Friday, December 15, 2006

#1: The Knife - Silent Shout

Both Silent Shout and YoYoYoYo begin with the same rhythmic pattern: a bass drum playing triplets laid out over a bass drum playing straight four on the floor. The fact that the two best records of the year both start the same way is not necessarily not a coincidence. It's just a really fantastically great and underused groove. Anyone will tell you, especially when it's played on two differently pitched bass drums. It's an auspicious way to start an album - it's the cleansing, the call to arms, the sacrificing of the feral boar, the circumcision. Blood, lifting of hands, weeping and the whole nine yards.

And it's no less rocky the rest of the way. The next song is cold in the way that makes you want to drink antifreeze to warm up. You could picture a covent of witches dancing to it, you could see a Dutch tourist dancing to it, you can see your 14 year old daughter dancing to it, you can see yourself dancing to it, cause you are. While "Neverland" might seem like the sort of song they'd play at those blood clubs we've all heard about and seen in Wesley Snipes movies, "The Captain" reminds you that, just cause their from Scandinavia, that doesn't mean that the Knife are vampires, cause everyone knows vampires hate extended droning intros.

If they aren't vampires though, their still hella weird. And I've never been one to think that only weird people are capable of producing great art, but sometimes it's true. Sometimes it helps to live in an isolated cabin furnished with vintage synthesizers in the forests of Sweden with your sister when you're trying to make a great album. But if anyone else did that and tried to make an album like this it would suck. Every great album, every album that doesn't suck, with a few exceptions, is very close to sucking. Greatness most often is held by a precarious string dependent not tenacity or craft but on the ineffable: brain chemistry, pheromones, drugs, collective conciousness. And the Knife, unlike so many, know instinctively how to manipulate the aether. And how to program a drum machine. Fuck.

There hasn't been programming this uncomplicated, precise and flawless since people usd to not bother programming things. Maybe it isn't programmed, most of it, and really it couldn't be for how human it comes out. But maybe it is. That's only one very small mystery among the myriad mysteries of this band and this album.

Like, for example, does Olof sing at all? Or are the low parts just Karin's best impesonation of a deranged ogre pitch shifted down to a Nordic man's register? What does she mean by "pen"? Does she mean "pencil" or do they sharpen pens in Sweden?

Mystery and intrigue help sell a band or an album, and they are very scarce commodities in the age of MySpace, so they shouldn't be overlooked when calculating the stoichiometry of the Knife's appeal. But the fact that most of their songs are love songs veiled in really strange imagery is equally as intriguing.

"Music tonight/I just want your music tonight" - "They say we had a communist in the family/I had to wear a mask".

There's tension like that in the music too - "Forest Families" never blows up, never even gets close. It's just those driving hi hats, opening and closing (digitally of course), the filters being opened up only to let the slightest amount of light in on the keyboards. Really from "From Off to On" on out, there's no dancefloor material to speak of, which brings to mind albums like Remain in Light, the kind you didn't think they made anymore. What good does the idea of "halves" do in the world of KazAa? Is that how you spelled it? It creates narrative. It makes for an album you can live with and not just listen to. And fuck, where did that chorus from "Like a Pen" come from! The moment at 3:09 is more inexplicably unprectably natural than anything in electronic music since 5:07 of "Happy Cycling", and that's supposed to be the sort of thing electronic music is good for, isn't it?

Everything about this album makes sense to me, and it's basically all I listened to this summer.

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#2: Spank Rock - YoYoYoYoYo

Maybe sex isn't sexy, but there's never been any debate when it comes to talking about sex. For a long time rock and roll music had to take some cursory steps to convince old people whiter than the people creating it that it's mind wasn't completely in the gutter. This made for some great music, as well as Aerosmith's "Love in an Elevator". I've apparantly started picture Aerosmith every time I think of what's wrong with popular music as opposed to maybe 75% of the time like I used to. I didn't know that "Satisfaction" was about sex until I was probably like 18, and that's sort of how it's supposed to be. Luckily, we still have songs like "Milkshake" that make even grown ass men and women raise an eyebrow and say, "wait, what? s a milkshake mean?"

But "fuck subtlety" is a really good idea. Maybe not good as an ideology or a guiding principle of lifestyle, but a good idea as a perfectly contained, logical maxim. I never liked ghetto tech too much: maybe it was before it's time, maybe sex hip hop needed some time to mature. In any case it obviously has. Listen to YoYoYoYoYo. The beats are the perfect medium of bookish white boy funk, space age bodybuilder splunk, and "Whisper Song" love mud sleaze. They lyrics are alternately simple - rhythmically rudimentary couplets chopped into offbeat cadences, to the point - intelligent and nonsensical, rawly sexual in a typical "talking about sex" kind of way - and sexual in a "damn this S dot Rock guy's got something" charisma style attraction way. The kind that bleeds through speakers and trascends boundaries of l, b, g, t, q and everything else.

