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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Top EPs of 2009

Well, I tried to stretch this list to at least five, but being the lazy fellow that I am, I think I'll stick with the four I've got.

4. The Mountain Goats & John Vanderslice - Moon Colony Bloodbath
How could these two get together and not produce something excellent?


3. Britney's Spear - Britney's Spear
In the interest of integrity and full disclosure, I am friends with these guys, and even the guy who recorded them. But I promise that I'm mentioning them here because this EP is honestly really really good.

"Burning Billboards"
"Dream Big"

2. Cory Branan & Jon Snodgrass - S/T
Cory Branan's boys can indeed break a heart. Mr. Snodgrass ain't so bad himself.

"Alone & Distanced"
"Walk Around"

1. John K. Samson - City Route 85
In lieu of there being any new Weakerthans material, I rushed to grab this when it came out. And now the vinyl's on the way (with two t-shirts). John K. Samson wins at lyrics, 'nuff said.

"Heart of the Continent"
"Cruise Night"

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

¡Merry Christmas!

10a. Rock Plaza Central - the moment of our most needing
God these guys are weird. And pretty good too. Keebler Elves FTW.

"Oh I Can"
"(Don't You Believe the Words of) Handsome Men"
10b. Chuck Ragan - Gold Country
"Glory" sounds an awful lot like "California Burritos," but I'll allow it. Solid neo-folk from a seasoned veteran. Gruff-arse voice.

"For Goodness Sake"
"Ole Diesel"
9. The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You
It feels like a regression from the older material, but that's still good enough to make the list. Plus, in the words of NPR, they are "a world-beating colossus" live.

"I and Love and You"
"Laundry Room"
8. Andrew Jackson Jihad - Can't Maintain
Not even electrified guitar can stop the AJJ train.

"Self Esteem"
"We Didn't Come Here to Rock"
7. The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But if you have the time, this is an treat.

"Isn't It a Lovely Night"
"The Rake's Song"
6. The Swell Season - Strict Joy
Glen Hansard's just GOT IT. The debut was better, but this is pretty darn good.

"In These Arms"
"Low Rising"
5. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
Now this is someone with real vocal range. And probably the strongest collection of songs she's put together. My friends Joe and Fardeen love this. And I have to admit that I have a soft spot for it too.

"This Tornado Loves You"
"Middle Cyclone"
4. The Thermals - Now We Can See
If The Body, The Blood, The Machine was the midst of a war, Now We Can See is the fatalities making small talk. And do they ever talk.

"Now We Can See"
"At the Bottom of the Sea"
3. William Elliot Whitmore - Animals in the Dark
He's declaring a mutiny on this ship, ya hear?

"Old Devils"
"Hell Or High Water"
2. The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come
John Darnielle has to do me great injury to not make a year end list (or two) of mine. No great injury done here. An awfully reserved, and yet awfully powerful record.

"Psalms 40:2"
"Isaiah 45:23"
1. Lucero - 1372 Overton Park
Ben Nichols and company do it again. Better than everyone else? I'll bite.

"Hey Darlin' Do You Gamble"

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

William Elliott Whitmore - Animals in the Dark

William Elliott Whitmore, purveyor of a fine sort of backcountry Midwestern blues-folk, is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore.

From the call and response of the opener "Mutiny" to the closing bars of "A Good Day to Die," there's 37 minutes of one pissed off man spouting about issues of the corruption and evil that surround us in life, of the need to stop dwelling on questions of salvation, and the virtues of hard work. Don't trust the cop ("Johnny Law"), don't trust the politician ("Old Devils," "Who Stole the Soul"), and most certainly don't trust the preacher. Life is a bitter struggle ("Hard Times"), and it's difficult to navigate the way, but it's well worth carrying on and even celebrating the journey ("Hell or High Water").

This is an album autobiographical and incendiary, rustic and timely. Favorite record of the year? Maybe. I'm gonna wrestle with that question for the next few days before I put up a year-end post. So be sure to check back.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lucero - 1372 Overton Park

A while back, I named 1372 Overton Park as one of the albums coming out this fall that I was most excited to hear. Especially given the strength of the lead single "Hey Darlin' Do You Gamble," I came into this album with high hopes for excellence. On the other hand, I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop with Ben Nichols' voice for years now, and I was afraid that one day he'd trash it and it just wouldn't come back (his backing vocals on "Constructive Summer" on The Hold Steady's 2008 excellent Stay Positive gave me pause). Those fears, thankfully, while certainly not obliterated, have been dulled for the time being, much like the senses and higher brain functions of the band members on any given night they're out on tour (see "Can't Feel a Thing").

The first song, "Smoke," is notable for the inclusion of some Hold Steady-esque piano in the first minute or so. A change of pace for sure, but not all that surprising I suppose given Nichols' work with Craig Finn and company. "Mom" is another standout, just a fantastic ballad and a fine closer for the album. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention "What Are You Willing to Lose?," a sort of call to live life on your own terms, understanding that your path probably isn't going to be easy.

