Tag Archives: grizzly bear

Top 12 of 2012

I’ve a penchant for flippant hyperbole. But when it comes to honestly making lists of favorite albums from any given year, it can take me forever. Unlike years past when I waited a couple months to post my lists, I’ve only missed my self-imposed New Year’s deadline by a few days, so I consider this progress.

I do know some people take my recommendations seriously, so I’ve really put some thought into this list. This is not necessarily what I consider to be last year’s best albums. It’s simply a list of the ones I enjoyed the most in 2012. With seemingly everyone on Spotify or Rdio these days, I hope you all can listen to most of these (multiple times each). If you don’t have access to those services, I’ve included links to a choice song from each album. Enjoy.

12. Dumb Gold by Motel Beds

Another year, another record from another Dayton band that I adore. Maybe it’s too simplistic to say that Motel Beds are a combination of The Ventures and T. Rex, but that’s not too far off, either. If they make a record next year, I’m sure it’ll be in my year-end list then, as well.

Song: Valentimes

11. The Bears for Lunch by Guided by Voices

I thought that, when bands reunite, they’re supposed to just tour and play their hits. Never would I imagine that Guided by Voices’ classic, early-nineties lineup could reunite and release three(!) albums of new material in one year. Then again, I guess most bands don”t have a super-prolific songwriter like Robert Pollard. The Bears for Lunch is its third, and most consistent, album of the year. Not surprisingly, the band is preparing a new EP and full-length album for next year…

Song: The Challenge is Much More

10. Departure Songs by Hammock

A friend characterized Hammock’s music as “post-rock version of The Church,” which sounds as good as any description to me. This record finds the band at its most epic and lush, nearly beating Sigur Ros and M83 at their game. A full two discs in length, Departure Songs is an exhausting, yet very rewarding listen if you don’t mind losing yourself in endlessly reverberating guitars and sweeping orchestrations.

Song: Ten Thousand Years Won’t Save Your Life

9. Dwarf Mountain Alphabet by Joy Electric

I’m pretty sure Ronnie Martin is the only guy out there making synthpop with only analog synthesizers. No drum machines or computers here. If his work ethic alone doesn’t convince you, know that he has delivered his most focused and dancey collection of pop songs since 1997’s Robot Rock. Oh yeah, and his vocals have never sounded better.

Song: Whose Voice Will Not be Heard

8. Shields by Grizzly Bear

I don’t care how predictable Grizzly Bear’s spot in my year-end lists is becoming; I love this band. At the heart of its best songs is a folky-pop thing that I adore. Of course, the band dresses it up with great drumming, lush background vocals and thoughtful horn/string arrangements. I think Grizzly Bear occasionally gets backlash because of its rising popularity and the fact that Ed Droste’s vocals sound so good. Oh, that more bands pay such attention to arrangements, harmonies and lyrics!

Song: Yet Again

7. Lonerism by Tame Impala

Trailing close behind my love for great songwriting is weird sounds. On its last album, Innerspeaker, Tame Impala delivered psychedelia and killer guitar jams. This time around, the band uses more synthesizers and plays up its Paul McCartney and Todd Rundgren influences. A weird and totally perfect album.

Song: Mind Mischief

6. Melody’s Echo Chamber by Melody’s Echo Chamber

So Melody Prochet worked with Australian band, Tame Impala, to make a sugary pop record. Except that, around the seventh track, the band derails the process and the album drops off a cliff into fuzzy, new wave-influenced psychedelia. And it’s beautiful.

Song: I Follow You

5. Places by Sam Billen

I guess admiration could muck up our friendship, but I’ve always envied Sam’s songwriting and musicianship. Songs like “It’s My Life” and “Someday You’ll Regret” that he wrote for his old band, The Billions, were monumental in my personal and musical discovery/development. While I’ve loved his solo recordings up to this point, they’ve never captured the magic of the demo CDs he recorded ten years ago. But this year, Places did it for me. I feel like Sam has finally captured my feeling of driving off from The Billions’ farmhouse, playing one of his collections of mature, difficult songs and rupturing my cerebellum. I love you, Sam.

Song: It’s Not a Lie

4. >> by Beak

Beak, a side project of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, is quickly becoming a favorite band. It plays to the right influences, most notably Neu! and Syd Barrett. (And you should know that I love Krautrock. Neu!, Cosmic Jokers and Agitation Free are some of my all-time favorite bands.) With vocals taking a backseat to some luminous, motorik grooves, this is perfect music for 2:00 am.

Song: Wulfstan II

3. Kill for Love by Chromatics

Come on now, how can you make an album of hazy, eighties Italian disco with reverb-drenched guitars and expect me not to like it?

Song: The Page

2. Bloom by Beach House

I’ve followed Beach House since its first record, so Bloom didn’t really come out of nowhere for me. I can’t help but feel like this dreampop fad in indie rock might be just a little too trendy. Just as long as bands remember to match the sound with great songs, I’m okay with more albums like this.

