My second album, Fugue, has been available for free on Bandcamp for two months now. But, in the interest of capitalism, I’ve decided not to be such a hippie about distributing my music for free and will be making Fugue available on iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon.com, and a bunch of other middleperson websites. That is, unless, I can find a label who wants to release this, which would really be ideal because it would bankroll the things I’m about to write about in a minute.
Why am I telling you?
Because, just in case you haven’t downloaded it yet, you’ve still got a three-ish week window to DOWNLOAD ‘Fugue’ FOR FREE.
So… wait, why do you care about the money?
Because, oh holy shit, you have no idea how awesome the third album will be. And awesome shit ain’t cheap.
Work on the third album has commenced. It’s ambitious. Possibly too ambitious. Principle recording will happen between a cabin with no electricity and a century-old lighthouse in Lubec, ME. After that, it will be back to San Francisco to finish the album in a studio. By the way, Lubec is the Easternmost city in the US. And, if you don’t count Hawaii, you can get much more west than San Francisco.
San Francisco / Black Girl
San Francisco is now the cave Bear Like Mouse calls home. It is also the home of some artists that have exerted the most influence over me. Bands like Oxbow, Xiu Xiu, and Neurosis. I also find that the fog nourishes me.
The first thing I did after moving here was finish Fugue. The second thing I did was hook up with Oakland-based DJ, Zoo Kroo. Together, we put together a nine-minute trip-hop single called “Black Girl” that is all about deep, focused groove. And an oboe. Also a jazz flute.
I think it’s one of the coolest, and most trance inducing tracks I’ve done, and I include the Sleep, Pea single in that statement.
Muxtape was an online mixtape community that was the toast of the Twitter for about five minutes. Anyway, I made a mix as well and I think it’s really good. Go check it out (now.).
CLCK: Bear Like Muxtape
One of the few bands I was able to catch at SXSW. The company I work for co-sponsored a venue where they played so after a long day of promoting in the hot Texas sun I was able to catch bits and pieces of their set between various professional proclivities.
I’ve been trying to decide what they sound like or a ‘to-whom-I-can-compare’ but I haven’t been able to think of a direct analog. Maybe if Coldplay was from Seattle and grew up listening to Pavement? I mean, the song below is really just a straight-forward rock tune. It doesn’t even have many lyrics let alone any narrative. I still like it though.
LISTN | http://www.odeo.com/flash/audio_player_standard_gray.swf
DOWNLOAD | Northwestern Girls
Instrumental rock is extremely easy to screw up. Since Don Caballero broke up there have been a boatload of shitty instrumental bands washing ashore under a banner of post-rock, neu-jazz, and any other wacky rock nomenclature that’s sticky or esoteric enough to be chic. And, as my friend Kristian would say, all of that music is making fun of you.
Russian Circles, on the other hand, is an unstoppable rock juggernaut making out with with Zeus himself in the rain. If you didn’t know and did not have this picture of them next to you, you might assume (as I did) that this was a five person instrumental line up, the fifth person being on a third Guitar. It wasn’t until I saw them in London that I realized there were only three of them. And that they are able to pull every single riff on the album off flawlessly. What these guys do is orchestrate themselves to the limits of their playing ability, making no concession for a heavy under-the-counter dose of headbanging and on-stage writhing. While bands like Explosions in the Sky, Yndi Halda, and GSY!BE (RIP) have the drawn-out, climactic post-rock opus covered, these guys pour the same amount of energy and transcendence into a 6-minute track, with sweat, hair, and guitar necks crashing all over the stage.
Listen to: Carpe from Russian Circles’ 2006 album, Enter.
I’m a week late, but here is my list of the best albums that emerged in 2007. Included are links to the best songs on the album. Enjoy listening to them as they are surely not legally hosted and if you like it, go pay for the album. Also, some of these review came from Pitchfork, others from me. I’m too busy to write something about all of them and you’ll probably be able to tell which are mine anyway.
