Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Favorite Music of 2013



 LISTS. Blah. Who likes making them? But I love reading them, and I love sharing my favorite stuff, so here.

I will preface this by saying there are about 86 albums on my computer desktop that I have yet to even listen to, and so many more that I don't even own that I never got to this year. I am forgetting so many albums that probably should be on this list, but a person only has so much time, between work and fun and, you know, life, to listen to all this new music. Especially when there's so much great OLD music, too! Alas, let's get this show on the road.

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Oh, and I scattered some favorite photos I took this year, too. Just because.

1. Arcade Fire – Reflektor – Virgin EMI

Between this album and Daft Punk, I may have listened to more dance music this year than in any year before. (Although, let's not forget about how much I listened to LCD Soundsystem...) Anyway, many may shun Arcade Fire for putting out some pretentious, feeling-less album. Go take your pretentious brains somewhere else. This is hands down the most fun, unique, just straight let's-groove-to it pile of in-your-face but subtle pile of emotions I've heard all year. I couldn't get over the title track for like 3 months. Forget that. It still makes my insides move. And then it just gets better. I will admit, there are still a few songs here that I think are forgettable, but the pure genius of so many of the others outweighs them. I think I'll be listening and dancing to this for many, many years to come.


2. Mikal Cronin – MCII – Merge

I'm really angry that I can't put anything Mac DeMarco on this list (ugh, I found out a year too late how wonderful he was). But I digress. I had two Mac DeMarco albums and this Mikal Cronin album in my car CD player rotation for a solid 5 months or something. And I NEVER, EVER, EVEN ONCE got sick of any of them. I mean, I told myself it was time to move on, but I was forcing rules on myself at that point because there's a line between obsession and Danielle I'm getting worried about you. So, why? Mikal Cronin is making the pure, sweet pop perfection that is so incredibly hard to come by. These songs are not too complex. They're not weighty. They are just songs that I can't imagine any person not enjoying. If you don't enjoy Mikal Cronin, you need your frontal cortex examined. It's spritely, cute, relatable, beautiful, and constructed to go in one ear and dance around in the middle of your brain for a while before smoothly sliding out the other ear. If you listen to one album on this list, and you are a human being with emotions, go for this one.

3. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze – Matador 

This is an album I like to describe as bliss. Acoustic guitar washes over your face and body. You are sitting in a room of clouds surrounded by all of your favorite people, and everyone is a murky haze of bliss. I can sit here and tune out and just listen and just not feel. That's a lie. I feel so much with this music. I feel that thing in my gut that is maybe a symptom of being too much of a music lover, where I just can't help but feel like a kid on Christmas (not sure what that feels like, but I'm imagining it feels like this), and I just can't kick my excitement. I have to tell people about it. I have to rave and rant and hope I can find someone who will understand. Kurt Vile is a brilliant songwriter and an excellent performer (count his set at the Grog Shop my favorite show of the year), and plus, this album is on cerulean-colored vinyl.


4. The National – Trouble Will Find Me – 4AD 

Oh my gosh, how I love this album. The National can do no wrong in my mind. Another band that just gets so much crap from people for being boring or something, but I just. don't. get. it. Nobody, and I mean almost nobody making music these days overthinks every note and nuance of an album more than The National. Every detail is perfect and real. The lyrics break my heart a thousand times and they're so clever, and the one-liners are just... ugh. I should dedicate a whole post to my favorite lines from this album. So many times, listening to this, I just couldn't believe the couplets. You can find my whole review on this blog somewhere, but I'm just writing from emotion and instinct right now. "Humiliation" makes me want to cry, it's so good. I used to sit there, and get to the bridge (4:04 into the song) and play it over and over again. It somehow hits the very pleasure center of my brain.


5. Washed Out - Paracosm – Sub Pop

This is one of those albums that I kind of went through a binge for a while, and stopped listening to it. But like Kurt Vile's version of bliss, this is my favorite kind of island, chill out until you're sitting on clouds music. "It All Feels Right" came closer than any other song this year to complete escapism for me. Maybe, as I age, I look to music that let's me step out of my life completely for a few minutes. I mean, don't get me wrong, life is good. But being an "adult," I just like to have a few minutes here and there to just forget. And this album is just such a cure for adult life. 

6. The Dodos – Carrier - Polyvinyl

I wrote a thing here that pretty much sums up my feelings. Nobody does complex webbing of music better than the Dodos these days. "The Current" is the best example, beginning with two concurrent guitar lines that make absolutely no sense together but meld together in such a way that your brain is instantly mesmerized. It's beauty, it's brains, it's everything I'm looking for in music.

7. Jagwar Ma – Howlin – Marathon Artists

Wow! This one really snuck up on me! I listened to about ten albums on my drive to and from Louisville this December, and this stands out as the favorite. A few dance/trance songs I don't really care for, but there are so many 60's-ish pop songs that have to be a few of the best of the year. Jagwar Ma isn't afraid to get weird all over the place, and the opening track is just plain wacko, in a good way. I like the Brill Building sound of "That Loneliness" so much that this song alone could get this album on my top ten list. But then, they hit me with a one-two punch, following it with "Come Save Me," and somebody deserves an award for that sequencing. They are perfect together. God. I'm so happy listening to this. I'm JUST SO HAPPY.
8. The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still – Sub Pop

I had no idea I'd feel the same about this album as I did about their debut. The sophomore slump is a real thing, guys. But this group (I've met them, and they're just the nicest people) skipped to senior status with this one. I hate to be cliche and say they write really heartfelt music, but I'm gonna be cliche. It is just sweet and endearing, and the gorgeous strings and keys take it to a different level. "Summertime" is proof that Charity Rose Thielen is a vocal goddess.

