Tier 3

music / / poetry / / philosophy / / -ology by Nick Courtright

Hot Off the Press: Archives of an Overworked Music Critic

As most of you know, I do this little music journalism thing on the side because I have so much spare time I don’t even know what to do with myself.  In addition to doing regular concert previews and reviews for Austinist, and writing feature interviews for Soundcheck Magazine, for the last four months I’ve been running a weekly album review column for Transmission Entertainment called Hot Off the Press, which discusses in sometimes-professional, sometimes-notsomuch manner incredibly new albumsabout half the time the albums are reviewed before they are released to the public, a luxury I have due to a combination of media hook-ups and blatant theft of unpublicized leaks.

The result of this is that I’m often way ahead of the game on albums, thus providing some of the initial “hype” or “bust” sentiment stewing around the internet, and that I am often reviewing albums before I really have a damn clue what I’m talking aboutthere are a couple rethinkers (I should have given You & Me more time, and the early weeks of HOTP are pretty thin), but for the most part I think I got it right the first go’round.  So, without further ado, here is a considerable list of links (click the red to be magically transported to the full review), in reverse chronological order:

16: Women & Pit Er Pat

Women (Women): “…there is a very thick haze of early Animal Collective-ness populating this album, as you can almost see the two groups together—long before AC’s electro-obsession took full hold—bounding around a campfire in loincloths, shaking tambourines and scaring children…” Report Card: B+

Pit Er Pat (High Time): “…the big problem here is that while 2006’s Pyramids seemed like an album maybe ahead of its time, High Time, an almost uncomfortably ironic title, feels like an album that’s hit the shelves a good five years too late…” Report Card: C

15: Crystal Stilts & Times New Viking

Crystal Stilts (Alight of Night): “…it’s as if the woe woe woe of Crystal Stilts’ approach is so draped in mascara tears that fans have no choice but to bob their heads in utter happiness that they found something so compulsively hip-shaking and degenerate…” Report Card: B+

Times New Viking (Stay Awake EP): “…it’s difficult to figure if what Times New Viking is doing makes any sense—after all, it’s impossible not to wonder whether they would be “better” if they stopped recording on such shitty equipment…” Report Card: B

14: Deerhoof & Megapuss

Deerhoof (Offend Maggie): “…despite oft-indiscernible lyrics, the obscurity of their songs, and a distinct lack of sex appeal, Deerhoof has successfully built an adoring fan base, and these realities make it all the more mystifying and disappointing that Offend Maggie lacks the spikes in extreme glee that their last couple albums have provided so willingly…” Report Card: B

Megapuss (Surfing): “…in many ways, Devendra Banhart and Greg Rogove’s album is juvenile, senseless, random, filthy, awkward, head-scratching, and sometimes just plain stupid.  And yet, despite all of these fitting adjectives, Surfing works…” Report Card: B+

13: Juana Molina & Final Fantasy

Juana Molina (Un Día): “…through its sheer bombast and ambition, Un Día is bound to find a wider and more enthusiastic American audience than her previous efforts—songs such as the title track and “Los Hongos de Marosa” are so stunning it’d be a shame if American audiences didn’t catch on…” Report Card: A-

Final Fantasy (Plays to Please EP & Spectrum, 14th Century EP): “…frontman Owen Pallett is one of those wildly bright and frustratingly eccentric types, and these two EPs expand upon the already iconoclastic canon he has constructed, as he uses additional manpower to back his stunning string arrangements with the familiar-but-300-years-old sounds of chamber music…” Report Card: B

12: TV on the Radio & Cold War Kids

TV on the Radio (Dear Science): “…the melodrama in TV on the Radio’s music regularly foams over the surface, and although the hugeness of their approach may turn some fickle listeners off at first blush, repeated listens will draw in even the most skeptical fans of singer-songwriters and sparse arrangement…” Report Card: A

Cold War Kids (Loyalty to Loyalty): “…Cold War Kids are so divisive even your grandparents argue over whether they are the shining light of new soul rock come down from above to lead us all into a new era of heartfelt tunesmanship, or whether they are a bunch of underschooled and self-absorbed fools with an editing deficiency who are example 1A of blog bands gone painfully awry…” Report Card: B-

11:Peter Bjorn and John & Grouper

Peter Bjorn and John (Inland Empire): “…Seaside Rock is a testament to a band who’s willing to say a little bit of ‘fuck you’ to the slavering masses, a testament that declares that musical integrity and continued exploration are more important to this band than a continued assault on the tender eardrums of the thoughtless youth. Either that or they’re running away, like pansies, from expectations…” Report Card: B

Grouper (Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill): “…if it weren’t for the fact that Grouper makes her music almost impossible to hear on purpose, you’d really want to suggest that she find a better producer, or at least stop strumming the guitar seventy feet underwater…” Report Card: B-

10: Department of Eagles & Fight Bite

Department of Eagles (In Ear Park): “…while the ups can be pretty spectacular, In Ear Park is ultimately done in by its questionable revision—one almost gets the feeling that Rossen and Nicolaus felt rushed to get this out while the hype is high…” Report Card: B-

Fight Bite (Emerald Eyes): “…while the band name Fight Bite may conjure up images of Mike Tyson, crazed look in his eyes, with a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear in his mouth, this music couldn’t be further from that image. If anything, the image that’s brought up is one of Tyson and Holyfield walking through a garden of daisies, perhaps holding hands…” Report Card: A-

