Tag Archives: raytown

Top Ten of 2014

Before I begin with my list of ten favorite albums from 2014, here are a few of the usual caveats.  This is a list of my favorite, most frequently played, records released in 2014. In no way is this an objective list of the year’s best albums. (You won’t find Swans or Scott Walker here. While releasing some of the best albums of this year, or any year, I rarely listened to them in their entirety.) Also, a couple albums were unexpectedly released after I had finished this list. Since their vinyl releases won’t be until next spring, I’m just going to pretend they’re 2015 releases and discuss them next year. (Yes, I’m referring to Luxury, Steve Taylor and D’Angelo.)  And finally, there are some albums I’ve recently purchased that I’m still processing, still trying to get my head around.  (Maybe I’m just being difficult, but I don’t feel like including the Iceage and Protomartyr albums in this list.  Please forgive me, but I’m still trying to figure them out.)

1.  Rising Son / Takuya Kuroda

Rising Son was, by far, the album I listened to the most in 2014. It provided great background music while students worked, and it was excellent for my planning periods. At first, I felt the album was a Xerox of a mid-seventies Roy Ayers or CTI-era Freddie Hubbard record, but then I realized that Kuroda really does bring some strong, memorable hooks.  The drumming also brings it up to date, with Nate Smith playing up to his hip-hop influences and tipping his hat to Questlove on nearly every track.

2.  Hendra / Ben Watt

There’s absolutely nothing new about Ben Watt’s first solo album in 30 years, and that’s the best part. Invoking influences like Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac, this could have easily been an exercise in nostalgia, but Watt brings pop hooks and some decent, thoughtful lyrics. The packaging is gorgeous, including a poster for the lyrics. The art is incredible, insulting anyone who’d be content with a download.

3.  Atlas / Real Estate

Believe it or not, I don’t intentionally try to be difficult.   So why have I been so hesitant to admit that I enjoy Real Estate?   I think I’m finally at the point where I’ll admit to liking its last album, but I really, really love Atlas.  It’s one of those rare albums where I imagine the band just walked in, laid down its tracks and left.  (Obviously, bands don’t really do that anymore, but uncluttered arrangements lend themselves to that impression.)

4.  Bécs / Fennesz

Somehow I doubt that Christian Fennesz cares for all the micro-subgenre labels in electronic music.  Sure, he’s influenced by glitch and ambient, but his music feels more alive than that.  Bécs is a great example of how an artist can treat a laptop as an instrument, especially on the tracks “Static Kings” and “Liminality.”  His music allows me space to think, to work and to dream.

5.  Syro / Aphex Twin

As time went on, I felt like I was alone in my love for drukqs, Richard James’ last album as Aphex Twin from 2001.  Sure, it was a bloated double-disc, but I enjoyed all of it: all the weird electronic stuff, the minimalistic piano exercises and experiments with prepared piano.  So obviously I was ecstatic at the promise of a new Aphex Twin record, but I also feared that James might feel pressure to get aggressive and do EDM to be relevant or something. The best part about Syro is that it’s just a continuation of his unique vision to write real songs and make technology groove and breathe. No idea yet where it fits into his canon, but it sure is a great album.

6.  Fortuna / Popstrangers

Apparently nineties indie rock has become the thing to imitate.  And the fact that I’m complaining about that probably means I’m getting old.  Sure, Fortuna sounds like a Deerhunter record, but it feels more cohesive than what Brandon Cox usually delivers.  I’ve been rewarded with how Popstrangers takes its time to develop even the murky songs.  Maybe not the best album of the year, but with many long hours at work, Fortuna just made sense.

7.  Home Everywhere / Medicine

Brad Laner and his band Medicine are like old friends.  Or maybe more like that older brother who schooled me on good music.  (But unlike my real-life stepbrother who introduced me to Dinosaur Jr. and The Cure, Laner hasn’t grown boring with age.)  After nearly two decades apart, the band Medicine reformed in 2013 and released a new album, To the Happy Few, with its trademark mix of psychedelic pop and tape-mangled industrial noise was still in tact.  This year, the band took things a little further, testing listeners’ limits with dense layers and almost too many musical ideas in each verse.  So of course I loved it, especially because it’s on beautiful people vinyl.

8.  You’re Dead / Flying Lotus

Steven Elison has tinkered with jazz on his previous Flying Lotus albums, but You’re Dead finally feels like his first jazz record.  The electronics are still compressed to the point of absurdity, but he uses more live instruments on this album.  Elison’s great success is in creating his most cohesive album.  So much so that it becomes difficult to discern between tracks, at times.  Given the complexity of the arrangements, it’s remarkable how short the album feels.  It’s a mind-trip, but I was quick to start the album over many times this year.

