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BDWPS Podcast #7

On the latest episode, I cover past mistakes made on podcasts and listen to new music from Tallest Man On Earth, Marissa Nadler, Liars, Fang Island, Mission of Burma, and even a new song from Bob Dylan. Also, I pay tribute to one of my favorite bands from high school, Fishbone. Check it out here! 

OR subscribe to it at iTunes (search “BDWPS”).

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Video Clip of the Week: Fang Island “Davy Crockett”

I know this is several weeks too late, but I wanted to post this video in response to the 2011 Dunk Contest. By now everyone knows about how Blake Griffen “wowed” the crowd with his dunk over a Kia (although we all know now that he didn’t even dunk over the hood of the car and lowered himself gingerly back down onto the car).  While ESPN and other hype machines tried making this out as the moment that saved the dunk contest, few were fooled. Griffen was, in fact, the worst performer in the dunk contest yet won before he even walked on the court due simply to the media.

I couldn’t help but think back to the Vince Carter dunk contest when this guy put on a performance that has yet to be topped.  He didn’t have to do any retries; he didn’t do any throw away dunks – he put on a spectacle of athletic prowess that remains to be challenged since.  Last year I came upon this video set to Fang Island’s “Davy Crockett” and felt the director perfectly captured the magic of that night.  The first two minutes of the song are set to images of Vince stalking up and down the court, measuring his steps, testing the ball’s bounce, surveying the entire scene. Then when the song kicks in, Vince unleashes his venom.  The final two minutes of the song are my favorite though with images of the crowd’s reaction spliced all together into one joyous celebration…and he didn’t even need a choir or a crappy Kia.

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Top 40 Albums of 2010 (10-1)

10. Beach House

“Teen Dream”

[Sub-Pop; 2010]

If you don’t pay attention, you’ll love “Teen Dream” because of Victoria Legrand’s smoky voice.  If you don’t pay attention, you’ll quickly be singing along to the dreamy melodies of each memorable Beach House song.  If you don’t pay attention, you’ll like this album simply because it’s tranquil and tender.  Wake up. There’s no time to rest with Alex Scally on the guitar. You may not have noticed him at first with such a powerful voice up front taking charge, but take one look in the background – there! Behind the organ! Do you hear that eerie character sneaking in and out of the mix? Do you feel his energy floating around the room, bouncing from wall to wall, possessing your speakers and taking these already incredible songs to a euphoric level?  Once you’ve spotted Scally, you’ll no longer be able to listen to “Teen Dream” without noticing his spirit. He’s the friendly ghost of the album, and he only makes “Teen Dream” a more welcoming place to sit and enjoy for a spell.

 

9. Crystal Castles

“Crystal Castles”

[Fiction/Last Gang/Universal Motown; 2010]

The Crystal Castles last release was about as confusing as releasing two self-titled albums in succession (which they did).  Half of the songs were chilled-out dance songs, while the other half was comprised of Nintendo sampled scream-o freak-outs.  It was a great album, if not in part due to this unpredictability, but it also seemed like the band was still trying to figure out exactly who they are.  With their 2010 release, it’s obvious that they’ve figured it out.  The Nintendo gimmick has been dropped and in its place is an electro-dance album that is melodic and chaotic at the same time.  While most music of this genre is usually feel-good, Crystal Castles emanate frightening synths, produce a menacing beast within the beats, and hide an alienated, distant scream within the vocals of Alice Glass.  As a result, this is an album of loss, disorder, and fear, all balled up into one focused dance album that aims to destroy all ravers in its path.  Who needs ecstasy when you’ve got anarchy?

