Tuesday, January 23, 2007

2006: A (Tardy and) Somewhat Chronological History of Music and the Like Through the Eyes of a Soldier of Love, Arlington Chapter, Metro Distortion

The Albums
10. The Hold Steady - Boys & Girls In America
 It's surprising that The Hold Steady have such a stranglehold on the indie scene. There's a real frat boy aspect to all of it. The vocals aren't anything special, the songs are stories about kids getting hammered, going to the track, going back to the bar and (trying to) getting laid. They are a beautiful mess. Far from perfect. Getting by. Straining. They are a powerhouse bar band that won't wow you with their fashion sense or their looks. But they are going to bring some killer hooks to the party. And they are going to turn it upside down.

9. Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
 In the summer after I graduated college, the rap scene was dead. It was slowly turning into a schtick. It seemed heartless and soulless and I struggled to find value in the majority of hip hop's output. Mos Def was turning to film, Talib Kweli's Quality wouldn't come out until November, ditto The Roots' Phrenology. Then August came and with it, Scarface's The Fix and Clipse's Lord Willin', both top to bottom monsters. They brought me back. They gave me hope. And I still throw them on to this day. Clipse did again this year. It was a tumultuous and well documented experience for Clipse. At some points it seemed like the album wouldn't see the light of day. But they're hustlers and they're hungry and the rest of their genre can take note. The quality, veracity and sheer lyrical violence of their sharp cadence is what hip-hop is all about.

8. Mastodon - Blood Mountain
 I've said it before and I'll say it again. I love a band that can be attacked from an array of different angles. Drums ("Hand of Stone"), guitar work, vocals and lyrics. It is all here. Some might be put off by the three headed wolf-deer on the cover or the terse lyricism that circles around seemingly mythic and cryptic subject matter. But it is special, unique and well-crafted. Drawing on guest vocals from Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and Cedric Bixler-Zavala (The Mars Volta) and keyboard work from Ikey Owens (The Mars Volta) Mastodon excels at delivering a heavy punch in every song. The gear changes in the first minute of "Hunters of the Sky" harkens early Metallica. And that is a good thing. Harmonies and thrashing guitars collide on epic tracks like "Colony of Birchmen" and "Capillarian Crest" and while I am breathless by the end, I am begging for more and wondering why more metal bands don't deliver like this. It's not to say that it's easy, just that there is a void in metal music. But, Mastodon is filling it. Expertly.

7. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
 When I came home for Christmas, I was thrilled at the thought of throwing this album on for the moms. My mother is a wonderful pianist whose musical tastes are as varied as the drug-induced Beatles work (from Revolver on) to Mozart to Norah Jones to the Eagles to Joan Baez. OK, so they aren't that varied. But, she knows a great song when she hears it. The lasting image of this album will be getting cocked at around 10:00 in the morning on Thanksgiving while it blasted from my parents Sound Dock. OK, so it didn't blast. But, they're fifty-plus and rock iPods. Thats solid. My mom loved it. Dug it. Wanted a copy. Wanted to start a blog and find more stuff like it. Well, it didn't get that far. But we must have listened to it four times through before meat thermometers were popping and guests were arriving.

What can be said about Neko that hasn't already been said. While there is beautiful instrumentation behind her, the real beauty lies in the stories woven by her beautifully sung lyrics. The tracks are driven by the power of her voice along with the power of the stories that she tells. Ironic, funny, and, at points, heartbreaking, her words create a world that you can escape to. Perhaps there is no greater praise you can give an album, the praise that it made you disappear, and that you leave different than the way you came.

6. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
 Sometimes it just takes a little time. The Crane Wife took a little time. When JQ was down several months ago we were fortunate enough to see the Decemberists at the 9:30 Club. It was much, much more than expected. Unfortunately we were rolling the dice on a Jeff Mangum sighting and bolted early for the Apples In Stereo show at Black Cat. We were also completely oblivious to Beck's presence in the District. JQ later regretted our move to Apples In Stereo instead of the second half of the show with Colin Meloy and the crew. So did I. I especially came to regret it about a month ago when I found myself in Other Desert Cities for reasons far beyond my control. I wasn't in the best place mentally and emotionally and I craved something outside of myself for help. I had a jones to disappear and escape, something not to uncommon recently, and working on the persistent advice of JQ I dove headlong into The Crane Wife. It was both a powerful and rewarding return. I found myself completely immersed in the delicate lyricism. And then the melodies. Perhaps the album's strongest asset are those melodies. Vivid, piercing melodies all balanced on sweeping guitar work and galloping drums. Where had I been? Where was all of this before? Had I made this list on time, The Crane Wife might not have made the cut. But during those days in the desert, while I was adrift in Colin Melloy's dreamscape, his fears, mysteries and social commentary, the album completely grabbed me and turned me inside out. I couldn't listen to one track without listening to the next and then, naturally, let it repeat on itself. It should come as no surprise that JQ has introduced me to another great album. This is the kid that pushed OK Computer on me in my youth, and later the soundtrack to She's the One and In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. I'm not expecting an outpouring of of support on the second one, but the validity and power of the other two is undisputable. JQ and I have a tendency to throw ITAOTS on after the bars, late late night. It has brought some of the best conversations he and I have ever had. Hopefully, when he returns from the Other Desert, we can nightcap with a discussion of The Crane Wife.

5. The Mars Volta - Amputechture
 Upon first listen my mouth was agape:

3 or 4 of the best songs this year are found inside TMV's "Tetragrammaton." Am I saying that because I am a huge fan? No. It is simply ridiculous. A 16 minute epic that bats second in TMV's 9 song lineup that absolutely slays. Jesus. Mary. And Omar. Unreal. I am getting hopped up on some hops getting ready to crash into Band of Horses at the Black Cat but all I am thinking about is this fucking album. Currently a 69 at Metacritic.com and a 100 at the Metro D hovel. October 21 cannot come soon enough. Nobody on the planet plays guitar like this. Nobody. [The First Listen]
TMV is one of my favorite bands. I have seen them three times now and they continue to impress me. This album came quickly on the heels on what I believed to be a huge step in their musical careers, Frances the Mute, and later, ScabDates. But nothing could have prepared me for the development in Cedric's vocals. Nothing. Out of the blue he floats into songs with the most beautiful harmonies. To look back, to look at the beginning, to investigate what made At the Drive-In so spectacular and then to listen to the most recent Cedric and Omar collaboration, is a long, strange trip to begin with. But here they are. Pumping out nine-minute radio-ready prog-rock bombs tracks like "Viscera Eyes" in the same breath that they drop seven-minute gorgeous vocal and jazz-fuzed explorations like "Vicarious Atonement". But as soon as those jazz trumpets fly in we are taking on another journey, in a different direction, in the epic "Tetragrammaton". Shifting between a union of Cedric's vocals with Omar's meandering guitar work and the classic Volta sequence (an assault of Cedric screaming over Omar's unpredictable and perfectly executed nastiness), it is what every TMV fan longs for: a balance between reality and the dream. The ethereal peak of "Tetragrammaton", arrives with Cedric's haunting vocals just shy of seven minutes in. It is the calm before the storm. In less than a minute we are at Omar's disposal, in the throes of his ability and imagination. Soon Cedric returns to deliver some of his classic vocals to the incessantly roaming guitarwork and the album never looks back.

4. Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
 The most overlooked album come the end of the year because it came out so early. Well, Metro D says fuck that. This was the first album I fell in love with. The fact that Ben Bridwell's voice actually sounds like that live is just icing on the cake. Their is a endearing softness to it, but you are always aware of the pounding beast that lies within. Their standout track, "The Funeral," encompasses the full range of Band of Horses' power: textured, subtle, delicate and unpredictable. But this album is more than one song.

