Tag Archive for 'New York'

AlmostAGhost’s Top Albums Of 2012: #1. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

biting my lip as confidence is speaking to me

biting my lip as confidence is speaking to me

Tramp is the album that I listened to the most all year long, the album I kept turning back to, woke up with it in my head, wanted to hear it again and again. Sharon Van Etten has expanded her palette a bit, using more electric guitar and intensity, but still maintaining her beautiful hypnotic melodies.

The songs hit on a lot of emotion, in a very conversational lyric tone–that’s her style–but instead of feeling extremely personal, that conversation invites you into the songs and moments. As great as her voice is, I think this is her talent. Her words have some wordplay and cleverness, so it’s not just pure emoting, but still many times it sounds as if she’s just talking to herself. But instead of feeling like eavesdropping on someone, it feels real, a mirror, a landscape. The conversation goes all over from frustration to humor and sadness to confusion and clarity, and often all in the same song.

I lived with this album for most of the year and it impressed me more than any other in 2012.

Sharon Van Etten “We Are Fine”

Sharon Van Etten “Leonard”

- almostaghost

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

xxx

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 Top Albums Of 2012: #9. School Of Seven Bells – Ghostory

white wind to shatter the scenery again

white wind to shatter the scenery again

Sexy dark grooves, School Of Seven Bells-style

School Of Seven Bells “White Wind”

School Of Seven Bells “Low Times”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Top Albums Of 2012: #12. Here We Go Magic – A Different Ship

A Different Ship

I believe in action

Just a quick note: Nigel Godrich was a fan of Here We Go Magic, called them up and offered to produce their record. They said sure, and the groovy and spacey A Different Ship is the result.

Here We Go Magic “Hard To Be Close”

Here We Go Magic “Make Up Your Mind”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Top Albums Of 2012: #24. Azealia Banks – Fantasea

Fantasea

Aquababe

So I’m not really clear what makes a mixtape, which means Azealia Banks’ real “debut album” is still to come (in a few months apparently). But in non-marketing reality, this mixtape Fantasea is her first real statement.

Banks became known off one single that hit on YouTube (“212” has 40 million views). That single was indicative of what shows up on Fantasea: the wild techno beats mixed together with exciting drops, her graphic raps, sexy flow, her youthful exuberance. Occasionally she sort of drifts into cartoon character territory, but that’s just part of the fantasy.

Azealia Banks “Nathan (feat. Styles P)”

Azealia Banks “Esta Noche”

- almostaghost

Concert Review – Sharon Van Etten and The War On Drugs – March 20 2012 Hollywood, CA

A few days back, I went to see Sharon Van Etten and The War On Drugs concert at the Avalon in Hollywood. A strange combo! But I am a fan of both, and was excited.

The War On Drugs, who put out one of my favorite albums last year, opened. I saw them headline five months ago at a smaller venue, which was fun. But I think their sound fit this slightly bigger venue a little better. But their momentum, tight on record, is given more expanse on the stage. More specifically, that means a bit more jamming, longer ambient build-ups, phatter bass.

To be honest, I cannot decide if their groove is derivative, or unique. A fine line, I guess! In the end, it does not matter. But original or not, I really enjoyed their noisy, groovy set, once again. And if they come back again in five months… I’m sure I’ll enjoy it then too. Here’s a song from the excellent Slave Ambient:

The War On Drugs “Brothers”

Sharon Van Etten, who, on the other hand, I last saw at a MUCH bigger venue (opening for The National), was impressive as well. She has a somewhat goofy, self-deprecatory stage presence, which was a little surprising considering sad, emotional songs make up the core of her catalog. Fortunately, this presence does not get in the way of the songs. She can switch focus and deliver a jaw-dropping performance like it ain’t no thing, even after awkwardly talking to the person in the front row (PS. we in the back had no idea what you were saying). Musically, I enjoyed her ability to pull off some of her slower, more drone-like pieces; and her band was also skilled enough to jump on faster ones too.

I did find myself wishing for a couple of songs where she just played acoustic guitar alone. Her first demo recordings are basically just that, and are so beautiful. But the new stuff has opened her up to a much wider palette, and for someone with such a great voice and such great songs, that’s nothing but a good thing.

Sharon Van Etten “Love More”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2011 – #2. The Antlers – Burst Apart

Burst Apart

If I don't take you somewhere else / You're gonna make this insincere

I was having trouble weaving this into some sort of coherent narrative, so I’ll just make a list:

1. Burst Apart is an album of songs about destructive love and disturbing dreams. It is creepy, strange and hilarious.

2. The Antlers have turned into quite an adept band, able to follow these songs where they need to go. From quiet reflection to dramatic moodiness to hypnotic to intense, they kind of do it all here. This is the first album like that for them, and they can go anywhere now.

