Saturday, July 28, 2007

Best of the First Half of 2007

I started working on this list over a month ago, but got sidetracked by the birth of my son Conner.
I wouldn't have said that the first six months of the year had been that great musically - nothing stood out in my mind as singularly mind-blowing. The trumpeted albums - by Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Of Montreal, Feist, Voxtrot - were all good, but nothing jumped out of the pack and marked itself as classic.
However, when I began to put together a rough list of my favorite tracks, I was surprised to find that I was almost overwhelmed with the amount of material I wanted to include - and the high level of enjoyment I got when I played the songs one after another. And frankly, I had a tough time editing the list down to the 36 songs with which I ended up.
Here, then, in no particular order, except that the segues work, is my list (album titles in parentheses):
Feist - One Two Three Four (The Reminder)
Los Campesinos! We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives (We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives)
Twilight Sad - That Summer at Home, I Had Become the Invisible Boy (Fourteen Summers, Fifteen Winters)
Of Montreal - A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger (Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?)
The Clientele - Here Comes the Phantom (God Save the Clientele)
Lucky Soul - Add Your Light to Mine, Baby (The Great Unwanted)
Math and Physics Club - Darling, Please Come Home (Math and Physics Club)
Kuryakin - Take My Hand (Unreleased Demo)
Pelle Carleberg - Pamplona (In a Nutshell)
California Snow Story - Begin Again (Close to the Ocean)
Panda Bear - Comfy in Nautica (Person Pitch)
Lewis and Clarke - Blasts of Holy Birth (Blasts of Holy Birth)
Great Lake Swimmers - Rocky Spine (Ongiara)
Magic Arm - Outdoor Games (Outdoor Games)
Miracle Fortress - Beach Baby (Five Roses)
The National Lights - Better For It, Kid (The Dead Will Walk, Dear)
Paul Duncan - Red Eagle (Above the Trees)
Nobody and the Mystic Chords of Memory - The Seed (Tree Colored See)
Hot Air Balloonists - Cosmos (Demo)
Scott Simons - Umbrella (Unreleased)
All Systems Ghost - Misty's Reflection (Virtues of Sleep demo)
Le Futur Pompiste - Sunflower (Your Stories and Your Thoughts)
Au Revoir Simone - Sad Song (The Bird of Music)
The Twin Atlas - Take Your Own Advice (Magic Car Wash)
Ulrich Schnauss - Never Be the Same (Goodbye)
LCD Soundsystem - Someone Great (Sound of Silver)
The Charade - My Song to You (A Real Life Drama)
The Mary Onettes - Pleasure Songs (The Mary Onettes)
Explosions in the Sky - Welsome, Ghosts (All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone)
The National - Fake Empire (Boxer)
The Field - Over the Ice (From Here We Go Sublime)
Alsace Lorraine - As We Fight (Dark One)
I Am Robot and Proud - The Catch (The Catch and Spring Summer Autumn Winter)
Patty Griffin - Up to the Mountain - MLK Song (Children Running Through)
The Postmarks - Goodbye (The Postmarks)
Many of these songs have already been posted on Be Hear Be Now. I've posted several more here. I strongly recommend that you buy these artists' albums.

My New Sloop

I have to be honest, I've never been a huge fan of the Beach Boys. But this understated remix of "Sloop John B," by my friend David Mester, really brings into focus how brilliantly they used harmonies to create a Phil Spector-like wall of sound.
By the way, Mester is not only a talented musician and mixer. He is also, among other things, the voice of the "Goat" in certain Aflac commercials.
David - My New Sloop

Thursday, July 19, 2007


1995 was a year of many changes for me, mainly because, for the first time in many years, I found myself living alone.
One result was that I spent a lot of time not only listening to music, but seriously exploring music and artists I wasn't previously aware of.
I'm posting songs by three of those artists here:
Grant McLennan, who passed away last year, was one of the co-leaders of the great Australian band the Go-Betweens. Horsebreaker, A True Star was his third solo album. The songs are jangly 12-string pop, very Byrds-like, but with offbeat melodies and lyrics that are either brilliantly surreal or really dumb.Rickard Buckner was (and is) a singer/songwriter from Phoenix, AZ. I first got interested in him because that summer, coinciding with the release of his first album, Bloomed, he was performing a lot at a club on East 9th Street called, Sine, and I would stick my head in the door on the way home from work. Even though I never stayed for a whole set (it was too hard to find a place to sit) I was mesmerized by his high lonesome voice and disjointed melodies. His songs remind me of a romanticized version of Denis Johnson's book, Jesus' Son. Like, maybe the songs Fuckhead would write after he got out of rehab.The reason I was living alone in 1995 was because in January of that year, my wife and I separated. I moved into a furnished studio in the East 40's. On the weekends I would drive out to Amagansett on the East End of Long Island, to stay at the house we had rented a few months earlier, when we first started having problems, in the hope that getting out of the city would help us patch things up. It didn't, we separated, and my wife wanted nothing to do with the house. So every weekend I would pick up the car we still shared and make the three and a half hour drive out to the Hamptons.
My soundtrack for many of those trips was Robert Earl Keene's Gringo Honeymoon. Even though the lyrics didn't necessarily speak to my particular situation, the sense of sweet melancholy in the songs, particularly the title song, refracted through the cocoon of darkness in which I was enveloped the minute I hit the highway, was a perfect mirror for my feelings and provided me with hours of comfort on those long drives.

