Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I have moved!

This is the final post on the good ol' blogspot page for AZLTRON. But fear not, life goes on and I have moved over to my own domain at where you can still read my musings and take part in my music sampling.

This is not the end, but the beginning!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Spoon Stream "Transference" on NPR

Spoon Illustration by Aaron Z. Lee 2010
Austin Texas' indie darlings Spoon are poised to release another dose of their captivating musical spell with their new album "Transference" out next Tuesday (Jan 19th). Spoon is one of my favorite bands of all time, so there's no doubt that I'm extremely excited that they have a new album coming out. This time though, there is no major producer coming in and polishing the edges off of this raw and choppy collection of songs. Singer/Guitarist Brit Daniel must have caught the producing bug after producing White Rabbit's latest album "It's Frightening". That said, they still have their minimalist/experimentalist hats on and deliver on all the goods that you'd expect from a Spoon album and then some.

All of those classic spoon jams that we all love, from "The Way We Get By" to "My Mathematical Mind" to "Don't Make Me a Target" have all flirted with the dynamic combo assault of piano and guitar. On "Transference" the guitar and piano parts are intertwined like never before and will have you reveling in the pure delight of Spoon sound. Those looking for the ultra-sheen polish of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga won't find it here, but Spoon never has been about high gloss production, it's been about heart, and pitch perfect arrangement and instrumentation all of which "Transference" has in spades.

Listen to the full album plus an Interview on NPR

Spoon - Written in Reverse

Friday, January 15, 2010

I'm With Coco

Conan O'Brien Illustration by Aaron Z. Lee 2010
No doubt you've heard the controversy about Jay Leno bumping Conan out of the way so he can return to the Tonight Show. I am not pleased with this at all. I have never liked Leno. I am a big Conan fan and feel that his humor and show has so much more to offer than his contemporaries. Every character on the show is priceless. The writing is always top notch and what I really like about Conan is that he really seems authentic onstage. When faced with with the smarm of old timers like Letterman and Leno and the hammed up antics of Kimmel, Fallon, and Ferguson, Conan is the obvious choice for late night supremacy. It seems like after next week's shows that Conan might be replaced on the tonight show, but not forgotten. This guy Mike Mitchell started a facebook group that has been making some serious waves and no doubt shows us that Conan, wherever he lands, be it NBC, FOX, or the moon he'll be alright.

The Stills - I'm With You

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Interviewing Absofacto (Jon Visger from Mason Proper!)

I recently had the chance to catch up with the Michigan Native and Mason Proper front man Jonathan Visger about his Tagalong EP under his new solo moniker "Absofacto" and other happenings in his realm.

Why the name change from Bug Lung Baby to Absofacto and what does Absofacto mean?

A few people independently told me it would come out "Bung Lung Baby" when they said it quickly, haha. I soured on it myself after a while and decided to go with the other name I was kicking around at the same time as BLB, Absofacto. It's a misspelling I've seen of "ipso facto." It caught my eye and is abstract enough to feel like it fits a little better with how abstract my music can be. But knowing me, I'll probably change it fifty more times before all is said and done.

Was “Hall Pass” written while you were in high school?

No, but shortly after! I went off to college for a semester before leaving to focus on music, and right after quitting I came up with the original seed for "Hall Pass." I usually have no idea where my ideas come from, and this is definitely in that category.

What is the oldest song that you’ve completed for the Tagalong EP?

"Hall Pass," hands down. Most of the others were written after Mason Proper was in full swing.

What was it about these songs that made allowed them to survive so long?

I would call it "strength of character." There were other old songs I thought would accompany these, that had stuck around for an equally long time, but when I went to actually work on them it became clear my love affair was over. I just didn't like them anymore, or they hadn't aged well. I think these were just really sharp, strong ideas with enough substance to them to go back and explore again years later and still feel fresh.

Your lyrics and songwriting seem very literary and if they are lyrically sparse they always seem cinematic, do you have any plans to write a book? Or perhaps score a film?

I'd love to score a film, and have done some "fan scoring" of my own. I wrote the Mason Proper song "Life's Cornucopia" specifically to sync up with the opening credits of "To Kill a Mockingbird," for instance. It's on YouTube somewhere. As far as writing a book goes, it's something I'm interested in, but I still haven't mastered making great albums or anything, so I know I should just focus and keep trying to improve at music. It's probably more realistic that I might write a few short stories someday and post it on the internet or something. In the meantime, I'll just keep dreaming up the stories and writing songs as a little window into them.

While we’re on the topic, who are some of your favorite authors and film makers?

I got into Haruki Murakami this year and am just reading one after another. I want to read everything he's done. Edward Gorey is another big influence, the way he just gives you glimpses into situations without ever laying it all out. It's no secret I'm an insane David Lynch fan too. I think there are a lot of parallels between him and Murakami, actually. These guys are the biggest influence on my lyrics at this point.

