Khonnor – Handwriting
highlights : ‘megan’s present’ / ‘crapstone’
VERMONT REPRESENT! :) I really dont know how to describe this CD (which yes is about 2 years old, but i learned about it this year, so leave me alone!), maybe because its totally unique, I really dont know. And maybe because Khonnor was only I think 17 years old when he made this CD, at home, in the most basic ‘music studio’ you can imagine. Basically a kid screwing around with some equipment, some tape players, and a few random lyrics. The whole album sounds like a slow moving tidal wave of soft white noise, with haunting electronic samples drifting in & out in the background, but all in the realm of an acoustic folk album. It really is a creepy yet insanely beautiful album that I almost get the feeling that, if Sofia Coppola had heard this album, it would have been the entire soundtrack to ‘Lost in Translation’. One song called ‘Megans Present’ to this day gives me chills every time I hear it, and as I listen now, my jaw drops, especially knowing this came from a kid screwing around with some musical equipment. It’s a short song (as all are, another stroke of genius), and it changes tone in the middle with these sort of ‘yearning’ lyrics and this mellow techno melody that sounds like the skies opening up. This album takes some time, and even some patience, but its just incredibly beautiful. Can’t recommend it enough.
“Using only an old PC, a microphone from a ‘Learn Japanese’ boxset and a single low quality PC speaker, Connor creates something highly original…Dreamlike digitally manipulated guitar disruptions and wavering synths form the foundation for most of the tracks, as Khonnor frankly and openly charts the ups and downs of teenage love, pocket change and lost hazy nights. Khonnor’s music offers something different. The punk rock attitude, the seemingly innate understanding of distortion and electronic manipulation, the fresh and heartfelt emotion, the unhidden fragility and anticlimaxes of adolescence. This seventeen year old from Vermont, in his debut album, has compiled something so personal and original that its frightening to imagine where he might take us next.” – Boomkat
Hafdis Huld – Dirty Paper Cup
highlights : ‘ski jumper’ / ‘tomoko’
People say it must be something in the water in Iceland, and it could be, but I think it’s the smell of sulfur that permeates there that gives Icelandic artists this creative quirkiness, and Hafdís Huld Þrastardóttir is certainly no exception. One year later, and another solo album from a former GusGus’er, and this release is even more satisfying than last years release from Daniel Agust (also formerly of GusGus). All the songs are short and quirky, mostly acoustic based, and insanely catchy. As much as I loved the sound of GusGus, it’s great to hear both artists tackle new territory instead of staying on the electronic side of things. Why do I imagine this album being sung next to a campfire out in the great wide open? Just has that sort of feel to me somehow. If the chorus of ‘Ski Jumper’ doesn’t stick in your head and come out during the day via random bursts of lip-synching, well, then, i dont know what’s wrong with you ……
“Are you ready for some more quirky lo-fi Icelandic femme folktronica? You should be, despite the less than enticing album title or her mouthful of a moniker. Like the soundtrack to some hip indie film, this album doesn’t shout, scream or push for your attention. Creeping in with the hush, strum and sigh of organic instrumentation and the odd splash of electronics these are tunes that intrigue, entice and beguile with the brush of the artist not the brashness of the arsehole. Behind the wide-eyed innocence, childlike imagination and pop sensibility there is an unmistakable sense of joy on these recordings that rolls along without tipping over into the jarringly saccharine. If Iceland can keep serving up gems like this one every few years it may be reason enough alone to emigrate.” – MusicOMH
TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain
highlights : ‘hours’ / ‘blues from down here’ / ‘a method’
As if I havent gushed about this album enough, now comes time to add it to my top cds of the year, and this really is the best album of the year, hands down. It may seem like a slightly challenging listen at first, but I havent met one person yet who hasn’t said after repeated listens that it’s perfection doesnt unfold before them. On paper its easy to say mixing doo-wop, shoegaze and ‘indie rock’ together creates something completely unique, but I think if we placed a bet, you would not be able to find anything that sounds like this band. To me they sound like a bright neon light in a gospel-tinged southern bayou on a cool foggy night. Yup, thats sums it up.
