Monday, December 27, 2010
2010 was also the year we lost Jimmy Lee Lindsay Jr., better known to the universe as Jay Reatard. Though gone, his influence on the rock underground remains. It's been four years since he released his watershed solo debut Blood Visions. Also released the same year was Times New Viking's debut album and these two records cast a long shadow. The first few years of the 21st century yelled "Return of the Rock!" as loudly as possible but whatever moderate commercial success was achieved by demi-raw garage or post-punk revivalists fizzled by the middle of the decade. Of course, the music biz answer to failure is always "slick it up" and suddenly rock was in short supply once again.
While it's debatable on whether or not Reatard and TNV kickstarted the new lo-fi/DIY movement, they certainly seemed to remind many of the purifying, primal thrill noise and volume can bring to a pop song. Good records by interesting bands have been coming at a fairly steady clip ever since. Punk was finally (if only partially) reclaimed from the shopping mall and rock was not dead after all.
Or is it? This year, the Official Arbiters of Music Taste for the Young, White and Privileged seemed relieved that the lo-fi "trend" had run its course and it no longer had to pay lip service to a sector of the underground it didn't care for or understand in the first place. Evidence can be found in their dismissive, middling reviews of Woven Bones, Wounded Lion and Thee Oh Sees. Others found it difficult to distinguish what should be obvious sonic variety in different bands using the same basic rock vocals/guitar/bass/drums set up. At times, I feel like a teenage metalhead who can easily pick out the nuances between his favorite bands. Whereas to most people, it all sounds like the same unlistenable racket.
In any case, below is a list of the best rock music going right now. To my ears, anyway. Listed more or less alphabetically to free myself and the artists from the indignity of ranking. Accompanying each pick are either excerpts from past reviews or new text if I had not reviewed them previously. I'm sure some of you are going to download all of these at once. My advice: Pick the one that sounds most interesting you and try just that one. Music is a lot better if you take the time to enjoy it.
Casual Victim Pile compilation (Matador)
If Casual Victim Pile wasn't the record of 2010, then 2010 was the year of Casual Victim Pile. Released back in January, this collection of bands from Austin, TX was like a harbinger for the year to come. Many of the bands on the comp released good to excellent albums this year: The Young, Woven Bones, Dikes of Holland, Tre Orsi, Harlem, The Golden Boys' John Wesley Coleman. Others like Kingdom on Suicide Lovers and The No No No Hopes contributed standout tracks that have me looking forward to their future releases. Casual Victim Pile served as notice for every other scene to step up their respective games. Frankly, it might be one of the best regional comps ever. And Rayon Beach isn't even on it!
Grass Widow Past Time (Kill Rock Stars)
Rather than provide direct hooks to hang your hat on, Grass Widow invite you to luxuriate in their singular sound. Their voices (the band's harmonies are top notch) and instruments weave in and out of each other. Each element is distinct and sometimes oblique yet they seamlessly form a whole. That may read as being challenging and it can be but Grass Widow is also stealthily inviting. They prove that rock music doesn't need to loud or noisy to be uncompromising. Nor does it need to be traditionally catchy to burrow its way right into your brain's pleasure center. (Originally posted: 8/25/10)
Mantles Pink Information EP (Mexican Summer)
San Francisco's Mantles first came to my attention via their cut Woodist's excellent Welcome Home/Diggin' The Universe compilation. This made me feel like a fool as they had already released a handful of 7"s and a full length on Siltbreeze of which I was totally ignorant. I did manage to get my hands on this 5 track EP though. And, lucky me, it totally smokes. The Mantles have gotten the requisite VU/Paisley Underground/NZ comparisons but I heard healthy dose of Richard Lester Myers-style swagger and weariness in there as well. And really, you can never have too much of that.