 

8. High On Fire

“Snakes for the Divine”

[E1 Music; 2010]

I must be honest, I have not been a metal fan for long.  SongsSuck has been turning me onto all forms of metal over the past five years, but it’s been a slow, methodical process.  Last year, after becoming obsessed with Slayer, the iron doors flew open and a newfound love for the genre was born.  Being such a new budding metal fan, I can’t claim to have the best ear for what’s a great riff, or what’s a great solo.  I’m just learning the differences between black metal, stoner metal, and doom metal. Really, it’s all quite confusing and new to me.  Despite my utter metal ignorance, I do know one thing: “Snakes for the Divine” is a fucking incredible album.  Unlike other albums on this list, I can’t pinpoint exactly what makes it so viciously thrilling. Maybe it’s the over-flowing amount of turbulent riffs. Maybe it’s Matt Pikes barking bellow from the depths below. Maybe it’s Greg Fidelman’s production. Whatever it is, this is an album to be reckoned with. The strangest part for me is that I always thought metal was “angry” by nature, but listening to “Snakes for the Divine” does the opposite, awakening my spirit, refreshing my energy, and igniting the flames of fortitude. Simply put: “Snakes for the Divine” makes me happy.

 

7. No Age

“Everything In Between”

[Sub-Pop; 2010]

No Age have always been noisy, but there is something different going on with “Everything in Between” that took me a while to figure out.  Instead of the all-out art-punk wave of distortion that past albums have prominently featured, “Everything in Between” is as stripped down as you can get while still being abrasive.  It shows the band taking a mature step toward using their biggest strength sparingly to leave the listener yearning for even more earaches.  While they once splattered the overdrive and feedback haphazardly, they’ve now figured out how to access their palette and use these shades of sound when necessary. With the walls of noise torn down, the band’s masterful songwriting is left out naked for all to see, and as a result, “Everything in Between” is their most revealing album yet.  Once bare and exposed, Dean Spunt sings of heartache, betrayal, depression, and addiction.  I used to just like No Age because they wrote kick-ass two-man punk songs that split my ears; now I love them because they’re writing pop songs that cut straight to the heart.

6. Deerhunter

“Haclyon Digest”

[4AD; 2010]

I used to hate Deerhunter. Let me rephrase that; I used to hate the critics adoration of Deerhunter. Maybe it was a case of raging against something I didn’t understand.  What I’d heard of “Cryptograms” was spacey, aimless stuff that floated around lethargically, much like a jellyfish. Basically, it bored me to shreds.  A year later “Microcastle” came out and the critical acclaim continued for the band, so I decided I had to get down to the bottom of this whole Deerhunter phenomenon.  I still found much of it to be pointless meandering, but then one day something happened:  “Nothing Ever Happened” to be exact. Out of nowhere, a song arrived that, unlike the other Cnidarian stuff, had a backbone, had a beat, had a purpose.   Fortunately for me, their 2010 release “Haclyon Digest” is comprised mostly of this same goal-oriented music. Don’t worry old-school Deerhunter fans; even with a backbone, the music is still frail as ever. The listless sound has been replaced by depressing lyrics like “No one cares for me, I keep no company” from “Helicopter”.  Rest assured Graham Cox, I didn’t used to care for you or want to keep company with your music, but I’ve now officially joined the army of Deerhunter lemmings. Let us all rejoice our miserable demise!

 

5. Owen Pallett

“Heartland”

[Domino Records; 2010]

Of all the albums I reviewed in 2010, Owen Pallett’s “Heartland” received the highest score of a 9.  Here’s what I wrote: “ ‘Heartland’ is a gargantuan effort, an album produced on such a grand scale that I can’t imagine how Domino Records could fund such a monumental display. Every song is oozing with a sweeping string section, a verbose collection of horns blasting out triumph and turmoil in the same breath, and the concerto percussion group rattling away with thundering snare rolls that blend naturally with the drum machine hidden behind the timpani. The once unassuming one-man band has created a monster that D&D fans could only imagine.

Songs like ‘E is for Estranged’ and ‘Flare Gun’ are the type of orchestral fare you might hear in a Meryl Streep film, while offerings like ‘Red Sun #5’ and ‘The Great Elsewhere’ show Pallett meshing the prim with the in-proper as synths and pulsating rhythms bleed into the strings, a symbolic sound that fits with the storyline of the album. It feels as if the future is looming in the shadows, waiting to pounce upon the chaste and steal away its innocence.”

