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December 27, 2007



While I'm still in this midwinter mood, I'll note that Iron and Wine's new album, The Shepherd's Dog, is really quite lovely -- certainly Sam Beam's most accomplished, sophisticated work yet, though I'll always have a generously sized portion of cardiac real estate reserved for the stark "Naked As We Came" and "Sodom, South Georgia," two of the most perfect songs I know.

I didn't read a ton of reviews of the record, though I do recall quite a bit of fuss over his "world"-ish elements—see Joe Tangari in Pitchfork's year-ender, for instance: ""House By the Sea" rises from a Reichian pattern to a rubber-rhythmed song cut with dashes of West African music." (In the preficted world of pop, is "world-" the new "electro-"?) I must admit I don't hear a ton of globetrotting in Shepherd's Dog, nor the "forays of psychedelic rock" identified over at NPR. There's a sitar in "White Tooth Man," but to my ears its ragged harmonics sound more like a jaw harp, buzzy as a cup of campfire coffee, which is to say, totally American. (Although I suppose that psychedelia is quite American; still, this ain't no Magic Hour, say.)

I don't think Beam has ever been the purveyor of gentrified Americana that some take him for; this record should help him shed that rep. He's become a better arranger. Recognizing that the porch and the studio offer different kinds of freedom, he hasn't tied himself to the expected tropes: in addition to the pedal steel and the barroom piano there are splashes of dub delay and snaky African guitar lines. (There are internationalist elements here—see also the nod to Flamenco in the clapping hands of the single "Boy With a Coin." I just don't think they're as pronounced or as graspingly obvious as some reviews make them sound.) The studio play never comes off as gimmicky, though: on "Carousel," when he runs his voice through a rapid-fire tremolo effect, as though singing through an electric fan, I hear the wobble of a car's interior when the window's not cracked enough, and the sound throbs in your ear like a bird trapped against glass. (This must be the "experimental bent" that spooked
Entertainment Weekly
.) Sometimes the studio meditations are a tad too much, perhaps--"Peace Beneath the City," traced with wah-wah guitar and loose-nut Rhodes, is more mood-piece than song, where Beam's always been a songwriter par excellence. Oddly, I find myself fastening onto the lyrics here far less than with the previous records; perhaps it's just a matter of time before the stories—because as older songs like "Sodom, South Georgia" and "Bird Stealing Bread" proved, Beam's as much a story-teller as a songwriter—open up. And by the end of the album, I find fatigue setting in, but perhaps that's because the first four songs are such an electrifying stretch of music. In any case, a wonderful record, and just the thing for a week of 'twixt-holiday downtime.

Every Single Day Is a Yellow Day (Everybody Had a Hard Year)




Without going into it too much, the last year wasn't always easy. The last three years, in fact, have had their share of peaks and valleys, sometimes with more runout than groove. Perhaps it's just my periodic manic updraft, but I've felt in recent months like I'm finally shaking off that lead-hooded feeling.

This mix is a bit different for me—created in Ableton, it's less a "DJ mix" and more the kind of mixtape I used to make on my trusty old Maxell XL IIs. It's dedicated to a friend who inspired many parts of its tracklisting, earlier this year, and to a few other good friends who reminded me, whether they meant to or not, that music is always, at its root, something social and shared, watermarked with circumstance and renewable as an onionskinned record of our days on earth. And finally, it's dedicated to my dad, three years gone.

Every Single Day Is a Yellow Day (Everybody Had a Hard Year) (72:32; 192kbps)

Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (Rune Grammofon)
White Magic, "Katie Cruel" (Drag City)
Apparat, "Arcadia" (Shitkatapult)
Matthew Dear, "Deserter" (Ghostly)
Iron & Wine, "Naked As We Came" (Sub Pop)
Six Organs of Admittance, "Words for Two" (Drag City)
Michael Andrews Featuring Gary Jules, "Mad World" (Sanctuary)
Tim Buckley, "Song to the Siren" (Elektra)
Talk Talk, "The Colour of Spring" (EMI)
So Percussion, "June" (Cantaloupe Music)
Thom Yorke, "The Eraser" (XL)
Apparat, "Komponent (Telefon Tel Aviv Remix)" (Shitkatapult)
Burial, "Distant Lights" (Hyperdub)
Grizzly Bear, "Easier" (Warp)
Prince, "Condition of the Heart" (Warner/Paisley Park)
Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, "Condition of the Heart" (Rune Grammofon)
März, "Everybody Had a Hard Year" (Karaoke Kalk)
José González, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (Cortex)

