Sunday, December 25, 2011

2011 End-of-Year Celebrations: Artists' Best Of 2011

There's been so much great music this year that there was no way that AMR was going to get to all of it, so what better way to represent the broader spectrum of the year's sounds than by asking the great artists who make it? Reaching out to a bunch of cool people/acts/shakers and makers, the Rant simply asked what their picks for 2011 were. Here are their respsones -  in vaguely alphabetical order
Melbourne's Alpine are as fresh as the snow that caps those same mountain ranges, their axeman Christian (second from left) chooses his top 5 tracks of 2011. 
Grouplove - Colours
"I heard this track in the van on our way to a show and it was the most perfect song for how brightly the sun was shining that day. They played after us at Splendour In The Grass, and they were incredible. They’re like a combination of Pixies and Modest Mouse, but with better diets."
Radiohead - Lotus Flower
"I actually saw the parody of this video before I saw the real one. I loved this track so much. Thom Yorke has the best falsetto ever, and it’s so cool to have an entire song that sits in that range again."
Lana Del Rey - Video Games
"This song is incredibly cool, its over the top orchestration, the pouting and how it just plods along and repeats that amazing chorus over and over. Love. Real love."
Kimbra - Cameo Lover
"I had to work out how to play this song for a student recently and it is an incredibly intricate, well-written bunch of chords. We love Kimbra. She’s going to take over the world."
Jay-Z & Kanye West - Lift Off (feat. Beyoncé)
"This song is so cool and it's in 6/4! I can't think of a hit in 6/4 since Sheryl Crow's Strong Enough. Great Song."

Friday, December 16, 2011

2011 End-of-Year Celebrations: The Good, The Bad & The James Blunt Awards

The moment the true AMR fan waits all year for, it's the 5th Annual GB&JB ceremony. As is usual with this kind of list there's some serious awards for artistic achievements and some serious satire for the contrary, there's some old categorical favourites, there's some new ones, and there's a lot to read.
So don your best digital frock or tux, kit up in your best musical acumen, 'cause it's time to toast to 2011.
  Spank Rock - Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is A Fucking Liar
Not particularly clever, granted, but you have to admit the electro-rap duo have some balls to brand their sophomore effort with such a bold name. It does sound a bit like the tantrum of an underpreciated indie outfit, but you have to give props for its humour; plus I like imagining their label trying to convice them to change or soften the title. Shame then that the F bomb got censored, nevertheless it says a lot about the shallowing of today's industry, even if its with the bluntest of words.
Runners Up: British Sea Power - Valhalla Dancehall
Grouplove - Never Trust A Happy Song

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2011 End of Year Celebrations: The Best (and Worst) Album Art

As is now AMR annual tradition, we kick off the end-of-year celebrations with a gallery of the year's artwork, which like the music it is accompanying, continues to evolve... or in some cases devolve.
As the industry edges closer and closer to digital distribtuion, the record sleeve is becoming more and more a package, one by which too many use to quickly judge its contents. Unfortunately this has meant an increase in the correlation between indistinct or rushed covers, but what's the point of working so hard on all that great music if you're not going to present in a way that validates it. Good album art should be something you want to look at beyond the confines of your iPod, but in some cases, maybe its best that it remains to reside there...

Cults - Cults
A deceptively simple photograph that captures the pair of Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion in a state of 'rocking out.' Its classic feel ensured by the grainy black and white, and in capturing a pure energetic state so many music lovers are familiar with, its conveyed kineticism captured in a perfectly frozen moment.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

2011's Out. For. Ever!

