Friday, October 30, 2009

Counting Down The '00s: The Best Of 2003

In part four of our series of posts dedicated to the best music of this decade, we present today our 30 favorite albums and singles of 2003, a very rewarding year for those of us who enjoy loud guitars, strong female voices and discovering exciting new music.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who released the best debut of the year, had all those elements in place and so did The Kills. Karen O and Alison Mosshart are undoubtedly two of the most talented rock singers of their generation, while Nick Zinner and Jamie Hince are among the top guitar slingers. Other promising newcomers who released superb breakthrough albums in 2003 included The Sleepy Jackson, Metric, The Stills, The Bronx and The Rapture (who actually released their debut in 1999 but it was “Echoes”, their second LP, that put them on the map). The Postal Service, the project that came about through the collaboration of Death Cab For Cutie’s vocalist Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel, released “Give up”, their first and only LP, that proved to be one of the best electro-pop albums of the decade. The Strokes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Peaches and Broken Social Scene all released excellent sophomore records, Cat Power delivered perhaps her best work ever with “You are free”, while the old school was represented by amazing albums from The Fall and Wire.

For our top 3 albums of the year, I’m quoting from the original end-of-the-year review posted in the old Cool Music Central site (our previous World Wide Web incarnation):

Coral Fang” by The Distillers: “The third Distillers album in just 4 years has been a true revelation, establishing Brody Dalle as the most powerful, inspired and inspiring front-woman in rock since the heyday of Courtney Love. “Coral Fang” is the disturbing, yet cathartic sound of Brody slashing herself up, sucking the venom out of her blood and spitting it back to the face of her detractors. The most gloriously manic punk rock album in years from a band that burns bright and fast! Let’s just hope they don’t burn out too soon.” (unfortunately, they did).

Elephant” by The White Stripes: “If we try to be objective for a moment, and we rarely are, “Elephant” is the obvious choice for Album of the Year. “White Blood Cells” put them on the map, but “Elephant” is their defining moment, their very own “Nevermind”. The White Stripes managed to take blues influenced garage rock, that has been there forever as an underground movement, mix it up with country, punk and their very own rock ’n’ roll energy and spirit and turn it into a worldwide mainstream phenomenon. The garages are buzzing with life again and it’s all thanks to a soul brother & sister team!”

Throwing Muses” by Throwing Muses: “There have been many reunions lately, but none as necessary or deeply gratifying as this one. Kristin Hersh brought her old band together (including prodigal Muse Tanya Donelly) for one last (?) time and delivered an album as good as anything they've ever done - in other words, an instant classic! How many bands do you know that have at least one classic album in three different decades? The doors of our own private Rock ’n’ Roll Hall Of Fame are wide open! As for the future, Kristin is ready to start all over again with 50 Foot Wave. Respect!”

Top 30 Albums of 2003

1. Coral fang - THE DISTILLERS
3. Throwing Muses - THROWING MUSES
4. Take them on, on your own - BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB
5. Fever to tell - YEAH YEAH YEAHS
6. Echoes - THE RAPTURE
7. Room on fire - THE STROKES
8. You are free - CAT POWER
9. The new romance - PRETTY GIRLS MAKE GRAVES
10. The real new Fall LP (formerly ‘Country On The Click’) - THE FALL
11. Send - WIRE
12. Sumday - GRANDADDY
13. Keep on your mean side - THE KILLS
14. Fatherfucker - PEACHES
17. You forgot it in people - BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE
18. Old world underground, where are you now? - METRIC
19. Rock N Roll - RYAN ADAMS
21. Blackberry belle - THE TWILIGHT SINGERS
22. La musica negra - VERBENA
23. Electric version - THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS
24. Logic will break your heart - THE STILLS
25. The Bronx - THE BRONX
26. Rounds - FOUR TET
27. Speakerboxxx / The love below - OUTKAST
28. Hail to the thief - RADIOHEAD
29. The New Folk Implosion - FOLK IMPLOSION
30. This is the glamorous - NEW WET KOJAK

