New Bob, Old Bob

I'm a bit astonished by the consensus that Bob Mould's new album, Life And Times, is the best and most accomplished work he's produced since the last worthwhile thing he did (Hüsker Dü/Sugar/Workbook, take your pick). Were people really so uncomfortable with the electronic aspects of the last few albums that toning it down a bit fooled everyone into gushing about his return to rock (and consequently, legitimacy)? For me the problem with this decade's output has less to do with his attempt to graft electronica onto alt-rock, and more to do with the fact that the songs were limp, tailor-made-for-tv-drama drivel. With one exception (the succinct "Argos" is as good as anything on 1998's Last Dog And Pony Show), Life And Times continues the downward trend that first became overbearing on 2002's Modulate. Lyrically, things get downright ugly, the title "I'm Sorry, Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Any More" conveying this better than I could.

Speaking of Workbook though, I recently found my copy of the "See A Little Light" 45, a record I forgot I had. The middling but upbeat single was probably the obvious choice, considering what a downer the rest of the album was. But tucked away on side b is "All Those People Know", exclusive to this single (as far as I know), and much stronger than the a side. Note the tasteful synths on the track. A cool rarity overall.

Bob Mould "See A Little Light" (from Workbook / "See A Little Light", 1989)

Bob Mould "All Those People Know" (from "See A Little Light", 1989)


After a couple years of trustworthy recommendations, intriguing write-ups and colossal disappointment, I wrote Woods off as a lost cause. Last year's Woods Family Creeps, ostensibly compared to Faust's IV, left me especially cold, a cruel bait-and-switch exploiting one of my favorite albums. This was supposed to be the final straw but somehow the Captured Tracks single from earlier this year drew me in and the spot-on Graham Nash cover ("Military Madness") sold me on what was a killer precursor cassette (Some Shame) for what's turned out to be an equally great album, Songs Of Shame. The shift to concise and relatively straight-up songs may have something to do with it, but even the jams are killer, as evidenced by the collage and the 10 minute "September With Pete" from Songs Of Shame.

For the other naysayers out there, here's one of my favorites from the album, along with the untitled collage that fills side b of the Some Shame cassette.

Woods "Rain On" (from Songs Of Shame Lp, 2009)

Woods – untitled (from Some Shame cassette, 2008)

And if anyone out there saw them at Little Mountain last November, I'd love to hear about it.

Telefon Boys "Get Up Get Up"

Killer Italo track from four guys that give off boy band vibes but look like an Italian version of Cheap Trick. Whatever. It's an ill one, I'll forgive them.

Telefon Boys "Get Up Get Up" (vocal mix)
(from Get Up Get Up 12", 1985)

2008 Wrap-Up Part Two

2009 has done a number on me so far. I'll spare the details but suffice it to say things have been derailed enough to delay part two of this wrap-up another two months. What follows is the remainder of the list, and with that out of the way I should be back to updating this thing semi-regularly. Honorable mentions: Brainbombs, Nu Sensäe, Mutators, The Mole, The Anals, Love Tan, Cloudland Canyon, Ladyhawk, Hercules & Love Affair, Cave, Cro Magnon, Sun Kil Moon, etc. along with the dozens of reissues.

Jacques Renault

Technically his only release last year was a four song 12" on RVNG Intl., but plenty of mixes surfaced online and they all spent a ton of time on my ipod. Both solo and with partners Marcos Cabral (as Runaway) and Justin Miller, Renault offers up bass-heavy disco, house, and edits that blur the line between the two. The live sets are cool but the polished and refined mix he did for Allez-Allez shines with impeccable selection and an amazing flow. Out of everything I've played at work, nothing has gotten more comments.

Jacques Renault – Allez-Allez Mix

Blood On The Wall Liferz Lp (The Social Registry)

No-nonsense, old style alt-rock from this (former?) Brooklyn-based band. Synthesizing the best aspects of what SST, Homestead, Touch & Go and other classic labels released in the late 80s, everything fits together in a familiar but fresh way.

Blood On The Wall "Hibernation" (from Liferz Lp)

Thee Oh Sees The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In Lp (Tomlab)

2008 saw Thee Oh Sees release two albums and multiple EPs and split releases. All are solid but the cream of the crop is their seventh album, The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In. I'm not easily swayed by stripped down, reverb-drenched, retro r 'n' r but I do get down with The Cramps now and then so why not. I mean, when it's this good..

