Tuesday, July 20, 2010

TK's Version of Pitchfork Happ'nings

This was my sixth P-Fork festival...feeling like I could use a little break next year.
Here's what I liked, what I didn't like, and what I didn't even bother to check out:


1:00 Free Energy (a) - A good set to kick off a day in the sun. A little derivative, but fun and energetic - had no problem listening to the whole set while trying to take up as much room as possible.
1:00 Netherfriends (b) - Didn't see 'em, but saw them open up for Real Estate & Woods back in March and rather enjoyed them then.
1:45 Real Estate (c) - First song was awful, left to go see Sonny instead. I think the drummer plays too much. Still, they put out a great record last year. Not giving up.
1:55 Sonny & the Sunsets (b) - Like Erik said, they played most songs twice as fast as on their records. I knew I'd like 'em, but I didn't know I'd like them so much. I screamed for "Good Folks Bad Folks" to no avail. Still a really great set. 
2:30 Delorean (a) - Not bad to listen to, only stayed for a few tracks though. Nothing special, and was not feeling that type of music at 2:30PM.
2:50 Kurt Vile (b) - A little disappointing. He didn't play to his strengths and his set list was questionable (he played Monkey second, which is the most boring song on Childish Prodigy)
3:20 Titus Andronicus (c) - Brought it. Really really enjoyed these guys, who have learned how to command a crowd since they last played P-Fork in 2008.
3:45 Dâm-Funk (b) - Wandered over there for a bit and didn't realize someone was "playing". Just sounded like a really boring DJ.
4:15 Raekwon (a) - Skipped it.
4:45 Smith Westerns (b) - Major disappointment. I love these guys' recorded output, but the mix sounded horrible and the vocals were extra weak. I'll give them another try, but it'll have to be in a club and with better sound.
5:15 The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (c) - It seemed like they played for 2 hours. Pretty boring, except for when the lead singer (Jon Spencer, I assume) said "Blues Explosion" after every song, which was just kind of sad.
5:45 WHY? (b) - Didn't feel like wandering over there, so I skipped it.
6:15 Wolf Parade (a) - These guys have two really good songs (This Hearts On Fire & I'll Believe In Anything), which they played back-to-back (glorious!)...other than that it was a fairly pedestrian set. I think they're on the decline, but we'll see.
6:45 Bear in Heaven (b) - Possibly the biggest regret I have is picking the wrong Bear, as I passed on these guys to see...
7:25 Panda Bear (c) - A completely and utterly pretentious set. He had a golden opportunity to make thousands of people happy if he would have thrown us a bone (a couple minutes of Bros, Take Pills, Comfy in Nautica, etc.), but he instead droned and occasionally yelped into the mic. You could feel the festivals collective spirit setting with the sun.
7:40 Freddie Gibbs (b) - Didn't see him, too busy being bummed out.
8:30 LCD Soundsystem (a) - The save of the century, although I think even the Goo Goo Dolls would've sounded amazing after Panda Bear's set. My calves are still sore from hopping up and down the entire time. All My Friends was incredible and Yeah was epic. Best Saturday night headliner in the history of the festival, hands down.


