• The Passion of the Weiss
  • Gorilla vs. Bear
  • Greencine Daily
  • Music Is Art
  • Shake Your Fist
  • Big Stereo
  • The New Yorker
  • The Torture Garden
  • Ear Farm
  • J'ai la cassette à la maison
  • The Hater
  • The Yellow Stereo
  • Movie City Indie
  • Fader
  • Covert Curiosity
  • Chromewaves
  • Sucka Pants
  • AV Club
  • Tinyways
  • Palms Out
  • Girish Shambu
  • So Much Silence
  • Heart On A Stick
  • Untitled
  • Sixeyes
  • The Documentary Blog
  • Contrast Podcast
  • Fecal Face
  • Quick, Before It Melts
  • Muzzle of Bees
  • La Blogothèque
  • The Rawking Refuses To Stop
  • Music For Kids Who Can't Read Good
  • indieWIRE
  • Gimme Tinnitus
  • Conscientious
  • Toothpaste For Dinner
  • Cable & Tweed
  • Culture Bully
  • Oceans Never Listen
  • Juxtapoz
  • I Am Fuel, You Are Friends
  • Subinev
  • Bookslut
  • Filles Sourires
  • Berkeley Place
  • Get Underground
  • Nah Right
  • Motel de Moka
  • Raven Sings The Blues
  • Fact
  • Missing Toof
  • Badical Beats
  • Clap Cowards
  • Chuckmore
  • Anthem
  • It's the right thing to do
  • Something is wrong here, something is terribly wrong
  • There ain't no life for me on land
  • The greatest #8: The Dreaming
  • Still I walk in darkness
  • Home of the cheesesteak, the beef piled sky high
  • Blogiversary #2
  • Blood rain
  • The best 15 films of 2007
  • The best 30 albums of 2007
  • The best 30 singles of 2007
  • The best 30 songs of 2007
  • The Greatest #6: Veedon Fleece
  • Behind the blog: Blogs Are For Dogs
  • It's winter again and New York's been broken
  • Blogiversary
  • Up high and ugly: Xiu Xiu MP3s
  • The Greatest #2: New Skin For The Old Ceremony
  • Behind the blog: The Passion of the Weiss
  • The best 15 films of 2006
  • Good clean fun: Clean Guns MP3s
  • Behind the blog: Music Is Art
  • United 93
  • The best 30 albums of 2006
  • The best 30 songs of 2006
  • The best 30 singles of 2006
  • The chapter in my life entitled San Francisco
  • The Up Series
  • Review #4: Ys by Joanna Newsom
  • Happy Yom Kippur
  • Rock bottom riser: Smog MP3s
  • Justin Ringle
  • Dan McGee
  • Sebastian Krueger, pt. 2
  • Sebastian Krueger, pt. 1
  • Bry Webb
  • Greg Goldberg, pt. 2
  • Greg Goldberg, pt. 1
  • Benoît Pioulard, pt. 2
  • Benoît Pioulard, pt. 1
  • Kevin O'Connor
  • Conrad Standish
  • Chris Bear
  • Owen Ashworth
  • Andrew Bujalski
  • My Photo
    Location: Brooklyn, NY

    The MP3s available here are for sampling purposes. Please support the artists by buying their albums and going to their shows. If you are the artist or label rep and don't want an MP3 featured, let me know. Links will otherwise stay live for about two weeks before they vanish into the ether.

    If you'd like to send music, art, writing or promo material for consideration, email me at nerdlitter[at]yahoo[dot]com. This site is designed in Firefox and may not look optimal in other browsers. You can get Firefox here.

    Powered by Blogger

    Tuesday, June 26, 2007

    The best 10 songs of the mid-year

    If this list reads a little random and scattershot, that's because it is. More than ever, I haven't been able to commit to one genre or one style, picking and choosing playlists based on the whims of a moment. One key '07 development is that I've been getting more excited about electronic and dance music again, after a long wane in interest. But other than that, it's some indie rock, some hip hop, a little instrumental, and a bunch of miscellania. Going along with that, it seems that sounds are coming at me from more sources than ever too, including music blogs, MySpace, magazines, Internet radio, message boards and mixtapes. Everything's expanding exponentially, which is both tremendously promising and daunting, when just staying afloat in all my options requires a daily workday's commitment. But even among all of those competing interests, here are ten terrific songs that have stuck with me from the start:

