Sunday, August 16, 2015

Witnessing the King of the Surf Guitar

I've seen a lot of live music in my life, but I can't say I've seen many "living legends". Tonight I had the chance to see Dick Dale, King of the Surf Guitar. He may not be a household name, but if you like surf guitar music--and I really, really like surf guitar music--then you know Dale is the man who started it all. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see a man who created an entire genre of music.

Usually when I got to see a band, it's a few dude and dudettes, generally in their 20s, 30s, or maybe 40s, playing their hearts out (if you're lucky). And that's great! But Dick Dale was a lot more than that...
  • He's your grandpa, but way more talented. Dale does the same thing a lot of 78-year-old men do. He told stories and rambled a bit. He complained about health issues. When was the last time you heard a musician complain about his kidneys at a rock show? But hey, it was pretty cool to hear some new banter for once.
  • He's a Bostonian! I had no idea before tonight that he grew up in Quincy. Of course he made his name in California, but Dale was clearly feeding on the home-town energy tonight.
  • He's a slice of history. Not a lot of musicians can tell stories of hanging with Leo Fender, inventing record breaking guitar amps and making the Fender Stratocaster the legendary instrument that it is today. Dale is the guy who originally took guitar volume to 11.
  • He's a got an incredibly patient back-up band. The bass player and drummer were clearly less than half of Dale's age, but they were a perfect fit. When you're 78, I guess you're entitled to stop songs whenever to tell a story, forget which songs you've already played, or switch songs entirely halfway through if the first one is tiring you out. Though they occasionally shot each other a bemused look, they stuck to the star's pace no matter how much it fluctuated.
  • And to be clear, Dick Dale was and is above all a rock star. He may not play quite as fast as he did at his peak, but c'mon! His peak was over 50 years ago! Dick Dale still plays the guitar like no one I've ever heard. He was still able to channel the energy of a very enthusiastic crowd (which was comprised of 20-somethings, septuagenarians, and every age in between) into an unforgettable performance. 
 Live music nearly always makes me happy, but as Dick Dale wrapped up his set with a surf guitar version of "Amazing Grace" seguing into his signature "Misirlou", I experienced a euphoria that I've only been able to grasp at a handful of shows over the past few decades of going to shows. I got just a glimpse of what those young surfers in Balboa, California witnessed back in the summer of '61. And if a geriatric Dick Dale could make a middle-aged me feel like I did tonight,'s no wonder he was able to father a whole new genre of music back in the day.

I'll be honest. Part of me went to this show tonight just so I could say I saw a "legend". I didn't really have high hopes that the show would actually be good. Shame on me. I now pay fealty to the King of the Surf Guitar not out of a blind sense of loyalty to formerly great ruler, but because he's still great, and still making his fans swing their hips (even if some of those hips are now artificial).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Favorite Albums of 2013

After an almost 2 year hiatus, I'm back! Sort of. Who knows when I'll post again after this, but I enjoyed writing about music again.

I'm foregoing a traditional Top 10 list this year and going for some completely made-up categories instead. I thought 2013 was a decent year for music. Nothing blew my mind, and judging by the look of other Top 10 (or however many) lists out there, there didn't seem to be much of a consensus about what was great. Anyway, here's some stuff I really liked:

  • Best Album By a Band That Somehow Managed to Make 3 Great Albums in a Row: Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City. I wouldn't say that Vampire Weekend topped their self-titled debut or 2010's Contra, but I think this record equals them in general awesomeness. The band has pulled off a neat trick by both evolving their sound and staying uniquely Vampire Weekendy. Their sound has matured with every record. Their debut was infectious upon the first listen and Contra  took me a couple of listens before I really started to appreciate it. It took months of off and on listening before MVotC really grew on me, but once it did, it was clearly one of my favorites of the year.
  • Best Album By a Band That I Have Previously Passed Off As Completely Overrated:
    Arcade Fire, Reflektor. It's rare that I will listen to an album fully expecting to dislike it. Normally I wouldn't even bother listen to something I didn't think I had at least a chance of liking. It's not that I even really dislike Arcade Fire, I just never thought they were all that. And when it comes down to it, I can't even really explain why I like this album so much. It's just as much of an overwrought mess as their previous albums, but I can't stop listening to it. The whole double-sided album. Sure there are some favorite tracks--even though it clocks in at over 6 minutes, I wouldn't mind if "Here Comes the Night Time" went on a bit longer--but there's not a single song I feel like skipping.
  • Best Album in a Genre of Music With Which I Am Almost Completely Unfamiliar:  
    Moon Hooch, Moon Hooch. When I say "genre" of music here, I guess I'm sort of thinking of jazz, because that's how iTunes classifies this record. But it's not like any jazz I've ever heard (not that I've listened to a lot). Using two saxophones and a drum kit, these guys made a record of songs to which one is compelled to shake one's ass. I haven't even had this album for two months, but I've listened to it a lot. I love it. My kids love it. I encourage everyone to listen to the opening track, "Number 9", and see if you love it, too:
  • Best Summer Album (Maybe Ever?):
    Cayucas, Bigfoot. I don't think this CD left my car between mid-spring and mid-fall. That's a good thing. Undeniably a west coast sound (I can't even fathom an east coast band making this album), these are roll-your-window-down-and-put-on-your- shades songs. There is nothing remotely complex about them. A good percentage of the lyrics are composed of "ooo-ooo-ooos" and "hey hey heys". You don't have to think about them too much, and who wants to think during the summer anyway? "High School Lover" is the track that got me hooked, and it's definitely a stand-out single kind of song, but the whole album is perfect for your drive to the beach. If the beach is pretty far away, put it on repeat.
  • Best Album Featuring a Weird Duo That Still Works: The Uncluded, Hokey Fright. Kimya
    Dawson is not for everyone. I can imagine a lot of people find her singing fairly intolerable (and it is a bit of an acquired taste). But she is undeniably one of the most earnest singer/songwriters out there. Her songs can vacillate between making you laugh and breaking your heart in moments. I don't know much about Aesop Rock, besides the fact that he's a rapper and producer. Though I liked Dawson's 2011 album, Thunder Thighs, I was not a big fan of the tracks that featured Aesop Rock. I wouldn't have even considered listening to this album until I heard "Delicate Cycle". But yeah, The Uncluded works for me. Dawson's songs can veer strongly toward the twee, and Aesop Rock gives them an edge that veers them right back in the other direction. It's an album unlike anything else I've heard before.
  • Best Album By a Band That I Thought Had Peaked 6 Years Ago: The National, Trouble Will Find Me. I was pretty much convinced that Boxer was the best album The National would
    put out. I thought Alligator was just OK and 2010's High Violet just didn't do much for me. And I still felt that after the first few listens of TWFM. But then something clicked. I found myself singing along. I found myself drumming the steering wheel and bobbing my head. Then I found myself taking the CD everywhere I went, so I could listen to it at home, in the car, or at work. And though I was going to forgo rankings, I now find myself saying that The National made my favorite album of the year. I feel like this a very grown up record. I don't see high school kids getting into it. I don't know if 20-something me would have been all that into it. But 30-something me is definitely into it. Every song. Now excuse me while I go sit in my fainting chair and drink a pink rabbit...
And a few more albums worth checking out: Bombadil, Metrics of Affection; John Grant, Pale Green Ghosts; Houndmouth, From the Hills Below the City; Wild Child, The Runaround; The Front Bottoms, Talon of the Hawk; Nataly Dawn; How I Knew Her, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, We the Common

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Favorite Albums of 2011 (and Some Stragglers from 2010)

Was 2011 a great year for music? No...I don't think so. If it's been a great year for music (for me, anyway), I have a hard time picking my top 10 albums. Sometimes I have a hard time picking my top 20. This year, I struggled to fill my top 10. It wasn't that there were that few albums that I liked. There were a lot of good albums. There just weren't a lot of great albums. I want my favorite albums of the year to exceed my expectations, not just meet them (even if I have relatively high expectations). So this year, it's just a top 7, + two 2010 albums that I didn't discover until 2011.

7) Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
 When Sam Beam released The Creek Drank the Cradle nearly 10 years ago, he was writing spare wisps of songs. The songs were quiet, but powerful. He could have released a few more albums like that and been remembered as someone who wrote pretty, sad songs--a modern Nick Drake (minus the tragic ending, one would hope). Iron & Wine's second album was actually pretty similar to the first, but then Beam started to evolve. If someone had told me a decade ago that he would release an album like Kiss Each Other Clean, I would have been incredulous. The songs are still powerful, and often still sad, but there's a richness to their sound and production that the early albums lacked. More instruments, more harmonizing, more everything. Sometimes more is less, but it works here. For the record, it did not work for me as well on 2007's The Shephard's Dog. That album seemed like more of an experiment of styles and came out as a bit of a mess. Kiss Each Other Clean is more cohesive. The opening single, "Walking Far From Home", quickly became one of my favorite Iron & Wine songs, but the whole album is highly listenable.