9. Local Natives – Hummingbird – French Kiss

 I haven't listened to this enough, but I know when I do, it will be a consistent grower. I didn't get them when Gorilla Manor came out, but I soon realized my mistake. The scattered percussion and harmonies are spot on.

10. Boardwalk - S/T - Stones Throw

If I thought Jagwar Ma was late in the game to win me over, this takes the cake. I first heard it this week. It has already won me over completely. Sure, it might sound like a ripoff of Beach House, but I have no issues with that. One song is more soothingly beautiful than the next. It's catchy but never screams "enjoy my hook!" A trend on my list this year appears to be music I can sleep to. Lots of dancing and lots of sleeping this year. I think that's a happy medium for me. 

11. Atoms for Peace – Amok – XL 
12. Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic - Jagjaguwar
13. Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God – ATO
14. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City – XL
15. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories – Columbia
16. Tim Kasher – Adult Film – Saddle Creek Records
17. Cults – Static – Columbia
18. Ty Segall – Sleeper – Drag City
19. Deerhunter - Monomania - 4AD
20. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks - HALO

Honorable Mentions

Daughn Gibson – Me Moan – Sub Pop
Foals – Holy Fire – Warner Bros.
Arctic Monkeys – AM – Domino
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Fly By Wire – Polyvinyl
Phoenix – Bankrupt! – Glass Note/Loyaute
Midlake – Antiphon – ATO 

That time Low and Jody Rosen both favorited me in a row.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans


It has been pouring rain for the past 24 hours or so. It's a Saturday night. Something in me decided to put on Sufjan Stevens Seven Swans, one of the albums I probably spent most of my time with in college, along with The National's Boxer and Jose Gonzalez's Veneer.

It brought back a rush of memories from those four years, good and bad. With every gentle guitar pick, I remembered a different relationship, a mental struggle, a night alone in my dorm room, a day where I sat with a friend, trying to learn how to play a rudimentary version of one of these songs on my grandma's old acoustic.

"To Be Alone With You." That was my favorite for a while. I remember being home at my parents' house on winter break, long after everyone else in the house was asleep, listening to it on repeat on my first or second generation ipod, trying to help myself fall asleep.

There's something just so beautiful about every nuance of Seven Swans. It's carefully peaceful, intricately gorgeous, and so well-thought out, I could cry. It doesn't give me happy feelings, despite some of the good memories that it brings back. Instead, it draws out the mental battles I fought with myself, fearing my future, which at the time, seemed to wide open that it could swallow me up.

Listening and thinking about these songs tonight, I wish I could go back and tell myself it was all going to be ok. But even I can't figure out how I got from there to here. Life has been full of surprises, great surprises, and some not so great ones. But when I give myself enough time to think about the past, and allow my emotions to wrap around these old songs, so engrained in me, it's truly amazing to think of the path I've taken since the first time I heard this album.

How wonderful, to be able to journey through life with such beautiful soundtracks. Pieces of me, told in the memories that songs carry with them. Ten thousand points to nostalgia, and how it helps you learn about your past and your present and future all at the same time. And one million points to Sufjan Stevens, for creating this masterpiece that never ages, only grows more layered and complicated
by the day.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Big Black Delta - S/T


So I failed to write in this blog every day like I said I would.

But to be fair, I was out of town for four days, and spending all my time creating my best of 2013 list. I had to meet a deadline, so I'm not too happy with my list right now, but I'll post and updated version by the end of the year when I have more time to listen and make sure I have everything in the right place.

I'm still getting through a list of albums that came out this year. Today's is Big Black Delta.

I knew nothing about this project before Wikapediaing it just now. It looks like the solo project of a member of Mellowdrone, which I also don't know.

This album is great in its complexity and variety. I wouldn't know that the same artist was creating all these songs. And while I usually like albums that are cohesive, at least this is an interesting soundtrack for my morning, checking emails and catching up on some odds and ends.

The title of "Ifuckingloveyou" is much better than the actual song itself, but I give this guy major props for naming his song that. So far, my absolute favorite song is "Side of the Road." It's track two, and if the whole album was this good, I'd be completely taken by Big Black Delta. It's got a glitchy, techy side that makes me think of the giddy electro joy of The Apples in Stereo. Plus, it's robotic in a way that actually sounds warm and melodic, which is something I always complain is lacking in electronic music. I hate when music seems cold and impersonal, and this is far from.

"Dreary Moon" on the other hand is a slow-moving number, plush with synthesizers that would help you drift off to sleep into a magical world of no stress and no fear of sleeping through your alarm clock. Like I said, variety.

As Bryan Adams would say, so far so good.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Phoenix - Bankrupt!

I love you and I hate you. I hate your overcompressed synthesizers that feel like they're pushing against my ears like a row of stubborn bricks that I can't peel away, lest they crush my brains. The title track is all "screw you conventional pop song." It's wonderful. It's "Love Like A Sunset" all over again. But longer and weirder and Sufjan Stevensier. (I heard "The Age of Adz" on a local college radio station the other day and nearly flipped out. Remember that song? Oh how wonderful and weird.) Sidenote: when did I begin feeding on music that is too strange for my mom to comprehend? If I played this for her she'd think it was just noise. But how much better is it than "Entertainment"? As much of an ace pop song as that may be, how is it not annoying as shit? It makes me want to rip up kimonos and bang every band member over the head with chopsticks. Stop copping an Asian synth line and blowing up the volume until it's nearly overmodulated. You're killing me. You're making me alive. I obviously have no clear feelings on this album yet. Give me some time.

