to be found anywhere on it.

Roots And Crowns

On my eMusic review (yeah, I post there more often than I post here, sue me) of Roots And Crowns, I wrote that Califone sounded “as if Caribou bred illicitly with Iron and Wine.” I’ll stick by that assessment. “The Orchids” is perhaps the strongest cut on the CD, and it is (improbably, perhaps) a cover of a Psychic TV tune. And coming from a guy who could never quite see past the grotesquery of Genesis P. Orridge, that “The Orchids” sounds as pretty to me as it does is either a testament to Califone’s musicianship or a tacit admission on my part that Psychic TV actually wrote a good song.

Fujiya & Miyagi
Transparent Things

On eMusic (it was the first new CD I downloaded with my eMusic account, and shortly after I did so it was yanked from the US eMusic catalog… snooze, you lose) I called Transparent Things, “an infectious and highly listenable combination of vintage Kraftwerk and disco new wavey proto funk.” This, clearly, is where my extremely limited musical vocabulary begins to fail me (I was sleepy, and perhaps a bit drunk, when I wrote that). Whatever. Transparent Things is classic British electro, from two dudes who have spent an awful lot of time listening to Neu! While my words may fail me, the music itself does not. Hear what I mean on the opening track, “Ankle Injuries.”

Tim Hecker
Harmony in Ultraviolet

I cannot imagine a single one of the people who are most likely to be reading this will like this album. Nevertheless, in light of new information about Clap Your Hands Say Yeah that indicate that CD was actually purchased by me in -- and included on my Top Ten List of -- 2005, I am selecting this ambient masterpiece for inclusion in this year's list. Although I am posting "Blood Rainbow," I could have selected any of the tracks. Taken as a whole, Harmony in Ultraviolet is an immersive wash of noise and subtle production tricks that is as good for zoning out (or drowning out) as Fennesz's Vienna, which has roughly the same effect on me.

LCD Soundsystem
45:33: Nike+ Original Run

The first (and so far, only) $10 I’ve spent at the iTunes store, and boy am I glad I did. James Murphy’s contribution to Nike’s series of “workout soundtracks,” 45:33 provides the perfect uninterrupted soundtrack for drudgery (i.e., work), driving a long ways, or running. Actually, I wouldn’t know about running since I don’t run. Still, this is a masterful and lighthearted tromp through about five distinct disco-fueled “movements” that’s perfect for anyone who likes Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers, or, well, LCD Soundsystem. Too bad it isn’t available on CD (but I did find an MP3 copy of the first five minutes for you to sample).

And The Glass Handed Kite

Goofy Danish prog bombast normally wouldn’t find a place on my year-end list because just that description alone makes it sound horrid. Plus, the CD cover art is truly some of the worst I’ve seen this millennium. Nevertheless, the album itself is amazing, full of complex and catchy pop melodies that not only won me over (and over and over and over… I’ve listened to the CD more times than just about any other on this list since I ripped it to my iTunes back in September), but also caught Beth’s ear too. That overlap is pretty rare, and is most definitely “Special.”

Regina Spektor
Begin To Hope

Initially, Spektor comes off as a less serious Fiona Apple, or a more emotionally-stable Tori Amos. All three women write their own songs and have managed to score studio time with some truly amazing producers. But where Spektor soars is her songcraft – playful story-songs that indicate an imagination at work, not unlike a great novelist. It also helps that she has a voice that will get inside your head (especially if you’re wearing earphones) and take up permanent residence there if you let it. “Fidelity” might sound trite and gimmicky (and destined to score an especially heart-wrenching breakup scene on Veronica Mars) to you. To me, it’s my foremost guilty musical pleasure of 2006.

Tapes ‘N’ Tapes
The Loon

Take a healthy dose of The Feelies, throw in a bit of Pixies, then sprinkle a liberal amount of any cool lesser-known Minneapolis band (The Suburbs, maybe, or The Wallets) and maybe you’ll get something like The Loon, as promising a debut album as I heard all year. These dudes have now officially sold out (that’s a good thing for working musicians), signing a contract with XL records and whoring “Jakov’s Suite” to some ad agency that was in turn hired to do an ad for, I believe, Nissan. With cars – Nissans in particular – it’s true: “you don’t move, you don’t move, you don’t move, you don’t move away.” Right.

TV On The Radio
Return To Cookie Mountain

Either you buy their art rock-meets-a cappella shtick, or you don’t. I do, in a big way, and found myself massively rewarded by Cookie Mountain, which is the closest thing to a truly original record as was released all year. “Wolf Like Me” (see their spellbinding Letterman performance of it, and watch Letterman’s face turn from jaded skepticism to something approaching sheer awe) may be (as one of you said to me a while back) the best Bloc Party song Bloc Party never recorded, but you only have to listen to the opening track, “I Was A Lover” to understand how a single band can combine so many styles in a coherent and compellingly infectious way. TV On The Radio are destined to emerge from the ‘00s as one of – if not the single most – important band of the decade. You’ll see.

Yo La Tengo
I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass

Hoboken’s finest finally won me over (I have no idea why the hell it took so long for me to come around, but I finally did) with the most immersively listenable psychedelic record of the year. The best cuts are the bookends, both of which run longer than ten minutes apiece and pick the listener in an audio maelstrom, give him (or her) a good toss, then redeposit him (or her) a half mile away, with nary a hair on his (or, alas, her) head unruffled. Between those cuts, though, are a seemingly randomly diverse collection of tunes that collectively work as a superb album, start to finish. Though I’m tempted to post my favorite track (the epic “The Story of Yo La Tengo”), I’m gonna cite bandwidth concerns and post “The Room Got Heavy” instead (and promise you the Black Angels similarities are purely coincidental).


posted by Bill Purdy, 9:42 AM | link | 2 comments

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ho Ho Ho

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all that other great stuff. This is the first year Logan has any clue about Christmas, and for a change he doesn't seem to be terrified of all things Santa. Our little darling put this hat on himself and bothered to learn Santa says, "Ho, Ho, Ho!". I wish I could put an audio clip of it on here, but being the bad parents Bill and I are, we have not taken much video this Christmas (so far). We're also woefully behind on Christmas Cards, not because we don't love everyone, but out of sheer lack of time. In the interests of showing we do have some Christmas Spirit, here's our darling son mugging for Christmas! Posted by Picasa

posted by purdygirl, 1:48 PM | link | 2 comments

Friday, December 08, 2006

Best CDs of 2006: The Black Angels "Passover"

The whole thing sounds like a gag: Spacemen 3 covering Dick Dale, covering the Velvet Underground, covering Jefferson Airplane. And it's from Austin, TX, of all places.

The Black Angels seem to take themselves way too seriously, but then you realize there's no way they COULD take themselves seriously. I mean, this kind of pretense applied this thickly is pretty silly stuff, right? Listen to "Manipulation" and see what I mean.

This is pure guilty pleasure drone rock, the kind of thing around which little cults develop (and the kind of thing I can drive to, for a long long time). Pretty soon we'll be seeing mopey kids with the Black Angels logo (a Warhol-esque bichromatic portrait of the female singer) tattooed on the smalls of their back, made visible cuz their pants are down around their knees and they aren't wearing any underwear. At that point, we can stop listening: the sellout will be complete.

Until then, consider yourself in on the goof. And thank me later.

posted by Bill Purdy, 1:59 PM | link | 3 comments