Band Evangelist, ch. 4

I have neglected my musical prophetic calling as of late, but LO, I have returned to separate the melodic wheat from the chaff and to baptize you in the tuneful rivers of new music (the evangelist metaphor is wearing thin, I know). I have put together a mix of some of the latest songs to catch my ear–cleverly entitled “2012: My Own Apocalypse”–but since sharing music online is a dangerous pastime, I will simply offer to send you a link to the songs  (if you know me, shoot me an email; if you don’t know me, post in the comments section and I should be able to see your email…AND make sure you are not an undercover agent of the RIAA!).  Most of the following artists I’ve highlighted have a track on this mix…

To begin with, two years ago, in my first “Band Evangelist” post, I lamented the break-up of a band that I believed had great potential to be among the indie greats:  The XYZ Affair.  Well, the singer of that band has just released a free 5-song EP under the moniker Leonard Friend.  It’s a bit more quasi-ironic 80’s electronic poppy than I might wish, but this singer/songwriter’s talent cannot be hidden under a bush & heck, it’s FREE!

Another singer/songwriter–Ramesh Srivastava–from a similarly lamented & potentially epic indie band that broke up several years ago–Voxtrot–has just released a few new songs as well, which can be heard for now at his website (the song “The King” was on my best of 2010 mix).  I think Ramesh may someday rise again like the phoenix to the heights he reached with Voxtrot (whose must-have songs include “The Start of Something,” “Fast Asleep,” “Firecracker;” their self-titled album from 2007 is worth a purchase, though not essential), but for now, these few songs are all we have to remind us of what could’ve been.

Some of the kings & queens of indie-dom from years past also have new albums out/coming out that must be reckoned with:

  • Andrew Bird/Break It Yourself (out now):  I did buy it & I do like it thus far.  I’m sure it will grow on me even more (straightaway, I was taken with the penultimate 3 tracks quite a bit).  The man is so multi-talented (composing melancholic melodies, playing guitar/violin/violin like a guitar/whistling, etc.), he cannot make a “bad album,” but to be honest, I think he could stand to have a producer other than himself (it lacks a sonic fullness and critical perspective that a talented outsider could have brought), he should focus his lyrical impressionism just a bit, and, this sounds harsh, but he needs to drop his brushes/soft kick drum percussionist Martin Dosh, who, while an incredibly talented musician himself, I think, brings out a soft-rock mildness and self-indulgence in the Bird that keeps him from attaining his full greatness on record (when they play live together, as a two-piece, they are able to create an entire symphony of sounds through looping).
  • The Shins/Port of Morrow (out now):  After a few listens, I am uncertain what I will ultimately think of these 10 tracks.  Having loved the early Shins, it is hard to see this new line-up, sans any other original member than singer/songwriter James Mercer, as anything more than just Mercer resurrecting a “brand” that’s proven to sell records.  But his voice & lyrics are so great to hear again (though the instrumentation on this album may have been a bit OVER-produced) and the old sparkle does emerge in some of the attempts to recapture the old Shins magic (much more glimmer than I found in the Mercer/Dangermouse collaboration, Broken Bells).
  • Daniel Rossen/Silent Hour/Golden Mile (out now):  This lovely throated & absurdly brilliant songwriter from Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles has released a five-song EP that I have found wonderfully enchanting, lovely to the bones, and all other kinds of goodness.  Yep, you should buy it!
  • Sigur Rós/Valtari (May 29):  Now I have to admit that I am getting my hopes up ionospherically high for this forthcoming album–to the point that I do not want to hear any tracks until I have the album in my hands.  I was personally disappointed with singer/composer Jonsi‘s recent solo release, so I’m hopelandic (or Vonlenska, if you prefer) for a aural reconciliation between my fey Nordic friend and me.
  • Regina Spektor/What We Saw from the Cheap Seats (May 29):  I’m not totally sure what to think of this quirkstress any more.  I did love so much of her last album, Far, but the initial single for this album, “All the Rowboats,” is cloyingly precious (oh, poor paintings that want to escape from their museum prisons) and I fear the worst.  Still, she does have heaps of talent, a golden ear for melodies (until she kills them with an intentionally dissonant note to the throat), and a certain sweet naivete, so I’m certain I will give it a listen.
  • Other releases of note to check out or watch for include:  White Rabbits/Milk Famous (out now)–I don’t know much about them, but I love the song “Everyone Can’t Be Confused,” Damien Jurado/Maraqopa (out now)–“Museum of Flight” is pretty as all get out, Rufus Wainwright/Out of the Game (April 23), Silversun Pickups/Neck of the Woods (May 8), Beach House/Bloom (May 15)–the song “Myth” from this album is soaringly lovely, Best Coast/The Only Place (May 15)–get a free song off the album here, The Walkmen/Heaven (June 5), and a new Passion Pit album in June.  Post in the comments about any albums I missed!

