Tuesday, December 25, 2007
10 Records You Should Buy With the Gift Card You Just Got
Continuing in the year-end goodness, the Toaster Talks brings you on this lovely national holiday the first of its two lists. It's the lesser, to be sure. This one takes about an hour or so to crank out, whereas next week's Top 100 songs of the year list kicks my damn ass...still a dozen or so hours to go on that front. Until then, enjoy your Xmas and your Boxing Day (all you crazy Canadiens!) and I'll see you on the 1st.
A little on the methodology here: These are my ten favorite records of the year. It isn't necessarily the best or the most deserving of awards, although I'd like to think they are. There are no soundtracks, no reissues, no cover albums, no tributes and no box sets. And, due to a lost bet 17 years ago, I'm not allowed to include any Jethro Tull. It gets tougher every year...
MY TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2007
10. Southeast Engine – A Wheel Within a Wheel
For me, this is the biggest surprise of the year. And I’m sure it is for you, because I’m pretty sure 95% of you have never heard of these guys. Well, they’re from Athens, Ohio, and I wrote a little a few weeks back. I am biased here, as I’m very familiar with their work. The more I listen to Wheel Within a Wheel, though, the more I’m convinced it stands up to the best albums of the year pretty well. Its two closest competitors in their genre – Ryan Adams and Wilco – pale in comparison to this refreshingly honest material from a truly gifted songwriter and a bunch of guys who could have easily been just support. Instead, the arrangements are inventive and interesting. All in all, it’s a record that hasn’t stopped growing on me. Compared to the rest of the list, these guys might be obscure, but I have a feeling they won’t be for long.
9. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
I was pretty much sold completely on my first listen to “North American Scum” and haven’t looked back. Some of the longer numbers – “All My Friends” and “Someone Great,” in particular, are making me reconsider my general distaste for what I deem to be unnecessarily long songs. For others, this could easily be the best album of the year, but considering most of what LCD Soundsystem does isn’t really up my alley, a No. 9 spot says a lot about how good this one is.
8. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Funeral probably changed how I will view modern music. So in my eyes, at least, Arcade Fire were destined to disappoint. Neon Bible is a somewhat hodgepodge collection of dark, vaguely seditious songs that doesn’t resonate with me the way it intends to (or the way it does for so many others who have them topping out their lists). Still, upon revisiting the record, I still find it very, very good – a follow-up effort that just shouldn’t be compared to its predecessor. (It’d be like panning Magical Mystery Tour because it’s not as complete and life-changing as Sergeant Peppper…).
7. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
I’ll admit that I resisted this one and its critical acclaim. I just didn’t think Spoon had this in them. Sure, I enjoyed “The Underdog,” but something about the bandwagon that sped off from the starting gate irked me – not to mention the misspelled song titles or the album name itself. But I kept popping it in my car stereo on many of the long drives that filled my fall and winter. I realized the change in me in September when I found myself really enjoying “The Ghost of You Lingers” and the stereo dynamic that is almost breathtaking in the car (I initially hated it in my headphones.). There’s no question – Spoon has made a fantastic album with this one.
6. The New Pornographers – Challengers
Many of us – myself included – were really counting on the New Pornographers to give the summer’s pop scene a kick in the mouth. You know, more smart power-pop from the folks who have done it so well since Mass Romantic.
What we got instead was much more an indication that The New Pornographers had outgrown their nascent sound and frontman Carl Newman was trying hard to branch out. There are new lead singers (Immaculate Machine’s Kathryn Calder) and a seemingly conscious conservation of Dan Bejar and Neko Case (the latter gets only two leads on the album).
As a whole, Challengers feels disjointed, a mix of would-be solo Newman songs, a few new Pornographers standards and a third batch of songs that almost deserve to be assigned to a third nom de plume. (The best example of this is the 6-minute “Unguided,” which is probably one of the most intelligently crafted songs of 2007.) Still, the album proved itself to be the grower of the year, due to Newman’s pop sensibilities and the raw talent that this band has on hand.
5. Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
Much like Challengers, The Shepherd’s Dog is an evolutionary album. Sam Beam finally gave in to the full-band sound, and what a relief! Before The Shepherd’s Dog, I had never been able to listen to a full-length Iron & Wine release without taking a break.
It had to be done. Since teaming up with Calexico in 2005 to make In the Reins, the intimate vocals and sparse (but secretly complex) arrangements that had come to characterize the Iron & Wine catalog no longer satisfied as it used to. It’s hard not to think that it would have been far easier for Beam to continue down the path toward Nick Drake-like mystique. But the urge to play around with his sound clearly got the best of him.
This couldn’t be more evident than on “Carousel,” a disarming track that puts Beam’s vocal through what sounds something like a Leslie Cabinet. In the end, the experimentation is refreshing but it’s the sheer beauty of moments like “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” that make this album a must-own.
4. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala
At the very least, this album deserves credit for finally settling the nagging pronunciation issue. It’s Yens. Thank you.
