On this month’s podcast we take a look at some of the albums that didn’t make the cut for my “Top Albums of 2013 (So Far..)” that I will be posting next week. Here are some of the songs you’ll be hearing:
Low “The Plastic Cup” The Men “Half Angel, Half Light” Sam Amidon “My Old Friend” Windhand “Amaranth” Thee Oh Sees “Minotaur” Wire “Doubles and Trebles” Roky Erickson “Goodbye Sweet Dreams” Bob Dylan “On the Road”
Listen here (don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes, keyword- BDWPS):
I always thought Carrie Brownstein was the more punk rock of the ladies in Sleater Kinney. I always thought she had the fire, the anger, and the edge that counteracted Corrin Tucker’s more feminine approach. I was wrong. So wrong.
I’m a sucker for trumpets, especially when they sound this damn dreamy.
73. “Theme From ‘Cheers””
Looking back on my year, one memory that stands out the most is when me and BDWPS contributer PtheStudP visited Cheers in downtown Boston. After a two-hour marathon at a beer festival, our tour guide Steph led us to Cheers where her friend Justin was bartending. What I thought was going to a quick tourist visit turned into hours of drunken splendor. Soon the variety of beers and shots somehow turned into a night of boisterous chanting of “U-S-A!”, “Lord-By-ron!”, and “Tom Arn-old!” This song brings me back to that night, not necessarily because of the reference to Cheers in the title, but the chorus that could have easily been one of our chants that night: “So let’s get fucked up, and let’s pretend we’re all okay, and if you’ve got something you can’t live with, save it for another day. Save it for another day.”
72. “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
After carrying The National’s Matt Berninger to Ohio, I’d like that same swarm of bees to visit Jim Tressel’s house.
71. “Tame On the Prowl”
In most cases, my adoration of The Medications stems from trying to untangle the vine of intertwined guitar licks in each song. “Tame On the Prowl” continues this tradition, but also features a melody that will quickly wrap around your Hippocampus.
70. “Whores; The Movie”
Not only is “Whores; The Movie” a stellar song, but it would also make a great movie (preferably in 3-D).
69. “Leave You Forever”
I could never leave this song forever.
68. “Apartment Wrestling”
Maximum Balloon (featuring David Byrne)
If you’ve ever wondered what TV On the Radio would sound like if they joined forces with The Talking Heads, it’s as amazing as you expected.
67. “Grief Point”
This is not really a song, rather an audio-short-film, or an audio-psycho analysis, or maybe just the ramblings of a confused artist. Whatever the case, this eight minute insight into the mind of Dan Bejar and his view of music at this point in his career is fascinating. Earlier this year, Bejar discussed ending his recording career altogether (fortunately he didn’t with a new album coming out soon), and this B-side to his “Archer on the Beach” EP captures him in the midst of this confusion of what role his music plays in both his life and his listeners. Plus, I just like the imagery of “picnic baskets filled with blood”. Call me a hopeless romantic!
66. “Fresh Hex”
Tobacco (featuring Beck)
“Maniac Meat” is such a fun fucking album and on “Fresh Hex” Beck joins the party, giving the album his own fresh take on their energetic sound.
65. “Pop Culture (revisited)”
The Ponys originally formed in Chicago back in 2001, and one of their earliest songs was “Pop Culture”. For whatever reason, this song never made it onto a major record, only being heard during live performance. I can still remember them playing this song when I first saw them live four years ago. But in 2010, with the release of their song EP “Deathbed Plus 4”, “Pop Culture (revisited)” was finally released from captivity, and it sounds as lively as ever.
64. “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”
Water has always represented rebirth, and on “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” singer Scott Hutchison swims not only for a renewal, but also to feel alive again.
63. “You Must Be Out of Your Mind”
The Magnetic Fields
This past year I’ve had to learn how to forgive others, and also tried to gain forgiveness for those I’ve hurt. In both cases this isn’t the easiest of tasks. As the person who was wronged, there is some agitation with the idea that by simply saying “I’m sorry” that everything goes back to the way they were. They don’t and they never will. But as the person asking for forgiveness, you can’t “simply press rewind” and things will be they way they once were no matter how bad you would like them to. Stephin Merritt’s snarky lyrics take on the persona of the one burned, and his stance can be either an anthem for moving on or a eulogy for a relationship (depending one what side of the forgiveness fault-line you stand).
