Makeup For The Silence

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Makeup For The Silence

Tag: alkaline trio

The Best of the Rest 2013

(feat. track – Kitten – “I’ll Be Your Girl” [spotify] from Like A Stranger)

Tomorrow, I’ll unveil my #1 album of the year.  In the meantime, here’s a whole lot of stuff that didn’t quite make my Top Ten Twelve but still left a big impression in 2013.

My Best Of The Rest list seems to grow longer every year – this time out, it’s a semi-ridiculous 37 (in a row?) albums, and that’s after some serious paring down on my part. But the bottom line is, there’s a ton of music released each year, and a whole lot more than twelve of those album are worth giving a serious listen to. Most of these albums, under different circumstances, could have cracked my Top Ten Twelve, and I have no doubt that, looking back five or ten years from now, I’ll hold some of these in higher esteem than some albums that made the final cut. So what I’m saying is: this stuff is worth your time too.

Any writing I’ve done on any of these artists in 2013 is noted. Spotify (or other streaming source) links have been included, where available.

Alkaline Trio – My Shame Is True [spotify]

At this point, Alkaline Trio have settled into a steady mid-career groove – there really aren’t many new tricks left up their sleeves, they do what they do and they do it well. Still, My Shame Is True is a stronger set of songs than 2010’s This Addiction. If nothing else, tracks like the bouncy “She Lied to the FBI” and the Good Mourning-esque “The Temptation of St. Anthony” go a long way toward reassuring me that 2011’s weird semi-acoustic rehashing of old tracks, Damnesia, wasn’t an sign that the band had run out of ideas. A solid album from an old favorite, albeit one I haven’t felt much need to return to.

Allison Weiss – Say What You Mean [spotify] / Sideways Sessions [spotify]

Allison Weiss has a songwriter’s playbook and a punk’s sensibilities. Say What You Mean gets mucked up a bit by production that smooths where it should crinkle, but Weiss’ songs are strong, and terrifyingly catchy, enough to shine through the occasional excess goop.

Balance & Composure – The Things We Think We’re Missing [spotify]

The Things We Think We’re Missing didn’t grab me immediately in the way the Separation (my #8 album of of 2011) did. It’s less song driven, less melody driven, less heterogeneous, and trades angry aggro for a more melancholy slow burn. But for what it is, it’s undeniably good. One I should have spent more time with this year.

Betty Who – The Movement EP [spotify]

The obvious gem here is “Somebody Loves You,” a Whitney-Houston-by-way-of-Robyn jam of a dance-pop record. But The Movement has a certain charm throughout – quirky production touches like the Passion Pit-y vocal synths of “You’re In Love” and warm beats like those that burble underneath the daydreamy “High Society” make for a thoroughly breezy listen.

Boys – Demo 2013 [bandcamp]

Four tracks of skittering, sloppy, scrappy Lookout!-style pop-punk done right. The part of the ‘90s you wish people were busy remembering.

Butch Walker – Peachtree Battle EP [spotify]

Butch Walker’s last LP, The Spade, was the most straightforward rock record he’s released in nearly a decade. Peachtree Battle takes a step away from that ledge in favor of anthemic balladry and midtempo twang, placing the focus back on Walker’s exceptional chorus-crafting and smart lyrics. Walker’s an underrated acolyte of the rock-as-gospel school – something that was only reaffirmed for me at a whopper of a SXSW showcase at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church. Even on record, his zeal for life’s twists and turns shines through.

Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe [spotify]

Spry synth-pop with some serious emotional range and a powerhouse frontwoman that deserved every bit of hype it received, and probably more . Sure, it was an underground hit, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t have been an overground one too. One of those albums I wanted to spend more time with but never quite found the time to; I suspect if I had, it would have cracked my Top Ten Twelve.

The Front Bottoms – Talon Of the Hawk [spotify]

One day, the Front Bottoms will wind up with an album that captures the raucous, edge-of-control spirit of the bummer-punk duo’s live set. Today is not that day. But even if Talon Of The Hawk doesn’t distill what’s best about the band, the parts that it does manage to show off are pretty great all on their own. Brian Sella’s lyrical skill remains a marvel, and the exquisitely buoyant “Au Revoir” is the band’s best track to date.

Haim – Days Are Gone [spotify]

The not-talked-about-nearly-enough soft-rock revival continues! Haim were one of 2013’s buzziest bands, and all that buzz was merited. Days Are Gone is a wonderfully addictive update of Tango In The Night-era Fleetwood Mac, packed full of catchy hooks, smart melodies and a delightfully chippy vocal delivery. Tracks like “The Wire” and “If I Could Change Your Mind” were some of the year’s most welcome radio fodder.

The History of Apple Pie – Out Of View [spotify]

Every two to three years, I manage to fall for some random nu-gaze album. In 2008, it was Airiel’s The Battle Of Sealand; in 2010, Amusement Parks On Fire’s Road Eyes. This time around, it’s Out Of View. The band’s full-length debut starts with Sarah Records style cooing and lays a mound of cotton candy fuzz over the top, or maybe vice versa. I had the good fortune of catching The History of Apple Pie live at CMJ, and while their barebones setup didn’t provide for quite the volume of brainbending noise I had been hoping for, the songs more than held their own.