This fall, as I recovered from a booze-soaked haze from the Band of Horses live experience I called friend of Metro D and friend of you, too, JQ. I told him that they played "The Funeral" second or third and never looked back. His response was "good, get that shit out of the way, they got too much more to their scene than building to that finale." He was right. While "The Funeral" busted the blogosphere wide open and is without a doubt one of the best songs of this milennium the rest of the album is just as impressive. On the way up you traverse Bridwell's hovering vocals in "The First Song", As you come down from chaotic finish of "The Funeral" you are welcomed with heartfelt harmonies and throbbing guitar-work in "The Great Salt Lake," bouncing guitar-pop nostalgia in "Weed Party" and some of the most soulful vocal work of the year in "I Go to the Barn Because I Like the". It clocks in just under 40 minutes, but it will linger for far longer than that.

3. The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine
 The Thermals' economic style doesn't mean that their latest effort - a departure from their previously fuzzy, lo-fi sound - doesn't pack a punch. This album packs a whallop. From the opening lines ("god reached his hand down from the sky/he flooded the land, then he set it afire/he said 'fear me again, know I'm your father/remember that no one can breathe underwater.'") thick with disdain for religious fundamentalism to the closing song that echoes sentiments of isolation, doom and dying hope. The Thermals achieve what few bands can: a seamless album focused on a singular idea. It is raw, edgy and ripe with catchy hooks (including an inverted "Wild Thing" riff in "I Might Need You To Kill") and pulsepounding riffs. It is as ambitious in goal as it is simple in form, as complex in thought as it is carefully executed.

It reminds me of Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over the Sea. Relax, take a deep breath. I draw the comparison to the Jeff Mangum juggernaut of indie-lore because both have a unifying theme that runs the length of the album. Both are basic in instrumentation (ITAOS is almost entirely in first position, TB,TB,TM is "three chords and the truth" to the core) and covered in fragile, desperate - and, at points, off-key - vocals. Both albums flow from one song into the next with an eerie ease. And both are extremely difficult to let go of once they have their hooks in. And they have hooks to last for days...

2. Boris - Pink
 The Japanese trio open by saying goodbye. "Farewell" drones and spirals out of control to the point of making you wonder if you are at the beginning or the end. By the time "Woman On The Screen", "Pink", "Nothing Special" and "Electric" hit you in the chest and take the wind out of you the drone masterpieces that dot the rest of their sonic landscape (which was released in Japan last year) are welcome respites from their complete and total assault. There are rich layers, razor-sharp solos and the movements either have you lying on the floor watching your ceiling spin or banging your head until it whips off. The drumming that kicks off "Nothing Special" and continues to its furious finish reminds of some of Grohl's finest work for Nevermind. And as for Wata's chops, well, they speak for themself.

Boris is one of those bands, and Pink is one of those albums that continues to get better with each listen. They create a dense sound that rewards listeners because there are so many layers to peel back, so many angles to approach from. Pink is a truly unique, genre-bending achievement that had me rocking, thinking and awestruck from the spring to the winter. The fact that I had the opportunity to catch them live, made this album resonate even more. This album and the live experience that Boris provides are two things that you cannot underestimate, pass up or overlook. They are simply mindblowing.

1. TV On The Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain
 Moment #1: JK e-mails me a bootleg of "Wolf Like Me" titled "Playhouses" in early 2006. Before we started the blog. Before I knew much of anything about TV On The Radio. The quality sucked. It was misnamed. And I loved every pulse-pounding minute of it.
Moment #2: Other desert cities, April, 2006. I'm at Coachella. By now I have every TVOTR release to date. I am hooked. I am an addict and I have to choose between My Morning Jacket and TVOTR. Dr. Beckett and I part ways. TV On The Radio blow my mind. I am in tears by the end of the show. Emotionally derailed and spent. I crave more. I need the new album.
Moment #3: I drop close to $30 to buy the import of Return to Cookie Mountain. I simply couldn't wait any longer. It's worth every penny. And then some. Soaring vocals. Amazing nuances to each song. Unmatched lyrical quality. They could stand alone without music as amazing works of free verse. The album is an instant classic. By the end of the year they are featured on MTV2 and selling out dates across the States. The word, if it wasn't already. Is out.
Moment #4: Three new tracks are announced for the US Version of Return to Cookie Mountain. Naturally, I buy that too.
Moment #5: I caught them at the 9:30 Club on a Sunday night. They were amazing. The memories of the Coachella performance came flooding back. The songs were beautiful. The experience indescribable. My girlfriend is blown away. His voice really sounds like that. Later that same week I catch them in Baltimore. We hang out after the show and meet the entire band. They are humble, smart, well-spoken, beautiful people. I am in love with a band.

