Friday, April 6, 2012

My Top Ten Summer Albums

If you felt a bit overwhelmed by the evilness in that last post that is okay, I did too.  Which is why we are gonna take this opportunity to make a 180 and talk about music filled with good times and good vibes.  

You may be wondering what exactly it is that makes a good "summer album".  Is it music that puts you in a hammock on a quiet beach or throws you into a night of debauchery with people you may or may not know?  Is it just music that you've listened to so many times during the summer that it has become a nostalgic embodiment of the season itself?  After spending some time trying to come up with some sort of objective criteria on the subject I realized that, as with so many things when it comes to music, it's really just something you feel- and that's all there is to it.  It is all of the above and an infinite amount more.  The following are, for me, the albums that take on a new life during those few glorious months.  

Before I get to the list itself, there are three albums that demand to be acknowledged in their own context:

The untouchables.  Within these collections lie THE most timeless classic songs of summer music.  They are ingrained in our DNA.  They don't embody summer, they ARE summer.  To not include them in an article on this topic would render the whole thing irrelevant.  There is nothing I could possibly say about these compilations that hasn't already been said.  
Anyway, on to the list-

10. The Ramones - Rocket to Russia (1977)

The rawness of their first album gives way slightly to surfy bounce and wall-of-sound production.  These are both positives when it comes to making good summer music, especially when the album is chock-full of catchy pop-punk classics.  Rockaway Beach and Sheena Is A Punk Rocker are what The Beach Boys might have sounded like in a twisted alternate universe.  In true Ramones fashion, they acknowledge this with a lightning-fast cover of Do You Wanna Dance, before proceeding shortly thereafter with a throwaway take on Surfin' Bird.  At any rate, there's something about the lighthearted melodies placed over crunchy, driving guitars that sends you directly into good-time mode

Summeriest Moment: 
When Joey's only care in the world is hitching a ride to catch some sun at Rockaway Beach. 

9. Pepper - No Shame (2006)

This album is just overflowing with mellowness.  The melodies float effortlessly over the frothy rhythm section, while the guitars bounce and sparkle like sunshine on the water.  This album encapsulates everything that is summer, from the long, lazy days to the festive nights, and from the drunken revelries to the waterlogged mornings that follow.

Summeriest Moment:

  The last 30 seconds of Green Hell, when the slow-burning reggae groove erupts into a swirl of shimmering guitar arpeggios and symbol splashes 

8. Slightly Stoopid - Live & Direct:  Acoustic Roots (2001)

Maybe including a live album is bad form, but who cares, it's summer.  There is something uniquely positive about reggae music played simply by two guys on acoustic guitars.  When it's Miles Doughty and Kyle McDonald they might as well be at the end of a pier somewhere, performing for nothing but the sun.  The impeccable chemistry between the co-frontmen has never been on better display than it is here.  Their guitars are often operating as one, indistinguishable from each other, while their voices weave around and overlap perfectly.  Of course the tunes are great, but it is the minimalist approach to this record that takes it to a new level of laid-backitude.  

Summeriest Moment: 

The euphorically carefree Fire Shot

7. King Tuff - Was Dead (2008)

The perfect soundtrack to a night spent sitting around a bonfire with a few coolers of cheap beer.  Kyle Thomas' voice has a Marc Bolan-like mischievously playful swagger to it, and it meshes perfectly with his warm guitar work.  Set him in front of jangling rhythm guitars and a pulsating bass and drums, and you've got a perfect good-time album.

Summeriest Moment: 

When the band kicks in on the exquisite Sun Medallion, which somehow seems to perfectly fit any occasion

6. Wavves - King of the Beach (2010)

Nathan Williams, unwilling master of mixing snotty punk and druggy surf music, hit a new stride with his first album recorded in an actual studio.  His (in)famous underachieving vibe is still prominent- the guitars are still fuzzed out and sloppy and the lyrics are concerned with such pressing matters as aliens, the beach, getting high, and getting high with aliens on the beach- the big budget allowed him plenty of room for exploration, with great results.  Many of the songs exist far below the surface of an ocean of effects (instead of his previous tape hiss), and Baseball Cards even features an Animal Collective-esque thump.  When he's not over his head in the rabbit hole he's still cranking out brilliantly self-loathing psych-punk slacker anthems.  In either case the slapback drums and splashy guitar keep it firmly planted in the sand.

