PreAmp Set Lists: Favorite Sub Pop Albums

Sub Pop Top Albums

Sub Pop was the first label I fell in love with. There have been many suitors since, but I’ve always left room in my heart for this “high school sweetheart.” As Sub Pop celebrates their 25th anniversary Silver Jubilee this weekend, I thought I’d pay tribute counting down some of my favorite Sub Pop albums. I picked these records specifically not just as how much I like them (which is a lot) but how I feel they represent Sub Pop.

Whether these are highly celebrated records or not, they all speak to the story I feel like Sub Pop has been telling for the past 25 years.

Eric's Trip - Love Tara

Sub Pop has branded themselves and their artists as “LOSERS” for sometime now. But of all the releases, Love Tara by Eric’s Trip embodies the loser title most exceptionally. The songs center on break-ups and not feeling sure what to do next. Everything is lo-fi, as if they weren’t able to afford the studio time the cool kids have. Even taking their name from a Sonic Youth song reminds of something a music dork would do (I say from personal experience, being a music nerd and doing the same thing). But still, the tracks are gripping with their fuzzed out solace.

The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine

Not everything is just moody and self-loathing at Sub Pop – the label has lots of opinions and a lot to say. The Thermals record The Body, The Blood, The Machine is a manifesto tackling both politics and religion. It’s brash with pure punk braggadocio but manages to be insightful and rightfully concerned. It’s as infectious as it is infected.

DumDumGirls

Dum Dum Girls have surprised me over the years. It took me awhile to really get it. It wasn’t until they let down their guard with End of Daze that I really felt I understood the band. They’re a timeless act filtering themselves through indie punk. Same can be true about Sub Pop – it can really be hard to tell what’s going on with their catalog of obscure to approachable acts, but once it clicks it stay with you.

Father John Misty - Fear Fun

While talking about letting your guard down, J. Tillman took it to another level under his Father John Misty monicker on Fear Fun. It’s an album full of self-referential quips and self-deprecating commentaries. Tillman’s lyrics are tripped out and wacky yet beautiful and captivating. Like I said before, Sub Pop is a mixed bag. Though musically this album isn’t off-the-wall, it highlights and peculiar and sassy character that most major labels could only manufacture.

ShinsOhInvertedWorld

The Shins fill the subterranean pop side of Sub Pop. Oh, Inverted World is hook after hook of pop excellence. Though not strikingly commercial, it’s decidedly approachable to a mainstream audience. At the same time, it’s powerful enough to feel like it can change your life (here’s looking at you Braff and Portman). Being on Sub Pop doesn’t mean being exclusive to the indie elite.

SunnyDayRealEstate

Sunny Day Real Estate has become more of a legacy than a band. Their influence has spread out wider than, presumably, their listeners. Diary is emo before it became something else completely. I see Sub Pop in a similar way. People list Sunny Day Real Estate at the top of their laundry list when talking about the lineage of emo just as people talk about Sub Pop when talking about influential figures in the independent music scene. Both hit hard and have left their mark.

ShabazzPalaces

At first, I was surprised it took Sub Pop so long to sign a hip-hop act. Then I heard Shabazz Palaces and it all made sense. Black Up is challenging and progressive listen. The beats are brooding and hypnotic while the lyrics are dark and insular. Sub Pop wasn’t going to sign a rap act just to have one. Shabazz Palaces are bringing an entirely new skill set to the table.

PostalService

One of the things I’ve admired most and also cringed at with Sub Pop is their willingness to be an outlet for an established artist to try something new. Sometimes it doesn’t always work, which can be a let down for the listener. However with Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello’s project The Postal Service it worked. It’s amazing how beloved Give Up has become since its release 10 years ago, especially as a one off release. Thank goodness they had the opportunity to see this album through.

[I talked more in depth about Give Up recently in a Wax Story]

FleetFoxes

We’re living in a post-Fleet Foxes music scene. I’m convinced of it. Their self-titled album might have been the biggest breakthrough for the folk rock movement. Before Mumford and Sons, before The Lumineers, there was Fleet Foxes. Which all sounds absurd seeing as how this album came out only a few years ago, but it was that powerful. It was another example of Sub Pop coming in ahead of the curve. This album struck me hard when I first heard it. It may not be as ambitious or even as brilliant as their follow up Helplessness Blues, but to me it is definitive Fleet Foxes album…

Nirvana - Bleach

… and this is the definitive Sub Pop album. Yes, it’s the cliche choice, but not without reason. Nirvana’s first release Bleach is a monster. It squeals and yells and burns. But below that its roots are in pop melodies. It has the enrapturing, undeniably important persona of Kurt Cobain. It was ahead of its time. It’s from a band who set a new standard. All of this from greasy looking losers from Aberdeen, Wash. Even though this wasn’t Nirvana’s breakthrough, it feels like the harbinger of what was yet to come.

[You can check out my Wax Story on Bleach as well]

To whet your appetite, here’s a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite Sub Pop tracks:


Follow me on Twitter: @DustyEffinHenry

Follow me on Instagram: @mrdustyhenry

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Wax Stories #9: The Postal Service – Give Up

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Postal Service Give Up cover

I can remember distinctly an argument I had with my friend Brandon in junior high concerning the validity of electronic music.

“Techno is totally music dude,” Brandon said.

“Dude. It’s not. Literally. It’s just computer noises,” I said with confidence.