Song: Other People

1. Nootropics by Lower Dens

I’m not sure why it’s suddenly hip to sound like a Krautrock band, but I like it. While I loved Bloom by Beach House, Nootropics was just more dark and murky and German, tipping the scales for me. True, I found it to be one of the year’s least-immediate albums, but all that extra work I’ve put into understanding it has made it my favorite of 2012.

Song: Brains

Honorable mentions (or albums that I liked and don’t want to not mention in this blog post): Attack on Memory by Cloud Nothings, The Loudest Sound Ever Heard by The Choir, Until the Quiet Comes by Flying Lotus, Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Spiritualized, Oshin by Diiv, Plumb by Field Music, and My Height in Heels by She Does is Magic.

Stuff I didn’t hear in 2012 (but would probably make my list if I had):Europe by Allo Darlin’, Wild Peace by Echo Lake, Cancer for Cure by El-P, Ark by Halls and Nocturne by Wild Nothing.

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2009: A Listening Journal

Now that I have this website, I feel the pressure to discuss the best albums of the past year. Unfortunately, that’s not this list. Here, I have compiled thoughts about albums I listened to the most in 2009. While some should be in some best-of list (like Untitled 23), are others (like 1960 and The Hazards of Love) are almost too concept-heavy and unique to be compared to typical albums.

So here goes…

VeckatimestGrizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp)

I have to admit that I feel a little trendy talking about Grizzly Bear, as I have seen them mentioned just about everywhere for the past year.   But keep in mind that I loved their last album, Yellow House, when even when my most trendy and informed friends found it lackluster. (“I know why you like it,” on friend quipped. “They sound like a boring version of Namelessnumberheadman.”)

This album feels so nitpicked, yet inspired and light years ahead of Yellow House. It reminds me of something Terry Taylor would concoct if he were in his early 30s and had been absorbing albums by Radiohead and The Animal Collective alongside The Beach Boys and The Beatles. It’s an album of exquisite chamber pop.

Oh yeah, we bought this on vinyl at Hot Topic at Oak Park Mall. Good times.

Sonic Youth – The Eternal (Matador)

I still don’t know what I really feel about this album, apart from the fact that I listened to it a lot, especially around the time we went to see the band play at The Uptown in July.  There are certainly some great tunes (“Sacred Trickster” is super-hott), but there are places where the album just doesn’t seem to go anywhere.  Before you criticize, I know this is Sonic Youth and their songs don’t always  conform to conventional song structures.  Apart from the standout tracks, it’s just a really difficult album to get into for me.  It still sounds like the band’s trying, unlike some of its albums from about ten years ago, but I haven’t got my head around the record.

The Sexy AccidentMantoloking (independent)

My fascination with Jesse Kates’ music started innocently enough with seeing his set solo set of guitar loop music at The Grenada a long time ago.  He knew the Namelessnumberheadman guys, so that’s all it took for me.

Shortly thereafter, I heard Jesse was starting a pop/rock group, Jesse Kates and The Sexy Accident.  I saw the band play at Davey’s Uptown and loved it.  It sounded like so much music I adore: The Wedding Present, XTC and maybe Pinkerton-era Weezer.  I followed the band and slowly got to that place with Jesse where you can chat and e-mail but are still kinda just acquaintances.  Just before the band recorded Mantoloking, he sent me a zip file with demos, and my interest in the upcoming album snowballed. I was not let down, in the least, when I finally got the record.

Then, sometime in the fall, Jesse posted this on Craigslist:

Our bass player is moving to Florida, and we need a new master of the grooves. What we’re looking for:

– A dedicated and professional attitude (practices outside of practice)
– Somebody who writes bass parts to serve the song
– Ability to play in odd times and syncopated rhythms
– Willingness to rehearse once weekly and play out 2-3 times per month
– Open to travel for the odd out of town show
– Somebody who can conjure a little Motown if necessary

The ad was clearly written with me in mind (or so I thought).  Now I’m a member of the band, so I’ve listened to Mantoloking a lot, probably inflating the numbers on Last FM.  It’s a fairly solid record, with incredible, minimal drumming that doesn’t catch you off-guard when the band navigates odd time signatures.

Pet Shop Boys – Yes (EMI)

There’s no way I can overstate what Yes has meant to me this year.  I have listened to it a couple hundred times since I received the import, two-disc version as graduation present.

Calling it an album of “Home and Dry” (the standout track from 2002’s Release and, in my opinion, one of their all-time best songs) eleven times in a row may be a bit of a stretch, but it’s darn close. Tenant and Lowe are back at the top of their game, crafting smart songs with huge hooks and biting sarcasm. The band holds unswervingly to its tried-and-true disco formula, instead of doing that Brazil beat thing they floundered with in the mid-90s.

