Initially, I resisted this concept of a mid-year top ten. It seemed like a cheap concept for websites with nothing to talk about. But then I started looking at the lists onmy favorite websites and realized that none of the albums I like were getting any attention. Given that this has been the best year for new releases since….the eighties (?!), I felt a need to throw my two cents into the ring. What follows is a list that I’d be proud to publish if this was December 31st. The prospect of six more months of great music, is truly exciting.
1) The Boxer Rebellion: Union- If you loved The Verve and remember when it was still cool to like U2, you ought to be listening to this band. This self-released album topped the U.S. and U.K. ITunes charts the week it debuted. I’d like to think that TBR is our little secret, but I suspect there are a lot of you out there.
2) The Pains of Being Pure At Heart: Self-Titled- As British as The Boxer Rebellion sound, THOBPAH bring a sound that is distinctly super American chunky. Great melodies that merge with an indie sensibility that is far from self-indulgent.
3) Gliss: Devotion/Implosion- Like watching the most beautiful carousel you’ve ever seen, Gliss switch instruments and vocal duties effortlessly and make you swoon every time. How much do I love the re-emergence of the distortion pedal in music? In a year where the great ideas of the 80′s are given new life, Gliss simulatneously seem original yet nostalgic. I hate to throw the JAMC reference around this list too much, but they were a brilliant band and Gliss make me realize what they’d have become with better vocals and less self-indulgence.
4) An Horse: Rearrange Beds- 2-piece from Australia that harkens back to the best of The Spinanes (look it up. you’ll love it.). I interviewed them days after they first arrived in America after this album was released. With an appearance on Letterman and accolades from numerous magazines, we can expect An Horse to be on many year-end lists for many years to come. Deservedly so.
5) White Lies- To Lose My Life: Equal parts The Teardrop Explodes, Joy Division and Interpol. Certainly enough to make Brandon Flowers shut up forever (hopefully…). I had predicted that this would be my album of the year after hearing a few cuts. If I have any complaint, it’s that the second half of the record is a little uneven. Still a tremendous effort, though.
6) Zee Avi- Zee Avi- This one snuck on the list at the last second! I posted her brilliant cover of “First of the Gang” previously and just got a copy of the album this week. Since then, I’ve had it on an endless loop. Prepare to here a voice that will melt you in a second. To compare someone’s voice to Billie Holiday isn’t something I would do on a whim. The album alternates from moody, to playful, to beautiful in a way that seems natural. An amazing debut. Prepare to read about her for the next six months and the rest of your life.
7) East Hundred- Passenger: Erroneously posted in our revised ‘Best of 2008′, this was actually released in January of 2009. Why this band isn’t on a major label is one of this years’ great mysteries. Perfect vocal melodies from Beril Guceri coupled with a band that can write music that isn’t dependent on ‘hooks’, yet sticks in your head. Quite a combination and a recipe for a great album.
8) Crocodiles- Summer of Hate: Fresh off their network debut on Carson Daly’s televsion show, this is a band with unbelievable potential. Their resemblence to Psychocandy/ Mary Chain-style is eerie. When they release their ‘Darklands’ expect them to be huge.
9) Jason Lytle- Yours Truly The Commuter: Yes, it’s the singer from Grandaddy. Yes, it’s as good as anything Grandaddy did. Anything other questions?
10) Gomez- A New Tide: I’ve intentionally posted this video which just shows the album cover, while the opening track plays. Perhaps the best “pop” song I’ve heard in years. Close your eyes and let this soak into your eardrums.
So I was reading through the ‘Guide To Being One Of The Cool Bloggers’ (You can download it on Pitchfork, but you have to answer a 20-question quiz on Kraut-rock before you can access it. I used my Julian Cope book to cheat.) and it says that I have to do a “Best of the first half of 2009″. Seriously? Are the cool kids that desperate for content? I started reading through the lists a few sites have already published and noticed a disturbing trend: They were listing albums released in 2008. Sorry everyone, but Ida Maria was released in July of 2008 and I don’t want to hear the “it wasn’t released in the U.S. until 2009 argument. Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ was released online in 2007 and was properly put on the 2007 “Best of” lists. NOBODY, put but it on their 2008 list.