1:00 Allá (a) - Missed it due to rain
1:00 Cave (b) - Missed it due to rain
1:45 Cass McCombs (c) - Only caught a few songs, but liked what I heard. Completely appropriate for a sparsely attended Sunday afternoon...
1:55 Best Coast (b) ...but it turns out that everyone was at Best Coast, and I can't blame them. She's got a much better voice than I was expecting. Kind of a one-trick pony, but it's a great trick.
2:30 Girls (a) - I still don't care about these guys. Only saw a couple songs, but didn't feel bad leaving.
2:50 Washed Out (b) - Great set. This is what Panda Bear could've (and should've) sounded like. Glad this was on the smaller stage though.
3:20 Beach House (c) - Sounded really great in the afternoon sun. These guys have really blown up. Zebra is one of the best songs of the year.
3:45 Local Natives (b) - Didn't see 'em. Didn't wanna see 'em.
4:15 Lightning Bolt (a) - Not really my thing, but I did have a delicious chicken dish during their set in shade.
4:45 Surfer Blood (b) - Didn't see 'em, don't like their album.
5:15 St. Vincent (c) - I really like St Vincent, but I don't think she is festival material (much like Grizzly Bear). Only stayed for a few tracks.
5:45 Here We Go Magic (b) - The set of the day for me. They displayed a total mastery of complex yet catchy songwriting and playing. Collectors and Casual sounded great live, and they closed with a 12-minute version of Tunnelvision. Great to get lost in. 
6:15 Major Lazer (a) - Only caught the last couple songs, but just seemed like gimmicky hip-hip cliches..if you're in to that type of thing.
6:45 Neon Indian (b) - Only caught one song because of the immense crowd. Didn't feel bad leaving.
7:25 Big Boi (c) - I enjoyed this more than I though I would. Not mind-blowing, but solid.
7:40 Sleigh Bells (b) - Avoided them, because I still like the album and I knew that seeming them play live would probably ruin it for me.
8:30 Pavement (a) - Very conflicting. On one hand, it was incredible to see one of my favorite bands of all time play, but on the other hand, it was maddening to witness 90% of the crowd just standing still. I don't expect everyone to sing along to every word, but it would have been nice if people at least looked exciting during Range Life or sang along to the chorus of Two States. Is that too much to ask? Probably. But then again, I got spoiled by Heedfest (and that's all I am gonna say about that). 

Man, I sound like a grump. 


140 Character Pitchfork Reflections

This past weekend was the Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park in Chicago. This week you may see a couple posts in relation to that, as Tim & I were both in attendance. For this first post I'm just going to throw some tweet-length recaps of the bands I saw (either full sets or just brief encounters).

Friday, July 16:

5:30 Liars (c) – Imagine any mid-paced punk band, except the singer has the microphone inside of his mouth the whole time. Ugglllaaahhhhuuuoooohh... #NotGood

6:25 Robyn (a) – I will never understand why people like this. Is it some form of "irony" to listen to bad mainstream girl pop? Bring on Britney Spears!

7:15 Michael Showalter (b) – Caught a bit of this set. I don’t think a comedian has bombed this hard since Rosanne’s National Anthem, 1990. http://is.gd/dzIZp

7:20 Broken Social Scene (c) – Not the biggest fan, but they were surprisingly fantastic. Great crowd control, great sound, overall pleasant experience. Friday's best.

8:30 Modest Mouse (a) – Stayed for 4 songs and I will never get those minutes back. Even when they play old stuff it sounds awful. #GiveUpTheDream

Saturday, July 17:

1:45 Real Estate (c) – Saw the first few minutes; singer was off-key. Left. Perfect example of festival logic: if something’s better elsewhere, go elsewhere.

1:55 Sonny & the Sunsets (b) – Surprise Saturday standout. All songs were much faster than the record. Just great crowd reading.

2:30 Delorean (a) – It was nice to Basque in the pleasant sounds of Delorean. #Puns

3:20 Titus Andronicus (c) – Titus, as expected, crushed it. With all the soft, mellow summer music it was nice to have a shot in the arm.

4:45 Smith Westerns (b) – They sounded like shit (the B stage was plagued with problems all weekend; not their fault) and they played like shit (their own damn fault)

5:15 The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (c) – WOW. People actually listen to this? I hope his faux-leather pants peeled off a layer of skin when removed. He's bad and he should feel bad.

5:45 WHY? (b) – Left the Fail Explosion and found myself at WHY? Wish I would have seen more; they sounded wonderful.

6:15 Wolf Parade (a) – Not the biggest Wolf Parade fan; but they sounded good, put together a good set, and were a truly humble and respectful band. Props.

7:25 Panda Bear (c) – Noah… Come on man. Low-energy drone with no stage presence. It was painful to watch.

