The CHIRP Blog
After four years in retail, I developed Christmas Music Aversion. An overload of festive cheer generally has made me a Scrooge when it comes to the holiday tunes. But a few songs are so good, they break down my resistance. One of those songs is from Little Miss Dynamite, the classic “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee. So I thought it would be a great idea to honor Miss Lee on her birthday, for making this season a little more tolerable. If everyone could grab his or her iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 tunes that come up, maybe there really could be peace on earth and good will to men, in a new old fashioned way.
- Eggstone — The Dog (Somersault): An amazing modern power pop track from this Swedish band. A lot of ’90s power pop showed some influence from Husker Du (loud melodic guitars) and Pixies (dynamics). That’s evident on this song, which mixes chirpy verses with explosive guitar fueled choruses, and then moves on to a whimsical sing-song middle eight, a killer twang guitar solo and then a pretty instrumental coda to bring it to a close. Of course, they never equaled this on either of their albums.
- John Lee Hooker — Tease Me (The Legendary Modern Recordings): Boy, my iPod is in love with this John Lee Hooker compilation. I won’t complain about that.
- Buck Owens — Nobody’s Fool But Yours (The Buck Owens Collection): This was not a major Buck Owens hit, but it is sure cut from the same cloth. Yep, maybe some of Buck’s honky-tonk songs were forumulaic, but his expressive voice that is sunny on top, wtih heartbreak underneath, and Don Rich’s pithy lead guitar parts and perfect harmony vocals always sound great.
- The Wonder Stuff — Unbearable (Eight Legged Groove Machine): In the late ’80s, The Wonder Stuff were an aggressive Brit pop band with an ultra-sarcastic lyrical stance:* “I didn’t like you very much when I met you/and now I like you even less.” Lead singer Miles Hunt could really craft a hook and the band was really tight and this debut album holds up pretty well today.
- The Negro Problem — Father Popcorn (Welcome Back): There was a great L.A. pop scene in the mid-‘90s, featuring creative bands like The Wondermints, Cockeyed Ghost and The Negro Problem. This band was led by Stew, who went on to win a Tony Award for his semi-autobiographical musical Passing Strange. Stew’s music encompassed a lot of territory, from classic songwriters like Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb, to some of Love’s hippier stuff, with just the right amount of muscle. This song showcases Stew’s expressive voice, which is a bit gruff but more than able to handle his fantastic melodies.
- The Shangri-Las — Right Now And Not Later (The Best Of The Shangri-Las): I love the classic ’60s girl group sound and The Shangri-Las were to the girl group sound what The Sonics were to garage rock. With Mary Weiss on lead vocals, they were the baddest girls on the block. This is a proto-feminist song with Weiss demanding that her guy commit to her, and if not, she’s finding someone else.
- Yello — Swing (You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess): Unfairly pigeonholed as a novelty act due to the ubiquity of “Oh Yeah” (featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and many other movies, subsequently), Yello started off as a really bizarre synth-rock act on Ralph Records, and graduated to being a quirky synth-pop act on a major label. I’d give 2-1 odds that The Cure’s Robert Smith listened to this song before penning “Love Cats”, as there are some foundational similarities. This is a cool faux-jazz head bopper with a debonair vocal by the always debonair Dieter Meier.
- Happy Hate Me Nots — When I Die (The Good Thats…): Dale Gardner introduced me to this smoking Aussie punk band. They put their own twist on the R & B fueled punk sounds of The Saints, developing a distinctive sound. The Happy Hate Me Nots simply explode out of the speakers, the urgency and passion of their music evident with every note.
- Uncle Tupelo — Postcard (Still Feel Gone): The evolution of Uncle Tupelo from a rocking band with some rootsy influences into alt-country standard bearers is a great story. But I wish they could have stayed in their rock phase for an album or two longer. This Jay Farrar song does a great job balancing aggressive guitars with quieter country moments. Although the band’s identity morphed a great deal, there was never a point where they weren’t distinctive, and part of that is due to Farrar’s great voice (and that Tweedy fellow wasn’t too bad either, as I recall).
