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November 5, 2016 / bloggenstatt

I is for Iggy Pop, the Isley Brothers and Islands. I is not for I Break Horses.

It took several minutes of searching through the back end of this website to figure out what letter this project had stalled out on. When I saw it was I, there was an audible, “Blech”.There’s less than a dozen bands whose names start with I on my iPod, and most of them are not particularly great.

Still, I was able to identify two all-time great I acts and one rock solid contemporary band.

Since the last entry in this series, I’ve substantially re-jiggered the site’s format. Despite the bold new look, expect the same average content.

Iggy Pop

With The Stooges, the man born Jim Osterberg Jr. was the front man on a pair of absolute classics: the seminal Raw Power and the savagely unhinged Fun House.

As a solo act, his record was more spotty, and he was always better with some type of counter balance. His David Bowie collaborations, Lust for Life and The Idiot are both Hall of Very Good albums and contain some absolutely classic songs.

A Million in Prizes: The Anthology is maybe the best way to suss through Pop’s later solo work. I wouldn’t describe any of the albums as essential, but there’s always a worthwhile song or two.

Pop has had surprising longevity for a self-mutilating former heroin addict, and the relatively recently released Post Pop Depression, a collaboration with desert rock guru Josh Homme, is not only good, it’s very interesting.

The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers are a little bit out of my wheelhouse, which definitely skews toward rockist or contemporary hip-hop, but I’ve always loved them.

I mean, they wrote “Shout”. That’s probably a strong enough justification for including them in this entry, but that’s far from their only classic song.

“That Lady”, “It’s Your Thing”, “Pop That Thang” and their version of “Twist and Shout” are all instantly recognizable.

One of the remarkable things about The Isley Brothers is the variety in their music. There’s strands of R&B, funk, soul and rock in their oeuvre.

By virtue of the Isleys’ Jim Hendrix connection and the guitar heroics of Ernie Isely, they’re an excellent stepping stone from classic rock to soul, funk and R&B.

I specifically remember being a child and hearing the extended version of “That Lady” on the radio, and immediately asking my father, “Who was that!?” To this day, I still absolutely adore the funky pop R& B song-space guitar shredding combination.

Islands

While this band primarily makes the cut because there’s a dearth of quality I bands, it’s a forced choice I can get behind.

I love Islands.Nicholas Thorburn and Co. make interesting, well-crafted, slightly weird indie rock and there’s always a place close to my heart reserved for such efforts.

This band rose from the ashes of The Unicorns, but managed and continue to be great in a way that entirely escapes the shadows of Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?

And they did it right out of the gate.

Return to The Sea, their 2006 debut, is Islands’ most evered album and probably their most essential. It’s critical darling bona fides were definitely boosted by featured collaborations with members of Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, but it deserves its reputation.

There was a middling stretch of good but not awe-inspiring releases, but I’ve been really on board with their recent work.

Both of the band’s 2016 albums are thoroughly enjoyable. Taste showed off a previously hinted at range encompassing electronic-tinged music, but of course I much preferred the rock-oriented Should I Remain Here, at Sea? 

“Back to It” might be my favorite side-one track-one of 2016. It’s perfect guitar pop and perfectly encapsulates how good this band is at it’s best.

I Break Horses

Not having many I bands on my iPod meant there weren’t many bad ones to choose from. It was either this or It Hugs Back.

They’re really not bad, just kind of boring for me. I think I got a hold of their album Hearts around the same time Dale Eernhardt Jr. Jr. was still a buzz band on the rise.

For what it’s worth, the infallible MetaCritic shows I Break Horses have a career score of 71 over a two-album career, so I’m probably wrong.

 

October 28, 2016 / bloggenstatt

P_oblematic: Three great songs that could’ve skipped the R-word

While running this morning–I know, I hate myself too–I was listening to The Exploding Hearts, and was caught off guard by the lyrics of one of my favorite tracks, “Sleeping Aides and Razorblades”.

“You know the first time you left me, babe it was so hard and it didn’t hurt that you told all my friends I’m a retard”

The whole song is a jaunty comic depiction of an off-again-on-again relationship and uses suicidal references for levity so it’s beyond obvious that “retarded” isn’t being used in a genuinely hateful way, but it’s tough to imagine the lyrics being penned in 2016.

However it occurred to me The Exploding Hearts aren’t the only band I love to flippantly include the R-word in an otherwise excellent song. Some are more defensible than others but really “retard” isn’t really integral to either “Sleeping Aides…” or these other songs.

