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Allana Mayer’s Musical Decade in Review

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On January - 20 - 2010

By Allana Mayer

Editor’s note: In this MONDOmusic special feature, former music editor Allana Mayer shares her views on the music of the last 10 years, nominating her favourites and some honourable mentions…

Ten years ago I was using AudioGalaxy to download Bjork and Depeche Mode tunes. Now, people use YouTube as a radio. It’s been one long, exhausting decade, and it’s fantastically impossible to keep on top of everything. And yet people (myself included) continue to use the best-of list as a viable format for journalism. Let’s be honest: it’s all about the name-dropping, and not a bit about the ranking… and we like the arguing, too. With that in mind, let’s make some unnecessarily pigheaded blanket statements about the 00s, shall we?

Here is my no-holds-barred, no-discussion, completely-unaccountable list of the best albums of the decade, one per year: Read the rest of this entry »

My Ten Favourite Songs About Abusive Relationships

Posted by music On March - 3 - 2009

Seriously, though, it’s not funny.

By Allana Mayer

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Now, I know there’s nothing funny about domestic abuse, or the fine line between mutual pleasure and one-sided domination. But you could argue there’s nothing funny about heartbreak, either, and it’s sure had the shit immortalized out of it in song. There are all sorts of relationships, involving everything from emotional abuse to consensual violence to the sort of passion that makes those physical confrontations simply happen. And they’ve almost all been chronicled, with varying degrees of dignity and artistry, through music. Apologies for getting all High Fidelity on you, but pop and misery go hand in hand.

1) Elvis Costello — “Wave a White Flag” from 2 ½ Years (1993)
A rare track released only on the greatest-hits comp 2 ½ Years, “White Flag” almost tiptoes, graceful and gentle, like a ballerina en pointe. Graphic descriptions like “Take your pretty neck and see which way it bends” slam paradoxically against shrug-offs like “When I hit the bottle, there’s no tellin’ what I’ll do / ‘Cause something deep inside me wants to turn you black and blue.” Somehow Mr. Costello makes these sentiments innocent, childlike, and endearing — which makes it all the creepier and all the more compelling.

2) I Am Kloot — “Twist” from Natural History (2001)
Dark and brooding (as with most of their work), I can only see two people chasing each other around the house screaming and cackling in a drunken frenzy as they dive at each other’s limbs. While the slow, jazzy music may not give off this energy, I’m more convinced this is the relationship to which it refers. It’s almost like he wrote it after sobering up and looking around at the mess they made. Lines like “There’s blood on your legs” trade off with lots of soft, ominous “I love you”s, and the “Twist, snap” refrain gives it its final kick.

i-am-kloot-natural-history3) Adam and the Ants — “Beat My Guest” from the Stand And Deliver single (1981)
If you’re anything like me, you watched SLC Punk during your impressionable teenage years, heard the Epoxies cover, and thought, “Wow, that song is really catchy.” Then you looked up any other song by the Epoxies and thought, “Wow, that sounds like shit.” Then you discovered that it was a cover and all was well. Yet both versions of “Beat My Guest” retain some favour, be it out of nostalgia or guilty pleasure. The opening line (“Tie me up and beat me with a stick”) qualifies it for the category at hand; the best line (“Be your dog for just one flog”) makes it the perkiest and most optimistic of the list.

4) The Decemberists — “The Bachelor And The Bride” from Her Majesty (2003)superwolf Showcasing, as always, their breadth of literary and artistic knowledge, The Decemberists warp the title of a Marcel Duchamp work into a storyline of mystery and secrecy. Arguments about the enigmatic lyrics rage on in internetlandia, but my preferred take is as follows: A man has an affair with someone else’s wife, presumably by mutual consent to start. But his violent side emerges latently, and he begins to beat her — causing first a miscarriage and then infertility. It’s performed with that dark urgency that speaks of a possessive and jealous lover.

5) Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Matt Sweeney — “What Are You” from Superwolf (2005)
The worst this song mentions is spanking, which is hardly considered taboo given that it’s been appearing in porn for decades. Still, having a gender-bending Will Oldham sing about having her (his?) sundress torn off of her (him?), having your (whoever’s?) fingers in her (him?), and taking you (whoever?) over her (his?) knee and spanking you (whoever?) mercilessly…. Other than a mindfuck, it’s also deliciously sexy. A gorgeous guitar progression and Matt Sweeney’s harmony round out this short, sparse track.
(Feel free to Youtube it — if you want someone’s homemade slideshow of beard images to add to the gender confusion.)

