Heads On Sticks & Ventriloquists

The prodigious writings of a tortured genius.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

My Chemical Apology

I done wrong.

I've generally considered myself an affable and non-hostile person. What bad have I done in life that wasn't harmless tomfoolery, simple prankery, or honest-to-goodness shenanigry? Pretty much nothing. However, since I was about 13, I have been a music elitist. Trust me, my taste in music is better than yours. That's how I think.

It's no coincidence that my inauguration into teen-dom resulted in this behavior. Stereotypically this is when we all begin our flight-from-the-nest training. The reins are loosened, we foster our first adult-like friendships, and mom stops picking out your clothes*. This isn't the real reason I evolved into a music snob. The real reason is that I had begun to become intimate with punk rock. There must be some reason I gravitated towards this genre of music, but would most likely require some sort of Freudian psychoanalysis that I don't feel like diving into right here.

This punk rock lifestyle would eventually help shape my adolescence. For instance, I would grow to listen to more than just punk, seeking out music that was simply out of the mainstream. Furthermore, I would go on to become obsessed with the independent music scene and started writing off people for liking certain musics. For further proof of my evolution, I currently find myself "blogging"; an activity for people that think they are so smart that everyone else needs to see it in action (obviously this blog being no exception... I do think I'm smart, I do want people to think about me positively**).

I concede, there is so much that is good about punk as an idiom and a music. But, for the sake of this introduction (don't worry I'll get to my point), I have to point out the negative. Punk is about narcissism. It's about being superior to the other, kind of like Nietzsche's ubermensch or the fantasy world that Terrell Owens lives in. For the sake of brevity (and to assure that people besides only me read this to completion) I'll refer you to a record review [click here] I wrote for punknews.org that gives more explaination on this played out "complaining about punk" thing.

My point is this. I was totally wrong about everything.

This started to resonate with me about a year ago when emo upstarts My Chemical Romance released the almost undeniably awesome single "Helena". I had arrived at a quandary. Having been in the "scene" for years I had been aware of My Chemical Romance since their first album, "I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love", met simmering insider hype. It was part Screeching Weasel, part Sunny Day Real Estate. In theory I should have liked it. Had anyone asked me at the time if I liked Screeching Weasel and Sunny Day Real Estate, I would have answered "yes"***.

I didn't like their gothic imagery and their seeming pop-ification of decidedly un-pop bands like the Misfits and Fugazi. I didn't realize at the time (arguably at the height of my newfound obsession with amelodic hardcore music) that these pop leanings were MCR's saving grace. This band realized -- long before I ever would -- that pop music is the most important artform.

I've come to accept now that My Chemical Romance is one of the best touring bands in the world. The reason being that they are an absolute anomaly: a goth-oriented punk band with classic rock leanings that revels in absolute bombast. They are this generation's Kiss: a band that should have only satisfied a niche market, until it was revealed that the entire market really just wanted to rock****.

So that brings us to present day, where MCR have released one of the most triumphant songs I have ever heard (this song being "The Black Parade" and its video is just below). This band has and will affect the youth in ways that all the Radioheads in the world could only dream of. Perhaps Radiohead's music is better "art" (this pretty much cannot be refuted) and I would label Radiohead as the single greatest band of my generation, but there's something about the "moment" of My Chemical Romance that Radiohead cannot touch. This band is in the midst of presenting pop music in a theatrical sense that is hard to find elsewhere.

These same sentiments may be directed at new teen-oriented bands like Taking Back Sunday (whose last album I feel was actually quite good) to older music critic fodder like Talking Heads (whose last album I also feel was actually quite good).

Taking Back Sunday is probably never compared to Talking Heads -- and for good reason -- but the concept remains the same. In "the scene" Taking Back Sunday's debut album "Tell All Your Friends"***** is widely considered a pop-emo cornerstone. In the realm of pop music in general, Talking Heads' "Remain In Light" is widely considered to be one of the best albums of the 80s and a defining part of the New Wave. The importance of these albums in their respective scenes is gargantuan. However, after the fact, people began to politicize both acts. Suddenly Talking Heads had their entire career judged against "Remain In Light". Their final three records are considered to be well below par.

The same happened to Taking Back Sunday. Their debut was a slow but steady boil to success. I liked the album, but once it became more and more popular it began to fade away from my stereo. Now people deride the band for (a) singing about bad relationships and (b) being intensely popular.

