On-line indie music shop Insound.com has compiled a list of their top 100 selling CDs of 2005 and are featuring a special box set deal. If you purchase 10 or more albums from the list, they'll knock off 25% of the total, cancel the shipping charges and wrap it all in a stylish "Indie Rock Box."
I'm Dreaming of an RIAA-free Christmas
The 15 Minute Hipster recommends filling the stockings of your friends and family with music exclusively by independent bands and artists so your holiday shopping doesn't "indirectly help fund the RIAA's nefarious activities." Check out this invaluable site to find out more about the evils of the RIAA and how you can find out what bands are members. You can also simply shop by record label. If an artist is on an indie label like Matador or Sub Pop you're almost always guaranteed RIAA-free material.
If you like to buy your music via Amazon.com, be sure to scroll down to the "RFC Recommends" links on the right hand column of the site. It's about as painless as shopping gets, and if you buy directly off the link, Amazon makes a small contribution to RFC 's weekly beer fund.
The National (Beggars Banquet, April 12)
I could say, Let’s all lounge in our smoking jackets on pleather sofas, drink martinis and discuss seedy politics while there’s a subtext of sexual ferment thick in the air, and let’s pretend that we’re blasé about the entire New Year’s thing, that we’re not anxious about not having a date to whatever geeky underground rock function we’re attending. Let’s pretend we’d actually prefer to sit around talking about the best and worst music of 2005 than to be working our way into the pants of a gorgeous drunk person. And during this discussion of best and worst music we’ll stumble across the albums that best describe our sophisticatedly hapless metropolitan lives, so let’s place Alligator here. Let’s pretend that The National has created for us spectating music critics an anthem of an album that let’s us lament our repressed emotional tenderness, our oversexed, over-tortured, sentimental lives in the city’s chic underworld.
This is when everyone looks at me like I’m a moron. But hey, a music geek can dream, can’t she? Actually, no, she can’t. So I won’t say this. I will say that The National has a gift for musically blanketing languor in all of the pretty and incongruous facades that we machinate every day in our trivial lives. Alligator is like an eccentric novel in which The National rummages through its thematic and often stirring lyrics, its cast of cynical characters and classy manic depression to fashion polished sound vignettes that are as beautiful as they are dismal.
With this album The National has moved from its alt-country fizzle and exploded into a listless folk rock that better suits its urbane narratives of life in the American city. This change is immediately apparent on the album opener, “Secret Meeting,” which consists of a relaxed yet mature style that’s fresher than anything the group’s done before, but doesn’t veer far from the characteristic National sound that makes it an individualized band. The subtly layered vocals and instrumentation--sustained, undulating guitar lines, prominent drum underpinning--interplay with Matt Berringer’s bleak vocals to create a sexy nonchalance that rivals Leonard Cohen or Lou Reed.
Equally unflappable is “Karen,” which has Berninger at his most jaded singing, “Karen put me in a chair/Fuck me and make me a drink/I’ve lost direction and I’m past my peak.” Some of the ennui is lost in the musical interaction of minor and major hooks in the bridge and chorus. It’s a song of desperation clinging to hope that introduces two of the album’s chief characters: Karen, who appears again--namely on the album’s climactic “City Middle” and perhaps allusively on other tracks--and also America. Berninger pleads, “Listen. You better wait for me/No, I wouldn’t go out alone into America,” and thus the paradoxical beauty of egotism and disillusionment begins.
The primary backdrop of the album is New York, which appears as the hard-hitting and sleazy Manhattan on rocker “Lit Up,” and resigned in the reflective “Daughters of the Soho Riots.” The tone of this latter tune has all the purity and coolness of sixties folk; you can almost hear Paul Simon lamenting over the piano and acoustic guitar, “Everything I remember, I remember wrong.” Alligator is perhaps The National’s Bookends: at once it’s heavy and delicate, playing upon themes that are not exclusively American, but The National labels them as such and so the emotions and predicaments are intrinsically urban and pessimistic. “Looking for Astronauts” sounds relatively blithe with prominent violin and the light, meandering guitars of Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and the active bass line of Scott Devendorf. But Berninger sings “You know you have a permanent piece/Of my medium-sized American heart;” he identifies himself as this romantically melancholy figure and thus, while the couple is looking towards the stars he’s simultaneously musing, “Isn’t a little too late for this?”
And what album about the woes of the upper middleclass is complete without alluding to the spirit-crushing world of corporate America? On “Baby, We’ll be Fine” the protagonist prays for his boss’ praise; he puts on an argyle sweater and a smile after a forty-five minute shower and says to himself, “I don’t know how to do this.” He lives through, “stilted, pretending days” and tries to convince himself repeatedly of the song title’s ironic hope, but ends with the mantra, “I’m so sorry for everything.”