9: Of Montreal

Of Montreal (Skeletal Lamping): “…and only then did it become easier to accept the possibility that [Kevin Barnes had] not lost himself completely in a bizarre world of cocks, asses, and transgender dance parties wildly galloping through the thesaurus…” Report Card: B+

8: The Bug & Kemialliset Ystävät

The Bug (London Zoo): “…while the scowl this album wears makes much hardcore rap look like child’s play, the album’s polarizing effects are a sign of its ingenuity—Martin’s sensibilities regarding darkness and repetition make it the perfect collection of anthems for sneering and cursing as you cut off other drivers on the highway…” Report Card: A

Kemialliset Ystävät (Harmaa Laguuni): “…this particular collection of sounds is a little less shocking to the ears than their prior studio work; that’s not to say, though, that it won’t elicit plenty of ‘what the hell are you listening to’ comments from passersby, because it certainly will…” Report Card: B-

7: Vivian Girls & The Music Tapes

Vivian Girls (Vivian Girls): “…Vivian Girls’ clattering, energetic approach to punky two minute pop-rock is befitting of the web’s fawning, and surely soon enough the Brooklyn trio (all women, no less) will be the darlings of a wider populus…even if the album as a whole doesn’t thrill as fabulously as the first couple singles would have you believe…” Report Card: B

The Music Tapes (Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes): “…what good possibly could come from Koster’s collection, being that he is notoriously obsessed with the singing saw, of all random instruments, that he personally has never released a truly proper LP, and that he’s been working on this album for nine freaking years?…” Report Card: B

6: Lackthereof & Conor Oberst

Lackthereof (Your Anchor): “…notable because they are the primary project of Menomena member Danny Seim, Lackthereof makes music that sounds like a Menomena song lying prone on the studio room floor, like an engine taken totally apart and put only a little bit back together…” Report Card: B-

Conor Oberst (Conor Oberst): “…as his growing pains have presented themselves to the listening public, that incredible urgency has gone missing in his work, and to some critics he’s been relegated to has-been status—a time capsule at the ripe old age of twenty-eight…” Report Card: C-

5: Bodies of Water & Russian Red

Bodies of Water (A Certain Feeling): “…rarely has an album truly jumped out and demanded to follow in the bombastic footsteps of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne’s Canadian outfit, while still being talented and unique enough not merely to seem like parrots.  But A Certain Feeling has that quality to it…” Report Card: A

Russian Red (I Love Your Glasses): “…words of wisdom for the listener are twofold: #1 if you listen to this album, start with track two so you don’t get your hopes too high, and #2 Hernández is only twenty-two years old, so she still has plenty of time to be the world-conqueror I’d hoped her already to be…” Report Card: B

4: The Walkmen & Grizzly Bear

The Walkmen (You & Me): “…the band, as usual, is pretty tight and on cue, and this album sees them expanding their oft-old-timey sound a bit, but, as usual, they rarely make the listener reflect with amazement on the awesomeness of their instrumental achievements…” Report Card: B-

Grizzly Bear (Two Weeks’ television debut): “…Two Weeks, a sparkling if simple track, is cloaked in reverb and is guaranteed to sound better on the fifth listen than it did on the first…” Report Card: A

3: Au & Pyramids

Au (Verbs): “…some of it sounds like little more than a bunch of people tuning their instruments or screwing off pre-rehearsal, but when the noises this flock of musicians creates come together into a song, the results can be pretty damn pleasing…” Report Card: B

Pyramids (Pyramids): “…although Pyramids aren’t likely to find themselves on the cover of Spin magazine anytime soon (hell, they hardly turn up on a Google search), they have potential, and with a broadening of their sound they should start to make themselves the first ‘Pyramids’ band you think of, rather than the fourth…” Report Card: C+

2: White Denim & Black Kids

White Denim (Workout Holiday): “…this garage-y business gets down to the brass tacks of dirty rock, with sloppy and simple construction and frequent breakdowns, and it’s not unlikely that your first listen will seem a bit pale for all the praise.  But when it comes down to it, this is some very, very good stuff, and once it gets its energetic claws into you, you’ll have a hard time taking it off the iPod…” Report Card: A-

Black Kids (Partie Traumatic): “…While this is an album with lovely songs for a club rotation, for any other of the myriad purposes for listening to music—such as passing the time while driving on I-35 during rush hour—chances are that the absolute lack of irony will wear thin quite quickly…” Report Card: C

1: Beck & The Fiery Furnaces & Ponytail

Beck (Modern Guilt): “…despite the skepticism—fueled by his diminishing live performance as he nears forty—sure enough, like most all Beck releases, Modern Guilt gets its claws into you, and after a tepid first few listens, it starts to hold together quite well as a collection…” Report Card: B

The Fiery Furnaces (Remember): “…put very simply: if you’re not already a fan of Fiery Furnaces, this release will just solidify your disgust for them.  But if you’re already a fan of Fiery Furnaces, you’ll probably just wish they would’ve found some not-so-shitty recording equipment for this ambitious project…” Report Card: C

Ponytail (Ice Cream Spiritual): “…despite the occasionally awesome interplay between these ‘instruments,’ this is an album that’s going to be hard-pressed to survive multiple spins in a row without becoming a burden on sensitive ears…” Report Card: B-

1 Comment»

  neuendorf wrote @

Thanks. Now I’ve got some leads to follow. I’ve been seriously new-music-deprived, since mostly I’ve been listening to children’s music, and the occasional Claire-friendly (ie relatively simple) song. Also, I lost my iPod for weeks, and just found it. Looks like time to take up some of your recommendations.


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