Wednesday, July 30, 2008

the calm...

Updates here at SS will be slim to none for most of the work week, as I am unfortunately bogged down in work-related business for most of today and tomorrow. I'm also in the process of moving, so much of my time is preoccupied. I do have plenty of updates on the docket however, and I do plan on getting them up by the weekend. So yes, there is an Album of the Week this week (it'll be worth the wait, I promise), plus a review of the kinda new Earth record, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull. Next week should see reviews for the new ones from The Bug, Brendan Canning and Torche as well. Until then, browse the archives.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Boris - Smile (***)

Technically, Smile is the follow-up to 2006s sludge-metal masterpiece Pink, yet Boris being Boris, we here in America have seen no fewer than three Boris related releases in the interim, including Altar, their underrated collaboration with drone-metal icons Sunn O))), the 2-disc/2-CD player Droneevil Final, and last year's fantastic psych-rock odyssey Rainbow, released in conjunction with Ghost's Michio Kurihara. So you'd be forgiven if you are more than a little burnt out on Boris, modern Japan's most awesomely addictive heavy rock icons. The hour-plus Smile then will no doubt disappoint many fans with it's disjointed sequencing and schizophrenic genre hopping. Almost everything Boris is known, loved and hated for is presented on Smile, including but not limited to: Melvins-inspired sludge, drifting atonal noise, heavy Teutonic drone, and blissed out psych excursions.

Michio Kurihara is on bored yet again with Smile, becoming a sort of an unspoken fourth member. His always welcome guitar pyrotechnics are instantly recognizable, his ear-piercing tone and flights of noisy fancy coloring many a track here. If only Boris could learn to edit, or at least learn the English translation for transition. Opener "Flower, Sun, Rain", while not a bad song, is a little frustrating as a slow-burning 8 minute ballad. Compared to the heavenly shoegaze of Pink's "Farewell", it can't help but come across as a little anti-climatic. It's all a fake out though, as Boris hit their comfort zone quickly and ferociously with a face-melting three song set that hews as close to Pink as the band is willing to get on Smile. They quickly retreat yet again however with the challenging second half of the record, which sees the band fiddling around with all sorts of techniques, some interesting, some better left on the cutting room floor, but nothing ever less interesting. As always with Boris though, patience is rewarded. The untitled 15 minute drone-metal epic which closes Smile is one of the band's most interesting long form works to date, carried as it is by an impossibly slow wall-of-guitar-drone, courtesy of Sunn O))'s Stephen O'Malley.

Smile will pass, as most Boris records do, with an air of confusion and ho-humness, and not just by curious onlookers - this record was released many months ago and I'm just getting around to it now - yet there's something here for every Boris fan, whether you prefer the noise freakouts, the straight forward metal head-bangers, or the speaker rattling, bastard-child-of-black-metal noise suites. I wouldn't recommend this as a good starting point (that would still be Pink and/or Akuma No Uta), but for those who crave the restless creativity and boundary pushing excess of prime Boris, you'll be stoked.

Highlights: "Buzz-In", "Statement", "..."

RIYL: Melvins, Earth, Sunn 0)))

"Flower, Sun, Rain"



Monday, July 28, 2008

"W" Trailer

I'm admittedly pretty ignorant of politics and government in general, but I do love Oliver Stone, and he has made two of the best films ever about ex-Presidents (JFK, Nixon), so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his upcoming George W. Bush bio-pic, W. Of course, any film about a current President would be laying itself open to extreme scrutiny from all sides, yet attaching Stone, perhaps the biggest political lightning rod outside of Michael Moore, is practically begging for backlash. I'll reserve judgment until I see it, especially considering that cast and the passionate work Stone did with World Trade Center, but the chances of this film truly succeeding seem rather slim to me. Trailer is decent though.

Wire - Object 47 (***)

Object 47, the 47th (!) official Wire document and 11th full-length album overall, continues the legendary punk band's new millennium winning streak, following the great Read and Burn EPs and the 2003 compilation of said EPs, Send. Typical of Wire, Object 47 is rigidly structured as an album in the traditional sense: 35 minutes, 2 distinctive sides. In what's becoming the norm for the band, they front load the album with the more pop oriented material, beginning with the great "One of Us", a nice reconciliation of the group's many sounds from over the years and one of the most flat-out infectious songs of the year so far. The remaining four songs on side 1 follow a similar template, peaking with the stellar "Perspex Icon", which one-ups even "One of Us" for sheer melodic ingenuity.

