Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I am naked without headphones. I spend at least eight hours a day sitting in public places, yet I maintain almost zero contact with the outside world. I do not talk to people. I actively discourage them from talking to me.

I have one more week of this.

And the music helps. When I’m not listening to baseball, I have had plenty of time to discover great new songs. When I AM listening to baseball, I’m mostly muttering “stay in the park … STAY IN THE PARK!!!” to worried strangers at the Royal Ground on Fillmore.

So the music helps.

People like to debate whether Year X was a good year for music, or if it was better that Year Y, or what the best time for music was, and this has always seemed kinda foolish to me. It seems similar to arguing about what the best year was for food. How could you even attempt that? There was so much great food out there that you didn't eat. What's more, the food you did eat was a direct result of your efforts in seeking that food out.

Right now, I think it's a great time for music, but that's just because I have an almost unlimited time in front of a computer, on the internet, with headphones. There is no new music that I am not aware of. And so it is a great time.

Here are some songs.

YACHT – Psychic City

There are, somehow, two competing Pitchfork-approved, minimalist-to-the-point-of-being-almost-intentionally-oversimplified, novelty summer jams. One is Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” The other is this one. I dismissed both on first listen, but somehow this one found its way onto my iPhone in a big chunk of new music. And I kept listening to it. And I listened to it in the car. And Ilana composed an excellent interpretive dance to it. And we kept listening to it, this and Free Energy’s “Dream City” on the way to Bar/Bri, and so for ten minutes every morning our souls weren’t slipping away quite as fast. And now I really can’t imagine living without this song. Most of you will probably hate it.

La Roux – Armour Love

Retro-80’s British girl pop. While La Roux’s dance-ier singles (namely “In for the Kill”) are getting all the love on the blogs, I’m infatuated with this ballad, the last track on the album. It’s the perfect soundtrack for that spot in every great, terrible 80s movie where our hero has made his play for the girl, but she can’t see how great he is, and she’s staying with the evil rich kid, and there’s the sad montage where our hero walks home in the rain, sits in his room, and stares off into the middle distance.

It’s hard to explain the significance of individual moments in music, but I’m going to try with this one. There’s a moment in here, at about 3:35, when we’ve heard the chorus a few times, but it comes back for a third time, and she changes the phrasing of it, really spitting out the last syllable of “You seem to believe you belong to someBODY else” as the backing vocals show up for the first time with the defeated line “you know what it’s like, you shouldn’t have to be told,” and it’s just the perfect combination of anger and sadness and it’s as poignant a representation of what a breakup really feels like as I’ve ever heard. And it all happens in about five seconds.

Your Twenties – Billionaires

If there’s a melodic line this summer that is going to match MGMT’s “Kids” for recognize-ability and party-starting-ness, I submit that it should be this one. I don’t know if the song as a whole lives up to the potential of the hook, but, then again, I don’t know if anything could have.

The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa

I love Vampire Weekend, but they make fake African music. It’s okay, there’s a rich tradition of white New Yorkers making wonderful fake African music. You could talk me into believing that Paul Simon’s Graceland is the high point of American music.

But I always feel a little guilty listening to it, because, for the most part, I don’t really like REAL African music. I mean, it’s okay, but I prefer the fake stuff. You know those people who have had a real, dirty Mission burrito, but still prefer Chipotle? I feel like them. I feel like Nate.

So anyway, The Very Best make African music. They have a real African. His name is Esau. He’s from Malawi. They also have some British guys handling production, but whatever. The Very Best had a couple excellent contributions to last year’s list, and now they are back, with a new album and a lead single … featuring the guy from Vampire Weekend.

And it’s so … so … good.

So … this is maybe ¾ authentic. And that ratio is PERFECT.

Islands – No You Don’t

Somewhat surprisingly to me, Islands were the breakout stars of last year’s Top 100 list, as most everyone I talked to raved about “The Arm.” And it’s a great song. I just didn’t expect that it would be THAT universally loved.

Anyway, those guys (or guy, I think it’s just one guy who makes the albums, then tours with a full band) are back with a new single and a new album in September. This one strips out the strings that were undoubtedly the best part of the last album, but the songwriting talent is still there, and this one gets better with every listen. And Strong likes it, so you know there’s something here

Young Dro – On Fire

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have one change to the program this summer. If you’ll turn to page four … playing the part of T.I. for this summer’s “Southern Rap Hit” will be Young Dro. That’s Young Dro in T.I.’s role. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. And now, “Southern Rap Hit” …"

Also, there’s a swine flu reference in this one. Topical!