I Is Another – I Is Another EP [spotify]

This collaboration between longtime favorite Jonah Matranga (Far, Gratitude, Onelinedrawing) and Rival Schools’ Ian Love deserved way more attention than it garnered this year. Matranga hasn’t sounded this fired up in a long time; Love’s riffwork – alternately pummeling, warped and oblique – leave scuffmarks on some of the prettiness that Matranga’s been locked in to for his last few releases – in a lot of ways, I Is Another feels like picking up on where Far left off in the 90s, much more so than that band’s polished 2010 comeback album. As “Shake” and “Dear Departed” remind us, Matranga’s as compelling when screaming himself raw as he is while cooing quietly thoughtfully.

Jimmie Deeghan – Cheap Therapy EP [spotify] / Like We Know Us [spotify]

After Every Avenue split, guitarist Jimmie Deeghan made his way down to Nashville, and that city’s influence is written all over Cheap Therapy. Deeghan already had evinced a penchant for traditionalist, Americana-laced pop-rock; this time around, the songwriting has caught up with the sound. “Sad and Blue,” in particular, showcases his equal dexterity with a story and a hook.

The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law [spotify]

I kind of wrote off The Joy Formidable after catching an especially mediocre mid-afternoon performance by the band at 2011’s Bamboozle, but all is forgiven with the massive Wolf’s Law. “Maw Maw Song,” the album’s multi-movement seven-minute-long monster of an anchorpiece is a marvel unto itself.

Justin Bieber – Believe Acoustic [spotify]

The Biebs spent most of the year making all the wrong kind of headlines, so much so that it’s easy to forget this release even came out in 2013. But acoustic versions of tracks like “As Long As You Love Me” and “She Don’t Like The Lights” reveal the truly great songs that were hidden under the original versions’ (excellent) studio production. One day, when Bieber has put his youthful foibles behind him, he’s gonna release a back-to-basics singer-songwriter album, and it’s gonna be great. Bank on it.

Katy Perry – Prism [spotify]

In a year full of hit-or-miss superstar album releases, Prism is a high water mark for consistency. Beyond the album’s three excellent singles to date, tracks like the discofied romp “Birthday,” housey “Walking On Air” and breezy synthpop ballad “This Moment” have “future hit” written all over them. An eminently enjoyable full-album listen.

Kitten – Like A Stranger EP [spotify]

I got turned on to Kitten when my friend Keaton hooked on to do their merch while they toured with Paramore this spring. Like A Stranger doesn’t quite capture the incendiary dramatics of the band’s live set – for one, it lacks their positively scorching cover of “Purple Rain” – it’s still a solid slab of dusky revivalist new-wave. “I’ll Be Your Girl” didn’t get the critical attention, but it’s as good as anything Chari XCX or Betty Who put out this year. I had them pegged as future superstars, but recently singer Chloe Chaidez split with the remained of the band, so we’ll have to see what the future holds. (This actually happened once before, with the ex-members forming FIDLAR, so if the past is any indication, there’s a decent chance we get two great new acts out of the rift!)

Lacey Caroline – Songbird EP [spotify]

To quote myself:

Songbird largely avoids the grand gestures and anthemic bludgeoning of arena country and Mumfordcore clap-n-stomp in favor of quieter, more confessional fare — if it lacks the bite of a Kacey Musgraves or Ashley Monroe, it at least avoids the oversung mawkishness of fellow pop-punk-gone-country Cassadee Pope. The mandolins and chiming acoustic guitars of tracks like “Run Away” and “Anything but Me” pair surprisingly well with her songwriting sensibilities. Caroline’s voice — clear, pure, a little thin at the top of her range — only carries the slightest touch of a twang; close your eyes and you can hear Jewel (another singer who’s made the leap to country). Her vocals feel natural, unforced; they present themselves, rather than pushing themselves on you.

[feature]

The Maine – Forever Halloween [spotify] / Imaginary Numbers EP [spotify]

The Maine turned to Brendan Benson to produce Forever Halloween, and the result is the loosest album from the band to date. The Maine continue to push in a more rock-and-roll direction (this time it’s a little more stripped down than amped up), and while Forever Halloween is the first time the band have put out an album I’ve felt a little let down by – lyrically, it’s a hot mess, with John O’Callaghan’s attempt to write more personally mostly adding up to stacks on stacks on stacks of weak cliches – a lesser Maine album is still head and shoulders above most other bands’ best work. Tracks like “Love And Drugs” and “Run” are as good as anything they’ve done to date.

Imaginary Numbers is an EP of spare, moody acoustic originals. It’s the most emotionally raw work The Maine have done by a long-shot – there are shades of Ryan Adams at his most depressive.

While it doesn’t include either of these albums, I spent a lot of time writing about The Maine this year – see the links below for more.

[One Week One Band – The Maine] [interview]

Mansions – Doom Loop [spotify]

Two years ago, Mansions’ Dig Up The Dead ranked #3 on my yearly list. Doom Loop is less immediate than that album – it’s louder, crankier, more prone to lashing out than in.  It also came out too late in the year for me to really give it the time that a new Mansions album deserve. Two months from now I might well be kicking myself that it didn’t crack my Top Ten Twelve; even now, I listen to tracks like the searing, accusatory “Two Suits” and wonder if I’ve made a terrible mistake.

Pentimento – Inside The Sea EP [spotify]

Inside The Sea comprises the four most powerful, catchiest, most cathartic, flat-out best tracks from the young band to date. Pentimento’s name never seems to come up in #emorevival discussions, but Inside The Sea injects a heavy dose of midwestern pathos into the band’s sound, overwhelming their earlier pop-punk leanings. It’s a change for the best.

