Archive for the ‘Columns’ Category

Thoughts on early January

Guided by Voices — Let’s Go Eat The Factory

A rather busy end to 2011 and start to 2012 saw me miss what I thought would be a lot, but it turned out that I was just late to my first listen to the new Guided by Voices record.

Wait, what?

I shouldn’t be surprised.* When I saw GBV at Matador at 21 — you know, that concert that was supposedly their only reunion show that turned into a full-fledged tour — they looked, well, happy. And really happy at that. None of the infighting (oh, Pavement…) and just some good old-fashioned rock music. Well, if old-fashioned means 1990s indie rock, then that. Otherwise, I retract my statement. At any rate, I also shouldn’t be surprised that they’re planning to release three albums in 2012. End of the world my ass.

But this — well, this is good, I think. A few tracks in and there’s nothing hugely surprising yet. Let’s Go Eat the Factory isn’t the polished pop-rock heard on soundtracks to mid-2000s television series (hey, I like that stuff sometimes, no hard feelings!) and it’s not exactly the fuzzy nonsense of Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. No, it’s somewhere in-between, and I can’t place my finger on where that really is. That’s kind of nice, actually — we already have those albums to listen to whenever we want, and another just like it — well, that’s a bit much. Or, you know, something like that. Honestly, I wouldn’t actually have complained at first.

Wait, what’s this piano doing in here? “Spider Fighter” … nice vocals. It’s different. It’s… nice. Respectable. Why? Maybe it’s Robert Pollard’s Surprise Symphony. No, wait — it’s Tobin Sprout. Maybe that explains it. I really should listen to those two Tobin Sprout solo albums again.

Yeah, it’s all here. The oddball songs, the slowdowns at the end of tracks that just sing GBV, the overtly cut-short writing, and, of course, those attempts that really don’t come off but somehow made the album anyway. All those things that made the band a cult classic. I’d wonder if it was a forced thing, but I won’t complain either way.

Shit, wait. There’s a song called “How I Met My Mother”? It’s probably just a nice little shout after the repeated use of Guided by Voices tracks in How I Met Your Mother. Oh, and it’s a minute long. Plus two seconds. Maybe five seconds of that is guitar noise at the end though. Well, that’s weird and a bit cool.

So, yeah. This is classic Guided by Voices — to a point. It’s not obnoxiously classic, and it’s not just a weird throwback album. Or maybe it is, I don’t know.

Whatever it is, I think I like it.

* I’m not actually surprised. I already knew it was coming out long before today. But at some point, I was surprised and that’s what matters. I hope.


Nada Surf — The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy

Onward and upward — and onward to The Binding of Isaac, which is my favorite game of 2011. Now, of course, I didn’t play it until January 2012, but you’ll hopefully forgive me for some delay there. But relevant to this piece is the album I’ve opted for: Nada Surf’s latest. Sure, everyone’s going to say something about “Popular” while completely ignoring the four very good albums that came after High/Low — and then declare that they’re mounting some sort of brave comeback with their last two albums. Yeah, If I Had a Hi-Fi is good — but so too was Let Go and The Weight is a Gift.

But I guess that’s water under the bridge, isn’t it? OK, so The Stars… is good. I’ll have to listen to it a few more times. In the mean time, I suppose I’ll watch the end of the U.S. Women’s National Team demolition of the Dominican Republic. 14-0, seriously?

Still, this Nada Surf album is a nice one, and I’m sure it’ll hold up to repeated listens without much controversy. They’re a band I keep coming back to because of their consistency, so to see that continue is quite nice indeed.


Diagrams — Black Light

Right, on to the point where I listen to new things and play video games or, well, something. I’d read some Quine but I suspect I’d fall asleep.

I’d not heard Diagrams before this (as, I suspect, is the case for most people — it’s Sam Genders, formerly of Tunng) but a first listen reveals some poppy shambles. Good lord, it’s fun, and I suspect I’ve already got a song or two stuck in my head. There’s nothing quite like British experimental pop, is there? Juan over at No Ripcord (where I also write, though perhaps not as often as I should) called it “an album of brainy arrangements and palatable textural work.” He’s right, of course.

Hell, I’ll say it: It’s sometimes downright proggy. And I like that.

Damn, I love Dreamend

Ryan Graveface, the man behind Dreamend, has had my ear for a number of years now. He first landed on my radar when I, on a bit of a whim, bought As If By Ghosts. I was, I think, duly impressed, and I’ve since paid some attention to Graveface, his label. Some of what’s released by the man is brilliant.

Maybe We’re Making God Sad and Lonely is no exception. This is a delectable mix of post-rock and pop; the swells, the drops, the hesitant approach and the glorious return: It’s all here, and it’s all masterfully done. This LP is among my favorite in my collection.