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6) Why? — “These Few Presidents” and “The Fall Of Mr. Fifths” from Alopecia (2008)
Okay, so this is a double-header — but the entire album is about unhealthy relationships in some form or another. “These Few Presidents” is about maybe a murder-suicide, or a double suicide, or a hostage situation, or something fucked up like that. At any rate, it features a troubled ex and the object of his unwavering, perverted affection…. Set to bouncy pop. “The Fall of Mr. Fifths” starts with a verse about dumping the body of a pretty lady into a lake, presumably following in the paths of many other pretty ladies… Expressed in an energetic rhyme. With rigor mortis jokes. No kidding.

7) Depeche Mode — “Master and Servant” from Some Great Reward (1984)
To pick us up a little, we’ve got the entertaining interlude of a bouncy dance song that, while not exactly depicting the ideal power differential, still manages to make one seem pretty alluring. It’s a classic, and a damn cheesy one at that.

8 ) Songs: Ohia — “Love Leaves its Abusers” from Axxess & Ace (1999)stoneroses_album_300x300 Hey, emotional abuse counts. And maybe I’m taking the title a little too literally, maybe it’s just a song about regular ol’ emotional tribulations and guilt and regret, but damn if it isn’t heartbreaking, and damn if it doesn’t make you paranoid about all the ways in which you might possibly be screwing over those close to you without even knowing it. Thus, on the list it goes.

9) Ticonderoga — “Chatterton” from The Heilig-Levine LP (2005)
“So I’ll come over and use you,” frontman Phil Moore begins, “but don’t misunderstand me: I’m still your bitch.” That’s good enough for me. Besides the tragic, empty guitar plucking and minimalist noise intro/outro, there’s enough loneliness and confusion in this track to warrant a good essay or two. So just listen to it, already.

10) Stone Roses — “I Wanna Be Adored” from The Stone Roses (1989)
Don’t we all? Besides being an anthem to disillusioned youth everywhere, it’s also a powerful pledge of narcissism and selfishness. People so often found their relationships on this principle — one adoring, one being adored — that this simple, creepy pop tune has made its way into many a head since its release.

Choral by Mountains, Reviewed

Posted by music On February - 20 - 2009

coverMountains
Choral
2009, Thrill Jockey

By Allana Mayer

Mountains’ third release, and the first not on their self-started label Apestaartje, reminds me of my grandma’s house. Choral is thick, warm, like a stew that’s been simmering for a week. The press release insists it’s “largely live and performed in real time”, which is a welcome change from the mental picture of guys perched in front of laptops, obsessing over panning and balance. While it’s impossible to make work like this without those moments, there’s yet a comforting sense of handmade craftwork, layering patiently and methodically, like making candles.

The first and title track is a soft fuzz, a gentle panning of samples with cyclical amplitude changes, a soft high note that bounces around the landscape, and one long-held chord — all it needs to fit perfectly on a Stars Of The Lid album is a wordy title. “Melodica” and “Telescope” are similarly stark, though not to that extent. These tracks contrast with more structured songs; the slow guitar picking in “Map Table” is perfectly offset with aleatoric sounds, sounding like a missing track from Six Organs of Admittance’s School Of The Flower.

As passionate as I am about the beauty — the brilliance — of this album, it’s very difficult to write relevant words. There’s little to describe because nothing happens — layers of ambience, static, or single tones play simultaneously, barely growing, rarely changing, never detailed. While entire books can be filled with words about John Cage’s “4′33″”, they concern his political and philosophical statement, not the tone and amplitude of his silence. When someone analyzes a minimalist piece, much the same situation occurs. With so little to describe, what left but to discuss but the intention behind the work? But so often ambient work has no ideal anymore; it’s merely an aesthetic, a mimickry of artists gone before. The theoretical intent of any musical genre during its inception is in no way guaranteed to be shared by later waves of its artists. But what’s theory when it sounds this good?

I’ve reviewed several albums that don’t seem to contain any tension, that don’t begin with a problem and certainly never find a resolution. While tension is often a requirement for a pop song, and is the motif of choice for any elementary composition, somehow it’s perfectly acceptable for groups like Mountains to work outside that formula. It’s important to note that they do it without fading into the background, without losing their poignancy. Choral is a retreat to a cabin in the woods, a warm fireplace and a bearskin rug, where you can live and think free of distraction. It’s the contentedness we all hope hibernation can be, minus the boredom it probably is.