“’Return to Cookie Mountain’ is beautiful to within a millimetre of its weird and wonderful life, despite sounding like a lurid Technicolor Sesame Street gone big screen. In short, to be unashamedly decadent, this is the gospel for the summer. A majestic epiphany, a spellbinding antidote to World cup anthems and the guilty pleasures of the Euro-pop that’s soon to making its way back from the Med, along with lobster tans and herpes. By contrast to such tawdriness, ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’ is fascinatingly dense, soulful and utterly divine.” – Playlouder
Thom Yorke – The Eraser
highlights : ‘and it rained all night’ / ‘analyse’ / ‘harrowdown hill’
Kind of hard to grasp exactly what I love so much about this album, but as I listen now, I think I can narrow it down to the vocals, and the synths used all throughout this album. I’m usually not a huge fan of Thom Yorke’s vocals. I mean, I like Radiohead, and he’s got a great voice, but at the same time, sometimes I also can’t listen to them because of his voice. On this ‘solo album’ of his it’s quite the opposite. Mr Yorke seems to concentrate more this time on letting his voice be another element of the music, another sound, instead of trying to be above the music, by reaching those high notes and belting out the choruses. This time he seems more relaxed, cause this is all him, and the music shows. The synth sounds used in this album have their entire own identity. Usually synths and keyboards are a background element used to add a little ‘flair’ if you will, or if its electronic music, its the main element. Here it strikes a good balance with the vocals, and the balance is quite soothing. This album has a sound to me that would be a modern day soundtrack to an old silent horror film, like Nosferatu or something of that ilk. The synths in ‘Harrowdown Hill’ are like an old dusty moviehouse organ with one of Yorke’s cathiest vocal melodies to date and a slight groove to the bass line. ‘And it Rained All Night’ sounds like an Edward Gorey come alive on an electric rainy night. (Yes, the song title makes perfect sense.) ‘Black Swan’ is quite the pop song, and ‘Analyse’ sounds like Carol Anne coming towards the light. A dark, groovy, electric, spooky Halloween of an album. I highly recommend it.
“If The Eraser is indeed a travelogue of Yorke’s psyche, the first half proves it’s a concrete jungle in there. It’s one of the least psychedelic albums ever made—timbres tend to fall within a narrow spectral range between ash and steel. And yet these cold, gray slabs of sound create a humid, all-encompassing atmosphere that begins as alienating but ultimately becomes familiar. It certainly sounds monochromatic on first try, but close listens reveal intriguing details crawling about; tongue clicks, wood blocks, twitchy shakers, and undulating serpents of bass among them. After the wall-of-Yorke echoes on the opening title track, “Analyse” follows breathlessly on its heels with a seductive, near-tropical sway. “Black Swan” is the easiest entry point for toe-dippers. A swampy, hypnotic take on Radiohead’s riff-based material, Yorke offers subtly ingratiating “ice age coming” frustration and typically sly humor .” – Stylus Magazine
Office – Q & A
highlights : ‘the big bang jump’ / ‘wound up’ / ‘dominos’
This album actually came out in 2005, but it is entirely self-released, and thus didnt get much attention outside of their hometown of Chicago until one of their songs was posted as a free download on iTunes, which is where I heard about them (this year, thus its on my 2006 list!). Like their name and their album cover, this album is fully office-themed, in the lyrics, and in their sound. “In their sound?” To be honest I think this is the perfect album to end the work week, after what more than likely was a week of pure hell. Every song is incredibly poppy and incredibly catchy. Lots of ‘oooooooo’s and ‘lalalalalalalala’s, handclaps, trumpets, driving bass lines, beautiful background female harmonies and sing along choruses. The songwriting is very strong, with a a slant towards a 1980’s sound. The best way I can describe them is a mix of The Cars, XTC and The Dandy Warhols, with a dash of Ben Folds. How this band hasn’t been signed to a label, caught someone’s ear, or even made it to Pitchfork (based in Chicago no less), is beyond me*. Brilliant stuff, fun, and really just irresistible.
