Friday, December 31, 2004

The obligatory end of the year top 10 albums list. I'm including any album I heard for the first time this year, not just new releases. An * denotes a 2004 release and an ** denotes a 2004 reissue.

10. BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP BBC Radiophonic Music (BBC Records)
8. EARLIMART Everyone Down Here (Palm)
7. * LIARS They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (Mute)
6. * RATATAT s/t (XL)
5. PINK FLOYD The Early Singles (EMI)
4. * VARIOUS ARTISTS Cambodian Cassette Archives: Khmer Folk and Pop Music Vol. 1 (Sublime Frequencies)
3. SAVAGE ROSE s/t (Polydor)
2. * DUNGEN Ta Det Lugnt (Subliminal Sounds)
1. * BLONDE REDHEAD Misery is a Butterfly (4AD)

Sunday, December 26, 2004

ELASTICA Stutter (Geffen)
This is it. October 1994, my first semester in college and I began reading this guy who wrote for our school paper. He called himself the Music Geek, had impeccable taste in music, and I bought a bunch of cds solely on the basis of his endorsement. I don't remember what he wrote about Elastica but it wasn't very different than any other review which made me buy a cd without hearing it first. I thought the cover art was very appealing -- clean, simple, and I loved the off-center photo. For the next few weeks, I hunted this single in all of the local record stores until I finally found it and immediately went home to play it.

The a-side opens with some squelchy noises and as soon as the second fuzzed out guitar kicked in, I knew it was going to be good. A punk bassline, a simple backbeat, pop vocals, and it was all over in under two and a half minutes. I was floored, I was speechless, I thought I had just heard the greatest song ever, and most importantly felt as though there was something much bigger which I needed to make myself a part of. I swore allegiance to Elastica and became a completist, determined to own every song they ever recorded. I tried to follow the Britpop scene as much as possible and drowned myself in bands like Sleeper, Echobelly, Suede, Pulp, Oasis, and even Menswear. Bands I'd been listening to before I discovered Elastica, such as Blur and Lush, became even more important to me. I spent insane amounts of money on import singles. Looking back I can realize Elastica were essentially the Strokes of their day: good songs, plenty of hype, but in the end derivative of their influences. Some may dismiss them for just that, but I'd give them credit for making me aware of their predecessors -- most notably Wire, the Stranglers, and the Buzzcocks.

Back to the EP, this post refers to the American version of the single. Making things complicated for the completist is that the UK and Australian versions each have different b-sides (in case you're wondering, I also own the Australian version and have a copy of the British b-side on tape). "Stutter" was their first single. Justine Frischmann wrote the song, rather snarkily, about an ex-boyfriend who wasn't able to perform well in bed and drummer Justin Welch threatened to quit the band if they released it as their first single (just random facts I read about the song, don't think one is related to the other). They did anyway but he still stayed. "Rockunroll" and "Annie" are raucous recordings from a Peel Session. "2:1" is a different version than the one included on their first full length and is the epic song here, clocking in at a towering 2 minutes, 26 seconds. "Stutter" and "Annie" are more or less punk in the sense of the sped up pop song, while "2:1" and "Rockunroll" are indebted to the art punk movement.

For more info:
Elastica is no more and their official site seems to have disappeared as well. The Elastica Connection has a lot but hasn't been updated in such a long time it makes no mention of the second, and final, album. All Music follows the band through to the end.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

You're a bum,
You're a punk

You're an old slut on junk,
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed

You scumbag, you maggot,
You cheap lousy faggot,
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's our last

And the boys of the NYPD Choir were singing "Galway Bay"
And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Pitchfork jumped the proverbial shark. I think it started to go downhill last year when they began to include the likes of R Kelly or Beyonce in their singles reviews, but they hit absolute rock bottom with today's top 50 singles of 2004 feature. Of course they had the indie stars (Franz Ferdinand, Interpol) and hipster favorites(Animal Collective, Ratatat) represented, but what's with Britney Spears at number 3? Come on...

MTV's Subterranean has become a bore as well. I no longer watch it regularly and Sunday's segment reminded me why. Aside from the Kasabian video they opened with, the rest of the night was forgettable.

I listened to the Kasabian album on their website, though, and it was pretty interesting.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

PARKER AND LILY Here Comes Winter (Manifesto)
"My whole drunken world is a gaudy frame for a picture perfect girl." With those lines in the opening "Hello Halo," the album's mood is set. Winter settles in, cold and desolate as could be -- yet beneath it all is the analog warmth of vintage organs and occasional guitar lifted straight from the last dance at some 1950s prom. This is lounge music, to be sure. Airport lounges, blinds drawn shut, half empty glasses of gin, and a haze of cigarette smoke. Winter never sounded so beautiful.

For more information:
There's the Parker and Lily official site, an AMG entry, and the home of Manifesto Records.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

THE PIXIES and BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE @ Hammerstein Ballroom (New York NY) - Dec 14, 2004
No opening paragraph. No need for an introduction.

Broken Social Scene scored the biggest opening slot of their lives last night. I'm not really sure how many people are in the band. Nine? Ten? Members would just wander on or off stage in the middle of a song. At one point there were as many as five guitarists playing at a time, and at other times three people stood by ready to go with just a tambourine. The songs were structured, but the band had a sort of loose chaos. When the drummer launched into their final song, for example, the girl singer and one guitarist were busy talking onstage to each other and were literally caught by surprise and had to scramble to join in on the song. I thought the sound was a bit muddy although my friends thought otherwise. I've also heard good things about their album.