Antony & The Johnsons’ The Crying Light Reviewed

Posted by music On January - 20 - 2009

Antony & The Johnsons
The Crying Light
Secretly Canadian, 2009

By Allana Mayer

Since ‘05, things have been quiet on the Antony & The Johnsons front. I Am A Bird Now was one of those albums that nobody thought could be topped — thus, Antony Hegarty fucked off for a few years. Alongside his numerous forays into the cultural sphere (including insulting Sean Penn while trying to support transgender rights, singing for Hercules and Love Affair, designing a ballgown for charity, hanging out with Marina Abramovich and Bjork, and getting his visual art sold), Antony found time to pose on the cover of every magazine in the universe. Oh yeah, and eventually he got around to making another album. Hey, I never said it was a good album. The gown he designed was pretty, though.

The Crying Light is just like his debut; from the sound alone, I’d guess they were all written around the same time, and that some of these are songs that didn’t fit on I Am A Bird Now. The songs are vacant of experiment and innovation, yet pleasing in a vapid way. You’re never really sure what he’s singing about, but it does feel important. “Kiss My Name” is just an excuse to sing the word “kiss” over and over, as far as I can tell; “Another World” and “Daylight and the Sun” are wrist-slitting music at its finest.

Antony just seems to me like someone who has never had even the tiniest sense of humour about anything. Even with a song called “Epilepsy is Dancing” — and how can you not have a sense of humour about that? You’d think I’d be in awe of his incredible deadpan, but I’m actually convinced that some part of his crusade for gender/post-gender equality (extensive surgery? Too much crying at Oprah segments?) has left him without the required facial muscles to produce a smile. Still, it gives him that cool voice, so I guess it’s okay.

As a self-hating-woman, I find his self-hating-man saga a fascinating one, even if I can’t stand his music. His website states that he thinks “a feminist revolution might save our world”, and, even if it didn’t, it would be hard to ignore the generally-held opinion that he is a black woman trapped inside a white man’s body. You have to take “self-hating” with a grain of salt, for both of us — it’s not that we don’t like who we are, it’s just that the other gender seems so much cooler, has gotten all the enviable traits. I don’t necessarily want to be a man, but they sure are more fun to hang out with; I can’t claim that Antony wants to be a woman, but he sure does stick them up on a scarily-high pedestal.

But I’m overjoyed to see Antony getting respect as an artist, rather than just publicity for being opositional to our categorizing instincts. I suppose if he did it with self-deprecation it would be easier for people to laugh at him; his seriousness and the honest dramatic reactions it elicits from fans makes him a much more compelling figure. Even if his music irritates me and my commitment to the notion that intelligence requires humour, I have to give him kudos. I just wish his version of the feminine ideal didn’t involve being gut-wrenchingly miserable all the time. I still want to pinch his elfen cheeks and tell him to buck up.

Just Like Heaven: A Tribute To The Cure, in Review

Posted by music On January - 16 - 2009

Various Artists
Just Like Heaven: A Tribute To The Cure
American Laundromat Records, 2009

By Allana Mayer

I don’t review compilations much. It’s one thing to mock the efforts of a musician or group of musicians, but to make an enemy of an entire record label? Dangerous. Luckily, American Laundromat is a label that, at the moment, produces mostly tribute albums — to Kim Deal and Neil Young, as well as a comp of high-school favourites (e.g., “Pretty In Pink”).

At any rate, all the scorn in the issue at hand is directed towards myself, for still being gullible enough to find a Cure tribute album worth a listen. Even with The Devics, Dean & Britta, and other familiar artists on the bill, it still says more about that hopelessly heartbroken subculture to which a part of me belongs. I saw The Cure perform on a late-night talk show recently. It worried me. They seem dated and aged in equal portions, and while I missed the initial outpouring of goth love for them back in the day, let’s just say that I have The Head On The Door on cassette. Still, at least I’m not totally stuck in the ’80s like American Laundromat is. (Then again, we might be at that point in time where people don’t have to excuse knowing all the words to songs like “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” or “Common People.” Yes? No?)

The best thing about these sorts of albums are the qualities of reimagination and reinvention that go into the tracks. In this respect I have to say that Just Like Heaven didn’t push the envelope. Most tracks simply capitalize on the twee aspects of the originals, implausibly making them even sappier and moodier. The Submarines’ “Boys Don’t Cry” is probably the best example of this, but almost all tracks share in the crime. Tanya Donelly seems to be taking the piss out of “The Lovecats,” while the Kitty Karlyle cover of “In Between Days” essentially strips the life from the song, rendering it irretrievable pop-punk garbage.

