Saturday, July 23, 2011

You Haven't Heard... Nino Hernandez and Bosques de mi Mente

It's been a while. I haven't been able to fit in much music listening in between those 70-80 hour work weeks. But I have found some music recently that I think is fantastic and worth sharing.

First up, Nino Hernandez. I found this track "Funk 'C'" in a FACT mix by Hackman. It's an awesome jam, great for dance parties and the like. Turns out the track is from 2002 and practically impossible to find anywhere. But, of course, it's on Youtube, so you can listen below. Also, don't bother Googling "Nino Hernandez" - apparently that's also the name of the former world's smallest man.

Next, Bosques de mi Mente. I don't know much about this guy beyond what he's written on his website, but he makes pretty incredible music. It's ambient/experimental electronica - sounds a lot like some aspects of (older) Sigur Ros, Lymbyc Systym, and a bit of Boards of Canada. Often with a very light, playful feel. The best part: all of his music is available for free. You can listen to one of the tracks off his most recent album below.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Why I Love Concerts

I had almost forgotten that I had tickets to see The Mountain Goats until about a week ago, when I noticed that the show was sold out. I'm not a huge Mountain Goats fan - I got into them via Kaki King, and have only really listened to the EP she was featured on - so I was a little surprised to see that they had such a big following.

I arrived at the show a little late, and could hear John Darnielle's trademark voice echoing down the hallway as I walked in. Paradise was the most packed I'd seen it. I was greeted with brief monologue from John about the pain-in-the-ass calls for "Freebird," and a variety of witty stories and entertaining banter followed. He discussed how kids might potentially try to pawn his guitar for drugs and explained how, when considering or going through a divorce, the right time to get a lawyer is always today.

The witty, high-spirited, and tongue-in-cheek commentary balanced the deep, earnest, and often painful lyrics of each song perfectly. I only knew a handful of songs going in, but I enjoyed every moment of the performance, and plan to go back and listen to as much of The Mountain Goats' catalogue as possible.

But, to be honest, what really made the show amazing was the energy emanating from the crowd. I spent most of the show watching the fans in the front row screaming along to every single word, completely in love with the experience of seeing their favorite band. Wide smiles could be seen across the audience. You could tell that many people felt a deep, emotional connection to the music; the times they'd listened to The Mountain Goats all night after an intense breakup or during a difficult transition could be read on their faces. These people really cared about this music - it had had a profound impact on their lives.

I've been there before. I'm often very immersed in the music at a concert, and I can think of several shows that were powerfully emotional experiences (e.g. Sigur Ros, Japandroids, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and, interestingly, Fennesz). And of course I love those shows. But there's something great about seeing other people have that experience too. The Mountain Goats' performance was good, but that's only half of the story. The thing that made the show truly beautiful was seeing other people get so passionately into the music.

In the 9-5 world (more like 9-10, in my case), you rarely see true passion. I know few people that really love the experience of working or feel an emotional connection to the things they do. It may be a good job in the "it's fun" or "it's interesting" or "it's challenging" sort of way, but it lacks a real emotional investment.

The things I typically do outside of work also lack that real passion. Sure, going out for a few beers can be a lot of fun, but it's hardly a completely immersive experience. One night tends to bleed into the next...

Concerts, on the other hand, provide a view into the things people really care about. Their emotions, their passions, their values. Of course, many concerts are just fun times too, but every once in a while you hit on a real gem like this Mountain Goats show. Whether you feel it yourself or you have the chance to see others feel it, it's a beautiful reminder that there is more to life than work and booze.

And that's why I love concerts.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A few new ones for you

Here's some new music I've been listening to lately. No medals today - I'm not really in a rating mood. Regardless, this is all good music. (I mean, why else would I be writing about it?)

Marnie Stern - How did I not know of Marnie Stern until two weeks ago? I swear I've seen her name around... Well, somehow, I missed the boat on this one. Marnie Stern is awesome. I've been describing her music as a mix between Deerhoof and Lightning Bolt - her music has all of the frantic craziness of Lightning Bolt, but it's tempered by quirky interludes and vocals. Basically, the best of both worlds. She's coming to Boston in early March (opening for Tera Melos at The Middle East) and I've already got my ticket.