SO those are releases from the KNOWN bands…but let me list out a few NEW (to me & perhaps you?) acts that I’d like to commend to you all:

  1. Sharon Van Etten/Tramp:  This singer-songwriter caught my ear with “Serpents” before I’d heard that The National‘s Aaron Dessner had played on/produced her album (which is reason enough to take note). Her voice is a mix between Cat Power, Kathleen Edwards, and Sarah Jaffe (who also shares a similar composing style & sound). This woman has an incredible future ahead of her.  I’ve been playing this album non-stop of late.
  2. Yellow Ostrich/Strange Land:  This LP is the apotheosis of indie-songsmithery.  Haunting at points (“Up in the Mountains,” “Wear Suits”), darkly epic at others (“Marathon Runner”) and hopping off walls at yet many other points.
  3. Pandercakes/Paint By Numbers EP:  I don’t quite remember how I heard about this band, but you can download some songs here.  Read this music blog to find out more about their sound, which I like immensely–densely layered & yet fun and catchy at the same time.
  4. Oberhofer/Time Capsules II:  I have only listened to one song of of this album (“Heart”) but it has set expectations quite high.  This song is a mix of Animal Collective, Explosions in the Sky, Page France, and Muse (the piano parts)–to my ears at least.  This kid is the next generation of indie genius.
  5. Dry the River/Shallow Bed:  A friend with impeccable taste just turned me on to this band via a set on KCRW.  Check out this quote from their online bio:

“This five-piece band has all the hallmarks of the latest folk sensation: elemental name, beards, acoustic guitars, even a violinist. But what sets Dry the River apart is a background in hardcore and post-punk bands, hence the tattoos, lyrics that read like a Steinbeck novel and a sonic palette that sweeps from gentle to giant like an incoming storm.”

Well, that should keep your ears busy for a short while…until our next gathering at the edge of the river, let the “Glory Hallelujah’s” roll!

Two Years of Lost in the Cloud

Dear readers,

Today, Elijah and Greg celebrate two years of writing on our collaborative blog, Lost in the Cloud.  Though we had transferred over some older posts from the previous blog we had created with Greg’s younger brother, Criticism As Inspiration (which still features the header that Greg designed on Microsoft Word!), our first official post on Lost in the Cloud was published on 23 January, 2010.

The background and theme was different, but you get the idea…

Since that initial post, we’ve had over 200,000 unique visits to the blog (and to those 200 GRAND readers, may we offer our sincere thanks and warm regards to you).  As a way of looking back on these past two years, we thought we would highlight some of our posts that have had the most hits over the past two years, along with drawing attention to a few series that we have produced and other special posts.

ELIJAH’S TOP HITS:

  1. Helicopter Megaphone“: A post about the heartbreaking back story of the song “Helicopter” from Deerhunter’s album Halcyon Digest.
  2. Will tomorrow be the ‘end of the world‘”: A helpful explanation of the differences between various Christian views of “the last days” written at the time of the Harold Camping rapture predictions.
  3. Lost in the Sewer: Steve Duncan, Urban Explorer“:  A look at urban exploration in the underground of New York City.
  4. Top 20 Bands: 1“:  Elijah talks about his favorite musical artist in the climax of his series (see below) on his top 20 bands.

ELIJAH’S SERIES:

  • Imaging the Kingdom (Parts One, Two, Three, Four, and Five):  A series of posts dedicated to exploring the nature of the kingdom of God and its implications in the universe, and therefore in our world and in the lives of all Christians.
  • Top 20 Bands:  If you visit the link for Elijah’s number 1 post, you will have links to all 20 of the other bands.

****************

GREG’S TOP HITS:

  1. John Stump, composer of Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz“:  This piece about Greg’s uncle has become the singular most viewed post on LITC.  While John’s comical music compositions have been viewed around the globe, the post on our site is the one place where people can find out  actual information about the composer.
  2. Moby Books: Illustrated Classics Editions“:  This post is also a unique resource on the web on a little documented topic, about a series of abridged and illustrated versions of classic books published in the 70’s and 80’s that were Greg’s “gateway drug” into literature.
  3. ‘Hipster’ ‘Christianity’: a ‘review’“:  Not Greg’s most charitable work, this post takes some below the belt potshots at the book Hipster Christianity.
  4. A Portrait of the Artist in The Age of Adz“:  An early review and speculative analysis of Sufjan Steven’s 2010 album, The Age of Adz.

GREG’S SERIES:

  • Band Evangelist (Chapters One, Two, and Three):  A periodic update on upcoming and new releases from various albums and bands.  (Elijah even posted a “Disciple of the Band Evangelist” piece in the same vein.)
  • The Mirror and the Telescope (Parts One, Two, Three, and Four):  An original essay on an evangelical view of Scripture that proposes that there are truly two subjects of special revelation: God and humanity.
  • Reformed and Always Reforming (Parts One, Two, and Three):  A summary and analysis of the initial chapters of Roger Olson’s book Reformed and Always Reforming.

GREG’S SPECIAL POSTS:

  • John Wenham: An Appreciation“:  This was a brief review of the autobiography of a British evangelical biblical scholar who also held to the annihilationist view of hell/divine judgment.  As a result of this post, Greg received an email from Wenham’s grandson thanking him for his positive evaluation of his grandfather’s legacy.  This post also provided Greg with a number of opportunities to engage with readers on the annihilationist view.
  • A modest proposal for Sufjan Stevens regarding the completion of his 50 states project“:  This was an open letter to the single greatest contemporary American artist (in Greg’s opinion) with an idea of how to continue with the creative endeavor of recording an album for each one of the 50 American states.
  • A review of Josh T. Pearson live in Glasgow“:  This post captured some highlights from an opportunity that Elijah and Greg had to see a one-of-a-kind singer/songwriter in concert whilst Greg was visiting Elijah in Scotland, including a live track from the show.

Working on this blog together has been full of delight, insight, and catharsis, and we are deeply grateful for those who subscribe, read, and comment on our posts at LITC.

