Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Whoever Did This Is King Of The Internet

TV On The Radio - Dear Science,

TV On The Radio
Dear Science,

The comma-laden Dear Science, is a surprisingly positive and immediate effort from a band known primarily for a distinctively brooding sound that is typically described as post-apocalyptic. While each song on Return To Cookie Mountain, their 2006 breakthrough, is shrouded in a unique fuzz that inspires visions of broken machinery and rust, the entirety of their follow-up is shiny, clean, and, most shockingly, a lot of fun. If their debut Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes was the apocalypse, and Cookie Mountain was the first sprout from beneath the rubble, then Dear Science, is the party.

That new brightness is a double-edged sword. The primary source of fun with Cookie Mountain, and to a lesser extent Desperate Youth, is in the discovery of musicality in the untraditional elements used to build not just atmosphere ("Playhouses," "Tonight," "Don't Love You") but front-and-center hooks ("I Was A Lover"). That aforementioned distortion-heavy signature sound of theirs is gone, replaced by drum machines, funky guitar lines, clean reverberations, and (gasp) hand-clapping. It's not really a better-vs-worse thing... one part of me had been looking forward to hearing what kind of crazy shit they'd come up with next, and the other part is just digging the new hotness.

If there is a clear disadvantage, it's in the smaller emotional punch Dear Science, packs. Their biggest songs, "Wolf Like Me" off Cookie Mountain and "Staring At The Sun" off Desperate Youth, are so strong because they're so immediate, urgent, and terrifying on the surface. The best work on Dear Science, doesn't carry the same rage or spite... by contrast, it's sleek and composed. More intimate, maybe, but not as effective in stirring up a deep response.

But at the same time, that best work is really excellent. Their mastery of rhythm is on full display, particularly on the faux-rap intro to "Dancing Choose" and the faux-African horns of "Red Dress" (contributed by, er, non-faux Afrobeat band Antibalas). "Crying" is slowly becoming a favorite, its choruses becoming increasingly thick with horns and synths on top of the main guitar riff. "DLZ" has a heavy, almost Zeppelin-ish stomp. "Lover's Day" is a strong, call-to-arms closer that leaves you with the kind of explosion that every album should end with.

Even their filler is better than ever, far superior to that of Cookie Mountain and Desperate Youth. "Love Dog" and "Family Tree" aren't as deep or unique as "Dirtywhirl" or "Let The Devil In," for example, but they work a whole lot better, both as complements to the stronger tracks and on their own.

When I last wrote about Cookie Mountain, I suggested that TVOTR was capable of more. While Dear Science, is not quite what I had in mind, and while it won't Represent Something Important the way that Return To Cookie Mountain did, it's easily one of the top releases of the year. It stands as evidence that TVOTR are realizing how good they are, gaining confidence in their abilities, and relying less on sonic trickery to make compelling music.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Yearly Album List

And now... the last of today's cleaning of the Drafts folder...

A while back, a blog-dork exercise made the rounds, in which the author makes a list of great albums from each year of your life.  You're free to decide your own criteria and overarching theme and whatnot... just do it however.

I tried, and failed, to use a consistent metric for each selection.  It's just not possible for a civilian.  I haven't listened to enough music from that pre-2000 period to use quality as the only criterion.  And my listening behavior as a child doesn't lend itself to a list of albums that loomed large in my consciousness... Brothers In Arms and Graceland are the first instances of that.  Where I could tip my cap to what I was listening to, as with 1988, I did.  But until 1989, when I finally acquired the buying power to collect CDs, this wasn't happening.  So these albums are, for the most part, picked retrospectively.  I wasn't listening to Sheik Yerbouti in 1979, Appetite For Destruction in 1987, or Neutral Milk Hotel in 1998.

But that's fine.  This is a fair index of my musical tastes over the years where possible, and a decent reflection of my tastes going backwards.  Discussion to follow...

1979 - Fleetwood Mac - Tusk / Frank Zappa - Sheik Yerbouti (tie)
1980 - Talking Heads - Remain In Light
1981 - The Police - Ghost In The Machine
1982 - Dire Straits - Love Over Gold
1983 - Billy Joel - An Innocent Man
1984 - Weird Al Yankovic - In 3-D
1985 - Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms
1986 - Paul Simon - Graceland
1987 - Guns N' Roses - Appetite For Destruction
1988 - DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince - He's the DJ, I'm The Rapper
1989 - Faith No More - The Real Thing
1990 - They Might Be Giants - Flood
1991 - Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
1992 - Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine
1993 - Pearl Jam - Vs.
1994 - Green Day - Dookie
1995 - Rancid - And Out Come The Wolves
1996 - Weezer - Pinkerton
1997 - The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Let's Face It
1998 - Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
1999 - Blink-182 - Enema Of The State
2000 - The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic
2001 - Ben Folds - Rockin' The Suburbs
2002 - Spoon - Kill The Moonlight
2003 - OutKast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
2004 - The Killers - Hot Fuss
2005 - Sufjan Stevens - Come On, Feel The Illinoise!
2006 - The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
2007 - LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
2008 - The Hold Steady - Stay Positive [pending]

What's fascinating to me isn't so much the classic albums I couldn't include (1979's London Calling, for example) but the number of albums by those names that caused drastic alterations in my musical tastes and habits.  Lots of big names are missing.  Where's Nirvana?  Where's Radiohead?  Where's Snow Patrol?  Those bands each changed the way I listen to music, and they're not represented even once.  And I wanted to include Stone Temple Pilots, just as a big fat fuck-you to whoever says they were talentless and unoriginal.  But this is how it has to go.