This album is baroque pop at its ripest. Lekman steps up to the plate with his cute, clever Swedish singer-songwriter shtick and hits an absolute home run. Songs like “Postcard to Nina” and “Your Arms Around Me” show that he is one of the best indie storytellers out there. Night Falls Over Kortedala is the kind of album that is good and consistent enough that the listener never really thinks that Lekman could be capable of producing anything less. It’s why it’s one of the last albums I remember when trying to piece together my “Best of” list; it doesn’t play like a masterpiece, perhaps because it doesn’t need to.
3. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
I’ve never been a huge Of Montreal fan, but they certainly have my attention now.
Hissing Fauna…? isn’t just a great album, it’s also managed to get mentioned in the same breaths as stunning concept albums that have left the rock world struggling to figure out what the fuck just happened. Perhaps the best comparison is Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, which saw a respectable and risky artist put everything on the line in the name of making a strong statement. Hissing Fauna…? is a bit more subtle (how could it not be?) and perhaps a little lighter on the self-hatred in its tales of drug use, depression and longing. And while this album isn’t an instant classic, due mostly to a slight weakness in its later tracks, its ambition is hard to deny.
For me, I always got hung up on the 12-minute “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal,” finding its repetition and length a bit obnoxious. Then one day this fall it clicked. And all of a sudden the song stuck, finally landing (at least in my mind) the triple axel it attempts.
And then it was decided – “This is a fucking fantastic record.” Because I apparently am the decider.
2. The National – Boxer
This was my far-and-away front-runner favorite album released this year up until about two months ago (not long after Cease to Begin was released, and I finally turned the corner on the Of Montreal album). In a way its greatness was due to its role as a utility infielder for my soundtracking needs. I could throw Boxer on no matter the situation. I first discovered this in the car, realizing it was a great driving record. Then I put it on in the apartment on one night before a party and found it had night-starting qualities too.
Bryan Devendorf’s drumwork drives this album. Sure, the songwriting has merits of its own, but the lyrics take on a necessary subtlety under the stark, popping rhythms. Matt Berninger’s signature drone puts his vocals into a much different category (something more along the lines of Crash Test Dummies, perhaps) without the dark-city-on-a-late-night backing arrangement. But without Berninger’s songstylings, the result would uninviting – an exercise in depicting cold isolation, perhaps. Instead, we get an album that, if you let it, will pump your blood for you.
1. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
While last year’s Everything All the Time catapulted Band of Horses straight into indie hearts everywhere, I always found the album to be a bit uneven. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great album (and an outstanding debut at that) but it didn’t sound like a complete work to me the way that Best Albums of the Year do.
Cease to Begin does. And it’s evidenced by the fact that there aren’t any masterpiece tracks like last year’s “Funeral” and “Great Salt Lake” on this album. And yet each track takes me in and propels itself along in a way that doesn’t just make the album feel whole; it makes it feel brief. For a band that put me in a trance that could have lasted hours in concert, this is no small feat.
There’s no question Cease to Begin gets an A on the Toaster grading scale. Still, I’m always nervous when there is no heir apparent album of the year. And I’m left for weeks second-thinking my choice. This year will be one of those years, I’m afraid, as the #2 and #3 albums could both have easily stolen the throne.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The 2nd Annual Toasties!
Save for a few missteps, 2007 is turning out to be a pretty damn good year in the music folder anyway. So, without further ado, I give you this year's Toasties, the music world's barely coveted superlatives. (There will be no mp3 posts this week.)
Toaster Odds and Ends Awards 2007
Best Band Name: I’m From Barcelona
Worst Band Name: Shout Out Out Out Out
Best Album Name: A Hawk and a Handsaw, A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangar Ensemble
Best Song Title: Des Ark, "If by 'Gay' You Mean 'Totally Freaking Awesome,' Then Yeah, I Guess It's Pretty Gay"
Best Comeback From Oblivion: Dinosaur, Jr.
Biggest Let-Down: Rilo Kiley (bailing out a sadly mediocre Voxtrot)
Best Follow-Up to Greatness: Band of Horses
Biggest Surprise Love: Of Montreal
Best Summer Song: Spoon, “The Underdog”
Best Winter Song: The Shins, “A Comet Appears”
Best Attempt at Bringing Despair Down All Around Us: Of Montreal, “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal”
Best Album to Get Blotto To: LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
Worst Moment by a Great Band: The first and second halves of Under the Blacklight
Best Opening Act: The Bowerbirds, for The Mountain Goats
Artist That Yielded the Most Cases of Music Blogs Losing Our Respect: Seriously, still Lavender Diamond
Biggest What-the-Fuck?: Rilo Kiley
Biggest Where-the-Fuck-Have-They-Been? (or, They Released an Album in 2007?): Travis
Most Concise Song: Tegan and Sara, “Soil, Soil"
Most Imitated: Belle and Sebastian
Worst Release Date: July 7, 2007 - The Smashing Pumpkins
Best Release Date: July 10, 2007 – Interpol, Spoon, They Might Be Giants - like a normal American band, damn it
Most Anticipated Albums of 2007: The Mountain Goats, Nada Surf, Kathleen Edwards
Worst Lyrics: Rilo Kiley, “15”
Best Lyrics We're Not Sure We Understand: “Flightless Bird, American Mouth”
Best Live Show of 2007 (Witnessed by The Toaster Talks): The Swell Season, July 26, 9:30 Club
Best Marketing Concept: Radiohead, obvs (thank God I didn’t have to pick Paul McCartney's teaming up with Sbux)
Worst Marketing Concept: The Eagles' release available exclusively at Wal-Mart
Best Soundtrack: Juno
Best Release from a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer: Bruce Springsteen, Magic
Best Song That Scares the Shit out of Me: M.I.A., “Paper Planes”
Biggest Tragedy: Indefinite hiatus of Let’s French
The Andrew Bird Eerie-but-Damn-Catchy Award: Patrick Wolf
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Winter in a Car
I'm going to be completely honest - after two songs, I get a little sick of the Beirut sound. I can't really make it through a listen of an entire Beirut album unless it's there to soundtrack my Sunday morning chores. I think it's his voice or those precious carnival-like arrangements. Something is just a little too much.