This has been one of the ways that Elijah and Greg have stayed connected over the past few years that Elijah has been working on a PhD at the University of St Andrews and so the blog often captures some of the profound affection, encouragement, and willingness to learn from one another that characterizes our friendship.  We look forward to continuing our collaboration into the near future, with the potential of someday even creating a print edition of Lost in the Cloud.  Keep your eyes open for forthcoming information and thanks again for joining us these last two years!

Death Waltz Day

Six years ago today, my uncle, John Stump died.  Shortly thereafter, I discovered that he had been the author of a number of pieces of sheet music, including “FAERIE’S AIRE and DEATH WALTZ,” which had a kind of legendary status online and a cult following among fans of musical absurdity.  Almost two years ago, I wrote a post about John here on Lost in the Cloud in order to provide some actual information about him, being that he was somewhat of a mystery to the world (my younger brother created a Wikipedia page, which was up for a while, but the powers that be at that reputedly free and open encyclopedia closed down the entry for not having enough verifiable outside sources!).  In the less than 2 years since I wrote that post, it has had 164,631 views.  That number may not seem tremendously high for some websites, but Elijah and I are regularly astounded at the weekly average of 5,000 people who are interested in finding out more about John.

So, being that today is the anniversary of John’s death, I would like to celebrate my eccentric genius uncle by officially declaring January 20 to be Death Waltz Day and posting some random information and images from John’s life, beginning with his death certificate.

Some might think it in poor taste to post a copy of this document, but I disagree.  For one, there have been some people who’ve claimed that John is an invented person and that this all is a hoax, so a legal document demonstrating the fact of his existence by acknowledging the END of his existence seems appropriately absurd, given John’s sense of humor (this is a man who once sent me, in lieu of a Christmas letter, a sympathy card using a fake name–for both the recipient and sender).  Secondly, I’ve had a number of requests for information about John and his death from small magazines or blogs, so I thought I’d just put this out there as part of the public data about John.  Finally, I’m commemorating his DEATH on DEATH WALTZ DAY, so a DEATH certificate seems apropos.  There’s no need for us to be so tetchy about the end of life, my friends!  (Ironically, one of the only musical compositions of John’s known to have been performed was called “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” so John was clearly comfortable with the topic!)

I’m also including a scan of the program cover and inside content from John’s memorial service, which was held at The Vedanta Society of Southern California, where my other uncle lives and works.

Having the coda from “Hey Jude” as your funeral recessional is about the coolest thing imaginable.  I wish I had been there to experience this first hand–I honestly cannot even remember the trivial matter that kept me from attending his service.

Reflecting the other end of John’s life, I wanted to post the actual hospital bill for his birth (total cost = $64.8o!) & a photo of a precious young John, probably around two or three years old.

(Where can you get a $2 circumcision these days?)

I thought I’d also share some rather funny promotional material that John used to sell his works, which he referred to as “musical novelties” and “gag sheet music,” along with John’s business card from his days as a music engraver.

My father has been digging up some other treasures of John’s, including a short story that he wrote in 1978 called “Harold Blott and the Christmas Pumpkin” which I will post at some point, and I’m asking my dad to look for this absolutely droll booklet that John made for him for his birthday that was an illustrated story in the manner of Edward Gorey.  I will try to post these in time for John’s birthday in March…

Finally, I thought I would use the occasion of Death Waltz Day to clear up some confusion about a video on YouTube that claims to be the “Death Waltz.”  What seems to have happened is that someone took the music of another composer and simply put the title of John’s work on it, as if it were a representation of what the Death Waltz would sound like put to music.  One of the comments from my original post on John, by a reader called Will K., revealed what the actual song in the video was:

The correct name of this song is “U.N. Owen was Her”, remix by Cool&Create, piano version. The original author is Japanese composer Junya Ota, who goes by the alias of ZUN. He is known for his Touhou series computer games, from where the music comes from, which are extremely popular in Japan. More specifically, this bgm is from the game Touhou6: Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil. He is a very exceptional case because he is famous for single-handedly designing and programming his games AND composing all of the soundtracks, including this one.

Hope that helps clear that all up!  However, in honor of Death Waltz Day, I would like to issue a challenge to any music programmers out there to actually input John’s composition “Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz” into some musical software program and send us the results of what it would sound like.  It will probably sound like absolute cacophony and chaos, given that the composition was designed more for it’s visual and humorous flair and not for musical coherence, but we’ll never know unless we hear it for ourselves!

Thanks to all those who have shown an interest in John’s works over the years and hopefully this post will provide some additional enjoyment for his fans around the world!  I end this commemoration of Uncle John with some lyrics of George Harrison, which were printed on the back of John’s memorial service program:

All things must pass/none of life’s strings can last/
so I must be on my way/and face another day…

Best Albums of 2011

2012 is nearly upon us, which means it’s time for our Best Albums of 2011 list here at Lost in the Cloud!  We’ve been conscientiously consuming music to both nourish our culturally gluttonous souls and to deliver a collection of what we consider to be the finest music released this year.  Last month we proudly presented our Best Songs of 2011 list and now we have painstakingly selected our top ten albums each.  In 2010, we (Greg & Elijah) shared five albums in common on our Best Albums list.  This year we have discovered that we only share one album in common, which may be an indication of our decomposing friendship (we’re only joking, of course!), but this means that while last year we shared 15 ‘best’ albums between the two of us, this year we are presenting you with a 19-album smörgåsbord!

