Category Archives: 1-Up

We get it, Asthmatic Kitty: Sufjan controls the news cycle

<a href="http://sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com/track/i-walked" onclick="__gaTracker('send', 'event', 'outbound-article', 'http://sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com/track/i-walked', 'I Walked by Sufjan Stevens');">I Walked by Sufjan Stevens</a>A track from Sufjan Stevens’ new album that’s not his EP dropped. “I Walked.” It’s good. Sounds pretty similar to “Heirloom,” which we posted on Wednesday, which is to say: very different than his previous work.

I’m as surprised as anyone that I’ve posted on Sufjan Stevens three times this week. Like everyone else wearing a hoodie or Westerns, I was bowled over by Greetings from Michigan. I even have an eidetic memory of where I first listened to it: Catacombs, a now-closed coffee shop in the basement of a church in Madison, WI. And I immediately recommended it to a woman (married) whom I had a crush (platonic, admiring) on. And I liked Illinois a lot. And then… I got really sick of him. That voice. Those damn xylophones. The chirpy woodwinds. When it was fresh, that sound blew my mind; and then it wasn’t fresh, and I just found it cloying. Like most crushes.

All that's left of Catacombs is this crappy Yelp pic

So I never bothered to listen to Avalanches, which was like Sufjan’s Amnesiac, a full album of excess tracks from Illinois. Until now. And it’s pretty damn good. And it has three versions of Illinois‘ best track, “Chicago.” Two are superior to Illinois‘. And one of those is superior enough to make me crush all over again. Crushing so hard I post on Sufjan Stevens three times in a week. So hard I shut off that voice in my head that wonders how you make that “Wicked Games”-esque guitar lick with an acoustic.

Sufjan Stevens, “Chicago (Acoustic Version)”

[Stream all of Avalanche FREE at Bandcamp and then buy it there]

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1-Up: How I Got Over Joanna Newsom

The Roots, legendary as their crew continues to be, burned their brighest for me the summer after high school. Things Fall Apart was the soundtrack of (white suburban) graduation party after (white suburban) graduation party. But then in college, Roots Come Alive was played so frequently in my buddies’ cars that I came to wince in anticipation of the piercing sound of ?uestlove’s live kit. A lot has happened since then in OK Player-ville: complaining about not wanting to be a rap group for white fans, several uneven albums, and then shockingly and brilliantly taking the musical reins of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Joanna Newsom, however, has always played a steady role in my estimation: the agent of annoyance. Even when it came to this site’s 1-UP feature, she still fell short. Which is what makes this so tough because:

I love the new Roots album, How I Got Over. Total Top 10 of 2010 candidate. And worse: I love the collaboration with Joanna Newsom. It’s just good. Not so good that I’ll pick up the Joanna Newsom Boxset with Limited Edition Plastic Harp and Screeching Cat Accompanist, but good.

The Roots, “Right On (ft. Joanna Newsom and STS)”

Buy The Roots’ How I Got Over at Amazon

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A quick look at Kula Shaker's Pilgrim's Progress

Kula Shaker’s Pilgrim’s Progress has been out for about two weeks now, and although I hadn’t set my expectations very high back then, I told you guys in April that I’d check it out anyway and let you know what I thought.

At first I sort of skipped through looking for something that struck me.  What I was probably looking for was the classic Kula Shaker: over-earnest Hare Krishna mysticism mixed with hashed-out psychedelic pop (emphasis on the hashed-out).  But with the exception of the eighth track, “Figure It Out,” I couldn’t really find it.  And frankly, “Figure It Out” is not that striking.

But what you get instead with Pilgrim’s Progress, at least at its best moments, is a lot closer to sober folk.  “Ophelia,” “All Dressed Up,” and “To Wait Til I Come” are actually pretty good.  Like much of the album, each of those tracks, while still fanciful in ways that Crispian Mills can’t seem to resist, are plaintive little songs that would work really well in an all-acoustic setting.