Instead, I make a different proposition. Why not put out a revised ‘Best of 2008′? I’m the first to admit that sometimes I miss an album release. With so many bands self-releasing albums and with the internet creating a larger number of accessible bands, it’s hard to catch everything. So I’m going to take this opportunity to reflect back on 2008 and list my revised top 10.
Here’s the list I published on January 1 of this year.
1) The Duke Spirit- Neptune (Both of their albums have been my number 1 for their respective year. Clearly, the most under-rated band on the planet)
2) The Virgins- Self-Titled (Still a good pop record, but fading fast in my memory)
3) Darker My Love- 2 (Despite mailing it in when they were interviewed by me, this album still packs a wallop.)
4) Steve Malkmus- Real Emotional Trash (As with many Pavement records, it continues to grow on me. Such a great songwriter.)
5 thru 10 were occupied by albums that I still like, but have quickly faded from my frequently played list: The Kooks (Konk), The Late Greats (Life Without Balloons), The Pigeon Detectives (Emergency), Fujiya & Miyagi (Lightbulbs), We Are Scientists (Brain Thrust Mastery), The Bronx (3)
So, with apologies to those I originally forgot, here’s the revised Best Albums of 2008…with a little perspective:
I’m efforting to post some videos that haven’t been shown here before. With bands like TDS, it’s hard because we’ve written them up so many times. But I’m pretty proud of these brand spankin new videos.
1) The Duke Spirit- Neptune
2) The Black Box Revelation- Set Your Head On Fire
3) The Black Keys- Attack and Release
4) Ida Maria- Fortress ‘Round My Heart
5) Darker My Love- 2
6) Jaydiohead- Jaydiohead: What? I can’t put a mashup album on my list? Well, this is the best mashup I’ve ever heard and deserves to be on this list.
7) Steve Malkmus- Real Emotional Trash
8) Division of Laura Lee- Violence Is Timeless
9) The Pigeon Detectives- Emergency
10) The Virgins- The Virgins
What do you think? What albums did you miss the first time around in 2008, that you’re loving now?
Each month, I’m going to start providing you with a list of the best music that was released the previous month. In general, I’m going to stay off the beaten track (no U2 mp3′s for you, thankfully) although I can’t stay away from the new Death Cab. I’m efforting to make a cute little mp3 player on the sidebar, which you can use to listen to these songs anytime. In the meantime, here’s the April mp3′s that have been in high rotation for me.
I was going to go in alphabetical order, but this first one is by far the best of the bunch. You need to own the entire album, as there isn’t a bad track on it.
I’ll attempt to post my No Age and An Horse interviews later today, but I needed to post an observation. We keep an eye on our “most read” posts every day. We’ve been beating our brains out, trying to give a comprehensive SXSW preview. I’m personally thrilled that East Hundred is our #2 most viewed post, which I attribute to their continued dominance on my “most listened to” LastFM list. My apologies for the high U2 rank, but I listened to the leak of the new album a bunch of times trying to convince myself it wasn’t awful (which didn’t work. It’s by far their worst album). But you really aren’t bright America! Our most viewed post for the second consecutive week? Joaquin Phoenix’s appearance on Letterman! Ugh. Move on. There’s good music out there. Read. Listen. Learn.
As mentioned last week, East Hundred is a Philly-based band who’ve created quite a buzz based on their new album Passengers and the single “Slow Burning Crimes”. The folks in East Hundred were nice enough to answer some questions for us. Read up, kids.
Quick background update: East Hundred produced one of the more clever “mockumentary’s” in an effort to promote the band. It went viral on the internet and is absolutely worth the time to watch. Essentially, the band was followed by TV journalist Will Kenny during a recent tour. The “dynamic” between Will and the rest of the band is hilarious. I won’t spoil it for you, but see how long it takes you to figure out what’s going on.
East Hundred are Beril Guceri (lead singer), Brooke Blair (Guitar), David Sunderland (Bass), Will Blair (Drums), Susan Gager (Keyboards)
Without further ado, the interview:
TDOA: You’ve talked about the impact the dissolution of Brooke and Beril’s relationship had on the album. What effect did it have on the creative process for this album? Is it safe to assume that the guitar parts were written before the lyrics or had Brooke seen the lyrics prior to writing his parts?
