Friday, December 31, 2010

#s 15-11

While you're all donning the proverbial lampshade headgear in anticipation of the ball dropping at midnight, I'm hard at work bringing y'all the next five entries. Devotion! Save a glass and a kiss for me, won't you?

15. Chicago Underground Duo, Boca Negro

Chad Taylor and Rob Mazurek -- both busy guys, the latter hard at work with a group to appear further on up this list -- regroup as one iteration of the Chicago Underground improvising collective (they've been a trio, quartet, quintet and orchestra, too) to record ten complex, delicate and intriguing tracks. Traditional instruments (cornet, drums, vibes, mbira) are washed over and beneath by electronics, treated and tweaked, modulated and augmented, but the humanity underlying it all is never once compromised. Beautiful, strange, natural and touching.

14. David S. Ware, Onecept

Ware's sound is scraped down to the bone, extraneous layers sloughed off, sinew and bone exposed. He has been to hell and back, and he squeezes all of that through the mouthpiece of his horn. This is completely improvised. Tape rolls, ideas flow. That deviates from Ware's usual work pattern, and the results are harrowing. Warren Smith (d) and William Parker (b) are along for the ride. No slouches, either of them, but this is Ware's statement. Music as both test and testimony.

13. Tu Fawning, Hearts on Hold

Tu Fawning's not-so-secret weapon is Corrina Repp, who possesses a voice as big as Florence's, but a much smaller profile, at least so far. Quite a year for Flo and her Machine; might 2011 see Repp and her bandmates soundtracking a million mocha latte afternoons, too? The differences are more numerous than the similarities, but the voices beg comparison. I owe PF a case of thanks for introducing me to this band's debut EP; it had me fairly giddy for the full length. I take it the band went from duo to quartet in that time, and the sound also got bigger. Dramatic, grand and brash, but nuanced, subtle and delicate, too. Hearts on Hold is one of those records that's as much about feel as it is sound. Records like that are the ones you remember.

12. Surfer Blood, Astro Coast

Something in the water has surf/surfer/surfing featuring prominently in the cultural conversation circa now, more as notion than activity: surf music, "Angela Surf City," "Learned to Surf," and this band from Florida, where such a thing is at least plausible. What gives? Who's to say. Or care. Probably just a coincidence, but worth mentioning, anyway. Maybe. Astro Coast is a heavily reverbed storm front of pop-punk harmony meeting a low pressure zone of shoegazey noise. The breakers are huge! Wax down and paddle out, and catch a wave, or whatever!

11. The Black Keys, Brothers

Dan Auerbach's voice is a mournful instrument, a bluesy wail, a creaky gearbox, a sonic seducer; it is a thing kicked loose from time to wander the ether and the spiritual midspace between Memphis, Muscle Shoals and, er, Akron. The Black Keys' bluesrock is a delicate balance -- when you choose such as your arena, you risk falling into parody or slavish retread. But these two keep on the right side of that hashed line; they're neither too Zeppelin nor too... what? Raging Slab? Save your White Stripes comparisons as they're baseless and ill-informed. Might as well lump the Porsche and the Grand Caravan together (four wheels and an internal combustion? Check!). Brothers finds a helluva band in full stride, their footing sure, their direction unquestioned. And that voice!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

#s 20-16

Still with me? Another nibble now from the big list before we break for the holidays. More to follow in the week in between...

20. Aram Shelton Quartet, These Times

I detailed my Shelton fixation back in August. Let me only add that, after spending the last few weeks mildly obsessed with Lee Konitz At Storyville -- featuring another altoist captured at a fairly early point in his career, and with a new-ish band -- how wonderful it has been, over the last several years, to have a prejudice of mine dismantled brick by brick. For years I couldn't hear an alto playing modern jazz without comparing it to Parker's -- and judging it lacking. Same sort of thing occured with Coltrane, of course, before I fought my way out of that. But Shelton's playing has been refreshing for me in this way -- it sounds not like a pale imitation of anything, but like a single sincere, probing voice. Konitz, of course, is/was a different voice, too, and while listening the other night it occured to me that I was finally hearing these guys as players first, altos only secondarily. Might not sound like much, but it feels like a big deal to me.

19. Male Bonding, Nothing Hurts

An album that probably won't stand the test of time, quite honestly, but damn fun just the same, with crunch and harmonies sufficient to remind one of an old warhorse that will appear way, way up this list, just you wait.

18. Wolf Parade, Expo 86

Maybe the indie band of these times -- remember when we thought that'd be Modest Mouse? -- has a third album worth considering in terms of its place in the discography. When I guess at what bands I'll still be listening to in 10 years I feel pretty certain these guys will be one of the few. What the mid-40s me will hear when he listens back will be a dialing back of the prog tendencies that surfaced on At Mount Zoomer, and a move to a more free range rock. Bigger drums, keys more in service of the tunes than vice versa, and something I can't quite place that has me feeling more Bowie than Springsteen (the latter having felt like a major touchstone for the first record). This is a damn good record, even if there won't be as many songs plucked to populate mixes (or playlists?) in the years that follow its release.

17. Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook Up, Actionspeak

Inside-out postbop from drummer Fujiwara and his band, with much of the out provided by guitarist Mary Halvorson, who's no stranger to this blog (her quartet's Saturn Sings was in fact a near-miss for this year's list). I'm a sucker for stuff that sounds like mid-'60s Blue Note avant-bop (think along the Bobby Hutcherson - Andrew Hill - Jackie McLean axis). This approaches that, but for Halvorson's appealingly unique lines, which veer toward off-kilter, but never topple into the realm of queer-for-queer's sake. Bracing, engaging stuff.