Alligator is mostly wearisome, but there are moments when this lassitude is camouflaged and so listening to the disc doesn’t turn into an exhausting affair. On “Abel” there’s a driving bass and heroic guitar to rival any eighties Americana rocker, and while we don’t overlook the fact that Berninger is roaring, “My mind’s not all right,” it is easy to miss that he’s not singing it in an errant moment of disaffected angst but in one of regret and desperation. On “All the Wine” the hero is “a perfect piece of ass/Like every Californian.” Berninger creates a delicious juxtaposition between his stoic timber and the arrogant lyrics, so that the effect of “I’m a festival, I’m a parade” is cleverly poignant rather than comic. The National’s characteristic polyphonic, single tone guitar lines gradually build into distorted chords that are harnessed and saved from becoming an overdone, standard rock climax.
“City Middle,” utilizes similar techniques and a sophisticated layering of sounds. Violin floats along with bassoon and glistening guitar, creating a slight drama that’s neither pretentious or hokey. The overall effect is open and emaciated so without careful listening it’s easy to overlook that all these discrete parts are happening simultaneously. The lyrics supply the reference for the album title (“I want to go gator around the warm beds of beginners”), and Karen has returned as the protagonist’s means to the city middle “where it’s random, and it’s common versus common,” just like the “weird memories” he has of her “pissing in a sink.” As the second to last track on the album it serves as a fitting climax. The lyrics are remorseful and reminiscent, reflecting the revelation that this American life is banal but at the same time all the romance that we crave and have spent our lives chasing. It’s a painful concept relevant to the ironic urban collective, and in this conventionality negates any chance of anyone turning Alligator into an album manufactured to deflect us from the fact that The National is going through a midlife crisis. Because they aren’t. There isn’t a disingenuous note on this album. Alligator is a beautiful crystallization of a band not afraid to shed its skin and reveal the beauty of its maturing pains.
Tigerbeat6 recording artists Genders will be headlining a bill tonight at everyone's favorite taco bar/music venue, The Big Horse. Currently on tour with Adult., some tour van problems left the band stuck in Chicago, so they hooked up this minute gig tonight at Big Horse. Show starts at 10pm, drink specials will be had.
Genders will be back opening for Adult. Friday at the Logan Square Auditorium. That show starts at 8:30pm, with a post-party at Lava Lounge directly following the show. Don't miss any of the electro-madness.
For example...the first couple of weeks after a release date the CDs are going to fly off the shelves because everyone is excited about the new album. After a month or two, the excitement dies down and sales dwindle down to nothing. Then, just when the record is almost forgotten...BAM, collector's edition vinyl! Excitement builds again and some people may end up buying the album for a second time because they were too impatient to wait for the vinyl release. As far as sleazy music industry behavior goes, this is about as tame as it gets...however, it still really pisses me off. Why should I be punished for having discerning ears?
Also out this week...
Ray Davies - Thanksgiving Day [ep]
Seu Jorge - The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions [i.e. Jorge sings Bowie]
Queens of the Stone Age - Over the Years and Through the Woods [Live DVD/CD]
The boys in Wolf Parade are always the first to admit that Wolf Parade sucks. And in the traditional sense, they do. Apologies to the Queen Mary is replete with loose guitar work, missed chords, washed out vocals--all embedded in one giant chunk of disarray. It’s impossible for Wolf Parade to be tight. This band is pragmatically jumbled. Dan Boeckner’s “Same Ghost Every Night” is one of the laziest songs I’ve ever heard. Each line--systematic drums, progressive keys, sketchy guitar--is distinct and detached, held together weakly by Boeckner’s vocals, which are all but drowned by the resultant muck. Additionally the musicianship is horrible. Simple arpeggios and fills, juvenile plucking and pounding that makes me wonder if any of these guys knew how to play before the band came together two years ago.
So why the rave? Why was this album more addictive than anything else released this past year? Because while Dan Boeckner’s vocals are barely heard, they’re heard as a buried plea trying desperately to break through madness. Because the music is so shoddy that it’s either miraculous or genius that it is able to be kept together and molded into structured pop tunes. Apologies to the Queen Mary is the “Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte” of indie rock. It’s a whole lot of nothing that adds up to something illogically satisfying.
