Tables and Chairs may be the quintessential Andrew Bird song. It’s equally weird, whimsical, and rocking, and it takes on a whole new life when it’s played live (curses you Tumblr and your 10MB upload limit!).
I love me some Orpheo and Fake Palindromes, but Tables and Chairs may take the cake.
My Dog Problems deluxe edition vinyl came with a free copy of the Kenneth Room Sessions, a selection of fully-formed demos that later became the songs I know and love from Dog Problems. I already had some of these demos in my library, but this “She Doesn’t Get It” demo is new to me. Fitting- “She Doesn’t Get It” was the song that got me into The Format (in an American Eagle of all places…), and this demo may be the last time I hear something from The Format for the first time.
I was infatuated with two or three dozen albums this year, so
narrowing them down to my yearly top 10 was more challenging than
normal. As per usual, apparently, my top 3 were obvious.
Let’s start with a quick look at last year’s list. My top
3, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Channel Orange, and Celebration rock are
still staples in my rotation. The other albums in my top 10 are also
get regular spins, save for Dirty Projectors’ “Swing Lo Magellan,” and
The xx’s “Coexist.” Both of these albums suffer in the long term for
being less memorable than their predecessors (Bitte Orca and xx).
Andrew Bird’s “Break it Yourself” suffers a similar fate, but not
because it’s any worse than Noble Beast or Armchair Apocrypha, but
more because I am hopelessly smitten with The Mysterious Production of
Eggs. I think I’m getting better at this: there are fewer duds on
2012’s list than on my earlier lists.
The first 7 out (in alphabetical order):
Arcade Fire — Reflektor: I can’t believe an Arcade Fire
album didn’t make my top 10. This was a good year.
A$AP Rocky — Long Live A$AP: The mixtape is better.
Chance The Rapper — Acid Rap: A fun, yet flawed mixtape. I’m
looking forward to an LP.
HAIM — Days Are Gone: My flavor of the week, but liable to
go the way of tUnE-yArDs in my music collection.
Local Natives — Hummingbird: Awesome album, excellent live
The National — Trouble Will Find Me: See “Local Natives —-
Volcano Choir — Repave: I expect this one to grow on me even
more over the years.
Tie: Phoenix, “Bankrupt!,” and James Blake, “Overgrown.” Both are good
albums, but not nearly good enough to meet my astronomical
Ok, on with the list. Warning: SO MUCH RAP.
10. Childish Gambino — because the internet
I almost gave spot 10 to Chance The Rapper, but I couldn’t do that in
good faith. Childish Gambino’s “because the internet” is a much, much
better album than Acid Rap. I’m hesistant because I almost immediately
regretting ranking Glover’s first full-length, “Camp,” so high on my
2011 list; but I think because the internet has more staying power.
Also, better songs. So there’s that.
There’s a lot to be said for artists still making rap music in the age
of concept albums and trap, drill, Yeezus, Drake, “Picacho,” and
“Versace.” This album make me happy, and it always leaves me wanting
Artic Monkeys have evolved with me, which is fortunate, because I’m
not sure if I’d pick up an Arctic Monkeys album that sounded like
“Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” in 2013. With each
new album, Alex Turner has proved that he can adapt, and regardless of
the style, he can write a damn good song.
Earl needs to grow up because he sounds like a teenage brat. But let’s
forgive him because he’s ANGSTY and basically still a kid, and he’s a
crazy good rapper. And because the collaboration with Frank Ocean is
such a monumental jam.
PBR+B is a new word, and it may be a stupid word, but how else are you
going to describe something like Autre Ne Veut? And how else am I
supposed to categorize my fascination and obsession with this kind of
music? I almost feel bad about how little straight up indie rock there
is on my list this year. This is one of those times where I have to
thank Pitchfork for pointing me to something awesome. As silly and
stilted as their reviews may sometimes be, I’m quite happy I found
I love everything that Will does, apparently. “Obsidian,” is
considerably darker than “Cerulean,” but it still breaths life into me
whenever I put it on. It’s almost photosynthetic in the way it
captures pain and processes it into joy (or oxygen? What exactly am I
trying to say here?).
I don’t participate in the “hating on rappers” game. If Kendrick and
Drake have beef and that elevates their music, then it’s fine with me.
