September 29, 2009

Songs to Sleep to Part 1: KC Accidental

Songs to Sleep to

If there’s one judgment people often seem to make about my taste in music, it would be that it is “sleep music”. They can never really define what they mean by this kind of music, but this mood is generally what is captured and affected to the listener. What mood do people often attribute to “sleep music”? Music with fewer lyrics, more emphasis on melody and harmony, and a pace to slow the heart down might be some consistent patterns observed in my tastes.

So, what music do I listen to when I go to sleep? I’ll do a whole series on my bedtime lullabies and give you all a feeling of my bedroom at 3am.

The first album in the series is Anthems for the Could’ve Bin Pills, by KC Accidental. KC Accidental is a band created by Kevin Drew and Charles Spearin, composing the K and C in the band name respectively. You might recognize the two names as associated with Broken Social Scene. You’d be correct to make the leap. As it turns out, KC Accidental is Broken Social Scene. Or rather, Broken Social Scene is KC Accidental. Broken Social Scene alludes to this fact in their song “K.C. Accidental” from the album You Forgot It In People, and Anthems features many of the great and talented artists from Broken Social Scene we have come to love: Emily Haines (Metric), Evan Cranley (Stars), Jason Collett, Jessica Moss (Silver Mt. Zion), James Payment (Do Make Say Think) and James Shaw (Metric).

The album is almost entirely instrumental, save one song, called “Them (Pop Song #3333)”. There is a brilliant layering of classic, organic instruments. Violins and horns, and a steady baseline characteristic of all Broken Social Scene jamouts. The songs are long and expansive, but very distinct. Give a listen to the beginnings of everyone’s favorite Canadian powerhouse.

Song 3: Residential Love Song
Song 5: Them (Pop Song #3333)
Song 6: Is And Of The
(click to play, right-click to save as an mp3)
September 20, 2009

My favorite albums of the first half of 2009: 2nd & 1st

So, I'm finally done with my list! I hope you'll enjoy the last two mp3s, and I'd love to hear what your favorites have been so far this year. Have a nice remainder of September, folks.

2. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Animal Collective - In The Flowers
Leaked to the internet in December 2008 as a christmas present for ecstatic music bloggers, this album gained such a positive reputation pre-release that it's easy to forget that it actually officially was released in the year 2009. Animal Collective weren't exactly lacking in critical and popular recognition before this album, but already from the first track you instantly know that you this time are in for something special. The opener "In The Flowers" has the kind of slowly building and highly elevating opening track construction, working so perfectly, that it's easily comparable to openers such as Muse's New Born (Origin of Symmetry). But the parallels to stadium rock stop right there - the rest of Merriweather Post Pavillion sees Animal Collective take a deep dive into vastly layered electronic music, deeper than they've ever been before. I saw them live for their Merriweather Post Pavillion tour, and the show basically consisted of each of the band members standing in front of computers, deeply engrossed and focused. Which kind of made it feel like I was watching a robotic Kraftwerk show - not that there's anything wrong about that, though! It reflects the style of the album, which has a whole different feel to it than Animal Collective's earlier efforts, like the largely acoustic and low-fi Sung Tongs (2004). Merryweather does however show signs of influence from band member Panda Bear's solo effort Person Pitch (2007) in terms of the largely electronic soundscape. It's hard to say anything about such a highly discussed album as Merryweather without repeating what others have already said a hundred times before, so for now I'll leave it at the cliche "listen to it if you haven't already, to see what all the buzz is about, you'll be convinced"!

1. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
Camera Obscura - Honey In The Sun
Scottish Camera Obscura manage something magical: they make music so harmless-sounding and filled of 50s-60s nostalgia in its soundscape that you can play it at your grandma's house with no problem, with sentimental and melancholic lyrics about heartache that would appeal to your old aunt, yet they manage to fill the lyrics with so much smartness, attitude and bitter sarcasm that the cynical, postmodernist ironic-distance hipster 00s youth embrace it unquestionably. What is it that makes hopeless-romantic slash irony-filled cynic Tracyanne Campbell's bittersweet stories about her troubled relationships to men reach out to young MALES all over the world? I'm not sure, but I do know that - apart from the smart lyrics - their excellent songwriting and ridiculously catchy melodies don't exactly go against their favor either. There are of course those who can't stand the whole twee scene (claiming the music's too "sweet", whatever that's supposed to mean!), but it's hard for anyone to deny that My Maudlin Career is a masterpiece in the band's 4-album catalogue, and that they in the eight year of their career are in full force. From the poppy and radio-friendly "French Navy", to the atmospheric "My Maudlin Career", from "Honey In The Sun"'s upbeat horn chorus set to the sentimental and sincere "I wish my heart was as cold as the morning dew, but it's as saxophones and honey in the sun for you", to the bitter sarcasm in the lyrics of Swans ("Oh, you want to be a writer? Fantastic idea!"), the album is filled with supreme writing, chock full of ideas, and gives hope for many more years of beautiful bittersweetness from my Scottish friends.
I'm going to continue spamming this blog with my "top ten favorite albums of the first half of 2009" project. Here's some more rambling, and some more mp3s for you all!

5. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Phoenix - 1901
Phoenix's new album managed to take a turn back to the very first, but not in the desperate "return to our roots" kind of way. More like finally acknowledging what the band does best. 2000's United was strutting with French coolness and funky synth-based dance tracks like "If I Ever Feel Better" and "Too Young" (the latter made famous as being that cool song they played at the hip Tokyo party in Lost In Translation). Their association with the French electronic music scene, notably artists like Air, was evident despite them being - at least in their live shows - quite guitar driven. For 2004's Alphabetical they slowed down, and polished the soundscape so much that many tracks gave stronger association of dull radio pop and 90s boyband ballads than with hip French party-floor fillers. 2006's It's never been like that saw a strong counter-reaction to this, exchanging the slow over-polished pop sound for a very rocked out, lo-fi and energetic guitar sound. For Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, they manage to combine the energic guitar pop of the last album with the first album's synth and electronica in the opening tracks and hit singles "Lisztomania" and "1901", and make deep turns into electronica in songs such as "Love Like A Sunset". Overall, the whole album feels like a band who's found their right place after being lost for a little while.

4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Zero
The energetic, screaming, roaring, rough, sweaty and high-paced magic of Fever To Tell captivated every person who touched it in 2003. And thanks to the hit single "Maps" there weren't exactly few of those persons. Ironically, "Maps" is completely unrepresentative for the rest of the debut album, being a sweet ballad that stands in strong contrast to the rough guitar-driven neo-punk/garage of the rest of the album. While singer Karen O sings softly on "Maps", she spends the rest of the album shrieking, yelling and occasionally wheezing and moaning erotically. In 2006's follow-up Show Your Bones, YYYs returned with studio versions of live staples from the dirty and rough Fever to Tell tour, such as "Cheated Hearts", but also experimented with entirely new sounds and instruments, such as the piano in "Turn Into". While it was an above average second album, Show Your Bones lacked the instant danceability and moshpit-inducing beats of Fever to Tell, and also came off as somewhat stylistically inconsistent. Now another three years have passed, and It's Blitz! saw an ass-kicking YYY back on top of their game. From the awesome album cover (which has to be 2009's best cover artwork so far) to the instant energy from the opener "Zero" and on, the album is brimming with attitude. The punkish guitar-driven soundscape has been replaced with a dancefloor friendly synthesizer-enhanced sound, but thankfully it works. Karen O's vocals are less eccentric, screaming and erotic, but she shows maturity while still confirming she's no less filled with energy. The album manages to juggle perfectly between danceable and energetic floor-fillers and more quiet ballads (the beautiful "Skeletons" being my favorite), re-confirming what the already has known from all the way back in 2003: YYYs are talented enough to manage both, and still please the same crowd with every track. One of the biggest indie rock hypes of the start of the 00s proved themselves to have enough talent and longevity to still be just as hip at the decade's final year!

3. The Whitest Boy Alive - Rules
The Whitest Boy Alive - Timebomb
Erlend Øye, of Kings of Convenience and Röyksopp fame, sometime in 2002 decided to leave his beloved Bergen, Norway for the slightly more eventful Berlin, Germany, in order to - among other things - pursue his interest for electronic music. His new life in the clubbing and dance capital resulted in the nice electronic solo album Unrest (2003). Also, in a sequence of incidents unknown to me, it resulted in him forming a live band with his German DJ friends, dubbed Whitest Boy Alive, whose concept eventually became to play electronic music with "no programmed elements" (to quote the band). Initially, Whitest Boy Alive played live band versions of Unrest era b-sides such as "Don't Give Up", "All Ears", turning the somewhat sterile and cold electronic soundscape to guitar and synth based pop. The result was the 2006's Dreams, an album full of accessible, danceable guitar pop. This year's follow-up Rules no longer has the evolved Erlend Øye solo career tracks, but consists entirely of new material created by the band as a whole, and evolved form of the many improvised live jams and covers that characterized their Dreams tour. The funky "1517" especially is clearly an evolution of their many Daft Punk covers. In songs such as Timebomb, it's clearer than ever that this band mainly consists of DJs who picked up live instruments. And that's not meant as a bad thing - in contrary, the electronic DJs expressing themselves through a different set of instruments makes for a wonderful fusion of two worlds. The synthesizer is more prominent in Rules, which combined with the bass takes the lad, with Øye and his guitar taking a modest step back. Øye, while infamous for loving being the center of attention, is less prominent in this album, which allows the listener to appreciate the talents of the other band members as well, and enjoy an evolved and improved band. In other words, this is the perfect second album, and as a fan of the first, I couldn't have hoped for anything better.
September 15, 2009

My favorite albums of the first half of 2009 (#7 - #6)

I'm posting this two months too late, but oh well. My personal top ten favorite albums released in the first half of 2009! (January 1st to June 30th) Here's my 7th and 6th favorite albums, see my last post in this blog for number 10 through 8.

