Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Where the Flood Waters Soak Their Belongings, by Scott Miller

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Our import LPs got soaked in the flood
I thought of how I pictured London when I was ten
And then you actually go
Occupied people with clear ideas of what in London came from the outside
LP’s imported, and vulnerable, so vulnerable
To water damage
The impression of London to a ten-year-old who’s never been
And the real London
In all its complexity
Are the same thing

Discovering and Mourning Scott Miller

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

A warning: this is a long post. Really, really long. Sorry.

Scott Miller died on April 15, 2013, at the age of 53. I didn’t know who he was.

Following the public announcement of his death, Carl Newman of the New Pornographers fired off a short series of reverential tweets.

Game Theory had a massive influence on me from my teens onward. Incredible voice, lyrics, melody, production. Damn.

Aimee Mann chimed in. I’m with you. So awful. This may have been enough to lead me to Google the name, possibly read an obituary or two, I don’t recall. Surely there had to be something to Scott Miller if two of my pop heroes were this affected by his passing. But then again, Twitter is so often a grief echo chamber, and this was happening at the same time I was completely distracted by the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath.

On June 18, Newman again tweeted referring to Miller as one of his favorite songwriters, and posting a link to an upcoming tribute concert in New York. The tribute was assembled by Matt LeMay, mostly known to me as a longtime Pitchfork writer, and would feature performances from Newman, Will Sheff of Okkervil River, Ted Leo, Charles Bissell of the Wrens, and others. Scott Miller became an intriguing mystery. How could I know nothing about this guy, given his influence on some of my favorite artists? How had I never come across Scott or Game Theory in my years of obsessive music consumption?


The Best Songs of 2011

Monday, January 16th, 2012
  1. St. Vincent – Surgeon - Easy choice for me this year. Check your pulse after you watch the linked performance.
  2. The National – Exile Vilify – Didn’t expect them to be candidates the year after High Violet, but 2011 ended up seeing more new National material in the form of soundtrack contributions. This track, from the the game Portal 2 (for some reason), ranks among their best ever.
  3. Kurt Vile – Jesus Fever – Probably my favorite Kurt Vile song to date, a song I can listen to on repeat endlessly.
  4. Wilco – I Might - The Whole Love is no Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but it’s still a very good comeback record after the awful Wilco (The Album). This fantastic, organ-driven power pop cut is the highlight.
  5. Real Estate – It’s Real – Doing jangle pop like the pros. Should have been the song of the summer.
  6. Atlas Sound – Terra Incognita – Many options on Bradford Cox’s latest. Going with “Terra Incognita” over “Mona Lisa,” but both tracks capture a master at a real creative peak.
  7. PJ Harvey – The Words That Maketh Murder – Brutal highlight from the year’s best album (and PJ Harvey’s masterpiece), Let England Shake.
  8. Radiohead – Lotus Flower – I’m a fan of The King of Limbs, but I get where the dissenters are coming from. Everyone agrees “Lotus Flower” is brilliant, yes?
  9. tUnE-yArDs – Bizness – Coolest vocal performance of the year.
  10. R.E.M. – Überlin – Not giving them a spot as a tribute or anything, this is a legitimate selection and the band’s best song in over a decade.
  11. Lana Del Rey – Video Games
  12. Washed Out – Amor Fati
  13. Cass McCombs – County Line
  14. James Blake – Love What Happened Here
  15. The Antlers – I Don’t Want Love
  16. Beyoncé – Countdown
  17. Cults – Abducted
  18. Colin Stetson – Judges
  19. Destroyer – Chinatown
  20. The Strokes – Life is Simple in the Moonlight