 

4. Titus Andronicus

“The Monitor”

[XL Recordings; 2010]

Earlier this year, I wrote what I consider one of my best pieces in my review of Titus Andronicus’s “The Monitor”. Here are some parts I culled from it: “One of the only New Jersey bands that truly fits the Bruce Springsteen mold is Titus Andronicus. Not only are their songs every-man anthems, but their constant references to the Garden State are pure Bruce. They play a wide range of styles yet define them within their own rustic parameters, another Bruce trait. And although it’s no Clarence, Titus even throw in some saxophone for good measure. Chirst, on the opening track, singer Ian Graetzer makes an allusion to the Springsteen classic ‘Born to Run’ singing ‘Tramps like us, baby we were born to die!’ and later he admits ‘I’ve destroyed everything that wouldn’t make me more like Bruce Springsteen.’

This is not a concept album, rather a concoction composed of pop-culture and history, resulting in a multi-layered, dizzying narrative. This album is like T.S. Elliot’s ‘Wasteland’ if he had written the entire poem on bar napkins while a drunken local played ‘Nebraska’ on the jukebox. The entire concept is a bit weird and pretentiously over-reaching, yet it all melds together magically, creating a world where ‘our forefathers’ and ‘a keggar on a Friday night’ can live side by side. The album does run a bit long, yet you can’t hold back a muse that was definitely born to run.”

3. Fang Island

“Fang Island”

[Sargent House; 2010]

Fang Island’s self-titled release made the number one spot on my “Best Summer Albums of 2010” and it didn’t just make it because it was “summer-y”.  No, this is an album as complex as Battles “Mirrored” yet as goofy and immature as Andrew WK’s “I Get Wet”. Here’s what I had to say about it this past summer: “The opening track to Fang Island’s self-titled album features the sound of fireworks popping, reminding me of when my dad used to take us out on the 4th of July in his fishing boat to watch the display over Spirit Lake. ‘Dream of Dreams’ multi-layered, Queen-like chant brings me back to the year ‘Wayne’s World’ came out and how whenever the song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ came on the radio my brothers and I felt compelled to re-enact the famous car scene. ‘Davey Crockett’ has a swirling synth/guitar line that conjures up memories of watching ‘Reading Rainbow’ with my brother Alex and laughing our asses off at the strange synth outro, and then commencing to imitate it the remainder of the day.  ‘Careful Crossers’ punk rock anthem reminds me of the summers my friends and I would make trips up to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to see punk bands sweat it out at the now closed Pomp Room.  ‘Daisy’ and its organ heavy backing track transports me to the summer I worked the late shift at a gas station and listened to Bob Dylan’s organ-heavy ‘Blonde On Blonde’ while selling cigarettes to meth addicts. ‘The Illinois’ is filled with guitar solos that almost seem stolen straight from classic video games, pulling my consciousness back to the days when, after a long day at the swimming pool, my friends and I would ride our bikes to the video store to rent the latest Nintendo game.  Simply put: Fang Island makes me feel like a kid again. And isn’t that what summer is all about?”

2. Wavves

“King of the Beach”

[Fat Possum; 2010]

If you haven’t noticed yet, both my top 40 albums list and top 100 songs list are riddled with pop-punk. I guess you could say I’m a sucker for a catchy little punk song. So what makes Wavves “King of the Beach” better than 2010 releases by others pop-punk greats like Male Bonding, Superchunk, Cloud Nothings, and Ty Segall?  Well, “King of the Beach” is more than just a collection of memorable 2-minute songs. On the surface, you may place the pop-punk label on this album with its front-loaded first three animated anthems. Although the fun is briefly interrupted by the “Pet Sounds”-esque “When Will You Come” the album quickly returns to the skate park for a couple more adrenaline fueled melodies.  Then, mid-way through the entire album, the real turn toward the strange occurs.  “Baseball Cards” and “Mickey Mouse” are filled with expanding atmospheres reminiscent of Panda Bear’s “Person Pitch”. “Convertible Balloon” and “Linus Spacehead” are adventurous pop songs held within the same strange world found in Brian Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets”.  But Wavves are at their best when all of these various sounds come together like they do on “Green Eyes”.  On the song, Nathan Williams sings “My own friends hate me, but I don’t give a shit.”  And really, why would you give a shit when you can write songs that seem so simple but are truly complex masterpieces that don’t fit within one specific genre; not even pop-punk.

