Amoeblog

Albums Out Dec. 4: Scott Walker, Memory Tapes, Dream Boat and More

Posted by Billy Gil, December 3, 2012 05:55pm | Post a Comment

Scott Walker - Bish Bosch

Scott Walker Bish BoschCD $13.98

LP $29.98

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Bish Bosch not only completes a trilogy of some of the most remarkable albums of the past 20 years — Scott Walker’s Tilt and The Drift — it makes three astonishing, dense and challenging (yet rewarding) albums released this year, alongside Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s post-rock opus Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! and Swans’ divinely nasty The Seer. The album begins at its most difficult, with Walker wailing about “plucking feathers from a swansong” over brutal industrial beats and metallic guitars. This gives way to the surely divisive “Corps de Blah,” a 10-minute song that starts with Walker alone, singing with minimal accompaniment by electronic noise before he’s joined by atonal strings, relatively comforting guitar ambience (given the company its in), dogs barking and, finally, Walker singing about “sphincters tooting a tune” and picking scabs while actual fart sounds squelch in the background like horns. The song may leave some wondering if Walker has truly lost it — horror-movie lines like “nothing clears a room like removing a brain” don’t help — but it ultimately does what Walker does best: provoke. After all, why not use flatulence, something every person lives with daily, as a percussive instrument, and treat a lover as a scab lyrically? Amid lyrics which tough on the historical, histrionic and philosophical, “Corps de Blah” clears the air (ahem) a bit on Walker’s pretensions. It is painfully real, to the point that many will likely dismiss the song as infantile when its taboo subjects represent basic, ugly human elements those same people would wish away into non-existence. But this is still a rock album of sorts, and songs like the bleak-rock of “Phrasing” and heavy avant-jazz of “Epizootics!” offer more immediately grabbing moments than, say, “SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter),” perhaps the aural equivalent of flagpole sitting (an early 20th century practice of sitting atop a flagpole for days, hoping to break the last man’s record) as it runs past 20 minutes of Walker’s id run wild. Much more instantly pleasurable albums have been released in 2012 than Bish Bosch, but perhaps none is more daring.

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The 90s...the best albums of 1993...

Posted by Brad Schelden, November 18, 2012 12:38pm | Post a Comment
1993 and 1994 are probably two of my favorite years of the 90s. These were the best years of Britpop. Some amazing years for British music. Suede, Blur, Pulp, & The Verve all had amazing albums out these years. I had always been into British music since I remember ever being into music. New Wave & Goth in the 80s. And now Shoegaze & Britpop in the early and mid 90s. I gave myself a couple of rules when making these lists for the top ten of each year. I made sure to only pick one album for each artist. I didn't want the list to be a Blur and Suede album every year. So I picked my favorite album from each of those artists. And for the most part my favorite album was the album that introduced me to the band. Not necessarily the bands first album. But my first album by that band. The album that I think of when I think of that band. There are three American bands on my list this year. Still outnumbered by the British bands of course. I had for the most part stopped listening to the radio in 1993. Most of the bands I found out about were from 120 Minutes or Alternative Nation. I was also heavily influenced by my friends and roommates in 1993. This was the first year that I heard Suede, Slowdive & The Verve. I think I probably saw a Suede video when I heard them for the first time. I was hooked within the first couple seconds of the video. This was the band for me. I couldn't get enough of them throughout the rest of the 90s. I was already familiar with Blur but 1993 was really the first year that I really got obsessed with them.  Saint Etienne and Catherine Wheel were probably the albums that I listened to most this year. Where You Been by Dinosaur Jr.Star by Belly just barely didn't make my top ten this year. They were also both listened to a lot by me in 93 and 94. Here it is...my top 10 albums of 1993...