    10) "Guinea Pigs" – Desmond Reed
    A sweet and catchy lo-fi strummer, "Guinea Pigs" is proof that good songwriting will always trump production pyrotechnics. Reed finds the quirky heart in his fuzzy rodents, with details that feel real and endearing ("They need someone to clean their cage when they can smell it/ And someone to give them their pellets") and an enthusiasm only a villain would refuse. And is it even possible not to smile at his sunny, indefagitable refrain of "Oh yeah! Oh yeah!"? For people who can't stand too much sun, there's also an underlying vulnerability, a hint of death and helplessness and dependence intruding on the horizon. But mostly, it's just a fun take on a cute subject that's way better than most of the more complicated things I've heard this year. Oh yeah!
    MP3: "Guinea Pigs" - Desmond Reed [Visit him]

    9) "Haze" – Essie Jain
    Operatic and sweeping, "Haze" is the best showcase for Essie Jain's scope and she takes full advantage. From the confident trickle-in of the spindly piano to the notes Jain slowly draws out like gauze, everything here casts a spell. For the first two thirds, it's all build and mood-setting, slow, patient and evocative of the title. But Jain saves the real stun for part three, where she suddenly adds power to the soft haunt. The music revs up too, growing bolder and brassier, slightly disrupting the spell but leaving something even more memorable and sustained in its place.
    * MP3: "Haze" - Essie Jain from We Made This Ourselves
    [Buy it]

    8) "Dumb Animals" – Handsome Furs
    MP3: "Dumb Animals" - Handsome Furs from Plague Park [Buy it]

    7) "The Troglodyte Wins" - Busdriver
    There's no doubt if rappers were superheroes, Busdriver would be Mr. Fantastic. Their powers both traffic in elasticity and bendiness. They're both inventors and off-kilter geniuses. (And I'll have to check on this one, but I believe they were also both blasted by cosmic space radiation.) Busdriver, ne Regan Farquhar, is always a musician to keep your eye on, because he excels at stretching past the usual parameters. At his best, metrically, musically and topically, he can be a genre unto himself, refracting rap conventions like a rubber band. And "The Troglodyte Wins" definitely stacks up among his best, a giddy, lively evisceration with a hot sample and a unique flow that's nothing short of fantastic.
    MP3: "The Troglodyte Wins" - Busdriver from RoadKillOvercoat [Buy it]

    6) "One Inch Badge Pin" (Christopher Robin Remix) - Muscles
    As good as the single is, this remix may be even better. It's Muscles to the max, amped up on a cocktail of amphetamines and Jolt. The vocals pinball around in a funhouse of electronic madness, pure energy and fun and adrenaline. Sampled out of context, the snippets of lyrics make no sense, with repeating staccato shoutouts of "In-dep-end-ent!" and "p-p-p-p-p-panic" and "Lemonade and hammocks!" But somehow, they also make perfect sense, like free-associated Mad Libs or a Tourette-y Beat poem. The end result is a song that is endlessly exciting, skittish, overjoyed, aerobic and always moving, a workout for both the feet and ears.
    MP3: "One Inch Badge Pin" (Christopher Robin Remix) - Muscles [Visit him]

    5) "Ice Cream" - Muscles
    MP3: "Ice Cream" - Muscles [Visit him]

    4) "New York I Love You" – LCD Soundsystem
    Truth be told, I don't really like going to the East Village much these days. It's the neighborhood where I lived before moving to California, and coming back to it after a year is kind of depressing. It hasn't changed all that much, but the changes are all I see. Most recently, it was decades-old fixture Kurowycky Meat Products shutting down, but before that, it was the grimy Alt. Coffee closing to go family-friendly and most heinously of all, Second Ave. Deli becoming a fucking Chase branch. Walking around my former blocks is as mildly depressing as going to a high school reunion, seeing old friends all settling down in the same boring, predictable, necessary ways. Complaining about gentrification and corporatization in the city is pretty much just as boring and predictable, so secondhand a response to New Yorkers we might as well be pontificating on the weather. And yet, miraculously, James Murphy makes it fresh again.

    Sung in a low, defeated voice, "New York I Love You" is the sobering morning-after to the afterparty of "North American Scum." Where he formerly claimed "New York's the greatest if you can get someone to pay the rent," now the light has come up and the benefactors all fled and payment is due. Suddenly, the reality of the city doesn't seem nearly as promising, nearly as possible. "So the boring collect,/ I mean all disrespect,/ In the neighborhood bars I'd once dreamt I would drink," he moans, nailing it in ways I only wish I didn't recognize. Granted there's always been this ongoing mythos about the city that it was great ten years before you got here, that the best restaurant is the one that's long gone, that everything was perfect then and irreparable now. But it's still hard for me to hear something as laid-bare and personally true as "New York I love you, but you're bringing me down," and not think that this is my half-year boiled down and set to song.
    * MP3:"New York I Love You" – LCD Soundsystem from Sound of Silver [Buy it]