One specific thing I really like about YoYoYoYoYo is its clearcut distinction between the part and after party. R. Kelly talks about them in the same breath like they are analagous things, simply because one comes after another. Yes, R. We get it. A lot of things come after other things. But R. is on the right track, the cause and effect relationships in his world are just a little different than they are in the rest of ours, I think. He just decides to put a hotel lobby in between the part and the real after party (for him this after party is his hotel room). Which is the same way Spank divides it up. "Backyard Betty" is the party:

"look at that"
"whatchu say?"
"i said damn"
"yeah. damn"

"Bump" is the afterparty. This part I won't transcribe. Being the white, prude man that I am, I use people like Spank Rock tell my dirty stories for me. And maybe this exposes the real reasons behind my appreciation of this album, but no, seriously. Let's not put it like that. My subjectivity isn't on trial here.

Ok, I mean, fuck, it ain't liberating, and you could say it's misogynistic. But you'd be missing the point like you always do. This album isn't about society, and it's not even about interpersonal relationships. It's about the groove, the swagger, the charisma that's been missing from American music. Brandon Flowers is charismatic the same way Bono is, which is like a dumbass politician. Spank Rock can actually make you do things that you didn't know you wanted to do - Bono isn't gonna get anyone to support debt relief who doesn't already own a copy of No Logo. Spank Rock is what our parents were afraid of! A black man come to steal their daughters!

Rock and Roll!

"These hipsters think they slick. Let the drum but a rhythm in your hip. Bitch none of that 'I'm too cool for that' sugar: shake that nasty shit. I've, got, soul let me know if you want some. Oh! These hos don't want none. They just want to ride it, can't deny it, bending their back to the kick drum figure. Don't start no more beef now nigger. Don't fall for that black, snap the bigger picture. Come back to my lair. Strip down to your underwear. Let yourself go."

Rock and Roll!

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

#3 Zazen Boys - Zazen Boys III


Some people like repetition, some people don't. It's kind of irrelevant really. Mukai Shutoku repeats himself constantly, but, would you look at a priest, who has read the litany over and over and over for years because it's his job and say, "that guy's repeating himself?" Perhaps you would, and maybe it would be funny, but that's only because it's a relatively meaningless comparison.

Shutoku says relatively nonsequetirial things about the opening of society's doors, sexual feeling, the general craziness of life like they're the only things he knows how to say. He communicates his feelings about the world so obliquely, even more so for people who don't speak his native language, that the temptation is to say that the medium is the message, when in fact that isn't true at all.

It would be difficult to accept Shutoku's vocals were it not for the exquisite preciseness of his rhythm section, the biting angularity of his guitar figures and the sparklingest sloppiness this side of Lightning Bolt. As it is they are a perfect shining ray of truth.

I've heard them described as rap, I've heard the band described as rap-rock. By some guy at Tiny Mix Tapes , who seems to be one of the few western voices to be championing the band. Pitchfork likes them, but have they reviewed an album?

Anyway, I'd like to punch holes in Keith Kawaii's tires. I'd like to do worse, but saying so might seem like some sort of wierd cheap shot threat. Not like I think he'll read this, I don't really know anything about him except he writes about Japanese music for TMT, and somehow likes the Zazen Boys while still referring to them as a rap-rock band.

I'd punch through a wall to punch his arm. Rap rock??? Rap rock!? Oh man it's making me really really mad just thinking about it.

Fuck. calmdown. okl;

The Zazen Boys not only released the 3rd best album of the year this year, but I believe them to be the 3rd best band on the planet other than Radiohead, who, let's face it, are not really on that sort of radar anymore. Zazen Boys III is so good. There is not a note on the album that is not perfect, and I'd go so far as to say it's their best album to date. Not as hooky, not nearly as easy to listen to, but enough tension in every single track to break an elephant truck in half in the middle of summer. The snare drums alone could implode a factory.

When people talk about a band being tight, sometimes they mean tight as in tight, like that's a tight shirt, but not that kind of tight shirt, more like Juicy J's shirt in the "Stay Fly" video, and sometimes they mean that the band is hitting all of the beats at the same time. The Zazen Boys are beyond tight, they crush ducks just by looking at them. I can't imagine what this music would do to hyperactive or mentally unstable people. Keep it away.

Who cares that the words "This Is Noraneko" may not mean anything in particular in a vacuum. They mean the world when Mukai Shutoku strains them through his teeth while his band makes adolescent sexual tension seem like a day in the park. The Zazen Boys killed Aerosmith. I saw it.

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#4 The Long Blondes - Someone To Drive You Home

I never liked Franz Ferdinand much: I never bothered to listen to Maximo Park, and I never much cared for Belle and Sebastian, as I'm sure you know and are still shocked about. Shocking! On the other hand, I worship the ground McLusky and Blur walk on, so it's safe to say I have a somewhat love hate relationship towards British rock and roll music. Oh and I love Rachel Stevens.

I managed to hear Someone To Drive You Home a month or so ago, and it is fucking a brilliant album. Maybe Franz Ferdinand has put out stuff this good - I don't know and I don't care, the point is that I haven't heard a record like STDYH in a length of time measurable most easily in years. Long years. And yes I did just smash the name of the record into an unpronouncable acronym - it's that good.

