Tag Archives: list3

The Year. 1. And the ecstasy turns the writhing light through our windowpane.

1. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion [US]

It starts out slow, like a wave washing on a shore. Geometry gradually appears in the swells, and Avey Tare shows up to meander and sway through two verses of In The Flowers. Then it happens. The sky cracks open. Like God reaching down through the frescoed roof of a cathedral, but with industrial strength strobe lights, Merriweather Post Pavilion arrives and announces its presence.

It’s stunning. The building blocks are sounds that haven’t been heard before, but the end results are feelings as familiar as can be. Rhythms cascade into each other, with syncopation undercutting the burbling top level, and the melodies seem conjured from some deep subconscious, the songs you hear as you’re falling asleep, or as you are asleep and dreaming, coloured in with the fluorescent paint of plot-free imagination.

Of course, Animal Collective have been one of the best bands around for nearly half a decade. So what’s new? Well, not unlike the career trajectory of Genesis, their drummer found his voice. Panda Bear had songs on Strawberry Jam, but it was still quintessentially an Avey Tare record, like all preceding Animal Collective albums. But his influence on Merriweather Post Pavilion is apparent, and vast.

Panda Bear paints in broad strokes. Avey’s songs are subtle, sometimes wordy, and often fairly complex, but Panda keeps it simple. He wants to build a house for his wife and child. He wants to lie in. He wants to masturbate less. He wants to perk up his brother after their father died. But unlike his solo material, where the swathes of space between his block capital theses are filled largely with sonic wandering, on MPP he has the enviable advantage of a genius and a bearded man to shade the shapes in subtler colours.

It works the other way too. Avey can still go on lyrical wanders alone from time to time, but on Also Frightened, they’re locked into almost telepathic step with each other for the entire song. And even on Avey’s tours de force like In The Flowers or Summertime Clothes, the fluid, bathyspheric sound on the album as a whole is the result of synthesis between two creative forces. And also, obviously, synthesis of actual sound.

In The Flowers is the set-piece opener, sui generis and almost physical in its assault, but the closer is just as impressive. Brothersport arrives, a slab of iced pop, after No More Runnin’, MPP’s only true pretty meander in the old AC style. There’s no mystery about this one. “Open up your, open up your, open up your throat”. Shuffling, quasi-“world” rhythms underpin some oscillations and celebratory singing for about a minute and a half before the screaming section, which lasts just as long again, building up drums and angular synth oscillations until finally the clouds of misty mystic haze first unleashed on In The Flowers clear, and Merriweather winds to a close with two minutes of carefree dancing.

I could write a 33 1/3 book about this album. Maybe some day I’ll try. But I need to pick an arbitrary point to shut up about it here, so this might as well be it. It’s been a year since Merriweather Post Pavilion came out, and persistent listening hasn’t worn it out yet. It’s the best album of 2009, for the purposes of this list, but put any arbitrary time period in front of me and I’d make it the best album of that as well. Desert island or wherever, MPP’s coming with me.


The Year. 2. I live in a new construction home.

2. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca [US]

David Longstreth is a lunatic. The reams of evidence speak for themselves. Take for example, the title of the album. An obscure reference or esoteric metaphor, surely? No, the words sound good together. That’s more than a little fitting, though. One’s the German word for please, and the other’s a carnivorous whale. Totally unrelated until a mind sucking inspiration via Tesla induction from sources we could never comprehend decided to juxtapose them, and now it’s a thing.

Why is that fitting? Because that’s what the music on Bitte Orca is, too. Stuff, jammed together, because it sounds kind of good. When bands do that, they’re usually “experimental”. Well, Dirty Projectors are experimental. They’re experimental when Solange Knowles covers Stillness Is The Move. They’re experimental when Annie Clark claims “you’d need to go to classes to bridge the Dave Longstreth gap”, guitar-wise. They are at the vanguard of music, deconstructing it completely, rethinking it and executing it with a new palate.

