out of egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and i shake the dirt from my sandals as i run

Friday, December 22, 2006

Top 10 Albums of 06: #1

Girl Talk - Night Ripper

Here's what I learned this week. I am not a rock critic.

Let's just say I bit off more than I could chew by promising to write up one Best Album a day. One: I'm not a good enough writer to churn out something that doesn't suck every day, and I don't have the extra down time to make up for it. Two: I'm not a good enough judge of artistic merit to put together a credible list. At some point my aesthetic filter breaks down, and this is that point.

Unfortunately for the blogosphere, a countdown turns out to be more fun to read and write than something maybe more coherent. So fuck if I'm totally unqualified to be in charge here. 90% of the people "reading" this page aren't even going through these paragraphs, they're just skipping down to the song they're looking to download. A well-regarded, or well-read, or even read music blog, this is not. So: do I think Night Ripper is the best album of the year? Eh. Was it my favorite album of the year? Well, yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Truthfully, I generally fucking hate it when people end their best-of countdowns with Bold Statements - the dude who ends his all-time-classic-movie list with #3 Citizen Kane, #2 Casablanca and #1 "Ojos de la Luna," a little-known foreign Gem from 1974 that apparently has "the most beautiful cinematography man has ever created." You, my imaginary example friend, should get out more.

But that's not how I roll. I promise! Well maybe. Listen: Girl Talk gets the trophy not because it's the Best Ever, but because it's simply absolutely astonishing in a way that nothing else this year was. The first time I heard the Hold Steady album I turned to Josh Kesner and said "this is good. This is really, really, really good." The first time I heard this album, I yelled "holy shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit" repeatedly. It's not greater than or less than - there should really be two different lists. But there aren't.

So yeah. This is an album of mashups. An album of one long string of mashups. The line between "gimmicky" and "a work that stands on its own" is thin these days, as anyone who didn't put the Pipettes on their top 10 will tell you. But it's December and I'm still listening to this album, theoretically loud enough to drown out the protests of the people in the back seat of my car asking "can we listen to a real song now??" And it still amazes me.

So finally, America, let me hear you say: hey, we want some puss-ay.

See you in 07.

Download: Peak Out

buy it.

seacrest out.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top 10 Albums of 06: #2

The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America

People throw around "guilty pleasure" like it's a fuckin aerobie. Kids, watching Friends is not a guilty pleasure. Eating a milano cookie is not a guilty pleasure. Fuck, listening to Britney Spears is not a guilty pleasure. These things are not transgressions. If they don't fill you with guilt, then they're straight up pleasures. Okay? Now masturbation, there's a guilty pleasure.

The key to the good g.p. is dissonance - the conflict over the thing that goes on while you're actually doing the thing. Listening to bad music doesn't pass the test because it's not doing any harm to anyone, least of all yourself. Bad music is either a pleasure or it's not. Good music on the other hand, good music is a violent act. Listen to good music and your friends will think you're a fuckhead. Talk about it to someone who's already heard it and they'll laugh at you. Good music gets between people. It destroys relationships. Guilty pleasure.

The Hold Steady's strength is in their adhesion to formula. They know what they're about, so do their listeners, and so do all the critics in the world. Try finding a review of this record that doesn't contain the words "boozy" or "riffs." Formal innovation this ain't; the Hold Steady is unabashedly the sum of its parts.

BUT - this is Good Music, so we're told, and so I'm supposed to know what those parts are. But I don't. And I feel guilty about this. Bruce who? There was a dude talking to me after the Hold Steady show I saw last month, and for some reason he kept bringing up Love Is All, and I was drunk but I just remember thinking Thank God, a band I can pretend to know about! As long as I don't have to talk about old music!

If you search for the Hold Steady on youtube, you'll eventually find a video where I do a crazy man dance while my roommate tries to mount a shelf in the background, something I promised I would help him with. I'm a jerk in real life, but when I'm listening to music I really like, I'm a huge fucking douchebag. I feel bad about that, a little.

