Wherein Mark and Jack attempt to catalog the new albums we've listened to this year. We'll try and keep it simple. It's not really a "best of" list, more of a "things we just really like this year" list. Also note that if one of us lists something and not the other, it's probabaly because the other hasn't listened to it much yet. (But intends to.)
Feel free to tell us about/ berate us for any records we missed in the comments section.
MARK LIKES the National - High Violet There's no "Mistaken for Strangers" or "Abel" to give it an adrenaline shot. But High Violet has such an amazing sense of mood and sound and so perfectly uses Matt Berninger's (ever improving) baritone to sing their best lyrics yet that it is better off staying at a slow pace. It's subtle but not boring. "Buzzbuzz Ohio"
the Tallest Man on Earth - the Wild Hunt The latest "early Dylan," or so they tell me. Quotable legend-building lyrics like "Rumor has it that I wasn't born / I just walked in one frosty morn / into the vision of some vacant mind." "King of Spain"
Vampire Weekend - Contra A healthy middle finger to the haters, a second serving of Ivy League, superficially-cosmopolitan pop to the fans. "Run"
Sleigh Bells - Treats All swagger. Think M.I.A., Ratatat, Santigold, Fuck Buttons. Music so loud, driving, filled with hooks. Voice a little cutesy. Clocks in at 32 minutes–five more would be too much, but at half an hour it's perfect. "Crown on the Ground"
Local Natives - Gorilla Manor It is trendy, bordering on "if you like the Dodos, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, and My Morning Jacket, try," except I really like the album. It hasn't gotten old. "Airplanes"
JACK LIKED Hot Chip - One Life Stand There's no musician I can think of offhand that crafts songs so precise, so emotional and yet so flippant. I think they know exactly what they're doing, though: Take a listen to "I Feel Better". Perfectly crafted, but not exactly "hip" (autotune doesn't have much hipster cred). One wonders how firmly their tongues are lodged in their cheeks. At the same time, though, there's a level of sincerity one doesn't find in more jokey electronic indie bands these days.
LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening 3:06. That's how long it takes This Is Happening to begin in earnest it's also the moment I was hooked to this album start to end. You can hear it developing from a mile away, and when that release comes in the form of a huge drumbreak and dirty synth keys, it's cathartic. Every song, save "Dunk Girls," my least favorite on the album, has a similar buildup-release-cooldown. I heard this was Murphy's last LCD album. If that's the case, he picked a great note on which to end.
Titus Andronicus - The Monitor They might be extending the Civil War/ end of relationship metaphor a bit farther than necessary. Nice idea though. Besides, Ian Graetzer has a fantastic "Jeff Tweedy/ Craig Finn/ guy from the Constantines" type voice where he half sings/ half yells verbose things over Thermals punk chords. The part in "A More Perfect Union" where he yells "No, I never wanted to change the world, but I'm looking for a new New Jersey/ Because tramps like us, baby, we were born to die!" and that solo begins... I kind of want to kick someone's ass. Elsewhere, a few songs sound like a more intelligent Rancid, some like The Walkmen, and others a bit like Neutral Milk Hotel. In other words, this band was made for you and me.
Black Keys - Brothers This album is really long. Longer than it needs to be, maybe, at 15 songs. But the fact remains that the first three and last three tracks are some of the most ambitious out good 'ole Keys have ever attempted. More falsetto, please!
Caribou - Swim I still don't know what to make of this album, but I like the fact that whenever I listen to it I feel like I'm wandering aimless in the Canadian hinterland.
BOTH LIKED Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record Mark: This album brings up all sorts of good associations for me stretching back to high school. The opener suggests U2, "Meet Me in the Basement" sounds like a Bradford Cox collaboration, "Sentimental X's" has a Postal Service feel, and the album closes with a distinct M. Ward flair. A handful of moments on this album even remind me of Juny (seriously, listen to the opening lead guitar in "World Sick" or the synth on the chorus of "Texico Bitches"). Jack: I have nothing to add aside from my already-stated affinity for "Chase Scene". A great album-lover's album.
Beach House - Teen Dream Mark: Tony says their sound "seems to speak to 'these days,'" and I'd say that's about right. Dan M. says "Zebra" makes him think of the civil war, which I don't quite understand, but I don't think it's bullshit. I suppose I'd say that Beach House has a foot in some trends without sounding trendy. Or to put it as pithily as possible, Beach House is of the moment but not ephemeral. Jack: I think this is one we disagree about. (If I correctly understand him.) I love this record. It's like My Bloody Valentine on quaaludes (maybe it's the fact that you can't always tell which voice is singing and which is singing background... their voices meld so well together). At any rate, it gives me a bit of a tingle inside whenever I hear the weird buzz of "Silver Soul". I just want to hear it again.