Elk City vocalist Renee LoBue seems to be singing out the side of her mouth, as though she’s either gripping a cigarette or has suffered a minor stroke, but their rendition of “Close To Me” gets seriously, charmingly shoegaze. Cassettes Won’t Listen’s “Let’s Go To Bed” at least gets bouncy and synthy, which is a nice change of pace, and Julie Peel’s acoustic “A Night Like This” cover is really lovely, mostly for the bass part — too bad every female vocalist on this comp manages to sound identical to me. For the most part, though, unimaginative covers abound, and any impressions the songs might’ve made are buried under a simple lack of Cure-ness. It might be that people were simply too chicken to fuck with the formula. How could anybody else do it better, after all?

Short ‘n’ Sweet: The Musical Leftovers of ‘08

Posted by music On January - 13 - 2009

There just isn’t enough time in the year, is there?  After twelve months of some ridiculously good and bad releases, even the most comprehensive music site (which MONDO is not!) can have trouble keeping up — especially with the excitement of a new year’s releases looming over our heads.

Luckily, with the best-of lists done once and for all, we can throw all convention out the window and go for quantity over quality.  Your fearless Music editors slaved over a hot laptop to bring you quick, snappy summaries of twenty albums we didn’t get to in 2008.

By Allana Mayer (AM) and Jake Shenker (JS)

13GhostsThe Strangest Coloured Lights (Skybucket)
From the band name, I assumed this was either an Anticon release or some horrible tribute to that stupid Matthew Lillard movie; instead, it’s really enjoyable banjo/piano/acoustic indie-folk that makes you want to climb trees. (AM)

Ariane Moffatt - Tous Les Sens (Phantom Sound & Vision)
Don’t fear French music: Tous Les Sens is the third album from Québécois singer Ariane Moffatt, and blends trip-hop and breakbeats with gentle piano-driven singer/songwriter tunes. (JS)

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones - Jingle All the Way (Rounder / UMGD)
The title track may sound like voodoo music, but virtuoso banjoist Béla Fleck and his band of ridiculously talented musicians have made Christmas music a) interesting and b) insanely complex. (JS)

ByetoneDeath Of A Typographer (Raster-Norton)
Thank God people are still releasing dark, threadbare electronica without calling it dubstep (God, that shit sucks). (AM)

Cloud Cult - Feel Good Ghost / Teapartying Through Tornadoes (Rebel Group)
Every once in a while, it’s nice to be told that everything’s going to be okay. (AM)

Cloudland CanyonLie In Light (Kranky)
I have listened to “You & I” more times than I can count and still think it is perfectly suited for both fucking and fighting – maybe both simultaneously. (AM)

The FiremanElectric Arguments (ATO / RED)
While previous albums from The Fireman (Paul McCartney’s collaboration with producer Martin Glover a.k.a. Youth) were experiments in electronic music, Electric Arguments is an almost entirely organic effort.  Nobody would’ve guessed that when Paul passed 64, he’d still be writing kickass songs. (JS)

GrouperDragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill (Type), and Gregor Samsa - Rest (Kora)
I think that I’d like these two albums played as the soundtrack of the day of my death. (AM)

HelvetiaThe Acrobats (The Static Cult Label)
This album is like an oversized mug filled with piping hot chicken soup, and a really great lap blanket, and someone massaging your feet all at once; in other words, it’s Yo La Tengo. (AM)

The Holloways - Sinners & Winners EP (The Orchard)
The Holloways are a cross between The Jam and The Clash, and this 4-track EP is a delicious teaser for their upcoming full-length (supposed release date March 2009). (JS)

Howlin’ RainMagnificent Fiend (Birdman / American)
This is a Comets On Fire side project that drops the ’90s-era psych/stoner influences and finds a home in ’70s classic rock instead, plus pulls off a great Queen/gospel revival medley in “Lord Have Mercy.” (AM)

Kaki King - Dreaming of Revenge (Velour)
Stop singing; get back to rocking. (AM)

Karkwa - Le Volume du Vent (Audiogram)
Another reason to embrace the French: Karkwa’s third album is full of great rock songs, shows strong minimalist influences, and brings them one step closer to sounding like Radiohead. (JS)

Koushik - Out My Window (Stones Throw)
My booty, when I listen to this album, must inevitably shake; it has made for some awkward streetcar rides. (AM)

The Lost Fingers - Lost in the ’80s (Tandem)
Big stars at this summer’s Montreal Jazz Festival, The Lost Fingers are a gypsy jazz trio whose repertoire consists entirely of really awesome ’80s music (first single? “Pump Up the Jam.”  ‘Nuff said). (JS)

Mouth Of The ArchitectQuietly (Translation Loss)
At some point over the past few years, I’ve developed the ability to ignore stupid metal growls-as-vocals; thus, this album is actually pretty enjoyable. (AM)