8:30 LCD Soundsystem (a) – The unrivaled show of the festival and one of the best I’ve ever seen. Great sound, set, crowd, everything. Perfect.

Sunday, July 18:

2:30 Girls (a) – Of all the slow-paced psychedelic bands playing P4k, Girls seemed to have the best grasp on execution. Good sound, showmanship, wardrobe.

2:50 Washed Out (b) – Saw a bit of the show. Not too shabby. I don’t really dig Washed Out, but I think it’s good for what it is.

3:20 Beach House (c) – Victoria Legrand’s voice is just a beast. It’s a bit mellow for midday at a festival, but they sounded good regardless.

3:45 Local Natives (b) – After a weekend of bands with off-key frontmen, it was a welcome change to see perfect 3&4-part harmonies. Never underestimate vocals, guys.

4:15 Lightning Bolt (a) – AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! Ballsy & Rowdy.

4:45 Surfer Blood (b) – I didn’t see Surfer Blood because the B stage was so crowded. My biggest regret of the festival. They sounded awesome from a distance.

5:45 Here We Go Magic (b) – The stand-out show of Sunday, which is saying something after being bombarded with music for >20 hours. Just overall excellent.

6:15 Major Lazer (a) – Came in on the last song… Chinese dragons, hookers, et al. Was the stage show compensating for the music?

7:25 Big Boi (c) – The highest concentration of black people at the festival was on the stage. And Big Boi just flat-out crushed it.

8:30 Pavement (a) – I saw Pavement because I know later in life they’re going to mean more to me than they do now. That said, solid but flawed set (expected).


(image by ret0dd, licensed under Creative Commons)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Unappreciated Genius: Gruvis Malt/Gavin Castleton

The 1990s was plagued with the emergence of rap-rock as a popular form of music. Lucky for us we can look back on it and laugh and viscously judge those who fell into the Incubus/Linkin Park/Some other poorly named horrible bands not worth remembering trap. But, out of that blackness there was a band, Grüvis Malt from Providence, Rhode Island.

The shame of Grüvis Malt was that, despite their overwhelming talent, they came on the heels of the rap-rock shitstorm, which meant their particular brand of jazz/hip-hop/rock (which they dubbed "futurock") went relatively unnoticed. I saw them as rapper Sage Francis' opening/backing band in 2002. In my opinion, their masterwork was 2002's ...With the Spirit of a Traffic Jam... a multi-genre opus with a message (these cities are gonna kill us). A sample:

Grüvis Malt - Destination by BubbleWolf

After Grüvis Malt broke up, their frontman, Gavin Castleton started doing his own thing. I hope you enjoy having you mind blown.


It's a shame bands that people would most likely like, and like a lot, can fall by the wayside so easily.

Dig what you dig,

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Eat What You Kill: Samples and Indie Culture

Yesterday afternoon as I was casually strolling the blogosphere, I found myself at the fantastic Altered Zones. This post particularly caught my attention, in that it resurfaced something I've been thinking about for quite a while. The song that piqued my interest was this:

Memoryhouse - Lately (Deuxieme) by BubbleWolf

Now normally on this blog we post things we're excited about or things that you need to stay away from. But what struck me about this track wasn't its quality. I thought it was OK; nothing special. What struck me was, while listening to it, I couldn't get over its use of sampling.
My original reaction was anger that a song I know so intimately, "Phone Call" by Jon Brion off of the
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack, could be used so flagrantly and unaccredited. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was just my nerdiness/pretentiousness bubbling up ("How DARE they use a song that I know!"). The fact was, the use of that particular sample didn't really bother me, but how it was used did. And I started thinking: where does sampling fit in indie music?

Hipster Runoff did a piece last year about this very topic in response to the rise of Chillwave, taking an angle, "Do you feel duped?" and "Is this right?" that these tracks bite other songs, and slightly warp them and call it their own. My short answers are Yes and No to these two questions.