>> Album Lookout: A Wheel Within a Wheel
>> Reverting to: Tonight
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Still Catching Up (yeah...)
>> Album Lookout: The Stage Names
>> Reverting to: 1996
At least I can be up-to-date when it comes to out-of-date bands reuniting for no reason other than to pad their retirement portfolios. Of course, to be fair, this "band" never really ventured outside of that mindset when they were relevant.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Meet Mir(anda): Part II
Perhaps the least expected choice Mir(anda) made was taking a song from Tyrannasaurus Hives. I must admit I've never really followed the Hives. Nor have I ever felt compelled to listen to them. You'd imagine my surprise as I ran home to Google lyrics from a song I heard while waiting to get my hair cut. The Hives?! Sounded more like Screamin' Jay Hawkins to me (check out "I Put a Spell on You" - not on Mir(anda)).
Once the immediate panic subsided I decided to find the song and tuck it away in a folder to be revisited on a more sober location (for the record I hadn't been drinking, but I had just had a number done on my stylish locks - and I was also ripped from a whipped cream charger). Revisiting "Diabolic Scheme" took a few weeks, but I still found the whole tune strangely compelling. I found it gave Mir(anda) a much-needed lift in her middle parts, which were starting to grow a bit saggy.
>> Album Lookout: Because of the Times
The Toaster has a soft spot for Kings of Leon. Every since its rough-and-dirty hit "Wasted Time" found its way into our lives, I've pretty much at least mildly enjoyed everything I've heard from these Nashville guys. I was a bit unnerved though that I had completely overlooked their new album, which came out in APRIL!
So I made up for it by giving "Fans," a non-single from the album a prominent spot in the No. 2 position on Mir(anda). What a fun song to feel rough and dirty to!
>> Reverting to: 1971
How can you have a fall mix without a Bob Dylan song? Mir(anda) dug deep and found "You Ain't Going Nowhere" (which features the Band accompanying the Dyl). The song was first found on a 1968 bootleg called The Great White Wonder, but it didn't see the legal light of day until Dylan put out his second Greatest Hits volume in '71. (They later co-released the song in 1975 with a beefed up version of the '68 bootleg called The Basement Tapes). Beyond the neat history to this tune, it's just a nice, fun-lovin' way to kick off a car ride - or a mix, in this case.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Meet Mir(anda): Part I
I got a very special sneak peak at FOX Searchlight's big indie end-of-the-year release Juno last week, and I must say that all the hype is pretty well-deserved. And the film chooses to center a large portion of the soundtrack around the songstylings of Kimya Dawson and the Moldy Peaches. I didn't really care for the Peaches when they first emerged, but all that Kimya sure did get my attention (and a good chunk of spending on iTunes the next day). Here's the track that Mir(anda) chose: "I Like Giants." It's lighthearted and fun - two descriptors that could never be applied to "12/26" (a track I downloaded because it was seemingly named for my birthday - in actuality, it's named for the day that the 2004 tsunami killed thousands and thousands of people). Also, "XXX," a track featured at least twice in the film, is also near and dear to the heart for lyrical reasons.
>> Album Lookout: Nevertheless
Anyone who has read the Toaster Talks since last fall knows of my probably unhealthy obsession for Christine Fellows. You might imagine that the release of her latest album would have me all a-twitter, and you'd be right. What's sad is that the album is only available in Canada right now, and even attempts to buy it via the Canadian Amazon proved that it'd be about $30. Not even iTunes has it for download. (This is a crime, and I suggest terrorists might be behind it).
So I only have a few tracks to tide me over until the tariff is finally lifted and I can enjoy Nevertheless in its entirety. That said, "The Spinster's Almanac" is an instant Fellows classic. I simply cannot get enough.
>> Reverting to: 1969
I got a big kick out of seeing The Darjeeling Limited end with this classic French pop song. The song for me, due to its omnipresence in my high school French classes, harkens back to a time when I believed Wes Anderson's works were flawless. So the pairing worked well. And now I'm eight years older; "Les Champs Elysée" is back in my life; and Wes Anderson has made another very good movie (a much-needed recovery after The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou). And if we can just return a Democrat to the White House, all may be right with the world after all.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
More Catching Up
>> Featured Artist: Jimmy Eat WorldVery little appeals to me about a new Jimmy Eat World album. Futures never really grabbed me the way that Bleed American or earlier works had. And for some reason it's also left me feeling unexcited about anything forthcoming.
