Tag Archives: music

Review: The Juan MacLean “The Future Will Come”

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Hercules and Love Affair were the primary attention-wrestlers from the DFA stable in 2008, releasing what was easily one of the year’s most lovable and lovingly crafted records.  “Blind” was perhaps THE disco throwback single of the year, and a tough track for anyone to challenge.  Had the critical confetti tossed (or, if you prefer, cocaine sneezed Woody Allen-style) for that song not completely obscured everyone’s vision so quickly, more people might’ve noticed that other big DFA 12″: The Juan MacLean’s unstoppable “Happy House”.

As good as “Blind” was, “Happy House” might’ve actually been even better.  It was an endorphin-mainlining twelve-plus minutes of blast-off bliss.  Taking the euphoric insistence of golden age house, fusing it with Nancy Whang’s ebullient vocals, and then giving you an MDMA rainbow high five, “Happy House” is the perfect example of an artist-defining moment the way “Born Slippy” was for Underworld or, more recently, the way “Losing My Edge” was for LCD Soundsystem.  (I know some might argue that “Give Me Every Little Thing” already did this trick for The MacLean five years ago, but…no.  Not on this level.)

Herein lies what has been John MacLean’s biggest challenge since the debut LP: how does one get out from under James Murphy’s shadow?  LCD have certainly been on the receiving end of more relative critical and commercial adulation, but The Juan MacLean have never been far behind.  Less Than Human was, in many ways, a more consistent record than LCD Soundsystem, but it was also less genre-inclusive, lacking Murphy’s knack for fusing together two dozen disparate musical influences into one cohesive booty mover.  Less Than Human required a deeper appreciation of straight-up dance music, while Murphy held his bear arms open for all kinds of niche dwellers.  And lots of people who don’t know how to dance at all.  He even wrote Beatle-biting ballads.

Four years have passed since Human, hipster-ironic(?) appreciation of all things rave has presumably already reached its’ apex (again?), Balearic disco has been on an upswing, LCD Soundsystem released a great follow-up, and The Juan MacLean finally have a new album.  The question in my mind leading up to this release was: “Can John MacLean sustain the quality of ‘Happy House’ across an entire LP’s worth of grooves?”  The simplified answer is “no”, but it’s also not an entirely transparent answer.

“The Simple Life” is a staggeringly good opener, coming across the speakers like the cynical, darkened reply to the wistful bounce of “Happy House”.  The disco elasticity is tautly pulled over a nearly nine minute expanse that feels like perpetual lift-off.  It also reminds me of the much-missed Out Hud at their most focused.

The title track initially seems a bit slight and too heavy-handed in its’ Murphy-isms.  After a few listens the charms shine through and I realized how fun it is to hear a synth part seemingly stolen from the sound bank of Rick Wright, circa “Wish You Were Here”, placed into a dance track.

“One Day” is a fantastic male/female tug-of-war that features some of the best cheesy fake strings you are likely to hear this year.  This is like “Don’t You Want Me” if The Human League were into writing straight-up house bangers.  However, when it abruptly cuts off at just past the four minute mark you’re left with the realization that The Juan MacLean’s best tunes are owed the decency of being stretched to the breaking point in the same way that New Order’s 12″ mixes nearly always bested their truncated album counterparts.

The Juan MacLean are at their best when they give the compositions room to breathe, which isn’t always possible within the context of a ten track album.  So the minor quibbles I have with this record actually have little to do with the songs themselves, but with the very format they are presented in; a problem which has always been the bane of a genre that sounds best when pressed onto one side of a 12″ slab of vinyl.  In the end, MacLean has still somehow managed to make an excellent full-length album, one that will warrant countless spins from anyone willing to give their bodies to dance music.