I don't feel duped, because this musical era is defined by genre-bending and synergy. Techniques, instruments and influences that were once relegated to specific genres have permeated the whole of the music landscape. This is why you have Kanye West sampling Can and Vampire Weekend unironically using Auto-Tune. The game has changed. Laptops are instruments as valid as guitars.

The "Is this right?" question is much more complex, because it calls into question artistic integrity and the role technology should play in certain kinds of music.

In hip-hop, sampling is essential. It became a style of music by taking old disco/soul/funk albums and chopping them up in a DJ booth to create something new. As MPCs and computers evolved, samples became more refined, and more manipulative. Producers were now revered based on the quality of their samples. The finest crate-diggers were often times the finest beatmakers.

With samples so ingrained in the structure of hip-hop, and the general availability and communal nature of beats among rappers (honor among thieves?), pretty much nothing is surprising when it comes to their gaudy and blatant use. In fact, some of my favorite hip-hop songs pretty much just take old soul songs, slap on a harder beat and call it a day. Case in point:

There's nothing off limits.

Sampling in indie/rock music is a bit more of a gray area. Hip-hop can get away with it because there are typically no instruments, so instrumentation and melody take a significant backseat to lyrics, flow and the beat.

Looking at the song that sparked this train of thought, and Hipster Runoff's Washed Out example, I think a certain line is crossed. The samples in these songs play such an essential role that it almost transcends the very idea of creation. Is it "original" music to take, say, an instrumental post-rock song and sing over it? To me, this method and musical approach is the height of laziness.

I felt the same way last year when the Internet was all a-buzzin' over "Ecstasy" by jj. Granted, their approach was slightly more clever (using car alarms), but at the end of the day absolutely no thought had to be put into structure or melody.

This is not to say sampling doesn't belong in indie music. I just think, as opposed to hip-hop, the sample needs to merely be a facet of the track, not the whole thing. I look at Animal Collective's "What Would I Want? Sky". The song made news because it was the first cleared sample of a Grateful Dead song, another sign of the times, that an indie band would be the first to license a sample. The track is a prime example of how source material can be integrated without becoming a flagrant rip-off.

Animal Collective - What Would I Want? Sky by BubbleWolf

I don't think I'm being overly sensitive or critical to expect musicians to play original music. Samples afford the opportunity to slack; to take someone else's work, tweak it slightly and call it one's own. But in order to be considered "original" for sampling among indie musicians, it needs to become something entirely new, not a derivative form of the source product. I believe indie needs to be held to higher standards than hip-hop, because with so much groundbreaking and innovative work happening, there is no excuse to offer up other people's material as a substitute for your own.


(Image by soschilds, Licensed under Creative Commons.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"We're All Gonna Die" - My Thoughts on Heedfest 4

It wasn't official before this past weekend, but it is now: Guided By Voices is my favorite band. 

I have arrived at this conclusion after spending roughly 28 hours with 225 of the most devoted GBV/Bob Pollard fans in the world. We had all gathered in Dayton, Ohio - birthplace of aviation and Robert Pollard - for the 4th Annual Heedfest, essentially a fan festival celebrating all things Bob-related. This is what I learned:

1. It is possible to hang out with 225 people you've never met or interacted with before and have one of the best nights of your life. 

I spent Friday night at the Canal St. Tavern in downtown (more like ghost town) Dayton, where a band called Teenage FBI played Bee Thousand in its entirety. For those of you not familiar with Bee Thousand, you might as well stop reading this now. I had been on the fence about my favorite GBV album for quite some time (usually leaning towards Under the Bushes or Isolation Drills), but Bee Thousand is firmly cemented in the #1 position after witnessing Friday night's performance. It was surreal to be in a packed room where everyone knew every lyric to every song (even better than i knew them) and shouted along at the tops of their lungs. To sing "parallel lines on a slow decline" and "no need for fuuurther questioning" and "buzzards and dreadful crows - a necessary evil, i suppose" with hundreds of others while hoisting a beer in the air is to experience pure joy.