Side 2, while not quite as engaging as the strong opening five song run, still holds a number of charming yet subtle moments for the Wire obsessive, albeit with a much darker edge than what has come before (although to be honest, the "One of us will live to rue the day we met each other" chorus of "One of Us" isn't exactly sunny). Yes, I could do without the 80s new wave of "Are You Ready?", but Wire thankfully right the ship with closing track "All Fours", the album's most aggressive song and proof that even three decades into their career they still have the ideas and musical prowess to run circles around the legions of bands they've inspired.

Highlights: "One of Us", "Meakon Headman", "Perspex Icon", "All Fours"

"One of Us"

"Perspex Icon"

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Diablo's Back...

...and she's sculpting Jennifer's Body. Really looking for to this, even though all signs point to a sophomore slump, a la Mallrats.

via Awards Daily

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sebadoh - Bubble and Scrape (Deluxe Edition) (****1/2)

The last two years have delivered an embarrassment of riches for fans of Sebadoh and the nascent early 90s lo-fi movement they helped spawn, with both the band's debut, The Freed Man, and their landmark third record, III, seeing release in heavily padded deluxe editions. These reissues have nicely coincided with the band's reunion tours, thankfully with the original three-man lineup in tact despite some well documented bad blood. And now, like clockwork, 2008 brings with it the deluxe reissue of 1993s Bubble and Scrape, the band's fifth album and last to feature the classic lineup of Lou Barlow, Eric Gaffney and Jason Lowenstein. This was also the band's first record for Sub Pop, and at the time, their first significant move away from the lo-fi cassette aesthetic of their early days. That's not to say any one track here is illuminating hi-gloss sheen or anything, but in comparison to the one-mic-in-a-bathroom compositions of The Freed Man, Bubble and Scrape is nearly pristine.

So in hindsight, Bubble and Scrape was somewhat of a transitional record for the band, both in sound and membership, as Eric Gaffney begrudgingly exited following the record's release. The band's next record, the equally fantastic Bake Sale, saw drummer Jason Lowenstein pick up the songwriting slack left by Gaffney, but the roots of his burgeoning talent were planted during the Bubble and Scrape sessions. Formerly relegated to self explanatory throwaways like III's "Smoke a Bowl", Lowenstein became a bona fide threat on B&S, penning some of the record's better tracks, including "Happily Divided" and album ending tribute "Flood".

Sebadoh was still Barlow and Gaffney's band at this point though, and B&S highlights the brilliant push-and-pull between their two songwriting styles, a characteristic never to be seen on any subsequent Sebadoh record. "Soul and Fire" is probably the best opener on any Sebadoh record, and unlike their preceding records, B&S features a surprisingly sparse amount of chaff in the subsequent tracks. With only 17 songs, B&S is easily the most concise early Sebadoh record (the only band you can say that about, save maybe GBV), as well as being one of the most smooth listening experiences the band ever mustered. Nothing sticks out as particularly flawed here, yet the record's high point stands out like a sore thumb. Lou's classic "Think (Let Tomorrow Bee)" is quite possibly the quintessential penultimate track, and in a catalog full of them, maybe the most quietly heartbreaking song he ever laid to tape. In the end, I can't quite recommend Bubble and Scrape over III or even The Freed Man (and the bonus cuts included here add little to the argument), but as a document to one of the greatest indie-rock bands nonchalantly traipsing past their point of no return, it stands pretty much alone at the top.

Video: Sebadoh - "Elixir Is Zog" (live)

"Two Years Two Days"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Harvey Milk - Life...The Best Game In Town (***1/2)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(July 20 - 26, 2008)

The unrelentingly heavy yet wickedly melodic metal troupe Harvey Milk make and unexpected return after a lengthy hiatus to deliver an album every bit as good (if not better) than they're beloved early material. Simply put and to the point, Life...The Best Game In Town is one of the most varied, dynamic and fascinating metal records I've heard in years, and probably the best record of it's kind since Mastodon's Blood Mountain. With Life, Harvey Milk showcase in equal measure their Melvins-inspired sludge rock, their lightning quick speed metal fret workouts, and a hypnotic, barely-there balladry, setting this band of metal mainstays light years apart from their contemporaries.

