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A Record Per Year

When I saw that Floodwatchmusic had posted a list of his favorite records from each year of his existence, I thought “Wait a second, hadn’t I thought of doing that and never followed up on an initial list?” Naturally I only thought about completing such a list, since I pushed the idea back until I was comfortable enough with 1980s records to make a list that didn’t seem embarrassing. It may be a few more years before that happens, but for now I’ll make due with what I enjoy. For the record, 1987, 1991, 1994, 1995, and 1999 were tough calls, but you’ll have to guess what the competing options were. 1985 and 1986 were the stragglers that delayed this list a few days. There are a few 1985 albums that I feel I should enjoy more than the one I picked, but I’ll stick with honesty until one of those other albums takes its place.

1980 Talking Heads – Remain in Light
1981 Killing Joke – What’s THIS For…!
1982 Colin Newman – Not To
1983 R.E.M. – Murmur
1984 Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime
1985 The Dead Milkmen – Big Lizard in My Backyard
1986 The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead
1987 The Smiths – Strangeways Here We Come
1988 Dinosaur Jr. - Bug
1989 Pixies – Doolittle
1990 Fugazi – Repeater
1991 My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
1992 Faith No More – Angel Dust
1993 The Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen
1994 Shudder to Think – Pony Express Record
1995 Hum – You’d Prefer an Astronaut
1996 Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octagonecologyst
1997 Built to Spill – Perfect From Now On
1998 Dirty Three – Ocean Songs
1999 Juno – This Is the Way It Goes & Goes & Goes
2000 Arab Strap – Elephant Shoe
2001 Juno – A Future Lived in Past Tense
2002 Do Make Say Think – & Yet & Yet
2003 Folksongs for the Afterlife – Put Danger Back in Your Life
2004 Isis – Panopticon
2005 Eluvium – Talk Amongst the Trees
2006 Tungsten74 – Binaurally Yours
2007 The Narrator – All That to the Wall

In addition to FWM’s list, there are a few other examples of such lists, most notably Maura Johnston’s list on Idolator that inspired his post and the countless lists posted in the comments section of that entry and the list that inspired hers, which shares a few of my picks from the 1980s. Rate Your Music is another good resource in case you’re trying to remember good records released in a given year.

More 2008 Records

I’ve primarily been listening to Cocteau Twins, GZA, Frank Black, Polvo, and Archers of Loaf lately, which partially explains the relative quiet around these parts, but I have checked out a few more recent releases. Another RCR post should be coming up soon; I certainly haven’t stopped buying cheap vinyl.

Four Tet - Ringer: Some have criticized Four Tet for switching to from layered, jazz-inspired grooves to simplistic, minimal techno on Ringer, but that’s a reactionary response to a mini-album that seems more like a temporary diversion from the norm than a permanent shift in approach. While it isn’t as idiosyncratically appealing as Rounds, Ringer works well as a whole, pulsing through its four tracks with both subtle shifts in background elements and noticeable changes in foreground components, like the incorporation of a live drum kit near the end of the title track. It’ll be interesting to see if his next proper full-length utilizes some of this more straightforward approach or if it makes a full return to Kieran Hebden’s typical organic approach. This appears to be an unofficial video for "Swimmer," but it's worth hearing at the very least.

Wire - Object 47: I’m currently only up to object 13 in my Wire collection, but their newest album should find a place somewhere between The Ideal Copy and last year’s Read & Burn 03 EP when it’s released on July 7. While nothing matches the strength of opening track and lead single “One of Us,” Object 47 shows that Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, and Robert Gotobed are still capable of producing catchy, propulsive post-punk, even if it’s a bit less post- nowadays. If I hold Wire to the “always push forward” ideals of their first three albums, Object 47 comes up as a retread in ways that the less enjoyable Send was not, but I’m a sucker for Colin Newman singing mid- and up-tempo rock songs and his voice has smoothed well with age.

Black Taj - Beyonder: I noticed two Black Taj CDs at Polvo’s merch table at their reunion show, but I was too concerned with grabbing a t-shirt and a vinyl copy of Exploded Drawing to pick them up. I’ve since checked out their 2008 release Beyonder and found the classic rock direction of Polvo’s Shapes was not a passing fad for guitarist/vocalist Dave Brylawski and bassist Steve Popson. Shapes is my least favorite Polvo album by a fair margin, but Beyonder sounds less like an attempt to shoehorn classic rock tropes into an existing aesthetic blueprint and more like an attempt to build those elements into the foundation. I’ll take the solid opener “Move Me,” the aching “Damascus,” and the heavy “L.A. Shift,” but I’d be lying if I said I’m more excited about this record than the possibility of a new Polvo album.

