Tag Archives: 2011

Favorites albums of 2011

(Originally posted on Tympanogram.com on December 22, 2011)

It’s hard to tell whether this was a really great year for music or if I was just paying attention more than last year. That sums up my feelings at the end of every year. I don’t want to do too much of an introduction because I have quite a bit to say. I’m not putting these releases in any particular order, they are just my favorites. Some I listened to more than others, but putting them in order just seems too subjective and a pointless waste of time.

Chad VanGaalen – “Diaper Island”

Chad Vangaalen - "Diaper Island"
Chad Vangaalen - "Diaper Island"

Listening to this album filled the void left by Women not releasing anything this year. This was my gateway into listening to more of VanGaalen’s stuff and it remains my favorite album of his. With it’s haunting and warm sound, psychedelic imagery and noisy guitars Diaper Island hit all the right  notes. Standout tracks “Peace on the Rise,” “Heavy Stones” and “Do Not Fear” would be a good fit on any year end mix. (review here.)

 

Fucked Up  – “David Comes to Life”

Fucked Up - "David Comes to Life"
Fucked Up - "David Comes to Life"

Simply put, this is one epic album. It may seems like a chore to listen to this nearly 78 minute hardcore opera about love and loss, but when it comes down to it the album still relies on catchy hooks, pure unbridled emotion and more guitars than have ever appeared on any album ever. The complexity of the arrangements may be overshadowed by the brash vocals but take another 10 or 20 listens and you’ll undoubtedly start to appreciate how truly brilliant this album is from it’s structure and lyrics right on down to the execution. This continues Fucked Up in their clear evolution of a hardcore band that is always searching for new ways to expand the medium.

Radiohead – “The King of Limbs”

Radiohead - "The King of Limbs"
Radiohead - "The King of Limbs"

Radiohead will never be able to catch a break ever again. They are caught in the terrible, yet still enviable, position of people expecting great innovations from album to album and then fans and critics regularly misunderstanding their music and heaping faint praise onto them. Make no mistake The King of Limbs is a fantastic album. Sure, it is short, and there isn’t much in the way of guitar on it, and it’s really percussion heavy. It’s still a Radiohead album though and in my mind they are nearly at the level where they can do nothing wrong. There are definite gems on here and it should not be simply cast aside. (review)

[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/07-Give-Up-The-Ghost.mp3|titles=Give Up The Ghost]

tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l”

tUnE-yArDs - "w h o k i l l"
tUnE-yArDs - "w h o k i l l"

Probably the most divisive album of the year. I have yet to come across anyone that could say, “Yeah I heard the tune-yards album, it was ok”. The reactions were always hard to one side. If I recall correctly even those of us in the Tympanogram camp were at odds over how we felt about it. My take on it is that it’s a wholly new sound that is interesting rhythmically to a very high degree, orchestrationally it also makes great use of everything available but never tries to go too far, or do too much. This album manages to do all of those things while continuing to keep it interesting and different from song to song covering a variety of moods. (review)

Wild Flag – “Wild Flag”

Wild Flag - "Wild Flag"
Wild Flag - "Wild Flag"

This is a straight up rock record. I had been looking forward to its release ever since Carrie Brownstein left NPR to pursue music in a touring band once again. They manage to easily sidestep any of the normal pitfalls of a debut album because all of the members of Wild Flag are seasoned pros. Each track is exciting and energetic and simply rocks. They captured the energy of a live show and released it simultaneously as they toured across the country garnering acclaim for their exciting, energetic show. (review)

Colin Stetson – “New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges”

Colin Stetson - "New History Warfare Vol 2: Judges"
Colin Stetson - "New History Warfare Vol 2: Judges"

This album is the only thing I have listened to that has left me absolutely speechless and astounded upon its conclusion. It’s flashy, arty and walks that line between art-music and jazz. It’s another album that stands in a category of its own, which is exactly the kind of thing that I’m attracted to. What’s even more amazing is that it’s almost all solo saxophone music, except for one track that Stetson performs on French Horn. On the surface it is not exactly the kind of thing that I would be drawn to, and maybe it’s not the kind of thing that you’d be drawn to either. To you I would say this is definitely worth a listen or ten. It’s damn near revolutionary and will leave you spellbound. (review)