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach Mark: Chill, electronic hip-hop. Imagine TV on the Radio relaxing by a pool (or a beach! a plastic one!) with a margarita, only they're talking about the end of the world. Jack: Musically, it's invigorating: The Snoop Dogg song after the intro, with its G-funk bass, signals greatness that follows on every track of the album. Highlights include "Sweepstakes" (Mos Def), "Some Kind of Nature" (Lou Reed) and "Rhinestone Eyes" (Damon Albarn all by his lonesome). But all purely musical considerations aside— thematically, that is— it's a pretty stunning concept album. I'd venture that Plastic Beach is going to be THE definitive album of "these days". (Sorry Beach House.) Why's that, you ask? Oh, I dunno. Just a hunch...
the New Pornographers - Together Mark: There are some mediocre moments (even Neko Case's voice can't lend life to "My Shepherd") but on the whole it's a thoroughly enjoyable album that earns the power-pop billing. Jack: Hello, Neko. I still love your voice. Could you just tell Carl Newman to write you some barn burners like he used to? If I wanted to hear midtempo alt rock, I would listen to your solo albums. (And I do. They're good.) At least we got "Your Hands Together" out of it. Also, Dan Bejar: Never change. Finally, good call giving Kathryn Calder her own song and not just having her sub for Neko during live shows. Still guys, good effort overall.
Spoon - Transference Mark: I like the album, especially when I'm driving. I love "Trouble Comes Running" with all my heart, and the part of "Written in Reverse" where Britt Daniel screams "IIIIIIIII'mm-nossstandinere!" makes me want to get in a fight. Jack: Notthebest, butstillprettygood. I mean, it's Spoon. It's not like it's possible to suck. "Who Makes Your Money" just might be the coolest song they've recorded. Maybe not the best. Just cool.
HA HA TONKA -- "St. Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor" As I wind down my last couple weeks in Missouri, it's only appropriate that I share my favorite song from my favorite MO band. Love the local color and reference ("KK highway" is a real place, as is Ha Ha Tonka itself) as well as the bitchin' guitar lick and four-part harmonies. Excellent Ozarks driving music.
BLACK MOUNTAIN -- "No Satisfaction" Black Mountain's debut doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Its styles vary widely. "No Satisfaction" sounds like little else on the record. I return to it often and like to share it with friends.
PETER, BJORN & JOHN -- "Young Folks" I loved last week's "Amsterdam" so much I put it on a mix. I'd heard this song before, but never put the title to the artist. Tony pointed it out to me at work...and I've listened to it almost exclusively since then.
PIERRE HENRY -- "Psyché Rock" To celebrate the return of Futurama to television (June 24 at 10:00 p.m.)
NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL -- "Holland 1945" I haven't listened this album in 2 years. I randomly re-discovered it in my music player the other night and gave it a listen, only to realize why it represents everything good about music and songwriting.
PETER BJORN AND JOHN -- "Amsterdam" Chillout music for those muggy summer nights. Gotta love the Swedes. (Also, hat tip to Drew for turning me on to them last summer in South Carolina.)
BREEDERS -- "Walk It Off" I'm sharing this song, but actually sharing the entire Mountain Battles album, which two years after release has gained a second wind in my books. See also: "Overglazed" and "It's the Love" for a full sampling. I appreciate the album's diversity of sounds and mixed levels of grit.
KING KAHN & THE SHRINES -- "I Wanna Be a Girl" As the humidity embalms me this June, driving with the windows down only offers partial relief as I drive back and forth between Staunton and Waynesboro. It's one of those songs I refuse to turn down if I'm stopped at a red light with other people.
WILD NOTHING -- "Summer Holiday" I just spent a "summer holiday" in Virginia. The songwriter, Jack Tatum, lives there.
MUMFORD & SONS -- "Awake My Soul" We were going to see them Monday night, but could not because of tornadoes.
DUNGEN -- "Ta Det Lungt" The last three and a half minutes are among my favorite musical moments ever. Don't know why. Just rul fuckin' good.