Because the dissonance is built in. The Hold Steady deliberately appeals to people who are older than the subjects of their songs by 5-10 years. At their show I felt like I was simultaneously too old and too young. A girl in a black dress punched me in the face; I was pissed at her, but then I felt guilty about being so uptight, and besides, they were playing this song.

Download: Stuck Between Stations

buy it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Top 10 Albums of 06: #3

Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies

A Destroyer album is an event by nature. The New Pornographers may be remembered as this decade's emblematic pop think tank, but they're no monolith; Dan Bejar does not equal A.C. Newman, who refined the Pornos' sound on his own solo album; and he does not equal Neko Case, who has her own thang and betters it on each of her successively more awesome solo records. Bejar has no thing. He'll do whatever the fuck he wants.

So we have 2004's Your Blues, on which Bejar programmed tinny MIDI melodies and laid them under bombastic, reverbed, theatrical vocals, with lyrics about I don't even know what. It's one of my favorite albums. And we have 2005's Notorious Lightning EP, on which he took songs from Your Blues and played them like they were rock songs, and which I can't stand.

It seems like I'm building to the thesis that Destroyer's Rubies is the relieving synthesis of those two albums, but I'm not good enough to set that argument up. I just mean that Destroyer is all over the map, and that other than the thing he does where he name-checks his songs in all his other songs, this album has nothing to do with anything.

Take "Painter In Your Pocket," which is probably the best song on the album, but which was also the one I used to habitually skip. It starts off like a song I don't want to listen to - it doesn't even really sound like a proper song until 30 seconds in, actually. But proper it is, proper like a fox, and by 2 minutes 40 seconds in it's a virus, even though I still don't really know what it's about. Where did you get that penchant for destruction in the way you talk?!?

Bejar's strength as a lyricist is unquestioned by critics, even the douchebag ones. It's his musical choices they harp on, and that's why Your Blues was a divider, not a uniter. This is an easier pill to swallow musically, and it's not nearly as dissonant, even if it's not completely consistent. The opening track is almost 10 minutes long and has at least five distinct sections. It'd be great as a Joanna Newsom cover, if it had more nonsense words. Now that's something I would pay to download.

Download: Painter In Your Pocket

buy it for someone you luv.

Only two more. I get the feeling you're not going to like this.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Top 10 Albums of 06: #4

Lupe Fiasco - Food and Liquor

"I got this philosophy, right. I think the world, and everything in it, is made up of two things. You got your good and your bad. You got your food and your liquor."

How's that for an album invocation?

Here's the basic narrative with Lupe as I understand it: local Chicago MC gets noticed, lands a spot on a Kanye West track, promptly blows up. The hype machine (not to mention the Hype Machine) works its magic and without a single legally released Lupe Fiasco track, Lupe Fiasco becomes the biggest rapper in the universe. Or at least, becomes endowed with a career-crushing level of expectation.

You know how these stories end. There's no reason for me to tell it from the beginning like that if he's not going to win in the end, and ultimately deliver a record that, though it gets leaked and delayed and remixed and leaked and so on for half a year, succeeds in being the lone rap album I sneak into my top ten.

Like I've said before, the album shows cracks, and there are the little things that still bother me about Lupe: the fondness for rock that seeps over into unfortunate affiliations with people like Mike Shinoda, and more importantly his unwillingness to be just a little more talkative about his religion. Long after I'd already totally fallen for this album, I heard his Muslim re-work of "Jesus Walks" off one of his mixtapes, and it's a masterpiece of a single that just makes you wish the album had more of its juice (Islam juice). I do like the font on the album cover, but this does not count.

Still, lamenting what the album doesn't have is a dangerous game, one that a lot of critics do play, but I simply ain't trying to hear that. Lupe's a relative beginner, but once again, the only standard I can judge this by is that it's just compulsively listenable. I can't wait for his Late Registration.

FNF up.

Download: Real

buy it from amazon

Monday, December 18, 2006

Top 10 Albums of 06: #5

Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit

Wait, this came out this year? Yes. It came out in February.

