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Real Estate

Real Estate

(Woodsist)

Review [18.Nov.2009]

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Real Estate
Real Estate



“Beach pop” was 2009’s “post-punk revival”, that omnipresent, vague genre tag that found itself attached to every buzzworthy band of the year. Although the “movement” seemed focused on a particular aesthetic (namely, the wobbly synths of Washed Out/Neon Indian), Real Estate are lovable because there’s so little pretense to them. Their arrangements might be complex, but the production is pleasantly novelty-free and the melodies are straightforward: lazy, hazy, sunny jams; “September with Pete” two months earlier. That Real Estate can be compared to Woods as easily as The Drums, then, is what makes the album such a grower. It isn’t one of those three-month love affair albums, dusted off in June and filed away in August; it’s a “summer” album that lasts all year. Given that the saccharine Psychic Chasms is already getting old, it’s likely to be one of the few “beach pop” albums that you’ll be spinning next year, too. Matthew Collins


 

 



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Dan Deacon

Bromst

(Carpark)

Review [26.Mar.2009]

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Dan Deacon
Bromst



If you go over to Dan Deacon’s website, you can download the electronic musician’s back-catalogue—seven albums of dense sound collage from his days as a graduate composition student at Purchase. Wikipedia describes one: “‘Goose on the Loose’ is a 60-minute piece of Wavetek 180 signal generator being processed through a Digitech Whammy Pedal and a Line 6 Loop/Delay pedal.” If that means anything, it means: every populist gesture in Deacon’s chaotic, inclusive music is deliberate. That wasn’t necessarily clear on his 2007 debut, Spiderman of the Rings, but Bromst leaves no doubt—here’s an artist with a deft touch, a knack for delightful catchphrase and, by the way, an impressive knowledge of the electroacoustic tradition. His songs don’t sound like Reich or Glass, but they evolve out of them. The real triumph is that “Snookered” and “Surprise Stefani” pack in as much human warmth and emotion as any folkie balladeer can do. Live, the songs breathe the same hyperkinetic spirit we love about “Wham City” or “Crystal Cat”. It turns out that despite recording with real instruments and mining occasional contemplation, this Everyman MFA hasn’t sacrificed anything at all. Dan Raper


 

 



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Brother Ali

Us

(Rhymesayers)

Review [8.Oct.2009]

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Brother Ali
Us



An absolute monster of an album from a hip-hop heavyweight, Brother Ali’s Us is sheer perfection. And he does most of it through the eyes of others—a first for this talented MC. He relays tales with sincerity from a slave’s ocean-crossing journey (“The Travelers”), an in-the-closet teen (“Tight Rope”), and nearly every lost soul in between. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The album’s first single, “Fresh Air”, is an upbeat celebration while “Best@It” features Ali’s spitting bravado like a man possessed. Although his trademark soulful voice has always commanded our attention, it’s never resonated quite like this since his classic debut, Shadows on the Sun. Ant, Ali’s teammate behind the boards, also considerably stepped up his game, here. Opting for live instruments over sampled records, Us goes beyond beats and loops. This isn’t just another hip-hop record. It’s a timeless piece of perfection. Andrew Martin


 

 



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Buddy and Julie Miller

Written in Chalk

(New West)

Review [3.Mar.2009]

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Buddy and Julie Miller
Written in Chalk



Buddy and Julie Miller, whether together or separately, have never made a bad album and Written in Chalk certainly doesn’t break that streak. With styles ranging from slowburning torch songs to straight country to even a little gutbucket blues, Chalk makes it easy to see why Buddy Miller’s one of Nashville’s most in-demand guitarists, and it further proves that Julie Miller does heartbreak and ache better than just about anyone. Very well-used guest vocalists like Robert Plant, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, and Regina & Ann McCrary add nice texture to Chalk‘s songs, but this is clearly a Miller affair, and they’re both obviously at the top of their game. With illness taking Julie off the road and with Buddy undergoing triple bypass surgery, 2009 is a year where the reliable, rock-solid excellence of a Buddy & Julie Miller album is suddenly a very fragile thing to be treasured. Andrew Gilstrap


 

 



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St. Vincent

Actor

(4AD)

Review [6.May.2009]

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St. Vincent
Actor



Of course the follow-up to St. Vincent’s 2007 debut, Marry Me, would be called Actor. After all, St. Vincent is the brainchild of New-York-via-Texas chanteuse and multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark, and her unmistakable dramatic flair justifies the title, from the album cover’s wide-eyed pixie stare to her visceral guitar solos. Moreover, Actor‘s inspiration came from watching Disney films on mute. In the process, she adds layers to her sound by delving into a study of contrast. Innovative drum patterns, stately melodies, and elegant harmonies keep company with a whirlwind of dystopia, dissonance, and distortion. Even Clark’s lyrics, communicated through her intimate vocals, illuminate these tensions: beauty in the grotesque, ugliness lurking beneath beauty, and the irony of the familiar. The opposites aren’t meant to mesh. Instead, Actor, like theatrical actors, straddles two worlds—the real and the fictional—and hopes to find the balance between detachment and immersion. Quentin Huff


 

 



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The Decemberists

The Hazards of Love

(LABEL)

Review [22.Mar.2009]

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The Decemberists
The Hazards of Love