*Scratch that, they were just signed to a small indie label called Scratchie Records/New Line Records. This self-released album I mention is no longer available via their site, or iTunes, but the new record out in 2007 will ‘consist of singles from our “demo” record, Q&A, some older music, as well as some new songs. All tracks are being remixed, re-mastered, cleaned-up, and enhanced with help from James at Stratosphere Sound in NYC.’
“Q&A sounds like Daniel Lanois and Nick Rhodes ganged up and produced a record for Franz Ferdinand – the album is loaded with hook-filled, pop-rock songs and is wrapped in a thick, warm atmosphere that recalls Phil Spector’s “wall of sound.” I haven’t been this happy with an album from beginning to end in a loooong time – every single song on the album is a winner. No skipping necessary.” – Forepac Blog
Brightblack Morning Light – Brightblack Morning Light
highlights : ‘friend of time’ / ‘star blanket river child’
Every time I listen to this CD it gets better and better, and for the reason my good friend Matt said, this really is the perfect morning CD. It sounds like nothing less than the sun coming up in the morning, specifically in sunny California somewhere I’d say. I think I say that cause there is one sound in all this that doesn’t seem to get mentioned in the reviews I’ve read, and I think thats one of a 70’s funk sound, just slowed down about 100 paces perhaps. These guys are real ‘hippies’, without making some crappy hippie music, if that makes any sense. Best way to describe them I guess is that droney light atmospheric spacey sound of Spiritualized, mixed with that slow tempo 70’s funk, some light jazz, and even a little blaxploitation film scores sounds in there. Such a strange mix, but yet again, very original, a real grower, and just a beautiful wake up call of an album if there ever was one.
“Closer to a band of gypsies than any group Hendrix ever conjured, Brightblack Morning Light understand the responsibility that comes with playing off-the-red folk-blues that pitter-patters down the sidewalk like a paranoid goose-stepper. The Southerners-turned-Sanfranciscans whisper more than shout, but they know how to demand attention. Let this self-titled debut steep in its own warm juices for a spell; you’ll see. The porno horns bleating through the misty ten-minutes-plus maze of “Star Blanket River Child” are the first sign of expansion. From there, an ever-widening chasm of ghostly chants, swamp-water rhythms, rusty trombones, hand-drum swats, and low-in-the-mix guitar swipes will swallow you whole.” – Tiny Mix Tapes
Squarepusher – Hello Everything
highlights : ‘hello meow’ / ‘planetarium’ / ‘rotate electrolyte’
All I can really say about this album is it pops and bubbles from beginning to end. A fantastic jazzy electronic pop album. FANTASTIC!
“Dazzling chord progressions override fiendishly intricate beats as Jenkinson combines the elation of rave with the complexity of jazz. Theme from Sprite positively twinkles with melody and the pacey Hello Meow combines chiming xylophones and virtuoso bass playing. It is not all a ball – Vacuum Garden is six minutes of beatless ambience that ebbs, flows and spooks – but, for the most part, this is Squarepusher on full beam and Hello Everything is a thing of unbridled joy.” – The Guardian
Working for A Nuclear Free City – Working for A Nuclear Free City
highlights : ‘troubled son’ / ‘forever’ / ‘innocence’
It seems every review of this album I come across has to throw in the Stone Roses reference, and there is certainly some validity to that, but despite some bands that go for that early 90’s ‘MADchester’ sound, this group seems to have taken that sound, but with the ability of advancing the sound to their own songwriting style, instead of just emulating. They either concentrate on quieter more atmospheric moments, or go for the attack on all the others, with beats and melodies you just want to go on and on and on. They are smart enough to keep the more upbeat tracks to a short time to make you want to get through the whole album, and its worth it. Oh, and there are hardly any vocals, which I like in this case. This album has a strange magnetism to it, ebbing and flowing, one moment lulling you to sleep, the next knocking you out of bed. ‘Troubled Son’, the leadoff track, makes me want to star in a ‘Trainspotting’-esque bank robbery flick (with Scarlett Johansson as my leading lady of course). Maybe its the David Holmes/’Ocean’s 11′-esque sound of the track ‘Innocence’ that does it too. A strangely soothing beautiful scenic sludgefest. Just listen, you’ll know what I mean. Simply put, a great British rock and roll album, with a dash of electronics.