- Jethro Tull — Locomotive Breath (Aqualung): I became a Jethro Tull fan when a friend of mine was able to get me some stray promos of some of the band’s older albums. I had no real opinion on Tull one way or another before then, that I recall. Listening to these scattered albums, I was struck by how whatever Ian Anderson did, he was usually working with basic English folk song structures, in a way I found appealing. On Aqualung, these motifs are married to some terrific guitar riffs, while Anderson, when he’s not rocking the flute, rants about the evils of organized religion. This is second tier classic rock staple and Anderson’s anger and disgust is palpable.
Throughout the month of December we’ll be posting lists of the best music of the year as determined by the volunteers that make CHIRP what it is. Today’s is from CHIRP’s Vice President and Legislative Wonder Woman, Jenny Lizak.
St. Vincent – Actor (4ad) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Annie Clark’s saintly voice and beautifully crafted songs have made this onetime backup gal to Sufjan Stevens’ someone to watch this year, and in the future.
Them Crooked Vultures – Self-Titled (Columbia) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Most rock supergroups have a tendency towards train wrecks, but Them Crooked Vultures breaks the mold – probably because Dave Grohl and Josh Homme are themselves still so worshipful of Jean Paul Jones. It’s rare to see a band that seems to be having this much fun together, and that joy brings an all out exuberance to their never-gonna-stop rock. I saw them live, they blew my mind.
Tegan and Sara – Sainthood (Sire Records) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
The sisters are back with their sixth album, and they continue to be a delight. What’s not delightful is their attempts to write together – a failed New Orleans experiment was totally scrapped, and on this album the pair continues to alternate songwriting duties. Hey, anyone who has tried to work with their sibling knows, Sainthood ain’t easy.
Neko Case – Middle Cyclone (Anti) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
After three years, Neko returns with a solo album that is, I think, her best yet. With a naturalistic (possibly biographical/confessional) theme and chock full of guest appearances by folks like M Ward, Sara Harmer and her bandmates in The New Pornographers, it’s apparent why this album took so long to be birthed, and why it was worth the wait.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz (Interscope) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I loved this album, but I never thought that the Grammy folks would agree with anything I think – to my surprise, It’s Blitz was just nominated for Best Alternative Music Album this month.
Metric – Fantasies (Metric Music Intl.) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
While I’ve stopped fantasizing about moving to Canada and assimilating myself via my love of the Montreal music scene, it’s clear to me now that my love of Canadian indie rock will never go away, perhaps the only pleasant side effect of the Bush years. Metric returns with another album that I can’t stop playing from start to finish – and, they did it on their own album. Oh Canada… swoon!
Swell Season – Strict Joy (Anti) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I’ve been a fan of Glen Hansard from his days with the Frames, so I was worried when Swell Season (and the movie “Once”) became overnight hits last year that his down to earth simply beautiful songs would change. Silly doubter. Not even his romantic breakup with the other half of Swell Season, Marketa Irglova, could affect Glen’s dignified devotional storytelling that often seems more at home in a church than in a rock club. Let’s hope that these two really are still “very good friends” and keep recording and playing together.
Imogen Heap – Ellipse (Megaphonic) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Imogen’s DIY ethics in the writing, producing and recording of her albums are such that when this one was leaked and put on eBay, she and her fans bid over $20 million to prevent its sale. Now that’s a perfectionist. The wait was worth it, as Ellipse delivers with sparkling pop songs perfect for these cold winter days.
Silversun Pickups – Swoon (Dangerbird) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Yep, I thought it was a new Smashing Pumpkins song the first time I heard the Silversun Pickups. But my reluctance to investigate them further was worn down when I remembered, hey, I really liked the Pumpkins. The second chance I gave them was worth it, and I’ve been nothing but pleased.
