We will return on or about 2 January 2010, as we are meeting to decide what our top picks of the year are and want to share them with you as quickly as possible. We will be voting – fighting – over our picks in album, tracks, album cover art, and videos we have posted on the blog throughout the first year. I appreciate the fact that everyone wanted to put in their two cents in, because at once it alleviates me from having to think of everything on my own, but also it is more authentic. I appreciate the fact that Juju, Mirage, Hyena, and Bloodybones have been part of this process with me. (My gratitude for your help and support goes beyond words.) But compiling a list of the best of a year, with people who have different tastes, and are at different stages of their musical discovery, is interesting and really telling and reflective of what we have done here. In many ways, that is exactly what this blog is: a journey of musical discovery, not just for anyone reading, but for us as well. And I hope that in the next year, that journey become broader, deeper, and even more schizophrenic than this year.
I hope everyone has enjoyed this holiday season and the upcoming New Year (or in the least had the time off from work to catch up on sleep and with friends and family.)
And I cannot say this enough: Thank you for the support!
Wishing you all health and happiness.
Elysian Fields: “The Afterlife”
Elysian Fields is one of these bands that I discovered years ago, in what now seems like another life, and has remained in obscurity. Hailing from New York City, this art rock band could easily write frivolous pop songs if they desired and conquer the pop charts; instead, they have stuck to their guns and written dark, sultry music that is hauntingly tantalizing. A duo (Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles), their latest album, “The Afterlife” (7 April 2009), ventures into a little bit of rock noir, and in many ways abandons dream pop. What the band keeps intact is their own sense of drama, irony, and somberness. Their passion is most felt when they feign dispassion and give into nihilism. Moreover, the power of this band is felt the most when they are minimalists. It is in their simplicity that we find our universal connections with what they are saying, what they are feeling, and how we all of us think that same things.
The album starts with “How We Die,” and eerie, jazzy number, that really exhibits the minimalism of the album and Charles’ sultry, dramatic voice. Her voice is neither angelic nor demonic; it is all too human and alluring as it exudes emotion. The minimalism in the musical arrangements forces the listener to really take note of the lyrics and their narrative quality. For instance, in “Turns Me On,” Charles sings, “You pull your ship into my isle and choke the helm for my delight; dragging your bony ghost along my coast, you dirty rotten bastard licking at my scars… it turns me on.” And the reality is that all of us find ourselves in emotionally masochistic situations, which we may find beautiful at the moment but are revolted when we come to our senses… if we do. The album closes with a duet, “Ashes in Winter Night.” She sings, “ Sometimes I wonder if you’d take it all back.” And the most heartfelt “Never” is delivered by Bloedow, “You’re still the only one I can talk to.” And it is the perfect metaphor between band and audience. After all these years, Elysian Fields is one of those few bands that you can rely on to deliver a strong, enchanting album that you can listen to again and again.
1. How We Die
2. Where Can We Go but Nowhere…
3. Drown Those Days
4. Turn Me On
5. Only For Tonight
7. Climbing My Dark Hair
8. The Moment
9. Night Melody of the Pull
10. Ashes in Winter Night
Keep up with Elysian Fields at their homepage and MySpace.
Asyl: “Brûle, Brûle, Brûle”
This is a very recent discovery for me, but I have to say from first listen Asyl’s “Brûle, Brûle, Brûle” (28 April 2009, digitally 25 May 2009 in USA, CD can be imported in the USA) is an impressive album. I know, when most people think of indie pop, France is not a country that comes to mind at all. Moreover, when people think of musical acts on the international stage, they immediately expect to hear English. Surprise! Asyl remains faithful to their mother tongue, which may limit their exposure in the USA, but this is a band that really knows how to put a song together and the language barrier should not deter you from listening.
Think of the tight, pop writing of new wave bands in the 80s, like Talk Talk or Psychedelic Furs. The songs are straight forward, with any frills coming in as a result of production. Even without translations for the lyrics, the music itself is catchy and visceral. But what is lacking from the album is the curse of many international “rock” bands: cookie cutter music. There is no pattern here, which is the claim to fame of this album, proving once and for all that the French can write a rock album that is sonically fresh, relevant, and urgent. For instance, “Dans La Ville” is one of those songs that you just cannot predict what is coming next, how the song is going to build, or how the band is going to release you from its dark visceral grip. Moreover, song to song, the band is able to shift style, most apparent in the closing song, “Comme Un Glaçon.” The band generates power in this song in much the same way as early post-punk artists – repetition, repetition, repetition. The song is harrowing if you allow it to sweep you off your feet. But by the time you get to this final song, there is no “if,” you will be swept. This album is not just from anyone who is a fan of post-punk or new wave. This is an album that will simply sweep anyone off of his or her feet.
1. Côté Sombre
2. Sous La Pluie
3. Les Dieux Sont Les Rois
4. La Triste Historie de Bugs Bunny
5. La Piscine
6. Dans La Ville
7. Ne Plus Y Penser
8. Toute Pour Moi (Rien De Moi)
9. J’étais Perdu
10. On Se Connait
11. Comme Un Glaçon
Keep up with Asyl at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.
Here is their video for “Les dieux sont des rois” from their MySpace Videos page.