6) Alexander -  Alexander
 Alexander Ebert is better known for his work with Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros and he is a damn hippie. I have a top-40-listening co-worker who calls everything I listen to "hippie music", and though she's wrong about 90% of the time, I have to concede that Alexander is indeed hippie music. Slightly weird (but not that weird), trippy, hippie music. For those not familiar with Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros--and I highly recommend that you do familiarize yourself with them--the closest musician I could compare Ebert to is perhaps Cat Stevens, and probably Yusuf Islam (AKA, Cat Stevens). It's probably partly the beard, but their voices, their message, and their ability to write a good hook are not dissimilar. A fun album that I listened to way more than I expected to when I picked it up on a whim.

5) Say Hi - Um, Uh Oh
Say Hi is a boy named Eric, and he has also been making music for a decade. Eric Elbogen's music--whether under his original moniker, Say Hi To Your Mom, or the more recent Say Hi--has always been a bit spotty for me. Every album has at least a few songs that I really like, but 2006's Impeccable Blahs came the closest to being and album I really loved. On that album, every song was about vampires. Clever! But Um, Uh Oh achieves greatness without a clever gimmick. Every song--really every song--is a perfect little pop gem. Elbogen's formula hasn't changed much. Many of his songs are pretty much all chorus, but you know what? That's the part of the song everyone sings along to anyway. And that's exactly what I do when I listen to this album. I sing along to every song.
4) Telekinesis - 12 Desperate Straight Lines
I first wrote about Michael Benjamin Lerner's sophomore album back in March, and I kept right on listening to this album all year long. I don't know how many times I have to tell people: listen to this band.

3) St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
My first impression of Strange Mercy was a good one, but after the first listen I honestly didn't think this album would creep into my top 3 albums of the year. But it did. Though some of the songs seemed somewhat jarring at first, I got used to it. As I got used to it, it became clear that this is Annie Clark's strongest work yet.
2) Grouplove - Never Trust a Happy Song
Of the top three albums here, Grouplove is probably the least challenging band to listen to for the casual listener. I wrote about my infatuation with this album earlier this year, and that infatuation has since evolved into a full-on crush. Even if Grouplove disappeared tomorrow--and I hope they don't--I can already tell that this album will be joining a relatively small group to fall into my comfort music classification. The music is not particularly's just fun as hell.

 1) tUnE-yArDs - Whokill
I, like most people, am usually doing something else while I'm listening to music. That's not to say that I'm a passive listener, but I'm a busy guy and I need to multitask. So when a song--or in this case, an entire album--makes me stop doing whatever else I'm doing, that's saying something. The first time I listened to Whokill, I was at work. It was a very unproductive 40 minutes. I'm fairly certain I just sat there with my headphones on, grinning from ear to ear, and probably failing to resist the urge to chair-dance in my cubicle. Merril Garbus manages to defy genre, convey her politics, and be incredibly entertaining, all on a single album--often in individual songs. Impressive. Listening to her music, watching her in her videos...I can't remember the last time I saw an artist throw self-consciousness out the window so completely and make it work. This was the girl in high school who danced like a spaz and didn't care what people thought of her. Yeah, she got teased, but the ones who got her really, really liked her.

and from 2010... 
--Allo Darlin' - Allo Darlin' 
Allo Darlin' is sort of the musical equivalent of watching the movie Juno. Now that will either be a selling point or a deal breaker, depending on who you are. For me, it's a selling point. These songs are clever, cute, and catchy, but never cloying. These are songs about love, watching movies, listening to music, and making chili. If I could write songs, these are the songs I would want to write. I think that's the highest compliment I can pay. I would want to write catchy songs that make me happy, and preferably I would like them to be sung by a woman with a pretty voice. Not a beautiful voice. That's an important distinction for some reason. I like a pretty voice, and Elizabeth Morris supplies that. I don't feel like I'm selling this album enough. It's awesome. Please listen to it.