You recently worked with film maker Adam Netsky on your video for “Paper Crane”, what was that collaboration like?

I had been friends with him and his older brother Josh for years, and always was really impressed with the videos he made for Josh's music. I called him up and told him I had no money but wanted to make a video, because I knew he was used to making cool things happen on low budgets. He told me that if I could get myself to his house in Rochester, NY we'd make it happen. So I went, and we set up some green tarps in his kitchen and he told me how to walk around, and when to look at empty spaces and stuff, and then I went home and he and his family built all this stuff and finished the video. I love the handmade feel of it. He did this kind of "The Fountain" inspired thing, doing all the visual effects by filming real things up close and overlaying them.

The albums that you’ve released by yourself have these great new covers by “The Silent Giants” how did you get hooked up with that creative entity for your artwork?

I didn't know them personally, but had always been a huge fan of their artwork. They were the only guys I knew of where I literally liked everything they did, so I knew I couldn't go wrong. I contacted them and pretty quickly we became friends and realized we were really on the same page with it all, and they started making me beautiful artwork. It really ties it all together, I think.

You’ve just released another new song “No Power”, are you planning on releasing a full solo album any time in the future?

My plan right now is to always have a new single in the works, and release it when it's done. This way I can obsess over every little detail, have the immediate gratification of sending it out into the world, and have that energy feed back into the next one. It just fits really well with my way of working, and will keep me evolving quickly. If I tried to make a whole album by myself at this point, nobody would hear from me for two years, and then I'd just check into a mental institution and never finish it anyway.

Any word on a new Mason Proper EP or album?

Album, for sure. We're working on it, but it will be done when it's done. I'm really proud of what we did with Olly Oxen Free, but I want to step it way, way up this time around, and I'm willing to be patient to make sure it works out that way.

On a perfect winter day where do you find yourself?

I'm a perpetually cold person, so preferably somewhere on Mercury.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

AZLTRON Christmas Mix 2009


Another year, another year end list. Crazy that this is the third I've compiled. Has it been three years already? Crazy! Anyway here is my list of the top 30 albums of the year. Granted, I am just one man and I may have not had a chance to listen to every album ever made this year. I am speaking from my bubble of experience so if your fave isn't on here, it doesn't mean it sucks, it just means maybe I haven't heard it. Or that I didn't like it. Ha! Well get to those mp3's and enjoy! Never say I never gave you anything.
30. Moby - Wait For Me

This album was a return to the heightened emotionality that makes Moby songs like "God Moving over the face of the water" instant classics. Moby stumbles into some of his familiar potholes of opaque lyrics and repetitive song structure but he continues to move in positive directions.

29. stellastarr* - Civilized

stellastarr* returns with their third album sans major label and with plenty of well written songs. The band takes a lo-fi old school approach opting to forgo a lot of the gloss that stamps most modern rock releases. stellastarr* doesn't have any out of the park home runs here, but the sheer enthusiasm the band exudes on this album makes it worth a listen.

28. Digits - Hold it Close

Digits combine electronic beats and mellow vocals and synths with all kinds of cut up acoustic and electric guitars. You could call it synth-pop, you could call it electro-acoustic, but mostly it's just good solid music.

27. Katsen - It Hertz!

Cats keyboards and Kitch are what Katsen is about. Their album of synth-pop, "It Hertz" rides the border of seriousness and satire and along the way the group shows their diverse influences from Kraftwerk, the Cure, Kate Bush and others. "It Hertz" is an unabashed guilty pleasure.

26. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs returned this year to a mountain of hype and turned in a few good singles and some slower keyboard tinged numbers. The ample reverb and slick production heralds a marked difference in the bands sound. Some hailed it as a beautiful transformation, like a butterfly out of a cocoon, from raw to polished, but others just recognized it for what it was, the group aping the popular girl fronted new wave band that others have been doing for years. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs got to the party a little bit late, but at least they kept it going.

25. Little Dragon - Machine Dreams

I was just talking about those female fronted new wave bands that have been at it a while and here we find one, Sweden's Little Dragon who fuze unique vocals, electronics and a Bjork-like sensibility. Sounding like bossanova meets ambient electronica funk "Machine Dreams" is a laid back psychedelic groove fest that works its way up to a few freak outs. The only downfall is that the tracks tend to get a little repetitive in their structure. Perfect for a mixtape a long drive or a night on the town.

24. Broken Spindles - Kiss/Kick

Joel Peterson of the Faint returns again with his side solo project Broken Spindles. In this adventure he works on combining his good lyrical ideas with his good sound ideas and produces some of his best Broken Spindles songs yet. The vocals are still pretty monotone but the songs feel a lot more cohesive than past releases. If anything the album feels like good ideas that could be expanded upon.