2. The only things you need to have a good time are 1. a remote location, 2. good music and 3. kindred spirits (oh, and a ton of alcohol doesn't hurt)

Following the show on Friday night, we all gathered at the Polish Club on the outskirts of the city, arriving in two coach buses after being picked up from our hotels. The Polish Club is the Field of Dreams of such a gathering - a tiny stage and picnic area covered by an old tin roof and nothing else around within earshot. The speakers were blasting A Salty Salute as we all emptied off the buses, and most faces were wearing grins as we surveyed the perfection of the scene. After a brief period of acclimation, some of us got back on the very same buses for a guided tour of Dayton, stopping by some of the pivotal locations that played a role in the development of GBV - now-closed bars they used to play at and the band shell where the I Am a Scientist video was partially filmed (where we all geeked-out and did our best attempts at Bob's rock kicks), among other locations. While some of it was kind of depressing (as most Midwestern cities are these days), it added a sense of history to the lore of the band. 

After shuttling back to the Polish Club (after a brief altercation with one of Dayton's Finest), we were greeted to two sets of GBV covers from the Heedonists and The Textbook Committee. I won't go into details, but there was more shouting, drinking, pointing, hopping, laughing, and arm-around-the-shouldering. In an attempt to capture some of the magic, I took little snippets of video with my camera and edited them together. I am not sure if people who weren't there will hate this or like it, but here it is:

Quadroheedia - Pretty Not Bad

3. Chanting "We're All Gonna Die" is a surprisingly liberating and appropriate thing to do, especially when everyone is in the best mood possible. 

Robert Pollard had just finished playing his new album, Moses On A Snail, on Friday night, and someone started chanting "we're all gonna die....we're all gonna die...". And when someone starts chanting something at a GBV event, everyone naturally joins in. At first I thought it was a rather morbid thing to do, but after a few seconds I realized how profound it was - to come to terms with your own mortality on a night where you experienced such camaraderie, knowing that there were like-minded people walking this earth who dug the same crazy stuff you did, and for a brief moment you had all found each other and were in each others' presence. At that moment none of us really cared about anything else except being inside that moment. It was damned powerful. And we all laughed about it and shouted louder and toasted, because I believe that we all felt the same thing.


So yeah, I guess this is what I'm trying to say: music has the potential to be more than just something you like - it can bring people together and trigger instant bonds and friendships. So listen to more of it. But only the good stuff.

- Vbtk

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

An Actual Review: Wavves - King of the Beach

Wavves frontman Nathan Williams is a bitch. He's also an asshole, a coward, a dickhead, and an irresponsible, no-contributing zero.

If that sounds harsh, that's because it is. It's also the most prevalent theme on the SoCal band's third album,
King of the Beach, which essentially plays like 40 minutes of ennui-fueled self-flagellation. It is for this very reason, however, that the album is successful. By exploring notions of isolation and inadequacy (balanced with boredom and leisure), he's also exploring, and in many cases successfully capturing, some of the most vital parts of youth. In an era of manufactured nostalgia through sonic signifiers and esoteric cultural references, Williams has found a way to create something honest, often times at his own expense.

It was really easy to dismiss the band's second album, Wavvves, as a Pitchfork, hipster hype-fueled fail parade shrouded in layers of fuzz as compensation for lack of ability. I said the same thing when I heard the album on first listen. After a while, however, it grew on me; the fuzz began to make sense in the albums' context. With King of the Beach, Williams has proven that he can not only hit the notes, but he can create a cohesive, still gritty yet clean record. I hope upon listening to KOTB, Wavvves detractors will give the latter another listen.

Breakdown backstory notwithstanding, Williams avoided a potential pitfall with
KOTB by not only enlisting Producer Dennis Herring (whose resume includes The Hives, Modest Mouse and Ben Folds, among others) but also including his current bandmates Stephen Pope and Billy Hayes who formerly worked with Jay Reatard. These decisions enabled Wavves to create an album Williams wouldn't have been able to do alone. And for a man who appears destined to disaster when left to his own devices, the decision becomes that much more significant.

