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AmpLive

Rainydayz Remixes

(self-released; US: 11 Feb 2008; UK: 11 Feb 2008)

Review [20.Mar.2008]

Girl Talk aside, no one seems to want to talk about mashups these days, which, as consensus dictates, are “so 2007”, or something like that. It’s a shame, then, that Rainydayz Remixes, an album-length remix of Radiohead’s In Rainbows by Bay Area DJ AmpLive, seems to have been ignored on year-end lists (ours included) by virtue of its association with mashup culture. Yes, Rainydayz Remixes is very much a product of the same forces that flooded the Internet with slapdash mashups (Jaydiohead, anyone?), but that fact does little to justify its dismissal. On Rainydayz, AmpLive works with a cast of talented contributors (Del the Funkee Homosapien, Charli 2na, Too $hort) to chop up, reconfigure and reimagine Radiohead’s compositions. In AmpLive’s able hands, Thom Yorke’s piano on “Videotape” becomes a haunting, RZA-style backdrop for Del’s laconic rhymes; fan favorite “Nude” is transformed into a late-night rumination on violence; and opener “15 Step” is reborn as a indie rock/R&B hybrid the likes of which would make even TV on the Radio jealous. Make no mistake, Rainydayz may have been offered as a free download but it was still more interesting than most of the “legitimate” remix albums that lined store shelves in 2008. Mehan Jayasuriya


 

 



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Jason Anderson

The Hopeful and the Unafraid

(K; US: 4 Apr 2008)

Constantly overlooked by critics, Jason Anderson is one of the most prolific and affecting songwriters writing music today… and write music he does. Sometimes it’s pure folk and sometimes it’s pure rock. In 2008, he released four digital and two “proper” releases, which I am praising. The Hopeful & The Unafraid was made as an attempt to document the songs he had been playing on that particular tour. It opens with “El Paso”, a perfect example of a typical Jason song; in which he explains to his brother why he goes out on the road and plays anywhere and everywhere. Life Sucks Love Sucks Dose Out treads into darker and more personal waters, especially “I Am Like Snow to You”, choppy with emotion. His live shows are extra special and by the end of each show, he has made nearly every audience member a friend, rather than just a fan. Leigh Kelsey


 

 



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Autistic Daughters

Uneasy Flowers

(Kranky; US: 4 Mar 2008)

The term “slow burn” was made for Uneasy Flowers, the second offering from New Zealand-based supergroup Autistic Daughters. Following the rickety post-rock of 2004’s Jealousy and Diamond, the band returned with a newfound sense of purpose and conjured a viciously imagined aural landscape that’s all the more haunting for its sparseness. Set in perpetual nighttime in what could be a depressed version of Middle America, we get a seriously fragmented quasi-story of a man named Rehana, who wanders through the record in a half-asleep, half-drunk, possibly psychotic state. Scattershot images flash before our eyes, as in a dream that isn’t quite a nightmare but still feels wrong, and human instinct forces us to make connections between disparate parts; is the kid who chooses gin over sour milk the same Rehana Jr. who hears the President caution him with strange adages? Naturally, the music is a reflection of the protagonist’s world, with shuddering guitars, Spartan pianos, fractured drums, frayed radio transmissions, and the deer-in-the-headlights singing of vocalist Dean Roberts. The densely layered closer, “Hotel Exeter Dining Room”, turns the record’s convoluted anxiety into flat-out dread: as the guitars and the voices ascend higher and higher they become no less pessimistic, bracing themselves for the train at the end of the tunnel. The musicians have captured Rehana’s inner turmoil so masterfully that we are not merely voyeurs; we are invisible presences walking alongside him, experiencing the world as he does. Relentlessly introverted, quietly terrifying and endlessly fascinating, Uneasy Flowers takes the notion of what a successful album in 2008 should sound like and burns it, slowly, through and through. Mike Newmark


 

 



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Be Your Own Pet

Get Awkward

(XL; US: 18 Mar 2008; UK: 17 Mar 2008)

Review [20.Mar.2008]

In a year in which the critics couldn’t get enough of introspective boys who were in touch with their sensitive side, leave it to a chick-fronted band from Nashville to provide some much-needed balls. Be Your Own Pet’s second album—and unfortunately their last—reminds us that guitars are for more than just strumming around the campfire. They can be plugged in, too. As is true of most punk at its best, Get Awkward is about being young. Sure, a song like “Twisted Nerve” taps into the darker side of adolescence (“Rip out my hair / Wish that it’s yours”), but for the most part this is a celebration. “I just want to run around / I just wish to party down”, screams Jemina Pearl on the opening song, before doing just that for the following 12 tracks and 29 minutes. The band’s exuberance is never more unconstrained than it is on “Food Fight”, a minute-long song that is both an homage to Black Flag’s “TV Party” and an improvement by virtue of meaning less. So enjoy your marshmallows and your Bon Iver tunes. I’ll be in the car keeping warm with Ms. Pearl and the boys. Kirby Fields


 

 



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Bellafea

Cavalcade

(Southern; US: 3 Jun 2008; UK: 25 Aug 2008)

Review [12.Jun.2008]