“With the likes of Nathan Fake and Amusement Parks On Fire making it okay to admit a fondness for the previously-derided fey and foggy shoegazing scene of the early ‘90s, more and more bands are smudging out the vocals, plastering on the fuzz and cranking up the reverb. Manchester’s Working For A Nuclear Free City are one such group using My Bloody Valentine’s monolithic Loveless as their set text, but they avoid becoming pointless revivalists by adding a hard, Warp-esque electronic edge to their lovely, woozy sludge. An occasionally bewildering but ultimately rewarding experience.” – BBC.co.uk
Mojave 3 – Puzzles Like You
highlights : ‘breaking the ice’ / ‘truck driving man’ / ‘big star baby’
Well if the review below doesn’t sum up this album, I don’t know what could, as this really is the sound of a cool glass of lemonade and the sizzling southern pavement on a hot yet beautiful clear day in the middle of summer, waiting for the fun and fireworks to begin once the sun begins to set. Ive always been a fan of these guys, especially when they were ‘dream-poppers’ Slowdive, but their new country sound had a lack of pretentiousness that all the other ‘alt-country’ bands had, and to me this was a very good thing. This may also explain why they were not quite embraced by that scene, almost equal to the lack of embrace they received in the shoegaze scene (aka ‘the scene that celebrates itself’) of the early 90’s when they were Slowdive. Why? Who knows. Who cares really, cause the music speaks for itself. Their first album was very quiet, like an acoustic Mazzy Star, but oh so beautiful. Then ‘Out of Tune’ came out and they took on a mid-tempo atmospheric country rock sound, with a little bit of a lazy day at the beach vibe. Then they lost it for me for a few albums (sans ‘Billy Oddity’ off the ‘Spoon & Rafter’ album), despite the always strong songwriting of Neil Halstead. But now ‘Puzzles Like You’ comes out this year, and it blows me away. It’s what I always hoped they would put out, and knew they should have out out. The songs are more upbeat, very catchy, and with a crystal clear production, the songs really just jump off the record. All the while keeping their country sound (and those beautiful slide guitars), but making it their own. Don’t shy away from the country tag, cause its not country per say, but you will know when you hear it. A perfect idea of what it would sound like if a britpop band with a conscience made a ‘country’ record. Oh wait, thats what this is.
“Mojave 3’s new material isn’t an abandonment of any strengths; it’s an embrace of the simple pleasures of the classic ’60s garage-pop style of songwriting — a style that Neil Halstead has certainly flirted with and referenced throughout the years. It’s a gift that 4AD chose to release Puzzles Like You during the advent of summer. It’s a twisting-by-the-pool record. It’s a driving-with-the-top-down record. Hot like the pavement. Cool like lemonade. It’s midday instead of sunset. If this is not the dynamic you expect from Mojave 3, prepare to be pleasantly surprised.” – Prefix Mag
Mew – And the Glass Handed Kites
highlights : ‘chinaberry tree’ / ‘special’ / ‘the zookeeper’s boy’ / ‘why are you looking grave?’
This album really says ambitious if anything else, and luckily they succeed here. This band is from Denmark, and with this, they have created a really unique rock epic, combining a lot of 70’s prog rock, stadium torch songs, new age rockers, some 90’s dreampop, and all wrapped up into a concept album. I would even say you could thrown some ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ influence in there, as it just has this slight 70’s hippie glam vibe to it. Whatever that is I dont know exactly, its just what pops into mind as I hear this. Its a unique album, with some beautiful vocal melodies, melding all the songs together into what really is an album experience, as you can almost barely tell where one song begins and one ends. And on top of that, there are a few songs that just might get your hips a rocking. HAHA! A very rewarding special album that gets better on every listen.
