We're approximately 40% of the way through 2015, and nary an album review to be found on this sadly neglected, mildewed, has-been of a blog. At the time of this writing, we're finally in the thick of summer; a summer which will be characterized by oodles upon oodles of adult beverages, live music, travel, and nuptials. Oh, right, and stamps. Don't forget the stamps. I can't stress this enough people, NEVER FORGET THE GODDAMN STAMPS.
As of this moment, I've seen approximately 37 shows during the calendar year 2015, and I've heard about 36 albums / EPs, give or take. Naturally, I haven't spent enough time with all of those albums to have formulated a coherent, snarky opinion on each of them, but what say we talk about the ones that I have, hmmmmmm?
THE BEST (AND WORST) ALBUMS OF 2015, pt. I
Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh-- this solo outing courtesy of one of the dudes from Fuck Buttons (not the guy who did the 8-bit thing earlier in the year) has a sound not dissimilar to his main gig. The maximalism and noisiness remains, but much of the epic melodicism is replaced here seemingly by a pervasive vibe of general uneasiness. I like it. Grade: B
Bop English - Constant Bop -- White Denim's main man James Petralli steps out on his first "solo" release, leaning heavily on many of WD's influences - namely blue-eyed soul, yacht rock, folk, dad rock, and other genres that don't really, y'know, "rock." What results sounds an awful lot like a kinda watered-down, less punchy version of what a normal White Denim record sounds like. Grade: B-
Built to Spill - Untethered Moon-- Initially, it was Doug Martsch's goal to record each successive BtS album with an entirely different lineup. Maybe it took trading his longtime rhythm section (as happened during the Untethered Moon sessions) for a pair of young bucks to rejuvenate the band's sound during the lengthy layoff following 2009's solid-if-at-times-lugubrious There Is No Enemy. Untethered Moon is the peppiest, liveliest, and downright funnest album of Martsch's career. Grade: A-
Crocodiles -Boys -- When I first saw Crocodiles live in a tiny room in 2009, the "band" somehow managed to make two dudes playing along to a backing CD seem bratty, punky, and ballsy. Now, five full-lengths into their career, Crocodiles seem to have settled into a rut of cranking out inessential (if pleasant) power pop recordes every year or so, entirely lacking the vitality of their earliest releases. Grade: C
Dan Deacon - Gliss Riffer --If anything, Dan Deacon is known less for his songwriting and more for whipping crowds of sweaty hipster kids into a frenzy with his irresistable DIY electronic goofiness. Gliss Riffer bears the most legitimately catchy moments of his career, "Build Voice" notwithstanding. Grade: B-
Delicate Steve - Live in Las Vegas -- As I witnessed personally when seeing Delicate Steve open up for Tame Impala last November, this is a band that is best appreciated live. At their best, they manage to approximate the enthusiasm and chops of the mighty Fang Island while reminiscing about a distant time when guitar heroes like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Gary Hoey could get their songs played on pop radio. #rememberthenineties Grade: B+
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress -- Continuing Godspeed's post-hiatus resurgence, here's another undeniably massive slab of fire and brimstone, veering glacially from terrifying to gorgeous. Grade: A-
Inventions - Maze of Woods -- Is what's created by this Explosions in the Sky side project technically, "music?" Don't care, doesn't matter, shaddup. What it is is the single most immersive, relaxing album I've heard since Earth's outstanding The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull. Grade: B+
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Freedom Tower -- These guys' ironic sneer has, at long last, collapsed under its own weight, which leaves JSBX with this, a limp, overly goofy ode to "old" NYC. Haven't really loved anything they've have done in some time now. Grade: C-
King Crimson - Live at the Orpheum -- Crimson is arguably the poster child for sacrificing genuine feeling for technique. Of course, this is absolute hogwash, perpetuated by critics who brand mastery of one's instrument beyond a Shaggs-ian level to be wankery. (In particular, the Wetton and Lake eras of Crim excelled onstage, as revealed in such live documents as the Epitaph and Great Deceiver box sets, as well as the Nightwatch and USA live albums.) However, I found this newest, three-drummer (!!!) iteration of the band to be dull and mechanical when I saw them last year, and Live at the Orpheum does little to sway that opinion. Grade: D
Plenty more albums to go - maybe I'll get to them soon, maybe I won't. TTFN.
Whew. Whatta year, amirite?! Yes, new music may have been a bit lacking, but fortunately the one constant that remains is that there's a shit-ton of great live music coming through NYC year-round. When I moved to Williamsburg in '08, I did so almost entirely because of the proximity to so many music venues; nearly 6 years later, that remains my biggest motivation for sticking around.
In fact, my show-going affliction reached new heights this year - I did a rough count last week, and if I wind up going to the New Mastersounds afterparty following the Phish show on December 29th, I will have seen a robust *98* distinct concerts in 2013. According to Jalepzerz' / MeatBox archives, that's a personal record (although I've eclipsed 90 shows in several other years), and as proof, I uploaded literally hundreds of videos to my YouTube channel, effectively documenting my own crime spree.