[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/12-The-righteous-wrath-of-an-honorable-man.mp3|titles=The righteous wrath of an honorable man] [audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/07-Home.mp3|titles=Home] [audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/05-From-no-part-of-me-could-I-summon-a-voice.mp3|titles=From no part of me could I summon a voice]

 

Starfucker – “Reptilians”

Starfucker - "Reptilians"
Starfucker - "Reptilians"

Catchy as hell, synth-laden, danceable pop tunes about life and death, though mostly about death. This was definitely an album that I had cast aside earlier in the year, but when I came back to it I found that I was surely missing out. There’s something satisfying about a thick, buzzing synth sound.

Tim Hecker – “Ravedeath 1972”

Tim Hecker - "Ravedeath 1972"
Tim Hecker - "Ravedeath 1972"

I definitely don’t fashion myself an expert on ambient music, but there is just something so moving about this album the way that it uses masses of sound to create an atmosphere that is ethereal and familiar all at once. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what I love about this album. Maybe it’s the fact that I keep coming back to it, that it keeps forcing me to come back to it. It’s just so damned intriguing.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – “Mirror Traffic”

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - "Mirror Traffic"
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - "Mirror Traffic"

The Pavement nepotism is obvious. I became absolutely obsessed with Pavement when I finally started paying attention to their albums around 2006. Come to find out I was wasting all sorts of time missing Pavement because Malkmus has been putting out fantastic albums since right after Pavement’s last album came out in 1999. “Mirror Traffic” is full of songs with interesting harmonies, sudden shifts, catchy melodies and Malkmus’ literate and sometimes cryptic lyrics.

The Two Koreas – “Science Island”

The Two Koreas - "Science Island"
The Two Koreas - "Science Island"

I know that hardly anyone is going to agree with me on this album. I also know that not too many people have heard this album and that is a shame. That is also partially the reason why I am making it a point to mention it on my year end list. The music is sloppy to a certain degree, totally embodying a garage rock aesthetic. Every track is a barn-burner sung with a sneer with plenty of jangly, noisy guitars adding to the overall experience. If you listen to anything on this list, or are inspired to listen to anything new I would suggest most highly this album. (review)

Video: RACES – "Big Broom" (live)

(Originally posted on December 20, 2011 on Tympanogram.com)
One of the tracks that I kept coming back to this year was “Big Broom” by RACES. At the time when I first came upon it there were only, from as far as I could tell, two tracks by the band available. That one track though, and the B-side, were enough to keep me wanting more. Last month they did release an EP on Frenchkiss records that featured “Big Broom” as well as 2 additional songs that showcased their sound which is huge, powerful and up-front. That EP, released through Frenchkiss, can be found on their bandcamp page as well as on iTunes.

Since I’ve pretty much given up all hope for 2011, cranked out a “best-of” list and am now spending my days trying to forget it all in order to make room for new music, I’m glad that RACES has sent word that their full-length will be forthcoming in March of 2012. The title of the album is The Year of the Witch, and from the sounds of this video I’m going to need to get my hands on a copy of it as soon as I can, and I’m suggesting you do the same. The new songs are full of energy and show a penchant for utilizing every aspect of their six piece ensemble in each tightly knit tune. Of course, check out the video of a recent performance they did previewing several tracks from The Year of the Witch that starts with “Big Broom” and continues through the new material broken up by brief interviews where the band discusses the new songs and coming together as a band.


Watch the full video at Baeblemusic.com

Album review: Chad VanGaalen – "Diaper Island"

As a musician, and as someone that listens to a ridiculous amount of music, sometimes I am listening just for sounds. Sometimes the melodies and whether or not they are catchy take a backseat to the atmosphere that an album creates.

There have been times  that I’ve been so wrapped up in a band’s unique sound that it’s a week or two of non-stop listening before I start to really focus on the harmonic structure, song structure, melodies and lyrical content that is contained therein. This was precisely the case when I first heard Shellac. I remained entranced by the sound of the Travis Bean guitars and Steve Albini’s trademark recording technique sound.