“How Am I Not Myself” by The Shocking Pinks

In 2007, four years  after The Exploding Hearts put out the classic Guitar Romantic, The Shocking Pinks–a buzzy, one-man-band signed to DFA–released an incredible, self-titeld record.

That record includes some wonderful, emotive songs including the heavy-lidded pop of “This Aching Deal” and the utterly perfect “Second Hand Girl”.

Sandwiched in between those songs is “How Am I Not Myself?” which is a premium slice of Sad Bastard Music.

The song is pretty much an outpouring of depressing sentiment and imagery, so it’s not totally surprising when a really depressing relation dynamic is described as follows:

I love you when you’re happy/I love you when you’re sad/But I’d rather be a retard babe than be your motherfuckin’ dad

It’s an ugly sentiment in a song that’s lyrically the seeping ooze pumping out of a deep wound so it doesn’t seem out of place, just wholly unnecessary.

“Famine Affair” by of Montreal

Improbably of Montreal have been a thing for two decades. They began as a twee-indie-pop band with bizarre concept albums as likely to contain radio serial skits and character studies as songs about love.

Around 2004, things started to pick up a funky, electronic edge and glam influences crept in. Generally, this has been for the better, and it produced the masterful Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

All those influences are present and accounted for on the excellent “Famine Affair” off of 2010’s often overlooked False Priest, but since it’s included in the post you can guess what else is included–the word retard.

In what’s quickly becoming a theme for this list, the song is about a toxic relationship ending in entirely foreseeable disaster with Kevin Barnes singing about flying toward tragedy in a glass bottom airplane. But the next lines have always seemed to need more context.

Looping like a retard/Are you still playing the race card?

They basically work as a couplet in context of the song, so there’s really no reason the whole thing couldn’t have been scrapped from what is otherwise my all-time favorite breakup song for triumphant disco and Woody Allen reference reasons.

Honorable mention to: Jay Reatard and “Mongoloid” by Devo.

October 14, 2016 / bloggenstatt

Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to start a song

Dawned on me this morning that an awful lot of songs decide that the perfect way to kick off a song is with the sound of a drink being poured or smoke being inhaled. In my opinion, it’s an incredibly obnoxious way to start a song, but some bands pull it off better than others.

The songs that sample either Track 9 from Scott Aukerman and Paul F. Tompkins upcoming sound effects album or feature the always soothing sounds of someone inhaling smoke and loud coughing aren’t always bad after the annoying opening seconds, but some are outright terrible.

So here is a ranking from most to least annoying of songs that much like Rod, need to let you know they party.

“Smoke Two Joints” by Sublime

A perfect and obvious example of he most heinous end of the spectrum is “Smoke Two Joints” by Sublime, which also includes a cold open sample of Refer Madness.  It’s safe to say the sounds of a bong hit don’t exactly push an otherwise subtle, enjoyable song into tacky territory for a brief moment. This is the Spencer Gifts blacklight, felt poster of songs. It might be the most noxious track on an album that famously includes “Date Rape”.

“I Was a Teenage Hand Model” by Queens of the Stone Age

The closing track on the self-titled debut from Josh Homme and Co. is actually a pretty awesome song in its bones, but it goes on a little too long, includes some really distracting electronic abrasion  and there’s next to no reason for smoking noises to open the track. It’s always driven me insane. Here’s this loping, melodic, paino-driven tune that hints at the dulcet Jack Bruce-crooning that Homme can absolutely deliver, and it gets all gunked up by it’s non-musical components. It’s beyond infuriating, and I’ve always wished QOTSA recorded the track later in their existence, when they had to confidence to just let a slow song smolder.

“Gin and Juice” by Snoop Doggy Dogg

By virtue of featuring flatulence after the sounds of a drink being poured, this is by far the most obnoxious opening to any of these songs, but it quickly cedes to some velour G-funk tones. A stone-cold classic, such as “Gin and Juice”“Gin and Juice” can afford to shoot itself in the foot  and still come out more than OK.

“Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath

Technically, this song only features violent hacking coughing, but it’s a song called “Sweet Leaf” that boasts lyrics such as, “You introduced me to my mind.” It’s not too hard to parse out what’s going on. Normally, I’d find this totally repulsive, but Ozzy Osbourne delivers a pretty strong vocal performance, and Tony Iommi’s guitar riff in this song is incredibly iconic–even if it is tough to hear without chanting, “Ali Bobba and the 40 thieves,” when you hear it.