But you’re not going to see me posting a hateful YouTube comment about
how some verse is whack. I listen to a lot of rap, and I’m still
hesitant to deem any verse as purely “bad.” That’s odd. I should be
more critical. But with Drake dropping fantastic songs like “Worst
Behavior” when the rap is essentially, “WORST” alternating with
“motherf—- never loved us,” I feel any per-verse criticism would
fall flat. It’s like trying to evaluate post-rock by its lyrics.
Drake: post-rap? Not quite, but we’re getting there.
Here it is. Without a doubt, “Modern Vampires of the City” is the best
pure indie rock album of the year. My only knock against it is its
crawling conclusion (Young Lion + Hudson Bay) which are good songs,
but don’t quite match my internal representation of the rest of the
album. Still, with songs like “Step,” “Diane Young,” “Ya Hey,” and
probably my favorite indie rock song since Lisztomania, “Hannah Hunt,”
this is an unforgettable album.
This is the most intimate, beautiful album I’ve come across in my
short lifetime of musical obsession. It’s hard to believe that such an
unassuming group of dudes almost dethroned Kanye on my list, but here
they are. I’m not sure what their future holds, but the bottled
lightning on “Woman.” Bonus points for being so fun to watch at
I soured on Childish Gambino after an unhealthy obsession back in 2011 through the Spring of 2012. Maybe soured isn’t the right word. I liked “Camp” well enough, but compared to most of the other rap I was listening to, it was… lacking.
I wasn’t particularly excited for “Because The Internet,” because Kanye, Drake, Earl, Chance, etc. Well he’s surprised me, and I’ve found myself once again playing Gambino on repeat.
Most bands would be thrilled with a cut like “Will Calls,” but Grizzly Bear relegates it to a B-Sides album.
Before I say something hyperbolic and overwhelmingly positive, I want to note that writing this music blog is odd because I’m not covering anything that I don’t like. The 200 Pitchfork people’s list albums that I covered were refreshing in part because I got to be critical of music instead of saying that everything was wonderful and if you’re not listening to this then there’s something wrong with you.
Such is the tension that exists in this blog, which hasn’t decided if it’s a full-fledged personal blog or if it wants to be something slightly closer to music journalism. I didn’t really think this through when Sgt. Pepper’s Strawberry Jam was born in the Spring of 2010. At that point, I just wanted to give my music obsession more permanence than my last.fm page. 563 posts later, I’m still not sure what I’m doing.
That being said, if you’re not listening to this, there’s something wrong with you.
As half of Rhye, Michael Milosh stays enshrouded in mystery. His new solo album is more revealing.
As a Rhye fanboy, I can’t ignore this release. After one listen, I’m not sure what to think- it’s almost begging to be a Rhye album, but, of course, it’s not. I think I’ll have to listen a few more times to figure it out.
I’m seeing Andrew Bird for the third (should be fourth, curse you oversleeping!) time on Saturday. My personal indie revolution started with the whistles and loops of Mr. Bird, as I bought a ticket for a show that I would literally have to fly to, having not heard his music at the time of purchase.
Long story short- it was the catalyst of a fantastic semester of new friends in Budapest telling me about a bunch of amazing bands that I for some reason had written off as pretentious (what?). The weekend escape from Budapest to Madrid to see my first Andrew Bird show wasn’t half bad, either.
I was in Scotland last week for a conference, so I went to a record store- Avalanche Records- and asked for some relatively unknown Scottish indie. The proprietor recommended several album to me, but I ended buying two. The first is from the band “Cancel The Astronauts,” a band name that makes me sad because, well, NASA. They are a pleasant indie pop outfit. Their lead singer sounds not unlike Ted Leo, so take that or leave that.
I always underestimate Arctic Monkeys. For each of their albums since #2, Favourite Worst Nightmare, I’ve been hesitant to even listen. But now for the third straight time, first Humbug, the Suck It And See, and now AM, they’ve surprised me with a fresh-sounding, highly listenable set of songs. Maybe my high school taste wasn’t so bad after all (in some cases).
I saw Local Natives at the Fox last night. I saw them open for The National two years ago, and their live show has improved considerably. The obvious confidence they’ve gained in putting out Hummingbird, a much more ambitious album than Gorilla Manor, has seeped into their live performance.
I don’t mean to hate on Gorilla Manor, though. Among their best performances last night were Airplanes (of course), an acoustic, La Blogotheque-referencing Who Knows, Who Cares (that video was largely responsible for me getting into the band in the first place), and their gut-busting closer, Sun Hands.
