Archive for December, 2011


A Little Bit Ruthless

Wild Flag “Endless Talk”

If you read what Carrie Brownstein is singing here on the printed page, it seems a lot more harsh and biting than it sounds on record. Which makes some sense – she’s addressing someone who is casually cruel and undermining, but never really goes beyond snide remarks. “Endless Talk” isn’t exactly a cuddly song, but there’s affection and respect in Brownstein’s voice, and the tune is far too buoyant, nimble and sparkly to convey much bitterness. If anything, it’s nudging this person to lighten up, to cool down, to drop the aggression and get back to the sweetness.

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That Was Just A Joke About The Money

Helium “XXX”

“XXX” is a revenge fantasy in which Mary Timony sings from the perspective of a prostitute who murders her johns. (Which is, of course, very much the opposite of how things typically go.) The song is effective in large part because Timony is so good at conjuring a sound that is as provocative and seductive as the image of her street walker vigilante: The guitar tone is totally lurid; it actually sounds like the male gaze. Her voice is overtly sexualized in the song, but her deadpan affect twists the knife at just the right moments, bitterly deflating masculine fantasies and ripping into the emptiness of her objectification: “You want to have me / you watch me like TV / you want to hold me / collect me like rubies / talk about me like a movie.” She’s never a real person to these men, just something to conquer and possess. So if her existence is meaningless to them, is it so different if their lives are meaningless to her? What’s the real difference between made to feel dead inside and actually being killed?


The Strangest Dreams

Atlas Sound @ Bowery Ballroom 12/18/2011

Parallax / The Shakes / Te Amo / Walkabout / Amplifiers / Recent Bedroom / Modern Aquatic Nightsongs / Mona Lisa / My Angel Is Broken / Terra Incognita / “No destination” // Artificial Snow / Flagstaff / Attic Lights

Atlas Sound “Te Amo”

In music parlance, you would say that Bradford Cox performed solo at this gig, but the more accurate word would be “alone.” Cox seemed small and slight at the center of an empty stage, filling out his songs with live loops and effects as he was surrounded by colored smoke. He’s become very good with the loop pedals, constructing elaborate layers of sound with great grace and precision, and building up compositions on the spot with remarkable drama. Most of the songs were extended, with intro sequences that gradually teased out the textures and themes before snapping together into a familiar form. (He played these 13 songs in just under two hours.) Cox was even more impressive when he would cut out the layers of sound, stripping bare his voice and acoustic guitar for brief moments in larger compositions, or for a striking, jaw-dropping rendition of “Amplifiers.”

It’s not uncommon to see people perform by themselves, or to use loop pedals, but it is rare to witness a performance that feels so personal and direct – at times, this concert felt almost unnervingly intimate. It was a very moving and intense experience. I saw a few different people near me break into tears at different points in the show. A girl behind me was bawling through “Attic Lights.” I haven’t ever seen a show quite like this one.

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The Songs To See You Through

The Smashing Pumpkins “Luna”

The liner notes for the new CD reissue of Siamese Dream includes comments from Billy Corgan about each of the songs on the album. They’re pretty interesting for the most part. For example, “Geek USA,” a song that features the best lyrics of Corgan’s career by a great distance, is dismissed as “Dadaist” gibberish. “Sweet Sweet” is apparently about a hobo. The bit that I found unexpectedly moving was his words about “Luna,” a song I have loved for most of my life but have never paid much close attention. Corgan all but spells out that the song is about Courtney Love, his on-and-off lover for much of the early 90s. “I am in love with someone that doesn’t love me,” he says of his state of mind at the time it was written. “My songs are better than hers,” he says, getting in a passive-aggressive jab that also serves to clarify that he wasn’t talking about his wife from the Siamese era.

There’s something about the Billy/Courtney dynamic that just kills me. Or, really, the Billy/Kurt dynamic. Think of this from Corgan’s perspective: You’re going through life convinced that you’re a visionary rock genius, and you know what? You basically are. But this other guy comes along, and not only does he steal all of your thunder, but he gets your girl too. And then, a few years later, he dies. He’s frozen in time, perfect forever, while you have to fumble through all the ups and downs that go along with carrying on and living. And no matter what you do, you can’t escape this guy. As far as the world is concerned, there is no context for your achievements without him. That is so sad and unfair! No wonder he is how he is.

It had never dawned on me to listen to “Luna” as a song of unrequited love. The “I’m in love with you” part at the end always seemed so confident to me, but now it just sounds defiant, as though he doesn’t need the feeling to be returned to know that he’s speaking the truth. The rest of the lyrics snap into place — the uncertainty, the promises, the risks. “I go along just because I’m lazy, I go along to be with you.” It’s a feeling that doesn’t hurt in the moment – you really believe it at the time – but in retrospect, it’s so crushing: The time, the love, the parts of yourself you give up in pursuit of something you can’t ever really have.