Best of 2007
1. Oxbow – The Narcotic Story
Listen to: She’s a Find
Oxbow are, at their roots, a extreme, aggressive avante- rock band that in that their trajectories lay parallel with the louder and more obvious counterparts in the genre, attempting to reach the same shade of brutal, firey transcendence. That is to say, atonement, catharsis, angst, and the other words end up drawn on the backpacks of pissed off teenagers. Oxbow takes a completely different route. Fronted by a black slab of man, Eugene Robinson, professional fighter, freelance writer, and sometimes porn critic, one would honestly believe that he can explore with a magnifying glass the dark, filthy caves of lurid humanity that teenage suburbanites can only write gossamer prose about. Live, it is common for Robinson’s clothes to come off in fitful bursts a jerks of muscle, as if conducting the would-be alt-jazz-cum-avante-rock band behind him.
On The Narcotic Story, which is indicated to be part one of a soundtrack to a movie of the same name written and produced by Oxbow, we find a more focused band and especially Eugene Robinson. Previous efforts like, An Evil Heat, or A Serenade in Red were like wild animals, instruments would escalate into a fury, Robinson’s voice would soar with no intended destination, and the beauty of those records emerged from the calamity within. Much like a maturing fighter, this album focuses on a few very tender pressure points and exploits them with precise, vicious blows.
2. Feist – The Reminder
Listen to: The Park
Find me a better chanteuse right now, and I’ll find you a dude behind a curtain writing her songs. What does this for me is the mix of gorgeous, earnest vocals, haute-rock songwriting, and a feeling that things might work out.
3. The Field – From Here We Go Sublime
Listen to: Silent
Techno- especially techno with a 4/4 kick beat throughout each song- is a difficult thing to do well. The ease to produce and proliferate shitty house music has saturated the market, leaving room for only masters of the art to stand out. In such a wabi-sabi way, The Field manages to take very small slivers, whether it’s the tip of a vocal track, an oscillating filter, or a glitchy snare and handle it with so much subtlety as to assemble it into a creation as harmonic as it is minimal. Shatters an expensive vase into a thousand pieces and rebuilds it using only ten of the shards.
4. Burial – Untrue
Listen to: Etched Headplate
Like Burial, Untrue is a homage to UK garage, or two-step– a short-lived, oft-mourned fusion of breakbeats and house music that peaked in the late 90s before morphing into offshoots dubstep, grime, and bassline house. Thus Burial’s beats swing wildly, as though flitting between two tempos in the space of a single bar; jittery hi-hat patterns flash like knives being sharpened, and tooth-cracking rimshots invariably fall on the third beat, dividing time in odd ways. His beats seem to rush, trying to catch up with their own out-of-control forward motion, and then– crack!– having caught up, they simply hang there, as though unsure what to do with the remaining time left in the measure. It’s a relay race marked not by starter’s pistols, but stopper’s pistols, leaving an impression at once rigid and woozy.
5. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Listen to: The Ghost of You Lingers
The music alone would have placed this album lower on the list, but the thick, warm production of this album pushed it higher on the list as it sounds like it was made for posterity.
6. Radiohead – In Rainbows
Listen to: All I Need
In Rainbows is not OK Computer. It is also not Kid A. Thom Yorke used to shoehorn analog electronics into Radiohead songs in which were especially vulgar in Hail to the Thief. Now that he has a solo career and can squeeze all the clicks in a tape loop he wants onto a track, these elements are used more judiciously culminating in a calculatedly short and sweet album.
7. Menomena – Friend and Foe
Listen to: Muscle ‘n’ Flo
From this sparse beginning, the music blossoms with brimming intricacy, adding slashing guitar as the drums kick back in with a vengeance.
8. The Twilight Sad – Fourtheen Autumns and Fifteen Winters
Listen to: And She Would Darken the Memory
You might think of Arab Strap’s Aiden Moffett when hearing singer James Graham because he’s got a feel for concrete imagery and does nothing to hide his thick Scottish accent. Shoegaze comes to mind because guitarist Andy MacFarlane favors billowy curtains of white noise that dominate the sound field.
