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Sunday, January 3, 2010


You have a rare treat - 1st edition of Chafin Seymour's indie music blog!
There is an interesting strategy here - starting with No. 20.. you'll have to read all the way to the bottom to get to No. 1. (You can only assume this is what happens when you grow up with your father's music, film, television books and cultural criticism.)
20. Wavves – Wavvves
This album is the best of the lo-fi revival that has been perpetuated this year. I can’t say that this style of rock is my favorite…but I can say that what singer Nathan Williams is able to do with just himself and a computer is impressive. What Mr. Williams has essentially done is create melodic surf pop glossed with a heavy layer of fuzzy guitars. The laid-back, California punk vibe gives this particular song, and the album as a whole, a tossed off, insensitive, quality that makes the songs that much more enjoyable. The layering of these hazy guitar lines makes gems like “Sun Open My Eyes” so hypnotic. The way the album shifts tempo from track to track keeps me from getting bored with the monotonous element of the production style. Beyond the fuzz, however, there is some great songwriting and actual melody. “I’m So Bored,” the first single from the album, is exemplary of this. The only things that keep this album from being higher on my list are the ambient, grating, noise tracks like “Killer Punx, Scary Demons” “More Fur” and album opener “Rainbow Everywhere.” While I can appreciate musical experimentation, I believe these inept forays into the avant-garde realm hold back what is otherwise a wonderfully simple noise-pop album.
19. Neon Indian – Psychic Chasms
First time I encountered Neon Indian I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of them (or I should say him). Alan Palomo does a masterful job arranging these blissful electro grooves so that they almost makes you want to dance…if only you weren’t so fucked up. True, one might find it hard to get into these monotonous songs without the aid of narcotics but I would argue that the songs do enough on their own to induce a state of catatonic euphoria, complete with head nodding. While standout tracks “Deadbeat Summer” and “Terminally Chill” have their rightful place as singles, I believe simply letting the whole album play from start to finish without interruption for the best experience.
18. DOOM - Born Like This
Yes, this album is only forty minutes long. Yes, most of the songs are terribly short and underdeveloped. And, yes, this album pales in comparison to some of this artist’s past endeavors such as Madvillainy and Operation Doomsday. All this being said, DOOM came back on this album after a long hiatus with a rawness and vitality that we haven’t seen from him in a long time. That alone made this one of the most entertaining records I listened to all year. We also hear on this album that DOOM still has the knack for the verbally abstract and rhythmically a-typical rhymes that make him so endearing to his many followers. To quote Nate Patrin, “Madlib, Jake One, J Dilla, and DOOM himself make up a four-man army of beat creators that give Born Like This that extra layer of grit and haze, combining it with a deep headknock pulse and some memorable guest spots (Ghostface, Raekwon, Empress Stahhr) to seal it as another diabolical masterpiece.”
To clarify: I concede, once again, that this is not the man’s best work. However, isn’t it kind of sad that even a half assed effort from DOOM can best pretty much all of the vast ocean of radio blip trash that’s passed off as “rap music” in today’s market? I certainly do.
17. Girls – Album
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a huge Brian Wilson & Beach Boy fan. Therefore, these Cali boys quickly garnered a soft spot in my heart for their garage, fuzzed out, version of sixties surf pop. From the brazen opening track “Lust for Life” you are instantly pulled onto the beach and into the sun. I will admit that upon repeated listening the limited variety of tempos and mildly depressing subject matter (mostly concerning forlorn loves or hopelessly fucked up babes) does gets tiresome and all in all, I like the record a whole lot less than I first thought I did. However it still makes the list because, like I said initially, I’m a sucker for good Beach Boy imitators. These guys pull it off with such dexterity and charm (and guitar distortion) that you can’t help but smile while you listen.
16. Cold Cave – Love Comes Close
Hey didja hear the 80s are cool again?!?!?! This decade offered a whole slew of artists who emulated (for better or worse) the synthesized wonderfulness that the decade brought us. Cold Cave is another of these bands. Anyone of the tracks would not have sounded out of place on the soundtrack to a brat pack movie. These synth-pop tracks have a distinct new wave spin that give the whole album a very dark party vibe. You can tell they don’t take themselves totally seriously and that’s totally ok. In fact, it makes distinctly better than many others in the same vain. The unsubtle Joy Division references in style (lead singer Wesley Eishold doing his best Ian Curtis impression on vocals) and album title (riffed off of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” if you missed it) only strengthen the album’s appeal.