“What D’You Say?” by The Go! Team

Like “Teenage Hand Model” this is a song that has no real apparent need for the carbonated noises that open the track, but in this case, the fizzy sounds match the track’s bubbly tone. The Go! Team are always dependable for some absolutely joyous songs and this might be their most infectiously smiley tune.

August 24, 2016 / bloggenstatt

Shoulder Angel

With her latest album, My Woman, the consistently excellent Angel Olsen stays, well, consistently excellent.

The folk-rocker with the inimitable voice has put out another strong release, and one I prefer to 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness.

My Woman essentially functions as two five-song albums with the first five songs being shorter, punchier rock-folk songs.

Whichever distinct side of an album houses the instant-classic “Shut Up Kiss Me” was always destined to be my favorite. It’s just an absolutely flawless blend of perfect bubblegum pop, tortured torch song and lo-fi rock.

“Shut Up Kiss Me” is the obvious standout, but really everything after the de facto intro, “Intern” to the fade out of”Not Gonna Kill You”is superb folk-tinged rock from an artist with an utterly singular vocal delivery.

Everything in that stretch of the album has a distinctive ’60s influence. It ranges from the girl group groove and sentiments of “Shut Up and Kiss Me”, to the early Beatles unrequited love song feel of “Never Be Mine” to the classic rock dual guitar twang of the flat out stomper “Give It Up”. It all builds  toward wonderful screaming release and undulating guitar spasms toward the end of “Not Gonna Kill You” which conjures up some serious Grace Slick vibes.

Thoroughly outstanding stuff.

The spacier, longer second half has its merits as well.

The slow, country simmer of “Heart Shaped Face”is incredibly listenable, even if it bothers the hell out of me that there’s no hyphen in that compound modifier.

“Sister” is an absolute epic. It keeps building and building and teasing the guitar heroics to come before satisfyingly boiling over.

Album closer,”Pops”, is a sort of distorted John Lennon-esque piano song that doesn’t quite reach the moony feeling of a ballad feels like a perfect place to end the album.

All 10 songs boast a foible, melody or moment of triumph that demands multiple listens. There’s really nothing justifiably skippable even if aside from “Sister” nothing in the back half really approximates the thrills of the first five songs.

And those first five songs are an unbridled joy to revisit way too often.

 

 

July 30, 2016 / bloggenstatt

Martha my dear

Martha are a group of DIY punk-rockers from northeastern England. They’re self-described anarchist, straightedge vegans, and their new album, Blisters in the Pit of My Heart, is fantastic.

Aside from a throwaway line about crooked police being protected by corrupt politicians, not much of Martha’s ethos really come through in the album, but it is a collection of ridiculously catchy pop punk made by a group of people earnest enough to openly support anarchy.

These are the sort of people who would make the closing track of their punk album a gentle allusion to Paul Westerberg’s body of work, and like their source of inspiration, Martha know how to marry ramshackle energy and an anthemic hook. And they do so, over and over and over again.

 

 

There is not one skippable song on the entire album, which essentially careens from one massive, fist-pumping hook to the next with chugging guitar to fill the gaps. The longest song, “Do Nothing” is a perfect example of this methodology.

It’s basically two songs–a brooding, shout-y ode to laziness with muted musical backing that allows the lyrics some breathing room. It culminates as it must; with  excellently spastic guitar shredding.

It’d be a tremendous song if it ended after four minutes, but then it transitions into a stripped down power pop song that could fit in with the best Exploding Hearts tracks.

Every track is a catchy blast of energy that could serve as an alt-song of summer, but standout track and source of the album’s title”Ice Cream and Sunscreen” probably takes that title for me.

Clever detailed lyrics, duet vocals and a running time just a bit longer than two minutes makes it a damn near perfect pop song, and it’s surrounded by nothing but excellent guitar pop.

If sugary hooks and passionately nihilistic sentiments are your thing, this album is mandatory listening.

 

 

June 27, 2016 / bloggenstatt

My favorite songs of 2016 so far

Sort of skipping writing much of an intro to get to the embedded playlist. Decided to piece together 20 of my favorite songs from this year, which is a bit more expansive than what I’ve done in the past.

Big takeaway for me is that this year has been uncommonly for Side one track ones in my opinion.

Also, tremendously happy to unironically and unabashedly include a great Weezer track.