The problem here is that, in hindsight, I most certainly enjoy the later works of both Taking Back Sunday and Talking Heads more than what they are judged on. Somewhere along the line people were missing the point. Sure, "Remain In Light" is a great album, but I find myself listening to songs like "Totally Nude", "Radio Head", "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)", and "(Nothing But) Flowers" much more. But I would never say that I like late Talking Heads better for fear of being a scene heretic. Furthermore it's heretical to even admit enjoyment of Taking Back Sunday, but you know what -- I like them. I think they get better with each album and I enjoy it.

I really think even I'm starting to miss the point of this apology. For instance, who is it to? The bands? Myself? I guess it doesn't matter. Punk had raised me to be critical of popularity, but it is this popularity that caused punk to entirely devour itself. Punk doesn't know what to make of its own politics. And it is those politics that caused me to -- for years -- miss the point of music.

So, sorry.

*My mom still buys anywhere between 50-75% of my clothes.
And being pretentiously self-reflexive probably isn't helping my cause.
The interesting thing in this case is that I rarely ever listen to Screeching Weasel or Sunny Day Real Estate, and historically I have had little vested interest in either. But at the time it was important to say I liked both bands. Even today I will still say that I enjoy both those bands, but the truth is that I never listen to them.
**** And also to roll.
***** Which, prophetically, is how they became so popular to begin with.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Film Critic Reviews for the Year in Movies

Ty Burr - Boston Globe
"Burr is back to scrutinize films like never before! Forget his questionable past, just sit down, and have fun... reading his reviews!"
Grade: A-

Roger Ebert - Chicago Sun-Times
"Ebert remains the Martin Scorsese of film critics; sticks to a formula in his older age, but has hearkened back to a former glory with this year. Usually traditional, but a neccesity."
Grade: B+

E! Online Movie Reviews - www.eonline.com
"Can't make up their mind about what criterion to criticize film! Untrustworthy to anyone but cocaine addled, botox injected soccer moms! They gave Black Christmas a favorable score. Skip this!"
Grade: D-

Owen Gleiberman - Entertainment Weekly
"Where did Entertainment Weekly find this guy? And why have they stuck with him so long? Smug and haughty; a Gleiberman review is an irritating experience. On top of that, he's not right very often. Gets a D and not an F because it would be cruel to grade anyone lower than E! Online."
Grade: D

Kyle Smith - New York Post
"Hit or miss. Seems to hate comedy in any form, which is odd because the New York Post could be the funniest newspaper in America. Call it like you see it."
Grade: C

A.O. Scott - New York Times
"Old and cranky and artsy fartsy. Another hit or miss year for A.O. Scott!"
Grade: C+

Lisa Schwarzbaum - Entertainment Weekly
"The more even-headed of EW's kosher tag-team. Gleiberman is a Casino Royale dude, where as Schwarzbaum is the lady of The Departed. Ya dig?"
Grade: B+

Peter Travers - Rolling Stone
"As usual, another on-point year for Mr. Travers. You'll find yourself usually admitting that you agree with him, film snobbery aside."
Grade: A

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Standing by Decisions

As usual, I've been met with the annual onslaught of vocal friends, family members, and other people asking "Why? Why is [pop musician] the winner of the Lou Bega Award?"

I think that, first of all, people don't understand the Lou Bega Award the way Jon and I do. The Lou Bega award goes not to the worst music of the year (because any one of the multitude of Slipknot and Taking Back Sunday ripoffs would win each year). No, the Lou Bega award goes to the song that was intensely popular, but is derivative, boring, annoying, and uncreative.

So while I would have gladly voted for Hinder's "Lips of an Angel"(?) or some song about "Chicken Noodle Soup", had I simply known about them. The thing about the Lou Bega Award is that it needs to be soooo popular, that there is no way I could have missed it.

So the reason we didn't vote for those songs is because I never heard them other than people saying how popular they were.

The reason we didn't vote for Gwen Stefani's new song is because it didn't get popular enough (and believe me, that song is way worse than "It's Goin' Down").