Oh, and I really really really enjoy "The Real Thing." That melody is classic Phoenix. This is the kind of song you don't know where to put on your mix cd list. Too slow to be on your upbeat, cheer-up-your-best-friend mix. Too fast to be on your romantic, woo-the-new-signficiant-other mix. Perfectly grey. 

Inspiration

All it took was one question.

"What happened to your music writing?"

Or maybe two.

"Where do you write?"

Two questions in two days. The first, which, sequentially, I guess came second, from a good friend who used to love reading my blog. He picked it up before we were even really close friends. We were more acquaintances, and he used to rave about how passionate my writing was. I wasn't really writing it for anyone other than myself. I was just emoting on a keyboard, trying to describe my feelings about what I was hearing. I had so many feelings back then.

Since then, music hasn't really gotten to me deep through my blood like it did a few years ago. My heart used to beat around it. It was my escape from the world. I was first surrounded by an incredible music community in Athens, where it was my friends' lives, too. Then I was isolated in a post-college world, not knowing many people who even cared about anything beyond top 40.

I moved to Louisville, I was alone, I listened to music. I dated a guy I really cared about. We were both music crazed. We'd lay there and listen to Wilco and Real Estate and Deerhunter and everything. He loved everything I loved. I loved everything he loved. And when he broke my heart, I had to detach myself from that. Every song hurt. Every single song. New music was a little relief because I didn't have any memories with that yet.

I've had moments of music love since then. They're just few and further between. My mom tells me it's because I'm focusing on my day job, furthering my career.

Bullshit.

I'm uninspired.

I'd rather come home and watch some stupid show about vampires or teenage angst.

I got a message on Twitter yesterday from a music writer I greatly admire. He's coming to Cleveland and wanted suggestions, and we got to talking. He asked me where I write. Could I send him something I wrote? And I felt dread. And I realized that I can't remember the last time I wrote something that made me proud.

I can't remember a single one.

I told my friend this. The one who used to read my blog.

And he said, "send him something old."

And I asked, "Why? All my new stuff is shitty?"

He responded, "It's just not as passionate."

And he was just being honest, and I loved that. But I also felt incredibly disheartened.

So I'm making a vow right now. Every day, I'm going to write something down about music. Every day, I'm going to write one sentence on this blog. I'm not gonna worry about pictures and things that make this an attractive space. I'm just going to promise to write something.

And if there's no time to blog it, it goes in my phone, to be posted on another date.

I'm writing for me. Maybe, yeah, I'll write a thing or two for publications. Here and there. But I'm getting back into what this blog was supposed to be. Not a place to put my published work. A place to vent and rave and scream like my pointer finger was just shredded off. I'm here to shout from the top of skyscrapers, and to burrow into a cave and cry. I'm here to warm up the icicles my fingers have become after stepping outside for two minutes in a Cleveland winter. And I'm here to light my hair on fire. I'm here to talk about characters, and feelings and there will be no time wasted about why I think something is so mediocre. I'm so sick of mediocre. I want to feel it, insanely wonderful or shudderingly awful. And I will.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Blow - Self-titled



Punchy and direct, “Make it Up” starts off The Blow’s self-titled album brightly, with the kind of gusto that made 2005’s Paper Television gobs and gobs of fun. Glitchy samples, a chorus full of joyful harmonies, and an uptempo beat make for an infectious pop masterpiece.
But that energy is harder to find on the rest of the collection. Musing about unfulfilling relationships, unrequited love, and mortality, Khaela Maricich and Melissa Dyne tone down the rest of the album to less of a fever pitch. It’s reflective and expressive, but at times lacks the immediate power and hooky qualities of The Blow’s best songs. 
The pair worked together to sample acoustic instruments, turning them into robotic bleeps and synthy waves. These clips of sound are a backdrop to thoughtful lyrics and candid stories. Best is the conversational “I Tell Myself Everything,” where Maricich rambles about heartbreak being good for artist inspiration. She opens up with a revealing portrait of self-awareness, singing, “Here we come in a slow motion strut/It’s all four of me/The cool one, two more and the one careless whore of me.”

The Blow closes with a gorgeous ballad laced up with sweet guitar humming and a gentle melody. Using light and darkness as symbols for the fear involved in falling headfirst into love, “You’re My Light” is another example that this album not just about passion, but the thoughtful beauty behind it. Love and life are fragile, and these minimalistic songs reflect the delicate balance we must maintain to preserve both of them.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Blitzen Trapper - VII



VII gives you no indication that it was created after 1975. Blitzen Trapper’s seventh full-length continues in the band’s tradition of offering listeners a timeless blend of folk, rock, roots, gospel, country, and everything in between. Songwriter Eric Earley picked up his first string instrument when he was 6, and about 30 years later, he’s still paying tribute to the songs his father taught him, from John Denver to Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Some are good old-fashioned, twangy fun, like album opener, “Feel the Chill,” which tells the tale of the old neighborhood haunted house that Earley and his friends were afraid to approach as kids.  “Ever Loved Once” and “Don’t Be A Stranger” are folksy ballads that that slow the pace, reminiscing about love gone wrong. The former includes harmonies that would make CSNY proud.
Everything about VII is classic, from the stuck-in-a-desert feel of “Earth (Fever Called Love)” where you can all but feel the dried out sand crack beneath your feet, to the lively groove of the southern gospel of “Shine On.”
“I’ve been running so long/I can’t recall what it means to stay,” croons Earley in “Thirsty Man.” The frontman is no stranger to running. He has spent chunks of his life without a real home, traveling from place to place. That wandering quality is evident on these songs, filled with tales inspired by his own wayward adventures. It makes it just that much more fun to join Blitzen Trapper’s journey on VII.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tim Kasher - Adult Film