Maps and Atlases - You Me and the Mountain EP: After Maps and Atlases’ 2005 EP Trees, Swallows, Houses gradually won me over to their Minus-the-Bear-in-graduate-school approach to poppy math-rock, I’ve kept an eye out for its follow-up. You Me and the Mountain ups the hooks and cuts down on the trickery for trickery’s sake, which is precisely what I hoped would happen. The finger-tapping and percussive hits are still present, but the mix favors the songs over the techniques. “Witch” sounds like a hybrid of their earlier work and Mock Orange’s recent Captain Love, bouncing along without the tension of “Big Bopper Anthems” or “Songs for Ghosts to Haunt To.” Most of the EP follows suit, staying closer to complexly arranged pop than catchy math-rock. It’s hard to make a judgment on the EP right now considering how long it took for Trees, Swallows, Houses to hit me, but right now I can’t help but think “Be careful what you wish for,” since I miss some of the rock of their previous release.

Gregor Samsa - Rest: It’s hard to imagine a more apt title for an album based almost entirely on the appeal of hushed female vocals. Rest fleshes out its reserved brand of slow-core with an ample amount of twinkling pianos, echoing vibes, muted horns, funereal drums, whirring organs, graceful strings, and even some male vocals, but I primarily find myself coming back to hear Nikki King’s vocals on “The Adolescent” and “Jeroen Van Aken” (which is accompanied by a beautiful video). Those expecting crescendo-oriented post-rock only have a brief segment of “First Mile, Last Mile” to reference, but I’m a convert to their gentler approach. They’re playing Café 939 by Berklee in Boston on July 8; I hope to make it out for the show.

Errors - It’s Not Something But It Is Like Whatever: Errors’ ridiculously titled full-length has already been released, but I missed the advanced leak and haven’t seen the import-only CD or LP (available in the US from Tonevendor) in stores. Considering that Errors’ previous discography consisted of two singles and a short, five-song EP, a ten-song, 44-minute LP is a lot to digest. Early highlights include “Cutlery Drawer,” which features hip vocals from spoken word artist George Pringle that glitch in and out of the keyboard-heavy mix, the melancholic, guitar-centric “Still Game,” and graceful closer “A Lot of the Things You Don’t Isn’t,” but past single “Salut! France” and the Battles-ish current single “Toes” are also worth mentioning. I still find it strange that I’m more excited about Errors’ first LP than Rock Action Records impresarios Mogwai’s forthcoming The Hawk Is Howling, but I think that says more about Errors’ intriguing mix of elements than a fall from grace for Mogwai.

Rodan Rarities

After seeing that Zen and the Art of Face Punching posted Rodan's Rusty, How the Winter Was Passed single, and unreleased Peel session, I remembered that my period of blinding Rodan obsession helped me find a solid bootleg of a 1993 show in Athens, GA, Aviary, their demo tape, and a live version of "Big Things Little Things" and an alternate version of "Shiner". Considering that "Tron" (from the Half-Cocked soundtrack) and "Darjeeling" (from Simple Machines: The Machines 1990-1993) are both on Aviary, you'd only be missing their pre-Rodan rap material, their fake-Rodan song as Truckstop in Half-Cocked, and far, far too many side-projects and off-shoots. I'll save those for another day.

Record Store Day

Today (Saturday, April 19th) is Record Store Day. Don't let Bruce Springsteen single-handedly support the record industry.

In all honesty, I do my best to advocate buying new music. While I download a good amount of music and make certain songs available on this site, I feel compelled to buy worthy records whenever they're released and pick up vinyl reissues of old favorites. I understand the appeal of iTunes for a generation that didn't grow up needing the physical product in order to hear the music contained therein, but I still cherish acquiring the actual thing, preferably in LP format. I also love spending hours flipping through bins of records, which is why I try to support stores I enjoy in addition to purchasing music directly from the artists or their labels.

