Amoeblog

My Promiscuous Cochlea: Everyone My Ear Took Home in 2014

Posted by Mark Beaver, January 8, 2015 05:33pm | Post a Comment


Vinyl isn't cheap, nor is is tawdry, so the collecting of it has become much more a matter of discernment than it used to be.

The following is a list, alphabetical, perchance by merit, of the vinyl (new titles and re-issues) that made the cut in 2014. It doesn't presume to be a "Best Of," as I am very aware of the peculiarities of my particular set of listening apparatuses. It is a list of the vinyl that my scattershot attention locked on to, brought home and allowed to bed down in the limited space that I allot for records in my home.








































AMEN DUNES
Love (Sacred Bones)

Folky, trippy, with that under-water production we've heard from the likes of KURT VILE, except where VILE is stoned and hanging with his buddies, AMEN DUNES' Damon McMahon is lost in a vast open space, deep in the mushroom and calling "Marco Polo" to the night sky. Stark and brittle while somehow managing to remain lush. I don't think I listened to any album of 2014 as often as I've listened to this.

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AMON DÜÜL II
Yeti (Purple Pyramid Records)

Do we need another re-issue of one of the landmark achievements, one of the single-most definitive artifacts of Krautrock? Well, sure. And if, just if, it were to be re-issued with a lenticular cover and deep blue vinyl that sounds, well, just terrific. Hells yes! The most expensive piece I laid out for this year (#375 of a limited edition of only 500!), but absolutely worth it!

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APHEX TWIN
Syro (Warp)

What is there to be said? It's been a long wait for another AT release and it was well worth it. Alternately playful, serious, clubby, experimental. Elements of rave culture snuggling shoulder-to-shoulder with 21st Century composition. Fun for thinkers.

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VASHTI BUNYAN
Heartleap (DiCristina)

The crush of the modern world requires Vashti Bunyan. Her music is salve, balsam, emollient.  She skirts the edges of twee but the weight of her sheer, simple musicality pinions her into the real. Repeated listenings have locked Heartleap in as my favorite of her releases to date, and, sadly if her claims are true, the last.

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COH
To Beat Or Not To Beat (Editions Mego)

There's very little to be found regarding the name(s) behind this mysterious Russian(?) electronica imprint. The music is playful and spooky in the way that only experimentalists with a toe on the dance floor seem able to do. "eena ferroix" is my stand-out track, a slow build like a soundtrack to a horror movie in which Kraftwerk come back as zombies and shuffle a path of destruction through Algiers. Side D features a Ryuichi Sakamoto remix of it, as well.

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DEERHOOF
La Isla Bonita (Polyvinyl)

So many things going on here: The base layer is solid pop rock with far-flung polyrhythmic tendencies. It's weird, it's sweet, it's clunky and angular. I'm often reminded of pre-Eno Talking Heads, but only in brief moments, then it's buried in Henry Kaiser/Fred Frith-ish guitar-jabbing and sparring. I dig it. "Baseball is cancelled/E.T. is running late."

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JORDAN DE LA SIERRA
Gymnosphere: Song Of The Rose (Numero Group)

Numero Group was not to be outdone by last year's Light In The Attic overview of the history of New Age music, I AM THE CENTER.  Here they re-issue a near-forgotten 1976 treatise of piano-reverb magic. For when you need to just stop what'cher doing.

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ARIEL KALMA
An Evolutionary Music (Original Recordings: 1972-1979) (ReRVNG)

Clearly there's a hippy buried deep within me that is dying to be recognized. More tripped out experiments in piano, modulators, percussion and voice that we should all have known about all along. RVNG is my vote for label of the year, as there are 2 more re-issues by them in the list below.

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KINK Under Destruction (Macro Records)

Not real sure what to make of the fact that two of the few Electronica records I brought home this year were of Russian origin besides the fact that something strange and awesome is going on over there. Not as dark as the COH title listed above, but rather much more playful and silly and even tribal. Made me giggle.

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K. LEIMER A Period Of Review (ReRVNG)

Again on stellar re-issue label, RVNG, recordings by Kerry Leimer compiled from the years 1975-1983. Exotica flavors much of the proceedings, as does a particular New Wave quality. Some tracks seem cousins to Jon Hassel's Dream Theory In Malaya, while others feel ready to open for Flock Of Seagulls. 

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CRAIG LEON
Anthology Of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1: Nommos/Visiting (ReRVNG)

The third item I collected from the RVNG label. Re-issues of two albums that were intended to be issued together in 1981, but were issued a year apart due to numerous obstacles. Leon was a producer for Suicide, Blondie and Richard Hell, the only obvious alignment being with Suicide. Similarly repetitive electronic patterns mark these albums, interspersed with modulating meditations and Japonesque rhumbas.

