Albums I’m Supposed to Like this Year, Except I Just Don’t.

Despite the hype, I just can’t get into these three albums. Am I still a good person?

The NationalTrouble will Find Me

Roger Ebert style rating: *shrug*

A commenter on their acoustic NPR Tiny Desk concert summed it up perfectly:  “Why don’t I like the studio tracks as much as I like this?” The rare acoustic set was soulful, well blended, not overstated. And neither is the album. The album is just musically repetitive and uninspired. Sometimes I like being lulled to sleep by a deep-voiced tenor doing mellow, slow music (eg The Smiths – Asleep— brilliant). But not this time. As soon as I remember that it’s on, I just want to turn it off. Silence is better.

Constructive criticism: Do more of the the acoustic, breathy vocal-driven stuff. And honestly “Sea of Love” is singable and bouncy, but when I see you perform it, I guess I just don’t believe you. That matters. For what it’s worth I still love “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Terrible Love” from back in the day.

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Roger Ebert style rating: *begrudging eye-roll to their unexpected-yet-not-overwhelmingly-amazing-talent*

My friend summed it up pretty well. “They’re a band. They do music.” I get that they have intelligent lyrics, I get that they’re doing some experimental sounds while still keeping it palatable to the average young urban music fan. Others have said they’re MGMT wannabes. Maybe, but this doesn’t bother me. So synth-pop is a zeitgeist thing. So what? I respect them, I just don’t care about listening to or buying their music. And again, I might even like “Diane Young” when I hear it on the radio, but then I see them on SNL and I’m like, what? All that energy from the studio comes out like this when it’s live? Pretty disappointing.

Constructive criticism: Liven it up a bit. Get out of your English-major heads (said the Political Science major, English minor). Quit crafting the perfect image and sound and let down a bit. Get sweaty; take a risk.

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Roger Ebert style rating: *annoyed eye roll*

OK seriously.

Sigh.

OK. So they’ve done some movies. That’s cool. So they haven’t done an album in like a million years. And they wear futuristic space suits with astronaut helmets on stage. Great. “Get Lucky” sounds like something from Boogie Nights. OK. But what they do is not new, and while it may be good, I just don’t think it lives up to the hype.  It’s not really singable, and is eminently danceable, but so is Chingy. (DP is better than Chingy of course but I think my point stands). Rhythm and funk and lyrical repetition isn’t what it’s all about. I do understand why they’re selling albums like crazy, but I’m not sure it’s so critically sound as the charts make it seem.

Constructive Criticism — Do something that just can’t be spun in the hottest hippest Manhattan club. Do something that WON’T guarantee you a crazy awesome film soundtrack contract.

These albums will likely live on well past 2013, and maybe my kids will listen to them, and maybe they will like them. But right now I just don’t get it.

Wildfires

Right now, hundreds of people in northern and central Colorado are running from fast approaching fires in the Black Forest. They are abandoning their homes, livestock, and property, hoping they won’t get screwed by their insurance companies and that their kids will be safe.

When I first heard of the fires, I thought it was a normal summertime thing – definitely newsworthy, but a normal function of nature that may or may not affect residents of the towns and suburbs. Then I heard that it was the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history. And then I saw that two of the most endangered areas are Leadville and Salida, two towns where I spent numerous summers and spring breaks as a kid. Then I got sad. It felt personal. One of my favorite childhood memories is standing on top of Mt Hope with my dad and seeing all the brilliant varieties of colors in the trees and valleys thousands of feet below.

I don’t want to think of standing on Mt Hope and seeing nothing but black wasteland below.

So I found this video. The song is beautiful and moving anyway (as is the whole KCD Theater -Louisville performance that you can find on Noisetrade), but the video editing done here on the footage of this old crab apple tree is exquisite. I hope the displaced people of Colorado can get back to this beauty and wonder soon.

Best Albums of 2013 So Far

Alright, NPR just released theirs, so I guess I better get mine out. (I make no apologies for keeping up with the public radio Joneses). I’ve been working on it and revising it since the first one of these I did in March. Some from that list aren’t there any more, and of course there have been some new ones in the last three months.