Clearly this is a band that can ooze talent and hooks on demand. It can scream emo or it can rock you straight. It can write songs that grab you and sit you down until the fade. But can it every do all of this well again?
Reviews are mixed on Chase This Light, the band's latest foray into rawking and feeling, etc. I'll sum up what I've read: Butch Vig produced it, so it's too glossy and too big-and-important sounding. It fails mostly, though, in that there's nothing adventurous really going on here. "Formulaic" - if not uninspired - is a word that seems to floating around a lot.
So now I'm really not all that excited. And the new single, "Big Casino" just kind of reinforces all of that (Though I was a bit into it when I heard it at a bar last night, but I think that's because it followed something awful). "Carry You" sounds like something off of Bleed American, which should be a great thing to say. But I guess I'm just not the same person (or, more accurately, age) I was when that album really moved me. Maybe it's me (it's never me).
>> Album Lookout: Hey Venus!
Super Furry Animals - Released: August 27, 2007 Rough Trade
Cue up the Wall of Sound, it's time for some Super Furry Animals. This is a band I've always liked from afar but whose appeal never last enough to actually make me buy an album. I came closest with 2003's Phantom Power. Somehow, after six or seven listens, it all starts to sound the same, and their efforts to sell me have all been cruelly thwarted.
I'm still open, however, to the prospect of picking this one up. "Run-Away" is a very catchy song, even if it does remind me a lot of later Pulp - and, for that matter, of everything else this band has ever done. But our music critic buddies are always so happy about everything they do, so we'll do a little more digging into what Hey Venus! has to offer.
>> Reverting to: 1992
Finally a shout-out to R.E.M., well deserved members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2007. I still remember "Stand" as the song I played over and over from the first mix tape I ever got (from my dad). In fact, a LOT of songs from that mix have ended up on the Toaster. As one of my friends put it, it's like those were the only songs the radio played back in those days. This isn't one of them, but it's one of my favorites from that era: "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite."
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Cease to Be Dan
Old news, of course (we've been away...). Mister Toaster is really enjoying the new album - courtesy of car rides with DJ Bry. And here's that song that samples that "Grammy Award-winning American jazz rock band."
Band of Horses - Released: October 9, 2007 Sub Pop
This album doesn't mess around. It goes right after you with "Is There a Ghost." And it doesn't stop. There are no filler tracks, or anything that could be considered less than interesting. For a band that just hit my radar last fall/winter, this is remarkable.
With the album's Brian Wilson melodies (and vocals) and the aggressive song structure, it's hard not to think that something is being accomplished here. Look for this on the Top Albums of the Year list.
This would be the song Kanye sampled: "Kid Charlemagne." Wow, gotsta love the Becker-Fagen.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
>> Featured Artist: Jens Lekman
Not only did we miss the release of Jens' latest full-length in all this baseball hubbub, but we also have failed to properly prepare for his upcoming Black Cat show. A friend of mine - the friend who bought the tickets - is going to proposition Mr. Lekman to play at wedding. There are few thousand bucks on the table, I'm told.
What's to be said about Jens Lekman, other than that I think he's so incredibly overlooked - and yet so incredibly overrated. I mean, this is Jens Lekman. Everything about his music is about a lack of pretension and refrain from overthought. (As you see in the Slate article, there are some folks who seem to be hoping he's the next coming of Christ/Lennon.) His music's greatness is based on the fact that it resembles something pure, I guess, if purity is something attainable through sampling and simplistic, straightfoward, honest lyrics.
There's something indescribably great about Jens - something that make
See here: "The Opposite of Hallelujah," a cut of the new album. I'm just hoping his live show lives up to the promises of his studio productions.
The Weakerthans - Released: September 25, 2007 Epitaph
Well, while no one was paying attention, Canada's John K. Samson and Co. released their follow-up, the solid Reunion Tour. I've had the benefit of spending a few car rides taking this album in. Every time, "Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure" chokes me up a bit, which seems silly until you realize that Samson's songwriting taps into emotions and the everday importances that make our lives matter. Virtute the Cat, who was also featured in the first person on the last album (and whom I always read as "Virtue"), represents the perfect subject to illuminate the Weakerthans' songwriting prowess - emotion from an unlikely source. For a more typical Weakerthans song, though, check out "Night Windows."
Luckily, I'm also seeing this band in concert this Sunday at the 9:30 Club. Honestly, having seen them twice before (once, all by my lonesome on Oberlin College's campus), I can't wait.
I spent a little time on the road over the past two weeks (a LOT of time) and I ended up relistening to a lot of great music I haven't listened to in years. Bruce's greatest hits was one of those discs. "Born in the U.S.A." (video) sounds better every time I hear it.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Special Edition: Toast-tober Baseball (Part II)
And also Joba Chamberlain can't handle the midges.
Fionn Regan - Be Good Or Be Gone
The series before us will prove to be more difficult. It's hard to argue the Red Sox are overrated. I mean, they paid for what they have, but what they have is something special. Beckett has been at his pinnacle nearly all season; Schilling and Wakefield are pros; and Daisuke is overrated and overpaid (hey, I said worse about Melky Cabrera just before he gunned someone out at home and homered in Game 2). And that's just their starting rotation - not to mention their bullpen or Jon Lester. Or their hitting.
