I think I slept with Psychic Chasms under my pillow for the better part of 2009. Finally, Alan Palomo is hitting the 216 (Grog Shop, Tonight). Perhaps the glossiest of the the glow-fi movement of a couple of years ago, the music of Neon Indian has far more staying power than a majority of the johnny-come-lately acts that emerged in the same time frame. Since then, collaborations with The Flaming Lips and being covered by indie royalty have ben the result. For those who reside under rocks, check out my album review (to save a little writing time for me this afternoon) by clicking HERE. There are still tickets left, and plenty of time to get a babysitter and/or reschedule the plans. It's also a bonus that we get Neon Indian on a Saturday here. I think Clevelanders can roll out to hear a little 80's porn inspired, hazy electro-pop tonight, no? First beer's on me. Enjoy two things below. One, the track "Sleep Paralysist," which we've posted long ago. Additionally, we've got Palomo covering Cleveland's Darling, Cloud Nothings, and their track, "Local Joke."
Category: Best Albums of 2009
Barzin’s Notes to an Absent Lover isn’t typically the type of album that would make it onto my short list of favorites, but there is something about the delicate nature of the record’s near-perfect arrangements that really took a hold on me in 2009. Not to say that I shy away from quiet folk, in fact I am drawn to it more often than not, but rarely is a record so steeped in sadness that you find yourself playing over and over again. In terms of bringing on the waterworks, listening to Notes is the musical equivalent of watching The Notebook; It is difficult to do without shedding tears. From start to finish the album recounts the harrowing details of heartbreak from a shattered relationship. I touched on this theme in my original review of the record back in April, but the thing that still amazes me is how easy it is to relate to so much of the material. While few have likely been through such a gut-wrenching breakup in our lives, I am sure that most of us have seen at least on love come and go in our lives, given that there are lines and situations that can bring back emotions for all of us. For me, that is the great thing about any song or record, that ability to bring back a memory or take you to a moment from your past. Putting this record on my short list is a no-brainer.
That being said, Notes is much more than just a lyrically well-written record. Musically the album is so good that you could replace the words with complete nonsense and still be able to enjoy it. In some ways it is Iron & Wine meets Bob Dylan, making the greatest breakup soundtrack of this generation: a modern-day Blood on the Tracks you could say. The sonic beauty of Notes is all in the simplicity. There is not a lot going on in any given track but it is perfectly balanced; any more would be too much and any less would be short of what is required. Tracks like “Soft Summer Girls,” “Words tangled in Blue,” and “Stayed Too Long in This Place” are standouts, each providing a certain something that will stick with you long after you lift the needle off the record. Songwriters like Barzin are a dying breed these days, with far too many artists focusing on experimentation and irreverence. In these times Notes to an Absent Lover is a breath of fresh air and something we should all take a few minutes to enjoy.
Check out the rest of our “Best Albums of 2009″ list.
Every year or so I stumble upon a somewhat obscure album that I fall completely in love with and spend the next several months trying to force on all of my friends and anyone else who will listen. I become “that guy,” singing the praises of some band that you have never heard of and a record that you will never be able to find. This year my personal project was Mazes’ self-titled debut, which I originally touched on back in March in my now (temporarily) defunct TGIF column. At the time I had no idea how much influence the record would have on me throughout the year, and in retrospect I wish I would have given it a more proper long-form review. All of that is water under the bridge now, of course, but it doesn’t change the fact that Mazes worked their way into my permanent mental catalog over the course of the year. The band is a bit of a side project, headed by a few members of the locally legendary Chicago band The 1900′s along with a host of friends who lend their talent and instruments to various tracks along the way.
The sound of the record is predominantly lo-fi, playing out as though you are listening to the whole thing on an old AM radio. The recording quality is intentionally shoddy, a result of the fact that much of it was put to tape in various places at various times over the span of several years. As frontman Edward Anderson explains it, the project was the culmination of a whole bunch of songs written and recorded with different musicians and friends, a labor of love if you will, that finally came to a finish earlier this year. This is one of those albums that finds perfection through imperfection. Though it is overwhelmingly mellow and soothing, it is a bit rough around the edges and has a certain “I don’t give a fuck what you think” quality to it. A lesser journalist may describe it as an old Cat Stevens record struggling with a hangover on a Sunday morning. No matter how you sum it up though, the end result is an outstanding effort that was worth all of the time that went into making it. Every song sings to me in some way, which makes it difficult to talk about individual tracks, but I can say with certainty that “Cat State Comity” and “I Have Laid in the Darkness of Doubt” are two songs that will be on playlists for me well into the next decade. It’s a bit obscure and a bit quirky at times, but Mazes is a record you need to hear.
Check out the rest of our “Best Albums of 2009″ list.