Puig Destroyer – Puig Destroyer EP [spotify] / Wait For Spring EP [spotify]

Like everything great in this world, Puig Destroyer started as a joke – an off the cuff remark during a Productive Outs podcast. It still might be a joke, kind of. Who’s to say? Not me; I don’t know a grindcore from a grundle. But I do know awesome, and the psychotic howls and brain-pureeing blastbeats that comprise Puig Destroyer and Wait For Spring are fucking awesome. 80 power, 20 control makes for one hell of a fun prospect.

Real Friends – Put Yourself Back Together EP [spotify]

2013 was a breakout year for pop-punk kids Real Friends. The show of theirs I caught at the Studio at Webster Hall a few months back was one the craziest I attended all year – the sheer bizzonkers enthusiasm of the crowd reminded me of that for The Story So Far and The Wonder Years right as each was on the edge of blowing up. Real Friends’ sound borrows from both of those bands, but leans more heavily on the poppier sounds of the mid/late ’00s; perhaps that’s why I like Put Yourself Back Together so much.

Rhye – Woman [spotify]

Upon first listen, in early 2013, I mentally penciled Woman into my “good, but not Top Ten good” column. At the time, I presumed that it would garner that sort of year-end accolades from the more indie-leaning music sites. Seems that, as time went by and the hype cooled, those sites wound up closer to my position than I had anticipated. That shouldn’t take away from Rhye’s enjoyability, though. Delicately romantic, if not altogether memorable, post-Sade pop, Woman is a good example of both the strengths and weaknesses of the soft-rock revival.

Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines [spotify]

Between the debate over whether “Blurred Lines” is “rapey” (I generally take the Maura Johnston line, though I’m not sure that, as a guy, I’m exactly capable of an informed opinion) and the controversy over whether it ripped off Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” (dirty secret – it’s better than that Marvin Gaye track. There. I said it.), there’s been more ink spilled on “Blurred Lines” than maybe any song this year, and while it’s a deserved smash, that chatter has unfortunately overshadowed how excellent the remainder of the album is. Tracks like “Give It 2 U” and “Ooo La La” (no, not that one) should be launching the (already successful, lest we forget) Thicke to extended stardom; instead, odds are strong he winds up as 2013’s Carly Rae Jepsen.

roboteyes – roboteyes EP [bandcamp]

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I find the 80s revival way more interesting than the emo revival. roboteyes are a great example of why – their ebullient vocals and buoyant melodies carry every bit the emotional sway of their glummer counterparts, and even in their drollest moments, vocalists Kate LeDeuce and Ryan Ford sound emotionally engaged.The lovely melodies only add to the enjoyability.

Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals [spotify]

Bitter Rivals garnered wildly mixed reviews on its release; I find that strange, because to me, the album seems like a quintessential Sleigh Bells album. It the combination of redlined riffs and cheerleader chirping no longer feels as wildly inventive as it did the first time out, 2010’s Treats, the band have still applied enough little twists to their formula here to make Bitter Rivals worthy on its own merits. Even if they were merely doing what they’ve always done, there’s value in what Sleigh Bells do beyond the once-groundbreaking nature of their sonics. And the title track here is as good as anything the band have done, period.

Smallpools – Smallpools EP [spotify]

Sean Scanlon, the voice behind faux-indie dance poppers Smallpools, made this Top Ten in 2009 as the lead vocalist/songwriter/keyboardist for piano poppers Making April, and if Smallpools doesn’t share much in common with that group’s musical sensibility (nor their melancholy), it carries with it the same penchant for big singalong choruses and bright melodies. “Dreaming” was a minor breakout hit for the band this year – the popular notice is both well deserved and a long time coming.

[feature]

Sombear – Love You In The Dark [spotify]

Sombear doesn’t sound anything like Now, Now, the day gig of Brad Hale (and the authors of my #7 album of 2012). Hale’s one-man electronic project is as expansive as that band is insular; Love You In The Dark runs the gamut from shimmery Transatlanticism (“Incredibly Still”) to piston-pumping NINtronica (“LA”) to Daft funk (“Never Say Baby”). But just like with Now, Now, there are hooks for days in Love You In The Dark; if they’re maybe not as sharp, they’re a whole heck of a lot quicker to reveal themselves.

[feature]

Sparks The Rescue – Truth Inside The Fiction EP [spotify] / The Secrets We’ve Kept [bandcamp]

Sparks The Rescue have fallen out of the popular spotlight, and while that’s surely been trying for the (few) remaining members, it’s also freed them to expand their range without pushback. Truth Inside The Fiction explores breezy pop, plaintive folk and more – it even tries its hand at Americana, reggae and white-boy funk, often (though not always) very well. Alex Roy’s singularly distinctive vocals are the remaining constant, tying the EP back the rest of the band’s catalog.

The Secrets We’ve Kept collects b-sides, demos and unreleased detritus from throughout the band’s career, and to be honest I haven’t spent much time with it yet.

The Strokes – Comedown Machine [spotify]

I get it. The Strokes aren’t cool anymore. Arcade Fire are. How else to explain why the latter’s James Murphy-ized Reflektor rode in atop a massive wave of hype, while the similarly-discofied Comedown Machine went virtually ignored?Recognizably Strokes-y but working from a whole bag of new production tricks, Comedown Machine is the best surprise of the year, and the best Strokes album since Is This It. I didn’t think they had this in them anymore.

