Tag Archive for 'New York City'

AlmostAGhost’s Top Albums Of 2012: #6. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant


million particles born today

David Byrne & St. Vincent made the nerdiest album of the year, which if you know anything of Byrne and Annie Clark is hardly a surprise. They created an idea first–horns!–and built off that, together. From what I’ve read, they traded lyrics back and forth too, finishing and adding lines, a true partnership. That said, a lot of the words do sound Byrne-esque, in how they effortlessly go from minutiae (watching TV, valentines, dinner party) to bigger ideas (“the forest awakes,” “outside space and time,” etc.).

There are a few songs on here which sound very much like their respective solo work, but when they do songs like “Why” or “Lazarus” where they go back and forth, it’s as good as anything they’ve done alone. They actually don’t “duet” much, which allows both their talents through. The ideas here are plentiful and thoughtful, which is exactly how you could describe David Byrne and St. Vincent individually.

Actually these are the toughest albums to write coherently about; this is just a bunch of ramble ideas I’ve had while listening. But albums like Love This Giant have a mystery to them, something that will keep revealing itself over time.

David Byrne & St. Vincent “Optimist”

David Byrne & St. Vincent “Lazarus”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2011 – #14. Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts

Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts

thunder demons swipe her halo then they run away / I know better than to let her go

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/zdzY49xlvdY" width="425" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]

1994: a surreal, but actually somewhat factual, interview between Thurston Moore and Beck, which ends with the greatest missed high-5 in the history of high-5’s.

1994-2010: not much

2011: Thurston Moore creates, with Beck’s help, a raw, but somewhat biographical, album of soul-bearing songs called Demolished Thoughts.

Demolished Thoughts very easily could have been Thurston Moore’s folk album, as he hypnotically strums his alternately-tuned acoustic guitars and sings his Beat-poet lyrics. Beck, as the producer, keeps that simple set-up, expanding it only with cello/harp and light rhythm sections.

I think a lot of this atmosphere comes from the space Beck gives each part. The cry of the cello on “Benediction,” the swirling harp on “Illuminine,” the flow of “In Silver Rain With Paper Key,” it never feels like too much. Even when some sounds come of as more experimental, like the end of “January,” it feels just right, and never strays from Moore’s core. The songs are allowed to be what they are, which is exactly what songs like this need. The frantic but quiet storm of “Circulation” or the mournful feel of “Blood Never Lies,” for example, develop so naturally that you cannot help but feel the songs. There is no artifice on this record.

I do not want to get into the biographical angle, as Moore keeps it all distant from his songs. If the news of his separation with Kim Gordon (and perhaps, Sonic Youth?) had not been made public, I doubt Demolished Thoughts would be looked at through such a lens. Thurston Moore has never been an explicit songwriter, and he does not start here. But the words do reflect a tumultuous world, an inner turmoil, that it is hard not to mention. “Where did you disappear today? / I turn the corner and I see you fade / In silver rain with a paper key / You lost your lover,” Moore sings on one song. “I know better than to let her go” ends “Benediction.” “It was only a matter of time / Before the space police discovered my crime,” he regrets on “Space,” “Hearts get broken every day / Your undying lover is here and gone.”

Moore’s songs explore turmoil and sadness, which in turn, Beck helped mirror in its music and sound. They make a particularly affecting album, difficult at times in its rawness, but still gorgeous in its own way. Like a missed high-5.

Thurston Moore “January”

Thurston Moore “Benediction”

Spotify playlist of my top-20 albums

- almostaghost

Asobi Seksu Fluorescence – A Sweet Balance Of Old And New

I have been an avid fan of Asobi Seksu ever since I was introduced to them via a 2005 blog post in which David (or was it Chandler?) of Snowden outlined some bands he was listening to at the moment (Snowden had played Gothamist’s Movable Hype show with them the previous November in NYC). In 2006, after having jammed their 2003 self titled debut full length probably tens of dozens of times, I was really excited to hear about a forthcoming follow-up, Citrus.

Citrus lived up to my every expectation, including a crushing combination of face-melting walls of distortion and Yuki’s super-catchy vocal and keyboard harmonies I fell in love with on their first. Going one step further, the album featured a much improved audio quality, no doubt due to its being recorded at Gigantic Studios and featuring production by Chris Zane (by the way, it’s worth mentioning that despite being a minor label release, the s/t features excellent production and sounds teriffic). Citrus still blows me away, and I placed it at #31 on my Best Albums of 2000-2009 list.

