Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A music post

Within the last few weeks both the Onion's AV Club and NPR's All Songs Considered have put together what they consider the best albums of 2009 so far.

Both lists feel like they could be called "Best Indie Rock Albums of 2009 So Far" but there are a few picks that stray into other genres. The Onion's list is a bit different as they asked their individual writers to pick their faves so there is a fair amount of overlapping while ASC picked a list with their readers and ask you to vote on your top 5 then on the top songs of the year so far.

Since this is my blog and I can indulge in things like this I thought I'd give my thoughts on an incomplete list of some new albums I've heard and liked over the past few months. In no particular order here are a few of them:

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
I liked her last album and like this one even more. It's definitely got a little less of an Americana vibe to it but she can still blow me away with her unique voice. She still makes a lot of references to animals but I think these are some of the best songs she's written. I just saw her play a great show at the Uptown in KC on Sunday...definitely a performer that can fill up the arena with her voice. They did some cool stuff with a video screen behind them and they even practiced up so they end the show with "The Train from Kansas City" because the guy from the Pitch interviewing her told her someone would probably punch her in the stomach if they didn't play it. One nice bonus about that show was that Jason Lytle (lead singer of Grandady) opened for her and also put on a great performance. I had heard two of his solo songs and really liked them but I'm definitely planning on checking out the whole album now.

They did this thing while they changed/tuned instruments between songs where he threw on a recording of what he said was himself playing piano in his living room with some other stuff thrown on top of it at times. I hadn't seen anyone do something quite like that and wasn't sure how I felt about it at first but eventually decided it was kind of cool although I could tell that some people hated it. I mean, we're just standing there listening to nothing otherwise, right? Is it really that big of a deal to throw on some recorded music?

I'm getting away from the purpose of this post but we've sort of developed a routine when we go to shows at the Uptown. Before the show we'll stop by the Westport Flea Market which is, as it claims, a bar/flea market. Their burgers are phenomenal (their wall claims they were voted best burgers in KC for 22 straight years) and it's a quick drive to the venue once you're ready to go. This by itself isn't really a problem except that the best place to go after the show is a hole-in-the-wall diner called Town-Topic that is just on the outskirts of downtown. It's open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and has been for decades. There are probably a dozen or so bar stools in the entire place so no matter what time I've been there it's usually packed. The waitress' method of dealing with this is to tell newcomers that there's a 40 minute wait even though we've noticed this is a complete lie and everyone almost always gets their food within 15 minutes.

This is almost as good as her technique for answering questions wherein she meets them with one of two responses, a) complete silence followed by her either usually slowly doing what you asked or sometimes not doing it all or b) grumpily mumbling some sort of answer that is probably indiscernible (last time I was in there I listened to her talk to the cook about some bicyclists who had their helmets stolen except I didn't realize that until I asked my friend what the hell she was talking about once we were in the car. What I heard was her saying "they should know better'n ta leave their ailments lyin' around...'specially in this neighborhood." I'm thinking how can you steal an ailment but it turns out that's just how you say "helmet" if you're from Missouri.) If she chooses the latter part of a) for her response you're faced with asking again in case she didn't hear you but if she did you'll just end up pissing her off by asking her to do something twice.

I've decided she isn't actually all that mean it's just that she's probably worked this place forever (and may not actually exist outside of it, I don't know) and is constantly dealing with the drunks and dregs of society who just want a greasy burger and a cup of coffee sometime after midnight. Anyway, there's always something entertaining going on and the food is great for that time of night but we've found that doubling up on burgers can be hell on the digestive tract and lead to late-night rushes to the toilet and stomach cramps and all kinds of other horrible details we won't go into.

Where was I? Oh yeah:

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
I've been hearing "Two Weeks" around but it must be getting more play than I thought as I just saw today that this is up to #8 in the Billboard chart. Anyway, it's well-deserved and one of my favorites so far. Just a great, well-thought out, laid-back album with some nice surprises.

The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love
Another band I saw play the Uptown this summer. Not my favorite Decemberists album but I can appreciate the effort that went into creating a concept album like this that still has some really good songs, most notably anything on which Shara Worden, of My Brightest Diamond, sings (although hearing her cover "Crazy on You" at the concert probably helps her out there). Nothing terribly surprising to me about this album and at times it seemed like ground they'd covered in the Crane Wife but I'm being picky because I like them a lot.

Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Really, really like this album and I'm kind of surprised I haven't really listened to much of their earlier stuff outside of the song on the "Lost in Translation" soundtrack. This one opens up with two super catchy songs, "Lisztomania" and "1901" that have pop song hooks but end up being pretty complex.

Awesome trivia: the term Liztomania was actually coined in the 1800's to describe the phenomena of screaming women at sold-out piano performances of Franz Liszt. From wikipedia:
After 1842 "Lisztomania" swept across Europe. The reception Liszt enjoyed as a result can only be described as hysterical. Women fought over his silk handkerchiefs and velvet gloves, which they ripped to shreds as souvenirs. Helping fuel this atmosphere was the artist's mesmeric personality and stage presence. Many witnesses later testified that Liszt's playing raised the mood of audiences to a level of mystical ecstasy.
Elvis had nothing on that guy. Plus, after he got rich he gave all of his money to charity. What's not to like?

Anyway, I'm running out of time here and there are others I wanted to write about so maybe I'll get to them eventually although I'm not much of a music critic beyond, uh, I liked it. Pitchfork won't exactly be knocking down my door some day soon. Anything I didn't mention that you want to talk about? Like I said, too many to write about and definitely too many that I want to listen to.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Swany 90s gets snubbed....

4:48 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

No, Swany 90's and Now That's What I Call Horv Sports are definitely among my favorites this year. Maybe in my next post...

10:49 PM  
Blogger Paul Hattan said...

These albums sound nothing like the Get-Up Kids and are a far cry from the Anniversary. 1/5.
-2002 ISU Daily

1:10 PM  

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