On to the music. I totally agree with my colleague Tim's assessment that the album is front-loaded. The caustic guitar that characterizes the first six tracks is more or less absent on the last six. Yet, in spite of the tone shift (from aggressive to spaced-out) between the two sides, the album retains its cohesiveness, due in large part to Williams' newfound grasp on melody and subtle production cues (like the dissonant claps that shudder in and out throughout the album).

In macro, one has to contextualize Wavves as a California punk band in the Internet age; which means they owe their sound as much to The Descendents as they do to the Beach Boys as they do to Animal Collective as they do to No Age. The true accomplishment of this album is synthesizing all of these readily available references into something that feels new: a more aggressive, youthful angst take on the summer fun inhabiting the (indie) music world at this time.

As the second half of the album seems to hint at a new direction for Wavves, it'll be interesting to see the perspective we get on
King of the Beach when a new album is released, as we did this time. That is, unless Nathan Williams self-destructs by then.

Best Listened To:
On a Saturday morning after you've been a dick to all of your friends the night before. Preferably drinking Gatorade to rehydrate as you sweat toxins in oppressive August heat, wearing Wayfarers.

Highlight tracks:
"King of the Beach" is in the running for the track of the summer; just so infectious. "Idiot," as Tim said, has a great melody, and just thrashes. "Baseball Cards" is a great chill song. "Green Eyes," is probably the height of emotion on the album, and just has a flat-out awesome melody.

Wavves - King of the Beach by BubbleWolf



(Image by parttimemusic, licensed under Creative Commons)

Monday, July 5, 2010

First Impressions: Wavves - King of the Beach

New Wavves. Wasn't a huge fan of his last record (though I liked No Hope Kids a lot), but I've been hearing good things about this new one...let's just launch right into it (you can stream it here for free):

King of the Beach - leading off with the title track. good move. the sound is much cleaner and punchier than i expected. the verse is kind of a rip-off of No Hope Kids, but still pretty catchy. the chorus is a little lacking, but it does sound pretty nice when the instruments drop out. works nicely as a lead track. could have been a little shorter though, but i usually think that.

Super Soaker - i wasn't expecting such straight-forward pop songs. it's weird to have the vocals so clean (relatively speaking), especially since his pipes are not his strong suit (or so i thought). the song builds up to a pretty nice frenzy. backing band is really tight. nice second track. 

Idiot - wow, what a great melody. expectations have been exceeded so far. great production on this one, especially with the backing vocals. lead vox sound really good too. i continue to be pleasantly surprised.

When Will You Come - starts out with the classic 50's doo-wop drum part. heavy on the reverb and a nice change of pace. not crazy about the helium vocals, but the backing ooh's are nice. seems like an odd track to put at #4 (sounds more like a closer to me), but we'll see what #5 brings...

Post Acid - well, i've already heard this song a couple of times. i kind of hated it at first (mostly because the chorus reminded me of Jimmy Eat World), but it makes a little more sense in the context of the album. it's not the most interesting song on the disc, but i can see its appeal as a lead single. 

Take On The World - the album so far has been very cohesive, and this track continues in that vein. man, this really reminds me of another band, but i can't peg it (maybe a little Tripping Daisy?). wavves dude knows what he does well, as the same tricks turn up on most songs (not a bad thing though). really like the chorus on this one. might be my favorite of the tracks so far.

Baseball Cards - i used to love baseball cards, so this song already has my attention. this is more of the production i was expecting...a little more fuzzed-out and buried. nice effect on the hand claps. good backing vox as usual. pretty cool when the song turns. really dig the layered vocals and trippy synths. 

Convertible Balloon - hmm...not really sure about this one right off the bat. it makes me miss the last song. the 80's sound references are fun and all, but i don't think it comes together effectively.