The Verve-A Storm In Heaven (Vernon Yard)
The Verve were like Suede in that they both released debut albums in 1993. They also went on to put out two more successful and critically acclaimed albums in the 90s. I would never call The Verve Britpop. But they often got lumped together with the other Britpop bands of the era. The Verve were more psychedelic and dreamy. They had more in common with the Shoegaze and Dream Pop bands of the early 90s. The Verve also were not as popular as Suede in 1993. It took until their third album for everyone to really notice them. A Northern Soul was released in 1995. Urban Hymns was released in 1997. Urban Hymns got ridiculously big and I feel like that album was everywhere. But I think all the old fans still loved it too. It was a fantastic album and deserved all the praise. I remember being happy that they had finally made it. But they would unfortunately break up in 1999 and then end up reforming in 2008 for their forth album called Forth. Everything started for me with A Storm In Heaven. This album was released in June of 1993. But it sounds just as good now as it did then. This album quickly became one of my favorites. Another band from 1993 that I would become obsessed with throughout the rest of the 90s. A Storm In Heaven featured the songs "Slide Away," "Blue," "Butterfly" & "Starsail." This album would also be near the top of my list of my favorite albums of the decade. I could listen to this album all day long.

modern life is rubbishBlur-Modern Life Is Rubbish (Food)
Blur had already released Leisure in 1991. This album featured "She's So High" & "There's No Other Way." I was already a fan of those songs but had not really taken the jump into full on Blur until Modern Life Is Rubbish was released in 1993. Blur is probably the most popular of the British bands on this list. They managed to put out six albums in the 90s and one last album in 2003. Modern Life is Rubbish quickly sold me on Blur. I also loved Parklife in 1994 and The Great Escape in 1995. Modern Life is Rubbish featured "For Tomorrow," "Chemical World," "Sunday Sunday," "Star Shaped" & "Miss America." This album was really their first britpop album. This was after all the inaugural year of britpop. Their first album fit more into the end of the madchester scene. The battle of Oasis Vs. Blur was just around the corner from this album. The debut Oasis album would come out the following year in 1994. The media quickly whipped up a sort of rivalry between Blur & Oasis. I was a fan of Blur first so I always sided with Blur. I did enjoy those first two Oasis albums. But I was always a bigger Blur fan. Blur was made up of Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James & Dave Rowntree. Both Blur & Suede were probably the first bands of the 90s who I knew everything about. I know each band member independent from the other. Most of us had our favorite. Damon & Graham were the Dave Gahan & Martin Gore of the band. Or the Mick Jagger & Keith Richards. Graham was my favorite. I loved these guys. I loved how very British they were. And this is the album that started it all. I really do feel like Blur & Suede sort of took over my life in late 1993.

Slowdive-Souvlaki (Creation)
I like to think of my life as pre and post Slowdive. There are just some of those albums that change your life forever. This is one of those albums for me. My Bloody Valentine did it a couple of years before. But this is the band that did it for me in 1993. As much as I loved Blur, Suede & The Verve. I probably listened to Souvlaki more than all those albums combined. This album was released in the UK on Creation in June of 1993. It was not released in the US on SBK until early 1994. The artwork was changed on this album cover for the US release. They made the image a really small little image on a mostly black cover. Not really sure why they changed it. But they did add some bonus tracks for the domestic release. Souvlaki included "Alison," "Sing," "Machine Gun," "When The Sun Hits" & "Dagger." This album is a shoegaze classic. If you have heard this album then it is mostly likely one of your favorites. The album was the perfect end of the night album. I listened to this album almost every night before I went to sleep for probably about a year or so. Slowdive had released Just For A Day in 1991. SBK released it in 1992 in the US. But I had never heard of this band until a friend introduced them to me in 1993. So I always think of Just For A Day as their second album since it was the second for me. Just For A Day is a perfect companion album to Souvlaki. Just as good and magical. They went on to release Pygmalion two years later in 1995. It just doesn't get much better than Slowdive. There is really nobody like them. Many bands who try recapture that amazing sound of those first two Slowdive albums. But it simply could not be done.

SuedeSuede-Suede (Nude)
This might just be my favorite album of the 90s. Britpop just doesn't get any better than this. This band and this album seemed to come out of nowhere. This album put them all over the British press. It ended up on many end of the year lists. I think I probably didn't first get into this album until late in 1993. Even though it was released in March. "Metal Mickey" was the first song I heard by them. And the first time I head it was when I saw the video. So it just really hit me over the head. I really couldn't believe how awesome they were. I loved everything about them. And I don't even really think I fully understood what I was watching. I didn't know how important this band would become to me and my friends in the following years. But I knew that I loved it. This album is just one of those perfect albums that defines the era. It is often thought as the album that started Britpop. This album was the fastest selling debut album in British history. The album included "Metal Mickey," "So Young," "Animal Nitrate," "The Drowners," "Sleeping Pills" & "Pantomime Horse." I can honestly say that I love every song on this album. It was such a fun and completely new sound for me at the time. It was somewhere between an album by David Bowie and The Smiths. But it was really like nothing I had heard before. They were like my new Duran Duran. They would go on to release Dog Man Star in 1994 & Coming Up in 1996. Those first three albums are an essential part of my music collection. They released two more albums after that. I saw this band live a couple times over the years. They were one of my favorite bands to see live. They really conveyed the magic of those albums live. This is also one of my favorite album covers of the decade. I always thought it was two dudes on the cover. But I found out years later that it was a drawing of two women! It was an androgynous cover that you could really imagine to be whatever you wanted it to be.