Tears for Fears - Break It Down Again
Yeah, the Red Sox are going to be tough. But not unbeatable. After all, the Indians have two Greek gods going in Games 1 and 2 (and 5 and 6, should we get there) and if the Red Sox are going to get by us, they have to get by them. If they do that, well, they will have earned a trip to the World Series.
If I'm the Red Sox, I wouldn't be bidding on World Series tickets just yet. The Tribe is now officially the hottest team in baseball's second half and postseason (with the possible exception of the Rockies). Their pitching is perhaps the best in the bigs (although the Sox have a superior closer) and their lineup has depth that most teams would dream for. Still, it's a young team and anything can happen.
But, frankly, I'd like to think the Indians just plain deserve it more.
OK Go - This Will Be Our Year
So here goes nothing. Let's hope the Tribe can pull four out against these Beantown boys. Next week, I'll be in Cleveland for Game 4, so I won't be blogging again until the ALCS is over. Here's to a Part III.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Special Edition: Toast-tober Baseball (Part I)
In honor of the moment - and as long as the moment continues - The Toaster Talks is going to commemorate the fight in blog song.
First up is the Yankees in a short series. The Yanks scare the bejesus out of me in general - not because of how good they are, but simply because there seems to be a prevailing evil that arrives and ensures that its beloved pinstriped team goes all the way.
Mark Mothersbaugh - We Call Them Pirates Out Here
On paper, there is no question New York is the best team in the league. I mean, they paid for it, right? On the field, it's a bit more mixed. The Indians bested the Yankees record by two games and were even hotter than the sports writers' "hottest team in baseball" in the last 45 days of the season (five games better, in fact). But the Yankees won each and every time the two teams played this season. Yikes.
Eels - Losing Streak
They say the playoffs come down to pitching. That's good, because I'm not sure the Indians offense at its best is even in the same league as the Yankees best O. But if pitching wins championships, the Indians have a mighty good shot. They have two of the five best pitchers in the league going in Games 1 and 2. If they can hold their own and the Indians offense can produce, this series is the Tribe's to lose.
The Lovin' Spoonful - Do You Believe in Magic
Without a doubt the tone will be set by Game 1, with C.C. Sabathia - the man who should win the Cy Young Award - on the mound. If he pitches a gem (which he almost always does) AND if the Indians can get to Wang (which seems highly possible)...well, I'm not going to speculate. These are big ifs for October baseball. Either way, I'll be on hand to witness it.
The Mountain Goats - Going to Cleveland (thanks for the track, DW; sorry for the droning intro, folks)
The sports writers seem to think this is a pretty well-matched series. Still, most of them are giving the edge to the Yankees, mostly because they are the Yankees and I'm pretty sure it's already been decided that the Yankees must make it to the World Series.
The New Pornographers - Challengers
So I'm going to sit down tonight for my usual routine - a hopeful, brings-tears-to-the-eyes viewing of Major League. (Just the opening credits can give me goose bumps).
Randy Newman - Burn On
I don't make predictions, but I haven't felt this good about a baseball team I rooted for since the mid-'90s. As they say back in Cleveburg, it's Tribe time now.
God bless America.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
The negotiations are under way, and we expect to be back next week at our regularly scheduled time.
Until then: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Co5DZl50OeQ
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Iron and Wine Kind of Smells Like Fall
Still, Carlberg has managed to bring something new to the table. His lyrics are well-written, even if they dance in and around theses and topics that have been explored time and time again. His music is part Beatles, part Beulah (even though Beulah is also certainly part Beatles).
"Clever Girls Like Clever Boys Much More Than Clever Boys Like Clever Girls" - easily the longest title of a song ever featued on the Toaster - is a cut reminiscent of the aformentioned Scottish indie pop outfit, from the diction to the way the dominant melody is much more complex than it seems - refusing to repeat three or four lines at a time. The track itself is more complex than comes across, building with layers that are not immediately heard.
Another interesting cut from Sweden, it would seem...
Iron and Wine - Due Out: September 25, 2007 Sub Pop
Since I caught the late show of Iron and Wine with Calexico last year, I've been high on expectations for whatever comes next. And, just as a true fan should be, I'm scared of being disappointed. After the Decemberists' Crane Wife and Rilo Kiley's Under the Blacklight (the latter, by the way, is far worse, but the Decemberists' follow-up to Picaresque might be the bigger buzzkill in my book), it's hard not to be a little wary of future output.
Apparently Sam Beam isn't scared. And, if "Boy With a Coin" is to believed, Beam and co. don't disappoint.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Sounds Like Summer Fading
>> Featured Artist: The Bees
If The Bees keep making music like this, I'm really going to start forgetting they are a modern band. Seriously, was there not a British pop band named the Bees back in the late '60s-early '70s that imitated some of the best from their contemporaries and incorporated some obscure music-friendly influences to make us all get in the groove? Apparently not. But there is a band of the same name (they're actually Band of Bees on this side of the Atlantic) that are signed Virgin Records and are pumping out interesting cuts regularly from their homes on the Isle of Wight.
Take a listen to "Got to Let Go" and see if you agree.
