best of pop, 2013!

Posted in Uncategorized on March 18th, 2014 by slewfoot

Well, this blog is not QUITE dead yet!

All year I listen, ravenously, to pop music with a little daemon in my head that sometimes says, “listen closer, this could make your best of the year list.” And so it is a shame to have the little mental beast monitoring my ear so tirelessly only to be ignored—but 2014 was born and life rushed by, and new albums are inspiring even more mental chatter. So I better get this out before it’s drowned by the Dum Dum Girl’s latest delicious disc. Better late than not at all, too, right? Actually, I wrote this weeks ago and forgot to post!

Since the aughts there hasn’t been a bad year for popular music, and this is primarily because the Internet has proliferated self-publishing and distribution. 2013 was so full of treats it’s difficult to limit myself to a top ten to devour (there are so many honorable mentions, and the more I think about my list the more I debate what to add and subtract). One way to winnow is to exclude popular acts with major label support and suggest bands that I suspect some folks may have not yet heard of, which means I will pass over reviews of Miley Cyrus’ +Bangers+—the brilliant marketing of which no one could escape—a good, slickly produced and solid pop album, and Nine Inch Nail’s +Hesitation Marks+, with Reznor returning to a more layered and nuanced 90s sound (I love the album, although Reznor’s lyrical prowess has yet to graduate from high school). Here are ten albums that you might consider, if your tastes run my way (I’m a kid of the 80s), in alphabetical order:

1. Darkside: +Psychic+: Long, hypnotic, addictive, Darkside create a “minimalist” groove with mumbled falsetto lyrics that meld psychedelia and . . . well, Sébastien Tellier. What I absolutely adore about this album is that each song is as long as it needs to be—the band is not in a hurry. From the brilliant, eleven-minute opener “Golden Arrow” that takes you long into the night of contemplative groove only to dump you into two minutes of keyboard doodling, to the insistent patient synth flares of the spaced out “Metatron,” +Psychic+ is the late night album of the year.


2. The Eden House: +Half Life+: Something of a super-group of goth-rock and darkwave legends—they’re anchored by the unmistakable bass work of Tony Pettitt (of the Fields of the Nephilim)—The Eden House’s second full-length is a masterful blend of Monica Richard’s-style vocals and epic guitar riffs. It’s goth gone adult-contemporary, in a sense (we’re all middle-aged now, after all), but a delightful listen nonetheless with crisp production. The album sustains a good, often hypnotic mood from one side to the other. I could do without the spoken lyrics on a few tracks; I’m just happy this kind of music is not relegated to the cut-out bins at CD and record shops that are, increasingly, also getting cut.


3. Go Fight: +Music for Military Torture+: The title of the newest album to showcase the remarkable talents of Jim Marcus is apparently an oblique reference to fellow electronic pioneers Skinny Puppy, who demanded $666,000 in royalties from the U.S. government after learning their music was used in a detention center. The title captures the lyrical focus of the album, which is a left-leaning series of rants against hatred, homophobia, organized religion, and corporate greed as well as a celebration of human sexuality. The sensibility is less “heavy” fare than the club-favored Die Warzau (now de-funked), more electro or “EBM” and very danceable. This is fun industrial music, sometimes with sing-a-long choruses that may initially seem crude; a study of the lyrics reveals, however, the refrain “eff like a movie star” is not really an imperative Marcus means, but a critique of the “erectile dysfunction” industry. The creative programming of each track demands multiple listens (it’s great music to dance to, but it lends itself very nicely to earphones while working out). The track that seems to divide fans is “White Guys,” a hilarious (and catchy) read of those guys at the club we all make fun of . . . .

Video (not on the album, but a good cause):

4. I Break Horses: +Chiaroscuro+: I’m not sure what we call the genre of electronic based music that draws a line from The Knife through to Lorde, but Sweden’s Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck’s debut is more richly textured than the lot. From the backward, choral flourishes that punctuate the complex rhythms of “Faith” to the soaring, treated vocals of the closer, “Heart to Know,” the jam-packed layers of each track demand earphones. This is richly rewarding, touching electronic music that makes me smile inside. It’s just so damn clever (and pretty).


