Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cloud Nothings - "No Future/No Past"

Cloud Nothings' Attack on Memory is an easy early contender for this year's best-of list and "No Future/No Past" is probably tied as my favorite track on the album (with "Fall In"). It's a slow builder, repeating the same line for much of the song, but getting louder as it goes on before an incredible climax. The song is accompanied by one of the more interesting music videos I've ever seen, showing a middle-aged man getting dragged around by some unseen force.

New Music Tuesday - 02/28/2012

Fanfarlo - Rooms Filled with Light

I loved this band's first album because it felt like an updated version of Neutral Milk Hotel's iconic brand of indie rock. It was a strong folk sound with extensive use of unconventional instrumentation. With this second album, they do seem to be exploring a different direction with their sound. It's a somewhat difficult transition for established fans, as it seems to do away with that instrumentation in favor of synthesized, more electronic sounds. It still contains a healthy dose of charm, though!
"Shiny Things"

Memoryhouse - The Slideshow Effect

Dream pop really seemed to have its moment in 2010, but made way last year for more distorted sounds with the same synth-heavy base. It seems we will be getting a mini-resurgence this spring (see this and the next album on this list). While it can feel a little bit passé, I don't know if the genre was fully explored before the blogosphere moved on, so it's a welcome return. Memoryhouse is relatively new to the game; this is their debut album, though they released an EP last year. I guess we'll see how the newbies stack up against the more experienced dreamers this week!
"Walk with Me"

School of Seven Bells - Ghostory

This is the more established of the two dream pop bands releasing new albums this week. This will be their third album and first following the departure of founding member and lead singer's twin sister, Claudia Deheza. While they released their debut in 2008, their sophomore effort came out during the great dream pop surge of 2010. They weren't my absolute favorite of the genre, but I'm hoping the creative changes necessitated by a departure are enough to really shake up their sound.
"The Night"

Monday, February 27, 2012

Best One-Album Wonders

A music-loving coworker of mine issued a challenge to me for my blog, to name the five best artists who only released one album before calling it quits. Should be easy enough, there are many musicians who just, for one reason or another, never made it past a debut. There were, of course, some constraints to make this list a little bit harder.

  1. Those that died before releasing followup material do not count. I guess the assumption here is that, if they hadn't passed, they would have released more albums.
  2. Side projects are also excluded. Many musicians do side projects, many of which may only encompass one album. They do not count since, unless they developed into full bands, they are usually just diversions.
  3. The band must be broken up. New artists that have only released one album so far are excluded, since we can assume that they will release more. Thankfully, bands that broke up, then re-united years later may be able to count as long as it seems that the reunion won't lead to a new album.
Alright, so those rules make it a little harder, but I have scoured by iTunes library and present my four (I couldn't come up with a fifth) favorite one-album wonders:

The La's - The La's

The La's were a Liverpudlian alternative rock band that were a bit of a precursor to the Brit-Pop of the mid-90s. They released their first and only album, The La's in 1990 after six years together. They broke up two years later following the departure of bassist John Power. While they've reunited three times since, including last year, no followup album has been forthcoming.
"There She Goes"

The Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols pretty much personify the image of a band that burns bright and fast. They released one studio album of angry, anarchic punk rock, and fairly promptly disbanded. Perhaps their longevity wasn't written in the cards, with Johnny Rotten's off-the-handle attitude and Sid Vicious's self-destructiveness. Vicious died not long after the group disbanded and Rotten never seemed able to accept praise for the band, implying little desire or ability for a follow up.
"Anarchy in the U.K."

Frou Frou - Details

I don't know if this might technically count as a side project rather than a single-album band, but many of my favorite Imogen Heap songs were created with Guy Sigsworth in tow. In many ways, it's stylistically similar to her solo work, with a folk meets electronic sound. I count it here since it is some of my favorite music from her and seems to be where she really started to get attention as a musician. At most, unreleased demos have been promised from the duo, but no real releases. Heap, however, has released two albums since the end of the band in 2003, with a third forthcoming this year.
"Let Go"

The Pattern - Real Feelness

A coworker from way back in my days of working for an on-campus caterer introduced me to this band, in fact, he swore by them. I don't know if I've developed quite the same love for them, but they have a genuinely enjoyable brand of garage rock. They formed in 2000 and released one album. The drummer left the band in 2003, which seemed to do the band in. They officially disbanded about a year later. All members have been active in other projects; there's been little talk of The Pattern since.
"Fragile Awareness"

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Music Tuesday - 02/21/2012

Frankie Rose - Interstellar

Frankie Rose is a past member of two stellar (pun intended) girl bands, Vivian Girls and the Dum Dum Girls. Those girl pop band elements are present even in her solo work. This seems to exist somewhere between that and a synthy, ethereal sound, kinda like Zola Jesus with a lighter voice. It's nice to see someone finally doing something different with the throwback girl band sound.