Nevermind wasn't the only tought cut from 1991.  That year was a near-impossible decision.  Blood Sugar Sex Magik gets the nod over Nevermind and Ten because it showed me that sexuality could be put forward openly and aggressively without it being childish ("Sir Psycho Sexy" notwithstanding).  Since I was just starting to mature, it really affected me... and corrupted my sweet, church-going, innocent mind!  Thank God for that.

1979 was another toughie.  It's the only tie, but I couldn't lose either Tusk or Sheik Yerbouti.  And that meant leaving out London Calling, The Wall, The Specials, Fear Of Music... just far too many crimes against musical list-making.

On the other hand, my unavoidable 1985 selection disappoints me greatly.  Brothers In Arms is possibly my least favorite Dire Straits album, despite the enormous footprint it left on my childhood.  The work they did prior to that album was so far superior that Brothers In Arms really doesn't belong here, especially when I already selected Love Over Gold as my pick for 1982.  However, 1985 is littered with a mix of good albums by great bands whose better work appears elsewhere on the list (this, Little Creatures, Dare To Be Stupid, Life's Rich Pageant) and critical classics I haven't really listened to enough to put on a list like this (The Replacements' Tim, The Smiths' Meat is Murder, Kate Bush's Hounds of Love).  I would have been much happier if I could, in good faith, put Tim in this slot.  It's a fantastic album that I like a lot.  But it has played zero role whatsoever in my life.

1981 is the only de facto choice.  I expected more.  But that's not so bad, because The Police ought to be on here in some form.  But it was one of a whopping five non-Zappa albums from 1981 in my iTunes.  So it was an easy make-up call to give them.  (Other four: The Tom Tom Club, Van Halen's Fair Warning, Guitar Music by Leo Kottke, and The Replacements' Sorry, Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash!)

And speaking of make-up calls, I got to give one to The Killers.  I tore apart Hot Fuss in my review of Sam's Town, and have often referred to The Killers as part of a progressive abstraction away from similar and better bands (i.e. "The Killers ripped off Interpol, Interpol ripped off New Order, New Order owes everything they had to Ian Curtis, Joy Division is overrated," etc), which I may have elucidated on the blog a long while back.  However, after dozens of listens, I have completely changed my mind.  Hot Fuss is one of the great albums of the decade.  When I can't decide what to listen to on my mp3 player as I go out for the evening, I invariably select Hot Fuss.  I can think of no bigger compliment, especially given that it's been out for four years.

2002 is kind of a weird year, too.  Kill The Moonlight is a fantastic album, and the Spoon album most representative of why they're so awesome.  But that gets the pick because of its lasting effect as much as anything else.  There were so many albums from 2002 that I loved at the time, but don't affect me as much anymore... The Postal Service's Give Up, Talib Kweli's Quality, Blackalicious' Blazing Arrow, Jurassic 5's Power In Numbers... the list goes on.  And the others that I do still feel strongly about, like the late-era Bosstones release A Jacknife To A Swan, don't hold up to the true classics from that year, like The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots or Bright Eyes' Lifted...

You know what?  Screw it.  I'm talking too much about stuff I left off.  I should just list the most egregious omissions.

1979 - Pink Floyd - The Wall
1980 - The Clash - London Calling
1987 - R.E.M. - Document
1991 - Nirvana - Nevermind
1991 - Pearl Jam - Ten
1992 - Sublime - 40 Oz. To Freedom
1992 - Stone Temple Pilots - Core
1994 - Weezer - Weezer
1996 - Less Than Jake - Losing Streak
1996 - Dave Matthews Band - Crash
1997 - Foo Fighters - The Colour And The Shape
1997 - Radiohead - OK Computer
1999 - The Roots - Things Fall Apart
2002 - The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
2003 - Snow Patrol - Final Straw
2003 - Guster - Keep It Together
2003 - The New Pornographers - Electric Version
2004 - Green Day - American Idiot
2004 - Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
2006 - The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls In America
2007 - The National - Boxer

I could have made a whole other list of rejects!  Better stop right there, before I do make another list....

Ballwashing The National Again

Ignore the fan-video visual. Just listen to this simple, perfect song. Lucky you.

Annotated Girl Talk

Looks like I'm flushing a bunch of old posts today...

Girl Talk's new collection of mashups to end all collections of mashups, Feed The Animals, is out now. And somehow, it's even better than Night Ripper. Not all the mashups work, but there are so many flourishes of DJ genius that it's worth it.

His work is so dense and encyclopedic that you need an atlas to figure out his samples. Most of the times I've listened to Feed The Animals, I've followed along in Wikipedia. Enjoyable as it is, I always have trouble seeing it for its music, and not for its documentary value. I think I like acknowledging which songs he mashed together more than listening to the end result. (Not that I won't dance to it. Because I absolutely will. Just saying.)

Anyhoo, following in the footsteps of such music-nerd compendiums as the Dan Bejar/Destroyer wiki, a good fellow at waxy.org compiled this statistical analysis of how GT uses those samples. Breakdowns of median sample date, length, changeovers, etc. It's interesting stuff.

[hat tip]

New TVOTR Songs

Two new TV On The Radio songs have been making the rounds of late, and they're both awfully promising. They're both a little simpler and smaller than their usual fare, but good nonetheless. I'm so ready for the new album. It's been a weak year, full of disappointments, disasters, boredom, and downturns. I can't write a best-of post of nothing but de facto choices; if Gnarls Barkley makes my 2008 list, I quit. I really need Dear Science, to be good.

"Golden Age" and "Dancing Choose" can be heard here, as of today. They're also touring this fall; go see them.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Nobody Expects the Palin Inquisition

I've been thinking about this since Sarah Palin was announced. Thank goodness someone else videotaped my thoughts...