Top Five EPs of 2009

Maybe I’m mad late on these last two lists, but it’s never a bad time to catch up on the music you may have missed last year. So let’s get to it. Here are my favorite EPs from 2009, LPs comin’ at ya next.

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Julianna Barwick - Florine

5. Julianna Barwick – Florine

Julianna Barwick is a solo artist without many contemporary reference points. Some lazy writers have uttered the unconscionable “Enya”, but the vocal-centric haze of Florine is only debased by those kinds of offhand references. Maybe you could identify some tenuous threads to the atmospheric dream pop of Cocteau Twins or the patient drone of Grouper, but Barwick probably has a more convincing connection to Gothic choral music. Her stunning 2009 EP features a synthesizer-assisted choir of her own design, her impressive voice overlaid on top of itself in interlocking, dreamlike loops until the resulting canvas of noises subtly transforms, washing over the listener in mesmerizing waves. Florine is a surreal experience, a vaporous work that imparts you with a feeling of hazy, calm contentedness. And presumably, it’s unlike many of the records you’ve heard this year, this decade, or beyond.

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Download: Julianna Barwick – Cloudbank
Buy: You can pick up Florine over at Insound or eMusic.

Big Spider's Back - Warped

4. Big Spider’s Back – Warped

Easily one of best breakthrough artists to come out of the chillwave scene, Big Spider’s Back redefined and transcended such a genre labeling last year with his latest exceptional EP. Brimming with richly textured, pulsating layers of sound, Warped may have been solely crafted by Seattle’s Yair Rubinstein with familiar and modest means  — delayed guitars, ethereal synth, hypnotic sample-work — but this effort climbs to sonic heights that elude many of his supposed peers. Yair strikes a superb balance between spaced-out soundscaping and catchy, centered songcraft, staking claim to his own distinct niche amongst commonly traversed ground in 2009. Take a listen to the lush, surging sampledelic gem “Perfect Machine” down below and all will become clear. [Original Post]

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Download: Big Spider’s Back – Perfect Machine
Buy: Order the EP from Circle Into Square as a CD or MP3s.

Destroyer - Bay of Pigs

3. Destroyer – Bay of Pigs

Over the course of a decade and a half, Dan Bejar has built a lengthy, satisfying discography from his bombastic, glam-and-folk-tinged rock epics. And despite his bold decision to feature extensive MIDI sequencing on 2004’s Your Blues, last year’s two track EP Bay of Pigs easily represents the most significant departure within that impressive catalog. Handily delivering on early descriptions as “Destroyer‘s first foray into the ambient disco market”, the title track is a pulsating, slow-building beast that wallows in spacey, cresendoing waves before bursting into slightly more familiar territory — though Bejar’s guitars remain a decidedly scant feature amongst its repeat-worthy thirteen-and-a-half minutes. And those familiar Destroyer tools don’t make so much as an appearance on “Ravers”, which cheekily renames and remakes buoyant Trouble in Dreams standout “Rivers” as pure electronic dirge. I get the feeling that this isn’t a permanent paradigm shift for Bejar, but nonetheless these gems combine for a surprisingly successful new approach and a great EP.

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Buy: Stream and buy the whole EP over at Merge Records.

Bon Iver - Blood Bank

2. Bon Iver – Blood Bank

In two short years, Justin Vernon went from pretty obscure Wisconsin folk-rocker to a soon-to-be ubiquitous figure in indie music who’s work as Bon Iver has been heavily lauded by critics and listeners alike. This now hometown hero was included in last year’s big benefit comp, invited to help soundtrack a tween vampire blockbuster and was even covered by prog-rock icon Peter Gabriel for his Scratch My Back / I’ll Scratch Yours project. His latest, a follow-up EP to his breakthrough album For Emma, Forever Ago, is a fittingly meditative opus, full of Vernon’s distinct falsetto and patient, tender songcraft. “Blood Bank”, originally recorded for his Bon Iver debut, and “Beach Baby” set the emotional tone in more familiar terms before he pushes through new minimalist spaces, closing the EP with the Reich-like “Babys” and the stunning auto-tune acapella “Woods”. Those latter tracks turned out to be a nice prelude to the stellar Volcano Choir record, Vernon’s loop-heavy, experimental-pop project with Collections of Colonies of Bees, but actually witnessing his evolution of styles over Blood Bank‘s four songs makes for an even more satisfying listen. [Original Post]

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Download: Bon Iver – Blood Bank
Buy: You can get Blood Bank from Jagjaguwar Records as CD, LP, or MP3s.

Animal Collective - Fall Be Kind

1. Animal Collective – Fall Be Kind

In a career full of forward progression — artistically, critically, and in terms of their growing fan base — 2009 was undoubtedly a big year for Animal Collective. Releasing a record as anticipated and well-received as Merriweather Post Pavilion would be a monumental achievement in itself, but for a band this prolific apparently it wasn’t enough. Before the year was over, Animal Collective had released an EP of new material that some were comfortable in proclaiming as better than the impossibly excellent MPP. I’m not one of those people, but I will say that, for me, Fall Be Kind decisively ascended above much of the music released in 2009, EP or otherwise. The production is perhaps even more impressive than that of the dense Merriweather; the tones and textures here are denser still and impressively dynamic, pushing into piercing, austere extremes at one moment and glowing with diffuse warmth at others, always working in perfect tandem with it’s meticulous constructed songs. And then, of course, there’s the songs themselves. From the seemingly magic forest-soundtracking pan-flute of “Graze”, to the Grateful Dead-sampling transcendence of “What Would I Want? Sky”, all the way through the towering, hypnotic, and undeniably Panda Bear-penned “I Think I Can”, Fall Be Kind is simply one of the finest works in Animal Collective’s discography.

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Download: Animal Collective – What Would I Want? Sky
Buy: Available directly from Domino Records as CD, LP, or MP3s.

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Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):

Beirut / Realpeople - March of the Zapotec / Holland

Beirut/Realpeople – March of the Zapotec/Holland

After indulging in his self-professed Francophile tendencies on 2007’s The Flying Club Cup, Zach Condon returned last year to further explore the music of the world in his characteristic, Balkan-obsessed style. His latest work as Beirut, March of the Zapotec, delves into the sounds of Mexico with help from Banda Jimenez of Teotitlan del Valle, a nineteen-piece funeral band whose surging, breakneck horn section exudes an authentic, gypsy-like command of their instruments. Also included with this EP is a second disc of songs recorded under an early moniker, Realpeople. Holland marks a divergence from Condon’s current grandiose compositions and a return to his roots of bedroom electro-pop, demonstrating that his pure pop sensibilities and warm croons are still moving in dramatically different contexts. [Original Post]

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Download: Beirut – La Llorona

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Download: Realpeople – Venice
Buy: You can order March of the Zapotec/Holland from Ba Da Bing Records as CD or LP.

Bullion - Young Heartache

Bullion – Young Heartache

In his pursuit of heavy, honeyed, wonky hip-hop, London producer Bullion works those kind of chopped-up, psych-soul samples that one may more immediately associate with the late, great J Dilla (aka Jay Dee). Of course, considering Bullion jumped on the scene with the Dilla-themed Beach Boy’s remix album Pet Sounds: In the Key of Dee, he himself would have no issue with such a comparison. Young Heartache is very much in the same vein of his debut with its beat-heavy reworked fragments of vintage 60s pop, even sampling Carl Wilson’s white-boy soul gem “Long Promised Road” from Surf’s Up. Though this time around, Bullion’s efforts look less to others and are more song-oriented, stretching out his hazy, syncopated loops into their own succinct space. Thus far, I’d say he’s turning out to be a worthy Dilla disciple.

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Download: Bullion – Time for Us All to Love
Buy: Download Young Heartache from Bleep or Rhapsody.

Drake - So Far Gone

Drake – So Far Gone

It seems that Canadian “it” boy Drake has come about as far as you can come without releasing a full-length record. By building hype through a Myspace page, mixtapes with increasingly impressive feature spots, and later a number one, ultimately Grammy-nominated single (“Best I Ever Had”) that dropped without the support of any major label, this relatively unknown actor-turned-rapper found his name on the lips of nearly all the big decision-makers in the music industry. After a serious bidding war, Drake eventually settled on Lil’ Wayne‘s Young Money Records (with Universal set to handle distribution) and landed an utterly mind-blowing deal, especially in these times — a $2 million advance, a 75-25 split on sales, and complete publishing rights and masters ownership. His first proper release, So Far Gone, distills his mixtape of the same name that was released earlier in 2009 down to five polished, remastered bangers and adds a couple of new tracks. Drake just does what he does; whether singing or rapping or something in between, he deftly walks the line between boastful arrogance and heartfelt introspection like frequent collaborator Kanye West and effortlessly twists wordplay like mentor Lil’ Wayne. Will his debut full-length, due in March of this year, live up to the insane level of hype that’s been swirling around him? This EP may not definitively answer that question, but it’s definitely promising.

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Download: Drake – Fear
Buy: Pick up So Far Gone from Insound or head over to Rhapsody for the MP3s.

