Friday, January 29, 2010

Seann McCann - Midnight Orchard

Sean McCann
Midnight Orchard
(2009, Roll Over Rover)
RIYL = Scott Tuma, Silver Antlers, Aaron Martin

Initially, when considering how to introduce you to Sean McCann, I considered a kind of super post – an introduction to a portion of the works that the man produced last year (and trust me, there were a lot of them). I couldn’t bring myself to write about McCann last year for various illogical reasons which I’ll have to explain. First, to call Sean McCann prolific is to make one of the great understatements, perhaps the greatest understatement of 2009 (and 2008 for that matter). I think that I have used a line like that before, but you’ve never heard of anything like what McCann just did last year, I promise. The guy put out more music than Leyland Kirby, Caboladies and High Wolf combined. Discogs is telling me that he released 14 albums last year (and 11 the year before that). I know what you’re probably thinking. This guy must be recording himself eating cereal in the morning and brushing his teeth at night in order to put out that many albums. Not so. Not only has McCann put out 10 to 12 more albums than you favourite artist last year, the likelihood that each of those 14 albums was better than your favourite artist’s album is also probably true. How is that possible? I have no idea. McCann’s got me baffled. So, you’d think that for a guy putting out an average of 12 to 13 albums a year it would be pretty easy to get a hold of one. You’d be wrong again. Amongst the 14 releases under McCann’s name last year, the highest run of I could see was of 150 copies, averaging probably 60 or so per release. Why his releases are all so limited is beyond me; they’re each absolutely brilliant. And with them being all verging on out-of-this-world good, pretty much all of them are sold out. Can you see my predicament? How do I find and choose which Sean McCann to pitch to you? How do I competently listen to them all and report on them? What is the point of promoting albums that are not available? And I always feel funny putting albums that are limited to 100 or less physical copies onto a year end list for basically the same reasons. My mistake. Midnight Orchard, the cassette I've finally ended up writing about, should have not only been in my 2009 year end list, but my decade list as well. Don’t fret, there is light at the end of this tunnel. Sean McCann, the beautiful soul, has put out a lot of these cassettes, CDs and CDrs out on his own Roll Over Rover label who have in turn blessed you/me/the-world with digital copies of all the albums that have gone out of print. That means that you can download a good batch of these for free (including Midnight Orchard). And I’ll tell you this much, you are going to want to do just that. You are going to want to get good and familiar with Sean McCann because at the rate he is going, in another couple of years he’s going to own Music, with a capital M. Now lets talk about Midnight Orchard, shall we? The A side of the cassette consists of two tracks. The first, the album's namesake, is a forty minute exercise in pure melodic grandeur. There is no other way to consider it. The pacing and general tone here reminds me a lot of Scott Tuma, but McCann gets at this relaxed tonality by layer after layer of absolutely gorgeous strings. Cellos, Violins, Violas - I honestly don’t know what all he is using here, but rest assured, it is an orchestral vision that is blissfully unique and absolutely heavenly to listen to. McCann stirs up a thick syrup of amorphous strings that stretch and contort magnificently. Think of attending an orchestral performance in a grand opera house and the tuning that is occurring before the performance has begun and imagine it being slowed down and then meticulously arranged to produce the most blessed friction of noise. This is the droning wonderland "Midnight Orchard". The coda to side A is an even more impressive five minute stretch of gorgeousness that could probably be described in a manner similar to the forty minute stretch that proceeds it, but contains a whole different tonality, something of a more playful and experimental quality that completes the cassette nicely. Side B is stretched out over sixteen tracks and finds McCann working away at proving his skills with string arrangements. Each track is arranged wonderfully with added notes of muted percussion and often a more easily recognizable form attaching itself to each composition. Side B veers more closely to the works of Aaron Martin or Peter Broderick. The side is as well rounded as the first, and reveals and even wider spectrum of talent (something that you begin to get used to when traveling the many and varied waters of Sean McCann). I have posted the label’s link for this release below. I challenge you to download it and not fall in love. Soon you, like me, will be hanging on every release this guy puts out, hoping you too can secure a physical plot of genius produced by the hands of Sean McCann.


Click here to download Midnight Orchard for free!