“Redefining both “album” and “concept album,” And The Glass Handed Kites is a mind-blowing 60 minute rock maelstrom flinging musical ideas, distorted nightmare images and heartbreak choruses at the listener with skull-cracking ferocity. One minute we’re looking toward Valhalla from a “Chinaberry Tree,” moments later we’re asked “Why are you looking grave?” by guest artist J Mascis over a throbbing guitar squall and next thing we’re in the middle of an ethereal ballad about foxes. What initially sounds like ten bands playing ten different albums at the same time, tuned in and out of sync by some ADD-riddled studio engineer, reveals itself after repeated listening as a remarkably sustained and unified work, picking up the experimental challenge of cutting edge Britpop from Wire to “Kid A” and drenching it in Mew’s otherworldly sonic brew.” – Jive Magazine
RJ Valeo – September
highlights : ‘jarus’ / ‘cypher’
You know that kind of music you hear when you go to see a show at a nightclub by an artist that you know is just going to be a whole different kind of show? Like these beautifully strange electronic yet organic tones and beats right before the first time you are gonna see someone like Bjork or Tricky or Squarepusher, and its so modern and atmospheric and sexy and creepy, like you feel you are on the set of Blade Runner or some other futuristic kind of movie? Everything feels new and unknown while this super modern rain drenched spy theme rumbles through the floor and David Lynch is sitting off in the corner chatting with Donnie Darko and ‘The Man from Another Place’ (oh Michael J. Anderson, you are oh so great). Thats what this CD sounds like. Brilliant stuff, for your headphones, or even an interesting little dinner party.
““September” paints a rainbow of fragile sounds with percussive ingenuity and a feel for deep textures – shimmering neon sweeps of melody engulf tricky percussive pops and clicks in a way not a thousand miles removed from the sparse love-story-telling of Dub Tractor or the lullaby minimalism and effervescence of Mr Xela himself. Music that doesn’t necessarily stick to conventional means but that somehow manages to make itself accessable to all who approach it – a combination of ingenuity and emotional vulnerability that sets this label off to the kind of start we dreamt of when we launched CCO a good few years back. Absolutely gorgeous.” – Boomkat
Martin Denny – The Best of Martin Denny’s Exotica
highlights : ‘coronation’ / ‘caravan’ / ‘quiet village’
Obviously this music is not new, and in fact, about 40-50 years old, but that is precisely the point I think, that to me at least it still sounds so fresh, and refreshing really. Martin Denny and Les Baxter were the two artists who were considered to have started the ‘exotica’ music style, the same one that kind of came back for a while in the late 90’s (remember Combustible Edison from Providence? Ill never forget seeing them open for Dinosaur Jr at the old Lupos, now that was a weird billing!). Anyway I really like Martin Denny cause I think his music stands out above all that ‘exotica’ stuff, and this newly released compilation shows why. Not only are the songs very catchy, but they really are very lush, and with all the bird calls and sounds of animals throughout all the songs, it really feels like you are walking through some Hawaiian forest sometime in the carefree futuristic 50’s! Haha. You can even here some influence on future film scores, like ‘Ore (God of Vengence)’ was a precursor to some of Danny Elfman’s scores for Tim Burton’s film, and even on ‘La Pampa Y La Puna’, you can see where the score for some of ‘Donnie Darko’ got its influence. All in all, its sorta corny, sorta fun, but oddly beautiful background music.
“Denny’s late-1950s/early-’60s heyday, a time when the Hawaiian “tiki” trend reached mainland America with the force of a tropical storm. Marked by a global arsenal of light percussion and animal calls, Denny’s chiming tunes are almost immediately identifiable, with a spare melody always providing the springboard for a stunningly eclectic array of literal bells and whistles. Among the many charming and breezy songs on the collection are Denny’s dreamy hit single “Quiet Village,” the sparkling (and aptly titled) “Hypnotique,” and “Miserlou,” a slow, slinky counterpart to Dick Dale’s revved-up surf rendition. ” – CD Universe
“his music retains the power to transport you away from the land of super malls and freeways to a place where nature, men and women live in a Technicolor paradise.” – Rhapsody.com
Helios – Eingya
highlights : ‘dragonfly across an ancient sky’ / ‘coast off’
I would say this is more of a background music version of Boards of Canada, with guitars, and more of a jazz feel. The tempo is mellow, yet beautiful. A very seasonal feeling to this record, with a strong soundtrack vibe to it. Not exactly cinematic really, but a soundtrack to really beautiful powerful independent film. A lot of natural sounds like birds chirping, the waves of the ocean, someone walking on a pier, they all make up the environment of this record, while the quiet guitar drives the melody. And like the Khonnor album I ‘reviewed’ above, this is also from a bright young kid, and this one being his first release since leaving Berklee College of Music here in Boston. Dont worry kid, one day you’ll have the musical integrity of Britney Spears.
