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“Golden Rules For Golden People” is the Boston, MA trio Pretty & Nice’s second proper record, and their best yet. Typified by an angular and grandiose penchant for flippant rhythms and, by contrast, painstakingly beautiful melodies, this band has fashioned a unique nook for themselves amongst the vast array of indie rock’s more intelligent rockers.

At first I mistook the rampant key changes and the brainy, they-probably-went-to-music-school rhythmic varieties for an irreverent lack of focus. Frankly, I was annoyed by these songs and didn’t think they were worthy of the hands-down praise a few of my most cherished musical peers were giving it: “Dude, you gotta get into this! It’s like a more accessible Q and Not U!” For whatever reason, though, I just couldn’t get on board. But, something happened (I honestly don’t know what) and now 3 months later, it’s one of my favorite albums of 2013 and by far one of the most exciting 32 minutes of music I’ve heard in a long, long time.

That skittishness I keep referring to starts with the majestic opener “Stallion and Mare.” Never mind the lyrics, in just under four minutes, this music moves seamlessly from a descending and modulating melody reminiscent of John Lennon’s catchier Mid-Beatles work, to a rollicking and distorted mid-section that could be on “Offend Maggie,” to a triumphant coda that stunningly melds its two predecessors together, leaving the audience gasping for air.

While harboring a punky aesthetic that’s chock full of spiky guitars and dense brevity, the album constantly cannibalizes familiar pop music staples and combines them with a frenetic flair for the unpredictable; urging its listeners to internalize these shifts as though they were parts of a complicated work out regimen. “New Czar,” with its sunny and buoyant intro, immediately puts you in a top-down, carefree mood before a chunky and frightening backbeat consumes the song. It then tries on three more equally contrasting hats in the next minute only to reprise that sparkling prelude, spurring a cathartic realization: it’s something you’ve heard, forgot about, and are now grateful to hear again because its just so damn lively.

This satisfaction happens a lot on “Golden Rules,” hell, it even happens when I’m not listening to it. At times I’ll wake up in the morning singing the chorus of “The Frog,” the album’s closing anthem, and smile and wonder “how did that get in there? I’ve been asleep for eight hours.” And before I know it, I’m trying to quell that sticky syndrome by listening to the song again and i’ve unintentionally answered my own question. This sort of blind admiration doesn’t just create itself, though, I’ve probably listened to this record more than anything else since May, and if Last.fm could track the amount of times I’ve sang these choruses to myself or to my drunk friends when I’m drunk, it’d be some kind of record.

The pastiche nature that defines this album is certainly not for everyone, and there are definitely parts that still whiz by me in an annoying flurry of indecision, but I’ve let “Golden Rules For Golden People” seep into my life, and I’m proud to say so. And, if you’ve any flair for the exciting unpredictability of it all, you’d would be foolish to overlook this one, as I almost did.

Here’s what I’m thinking. This is a rough and ever-changing list. What is constant so far this year are good singles. Most of these albums are still very new to me but it’s one or two tracks on each that have I’ve chosen to immerse myself in so far this year. Aside from the Strokes and Yo La Tengo, the lion’s share of these records are from brand new or very young bands; mostly on their first or second album. This is exciting. This year has been exciting. See here for realtime updates on this list and others my friends have made.

