Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Top Albums of the Year, pt. 1

December 29, 2011

I’m incredibly excited that I’ve finished my year-end lists actually correspond with the end of the year. Without further pontificating, here’s the first half of the year’s best.

Honorable Mention: LCD Soundsystem – Madison Square Garden Show. It’s not an official release, but it proves that the tightest live band in the world only got tighter with time. “Yeah” is an absolute powerhouse.

20: Beirut – The Rip Tide. The mellower, less brash Zac Condon won me over.

19: The Antlers – Burst Apart. Mostly because “Putting the Dog to Sleep” is my favorite song of the year, although the rest of the album stands up well.

18: Gray Young – Staysail. Post-rock with heart and technical abilities.

17: Bon Iver – Bon Iver. It took a while to grow on me, but now I think that Vernon out-James Blaked James Blake.

16: David Ramirez – Strangetown EP. Moving songwriting, evocative lyrics and a beautiful voice make this a brilliant collection of tunes.

15: Restorations – Restorations. The sound of punk rockers growing old without giving up.

14: Battle Ave. – “War Paint.” A more indie-fied Titus Andronicus? Sign me up twice.

13: Brianna Gaither – Love is Patient. Piano-led singer/songwriter fare rarely sounds this confident, powerful or memorable.

12: Pete Davis – The Pottsville Conglomerate. The instrumentation of Sufjan Stevens meets the acrobatic enthusiasm of a pop-punk band. Fireworks ensue.

11: Oh Look Out! – Alright Alright Alright Alright Alright. Electrifying, intricate indie-pop that loves video games just as much as music. “Kam” is brilliant.

Pete Davis' Conglomerate is a brilliant 95-minute album

November 7, 2011

Aaron Sprinkle likes to title his albums with a negative adjective so that reviewers have a free but unimaginative potshot readymade. (My favorite album of his is Lackluster, har har.) Pete Davis has done a similar thing in naming one of the tracks off The Pottsville Conglomerate “Behemoth.” I mean, when you write an album with a 96-minute runtime, then put “Behemoth” on there, you’re asking for the easy line.

But, just as the behemoth and the leviathan in the Book of Job, this “Behemoth” (both song and album) are wonders to behold, not clunky stompers. This is an intricately crafted album of thoughtful, powerful, highly orchestrated indie music that runs the gamut from Seven Swans whisperfolk (“Fool,” “Hymnal”) to frantic freakouts of drum-pounding, throat-shredding rock (“Behemoth,” “Let Every Evil Lung Fill”). The sections often happen in the same track, even back-to-back. The rest of the sections are filled in with piano-pop, carnival-esque melodies, acoustic guitar tunes, and more. This isn’t 95 minutes of space: this is a jam-packed extravaganza.

It is brilliant.

Pete Davis’ vision for the album is incredible; throughout the 95 minutes, the songs rarely drag. There are high points and low points, as with any album, but that’s a serious accomplishment for an album of this length, breadth and scope. Much of this can be laid at the doorstep of Davis’ acrobatic, magnetic vocals. He frequently multitracks himself into chorales, making good vocals even better.

Besides the aforementioned tracks, the romantic “A Bathhouse for Bloodhounds,” delicate opener “There Is An Ocean,” the folksy ditty “As Far as the Rails Go” and dramatic closer “Chrysopoeia” stick out for special mention. As there are 16 tracks here, I still haven’t mentioned half of the album, but you’ll have to figure those out yourself.

If you search “Pete Davis Pottsville Conglomerate,” a thread on AbsolutePunk will come up proclaiming that the album “will change your life.” This album is the sort that causes people to get hyperbolic, and with good reason: the songwriting is brilliant, and there’s a whole, whole lot of it going on. Definitely a favorite of the year. (Goodness gracious, it’s that time again!)

Archer Black's video actually means something!

October 26, 2011

I’m already starting to spread the word on Pete Davis’ The Pottsville Conglomerate, because it’s 95 minutes of awesome. Because it’s the length of 3ish albums and 6ish EPs, it’s gonna take a little longer than usual to review. But fans of Sufjan’s most bombastic moments should start listening to it now.

In lieu of a review, here’s a stunner of a video from Archer Black, for “Onward and Down.” I love videos that tell a story, and this one’s simple but powerful. The song is also incredible, like Beirut channeling The National.

I thought Tin Can Radio’s “Hot Trash” proved that the whole continent of Australia has a Bloc Party thing, but then there’s a Vampire Weekend/Phoenix chorus that throws a really interesting wrench in my snarky aside.

Finally, SLTM the Podcast just posted edition #125, which is a pretty big milestone. Congrats to Brad Bugos and the rest of the SLTM!

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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