National BankCome On Over To The Other Side (Universal Norway)
This gets more enjoyable every time I hear it, and isn’t nearly as creepy as their self-titled debut (which featured the ode to stalker fantasies, “Hello My Name Is Fred.” Shudder). (AM)

Quiet VillageSilent Movie (!K7)
“I wanna be Crockett!”
“No, I wanna be Crockett!”
“No, it’s my turn!”
“Why do you guys want to be Crockett, anyway?”
“Shut up, Robbie.”
“Yeah, the alligator can’t talk.”
“I hate this game.” (AM)

SND4, 5, 6 (Line / Mille Plateaux)
This is the musical equivalent of a kid getting himself a Spirograph and calling it physics. (See the E if you don’t believe me.) (AM)

Sun Kil MoonApril (Calo Verde)
This album made my mom sad over the holidays, and for that it can never be forgiven. (AM)

The Obligatory End-Of-Year Music Lists, Part Two

Posted by music On January - 6 - 2009

Confusion continues to reign in MONDOmusic as we present to you Part Two of kind-of-maybe-something-like-the-best-of-2008.

Cameron Kowalchuk’s Top Eight, Plus (Unordered)

Borko – Celebrating Life (Morr)
An act after my heart, Borko seamlessly layers acoustic guitars, dreamy synths, and vocal flourishes to fabricate the best indie-shoegaze-electronic-folk album of the year. The smatterings of instruments such as harmonicas, trumpets, and bells give it a true organic feel that’s strangely intimate in nature.

Chequerboard – Penny Black (Lazybird)
Setting the dank synths aside for his acoustic guitar, every strum and pluck captivates as Chequerboard lays down some of the most heartbreaking music I’ve ever heard. There’s still an unsettling electronic presence, but the glitch is there to set the tone and pace rather than take away the acoustic focus.

Dokkemand – HONS! (Other Electricities)
Taking the “quirky” crown on this list, it’s great to see artists successfully meshing familiar noises with the musical equivalent of brain farts, unafraid of sounding like a smorgasbord of anything and everything. A bizarre, cute, scary, ADD-inspired pop record.

Dom Mino’ – Time Lapse (Schole)
This record makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. It’s perfect curl-up-with-a-book-on-a-rainy-day music, all pretty bells and whistles and chirps and smiles. It’s sort of post-rocky, ambient, folky, and minimalist in spots, but it’s consistently gorgeous and inspires introspection.

Lineland – Logos For Lovers (Audio Dregs) While explicitly electronic, this album draws from a painstakingly wide selection of styles, as if it’s an attempt to emulate music history in its entirety. Imagine an African rain dance, a 1960s bubblegum pop record, and an obscure jazz pioneer in a vintage Easy-Bake oven and you’re halfway there.

Rumpistol – Dynamo (Rump)
Rumpistol’s previous work has been easily definable: based in funk, but edgy enough to be IDM. Dynamo is a risky and impressive evolution for the Dane, delving into darker, loop-based grooves and teetering close to *gasp* dubstep, while maintaining his trademark warm, curious melodies.

Why? – Alopecia (Anticon)
I have massive respect for Why?’s storytelling skills. This wordy, oddball pop piece, like a sex addict’s loosely adapted memoirs, paints a picture as vivid as anything but is oh-so-sparse musically, which makes me want to say it’s mathematically efficient.

Winter Gloves – About A Girl (Paper Bag)
A trying-too-hard, faux-passionate Julian Casablancas stand-in for a lead singer? Check. On a label repping enough local indie darlings to keep CanCon happy for months? Check. More plaid threads and stray facial hairs than a Value Village shopping spree? Check. Why do I love this generic scenester dreck? Because it’s catchy as fuck and completely self-aware.

Honourable Mentions:
Gouseion’s Anhedonia EP (RunRiot): Pure, unapologetic “me too” electro, with an dirty 8-bit slant. Sweaty nostalgia all over the dancefloor.
Four Tet’s Ringer EP (Domino): After a disappointing fourth full-length and a string of lacklustre cash-ins, it only took four songs to rekindle my man-crush on everyone’s favorite fro-wearing Folktronicist.