Tilian – Material Me [spotify]

Tilian Pearson is best know for his work in the progressive post-hardcore scene, primarily as the soaring, near-falsetto clean voice behind Tides of Man (and, soon, Dance Gavin Dance). But as well as those vocals cut through the dense, heavy arrangements of rock bands, they pair just as well with dancey electro and blip-n-loop ballads. Material Me is inconsistent at times, but at its heights, like on the irrepressible “Waste  My Time,” it’s hard to imagine Pearson’s golden throat is meant for anything but pop perfection.

[feature]

Touche Amore – Is Survived By [spotify]

Typically, the token hardcore record on the hip music blogs’ year-end lists makes it there precisely because it incorporates sounds and ideas from outside of hardcore’s sphere (see: Fucked Up – David Comes To Life. Or even Husker Du – Zen Arcade). Touche Amore, on the other hand, have managed it by simply making a traditional hardcore record that’s so damn good it can’t be ignored. Jeremy Bolm’s has been the best lyricist in hardcore for a while now, but on Is Survived By, he’s gone next-level.

Transit – Young New England [spotify] / Futures & Sutures [spotify]

From my review of the controversial Young New England:

Credit Transit for not burying the lede. Young New England, the band’s knotty fourth full-length, wrestles with those titular twin poles of identity — age and place — in each of its thirteen songs. […] Young New England is the stormily evocative depiction of a band working through that transitional time between legal adulthood and the real deal, as seen from the center of the maelstrom. As such, it can be a tough listen at times, but also a rewarding one, precisely because its flaws are its most interesting parts.

Futures & Sutures remakes tracks from both Young New England and past releases with new recordings and instrumentation.

[review]

Twin Forks – Tour EP [youtube] / Twin Forks EP [spotify]

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I have a serious aversion to Mumfordcore clap-n-stomp bullshit, but Chris Carrabba’s new project  – which also includes Suzie Zeldin of The Narrative (who made my #2 album of 2010) and Favorite Gentlemen’s favorite gentleman, Ben Homola – has its heart in the right place. Carrabba’s dabbled in this territory before – the lovely cover of Gillian Welch’s “Hard Times” on the Tour EP seems like a good indication that the project is more than conveniently-timed trendhopping – and his songwriting chops translate well.

I was also honored to score the first interview with the band, during SXSW, so I’ve got a soft spot for them for sure.

[interview]

Vinnie Caruana – City By The Sea EP [spotify]

Vinnie Caruana, when he’s not fronting I Am The Avalanche, is one of my favorite solo singer-songwriters to catch live. His shows tend to be spirited, dynamic, rough-edged and drunkenly unpredictably, and by those standards the relatively staid City By The Sea, with its reserved arrangements and production shmaltz, is something of a disappointment. That said, it’s a solid little EP; tracks like “Somehow The World Keeps Turning” and “Boy You’re In Heaven” are winners, even if old favorite “To Be Dead and In Love” has been completely neutered by its arrangement.

William Control – Skeleton Strings [youtube]

A collection of acoustic covers (including a few rearrangements of his own prior work), Skeleton Strings is a reminder of why I so enjoy Wil’s acoustic material. His deep, gothy croon fits all of the material here exquisitely, and combined with the simple arrangements, the album glows with a lushly arch romanticism.

The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation [spotify]

The conclusion of the Wonder Years’ trilogy ranged further afield sonically than its predecessors, spending too much time dabbling in mid-tempo mid-90’s-style alt-rock to reach the heights of 2011’s taut Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing (my #10 album of that year.) That’s the price you pay for ambition sometimes. Still, when The Greatest Generation hits, like on “The Bastards, The Vultures, The Wolves,” it hits hard.

Yr Own 5-10-15-20

markrichardson:

5-10-15-20 is a regular feature on Pitchfork where we ask musicians about the music from their lives in 5-year intervals; I’ve done fun interviews with Johnny Marr and John Cale. If you wanted to do one I’d love to read it. I’ll add mine at some point. You could give the year for each age.

5 (1984): Paul McCartney & Wings – “Uncle Albert

I don’t much remember what I was listening to at age 5. I actually have much stronger musical memories from being 2 and 3: riding my rocking horse, Rusty, to the sounds of Michael Jackson’s Thriller; dancing with my dad in the living room of our townhouse to Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong’s sublime rendition of “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” and Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut”; digging through my parents’ record collection, marveling at the cover of Osibisa’s self-titled album, laughing about the fact that there was a band called Bread (come to think of it, I still do that now).

At 5, we moved to Connecticut; I started Kindergarten; I spent a lot of time watching He-Man and Transformers and USA Network’s Cartoon Express. Those are the things I remember about that time; I don’t think music was ever quite absent from my life, but there’s a gap there that opened shortly before and would close again a few years later.

There was a car my dad had, an ugly orange thing with a decaying inner roof lining and an 8-track player, the cassettes for which were prone to melting in the sun. Cassettes like The Doors’ Greatest Hits and Paul McCarney & Wings’ Ram. The sound of thunder in “Uncle Albert” scared me. I think that was around this time.

10 (1989): Bruce Springsteen – “Darlington County

The age intervals for this exercise are very awkward; my real transitional moment, the point at which I truly fell for music and everything changed, came at 11 or 12. Perhaps that’s by design? – from my experience, many, perhaps even most, people who grew into “music people” hit their stride at around that same age, so maybe this is intended to capture folks at the awkward age immediately before.