Each Friday Every so often, we share our Web discoveries, mostly pulled from our RSS feeds and Twitter accounts. If there's something we should know about, please write to thesadbear [at] gmail [dot] com.
The long delay that prefaced the posting of these links had me thinking: I spend half of my work day reacting to news NOW! and the other half trying to coordinate the exact right time to publish everything else.
So here's a story about hockey, a buck short and a dollar late (or something like that):
While Tkachuk’s injury was only a footnote in most game stories, Edwards spent three hours that night picking fragments of bone and teeth from his mouth. Tkachuk’s surgery this week involved a transplant of bone from his hip to restore his upper jaw. If that process is successful, false teeth will be implanted when the area is healed.
Her work created doubt, and doubt was an ally of the defense. Part of it was her empathy for the accused: She had always been suspicious of criminal allegations and lenient toward small-time offenders. And where empathy failed, scientific rigor took over. Memory's fallibility was a fact. By testifying to that fact, she believed she was serving justice.
Thanks to a lightning strike, the six-story "King of Kings" statue (nicknamed "Touchdown" or "Butter" Jesus) visible from Interstate 75 is no more. The plastic foam and fiberglass structure burned the ground last night, leaving nothing but the steel frame.
Chase and I once enjoyed a McDonald's picnic on a bench next to the pool while returning to Hillsdale from Louisville in 2007, as members flocked to an evening service at Solid Rock Church. The pastor has said the church intends to resurrect the structure, which was erected in 2004 at a cost of $250,000.
UPDATE: Our alma mater's new Abraham Lincoln statue also weighed in with a $250,000 price tag. "Actual size" seems like a ripoff for that kind of money, so here's my suggestion: Touchtown Reagan emerging from Lake Winona, visible from Muddy Waters field. Any takers?
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE -- "Chase Scene"" Luckily for me, their new album came out at the perfect for me to re-aquatint myself with their music (I enjoyed their self-titled record but for whatever reason fell out of listening to it).
So now we've got a song with a perfect title to match the music. That driving drumbeat and synth noise starts out like it could be the soundtrack of a movie scene. Then the vocals kick in with an extreme urgency, capturing the mood of the song. Then those horns begin about 2/3 of the way and you're already chugging right along until the screeching stop. So thrilling, you want to start it over and experience it all again.
THE BROKEN BELLS -- "Trap Doors" I have a headache, and just got back from dropping Econ off at the Richmond International Airport after a great weekend visit. But, while driving him to his plane we passed a cookie-making factory, and drove through the amazing aroma of vanilla wafers.
BLITZEN TRAPPER -- "Wild Mountain Home" I enjoyed Blitzen Trapper at Pitchfork last summer, but for me at least, their set was overshadowed by the Thermals, who appeared shortly after. I regret not listening to them again until today.
THE FLAMING LIPS -- "Convinced of a Hex" I just got Embryonic, and I like it. It's dark, winding, strange, spacey, and alluring. It just plain makes me feel good.
NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL -- "Oh Comely" For about the first quarter of this video, I can't figure out if Jeff Mangum is staring intensely at something, or if he's blanking. Does one's eyes keep in-line against the motion of your head like that if you're staring at nothing? Would zoned-out eyes appear to look in one direction if their head was just kind of swaying back and forth? Maybe music teachers in Athens, GA tell their students to look at an object toward the back of the room and imagine melting it with your intensity if you need to deal with performance anxiety.
I picked this one because I didn't know of high-quality live video of Neutral Milk Hotel until relatively recently. There was a time when the quality of NMH videos only afforded appreciation of the perfect super-chaotic drumming during Holland, 1945, because we could barely hear the rest (these are not better than those). This video is one of a high-quality groupofvideos.
GUEST CONTRIBUTOR: Matthew Carleton Lovelady
BEAR IN HEAVEN -- "You Do You" I tried to pick something I thought that everyone would like but possibly hadn't heard. These guys hail from Brooklyn and I couldn't help but think of Grizzly Bear(also Brooklyn) and Animal Collective. They aren't as experimental as either, but they can rock and offer what I would consider a more accessible and straight forward version of the experimental/psychedelic indie rock we've been seeing so much of lately. It's from their 2009 release, Beast Rest Forth Mouth(which got an 8.4 on Pitchfork, so you know it's good, right?). If this song doesn't have you sold, try Lovesick Teenagers. If not, then fuck 'em. Hope you guys enjoy.
