Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Unsung Heroes of 2006

Every year, a number of albums are released that receive very little press and become buried under the heap of critically acclaimed releases. Last year, one of my favorite records, "Following the Tracks, Forcing Motion Through Phases" (Slave Union) by Pyramids, completely flew below the hardcore community's nose. Virtually unknown even among their modern hardcore peers, Pyramids plays the melodic, epic type of screamo practiced by bands like Envy, City of Caterpillar, Amanda Woodward, and Raein. An intertwining vocal attack, ferocious intensity, and crushingly intense melodies all make Pyramids one of my favorite bands of the past few years. I received this album too late to include it in my year end list, but if I revised it, "Following the Tracks" would be at the top. Please give this album a shot if you are at all interested in epic screamo.

Pyramids - Stationed


Monday, January 22, 2007

The Northwest

I have been out in Washington visiting relatives and colleges, here is part of my trip:

So, today was the day set aside for visiting Evergreen. more on that later. Anyways, on the way down from Bellingham, we stopped again in Seattle, and I went to the Experience Music Project. The EMP is this giant Frank Gehry designed building, with what one would assume to be a museum inside of it. Alas, there is a museum, but it is tiny, and it costs $15 with AAA dicounts...Everything they had was really cool (they had the body-manequin from the cover of Nirvana's In Utero), but there was not a lot of it. There was only one display case dedicated to Grundge, and one to Punk. They had an entire Jimi Hendrix Gallery, which was really cool. I saw one of the fragments from his Strat that he set on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival. Speaking of guitars, they had parts from a bunch of Kurt's guitars, they had one of Krist Novoselic's Ibanez Jazz Bass copies, Dave Grohl's drum kit, and Kim Thayal's, or however you spell it, Guild SG-like guitars (soundgarden's guitar player). They had two of Mark Arm's fuzz pedals! Anyways, right now I'm in the library at Evergreen. This might be the drug mecca of the world. It's like Bonnaroo on Crystal Meth. Anyways, I really like Evergreen. It comes off as being a big slacker school, but in reality it's not. A lot of the guys here are really driven. The great thing about not having a whole bunch of degrees, is that a student can use any of the college's facilities. I'm particularly interested in the film editing suite, and the studio, where Nirvana and Sleater-Kinney recorded. I'm enjoying myself quite a bit, and chances are, I'll be out here next year, so yeah, I think that's about it. I've remained sober, even though it has been very tempting to indulge myself in such primative fare.

I've recently acquired two Locust 7", both of which are amazing, and early 60's pressing of a Charlie Parker album, and Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding, all on vinyl. Hell yes. Saturday we went and saw Kurt Cobain's house, and someone is living there...

When I get home, I will yell at Charlie and Hoang to write in this.


Tuesday, January 2, 2007

It tends to bother me when someone says "I wish I lived during the xx's"; the xx's being a variable representing whichever decade person y mentioned. I will write how this bothers me as a function of music, so as to contain my ranting and inconsistant grammer.

When you say "I wish I lived in the 60's, 70's, or 80's", the chances are that you don't really want to. The glory of living today is that we are able to find music from any decade before. If you lived in, say, 1982, and were obsessed with Minor Threat, you couldn't listen to Fugazi because they simply did not exist. As time progresses, the sheer quantity of artists naturally increases, and thus, you know, it makes more sense to wish you lived now. If you lived in the 60's and like T.Rex, well too bad, you have a few years until their greatest album, Electric Warrior comes out.

I think that, as with any decade, we feel like we are on the verge of something great. It's that generic feeling, that in most cases is complete fiction. Look at the past 7 years; musically, has anything spectacular happened? Punk Rock left the underground, America still worships bubble gum pop, etc, etc, etc... Two years ago, retro was the cool thing, with bands like Jet and Louis XIV hypothetically leading this new, great, retro revolution. Even if the whole "retro rock" suceeded, it wouldn't be anything new. Sure, I like listening to some bands that you may consider retro (Brian Jonestown Massacre, Louis XIV to name a few), but it wouldn't be anything new. It seemed as if it was a desperate movement fronted by guys who gave up on trying to create a new sound. The Beatles could have continued to be a teeny-bopper band, but instead they continuously reinvented themselves, and in each incarnation, they were still the most revolutionary band.

I'm frustratingly awaiting the revolution of a new, higher form of music. Until then...I don't know, I'll keep banging my head up against a wall.

T.Rex "Jeepster"


Friday, December 22, 2006

What I Would Like To See In 2007 (Part 1 of Infinite).

Well, three days to Christmas, whatever, get over it.

After thinking so much about the past year, why not list our expectations for the coming year, as on the whole, 2006 was an abismal year.