Chad VanGaalen is similar in the way that his recordings have quite a distinctive sound. His production on the 2 albums by fellow Calgarians Women is noteworthy for being characteristically and decidedly lo-fi. Diaper Island takes those production values and applies them to songs that, while still existing very much in the experimental realm, are considerably less abrasive and confrontational that those of Women. The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth influence is pulled back while that of Neil Young and The Beatles is pushed a bit more to the front.

Chad-VanGaalen - "Diaper-Island"
Chad-VanGaalen - "Diaper-Island"

There is still quite a psychedelic feel to the album with noisy squeals of guitar cutting through on “Replace Me” and the swirling hypnotic backdrop of “Blonde Hash” that fights against the jangly guitar line until it’s cut out completely when the reverb drenched chorus kicks in. “Peace on the Rise” also features an interesting, harmonically disjointed line that seems to fight the song’s own gravitational pull.

The tunefulness of the songs and the noisiness of some of the odd sounds that creep in now and again are balanced well. Neither draws focus away from the other. The songs have the ability to sound haunting, catchy, sorrowful, tender and sincere. They can also wander into delicate, quiet territory or become invasive and gritty without being jarring. The combination of these affects create a powerful experience.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the closing track “Shave My Pussy” which is, honestly, a really terrific track with a folksy harp line that is plucked out, leading to a truly great chorus. This coupled with, as one can infer by the title, lyrics that are a bit odd to say the least. All in all this is a terrific album and has cemented itself as one of my favorites of the year to date.

Album review: Wild Flag – "Wild Flag"

The much anticipated album from indie rock “super group” Wild Flag has finally arrived, giving everyone something to shout about. One could practically hear the reviewers proclaiming the, at that point unnamed project, “Best of the Year” after Carrie Brownstein announced that she was leaving her post at NPR. It was decided a priori that this group was going to be amazing. I don’t want to start to sound like I totally disagree with the excitement that is surrounding this group, I just am shuddering slightly at the nepotism of the scene.

Luckily for Wild Flag they have released an album that is capable of supporting all of the buzz that has been generated on its behalf. A backwards approach, but that isn’t their fault. From my point of view it seems as if they are starting from as new a place as they can. They can’t help that they were in Sleater-Kinney, Helium and a bunch of other more under-appreciated bands, and why would they want to? It’s that experience that no doubt influenced the formation of Wild Flag and the production of their solid debut album.

Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, formerly of Sleater-Kinney, are joined by Mary Timony on vocals and guitar and Rebecca Cole on keys to create a powerful guitar driven rock sound that seems to be influenced by the spontaneity of live performance. The album’s 10 tracks capture the rough around the edges sound of an experienced live band. Despite their only having been together as Wild Flag for about a year it is clear that their collective experience is guiding their way. This album definitely does not sound like a debut. It is a focused and confident release.

Wild-Flag - "Wild Flag"
Wild-Flag - "Wild Flag"

“Glass Tambourine” and “Racehorse” are two of the more experimental and lengthy jams while “Endless Talk” is reminiscent of The Cars with Brownstein’s sharp, clipped vocals matching to a degree those of Ric Ocasek while her guitar work adds a bit of a more abrasive tone over top. “Short Version” gets right to the point, full steam ahead with blistering guitar riffs cutting through the silence.

Throughout the album Timony’s vocals are contrasted sharply by Brownstein’s. Where Timony’s voice has a more natural and relaxed sound Brownstein’s delivery sounds purposefully forceful. Her guitar style matches her vocal delivery in that it seems to cut sharp angles against the rest of the band. It’s the difference between a song like “Electric Band” and “Future Crimes”. An exciting album from one of the most talked about bands of the year. Thankfully the music seems to match the hype, for once.

 

Wild Flag – Romance by MergeRecords

Album review: Wooden Shjips – "West"

Wooden Shjips’ drone of ultra fuzzed out guitars aligns them with the trend of retro sounding new-music that seems to have exploded in the past couple of years. They are taking the psychedelic/early hard-rock sound and very much running with it. The band seems to be more than happy to sit on one chord for minutes at a time in the minimalist style, rhythmically chugging through a cloud of distortion a la Queens of the Stone Age. Wooden Shjips actually shows up Queens in their dark heavy sound being that much more darker and heavier.

