Tuesday, June 27, 2006

2006, A Halfway-Point Review: Looking Back

Let's not just yet get too far gone in judging the year that will be Oh-Six. However, as we reach the calendar midpoint, the Toaster would like to make sure it has its crap together and has given a fair shake to the sea of new albums released this year.

Below is the list of artists with new work this year and a short snippet judgment and a grade a la Christgau, but shorter and snippier. NOTE: Grades subject to change...you know, based on the end-of-the-year curve.

Please comment below or send an email to let us know
what we've missed.

Honor Roll:

Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins: Indie starlett goes solo and gets a little countrified, drawing all-too- easy comparisons to Dusty Springfield. Enjoyed thoroughly by the Toaster, although it slightly made us just want to listen to Rilo Kiley. Yeah, the minus is for that pandering Traveling Wilburys cover. (A-) >> Highlight: "The Big Guns"

Cat Power: A great (not greatest) disc for a lazy weekend morning. Sadly, there are few other occasions we want to pop it in. (A-)

Neko Case: Not just the best show we've seen all year, but pretty close to the best album we've heard all year; it's really a grower. (A) >> Highlight: "Star Witness"

The Elected: It's good that we got two Rilo Kiley "solo" albums in one day; we may have been lost otherwise. A solid follow-up to the more-than-half-decent 2004 debut "Me First," "Sun Sun Sun" finds Blake Sennett coasting through some finely penned tunes. His ability to make it all sound natural pains us. (A)

Belle and Sebastian: Only a few semi-clunkers on the whole album, The Life Pursuit has quickly risen to the top of our albums of the year. Let's see if it can stay there. (A+)

Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs: We know they're covers, but we applaud the song selection and the well-intentioned and heavily (and beautifully) harmonized recreations. Hell, anything with "Sunday Morning" on it is a winner by us. (A-) Highlight: "Sunday Morning"

Merit Roll:

Laura Veirs: We like her, we do; we swear. We thought her live show was a tad self-indulgent and her album a tad too hard to get into. However, a few stellar tracks bring it to the fore. (B-)

The Cardigans: Yeah, there's some pretty good stuff here. And they're Swedes, yay. (Ungraded)

Calexico: The songs go a little long, but it seems solid from all angles otherwise. (B)

The Arctic Monkeys: Fun, but not a whole lot of substance. Perfect if you can't find your Franz. (B+)

The Concretes: Yay, Sweden! The Toaster digs the allusions to girl-group rock. (B+)

The Streets: Always fun, always good. There's just nothing there that resonates like half of the stuff on A Grand Don't Come for Free. (B)

The Weepies: We hate it when a few songs that we can't stop singing prompt us to by an album that underwhelms us in comparison. This is what happened with the Weepies Say I Am You. Still, those great tracks bring up the average. (B+)

Pearl Jam: As much as we wish we didn't still have a penchant for some Eddie Vedder, we do. And it would be unfair to discount them based on their un-indie or uncool-in-the-2000s status. Alas, we still would rather be listening to Vitalogy or something from a decade ago. (B)

Tilly and the Wall: God, we want to love love love this band. Still, the album doesn't stick like it should. And we just end up hitting repeat on "Sing Songs Along." (B++)

Gnarls Barkley: Yes, it's catchy. Yes, it's on the radio. Yes, we like a good portion of it. Get off our backs! (B)

Other (ahem):

The Strokes:
Unimpressed. And what's with that New Year's release date? (C+)

Sondre Lerche: The Toaster couldn't bring itself to buy this crooner stuff. The few MP3s we had, well, they were alright enough, I guess. (C)

The Flaming Lips: Unimpressed with what we've heard, except for that classic "Yeah Yeah Yeah" song. Wayne, make us love you again. Please. (Ungraded)

Bands With Albums With Great Tracks, prompting further investigation:

The Pipettes
Camera Obscura
Mojave 3
Matt Costa
be your own PET
Snow Patrol

Monday, June 19, 2006

REVEALED (more): Gil (pt. 2)

Gil, whatever that means, the June 2006 release from The Toaster Talks, hit the headphones last week, and things just haven't felt the same in the District since. What follows are highlights from Gil's back pages.

>> Featured Artist: Camera Obscura

When asked about the message a song called "Let's Get Out of This Country" might send to his listeners, Mister Toaster guffawed and reminded everyone that Camera Obscura was a Scottish group (just like its cohorts Belle and Sebastian). Then he took a nice long drag from his pipe and guffawed again - this time revealing to the world a cloud of think smoke.

The truth is we don't know what the hell the message is in this, the title track from the band's third full-length in four years (and the third in its 10-year existence). It's just a pleasant song we call hum and sing along too. Gil is too busy soaking up the sunshine to care.

*Oh, and they have a nice looking blog. Bien joué, mes amis.

>> Album Lookout: Eyes Open

Snow Patrol - Released: May 9, 2006 A&M

Preliminary reports on Snow Patrol were negative. A smarty-pants contingent of the blogosphere have written these lads off, and the staff here at the Toaster have heard the stories of rip-offs and too much hype.

Admittedly, Eyes Open is The Toaster's first foray into examining these Scots. We've been told from both sides not to trust the other, and so we stepped into the MP3s we found with the hesitancy of entering a cold swimming pool. And, to be sure, we wanted to reject these guys. "Lame!" "Cowardly!" "Blasphemous!" would have been the headlines on The Talks.