Scotland Yard Gospel Choir – And The Horse You Rode In On (Bloodshot) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This album was one of my favorites from the year, as SYGC displays their increased maturity and depth in the new songs, and an overall feeling of the band coming together as one unit finally, after some years of rotating members. This feeling on the album perhaps foretold the response in darkest hour in the band’s life as they were in a serious car accident this fall while touring. All signs are that the band has indeed pulled together to heal, look forward, and count their blessings – let’s hope to see them playing songs from this album soon.
Throughout the month of December we’ll be posting lists of the best music of the year as determined by the volunteers that make CHIRP what it is. Today’s is from CHIRP volunteer, Andy Weber.
OK my list consists of my top 10 songs along with a few other honorable mentions… I chose to do songs for a few reasons. The main one is that it most closely represents my listening habits. I am not a full album guy anymore. I lost all of my CD’s in a flood in ’07 and I turned to Rhapsody to take me out of my doldrums. I actually feel guilty about that but it is the reality of my life. The problem is now I feel a bit like a music poser! I feel like the kid who only bought 45’s and not the LP’s back in the day. But my life is more nuts these days so I end up being the guy with playlist after playlist of new stuff from various artists but I don’t have that much time to dedicate to listening to a full length over and over to fall in love with it like I did in 1990 with the Stone Roses debut. So with that being said here are my songs…
The Cave Singers “Leap” – Welcome Joy (Matador) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This is the second album from this Seattle band. They have a driving folk sound with some outstanding blues harp interludes throughout a number of their tracks. I am a lover of songs that build the whole way. Which is very evident to me when I look at this list. This is a song that I would listen to and back it up and listen to it again. In this day and age of music access that is something I rarely do so for that reason alone it sits a top my list.
Elvis Perkins “I Heard A Voice In Dresden” – Elvis Perkins In Dearland (XL) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
How creepy would it be being the son of Anthony Perkins? At what age was he allowed to see Psycho? Talk about scaring! It scared me and Norman Bates was not my dad! Well it did not effect him in his musical development. His voice does have a hauntingly beautiful quality.
Throw Me The Statue “Waving at the Shore” – Creaturesque (Secretly Canadian) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Is it 1991? More Seattle bands on my list. This is off of their second full length release which was released in early August. It has such a poppy feel good hop throughout. There is a definite 80’s influence with the synth breaks. Almost Cure-like. This song is “good mood” waiting to happen.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart “Come Saturday” – Self-Titled (Slumberland) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I am not looking for controversy but I am with Shawn Campbell and Co. when it comes to TPOBPAH. I am a sucker for a great pop song as well and I think these guys can do one as well as anyone out there.
Rural Alberta Advantage “Four Night Rider” – Hometowns (Saddle Creek) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Weighing in at 1 minute and 54 seconds this Canadian trio really blows out a great little track full of energy on their debut LP.
The Harlem Shakes “Sunlight” – Technicolor Health (Gigantic) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Yet another LP debut brings us this happy tune tune that does a fine job of pairing vocals with melody. These guys also played Rib Fest in North Center this summer. The very same neighborhood that is home to the luxurious new CHIRP Studios.
Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson “The Sound” – Summer of Fear (Saddle Creek) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
What a great duo! WAIT! Where is the &? Oh wait that is just one, 4 word, name. But he is from the music hot bed of Brooklyn. WAIT! Brooklyn, Oregon! This 27 year old has some talent. Check him out.
Stellastarr “Graffiti Eyes” – Civilized (Self-Released) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
OK I have a soft spot for outright party rock. To me the energy of this track cannot be avoided. I struggled to put this on my list but it just has a “live music, summer evening, feel good quality” to it that I could not ignore.
The Vaselines “Son of a Gun” – Enter the Vaselines (Sub Pop) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
OK, OK, I know it is not a NEW song. The re-release of The Vaselines – Enter The Vaselines really turned my head this year. I always knew of them as a Kurt Cobain influence and thus I never gave them the time of day. WOW thank you for the re-release. This band should not be ignored and Son Of A Gun really leads the way.