The vocals, though certainly not the focus of any of the tracks, remain downplayed and monotonous. They definitely do their part to make the songs sound all the more sinister. It’s like the singer is speaking of bad omens, or summoning spirits and the like. When you get down to it, his singing style is downright eerie.

Extended instrumental sections, like in opening track “Black Smoke Rise”, do their best to mimic the wandering, seemingly one-take guitar solos of the first wave of psychedelic music of the late-60s. These sections seem to serve the songs in capturing a certain vibe, and places that as a higher priority than “saying something”. That shouldn’t be taken in the pejorative sense, but in the sense that a guitar solo, or keyboard solo, that is flashy and driven by technique with flourishes of 32nd notes and technical melodic bravado would truly just not work against the backdrop they are laying down. They seem to be sticking to a very strict stylistic theme and mood here and something showy would stick out far too much. They do a great job throughout the album of establishing and maintaining a consistent sound.

Wooden Shjips - "West"
Wooden Shjips - "West"

After the mid-tempo minimalism of the first two tracks there is a burst of energy in the form of a catchy vocal melody in an upbeat tune that is (perhaps ironically) titled “Lazy Bones”. This tune, along with the heavy riffage displayed in “Home”, create a nice dynamic across the album. Wooden Shjips remains true to their sound but show that there is always room to move and create something new, and possibly contrary, without abandoning the aesthetic they have been developing.

The album forms and arc with droning tunes “Black Smoke Rise” and “Rising” as bookends. The latter of those tunes is a backwards track that casts a knowing wink to their already “evil” sound. But the more upbeat riff-based tunes happen towards the middle of the record with “Looking Out” creating a connection by being both upbeat and still droning it its persistent rhythm and complete unwillingness to change chords. Meanwhile “Flight” takes a page out of the Tony Iommi book of devilish sounding riffs, replete with a delay ridden keyboard solo straight out of “Inna Gadda Da Vida”. In a way a lot of these songs ride the line right between those two worlds.

With “West” Wooden Shjips creates droning minimalist music in the context of the heavy, psychedelic rock genre. The attention to consistency of sound most certainly pays off in the end.

 

Album review: White Hills – "H-p1"

Heavy, unrelenting drones of guitar riffage that are spread out over an extended jam. That is how I would sum up the sound of White Hills’ “H-p1” in one sentence. It isn’t totally fair to sum things up in one nice little phrase though as the songs on the album actually cover quite a bit more ground and honestly can’t be summed up succinctly.

The same way that Queens of the Stone Age’s early material would take one riff and pound it into the ground with unrelenting repetition, so do the tracks here. I’m reminded more of two bands that aren’t Queens of the Stone Age while listening to this album, both of them based in Chicago: CAVE and Vee Dee. CAVE’s basis in heavy sounding kraut-rock that sounds like it is going to crush you beneath its weight combined with Vee Dee’s garage rock goodness.

The opening track “The Condition of Nothing” is basically the same fuzzed out guitar riff that shifts between 2 chords throughout. There are some vocals that bring the track into a bit of A Place To Bury Strangers territory with the sound of guitar based industrial music that is sinister and sneering with tinny production placed up against an absolute wall of guitars.

“No Other Way”, which clocks in at nearly eleven minutes, takes the same formula, minus the vocals. A heavy riff is repeated throughout while an echoed melody provides a bit of variety. In the course of eleven minutes the track is developed subtly with a background hum that slowly creeps up eventually taking center stage as everything else begins to fade. These shifts and changes that occur over the extended jams contrast with the sheer repetitiveness that the listener is sure to be focusing on and drawn towards. Admittedly the riffage does lock in to a hypnotic groove, allowing the listener significant time to focus on different aspects of the track.

White Hills - "H-p1"
White Hills - "H-p1"

Following “No Other Way” is “Paradise”, another lengthy track that functions in quite a different way. This time the drums are the primary focus while scattered, spacey sounds pop up at various times creating a much more varied fabric that spasms and percolates to the end.

Out of the extended jams and the stoner-rock minimalist development comes the garage-rock sound of “Upon Arrival” that gets to the point straight away. Psychedelic garage rock with vocals that sound like Alice Cooper and simultaneously provide White Hills with the best opportunity for radio play. There is an honest to goodness verse/chorus/verse structure with a real guitar solo that pulls us back out of kraut-rock groove of repetition.