The Builders and The Butchers leading the crowd at the Beachland out into the Collinwood streets to communally sing “Find Me in the Air” was the best thing I saw live this year. It was spontaneous and authentic, raucous and moving. Thank god that Rob was prescient enough to take video as the band and the crowd marched out the door. It’s nice to have a concrete reminder of something that was so awesome. For that experience alone (and the rest of the show, which was killer), The Builders and the Butchers would get a nod in our year end coverage. Happily, the album they released this year, Salvation is a Deep Dark Well, is as worthy of praise as their jaunt into the Cleveland wilderness was.
To a degree, Salvation is a Deep Dark Well served as two records for me, as I had not heard the band’s 2007 self-titled debut before. The two records blend together for me, mostly because I generally play them back to back. The things that the band did well on that self-titled record, namely establish mood, tell compelling stories and draw forth the tent-revival past of middle America are all accentuated on this year’s release. My favorite tracks from the 2007 release, “Bottom of the Lake,” “Coal Mine Fall” and the aforementioned “Find Me in the Air” all do a lot to inform and advance the work on Salvation is a Deep Dark Well. You can hear the growth from the first record on a song like “Short Way Home,” which moves through a few tempo changes and leaves the listener with a chilly pall. In the live review (and in my year end piece on Southeast Engine) I alluded to how much this band reminds me of Hallowed Ground era Violent Femmes. Take that old-timey hellfire and mix in more traditional instrumentation and you arrive, I think, at “Vampire Lake,” another of Salvation is a Deep Dark Well‘s highlights. The record even ends similarly to the first record, with the near-gospel feel of “The World is a Top” echoing “Find Me in the Air.”
Growth and consistency are two critical factors, I think, for continued success musically. The Builders and The Butchers did not lose who they were from the first record to the second, but they did refine and hone their sound. They’re very clearly the same band on both records, but they’re a touch more refined on Salvation is a Deep Dark Well. Both records bear up well to repeated listens and (this part can’t be said enough) they are a can’t miss live act.
I don’t know that we intentionally try to be iconoclastic here at Citizen Dick, but I think we pride ourselves on finding things that other people don’t find, on making connections that other people don’t make. In our rapidly expanding Best of the Year list, we didn’t actively try to include records that other blogs excluded, but we’re secretly happy that we did. Remember: we only want to write about stuff that is excellent, and we’re solely driven by that, but we get a little glimmer in our eyes when the thing that we like is unique to us. With that caveat in mind, that we’re, if not intentionally, than at least proudly reaching for the unexpected, it’s at least mildly interesting that we’ve got two artists making appearances on both our 2008 and 2009 Best of lists. We had Megafaun’s Gather, Form and Fly this year and Bury the Square last year. We’ve also got White Denim’s Exposion last year and Fits this year. Maybe this means that we’re sonically loyal; prove to us that your band means something and can produce good work and we’ll sink our hooks in deep. Given that White Denim appear to be completely incapable of recording a bad song, I’d expect to see their records on our Best of lists for as long as we’re writing them and they’re making them.
At first blush, Fits is a really different record from Exposion. White Denim seem to be tapping a darker vein, drawing from a gnarlier sonic palette. There’s more hard rock, more acid jazz, more funk. If Exposion sounded like a deep garage band crossed with Phish at times (I know I’m on an island on that one, but I’ll go to my grave saying that “IEIEI” could have been on Rift.), Fits sounds like Jim Morrison fronting James Brown’s seventies band with Ornette Coleman doing the arrangements. But. Setting aside their sonic differences, the two records strike a lot of the same chords. They’re both the musical wanderings of three really talented dudes who seem unconstrained by traditional genre boundaries. The two singles from Fits were wildly different from each other. “I Start to Run” is, kind of, a straight ahead rock song; that track’s really about the bass line, right? “Mirrored and Reverse,” especially if you count “Sex Prayer” as a part of it, is something really different, a ponderous exploration of something vaguely nefarious. That’s a jazz song, right? The layers of reverb on the vocals, the mellowed out keyboard line, the subdued hook all reek of a different idiom than something like “All Consolation,” which is damn near a Bob Seger song (in a good way). Exposion had the same kind of jumble; “Sitting” and “Shake Shake Shake” sound like they’re from different planets. Oh. And. “Regina Holding Hands” is on Fits. The first time I listened to the record, I was on the disc golf course, ipod in my ears. I stopped walking and took the ipod out of my pocket to see if it went into shuffle or something. “Regina Holding Hands” owes more to Lionel Richie than any song that I’ve loved in a long time. Fits is a big beautiful mess, but it all works. There’s not a song on here that I skip. It’s a thirty minute trip through these dudes’ brains and it is a doozy.