Nothing People Soft Crash (S-S)
Their debut, Anonymous, made my best-of list for 2008. Their second album, Late Night, was in some ways even better and surely would have made my best-of list for 09 had I bothered to make a proper one. Soft Crash, their third album in as many years, is better still. Such prolificness is impressive in and of itself but the substantial growth they've shown with each release in such a short period is simply astounding. (Originally posted: 6/30/10)
Reading Rainbow Prism Eyes (HoZac)
Reading Rainbow's stronger melodies easily distinguish themselves. Songs like "Wasting Time," "Always On My Mind" and the title track are some of the most infectious of the year, outclassing most of band's peers among the new naive. (Originally posted: 11/23/10)
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists The Brutalist Bricks (Matador)
The Brutalist Bricks is not any kind of departure from Leo's trademark sound. Rather, it distills his greatest strengths and offers some strongest melodies of his career. And it sounds fantastic, sporting crisp production with each element clearly pronounced in the mix. (Originally posted: 3/9/10)
Tre Orsi Devices + Emblems (Comedy Minus One)
I may have given the impression that Tre Orsi is merely some revivalist act. This is not the case. If they wanted to go that route, they could simply drive headfirst into cliché, which they thankfully avoid. Rather, the trio uses their influences as a foundation for their own style, simultaneously muscular and melancholy. That they could reclaim the soft/loud dynamic from nearly 20 years of terrible post-grunge and spin it into something distinctly their own on a song like "Best Kind of Failure" is nothing short of remarkable. (Originally posted: 6/8/10)
Tyvek Nothing Fits (In The Red)
This is the Tyvek album you've been waiting for. Though chaos is an essential part of Tyvek's approach, here they focus all the clamor and weirdness that sprawled all over their prior LP into their songs. The result is an unrelenting attack. Songs pummel you one after the other, never allowing you to catch your breath. (Originally posted: 11/9/10)
Wounded Lion s/t (In The Red)
Wounded Lion are not dissimilar to fellow Californians Nodzzz in their mix of rough simplicity and unrelenting catchiness. Actually, the band(s) I was reminded of most when listening to this platter were Big Dipper and the Embarrassment. Songs like "Hunan Province" and "Belt of Orion" seem to have inherited their sense of melody directly from Bill Goffrier's old bands, sources that are both fertile and infrequently replicated. (Originally posted: 4/27/10)
The Young Voyagers of Legend (Mexican Summer)
More than once I've seen the Young likened to the Replacements, probably because of singer Hans Zimmerman's passing resemblance to Paul Westerberg in voice and phrasing. It's a pretty erroneous comparison as the Young's music is wide open and exploratory, whereas the only thing the Mats were interested in exploring was the bottom of a Bud can. However, the false identification becomes easier to forgive when one realizes the Young don't have any easy precedents to reference. Are they the loosest post-hardcore band around or the tightest psychedelic trash? Live, I might say the former, on record probably the latter. It ultimately doesn't matter how one identifies them, of course, only that they're treading some exciting sonic territory that at once seems strange and alien yet undeniably, concretely rock. If you're only going to check out one album from this list from a band you've never heard of before, make it this one.
Best Coast Crazy For You (Mexican Summer)
Bottomless Pit Blood Under The Bridge (Comedy Minus One)
Dikes of Holland s/t (Sundae)
Fresh and Onlys Play It Strange (In The Red)
Idle Times s/t (HoZac)
Myelin Sheaths Get On Your Nerves (Southpaw)
Parting Gifts Strychnine Dandelion (In The Red)
Super Wild Horses Fifteen (HoZac)
Ty Segall Melted (Goner)
Welcome Home/Diggin' the Universe: A Woodsist Compilation (Woodsist)
Friday, December 17, 2010
Periodically, people ask me what I've been listening to lately. This kind of puts me on the spot as I try to cycle through everything I've listened to in the past few weeks and which of it might be appropriate or attractive to the speaker. Ultimately, it usually provokes a semi-hostile, passive aggressive reaction from me such as "I don't know! Stuff!"
Besides, I do a fairly regular podcast and maintain a music blog. What I'm digging at any particular time is a matter of public record. It's only a few clicks away if you own a computer. I can't do all the work for you people.
Incidentally, this is not a best of 2010 podcast. That will be the next one. Yes, I'll be condensing all the music I've liked best in the past year into a single download. How much more convenient does it get?
So the next time you see me out in public, just compliment what I'm wearing or something. We can talk about music. Just try and keep the topic narrow. And buy me a drink.