Elijah’s Top 10 Albums of ’11

10.  Bon Iver Bon Iver — Concerning Bon Iver’s 2008 release of For Emma, Forever Ago, a friend once commented, ‘Take the reverb away and there’s nothing there.’  I couldn’t help but agree at the time.  This is my confession: I wasn’t a huge Bon Iver fan, in fact, I wasn’t a Bon Iver fan before this record.  [I can already feel the rage boiling up inside many LITC readers…]  But Bon Iver captured me in its move beyond the self-wallowing, isolated cabin chat of For Emma.  This new record is a beautiful collection of multilayered sound and place names (some real, some fictitious), standing on its own without some self-indulgent backstory (though this is not attack on Justin Vernon, who is a lovely, lovely man).  I think it could’ve done without ‘Beth/Rest’…  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Towers’, ‘Wash.’ and ‘Calgary’.

9.   Demolished Thoughts Thurston Moore — When I first heard that Beck was producing a Thurston Moore solo album I was ecstatic, but I immediately began to feed myself a significant amount of scepticism leading up to its release.  Could the actualisation of such a record truly be as great as it sounds?  Probably not.  With this dose of low expectation I found myself pleasantly taken aback by Demolished Thoughts, and my appreciation only grew with additional listens.  This album plays on Moore’s Sonic Youth strengths and—like Lou Barlow—makes me feel like it’s the mid-90s in all the best ways while not sounding like ‘that guy from Sonic Youth’s side project’.  And perhaps the early stages of Moore’s separation from his wife of 27 years, SY singer/bassist/guitarist Kim Gordon, contributed to the depth of his sometimes heartbreaking songwriting.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Benediction’, ‘Circulation’ and ‘Mina Loy’.

8.   Dancer Equired Times New Viking — I love lo-fi and the grittiness of Born Again Revisited, number eight on my Best Albums of 2009 list, was a significant part of its ranking alone.  While this record isn’t ‘clean’ by contemporary production standards, it is far less mucky than TNV’s previous releases.  But the lo-fi onslaught isn’t the only reason why I love TNV.  Their beautifully lazy harmonies and their catchy, shoegazy simplicity are what really attract me.  I’d even say that Dancer Equired is their catchiest record to date, though I don’t suspect these songs will be employed in any television adverts any time soon.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘No Room to Live’, ‘Downtown Eastern Bloc’ and ‘Fuck Her Tears’.

7.   Helplessness Blues Fleet Foxes — Fleet Foxes once again demonstrate their command of the Americana genre.  While I was not entirely blown away by their debut record, I was able to recognise their talent and potential.  I was eager to pick up Helplessness Blues and it did not disappoint.  Principal songwriter Robin Pecknold taps into the soul of a man twice his age and delivers timeless lyrics with a well-groomed musical backbone.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Battery Kinzie’, ‘Helplessness Blues’ and ‘Grown Ocean’.

6.   Strange Mercy St Vincent — Annie Clark takes a step in the right direction with Strange Mercy.  Building upon her previous efforts, Clark explores both the cheery and dark on Strange Mercy (I find ‘Cruel’ and its accompanying video especially haunting).  As a whole, and perhaps because of this ‘darker’ element, the album is more engaging than her previous material.  While more sonically stripped-down than Actor (an honourable mention from 2009’s list), Strange Mercy somehow feels fuller and more mature.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Chloe in the Afternoon’, ‘Surgeon’ and ‘Dilettante’ (not picked merely because of the ‘Elijah’ mentioned…).

5.   Father, Son, Holy Ghost Girls — About Father, Son, Holy Ghost, I will first say that I found this record a bit of a disappointment, but disappointment is a relative word.  Unlike most other sophomore records in which I prepared myself for disappointment with low expectations, I actually suspected that this new Girls record would be my number one pick before even listening to it.  Upon further listens I only grew more fond of their previous record, Album, ranked number six on my Best Albums of 2009 list, and last year’s EP, Broken Dreams Club, was equally impressive.  But generally speaking, Father, Son, Holy Ghost is an excellent record.  While I wouldn’t consider it a significant improvement on Album I also wouldn’t consider it any sort of regression.  Unlike the front-heavy Album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost builds up into its eight-minute ‘Forgiveness’ before bringing us back down for the final two tracks.  Like Album, this record does a fine job of holding in tension both the child and adult that is singer/guitar Christopher Owens, and it is certainly worth its place on this Best of 2011 list.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Honey Bunny’, ‘My Ma’ and ‘Forgiveness’.

4.   The Year of Hibernation Youth Lagoon — For me, The Year of Hibernation was 2011’s most striking discovery.  Having heard the album without having previously known anything about its creator I was shocked to find that Youth Lagoon is just one person, Idaho-based Trevor Powers, and that Mr Powers is only 22 years old (which causes me to ask the question, ‘Elijah, what are you doing with your life‽’).  The Year of Hibernation, recorded for next to nothing by a 22-year-old in his bedroom in Idaho, offers far more than the sum of its parts.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Posters’, ’17’ and ‘Montana’.