Consumed with mortality, infidelity, and coming to terms with expectations and their unparalleled realities, you may expect Tim Kasher’s latest solo album to be full of morose, droning songs. The subject matter may be dark and thoughtful, but this is no Cass McCombs. Tim Kasher, who also fronts both Cursive and The Good Life, has a knack here for turning murky subjects into full-on bombastic rockers.
Kasher’s talent lies in how he uses everyday concerns to tell unbelievably detailed stories, turning two- or three-line phrases into revelatory slices of insight. “Truly Freaking Out” regards the transience of life succinctly with lines like, “I was six years old, learning how to swim/Then I was 36, wondering how I sunk/Oh, it’s as if the record jumped.”
He tells a story of mistrust and relationship anxiety in “The Willing Cuckold” that’s so relatable and real that it makes the heart jump. With percussion that skips like the hooves of a racing horse, Kasher admits to feigning ignorance when his woman cheats. He cries out with such pain in the bridge that it’s as if you’re sitting in his shoes, wondering how the relationship lost its luster. There’s also pure fun in “Life in Limbo,” a song about all life’s possibilities wrapped in a circus-like organ.
But unlike Kasher’s first solo album, The Game of Monogamy, Adult Film is full of songs that stand alone. They are immediately accessible, and while the album flows from one song to another, each tale paints a clear, separate picture. He keeps it cohesive by incorporating similar musical elements; the opening and closing songs begin and end with a sort of backwards sigh, just tempting you to make it to the end of the album only to start it over again. “The future is a fiction we never wrote,” sings Kasher. After hearing Adult Film, you’ll be waiting for the next chapter.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Dr. Dog - B-Room



Dr. Dog has gotten to the point where its songs sound effortless. It’s not about intricate construction – although there’s nothing sloppy or flawed about any of these songs – but rather a mood. Scott McMicken, the lead guitarist and vocalist, explains it like this: “[…} the sound creates a feeling that is intuitive rather than intellectual.”

And that’s how Dr. Dog songs work. They don’t make your think. They make you feel. In a world where every small wrinkle in plans can become a preoccupation, this Philadelphia crew has given us a refuge from the pains of everyday life.

You turn on B-Room and the problems melt away. Life is instantly sunnier. The songs here swing by, sometimes with an old soul vibe, other times more upbeat, but always with the easygoing attitude that feels like the perfect summer day on a hammock.

The band recorded the album in a brand new studio they built from the ground up in an old silversmith mill. Perhaps leaving behind the studio they’d recorded in for eight years is what gave them the freedom that’s reflected in the spontaneous nature of B-Room.

The country twang of “Phenomenon” is coated with an effervescent chorus. Between fiddle solos, layered harmonies streak across an unforgettable chorus. “You’re always leaving,” McMicken sings, “But you’re never gone/You’re everywhere at once/Like a true phenomenon.” It’s simple, it’s relatable, and it’s everything we’ve come to expect from a band that seems to churn out endless songs that reminisce about the ’60s, but remain rooted in modern times.

Dr. Dog gets funky in “Love,” reprising some of the sharp, jangly pop music they perfected in 2012’s Be the Void. But the band also displays a much more mellow side in the ballad, “Too Weak to Ramble” and the trippy “Twilight,” a very twisted lullaby.
 
The first single, “The Truth,” is a slow-burning soul song, rooted in the very basics, from the languorous beat to the classic piano tune and synthesizers that seem to hover in the background. It’s one beautiful song on an album full of them. These tunes are ripe and ready for picking, the fruitful results of a band that grows infectious melodies by watering them with good instincts.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Washed Out - Paracosm




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It’s easy to fall in love with Paracosm, and nearly impossible to quit it. Ernest Greene, the man behind Washed Out, is back with his second record of escapist romantic grooves that enter a parallel universe where every month is summer and the even the chirping crickets are charming. Here, Greene sticks with the samples that made his debut gorgeous, but also adds vintage electronic keyboards. Resultantly, the mood is as chill but also more expansive than ever. Each song floats into the next seamlessly, equal parts beach dance party and lounge fest. Ambient bird calls and party people make up the background of “It All Feels Right,” a song filled with enough dreamy melodies and shimmering keyboard bits to power a thousand fairy tales. This is the kind of music where you tune in, drop out, and just revel in getting lost in the middle. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Discovering Childhood (the band)


 
One of the best parts of being a kid is the ability dream without bounds. The world is just waiting for you to accomplish anything and everything. Doubts don’t cloud your vision. Incredible thoughts seem close and obtainable, and no one has the nerve to tell you otherwise.

And while Childhood is London-based band made up of four full-grown adults, Leo Dobsen, Ben Romans Hopcraft, Daniel Salamons, and Jonny Williams haven’t lost that optimistic feeling that following your dreams can yield huge results.

Two and a half years after meeting at the University of Nottingham, the now-graduates can finally forget about degrees and textbooks, and focus all their attention on their music. What started as “hanging out with each other, getting drunk with each other, sharing music with each other” has become a full-fledged passion and obsession. Now, it’s all music, all of the time.

“That’s all we do. It’s the only thing we’re passionate about. It’s the only thing that we do now, so everything’s moving a lot faster now that we’re done with the old education,” says Dobsen.

The band’s aspirations go way beyond London. Childhood is recording material for its first album, slated to come out early next year, and plans to soon venture out of Europe to play its first shows stateside.

“We don’t write having the intention of our songs being played in arenas, but we love huge qualities. We love huge melodies. I guess one day we could be playing arenas, but that’s a long way away. It’s kind of hard to think about that now. But we want a big pop song.”

Considering this is their first band, this foursome’s instincts are overwhelmingly and fortuitously on the money. The handful of songs they’ve released so far ring clear and true. They center around Dobsen’s melodic guitar lines, each soaring and expanding wider than the next.