As a testament to the truly varied nature of the album the latter half moves even further away from riff based rock and into more ambient, free form electronic free form improv with a trilogy of tracks that seem to develop and bleed into one another. “A Need to Know”, “Hand in Hand” and “Monument” could form one giant song, just as the band seems to be doing earlier in the album.

Pulling things apart and putting them back together, exploring different sounds and themes while remaining firmly rooted in the tradition of heavy psychedelic music seems to be what this album is all about. They take ideas presented and flesh them out on other tracks, they run them into each other and play them on top of each other, helping to make sense out of their seemingly disparate interests. This all makes total sense with the truly epic titular track that closes the album at an astonishing 17+ minutes with a truly evil sounding riff that seems to tie together all of the ideas presented in the album. I’ll even give them bonus points for sporting a few extended guitar solos in one song and throughout the album.

Album review: Psychedelic Horseshit – "Laced"

For those of you out there that feel like White Fence’s release “Is Growing Faith” was a little too “mainstream” and accessible, you’ll be happy to know that Psychedelic Horseshit’s latest release, “Laced” is neither of those things.

Psychedelic Horseshit is a DIY recording project that has created an album so loose and gritty sounding that it is barely held together to the end. The vocal delivery is drawled in a lazy monotone with barely an attempt at creating a melody. In place of the vocal melody there are off kilter rhythmic accents that carry the listener from line to line. After repeated listens, which is highly suggested, one will begin to pick out the more lucid, memorable bits and songs that really seem to “click” in a way.

The album opens up with sounds emerging from a trippy haze, like the sound effects that an educational video might use to characterize an acid trip while warning against it.  It seems to be welcoming us to the trip as it were. The album captures the raw idea of the songs presented, and seems to celebrate the idea of spontaneity and instant composition.

“French Coutryside” is full of ideas that are layered one on top of the other while “I Hate the Beach” and “Revolution Wavers” features extended synth breaks that close out the tracks. Now that the listener has been invited to go on this trip with the band they need to allow themselves to be taken away in the trance that is created by layer upon layer of scratchy synth lines and loose drumming.

The title track seems to be the best attempt at a “catchy pop tune”, though I use that term in the loosest possible sense. The electronic sounds hold the song together despite the ancillary drum machine beat. Everything else sways in and out of the beat. “Automatic Writing” is the thinnest and simplest track on “Laced”. It borders upon straight up ambient music with lush synth tones casting down simple, long waves of sound that are occasionally permeated with an ultra-high pitched sound that could have been right out of a 1980’s sci-fi flick.

Psychedelic Horseshit - "Laced:
Psychedelic Horseshit - "Laced:

Bongo rhythms permeate nearly every track, adding an extra layer of stoned college bro drum-circle atmosphere to the tracks. Out of tune guitar accompanies several tracks, furthering the feeling of an impromptu jam session that becomes the common thread tying all of the songs together.

Tracks like “Laced” and “Another Side” are among the more accessible on the album, the latter of which does its best Bob Dylan with a wild harmonica interlude and simple 2 chord structure. “Making Out” is the most emotionally moving of the tracks thanks to an ascending vocal line that challenges the singer’s range. Spastic bongo work accompanies the track for the duration.

The vocal delivery, and really the entire ethos that seems to be behind this album can be explained by comparing it to early Beck. Remember when Beck was a “Loser”, back in his freak folk, California stoner/surfer/beach bum slacker days? The delivery here is very similar to that. It’s sort of off the cuff, without a care, but the singer’s actual voice is more comparable to Conor Oberst or Patrick Stickles.

Psychedelic Horseshit’s “Laced” captures that moment of spontaneity  in an improv session where a band is just getting together to bounce ideas off of each other. Those improvisatory, experimental tunes are balanced against worked out songs like the title track. One gets the idea after listening that Psychedelic Horseshit isn’t too concerned with being commercially successful. They seem to be more focused on producing lo-fi, home recorded jams that capture the realm that lies somewhere between improv, forethought and total collapse.

The album is out now worldwide. You can purchase your copy HERE.

[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/07-Another-Side.mp3|titles=Psychedeclic Horseshit – Another Side]