Beril: The creative process for this album –the best way to sum it up is by saying: going into this album we evolved from a 3 piece to a 5 piece , making us a proper band, and less of a recording project. Simultaneously Brooke and I broke up, so that fueled even more expression on my part, and Brooke’s as well. We actually wrote more together, which wasn’t easy at all, but songs like ‘slow burning crimes’ and ‘afterlove’ came from it.
Whether lyrics or guitar came first? Mostly music comes first but it’s both together at the same time sometimes, hard to describe.
I can use ‘slow burning’ and ‘afterlove’ as specific examples for when Brooke and I wrote together:
The lyrics for ‘slow burning crimes’ actually started in my head before any music was written. It was during a night when Brooke and I were just trying to focus on writing a new song. We were broken up. Nothing was working and we got really frustrated (with the process, and each other). Then I was in the bathroom and I heard ‘so tell me what the time is now before I figure it out’ just in my head, which is in the first verse. I ran downstairs and said ‘Brooke! You have to write some chords around this melody!’ The two of us sat in the living room which was empty (Brooke and Will had just moved in to this house in south philly). The old wooden floors and lack of furniture gave it a simple, reverberated sound. Just Brooke on acoustic guitar, me singing with a tambourine. So the verses were initiated lyrically first, then the rest was written around the music.
With ‘afterlove’ – brooke just started playing this beautiful arpeggio, which set a mood. Then the lyrics came as he was playing it.
TDOA: Brooke, discuss the feeling of hearing those lyrics the first time and how it might have impacted the process of finishing the song?
Brooke: It’s always hard to hear lyrics come together that are based on Beril and my relationship. At the same time in can be very therapeutic for both of us. But the excitement of getting a song done, on the whole song starting to materialize is all I’m focused on. I don’t think it slows down the process at all. (Brooke Blair)
TDOA: Did Beril write all the lyrics after the break-up? Anyone that’s ever had a failed relationship can relate to the pain expressed in each song on this album. Is it painful to sing such personal songs in front of Brooke or are you able to separate yourself as a story-teller.
Beril: There are a couple songs on the album that were actually written before the break-up. Will also writes songs, and sometimes we even combine lyrical efforts…. like ‘Deadpan’, “Along the Way’ and ‘Dear Blue’. But yes after the break up or even leading up to it, a huge wave of lyrical expression came out of me. It definitely inspired a lot of the mood and writing on this album from ‘pony’ to ‘autopilot’ to the others I mentioned, but there are still other concepts on the record woven throughout and in between the heartbreak theme. The aftermath of Brooke and my relationship is certainly a big part, but it’s not the only thing.
TDOA: Is it painful to sing personal songs in front of Brooke or can I separate?
Beril: Hah, good question. The answer is both. It’s not embarrassing or anything like that, we’re close friends and we’re moving on. The painful part is more in the writing process or the absence of being productive actually…because then dwelling on the negative becomes easier. I was sad about our break up but also felt sorry for us objectively…like, what do we do now? So it’s therapeutic and bittersweet singing the songs. Takes a lot out of me, but I need to let it out.
TDOA: Is this Will Kenny stuff real? It’s so painful to watch and Brooke looks like he’s already hates him by the 5 minute mark of the first video. By the way, I’ll be sending you my dry cleaning bill next week.
Will Blair: Is Will Kenny real? Yes and No. People like Will Kenny, who lack any social grace and have a complete sense of self-importance, yet who are also rather uninformed and poor at what they do, do exist in the music industry and all areas of life. In this particular case, we developed an exaggerated characterization of this person. We were on tour, and we wanted to document the trip, without the all to common “indie tour” documentary feel, which normally features sleeping on the floor, drinking, being broke, etc. We wanted to approach it differently, but still get some shots from each city, each night. So we created a “show”. I changed my glasses, added a stupid trucker cap, and a tight zip up, and became what I was later referred to as “An Indie Ryan Seacrest”. Perfect. You’ll notice I’m not in any shots with myself unless I’m using Brooke as a stand in/body double. The rest of the band played along perfectly, as did plenty of hilarious and talented bands we met on the road. Of course, a lot of people didn’t get it, and because Will Kenny’s persona is based on real people we all know…a lot of people who’ve watched the video truly believe it. It was a ton of fun.