Download the latest The Unblinking Ear Podcast
Or Subscribe via iTunes
Monday, December 13, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
It's things like the above (stolen from Judd Apatow's Twitter feed) that make me think I should be much more specific in my iTunes store description.
Speaking of genres, how much come indie types can't come up with good subgenre names? What was the last one? Freak folk? Chillwave? Nobody wants to subdivide, I suppose. Metal fans cleave their medium into tiny slivers, but everything from U2 soundalikes to pure noise is "indie." Mostly this crowd just revives and misapplies terms like "lo-fi" (anything with distorted guitar that's harder than Sufjan Stevens) and "garage" (see prior).
I tried to get Curmudgeon-core (over 35 and reads Terminal Boredom) into the popular lexicon but no one was biting. But I'm making an effort.
The next podcast will be devoted entirely to "mustache punk."
Download the latest The Unblinking Ear Podcast
Or Subscribe via iTunes
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Anticipation for Tyvek's debut album was almost impossibly high. Based on a handful of fantastic singles and a well deserved reputation as an incendiary live act, the band were anointed the great hope of the lo-fi/DIY/garage/punk/whatever-the-fuck-you-want-to-call-it underground.
When their self-titled full-length was finally released in May of last year, disappointment was probably inevitable. Though a fine and adventurous record, some felt the album diluted the white hot intensity of their single with frequent Swell Maps-style song fragments and odd excursions. The consensus seemed to be "it could have been better." It probably didn't help matters that the original lineup was breaking up while the album was being assembled.
Tyvek's second album, Nothing Fits, comes out today on In the Red with all traces of excess excised. In other words, this is the Tyvek album you've been waiting for.
Though chaos is an essential part of Tyvek's approach, here they focus all the clamor and weirdness that sprawled all over their prior LP into their songs. The result is an unrelenting attack. Songs pummel you one after the other, never allowing you to catch your breath. This is not to say Tyvek are a brutal or punishing listen. Far from it, actually. Though they're not especially interested in melody, the band has a unique sense of tunefulness. They know just where to place a sudden stop, timing shift or blast of noise for maximum impact.
We could have a lengthy discussion whether or not punk rock actually exists in 2010. That's a topic for another time. But if you wanted to argue the "pro," Tyvek would be exhibit A. Nothing Fits is a strong contender for album of the year.
Also out today on In The Red is Strychnine Dandelion, the debut album from the Parting Gifts, a new project from Greg Cartwright of Reigning Sound and Coco Hames of the Ettes. Though the album definitely has the loose informal feel of a side project, it's still a blast to listen to. New tunes from a songwriter of Cartwright's magnitude are always welcome and he turns in a couple of gems here. Cartwright has also proven himself the master of unearthing obscure but brilliant Jagger/Richards compositions. The Reigning Sound's cover of "I'd Much Rather Be With The Boys" was one of the highlights of Time Bomb High School. Here the Parting Gifts dust off "(Walking Through the) Sleepy City," which is expertly intoned by Ms. Hames. Just try and listen to this version without smiling. Actually, one could say that about this entire album.
The third Hank IV album, creatively titled III, is also out today on Siltbreeze. Unlike the two records above, I haven't actually heard this one yet as Siltbreeze is not in the habit of playing the promotional copy game. Still, since the Hank IV's prior two platters made my best-of lists for their respective years and since they were possibly the best live band I've seen in the past half decade or so, I'm going to go ahead and recommend this one sight sight unseen (or, more accurately, sound unheard). If it stinks, that's on them, not me.
Update: Just prior to publication of this piece, the Hank IV released a video for the lead off track from III, so I've now heard at least a percentage of the album. It's awesome. Check it out here.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Play the Xbox Kinect™, of course.
At this point, it's hardly considered an affront to credibility for a band to have their song in a commercial but has there ever been a more explicitly anti-consumerist song used in an advertisement than this?
I suppose it's plausible that Gang of Four thought it conceptually brilliant/deliciously ironic to match a song that poses the question above to a product which actually aims to definitively answer it. It's equally plausible that they simply couldn't pass on getting cut a check for what I assume is a substantial amount of money.
