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.
Heheheheheheh. Ah, 2014: another year where I tell myself 'this is the year my obsessive show-going addiction ends;' another year where I see more shows than anyone I know who isn't employed at a performance space / venue. WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!
A quick list of locations where I've seen shows this year:
--Brooklyn (double natch)
--on a boat circling Manhattan
--Commerce City, CO
--Miami (in 7 days!)
As of this very moment, I've seen 93 concerts this year, and I've got at least three more coming up - Uncle Ebenezer at Knitting Factory Saturday night, Television (first time seeing them) at Irving Plaza on 12/28, and a little up-and-coming rock band who I think are called Assface in Miami on New Year's. The following is my totally subjective, largely meaningless, and wholly amusing (to me) recap of the best stuff I saw in '14.
Oh, and Happy Holidays to all!
The Ten Best Phish Shows I Saw All Year:
1.) Phish, 10/31/14 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
2.) Phish, 7/13/14 Randall's Island, NYC
3.) Phish, 7/27/14 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
4.) Phish, 8/29/14 Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
5.) Phish, 11/2/14 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
6.) Phish, 10/22/14 Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara
7.) Phish, 7/26/14 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
8.) Phish, 10/28/14 Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Fran
9.) Phish, 7/11/14 Randall's Island, NYC
10.) Phish, 8/31/14 Dicks Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
After hearing multiple reports about last weekend's White Denim show at the Black Cat in DC being borderline disastrous, I was worried that, the band's live prowess may have waned a bit. Furthermore, this was the first "regular" NYC-area show that White Denim has played since last year's release of Corsicana Lemonade (their sold-out outing at Mercury Lounge during CMJ and the invite-only show at Bowery notwithstanding), so I was eager to see how - if at all - their decidedly more "mature" approach on the new album had affected their live show. Fortunately, just a few minutes into the set, it was perfectly obvious that White Denim still has "it," and then some. IMNSMFHO, White Denim is one of the three-or-so best club acts in the world.
This was, to my knowledge, the first time White Denim has played an area show at at a venue the size of Webster Hall. (This was the eighth time I've seen White Denim live, and the first since last summer's Brooklyn Bowl shows.) For years, it seemed at every White Denim show I attended I'd inevitably wind up in conversations with complete strangers lamenting why this great band hadn't yet found the popularity it deserved, and it seems as though the higher profile accorded Corsicana Lemonade has led to the band successfully filling bigger rooms. Selling out Webster Hall is nothing to sneeze at, and these guys deserve a good deal of respect for reaching this level, gradually developing their fanbase over the past near-decade.
The band took the stage at about quarter to 9, and plowed through a 100+ minute set (including encore) of tightly-wound, impeccably executed tunes. The songlist ran the gamut of the many styles White Denim wields in their sonic arsenal, from riffy blues rockers ("At Night in Dreams") to flashfingered instrumental workouts ("At the Farm") to Southern-fried garage stompers ("Shake Shake Shake") to songs in several other genres that I haven't made up yet. The dude next to me said their playing reminded him of the Dead, but to me on this night White Denim sounded more like the Allmans on Adderall.
Although I arrived towards the end of opening band The Districts' set, I enjoyed what I heard and was compelled to purchase their recent 5-song EP at the merch table for $7. Aside from the bandmembers' youth, their most immediately striking characteristic (to me at least) was that they sounded like My Morning Jacket if MMJ was fronted by personal fave Bobby Bare, Jr. In other words, good stuff.
White Denim's headlining tour continues for the next month or so, and they'll hit a few domestic festivals in early summer too before heading over to Europe. Check 'em out before they're filling your local EnormoDome.
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
1.) SONG OF THE YEAR: Palma Violets - "Last of the Summer Wine"
Just like countless other great rock n' roll songs, this one's greater than the sum of its parts. Yeah, the intro's too long on this song. And so's the outro. The lyrics are moronic. (The "official" video is absolute garbage - see above.) And the chord progression isn't exactly original but... there's just somethin' about the classic guitar tone and the finesse they play the lick with and the sweet, sweet melody that slays me every time.