15. Kate Nash – Girl Talk
Talky but smart, annoying but honest.
14. The Men – New Moon
Dirtier than their last LP; going the lo-fi Credence route pretty uniformly here.
13. The Strokes – Comedown Machine
First half rocks. This is a new band now.
12. Yo La Tengo – Fade
A standard YLT album. Consistently poignant songs about friendship and loss supplemented by wide open production and airy, subtle instrumentation.
11. Mountains – Centralia
A new wave of ambient where the balance between new age schlock and pretentious beauty is nearly mastered, but wholly defined.
10. Darwin Deez – Songs for Imaginative People
Kate Nash’s feminine complaints undergo a sex change and Stevie Ray Vaughn’s tone/style/persona is recalled through the lens of 21st century pop funk. What?
9. Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen
Sometimes spooky, sometimes catchy, WFSTH doesn’t take many risks, but its delicate play-by-the-rules mantra is deserved and seamlessly executed.
8. The Besnard Lakes – Until Excess, Imperceptible UFO
Colossal, ambient rock for only the most patient of listeners.
7. FaltyDL – Hardcourage
Picture Axel Foley sneaking around a warehouse at midnight, or laughing at a Beverly Hills resident’s red leather garb. Hardcourage is an aesthetician’s dream; cinematic IDM that rewards and surprises with every listen.
6. Iceage – You’re Nothing
This is a haunting, tragic LP. I’m scared of this band.
5. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
Katie Crutchfield is a brave girl. Her candid expressions on this record are so real and pure. Short songs, great hooks, VARIETY, style, and understood limitations.
4. Merchandise – Totale Nite
Still don’t know what this album will do for me in the coming months. But they’ve gotten calmer and cooler since Children of Desire–don’t know if that’s good or bad, though. Points for Anxiety’s Door (what a tune), and giving a musical nod to Ambulance LTD–who does that anymore?
3. FIDLAR – FIDLAR
This is a stupid, vulnerable record that is held together by the glue of this band. They are tough but empty, forthright but apathetic. Hopefully once they get off tour with Wavves they’ll realize they’re a better band with so much more ahead of them than waking, baking, and skating.
2. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Ripely Pine
 An unbelievable range of styles here. So many ideas are thought out and seen through in detail on this record. We’re looking at a classic indie-folk album that combines hard rock, blues, Appalachian folk music, and pejorative Riot Grrl intentions; asking what indie even means in 2013. I have no idea. Lady Lamb doesn’t either, but her music provokes the notion that the proper synthesis of style and mood can disassemble genre roles in a heartbeat. If you let it.
1. Mazes – Ores and Minerals
Let’s discuss why Television, Talking Heads, and Can are still relevant. No, let’s just listen to this album instead. Ores and Minerals drives with a pulsating and gawky presence through a world of dissonant and modal guitar lines. Weaving through and soaring above these at times atmospheric songs is a jerky sense of surrealism. And the plaintive vocal deliveries round out all the things I look for in an off-kilter rock album.

Here’s a conversation between Dave and Ben. One works at a pool that teaches swimming lessons to children. The other is a tad out of touch with the concept of basic internet interaction, I think you’ll be able to tell the difference. Enjoy:

can u plx mak appntment 4 my son with swimmign?

yes, hi. how old is your son?

22
im am 22!
HA sr
he’s 1-13

he’d probably be in our child level 1 class
$99.50/mo

per clas?????

no, per month. four classes in a month

hmm?
wuat do u mean?

we meet once a week for four weeks

when does my swim smy son swim?

once a week for 45 minutes
is there a particular day/time that works for you?

but we have meet 4 months??

can i point you to my previous question?

plz le tme get thsi straight then

alright

u and i meet for months
and my swim jsut swim 45 mins??

no, i’m sorry i’m not being clear
your son comes in to our studio one time a week for four weeks. the session lasts 45 minutes
this package costs $99.50

per swim?
400$$ a mo?

no, i’m sorry. per month

oh i see
that is great
what is your name?
name

can i take down your info? i’m Dave
what is your first and last name

oh of course!
ben

ok, and last name?

yep
i have one
do u need iit?

ok ben, what is it?

why?? will u use it

yes, but just for our records
they are private

hmmm?
not sure about this ben

no, you are Ben
i’m Dave

yes

ok Ben. is there an email address we can reach you at?

will u have to bill me??

yes, if you choose to sign up

ok
and a billing address

yes

ok go ahead
i’m ready for it
Ben?

sorrrry.
had to be prodctve
haha
do u have safe pools?
will u be safe?
do u teeth me too swm? with my son?

no, that’s extra
but we are very safe, sir

thank yuo,,
so whts next?
do u complte trasnit papers

sir
is english your first language? we have a spanish translator on hand in the office

yes

ok
can i get your CC info?
visa or mastercard please

will b present u my egnish son will flying colours!!

sir, a visa or mastercard

asure

go ahead with the number and exp date

4444
2
xp is 213

and the rest
ok
how about thursdays at 530pm

yes
we missed it for this week
will u b billin for ths week
id prefer if somethin later in the week was possible
if possbe
l

sir i’m sorry you’ve been rejected
your correspondence has been, i hesitate to say, nonsense

when wil l u train my son
wehn can i see my son ageN?

your son has been taken away
he is in my custody

hmm???
Happy Saturday.

Top 15 Albums of 2012

Well, here it is. A few days too late, I suppose. If you haven’t heard any of these albums, I highly recommend all of them.

15. Delicate Steve – A Positive Force

-Derek Trucks seen through the lens of instrumental neo-psychedelic guitar pop. Lots of licks, no hooks.

14. Clinic – Free Reign

-This time, these Irish chameleons deliver a bleak, dystopian realization of their own talents, and play less.

