If you’ve heard a Matt and Kim album before, this review won’t help you much: I’m about to gush about Matt and Kim, just like you did to all your friends the first time you heard about them.
But seriously, there’s so much to gush about. If you’ve never heard a Matt and Kim album, you absolutely must fix that oversight (as I did with Sidewalks). If the ubiquitous “Daylight” from Grand turned you off, I exhort you to give M+K another chance. And that one chance, if I were making the decisions, would be “Where You’re Coming From.”
“Where You’re Coming From” is everything that’s wonderful about this band. The melodic riff is a series of staccato jabs from a keyboard. The drums pound with a euphoric, jaunty rhythm that complements the separated riff. Matt jumps in with a memorable vocal line in his quirky vocal style. Kim sings some backups in the chorus to make the song even more epic. The song keeps building until it seems it can’t hold any more tension, when it simply explodes into a dance-rock frenzy. You will be hollering “Where You’re Coming From” as you dance in wild circles; if not, you might be dead.
“Silver Tiles” has a similar feel, as the bombastic toms crush through the mix unapologetically. The chorus, honed over years of Matt and Kim playing it live, is the very definition of anthemic. “Ice Melts” employs a marching band, as if their sound wasn’t huge and gleefully messy enough already. “Cameras” drops with a swagger (and, again, that marching band!) that makes me want to strut down the street with it as my personal theme music.
The only place where Matt and Kim go wrong is when they abandon their idiosyncrasies for more normal songwriting tactics, as they do on “AM/FM Sound” and “Good for Great.” Neither tune is bad, but they don’t live up to the promise of most M+K songs. They don’t have the ecstatic spark that sets Matt and Kim apart from every other synth/drums duo out there.
“Red Paint” and “Wires,” though? Totally redeeming of the errors. They overcompensate almost, as both could not be written by anyone else. They’d probably be thrown out as weird demos by Hot Chip, but they work perfectly as Matt and Kim tunes because of their jarring bizarreness. Standouts, even.
This album already made my top ten of the year, because its exuberant take on indie rock made me smile more than any other release this year (although Tokyo Police Club and OK Go came close). Matt and Kim aren’t super technically proficient, but they are magnificent at making dance-punk-pop-whatever. Love it, love it, love it.
Independent Clauses has always been a strange beast. I never intended it to be a music blog; I wanted it to be the starting point of a Pitchfork-style website or a Paste-style magazine. So when we did things differently, my thoughts ran thus: “Who cares? We weren’t trying to be like them anyway.” That’s why we would run best-of lists in February, eschew posting MP3s and publish very long articles.
But as people go, so do dreams. Just like mortality isn’t such a terrible bag if you’re ready for it, neither is the death of dreams. Independent Clauses is never going to be the size of Pitchfork, Paste or even dearly departed Delusions of Adequacy (whom I have worked for and dearly love). And that’s perfectly okay.
To that end, it’s starting to look more and more like an MP3 blog over here, as I am accepting what Independent Clauses has become and embracing it. I’m considering getting some extra hosting for 2011 and throwing down d/ls to applicable tunes on posts. I’m also going to redesign this site as an mp3 blog, then not touch the aesthetics till 2012. I’m also going to start using the first person pronoun instead of the third person. It’s just me here now.
Also, I will cover more Pitchfork-level indie music than I have previously. Independent Clauses used to focus exclusively on undiscovered music, and I will still devote much of my time there. One does not throw the baby out with the bathwater, after all; there will just be more Frightened Rabbit and The Mountain Goats in the bath.
As part of the transition, I will be posting two best-of lists this year: one overall best of, and one of releases Independent Clauses reviewed this year. In the future, I will post one list. Without further adieu, here’s the overall top ten best releases this year.
1. Sever Your Roots – The Felix Culpa. I called this “the post-hardcore masterpiece” in January, and I’ll stick by that. It’s near-perfect.
2. Sigh No More – Mumford and Sons. Total world dominance: I was in the dentist’s office the other day, and “The Cave” was playing.
3. The Winter of Mixed Drinks – Frightened Rabbit. “Not Miserable” gives me shivers every time, and it’s incredibly rare to give me shivers once. I love every song on this album.
4. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire. Music world dominance: headlining Madison Square Garden, nominated for album of the year, taking number one on the Billboard Charts. Even if I didn’t like this album it would be in my top ten. It’s a pretty great album, though, even if it does have a few too many ripoffs of The National on it.
5. This Is Happening – LCD Soundsystem. Indie world dominance: James Murphy prophesied his title and then backed it up with tracks that made it so. Easily my favorite LCD album, and “You Wanted a Hit” is vying for “favorite LCD song” status.
6. The Age of Adz – Sufjan Stevens. The man can do whatever he wants and still turn out pure gold. This is easily the most mind-blowing release of the year: it’s hard for me to listen to in heavy rotation because it’s so complex.
7. The Wild Hunt – The Tallest Man on Earth. Do you have to die to be re-incarnated? Because Bob Dylan’s found his second coming already. Don’t go electric, Kristian Matsson! Don’t do it!
8. Sidewalks – Matt and Kim. THIS ALBUM DESERVES ALL CAPS! IT IS THAT ENTHUSIASTIC AND WONDERFUL! I DARE YOU TO NOT BE HAPPY WHILE LISTENING TO THIS ALBUM!
9. The Monitor – Titus Andronicus. Straight-up best guitar riffs of the year are in this album. This album rocks so hard that it’s hard to believe that it’s kind of about the Civil War.
10. Of the Blue Colour of the Sky – OK GO. I just really enjoyed this album. They’ve perfected their strain of exuberant pop, and I like it.
Honorable Mentions: Champ – Tokyo Police Club, High Violet – The National, Weathervanes – Freelance Whales.