And here's why. Imagine if Chrissy Hynde was British and didn't play guitar, but had other girls in a band with her that did, and also dudes, and those guys and girls were like, um former members of like, The Go-Gos, The Rapture, and Echo and Bunnymen, for example. Of course, such a lineup says nothing of the songwriting, and as strong as the performances are, the songwriting is better. Apparantly some people don't really listen to lyrics, and they complain maybe about having to actually sitting and listening to and thinking about music to develop an appreciation of words, but albums like this, that keep it terse, simple, to the point, witty, catchy and awesome prove those people to be the dumbasses they are.

Sure of course it's all been said before, and that's when the performaces come in. You get so much sense of personality through listening to these songs, it makes one wonder if maybe this, rather than the appearance, was why people fell in love with people like Debbie Harry. It's fair to say I'm in love with Kate Jackson (our fair band's lead singer), and it's fair to say that that's what she's after, and that's what she'll get. None of these songs are about just sex, though they are about sex, perhaps primarily, they're about petty personal relationships, being an dick who doesn't have anything more important to worry about than petter personal relationships and how everyone is a dick. Kate Jackson understands you. She's a dick to. It's like the girls who play video games thing.

The rest of the band is great. They play the rhythms and the notes, and they do some atmospherics, the backing vocals are extremely well done, but yeah, that's just the shit that will get people to not turn off the CD. As with pretty much every good album ever, it's in the arrangements, the songwriting, the amorphous and cop out sounding "feel", but unfortunately that's the best I can do right now.

Watch The Long Blondes sign a contract with Capitol/EMI and sell a million records next year. Watch it happen. There is no reason anyone between the ages of 17 and 26 who already listens to rock music on a regular basis would not eat this record alive - and on top of that it deserves whatever success it gets (peaked at #44 in the UK!). But c'mon, like the Brits ever knew what they wanted.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

#5 Asobi Seksu - Citrus

As the race to the finish begins, I try desperately to remember five albums that came out this year that I liked. As with every year, the albums I listened to a lot this year were, more often than not, not especially new, and this is the time of year I realize to what an extent I've been a lazy consumer of music and download 11 albums in one night only to realize that none of them were released prior to 1998.

Anyway. My relatively arbitrary #5 most favorite album of the year 2006 has been decided upon and it happens to be Citrus by Asobi Seksu.

Strange, actually, that I ever even happened to listen to this album, as it came more or less unrecommended by anyone I know, I've still never talked to anyone about it, and I really only know the first half. But man, wow! The first half is boss as hell, as is much of the second half that I've unjustly neglected.

You'll have to realize that for about 2 months (September and October, which are always key months for my music intake) this year I went more or less without new music, and had a hard time listening to albums like Citrus that had only really begun to grow on my towards the end of the summer. Otherwise I could make all kinds of wild proclamations about how great this record is. How the soaring guitars are actually Not shoegaze guitars, they aren't space rock guitars, they're guitars straight out of heaven out of the newly digital euphoria of the early 1980s, which, I think we all agree, has proved itself to be largely superior to the past it's prime analog of whenever some guy gets behind a reel to reel and feels superior. How this album reminds me more of the Cure or the motherfucking Go-Gos as it does My Bloody Valentine.

Stop fucking saying everything sounds like My Bloody Valentine.


These songs are catchy as shit, and they'd be on the radio if they weren't largely sung in Japanese, I'm convinced (ok maybe the production is a little bit lush, a little bit too much of a time-machine trip for modern rock radio these days - but if this had come out in 1987 it would've blown U2 out of the water). Albums like Loveless, as good as they are, are appreciated best in retrospect and with a sense of context. Citrus smiles at context and walks on by. Of course, it is a spring/summer album, and while a spring/summer album still works year round, I think, somewhat ironically, I'll have to wait a few months until I can really feel the full thrust of "New Year's".

The way that song manages to punch you in the gut and soar your face at the same time is really something special, and it's one of the most transcendent moments I've heard on record this year. There's been a good deal of music made this year that has been interesting and passable, but very few people other than Asobi Seksu have really tried for and reached transcendence in recording in the past 12 months, and as we all know transcendence is the only thing I really give a fuck about when it comes right down to brass tacks in the music evalution game. So many records I didn't even bother to listen to this year cause I knew they wouldn't be able to come close to getting me out of my head, simply because of preconceived notions. Sorry Beck. Sorry The Strokes. Hooray Asobi Seksu and hooray for not believing people when they tell you that a band from Brooklyn with a Japanese lead singer sounds like My Bloody Valentine.

This is happy for christ sakes. And especially in the spirit of the season, and the all the goodwill, the stuff, and all of it, it's all about happy, and it's all about pop. Happy pop. And if a band can still do that with reverb and guitars, more power to them.

It pains me. Actually pains me. To believe that there are people who would not be able to appreciate songs like "Goodbye" and would try to imbue it with cred, scene meaning, compartmental values and cultural bullshit, because it is songs like "Goodbye" that truly tap in to the simple beautiful and essential in music. It doesn't fucking come from Brooklyn by way of London or Tokyo or anywhere, cause it's right there! Can't you see it!?

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