Tag Archives: list4

The Year. 1. Never gonna stop me.

1. Wavves – King of the Beach [US]

I’m having severe difficulty writing about this album. My initial instinct was just to write “hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit”. But it seemed like future me would be disappointed with that, and I’m basically in this to serve the needs of future me. So I have to try.

Considered a few angles. The “emerging from a cloak of fuzz” angle. The “response to Primavera meltdown” angle. The “becoming the reincarnation of Jay Reatard by hiring his band” angle. These are all legitimate narratives. But they’re not the reason this is the best album of 2010. It’s really hard to explain why it is, in any even pseudo-journalistic terms. These are songs you want to shout. They are songs you want as your entrance music when you go to do anything at all. They make you want to do stuff just so you can do it while listening to them.

Invincibility has been a sunken theme in Wavves songs since the beginning, but it’s right above board here. The first song is King of the Beach itself, which features Nathan shouting “NEEEEVER GONNA STOP ME!” over hard-edged guitar pop that basically forms its own nerd mosh pit just by existing. In hip hop, if you want to claim the crown, you just keep calling yourself the best, and you’re entered into the competition. In indie rock, it’s a little more embarrassing to be positive about yourself. But this is the high water mark of all that lo-fi and surf pop and garage rock that California’s been pumping out for the past few years. And if there was gonna be an equivalent title to Greatest Rapper Alive, it’d probably be King Of The Beach.

That celebratory, fuck you sense is in everything on the album. On Idiot, when he’s saying “I bet you laugh right behind my back” the music lets you know the exact nuances of how he’s feeling about that. Take On The World is actually about taking on the world. Even more chilled out (i.e. stonery) things like Convertible Balloon (about riding around in a convertible balloon) and Linus Spacehead are infused with it. It’s always “me” in the lyrics, and the “me” is railing against doubters, haters, restraints, himself, everything. You can hear it as Nathan, or you can do what inevitably ends up happening and hear “me” as yourself and use your newfound power to go out and fuck shit up, at least theoretically.

Songs, in some way, are the sound of the inside of a person’s head, and Wavves songs sound like skateboarding fast, being high, being happy, being unhappy and just generally chasing excitement. It’s easy to do guitar pop, but the curve is steep when it comes to actually doing it well. Every smacked guitar chord on King of the Beach expresses something. Nothing drags out, and the stonery in-between times that were essentially just computer ghost noise on the first two LPs are now cloud-surfing psychedelic pieces, still hooked on weirder sounds than the pop hits, but now with choruses too. Like Bobby said in the Nylon interview, “the existence of Animal Collective, the internet and a fucked up planet has to feed into something.” It fed into a lot of things. What Wire insists on calling Hypnagogic pop and we HRO alums call chillwave, for example. Or the fact that every band has a table of toys now. But also it eats into music like this, ending up as songs like Baseball Cards and Mickey Mouse.

But really what I want to say still is “hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit.” It’s melody to begin with, and then the option of force. When it’s not used, you get the weirder, Animal Collective/60s-influenced stuff. When it’s used, you get Post-Acid or Idiot, string-breaking chord riffs and shout along verses. But either way you get melody.

Wavves – Post-Acid

Wavves – Baseball Cards

The Year. 2. My highs are high, my lows are low.

2. Best Coast – Crazy For You [US]

Just like previous years in this tortuously dragged-out end of year list project, I am pretty sure the albums at the top are the ones I think are best, but there’s every chance that that’s just because real life memories and associations have bled into the songs and give them more direct access to various emotions. I was against this sort of thing (affective fallacy, I believe) for about three weeks in first year of college, but now I don’t care. You can’t fight it. You have to live in the world, and you will generally end up listening to music while you’re worried about something, happy about something or walking down a street on a night you have no real reason to remember with cowing nostalgia.

This album leaked while I was in New York for three months, living with three friends in a basically unfurnished apartment with a constantly blocked toilet, no cooking facilities, only one single bed and a wide variety of carpet and wall stains that dated most likely to whichever antecedent wrote his phone book on the wall in permanent marker.. It was established pretty early on in that period of floor-sleeping, beer drinking and non-eating that it was probably going to ‘the best summer of our lives’. It’s strange to actually try to live a whole summer as if you’re trying to gather footage for the best possible montage at the end of it, but that’s basically what happened.