13. King Tuff – King Tuff

-Kyle Thomas’ second album packs a poppier, fuller punch than his debut; complete with T.Rex guitars!

12. Tame Impala – Lonerism

-Informed neo-psychedelia with faux-simplistic prog structures and indiscernable vocals. Animal Collective for rock fans.

11. Hospitality – Hospitality

-A charming 35 minutes of free love, jangly guitars, and ear-warming melodies. Here’s hoping they get weirder.

10. The Men – Open Your Heart

-Loud, at times seething, this varied trip through the canon of rock and roll is recommended for any esteemed fans of the genre that like to say “fuck yeah.”

9. Here We Go Magic – A Different Ship

-Good morning music; or good morning, music. Either way this pleasant freak-folk experiment starts off pretty and ends quickly. But the intricate guitar work and tasteful vocal deliveries throughout make repeated listens all the more rewarding.

8. Merchandise – Children of Desire

-I don’t doubt that by this time next year, this album will be my favorite of 2012. It’s a big and spooky monolith that is too colorful and vast to fully grasp at first.  Like a good relationship, this album takes a while to open itself up to you, although it could be the opposite. “Children of Desire” is beautiful and tragic and makes me happier every time I hear it. And I’m very excited for the years we will share together.

7. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

-My mom said this album sounds like “she’s just throwing up everything she has inside.” And as unappealing as that sounds, she was as spot on as that kind of simile can be. There’s something so primal and warm about this bare-bones piano rock that this short paragraph just won’t do. “Idler Wheel…” is a stunning and bewildering thing. Now go listen to it. Hold on, sometimes I feel like I am Fiona when I listen to it. Ok you can put it on now.

6. Lambchop – Mr. M

-I’ve loved this record for almost 10 months now, and can honestly say it’s because of how easy it is to listen to. It’s gentle in the way a Bill Callahan record is, but polished like a recent Dylan release. Impress your parents, play this audible southern hospitality at the next holiday get together. Weird that it’s this high, but “2B2” seriously gets me every time.

5. Hot Chip – In Our Heads

-The sheer musical complexity of this album is its own work of art. The exceptional drum/percussion sits so beautifully next to and on top of the subtle but intricate guitar and bass work, while the synths fire melodies like missiles out of the cosmic fortress that is built by this sound. With the dual vocal attack at full swing, Hot Chip throws every style their Steely Dan/EDM/Atari soundtrack leanings can allow and delivers a heart-pounding, praise worthy record that flexes more muscles than we all thought they had.

4. Royal Headache – Royal Headache

-There is always something to be said about an album that makes you wish you were a different age. I hear this throwback fuzz soul/garage punk album from Australia and strangely I’m almost always transported to my first car, blasting these 12 songs louder than ever. I’m 17, I’m obsessed with girls and partying;  and I’m young and naive. The true pleasure of that time was the naivety, the thought that girls and partying were the only thought. For me, this album captures that primitive nostalgia the best way possible, through a dusty rearview mirror.

3. Father John Misty – Fear Fun

-My goodness. What a fun and thrilling album this is. It’s a step in several right directions for the former Fleet Fox, Josh Tillman. If his onstage demeanor behind those drums wasn’t proof enough, Tillman is a funny, cultured guy with a damn good voice. This album makes all those characteristics seem easy to come by, and although some of the hangovers and identity crisises that pop up here aren’t exactly envious, the Californian adventures that cause those mishaps certainly are.

2. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

-Solo project? Supergroup? Collaboration? Whatever this new wave/classic rock hybrid is categorized as in the years to come, I won’t forget that for a good month and a half, it was all I listened to. From the spiky, electronic swirl of “the Salton Sea” to the rustic, campfire-ready hymn “Civilian Stripes,” this record holds onto a simple mission statement throughout: collaborations should never stick to a particular genre. Britt and Dan will certainly outlive Divine Fits, but this record will always serve as a snapshot for this point in their careers, where the basic pleasures of a creative partnership were sought after, tampered with, and perfected.

1. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

-Although there wasn’t much UK music on this year’s list, Her Majesty’s rock and roll acts have always held a special place in my heart. And that’s where I’ll begin with this album, my heart. Sometimes when I hear certain parts on “Sweet Heart”–parts that are so moving, so emotionally wrenching–I comedically tilt my head to the left, smile with no teeth, and place my hands over my heart the way I imagine a father responds after hearing that his first born daughter is going to be a mother. It’s an intrinsic, undeniably visceral feeling that is (if you couldn’t tell) incredibly hard to put into words. The emotional make up of this record is a well-rounded mix of love, sadness, loathing, empathy, and ultimately, joy. Can you think of a better summation of life’s most intense feelings? As usual, J. Spaceman and crew use their pioneered noise-gospel to hammer home these terms. But, the group has never sounded so simple, so grounded. “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light,” is so vast in its account of human nature that I won’t soon forget its power, or the affect it has had on me since April. How could I?