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LIARS
Mess (Mute)

How about a little "truth in advertising." The LIARS have always been a mess, but here they admit it. Their longevity seems poised on one driving principle, "do not let them guess what's coming next." The closest they've been to the dance floor yet ("Dress Walker"), but at the same time, the closest they've been to the dark ambient disturbance of psycho-sexual warriors like Current 93 or Coil ("Left Speaker Blown"). I love that I don't know what they're thinking.

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GIGI MASIN
Talk To The Sea (Music From Memory)

Take a pop song and then start pulling pieces away. Make it less and less and less. Install wide open landscapes between all of the few remaining parts. If you've loved this process from the likes of Talk Talk and Bark Psychosis, you're gonna love what Gigi Masin's doing.

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MODEST MOUSE
This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About (Glacial Pace Recordings)

The original 1996 LP remains my favorite and so glad Glacial Pace made it possible for me to have a shiny new, slightly expanded copy. Hey, thanks!

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MONO/POLY
Golden Skies (Brainfeeder)

So I heard this album, bought this album, dug this album deeply LONG before I ever read anything about them. I guess this guy, Charles Dickerson, is associated with Flying Lotus and Thundercat, which caught me by surprise, as I thought it HAD to be somebody associated with Fuck Buttons. Really great, intricate, open-horizoned electronica. Lots of forward drive and lots of things to see and do while you're driving there.

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MARISSA NADLER July (Sacred Bones)

As always, here on her 8th album in 10 years, Marissa Nadler is witchy and trippy and adept at finding ways to pry up the lid on the beautiful things that squirm around under love and time and lonely locations. 

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OOIOO
Gamel (Thrill Jockey)

As per the title, OOIOO have pulled their inspiration from Indonesian gamelan music, incorporating the rhythmic gongwork into an angular, artrock document that makes more and more and more and more and more sense the more you listen. A conceit that I was unsure of became logical, then obvious, then essential. Could everyone please add gamelan to whatever their doing? Now, please.

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KRZYSTOF PENDERECKI
Works (Naxos)

Naxos has started pressing vinyl?! You could have pushed me over with a feather, but then I bought this gorgeous item and it burned my face off, instead! Penderecki's the honey-badger of 20th Century composition; he doesn't give a s$%& and he will scare the behoozits outta you...but in a beautiful way.

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SONGS:OHIA
Didn't It Rain expanded re-issue (Secretly Canadian)

It feels strange for their to be an "expanded" issue of what was one of the late Jason Molina's most contracted and sparse albums. So, that means there's a lot more of as little as possible. The last album under his moniker SONGS:OHIA before he would ever-so-slightly expand his vision into MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC CO., Didn't It Rain is a document, a complicated heart's soulprint direct-to-wax.

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ANDY STOTT
Faith In Strangers (Modern Love)

The first track from Stott's newest is akin to 6 minutes of foghorn, digitally created, of course. The album slowly lifts off the water from there. Faith In Strangers is the first Stott release that I've connected with, mostly due to the sheer unusualness of being completely captivating while having next to nothing taking place. Not really ambient, as there are beats, but he's a DJ that won't lay one down until you're looking at something else. He's acting the shadow person, performing in the periphery of your vision.

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TOTAL CONTROL
Typical System (Iron Lung)

Saw these guys open for THEE OH SEES in 2011 at Alex's Bar in Long Beach (IMHO, one of the area's best venues), and they were awesome. The hooks and vocal detachment of Joy Division delivered with raw punk energy over SUICIDE-al beats. Their 2012 debut, Henge Beat was killer, and Typical System ups the ante. The perfect balance of New Wave ethos and Punk attack.

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TRUST
(aka TR/ST and TRST) Joyland (Arts & Crafts)

Here are some of the words reviewers used in their luke warm reception of TRUST's sophomore effort: "slick," "repulsive," "disturbing," "lewd" and "numbing." Add all those up along with the album being described as, "a dance record for the club underneath the club," and I'm hooked. 

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TUNE-YARDS
Nikki Nack (4AD)

Forget all the hyped, songwriter-fed, jetset-producer-fixed R&B that is force fed to you during every network halftime event. There's a new soul sound as angular as the Buzzcocks, as nutty as Ivor Cutler and as smart and confounding as your last Statistics final. Get smart!

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WOVENHAND Refractory Obdurate (Deathwish)

Let's imagine that IF the GUN CLUB's Jeffrey Lee Pierce had wrested control of SOUTHERN DEATH CULT away from Ian Astbury, turned his life over to the Lord Jesus by way of revelation and slipped down into the catacombs to dust off all the Apocryphal texts that he could (but probably shouldn't) get his hands on, then we might be approaching the sound of David Eugene Edwards' WOVENHAND. This is a revival tent I will enter.