9.  Deep Fantasy / White Lung

Remember when you first listened to “Whirring” by The Joy Formidable and the band ripped off your face for nearly seven minutes straight? That’s kind of the feeling I still get from listening to Deep Fantasy, except that the intensity lasts for the entire album. Heavy, aggressive, melodic and brief.  Just what the doctor ordered.

10.  Into the Lime / The New Mendicants

The New Mendicants feature Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub and Joe Pernice from Pernice Brothers, two of my favorite bands. But I’m not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed when I first listened to Into the Lime. I hoped for big power pop, but the record feels a lot more front porch-ish and acoustic. The vocals are upfront and mostly unaffected, Blake’s acquiescence to role as a background vocalist is frustrating and gone are many lush layers I’d come to expect from either artist.  But the songwriting is great, and I just lived in this album for a couple months. Some of my favorite albums are the frustrating ones, and Into the Lime was the difficult album that grew into a favorite this year.

Tagged , , , ,

All the Rage: Overdue Appreciation for Elvis Costello’s Criminally Overlooked 1994 Album, Brutal Youth

brutalyouthMy sophomore year of college was a disaster. My parents split, my grades nosedived, I changed majors twice and my great-grandmother (whom we cared for) was hospitalized a few times. Early that school year, my friend Byron gave me a tape of Elvis Costello’s supposedly difficult and mediocre album, Brutal Youth.

I found much for me to connect with in the music, but in retrospect, I can see that I got it a little backwards.  At the time, I was digging deep into the discographies of my Christian rock heroes, Terry Taylor and Randy Stonehill.  As a result, I initially thought Costello sounded like Taylor from an early-nineties Daniel Amos record.  Now, I realize that I got it the other way around; it’s Taylor who occasionally sounded like Costello.  I was also impressed at Costello’s old-timey, pre-rock songs on the album.  On songs like “Favourite Hour,” his wide vibrato reminded me of my grandfather’s own canyon-wide vibrato.  Basically, I hadn’t heard much like Costello’s music and attempted to fit what little I knew of his work into my small, but quickly-burgeoning, schema of musical awareness.

So anyway.  Lyrics are rarely the first thing to pull me into a song, but I felt a connection to Costello through his humor.  I still chuckle at the chorus of “London’s Brilliant Parade” when he sings, “Just look at me, I’m having the time of my life/ Or something quite like it.”  While the record may not have been an ideal introduction to his music, the lyrics are certainly indicative of Costello’s playfulness with dysfunction.  He doesn’t always portray himself as the good guy, and he treats experience with jest.  “I’m just about glad that I knew you once and it was more than a passing acquaintance,” he sings.  Then he adds, “I’m just about glad that it was a memory that doesn’t need constant maintenance.”  On (probably) my favorite song, “This is Hell,” Costello describes hell as the opposite of all good things.  In the final verse, he sings, “‘My Favorite Things’ are playing again and again/ But it’s by Julie Andrews and not by John Coltrane.”  I think his writing is probably an acquired taste for most, but it immediately connected with me.

Between my commutes to UMKC and the hospital to see my great-grandmother, I spent a lot of time in the car that year.  I remember one month in which it seemed like Brutal Youth was playing non-stop.  There are so many reasons for this that don’t make sense with digital music.  Sometimes only certain tapes would sound okay on my crappy car stereo, and sometimes I was so busy that I didn’t have time to grab another tape before I left the house.  But more often than not, Brutal Youth just felt right, and I know that I listened to the tape 100 times in one month alone.

When I started a band fifteen years ago, I chose to name it after one of the quirkier songs on the record, “My Science Fiction Twin.”  Not only does the name obviously identify me as an Elvis Costello fan, but it also reminds me of that formative time in my life.  I made big decisions, lost relatives and formed new relationships.  Some of whom remain good friends with me to this day.

Tagged , , , , ,

Episode 110: On Route to Somewhere

Come see this show, bring lots of friends and buy Robert's music!

Come see this show, bring lots of friends and buy Robert’s music!

I usually despise the term singer/songwriter. But then again, I have to check myself, as some of the most life-changing music has come from dudes pouring out their hearts in stories and arpeggios on acoustic guitar. I believe Robert Deeble is one such guy. When I hear his music, I imagine he has spent (un)healthy amounts of time in his bedroom listening to Songs from a Room or The Times They Are a’Changin’ and perfecting his own songs. As you might guess, I’m no casual fan. Gallons of virtual ink could easily be spilled on the importance of Deeble’s music in my life over the past 15 years. My wife is also a huge fan of his music, and counts him among her favorite interviews from her days in music journalism.