“What? Does every song need a guitar to be music?” he replied, trying to call my bluff.

“No! But it needs instruments. That’s what music is.”

“No way dude. Anything with a beat is music.”

“Is this music, Brandon?” I said as I started tapping a rhythm with my pencil on my desk.

“No.”

“Then neither is techno,” I replied with a smirk. I like to imagine I put on sunglasses and walked away from an explosion after saying that, but in high school I just didn’t have the budget.

There’s a slight chance I might have been wrong about that one. When I first started getting into music, I was a staunch purist. Anything that wasn’t a group of people plugging in amps and playing instruments wasn’t “real music.” I wasn’t the first kid to think it and won’t be the last (you can currently find them commenting on Justin Beiber YouTube videos). This was during a time in my life when I would say things like ” I like all genres except for country and rap.” Not only was it pretentious, it was inhibiting me from listening to a lot of great music.

In my defense though, there was a lot of shitty music coming out around the time. For someone who grew up holding Aerosmith as the pinnacle of musicianship J-Kwon’s “Tipsy” and Darude’s “Sandstorm” weren’t really holding up for me. Techno just sounded fake to me. It felt like it needed Ma-Ti to give it some heart (“gooooo Planet!”). I was virtually immovable on my position. So much so I even pretended to hate Daft Punk whenever Brandon mentioned them, while secretly listening to “One More Time” and “Around the World” at home and in private.

Then Ben Gibbard came around. That doe eyed little sap would change everything for me.

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As a point of reference, I didn’t initially know Gibbard as “the Death Cab for Cutie guy;” I first knew him as “the Postal Service guy.” It was by strange, nerdy chance that I even got introduced to the band. It’s almost too ironic how much of it is tied to a laptop.  Brandon, our friend Austin, and I (collectively known as B.A.D.) were walking around Austin’s neighborhood late into the summer of 2004. Not just walking, war-walking. We carried around Brandon’s massive Dell laptop, with his wireless card plugged in, searching for free unsecured Internet. It was our version of war-driving, having to make due without our licenses. Sure, we could’ve just stayed at Austin’s and had Internet for free, but where’s the adventure in that?

We stopped in front of one Austin’s neighbors houses where Brandon picked up a signal. “Holy cow! We can check our Mypaces…in the middle of the road! What a thrill!” We were pretty excited. Then we noticed the teen girl who lived there spotted us from the window. She made her way to the porch to ask us what we were doing but we booked it back to Austin’s place before she could start the vigorous interrogation. It was a close call, for sure.

When we got back, we went online (effectively defeating the purpose of hunting for Internet). Austin signed on to his MSN Messenger and ended up chatting with the neighbor girl from before (effectively defeating the purpose of running away from her). Somehow I ended up adding her to my own MSN Messenger. As I mentioned in my last Wax Story, most of my summers were spent talking to strangers online.

I think she and I only had a couple conversations, most of which were pretty surface level. But we decided to exchange some music. With my slow Internet, songs usually took half an hour or more to transfer but I always relished the mp3s even more because of it. The first song she sent me, and only one I recall, was “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service. I looped it in my iTunes player for the rest of the day and listened to it constantly throughout the week. Bleep bloops, synths, and drum loops. One of my initial thoughts was, “I can’t let Brandon know how much I like this.”

Postal Service White Vinyl

About a year later, I found myself at the mall with my grandma. Between war walking and this, you could tell I was a real cool kid. For some reason I thought it was a good idea to take her into Hot Topic with me. I’m sure my sweet, bingo loving Grandma felt very comfortable on her scooter listening to the sounds of Hawthorne Heights and the sights of pink and black mini skirts as I searched through their record bin. That’s where I found a copy of The Postal Services’ “Give Up.”

I immediately recalled a conversation I had with a good friend Amanda Davidson. Something she mentioned before I even had a record player.

“Of all the modern bands, I think that The Postal Service would sound best on vinyl,” she said while talking to someone else.

“Why? What difference is there?” I asked.

“Vinyl sounds waaaay different. It sounds a lot better than everything else.”

“Interesting.”

It all started to come full circle for me. Without even realizing it in that moment that I picked up that record at Hot Topic, I was making a change in how I listened to music. I wasn’t conformed to one format or genre like I was a year before. Maybe I was maturing. Maybe my tastes were changing. Maybe it was all just silly because I watched as my grandma paid the gothed out cashier and bought me the record as a repayment for helping her around the house.

As I watched Gibbard, Jenny Lewis, and Jimmy Tamborello at Sasquatch Festival this past May, all of this came rushing back to me. All of these strange and embarrassing memories. All of the shit I gave Brandon and others for listening to bleep bloop music and here I was watching Tamborello stand behind a set of laptops on stage. All of the cringing I had thinking about buying the album at Hot Topic instead of somewhere else as Ben Gibbard danced in all black with swooping bangs across the stage. All the money and years I’d spent collecting records and branching out in my taste based off of one off-the-cuff comment from Amanda.

If there was any embarrassment along the way, it was worth it just for that moment where I belted out all the words to “Such Great Heights”  in the front row with thousands of others. I guess bleep bloops aren’t so bad after all.

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Previous Wax Story: Pinback – Summer in Abaddon

Next Week: Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends

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What are “Wax Stories?”

