Top 10 Albums of 2013

MIA - MATANGI10. Matangi – M.I.A.

Bangers, bangers, and more bangers. M.I.A.’s Matangi is unrelentingly frenetic, even for her. While the album focuses heavily on extravagance, she remains the only artist who can spit about xenophobia, feminism, refugees, and the exodus, and still weave it together to sound like a nonstop party.

Said the Whale - Hawaii9. Hawaiii – Said the Whale

In Hawaiii, Said the Whale creates a veritable musical grab bag. “More Than This” relies on little more than some piano chords and vocal harmonizing. “I Love You” sounds like a modern reimagining of “My Sharona.” “Resolutions” ends with a rapped outro (for some reason). Through it all, Said the Whale maintains its defining indie pop sweetness. Instead of feeling like a scattered mess, Said the Whale manages to be a rare specimen – a pop-friendly indie rock band that’s unafraid to take some wild swings for the hell of it.

Swearin' - Surfing Strange8. Surfing Strange – Swearin’

Surfing Strange is the best ’90s underground rock album of 2013. It’s a shame Swearin’ wasn’t around to open for Pavement at some NorCal dive back in the day. Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride swap lead vocal duties and lines of disenchantment over a bed of distorted dissonance without losing a sense of melodicism. It’s ugly and snarling in all the right ways.

Tancred - S/T7. S/T – Tancred

S/T isn’t just another album for Tancred – it’s a complete reinvention. While Jess Abbott’s first Tancred album, Capes, was pure hushed and minimal (to the point of being tiny) indie song craft, S/T is a lively pop rock record flush with exuberance. Songs like “The Ring” and “Indiana” surge with catchy energy and lyrics of soured relationships. Musical quantum leaps aren’t supposed to sound this smooth, effortless, and natural.

Wimps - Repeat6. Repeat – Wimps

Repeat is the adult-made, kick ass version of every awful adolescent punk album. You know the ones… when ragtag groups of misfits first pick up instruments and try to play, but the only material they have to write songs about is the relative trivialities of their day-to-day existence: Sleeping in, hating school, pizza, and staying forever young and vital. Wimps takes that formula, adds sharper musical skills, and applies it to adult parallels: Naps, hating work, the importance of not eating expired food, and growing old and getting boring. Thankfully, Rachel Ratner’s bratty singing and lyrics dripping with sarcastic wit prove that Repeat isn’t fully grown up.

Mansions Doom Loop5. Doom Loop – Mansions

From the opening aural bombardment of “Climbers,” Doom Loop unleashes a steady stream of fuzzy bass, overdriven guitar, and seething fury. Christopher Browder’s lyrics about unraveling relationships and communication breakdowns perfectly suit his voice, which can go from conveying withheld emotions to sonic fits of angst at the proverbial flip of a switch. While there are plenty of things Browder can bemoan, the quality of Doom Loop is certainly not one of them.

The Thermals - Desperate Ground4. Desperate Ground – The Thermals

After releasing 2010’s Personal Life, its kindest and most polished record, The Thermals got brutal and raw on Desperate Ground. The album is somewhat of a throwback – mixing the aggression and venom of The Body, the Blood, the Machine with the unhinged punk instrumental edge of More Parts Per Million. Hutch Harris lyrically hacks and slices his way through song after song about vicious killing (divinely ordained or otherwise) and bellows each of his impassioned creeds to the heavens.

Colleen Green - Sock It to Me3. Sock It to Me – Colleen Green

Colleen Green is bored and enamored. On Sock It to Me, she delivers bursts of sunny, smitten lo-fi rock with a blissfully stoned detachment. With little more than some bar chords and a drum machine, Green creates unbelievably catchy, upbeat ditties (“Only One,” “Number One,” etc.) and a couple deliciously dark, brooding tunes (“Sock It to Me” and “Close to You”). It’s daydream music for the smitten souls of summer.

Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt2. Cerulean Salt – Waxahatchee

Fragility does not beget weakness. Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt showcases delicate strength at its most emotionally cutting. There’s a sense of Southern sorrow at the root of many of Katie Crutchfield stripped down tunes, but she never feels crushed under their weight; instead opting for a steadfast resilience. She’ll find a way to leave gracefully… or she’ll escape.

Lorde - Pure Heroine1. Pure Heroine – Lorde

There’s a deep-seeded sense of isolation that permeates Lorde’s sterling debut LP Pure Heroine. The roots of the seclusion are multifaceted: Growing up in a remote locale (New Zealand), general teenage angst (being an actual teenager), and an element of musical separation. But Lorde’s outsider mentality pushes the pop paradigm forward. With layered snaps, claps, and her deep, dramatic voice, Lorde forges a new brand of minimalist electronic pop that, compared to the rest of the radio-friendly landscape, sounds jarringly sparse. And yet each of Pure Heroine’s isolationist anthems shines more than any of the overproduced status quo. As she defiantly proclaims on the album’s finale, “Let ‘em talk cause we’re dancing in this world alone.”

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Top 10 Albums of 2010 Revisited

As is the tradition around here at Long Live the Album, I look back at last year’s best album list before tackling the current years incarnation. This is that. Because music is fluid, so why not make revisions, additions, and subtractions?

