Monday, December 31, 2012

The Needle Drops: Favorite Songs 2012

Continuing the year-end housekeeping, here's the songs that kept me going throughout 2012.  Some were the singles/focus tracks...whatever the hell they're called these days, and some are deep cuts that jumped out and grabbed me, and refused to let go.  There's no small amount of crossover with the previous Favorite Album List, but this is the place to explore the nooks and crannies of stand-alone tracks and EP's released during the year.  For obsessive compulsives, here's the top 10:
10) "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" TAME IMPALA from Lonerism (Modular)
9) "Give Out" SHARON VAN ETTEN from Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
8) "Seaside, Lowtide" CATE LE BON from Cyrk II (Control Group)
7) "Gun Has No Trigger" DIRTY PROJECTORS from Swing Lo Magellan (Domino)
6) "Erika America" JENS LEKMAN from I Know What Love Isn't (Secretly Canadian)
5) "Star Of The Age" SHEARWATER from Animal Joy (Sub Pop)
4) "Troublemaker" BEACH HOUSE from Bloom (Sub Pop/Bella Union)
3) "Now I'm Learning To Love The War" FATHER JOHN MISTY from Fear Fun (Sub Pop)
2) "Sleepover" HOSPITALITY from Hospitality (Merge)
1) "Somewhere There's A Someone" JASON LYTLE from Dept. Of Disappearance (Anti-)

Here for your convenience on this handy dandy playlist:

On a personal note, this post marks four years of this blog. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to visit, comment, heckle, and otherwise keep the faith.  There's always another show on the horizon...
(Stay tuned for the final housecleaning episode: The Year In Photos)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Father John Misty: 4th Time Around

29 DECEMBER, 2012
 It is fitting that the last show on the calendar would be Father John Misty, who's Fear Fun was my favorite record this past year.  After introducing Europe to his particular brand of fun, Josh Tillman brings it all back home for a sold-out victory lap at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles.  For his largest headlining gig to date, Tillman/Misty dialed back the aggressive thrust of the band seen at festival dates, (FYF Fest and Outsidelands, among them). He's added strings, (including Miguel Atwood-Ferguson), and tuned the band to a swaggering menace that suited the venue's swanky chandeliers.

Tillman/Misty has found his comfort zone, his between-song banter usually worth the price of admission alone.  Where it really shows is his absolute fearlessness at pauses within songs, or before finishes. He's not afraid to leave space, and use it to toy with the audience and exert control, leaving everyone to wonder just what's coming next.
They covered all but one song from Fear Fun, (yet to hear the haunting "O I Long To Feel Your Arms Around Me" performed live), playing around with the order within, but maintaining "Fun Times In Babylon" at the top, and preserving the closing one-two punch of "Everyman Needs A Companion" and "Hollywood Forever Sings".  The hometown crowd, of course, absolutely ate it up, and the near-apocalyptic guitar meltdown at the end of "Hollywood Forever" was perfect after a night of alternating tension and laughs.

The deft hand with encore covers didn't fail, starting with Misty accompanied only by a single guitarist on the Bert Kalmer/Harry Ruby chestnut "Never The Less", then joined by the full band for a celebratory stomp through Canned Heat's "On The Road Again", augmented by touches of Booker T and the MG's "Green Onions".
Aside from the sterling addition of strings, some other differences in the set include, (for those obsessed with Misty Minutiae), the bass player did not repeat the hilarious shovel action with his bass during the "Someone's gotta help me dig" line of "Hollywood Forever Sings", and the amazing extra verse on "Everyman Needs A Companion" that showed up at his solo gig at the Bootleg Theater was absent from the full band version.
In the new year, he'll be opening dates for The Walkmen, as well as sprinkling in some headlining dates, and then heading to Australia in February.

