Hardlikealgebrarchive

The archive of the old hardlikealgebra.com

Month: January, 2008

The Same Blocked Intersection

I told myself that I wouldn’t do “those dashed off quick entries” around here, but then the Mountain Goats put out a video for their new single and it was awesome and here it is and you should watch it full screen because seriously, guys, wow.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUbFljMLIY8%5D
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Other People’s Words, 22 Jan 2008

Holy crap, biggest news around here (to me) : Casey Dienel shall now be known as White Hinterland. New album out March 4th. [via]

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Sean Michaels reviews-via-short-story at Said the Gramophone. Great song, too.

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Andrew Gilstrap (of Popmatters) just got his childhood record collection back (scroll down to Jan 8, 2008)****

Timedoor brings us the songs of former Packer/Eagles great/bigot Reggie White.

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Last month, Trash Audio talked to The Depreciation Guild about their process their use of a Famicom in their music.

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REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD SERIOUSLY LISTEN TO A VAMPIRE WEEKEND SONG (OR THREE)

So.

There’s this band called Vampire Weekend and they must have the Midas Touch or something equally legendary cuz man oh man, they appear to have the biggest blog uproar since, like, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (or at least since Black Kids). Weirdly enough, I actually got to write about them back in July, when they were just a band playing through at a local show that now I wish even more that I had seen. I can honestly say this means that I am not a trend setter, but at the very least, sort of the Stone Temple Pilots to VW’s Pearl Jam (which is far different than Pearl Jam’s VD, for the record)(don’t spread that rumor)(or maybe, do?).

And here’s why you should listen to them.

1. Okay, fine. It’s played out, but if you listened to music in the last 20 years or so, your reference point for African music (other than David Byrne’s solo stuff)(but we are talking about enjoyability factor) is Paul Simon’s Graceland. This band cannot escape the comparison. That means they are great listening, people.

2. You will be glad when you set your old-ass iPod shuffle to, er, shuffle, and they come up randomly.

3. “Who gives a fuck about the oxford comma?” –Vampire Weekend, “Oxford Comma”

4. They are the only thing that appears when I search for “Vampire” in iTunes.*

5. Even with all the hype around the album that come out on January 29th, they still have good songs available on their site for free.

6. The seem to be smart young lads that talk about the class stuff that could come up due to their sound. [link via]

7. They’re just fun! Y’know? FUN.

Anyway, check them out. You have now become the Bush to my STP.

Portlanders take note: they play the best venue in the world on March 25th. Who’s with me?

*weekend has a few more hits, which reflects our culture’s Protestant ethic, and might someday be another post, though it’s not likely.

[audio:01_Cape_Cod_Kwassa_Kwassa.mp3]

Vampire Weekend (includes downloads and streams and such!)
Music is the only thing good about Myspace
Vampire Weekend on Daytrotter
“A Punk” video on YouTube
NPR/KEXP Interview and performance (thanks, Smer!)

Perfect: “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” by Sugar

How can I explain away
Something that I haven’t done
And if you can’t trust me now
You’ll never trust in anyone

–Sugar, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”

Typical review: witty summary, narrow it down, pick out a few songs, wrap it up in a nice bow.

Not this time. This time, the lyrics first. The above lyrics occur at a point in the song when you’d guess maybe Mould will drop the chorus another time, maybe repeat a verse or some other time-honored/slightly lazy trick, it’ll end, and it’ll be pretty good. But then! A curve ball near-ending–a verse that comes in at a time when you’re like, “man, how could any song be this great?”–and we’re off.

“How can I explain away/Something that I haven’t done?” Chills.

“And if you can’t trust me now/You’ll never trust in anyone.”

Does he have you yet?

There’s a point in every (failed?) relationship when things have been said that you didn’t want to say, or things have been done you’ve moved beyond regretting–things you wish you wouldn’t have had the capacity to do. So often in rock songwriting, we get the perspective of the jilted whatever, or the angry ex, or the “take me back/please come back” plea.