7. Sonic Youth - The Eternal
Sonic Youth - Massage The History
Sonic Youth are back yet again, and this return to a smaller label sees them make nudges to the punkish, fast-paced and noisy 80s underground period of their career, in tracks such as "Anti-Orgasm", while still including the sort of slowly building, atmospheric acoustic guitar enhanced tracks that can only be found late in their career, like the album closer "Massage The History". The latter most of all reminds me of the excellent Sonic Nurse's (2004) "I Love You Golden Blue" - which is a very good thing in my book. On a whole, the album continues the constant evolution of Sonic Youth where 2006's Rather Ripped left off, but also shows influence of the band's 2008 tour, which was a nostalgic homage tour to their 1988 masterpiece Daydream Nation. A good mix that makes for a very solid album!

6. Asobi Seksu - Hush
Asobi Seksu - Transparance
The New Yorker shoegaze/dream pop band Asobi Seksu used to be a quintet of four American men and one Japanese woman (and vocalist), but has since been reduced to a duo of just one Japanese and one American for this third LP. Somehow, though, the multi-layered wall of guitars that characterize shoegaze-inspired "dream pop" bands is not gone at all, even with only one man playing all instruments. This perhaps just makes it clear that Asobi Seksu's albums have always been product of heavy studio work, and not a collection of songs that can easily be picked up and played by the band live. While I personally think that this third album has a very weak opening, my initial disappointment was soon completely turned around by a series of very strong tracks, such as the beautiful "Transparence", and the surprisingly upbeat and radio-friendly "Me & Mary".

Like before, the charm of the band lies in their unusual and good melodies, the combination of Japanese and English lyrics sung by the charismatic Yuki Chikudate, and the easily accessible take on the shoegaze genre. The first and self-titled album (2003) saw Chikudate playing with the Japanese female stereotype of cutesy innocence and immaturity, singing with a fragile and girlish voice while at the same time combining it with the band's non-innocent lyrics and band name (Asobi Seksu can roughly be translated as "casual sex", or "sex just for fun"). The follow-up Citrus (2006), on the other hand, saw her trying a more confident and mature style of singing, and in Hush, she truly has moved to the polar opposite of her roots, showing a strutting confidence. She still keeps her voice high, though, and at times somewhat fragile, thankfully. After all, as genre inventors My Bloody Valentine showed the world twenty years ago, what really makes the roaring wall of sound in the shoegaze genre work, is the supplementing high and fragile vocals that work as a contrast to its bombasticness.
This is way overdue, but here goes: My favorite ten albums from the first half of 2009! (January 1st to June 30th) I originally compiled my top ten list in July, and drafted this entry for Esoteric Mumblings, but I never got the time to finish and post it. It's still 4 months until I can post my "albums of the year" top list, though, so I guess it's still not too late to finally post this? I'll start at the bottom and post three albums for now:

10. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and their entire debut album, sounds like it isn't from the turn of the first decade-change in the new millennium, but rather like something from the late 80s - early 90s decade turn. It's pleasant, sweet music that it's hard not to fall for for, and you can read more about them in tbomb's post.

9. Röyksopp - Junior
Download: Röyksopp - Miss it So Much
With Junior, Norwegian electronica duo Röyksopp continue where they left off on their last (and second) LP, The Understanding (2005): vocal-intensive, radio and dancefloor friendly electronica-pop. Anyone dreaming of a return to the modest, café friendly chill-out style of their 2002 debut album and definite masterpiece Melody A.M. will be disappointed, but everyone else will be thrilled to hear another bouquet of innovative pop songs made by these very skilled song writers and producers. While the first track, "Happy Up Here", sounds a bit too much like a radio hit label executives ordered Röyksopp to write (with the plead "make another 'Eple', please!"), the rest of the album is quite innovative and full of gems, my personal favorites being "You Don't Have a Clue" and "Miss It So Much". The latter features vocals by Swedish Lykke Li, an artist I personally think made one of 2008's very best debut albums. Lykke Li on Röyksopp's Junior for the first time voluntarily adds her vocals to electronica music, after having had her debut album remixed by about every bloghouse/electro DJ in the world last year (including the excellent Fred Falke remix, one of my definitive favorite dance tracks of 2008). Good to see she realized herself how well her voice works for dance music - I hope she'll collaborate with Röyksopp again in the future!

8. Eels - Hombre Lobo (12 songs of desire)
Download: Eels - That Look You Give That Way
After his "epic" two-disc LP Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (2005), Mark Oliver "E" Everett wrote a autobiography and was involved in making a documentary film about his late father Hugh Everett, the hugely influential quantum physicist. Now, after four years, he's finally back in the world of rock, making music! Possibly as a reaction to "heaviness" of his two-disc emotionally loaded epic and the highly esoteric world of quantum physics, Hombre Lobo is a very straightforward rock and roll album. No heart-crushing piano numbers, so spilling out of his guts or his lifestory, just small down-to-earth songs about every day life, and about feeling alone and wanting a girlfriend. And about desire. E howls like a wolf, screams for "fresh blood" and tries to "rock out" in his desire-filled werewolf alter ego, but once again the geek icon is the best when he instead shows his introverted, shy side: the beautiful "That Look You Give That Guy" is in my opinion the album's best (it's also the quietest, by far). A cute little song about watching your secret love from a distance, as she's walking happy with her boyfriend, wishing you could "be that guy instead of me".