Top 30 Singles of 2003

1. Such great heights - THE POSTAL SERVICE
2. She kissed me (it felt like a hit) - SPIRITUALIZED
3. Drain the blood - THE DISTILLERS
4. Crawl home - DESERT SESSIONS
5. This is our emergency - PRETTY GIRLS MAKE GRAVES
6. Say hello to the angles / NYC - INTERPOL
7. Seven nation army - THE WHITE STRIPES
10. First it giveth - QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
11. The seed 2.0 - THE ROOTS (ft. CODY CHESNUTT)
12. Bandages - HOT HOT HEAT
13. 12:51 - THE STROKES
14. My kind of soldier - GUIDED BY VOICES
15. Fight test EP - THE FLAMING LIPS
17. Black is the color of my true love's hair - THE TWILIGHT SINGERS
18. Just because - JANE’S ADDICTION
19. Way out west - VERBENA
20. Molly’s chambers - KINGS OF LEON
21. Kick it - PEACHES (ft. IGGY POP)
22. Hey ya! - OUTKAST
23. Bad day - R.E.M.
24. You were the last high - THE DANDY WARHOLS
25. (We wish) you a protein Christmas - THE FALL
26. Heartbreak stroll / The Christmas song - THE RAVONETTES
27. Bring it on - NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS
28. Pendulum EP - BROADCAST
29. Out of time - BLUR
30. Pass it on - THE CORAL

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Willard Grant Conspiracy - Live @ Rodeo Club, Athens (October 23, 2009)

The first visit of Willard Grant Conspiracy in Greece was filled with stories about death, dreams and women. Robert Fisher is a gifted storyteller and on this last stop of his band’s current European tour supporting the release of the album “Paper Covers Stone”, he had plenty of good ones to tell. Stories and songs like the one about a snake-handling preacher trying to convince space aliens to save their mortal souls by hanging signs saying “Welcome to Earth, Get right with God” (“The Trials of Harrison Hayes”) or his recurring dreams about death where St. Peter is a game-show host giving the potential inhabitants of Heaven the chance to make amends in the short time before they disappear and become transparent. The sparse music accompaniment (acoustic guitar, violin and upright bass) gave Fisher’s deep voice the lead role in the unveiling of the evocative folk dramas that kept the small but devoted audience transfixed for the 80 minutes of the intimate show.

One of the best moments of the evening came before the start of the main set, when Willard Grant Conspiracy joined local support act Mitera Falaina Tifli (the name translates into Mother Whale Blind and is inspired by a Brian Eno composition) for a great rendition of the anti-war song “From A Distant Shore”. Other highlights included the cover of The Walkabouts track “This Rotten Tree”, “The Ashes”, “Drunkards Prayer” and “Ghost Of The Girl In The Well”.

Willard Grant Conspiracy with Mitera Falaina Tifli (Live @ Rodeo Club, Athens 23/10/09)

From a distant shore - Willard Grant Conspiracy with Mitera Falaina Tifli (Live @ Rodeo Club, Athens 23/10/09)

This rotten tree - Willard Grant Conspiracy (Live @ Rodeo Club, Athens 23/10/09)

And here is a video from Mitera Falaina Tifli, playing a cover of Low's "Murderer" - the greek version is called "Dolofonos":

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Counting Down The '00s: The Best Of 2002

Part three of our tribute to the best music of the '00s and this time we turn the bright lights on 2002, a year dominated by the stunning debut of Interpol, the blitzkrieg rock of Queens Of The Stone Age and the epic, apocalyptic noise of … And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.

Here’s what I wrote about "Turn on the Bright Lights" at the unveiling of C.M.C.’s "Best Albums of 2002" list: “For a second consecutive year, the "Album of the Year" title is awarded to a newcomer from New York City. Last year it was The Strokes who took the top honor by reinventing '70s punk and reintroducing vital underground rock music into the mainstream. This year the honor goes to Interpol, who are taking inspiration from early '80s new wave stalwarts like Joy Division and The Smiths and putting their own spin to the dark atmospheric sound frequently associated to that era. What’s important though (and what separates the inspired artists from the plagiarists), is that they’re able to make that sound their own and give us a debut album that feels as inspired and timeless as those of their heroes.”

As for Queens Of The Stone Age and … And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, both delivered their best albums for this decade. The former had turned into a bona fide supergroup with the addition of Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan to the fold for "Songs for the Deaf" and rocked harder than common sense and common law should allow, giving us no choice but to join the deaf club. The latter raised their elaborate wall of noise to new levels with "Source Tags and Codes", adding more texture and nuance to the brutal intensity of their explosive sound. "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots", the psychedelic masterpiece of The Flaming Lips, and the ambitious and sophisticated punk of Sleater-Kinney’s "One Beat" complete the list of the most memorable records of the year.