Icy Demons, having started as an experimental project in Chicago, seem to be evolving towards regular band-dom, as their cohesive set proved. They were still capable of jagged edges, and deployed them without mercy.  With hints of a new LP this year, this will be a band to keep your eye on.
Final note: Binding the evening together, with above average between set song contributions, was Origami Vinyl's Neil Schield.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

White Arrows at Velvet Jones

30 NOVEMBER, 2012
LA based White Arrows made it up to Santa Barbara, gracing the stage of the Velvet Jones, opening up for Milo Greene. The line stretched down the block, one of the better attended shows I've seen in town lately.  The band was loose and ready, with the bar already full as they pounded out the opening of "Roll Forever". The groove enveloped the joint, and it was on. Last caught them at the FYF Fest, where their spacey tropical psych groove worked well. Indoors, they pumped up the lower end, and used it as an aural web. The focus was primarily on this year's Dry Land Is Not A Myth.  The crowd responded well to their cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire", and the time restrictions of an opening set actually benefitted them, compressing the set list to an impressive core of key songs, as "Get Gone" led into their anthem, an extended "Fireworks Of The Sea".  Finishing things off with a new song, it was another step forward for a promising band.  White Arrows are sticking (relatively) close to home, with a smattering of California dates through January.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Decking The Halls With Sufjan

the Surfjam Estabanopolis Christmas Spectacular Seasonal Affective Disorder Sing-Along Sensation Pageant On Ice
04 DECEMBER, 2012
Having developed a Christmas catalogue that would be the envy of most artists full output, Sufjan Stevens has taken it on the road this year, for what is billed as: "The Surfjam Estabanopolis Spectacular Seasonal Affective Disorder Sing-Along Sensation Pageant On Ice".  And did it ever live up to the name.  The stage was set with a giant Wheel Of Christmas, that provided the grist for the sing-along portion of the evening.  All delighted ticketholders were given a songbook at the entrance, and directed to sing boldly.  The crowd held up their end, attire-wise and vocally, and it turned out to be a very memorable evening.

 Stevens kept the spectacle level high, working the first half of the show from what is now 10 volumes of Xmas music, opening with "Christmas Woman" from this year's outpouring Silver and Gold, (volumes 6-10 for those keeping track at home).  After a few songs, he broke it up with what he referred to as a palate cleanser, a stark acoustic reading of "Vito's Ordination Song" off of the Greetings From Michigan LP.  Note the difference in crowd noise in the videos below, from the boisterous welcome of "Christmas Woman" to the quiet reverence during "Vito", where you can literally hear a crowded theater sucking in it's breath.  It was quite a scene.

 The spinning of the Wheel Of Christmas throughout kept the audience on their toes, and they gamely measured up to the challenge.  He got a huge response for one of his older Xmas favorites, "Come On! Let's Boogey To The Elf Dance!", and culminated the regular set with "Christmas Unicorn".  As is his custom, he rewarded the faithful with an old school encore, this one taken from tracks off of C'mon, Feel The Illinoise.  Sufjan Stevens managed the trick of capturing all the emotions, good and bad, of the holiday season, and turning it into something not to dread as much.  A one-of-a-kind show from a one-of-a-kind artist.