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YO LA TENGO
Extra Painful! (Matador)

Yo La Tengo's songs are a lot like planets: They're out there spinning around us and some of them are warm, some are cold, some of them are lush or stark, and some of them we're not sure we can even say are planets, maybe moons or just satellites. But when they align, you can really feel the pull. Their 1993 release Painful! was one of the band's true harmonic convergences, a perfect flow of dream-pop, jangle and full-on jam. Extra Painful! adds another disc's worth of live and demo proof that it wasn't a studio-manufactured fluke.

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VARIOUS ARTISTS
Savage Rhythm (Stag-O-Lee)

There is hope. A while ago I watched GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933 on DVD. I figured I might have to groan through some real cornball antics, but what struck me was just how razor-sharp the comedy of those early talkies truly was. Similarly, record bins all over every town in America, in every Goodwill and St. Vincent De Paul thrift store, in every Salvation Army and swap meet are full of the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet, Bob Crosby and Artie Shaw. You see them there marked 50 cents and figure they're just corny and square and stale. This beautifully packaged and brilliantly curated set proves we're wrong about that.

10 More Essential Records from 2014

Posted by Billy Gil, December 8, 2014 06:20pm | Post a Comment

Last week, I posted my top 50 albums of the year. Cause 50 just ain’t enough, here are another 10 essential records from 2014:

Fear of Men Loom

Fear of Men imagine a world where The Cranberries stayed good, The Sundays really got their due and Belly didn’t flame out. Led by singer/guitarist Jessica Weiss, the band calls to mind alternative/dream pop bands of yesteryear, and Weiss’ vocals call to mind the ethereality of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser crossed with the heartiness of The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan. The band’s muscular indie-rock can move in graceful lockstep (“Tephra”) or set a pretty, yet never sappy backdrop over which Weiss can breathily intone, as on the lovely “Seer.” On the album’s most thrilling moments, Weiss will stretch her voice into territory that goes beyond the expected, singing into a lo-fi mic on the gorgeous “Descent” or looping into dizzying layers on standout “Waterfall.” One of the most promising debuts of the year.

 

Cult of Youth Final Days

Continue reading...

And Food Did I Have and Plenty: A Cornucopia of Feast Folk for your Thanksgiving Comedown

Posted by Kells, November 30, 2014 12:52pm | Post a Comment
I can't imagine everyone is pumped to jump right into all things Christmas before the Thanksgiving leftovers have cooled or even ceased to provide soup and sandwich solutions aplenty. This is especially true, for me, when it comes to accepting the inevitable aural advent of Holiday Music, a sonic offense that can sometimes begin as early as weeks prior to Black Friday. As a sentimental hoarder enthusiast of Holiday tunes, I relish the reason for the season and all the weird and wonderful music that comes with it, but I feel it's in poor taste to unleash the likes of "Last Christmas" too soon. And given that Thanksgiving music thankfully isn't a thing, the lack of any bankable November music tradition leaves the door wide open for folks like McCartney to simply have their "Wonderful Christmastime" as prematurely as they please. I feel an intervention is in order.

Thus I spent the last four weeks exploring possible playlists that might adequately satisfy the season-specific music void that exists Halloween and Christmas, something like a dignified tribute to noble November. Enter the notion of Feast Folk -- a seasonal buffet of harvest-inspired "folk rock" mainly adapted from or informed by ye olde English Roots music as exhumed by many a new age troubadour in the British Isles of the late 1960s (the likes of which is surveyed at length in Rob Young's exemplary book Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music). Here is some food for thought:

 
Tim Hart and Maddy Prior - "Bring Us In Good Ale"

This song, appearing on Hart and Prior's on their third duo album Summer Solstice (1971), is purportedly a wassail dating from about 1460. Because it eschews all food on favor of good ale and good ale alone, it's a perfect tune for those seeking a mostly liquid repast this holiday season.

"Bring us in no brown bread, for that is made of bran,
   Nor bring us in no white bread, for therein is no grain.
Bring us in no beef, for there are many bones,
   But bring us in good ale, for that goeth down at once.
Bring us in no mutton, for that is seldom lean,
   Nor bring us in no tripes, for they are seldom clean.
Bring us in no eggs, for there are many shells,
   But bring us in good ale, and bring us nothing else."






Shelagh McDonald - "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme"

"Come all you fair and tender girls,
   That flourish in your prime, prime.
Beware, beware, keep your garden fair,
   And let no man steal your thyme, thyme,
Let no man steal your thyme."