    3) "Rotten Hell" - Menomena
    Menomena makes music that's weird but weirdly universal, that's epic and individual in one fell swoop. "Rotten Hell" in particular balances the I and we with so-great-it's-painful aplomb. It's a choir of lost souls, an atheist's hallelujah, an army of secular humanists getting gunned down and finding out they're angels. It's also ambiguous as hell, inviting interpretations even as it's warning you it's all for naught. ("Any day now the words will form a sentence/ You'll be reduced to nothingness.")
    But, among the spectral vocals and an oddly optimistic piano, there are a few lines that meaningfully pulse out of the confusion like a throbbing heart: "Wading through this mess together/ Hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder/ Some may stumble, some may fall behind."
    MP3: "Rotten Hell" - Menomena from Friend and Foe [Buy it]

    2) "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')" – El-P
    God, I really miss those Homeland Security alerts. Every so often, during the 2004 election campagin, Tom Ridge would tell us the exact color of our fears and we could plan our outfits to match the yellow or orange or—God forbid—red hues of our anxieties. Now with Ridge gone and the election over, I have no idea what color my fear looks like. For all I know, it could be magenta or cerulean by now. But on the bright side, at least I do know what my fear sounds like. It's the skitter of "Smithereens"'s frantic, unnerved beats and its chorus of disembodied zombies that groan back whatever lines they're fed. It's El-P's documentation of his hijacked innocence in a toxic-air city, and it's the braying background sounds that recall air-raid sirens and make even innocuous lines feel lethal. So I guess, even without the color-coded updates, I won't have to worry. El-P is finally back to put all of our asses on permanent orange alert.
    MP3: "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')" - El-P from I'll Sleep When You're Dead [Buy it]

    1) "Fake Empire" – The National
    A closing-time elegy for the defeatists and the whiskey-stung, a shaky-stepped parade route home. Nothing else sounded so hopeful, so nocturnal, so adrift, as indelibly Gotham as it is gothic. A last jukebox lullaby as we stumble out of the dim-lit refuge of bars, spilling out onto the solemn avenues, casting our wavering shadows onto the milky ghosts of streetlamp light. We know we'll be alone again the second we step through our apartment doors, back to piles of unwashed T-shirts and dying plants and empty refrigerators. And maybe we might even admit that awful truth, that we'll never amount to as much as we'd planned, while humming that lingering melody and saying at least we had a pretty good night.
    MP3: "Fake Empire" - The National from Boxer [Buy it]

    * Also: The Torture Garden's Oh, Seven! (Best songs of '07 so far)

    The best 10 singles of the mid-year

    I have no clue how late June has snuck up already, but here I am nonetheless, in the sludge of summer heat and existential crises. Like asking what the fuck have I accomplished over the six last months exactly and other assorted fun questions. Maybe I should be asking the collective gods of music that same thing, because as of yet, this half-year hasn't been all that momentous. Blips of genius, sparks of excitement, sure, but mostly, I've been listening to the same six or seven albums on repeat. Compared to a blockbuster '06, this sequel hasn't stacked up very well so far, but then again, '06 didn't really hit its stride until its latter half either. So let's hope for a strong finish and for now, single out some of the great singles that have stood above the rest:

    10) "One Inch Badge Pin" – Muscles
    Nothing can depress Muscles. This is a man who, when shoved by a bully in his song "Ice Cream," retaliates by exclaiming, "I just want to dance!" This is a man who, if his house were burning down, might well shrug it off and toast s'mores over the embers. On his single "One Inch Badge Pin," he even manages to laugh about the dour ironies of "the independent music community," taking the piss out of the import-only melodramas and limited-press angst. "Drive a one inch badge pin through my heart!" he dares a love interest, trying on Conor Oberst's seriousness like a costume. But in the end, Muscles can't keep a straight face or a dark thought. Over euphoric electronics, he realizes his true nature: "We didn't need to panic/ We spent all our summer drinking lemonade in hammocks."
    * MP3: "One Inch Badge Pin" - Muscles from One Inch Badge Pin EP [Buy it]

    9) "My Moon My Man" – Feist
    Every fucking time this song comes on, I think I'm about to hear the DuckTales theme song. Mind you, I don't even have an MP3 of the DuckTales theme song (note to self...) and I still can't convince my mind otherwise. But then Leslie Feist's honey-drip voice will pour over the track, and I'll forget all about Uncle Scrooge and Mrs. Beakley and Launchpad McQuack. She'll sing about moons and men–just two of the things that can't help orbiting around her–and it'll sound even better than taking a swim in a money bin.
    * MP3: "My Moon My Man" - Feist from The Reminder
    [Buy it]