3.   Let England Shake PJ Harvey — PJ Harvey has released some excellent records – Dry, Rid of Me, Is This Desire?, etc.  But Let England Shake—which earned Harvey her second Mercury Award—may very well be her strongest.  While neither as dark nor necessarily as ‘personal’ as some of her previous efforts, this album is brimming with creativity.  Harvey did her homework for this record, which explores some contemporary conflicts in British history, ranging from the Gallipoli campaign to the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Without coming across as a ‘topical’ or ‘protest’ album, Harvey paints a critical and sober picture of Western military domination and its consequences both domestically and abroad.  The music’s excellent too (Harvey picks up an autoharp for this record!).  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Let England Shake’, ‘The Last Living Rose’ and ‘Hanging in the Wire’.

2.   Dye It Blonde Smith Westerns — What can I say, I’m a fan of good pop music.  This record is just one of several that caught me entirely by surprise this year.  While I had heard and enjoyed Smith Westerns’ first release, The Smith Westerns, it did not strike me in a way that would compel me to consider it one of my favourite records of 2009.  But this record demonstrates significant pop songwriting maturation, songwriting the vein of—dare I say—The Beatles (specifically King George).  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Weekend’, ‘All Die Young’ and ‘Smile’.

1.   Belong The Pains of Being Pure at Heart — After their debut record (which was an honourable mention on my Best Albums of 2009 list) I had no idea where PoBPaH (some acronym is necessary with such an obnoxiously long name) might go.  They had successfully composed an album in the style of 1980s Brit-pop with their first record.  I expected any subsequent releases to merely replicate that formula with varied success.  But this record is a witness to PoBPaH’s evolution into a true force to be reckoned with.  If we’re grouping the sound by decade, Belong showcases more of a 90s alt-rock feel than its predecessor.  While it’s unlikely to be found in the top spot on many other ‘Best Albums of 2011’ lists, I’ve only grown more fond of this record over the course of 2011 and can safely say that as a whole it is my favourite.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Belong’, ‘Anne with an E’ and ‘My Terrible Friend’.

Elijah’s Honourable mentions

Because there were so many great albums this year (though I must confess, none quite as great as last year’s Age of Adz), I’ve taken the liberty of sharing an additional 15 albums that I believe are worth owning:

Elijah’s Biggest Disappointments of ’11

  • Parallax Atlas Sound — I am a huge fan of Bradford Cox and his band, Deerhunter, and solo project, Atlas Sound.  Cox’s first Atlas Sound release, Logos, placed ninth on my Best Albums of 2009 list and Deerhunter’s excellent Halcyon Digest placed third on my Best Albums of 2010 list.  While Parallax has received a fair amount of praise from critics I find that it only has a few songs that rise to the high standard set by Cox’s other efforts: ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘Angel is Broken’ and ‘Lightworks’.
  • Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds — I bought this record on a whim with the hope that Noel would offer something better than Liam’s Beady Eye project.  Unfortunately my foray into bestselling music was a tremendous let down.  Noel was the musical brains behind Oasis, but he’s capable of so much more than this record.

+++++

Greg’s Top 10 Albums of ’11

This has been a strange year in music for me.  A while back, I wrote a post about a number of albums coming out this year by bands whom I loved—four of which have ended up on this list.  Yet, due to a phenomenon that I am calling “the tragedy of unanticipated mediocrity,” a number of the other albums were crushing disappointments: boring, lifeless, and one-dimensional.  Even the ones that made the list (or almost made it—Low‘s C’mon) were a mixed bag, in which the album was only saved because the highs were so high that they overshadowed the lows.  This type of confounded expectations from bands that I dearly adore, like Bright Eyes, Radiohead, Cass McCombs (who had TWO swings for the fence, yet almost completely struck out), Panda Bear and, to a lesser extent (in terms of my adoration), DeVotchKa, We Were Promised Jetpacks, and Norman Blake’s new band, Jonny, elicited a certain measure of disorientation and disillusionment–if I couldn’t trust Radiohead to make even a passably good album (which I felt The King of Limbs wasn’t–not even a strong EP’s worth of songs) and the Bright Eyes “comeback” LP (which some critics called their definitive work) turned out to be a messy collection of B-side material strung together with clips of some bizarre, deluded pseudo-preacher, then what sense was there in the world at all? This was my year of losing faith in the old (indie) gods…

Another surprising feature of my picks for this year was the number that reflected some subgenre of electronic music, a style for which I have never had any great affection but which I have been developing a taste for due to albums from Passion Pit, the last few Animal Collective releases, and especially Twin Shadow, whose album was on last year’s Best Albums post.  I guess an old dog can learn to appreciate some new high-pitched whistles!

10.   12 Desperate Straight Lines Telekinesis — This album could end up much higher upon my favorites of the year, but to be completely honest, I just downloaded the full album today (this bumped off Low’s C’mon for the last spot on the list here…sad, but what can be done with a half-great album).  This is super duper INDIE-POP/ROCK, but it’s so well crafted, exhilarating, and above all KOOL AS ALL GET OUT!  This is this year’s Fang Island for my money.  A jolt of propulsive rhythms (the singer is the drummer!), thick driving bass lines, and Jeff Tweedy-esque vocals.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: “You Turn Clear in the Sun,” “Dirty Thing,” “Car Crash,” and “Country Lane.”

9.   Burst Apart The Antlers — The Antlers and Bon Iver have a few things in common, to my mind.  First, the falsetto.  Second, the emergence of both bands in the last few years with epic debut albums (though there were apparently a few prior albums for The Antlers, Hospice was what put them on the aural map) that reflected a profound life-change quite beautifully.  Third, second albums that are much richer tonally, more diverse and layered, and resemble a flower opening up.  That being said, in the contest between the two albums this year, The Antlers’ Burst Apart win hands down (though Bon Iver is a strong honourable mention).  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: “I Don’t Want Love,” “Parentheses,” and “No Widows.”

