It’s not been a terribly long road for Woods since their first album back in the good old days of 2007, but it has been a road nevertheless that has taken them to a very different place from their outset. Where At Rear House was an exploration of psyhchedelic folk, their newest album Sun And Shade is an exploration of acoustic pop through the eyes of psychedelic folksters. It has the twang and jangle of an Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros album, but to compare it completely to the Zeroes would ignore that it’s far more artful, intelligent, consistent, and odd. In that way, it is very much in the mold of their recent releases like the At Echo Lake EP, so it’s not a totally unexpected development, and in fact something we’ve quite gotten used to. All that said, this new record still retains some of the qualities that have made Woods so noteworthy in the past. First, an eye for experimentalism; they never shy away from an opportunity to blaze – or more appropriately go for a leisurely stroll down – their own path. And second, Sun and Shade continues their legacy of being one of the most consistent groups around. There are no bad, or even mediocre tracks put forth here: every single song stands on its own as a terrific work, and all of them together create something even greater. Not everyone will see how great Woods are, as they can be an acquired taste, but I highly encourage you to look into them and start acquiring a liking for them – you’ll be a better music fan for it.
“Be All Easy”
“Hand It Out”
Four years and three full-length albums in, it’s reassuring to fans of the Vivian Girls to be able to find yourself still surprised by both the band’s consistent quality and their ability to continue developing and maturing and shaping their sound into something new without having to craft an altogether new sound. Share The Joy is still grainy and reverb-beaten, but is not nearly as dark as its predecessors. The more shaded tracks feel a little droning and drawn-out (e.g. opening track, “The Other Girls”, “Death”, “Vanishing Of Time”) whereas they might once have been dissonant off-punk anthems, thrashing and menacing and fiery. There are still a couple of songs that embody that older feel, such as the back-to-back “Lake House” and “Trying To Pretend” at the heart of the album, but Share The Joy packs a much less powerful punch than 2009’s Everything Goes Wrong. In a way, you can hear a lot more of their self-titled debut LP here, except with an underbelly of pop music to back it. Kickball Katy’s influence is much thicker on this record in that sense – you can hear evidence of her time with her side project La Sera heavily on songs like “Dance (If You Wanna)” and the swinging alt-bubblegum “Take It As It Comes”. Altogether, a damned impressive record. It’s probably not technically as good as their first two, but those are lo-fi standards that pretty much everything else is measured against, so that doesn’t mean a lot. Great live tour in support of the album earlier this year.
“Trying To Pretend”
Perhaps the most difficult album of the year to really get a handle on, Toro y Moi’s second LP was the most anticipated records we’ve had in quite a while at the time of its release. His first album Causers Of This was a game-changer in indie music. Not celebrated to the point that it should have been until at least a year after its debut, it could (or rather, should) be called the defining record of the chillwave movement. There is nothing out there that did what it did with greater intelligence or to greater effect. This of course led to a lot of speculation about how amazing Underneath The Pine would be, but no one could have expected the turn that it took. Sure there are still electronic and hip-hop influences in the beats, but this new album infused those with the sounds of disco and psychedelic pop. Somehow, from out of left field, Underneath The Pine shifted Toro Y Moi from being a one-man electronic mastermind to a psych-pop band. It is still incredible in its own ways, but hardly embodies the sound that we all fell in love with his debut for. It doesn’t conform to any industry norm, but still forsakes its precursor. It also doesn’t help that he has turned in the solo status that was a strength and a quality that set him apart, in order to take on the backing of a full band; this leads to attempting to draw in too many sounds, and gives Underneath The Pine a chaos that is difficult to wrap one’s mind around, especially in contrast to the order and wholeness of his first record. Much the same as the album, the live show in support of it was good but the mind-boggling amount of changes made it impossible to lose yourself in the music. Instead, you found yourself wondering what was going on. What happened to the Chaz that had such indomitable stage presence and command of the music and the audience when he was on his own? And why was the once-show-stealer of an artist having his show stolen (as it most certainly was) by Braids? Even for all this that might make you think Underneath The Pine was an utter disappointment, it was still a very good album and still more than worthy of making this list. “Divina” is a great, mellowed-out tune that swirls trip-hop and psychedelia into a soulful, juicy two-minute instrumental melody that transports you to some distant ethereal cloud. It’s at moments like that, and on the last two tracks “Good Hold” and “Elise”, where this record is at its best – returning in small ways to the modesty of Causers Of This with a little more energy and less forcefulness. Even if it does lack the off-the-wall looping and the unpretentious soulfulness of Causers, this is still one of the best and most memorable albums of the year.