A while back, Deeble began talking with us about the possibility of hosting a small concert. As long-time fans, we greeted this discussion with enthusiasm and are happy to announce that he will play at Morton Hall in Westport on October 4, 2013. To help promote the show–and his music in general–this week’s show is dedicated to his songs. Hopefully you can attend the $5 show, but at the very least, I hope this show piques your interest to check out his catalog on Bandcamp.

Enjoy.

  1. “Heart Like Feathers” (Heart Like Feathers/Dead Letter Records/2013)
  2. “Peter and the Lion” (Thirteen Stories/Pete Records/2004)
  3. “Two Statues” (Earthside Down/Jackson Rubio/1998)
  4. “The Colors of Dying” (Heart Like Feathers/Dead Letter Records/2013)
  5. “Lovers on Route” (Earthside Down/Jackson Rubio/1998)
[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1415312/110radiofreeraytown.mp3 ]

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #110 (9/15/13)

Tagged , , ,

2013, so far.

Ian's been waiting all his life for the new My Bloody Valentine record.

Ian’s waited all his life for another My Bloody Valentine record!

Since the year is now half-empty (or half-full or whatever), a friend asked me for a list of my favorite records of 2013.  He felt that, apart from the new Yo La Tengo record, there was no real “slam-dunk” this year.  I courteously, yet vehemently, disagree.  So here’s a list of several records that captured my attention in the first half of 2013.  (The order here means nothing, I don’t want to rank them just yet.)  Let’s see if they stick around for my year-end list…

Thought and Language by Dead Leaf Echo

Dead Leaf Echo has been around a few years now and finally delivered the solid album that should get attention.  I tend to like any new shoegaze band, so an album like this, full of perfect and hazy pop songs, always gets my attention.

Fade by Yo La Tengo

One of the band’s best and most concise albums in a catalog full of “best” albums.  I love it.  A great starting point for anyone unfamiliar with Yo La Tengo or life itself.

mbv by My Bloody Valentine

Pandemonium ensued the night My Bloody Valentine released its new record.  Kevin Shields hinted a week earlier that it was coming, but after nearly two decades since the band’s last record, I was skeptical.  It doesn’t overwhelm with shock and awe at first, instead the band takes its time.  Shields has delivered a fairly quiet record with some classy songwriting.  Until the end, then it gets crazy.

Iceage, performing at this year's Middle of the Map Festival in Kansas City

Iceage, performing at this year’s Middle of the Map Festival in Kansas City.

You’re Nothing by Iceage

I went nutso a few months ago when Iceage released its second album and played at The Riot Room.  I kinda feel like it was as close as I’ll get to ever seeing Joy Division.  Not only is its live show amazing, but the new record is also fantastic.  A little more dry-sounding and mature than the last one, it’s also brief, demanding repeated plays.

The Next Day by David Bowie

I’d be a millionaire if I had a nickel for every time I read the phrase, “Bowie’s best album since Scary Monsters,” to describe The Next Day.  It’s kinda maddening, really, considering how much good material filled Heathen and Reality.  (Sure, those weren’t totally solid albums, but whatever.)  This new record is awesome.  With each song sounding like a different stage in his career, it almost feels like a best-of collection, except that they’re all new songs.

She Beats by The Beaches

Fuzzy, Aussie band that’s spent far too much time with its Sonic Youth and Neu! albums.  Enough said.

Without a Net by Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter turns 80 this year, but you wouldn’t know it by his playing.  Sometimes he deconstructs songs with reckless abandon, squawking away on his soprano sax.  Sometimes he composes super-ambitious, 23-minute pieces for a large combo.  At his age/stature, he could/should be the star of his own records, but Shorter seems content to step back and let listeners enjoy his insanely-talented band, as well.

The Terror by The Flaming Lips

Why am I even writing about this?  I’m not sure I even ‘get’ this record yet.  Dark, weird, lots of synthesizers and that one Suicide beat in nearly every song.  I think I just answered my question.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Episode 108: Another Sunny Day

Dedication in the used copy of Belle and Sebastian’s biography I picked up at The Strand bookstore in New York City a couple years ago.

I discovered Belle and Sebastian later in college than most. It’s not that I didn’t get its music; it’s just that I already listened to many other twee bands (and the bands they influenced). Don’t get me wrong, I liked If You’re Feeling Sinister, but I just didn’t see what the big deal was. Then I started paying attention to the lyrics…which you don’t necessarily do if you’re into twee or indie pop.