If you like these songs, please consider purchasing the albums that contain them. They're all wonderful. And albums still accomplish things no mix, or playlist, ever will.

December 25, 2007

Peaks and Valleys

Steeple shadow

I got a nice early Xmas present today when my good friend Matt Quiet hipped me to the fact that the masterful Al Usher, aka Ewan Pearson's better other half in Partial Arts (just kidding, Ewan!), saw fit to include a new track of mine in his recent "Peaks and Valleys" mix for Cool in the Pool. Score! The track's a remix for Guillaume & the Coutu Dumonts' "Les Gans," out soon as a digital release on Musique Risquée.

Head over here to download Al's set, a cozy/drowsy hour of slow disco, cosmic inclinations and Balearic shore-lapping that's just the thing to cure the season's eggnog hangovers. (While you're there, pick up sets from Harvey, Padded Cell's Richard Sen, Bear Funk's Mark Essa, Peter Visti, Mudd and others.) Here are the details:

Al Usher - Cool In The Pool mix (1:01:03; 192kbps)

Snowball – Life In Space (Edit)
Ensemble Orlan – Bashkir Village’s Blues
Gatto Fritto – Invisible College
Anthony Moore – ABCD Gol’Fish
Daddy Cool – Take “One”
A M Tala – Get Up Tchamassi
JT – I Love Music
Lauer – Hotello
Mike Mareen – Dancing In The Dark (Galactica Mix)
Monsoon – Ever So Lonely (Dub)
Guillaume & The Coutu Dumonts – Les Gans (Philip Sherburne Remix)
Keynotes – Enter-State (Mering Techno Mix)
Graffitti – Peaks And Valleys

December 22, 2007

Ranking, Relatively: 2007 Albums

Cat on a hot aluminum roof

It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

Colleen, Les Ondes Silencieuses (Leaf)
Kalabrese, Rumpelzirkus (Stattmusik)
Thomas Melchior, No Disco Future (Perlon)
nsi., Plays Non Standards (Sähkö)
Rosy Parlane, Jessamine (Touch)
Dino Saluzzi + Anja Lechner, Ojos Negros (ECM)
September Collective, All the Birds Were Anarchists (Mosz)
Sun Electric, Lost & Found (1998 - 2000) (Shitkatapult)
Ricardo Villalobos, Fabric 36 (Fabric)
Various, Shut Up and Dance Updated (Ostgut Ton)

Playing Favorites

Angels of Light, We Are Him (Young God)
Apparat, Walls (Shitkatapult)
Paul Bley, Solo In Mondsee (ECM)
Matthew Dear, Asa Breed (Ghostly)
His Name Is Alive, Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute to Marion Brown (High Two)
Petre Inspirescu, Tips (Cadenza)
Klimek, Dedications (Anticipate)
Laconnor, Laconnor (Drip Audio)
Morgan Packard, Airships Fill the Sky (Anticipate)
Pan Sonic, Katodivaihe/Cathodephase (Blast First Petite)
Panda Bear, Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)
Ewan Pearson, Fabric 35 (Fabric)
Ewan Pearson, Piece Work (!K7)
Pole, Steingarten (~scape)
Sun, I'll Be the Same (Staubgold)
Mark Templeton, Standing on a Hummingbird (Anticipate)
Bjørn Torske, Feil Knapp (Smalltown)
Various, Soundboy Punishments (Skull Disco)