8.   Rapprocher Class Actress — Some of the appeal of this album has to be found in the way that the synthesizer settings, drum tracks, and melodic pop songwriting takes me on a nostalgia trip back to another time: the mid-1980’s.  Seriously, we’re talking ABC, Pet Shop Boys, early Madonna, and some synthpop artists that are buried so deep in my subconscious that I am afraid to call them up, lest I find myself swept back into that age of longing, confusion, and heartache.  This album is half irresistible loveliness and the other half, resistible attempts at the former.  Still, if you skip some of the tracks in the middle, you will have a nearly quintessential example of the sythnaissance that is happening in music today.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: “Keep You” (which is PERFECT!), “Love Me Like You Used To,” “Weekend,” and “Missed.”

7.   Build a Rocket Boys! Elbow — I wanted to love this album so much.  Yet it took a while to grow on me and still hasn’t completely won me over.  Still, Guy Garvey is the king of melancholic nostalgia & lyrical subversion and the band are in top form musically in the more mellow of their modes.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: “Lippy Kids” (another eternally perfect song), “The Night Will Always Win,” and “Open Arms.”  (PS. Am I the only one who hears the intro theme from PRI’s program “The World” in the track “With Love” on this album?)

6.   Last of the Country Gentlemen Josh T. Pearson — Sorry about that girl’s lack of a shirt.  Josh T. Pearson is a strange and incredible man, about whom Elijah and I have written here so I need not say more.  SONGS TO CHECK OUT: It’s only 7 songs…pretty much all of them.

5.   Strange Negotiations David Bazan — Wrote about this album in detail here, including best tracks.  (And sorry for that girl’s lack of pants.)

4.   Helplessness Blues Fleet Foxes — Finally, no nudity on the cover.  I’m with Elijah on this, so you may see his write-up above.

3.   The Devil’s Walk Apparat — The fact that this album has not received any more attention this year makes me want to cry like a man at a Twilight screening.  It is simply amazing, so lovely, so hauntingly textured, the very best kind of electronic music and with a voice sweet as a mature Jeff Buckley.  I don’t really know anything about this band—which I think may actually be only one person, but you really owe it to yourself, and to the entire human race, to check the first few tracks out and see if you don’t buy it.

2.   Degeneration Street The Dears — Oh how I wanted this to be my number one album.  I am such a tremendous fan of songwriter/singer Murray Lightburn, but The Dears last album was deeply underwhelming and I feared that the bands best days were behind them (I’ve said it many times here, but their Gang of Losers is one of the best albums in existence).  And then, Degeneration Street appeared and I saw that they were back in every possible way (well, maybe some of the lyrics don’t quite meet the very highest standards).  I love this album—so very much.  I hope you would too.  Give it a chance.  They deserve to be topping lists all over the world, yet have been absent for all I can ascertain.  Tragic.

1.   Making Mirrors Gotye — I did NOT want for this to be my top album.  I actually resisted it quite vociferously.  “Gotye”—what kind of name is that?—and he looks like he would be a percussionist in Phish and he’s playing with all of these genres that I don’t even like—soul, electro-reggae, a kind of Peter Gabriel-esque “world pop” or something—and I think that this album is actually kind of…popular in some places in the world (imagine a pair of hipster glasses on Brando’s Col. Kurtz as he mutters, “The horror…the horror!”).  Yet, in the end, the singular talent of this guy (and his accomplices, particularly whomever is playing drums) broke through all of my resistance.  You may entirely disagree with me.  Heck, part of ME disagrees with me.  Yet, the other part won and convinced my fingers that the only place to put this album was at the very top.  You may listen to it here and decide for yourself.  (Also, I think the last song is about a cat dying, and it makes me tear up.)

Greg’s Honourable mentions

  • 100 Lovers DeVotchKa There are a number of quite good songs here.
  • Bon Iver Bon Iver
  • C’mon Low
  • Portamento The Drums — Another singer/drummer act with some great tracks.

Best Songs of 2011

In anticipation of our favourite annual post here at LITC—Best Albums of such-and-such year—we are proud to share fifty tracks that we think are the best released this year.  Trust us, there was so much good music released this year that we found picking our fifty favourite tracks to be a rather excruciating process. We’d also love to hear about any songs that you feel should not have been left off of this list in the comments section! So without further ado, here are our fifty favourite tracks from 2011 (in alphabetical order):