So, here I sit on Christmas Eve, workin' on my final post of the year for this blog; a post that focuses solely on the highlights of my showgoing for the year. In 4 evenings, Phish NYE Run starts, and if some notable, epic shit goes down, several of these lists could be (at the very least) a bit out of whack and (at most) completely irrelevant. I welcome that. :->
See you in the new year, everyone!
Best Live Show of the Year - Phish at Hampton Coliseum, 10/20/13
Top 10 Phish shows I personally attended this year:
10.) 10/25/13 DCU 9.) 11/1/13 AC 8.) 8/4/13 BGCA 7.) 11/2/13 AC 6.) 7/6/13 SPAC (fuck off, I loved this damn show) 5.) 10/19/13 Hampton 4.) 7/14/13 Merriweather 3.) 10/27/13 Hartford 2.) 10/26/13 DCU 1.) 10/20/13 Hampton
The best three non-Phish arena shows I saw in 2013:
16.) Split Open and Melt at SPAC, July 6 15.) Rock and Roll at BGCA, August 3 14.) Crosseyed and Painless at Holmdel, July 10 13.) Twist > Under Pressure at AC, November 1 12.) Theme from the Bottom > Shaft theme at AC, November 2 11.) Drowned at Worcester, October 26 10.) Harry Hood at Merriweather 9.) Runaway Jim at BGCA, August 4 8.) Stash at Merriweather, July 14 7.) Carini at SPAC, July 6 6.) Carini at AC, October 31 5.) Golden Age at Hartford, October 27 4.) Piper > Taking Care of Business at Hampton, October 20 (yup, this is cheating) 3.) Light at Merriweather, July 14 2.) Seven Below at BGCA, August 2 (in spite of the butchered composed section) 1.) Carini at Hampton, October 18
Very little has changed since the last time I saw Fang Island in March. Fang Island are still one of the very best bands in the world; Fang Island put on a joyous, exuberant live show; Fang Island are still exponentially less popular than they should be. Whatever. While all y'all shitheads are off posing and preening at the next Pure Bathing Culture show, I'll be pogoing and grinning like a madman at Fang Island. SUCKAZZZ!
My recollection of this show is a bit hazier than it should've been due to my buddy's surprise bartab in Chelsea before the show, but I can happily announce that the band performed a bunch of old chestnuts as well as a *NEW* song, entitled "StarQuest," and it was awesome. Below is a drumless version of the song recorded on a rooftop in what appears to be East Williamsburg, near where I used to live. Enjoy!
These guys are sick and tired of the near-constant Nirvana comparisons, but they should take that shit as a compliment. While Ideal Cities is their least Nirvana-derived release so far, that's not necessarily a good development; it's also their least consistently hooky. That being said, "Weird" and "Bait Car" are great fucking songs, and if these guys had put out an album packed with stuff approaching the quality of those two songs, this would be the best album I've heard this year, hands down.
Diarrhea Planet - I'm Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams
By all accounts, I should love this album, since essentially it consists of a combination of what the two finest bands in Brooklyn (Fang Island and Liquor Store) do best. Marrying the latter's boneheaded, anthemic kraut-punk to the former's ecstatically sunny prog should work on paper, but somehow here the sum is way, way less interesting than the sum of the parts. It doesn't help that the vocals sound like a drunk guy impersonating a retarded person.
I'm just going to come out and say it - last Thursday's Fang Island show at Union Pool was probably the most entertaining show I've even seen in Brooklyn. Having the opportunity to see a band as great as Fang Island in such a tiny room for EIGHT BUCKS (?!?!) doesn't happen all that often, you see.
Of course, I'm prejudiced. But with good reason: I've seen these guys many times since I randomly stumbled onto them opening a Yeasayer show at Bowery in December, 2008. Furthermore, one need only look as far as the 'Fang Island' category button at the right of this very page to figure out that I consider Fang Island to be one of the finest acts in the known universe.
This particular show went off during the band Callers' March Union Pool residency; I arrived halfway through Callers' set, and noticed that the dude who was taking tickets / doing will call / handing out bracelets was none other than Fang Island's own Chris Georges, guitarist (a/k/a the super happy dude with the moustache). I wished him a good set, and my buddy, once he realized who it was, drunkenly slurred "D-Davey... Davey Crockett, breh..." to which Mr. Georges responded, "...eventually, yup!" much to our delight.
As for Callers, they weren't my cup of tea -- kinda dreamyish music with female vocals, heavy on the vibrato which were WAY too prominent in the mix. But who cares about me - to their credit these guys had the (admittedly tiny) room totally packed for their set. I wasn't alone, however - at one point a dude crashed into me while running out of the room, apologizing, "shit man, I'm real sorry. But I just can't take this shit anymore!!"
Fang Island's set was incredible. Opening with "Careful Crossers," they played practically all of their best stuff, including "Life Coach," "Daisy," "The Illinois," "Welcome Wagon" and "Sideswiper" from the self titled album, and "Sisterly," "Chompers," "Seek it Out," "Dooney Rock" (introduced as "a country song") and "Asunder" from last year's Major. When they finished, the house lights immediately went up and the sound guy inexplicably put on the house music, but we weren't letting them get off that easy. The few die-hards in the room shouted "ONE MORE SONG!" until the band reappeared for a gorgeous version of "Davey Crockett." And it was good.