Clipd Beaks - To Realize

Clipd Beaks
To Realize
(2010, Lovepump United)
RIYL = Liars, HEALTH, Onieda

Is there any way around the fact that Clipd Beaks make music that is closely related to Liars? I’m not sure. But, considering that the Liars are one of the awesomest experimental rock bands, I don’t know, ever? Is that overstating it? Anyways, considering Liars are totally great, the comparison shouldn’t be off putting. It's not off putting because Clipd Beaks are almost as good (if not just as good) as their dishonest counterparts. To Realize, follow up to the lovely noise spiked Hoarse Lords, is a plodding, industrious, cloven hoofed beast. From the first cut to the last, the band starts by holing themselves up in a filthy groove and then ride it straight into the ground before, after some indeterminate amount of time, the repetition of the things seems to resurrect the monotony with some bizarre climactic effect. It’s like a minimalist micro-house album as performed by the Boredoms or something. Clipd Beaks have maintained the gluttonous percussion that first caught my attention on their debut. Bass too, it's a rigorous rhythm section. Regardless of their languid pacing, the rhythmic pull of each cut will propel you like a team of oxen. To Realize is, in short, a grinding, noise barnacled machine, drunken and addling forward to its imminent death. Clipd Beaks have simply produced one of those drawn out deaths that demands your interest, mesmerizing you into a stupor of submission, an aural exorcism of cosmic proportions. Or something.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Four Tet - There Is Love in You

Four Tet
There Is Love in You
(2010, Domino)
RIYL = Burial, Pole, Pantha du Prince

It doesn’t take long when listening to There Is Love in You, Kieren Hebden’s fifth Four Tet album and first in half a decade, to recognize that things have changed. Of course, how couldn’t things have changed? The past five years have seen his Four Tet moniker remixing everyone from Radiohead to Bloc Party to Madvillain, Hebden performing live and recording with legendary jazz drummer Steve Reid, and the completion of a stint as resident DJ for London club Plastic People. And that’s the short list. Still, after only two tracks and fifteen minutes have passed on his latest LP, the changes seem almost shocking in their distance from the Four Tet of old. Gone are the ‘organic’ sounds of the past, the folktronica (which, admittedly, have been on their way out for some time), gone are the hip-hop informed break beats, and what we have left is a classic minimalist house/techno rhythm with splices of female vocals whose quality and timbre feel as though they’ve been jacked from an electronic album released in the early to mid nineties. An evolution has been had. But, again, this is only the first two tracks, the first fifteen minutes. As the changes start to settle, Hebden proceeds to exhibit a world of influences he has consumed and regurgitated in purely Four Tet fashion. The depth and variety of sounds and moods that Hebden achieves on the album is nothing short of astounding, and his consistency in terms of quality is the evidence of a master at work. Hebden’s latest Four Tet album is also his best, and is easily one of this writer’s favourite pure electronic albums, period. Listening to this album, it is much easier to understand of the influence and contributions of Hebden in his collaboration with Burial from last years 12”. And, for those who were as keen on that majestic slab of wax as I was, There Is Love in You will not disappoint. With the new Pantha du Prince just around the corner, minimalist electronic music is driving an early trend setting stake in the music world for 2010.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Thistle's favourite albums of the decade: 100-1

(Newly reformatted in descending order!)

Ok, ok, I know we are all hung over on lists. With the intersection of year end and decade end, being over listed has been compounded and there have been plenty of valid criticisms popping up all over the interwebz about the inanity of lists. And here I am compiling a individual top 100 of the decade. 100!?! I don’t mean to try and say these are the overall best albums of the decade, that I'm right, they are simply my favourites. And in addition, as a personal practice, I find that list making acts as a sort of personal record of my musical tastes at a given time. Something I can personally look back on as a reference, almost a journal of my musical experience. So forgive me this indulgence or whatever. Plus, this is my blog. You don’t have to read it and I’ll be finished by weeks end (twenty a day).

About the list: some obvious/generic picks, others maybe not so much. There were a lot of heartbreaking cuts that had to be made. Albeit, in my most attentive decade of musical investigation and discovery this is a very personal collection of music. I’ve been working on this list for awhile so I am pretty confident that it represents my longstanding tastes for this past decade (2009 not withstanding). (Actually, you’ll notice that I only have a few picks from 2009. I am positive that I am in error for not including more from this past year. Time always proves the relevance of a year well after its completion. However, seeing as how I have just posted a 2009 year end list a month ago, if you are looking for more potentially relevant albums from 2009 to hypothetically insert into this list, feel free to go there.) I hope at least someone (1) enjoys it as much as I have enjoyed compiling it.