Cepia - Found this guy and Land of Talk (below) through Pandora. It's good, straightforward IDM/drum'n'bass - a bit on the ambient side, which, frankly, I like. It's always great to come across someone seemingly unknown that's still making brilliant music. And props to Pandora for including Cepia as one of the 5 bands it was cycling through over and over on my iTAL tEK playlist.

Land of Talk - These guys came up on my Marnie Stern Pandora playlist. Very catchy indie garage rock with female vocals. It sounds a little generic at times, but they do have several gems, e.g. "All My Friends" (below). And in traditional hipster style, I must say I like their old stuff better - the Applause Cheer Boo Hiss EP is fantastic, where their recent release Cloak and Cipher, while still very good, leaves a little something to be desired.

Incan Abraham - I've previously written about how many musicians have come out of my high school, and this group is a perfect example. Their new EP Sunscreen is very rich; though the atmosphere is light, the orchestration and production fill the space thoroughly. It's catchy, but I wouldn't say it's "fun" - it's really just pretty to listen to. Though it's just two songs (and two remixes), so I think I'm inclined to call it more of a single than an EP. You can download it for free here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Top 25 Albums of 2010

This has taken me weeks. I started going through the albums I listened to in 2010 over four weeks ago. It took me a few weeks just to settle on the top 25, then another week to upload all of the album art. Then, of course, the actual writing.

Please bare with me on this one. It's a long list, and so I've given fairly meager comments for each album. One thing to note: This is very much a subjective list. I don't attest to be the end-all, be-all of music critics - I have not set out to tell you what is objectively the best album of the year. So take my choices with a grain of salt. I hope my comments can explain why I chose the albums and the order that I did.

For those of you that are interested, I did this in 2009 and 2008 as well. Those were written for WBRU, though, so the choices were fundamentally limited to music that was within the realm of WBRU music (i.e. alternative rock).

What you'll find below is a list of my favorite 25 albums of 2010. To be in the running, the albums had to be released in 2010. You'll also find two tiers of honorable mentions below the top 25 - tier one being the better honorable mentions, of course. You'll also find a list of "Notable Absences" at the bottom - these are albums that I've heard are great, but that I simply haven't had a chance to listen to in great depth. So if your favorite isn't on my top 25, check down there - I may have just missed it in 2010. Or maybe I just didn't like it.