White Denim also made a stop in Cleveland this fall. We’d long heard that they were the truth live. The live show propelled Fits to another level for me; hearing these songs erupt from the sweaty trio gave them a more visceral feel, made them more real in my mind. (And they were really nice guys. I know that doesn’t matter and I know that talent and good-nature don’t have to coincide, but it’s nice when they do. James Petralli is a dude you’d take home for Thanksgiving. It’s nice to see nice guys do well.) I scored Fits and Exposion on vinyl at the show (as did Kevin) and I’ve spun them as much as anything else since I brought them home. I’ll be eagerly awaiting White Denim’s next record and their next stop in Cleveland. It’s a lock that I’ll be writing about both in 365 days.
Oh. And. This is wonderfully bizarre. I’d like a “beardazzler.”
Our first mention of Pale Air Singers came way back in May when I dropped a drunken review of their debut album into the Citizen Dick ether. Since then it has been one of a very small handful of albums that I have made a point to squeeze into my regular rotation this year. I am often considered one of the more finicky Dicks when it comes to embracing new albums, but this record did it for me from day one and I will probably still be spinning it consistently at this time next year. Though I typically approach bands made up of members from other bands, particularly ones with multiple vocalists, with a bit of apprehension, the cohesiveness of this record and the flow of the tracks is astonishing. This isn’t to say that the record is monotonous or repetitious, because that would be the farthest thing from the truth given the incredible diversity of sound that emerges from the Canadian quintet. What I mean here is that it sounds like these guys have been writing songs together for years, which is even more incredible when you realize that the entire album was written and recorded over the course of less that three weeks with the band holed up in a studio, hashing out what might be my favorite album of the last twelve months.
The first track that I came across from this record was the raw and folky “Swill and Grits,” and I knew right away that I was onto something potentially great. As I mentioned in my review many months ago, that song bears a strong resemblance to Midlake’s “Roscoe,” which is one of my favorites from the earlier part of the decade. Having heard that, diving into the rest of the record provided me with one of my most pleasant musical surprises of the year. Much of the record, by comparison, trends far more toward the electronic alternative end of the spectrum. Tracks like “Cubby , He Chopped Me Down” and “Horse Trade” remind me of an Americana laden cross-pollination of OK Computer and Kid A, while the eerie “The Moving Floor” recalls shades of Sam Beam’s haunting lyricism and subdued strumming. On the whole, this record is perfect for fans of Radiohead and Iron and Wine, yet manages to combine hints of both sounds without alienating either or coming across as disjointed as it flows back and forth; this is truly a monumental accomplishment given the genealogy of the band and the circumstances under which the record was written and recorded. If for some reason you missed this one back in the spring, I implore you to retrace your steps and give it a shot. This is one album from 2009 that you will be sorry you didn’t hear.
Check out the rest of our “Best Albums of 2009″ list.
The infectious rhythmic strum of “Two” hit the blogosphere like a wildfire earlier this year, and, fittingly, the rest of the album wandered into the stratosphere just as quickly. We’re hugely aware that Hospice is on nearly every major year-end list, and our inclusion isn’t obligatory. The album is simply that good. The soft underbelly of this album is, to me, the ease with which tracks impact the listener. Nearly orchestral arrangements cleanse tension and force contemplation. The lullaby beauty of “Bear” is fairly impossible to beat this year, and no matter which track listeners choose to chew on, an incredibly mature, complex, yet acessible album is what is left. It was a great year for music, folks, but Hospice sets the bar pretty high for everything else. To me, it stands pretty strongly with Veckatimest in lofty musicianship. It’s about as pristine as they come, weaving everything into its mix. Psychedelia, strings, synths, huge percussion elements, and the gorgeous harmonies are big enough to fill a stadium. Or, perhaps more listeners hit this record like I do, alone, with headphones and and undivided attention.
I don’t have a lengthy list of attributes that I’ll attach to this album today. That’s already been done, and everything’s been said about how great Hospice is. Instead, to me, what’s important is how this album manages to isolate me. When I’m listening to “Wake” or “Atrophy” I essentially leave everything else behind. Perhaps one marker for a great album is how much attention it requires, and if I’m accurate, this requires more direct contact than nearly any album released all year. Songs like “Kettering” somehow wire directly into my brain, the soft vocals sending me somewhere that can only be described as internal. For many of the tracks, the hypnotic rhythm is what snags me most, particularly in “Sylvia” and the off-kilter fuzzy bounce pulls me in every time.
I’ve spent a great part of the year with a careful eye on hype, trying my best not to fall prey to it; I suppose I like to think that I’ll stay ahead of the game that way. Nonetheless, many albums get hyped for a reason. I’ll concede this one with ease. Hospice deserves a top shelf housing in any modern music collection. Its swirling anthems will remain with me long after the ball drops tonight. If for some reason, this album passed you by, make it your first important purchase in 2010.