This song, from Shelagh McDonald's first album, the aptly titled, Album, is said to date from as far back as 1689 and is included here because I'd rather not roast without it, thyme that is. Bonus fun fact: on January 16th 2013, McDonald made her first official public appearance after having "disappeared" more than forty years ago. Performing half hour set at the Green Note in Camden, London, her set consisted of previously unrecorded material as well as her marvelous version of this song, captured in the video below.





 
Pentangle - "The Hunting Song"

"Wearily I crossed the stream to the castle
    Where I found shelter from the cold wintry wind
And food did I have and plenty
    But the Lord and Lady seemed so sad"

Running nearly eight minutes, this groovy yarn concerning a king, a queen, a princely knight and a lady with magic horn of truth, or something, appears on Pentangle's third album Basket of Light (1969). Though a cursory search yielded little information about the song's genesis (other than it seems no one in the band penned it), the song itself sounds hundreds of years old. Indeed, during their 1970 BBC special, Pentangle guitarist Bert Jansch introduces the song saying, "it's a sort of 13th century rock n' roll song, that's the only way I can explain it."





 
Steeleye Span - "King Henry"

"Some meat, some meat you King Henry,
   Some meat you give to me,
Go kill your horse you King Henry
   And bring him here to me"

I owe the cover art to Steeleye Span's excellent 1972 album Below the Salt for imbuing me with the idea that British Folk Revival might be a simple solution to my seasonal rock in a hard place. That is, all I really wanna do is rock and I find that time of the year when folks play Christmas music too early to be a hard place for me, emotionally. Anyway, this song features a ton of food imagery, almost all of it brutal in the extreme, but that probably has everything to do with the origin of the ballad having been traced back to a Scottish adaptation of a 13th century Norse saga.






 Martin Carthy - " Lord Randall"

“What did she give you for your supper,
   my own dear darling boy?
What did she give you for your supper,
   my own dear comfort and joy?”
“I got fish and I got broth,
   oh make my bed mummy do,
Make my bed mummy do.”

This well known child ballad appears on Martin Carthy's 1972 album Shearwater and tells the story of a boy poisoned by a bowl seafood served to him by his (evil?) step-mother, the details of the deadly encounter revealed to his true mother in lyrical dialogue. Carthy mentions in the liner notes that the common plot of the song "must be among the more widespread story-ideas in the folk consciousness." Again, brutal.






 
Forest - "Famine Song"

This little dirge-y ditty, from pagan folk trio Forest's second LP, Full Circle (1970), is all about the food that isn't -- perfect subject matter for a band that routinely explores the darker aspects of traditional English folk themes. The perfect three part harmony of this song, bereft of instrumental accompaniment, seems to suggest a chorus of voices gathered at an empty table:

"Oh I wish that we were geese, night and morn
 Oh I wish that we were geese, night and morn
 Oh I wish that we were geese,
'Til the hour of our release
When we'd live and die in peace,
stuffing corn, stuffing corn"







 Paul Giovanni feat. Magnet - "Corn Rigs"

This opening tune from the film The Wicker Man is a delightful romp of an arrangement taken from Robert Burns' "Rigs O' Barley". It's so good it almost made me want to change Feast Folk to Lammas Rock.

"It was upon a Lammas night, when corn rigs are bonnie,
Beneath the moon's unclouded light, I held awhile to Annie
The time went by with careless heed,
   'til 'tween the late and early
With small persuasion she agreed,
   to see me through the barley.

Corn rigs and barley rigs and corn rigs are bonnie
I'll not forget that happy night among the rigs with Annie"






 
Vashti Bunyan - "Rose Hip November"

Welcoming in and celebrating November's earthy delights, this simple song written and performed by Vashti Bunyan, appearing on her 1970 gem of a debut album Just Another Diamond Day, is as elegant an ode to the eleventh month as an exquisite mid-autumn nights' dream.

"Rose hip November - Autumn I'll remember
 Gold landing at our door, catch one leaf
   and fortune will surround you evermore.
Pine tree very tall, waiting for snow to fall.
Mist hangs very still, caught by dawn
   in castle moats around the sleeping hill.
Now a pipe is heard, happy is the shepherd
Shepherdess and dog, father of the pastureland
   and mother of the flock."






 
Sandy Denny - "Late November"

Well, as it happens, today is the last day of November and the by-the-calendar actual advent of Christmas and, as such, here is a song with which to bid a fond adieu to this most excellent and bountiful November. Who better to take this parting to task than the incomparable Sandy Denny? And what better, more appropriately titled tune, than the opening song from her 1971 solo album The North Star Grassman and the Ravens? Winter has only just begun, and heady sugarplum distractions only hours abut the dream that was November lingers.

"The wine it was drunk, the ship it was sunk
The shot it was dead, all the sorrows were drowned
The birds they were clouds, the brides and the shrouds
And as we drew south the mist it came down..."