Wax Stories #7: Nirvana – Bleach

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Whenever there’s a Nirvana related anniversary, I get oddly nostalgic. It always feels a bit misplaced. I was alive through Nirvana’s ascension but I’m pretty sure I was more interested in Mr. Rogers’ cardigans at the time – not Kurt Cobain’s. Nevertheless, when I released today is what would have been Kurt’s 46th birthday, I immediately went to my record shelf to play some of his work as a tribute.

I started to get into Nirvana when I picked up their greatest hits at a Sam Goody on a whim when I was 14. It’s a super lame way to get into a band (as detailed in a post I did in 2011), but it opened up the door for me at least. The music struck me in a way that nothing else had before. The demolishing crashes of the drums, the gritty sloppiness of the bass, the cutting sound of the guitar, and Kurt’s aching angry voice; it was fuel for my burgeoning teenage angst. I’d later pick up a CD copy of MTV Unplugged In New York to flesh out the image of Kurt as a misunderstood artist. He was not just a musician in my eyes. He was a symbol of identity and struggle that I thought I could relate to.

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In the summer of 2005 I went over to West Seattle for a day where my mom had an office near California Avenue. She pointed me in the direction of the Easy Street Records down the road and I eagerly made my way over there. I had only just recently got my record player a few months before. I made my way upstairs to the vinyl section to partake in one of my first Seattle crate digging experiences. There was no real agenda, nothing in particular I was hoping to find. This was also the first time I’d get a chance to buy a record new instead of used from a junk shop. I was a bit floored when I found the Nirvana section. For some reason I never really thought that they’d have anything available on wax and thought this rare opportunity – I had to pick up one of these. I inspected the track list on the back of each album and weighed out which was going to make the most sense. In Utero and Nevermind both featured tracks that I already had on my greatest hits CD so I dismissed those (dumb, dumb, dumb). I seriously considered picking up the Unplugged album because I thought it would sound so good. I remembered my dad telling me that on acoustic albums you could sometimes hear the fingers moving across the strings on vinyl releases.

I held up Bleach and examined it. The cover was stark and intense. A negative photo of Kurt headbanging with the band behind him in what appears to be a basement. I recognized one of the tracks, “About A Girl,” but everything else was unfamiliar. The fact that it was their first album also intrigued me. Sub Pop. That name sounded vaguely familiar. White vinyl? The case for Bleach got stronger and stronger the more I looked at it.

It must have been a funny sight to watch a gangly kid 15-year-old wearing cargo pants and probably a buttoned up, bright colored short sleeve shirt walking up to the counter clutching Bleach. I imagine the disenchanted cashier wanted to face palm at the sight. Maybe not.

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I had to wait till we got home late that night to listen to it. Funny how most of my early memories of vinyl are listening to them late at night on low volume in my room. Krist’s sludgy bass lead in on “Blew” bellowed out of my crackling speakers. Immediately it wasn’t what I was expecting. I was used to Kurt being dark and lots of heavy guitars, but this felt different. There was a sense of doom looming over their playing. It was unrefined and harsh. It only got more so by the time the needle moved over to the second track, “Floyd the Barber.” The low thumps of guitar synchronized with the drums gave a sense of impending dread. I anxiously awaited for “About A Girl” to come on so I could hear something familiar. When it finally did I rejoiced in the Beatles sensibilities and brighter guitar tones.

I knew I liked the album because it was Nirvana, but looking back I’m not entirely sure how keen I was to the record. I played it repeatedly because that’s what I thought a Cobain disciple should do. I was supposed to like it. I desperately tried to relate to it. “Hah! On ‘School’ he talks about high school and there being ‘no recess.’ I know what that’s like!” Obviously I wasn’t exactly Lester Bangs in my interpretations, but I was trying. I did take to “Love Buzz” almost immediately with its incredible bass groove. I stayed away from the b-sides for the most part, which were marked by a label depicting the circles of hell from Dante’s Inferno. My aversion came down to one primary reason, which in turn applied to the whole album and that I would not admit to myself at the time: Bleach terrified me.

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While Nevermind had just as much self-deprecating and fuming imagery, it also had Butch Vig’s crisp production to act as a filter. It’s like when you ask someone how they’re doing and they unload you all their problems without even easing into it. Bleach was full-on Cobain without anyone interpreting or holding him back. Not that I think Nevermind is in anyway lackluster. If anything it succeeded in making Kurt’s pain accessible to a wider group of people. I didn’t feel prepared to jump into this without Vig holding my hand.

Over the course of the summer, I found myself coming back again and again to the last track on side a – “Negative Creep.” Sometimes I’d drop the needle on just that track over and over again just to hear it. This is when I started to have my revelation. Kurt wasn’t the “loveable martyr” I’d made him out to be who opted to burn out instead of fading away. He was more like the intense guy I tried to avoid making eye contact with at shows, scribbling “fuck you” furiously in his notebook. I wanted desperately to believe that he and I had so much in common, but we really didn’t. Not only was he dealing with different (and albeit, much bigger) issues in his life, he was also just living in a different world. I was going to a private school, had a dopey golden retriever, and said “shoot” instead of “shit.” As much as I thought of myself as a negative creep, I really wasn’t. But that doesn’t mean I’m immune from feeling emotions of angst or despair. We all can feel like negative creeps sometimes, but most of us don’t embody it or suffer through it like Kurt did.