Brent Wilson’s Top Five

1. Johnny Dowd – A Drunkard’s Masterpiece (Munich Records)
It’s easiest to think of this as a slightly twisted sequel to the soundtrack Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle made for One from the Heart, Francis Ford Coppola’s attempt at a small personal movie. It’s about a couple’s marriage falling apart in Las Vegas, to which Waits and Gayle provide a bit of a Greek chorus. Of course the couple reconcile at the end of the movie, but imagine them now: they’ve left Vegas for some bumfuck Southern town, they’ve started cheating on each other again, and, rather than make up, they’ve decided to get as far away from each other as they can. Dowd and his usual vocal partner, Kim Sherwood-Caso, take on the Waits and Gayle roles, filling us in on the thought processes during the dismantling of the relationship. This “sequel” will never get made, but the quasi-soundtrack is good enough to fill that void. It’s the most ambitious album Dowd’s made to date, throwing meditations on family (“Easy Money”), his high self-opinion (“Johnny’s Got the Mic”), and his lady’s fine rear end (“Caboose”) into a trio of Southern Gothic opuses all peppered with Dowd’s surreal, dry wit.

2. James Blackshaw – Litany of Echoes (Tompkins Square)
3. Why? – Alopecia (Anticon)
4. Matt Elliott – Howling Songs (Ici D’Ailleurs)
5. volcano! – Paperwork (Leaf)

Miles Baker’s Top Five

I used to be with “it.” But then they changed what “it” was. Now what I’m with isn’t “it,” and what’s “it” seems weird and scary to me. — Abe Simpson

1. David Bowie - Hunky Dory (Virgin, 1971)
Look out you rock and rollers, this album is awesome. It’s naked and intimate, and it features amazing songs like “Changes,” “Oh! You Pretty Things,” and “Life on Mars?”

2. Tom Waits – Blood Money (Anti, 2002)
Waits’ record about the shittiness of humanity is addictive. I routinely hurt my throat trying to sound like him.

3. Aimee Mann – @#%&*! Smilers (Superego, 2008)
I heart Aimee Mann hard. Her newest record continues the tradition of intelligent lyrics with strong songwriting.

4. David Bowie – Aladdin Sane (Virgin, 1973)
Two years later, the moxie from Hunky Dory is harnessed to be sexier and better produced.

5. Mother Mother – O My Heart (Last Gang, 2008)
Vancouver’s Mother Mother improved their already polished and unique sound on this record. They remind me of The Pixies in every good way possible, god bless them.

Allana Mayer’s Top One, Plus

1. Why? – Alopecia (Anticon)
I won’t lie: I feel less of an authority than ever right now. It’s pretty tempting to put Bowerbirds’ Hymns For A Dark Horse as my number one again, on the technicality of it being a re-release and all. But I wouldn’t do that to you. The truth of the matter is that I was so bowled over by the brilliance of Alopecia, and so totally underwhelmed by everything else that came out this year, that I can’t help but leave the rest vacant. Take that.

How I felt when I reviewed Alopecia back in the spring hasn’t changed, which is the surprising part. Usually albums take their time to grow on me (which is, I hope, the case with most 2008 releases that haven’t won me over yet) and then lose their places in my heart as other stuff comes out. Not this time. I still know all the words.

Honourable Mentions:
Yann Tiersen – Tabarly (EMI France); National Bank – Come On Over To The Other Side (Universal Norway); Helvetia – The Acrobats (The Static Cult); Black Angels – Directions To See A Ghost (Light In The Attic)

The Other Things I Listened To A Lot This Year:
1. Supersilent – “6.1″ (from 6, 2004)
2. Couch – Figur 5 (2006) and Profane (2001)
3. Sybarite – “Identity #2″(from Placement Issues, 2001)
4. The Dirty Projectors – The Getty Address (2005)
5. Field Music – Tones Of Town (2007)
6. King Cobb Steelie – Junior Relaxer (1997)

Hidden Gem: The Black Angels

Posted by music On December - 30 - 2008

Black Angels
Directions To See A Ghost
Light In The Attic Records, 2008

By Allana Mayer

Released in April, the appeal of Directions To See A Ghost snuck up on me after a few months of dismissal; I was looking for substance over style, and the Black Angels have tons of the latter but not so much of the former. Not that that’s a bad thing: the sound has an upturned-nose attitude, a gritty, too-cool-for-school style, healthily defiant rather than moodily introspective. The Black Angels are all leather jackets and greased hair and smoking in the boys’ bathroom.

In this world of uncertainty and confusion, when meaning is subjective and fluid, I feel that Directions To See A Ghost most concretely sums up the term “indie-rock” for me. It’s solid rock, dark and brooding yet urgent and passionate. The heavy, prominent basslines scream Stone Roses while the fuzzy lyrics and the deliciously crunchy distortion says Pixies grunge. Psychedelic pedal effects, a tinge of Oriental flavour, and a little bit of 13th Floor Elevators guitar-riffery (and I even hear something like their trademark electric jug noises) round out the sound, but don’t make it psych-rock.