1. Arcade Fire

“The Suburbs”

[Merge; 2010]

With the economy the way it has been this past year, you would think it’d be pretty tough to be an American these days, but somehow we continue to survive.  Maybe it’s our steady diet of fast food, or maybe its our ability to distract ourselves with reality television and celebrity gossip.  Whatever the cause of America’s resilience, it seems nothing can keep us from our daily, zombie-like trudge through life.  It really is pretty easy to get through adversity with the American model of excess equals happiness…but then there are those moments, sitting in traffic, dazing off into the horizon of billboards – those moments of self-awareness.   Questions arise: how did I get here? Where has the time gone? When I did I get old? What happened to my dreams?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re either fooling yourself or listening to Bill O’Reilly on your commute home.  On “The Suburbs” Arcade Fire have created a grandiose collection of songs that explore the modern man and the world of distractions we’ve created to forget the reality of what we’ve all become.  Throughout the album, motifs continually rise to the surface, whether it be kids, cars, letters, darkness vs. light, or of course the suburbs that have erased our memories (and street names for that matter).  The album is one long drive through suburbia, searching for that childhood home that has now been buried under “dead shopping malls (that) rise like mountains”.  You would think with 16 tracks all focused on the same overlying idea, “The Suburbs” would get about as monotonous as a real drive through suburbia, but following the Bruce Springsteen model, each song shows the same theme through a different lens, creating a well-rounded study on the perils of the American Dream.  In the end, we are all lost in the sprawl “searching every corner of the Earth” for that home we lost so long ago.

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Best Summer Albums of 2010 (10-1)



10. The Soft Pack
“s/t”
[Kemado]

The Soft Pack’s music is a lot like the infamous tight-roper Phillipe Pettit: it teeters between the ram shackled reverb of the garage and the slick, streetwise attitude of the West Coast, yet they somehow balance their alter-egos with ease.  Never has garage rock sounded so smooth.  Their 2010 self-titled release rolls out before you without hesitation, one song after another picking up where the prior left off, continuing this Army-brat band’s direct assault of surfer guitar solos and matter-of-fact vocals.  There isn’t one song that stands out as the “hit”, yet there isn’t a song you can bring yourself to skip past.  Like Pettit, who conquered city skyscrapers one step after another, Soft Pack methodically satisfy, one great song at a time.

This video for “Answer to Yourself” reminds me of all the dumb stunts my friends and I used to pull while working at the swimming pool:

9. Kings go Forth
“The Outsiders are Back”
[Luaka Bop Records]

Have you ever wondered what Sly and the Family Stone would sound like with bongos? What about a James Brown with a higher register and a jazzier backing band? Enough with the rhetorical questions; I’ll get right to the point: Kings Go Forth may be a call-back to classic 70s funk, but as their name suggests, the sound goes forth, diverging in new directions while still yielding that retro-vibe of the soul kings that came before.  Singer Black Wolf gives the album that classic 70s vocal display while the production of Andy Noble provides a modern edge. Summers of the past have been labeled a variety of “explosions” (ska, latin, british), and this year looks to be the explosion of soul.