But it was simply a way to kill time on the road. I think I’m a pretty nice guy in reality, but if music doesn’t work out, I know I can fall back on acting like a complete douchebag.
TDOA: Love the “toy piano” effect on Slow Burning Crimes. It really grabs you as one of the great hooks of the song. Was that melody in the “demo” version of the song or was it added during the recording of the song? How far into the recording process were you before someone came up with the idea to use that effect?
Beril: The melody was indeed added in the demo from the start and on a toy piano…so when we were recording the album we already had that ‘effect’ idea in place. We liked the klinky, playful sound of it. It’s probably one of the most ‘anthemic’ moments of the album. Susan and I double that melody (on the toy piano, and another synth) and that’s what made the sound that you hear on the album and at our live shows.
TDOA: The video for Slow Burning Crimes is great fun and seems like a great step in the process of expanding your popularity. Who came up with the concept?
Susan: Brooke and Will’s older brother Macon came up with the concept, (and he directed the entire video) He’s a filmmaker and really had a good idea of what was do-able for us. I think in the beginning we were definitely split as a band when deciding whether we wanted to do something more serious, but I think this was the perfect blend of serious song, and a fun video. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, because our music can be serious. We do like to have fun and the video really shows that other side of us
Ed. Note: Macon Blair directed the video for Slow Burning Crimes.
TDOA: Can you talk about the inspiration for the video and the process of filming?
Macon: I was visiting them in Philly about as year ago and we were staying up late drinking and bullshitting about ideas for a video (they were putting the finishing touches on Passenger around this time and thinking about their release plan). The pillow fort idea came up (we were BIIIIG into pillow forts as kids) and got a big laugh.
So I wrote up a treatment, they showed it to the rest of the band (highly democratic as they are) and it got the green light. They had some money set aside in the band budget for a video–not much but enough to get by–and we just got to it.
Because Brooke and Will had worked for practically nothing on Murder Party, they got to call in some favors. Jeremy (who directed the movie) was more than happy to shoot the video, Chris (who produced the movie) came on the manage the set, and our friends Eli and Adam at Suite Spot NYC (who are also old pals with Brooke and Will…it’s al very incestuous) donated a hi-def camera and equipment as well as editing space afterwards. Our buddy Marc Vives cut it for a fifth of his usual rate just because he’s swell and he dug the song. We had a great local grip named Blake and a New York grip named Rommel who came on and worked for nothing and then, of course, a whole shit ton of Brooke and Will and Beril and Dave and Susan’s friends showed up in their pajamas and allowed themselves to be stuffed into this sweltering blanket fort all day. Everyone was a super trooper and although it was a mad sprint to get everything shot that we needed it was FUN AS SHIT.
Ed. Note: Radiohead invited fans to do remixes of their song “The Reckoner”. East Hundred’s remix is here and is outstanding.
TDOA: I love your remix of The Reckoner. Did you get involved in mixing any of your albums and any plans to do remixes for other bands in the future?
Brooke: We kept the elements of the song that we knew we couldn’t redo in a way that would do the song justice. Obviously we kept Thom Yorke’s vocals, and we choose to leave the drum track in, as well as most of the background vocals. Other than that, we re-cut all the guitars, bass, and some percussion. We also added an accordion, some synth parts, a lap steel guitar and ambient sounds. Finally, Beril added vocals as if it were a duet with Thom York. That was the most interesting aspect of the remix, being that it might be the only time you’ll ever hear Beril and Thom on a track together, unless we get super lucky some day!!!
We’ve never mixed any of our proper releases, but we’ve always been in the room annoying the shit out the mixing engineer! We have a little home studio where we demo songs and work out ideas. We’ve put together a few small pressings of free Ep’s consisting of B-sides, covers, remixes, and rarities that we’ve produced, engineered and mixed ourselves. They get better and better, and we’ve built up our studio gear little by little. You can kinda tell the newer stuff from the old.