Chris

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Review: Mastodon “Crack the Skye”

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After all the commotion created by claims that Crack the Skye is Mastodon’s “eerie classic rock album” or a swan dive into full-on progressive rock, fans could be forgiven for approaching this album with a degree of trepidation.    Add producer Brendan O’Brien (unofficial sixth member of Pearl Jam and, lately, producer of some kind of ho-hum Springsteen albums) to the equation and this could’ve easily turned into an ill-advised toning down of Mastodon’s metallic force.  It’s true, there is some very prog-ish stuff about Rasputin’s religious sect, as well as a greater emphasis on Brent Hinds’ clean singing style, but they haven’t turned into Coheed & Cambria.  Thankfully, Mastodon are still at least one castrated furrball from anything like that happening.

At this point, Mastodon have placed themselves at the top of the heavy metal mountain, and this makes them an easy target for criticism from infinitely fickle (and often close-minded) metal fans.  Any time a well-loved metal group attempts to expand their style, there are always those ready to shout “sell-out”, and internet trawlers are already claiming that Crack the Skye is the weakest Mastodon album…presumably because it isn’t a carbon coby of “Remission” (“you know, cuz I was into Mastodon way before all these hipsters.”)  Whatever.  Mastodon have progressed with every subsequent album.  Their career trajectory reminds me in some ways of Death, another band who continued to expand their technical profeciancy and embrace increasing melodicism with each release, much to the chagrin of the hardcore death metalheads.  On the other side, you do have lemming indie rock fans who will eat up taste-maker approved Mastodon or Isis, but who wouldn’t dare go near other great (if less hip) metal groups like Entombed, Candlemass, or Morbid Angel.  However, it’s not Mastodon’s fault that Stereogum-smackers don’t know shit about Immolation and suck their thumbs to The Postal Service at night.  At this point I would like to note that I’m typing this while wearing a polo shirt…but I did have a dream the other night that I got a flame-engulfed skull tattoo that said “Heavy Metal”.  And I’m chugging Jack Daniel’s.  My metal cred sounds like a fucking Holiday Inn Express commercial.

Anyway, Crack the Skye is bursting with riff after soul-crushing riff.  Brent Hinds came up with the majority of his parts while recovering from serious brain trauma.  (I had a serious head injury when I was ten and all I could do was lay in bed and watch cartoons.)  The guitar parts on this album manage to balance technical dexterity, monstrous heaviness, and an ever-increasing catchiness.  Brann Dailor’s drumming is as brilliant and precise as ever, going a good way towards proving that percussion is the most important element of a truly successful metal record.  Personally, I’ve always thought that Mastodon’s one weakness was their lack of a truly distinctive vocalist, but they manage to, for the most part, make up for this by a deft interweaving of Dailor, Hinds, and Sanders’ vocals.

I have to admit that this album didn’t fully reveal its’ power until after close to ten listens, but since then it has only become more and more addicting.  I highly recommend throwing down a couple of extra bucks for the special edition which includes a DVD with a surprisingly engrossing making-of documentary.

Chris

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Review: Condo Fucks “Fuckbook”

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This band sux.  They are stealing all of their ideas from other bands and stuff.  And bro, it sounds like shit.  Are they using K-Mart amplifiers or something?  Ever heard of Pro Tools?  I think this band is trying to be No Age, which is this totally ill band that my friend Joe Rushmore loves.  Nice try, but the Condo Fucks look so old I bet they have a legitimate prescription to Viagra.  And their clothes aren’t very cool.  I bet they aren’t even vegans.

Scrap.

So, everyone knows that the Condo Fucks are really Yo La Tengo in their just-fer-kicks civvies (despite the intricate false backstory).  This brief LP is stuffed with a package of ace covers (including Richard Hell, The Electric Eels, and The Flamin’ Groovies) with all the sonic detail of a beer-bonged basement act.  Beneath this sub-Neon Boys fuzz, it’s still clear this is a band completely in control of their rock and roll.  Rarely has this stellar trio sounded like they were having so much fun, and they attack each track with a Raw Power energy that conveys their genuine love of this music.

It goes without saying that this is a minor addition to their already killer proper discography, but it’s a completely worthwhile record.  Crank this at your next bar-b-que and your guests may temporarily forget that they won’t be able to retire until ten years after their deaths.

“Straight Outta Connecticut” Mini-Documentary:

[Fuckbook is out now on Matador.]