“Blue Velvet” is the second song that Dobsen ever wrote, which is mind-blowing, considering some people spend years trying write a song this gorgeous. A towering riff wraps around sentimental lyrics, one of many Childhood songs that revolves around women.

Dobsen explains, “We want to evoke feelings of pining, of longing, a kind of romantic nostalgia. When we hear songs that we really like, that’s the kind of feelings that we feel, and we want people to feel those emotions from our music.”

Romans Hopcraft paints his love stories with lines like, “Does it reach your heart when I touch you that way?” It’s the kind of sentiment that tiptoes between mushy poetry and sincere yearning. These are lyrics that you can belt at the top of your lungs at live shows, feeling like they were written just for you.

Dobsen speaks positively when discussing the future. He tosses out phrases like “life-affirming” and “that’s a dream.” But when it comes down to it, his goal is simple.

“I just want to make the kind of music that I’ve always wanted to hear.”

I wrote this for the upcoming issue of Under the Radar. Find it in a real, live print magazine next month. Yes, it's one of the last great music magazines.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Thoughts

I wrote this on my blog almost exactly 3 years ago:
I prefer to think that I am more interested in the stories behind an album or an artist, but sometimes that story can be so hard to crack through indecipherable lyrics and shady phone interviews. I was really thinking about just the ability to find a journalism job where I can explore these things in-depth, where I can contribute days upon days to finding more out about people and situations and ideas in this world around me, and learn about the most efficient and interesting way to communicate these things back to the world.
 In the same entry, I also wrote this:
I'm sick of reading music blogs with literal reviews and lofty descriptions that don't mean anything, and don't have relevance to my life. I'm ready for the real. I want someone to make the comparison between the struggle of climbing mountains and the sound of an album. I want things to relate to my everyday life. I want the M.I.A album to remind me of that time I got an MRI.
It really freaks me out that I may have become the opposite of what I hoped to be as a journalist. As a music journalist, at least. When I wrote this entry, on 7/7/10, I wasn't working in journalism. I am now. I churn out cut and dry news stories for a local TV station. I do enjoy my job, and I feel creative freedom. I don't take it for granted for a second.

But when it comes to my creative writing passions, I fear that I have lost some of my eagerness and some of my earnestness. Even some of my post-college angst, where I was angry with the world, but that fueled my desire to strive for things.

I still remember this period of my life where I would isolate myself in my childhood room of my parent's house, listening to Cloud Nothings. I hated the world. I hated everything at that time. I was miserable and had little hope of finding a career that would satisfy me. It was that period of time that I think most college grads (with non-science/math degrees) face so much rejection that nearly all the hope is sucked out of you.

But back then I strived. Then I dedicated myself to spending hours, analyzing music, enjoying the creativity that would flow from my fingers when I wrote about it. Now, I go about my daily life, very rarely finding time to sit and think and ponder. And is it because I'm generally happy that my creative drive has flickered?

I don't really feel much pride in the reviews or music journalism I've written of late. Some of the spontaneity seems to be missing.

Gonna turn on some Cloud Nothings, I guess, and think.

Also, a sidenote: my blog analytics tell me that I have nearly 6,000 page views from Germany in the last week. WHAT?! Can someone please tell me what German site has linked to one of my posts? Because I'm puzzled.

King Krule - 6 Feet Beneath the Moon



What does an 18-going-on-19 year old have to do to get his voice to sound like the deepest, darkest cauldron of secrets? King Krule is but one man, but that doesn’t stop Archy Marshall from finding a way to sound like he has the weight of this complex, tumultuous world on his shoulders. Harsh and unharnessed, Marshall expresses so much emotion that it doesn’t matter when some of the songs here are merely peppered with instrumentation – like shrubbery in a desert.
Small atmospheric synthesizers float through “Foreign,” creeping under Marshall’s lyrics. You can hear trip-hop influences on the sparse “Ceiling” and album closer “What Is There To Say.” Both are the kind of incredibly chill numbers that rattle languidly, floating into the background.
But 6 Feet Beneath the Moon is also often raucous – even abrasive at times. “Has This His” isn’t an exercise in conventional beauty, and the minor key tonality never lets on to an ounce of hope. The same antagonizing tone rings through “Lizard State,” but the latter is much more playful, with jazzy horns and a racing fit of percussive bass.
“Out Getting Ribs” is starkly different from an earlier version, released under Marshall’s previous moniker, Zoo Kid. Where the early version coated his vocals with reverb and echo, and the guitar riff reigns supreme, the final version is less forgiving. Marshall’s throat sounds rubbed raw, and his anxiety heightened.
This album gives you a taste of Marshall’s many moods, but even the more upbeat songs have an undertone of misery. It’s a harsh listen, but it sounds fresh because it’s also unique. What will really blow your mind is seeing a picture of Marshall after listening. That voice – coming from his babyface – is really something of a miracle.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pond - Hobo Rocket


Pond’s Hobo Rocket is an exercise in organized chaos. When the band organizes its classic rock tendencies, hammering down power chords and feeding a hunger for severe fuzzy guitar freakouts, it makes for a perfect storm. The seventies merge with today, creating timeless songs that get inside your head.

“Xanman” sees Pond reaching that pinnacle, riffing hard and building a strong melody and chorus that’s clever and hooky. As the song develops, the Perth, Australia band stretches into a hushed bridge before bursting back into the familiar riff and a balls-out finale.

We hear the similarities between Pond and Tame Impala, who share a few band members, on the psychedelic rumblings of “Giant Tortoise” and “O Dharma,” a gentle trip into the spacey ether that Tame Impala perfected on their last album.