I’ve written a small amount about each record which has often turned into a kind of journal of what I remember about discovering the album or some simplistic analysis of said albums greatness. The commentary is mostly anecdotal and often irrelevant. So, these are the albums that I would choose in that hypothetical situation in which I am required to pick 100 albums from this decade with which to keep with me while all others are destroyed and I am shipped off to live on some desolate island by an evil leprechaun. At least he afforded me these picks though, right? So this leprechaun can’t be that evil. Alright, enough of the (un)funny stuff, here are my favourite albums from this past decade:


The Shins
Chutes Too Narrow
(Sub Pop, 2003)

I used to think that Oh, Inverted World was The Shins at their best, but when it really comes down to it, Chutes Too Narrow is song for song, just overwhelming. I think the catchy, nerdy natured air of The Shins belie the amazing songwriting, which is really, really great. Superb lyrics, good drumming (seriously, why did they “fire” this guy?) and serendipitous pop loveliness. Chute Too Narrow proves The Shins really can change lives, regardless the ridiculous films that try to use them as some hipster springboard.



Ekkehard Ehlers
(Staubgold, 2002)

Pretty much a card carrying member of the musical avant-garde, Ekkehard Ehlers work has always seemed bent on stretching the boundaries of sound. Both intellectually charged and musically raw, Plays is a tour de force that never lets its experimentalism overshadow its physicality. As a series of pieces that are both dedicated to and inspired by various artistic individuals, each track on Plays inhabits a space unique from any of the others. The ten expansive sound puzzles vary in length and tonality, but due to Ehlers expert ear, never become dull or draining, which is an impressive feat no matter what genre you’re working in.



Ben Frost
Theory of Machines
(Bedroom Community, 2007)

Not the hyper aggressive, constantly tense minimalist project that Frost put out this year, Theory of Machines remains the masterwork from which that album is framed. The album is a massive slab of industrious noise/drone/electronics that balances the transitions between beauty and doom perfectly. A magnificently high minded album of pure mood.



Everyone Alive Wants Answers
(Leaf, 2003)

The debut work of Colleen, Everyone Alive Wants Answers is still her best work. Filled with chamber orchestra instrumentation, all speckled and groaning, and looped into an odd baroque mystery. With the addition of some unsettling vocal samples, Colleen’s first recorded work is replete with both Victorian magnificence and warped hauntings. Wholly original and breathtakingly beautiful like a ghostly maze of dimly lit rooms filled with distinct areas of fog.



Tom Waits
Real Gone
(Anti, 2004)

Real Gone sounds as cool as Tom Waits is, which is why it is now here on this list.



Prefuse 73
One Word Extinguisher
(Warp. 2003)

Something about One Word Extinguisher reminds me of bubble gum and Jet Set Radio (you know, the rollerblading game on the Sega Dreamcast(RIP)?). I think it has something to do with the buoyancy of Scott Herren’s beats and the madcap cartoon way that he hacks up hip-hop and electronic music before reassembling it into the voluptuous audio goodness that has become his signature. One Word Extinguisher is Herren at his most measured and consistent, dropping emcee spots perfectly in the flow of the album to achieve a swagger-perfect sound for zoomin’ around the city with oversized headphones.



LCD Soundsystem
Sound of Silver
(Capitol, 2007)

I don’t know what caused me to deny the merits of Sound of Silver for so long, but after giving in to its various charms late last year, the album has sounded better with every listen. Even now, while writing this blurb, I feel like I should bump it up a couple spots in the rankings. Sound of Silver makes me think that LCD Soundsystem is the proper successor to the legacy of the Talking Heads. People could probably argue with the similarities between the two, but for me it is an obvious and linear progression. The album just has a classic feel that tells me that I will be listening to and enjoying this album even on my death bed. And as one final bit of praise, when I saw LCD Soundsystem open for the Arcade Fire in support of this album, they absolutely owned the show and remain one of the best bands that I have experienced live.



The Goslings
Grandeur of Hair
(Archive Recordings, 2006)

Listening to The Goslings’ Grandeur of Hair is like eating chocolate laced with poison. It’s a pretty bad comparison, but it is the best I can come up with right now. It’s the idea of consuming something so sweet, yet utterly destructive (and no, in the context of this album, the calories just don’t cut it for "danger"). Grandeur of Hair is sludgey pop-metal that is so good that I simply cannot keep from listening to it, but so loud that I am pretty much guaranteed to be deaf by the age of fifty. In fact, I was listening to it at work one time and one of my co-workers from all the way across the office came over to tell me that they could hear it from their desk. Slow as molasses and sugary as syrup, Grandeur of Hair is a grinning ear collapse waiting to happen.