Summeriest Moment: 

The dreamlike Linus Spacehead, which does the best job of incorporating the increased exploration and complexity into Wavves' familiar sound  

5. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Stadium Arcadium (2006)

While I agree with the common sentiment that the sprawling Stadium Arcadium doesn't exactly work as an album, I do think that the layout of it lends itself very well to the playlist generation, and there are plenty of standout individual tracks to fit any mood.  At its high points it is as good as any soundtrack to many long days and nights in the sun.  The drums in Desecration Smile echo like waves rolling over the rocks far below a tropical cliff, which you are brought soaring to the top of every time the chorus blows in.  Meanwhile the driving Make You Feel Better epitomizes the freedom of a wide-open, sun drenched stretch of road.  

Summeriest Moment: 

When everything collapses into the sea during the cathartic outro chorus/guitar solo of Wet Sand

4. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America

More so than other albums here (which tend to lean towards the relaxing side), Boys and Girls in America puts the spotlight on those endless summer nights spent cutting loose- driving nowhere in particular, hanging out with anyone and everyone, getting hammered, hooking up, and so on.  What makes this album great though is that it is all delivered with the bittersweet awareness that none of it really lasts, which is probably what makes it so much fun in the first place.  The fact that more than a handful of the songs are basically love letters to the Twin Cities doesn't hurt either.

Summeriest Moment:  

There are nights when I think that Sal Paradise was right
Boys and girls in America
they have such a sad time together

3. T. Rex - Electric Warrior (1971)

This album is widely considered an influential classic of British glam-rock (and rightfully so), but to me the sound lends itself exceptionally well to summertime.  Behind Marc Bolan's understated sensual vocal style are rolling percussion and warm, sparse guitar stabs.  It all comes together into a breezy sound that makes you want to just sit on a curb somewhere, cold beverage in hand, and watch the world go by.

Summeriest Moment:

But it really doesn't matter at all
life is a gas
(I hope it's gonna last)

2. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)

Something of a 21st century Pet Sounds, Merriweather Post Pavilion takes a different, more modern approach to achieve a beautiful summery soundworld.  Particularly, it does so by creating poppy songs that operate well outside of traditional pop structure (or any structure whatsoever) and weaving them into intricately layered soundscapes.  The songs loop and overlap, occasionally meeting for a climactic chorus, only to dissipate once again.  Vocals emerge from and disappear back into a reverby haze.  Effects-drenched guitars, sampled percussion, and synth noises all converge into one, all while the deep electronic bass keeps things pulsing along.

Summeriest Moment: 

Two minutes into the opener In the Flowers the album officially kicks off when Avey ruminates about just wanting to "leave his body for a night", and the swirling ambience explodes into thumping bass and high-flying synths

1. The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds (1966)

This could just as easily have been one of their earlier works, and while more than a few handfuls of those tunes are good for some fun in the sun, none of them stack up to Pet Sounds as albums.  The face-value pop songs and intricate vocal harmonies are still very much intact, but this time they are bolstered by dense soundscapes including innovative field recordings of wind chimes, bicycle bells, and yes- pet sounds.  The end result works on many levels, especially as a soundtrack to laying half-asleep on the beach. 

Summeriest Moment:

This album has way too many moments to pick just one

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Classic Album: Acid Bath - When the Kite String Pops (1994)

While I like to keep this focused mainly on new (or at least active) bands and current musical happenings, I do have quite a backlog of bands/albums/etc that I feel are worthy of writing about given their impact on the music world and my personal outlook on it.  This is the first of such blurbs, but will not be the last.