So Boyfriend reminds me of the South Street Seaport and the sound of Best Coast starting to actually play Boyfriend carrying as I moved as quickly as I could towards them up John Street without flooding the entire city with my sweat. The End reminds me of walking around the Lower East Side in the morning, past the boho stuff and on to the bulk supermarkets and project buildings and stuff. Goodbye reminds me of leaving my friends’ apartment on the Upper West Side at around midnight and deciding to walk about thirty blocks south before getting the A back to Brooklyn, seeing as I had nothing else to do in the foreseeable future. Summer Mood reminds me of coming home.

The whole thing’s poisoned with these specific memories, and obviously just with general nostalgia. But that’s what Best Coast is for. The reverb’s there, over everything, the musical equivalent of sepia. The evening sun’s on the cover and in the tinges of dusk sadness in the chords of stuff like Our Deal. The lyrics are simple and broad. I love you. I miss you. I am sad. I am mad at you. You’re not going to have a revelation of self listening to the inside of Bethany Cosentino’s brain, but because it’s so simple, it’s difficult not to relate. Smoking weed helps too, in that regard, but my guess is it’s not necessary.

Sometimes the world view’s so narrow it’s legitimately funny. “I lost my job, I miss my mom, I wish my cat could talk.” “And nothing makes me happy, not even TV or a bunch of weed.” “I pick up the phone, I want to talk, about my day, it really sucked.” But it’s the tone of voice, the candour, the simple arrangements under them, that make it so endearing. It’s like a snot-nosed Gen X kid doing an early Motown covers album in her garage with a book of basic chords and a friend who has pretty much just learned the drums because the string instruments have been bagsied.

Internet Bethany seems annoying. But you can unfollow. You can’t escape from the fact that the first few chords in a song can change your entire mood for half an hour. Coincidence gave me the chance to get to know this album when it was sunny and I had nothing to do but walk around new parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan and bop to music that seemed like it would be good to walk around to. I’m pretty confident I’d be a big fan anyway – the singles that came out before Crazy For You got pretty heavy play. And, y’know, my highs are high, my lows are low. But the way it did happen will make sure both the songs and, in that weird way that songs connect to specific irrelevant snapshots of time, the memories too are permanently embedded in my normally fairly what-have-you-done-for-me-lately brain.

Best Coast – Goodbye

The Year. 3. At the end of the day, god damn it, I’m killing this shit.

3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy [US]

Not reviewing this again. If you want that, click here and here.

Instead I will list five of my favourite ridiculous lyrical moments on this album:

– “Fuck SNL and the whole cast/Tell ’em Yeezy said they can kiss my whole ass/More specifically they can kiss my asshole/I’m an asshole? You niggas got jugs.”
-“Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh?/I put the pussy in a sarcophagus.”
– “She found the pictures in my email/I sent this bitch a picture of my dick/I don’t know what it is with females/But I’m not too good at that shit.”
– “I need more drinks and less lights/And that American Apparel girl in just tights/She told the director she tryna get in a school/He said ‘take them glasses off and get in the pool'”
– “DJs need to listen to the models/You ain’t got no fuckin’ Yeezy in your Serrato?”

…and then say that I don’t like this album because it’s funny or a novelty, but because it’s great.

Kanye West – Power

The Year. 4. And the No campaign in my head, taking over.

4. So Cow – Meaningless Friendly [IRL]

In interviews when he was in The Smiths, desperately concerned with creating an image, Morrissey used to talk about happy songs with sad lyrics. Most of what So Cow plays has a major key vibe, traced directly from antecedents in 90s indie rock, 80s and 70s power pop and even 60s garage rock. And most of So Cow sings has a sense of sadness, struggle or misunderstanding to it. There’s plenty of humour too, both that which comes from the aforemnetioned juxtaposition, like singing a break-up song with a singalong chorus about the billboard that overlooked it (Moon Geun Yeung), and that which is just patently ridiculous, like singing about the amount of Helens on your street (One Hundred Helens).

That’s the story of Meaningless Friendly. A collection of fun, catchy, garage pop with words that make you laugh a little and cry a little. Everything sounds a bit bigger and a bit better than it did before, to the extent that one negative review even claiming that it “reeks of over production”. It obviously doesn’t. But it’s more consistent, louder than anything that came before, and album that feels like it’s, as Cloud Nothings put it, made with an audience in mind. It’s as ambitious as you can get within the confines of still sounding like you’re just having fun.