 
The Young Tradition with Shirley and Dolly Collins -  "The Boar's Head Carol"

I give up, it's Christmas. But that doesn't mean we gotta make do with modern offal when it comes to holiday music enjoyment. Why not keep it fifteenth century conventional with The Young Tradition and Shirley and Dolly Collins' rendition of "The Boar's Head Carol" -- a song that commemorates the ancient tradition of sacrificing a boar and presenting it's head at a Yuletide feast? Yes, please! Let's make this a merry medieval Christmas to remember.

"The boar's head in hand bear I
Bedecked with bay and rosemary;
So I pray you my masters be merry,
Quot estis in convivio (as many as are at the feast)."


Interview with Rock Photographer Alissa Anderson - Part 2

Posted by Miss Ess, March 5, 2010 03:13pm | Post a Comment

Here we continue the interview with San Francisco's own rock photographer Alissa Anderson! In this edition, aside from more chatting about Alissa's favorite moments in her artistic career, check out photos (some exclusive!) of artists including Joanna Newsom, Vashti Bunyan, Vetiver, CocoRosie, David Byrne, SIlver Jews, Beach House, Bert Jansch, Meg Baird, Devendra Banhart, Donovan, Little Wings and more! Please see Part 1 to catch up!





Joanna Newsom and Neal Morgan - Big Sur - March 28, 2009

Miss Ess: How did you come to photograph the Joanna Newsom show in Big Sur?

You were the only photographer allowed.

Alissa Anderson: I planned on taking pictures from the moment I found out about the show since I knew it was going to be such an intimate and historic occasion. I have shot Jo many times over the years, from her very first shows at the Hemlock, and I hadn’t seen her play in a long time. I’ve shot many times at the Fernwood so I knew what the situation would be like. I brought my Hasselblad and just shot a roll from my seat in the front. I didn’t want to be too distracting for Joanna or the band and it was extremely crowded; I was pretty squished up against the stage! Ironically, my favorite shot ended up being the one of her tuning.

Continue reading...

Best of a Rapid Decade: One per year plus a few too good to not mention...

Posted by Mark Beaver, January 6, 2010 04:00pm | Post a Comment

In recently trying to fill in a friend on what I'd spent the last year or two listening to, I realized that my personal taste tends to gravitate towards some element of either Folk form (any hint of hill-folk finger-pickin' or Ozark/Appalachian melancholy and I'm in), Psychedelia or the tendency to extend a theme for a good long jam (a category in which I include a lot of the Jazz that I like), or just a great, funky groove.

With those qualifiers in place, the following is a year by year review of the last decade which somehow got past me with out noticing it. I mean, really?!! 2010?!!!  I didn't see it coming: 

2000: Album of the Year

Air's enjoyable and wacky Moon Safari had been on the decks for a couple years before they contracted for the soundtrack to Sofia Coppolla's Virgin Suicides. The resultant score is absolutely sublime and marked the French electronauts as contenders to watch.

For myself, it was the defining sound of the millennium's new year.
















Shelby Lynne released a killer country-soul gem, I Am Shelby Lynne, that echoed early material from the likes of Bonnie Raitt. Thinking that it was a brilliant debut from a talented 32yo unknown, I was eventually shocked to find that it was her 6th album. I listened to it for months.




Radiohead's Kid A stood out from the pack as probably my most listened to album of 2000.  It wasn't quite another OK Computer, but I was still high on them and the layers of rock guitar, electronica and Thom Yorke's signature vocal style kept me happy for another year.



Susumu Yokota was dropped on my radar by friends who just know what I like. Sakura, on the LEAF label, is on par with much of that label's releases: smooth, almost glacial electronica. In this case, lots of processed guitar and drum patterns building small, contemplative, melodic pieces. Yokota followed this beauty with an even stronger release in 2002, The Boy and the Tree.




2001: Album of the Year

2001 gave me the one title that I still obsess most about to this day.  It's an odd and singular slab of vinyl by The
Microphones
called The Glow Pt. 2. I have a hard time convincing others of its sheer greatness, but I've brought a few fellow travelers on board.

Led by Washington based Phil Elvrum, who now records under the moniker Mt. Eerie, The Glow is a many-faceted gem of lo-fi songwriting of shocking focus and clarity. Elvrum never lets anything play long enough to bore, and he has, album by album, become a master of atmosphere: layering found sounds, both natural and man-made, across his troubled, gentle songs. This is definitely an album that plays better alone and with headphones, but man! Easily in my Top 5 albums of the decade!





I was totally locked-in with White Stripes and the full-blown media blitz around White Blood Cells. I still think that it holds up as an amazing document from a great year from a great band at their peak. "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," is still a great song, as is "Fell in Love With a Girl," and the surprisingly sweet and affecting "We're Going To Be Friends."