Opener "Death Goes to the Winner" encapsulates this entire record, moving from a lightly plucked guitar intro complete with whisper sweet vocals, and into a lumbering, frightening monstrosity chock full of inhuman growls and hammer-of-the-god drum work. The addition of former Melvins, Earth and High and Fire bassist Joe Preston helps to beef up the low-end to ungodly proportions, while vocalist Creston Spiers does vocal acrobatics over the maelstrom. Like I said though, Life is restless record, flitting effortlessly from the heavy doom of "Decades" to a revved-up take on FEAR's "We Destroy the Family" to the downright power ballad-y "Motown", pausing only slightly for a parting of the clouds wherein this band lulls with an uncommon amount of beauty (in one particular case, with the help of a friggin' piano).

Life shares a lot in common with the new Melvins record, Nude With Boots, and not just in it's unrepentant girth, but also in it's odd structure. Perhaps as a result of the enormous amount of ground covered here stylistically, the record occasionally is hampered by it's pacing. Even taking that into consideration though, the only time the record really drags is in it's final moments, as the 9 minute closer "Goodbye Blues" stumbles to a close. They've made a career out of their unpredictability though, and as perhaps the best distillation of Harvey Milk's collective powers to date, Life...The Best Game In Town is darn near essential.

Highlights: "Death Goes to the Winner", "Decades", We Destroy the Family", "Motown"

RIYL: Melvins, Torche, Big Business, OM

Video: Harvey Milk - "A Maelstrom of Bad Decisions"

"Death Goes to the Winner"

Nomo - Ghost Rock (***1/2)

Fourth and best album yet from Michigan-based 9-piece Afro-beat/fusion/jazz collective Nomo, and once again they've taken their love afro-cuban grooves, gamelan trickery and traditional jazz to compile an infectious instrumental record bursting with unflagging rhythmic dust-ups, blaring horn fanfare and subtle electronic smears. With only 9 songs in over 45 minutes, Ghost Rock isn't exactly concise (most tracks clock in at 6+ minutes), yet their slow integration of avant-garde electro pulses into loose jazz compositions, evidenced most clearly by the two stellar bookending tracks, reveals Nomo as one of the more restlessly creative and idiosyncratic bands currently working. There's more than enough meat in the 7 songs between to satiate long time fans however, and if the appropriately titled Ghost Rock proves anything, it's that there's no stopping Nomo and their endless search for the groove.

Highlights: "Brainwave", "My Dear", "Ghost Rock", "Nova"

RIYL: The Budos Band, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Konono No. 1

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (****)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(July 13 - 19, 2008)

The Hold Steady have always struck me as one of indie rock's most unlikely success stories. Playing a brand of not-so-popular-among-the-underground rock music, that being classic rock, coupled with a frontman who doesn't sing so much as speak his vividly detailed lyrics, seems to equal fringe acceptance at best. The now New York-based Hold Steady have managed to overcome their quirks through relentless recording and touring, connecting with a large, diverse audiences by sheer force of will and ridiculously fun, beer-in-the-air live shows.

Defying their age (most members are now in their mid-to-late 30s), the band play with the conviction of a band half their age, and frontman Craig Finn's endless parade of youth oriented, all-encompassing lyrical spew certainly helps attract a wide swath of listeners, from hipsters to middle-aged business men. They've been on a startlingly upward trajectory over the last 4 years, culminating in 2006s epic Boys and Girls in America, one of the decade's most impressive rock records. For their follow-up, The Hold Steady have wisely stayed within their wheelhouse, subtly expanding their musical palette and padding the guest list (Dinosaur Jr's J. Mascis and Drive-By Truckers Patterson Hood both make appearances) while thankfully hewing close to what makes the band great in the first place: drunken, fist-pumping anthems and aching, sweat drenched ballads.