--Carolina Chocolate Drops - Genuine Negro Jig
I initially bought this album because, having lived in North Carolina for 6 years, I really liked the name of the band. Lucky me that the music turned out to be pretty incredible, too. I have heard a member of the band describe their music as "black minstrel".  Not sure what that means exactly, but I generally find that the harder it is to describe a band's sound, the more I like the music. There's certainly an old-timey flavor to these songs, but their mix of old songs from the earlier half of the century, covers of modern tunes (their version of "Hit 'Em Up Style" is amazing), and originals keeps it fresh.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

First Impressions: Sep. 13th Albums

It's been a while since I wrote about...anything on here I guess. I'm not quite giving it up, but I'm also exploring new avenues to shove my opinion down people's throats. My friend Sara asked if I could contribute some stuff to her new blog, and my first post went up yesterday. Please check it out! I take a gander at new releases by Mason Jennings, St. Vincent, Blitzen Trapper, Wild Flag, Blind Pilot, Laura Marling, and Me First & the Gimme Gimmes!

Since that was already a long-ass post, here are some videos from a few of the albums...

St. Vincent's "Cruel":

St. Vincent - "Cruel"
Creepy! Awesome!

Blitzen Trapper's "Love The Way You Walk Away":

  Do I smell...America?

Wild Flag's "Romance"

Wild Flag - Romance from Merge Records on Vimeo.
A certain famous Merge label mate gets a bit of trouncing here. Watch closely!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Chihuly and a Child

This past weekend, I went to Boston's Museum of Fine Art for the first time in over 3 years. My wife and I used to be members, but once our son was born, we realized there would be far fewer trips to the MFA for us. But you can't walk around Boston longer than a few minutes these dayswithout seeing ads for the Chihuly exhibition, and I knew I had to go.

I was first introduced to the glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly about 5 years ago, while visiting the Botanical Gardens in St. Louis, MO (one of my favorite botanical gardens in the world, and I've been to a lot of them). Chihuly's works were scattered throughout the gardens, and I was mesmerized. It was like walking through Candy Land. The bright, delicious colors and Seussian shapes left an impression on me, and I knew I would have to visit them again now that they were so close.

Yet there was still the issue of the kids. Taking my almost-two-year-old was not an option--the thought of taking her to an exhibition of glass sculptures was nightmare-inducing. But I thought my now 4-year-old son could handle it. So on a cold, rainy Sunday, he and I set off for the museum. We'd see the Chihuly pieces, and depending on how things were going, move on from there and possibly see some of the new Art of the Americas Wing.

It turned out to be one of the best visits to an art museum I've ever had. The Chihuly exhibit itself was as enjoyable as I'd hoped. It didn't quite have the same "oomph" as the Botanical Gardens because it was a very different context, but these are still some of the most accessible sculptures one will come across. By "accessible", I mean I can't imagine a person looking at these sculptures and not thinking they look cool. Maybe "cool" isn't a very fancy word to describe art, but just check out this boat full of stuff (I did not take my camera, regrettably, but this picture is from the actual Boston exhibition):
It's a party. It's an alien invasion. It's a parade. In a boat. And made out of glass. It's cool.

And my son thought so, too. I didn't get to read a lot of the descriptions of the pieces as I normally would have, but instead I got to hear my son's interpretations, which I think may have been an order of magnitude more interesting: "Look at the flowers!" and "It's a giant slug, Daddy!" Exposed to his unchecked imagination, I saw the sculptures in a way I never could have seen on my own. At one point we were walking under the "Persian Ceiling", which is one of the more publicized images from the collection (in the slide show from the link above, it's the first slide). My son--who at my insistence kept his voice at an "indoor" level the whole time--looked up and said, "It's a baby!" As I looked up, a rather grim woman caught my eye and said, "He's talking about the cherub up there."

And that's when it really clicked for me. A lot of these people couldn't see this art the way my son could. They had too many preconceived notions of what everything was supposed to be.  Why couldn't it be a baby? Why couldn't that other sculpture be a giant cactus? I thought that was the point of art like can be what you want it to be. But because we adults read the descriptions or listen to the audio tours, we lose the chance to come at these pieces with a blank canvas.  My son had a blank canvas...the grown-ups had paint-by-numbers.