Now that they've taken this step, one has to wonder if there are other songs in the Gang of Four discography available for use in advertisements.
I Found That Axe Essence Rare?
I Can't Believe It's Not Guns Before Butter?
"I Love a Man in Uniform" for the U.S. Armed Services?
Armalite is still in business, right?
If McDonald's winds up using "Cheeseburger," then... well, I guess I'll go get some McDonald's. After all, they have cool songs in their commercials.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Though you'd never know it from my lack of posts (a fact I'll blame on the MLB playoffs), I've found myself in the enviable conundrum of having a rather large amount of new (and new to me) music grace my ears in the past few weeks. Enviable because much of it is quite good. A conundrum because its quantity means that I'm skipping around from record to record, enjoying most but giving any enough repeated spins to fully process them in a manner that would allow me to write an insightful account for presentation to you, dear reader.
Combine this with my finds from the WFMU Record Fair this past weekend (which will likely dominate my next podcast) and the records sitting on the Ikea Tullsta next to my turntable (still unplayed after weeks or months), and one can see that I'm currently residing in the land o' plenty.
So consider this podcast a cursory sampler of stuff you should give a listen. I'll admit, it's not my best "flowing" podcast but it's still probably more enjoyable than your average CMJ showcase.
Download the latest The Unblinking Ear Podcast
Or Subscribe via iTunes
Thursday, October 07, 2010
No, I didn't go the the Matador 21 anniversary shows in Las Vegas last weekend (as dramatized above).
Nor did I attend the Gonerfest in Memphis the previous weekend.
It looks like there's no chance of me attending any MLB postseason games.
So what am I doing instead?
Making incredible podcasts for you to listen to.
Bunch of ungrateful jerks.
Download the latest The Unblinking Ear Podcast
Or Subscribe via iTunes
Monday, October 04, 2010
Given the city's open-mindedness and tolerance of the transgressive, punk rooted in SF early and got weird fast. Locals Crime released their first records before many prominent UK acts such as the Clash and the Jam. Outsider/bizarro rock acts like Chrome and the Residents were operating pre-punk but found both new directions and new audiences thanks to the new wave. The Dead Kennedys became favorites with the hardcore crowd and the Avengers' records garnered some acclaim from the rock press. However, the most interesting punk coming out of San Francisco was from an axis of bands who shared some members and more than a few musical ideas: Flipper, Negative Trend, The Sleepers and Toiling Midgets.
All these bands fused the spirit of experimentalism of the original CBGBs bands and UK post-punk outfits with the more aggressive approach favored by the new breed of punk bands popping up all over the U.S. None received much attention nationally except for Flipper, who toured a bit and got some posthumous recognition when Kurt Cobain sported their t-shirt of Saturday Night Live. Still, Negative Trend had their sole release, a 4 song EP, reissued by Henry Rollins and the Sleepers had a complete discography released in the mid-90s (which is out of print but available cheap). The only one of the bunch whose best work remains buried is Toiling Midgets.
Featuring the unmistakable and inimitable vocals of the Sleepers' Ricky Williams, Toiling Midgets released their debut LP, Sea of Unrest, in 1982. It was reissued on CD briefly in 1994 but quickly fell out of print and is now extremely difficult to find. This is a shame as it's one of the finer slices of U.S. post-punk. The album features many of the sonic motifs of the Sleepers' material, which Jon Savage dubbed "the sound of the unconscious". In some ways, it actually sounds like more of a continuation of the sound of the Sleepers' brilliant debut EP than that band's more muted (if wonderful in its own way) album. As befits a band from San Francisco, Toiling Midgets achieve a nearly psychedelic grace though more in the psychological sense of the word than the musical one. Besides, you'd never mistake the band's pummeling rock for Haight-Ashbury flower power anyway. If you thought that Joy Division were at their best before they went into the studio with Martin Hannett, Sea of Unrest is the record for you.
Following the album's release, Williams quit and the band released a mostly instrumental album the following year before splitting up. They reformed in in 1989 with American Music Club's Mark Eitzel on vocals and released the album Son on Matador, 10 years after their debut. The band appears to be a semi-active concern at this point. There's what appears to be an official MySpace for your perusal.