The Original Top 10 Albums of 2010

1. Swim – Caribou
2. Home Acres – Aloha
3. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
4. Champ – Tokyo Police Club
5. True Devotion – Rocky Votolato
6. Where the Messengers Meet – Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band
7. My Dinosaur Life – Motion City Soundtrack
8. White Crosses – Against Me!
9. Personal Life – The Thermals
10. The Game of Monogamy – Tim Kasher

The Updated Top 10 Albums of 2010

1. Swim – Caribou
2. Home Acres – Aloha
3. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
4. Epic – Sharon Van Etten
5. Champ – Tokyo Police Club
6. True Devotion – Rocky Votolato
7. The Game of Monogamy – Tim Kasher
8. Personal Life – The Thermals
9. Where the Messengers Meet – Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band
10. My Dinosaur Life – Motion City Soundtrack

Notes:

*I’ve fallen madly in love with Sharon Van Etten’s music (not Sharon herself mind you – I want to date these songs). The broken-up sorrow of Epic keeps me coming back. From the defiantly angry (still in) love song of “A Crime” to more upbeat numbers like “Peace Signs” and “One Day,” each track builds on Ms. Van Etten’s powerfully personal voice. I can’t believe it took me until this year’s SXSW to catch on to her tunes.

*You guys, Home Acres is still so, so good. I really wish people knew Aloha.

*Lyrically The Game of Monogamy has stuck with me more than any other album on last year’s list. Tim’s musings on the crushing tedium and hopelessness of marriage still stings. It deserved to move up on those merits.

*I had Personal Life ranked slightly lower to close last year mainly because it’s simply not as good as the best The Thermals albums. But the warmth of these pop songs seems more timeless with each passing listen, hence the bump.

Personal Life – The Thermals

The Thermals built its reputation by being loud and lo-fi with a bratty punk rebelliousness. It isn’t a band that would make you go, “Awww…The Thermals so sweet and thoughtful.” Then Personal Life happened.

Considering the band’s previous two albums have focused on fascist religious oppression and death respectively, Personal Life’s theme of being badly, deeply, madly in love might seem a stretch. But frontman Hutch Harris delivers the lyrics with such sincerity that everything works. Nothing is over thought, but it’s all sharp.

The highlight of the album is Kathy Foster’s heavy bass grooves. On tracks like “Never Listen To Me” and “Only For You” the bass is so deep that the listener can aurally sink into them like a body into an ultra plush couch (new drummer Westin Glass’ tight beats also bolster the rhythm section). While these tracks are indicative of the open feel of the album, the more familiar punk-y enthusiasm of “I Don’t Believe You” can’t be topped.
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The Thermals Feature From The Inlander

Space Rock

The Thermals don’t like change. But when they try new things, it seems to work out.

Bigger is better. Bands are always seeking a bigger audience, bigger tours, bigger record sales and a bigger sound. But when the Thermals moved into a new and bigger practice space last year, the mantra didn’t quite ring true.

“As it turned out, the room we moved into sounds terrible,” Westin Glass, the band’s drummer says. “It’s this big cube with hard floors, hard walls, hard ceilings.”

The move was in part to accommodate Glass, who joined the group in late 2008. The Thermals’ core has always been guitarist Hutch Harris and bassist Kathy Foster — who also wrote and played the drum parts on group’s last two albums. Despite the duo’s longstanding music chemistry and rotating cast of drummers, Glass was welcomed with open arms.

To ease the transition into the band, Glass immediately went to work learning the Thermals’ entire catalogue exactly how it was recorded. For him it was a way to internalize the band’s DNA.

In order to accommodate the new full-time member and extra gear more comfortably, the Thermals moved into the much larger practice room. Continue reading

Top 50 Albums of ’00s (10-1)

Here’s a quick recap previous installments: #50-41, #40-31, #30-21, & #20-11.

Without further ado, here’s the very best of the decade…

10. With Love And Squalor – We Are Scientists

The brilliance of With Love And Squalor might seem confusing at first. Everything clashes, but it sounds like noting clashes. That is to say, none of the musical elements are similar parts; the drums tap a certain rhythm, which varies from what the bass plays, which sounds nothing like the guitar part. Yet, when all these pieces come together, the result is some of the most fun dance rock in existence. Over backdrop, frontman Keith Murray muses about the proverbial “scene” and all the troubles and hook-ups that go along with it. The album does have some moments of clarity amongst the late night antics, be it the sense of being slighted (“Inaction”) or the realization of a desperate need for companionship despite what others might think (“Lousy Reputation”). However, the album’s essence is really found in tracks like “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” and “It’s A Hit,” which are just too fun to ignore. With Love And Squalor is one scene that never grows tired.