So, we're about to get into the craziness that is the AMR end-of-year festivities, but before we do, I'd like to show you all a comprehensive list of all the EPs and albums I've listened to (in full) over the past twelve months. As in previous years its desinged both as a digtal reminder and database for myself, on top of that it should also act as both an an indulgent way to show off my credentials; as well as give you some insight into the sheer volume of proper listening that goes into the forthcoming awards, thoughts and musings.
In retrospect going through this list, it makes me realise how much I HAVEN'T covered, for instance there are no physical reviews to show for some of my favourite acts such as Big Scary, Wilco or my beloved Steven Wilson. I could say in my defense I was too busy listening to them (entirely true), but the realisation is that the limitations of a blog one by just one person means you can't cover absolutley everything (particularly when that person is working a forty-hour a week full-time job that has nothing to do with music).
There's also links to previous posts, reviews and articles that are related to these recordings before they're divvied up for humourous ceremony (The Good, The Bad & The James Blunt) and then finally into a definitive Top 20 Albums of the Year ('cause that's how we do things round here). So *deep breath*...

Alex Turner - Submarine
Childish Gambino - EP 
Cynic - Carbon-Based Anatomy
Emperors - Sam
Further Earth - Kingdom
Guineafowl - Hello Anxiety
The Hidden Venture - Baldessin Sessions II
Hudson Mohawke - Satin Panthers 
RAC - Vol. 2
Okkervil River - Golden Opportunities 2
Oliver Tank - Dreams
Olympic Ayres - EP
San Cisco - Golden Revolver 
Sekap Sempurna - Sekap Sempurna
Snakadaktal - Snakadaktal
Tessa and the Typecast - Lemons
Tokimonsta - Creature Dreams
Xenograft - Exit

Review: TV On The Radio - Nine Types of Light

Another review from triple j magazine, this time the lead review on TVOTR's fourth LP

TV On The Radio - Nine Types of Light (Interscope)
Has it really been three years since the all-conquering urgency of DearScience? Its contents championed by the blogosphere, beloved by purveyors of intelligent music and in turn built substantial anticipation for its follow-up. During that down-time, side-projects emerged to sate the faithful that – although serviceable – couldn’t hide what they were: fragmented parts of a greater whole. In particular, multi-intstrumentalist/production linchpin Dave Sitek’s Maximum Balloon, which sounded like TVOTR only with a turnstile of guest vocalists.
It’s with relief and open arms then, that after Tunde Adebimpe’s leisurely half-spoken opening on Second Song, that the Brooklynites instinctively click into a spirited pulse encouraged by Kyp Malone’s wiry guitars and some dishy horns.

Album review dump

Here's a lil' collection of some of the short 'n' sweets that graced the reviews pages of triple j magazine over the course of the year, have a nibble.

Richard In Your Mind - Sun (Rice Is Nice)
Following swiftly on from the acid-washed playground of last year's My Volcano, our nation’s very own underground Flaming Lips (is that an oxymoron?) deliver their third set of kaleidoscopic pop. Sounding less daring, but more confident, Sun delivers a set of hazy tunes threaded with a borderline-obsession with the titular gas giant. Cuts like Mountainhead, lead single Vision and the ironically cheery She Took The Sun Away trade their sample-based brand of organised chaos for mellower moods without sacrificing the psychedelic pop saturation that defines their appeal.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: The Trouble With Templeton - Bleeders

The Trouble With Templeton - Bleeders (Tiny Monster)
It seems that musical prodigies are almost de rigueur in the Australian music landscape these days, thanks to the spotlighting of the likes of triple j Unearthed and their focus on young, unsigned talent –there’s a fair few musical kids out there whose talent outstrips their years.
That being said, how many can you name who, at the ripe age of twenty one, are delivering chilling troubadour ruminations worthy of the UK’s rich folk heritage? Enter one Thomas Calder, operating under the Twilight Zone name-checking The Trouble With Templeton. Despite hailing from the typically sunny Brisbane, his sincere grain and earnest guitar-plucking are closer to a chilly English sensibility of moody folk.