Kemialliset Ystavat
(Fonal, 2007)

Listening Kemialliset Ystavat’s self-titled/untitled album for the first time was an absolute revelation. In fact, ‘revelatory’ is probably a good genre to place the band under because nothing else quite works. On this, the pinnacle achievement of mountains of material released under the Kemialliset guise, there is something new and bizarre perking up at every corner, and by corner I mean about every ten to twenty seconds. The album never slows down. As a construction of sound, the album is a monstrosity of noises (both friendly and devious) collaged like some trampy orchestra of ghosts and goblins chanting in the lost Spring of Jupiter. It’s all contradictions in the end, noise music that is really not noise music that is really folk music on every drug that ever existed, which turns out to be some tripped out hybrid hip-hop gluttony. I’ll just leave it at that, and perhaps this: “A-MAZ-ING.”



Manitoba (Caribou)
Up In Flames
(Domino, 2003)

It is still weird to me to see the reissue of Up In Flames with Caribou as the artist moniker. I guess that is why I've posted this image. However, whether Dan Snaith is calling himself Manitoba or Caribou, Up In Flames is his psych pop masterpiece. Equal parts Elephant 6, Four Tet and (at the very least in terms of sound quality) Dungen, Up In Flames contains psychic percussion mixed with flurries of synthisized goodness, all on top of Snaith's smoothly reverberated vocals. It is a lovely mix.



The National
(Beggars Banquet, 2005)

The National. Could there be a more solid band? The group seems to be the perfect mixture rhythm, melody and lyric, with every member playing their part to perfection. On Alligator that perfection was at its most darndestly transcendent. Musky, brooding, enlightened, tragic, desperate and oh so gorgeous, Alligator is the work of a mature band doing what it does best better than ever before. A couple years ago while in Chicago I discovered that The National (via the equally wonderful Boxer) is the perfect music for eating after midnight at an Irish pub. A great coda to a weekend at the Pitchfork Music Festival.



The Wind-Up Bird
(Music Fellowship, 2003)

Whips contains, perhaps, the most palpable emotional current of any record on this list. The significance of this is that Whips is also among the most avant garde recordings on the list, registering at most points in its time span as instrumental/electronic drone. Joseph Grimm, the individual behind The Wind-Up Bird, is an experimental multi-instrumentalist; however, the violin is his main device, or weapon for destruction, as well as creation. In the company of other avant garde violinists like Karl Bauer of Axolotl or C. Spencer Yeh, Grimm’s compositions find a much more accessible space with a more compositional tone that often breaks into glorious melodies to temper the more abstract, mostly gorgeous soundscapes that surround everything he records. Whips is conceptual in feel and absolutely successful in its ability to transport you as a listener into a vulnerable headspace that must submit to the beauty and utter chaos of its narrative.



The Argument
(Dischord, 2001)

The swan song of one of my all time favourite bands is also, arguably, their best (I often argue this with myself). Never in Ian’s career, before or since, has he penned more affecting songs with such an air as these. Often eschewing the punk urgency that characterizes the vast majority of their work, The Argument stands as a sober affront to the divisive politics that seem intertwined with American life. A powerful reminder of the raw effectiveness of rock's most elemental components: guitars, a bass and drums.



David Thomas Broughton
The Complete Guide To Insufficiency
(Bird War/Plug Research, 2005)

A church, a guitar, a looping pedal and one of the most heartbreakingly gorgeous voices in the world are the elements that make up David Thomas Broughton’s debut offering. With the sparseness of these tools, Broughton recorded five elongated ballads that creak and whimper like old wooden boards that are sighing their last breath. The Complete Guide To Insufficiency is one of the most beautiful documents of raw brilliance set to tape that I have ever heard.



Chris Schlarb
Twilight & Ghost Stories
(Asthmatic Kitty, 2007)

Chris Schlarb’s Twilight & Ghost Stories is possibly the most painterly album on this list. The music feels like it was created by a variety of brushing, smattering, splotching, dragging, clouding and blending. Schlarb has created an accumulated hodge podge of collected sounds stretched, sifted and gorgeously assembled into this singular, jazz-informed collage. Beautiful and heartbreakingly quaint.