The characteristic Wolf Parade noise is that of this chaotic polyphony, of muddled guitars, pesky electronics, and uplifting keyboards. Another trademark--if a band this young can have any--are the discordant underlying vocals that echo like a sinister chorale throughout the album, serving on tunes such as “We Built Another World” and “Modern World” as a buoy for Boeckner’s droning voice, while on the poppier “Shine A Light” they add a flare that becomes annoying if you pay too much attention. And while we’re on the subject of voices, why is everyone so interested that Krug’s bears a resemblance to Bowie, but no one’s pointing out that Boeckner’s timbre is no shabby semblance of Cobain? Apologies is split between songs constructed by these two primary craftsmen, the latter having tendencies towards a more lo-fi grunge resonance, while Krug likes to be a hyper twit bent on getting as much racket into a song as possible, whether it’s his breathless, tumbling lyrics on “Grounds for Divorce,” or his musical indulgence on the sluggish “Dinner Bells,” in which the vocals end around the four minute mark, but the tune keeps going for another three just so the guys can amuse themselves by making a cold and distant clamor that leads to nowhere. This song probably sums up Wolf Parade better than any; it’s an awkward attempt at a ballad, with its sloppy and laborious guitar, delicate, subtle piano, ethereal electronics and vocal reverb. Juxtaposed with this is a marching drum beat and raucous pick scrapes across distorted electric guitar strings. Even when these guys make an effort to be sweet they end up sabotaging their own attempt at sincerity. But the result is less mockery and more self-conscious, like they’re freshmen punks frightened that anyone will find out they actually are vulnerable, that they actually have hearts.
The lyrics on Apologies go in just as many directions. There’s the dejected “Modern World” in which Boeckner sings, “I’m not in love with the modern world/It was a torch to drive the savages back to the trees.” Then there’s the absurdity of “Fancy Claps” with Krug declaring, “We can lie in a homemade canoe/You can put me in your hair/I’ll be happy there.” There’s no poetry here but there is wit and modest poignancy. The tone is of resignation; “Shine a Light” has Boeckner declaring somberly, “You know our hearts beat time out very slowly/They are waiting for something that never arrives.” Krug’s acquiescence is more accepting and on “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts” he turns this ache into ammo: “I’ve got a hand/so I’ve got a fist/so I’ve got a plan/It’s the best that I can do.”
All this despondency leads the album into the happy little silly love song that is “I’ll Believe in Anything,” which I will boldly declare is the greatest song released this year on any album anywhere. Yes. It is. It begins as an unassuming, simple pop tune with the lyrics, “Give me your eyes/I need sunshine” and the guitar line mimicking the melody. It’s all so ingenuous with the exception of the hooking drum fills that foreshadow the complex upsurge that is to come. Krug’s voice goes into the frantic bridge (“I could take another hit for you/And I could take away the trips from you/And I can take away the salt from your eyes….) and he loses his quirky warble, taking off with a strength not heard elsewhere on the album and leading to an explosion of sound that is potent and chaotic and glorious. There’s a denouement, but then it starts all over again and becomes painfully climactic, scrumptiously excruciating in its inability to stop.
A lot of debuts are surrounded in hoopla, and no one knows until years later whether the commotion was merited. Wolf Parade’s quick usher into the limelight was no doubt aided by the buzz surrounding brethren Arcade Fire, and it’s possible that they’re going to bloom prematurely. In fact, I’m fairly certain they will. I don’t see them being around in ten years; maybe not even five years, and it’s a beautiful thing. They’re this bright burst of energy in the modern scene that can’t seem to strike a balance between being pretentiously sober and annoyingly gimmicky. It’s been awhile since a band has been earnest and exuberant in equal measure, as manifest by an unpolished sound that’s charged with static. No one seems to want to make static anymore. No one wants to be anything less than quantum. Wolf Parade takes us back to that base punk sentiment: great music doesn’t have to overreach, great artists don’t have to strive for innovation and perfection. All they have to do is harness whatever capabilities they have, to let loose their personalities and passions and flaws and guts and create a fucking rock song that the kids can dance and pound their fists to.
This weekend, Hyde Park Records will be celebrating its 1 Year Anniversary with live in-store performances, free snacks galore and insane discounts. In fact, the word on 53rd Street is that "everybody will be killed with discounts." Local ethereal rockers Arks are scheduled to play Friday at 8pm, while DJ King Titan & Crew will be spinning the tunes on Saturday.
If you're a fellow North Sider like myself who loves rekids, it's seriously worth the trip down there. They have an amazing selection of vinyl and, unlike Reckless, everything isn't always so damn picked over. In fact, last year for their opening party I dropped like 90 bucks because I found so many cheap used LPs and 12"s that I'd never been able to find elsewhere.