Green Eyes - he's losing me a little bit here. i commend him for trying to change things up a bit, but he is straying a little too far away from the formula that had made the album really good up to this point. i was ready for the song to be over at the 2:30 mark...next song needs to be good. 

Mickey Mouse - good intro. very Animal Collective. love the harmony at the end of the phrases. kind of waiting for something else to happen now. liked the drop out, but was hoping it would come back in a little harder. i could really use a 2:00 pop song right about now.

Linus Spacehead - straight out of 1995. not a bad song, but it's a little too "alternative rock". was hoping for something other than a mid-tempo power chord chugger.

Baby Say Goodbye - is this Fountains of Wayne? seriously. was really not expecting a song like this. a little annoying, but still really catchy. i do enjoy how the dozens of overdubbed vocal tracks all meld together to close the song out. kind of want to hear this one again right away, since it ends completely differently than how it began.

Closing Thoughts
I was surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. The album is front-loaded for the most part, and there were a couple of tracks that I could have done without, but I definitely will be listening to this one again. I can see the potential of many of the tracks getting stuck in my head ("you're never gonna stop me" is already in there).

Curious to hear what Erik thinks of this one...


Sunday, July 4, 2010

I Stayed at Home on the Fourth of July

and I pulled the shades so I didn't have to see the sky.

Galaxie 500 - Fourth of July by lighthouseflashing


Thursday, July 1, 2010

2010 - First Half Album Retrospective

The year is officially half way through, so ..... lists! lists! lists!

Top 10 Albums of the First Half of 2010
10. Sleigh Bells - Treats - This one makes the list only because it was so thrilling to hear for the first time. Since then, the novelty has worn off a bit, but as the weather gets hotter, I can see this getting more and more time in the rotation. 
Fav Track = Infinity Guitars

9. Beach House - Teen Dream - They've been improving with each album, so it makes perfect sense that this one would be their best. Also, this is the most accurately titled album of the year.
Fav Track = Zebra 

8. Harlem - Hippies - Yeah, there are admittedly a couple of weak tracks on the album, but there are more than enough great ones to make up for those. And their live show at Mad Planet is going to be hard to top this year.
Fav Track = Gay Human Bones, with Friendly Ghost right on its tail

7. Midlake - The Courage of Others - Ton of haters on this one, but it provided the perfect soundtrack to many dreary winter drives in the Midwest. Now that the summer is here I haven't been listening to it much, but they put on a really good show at Turner Hall back in May and I imagine it'll sound even better as summer fades.
Fav Track = Acts of Man

6. Gord Downie - The Grand Bounce - This is a tricky one, because I don't think it's been properly released in the U.S. yet. But you can listen to the whole thing here. I've only heard the album about 4 times, but I can already tell that it's something special, especially because of the way Gord has been gushing about it in his interviews. 
Fav Track = The Hard Canadian

5. The National - High Violet - Like all good National albums, this one took a while to fully appreciate. It still drags a little bit before and after Bloodbuzz Ohio, but I feel like I'll understand their decisions before the year is through.
Fav Track = Bloodbuzz Ohio (although I fought it, for some reason)

4. Twin Sister - Color Your Life (EP) - It's an EP, so I am not sure it counts, but I am also not sure if that matters at all or not. They're probably my favorite new band, and I can't wait to see them play either in Chicago or Milwaukee in a couple of weeks. A refreshing change of pace from the lo-fi that dominates the NYC scene.
Fav Track = All Around and Away We Go

3. Spoon - Transference - I don't know how they do it, but they've managed to make a completely different sounding record and make it really good. I thought it was kind of dull at first, but it definitely rewards repeat listens. Spoon might very well be the most dependable band of the last 10 years. 
Fav Track = The Mystery Zone

2. Woods - At Echo Lake - I can't get enough of this one. The sequencing is especially strong, spacing out the pop gems and delivering an album that you want to listen to over and over again. 
Fav Track = Blood Dries Darker, but Mornin' Time has been sounding really good lately