Slow Club – It Doesn’t Have to Be Beautiful

This sounds like a combination of Bishop Allen and Tilly & the Wall, which means … well, it means that this REALLY sounds like the commercials.

Side note – I forget who I was talking about this with (I think Powers), but the guy responsible for those commercials is the same guy who did both the Geico gecko and Geico caveman campaigns. Which means, make fun of those commercials if you want, but that guy could buy and sell you.

Fanfarlo – The Walls are Coming Down

Eastern European-sounding, simple and triumphant. It reminds me of the band Beirut, but not as weird. Krunal likes Beirut. So, I guess, if you have complaints, take it up with him.

Free Energy – Free Energy

Well, it’s no “Dream City,” but what could be? Apparently these guys were in a Minneapolis indie band called Hockey Night, the band broke up, they moved to Philly, hooked up with James from DFA, and now they’re the biggest thing in … well, the biggest thing on this sparsely-updated blog anyway. Though I’m sure the Minneapolis-Philadelphia connection will re-affirm the sentiment in Elliot’s Roots-based fan fiction (“I dunno, Mr. ?uestlove …. are you sure you want ME to rap at the big concert tonight?”). And if Marah ever makes a comeback, they should do it at First Ave. And this may explain why JC Romero is now a useful reliever. Okay, that’s all I’ve got.

Ellie Goulding – Starry Eyed

It’s certainly hit and miss, but putting Hype Machine on random will eventually lead to some discoveries. Takes patience, though. Have to sift through a lot of dance remixes that must only work on drugs that I’ve never taken. Occasionally, though, you come up with a fragile gem like this one.

Some blog referred to this kind of music as “dub-step.” I guess I didn’t think “dub-step” would sound like this. We have really reached the point in music criticism where genres are all but meaningless.

Royksopp – Happy Up Here

Norwegian band samples P-Funk. Never thought I’d type that sentence. “Do that stuff … awww … do that stuff …”

God Help the Girl – God Help the Girl

Side project of Stuart from Belle & Sebastian, sounds like a combination between classic B&S and early-60s girl-pop. Also, that’s two great songs this summer where the song name is the same as the band name. Are there a lot of these? I know Black Sabbath had a song called “Black Sabbath” … are there others?

Bat for Lashes – Daniel

Listen to this song. Now consider the fact that this girl is British. Now imagine what you think she should look like. Now look at this. Is that what you were thinking? Hey, maybe you were, but it sure doesn't sound like that to me.

Imogen Heap – First Train Home

We’re deep into British girl pop now. Honestly, if pressed, I can’t really give you one reason as to how this song is any different from a Savage Garden B-side from the late-1990s, but Imogen Heap can do no wrong with me. If I had to rank my all-time favorite songs, “Hide and Seek” would be embarrassingly high on that list. I’m sure you remember it from the season finale of The OC, Season Two, when Marissa shot Trey … y’know, Ryan’s brother … no? Anyway, it also spawned one of the all-time great Pitchfork track reviews. Really, this whole blog is my attempt to one day write a paragraph as good as that one.

Dirty Projectors – Stillness is the Move

We’re more than halfway through the year right now, and so far the critics are pretty much unanimous in their love for three albums above all others: Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, and Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. All indie as all get-out, all have indecipherable album titles, all fail to hit exactly right with me. Let’s talk about them.

I almost saw Dirty Projectors open for TV on the Radio about a month ago, but we got there late and missed their set. Turns out this is just as well, as the majority of this record is just about unlistenable to me. I guess it’s the brainchild of a Yale-educated composer, and you can really hear the attempts to be difficult for difficult’s sake.

On the other hand, “Stillness is the Move” … I’ve listened to this song so many times in the last week, mostly because something is supposed to happen at the end of the chorus, and it doesn’t, and it’s driving me crazy. I may have to start a band just so we can cover this song in a way that I understand. Only then will I have closure.

Anyway, if you can imagine the whitest, indie-est band of all time trying to write “Are You That Somebody?” … you’d pretty much get this. Which is wonderful.

Grizzly Bear – While You Wait for the Others

Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks

Hype Machine has a podcast now, and in one of the old episodes, they described the new Grizzly Bear record as one of the most hyped “guitar music” records of the summer, as if music made with guitars has somehow become an unimportant sub-genre … and maybe it has, I wouldn’t know. Anyway, this album is what you’d get if Wilco were both much weirder and somehow also less interesting. The songs go on for awhile, with minimal structure, and then they’re over. The time in between is generally pleasant, and these two songs are more good than bad, but I’m just at a loss for how this is one of the best records of the year. On the other hand, I still have many hours of headphone time ahead of me this week, and this is an album that will get more chances. Maybe it will win me over.