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My image of Kurt was broken down even more as I read Charles R. Cross’ biography on Kurt, “Heavier Than Heaven,” this last summer. The inkling I had that Kurt had it worse was proved to be true. I began sympathize for him instead of empathize with him. Looking back at Bleach in the context of the rest of his life is overwhelming and daunting. It’s not even that there’s an excess of imagery of suicidal imagery like some of his later work. It’s the brashness and dissonance and loudness that grabs me. To me, Bleach is his most tortured sounding work. I can feel more uncomfortable listening to tracks on here than I do listening to tracks like “Rape Me.”

Bleach feels more accessible to me today than it did in 2005. A lot of that I can attest to my change in taste over the years. My heart still pounds when the bass comes in on “Blew” and I’ve taken to screaming along to some of the b-sides (“gimme back me alcohol” on “Scoff” may be one of my favorite Nirvana lines now). It’s hard to think of many other records in my collection that has received this much consistent replay. Despite how much I’ve listened to it, I’ve come to terms that I’m never going to fully understand it or any of the bands other albums. Kurt will always have a shroud of mystery to him. I wish we could have understood him so we could have helped. Now I think the next best thing we can do is celebrate his life by indulging in his music in those those negative creep moments.

Happy birthday, Kurt.

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Previous Wax Story: The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism

Next Week: Japandroids – Celebration Rock

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What are “Wax Stories?”

Wax Stories: Introduction

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For the past couple years I’ve tried to come up with some way to do a vinyl review blog, but I could never really settle on an idea that made sense or would be interesting enough. So what you’re reading is a step into a personal experiment. Instead of writing formal reviews of vinyl records, I’m going to tell the stories I recognize within my collection.

The other day I was looking at my record shelf and realized I could remember when and where I purchased each record. Likewise, I could remember who gave me each album and the circumstances they were gifted. I think each record has some sort of story to it. Whether it be a strong memory tied to when I got it or just the music pressed to the vinyl, there’s at least something more going on there. So with this ongoing series I plan on picking an album (or multiple albums) from my shelf and writing about what is attached to it. Instead of having old war stories, I have old wax stories.

Sometimes I’ll write about memories, sometimes I’ll write about the bands, and maybe sometimes I’ll write more formal reviews. Some posts will be long and some posts will be short. I plan on keeping it pretty varied. Maybe as I go things will get more focused, but until then I’m happy to use this endeavor to experiment. Thanks for bearing with me. I’d love to hear your feedback as I go.

I’ll post Wax Stories #1 soon (hopefully in the next couple days). I find it’s best starting from the beginning, so I’ll by writing about the first two records I purchased: U2’s “War” and INXS’ “Shabooh Shoobah.”

Also, I hope I don’t too much sound like John Cusack as I go through this process. I’m not nearly bitter enough to pull that off.

My Effin Lists: Top 10 Songs of 2012

EffinListsTop2012Sons

It was hard enough narrowing down the top albums of the year, but picking out the best songs is even worse. Since I got a bit wordy with my top albums posts (part 1 and part 2) I’m going to keep each review down to one sentence. Let’s see how this goes.

10. Kanye West & R. Kelly – To The World

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Yeezy describes this one best: “R. Kelly and the god of rap, shittin’ on ya HOLY CRAP.”

9. Jason Molina – Sad Hard Change

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Jason Molina uses home, lo-fi recording and the creakiness that comes with it to its full capacity of reflecting heartbreak.

8. Sharon Van Etten – Give Out

SharonVan

“Give Out” is the painful gulp you take before leaving something (or someone) you know is bad for you but with uncertainty if it’s the right thing to do.

7. The Men – Open Your Heart

TheMen

Sweaty basement thrashing takes a surprisingly melodic direction.


6. Father John Misty – Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings

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Funeral crashing is done better with crooner dance moves and electrifying reverb.

5. Kendrick Lamar – Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe

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If ever there was a “motto” or mantra to describe how most of us want to live, Kendrick has coined it in this song.

4. Cloud Nothings – Wasted Days

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Epic thrashers don’t have to pointlessly meander to the point of boring; Cloud Nothings have revived the instrumental build-up.

3. Frank Ocean – Bad Religion

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Taxi cab confessions aren’t new, but Ocean’s insights on spirituality and love bring new school cool with old school sensibilities.

2. Japandroids – The House That Heaven Built

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LETS DRINK BEER AND CARPE DIEM BECAUSE WE ARE YOUNG AND THIS IS THE NEW ANTHEM FOR ALL OF US WHO DON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE DOING.

1. Dum Dum Girls – Lord Knows

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It’s easy to play the victim, but instead Dum Dum Girls take the perspective of the harmer and do so with a timeless melody and wistful instrumentals.

To see my whole list of top songs (not in order, organized to flow together the best) check out my Spotify playlist:

My Effin Lists: Top Albums of 2012 (Numbers 10 – 1)

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Continuing from my last post, here are my top 10 albums of 2012.

10. Dum Dum Girls – Season In Hell

Though technically an EP, “End of Daze” has the richness and depth of a full length album. Dum Dum Girls have matured with this release. While past releases had their swirling guitars and surf-rock sensibilities, “End Of Daze” takes these ideas and gives them a sense of timelessness. The dream murmur in their cover of Strawberry Switchblades “Trees and Flowers” is a captivating haze that holds the listener in to here every breath and guitar strum. “Lord Knows” could be placed in any era and feel just as poignant. Dee Dee’s low crooning in the verses, rising to the chorus feels triumphant and crushing as she sings “Oh boy, I can’t hurt you any more.” “End of Daze” isn’t all about slow ballads, as it begins and end with  powerful rock tracks (“Mine Tonight” and “Season In Hell” respectively). Through all of its turmoil and desperation, the album ends on a somewhat hopeful note: “Lift up your gaze, it’s the end of daze.”