  1. All the Sand in All the Sea’   DeVotchKa   100 Lovers
  2. Angel Is Broken’   Atlas Sound   Parallax
  3. Animal’   Neon Trees   Habits   
  4. Ash/Black Veil’   Apparat   The Devil’s Walk  
  5. Battery Kinzie’   Fleet Foxes   Helplessness Blues
  6. Belong’   The Pains of Being Pure at Heart   Belong
  7. Circulation’   Thurston Moore   Demolished Thoughts
  8. Codex’   Radiohead   The King Of Limbs
  9. Country Dumb’   Josh T. Pearson   Last of the Country Gentlemen
  10. Cruel’   St Vincent   Strange Mercy
  11. Days’   The Drums   Portamento
  12. Degeneration Street’   The Dears   Degeneration Street
  13. Don’t Move’   Phantogram   Nightlife EP
  14. Downtown Eastern Bloc’   Times New Viking   Dancer Equired
  15. 5 Chords’   The Dears   Degeneration Street
  16. Fuck This Place’   Frightened Rabbit   A Frightened Rabbit EP 
  17. Galactic Tides’   The Dears   Degeneration Street
  18. Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now’   The Pains of Being Pure at Heart   Belong
  19. Helplessness Blues’   Fleet Foxes   Helplessness Blues
  20. Honey Bunny’   Girls   Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  21. I Don’t Want Love’   The Antlers   Burst Apart   
  22. Keep You’   Class Actress   Rapprocher     
  23. The King’   RAMESH   The King
  24. The Last Living Rose’   PJ Harvey   Let England Shake
  25. Lippy Kids’   Elbow   Build A Rocket Boys!
  26. Montana’   Youth Lagoon   Youth Lagoon
  27. Municipality’   Real Estate   Days
  28. No Room to Live’   Times New Viking   Dancer Equired
  29. No Widows’   The Antlers   Burst Apart
  30. People’   David Bazan   Strange Negotiations
  31. Save Me’   Gotye   Making Mirrors
  32. Scottish Winds’   Frightened Rabbit   A Frightened Rabbit EP
  33. 17’   Youth Lagoon   Youth Lagoon
  34. Smile’   Smith Westerns   Dye It Blonde
  35. Somebody That I Used to Know’   Gotye (ft. Kimbra)   Making Mirrors
  36. Song Of Los’   Apparat   The Devil’s Walk  
  37. Steve McQueen’   M83   Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
  38. Strange Negotiations’   David Bazan   Strange Negotiations
  39. Sweetheart I Aint Your Christ’   Josh T. Pearson   Last of the Country Gentlemen
  40. Tatooine’   Jeremy Messersmith   Tatooine Single
  41. To Every Man His Chimera’   Cass McCombs   Humor Risk
  42. Trembling Hands’   Explosions in the Sky   Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
  43. Try to Sleep’   Low   C’mon
  44. Under My Nose’   Fucked Up   David Comes to Life
  45. Video Games’   Lana Del Rey   Video Games
  46. Wait’  Alberta Cross   The Rolling Thunder EP 
  47. Wash’   Bon Iver   Bon Iver
  48. Weekend’   Class Actress   Rapprocher  
  49. Weekend’   Smith Westerns   Dye It Blonde
  50. Your Eyes’   Bombay Bicycle Club   A Different Kind of Fix

If you’d like to check out these tracks for temporary review before you go out and buy the single or the record, you may click here to have a listen.

Keep a lookout for our upcoming Best Albums of 2011 post!

Past Forward: a penitential mix

SO, my supposed return to the world of blogging was obviously rather presumptuous, seeing that I’ve fulfilled all of ONE of my anticipated posts on LITC.  I have no explanation, no cause, no defense.  Somehow, I’ve just not gotten to it.  I hope you will believe that I’ve BEGUN to write, but alas, completion of any particular post has eluded me.

In lieu of a meaty slab of verbiage, I offer instead…a mix.  A mix the like of which I have never before made, namely, a concentration of electronica/dance-ish type songs.  Recently, I have perceived a deluge of retro-80’s synth/drum machine/gloom-pop tunes in the musical ether.  For instance, I thought I had stumbled upon an unreleased duet between Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush when I heard the song, “Somebody that I Used to Know” by Gotye (pronounced “gore-tea-eh” apparently) and Kimbra.  The synth line and flat drums of Class Actress’ “Weekend” transported me back to middle school, when I used to tape songs off of the radio (before my best mate Wade opened my mind to punk, proto-indie, and goth on vinyl).  There’s also some heavy 80’s influence evident in the new “chillwave” genre which seems to be gaining momentum amongst the hiptelligensia…thanks to my Portland DJ friend, David A. for the heads up on this scene.

With the help of my Shazam app, the RCRD LBL daily download, and my retinue of music blogs, I put together a playlist of some 19 songs roughly fitting in this emerging genre, in a mix entitled, “Past Forward (or, Addicted to a Certain Kind of Sadness)” which you may download here.

I have dedicated the mix to my co-blogger and close-as-a-brother friend, Elijah Wade Smith, to whom I owe a letter of epic proportions, with my deepest apologies for epistolary delinquency.  I hope you all enjoy and know that I am working on getting my blog-self into gear.  As a new internet meme declares…

Tracklist:

  1. Video Games/Lana Del Rey
  2. Days/The Drums
  3. Lofticries/Purity Ring
  4. When We’re Dancing/Twin Shadow
  5. No Reasons/VEGA
  6. Weekend/Class Actress
  7. Don’t Move/Phantogram
  8. The Suburbs/Mr. Little Jeans
  9. The Body/The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
  10. Throw Away This/Telepathe
  11. Polish Girl/Neon Indian
  12. Animal/Neon Trees
  13. Wait/Alberta Cross
  14. Old Friend/Caveman
  15. Somebody That I Used to Know (feat. Kimbra)/Gotye
  16. Destructive Paths to Live Happily/Kindest Lines
  17. Car Crash/Telekinesis
  18. You Have My Eyes Now/CLUEs
  19. Exit The Mine/Baths

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs

It’s late at night here in Fife and I can’t sleep.  So I do what many Western twenty-first-century twenty-somethings do – I end up on my computer, browsing the internet.  Tonight I am especially glued to the computer with the Phillies-Cardinals game going on.  If the Cards lose tonight they’re out of the playoffs, so I desperately want them to win in order to keep the prospect of a Cardinals-Tigers World Series alive.  For those who are unaware, the World Series rivalry between the St Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers (my favourite team) spans nearly eighty years.  The first time the two teams played each other in a World Series was in 1934, with the Cardinals taking the series in seven games.  They met again in the 1968 World Series, which the Tigers won in seven.  They last met in the 2006 World Series.  After having defeated the Yankees and Athletics in the playoffs, the Tigers went on to lose the World Series to the Cards in five games.  So in the [unlikely] event that both the Tigers and the Cardinals win their respective league titles and end up facing-off in the World Series, well, I will be an excited young man.

