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Archive for Albums

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-

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Album Review: Forces by Silver Pines

Silver Pines have one big thing going for them. And, no, it’s not that their band is based in the lonesome burg of San Marcos, Texas, which at more than a half-hour away is always looking up at Austin with the starry eyes of the semi-isolated college town. That one big thing Silver Pines have going for them is that their haunting, forever-reverberating songs are often pretty exceptional, and everyone who’s heard them seems to agree that something special is going on down I-35. Last year’s Fort Walnut EP served as an excellent introduction to the band, but this year’s Forces EP broadens their sound without compromising what made their earliest work so satisfying. Using all the best of country music—slide and even a singing saw make appearances—without falling prone to the genre’s more troubling cheesy aspects, the stage-taking septet crafts only the most gentle of tunes, and that sincere gentleness remains true even when the full strength of the band is involved.

The linchpin here is lead singer Stefanie Franciotti, whose calming presence both on the album and on stage allows the rest of the band to do its finest work. Her voice is forever distant, not unlike that of a long lost lover, or of other newly-revered vocalists such as Beach House’s Victoria Legrand or Fight Bite’s Leanne Macomber, and its pleading pain or burgeoning enthusiasm acts as the band’s most captivating asset. But that’s not to discredit the rest of the band, which holds Forces together admirably with steady rhythms and the occasional dose of flash, such as the guitar freakout at the four-minute mark of the EP’s first track, “Timefather,” the rollicking conclusion of mid-disc standout, “Payasito,” and the blistering second half of the album’s most vicious track, “Fortress of Daughters.”

It’s difficult to see the career arc of a band who has yet to truly give the big city a spin, and college-based bands have a tendency to evaporate not long past graduation, but Silver Pines—if they so desire to continue unabated—have prepped themselves for significantly wider appreciation in the indie realm, especially as other country-influenced acts such as Fleet Foxes gain seemingly unstoppable momentum. And the Forces EP, clocking in at an economical twenty-eight minutes, is an undeniably solid step forward.

Silver Pines MySpace

Album Review: Women as Lovers by Xiu Xiu

Xiu Xiu are what many would call a success story. After all, they’ve evolved from an experimental, rotating-cast freakshow who appealed only to the outer edge of musical snobs and depressed hipsters, to a full-on, Xiu Xiu Women as Loversfour member, MySpace friendly, blog-writing, book- producing, ceaselessly collaborating, networking whirlwind with legions of fans and the respect of critics. Not only that, but unlike some rise-to-glory stories, Xiu Xiu’s transformation has been nice to see, mostly because founding member Jamie Stewart and able sidekick Caralee McElroy always seemed to be having a lot of fun, connecting well with their fans and managing to maintain their sense of humor and their honesty.

But somewhere along the path to Women as Lovers, Xiu Xiu lost a little bit of their subtlety. Though all the band’s hallmarks—the experimentation, the grab-bag electronics and waves of unconventional percussion, the impassioned vocals complete with über-weirdo lyrics—are still there, something vital is missing. Could it be that fame, success, and comfort corrupted Xiu Xiu’s artistic process? That doesn’t seem to fit the still-odd Stewart and McElroy. But what about those two new permanent band members—could they have caused an unnecessary bloating of the music, as if the band weren’t quite ready to absorb all the new hands in the studio? Quite possibly. Regardless of cause, one of the most endearing aspects of Xiu Xiu—their utter vulnerability—has been replaced with a steady confidence.

This is not to say that Women as Lovers is a bad album. It is actually quite fine, as it has enough strangeness to appeal to those who appreciate strangeness, and enough adorableness to appeal to those who appreciate adorableness. Lead track “I Do What I Want When I Want,” complete with shared vocals, a near-perfect progression, no shortage of surprise, and Ornette Coleman-style saxophone, is a fantastic art-pop song. “No Friend Oh!,” whose title hearkens back to earlier albums, is a joy and experience to hear, a song with just enough head-shaking moments to feel like true-to-life Xiu Xiu. “Black Keyboard,” despite its disturbing lyrics, and “You Are Pregnant You, You Are Dead” are also excellent additions to the band’s catalog.