No Age - Losing Feeling

No Age – Losing Feeling

Losing Feeling was billed as a shift for Los Angeles lo-fi rockers No Age, as duo Randy Randall and Dean Spunt would join a whole mess of their peers in integrating sample-driven arrangements into their stripped-down, guitar-and-drum outfit. Turns out that their use of the MPC or SP or what-have-you was subtle, to say the least. To me, this just sounds like another solid release from these noisy dream-punks, but then again, they were always on the spacey side of things. Here catchy melodies and driving rhythms float in and out of distorted waves of feedback and fuzz, the hypnotic loops largely lurking in the folds when the songs really get going. Perhaps No Age are saving the big leap forward for their next LP? If they aren’t, Losing Feeling is clue enough that even without a change of scenery, they’re still making good music.

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Download: No Age – You’re a Target
Buy: Grab Losing Feeling from Sub Pop Records on vinyl or as MP3s.

Sleigh Bells - 2HellWU CD-R

Sleigh Bells – 2HELLWU CD-R

Sleigh Bells features an unlikely pairing — Derek Miller, previously of bro’ed out hardcore band Poison the Well and Alexis Krauss, a former member of a straight-up manufactured teen girl pop group called RubyBlue — but after listening to these abrasive, yet sunny and often dance-ready pop assaults, it doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. That’s not to say their sound is grounded explicitly in their pasts, but the spirit of each is felt in Sleigh Bell’s decidedly contemporary blitzes of guitar noise and vocals laced with sugary pop or cool hipster swagger. Think Enon meets Swizz Beatz meets Times New Viking, their party-jams pushed beyond their stylistic and sonic limits and into the red.

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Download: Sleigh Bells – Crown on the Ground
Buy: This EP was a tour only release (I’m sure you could find it somewhere…), but look for their official debut to drop later this year.

Overlooked Records 2009 (Pt. 2)

Overlooked Records (Pt. 2)

Well here we go again. After finishing up my contributions to Treble‘s yearend and decade lists, it’s time for me to officially close out 2009 over here. Perhaps a bit late according to internet logic, but all of the upcoming music remains very deserving of your attention. Here are a few more records that were inexplicably overlooked on Chickens Don’t Clap!, lost in the overwhelming flood of new music that circulated through my brain this past year.

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Dâm-Funk - Toeachizown

Dâm-Funk – Toeachizown

Los Angeles producer, DJ, and “Ambassador of Boogie Funk” Dâm-Funk is here to revive and reinvent the seemingly forgotten funk legacy of bizarro conceptualism. His expansive debut Toeachizown — released first as a staggered set of digital EPs over the course of 2009, then as a double-disc CD — hints at the sexy, cool artistry of Prince and the left-field psychedelia of Parliament-Funkadelic, but is itself grounded in Dâm-Funk’s own unique, contemporary vision. Constructed with vintage equipment and production aesthetics, this distinctly lo-fi endeavor cuts the fat of over-production from its hypnotic batch of mostly instrumental West Coast hydraulic-bounce. Though that’s not to say Dâm-Funk is hesitant to drop a soulful (and often vocoded) croon now and then to equally captivating effect. In this run through spacey low-rider bangers and smooth R&B jams, he just happens to place a lot of faith in extended passages of unadulterated funk. Listen to the record and you will too.

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Download: Dâm-Funk – Mirrors

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Download: Dâm-Funk – Hood Pass Intact
Buy: Toeachizown is available as a double-disc CD, 5LP set, or five digital EPs from Stones Throw Records.

Real Estate - Real Estate

Real Estate – Real Estate

Yep, lo-fi was still goin’ strong in 2009. It’s not too shocking that it’s become a go-to aesthetic for so many new artists — the appropriate recording equipment is nearly immediately accessible to anyone with a computer and it requires minimal instrumental or songwriting talent. But it’s easy enough to draw distinctions between these bands. Taking the high road, New Jersey’s Real Estate doesn’t mask its music in peak-heavy production or feel like a bandwagon hanger-on knock-off, instead opting to organically meld their subdued, surf-tinged psychedelics with subtle atmospheres and textures. Their modestly hyped debut full-length (at least as far as the lo-fi scene is concerned) comes after a series of well-received 7-inches, EPs, and compilations, featuring mostly newly recorded versions of their older songs. Here they come together quite nicely in what is an excellent, chill-out album for warm weather, stoney summer days, pool parties, and the like.

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Download: Real Estate – Beach Comber
Buy: Get Real Estate from Woodsist Records on CD or LP.

Taken By Trees - East of Eden

Taken By Trees – East of Eden

Most would probably recognize Victoria Bergsman’s voice from her guest spot on the undeniably catchy (and pop-culturally visible) gem “Young Folks”, but since leaving The Concretes in 2006 she’s also been putting out her own impressive solo material as Taken By Trees. On her most recent album, East of Eden, Bergsman took dramatic steps in order to satisfy a self-professed need to push into new territory. Moving away from the pleasant and familiar kind of indie pop that characterized her past works, she and musical partner Andreas Soderstrom decided to relocate to Pakistan and record the album with all Pakistani musicians (apart from that glorious Noah Lennox backup vocal), imbuing her beautiful, bittersweet compositions with a seductive air of mystery and exoticism. Much of the emotionally rich East of Eden was laid down outdoors, leaving its swirl of percussion, subtle electronics, plucked strings, and woodwinds to exist within a breathtaking breadth of space.

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Download: Taken By Trees – Anna
Buy: You can order East of Eden from Insound as an LP or CD.

The-Dream - Love vs. Money

The-Dream – Love vs. Money

When Terius Nash (aka The-Dream) isn’t writing bona fide smash-hit pop anthems, he’s busy crafting his own impeccably produced albums of glossy, synth-driven R&B. Since 2007, this master of wordless hooks (“Ella, ella, ella”) and thug-shout studio punch-ins (“EEYYYYY!”) has made two of the most consistent and irresistible pop records this side of Justin Timberlake with another (and supposedly final) full-length due in 2010. His latest, the stellar Love vs. Money, is soaked in Patrón-fueled infidelities, shimmery sugar daddy love stories, mournful heartbreak, boastful sex jams, and more boastful sex jams. Of course, The-Dream’s infectious melodies and insane production is what really propels this album, its glitzy layers of sound building and collapsing in seamless brilliance. Those quick to judge might write it off as style-over-substance, but give Love vs. Money a few spins and its dense, flawless construction is sure to obscure any misguided objections one might have over its shallow and hedonistic materialism.

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Download: The-Dream – Rockin’ That Shit
Buy: Pick up Love vs. Money on CD from Amazon or as MP3s over at Rhapsody.

Tyondai Braxton - Central Market

Tyondai Braxton – Central Market

Central Market is a different beast than pretty much anything else I’ve heard this year. Branching out from previous loop-based orchestral solo endeavors, Tyondai Braxton (with support from The Wordless Music Orchestra) delves into far more ambitious and grandiose compositions on this most recent record. A whirlwind of percussion, guitar, electronics, strings, woodwinds, horns, kazoo, and whistles, Central Market unfolds with equal parts patience and Looney Toon-mania, recalling the works of some of the greatest twentieth century composers — Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Reich, Eno — as well as more contemporary avant-noisemakers like Black Dice and, of course, Braxton’s own band Battles. Incredibly full of varying tones, textures, and sounds, this is easily one of the more challenging and rewarding listens of 2009, yet also one of the most playful and fun.

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Download: Tyondai Braxton – Platinum Rows
Buy: Central Market is available over at Bleep as MP3s, WAVs, CD, or LP.

Overlooked Records 2009 (Pt. 1)

Overlooked Records (Pt. 1)

Over the course of a year I end up listening to a lot of music. Some might say too much. And maybe they’ve got a point, since I invariably fail to mention a handful of records that made regular appearances in my listening rotation, for one reason or another. So, as I start to reflect on 2009, it’s only fair that these noteworthy albums get their due before my regularly scheduled features begin to trickle out. A number received far too little coverage most everywhere, so you may have allowed them to slip under your radar as well. Enjoy rectifying that along with me.

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Nero's Day at Disneyland - From Rotting Fantasylands

Nero’s Day at Disneyland – From Rotting Fantasylands

The chaotic blitz of Nero’s Day at Disneyland‘s breakcore wizardry is truly something to behold. A dizzying meld of haunting classical samples, warped and misshapen vocals, doomed waltz cadences, dread-inducing synth arpeggios, thunderous, rapid-fire percussive assaults, and a pure, piercing electronic fury, the cyberpunk mania of From Rotting Fantasylands is unrelenting and anarchic, often executed in extreme BPM. Yet, once you’ve stopped reeling from the sheer ferocity of it all, it’s clear that the solo work of Brock Bousfield is also constructed with meticulous fervor. And those rich, labyrinthine layers of delightfully miasmic sounds grab hold and never let go for the album’s duration. Featuring the work of Norwegian artist Andreas Barlseth, the art for From Rotting Fantasylands aptly mirrors the frenzy and delirium of Bousfield’s compositions, so be sure to pick up a copy… it’s doubtful you’ve heard anything quite like it this year (or ever).