The joy of seeing art through my son's eyes extended beyond the Chihuly exhibition and into the galleries. The way he zeroed in on specific aspects of a painting while ignoring the "main event", if you will, was fascinating. Take this painting, The Fog Warning, by Winslow Homer:
I took my son up to this painting thinking he would be impressed by the big fish in the small boat. Instead, he pointed at the tall ship way off in the background, excitedly talking about the "pirate ship" that was coming closer to the man in the boat. I'd barely even noticed the ship in the background. This was a common theme throughout our visit to the museum, which lasted over three hours. He found details I had missed. He would make up a story, explaining to me why the people were doing what they were doing. Occasionally he would ask questions, but usually he was just looking for ways to fill in the gaps in his own stories.

I can't stop thinking about this visit. I've always enjoyed art in nearly any medium, but I've often become hung up on the "how" at the expense of the "what". I'm a scientist...I think it's natural for me to wonder how Dale Chihuly and his team make his amazing sculptures. I'm sure it's an interesting process. But it took my 4-year-old to help me step back and strip the "how" away, from the Chihuly pieces to paintings that were centuries old. He helped me forget the idea that a piece of art isn't supposed to be anything necessarily.  A painting or sculpture can be whatever I want it to be: a story, an idea, or sometimes just a picture of somebody's stinky butt. Thanks, buddy.  Thanks for reminding why works of art--not to mention kids--are awesome.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

O What a Dirty Thing

When I first saw Michael Benjamin Lerner in the bathroom at the Middle East a few years ago, I had no idea I was about to fall hard for his band. I wrote about that first show here, and his first album made my top 5 of 2009.

And now comes his follow up, 12 Desperate Straight Lines.

There are two types of songs that get stuck in my head. There is the Katy Perry-esque treacle that gets played so frequently that it might as well be a commercial jingle. These are the types of songs that I want desperately to never hear again--they are the musical equivalent of Chinese water torture. You know the song is going to come at you again eventually, so your brain seems to mentally prepare itself. This is not the good way to get a song stuck in your head.

Then there are songs like Lerner's. His songs will have a hook that creates a mental itch, and the only way to scratch that itch is to listen to the song again. And again. Soon you've got the album on the MP3-player equivalent of speed dial. Or, if you're an archaic old fart like me,  you carry the CD around with you everywhere.

And that's pretty much what I've been doing with 12 Desperate Straight Lines. I wasn't enthralled after the very first listen, but it pretty much had me by the second. It's definitely an easily digestible album. The longest song is a shade over 3.5 minutes, but most of the songs clock in at 2 and half minutes or less, including the amazing single, "Dirty Thing":

Telekinesis - Dirty Thing from Merge Records on Vimeo.

I challenge you to listen to this song twice and NOT get the "chorus" stuck in your head. I use quotation marks since I don't know if you can call it a chorus if it doesn't have words, but you'll know what I'm talking about when you listen to it.

And this is one of many great songs on the album. Merge has been on a pretty incredible streak as of late, and Telekinesis is probably one of their more underrated bands right now. Whenever a sophomore album equals--or in this case, maybe even surpasses--a strong debut, there's cause to celebrate. Or at the very least, cause to listen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

EJP's Very Late Favorite Albums of 2010

Well, better late than never, I guess. At least I'm doing this before the end of January.

Was 2010 a great year for music? Probably not. But I did fall in love with a few albums, and there were certainly some that I liked a lot. They weren't always the most critically acclaimed--Arcade Fire's album was pretty amazing, but ultimately I didn't listen to it all that much. Apparently Kanye West's album was pretty amazing, but I haven't heard more than a track of it.

So these are the 10 albums that I listened to the most, which is generally a pretty good indication that I like them. I'm not putting them in any particular order--I'll be a little more low key this year since this list is going up so late.

First, the albums I've already written about...

Not only did I thoroughly enjoy this album, but they made one of my favorite videos of all time. The video below, for the song "Daisy," looks pretty crudely made at first, but if you think about how it was clearly done all in one go, shot by one of the dancers with no cuts, it's pretty amazing. Plus it just makes me incredibly happy when I watch it.

  • Vampire Weekend: Contra (this album and previous 3 albums conveniently described all at once in this post)
And now some new stuff...
    There are a number of reasons this album shouldn't work for me. It's a concept album. It mixes every genre of music under the sun. It's loaded with guest artists. It's produced and produced and produced.