June 25, 2016 / bloggenstatt

Favorite albums of 2016 so far

The year is about halfway over, and there’s been the requisite wave of blockbuster releases over the last couple of months ramping up toward summer, so it’s time for the customary roundup of my favorite releases from this year.

These are going to be presented in no particular order, because I want to give the albums time to organically grow in my estimation and jockey for sweet, sweet supremacy in my end of the year list.

  • Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest

OK, so the no particular order caveat was a bit of a fib. This is my favorite album of the year so far. It contains some of my favorite songs of 2016 and those songs boast a ton of simple but insightful acerbic couplets. Will Toledo and Co.’s first major label album also draws from a ton of interesting inspirations without being totally beholden to its influences. It’s a wonderfully arch, well-thought-out rock album with plenty of roughness around the edges.

  • Life of Pablo by Kanye West

At this point, I think there’s three or four versions of this album lurking on my iPod. It’s not Kanye’s best album, but it continues in the wonderfully weird vein of Yeezus, and anytime a major pop star wants to advance the cause of weirdness, I’m on board. It’s also chock-full of interesting sounds and good ideas. Even the de facto bonus track , “30 Hours” is an interesting examination of a disintegrating long-distance relationship with frigging Andre 3000 providing  guest vocals. Plus, it presaged some of the year’s best and worst biggest hits by featuring Chance the Rapper and Desiigner doing what they do. Sort of feels indespinsible to this year’s pop culture landscape.

  • Lost Time by Tacocat

I was lukewarm about this album at first, but it’s grown on me. It’s a collection of hooky punk willing to take on some weighty topics with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Sure there are songs like my beloved “Horse Grrls”and the fantastically buoyant “I Hate the Weekend” but wanton internet misogyny, controversial next-day contraception and the literal end of the world all feature prominently in this album. I’m not sure if it’s as good as NVM, but it’s some of Tacocat’s catchiest work.

  • Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

I just realized that this will be my third consecutive entry, where I kick things off by pointing out an album is inferior to one of its predecessors, but it bears saying, Coloring Book is no Acid Rap. It’s still a very fun, vibrant, positive statement from a singular, captivating artist, but it suffers from some bloat, and for someone whose stage name includes the title “the Rapper”, his virtuosic bar-spitting prowess really isn’t on display. Even if it isn’t necessarily the album I want it to be, I think it’s the exact album Chance wanted to make and it’s a blast of free-wheeling gospel-tinged positivity all the same.

  • ★ by David Bowie

When this album came out, it was the middle of a dreary, gray and cold winter. It was my first full winter in the Midwest in five years, and ★’s aural pallet seemed to use the same colors as my surroundings. I thought it was an extremely interesting, sort of haunting piece of spooky art. It was nice to see old man Bowie really going for it with a tight jazz-influenced backing band. Then Bowie died, and the dread, finality and transcendence packed into the songs became that much more profound. Honestly, it’s almost unlistenable now because of how much heaviness was retroactively added to the swan song of one of popular culture’s greatest innovators.

  • Down in Heaven by Twin Peaks

This album is a shambolic, delightful throwback to ’60s music. There’s lyrical allusions to the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” but somehow, the Rolling Stones song it seems to evoke the most is “Beast of Burden”. The shuffling album-closer “Have You Ever?” is a particularly glorious drunk-sounding shout-along.

  • Nice as Fuck by Nice as Fuck

    It hasn’t been out very long, but the debut from Jenny Lewis’ profane new band might be my favorite effort in her oeuvre. On albums The Voyager and Acid Tongue the lyrics suggested Lewis had a thoroughly spacey side, but it didn’t really come through in the music. Nice as Fuck changes that. It is a nine-song collection of artsy dance rock with driving drums and bouncy bass. I didn’t know I wanted Jenny Lewis, Gang of Four, Joy Division and Franz Ferdinand in a blender so badly, but here it is, and it rules.

 Honorable mentions: The Hotelier, Woods, PUP, Whitney, White Lung and A Giant Dog.
May 15, 2016 / bloggenstatt

Dog pile!

Within the last week or so a new Radiohead album came out. The ubiquitous, reviews, reactions and think-pieces made me want to kill myself, but that’s just what Thom Yorke and those jerks in Radiohead would want me to do.

So instead, I listened to Pile by Austin’s A Giant Dog and found it to be an enjoyable slice of old-fashioned, ass-kicking, self-aware and slightly campy rock music. The band’s third release for Merge Records is just a really solid, fun album–basically the opposite of a Radiohead release.