Their Music Is Large-Hearted And So Am I

Battles, Mirrored (Warp)
Burial, Untrue (Hyperdub)
Burnt Friedman, First Night Forever (Nonplace)
Chloe, The Waiting Room (Kill the DJ)
Cobblestone Jazz, 23 Seconds (!K7)
G-Ha & Olanski, Sunkissed (Smalltown)
His Name Is Alive, Xmmer (Silver Mountain)
Neil Landstrumm, Restaurant of Assassins (Planet Mu)
LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver (DFA)
Michaela Melian, Los Angeles (Monika Enterprise)
Strategy, Future Rock (Kranky)
Andrea Sartori, Il Tagliacode (Persona)
Sunburned Hand of the Man, Fire Escape (Domino)
Supermayer, Save the World (Kompakt)
Valet, Blood Is Clean (Kranky)
White Rainbow, Prism of Eternal Now (Kranky)

For Those About To Rock We Salute You

Health, Heath (Lovepump United)
No Age, Weirdo Rippers (Fat Cat)

A Few Great Cuts, Or: The Thing That iPods Are Made Of

Blonde Redhead, 23 (4AD)
Caribou, Andorra (Merge)
Pluramon, The Monstrous Surplus (Karaoke Kalk)
Printer, I Can Take More (Statler & Waldorf)
Robosonic, Sturm Und Drang (Undercoverart)

Snuck Up On Me From '06

Grizzly Bear, Yellow House (Warp)
François Houle, Aerials (Drip Audio)
Paul Wirkus, Déformation Professionelle (Staubgold)

Stoked For '08

Autistic Daugthers, Uneasy Flowers (Kranky)
Nemeth, Film (Mosz)
Bruno Pronsato, Why Can't We Be Like Us (Hello? Repeat)
Nicola Ratti, From the Desert Came Saltwater (unknown)
Reanimator, new shit (Community Library)

Reissues And Old Shit I Found In Boxes (An Admittedly Partial List)

Holger Czukay, Canaxis (Revisited)
Richie Hawtin/Thomas Brinkmann, Concept 1/Variations (Minus)
Kaffe Matthews, Ebb & Flo (Annette Works)
Nice Strong Arm, Reality Bath
Seefeel, Quique Redux (Too Pure)
Trees, The Christ Tree (via curved-air.com)
Various, The Roots of Chicha (Barbes)

Mildly Disappointed

José González, In Our Nature (Mute/Peacefrog)

Really Did Not Get It

Yeasayer, All Hour Cymbals (We Are Free)

You've Gotta Be Kidding Me

Underworld, Oblivion With Bells (Different/PIAS)

Late-breaking update: Tip of the hat to Todd Burns blog for uncovering The Catbirdseat.Org Incredibly Handy Music-Blogger "Best of 2007" List Cheat-Cheat, which basically accomplishes a month's worth of Idolator-like skewering in one nifty Earl Boykins-style chart. (Not that I'm calling Jess ineffectual or anything.) All the more mindboggling to realize that the Catbirdseat's "cheat-sheet" was created all the way back in mid-October, long before the daily intoning of "The National... Animal Collective... LCD Soundsystem... M.I.A..." became the morning anthem of Blog Nation--a mantra that sounded like nothing so much as the echo-chambered cries of indie culture congratulating itself to death. The overwhelming sense of consensus really was rather stifling this year, wasn't it?

December 21, 2007

A great new blog

For so many reasons (like proper crit minus snark, plus mixes, plus they're the only other people to chart DJ Koze's "Cicely," one of my top tunes of '07):

Minimal Sausages

December 19, 2007

Gear of the Year


Graphic courtesy Pheek, whose blog I just discovered. I believe it speaks for itself...

December 14, 2007



My eMusic Dozen, 2007 Rewind: The Year in Dance, went up today, and I'm quite pleased with it. eMusic subscribers can download the cuts in question; everyone can read my synopses. Whether for space or delicacy, my intro was shortened somewhat; I'm reprinting the full version here, to preserve original's slightly more critical stance. I don't mean to harp on others for having tastes that differ from mine, but it bugs me when particularity is presented as universalism, or, to put it another way, consensus-based presuppositions reinforce assessments that simply aren't true.