saint etienne so toughSaint Etienne-
So Tough
(Warner)

Saint Etienne! I love these guys. I really feel like if you know about Saint Etienne then you probably love them. By 1993 I was already a fan of their first album Fox Base Alpha and the song "Only Love Can Break Your Heart." But I think that So Tough was actually the first entire album that I owned by them. And it is most certainly my favorite. One of my friends first played me this album and it quickly became both of our favorites. I loved all the sampling. I loved that it was dancey but also super cool and mellow in parts. It was the perfect combination of UK indie and dance. I had really heard nothing like it before. The samples really meant nothing to me. They were most likely from British movies and TV shows that I had never seen before. But this album was just such a complete wonderful collection. You really have to listen to it from beginning to end. The best song was the last song after all. Saint Etienne is Bob Stanley & Pete Wigss. The first album had a couple different female vocalist. But Sarah Cracknell had become the permanent third member by the time this second album came out. So Tough featured the songs "Mario's Cafe," "Calico," "Hobart Paving," "Avenue" & "Join Our Club." Saint Etienne went on to release six more albums after So Tough. They are still a band and actually just put out an album this year and toured with it. I just saw them live a couple of weeks ago! This band will forever remain one of my favorites. Putting on this album brings me right back to 1993. And for some reason it only makes me remember the good memories. I love these guys. There is really nobody like them. This album was just reissued recently as a deluxe 2CD edition along with the rest of their catalog.

So Tonight That I Might SeeMazzy Star-So Tonight That I Might See (Capitol)
Mazzy Star had already released She Hangs Brightly in 1990. But I didn't first notice them until So Tonight That I Might See was released in 1993. You really could not avoid the song "Fade Into You" that year. I was hooked by that song. I was not alone. It was hard not to like them. Mazzy Star is Hope Sandoval and David Roback. David had played in the Rain Parade in the 80s. He was also a member of Opal. Opal recruited Hope Sandoval after the vocalist left and soon turned into Mazzy Star. These guys were are mix of psychedelic rock and dream pop. Mazzy Star are one of the few bands from these lists not from England. They were actually formed in Southern California just like Medicine. Hope has one of those voices like no other. The band put out Among My Swan in 1996 and then took a long break. Hope Sandoval has put out a couple of solo albums over the years. But Mazzy Star is back and will soon be releasing an album of new material any day now. This album is dark and dreamy. It can easily lull you to sleep. The album features the songs "Fade Into You" & "Into Dust." It is one of those albums that just might break your heart in two. But it is worth it. A beautiful masterpiece of the 90s.

catherine wheelCatherine Wheel-Chrome (Fontana)
Catherine Wheel released Ferment in 1992. This album featured "Black Metallic." One of the best songs of the 90s. But it was their second album that I really got obsessed with. I listened to Chrome probably hundreds of times. Chrome featured "Crank," "Fripp," "Pain," "Show Me Mary" & "The Nude." I can listen to "Fripp" over and over again. Catherine Wheel were yet another band from England for me to become obsessed with. They shared much in common with many of the shoegaze bands of the era. But they were a bit harder and shared much in common with some of the grunge bands of the era. They were like Shoegaze Grunge. Somewhere between The Smashing Pumpkins, Tool, Soundgarden, Lush, Slowdive & Ride. I listened to an album every night before I went to sleep throughout much of the 90s. This album was one of those albums in rotation. The album still holds up after all these years. It was the bands best album without a doubt. They went on to release three more albums after this. But they could never capture what they had done with Chrome. Another one of my favorite album covers of the decade. Very similar to the cover for Nevermind.

