This year, I was lucky enough to see a trove of live acts that were all some variation of awesome. The selection of my favorite albums was driven largely by great concert experiences.
1. TV on the Radio
- Dear Science
The first single “Golden Age” filled me with doubt, even disappointment. I mean, it sounded like (immaculately produced) Michael Jackson, not TV on the Radio. But then I gave all of Dear Science my first listen. The opening track, “Halfway Home” buried my preconceptions and made certain they would not rise again like friggin' zombies. The album’s cohesiveness is what eventually forgave tracks like “Golden Age”, “Dancing Choose”, and “Family Tree” for me. Once I saw each song’s intended niche in the whole record, I was right at home. I really really like "Stork and Owl", "Crying, "Shout Me Out", "DLZ", "Lover's Day", and pretty much everything else on it. And they rawk in concert!?!
2. Fuck Buttons
- Street Horrrsing
Life is gradual? Life is a loop? Fuck Buttons want to confirm these hypotheses, beginning with gently twinkling piano keys and swelling into walls of melodic static that may make your ears wince. The (rather lengthy) progressions of large major chords are often juxtaposed with harsh death-metal vocals, carried by their rhythm to compliment the whole. Seeing them play synths out of suitcases next to a plastic Sing-Along Cassette Recorder was one of the best experiences I’ve had all year.
The detail in every tone. The pedalboards. The hooks and singability. The vocals soaked in reverb. The huge jam at the end of "Nothing Ever Happened". The sneak attack in "Microcastle". The bobbing, swelling chords that propel the words of "Little Kids". The sweaty basement in which they rocked the very socks from my feet. These are some of the best reasons I can think of for loving Deerhunter so hard. It never stops.
- Ice Cream Spiritual
Manic, absolute crazy-sauce. Giggle, shred, stomp, harmonize, these guys and their guitars do it alllll. I didn't get to see in concert (jumping around crazily like I imagine every time I listen to them) but they have turned pretty simple chords into something well-paced and really fun to hear, and I absolutely appreciate it. "& Souls"! "Late for School"! "Beg Waves"!
5. Girl Talk
- Feed the Animals
Girl Talk is a thief. He has stolen rhythm sections, vocals, yelps, and the beat. But I'll be damned if he doesn't use it better at times than the original composers. Feed the Animals is like the duration of a party with all of the highs and lows. Electronica and classic rock pour out with hip hop flowing over top of them, but each time, Greg Gillis makes it work in a way few could expect, chorus after chorus after chorus. Aphex Twin + Rich Boy, Queen + Michael Jackson, and M.I.A. + The Cranberries.
6. Marnie Stern
- This Is it and I Am it and You Are it and so Is That and He Is it and She Is it and it Is it and That is That
Marnie Stern's glorious prog-gasm wasn't brought to my attention until mid-November, but it certainly makes my list. With riffs that alternate between delicate and metal-as-fuck, this guitar heroine lays down an amazing set of tracks, backed percussively by the pride of Hella, Zach Hill. Standouts include “The Crippled Jazzer”, “The Package is Wrapped”, and “Prime”. I would love to have my face melted by her licks.
- Saturdays = Youth
Through all of the John Hughes-influenced voice-overs and the often silly drum samples, I cannot deny my love for this album. I didn't try to make it more than it was: a synthed-out pop record for teenagers who have a hard time paying attention to things besides their shoes. The addition of a full band and darn good female vocalist made seeing them really good. And I guess there were other things about their december show that made it special...4tt3mpt3d 4c1d? I'm all about "Skin of the Night", "Kim and Jessie", and "We Own the Sky".
8. No Age
This album is a rush of cymbal hits, fuzzed-out guitars and conciseness. The distinctive sound quality gives the impression of a garage band just plain rocking out. There are tracks like the closer, “Brain Burner”, an anthem so full of precise tone and searing rhythm. Favorites “Eraser”, “Ripped Knees” and “Here Should Be My Home” bring conventional chord structures to a different, more punkish plane. They also did a great job when I saw them this summer.
9. The Dodos
Smart folk song-writing and upbeat drumming make the Dodos a really good catch. I really like the simplicity of the songs, combined with narrative lyrics that lend themselves. Over the summer in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to see singer/guitarist Meric Long create a loop on trombone and dive into “Fools”. Definitely dig: "Walking", "Red And Purple", "Jodi", "Winter", "Park Song", and "God?". Folk-Punk?
10. Crystal Castles
- Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles are probably the scariest looking duo I have ever seen up close. When Alice Glass was crowd-surfing on top of me this summer, I was hesitant to grab her leg and hold her up, for fear that the grizzly keyboardist, Ethan Kath would plunge a knife into my stomach or bite me in the jugular. It would seem as though they just don't give a fuck. Or it seemed that way when Alice was stumbling around the stage on god-knows-what, dancing on top of the drumset and then climbing down from it on all fours. They are purported to have stolen lots of 8-bit beats and samples, visual art, and probably other things, but once again, do they care? Their album isn't at all a solid or cohesive whole, but tell me you don't want to dance when "Alice Practice", "Courtship Dating", "XXZXCUZX Me", or "Love and Caring" come on. Other amazing shit that I saw:
Feet Night: Round Robin Tour (Dan Deacon
, Future Islands
, Double Dagger
, Nuclear Power Pants
, Smart Growth
, DJ Dog Dick
, etc) twice!!Health
twice(the album was a re-release this year, so I didn't count it)High Places
(Merriweather rocks, you guys.)Les Savy Fav
twice, which is always a pleasure.Diplo
, the most enormous dance party ever.Boris
: holy hell, they's some rockers.Mogwai
was the loudest and longest thing ever. Worth it.Things I was not quite as struck by, but were still pretty good:The Mountain Goats
and Kaki King
appeared to like cocaiiineSt. VincentThe Mars Volta
played a disco version of calculation theme, it came off weird.Sunset Rubdown
, the first two times were way better.Things I had tickets to but didn't get to see for some reason:Liars
(I need to. Like, neeeeeed.)Hot Chip
Eyes Night: Round Robin Tour (Beach House
, Wzt Hearts
, Vampire Weekend
Thanks 2008, now if you don't mind, I'm off to catch some European tourz.