Animal Collective – My Girls

Tiptoeing around any Beach Boys comparisons for fear of incurring Ferrario’s wrath, but this album, for me, is pretty easily the best of the three. I’m still not sure it will crack my end of the year Top Ten, but it’s pleasant and summery and, while it’s incredibly complicated if you want to get deeper into it, it works on a much simpler level, too. This could be background music. You could put this on at a party and not get weird looks. Not true for the Dirty Projectors or Grizzly Bear. It’s hard to dislike music that works on whatever level the listener wishes to engage it.

Matt and Kim – Daylight

Matt and Kim are everywhere right now. This song is in the background of some tequila commercial. “Same Old Fashion Nightmare” is in the background of commercials for that new sit-com starring Joel McHale. Now that the internet has destroyed record sales, this is how bands make money, and really I’m cool with it. I hope we’re all past the idea of “selling out” now, as long as it doesn’t affect the quality of the band’s output. I mean, we can all hate O.A.R. for saying, “I know we used to be a frat-stoner white-boy-reggae band with a cult following, but what if we scrapped all that and tried to sound like an even wussier version of The Fray? Maybe we could get on a Gray’s Anatomy soundtrack album!” That’s selling out, and it’s still terrible. But Matt and Kim are making the same great music they always have, and now some big corporations want to give them money for it. That’s just a win-win.

Phoenix – Lasso

This is the section of the blog post where I talk about albums that I’ve talked about before, but their continued awesomeness and re-listenability makes them continuously relevant.

Phoenix … I’m not sure what’s left to say about them. This will probably end up being my favorite album of the year, and if it isn’t, that means something absolutely wonderful came along between now and 2010. I’d love to see these guys live, but it would ruin a lot of mystique this band has for me. Their music is just so cohesive, so smooth. It’s hard to believe it’s being made by different people, that there are guitars and synths and drums, and that this is a collection of sounds, not just one singular sound. No other band has that effect on me.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Contender

See, it's a song called "Contender" ... and I call the playlist of all my favorite songs "Contenders" ... do you get it? It's pretty subtle. Anyway, this album sounds comforting on headphones at night when the coffee shop is about to close.

Discovery – So Insane

Discovery – Orange Shirt

Whenever Curt and I both like the same thing, it's cause for celebration, and we both like this album. There's nothing incredibly deep about it. "So Insane" sounds like a laptop update of the Electric Slide. "Orange Shirt" has a line about Googling yourself. I'm not arguing that this album will have its own exhibit in the Smithsonian someday. But I AM saying that it will make you smile. This album sounds like the summer other people are having. But I'm happy for them.

Fever Ray – When I Grow Up

Fever Ray – Triangle Walks

Fever Ray – If I Had a Heart

For those of you who enjoy studying to Explosions in the Sky, I highly recommend the Fever Ray album. Yes, it has lyrics, but none of them make any sense anyway. The singer’s voice pretty much just acts as another instrument, one more layer on the spaced-out, spooky instrumentation. This is music for those winter days in northern Scandinavia where it’s dark like 22 hours a day and the northern lights are going crazy at all hours. This is music for the ghosts of Vikings.

NASA – Way Down

Don't ask me where I've been ...

Mash-Up – U Ain’t Neva Gotta Ask

Okay, this isn’t a real song, at least not in the sense that any of the performers had anything to do with it, or that it will be on the radio or anything like that, but someone put a lot of time into making it, so I’d like to say a few words about it.

It’s catchy, it’s got solid verses from Kanye, Lil Wayne, T.I. and Jay-Z, and the production has the same chipmunk-soul feel of the demos from College Dropout. Whoever did this put some work into it, no question there.

But … the sample … it’s George Michael’s “Careless Whisper.” You know, “I’m never gonna dance again …” Listen, I know all hip-hop producers are not ghetto-dwelling thugs, but how is it possible that anyone, ever, in any possible universe has thought, “You know that ballad by the guy from Wham? I could flip that, drop some verses over it … it’d be sweet.” My only theory is that this guy and his buddies had some kind of contest where they had to come up with the most effeminate sample ever and still make it sound marginally gangsta. There’s NO OTHER EXPLANATION!!!


  1. first, how long did it take you to write all of this? jesus...

    second, thanks for the shoutout.

    third, i really need to get back into blogging...

  2. Ferrario speaks:

    Beach Boys>Animal Collective.

    The end.