The Dirty Projectors
Slaves’ Graves (and Ballads)
(Western Vinyl, 2004)

Dave Longstreth has always been a music nerd, but being a nerd hasn’t always been as cool as it is now. As a younger nerd, I think he was at his best and Slaves’ Graves (and Ballads) is that nerdiness in its most beautiful form (though The Getty Address is a close second). On Slave’s Graves there isn’t a hint of the pretence that hovers around Bitte Orca, only stripped down, elastic voiced Dave being all cool and great with his orchestral first half and hollow guitar second. All loverly and dreamy like a geeked out boy crush.



Architecture In Helsinki
Fingers Crossed (Trifekta - Bar/None, 2004)

Fingers Crossed takes the cake for the cutest album of the decade. Is there any other way to describe it? Sitting on a list that also features tyrannical sound terrorists like Kevin Drumm, Aufgehoben and John Wiese, Architecture in Helsinki’s debut has done pretty well to hold its ground. The uncomplicated euphoria produced by these songs are just too good and smile inducing and beautifully life affirming. Just goes to show how much of a little kid I still am when it all comes down to it. It’s fortunate that Architecture in Helsinki came along to remind me of that. (Oh, and Sassigrass had to use a fake ID to go see these guys play when she was only 20).



Joseph Arthur
Come To Where I Come From
(Virgin, 2000)

Among all the albums on this list, Come To Where I Come From’s stock has dropped more drastically than any other. The reason being is: for a good portion of the first half of the decade this sophomore effort from Joseph Arthur was my favourite album, bar none. There was no other place to go but down i guess. I don’t know what it is about the music that has caused it to age so comparatively poorly in these last few years, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I feel that Arthur has produced some amazing songs, even if the lyrics feel a little overboard now that I’m no longer in high school. The stuff is just so emo. Considering the path of Elliott Smith, it’s a wonder that Arthur is still with us today (though he's become decidedly less exciting). Still, when times require morose self indulgence, Come To Where I Come From is the next best thing to #9 on this list, for sure…



Tolchock Trio
Abalone Skeletone (Exumbrella, 2008)

Very few are going to be familiar with this pick, so hopefully this nod will bring some attention to one of the best straightforward indie rock records of the decade. The band is from Salt Lake, but I promise I’m not playing favourites. I don’t even know these guys. Heck, if you asked them they probably wouldn’t even know what Forest Gospel is. Being a straightforward indie rock band, it is hard to really describe why Abalone Skeletone is significant. They remind me a little of White Denim, The National and The Walkmen, but obviously hold their own as a band being on an end-of-decade list. Bloody hooks, cut up lyrics, raw and polished all – just one of those super solid records that come around all too rarely.



Gavin Bryars/Philip Jeck/Alter Ego
The Sinking of the Titanic
(Touch, 2007)

Composed decades ago, this live recording of Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of The Titanic as performed by Bryars along with the chamber ensemble Alter Ego and experimental turntablist Philip Jeck affected me so deeply that I couldn’t imagine leaving it off this list. As a single track extending past one hour, the performance is one of the few of such a length that has demanded consistent, repeated listens from me. I can't help but tear up at its power.


Sunday, January 3, 2010


Pantha Du Prince
This Bliss
(Dial, 2007)

As far as minimalist, beat driven electronic music is concerned, This Bliss can’t be beat (and yes, that includes my thoughts on The Field’s From Here We Go Sublime). Such a beautiful, slow building album. There is an incredible amount of warmth here for all the inorganic wiring that produced it. And how he embedded the whole album with an undercurrent of understated optimism is beyond me. You simply can’t listen to it without feeling good about life. Perfect for headphones, This Bliss is bliss indeed.



Fall of Troy
(Equal Vision, 2005)

Brimming with teenage angst and engorged will self indulgence, Fall of Troy’s sophomore album proves the band is talented enough to pull off both on this proggy post-hardcore juggernaut. This record is probably the biggest on the guilty pleasure of any on this list, but Fall of Troy are so incredible on Doppelganger that the pleasure far outweighs (and outranks as it were) any embarrassment.