I bought my first Belle and Sebastian CD in the summer of 1998. I didn't like it. It annoyed me how unfamiliar it felt, how the lyrics dealt with stories and characters that didn't usually come up in the pop music I listened to, how it was unclear who the girl on the cover was. There was a melancholy in it that I didn't understand, couldn't fit into my model of the loud song/quiet song universe. I didn't see what the fuss was about. I was 15; I was mistaken about a number of things when I was 15.

Of course, the B&S of If You're Feeling Sinister ultimately doesn't have much in common with the band that plays on this record. A good chunk of the old band is still there, but it's difficult to imagine a pop-loving 15-year-old putting on Dear Catastrophe Waitress, or this picnic of a CD, and being turned off by the preciousness of it all.

The conventional wisdom is that this is a change for the better; that by Fold Your Hands Child the band had pretty much exhausted their resources and will to be Belle and Sebastian, so they reinvented themselves as a more enjoyable band. I agree with this. Even on the iTunes-only live album, which is just them playing Sinister all the way through, you can hear them having more fun, and the songs sound better, tighter, sharper, stronger. But something is lost, for sure; specifically that quality on the old albums where it feels like the songs are just barely and delicately suspended, almost like the lives of the marginalized Scottish twentysomethings they all end up being about.

Belle and Sebastian doesn't write music like that any more. Their new stories are simpler, their new characters less likely to be found in the corner of a Glasgow library. It would really be a shame if they weren't suddenly so fantastic at the jubilant pop song. But as such, you know. I can live with it.

Download: To Be Myself Completely

buy it, ho

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Top 10 Albums of 06: #6

Final Fantasy - He Poos Clouds

Yesterday Pitchfork rolled out their Worst Album Covers of 2006, and He Poos Clouds was criminally snubbed. Oh well.

Class, on Wednesday we were talking about the emotional impact that the Japanese video games we played as kids have had on us as grown-ups. Today we'll take up this CD, which, while it doesn't sound like video game music (and thank god), is a first serious stab at making music about video games.

Owen Pallett, in naming his act Final Fantasy, basically made it incredibly annoying to try and search for his music without coming up with bombastic orchestral reimaginings of Nobuo Uematsu's nerd-quest scores. Which sucks.

But deliberately, I think. When FF's first album came out last year, the name seemed like a purely nostalgic homage, an empty name-check to a proper noun from the distant past, like naming your band after the fountain retailer on Route 46 in Wayne (second reference in two days!). It didn't have shit to do with video games, which was totally fine with me. I understand that band naming is hard, and I tolerated it.

But He Poos Clouds is a different animal, because it reveals that Pallett had nintendo on the brain all along. Take the title track, which isn't the best song on the album but distills the whole thing's concept pretty well, and I which I think, after 100 listens or so, is about falling in love with Link from the Legend of Zelda, or maybe the act of falling in love with Link as a metaphor. Or maybe that's only part of it. I'm bad at this.

Regardless, the album's lyrical content is pretty bizarre stuff, especially considering that Pallett's regular m.o. is arranging and sequencing string parts into hysterical crescendos, like he does for the Arcade Fire and like he did on his first album. Here the strings are more restrained, more thoughtful, and weirder, and the lyrics follow. In interviews he's explained that saying someone "poos clouds" is emblematic of a mysterious and obsessive attraction, I guess akin to the "girls don't poop" myth of yore.

Yeah, it's weird. But it's adventurous anyway, and when it works, it really works. Ultimately you can listen to it not as an art project but as an album about regular old life, with the standard metaphors about love and unhappiness and shit. Gotta find and kill my shadow self. Gotta dig up every secret seashell. Holla.

Download: He Poos Clouds

and buy it from amazon.

Clearly I phoned this one in, so I'm taking the weekend off. #5 coming monday.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


The Pipettes - We Are The Pipettes

I want to start with a short film.

A lot of critics aren't buying the Pipettes. It's fucking derivative, they say, and it's an act, it's not sincere, and musically it's just not impressive. I'm looking at you (again), Chris Ott. Still, I think you and your nayspitters make a valid point - this is probably not the best band ever.