Though it was reissued on CD, the following rip of Sea of Unrest comes from the original vinyl source as I don't have a copy of the CD. When and if I obtain one, I may replace these MP3s. I've tried my best to remove any surface noise from the recording while leaving the wanted noise of the music intact.
Download Toiling Midgets Sea of Unrest
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
One could make the argument that these releases prepped the underground community for the breakthrough of Bee Thousand in a way their prior albums didn't. Guided By Voices may seem like fairly typical indie fare by today's standards but then their sloppy and extremely lo-fi prog-pop was fairly challenging. Indie/punk types may abhor the slick and professional, but GBV seemed to be openly mocking the concept of quality control. New listeners who didn't have the patience or intrepidity to sit through the uneven Vampire on Titus could surely endure a quick spin of a 7" EP and hear the handful of brilliant songs each invariably contained.
These smaller samples were much more digestible examples of the GBV aesthetic: rough fidelity, nonsensical lyrics, brevity, insanely catchy melodies. Of course, there was also the band's, shall we say, idiosyncratic method of choosing songs for release. Wheat and chaff were mixing freely. However, further listens might reveal that Guided By Voices' "throwaway" tunes weren't just filler, but rewarding in their own right. The band may have seemed impenetrable initially, but Pollard and his cohorts' twisted logic soon became readily apparent.
There has yet to be a thorough compilation of all of GBV's 7" material despite that a) they're a band inclined to clear vaults and compile collections and b) those records contained some of their signature songs. The latter assertion is somewhat indisputable as "Shocker In Gloomtown" from the Grand Hour EP and the superior 7" version of "Game of Pricks" are both included on the band's best of collection, Human Amusements at Hourly Rates.
The 15 songs below have been cherry-picked from various GBV 7"s from 1993 to 1995. That Robert Pollard is prolific is no secret but consider this: any artist releasing a batch of songs this strong over a two to three year span would be justly praised as a remarkable talent. Pollard did it while releasing three equally potent full lengths.
Monday, September 27, 2010
It's not for no reason that they are one of the few major websites without a comments section. It's as though they're saying:
You're welcome to have issue with our opinions but you can't air your grievances in our house. Feel free to quarrel with our choices in another public space of your choosing so it appears as though we are the center of universe. And if you could link us, that would be great too.This particular list was "The Top Tracks of the 1990s," a topic I thought VH1 already covered definitively. Still, there was some anticipation for who would get top honors. Bets were made. I lobbied for Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments' "Negative Guest List" via Twitter and figured Nirvana were "too Rolling Stone" to get break the top 10. (And I was right!) Ultimately, the #1 slot went to a band which recently reunited and thus could possibly repeat the feat when the best of the 2010s list is made. Possibly with the same song, Michael Bolton-style.
I was tempted to make my own counter list. I eventually decided against this, partly because it would be hypocritical to decry these kinds of lists as dumb, arbitrary and ultimately meaningless and then make one of my own. (Not that this stopped me from contradicting myself throughout this piece anyway.) It's also because I'm told my lists are often viewed by readers as "bunch of bands I've never heard of," which makes the task of checking out any of said artists to appear more daunting than it actually is.
That being said, why not just give my unequivocal endorsement to one band? Surely, there's one group of the 90s that's both so criminally underappreciated and undeniably awesome that they deserve an unshared spotlight. And if that group isn't Silkworm, it would have to be Prisonshake.
Cleveland's Prisonshake had been around since 1987 and put out a slew of singles, EPs and a box set (no kidding) before releasing their first "proper" album, The Roaring Third, in 1993. This mammoth record got enough notice to receive a positive appraisal from Spin and inclusion in the Trouser Press Record Guide. However, Prisonshake's sound was more (early) Alice Cooper than Alice in Chains and failed to connect with anyone beyond a small percentage of the indie audience (which, as a whole, was much smaller now that it is today).
This was a pity because the record was simply a monster. It has all the strut, gnarl, grit and grandeur one could possibly want from a rock album. If the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion were the 1990s embodiment of rock n roll trash, Prisonshake equally celebrated this aesthetic but without the detachment. They played it straight and their convictions and sincerity granted them a greater power.