9. The National – Boxer
Listen to: Mistaken for Strangers
I feel like, if Morissey were straight many of the dynamics of The Smiths and especially his solo career would have shifted in ways that would end up sounding like The National. The candid lyrics that come across as a brief story recounted in a busy street would still be there, but the soaring diva vocals would be traded in for a low and drunk mumble. The glimmering guitars for brooding brass section. Although I bet Morissey’s good looks would have kept him too busy with the women to finish an album if that were the case…
10. Blonde Redhead – 23
Listen to: 23
Essentially, 23 consists of simply tunes much in the vein of the international trio’s high water mark, 2000’s Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, which found the once angularly screeching Sonic Youth/Unwound-worshiping post-no-wavers breathing deep and relaxing.
11. Dälek – Deadverse Massive Vol. 1
Listen to: Classical Homicide
Avant-rap group Dälek pulled its name from the British Sci-Fi Comedy show, Dr. Who’s pylon shaped automatons. MC Dälek and Oktopus recruited DJ Rob Swift (X-ecutioners) and Motiv to provide scratches on their last album, Abandonned Language, which was a standout contribution to no genre in particular. The aural aesthetic itself was accessible to abstract hip-hop fans as well as people fond of dronal, brooding melancholia frequently found on Mike Patton’s Ipecac label on which Deadverse Massive was released. Name dropping and clever adjectives aside, Dälek boils down to dark, well articulated Trip-Hop that has the ubiquitous ability to sit well in anyone’s library.
12. Battles – Mirrored
Listen to: Tonto
Five words: The science is too tight.
13. Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass
Listen to: None Shall Pass
“None Shall Pass” itself slides past on a near-disco beat layered with eerie, broken children’s keyboards and ominous clean guitar that Aes wraps his words around nimbly and capably in a way old-school nods like “11:35” only hinted at. The atmosphere is grim, certainly, but with generous bounce and a wry grimace, and it’s a microcosm for the vibe of the whole record in addition to being its best track. I often miss the Aesop Rock who strolled through the grimy back alleys of his city just looking for a story to tell on old tracks like “6B Panorama” and “Skip Town” (both from Float) but “None Shall Pass” is like a quick drive through the same city years later when it’s become too dangerous for anything more than a glance out the window.
14. Circa Survive – On Letting Go
Listen to: The Difference Between Medicine and Poison is in the Dose
Circa Survive’s first full-length, Juturna was a wildly successful approach to an increasingly watered down genre of youthful post-punk (notice the complete avoidance of referencing Indie or Emo). It sounded like 20 somethings with expensive amps trying to write Pretenders songs. The complex dueling Guitars on Juturna were more reminiscent of innovative, highly technical guitar playing, whereas they flow together to resonate and dissonate on On Letting Go. Therein lies the paradox. While Juturna approached varied verse and chorus patterns that resembled Rick Ocasik and Patty Smith, the watered down overproduction of On Letting Go almost approaches a (dare I say) Rush-like approach to experimental rock.
While Juntura was a clever approach, On Letting Go sounds like 20-somethings with kind-of-long hair that are good at guitar. Caveats aside, there are a few stand out tracks such as the one featured on this list.
Check out Songbird! It’s a new media player built on Mozilla with an integrated browser. And by integrated browser I don’t mean that it’s got Firefox embedded in the pane, but is actually a very well articulated browser made primarily for the social aspects of music and for searching and downloading MP3s. It even appears they’re going to include things like “most downloaded” right into the main pane as well.
I feel like saying that this thing is two version updates away from pushing iTunes out of my dock, but that’s probably not fair since they’re not even at a 1.0. The main thing it’s missing, of course, is the iTunes Store. I’m also curious as to whether or not it will support the iPhone. Then there are the tiny details. For example, I really enjoy seeing the cover art in the bottom left corner of my iTunes player. Also, no MP3 conversion ability. I’ve got a love/hate relationship with OggVorbis files and I’d love for this to quell the hate.
There are several things Songbird already has going for it. But rather than list them, I’ll just say “API”. Anything you can imagine to make it better is there for you. Go rock that *@&! and make it better because I think it’s prettier and almost cooler than iTunes and I look forward to looking at it more.
Oh, and they have really cool offices.