Pilgrim’s Progress is uneven, but despite the lyrical goofiness of songs like “Peter Pan R.I.P.,” “Modern Blues,” and “Barbara Ella,” I’d say it’s worth a 40 minute investment of your time.

So give it a listen.  If for no other reason, do it for Miss Bliss.

Kula Shaker, “Ophelia”

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Someone's Missing (and I'm going on vacation)

1-up is a regular feature in which we drop a quarter into music we had once written off.

My relationship with MGMT’s first album was dicey: I liked “Electric Feel,” was vaguely annoyed by “Kids,” and outright hated “Time to Pretend” (which really feels part and parcel of the Road Trip soundtrack). I listened to the rest of the album, maybe once, with no enthusiasm.

What didn’t register was the weirdo prog tracks. And when I first listened to their sophomore album, Congratulations, I reacted in surprised glee: “This’ll show those MGMT fanboys and girls that I was right all along: self-indulgent crap.”

And then I heard “Brian Eno” on the radio, couldn’t place it, and found myself wondering what band made such a fun trip of a track. And then I heard “Someone’s Missing” on the radio and I knew I was in trouble. Several listens of the albums later, and I’m tentatively recommending this album. There’s still a lot of indulgence (“I Found a Whistle”, the last seven minutes of “Siberian Breaks,” “Lady Dada’s Nightmare”), but there a lot of good and several great tracks. Righteous influences abound (Broadcast, United States of America, 70s Beach Boys, et al). And even the indulgence is growing on me.

I’ve been playing “Someone’s Missing” tirelessly on repeat for a few weeks. I love its spectral steeliness and the way it flutters with oddball instrumentation (electric sitar, organ, harp) for the first two minutes. And then it explodes into an ecstatic march, with the faint hint of funk guitar underneath.

But man, becoming a MGMT fan is exhausting, so I’m going on vacation. But don’t worry, after July 4th, what’s extinct will come alive.

Buy Congratulations on Amazon

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Owen Pallett's Elemental Devotion.

If one video could build a dedicated fan base, the one below is probably it. The video records Owen Pallett performing “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” in the middle of a storm, despite the concert techs’ attempts to get him off stage. I imagine everyone at the show that night will be life-long fans of Pallett. It is charming to see a musician so young and full of elan that he won’t let the elements get between him and his violin (call me a girl, but I get overwhelmed with emotion and teary-eyed each time I watch this  and witness his moxie and showmanship).

Finding this video is good timing, as he’d already begun to win me over via the song, (underwhelming) remixes of which were released on Rdio yesterday. Somehow, I had casually passed over his full release Heartland, which I will now pay greater attention to.

P.S. Intentional or no, I’d like to read this video as Owen Pallett’s eff-off to Chan Marshall (Catpower). But since he might not like being used as a pawn in my unidirectional musical wars, I’ll offer this video up myself as evidence of how a musician behaves during live performances when he’s devoted to both his fans and his music.

Owen Pallett: “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”

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Possessed. By "Afro-Jive."

I came across this “rare afro-jive” album last Tuesday (Jackpot Jive) and haven’t stopped listening to it, though I’m generally not of the “international music” (as it is labeled) persuasion. I have no idea whether it is actually “afro-jive” or “rare.” In fact, I have gleaned little about the album and its inhabitants online, except that the song I’ve linked to the post is by the Soweto Boys, and Soweto appears both to be a 60s musical form attributed to the South African city of the same name and also the birthplace of Kwaito, a South African hip-hop form that emerged in the Soweto township, which was a locus point for anti-Apartheid struggle.

This album has got me hooked, though, and intrigued. And Soweto has apparently intrigued others, such as Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols. Enlighten me. Unless you are David/bored at work, in which case, write a one-act play about it.

Soweto Boys: “Bayeza, Part I”

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1-Up: Here Comes the Sun

(courtesy of Mike Perry Studios)

1-up is a regular feature in which we drop a quarter into music we had once written off.