Now I'm no metalhead, but that doesn't mean that I don't occasionally enjoy taking a little journey into the darker corners of music and the human psyche.  Granted triggering such an experience is no easy task for a record to accomplish, as simply being heavy doesn't cut it.  This is an album that pulls it off.  Regarded as a classic of underground/alternative metal, it has become increasingly engulfed in legend over the years to the point that it transcends itself.  The band burst onto the scene for a few short years before all but disappearing.  Their music on their breakthrough album is too heavy and innovative to ignore but too defiant of categorization to make a lot of sense of.  The cover of the damn thing is a self-portrait of John Wayne Gacy done while he was in prison awaiting execution.  Everything about it adds to the overall menacing vibe.

Acid Bath formed in 1991 deep in Louisiana, where the only thing sludgier than the swamps is the music.  The band (led by vocalist Dax Riggs) set out to make what they described as "death rock".  In practice this revealed itself to be a unique take on sludgy doom metal taken to extreme lengths and infused with blues, folk, and country.  After their demo earned them a deal with Rotten Records, they put out When the Kite String Pops in 1994.  

Simply put, WtKSP is an engaging, provocative, and often outright disturbing exploration of sprawling dementia.  It shifts seamlessly from thundering lurch to thrashing hardcore punk to deranged ballads featuring almost spoken-word poetry.  All the while the songs make their way through a maze of time and tempo changes while somehow maintaining the simple feel of insanity.  The compressed drums and processed vocals add an industrial dimension to the overbearing menace of the album.  Riggs does an admirable job of navigating the diverse and ever-changing material, moving seamlessly between tortured screams and crooning poetics reminiscent of Glen Danzig.  At times he displays the surprisingly complex lyrical passages with an almost southern sounding twang.  I suppose it goes without saying that the aforementioned lyrics consist of relentlessly dark themes including psychosis, drug abuse, death, and violent depression.  That said, the album manages to frame the material in such a way that presents it as a darkly poetic and musically stimulating exhibition of the dark side of human nature.  That said the length of it (clocking in at over an hour) makes it a difficult straight-through listen- (It's usually somewhere around "Dr Suess is Dead" that I feel the need to take a shower)- but The Blue, Finger Paintings of the Insane, Scream of the Butterfly, etc are still incredible as standalone tracks.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Local SPOTLIGHT: The Fuck Knights

Ready or not, meet The Fuck Knights.  This is the type of band that you can almost sense smoldering deep within the scene, and when you finally encounter the musical trainwreck first hand, their filthy, loose cannon take on garage rock leaves you unable to look away.  GD Mills leads the charge as the singer and unconventional drummer (he plays standing up on a three piece kit), and his spazzy, paranoid vocals mesh perfectly with the manic instrumentation.  As a whole, it hits you as the aural equivalent of a mental breakdown, in the most cathartic way possible.  As you have probably figured, this is not a band that will wow you with production quality, catchy singles, or musical virtuosity.  What they will wow you with is the recklessness with which they plow through their repertoire with complete disregard for the aforementioned "qualities".  Simply put, this is down and dirty blues rock, wherein the beauty lies in the pure rawness of it- the way it was meant to be.  Perhaps the irony therefore lies in the way that they lull you into a sense of deranged comfort, only to jar you once again when songs like Knight Terrors and Abrasions take detours from the simplicity and erupt into complete psychedelic chaos. 

The story of The Fuck Knights reads almost as the stuff of legend.  It begins with drummer/vocalist GD Mills being kicked out of art school for 'destruction of school property', which led to him jamming with fellow hellions Joe Holland, Benjamin Sommers-Bachman, and David Steffens.  The Knights officially formed on August 1, 2007.  Perhaps the universe recoiled at the monster it had created, for the I-35 bridge in downtown Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River that very same day.  

Shortly thereafter they put out the two-part FuKn Live! recordings, and continued their assault with a series of 7"s and Split EPs (a special mention is required for my personal favorite of them- The Recorded By Gary Burger From The Monks EP, put out by Crustacean Records of my hometown Madison, WI).  These were eventually compiled into their debut LP Let it Bleed, released on Boss Hoss Records.  While Let it Bleed certainly provides a great overview of the band, there is no doubt that their true spirit lies in their catalog of EPs and blaring live collections.  