So upon hearing these songs, do I believe that they are worse than Yung Joc's "It's Goin' Down"? The answer is yes. But, the Lou Bega Award goes to the artist which most desecrates the idea of popular music, not worst music of the year. So Yung Joc supporters should be thankful that we're saying he was among the most popular artists of the year. The ruling stands.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The 8th Annual Lou Bega Award!

In 1999 -- the worst year in music history -- my friend Jon Katz and myself co-founded the Lou Bega Award, named after the worst recording artist of all time. This prestigious award, given annually each December, goes not necessarily to the artist with the worst song, but to the one which most desecrates the concept of popular music altogether.

Previous Recipients:
1999 - Lou Bega "Mambo #5"
2000 - Baha Men "Who Let The Dogs Out?"
2001 - Afroman "Because I Got High"
2002 - Nelly "Hot In Herre"
2003 - Sean Paul "Like Glue"
2004 - tie - every song involving Lil' Jon
2005 - Gwen Stefani "Hollaback Girl"

This year's inductee is "It's Goin' Down" by Yung Joc.
Yes that's right. After one year of bucking the trend by inducting a white woman, we are back in black!

Meager speller Yung Joc titled his debut album "New Joc City" despite hailing from College Park, Georgia. In his signature song, Joc waxes poetic on how difficult it can be when no matter where you go "it" is goin' "down". Whether Joc heads to the mall, the club, or even the trap (?) it's pretty much guaranteed it's goin' down. In the song's video, Joc gets an entire house party and the all-female staff of a clothing store to join him in his signature dance, the Joc-in. In Joc's second video for the Cribs-inspired "I Know You See It," the hook from "It's Goin' Down" plays during the intro and seamlessly transitions into another song, thus demonstrating the variation of his songs.

What happened, Yung Joc? Couldn't you follow in the successful footsteps of Young Jeezy, Young Dro, Young Gunz, even Neil Young?? Apparently not, which is why you are 2006's lucky recipient of the Lou Bega Awar

Some runners-up:

Hinder "Lips Of An Angel" - How can a band be worse than Nickelback? If they are from Oklahoma City. Hinder is synonymous with buzzphrase "Red State Rock." This band sucks worse than any rock song of the 21st century, but it's hard to win the Lou Bega Award without a hit outside of, uh, "the heartland". Hinder surely would have nabbed this year's award had they simply attempted to expand their market to either coast where I would have heard it in Philly, and Jon would have heard it in LA.

Fergie "London Bridge" - A few years ago, a relatively unpopular hip-hop group hired a former child star to sing for them and all of the sudden they became the world's most popula
r hip-hop group. Then she peed her pants on stage and released a solo album and we're left with what seems to be a wannabe Beyonce covering a wannabe "Hollaback Girl". Officially replacing Kelis's "Milkshake" as the strangest euphemism for sexual acts in a modern pop song.

Thanks for another great year of terrible music, guys! Who knows what's waiting for us in 2007! Keep 'em comin'!

Bill Benz
Jon Katz

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Best Songs I Can Think of Right Now For 2006 Dude

Here's the 2006 best awesome music mixtape (now annual? who knows? will I be doing this thing in a year? will I be dead????). Also see the best albums of the year post. Ask me and I'll burn you a copy. Or just do it yourself. Nevermind... fuck the mixtape, even though they're fun to make, just read about these awesome songs and locate them at your discretion.

I'll start with a song that exists only on vinyl (because vinyl is da bomb! and it sounds better! and it's totally awesome! fuck everything else!). So I'll have to wait a hundred years for some retrospective CD compilation to come out when this artist is 60 years old until I actually
own this song. But we're in luck because you can stream it for free all the live long day.

The song is "Bro's" by Panda Bear (of Animal Collective fame) and it just about destroys my heart and soul every time I hear it. It's about 7-or-so minutes long of beautiful melody, rhythm, and harmony (which is what songs
are!). Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to go follow this link and click on the first "listen" icon under "Track List" (hint: it's the one called "Bro's"). Also, to FatCat Records: release this on some other media, because I don't own a cylinder phonograph. Alright, brah?

Moving on to music that sounds exactly the same as above.

Andrew W.K. apparently is even
crazier than we originally thought, which turned out to be quite awesome. His most recent album was released only in Japan and South Korea, featuring 22 fucking songs. So one of his new opuses "Let's Go On A Date", basically turns down the party and turns up the Meatloaf (but the party is still there, so don't fret). For the nerd in all of us, who cannot ask girls out, this song exists. Andrew W.K. basically is the most cool not cool person ever.