For those of you with a membership to Rhapsody.com, you may have noticed this week that they have upgraded their website to now include a social feature. This function allows you to search out specific people and follow them, listen to their playlists, and get information about their musical tastes and the like. This may seem like a small step towards joining the social networking phenomenon for a site that has already pretty much mastered its own niche of granting access to a vast library of music, but this is right up our alley here at theanimalscankillyou.com and we plan to make the most of it.
From now on, our podcast playlists will all be posted there in addition to being listenable on the podcast shows themselves. This too may seem like an unnecessary and unimportant step, but I beg to differ. Now, you can see what you’re listening to, link directly to the album it is from, find other music from that artist and similar artists, and add all of that into your own personal library, all with a few simple mouse clicks. Of course, we play a lot of songs from not-yet-released albums, so those won’t be included there because, well, they can’t be. But we will, where we can, supplement those with replacement tracks from their respective artists.
We will also be posting playlists there occasionally that we would not otherwise be able to post on the blog or podcast. Sparing you the legal mumbo jumbo, essentially this will grant us the ability to compile playlists of much older music and from a much broader spectrum of musicians. For instance, our first playlist falls directly into this category. It is not so much a mixtape-style playlist as many of ours will be, but instead is a fully-listenable list of our Top 10 records of 2011 to date. Obviously, one or more of these will inevitably be replaced by albums still upcoming (cough, cough, Girls, cough), but I felt like we needed to go ahead and get this list sorted out before the biggest album release week of the year on September 13th. The order of the list may change as the last few months of the year pass, but for now we’ve got a pretty damned good Top 10, and one that is vastly different than many of those you’d find across the interenets. Upon searching, I found a list that claimed the Mountain Goats’ ALL ETERNALS DECK was the number 5 album of the year, and yet in their 20-30 listed didn’t mention a single one we have on ours. Shameful how fake some indie fans are. Anyway, we’ll have more about that list posted in the next day or two, but for now just mosey on over to our Rhapsody page, and look for the playlist to see what we’ve got.
Another new podcast. This week we’re joined by Kyle from Schoolkids Records, and he’ll help us sort through all the new releases from the last couple weeks, as well as a great giveaway they have going on. We’ve also got a lot of great new music, including new tunes from Botany, Stephin Merritt, Blitzen Trapper, and others. Enjoy!
1. Forever and a Day
2. Rats in the Garbage of the Western World
3. I Don’t Believe You (7” Version)
4. Plant White Roses (Buffalo Rome Version)
5. Rot in the Sun
6. The Sun and the Sea and the Sky
7. Yet Another Girl
8. Scream (Till You Make the Scene)
9. The Song from Venus
11. When I’m Not Looking, You’re Not There
12. Take Ecstasy with Me (Susan Anway, vocal)
13. When You’re Young and in Love
14. You Are Not My Mother and I Want to Go Home
For anyone needed a reminder of how profound and fruitful the mind of Stephin Merritt is, and especially was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Merge Records has put out a brilliant compilation of unreleased, obscure, and hard-to-find tracks from the Magnetic Fields’ time with Merge Records. Comprised of three albums – The Charm of the Highway Strip, Get Lost, and 69 Love Songs – the years spent with Merge Records was perhaps the group’s most flourishingly productive era, or at least their most memorable. Upon hearing the news that Merge was digging up the old recordings and assembling Obscurities, we here at theanimalscankillyou had our interest aroused to say the least.
Obscurities is not your run of the mill greatest hits anthology. The one veritable “hit” offered up is “I Don’t Believe You”, but is a odd 7-inch version of the unforgettable single that sounds like it was stripped away of all its crispness and elegance and then filtered through the kaleidoscopic mind of Kevin Barnes. Synth-driven in the shape of early Magnetic Fields, this new old variation features much looser, more carefree vocals drenched in an eclectic symphony of both electronic and analog whirs, twangs, and blips. This fresh look at one of their most well-known songs allows you to pull its memory from its original album, i, and place it nearly anywhere within their twenty-year discography. This alternate version is so wildly different from the one we all have come to know and love, but so fitting for the whimsical nature of the lyrics that you can easily understand how this could be the original idea behind the song. Eventually, it would be set to strings, controlled but powerful vocals, and a subdued pace, but the chaotic and unrestrained child of a song on display here feels much more natural and genuine.