But that sense of calm evaporates as the album progresses, when the band leans toward the chaotic end of the spectrum. “Aloneaflameaflowe” erupts into a nonsensical burst of fuzz and drudgy guitars. Album closer “Midnight Mass (At the Market Street Payphone)” is hardest to follow. It follows no linear pattern, getting lost into a cacophonous sound for minutes at a time.

Parts of the album feel too sloppy, too wayward and too unfocused to really encourage repeated listens. When Pond tightens their sound, the cutting grooves are hard to ignore. It’s those times in between, the chaos, that allow room for growth.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dent May - Warm Blanket



Who knew disco beats and syrupy-sweet choruses could sound so forlorn? With gooey harmonies and enough falsetto crooning to fill the back of a semi-truck, Dent May is bringing back more of the sticky pop songs he introduced on Do Things. But on his third full-length, we’re getting a sense of the lonely undertones of such sunny music.

You can surmise the plot of “Do I Cross Your Mind?” by the title alone. The lyrics aren’t awfully complex. We’ve all been there, wondering when that unrequited love will notice we’re alive. “Don’t worry darling/I’m coming home,” he repeats, with a sad shred of hope that the object of his affection will anticipate his arrival.

The summer sipping-on-margaritas vibe of “Born Too Late” snakes around with a Bee Gees-esque bass groove, bursting at the seams with enough synthesizer magic to power a small army of flamboyant Oompa Loompas. It’s pure fun, much like “Let Them Talk” where May gives the middle finger to anyone who doesn’t approve of his relationship.

Elsewhere, the mood softens long enough for May to wax poetic about aging. “I think the future will feel much better than I feel now,” he croons. It’s an interesting sentiment amidst the thousands of his generation with a live fast, die young mentality. But for now, May seems content illuminating his loneliness in waves of pop mastery, allowing bold, bright notes to light the end of his dark tunnel.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Dodos - Carrier

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The Dodos know something about push and pull. They come at you viciously, screaming guitars and rushed pacing, tying your heart in knots. Then they withdraw, gently floating into acoustic wonderment, a fragile and vulnerable state. It’s tension, it’s unease, it’s bliss, it’s joy.
Carrier is a transitional album for the band, who lost guitarist Chris Reimer last year when he unexpectedly passed away from a heart condition. The two remaining members, Meric Long (vocals, guitar) and Logan Kroeber (percussion), carry on his legacy by making a bold album that takes you places.
The best songs are slightly off. “The Carrier” begins with two guitar parts playing in unison, slightly discordant. But then, in comes the percussion and a third guitar part, and this imperfect collision of sounds is just right. The result is menacing, intense, and the kind of rare piece of music that is still mysterious after several listens.
The Majik Majik Orchestra, who you may have heard on past John Vanderslice recordings, contributes to several songs on Carrier, further fleshing out the band’s sound. A horn section rounds out the climax of “Substance,” making it something truly grand. Lucky for us, the Dodos then let the song wander off into a hazy acoustic retreat for one final minute of guitar picking so sweet it rivals German chocolate cake.
“Death,” perhaps a tribute to Reimer, is a gorgeous ballad, among the most tender of the Dodos’ songs. It’s followed by the album’s grand finale, “The Ocean,” which picks up in the middle with tribal percussion and a background of string instruments. It’s yet another example of how strong the band can be when they build their songs like small universes, starting slow and racing upward until they’re high above the clouds. It ends on the refrain, “Why won’t you be where I want you to be?” A common question, a familiar feeling, but wrangled by tension and conflict, the end of this album stops just short of relieving the unease. Better, it leaves you wanting more. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Japandroids at Headliners Louisville



I wrote this for LEO Weekly to preview Japandroids' June 15th show at Headliners.

We’ve heard all the clichés. Two heads are better than one. Great minds think a like. Two is company, three’s a crowd. We get it. Two can be a magical number. So what is one to do if not born with an Olsen twin?

You find one, of course.

Brian King and David Prowse may not be related by blood, but the two powerhouse players of Japandroids move together like two sides of a beating heart. When one slows down, the other follows. When one screws up, the other compensates.

“Dave and I are not actually very good musicians. We’re not actually good at playing each one of our instruments. But we are very good at playing together,” explains King, who handles the guitar and lead vocals for the duo while Prowse keeps the songs racing with unrepentant percussion. “Our timing, the way we interact, and understanding what the other person is going to do before they do it… all those sorts of things, they’re all integral to us performing the way we do.”

Japandroids aren’t known for their subtleties, musically or otherwise. They’re going for loud and unsteady, the kind of anthemic music that sounds even better when its magnified by 20 different amps crowded onto the stage, ripping away at eardrums without mercy.

And the band’s three-ish albums (they count No Singles, an album that compiles singles and tracks from their EPs, as their sophomore release, between 2009’s thunderous Post-Nothing and 2012’s Celebration Rock) are full of the kind of half-shouted, half-sung garage rock that all but forces heads to shake and bodies to vibrate.

What makes the band something to watch is the way Prowse and King follow each other’s leads almost instinctively. It comes from hours and hours of practice, and is constantly solidified with the more than 200 shows they play supporting each album.

“It’s just second nature,” says King, “That’s the foundation for our live show. We can play really hard, and what seems to be totally wild and out of control, but we never really lose control, actually. We both kinda know what we’re doing all the time inherently. Even if we’re not looking at each other, we just know.”

With hundreds of shows in their belt over the last five years, Japandroids have grown from a small Vancouver twosome to one recognized around the world. It started with “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” the incredibly raw single off Post-Nothing that blitzes by so fast and strong that you don’t have time to figure out why that chorus is so catchy. They built audiences around the addictive quality of their songs, and stage banter like, “Don’t worry, our lyrics are really fucking easy. You can sing along after 30 seconds.”