2002: Album of the Year

I think that it would be hard not to admit that Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was the album of the year for 2002. All of the drama around the album allegedly being "passed on" by their label and its subsequent extreme on-line success was just too good of a story to not propel this really very, very good album into legendary status. It belongs there.

















2002 also gave us new highs from long-time staples Beck and The Flaming Lips. Both Beck and the Lips are fairly chameleonic entities. They change styles like people change babies. Beck sounded like he'd been bingeing on Gordon Lightfoot on his release, Sea Change, but the sound fit him well and, to date, it's the only Beck I own.



The Flaming Lips remade themselves from hard-driving psychedelic (damaged) warriors into mystic prophets of the multi-layered freakout. I loved Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots from the opening chords.




The sleeper of the year was Cliff Martinez' electronic score for Steven Soderbergh's remake of SolarisBattestar Galactica fans may recognize some of it as it reappeared in spots on the recent TV series. Not unlike an electronic gamelan. Hypnotic and absolutely beautiful.




Though associated thru her husband, Phil Wandscher, with the band Whiskeytown, Jesse Sykes is a phenomenon all her own. Her pacing, her smoky, almost male vocal tones and her haunting original songs have made her one of my top artists of the decade. As killer as Reckless Burning was in 2002, her albums only got better as the decade progressed. Definitely check out 2007's Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul (Barsuk).



Led by Will Oldham's brother, Ned Oldham, Anomoanon (rhymes with "phenomenon") brought all of their talents into focus for their 5th release, Asleep Many Years In The Wood. Sometimes described as a less-meandering Grateful Dead, or a slightly happier take on Crazy Horse, I loved, loved, loved this album and truly, every time I played it, somebody said something to the effect of, "this is awesome, what is it?"





2003: Album of the Year

I didn't pay any attention to Songs:Ohia until 2003, when their Magnolia Electric Co. (a name the band would subsequently be known by) appeared and blew my mind. Rootsy, haunting, alternately rocking or introspective, Jason Molina's self-driven project was my listen of the year.

Also released as a limited 2CD version that includes a disc of the whole album from beginning to end, done by Molina, solo, with just his guitar for company, on the last night that he occupied his apartment. Any of the band tracks that might not seem focused on the first studio disc come into high-relief thru Molina's solo treatment.










Bonnie Prince Billy (aka Palace, Palace Bro.s, Will Oldham) released his best album to date in 2002. Fully produced with strings, backing vocals and the whole kaboodle, it's a near-perfect album. Lots of his trademark Appalachian whine, but fleshed out. Every song a winner. You will see more of Oldham as you read on: he is my choice for Musician of the Decade.




A thick scotch brogue and traditional Scottish ballads or songs that certainly sound like traditional Scottish ballads (murder ballads or otherwise) mist up from the grooves on Alasdair Roberts' Farewell Sorrow. From the band Appendix Out, and signed to Drag City under the urging of Will Oldham, Roberts makes a softly paced trad-folk that's incredibly easy to listen to.



William Basinski found some old reel-to-reels that he had made back in the 80's, and, in the process of trying to transfer them to digital, noticed that the CrO2 was just falling off the tapes like powder. He looped the reels and let them play until they faded into silence. The results, his Disintegration Loops, are some of the most haunting recordings you will ever hear.





Hala Strana is fronted by the Jewelled Antler Collective member Steven R. Smith. You can hear him play amazing guitar on his own recordings and in the bands Thuja, Mirza and Ulaan Khol. Hala Strana takes all of his fuzzed and smeared guitar artistry and applies it toward treatments of themes from Eastern European folk music. Killer!


 

2004: Album of the Year

In all fairness, Dungen had been in the collective hipster consciousness for a good year or more when Ta Det Lugnt hit the shelves, but this was the slbum that set off the full-blown craze.

Everything I like is here: Scandinavian folk forms, psychedelia and some great extended grooves.

I just wish I knew what they were saying...
















The band Espers hails from the Philadelphia area, but their sound is all British Isles circa 1969. There is very little that definitely marks them as being a new-millennium-era band, but I don't mind that in the least. If everyone looked backwards at what came before them as solidly and craftfully as this accomplished combo does, the world would be a more beautiful place. And their albums are all as good as this, if not better.




2004 marked the debut recording, Milk-Eyed Mender, from classically-trained harpist/composer Joanna Newsom. Her troubling voice turned many to flight, as Allmusic described it, "somehere between a child and a crone." I loved it just because of that untrained Appalachian-scented cry. Her songs are intricate and heartfelt, like teaching songs for children about the most painful things they've yet to face.