Does it diminish a band’s worth to consider the context in which it creates music? Does it put a damper on that moment you discover a new band to consider the other bands in its scene? Does it make a band seem less creative when you find out what’s in the lead singer’s album collection?

I think it’s always important to consider context when analyzing art, especially music (because that’s what I know best). It’s especially important with someone like Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, who is obviously a referential writer. This is why I devote Episode #108 to the musical ancestry of Bell and Sebastian. Have I exhaustively discussed every band that influenced Murdoch? Or course not, but they are all very influential. (And, if you read the band’s biography, Belle and Sebastian: Just another Modern Rock Story, you’ll find many pages devoted to Murdoch’s adoration of these bands.) This show is a starting point for many evenings getting caught in internet wormholes, discovering obscure Britpop bands.

At any rate, in the era of publicly-accessible Spotify playlists, I’m unsure that I need to merely make podcasts amounting to little more than shuffled playlists and commentary. I hope you find focused shows like this helpful. I still bristle at the idea of themed shows; I just want to help everyone grasp the context in which my favorite music is created. Enjoy.

  1. “Do You Remember Walter?” – The Kinks (The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society / Reprise / 1968)
  2. “One of These Things First” – Nick Drake (Bryter Layter / Island / 1970)
  3. “Caroline Goodbye” – Colin Blunstone (One Year / Epic / 1971)
  4. “Down but Not Yet Out” – Felt (Forever Breathes the Lonely Word / Creation / 1986)
  5. “I’m in Love with a Girl Who Doesn’t Know I Exist” – Another Sunny Day (Air Balloon Road / Sarah / 1990)
  6. “Another Sunny Day” – Belle and Sebastian (The Life Pursuit / Matador / 2006)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #108 (10/5/12)
Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Freaks.

Pop music is difficult to execute well. Many times accessibility trumps creativity and bands leave me wanting. But some do it well, even while toying with popular, ephemeral sounds and studio chicanery.

This is clearly what Matt Bronleewe, Dan Haseltine and Jeremy Bose attempt with The Hawk in Paris. They clearly don’t desire to forge new musical ground. In fact, they sound like a bunch of middle-aged guys trying to re-create the magic of their favortie eighties synthpop bands. (Definittely not a bad thing.)

The swagger and spaghetti Western guitars in title track, “Freaks,”obviously owe a lot to Depeche Mode. “Birds on a Wire” seems to take more chances, dropping out the beat in places and adding flourishes of acoustic guitars, while invoking some of Simple Minds’ mid-to-late eighties work. Kitsch weighs heavy on the last track, “Wake Me Up,” tipping its hat to the way Pet Shop Boys’ early work mixed R&B with pop. The auto-tuned vocals and lyrics (“I don’t wanna have another dream without you.”) further add to the band’s shtick.

With the promise of two more EPs this year, I’m excited to hear what The Hawk in Paris delivers. As a rabid fan of Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Camouflage and New Order, I welcome anyone who seems to get synthpop. Sure The Hawk in Paris is referential and invokes some obvious influences, but I think that’s the point. And I love it.

Buy it now.

Tagged , , ,

Episode 107: Wait Underwater with Me

Sometimes I wonder if it would be more convenient to just post Spotify playlists instead of recording these episodes. Whenever I start believing this work is in vain, supporters come out of the proverbial woodwork. For example, last week a friend encouraged the audience at his concert to check out my blog. “Jonathon Smith knows your favorite bands before you do,” he announced.

Who knows? Maybe I’ve included songs from of your new favorite bands this week.

Enjoy.

  1. “Moonshake” – Can (Future Days / United Artists / 1973)
  2. “Lists, Plans” – A Sunny Day in Glasgow (Scribble Mural Comic Journal / Notenuf / 2007)
  3. “Sea Birds” – Burning Hearts (Aboa Sleeping / Shelflife / 2009)
  4. “Crest” – The Antlers (Undersea / ANTI / 2012)
  5. “Please Let Me Wonder” – The Beach Boys (Today! / Capitol /  1965)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #107 (8/3/12)

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A few thoughts.

Cover of Ten Years After’s 1969 album, Ssssh

I didn’t have time to record a podcast this week, but that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about music.