“a protracted sunset of an album guaranteed to see you through the longest days of summer and into the twilight of the autumn. Gently counterpoised piano and guitar lines haunt each other against a glimmering background of electronic tones while subtly measured beats come and go so discreetly you’ll wonder if they were ever there to begin with. A thoroughly artificial piece of pastoral from start to finish, it’s also a reminded that the sun passes by this way only once a day. Enjoy it while you can.” – The Wire
I generally don’t feel the need to go negative with my albums of the year list, but this year has to be an exception, as the following are probably two of the worst albums I have ever heard in my life …. EVER! All in the same year no less. Avoid these travesties at all costs …
The Killers – Sam’s Town
lowlights : every single track
There’s no doubt, The Killers’ first album, ‘Hot Fuss’, was a great album, and it was on my top CD list of 2004. Even so, they already seemed like a band destined for disaster. They had this aura of getting ahead of themselves, over-reaching, almost grand-standing. Well surprise surprise their new album is complete shit. Brandon Flowers vocals are atrocious, the dusty western vibe and look of the band is just plain sad (we get it, you’re from Las Vegas, thats nice fellas, good for you), the stadium anthem sound of the songs is just pathetic, the songwriting is absolutely terrible, the ‘is that supposed to be irony or something?’ album cover is just embarrassing, and then there are the stupid mustaches they have now. Seriously, one of the worst things I’ve ever heard (although I just described their new look more than anything). When you try to reinvent yourself so hard, you obviously never had an idea of who you are in the first place or what you’re trying to say, so give it up. Avoid this at all costs. Ugggggh.
“When a New Wave lad suddenly trades his velvet dinner jacket for a bandoleer, there is only one logical response: uh-oh. On the painful, Americana-themed “Sam’s Town” (Island/Def Jam) the band scraps its dance-pop for pretentious stadium rock, grasping for the grandeur of 1970’s Bruce Springsteen and “The Joshua Tree”-era U2. “I’m sick of all my judges/So scared of letting me shine,” Mr. Flowers gripes in the title song, referring to naysayers who consider him a shallow pretty boy. But what about the five million people who bought the excellent ‘Hot Fuss’?” – The New York Times
Scott Walker – The Drift
lowlights : every single track
Whether it’s a bad thing or not, I have the ability to listen to this album on it’s own merits, never having heard any of this ‘legend’s other records. Maybe I need to hear his other stuff to somehow ‘understand’ what this album is all about, but if I have to buy his other countless albums to understand this, then that is pretty damn sad. Why did I buy this then? Well it’s on 4AD of course! I am such a fan of the label, and am rarely let down by any of their releases, so I had to give this a shot. If you think 4AD is just full of depressed arty pretentious creeps, well then, this album would prove this theory. However, bands like Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, The Birthday Party and This Mortal Coil are straight up pop bands compared to this drivel. This album is beyond any doubt one of the worst records I have ever heard, which is beyond me as every review you are bound to find says its brilliant and unforgettable, but then they throw in the words ‘difficult’ and ‘challenging’, which should clue you into how unlistenable this shit is. Why the music press in the US and UK feel they need to kiss up to this guy, I can’t figure it out, but please be warned … it is probably the most depressing, unlistenable pieces of crap ever recorded. Its 60’s acoustic goth. It’s progressive prog. Whatever. Anyway, I could go on and on, but its not worth it. So the point of all this is to just help you avoid this dross at all costs. You’re welcome.
“What once was a glorious instrument tuned for maximum revenue in the recording industry has now become a siren intent on creating a disquieting version of music — one more likely to induce nausea than nostalgia.” – Tiny Mix Tapes
“It could be high art. It could be utter bollocks. Either way, it’s lovely when it’s over.” – Q Magazine, June 2006, page 119