15. Kid Cudi – The Man in the Moon: The End of the Day
There’s just something about that kid from Cleveland. Kid Cudi creates a stoner hop gem on this super synthy, super hook oriented album. From start to finish the listener is never bored. The diverse array of production from the likes of Ratatat, Kanye West, and Plain Pat (among many others including Cudi himself) gives the album the ability to be played both at a party and alone in your room depending on the track. Cudi adopts qualities and tricks from some of the best indie music today to create such songs as “Sky Might Fall.” In my opinion, this album was the best and definitely the most successful release this year from the designated “Freshman” class of rap (see such artists as Wale, Curren$y, and Asher Roth). He was also one of the first rappers in awhile whose album material at least matched and in some cases exceeded his mixtape work.
14. Black Lips – 200 Million Thousand
If the listener comes away with one thing after listening to the Black Lips’ album 200 Million Thousand: these guys are fucking crazy. If getting run out of the country of India for their profane stage antics (including exposing themselves and kissing each other on the mouth) wasn’t enough of a clue to their insanity, the songs on this album provides ample evidence. These Atlanta boys clearly go all out when the party (drugs, drunk driving, bad life decisions) and they seem to party all the time (on record and in real life). That influence comes through in their quick, trashy, brutish garage rock that Iggy Pop should be proud of. Their arrangements are simple and melodic and vocals and instrumentations are highly distorted (or otherwise impaired). This combination is irresistible when tracks are arranged in a tight, quick hitting package as the album is. This is a great album for anyone who loves sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. And let’s be real: who doesn’t?
13. Passion Pit – Manners
First time I listened to Passion Pit their pop melodies, funky synth lines, and danceable drums drew me in. I wasn’t even fully cognizant of how ungodly sugary and crossover ready these guys actually were. Then their song, “Sleepyhead,” shows up in a phone commercial and all hell breaks loose. Their helium induced vocal arrangements complete with shout along chorus and even a children’s choir (you didn’t misread that, I said children’s choir) have made these guys instantly irresistible to every female and most males between the ages of 16 & 24. I myself have had trouble not putting them higher on my list, except for their insatiable knack for over-saturating their songs sugary cuteness. It’s almost too much most of the time. Despite all that Passion Pit definitely produced the best electronic dance-pop album I heard. Not bad for a project that started as a bedroom recording for a pissed of girl friend. The song hooks wrap themselves around your brain stem and don’t let go no matter how many times you choose (or are forced) to listen.
12. jj - jj n° 2
If you didn’t get it from the album art. jj makes druggy music. For those who prefer to get their highs the legal way, this album is a pretty good substitute. The ADD nature (and consequently the best aspect) of this album comes from its ability to shift musical influences at the drop of a hat. From afro-pop, to acoustic folk, to the best bit of copy-write infringement put on record this year in “Ecstasy.” This track (that directly steals the beat and synth line of Lil’ Wayne’s hit “Lollipop”) is a prime example of what these Swedes do best and that is making the familiar original and interesting again. There’s nothing on this album I haven’t necessarily heard before. But I can say pretty honestly I haven’t heard it all in one place or in the distinctive atmospheric way in which jj does it. jj n° 2 is a great album from start to finish (it runs a quick twenty-seven minutes) and definitely one of the cleanest in terms of arrangement and song writing.
11. Here We Go Magic – Here We Go Magic
This was easily the best under-rated album of the year. It slipped under the radar and a lot of ways and I’ve heard a lot of people dismiss them as just “Animal Collective knock-offs.” While the similarities are there in the catchy melodies and sampling but that’s about where it ends for me. I haven’t listened to much of front man/ main song writing contributor Luke Temple’s previous work but in looking for the best description of what Here We Go Magic does to build on it I reluctantly quote Pitchfork’s review: “Four-tracked and supposedly cut in ‘a two-month period of stream-of-consciousness recording,’ the album filters Temple's psychedelic muse through a much more muted palette: hazy electronic textures, endlessly-spiraling lyrical loops, occasional forays into extended sections of ambience and noise.” These extended periods of ambiance and noise are (like so many albums) what hold it back. The actual songs are so interesting and so engaging that when you realize the noise track you’ve been listening to isn’t going to morph into that it’s quite disappointing. Still, I absolutely love the first four songs on the album along with “I Just Want To See You Underwater” enough to have the album just miss being in the top ten.