9. Naomi Punk – The Feeling

Naomi Punk’s “The Feeling” is right next Nirvana’s “Bleach” on my record shelf. While clearly a coincidence of alphabetization, it seems like appropriate placement. They group hails from Olympia – where Kurt Cobain spent much of his early Nirvana days digesting everything K Records. The band’s whole D.I.Y. aesthetic lines up the indie scene in the early 90s. The album sounds as if it was recorded in a basement. Guitars clash (there’s no bass) and vocals fight to be heard in the background. Bands like Best Coast have successfully imitated lo-fi Garage Rock production, but Naomi Punk lives it.

Until I actually picked up the record, I had no idea what he band was saying – another similarity with complaints Nirvana got when they first hit it big time. On “Burned Body” the vocalist (the members are virtually anonymous to the Internet) defines it best as he yells “All my words are so cryptic.” Once you get past the noise and can make out what the band is saying, it’s equally as brilliant and disturbed in simplicity. Like on the second to last track, “The Buzz,” :

“I wanna cut it out. I wanna rip it out. I wanna kill it now. I wanna feel a feeling.”

The group original released “The Feeling” on locally owned Couple Skate Records earlier this year before it was re-released on Captured Tracks. This band is moving fast but not compromising to be accessible.

8. Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

I really have no desire to write a whole think-piece about Lana Del Rey (though I already tried once, along with every other music writer ever). Aside from the “misleading” vibes and cringe-worthy SNL performances, Del Rey put out what I think is an excellent pop record for the new decade. The dramatic string arrangements put against new-school hip hop beats creates the fantastical imagery of a “Marilyn Monroe has a baby with Kanye West, Read More On Page 2!” tabloid. Del Rey is making mainstream music that’s actually more interesting than any of the other songs on Top Hit Radio Stations. Listen to Justin Bieber’s “Girlfriend” or Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and put it against a song like “Born To Die” or “National Anthem” and tell me she’s not doing it better.

7. Wild Nothing – Nocturne

If Tanlines’ “Mixed Emotions” was 80s pop radio, “Nocturne” would be the album the “cool, misunderstood” kids would be blasting on their Walkman. Wild Nothing are writing songs in the vain of The Cure. Opener “Shadow” feels like an upbeat, summer car tune but with lyrics like “Oh why is your hate so addicting” you wouldn’t think it would be. Things don’t slow down much on this record. Jangles guitar parts and sustaining synth noise in the background makes the album feel bright and light. It’s feel good music for people who are comfortable with being sad.

6. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

Getting past the hype is the hardest part of listening to “Channel Orange.” Frank Ocean is ending up on a lot of people’s lists and sometimes it’s hard to remember why. It’s not just because Frank Ocean is cool to like, it’s because the songwriting on this album is exceptional.

SPIN magazine recently had an article talking about how “Alt. R&B” was the trend of the year, citing Ocean as a prime example. I’d like to politely disagree. I think Ocean’s successes is less about him fronting a new genre and more so about him getting new people to listen to his genre. I’ve never really been much for R&B of the past couple decades – I found it cheesy and hard to relate to (sorry Ginuwine, I can’t connect with “If you’re horny, let’s do it. Ride it, my pony”). On “Channel Orange” Ocean tactfully discusses topics like faith and grappling with sexuality (“Forrest Gump”) but Ocean doesn’t turn his back on writing soulful love songs (“Thinkin About You”). “Bad Religion” is the emotional crux of the record, with Ocean pondering his beliefs against his sexuality in the back of a taxi. With some help from Earl Sweatshirt, John Mayer, and Andre 3000, has created a masterful transition piece for newcomers to R&B.

5. DIIV – Oshin

It’s not surprising that DIIV and Wild Nothing share a label and have collaborated in the past (well, with Zachary Smith’s other project, Beach Fossils). DIIV merges the shimmer of Wild Nothing but with the brighter parts of the 90s grunge movement (Smith is a huge fan of Kurt Cobain). Each track on “Oshin” fades into the next seamlessly, like an endless summer.

“How Long Have You Known” is playful and sways with the iconic-feeling lead guitar melody. The stuttering guitar on “Earthboy” feels spacey but never gets too weird or inaccessible. The sound of the album flows back and forth like an ocean. It wouldn’t be surprising if DIIV tracks end up in summer sale commercials sometime in the future (with the inevitable lawsuit, if 2012 has proven anything to us). “Oshin’ is definitely a singular piece. While each song sounds fine on its own, something is lost when it tracks aren’t strong together as a pulsing, sonic experience.

4. Father John Misty – Fear Fun

How did this man stay behind the Fleet Foxes drum set for so long? I’ve been listening to J. Tillman’s solo material for several years now. His albums always felt like nice companions to the Fleet Foxes records but, to be honest, I was never completely captivated. With Fleet Foxes behind him and a new name (Father John Misty), Tillman has finally delivered his most authentic and engaging work yet.