23. Fischerspooner - Entertainment

Fischerspooner marks their return to music land with their third album "Entertainment" and the album is less dancefloor ready and more heady than their previous releases. Nonetheless there are some cool experiments to be found here and a slight return to the approach that helped their first album make a splash to begin with.

22. Danger Mouse & Sparkle Horse - Dark Night of the Soul

Technically this album was never released, but that didn't stop it from getting out there. With input from David Lynch and guest spots from the Flaming Lips, Black Francis, Iggy Pop, Julian Casablancas and more it's bound to have something for everybody. Well everybody looking to have a bit a dark good time that is.

21. Crystal Method - Divided By Night

America's preeminent techno producers return to the keys and the decks to bring you a relatively diverse album with tons of guest spots from the likes of Peter Hook (New Order) Emily Haines (Metric) and Matisyahu. The album hits in ways that "Legion of Boom" only hinted at. The Crystal Method is getting better cleaning up their sound and finding ways to still sound like themselves while adapting themselves to the times. Above all they are proving themselves to be a member of an elite group, techno producers from the 90's who are still relevant today.

20. The BPA - I Think We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

Norman Cook's latest incarnation in a seemingly endless list of pseudonyms and band names. This project continues his focus on song structure over the top of his well known big beats. There are a couple stutters (literally) on the album, in particular one about a toad, but the album evens off with some mid tempo tracks and a few spectacular ones. Like the one featuring David Byrne AND Dizzee Rascal. Feels like a bargain huh?

19. Lonely Island - Incredibad

At what point will pop and rap just give up and let the comedians take over the airways? Seriously with Tenacious D, Flight of the Concords and now the Lonely Island putting out releases that are just as strong musically as they are comedically poppers and rappers might want to look for a day job. But then again with nothing to make fun of, those previously mentioned groups might not have a career. Either way, this star studded affair features invigorating guest vocals from Jack Black, Julian Casablancas and Norah Jones in addition to all those SNL Digital Short Songs that everyone loves to sing.

18. Calvin Harris - Ready for the Weekend

Calvin Harris' disco stylings return with a tad bit more variety and arrangement. Bass pumps, synths soar, Divas sing about shoes and piano hooks will get stuck in your head. Is it as good as the first album? In spots. Is it better than the first album? In Spots. Is it worse in spots? Yes. Is it entertaining from multiple viewpoints all the way through? Yes. Get this for it's potential in your car speakers as you go out or on a road trip with your friends.

17. Little Boots - Hands

To continue with the streak of British synth pop is Little Boots, who writes songs so catchy that I'm willing to risk others' perception of my masculinity by listening to them. Seriously in a world where we can have Brittanys and Lady Gagas churned down our throats would it be possible to have one pop songstress who writes and performs all her own songs get popular in the states? Just this once? Please? No? Ok then, more for us.

16. Frankmusik - Complete Me

Completing the triforce of British synth pop darlings is Frankmusik, who has been teasing us with samplers, demos and EPs for what seems like forever finally released a full album. It didn't dissapoint. Although it was a little more polished and tame than what I'd expected, but this only enhanced the songwriting. Plus his music videos are entertaining.

15. Portugal the Man - The Satanic Satanist

Sometimes you just need some good old fashioned rock & roll. Portugal the Man has that in spades. Take that classic guitar led classic rock sound and update it with a bit of an alternative and r&b take and that's roughly what Portugal the Man has to offer up on the Satanic Satanist. Put in a pinch of a psychedelic touch and you're spot on. Every track exudes that classic 70's anthem feel that you'd expect from Bowie in his heyday. Plus they put on a great show.

14. Julian Plenti is... Skyscraper

Julian Plenti, for the uninitiated, is Paul Banks from Interpol in his solo vehicle. The album is filled with somber tunes that one might expect from the frontman of the well dressed NYC quartet but the instrumentation is a bit more varied and includes a horn section, acoustic guitar, and even strings. Banks does crank it up a notch for a few tunes and rock out on the old guitar, but the melodies and atmosphere of the quieter tracks are where he really shines.

13. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young

After looking at the Julian Plenti cover and the Julian Casablancas cover one can't help but wonder, "Which came first?" Surely the gents must know each other. Is Paul Banks mocking Casablancas? Or Perhaps they are both in on the joke. Perhaps it's just cool to have a dude sit in a room on the cover of your album, like in the Spoon "Transference" album cover. Either way, Casablancas' first solo outing is a fun romp through influence from The Doors, New Wave, even Flock of Seagulls. The album as a whole is pretty uneven, but the highs are pretty spectacular and earn the record a place on this list.

12. James Yuill - Turning Down Water for Air

Sometimes it's awkward for some artists to move back and forth from folk rock territory into electronic beats. James Yuill is not one of those artists. He assimilates electronic elements and beats into his beautifully written acoustic songs. Fans of the Postal Service or even derivatives like Owl City will find a lot to like here.