We Were Promised Jetpacks “Keeping Warm” – These Four Walls (Fat Cat) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This song makes my list as service to my fellow CHIRP DJ’s clocking in at 8 minutes 12 seconds it is a great track to play when you need to run downstairs and open the door for the next shift. Bathroom breaks galore! Enjoy. Also…. Holy cow do these guys sound Scottish!
Matt and Kim “Daylight”
Thank you Bacardi for ruining this song!
Summer Cats “June”
My 4 year old daughter LOVES this song. She loves most female vocalists. Unfortunately Miley Cyrus included. She does not nessasrily understand what I am saying but I keeping telling her “Less Hannah more Neko!”
The Heavy “How You Like Me Now”
This is one of those songs and bands that when I hear it I think to myself “Oh they must be really popular” Not yet.
Throughout the month of December we’ll be posting lists of the best music of the year as determined by the volunteers that make CHIRP what it is. Today’s is from CHIRP volunteer, Pete Zimmerman.
Neko Case – Middle Cyclone (Anti) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I was on the 22 Clark street bus when another rider asked me to stop singing so loudly. I was listening to “People Gotta Lotta Nerve“ from this album. I wasn’t embarrassed, but looking back on it, I do wish I wasn’t singing, “I’m a man man man man man maneater.”
Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Seeing them play at Millenium Park was one of the highlights of the summer of my unemployment. A great experience despite having to look at the building I used to go to every day for 13 years.
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glassnote) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
They were everywhere this year and it was well deserved. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them peform “1901” on an upcoming episode of CSI. I’d watch that.
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion (Domino) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
A band that I’ve always wanted to like, but never did until this came out. Both weird and accesible, I look forward to what they do next.
Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career (4ad) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
During my youth I was a Sarah Records completist and this record reminds me of spending hours and hours in record stores searching for the next great 7”. A cherished memory.
Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light (Secretly Canadian) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Antony Hegarty has one of the most distinctive voices in music today. It’s fun trying to sing like him. Do it.
Girls – Album (True Panther Sounds) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
In a year with a lot of great debut records, this one stands out.
St. Vincent – Actor (4ad) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Another artist that I saw play at Millenium Park this summer. It was fun watching parents dancing with their children to “Actor out of Work”. My parents took me to see The Osmonds so you can blame them if you don’t like this list.
Avett Brothers – I and Love and You (Columbia/American) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I and Love and You and Too
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Self-Titled (Slumberland) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
See #5 and replace “Sarah” with “Slumberland”.
And 5 others that I also enjoyed, just not quite as much
Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Warner Bros.) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
The record I hoped they would make after Yoshimi. Better late than never.
Japandroids – Post-Nothing (Polyvinyl) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This is the record that I played the loudest this year.
M. Ward – Hold Time (Merge) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I’ll buy anything that he’s associated with… including Budwesier.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz (Interscope) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
uy the deluxe edition for great acoustic versions of some of the best songs on the record.
Matt and Kim – Grand (Fader Label) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Their energy at Pitchfork this summer was infectious. At one point everybody in the audience was smiling.
Throughout the month of December we’ll be posting lists of the best music of the year as determined by the volunteers that make CHIRP what it is. Today’s is from CHIRP DJ and programmer extraordinaire, Kumar McMillan, a.k.a. DJ Bylamplight.
Pisces – A Lovely Sight (Numero Group) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This is not a reissue, it’s a discovery of unheard 1969 material that was lost and buried in a fascinating story about a perfectionist rock group from Rockford, Illinois, who couldn’t catch a break. Besides earning Pisces a page in Steve Krakow’s Secret History of Chicago Music series, this album (compiled by the Numero crew) is an enjoyable listen start to finish and is essential for any fan of Rockadrome-esque swirly psychedelic fuzz. This album was built like a cathedral; it almost seems appropriate that it took over thirty years to finally see a proper release. Not only is this undisputedly my pick for best album of 2009, I think it will shine for years to come as a truly remarkable achievement both sonically and historically.
