Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Favorite Sh*t of the Year!!!

Album of the Year:

JK: Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest

This record was such a departure from everything I had been listening to at the time I heard it. In fact I only heard it about a month and a half ago when I started desperately trying to find and listen to all of the year's releases I missed so that I could compile a 'Top 10' list for Alter The Press! (which you can find HERE). I think it was the lyrics that got me. Most of the lyrics are so dark, depressing and hopeless. The music behind the lyrics are actually dreamy and ambient. This provides the light at the end of the gloomy tunnel. The lyrics make you feel sad but the instrumentation is that gleam of hope that gets you through the record without having an emotional breakdown. It's a gorgeous record. I'm really into hard rock and lately some metal, but this was refreshing. It's amazing how much you can hear and feel when you slow things down.

LLV: The National - High Violet

Have you ever been drawn to something, but could never explain why? You just loved it. Simple as that? This is how I feel about The National’s High Violet. From the first listen and every listen after that, I knew it was going to be my record of the year. I don’t necessarily understand all their songs, but there are many lines and verses that I found so much comfort in. I’m sure a lot of this has to do with Matt’s voice – deep, stern, and full of emotion, without making many or drastic vocal changes. The beautiful instrumentals that compliment Matt’s hypnotizing voice provided me with many much needed escapes for 47 minutes at a time. What did I get out of those 47 minutes? A beautiful soundtrack for solitude from the harsh realities of life.

Song of the Year:

JK: Blood Red Shoes - "Colours Fade"

The opening line got me, "You take all you have and you leave it behind in the hope that there's more to find. In blind ambition, yeah in blind faith, you wait for things to change". That's what I did when I left the city. That's the stage I'm at in my life, as are most people my age. This is when we make those first big life decisions without any certainties of a positive outcome. All we know is something has to change, we've got to move forward so we finally take the necessary steps and hope for the best. I love this band. I decided against a 'favorite new artist' category but if I had to choose, I would pick BRS. I'm a complicated person. I don't process emotions well and I've never even been in a relationship worth crying about. So it's hard for me to relate to songs about love and romantic failures. BRS write about everything else, all the other ways in which life flat out sucks. "Colours Fade" is a perfect example of that. Press Play. Cue cheesy anthemic fist pump!

LLV: Foals - Spanish Sahara

If I were to base this off of the song with the highest play count, Holly Miranda’s Slow Burn Treason would be the “winner”. I love that song; I had it on repeat for days, spending many nights in bed crying to it. It had been a while since a song (or record) had affected me to the core on such a personal level. So while it’s definitely in my top favourite songs, Foal’s Spanish Sahara – a new song I got – is my number one. I’m not even going to explain why – I’ll let the song do that. Wait until about midnight. Put on a good pair of headphones. Turn off all lights. Lie in the middle of the floor. Close your eyes. Press play.

Video of the Year:

JK: Arcade Fire - "The Suburbs"

I know, I know! So predictable. I hate myself. But it's so great! This was a great year for music videos. Which is saying a lot because I'm quite sure I'm missed some. Hesta Prynn's stop motion clip is great. Also I have to say Band of Horses have been putting out great videos as well. And I mean did any band come harder than Ok Go this year? All their videos blow my mind. In the end though, I love a video that tells a story. I love cool visual effects and great editing but I always find myself most impressed by videos that are more like short films and tell a complete story, in a very short period of time. I was going to go with Cee Lo's video for his Band of Horses cover, "No One's Gonna Love You". It's pretty much every romantic/drama film you've ever seen. It blooms then comes crashing down in less than five minutes. Perfection. However, again, romance/relationships are lost on me. But a video about fucked up teenagers in the suburbs isn't.

LLV: Hesta Prynn - "Can We Go Wrong", Blood Red Shoes - "Heartsink", The Good Natured - "Prisoner"

Three-way tie. What? I suck at choosing. Common theme: Editing and Artsy. (1) HESTA PRYNN – CAN WE GO WRONG. 13k photos! THIRTEEN THOUSAND! That’s incredible. And the video looked fantastic. It’s probably the art geek in me, but that’s how stop motion is suppose to be. So smooth. Plus who doesn't love Central Park and Simon!? (2) BLOOD RED SHOES – HEARTSINK. Simple, but effective. The editing was great, with all the shots of fans and slowing down of parts. The concept of smashing prized possessions was also great. It had a powerful effect. (3) THE GOOD NATURED – PRISONER. Alright, so I’ll admit I’m not 100% sure if I fully understand the video, but that attracts me more to it. It’s really artsy and I miss weird fucked up videos. The video and what I take from it, made me like the song more.