Opening act: Sheila Saputo

Monday, December 3, 2012

Listing To Starboard: Favorite Albums 2012

As always, this is not meant to be a best of list, just a peek in the window of this corner of the world, as the vastness of such an endeavor would dictate.  First off: Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Scott Walker, the Mountain Goats, and Burial have yet to enter my collection, and have made appearances on other year-end lists, (if you happen to be using this for a shopping guide).  Near misses include: Japandroids: Celebration Rock, Woods: Bend Beyond, Calexico's: Algiers, Bob Mould's: Silver Age, and Jack White's: Blunderbuss.  If next year is as satisfying as this, the list will surely be 50 instead of 25.  New faces that had solid debuts include: Spectrals: Bad Penny, White Arrows: Dry Land Is Not A Myth, and Races (self-titled).
If I had to peg trends: "Revenge Of Shoegaze" would be an underlying current that was a recurring theme in my listening.  Just no beating sugar-coated noise in my book, and with the likes of DIIV, 2:54, Young Prisms, Violens, Echo Lake, and others making waves, it was a banner year for clouds of guitars.  Also, it should be noted: For a year in which none of their 'superstar acts' released LP's, it was another strong year for North Carolina based Merge Records.  Along with Hospitality's #2 showing, great albums came from the likes of Divine Fits (#16), Bob Mould, Lambchop (#13), and the Mountain Goats.
For the coming year, new albums from The Joy Formidable, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Yo La Tengo are at the top of the anticipated list.  As this year's list would indicate, though, these days it's best to cast anticipations aside and just see where the current takes you.
25) ECHO LAKE: Wild Peace (Slumberland)
24) SCREAMING FEMALES: Ugly (Don Giovanni)
23) GRIZZLY BEAR: Shields (Warp)
22) LEE FIELDS and the EXPRESSIONS: Faithful Man (Truth and Soul)
21) DIIV: Oshin (Captured Tracks)
20) AMANDA PALMER: Theatre Is Evil (8 Ft Records)
19) TY SEGALL: Slaughterhouse (In The Red)
18) VIOLENS: True (Slumberland)
17) JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD: Hypnotic Nights (Warner Bros.)
16) DIVINE FITS: A Thing Called The Divine Fits (Merge)
15) TAME IMPALA: Lonerism (Modular)
14) DIRTY PROJECTORS: Swing Lo Magellan (Domino)
13) LAMBCHOP: Mr. M (Merge/City Slang) 
 12) BEACH HOUSE: Bloom (Sub Pop/Bella Union)
11) FLYING LOTUS: Until The Quiet Comes (Warp)
10) CATE LE BON: Cyrk I/II (Control Group)
9) SHEARWATER: Animal Joy (Sub Pop)
8) 2:54 (self-titled) (Fat Possum/Fiction)
7) SHARON VAN ETTEN: Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
6) JENS LEKMAN: I Know What Love Isn't (Secretly Canadian)

 5) MELODY'S ECHO CHAMBER: Melody's Echo Chamber (Fat Possum)
Melody Prochet finds her dream sound, courtesy of Kevin Parker (Tame Impala), who's production provides the launching pad for her hypnotic trip, disregarding the basic laws of music genres, and seamlessly moving wherever she wants to go.  An astounding debut.

 4) PEAKING LIGHTS: Lucifer (Mexican Summer/Weird World)
Hypnotic is the theme, and nobody does better whatever the hell it is that Peaking Lights is doing.  Lucifer is one solid trip of an album, with track divisions seeming only a bureaucratic necessity.  The catchy songs stay with you, but it's when the album shifts into dub overdrive, that's when it transcends.  Speaking of dub, for bonus points, this month sees the release of Lucifer In Dub
3) CLOUD NOTHINGS: Attack On Memory (Carpark)
"Forget You All The Time" from 2011's Cloud Nothings LP was the perfect warm fuzz drenched song that had me looking forward to this album.   Throw that out the window, in a good way.  Attack On Memory is a savage detonation of a record that slots in with Madonna-era Trail Of Dead in terms of intensity and execution.  Dylan Baldi left the bedroom recording behind, putting together a band that takes it even further live.  Steve Albini nails the production on the hard rock record of the year.

2) HOSPITALITY: Hospitality (Merge)
Sometimes articles of faith are rewarded.  Not since the glory days of SST have I taken a flyer on a band just because of their label affiliation, but the gamble paid off with this gem from Merge.  Faith is the key here, buying into the concept that a guitar pop record can have any kind of credence these days.  The saving graces are Amber Papini's insistence on gray areas, imbueing the song's with a bittersweetness that belies her years.  Musically, guitarist Nathan Michel and Shane Stonebeck share production duties, and the album is full of marvelous unexpected moments.  "Sleepover" is the track that best distills the magic, lulling you in, then slyly building to a tough guitar crescendo.  Magic.
1) FATHER JOHN MISTY: Fear Fun (Sub Pop)
Josh Tillman has been kicking around for a bit, known mostly as the drummer for the Fleet Foxes, and his own quiet folky records.  After departing the band, it seems he was in a mood to shake things up, and did he ever.  Describing Fear Fun to friends, the best pitch I could come up with was: "If Harry Nilsson spent the early 70's hanging out with Hunter S. Thompson instead of drinking with John Lennon."  The setup is simple, starting out like a skewed '70's singer/songwriter album before knocking you over with the controlled Crazy Horse menace of "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings".  Humor is the saving grace, ("I'm Writing A Novel"), and moments of true beauty, ("O I Long To Feel Your Arms Around Me"), hide between the shaggiest of shaggy dog stories.  As a bonus, the liner notes themselves are a veritable novel, and while I don't usually pursue videos in conjunction with a record, the series of videos done for this definitely shed some light on the situation.  
This record is a journey, and the album's legacy is cemented when he moves beyond the drug fueled craziness in "Now I'm Learning To Love The War", and closes with the heartfelt epic, "Everyman Needs A Companion".  There are no missteps here, and musically it measures up as well, aiming for the country rock hybrid that seemed so promising in Gram Parsons dalliances with the Stones, before the Eagles put it in a sack and drowned it in a lake, damning contemporary country to this day.  Having taken his long strange trip, Tillman shares it as Father John Misty, and reclaims something for us all.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Vanquishing Indecision: Afghan Whigs at Fonda