1. Robyn Hitchcock - Propellor Time - Yup. This is the album I've listened to the most in the first six months of the year. It's the sound of a confident man. A total pro. Still playful, but with something to say. I enter a dream-like state in the middle of the record, only to be awakened by Sickie Boy. And this one's only going to get better with time. If you haven't listened to this yet, you really should.
Fav Track = Luckiness was my first love (sooooo good over headphones), but it changes daily

6 Most Disappointing Albums of the First Half of 2010
6. Blitzen Trapper - Destroyer of the Void - While it's not a bad album, I had really high hopes for these guys after Wild Mountain Nation, which was one of the best albums of 2007.

5. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record - Forgive me, Jake, but I just can't get into this record. Sure, it's got some really great songs (Texaco Bitches, World Sick, Meet Me In The Basement), but there are also a ton that I can't help but skip over. I haven't given up yet, but it's looking bleak. 

4. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening - Maybe it's my short attention span, but this one hasn't convinced me to listen to the whole thing yet. The trick he does on the first track is pretty rad (purposefully mixing the vocals really low for the first 3 minutes so you turn the volume up really high and get blown away when the rest of the song comes in), but the rest is hardly groundbreaking. All I Want has potential, but it's no All My Friends. Again, not giving up, and maybe seeing him live at Pitchfork will change my opinion.

3. The Hold Steady - Heaven Is Whenever - I don't really know what to say about this one except "I think they've lost it". The production sounds like crap and none of the songs stand out from each other. Maybe a 30-something year-old can only write from the 16-year-old perspective for so long...

2. Vampire Weekend - Contra - I guess I saw this coming, but it's still hard to accept. Their debut was so simple and catchy, and I fear that they've messed with the recipe too much. Cousins is a pretty good song, but the rest does nothing for me. 

1. The New Pornographers - Together - It's been said (by me) that you can judge a NP record based on the strength of the Bejar songs. Mass Romantic had Jackie and Execution Day (both really strong in their own way), Electric Version had Testament to Youth in Verse (!) and Chump Change (two of the best songs he has ever written), Twin Cinema had Jackie, Dressed in Cobras, Streets of Fire, and Broken Beads (more mature songs, but still pretty darned good), and Challengers had Myriad Harbour (one of '07s best) and Entering White Cecilia and The Spirit of Giving (both good, but nothing special). Now, on Together, Bejar has completely dialed it in. Silver Jenny Dollar gets boring after 15 seconds (because you already know exactly what the song will sound like), If You Can't See My Mirrors, well, it's no coincidence that you've seen this phrase on the back of almost every semi on the road - this song already existed in so many other forms and did not need to be rewritten, and Daughter of Sorrow plods along pleading to not be skipped. I can only hope this means that Bejar is saving his good songs for future Destroyer releases.
Along the way you've also got the Neko stinker My Shepard, which I actually "unchecked" in my iTunes so I would never have to hear it again. And I almost never do that. To their defense, the first two songs are actually pretty good, but the New Pornos don't even come close to meeting my high expectations with this one. More on this situation in a future post.

8 Albums from the First Half of 2010 That I Need To Spend More Time With
8. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor - Too much going on for me to process.
7. Phosphorescent - Here's To Taking It Easy - Like what I hear so far, but looking for the proper environment to listen in.
6. Wild Nothing – Gemini - Begging for July.
5. Tame Impala - Innerspeaker - Sounds like a September/October record to me.
4. Here We Go Magic - Pigeons - I expect this one to climb the ranks in a couple more weeks.
3. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti - Before Today - I listened to this one at the grocery store last night.
2. Delta Spirit - History From Below - Really good after one listen, but haven't heard it since.
1. Tobin Sprout - The Bluebirds Of Happiness Tried To Land On My Shoulder - Just haven't gotten around to picking it up yet.

Whew...let me know what you think!