Now, they’re putting much more consideration into the songs they write, knowing that they’ll be playing them hundreds of times on multiple continents. They’re planning more, reaching for larger ideas and finding new ways to enhance their performance.

Japandroids’ most recent and only show in Louisville was opening for the Walkmen a couple years ago at Zanzabar. King says the crowd seemed to want them to get their set over with so they could see the main band. Now that they’re coming back to play the headlining slot at Headliners, the situation is different. They will be playing for people who are at the show specifically to see them, a privilege that is not lost on them.

But if there is any concern that their heads are getting big as their fanbase grows, King is quashing that fear.

“We’re Canadian. There’s like a natural sense of humility involved in life in general. You can’t really help it, I don’t think.”

King brings up the modesty of Arcade Fire, one of the most successful Canadian bands in recent history, as proof that there’s something fundamentally down to Earth about people raised up North.

“Who the hell knows what would happen if we achieved any kind of monstrous fame or success or wealth or something? Maybe we’d both turn into two Kanye Wests or something, I don’t know. But I do think there’s an inherently Canadian thing about most bands that are from Canada that keeps them relatively modest, no matter how successful they are.”

Thursday, June 6, 2013

John Vanderslice - Dagger Beach

 
 Stepping inside a John Vanderslice album is like touring a factory where every room is filled with a new texture. Popping and crackling on one track, then smoothly polishing a haunting melody on the next, this master of unique effects makes his listeners think. Sometimes, it feels overwrought. On album opener “Raw Wood,” miscellaneous guitar tones can distract from the lyrics. Better are songs like “Sonogram,” where the many moving pieces work together to create beauty that sounds less busy. Vanderslice worked out most the songs on Dagger Beach post-breakup, while walking through about 200 miles of trails. It’s a confusing world he captures here, but a spectacular opportunity to soak up the diverse paths he carves on his wild adventure.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

CSS - Planta







At the end of a really long day, sometimes we settle for a Big Mac at the drive-thru. And most of us have, at some point, dated a dud because it takes a lot of work to find a winner. We’re only human. But why settle for vapid party songs when they’re not even catchy enough to make a single toe tap? We all like sleeping, but not right in the middle of the party. Usually, bedtime music and club jams fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. But if CSS is accomplishing anything, it’s the creation of a new hybrid: party songs so dull and insipid they kill the buzz before it even starts.

Some of the songs on Planta begin as dark as the worst in Interpol’s catalog. It’s really no fun, and the tone makes it a lot harder to choke down the lyrics. In the predictable “Too Hot,” we hear details of a god-like sex partner whose “hair is like a lion/blowing with delight.” It might come off as whimsical and playful in different circumstances.

If the album could be redeemed, it would do so by heavily leaning on “Hangover.” It has a semblance of heart with zesty horn blasts and a hefty dose of syncopation. For once, the band seems to let loose, so much so that we can forgive it for lines like, “let’s get happy, drinking bloody mary/I don’t want to be your sour cherry.”

Elsewhere, listeners have to deal with grating synthesizer and dirty speak-singing. You can only order so many fast food burgers, and spend so many nights bored of the person sitting across you at the table. It’s time to get off your butt and leave the mediocrity where it belongs – alone.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The National - Trouble Will Find Me



The National is not a band that has matured. It's a band that is mature. And a quality often associated with boring has actually never sounded more vibrant and alive.  The slow burn of Matt Berninger's baritone, the tension he is able to convey with one-liners that sting and then stick, could easily be overlooked. But when you pay attention, the gravity of these stories – overlaid with expansive, all-encompassing guitars, ever-present percussion and well-thought out melodies – knocks you down like a bottle of bourbon. Highlights include the gradual build of “Humiliation,” a five-minute song that ends with a minute-long tangent so beautiful, so different from how it began, that it’s hard to imagine how The National laced it all together so neatly. The gentle freak-out of “Sea of Love” is a reminder that calculated refinement is not a curse, but a blessing. 

I wrote this for LEO Weekly.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Tame Impala at Headliners Louisville


Tame Impala set the club on fire. No, really. During the Perth, Australia band’s encore, they brought so much heat to an amplifier that it caught on fire. As most of the crowd gazed up onto the balcony to watch as officials sprayed the blaze with a fire extinguisher, the small group of people standing on the club’s second level had to temporarily clear the area.

The fire was quickly contained, but not without leaving most of the audience wondering whether it was an accident or if the band truly did play louder than any other performer in Headliners’ history. As unlikely as that is, this sold-out show will go down in history either way.

The drunk guy in front of me turned around and said, “They set the place on fire, dude,” with the goofiest grin on his face.

Some people call Tame Impala “The Beatles reincarnated,” and that’s a lazy but sort of accurate evaluation. Then again, when you turn up the reverb on the microphone that much, even a six year old would sound like Paul McCartney.

But this five-piece is also using synthesizer effects that are more akin to 80s pop music than your typical storm of psychedelia (try the intro to “Solitude is Bliss”). Whatever Tame Impala is doing – no matter what generation they’re drawing from – they’re doing it right.

While none of the musicians on stage were much to watch, they display a projector screen behind them with graphics that swirl and pulse with every beat and riff. This was not a show that you watch. It’s one you feel.

And as stupid as that sounds, you can’t help but feel that every song is revelatory, every beat is massive and all-consuming, and every time the bass starts to groove, you’re going to live forever.

Tame Impala played some songs from their debut album and most of the tracks off 2012’s Lonerism, a sophomore album that took them from a band that was relatively unknown to one that topped many year end lists. They soared to number two on Under the Radar’s ranking.