I'll be hitting up the Newbury Comics in Harvard Square bright and early for their 25% off vinyl sale, but here are some of my other favorite stores, past and present:

Parasol Records, Champaign, IL: I relied on Parasol Mail Order to acquire Midwestern indie rock in high school, but being able to visit the brick and mortar location when I moved to Champaign for college was far, far superior. Being able to banter with Roy, Jim, Angie, Bill, Jeff, and the other staffers made afternoons disappear. Their no-longer-new location seems less like a mail order basement and more like an actual store, so if you're in central Illinois, make the trip.

Reckless Records, Chicago, IL: I was simply floored by the amount of stock both the Broadway Ave. and Milwaukee Ave. locations possess. The first few times I hit them up I seemingly purchased CDs, LPs, and seven-inches by the pound, scouring dollar CD bins and $0.33 single bins for countless treasures. Receiving an enormous box of music in the mail simply can't compare with exiting the store with a plastic bag straining by the handles.

Vintage Vinyl, Granite City, IL: I'm not sure if this location is still in business, but I preferred shopping here to the Vintage Vinyl in the St. Louis loop. I credit the day when they had all of their seven-inches on sale for a buck apiece and I bought no fewer than 25 of them, but I've also heard enough stories from Jon Mount about when he worked there to hold a certain appreciation for its charms. I may have shopped there near the end of its peak as a store, but I still enjoyed the experience and have more than enough trophies to prove it.

Sonic Boom, Seattle, WA: I visited several Sonic Boom locations when I was in Seattle two Decembers ago and recommend both of them. The vinyl annex of the Ballard location was particularly fruitful, netting me the only used Lungfish LPs I've seen. Everyday Music in Capitol Hill was also a noteworthy store, producing an LP of Chavez's glorious Ride the Fader.

RRRecords, Lowell, MA: RRRecords isn't the easiest store to frequent—you have to call ahead to ensure that it's open during stated business hours, and even that is no guarantee—but the walls of reasonably priced new and used LPs are worth the effort. RRRecords is also a noted noise label, so if you're fond of that genre, it's a must-visit.

Rhino Records, New Paltz, NY: I drove out to New Paltz on my last visit home to my parents' house and was disappointed to learn that Rhino has moved to a smaller location, changed their focus to "collectable" vinyl (i.e., charging $20 for everything), and eliminating any worthwhile cheap bins. This comes in stark contrast to what I came to expect from the once-various Rhino locations (Poughkeepsie, Hyde Park [I think]): a constant rotation of realistically priced new and used CDs and some epic dollar bins. It's a shame that I've written off revisiting Rhino, at least until I'm swimming in extra dough.

Other noteworthy stores include Record Exchange in Salem, MA, which I visited for the first time last weekend and Other Music and Kim's Video in New York City. I still need to make a trip out to the Amoeba locations out in LA and San Francisco, but it's hard to book vacations around record shopping.

Remember that the Boss needs your help. Happy shopping.

iPod Chicanery 2008 1-80

Opening Bell: After starting things off quietly with the title track from Brian Eno and Harold Budd’s Ambient II: The Plateaux of Mirror, I got the croaking bass of Smog’s “Natural Decline” from Rain on Lens. While I like a reasonably rocking Bill Callahan song as much as the next guy, it wasn’t until that track ended and Nas’s “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in Da Park)” came on that I felt like this project had really started. I’d put off listening to Illmatic despite its lofty status in “best rap albums” discussions, but “Memory Lane” quickly informed me of what I’d been missing.

Ghostface vs. Wu Tang: I’d skimmed The Big Doe Rehab and 8 Diagrams, but I hadn’t given either record a dedicated listen. Hearing Wu Tang’s “Take It Back” and Ghostface’s “Supa GFK” back to back followed quickly by Ghostface’s “Slow Down” made it clear that these records would be in dialogue throughout this project. The main thing I’ve noticed so far is how Ghostface’s incorporation of R&B vocals on “Slow Down” works better than Wu Tang’s attempts on “Stick Me for My Riches,” even though I enjoy the verses of that Wu Tang song enough to overlook my concerns. Still, I may end up leaning toward 8 Diagrams in the production department since I wasn’t expecting the woozy RZA solo track “Sunlight,” but it held up well enough on its own.

Strange Remembrace: Though I’d recently picked up T. Rex’s The Slider on vinyl, I hadn’t listened to the second side yet and was pleased that “Buick Mackane” rivaled the songs I’d already heard. But what struck me about hearing a song from The Slider was remembering that my English 101 instructor (and erstwhile Rectangle guitarist) Matt Mitchell assigned a poem on this record in my freshman intro to poetry course. I imagine that I have the course packet floating around somewhere, but I’m a bit frustrated that Googling hasn’t come up with anything yet. I remember enjoying that poem but thinking “Yeah, I doubt I’ll ever get a record from the ‘Bang a Gong (Get It On)’ band.” Oops.