Stay Positive, the band's fourth record, is their most direct and confident to date. Despite the growth shown between each of their subsequent albums, they've never sounded like anyone but the Hold Steady, and the unlikely sonic additions to Stay Positive (harpsichord, banjo etc.) do little to distract from the headlong rush the band excels at. Considering this is the most aggressive rock record the band has recorded to date, those Replacements and Husker Du comparisons seem even more applicable (especially on opener "Constructive Summer" and the title track), yet the major signpost for the Hold Steady will always be Bruce Springsteen. Although the themes presented on Stay Positive are Finn's darkest to date, that everyman attitude and rock n' roll-can-save-the-world philosophy of the Boss has seeped into every musical pore of the band at this point, making this record no less palatable (in fact, it's probably more accessible) to newbies than die-hards.

Your ears perk up to the familiar music of the Hold Steady, but you stick around for the lyrics, and these guys are still the most profound bar band to ever walk the earth. Finn's lyrics still read better than half the novels at my local library, and Stay Positive has more lyrical ear worms and explosive mantras than he's ever managed before. Once again, the Hold Steady's world is an insular one, as Finn frequently references his past work while rehashing many lyrical concerns regarding (but not limited to) drugs, drinking and religion. As mentioned above, the Hold Steady are old by indie rock standards, and Stay Positive is, finally, their don't-look-back-in-anger record, a ten song set reliving past triumphs and failures, yet with the confidence and perseverance to look to the future for hope.

Finn's teenage artistic influences are repeatably referenced here; everyone from Iggy Pop to Joe Strummer to 7 Seconds to Led Zeppelin are integrated into his sometimes painfully detailed diatribes. "Slapped Actress", the brilliant final track, sees Finn using Opening Night director John Cassavetes and his two stars, Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara, as lyrical jump off points to encapsulate Stay Positive's myriad themes, and Finn's final declaration of "Man, we make our own movies!", is as apt a closing statement as featured on any Hold Steady record yet. The Hold Steady have built a career on widescreen dramas of youth gone awry, and the appropriately titled Stay Positive - a record filled equally with tearful recollections and tales of empowering hope - presents the aging process not as an inevitable downturn, but as an opportunity for lasting memories and new experiences.

Highlights: "Constructive Summer", "Sequestered in Memphis", "Navy Sheets", "Stay Positive", "Joke About Jamaica", "Slapped Actress"

"Constructive Summer"

"Sequestered in Memphis"

"Slapped Actress"

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Abe Vigoda - Skeleton (***1/2)

If 2007 was defined by the Italo Disco revival and it's leading light label Italians Do It Better, then the first half of 2008 has certainly been most closely identified with the murky art-rock emanating from the Los Angeles Smell scene. Bands such as Mika Miko, The Mae Shi, HEALTH, Silver Daggers, and of course the scene's godfathers, No Age, have helped reestablish L.A. as a viable, and most importantly, credible, mecca for underground noise rock. Not since the early 80s heyday of Black Flag has L.A. seemed like such a wellspring for important new sounds in American punk rock. Hailing from Chino, yet still firmly implanted in the Smell family, are Abe Vigoda, a four-piece "tropical-punk" band who've just released Skeleton, a strong sophomore platter full of clanging guitar atmospherics, muffled vocals and shape-shifting ambiance.

Despite their constant grouping with bands such as the aforementioned No Age and Mika Miko, Abe Vigoda sound of a completely separate tradition, one which has absorbed the influence of afro-pop & island beat percussion. That's not to say we've got another Graceland rip on our hands, but Abe Vigoda are certainly up to something slightly different from others currently dwelling in and around the Smell. The droning ambiance and blurred haze that float within the din help mask the pop hooks that are undoubtedly lurking within Skeleton's bones, which is probably the only actual similarity this band shares with it's peers. The vocals aren't smeared with noise however, they are just mixed extremely low, encouraging close listens in order to parse these claustrophobic pieces. These guys don't really have the energy of a punk band, but the whole is much greater than the sum of it's 14-songs-in-30-minutes parts. It may take multiple listens to reap the full rewards that Skeleton holds, but there's no denying that Abe Vigoda are wonderfully straddling the line between tradition and the hereafter.