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Download: Nero’s Day at Disneyland – Civilizing People

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Download: Nero’s Day at Disneyland – Death Parade (Feat. Kevin Shields)

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Download: Nero’s Day at Disneyland – Probably End Up Dead in a Ditch Somewhere
Buy: Stream the whole album (as a single mp3) over at SoundCloud. You can pick this up from iTunes or Amazon as MP3s, the CD is only available at live shows and Cargo Records at the moment.

jj - jj n° 2

jj – jj n° 2

There’s very little tangible information about Swedish (?) group jj available out there on the internet. No website, no blog, no MySpace or Facebook page, no twitter — rarities even for artists keeping their identities a secret — and record label Sincerely Yours surely isn’t letting on to who they might be or where they’re from. Without much to go on, one can speculate away or simply revel in the mystery while absorbing the summery pop gems that jj dropped in 2009. A brief, tropical swirl of balearic and folk tinged pop, debut record jj n° 2 fits in perfectly as the chilled-out flipside to the breezy electronica of labelmates The Tough Alliance and Air France. Released on July 1st, it follows both A New Chance and No Way Down as Sincerely Yours’ latest stake on continued dominance of the “summer jam”. And with tracks as irresistible as the sunny and uplifting “From Africa to Málaga”, the drugged-out and euphoric “Lollipop”-remake “Ecstasy”, and the buoyant “Masterplan”, jj n° 2 may be the most convincing one yet.

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Download: jj – From Africa to Málaga

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Download: jj – Ecstasy
Buy: Stream jj n° 2 and then order it directly from Sincerely Yours as 320kbps MP3s.

Antony and the Johnsons - The Crying Light

Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light

It seems to be an increasingly remarkable occurrence, in our current era, when an artist is able to construct an identity that stands in stark contrast to those of his or her contemporaries. New York singer, composer, theatrical and visual artist Antony Hegarty should certainly be counted as one of a shrinking number of such artists. His latest album, The Crying Light, is another devastating work, every piece crafted with staggering grace and care. In this mournful exploration of birth, life, death, nature, identity and the complex interplay between these forces, Antony and his chamber orchestra instill his arrangements with overwhelming emotion, relying on sparse instrumentation that yields implausibly rich textures and soundscapes. Beyond compositional strength, the emotional depth of The Crying Light is bolstered by Antony’s otherworldly vocal performance. At once capable of controlled, trembling warbles, pained croons, and magnificent, chill-inducing caterwauls, his distinctive voice perfects the expressive realization of this record – what other way is there to convey the crushing tragedy of a song like “Another World”? “I need another world, this one’s nearly gone / Still have too many dreams, never seen the light / I need another world, a place where I can go” could never sound more sad or beautiful. [Originally published at Treble]

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Download: Antony and the Johnsons – Epilepsy Is Dancing

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Download: Antony and the Johnsons – Another World
Buy: Pick up The Crying Light directly from the Antony and the Johnsons webstore.

Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II

Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II

Album sequels can be a tricky business, particularly when an artist sets up an upcoming record as a sequel to a work held to be the best in their discography, let alone one of the greatest hip-hop records ever made. Results have included some modern classics like Tha Carter III and unexpected comebacks like Stillmatic, but there’s been plenty more disappointments (I’m looking at you Blueprint 2 and 3) along the way. Even against these odds, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II finds Raekwon comfortably reprising his role as ice-cold kingpin and cinematic storyteller, crafting an opus worthy of sharing the name of the original classic. These bleak tales thoroughly detail intersecting lives caught up in inner city drug trade and its associated fallouts with the same grit and vivid hood slang poetry that permeates the greatest Wu-Tang records. Dark, intense, disturbing, eloquent, and inimitable, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II is easily one of the best hip-hop albums of the last few years.

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Download: Raekwon – House of Flying Daggers (Feat. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface & Method Man)

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Download: Raekwon – Catalina (Feat. Lyfe Jennings)
Buy: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II is available from Amazon, Insound, or Rhapsody.

Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue

Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue

Since 2004, Stephen Wilkinson has been exploring the ethereal outer reaches of lo-fi electro-acoustic loops as Bibio, but in light of the excellent Ambivalence Avenue, it seems as if all previous works have been pushing toward this moment. Never before has Wilkinson explored such complete songwriting as he does on his debut for Warp Records. Relying less on repetitive loops and spacey ambience, here he effortlessly fuses these elements into a superior, pop-driven, and more vocal-centered context. Still full of lush atmospherics, the resulting blend traverses driving psych-pop, funked-out minimalism, Dilla-esque breakbeats, glitchy electronica, and breezy folk musings, all the while maintaining its own distinct identity. By applying a wider scope and a bit more focus, Bibio went ahead and made the best album of his career without really sacrificing what made his music interesting in the first place. [Originally published at Treble]

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Download: Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue

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Download: Bibio – Fire Ant
Buy: You can stream Ambivalence Avenue and buy it as CD, MP3s, or WAVs over at Bleep.

’09 Been Kind

Fall Be Kind

Photo by Joe Mangat.

Well, after a trip up to Portland, Oregon and a bout with a still-lingering illness, I’m finally back up in this. Perfect timing too, because there’s a lot goin’ on right now. Most notably, you can now stream a song from the most exciting effort still waiting to see an official release this year — Animal Collective‘s Fall Be Kind. “Graze” opens this stunning EP with a languid interplay of sounds and soaring vocal trade-off between Avey Tare and Panda Bear before transforming into an absurdly joyous, enchanted forest-esque pan flute jam, rich with smile-inducing harmonies, percussive clicks and clacks, and buzzing gurgles of bass. And this isn’t even the best song on the record! As long as I’m listening to this, what remains of fall will indeed be kind…

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Buy: Pre-order Fall Be Kind from Domino Records as CD or LP (with mp3 download). The digital version will be available on November 23rd.

Now, with the year’s end looming, many are not only beginning to reflect on what 2009 had to offer, but also churning out hype for some of the more anticipated releases of 2010. I’ve already mentioned the addictive first single from Yeasayer‘s upcoming Odd Blood, which is sounding like it might be the biggest surprise of early ’10 (…that sounds weird right? Say it out loud. ’10? Weeeird.). As I work on my year-end features and lists, I can’t help but feel that I’d like to try and finish 2009 first… except, there’s a lot more to look forward to in next year’s early months.

Beach House - Norway

Just a few days ago, Beach House unveiled “Norway” from the upcoming Teen Dream. On their third record, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally are still crafting their dreamy minimalist pop with many of the same elements — chintzy drum work, effects-laden guitars, woozy organs, and ethereal vocal work — and yet this feels bigger than perhaps any song they’ve put out thus far. Opening with simple drum hits and organ drones, “Norway” explodes into a surprisingly layered cascade of breathy vocal stabs and starbursting guitars, only to slip into a dizzying meander of bent notes and Legrand’s soothing drawl. Alternating between hazy swoon and dazzling heights, this track makes a promise that Teen Dream is sure to deliver on when it drops January 26th on Sub Pop.

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Download: Beach House – Norway
Buy: You can pre-order Teen Dream from Insound as LP or CD right now.

Toro y Moi - Blessa

South Carolina’s Toro y Moi, easily one the best projects to come out of the whole chillwave/glo-fi/dreamcore/fuzzstep/hazegaze/mouse house/fog-pop scene, is set to release two full-lengths in 2010. Right now you can download the album version of the previously blog-circulated “Blessa”, mastered and extended to include a brief, spaced-out transition into whatever song may follow it on Causers of This. His first album due out on Carpark Records next year comes out on February 23rd, 2010. (via)

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Download: Toro y Moi – Blessa
Buy: No pre-order for Causers of This yet, but you can pick up the “Blessa” single (with b-side “109”) as 7″ or mp3s from Insound.

Of course, there’s a whole lot more to look forward to in 2010. Here’s a list (with appetite-whetting links when available) of some other things to keep your eyes peeled for:

Final Fantasy – Heartlands (Jan. 12th)
Vampire Weekend – Contra (Jan. 12th)
Four Tet – There Is Love in You (Jan. 26th)
Free Energy – Stuck on Nothin’ (Jan. 26th)
The Magnetic Fields – Realism (Jan. 26th)
Spoon – Transference (Jan. 26th)
Midlake – The Courage of Others (Feb. 2nd)
Hot Chip – One Life Stand (Feb. 8th)
Pantha du Prince – Black Noise (Feb. 9th) (Will also include a Panda Bear feature spot!)
Drake – Thank Me Later (Feb. 14th)
Field Music – Measure (Feb. 16th)
Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago (Feb. 23rd)
The Streets – Computers and Blues (Feb. 23rd)
Xiu Xiu – Dear God, I Hate Myself (Feb. 23rd)
Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks (Mar. 1st)
Aloha – Home Acres (Mar. 9th)
Liars – Sisterworld (Early 2010)
Minus the Bear – TBA (Early 2010)
The National – TBA (Spring 2010)
Battles – TBA
Daft Punk – Tron Legacy OST
Madvillain – TBA
MGMT – Congratulations
Of Montreal – False Priest
RJD2 – The Colossus
Three Mile Pilot – TBA

Look out for the possibility of Animal Collective’s “visual album” seeing the light of day, and maybe new records from M.I.A., Kanye West, Joanna Newsom, Panda Bear, Arcade Fire, Burial, No Age, Menomena, The Books, and Mock Orange. With any luck, next year may also see the release of the insanely anticipated follow-up to Since I Left You from The Avalanches. Sure, it’s been ten years… but it sounds like they’re just clearing samples at this point.