At 10, I was still pretty in-the-dark about the musical world around me; it wasn’t something I actively sought out, or had strong feelings on. I’m actually sitting here Googling songs I have random memories of from around that time, catching a snippet of a video on MTV or remembering a moment from the radio or something, to see when they came out; I haven’t found one that was actually in 1989 yet. I have some weird, vague memory of listening to a cassette of Springsteen’s Born In The USA, particularly the song “Darlington County,"before school one morning on a portable tape player. I don’t know why I had it, or how. I certainly didn’t know anything about Springsteen, or care, or have particularly strong feelings (or any feelings at all, really) about his music. I hesitate to even list it; I’m sure it’s not representative of what I was listening to at the time (if I was even listening to anything), and it isn’t in any way meaningful to me (though, a good two decades later, I did rediscover – and have a brief infatuation with – that album). But I don’t know what else to put down.

15 (1994): Live – ”Lightning Crashes

No, the big year for me was 1991; that was the year I discovered everything. The Shamen’s En Tact. Nirvana’s Nevermind. B-104’s Sunday night hour of "modern rock”, Planet B. 120 Minutes. College radio from WMUH. And most of all, Live’s Mental Jewelry. I loved everything about it, from the first time I saw four kids from just a few miles southwest of me dancing around a fire on MTV. The righteous anger of “Operation Spirit” and “Waterboy”. The spiritual yearning of “Mother Earth Is A Vicious Crowd” and “10,000 Years”. Everything about it spoke to me, and I wore that cassette tape out, to the point where I had to unspool it, cut out the mangled bits and splice it back together with scotch tape on multiple occasions. Live (+Live+, for those who were in the know) were my band.

So when I discovered in 1994 that they were finally putting out a second album, I could not have been more excited, in the way only 15 year olds can’t be more excited. Advance lead single “Selling The Drama” felt like a bit of a departure (where were those frenetic, popping basslines?); still, I grew to enjoy it pretty quickly. But it was no preparation for the full album – whatever Throwing Copper lacked in uncontrolled energy, it more than made up for with a more sharply-directed, heavier-hitting (if more cryptic) anger, from the dark pulse of “The Dam At Otter Creek” (still one of the best album, and concert, openers ever as far as I’m concerned) on through to the burn-it-all-down armageddon of “White, Discussion”. Indeed, the only track on the album I didn’t care for, the one I skipped each time as I listened on my Discman at Camp Airy that Summer of 1994, was “Lightning Crashes”. I didn’t hate it, per se; I just found it boring. The ballad that broke up the album’s pummeling flow. 

So naturally, “Lightning Crashes” was the album’s third single, and the one that, after a year-long slow burn, finally catapulted Throwing Copper to #1 on the Billboard charts, exactly one year after the its release. It became the song that defined the band; suddenly, this little thing I had loved in private for three years was “that band with the song with the placenta”. Suddenly, everyone loved this private thing of mine. Just a hair less suddenly, everyone hated this private thing of mine. It was weird and wonderful and terrible all at once, to see this little band of mine become something so definitively not mine.

It’s something that’s happened to me countless times since, but you never forget your first.

20 (1999): Old 97’s – “Jagged

Like a lot of people around the Turn Of The Millennium, I fell hard for the alt-country scene. Granted I was listening to a ton of other stuff too – everything from Moxy Fruvous to Bad Religion to Reel Big Fish to Our Lady Peace to Blur – but if you were to ask me for my current favorite artist in 1999, I would have said Old 97’s without hesitation, and both Whiskeytown and Uncle Tupelo would have been right behind. I was an avid reader of No Depression; I was already spinning Johnny Cash’s American and tracks by the Jayhawks and Beechwood Sparks and whatever else I could on my new music show at WBRS, and would soon start DJing a weekly country/bluegrass/y’allternative show.

I saw the band debut this track during a marathon show at TT The Bear’s that January, a two-and-a-half-hour-long sweat-drenched bodies-crammed-in-at-twice-capacity epic of a show that I still rank among the best I’ve ever been to. The 97’s were riding high on their career-defining Too Far To Care, and while Fight Songs ultimately proved to be a much lighter affair, “Jagged” was a brooding jolt of electric desperation that stunned everyone in the room, myself included. It was soul-stirring; I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since.

25 (2004): My Chemical Romance – “Thank You For The Venom

2002-2005 rivals the early 90’s musically in terms of importance to me; it was another period of seismic shift in my listening habits. Alt-country had burnt itself out; alternative decayed into NickelCreed; indie rock was dreadfully uninspiring, with all the joy I’d taken in acts in the late 90’s like Belle & Sebastian snuffed out by the brooding, art-damaged likes of Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, bands that (so far as I could tell) only people in New York and readers of Spin even pretended to care about. I was listening to a lot of music, but finding myself inspired by less and less of it.

It was also a transitional time of my life. Boston led to San Diego; San Diego led to boredom; boredom led me to MakeOutClub; and MakeOutClub led me to an emo scene that was just on the verge of breaking into the mainstream. That was late 2002, and I lept in headfirst, gobbling up all ends of it, everyone from the likes of Akaline Trio to Coheed & Cambria to The Blood Brothers to From Autumn To Ashes. The scene bubbled bigger and bigger until, in the summer of 2004, it seemed like the world suddenly flipped on its head in a way I hadn’t seen since Seattle kicked hair metal to the curb.

