2006, or how I finally made sense of my life

For some context, this year, I had an existential crisis and entirely re-defined what I want to do with my life. After learning to cope, I found that everything usually works out in the end, even when it entirely departs from my super specific OCD lifeplan. I was drawn to music that spoke to me about my predicament and my ways of dealing with it. I was attracted to things that connected me to the past and reminded me of how much I have changed this year.

15. Belle and Sebastian: The Life Pursuit. Its no Boy With the Arab Strap but The Life Pursuit at times reminds me of Beat Happening, one of my favorite bands of all time, and at other times blows my mind in other ways. "We Are Sleepyheads" is probably my favorite song on the album.

14. Less Than Jake: In With The Out Crowd. Less Than Jake was a defining band of my adolescence, and In With The Out Crowd reminds me of my own maturation by hearing theirs. They've thematically moved from focusing on adolescent angst to love (though often unrequited), independence, and growing up. This album is really awesome because its so self-realized.

13. Mates of State: Bring It Back. Can we all just agree that this is the most beautiful couple ever? Bring It Back is also a really mature album. It channels all that whimsey into something elevated and serious. I first listened to Mates of State when they opened for Death Cab (yeah I know, shut up) in 2003 at a Halloween show at the Variety Playhouse. I was struck by their togetherness, and this album really demonstrates that. Fraud in the 80s is such a good demonstration of the maturity of the band and of the album, especially around 2:14 before the song transitions into the chorus, then later around 3:00.

12. Joanna Newsom: Y's. I know a lot of people hate this album, but I've rather enjoyed it and I find it really easy to lose myself in it when I feel defeated. "Cosmia," especially, has this quietude about it that suddenly becomes sublime and nostalgic.

11. Stephin Merritt: Showtunes. I admire this album for making me enjoy a genre of music that I previously refused to appreciate. I love it for its simultaneous delicacy and boldness, its incorporation of non-traditional instruments, and for the fact that it has hints of Stephin Merritt all over it. It includes tracks from The Orphan of Zhao, My Life as a Fairy Tale, and Peach Blossom Fan, all of which Stephin composed with Chen Shi-Zheng.

10. Ghost Mice/Pretty Hot Split. Both of these bands have been important to me for the last two years or so (since my folk punk obsession began). Ghost Mice is probably my favorite Plan-It-X band, and I took the name of this blog from a Pretty Hot song. This split was probably the most exciting thing that happened to me this year (music-wise) because it combined the two. It was somewhat of a disappointment that there weren't a lot of new Pretty Hot songs that I hadn't heard before, but they rock so hard that the remixes were really awesome to listen to. This album probably wins the award for being the best road trip music of this year.

9. Yo La Tengo: I'm Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. It took awhile for this album to grow on me, but I eventually decided that it was well-produced. "I Feel Like Going Home" at about 1:38 really captures the way I think most people feel when they are exhausted and just want to return to a familiar place.

8. nina nastasia: On Leaving . When I'm angry, I often listen to this album and walk around campus. For some reason, it reminds me of the way I felt when I was 10 and listening to the Cranberries would break my heart. "Settling Song" and "Bird of Cuzco" are probably my favorites because they capture this enormous feeling of loss and redemption.

At this point, I have to stop and say that the difference between the top 7 and the bottom 8 is pretty vast. The next 7 were definitively the best and most significant of this year, and I really could have done a top 7 of this year and been satisfied.

7. Band of Horses: Everything All The Time. I have an intense personal relationship with this album. There was probably a 2-month period this year when I could not stop listening to it, no matter how painful and bleak it became. I would wake up in the morning humming "St. Augustine" or "Great Salt Lake." Sometimes I couldn't sleep because the album would repeat itself in my head long after I'd turned off my ipod. It became a problem. I banned it for a few months, but couldn't stop coming back to it. It sounds hokey, but I found it to be so much more significant to revisit after a couple of months of listening to other things. Haunting, it may have ceased to be, but it sounded so much more mature through the lens of (and compared with) everything else.

6. POS: Audition. This album is pretty much insane. "De La Souls" really turned me onto it because of the addition of Greg Attonito, but overall I think Audition is really well-executed. You can definitely hear a lot of the punk influence and so much of it is just melodic. I'm a bit surprised that this album hasn't appeared on a lot of hip hop blogs this year, but there have been a few mentions on year-end lists.

5. The Submarines: Declare a New State. Although I've bought a lot of stuff from them this year, but the best discovery I made on Threadless was not the Communist Party t-shirt, but The Submarines. Declare a New State has been a really good relationship-turbulence-relieving album for me, but I especially like to listen to it when its sunny outside to remind me of how far (the S.O. and I) have come. I don't think this album has gotten enough attention, though I'm glad to see some other people appreciating them.