After the bridge "coincidence"(?) one can't help but wonder what we're in store for this April, with the band taking residency of the Triple Rock every Monday night of the month (complete with Old Style and a whiskey for $5).  And oh yeah, they will be joined by Japanther on the 16th and Gay Witch Abortion on the 30th, as well as many other guests throughout the month.  Time to buckle your seatbelts folks, there's no turning back now.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

The White Wires

Sometimes, that which may seem stale and boring in theory winds up being a pleasant breath of fresh air in practice.  Such is the case with The White Wires.  The 'Wires are an Ottawa-based garage rock trio who specialize in bouncy summer tunes straight out of 60s AM radio, with a healthy dose of garagey energy and recklessness.  Equal parts Cheap Trick and The Beach Boys, the band seems tailor-made to provide the soundtrack for your next pool party, sock hop, or anything else that demands a little bit of retro-minded fun.  Three-minute songs are almost unheard of for The White Wires; they need just enough time to bounce their way through a handful of well-crafted hooks and a little bit of self-aware snarkiness.  They came onto the scene in 2008 with a self-titled debut on Douchemaster Records, and in 2010 released the even better sophomore effort WWII on Dirtnap.

Like 'em
Buy It

Friday, March 23, 2012

Local SPOTLIGHT: The Slow Death

The "weekend" (as they call it) is here, which means it's back to work for those of us with less than desirable "jobs" (as they call them).  In other words, it is time to dive into some burnt out, broken down, boozed up punk rock, Minneapolis style.  The perfect guys for the job are punk rock "supergroup" The Slow Death.  The band is made up of punk veterans, led by bassist/vocalist (and Twin Cities mainstay) Jesse Thorson (of Pretty Boy Thorson and the Falling Angels).  Also in the lineup are Mikey Erg (The Ergs!, seemingly every other good pop-punk band), Dave Strait (also of PBT and the F'n A's), and Johnny C (The Rest of Us).  They took it even further last year with the addition of Zack Gontard (Dear Landlord) and Annie Sparrows (Soviettes) for their debut full-length Born Ugly Got Worse.  

Simply put, this is a country tinged, punk fueled bar band.  They are unquestionable masters of songs that would be depressing if they didn't revel in their own lack of giving a shit.  These are songs for those times when you know full well that things are fucked, but your buddies Jim and Jack have left you with no choice but to cut your losses and have a helluva time doing so.  The "drunk punk" thing is not exactly a groundbreaking formula, but nobody's pretending that it is.  Their songs, all with a rollicking beat, country leads, and shout-along lyrics, tend to blend into one another, which could be a problem if they didn't kick so much ass.  

The Slow Death emerged around this time last year with a brilliant 7" collaboration with local comic artist Mitch Clem* (the mastermind behind punk webcomics Nothing Nice to Say and My Stupid Life).  The 7" features five short bursts of alcohol-fueled fury, in addition to a trio of fittingly self-deprecating stories (in comic form, of course) from Clem.  They have since went on to release their debut LP Born Ugly Got Worse on Kiss of Death Records.  

The Slow Death keeps up a rigorous tour schedule, but takes advantage of every opportunity to play in the Twin Cites.  Catch them this Sunday (3/25) at the Triple Rock and/or Saturday 3/31 at the Turf Club.  

Stream the full Turnstile Comix 7" HERE

*I am a big fan of Mitch Clem's, so keep a lookout for a future Spotlight on him.  In the meantime take a look at his website HERE.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Movie Review: Rock 'N' Roll High School (1979)

Yes, that says "Movie Review", and no, this is not a movie-oriented blog.  However, I do feel that there is a significant overlap in art mediums, and feel it important to introduce that concept early on.  …Or maybe I just felt like writing about this outrageous drive-in style flick that has more than a little to do with the greatest band to ever exist- The Ramones.  Okay, that may be slightly hyperbolic (maybe), but is a fitting introduction to a film that absolutely revels in its corndog B-movie status, and as a result manages to get away with plenty of over-the-top silliness.  Rock 'N' Roll High School stars P.J. Soles (better known as the "See anything you like?" girl from the original Halloween, as a fanatical Ramones fan and de-facto leader of Vince Lombardi High School, which despite the administration's best efforts, revolves around the students' youthful love of rock music.  When everybody's favorite mop-haired punk rock "brothers" come to town a lot of hijinks ensue, culminating with a predictable yet satisfyingly explosive ending.  