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The Winsome God Of War

Iron & Wine “Big Burned Hand”

A lot of people made up their mind about Iron & Wine a long time ago, and set songwriter Sam Beam down in a box marked “magnificent beard/sad folk.” Beam still has very impressive facial hair, but his music has developed quite a bit since the mid-00s, gradually mutating over his past couple releases into the classy, subtly artful soft pop of Kiss Each Other Clean. Beam’s in full-on 70s mode throughout the record, filling out his arrangements with rich harmonies and glossy textures that accent rather than pile on his gorgeous melodies. It’s one of the most tastefully produced albums of the year; almost overwhelmingly pleasant in its use of space and texture, and its delicate balance of implied warmth and dryness of tone. That dryness presents most every instrument with precise clarity, but he still tosses in a bit of distortion to great effect — in the case of “Big Burned Hand,” his typically immaculate and softly-rounded voice is just a bit in the red, lending it a slight edge of imperfection.

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Attempting To Make Sense Of My Aching Heart

INXS “Not Enough Time”

If some unknown band came out with this song today, would people consider it to be chillwave? The mood is right, but the sentiment – probably not, right? It’s too open-hearted, too bold, too obviously sexual.

Michael Hutchence’s greatest gift as a singer was this seemingly effortless ability to convey passionate romance without seeming corny and raw sexuality without coming off like a sleaze. He always sounds so completely there, so fully committed, and totally direct in his language. I first realized this when singing “Need You Tonight” at karaoke and nearly blushing at the lyrics. You need to rise to his level of confidence to sing those words effectively.

“Not Enough Time” may be the most romantic INXS song. Hutchence’s lyrics are heart-melting, the sort of thing you dream of saying, feeling, hearing from someone else. The song is grounded by its low end, a simple, gorgeous pulse that ranks among my all-time favorite bass lines. Even as the song swoops up for its quasi-gospel climax, that bass keeps the whole thing feeling small in scale. You never forget that this is song is about a moment between two people.

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This ten-disc, 183-song mix is a survey of some of the best and most notable music from 2011. It covers a wide range of artists and genres, and I think it’s as comprehensive as it possibly can be while focusing on my personal favorites and omitting stuff I either don’t care about or outright hate. I think you’ll find that this serves as both a helpful guide to some of the year’s most exciting music and a surprisingly listenable series of mixes. Discover new music, rethink familiar acts, jam out to nearly 13 hours of music. If you enjoy this, please do pass it on.

If you’re reallllly behind on music, I should point out that the 2010 survey is still available. If you’d like to stream the set – minus about 30 of the songs – you can do so on either Spotify (thanks Sarah!) or Rdio (thanks Diana!)


Beyoncé “Countdown” / Jay-Z and Kanye West “Gotta Have It” / Britney Spears “How I Roll” / Tune-Yards “Powa” / Lady Gaga “Yoü and I” / Neon Indian “Fallout” / Friendly Fires “Hurting” / TV on the Radio “Caffeinated Consciousness” / Battles “Sweetie and Shag” / Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire with Despot, Das Racist, Danny Brown and El-P “Huzzah! Remix” / Action Bronson “Larry Csonka” / Toro Y Moi “Still Sound” / Thao and Mirah “Rubies and Rocks” / Paul Simon “The Afterlife” / Iron and Wine “Me and Lazarus” / Lloyd with Andre 3000 and Lil Wayne “Dedication to My Ex (Miss That)” / Adele “I’ll Be Waiting” / Cass McCombs “County Line”


Slow Club “Two Cousins” / The Rapture “It Takes Time To Be A Man” / DJ Shadow featuring Little Dragon “Scale It Back” / Rihanna “We Found Love” / Handsome Furs “What About Us” / Cut Copy “Where I’m Going” / Holy Ghost! “Do It Again” / MNDR “Cut Me Out” / Patrick Wolf “The City (Richard X Remix)” / Azealia Banks “212” / Lonely Island with Nicki Minaj “The Creep” / Danny Brown “I Will” / John Maus “Believer” / Sepalcure “Carrot Man” / Beirut “Santa Fe” / Jessica Lea Mayfield “Tell Me” / Cults “Bad Things” / Gardens & Villa “Carrizo Plain”


Florence + the Machine “Spectrum” / Wild Beasts “Bed of Nails” / Destroyer “Kaputt” / PJ Harvey “The Words That Maketh Murder” / Tyler the Creator and Hodgy Beats “Sandwitches” / King Louie “Too Cool” / James Pants “Every Night I Dream” / The Weeknd “The Party and the After Party” / Thundercat “Walkin'” / Radiohead “Separator” / Lil Wayne “Nightmares of the Bottom” / Little Dragon “Nightlight” / M83 “Claudia Lewis” / Yuck “Shook Down” / Smith Westerns “Weekend” / Matthew Friedberger “Shirley” / Cymbals Eat Guitars “The Current” / Society of Rockets “Plastic Stars”