I had seen My Chemical Romance live a couple years prior, and had enjoyed their set, so I was expecting good things from the band’s upcoming second album, but I was still completely blown away by the awesome, hooky power of Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge. I wasn’t the only one, either; if emo had been forcing its way through the cracks in the dam for a year, “I’m Not OK” (and, perhaps, Hawthorne Heights’ “Ohio Is For Lovers”) was the drop that cleaved the levee in two. I liked that one, but it was “Thank You For The Venom” that really captured me; I remember sitting on my floor playing the album for the first time over my computer, and feeling the guitar solo suck the breath out of me, only to gasp it back in as Gerard Way exploded into the final chorus as the drums kicked into half-time. The power, the intensity, the tunefulness despite; I knew I was right where I belonged, and I haven’t left since.

30: (2009): Owl City – “Umbrella Beach

By 2009, I was writing about music here and compiling yearly Top Ten lists, so what I was listening to is all right there. It was the height of the scene’s neon phase and the apex of laptop-pop, and I was all for it, though that’s not so much reflected in my year-end picks. Looking back, it’s probably due to the fact that that era was marked more by great singles than by great albums. At this point I was living in NYC, settled in and going to shows 4-5 days a week. I spent a large chunk of the year out of work, and took the opportunity to both listen to and write about a lot of music; it was a key time for me deciding to take the music writing thing more seriously.

I was a big fan of Owl City’s prior work, and the two single releases which preceded Ocean Eyes – “Hot Air Balloon” and “Strawberry Avalanche” – were pure gold. So it was both a pleasant surprise and a bit of a relief when Ocean Eyes actually lived up to the anticipation I had laid on it. I spent many a late night during that period when I was out of work wandering lower Manhattan with that album on my iPod; it was a soothing, warming accompaniment, it turned what could have been a series of sad-luck strolls into genuinely enjoyable experiences. Adam Young’s wide-eyed optimism comes in unceasing tidal waves; they crash down over the top of you, there’s no way to avoid getting soaked in his positivity, of sucking it into your lungs, of not giving in to the joyous, peaceful baptism of sound. It was exactly the music I needed exactly when I needed it, and until “Fireflies” took off at the very end of the year, it was very much the private pleasure I needed it to be.

Now Playing: Alkaline Trio – “Queen Of Pain”

now playing: Alkaline Trio – Alkaline Trio / Hot Water Music split [spotify] – Queen Of Pain [spotify]

Again, not actually listening to music here at work, just the last thing I heard on the way in. Which means it’ll probably stay here til I listen to something else on the way out. No complaints here. (Except for the complaint that they cancelled their tour…)

[…]

I gave her mix CDs. Rob Gordon style. But I’m less of a fuckup. I hope.

She’s gonna come to Drive-By Truckers on Thursday. She’s never heard em. They’re pretty left-of-mainstream I suppose. But she digs the classic rock, so I think she’ll get into the whole three guitar, Southern Rock Opera stuff.

[Drive By Truckers – Southern Rock Opera: A 2-disc rock opera about growing up in the South, hating your roots and eventually coming to understand them, and the “duality of the Southern thang” as told through the fragmented story of a fictional Lynyrd-Skynyrd-esque band. Songs include “Ronnie and Neil,” a discussion of Ronnie Van Zant and Neil Young’s friendship and abiding musical respect for one another despite their well-publicized “Southern Man / Sweet Home Alabama” feud, and “the Three Great Alabama Icons,” a meandering story piece touching on Van Zant, Bear Bryant and George Wallace and their meaning in contextualizing the South.]

[…]

World in Fascination
as we’re turning in space
without knowing where we’re going to
we’ll have to take our chances
World in Fascination
as we’re moving through time,
don’t know where we’re going
but I’m sure that we’ll be just fine…
–Machine in Motion

originally posted 1/21/03

Alkaline Trio – “Armageddon”

Alkaline Trio – From Here To Infirmary [spotify] – Armageddon [spotify]

[…]

So one of the downsides to always posting from work is that I never get to use that cool little “what music are you listening to now” feature. This office could use some music, BTW, cuz right now it’s so quiet I can actually hear the air conditioner going. Anyways, I’ll take this opportunity to update what I’ve been listening to lately:

Blood Brothers – Burn Piano Island, Burn
I know I’ve gone on and on about them already, but this album is gonna put them on the map. Amazing melodic hardcore, somewhere between Husker Du and At The Drive In and The Locust.

Brand New – Your Favorite Weapon
Kind of hit-or-miss, but when they hit, damn. Pretty standard pop-punk, but some of the most biting lyrics I’ve ever heard.

Wilco – Being There
After listening to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for a year, Being There suddenly makes a lot more sense; you can see how the odd bits of ambient noise and the subtle production quirks led them to where they’re at today. Disc One is fantastic in and of itself; Misunderstood is as strong an album opener as I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, I Got You and Outta Site (Outta Mind) are perfect country-pop-rock, Forget the Flowers and Red Eyed and Blue are both Americana at its best.

Alkaline Trio – From Here to Infirmary
Like all of Alk3’s stuff, it can be spotty, but its far and away the best thing they’ve done to date, thanks to a couple really standout trtracks (Private Eye, Stupid Kid, Armageddon). Only when I’m in the right mood. Which has been quite often lately.