>> Album Lookout: The Con (again)
Tegan and Sara - Released: July 24, 2007 Sire
I wrote about The Con a few months back, releasing to you all the song that everyone else had - before I had had a good listen myself.
Tegan and Sara have always had a warm place in my heart, due to their making me feel French, but before I had always viewed them as a talented pop group, making music that was almost too good for its supposed target audience.
The Con is the album I have been waiting for them to make. Yes, they're still writing as the same angst-filled protagonists. And the subject matter is still perfect for all you teens who read Toaster. But this album has something much stronger than we've seen on previous albums, something that was hinted to on So Jealous' title track. It's a depth and slight darkness seen both in their lyrics and the music that propels these songs.
"The Con," another title track, is a good representative of this blend of ambitious, confident dark-pop song that this band has come to perfect. I can easily see The Con hitting high on those darned end-of-the-year lists, which are already starting to haunt me.
>> Reverting to: 1985
A friend of mine recently admitted sheepishly to going to a Huey Lewis and the News concert this year. Who would be sheepish about something like that? Marty McFly wouldn't. Chief, you gotta be honest with the world or you're never going to be honest with yourself.*
NOTE: The "Web Sheriff" stopped by last week's post and told me the New P's don't want "Unguided" out there on the Internets. I've removed that MP3. Too bad; it's a great song.
* This might not actually be true, but we're considering starting a greeting card company...
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Early Dispatches from the Stereo
>> Featured Artist: Rilo Kiley
Someimes it seems a band can do nothing wrong. That's what I would have told you had you approached me a few months ago about the new Rilo Kiley album, Under the Blacklight. Then I heard the leaked single - "The Moneymaker" - but I reserved judgment, sending a "Seriously, guys?" email to the band's info@ address late one night instead.
So it was with sweaty palms that I picked up Blacklight (with the New P's release) a few weeks ago.
Two spins in is as far as I could get. This album registers just north of "pure shit." Whatever it lacks in inspiration and interesting storytelling (two things I never thought would dry up for this combo) is made up for by forced sex themes and otherwise depraved goings-on (e.g., a disco song. Yes, a disco song - and probably not for irony's sake, unless of course it's double irony - "isn't it ironic that we actually wanted to do this and not just for irony's sake?").
The lyrics - usually the band's strong suit - are consistently weaker than anything I've ever heard come out of this band. Nearly every chorus (actually, it MIGHT BE EVERY CHORUS) comprises one words or phrase, usually including the title of the song, repeated.
Looking for something nice to say...hmm...the guitar work is usually pretty good. And, yes, there are some tolerable moments (the sole Sennett-penned tune "Dreamworld," is interesting; the start-a-dance-craze numbers "Moneymaker" and "Smoke Detector" are somewhat fun if you're drunk; "The Angels Hung Around" - even though I'm pretty sure the chorus rips off somebody else's melody - and the title track grace us with some much-needed acoustic guitar and nice melodies). But even these songs would have been easily skipped on More Adventurous. And these unoffensive songs are almost entirely drowned out by the awful (awful!) songs - "15," "Breakin' Up" - the aforementioned disco track - and the lame, cliched "Give a Little Love."
To be completely fair, I respect Jenny Lewis and company for not wanting to make the same album over and over again. Now I just ask that they move - without hesitation (i.e., cancel all tours) - to make some music nothing like this one.
>> Album Lookout: Challengers
The New Pornographers - Released: August 21, 2007 Matador
After one listen, Challengers leaves New P fanatics a little confused. Could it be that Carl Newman actually made something MEDIOCRE? Could this make August 21st the most disappointing new-release day of 2007?
But Challengers has something that Under the Blacklight doesn't - subtlety. And on nearly every track, repeated listens leave you hooked - just like on previous albums. This time it didn't come as fast.
The Onion put it this way: "If previous New Pornographers albums are the musical equivalent of Jolt Cola, Challengers is the caffeine-free diet version: less sugary, more mature, initially not as invigorating, but ultimately just as addictive."
Exactly. "Unguided," (REMOVED at the request of "Web Sheriff") Newman's attempt at a 6-minute epic, is the perfect example of this (and we're no fans of the 6-minute song, generally speaking).
Honestly, this isn't a 5-star album as each of the first three were. It's probably more of a 4-star. But then again last week I would have said it was a 3.75-star album. You be the judge.>> Reverting to: 1967
It's summer in the Northern Hemisphere, so it's time for The Toaster to get his Beach Boys fix. I've had Pet Sounds and Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE on the mind for the past few weeks as I read the new Brian bio Catch a Wave. And now you can join me!
Here's the stereo version of the SMiLE classic "Heroes and Villains" (single version from Hawthorne, CA).
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Meet Sugar (Part III)
12 >> The Innocence Mission, "Into Brooklyn, Early in the Morning"
* * *
Oh, Paul! Of course, you can't have a summer-sticky sweet mix without a near-meaningless ditty from Macca. We've gotten a bit of flak for this choice - and perhaps fairly so. But what is important about this song is its triumphant simplicity. Even after an album of many serious, introspective songs, Paul returns to his penchant for the just-plain-nice. He makes no mention of politics or freedom (or, for that matter, taking tea in an English garden). If the man hadn't been going through a bitter - and bitterly public - divorce just prior to this album's release, perhaps it would have been a bit disappointing. But for Paul fans, this was a welcome return to form - and a strong signal that the Paul we've always known was still there after all. And behind all that simplicity is actually a pretty interesting arrangement driven by a loud bass drum and a crisp mandolin part. So, haters, tread lightly: It's Paul McFuckingCartney.