But how often is there complication? How often do we see “With all the crazy doubts you’ve got/I love you even still?” This song is chilling partly because it’s unique. It takes the specificity of “you will find a different person if you change your mind,” throws that awesome 90’s Moüld guitar sound behind it, and builds the perfect three minute pop song.

If I can’t change your mind then no one will.

The Video, on Youtube
Bob Mould
Sugar, on Wikipedia
Sugar – If I Can’t Change Your Mind

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I’ve got about 9000 songs in iTunes, and about ten of them have made the “Perfect” playlist.

This is one of them.

Surrender on Both Sides

The new Mountain Goats album, Heretic Pride, drops (as the kids say)(if their slang lags behind) shortly after my thirtieth birthday, and right after that the boys will be playing two shows at the best venue in the world.

If “Sax Rohmer #1,” the leadoff single that the Goats made available for download recently, indicates anything (and let’s face it–of course it does; main Goat Darnielle’s own music fan/thinker status doesn’t make me feel like he’s the kind of guy to decide such a thing lightly), this album will be exactly what I’ve been waiting for.

As albums go, 2006’s Get Lonely was a red wine-buzz of a good one: creeping up, spreading fuzzily, a bit warm and with a little bit of “what did I do to myself?” later on. It wasn’t–and isn’t–an easy listen, quiet where we were used to Darnielle roaring. Perhaps that was the biggest strength of an album made up of things left unsaid.

This new track, though, seems likely to break at any moment into the “hungry for love–ready to drown” chorus from “Linda Blair Was Born Innocent” off of We Shall All Be Healed. It’s similar in cadence, and his “shouty” register has returned. More than that, you can visualize the visceral Darnielle honing in here, stomping around, ranting these lyrics, playing his demons to the crowd (though I imagine he’d bristle at the assumptive narrator/performer conflation I did there), and truly fucking bringing it.

And that’s what we want our music to do, isn’t it? Don’t just amuse me, don’t confuse me, don’t berate me, don’t show off your wizardry or vocabulary–or at least, if you are doing these things, you better be sure you’re fucking bringing it, too. It’s a fine line, and a powerful one, because your audience will love you forever if you succeed–and that’s why this band deserves attention.

What an amazing birthday present this album, and tour, will be.

[audio:01_Sax_Rohmer_1.mp3]

(audio included because this track is already freely available)

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Mountain Goats Tour Dates
4AD’s Heretic Pride page: February 18th release
My Mountain Goats Feature, March 2007, Portland Mercury
themountaingoats.net

Top Ten Albums of 2007

Much has been made of the fact that most music fans have been moving towards singles rather than albums in the past few years. I didn’t notice how much this had affected my own listening until I sat down to make a top five list for the Mercury (which, sadly, never actually ran). When I looked at the list of albums that would make the top five cut, I realized that I had to cut a lot of albums that had great songs but that I didn’t really listen entirely. It made it easier to pick a top five, but also made me realize that I really needed to make a singles list, too.

For ya’ll though, I expanded to a top ten. Here goes, in reverse/countdown order:

10. Eleni Mandell, Miracle of Five. 2007 was the year I began writing about music for a living, and this was the first great discovery that resulted. Like Suzanne Vega, her lyrics get better the more you pay attention; like Laura Gibson, her singing brings to mind a warming fire on a chilly day. Mandell’s fire has a bit more smoldering, sultry sass than Gibson’s, though, and when she sings about the “Make-Out King” in her bed, you might just wish you could be such royalty.

9. Band of Horses, Cease to Begin. I can add to the pile of “doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but that’s cool” reviews, and mostly move on. However! They deserve props for titling a song “Detlef Schrempf,” ’cause seriously, who remembers the NBA’s best German anymore? The fact that it’s a beautiful song with the lines “you say you’re gonna go, then be careful/And watch how you treat every living soul” makes it even better.

8. The Besnard Lakes, The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse. Go to el.bo.ws or Hype Machine or whatever and find the song “Devastation.” Crank that shit and tell me that it doesn’t combine the best moments of every single rock song that ever made you feel like nothing in the world mattered but that song, while also reminding you that you actually kinda love Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” despite that band’s penchant for douchebaggery. And maybe they whine a bit too much sometimes, but who else can make “what a fucking pile of shit” sound SO AWESOME?