Exile – Radio (Plug Research) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
The Akai MPC 3000 sampler has revolutionized hip hop and has proven to be one of the most expressive electronic instruments ever invented. Exile has mastered the MPC. He plays samples like instruments — stripping them down to the core and tapping out new melodies and rhythms. But there’s a twist: this album was sampled entirely from FM radio in Los Angeles. Commercials, jingles, call-ins, cheesy smooth jazz, late night battle raps, pop songs, they have all been artfully munged into catchy instrumental hip hop jams and interludes sometimes with a political or spiritual message. FM radio today is a strange corporate beast and this album exploits that beast, leaving no stone unturned. Besides a great work of art, every song keeps my head nodding and it’s been in very heavy rotation ever since I picked it up.
Little Dragon – Machine Dreams (Peace Frog) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
My introduction to this album was a little 7” of Blinking Pigs and the first thing that grabbed me was the majestic vocals and harmonies floating up and down like a Cocteau Twins song. The second thing that grabbed me was the great treatment of the drum sound — the beats bounced around in a really groovy way, hollow yet still “live” and powerful. The rest of the album was even better! From start to finish it has a really fresh, live electronic sound; the songs range from catchy to mellow to dance worthy and each synth sound is deliberate and cleverly placed. It was an instant classic for me but upon each listen it kept growing until Machine Dreams was in my heavy rotation.
Hollows – Self-Titled (Addenda) Insound / Addenda
Even though I’m involved with operating Addenda Records, I have no shame in admitting that this stunning debut from Chicago’s Hollows is one of the greatest neo-garage albums I’ve ever heard. The first five seconds drop you straight into the action and it doesn’t let up until the epic second-to-last song, Love Will Find You. Often described as a haunting retro 60s or 50s album, the song writing breaks free from the past and takes you on a fast ride with a killer all-girl-except-for-one-guy getup of bass, farfisa-like organ, guitar, and drums. The songwriting is superb and the two minute arrangements are ingeniously concise.
Javelin – Self-Titled (Thrill Jockey) Amazon / Insound / Thrill Jockey
Supposedly this Brooklyn instrumental hip hop group have been turning quite a few heads at live shows but I never knew about them until the Thrill Jockey 12” subscription sent me a mysterious thrift store record called The World of Boots Randolph with some weird painted shapes over the woman’s face. I later found out that those were actually letters spelling the word Javelin. The 12” labels both had what looked like a B written in sharpie as if to suggest there were two B-sides, how clever. That was all the information I could fetch from it but the tunes were so catchy that the record soon claimed a permanent spot in my stack of heavy rotation. I naturally dug deep into the Net to find out what I was listening to but I didn’t stop there. My obsession with Javelin has since grown to epic proportions — I’ve nabbed their CDR releases, their incredible Lukabop podcasts, basically anything I can get my hands on at this point. Their limited 12” is now sold out (try Ebay) but an MP3 release is available for purchase from Thrill Jockey.
Various Artists – Black Rio Vol. 2 Brazil Soul Power 1968-1981 (Strut) Amazon / iTunes
DJ Cliffy already put out volume one of similar cuts but I never knew about it. After catching up with that, this compilation is definitely not the out-takes, it’s a brilliant collection of softer hitting, obscure Brazilian soul. As with most Brazilian music, each track enchants you immediately and fills you with that feel good fuzzy happy feeling. And as a compilation it is very well planned out from start to finish by a DJ who obviously knows how to set a deliberate mood. It has just the right amount of energy for any moment of the day, any day of the week, and I can’t seem to get enough of it.