Ghost albums are always a crap-shoot, but 2004 gave us one of the real gems in Hypnotic Underworld. Though there are no bad Ghost albums, some don't have the pacing one would like, or that complete album feel. Hypnotoc Underworld unfolds of a piece: great songs, great jams, great playing. Everything, in fact, that a collective of Japanese neo-hippies can bring. The best of theirs since 1996's Lama Rabi Rabi.





2005: Album of the Year

Okkervil River is another group that had bubbled along for years, arguably producing even stronger albums than Black Sheep Boy before I stumbled upon them. Nevertheless, I hooked into Black Sheep Boy and didn't let go for weeks.

The title track is a Tim Hardin cover, paced and folky like the original, but the rest of the album thrums like young punkers that are having a hard time fitting into the confines of "songwriting."

That very tension makes it all work.










Many Allison Goldfrapp fans will point to her self-titled band's 2000 debut, Felt Mountain, as the best of her output so far, but I found it all a bit too James Bond-y, torchy and tried. With Black Cherry, she lays it all out for the dancefloor and contends for the sexiest chanteuse of the decade. The title track, the grinding "The Train," and "Strict Machine" are some the most voluptuous dance tracks in years.






They may not have the most original sound on the block, echoing Red House Painters, Jay Farrar, Early Day Miners, and even straying close to Handsome Family, but Great Lake Swimmers sure know their way around a beautiful tune. Banjo, guitar, strings and brushed drums add up to sadcore at its prettiest.




Once the freak-folk began searching for her whereabouts, we knew it wouldn't be long before a new album (after a 35-year hiatus) emerged from British folk legend Vashti Bunyan. Lookaftering sounds like she recorded it a year after her last, the legendarily gorgeous Just Another Diamond Day from 1970. Well worth the wait.






At some point I'm going to have to admit that all I want is a cabin in the woods and a jug of moonshine because that's the sound that kills me. Phosphorescent is basically a one-person (Matthew Houck out of Athens, GA) band plus friends. On Aw Come Aw Wry, they make a decidedly Will Oldham-y sort of sound, though a bit heavier on the hoedown and religious revival. And who can resist a CD that ends with 19 minutes of rain recorded from a rural Georgia porch?





2006: Album of the Year/Album & Artist of the Decade

I've been a fan of Will Odham's through all of his incarnations, but nothing prepared me for The Letting Go. Recorded in Iceland with major contributions from Dawn McCarthy from the folky Faun Fables, the album is a major document of a truly gifted and eccentric songwriter at a real peak.

McCarthy's vocal arrangements are to be credited with a lot of the album's sparse power, but the songs are just really, really excellent.

Listen to the "little birdy" refrain that leads out of "Cursed Sleep." It has echoes of Charles Ives' vocal arrangements on Shaker themes. Fragile, backwoods songs as heard on a lost and broken coast out in the middle of the Atlantic...




Again, here's a piece that stirs the ghost of Charles Ives. Joanna Newsom returns with her second album, and it's a much more ambitious effort that her first collection of songs: only five songs that average out at about 11 minutes each. Van Dyke Parks is on board to help the arrangements in a sort of torch-passing of the American song-cycle form. It's a masterpiece, and a close contender for album of the decade.




I am a reluctant fan of the freak-folk. I don't like how dangerously close Devendra Banhart's vocals stray to those of T.Rex, especially since I'm not a fan of T.Rex's vocals, either. So, when a Banhart-associated project landed in my lap, I was slow to respond. Luckily, I did, and found something much less freak-folk and much more focused and complete. Vetiver's To Find Me Gone is large patches of musical extensions, slightly ambient psychedelic, held together with stitches of fine songwriting. Check "I Know No Pardon" and "You May Be Blue."



Juana Molina...what the hell?! Argentinian singer who makes confoundingly creative albums so varied and layered with ideas that I have to guess she's just plain nuts. Son is her 4th and, for me, her most out. It stands like The Dreaming amongst Kate Bush's catalogue. The stops are pulled out and the sheer insane musicality of it all tumbles out. Hold onto your hat.





I had pegged the Liars, after their debut album, They Threw Us All In A Trench..., as Fall wannabees. Interesting choice, I thought. Lots of the kids are copying the old-folks, but I haven't heard them attempting the Fall, yet. Their sophomore effort, 2004's They Were Wrong, So We Drowned was so god-awful that I thought I was done. Then they went even crazier. Drum's Not Dead and 2007's Liars are amazing albums, and I have no idea what they are doing.



2007: Album of the Year

It was a hard pick between Iron & Wine's The Shepherd's Dog and Panda Bear's Person Pitch, but in the end I was just so proud of Iron & Wine that I picked them as the best of the year.