7. MC Frontalot, Secrets From the Future. The moment I realized I could sing the entire hook of the amazing opening title track was the moment I realized that this guy could end up being the next generation’s DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. That’s a compliment, mind you. This album has some flaws, but “I Hate Your Blog” and “It Is Pitch Dark” more than make up for a song about a dude with Asperger’s.

6. Stars of the Lid, And Their Refinement of the Decline. A beautiful album before you even listen to the music, this triple-vinyl chock-full of Eno-esque ambience apparently puts my hyphens into overdrive. So here are a few more: hilariously-titled (pretty songs should never be named, “December Hunting for Vegetarian Fuckface”), maximizingly-minimal, mood-creating, calm-inducing, well-conceived.

5. The Shins, Wincing the Night Away. I know full well that sometimes I’m cranky about music. If you’ve met me, you’d know that I still hate Björk, I don’t know why “Handshake Drugs” made it onto a million Wilco releases, and I’ll never get why anyone likes anything Morrisey has ever done. This year though, we can mark as The Year I Finally Got The Shins. I blame it on “Red Rabbits,” with a side order of “Sea Legs.” These songs are just weird, and I LOVE THEM.

4. Suzanne Vega, Beauty & Crime. Seriously, she could have released “New York is a Woman” as an “album” and it would still make my top ten because I can’t get over the beauty of lines like, “New York City spread herself before you/with her bangles and her spangles and her stars.” The rest of the album mines territory familiar to her fans, such the 99.9 F° style of “Unbound” or the sparse, folky “Edith Wharton’s Figurines.” In a year when I discovered a lot of amazing female singer-songwriters, it was fun to realize that Vega laid the groundwork for my discoveries.

3. St. Vincent, Marry Me. I love me some surprises, and one of my favorite ways to discover new bands in the last few years has been checking out the opening bands I’m about to see. St. Vincent, the work of one Annie Clark, was recommended by a co-worker and it turned out that she was opening for The National, a band I saw for this first time this year. Her live show’s energy and chaos underscored just how boring those boys were that night, but let’s focus on the album. Marry Me continues to excite me in the way that most great albums do: I discover something new each time out, and I find myself gradually liking songs I hated (particularly “Your Lips Are Red,” though it still grates soemtimes). As I moved on from early favorites (“Now, Now”) to new loves (“Marry Me”), I knew: it’s just that good.

2. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky. Whichever album got you into Wilco is probably your favorite. It’s probably due to their style-shifting tendencies. Regardless, I fall prey to this, too, and so every time a new album rolls around, I compare it to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and it loses. With Sky, Wilco consciously went the way of The Band, playing all the parts in the same room without a lot of overdubs. They totally pull it off here–a testament to their talent–and it makes for an album that feels a bit like a cozy blanket on a rainy day. That said, bed linens aren’t typically that exciting–though certainly underappreciated–and sometimes this album slides too far into Dad Rock for me. I won’t join the jerks who whisper about Tweedy being better when he wasn’t sober–this is a guy’s life, after all–but as a long-time Wilco fan, I do miss the blistering Tweedy guitar-rage.

1. matt pond PA, Last Light. The folks over at Pitchfork don’t seem to like Matt Pond’s crew, and I’m not sure why. Last Light was the album I listened to the most and the closest, and that makes it my album of the year. It was a sing-along favorite right from the opening, title track (“As the shadows will fall and run/ They will run, they will run, they will run”), and “I wish you would say/When I fuck up that it’s okay,” from “Sunlight,” still rings true. The piano-driven “People Have a Way” is tailor-made for a Ben Folds fan like me. Get this album and help me figure out how to make sure that Pond doesn’t stay overlooked for long.

Thanks for checking in. There’s a lot more to come with this new endeavor!

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I wrote about some of these folks for the Mercury.  The links, for interested parties:

Eleni Mandell
matt pond PA
MC Frontalot
Suzanne Vega