Radiohead- They've been working on their upcoming album, pushing back the release date, working on it some more, etc, vicious cycle... Initially set to be released this past fall, the album we will call Untitled for now is rumored to be coming out in early Spring, along with a concert DVD of their set at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, which I was fortunate to witness. Untitled is all but garunteed to reach #1 on the Billboard Charts, after all, if Kid A can do it, an album described as sounding a lot like The Bends-era Radiohead is a shoe-in.

Bonnaroo- What was at one point a bastion of the boring, drug-addled Jam Band scene is now the premier rock festival on the eastern portion of the country.
Last year's highlights were:
Sonic Youth (ex-Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus sang "Expressway to yr Skull")
Tom Petty w/ Stevie Nicks
Death Cab For Cutie
My Morning Jacket (Imagine a cloud of neon greens and yellows with traces of red above you, with a band that seems and acts as if they are on amphetamines [They played for 3 hours, until around 2 or 3 in the morning])
Andrew Bird

This year, unless organizers decide to return to their Jam roots, Bonnaroo is almost garunteed to have a great line up. Check in mid to late January for the first of many line up announcements.

More To Come....


Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Since Christmas is coming soon, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight some Christmas songs.

Darlene Love - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
Charlie actually turned me on to this song, because he knows how much I love girl groups (really, I do). I'd heard this song before, but never the original version with Phil Spector's amazing production. He always did his best work with girl groups, and this song (along with a handful of others) shows why. Of course, having Darlene Love on lead vocals certainly helps, but Phil Spector + great vocals always equaled: Great Success!

The Ronettes - Frosty the Snowman and Sleigh Ride
The Ronettes are my favorite girl group of all time. Obviously, the voices behind "Be My Baby", (called the greatest pop record of all time by Brian Wilson, and a personal favorite) should land somewhere near the top. These aren't my favorite songs by Ronnie Spector and the girls, but anything with Ronnie behind the microphone is assured to be golden. She always had that raw edge that Diana Ross and Aretha lacked, but she could still croon like anybody's business. On these two songs she sounds a little bit too childish for my tastes, but Phil Spector's work behind the boards turned these tracks into sugar coated wall-of-sound goodness.

Merry Christmas (in 5 days)
- Hoang

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hoang's Top 5 Albums of 2006

I can't even think of 20 albums I liked this year, so I'll do my top 5.

The ordering of this list is almost insignificant because these are all great records. The honorable mentions are almost as good as the top 5, so don't forget about them. Listen to the samples, fall in love, then check out some of the artists referenced within.

1. Mastodon - Blood Mountain
At first listen, I wasn't quite sure what to think of this album. Some tracks, like "Siberian Divide" (featuring Cedric from the Mars Volta), push the prog-metal envelope, and others like "Bladecatcher" took some getting used to. I still think "Bladecatcher" is a terrible song, but overall, Blood Mountain doesn't disappoint. "Siberian Divide" is now one of my favorite songs on Blood Mountain, and I actually think Cedric's vocals sound great. The band has added even more diversity to their mix of sludge, southern riffs, and fist pumping hardcore by adding prog-metal textures. Drummer Brann Dailor pounds the skins with jazz-like virtuosity, and the band's dual vocal attack has only improved. It might not be as great as Leviathan, but it would take quite a masterpiece to match that album's impact.

2. Converge - No Heroes
You Fail Me was my least favorite Converge album (but its still a great album), and I didn't know what to expect from No Heroes. Early reports from the band were calling for the heaviest album since Jane Doe, which is a modern hardcore classic. Come October, No Heroes landed in my disk tray and pounded my ears into submission. Their heaviest album? Quite possibly. Its a comfortable transition for old fans, but the band still manages to advance their artistic growth. "Grim Heart/ Black Rose" features guest vocalist Jonah Jenkins in a nine minute long song that manages to naturally progress from a prog-metal style to Jacob Bannon's trademark scream. Others, such as the self-titled song, will enter the list of Converge Classics. It may not amaze like When Forever Comes Crashing or Jane Doe, but No Heroes is still one of the band's best albums.

3. The Black Heart Procession - The Spell
This is my first Black Heart Procession album, but it certainly won't be my last. I always thought that traditional chamber arrangements would work perfectly with the slowcore style pioneered by bands like Codeine and Bedhead in the 90's, but the Black Heart Procession is the first band I've heard that pulls off this feat to great effect. The Arcade Fire somewhat hinted at this kind of mix with 2004's Funeral, but the Black Heart Procession truly dives into dirgelike rhythms and a brooding atmosphere. Still, they always manage to retain memorable melodies, never letting the atmosphere suffocate the songwriting. A great album by a band with a great track record, yet this LP seems a bit overlooked on the year end lists.

4. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
I always thought Dan Bejar was too eccentric to compose an album completely driven by traditional instrumentation and catchy (!) melodies. Then again, Destroyer's Rubies opens with a nine minute long song, which isn't necessarily the next step to a wider audience. Dan Bejar's songwriting suffered a bit with Your Blues' canned midi symphony. It seemed like he completely immersed himself in his pocket symphony, sometimes disregarding listenable structures. Destroyer's Rubies completely reinstates Bejar as one of indie rock's Canadian heroes, reinforcing his always memorable lyrics with sweeping melodies and great arrangements. By embracing such traditional instruments (piano, electric and acoustic guitars), Bejar only seems more confident in his songwriting abilities.

5. Tie: TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain vs. Islands - Return to the Sea
With one album, we have a band that continues to tread the line between artistic, self gratifying experimentaion and accesibility. With the other, we see a new artist trying to distance itself from a former project. Return to Cookie Mountain immerses itself in David Sitek's beautiful production, with loops, samples, and all manner of instrumentation creating a rich sonic tapestry. Of course, Tunde Adebimpe's vocals don't disappoint, reasserting his versatility and restraint. He continues to use his amazing falsetto, weaving it in between backing vocals and electronic textures. Some tracks near the end threaten to derail the album's momentum, but the band's songwriting instincts always keep this LP on the tracks. With Return to the Sea, Nick Diamonds and Jaime T'ambour of the Unicorns showcase their chops. Where Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone was unfocused and childish, Return to the Sea is mature and elegantly melodic. Diamonds and T'ambour have found the perfect balance between cutesy twee and stately orchestration. Stand up bass, horns, strings, keys, and a saw all adorn this album's varied instrumentation. This group's ability to transition between melodic figures is astonishing, especially considering that the Unicorns seemed to be lost in non linear song construction.

Other notables
The Walkmen - A Hundred Miles Off (this is actually just as good as the two albums tied for number 5, but I thought a three way tie might be excessive)
Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
Built to Spill - You In Reverse
Chavez - Better Days Will Haunt You (complete discography compilation of out of print material)
Liars - Drum's Not Dead (this and You In Reverse barely missed the cut)
Man Man - Six Demon Bag (a live experience to die for)

Biggest Disappointment
Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
I know Evan really likes this album but I think it is quite mediocre. Its definitely a huge disappointment after Crimes (my favorite Blood Brothers album), which saw the band balancing artistic calm with their spazzcore tendencies. It seemed that the Blood Brothers were heading into Brainiac territory, but Young Machetes finds them sounding like the bastard children of Steven Tyler and David Bowie. Some tracks retain the Brothers' spastic intensity, but the awful forays into glam, hair metal, and dance rock (as seen on "Spit Shine Your Black Clouds" and "The Giant Swan") completely derail the album's momentum. There's nothing wrong with an artist experimenting with new styles or textures, but when he/she completely misuses these new ideas, disaster almost always ensues.

Preview Blood Mountain
The Black Heart Procession - Not Just Words
Destroyer - Watercolours Into the Ocean

Destroyer - European Oils
Streaming clips of No Heroes
A few songs from Return to the Sea
Chavez - The Guard Attacks and Unreal Is Here
Man Man - Van Helsing Boombox
Preview some tracks from You In Reverse
Belle and Sebastian - Another Sunny Day


Evan's Top 20 Albums of 2006

1) "Heaven's Pregnant Teens" by Some Girls
Some Girls is the underground punk equivilant of a super group. Bassist Justin Pearson is from San Fransisco anarchist/psychotic punk band The Locust, and also is the owner of Three one G records (Camera Obscura and The Blood Brothers were once on it), and a founding member of the now-defunct revolutionary nineties hardcore band Swing Kids (If you like Refused, you'll like Swing Kids). Wes Eisold, the singer, is also a member of Boston punk band Give Up The Ghost. SG is rounded out by members of punk stalwarts Secret Fun Club, and Dead and Gone. I had the opportunity to see these guys when they opened for Converge, and they were nothing less than explosive. Definately one of the better shows that I have seen.
HPT is a brutal 13 song, 27-minute long hardcore masterpiece, reaching it's climax during the apocalypic 9 minute final track, "Death Face". Another track worth noting is their intense cover of PiL's ReligionII.

2) "The Eraser" by Thom Yorke
The year passed without the promised Radiohead album, but thankfully "The Eraser" was relieved to aleviate the anxiety among Radiohead's rabid fan base. I managed to purchase this album on vinyl the day after it came out. At first listen, it resembles a much more stripped down and aerodynamic Radiohead, and this is to be expected, Thom Yorke being one of the principal songwriters and all.
After a few subsequent listens, I found this album to be much more unique than I originally thought. The scope of the album is much more narrow than on anything Radiohead has produced. It lacks the complex instrumentation found on Radiohead albums in favor of much more stripped down loops and beats taken from Mr. Yorke's archives. This album is almost danceable.