The funny thing about all this attitude is that it actually comes pretension-free — rather than trump up their influences and background, they seem totally childish and naive about the way they sound. I can just see them, in their grotty motel room, ashing on the carpet and slurring out things like “NME can go suck ‘emselves, innit.” (They’re from Texas, but don’t let that fool you.) They sound like they listen to metal but would never admit to it, like Directions To See A Ghost is the sound that should come naturally of teenagers jamming in the garage. Given the sad state of affairs in angry music these days, I can’t help but (belatedly) endorse the notion.

Mark Kozelek’s The Finally LP Reviewed

Posted by music On December - 30 - 2008

Mark Kozelek
The Finally LP
Caldo Verde, 2008

By Allana Mayer

The Finally LP actually angers me: nothing should ever sound so good while being so seemingly effortless. It’s as though Mr. Kozelek rolled right out of his plush, lacy, pink canopy bed, slipped on his Hello Kitty slippers, and tossed off these ten songs in a single take, in between sips of tea. Bastard.

Although, if anyone could crank out this album in an afternoon, it’d be him. He’s been playing these and other covers for years as part of his incessant touring schedule. His abundantly celebrated history in Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters means that not even “Send In The Clowns” is off-limits. You hate him for it, because that song should never have made it onto your playlist, yet there it is, and you hardly even notice the silly lyrics because the guitar part is so lovely. Betrayal! Betrayal, I say!

The cover of Low’s “Lazy” is generally agreed to be the standout track. It’s hard not to be — with so little to work with, it’s hard to go wrong. Two lines, one chord progression, and you’re set with instant perfection. And once again I feel tricked, swindled, hoodwinked! His perfectly world-weary voice takes the lines and imbues them with an emotional increase each time, making them so much more than a simple refrain. This ultimate craftsmanship, this sleight of hand and of voice, must be a trick somehow. Songwriting can’t be this easy to excel at; it just can’t be.

Gasp! And then hear what he does to “If You Want Blood”! AC/DC isn’t supposed to sound good, you know.

I just don’t know if I can go on like this. I have to stop liking this album so much. Whatever it takes. Tell me his raspy voice comes from eating babies; tell me the unending sadness in his voice is from wishing McCain had won. Anything.

Warm And Spreading: The ‘08 Winter Mix

Posted by music On December - 23 - 2008

Warm And Spreading, Like Wetting The Bed
Allana’s Winter Mix ‘08

As a semi-prelude to the best-of-2008 listmaking that’s to come, I introduce my winter mix of 2008 (not necessarily representative of the best-of, mind you). Usually it’s a lot less content from the year at hand, and more a random smattering of whatever suits my fancy, but this year I had a bit of a change of heart. Rather than try to encompass the frigid, frostbitten ways of our frozen North, somehow this mix ended up well on the warm, fuzzy, energetic electronic side. I might just be in denial (as such, this mix has been in progress for three weeks while I weighed my options). But as I write this, I can still see green grass, so let’s just check back in in a month, okay?

Here, have some music.

1. Studio – 2 Hearts (Version by Studio) (from Yearbook 2, 2008)
2. TV on the Radio – Crying (from Dear Science, 2008)
3. Cibelle – City People (from The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves, 2006)
4. No Kids – For Halloween (from Come Into My House, 2008)
5. Akufen – Tournee 1 (from Hawaiian Wodka Party, 2003)
6. Chequerboard – Penny Black (from Penny Black, 2008)
7. Skyphone – All Is Wood (from Avellaneda, 2008)
8. (Smog) – Let’s Move to the Country (from Knock Knock, 1999)
9. Jay-Jay Johanson – I Fantasize of You (from Poison, 2000)
10. Mark Kozelek – Lazy (from The Finally LP, 2008)
11. The Instruments – Ode To The Sea (from Dark Småland, 2008)
12. Bowery Electric – Without Stopping (from Beat, 1996)
13. Dosh – Hit and Pearls (from Wolves and Wishes, 2008)
14. Yann Tiersen – Au Dessous Du Volcan (from Tabarly, 2008)
15. Yann Tiersen – Atlantique Nord (from Tabarly, 2008)

Allana Mayer
Music Editor

(The cover image was gleefully stolen from the photography collection of our own EIC, Rachel Kahn.)