TDOA: How did you get the guitar sound during the chorus of “Along The Way”? It’s got the amazing effect of sounding epic yet fragile at the same time.
Brooke: That’s basically two guitar parts doing the same line that couldn’t be more opposite in approach. One is played on a telecaster with a dirty sound in a lower octave, and the other is a nylon string classical guitar played a whole octave above the other. You have the attack and energy of the electric and the delicate finger style on the nylon, giving opposing sounds that just worked well in context. I was actually on the fence about keeping the classical guitar in the mix initially, until my bandmates talked some sense into me. I think I just needed a nap at that point. I really love the way that turned out on the record.
TDOA: Strangely, I haven’t been able to find anything where any member of the band discusses influences. I here a little Velocity Girl (Sub Pop) in you (particularly in Beril’s vocal melodies), but I wonder what bands influenced each of you.
Will: Actually, we’re not that familiar with Velocity Girl, but I’m off to check them out in a bit. Our influences are broad and constantly changing based on new (and old) music we’re still discovering. As writers, there is not one definitive artist we all agree on as an influence. We do agree, that from a production standpoint, we are greatly influenced by certain “moments”. In other word, we feel certain musical sounds, approaches, and moments play as much a role in setting the mood as the songwriting itself. The tambourine part on “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS, most of Kim Deals backing vocals with the Pixies, the guitar “fuzz” and “swells” found in Sigur Ros’ music. These are moments that influence our approaches to songs. Peter Katis, is a great producer (with whom we’d love to work with one day) and his approach to drum production is truly inspiring. He’s worked with Interpol and The National, two bands whom we really admire. I think we’d all have a hard time finding one ultimate influence as our feelings towards music we like constantly change, which keeps us looking for new music to listen to, as well as to create.
As I’ve said before, I’m really trying to focus on the SXSW thing. A to Z, doubling back to get the bands I miss the first time, yadda, yadda, yadda. But I had to stop when I heard the East Hundred album (interview coming next week. EEEE!) and now I’ve got to stop again.
I’ve stumbled onto a band called The Soft Pack. I heard a song called Parasites and was scrambling for a piece of paper to write down their name. (In fact I think I brilliantly misspelled their name when I sent an email to their publicist. Yes, I misspelled the word Pack and I write a blog. Yes, I’m walking around my house wearing a dunce cap). TSP are a LA based band who just signed with Kemado Records according to Billboard (?! Obviously there’s more to this band. Random bands don’t get written up in Billboard for signing to Kemado) They used to be called The Muslims but changed their name (did Sean Hannity get to them?).
Here’s the most important part. They’re amazing. The rare references by other bloggers I found compared them to The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand. Um, have you bought a record released before 1990 Stereogum? There’s a lot of Magazine influence and Unknown Pleasures era Joy Division. I’ll let you know when I know more, but for now, go to their Myspace page. There’s nothing around to buy or download, so you’re going to just have to sit there next to me for a while.
Here’s a video from when they were The Muslims. Doesn’t do them justice, but gives you another taste.
My original intention was to go letter by letter through the list of bands playing and do a little preview of all the bands I already knew were worth checking out. As we got a little closer, I was going to do a little list of the bands I missed the first time. ….and then I got to the “e”s. Ouch. All of you E bands should be ashamed of yourself. I almost took the day off and thought about telling all of you to read the East Hundred review again (because they ought to be in my E SXSW preview!). The pickings were so slim, I actually went through and listened to a little something from each of the bands to try and find some content for today’s post. I also contemplated writing a thousand word essay on why Echo and the Bunnymen are great. Instead you get this justification for a small post. Better luck with the F’s!
German band that put out some great music for Matador in the early to mid 90′s. Great fuzzed out rock that was mistakenly ignored by people that wanted their fuzzy bands to wear flannel and be from Seattle. Smartly the band has reformed and will release a new album Amorine Queen in May in the U.S. (um…could ya have released it before SXSW?). It’s a great record and you can hear it at lastfm.com (http://www.last.fm/music/18th+Dye/Amorine+Queen). If nothing else, listen to Soft The Hard Way off the new album. If My Bloody Valentine made new records and didn’t use keyboards (I’m reaching here…), this is how they might sound.