Record Review: King Tuff - Was Dead

Every time I blink my eyes the Uptown grass seems to get greener, and the quick approach of summer has motivated me to write about one of my favorite albums for the season: King Tuff's Was Dead (released in 2008, TeePee Records).  King Tuff is Kyle Thomas, from Brattleboro, Vermont.  He is recognized by some as member of the folk band Feathers and J Mascis' project 'Witch'.  He recently decided to make a fuzzy, freaked-out album by himself, under the name King Tuff.  This, of course, is the result.  As much as summer itself, what this album represents to me is the cross pollination between punk and power pop, in the incubator that is modern indie/garage music.  It is certainly not new territory to be explored these days, but I have not heard a more authentic, refined version of it than what is on display on Was Dead.  The melodies and progressions are instantly reminiscent of the 60s rock explosion, but the context they are placed in, equal parts fuzzy garage recklessness and fuzzy psychedelic weirdness, thrust the whole thing too far "out there" for it to be anything but modern.  The production is sparse and tinny.  The guitars are clean, but certainly fuzzy.  The vocals crack and clip.  Everything is drenched in reverb.  The overall commitment to a specific vibe is admirable, and with perfect execution it makes this album nothing short of an experience in weightlessness.

Thomas has since been involved with another project called Happy Birthday, and later this year will make a re-appearance as King Tuff with a self titled album on Sub Pop Records.  

Check it Out

*Shout out to he who shall be known as Shock_Troop, who brought this album to my attention.  - Check out his blog here

Friday, March 16, 2012

My 100(ish) Favorite Albums

This is something that I have been working on for quite some time now, and since I'm not sure what I want to write about here first I figured it would be a good way to get the ball rolling.  I'm sure I will wind up posting in more detail about several of these albums somewhere down the line, but for now click the link to see the complete list, complete with mini-reviews and pretty pictures!

1. The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street (1972)
2. My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (1991)
3. The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound (2008)
4. Spiritualized - Pure Phase (1995)
5. Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
6. Ramones - Rocket to Russia (1977)
7. Neil Young - Rust Never Sleeps
8. Tom Waits - Rain Dogs (1985)
9. Television - Marquee Moon (1977)
10. The Stooges - Raw Power (1973)
11. The Replacements - Let it Be (1984)
12. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988)
13. Neil Young - Ragged Glory (1990)
14. Dinosaur Jr - You're Living All Over Me (1987)
15. Explosions in the Sky - The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003)
16. Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (1997)
17. The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969)
18. The Replacements - Tim (1985)
19. Social Distortion - Sex, Love, and Rock 'n' Roll (2004)
20. The Gaslight Anthem - Sink or Swim (2007)
21. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor (2010)
22. Butthole Surfers - Locust Abortion Technician (1987)
23. Pixies - Doolittle (1989)
24. Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (1989)
25. Ramones - Ramones (1976)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Front Page

As you may have guessed, I am starting this blog because I love music; and as a human being I spend a lot of time thinking about what I love.  I figure that I spend enough time developing my ideas and thoughts on all things music that I might as well create an outlet for them, just in case someone else finds something I say interesting at some point.  This will be that outlet.  It is my hope for this to eventually become a thriving community with a network of active participants, but I will still have fun if I'm just talking to myself.  We'll see what happens.

Above all, I would like this blog to be dedicated to the past, present, and future of the Twin Cities music community, and all of the things that make it work.  I do not plan on necessarily limiting the content to local affairs, but there will naturally be an emphasis on local music, record/gear shops, venues, studios, and performances.

Thank you for stopping by, and keep your eye out for the great literary offerings to come (...or not)
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