The Church – Untitled 23 (Unorthodox Records)

The Church doesn’t make the same album twice, but everything since the band’s monumental 2002 After Everything Now This has found it honing, instead of reinventing, its nuanced, affected-guitar interplay. It’s certainly a recipe the band shouldn’t mess with! We don’t need a foray into most bands’ typical late-era experimental or nostalgic return-to-form albums.

I may be wrong, but much of Untitled 23 sounds like it was tracked live, much like 2003’s exquisite album, Forget Yourself.  As always the lyrics are weird, and the sound is super-dense (while relying on few overdubs).  I can’t stop gushing.

Soul-Junk – 1960 (Sounds Familyre)

I first heard Soul-Junk with 1998’s 1955, a seriously effed-up mix of rap, glam, noise rock and electronica that, many times, used entire passages from the Bible for lyrics. Glen Galaxy has forged ahead with his intriguing slop, confusing everyone but the brave with his not-exactly-chronological album titles.

Needless to say, when he released 1960 (produced by genius dude, Daniel Smith) this year, I was excited. It’s a return to rock, with flourishes of violin and Phil Spector-inspired piano.  Glen pulls all of his lyrics from Psalm 119, which, in the Hebrew language, is an acrostic poem.  There are 22 letters in their alphabet, and there are 22 stanzas, each starting with successive letters. As a result, there are 22 tracks on 1960. It’s nerdy, I know, but it has inspired me to read my Bible some more.

HushAsobi Seksu – Hush (Polyvinyl)

If Citrus was an 11 on Spinal Tap’s Marshall stack, Hush is probably an 8 or 9. Citrus was an all-out shoegaze assault on the senses. But since the songwriting is even more solid and memorable this time, I found myself falling all over this album. (I don’t want to give the false impression that there are no rockers on Hush; it just seems the band takes more time between its peaks.)

I’m a sucker for noise pop and shoegaze-influenced stuff, so maybe I can’t be trusted. But we need more bands like Asobi Seksu.

Map – Speechless (Velvet Blue)

No one has influenced my guitar playing more than Josh Dooley from the band Map (and his protegé, Jason Martin, from Starflyer 59). There, I said it. My wife and I are not objective listeners, but maybe you don’t have to be. Maybe the rest of the world should try to make beautiful, jangly music that’s part surf and part 1980s Manchester, England. Maybe the world needs to rediscover major seventh chords.

I know that most of Dooley’s songs are written around guitar riffs, so it just makes sense that he’s released a mostly-instrumental album. He has just left off vocals that would ordinarily follow the guitar lines. Sure, there are many layers to peel back here, but it’s, in no way, self-indulgent. He clearly adores Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” and The Smith’s “Half A Person.” It’s heavenly.

Bruce Springsteen – Working On a Dream (Columbia)

What happened to The Boss? What clicked in his head and made him suddenly start making great music a couple years ago with Magic? While I love Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad, I can’t say I care much for the rest of his catalog.

Sure, there are some rockers, like “My Lucky Day,” that could easily take a big dumb stadium rock turn, but Springsteen doesn’t linger there long.  Most of the album wanders around between poppy Bruce Cockburn-territory and a Phil Spector/Brian Wilson wall of sound.

There are not many politically-charged lyrics here. And he sings! What a beautiful voice he has. Maybe it is his age or maybe he has just written his best collection of melodic songs ever, but I love his deep baritone, tinged with a gorgeous vibrato.

The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (Capitol)

It’s with the same trepidation with which I discussed Veckatimest that I approach the latest Decemberists’ record. Katy and I love the band, and I immediately snatched this up on vinyl. I know it is huge and found its way into many lists for 2010, but I still have not got my head around the record.

While lyrics are not necessarily a prerequisite for me to like an album, the story seems to be the focus here. It is so epic, making it difficult to fully digested the entire narrative. I can admit that I do love the music, though. It rocks much more, in places, than I had expected, and the guest singers seem to add a lot to the album.

Colin Meloy has thrown down the gauntlet and written an album the listener cannot feel neutral about. Concept albums are tricky things, and the band will never be viewed the same after this. It also comes at a peculiar time when albums are antiquated, and an iTunes/MTV/Clear Channel-nurtured public has no frame of reference for a song longer than three minutes. In that sense, it is probably the most punk album of 2009.

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Episode #3

I set out to make these shows a weekly habit. Since it’s summer and I have more time to work on them, here is the next show–short, concise and digestible–and a few days early.

  1. Deastro – Tree Frog
  2. St. Vincent – Actor Out of Work
  3. Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks
  4. Burning Hearts – Sea Bird
  5. Ester Drang – Grave Mistake

If you like any of these artists, buy all of their albums. You will not be disappointed. (Know that Deastro’s glorious album, Keeper’s, is only available digitally.)

Radio Free Raytown Episode #3 – 7/15/09

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