    And yet it does work for me. Any one of the above attributes can usually put me off an album, but I guess when they're combined, something magic happens. Which is not to detract from Monáe's voice, which is incredible. Her voice ties the whole beautiful mess together. I can't remember what compelled me to pick this album up originally, but I'm so glad I did.

    There seemed to be kind of a retro thing going on this year, with a lot of new or newish bands exploring old sounds. By old, I'm talking 50s and 60s-style rock. Gimmicky or not, I ate it up. Despite the fact that I'm constantly checking out new music, I grew up listening almost exclusively to oldies stations on the radio. That's where my heart is, and Sonny & the Sunsets--right down to their very name--tapped into my oldies-lovin' heart with this album.  Here we have a band that sounds like they're right out of the Happy Days era, only with lyrics that would have made the Fonz blush. It's simple, fun, and exactly what I wanted to listen to many times over the last several months. Check out the song that got me hooked, "Too Young to Burn":

    Like Sonny & the Sunsets, there is an appealing timelessness to The Goodnight Loving's music. I probably listened to this album more than any other this past year. I consistently grabbed for it when I was feeling indecisive. The songs can be...weird. One of my favorites, "The Pan", is sung from the point of view of a fish that ends up in a pan. You can think of it as a metaphor I suppose, but you certainly don't have to.

    I'm struggling here...I want people to listen to this album because I honestly think it's really, really good. The songs are incredibly catchy (there's even a track appropriately called "Earworm"). If you can imagine The Beach Boys as a garage band, that might be what The Goodnight Loving sound like. In some ways, this album is the antithesis of Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. Not in terms of quality--both are great. But I think the main reason I couldn't listen to The Suburbs all that much is that it was just a little too much. It was so dense that I felt a little exhausted after listening to it. Whereas Supper Club woke me up. It's a much simpler album, and yes, more fun.

    And that's my top 10! But it wouldn't be me if I didn't at least a decent list of honorable mentions. Here are some other stand-out albums to check out:
    • Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: I Learned the Hard Way
    • Mumford & Sons: Sigh No More
    • Bouncing Souls: Ghosts on the Boardwalk
    • Drive By Truckers: The Big To-Do
    • She & Him: Volume Two
    • Freelance Whales: Weathervanes
    • Ted Leo & the Pharmacists: Brutalist Bricks
    • Let's Wrestle: In the Court of the Wrestling Let's

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    If You Don't Leave Me Now, Do You Love Me Back?

    My super duper music crush of the year is Sharon Van Etten. I have to agree completely with the folks over at NPR music (where she did an amazing Tiny Desk Concert)--for any singer-song writer to stand out in this age of a gajillion singer-song writers, she has to be pretty special. If you're going to sit on a stage on your lonesome, strumming your guitar and singing thoughtfully, you better be damn good or I'll wonder why you aren't sitting in a subway station sifting through commuters' quarters.

    EpicVan Etten is that good. To be fair, her new album, Epic, has a bit more production that just the voice and the guitar, but that's just gravy on what is easily the most listenable-yet-sad-hearted album I have heard in years. The 17-year-old in me would have put this album on repeat and dreamed about moving to Brooklyn just to be in close proximity to this woman. As it is, the 34-year-old who is me is still playing this album more than anything else I've purchased in the last several months.

    But don't take my word for it. Follow the link to the concert above or play the video below, which has her playing "One Day", the song that got me hooked on her in the first place. If you don't like her, you can still be my friend, but not as good a friend.

    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    Wondermark Hits Too Close to Home

    I have not posted much this year. Clearly. There are a few reasons. One, I've just been too busy with work and family. I don't really consider spending time with my family "busy" exactly, but it's super duper important and I want to do that more than I want to do anything else when I'm not working. Another reason is that I found I was listening to music/reading books/watching movies with the express purpose of writing about it on this blog. It was seriously distracting me from actually enjoying stuff. Instead of thinking, "Hey, I love this album! I want to listen to it over and over and totally lose myself in it for a month!", I was thinking, "Hey, I love this album! I'm going to write about it on the internet and then basically be done with it."