Tillman is a hilarious person. All of his interviews render on the ridiculous side of things. Instead of doing another mopey singer-songwriter album, he decided to write something that is just as ridiculous, sarcastic, and absurd as he is. The folk-rock genre has been taking itself too seriously for too long. The music is performed exceptionally but does not break new ground – Tillman does that with his lyrics instead. Not since Weird Al Yankovic has wit and humor in songwriting been so impactful (only partially kidding). In just the first few lines of “I’m Writing A Novel,” we get this gem:

“I ran down the road, pants down to my knees
Screaming ‘please come help me, that Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me!’
And I’m writing a novel because it’s never been done before”

He’s equal parts cynical and surrealist. Self-referential writing in music is usually few and far between, but at the end of “Every Man Needs a Companion,” the album closer, it feels particularly important to giving the album the proper context.

“Joseph Campbell and The Rolling Stones
Couldn’t give me a myth
So I had to write my own
Like I’m hung up on religion
Though I know it’s a waste
I never liked the name Joshua
I got tired of J”

3. The Men – Open Your Heart

Metz may have done punk and garage the loudest this year, but The Men did it the grimiest. “Open Your Heart.” The blend of country and garage rock just sets the tone for getting in trouble. The Men are carrying the torch for 80s punk bands like the Buzzcocks; rough and misunderstood by the current music climate. Nothing on “Open Your Heart” feels polished up. Listening to this album feels like being at a sweaty basement show where the band is screaming five feet away from you and diving into the crowd.

The first two songs, “Turn It Around” and “Animal,” set the stage with screams and muddy distortion. Then there’s the dramatic shift with the third track “Country Song,” which is an extended, slow trudging, instrumental with western overtones. Songs like this show that the band is not just about playing loud and goofing off. They’re listening to those same psychedelic albums Tame Impala is, but reinterpreting it through a greasy lens.

The title track “Open Your Heart” encapsulates the feeling brewing throughout the record. Optimistic through all the shit. Mark Perro doesn’t have a perfect and clean voice, but it feels so real and authentic that you want to shriek and yell with him. Still though, even though the album focuses on distortion and pummeling drums, I keep finding myself coming back to the acoustic driven track “Candy.” Hearing Perro sing “when I hear the radio play I don’t care that it’s not me” on the song feels so relevant to what the band is about. They’ve come to terms with not getting Top 40 success. The Men is about playing the music they want to and giving the middle finger to consistency.

2. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

If you start and end your album with the sounds of fireworks, you better be able to back it up.

Japandroid’s sophomore album “Celebration Rock” is the soundtrack of teen years gone, not knowing what’s coming next, and not giving a shit about any of that because tonight we’re going to fucking party. It’s not very surprising that I’ve found myself and friends around my age all resonating with this album. Most of us don’t know what we’re going to be doing next, but sometimes we just don’t want to think about that. We’re all young, so why can’t we just be okay with that and worry about the rest later on? It’s incredibly nostalgic. Even the sound of the album sounds like something I’d hear on the radio when I was a kid – big drums and even bigger guitars and shouting.

Brian King doesn’t change up his guitar effects to much throughout the record, but that only adds to the urgency of the eight track album. King and drummer David Prowse opted to record this album live in the studio as opposed to multi-tracking and doing overdubs like they did on their first album, “Post-Nothing.” The difference between these two records is incredible and most if it can be cited back to that production choice.

“Celebration Rock” is full of “Oh Oh Oh Ooooooh!” chants and King more-so shouts than sings most of the time. Japandroids are able to deliver lines that might otherwise be thought of as heavy handed and make them endearing and organic. Listening to “The House That Heaven Built” is better than any sort of motivational seminar.

“When they love you, and they will
Tell ’em all they’ll love in my shadow
And if they try to slow you down
Tell ’em all to go to hell”

Japandroids is affirmation that it’s not uncommon to be unsure of what you want to do next. For a generation facing horrendous employment rates, that’s crucial. Until then, we’re drinking.

1. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

In 2012 Dylan Baldi turned away for his pop-punk solo  past and came out as the tortured front man of a slaughtering indie punk band.

Cloud Nothings releasing “Attack On Memory” was an incredible shock. Listening to their past material seems to provide very little clues that Baldi would make this drastic of a change in his music. Whereas before he seemed to worship at the temple of Rivers Cuomo, he now burns sage at the altar of Frank Black. Lo-fi bedroom pop-rock snippets have become Steve Albini produced guitar epics. This time around, Baldi recorded live in the studio with his band instead of by himself. Good move.

“Wasted Days” has one of the most erupting breakdowns in a rock song in 2012 (or in the past few years, for that matter). Droning on a single note for minutes can be boring, but Cloud Nothings use it tactfully to heighten the anticipation for the final repetitions of Baldi yelling “I thought I would be more than this.” Then on just the next song, we get the less doom-centered side of Baldi with the foot-tapping, rattling “Fall In.”

“Stay Useless” covers similar ground as Japandroids, but with only a few “ohhh ohhs” this time. Baldi is more desperate in his please than Japandroids’ hopeless romanticism.

“I need time to stop moving. I need time to stay useless.”

What sets “Attack On Memory” above the rest of the garage/punk albums in 2012 was its balance of grit, melody, and noise. All the factors felt incredibly balanced. It’s not an optimistic album, but it feels realistic. Even at 20 years old, Baldi knows how to vent his frustration in a relateable way and does so with annihilating guitar barrages.