Buy here.

Chris

Spacemen 3 – “Revolution”

It’s Monday.  Take over the world.  Drop out again.

Chris

Favorites: Fabulous Muscles

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The first time I saw Xiu Xiu was in a less than ideal setting: early afternoon at a summer music festival.  This is not music built for plus-100 degree heat with the sun melting your ass.  Though, for me at least and on this one day, the oppressive thickness of the Chicago air somehow met the pitch black hymns halfway.  Dancing to dehydration made sense when Out Hud was onstage, but to bake during Xiu Xiu is a bit much.  I just didn’t care.  This was my band.   

 

 

I managed to worm my way to the front of the crowd, within an arm’s reach of the steel barricade, where stood one of the sweatiest and dorkiest fans I had seen that day.  He shouted at Jamie Stewart, not to express affection, but to voice-crackle a “Hey Jamie!  Throw me one of those water bottles!”.  This is the point where I learned just how athletically inept most Xiu Xiu fans must be as I turned my head to watch Dungen (I think) wrap up their set on the other stage, idiotically placing faith in this guy’s anti-Jerry Riceness.  The water bottle crashed into my shoulder like a scud missile.  Or like a water bottle.  Or like a mixed metaphor. 

 

Fast forward a few months to another Xiu XIu show, this time in Fayetteville, which I was supposed to attend.  I was unable to make it, so Sarah explained my situation to J. Stewart himself, intoning that I was a super fan and devastated by my absence.  And that he once hit me with a water bottle.  He wrote a note apologizing for the incident, giving me permission to hurl a fire extinguisher at him the next time we met.  The next time I saw him was in Oklahoma City.  He passed in front of me, our eyes briefly locked, but even if I had my extinguisher with me, I’m pretty sure I would’ve declared a cease fire.  I hang on to that note to this day in the knowledge that it means as much to me as a John Lennon autograph would to most people.

 

I look forward to each Xiu Xiu split, each 7”, each album, with the same anticipation people look forward to a new season of “Lost”, even with the understanding that they may never top “Fabulous Muscles” in overall personal importance.  The catharsis of Jamie Stewart’s lyrics got me through some rough patches in college, and while I love all of Xiu Xiu’s albums (plus his pre-Xiu Xiu band Ten in the Swear Jar), this is the band’s most successful melding of Dennis Cooper/Harmony Korine/Todd Solondz-level shock horror to pure pop epiphany.  In 2004 I was well aware that I would never comprehend the American mainstream way of life, but I felt okay with that disconnect the first time I pulled through the Wal-Mart parking lot listening to “I Love the Valley OH!” with my windows down. 

 

“Clowne Towne”

 

 

“Crank Heart”

 

 

“Fabulous Muscles”

 

Favorites: Trompe le Monde

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I know I’m putting myself in the minority by picking this over “Doolittle” or “Surfer Rosa” (totally ace albums, to be sure…and probably “better”), but for some reason this has always been my favorite Pixies record.  Some say they were running out of ideas, but to me it sounds like they went out in top form.  “Alec Eiffel” is one of the most thrilling songs in their impressive canon.  I’m sure I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times and I never get tired of it.  Frank Black/Black Francis sounds absolutely bonkers on 99% of the album, as if he’s receiving schizophrenic transmissions from all those UFOs he is so fascinated with.  Seriously, his weirdness was beginning to reach Roky Erickson levels of nuttiness, where before he was maybe just on par with David Byrne (haha).  “UMass” is one of the greatest sardonic songs about “intellectual” college students ever recorded (“We’re not just kids/to say the least/We got ideas/to us that’s dear/like Capitalist/like Communist/like lots of things/you’ve heard about/and redneckers/they get us pissed/and stupid stuff/it makes us shout…”).  Their fantastic cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On” seems tailor made for the Pixies’ noisy melodicism.  “Letter to Memphis” has some of the catchiest guitar riffs Joey Santiago ever played, as well as one hell of a vocal melody.  Damn the band if they didn’t follow this up with the arguable highlight of the album: “Bird Dream Of The Olympus Mons”, a subtle pop song that ascends heavenwards (or to Mars, I guess).  Fool the world.