10. The xx – xx
Who knew that minimalist, new wave influence rock could be so damn intimate? At first, these artsy kids from London might seem like they’re just messing around in a garage with some instruments and a beat machine. If you’re really listening though, underneath (or better: on top of) the slick beats that move in and out of ambient silence and the plucky guitar and bass lines there’s some real emotion. Singers Madley Croft and Oliver Sim hush and coo about they’re love in a sleek and whimsical way that only young people can emulate. The subject matter of these whisperings can range from supposed pillow talk to declarations that “sometimes I still need you,” as they say in the song “Heart Skipped a Beat.” The best description of these songs I can give is that they are a new age R&B, every bit as emotionally intense but subdued to the point that its as if they’re afraid of fully committing to a song…or each other. If they demonstrate nothing else on their cover of the late singer Aaliyah’s “Hot Like Fire” (that sadly does not appear on the album) these guys have a formula for breaking an R&B groove and melody down to its bear bones and reconstructing it in their distinctive style. I grow more and more attached to this album every time I listen to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m just as enamored with it a year from now. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
9. White Denim – Fits
I’ve been a huge fan of these guys ever since I first listened to their EP Workout Holiday last year. I have found since then that very few people really understand what these guys do. To put it as simply as possible: they rock! All three band members are vastly consummate musicians as they demonstrate from track to track on their latest album Fits. The best parts of this album come when the three of them just jam the hell out and shred on their respective instruments (guitar, bass and, of course, drums). The musical styling they pull from in their songwriting could be most closely associated with garage rock but really stems from everywhere: dub, soul, alt-rock, country, post-punk, blues, psychedelic rock, the list goes on. This album seems particularly reminiscent of the last of these influences, the psychedelic, which was all over independent music this year (Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Neon Indian, Here We Go Magic etc). This feeling is only heightened by their love of looping and unconventional songs structures. All of this with James Petralli’s feral howl soaring over the top makes for a gem of a rock album. This is certainly deserving of its place as one of the best of the year. Coincidentally it is one of the albums most often ignored by many critics.

8. Mos Def – The Ecstatic
I have no qualms saying that the mighty Mos, besides being this era’s true renaissance man, is one of the best to ever rock the mic. Therefore it makes sense that his strongest and most cohesive effort since his classic Black on Both Sides would make my top ten. It is simply a pleasure to hear the man sounding strong, confident, and, above all, defiant over some heavy beats. With a slew of production credits from Madlid and Oh No, Mos makes a perfect assimilation into today’s indie-rap culture; borrowing from contemporaries like DOOM (MF Doom, Viktor Vaughn, King Geedorah…whatever) on his quick, dense, free association rhymes. The rest of the production seems to come from all over the map. Through all of it we acquire a couple of things: 1) Mos can still rip it (if he doesn’t get too lazy) 2) His voice is still silky smooth and 3) he wants to conquer the world. I embellish, but with the multitude of influences (from the Middle East, Latin America, and even East Brooklyn), he seems to try to touch on culture he can. Despite that, he still remains true to his roots as well as his contemporary culture, everything a great comeback should do. Keep up the good work Mr. Smith! Let’s build on this one.
7. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I admit, I was initially tentative about this album. Maybe I was overwhelmed by the hype, or the synthesized pop rock, or that they were French. Yeah… that was probably it. Even their snotty countrymen couldn’t keep this band from making one of the best pop albums of the year. As conventional as it is investigative, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is an opus of over-sized sound packed into very tight places (9 songs and only 37 minutes). When you have radio gold (that you’ll never hear on a Clear Channel station… damn the French) like “1901” next to seven and a half minute epic instrumentals such as “Love Like A Sunset” you can’t help but be smitten. Phoenix can take what The Strokes do best, simple melodies and kinetic rhythms, and make it make the most grandiose electronic sound storm you’ve ever heard in a single song. Thankfully, they also know their limits; pacing themselves and making you enjoy every minute of their songs. This is another album that continues to grow on me the more I listen to it. Yes their sell-out enough to be in a Cadillac commercial. But any self-respecting crossover would do the same. It’s a recession remember?