Pile is basically every redeeming quality of FM Rock Radio jammed onto one disc. It’s bombastic, there’s guitar shredding, folksier contemplative songs and the phrase “Rock’n’Roll” can be belted out with abandon in the choruses of multiple songs.

There’s also a cheeky sense of humor to the proceedings, which could be distracting in an Eagles of Death Metal way if executed poorly, but when listening to the album, it becomes pretty clear the band has lots and lots of love for the rock radio they draw their sound from. Plus, the jokes are generally self-effacing or skewering a certain dirtball lifestyle that I get the impression A Giant Dog are more than a bit familiar with.

It also helps that Sabrina Ellis, who splits vocal duties with guitarist Andrew Cashen, has an amazingly charismatic set of pipes. Really, you couldn’t ask for a bandleader who sounds like their having more fun, and it’s infectious as underscored by the video below.

 

 

This almost isn’t the greatest album ever made, but Pile is the most unbridled joy I’ve head in a while, and it’s kind of perfect over a car stereo on a summer day.

May 2, 2016 / bloggenstatt

Don’t sleep on Car Seat Headrest

While Will Toledo had toiled on bandcamp under the name  Car Seat Headrest for almost a half-decade gradually gaining production values and band members, it was last year’s very good album Teens of Style that put the band on most people’s radar. (Including me).

Teens of Style was something of a greatest hits record of Car Seat Headrest material from 2010-12, and it’s success ensured the next release from Toledo and company would have an actual budget and an anticipatory audience.

It’s follow-up album, Teens of Denial does not disappoint, but it does surprise.

The Julian Casablancas-esque vocals and early Dylan Baldi project garage rock vibe are intact, but there are also Frank Black howls, sloppy guitar-God jams reminiscent of (pick your ’90s shoegaze rocker of choice for a point of reference),  lyrical allusions to Pavement and even a re-working of the most famous song by The Cars.

The insistent, building guitar noise on “Vincent” also gives me a serious Television vibe, but without the interplay of another guitar.

There’s also a variety to the instrumentation to match the varied influence. There’s xylophone, horns, moments of  call and response, unexpected studio chatter and even some neat swirling production effects that are super enjoyable in headphones.

This isn’t the usual case of a lo-fi band hitting the studio, losing their reverb and calling it growth. The invested resources really seem to have lead to some shifts, changes and worthwhile experimentation without losing a grounded, DIY sensibility.

Pleasant production surprises aside, Teens of Denial is also an unexpectedly thematically heavy album. There’s examinations of  mortality, morality and what it means to define yourself by interpersonal relationships. Plus, self-degrading tales of drug trips and drunk driving enter the fray.

The oddball stylistic shifts and a genuine sense of humor keep things from being all doom and gloom. Somehow even pontification on death terror is delivered with awry sense of humor and there are some moments of guitar-shredding release that are pure bliss.

The one-two punch of “1937 State Park” and “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not an)” in the middle of the album is an absolute highlight for me. They’re a tandem of weird rockers that leave you excited for but unsure of what will come next.

Teens of Denial is an early favorite for my album of the year pick. Listen to it immediately.

 

 

April 29, 2016 / bloggenstatt

Super psyched

A$AP Ferg’s newest album Always Strive and Prosper is an improvement on his debut, Trap Lord , it’s catchier, more personal and much weirder. I fully recommend listening to the entire album.

But more important than it being a quality album, it introduces a new character to the pantheon of hip-hop uncles–a topic near and dear to my heart.

On the track, “Psycho” we’re introduced to Darold Ferguson Jr.’s uncle Psycho. The very next song delves a little further into Uncle Psycho, but the song named for him pretty firmly establishes his character.

He is a fit man with braids, who smells of liquor, emulates ODB, smokes crack, brandishes weapons, is in and out of mental institutions, has a signature dance and scraps for money in a public park. He also sometimes sleeps in that same park, and it’s also where he brings his two children, one of whom was born as an attempt at emotional blackmail, for recreation.

Literally, nothing said about Ferg’s uncle sounds remotely positive, but the entire description is delivered with affection, and by the end of the song the blatantly obvious reveal that maybe Uncle Psycho wasn’t a particularly positive role model for A$AP Ferg still packs an emotional wallop.

It’s an awesome song, but an even better hip-hop uncle.