What are you looking forward to in 2010?

My Twenty Five Favorite Albums of 2008

Ahhh, finally! It feels good to finish up my year-end lists while we’re still in January! I can see I started a little too late again, or maybe I added one too many last minute list ideas, but it’s certainly far more on time than the year before last. Anyhow, there was certainly a plethora of good albums released last year, so many that I could never hope to include them all in this list, but also not a whole lot of great ones (luckily, 2009 seems to be setting itself up for a serious explosion of greatness). I listened to many and inevitably failed to get to many others, but here are my twenty five favorite albums from 2008 (along with a fairly sizable list of honorable mentions). Enjoy and please feel free to post your own lists or accuse me of leaving out your favorite album from last year in the comments section.

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Marnie Stern - This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That
25. Marnie Stern – This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That
[Myspace] [Buy] [Original Post]

M83 - Saturdays=Youth
24. M83 – Saturdays=Youth
[Myspace] [Buy]

Santogold & Diplo - Top Ranking
23. Santogold & Diplo – Top Ranking
[Myspace] [Buy]

Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna
22. Gang Gang Dance – Saint Dymphna
[Myspace] [Buy]

Lykke Li - Youth Novels
21. Lykke Li – Youth Novels
[Myspace] [Buy]

The War on Drugs - Wagonwheel Blues
20. The War on Drugs – Wagonwheel Blues
[Myspace] [Buy] [Original Post]

The Mae Shi - HLLLYH
19. The Mae Shi – HLLLYH
[Myspace] [Buy]

Wale - The Mixtape About Nothing
18. Wale – The Mixtape About Nothing
[Myspace] [Free Download] [Original Post]

WAVVES - WAVVES
17. WAVVES – WAVVES
[Myspace] [Buy] [Original Post]

Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours
16. Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours
[Myspace] [Buy]

White Denim - Exposion
15. White Denim – Exposion
[Myspace] [Buy] [Original Post]

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
14. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
[Myspace] [Buy]

Department of Eagles - In Ear Park
13. Department of Eagles – In Ear Park
[Myspace] [Buy] [Original Post]

Atlas Sound - Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
12. Atlas Sound – Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
[Myspace] [Buy] [Original Post]

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
11. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
[Myspace] [Buy]

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

10. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

Wait, don’t stop reading here!! I know, I know… it’s the band that many love, but plenty of others love to hate (some because so many love them). And I can understand that. It’s easy to get caught up in a number of factors, especially those outside of Vampire Weekend‘s actual music, and disregard them as obnoxiously overhyped. I’ve wrestled with my own opinions of this album like someone on a twelve-step program, from initial excitement, to knee-jerk backlash, to gradual reacceptance, finally settling in complete conviction of its value. Yes, it may be very precious and bourgeois, but its with rich instrumentation, undeniable melodies, and genuinely interesting integration of new wave, chamber music, and African guitar-pop, their self-titled debut is also quite good. Maybe not for everybody, but within the rigid landscape of indie pop it’s a surprising achievement.

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Download: Vampire Weekend – Oxford Comma
Buy: Order Vampire Weekend from Beggars Group USA on CD or vinyl.

El Guincho - Alegranza

9. El Guincho – Alegranza

Technically self-released in 2007, this breakthrough sophomore record from Barcelona’s El Guincho largely spearheaded the momentous surge of tropical sounds of last year with an early, widespread leak and eventual worldwide release in 2008. With its relentless blend of electronics, tropicália, calypso, afrobeat, and psychedelia, Alegranza is primed to push any dance party over the edge for the duration of its entire 40 minutes. However, these party jams still hold up off the dance floor. In your headphones, Pablo Díaz-Reixa’s layered sample work strongly recalls the music of peers Animal Collective, Panda Bear, and The Ruby Suns, all the while obeying its own tribalist gravity with infectious, overlapping rhythms, dense percussion, and transcendent chants. [Original Post]

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Download: El Guincho – Palmitos Park
Buy: Order Alegranza from Beggars Group USA as CD, vinyl, or digital download.

Portishead - Third

8. Portishead – Third

Portishead‘s Third was perhaps the biggest surprise of 2008… not just on account that it even happened, but also because it was a surprisingly awesome record. After an 11 year absence, somehow they’ve returned with material every bit as good as that on their first two releases without really falling back on their past sound. While Beth Gibbons’ vocal work maintains its same allure and grounds Third in her typical hopeless alienation, the familiar trip-hop of Portishead is filtered heavily through lo-fi electronics, percussive industrial, and (most notably) spacey psychedelic rock. “The Rip”, a clear standout even amongst this collection of excellent tracks, is one of the most devastating in their entire discography; Gibbons’ tortured, ethereal voice floats gracefully like mist over a frozen lake, as the fragile guitar melody ultimately transforms into surreal, moody electronics. I don’t want to call it a comeback, but Portishead have certainly returned unexpectedly to fill the void they’d left that no one else seemed able to fill.

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Download: Portishead – The Rip
Buy: Third is available over at Insound on CD or vinyl.

Women - Women

7. Women – Women

One of the many exceptional debuts of 2008, Women‘s self-titled record is a murky swath of hissing ambience, crushing noise, clattering percussion, guitar jangle, and muffled psychedelia. Recorded on “ghettoblasters and old tape machines” by Chad VanGaalen in his basement and crawlspace, the album’s striking production ranges from profoundly spacious to claustrophobic, allowing melodies to soar and walls of static and feedback to suffocate. Women impressively balance these elements, jumping back and forth between, and at times blending, harmony and cacophony before devolving into the record’s dissonant, chaotic finale. Amidst this larger vision, they also managed to write one of the best songs of the year. “Black Rice” is at once catchy and off-kilter, leaving you feeling like this psych-pop gem was ripped from some slightly warped vinyl. Vocal melodies drone and bend as guitar riffs churn over driving glockenspiel, the song swelling and dissolving, barely allowing itself to resolve at its close.

It got a fair amount of attention, but I still feel like Women was underrated. If you haven’t heard it, make sure you check it out as soon as possible. I can’t seem to get enough it. [Original Post]

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Download: Women – Black Rice
Buy: Women is available from Flemish Eye (Canada) or Jagaguwar (U.S.).

The Very Best - The Very Best Mixtape

6. The Very Best – The Very Best Mixtape

Many aspects of the ongoing globalization of our world are ripe for criticism, but there’s no question that our increasing interconnectedness has distinct cultural benefits as well. The music of the world, both that of legends less-known in the West and currently rising stars, is rapidly becoming available with just a few clicks of a mouse, raising visibility and genuine interest in America and elsewhere. It’s difficult to imagine another world in which Esau Mwamwaya could relocate from Malawi to London, open a used furniture store, by chance hook up with U.K. producers/DJs Radioclit, and then take the world by storm with a pre-album mixtape (sung mostly in his native Chichewa) that pulls from Afropop, baile funk, dancehall, Western pop and indie music, electro, and hip-hop. Whether putting his own often more-compelling spin on African-influenced indie favorites, reinventing Beatles songs, or taking the listener to uplifting highs on his monumental original tracks, the ridiculously charming Esau has established himself as a refreshing and authentic voice in this new movement of “world music” (which actually lives up to that seemingly broad labeling). The Very Best plan to release an official debut in 2009, but right now it’s hard to believe it could be better than this. I’m looking forward to them proving me wrong. [Original Post] [#2]

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Download: The Very Best – Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa

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Download: The Very Best – Dinosaur on the Ark (Feat. Ben Brewer)
Buy: Like any self-respecting mixtape, The Very Best’s is available for free over at their myspace.

Deerhunter - Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.

5. Deerhunter – Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.

The most recent effort from Atlanta psych-rockers Deerhunter was, unfortunately, at the center of 2008’s most publicized leak drama. First, Microcastle was posted online in its entirety five months prior to its October release date, which is probably what prompted the band to make it available on iTunes well before the slated physical release. As if that wasn’t enough, frontman Bradford Cox then inadvertently directed readers of the Deerhunter/Atlas Sound blog towards his unprotected MediaShare folder, which contained an unmastered version of the album’s secret bonus disc (Weird Era Cont.) as well as unfinished recordings for the next Atlas Sound album and personal photos. However, no amount of drama could overshadow the sheer excellence of this record. Cox may share some of his vocal duties with guitarist Lockett Pundt this time around, but his hand is still obviously the guiding force of the band. With some of the most rewarding guitar work of the decade, Microcastle is defined by its rich layers of sound and enduring melodies. And even though Deerhunter is still traversing dark thematic territory, this record rises to more pop-friendly heights than previous works. Meanwhile, Weird Era Cont. submerges the listener into the depths of fuzz, most of its hooks buried underneath dense, foggy production. It operates as a perfect compliment to the brighter and smoother Microcastle; both albums could easily stand on their own, but become even stronger together. [Original Post]

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Download: Deerhunter – Nothing Ever Happened (Microcastle)

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Download: Deerhunter – Vox Celeste (Weird Era Cont.)
Buy: Microcastle / Weird Era Cont. is available from Kranky Records.

Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter III

4. Lil’ Wayne – Tha Carter III

After spending his time flooding the mixtape market in 2006 and 2007 with a multitude of releases, including the acclaimed Dedication 2 and Da Drought 3, Lil’ Wayne returned last year with Tha Carter III. His latest creation is nothing short of classic, marked starkly by it’s impressive conceptual breadth as well as Weezy’s incredible performance as an MC. In these sixteen tracks, he’s able to touch on everything we might expect and more, moving from boastful verbal assaults, to shameless club anthems, to Hip-Hop 101 lectures, to meditations on Katrina and it’s aftermath, to quasi-experimental bizarro bangers and beyond, littering his remarkable vocal performances with mind-boggling rhymes and unmatched passion. Even the missteps on Tha Carter III, scarce as they are, are intriguing on at least a couple levels. And I’d like to say that 99% of the rap game can consider this album a lesson in originality, creativity, flow, candor, commentary, and marketability, but because Wayne is such an enigmatic figure it’s difficult to imagine what his peers could really gain from such lessons… other than a realization that they’ll probably never be able to balance this kind of commercial vitality and miles-ahead-of-everyone artistry.

RZA once characterized fellow Wu-Tang Clan member Ol’ Dirty Bastard as “an expression of pure freedom”. With O.D.B. sadly gone well before his time, it seems that in many ways Lil’ Wayne is the heir apparent to his throne. Rumors are already circling around his upcoming releases: supposedly next up is the experimental “new version” of Tha Carter III, or maybe he’ll actually be making a rock record, or maybe it’ll be Tha Carter IV, which Wayne says he “wants everybody to love”. Whatever it is, we can probably assume that it’ll come straight from his ever-baffling core and be the most interesting thing going on at the time of its release.

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Download: Lil’ Wayne – A Milli

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Download: Lil’ Wayne – Let the Beat Build
Buy: You can pick up Tha Carter III over at Amazon.

Rafter - Sex Death Cassette

3. Rafter – Sex Death Cassette

A jarring pastiche of bubbly bedroom-pop blurbs, Rafter‘s Sex Death Cassette is perhaps his most successful and realized work to date. This aptly-titled opus strings together 19 tracks of introspective meanderings, both playful and pensive, like an unpolished mixtape. Ideas fade away almost as quickly as they appear while Rafter spews out candy-coated hooks awash in experimentalist tendencies and 4-track immediacy. Like a kid who can’t sit still, he adopts a number of approaches with wide-eyed wonder, interweaving supremely hushed, minimalist indie pop, lo-fi dance oddities, disjointed noise-jams, and the occasional plaintive, dreamlike dirge. Stream-of-consciousness is a risky undertaking; most of those who harness its strengths ultimately have to deal with its shortcomings as well. But here it all works brilliantly with the aesthetic of the record, giving Sex Death Cassette an affecting intimacy that provides both initial charm and lasting appeal. [Original Post]

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Download: Rafter – Zzzpenchant

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Download: Rafter – Chances

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Download: Rafter – No One Home Ever
Buy: Order Sex Death Cassette over at the Asthmatic Kitty website.

WHY? - Alopecia

2. WHY? – Alopecia

It’s pretty easy to get the sense that most listeners stand on either side of the fence with this band, perhaps with a smaller, confused middle ground all scratching their heads wondering if this is indie rock or hip-hop. Well, WHY? are back again to prove that they’re capable of capturing something from both genres, all the while becoming increasingly difficult to categorize. Like 2005’s Elephant Eyelash, it took me a few listens to really be sure of how I felt about Alopecia, but after it all sinks in this album reveals itself as another masterpiece of bleak absurdist-pop. Yoni Wolf’s dark, spoke-sung poetry swirls around cascading piano, catchy guitar riffs, droning synth, and an arsenal of intricate percussion. Beyond it’s genre-bending, the record seems to be engaged in a constant balancing act, whether between laughable hyperbole and painful honesty or the bright and humorous and the morbidly depressing. The results are like a walk through Yoni’s subconscious, at one moment worthy of a chuckle or beaming grin, the next of a shudder or legitimate concern, all framed within some of the most interesting and original indie pop being recorded right now. Let’s hope making records remains his therapy of choice for at least a little while longer. [Original Post]

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Download: WHY? – Fatalist Palmistry
Buy: Alopecia is available from Anticon Records on CD or vinyl.

No Age - Nouns

1. No Age – Nouns

In 2008, lo-fi was king. Like one concerted assault against a mass of worthless, overproduced pop music, they attacked in many forms: from fractured bedroom recordings, to sugary, fuzz-laden noise pop, to grating experimental punk anthems. Somewhere in between these styles sits No Age, an integral force in the thriving noise rock scene centered at Los Angeles’ D.I.Y. venue/artist’s center The Smell. On Nouns, their first proper album and excellent follow-up to 2007’s 7-inch collection Weirdo Rippers, Randy Randall and Dean Spunt display their deft ear for melody and push a simple guitar/drums line-up to its limits. Whether smothering their saccharine power chords with blankets of feedback and a forceful racket of drums and cymbals or constructing passages of tranquil, crescendoing ambience, No Age is clearly thinking bigger than their aesthetic might suggest. These aren’t just fantastic lo-fi punk songs, they’re dense soundscapes of noisy euphoria. [Original Post]

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Download: No Age – Eraser

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Download: No Age – Teen Creeps
Buy: Nouns is available in CD, vinyl and digital formats over at Sub Pop.

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Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):

Abe Vigoda – Skeleton [Myspace] [Buy] [Original Post]
Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) [Myspace] [Buy]
Flying Lotus – Los Angeles [Myspace] [Buy]
Girl Talk – Feed the Animals [Myspace] [Buy]
Grouper – Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill [Myspace] [Buy]
High Places – 03/07-09/07 [Myspace] [Buy]
Paavoharju – Laulu Laakson Kukista [Myspace] [Buy]
Ponytail – Ice Cream Spiritual [Myspace] [Buy] [Original Post]
The Ruby Suns – Sea Lion [Myspace] [Buy] [Original Post]
Subtle – ExitingARM [Myspace] [Buy]
Chad VanGaalen – Soft Airplane [Myspace] [Buy]
Vivian Girls – Vivian Girls [Myspace] [Buy]
Zazen Boys – Zazen Boys 4 [Myspace] [Buy] [Original Post]

My Five Favorite EPs of 2008

Well, the year is over, but I’ve still got a bit of reflection left. Whether they were leftover collections from established favorites or stunning debuts, lush baroque-pop or lo-fi trip-hop, noisy drone or melody-driven math rock, 2008 was littered with a range of excellent EPs. I managed to compile a short list of favorites (and some honorable mentions). Enjoy and feel free to leave your own lists, or perhaps some EPs you think I may have missed or should have been included, in the comments section. Next up… my favorite albums from 2008.

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Final Fantasy - Spectrum, 14th Century

5. Final Fantasy – Spectrum, 14th Century

The stronger of the pair of EPs released by Final Fantasy (solo project of Canada’s resident orchestral-pop genius Owen Pallett) last year, Spectrum, 14th Century is a logical extension of 2006’s He Poos Clouds. Like that record, Spectrum blends reality and fantasy, tackling present-day concerns while detailing an imaginary kingdom with ornate, antiquated language, modern slang, and references relevant only to the video game generation. Simultaneously indebted to chamber music, musical theater, contemporary avant-garde movements, and indie pop, Pallett’s compositions themselves are equally collisional — a kind of post-modern approach to the sounds of the 18th century.

Conceived as collection of so-called “fake field recordings”, Spectrum, 14th Century was recorded outdoors in Quebec with Zach Condon and the other members of Beirut (Pallett was a studio musician for 2007’s The Flying Club Cup), which is fitting since Final Fantasy’s music seems to conjure images of dramatic landscapes and wide open spaces in my mind. And the backing from these fellow Europhiles really fills out the sound of an EP that strongly delivers on its intended goal: whetting one’s appetite for Pallet’s upcoming Heartlands LP.

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Download: Final Fantasy – The Butcher
Buy: Spectrum, 14th Century is available as a digital download ($4.44), on CD ($8), or 10-inch vinyl ($8).