Other than the rare b-side versions of that and the Holiday classic “Take Ecstasy with Me” featuring long-time collaborative vocalist Susan Anway taking Merritt’s place as the hauntingly defeated lead singer (originally available only on the 1999 Oh, Merge! compilation), this collection embodies its title quite well in that there are no hugely popular singles or hits. Instead, what you have here is a greatest non-hits collection. It is compiled to near perfection as an album, not designed in groups of the different styles of the Magnetic Fields’ long career, but rather with all of the diverse subgenres they have mastered brought together into one beautiful mosaic rather than into an oil painting. This is not a simple task to accomplish, but is carried out very well. For instance, Obscurities kicks off with a somber ukelele love song “Forever and a Day”, then moves on to the dark, droning synthesizer “Rats in the Garbage of the Western World”, then the off-the-wall noise pop version of “I Don’t Believe You”, then Buffalo Rome and Shirley Simms’ acoustic country version of “Plant White Roses” (which is among our top two or three favorite tracks from the album).
Overall, if you’re a Magnetic Fields fan, it goes without saying that you must add Obscurities to your already large collection of the band’s albums. You get access to a number of previously unreleased tracks like “The Sun and the Sea and the Sky”, several songs from rare releases like the “I Don’t Believe You” 7-inch single, and even some from scores to audio books (Neil Gaiman’s Coraline) and never-realized films (Daniel Handler’s The Song From Venus). You get a whole new set of classics, even if they’re not of the well-known variety. And, more important than all of these factors, you get further enjoyment of the indelible artistry and indubitable intellect of Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields.
There are certain times where the chillwave “movement”, and electro-pop in general, starts to feel stagnant and unimpressive, like the bands that call themselves proprietors of the genre become complacent and settle for putting out the same old thing in a shiny new package. When it’s at its blandest, though, it seems like you always come across a dazzling unheralded artist that takes the sound and style to a whole new level and does so with a bang. Even though this summer has given us a few good albums from the likes of Washed Out and Memory Tapes, those were for the most part just really well-executed continuances from bands we already knew, and knew well. Tuesday, however, brought us a brand spanking new EP from a brand spanking new artist, Botany. This is the one release of the year in electropop music that will undoubtedly shake off the cobwebs and brush away the thin layer of stale dust to bring you right back to the first time you heard the distinct sound of backwards tape loops and spaced-out synthesizers.
Botany, a moniker for Texas-based Spencer Stephenson, doesn’t need a full-length album to be groundbreaking, doesn’t need 12 tracks to show he’s got the talent, imagination, know-how, and unique identity to be among the best of his peers. Instead, his first release to the world is a five-track (six if you include the vinyl-only bonus track “Glasshouse”) EP that will lead into his debut full-length LP. Feeling Today compiles years and years of assembled samples into one incredibly personal, euphoric, and fulfilling sphere of color and flavor. Texturally, it is on par with some of work of the best current artists in that regard – the Books, Here We Go Magic, and Memory Cassette to name a few. The entire EP has a fullness to it that is mind-blowing, heart-melting, and soul-stirring. There is an organized chaos of instruments and samples all woven together to create one intertwined, unified, and fluid work of art. It amalgamates the impersonal and the personal to forge something emotional and spiritual, brings together Stephenson’s personal past and musical present to craft a view of the future of sound.
All five songs are tremendous, but none more outstanding than the third “Waterparker”. If you blink for a second, you’ll surely miss one of the hundreds of lissom and impatient details in its ever-shifting landscape. In fact, you’ll probably miss several anyway and need a couple more listens to really catch everything. Imagine looking at a mansion in which every window is continually opening and closing, and each one provides you a view of only one room. If you want to know everything taking place inside at any one moment, you need to be able to see all sides of the house at once, need a photographic memory and split-second recall of those images, and need to understand the way each of those fragments fits into the whole. Or, you could just freeze that moment in time until you can grasp everything that is going on. This is the only conceivable way to understand the beauty of “Waterparker” and the EP as a whole – through the careful, repetitive study of multiple listens.