Earlimart- L.A. indie rock with similarities to Elliot Smith and Pedro The Lion. Good stuff
Echo and the Bunnymen- If I have to explain who they are, click here. The only discussion here is whether you should see them at SXSW. Are they still relevent? Of course. If you’re favorite band doesn’t cite them as an influence they’re either lying or they suck.
This is SXSW and the Bunnymen are playing some really small venues in Austin. It’s worth it to go (I guarantee that the lines will be long) just to stand near Mac and Will. Given the venue and the circumstances, it wouldn’t shock me to see them give a performance that’s really special.
As an infant, noise is one of the key elements that influences our emotions. Some noises scare a baby, some provide comfort and the sound of mom’s voice will always bring a smile. As we grow older, sounds continue to bring us joy: the sound of the ice cream truck or the bell signifying the end of the school day. I still get goosebumps from remembering the sound of the crowd cheering at assorted Stanley Cup final and World Series games I’ve been fortunate enough to attend. As we grow older it becomes more difficult to hear unique noises that can bring us that joy. The new East Hundred album “Passenger” produces those rare sounds that bring this kind of excitement and joy.
Somewhere in this world is a person called Shankly. Every month he puts out a torrent of roughly a hundred songs that he thinks are the best of the previous month. Shankly put East Hundy’s “Slow Burning Crimes” on this month’s list and it’s by far the best single I’ve heard this year. It’s the first track on the album and it set’s the tone for the rest of the record.
Singer Beril Guceri writes vocal melodies that have brilliant chord progressions (again, the kind that give you goosebumps) and has a voice that recalls Sarah Shannon of Velocity Girl. It’s a great voice without having the obnoxious noodley noodley quality musically trained female singers sometimes exhibit (in other words, she’s no Carrie Underwood. Phew!).
Guitarist Brooke Blair (whose brother Will plays drums) contributes guitar parts that have the great quality of sounding like a lot of different bands. No pigeon-holing for these folks. Although, while listening to this album I couldn’t help but think of The Smiths in their prime. Brooke and the rhythm section of Will Blair and bass player Dave Sunderland are able to produce songs that at one moment are almost anthemic (Plus Minus, Slow Burning Crimes, Deadpan) but then precious and fragile (Pony and the tremendous Afterlove). Imagine the brilliance of early Smiths with a female singer who doesn’t write everything in the first person.
Susan Gager contributes in ways that few keyboardists do. She provides terrific atmospherics to most of the songs, harkening to the best keyboards of Radiohead songs. But she also steps to the front and adds seemingly effortless, yet vital keyboard melodies to a few songs notable Slow Burning Crimes. The “toy piano” she uses on SBC is a tremendous touch and “makes” the song.
New Order’s early albums (particularly Power, Corruption and Lies) were great because you focus on a single instrument for the length of a song and be thoroughly engaged and entertained. Passenger has this unique trait. Amazingly, all of this is recorded on their own dime. All the multi-tracking you hear, all the layering were done by a band without a record deal. No months in the studio and no thousands of record company dollars at work here. Just a workmanlike, efficient group of people that have made a complex and sonically dense record.
In their band bio, the relationship and breakup of Brooke and Beril is frequently referenced for it’s impact on the making of this record. Lyrically, the album travels the path of a failed romance engagingly and tragically. But here’s the thing: this is the work of a band that clearly is not using this a crutch or as their sole inspiration. Songs of love and dissolution pepper musical history, this band will clearly be sharing their love for music for many years to come.
I had committed to spending the next month previewing South By Southwest. After hearing Slow Burning Crimes, I assumed that I would be adding East Hundred to my preview. Shockingly, the band hasn’t been signed (Bobbie, you may need to look into this) and isn’t going to SXSW. I would suggest contacting SXSW and demanding that they refund $20 to you so that you can put that money aside to see EH when they come to your town. You deserve to have the smile and the goosebumps you get from listening to this band.
Purchase the album at the band’s website: www.easthundred.com