4. LowCityRain: +self-titled+: Known more for his post-metal work, Markus Siegenhort’s “solo” project is a moody, riff-ready, jangly slab of baritone vocals and shoe-gaze soaring with tightly, woven bass-lines so popular in the late 80s era. The stand out track here is “Grey View,” which touches on a Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry sensibility as the credits role to some tragic John Hughes teen angst. Siegenhort doesn’t quite know how to end a song with anything other than a “fade to silence,” but every track is as delicious as they are too short.


5. Connan Mockasin: +Caramel+: If Prince and Ween made a baby while dropping acid and taking shots of cough syrup in between bong hits . . . I’d not really want to see or hear that baby. But I bet they’d be playing this new Mockasin album on vinyl. This is the strangest album I’ve heard in many years, a kind of smarmy groove with guitars played underwater and vocals treated to sound like nude chipmunks trying to seduce smurfs. I know that’s not a ringing endorsement, but really, it’s so very weird that is should not work at all. But it does. You can listen to this on a Sunday afternoon while reading the paper. THIS is why the album is amazing. Test out “Do I Make You Feel Shy?” on iTunes or something, you’ll hear what I mean (this is, by the way, the least bizarre track).


6. Night Sins: +To London or the Lake+: It’s Philadelphia synth-and-guitar goth music. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and these guys do it very, very well. Brooding bass lines, baritone harmonies, soaring guitar riffs, a driving beat. Sisters fans, this is your contemporary fix on an old idiom done well.


7. Agnes Obel: +Aventine+: While Obel is widely known and celebrated in her home country of Denmark, few stateside will have had the fortune to hear her sweet, dark, piano-anchored compositions. Her voice is soft and expressive, and while her range is impressive its her restraint that deserves celebrating here: while the U.S. is dominated by screams or flights of impassioned grandiloquence, Obel croons, she woos. And her moods smell like a Danish forest in the snow. It’s dark, but not “goth”—more like, well, winter. Beautiful and strange.


8. Rhye: +Woman+: So, this is a very soft, sweet, sensual album that brings to mind, immediately, Sade. It’s not so adult contemporary as all that, and certainly has much more of a hipster vibe without the overproduced lushness of Sade. But goddamn, it’s a pretty amazing instance of a man who sounds like a woman; his voice is gentle, plaintive, and false in all the good ways. It’s a soulful, relaxing album. If Darkside made the late night album of the year, Rhye made the one to put on for some sexy time.

9. Weekend: +Jinx+: A lo-fi shoegaze outfit from the San Fran, Weedend’s debut album was so fuzzed out it was hard to hear the brilliant chord changes. Their follow-up peels back the reverb and gives Shaun Durkan’s sweet voice more of a melodic role (very much in the tradition of Brit-gaze delivery). Fans the Horrors or of earlier Charlatans will find these arrangements familiar, but it’s done so very well (and better, frankly). A beautiful, driving album—both because of the pounding drum work and because of the way this album yearns its way into your car stereo.

it’s synth-wave friday!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 5th, 2013 by slewfoot

it’s synth-pop friday!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28th, 2013 by slewfoot

it’s synth-pop friday!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 21st, 2013 by slewfoot

it’s new old-skool ebm friday!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24th, 2013 by slewfoot

it’s synth-pop friday!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 10th, 2013 by slewfoot

it’s synth-pop friday!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 3rd, 2013 by slewfoot

it’s synth-pop friday!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 26th, 2013 by slewfoot

it’s synth-pop friday!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 19th, 2013 by slewfoot

can’t sleep

Posted in Uncategorized on March 31st, 2013 by slewfoot

Music: Besnard Lakes: Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO (2013)

I cannot sleep and fancy an ear, but there are only screens here.