Here's the official info:
After my departure from Sub Pop Records in June of this year I took a spiritual journey to find my ancestral roots in the continent known as Eurasia. As I traveled I became more in touch with myself and began to realize that there are bigger things to life than money and so called 'Indie Cred.' As I returned to New York for the CMJ festival I became aware of how much working in the music industry can be a soul sucking experience. At the tender age of 25 I was already jaded...
Damn, I was really looking forward to the live Wilco DVD, but as you probably already know, that release got shelved, and the result is this two-CD consolation prize. Actually, the CD set was scheduled to be released anyway, as a companion piece to the DVD, and the oddly prophetic "Kicking Television" was indeed its original title. Regardless, this will still make a great holiday gift for all the Wilco fans on your shopping list.
(Speaking of the holidays, it's pretty much all gravy from here on New Releases Tuesday...nothing but box sets, live albums, best-of's and other stocking stuffer fare through the end of the year. )
Lady Sovereign - Vertically Challenged (Chocolate Industries)
Make way for the S - O - Veeeee! This is an excellent little ep to hold stateside fans (who don't buy singles like they do in the UK) over until her proper full-length debut drops later next year. Features the hits "Ch-Ching," "Random" and a couple of remixes. If you missed her show at Sonotheque in July, make sure you secure your ticket to her upcoming gig at The Empty Bottle on the 6th of December.
Also on Saturday, Meiotic is presenting Eliot Lipp as a part of their "Your Formula Life" series at Tiny Martini in Logan Square. Lipp is a former Chicago resident who cranks out a delicious blend of electro and instrumental hip-hop. Click here for my complete preview of the show and the full details of the event.
RadioFreeChicago: First off, love the new record...an amazing debut. You basically wrote, performed and recorded the whole thing in your dad's basement?? It sure sounds one hell of a lot better than 99% of the basement/garage recordings that I've ever heard. (not just in sound quality but also in the writing, instrumentation, vocals, etc.) What's your secret?
Tom Vek: Well thanks very much! I've been pretty much locked in there in any spare time I've had over the years. I'm well aware the stereotype of recording in a garage and of that "garage sound," but garage rock wasn't what I was trying to achieve, you know? I was spending most of my time working out how to get it to sound as hi-fi as possible, which I think kinda forced a little bit of innovation and free thinking as I wasn't content with the garage sound, although [the song] "If I Had Changed My Mind" couldn't be any more garage rock. So maybe that kinda outlook on it gave it an optimistic excitable feel. More specifically, working with the producer Tom Rixton helped me to do some things, mainly with computers, that I've never been able to do before. It was like using it as an instrument, only to do things that only a computer could do.
RFC: What was the original inspiration for creating these songs? Did you have any strong musical influences that made you want to become a recording artist yourself?
TV: The thing is this spans back to when I first discovered instruments and their relationships, which was more from actual instruments themselves than necessarily other music I was listening to. It's [been] so long ago that I can't remember the first time I felt it, but I have felt it ever since, you know? It's just a natural thing. If I didn't feel like doing it, I wouldn't.
RFC: Was it difficult trying to get a record deal in America? I first heard your songs on KCRW a few months ago, well before the domestic release of the record. Did the love from Nic Harcourt and Co. help speed up the process a bit?
TV: A lot of stuff had happened in the UK that meant there were people who we could talk to and wanted to talk to us. I signed a fairly serious worldwide deal in the UK for the license of this record and some more so on paper. There was already a setup in place, but after playing SXSW some really enthusiastic independents got in touch and amazingly we managed to license it back to an independent, which I think was totally the right thing to do because this record IS an indie record and its really good that its being presented appropriately.
RFC: How is the tour going? Do you have any crazy stories from your time in The States so far?
TV: Well, my live drummer walked out last night so I guess that's crazy. Looks like I'll be drumming from now on. I did it on the record so I don't see why not.
RFC: Finally, what can we expect from your live show?
TV: At the moment I'd very much like to know that myself.
What's in heavy rotation right now on the tour bus?: The new Constantines record, Tournament of Hearts incredible.
Best thing about touring America: Wi-fi access everywhere
Worst thing about touring America: Crap tea...seriously. I have actually packed my own teabags this time.
Favorite post-show drink: I have to alternate each night to keep it fresh. I think tonight its the "veksterminator" which is whisky and apple tango. It tastes like ginger wine but it makes you angry.
Best artist/band from the UK that we haven't heard yet: The Chap (thechap.org)
Tom Vek's Sunday (11/13) show at Schubas starts at 8pm, with openers Mobius Band and Walter Meego. Don't miss this show, this is an amazing line-up and admission (18 and over) is a ridiculously cheap $8 bucks. For more info about Tom Vek, check out www.TomVek.tv. Crank up his latest singles at www.myspace.com/tomvek.
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