16. Pernice Brothers, Goodbye, Killer

"Ah, there he is," the reader is saying, "Pernice had to show up sometime." Because yes, okay, if Joe Pernice slaps his name on just about anything in a calendar year, he can be certain of at least one thing: it will show up on TiOM's list at year's end. I'm reliable like that. But so is Pernice reliable: you can count on his records featuring sharp songwriting, beautiful pop arrangements, and that gorgeous voice. On Goodbye, Killer, the arrangements are a smidge less baroque, a bit more pared back, a bit more... rock than on some of his more recent outings. But in the end, there he is, good old Pernice. Come to think of it, in his steadiness and reliability he is very much like that other hero of mine.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

#s 25-21

25. Swans, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

Michael Gira dusts off Swans to remind the Mile End anarchists who did what first. This actually sent me on a listening expedition the other night, into the remote wilds of '90s "post-rock," instrumental scores to the films in doom-minded musicians' heads, soundtracks to movies never made, funeral dirges for the still dying. Think Godspeed, Rachel's, the Boxhead Ensemble. What amazed me was how much it all sounded like outtakes from Nick Cave's and Warren Ellis's score for The Road. The second surprise was how much more affecting I found it, how difficult were the images of "mothers clutching babies, pick[ing] through the rubble and pull[ing] out their hair" -- it hurts more when you have more to lose, I suppose.

But Gira, and by extension Swans, have more bile than that other gang, more bite, as well as more room for redemption, it would seem. That last bit wouldn't have been true in the past, but perhaps the man has mellowed in his own peculiar way. His own young daughter duets with Devendra Banhart on "You Fucking People Make Me Sick." Classic!

That he cuts songs with vocals is something of a red herring; the assortment of noises and pummelling crescendos that dot his songs mark Gira as the first post-rocker, or perhaps more accurately the first post-apocalypse-rocker, since this (like every Swans record) sounds like the noise that greets the first day after the end of the world.

24. Gaslight Anthem, American Slang

I don't know about these guys. They've turned Boss-aping pop-punk into a cottage industry, earned Bruuuuce's approval, and spread their sound over three full-lengths, all with a bit of a tenuous grasp on the real nature of Springsteenian songcraft. They repeat the tropes, but lack the depth. And yet they do it all with such gusto, and make it catchy enough that you're moved to overlook their shortcomings, pogo along, and hope they'll one day turn out that breakneck cover of "Spirit in the Night" they seem destined to make.

23. Marc Ribot, Silent Movies

The swoon and clang of Marc Ribot's guitar is a sound both velvety and metallic. His solo guitar work, now documented on several albums (2001's Saints being an earlier highlight), is always engaging. Silent Movies consists of 13 pieces that serve as accompaniment to silent films both real and imagined, fragmentary explorations of image and mood that have the ability to lull, please and intrigue. Ribot is one of my longtime favourite musicians (and he's appeared on lists past), a key piece of a number of seminal recordings (Tom Waits' Rain Dogs, the Lounge Lizards' Voice of Chunk, to name two), but the material he's turned out for the Pi label since 2005 might be his most important work yet.

22. Best Coast, Crazy for You

Hands down the micro-trend of 2010: lo-fi girl group pop with a side of surf rock. Seriously. The best of the bunch is Best Coast's debut, a hazy, reverb-laden ode to weed, laziness and young love.

21. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

Okay, alright, yes, it is good. Despite my misgivings over Win Butler's single-source theory of modern anomie, the fact that Arcade Fire (the U2 of the '10s) have birthed their most accessible record to date musn't be overlooked. A few lyrical duds ("Business men drink my blood / like the kids in high school said they would") are forgiven in light of the music that backs them. Overall AF have matured, and in doing so they've cemented their place in the vanguard of contemporary avant pop, and confirmed that they'll be with us for a long while yet.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This Is Our Music: 2010 (#s 30-26)

Mid-December and things are gettin' kind of hectic, but The List is always front-of-mind, so while the upper echelons are still being shuffled and tweaked I wanted to start things off before somebody posted this shit on WikiLeaks.

This year's list carries the subheading "Stop Me if You Think That You've Heard This One Before" because, g-darnit, I'm in my mid-30s and the road behind me is long, and discovering new artists? That takes time, son, a product I find hard to source. So guess what? A ton of the acts on TiOM: 2010 have appeared on past lists. The more repeats that appear, the deeper I sink into the morass of my own hermetically-sealed world. Symtom or cause -- that's a tough one to sort, but regardless, I'm approaching full-on stasis mode, like when your dad picked up an Abba record at Sam's and knew he never again had to worry about finding new music, because for this moment he was hip, and he would remember this feeling for the rest of his days, and that was going to have to be enough.

Yes, there are new names, enough to prevent the amber from solidifying over these bones, if only temporarily. There are still discoveries to be made.

Had enough? Here we go:

30. Budos Band, Budos Band III
29. Josh Ritter, So Runs the World Away
28. Fond of Tigers, Continent and Western
27. Gil Scott-Heron, I'm New Here
26. Aeroplane Trio, Naranja Ha

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sober girls around me they be ackin like they druuuunk

Making my list, checking it twice. All is flux at the moment. The only certainty? There will be no Far East Movement on This is Our Music's best of 2010 list. Or Ke$ha.