The Top 25 Albums of 2010

25. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Critically acclaimed and universally loved by hipsters, Arcade Fire certainly does need to be on this list. To be honest, from my perspective it is really just more of the same from Arcade Fire. But standard Arcade Fire is still great - if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
24. Japanther - Rock 'N' Roll Ice Cream
OK, let's be honest, I don't know my punk. And I don't think real punk fans would call Japanther real punk. But that's the vibe I get from Rock 'n' Roll Ice Cream - it's disorganized, cheeky, catchy, sometimes angry, and sometimes hilarous. Plus it's got awesome chill tracks like "$100 Dollar Remix".
23. Foals - Total Life Forever
I missed this album the first time around - one or two listens through, and that was it. But I came back to it while making this list, and discovered how amazing it is. It may be just because I have a soft spot for british-accented vocals. Epic instrumentals, beautiful vocals, great album.
22. Tokyo Police Club - Champ
Of course this had to make the list. It's fast and fun, and not a single song is longer than four minutes. It has those eager, angsty, and energetic feelings of being in your late teens, minus school and work and all that shit.
21. Kisses - The Heart Of The Nightlife
Some times you just need some music that is simple and happy (and not mainstream pop). Kisses is perfect for just that. Just some short and sweet electropop/chillwave songs.
20. David Byrne and Fatboy Slim - Here Lies Love
A high-profile collaboration (David Byrne and Fatboy Slim) with a very low-profile critical reception (generally average reviews). But I think critics' opinions may have been tainted by high expectations. OK, so this album doesn't jump out at you. It doesn't come across as innovative or new or anything like that. But what it does (straightforward pop / adult-alternative) it does incredibly well. These guys are obviously very talented, and they've produced a tight, pristine piece of work.
19. Best Coast - Crazy for You
There's one thing that I love about Best Coast. Most of the female vocalists I'm familiar with sing about love and loss as they are portrayed in either a chick flick or an intense drama. More often than not, the angsty teenage crush perspective is left to the guys. But Bethany Cosentino gets that point of view across perfectly. It's not "You are the one and only, I'll love you forever" - it's "I kinda like you, and I'm really bummed you're not into me."
18. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma
So I like Los Angeles better. That's just me. Cosmogramma is still a fantastic album. It's well produced and directed, and Flying Lotus does a good job or maintaining precision and control throughout. It's always impressive when a producer can pull off both the quiet ambient tracks and the heavier, more complex tracks without missing a beat in between.
17. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
I think I'm inclined to like pretty much anything Broken Social Scene puts out. And especially considering they've put nothing out in five years, I was eagerly anticipating Forgiveness Rock Record. This one is no Broken Social Scene or You Forgot it in People, but it's still damn good. Not a single song disappoints, and one or two really shine.
16. The Radio Dept. - Clinging to a Scheme
I went through a shoegaze kick through most of 2009, and discovering The Radio Dept. was one of the end results. I heard "David" and I was sold. With Clinging to a Scheme, The Radio Dept. brings catchy melodies and dreamy vocals, mixed in with a beautiful atmosphere of ambient tones and clever samples. If you're a shoegaze fan, this is the band for you.
15. The Roots - How I Got Over
I've been criticized for not paying enough attention to hip-hop. Granted. I should be paying more attention. So #15 serves as a reminder; I know The Roots probably didn't have the best hip-hop album this year, but it was the best that I heard. It's clean, precise, and not too overblown (hi Kanye). Intelligent lyrics and classic beats, melodies, and production. It's just really fucking good - maybe not great, but obviously, clearly, solidly good.
14. Yeasayer - Odd Blood
I almost forgot this one! This is the flaw with releasing an album right at the beginning of the year - critics may have short memories. I was way into this album for about a month, and with good reason: it's catchy. Yeasayer pulls off some of the best electropop of the year, with fun, simple beats, ear-catching disco influences, and great vocal dynamics. If you've forgotten it too, go back and have another listen.
13. The Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Like the past Gorillaz albums, this one took me a while to get in to. And granted, there are a handful of songs I really don't care for (e.g. "Sweepstakes"). But for every song that sucks (and there are only a few), there are several songs that are awesome. As with past albums, Plastic Beach does a brilliant job of mixing genres, styles, and themes into a cohesive whole, with a little something for everyone. And the best songs really are sick.
12. RJD2 - The Colossus
Everyone has a few albums that they defer to when they don't know what else to play. Example: you're having a few new friends over, and you don't know what kind of music they're into. You want something upbeat and catchy, but not overbearing; it needs to work well in the background but also fill the space during those awkward pauses. For me, The Colossus is one of those albums. Everyone can get down with RJD2.
11. Delorean - Subiza
Over the summer I asked a friend what would be ideal warm summer rain music. You know how you have that one band that you listen to on snowy winter nights? Or that one song that's perfect for a colorful autumn day? Well, Delorean was what I came up with for warm summer rain. It's perfect: it's optimistic, fast and fun. I can just imagine hopping between puddles as the rain sprinkles down on my face while listening to Subiza. Though, to be honest, I think it works well for any situation where you just want to feel happy.

10. The Flashbulb - Arboreal
I don't hear much good, well orchestrated IDM/drum and bass nowadays. It's probably because I'm fairly disconnected from the electronic music scene, but nonetheless, I can't escape the feeling that not much has surpassed the best drum and bass from over a decade ago. Now, what Benn Jordan (The Flashbulb) is doing is not your traditional drum and bass, but it's still fucking incredible. Take out a lot of the breakbeat, stutter drums of good old IDM and add in more classical orchestration, with a broader array of instruments and a more grandiose look and feel, and you'll have Arboreal.

9. El Ten Eleven - It's Still Like A Secret
Two-piece post-rock. Just listening, it sound like five people at least, but it's only two. Bassist Kristian Dunn weaves together complex patterns of bass loops, hopping from pedal to pedal and switching back and forth between the two necks of his double-bass. It's not epic post-rock in the Explosions in the Sky sense; rather, it is thorough, complex, and much more subtle. Where Explosions depends on amps turned all the way up and heavy crescendos, El Ten Eleven depends on the precision of each individual note in writing and performance.

8. The National - High Violet
Another band I'm always inclined to like. And with good reason - I think The National make some of the most beautiful and emotionally charged music out there. And though High Violet doesn't replace their older work in my mind ("Mistaken for Strangers" will always be one of my all time favorites) it is the perfect extension of it. It's beautiful, crisp, and melancholy. Perfect for the winter, for cold, lonely nights.