Over twenty years ago this morning I remember reckoning with deity staring at an unfinished ceiling and exposed pipes and then coming-to with the first coming, on a small television. God was up, at least in the studs with improper nails a-jutting (responsible builders would have used screws), but the cathode housing was down and to the right and perched on plaster bucket. A well-fed Caucasian Jesus with a matted, long-haired wig was bled, humanely, for an audience in pews; some wept, the camera showed. It was a modern remix of a scene described in three ways a long time ago. They do this every year, although the Jesuses, or Jesae or Jesai or however one plurals such an important figure, seem to change (ever nailed, at 33 and one third). The sight then was sobering. The sight now, to the extent I ever see it, seems misdirected. I don’t really know, nor do they. But there is conviction.

And conviction is something. It tends to get people killed.

I watched the Monterey Pop Festival film again the night before last, and Ravi Shankar’s closing raga seemed more to the point. Or more pointed.

To be more honest but resolutely oblique, I can sleep, but when I close my eyes I’m troubled by the scenes on the inside lid. I worry about the sequels on the Other side. Prophecies are projected in the land of lid; they are akin to murky television talk from the future: true crime dressed up in salacious detail, getting the facts right but the truth all wrong, and then the unstable irony of Keith Morrison’s voice. (The truth feels, it doesn’t just say.) I can almost see the dialogue in the pink swamp, but the faces are muted or absent or something like—well, exactly like—a daydream of the day’s fragments. Except the fragments haven’t happened yet. Thinking can be like this in a mode of preparation or anticipation or wanting something not coming (back). And I know that thinking is amplified, somewhere, in the off screen (ob-scene) of sleep. Wed this backstage thinking to worry and disbelief and a glimmer of anger and you’ll be in this uncomfortable theater that is so familiar to us when we troubled. Thinking cycles “what if?” “what if?” “what if?” It’s the place that Garfunkel took Simon, which is why they split up, I think.

“Existential” is not the “squiggle of mustard” on the hot dog of a day’s morning sustenance, although I like the definition-by-dismissal approach to things sometimes. (Maybe the Hokey Pokey is what it’s all about, Jimmy Buffet.) But, no. No. The existential is really more of a mood that starts from the base: cold hard earth. There’s no meaning until we warm- and break-it up with words. Existentialism is a rhetoricism, really. And it is some small comfort to say there is some-thing “brute,” but then when we talk we also “make it so.” (Good thing, that; I have devoted my living-making to this idea.) This is to say, constellating my fear of sleeping now with this week’s news, I have been thinking about Sartre lately, and the gnarled roots of the tree in Nausea, and then his discussion of looking relations in Nothingness, and the idea that other people are fashioned like fashions. You and I, we are roles to play in someone’s “reality television,” characters or styles of being-in-such-a-way. That’s not a lament. It’s basic psychology. And psychology today is television, although we tend to think psychology is Internet. And by “we” I refer to a small slice.

I have not been re-reading Sartre, just thinking about his installments in my past. Reading Sartre is sometimes like watching Six Feet Under. It’s smart but makes me sad. The books are there in the office and neglected by years. But like sleeping, I dare not take a crack at them again, not just yet.

I’m waiting for a better translation.

I recently dined with a couple I admire and love very much, and at a ballyhooed eatery that appeals to travelers and homebodies alike. We were seated in a row at a bar and I was, gleefully, the bisection. The waitress was an attractive woman my age (I just turned 40), with tattoos up one arm and down the other and, unlike many sleeves I see in this town, tastefully done in black-and-white (and not in, you know, a flash). Diet be damned, I ordered the popularly praised hamburger. Before I could finish my stack of meat as an excuse for dressing with attention, a bus boy (well, a bus man) took my knife without asking. I clutched my napkin, crumpled in my lap. And then, before my plate was clean, my mouth full of well-done meat that was promised more pink, the waitress set the bill in front of me like she was dancing with the stars. I regarded the check and took my time, finished my meal, and visited with my friends. Upon our departure, I looked the waitress in the eye and asked if it was customary to bring the bill before the meal was finished. She said that it was, because it was a small restaurant and because the cooks needed “order.”

Order is sometimes the devil.

“The ball of sight that leads,” sings Smith, and ” scorned, transfigured child of Cain.”