I was a bit worried when the band’s next move was signing with Polyvinyl. While I generally think it’s got a great lineup of bands, I feel there’s been a “Polyvinyl Curse” on many bands I like. The curse was – after signing with the label, the band would put out something way less impressive than previous records. Just one week prior to the Asobi Seksu announcement, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin released their Polyvinyl debut, Pershing, a disappointing follow-up to their self-released Broom, which is an epic record (I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t heard it). My only comfort was in the fact that label mates of Montreal were putting out some of their best records one after another on Polyvinyl, namely a trilogy consisting of Satanic Panic in the Attic, The Sunlandic Twins, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? The last of which, by the way, is my #2 record of the last decade.

Anyway, Hush was released in 2009 and my reaction was mixed. I definitely felt the familiar Asobi vibe and was digging it, but the noticeable difference was the missing wall of sound. While the name Hush suggests something like an acoustic record or stripped down / intimate set, this wasn’t quite “quiet,” at least not in a traditional sense. Compared to their previous records, though, Hush definitely missed the mark in terms of the layers of distortion I had come to know and love (and expect). Still, with a batch of excellent songs and the solid production of  Zane, the record left on me a favorable impression.

Asobi followed through with a tour only release of an acoustic set recorded at Olympic Studios (later reissued as Rewolf – and I would claim this would have more aptly been the release named “Hush”), and the Transparence EP whose title track was a glimmer of hope for the Asobi I was craving, but was otherwise mainly electro-leaning. While these were fantastic in their own right, I was beginning to wonder if the full sounds I had enjoyed so deeply on s/t and Citrus were gone for good. Signal 2011, and Fluorescence.

On their fourth full length, Asobi Seksu strikes a sweet balance between the supremely pleasing walls of noise found on Citrus, the evolved song-writing illustrated on Hush, and yes they have even honed that flirtation with the electro on tracks such as “Counterglow” (rounded out with a more trademark Asobi sound that leaves a more organic end result). The band also explores some new ground, including an almost Goblinesque “Deep Weird Sleep,” and “Leave The Drummer Out There,” which borders on the Pink Floyd inspired. Maybe the next record will be a full-out 70’s prog rock revival? (let’s hope its not!) :]

All of this coupled with excellent production (once again the work of Zane) and the result is: after only a few listens I am in love with this record! You can pre-order CD or 180g vinyl (two versions, one limited) here. And in the meantime, check out a preview track, “Leave The Drummer Out There.”

Asobi Seksu – Leave The Drummer Out There

- breathmint

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #4. Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here

I'm New Here

the ghetto was a haven for the meanest preacher ever known

#4. Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here

When you think of the blues, there are generally not too many variations out there. You’ve got acoustic Delta blues with mysterious and spooky legends like Robert Johnson or Skip James. Or you might think of more electric bluesmen, bigger-than-life and creating rock and roll, like Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf. But the one thing that connects these bluesmen, and makes them eternal, is their wisdom. They all have lived–struggled, fought, lost, made it out alive. That’s the blues in a nutshell.

Gil Scott-Heron, by all accounts, has lived. He is becoming more and more recognized as a legend, one of the pioneers of hiphop, with his ’70s spoken-word jazz recordings. He might not have been the first rapper, but he was a leading black poet, focused on urban social issues. I’ll cut his bio short, but by the ’80s and ’90s, he had more or less quit recording, and the ’00s found him in prison for drug possession. This all leads to I’m New Here, Scott-Heron’s first album in 16 years (and only second since 1982).

The amazing thing about I’m New Here is the way it takes old parts, yet sounds so new, so modern. The slide guitar and handclaps of “New York Is Killing Me” are skeletal blues, but the production includes electronic buzzes which make it feel current. The ghostly ambience of “The Crutch,” the fluttery beat of “Your Soul And Mine”: they may be distantly related to Skip James but could only have been made in modern times. The opening track, “Me And The Devil Blues” reworks the old Robert Johnson song into something almost triphop. This makes I’m New Here a rarity, an actual twist on one of the oldest and most familiar genres.