As for the addition of the horns, I don't think their inclusion is a negative. Expanding the sound a 'lil bit, nothing wrong with that. As for moving to a major, this effort doesn't feel overproduced or sterile, so those concerns were allayed. It's just really, really good Southern punk-tinged rock'n'roll. After seven albums, ten years and well over a thousand shows, the boys of Lucero may just now be hitting their stride.

(Also, they're on Twitter. Gotta love that.)

(And this article on Ben Nichols is a pretty good read.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Serj Tankian, Eat Your Heart Out

(Via Cracked)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Off-Topic: Red Sox Hot Stove Rant

I can see how today's apparent Red Sox deals don't work out (Lackey's injury history, Cameron's advanced age), but I can also see how they do. If they were to sign Adrian Beltre, they'd have much improved defense at 3B, SS, and LF from the averages at those positions a year ago. The improved run prevention should cancel out the loss of offense firepower (and let's not forget Victor Martinez is the starting C now).

Maybe this is just fantasy, but from here (assuming the Lowell trade goes through), they could send Buchholz and a couple prospects (please not Casey Kelly or Jose Iglesias) to San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez and then shift Youkilis over to 3B. Such a move would have a marginally negative impact on defense in comparison to signing Beltre (Gonzalez is a Gold Glover, after all, plus Youkilis would still be an upgrade over Mike Lowell v. 2009), and would weaken the rotation and farm system a little bit, but the added offense could very well be worth it. Plus Beltre is a Boras client (aka will get grossly overpaid for his services), was hurt last year, and is probably few years older than his listed age, so as good as he is defensively, I'm not a huge fan. Gonzalez is a top-tier slugger in his prime who is still reasonably cheap for now (though his payday is coming soon).

Let me just project the pop the resulting lineup would have:

Ellsbury (5-10 HR)
Pedroia (10-15 HR)
V. Mart (20-25 HR)
Gonzalez (40-45 HR)
Youkilis (25-30 HR)
Ortiz (25-30 HR)
Drew (15-20 HR)
Cameron (20-25 HR)
Scutaro (5-10 HR)

If everyone hits the midpoints of those estimates, the starting lineup hits 188 HR in 2010. Not too shabby. That's an incomplete measure of overall offensive prowess, obviously, but it's still certainly indicative of a team that can hit the ball a little bit. Plus, in 2012 the four old guys at the bottom could be gone and replaced with younger players (Ortiz contract expires after 2010; Drew, Cameron, and Scutaro after 2011).

And this isn't a bad rotation either, even with the loss of Buchholz:

Wakefield/best of the rest (Bonser, Bowden, Tazawa)

So, even without making a move for Holliday/Bay, I think the Sox still are capable of winning around 95 games in this "bridge" year and winning the wild card, whether or not they go on to trade for Adrian Gonzalez. Or everything could blow up in their faces and they finish in 3rd place in the AL East. But that's why they play the games.

Finals Got You Down?

Not after you take a gander at this slice of awesome.

Didn't do the trick? Then you may have bigger troubles. Good luck to all who've got essays and finals due, and therefore lots and lots of problems.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Albums That Shaped My Youth, Part 1: The Rolling Stones - Exile On Main St. (1972)

If memory serves, I happened upon this album somewhere in 2000-2001, probably by perusing on my dial-up connection. I was immediately drawn to it by the collage of odd photos that make up the cover art. I happened upon this album back when I was going through a phase where I pretty much would refuse to listen to something if it were recorded after 1977. At the time, I had no grasp of the independent music scene and neither did my friends. In the sticks, there was just what was force-fed to you on the radio and TV. It was a dark, dark time.

If I have a particular memory of this album, it's of listening to it on my iRiver mp3-CD player (SO AWESOME AT THE TIME) over and over again whilst mowing the lawn the summer between 9th and 10th Grade. It was during one of these mowing sessions that I was inspired to start an after-school music appreciation club at my high school. I think it achieved a maximum attendance of something like five or six people. Clearly, had I not started this group, I would not have gotten into the Ivy League second-tier school I attend today.

Having a better background in no other album, I proceeded to write a ten-page paper on why it could be considered a concept album from the popped-collar comforts of my fraternity house for my American Popular Music class a couple of years ago. My music taste has expanded and shifted drastically, and yet this album continues to stick with me. I can't say it's timeless, and I can't say it's made up of one gem after another, but "Tumbling Dice," "Rocks Off," "Happy," and "Let it Loose" are all classics in my book ("Let it Loose" is also prominently featured in The Departed, thanks to Scorsese's heavy tendency towards using songs back from his joints weren't so creaky). The album has this delightfully unpolished sound, and loads of horns, if you're into that sort of thing. It clashed with so much of what I heard in pop music when I first discovered it, and I reveled in this difference. Out of the music I had on heavy rotation when I was in junior-high/high school, this is one of the few albums that has endured. Hell, in ten years if I'm for some strange reason into post-Afro-pop/dance-hall, you had better believe that this album will still be stored in the chip behind my ear.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Here's some Mangum to chew on...