Les dieux sont des rois
Asyl | MySpace Music Videos
Bye Bye Bicycle: “Compass”
Hailing from Sweden, “Compass” (27 August 2009) has become a guilty pleasure of mine in the final days of this year. Danceable (or at least foot tapping) beats, driving bass, and orchestrated elements, Bye Bye Bicycle combines the frivolous feel and intricate arrangements of the best 80s new wave/pop musicians. What is most obvious about this album is that it is about being upbeat, carefree, and enjoying the experience. There is no attempt to be heady, profound, or making the great statement of the year; instead, what you have is solid craftsmanship. This is not to say that there aren’t moments of emotional seriousness, but you are never dragged into a doom and gloom, my-life-is-woe situation.
The album opens with “Haby Baby,” which may give the immediate allusion that you will be hearing piano rock, but you are instantly transported into a luscious, orchestrated soundscape that is captivating and breath taking. “Meridian,” midway through the album, was the song that had me stuck. Lounge music with a twist, this instrumental is so well put together that you forget that the band has a vocalist. “Full Moon” is definitely the most haunting song on the album, with more of a late sixties feel to it than disco or new wave. The album closes with “Footsteps (Pt II).” The song begins with ambient synth arrangements and a piano; the synths give away to a sole piano and vocalist. And when you think the song will remain this mellow, the synths creep right back in and out, in and out, and the beat drops. The song is the most harrowing on the album, but it is miles away from gloomy.
And, as I said before, the great thing about this album is that it remains upbeat and an all-around fun listen. And though I have a predisposition for some of the darkest music out there, I have to admit that this album should not be dismissed. Bye Bye Bicycle’s “Compass” is really a must listen this year, and may end up being your guilty pleasure as well.
1. Haby Baby
7. 500 Miles
9. Full Moon
10. Footsteps (Pt. II)
Keep up with Bye Bye Bicycle at their homepage and MySpace.
The Dodoz: “The Dodoz”
The Dodoz is a French post-punk revival band that will seriously find a spot in the collection of any serious aficionado of the genre. The band’s sound is very energetic, and there is really a sense of urgency. Along side Asyl and Neimo, the Dodoz are proving that the French have a lot to add to the current music scene, but like Neimo, the Dodoz have chosen to sing in English and be more consumable to a larger audience. However, from first listen, you will get the idea that this is not your generic American or Anglophile post-punk revival. The dramatic feel of their music and the fact that they do not rely heavily on keys for atmosphere sets them apart from others in the genre.
My favorite track would be “Bet,” which starts off with chanting that is followed by an intense drum intro that can get anyone excited enough. (It is the type of drumming that one immediately wants to experience live.) Just like the other songs on the album, there is so much energy here. And that is part of the reason why this is a fun album: the energy will carry you beginning to end (with the occasional repeat) as you are playing air drums on your own or partying with a group of friends.
1. Middle of the Night
2.Boyfriend In Oxford
3. Do You Like Boys?
4. Falling Toes
6. Strangers, Blank!
10. Queen In a Tower
Keep up with The Dodoz at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.
Dizzee Rascal: “Tongue N’ Cheek”
The master of grime, Dizzee Rascal, came back this year with his fourth studio album, “Tongue N’ Cheek” (21 September 2009 in the UK, 29 September 2009 in the USA). And as promised, Dizzee broke with the traditional sense of grime (a nice combination of hip-hop, garage, and dancehall), but his break from grime is not complete. Many elements (especially the dancehall) are there. If Dizzee was out to create a more consumable album, he succeeded, but if he was trying to completely reinvent himself, he did not succeed, and we are glad for that. Dizzee is one of the few feel good artists that can venture into some deep lyrical content, without ever getting aggressive, confrontational, or missing a party beat. This is more than obvious in “Can’t Tek No More” – a song about having had enough of the violence and disenfranchisement of urban reality.
“Tongue N’ Cheek” opens with “Bonkers,” and it lives up to the namesake of the album: “I wake up everyday, it’s a daydream. Everything in my life ain’t what it seems. I wake up just to go back to sleep; I act real shallow but I’m in too deep: all I care about is sex and violence; a heavy bass line is my kind of silence. Everybody says that I gotta get a grip, but I let sanity give me the slip.” Hands down, this is the party song of the year; graced with the production talents of Armand Van Helden, there is nothing cookie cutter or musically safe about this song. But that is not the only guest to grace this album: joining forces with Calvin Harris, “Dance Wiv Me” comes to life. Somewhere between electro-grime and electropop, the song should definitely be commended for breaking with the typical stereotypical representation of women in hip-hop and urban culture: “She ain’t no hoe,” Dizzee sings, “Look at those thighs; it’s in her yes. She’s good to go, she can satisfy my mind, body, and soul. Come and dance wiv me.”
The album is full of gems, and the standout track is “Holiday.” Again, with Calvin Harris, the song harkens back to the 80s for some of its cues, especially in terms of sounds. (With a name like “Holiday,” could you expect less?) The shifts are subtle and unexpected, the beat danceable, the lyrics fun – a perfect dance pop song. The only thing we hope is that achieving two #1 songs in a row in the UK does not go to his head – as we have seen so many musicians allow success to undermine their integrity. With “Tongue N’ Cheek,” Dizzee Rascal has established himself as a British pop powerhouse. And, if you like hip-hop influenced music, but are not one of those purists who cannot see talent outside of the mainstream of hip-hop, checkout this album.
2. Road Rage
3. Dance wiv Me
4. Freaky Freaky
5. Can’t Tek No More
6. Chillin’ wiv da Man Dem
7. Dirtee Cash
8. Money, Money
11. Bad Behavior
Keep up with Dizzee Rascal as his homepage and MySpace.
Here is his video for “Dirtee Cash” (warning, explicit) from his YouTube Channel: DirteestankTV.