I continue to ask myself with each revisiting of Feeling Today if I can ever remember hearing anything quite like it; anything with the complexity, the ability to blend artistry and enjoyability, the texture and the fullness. Sure, there have been others that embodied pieces of this equation in the psychedelic electropop field, but I cannot remember any artist that so thoroughly addressed all of those key points. The closest one that comes to mind is A Sunny Day in Glasgow, and specifically Scribble Mural Comic Journal, but even they seem too inwardly-focused and consumed with the art of concept to fully communicate with the listener at times. I can’t wait for everything that is to come from Botany, but this EP will keep me busy until that comes along. Get this, and get it right away. And make sure you pick it up on vinyl to get that extra track!
1. Lake House
2. Rose Mary Stretch
4. The Annexation of Puerto Rico
5. Family Planning
6. Murder Room
7. In Search of Simon Birch
8. Dance Card
9. The Ballad of Alessandro Moreschi
10. Tiny Fingers
Upon unwrapping Red Velvet Snow Ball, I admittedly had no idea what I was in for. Sure, I remembered Beauregard, Pepper Rabbit’s first attempt at etching their name into the memory of folk pop fans. It was cute and a really good album to keep on the back burner for that special occasion when you needed the perfect background music, but was often too loosely executed and lacked deliberation and detail in the sound. It was one of those where you couldn’t put your finger on a particular problem that was holding it back, but the whole of it just seemed like it wasn’t the best they had to offer. Pepper Rabbit’s second album corrects all of those shortcomings, while dialing up the fun and charm of its predecessor.
Red Velvet Snow Ball is a much more focused record on many levels. Lead singer Xander Singh brings a notably stronger energy to the vocals on every track, something was altogether absent from the band’s previous effort. This new, fresh vocal energy does not sacrifice quality or individuality, as can be the case in other artists. Rather, it highlights Singh’s prowess and status as a budding star of a frontman. The instrumentation broadens itself even wider than before and creates a much rounder, more expansive sound, a necessity for what Singh and percussionist Luc Laurent are as a band attempting – to create a full-bodied and wild sound with as few people on as many instruments as possible. Everywhere you look here, there is more and more depth and sonic substance to unfold and scratch at with your mind. Every new listen allows you to dig another level or two deeper into those tangibly thick layers that twist and mingle with one another to create a lively musical whirlwind.
The second track “Allison” is a good example of the differences between the first and second album from Pepper Rabbit. It is finely tuned, more polished, and a tight, refined pop track centered around a catchy but far from flashy piano line, subtly streaked with the spontaneity of a variety of chimes and synths and an assortment of other backing instruments. It is like a sugar cube – inexact but certainly holding a proper and measurable shape, sugary sweet but granular and fuzzy, simple and yet intricate. To a further extreme of these changes, “Family Planning” is an absolutely delirious song. It is jam packed with imaginative drumming and synthesizers and guitars and vocal harmonies that are constantly in motion and constantly playing off one another to produce something wild, complex, and about to burst with emotion, but which has been tamed and spun masterfully into form by the hands of its creators.
In relation to Pepper Rabbit’s peers, this album is a bit hard to place. Conceptually, its home is somewhere between Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs and Strawberry Jam. Obviously, in songwriting talent and in just about every category, you cannot compare Red Velvet Snow Ball (or just about any other album) to such classics, but it does draw a lot of its influence from that period of Animal Collective’s career, and from similar psychedelic folk/pop artists like their Kanine Records label mates Braids. It doesn’t quite stack up, pound for pound, against some of the other indie rock releases of the summer, but it is both a much improved work for Pepper Rabbit themselves and one of the most re-listenable albums (especially in the off-pop arena) that we’ve come across in a while. If you recognize their concept and the things they are doing and the brilliance of their execution, the mileage you will get out of this album makes it incredibly purchase-worthy, but it might not be the most easy to warm up to if you’re unfamiliar with the band or the genre. That being the case, I suggest you check it out before buying, but I highly recommend getting to know these guys because they will likely be making all kinds of waves in the next few years.
Hey guys, another great podcast this week. This time, we discuss our thoughts on last week’s releases, our excitement about the next couple Album Release Days, news about Superchunk and Memoryhouse, and — oh yeah! — we play some great music for you. A new track from Moonface, some older Fruit Bats to clear your palette, and a ton of other stuff you’re sure to love. tACKY Podcast August 11 2011