...because the chances of you listening to a new Neutral Milk Hotel album anytime soon are about as big as the dot between these brackets: [ ] Yup, that big.

Love the live footage. Ten-year-old me probably wouldn't have known what to make of this.

(Via Pitchfork)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Each Morning New, Each Day Shot Through: The Mountain Goats at The Wilbur Theatre, 11/29/09

I showed up about twenty or thirty minutes into the opener Final Fantasy's (Owen Pallett's) set. From what I did see, it was a truly virtuosic, impressive performance by essentially a one-man-band. That said it was not really my jam, but I would still rate him over previous tMG openers I've seen such as The Moaners, Kaki King, or Larkin Grimm. The crowd was pretty supportive of his efforts, even if half of them were occasionally checking the time, desperately anticipating the emergence of John Darnielle and company.

[Owen Pallett: truly one of the good Canadian musicians. On the John K. Samson side of the line and not the Justin Bieber one, AMIRITE? Trust me, I'm right. Don't even try to convince me otherwise.]

So, the opening set wrapped up to polite applause and I got up from my fairly decent Mezzanine seat to have a conference with my dear friends from whom I had been so tragically separated by the truly draconian seating practices of the establishment. Taking advantage of the chaos of intermission, we stole away to the floor, working our way quickly past security and getting within a few rows of the stage, awfully close to where the ever-sharply dressed Peter Hughes would soon be damaging ears with the raw power of his thunderingly godlike bass guitar (with an assist from the poor acoustics of the venue). Though we hit a brief snag, Dana (remember Dana?) was able to convince the soft-looking, pliable, and thoroughly nice fellow who asked to see our floor wristbands that it was of the utmost importance that we three should be allowed to remain together. Our close proximity at Mountain Goats shows was a time-honored tradition that simply could not be denied, she said in so many words. Understanding the paramount importance of our continued union on the floor, he acquiesced, throwing his hands up in resignation and shooing us away. Safely on the floor, we eagerly awaited the moment that was sure to come. And then it happened.

The Goats took the stage and there was much rejoicing. Right from the get-go, there was a heavy emphasis placed on material from the new album, and given that they're touring in its support, that's hardly surprising. To echo the sentiments of another reviewer, this meant that things dragged a bit for a while as quiet new song after quiet new song was played. It was certainly different to see John at the piano, however, and it was all the more rewarding later in the set when he dug back into the archives to play some old favorites and some obscurities. I love me some "Quito," so that song's always a highlight. I got about as into it as some tired dude with a shaved head and a winter jacket draped over one arm can get, and John seemed to notice, so that was nice. If a show's going well the band gives off palpable energy and the crowd gives it right back. Everyone's psyched and in that moment nothing can be wrong. You had best believe that the room got to that point and stayed there for some time.

"Going to Bristol" with Owen Pallett plucking away on the violin was pretty darn awesome. I will admit my previous ignorance of "From TG&Y" but I'll be damned if that didn't immediately resonate with me (and before those of you in the know about this song ask, no, I don't go around huffing spray paint--shame on you for even considering that). John gave one hell of a monologue before "Song For Dennis Brown," which injected some candor into the evening that had been somewhat lacking to that point. "This Year" was fantastic as always, and that was when my throat gave out. The encore's inclusion of "No Children" was a fitting and crowd-pleasing closer if ever there was one.

The absence of a second encore was for once something I couldn't get upset about, considering that we had a train back to Worcester to catch and needed to hightail it out of there by 10:30. All in all, it was a great show as I have come to expect. Any bones I had to pick are trivial and bringing them up again is just going to make me sound whiny.

Here's the thrown-together-at-the-last-minute setlist, painstakingly culled from The Mountain Goats forums because I couldn't find it on yet:

1 Samuel 15:23
Old College Try
Psalms 40:2
Isaiah 45:23
Deuteronomy 2:10
Enoch 18:14
Genesis 30:3
From TG&Y (solo)
Blueberry Frost (solo)
Mole (solo)
Dance Music (solo)
(Owen comes out)
Going to Bristol
(everyone else comes back)
Hebrews 11:14
(Owen leaves)
Song For Dennis Brown
Genesis 3:23
This Year

Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace
Romans 10:9
No Children (w/ Owen on piano)

I'm hopeful that someone present that evening taped the show, and I greatly look forward to hearing it so I can reminisce for years to come, a practice that I have been so lucky to follow with the two preceding Mountain Goats shows I have attended. Thanks in advance to whoever you may be.

All Hail The Mountain Goats, a band named after a creature with suicidal pride.

Someone shot some spectacular video of a couple songs at the show, here's the inimitable "This Year":