Highlights: "Dead City/Waste Wilderness", "Lantern Lights", "Cranes", "The Garden", "Endless Sleeper"



Monday, July 14, 2008

Top 10 Movies & Albums of the Past 25 Years

I know I am ridiculously late on this, but last week was my first opportunity to go through Entertainment Weekly's 1000 New Classics, where they selected the 100 best movies, albums, books, television shows etc, of the last 25 years. I'll stick to what we do here at Stereo Sanctity though, film & music (my TV pick would be Twin Peaks though, fyi). So what follows are my off-the-top-of-my-head, ever changing lists of the ten best records and films since 1983, in comparison with EW's kind of out-of-touch picks (or maybe I'm out of touch, who knows).

EW's Ten Best Films of the Last 25 Years:

1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03)
3. Titanic (1997)
4. Blue Velvet (1986)
5. Toy Story (1995)
6. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
7. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
8. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
9. Die Hard (1988)
10. Moulin Rouge (2001)

Stereo Sanctity's Ten Best Films of the Last 25 Years:

1. Once Upon A Time In America (1984; Sergio Leone)
2. Goodfellas (1990; Martin Scorsese)
3. Pulp Fiction (1994; Quentin Tarantino)
4. American Beauty (1999; Sam Mendes)
5. Blue Velvet (1986; David Lynch)
6. Fargo (1995; Joel Coen)
7. Stand By Me (1986; Rob Reiner)
8. Mulholland Dr. (2000; David Lynch)
9. Heathers (1989; Michael Lehmann)
10. Kicking and Screaming (1995; Noah Baumbach)

EWs Ten Best Albums of the Last 25 Years:

1. Purple Rain - Prince and the Revolution (1984)
2. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - Lauryn Hill (1998)
3. Achtung Baby - U2 (1991)
4. The College Dropout - Kanye West (2004)
5. Madonna - Madonna (1983)
6. American Idiot - Green Day (2004)
7. The Blueprint - Jay-Z (2001)
8. Graceland - Paul Simon (1986)
9. Back to Black - Amy Winehouse (2007)
10. In Rainbows - Radiohead (2007)

Stereo Sanctity's Ten Best Albums of the Last 25 Years:

1. Galaxie 500 - On Fire (1989)
2. Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1999)
3. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988)
4. Pavement - Slanted & Enchanted (1992)
5. My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (1990)
6. Radiohead - Kid A (2000)
7. The Smiths - The Queen is Dead (1986)
8. Pixies - Doolittle (1989)
9. Radiohead - OK Computer (1997)
10. Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)

Melvins - Nude With Boots (***)

If the late-90s fall of the Melvins taught us anything, it was that some bands should stick to what they do best. And what do the Melvins do best? Big, stupidly simple sludge-metal riffs with huge lumbering drum fills. It took the addition of metal duo Big Business to their constantly shifting lineup though to really infuse the Melvins with the same passion that defined their late 80s/early 90s work. Their first album together, 2006s (A) Senile Animal, was universally praised as a return to form, and I'd still rank it among their best records to date. Nude With Boots, their newest album and second as a newly reconstituted four-piece (guitar, bass, two (!) drummers), is thankfully another continuation of this classic Melvins sound.

They've never been the most original band, and to be honest that's probably the point, but it always great to hear Buzz Osborne slam head first into one of those massive two-note riffs. There's actually signs of growth contained within the title track though, an almost classic rock-like anthem that registers as one of the band's few successful attempts at branching out so far. Song for song, Nude With Boots is another strong listen, and the only quibble I really have is the choppy sequencing. Of course, Houdini wasn't the most seamless listen either, and that has never diluted it's lasting impact. As long as the Melvins stay firmly within in their wheelhouse, I don't see these guys falling off or becoming irrelevant for many, many more years.

Highlights: "Billy Fish", "Dog Island", "The Smiling Cobra", The Savage Hippy"

"Billy Fish"

"The Smiling Cobra"

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Beck - Modern Guilt (**1/2)

For his tenth full-length album (ugh, makes you feel old, doesn't it?), Beck Hansen continues his recent habit of producer musical chairs, this time enlisting the help of Gnarls Barkley's Danger Mouse. On paper, the pairing seems apt, seeing as how both artists have a predilection for all thing retro, and the resulting record lands predictably in the land of 60s psych (not a bad place to be, but not a particularly original one either). The defining characteristic of this collaboration, entitled Modern Guilt, is it's brevity. With ten songs in barely a half hour, the record doesn't stick around long enough to annoy or exhaust, making this perhaps the most listenable Beck album since Sea Change (2002). In relation to the bloated The Information from 2006 or the paint-by-numbers Guero (2005), Modern Guilt is surprisingly loose and off-the-cuff. Unfortunately though, the record contains about the same amount of killer-to-filler as Beck's more audacious records.