(Lex, 2006)

One of the weird embarrassments of these kinds of lists is when you have multiple listings from one artist. I don’t know why it is embarrassing exactly. Maybe I think that by including so many albums from one artist that I’ve become some close minded fanboy, or that I just didn’t listen to that many albums from other artists (heaven knows that’s not true). I’m not sure what it is, but let this mark the first of multiple notches in this countdown that have been directly contributed to by emcee Doseone. Wishingbone is actually the first Subtle record that Sassigrass and I ever heard. We purchased it together based solely on the packaging and sticker which noted contributions from Mike Patton and Beck. Turns out the album isn’t even a proper LP. It is actually a remixing of their debut full length with a harem of celebrity cameos. In a bizarre twist, it is actually better than their debut and the second best of their catalog. In addition, the album contains a bonus DVD with three absolutely stunning animated music videos done for three of the songs on the CD by SSSR. Literally, three of my favourite music videos ever made. So, all around goodness from the Subtle camp.


I haven’t really been posting links for this decade list, but these are just too good to pass up.
It may not be the greatest quality, but here is "Swan Meat" by Subtle and SSSR:


Hanne Hukkleberg
Rykestrasse 68
(Propeller Recordings, 2006)

Hanne Hukkleberg is a cool bird. On Rykestrasse 68, Hukkleberg lends her absolutely lovely voice to some super beautiful baroque pop instrumentation. Hukkleberg’s flair for experimentation pays off big time on this album, with a crisp, sultry style that sounds both effortless and ingenious. Listening to the album feels like thawing out after a long day up on the slopes in Park City. And, as anyone familiar with this experience knows, life doesn’t get much better than that. Of course, if you are unfamiliar, all you need to do is listen to Rykestrasse 68.



A Faulty Chromosome
As An Ex-Anorexic’s Sic Sicks Exit, …
(self released, 2008)

This out-of-nowhere debut arrived in my mail box in the summer of last year, odd title and all, and amongst the piles of promotional drivel that passes through our mail box and email inbox, sparkled like the most exquisite diamond. Even now I am so charmed by this little record that I have to go back to it immediately whenever anything reminds me of it in anyway, just to get that proper fix. On Ex-Anorexic, everything feels water damaged, like it was left in a leaky basement storage area in a soaked cardboard box. Fortunately, that swirly waterlogged imprint only improves the suburban pop, and electronic pulses that float through the album reminiscing all-nighters on the NES and baseball cards flipping through miniature bike spokes. And anything with the ability to evoke an eighties childhood is the work of kings in my book.



Ta Det Lugnt
(Subliminal Sounds, 2004)

Aside from being a modern day Scandinavian Led Zepplin, (which is absolutely awesome, you must admit) the thing which gets me most excited about this album is the drums. I mean, everything is good - pure 70s rock perfection resurrected and revitalized - But the quality and consistency of the drums on this album is what really really makes me swoon. The way in which they've been recorded, the measured genius with which they've been played. So good.



Yellow Swans
At All Ends
(Load, 2007)

At All Ends was a revelatory moment for me. It marked the first time I was ever able to describe the Yellow Swans’ music as beautiful. Of course, that’s pretty subjective. I’m positive there are plenty of people who would haughtily disagree with that assessment. But the transition was clear; At All Ends (in addition to all the cassettes and CDrs released around the same period from the band) was something different. A whole new direction for the band and, indeed, a high water mark. The industrial noisiness wasn’t gone, just honed into some lucid, beautiful sandstorm of sound. Perhaps it was this epiphany of evolution that led the band to pack up shop, knowing that they had finally achieved something of supremely transformative power.



Andrew Douglas Rothbard
(Peaking Mandala, 2009)

This blurb writing thing is already getting belabored. I'm sorry. I think that after this is all said and done I am going to feel as exhausted as I assume Andrew Douglas Rothbard was after finishing this album. So, Mr. Rothbard: Caribou + Prefuse 73 + possibly even more ideas than those two artists imply. Exodusarabesque just drips of creativity blooming all over the place. A really great, sorely under-recognized album from this year (and one of the few that I was sure belonged on this here list).



Kurt Weisman
Spiritual Sci-Fi
(Important, 2008)

Kurt Weisman is a weirdo. I mean, you can tell by his choice of cover art, right? We've given that cover art a lot of crap since this album was released last year, but we have also given the music for which it represents a proportional amount of praise, and for good reason. As much as the cover may want you to think, "well, this is just bad weird," (Sassigrass still won't listen to him because of it) the truth of the matter is that Kurt Weisman represents the best most innocently creative "good weird" there is. That's why I love him.