Here he is speaking at NYU(![?]):

Next next next!

And the hype continues to build for North Carolina's Annuals. I still haven't heard their new album, but their single "Brother" takes all the excellent aspects of music these days and mish-mashes it all together. For the person who can't get into Animal Collective but thinks Arcade Fire is played out.

Hey, who is scared shitless of Xiu Xiu?! Ooh me! Me! I am! Regardless, their most recent single, which rocks, is called "Boy Soprano" (even the vaguest of genital references can't slip past these guys, oh Xiu Xiu) and you should probably listen to it.

Add these two images together...

Think about that. Then realize that it's real. Then listen to "Province" by TV on the Radio.

The band Silversun Pickups have been gaining a lot of hype this year as well. I don't think it's totally deserved, as I only really like two of their songs: "Little Lover's So Polite" and this one (don't worry I'll get to it). I do think they have good intentions though, and they have all the right influences. So anyway, my vote for their best song (and song I really, really enjoy) goes to "Lazy Eye". Their video features my new favorite "video girl" (she's the red blur in that YouTube box below).

Shook Ones did steal their name from the Mobb Deep song. I learned that this year when I asked their bassist after their set. They stole their sound from Dan Yemin and company. I learned this when I heard them. If this sounds appealing, listen to "CARMS Race" and "SMRT" by this band and be on your merry way.

Somewhere, really out of nowhere, Appleseed Cast is all like "Um... we're going to drop a new album." And everyone is like, oh word? Because we didn't know they were still around. Then they were like "Oh, btw, it's going to feature the best song we've ever written". And everyone was all like no waaaay. Well, way, and it's called "Here We Are (Family In A Hallway)". It's worth the 99 cents on iTunes (but I guess all these are).

The Flaming Lips released another really good album this year, melting Black Sabbath together with a golden koala. Even though this song was released in 2005 I think, it's too good to exclude. It's like The Soft Bulletin: None More Soft. Here's the video:

The Blood Brothers new album is good, the only reason people hate on it is because their last album was better, and even better was the album before that. But this album is heavy with good single songy sings. One of my favorites is "We Ride Skeletal Lightening"; if you're familiar with the Blood Brothers, then it should be pretty easy to guess what phrase is said ad nauseum in this little number. Also, the change-up at the end is sweet. Perhaps the biggest weirdness to popularity ratio of any band. Below is a live version.

So, Algernon Cadwallader have not officially released an album, but if the demo of Philly's best new band is any indication, these guys rock and roll and rule. Their hit awesome track "Second Rate Machines" may remind you of Cap'n Jazz or Owen one of those Kinsella bands. It, as well as an awesome live version, are up on AC's myspace page. Peep it, dawg.

Daughters have been busy jizzing all over this great nation with boldly experimental new music, pretty much alienating the grindcore crowd and peeing on the scenester crowd. I love the song "Hyperventilationsystem", with its chant "Love is a disgusting thing, love is a disgusting thing." The following video is not from this year, not even from their new album, but it's here for the person who is like "Isn't Daughters that John Mayer song?" Watch it and you'll understand why my mom doesn't get some of my musical interests.

I liked the new Deftones album, but that's because I actually like the Deftones. It's not a guilty pleasure. But since every single person I talk to thinks I'm a giant dumbass for liking this band, I won't tell you that I really liked the song "Riviere". Fuck you, all of you.

Next up is Destroyer, perhaps the most inappropriately named band ever. C'mon, dude, let some tech-metal band have it! Click it and listen to "European Oils", it's Destroyer's best song yet.

Girl Talk. I was about to post a track. But no, the whole damn album is a track. So listen to the whole damn album.

Philly's own Dr. Dog released a wonderbar EP this year (but don't take it from me, just see what Beck has to say!). The last track, "Livin' a Dream", is another one of those soul crushing beautiful mega-songs, that you should nab off of iTunes right now if you do nothing else.

Brit-pop-punk never sounded anywhere near as good as when The Futureheads are doing it. I listened to "Skip to the End" more than other dudes this summer. Take a gander at this video below from the Pitchfork Music Fest, let the harmonies hit your ears, and then realize that this is what they sound like live! Maybe it's just a good mix, but... damn!