Overall, a pretty lame video for the song “One Day”, although the cut scenes of records being made is like watching “How It’s Made”:

8. Free Energy
“Stuck On Nothing”
[Astralwerks/DFA]

I’m embarrassed that I like this album. The cover to “Stuck On Nothing” is hokey and easily a contender for our year end “Worst Album Cover” list. The production is polished and conventional. The music is nothing new: joyous melodies reminiscent of Thin Lizzy (this is the first time I’ve mentioned Thin Lizzy in an album review without bringing up the two-guitar-lead; kudos to me!). But despite all these setbacks, I can’t lie to myself; there are some great fucking songs here. In fact, “Stuck On Nothing” has the potential of being one of those albums where 80% of the songs end up becoming Top 40 Hits.  But I doubt it will happen. You won’t see any Disney shows called “Free Energy” nor will you witness the band flipping off the New York Mets for publicity.  They are simply a rock band from Philadelphia who happen to write kick-ass melodies. Remember the days when that’s all it took to make it big in music?

The downfall of the MTV that actually played music?  High School themed music videos:

7. Woods
“At Echo Lake”
[Woodsist]

I understand this list is flawed. Summer music isn’t simply restricted to albums released within that year.  It goes without saying that each July a moment will arise where I’ll dig up some old Neil Young for those long drives back to Iowa.  I guess my goal here is to introduce some new music that you can check out this summer or possibly pull out in future years when in need of some cheer.  But if you need a replacement for that “Tonight is the Night” album that you’ve played to death, the Wood’s “At Echo Lake” might be that modern Neil Young stand-in.  I know, I know, that’s a huge statement and I wouldn’t dare to suggest that Woods are even in the stratosphere of Sir Neil Young, but you’ve got to give these kids credit.  With innocent, falsetto vocals, and natural, weeping guitar solos, this lo-fi outfit seems to be on the right path toward someday being able to sing, “Neil Young take a look at my life I’m a lot like you.”

The ultimate sign of a cool band? Not having one music video on YouTube:

6. Tanlines
“Settings”
[True Panther]

I used to love getting tanlines when I was a kid.  There is just something so strange about that distinct line that forms between the sun burnt red skin, the bronzed tan, and the pasty white flesh, resulting in the appearance of a human neapolitan.  “Settings”, the six song EP from Tanlines, follows that same neapolitan form with several distinct auras bouncing off each other but never crossing that line toward unity.  While the album relies heavily on the tribal rhythms of the djembe and steel drum, a pounding dance bass line throbs throughout each song as well, springing off of the more natural, earthy tones.  The final layer of 80s pop sensibility will be burned into your memory way before you apply to sun block.

Seattle’s KEXP undoubtedly does the best job of in studio performances:

5. Morning Benders
“Big Echo”
[Rough Trade]

The cover to “Big Echo” says it all: a swimmer stands knee-deep in the forefront wearing a full body swimsuit and  a swim cap, staring out into the vast expanse before him where other swimmers are already enjoying the ocean’s swell.  He seems tentative, yet intrigued, just like the Morning Bender’s sound on this album.  Like the flowing of the tide, the music moves fluidly between several genres. It begins planted in the simple, serene 1950s-style confines of the shore, and then before you know it, you are caught up in the gushing experimental expanse of the ocean, taking the listener off into uncharted territory.  Their more mainstream side leans towards a laid back Phoenix, while the experimental splashes remind me of the Ruby Sun’s 2008 offering “Sea Lion”.  As much as I enjoy The Morning Bender’s sandy beach love songs, I always find myself awaiting that next big wave of sound to whisk me back away to the enchanting sea of sound and hope that it won’t return me to the shoreline.

Who needs a video for “Excuses” when you’ve got an album cover like this:

4. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
“I Learned the Hard Way”
[Daptone]

A few years ago while visiting my friend Sewer in Lake Havasu, Arizona, we spent our afternoons lounging in the swimming pool, drinking margaritas, and listening to Hepcat, the SoCal ska band that we saw perform while still in high school.  In our drunken reverie we’d sing along to the sweet melodies and dance amid the lukewarm water as the blaring horn section blew out their minds.  Why am I bringing this up?  No, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings aren’t a ska group, and my friend and I have never sang along to their music. The reason I bring up this up is because every time I listen to Sharon Jone’s latest release “I Learned the Hard Way” I can’t help but be brought back to my memories of Hepcat over the years.  There isn’t even a hint of ska in Sharon Jones sound, in fact her sound is straight up funk/soul of the 60s and 70s.  I guess the connection is due simply to the combination of upbeat harmonies set next to a jovial horn section.  Then again, I don’t remember Hepcat ever having such a soulful, passionate voice or writing such fiery love songs.