Colombia, a devastatingly sad cut on Hummingbird was kind of ruined by the uberdrunk undulations and scream-talking of a girl standing right by me. Alas.
You’ve probably heard this about a million other places online already, but I can’t not share it.
Kendrick DESTROYS the rap game with his verse on this track which was cut from Big Sean’s upcoming album. Apparently it was cut because of sample clearance issues, but realistically, it’s probably because Big Sean was so thoroughly embarrassed by how bad Kendrick made everyone else sound.
Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Electronica - “Control (HOF)”
I just got home from the third straight day of basking in the fog of Golden Gate Park for the Outside Lands music festival. This yeah I saw partial or full sets by (highlights in bold):
The Tallest Man On Earth
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
Matt & Kim
Red Hot Chili Peppers
It was a special weekend, featuring four of my top ten (top 5?) indie rock bands: The National, Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, and Grizzly Bear. I’ve now seen The National and Vampire Weekend 3 times each, but it was my first time seeing Phoenix and The Grizzly Bears (as Jay Z would say).
I’ve been loving Rhye’s early 2013 debut album, “Woman,” so I was jazzed to see them in the park. They did not disappoint, and they looked like they were enjoying themselves just about as much as possible (ok, Matt & Kim were clearly enjoying themselves but it was part of their act in a way that Rhye’s was just honest-to-goodness excitement to be singing love songs to thousands of attentive ears… and Paul McCartney was enjoying himself in a very “Hey, damn, I’m Paul McCartney” kind of way). I’m hoping that Rhye return to the Bay Area soon- I’d love to see them in a small club.
And speaking of Paul McCartney, he played a mind-blowingly good two and half hour long set. That man has still got it. I went through my own personal Beatlemania four summers ago, and I felt myself propelled back into that mode of just loving every word of every song. His set was well balanced between newer McCartney and Beatles favorites. He closed the set with the Abbey Road medley, which is about as much as I could have asked for. Blackbird, Hey Jude, Yesterday, and Helter Skelter were other highlights, but his uke-first rendition of Something (which I believe they played for the first time during the Concert For George)… well, I’ll remember that forever.
#200/200: Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
I’d never heard of Jens before listening to this, but I dig his kooky-The-Smiths slash Magnetic Fields vibe. I found the opening track, “And I Remember Every Kiss” surprisingly affecting as I was walking to the BART station this morning.
And so it ends. The 200th album out of 200. Expect a debriefing post or two (or three) in the near future.
I distinctly remember the first time I listened to this album, because before that I actively disliked Drake. I talked smack about him whenever I got the chance. I had a Drake rap impression that, while probably not funny, eerily accurate. Take Care changed all of that. And it changed the way I listened to his earlier stuff too. I suspect this album isn’t higher on the list because (1) rap hasn’t gotten much love on the list in general, aside from Kanye and (2) a lot of hipsters (I mean, Pitchfork readers) are hesitant to listen to and admit they like Drake. I get it. But listen to “Lord Knows” and tell me how you were wrong about him in your reblogs.
#198/200: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
This album, and Pains (POBPAH!) in general, are seriously underrated. Yes, their two albums received great critical praise, but I’m still going with underrated. HEY INTERNET, listen to Pains more! Peggy Wang, co-founding editor of Buzzfeed, is a keyboardist and backup vocalist in Pains. YOU LOVE BUZZFEED, INTERNET!
There’s not a lot that distinguishes this album from, say, Zonoscope, but sure, let’s throw it at the bottom of the list. While we’re on the topic of Cut Copy… please go watch their video for “Need You Now,” from… uh… Zonoscope.
I tend to write off Belle and Sebastian as overly twee, but this album really kicks on all cylinders. I prefer it to If You’re Feeling Sinister, which rampaged up the charts to number 21 on the People’s List.
The song I posted is great, but it may only be my second favorite song about sleepyheads (see: Passion Pit).
Sant(i/o)gold confuses me. I just don’t know what kind of music she’s trying to make. That’s not to say it’s bad… I mean, it’s basically indie pop, but it feels wrong to classify it as such. Musical enigmas don’t work well for me because if I can’t associate an album with a mood or a genre, I’ll never want to listen to it.
While Fevers and Mirrors is a good album, it really sounds like a dry run for I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. I can’t comprehend why IWAIM isn’t on the list. Maybe the average voter had their angsty teen phase closer to 2000 than to 2005?
#192/200: M83 - Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
It’s interesting to listen to this older M83 album because they were working in much more atmospheric sound space than in Hurry Up, We’re Dream with its indie rock hits. There are shades of Outro here (which happens to be my favorite song on HUWD) so I’ll chalk this album up as a success. This album would make a better movie soundtrack than did the actual movie soundtrack that Anthony Gonzalez penned for “Oblivion.”
As I’ve mentioned before, Spoon’s albums are consistently good. Does that mean they deserve to take up 4 of the 200 slots? I’m not sure. Girls Can Tell is a strong album, but it’s not distinct enough to replace a non-Spoon album on the list.
I’ve grown a little weary of psych-rock (it requires a certain mood) but after just one listen, I think Cryptograms is my favorite Deerhunter album. It was very Beatles-esque in its vibe, which I can always get behind.
#189/200: Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
Holy verbose band name and album title, Batman! But on the other hand, it’s a perfectly fitting title for the long-form, epic music that they make. If you have the time to sit down and listen to a 90 minute album, you’re not in the mood for lyrics, and you want to fell all the feelings, you could do worse than this GSY!BE album.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - “Life Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven…”
I can’t explain why, but this album sounds like when it was release- late 2000. I just wish I had listened to it then an not after I’d already listened to The Electric Version and Twin Cinema. Mass Romantic is a fresher, rawer The New Pornographers, yet it was their first outing. Curious.
Two of my friends have a debate about which MMJ song is better, “Lay Low” on Z, or “One Big Holiday” on It Still Moves. It’s a tough question, and I’m not one to take sides (who am I kidding?) but either way, both Z and It Still Moves are 10-out-of-10-would-listen-again albums.
As someone on Rdio said about “One Big Holiday”: “This song should be on all of the playlists. Just add it.”
ANGST! I like the way an Rdio user suggested that when they listen to it while they’re going about their life, it makes them feel like their life is an indie movie. And then I think about Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove and the way he does his own theme music, and then I’m on to David Spade…. and then Dana Carvey, and naturally to the Gerald Ford skit.
#184/200: TV On The Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
I took an “underground rock” class at a summer camp after 9th grade. It was taught by a couple of Yale undergrads, and it was my first exposure to New Pornographers, The Decemberists, Elliott Smith, TV On The Radio, and several more indie bands. At the time it was both overwhelming and ridiculously pretentious… that experience actually turned me off to indie music for a while (thanks in no small part to Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker video that they showed us). The seed was planted though, and I would really nurture that seed later in high school, and ultimately, when I was studying in Budapest in 2009.
Some of the music really stuck with me, including TVOTR’s “Dreams.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but this album has got some soul.
#183/200: Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
This was my biggest surprise album of 2010. While Kanye’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” blew this out of the water (for my taste), I’ve found Big Boi’s solo debut to be a fun album to revisit every few months. I didn’t think he had it in him without Andre 3000.
I was a Kanye apologist when this album came out. Yeah, I liked it, but yeah, I thought he was a little out of touch with his assertions that this was his experimental phase- his Pink Floyd phase. Considering the wave of the sometimes-autotuned rap/sung pop songs that came afterwards, and in the context of the recently-released “Yeezus,” I can’t help but think he was on to something with his “genius” theory. Let’s see how this one plays out. Count me as excited for the next 10 years of Kanye music.
It’s not hard to believe, but 808s is much easier to listen to in 2013 than it was in 2008.
#180/200: Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs
The Mysterious Production of Eggs is my favorite Andrew Bird album, and would certainly make my top 20 of the past fifteen years, if not my top 5. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Pitchfork (and by extension, its readers) don’t give him as much credit as he deserves. He is a master craftsman; anyone who has seen him live knows this. Hell, even those who haven’t seen him live should be able to figure that out.
Also evident: his command of the English language. I think reviewers in general make a little too much of lyrics. When I was in middle school and high school, I obsessed over lyrics, memorizing all of my favorite songs. Now, I memorize songs if and only if I happen to listen to them dozens of times, and even then it’s not a sure thing. I’d argue that I’m better off this way, letting the music resonate subconsciously instead of picking through potential meanings, trying to find the one that’s just right, like a horoscope. So if someone complains that his lyrics don’t mean anything just remind them that poets don’t get criticized when their work is dense and cryptic. Why should musicians?