The The-Dusk (Sony)
The The has already released three albums in the 80s. But I didn't know anything about them until 1993. Dusk was released in 1993. The same year as Songs Of Faith & Devotion by Depeche Mode. The The opened up for Depeche Mode on their tour for this album. I think I first bought that Depeche Mode album on cassette. But when I later bought it on CD it included a cassette copy of Dusk by The The. I was basically forced to listen to this album. Depeche Mode were one of my favorite bands after all. It probably would have found its way into my collection regardless. I still remember that first time that I listened to it. I really didn't know what to expect. The The were also from England. So it made sense that I would like them. Matt Johnson really took me over with that voice. I became a huge fan of this album and have gone back to it many times over the years. I eventually went back and explored the previous albums of The The. But Dusk will always remain my favorite. It is a weird mix of genres but it somehow works. It is a mix of new wave and alternative. Maybe a bit of country music and showtunes thrown in there. It is very theatrical. Matt Johnson is really more of a storyteller than a singer. The The are sort of a combination of a bank like R.E.M. with Nick Cave. The album features the songs "Slow Emotion Replay," "Dogs Of Lust," "Helpline Operator" & "Love Is Stronger Than Death."

Medicine-The Buried Life (American)
Medicine are the second American band on my list this year. And they were also on the label American! Medicine were from Los Angeles. They just might be the only band from Los Angeles that I actually liked in the early 90s. This was yet another band whose second album I liked better than the first. But it was again mostly because that was the album that I was first introduced to. Medicine had released Shot Forth Self Living in 1992. The Buried Life was released in 1993. Medicine were sort of viewed as the Los Angeles version of My Bloody Valentine. They were our version of shoegaze. The album featured "Babydoll," "Slut," "Never Click" & "Fried Awake." I actually forgot how much I like this album until I listened to it again last year. It just got reissued by Captured Tracks along with Shot Forth Self Living. This album is loud and full of messy and noisy guitar. But is somehow beautiful beneath all that. Which is why they are more similar to My Bloody Valentine than anybody else. Medicine went on to put out two more albums after this. But they are perhaps most famous for appearing as themselves in the movie The Crow.

Smashing Pumpkins-Siamese Dream (Virgin)
The Smashing Pumpkins had released Gish in 1991. But it was Siamese Dream that really broke this band. This album was unavoidable in 1993 & 1994. It was released in July of 1993. This was most certainly the best selling album on my list of 1993. It was sort of my Nevermind of this year. I couldn't leave it off this list. Smashing Pumpkins went on to release many albums over the years. But I sort of lost interest after Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness was released in 1995. But from 1991 to 1996 I was a big fan of this band. Siamese Dream featured "Cherub Rock," "Today," "Rocket," "Disarm," "Soma,"  "Mayonaise" "Spaceboy" & "Luna." It really is crazy to think how many great songs were on this album. Today was probably my favorite of the big singles. But I can really listen to "Mayonaise" and "Luna" over and over again. Billy Corgan was obviously the man behind Smashing Pumpkins and this album. But he could not have put this album together without James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlain & D'arcy Wretzky. Smashing Pumpkins was one of those bands that you either loved or hated. This album somehow combined all the things I liked from shoegaze, dreampop and grunge. It was the perfect album for 1993. This was the bands best album by far. They would never create anything that would come close to Siamese Dream.


Check for these albums here on Amoeba.com

up next...1994

(In which we go north, young man.)

Posted by Job O Brother, September 25, 2012 12:29pm | Post a Comment

The author, the boyfriend, the other dude

Oh, hello! Where the heck have you been?

I myself have split the last two months between Nevada City, California and New York State; I’ve been away from home so much that when the boyfriend made himself a latté in our kitchen I was pleasantly surprised to remember we had an espresso machine at all.

“I love this place!” I exclaimed.

“Uh, yeah…” he said, “It’s our home.”

“Well I’m totally going to give it a good Yelp review.”

We flew in yesterday after week-long preparations for the wedding of our friends, Cameron and Anna. It was a very romantic ceremony, even to someone like me who hates love. (I’m being hyperbolic – I don’t hate love, I just think it’s difficult to wear well and makes most people look fat.)

That our dear friend Cameron got married is nothing short of a small miracle. This is the man who spent nearly every day I knew him locked in his room playing cello - not exactly the best way to meet chicks. Only occasionally would he leave his bedroom to make Blanquette de veau and watch Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!