Thee Oh Sees "Maria Stacks" (from The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In Lp)

Blank Dogs On Two Sides Lp (Troubleman Unlimited)

Speaking of output overload, Blank Dogs is certainly up there (two 12"s and countless EPs since fall with a 2XLp and more out shortly) and much like Thee Oh Sees, Mr. Blank Dogs has a killer batting average. While the Fields EP (released late in the year) is more immediate, On Two Sides has stood up to repeat listens a little better, so it's my pick. Forget 'weird-punk', dude's failed anonymity/identity, the imitators, etc, what's relevant is that the album is full of well-written, heavily phased pop songs not nearly as foreign as they may initially seem.

Blank Dogs "Pieces" (from On Two Sides Lp)

Sic Alps US Ez Lp (Siltbreeze)

More streamlined and focused than previous Sic Alps albums. The best one yet? I think so.

Sic Alps "Gelly Roll Gum Drop" (from US Ez Lp)

Little Claw Spit & Squalor, Swallow The Snow Lp (Ecstatic Peace)

Another puzzler. What I heard initially is not what I hear now and I still find myself wondering if most of the songs didn't sound a bit different last time. It doesn't matter though; hints of the Stooges, early 90s alt-rock and more obtuse sounds mix and bubble to the surface and I'm more stoked than baffled. I'm bummed that I missed their (allegedly) spectacular trainwreck of a live show but this will do until they come back.

Little Claw "Movies For You" (from Spit & Squalor, Swallow The Snow Lp)

Crystal Stilts Alight Of Night Lp (Slumberland)

Deerhunter Microcastle Lp (Kranky)

The crowd favorites, and for once I'm part of the crowd. Do I really need to spell it out? Re-read your own blog/message board post about these two if you can't remember why they're so hot. Or better yet, just listen to them, again..

Crystal Stilts "Departure" (from Alight Of Night Lp)

Deerhunter "Never Stops" (from Microcastle Lp)

Chad VanGaalen The Soft Airplane Lp (Sub Pop)

Singer-songwriter stuff (especially when Canadian) eludes.. I mean annoys me. But on rare occasions it comes across with a totally different vibe and that's when I'm willing to give it a shot. Even though a lot of the album is fairly gentle and somber, there's an underlying edge to it – nearly every song seems to reference death and/or mystical experiences – that makes the whole thing harder to pin down. This isn't purposely esoteric freak-folk, just the product of a colorful individual, shaky voice and all.

Chad VanGaalen "Eyes like a house on fire" (vinyl-only bonus track from The Soft Airplane Lp)

Defektors Secret Trials & Torn To Pieces singles (Nominal / Hockey Dad)

Released on the same day with a quadruple a-side so it's more of an EP than a pair of singles. While they've lost the vague Wipers vibe that their older tracks had, what's left is a more polished rock/punk. The bleak lyrics contrast with the melodic writing, lending the songs a little more bite. One of Vancouver's (many, haha) best bands. Album out soon?

Defektors "Secret Trials" (from Secret Trials 7")

V/A – Emergency Room Compilation Lp (Nominal / Grotesque Modern)

Finding the ER scene a year after I moved to Vancouver was a total revelation and another year and a half later it was basically over. Somewhere in between there were shows, parties, garage sales and this album, featuring eight of the bands that practiced (and frequently played) there. Compilations are a drag – I don't need to point that out that the bad always far outweighs the good. This one seems downright miraculous; I have nothing bad to say about any of it.

Vapid "Sexstain" (from Emergency Room compilation Lp)

Mutators "Instinct" (from Emergency Room compilation Lp)

Nü Sensae "Don't Panic" (from Emergency Room compilation Lp)

Eddy Current Suppression Ring Primary Colors Lp (Goner)

Muslims – s/t Lp (1928 Recordings)

These albums are about as straight up as guitar rock gets without diverging into other sounds, and both make the most of its inherent limitations. Cursory listens painted them as a tad dull but after time the simplicity began to highlight the ingenious writing that was there all along.

Eddy Current Suppression Ring "Which Way To Go" (from Primary Colors Lp)

The Muslims "Right And Wrong" (from s/t Lp)

Cut Copy In Ghost Colours Lp (Modular)

I swore this album was at least two years old now, but it was indeed released in 2008. Out of all the synth-touched, dancefloor-friendly nouveau rock bands that made waves in 07/08, Cut Copy are the only ones that do anything for me and I'll cop to being down with In Ghost Colours. The So Cosmic mixtape they released just prior was a collection of sounds that were inspiring them at the time, and not surprisingly the tracklist (Harmonia, Alan Braxe, Fleetwood Mac, Giorgio Moroder, etc) hints that they were aiming for something a little more tempered than what their peers came up with. They could easily play it safe and slip into easy listening indie-mode with their next album but this one had enough twists and turns to keep me interested.

Cut Copy "Far Away" (from In Ghost Colours Lp)

Bottomless Pit Congress 12" (self-released)

Even less noticed than their Hammer Of The Gods album from 2007 but every bit as good. These four songs could have been seamlessly tacked onto Hammer and it would have been even better by being a bit longer. I listened to this more than anything else in 2008.