Kevin Drumm
Sheer Hellish Miasma
(Editions Mego, 2002)

Miasma is Greek for pollution (according to what I could find on Wikipedia) and the title, Sheer Hellish Miasma, is pretty much a full description of what Kevin Drumm has created here. Four lengthy meditations (five on the reissue) on electronic noise as a cleansing agent. I really don't know how to approach this album in English. It's just that good I guess.



The Hospitals
Hairdryer Peace
(Self Released, 2008)

Late in this decade, wrapping indie pop in barbed wire seemed like the cool thing to do with bands like No Age, Times New Viking and Wavves garnering attention from all over for their ability to turn it to 11. The Hospitals decided 11 wasn't loud enough, and then decided and simple pop wasn't good enough and ended up with the most ridiculously grisly pop mangle of the decade. If you could inject a hallucinogen directly into the fabric of a recording, I suspect Hairdryer Peace is what it would sound like.



Beach House
(Carpark, 2008)

Devotion’s dream haze is simply celestial. Thick and slow moving, like a river of sugar, Beach House’s sophomore effort holds the most sumptuous bouts of paradisiacal nostalgia, it becomes difficult to put the album down. And why would you want to? Devotion delivers the most relaxed, honey glazed trance available without the use of controlled substances: pure goodness.



Life Is Full of Possibilities
(Plug Research, 2001)

It is funny to think that “(This is) The Dream of Evan and Chan,” the collaboration between Dntl and Ben Gibbard which would in turn inspire the creation of The Postal Service, was the forbearer to what we now disdainfully know as Owl City. Obviously the formula has been tarnished, but Dntl’s original guest spot heavy electronic pop album is still a gorgeous document of the kind of music that can be created when well executed, glitch informed electronics meets up with indie pop vocal standards. Even with that kind of weight on its shoulder’s, Life Is Full of Possibilities is at its true best when the vocal spots are absent. For, as overly cutesy and emotionally transparent as its descendants have become, Life Is Full of Possibilities is surprisingly brooding and filled with sentiment.



October Language
(Carpark, 2006)

The opening track to October Language remains to this day one of the most gorgeous and elegiac moments of musical history for me. I could listen to the track ten times in a row without losing sliver of the climactic impact Belong has packed into its 4 minute and 43 second running time. And from there things only get sweeter. Belong has released a few EP length odds and ends since October Language (all of which are amazing), but the promise the duo has left with their debut album still has me on the edge of my seat, waiting for a true follow up. Belong has taken the My Bloody Valentine formula on October Language and perfected it, piling pristine layer of sound upon pristine layer sound. I guess I can sympathize with the delay, with an album this crystal perfect, it’s going to be near impossible to top.



Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
(Kranky, 2008)

You can't seperate Microcastle from Weird Era Cont. It isn't that they don't have their own nuances and individuality, but together, referencing one another, they are simply divine. Deerhunter's simplification and whole hearted embrace of pop on this (these) release(s) provides some of the most gorgeous moments of straight hooks of the decade. There is bliss around every corner. The release of Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. cements Deerhunter as one of the most important bands of the decade without a doubt.



Prince of Truth
(Constellation, 2009)

Prince of Truth is pure rock carnage. Making great use of Constellation's roster of artists, Carla Bozulich has made the quintessential precursor to the apocalypse. Both touching and grating, measured and aggressive, Bozulich’s Evangelista is a bleak vision dragged by four horsemen and Prince of Truth is the chariot.



Frog Eyes
The Golden River
(Golden Symphonic/Animal World Recordings, 2003)

I think I have to concede to the nickname my fellow FG cohort coined for Frog Eyes leader Carey Mercer, the guy is truly Mr. Consistency, which shouldn’t hint in anyway monotony. No no. Mercer has to be one of the most inventive, manic, demented carnival-esque rock troubadours on the landscape of modern indie rock. Yet, no matter what avenues Mercer saunters down, things turn to gold. It is no wonder then that his sprawling, twenty-four track opus, The Golden River, should breach this here best-of-decade list. Mercer is kind of the David Bowie of our generation, though, perhaps, with a dash of menace. At least he reminds me of such. And really, wouldn’t a slightly menacing David Bowie just be the bee’s knees? Well, even if not, Mercer and The Golden River sure is.