* * *
The New Pornographers have a new album out! Yay. SUGAR welcomes them into her arms to begin the denouement. Continuing the themes of empires and wheels and dabbling in the arts and dangerous levels of medicine that still won't sing, Carl Newman and co. give us a typically infectious piece of pop music - complete with the same vocal prowess and twists, turns, and unexpected et ceteras we've been celebrating for three albums now.
* * *
The Polyphonic Spree have always freaked me out. From their uniforms to their sheer army-sized stage ensemble, I've always expected it all to end in a KoolAid mass-suicide fiasco. Or at least a concept album about one. Still, they're making great pop music, specializing in the anthem. And it's at this point SUGAR's intentions become clearer. "Parades of this day will outshine them all." "I get around the world upon your freeways."
* * *
Even if Once isn't likely to be an Academy Award-winner, it's still one of the brightest spots of this year's movie scene. Even more, though, it's one of the best finds of the music year as well. The Swell Season had gone mostly unnoticed with last year's album and, if it hadn't been for this Fox Spotlight film, most of their now-swooning fans wouldn't know Glen Hansard from that guy who plays down by the Metro who never quite pulls off "Sweet Caroline." This track, while a bit of a surprise for most Toaster regulars (with the screaming and all), is a logic coda for SUGAR, who had spent 15 tracks having fun, dancing and doing recreational drugs. Perilously close to being misunderstood and with doubt clouding her saccarine path...well, yeah, I guess she just loves the movie Once.
I hoped you enjoyed SUGAR: There's dangerous levels of it here. The Toaster will be back to its regular programming next week.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Meet Sugar (Part II)
06 >> Blitzen Trapper, "Wild Mountain Nation"
07 >> The National, "Fake Empire"
08 >> Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang, "Freedom of the Heart (Ooodily Ooodily)"
09 >> Let's French, "Genevese"
10 >> Justice, "D.A.N.C.E."
* * *
Blitzen Trapper has found favor on the blogs this summer, and I guess we're no different. SUGAR has chosen the title track from their LP as the crucial six-track, which bridges us from the heights of the beginnings to the end of the mix's first side. "Wild Mountain Nation" attempts to pull us into a nature theme, but SUGAR is clearly just in it for the blow. The song centers on a killer lead guitar hook that develops into a pretty nice, cutting solo - just in time to get you ready for the way the refrain brings you back to square one. Nicely done, Blitzen Trapper, wherever the hell you came from.
* * *
It's no secret that the Toaster is a big fan of Boxer. The lead track has always flabbergasted me. How do all those instruments playing competing rhythms come together, let alone in such a way that allows the song to continue to build until the final sustained chord. That strange piano part and Matt Berninger's low croon create a mysterious, devious tone that is eventually compounded by the attack of the drum kit. It's a tone that's held throughout the album, so if you don't dig it, this album might not be for you. And, man, that breakdown blows me away with those rivaling horn parts. You got me goin', SUGAR!
* * *
After the intensity of "Fake Empire," you're probably expecting something equally heavy. But the mood is lightened quickly with "Freedom of the Heart" - at least for those of you unfamiliar with indie film Chuck and Buck. For those who have seen it, you're probably feeling heavily disturbed, which I can only assume is just how SUGAR would have wanted it.
* * *
It is with a heavy heart that I have to say that this next track is by a band that no longer exists. The Toaster Talks' favorite DC band, Let's French, have disbanded. This makes the repeated "I can feel you changing; I believe that I'll be changing soon" all the more sad. Tears in heaven, guys. Tears in sweet, sweet heaven.
* * *
Dutiful subscribers to the Toaster know this song from the kick-ass (and VMA-nominated) video that got Toaster Posted a few weeks ago. It's a dance song, as its title states pretty clearly. And, for those of you who can't stand dance songs, just blame it on the French (cos they're from France).
Until next time...
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Meet Sugar (Part I)
It aims to soothe.
01 >> LCD Soundsystem Watch the Tapes
02 >> Immaculate Machine Dear Confessor
03 >> Moonbabies Take Me to the Ballroom
04 >> Spoon The Underdog
05 >> Art Brut Pump Up the Volume
If anyone has a claim on anthemic summer songs, it's LCD Soundsystem. "Watch the Tapes" is one of many endlessly catchy hits to pop off of the band's latest LP. Take it in and wiggle your hips.
* * *
Immaculate Machine has come a long way (from Canada), paired with supergroup New Pornographers for tours and even lending co-lead Kathryn Calder to be a permanent member of said supergroup. "Dear Confessor" is a shipshape representative of the pop sensibilities they've honed over the past few years. The ballads, however, are where the band takes off. Check out "Roman Statues" if you get a minute. Keep the SUGAR on pause.
* * *
Every time I turn this song on I think it's Death Cab. Hmm. Still, once over the hurdle of realizing it sounds a whole lot like something from Plans, I am won over by this song's lush arrangement (sweet, sweet melodies). SUGAR finds it to be a perfect transition from the fun-fun-fun of Immaculate Machine to the more serious side of Toaster.