This review could easily be a prose explication of everything that happens on Bitte Orca, from the shuddering, invocatory guitar part at the start of Cannibal Resource to the last pulses of the lobotomised organ on Fluorescent Half-Dome. But what good would that be? Everyone has ears, and I imagine nearly everyone has headphones. Use them, and you’ll experience maybe the most meticulously produced, perfectly mixed album you’ll hear.

But here, I’ll stick to what’s rewriting the script for everyone else. How about an album with fantastic harmonies that DON’T invite a comparison to the Beach Boys? I’m sure in the initial reviews somebody managed to say they were Wilsonian or surfy or something, but they’re not. Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman’s harmonies fill the space a keyboard, or strings, or even a non-arachnid guitar would fill on a regular album. They are not window dressing, they are structurally important bricks in the fabric of the songs.

The aahs after the initial BITTE ORCA ORCA BITTE section of Useful Chamber [3.09] nearly popped my eyeballs with excitement when I first properly noticed them. Why? Well, the first time round, they were harsh, nasal. The second time, they were dove-like and soothing. Same syllable, same notes, same harmony, but a step to a totally new mood, nonetheless. It’s that attention to texture and detail that makes Bitte Orca such a rewarding listen. Put it in a museum if you don’t want to listen to it now, with the scores and “On top of every mountain there is a longing for another even higher mountain” written calligraphically over a drippingly derivative Longstreth cast as Alexander at the Hindu Kush.

I might not be giving much of an impression of the album. Two Doves is an acoustic folk song with string backing, prettier than carved crystal. What’s the Dave Longstreth gap here? Well, try the line “Your hair is like an eagle”. Temecula Sunrise is a pretty immediate, riffy piece of work at times, but fuck knows what it’s actually about – guy in new house with something that’s like Gatorade in some way, who then agrees to let someone move in with him if they agree to do the dishes. He is confident the new housemate will do the dishes.

There aren’t enough question marks in the printed history of the English language to account for every baffling moment on Bitte Orca. But that’s the beauty of it. If you’re listening properly, you’ll be surprised roughly once every five seconds. It’s a stunning piece of artifice, without category or place in any current generic spidergram.

Its originality means that it will open doors for bands that follow, both in terms of style and simply in terms of showing how pop music can be. After all, calm down the guitar part and smooth the drums out and it could easily be Mariah Carey singing Stillness Is The Move. It’s not though, thankfully. Bitte Orca will be a monument, a fork in the road musically. Right now, it’s just what it is. It never sits still, it constantly amazes and yet it’s eminently listenable. There aren’t many better.

Eight out of the ten years of the 00s, this’d be a lock for number one. Longstreth’s fairly contemplative, it seems from interviews. The video to Stillness Is The Move is excellent. Here’s the St. Vincent interview where Annie coined the Longstreth gap, and the Solange Knowles cover.

The Year. 3. Making faces at acquired tastes.

3. Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer [CAN]

If you’ve built your career on obscurity, what does it mean to develop confidence in clarity? If your whole oeuvre was predicated on showing just enough but not too much, how do you turn on the floodlights, dust off the cobwebs and still remain what you’ve always been? Dragonslayer is Sunset Rubdown woken up, stretched and ready to be taken for what they are, without overdubs, without obliqueness, without conceit. Well, to an extent. It’s still Apollo kissing the valley girls rather than, y’know, Dave. But at least it’s not secret knowledge. That shroud of mystique has been attractive in the past, but it’s not necessary any more.

The lyrics, tangled in metaphor as they are, are sometimes staggeringly beautiful. Couplets or even turns of phrase alone can be blinding the way a blizzard is, or take out your stomach the way a rollercoaster does. “I’d like to watch the white flash of your heels/As they take turn breaking the desert heat/and beckon me in languages I’ve never learned.”