And I actually have a method to my madness! I take an informal inventory of all the albums I’ve really liked this year – multiple listens, the ones I share with friends, the ones I keep going back to. Then, as I listen to each one, I rank them on a subjective scale of 1- 10, in each category of 8 things I’ve figured out as to why I like a certain piece of music:

  • “Feeling when I hear this music” – Good vibes either on first listen or over time. Feeling of nostalgia scores highly as well.
  • “Feeling when I hear *about* this music” – When a friend mentions it or I see it online, am I super excited and feel a sense of belonging? Am I kind of “meh” about it?
  • “Each track’s integrity/consistent progression of the album” – Basically, does it have any gaps or weak tracks? Concept albums score well here.
  • “Depth/layering of instrumentation” – Can also address when the music is appropriately sparse. Does not have to be a wall of sound to score well.
  • “Harmonies/vocal uniqueness” – Taking into account the blend, the intensity, and dynamics of the vocals
  • “Energy level/ability to transcend/mood creation” – E.g. Dark Side of the Moon would be a 10 out of 10 for its mood creation.
  • “Originality/authenticity” – Is the album breaking new ground meaningfully? Connecting meaningfully to music’s heritage?
  • “Critical Universal Appeal” – Can any discerning, critical-thinking listener probably appreciate this?

Then I literally crunch the numbers, divide by 8 and then make it a percentage – the higher the score the higher up the list they fall. Here’s how it all shook out:

9. Foxygen – 21st Century Ambassdors of Peace and Magic – 83.8%

I like their vibe a lot and I feel good when Iisten to them. They lost some points for originality (there are better mod-psychedelic bands) and for my conflicted feelings when I hear about them (maybe too much hype?) But the vocals and transcendence category were top of the chart and the the whole album feels like a trip to the “other side.” Really cool.

8. The Lone Bellow – Self-Titled – 87.7%

Amazing that they weren’t in the top three, since this was my absolute top release for the first couple months of the year. Over time I started to feel a little tired of them, and afraid that they might go the insufferable way of Lumineers and Mumford. Yet when I hear “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” or “You Never Need Nobody” I can’t help but think this is the best harmony I’ve heard in a long time, and their energy is sky high as well.

7. John Vanderslice – Dagger Beach  – 90.5%

10/10 for originality and 9.5/10 for depth/layering of instrumentation. It’s experimental, in a folksy, mellow way. But definitely zany enough to keep attention. Not Zappa-level zany, but definitely not mainstream ho-hum indie by any stretch. This guy is really doing is own thing, self-producing the record analog and what not. It’s really growing on me, and that’s considering that that liked it a lot even upon first hearing.

6. Telekinesis – Dormarion – 91.6%

Again, amazing that he’s not top three. I can’t get enough of this album. Vocals are slightly in need of an upgrade, but at the end of the day, it’s a person’s voice, what can you do? He uses it the best he can. 9.5 for originality (it’s a one man show that sounds like five dudes) and 10/10 for how I feel when I hear this guy’s music. Total bliss, elation, ready to road trip to anywhere USA.

 5. Ivan and Alyosha – All the Times We Had – 91.6%

Music Millenium had a 20% off sale this weekend, all vinyl new and used. This record was at the top of my list to find and buy (which I did), and it is as awesome as I had hoped. They’re one of those groups that comes up on Songza or Google radio and I think “HOW good is this???” And I usually have forgotten who the artist is, but now I definitely won’t. I also love the fact that their band name comes from a Dostoevsky set of characters. Good on you.

4. The Thermals – Desperate Ground – 91.8%

This is a late addition – just crunched the numbers this morning– but Oh, I love punk. I just do. This guy’s voice cuts through everything, and the buzzy lo-fi approach is so, so legit and exciting. Really high energy, you’ve basically got a Bad Religion without the totally oppressive lyrical content, and slightly more palatable vocals and guitar blend, which boosts the “critical appeal” score. This is their sixth, and I wish I had known them before now. I am happy that 2013 brought me the Thermals.