Grant McLennan -Ice in Heaven
Richard Buckner - Gauzy Dress in the Sun
Robert Earl Keen - Gringo Honeymoon

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Clientele - God Save the Clientele

When I first heard to the Clientele's latest album, God Save the Clientele, a few months ago, my thought was that they were plundering genres like the Pirates of the Caribbean, particularly late '60's Beatle-inspired American pop music, best exemplified by the Monkees, but certainly echoed by bands like Tommy James and the Shondells, the Turtles, Harpers Bazaar and the Cyrkle.
But the more I listened to the album, the more I appreciated it - not only for the skill the band demonstrated in producing classic pop music, but also for the genuinely clever lyrics, memorable melodies and complex arrangements.
I've come around to the point that I consider it one of my favorite albums of the moment.
Here's a song that would have been a certain Number 1 in 1968.
The Clientele - Here Comes the Phantom

Just for kicks, here's a Jayhawks song from their 2000 album, Smile. That was the album that lost them their alt-country fan base without winning them any pop music fans. However, I believe this song was used in a Ralph Lauren commercial.
The Jayhawks - Smile

Both God Save the Clientele and Smile are available via Amazon.

Friday, July 06, 2007

J Pop Offshoots

I recently spent a brief period obsessed with J Pop, that genre of Japanese pop music that is the result of Japanese assimilation/interpretation of American and European pop music. My obsession has wained simply because I found most of the music pretty boring.
Ultimately, I did discover a couple of artists I find extremely intriguing.
Color Filter probably does not qualify as J Pop - they seem too serious. But since I discovered them on a Japanese label website (Happiness Records) that featured several J Pop performers, I'm going to call them neo-j pop. Color Filter is led by nuclear physicist/multi instrumentalist Ryuji Tsuneyoshi. Vocals are by Yuki Nishimura. They have just released a new album in Japan called Blueberry. (Doesn't seem to be an American release scheduled, although their earlier albums were released on Darla.)
I am posting a track from their last album, called Silent Way.

Color Filter - Strange Day

Find out more about Color Filter at their website.
Purchase Silent Way at Pointy Records.

I found Sucrette via MySpace, and I don't know much about them (everything is in Japanese). I do know they have a fascinating take on French yeh-yeh pop. This song is from their new album, C'est Si Bon.

Sucrette - Sweet Magic

Check out Sucrette on MySpace
Purchase C'est Si Bon at Amazon Japan

Check out the Itunes Podcast called the JPopcast Show with DJ San Fran & Christine Miguel to hear more J Pop than you'll ever need.
I continue to be fascinated with J Pop's utterly uncritical embrace of other genres of pop music, so, if anyone has any J Pop suggestions for me, please email them. I'm very interested in learning more.

Middle of the road crap or rock classics?

In the early 90's I wasn't listenng to a lot of music, and what I was listening to was all over the map. A little bit of country, a little bit of shoegaze (even though I didn't know that was what it was called) a little bit of whatever was popular on MTV or on WNEW-FM, the New York progressive rock dinosaur radio station.
For me, it was a time of relearning how to listen to music, after a long period of not listening to much music at all.
The three songs I'm posting here are songs I listened to a lot during that period, and which I don't think I've listened to in over ten years. I'm posting them because I'm curious if they hold up.
When the Gin Blossoms released their first album, New Miserable Experience, it seemed like they could be the reincarnation of either Big Star or the Raspberries. Then the band fired their alcoholic guitar player, Doug Hopkins, (he later committed suicide) and they were never able to repeat the magic.
Del Amitri was a Scottish band, in some ways maybe a distant relative of Teenage Fanclub in their ability to come up with memorable melodies, but without the Fanclub's originality or willingness to take a risk.
Hothouse Flowers was another Scottish band. I liked the bigness, the anthem-like quality of their songs. I put "Isn't It Amazing" on a lot of mix tapes, because of its spiritual theme.
Gin Blossoms - Hey Jealousy
Del Amitri - Be My Downfall
Hothouse Flowers - Isn't It Amazing?
So, crap or classic? I can't tell. Each of these songs meant a great deal to me at a particular moment in my life, and I can't separate the songs from the emotional connections I still have with them. The one thing I will say is, none of them are as bad as Hootie and the Blowfish.

Here's a bonus:
Freedy Johnston - Bad Reputation