Favorites: 28 for 2008

This was complicated.  When I first sat down to compile my favorite albums of the past year, I thought it was going to be difficult to find 25.  After all, according to my last.fm profile, I must’ve spent more time listening to dance singles and old post-punk, shoegaze, and Krautrock records over the past 12 months.  Then I realized there were 30 albums I really loved that were in fact released this past year.  Then I was like, well, I could stretch it to a top 40.  Then that went to 50, and even that left out some albums I liked.  So I settled on 28 just because I liked the sound of it. 

I had short reviews written for each of these, but decided to scrap them.  These albums already speak for themselves. 

Remember, these are MY favorite albums, so if you disagree with me…no hard feelings.  Feel free to leave comments about what YOU think was deserving this year.

Honorable Mention (Varying from “could’ve easily made the list” to “have their moments”): The Walkmen “You & Me”; Fuck Buttons “Street Horrrsing”; Benzi and Diplo Present Paper Route Gangstaz “Fear and Loathing in HuntsVegas”; Clipse “Road to Till the Casket Drops”; Abe Vigoda “Skeleton”; Broken Social Scene Presents: Brendan Canning “Something For All of Us”; The Gutter Twins “Saturnalia”; Earth “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull”; The Breeders “Mountain Battles”; Nine Inch Nails “The Slip”; Mogwai “The Hawk is Howling”; Girl Talk “Feed the Animals”; The Bug “London Zoo”; Fleet Foxes “Fleet Foxes”; Young Jeezy “The Recession”; T.I. “Paper Trail”; Sun Kil Moon “April”; Silver Jews “Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea”; Hot Chip “Made in the Dark”; Sigur Ros “Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust”; No Age “Nouns”; Beck “Modern Age”; Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy “Lie Down in the Light”; Evangelicals “The Evening Descends”; Department of Eagles “In Ear Park”; British Sea Power “Do You Like Rock and Roll?”; Genghis Tron “Board Up the House”; The Verve “Forth”; of Montreal “Skeletal Lamping”; The Fireman “Electric Arguments”; Coldplay “Viva La Vida”; Kanye West “808s and Heartbreak”; Vampire Weekend “Vampire Weekend”; Times New Viking “Rip it Off”; Foals “Antidote”; Mr. Oizo “Lambs Anger”

My apologies to: Santogold, The Magnetic Fields, Stereolab, Squarepusher, Matmos, Beach House, Marnie Stern, Free Kitten, Dungen, Morgan Geist, GZA, Q-Tip, Enslaved, Krallice, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Deerhoof, The Notwist, The Howling Hex, John Maus, Blitzen Trapper, Parenthetical Girls, WHY?, The Dodos, Growing, Larsen, Diamanda Galas, Einstürzende Neubauten, and the multitudes of albums that I either haven’t spent enough time with or gotten around to yet.

28. Atlas Sound – Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel

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27. Destroyer – Trouble in Dreams

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26. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III

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25. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Real Emotional Trash

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24. High Places – High Places

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23. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles

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22. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer

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21. Leviathan – Massive Conspiracy Against All Life

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20. Xiu Xiu – Women as Lovers

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19. The Very Best – Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit are The Very Best

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18. Harvey Milk – Life…The Best Game in Town

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17. Hercules and Love Affair – Hercules and Love Affair

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16. Nachtmystium – Assassins: Black Meddling, Pt. 1

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15. David Byrne & Brian Eno – Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

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14. TV on the Radio – Dear Science

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13. Autechre – Quaristice

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12. Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours

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11. Kangding Ray – Automne Fold

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10. Mount Eerie – Lost Wisdom

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9. M83 – Saturdays = Youth

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8. Spiritualized – Songs in A&E

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7. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War

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6. Portishead – Third

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5. Grouper – Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill

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4. Lindstrøm – Where You Go I Go

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3. Deerhunter – Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.

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2. Fennesz – Black Sea

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1. Gang Gang Dance – Saint Dymphna

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