Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Future Shock Revisited

Or best new music vs best music of all time, Part II

December... when everyone around me seems to be participating in the same end-of-year activity while I procrastinate the inevitable. But enough about Xmas shopping.

Many music writers and publications are now releasing their Best of the Year and Best of the Decade lists. I suppose sharing mine is somewhat obligatory. I already did a preliminary best of the aughts earlier this year, which I am loathe to revise and rank despite the fact it might be the only list of its kind to not include Wilco, Radiohead or the Arcade Fire. I will, however, add a new category to spotlight a handful of albums I missed the first time around:

Oldie Indies Have Fundie
Yo La Tengo And Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
Silkworm Italian Platinum
Guided By Voices Earthquake Glue

I could probably also include a defense of the all-but-forgotten Hot Hot Heat's Make Up the Breakdown, which may have edged out the Strokes' debut for the best album of the last-night's-fucking-party, new-wave-of-the-new-wave, cocaine-and-tight-pants aesthetic so prevalent in the early 00s.

As for the music of 09, this sort of wound up the year of records I liked but didn't love. The album I (and more than a few others) were most anticipating this year was Tyvek's debut full-length. The general consensus was that its somewhat scattershot and sprawling nature was a letdown after the focused brilliance of their initial singles. I can't necessarily disagree. It's "merely" one of the best records of the year instead of the life-affirming event for which some were hoping.

The very mild disappointment didn't end there. Meth Teeth debut full-length didn't match the excellence of last year's Bus Rides EP, despite duplicating a couple of its songs. Likewise, Thomas Function, Vivian Girls and Thee Oh Sees all put out decent records that weren't as good as 2008's respective efforts. The Thermals follow up to The Body, The Blood, The Machine didn't have the impact of that record. (Though, post-Bush's America, could we expect it to?) The Box Elders debut was fine but just a little on the pedestrian side for my taste. I suppose I was expecting something a bit more "out there" after hearing the band talked up such a degree.

Nevertheless, I liked all of the above well enough and recommend that you hear them. I'll still take them over the lo-fi-approximated-for-emo-kids of Japanadroids, that obnoxious Das Racist song or whatever the hell Pitchfork winds up choosing as its record of the year.

There were some records that didn't let me down though.

Bucking the above trend, the Nothing People's second album is arguably stronger than last year's debut. The new Reigning Sound was well worth the wait. I dug the Girls album in spite of the hype. The Mayyors 12" lived up to the hype. Ditto for Kurt Vile's Matador debut. Times New Viking returned to form. Jay Reatard finally delivered a proper (and worthy) follow up to Blood Visions. The Fresh and Onlys' Woodist album impressed. Grass Widow mixed angularity and melodicism in way that never fails to charm me. Pissed Jeans dropped another impressive chunk of ugliness on the world. The new (and final?) Marked Men album delivered exactly what you'd expect, which isn't a bad thing at all. Daniel Francis Doyle and Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves both released albums that totally flew under the radar but are well worth your attention.

Well, it appears there are over 10 records above, which seems to be the minimum round number needed for an end of the year list. I don't really feel like itemizing though. Why don't you do it for me and I'll let you know how close you are? I even bolded the band names to make it easy for you.

While you're busy contemplating the 21st century, I'm going to push the clock back about 30 years. I suppose I should really stop being surprised that obscure bands from New Zealand have videos, even if no one in the US saw them at the time. The prior discovery of clips by the Verlaines and This Kind of Punishment yielded no small amount of amazement from me but you'd think they would have prepared me for the clip below. However, this song pre-dates either of those videos (and MTV, for that matter) and it's for song from 3-track single, not a full album. Plus, it's not even the A-side!

With this wealth of videos for Flying Nun bands, how come I never saw any on 120 Minutes when I was growing up and taking notes on the whole "alternative rock" thing. It would have saved me a couple of years, at least. Dave Kendall was holding out on us, the ponce.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: It's a Bit Rich

The folks at Paste magazine have given us a real think piece in their best of the decade issue on the evolution of the hipster. This probably would have been a bit more potent had the the Hipster Handbook not already mocked these archetypes much more effectively six years ago. That's not very deck. It's also a bit ironic as I'm pretty sure that every one of their selections for the decade's best music, movies, TV shows and books are issued to one as soon as they sign a lease in Williamsburg. However, I suppose it's ultimately a brave move as they run the risk of alienating their core readership on hipsters who love to scoff at other hipsters while denying their own hipsterdom. See you all swingin' on the flippity-flop!

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Children's Crusade: Scorpio Moon EP

Doug Gillard has accumulated quite the resumé as the guitarist for Death of Samantha, Cobra Verde, Gem, Guided By Voices and many other artists. He's also the author of one of your favorite songs. (That would be GBV's "I Am a Tree.") Before any of those bands, the 19-year old Gillard formed Children's Crusade with Starvation Army's Fraser Sims. With Sims on vocals and Gillard playing all instruments, the pair recorded an 8-song cassette-only release in 1984. By the time of their second recording session the following year, the band has been fleshed out into a full lineup, but Gillard preferred to once again handle all the instruments himself. The session went unreleased at the time as Gillard joined Death of Samantha and the group faded into non-existence.

Five years later, Scat Records issued the cuts from the final Children's Crusade session as the inaugural release in their "Cleveland Archive Series." Upon listening to them, it's hard to imagine that songs as outstanding as these sat unreleased for years. The A-side, "Blue Venus Aflame," is a six-and-a-half minute epic, sounding something like rougher-edged Roxy Music. (Not a bad thing at all.) The two cuts on the flip are also remarkable: the anthemic straight ahead rock of "Your Time Is Through" and the weird Gang of Four/Captain Beefheart amalgam of "St. Jack's Bible." Though limited to only 1500 copies, the seven inch is still available from Scat and will only set you back 3 bucks.

Download Children's Crusade Scorpio Moon EP