Alas, we couldn't do it. There's simply nothing to hate. Sure, sometimes they try a little too hard, but other times that extra umph is what sells the song. We've never been the type to knock a band for shooting higher and falling a bit short, and we won't start now.

"Set the Fire to the Third Bar" is not the most typical of songs on a Snow Patrol album. It calculates. It plods. It builds. Then it rides an atmosphere. And it brings in Martha Wainwright to guest, doubling the lead vox and providing her signature sound to the chorus.

We liked it enough to keep it, and Gil liked it enough to use it to begin the mix's denouement, coming in at No. 14.

>> Reverting to: 2004

The Hold Steady are on a warpath of sorts. And they have been since they emerged on the scene a few years back. Now busy on their third album, this un-Scottish band (they're from Minneapolis) packs so much energy into every song that the listener leaves each album (mostly recorded live, to boot) feeling a bit spent.

Craig Finn's lyrics are self-referencing, culturally astute and - often - tragically hilarious (see "Knuckles" - "We've got wars going down in the Middle Western states. Kevlar vests against the crystal flakes" or "I've been trying to get people to call me Sunny D. Cos I got the good stuff the kids go for. And people keep calling me Five Alive.") And even if he goes in an out of key, he throws himself into it, earning a pass just as a Lou Reed vocal performance would.

We believe in these guys. And Gil believes in you. G'night, dear friendlies.

[Editor's Note: Happy 64 to Brian Wilson! He's a little teapot.]

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

REVEALED: Gil, whatever that means (pt. 1)

[CORRECTION: Smoosh (pronounced with an "ooh" sound like in "room") rocks.]

O, patient love traders. Your wait is finally over. Gil, whatever that means, the June 2006 release from The Toaster Talks, is out this week. We at the Toaster staff have decided to spread out highlights from the mix over two weeks. What follows are three songs from the first side of Gil.

>> Featured Artist: be your own PET

Hype hype hype (again)! Be forewarned: this band will kick you on your ass. With their thrashing, noise-filled, punky feel and oh-who-the-hell-cares vox, Nashville natives be your own PET is rocking the indie world this month with its recently released, Sleater-Kinney-influenced, self-titled debut.

Yes, it's all very spastic. And, yes, it's all very fun.

"Adventure" debuts the band on a Toaster mix in the Number Five Spot, cos "it's all cool, ya know, cos we're, like, adventurers."

>> Album Lookout: The Avalanche*

Sufjan Stevens - Released: July 25, 2006 Asthmatic Kitty

We think we've said enough. The Toaster hearts Sufjan and can't wait for the Illinois outtakes album. With that in mind, we submit for your enjoyment the horn-laden "The Henney Buggy Band," which also happens to take the coveted fourth track on Gil.

* This is the last of a three-part Sufjan series, previewing the release of The Avalanche.

>> Reverting to: um, 2006

Matt Costa has written the feel-good hit of the spring, as far as The Toaster is concerned. And how great it is that it's a song about winter! When we first got a taste of "Cold December," with that "I've been waiting, pacing the long of halls ever since you left here," we knew it was bound for Gil's front pages. Clocking in as the pivotal third track, Costa sets the tone - light, slightly upbeat and mostly pop-friendly. And Gil never looks back.

"I can't fall asleep 'til your mystery is slowing blowing from the shore." That's right, Gil. That's right. Stay tuned next week for highlights from Gil Side B.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

BREAKING: The Devil Claims Billy Preston on 06/06/06; Thousands Perplexed

>> Featured Artist: Smoosh

Hype hype hype! Get out your notepads. The Toaster brings you the freshest, cutest thing since The Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players. It's Smoosh, the 12- and 14-year-old sister duo out of Seattle who learned with Jason McGerr, drummer of Death Cab for Cutie fame.

While the Toaster isn't sold on all the song, we are all impressed with their sense of melody and, hell, we don't know any pre-high schoolers who can do a whole lot better. Still, we can't decide whether a $25 show at the 9:30 Club with the Eels this Sunday is worth it...

And, as if they weren't lobbying us to attend, "I Would Go" is one of catchier tracks we've heard. One thing is certain: we can't get enough of the "Nah nahs" at the end. So damn endearing.

>> Album Lookout: Puzzles Like You

Mojave 3 - Released: June 6, 2006 (today!) 4AD

When Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell get together, they make great music. The Toaster found them via Lil' Sis and Excuses for Travellers (2000). It was great summer night-driving music, as long as you weren't anywhere near the verge of falling asleep, of course.

The newest LP, Puzzles Like You, is by all accounts a little peppier and guitar-poppy than past efforts. From what the Toaster has heard, we can't complain. Three listens to "Breaking the Ice" and we were hooked. It still pounds the pavement on a summer night like the best of 'em, to be sure; except this time, you're 44 percent less likely to fall asleep at the wheel.

>> Reverting to: 1978

Some call him the Fifth Beatle. [As far as the Toaster is concerned, that's a title reserved only for Murray the K (not really).] Still, the passing today of legend Billy Preston at the age of 59 is sad news for all who loved everyone who ever played with the Beatles and otherwise excellent music.

We leave you with his take on "Get Back" from the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie soundtrack, which Mister Toaster expected to be a train wreck. And it wasn't. Preston handles the vox quite well, even respectfully replicating the "With her high-heeled shoes and her low-necked sweater" rap at the end. And, boy oh boy, does he nail that electric piano part!

Here's a toast to the keys.