Post-rock You Say: Despite Simon Reynolds coining “post-rock” in its honor, I’d never given Bark Psychosis a solid listen. Three songs from Hex have come up so far (within seven tracks, no less), with “The Loom” being the most memorable of them. I was at the laundromat at the time and had to compete with some blaring piano from a Spanish-language soap opera, but the subtlety of the track still came through. “Pendulum Man” was a bit too ambient for that environment, but it made sense in connection to the more fleshed-out “The Loom” and “Absent Friend.” At the very least I have another reference point (along with Talk Talk) for the Ghost Wars recordings that have come out so far.

If I Had Any Doubt…: …about The National’s Alligator living up to my fondness for Boxer, “City Middle” erased it.

Best Song of the Round: The Saints’ “Know Your Product” is clearly a precursor for Rocket for the Crypt, but it’s hard to think of any RFTC songs that were as melodic in the horn accompaniment.

Errors Album Details

Electronic post-rockers Errors have finally announced the details of their forthcoming full-length, It Is Not Something, But It Is Like Whatever. Ten tracks, including "Salut! France," come out later this spring on Rock Action. They've uploaded an album preview of sorts to their MySpace account, which consists of a high-hat only version of one of the songs. I can only imagine that this is a first.

Amazing comment from Mogwai guitarist and Rock Action impresario Stuart Braithwaite: "I think we might need to have wee chat about that album title boys."

iPod Chicanery 2008

If I didn’t have things like “topics of discussion” and “expanding my horizons” to consider, it’s entirely plausible that my listening pile for a few months could be comprised purely of mid 1990s indie rock. Yet I have the nagging desire to institute another round of iPod Chicanery, which will launch once I finish loading up my Nano with a few more albums.

This time around I will not be “going back” to any albums. To the best of my knowledge, I have not listened to any of these albums in their entirety. Roughly two-thirds of these albums were released prior to 1990, which given my normal listening habits is a monumental achievement. Many of them are mirrored in my growing vinyl collection. Rap, jazz, and 1970s and 1980s post-punk are well-represented. Since I am not currently commuting anywhere on a daily basis, I’m going to try my best to listen to my iPod in my living room and on my computer, although this may actually detract from my focus on the project. I will once again try to post every fifty to one hundred songs, which should be easier now that I don’t have any “comfort tracks” to lean back on. I won’t keep myself from listening to other records during the project, but I will try to keep this habit to a minimum.

I have a feeling that this iteration of the project will be profoundly trying, so bear with me.

Preferred Musical Selections of 2007

In the "better late than never" category, here are my top twenty records for 2007. I blame the following things for the delay: ruminating endlessly on fifty-word blurbs, spending too much time trying to one-up last year's design, and attempting to cram a few more 2007 albums into my listening pile after perusing other sites' lists.

More posts to follow now that I have cracked the seal.

It's Quiet... Perhaps Too Quiet

My apologies about being MIA. Without a steady flow of leaked records to fall back on, my go-to topic for regular updates has deserted me. Here’s a rundown of notable recent events, purchases, and developments.

1. Finding the double LP of Dirty Three’s Ocean Songs at Rrrecords in Lowell, MA. As much as I enjoy paying exorbitant prices for out-of-print vinyl on eBay, it’s a much bigger thrill finding a sealed copy in a physical record store for a reasonable price. I've given up on "finds" in Boston record stores, but Rrrecords seemed promising from my one visit.

2. Seeing a free screener of The Darjeeling Limited. I’m not sure how it ranks among Wes Anderson’s films at the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it fares like The Life Aquatic; somewhat disappointing on first viewing, while growing steadily upon further consideration. I am a bit concerned about the difference between thematic consistency and treading water and where Anderson falls within that divide, but I think Darjeeling is different enough from his prior works (particularly in setting) to avoid being seen as a suspect. This all seems like faint praise, if praise at all, but I should reiterate that I did enjoy the film and will snap up the DVD whenever it hits shelves.

3. Buying the Folio Society edition of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman from eBay. My affections for first-edition hardcover copies of my favorite books simply won’t work with his novel, since I do not have a grand to drop, but this copy has some amazing illustrations and a much better cover design than the current Dalkey Archive paperback. As much as I like this copy, I’m glad that I didn't have to buy three more at full price within a month.