4. Ratatat: Classics. I reviewed this album back in July and the main thing I had to say about it was that it was much more expansive and experimental. After a couple of months of letting it sort of gestate in my mind, I should also add that it is probably their best album so far. I was really attached to the S/T until I sort of came out of a daze once just as "Gettysburg" was starting and heard all of the complex low notes. Amazing.

3. Kimya Dawson: Remember that I Love You. If she isn't your favorite Moldy Peach, you've got some rethinking to do. This album contains a lot of songs that she's performed live over the years, and was released right around the time I think she had her baby. It's a reminder of the purity and beauty that can come out of an artist's extreme love of her fans, her community, and her family. While sometimes polemical, listening to this album is like a long, warm hug from Kimya. I was kind of surprised to only find it on one list.

One more time out. Choosing between these next two was really hard. On the one hand, I don't think anyone rocked harder than the Souls this year. On the other, I don't think I've heard anything that has shaken my soul as much as Begin to Hope. Regina Spektor may have single handedly made this year for me. It was a tough choice, but here's ultimately what I decided.

2. Bouncing Souls: The Gold Record. When I reviewed this album back in June, I definitely thought it would be my favorite of this year. It has a couple of good covers, but songs like "Sounds of the City," "Midnight Mile," and "The Gold Song," really spoke to me about the predominant themes of my life (negotiating my way through urban space, leaving home, and watching my youth slowly drift away). I was excited to see this album getting a bit more recognition, but it kind of seems as if a lot of people who gave it good reviews have sort of forgotten about it.

1. Regina Spektor: Begin To Hope. I was so mean to this album the first time I wrote about it. I blame it on bad traffic and road rage. I aquired Begin to Hope in the summer, when I had a lot of city driving to do, and I think I got through the first 3 tracks before I decided that it sounded like a stupid Top 40 and jettisoned it for something else (probably The Gold Record). In some weird twist of fate, I left it in my car and was forced to listen to it later when I was yet again stuck in traffic because there was a busted water main about 5 minutes from my house. In the hour and a half it took to travel a distance of 2 miles, I listened to Begin to Hope a few times, and this time decided that I loved it. I still think the first few songs sound like Top 40's, but I don't mind so much because later tracks like "Edit," "That Time," and "Summer in the City" more than make up for them. "Samson" probably wins the award for being the most beautiful song of this year, and even "Fidelity" became amazingly good when I listened to it a few more times. So, sorry for being so mean to you before, Regina Spektor. You are really beautiful and awesome and I kind of love you.

Here's to the past that we choose

I've been too busy with exams and vacationing in sunny, 80-degree weather to post lately. I've also debated whether or not to do a "Best of '06"--primarily because I've probably only listened to the same 5-6 new albums the whole year. I decided to do one anyway as an artifact of this year, this crazy, busy, tumultuous, exciting, scary, sad, lovely, incredible year. As such, I ranked these albums based on their personal significance to me. Think of it as a soundtrack of the last (nearly) 365 years, or a travel diary of sorts.

I did a Top 15, but there are a couple of albums I want to mention first. Most of these are very good; I just haven't listened to them enough to really count them as personally significant (or to decide how much I like them compared to the others):

-Ghost Mice: Europe. Chris and Hannah took a trip through Europe (not a tour) and wrote songs for most of the countries they visited. Conceptually, it's a really well executed album, and, as usual, it's a lot of fun to listen to.
-The Jeff Lewis Band: City and Eastern Songs. I wrote about this album a couple of months ago. It has some hilariously tongue-in-cheek commentary about a lot of things, including Will Oldham (!!!).
-Greg Graffin: Cold as the Clay. A folk album by one of the most historically significant American punk rockers. Also well-executed, but kind of slow for my taste.
-Gothic Archies: The Tragic Treasury. A compilation of Stephin Merritt's work on Lemony Snicket's audiobooks. I guess, technically, not all of these songs were released this year but the album just came out. I haven't listened to it enough to form an opinion, but its just as amazing as everything Stephin has ever touched.
-Strike Anywhere: Dead FM. I'd kind of been waiting for this album for a long time. Last year's To live in discontent was totally awesome, and Change is a Sound is probably my favorite Strike Anywhere album ever. Most people have no idea what I am talking about when I say that hardcore can be melodic, but this band sounds so awesome. Dead FM isn't their best, but I think I need to give it a few more listens before I really decide.
-Cursive: Happy Hollow, on Saddle Creek this year. The album has this sullen darkness about it, Tim Kasher has this Omaha-ness about him, and it's all pretty beautiful. There are some new sounds, like horns, that I'd never expect to find on a Cursive album. You can remix one of the songs, "Bad Sects," at http://www.badsects.com.
-Bright Eyes: Noise Floor (rarities). A collection of songs from '98-'05. Some previously recorded, many not. Listen to I Will Be Grateful and Amy in a White Coat.
-Cat Power: The Greatest. I've reviewed it already. It's...alright. But not bad. I just couldn't get into it.
-Sol.Illaquists of Sound: Explorations of Sol.Illitude. I haven't gotten to listen to the whole thing, but "Ur Turn" is probably in my top 20 songs or so this year.