7. Maps & Atlases - Perch Patchwork
I must say, I may be a little biased by how much I liked their live performance earlier this year. But regardless, Perch Patchwork is a fantastic album. Frontman Dave Davison has a particularly iconic voice that matches the folky math rock sound perfectly, and it is complimented by very talented guitar melodies and heavy, rhythmic drumming. It's heavy and rocky, but it also has feeling and character. I gave it a silver medal when I first reviewed it, but I think I'm inclined to give it a gold now.

6. Magic Man - Real Life Color
I came across these guys early in 2010. I don't even know how I found them. I just remember loving everything I heard. It's incredible: Magic Man is just two kids from the Boston area, and many parts of Real Life Color were recorded and produced by one member of the band and emailed to the other. It's a tale reminiscent of The Postal Service, and the sound is very similar; it's upbeat electropop. Just replace Gibbard's voice with washed out, distorted vocals, tone down the overt poppiness, a update the context seven years or so, and you have Magic Man. I haven't heard much about the band since Real Life Color was released, which greatly disappoints me - these guys make absolutely beautiful music, and I desperately want to hear more of it.
Free Download of Real Life Color!

5. Four Tet - There is Love in You
There are some albums that you don't thoroughly appreciate until you make a list like this. Since it came out, I've been listening to There is Love in You consistently every week or so. Taking a ride on the subway, going for a walk, doing some work - Four Tet was the right music. It has incredible staying power - it's always engaging, always interesting, always charismatic. Never overbearing either - I could listen to it on repeat three or four times through without getting frustrated or annoyed and throwing my headphones down. It may not strike the emotional chord the top 4 hit, but it's right on line with them (an may surpass one or two) in terms of musical quality and beauty.

4. Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History
This one borders on guilty pleasure. It's hardly sophisticated or artistic, and I find it doubtful that it would make even the top 10 of an objective list. But this is a subjective list, and frankly, this is the most fun album I've listened to all year. It's poppy, it's fast, it's upbeat, and it's just simply enjoyable to listen to. And, despite my comments above, these are not untalented musicians - they've written some brilliant pop music with great instrumental arrangements and catchy lyrics. If you're in need of something to lighten the mood, Tourist History will work for you no matter what.

3. Frightened Rabbit - The Winter Of Mixed Drinks
When I first listened to Frightened Rabbit, I wrote them off as "too depressing." And The Winter of Mixed Drinks is no different. But, for some reason, I really got into it this time around. There's something really, truly beautiful in this music, and I think that comes from how deeply you can feel the emotion when you listen to it. Yes, it may be sad, but it really makes you feel that sadness, and that's something beautiful in and of itself. Not to mention wonderful scottish-accented vocals and powerful instrumentation. If it's a cold winter's night and you want to cultivate that melodramatic tragic feeling in your chest, Frightened Rabbit is perfect.

2. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - The Social Network OST
So I've already written about this album, but I'll take a stab at it again. It really is an incredible album. It integrates ambient noise with synth, beats and instrumentation perfectly to create an overwhelming mood of isolation. Perhaps I am biased by Jesse Eisenberg's performance in the movie, but I really do feel that this album best portrays the subtle lonely moment. Not the fullblown angst and depression or happiness and excitement that other artists are so good at - no, this really hits on those anonymous commutes, those dark walks home, those times that you find that you have really spent the last few minutes not doing or thinking anything. The irony being that, in so accurately portraying emptiness, it is so heavy, overbearing, and all encompassing.

1. Los Campesinos! - Romance is Boring
What a fucking incredible album. Yet again, this may not make an objective top 5 (or 10, or 20...). But this album has been the most important album to me this year by far. From listening to "Straight in at 101" on repeat after the album came out to revisiting "These are Listed Buildings," "The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future" and other favorites later on, this album has been with me all year. It hits all the right points - it's fun and upbeat but also heartfelt and dramatic, it's angsty and overwrought but also very tongue-in-cheek. In short, it's the most wildly inconsistent album you could imagine (in theme, not in musical style), and, as such, mirrors the thoughts, emotions and experiences of a teenager (or early 20-something) to a tee. It's as Twee as it gets. It's perfect for whatever mood your in. It's. Just. Fucking. Great.

Honorable Mentions: (Tier 1)

Honorable Mentions: (Tier 2)

Notable Absences: