Friday, March 25, 2011

Wild Flag Live @ SXSW

Physical State: coughy
Mental State: foggy
Music: Jonny - s/t
Fashion sense: jeans, brown t-shirt

My favourite new all-girl group is this supergroup made up of Carrie Brownstein
(Sleater-Kinney, Portlandia), Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Quasi), Mary Timony (Helium)
and Rebecca Cole (Minders). These girls rock! Their album release will be huge when it
comes out later this year (that's right they have only released a single so far!)

Monday, March 07, 2011

ISO50 / Scott Hansen playlists

Physical State: chilly
Mental State: sleepy
Music: Scott Hansen (Tycho) - Playlist 11
Fashion sense: jeans, grey sweatshirt

Scott Hansen (aka musician Tycho) has added another great playlist to his ISO50 blog this week with new tracks from Cut Copy, Beach Fossils and Radiohead. Be sure to check out his great music too (I am a huge fan of his album "Past Is Prologue"). What is it with graphic designers and their love of music?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Oh, Yuck!

Physical State: cold
Mental State: foggy
Music: Yuck - s/t
Fashion sense: jeans, t-shirt

Yeah this is pretty good. The sound of 2011 is shaping up to be a lot like 1991. Eat your
heart out Ira Kaplan. Warning NSFW: gratuitous slasher movie vibe at end with nudity.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Top 20 of 2010 (with videos)

Physical State: over-chocolated
Mental State: hazy
Music: Baths - Cerulean
Fashion sense: jeans, polar fleece

Second year in a row I have decided to let you guys in on my Top 20 picks for the year.
I added videos for the artists as well. Here are some releases that stood out for me in
2010 (in no particular order). Enjoy!

01. The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs - Ready To Start

The Montreal megaband are back at it with by far the best album of the year, huge
and orchestral. The Suburbs builds on the strength of Neon Bible but more so on their
debut Funeral in its grandiosity. The album is a love letter (both reverent and solemn)
to brothers Win and Will Butler’s suburban upbringing in Houston, Texas.

02. Spoon - Transference - Got Nuffin

Originally Austin, TX fixtures now transplanted to Portland, OR, Spoon is and will always
remain one of my favourite bands of all time. Transference seems to be more of an album
for the devoted fan than for the newbies, building on their trademark sounds but in a
more subtle way this time out. At the heart of every great Spoon song is the cleanest
drumming of any band courtesy of the masterful Jim Eno.

03. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening - Drunk Girls

James Murphy has proclaimed that this third album from his Brooklyn collective will be
their last. Shame because he has finally reached the apex of his danceable and intelligent
indie rock hybrid. These are songs written with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour and
existential sadness while also managing to be incredibly catchy. Influences range from
the fuzzy guitar glam of Bowie and Roxy Music, the baritone of Human League’s Phil Oakey
on One Touch or the dancey brilliance of a New Order tune circa Technique.

04. The Black Keys - Brothers - Too Afraid To Love You

Akron, Ohio’s blues-rock duo extraordinaire of Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach are back
again with probably the most consistent album of the year. From beginning to end this is
one big black Cadillac of an album. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, AL their southern trip was
not wasted as they fully embraced the southern soul tradition and stirred it up with their
greasy fuzzy blues rock style.

05. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings - I Learned The Hard Way - I Learned The Hard Way

Sharon Jones might possibly be the greatest soul singer of my generation. The skillful
backing of the ever amazing Dap Kings allows Sharon Jones to recreate her beautiful
early 70s style soul coming straight out of a blacksploitation flick. Emotional and sweaty,
these songs prove she might just be the James Brown of female singers working today.

06. Best Coast - Crazy For You - When I'm With You

Garage rock bands come and go but rarely are the tunes both incredibly melodic and
sung by a singer who has a sweet and timeless voice. Best Coast manages to have both
in Bethany Cosentino with a voice as memorable and fine as any Spector-era singer.
Their simple and straight ahead surfy love songs are pure California sunshine.

07. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest - Helicopter

Bradford Cox is a man who just never stops recording and performing both in his solo
guise as Atlas Sound or with his band Deerhunter. A bit more focused and simplified this
time out, Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest is the band at the top of their game, here
incorporating incredible vocal harmonies and incredible production work.

08. Foals - Total Life Forever - Blue Blood

I was introduced to this album from a friend who was playing it in her car. At first I was
thinking, “alright these guys are ok, we’ll see” but by the end of the ride I was like
“I need this record now!” This Oxford band manages to combine emotional vocals with
mathy guitar jags and tight dancey percussion. At times Yannis Philippakis reminded me
of Robert Smith of The Cure both in his singing style and in his heartfelt vocal delivery.

09. Holy Fuck - Latin - Red Lights

Toronto’s instrumental electronic band with a memorable name are truly something to
behold live. Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh beating their keyboards and mixers into
submission are topped only by one booty-shaking bass and drums combo. Tip for
videomakers out there: cute cats always make great stand-ins for the band.

10. Teenage Fanclub - Shadows - Baby Lee

Usually when a band from the early 90s releases an album after many years most
people believe that its all a stab at trying to regain past glories. Glasgow’s Teenage
Fanclub have never stopped creating amazing work since Bandwagonesque and have
created in my mind one of the most beautiful records of the year (and of their career).
Mature, brilliant and beautiful Shadows shows they have no signs of slowing down
and are aging well.

11. Beach House - Teen Dream - Used To Be

Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scally have finally realized a sleepy and melodic masterpiece
3 albums in. The sound is much more deep and complex but still hazy and lovely.
LeGrand has one of those amazing voices like Marianne Faithful or Dusty Springfield
that manages to marry a certain sadness with a haunting quality that is missing from
a lot of music today.

12. Evening Hymns - Spirit Guides - Lanterns

Mostly the project of Jonas Bonnetta, this is an album that I picked up based on a bit
of buzz and didn’t think much of at first. It was only on a trip to Calgary that rained
the entire week that I started to listen to this album more intently. After about 4 listens
from beginning to end I realized what a true masterpiece this album is. Big things ahead.

13. Sharon Van Etten - epic - Love More

Speaking of albums that crept up on me in a really quiet way, Sharon Van Etten titled her
sophomore album epic (lower case e intended). It was an album I just kept coming back
to over and over. This album documents a break-up that is messy and emotional but
shows some light ahead and a chance for closure. Her vocals are naked and sleepy and
the album is a great warm blanket to wrap up in on a wintry day. Great solo performance
of this song at The Legendary Horseshoe earlier this year.

14. Brian McBride - The Effective Disconnect - Mélodrames Télégraphiés (In B Major 7th) Part 1

As the more active half of Austin, TX ambient master duo Stars of The Lid, Brian McBride
here creates a thought-provoking sonic canvas on this album for the documentary film
Vanishing of the Bees. Not a day goes by lately that I am not reminded of how there is a
place for Stars of The Lid and artists like Brian McBride in my world and its been made
all the more peaceful for it. Films and Stars of The Lid seem to be a suitable match.

15. Four Tet - There Is Love In You - She Just Likes To Fight

Kieran Hebdan has once again created a work that demonstrates that he remains the
master (along with Caribou) of that genre of electronic music that manages to sound
incredibly organic while being subtley groovy as well. Being a drummer its no surprise
he continues to make percussion the heart of his work but this time incorporating
moody Papa M-style guitar loops, digital squiggles and also ghostly vocal loops
as ingredients.

16. Caribou - Swim - Odessa

Taking his Polaris prize-winning Andorra money, Dan Snaith hired a varied horn
section and then manipulated these jazzy recordings in his trademark remixing
style. An album of incredible texture and density while still remaining frenetic
and improvisational.

17. The Books - The Way Out - A Cold Freezin' Night

My favourite sound collagists are back with more incredible sample manipulation
(this time looking at the areas of psychology and human motivation). On The Way
they proffer a pastiche of hypnosis therapy recordings, motivational
messages, social commentary and their ever-present sense of humour. This song,
of kids explaining how they would commit murder, is both disturbing and incredibly
darkly humourous.

18. Emeralds - Does It Look Like I'm Here? - Double Helix

This is the first album that I bought from this instrumental Cleveland trio after
hearing them in a podcast. They are already being cited as masters of the retro
proggy synth revival à la Pink Floyd. I was also reminded at times of classic
I-Robot era Alan Parsons Project and Tangerine Dream too.

19. Pantha Du Prince - Black Noise - Lay in a Shimmer

Techno master Hendrik Weber here turns in an incredible instrumental dance
record that much like Four Tet relies heavily on organic percussion micro
samples. I love the way that each song starts off simply and hypnotically
unfolds revealing new audio treasures along the way.

20. Loscil - Endless Falls - Endless Falls

Yes he is the drummer for Destroyer but this is a million miles away from that.
These are beautiful drones and strings that build in such a lovely meditative
way. Each of his albums built around a concept, this time “rain.” There is nothing
quite like Loscil out there these days. A true beginning-to-end masterpiece and
reflective headphone record.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fear of sound or is silence golden?

Physical State: cold
Mental State: agitated
Music: The Boats - Sleepy Insect Music
Fashion sense: jeans, black long sleeve shirt.

Today I was sitting at the local Starbucks listening to the newest episode of the Spark podcast from CBC and the beginning part got me to thinking. Nora interviewed Julian Treasure in Surrey, England who has written a book called Sound Business about the nature of sounds and how they affect us emotionally, physiologically, etc. Check out this TED lecture. He is also part of a consulting firm Sound Agency that works with businesses and their sound environments to increase productivity and sales. The example that Nora cited was a sound environment project that his company Sound Agency had designed for the Glasgow International Airport that was to chill out travellers waiting for flights.

As I sat there and wrapped up my listening to the podcast I started trying to read a book while listening to some soft ambient music (The Boats as linked to above). Even with earbuds that were cranked I could also simultaneously hear: two hyperactive teenage girls high on sugary frapuccinos laughing and gabbing at extremely high levels, the invasive sounds of Christmas music blasting on the cafe sound system, the beeping noise of the brew alert signal behind the cash and a guy talking on his cell phone. This caused me a lot of stress (as cacophonous sounds often do). Throw some caffeine on top of it all and BOOM, a not so pleasant experience all told. Our avenues for quiet reflection and contemplation are becoming scarcer and scarcer. I find it hard now to read a book longer than 10 minutes or read emails with a television blaring in the next room. With tinnitus (that I have had for 4+ years) it sounds, in total silence, like there is a tv on in the room. I am convinced that I listened to a Guitar Wolf song (Jet Generation) one too many times and that put the tinnitus over the top although I can't prove it. The tinnitus makes it hard to concentrate (and at one time sleep). Do we truly get used to noise? With my ipod I crank up the volume of music I want to hear to calm me while it competes with sounds around me making it hard to focus. Its probably no coincidence that the noise cancellation headphones are the biggest sellers at the moment. We want to turn off the world and live in our own.

I seem to be, over the past few years, yearning more and more for quiet and peaceful environments when it comes to sound. This is reflected in the choices I make for music which lately seem to be more ambient in nature: non-vocal, non-abrasive and droney. Stars of The Lid being my ultimate go-to band. Its interesting that Treasure and his firm have been creating this "Music For Airports" (to coin a phrase from the Brian Eno album name from several years ago). It seems that silence (and calm sound environments) are a rarity these days around us. I find increasingly that when I am confronted with silence or a peaceful soundscape that I also get a feeling that I should be DOING something. I find that I am weirded out a bit by silence, yet I crave it constantly. Perhaps its because I have music on at all times that my ears are telling me they need a break.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

When brand loyality seems misplaced.

Physical State: creaky
Mental State: hazy
Music: Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Fashion sense: jeans, blue polar fleece.

This week there are two brand activities that I have to comment on. Actions that can change the way we feel about a company and our loyality to it.

Last week Joe Fresh, the fashion line of the Loblaws group, had this lovely statement on their blog for Remembrance Day:

"Dear Joe Fresh fans,

Yesterday was Remembrance Day – an important day which got me remembering this season’s take on military-inspired chic."

That's what its come down to? Once a day to remember the war dead and those serving now a day to remind you of military-inspired fashions. No words really. Just baffling.!

And this week eMusic the once venerable indie music legal downloading service has announced that major indie labels Merge, Domino and the Beggars Group of labels (4AD, Matador, Young Turks, XL, Too Pure, etc) have left their service and we have two days (TWO DAYS) to download any of their stuff. I would estimate about 85% of what made eMusic were these three companies who saw it through some tough times. The story is that eMusic has sold their bread and butter labels down the river so that they can make way for Universal Music to be in their catalogue (Sony and Warner are already there). Again, no words. Good luck with that.

"We want to be up front with our loyal indie fans and provide advance notice that music from Merge and the Beggars Group family of labels will no longer be available on eMusic as of Nov. 18, 2010 pending further discussions. This is as heartbreaking to us as it is to you. Please know we have done everything we could to keep them from leaving. Forging deals with our label partners can be pretty complex. As many of you know, labels have come and gone over the years, and we hope to see these labels back soon."

I don't think trying to compete with iTunes is a great idea business-wise, Jobs will probably crush you. What's more they have not only lost their street cred because of greed and mismanagement, but also broken a very distinct and important distribution link for up and coming bands to get noticed. eMusic's service was a cool alternative to the big corps. Not cool.

This quote comes from Matador:

"This is unfortunate, but as eMusic has brought more major labels into the fold, they have changed the terms on which they deal with labels, some of which we have found impossible to accept, in our own interests, those of our artists, and ultimately those of their fans."

I will continue to support the artists on these labels who got shafted by buying legal downloads from their own websites and you should do the same. Money talks.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Grouper for a cold Tuesday.

Physical State: leaden
Mental State: snoozy
Music: Grouper - Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill
Fashion sense: jeans, blue polar fleece.

Can I just say that this lady's voice sounds like a dream. Beautiful stuff. That is all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Can't wait for House/Hausu Criterion release

Physical State: achey
Mental State: lukewarm
Music: Low Light Mixes - Driftage
Fashion sense: jeans, black t-shirt

Oh yeah! House (Hausu) a Japanese film from 1977 is coming to Criterion this week (two great tastes that go great together: Japanese film + Criterion). You know that they are gonna blow out all the stops on this one with some amazing extras (comme d'habitude). This film looks both incredibly surreal and hilarious at the same time. I love the description that Criterion has on their website for it:

"How to describe Nobuhiko Obayashi’s indescribable 1977 movie House (Hausu)? As a psychedelic ghost tale? A stream-of-consciousness bedtime story? An episode of Scooby-Doo as directed by Mario Bava? Any of the above will do for this hallucinatory head trip about a schoolgirl who travels with six classmates to her ailing aunt’s creaky country home and comes face-to-face with evil spirits, a demonic house cat, a bloodthirsty piano, and other ghoulish visions, all realized by Obayashi via mattes, animation, and collage effects. Equally absurd and nightmarish, House might have been beamed to Earth from some other planet. Never before available on home video in the United States, it’s one of the most exciting cult discoveries in years."

Sign me up!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Still resonant.

Physical State: shivery
Mental State: draggy
Music: Alarm Will Sound - Acoustica
Fashion sense: jeans, black t-shirt

"I believe that you are sincere and good at heart. If you do not attain happiness, always remember that you are on a good path, and try not to leave it. Above all, avoid lies, all lies, especially the lie to yourself. Keep watch on your own lie and examine it every hour, every minute. And avoid contempt, both of others and of yourself: what seems bad to you in yourself is purified by the very fact that you have noticed it in yourself. And avoid fear, though fear is simply the consequence of every lie. Never be frightened at your own faint-heartedness in attaining love, and meanwhile do not even be very frightened by your own bad acts. I am sorry that I can not say anything more comforting, for active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, and with everyone watching. Indeed, it will go as far as the giving of one's life, provided it does not take long but is soon over, as on stage, and everyone is looking on and praising. Whereas active love is labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a whole science. But I predict that even in that very moment when you see with horror that despite all your efforts, you not only have not come nearer your goal but seem to have gotten farther from it, at that very moment — I predict this to you — you will suddenly reach your goal..." Father Kozima - "BROTHERS KARAMAZOV" by Dostoyevsky

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Hot and Bothered

Physical State: sweaty
Mental State: bad-tempered
Music: Manual - Ascend
Fashion sense: jeans, brown t-shirt

Heat is pretty bad in Toronto this week. I always forget how bad it can really get with the humidity. I am longing for summers in Calgary again (it seemed hot there too but a lot more reasonable). So I decided to go back on the blog after many MANY months of not posting because I was moved to write. Maybe its the weather, maybe its that my patience and tolerance for stupidity has reached a new low, maybe its the two working in tandem for a not so great Thursday.

I started thinking while riding the bus to school - the one of three that I must ride to get to college - about the nature of complaining.

Complaints, I think, are something that you issue as a means to effect change. You are demonstrating your displeasure at the status quo not being so equal. So here are today's below, some complaints, some observations. Am I just being unreasonable or feeling a stronger sense of entitlement than usual. You be the judge. Lately I feel like Matthew Slaughter (Martin Donovan) in the movie "Trust."

1. if you drive a bus and you are responsible for the well-being of your passengers do you think it behooves you to talk on your cellphone? When you should be controlling a machine that could kill many people both internally and externally does it make sense to take one of your hands off the wheel? Isn't it also illegal in Ontario? Again aren't you a municipal employee who should obey your own muncipality's laws? Hmm.

2. if you are talking on a cellphone you are not in your living room within the confines of your own home. You are in a public space. Does it make everyone respect you more if you yell into your cellphone? Do we really care that you are carrying on that inane argument you had at home with the extended presence that new technology allows. Hang it up (or tone it down).

3. Why is it so hot?

4. Is the economy improving or is it just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. What prospects are there for employment after I finish school this summer. Am I better off than last year around this time? How many more days of Stephen Harper do we have now?

5. Is there a reason for reality tv shows that are not really reality?

6. Wipeout totally ripped off Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (which repurposed episodes of Takeshi's Castle with American dialogue) demonstrating once again that Hollywood has no original ideas so recommence pilfering of the Japanese. Oh btw they make better cars too. The Chrysler PT cruiser...let's get nostalgic for the good old days of cars from Dick Tracy. The ideation of that car must now seem like an episode of The Family Guy in retrospect.

7. A Facebook movie...really...and David Fincher signed on as well...really? Oh that can't be good. But then again I probably said the same thing about a new incarnation of Battlestar Galactica and I have to say, way off the mark on my original skepticism. Maybe its like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup scenario. Chocolate and peanut butter acceptable on their own but together, even better. We shall see.

8. Why is it so hot?

9. Is it ok to think that Olivia Munn is pretty and funny at the same time? Am I just a shameless 40-something creep? (I can thank my writer friend Simone for making me focus in an iterative loop formation on this thought for most of the morning). Sidebar: earworms are the devil. If I hear "I'm Every Woman" one more time on the music system at work I will stick an icepick in my ear.

10. Why is it so hot?

OK so a blog seems to be a receptacle for venting, at least I am now sitting in an air-conditioned library composing this masterpiece so that's better. Maybe its small victories that matter.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Loving the new Pantha du Prince!

Physical State: leaden
Mental State: misty
Music: Pantha Du Prince - Black Noise
Fashion sense: jeans, blue t-shirt

I am loving the sounds of the newest release Black Noise from Pantha du Prince. Got a nice German tech-house groove to it and mostly instrumental (except for a cameo from Panda Bear on "Stick To My Side" and a couple others). Karin you will love this. Reminds me of some of the stuff from your old radio show. Player below to stream the whole album.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The funny, and at times too close to home
"Stuff White People Like."

Physical State: sludgey
Mental State: foggy
Music: Asobi Seksu - Hush
Fashion sense: sweats, black long sleeve shirt

This book is something I saw last week in the book store as I was walking around. I thought the title sounded funny so I picked it up. Inside are 150 things that Christian Lander thinks are hilarious about White People (this book is a satire btw). After reading through some of the pages: it's funny, sarcastic and at times, when looking at my own life and what I like, a little too close to home. Check out some of the observations at the Stuff White People Like blog for this book. #131...GO TEAM COCO! I am so white.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Top 20 of 2009 (with videos)

Physical State: chilly
Mental State: spacey
Music: Ulrich Schnauss - Far Away Trains Passing By
Fashion sense: jeans, polar fleece

As is the custom on a lot of blogs, in magazines and in the newspapers this time of year, here are 20 releases that made a difference to me in 2009. I have included links to youtube videos for the standout tracks below to add another element to this year-end list (in no particular order). Enjoy!

01. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest - Two Weeks

The Brooklyn quartet signed to the mostly electronic label Warp are back again with an amazing follow-up to their spectacular Yellow House. Veckatimest builds on their previous experimentation with vocal pop structures, intricate and sophisticated instrumentation and the whole history of music it seems but much bigger this time. Beautiful musical swells and a unique vocal choruses made this an easy choice for the top 20, if not my album of the year.

02. Atlas Sound - Logos - Walkabout

The ringleader of Atlanta marvels Deerhunter, Bradford Cox may be one of the most prolific guys in indie-rock these days. His constant experimenting with kaleidoscopic sound collages, electro-acoustic melodies and voice layers ensures that Atlas Sound, his solo side project, continues his domination of the sub genre of space folk on experimental Chicago label Kranky. Walkabout with Noah Lennox of Animal Collective was easily one of the best tracks on the album.

03. Ohbijou - Beacons - New Years

The band that holds court at the centre of the Bellwoods indie-rock community blew up in a large way this year for me with Beacons. The sweet overlapping vocals of sisters Casey and Jenny Mecija, always the beating heart of Ohbijou, are now surrounded by incredible orchestrations and a band that seem to have finally hit their stride. We’ll be hearing from them come Polaris nomination time, my prediction.

04. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down - Know Better Learn Faster - Cool Yourself

San Francisco by-way-of Washington DC songstress Thao Nguyen turns in her second album for the mighty Kill Rock Stars. As a trio now, Thao and The Get Down Stay Down boys have done a lot of touring with the success of their previous We Brave Bee Stings and All and that time spent together has paid off. This spirit of improvisation and performance has driven them into a totally different stratosphere in my opinion. True entertainers, in a live setting they were amazingly consistent and energetic.

05. Girls - Album - Laura

The San Francisco duo of Chris Owens and Chet White live in that neat area where Elvis Costello, Buddy Holly and The Rock*A*Teens could share a couple of drinks at the local smoky tavern. The greasy pop of Girls owes as much to Memphis, TN and Sun Records as it does to the rougher-hewn 45s of early Beach Boys and the immediacy of New York punks The Ramones.

06. Sonic Youth - The Eternal - Sacred Trickster

The godfathers of the New York no-wave/noise scene for 30 years are back once again with a new home Matador who seem to have given them carte-blanche. Not since Daydream Nation and Goo have they been this great in my opinion. Lee Renaldo faces off against Thurston Moore in guitar improvs while the thundering backbone of Steve Shelley’s drumming is always on point. A true return to ass-kicking form.

07. Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs - Nothing To Hide

Anyone who knows me well knows there’s always a spot for Yo La Tengo in any year-end best of or desert island disc. The Hoboken, NJ trio just continue to set the bar high and have since the ’80s. Ira Kaplan has fully embraced the spacey organ à la Air and Stereolab pitted against bubblegum soul and straight-ahead rockers like this one Nothing To Hide. Their musical canon continues to be one of the most dynamic expressions in indie-rock.

08. The Thermals - Now We Can See - Now We Can See

Portland, Oregon’s power couple Hutch and Kathy, now on Kill Rock Stars, turned in one of the best of their career so far. Here they channel the classic sound of Pixies and Buzzcocks while Hutch continues to sound like a over-caffeinated John Darnielle.

09. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - s/t - Young Adult Friction

This NY quartet seemed to come out of nowhere to unleash one of the most dynamic debuts by an indie-pop band. Marrying the classic sounds of C86, Sarah Records and the jangle of The Smiths with a new slant on a poppy shoegazer sound straight out of a John Hughes movie (RIP John), they were easily a top choice.

10. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career - French Navy

Tracey-Anne Campbell still has the bubblegum pop revival scene cornered along with her Scottish cohorts yet again this year. Their sweet melodies and melancholy orchestrations from the British 60s and Spector are out in full force this time out.

11. Friendly Fires - s/t - Photobooth

This St. Albans, UK trio were one of the funkiest dance-punk parties out there in music this year and this debut garnered them a spot on the coveted Mercury Prize shortlist. Photobooth was the single that started it all off as an ep before they recorded this very danceable full-length. Originally released in the UK in 2008, their debut this was re-released in North America this past summer with extra tracks.

12. The xx - xx - Crystalised

What were you doing at the age of 20? Picking up beers and getting blotto with your buds? Easing into university with no real purpose? Well this London quartet (now a trio) were hard at work recording a collection of dark moody indie-rock with smart beats that belies their young age. An interesting vocal trade off between Romi Madley Croft and Oliver Sim also made this debut quite remarkable to me.

13. Bat For Lashes - Two Suns - Pearl’s Dream

Natasha Khan grew by leaps and bounds on this sophomore release building on her layered mystical sound only hinted at before on the previous Fur and Gold. At times it felt like an interesting moody hybrid of Cat Power, Bjork and especially Kate Bush on this standout track on the album, Pearl’s Dream. Mercury prize winner?

14. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone - People Got A Lotta Nerve

What can you say about Neko except that she has one of the greatest voices in rock and while she cut her teeth in alt-country in the early days, on Middle Cyclone she has transcended her humble beginnings to create a beautiful pop record. The dense production and complexity here from Neko in 2009 is some of her best work yet.

15. Great Lake Swimmers - Lost Channels - Pulling On A Line

After many years Tony Dekker has finally reached the apex of his career with a solid backing band, a move to Nettwerk and a distinct vocal confidence after many live shows. Once a solo troubadour, he’s now the ringleader of a strong and dynamic ensemble of classic musicians that frame his sensitive and heartfelt songs.

16. Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle - Jim Cain (live in-store solo performance, Used Kid Records)

Now dropping the Smog moniker Bill Callahan has moved from his simple sparse lo-fi of Julius Caesar to lush orchestrations and big production many albums later. The sound is epic now but at the heart there are still the trademarks that have made Bill one of my faves of all time: that dark baritone and incredible songwriting.

17. Timber Timbre - s/t - Demon Host

Taylor Kirk of Brooklin, ON sounds like he comes from the swamps of the Deep South or spooky Appalachia circa 1930. Alan Lomax would have liked to have met this guy. This was released in 2009, believe it, its true. This guy is way out there man!

18. The Antlers - Hospice - Kettering

This concept album from the inventive Brooklyn trio tells the “fictional” story of a man lamenting the slow decline of a partner to bone cancer. Pete Silberman wrote the album over a two year self-imposed exile. One of the most moving and poignant cds of the year.

19. Mono - Hymn To The Immortal Wind - Follow the Map

This epic instrumental album from Japan’s Mono is their most ambitious work ever. Teaming up with a 28 piece chamber orchestra and the skillful hand of Steve Albini, this was a beautiful film for the ears that I kept coming back to all the time.

20. Chihei Hatakeyama - Saunter - A Stone Inside The Box (no video)

I discovered this Japanese electroacoustic artist’s debut Minima Moralia earlier this year and greatly anticipated this follow-up. Built of layered and processed guitar, this might be the most beautiful organic ambient work on Kranky in years.

The Sleepbot Environmental Broadcast

The godfather of ambient, Brian Eno / a still from Kim Ki-Duk's "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring

Physical State: draggy
Mental State: cloudy
Music: Sleepbot Environmental Broadcast
Fashion sense: jeans, black Coachella concert t-shirt

I discovered this online ambient internet radio station which can also be accessed through i-tunes, called Sleepbot Environmental Broadcast. To say that this is a sleepy ambient station is an understatement but that's a good thing. The mandate of this website and station's founder is to provide a 24/7 instrumental broadcast of electronic ambient music with the intention of helping you sleep. There is also an extensive archive of information about ambient music as well at the site under the Ambience For The Masses link.

"The official radio service of Ambience for the Masses. Peaceful streaming audio featuring a random cycling of some of the most sleep-worthy tracks ever created. Live on-line sedation is available 24 / 7 / 365 and all without a doctor's prescription."

A lot of it is quite zen and at times like a soundtrack to an arctic landscape or something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it is also great to listen to if you just want to have some interesting drones and long stretches of minimal electronic music to zone out to or while working on your computer. Brian Eno, not surprisingly, is well represented on the jukebox here, ditto Steve Roach, Harold Budd and others. There are no interruptions, no ads, no commentary...just an immersive ambient experience. The last "song" I listened to was 35 minutes of a background brook sound with 4 Tibetan singing bowls played periodically. Sometimes relaxing, other times moody and atmospheric but always meditative.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The strange case of the flashing Christmas angel ornament

Physical State: sleepy
Mental State: noggy
Music: No Love For Ned - Christmas 2005 compilation
Fashion sense: pajamas pants @ 4pm (whoo hoo!), grey sweatshirt

For many years my family would decorate our Christmas tree and we had one traditional angel that would go on the tree every year. This angel was on our family's tree before I was even born. Indeed as you can see from the pics above it is pretty ancient. I think it was made in the early 60s out of some toxic vinyl ha ha. Inside it has a lightbulb to light up the whole angel when you plug it in. You can also just simply have it on the tree without the internal illumination. Well after many years this historic ornament started doing something that was truly bizarre. When you plugged it in it was supposed to stay on but as long as I can remember growing up it didn't stay illuminated all the time. It would flash on and off, but not continuously. It flashed on and off in an intermittent pattern. One year my dad and I talked about how it resembled morse code because there were long stretches of illumination and then quick bursts. I have joked, somewhat darkly, many times over the years about how these were probably morse code signals from the dead. The more time goes by the more I think that this is a strange phenomenon that only someone like George Noory could explain on Coast To Coast AM. Sometimes it freaks me out. I have even sat for long stretches of time trying to see if there is a distinct repeating pattern and the flashes are ALWAYS random, combinations of "off" and "on" for long "dashes" and short "dots," all the time! This is one of those things that makes Christmas truly memorable in my family in an X-Files kinda way. Weird but cool.

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