* * *
"Jon Brion-produced" is sometimes all you have to say to get my attention. I enjoy Spoon; don't get me wrong. But this song jumps from "enjoyable Spoon romp" to "team-sports anthem of the summer" in its lovely few minutes on SUGAR. She loves to be underestimated.
* * *
Fuck it. Art Brut is everything I want to be. The irreverent, we're-not-phonies rock they've churned out now on two critic-blessed LPs is a source of love - not the deep kind of long-term love that each of us deserves. No, this is more of the "summer fling, give me that pop music" love. Who hasn't been there before?
Next week, The Toaster will feature the next five songs from Sugar: There's Dangerous Levels of It Here.
Stay tuned. And stay hot, compatriots.
(Some would say this was a day late, but really I'm on vacation...in the future.)
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Taking the Day Off
Instead, I'm leaving with you the best music video I've seen in a long time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fo_QVq2lGMs.
Sweet song, too, for Frenchies.
Next week, the Toaster will be back with a look at Sugar, the mix Al Gore blames most for global climate change.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
>> Featured Artist: Lonely, Dear
Oh, Sweden! You do so many things so well. I had danced around Loney, Dear's latest release Lonely, Noir for a while and never really honed in on any tracks.
Then one accidentally got left on my iPod. "I Am the Odd One," which brings us Brian Wilson-esque melody and arrangement with the lyrical idiosyncracies of a Sondre Lerche. Normally, these iPodial mistakes would be quickly rectified. But after a listen or two, I decided to keep it on their as my leaving-the-house-in-the-morning song. If you tune out the apologies and self-degrading lyrics, it's quite pleasant.
Two earbuds in!*
>> Album Lookout: It's a Bit Complicated
Art Brut - Released: June 19, 2007 Downtown
Even though I've loved this band's irreverent rock for a while, I've been slow to digging up It's a Bit Complicated.
"Direct Hit" is just as spot-on as the title indicates. Everything I've appreciated about this band - the conversational lyrics, subtle (and not-so-subtle) humor and social commentary along with damn-catchy hooks and powerful rhythm sections.
More to come, I'm sure. For now, it seems to be another winner.
Speaking of Apple products, I was browsing the iTunes store yesterday and found a personalized list of songs that iTunes "recommends" for me. Looking down the list, I saw a bunch of indie-rock songs - most of which I already owned or had roundly dismissed every owning.
And then I spotted the No. 2 recommendation - Heart's "These Dreams."
After playing the :30 teaser, I decided, "Yeah, I guess they're right. I do need to own that '80s classic." (I cannot tell a lie.) But how did they know? HOW did they know?!
* This is not, and never will be, the Toaster's rating system.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Warm, Confused Places
>> Featured Artist: LCD Soundsystem
Yeah yeah, I know I've already done my fair share of talking about songs from the new LCD Soundsystem. Still, as we find ourselves on the other side of summer, I've yet to find its anthem.
"All My Friends" might not be it. But there's no question that it's anthem material. So I'll submit it to you, fine constituents.
The hypnotic repetition of the piano alternates between irritating and mesmerizing, depending on which listen I'm on. And James Murphy's lyrics aren't too shabby, almost benefiting from the simplistic melody. "And if I'm sued into submission, I could still come home to this." Yeah!
The central question, in the end, is a good one for summer: Where are your friends tonight?
>> Album Lookout: Emerald City
John Vanderslice - Released: July 24, 2007 Barsuk
The warm spot in my heart for John Vanderslice can be directly attributed to his opening for the Mountain Goats on their 2005 tour. It's not so much the music that I care for, as it is the fondness I have for any person who would share a stage with Mr. Darnielle.
That is not say that Vanderslice doesn't, on occasion, wow me with one of his alterna-indie pop creations. On "White Dove," the free track from his latest album, released today, Vanderslice doesn't stray much from the confusing but imagery-filled lyrics. And the driving plugged-in acoustic give the song a good level of drive.Still, he opts for lifting a Tom Petty line in the middle 8 and loses me a bit.
Bottom line: it's enjoyable, if just a little too contrived.
In the Toaster world, there are few things valued higher than a classic Elvis Costello track. My love for picking out the meaning in his clever turns of phrase knows little in the way of boundaries.
To that extent, "Man Out of Time" has become the Holy Grail of sorts for me - beautiful in concept but impossible to realize. Just what do lines like "Cause the high heel he used to be has been ground down, and he listens for the footsteps that would follow him around" mean? Or "To murder my love is a crime, but will you still love a man out of time?" (Or is it "To murder, my love, is a crime..."?) Or "he's got a mind like a sewer and a heart like a fridge / He stands to be insulted and he pays for the privilege")?
My best guess - and this, I admit, has been influenced by my penchant to think to interpret art to be a statement on capital punishment - is that the subject here is an upper-class murderer who is facing the death penalty and the song deals with how this affects his family. But, wow, even that doesn't hold up to "the after-dinner overtures are nothing but an afterthought..."
And what's with this beautiful pop song bookmarked by guitar chaos? It is an enigma. And I am forever intrigued.