Air France - No Way Down

4. Air France – No Way Down

Air is from Paris, France, but Air France is from Gothenburg, Sweden. Alright, but if the latter were actually from France, they’d certainly fit comfortably in the celebrated tradition of French electronica. Though, come to think of it, with their nostalgic feel, bright melodies, and rich, layered approach, they also recall Australian forerunners Cut Copy and The Avalanches. Fortunately, one really doesn’t need to look beyond Sweden’s borders for the appropriate context in which to place Air France; with the release of No Way Down, they’ve established themselves as an integral part of their home country’s own burgeoning electronic scene.

Their second EP, released on the record label started by acclaimed Gothenburg peers The Tough Alliance, is an unabashedly triumphant dreamscape of soaring strings, rippling piano, walls of synth, vocal samples, handclaps, and stone-cold groove. Standout “Collapsing at Your Doorstep” begins with two statements on loop: “Sorta like a dream? No… better.” Bold, but accurate. This blissful song builds, soars, and (of course) collapses repeatedly, yielding a piece of head-spinning electro-pop that seems to lodge itself inside your mind and demand additional listens.

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Download: Air France – Collapsing at Your Doorstep
Buy: You can get No Way Down as a digital download over at Amazon.

Rafter - Sweaty Magic

3. Rafter – Sweaty Magic

Leave it to Rafter to create an EP that’s a crude construction of noisy, seemingly-disposable dance music and still have it end up in my top three. Touching on a myriad of dance genre cornerstones, Rafter Roberts filters the likes of Prince, Tom Zé, Zapp & Roger, and The Neptunes through his own prism of sugary avant-pop. The results are unsurprisingly hodgepodge. “Juicy” and “Salt” are most reminiscent of the fractured bedroom-pop of his previous album (Sex Death Cassette), albeit with added tinges of vocoder, synth, and the occasional driving beat or funked-out guitar riff. “Magic”, a kind of bizarro, lo-fi club jam, skews trashier, while closer “Heat” is a smooth, loungey track propelled almost entirely by upright bass and ramshackle percussion. And, as he always does, Rafter somehow makes it all work. [Original Post]

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Download: Rafter – Magic

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Download: Rafter – Juicy
Buy: Order Sweaty Magic directly from Asthmatic Kitty.

Fleet Foxes - Sun Giant

2. Fleet Foxes – Sun Giant

Sun Giant was Fleet Foxes‘ first official, harmony-drenched offering, quickly followed by their eponymous LP, and helped spark that serious initial buzz across forums, blogs, and zines alike. As it turns out that buzz carried and grew well into the year’s end, as their releases have topped a number of last year’s album lists, easy making them the most critically-acclaimed new artist in 2008. At once an exaltation and extension of the folk tradition, Fleet Foxes recall My Morning Jacket, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Simon & Garfunkel, bluegrass close-harmony groups, as well medieval minstrel and hymn music. Sun Giant covers both the sparse and the baroque in its compositions, but remains clearly centered on the rich vocal performances by Robin Pecknold and the rest of the band. Outside of Brian Wilson’s finally-realized SMiLE, you’ll have a hard time finding sweeter harmonies anywhere this decade.

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Download: Fleet Foxes – Mykonos
Buy: You can get Sun Giant from Sub Pop Records as a digital download or CD for $5, or you can order the Fleet Foxes self-titled debut as an LP for $14 and get Sun Giant on vinyl along with it (only way to get the EP on vinyl).

Animal Collective - Water Curses

1. Animal Collective – Water Curses

Perhaps one of the most obvious signs of a truly great band is when a collection of studio cuts that didn’t make it onto their last record can go critically toe to toe with other artists’ normal releases. Well, Animal Collective‘s Water Curses not only matches up with the other EPs released last year, but sits at the top spot on my list of favorite EPs from 2008. With three recordings from the Strawberry Jam sessions and one other song, A.C. begin with the excellent title-track and gradually, beautifully devolve into the relative formlessness of “Seal Eyeing”, giving us another offering of unparalleled, ostensibly effortless pop-explorations. And even though I know these guys spend time on their music, flushing out most compositions with live experimentation before committing them to record, somehow their songs feel very cerebral and emotional at once… as though these otherworldly melodies and rhythms have simply come flooding out of the very cores of their being in one dramatic rush. [Original Post]

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Download: Animal Collective – Water Curses
Buy: You can pick up a digital copy of Water Curses from the Domino Records online store for $4, or order the vinyl ($11) or CD ($8) from Insound.

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Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):

The Cool Kids - The Bake Sale

The Cool Kids – The Bake Sale

This much-hyped duo out of Chicago makes their contribution to the minimalist hip-hop movement with their satisfying debut EP. At least half of these tracks were all over the blogosphere months before this release, but surprisingly that fact doesn’t really detract from The Cool Kids‘ first concerted blend of contemporary thinking and retro-sensibility.

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Download: The Cool Kids – Black Mags
Buy: The Bake Sale is available on iTunes or, if you want a physical copy, over at Insound.

Crystal Stilts - Crystal Stilts

Crystal Stilts – Crystal Stilts

A collection of previous vinyl releases, the Crystal Stilts‘ self-titled EP pulls its bittersweet guitar-jangle from Buddy Holly, The Clean, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and nearly everywhere in between. If you’re into fuzzed-out guitars, haunting pop vocals, 60s/garage-style hooks, standing drummers, and gratuitous amounts of tambourine, then don’t miss out on this.

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Download: Crystal Stilts – Crippled Croon
Buy: You can order Crystal Stilts from the Woodsist mailorder (scroll down).

Flying Lotus - L.A. EP 1x3

Flying Lotus – L.A. EP 1×3

With his sophomore album Los Angeles released to widespread acclaim, 2008 was certainly a breakout year for Flying Lotus. The first in a three-part series of EPs, L.A. EP 1×3 is a great companion piece to that album, taking the listener further down the rabbit hole of FlyLo’s grimy glitch-hop.

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Download: Flying Lotus – My Chippy
Buy: The vinyl was limited to 2000 pressings and has been sold out for a while, but the EP is still available on iTunes.

Maps & Atlases - You and Me and the Mountain

Maps & Atlases – You and Me and the Mountain

Combining varied drum work that embraces woodblock and cowbell, intricate guitar play, and distinct, poppy vocal stylings, Maps & Atlases craft another awesome EP that would probably fit nicely somewhere in the Kinsellaaffiliated band canon. Here’s hoping that 2009 sees them finally release a full-length.

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Download: Maps & Atlases – Artichokes
Buy: You and Me and the Mountain is available at the Sargent House online store.

MRR-ADM - Untitled

MRR-ADM – Untitled

I got turned on to this San Diego duo on a recommendation from Jeannette Deron, a friend who actually appears as a guest on this untitled 10-inch EP to shred some serious wah-wah riffage. With some additional help from Malcom Catto of The Heliocentrics, MRR-ADM (formerly known as MHE) take a Portishead-inspired journey into the realm of spacey, drum-centric funk-hop.

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Download: MRR-ADM – 012 (Feat. Malcom Catto & Jeannette Deron)
Buy: MRR-ADM’s Untitled EP is out of print, so it may be difficult to find… but, hopefully we’ll get some new material this year.

Salem - Yes, I Smoke Crack

Salem – Yes I Smoke Crack

I think Salem was probably best described (over at Turntable Lab) as “Cocteau Twins on a dirty south kick”. Drenched in dark feedback and murky distortion, Yes I Smoke Crack is grounded by relentless beats. Definitely looking forward to more from them in 2009.

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Download: Salem – Redlights
Buy: Yes I Smoke Crack is sold out, but you can pick up their other EP on iTunes.

2008: Odds and Ends (Pt. 2)

Here’s part two of my odds and ends list, which focuses mostly on 7-inches, but also sneaks in a purely digital single and one entry that is a bit more difficult to categorize. Coming up soon: my five favorite EPs and twenty five favorite albums of 2008. Until then, have a happy new year!

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Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti -

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – “Can’t Hear My Eyes” / “Evolution’s a Lie”

This single from lo-fi pop wizard Ariel Pink came as a late surprise this year, announced and released just this month, and has me really excited for more new material in 2009. A-side “Can’t Hear My Eyes” is pure melancholy on a worn out 8-track, lulling and soothing like an off-kilter easy listening gem. Check that out down below and stream “Evolution’s a Lie” over here. Can’t wait to see Ariel open for Animal Collective in January.

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Download: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Can’t Hear My Eyes
Buy: Limited to 500 presses, this may be tough to find. But, check this list of retailers or pick up it from Ariel Pink at his upcoming shows.

WAVVES -

WAVVES – “Beach Demon” / “Weed Demon”

San Diego’s WAVVES (Nathan Williams) certainly lived up to his name in 2008, his music rippling out across the blogosphere and beyond, swelling and crashing hard onto your brain. The “Beach Demon” / “Weed Demon” 7-inch, offered on vinyl through Tic Tac Totally! and as a lossless download on Williams’ own blog, served as a nice companion piece to his noteworthy self-titled debut. Both tracks provide satsifying helpings of saccharine-doused noise, but the sparse guitar riffs and jagged falsetto croons of “Weed Demon” are especially addicting. [Original Post]

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Download: WAVVES – Weed Demon
Buy: All sold out on vinyl, but still available as a free download here.