But watch that video again. No fuck it, go to youtube yourself and find another video. Now listen. You're honestly going to sit there and rail on three British girls in polka dots for not being Grizzly Bear? I mean, you can, but do you know what you sound like? You sound kind of like me, at the ninth grade dance, choosing to stay at my table instead of dancing with everyone else, "because N Sync sucks, and they're shitty, and they're untalented and I hate them."

Here's the thing, haters: I was wrong about N Sync. They were fucking great. And I can admit that, because I know that history is and always will be on the side of good pop music. So swallow your pride, critical indie establishment. Buy into the charade for a change, it'll do you good.

The bottom line is that the Pipettes' music does hold up to scrutiny - it's no more derivative than Fountains of Wayne's assembly-line pop, and certainly no less enjoyable. And it's girls, in polka dots. I'm just, I'm speechless, still, after all this time.

Download: Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me

buy it.

and come back tomorrow for #6, ok?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Hot Chip - The Warning

I want to talk about nintendo for a minute. I want to talk about nintendo forever, but I'm only going to talk about nintendo for a minute.

There's a certain kind of electronic sound that's generally identifiable to my subconscious as "nintendo music." To me, the low-fi midi sounds of certain video games are the sound of childhood, and my id reacts accordingly when I hear something that resembles it. We gets emotional.

I don't think it's just me. The crazy thing that history and science seem to be about to find out is that folks who grew up on video games are starting to make a lot of music that wrings tons of feeling from those sounds. (as for music that romanticizes the content of old nintendo games, check back later this week.) What are we learning? That machines make our feelings better, make them somehow more feely.

I think.

My favorite moment on this record comes at 3 minutes into the 11th track - you'll have to get it yourself if you want to hear it. Here's a powerpoint version of that part of the song that I made while I was bored at work yesterday:

Okay, it isn't exactly the sly comment on music, technology and meaning that I'd hoped it would be. I'm going down the wrong road here. But here's the last thing you should know: this album as a whole, despite 3 or 4 certifiable danceparty hitz, is so, so sad. So here's the emo core, because it's finally getting cold outside, and because tomorrow we are gonna fix you up good.

Download: So Glad To See You

amazon link

tomorrow: my seventh-favorite album of the year

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

number nine


Phoenix - It's Never Been Like That

Remember during the run-up to the Iraq war, when all the best patriots started boycotting French products? Those were the fucking days, man. I hate the terrorists and I love America very much, so while I didn't deliberately participate in the boycott, I probably did it subconsciously, and I think it's why I wasn't into the band Phoenix until this year.

But how can it be? How could a country that didn't want to fight the evil bad terrorists have produced a band that produced such a good record this year? The answer: Sofia Coppola. Sofia Coppola had sex with the man in the picture and gave him some special powers, and he put the powers on his band and then they made a really good album.

I am pretty sure that this is what happened. If there are any scientists reading my blog, please confirm this.

But let me put my scientific expertise aside for a minute. Do you know why this is one of the best albums of the year? Because (and this shows my true colors as a so-called "indie fan") it doesn't require any effort. It's fun to listen to the first time, and it's just as fun to listen to the thirtieth time. No more, no less.

If you've heard this album and you don't like it, then your reason is probably something along the lines of this: All the songs sound the same! But naysayers, listen to me. Isn't it time we all embraced the ten-of-the-same-song pop album? That one song, which you claim occurs ten times on this CD, is a fucking amazing song!!! More of that same song in 07, I say! Who's with me!!!!!!!

Download: Rally

and would it kill you buy it?

(stay tuned for #8. I wasn't kidding about this one-a-day thing.)

Monday, December 11, 2006


Without further adids:


Herbert - Scale

Our adventure begins here, inside the brain of a white British dude making dance music. An unlikely place, although as you'll see as the list goes on, maybe not so much.

The lyrics on this album are all about war, religion, apocalypse, that sort of thing. And after listening to this album twenty times, I ultimately learned that by reading a review of it. I was surprised - mostly because this is basically a disco album. I guess I wasn't really paying attention.

