Indier Than Thou: December 2006

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Beck - The Information


Though Beck has been around for a while, I had my way with him for the first time with The Information, the artist’s seventh album. Should I be embarrassed that my Beck virginity was not lost with the earlier and more highly recognized and nod-worthy works like Odelay or Sea Change? Maybe, but I have reasoned that saving myself gives me a unique and appropriate vantage point for interpreting and appreciating this new collection.

My perspective is fitting in that I get a well-rounded taste in an “album that splits the difference between the two Becks, dressing up his ambling beat science in Godrich's [album producer] dystopian keyboard squeals and humming synths. There's an overall kitschy spookiness.” Spin. Kitschy, if not the best compliment, is comforting in the sense that even if I missed things the first time around, I can still relish in experiencing some of the same feelings Beck’s earlier work, whether they be superior or not, evoked in others. For those that have been privy to Beck’s sound may find this album to be a nostalgic all-encompassing reflection of the artist. If you however, are looking for the old inventive Beck to come up with something a little bit more avant-garde (as he has been recognized by some for doing in the past), this is not that album.

This review of earlier styles comes across in the first two singles, Nausea and Think I’m in Love. Where Nausea has a funky hard edged movement-inducing beat, Think I’m in Love adds some easily appreciated emotion in a more soothing sound. The rest of the songs can essentially be pegged into these two perhaps too overly generalized categories fairly effortless. Do not interpret this as meaning the songs each lack a unique quality. What makes them so similar is the way they are put together with the same highly addictive formula; Beck comes up with a menagerie of sounds that all come across as unusual and yet are instantly picked up with affection. He fills them in with lyrics that may or may not mean anything to the listener and in the end, you easily and willingly give your ear and let yourself relish in the cool ambience created by the final product. The standouts in my book are Cellphone’s Dead (minus the baby coos and child’s voice which sound a little too like trashy hip hop versus respectable hip hop), Think I’m in Love (pleasantly chock full of sentiment and thus a song easily about YOU, the listener), and No Complaints (because of the lyrics and the little dodo do at the end easily win me over).

Considering that these three songs only account for 1/5 of the all the information, one does feel a tad inclined to criticize Beck for creating such a long album. While the almost double song-list may be rationalized as warranted within the idea that it explores the “two Becks”, it does become a bit tedious when trying to make it through the entire album in one sitting and even a little redundant after a while. I still in fact have yet to make it through the final song, The Horrible Fanfair, Landslide, Exoskeleton.

All in all this album is a win because it is classic Beck…well so I am told…it’s all fresh Beck to me. But it is a loss for exactly the same reason. Beck is probably most appreciated for his originality and that, while it does shine, is not as ...well original as in his older records. I can easily look beyond this though and appreciate the record in and of itself, enjoying each offering of Beck’s effortless cool.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Can't You Just FEEL The Wetness Behind My Ears...

Okay, it may be just a trifle presumptuous of me to make a (VERY VERY LONG WINDED) best-of-2006 list when I heard maybe eight or nine percent of anything that came out, and also, everyone else on this site thing is probably way more qualified than me in this respect… But because I have little to say about Regina Spektor, it’s either this, or a picture of an eggplant (actually – good ones of those are really easy to find all over the internet, check it), or nothing at all. So?

Well first I’d like to state that two very epic albums didn’t make the list. Ghostface Killah’s Fishscale was simply too hardcore. I tried to put it on the list but it gosh, I got sick of putting bandaids on all the wimpy wounded albums who simply couldn’t live up to da spawn of Wu-Tang, yo. Also Futuresex/Lovesounds, though Sexy Back was the only listenable track, needs to be mentioned as it had the word “sex” printed on the insert at least ten times, assuming the word “sex” and the word “love” are interchangeable (“who ARE you, you’re fifteen, shut up.”)

Speaking of fifteen, that’s what it is, it’s a top fifteen. But go ahead and disagree with me about any of this and I’m sure you’ll be right.

15. The Blow – Paper Television

This album feels sort of pour-able. Like turning on a faucet – it’s on, and then it’s nice, and then it’s off. Maybe not extremely special, but really catchy nonetheless. And leaves lovely little evaporating beads of water on the bottom of your sink! Because what would the bugs drink otherwise? Thanks, Khaela Maricich and Jona Bechtolt, for keeping the bugs satiated! Sorry what? Well your album’s really nice to hear, so thanks for that, too. But why do you guys look nightmarishly like men?!

Favourite Song: Parentheses (which I’m playing on loop RIGHT NOW)

14. Peter Bjorn & John – Writer’s Block

I’ll admit I only gave the album a listen because I was waiting for another Sharon Lois & Bram (I am forever waiting for another Sharon Lois & Bram.) That and my friend Levi classified the music as “shoegazing”, so what is that, anyways. Anyways. I like a lot of the vocal…stuff. Cute little guy-singing-with-girl harmonies or whatever, duets, are they called that?

Favourite Song: Young Folks – listen to it!

13. Vincent Delerm – Les Piqures d’Araignees

Bilingualism rules! I think this guy helped Yann Tiersen with the masterpiece that was the Amelie sountrack. Obviously this album doesn’t – couldn’t ever – live up to that, but it’s lovely nonetheless. The songs are so simple I’m sure you, or maybe Nick Carter, could have written them. In fact I think Nick Carter could be this guy’s American counterpart! But that doesn’t matter, at all, because French is the sexiest language and this album shows it.

Favourite Song: Favourite Song (seriously.)

12. Regina Spektor – Begin to Hope

My apologies! I’m constantly making fun of this creepy little Russian girl and her bouncy little songs and clicky-sounding little voice and little cookie-cutter fashionista fans and their use of non-words like “obv” and “def”. But honestly? When it comes to school coach bus rides to Toronto where it’s a choice between singing along to Fidelity or watching Elf, which would YOU pick? Besides: the Fidelity video: frigging gorgeous.

Favourite Song: On The Radio

11. The Whitest Boy Alive – Dreams

I’m trying to work the pun “black by popular demand” in here but it isn’t working. So anyway, this is the guy from Kings of Convenience being totally non-electronica-y and instead very traditional (drums. bass. guitar. voice.), and the simplicity is really very lovable. Hardly any layering, few effects, just clean and clear (but not a facewash?) and put-together sounding. The album is so Zenn-y and so effortless to listen to and totally the aural expression of its cover art; check that.

Favourite Song: Above You

10. Gym Class Heroes – As Cruel As School Children

The album that initiated my obsession with the phrase “on a scale of one to awesome I’m the shit”. Seriously, I can’t stand it when people complain about hip hop. You don’t like this stuff then you’re just a perverted old man trying to pick fights with teenage girls and watch them get “flustered”, also, the paint on your van is chipping guy and you have gnarly hands? On a scale of one to awesome, this album’s the shit!

Favourite Song: Scandalous Scholastics, but kudos to 7 Weeks for making a The Academy Is… song tasteful, and to New Friend Request for being the song I’d use to explain 2006 to the people of the future.

9. Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther

Fancy! I don’t know where the hell this came from, actually, but everyone is all over it, and I can kind of see why. It’s so delightfully old fashioned! It’s big sweeping stuff that sounds crap played quietly, but is totally worthy of listening to with eyes closed when blaaaaaaared. My family hates me? Ah, well! My ears don’t! …yet.

Favourite Song: Young Bride or Roscoe or Bandits or…well you get the picture

8. Copeland – Eat, Sleep, Repeat

This is the only non-local band I’ve seen live! (not counting individual artists as bands…) I’m pretty sure Aaron was drunk as hell but he can “emote” or whatever (and SWEAT) like no other. Tears in my eyes, seriously. (they come back on March the first!!!) They’ve gotten smarter and more worldly or something since their last album, though, and not as sappy – though still really maudlin, in a good way. Christy whistey, this album would make me cry if I let it. Though I don’t know where they stand in terms of public approval – do people hate them, or just not give a shit?

Favourite Song: I Think I’m Safer On An Airplane

7. Girl Talk – Night Ripper

Can you find any other, better obscure British mixtape hip hop? I didn’t think so. This isn’t necissarily “quality” stuff, if you want to engage in musical bigotry, but it’s mad fun to listen to and a wicked cool concept.

Favourite Song: the album is actually more just one continuous track?

6. The Divine Comedy – Victory for the Comic Muse

One of the most unjustly ignored albums ever, I found. Perhaps because this and all other of TDC’s stuff is really just a thinly-veiled Scott Walker impression? Though that doesn’t matter anymore – Mr. Walker’s dead to me after the pretentious, unlistenable abomination that was The Drift, but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, Bach as an influence really shines through here, the whole album’s kind of like a study in instrumentation, and beautiful. Orchestral stuff is rad? And the stories in the lyrics are just so vivid and his voice is just so grand and…I could go on forever…

Favourite Song: A Lady of a Certain Age (the lady’s increasing drunkenness is actually palpable when you hear the song, it’s just too good…)

5. Belle and Sebastian – The Life Pursuit

So apparently thirty billion minds think better than one. This band may have far too many people in it, but they really… “deliver”, even though it is really easy, too easy, to make fun of them. The only track I managed to genuinely hate though, was the first: "ohh if i could make se-ense of it all...i wish that i could SEE WHY EVERYONE LIKES THIS DUMB BAND?!" They’re a bit like Billy Joel though, both in the way the sound and the way they just…are. Like you recognize they’re not exactly brilliant, so why can’t you get these songs out of your head? Why are you still astounded at how cleverly (and Scottishly!) these lyrics are strung together, in a sort of way that makes it so you actually can’t physically stop yourself from singing along? Eh, it doesn’t matter. This Stuart fella’s simply charming.

Favourite Song: We Are The Sleepyheads (rrrrghsocatchy…) NO I CHANGED MY MIND, Dress Up In You is better

4. Lily Allen – Alright, Still

Imagine Noel Coward, in drag, on speed, imitating old school Nelly Furtado in a cockney accent. Or like, a chavvy Regina Spektor, Regina minus that sort of dreamy ennui stuff, and more honest. Also, witty, and kind of bitter. Plus Lily Allen’s fans don’t say “fave”. And every track on this thing could be some other album’s flagship single. They’re all just that good. I think, at least. Maybe not? Alright, still. (OH HO.)

Favourite Song: buh, all of them? LDN’s my favourite at the moment

3. Sunset Rubdown – Shut Up I Am Dreaming

I’m obsessed with vocals and generally can’t listen to anyone who can’t sing right but – oh wait, what’s this? Maybe this is only on here, and so high up on the list, to try and balance out the distinct lack of Canadians (sorry?). But I think I just love this album and can’t figure out why. Actually yeah, it’s just spectacular. Epic even. I’m raving, can you tell?

Favourite Song: I’d say the title track, but it takes eight minutes to do what They Took A Vote And Said No does in three.

2. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife

Admittedly at first I hated this album. What I loved about the Decemberists was that feeling like they recorded down by the docks in the fog, or something. This album didn’t feel that way at all, initially. Too polished and expensive-sounding but almost phony. I thought it wasn’t as dynamic as Picaresque, not as quirky (??) as Her Majesty, not as impressive as The Tain, etc, etc – but how wrong I was. I gave it a few more listens and then eventually a few bazillion more listens and I think every album should be like this. It’s a concept album but not as in-your-face concept-y (read:lame) as other concept albums. It’s tight, musically, lyrically, just really really good. And, as I now see (hear!), not worse than their other stuff in fact, on the contrary, it’s the culmination of everything Colin Meloy’s done so far and I’m sure they’re only going to get better from here. This album is…uh…perfect, almost.