Check out the rest of our building “Best Albums of 2009″ list.
Hardly Art put up a little stand underneath the tent at The Pitchfork Festival this summer, and while there’s not a lot of time to scurry back and forth between acts on each of the three stages, we were able to stop and talk to Sarah who was peddling all sorts of merchandise and promoting her bands. On her request, we headed over to the side stage to catch The Dutchess & The Duke. It was midway through the afternoon, our vodka was nearly gone, and we were pretty tired, to be frank. When the band of whistling hipsters walked on to the stage, we didn’t realize that the band was essentially Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison. They rolled onto the stage without any pretense with several pals from other bands and did nothing less than blow the densely packed crowd away in a short 35 minute set. As I sat in the photo pit with my measly point-and-shoot, I began to notice something unfold in the music. I turned around and looked at the crowd. Asses were shaking, heads were bopping, and a near square dance mentality was surging through the crowd. My confusion was pretty intense, because the lyrics coming out of Lortz and Morrisons’ mouths were entirely morose and brooding. What fun. Sunset/Sunrise is a power packed album of formulaic folk with about enough wicked sneer to raze buildings. What’s so noteworthy about this release is how well the live material is equally matched in the recording studio. Lively country folk with dreary lyrics. It’s not a new formula. What’s so unique about this album, as opposed to many others of similar ilk, is that Lortz and Morrison do it sincerely, and the push and pull of tortured relationships and pining regret are gorgeously contrasted with a wide spanning variety of upbeat and burning, edgy folk.
James wrote a pretty killer review of Sunset/Sunrise upon its release, and I bought the vinyl shortly thereafter, inspired in large part by their amazing peformance at the festival. I spun “Scorpio” thirty or forty times in a row before I even finished listening to the album in its entirety. The roundabout vocals and slightly distorted hollow-body guitar solos pepper the entire album. Equal parts jangle, country, traditional folk and a splash of rockabilly are all beautifully employed into a kind of warm solid gold sound. A soft grainy distortion envelopes each track, and it’s easily one of the best vinyl purchases I’ve made all year. “Hands” is the initially leaked track that we’ve posted below, but it’s not super indicative of the entire record. The black and white of this album is spectacular. Tales of despair and stark emotional balladry found a home on many turntables this year, but none did it more superbly and, believe it or not, happily, than The Dutchess & The Duke.
Check out the rest of our “Best Albums of 2009″ list.
I just thought I’d tell you. All the demons have been slain. Cotton Jones’ Paranoid Cocoon was softly released by Suicide Squeeze records to not a whole lot of fanfare early in 2009, and it holds quite a bit of sentimental value to most of the writers here. I reviewed this album in late January and from the jump, I fell into Michael Nau and Whitney McGraw’s sultry one-part Johnny Cash/one part Jim Morrison mixture of psych-driven folk. I don’t know much about Nau’s home state of Maryland, but at times, the easy melodies and subtly driven hymns of tainted optimism seemed perfectly bred for the hardened outer shell of the rust belt here in Cleveland. We hooked up with our pals at the local record store, Music Saves, and had Nau and McGraw come in to do an in-store just before they played the hospitable Beachland Tavern. It’s great to see performers strip down their sound into something viable and intimate, and when the two launched into “Blood Red Sentimental Blues,” I was hooked even further. Not only was this our first in-store sponsorship, but it kicked ass, too. Nau is one of those performers that doesn’t have to overwork to expose his vocal talent. Beat up classical guitar and sexy maiden along for the ride. It works, and every song on this album has stayed with me through each season of this year.
Most of the album is about the aura and lyricism. It really is a collection of tracks poised for duality, and can be enjoyed from multiple perspectives. On one hand, the record pops off about as calm as can be, serving lazy times and soothing moods. For most of the year, Paranoid Cocoon was my background soundtrack. I’m mopping the floor, “I Am the Changer” is fueling it, I’m sipping a pre-work espresso, and “Gone the Bells” relaxes me. On the other hand, Nau and McGraw don’t let listeners go so easily, and that’s what makes this album much greater than its initial listen or two. Nau’s lyricism has never been marked with flowers and bunny rabbits, but there’s a cathartic emphasis on lights at the end of the tunnel and freer days. No matter how many times I listen to this record, I uncover something new, some new snippet of metaphorical wisdom or ambiguous value. On a surface level, the album is fabulous musically. It propelled me through a long winter in Cleveland and stayed with me through the dog days of summer. If you were in the market for neatly packaged and soothing folk with an edge, there was none better than Cotton Jones this year. Enjoy the live vids of the in-store we sponsored, along with “Blood Red Sentimental Blues” and a live version of “Gotta Cheer Up” from LaundroMatinee at MOKB.
Check out the rest of our “Best Albums of 2009″ list.