Saturday, September 26, 2009

AZLTRON 500th Post Spectacular! Part 2!

It's been a long time since the beginning of this blog, which is now well into it's third year. I just realized not too long ago that the 500th post was coming up fast, and wouldn't you know it, here it is. In a celebratory fashion I thought I would write about ten of the albums that I've listened to over the years that have changed the way I listen to music. I have three criteria for this list: These albums must be albums that came out during my lifetime (that means no collections or retrospectives), the albums must be albums that I discovered myself through word of mouth or research and the albums must be albums that I listened to almost religiously. Here is the second half of the list in chronological order:

6. The Faint - Wet From Birth (2004)

I had already heard of and loved The Faint from their previous releases Blank Wave Arcade and Danse Macabre for their ingenious integration of hard hitting electro beats with indie rock and punk flourishes. But Wet From Birth is something special, even if the band feels that some parts of it are a bit overcooked.

I can still remember my first listen of the album. I had travelled to the city of Rochester in the fall with some newfound college friends and somewhere along the tour we ended up at a record store. I picked up The Faint's Wet From Birth and The Notwist's Neon Golden. Both albums were excellent, but from the opening of the first track on the new album, "Desperate Guys", the glorious strings stabbed in adding an aura of class and sophistication to a track that is basically about hooking up at a party. The irony is beautiful. Next is the most aggressive use of ambient electronics I have ever heard, "How Could I Forget", followed by one of the album centerpieces "I Disappear" whose distorted bassline, swirling keys and guitar funk make it one of my favorite tracks of all time. I don't think I've gone more than a few weeks without listening to this song. Since 2004.

The next track, "Southern Belles in London Sing" is the closest thing The Faint will ever release to a straight up love ballad. From the muted trumpet intro to the classy violin I don't think there could ever be a more beautifully macabre dance track. Which is ironic because the very next track, "Erection", deals with probably the raunchiest subject matter The Faint have to offer, although they still do it with some class. The Faint rounds out the album with all strong tracks, the fuzzed out electro jam "Paranoiattack" that they played on Jimmy Kimmel, The reggae influenced "Phone Call", the relentless blood pumping "Dropkick the Punks", "Symptom Finger", which is perfect for the current health care controversy, and arguably the most epic song The Faint have ever released; "Birth". I remember I loved (and still love) everything about this album, from the bright colors on the album cover to the innovations in sound (A fork in the speaker? Brilliant!).

7. The Walkmen - Bows and Arrows (2004)

I first heard The Walkmen watching David Letterman while waiting for my laundry to dry. They played "The Rat" from Bows and Arrows. They played with such intensity and originality that I had to check them out. Soon after I had their album. I admit that I didn't understand it at first. There was a lot of distorted droning and simple pop structures. It took a lot of listening right into the Christmas season before I had an epiphany. All of the songs on this disc are like taking something that has been shattered, destoyed, obliterated, then sewing it back together and making something timeless and beautiful out of it. Like taking Bing Crosby and putting him in the radiator with the woman with distended cheeks from Eraserhead so that they could sing about how their childhoods really were.
The song "The Rat" is obviously the big draw on the album because of it's dramatic guitar work and drumming, and listening to it now it's extremely apparent why it hooked me so much. Hamilton Leithauser wails about nerves and favors and going out alone and all those other dramatic things and the result is something that is truly exhilarating. The alternationg between these brazen rock numbers and delicate piano plunking ballads makes "Bows & Arrows" truly something special.

8. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem (2005)

I became aware of LCD Soundsystem after learning about the band The Rapture and the DFA production team of James Murphey and Tim Goldsworthy which had produced their single "House of Jealous Lovers" and their debut LP "Echoes". That album was a lesson in the diversity of a sound that became to be called "Dance Punk". A genre that the DFA label (Owned By Murphey and Goldsworthy) continues to specialize in.