The most obvious example of this is International Waters, which is the longest song on the album by about three and a half minutes. It’s an epic. It starts with a fisherman, “off out with my net”. Trying to feed his family. Things start going well, and soon get out of hand. Buys a van. Sells his fish in the marketplace. Gets a bigger boat. Tries to run for mayor. Van breaks down. Starts drinking a lot. It’s hard not to laugh at that moment, the turn, where the guy takes the illogical leap of running for mayor, and inevitably has his life fall apart in front of him. It’s apparently a treatment of the insane Korean drive for success. It’s absurd, hilarious, and sounds a bit like The Who if The Who were from Galway and into the music people who weren’t quite The Who made in their garages after listening to The Who.

The short songs (which is obviously every other song) are just as endearing, if a little less spellbinding. I’ve Got A Horrible Feeling is a Television Personalities-type song about not falling in love “in rural night clubs that smell of chips”. Random Girls has an attention deficient riff and no time for anything not devoted to the overall goal of being the catchiest song in the room. The Tony Keady Affair is about the time Galway hurler Tony Keady got suspended for a year, ruining Galway’s chances in the All-Ireland, while So Cow in short trousers fails to impress a girl with Gorbachev on TV in the background. Hell is in Korean, not gonna guess what it’s about.

The last album was a compilation of years of recording. It was effectively a greatest hits. It was going to be difficult to match on what will be effectively the “sophomore” record to a lot of people. But how could you doubt? It’s better than the self-titled, more together (obviously), but also more self-confident and more sonically mature. It’s got weird chord changes coming out of its ears and, as referenced previously, lyrical matter that it’s probably fair to call “off-beat” or even “quirky” (and at times “local colour”). It’s sadder, but it’s more fun. It really does feel like an artist hitting that purple patch where they couldn’t avoid putting out great music if they wanted to.

Video from a show at South Street Seaport in New York, featuring me in the crowd, if you know what I look like, and the So Cow concept album about Tuam, Co. Galway.

So Cow – Random Girls

The Year. 5. My lover’s a carnivore, her body’s in ivy casing.

5. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast [US]

Surfer Blood make fun, catchy, slackery guitar pop. They’re a musical version of one of those convenient evolutionary missing links, sitting as they do barely within the confines of 2008-9’s lots-of-reverb-and-sunglasses-indoors lo-fi style and also, more firmly, within that moment in 90s alt music, maybe crystallised mostly in recollection, when boom-buoyed suburban parents started buying their kids expensive equipment for their garage bands, leading to big guitar sounds, huge choruses made of gen. x world view and Weezer dominating MTV.

For a while, music as big-sounding as Surfer Blood would have been too self-confident, too marketable. But that style of ‘alternative’ fell out with nu-metal. It’s now the 10s, so the 90s are officially retro and fair game to be doused in reverb and refitted to purpose. You can start your album with a couple of power chords, sing your songs straight and basic to the ideal female ‘you’ and do guitar solos where you stamp on a pedal and step forward to the front of the stage (so long as they’re simple).

Surfer Blood are a school textbook quality example of what I once said of Squarehead – they’re a band for whom every song sounds like a shot at the best guitar pop they can possibly do. So it’s less about the peaks and troughs of the journey, though there are slower, more ‘atmospheric’ songs, and more about how close to perfection each individual song gets. Swim, the song everyone will have heard if they’ve heard any, is the best effort in those terms. If the storyboard of a song goes ‘hook -> second hook -> bossa part -> third hook -> rock out -> first hook -> second hook’ you’re in pretty good stead in terms of keeping listener attention, and with a riff like something off Ultimate Guitar God Collection, Swim’s about as close to an unadulterated head bang as you’re going to get without studio compression fizzing your ear off.

There are no weird chords, or turns that don’t sound they’re exactly what should have happened to the previous part at that specific time. It could be any of the songs that’s left in your head later in the day, or most importantly, in the morning when you wake up before you can figure out what it actually is. The only drawbacks are stupid, throwaway things like that line about “TWIN PEAKS AND DAVID LYNCH, SAT ON YOUR COUCH IN SYRACUSE”, as if there was absolutely nothing else but namedropping the cred-loaded guy who directed the show you were watching that you could throw in to fill the metre.