09 NOVEMBER, 2012 
What a difference a night makes.  Strictly in terms of age, compared to the Japandroids show the previous evening, let's say it skewed a little grayer.  The atmosphere, however, was more electric.  The time had come.  What started as a far away echo, was now made manifest, in the flesh.  The Afghan Whigs were back in business.
L.A. soul man Van Hunt opened the night.  He's put in a lot of miles, and manages the tricky combination of keeping it old school, yet having big ears and covering a lot of ground.  He would later make an appearance during the main set.
The 90's being somewhat of a blur, I'm still scratching my head, trying to figure out how I missed them the first time around.  It was comforting to finally lay that particular ghost to rest.  Head honcho Greg Dulli was in full BAMF mode, and the band, including original members John Curley and Rick McCollum, was fit and in fighting form.  The first night of a two night stand at the Fonda Theatre drew off of their core LP's of Gentleman, Black Love, and 1965.  Interestingly, the set was book ended with the first and last songs from Black Love, recreating the desperate journey that was that album, perhaps their finest hour.  From the opening of "Crime Scene, Pt. I", any questions about Dulli's voice, intensity, or the rest of the band were settled.  The old formula of heavy rock shot through with a dose of soul that stood out starkly in the days of grunge, now fits like a comfortable old coat, such has their influence wormed onto successive generations.  That they've never turned up on a Tarantino soundtrack was always a mystery to me.
Jumping into "I'm Her Slave" from their Sub Pop album Congregation, and following it with "Uptown Again" from their final (to this point) work, 1965, gave a quick band history lesson and delineated what was to come.  Another treat was "Magazine", cut in 2006 for a greatest hits CD.  The one/two punch of "My Enemy" and "Son Of The South" drove the intensity level through the roof, and provided a coda for the first half of the show.

This year saw them release two new performances of cover songs, both of which held position of pride in the set.  "See And Don't See", an obscure soul gem by Marie Lyons prompted a walkabout into the audience from Dulli.  He moved over to piano for a stirring take on "Love Crimes", (done originally by current soul iconoclast Frank Ocean), then moved slyly into The Weeknd's "Wicked Games".  When the band kicked in halfway through, it elevated into one of the night's highlights.
Opener Van Hunt came out to join the proceedings for "Mean Sleep", and then a snippet of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" led the set back into Afghan Whigs territory for a raveup on "66".  The regular set drew to a close with a racked but triumphant "Fountain and Fairfax", a fact not lost on the rabid local denizens.
For the encore, the band essayed the last three songs from Black Love, with each song taking things higher.  "Bulletproof" and "Summer's Kiss" were the setup for the pentultimate band anthem, "Faded", which neatly segued into the soaring coda of Prince's "Purple Rain", a perfect capper for the evening, and the house lights coming up seemed besides the point.  There was just no topping that.
01 “Crime Scene Pt. 1″
02 “I’m Her Slave”
03 “Uptown Again”
04 “What Jail Is Like”
05 “Conjure Me”
06 “When We Two Parted/Dead Body”
07 “Gentlemen”
08 “Debonair”
09 “Magazine”
10 “My Enemy”
11 “Son Of The South”
12 “See and Don’t See”
13 “Lovecrimes”
14 “Wicked Games”
15 “Mean Sleep”
16 “66″
17 “Fountain And Fairfax”
18 “Bulletproof”
19 “Summer’s Kiss”
20 “Faded”