With all that strength, it’s hard to see what doesn’t feel right about this album. But something definitely isn’t quite right, and there’s a good chance the problem lies with the cover song blaring from the album’s center. “Under Pressure,” the David Bowie standard whose beat was made doubly famous by Vanilla Ice, makes for a well-done and interesting cover, all the way down to the exceptional vocal turn by Angels of Light and ex-Swans frontman Michael Gira. But what happens is that Women as Lovers feels less like a complete album and more like a collection of songs. Other moments in the album, including the irritating “Puff and Bunny,” in which Stewart repeats the words “hot pepper” a painful number of times, also lead to the disconnected feel of the album. And this effect, especially in comparison to their previous albums, is pretty jarring.

So it seems this is what happens when a band has established itself as being really, really good—they release an album that is only merely good, and people are annoyed. But that’s the price to pay for success—you better not display imperfection, because if you do you’ll be called on it. And so it is with Xiu Xiu, one of the most excellent and fascinating bands of the decade, and one that still holds that trophy. Even if the trophy isn’t quite as shiny as it used to be.

Xiu Xiu [Official] [Label] [MySpace] [Download Site]

Album Review: Alegranza by El Guincho

El GuinchoOkay, before we begin, there are some things we must know about El Guincho. First of all, El Guincho is one man, Pablo Díaz-Reixa, and he named his album after the uninhabited island of Alegranza, which is at the northeastern tip of the Canary Islands, which are—of course this is common knowledge—an autonomous domain of Spain located on the west coast of Africa. Díaz-Reixa is from these Canary Islands, and, via Barcelona, he creates swirling and excitable indie pop using loops and samples and an amalgam of musical influences ranging from Benga (Kenyan traditional music) to Bhangra (Indian folk) to any brand of tropicalia that flies well above the head of our good friend Jimmy Buffett.

All of this crazy backstory, and El Guincho still can’t seem to shake comparisons to Panda Bear—the “Spanish Panda Bear,” he’s been called. The Person Pitch parallels, despite the fact that there remains little coverage in English on El Guincho, have been mentioned so thoroughly by now that it’s practically mandated by law that every review gives a nod to the idea, an idea which to its inventor probably seemed pretty clever. But really, outside of the compositional technique and a layered load of repetition, there really isn’t too much tying these two machine-musicians together. El Guincho is an artist all his own, and discussing his music only in the context of someone else is a disservice, especially when one realizes that Alegranza is one of the most unique and fascinating albums to come out in a long time.

El Guincho2So if this isn’t really like Panda Bear (or Os Mutantes, or Beirut, or any of the other ridiculous comparisons people are throwing out there in an effort to quantify the album), what is it like? Well, there’s certainly an element of the circus here, an unabashed fun and playfulness that’s hard to find on most sample-based electronic releases. And that’s probably the most striking aspect of El Guincho—much like his funny-to-say band name, the music here is decidedly light-hearted. This means that all the dour indie fans whose pockets are full of angst and agony will probably check this disc at the door. But it also offers a much-needed dose of positivity and play that too often is absent from the oft-schizophrenic art-music scene.

Ultimately, songs like “Fata Morgana,” which starts softly and eventually rampages into a colorful steel drum salute, “Antillas,” a meditative study in repetitive excess, and “Buenos Matrimonios Ahi Fuera” which cruises along effortlessly with child vocals, are proof that computer-crafted music doesn’t have to be lifeless. Because although surely El Guincho crafts his loops and distorts his samples in a solitary world of meticulous detail and independent thought, his tunes are made for the streets, the clubs, the plazas, the alleyways. And this fact seems perfect: after all, that empty island he named the album after? Alegranza, derived from the Spanish, means “joy.”

[El Guincho’s MySpace]
[Download Site (album is sold out in Europe, and unreleased in America)]
[His blog (which is in Spanish, and is pretty crazy if you use an online translator)]

Album Review: Distortion by The Magnetic Fields

Say you’re drunk. Or, better yet, you just woke up after one of those Mexican Martini nights, so it’s one of those mornings where the sun, you’re sure, is already blazing its blaze just beyond your bedroom window, yet you can only spot a squeak of it through the blinds, and that little bit of light is really all you handle. Anything more would send you into full-on fury, but that special kind of fury where you can’t really do anything, because, truly, you feel like shit.

The Magnetic Fields’ new album, Distortion, seems to have been composed on such a morning. But no, this isn’t a bad thing. If you think about it, some of the purest and most unadulterated moments come when in this most unpleasant of states; after all, reason is out and only absolute animalness and grouchiness and even a bit of self-loathing humor can be had. In music, you could say it’s a place where melodies are simple and indulgently satisfying, while the themes are effortlessly and simultaneously tragic and comic. And Distortion gets right at all of it, right down in its crusty center. True, the entirety of the album is covered in a fog, a thick haze of crunch and—who would’ve guessed it—distortion.

