Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lists lists lists

Hey guys.

Back in December and in January and maybe even into February just about every music publication and message board dude was putting together "best of the decade" lists.

I tried back then but I decided not to. I've been thinking about doing it for awhile and I've actually got a bunch of albums selected, but I'm going to do it different.

I figured that making a list 1-100 would be even more arbitrary than my usual year-end top 50. Therefore, what I have done is made a NEW top 10 for every year between 2000 and 2009. I started making my top 50 or 40 back in 2003 (what a funny list that was) and I've published it on a website or this blog every year since (except 2005, in which I just made a top 20 and posted it on a couple message boards).

So anyway, I've made a new top 10 for every year and most of them are drastically different - because well, we change. The general criteria for making the list is whether or not I listened to the given album a lot after its release or if I forgot about it as the year changed. There are at least two #1's entirely missing from these lists, so there's that.

I'll post these with reviews or whatever in the near future with no promise of when they will come out or whatever and no one really cares anyway - its more for me than you. I've been rediscovering some past loves this past week and a half and it's been really great for me.

After I post all these, I might just make an overall top 20 or 15 or 10 or something for the sake of doing it myself and seeing if I value any of the years more than any other.

Anyway - stay tuned if you want. I'll probably post some A-Z's here and there too.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A To Z - New Wave Hot Dogs

I waited way too long to lose myself in Yo La Tengo.

Losing yourself seems an appropriate and essential stage of life when it comes to listening to Yo La Tengo. Often hailed as the quintessential "critic's" band, I had heard their name tossed around for years. I bought "Prisoners Of Love" when it came out - essentially figuring a 2-disc retrospective would be the best introduction to this storied band.

I never listened to it.

Then this past summer I decided to truly explore the band. It started with an obsession with the guitar-based tracks they lent to movies. Particular the forelorn echo in "Old Joy" that made me want to figure this band out. I started at the beginning, I worked my way up.

I loved everything.

Yo La Tengo is a band to obsess over. I can't call them my favorite band, I still don't know their music well enough and the summer obsession didn't last but a month. But when I decided I wanted to write about "New Wave Hot Dogs", I suddenly rekindled this obsession. I mean, this album is often considered one fo their weakest in their catalogue. It might be, I don't know. I'm not comparing. It's not a masterpiece, but chronilogically, this is the first full album to feature Ira as the lead guitarist and jesus fuck do I love his guitar playing. Sloppy as all hell, yet somehow it reaches places that many other guitarists can't. I dropped my dreams of wanting to play electric guitar when I was 16. Listening to Yo La Tengo rekindled that. The vocals are average, the melodies are great. The Velvet Underground comparison is very apt on this release, but man none of that matters. For some reason the guitar on this record, even more than some of their more notable releases, really gets to me. Whether its the gentle instrumental "Lost in Bessemer" or the feedback-drenched "Let's Compromise" - somehow Ira Kaplan is able to make the guitar relevant to me. I listen to many of these songs and say "yeah, that's exactly how I'd do it."

I waited way too long to lose myself in Yo La Tengo.

I'm glad I finally did though.

Download Here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A To Z: Music For Listening To - B.E.F.

In 1978, Brian Eno changed our perceptions of what the purpose of popular music can be when he released "Ambient 1: Music For Airports." I use the term "popular music" arbitrarily, because while Brian Eno was indeed until then known primarily as a pop music pioneer, this new direction was something different. He released music that was almost like "program music" that would have been used throughout the classical lexicon, but he stripped it of almost all elements. With "Music for Airports" Brian Eno had made a statement that music is as much an internal part of us as an external experience, he captured our breath and our thoughts by creating pieces of music that didn't go anywhere, that served merely as a peaceful repose from our daily grind.

In 1981, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh shattered this concept, took Eno's basic aesthetics and instruments as their own and created "Music For Listening To" as what appears to be a direct response.

Fresh off their departure from burgeoning superstars The Human League and while already supporting "Penthouse and Pavement" as Heaven 17, the duo took a detour towards experimental electronic music as the British Electronic Foundation (or B.E.F.) and showed the world just exactly what the synthesizer was capable of.

I'll say right now that this collection of songs really set the blueprint for much of electronic dance music that followed during the next 20 years. It's not as spaced out as the music Kraftwerk was making at the time, but kick drums and synth lines apparent throughout this release helped catalyze where synth-pop was heading in the immediate 80s and can be looked upon as the most direct starting point for what would become industrial music (and thus spin out many early house releases and even some of the early Warp stuff).

"Groove Thang" which was already known with additional vocals from "Penthouse and Pavement" is a classic right off the bat. With it's rapid-fire percussion, there are additional guitar and bass parts added by John Wilson that really set this track apart. It sounds like LTJ Bukem 15 years prior to his prime as the DnB master. The bass is all over the place, expertly played and providing a solid groove. Almost 30 years after it's initial release, the track doesn't sound dated like many early electronica and can still rock a party.

"Uptown Apocalypse" is dark. Synth sprinkled throughout and very deep sounding steel drum percussion. The title is the perfect fit. This sounds like the soundtrack to a pending fight scene in and 80s action film. Walking down the deserted streets, chains wrapped around your arms and looking to destroy anyone who gets in your way.

"B.E.F. Indent" is an interesting, albeit quick, take on classical music. Equally beautiful and futuristic. This is the music that Vangelis' best productions are in line with. Simple synth-based organ sounds, with an ending that comes to quick. "You wanted a break? Too bad."

The rest of the album touches on many sounds within the electronic music canon for years to come, allowing the listener to make connections as they listen. "The Old at Rest" is a direct connection the music Eno and Tangerine Dream were already making. Beautiful, ambient soundscapes that on its own can serve as aural wallpaper, but taken in the context of the rest of the album, really keep the listener engaged. You are seeking the changes in modulation, you are counting the keys as they echo through your speakers. Enlightening sure, but not boring.

The closing track, "Decline of the West" is just altogether special. Another fitting title for the music contained, the track brings images of decimation, loneliness, despair. Or maybe its just something you are going to put up with.

"Music For Listening To" is exactly that. This isn't background music, much of it is too fast-paced for that, much of it contains little shifts within the tracks that you don't catch unless you listen closely. It's almost entirely synth-based and some of it will sound dated. But it's an important release if you are at all interested in the history of electronic music. It may not have grandfathered every genre or been the only release of it's kind, but its a classic nonetheless and can surely hold your attention.

Download Here