Review: They Might Be Giants - Join Us

They Might Be Giants - Join Us (Idlewild)
They Might Be Giants, or TMBG to their friends, are perhaps pop music’s most well-known cult act. They’ve been running unimpeded for three decades now, under no-one’s creative demands but their own, producing an overwhelmingly prolific body of work in the process. A prodigious history that includes fifteen(!) studio records, at least three children’s albums, and one very catchy TV theme tune (Malcolm In The Middle trivia fans); and yet, as treasured as they are to their fans they equally are an alternative musical cornerstone that many remain blissfully unaware of.
Join Us, the group’s first ‘serious’ album since 2007’s The Else, makes no concessions to the uninitiated. It’s a product clearly tilted towards the converted, adding another eighteen tracks to the group’s already heaving back-catalogue, but at its heart it may well be the band’s most all-encompassing and accessible set since the turn of the decade. 

Review: Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation

Youth Lagoon - The Year Of Hibernation (Fat Possum)
If you’re looking for a simple way to grade your enjoyment of Youth Lagoon, it’s in direct correlation to how much you flinch at the label ‘dream pop.’ Nothing? Ok, how about ‘chillwave?’
Make no mistake, a glance at the musical heritage of Trevor Powers – the man behind the moniker – reads no differently from the recent swathe of lone Americans producing warm pop from the lo-fi confines of their bedrooms. Not such a surprise, the clue’s in the title. But even for those who struggle to distinguish Washed Out from Active Child, The Year Of Hibernation represents an accessible entry point to a genre filled with intimate rewards.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Whatever Happened To Quindon Tarver?

For all the discussion surrounding the way iTunes has forever changed, perhaps fractured, the common listening experience for better or worse; there is one unparalleled activity it has pioneered: that of shuffling one’s music library. The unique thrill of hearing a random curio that has lain unheard in your digital collection for an age, or even discovering something you weren’t even sure was there. There’s obviously a correlation between the size of a music library (some 107 days and 200GB of it, if you’re asking) and what of that amount is entirely skippable, but on those moments when the right song comes bursting through the speakers at the right time, it feels like serendipity... albeit encouraged serendipity.

I had just one such moment recently when performing an extensive clear-out of my room and the darkest recesses of my closet, with its shameful evidence of my romanticised hoarding. It was at the precise moment I was tossing up whether to dispose of some long-forgotten birthday cards or old love letters that Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) began playing. 

To say that it was the right song at the right time was a bit of an understatement, without going too deeply into the murky waters of personal problems, I’d  been going through some shit lately and its ‘personal advice as mellow song’ resonated hugely with me. There was of course, that funny nostalgic feeling one gets from hearing a song you haven’t heard in an age, that intangible feeling of dusting off the contours of something that surprisingly still fits so perfectly. I recall hearing it on triple j, then later on repeat on the fifth volume of their  Hottest 100 compilations (the year No Aphrodisiac topped the poll). Despite the various versions available, this particular one is the seven minute plus version, distinguished by its opening “Ladies and gentleman of the class of ’97.” There on my bedroom floor, amongst a pile of junk and debris, hearing those numbers sounded out struck me instantly. I would have been merely a ripe thirteen years old, and despite my steady sonic diet of skate punk, slacker rock and compilations just like this one; I remember how the song stuck out to me in its own odd way. Jump to fourteen years on, and its sentimental advice struck a chord in a way that the adolescent me almost fobbed off as not being possible.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The A/V Room: December

Video time, and no, don't worry - we're not going to inject your usual dose of quality music videos with some sort of Christmas related nonsense, just all the recent clips that are worth your peepers, and hey, they may just be some of the best this year.

Fleet Foxes - The Shrine/An Argument (dir: Sean Pecknold)
One of the best tracks from one of the best albums of the year deserves not a good video, but one of the best. Sean (brother of band leader Robin) Pecknold delivers just that, in a beautifully rendered showcase of handcrafted animation with a mysterious, rustic atmosphere and rich, enigmatic characters. The visual matches to the soundtrack are brilliant and the lasting impact is that you've just beared witness to a stunning piece of art. Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps the most artsy video of the year.