Fever Sleeves -
Fever Sleeves – “Futuristic Killings” / “Tigers for Hire”

Fever Sleeves were busy in ’08. This past year saw them record their upcoming debut record (Soft Pipes, Play On) and put out their first official release (the “Futuristic Killings” / “Tigers for Hire” 7-inch), not to mention their premiere music video for the A-side of said single. I’m really not sure if I can shower “Futuristic Killings” with enough praise; the track’s surging monolith of hooks is Fever Sleeves’ accessibility incarnate, while “Tigers for Hire” compacts layers of dense riffage atop thunderous drum work until it completely collapses under its own weight. I’ve said quite a bit about this San Diego band over the last six months and I guarantee that you’ll be hearing a lot more about them from this blog and elsewhere in 2009. [Original Post] [#2]

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Download: Fever Sleeves – Futuristic Killings
Buy: You can order this directly from Fever Sleeves through PayPal, just head over to their myspace page.

Dilla Ghost Doom - Sniperlite 12

Dilla Ghost Doom – Sniperlite (“Sniper Elite” / “Murder Goons”)

Stones Throw Records hit us up with a sweet offering from this (unfortunately) one-off hip-hop supergroup Dilla Ghost Doom. Jay Dee, as you know, was lost to complications from Lupus in 2006, but this “digital 12-inch” finds the towering figures MF DOOM and Ghostface Killah taking two sequential tracks from J Dilla’s influential Donuts LP and laying down a pair of perfectly suited accompanying flows. Of course, this also smacks of the oft-mentioned, yet-to-materialize MF DOOM/Ghostface collaboration. Here’s hoping that 2009 will see this project realized or, at the very least, a return of the conspicuously absent Dumile/DOOM/Viktor Vaughn/King Geedorah. [Original Post]

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Buy: No download link, but this is available over at the Stones Throw Records webstore. Each track as a standalone with the bonus mixed version, as heard above, for just under $3.

Girls -

Girls – “Lust for Life” / “Morning Light”

San Francisco’s Girls haven’t released much at all yet, but have seen the few songs recorded to their name inspire a fit of attention on the internet, even becoming a pretty regularly featured item over at Gorilla vs. Bear in 2008. The “Lust for Life” / “Morning Light” 7-inch was released by True Panther Sounds back in July and sold out in about a week. And with good reason, both tracks solidify Girls as one of the more exciting up-and-comers right now. Plus, we should expect to hear a full-length debut sometime next year… so get even more excited. [Original Post]

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Download: Girls – Lust for Life
Buy: As I said, the vinyl has long since been sold out, but check out the other tracks on their myspace page and look for that debut soon.

Justice -

Justice – “Planisphère”

This last item is not a 7-inch, digital 12-inch, record, or proper single at all. In fact, Justice‘s “Planisphère” was never officially released in any form, but rather was commissioned by Dior Homme and composed by Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay for their Spring/Summer 2009 runway show. The results are a stunning 17 and a half minute track, a four-part epic built around various permutations of one basic melodic progression. Kind of a collision of minimalist and baroque electronics, this was one of the best surprises from 2008. With this no longer available on their myspace, no discernible plan for release, and links everywhere… just download and enjoy. Available as a single mp3 over here (zshare link). [Original Post]

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Download: Justice – Planisphère (Part 1)

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Download: Justice – Planisphère (Part 2)

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Download: Justice – Planisphère (Part 3)

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Download: Justice – Planisphère (Final)

2008: Odds and Ends (Pt. 1)

Ah yes, I love this time of year. You know, when we all look back on the music we’ve listened to over the past twelve months, attempt to define and evaluate pieces of art in relation to one another, hoping to construct a hierarchy of albums or songs that represents a year in summation. Alright, so only some of us engage in this somewhat masochistic act. Before I constructed such a list, it always seemed particularly daunting, but I’ve found that it’s also an extremely rewarding process… listening to albums comparatively can help reveal what elements really make a record strong by forcing you to internally defend what you like about it. That being said, some things inevitably get left behind in the list-making process because you don’t get to them or because they fall outside of your list guidelines. Reissues, compilations, 7-inches, and the like are often looked over even by the most comprehensive of year-end lists, so I figured I’d give mention to some of these odds and ends that I enjoyed this year. Look for part two (7-inches) soon!

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Sir Victor Uwaifo

Sir Victor Uwaifo – Guitar Boy Superstar (1970-76)

This compilation of songs from Nigerian Renaissance Man Sir Victor Uwaifo is easily my favorite reissued collection from this year… and why wouldn’t it be? At any other time this would be an obscure and delightful find for most Western listeners (even if the man holds a dozen or so gold records), but in 2008 this record is particularly relevant. While the flood of Caribbean and African rhythms and melodies are immediately perceptible, there are also distinctly American guitar influences in Uwaifo’s music, most notably from the blues, funk and psych-rock schools. But, now a large pocket of music in the West seems to be reflecting his style and sound, from the Afropop-via-Ivy League guitar work of  Vampire Weekend to the Africa-tinged, psychedelic calypso-pop of El Guincho. The bombastic opening of “Igboroho (Ekassa 5)” feels like it’s already been sampled by the latter (and if it hasn’t, it definitely should be), while album opener “Kirikisi (Ekassa 24)” reeks of Vampire Weekend’s Graceland-like fusion of musical worlds. To be honest, much of the album is reminiscent of Ezra Koenig and crew, at least enough for an overly accusatory Tiny Mix Tapes reviewer to refer to them as “smirking poachers”. Whatever your level of cynicism, there’s no doubt that Victor Uwaifo is a force to be felt… even today. And for a first taste of this African guitar god, Guitar Boy Superstar is near perfect, even if it leaves out some of his essential tracks.

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Download: Sir Victor Uwaifo – Kirikisi (Ekassa 24)

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Download: Sir Victor Uwaifo – Igboroho (Ekassa 5)

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Download: Sir Victor Uwaifo – Edenederio (Ekassa 40)
Buy: Order Guitar Boy Superstar (1970-76) from Insound on CD or vinyl.

Other reissues/compilations I enjoyed this year:

Faraquet - Anthology 1997-1998

Faraquet – Anthology 1997-1998

Compilation from mostly-disbanded mathy post-hardcore band Faraquet that features remixed and remastered hard-to-find songs from singles and an EP, plus an unreleased track (“Conversations”) and an alternate take (“Sea Song”). If you’ve been relying on The View From This Tower for all of your Faraquet fixes, do yourself a huge favor and pick this up. And if you’ve somehow missed this band all together, but dig complex rock with lots of intricate guitar play, start-stop dynamics, explosive energy, and in-your-face riffage, don’t hesitate to get into to this crucial band from the Dischord catalog.

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Download: Faraquet – Call It Sane
Buy: Order Anthology 1997-1998 from Dischord Records in vinyl ($11 — comes with free mp3 download), CD ($10), or digital formats ($7).

Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump (Original Heavymight Afrobeat, Highlife & Afro-Funk)

Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump (Original Heavyweight Afrobeat, Highlife & Afro-Funk)

As I’ve said before, it’s been quite the year for African and other non-western music. Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump is an excellent collection of music from the exploding Lagos scene during the 1970s. Though Fela Kuti was the monumental figure that primarily helmed Nigerian Afrobeat, this record focuses on the many other groups and artists from the early period of Nigerian independence that united under the common calling of towering funk and political change. Essential listening.

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Download: Olufemi Ajasa & His New Nigerian Bros. – Aiye Le

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Download: Peter King – African Dialects
Buy: Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump is available on iTunes or from Amazon.

I’ve also started to get into Arthur Russell‘s Love Is Overtaking Me and Dennis Wilson‘s Pacific Ocean Blue / Bambu (The Caribou Sessions), though I’m not sure I’ve processed them enough to give them a fair entry here. But, both are certainly worth your attention. You can listen to some tracks at each respective link.

Fourteen Awesome Covers from 2008 (Pt. 2)

And here’s the second part of Fourteen Awesome Covers from 2008. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll most likely be familiar with a few of these entries, but they certainly bear repeating. In any case, I hope you dig the rest of the list! I’m going to take a little break for holiday stuff, but I’ll return with a new post on Friday. So, have good holidays yourselves and look for more year-end fun coming soon, including my favorite EPs and albums of 2008.

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MGMT - Electric Feel (Justice Remix)

Though Justice‘s remix of MGMT‘s Prince-lite single, “Electric Feel”, may be approached more traditionally than Panda Bear’s take on “Boneless”, it remains only slightly less transformative. They don’t leave much untouched here, altering song structure, instrumentation, pacing… and even though the original vocals remain, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay have upped the effects on them quite noticeably. The results absolutely destroy the original; Justice’s trademark synth and bass combo, accented by string hits, surging horns, and a syncopated, Daft Punk-style breakdown near the song’s close, provide a much need backbone to the track. This kind of sex-in-the-digital-age anthem (“Baby girl, turn me on with your electric feel”) should have always sounded like this.