The album starts off promising with the solid "Orphans", a nice encapsulation of the retro feel of the bulk of Modern Guilt. However, this is immediately followed by "Gamma Ray", a song that Beck has written ten times over at this point, and with much better past results. Modern Guilt is sadly stacked with a number of these by-the-numbers Beck tracks, all pleasant and with no glaring errors, but also inconsequential in furthering the artistic merit that Beck accumulated through the late 90s. The one exception is phenomenal first single "Chemtrails", an infectious psych-pop tune with huge drum fills and a lovely whispered falsetto chorus. It sounds like nothing Beck has ever done before, and it's probably the most substantial track he's produced this decade. Everything else has no choice but to pale in comparison, yet I'd gladly wait it out for a record filled with songs as focused as this, as opposed to the rather prolific pace he has been on in the past few years (3 albums in 4 years to be exact) for the simple fact that "Chemtrails" proves that Beck has plenty of inspiration left to mine. He'd be well served to let these ideas grow organically, as opposed to padding out records with blueprint Beck tracks.

Video: Beck - "Gamma Ray"

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Bye for now...

I won't be around to update Stereo Sanctity for about 4 days, but I've left you with a number of new reviews and even a new Top 10 list (we can never get enough of those, ya know?) in hopes that it will tide you over. I'll be back with lots of updates though, including a review of Beck's new album, Modern Guilt.

Top 10 Albini-Produced Records

As a part of their 2008 Listravaganza, Cokemachineglow has produced a 15 item list of their favorite Steve Albini produced records. This particular list fascinates me most, seeing as how Albini is by far my favorite record producer, not to mention one of my musical heroes as the mastermind behind Big Black, Rapeman and Shellac. The CMG list is very thorough, so it would be rather difficult for me to add anything to the discussion. Nonetheless, here are Stereo Sanctity's 10 favorite Steve Albini produced records, with a little commentary on why each is so special.

10. Nina Nastasia & Jim White - You Follow Me [2007]

CMG chose Nastasia's own The Blackened Air, but her 2007 collaboration with Dirty Three drummer Jim White is slightly superior in my opinion. Regardless of your preference, you'd be hard pressed to find a better sounding record from the last few years. Everything is spaced perfectly within the mix, wonderfully contrasting Nastasia's guitar with White's free-form drum patterns.

9. Shellac - At Action Park [1994]

Shellac has always seemed to me like the more methodical, more precise and more direct offspring of Big Black. The live drummer is what really set the two bands apart, but the Albini guitar sound has carried over to all his projects. By At Action Park, that sound had all but been defined, but on no other record is his metallic clang this sharp or hazardous to your health.

8. Palace Music - Viva Last Blues [1995]

As the first truly great Will Oldham record, Viva Last Blues holds a special place in the hearts of many fans, not only for it's near-perfect tracklist but also for it's understated sound, courtesy of the unobtrusive Mr. Albini.

7. Joanna Newsom - Ys [2006]

What is most remarkable about the work Albini has done behind the boards is his range. He is always slotted in with the noise rock contingent, but he can just as easily adapt to new sounds. This fact is most evident on Ys, his collaboration with classical harpist Joanna Newsom. From a production standpoint alone, this is one of the decades most meticulous albums.

6. Mclusky - Do Dallas [2002]

The insane Welsh trio met their match with noise god Steve Albini, and Do Dallas, their debut full length, is the most sickening distillation of their collective wrath. It's no wonder they imploded. "The world loves us and is our bitch" is right.

5. Pixies - Surfer Rosa [1988]

Surfer Rosa isn't my favorite Pixes record (that would be Doolittle), but this is the best sound the band ever achieved. It's still their most popular record for a reason.

4. Big Black - Songs About Fucking [1987]

See that album cover? Yeah, that's what this record sounds like. Do not play this for children.