Collaboration of the Year:

JK: Tiesto ft Nina Diaz (Girl In A Coma) - "In Your Mind"

Probably the most unexpected, most "wtf" moment in indie music this year! But it's great! Weird, but in the best way possible! Nina's unique powerhouse vocals lacing a Tiesto beat? Amazing. When this popped up in my subscriptions on Youtube I didn't know what to expect! Nina's voice is so wonderfully odd I honestly would never think it would work with a dance/techno/trance-y instrumental (program) in the background. But it works well. She isn't overpowering Tiesto and he isn't drowning her out either. It sounds like just what it is, a collaboration and too often collaborations come across as competitions, like the artists aren't friends at all and are trying to over power each other on the same track.

Runner(s) Up: Fences ft Sara Quin - "My Girl The Horse", City & Colour ft Shad - "Live Forever"

LLV: Peter Lee Johnson - "Changes (The Way It Is)" Tupac, Bruce Hornsby cover

This is probably cheating, (*JK interrupts* "IT IS!") but I don’t care ("Fine!"). I may be a total sucker for anything with violins, but Peter Lee Johnson is a phenomenal musician. Fact. And what he does to the songs he covers is pretty much breathtaking (I mean he made me like a “Katy Perry” song o_O). Changes by 2Pac is by far one of my all time favourite/life changing songs. I didn't think anyone could make me appreciate it more than I already did…until I heard this cover. As I listened to it, I could hear all of Pac’s verses and the violin made it more inspiring, beautiful, and hopeful. It made me tear up.

Runner(s) Up: Biggie vs The XX (LLV doesn't understand the word 'collaboration'), B.o.B ft Hayley Williams & Eminem - "Airplanes pt II"

Concert/Show of the Year:

JK: Kaki King w/An Horse, City & Color/Tegan & Sara w/Ra Ra Riot and Wintersleep

I'm a loser. Well, it's not really my fault. Due to my hopeless work schedule and lack of funds I rarely even make it out to a show. I'm no concert or music snob. I'm not jaded and hope to never be. I have yet to go to a show and not enjoy myself. I have yet to leave a show going "Well, that sucked". I love live music. It's amazing to me. Live music is transcending. My only complaint is to the bands who you can tell themselves have become jaded. I'll admit this was where Tegan & Sara disappointed me. I've only seen them twice and I think I missed the phase where they were rough around the edges and really had fun doing this. I understand why they're the way they are after so long. Not much surprises them and not much is new to them. Their professionalism at times just came across as them being "over it". But I've also seen amazing footage of shows that prove they can still let loose and have a good time. I'm just referring to the vibe at that particular show I attended. End Rant.

Point. Kaki King is fucking amazing! She's charming, hilarious and charismatic on stage. When you're not laughing you're simply in awe of her raw talent. There's never a moment to relax or feel settled. You're always on edge and always engaged, simply because she is. I loved that! It took quite a few shows, quite a few months later for anything to come close. When I went on a road trip to Toronto in late August to see City & Colour and Tegan and Sara with some Ra Ra Riot on the side, something finally did. Great performances from Dallas, Ra Ra Riot and TnS. When Tegan & Sara joined Dallas on stage for "At The Bird's Foot" I almost lost my mind! Then when Gord Downie (The Tragically Hip) joined him for "Sleeping Sickness" I DID lose my mind, along with everyone else in the amphitheater who all jumped up and pushed to the barriers screaming their heads off!

Runner Up: Tegan & Sara w/Holly Miranda & Steel Train (March 27th). Yeah, they were a little uptight, but still awesome! With fantastic support acts!

LLV: Roger Waters, Holly Miranda w/Braids

Roger Waters hands down! But with the small concerts I see, it would be hard to beat this one. It was amazing to see all the different generations in attendance. The concert took me back a few years when Pink Floyd were pretty much the only thing I listened to. My love for them was born again. And that’s just the music. I can’t even put into words the visuals that were going on throughout the entire show. Things flying, massive blow up puppets, the wall made of TV screens being built and exploding, and the imagery on those TVs. It was beyond amazing. And if you caught one of his shows you know what I mean.