Despite his young age and good looks, his social life was like that of a senior, upper-middle-class, Jewish couple – Friday nights spent at LACMA seeing rare showings of socially significant films about oppressed lower classes (played by gorgeous actors, of course) of some foreign country, or else sipping champagne at some new sculpture garden somewhere. It was at such a sort of event he met Anna.

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In Praise of the “Troubled” Artist and Bloated, Overreaching Album

Posted by Billy Gil, August 9, 2012 05:21pm | Post a Comment
Today I woke up with the song “Raindrops + Sunshowers” by The Smashing Pumpkins in my head for no particular reason. I was grateful — despite the dubious quality of that syrupy, electro-shoegaze song, the tunes that usually populate my head first thing in the morning aren’t usually the kinds of things you actually want to hear upon waking. Nu Shooz's “I Can’t Wait” is great and all, but waking up humming it, as I often do, is like being slowly slapped awake. But I digress. Why the hell I was humming a not-great song from my favorite band’s worst album, who knows. But I relistened to Machina later in the day, trying to avoid fast-forwarding to the good bits and listening to the regrettable parts, just as I had with the recently released (and recently troubled) Oceania, and realized part of the fun of a band like The Smashing Pumpkins is the digging. Make no mistake, digging is not necessary on Siamese Dream (or Adore or the recently reissued Pisces Iscariot, in my book), but even on their other great albums, Mellon Collie, Gish and Machina II, yeah, there are parts you want to skip past. I’d say that’s true of most bands. But what sets the band apart is not only how frustratingly uneven they can be, as I’ve had to admit over the years, but how much you still care about that band anyway.

OK, enough with the Pumpkins rant. My point is that I’ve always been drawn to these sorts of “imperfect” artists, and am a little bothered by what I see as the sort of iPod-ization of the album, and bands themselves, that continues to proliferate. There seems to be a desire for our artists now to put out perfectly formed, no-frills albums, often at the expense of character that comes when bands and artists make bad choices, careless edits or experiment past their means. Take Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday…Roman Reloaded, for instance. The album currently holds a 60/100 rating on reviews aggregator Metacritic, meaning “mixed or average reviews.” The Observer’s Kitty Empire, in her 3/5 star review of the album, says “Roman Reloaded’s triumphs all come early, on the album’s hip-hop front end. In full flow, Minaj remains a delight.” I couldn’t agree more. Roman Reloaded’s quality is as split as Minaj’s on-record personality, between Nicki and her imagined male counterpart, Roman. On the first half, you get the bad child spazz-out of “Roman Holiday.” You get the fucking blistering “Come on a Cone,” one of the best things anyone has released this year, as Minaj surpasses her hero, Lil Wayne, in terms of producing hip-hop that is eminently brutal but ear-tuggingly catchy, as Minaj makes a winning refrain out of the reverse-sexist rant “put my dick in your face.” I made a Spotify playlist out of the good songs on Roman Reloaded, including the aforementioned plus “I Am Your Leader,” “Beez in the Trap,” “HOV Lane,” “Roman Reloaded,” “Champion” and “Stupid Hoe.” The rest of the album? Starting from the Chris Brown collab “Right By My Side” and only broken up by “Stupid Hoe,” the album continues on a streak of bland pop R&B tracks that reach their nadir on “Starships,” a huge single that takes a quality Nicki rap and tosses it into a generic hard-dance hitmaking machine. It sounds like five songs smashed together, maybe six if you include that “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” aside. Blech. Still, when looking at that Spotify playlist, I have eight songs at 29 minutes. Basically close to the length of most albums I hear these days. And if it were just those eight tracks, Roman Reloaded would be one of the best albums of the year.

About that last point — because it isn’t one of the best albums of the year, Minaj risks disrespect and disregard as an artist. Some of that is warranted; the choice to release Roman Reloaded as is was ultimately hers, and she has intimated that she did so out of a desire for it to sell well, as it has, on the strength of the pretty terrible “Starships.” But I say Minaj is still one of the most exciting artists around. Who cares that more than half of the album sucks! The half that is good completely rules! And she’s made it into my pantheon of great artists who don’t always make great albums. Whenever Minaj announces she’ll be releasing music, I’ll probably listen to it, regardless if every bit of it fulfills my wishes for her as an artist.