Pax Nicholas and the Nettey Family – Na Teef Know De Road of Teef (Daptone) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Frank from the famous Voodoo Funk record digger blog has organized his first reissue! I’m hoping there will be many more to come. He had discovered a rare Nigerian piece recorded in the 70s then supposedly banished by decree of Fela Kuti himself after its soft rhythms failed to “move” people on the dance floor. Well, it’s arguably a fine dance record but for me it’s one of the most relaxing and charming Afrobeat records I’ve ever heard. I play this time and time again in my living room, usually to help unwind after a day at work.
Black Wyrm Seed – Self-Titled (PlusTapes) PlusTapes
This is the cassette—yes, cassette—debut of a new Chicago band, Black Wyrm Seed. Despite its heavy doom metal opener, this album grows prettier, softer, and more psychedelic with each song. On myspace they accurately describe their line-up as batterie, bong-rattling bass, electric / acoustic guitars, and vox. I listen to it over and over in my car tape deck and the nuance in every note is inexplicably wonderful. Although a stoner metal blog showcased this release a while back, it still seems to exist as an undiscovered gem.
Dam-Funk – Toeachizown (Stones Throw) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
If “gangster” was a genre of music it would include 70s RnB songs like Does Your Mama Know by Rudy Love & The Love Family and William Devaughn’s Be Thankful For What You Got. Then chronologically it would move on to include Parliament / P-Funk, G-Funk, and finally Dam-Funk. This LA producer has put together a massive release of electronic instrumentals (some with background vocals) in five—count ‘em—five volumes. This is gangster theme music. In fact, it’s done so well that any tongue and cheekiness is overshadowed by the brilliance of nuance in the programmed drums or well placed synth chimes. It feels so smooth and so right and makes me want to drive around LA with my seat real low and pimp like.
Shepherd – Riddle of the Unflocked (Acroplane) Liquid Dilemma
This is a bass heavy new electronic project by Belgian producer Shepherd (a.k.a. Julien Itterbeek). The style is akin to the sinister breakbeat sound of Scorn or Push Button Objects but hidden beneath its murky swamp of squelchy synth lines are intriguing, alien-like emcee vocals. When listening, sometimes I imagine a b-boy battle on a space station between Martians and Mercurians, each crew doing weird twists and flips. It was released as a free MP3 download on the obscure Acroplane label, so be sure to grab it while you can. This is one evil, mind bending album and it accompanies me very often these days from start to finish.
Some Random Closing Thoughts
Neon Indian made his debut appearance with what I’d call the best song of 2009: Deadbeat Summer. It’s a really catchy tune but more than that the production is beautifully warped and twisted. In fact, it has stirred up enough for some bloggers to coin the genre “chillwave” to describe it. I guess that’s sort of a more blunted and electronic version of shoegaze? I was a bit disappointed by Neon Indian’s full length album, Psychic Chasms, but I think that’s really because every other song on it pales in comparison to Deadbeat Summer.
The Xx put out a really amazing album this year (self titled). It didn’t make my list only because it’s been in light rotation for me, not necessarily heavy rotation. I think they are one to watch and I was especially captivated by this live performance they did on KEXP.
Drag City issued an album by Death called For The Whole World To See. It was originally made in the 70s but was done in the Detroit R&B community so no one paid any attention to it and it never got a proper release. If you listen to it now it sort of sounds like a lot of other metal that came out around the same time but because of where the players were all raised on deep Detroit R&B there’s something very subtle that makes it stand out.
Some other albums that grazed my list this year were Joyce’s Visions Of Dawn (The Paris 1976 Project), ¡¡¡Wau Y Los Arrrghs!!!‘s ¡¡¡Viven!!!, Hudson Mohawke’s Polyfolk Dance, The Fiery Furnaces’ I’m Going Away, Jim O’Rourke’s Visitor, John Zorn’s O’o, and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest. Wow, 2009 was an amazing year for music!
Joyce: Far Out Recordings
¡¡¡Wau Y Los Arrrghs!!!: Slovenly
Hudson Mohawke: Warp
Fiery Furnaces: Thrill Jockey
Jim O’Rourke: Drag City
John Zorn: Amazon
Grizzly Bear: Warp