9. Nightmare Of You – Nightmare Of You

On a list of overlooked gems from the ’00s, Nightmare of You’s self-titled debut has to rank near the top. The group delivered a blissful collection of jaunty tunes in the vain of The Smiths. There’s a certain pop sweetness that prevails throughout the album (especially on songs like “The Days Go By Oh So Slow”), but there is also nuance beneath the surface. Each song has a devilishly wry smile about it, as if its a little more cunning and devious than it want to let anyone realize at first glance. This aspect really pops out on ditties like “I Want to Be Buried in Your Backyard” and “Dear Scene, I Wish I Were Deaf.” The mix of atmospheric instrumentals and sharp lyricism really do the trick. Case in point, it’s to find a better lyrically simple chorus than “My Name is Trouble”‘s “This is the last time that I’ll hold your hand, I want to kiss you on the mouth an tell you I’m your biggest fan…” It is things like that that make new biggest fans out of those that listen to Nightmare Of You.

8. Stay What You Are – Saves the Day

Laying the direct groundwork for the emo boom, Saves the Day’s Stay What You Are is just about as much as anyone could ask from an emo/pop punk album. There’s well-worded hate (“At Your Funeral”), hyperbole of the pain a relationship can cause (“See You”), and tender shyness (“Freakish”). The emotions are all allowed to shine thanks to a sundry set of catchy instrumentations. By the time Stay What You Are burns out on “Firefly,” Save the Day’s Chris Conley manages to get the heart he wears on his sleeve to find a little place inside the listener’s own ticker. Stay What You Are is aptly titled. It would be foolish to want these songs to ever change.

(Full review here.)

7. Relationship Of Command – At The Drive-In

Aggressive and otherworldly, 2000’s Relationship Of Command is like a mule kick to the jaw (which appropriately enough is frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s signature moves in concert) Each song still feels like it’s way, way ahead of anything that’s currently being released, and it dropped in 2000. The band’s hardcore spirit mixes with instrumentals that manage to be simultaneously crazily cacophonic and yet smoothly grooving. As the guitars wildly cascade from track to track, Bixler-Zavala shifts his vocals from the hyper spoken word verses of “Invalid Jitter Dept.” to the aggressive yelps on “Enfilade” and “One Armed Scissor.” The bottom line is Relationship Of Command has an inherent life-force; an energy which makes it seem vital. With the At The Drive-In long since split, this station may be non-operational, but with the signals that people can still pick up anyone would be crazy to touch the dial.

6. Control – Pedro the Lion

Control is portrait of married life and accompanying adultery which makes the notion of wedded “bliss” sound like the worst thing imaginable. David Bazan takes this concept and runs with it, finding the sordid details of a relationship gone awry. The opener “Options” sets the tone, taking one of Pedro the Lion’s signature single note riffs and weaving it into a story of halfhearted love that both parties begrudgingly accept (“And I told her I loved her, and she told me she loved me. And I mostly believed her, and she mostly believed me.”) That moment of sad, solemn togetherness is quickly broken by “Rapture” and it’s unguarded words of infidelity’s physical bliss. As the husband’s cheating ways become more and more evident (“Rehearsal”), the tensions eventually escalate until the reach a tumultuous end (“Priests And Paramedics”). Even the couple’s children, and their brief period of youthful innocence, complete with blissful unawareness of the crumbing situation around them, is broached on “Indian Summer.” All of these pieces of the story are matched perfectly by each tracks instrumentals, from electronic hums to harshly plucked acoustic strings. But the thing that stands out most is not the tale itself, but the underlying question of “why” things like this happen. Is it lustful instinct? Sheer stupidity? An insatiable urge to simply escape the monotony of everyday life? And where is the supposedly loving God in all of this? Control leaves the listener with more than just intricate tunes, it leaves them with philosophical quandaries.
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10 Best Songs of 2009

Songs!

10. “Satellite Heart” – Anya Marina

Almost whispered, this delicate tune is enough to make anyone’s mind float lightly away, swooning the entire time.

9. “A Little Bit of Red” – Serena Ryder

Okay, so technically this came out in 2008, but wasn’t released stateside until ’09. Regardless, Serena Ryder’s pipes on this little country-twinged number are breathtaking in the powerful emotionality.

8. “Hell” – Tegan and Sara

This toe-stomping rocker feels part Tegan and Sara, part post-From Here To Infirmary Alkaline Trio, and brims with sneered-lip attitude.

7. “From the Hips” – Cursive

Cursive’s fierce ode to the inability of us all to overcome our primal sexual impulses fires from the hip and hits the mark dead center.

6. “The Strangers” – St. Vincent

The introduction to Actor is like a shiny poison apple. It’s gorgeous and delicious but there’s an unnoticed darkness lurking inside the glistening skin. Good luck resisting the urge to take a bite.
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Top 10 Albums of 2009

The decade closed out strong. While there was only one album that was overwhelmingly spectacular and moving this year (hint: it’s #1), there were more wonderfully solid and balanced albums than there had been in years.

Rather than try and cram my thoughts on these gems into suffocatingly concise little blurbs, I thought it better if I made it so you could just click on the album titles to be linked to the full review.

Enjoy.

1. Hospice – The Antlers
2. Daisy – Brand New
3. Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band – Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band
4. Actor – St. Vincent
5. Yes! – k-os
6. Never Better – P.O.S.
7. Now We Can See – The Thermals
8. Sainthood – Tegan & Sara
9. Mean Everything To Nothing – Manchester Orchestra
10. Mama, I’m Swollen – Cursive