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Download: MGMT – Electric Feel (Justice Remix)
Buy: You’ve got this B-side, but you should also pick up Justice’s debut,, from Insound.

The Very Best - Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa; Birthday

And what 2008 retrospective could be complete without mention of Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit’s project, The Very Best? These guys should win any and all “blog darling” awards; they charmed the hell out of just about anyone who listens to music and puts a finger to keyboard. They also recorded a whole lot of great tracks for their self-titled mixtape that essentially amount to covers, and after sorting through them all I’ve finally settled on a couple favorites. I didn’t think Vampire Weekend‘s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” could be any more likeable, but Esau and Radioclit get it there by heading back to its roots, turning it into an all-out Afropop party jam, while The Ruby Suns lend a hand with The Very Best’s complete reinvention of “Birthday”. Ryan McPhun and Esau trade vocals over a dense psychedelic canvas, managing to breathe new life into one of the most played out Beatles songs. Check out that mixtape if you haven’t already done so and get ready for the official debut album, which comes out sometime in 2009. [Original Post] [#2]

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Download: The Very Best – Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa (Vampire Weekend cover)

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Download: The Very Best – Birthday (Feat. The Ruby Suns) (The Beatles cover)
Buy: The Very Best Mixtape is available for free over at their myspace page.

The Ruby Suns - Palmitos Park

I don’t think there’s much question that the tidal wave of tropical sounds that’s presently cresting over the West has bestowed us with some of the finest records in 2008. The peak of that crest certainly includes the releases of like-minded globalist-pop crafters The Ruby Suns and El Guincho, and considering that Ryan McPhun has already shared the stage with Pablo Díaz-Reixa, perhaps this cover was inevitable. Trading El Guincho’s set of energetic Caribbean influences for more subdued Caribbean influences, The Ruby Suns’ take on “Palmitos Park” is just one more reason I hope this wave never breaks. [Original Post]

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Download: The Ruby Suns – Palmitos Park (El Guincho cover)
Buy: Order The Ruby Suns’ Sea Lion from Sub Pop Records in CD or digital format.

Blind Man's Colour - Taste; In the Flowers

Since the announcement of Merriweather Post Pavilion, the last few months of 2008 have turned into a waiting game for Animal Collective fans. To help pass the time until January 2009, many have delved into the number of live bootlegs circulating the internet, and some have even tried their hand at covering a few of those unreleased tracks. The output from Blind Man’s Colour (a.k.a. Collected Animals user “Pavey Bare”) has been the best by far, his sparse versions of “Taste” and “In the Flowers” became fixtures of my pre-MPP listening rounds (along with the Hove Festival bootleg). Stripped down to a bare minimum of guitar, voice, and simple percussion, these covers are more Sung Tongs than Merriweather Post Pavilion and will surely serve as interesting antitheses to the sleekly produced studio cuts. [Original Post]

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Download: Blind Man’s Colour – Taste (Animal Collective cover)

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Download: Blind Man’s Colour – In the Flowers (Animal Collective cover)
Buy: Blind Man’s Colour is currently looking for a label to release their debut record, but check their myspace for updates.

Wilco and Fleet Foxes - I Shall Be Released

Here in America, 2008 was a year that signaled a distinct political shift with the historic election of Barack Obama. Unsurprisingly, many bands and musicians threw their support behind Obama in subtle and not-so-subtle ways (“Noise for Obama”, anyone?). Wilco decided to encourage voter participation by offering a free mp3 of their cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”, recorded live in Bend, Oregon with support from the golden voices of Fleet Foxes, to anyone who “pledged to vote in the 2008 Election”. Yeah, it’s doubtful that this had a real impact on the outcome, but indeed we were released from another four years of guaranteed blatant condescension and international aggression. Here’s hoping that the next four years turn out to be a little better.

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Download: Wilco and Fleet Foxes – I Shall Be Released (Bob Dylan cover)
Buy: Pick up Wilco’s latest (Sky Blue Sky) from Nonesuch Records and Fleet Foxes’ self-titled, debut full-length from Sub Pop Records in CD, vinyl, or digital format.

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A Few More Awesome Covers:

Ariel Pink – She’s Gone (The Dovers cover) [Myspace]
First Aid Kit – Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (Fleet Foxes cover) [Youtube]
The Ultimate Awesome – Coverage (The Descendents medley) [Myspace]

Fourteen Awesome Covers from 2008 (Pt. 1)

The first of my year-end lists comes in the form of a two-part installment of awesome covers from this year. From straight covers, to bold remixes, to complete reinventions, to tribute albums, 2008 was packed with surprisingly good covers… a few of which I’ve mentioned in previous posts. However, the first half of these are all new to the pages of my blog. Enjoy and look for part two on Monday!

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Panda Bear - Boneless

I’m starting to get the impression that a year in music won’t feel complete without contributions from Animal Collective, especially in light of their serious domination of last year. Obviously, A.C. output has been less abundant in 2008, but all that they’ve given us has been great. Panda Bear‘s sole offering is his fantastic “remix” of The Notwist‘s “Boneless”, which is a pretty modest labeling. It’s really a cover, or more accurately, a full-blown reinvention of the original. Panda works his sampledelic magic, pulling riffs from the obscure, layering sounds, sun-soaked melodies, call-and-response, and sweet cascades of vocals between soft, falsetto chants of “BooOOOooneless”. As if I needed anything beyond repeated listens of Person Pitch to remind me of how much I want another Panda Bear solo record. The good news is that if the setlist from his recent show in Miami is any indication, one may be on the horizon.

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Buy: Sorry, no download link for this B-side, but the 7-inch single is still available as a digital download from the Domino Records webstore for just under $2 (well worth it!).

WHY? - Close to Me

WHY? has easily become the best thing happening over at Anticon these days. And after honing his skills on two excellent albums with a full band line-up (Elephant Eyelash and, more recently, Alopecia), Yoni Wolf decided to try his hand at The Cure’s “Close to Me”. A bold choice, as no doubt many listeners are likely to have a certain level of attachment to such a classic track. But, WHY? transforms the original’s bouncy, melancholic pop into a churning, distorted ball of beats and feedback where Yoni’s nasally drawl feels right at home. I suppose it also helps that his psyche wholly resonates with Robert Smith’s sweetly tortured lyrics; add some bizarre imagery and these words might fit nicely on one of his own albums.

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Download: WHY? – Close to Me (The Cure cover)
Buy: Pick up WHY?’s latest, Alopecia, from the Anticon online store.

Deerhunter - Oh It's Such a Shame

With three albums, a handful of EPs, and a ton of other music out in 2008, it’s been quite a year for Bradford Cox projects. The selection for this list comes from Deerhunter and Jay Reatard‘s split 7-inch of traded covers. Deerhunter adopts the choppy, palm-mute heavy past/future punk of “Oh It’s Such a Shame” and smooths it out into a more extended burst of fuzzed-out energy. Definitely one of the more straightforward covers on the list, but nonetheless awesome.

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Download: Deerhunter – Oh It’s Such a Shame (Jay Reatard cover)
Buy: Physical copies are sold out, but the “Fluorescent Grey”/”Oh It’s Such a Shame” 7-inch is still available as an MP3 or FLAC download from Matador Records.

Banjo or Freakout - Archangel

Alessio Natalizia burst onto the scene this year with a whole lot of free lo-fi pop, blog-posted under his Banjo or Freakout alias. There’s been a pretty continual outpouring on said blog, of both covers and originals, with a lot of his tracks getting featured on the pages of numerous blogs and webzines. My favorite of the many exceptional covers is probably his take on Burial‘s “Archangel”. Deconstructing dark, lumbering strings, breaks, static, and chopped-up, modulated vocal loops, Natalizia reimagines the song as a tranquil, hissing drone of bedroom-pop that feels just a stones throw away from some of Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound work or even the more subdued, ambient moments of Animal Collective‘s discography. And while it’s obvious no cover could ever hope to live up to the original, this attempt is so interesting that it pretty much makes that fact irrelevant… this guy is someone to keep your eye on.

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Download: Banjo or Freakout – Archangel (Burial cover)
Buy: Available on the first Banjo or Freakout covers CD for £5, which is limited to 150 copies and may or may not be sold out.

Enjoyed: A Tribute to Björk's Post

Enjoyed: A Tribute to Björk’s Post is the latest in a series of Stereogum curated tribute albums. I found the last two to be a little hit or miss, but this third offering is pretty fantastic (save for maybe a track or two). It was even tough to whittle it down to just three songs, but ultimately the fractured minimalism of Dirty Projectors‘ “Hyperballad”, High Places‘ rhythmic, beat-laden take on “The Modern Things”, and No Age‘s pop-as-dissonance approach to “It’s Oh So Quiet” all standout for me. But, I really do recommend downloading the whole album over at Stereogum.

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Download: Dirty Projectors – Hyperballad (Björk cover)

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Download: High Places – The Modern Things (Björk cover)

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Download: No Age – It’s Oh So Quiet (Björk cover)