On the final track “Cut You,” Baldi shows us just how twisted he is. As he mourns an ex moving on, he laments how her new lover is not as screwed up as him. On the surface, it’s sort of a disgusting song. He pleads “Does he hurt you like I do?” “like it would be a bad thing if her new boyfriend wasn’t abusive. He portrays a sense of entitlement with “I need to know, I deserve to know.” But stepping back, I can’t say that I haven’t felt he does in this song – mainly in my weakest and most regrettable moments. Its uncomfortable to hear because it’s so close to what we try to hide. In the end he confesses “I miss you cause I like damange, I need something I can hurt.” Making a revelation like that is the mark of an excellent songwriter.

Word is Cloud Nothings are working on a new album 2013 that’s going to be even noisier. If they keep with this direction and trajectory, this young band has the chance to really help propel the new punk-revival.

Honorable Mentions

Silicon Girls – Rana

Swans – The Seer

Mac Demarco – 2

Beach House – Bloom

Moon Duo – Circles

Death Grips – The Money Store

Jason Molina – Autumn Bird Songs

ExitMusic – Passage

Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods

Damien Jurado – Maraqopa

Lemolo – The Kaleidoscope

Stagnant Pools – Temporary Room

Pinback – Information Retrieved

Balmorhea – Stranger

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

Jack White – Blunderbuss

Glen Hansard – Rhythm and Response

G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer

My Effin Lists: Top Albums of 2012 (Numbers 25 – 11)

EffinListsTop2012

I know it sounds a bit over enthusiastic, but 2012 is one of the better years of music I can recall in recent memory. It felt like all the different genres and sub-genres were on the top of their game.

I don’t want to ramble too long now, but I would like to put out the disclaimer that I have not listened to every single album that came out this year. In the past, I’ve written my top albums lists for more formal publications which meant trying to create a list that was centered on importance of the albums in the scheme of the larger music community. However, since this is my personal blog, I’ve decided to order these just be my own interest and liking.

So without further ado, here are my top 25 albums of 2012.

25. Metz – [self-titled]

2012 felt like the second coming of “the year that punk broke.” Instead of describing Metz’s self-titled debut album, I might as well just describe a bulldozer or a wrecking ball. It’s thunderous, destructive, erupting, and pummels buildings into dust (well, almost). Of the raucous garage/punk albums to come out this year, Metz’ did it the loudest and maybe the harshest – citation: “Wasted.”

24. Grizzly Bear – Shields

Grizzly Bear is probably one of the most intricate and skilled groups in music right now. All too often I’ve seen group with talented members produce incredibly lackluster music because “hey lets throw in 5 time signatures and I’ll come up with some disorienting counterpoint melodies” just doesn’t usually sound very good. On “Shields,” Grizzly Bear is able to harness their abilities into a richly textured piece with inviting melodies. The lead single “Yet Again” exemplifies their tactics of throwing in unusual and galloping harmonies to produce a singular accessible track.

23. Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes


Any artist who gets the Thom Yorke stamp of approval must have something going for them. “Until The Quiet Comes” has Flying Lotus prove yet again that beats don’t just have to be “cool and interesting,” they can also be moving and wraith-like. Tracks like “Getting There” find FlyLo treading ground laid down by the like of Nujabes years before. At any moment on “Until The Quiet Comes” the songs can go from fragile to an infectious groove.

22. Tame Impala – Lonerism

Tame Impala is definitely headphone music. Every listen to “Lonerism” is a new chance to discover some new guitar effect or overdub you didn’t notice before. Psychedelic-garage rock, through Tame Impala, is making a come back from the label of “high school Pink Floyd tribute band” to beautiful, intricate pop outfit. Whirring amp feedback on “Gotta Be Above” and flange accents on “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” are wonderfully weird Easter eggs for a powerfully infection record.

21. Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives


For those who have followed Death Cab For Cutie from the early records till now, the past few years have been confusing, awkward, and sometimes even upsetting (“IF HE DOESN’T WRITE ANOTHER SAD SONG, I’M GOING TO BURN DOWN BEN GIBBARD’S HOUSE AND SPREAD THE ASHES ALL OVER THE SET OF ‘NEW GIRL!'”).  While I wasn’t a big fan of “Codes and Keys” and struggled with half of “Narrow Stairs,” Ben Gibbard’s solo effort “Former Lives” seems to accomplish the direction those two albums were heading in.  The storytelling of “Teardrop Windows” and the self-realization of “Oh, Woe” give glimpses of ghosts of Gibbard’s past while the instrumentation shows where he’s at now.

20. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city

A hip-hop album detailing life growing up in Compton is not necessarily original on a surface level, but Kendrick Lamar is an artist who knows the importance of perspective. “good kid, m.a.a.d. city” gives Lamar’s insights on the self-destructive tendencies of his beloved hometown with spiritual and pensive overtones throughout but mostly deals with his own personal struggles. The stand out track “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” finds Lamar lifting up his music as the one thing that he wants to keep untainted, a sort of emotional core to the record.

“I am a sinner whose probably gonna sin again. Please forgive me, things I don’t understand. Sometimes I want to be alone. Bitch don’t kill my vibe.”

In just one line (on a record full of equally as brilliant one liners) Lamar weaves in art, loneliness, and faith into his own mission statement. So while Yeezy and Hova are debating whether or not their jackets are Margiela, Lamar will be out here relating to everyone else who can’t afford a yacht.

19. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

My Effin Lists: Top Albums of 2012 (Numbers 25 - 11)

Since when did The Tallest Man On Earth start going electronic?

Vocalist Joe Newman (whom I’m still not convinced isn’t Kristian Matsson, The Tallest Man, himself) brings grit and imperfection to a genre dominated by the pristine production of experimental-electronic-rock. The songs feel like fables, drawing inspiration from elementary sources like “Where the Wild Things Are” (“Breezeblocks”) or even shapes (“Tesselate”). Alt-J isn’t the next Radiohead, they’re the next Alt-J.

18. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse

The dooming, slow bass lead into “Wave Goodbye” followed by the flood of guitar distortion and a 60s pop vocal melody epitomizes Ty Segall. “Slaughterhouse” was one of three records Segall put out this year. Each one was great for their own reasons, but” Slaughterhouse” found Segall in his best stride. Beneath the layers of fuzz distortion are exceptionally melodic guitar lines. It’s as if The Beatles decided after they wrote “Helter Skelter” that they should go further and darker in that direction.

17. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Majellan

I must confess, I’ve never really been a big fan of Dirty Projectors. Most of their previous work has come off to me as pretentious and inaccessible. Coming in to “Swing Lo Majellan” I was expecting to feel the same, but wanted to give them one last shot – that was a good idea. This record finds the band toning back a bit on the overly complex song-structure and harmonic intricacies while retaining what makes them unique. “Gun Has No Trigger” and “About To Die” lean toward the grandiose spectrum of Dirty Projectors where songs like the title track and “Impregnable Question.” The fact that “Unto Caesar” features the band laughing as they try to figure out when to bring in the harmonies gives the feeling that the band is learning to let loose a bit.

16. The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

Kristian Matsson (The Tallest Man On Earth) has developed a definitive style, one that is hard to deviate from much. Instead of changing his songwriting approach on “There’s No Leaving Now,” Matsson mixes things up with the production. His past two albums have felt like creaky, old solo recordings. The new record feels like a relic from a dusty record bin. The inclusion of faintly mixed electric guitar on the tracks gives a warmth to the album. “Revelation Blues” could be a b-side to an unknown Sun Records artist and “1904” sounds like a long lost A.M. radio gem.

15. Tanlines – Mixed Emotions

“Mixed Emotions” must have escaped from a break in the space-time continuum (or maybe a Hot Tub Time Machine). Tanlines could be quiet at home with 1980s contemporaries like Tears For Fears and Simple Minds. “Mixed Emotions” is full of synth-based anthems contemplating a possible mid-life crisis. Opener “Brothers” is deliberate with execution with a swaying beat. Eric Emm’s voice sounds like it could break out into “Melt With You” at any moment. Guitars shimmer, electronic drums give their unearthly thumps, and there are even some tropical overtones. If the 80s had been more like this, maybe it wouldn’t have gotten such a bad rap.

14. Dan Deacon – America

How this album did not make a bigger impact in 2012 is beyond me. Dan Deacon’s “America” brought together electronic production with live orchestral instrumentation to create a poignant, self-aware album about, well, America. Deacon has described it in some ways as a protest record – specifically the masterful four movement USA suite at the end of the record. Songs like “Lots” are blown out in the vain of a Steve Albini record. “True Thrush” has a dream-pop vibes with rushing drums. The inclusion of real, acoustic drums gives this album punch. This album reminds us that Deacon is not just a musician, he is a composer.

13. Grimes – Visions

I wasn’t sure what to make of Grimes when “Visions” came out. Then I spent more time with it. This album captures feelings of meekness and desperation with massive production, which seems a bit contradicting at first. At the center of every track is a soft, wavering melody – everything else is just a gorgeous garnish building off of that core. “Genesis” is the perfect example of this. Beneath all of the swirling piano lines, bass thumps, and sporadic beats is the small framed Grimes saying “Oh heart, and then it falls, and then I fall, and then I know.” It’s simple, but meaningful.

12. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

The field recordings of chatter at the beginning of “Mladic,” the first track on “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend,” set an ominous tone for this bleak and tumultuous record. Soon after a violin rises in and bending guitar notes pop in and out as the song rises to its breaking point that won’t let up for the rest of the 20 minute track. Godspeed You! Black Emperor quietly released shrieking record while on tour, keeping up with their mentality of “this isn’t business, this is art and a statement.” Many bands have popped up trying the instrumental prog-chamber rock style since GY!BE’s last recorded 10 years ago. GY!BE unintentionally prove they still do it best, but that doesn’t seem to be their primary concern. Moreover, they’re proving that the same issues we lamented 10 years ago are still relevant today and there’s no excuse.

11. Mount Eerie – Clear Moon

“Clear Moon” is an ethereal look at nature, monotony, and living through Phil Elverum’s (Mount Eerie) Walden-esque insight. At one moment Elverum might be channeling Nick Drake – picking out a delicate melody while quietly reminiscing (“Through The Trees Pt. 2”). The next thing you know, he’s turned into Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine – drowning his thoughts beneath a flood of looming guitar distortion (“Over Dark Water”). It is hard to pinpoint exactly how to classify this album with its variety noise and sounds. His narrative strings it all together – simple pondering and speculating of the world around him. It is simultaneously a call against unnatural living and doubt if that’s even possible. Elverum paints vivid pictures with his lyrics and uses the music only to texture them.