But what makes that twist special is that Scott-Heron is old enough to know. Throughout the album, there are number of short snippets of him speaking, offering thoughts (“certain bad things that happen…make you realize you’ve been here a whole lot longer than people thought you would”). There are no dirt crossroads in Gil Scott-Heron’s blues, but it is clear he has met the devil a few times. But as he sings on the title track (ironically, a cover of a recent Smog song), “no matter how far wrong you’ve gone / you can always turn around.” Gil Scott-Heron was pretty far gone, but I’m New Here hopefully is an announcement that’s he’s come back around. The world needs his voice.

Gil Scott-Heron “New York Is Killing Me”

Gil Scott-Heron “Me And The Devil”

and PS. check out this video for a remix of “New York Is Killing Me”… I think it gets to exactly what I wrote here earlier. It’s not the dirt road blues, it’s the subway blues. Watch him here.

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #15. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

This Is Happening

LCD Soundsystem Is Playing At My House

#15. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

Many of LCD Soundsystem’s songs on This Is Happening are about moments. The moment you get lost in music, forgetting all your troubles (“Dance Yourself Clean”). The moment you make a connection (“One Touch”). In “All I Want,” James Murphy writes of another moment: “from now on, I’m someone different / ‘Cause it’s no fun to be predictably lame / From now on, there’s true indifference / ‘Cause I want what I want.” Like the lyrics, LCD Soundsystem’s music is also usually about moments. You ride through the amazing production of “Dance Yourself Clean,” as the instruments dance all around each other, waiting for that moment it breaks into a phat groove. Numerous moments slide in and out of the album, catchy harmony vocals, keyboard licks, beats, percussion.

It took me awhile to figure out what was happening with This Is Happening though. I had trouble placing it. Right now, maybe it’s overrated on the list. But next time I listen, it might be underrated. I’ve moved it all up and down and this is where it ended. I’m not sure why. It’s not as if James Murphy had any big change in style. In fact, if anything, he has expertly learned to trim the fat on his records, and now puts out strong, lean albums. Nothing is extraneous. His first album has some epic tracks but is at times a little goofy, a little hectic. He has an impressive ability to write music that is simultaneously locked-in tight and builds dramatically.

This Is Happening is his third album, and there’s less goofiness (though I’m not sure what to make of “Drunk Girls,” I could do without it). He’s also cut out the occasionally heavy electric guitar riffs that he used to use sometimes. What remains are the phat grooves building into dramatic release, and some notably emotional tunes (“I Can Change” and “Home”). If that’s what you like best in LCD Soundsystem’s music, you should dig This Is Happening.

LCD Soundsystem – “I Can Change”

LCD Soundsystem – “All I Want”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #18. Vampire Weekend – Contra

Vampire Weekend - Contra

look psychotic in a balaclava

#18. Vampire Weekend – Contra

I know this choice is particularly hipster of me. But so is counting down my top 25 albums of the year on a friend’s blog, so whatever. I’ve been charmed by Vampire Weekend. I saw a bit more than half of their set at Coachella this year (another hipster alert, what am I turning into?) and thought they were pretty fun. I’ve listened to more than half of their new album, as well, and also find it pretty fun.*

Anyway, I find Vampire Weekend’s music tantalizing. Their songs all seem to be right on the edge of busting out into some massive LCD Soundsystem-like funk. But they don’t. They hold it back. Or they just flash it briefly. This tension is what they do best, and is pretty addictive. The African polyrhythmic drums mix with Ezra Koenig’s catchy and creative melodies are a blast, and by the time you get to the heart of the album, it all makes sense and you’re groovin’.

“Horchata” kicks Contra off, taking you somewhere warm in December, trying to “forget a feeling you thought you’d forgotten.” What is he trying to escape? Many of the songs hint at this escape, of feeling disconnected and instead of dwelling on it, getting away. I won’t lie though, while I find Koenig to be an interesting lyricist, I am struggling with them a little. They do at times come off preppy and overly clever. But the preppy and overly clever can feel worried and disconnected too, right? Honestly though, it took me many listens to even begin to look at the words; it’s Vampire Weekend’s music that won me over. And if that makes me a hipster sometimes, then so be it.

*Just kidding, I’ve listened to all of it!

Vampire Weekend “Giving Up The Gun”

Vampire Weekend “Horchata”

- almostaghost