  • A friend asked me about Slowdive this week. Fortunately for him, I already had a Slowdive playlist in Songbird. (Does this really surprise you?) So I burnt him a mix CD from that playlist just before Thurday’s rain. Diving back into the band’s dreamy catalog with light rain rapping upon the windowpanes was perfection. I can’t wait for him to hear this; it’s gorgeous.
  • I stopped at Half Price Books in Westport on Thursday and bought Stereolab’s Margerine Eclipse and ABC Music. Now, I’m on a serious Stereolab kick. Don’t hate.
  • I wish my wife wouldn’t have informed me Stars will be playing at The Bottleneck in Lawrence on October 9. We won’t be able to attend, as it’s on a weeknight. Oh, to see them perform “Ageless Beauty“!
  • My friend, Brandon Briscoe, stopped by yesterday, and I introduced him to the music of Ten Years After. I’ve always felt that the band’s lead guitarist, Alvin Lee, was the best of the British blues rock players. Since everyone and everything is on Spotify, I suggest you check out the band’s records Cricklewood Green, Ssssh and Watt. In that order.
Tagged , , ,

Of CD Wallets and Road Trips

When Katy and I were dating, she in Dayton and I in Raytown, we faced long, monthly drives to see one another. I tried to sell her on this drive by telling her it was only about as long has playing through her 10 favorite CD’s in the car.

+++

We’re preparing for a trip back to Dayton next week, and I’m packing my CD wallet. I know, it’s 2012 and I should just load up my phone with MP3’s or stream songs from Google Music or something, but the car we’re taking only has a CD player. (I’m not complaining…15 years ago, this would have been a luxury, right?) I think MP3 players have made me lazy, dumping tons of music onto a player with no real intentions of getting to much of it.

I’m not sure I can even articulate what makes a good road trip album. It certainly needs driving beats, and there needs to be some amount of predictability. Nostalgia’s important, too, as my favorite albums make for great road trip albums. (Many of which, I owned on tape and got stuck in the tape deck of a couple different Escorts I had in college for months on end.) But then again, some just tend to be a solid, unflashy album in a band’s catalog. Sometimes I just need an record that will sound good in my particular car at the time. Finally, I take new albums on trips because a 10-hour drive is a great chance to wear in a new one.

Here are a few* that make my list. I’ll let you decide what criteria they meet.

  1. Get Happy!! – Elvis Costello and the Attractions (F-Beat/1980)
  2. Dear Science – TV on the Radio (Interscope/2008)
  3. Red Medicine – Fugazi (Dischord/1995)
  4. Forever Changes – Love (Elektra/1967)
  5. After Dark – various artists (Italians Do it Better/2007)
  6. Bloom – Beach House (SubPop/2012)
  7. a CD I burned with both Object 47 & Red Barked Tree by Wire
  8. Some Racing, Some Stopping – Headlights (Polyvinyl/2008)
  9. Feelings – Motel Beds (Fictionband Mechanics/2010)
  10. Your Future Our Clutter – The Fall (Domino/2010)
  11. Never Hear the End of It – Sloan (YepRoc/2007)
  12. 25 Years of Hits – Pet Shop Boys (Parlophone/2009)
  13. Slideling – Ian McCulloch (Cooking Vinyl/2003)
  14. Oranges & Lemons – XTC (Virgin/1989)
  15. Sex Change – Trans Am (Thrill Jockey/2007)
  16. Wake Up! – The Boo Radleys (Creation/1995)
  17. The Chaos – The Futureheads (Nul/2010)
  18. You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever – Orange Juice (Polydor/1982)
  19. The Loudest Sound Ever Heard – The Choir (Galaxy21/2012)
  20. OX4: The Best of Ride – Ride (The First Time Records/2002)
  21. Last Exit – Junior Boys (KIN | 2004)
  22. some last minute selection by Robert Pollard or Guided By Voices

*My wife reserves the right to edit the final list any time before Saturday.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Episode 105: A Glimmer of LIght

Sam Billen, c.1997

I had imagined a grandiose introduction this week, but after several attempts at editing, I give up.

I think I’ve known Sam Billen for over a decade. I consider his brother and father family, too. They’re pretty much the only reason one would ever want to visit Topeka. Except for hot pickles.

Sam has nearly completed a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the mastering and manufacturing of his new record, Places. He has about ‘$800 left in this final week for the campaign. As a way to publicly thank him for his great music through the years and as a way to get the word out about his new record, I devote this week’s show to his songs. Enjoy.

  1. “Headphones and Cellphones” – Sam Billen (Headphones and Cellphones | The Record Machine | 2009)
  2. “I Found a Way” – The Billens (Trash and Treasure | Northern Records | 2005)
  3. “Invisible Game” – Sam Billen (Miracles | Northern Records | 2004)
  4. “Someday You’ll Regret” – The Billions (demo recording for Trash and Treasure | c.2004)
  5. “My Life” – The Billions (Never Felt this Way Before | Northern Records | 2003)
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1415312/105radiofreeraytown.mp3″

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #105 (6/8/12)

Tagged , , , , , ,