R.E.M. “Discoverer” / Wild Flag “Romance” / Purity Ring “Ungirthed” / Veronica Maggio “Finns Det En Så Finns Det Flera” / Planningtorock “I Am Your Man” / EMA “Milkman” / Atlas Sound “Mona Lisa” / Eleanor Friedberger “Heaven” / Real Estate “It’s Real” / Pistol Annies “Hell On Heels” / Pusha T “Raid” / ASAP Rocky “Palace” / Kelly Clarkson “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” / AWOLNATION “Sail” / The Joy Formidable “Whirring” / Cold Cave “The Great Pan is Dead” / Mr. Dream “Learn the Language” / Sandro Perri “Changes” / Austra “Shoot the Water” / Bon Iver “Calgary”


The Kills “Future Starts Slow” / Anna Calvi “No More Words” / Black Keys “Lonely Boy” / James Blake “The Wilhelm Scream” / Shabazz Palaces “Recollections of the Wraith” / Nicolas Jaar “Space Is Only Noise If You Can See” / King Krule “Portrait in Black and Blue” / Jack White “Love Is Blindness” / Cam’ron and Vado “Girls Cry” / Curren$y “This Is the Life” / Ludacris with Wiz Khalifa “What U Smoking On” / Electric Six “Psychic Visions” / Panda Bear “Last Night at the Jetty” / Drake “Marvins Room” / Kurt Vile “Baby’s Arms” / Feist “How Come You Never Go There?” / Cliffie Swan “Dream Chain” / The Decemberists “Calamity Song” / ‘The Book of Mormon’ Original Cast “I Believe”


Julianna Barwick “The Magic Place” / St. Vincent “Cruel” / Lykke Li “Youth Knows No Pain” / Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks “No One Is (As I Are Be)” / The Last Hurrah “The Ballad of Billy and Lilly (Parts 1 and 2)” / Thurston Moore “Illuminine” / My Morning Jacket “You Wanna Freak Out” / Fleet Foxes “Bedouin Dress” / Travis Garland and JoJo “Paint” / Yelle “Safari Disco Club” / Sebastian featuring Mayer Hawthorne “Love In Motion” / ARAABMUZIK “Golden Touch” / xxxy “Ordinary Things” / Tom Vek “A Chore” / Patrick Stump “Spotlight (New Regrets)” / Yelawolf “Good Girl” / Big K.R.I.T. “Time Machine” / Rewards with Solange Knowles “Equal Dreams”


Rebecca Black “Friday” / Das Racist “Michael Jackson” / The-Dream with Big Sean “Ghetto” / Ke$ha “Blow” / Katy B “Broken Record” / SBTRKT “Right Thing to Do” / Kelly Rowland with Lil Wayne “Motivation” / J. Cole “Work Out” / Justice “On’n’on” / Coldplay “Hurts Like Heaven” / Big Troubles “Misery” / Iceage “Broken Bone” / Liturgy “Generation” / Oneohtrix Point Never “Replica” / Kate Bush “Wild Man” / Charli XCX “Stay Away” / Gang Gang Dance “Sacer” / Lana Del Rey “Video Games”


Beastie Boys “Make Some Noise” / Nicki Minaj “Super Bass” / Miranda Lambert “Baggage Claim” / Los Campesinos! “By Your Hand” / The Strokes “Under Cover of Darkness” / Foo Fighters “Back and Forth” / Girls “Alex” / Guided by Voices “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” / Megafaun “Get Right” / Keren Ann “My Name Is Trouble” / Active Child “Hanging On” / The Field “Is This Power?” / Azari & III “Manic” / Frank Ocean “Songs For Women” / Unknown Mortal Orchestra “Little Blue House” / Kathryn Calder “Who Are You?” / Future of the Left “Polymers Are Forever”


Hauschka “Cube” / Mountain Goats “Damn These Vampires” / Sloan “Unkind” / Telekinesis “I Cannot Love You” / Wilco “Dawned On Me” / Gauntlet Hair “My Christ” / Cities Aviv “Coastin'” / Lil B “I Seen That Light” / Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame “Break Her” / Jamie xx “Far Nearer” / Skrillex “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” / The Dø “Gonna Be Sick!” / Lindsey Buckingham “In Our Own Time” / The War On Drugs “I Was There” / Wye Oak “Holy Holy” / Dum Dum Girls “Coming Down” / WU LYF “Heavy Pop” / Esben and the Witch “Marine Fields Grow”


Deerhoof “The Merry Barracks” / Craig Wedren “I Know” / Death Cab For Cutie “Codes and Keys” / Jamie Woon “Lady Luck” / Gotye “I Feel Better” / Raphael Saadiq “Stone Rollin’” / Tom Waits “Talking At the Same Time” / Björk “Crystalline” / Mary J Blige with Rick Ross “Why” / Kendrick Lamar “A.D.H.D.” / Washed Out “Eyes Be Closed” / Adventure “Smoke and Mirrors” / Bell “Meaninglessness” / Killer Mike “Ready Set Go” / Nicola Roberts “Lucky Day” / Madeon “Pop Culture (Live Mashup)” / Joe Goddard “Gabriel” / Phantogram “Don’t Move” / The Olivia Tremor Control “The Game You Play Is In Your Head, Parts 1, 2 and 3”

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