Bottomless Pit "Fish Eyes" (from Congress 12")

New update soon, for real.

2008 Wrap-Up Part One

Now that everyone else has had their say, I guess it's time for me to run down my favorites from 2008. The end of January feels a bit late to be looking at the previous year, but to be honest, there were so many killer releases in November and December that I didn't even acquire some of the year's best until a few weeks ago. All in all, I don't think there's been as much amazing music released (and re-released) in one year in over a decade. I felt like a teenager again, struggling to keep track of all the new bands, buying records blindly based on the label, or even straight-up whims, new favorites all the time. What follows is a random-ordered list, part one of two or three, best releases of the year.

Wavves – s/t Lp + Beach Demon/Weed Demon 7" (Woodsist [Lp] / Tic Tac Totally [7"])

I'm not really hearing the surf-rock / 'Beach Boys' vibe that everyone else is, yet somehow the beach/surf/skate thing suits Wavves fuzzy pop songs quite well. The album is really just a demo and I'm stoked as hell for the "real" full-length debut out shortly.

Wavves "Beach Demon" (from Beach Demon/Weed Demon 7")
Wavves "California Goth" (from s/t Lp)

Fabulous Diamonds – s/t 12" (Siltbreeze)

Definitely a noodle-scratcher at first, this mysterious, dubbed-out, drums/organ/sax EP from Australia was fully hypnotic by the time fall hit.

Fabulous Diamonds "untitled six" (from s/t 12")

Nodzzz – s/t 12" (What's Your Rupture?)

I was pretty amused by the Nodzzz demo when I first heard it early last year. But once I got past its wonky charm (goofy lyrics, budget recording, amateur-ish vocals, hell, an 'amateur' vibe in general), the songs were stuck in my head and I began checking for a new release. The demo songs were deceptively simple, sounding off-the-cuff but well constructed. Well, it's the same deal here but the songs are a little more developed and this time around the fuller recording doesn't detract from the songs. But they still sound more or less like the first Feelies album redone by three college roommates with a guitar (no amp), some pot and a 4-track, and the longest song is 2:15, so I'm totally down.

Nodzzz "Is She There?" (from s/t 12")
Nodzzz "Simple Song" (from s/t 12")

Der Teenage Panzerkorps – Games For Slaves Lp (Siltbreeze)

2007's Harmful Emotions soared right over my head, but this one unexpectedly hit just the way I needed it: dark and gloomy jagged punk with a subtle motorik vibe (half the band is indeed German). The soundtrack to my fall/winter. Another win for Siltbreeze.

Der Teenage Panzerkorps "Human Winter" (from Games For Slaves Lp)

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Real Emotional Trash (Matador)

"Down in Sausalito we had clams for dessert / You spilled some Chardonnay on your gypsy skirt". I never liked Pavement anyway.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks "Dragonfly Pie" (from Real Emotional Trash Lp)

Ty Segall – s/t Lp (Castleface)

A perfect companion to the glut of Oh Sees releases this year (and released on Oh Sees' main dude John Dwyer's label). 24 minutes of perfectly blown out, garage-y, one-man-band rock and roll.

Ty Segall "The Drag" (from s/t Lp)

Sex Vid – Communal Living 12" (Dom America)

There are a number of ways for a hardcore band to make moderate success likely, but completely ruin themselves in every meaningful way (youth crew bullshit; straight edge bullshit; lyrics about hardcore/'the scene'; metal; 'emo'; 'arty'; humorless; contrived; stuck in the past; not knowing their place in the musical cosmos; career-motivated; too dumb; too smart; too safe; etc). Sex Vid avoid them all, making it look painfully easy, and I still can't decide if its by way of being totally pragmatic or if they lucked into some magical formula that makes them so obviously better than everyone else. I'm guessing it's a combination of the two, but regardless, I quit buying hardcore records in disgust almost a decade ago and I can't overemphasize how perfectly right this shit is.

Sex Vid "No Room" (from Communal Living 12")
Sex Vid "Footsteps / Cardinal Red" (from Communal Living 12")

Magic Lantern – High Beams Lp (Not Not Fun)

Like Sex Vid do for hardcore, Magic Lantern do for modern psych, cutting through all the bullshit and coming correct with something so obviously right that you can only wonder how all the others continue to get it so wrong. Rippin'.

Magic Lantern "Deathshead Hawkmoth" (from High Beams Lp)

More soon.

Kleenex – Nice

Youtube embedding was disable for this one so you'll have to follow the link. Trust me, it's worth it..

Kleenex "Nice"