    8) "Mistaken For Strangers" – The National
    * MP3: "Mistaken For Strangers" - The National from Boxer [Buy it]

    7) "No Pussy Blues" - Grinderman
    Masturbating monkeys aside, there's no better image to encapsulate "No Pussy Blues" than Nick Cave with his current hair. The receding front and the encroaching back, looking weeks-unwashed and puberty-oily. Then there's the beard and moustache, somehow sinister, appearing almost fake on Cave's familiar face or at least like he's got something to hide. He looks beat-down by desire, like a neighborhood pervert or a knife enthusiast. He's ruled by his libido, gun magazines and brown liquors. He doesn't change his underwear and he sleeps in his clothes. He smells like cigarettes and by now, his cigarettes smell like him. He's willing to do absolutely anything to get laid tonight, please it has to be tonight, and yeah, he's all too eager to sing about it too.
    * MP3: "No Pussy Blues" - Grinderman from Grinderman [Buy it]

    6) "Diamond Dancer" – Bill Callahan
    Even after Bill Callahan's dropped his cloud-cover alias, he's kept the mystery. Celebrating whatever a diamond dancer is, he paints his character with strokes of wonder and admiration. He provides glimpses of her at the threshold of a revelation, bathed in blue, a body in constant motion. And yet, it's hard to say exactly what's going on here. Is this woman a nightclub haunter or a ballerina, an aspiring Broadway star or a stripper? And what does her eventual realization, "It's time I gave the world my light" entail exactly? Callahan's never been one to connect the dots, but the ambiguity is especially attractive this time, the possibilities of her life as multifaceted as the surfaces on a twenty-four-carat cut.
    * MP3: "Diamond Dancer" - Bill Callahan from Woke On A Whaleheart [Buy it]

    5) "To Go Home" – M. Ward

    Part of me wants to disqualify it from contention, just because Post-War feels so long ago and M. Ward's reign is so indelibly linked with 2006. But even after this Daniel Johnston cover charted on my best songs of the year list, its impact hasn't really faded. From the affecting finality of the delivery to the longing trapped in time, "To Go Home" is just too good to reach its expiration date just yet.
    * MP3: "To Go Home" - M. Ward from Post-War [Buy it]

    4) "D.A.N.C.E." - Justice
    Cool French pop manages to infiltratrate our shores every year, with this most recent siege largely spearheaded by DJ duo Justice. Bouncy and cute, fresh and familiar, their lead single "D.A.N.C.E." reminds me of Jackson Five jams and summer hits pumping out of boomboxes next to open hydrants and Krylon-bombed brick. It's a tribute as much as a throwback, but ultimately and most importantly of all, it's just pure pop gold.
    * MP3: "D.A.N.C.E." - Justice from [Preorder it]

    3) "Wet and Rusting" - Menomena
    * MP3: "Wet and Rusting" - Menomena from Friend and Foe [Buy it]

    2) "Set Fire To The Face On Fire" – The Blood Brothers
    Heaven-sent for hellraisers, this song is a nasty little pipebomb, a set of brass knuckles against a gushing nose. It's hardcore crushed down to its rotten core, all blistering guitar, anarchic noise and kamikaze swagger. It became my favorite track from last year's somewhat uneven Young Machetes as soon as it barreled out of the gate, but it's stayed that way long after the dust has settled.
    * MP3: "Set Fire To The Face On Fire" - The Blood Brothers from Young Machetes [Buy it]

    1) "North American Scum" – LCD Soundsystem
    Disaffection has never sounded this good. Bubbly, kinetic and joyous, "North American Scum" is the best snapshot of American ambivalence since, I don't know, the 2000 election? Right off the bat, there's a funky-punk dance beat that can't be denied, simultaneously undercutting the message ("if we act all shy, it'll all be okay") and supporting it ("Let's rock, North America!"). It's the sound of someone who can't pick a side, who can't commit to either irony and apology. It's the acknowledgment that America's both more complicated and more simplistic than Europe, that we're deeply flawed but also kind of wonderful in our own ahistorical and fumbling ways. "North American Scum" is both an indictment and a celebration, a loving jab at both sides of the Atlantic and finally just an invite to fuck the divide and just dance up some universal language.
    * MP3: "North American Scum" - LCD Soundsystem from Sound of Silver [Buy it]

    * Previously: The best 30 singles of 2006
    * Previously: Mid-terms: the seven best singles of 2006 so far