The fact that The Magnetic Fields are legends is and is not beside the point. Their epic 1999 release 69 Love Songs—a triple album magnum opus of range and obsession and theatricality and depression and joy—set the bar pretty high for lead man Stephin Merritt, and he’s struggled a little to get back to that apex. 2004’s i was an all-acoustic affair that felt a little too soft, and besides that we’ve only caught brief glimpses of the band in the twenty-first century, a fact that’s pretty shocking considering the fact that Merritt, with the help of three other occasional lead vocalists, came out with sixty-nine songs in one year. So, to say that Distortion is a return to form wouldn’t be fair, but to say that it’s a very nice album would be.

The album begins with the triumphant and mostly wordless “Three-Way,” a song which in its own conceit stands as a harbinger of the music to come, while tracks such as “Old Fools,” “Please Stop Dancing,” and “Drive On, Driver”—one of several songs ably sung by Shirley Simms—are signature Magnetic Fields songs blanketed in that relentless haze. There are a couple misses here, as “California Girls” (chorus: “I hate California girls”) and “Mr. Mistletoe” are either too over-the-top or too medicated to survive their own confidence. But the album holds together quite well, with or without the uniform distortion.

Truth be told, Stephin Merritt’s work feels a little out of place in 2008, as it doesn’t feature all the bells and whistles of present-day indie. But, surprisingly enough, that’s really refreshing. It’s just music, and honesty, and a damn-bad hangover. And Merritt puts the reason for the hangover, and the haze of the album, in perfect focus with the chorus of “Too Drunk to Dream”: “I’ve got to get too drunk to dream / cuz dreaming only gets me blue / I’ve got to get too drunk to dream / because I only dream of you / I got to get too pissed to miss you / or I’ll never get to sleep / I’ve got to drink wine not to pine for you / and god knows that ain’t cheap.” And so it goes.

More about The Magnetic Fields: Official Website or MySpace

To download this album via Daily Dose, click here.

Albums of Note: The Last 2007 Music Best-Of, I Promise

BurialUntrue

Propelled by striking percussion and haunting vocal samples, Untrue wraps its listener in mystery and the feeling that something very wrong is going on nearby, something very passionate and very disturbing. Repetitive but diverse, this slow-working incantation almost wants to be dance hall-ready dubstep, but escapes that label by featuring enough interlocking rhythms and ambient moments to make dancing difficult. But, more than anything, the album is just too damn emotionally-intense for the club.

Drowning absolutely everything in reverb, Untrue feels like music from the afterlife, transported directly to you for the purpose of promoting unease. But the mystery of Burial extends far beyond its lost-in-the-abandoned-factory eeriness—no one knows who Burial is. And this anonymity and distance is perfect for this album, one that never ceases to be both pleading and forlorn, lovely and despairing.

September Collective All the Birds Were Anarchists

At times almost unconscionably beautiful, the piano-driven All the Birds Were Anarchists is what happens when laptops go right—using naturally constructed sonics and an air of the haphazard, the humanness behind the album is never lost. This first release by September Collective—a side project of the more well-known Barbara Morgenstern—serves as a soothing backdrop to everything else’s endless racket, and is a piece of work that upon close inspection exceeds its delicate initial impression. And although this may be an album that won’t immediately lift you from your seat in a fit of applause, its complicated tapestry of subtleties is sure to grow on you.

Andrew Bird Armchair Apochrypha

Few in indie music today are so obviously intelligent as the Chicago-based Andrew Bird, a man whose meticulously-crafted music transmits a genuine air of intellect. Far from willing to rest on the laurels of his previous album, he’s taken this impression to a new level with the sneaky Armchair Apocrypha, an album that at first may seem too clean, but eventually grabs you by the throat and holds on until it’s too late. And that, when it comes to incredibly well-structured and intricate songs with spot-on lyricism, is a good thing.

With a slew of quotables (“thank god it’s fatal,” “time’s a crooked boat,” etc.) and a distinct awareness of the album structure as a whole, Armchair Apocrypha is an at-times-poppy and at-times-heartbreaking journey of an album. Using practically equal parts violin, piano, and guitar to drive the songs, Bird has expanded the palette of his previous albums, while intensifying the seriousness and complexity of his songs. And, because of this, he has created a work worthy of a good fifty or sixty straight-through listens. At least.