Out of my not-so-extravagant-concerts…aka club concerts, the Holly Miranda/Braids concert takes the cake. Braids were probably one of my biggest obsessions this year. I had never heard of them before this concert. And I kid you not from the second they started playing my jaw dropped. It pretty much stayed there through the set too. If you've heard their music, there is a lot going on and to see them pull it off live is just………. There is one moment I clearly remember. Native Speaker – the title track off their upcoming album. Watching Raphie just belt out the lyrics. Her voice is just too amazing and unique I couldn't stop staring in awe. The four of them are extremely talented and since that night I haven’t wanted an album to come out so fast then Native Speaker (Jan 18). The jaw dropping didn't stop there. I had seen Holly Miranda before, but it was only her and Timmy. This time she had a full band. Hearing her songs with a full band made them even more powerful. And holy crap that drummer can play! I can never get used to Miranda’s voice…so soulful, raspy, and beautiful. Her cover of an Etta James song sent chills down my spine. It was a very powerful night of music that I now compare all concerts to.

Runner(s) Up: Blood Red Shoes, The XX w/Warpaint

What's YOUR favorite album, song (or single), video, collaboration and concert of the year? You don't even have to pick one for all you can answer for one AND you can have ties, obviously we're not the people to force you to make a decision!

City & Colour footage:
Roger Waters footage:

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Really Long Nerdy Post about Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae is awesome. I've been obsessed with her and the world she's created for months now. Which actually means I'm very very late. I decided to write this blog post for those who may, by some chance, be later than me.

Monae's debut full-length record The ArchAndroid came out in May. But that's not the place to start trying to figure her out. In 2007 she released an EP called Metropolis, it's on this release that the story begins. The story is that of an android named Cindi Mayweather who falls in love with a human named Anthony Greendown. Cindi is then marked for disassembly and left to wonder the streets of the 'Neon Valley Street District' to hide from bounty hunters.

It's a quirky concept but it's easy to get lost in. If you need convincing watch the short film/video for "Many Moons" off of Metropolis, in which many of the recurring characters mentioned throughout Monae's work are introduced.

So what follows Metropolis is 2010's The ArchAndroid. There's too much to say and I can't think of a not-complicated way to say it so, I'll literally let wikipedia fill you in:

The ArchAndroid is the follow-up to Janelle Monáe's debut EP Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) (2007) and consists of the second and third parts to her Metropolis concept series. Partly inspired by the 1927 film of the same name, the series involves the fictional tale of Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android sent back in time to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time-travel to suppress freedom and love. In an interview for the Chicago Tribune, Monáe said that she was inspired by the quote "The mediator between the hand and the mind is always the heart". discussed her incorporation of the android as a metaphor for a minority and the role of the story's protagonist in an interview for Blues & Soul, stating "she represents the MEDIATOR between the have’s and the have not’s, the minority and the majority. So in that way she’s very similar to Neo, the Archangel from The Matrix'. And basically her return will mean freedom for the android community".

If you're caught up on this being a conceptual series about a freaking robot and thinking you won't be able to relate to the material you're probably wrong. I for one cannot make it through "Cold War" without feeling an overwhelming sadness when she sings "I'm trying to find my peace, I was made to believe there's something wrong with me and it hurts my heart. Lord have mercy, ain't it plain to see this is a cold war?". It really doesn't help that she breaks down in the video, despite her efforts to compose herself.

My friends are probably tired of me quoting "Locked Inside". This song is heavily filled with the ideas and concepts of the world Janelle and her team created but they're universal at the same time, depressingly so. Parts of the track sound like domestic abuse of some sort ("...he hates to talk but loves to fight") then it jumps right into genocide ("the color black means it's time to die"). It's all about interpretation.

Mostly The ArchAndroid is just FUN! It's one of the more interesting releases of 2010. It's a big project and it produces a big sound that Janelle handles well. She has amazing range and is very flexible vocally. I don't think anyone ever expects what they hear from her on "Come Alive" where she screams and delivers piercing, scratchy vocals. Then there's "Make The Bus" with Of Montreal, great song, even though as far as I can tell it makes no sense. It's completely out of control.

The ArchAndroid was a great departure from the emotional ups and downs of indie music I fill my brain with everyday. I've listened to about 60 of this year's releases and basically this record became my chaser after I overdosed on the heartbreak of it all.

I highly recommend this record. I'll post my favorite records of the year later this month along with a little rundown of my favorite...everything else of the year. But let's start here. Seriously, give this one a listen.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Interview with Sean Moeller, founder of Daytrotter

What do Ra Ra Riot, Cold War Kids, Raphael Saadiq, Ani DiFranco, Fleet Foxes, and The National all have in common? Yeah, probably whatever you're thinking but also, Daytrotter! All these artists along with hundreds of others have stopped by the Daytrotter studios to perform quality stripped down sessions for the site. By doing this these artists have contributed to the 16 million sessions downloaded so far by members of the site since it's launch in 2006.

