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Vic Chesnutt

Vic Chesnutt


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Vic Chesnutt

Skitter on Take Off

(Vapor)


Vic Chesnutt
Skitter on Take Off



Like a light that glows a little brighter before it burns out, the late Vic Chesnutt recorded two excellent albums in 2009. Given the circumstances of Chesnutt’s passing—he died of an overdose of muscle relaxants on Christmas Day—it is not surprising that the first of those records, At the Cut, should garner the most attention. Not only did Vic collaborate with Guy Picciotto of Fugazi and members of Thee Silver Mt. Zion and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but the album features the haunting, “Flirted With You All of My Life”, a song in which Chesnutt goes mano-a-mano with death. Regardless, it’s the second album, Skitter on Take Off that is the more satisfying of the two. Producer Jonathan Richman strips away the artifice and bombast and records Chesnutt “live” in the studio with only the most austere accompaniment. The playing is raw, even primitive, as Chesnutt revisits familiar themes: physical frailty, failed relationships, and self-doubt. Skitter on Take Off documents the artist at the absolute peak of expression. Poignant, sometimes disturbing, and a must-have for fans of this great singer-songwriter. Mark Andrew Huddle


 

 



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Chiddy Bang

The Swelly Express

(mixtape)


Chiddy Bang
The Swelly Express



The Swelly Express, a “concept” mixtape from Philadelphia hip-hop duo Chiddy Bang (Chidera Anamege and Xaphoon Jones) plays like a musical revue of hipster jams mashed up with some of the tightest rapping to come out of 2009. Whereas the past few years have seen acts like Girl Talk and the Hood Internet explode, Chiddy Bang is set apart by a real allegiance to the unspoken ethic of classic hip-hop. Instead of using rap as tool in service of some almost ironic agenda, Chiddy Bang’s tracks are homages to their hip-hop and indie roots. The music is genealogical rather than syncretistic. The experience is much like what the first audiences felt at the speakers of Grandmaster Flash. The only thing that has changed is that the samples are Sufjan Stevens and MGMT rather than funk and soul. Erik Hinton


 

 



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The Church

Untitled 23

(Second Motion)


The Church
Untitled 23



Animal Collective’s eighth album, Merriweather Post Pavilion justifiably swept critics’ year-end “best-of” lists. Where will they be in another 18 years and 15 albums? Do they have another masterpiece in them? It’s tough to decide what about Untitled #23 was more astounding. On one hand, there was its incredibly rich, melodic, emotional sonic tapestry, which unfolded over ten indelible, gracefully unhurried tracks. Here was definitive evidence of a band that had played together for so long, it created a near-telepathic synergy, its grand “space rock” taken to new interstellar heights yet firmly grounded in pathos. On the other hand, there was the fact this was the 23rd album by a band that was nearly 30 years old! Far from doing the usual “reunion tours”, nostalgic concerts, or retro package tours, the Australian quartet was supporting some of the best work of its career. The most magical rock album since Radiohead’s In Rainbows, Untitled #23 proved that great indie isn’t always a youth movement. John Bergstrom


 

 



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Guy Clark

Somedays the Song Writes You

(Dualtone)

Review [22.Sep.2009]


Guy Clark
Somedays the Song Writes You


Somedays the Song Writes You, Clark’s 13th record (including a couple live ones, and not including reissues and compilations) ranks up among his best since the late 1970s. Featuring spare, farmhouse production which accentuates both voice and lyrics, this is how Clark should always sound. From the subtle reworking of the old adage about the bear and dinner that is the album’s title track to the glorious play on remorse and amends that is the closing anti-anthem (“Maybe I Can Paint Over That”), this is Clark at his tightest, at his whipsmart best. This may be his late-period masterpiece, folks. Stuart Henderson


 

 



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Slaid Cleaves

Everything You Love Will be Taken Away

(Music Road)

Review [23.Jun.2009]


Slaid Cleaves
Everything You Love Will be Taken Away



Slaid Cleaves wears his heart tattooed on his sleeve so unashamedly that at first you think he is trying to fool you. He lets you know that the space between a dream and a lie is where your spirit gets crushed, but that life goes on. He observes the lessons experience teaches us and turns us into losers who have somehow gained from the understanding. As a songwriter, his song lyrics are as fined tuned as a race car on the speedway as he rolls out tales of blue collar living. Cleaves’ characters deal with the harshness if hard times, whether he is telling the story of a modern day hangman, a troubled teenager kicked out of school, or a farmwife waiting for news about her soldier husband. The uncluttered musical arrangements allow Cleaves’ weathered voice to speak directly to the listener like a good friend at the bar who has already said the next rounds on him as he bends your ear. Steve Horowitz


 

 



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Cougar

Patriot

(Counter)

Review [4.Jan.2010]


Cougar
Patriot



Patriot is an album of instrumental rock that forges its own path without ignoring its immediate forebears. You can hear hints of Explosions in the Sky and even a bit of Lightning Bolt in their sound, but Cougar doesn’t go in for meandering, expansive soundscapes or swirling 10-minute noise-rock jams. Cougar seems much more interested in creating songs with a recognizable center, be it a pretty melody or a chunky guitar riff. There’s a lot of variety on Patriot, from the hard-rocking opener “Stay Famous” to the synth-dominated thump of “Heavy Into Jeff”. The band makes the most of its quieter moments, too, with the acoustic guitar and atmospheric synths of “Pelourinho” and the intertwining clean electric guitars of “This Is an Affadavit”. The latter also adds in brass instruments and bass clarinet for the album’s most robust arrangement. Cougar even goes so far as to recruit a marching band percussion section on “Daunte vs. Armada”. It’s this combination of inventive touches and solid songwriting that makes Patriot such a cool listen. Chris Conaton


 

 



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Cymbals Eat Guitars

Why There Are Mountains

(Sister’s Den)


Cymbals Eat Guitars
Why There Are Mountains



Cymbals Eat Guitars’ singer Joseph D’Agostino is a true renaissance man: he can scream like Black Francis, emote like Doug Martsch, moan like J. Mascis, and snarl like Stephen Malkmus—sometimes all in one song. The album’s appeal, then, is no mystery: Why There Are Mountains encapsulates all my favorite bands—Indie Rock 101, really, from Dinosaur Jr. (“Share”) to Built to Spill (“Some Trees [Merrit Moon]”)—into one messy, noisy, satisfying debut. What’s more, Cymbals have the songwriting chops to compensate for an admitted lack of originality, and Mountains positively brims with the sort of un-self-consciously big moments that can make a sweaty, cramped concert space feel like a stadium. Zach Schonfeld


 
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