But the Major League Baseball 2011 postseason is not why I am compelled to share a few thoughts in a blog post.  The answer to that ‘why’ is sitting right here in front of me…literally…on my lap.  Yes, I am a ‘Mac user’, and tonight, as has been made clear from the incredible flood of identical status updates on Facebook (yes, I am a ‘Facebook user’), it was announced that Apple co-founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs has died at age 56.

Not only was Steve Jobs the official technological outfitter of hipsters, he was a proto-hipster.

Without a doubt Jobs’ death will be the talk of the town tomorrow.  Whether you loved him, hated him or found yourself generally apathetic toward him, Jobs has had a significant role in the daily lives of a great many people over the last few decades.  When I initially heard the news of his death I figured that enough people are writing about this, why make my own feeble attempt to eulogise, inadvertently adding to the cloud of ‘We’ve lost a visionary!’ chat?  While I have admitted to being a ‘Mac user’ I have neither a literal nor figurative Apple tattoo.  I am not especially wowed by Apple Keynote addresses.  I certainly don’t trouble myself with the false ‘need’ to possess a wide array of Apple products.  To be honest, it’s all very expensive and even if I had the money part of me doesn’t think that it would be especially responsible to indulge in consumer electronics.  But I have owned several Apple products.  As a child my family had an early Macintosh (we weren’t cutting edge or wealthy, but I’m pretty certain it wasn’t stolen either).  All throughout my school years we used Macs in computer labs.  I first learned computer programming on a Mac.

When I went to university I used my extra scholarship money to buy my first computer – a 12-inch iBook G4.  A few years later that laptop’s display went kaput and I eventually upgraded to a black MacBook, the very MacBook that’s sitting on my lap now, four years after that purchase.  A couple years ago a certain Greg gifted me with some money, in celebration of my birthday/embarking on my PhD, meant specifically to assist my purchase of an iPod.  I only tell you this incredibly boring history of my Apple product experiences to highlight how my life actually is affected by the influence of Steve Jobs on a daily basis.

In a way I feel sort of dirty for thinking so much about this.  Nearly one billion people in the world don’t have clean drinking water, let alone a computer, let alone an expensive Apple computer (granted, I’ve never owned the ‘high-end’ Apple products).  It’s very evident to me that I should change my lifestyle, but I’m not going to pretend that I don’t make extensive use of my Apple products.  My Macs have brought me through university degrees, have been the means of countless designs (like the designs you see here at LITC), blog posts (like this one), letters, mix CDs, recording songs, etc.  I don’t necessarily need to do all of these things on a Mac, but I have a Mac so I do.  And the iPod – unless I’m spending uninterrupted time with people it is a very common feature of my day.  I estimate that I probably use my iPod for, on average, two hours a day.  I don’t necessarily need to listen to music on an iPod, but I have an iPod so I do.

My point is not to make some profound argument about how the world would stop without Apple – it wouldn’t.  My point is not even to make some profound argument about how my life would be drastically different without Apple – it probably wouldn’t.  But the vision of Steve Jobs, a man who was genuinely passionate about innovation (and genuinely good at selling it), is the fuel behind the success of Apple, success that cannot be reduced to mere monetary units.  The Jobs-led Apple set the bar for other manufacturers (yes, this is a mild endorsement of one aspect of a capitalistic system).  Even though Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, they dramatically changed the way that our society experiences recorded music.  Aside from the technical innovations, Apple also brought a high aesthetic quality to the realm of electronics.  Why can’t our electronics be both functional and pleasing to the eyes?

It’s quite depressing to think about reducing a human being to a brand.  The media outlets will soon be publishing frightening news about how Apple’s success will decline because of Jobs’ death (which isn’t that frightening even if it was true).  Part of me finds this sort of revolting – Steve Jobs was a man with his own unique personality that, in theory, extends beyond the confines of a business, even a business as large as Apple.  But then another part of me realises that Apple was very much at the centre of Jobs’ life and he liked it that way.  Apple was not merely a business venture, but an invaluable outlet for Jobs’ vision and self-expression.

Apple is not dead and will continue to produce excellent innovations, but I don’t think that trajectory could have been so successful without the creative leadership of Jobs.

Steve Jobs wasn’t my friend and I generally do not have a great deal of respect for large companies and their leaders, but all-in-all I think he might have been something like an artist, and a great artist at that.  For someone I never knew and never followed with any sense of dedication, somehow I think I’ll miss Steve Jobs (or as I like to call him, ‘Esteban Trabajos’, with affection).  Thanks for sharing so many good things with the world, Steve.  We here at Lost in the Cloud salute you and will think of you as we experience the blessings of our MacBooks and iPods (and Greg as he uses his iPhone).

Cards won the game, by the way.