That being said, the subject of my Dozen, despite its generalist title, is itself wholeheartedly particular (if not downright peculiar). This isn't really "the year in dance," it's my year in dance; take it as you will. (It's also, I should note, a list of my top 12 tracks that are available in eMusic's catalog; it's a testament to the site's growth over the past year, however, that all selections were already high in my general top 25. That is, I didn't need to make any particular stretches to find 12 catalog titles I could deem "best." Nevertheless, my personal year-end list will differ slightly from this.)

A final note: the tracks I'm singling out are listed, artist then title, in bold type beneath the album covers pictured. The larger, orange titles are the album titles containing them, which in several cases are compilations or mixes; the artists linked are, likewise, the artists responsible for those containers. In other words, I didn't vote Dubfire best of anything, but it's his Taipei where you'll find Len Faki's "Rainbow Delta" on eMusic.

The Year in Dance: The eMusic Dozen: Introduction
Many will undoubtedly look back on 2007 as the year that dance broke. Daft Punk officiated from their pyramid; LCD Soundsystem made wistful funky again; and the likes of Justice, Simian Mobile Disco and Digitalism made 4/4 beats palatable to the rock kids. But for the admirable breadth of that spectrum, other strands of house and techno failed to capture the popular imagination, judging from their near-total excision from the tastemaking websites of a curiously consensus-based blogosphere. Indeed, many U.S. media directed a curious kind of animosity towards another variety of dance music, the stuff that animates crowds by the thousands everywhere from Berlin nighclubs to London backrooms, Argentine beach raves to Romanian afterhours, Ibizan massives to Miami's Winter Music Conference. Nowhere was that animosity more apparent than when a Fader blogger accused the Berlin-based, Perlon-affiliated artist Cassy Britton of belonging to the "minimal techno ghetto."*

Weirdly polemical wording aside—you don't see them calling Houston rap or funk carioca, two genres with far more localized fan bases and talent pools, "ghetto" musics—the accusation simply isn't accurate. In much of the world, house and techno's cultural capital is equivalent to that of indie rock in the U.S. What seems clear is that without access to its native context—namely, the regular club nights where the music comes alive—many American listeners continue to find most Continentally-inclined house and techno forbiddingly alien. The irony is that given the spread of dance-music blogs and Internet-based distribution, the music is more accessible than ever. What follows are 12 highlights from the year in house and techno—not just the songs, but the stories that made them significant. The selection represents the international character of contemporary electronic dance music, drawing from Paris, Berlin, Hamburg, London, the Bronx, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, Nashville, Santiago, Chile and Cagliari, Italy. Three tracks, in fact, are cross-border collaborations. And all of them are passports to a world where national identity is rendered irrelevant. No "ghetto pass" is needed, just a willingness to lose oneself in the beat.

Keep reading...

*Somewhat bizarrely, the blog entry doesn't anywhere identify Perlon as the label behind Cassy's record, despite its instantly recognizable graphic identity, pictured in the accompanying photo.

December 05, 2007

You snooze, you lose


The past few days, every time I leave my desk, my cat steals my chair. I'd train her to write my assignments for me, but she's clearly as lazy as I am.

December 04, 2007

Warm fuzzies


I've got two new columns up at eMusic, both of them covering exactly the sort of sweater-weather music we're all aching for right now. Plus a smattering of ache-weather music we're sweating for.

Music Out Of Place: Staubgold Records
Comfort Music for Restless ears: Kranky Records

Deth Païs

Homage to Siskind (& Franz Kline)


Steeple shadow

Firehouse, Pont de Suert


Church in Pont de Suert

A hearty thanks to Sasha for his kindly highlight over at his New Yorker blog. "Submarine makeout music" is a wonderful description, especially as it (unconsciously?) references Ricardo Villalobos' remix of Thomas Dolby's "One of Our Submarines" -- one of the greatest remixes ever, of one of the greatest pop songs ever. That ain't a bad foundation for a genre with a floundering name.

(All the above photos are from Catalunya's Vall d'Aran. I didn't see any submarines there, but I'm sure that green church could double for one in a pinch.)