Music

The Best of the Basket Cases: Round 2

Telepathe, winner of The A&R Awards (Best Discoveries).

Ben bursts open the bubble mailers and announces this round of … winners (honoring the best and brightest of the many unsolicited CDs sent to him).

See also The Best of the Basket Cases: Round 1

I'd like to take a moment to apologize to my reader(s). Last year, I started a precedent with the inaugural Basket Case Awards, honoring the best and brightest of the many unsolicited CDs sent to me at work. It was both an exhausting experience and an invigorating one, as I was not only able to clear out my office, but make some great new discoveries.

So I'm sure you were on the edge of your seat now, curious about the next installment of bargain-bin finds. I assure you, the delay was entirely due to an oversight on my part, and did not happen because I lacked a suitable amount of material to draw from.

Actually, I probably did get fewer albums in the mail since that last column, but I'd say that the quality has increased over the past 15 months. So much so, in fact, that I didn't think it was fair to include some of the best of the bunch -- Tindersticks, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Lindstrøm, to name a few -- because you've probably already heard of them.

Beyond that, the only real difference this year was that the candidates are now stored in a filing cabinet, rather than a basket. This makes the name of the thing kind of inappropriate, but it's too embedded in the cultural lexicon at this point. In any case (get it?), it's finally time to get down to business. The bubble mailers, please...

The Basket Case Awards

The Nevermind Award (Best Album Art)

My My My, Little Cat Plays the Alpha Rave

A kitten and a toy piano on the cover -– at first glance, this album seems tailor-made for the bargain bin. But actually, "Chicago's incarnation of the New Pornographers" offers up enough whimsical indie pop to keep Little Cat Plays the Alpha Rave from being a mere novelty. But hey, if you're not into tongue-in-cheek songs like "So, You Like Italo-Disco" and "A Blind Salamander Came to Town and Tapped His Way into Their Hearts", at least you can stare at the cute kitty.

The They threw us all in a trench and stuck a monument on top Award (Best Album Title)

Sebastian Dior, God Complex

I admire anyone who's willing to show his true colors – and Sebastian Dior certainly isn't afraid of anyone's labels (especially "narcissist"). In his mind, it's "Sebastian's World", and we're just living in it. What can we expect in a world run by Dior? Lots of pictures like this, for starters. I think we're in good hands.

The Cervix Couch/Pelvic Meatloaf Award (Best Band Name)—Yes, those are real band names.

The Dirty Blue

This category was probably the closest of all, with tough competitors including Boho Paisley, Leah Stargazing, Slow Gun Shoegun and Raise High the Roof Beam. Ultimately, though, I went with the one that offered the best reasoning behind its moniker: "The band's very name suggests the tarnished nature of things that on the surface seem so beautiful. Not to say these are a bunch of self-indulgent teenage angst-junkies, they just carry the slightly bitter taste of reality's imperfections in their mouths." In case you were wondering, The Dirty Blue most definitely is not "the name of some seedy downtown strip joint."

The Just Go with Stars Award (Most Amusing Review Quote)

Grand Fury, Bison

The Youngstown Vindicator is now possibly my favorite newspaper in the country, and I've never even picked up a copy. But come on; its web address is www.vindy.com. More importantly, it employs (employed?) a man named John Benson, whose 2007 feature on Niles, Ohio trio Grand Fury spawned not one, but two quotes deemed worthy of press-release pimping.

1. "Red. Yellow. Green. Go! With a name like Grand Fury, you know this rock trio is a pedal-to-the-metal type of band"

2. "Grand Fury has been laying rubber and taking no prisoners with its blistering hard-rock sound".

Believe it or not, that second one didn't even get its full due. In the original article, Benson elaborates: "…and hard-rock presence." As if I wasn't already convinced that I needed to listen to Grand Fury (and by the way, they do rock pretty hard), that sealed it.

The RIYL Award (Best Artist Bio)

The Giving Tree Band

This Chicago folk/bluegrass band's first album, Unified Folk Theory, was manufactured at a geo-thermal wind-powered studio, distributed using the highest post-consumer recycled content available with non-toxic soy inks, and the band pledged to counteract any CO2 gases created in the manufacturing process by planting ten trees for every 1,000 units produced.

How do you top that? By making the "world's first carbon-free album" at the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center in Baraboo, Wisconsin (a place the band cites as the "world's greenest building according to the LEED standard."). It wasn't just the studio that was green during this solar-powered recording session; the members camped out and biked 11 miles each day to record.

This backstory is nearly impressive enough to overcome the band's publicist's "clever" descriptors. Consider his prose poem for Unified Folk Theory: "Einstein's Everything, Shel's Tree, Guthrie's Wit, Electricity Not Included." Or for another release, Green Room Rockers' Hoosier Homegrown: "Aggrolite Endorsed. Soul Ray Charles Could See. Ska Rude Enough for Trenchtown."

And in the always popular Delusional Department…

Janus, Red Right Return

"Drawing power from the world's grid of hurt, desperation, and conflict, Janus now resides in the dark corners of loss, a future of bleak outlook, and ambiguous meaning. Through war machines, rallies, and secret communications, they follow the pursuit of shining a dark light on an existence in need of reveal.

The organization's second campaign, Red Right Return, is a sea of rebellion against the broken standards and whimsically abused power of the current governing body. Deployment will commence on 18 November on our current calendar. The RRR campaign will include ten individual transmissions each strong in its concept and intensity, which together create a beacon in a dark place and time."

The A&R Awards (Best Discoveries)

Telepathe – Dance Mother

(See Dan Raper’s review on PopMatters)

I have no idea what most of these synthy electro-pop songs are about, and to be honest, the minds that came up with them scare me a little bit. But that doesn't take away from the immediate likeability of tracks like "Chrome's on It" and "In Your Line" -– this is an album that gets in your head and stays there. So if you hear me mumbling something about a "devil's trident" and feeling "the real bang-bang," don’t be scared. It'll happen to you soon enough.

Castanets – City of Refuge

(see Matthew Fiander’s review on PopMatters)

I can remember exactly when this disc of desert ballads and experimental noise tracks really hit me. I was doing some reading on the couch on a lazy Sunday afternoon, considering lunch options, when Ray Raposa's eerie take on the old hymn "I'll Fly Away" turned my living room into a haunted church.

One minute later, I was hitting the repeat button; a few weeks after that, I was front and center for the Castanets' live performance in Chicago, marveling at Raposa's impressively long beard. Sometimes, things just click.

Icy Demons – Miami Ice

(see Chris Conaton’s review on PopMatters)

Yes, it’s self-consciously weird stuff. What would you expect from guys named Blue Hawaii, Pow Pow, Ali Hawkbar, Ta-Freek-Ya and Il Cativo? But get past the mostly nonsensical vocals and you’ll find some seriously catchy songs that find common ground among funk, pop and electronic music. “Summer Samba” and “1850” will long warrant a spot on my warm-weather playlists.

Congratulations to Basket Case: Round 2 award winners. See you in September -- or maybe next June.

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