Top 30 Albums of 2002

1. Turn on the bright lights - INTERPOL
2. Songs for the deaf - QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
3. Source tags and codes - ...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD
4. One beat - SLEATER-KINNEY
5. Yoshimi battles the pink robots - THE FLAMING LIPS
6. Evil heat - PRIMAL SCREAM
7. Highly evolved - THE VINES
8. Original pirate material - THE STREETS
9. You can't fight what you can't see - GIRLS AGAINST BOYS
10. Title TK - BREEDERS
11. They threw us all in a trench and stuck a monument on top - LIARS
12. Gotham! - RADIO 4
13. Fantastic damage - EL-P
14. Murray street - SONIC YOUTH
15. Suicide invoice - HOT SNAKES
16. Chat and business - IKARA COLT
19. Kill the moonlight - SPOON
20. Walking with thee - CLINIC
21. All artists are criminals - CHA CHA COHEN
22. Phrenology - THE ROOTS
23. The remote part - IDLEWILD
24. One by one - FOO FIGHTERS
25. The way I feel today - SIX BY SEVEN
26. Scorpio rising - DEATH IN VEGAS
27. To everybody - 90 DAY MEN
28. Free so free - J MASCIS + THE FOG
29. Universal truths and cycles - GUIDED BY VOICES
30. Since we've become translucent - MUDHONEY

Top 30 Singles Of 2002

1. Hands around my throat - DEATH IN VEGAS
2. Losing my edge - LCD SOUNDSYSTEM
3. Miss Lucifer - PRIMAL SCREAM
4. Interpol EP - INTERPOL
5. Everywhere with helicopter - GUIDED BY VOICES
6. House of jealous lovers - THE RAPTURE
8. Black rooster EP - THE KILLS
9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP - YEAH YEAH YEAHS
10. Speakers push the air - PRETTY GIRLS MAKE GRAVES
11. Get free - THE VINES
12. Fell In love with a girl - THE WHITE STRIPES
14. No one knows - QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
15. Sister surround - THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES
16. Do you realize?? - THE FLAMING LIPS
17. Jonathon Fisk - SPOON
19. Someday - THE STROKES
20. Hate to say I told you so - THE HIVES
23. Come on - THE D4
24. Walking with thee - CLINIC
25. Let's push thing forward - THE STREETS
26. Dance to the underground - RADIO 4
27. Attack of the ghost riders - THE RAVEONETTES
28. We laugh indoors - DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
29. All my life - FOO FIGHTERS
30. Used for glue - RIVAL SCHOOLS

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Listening Habits 08-09.2009

We’ve had quite a few great releases in the two months since the last “Listening Habits” post and at least half of them may well find their way in our end of the year Top 50 list. We have already praised the excellent "Get Color", Health’s second album (or third if you also count last year’s remix job), and especially the stellar first single "Die Slow". Dream-pop vocal melodies and layers of My Bloody Valentine-style guitar feedback clash with menacing industrial beats to create what I could only describe as noise-death-disco. Not a catchy name for a musical style, I know, but I think that Health along with a few other acts like their pals Crystal Castles are creatively recycling '80s noise rock, industrial and electro into a brand new, highly volatile hybrid.

A different but equally refreshing musical mix seems to be brewing in London lately. The Big Pink, this year’s winners of NME’s Philip Hall Radar Award for best new act, combine cutting edge electronic dance sounds with dark pop melodies and menacing late '80s-early '90s guitar noise of The Jesus And Mary Chain-A.R. Kane variety in order to tell us "A Brief History Of Love" - one of the most exciting debuts of the year along with Telepathe’s "Dance Mother". Among the many highlights of the record are the singles "Too Young to Love", "Velvet" and "Dominos", as well as "Crystal Visions" and "Frisk". Interesting facts about The Big Pink: Their name comes from the title of The Band’s first album "Music from Big Pink" while Milo Cordell (one half of the band that also includes Robbie Furze) is the boss of Merok Records, responsible for some great releases by the likes of Salem, Telepathe and Crystal Castles (as you can guess by now, I really have a soft spot for these last two groups!).

And if you are in the mood for even more dark songs about love, you can find them in abundance in the fine debut of another very promising and very young London band, The XX. Initially they impressed us with their highly addictive cover of Womack and Womack’s '80s hit "Teardrops". This song is not included in their album but its melancholic air and seamless blending of soul, electro pop and icy '80s guitar style is all over "XX", making it the perfect choice for late night listening. As Romy and Oliver exchange verses in hushed tones, you often get the feeling of eavesdropping in the intimate conversations of a couple falling in or out of love, while the music’s beat follows that of the lovers’ hearts. "VCR", "Crystalised", "Basic space" and "Infinity" are the standout tracks of the record and along with "Teardrops" give you five very good reasons to make your acquaintance with The XX.