After years of finely done, but ultimately a bit soft, boring and just incomplete music, I was pleasantly surprised by this full album of great songs, dynamics and jam that made me think that leader Samuel Beam had gone on a major Lindsay Buckingham kick and gleaned all the best things from the craftsman of Fleetwood Mac's pop gems. Feel the Tusk!








Person Pitch by Panda Bear (a project lead by Animal Collective's Noah Lennox) was presented to me as something I was supposed to either dislike or be confused by. Confused, yes, but I loved it. It was like the Beach Boys, who I never liked, suddenly made sense. These are the sounds inside Brian Wilson's head.





Are the tones that Adam Forkner utilizes on White Rainbow's Prism of Eternal Now really healing? They certainly healed my great drone deficiency. Forkner did similarly great work in his previous band Yume Bitsu, and it's good to see he hasn't lost any chops. Satisfies where Stars of the Lid only tease.




From the same Scottish collective that brought us King Creosote, K.T. Tunstall and Alasdair Roberts, James Yorkston writes beautiful, lilting ballads that churn along with strings, brushed drums, harmonica, mandolins and the like. Year of the Leopard is a great companion for a rainy day, of which, unfortunately, Los Angeles has way too few.





There are times in listening to the albums of Norwegian jazz pianist Tord Gustavsen that one might think that he has abandoned the project, or just forgotten to play. Then the trio takes its next step forward and all of that silence makes breathtaking sense. Being There is his best to date and well worth some time spent in its company.




2008: Album of the Year 

Unlike a lot of the full-blown crazes of the last decade, I really liked how the Bon Iver phenomenon manifested. Not very different from the pacing of the album For Emma... itself, it bubbled along by word-of-mouth as more and more people really took stock of what they were listening to.

Justin Vernon's voice is unbelievably soulful without straying into the territory of "Soul Music." He uses vocoder without straying into irony or 80's nostalgia. It's so reservedly experimental that it never becomes "Art Rock." For Emma, Forever Ago is a felt and artful and crafted album, and it deserves all the praise its been given.








This is the cover of the LP version of Build An Ark's Dawn album. It's a great album cover. Luckily, what I found on listening is an astounding album of spiritual jazz featuring Phil Ranelin, Dwight Trible (arguably one of the greatest living jazz vocalists), Carlos Nino and Adam Rudolph, among a host of others. One can draw a line directly from the Impulse recordings of John and Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders to this project's spirit. Heartful and real.





Former Pavement guy Stephen Malkmus got it all working for Real Emotional Trash. He's obviously loving playing his guitar and the extensions on the title track, "Hopscotch Willie," and "Elmo Delmo" show it. His lyrics are as often nonsensical as not, but we never complained when the Ramones sang "Gabba Gabba Hey."





Featuring members that have all cut their teeth over the years with the likes of Earlimart, Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion, Everest peaked the curiosity and attention of Neil Young, who signed them to his Vapor label and took them as openers on two tours. They write great folk and psychedelia-tinged songs like "Rebel in the Roses" and "Black Covers." Can't wait for the next, hopefully appearing sometime in 2010.





I never thought that I would respond to anything so redolent of Bob Dylan as Swede Kristian Matsson's solo venture, The Tallest Man On Earth. However, it's really surprising and really, really good. Just him and guitar (or dobro) and a pocketful of forward-driving folk songs that stand up and shake you by the lapels.






Just when you think there can't be any more good songs in Will Oldham, he lays out another gem. Every time I hear Lie Down In The Light again I just shake my head. How can it be so friggin' good?

Yet another reason why I grant him the title of Musician of the Decade.






2009: Album of the Year

All the pre-hype on this record had it billed as "their black-metal album." Well, black-metal it's not, but the record is flavored with it.

Phil Elvrum (formerly frontman for the aforementioned The Microphones), mixes up a brew that smokes with ambient, field recordings, low-breathed musings and full black-metal assault. It all adds up and ends up being surprisingly human and vulnerable and bare.

I understand those that can't get behind Mt. Eerie, but Im not going to join them. I think they are one of the few groups today that sound ONLY like themselves.









First of all, Dinosaur Jr. finally got themselves a good album cover. Really, they have had some of the worst of all time in their long 22 years of music-making. On top of that, Farm is a great album. Like on the previously mentioned Stephen Malkmus LP,  the Dinos are obviously really enjoying the act of playing rock-n-roll. A folky, Neil Young-y tinge has seeped in over the years and their songs are better for it. Arguably the best of their long career!






Like Espers, Marissa Nadler's music is hard to pin into the 21st century. Using 60's and 70's British Folk as a springboard, she lets her own songs slightly unwind. Organ, guitar, lap steel and percussion build a reserved psychedelic ambience around her thin reed of a voice. Little Hells is her 4th album in 5 years and she grows with every release. Keep an eye on her.

       
          
 

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