Listen to “New Zealand” below.

2010 in Review #5: The build up to some of the year’s greats

The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

In this series, Matthew Montgomery takes a look at five of his favorite happenings in the music world. Between today and the end of the year, you’ll get a chance to read the top five.

Waiting in eager anticipation can be fun, but when you’re incrementally fed exciting bits of music before a release, it’s that much better. Case in point: “I Didn’t See It Coming” from Belle and Sebastian’s Write About Love and “The Suburbs” from the Arcade Fire‘s chart-topping outing.

It may be in part because I’ve grown to love both groups since my teenage years, and they’d both waited several years to hit the new releases section of your favorite record store — but boosting that anticipatory glee can only be a good thing. Can you imagine being hit with the new album from your favorite band without a moment’s notice? It would be disorienting! That anticipation helps to build expectations so they can either be let down or boosted, depending on your perspective. (more…)

Music Geek: Ten for 2010

School of Seven Bells - Disconnect From Desire

Given how quickly 2011 is approaching, here’s a quick list of ten of my favorite records of the year. If you ask me what they are tomorrow or at any time in the near future, my answers will change. Just saying. Check it out!

1. School of Seven Bells — Disconnect From Desire (@sviib)
Dream pop on steroids for the 21st century — I can’t resist it.

2. Belle and Sebastian — Write About Love (@bellesglasgow)
More from the band that’s brought you great indie pop for 14 years. Mix in some soul and R&B and you’ve got Write About Love.

3. The Tallest Man on Earth — The Wild Hunt (@tallestman)
Folky pop music with some real power behind everything. Just pure goodness here. (more…)

Music Geek: Hunting for records an essential part of musical journey

See, I can look classy every now and again.

When I search for records, it’s not an easy process. I often find myself inundated with those pesky round things — be they CDs or vinyl — as I flip through album after album. It’s not always particularly easy to find exactly what you want, supposing, of course, there is something in particular you’re interested in finding. It’s often the case that I’ll search shelves with no specific end, only the means: Exploration and search.

I’m under the impression that this is an essential part of my “musical journey” — a nebulous term I’ll adapt for use under a number of different circumstances with varying success. Half the fun of getting a record is looking for it, flipping through racks and racks of music, and finding that one specific item you’re willing to drop your cash on — or that stack of records you really, really don’t need right now. (more…)

Music Geek: Record stores at crossroads, but there’s time to recover

See, I can look classy every now and again.

While in Phoenix for a computer-assisted reporting conference — NICAR 2010, which has a name nearly as exciting as possible for this sort of this — I took a jaunt over to a couple record  stores, interested, of course, in seeing what sorts of wares were on offer. What I found was surprising and depressing, inspiring and enlightening.

My first stop, Circles Records & Tapes was one which I’d recently discovered was either closing or had already closed. To my delight, I found it to have not yet closed, and a large advert touting their 50-percent-off liquidation sale made the whole thing all the more tantalizing. It was, then, a bit unfortunate to discover that the store was very much into the process of closing its doors, and the merchandise being liquidated included a few miscellaneous albums on vinyl — nothing of real note, excepting one of the many Brian Eno collaboration projects — and a slew of very cheap, obscure, and low-quality CD releases. It was no real pain to walk from the store empty handed, as I’d already assumed it had closed for good, and my plans were primarily to visit a store a few blocks away, Revolver Records. Anything I would have picked up at a Circles would have been merely a happy accident.


Music Geek: Woody Allen’s Manhattan and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” combine for engaging musical perspective

That famed, prolific director Woody Allen — the auteur behind greats like Annie HallInteriors, and, of course, the subject at hand, 1979’s Manhattan, the three of which were released over a three-year period from 1977 to 1979 — has always displayed a penchant for musical ingenuity.

So when the black-and-white, self-affirming Manhattan opens with George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” a musical masterpiece said by some to be a portrait or tribute to New York City, we aren’t really surprised. When Allen, with his wry wit and self-deprecating demeanor, juxtapositions his opening narration, a stop-start, neurotic monologue serving as the opening to the equally neurotic Isaac Davis, even obliquely mentioning Gershwin, we’re given a distinct image of the film to come.


Music Geek: The Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion”

See, I can look classy every now and again.

See, I can look classy every now and again.

Whilst listening to the latest episode of All Songs Considered from NPR — it’s on the decade defined — The Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion,” from the group’s seminal 2004 full-length debut Funeral, imparted upon me a certain unusual zeal; it is a sort of zeal, I find, that is only imparted by the occasional realization of a song’s power and the inner workings behind such power. Radiohead’s “A Wolf at the Door,” most recently, hit me the same way; for weeks, I diagrammed the structural intricacies in an attempt to understand why, exactly, the song just… worked. (more…)