An you don't have to take my word for it. Here's Dusted's Nate Knabel on Prisonshake:
I think Prisonshake is like the axis around which all conversations about rock music should rotate. Like planet earth spinning far and wide in its revolution around the sun (that's what it does, right?), our conversations about rock music can pretty distant from the source. And it's winter right now. Really, I'd just like to tell every band begining with like Arcade Fire (who are just fine I guess) and extending to like Wilco, MGMT, I don't know, the Delta Sprit (and deifnitely Chromeo) to go get fucked. But it's okay, because Prisonshake remains a fixed inextinguishable source of heat. The Roaring Third is the best record of the 1990s.The Roaring Third's "hit" was "2 Sisters," released separately as a 45. Was it the best song of the 1990s? Well, it was one of the best songs from one of the best albums of the 90s. And it definitely rocks harder than "Gold Soundz."
Now that your appetite is whetted, you can go purchase The Roaring Third from the Scat Records website for mere $10. It's a bargain at twice the price. Prisonshake have many other records available from Scat as well. If you want a quick sample of the rest of their work, Brushback at On Base On An Overthrow is a big Prisonshake fan and has posted many MP3 from their various releases.
But first and foremost, get yourself a copy of The Roaring Third. Your record collection is not of museum quality without it.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
What better time for another of our semi-annual all punk rock podcasts than the first day of fall?
Just imagine the sound of those crisp, newly fallen leaves crunching beneath your Doc Martens or Converse brand "anarchy" high tops.
Or trying to balance an egg on its end, then smashing it in the name of "controlled chaos."
Or prepping yourself for Hallowe'en by getting out those old Misfits records. (Please keep in mind that when I write "old," I don't mean from the 90s.)
Yes, Autumn and punk rock go together like Social Distortion fans and bad tattoos. Or Social Distortion fans and chain wallets. Or Social Distortion fans and the presumption that this guy was "totally punk" for some reason.
Earlier installments of our series are available here, here, here and here.
Download the latest The Unblinking Ear Podcast
Or Subscribe via iTunes
Wednesday, September 08, 2010
*For the record, they're not right about anything.
Thursday, September 02, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Monday, August 23, 2010
I'm sure you're going to want to watch the above a few more times. Once you're ready to move on, below are a pair of videos from Grass Widow and Super Wild Horses. They both have quite good albums being released tomorrow on Kill Rock Stars and HoZac, respectively. (They are also both comprised entirely of women, though that's hardly relevant, right?)
Next up, here's a video from Austin's Woven Bones. Their debut album, In and Out and Back Again, came out earlier this year on HoZac and is well worth hearing. Who knew HoZac's promo budget included video expenses?
We're going to wrap things up with a "cult classic" from Christmas. I nearly wrote a "Used Bin Ubiquitous Bargins" post about this song's parent album, In Excelsior Dayglo but then I saw this. As I'm not fan of redundancy, I decided to scrap it. Needless to say, even though you can download this out-of-print album for free, you would do yourself a favor if you pick it up the next time you see it in a used bin.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Monday, August 09, 2010
Friday, August 06, 2010
08.13.10 - pdx, or - SMMR BMMR @ Plan B w/Woven Bones, The Lamps, Wounded Lion, Meth Teeth, GGreen, Burning Yellows, Myelin Sheaths, Therapists, Manic Attracts, Fist City, $12, 21+, 6pmIt would be more more or less impossible for me to make the Portland shows (despite a pretty incredible lineup for 8/13), but I may have to hitch it out to NoCal for that first weekend in September. Anybody in the area want to put me up for a few days?
08.14.10 - pdx, or - HOUSE PARTY @ 110 n. failing w/Jonny X & the Groadies, GGreen, Big Black Cloud, all ages, $5, 8pm
09.03.10 - daly city, ca - @ Serra Bowl w/Ty Segall, Culture Kids, Blasted Canyons, all ages, FREE, 8pm
09.05.10 - davis, ca @ d.a.m. house w/Thee Oh Sees, The Lamps, all ages, $5, 7pm