3. Nirvana - In Utero [1993]

Kurt Cobain personally sought out Albini after the high-gloss grunge of Nirvana's breakthrough Nevermind. Not surprisingly, In Utero was louder, harsher and less accessible. It also alienated their casual fan base and moved a fraction of the units. It rules.

2. The Breeders - Pod [1990]

The fact that I like Pod more than any Pixies record outside of Doolittle should speak to the genius of Steve Albini, who achieved a sparse, hollow sound here that I've never come across again. Not even Surfer Rosa sounds this stellar. The band cashed in on their next record, but Pod their most potent document to date.

1. The Jesus Lizard - Goat [1991]

When pressed, I've been known to refer to the Jesus Lizard as my favorite band.

Goat is always near the tip of my tongue was discussing my favorite records.

"Here Comes Dudley" is in my top 2 - 3 songs ever.

Put all that together and have Steve Albini record it and you have an unhinged, fire-breathing, reckless and catastrophic record that will pummel the listener into quivering submission at the very sound of that opening bass line. I bow to the Jesus Lizard.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Liz Phair - Exile In Guyville (15th Anniversary) (*****)

The girl-power record of all time turns 15 this year, and to celebrate, ATO Records has remastered and reissued the long out-of-print 1993 classic, appending 3 B-sides and a bonus DVD featuring interviews with Chicago scene veterans who witnessed first-hand the young Liz Phair explode onto an inbred, male dominated scene from seemingly nowhere. The quality of the album warrants little discussion at this point (that's better saved for every record that followed), as Exile in Guyville is still a wall-to-wall masterpiece. It's everything you remember it to be: feminist document, break-up record, song-by-song reply to Exile on Main Street, and a record full of diary-sharp and sexually raw lyrics delivered with that defiant F'you attitude. Besides opening up avenues for countless female indie artists, Exile dared to play rough with the boys, and 18 out of 18 times, it came out on top.

Considering the breadth of Exile (18 songs in an hour), it isn't surprising to find the well a little dry with regards to rarities from the period. Of the three B-sides, one is the acoustic cult fave "Ant in Alaska" while the other two are interesting but inconsequential doodles (one of which is instrumental). The DVD is a rare treasure however. Directed by Phair herself, Guyville Redux features interviews with Chicago stalwarts Steve Albini, Urge Overkill, John Cusack, Gerard Cosloy, Brad Wood and, uhhh, Dave Matthews (gotta give him props for reissuing this on his label though). Redux clocks in at well over an hour and is home to many amusing anecdotes and some good background info on Phair's discovery by Matador Records and her early Girly Sound project. I for one can do without a lot of tacked on bonus material that pad out most reissues, so this DVD was a real treat. The original Exile in Guyville is still where it's at though. 15 years later and it hasn't aged a day.

Video: Liz Phair - "Never Said"

Guyville Redux Trailer

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Girls Talk - Feed the Animals (***)

As the mastermind behind Girl Talk, Greg Gillis has carved himself a pretty unique niche in modern underground circles with his cut & paste sampling flourishes. His appeal stretches across just about the entirety of the indie spectrum in some capacity, as he ropes in fans from all corners of the dance, rock and electronic worlds. His breakthrough album, Night Ripper, was a sampledelic hallucination in which Neutral Milk Hotel could sit comfortably beside Juelz Santana as if predetermined by the gods. It was a crossover smash in the dance community, no doubt fueling many a drug-fueled club night. Yet despite Night Ripper being his third album, it felt like a brilliant one-off, something to be admired for it's shameless Top-40 pillaging rather than an ongoing concern.

For better of worse, Gillis' new album, Feed the Animals, is of such a piece with Night Ripper that the two are nearly interchangeable (wouldn't want to mess with a good thing, right?). So the euphoric rush of hearing classic rock meet modern hip-hop still remains, while an odd sense of predictability amongst all the unpredictability begins to manifest itself. There's still no use in breaking down individual songs, as Feed the Animals is once again nothing more than a relentless 54 minute mash-up mix, better for soundtracking dorm parties than setting aside for quiet headphone sessions. Still, stupid grins will smear across the faces of countless listeners when Jay-Z's "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is...)" gets dropped over top the "Paranoid Android" riff or the hundreds of other head-turning juxtapositions Gillis seamlessly stitches together. Feed the Animals, and Girl Talk as a concept for that matter, probably won't leave the lasting impression of it's sample happy brethren (say DJ Shadow's Endtroducing, The Avalanches Since I Left You, or even Paul's Boutique), but as the backdrop for an untold number of upcoming summer barbecues, nothing feels more right.