Like I said, Clipse are not being overhyped. Check out "Wamp Wamp (What It Do)" below, then tell me that you don't wanna wet your nose up... bitch.

Gnarles Barkley were the hipster approved uberpop of the year, with their runaway single "Crazy" -- which was awesome, admit it. My favorite track off the album was "Transformer" though. Below is a fan video.

So we can all agree that Islands aren't as good as the Unicorns, but it's great that they went in an entirely new direction. Ditch the synth pop and get yo' Paul Simon on! "Jogging Gorgeous Summer" is exactly what the title says it is.

The Jonbenet may or may not have felt awkward this summer when that creepy dude pretended to be the real child rapist murderer. Their single "Eating Lightning Part I" suuuure is good though. Later this year O.J. would accidentally admit that he killed his wife.

If someone last year came up to me and said "Hey, Bill... yo, this is crazy. First of all, I'm from the future. Okay, so follow along. Lifetime, you know them right?"
"Yeah, of course. They destroyed every other punk band I could ever hope to listen to. How could I forget?"
"Okay, well, listen. See this LP?"
"Alright, on it... are two brand new Lifetime songs."
"Just listen. Okay? Here take it. (Vanish into the future)"
"But, I don't have a record player."

So Lifetime released two new songs this year. They're a lot cleaner, a touch poppier. But fuck, man, it's LIFETIME. I like "All Night Long" better, but just listen to both while your at it. This is the band responsible for spawning every Taking Back Sunday that you probably hate.

Get your hands on a copy of Lupe Fiasco's "Real ft. Sarah Green". Below is the shittiest possible video for you to get an idea of how good this song is.

M.I.A. - "Bucky Done Gun". Watch the video, then have a sexy party. Best dance song of the year.

One of the least Google-able bands, Man Man, released an album beloved by all (well I liked it, but I didn't really listen to it all that much). However, imagine Hulk Hogan singing a sea shanty that transitions into a 50s doo-wop, and that's really only half the picture of the song "Ice Dogs". Below is the song, but something tells me this isn't the official video. Call it a hunch.

Mew have a myriad of songs that I wholeheartedly enjoy, so I'll just go with the first of their many insanely epic songs, "Chinaberry Tree". I think this is brain-meltingly beautiful, in a nerdy sci-fi sort of way. Dammit, listen to him: "
But I never learned how not to be / As my first love said to me / “I don’t care. I’m not there” / So that I could not sleep / My whole being was falling apart / So that I soon cried out / “Dear friends, hold me!”"

"Montanita", the first track from Ratatat's new album, is a collage of warm layers that just doesn't quit! Call your doctor today and say "Hey gimme that, doc!"

Spencer Krug is in about 20 million bands. I don't know how it's possible, but I checked the numbers and -- damn -- it's 20 million. Sunset Rubdown proved to be so much more than just a Wolf Parade side project, and "Stadiums and Shrines II" perfectly exemplifies this. I know I've used the term "soul-crushing" a lot. But sometimes you need your soul crushed. And sometimes I need a new adjective.

And finally, a fictional conversation between me and my dad:

"Dad, I really want a jangly, uptempo indie rock tune. Can you provide?"
"Well, I did have a guitar in the 60s. Ha, one of those things cost only $50. And it was a decent one too!"
"...Neat. Well, I want something that shows no hint of you being in your 50s."
"I could find something... I guess. What's popular? Is it that grunge music?"
"Dad, Thurston Moore is only like 10 years younger than you and his band has released one of the best CDs of their career."
"Thirsty who?"
"Ugh! You'll never understand."
"Get a haircut!"
"Don't cut yours!"

Sonic Youth - Incinerate

Oh yeah, and "White and Nerdy" by Weird Al

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Best Music of 2006

Update: Yo yo yo, dude. Also check out this list of best songs... dude. Yeah dude. Nice.

It's the time of year for my (apparently now annual) best music I heard this year list. It's being made to a.) pander to my own ego and b.) maybe reccomend some stuff you'd wanna hear. Since you're reading this I already assume you have great taste in art and the like. Okay, so the year isn't over yet, but I'll post more later if the greatest album of the millenium is released in the next two weeks (if the new Modest Mouse album is as good as I hope it is, then I'll put it on next year's list). Last year I made the mistake of quantifying the list, which kind of was stupid and there's no reason to place certain albums above others, especially when they are usually quite different. So this year I'm doing it in alphabetical order. It's just better this way.

Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury

I'm usually skeptical of shit that gets overhyped like madness. Remember when everyone was creaming over Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah? And they had like 2 or 3 good songs. The same has been happening to Clipse for the past 6 months. Everyone could not stop talking up this album. Also, I was never really struck by any singles that the Neptunes produced, although I always respected what they had done. Furthermore, I've rarely considered myself a fan of anything labeled "minimalist", usually I'm all about the bombast. However, it all comes together so perfectly on "Hell Hath No Fury" that shorty be all like daaay-uuum dis ish be hotttt! The beats are just about the most evil things I've ever heard (the sci-fi mindfuck of "Mr. Me Too", the Legend of Zelda temple drone of "Keys Open Doors", hell they fucking make steel drums scary under Slim Thug's bassy growl in "Wamp Wamp"). The flow is on spot, and even though every single song is about dealing drugs, I was still entertained by the lyrics ("Pyrex Turs turned into Covalli furs / The full length cat, when I wave, the kitty purs / All my niggas caped up, selling grey and beige dust / Had that money right or end up in the trunk taped up / We don't chase a duck, we only raise the bucks / Peel money rolls until our thumbs get the papercuts". Woof). Something tells me that the sum of this group's parts are greater than the whole, but let's just be thankful that some inadvertant cosmic magic that they all came together like this.

Daughters - Hell Songs

"I've been screaming in bands for 11 or 12 years, and it's fucking tiresome and it's starting to hurt my throat. And it's uncomfortable and it's a waste of anything that I've written where I really feel I wrote something good."
-Alexis Marshall, Daughters

Despite simmering reviews, this is the best album that Daughters have ever released. Their take on angular grindcore with Canada was admirable and largely enjoyable, but hurt by the fact that most of the songs sounded exactly the same. The fact that Marshall now talks, whispers, and growls instead of a piercing demonic shriek makes the music around him even more effective. There's a clear mood that Daughters have always gone for -- a creepy, crushing, overwhelming feeling -- which is at its most fully realized in this album. I commend them for the little experimental flourishes that separate them from their peers, such as the inclusion of strings and horns and general ambiance. It's still evil, so don't let granny hear.

Girl Talk - Night Ripper

This album out-Hollertronixes Hollertronix themselves. It's easily the best mash-up album I've ever heard. The reason it's so good is its wild ambition; there are literally hundreds of samples used on these 16 tracks. Part of the fun is remembering where all the various samples even came from in the first place. On top of that it's an incredibly fun listen. Check out 2 Live Crew gang chant "Heyyyyy, we want some puss-ay!" over Paul McCartney's balmy "I looooove yoooouuu" on the last track. Other fun moments are Three 6 Mafia over Smashing Pumpkins in "Overtime" and Gwen Stefani over The Rentals in "Hand Clap". If your party is starting to suck, just throw this on, it might save your reputation.

The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America

There's something that I find undeniably enjoyable when a band can write music entirely about having a good time. The beauty of this album is not just the awesomely enjoyable backing music, but the lyrics poetically and insightfully portray the ecstacy and the agony of a highly intoxicated night on the town. The Hold Steady don't take themselves seriously, which is one of the most appealing things about them. There are fun lyrics like "She was a really good kisser and she wasn't all that strict of a Christian" and "There were clicks and hisses / and complicated kisses / Gideon's got a pipe made from a pringles can". But they can easily switch to, what I consider, entirely beautiful poetry: "She looked just like a baby bird, all new and wet and trying to light a Parliament / he quoted her some poetry, he's Tennyson in denim and sheepskin / he looked a lot like Izzy Stradlin / they started kissing when the nurses took off their IV's / it was kinda sexy, but it was kinda creepy / their mouths were fizzy with the cherry cola, they had the privacy of bedsheets / and all the other kids were mostly in comas".