 3. Jim James – Regions of Light Sound of God – 92.7%

This was a 10/10 on the “how I feel when I hear about this album” category. I was in an airport in February and had to buy the $7 Rolling Stone because of seeing Jim James on the cover. “A.E.I.O.U” is such a righteous, funky album opener, and I love his delicate vocals throughout. Also scored 10 on mood creation, and did not score below 9 in any category. Seriously folks, Jim James.

2. Josh Ritter – Beast in Its Tracks – 93.3%
I have written extensively about this album, and I think it will remain in the top five. Everything the guy touches turns to gold, and this one, despite being a breakup album, was no different. I sing “Appleblossom Rag” to my kids at night and feel blessed to be granted a window into his pain and healing. Really beautiful plodding folk masterpiece.
1. Patty Griffin – American Kid – 93.8%
Oh, son. I am a newcomer to Patty Griffin, and judging from what I’ve now heard of her previous work, I think this was a brilliant time to enter into her world. This album puts everything else of hers in perspective. And this album is the best one I’ve heard in years, of any genre. Of course it does folk/americana better than any one else doing it right now, but it also just does MUSIC better than almost anyone is doing it right now. No auto-tune, no drum-n-bass, no synth. Just that pleading, exquisite voice, a few guitars and a lifetime of memories. Check “Ohio” “Don’t Let me Die in Florida” and “Irish Boy” — try not to weep tears of joy, sorrow… tears of life.
So there you have it. Just 9 albums so far this year that I really really love. No reason to fudge it into a longer list. Granted I focus on a fairly narrow selection of new music releases anyway (Americana, folk, country, indie) but this is me, this is what I like. Listen well!

The Thermals Rock

I just bought this re-released 7″ from 2003, my first Thermals purchase. I’m a latecomer I guess, but I love these guys. They are lo-fi, buzzy pop-punk from Portland and I can’t get enough of it. You can always find one of their 6 records (in just ten years!) at one of the indie record stores in Portland, and it’s not uncommon to catch a free live performance of theirs at one of these stores as well. I just heard “No Culture Icons,” found their site, and bought this 7″. Really excited. Check out this official vid from back in the day as well.

Indie Music Death Match: Camera Obscura vs She & Him

Indie Music Death Match: Camera Obscura vs She & Him

Remember Celebrity Death Match? Yeah, that brilliant, tasteless, amazing MTV show from 15 years ago. Let’s do that again with modern day indie artists. I think the best one was when a depressed Trent Reznor (“I am a very pretty hate machine”) sliced up a spry Puff Daddy with his “Nine Inch Nails” while Puff Daddy sliced up Trent Reznor with other people’s vinyl records (clever), and then Mills Lane put them both back together, each with pieces of the other one. Amazing.

http://www.kewego.com/video/iLyROoaftUYc.html

And yesterday I went to a lunch shindig at our awesome bohemian friend’s downtown home, and piping through the warm air as soon as I walked in was She & Him Vol 3. (You can always count on bohemians for good and timely music.) It was the perfect backdrop for a sunny communal meal in a historic west coast home. It didn’t feel like Christmas, which is always my beef with She & Him because the first time I heard them was on their Christmas album, and now everything else they do just sounds like I should be cutting down a tree and making wassail. Also, Elf.

And I’m just now listening to the new Camera Obscura. Which I probably wouldn’t be listening to, except Pitchfork just promo’d it, highlighting Neko Case and Jim James on harmony. That caused me to bring it up on Spotify, and during the first track I thought “Oh, She & Him!” No, wait. Camera Obscura. Hm…. Thus the celeb death match.

So how would it turn out? Catty? Sexy? Would Neko Case and Jim James show up unexpectedly and smash their guitars over the willowy Zooey Deschanel? Would M. Ward sunglasses them all to death and ballroom-dance with Zooey right off the ring?

Food for thought, music for the ears.

http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/18185-camera-obscura-desire-lines/