The Short Bus: EPs and the like
5. The Little Ones - Sing Song [EP]
4. Tokyo Police Club - A Lesson In Crime [EP]
3. Cold War Kids - Up In Rags [EP]
2. The Shins - Phantom Limb [EP]
1. Witch - Witch

The Tracks
25. "And I Was A Boy From School" - Hot Chip
24. "Tonight" - TV On The Radio
23. "The Clock" - Thom Yorke
22. "Map of the Problematique" - Muse
21. "Nature of the Experiment" - Tokyo Police Club
20. "Mardy Bum" - Arctic Monkeys
19. "Pillar of Salt" - The Thermals
18. "Viscera Eyes" - The Mars Volta
17. "We Used to Vacation" - Cold War Kids
16. "Colossal" - Wolfmother
15. "Turn Into" - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
14. "So Many Miles" - Viva Voce
13. "When the War Came" - The Decemberists
12. "The Pot" - Tool
11. "Heart in a Cage" - The Strokes
10. "Hot Soft Light" - The Hold Steady
9. "Hold On Hold On" - Neko Case
8. "0" - John Frusciante & Omar Rodriguez-Lopez
7. "Comatose" - Pearl Jam
6. "Seer" - Witch
5. "Wet Sand" - Red Hot Chili Peppers
4. "Returning to the Fold" - The Thermals
3. "Psuedo-Bread" - Boris
2 (t). "Wolf Like Me" - TV On The Radio
2 (t). "Tetragrammaton" - The Mars Volta
1. "The Funeral" - Band of Horses

The Stupidest Shit I Read All Year
"The idea that My Chemical Romance is this generation's Nirvana is ridiculous to them. It's probably ridiculous to most of the people who read this blog, but to the average 16 year old kid, Nirvana is irrelevant in comparison to My Chem." [Ultragrrrl]

Pitchfork Is As Pitchfork Does
3. Hotlinking to one of Metro D's favorite blogs, rbally and giving no credit.
2. Taking the time to thoughtfully analyze and interpret the new Jet album.
[Monkeys Love Monkey Piss]
1. Announcing PLUG Awards. Telling everyone not to vote for Silversun Pickups.
[D-bag Move]

The Shows
Not including Coachella. That just wouldn't be fair.
15 (t). The Vacation @ Black Cat
15 (t). Tokyo Police Club @ Warehouse Next Door [MD]
14. Birdmonster @ Black Cat (Backstage) [MD]
13. Silversun Pickups @ Mercury Lounge [MD]
12. Muse @ Hammerstein Ballroom [MD]
11. Tool @ Verizon Center [MD]
10. Wolfmother @ Northsix [MD]
9. The Mars Volta/RHCP @ Pepsi Arena [TMV | RHCP]
8. Cloud Cult @ IOTA [MD]
7. The Strokes @ D.A.R. Constitution Hall
6. Cold War Kids @ Black Cat (Backstage) [MD]
5. Pearl Jam @ Verizon Center [Pics | Setlist]
4. The National @ Black Cat [MD]
3. Boris @ Ottobar [MD]
2. TV On The Radio @ 9:30 Club [MD]
1. Radiohead @ Tower Theater [MD]