The words “rock opera” seem to bring about equal amounts of admiration and scorn. “Pretentious” is the word that comes up most often these days, which makes penning one an especially risky prospect for The Decemberists, a band that’s already been accused of being too clever by half. Add in the subject matter: a shape-shifting creature, a jealous forest queen, and a “rake” prone to infanticide—all set to heavy, prog-y guitar music—and you’ve got a surefire way to alienate fans attracted to the twee sounds of Victorian organ-grinding. But The Hazards of Love may be the most Decemberisty album yet. The band has always been one of ambition and ideas, and Hazards brings both in spades. The narrative thread isn’t a plot-point-by-plot-point story, but rather a unifying set of characters and moods that give the album the feeling of cohesion—exciting at first, then ominously dangerous, and then, ultimately, mournful. What’s most impressive about The Hazards of Love, though, is that this rock opera actually does rock. It’s amped up, plugged in, and easily more energized than any song about a chimbley sweep could possibly be. When songs like “The Wanting Comes in Waves” swells to its climax, it’s easy to forget about the themes, the characters, and the plot machinations and just get into a pretty kickass rock song. Marisa LaScala


 

 



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Wilco

Wilco (The Album)

(Nonesuch)

Review [25.Jun.2009]

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Wilco
Wilco (The Album)



At the beginning of this decade, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy must have struck a Faustian pact with the devil. Years of acrimony followed, as Tweedy battled his record company, feuded with his band mates, and nearly self-destructed from drug addiction. Yet what remains over the last ten years is the remarkable Wilco catalog, including the seminal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and the Grammy-winning A Ghost Is Born. On Wilco (The Album), Tweedy seems to have come to terms with himself, his muse now focused on low-key gems, from the playful title track to his bittersweet duet with Feist in “You and I”. The throwback ‘70s pop of “You Never Know” would have fit perfectly on Todd Rundgren’s classic Something/Anything?  Yet Tweedy still has one foot firmly planted in the present. When he sings, “There’s nothing left here, the country has disappeared”, we’ve finally reached the end of the Bush era, the lyric reminiscent of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s alienation and dislocation. Wilco (The Album) at times sounds like a band anthology, yet these seemingly disparate songs somehow come together in the end, resulting in one of the simpler pleasures of 2009. John Grassi


 

 



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The Antlers

Hospice

(Frenchkiss)

Review [19.Aug.2009]

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The Antlers
Hospice



As a metaphorical theme revolving around illness gently develops across this album, Hospice presents itself via a small, refined set of musical themes that overlap and blend like clouds on an overcast day. With ambient brushstrokes swaying slowly back and forth from track to track, the Antler’s Hospice gracefully unfolds like a brief but profound poem. A strain of melancholy permeates throughout Hospice like an infection, with but a few brief disarming moments appearing, as in the sardonic “Bear”, that only manage to hint at something resembling happiness. Recalling the Album Leaf’s In a Safe Place, along with the quieter moments of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the Antlers are not afraid of silence, nor the quieter aspects of life. In fact, Peter Silberman’s high-pitched delivery is so hushed that the bulk of his intriguing lyrics are indiscernible. But when Silberman’s voice does rise above its whisper at several select moments, such as “Sylvia”, “Two”, and “Wake”, the effect is as devastating as anything Elliot Smith ever attempted. Louis Battaglia


 

 



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Maxwell

BLACKsummers’night

(Epic)

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Maxwell
BLACKsummers’night



Someone must have stopped the world, for Maxwell returned in 2009 after a six-year hiatus. In that time, many R&B crooners have alternately bloomed and dried on the vine, but BLACKsummers’night proves that Maxwell’s nectar remains the most succulent. The rougher edges of his voice seep through his otherwise sensuous, soulful tenor on his fourth studio album. Each of the nine tracks is a study in how Maxwell can make the most of his surroundings. “Love You”, one of the singer’s most visceral proclamations, sounds like the band cooked up a groove in a jam session and Maxwell just spoke from his heart. Apparently the first of a trilogy, BLACKsummer’snight is a stunning statement of where Maxwell has arrived more than a decade into a career that undoubtedly has a few more surprises in store. Christian John Wikane


 

 



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Fuck Buttons

Tarot Sport

(ATP)

Review [26.Oct.2009]

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Fuck Buttons
Tarot Sport



Like the Boredoms’ Vision Creation Newsun before it, the pulse of Fuck Buttons is constantly elevated on Tarot Sport. It is alert and stalking. The epileptic tremolo and rhythmic pounce of “Space Mountain”, to take one example, races like a cheetah chasing down a gazelle. Yet unlike much noise music, which is how Fuck Buttons have been branded as in the past, Andy Weatherall’s sound on the album is not ultimately about the inevitable violence of the kill, but about the hunt itself. Thus, the entire album reads like a perpetual anti-climax, a progressive delight in the tantric momentum of the act, the fluid dance of bodies synchronizing to the speed of the universe. The album’s title suggests an interplay of chance and fate, pre-scripture and the struggle to overcome it. Perhaps, it was an eagerness to break out of their own script that caused them to make the giant leap from the near-formlessness of 2008’s Street Horrsing into the guided brute physicality of Tarot Sport. In 2009, “tribal” is a quick standby, but Fuck Buttons take more from this term than the soma and the face paint. Tarot Sport is an album deeply in touch with the dynamism of its surroundings, which is why the best part of the album is not the massive sound it compiles again and again as if it were tapping into an intrinsic tension inscribed on the waveform of every note. It’s the subtlety and beauty of the small noises that build that gigantic sound that stands out amidst the ear-shattering din. Timothy Gabriele


 
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