I'll put the actual top 15 in a separate post.


Smile; no one cares how you feel

I posted about Stephin Merritt's newest creation, The Tragic Treasury a few days ago. The album is officially by the Gothic Archies, but mostly features Stephin and Daniel Handler, who performed on 69 Love Songs, and is also Lemony Snicket.

Good Morning Atlanta did an interview with Stephin apparently a couple of days ago, and somehow I missed it on TV. The dynamic between the interviewer and him is kind of priceless. Most people don't realize that Stephin's voice really sounds like that. Enjoy!


Cruelty free living and Post-punk kitchen

Today marks the five year anniversary of the day that I defiantly told some annoying hipster kid that I didn't believe in killing animals and basically forced myself to become a vegetarian.

I don't have time to post anything music-related, but I did want to share this:

Post-punk Kitchen is a vegan cooking show out of Brooklyn. The idea is that those of us who don't eat animals but love food and cooking shouldn't have to watch icky shows on the Food Network all the time.

This year, they published Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, which you can buy on Amazon. There are a couple of blogs associated with PPK, including their Cupcake Blog and Isa's livejournal.

I made the Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Icing for my anniversary and they turned out really really good. Probably the best vegan baked things I've had, besides the infamous Vegan Chocolate Cake that everyone seems to be making these days. My vegan roommate was really excited about the cupcakes, but I think my non-veg roommates have been eating them, too. Try them out. They only took about 30 minutes to make.

Anyways, you can watch PPK on Google Video.



He's guaranteed the number one song in Purgatory

I am actually studying now, since I have an exam tomorrow, so I'll be quick.

I posted a few days ago about the excessive hype surrounding 69 Love Songs. Now Pitchfork is alleging that that project inaugurated "high concept indie pop". Yeah, I get that it caught a lot of people's attention but it certainly wasn't the first or most important concept album by Stephin Merritt, nor was it the best. Anyways, I've already ranted about this enough. The ridiculousness of this article is especially highlighted by the claim that:

What's surprising is that The Tragic Treasury turns out to be the most consistently enjoyable record Merritt has released this century.

Consistently enjoyable 69 Love Songs may have not been, but the first few albums were near perfection. They may not have been subversive children's book soundtracks, but come on! Like I said, I've ranted about this enough.


I'm always on the run run run

Speaking of folks from Jersey, Greg Attonito of the Bouncing Souls recorded a track on P.O.S.'s sophomore album, Audition.

De La Souls combines Attonito's sort of iconic punk voice with Stefon's simultaneous love of hip hop and punk. "Clarity" is the word I most often associate with hip hop I actually like, and there is something about this song that kind of brings together everything I like about punk, too. Some might think it's a weird marriage, as if the rock/hip hop fusion should have ended long ago with Korn or Kid Rock. While I shudder to think that music like that even exists, P.O.S. is emphatically different. A product of years of love for punk rock and a fantastic ability to give clarity to identity politics, Audition might have made it into my favorite albums of this year.

The rest of the album is pretty awesome, too. I first listened to it last night and I've probably listened to the album about 6 times since then. The whole album really effectively experiments with the use of voice. There are really strong guitar rifs mixed with pretty awesome beats throughout. "Half-cocked Concepts" begins the album startingly strongly as a political anthem. Besides "De La Souls," "P.O.S. is Ruining My Life," is probably my other favorite song. The chorus is pretty excellent and the whole song has this raw energy about it that encapsulates all of Stefon's competing influences.

Check him out on YouTube:


We tore the playhouse down

I have been studying my butt off, so this post is totally justified.

Two things:

1. My vegetarian anniversary is coming up. It will be 5 years on the 13th. I haven't decided how to celebrate yet, but I wanted to ask any vegetarians out there if you like fake jerkey and what your favorite kind is. I'm not really into meat substitutes but even my vegan roommate likes these things. The brands I've tried so far are Primal Strips, Tofurkey, and Stonewall's Jerquee. Primal Strips has been the most authentic, but the other two are good, too. I'd like to, if possible, make some for my veg anniversary.