The Movies
I never got around to The Queen, Pan's Labyrinth, Last King of Scotland, Letters From Iwo Jima, Inland Empire or Notes on a Scandal so take that as you may.
5. Little Miss Sunshine [IMDB.com | Official Site]

4. Babel [IMDB.com | Official Site]

3. Volver [IMDB.com | Official Site]

2. Children of Men [IMDB.com | Official Site]

1. The Fountain [IMDB.com | Official Site]

Better Late Then Never
This is all the stuff that I got around to late in the game and it came full circle in 2006. Sometimes you just get bogged down in one CD for too long. You know how it is.
Jose Gonzalez - Veneer
Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
The Decemberists - Picaresque
Amores Perros
The Proposition
Y Tu Mama Tambien

G.L.O.W.: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrock
These are my favorite ladies that I caught in concert this year. There were a couple of conditions: I had to see them live and they had to rock. Not to be confused with the other G.L.O.W.: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
Nicki Monninger (Silversun Pickups)
Karen O. (Yeah Yeah Yeahs)Wata (Boris)
Corrinne Lee (Snowden)
Amanda Tannen (stellastar*)
Most Comments (And Fun) On a Post
John Shaved His Head
I wasn't even trying to push anyone's buttons. That's the funny thing. More often than not I am trying to reach one or two people with my posts. This post was essentially an e-mail to Frat with a picture on it. It's that easy. I found out John shaved his head. I knew Frat would care. He did. And laughter ensued. The fact that a picture with a title sparked all the discussion (between all of about five different people) still cracks me up. I just noticed that "lovely scarf" brought some positive reinforcement later on. Much love. Frat, John and I will all link up again this Thursday night at the Verizon Center and I can't wait.

Best Night
This is hard. I won't even count Coachella. That was probably the three best nights of the year as music went. As for a single show, though, it had to be Silversun Pickups at Piano's after Silversun Pickups at Mercury Lounge following the Muse show at Hammerstein Ballroom. Everything worked perfectly from getting up to NYC cheap, to linking up with JK, getting some good eats, having time to kill some beers at Hammerstein, a perfect setlist from the Brighton bunch, JQ rolling in at the end of the SSPU show at Merc Lounge, charging my camera batts for two terrible shots at Piano's and a completely unnecessary tour of the city courtesy of JQ's older brother. I woke up three hours later and went to a wedding. I felt like dogshit, but it was the happiest lump of dogshit you'd ever find. Or step in.

Worst Night/Biggest Comeback
While meeting David Sitek, Tunde, and Kyp following the TV On The Radio show in Baltimore was the moment of moments this year, the streetfight that I wanted nothing to do with later on that night was the complete lowlight of an otherwise peaceful year of concert-going. Let's hope my first fight was my last. The poetic justice of Baltimore getting ranked in the top ten for the most dangerous cities within a month of what transpired in Federal Hill stung me more than humored me. That said, forget what the Colts did to the Pats on Sunday night, the fact that we pulled Top out of the hospital and drove to Albany for TMV and RHCP the following day was the Biggest Comeback of the Year.

The "Missed" List: Shows I Should Have Attended But Didn't
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ 9:30 Club - I drove up to Brooklyn on a Sunday, caught Wolfmother at Northsix with JK, drove back to work in DC on Monday, and then had zero energy to catch this show.
My Morning Jacket @ 9:30 Club - Grad school applications.
The Hold Steady @ Black Cat - Thanksgiving.
Robert Randolph & the Family Band @ 9:30 Club - Thanksgiving.
Cloud Cult @ DC9 - Grad school applications, exhaustion. No excuse.
Daft Punk @ Coachella - I really don't know. This was just an error in judgment. I think I went and watched She Wants Revenge (or passed out in the grass for a stretch). What the fuck kind of move is that?
Beck @ Black Cat - There was absolutely no chance I could have caught this. I also didn't know about it.
The Wrens @ Black Cat - Grad school applications.

And yes this is about a month late. But, I put a little bit of thought into it. Kind of.

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