Let’s talk about Guided By Voices for a minute. I don’t have to tell most fans of the band how wildly uneven their albums can be, even their great ones, because they’re designed that way. On their most consistent album, Bee Thousand, they even mash their incomplete songs together into the awesome, two-minute “Her Psychology Today.” (And to link it back, Smashing Pumpkins did that, too, on the 23-minute “Pastichio Medley.”) I’d hate to think what modern critics and listeners would say about Guided By Voices today if they were a new band. Would people sit through 20-song albums by Guided By Voices and Sebadoh now, if they were new bands, given the capacity to skip past them on your phone or computer? Admittedly, it’s hard for me to sit through their last two albums, at 21 songs each and with most tracks pretty throwaway-ish, but that’s probably because they were both released this year. And there’s another one on the way this year. Neither Let’s Go Eat the Factory nor Class Clown Spots a UFO are among the band’s best, but they're true to the band's ethos and have enough classic GBV moments to keep me interested. You better believe I’ll be listening to their next album, The Bears for Lunch, when it comes out — also this year, slated for November.

Maybe the first artist who comes to my mind when I think of the unevenly tipped rewards-to-opposite-of-rewards ratio is Ryan Adams. In the 2000s, Adams made many a heart flutter with his first two albums, the unbeatable Heartbreaker and its also excellent, though overly long (just like this blog entry!) follow-up, Gold. From there, to say it’s been hit-or-miss would be a bit of an understatement — anyone want to sit through all 16 tracks of Love is Hell again? No? Personally, I’d rather re-listen to 2003’s Rock N Roll, a kind of fascinatingly bad-good album where Adams tried to sound like The Strokes, Interpol and the like of early 2000s “garage rockers,” as they were dubbed even though those bands sounded more like Television and The Cure than any garage rock. It’s a little generic, but it’s also pretty fun. The compressed riffs and ’80s beats of “This Is It” and “So Alive” both begged to be blasted in the car, but like, in secret. I really hope a cult following develops around this album in 10 years. The point being that even though some of his albums suck and all of them are too long, every time he does something, we pay attention because of how great “Answering Bell” and “To Be Young” were.

Part of the reason I talk about any of this, besides to take you and myself on a fun-filled trip down memory lane, is to talk about new artists trying to break through in 2012. Specifically in indie rock, I’m always wary of the caginess that seemed to creep up at the turn of the millennium and continues to be both a plague and a blessing. On one hand, every week there seems to be some cool new band releasing albums where you know that even if every track isn’t stellar, they’re at least going to be pretty consistently OK and sound pretty similar. On one hand, you might get a perfect indie rock capsule like Diiv’s Oshin, in which only one song breaks the four-minute mark. There aren’t too many audible lyrics to make fun of, no too-short or overly long tracks you end up skipping past, no ill-fated experiments. Another recent album like this is The ShinsPort of Morrow, in which singer James Mercer hired a new band and perked up a bit from the low-key Wincing the Night Away. But wow, is that album boring. Don’t get me wrong, there aren’t any actually bad tracks, and that’s part of the problem. It’s streamlined to the point of being a hairless, indie-rock fembot. Zzzzzz. I like the Diiv album quite a bit, but even then, I wish it broke its careful mold a bit. I’m still listening to Light Asylum’s self-titled debut, a fucking beast of an album built on Bruno Coviello’s pulverizing synthesizers and Shannon Funchess’ thundering voice. It’s not perfect, but it’s such a jolt to listen to among some of the sleepier albums released this year that it’ll probably go down as a favorite for me at least. I want more Light Asylums to love and defend past their 6.1 Pitchfork review, which Funchess has hilariously lambasted on Facebook. I want more Nicki Minajs to cringe over but ultimately love for refusing to fully hide her weirdness, even while trying to appeal to the masses.

I asked a few Amoeba associates who they thought of when I brought up this idea of artists we continue to follow despite their missteps and got a shortlist of artists including Iggy Pop, The Pretenders,The Strokes, Jack White, David Bowie, Marianne Faithfull, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Bjork, Hole and Neil Young. Sure, all of those artists are amazing, but all of them have some bad albums. It seems harder to pick bands that are or were really consistent, I could really only think of The Beatles, New Order, Portishead, Radiohead (minus Pablo Honey), PJ Harvey (minus White Chalk) and bands that released one or two albums and then stopped — My Bloody Valentine, Television and Joy Division. Beach House and M83 are too new. Yes, I know there are way more examples in both of those categories, so tell me: Who’s an artist that you continue to support, even when you don’t love all of the music they make?