Fresh & Onlys
The Fresh & Onlys are time travelers, but instead of going to the past, they’ve come to us from the 60s, bringing with them a sound that has been long forgotten. Amazingly, a song like “Waterfall” grows out of the oldies, yet sounds like nothing else on the radio. This is the type of song that would lead Marty McFly to say, “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet, but your grandparents loved it.”
61. “Below the Hurricane”
At first this seems like a beautiful little folk song, but halfway through the band kicks it up a notch with Doobie Brother’s persona that is sweetened with a couple drops of harmonica.
60. “I Learned the Hard Way”
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
The only thing I don’t like about this song is the fact that she never defines exactly what this guy did to turn her into such a bitter old maid.
59. “Mr. Peterson”
This eerie song tells the story of a teacher, Mr. Peterson, leaving a note on a student’s paper telling them to meet him at a certain time and place. For some reason, the narrator meets up with the teacher, smokes weed with him, and possibly has sex with him (although this event is only inferred). When the teacher goes on to kill himself, the narrator doesn’t necessarily hold a grudge toward him. Instead, the speaker hopes that Mr. Peterson can find a place where he’s wanted, even if that place be hell.
So yeah, this songs kinda depressing.
The New Pornographers
After their lackluster 2007 release “Challengers”, I’d kinda written The New Pornographers off. It just seemed like their sound had run its course and had no where else to go. But on their latest release, “Together”, the band has found new ways to eek a little more life out of their collective, especially on a song like “Moves” that amps up their classic sound with a driving orchestral addition.
57. “Suffering Season”
I made the mistake this summer of defining Woods as the next Neil Young. The falsetto vocals do conjure up images of Sir Neil, but a song like “Suffering Season” shows the band is influenced by many other voices of the past (possibly the Mamas and the Papas?).
In just two minutes, Ty Segall will have you singing along. That has to be some type of record.
55. “Favourite Food”
Tokyo Police Club
Getting old stinks, a point this song pounds into the ground. Not only have I had to face the facts that I’m no longer young, but my parent’s aging has become apparent, a notion that scares me. When the lyrics say “cause it’s sweet getting old” followed by “Let the hospital be your home”, I can’t help but feel that Tokyo Police Club are being morbidly ironic. I would like to believe that there is some hope hidden within the metaphors of this riveting song, but I can’t seem to find them.
54. “Written in Reverse”
With all that screaming and punching of piano keys, something must have really pissed Britt Daniels off. But unlike the Incredible Hulk, you’ll like Britt when he’s angry.
I really should start listening to some R Kelly. A couple of years ago I couldn’t quit listening to Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s cover of R. Kelly’s “The Word’s Greatest”. This year Sam Amidon, who is known for his modern interpretations of classic folk songs, switched his routine by taking R. Kelly’s “Relief” and giving it a more classic ambience. On second thought, I’ll just stick to people covering R. Kelly.
Even though it’s the third track on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, “POWER” is the introduction to the Shakespearan tale found on this album. In it, Kanye portrays a man dealing with the struggles of being in power. At times he seems arrogant and aloof, but near the end of the song the listener begins hearing a man realizing that the one thing he doesn’t have power over is himself. By the time the outro arrives, the speaker is standing on a ledge envisioning himself jumping, saying, “This would be a beautiful death”.
Oh, and did I mention it samples King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”?
51. “He Would Have Laughed”
A lot of great musicians died in 2010 (Captain Beefheart, Ronnie James Dio, Mark Linkous), but the most devastating loss in my view was the death of Jay Reatard simply because Jay had so much left to create, so must potential. Being friends with Jay, Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox wrote “He Would Have Laughed” in dedication to the lost genius. I’m not sure if the song is necessarily about Jay with its abstract lyrics, although there is something there within the lyrics “Where do all my friends go?” and “What did you want to be?”. I think the connection to Jay’s life is found within the music its self, with the slow progression that eventually goes into a euphoric swell, but then, just like Jay’s life, the song just suddenly stops. Fuck.
While perusing some of the new releases a few weeks ago, I came across the comforting sounds of Doveman, a concert pianist who has worked with the likes of Grizzly Bear, Antony and the Johnsons, and David Byrne. As the first song “Breathing Out” unraveled, I was instantly brought back to the first time I heard Sufjan Steven’s “Greetings from Michigan”. All the pieces are there: the soft plink of a piano, the ghostly strum of a banjo, and the whispering tenor voice pouring out his soul. “The Best Thing” continues the same vibe, building to a dramatic finish of harmonizing voices and the elegant banjo being picked by none other than Sam Amidon, offering his skills to Doveman’s work. By the third song, “Memorize”, I was already multi-tasking, listening to the upbeat, spacey song while visiting Insound.com to order my new discovery. “Memorize” shows Doveman’s chops, exploring new environs with a muffled drum machine and vibrating organ, pushing the song along.