11. Franz Ferdinand - Tonight

Franz Ferdinand took a break after whipping out their second album "You Could Have it so much better..." and the break has done them well. While their sophomore album had some nice high points, it was too wired, too anxious, too spikey. With "Tonight" the group mellowed out and recaptured some of that timeless cool that made them ones to watch in the first place.

10. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

In their search to define themselves as something other than Air's back up band or the French Strokes Phoenix found a sound that they can truly claim as their own. "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" has elements that have marked their previous releases like the slightly roughed up sounds of "It's Never Been Like That" and the electronics of "Alphabetical" except this time it sounds like they were melted together and shot out of a canon. Wait, make that a Cadillac.

9. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band - Outer South

Conor Oberst and Co. return with an even more egalitarian mix of songs where Conor doesn't even sing lead all the time. He lets his stalwart bandmates take the reigns multiple times and the songs really benefit from it. This feeling of brotherhood that must inherently be within this group really adds to the cohesiveness of the sound as well. When this band is cooking, they crank it up to 1000. Take a listen, I dare you.

8. Sally Shapiro - My Guilty Pleasure

There's no guilty pleasure for me here at all about Sally Shapiro's latest release. Everything about this release, from the ambient opener to some of the jazzy jams that erupt toward the end of the album is awesome. To this day I can't believe that I missed when this album came out over the summer. Dang you day job.

7. Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk

Conor Oberst cannot get enough of collaboration. Uniting with M. Ward, Mike Mogis, and Jim James the quartet produced some of the finest folk-rock of the year. Avoiding nearly all the pot holes that "supergroups" fall into perhaps by making sure that they play all the parts on the album to keep them humble by pointing out their weakpoints. Which is ironic since there's not many weak points that you can find here. Like Oberst's Mystic Valley band this band oozes euphoria when they're all together. Oh, also they've got some bangin harmonies.

6. Muse - The Resistance

Muse's latest effort feels like bits and pieces of their previous albums glued together. The electro stomp of "Uprising" and radical Queen flourishes on "United States of Eurasia" wouldn't be out of place on their previous album "Black Holes and Revelations". "Unnatural Selection" right down to the track title could fit right in on "Origin of Symmetry". Then somewhere along the way an orchestra drops in on the band and things get really classically bombastic. The great thing about all this though, is that Matt Bellamy and company are so talented that they can take this rag tag collection of tunes and turn them into a masterpiece.

5. Echo & The Bunnymen - The Fountain

Echo & The Bunnymen rose from the ashes again this year to compile their best album in over ten years. Most critics will continue to write them off as shot, but The Fountain features a vigor and life that we haven't seen from the group in quite a while. Not only that, but the songs are tight and full of hooks and even a bit of play with their song structure. Don't expect another Ocean Rain, but to compare it to the 1987 self titled would be appropriate and I thought that album was criminally underrated. Which is how I imagine this album will go down too. That aside, The Bunnymen are back in a big way. Definitely one of the best of the year.

4. Wilco - Wilco the Album

Those Wilco fans who felt there wasn't much to chew on with "Sky Blue Sky" sure got a mouthful of tasty layered Wilco on their latest release. From the opener "Wilco the Song" which is all about the comforts of listening to Wilco songs, to "You & I" featuring Feist, the album is full of equally energetic and expansive songwriting. Jeff Tweedy and Co. are having a blast and that translates even to the recording.

3. Passion Pit - Manners

Passion Pit delivered on their great expectations from their EP which was almost universally loved. The songs on Manners are sure to be the sugary Cafe Mocha to the processing center of your brain as they are covered in saccharine synths and freaky falsetto that are sure to wake you up and make you move. Even Corporate America is catching on.

2. Hockey - Mind Chaos

Hockey has some of the most fully formed classic sounding rock and roll I've heard in a long time. These chameleons have been paying attention, imbuing their tunes with flourishes reminiscent of The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Talking Heads and others. The next time you run into somebody telling you that no one makes good rock & roll anymore, make sure you throw this CD at them. Hard.

1. The Sounds - Crossing the Rubicon

The Sounds took a lot of risks with Crossing the Rubicon, opting out of a lot of the Kitch that was found on their previous album "Dying to Say this to You" and went for broke with honesty and earnestness. Kind of like how The Killers changed their sound with Sam's Town. The earnestness paid off in spades as there's not an unlistenable track to be found here. As much as it would make me feel uncomfortable to see sorority sisters singing their songs, I think The Sounds deserve some top 40 success.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Peter Hook Performs with The Detatchments!

Peter Hook of Joy Division/New Order fame recently performed with The Detachments to benefit the Salford Foundation Trust. Also there's a cool little New Order Tribute album coming out to benefit the trust as well. Here are a few of the tracks.