Books About UFOs’ Bite Your Tongue is a straightforward, four-on-the-floor garage-rock album. Their brand of rock has more in common with the Hives than the Strokes, as they power their songs with an attitude instead of pop-ready hooks. That’s not to say they don’t have melodies, but opening track “Stop, Look & Listen” wishes death to “arrogant hipsters,” whether “together or alone.” They make it pretty clear what you’re about to get.
The band cranks it out with bass, guitar, drums and attitude-filled howl for the entirety of the album. The bass work of “The Sharks Have Entered the Lagoon” makes it stand out, and the guitar line in “When You Whisper” sets it out of the group as well. Garage rock is not my favorite style, but this is a solid effort.
The three girls of Tribella know how to put together a alt-pop song. Songwriter Sarah Glynn has a rough voice that meshes with the vaguely distorted, dreamy guitars in a very ’90s rock way. There’s less aggression and more pop in these tunes, grabbing familiar rhythms and melodies and spinning them their own way. Standout track “Deal Breaker” is a perfect example of this, as well as the fascinating “My Guest List.”
The band’s anthemic aspirations are given an understated treatment, which is a stellar songwriting and production move. The songs leave the listener wanting more, which everyone knows is a good idea. Fans of female voices in rock will eat Thirteen up.
Charles the Osprey should be proud to know that their vinyl of Consider was the last thing in my record player before I broke it. In fact, it was actually in my record player when I broke the needle (or stylus, according to Wikipedia). It deeply disheartens me, because I only got to listen to this excellent album two or three times on vinyl. When I get a new needle (and if you’ve ever owned a record player, you know how that goes), it will be the first thing that I listen to.
Charles the Osprey is two dudes: Rafael Ohli on guitar and Derek Lancioni on drums. They make instrumental math rock in the most spartan way possible: straight up. No pedals, no loops, no overdubs, nothing but straight performances. This makes the music they put out all the more amazing; sometimes it still sounds like Ohli is using a loop pedal, because his guitar playing is so complex. The only change in sound is from clean to distorted, which Ohli does with a channel switch. In spite of (and because of) these limitations, they crank out fascinating tunes that push the imagination of the listener.
Sometimes math rock can get esoteric and unfun, but Charles the Osprey never let that happen; knowing the limitations of their sound and of their listeners compel the members to change up the sounds, moods and tempos of their songs. Lots of patterned playing goes on, but never without melody (thank you, thank you, thank you). These guys know what’s up, and this album is proof of it.
If you’ve got a record player, the record itself is gorgeous: hunter green vinyl in a cardstock gatefold with great art and funky song titles. In short, I reiterate what I said at the beginning: when I get my record player fixed, this is going to be the first thing I play on it. It’s just that good. Best vinyl I’ve gotten all year.
Magrane Hill is two dudes: Travis Magrane and Adam Hill. They both love country, folk, bluegrass and all iterations thereof. Their ten songs on Public House consist of traveler’s folk songs, bluegrass, old-school country and straight-up folk tunes. The two play off each other incredibly well, providing a warm consistency to the tunes, even though they stylistically differ.
Each track has its own highlights, but “Darlin’ Corey,” “Golden State,” “High Road” and “Unknown Familiar Blues” have melodies that stay in the brain long after the tunes have finished. There are few low points, and the whole thing travels along pleasantly. Recommended for any fan of acoustic guitars and various Americana iterations.
I love music from other parts of the world. Not world music, which I find to be a slightly insulting catch-all genre, but stuff that’s native to other places. The Good Ones’ Kigali Y’ Izahabu definitely falls in that category. The Good Ones are a Rwandan folk trio singing mellow folk songs with harmonies and an acoustic guitar or two. They’re all in the native tongue, which makes them impossible to understand lyrically, but the moods and sentiments behind the songs shine through.
Most of the tunes have calm tempos, finger-picked guitar work and warm melodies. These aren’t mournful songs by any stretch of the imagination. Despite all the difficulties that Rwanda has gone through and continues to go through, a cheery sound permeates the whole album. “Egidia” and “Bertilde” are especially charming.
This isn’t an album that will have you picking favorites right off the bat, as the structure and rhythm of many tracks will take some getting used to for the unacquainted ear. But those who persevere will be rewarded with a fascinating and uplifting set of raw, honest, friendly folk songs. Recommended for people who like cheery music, Africa or something different.
Nathan Leigh’s glitch ep features “Let’s Get Lost (Alternate Mix),” whose soaring melody and piano-led pensiveness stuck in my head for several weeks. If Owl City absorbed some Transatlanticism-era Death Cab moods, he’d be making moving tunes like “Let’s Get Lost,” as Nathan Leigh operates in a similar electronic pop idiom (but without much of the kitsch and bubblegum).
The rest of the tunes fare decently, but none stand out in the long run. Many of them are heavy on the glitchy production of the name, and the heavy static hits hurt my enjoyment of them. “Breathing in Fast” is an exception, an upbeat pop song that evokes Cobra Starship or Like Clockwork. Overall, it’s decent, with a shining star among the rest.
Sound collages of clattering found percussion, improvised horns and David Karsten Daniels’ mournful, multi-tracked voice alternate with straightforward folk songs with horns on I Mean to Live Here Still, Daniels’ collaboration with improv group Fight the Big Bull. They even go so far as to treat one set of lyrics with a sound collage (“October Airs”) and a folk tune (“On Fields”), although its folk version has an extended – and awesome – percussion breakdown.
The folk with New Orleans-style horns (“Though All the Fates,” “Salmon Brook”) generally fare better on the ear, although the sound collages have a unique and peculiar charm that will draw you back (“All Things Are Current Found,” “Each Summer Sound”). Recommended for fans of something different in your folk.