When I checked iTunes to see what I played most this year, Subiza by Delorean was way out on top. There’s two types of music I listen to – songs that have well-written lyrics and accompanying tones to match the theme. In a sense, narrative music. The other type is just pure aesthetic emotion. Subiza is the second type – almost like they captured a ray of hot July beachside sun and pressed it into record. I listened to this most when I was sitting out on beach in July (reading the Sun Also Rises, about hot slaughter in the Spanish sun), so it kind of all came together. That’s the way art works when it really hits you – all the random serendipitous bits of chaotic life congeal to make something more than the piece itself. But there’s no arguing with the unfiltered sugar buzz joy in these songs:
I’ve written more here, and on a purely objective (as objective as music reviews can be by someone who’s listened to maybe 1/10000th of the music that came out this year) basis, Kanye should win. But hasn’t the guy won enough? I will say though, modern pop music is an ego machine, and perhaps ego is as essential an ingredient as talent and sampling skills.
You can kind of see the Suburbs as the closing of an Americana trilogy. If Funeral was about growing up and leaving the cozy confines of family, and Neon Bible was about the seductive elements of religion, politics and pop culture, then the Suburbs is the resigned melancholy of mature adulthood. The lyrics are surprisingly more nuanced and introspective then something like Green Day’s Jesus of Suburbia. They aren’t complaining about white picket fences and tree lined avenues with manicured lawns – they’re crying out that sort of thing doesn’t exist anymore, the loss of innocence, exploration and possibility, both in the Pitchfork-ing of music (Rococo) and the closing of the “wilderness” (Sprawl II). Musically, they’ve expanded as well, be it synth beats (Sprawl II) or old school punk rock chords (Month of May).
We decry someone like Kanye’s ego, but James Murphy’s narcissism is right up there. Perhaps because his genre (indy electronica) is less visible, or because he looks like a schlubby high school science teacher, he’s not blamed for this. But his shtick: talk-singing over minimalist techno, fits him perfectly. Usually, DJs seek out some sort of mathematical perfection to their output, either tonally or rhythmically. LCD does neither, with the backing percussion often drunkenly performed on real instruments, and James’s vocals somewhere between endearing karaoke and cacophony. The only thing that carries them through is his ego. For some reason, This is Happening (which is supposedly Murphy’s last LCD record) reminds me of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. This is because of the way the record is laid out, with the opening piece Dance Yrself Clean a long minimalist intro of tik-toking that reminds me of Time. Then Drunk Girls, a “single” that’s short, noisy and somewhat obnoxious, like Money. And then a long session of songs that blend together and achieve some sort of melodic harmony – One Touch, All I want, I Can Change, like Us and Them / Any Color You Like. As it reaches the end, the record is increasingly soothing, melodic, perhaps peaceful. Home is positively chilled out, none of the crass superiority in Murphy’s voice. Maybe that’s what he was seeking all along, an exit from the madness of the clubs after a long night out, finally home.
The National are a band that exists solely to support a voice – the baritone of singer Matt Berninger. High Violet is the latest record to highlight his particular gifts, eliciting a particular brand of nostalgic melancholy. In the past, most of their songwriting was downright cryptic, but the lyrics of this record feel a bit more autobiographical, notably Bloodbuzz Ohio, with all its tumultuous emotions of returning home after a long, life-altering hiatus. The record is also a mix of their past styles, which vary from the intense rock-outs of Alligator (Lit Up, Abel), to the sad intimacy of Cherry Tree and Boxer. And because of that, it feels a bit scattershot, more like a collection of new singles rather than a cohesive album. It’s tough to pick up any sort of overarching theme to High Violet, other than a rehash of their past motifs. And despite the fact that this isn’t anything new, they’re such a solid band they merit a spot in the top 10.
Holy Fuck is a Canadian instrumental collective (like Godspeed you Black Emperor) that’s more interested in legitimate artistic experimentation than any sort of commercial success. Their “goal”, if you could call it that, is to create music that approximates the look and feel of electronica without the use of computers, loops, or mixers. They play traditional instruments with incredible speed and precision, and more than that, their rythm often congeal into a sort of hallowed awe that so often shows up in trace music. Of course, they’re using electric guitars, drum sets and reverbed vocals instead of synth samples, so you get something both strangely familiar and brand new.
It feels so long ago that Vampire Weekend was riding the zeitgeist, with their boppy Ivy League charm and Wes Anderson love story lyrics. Now, they’re selling Hondas and Tommy Hilfiger with the ever-catchy Holiday. The actual record is a bit more adventurous, with the auto-toned vocals of California English, the rock-out anthem Giving up the Gun, or the remixed M.I.A sample in Diplomat’s Son. They may have left Columbia’s Upper West Side, but they haven’t strayed far from the elite enclaves that made them so infectious in the first place.
JN isn’t really my style. I’m not really into the whole singer-songwriter aesthetic, and most folksy female vocalists don’t do it for me. But there’s something strangely seductive about Joanna Newsom’s latest. She’s reigned in the high-pitched birdlike squawk of Ys, but the songs are still full of symbolism and folksy motifs. There’s a sort of lilting pace to whole record, almost like jazz. This one is unique enough; I thought it deserved a nod.
Given the unbalanced ratio of time I spend on the computer/internet vs the car listening to radio, it’s surprising how many bands I’ve discovered from the local college radio, 88.5. Naked and Famous is one such band, hailing from New Zealand, and sounding somewhere between M83 and Silversun Pickups. They play a fine catchy guitar hook, and beneath that lay impressive atmospheric synth work. Young Blood is the tune that got me initially hooked, all plinking strings and sing-along “yea yea yea’s”. Eyes and The Ends feels like outtakes of Saturdays=Youth. And the record closes with Girls Like You, perhaps an ode of the male vocalist to his female counterpart, the perfect blend of those two aesthetics.
It’s strange giving GT a top ten spot, but All Day was some impressive work. Some of Gillis’s early work suffered from switching samples too quickly, leading to a jarring, schizophrenic feel. The new record is mixed with a much smoother flow, rolling from one classic rock or 80s pop hit and maintaining rhythm. Highlights include Twista’s light speed spitting on Wetter over U2’s With or Without You, and transitioning Modern English and Jay-Z to UGK’s One Day and John Lennon’s Imagine to close the record. Even better, the alldaysamples.com site that shows all the overlapping songs in real-time.