Each Friday Every so often, we share our Web discoveries, mostly pulled from our RSS feeds and Twitter accounts. If there's something we should know about, please write to thesadbear [at] gmail [dot] com. This week, we'll be focusing on stories about the World Cup, but anything good you see, on any topic, send it over.
Mr. Noonan is among the vendors who don't expect much from sales of souvenirs for one of the tournament's biggest underdogs, considering the unpopularity of the government and the lack of access to customers within that country's closed borders.
So far souvenirs like "I DPRK Football" infant bodysuits, which Mr. Noonan's company sells online for $12.99, have accounted for .025% of the company's World Cup-related sales.
As for questions about the morality of making a buck off Kim Jong Il's favorite soccer team, the merchandisers say they don't worry about that.
"We're a football company," Mr. Smith says. "We're not a political adjudicator. We trade in polyester."
One thing Americans agree about soccer—the fans and cynics both—is that goals are rare things. The critics will say this critically, of course; how could anyone love a game in which neither team might score at all? Who can sit through 90-plus minutes of that sort of drudgery? We are a nation of the tangible. We are a country of Avatar (in 3-D!), slam-dunk contests, NFL's Greatest Hits music videos and Lady Gaga. Subtlety isn't our thing.
Oh, there have been competent U.S. players through the years, even good ones. Goalkeepers, for example: Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel and Tony Meola—as a nation, we are good with our hands. For a time the inescapable American player was Alexi Lalas, a big, strong defender who was not overly skilled but was a master of positioning, self-promotion and beard-growing. Occasionally, but not often, there were creative players, like Tab Ramos (who was born in Uruguay) and Claudio Reyna (whose father played professionally in Argentina before moving to the States). On the right day, under the right circumstances, they could do special things.
And then Landon Donovan just ... well ... happened.
YEAH YEAH YEAHS -- "Down Boy" Karen O and company seem to do exactly what they want. That standard -- setting a goal, whatever it may be, and meeting it -- is one I think about pretty often. So they've moved from a shrill and gritty debut album, which was tough to play in social situations, to a richer follow-up, and most recently to a synth-heavy dance barrage. I like the trajectory.
I find all three band members mesmerizing, which is good for them, although I'm admittedly sometimes mesmerized in a bad way. Karen O has the best and worst "rock moves" around; Nick on guitar could be an anime model for Hot Topic / little Goth boy in the children's cartoon Rugrats; and Brian on drums ... sometimes has long hair ...
I was not especially familiar with "Down Boy," so I share it for the guitar crunch (wait for it, wait for it), and as a sample of Karen O's rock moves. It also reminds me that the YYYs have really done some excellent EPs and other one-shots that are as rewarding to discover as any other band's. And Karen O covered Daniel Johnston's "Worried Shoes" for the soundtrack of Where the Wild Things Are, which inspired legions of covers and fan-made music videos.
BAND OF HORSES -- "No One's Gonna Love You" I've been thinking a lot about Charleston, South Carolina lately, and how I might not oppose living there someday. Of my three internships, it was definitely my favorite. And even though Music Farm is one of the worst music venues I've ever visited, even though Millie and I had to leave the Band of Horses show early that summer, I can't help but think fondly about riding our bikes away from the show, pleased and ready for rooftop drinks.
FLYING LOTUS -- Cosmogramma My entry this week is the whole album Cosmogramma. (See Wikipedia page for info and reviews). I couldn't pick just one song so here's a mashup of the whole album. You'll see why. I guess Flying Lotus seen as this bridge between free jazz, electronica, hip hop, ambient music, etc. I first heard about it on NPR and was talking about electronic music with a dude who, strangely, works for the bank and is actually really cool/out there music. He recommended it, so I had to check it out. It's really cool, because he's really not the focal point of the track - his voice just becomes another element/piece in the soundset. He just makes really fascinating soundsets and atmospheres.
PIXIES -- "Bone Machine" This video introduced me to the pixies. It convinced me that music didn't need complexity to be good. (My favorite classical music did not convince me of that.) Since then, Pixies have been a favorite.
This feels very strange to me. I wouldn't think I'm alone in saying this either. What 10 year old kid in the early 1990s DIDN'T love Ken Griffey, Jr.? He's probably the first real superstar to retire that happened to have his heyday in our generation. (It shoulda been you, Griff!)
It makes me feel nostalgic. But I think this means we (and by "we" I mean anyone born between about 1982 and 1992) are officially adults now.