Of course, the crowd sucked, but making fun of Williamsburg crowds for being lame is so clicheed by this point that we might actually be up to a third or fourth level of backlash / irony here. Whatever, y'all can seriously go fuck yourselves; while yer all behaving like we're at a fuckin' bris, I'll be the big fat moron at stage right, giving myself whiplash, sweating profusely, and grinning like a moron.
GOOD LUCK TO FANG ISLAND ON THEIR UPCOMING EUROPEAN TOUR!!!!!!!
Fang Island is one of my favorite bands, so of course I'd want to catch a solo show starring their main dude. Going into this we had no clue what to expect, and what we got was a set consisting of guitar experimentation featuring different tones, textures and an impressive pedal setup, with the music being manipulated thru several small amps placed at the edge of the stage.
I shot three videos of the set; these videos comprise nearly all of the material that was performed. During the set, Mr. Bartell was seated on a chair on the venue floor, facing towards the stage, about 15 feet back. The audience packed in tightly around him, and a few people actually chose to sit. The music was performed on a white, double-neck Gibson, with Bartell, his back to most of the crowd, hunched over in a manner befitting a wizard in deep concentration. Before the set, Bartell soundchecked very briefly, realizing something was amiss, turning towards the DJ booth and saying, "hey, could you guys please plug in whatever it was you unplugged?" to the amusement of the crowd.
I'll let you watch the videos and judge for yourself, but as you can imagine, this stuff sounded great coming right after the DJ had finished playing "Hallogallo" by Neu!.
The (Real) Album of the Year: Class Clown Eats the Factory for Lunch - Guided by Voices [compilation of best tracks from Guided by Voices' three 2012 album releases, Let's Go Eat the Factory, Class Clown Spots a UFO, and The Bears for Lunch]
I, for one, think this was a fine year for music. I've been called out for giving out too many B+'s amongst my album grades over the last few months, but, if you think about it, it makes sense: at this point, I'm not going out of my way to listen to albums I think are going to be horrible. There are at least, what, 40-50 acts every year that are going to put out albums that I'm going to listen very closely to just based on my previous history enjoying the work of said acts; the rest of the stuff I end up hearing is based on either a (well-informed, I'd like to think) hunch or ideas from friends (usually Beafvy and Bricer). Again, it's not like I'm going around listening to the new Danielson or Grizzly Bear or Best Coast or Vivian Girls or whatever just so I can write something snarky and rubber stamp a "D-" on that garbage. Believe it or not, my time is actually worth more than that.
When 2012 was all said and done, I heard nearly 80 albums, with the final one being the EP Mogwai sneakily released this morning (spoiler alert: it's not worth spending actual money on). The majority of the albums listed below reached double digits in my play count on iTunes.
So, here's the list, unadorned by such frivolities as relevant information about the albums, cover art, or helpful links that would make it easier to locate the individual album reviews, wherever they may be on this site. [EDIT: fixed that.] I'd love to dress this post up and make it a little less bare-bones, but I'll be heading towards JFK in a few short hours, so yer on yer own.
So that's it for now, and I'll check in with y'all before Phish's upcoming 4-night run at MSG (unofficially titled "Four Bros, Four Shows"). HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
So, my goal was to post reviews for every '12 album I heard (about 80 or so) before posting year-end lists, but that ain't gonna happen, so here you have the first part of the "Jaleppies," aka my year-end best-of lists. Part 2 will probably be published Wednesday morning and will consist of the year's best albums, and Part 3 will be random stuff. Enjoy! (Or don't! I don't care! I'll be in Puerto Rico beetches!)
[Note that in a few of the entries below, two songs have been combined into one single entry. You can probably figure out why, but just in case you can't, it's because the songs run together on the album and as such they sound dumb when played apart from one another. Thank you for your patience and understanding.]
1.) Fang Island - "Asunder" (edit)
2.) Lower Dens - "Lamb"
3.) Melvins - "We Are Doomed"
4.) Lower Dens - "Brains" > "Stem"
[Note - I shot this video]
5.) Dan Friel - "Valedictorian"
6.) Tame Impala - "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards"
7.) Torche - "Kicking"
8.) Guided by Voices - "Keep It in Motion" > "Tyson's High School"
9.) The Men - "Oscillation"
10.) Dum Dum Girls - "Mine Tonight"
11.) Beach House - "Myth"
12.) Raveonettes - "Young and Cold"
13.) The Men - "Turn it Around"
14.) Melvins - "The War on Wisdom"
15.) Baroness - "Green Theme"
16.) Two Gallants - "Willie"
17.) Sleigh Bells - "Comeback Kid"
18.) Mount Carmel - "Swaggs"
19.) Pelican - "Ataraxia" > "Lathe Biosas"
20.) Fang Island - "Chompers"
21.) Tame Impala - "Music to Walk Home By"
22.) Guided by Voices - "Hangover Child"
23.) Van Halen - "She's the Woman"
24.) Six Organs of Admittance - "Even if You Knew"