Sunday, December 21, 2014

List(ening journal)

Being a collection of music-related lists I haven’t gotten around to posting at Big Takeover as the year draws to a close.

Ten more albums for last minute end-of-year consideration

1. D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah
The most encouraging message ever delivered in musical form in December, probably.

2. Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty
Deepens the pleasures of Black Up to an almost absolute degree.

3. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead
A full-length showcase for the Kendrick Lamar-featuring track, ’til I can get my head around FlyLo’s speed and technics.

4. Lykke Li – I Never Learn
A voice often frozen in former registers that don’t always work for the new songs, but otherwise Lykke Li knows exactly where to take her sound, starting with the opener’s bed of reverb-heavy acoustic guitar.

5. Alvvays – Alvvays
Haven’t felt so friendly toward a band since Bettie Serveert.

6. Carsick Cars – 3
Only sounds noticeably like Sonic Youth once, but you’d have to go back to classic Sonic Youth albums to find rock music as inexhaustible as this. Clearly these guys are young and/or don’t take the exhaustion of a form for granted.

7. The New Mendicants – Into the Lime
Having Norman Blake and Joe Pernice in the same band is a great thing for its own sake, and better when you realize the pairing is part of a deliberate attempt to craft the best 1965 Beatles pastiche of the current century. Songs sound like “I’m Looking Through You,” or like they could be sequenced immediately before or after it.

8. Marianne Faithfull – Give My Love to London
I’ve spent most of my time with “Sparrows Will Sing,” a squealing, rumbling beauty, with Faithfull surprisingly confident in the future. “I have no doubt they will figure it out someday,” she sings, probably telling herself a lie… but I get it, the belief in human potential.

9. Young Thug & Bloody Jay – Black Portland
Sing it, guys.

10. ILoveMakonnen – I Love Makonnen
I can do without the rest but “Tuesday” reminds me of The Rosebuds so I’ll be keeping it around.

Before & After Shows

Some albums of 2014 that I’ve only mentioned in live reviews of their respective performers. First heard immediately after the show, in most cases (a new trend).

1. Tori Amos – Unrepentant Geraldines
A deluge of new ideas, but calm and orderly in their presentation: “Her self-production is as uncluttered as modern space can be.” Or: “as only modern space can be.” Paul McCartney might’ve liked to record “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” with whatever tools Amos used for “Giant’s Rolling Pin.” The winner for me is “Promise,” which has mother and daughter, both with very different notions, perhaps generational, of how a person should sing (like Perfume Genius, the daughter believes that ‘b’ is a fricative), come together for one of the most sublime melodies of the mother’s career.

2. Busman’s Holiday – A Long Goodbye
Similarly uncluttered, but made a little messy with the fever of performance. The songs, almost painfully sweet, warrant such fever.

3. Echo & The Bunnymen – Meteorites
The choruses are mostly one- or two-note iterations of the songs’ titles plus filler syllables (“Holy Moses, yeah yeah yeah, Holy Moses, why why why”) and that doesn’t exactly suggest a creative spark, but in every other way the sound of this record suits them perfectly in their fourth decade.

4. Foxes in Fiction – Ontario Gothic
A masterpiece probably. Check back for my albums of the year.

5. The Fresh & Onlys – House of Spirits
After many listens I was still putting it on and expecting a terrific noise to leap out the speakers after the intro of “Home is Where,” as if I hadn’t been tilting my head just right the previous time. It never arrived, and yet a kind of contained madness prevails, in the melodies, vocals and arrangements.

6. Guided by Voices – Motivational Jumpsuit
I could pick some favorite songs and try to anchor this as a distinct entry among their recent LPs, but that would be a pointless exercise in my aesthetic preferences, whereas the effect of the GBV reunion blitz has been cumulative, physically restorative, a series of 40-minute doses for a long-depleted listener. See below.

7. Kishi Bashi – Lighght
A man of so many talents that album programming can’t possibly be among them. And yet this album basically holds together, if only as a survey of his most dizzying recent accomplishments.

8. La Roux – Trouble in Paradise
Excellent tunes, a bit flat on the disc, needing the right sound system (First Ave) or visual aid (pink, yellow and blue lights, or the performer rendered iconic) to become a dynamic method of emotional exchange.

9. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
I’d intended to continue chronicling my experiences with Perfume Genius albums but wasn’t quite sure what to say about this one. People keep talking about the way Too Bright “destroys any lingering perceptions of weakness or frailty,” etc., a reaction I would’ve found more encouraging if it had greeted his previous album, Put Your Back N 2 It. The new listener craves empowerment. Bending the oppressors to our hushed ways would suit me better. But when I drown out the conversation there’s clearly a lot that I love here, in particular the somewhat uncertain overall design. A transitional album from a transitional figure, and thus complete in its incompleteness.

10. Pure X – Angel
A weird blend, further blended and made immune to analysis by the recording process.

11. Ty Segall – Manipulator
I’ve been on the verge of loving Ty Segall for the past couple years but the affected, emotion-canceling vocals are an obstacle I can no longer ignore. Everyone currently making this kind of music does it that way, so I’m not complaining nor expecting a change, just counting myself out until a different kind of energy or texture calls me back, as it did on Hair.

12. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
A St. Vincent first, the songs never really go beyond what they first seem to be, which didn’t matter during their spectacular live presentation but keeps letting me down gently on record. Makes sense though, that an artist would present her least porous work while taking the throne.

13. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Sea When Absent
Song-oriented ASDIG takes some getting used to, but this is still packed to bursting with outlandish eruptions and juxtapositions, and great.

14. Tennis – Ritual in Repeat
Hold on, maybe they do keep getting better. Is there a song on here that doesn’t build to an irresistible peak? No. The music’s for everyone, even as Alaina Moore’s best lines court an audience that can hopefully keep her writing for years. “She works hard, does it all without complaining.” — “Even bad girls can do good things.” — “I knew all the love songs.”

15. Tune-Yards – Nikki Nack
I still feel comfortable leaving it to other people to praise them, but just barely this time.

16. Wussy – Attica!
I want to love them the way I love Yo La Tengo but a sustained interest eludes me. Still, an inescapably great band in any objective sense.

17. Wye Oak – Shriek
Their best one yet.

The Ten Best Albums of … 1994

I spent about five minutes on this and am pretty happy with the outcome, so won’t spend too much time worrying about what I’ve accidentally left out. Please imagine I found room for Blowout Comb.

1. Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand
2. Hole – Live Through This
3. The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready To Die
4. Global Communication – 76:14
5. Massive Attack – Protection
6. Sugar – File Under: Easy Listening
7. Blur – Parklife
8. Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
9. Kristin Hersh – Hips and Makers
10. East River Pipe – Shining Hours in a Can

Heapo: also a place I would shop.

Alternative Top Ten

The best stuff I heard for the first time and/or started seriously listening to in 2014, regardless of original release date. The stacks of used CDs have been piling up, composed mostly of 90s hip-hop (to choose just one: Mecca & The Soul Brother) and art rock miscellanea (remember Disco Inferno, Basehead, and Cranes? Ned Raggett does.), and will surrender only a few of their treasures, below.

1. Aaliyah – Aaliyah
My stunted appreciation of contemporary R&B probably owes a lot to never having heard this album. As lucid and visionary in its sound design as Kraftwerk’s Computer World, it’s a NEW POSITION, albeit one in which I’m still laid out in bed, from which to consider my life and the lives beyond the walls.

2. Barbara Manning – One Perfect Green Blanket, 1212 | S.F. Seals – Nowhere, Truth Walks in Sleepy Shadows
The greatest of all untapped 90s indie rock discographies. A woman who bolsters her albums with so many cover songs can obviously play anything, and does.

3. The Pretty Things – S.F. Sorrow
The other album on this list that begins with “S.F. Sorrow is Born,” continuing to an even more astounding variety of sounds.

4. J Dilla – Donuts | Broadcast – Tender Buttons
Defining albums from my first year of college, except I never heard them until long after their creators had died. Still, at this late date, enough to remind me that we had it as good as the freshmen of ten years prior with their Endtroducing and Emperor Tomato Ketchup.

5. The Isley Brothers – 3+3 | Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound
A fruitful, peer-approved trip to the record store, enabling me to push the play button, at last, on songs that have been in the air my whole life, and others that never would have been if Numero Group hadn’t intervened to teach me about my city.

6. The Bats – Daddy’s Highway | Tall Dwarfs – Hello Cruel World
Guilt listening that ended up being for the right reasons, reaffirming the notion that New Zealand rock is always either perfect guitar pop or something totally unquantifiable, often drumless.

7. Missy Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly, Under Construction
Supa Dupa Fly seemed to be playing every time I cut my hair this year, Under Construction every time I was more than usually forgiving of, even in love with, my city.

8. Guided By Voices – Let’s Go Eat The Factory, Class Clown Spots A UFO
Not only do I not have synaesthesia, I’m tempted to say none have it less than me. But thanks to properties like melody and texture (the latter of which I intend in a purely aural sense; I’ve never imagined I could touch a sound), I still get endless sensory delight from music. GBV, in their most recent incarnation and unbeknownst to me, were dishing out the Properties with an immediacy and generosity that now makes the world of their heirs look comparatively barren, in their renewed absence.

9. Burial – Kindred, Street Halo, Truant, Rival Dealer
I downloaded the last few years of Burial singles and EPs all at once, and these 11 songs and 105 minutes are still a bottomless well months later. Taken together, one great monument to longing.

10. Cornershop – Woman’s Gotta Have It
I’d always meant to venture forward from When I Was Born for the 7th Time but never knew that venturing backward would yield such immediate results. I remembered the melody of “Jullandar Shere,” but not the sustained intensity. Its two parts comprise nearly 20 minutes of the album, but it’s still not nearly enough. I could listen forever.

Shows, 2014

I went to about 50 shows this year (the most ever, simply because I’ve never been in Minneapolis for such a large percentage of the year) and feel like I can justify, for the time, a list of the best live sets I saw. I’ve tried to be very selective, and if you knew which artists I’ve neglected to mention you’d be quite astonished. Here are five acts (originating in the current century) that excited me, another five acts (originating in the last century) that made me feel lucky, and one local act that was a great joy on two separate occasions.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow
Allo Darlin’
The Fresh & Onlys
Real Estate

De La Soul
The Replacements
Tori Amos

Kitten Forever (opening for MEN in January and Waxahatchee in April)


Ranking the eight LP/EP releases of 2014 from my favorite label.

1. Devon Williams – Gilding the Lily
2. Allo Darlin’ – We Come from the Same Place
3. Terry Malts – Insides EP
4. Withered Hand – New Gods
5. The Proper Ornaments – Wooden Head
6. Literature – Chorus
7. Tony Molina – Dissed & Dismissed
8. Gold-Bears – Dalliance

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