The Best Songs of 2010

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010
  1. Beach House – Zebra - I had a pretty good feeling this was my favorite song of the year when I first heard it back in January. Competition actually turned out to be way more intense than expected — 2010 was full of gems, any of my top 5 could have been #1 in recent years — but I’m still gonna go ahead and give it to “Zebra.” I’ve gotten sick of many songs I’ve listened to much less often over the last 12 months. I’m not claiming it’s groundbreaking, but I really don’t think this gorgeous track will be any less captivating to me in 20 years.
  2. Caribou – Odessa – On the other hand, maybe this should be #1. It’s honestly a close call. Caribou/Manitoba never really clicked with me prior to this year’s Swim, but this little electro-pop-house-Arthur Russell thing just kills me.
  3. Big Boi – Shutterbugg (ft. Cutty) – The monster hit that was just too good to be a monster hit. But everyone has to love the beat, right?
  4. Twin Shadow – I Can’t Wait – Easily my top new artist this year. Many standouts on the album, Forget, but this romantic number rises to the top. Fall in love with the moustache.
  5. Deerhunter – Helicopter – The kind of song on the kind of record that can make a band your favorite band.
  6. Kanye West – Runaway (ft. Pusha T) – How can a song with that horrible extended vocoder breakdown be a consensus pick for song of the year? I can’t answer that question. This song is amazing, and you know it.
  7. Avi Buffalo – What’s In It For? – Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg is the anti-Bieber. These children sure can write a pop song. Can’t wait to see what they’re doing when they’re old enough to drive.
  8. The National – Conversation 16 – This could also be “Afraid of Everyone,” or “England,” or even the second-best “Runaway” of the year. The zombie refrain makes this track the winner (and it doesn’t hurt that it also contains my favorite line from 2010, “we should swim in a fountain / I do not want to disappoint anyone.”)
  9. Janelle Monáe – Cold War – “Tightrope” draws you in, “Cold War” knocks you out. The Sinéad O’Connor-style video doesn’t hurt. This girl is ridiculous.
  10. Belle and Sebastian – I Didn’t See It Coming – Every so often a perfect B&S melody comes along that makes me want to wear tight striped shirts and bob around like Stuart Murdoch. But I don’t. As far as you know.
  11. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Round and Round
  12. Owen Pallett – Midnight Directives
  13. Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
  14. Tame Impala – It Is Not Meant To Be
  15. The Walkmen – Angela Surf City
  16. Robyn – Dancing On My Own
  17. Gorillaz – Rhinestone Eyes
  18. LCD Soundsystem – I Can Change
  19. Best Coast – Boyfriend
  20. Surfer Blood – Floating Vibes

The ’00s in Music: 2001

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

Well, this is my first post of 2010, which means I am continuing to set a terrible example for bloggers everywhere. I have been legitimately busy — I moved to Brooklyn in February and now commute to the Ogilvy office in Manhattan — but that’s still no excuse for no posts at all. How much effort would it have taken to throw up some miniscule political update, or SEO tidbit, or talking dog video? It’s just laziness. I’ve said it before, and it’s always been a lie, but I will do my best to rectify this.

Last September I wrote a post about the year 2000 in music and what it meant for me personally. It was pretty extensive, and at this rate I’m not going to be able to cover the entire ‘00s decade (whatever we’re supposed to call it) until it’s time to start looking back on the ‘10s. But that said, 2001 was a major year for me and it’s probably worth digging into a little bit, even if I never get around to writing about the other eight years. So I’ll give it a shot and we’ll just see how it goes.

It’s difficult to know where to start with 2001. Once, that year had strictly futuristic, sci-fi connotations. Even more than “the year 2000,” a phrase which had been well overused by the time the actual (rather ho-hum) year came around, 2001 sounded like something bold and new. It was a strong and foreign looking number, no less novel than 2000 but somehow more serious, and more unknowable.

Starting the year off with George W. Bush’s inauguration brought 2001 back down to Earth, and fast. Now he is remembered mostly for the absurd amount of damage he caused to the world and to his country during his interminable reign, but prior to September 11th he was just kind of a joke. The image of awkward, bumbling incompetence is one he was never able to shake, but in early 2001 that was his only image. Remember That’s My Bush? He was a sit-com character, a charmingly inept doofus who had the presidency handed to him. John Ashcroft as Attorney General? It was laughable. Not that many didn’t recognize how dangerous the situation was, but it just didn’t seem possible that this administration would have a chance to do too much irreversible damage.

Of course, it did, and the only association with 2001 that matters now in this country could not be further from A Space Odyssey. But this post is supposed to be about the music, and about me. So where was I? Still in high school, getting my driver’s license, spending time with my girlfriend. I was on the upswing from the worst of my experiences with depression. I was engaging with people more, relaxing more, and just generally doing more. Musically, I was more confident than ever — my Bob’s Discount Furniture gig (and I’m not knocking it — that was a great high school job) allowed me to spend more on CDs than I’m sure I should have, and as a result I was starting to explore some of the depths of rock music that I’d never gotten to before. It must have been 2001 when I discovered XTC and bought their entire catalogue, a couple pieces at a time. And I must have bought music by Neil Young, and Television, and The Stone Roses, and Love, and Big Star — still all physical copies, though my pre-iPod MP3 library was beginning to get serious.

My personal memories of 2001 are really very positive. I’m sure I had meltdowns, and panic attacks about my future, and made stupid mistakes. But looking back, the pieces were coming together a little bit, and I think you can see that in the music I was listening to. It wasn’t all just broody and introspective anymore — I was opening up. If you had asked me at the time I wouldn’t have told you I felt dramatically better or different from a year prior, and I really would have meant it. But I didn’t have perspective.

So how to reconcile the 2001 I experienced personally with the 2001 we all wish we could forget ever happened? Let’s take a look at the contemporary music I was listening to at the time, and see if it helps to make any sense of it.