Kevin Seconds – Matt Skiba/Kevin Seconds split
As I said above, Alk3’s stuff can be spotty, and most of the Skiba tracks are pretty weak. But the five contributions from Kevin Seconds make for a fantastic EP. Upbeat acoustic pop with a little bit of edge and some wry lyrics, I need to check out more of his stuff.

Coheed & Cambria – The Second Stage Turbine Blade
I’ve definitely talked about this one in an earlier entry, but Devil in Jersey City kicks my butt every time I hear it, I’m sooo psyched to be seeing them in a couple weeks!

I’m sure there’s more, but thats all I can think of off the top of my head. But I think I gotta do this more regularly; it reminds me how much I miss writing about music. I did close to 100 reviews over two years of writing at Brandeis, I would love to have the opportunity to do it again.

I suppose I should get back to work…

originally written 1/16/03

Alkaline Trio – “Dead On The Floor”

Alkaline Trio – Dead On The Floor

like two ships in the night
we’re colliding and sinking
into the black sea of our love

[…]

when you asked me if I’d stay forever
guess you meant just for the week
we felt so good together
it was way too good to be

miss you, Lace

TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2008

(feat track. – The Gaslight Anthem – “Meet Me By The River’s Edge”)

Today concludes my reposting of past years’ Top Ten lists, with my Top 10 of 2008.  Starting tomorrow, I’ll begin posting my 2009 list, counting it down one album per day.

I went a lot more in depth on my 2008 list, first published in January 2009.  I think it’s a trend I’ll carry through to this year.

Looking back at the list, while I would (as always) make my tweaks and changes, I think it mostly still holds true.  Though of course there hasn’t been nearly as much time between this list and some of the others – maybe in a couple more years I’ll think otherwise. One thing I’m certain of, though, and that’s that my Top Album of 2008 was the right pick.  It’s easily one of my top 5 albums of the decade, and might challenge for the #1 spot.

Alright, time for my yearly top ten. I actually got it out a little sooner than I have in previous years. In part, I think that’s because I’ve simply resigned myself to the fact that there’s a lot of music from 2008 I’m just not going to get around to listening to anytime soon. Which isn’t to say I didn’t listen to much this year; if anything, I think I found myself listening to more, and a wider range of, albums on a regular basis than in the past few years. Like last year, this year was a great year for new music; I think that, as culture has splintered and pop culture (or even counterculture) has been replaced by an endless web of microcultures, the amount of great diverse music out there has grown and grown.

Last year there was a lot of very good music, but no real great standout for me. This year, my number one album stood quite clearly above the heap. Which isn’t to knock anything else on the list; its just that this years top album is probably my favorite record since the 4 or 5 truly stellar releases of 2005.

Before I get started, there are two albums I’ve excluded from my Top Ten list for non-musical reasons. One, Vampire Weekend’s “Vampire Weekend” is being excluded because I included their “Blue CDR” demo on last year’s top 10 list, and “Vampire Weekend” includes all the tracks of that demo. The Second is Thrice’s “The Alchemy Index: Vol. 3 and 4”. Vol. 1 and 2 were released last year, and while each half was released as a standalone disc, they’re meant to be listened to and evaluated as a whole (or perhaps in their four individual parts). So while neither are on my list, both are as good as anything released in 2008.

That said, without further ado, my Top Ten Albums of 2008:

10. Cash Cash – Take It To The Floor – As dance-emo-pop goes (I have no idea what to call this genre, if it’s got a name at all, but it’s definitely its own distinct genre – think Forever The Sickest Kids, HelloGoodbye, PlayRadioPlay!, (newer) The Higher, A Rocket To The Moon, Cobra Starship, etc.), this album is heads and shoulders above the rest. The songs are more fully formed, hookier, and just flat-out better. Predictions are a dodgy business, but I could definitely see these guys becoming the next Metro Station this year.

9.5 Matisyahu – Shattered EP – A stunning turn after his dismal previous release, Youth. Youth was limpid, unsteady, full of weakly formed songs and some of the most pale production I’ve suffered through in ages. Shattered, in contrast, hits hard and fast and strong, with some tremendous beats, solid hooks, and real emotion. Matis crawls through a weird, trippy long-dark-night-of-the-soul on this one, and it’s an epic journey back to relevance.


9. The Academy Is… – Fast Times At Barrington High – Another one that really caught me off guard. I was never a big fan of TAI’s middle-of-the-road emo-pop, but on Fast Times they’ve discovered pathos. There’s a minor-key darkness that runs through the album; not bitter, but sad; not angry, but longing. It’s not a mopey album. It just has real emotional heft that I hadn’t expected from what had previously been as straightforward a pop group as there is.

8. Airiel – The Battle of Sealand – I hesitate to lump Airiel into the nu-gaze scene, because this album stands on par with the best of the classic shoegaze scene like My Bloody Valentine and Ride. No mere aping of genre tropes, Sealand incorporates modern studio wizardry in the best of ways, bringing swirling beats and modern flair to Airiel’s blissed-out guitar and vocal drone. It might be an epic album; it certainly feels like one.

7. The Airborne Toxic Event – The Airborne Toxic Event – The Airborne Toxic Event marry a Strokes-y rawness to sad country-folk (think more “hungover” than “boozy”) without making it feel cobbled together. Add in rambling lyrics that constantly teeter on the edge of a train wreck but always seem to take just the right turn at the last minute and you’ve got one hell of a compelling debut.