Castanets’ City of Refuge in review

Posted by music On December - 23 - 2008

Castanets
City of Refuge
Asthmatic Kitty, 2008

By Allana Mayer

The Castanets, a moniker for Raymond Raposa and a rotating cast of guests, has been pumping out albums almost yearly since ‘03 and touring consistently in between. I have no doubt that travelling across the barren southern states inspired the masterpiece that is City of Refuge. Recorded in a Nevada motel room, it sounds like the last recordings of a dying recluse, one going far before his time.

The music is stark and empty, lonely and fierce. It’s full of bleak landscapes: snow-covered hills, desolate wastelands, or arid deserts. It’s the snarl of Nick Cave and the bluesy howl of Entrance’s Guy Blakeslee. There are religious overtones, hymns, and lullabies, but at the same time a distinctly godless feel pervades the whole thing. I’m sick of referencing Cormac McCarthy when it comes to albums like these, but if this were a soundtrack, it would be for his latest bestseller The Road. And there ARE rumours of a movie in the  near future…

The growled refrain that flows through the album, “I’m gonna run to the city of refuge,” is determined and desperate all at once. It’s a poor, broken man, stooping on his last legs, swaying like a breeze might topple him. All he can see before him is dust, yet he’s certain that somewhere within is a great haven if only he can make it there.

What runs contrary to the type of album that usually pushes these images into my mind is that the many tracks on City of Refuge are short, mostly clocking in under the three-minute mark. Often I’d be describing something post-rocky that builds and swells through at least ten minutes. However, these are tiny little sonic experiments.  For example, the tracks, “High Plain 1,” “2,” and “3″ all have someone scratching a turntable around or looping a single sound. They’re snippets of form such as you would get by endlessly flipping a radio dial, complete with tracks of static, murky reception, and unfocused signals. The Castanets may not come through loud and clear, but their concept does, and their emotions do.

“I’ll Fly Away” is a short blast of defiant, spiritual power, but it seems tragic and withering even as it tries to give power and confidence. The City of Refuge sounds more like a city of refugees, ones who will stay disenfranchised even after they find a home, still wandering though they’ve settled down. This album as a whole is a brilliant accomplishment by someone who, in the past few years, has proven to be a brilliant artist.

(On a much lighter note, there’s a remix album, Dub Refuge, by the producer, Ero Gray. Yes, dub.)

Review: These Arms Are Snakes’ Tail Swallower and Dove

Posted by music On December - 19 - 2008

These Arms Are Snakes
Tail Swallower and Dove
Suicide Squeeze, 2008

By Allana Mayer

These Arms Are Snakes hold a special place in my heart. They’re the first band I ever saw in a bar, and the first show I snuck into whilst underage (I didn’t drink at it out of respect). The band made it all the more memorable by destroying the venue’s furnishings: they were larger than life, even as the opening act. Yet nothing since the five-song EP they were touring then has sat right with me. I had almost given up hope, thinking my scream-y hardcore* days were simply over. Now Tail Swallower and Dove is giving me reason to reconsider.

What has the band done to make Tail Swallower and Dove sound so right? They’ve created a sound that is less thrashing doom metal and more palatable hard rock, to start. They haven’t dropped their fidgeting, rebellious attitude: they’ve simply sublimated it into music with more complex rhythms and difficult time signatures, as well as a perfect synthesis of feedback walls and layered guitar harmonies. Lead singer Steve Snere’s voice is clearer than ever, which makes no sense to me as I thought he was destined to scream himself mute back in ought-three. I’m also inclined to steal my “Hardest-Working Drummer Ever” award back from Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale and give it to TAAS’s Chris Common: his rolls are relentless, and his precision is unceasing.

The album does need a bit of attention on the part of the listener.  I recommend using headphones in order to appreciate the killer panning on “Ethric Double” and also to catch a lot of the percussion work. Though I’m not fully confident about what Snere is shouting, I’d say the lyrics resemble those of At The Drive-In: post-apocalyptic, ominous, seething, and full of intrigue and espionage. Album closer “Briggs” is fucking brilliant, with a stark intro that slowly layers into a more subdued piece than usual. That’s not to say I don’t like them screaming and thrashing — it’s just nice to see them add another dimension.

Hey, if I wasn’t telling you, I wouldn’t believe it myself. There’s only one iffy song in the lot, and that’s “Cavity Carousel.” I say so because of the sketchy vocal tracks that are over-processed and oddly melodic. But one instance of bad taste on an otherwise delicious and admirable album can be easily forgiven. It’s good to have them back and to have another album to fall back on when people insist that all I listen to is “that fairy-indie crap.”

*Note: I refuse to acknowledge the stupid genre named “post-hardcore” that people like to use when they refer to TAAS.

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