4. Seeing Bill Callahan at the Museum of Fine Arts. I may review this concert in full at a later date, but my pictures from the show are posted. If you have a chance to see him on this tour, definitely go.

5. Seeing The Narrator and Monotonix at Great Scott. The Narrator didn’t have quite as much energy as they did the last time I saw them (I have a feeling the previous night's show in Vermont was the one to attend), but "SurfJew," "All the Tired Horses," and "Breaking the Turtle" were all excellent. No "Son of Son of the Kiss of Death," but this acoustic performance makes up for it. I finally grabbed their debut seven-inch and "The Cavaliers" is a solid jam. Would you like to see some pictures of their performance? Sure, sure you would. As for Monotonix, they did not lack energy. The Israeli garage-rock band avoided the stage at all costs, opting to run around the whole of Great Scott, jumping on the bar with their highly mobile drum kit, leaping from table to table, and stretching their instrument cables to their limits. If that wasn’t enough, the singer also swung a garbage bag around and then put it on his head, drank beer out of his shoe, and seduced his guitar player. I can’t remember much about their music, but the spectacle is still fresh.

6. Hearing the Acorn’s Glory Hope Mountain. I admit to having a bit of a head start at this one since I share a fantasy hockey league with their bassist, but this Ottawa band deserves your full attention. I can’t think of any other indie folk records that have made an impression on me, but Glory Hope Mountain strikes the perfect balance between the personal and the timeless. The double vinyl is import-only at the moment, which makes it about $30 including shipping, but it’ll be hard to justify not picking up this album. They’ll tour Canada in the coming months, but a US tour should follow in early 2008.

7. Setting up the Juno documentary message board. Yeah, it is operational. I still need to apply an actual color scheme to it (and redesign the main site to match), but if you have any questions or comments about the project or just want to shoot the shit with Jon or me (since we’re the only two members at the moment), join up.

More 2007 Release Round-Up

Les Savy Fav - Let’s Stay Friends: Besides having one of the best one-two combinations in the “Yes, we’re still a band” lilt of “Pots & Pans” and “Fuck yes, we’re still a band” throttle of “The Equestrian,” Let’s Stay Friends is a solid follow-up to the singles compilation Inches. If “party like it’s 1999” is in reference to repping a solid year in non-trendy indie rock, they are certainly partying in said fashion. Please book US dates in the current calendar year, however.

Port-Royal - Afraid to Dance: Port-Royal made the logical, if instrumental follow-up to the electronic-oriented post-rock of Lights Out Asia’s Garmonia. I’ll take a shorter album comprised of the longer tracks, since “Deca-Dance,” “Anya: Sehnsucht,” and “Leitmotiv | Glasnost” are more memorable than their shorter brethren.

Epic45 - May Your Heart Be the Map: Sometimes I think of records in terms of what format would better suit them. Marnie Stern’s debut would be better suited as a five-song EP, for example. Epic45 would be better off taking a cue from their name and trimming their layered acoustic-meets-IDM melancholy down to the gorgeous, outstanding “The Stars in Spring” and the graceful “We Grew Up Playing in the Fields of England.” Malcolm Middleton released a 2005 single for “Loneliness Shines” b/w “No Modest Bear,” so the precedent has been set. (Album cut “Solemn Thirsty” was equally worthy of inclusion, but it sounds enough like Arab Strap that I don’t need to worry.)

Jesu / Eluvium - Split LP: Jesu’s songs sound like the melancholic cousins of the tracks that made it to Conqueror. Though that may seem like faint praise, I’ve already listened to these three songs more than that album, so perhaps Jesu is better consumed in EP format. (See also: the new-ish "Sun Down" / "Sun Rise" LP.) As for the Eluvium song, it’s long and very ambient, but it is on vinyl, which is more than I can say for the rest of his catalog, cough cough.

Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight: Halfway through this record, I picked up on its repeating subliminal message: “I am a big turd.” “Silver Lining,” the opening track, reminds me enough of Jenny Lewis’s solid solo album to get a free pass, but everything else seemed like a perverse game of “spot our 70s rock influence.” It’s amazing that Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky mines 70s AOR with such success and Under the Blacklight fails mightily in a similar pursuit. Note to all bands: if you sound like Heart, I will turn you off.