Album Picks: Frank Ocean, Blanche Blanche Blanche, Jeff the Brotherhood, Plus Albums Out Today

Posted by Billy Gil, July 17, 2012 04:18pm | Post a Comment
Album Picks:

Frank Ocean Channel OrangeFrank Ocean’s music touches such a raw nerve because it’s the rare album that fully appeals on a here-and-now pop level while referencing classic pop — in this case, pop and soul maestros like Stevie Wonder and Elton John — and offering something else entirely. This something else is that human, overexposed, heart-and-mind-on-sleeve content that firmly roots Channel Orange in the social network era. I was late to the game; the first time I heard “Thinkin Bout You” was the day before Ocean very publicly came out of the closet. That happenstance was strange for me — the thing that first struck me about the song, aside from its obvious craft, the kind of instantly memorable hit that combines a suave, easy to follow melody and arrangement with dagger-in-the-heart lyrics, was an indescribable “third” quality beyond music and lyrics that I usually find with my favorite music, whether it’s The Smashing Pumpkins, The Beatles or, perhaps more relatedly, morose ’90s/'00s R&B hits like PM Dawn’s “Die Without You,” Fabolous & Tamia’s “So Into You,” Lauryn Hill’s “Ex Factor” and so on. It’s that sort of feeling that hits you immediately and reminds you of all the stupid unrequited crushes, moments of indirection, and fleeting feelings of serenity in youth. That Ocean possibly wrote the song about his own unrequited same-sex love made sense to me, since that’s pretty much what the song reminded me of. But beyond any personal affiliation with the song, the ability to communicate such universal but difficult to pin down feelings so instantly is quite rare, and so thus should be treasured in the way rave reviews have been pouring in for Channel Orange. Indeed, I think “Thinkin Bout You” is the best song anyone will release this year, and Channel Orange likely will be the album of the year. Beyond that opening instant classic, Channel Orange brims with power. Take the lush Marvin Gaye-meets-How to Dress Well-meets-Kanye West depiction of new parenthood in “Sierra Leone,” its lyrics offering a welcome balance of vagueness and detail devoid of judgment, communicating feelings of joy and trepidation. He celebrates and also exposes the lives of privileged black youth in a seemingly realistic way, beyond the bling-style fantasies of much of hip-hop, in songs like “Sweet Life” and the brilliant “Super Rich Kids,” which sounds like a hip-hop “Benny and the Jets” playing over an episode of the similarly revelatory reality show “Baldwin Hills.” He creates an sprawling, Kanye-style centerpiece with “Pyramids,” an epic track buoyed by raunchy synth riffs that turn glittering in the song’s sweetly disintegrating second half. And he continues to explore his evolving sexuality on a trio of closing ballads, in which he sounds as comfortable and natural singing about love between men, and between men and women. Though that doesn’t at all overshadow the rest of the album, which has more merits in spades to stand on its own, it can’t be ignored, either, as a huge moment for hip-hop — for all music — as a knocking down of barriers in music, sexuality and male image through some of the most dazzling, yet thoughtful pop music being made today.


 
 
OK, enough about how great Frank Ocean is. Here’s another artist who could probably actually use another person talking about them: Blanche Blanche Blanche, from Vermont’s Zach Phillips and Sarah Smith. Their Wink With Both Eyes has been out a little while, but Pitchfork’s recent review prompted me to check it out and boy, I’m smitten. Super lo-fi antics, similar in sound to an Ariel Pink but with the playfulness of a Unicorns and the cool girl vocals of a Broadcast. They remind me quite a bit, too, of The Fiery Furnaces at their best, especially when Phillips jumps in for some vocals alongside Smith, although it’s more in restless spirit than sound. Anyway, if you like any of the aforementioned, by hook or by crook, you have to get this album. I saw one copy on the floor at Amoeba Hollywood; not sure about the other two stores, but you can also order it from us here. Really just mind-bending, haunting stuff, probably will be one of my favorites of this year. Apparently Phillips has a bunch of other projects too, like Bruce Hart, Horse Boys, GDC and Jordan Piper Philips, which I’ll now have to check out after listening to this album constantly.