As for the 2008-9 reverb-soaked lo-fi bit? Well, you can hear that in the reverb. And the lo-fi. Home-recorded, like obvious but slightly cleaner-cut precursors Vampire Weekend’s debut. In fact, Contra opening at number one in America seems like it might have had a lot to do with Surfer Blood’s deal with the nefarious Warner in the wake of Astro Coast. But so might the fact that more than half of these songs could’ve been lead singles. That’s not hyperbole. Floating Vibes, Swim, Take It Easy, Twin Peaks, Fast Jabroni and Catholic Pagans. Investigate. Even if the major label devils somehow destroy the incredible melodic sense and song-building ability, there’ll always be this one, out of the blue and as good as you could imagine it.

A fun Pitchfork.tv session in an actual garage, and the closest I got to an interview.

Surfer Blood – Catholic Pagans

The Year. 6. If I can’t be the man, tell me what I am.

6. Caribou – Swim [CA]

Musicians tend to get angry, frustrated or at least dismissive when blogs and the music press try to do what they do and draw big Venn loops around different albums, creating scenes, comparing trends and branding one or two adjectives onto a band’s whole creative output. Some are very leery of trying to categorise themselves, of breeding that type of discourse. But of course, it’s going to happen anyway. And sometimes it works. In the press release for Swim, there was a quote included that dominated everything written about it afterwards and, whether first- or second-hand, probably most of the thinking people did about it, if they came across it. “Dance music that sounds like it’s made out of water rather than made out of metallic stuff like most dance music does.”

It’s impossible to hear this record now and think it’s made out of anything else but water. Short of water samples, this is what water sounds like. And damned be anyone who suggests that music sounds like music, not like other stuff with non-sonic characteristics. We’re playing critic here.

It’s there. Sun’s bassline rolls in and out like tidal swells, its high percussion the foam. Bowls is more like a Japanese noble’s leafy, fountain-and-pond retreat, or what I imagine one of those is supposed to be like after seeing a reconstruction of one in a museum once. Jamelia sounds like rolling up your trousers and paddling through a shopping centre fountain after the doors are shut for the night.

It sounds like stuff other than water too though. Caribou’s brand was once centred around words like “folktronica” and “psych-prog” but Snaith has managed to retain essential personality while rolling the cart through techno and, perhaps not nearly noted enough, straight up disco loops. It’s some pure, fluid dance music, with the vocals buried and much simpler than Caribou vocals used to sometimes try to be. Hannibal is enough to make anyone dance like Richie from Jape. Swim is melancholy, but it manages to stretch that melancholy out into something to be exorcised by movement – and shared.

Here is a Daytrotter session, and an interview Dan Gray did for Totally Dublin.

Caribou – Sun

The Year. 10-7

10. Adebisi Shank – This Is The Second Album Of A Band Called Adebisi Shank [IRL]

Okay, so everybody loves Adebisi Shank. They pack out the Button Factory, we all agree that they belong in this sort of list, and their songs sound bigger than France. But think about how strange that is for a minute. Conor O’Brien guests, but it’s a struggle to even figure out what’s him. The next closest thing to singing is monotone vocoding on Genki Shank. What’s relatable about antsy prog guitars? Or about anything? It’s not clear. My only guesses are stupidly abstract things like ‘saturated primary colours’ or ‘this song sounds a bit like Duplo’. It’s fantastical, and, conveniently for the purposes of this sentence, fantastic too. Micromachines plays like a song from the first album recut to soundtrack an adventure game. Genki Shank tumbles from neck-snap post-hardcore into Rocky Balboa territory. Bones is a Paul Simon song performed by a robot from the past programmed to simulate the future. And International Dreambeat, well that’s obviously a rainbow. This is a distillation of all the might of the first album, a bunch of dreams in 8-bit colour, all of Japan and the inner beauty of kitsch stuff most people like with a raised eyebrow. And this is a joke about this being a review of the second album by Adebisi Shank.
An interview I did in the first issue of TN2 I edited, pp. 6-7, plus a video of the infamous stage invasion at the launch in Whelans.