Favourite Song: toss-up between Yankee Bayonet and O, Valencia!, if songs could flip coins

1. CLAY AIKEN – A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS!!!!!!!

So I’m sure I speak for the entire world when I say we all love Clay’s new look, eh? And like, just how awesome he is? Did you see him on Oprah? Did you? Did you? He finally reavealed his true feelings for Simon Cowell? SO emotional. (I’m not entirely kidding actually – I saw ‘im live! His first Canadian concert! It was Claymate History!)

Favourite Song; ALL OF THEM (just kidding, it sucked)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Walkmen - A Hundred Miles Off

I have to first admit that I may not be as 'au courant' as I once was because of the musical and cultural backwater in which I now live. I should have posted this review weeks ago.

The Walkmen's third studio album, A Hundred Miles Off, is fantastic. Much has been made of singer Hamilton Leithauser's voice and how he must have been studying Bob Dylan's pronunciation. It is true that what often annoyed people in the past about the Walkmen was his drawl, and he does sound a lot more like Dylan on this record, but the record is more properly an homage to Dylan's songmanship than his diction.

On the Walkmen's two previous albums, “The Rat” and “Little House of Savages” became their most popular cuts, due in large part to the promotion the band received thanks to the NBC show The O.C. Both tracks are thoughtfully included on my copy of the album (but this may only be for the Japanese version) and coupled with “Fly Into the Mystery”, give a nice indication of the direction the band has taken so far. There is even a festive Christmas song, “The Christmas Party”, which is really fun and quite sweet. This album is largely a departure from that trajectory though, and it's a good one.

“Good For You's Good For Me”, “This Job is Killing Me” and “Emma, Get Me a Lemon” give the best indication of the band's new sound: soaring melodies that scrap both ends of the singers vocal range, rhythms reminiscent of Animal Collective's Feels, and choruses that are worthy of not just Dylan, but any folk hero. The record does feel more like a rare find from some undiscovered 60's label than a 2006 release, but this is not a bad thing. I like 60's music.

“All Hands and the Cook”'s unrelenting beat and rhythm hammers its way into your subconscious, and gets lodged there. It's nice though. The song feels too short, but after repeated listens, it feels more natural. The swift and unexpected chord changes on a distorted electric organ give the song a sinister feeling that is dispelled by the pleasing chorus. The song is so good that it can block out all the negative-aura-creating-powers that Seoul can muster.
The best song on the record is “Lost in Boston”. It starts out with the slower tempo of many Walkmen songs, but is closest to what the uninitiated might call a rock song. By my count, there are three distinct bridges, each of which I eagerly anticipate every time I listen to it. In the throws of the most rocking part, the lines “Now, you can hear us shout, from miles around, somewhere uptown” are screamed over well-placed chord changes. It's enough to make you scream right along with it. Or go and drink rum and chocolate. “Brandy Alexander” is yet another great song; the kind of tune that should get regular play on college radio and lots of covers from earnest 18-year-olds trying to impress their girlfriends. The melody is simple, sweet and memorable.

This album has so far gotten me through the vomiting of children, the constant implied threat of dismissal, the incompetence of airlines that don't record who purchases a ticket, and one severe blow to the head. It's that kind of album. It's that good. Go out and buy or steal it right now.
-kit

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Mashups, Cover Albums, Crazy People

Xiu-Xiu will release an album of covers next year with Sunset Rubdown providing a track. Deerhoof has had this album of covers available for free for a while now.
Also, this is happening: Scarlett Sings Tom Waits. Finally, if you're one of those millions of people whose favourite bands are both Queen and G-Unit, now they're together, at last.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Sophomore Slump

The new Killers' first six songs off their new album are alright. The same can be said for Bloc Party's latest effort. Sad to say, but it's also the truth. Is this opinion borne merely of the disconnect between my expectations and the result or is it grounded more in objective reality? Well, given that music is an inherently subjective experience, it would have to be the former. So are the standards I am holding these bands to unfair or unreasonable? Perhaps, but there's little that can be done about that.

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