And truthfully, if someone had dropped the D-word to me about this album before I'd bought it, I definitely wouldn't have. Listen, I'm an American, I didn't grow up blind. Fuck disco. We don't like disco for the same reasons we don't like Betamax. Because Shut up. Because History.

But I am here to save your mind and your brain from history. I mean Herbert is here to save your mind and your brain from history, is what I mean. Not that this album will convince you to finally start pretending to like "Ring My Bell" as much as, well, your roommate does (sorry matt baer).

BUT - the brilliance of this album is that I can't figure out a way to describe why I like it (ironically, this makes it an exceedingly poor choice for the beginning of this countdown). All the facts point to No, get this off of here and bump the Decemberists up to #10. But fuck yall. I'm going to listen to a chick singing jazz vocals over orchestra samples and white-man beats and there's nothing you can do about it, aside from make me feel ashamed. Which you actually have a good shot at.

Download: Moving Like A Train

(or you could buy it.)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Honorable Mention

Back to our regularly scheduled doo doo doo. People, I've been soul-searching but I'm not in an apologetic mood. Yes, this is how we do. I'm going to make up for my scarcity of posting with an end-of-year obnoxious-music-writing extravaganz. Tomorrow, the laws have changed dot blogspot dot com starts its Top Ten Albums of 06, one album a day, just in time for Jesus.

Cue the music!! Cue the lights!!!! Take off your pants and jacket!!!!!!!!!!

Oh baby oh baby oh baby oh baby my body aches. It's almost 2007. How was your year? Mine was okay. I have a lot of funny stories, but most of them are personal and they name names. No one likes a snitch, bitch. Did I tell you that I fixed Tilda Swinton's bathtub? Did I tell you about my 5-year high school reunion? But 2006 is over. Get over it. Act your age. "Fuck a wife."

I want to say some things about some good CDs that came out over the last year. Tomorrow we'll start proper. But if I can only do ten, there's a few I have to get off my chest first. I have coined a term for this and I am calling it "Honorable Mention." Which means they're all amazing and you should buy them for a loved one this holiday season, but they're not in the ten. What are you going to do about it.

I am Ozymandias, King of Kings; look on my works, ye mighty, and despair:

Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche

Suitable proof that Soof could release the outtakes from his fart recording sessions and that I would listen to it and love it, not necessarily because I have been brainwashed by the liberal jewish indie media, but because it would be legitimately beautiful.

Download: The Mistress Witch From McClure

The Futureheads - News and Tributes

As sophomore slump albums go, this one is a little confusing because I think the Futureheads probably did not understand what "slump" means. It does not mean you refine your sound and make a tighter and more enjoyable record than your first one, guys.

Download: Back to the Sea

Joanna Newsom - Ys

Five songs, 55 minutes. First time through I was underwhelmed. Third time through I started to have favorite parts. Sixth time...you understand how these things go. But: won't anything appear to be a work of genius if you obsess over it closely and play it enough times? No dickhead, it won't.

Download: Sawdust & Diamonds

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife

Chris Ott, he of the brilliant Hold Steady takedown, recently turned on the Decemberists and used science to prove why they suck, too. The logic resembles this: a band that gains any measure of success must have made some creative choices at some point. If they made a creative choice, then they are fakers. Hence, it's all an act. Hence, this band sucks. It just makes sense.

Download: Sons and Daughters

The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely

Being sad used to be sexy. Remember Sea Change? Heady times, those were. Sadness isn't cool again yet, but it's on its way (I hope). This isn't the best Mountain Goats album of the last five years, or even the last two years, but no matter. Best album of 2006 for playing while you drive aimlessly in the opposite direction of your problems.

Download: New Monster Avenue

Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country

Okay, this is more what I am talking about. At one point Camera Obscura was pegged as the heir to Belle and Sebastian's abandoned twee empire, but fuck that. This is a bigger sound than that, but not as grandiose. Cute, but not precious. Kind of makes me want to stop wasting my life - that good.

Download: Let's Get Out Of This Country

Stay tuned, kids.