If you’ve been following Spencer’s mind from project to project, you’ll know Call It A Ritual on the last Wolf Parade album saw him drive, accompanied, into the desert. Is this a sequel? Are these swatches in a great quasi-literary tapestry that will eventually come together and allow itself be read as biography, psychology and not-quite-literature? It hasn’t felt like that much up to now. But with every extra watt of light shed onto the songs, there’s a distinct and ongoing impression of being allowed a glimpse at some hitherto forbidden truth.

And hey, there’s music here too. Apologies if I’m coming off a bit Richard Ellmann in that regard. There are songs. Great songs. Silver Moons is understated and mature, but atmospheric and affecting. Idiot Heart is ALMOST danceable. Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh! is careful and spidery, then nostalgic and celebratory, then slightly sinister and inquisitive. Intelligent indie rock, perfected after three albums, and smelling distinctly of a band on a hot streak.

Then there’s You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II). As smart as Mending of the Gown, as obscurely heartfelt as Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts, as sad as Stadiums and Shrines II, it is, dreadfully aware of this blog’s penchant for hyperbole and ploughing on regardless, a masterpiece. There is no corner Spencer Krug can’t turn in a song, and there is no human feeling he can’t expose once it’s turned. In earnest, if it wasn’t for a misstep or two (Swan Lake adaptation Paper Lace in particular), this would be one place higher, if not at the top outright.

Interview from Totally Dublin. Plenty of Spencerian exegetics on the blog in the past. Sorry if anyone’s missing context for any of the song names and stuff, but I’ve written Krug panegyrics too many times to still do the background.

The Year. 4. Outward reaching… expecting hands!

4. Clues – Clues [CAN]

Let’s get this over with. Brendan Reed, who used to be in Arcade Fire, is on this. This is better than anything he did with Arcade Fire. It’s actually probably better than anything Arcade Fire ever did, full stop. This is also Alden Penner from the Unicorns’ new band. It could be better than anything the Unicorns did, too. But it has been met by the world with two Canadian band names in hand, ready to compare and contrast. That’s fine.

It starts with an invocation. “Outward reaching, expecting hands”. Then a pause. “Searching for what the eyes cannot see”. Follow it through crashing drums, through light whispers and hinted guitars, and find something frenzied. This is Haarp. It’s Clues, it’s not Unicorns (and definitely not Arcade Fire), and it’s ready to stand up for itself.

The adjectives here are things like “tense” and “uneasy”. Melodic too. But strange. Think of it like the spirit of a regular, fruity indie pop album pressed down into a container, held at way too high a pressure, turning unstable. Sometimes it just squeaks out, ghostly and jilted. Other times, like on Haarp, or Cave Mouth, the screws pop out of the container and all this energy comes crashing and tumbling out at the speed of light.

It’s all imbued with this weirdness, but it’s also eminently listenable, even when it tries unusual stuff: jaunty gypsy carnival piano on the unsettling A Perfect Fit is one obvious example of a song that would probably be terrible if it was by anyone else, but Penner’s personality and the general spark of pop genius present on the album makes it work. Or Ledmonton, which has a melody not dissimilar to Greensleeves before cracking open into a raw-throated communal battle hymn of no-one in particular.

Clues hit heights. Haarp’s frantic riff. The kick-in of Cave Mouth. Ledmonton’s explosion. When they get there, there’s nothing that can compete with them. For all the consideration of its creators’ past lives, it might be good to recall for a second that this is a debut album. The best one since Vampire Weekend last year maybe, and if your tolerance for being mushroom cloud tattoos is higher than your tolerance for collegiate grief, it could be even better than that.

Live review from here, and Bobby’s interview with Alden on State. For the second consecutive year I have had no internet at home over Christmas. Getting there, though.

The Year. 5. Who cares if there’s a party somewhere?

5. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – The Pains of Being Pure At Heart

It is my considered opinion that 2009 will come to be known as a year that music progressed more than it did in other years, largely by virtue of the release of one or two paradigm-changing monoliths. Neither of those paradigm-changing monoliths are by the Pains of Being Pure At Heart.

I think when I first came across this album, it was as one of those anonymous downloads, a link someone had dumped in a chat window or a message or on a forum that I clicked without looking up any biography or even checking what it sounded like. For this reason, I presumed they were Scottish for at least two months. Call it musical profiling, but the hallmarks are all there. Reverb on everything. Jangly guitars. Dual gender unison harmonies on important lines. A certain, mostly affected naivety. This band should be from Glasgow, and they should be from the past.

They’re not, though. They’re from Brooklyn, they’re from now, and they’ve made an album that plays better start to finish than most 80s indie pop best-ofs. And it really does play like a singles compilation. Every song carries its weight. They’re not the kind of band who ever lay off the gas a little with slow songs or instrumentals and then bring it back up with a stormer. Every song could be the song that gets you into the POBPAH.

My favourite, the one that walked me from place to place the most this year, is Come Saturday. With a hook that’s 6.5 Abbas on the catchiness scale and enough energy to catapult a human to Mars, it’s easily one of the songs of the year. But it’s also (and get used to this sort of thing) about NOT going out. “Who cares if there’s a party somewhere? We’re gonna stay in!”. There’s something very appealing about this projection of being sad in the northeast Atlantic, anorak sense (rather than the universal, unhappy sense). POBPAH aren’t the first to do it, but they’re close to the best.

I’m sure for every Pains of Being Pure At Heart fan, there’s a different stand out song. The obligatory One With The Drumbeat From Just Like Honey, maybe. Or the weird one ostensibly about loving your sister. And I’d bet the strange teenage loyalty to that song is the same. POBPAH make you want to write their name on your pencil case. They make you want to buy pencils and a pencil case to hold them, just to write their name on it. They’re a pop band out of synch with their time, and all the more brilliant for it.

Hated critical hegemon site has you covered with content on this band, as usual.

The Year. 8-6

8. Patrick Kelleher – You Look Cold [IRL]

In July I called You Look Cold “as frozen and synaesthetic as anything you’re likely to hear this year”, as if frigidity and synaesthesia were primary criteria in anyone’s taste checklist. Not that I want to retract or anything. It crunches underfoot as you listen to it, definitely, and it recalls maybe the smell of mouldy wallpaper or overheated chips from toyshop Casios. The delivery changes from song to song. Until I Get Paid is some exceptionally bizarre ghost doo-wop, where Wintertime’s Doll is a creaky, spacious dirge and Blue Eyes is threateningly sinister accelerando analogue electronica. But what binds them is the juxtaposition of metronome beats from evidently cheap instruments with lush, considered layers, icy futurism, dusty pastism and an ability to deliver a song without a blink. Genre-wise, you could throw prefixes (kraut-, freak-, prog-) or suffixes (-folk, -tronica) at this all you want and never end up within fifty miles of accuracy. This is a step forward.

A swathe of stuff from here including pictures, a bootleg and an interview, and an interview from Totally Dublin done in the nice park behind Whelans.

7. The Antlers – Hospice [US]

With every physical copy of Hospice comes a small booklet, eight pages long. On the front is a stylised caduceus, symbol for medicine, in black on a plain white background. It’s perfect, far better than the cartoon hands on the actual album cover, because it’s so economical. There is mostly just white space, like the music. But in the centre is a symbol, a lead to something more. And it’s the caduceus which, long story short, is a symbol that has only come to represent medicine because of a continuous, historically cemented misuse. Which is really almost too perfect to be true for Hospice. Because it’s an album about a hospice, right? About a dying loved one, maybe a relative or a lover? It perfectly evokes the hopelessness and helplessness of those dying days, if you’ve ever experienced them, it goes through the gamut of guilt, anger, desperation, etc. That’s what the lyrics in the book are about, that’s what the spare, resonant music recalls. But scratch closer. Hospice isn’t about death. It’s about love, or the death of love. As a song-cycle, it’s a work of fiction up there with a well-wrought novel. At a casual listen, it’s just deeply moving music.