Do Make Say ThinkYou, You’re a History in Rust

Do Make Say Think have carved themselves a fine little niche in the post-rock world, gathering fans over the years with jazz-and-rock-influenced instrumental opuses. And You, You’re a History in Rust maintains this momentum and develops it with a not-to-be-underestimated sense of balance and consistency. Pretty much, if you want some instrumental music you can rock out to—and something a little more varied than Explosions in the Sky— this is your place to go.

Built around the relentlessly intense “The Universe!”—a song which blends cascading guitars with a two-drummer setup to fill a room with noise, and offer a thrashing counterpoint to the slow-burners of the rest of the album—You, You’re a History in Rust is the work of very skilled musicians doing what they do. And while they cheat on one song by using vocals (how dare they!), this is still an album you should reach for when you want to get the blood pumping, but not the mind tripping over words.

Panda Bear Person Pitch

When it comes to describing Person Pitch, you may use words like “delirious” or “psychotic” or “eastern,” or phrases like “techno blender” or “synthetic eeriness.” Hell, you may even say it’s “like a post-enlightenment Brian Wilson in a playground of crayola-colors, loops, and high-grade ecstasy.” But really, when it comes to Panda Bear’s statement album—one that ensures he’ll never again be simply an Animal Collective side project—none of those flailing attempts at description seem to grasp what’s going on.

Person Pitch is one of those albums where an entire article could be written about each track, from the bouncy “Comfy in Nautica,” to the devastating thirteeen minute shock of “Bros” (perhaps the most captivating—and seizure-inducing—song of the year), all the way through to its subtle tail end. Said simply, Person Pitch just plain kicks its listener in the gut. And while the mystery of the album was perhaps enhanced by Panda’s near-refusal to tour in support of it, that’s just fine by me—when I can remember thinking way back in March, “There’s no way in hell this isn’t going to be one of the top five albums of the year,” that’s a pretty good sign something strangely brilliant is happening.

Sunset Rubdown Random Spirit Lover

And this is quite possibly the best album of the year, as well as one of the most shockingly overlooked. You can read about it here.

* * *

And here’s a list of some other albums of 2007 it would be wrong not to mention:

MGMT‘s Oracular Spectacular
Caribou‘s Andorra
Animal Collective‘s Strawberry Jam
Of Montreal‘s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer
Kanye West‘s Graduation
Deerhoof‘s Friend Opportunitytier-3-best-music-2007.png
The National‘s Boxer
Sage FrancisHuman the Death Dance

Album Review: Six Organs of Admittance’s Shelter from the Ash

Say you like to meditate. Say you like to sit in a room and think real hard and then not think at all. Say you like a little sound in the background to help keep that head of yours on straight. Say you don’t mind some vocals, but not too many, some jangling now-it’s-folksy/now-it’s-noodling guitar, maybe a dash of sometimes- shimmery/sometimes-bombastic drumming to toy with your heart rate. Say you pop in the new Six Organs of Admittance album, expecting to get exactly what you’re looking for. Say you find something that upsets the Big Mind just a little more than you wanted.

And that’s how Shelter from the Ash, due next Tuesday from Drag City, shakes expectations. By relying on Ben Chasny’s guitar and comforting (though spare) vocals to craft subtle, beautiful, and haunting ragas, Six Organs has developed a fine reputation as a western band in touch with eastern musical roots—though their sound is often referred to as “psychedelic,” the more appropriate term is “contemplative.” And Six Organs of Admittance, despite that troubling mouthful of a name, have used their unmistakably thoughtful sound to produce a satisfying LP every year for the past six years, and while Shelter from the Ash follows in those albums’ footsteps, it walks slightly outside their sonic and thematic similarities and into something a bit uneven.

With the help of a small army of guest stars, including Matt Sweeney (of Superwolf and Zwan fame) and members of Comets on Fire and Magic Markers, Shelter from the Ash creates a sense of dispossession and paranoia, framing disturbing squall with simple melodies to create a work more uneasy than what you’d expect from this band. The album’s undoubted center and strong point is the throttling seven-minute anthem “Coming to Get You,” which—after a gentle yet cautionary two minute intro—builds into one of Six Organs’ most ferocious works. With its foreboding lyrics and a jarring drum beat rarely found in Chasny’s work, the song stands out spectacularly from the rest of the album, which features only minimal percussion and few rock trappings. But it is in this disparity that one of Shelter from the Ash’s most glaring weaknesses is discovered: that, compared to “Coming to Get You,” the album’s other songs, though often rewarding in and of themselves, feel far too subtle.

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