LCD Soundsystem is the pet project of "Dance Punk" producer James Murphey. From the opening blast of "Daft Punk is playing at My House" off of LCD Soundsystem's self titled debut LP it's clear that the album is a lesson in raw repetition. The album also showed me that an album could be very simple at times and still be good and not annoying, as long as there was a heaping helping of wit involved in the songwriting process. It is because of this that James Murphey also proved to be a fascinating front man. At the time of the release of the debut LP Murphey was in his late 20's, slightly overweight and not the best singer in the world by far, but he made it work. The secret ingredient to his contagious dance-punk stew is his completely self aware lyrics. For example in his song "Movement" he sings that "A fat guy, in a T-shirt, is doing all the singing!" He is clearly talking about himself, and that kind of humorous observation in dance music didn't exist prior to his debut album. You take that and combine it with all kinds of old school recording studio wizardry and you've got a timeless treat. If you doubt it, might I suggest the subwoofer workout "Disco Infiltrator".

9. Secret Machines - Ten Silver Drops (2006)

I first heard of The Secret Machines my freshman year of college when they played a show literally right next to my campus. Unfortunately I was ignorant to their greatness and missed the show. Which to compound insult to injury was also a free show. I made my way over to my school store however and picked up a copy of their debut album "Now Here is Nowhere" which I proceeded to put in heavy rotation in my dorm room. I particularly liked the tracks "Now Here is Nowhere", "Lights On" and "The Road Leads Where it's Led" (In part thanks to it's stunning video). Although I felt at times that the album had become a little overblown, like on "First Wave Intact" and "Now Here is Nowhere" due to their repetitive nature and long running time.

However on their second album "Ten Silver Drops" the Secret Machines had learned how to let a song unfurl itself with a long running time but also kept it compelling. I had also learned that when they come to town, I should get tickets (I did manage to see them in Syracuse). Some of the tracks on "Ten Silver Drops" that are really long but don't seem it due to excellent songwriting were "Alone Jealous and Stoned", "I Hate Pretending", "I Want to know if it's still possible", "Faded Lines" and the album's lead single "Lightening Blue Eyes". All of these songs envelop you in psychedelic reverb and thump along in perfect rhythm that the lyrics wrap around like a sushi roll. Add into that the cool concepts of some of the songs, like the aforementioned "Alone, Jealous and Stoned" which is about waiting for a girl to call who never does. Or the song "I Hate Pretending" which is about robbing a bank with a girl with bright orange hair. The extra space in each song lets your imagination create the scene for all of these songs. Plus they are pretty rockin'. The Secret Machines recently lost their original Guitarist and he went on to found The School of Seven Bells, so The Secret Machines have had a bit of an identity crisis on their most recent album with it being so hard and dissonant, but I think they'll continue on and do great work.

10. Thieves Like Us - Play Music (2008)
I first heard of Thieves Like Us through the excellent blog Big Stereo. I saw their video for "Drugs in My Body" and saw that they described the group as influenced by both Daft Punk and New Order. Which immediately grabbed my attention. The track "Drugs in my body" was so simple, so repetitive, but there was something about it that was so fresh. Whether it was the almost spoken word vocals or the clever samples that the band collected. Either way I had to hear more. I began searching the internet for any remix or b-side that had been done by Thieves Like Us. I found a few things, but I had to wait for what felt like a year before they released their "Your Heart Feels" EP which was followed shortly after by their full length album "Play Music".
"Play Music" was not purely a party album. Granted there were lots of great dance songs, but each track had a different emotion embedded in it. Some of the songs are angry, some are sad, some are menacing but all of them are compelling. Thieves Like Us took inspiration from artists such as Dr. Dre, David Bowie, and obviously New Order (Their name comes from a New Orde song) to create music with a minimalist thump and intellectual bite. The vintage synthesizers echo and modulate subtly all over the place as Andy articulates his delicate poetry in a way that is far less embarassing than some of those old lyrics that Bernard Sumner of New Order came up with way back when. One very bright spot on the album in contrast with all the moody retro electronica is the quasi-rap "Miss You" which makes reference to David Bowie and his ex wife Angela over a funky bass and those ever addictive moody synths. The whole construction of their songs is so authentic. Unlike bands that take New Order and Daft Punk influences and twist them into some kind of bizarre hyrid, Thieves Like Us brings in the influence straight up, and somehow in that they've created something totally fresh. Their music is very electronic, but it feels very organic. Their streak of compelling releases is continuing as they released a new EP over teh summer called "Really Like to See You Again" which featured tracks with the Blue Monday (New Order song) influence on high. Thieves Like Us are surely in store for great things in the future if they stay on their current trajectory.