William Basinski
Disintegration Loops I-IV
(2062, 2004)

The circumstances surrounding the creation (disintegration) of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops is the stuff of legends. So legendary that it is pretty much impossible to discuss the albums without including it as a pretext. However, being unable to do it justice in this miniature blurb, I will just say this: the music lives up to the legend surrounding it. Meditative, calming and absolutely inspiring in ever respect.



(Stones Throw, 2004)

I’m no hip hop historian, but to these ears Madvillain sounds like a cornball revival of Gang Starr, which is awesome obviously. Something about the combination of Madlib’s muffled old school beats and Doom’s talkable delivery all twisted up and candied with super villain samples just make Madvillainy irresistible.



(Capitol, 2001)

Most of the time, I’m pretty sure that Amnesiac is just as good as Kid A and occasionally I think it’s better. Recorded at the same time, I often wonder what the energy was like when these two monumental albums were recorded together in the studio. Did Radiohead know that they were about to change the game so drastically for modern music? And, did they really change anything? I’m not sure, but I am sure that Amnesiac is absolutely amazing.


Saturday, January 2, 2010


Turning Dragon
(Warp, 2008)

There are probably a lot of reasons why I shouldn't like this record. At least, there seems to be a lot of reasons why other people can't handle this record. I, however, can not help myself. Turning Dragon is pure electronic genius. Clark's ability to turn everything that is ridiculous about house-based electronic music into something so noisy, so scattered and so enjoyable is simply amazing. I commend you good sir.



Jan Jelinek
(Scape, 2006)

The ability of Jan Jelinek to take the elements of electronic drone and somehow warp those elements into someething that could be described as jazz is beyond me. The guy's got skills, or some sort of bizarre apparatus obtained from another planet in order to manipulate sounds on this planet. Whatever the explanation for these oddly lovely patches of sound, I'm a fan.



The Books
Thought For Food
(Tomlab, 2002)

Remember when Thought For Food first came out? How it was revolutionary? The deft use of samples in combination with beautiful chamber folk and glitch electronics – it was astounding. Even going back to it now, I am incredibly impressed. The album inspired a lot of imitators, but no one has ever really captured the magic of what The Books have started. And I can’t post about this without mentioning the sample at the beginning of “Motherless Bastard”. I am still shocked with the humor and horror of it every time.



Dragging An Ox Through Water
Tropics of Phenomenon
(Awesome Vistas/Freedom To Spend, 2008/ 2009)

The sound of Dragging An Ox Through Water sounds more like the sound of dragging a folk song through a junk yard. On Tropics of Phenomenon, Brian Mumford (the man behind the ox dragging) has created one of the most incredible debut albums of the decade by combining acoustic guitar based songwriting (albeit somewhat unconventional songwriting) with wire board fritzing noise. It’s quite a beautiful marriage and one that is much too sweet to be so quaintly short. We want more!



The Walkmen
You & Me
(Gigantic Music, 2008)

I haven’t really listened to much of The Walkmen since they broke onto the indie rock landscape earlier this decade, but somehow I was found by 2008’s You & Me and it left me utterly smitten. The album lets off an air of nonchalant coolness that is pretty much unparalleled on this list. The husky bass, murky guitars, Leithauser’s wale; You & Me is late night alcohol rock for the perfectly contented.



Stefan Neville
Do Not Destroy…
(Last Visible Dog, 2006)

A hodge-podge Kiwi noise collage (rhyme!) that is as beautiful (to these ears) as it is atonal. Stefan Neville (of Pumice fame) seems the only possible candidate for creating such a gloriously ramshackled mess. I still don’t understand how Neville manages his unique sound, but his singular sonic imprint is all over this record. Still, when compared to his output as Pumice, Do Not Destroy… is more manic and jittery and generally insane, which is always a good thing.



Cover The Windows And The Walls
(Root Strata, 2007)

No album on this list is more ghostly evasive and gauzy as Cover The Windows and The Walls by Grouper. The album’s seven tracks sound as if buried deep in the ground, perhaps six feet deep. Her hollowed guitar and muffled croon are like that of the Greek sirens, lulling listeners into the depths of the sea. It is no wonder that both pressings of the limited edition LP sold out in a split second each. As Liz Harris’ work continues to become more decipherable, Cover The Windows and The Walls will continue stand as the spectral soul of everything that makes Grouper so great.