3) "Return To Cookie Mountain" by TV on the Radio
I am a recent convert to TV on the Radio, and I just recently obtained a copy of their latest release, Return To Cookie Mountain. I can't really say anything bad about this album, it is Indie Art-Pop at it's best.

4) "Saviors & Suckers" by The Plot to Blow Up The Eiffel Tower
This is the first of two posthumous albums on my list, unfortunately. The Plot to Blow Up The Eiffel Tower is another California hardcore band. Their sound is an amalgm of Jazz and Post-Hardcore punk rock. This album, however, leans more towards the chaotic aspects of punk rock. The Plot were a great band, and it is disheartening to see such a promising band throw in the towel.

5) "Mr. Beast" by Mogwai
This is a genuinely great album from the most prominant of the post-rock genre's torch bearers. The first track, "Auto Rock" is a space-y piano song, and is a perfect lead-in for the epic "Glasgow Mega Snake". This is a great gateway band into the post-rock genre.

6) "Every Red Heart Shines Toward The Sun" by Red Sparowes
I found out about Red Sparowes through Pandora when I typed in Explosions In The Sky. Red Sparowes is a post-rock side project of a few of the members of Isis. They resemble the more dense aspects of Explosions in the Sky.

7) "Thunder Down Under" Hot Snakes
This is the second posthumous album on the countdown, released just after the breakup of Hot Snakes, the band formed by Ex Drive Like Jehu members John Reis (also from Rocket From The Crypt) and Rick Froberg. "Thunder Down Under was recorded live at a radio station down in Australia, and attempts to capture HS's incindiary live show.

8) "The Information" by Beck
Beck generally doesn't make a bad album, and this one is produced by Nigel Godrich. It resembles Guero though.

9) "Rather Ripped" by Sonic Youth
Sonic Youth dropped Jim O'Rourke, and created one of their strongest albums to date. When i saw them at Bonnaroo, they played almost every song off of Rather Ripped, and I almost wished they didn't play any old songs. This album is that good.

10 "St. Elsewhere" by Gnarls Barkley
I think we can all agree that Danger Mouse is a genius, and coupled with Ceelo's amazing voice, he's unstoppable. Songs like "Smiley Faces" and "Crazy" are so damn catchy.

11) "Young Machetes" by Blood Brothers
This is not their strongest work to date, but nonetheless, it is a great album. Songs like "Laserlife" show that the Blood Brothers are still striving to expand what we define as Punk.

12) "No Heroes" by Converge
Where to start... Convere has never made a bad album, and this could be their best. After listening to "No Heroes", I felt as if I had been beaten with a lead pipe. Songs like "Heartache" and "Versus" are standouts. If you have the chance to see these guys live, go, you won't be dissapointed, but avoid the mosh pit, it get's a little hairy in there.

13) "Okonokos" by My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket played for 3 hours at Bonnaroo. I had the pleasure of seeing the first hour of this marathon, and amid the clouds of glow sticks, I witnessed one of the greatest live bands around. "Okonokos", along with the DVD of the same name gallantly portray this great band where they belong, on stage.

14) "The Obliterati" by Mission of Burma
The world lost one of the greatest underground bands when Mission of Burma broke up in the mid eighties, and to mine, and thousands elsewhere, they returned in the early part of this century to create auditory art. When "On/Off/On" came out in 2004, we found they still had what it takes to make a great album. When "Obliterati" came out, we found that they still had the ability to push the envelope of punk and art rock.

15) "The Destroyed Room" by Sonic Youth
Yes this is a B-side album, but nonetheless, it gives us insight into the abstract and often hazy processes that take place within the confines of the ultimate Alt-Rock band, Sonic Youth. If you like Sonic Youth, you'll love this album.

16) "Ringleader of the Tormented" by Morrissey
Though he's nowhere as good as his long lost band The Smiths, Morrissey has the capability to make a great album. Not quite as good as "You Are The Quarry", "Ringleader" is still worth a listen.

17) "Drums not Dead" by Liars
This is one of the weirder albums to come out this year. It's very abstract (everything revolves around the primal drums).

18) "Blood Mountain" by Mastodon
Mastodon is great. That is all I can say. I'm not completely familiar with this album, but from what I have heard, it blew me away.

19) "Happy New Year" by Oneida
Ever since I got "Enemy Hogs" for Christmas, I have been enthralled by Oneida. This is a great art-rock experimental album from our favorite unknown New York band.

20) "Be Your Own Pet" by Be Your Own Pet
These guys are two years older than me, but this album makes them seem like seasoned punk road dogs. It is worth noting that they are amazing live.

The Blood Brothers "Laser Life"
Mogwai "Auto Rock"