First of all, happy new year! Second of all, 2012 was crazy, right? The first of several resolutions I plan on making this year is posting on this blog more (cross your fingers–if you care), and because I don’t have any snide art criticism or woozy memoirs about how the Beatles changed my life to write today, I’ll start by writing a description of a game I recently made up and perfected (I think.)

The game is called Bumpies. The name of which came from sitting in the back of car during a particularly bumpy ride on the way from Detroit to Chicago some months ago. This game is no doubt a time waster and VERY fun if you’re bored. I was able to perfect this over the recent holiday break when I left my mom’s house a total of 5 times in 8 days.

All you need is a smart phone and someone to play against–who also has a smartphone. You open up any Wikipedia app you may have. One person picks a topic (example: Sewing Machine), and both people go to that topic’s page, and the other person picks a topic completely unrelated to the page they’re both currently on (example: Django Unchained). The objective is to get to the second named topic by only clicking the Wikipedia links (not sources) on the pages. Who ever gets there first (and trust me, you can ALWAYS get there) wins.

Image

I know what you’re thinking, “Bumpies!?!? What do you mean?!?” But other than the title, I find this game to be mentally and competitively stimulating. A recent opponent told me that it’s a really good way to get to know how your brain chooses to connect certain topics. For instance, in the above picture, I chose to go a geographical route, while my opponent may have gone a historical route (History of American Slavery, et al.) A fun exercise at the completion of each round is to compare histories of each opponent’s app and see how each one connected the dots.

Bumpies is great for small get togethers with people that don’t have much to talk about, the aforementioned long car rides, holiday parties with cousins/siblings who are interesting, or if you’re bored at a coffee shop with people who are bored.

I’m positive I’m not the first person to think of this, but I figured I’d let whoever cares know about it before someone else does and takes all the credit. Again, happy new year and be sure to bookmark the blog for more semi-interesting posts like this! I’m gonna try in 2013, I swear.

Anniversary Post #1

This week marks the two-year anniversary of me taking this blog semi-seriously. So, there’s obviously no better way to celebrate that than to display some stuff that I didn’t even write! Right?

Mine and my buddy Dave’s approach to humor is interesting. Usually in the form of cryptic inside jokes involving music, writing, and/or food, we get a lot joy out of poking fun at the things we love.

This week I’ve been commissioning him via text message (and free of charge) to impersonate a famous writer describing/critiquing places in my neighborhood. Like I said, the humor is interpersonal and puzzling. But Dave is a good and funny writer, so you just might enjoy:

1.) The World’s most famous asshole rock critic Robert Christgau reviews Irazu, a hip Costa Rican restaurant a half a block from my house: “Costa Rica is the place all your hippie-conservationist-leaning friends went junior year to hammer some nails and pour trippy teas down their heretofore golden spoon-fed throats. Irazu is not run by such a paterfamilia, but it is still a sweaty affair. 30-somethings who think their newfound financial stability makes them lucky to pass the Gap on their way to Banana Republic sip $17 red wine, order onioned things, and stay too long. Try an oatmeal shake, Trevor. B-”

2.) Famously tangental and enigmatic rock critic Lester Bangs reviews Olivia’s Market, an overpriced, yuppie-filled grocery store: “What’s in a market’s HEART? I think we can all reasonably assume that, in general, some markets have a higher calling, even in that more-dogs-than-people stretch of Wicker Park. The arrangement of this fucking place is all dadaist angles and, even in the small quarters, gray mist where-the-Hell-am-I mustard confusion.”

3.) Ernest Hemingway describes our friend Hannah’s house in Oak Park: “The sun set over the train tracks. In its glow were row houses. The houses were built with old money. There used to be a pond there. Sometimes I cast my rod towards the houses. I know I’ll never catch anything but I can hope.”

4.) F. Scott Fitzgerald describes Sterling Goss, a slow, overpriced deli that sells huge and tasty sandwiches, also a half a block from my house: “The menu at Sterling Goss, that beacon of culinary light which sits firmly drilled into the street corner, is nearly unutterable in its magnificence. The servitude, though, is languid; smock-draped and meat-bloodied men take a molasses filled hour glass to create meals of stunning thickness and girth. Your money clip will feel lighter, but a rich man’s meal is the reward.”

