Monday, January 10, 2005

By the time you read this, this blog should have a new template and comments. However! I know seriously zero about computers, so maybe someone could tell me why my shit don't work right. Because I know something is going wrong, seriously.

What is up with all the new characters on 24? I do not care about any of these people, for real.

Top ten list season is the bigtime for music critics because it's the only time of the year that the general public actually listens to us on any sort of widespread basis. (The kid behind me in line at Record and Tape Traders the other day was buying the Arcade Fire album; you explain that some other way.) I still pay cash money for most of my music, so I'm really no exception. I've bought a lot of music since the year-end lists started coming out, and I'm sure I'll keep doing it until like March. Here's how it stacks up, from best to worst:

Concretes: s/t
I really had no reason to ignore this when it first dropped. It's a close-to-perfect synthesis of Nancy Sinatra lush retro-cheeze late-60s Wonderbread soul, Patsy Cline drippy countrypolitan, Velvet Underground sleepy glammy heroin drone, and Slumber Party intentionally-naive twee slo-core. All these instruments sweep in and lift the songs up until they're these huge, grand monuments of sound, but it's hard to imagine the songs existing without even one of the layers. It's total retro pastiche, but it's done with verve and style and grace, and everyone involved knows how to flesh out a melody just right. The slower songs can get a bit boring, but the uptempo jams are just lovely.

The Ex: Turn
I slept on this for a while, probably because I'd seen them live twice and been impressed but not blown away both times. This is a double album, so it's too long, and there's more messy abrasive guitar squall than I'd like, but then again it's a decades-old Dutch art-punk band on Touch & Go, so you really just have to accept a certain amount of messy abrasive guitar squall if you're going to hang. But about two thirds of the songs on here are excellent: taut, hallucinatory, expansive post-punk in the Fugazi mold. The best songs play around with African motifs. My favorite song, "Huriyet", is a cover of an Eritrean freedom song, and it's just gorgeous.

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists: Shake the Sheets
Here's the thing about the word "spastic": it doesn't mean flopping around like a fish. People with spasticity can't control their muscles, but that's because their muscles are constantly so tight that they just can't do anything with them; they're clenching and unclenching uncontrollably. I used to work with this one guy who had to have one of his arms strapped down because it would just swing around and clock you. When I was putting him in bed, he'd be like, "Watch the arm." So anyway, Shake the Sheets sounds spastic to me, indie-rock wound so tight that might just swing around and slap you by accident. I wasn't really feeling Hearts of Oak because I don't think Ted Leo has the voice to pull off the looser singer-songwriter thing, but he shines when he shoehorns his melodies into these sparkling little pop-punk tunes that sound just a little too tight, like they're just on the verge of unraveling. His lyrics don't generally do that much for me, and his voice still grates on me, but he can crunch a whole lot into a three-minute song.

Cut Copy: Bright Like Neon Love
Cut Copy basically sounds like what would happen if Ratatat had a singer: shimmering squelchy woozy filter-disco new wave. The liner notes are a bit precious, what with the sixth-grade binder portrait of Giorgio Moroder and everything, but I like this kind of thing. It's not Daft Punk, but it's well-done and pleasant, and my work day moves a lot faster when it's on. I don't think I'm being a rockist when I say that they sound better when they're doing indie-rock with disco flourishes than they do when they're doing disco with indie-rock flourishes.

Futureheads: s/t
Some people are saying that the Futureheads are the pinnacle of the post-punk revival, the band that should be making that Franz Ferdinand money. These people are straight tripping. The Futureheads have some good songs, but they have none of Franz Ferdinand's frisky, playful melodic sense and none of their big drum thwack. Really, they're somewhere between Franz Ferdinand and California mall punks like Lagwagon; they sound the best when they stop sprinting and look around, as on "Danger of the Water". Their four-part harmonies get a lot of love, but these harmonies would mean more to me if they weren't sung in this pubescent Cockney squeak. TV on the Radio has the indie-rock multi-part harmony game wrapped up right now.

Comets on Fire: Blue Cathedral
I was expecting this to be a lot more metal. It could stand to be a lot more metal. The hazy, expansive psychedelic parts are cool, but they'd work better if the heavier parts had more of a crush stop boom swing to them. The Old Man Gloom record pulls of the same trick much better by actually delivering on the "rock" bits, grooving hard with authority. Comets on Fire can do pretty, and their Southern-rock bits have actual swing to them, but they don't really deliver the heavy reliably. Maybe cleaner production would help. I think they'd probably crush live.

Animal Collective: Sung Tongs
The early press on Animal Collective made them sound really cool: spazzed-out acoustic Brooklyn hippie drum circle! I'm in! But then I went to see Avery Tare and Panda Bear play the Talking Head in front of like five people and they were so boring, sub-Beaches and Canyons self-indulgent experimental garbage with lots of squeaking and no drums. And then I snatched Here Comes the Indian from a pile of rejects at my editor's office and probably didn't make it through the disc once. I've avoided them ever since. But so I was shocked that the first two songs on Sung Tongs are really great, spaced-out pretty unhinged psychedelia, not "pop" like some people are saying but nice nonetheless. But then the album gets boring. It's not boring in an offensively self-obsessed way like the older stuff was, but it never really goes anywhere, especially that one pointless thirteen-minute song. It sounds OK in the background while I'm at work, though.

Turf Talk: The Street Novelist
Total garbage. I really wanted to like the new Bay Area sound, but it's seriously just electro-Timbaland bells and whistles with none of Tim's sense of swing or space. It's tinny and obnoxious. The Rick Rock beats are better than the others, but even those are just barely OK. Turf himself has no flow; he just yells lame shit over the top of everything, and his army of anonymous guest MCs is no better. And I don't like E-40. He sounds like a fucking dork. Sorry. This is going back to the store tomorrow.