Song after song was trance-like, from “Enders Toi” to “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.” This is feel good music, though. When the band’s took on “Elephant,” their biggest fan favorite, the venue nearly erupted. The bass, while convincingly sharp on the record, feels completely primal when it’s louder than life.

The fire that Tame Impala set was real, but the passion they spread was visceral. This was a performance that can’t be extinguished.  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Things I Think Are Beautiful

Or something like that. Here are three songs from bands that don't suck right now.

First, Nightlands' "I Fell In Love With a Feeling" has an awesome blast of horns and infectious little melody. Plus, this music video has a weird transforming science ball that looks like the TV show The Secret World of Alex Mack, which my babysitter would let me stay up and watch after my sister went to sleep.



Then, there's the Hot Chip-y dance fun of Dutch Uncles' "Flexxin." This music video features a man who may be trying to do the dance moves of the Backstreet Boys in "Backstreet's Back," but he looks more like a cat. There's also some really gorgeous strings that remind me of the happiness I feel when I listen to Ra Ra Riot.



Finally, we have Woods' "Size Meets the Sound." I really slept on this album (Bend Beyond). I remember liking it upon first listen, but dismissing it because I was looking for something great to be in my top albums of the year list. I'm not sure how I could ignore something this blissful when my number one was Tame Impala. I'm really, really digging this guitar riff and the mood this song sets. Plus, it has an bridge of epic wall of fuzz. There's a certain genre that I just want to classify as "Danielle wants to be on vacation and listen to this so loud with no distractions and pretend the whole world is just this moment and this song." This song fits that genre. Have fun.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Mac DeMarco - Dreamin




This video disgusts me. I don't want to see slime covering a man's made up face, ever. (spoiler alert, too late) I don't want to see the tricks you can play with smoke. I don't want to see lipstick on Mac DeMarco's lips.

I also absolutely love this song, and since seeing this video yesterday morning, I can't get it out of my head. I love it so much. It reminds me of Real Estate, with its languorous guitar licks and just irresistible mellow vibe. In a way, I wish his music videos were more like theirs: filled with puppies and sunshine and all the things that this kind of music belongs with.

But it's better this way. The off-kilter video is memorable, and gives me a new way of thinking of a song I might have just thought was sappy goodness before.

Oh, and after watching it 8 times, I'm starting to dig that outfit.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Generationals - Spinoza

What's up, world?

Let's start off the day right with Generationals. I had a crazy fit of small worldness or coincidence when I found out recently that members of The Eames Era are now Generationals. The Eames Era was one of those bands that I used to play on my radio show in college all the time. Nobody ever really commented about them, and I'm convinced that probably only one or two people in the world ever bought their album because I don't remember reading anything about them anywhere. But they were big on my radio show. And I loved them and forgot them.

So now that pop glory is coming alive all over again in Generationals. Happily, I saw them open for Apples in Stereo a couple years ago in Cleveland. I've loved them ever since. And here's a track off their upcoming album, Heza, which will come out on Polyvinyl in April.

It's the same sort of joyful, gooey pop ditty that made Actor-Caster so much fun. It's making me long for nicer weather and car drives with the windows down. Soon enough. Actually, probably just in time for this album to see its proper release. Until then.


Father John Misty - Live at Headliners


Halfway through the show, J. Tillman looked to the back of the venue, where there’s a bar lined with mirrors. He gazed at his reflection, wondering out loud, “who is that anorexic homeless person dancing around in his long underwear?”

And although that was a harsh self-assessment, he scattered antics like this throughout the show, tackling everything from Kentucky’s stance on the Iraq war (neutral, he explained – like only one other state – his home state of Maryland) to how Kentucky must have had the most onstage silverware per capita (he found a spoon within the first two minutes of the set, and stopped the opening number, “Funtimes in Babylon,” midway to explain).

It was this attitude, this freeness, that set the tone for the show. With ease, Tillman belted out songs with a voice like caramel melted in the sun. It was as if he didn’t need to take breaths; sugary notes just fell out of his mouth miraculously.

The smooth ooh’s and laid back vibe of “Nancy From Now On” made you forget that he was actually singing “pour me another drink/and punch me in the face,” and instead concentrate on the way the guitars meshed beautifully with his voice in a blissed out melodic wonderland.

Four other people joined Tillman onstage, and though they sounded like integral, elaborate pieces of a beating heart, the frontman was one of those happy disasters that drew all the attention. While he played drums with Fleet Foxes for a while, Tillman got his start as a solo artist, and the man obviously belongs center stage.

His dance moves were reminiscent of elementary school girls coordinating a dance to the latest boy band song – complete with finger wagging “no’s,” shimmies, and some of the best booty shaking to ever come from a man’s body. Britney Spears couldn’t do what he did without lip-syncing. Some of the more dramatic moments seemed modeled on Elvis Presley’s moves.

Not everything was a dance party. The band freaked out on “This is Sally Hatchet,” a dark, moody song that broke them free of the mostly carefree-sounding set. The cathartic guitar breakdown begged you to close your eyes and let it take you places. Tillman fell to the ground, stretching his arms to the skies, reminding the crowd that these songs are more complex than they may appear on the surface.

“Now I’m Learning to Love the War” slowed things down, but Father John Misty bounced back up to speed with “Tee Pees 1-12.” The band made it through nearly their entire catalog, nailing almost all dozen songs on their debut, Fear Fun.

For Tillman to pack Headliners – after just releasing the first album under this moniker last May – is an unusual and surprising feat. But when the striking beat behind “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” echoed to the back of the room on the last song before the encore, and Tillman seemed near explosion with his jerking dance moves, it made sense. This was not only an entertaining show, but one with the kind of musical genius that doesn’t come around every day.