By all accounts, my first listen to Olivia Tremor Control should have  been transformative.  1996’s Dusk at Cubist Castle was a poppy, meandering jaunt through a Sgt. Pepper fantasyland.  A flash of seratonin-laced brilliance in a muddled, rainy landscape.  It should have been a welcome reminder that the 90’s didn’t have to be all grim, frustrated, and downright bleak.

But I was foolish.  I took my Vitamin D, mentally connected Olivia Tremor Control with the Beatles, and tossed the whole thing (along with the rest of Elephant 6) in the bottom of the sock drawer.

It was a mistake – I heard OTC, thought of the Beatles, and proceeded to fall in love with Brit-Pop.

Now, armed with a collection of Stereophonics and Supergrass records, I find myself returning to my Athens, Georgia-based Brit-Pop roots.  Turns out they have another album – 1999’s Black Foliage:  Animation Music, Volume 1.   I think I still have $7 left in my LaLa memorial iTunes account.  It looks like there will be sunny days ahead.

Olivia Tremor Control – No Growing

Olivia Tremor Control – Hideway

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1-Down: The National




My relationship with Ohio’s double brother band The National has been up and down. I fell in love with “Mr. November” when I heard it on the radio, but only liked half of Alligator. At first I disliked Boxer but then really, really warmed to it.

Then, about a year ago, I saw them live at the Electric Factory. Awful. To be fair, the Electric Factory is a poor choice of venue for their postured maudlin sound, but it was by far the worst concert I saw in 2009. “Limp” is the only way I can think to describe their show. My brother and I, in an attempt to salvage their catalog for ourselves, agreed to pretend that we had never gone to see that show. “The National? Like their albums, but never had the chance to see them live. What was I doing on May 29, 2009, you say? Before I answer that question, let me show you something in this dark alley.” That’s the lengths we’d go to to not think about that show: coldblooded murder.

But the lead single from their new album, “Bloodbuzz, Ohio,” brought it back in a Vietnam flashback. “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe” is the best lyric. So topical! So good! Let me show myself something in this dark alley [gunshot].

The rest of High Violet is better. But not by much. And the sound is so well-worn that I’m not sure I’d notice if you subbed one of their songs from a previous album. Maybe it’ll grow on me like Boxer did, but, really, at this point, why would I let it?

But hey. “Afraid of Everyone” is a good song. Neat guitar sound. I dig. Maybe I should see them live someday…

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Wavves of Home Improvement

1-Up is a regular feature in which we drop a quarter into music we had once written off.

Despite all of the hype, I didn’t bother listening to the Wavves until Pitchfork released their best tracks of the year list. I liked “No Hope Kids” and put it in my “to listen to” list. Where it stayed. Like a Tarkovsky film on my Netflix queue.

But now that somebody put the Wavves’ “So Bored” to the wipes from the third season of Home Improvement? Top of the queue. 1-Up, indeed.

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1-UP: Giving music a second life

In the past week, I’ve been inundated with music that I had written off. So, a new feature: 1-UP, where we fess up to hatin’ on bands that shouldn’t have been hated on.

Alex Bleeker and the Freaks
There was nothing wrong with Real Estate’s album. It just didn’t capture me, Pitchfork’s 8.5 seemed ridiculous, and I wrote them off as just another wave in this year’s tsunami of beach rock. But their side project, Alex Bleeker and the Freaks, will have me giving them another look. Imagine Yo La Tengo and Neil Young forming a classic rock band. Or really, forget that critic speak: just imagine really chill classic rock.

Alex Bleeker and the Freaks, “Animal Tracks”

Kraftwerk
I’ve never disliked Kraftwerk, but I’ve always put them in the formative but not for me category, and skipped them for their off-shoot Neu! (who really are the best). After reading about Philly’s newest Fishtown watering hole, I put onTrans Europe Express while walking home, and damn was I wrong. Sorry, legendary electronica weirdos: my bad.

Joanna Newsom
Nope, I was right. Still unlistenable. Someone needs to hold an intervention for Andy Samberg.

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