In a year where our most universal, and misguided, symbol for feminine strength was a mayor from Alaska, it is nice to know that people like Heather McIntire, and her band Bellafea, are out there. Cavalcade rocks hard enough to put any of the boys to shame, with McIntire’s gruff, full-throated vocals and angular guitar work leading the way. From the melodic shout of “Depart (I Never Knew You)” to the biting snap of “Bones to Pick” to the chaotic noise of “Thornbird II”, McIntire and company take on rock music from all sides with each track more ferocious and energetic than the last. But the anger on Cavalcade is not just easy pessimism, it’s a demand to galvanize and build communities. To avoid being divided. And the force with which this album pushes us to act is a physical one. Sure, Bellafea can now step into a hole left by Sleater-Kinney and their ilk, but more importantly they captured a vital feeling on Cavalcade. And Heather McIntire proved herself the perfect voice—hopeful, angry, undeniable—to put sound to that feeling. And it’s a sound more people should hear. Matt Fiander


 

 



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The Black Angels

Directions to See a Ghost

(Light in the Attic; US: 13 May 2008; UK: 12 May 2008)

Review [20.May.2008]

Tailor-made for LSD-soaked backyard happenings on moonless nights, Austin’s Black Angels have clearly chosen darkness. But they love us enough to evade tedium, though succinct they are not. Over unremitting low-end vibrations, they carve out beguiling Jimmy Page hooks (“You in Color”), lay down a groove of pure serpentine temptation (“Snake in the Grass”), and darkly compare American empire to prideful Nordic rapine (“Vikings”). Singer Alex Maas’ paranoid wail is heavily echoed at all times, and the tone is immanently apocalyptic. In a year in which hope was a political commodity, the Black Angels provided a despondent counterpoint to the autumnal glow of Obamania. In “18 Years”, Maas grins, “Something black / Answers back / From the dungeon / And you smile”; ten words that sum up the last eight years, and provide the next President’s ubiquitous three words with a whip at their heels. Ross Langager


 

 



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Born Ruffians

Red, Yellow and Blue

(Warp; US: 4 Mar 2008; UK: 26 May 2008)

Review [2.Mar.2008]

In a year when sharply crafted pop drew so much attention (MGMT, Los Campesinos!, Vampire Weekend, etc), it doesn’t make sense for Toronto’s Born Ruffians to get left in the cold. Simply some of the catchiest, but also smartest, pop released all year, it’s an album of ear worms that fire your neurons while embedding themselves in your head. Frontman Luke Lalonde paints a complex, convincing picture of young-20s life, misguided intentions mixing with youthful regret, desperate longing for something happen mingling with dreams of better times to come, all over a stomping drums, effortless guitar hooks and boisterous, infectious harmonies (and, just once, incorporating lyrics from Cat’s Cradle). Here’s hoping this one gets rediscovered when their next album starts showing up on year-end lists. David Berry


 

 



What Roger Bryan and the Orphans have is what the Replacements had. It is what R.E.M. had at one time and many speculate have lost. It is what thousands of high school and college musicians have but then tuck away in the recess of their souls when they take gigs counting people’s money or teaching eighth grade civics for a living. Roger Bryan and the Orphans have heart… and great songs… and a collective of friends in relative proximity. All of these led to a criminally under recognized release in Recovery. Recovery is reckless and loud. It teeters on the verge of falling apart entirely and miraculously recovers. It is a pure rock record in a year dominated by glockenspiels and ethereal indie clowns. It fights the good fight. Based out of western New York, Roger Bryan and the Orphans are part of the Harvest Sum collection of musicians. Among the bands there is Semi-Tough, The (now defunct) Sweetheart’s and Roger Bryan. They all share recording space at the Harvest Studio. T is a not so subtle reminder of what a rock and roll record is supposed to sound like. Joseph Carver


 

 



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Lindsey Buckingham

Gift of Screws

(Reprise; US: 16 Sep 2008; UK: 15 Sep 2008)

Review [9.Oct.2008]

There are thousands of fine albums that are underpublicized, underdistributed, or even unreleased because their creators are too obscure. But there’s an infinitely smaller category of brilliant albums that are underrated because their creators are too famous and successful. One of these would be Lindsey Buckingham’s The Gift of Screws. It’s the most memorable album of 2008, but, like all of Buckingham’s solo work, not a huge seller, probably because his renown as the creative force behind the latter-day Fleetwood Mac has overshadowed his individual genius. As in all his solo CDS, this one mixes two distinct styles. There are the melodic and deeply felt songs featuring shimmering, intricately filigreed fingerpicking, as in “Time, Precious Time” and “Did You Miss Me?” And there are wonderfully eccentric one-offs like the title track, which combines a great Emily Dickinson poem with maniacal laughter and somehow makes it all work. Lindsey Buckingham is the real King of Pop. Michael Antman


 

 



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Barton Carroll

The Lost One

(Skybucket; US: 22 Jan 2008; UK: Available as import)

Review [28.Jan.2008]

It took seven years for for The Lost One to come out, and that was only after Carroll started handing out copies of his solo work while touring in bands like Crooked Fingers, Dolorean, and Azure Ray. Better late than never, since it’s one of the most enjoyable singer/songwriter discs of the year. Carroll’s most immediately engaging material is spry and funny (such as the blue-collar “I’ll save you from the hipsters” vibe of “Brooklyn Girl, You’re Going to Be My Bride”) but he more often taps a vein of darkness that sneaks up on you (the obsession-tinted “Superman” and several other stalker vignettes). But his work also has a brittle and delicate complexity, exemplifed by the recalled horrors of “Small Thing”, in which a woman matter-of-factly tells her daughter about being raped during the Soviet occupation of Berlin. It’s a harrowing song, but throughout it, Carroll makes an honest attempt to explore inhumanity’s legacy—the kind of topic that too many songwriters would drown in broadness and platitudes. Andrew Gilstrap


 
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