6. Atlas Sound – Logos
My roommate has been trying to convince for almost two years now that, “Bradford Cox is the songwriter of out generation.” I’m not sure if I completely buy that yet, but I can say that his latest album under his solo masquerade Atlas Sound is a significant step towards being convinced of such a claim. Cox shows that he can adopt pretty much anyone’s musical styling’s (Stereolab, Panda Bear) and do it well. On “Walkabout” featuring the aforementioned Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) Cox shows his sampling chops. Taking a sample from French 60s pop band The Dovers' "What Am I Going to Do?" he loops it and creates a perfect pop doo-wop like sing-along about moving on with your life. This knack for sampling (which Cox learned from Lennox) comes up even on the Deerhunter sounding tracks like the shimmering “Shelia,” with similarly unique results. Bradford Cox seems to be able to do everything with ease, even breaking into Stereolab box of tricks for drawn out prog-pop and even getting Stereolab singer, Lætitia Sadier to helm the track. Does all this collaboration mean the Cox is becoming less self-involved as Atlas Sound? Considering the cover features a shirtless picture of the man and most of the lyrics involve deep-seated introspection the answer is probably not. However, this album provides clues and exciting ideas about what Atlas Sound could become in the future.

5. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II
This is not one of the best albums of the year because it is terribly experimental or pushes the boundaries of its genre, quite the contrary. It is one of the best albums of the year because of how great it is at what it’s supposed to be. OB4CLII picks up right where part I left off. Raekwon sounds as strong as he ever has and with excellent features from clan members (specifically Ghostface Killah and Method Man) as well as the likes of Jadakiss and Busta Rhymes, the lyrics and rhyming stay consistent and hard throughout. In terms of production: As expected the album is comfortably rooted in the minor keyed, heavy based, street music that the Wu-Tang Clan is known for. RZA contributes some of his best work in years. The J-Dilla (RIP) beats are bangin’ as always. GZA, Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, Marly Marl, Erik Sermon, and The Alchemist all produce a track apiece and every single one is fire. Essentially, it’s mind-blowing how many good beats are able to fit into one place. If you’re someone who prefers their Gangsta rap from the East Coast and the early nineties, this one is for you. Rae produces an album that easily sits next to any of the number of classics in the Wu-Tang catalog.
4. Fashawn – Boy Meets World
Every couple of years a hip hop record comes along that reignites my love of the genre. It pushes boundaries while remaining as authentic as possible. Usually this happens when a producer and a rapper are so in sync that they become a single unit. MF Doom and Madlib do this on the decade classic Madvillainy. Two years ago California rapper Blu and producer Exile did it on criminally under-rated and ignored Below The Heavens. This time the rapper is the up and coming Fashawn who, like his contemporary Blu, also hails from Cali. While Fash is not quite as prolific on the mic as Blu, the two rap about similarly deep and introspective subject matter. Boy Meets World, as a whole, is a complete study of a young boy’s transition to an un-easy and premature adult hood. The autobiographical nature of the album is a further strength. Fashawn candidly speaks about his struggles growing up with a father in jail and a mother addicted to drugs; about contemplating suicide, being on the road, encouraging the present youth, about lost loves, and about the past and continuing state of affairs in America’s inner cities. He is eloquent and succinct in his dissertations and his flow stays on point. On this album Exile helms the production boards again with his distinctive mix of lush soul and jazz sampling and popping, highly percussive drums. The two make for an irresistible combination for anyone who loves real and conscious rap. Now that Exile’s has worked with two of the best young emcees from California: what are the hopes of getting the three of them together for a collaboration? The track “Samsonite Man” that features Blu provides and exciting look at this prospect.
3. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
It’s no secret to anyone’s who has followed (or simply listened to) the Dirty Projectors discography that this experimental Brooklyn band is about as artsy as they come. Dave Longstreth’s distinctive wail is ever present and they to really relish in the sound of blaring sideways harmonies and off tempo guitar noodling. While all these elements tend to make their music more difficult to ingest, in the case of Bitte Orca it makes it all the more original and compelling. By filtering their avant-garde tendencies through more conventional song structures the Dirty Projectors succeed in creating the most accessible art-rock album of the year. Longstreth was quoted as saying that this album was recorded with “the band as a whole in mind.” That sentiment is evident throughout especially on dramatic vocal turns by members Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian on the tracks “Stillness in the Move” and “Two Doves respectively. By stepping back and letting his band do the talking Longstreth is able to say more to a wider audience. The abstract nature of the album makes it a concise and complete piece of art that captures a band realizing their full potential for collaborative creativity.
2. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
I can’t say enough good things about this album. Songwriters Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen seem to have found a perfect balance between their experimental and pop sensibilities. They still have a knack for extreme key and tempo changes in their songwriting that keeps the listener guessing and it sounds as if every single snare hit, piano splash, and guitar twang was meticulously tweaked and endlessly considered before being recorded. This attention to detail lends itself to some absolutely gorgeous pop songs (specifically “Two Weeks,” “Cheerleader,” and “While You Wait For The Others”). Their vocals have never sounded so beautifully arranged and performed. The lush orchestrations of harmonies, strings, percussion, and wind instruments often astound in their complexity. The album flows very well together from track to track and doesn’t lull you to sleep despite never advancing beyond a moderate chug of a tempo. This mellow and reverence-laden atmosphere contributes to its appeal and repeat listen ability
All that being said: It’s true Veckatimest doesn’t really break into uncharted territory historically speaking and there is a period in the middle of the album where you’re not quite sure exactly what’s supposed to be going on. However, what really defines this album for me are the final three songs. It begins the grinding, wailing, guitar and harmony filled stomp of “While You Wait For The Others; then lists into the freakish, pounding choral “I Live With You.” And flourishes with the final haunting ballad, “Foreground,” a perfect crescendo and finale to a melodious, ethereal experience. The way in which the band has made the transition from 2006’s excellent Yellow House to this feat of notoriety has been stunning to witness but they seem to have found a very comfortable niche. One has to wonder if they really have anywhere to go from here. If where they go is anything even remotely like where they’ve been: let’s hope that they do.
1. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Honestly, what can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said by every hip, music savvy bastard that thinks his musical opinions are as important as I do? To start: there’s a good reason this album ended up at the top of mine and so many others’ list for this year. What AC has done on this album is almost indescribably impressive. All those years and all those albums experimenting with strange noises, arrangements, and chord progressions finally pay off on this album. Panda Bear and Avey Tare’s vocal arrangements float over the top of the sonic ocean of indecipherable noise and melody. Geologist finally seems to have taken a bigger role in song writing as well. His electronic beats, blips, and twinkles, act as the percussive pulse of the album driving it forward and, in some cases, creating some highly danceable rhythms.
They take what they do so well: folky, ambient, psychedelic, and experimental songwriting, and turn it all into electronic pop. Songs that are just as appealing as anything released by The Beatles during their Sgt. Pepper phase or the Beach Boys on Pet Sounds infuse the album from start to finish. It’s impossible to choose a single song that is the best (although “My Girls” comes pretty damn close) because the more you listen to the album the more your favorite song can, and will, change. All of this is not to say that Animal Collective in any way abandons the elements that made them so popular to the experimental and independent music audience over the past decade. Avey Tare still has the tendency to shriek on cue. There is sonic overload early and often throughout the record and you’re still never totally sure if they’re really singing about familial duty and unconditional love or just tripping balls on acid. This has never mattered very much to their fans or to me and certainly doesn’t affect my feelings about Merriweather Post Pavilion. The boys of AC are all grown up and this album in tone, musicality, and complexity demonstrates this with flying (and very bright) colors. The album succeeds in cementing Animal Collectives place as the independent artist of this decade while suggesting that there is still so much they can and want to do.

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