Grimes - Visions

There's something incredibly fascinating about Grimes' music. The electronic beats mixed with a airy, child-like vocals are something that should be incredibly annoying and difficult to listen to, but the result is incredible. I feel like this is music I could put on repeat and not tire of too quickly, I'd probably just be dancing around a lot!

Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It

Deeply personal, this guy's music carries a lot of baggage in it. He throws all his emotions and liberal allusions to a troubled past in his music. Performed at barely a whimper, it's definitely not dance or party music. Just an introspective look at another person's life.

Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror

I think this is my "going to the record store day" release. Early listens are pretty incredible. They've taken their signature loud, guitar- and reverb-heavy sound and managed to soften it up without losing their sound. It's more melodic, more listenable and they seem to really be developing a signature, sustainable sound.
"Comeback Kid"

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Jeopardy's Going Indie

I am a religious Jeopardy viewer; I watch it every night I'm able. I've gotten pretty good in most of the categories, though I certainly need to brush us on Shakespeare and opera. I rock modern music categories, though, especially when with ridiculously simpler answers like these:

Who is Fleet Foxes?

Who is Best Coast?

And they won!

Who is Bon Iver?

I took the online test a few weeks ago, but have yet to hear back. If they keep asking questions like this, though, I'm golden. Just waiting for the callback...

Monday, February 13, 2012

New Music Tuesday - 02/14/2012

Shearwater - Animal Joy

I started listening to Shearwater because the band was started, in part, by Will Sheff of my much-beloved Okkervil River. Sheff's no longer a member, but their music is still incredible. They've become known for lofty, involved concept albums. This album is a little bit closer to Earth; it's more accessible, but without sacrificing their sound.
"Breaking the Yearlings"

Tennis - Young and Old

This album may have been produced by The Black Keys' Patrick Carney, but you shouldn't expect any blues rock here. Tennis has a sunny, bright, pop sound that would be perfect for a boat ride around Martha's Vinyard. They don't stray too far from their first release, but one really can't complain when their style is so much fun.
"My Better Self"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Combined Best of 2011 List

Last year, I dorked out all over the year-end best-of lists and developed my own algorithm to combine them and determine a broadly considered best-of list. I did it again for last year's releases, though I've twiddled my thumbs on posting.

I changed it up a little bit this year. First, I expanded the publications that I considered, while also leaving out some that weren't really music publications. The publications used:
Rolling Stone
Drowned in Sound
Under the Radar
Hype Machine
The A.V. Club

I decided to exclude Grammy nominations, though not out of disdain for the ceremony or any of the recent changes made. The primary reason was that the eligibility period doesn't match up with the calendar year. It seemed unfair to artists who released albums in late November or December (and were thus excluded from this year's nominations). Also, some artists who released albums in 2009 or 2010 were nominated this year depending on the release dates of the album or singles from the album. For example, Mumford & Sons had a couple of nominations for songs even though their album was released in late 2009.

For the top ten of each list, I assigned a point value from 1 to 10 depending on the album's placement in the list. An album ranked number 1 was given 10 points, an album ranked 10th was given 1 point. The point values were the same for all publications.

Outside the top ten, I assigned a fractions of points depending on placement. Within the top 20 received 0.5 points, top 30 - 0.4 points and so on. For lists exceeding 50 albums, anything 51 and below was given 0.1 points.

One list, NPR's, was unranked; any albums included were given 3 points.

Once all those were calculated, I added up the points across the board and sorted them from the highest point value to the lowest.

The List
And here are the 10 best albums of 2011:

10. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost 27.8 points (4 top ten lists; 1 number one spot)
8.   M83 (tie) - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming 28.4 points (4 top ten lists)
8.   EMA (tie) - Past Life Martyred Saints 28.4 points (4 top ten lists; 1 number one spot)
7.   tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l 29.5 points (5 top ten lists)
6.   Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch the Throne 34.6 points (6 top ten lists)
5.   Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues 42.1 points (5 top ten lists)
4.   F**ked Up - David Comes to Life 51.4 points (6 top ten lists; 1 number one spot)
3.   Adele - 21 52.1 points (6 top ten lists; 3 number one spots)
2.   PJ Harvey - Let England Shake 68.2 points (8 top ten lists; 1 number one spot)
1.   Bon Iver - Bon Iver 87.6 points (10 top ten lists; 4 number one spots)

Bon Iver and Adele were certainly no surprise, both got huge amounts of attention last year. I was surprised PJ Harvey eked past Adele; though she did get more love from the British publications, which really boosted her score. With all the love for last year's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I expected Watch the Throne to place higher. The biggest surprise overall, though, was the position of EMA's album. It's excellent, but it's surprising for a debut to get that level of attention and praise.

If you would like to see the spreadsheet created to calculate this, you can download it here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

St. Vincent - "Cheerleader"

Annie Clark is two for two on amazing music videos for her latest album, Strange Mercy. This new video imagines her as a giant sculpture in a gallery. As museum-goers gaze on, she crumbles apart.