Lupe Fiasco - Food & Liquor

Unlike the other hip hop album on this list, Food & Liquor is a grandiose feel-good rocker. Lupe's flow is out of control here. I've been hoping to hear more from this rising star ever since his show-stealing cameo on Kanye's "Touch The Sky", and he certainly delivered. This album is actually very much like a miniature "Late Registration", all the same elements are in play here. Songs like "I Gotcha" and "Just Might Be OK" feature excellent wordplay and really great beats curtousy of 1st and 15th production. His lyrics are also entirely refreshing in a genre that is known for glorifying drug-dealers, mysogynists, and murderers; in "Daydreamin'" he offers a fairly scathing review of popular hip hop: "Now come on everybody let’s make cocaine and cool / We need a few more half naked women up in the pool / And hold this mack ten that’s all covered in jewels / And can you please put your titties closer to the 22’s / And where’s the champagne, we need champagne / Now look as hard as you can with this blunt in your hand / And now hold up your chain / Slow motion through the flames / Now queue the smoke machines and the simulator rain / But not too loud cuz the baby’s sleepin". Other topics include absent fathers, zombies, and taking baths... remember, Lupe's quite fresh: "Fragrantly fragrant and they cant escape me / My perfume pursued them everywhere that they went / You don't want a loan leave my cologne alone / It's a little to strong for you to be putting on".

Mew - And The Glass Handed Kites

Where do I start with this band? What exactly do I like so much about them? I first heard "The Zookeeper's Boy" and loved it; it felt like M83 meets Genesis. It's very poppy, but maintains all the usual suspects in the making of a Rush or Yes album (i.e. the bubbling angelic synth drone of the second half of "Chinaberry Tree", the fact that there's an extra track with Japanese lyrics, the fact that they decided to name one of their songs "Apocalypso"[!]). The awesomeness of this record is how incredibly epic it is. I would love to see some sort of "Lord of the Rings" meets "The Wall" concept film with this music in the background. The power of this album actually occurred to me when I was on a cruise this summer staring out at the endless Atlantic with this on my iPod. The sky was an ominous gray, with fits of golden sunlight filtering through. This is the image you have to think of when listening to Mew: transplant yourself into the most magestic, natural scenery and listen.

All I know is that, if heaven exists and I ever get there, I want to hear the opening 20 seconds of "An Envoy To the Open Fields" upon my arrival.

Shook Ones - Facetious Folly Feat

It was a punk rock summer for me, as I spent most of it listening to Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, American Nightmare/Give Up The Ghost and (early) Against Me!. On top of that I would often listen to Shook Ones' first album, Sixteen (featuring such gems as "Bellingham Lads Club", "Please Read", and "Jersey Beach Pail"). These guys are heavily following in the footsteps of the cult icon Dan Yemin and his various musical outings. And they carry the torch that was long ago dropped by Philly's own Kid Dynamite. However, this band is not merely derivative of KD or Lifetime; they expand upon the sound crafted in the mid 90s and early 00s. I've listened to this album just about every day since it was released two months ago. Every song is pretty much great, definetly topping their previous efforts. "CARMS Race" has already reached the most-played song on my iTunes, with most of the other songs not far behind. On top of that I managed to see them twice within the last month, and one time it was an hour away. I've reached a point where I need to hear more from this band... so dudes, keep writing.

TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain

TV on the Radio continue to prove why they are one of the coolest bands around with Return to Cookie Mountain. The sound is dense and hazy, with wonderful vocal melodies and harmonies accompanying it. In many ways I'm reminded of the Beach Boys, expertly combining pop with art.

Honorable Mentions (I listened to these... just not as much):
Abandoned Pools - Armed to the Teeth
Appleseed Cast - Peregrine
Be Your Own Pet - s/t
Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
Converge - No Heroes
Deftones - Saturday Night Wrist (probably the most consistent album they've ever released)
Dr. Dog - Takers & Leavers EP (you must hear "Livin' a Dream")
Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
Gnarles Barkley - St. Elsewhere ("Crazy" is really good, but you have to hear "Transformer")
Islands - Return to the Sea
The Jonbenet - The Plot Thickens
Justin Timberlake - Futuresex / Lovesounds (don't hate)
Ratatat - Classics
Thom Yorke - The Eraser

Friday, December 08, 2006

Guesting at MCV

Once again Jon Katz is adrift in the vast splendor of USA! USA! USA! and once again I will be guest blogging over at Marmaduke Can Vote. I promise I'll be reeeeeeaaaallll funny! I really mean it!