It's late and I'm feeling lazy so I'll just show you what I wrote to someone this morning about the Pixies. He's a guitarist, by the way (hence my harping on Joey Santiago's pedals and noise solo):
The Pixies were last night and they were really good. They started off sounding a bit slower and quieter than usual, which I attributed to them just getting mellow in their old age but soon enough things kicked in and they sounded just like the band everyone knew. They just kind of stood on stage, didn't say much inbetween songs (except for when Frank Black mentioned that Dave Lovering's mom was in the audience and then he thanked her for letting them practice in her garage), and tore through their old songs. They sounded really good and played together as though they hadn't taken a decade long break. The biggest surprise for me was that Joey Santiago used a lot more pedals than I thought he would. I always imagined him to be a one distortion pedal guy, but he also used a wah, some delay (not that he used it to sound like the Edge or anything), and possibly something else I didn't notice. The one theatrical moment came when they hit a break in a song (I forget which one), Dave provided just a beat and Joey produced a wall of noise from his guitar. He took off the guitar, grabbed it by the neck and choked the noise out of it. Obviously using some sort of combination of the aforementioned pedals he put the guitar on a stand in the middle of the stage, walked back to the pedals and manipulated the sounds from afar by switching distortions and playing with the wah. Dave tossed him a drumstick and he then started conducting the noise. It was pretty cool. Dave Lovering's a really good drummer too. Frank Black screamed, Kim Deal still sounds like a little girl when she sings. It was a good night.
I'll also add it was really special to see the four of them on stage together. I never considered myself a fan but I liked their songs and had a lot of admiration for their legacy. I'm guessing the crowds they're playing to this time around are much bigger than they ever were in the Nineties so it's good that they're finally getting that recognition.

PS: In case you're interested, this is Joey Santiago's setup from 1991. It doesn't seem too different from last night. Credit Andrew (the recipient of my email) for writing back that he always suspected Joey was a pedal man with subtle ways.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!
Re-evaluate the songs
Double pack with a photograph
Extra Track (and a tacky badge)

Earlier this year Fiction Records released Join the Dots, a four disc set of b-sides and other rarities spanning the Cure's career. Fan that I am, I bought it. The first disc was a bit redundant -- if you're going to spend the money to buy their box set, chances are you already have the Standing on a Beach cassette and the Japanese Whispers ep, from which most of disc one was pulled. But I didn't mind.

Now Rhino Records is reissuing "deluxe editions" of the Cure's catalog. Three Imaginary Boys, their 1979 debut, is the first up. Packaged along with the original album are more rarities which weren't included in the box set. Since I already bought this album many years ago (and paid import prices for it), I really don't want another copy of it but am still very interested in the bonus songs. Of course having just bought the box set, I have no interest in spending even more money to buy a handful of extra rarities. Especially not when my understanding is that Rhino intends to do this with each of the Cure's albums.

I normally wouldn't condone this sort of behavior, but in the face of unabashed greed on either the part of the band, label, or both, I may resort to simply downloading all of the bonus tracks as they become available and just make my own cd.

By the way, Pitchfork rated the Three Imaginary Boys reissue 8.7 out of 10.

Friday, December 10, 2004

All the inventions I imagined as a kid, or at least those which involved record players, are starting to come to life. At the WFMU record fair back in May, I marvelled at the sight of battery powered portable turntables complete with headphones. But that's nothing compared to my latest discovery this week, which came courtesy of the indiepop list.

Vinyl records have finally gone the way of the cassette or compact disc. Cut your own records at home with the Vestax VRX-2000. If the $10,000 price tag scares you away, there's always the Vinylium Dubplate Cutter or the Vinyl Recorder which each sell for approximately $6000.
A much cheaper route would be the $70 (although there are websites which sell it for as little as half that price) Emile Berliner Gramophone Turntable. Unlike the first three items which make proper vinyl recordings, the Gramophone cuts grooves into non-traditional items, such as old cds or Ramen soup lids.

Now if only someone would go about making a record player for car stereos...

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

If you don't have any plans for Monday (or if you do, break them), come out for the December installment of the Archives Listening Project. We're playing Plush's Fed. Liam Hayes broke the bank to record this piece of lush ambition which, if I'm correct, was never officially released in the US, so you may as well hear it for free while enjoying a cheap drink. Added bonus: After the album, both Mike and I will be DJing for the remainder of the night. 9pm, December 13 at Rififi.
I'd also like to direct your attention to the new ArchivesLP.com. Preview our upcoming events or read about past ones.

But before that, go see Kagero at the Continental on Thursday night. It's been a few months since I've seen them but they're own of my favorite local bands. They go on at 9:30. It's free.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR! Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven! (Kranky)
I've had this for over three years now but unfortunately never gave it much attention until recently. Maybe its sheer magnitude was a bit intimidating -- it's a double album which I believe is best heard straight through from start to finish. Besides the longer than usual time commitment, it's also an album which demands attentive listening and, unlike other records, I can't just put it on in the background.

But when given your full attention, it's quite an impressive piece of work. At times they sound more like a symphony, albeit a deranged symphony, than a rock band. Quiet starkness, repeated themes, distant rumblings, it's the music of gathering clouds on sunny afternoons. Suddenly the sounds break into a shimmering tower of noise, with all the fullness and violence that only a nine piece band can muster. It will be quiet again soon, but the wrath will return. Possibly soon, or maybe not until after they break out into a straight ahead rock instrumental. Throw in some field recordings and tape manipulations and the album is a soundtrack to something. Something lost, something fragile, something big, but mostly something beautiful.

For more info:
There's the official site, an All Music Guide entry, and an Epitonic page. There's also the Kranky website.

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