 
jeff the brotherhoodReleased today was Jeff the Brotherhood’s Hypnotic Nights. The band’s anthemic rock ‘n’ roll resonates so well because their synth-tinged, nerdy fuzz rock never really went out of style, it just sort of disappeared for a while, as Weezer aimed for Beverly Hills and bands like Grandaddy dropped off entirely. Thanks to bands like MGMT and Jeff the Brotherhood, fist-pumpers for the rest of us are alive and well, like Hypnotic Nights’ irrepressible “Sixpack,” whose lyrics “I wanna cool out/and get wasted” sound like nerds finally coming of age and buying booze for the first time while listening to too much Cars and Black Sabbath (is there such a thing?). With The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach producing, real-life brothers Jake and Jamin Orral are surprisingly adept at changing things up, too, like the classic lo-fi indie rock vibes of the awesomely titled “Mystic Portal II,” which starts out with a Guided By Voices/Built to Spill style entry before launching into a beautifully melodic power ballad that ends in guitar-sitar loveliness. And songs like “Staring at the Wall” call out their psychedelia roots with heavy flanged guitars. Sorry if you peaked in high school; the A/V club kids always end up having more fun down the line.

 

Also Out Today:

 
Animal KingdomAnimal KingdomThe Looking Away
 
Animal Kingdom produce some of the sweetest, sleekest Britpop you’ll hear on The Looking Away, balancing pop smarts and expert balladry in songs like “The Wave.” Fans of Coldplay, Of Monsters and Men, and Sigur Ros, take note.
 





 
Baroness Yellow and GreenBaroness
Yellow & Green
 
Though Yellow & Green is metal band Baroness’ most accessible release yet, they haven’t lost any of the drive that have made them a favorite of diehard metal fans and indie music fans alike. Yellow & Green is melodic enough to be on rock radio — just check out the wave-like melodies and guitarwork on “March to the Sea,” complete with country-esque riffery floating below the din. But it’s also plenty tough, as John Baizley’s vocals rarely leave the low jaw-singing range and guitars, while lovely when they relent, as on the driving hard rock of “Little Things,” they rarely do.
 

 
can unlimited editionCan
Unlimited Edition and Flow Motion
 
Reissues of Can albums — Unlimited Edition collected previously unreleased Can tracks, while Flow Motion is their eighth studio album, featuring the jam “I Want More.”
 







The Dark Knight RisesThe Dark Knight Rises Soundtrack
 
Music composed by Hans Zimmer.
 








 
MatisyahuMatisyahu
Spark Seeker
 
Matisyahu’s Spark Seeker reintroduces the performer not as the Hasidic Jewish rap poster boy but as he should be heard — a pop artist who informs his music with elements of roots reggae, hip-hop and Judaism. Songs like “Sunshine” and “I Believe in Love” are positive to the core, espousing the importance of joy, love and spirituality over buoyant reggae backbeats that will land these songs everywhere from pop radio to religious retreats.



 
john mausJohn
MausA Collection Of Rarities & Previously Unreleased Material

It’s just as the title says, with 16 tracks composed by the cerebral yet goofy John Maus over the past decade or so. Key track “Bennington” boasts a raunchy synth groove and lyrics like “I miss those funky eyes.”
 

 





milo greeneMilo GreeneMilo Greene
 
Milo Greene is a set of beautifully crafted songs that make the most of the band’s five-person set-up, taking cues from the Fleet Foxes as each musician contributes to the band’s folky soundscapes and lush harmonies. Check out the band’s live streaming performance at Amoeba (and Amoeba.com) tonight at 7 p.m. and read my interview with them here.
 



 
nas life is goodNas
Life is Good
 
One of the greatest MCs of all time returns with his 10th studio album, with production by Salaam Remi and No I.D., and appearances by Rick Ross, Mary J. Blige and the late Amy Winehouse.
 

 





smashing pumpkins pisces iscariotSmashing PumpkinsPisces Iscariot (Reissue)
 
So excited about this one, maybe even more so than the recent Gish and Siamese Dream reissues. Fans have long known Pisces Iscariot, the Pumpkins’ 1994 B-sides album, to be as strong as anything in their catalog. So great to have it on vinyl, and in a deluxe edition with additional tracks such as their dynamite cover of Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “Jackie Blue,” early new wave jam “My Dahlia” and an awesome live version of non-album psych-punk jam “Slunk.”
 


 
The Very BestThe Very BestMTMTMK
 
The second album from duo The Very Best is a genre-hopping world music mashup of ideas, incorporating afropop, reggae, hip-hop and house music.
 

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