3. The album opens with the line “You want to climb up the stairs / I want to push you back down,” which totally sets the tone of the whole album. The Antlers “I Don’t Want Love”

4. Burst Apart was a big grower for me, as it slowly rose all the way up my rankings to #2 here. Every time I listened, I liked it more and more and I just kept bumping it up.

5. In many instances, these were the catchiest songs I heard all year.

6. Catchy, yes. But slightly odd and off-putting too. (See, #3.) Other lines: “Every time we speak / You are spitting in my mouth” and “I’m a bad amputee with no phantom memory” and “they want to conquer you, abandon you / I want to burden you, belong to you.” I mean, it is not like he crosses a line into disturbing, but the metaphors are just enough off-center to make you uncomfortable. And it’s GREAT.

7. The Antlers reference teeth falling out in a couple of songs. In psychoanalysis dream interpretation, “Teeth in dreams represent your power, your psychical energy, in other words, your strength. When you see your own teeth falling out in a dream this means that you are losing your power. This is a very serious warning. You are in great danger! You are losing your power to act and do something to change reality. You are losing your capability to accomplish something. Why? Because you are making costly mistakes.” Those costly mistakes seem to me to be exactly what this album is about. The Antlers “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out”

8. That falsetto!

9. The drama in the songs is also exciting. The nervous drums on “Parentheses” provide a base, on which the singer joins, and then the bass. It all feels so natural, as well as expertly done. You get a similar feel on most songs: a sense of ease but also perfection, the sense that these songs are what they must be.

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2011 – #7. Lia Ices – Grown Unknown

Grown Unknown

the quiet singing in the language that we don't know

Much of what I just wrote about Bon Iver, Bon Iver in my last review also applies to Lie Ices’ Grown Unknown. I guess I love this style! Like Bon Iver, Ices has made a patient, rich album that is also mysterious and intriguing. I usually try not to make random comparisons, but this one is apt, as Justin Vernon sings back-up on one of the songs. So, I like to think of these two albums as companions and complements.

Unlike Bon Iver, Lia Ices is a bit more mystical and mythical in her lyrics. “Love Is Won” appears to be about discovering forever/love as a “tiny jewel in the tiger mouth,” and strriving to “pounce so I can tame the cat / so I can find the myth and let forever out.” “Daphne” tells the story of the nymph Daphne who turned into a tree instead of surrendering herself to Apollo. A particularly amazing song, “Daphne” begins delicately, like you would imagine a Lia Ices song to be: her quiet and close voice over guitar and violins. Midway through, the song takes a turn, becoming heavier and more confident. The music parallels the story.

The more I listen to Grown Unknown, the more I am impressed with Ices’ voice. It never falls into cliched fragility or breathlessness, always maintaining strength. This makes these songs all the more memorable, as she keeps charge of their oft-changing nature. “Ice Wine,” as only her vocals and a string quartet, could have been insufferable with the wrong voice, but Lia Ices keeps it together, and fascinating. “I hate to leave you like the eyelash that flew,” is one of the few lines that can be distinguished: it is one of her more mysterious and dark songs. Other tracks also borrow a lot from classical music arranging, but always to add richness and texture (“New Myth” especially).

There were quite a few of these individual, creative, avant-garde female pop singers this year, from Anna Calvi to PJ Harvey to Kate Bush to name a few. Each were stunning in their own way, and Lia Ices was one of my favorites. Grown Unknown is bursting with musical ideas — folky songs, string quartet movements, seductive vocals, orchestrated stories — yet it is her voice that ties all these ideas together so brilliantly.

Lia Ices “Daphne”

Lia Ices “Bag of Wind”

- 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

Life In Mixtape Form #15

This week was musically highlighted by a Thurston Moore concert, which was wonderful. His new album is an acoustic album, basically. It was a blast to hear him stripped back–two acoustic guitars, a harpist, a violinist, drummer. And among this, his voice really stood out; he’s a great singer! Usually, it’s easier to focus on his electric guitar freakout amazingness, or his poetic lyrics, I’ve never really thought of his voice before like that. Dude is a legend for a reason. 🙂

Anyway enjoy the mix; there’s an older Thurston song on there, which he did play at the show (and acoustic too).

- almostaghost