Monday, February 6, 2012

New Music Tuesday - 02/07/2012

Air - Le Voyage dans la lune

110 years after it was released, the classic French silent movie, A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans le lune) is finally getting a soundtrack. There is probably no better a band to provide this film with music. Air, also from France, made a name for themselves scoring Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides in 2004. The new soundtrack brings Air together with other amazing ambient/dream pop acts such as Victoria Legrand (of Beach House) and Au Revoir Simone. A restored and colorized version of the film has been making the rounds at film festivals this season, hopefully it comes to Cincinnati soon!
"Sonic Armada"

Ben Kweller - Go Fly a Kite

Kweller founded his own record label, The Noise Company, back in 2007, but this will be the first release exclusive to that label (previous issues, including 2009's Changing Horses, were released in conjunction with ATO Records). This is his fifth solo album and promises to continue in his straight-forward, personal style.
"Mean to Me"

of Montreal - Paralytic Stalks

Kevin Barnes has said that his key to preventing his band from becoming one-note or stale has been to reinvent the sound with every album. That drive has been evident on each of their releases. They've dipped their toes into psychedelic rock, avant pop and even recorded soul-inspired songs with Janelle Monae and Solange Knowles on their last release, False Priest. This one sees them experimenting with psychedelic and progressive elements. The constant change of sound has allowed the band to achieve what Barnes set out, to constantly revitalize the band and keep them fresh. Difficult to achieve these days, but they prove it can be done.
"Dour Percentage"

Paul McCartney - Kisses on the Bottom

With such a cheeky title, you know you can't be getting anything to involved; with this release, you're really not. Following a long line of older musicians with little else left to do (Al Jarreau, Rod Stewart), this is an album of pop standards. I had been hoping his new-found love would inspire some great music, but alas! He does a nice enough job with the tunes, but there's nothing earth-shattering here.
"My Valentine"

Sharon van Etten - Tramp

A bad breakup a few years ago has carried this artist very far. Despite being about pain and heartbreak, Sharon succeeds at making the songs more introspective than whiny, making them emotional and heartbreaking to listen to. For this, her third album, she has enlisted the help of a number of other prominent musicians; The National's Aaron Dessner, Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner and Beirut's Zach Condon. Despite the greater presence of guest musicians, the music still manages to sound extremely personal. I've had the change to preview the album over at NPR and it is already proving itself to be one of my favorites this year.
"Give Out"

Sunday, February 5, 2012


While I skipped the week before, this past week I did make good on my weekly movie night. On schedule last Tuesday was Shame, directed by Steve McQueen (not the action star), and starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.

Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon Sullivan, a New York professional with a severe sex addiction. He hires prostitutes, picks up random women at bars and masturbates in the bathroom at work; both his work and personal computers are loaded with pornography. Despite all this, he leads a very controlled life, necessary to hide his addiction from those around him. The order of his life is disrupted when his equally unstable younger sister, Sissy (Mulligan), drops in unannounced to stay with him. Suffering from attachment issues with men (including Brandon's own boss) and severely depressed, she throws her brother's world into a tailspin.

Before the nominations came out January 24, this movie was getting a lot of Oscar buzz, especially for Fassbender and Mulligan. The movie certainly got a lot of attention at other awards events, including the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs. Despite some well-deserving performances, however, the movie was completely overlooked for an Academy Award; a true snub, indeed. Both main actors are among my favorites and have made great names for themselves despite relatively short careers, and this was definitely a movie that really showcased both of their talents. It's hard to say exactly why this movie was overlooked (perhaps the NC-17 rating?), but it is a great watch, nonetheless...provided you are over the age of 17, of course.

Mini soundtrack:

Blondie - "Rapture"

Carey Mulligan - "New York, New York"

Chic - "I Want Your Love"

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Animated Videos

Animated videos provide artists a unique way to tell a story and can often lend more emotion that your standard live-action is able to provide. There have been a number of amazing animated videos released recently; including Fleet Foxes' stunning "The Shrine/An Argument" and The Crookes' down-the-rabbit-hole-inspired "Bloodshot Days."

Over the past couple of weeks, a couple of new videos have been released, both fully animated. What's even more incredible about these two is that they manage to convey a high level of emotion while being done in primarily black and white.

The first is Death Cab for Cutie's "Underneath the Sycamore." It follows a private eye in the pursuit of a beautiful, but troubled, young woman. This one reminds me, stylistically, of The Crookes' video.

Death Cab for Cutie - "Underneath the Sycamore"

The second is from Danger Mouse's and Daniele Luppi's "Two Against One," which featured vocals from Jack White. This one shows a man in pursuit of an otherworldly entity that's slowly destroying his life.

Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi with Jack White - "Two Against One"

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A La Modeliste

What happens when you put several masters in a room together to record a song? Well, you get amazing music, of course!

"A La Modeliste" brings together producer Mark Ronson, singer Erykah Badu, rapper Mos Def, backed by a band including Trombone Shorty and members of The Dap-Kings. The result is incredible and does a great job of showcasing all of the various talents present on the track.