    And then, I read the following comic strip and it hit way, way too close to home. It's really too small to read here, so just click it to go to the Wondermark website. It'll be worth the ever so slight finger motion required for clickage:

    This scenario has basically happened to me. I'm well aware that I've become a bit of a douche bag when it comes to convincing the hoi polloi that I have, like, the best taste ever. I'm sure I've used the term "indie cred" multiple times on this site alone. And no, I don't have a TV, though I do watch DVDs of TV shows sometimes. And I've been told no less than three times that a song I've played for someone is on a car or iPod commercial (no Burger King yet).

    I'm not giving up this blog altogether. In fact, I plan on posting more consistently...I'm gonna shoot for once a month. But instead of reading/listening/watching with the blog in mind, I'll sit down at the end of the month and write something about the pop culture nugget that blows my mind the most. Other Love-Camel contributors can do whatever they want...which for the past year or so has been nothing. It's all good. Oh, and I'll still do my favorite music of the year list at some point, because my musical taste is so, so awesome.

    And finally, read Wondermark. It's wicked funny. I even bought the books.

    Monday, August 30, 2010

    Best Music of the First Half of 2010: Pt. III

    Albums That Surpassed My Expecations

    Admittedly, many of the albums below fell into this category because I had pretty low expectations for them. Nevertheless, these are all pretty high quality and I would recommend any of them.

    Clem Snide - The Meat of Life: Clem Snide's last album, Hungry Bird, was a huge let-down for me. But Eef Barzelay followed up with an album I can totally get behind. It may not be as high quality as some of the earlier Clem Snide albums, but the wry humor is still there in tracks like "Walmart Parking Lot"; and the heartbreak is there in tracks like "Denver". Barzelay also tends to name drop other musicians in his songs, and there's a nice nod to Sufjan Stevens (or at least his fans) in "I Got High."

    Tunng - ...And Then We Saw Land: Tunng is, in my opinion, and incredibly underrated band. At least in this country...I don't know if they're any more popular in their native UK. I got this album hoping it would be as good as their last effort, Broken Arrows. It's a very different album, but I like it as much, if not more. The opening single, "Hustle", is the song that got me hooked:

    Tunng - Hustle from Thrill Jockey Records on Vimeo.

    The Bouncing Souls - Ghosts on the Boardwalk: A number of things surprise me about The Bouncing Souls. First and foremost, the fact that they're still around and making new albums. These guys have been kicking around for a good 12 years or so. Their albums may have matured somewhat, but unlike some of their peers (lookin' at Green Day here), they don't aspire to anything too fancy. They just want to make fun music. They also often have a song on each album that borders on novelty, and "Badass" easily fits that bill. It's basically the band reeling off one "badass" thing after another for a few minutes, and it is awesome.

    The Black Keys - Brothers : Simply put, the best Black Keys album in ages. I've felt like they were on a bit of a downward spiral the last few years, but this is an amazingly accessible album, but it somehow it still sounds like The Black Keys. I'd be very surprise if this one didn't end up in my top 10 of the year.

    The Black Keys "Tighten Up"

    The Black Keys | MySpace Music Videos

    Black Francis-Nonstoperotik: I don't really care what Charles Thompson wants to call himself these days, but starting with last year's Grand Duchy (a collaboration with his wife), he seems to be in an upward spiral. After several years of stuff that was barely passable, one of my favorite musicians is finally making good albums again.

    Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Brutalist Bricks: I have no idea how these guys started an album with an opener as explosive and energetic as "The Mighty Sparrow" and follow it up with a bunch of songs that are equally as good. Brutalist Bricks is, hands down, my new favorite Ted Leo album.

    Vampire Weekend - Contra: I was pretty much convinced that lightning would not strike twice for this band. Their self-titled debut was unfollowuppable, or so I thought. But I'm still playing this album, which came out the second week of the year, on a fairly regular basis, and still finding new things to like about it. Never has a sophomore slump been so utterly and completely avoided.

    Cornershop - Judy Sucks A Lemon for Breakfast: It has been 8 years since Cornershop's Handcream for a Generation came out, and I was utterly convinced I would never see another album from Tjinder Singh's band again. And even when I found that they were releasing a new album, I was skeptical. Eight years is a long time...if and when bands come back from a break that long, they...well, they often kind of suck. Cornershop came back with not only a strong album, but one of my favorite albums of the year. Some songs are political, some are nonsensical. There are multiple styles of music, from straight up anthemic rock, to a little calypso, to gospel, to bizarre mixes of many other genres. There are quite a few albums I like this year so far...some that I like a lot. This may be the only one so far that I really love.