RIYL: The Avalanches, The Go! Team, 2 Many DJs

Note: Feed the Animals is currently available as a pay-what-you-please download at the Illegal Art website

"Here's the Thing"

"Like This"

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Studio - Yearbook 2 (***1/2)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(June 29 - July 5, 2008)

The Swedish Balearic-disco duo behind last year's epic Yearbook 1 (Stereo Sanctity's #25 Album of 2007) return with an equally epic remix disc entitled simply, Yearbook 2. Studio take on predictable (A Mountain of One) and unpredictable (Kylie Minogue) source material in equal measure on Yearbook 2, parsing familiar fragments from each while grafting them onto their instantly recognizable expanse of drifting acoustic guitars and island-breeze beats. Studio have never been known for their concision, and Yearbook 2 is no different, as the 7 tracks here stretch well past the one-hour mark (most hover around 10 minutes in length). Their hypnotic grooves are their defining characteristic though, and at no moment on Yearbook 2 do things grow overly tedious, even as melodies stretch interminably through ultra-subtle dynamic variations.

The New Order-ish vibe from Yearbook 1's shorter tracks is nowhere to be found here, as the vocals are given over solely to the source material's original voices. So there's Kylie singing "2 Hearts" and Adam Olenius of the Shout Out Louds doing "Impossible", both over the gentle, minimalist beat structures and dreamy clouds of synth that Studio effortlessly lay down. They even somehow remix a cover, as they reinterpret Williams' take on Tangerine Dream's "Love on Real Train", resulting in something even more celestial than either previous version could manage. There's nothing here that can match Yearbook 1's "Out There" or "Life's a Beach", yet expecting such from a remix album would be foolish. What they are left with then is a blissfully chilled-out, wonderfully paced and fully realized collection of songs that almost always outshine their predecessors while ultimately registering more as great Studio tunes than interesting readings of already successful songs.

Highlights: "Brown Piano (Remake by Studio)", "Impossible (Possible Version by Studio) ", "Room Without A Key (Version by Studio)", "Love On A Real Train (Version by Studio)"

RIYL: Tangerine Dream, Manuel Göttsching, Air France, A Mountain of One

"Brown Piano (Remake by Studio)" - A Mountain of One

"Love On A Real Train (Version by Studio)" - Williams (Tangerine Dream Cover)

Air France - No Way Down EP (***1/2)

So Sweden is the new Seattle, huh?

With the glut of amazing pop and electronic music making it's way out of the Nordic Kingdom, it would be tempting to label it as such, what with Jens Lekman, Studio and The Tough Alliance (to name just a few) all rising to indie prominence over the last couple of years. And now, hot on the heels of last year's underrated On Trade Winds EP (which featured the fantastic "Beach Party") comes No Way Down, the newest 20 minute slice-of-heaven from Balearic pop revivalists Air France.

Built on a foundation of numerous obscure samples and draped with sleek synth washes and understated electro-pop melodies, No Way Down takes the laid-back vibes of it's genre's homeland (Ibiza) and infuses it with a sweeping grandeur, not unlike what TTA does with a vocal hook or what Studio accomplishes with their endless expanse. These 6 songs hew closer to the ambient pop realm however, specifically the EPs bookending tracks, both of which are clearly mood pieces - a lead-in and fade-out respectively - but with enough intricate detail to reward deep listening. The 4 center tracks provide the meat of the record though, each revolving around carefully integrated samples and delightfully uncomplicated rhythms. Air France construct their own self-contained world within the No Way Down EP, and it's a simultaneously tranquil and uplifting place to be, as well as simply working as a genuinely soothing come-down from the more self-conscious confines of indie-rock.

Highlights: "June Evenings", "Collapsing at Your Doorstep", "No Excuses"

RIYL: The Tough Alliance, The Avalanches, Quiet Village, Studio

"June Evenings"

"Collapsing At Your Doorstep"

"No Excuses"