Usually I get obsessed with an artist and want to know everything about them. I reel it in a little bit, pull myself together, and ask for an interview. However, back in June I got more obsessed with a website than I had been with any band in a while at that point. That site was Daytrotter. I was led there by Steel Train, who have now done two sessions.

If you want to see the magic for yourself go to the site. Pick three of your favorite indie bands and search for them there. Chances are at least one of them will have a Daytrotter session. At least this has been my experience. Now when I'm researching bands one of the the first places I go is DT. If I find a session I choose to listen to it before the actual record. I choose to read Sean's essays prior to cracking open a press release. The site is truly a music lover's dream.

I'll start with the obvious question: Why did you start Daytrotter?

The reasons why aren't really fuzzy, they're just sort of insignificant, the more I think about them. I really just wanted to try something. I was working for the newspaper here in Davenport and doing a handful of freelance writing for a couple of music magazines across the country, but it felt like I was always getting pushed to write about bands and people that I didn't really think were all that great -- instead of getting to write about those I thought had the most merit. I thought, "Why not try doing something else?" and so Pat Stolley, Johnnie Cluney and I started doing this. There was no over-planning or brainstorm, just a decision one evening of, "Let's start this next week and see where it goes."

Were you at all inspired by the Peel Sessions?
I've never actually listened to a Peel Session, I don't believe. I think I own a CD of a Hot Snakes Peel Session, but I've never listened to it. I obviously respect John Peel and have read a bit about him since we started Daytrotter, but I can safely say that Daytrotter wasn't inspired by anything at all. Funny how that works sometimes.

Daytrotter promises 7 bands, 28 songs a week. Was this tough to accomplish when DT first launched?
Well, we didn't do it like that at all in the beginning. We released one session a week. Then about three months in, it was two a week. Then we jumped to three a week about a year later. Shortly after that, we were posting one a day Monday-through-Friday. Now we're at seven days a week and starting in January, you're likely to see 2-3 sessions a day. It's impossible for us not to do that at this point. It's not hard at all.

Your essays and biographies of the bands are always incredible. I read some over and over. Did you or do you write professionally for other sites or publications?
Thanks so much. I spend a lot of time on them. I wrote for 12 years for the Quad-City Times, a newspaper here in the Quad-Cities and I did some freelance writing for Rockpile, Punk Planet, Filter and a handful of other places. Mostly a ton of publications that don't print physical copies any longer.

Could you take us through the process of preparing for a band to come record and then how exactly the sessions are recorded?
There's really not much preparation. We just wait for them. I book all of the sessions and they're all recorded live in one room -- no headphones or overdubs. We have a bunch of Otari 50/50 quarter-inch tape machines and we lay everything down onto quarter-inch tape. It's pretty sexy.

Are there other Daytrotter studios now, aside from the Horseshack?
We are now using Big Orange, the studio we have used for the past five years when we travel down there to tape during SXSW, as a second studio. It's a great thing to have available. We tape about 20 sessions a month down there, in addition to our close to 40 a month here in Rock Island. We're looking into the possibility of having a third studio in London sometime soon. We'll see how that goes.

Are you always around to personally oversee sessions recorded?
I'm usually always here. I hate to miss sessions, but reality gets to me sometimes as it's really hard to write at the studio and the writing really does demand a lot of my time so sometimes I have to choose between being at the studio and being productive/prolific.

What has been some of your favorite sessions?
I really do like all of them as I personally invite every band/artist to the studio, but there are certainly some sessions that really stand out. Kris Kristofferson, Gayngs, every time Delta Spirit's here, Avett Brothers, Blind Boys of Alabama and too many others are really at the top of my list for memorability. I have a feeling our upcoming session with Naughty By Nature will rank pretty high too.

I'm a huge fan of Johnnie Cluney's illustrations, just one of many things I look forward to in a new session. I can't help obsessing over how cool it would be to own vinyls with his pictures as album art. Any plans to produce vinyls of DT sessions?
Get ready. Yes.

The Naughty By Nature session takes place at Rock Island Brewing Company in Rock Island, IL. Tickets are $20, proceeds go to QC Times/United Way Wish List.

Some Personal DT Faves:

LINKS!!! (If you hadn't figured that one out yet...)