Once I received the CD, my original love of the album continued…for the first four tracks. It’s not that the second half of the album lacks anything that the beginning features. It’s just that by the time “From Silence” arrives, Doveman’s continuous whispering voice wears thin. While Sufjan is able to balance between his intimate, soft storytelling and celebratory glee choir, Doveman stays planted in the same, depressing tone, despite efforts to go elsewhere on songs like “The Best Thing” and “Memorize”.
I realize I’m being too hard on Doveman. To compare him to Sufjan is like comparing Busch Light to Dale’s Pale Ale: it’s just not fair. “The Conformist” is an excellent album if you’re in the mood for songs that inspire self-reflection. Maybe Sufjan is to blame. His last album “Come On Feel the Illinoise” came out four years ago, and it’s getting to the point where I can’t help but wonder when he’ll return to the limelight.
Speaking of Sufjan…
Sufjan Stevens“The BQE”Asthmatic Kitty Records
“The BQE” is a documentary Sufjan made about, well, the BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Exchange), a stretch of helter skelter highway running through New York City, inducing headaches to commuters on a daily basis. The DVD documentary comes with a CD of the soundtrack, a large narrative booklet on the BQE, and a Viewmaster slide featuring photos of the BQE (I actually went out and bought a Viewmaster to view the pics…yes, I’m an über Sufjan fan). It seems like a strange project considering he still has 48 states to write albums about (or is he now going to attempt to write an album about every major U.S. interstate?) Needless to say, Sufjan likes to take on strange, thematic projects (one of his earliest albums, “Enjoy Your Rabbit”, is a song by song run through the Chinese zodiac). Yet, this focus on what seems to most as mundane is what makes Sufjan’s work so refreshing.
The album begins with lush, Gershwin-inspired orchestration. As I listened to the opening fanfare and the first few movements that followed, I was brought back to my childhood, watching a Disney documentary on the Grand Canyon, with phantasmagoria orchestra leading you through one of America’s most prominent landmarks. I’d venture to guess that is what Sufjan was going for. He has a penchant for making the dull seem significant, as if a disheveled New York interstate deserves the same respect as the Grand Canyon in some demented way.
Most of the soundtrack sounds alien to what you usually expect from Sufjan. Parts sound like an excerpt from “The Peanuts”, others like left-overs from the “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” soundtrack. Only on “Movement III: Linear Tableau With Intersecting Surprise” do we hear hints of the Sufjan we know and love. The familiar leads into the strangest song on the album, “Movement IV: Traffic Shock”, an electronica bleep fest, lost amidst the grandeur of classic Americana. I have a feeling this is just a hint of things to come from Sufjan, sounding very similar to the new song he leaked this summer at a concert in Ithaca.
I could respect his efforts but while listening to the soundtrack, I kept finding myself disinterested. I soon realized what was missing: Sufjan’s voice. Not necessarily his singing voice, but his voice: his storytelling, his insight, his aura. I made it through the whole soundtrack, begrudgingly, wishing for the Sufjan of old.
A few days later, I decided to throw in the DVD to see what his movie was all about. Once again, I was disappointed. The first ten minutes featured slow moving traffic, with boats floating in the forefront. It seemed like a movie a film school student put together at the last minute after a night at a kegger. I became so bored with the visuals, I turned my attention to the booklet, reading Sufjan’s words as the film continued rolling footage of cars. And then I heard the voice.
His words mesmerized me; his writing craft instantly put me to shame. Two paragraphs into the essay I was hooked. Who knew the history of an interstate could be so interesting? As he drew me in more and more, I looked up at the TV, and what once seemed amateur, suddenly exuded significance. Using three frames, side by side, the three videos of cars somehow melded into one, looking like what Henry Ford might have seen while tripping on acid. The roving traffic, the shimmering lights, the ocean-like motion of the cars: I no longer needed Sufjan’s storytelling. The video held the aura; the BQE held the stories.
Like most of Sufjan’s work, “The BQE” requires your undivided attention. The only difference is with albums like “Greetings From Michigan” and “Seven Swans” you can also just listen to the music for enjoyment, while you can’t truly enjoy “BQE” without the visuals. As much as I respect and envy Sufjan’s skills as a film maker/writer, I still like the familiar singer songwriter best of all.