5.) Literary lead singer of the Hold Steady Craig Finn writes a lyric about Estelle’s, a cheap bar that gets packed with hipsters hanging around the jukebox: “And on the Second Night me and some old townie friends went to the bar, it was crowded and cheap and maybe even a little desperate. “The jukebox is way in the back” said the tattooed girl behind the bar, and the three girls pumping quarters into it were yelling, slurring words by The Cars.”

So there you have it, some of the funniest stuff I’ve read all week. More to come. Cheers.

What Death Does to Fans

“What were you doing when (insert important rock musician here) died?” Is a familiar question. Everybody likes to ask it, and everybody likes to answer it. It’s always fun to talk about sadness, especially in retrospect. Can you imagine what it must have felt like to be in Central Park the night John Lennon died? Everyone crying in unison, singing “Strawberry Fields Forever” for hours on end, wouldn’t that have been fun? That kind of grand scale, forlorn adoration for a fallen hero is similar in action to when Kobe hits a game-winning jumper at home—EVERYONE cheers, except in Lennon’s case, everyone cried.  Sometimes it’s nice to experience sadness with others, for a change.

Whenever a musician dies, their fans almost always crave that kind of company. Taken prisoner by their sadness—or at least wanting to be—they are always in search of cellmates. The kind of people whom they see eye-to-eye with, the kind of person that says, “Yes, Saves the Day was the only thing that made sense to me when I was 14, too,” for example.

As we all know, there are varying degrees of fan hood; however, there’s really only one degree of sadness, so some overcompensate. If Chris Conley gets killed in a figurative plane crash, these overcompensators will also say out loud that his band was the only thing that made sense to them when they were 14, but it wasn’t. The overcompensation comes when people update their Facebook Statuses and Tweet their own eulogies and talk about what this means in the 21st century. When, in fact, the other guys, those guys that see eye-to-eye, are sitting at home spinning what they once thought to be the true voice of reason in the wretched world of adolescence—and maybe they still do. The latter is what every music fan secretly wants, their own personal December 8th. It’s hard to obtain, because you actually have to love the musician in question. Why do they want it? That’s easy, so that one day when someone asks, they can tell them in full detail about the night their favorite noise-rock guitarist died.

Which (finally) brings me to my point. Yesterday, Christopher Reimer, guitarist for the Canadian band Women, passed away in his sleep. This is shocking really, mainly because he was only 26 and the cause of his death is still unknown. The band’s relative obscurity didn’t seem to bother them—they put out two well-regarded guitar albums and played noisy 200 capacity shows all over North America for the better part of four years. What did bother Women, though, was Women. It seems they all hated each other, and one can kind of detect this in their music.

Numerous stories have been made of the bands well documented distaste for one another, including an on stage fist fight in Canada in 2010 that prompted an indefinite hiatus. However, after last night, it’s possible that Women is forever finished, as Reimer was purportedly an integral part, possibly be the most. I say purportedly because, with noise-rock it’s always hard to tell who is doing what, and, as an extension, what bands are important. Personally, I don’t think any band who bases their entire catalogue off ten seconds of a Sonic Youth tune can be considered ‘important’—that means you too, post-rock bands. I have been watching enough Youtube videos this morning to understand that Women’s music didn’t require as much talent as it required a sort of focused intensity, a fiery dissonance that obviously required a lot of rehearsal, and conceivably was just too hot to handle for the members of Women.

The band’s songs are rife with interplayed reverb-guitars, tension between the muddy drums and indiscernible vocals. Think early Pavement trying to cover “Marquee Moon.” That off-kilter crud is attractive to some. So it’s no doubt there are a lot of people mourning the mysterious death of the band’s fallen guitar god, this is obviously a testament to their fan hood, and I’ve already seen numerous Facebook posts about how chilling the passing of this young guitarist truly is. What I don’t know about though, are the thousands of die-hards, who haven’t taken to the ‘net to publish their blood-curdling eulogies, rather, spent their night soaking their cheeks to the distorted sound of four guys-turned-enemies duke it out with soaking reverb and insufficient drum sounds.

And then there are people like me, who never enjoyed the man’s music, had to look up his name when he died, but still are moved by his unexpected passing because it reminds them that their favorite living musicians can die at anytime. Maybe I’m just jealous though, because I haven’t had my December 8th yet. And last night, a lot of people who saw eye-to-eye on a now defunct band from Calgary did.