2. I posted last week or something that I thought the new Yo La Tengo album, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass was mediocre. I take it back. I realize I do this a lot, and I'm going to try to avoid judgement when I am in a bad mood the first time I listen to an album. A couple of the tracks actually do suck, to my defense, but there are a few good ones. "Pass the Hatchet" is a little too long and mid-90's for me. It tries too hard to be epic. "Mr. Tough" and "Ronnie" are too obnoxiously rock'n'roll for me. The best songs on the album are probably "The Story Of Yo La Tengo," "Tonight," "I feel like going home," and "Black Flowers." "Tonight" is for some reason reminscent of "Our Way to Fall," from 2000's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. "I feel like going home" gets really good around 1:40 or so. "The Story Of" is very epic (in a good way) and beautiful, though sort of long. It might be one of my top 5 songs of this year.

Listen to it here


If I were Napoleon, You Would be My Josephine

LD Beghtol's book about 69 Love Songs is now available for pre-order. It will be officially out in one week. Order it from Amazon. I've ordered it, so expect a review sometime around the first of the year. I'm especially interested in the illustrations, though I'm sure the narrative will be great, as well.

I really loved 69 Love Songs, but I feel very strongly about the first 5 albums. This is partially because of my academic interest in travel, space, and place. Those albums are all fundamentally about place and identity. I also kind of feel like 69 Love Songs and i are overappreciated. Not that that they shouldn't be appreciated at all. I'd never suggest that about any album that Stephin Merritt has even touched. I do wonder, though, why no one makes as big of a deal about Holiday, Get Lost, or the Charm of the Highway Strip as everyone seems to about 69 Love Songs. No one differentiates the volumes, either. There were a couple reviews I remember reading about volume 3 being the best (which, arguably, it is) but everyone seems to forget that the project was as much about the composition and arrangement of tracks as it was about making a bunch of songs around a central theme.

I shouldn't be spending time posting with finals looming, but here is my Learn to Appreciate the Early Magnetic Fields Mix:

1. Smoke and Mirrors, from Get Lost
2. Save a Secret for the Moon, from Get Lost
3. All the Umbrellas in London, from Get Lost
4. Torn Green Velvet Eyes, from Holiday
5. The Flowers She Sent, and the Flowers She Said She Sent, from Holiday
6. Sad Little Moon, from Holiday
7. Josephine, from Distant Plastic Trees
8. Two Characters in Search of a Country Song, from Charm of the Highway Strip. For some reason I can't get this song to post. Hmph.

Since I've posted so much of it, go buy the albums here.


No posts for awhile, at least not until I've written about 30 more pages of a seminar paper, finished a major visual rhetoric project, written a chapter of my thesis, and studied extensively for what will probably be the hardest test of my life.

This, however, doesn't mean that everyone else can't procrastinate.

1. Visit Threadless this week and click on "Participate" and then the heart. There are a few contests still open. You can, for instance, design a shirt for The Decemberists, or Fast Food Nation.

2. Browse my favorite Polaroid collective.

3. Watch my favorite performance artist, Miranda July's, Me, You, and Everyone We Know.

4. Read Bad Subjects and the Alternative Press Review.

5. Quit aspartame and think of how much better you will feel in a few days.

6. Check out Liz Prince. She draws awesome comics.


She's really good at jumping from rock to rock like a mountain goat

I once called Joanna Newsom "my favorite little elven harpist." No matter what you think of her voice, her last album, or any of her albums, you've got to admit that she is totally adorable:

Thanks to Skatterbrain for posting this.

This week I've been listening to Ghost Mice's Europe album, which they wrote about traveling through Europe for 90 days one year. The songs are named after places they visited. I kind of like the idea of albums as travel diaries. Ghost Mice wasn't on tour during their trip, but they did play a few shows, I guess, but other than that the songs are about a lot of random everyday things.

While I'm on the subject, I know I've mentioned Plan-It-X a couple of times, but I'm not sure if I've mentioned my favorite distro ever, No Idea. No Idea is really awesome. They distribute stuff from a lot of bands and small record labels, and you can often get a lot of stuff from them cheaper than elsewhere. Right now, all the CD's and LP's they've produced are only $5. The distro catalog also includes a lot of other great stuff. If you're an Against Me! fan, I've found No Idea to have the cheapest [and most comprehensive catalog] of stuff. T-shirts and related articles of clothing are also super cheap. They also have a lot of rare LP's from bands that I would hope everyone listens to, like Less Than Jake. In case you're wondering, no one is paying me to say any of this. I genuinely love this distro, and so should you.