"How bad did this year suck?" you ask. Well, it sucked so bad that I had to change the rules to where live albums are disqualified just to keep an archival live release from being my Album of the Year. Why did I feel the need to even bother tweaking the formula? I DON'T FUCKING KNOW!!!!! So, I guess, congrats to Phish for having the year's best release overall. Huzzah!
Anyway, let's have at it, shall we........
1.) ALBUM OF THE YEAR - Deafheaven - Sunbather
A gorgeous, terrifying, exhausting album - casual listening this is not. While retaining the unrelenting brutality of black metal as the musical underpinning, Sunbather adds gorgeous, melodic guitar lines reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky, ratcheting up the drama with a keen Mogwai-esque understanding of how to manipulate quiet / loud dynamics.
2.)Ceramic Dog - Your Turn
This is a helluva album, and it's also a helluva unexpected album. It's incredibly rare that a musician who has attained Marc Ribot's level of success and renown in the jazz world chooses to express himself artistically in a manner that's as angry, ornery, and loud as Your Turn, but it's not simply experimenting with a mode of expression that's a triumph here; it's that the album is a smashing success. Your Turn takes its detours down several stylistc alleys (heavy blues / hard rock, grunge, distorted fusion jams reminiscent of late-period Hendrix, and even a cacophonous, distortion-heavy update of a classic jazz tune) while streamlining the more freeform, scattershot approach taken on the trio's more noodly previous album, Party Intellectuals.
Ribot's tone on Your Turn is furious, his desire to rock is unwaveringly unapologetic, and the music's heavy grooves are arresting. So, listen to this if you like great music, otherwise feel free to go fuck yourself.
3.) Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
If you're skeptical of yet another posthumous Hendrix release, you should be; the list of "archival" stuff that's been pinched off in the 43 years since Hendrix' death is littered with shoddy quality bootleg material and inessential, often redundant crap, the sheer quantity of which greatly outpaces the (occasionally transcendent) worthwhile stuff by a large margin. Sure, I'm definitely a sucker for unreleased / archival stuff, but this release works surprisingly well on its own as a cohesive album. Comprised mostly of material Hendrix was working on as a follow up to Electric Ladyland, People, Hell and Angels allows the listener a rare glimpse at what might have been had Hendrix' appetite for heroin and pills been less fiendish.
4.) Palma Violets - 180
Earlier this year, Palma Violets were apparently the subject of the creepy-ass UK music press' embarrassing crush; of course, if you're actually regularly reading the NME you've likely already lost the battle. Regardless, this album is a real success, incorporating classic chord progressions, strong melodies, and a warm, inviting garagey sound into their sonic stew. Where many indie acts seem to be self-consciously stuck playing small ball, 180 is unafraid to swing for the fences, evoking the work of several of music's heavy hitters (J&MC, Stone Roses, Velvets, even Springsteen) without being dominated by their influences.
5.)The Men - New Moon
The Men are a band that's seemingly always in the middle of significant stylistic flux, and growing pains are to be expected as a side effect of significant experimentation. New Moon sees them attempting to situate their music on an AM AOR station circa 1976. But for all the genre hopping that they've done over the course of their relatively brief career, to their credit these guys seem like real students (and practitioners) of "what makes rock music great," instead of simply hipster dilettantes.
Although each of their studio releases has been enjoyable, White Denim are a band that frequently gets tagged with the "but they're so much better live!" label. For the first time in the band's career, White Denim enlisted the help of an outside producer (Wilco's Jeff Tweedy) during the Corsicana Lemonade sessions, and the results sound an awful like... a White Denim record. Meaning, there are a few legitimate standouts on here, but most of the songs could be easily switched out with tracks from previous albums without really upsetting the apple cart. That being said, it's nice to see that the buzz leading up to the release of this record has given White Denim somewhat of a higher profile, so hopefully one of the planet's most criminally underrated acts finally gets its due.
Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus
This is music for the kids, because the kids like taking the drugs. Atmospheric, intense, massive, lovingly layered electronica.
Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the most punchable of them all? What a happy coincidence that these guys start making shitty music right as their already-outsized public persona becomes totally unbearable. Thanks, assholes!