Adebisi Shank – International Dreambeat

9. Xiu Xiu – Dear God I Hate Myself [US]

Calling your album something this blunt is a pretty strong rebuff to a culture of ironic appreciation and knowing self-deprecation, especially if you have the kind of haircut Jamie Stewart has. So, with vocal intonation, confrontational lyrics, frantic meshes of blips, beats and guitar notes and doses of silence, Dear God I Hate Myself sets out to render unipolar depression into a form still roughly bound by the conventions of the pop song. Of course, this, or something approaching this, is what Xiu Xiu has been about for its entire existence. But this is somehow different to deal with. The thumb and index finger plucking of Hyunhye’s Theme, matched with chromatic flourishes and some Chinese strings, is a “you” song, a confused atmosphere for Stewart to inhabit while he writes his letter to a friend. But then comes the title track, probably the most accessible Xiu Xiu song in terms of its combination of sounding like a normal song and its being upbeat. It’s a strange combination, listening to “and I will never feel happy/and I will never feel normal” before being compelled to join in on the nigh-anthemic chorus. “Dear God, I hate myself.” For whatever reason, that moment breaks down some of this-is-weird barrier of unrelatability Xiu Xiu can carry, and that transfers to the whole album, making it probably the best of all eight.
Transcript of Totally Dublin interview from here, and controversial make-self-sick video.

Xiu Xiu – Dear God I Hate Myself

8. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening [US]

I had an argument about this album just after it came out. I was for it, my adversary was against it. For every point I made – less filler than previous albums, great individual tracks, James Murphy’s personality, Drunk Girls sounding like our mutual friends when they are, in fact, drunk girls – he held the exact opposite opinion. We agreed on one thing, though. Dance Yrself Clean. If there’s even been a reason to lament the process of opening shrink wrap, removing vinyl, putting it on a record player and sitting down to actually listen to it for the first time, Dance Yrself Clean is it. It’s not a grower. It’s there already. You turn it up loud, because it’s quiet, and Murphy starts to wax with a hint of dejection about socialising or whatever. Then it blows up. Sheets of synth and bass. One of those rare endorphin surges, like when In The Flowers pops or Mr. Grieves turns. It’s a fucking white marble sculpture of a song. And, despite the opinion of my friend, that’s not all that’s good about This Is Happening. Murphy’s on form throughout, whether complaining about Village Voice gossip columnist Michael Musso or love being like an astronaut. The beats are in the pocket, building slow and repetitive as they do, unafraid of overstaying their welcome. And they sound like his record collection, still. From this position, I can say ‘serious’ or ‘cop-out’ or ‘hard to define’. And I have done, in conversation, for months. If album-making, rock band-touring LCD Soundsystem does end up finishing here, it’s a good way to go.
Pitchfork interview and loads of fun Drunk Girls video.

LCD Soundsystem – Dance Yrself Clean

7. Earl Sweatshirt – Earl [US]

Tyler, the Creator takes on the job of introducing his brother and newest OFWGKTA member Earl. “Earl, Earl say something. Trust me guys, he’s a rapper. Say something!” So he does. “I’m a hot and bothered astronaut crashing while jacking off to bufferin’ vids of Asher Roth eatin’ apple sauce.” Which is obviously a different way to embark on a rap career. As a debut album, Earl’s the equivalent of opening an Ikea flat pack and watching it turn into the Sagrada Familia without touching it. This kind of convoluted, sometimes forced DOOM-y rhyming seems like it shouldn’t be coming from someone young enough to be sent to boot camp by his mother for doing it, but there’s shit here that a polished 30 year old rapper couldn’t even dream of. Leftfield similes: “I’m attracted to you like teenyboppers to Apple Stores.” Cartoonishly provocatory pronouncements: “Wave hi to the Ritalin regiment, double S shit, swastikas on the Letterman bitch.” And yes, plenty of rape, both date- and otherwise. But the point is, this is the kind of imagination only one other dude in the world has anything similar to, and that’s his brother, who put his album out on Christmas Day 2009 and thus avoided this list narrowly. On that (Bastard by Tyler the Creator), Earl calls himself the reincarnation of ’98 Eminem. If Eminem was this weird, the last decade would have been a stranger place.
Download Earl and all the other OF shit for free at their site (at the top), and look at this.

Earl Sweatshirt – Earl