Totally Dublin interview I was late for with Mr. Peter Silbermann, or their MySpace where old EPs are free.

6. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest [US]

Grizzly Bear is a band with talent, in the traditional, conventional sense. They can all sing pin-point harmonies, they have a knack for arrangement swinging from lush to austere, and above all, they know how to hit a high-point. If a lesser band were equipped with the tools Grizzly Bear have, Veckatimest would be nothing more than loud-quiet-loud with clarinets. But that’s not what it is. It’s sensitive, incredibly careful, constructed with considerable thought and artifice. With creaky attics drums and a reverberating guitar, they build a new, dusty house on the shore, like Yellow House before it. But they shine light in differently this time. At once using a wider lens and more detail, Veckatimest’s caution is what makes the peaks when they come. The human foil to 2009’s insinuated strangeness, Grizzly Bear are not mad experimenters, but carriers of song. So, when the truly transcendent moments do come – and they do, signalled for example by the oscillating organs at 1.45 in Ready, Able – a very specific picture locks in mind. Four men on the Atlantic coast trying to row a wooden row-boat to the cosmos.

An old post partly about how good Grizzly Bear are, and them being too pure for words on Pitchfork.

The Year. 10-9

10. Burywood – There Exists An Abstraction Ladder [US]

This album’s from nowhere, but it synthesises everything. Philip Woodbury is one guy, hype-free, from Austin, Texas, very clearly a fan of music, and of the ‘alt’-sphere in general. “One of us”, I really, really hesitate to say but will say anyway. One of us. So he absorbs it all, the iPod-enabled volumes of music. And he churns it out in new, various ways. Northward is an explosion of distorted drums, and Denton Desert Island is the opposite, reflective and soft, but the thoughts are clear in both. This is not obscure music. It’s serious, self-assured, shooting for a place in the tapestry that its provenance (home-recording, usual story) might not automatically allow it. The people it borrows from – the studied melancholy of Stephin Merritt, or the masterful instrumentation of Kevin Barnes – are the geniuses of the scene. Time might prove Philip Woodbury to be in that company, but whether it does or doesn’t, There Exists An Abstraction Ladder feels like an arrival of something serious.

Ian Thrill Pier is responsible for unearthing this, and here‘s where you can hear what it’s like.

9. Hunter-Gatherer – I Dreamed I Was A Footstep In The Trail Of A Murderer [IRL]

There is music that works on a literal level, that holds you by the shoulders and tells you to your face what it wants to say. After all, everyone relates to a human voice, whether they can understand the story being told or they just appreciate the passion and the melody.

But somewhere below that verbal, literal level, there is music that works in a different way. Music that doesn’t conjure up images of your last girlfriend so much as it reminds you of the feeling in the pit of your stomach when you broke up. It’s ambient music, music that says nothing but somehow means everything. That’s what Hunter-Gatherer does. He once claimed it to be his ultimate ambition “to make a piece of music that could make someone cry.”

That sounds likes a grisly aim for a musician, but it is the dark quality that makes it such a captivating album to listen to. “Left For Dead” sounds like a thunderstorm on a cheap conservatory roof, ominous and all too conscious of the futility of human artifice. “Memory Pillow” is zoned-out, anhedonic half-sleep. The highlight, “The Salivation Army” has the added benefit of being up-tempo enough to sustain some existential techno dancing, if you have imagination enough to consider what that would entail.

At fifteen songs, the album runs the risk of being too long to maintain attention, but the subtle changes in mood stave off any chance of the tracks blending into each other. The only danger, really, is that, listening late at night on headphones as the music nigh demands, you would fall asleep and suddenly find yourself seeing the nightmare tones come to life.

This review is verbatim from Issue 6, Trinity News, who nicely let me away with this sort of thing regularly. Hunter-Gatherer interview from here and one with Dan.