Sharon Jones is a musical Jackie Brown:

3. Surfer Blood
“Astrocoast”
[Kanine]
Don’t let the youth of Surfer Blood fool you; these kids understand the power held within their six-strings.  The guitars of Thomas Fekete and John Paul Pitts complement each other in the same way I imagine it may sound like if Doug Marsh and Dick Dale joined forces.  The band succeeds at blending the surfer guitar licks of old with distorted riffs reminiscent of Pavement.  Back in March, I’d been listening to “Astrocoast” two weeks leading up to SXSW, but when I actually saw them perform, all thoughts of it simply being a happy rock album were erased.  Watching the guitar work of these Florida youths had me in awe.  At first glance, “Astrocoast” is simply fun, but if you delve deeper there is a darker beast brooding beneath the surface; a creature that craves to devour your pop sensibilities and digest them whole.

I like how in this performance of “Take It Easy” half of the band is filmed on surveillance camera in what resembles a panic room:

2. The Amazing
“s/t”
[Subliminal Sounds]

It’s that time of year again when a company airs a commercial laced with happy summer imagery, all set to the music of the late great folk hero Nick Drake.  This season’s offering is an AT&T commercial set to Drake’s “From the Morning”, because really, what says “better coverage” than Nick Drake?  But I get what they are going for: Nick Drake’s soft serenades fit perfectly with the calming spirit of the summer, which leads me to the Swedish side-project The Amazing (two members of The Amazing are from Dungen).  On this project, Gustav Ejstes moves away from the psychedelic and focuses in on the same warm approach that Nick Drake mastered decades ago; it is pulled off brilliantly on the self-titled LP.  Every song swells with emotion, all bottled up in Ejstes soft, tranquil voice, warbling on command, guided by the docile strumming of acoustic guitars.  The fact that this album actually came out in December of 2009 may make this entire 2010 list a bust, but the idea of this warm album not getting the chance to see the sunlight is a thought that sends shivers down my spine.

The only thing missing from this video are images of people talking on their AT&T phones:

1. Fang Island
“s/t”
[Sargent House]
The opening track to Fang Island’s self-titled album features the sound of fireworks popping, reminding me of when my dad used to take us out on the 4th of July in his fishing boat to watch the display over Spirit Lake. “Dream of Dreams” multi-layered, Queen-like chant brings me back to the year “Wayne’s World” came out and how whenever the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” came on the radio my brothers and I felt compelled to re-enact the famous car scene. “Davey Crockett” has a swirling synth/guitar line that conjures up memories of watching “Reading Rainbow” with my brother Alex and laughing our asses off at the strange synth outro, and then commencing to imitate it the remainder of the day.  “Careful Crossers” punk rock anthem reminds me of the summers my friends and I would make trips up to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to see punk bands sweat it out at the now closed Pomp Room.  “Daisy” and its organ heavy backing track transports me to the summer I worked the late shift at a gas station and listened to Bob Dylan’s organ-heavy “Blonde On Blonde” while selling cigarettes to meth addicts. “The Illinois” is filled with guitar solos that almost seem stolen straight from classic video games, pulling my conciousness back to the days when, after a long day at the swimming pool, my friends and I would ride our bikes to the video store to rent the latest Nintendo game.  Simply put: Fang Island makes me feel like a kid again. And isn’t that what summer is all about?

You may want to be annoyed by this video for “Daisy” and it’s cast of characters, but by the song’s end, I dare you to not enjoy their antics within the confined space:

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