The third London-based act to have its debut album among our top picks this month is Florence + The Machine. "Lungs" is a big sounding, grand gesturing, passionate pop record with bright tunes like "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)" or "Dog Days Are Over" which showcase the great vocal talent of Florence Welch. The album was stopped only by the ghost of Michael Jackson from claiming the top of the UK album chart and in a year when the divorce of commercial music from quality seems to be final, this fact alone is enough to justify the buzz surrounding Florence and her band.

Another act that managed to break the embargo against decent music in the pop charts is Arctic Monkeys. For the recording of "Humbug", their third full-length, the band visited Josh Homme’s studio in the California desert looking for a change of scenery and a different sound. Although you cannot really say that they’ve gone stoner rock all of a sudden, the new album is certainly slower and heavier than its predecessors, making also room for the mellower orchestral pop influences evident in Alex Turner’s work with The Last Shadow Puppets. "Humbug" may not be the instant classic that their debut was, but it does show a band willing to take chances, experiment and evolve, the traits that distinguish all great artists.

And while we’re on the subject of brave artistic experimentation, here’s one of the most adventurous records you’re going to hear this year: White Denim’s "Fits". The Austin, Texas group seamlessly incorporates all kinds of influences in its latest work, going from acid rock to garage punk and from freak folk to free jazz in the drop of a hat. The flow of the record, however, remains flawless, offering us a thrilling joyride in rock’s less travelled back roads, the paths carved by groundbreaking innovators like Meat Puppets or The Minutemen.

Yo La Tengo can certainly be counted among the few truly originals of the last 20-something years, a band that is not afraid to mix things up and kick your ass in the process. In "Popular Songs" we can hear the more "easy-listening" side of the band for the album's first 9 tracks while for the final 3 they get lost in extended jams without losing the plot too much. "Here To Fall", "Avalon Or Someone Very Similar", "Nothing To Hide", "Periodically Double Or Triple" and "If It’s True" are the latest gems in the continuing, fascinating story of Yo La Tengo.

Our Top-10 also includes the best record that will not get an official release this year (another sign that record companies have completely and utterly lost the plot), the star-studded "Dark Night Of The Soul", product of the collaboration between the omnipresent Danger Mouse, Sparklehorse, David Lynch and a cast of, well, dozens. We've also listened and enjoyed "Wilco (the album)", the finest record in recent years by Wilco (the band) and "Spinnerette" by Spinnerette, the next step in the tumultuous career of Brody Dale in collaboration with Alain Johannes of Queens Of The Stone Age fame. Not as fierce as her work with The Distillers but with enough fine tracks ("Ghetto Love", "Baptized By Fire", "Distorting A Code", "Rebellious Palpitations") to keep us satisfied 'till we meet again (I don't know where, I don't know when)...

Top 15 Albums

1. A Brief History Of Love - THE BIG PINK
2. Get Color - HEALTH
4. Popular Songs - YO LA TENGO
6. XX - THE XX
9. Spinnerette - SPINNERETTE
10. Wilco (The Album) - WILCO
11. Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper - JULIAN PLENTI
12. Varshons - THE LEMONHEADS
13. Travels With Myself And Another - FUTURE OF THE LEFT
14. No One's First And You're Next - MODEST MOUSE
15. JJ No2 - JJ

Top 20 Tracks

1. Die Slow - HEALTH
2. Dominoes - THE BIG PINK
3. Little Girl (ft. Julian Casablancas) - DANGER MOUSE AND SPARKLEHORSE
4. Teardrops - THE XX
5. Ecstasy - JJ
6. Pinball (ft. Telepathe) - SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO
7. Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up) - FLORENCE + THE MACHINE
8. These Are My Twisted Words - RADIOHEAD
9. The Whale Song- MODEST MOUSE
11. Crying Lightning - ARCTIC MONKEYS
12. Baptized By Fire - SPINNERETTE
13. Games for Days - JULIAN PLENTI
14. Periodically Double Or Triple - YO LA TENGO
15. Bull Black Nova - WILCO
16. I Start To Run - WHITE DENIM
17. You Need Satan More Than He Needs You - FUTURE OF THE LEFT
18. The Fixer - PEARL JAM
19. Dirty Robot - THE LEMONHEADS
20. Le Flying Saucer Hat - CHAIRLIFT