6.5 Janelle Monae – Metropolis: The Chase Suite EP – Outkast style r&b, Rhianna-esque pop and the wacky Afro-Futurism of Afrika Bambaataa and George Clinton all run headlong into Janelle Monae’s soaring vocals on this concept EP. It’s weird and wonderful, beautiful and bangin’, affected and infectious.

6. Ludo – You’re Awful, I Love You – Ludo do the sort of off-beat, quirky humorous pop-rock that once ruled the radio during the heyday of Weezer, Harvey Danger and Nada Surf. And they do it just as well as any of those three, if not better.

5. Noah and the Whale – Peaceful. The World Lays Me Down – As twee indie-pop goes, Noah and the Whale have it nailed down. Cute/poignant lyrics, rinky-dink instrumentation, the whole thing has that wonderful tape-and-construction-pape r feel. But unlike a lot of their peers, these guys write songs. Good ones. Sometimes, great ones. Maybe my favorite twee-pop album since the first couple Belle & Sebastian discs.

4. Alkaline Trio – Agony & Irony – By now, we know what to expect from Alkaline Trio. So what to do when you can’t really do things differently? Simple – do them better! Agony & Irony take their dark, Burton-esque melodic pop/rock (not so much punk anymore) and hitch it to the best batch of songs they’re written in years. The Trio have always had a knack for great occasional tracks, but unlike the last few albums there’s no B-material on the B-side of this one. Plus they take what should by all rights be completely worn out tropes and still manage to make them clever.

3. Jack’s Mannequin – The Glass Passenger – Andrew McMahon is free of cancer and, apparently, free of any need to work within constraints any longer. The Glass Passenger is a sprawling piano-pop masterpiece.

2. Old 97’s – Blame It On Gravity – By now, we know what to expect from The Old 97’s. So what to do when you can’t really do things differently? Simple – do them better! (See what I did there? Clever, innit?) No really, this is just the most solid set of tracks they’ve done in years. The Easy Way, Here’s To The Halcyon, and Color Of A Lonely Heart Is Blue went instantly to the top of my “favorite Old 97’s” songs list. Their last album, while unfairly panned, felt a bit perfunctory – a number of the tracks were songs that didn’t make the cut for previous albums. This time out, they feel fully revitalized. Rhett is clearly channeling his best material into the 97s again instead of his solo jaunts, and it makes all the difference.

and this year’s #1 is…

1. The Gaslight Anthem – The ‘59 Sound – Like I said back at the beginning, this was far and away my favorite album of the year. In fact, I pretty much knew it was going to top my year-end list from the first listen I gave it back in June – I’ve been comparing everything I’ve heard since to it, and nothing’s come close. In terms of songwriting, production, instrumentation, track order/flow, thematic strength, it’s nothing short of perfect. It’s 12 tracks, any of which would have been one of my favorite singles of the year, and yet 90% of the time I listen to the whole thing together as an album because it’s so much more than the mere sum of it’s parts. I could run out a list of comparators – Against Me, Social Distortion, John Mellancamp, Springsteen – or of stuff they reference – Audrey Hepburn, Casablanca, sailor tattoos, Springsteen again – but the album is so rich with them all, so fully imbued with their essence, that it’s at once wholly of its antecedents and entirely singular. Just a spectacular triumph.

Honorable Mentions go to:

Parts and Labor – Receivers
Armor for Sleep – The Way Out Is Broken EP
Los Campesinos – Hold On Now, Youngster…
The Matches – A Band In Hope
Ghost Town Trio – Have You Heard EP
The Maine – Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2005

(feat. track – Cartel – “Save Us (Alternate Take)”)

So for the next 4 days I’m going to post my Top 10 lists from the past 4 years, along with one cut from my choice for top album of each year.  Remember, these were the lists as I made them at the time.  In retrospect, there are a lot of great albums from some of these years that I didn’t discover until later, and some of my choices haven’t held up, but that’s the danger anytime you try and make a list I suppose.  These things naturally change over time. So consider these lists a snapshot of my view on each year in music, right at the conclusion of that year.

So with that said, my Top 10 Albums Of 2005 (originally published Jan 2006)

Top 10 Albums of 2005:

10. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
9. Mae – The Everglow
8. Gratitude – Gratitude
7. Bright Eyes- I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
6. Bob Mould – Body Of Song
5. The Rocket Summer – Hello Good Friend
4. Fall Out Boy – From Under the Cork Tree
3. Adam Richman – Patience And Science
2. Gatsby’s American Dream – Volcano

and the number one album of 2005 is…
CARTEL – CHROMA

Honorable Mentions:
Alkaline Trio – Crimson
Coheed And Cambria – Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Vol. 1: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness
Death Cab For Cutie – Plans
The Higher – Histrionics
Marathon – Marathon
Maria Taylor – 11:11
The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree
Pitty Sing – Pitty Sing

Song of the Year:
(tie)
Maria Taylor – One For The Shareholder
Death Cab For Cutie – I Will Follow You Into The Dark

(I should also note, I’m cheating just a tad here.  The version of Save Us I posted was originally recorded for Chroma, but it was later rerecorded in a different key.  My understanding is that vocalist Will Pugh couldn’t sing it in the original key night after night without shredding his voice – listening, it should be pretty clear why, and also clear why this version not only destroys the album cut but might also be my favorite thing Cartel has ever done).

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