November 4, 2010

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP
punk-rock, garage-rock, indie-rock

Little I’ve heard this decade has blown me away quite like the opening moments of “Bang”, the first track on Yeah Yeah Yeah’s self-titled debut EP. An amazing, rubberband-riff of punchy electric guitar that’s been compressed to the width of a razor, it just about sawed me in half when it first burst out of my headphones, and when Karen O’s irrepressibly in-charge vocal slides in (how’s “take a swallow, as I spit, baby” for a lyric to introduce yourself to the world?) the whole song elevates to a higher level that’s just impossibly kick-ass. It’s clearly the highlight track here, and easily rates as one of the best songs of the decade, but the rest of the EP very nearly matches it, be it via the melodic punk-rock of “Mystery Girl” and “Our Time”, the rumbling, gravel-roar chorus and wickedly dirty humour of “Art Star” or the gritty propulsion of Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Yeah Yeah Yeahs“Miles Away”. A lightning-quick flash of pure, straight-from-the-garage attitude, it’s an EP so deserving of the spotlight that I’m choosing to honour it – rather than the group’s very good debut full-length Fever to Tell – with a place on this list. With its can’t-miss combination of jagged guitar lines and dynamic vocals, not to mention the added benefit of featuring arguably the most charismatic frontwoman in rock music today, Yeah Yeah Yeahs is a rough, sexy, rock-the-hell-out piece of work. The group have maintained a solid output in the meantime, yet in less than fifteen minutes this EP manages to eclipse all of it.



October 1, 2010

The Fiery FurnacesWidow City
experimental-rock, indie-pop

The Fiery Furnaces - Widow CityCall it Blueberry Boat’s slightly less accomplished little sibling, if you want. While the classic-rock influences and somewhat retro-focused approach certainly infuse Widow City with an identity all of its own amongst the Fiery’s body of work, it definitely stands as the release most similar in style to the duo’s breakout second album. The sprawling, genre-hopping, relentless creativity of Blueberry Boat is in full-force here, meaning that the album covers an awful lot of ground during its lengthy runtime – Eleanor makes her first attempt at old-school hip-hop, juxtaposed against blazing noise-rock and flourishes of harp, on “Automatic Husband”; the group’s trademark narrative-based story-songs are delivered on “The Philadelphia Grand Jury”, “My Egyptian Grammar”, “Cabaret of the Seven Devils” and a few more tracks besides, and they’re just as engrossing, unique and highly unusual as ever before; “Clear Signal From Cairo” is a hard-rock track that’s heavier than anything the Friedberger’s have created before or since; “Wicker Whatnots” features some subterranean basslines and drums so skittish they border on Squarepusher; and the title-track is perhaps the strangest of all, being made up of fractured bursts of upright piano and fluttering effects-filtered percussion. Importantly, there are a number of more accessible, relatively straightforward cuts to offset all this mayhem, with tunes like “Duplexes of the Dead” (which features some great wah-wah), “Ex-Guru”, “Right By Conquest” and “Pricked in the Heart” keeping proceedings from getting too out of hand. All this makes Widow City an incredibly charming effort, with enough great songs and clever ideas packed into its sixteen tracks to thoroughly satisfy any fan of exciting, forward-thinking rock music.


September 30, 2010

FugaziThe Argument
post-hardcore, indie-rock

You’d be hard pressed to think of many instances where a long-running group’s last album was regarded by many as their best, but that’s the case with The Argument, the seventh and final post-hardcore statement in an eleven year career for Ian MacKaye and Co before their indefinite hiatus. While I’ve never been much of a post-hardcore guru, I can’t imagine the genre getting much more polished, nuanced and sophisticated than this, to the point that, in this case, the label may be on the verge of being a misnomer. The album’s more “rough-and-ready” tracks like “Cashout”, “Full Disclosure” and “Ex-Spectator” serve their purposes as throwbacks to the genre’s blueprint, but if anything sound more like new-millennium updates, while the more experimental works like “The Kill”, “Strangelight”, “Nightshop” and “Oh” (my personal favourite) defy easy categorisation. There are string sections on many of Fugazi - The Argumentthe tracks, a range of multi-part song-structures and even regular appearances by a second drummer, all of which, when combined with the powerful vocals, adrenaline-pumping play style and ever-sharp songwriting and lyricism, make for a truly thrilling album that’s also rich with fine detail. The other thing about The Argument is its subtlety – it’s a slow grower that reveals new gems with every listen.


September 22, 2010

The Hold SteadyBoys and Girls in America
indie-rock, pub-rock

Their inescapable hooks, bar-band swagger and E-Street Band piano fireworks might initially hook you in, but it’s Craig Finn’s literary-minded storytelling that’ll keep you coming back for more. Boys and Girls in America sounds deceptively shallow when you first spin through it, with its big, dumb pub-rock sound being extremely satisfying but never overly challenging. It’s only once you start to really tap into Finn’s lyrics that the conceptual, dense, multi-layered nature of the album becomes apparent, with its small cast of detailed characters who spend their nights drifting between house parties, cars, concerts, makeout sessions, alleyways, drinking binges, drug experimentation and seriously flawed The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in Americarelationships. These stories are portrayed in a manner and tone that sways between contemplation (often regret) and celebration, and it always rings with truth and poignancy. The album opens with a Kerouac-referencing ode to poet John Berryman, entitled “Stuck Between Stations”, which is arguably the album’s highlight, outdoing anything on the band’s two prior records and thus setting the bar extremely high for the remainder of Boys and Girls in America. Thankfully they continue to deliver, and this is definitely one of those well-sequenced albums which boast a very even level of quality and consistency across their runtime – all of my personal favourite tracks (“Stuck Between Stations”, “Hot Soft Light”, “Same Kooks”, “First Night”, “Massive Nights” and “Chillout Tent”) are very evenly spaced, keeping my excitement and enjoyment peaked throughout. For anyone who spent a decent portion of their late teens and early twenties lost, confused and partying (or anyone who finds character studies of these people fascinating), you’ll definitely find plenty here that not only makes you shake it, but also keeps you thoroughly engrossed.


July 7, 2010

Sonic Youth – Murray Street
indie-rock, noise-rock

With Murray Street, Sonic Youth released one of the most restrained, low-key and blatantly non-experimental albums of their career, one that’s accessible in a way that seems almost Sonic Youth - Murray Streetout of character for the band. Sure, there’s a handful of experimental bits and pieces – the most obvious being the lengthy squall of guitar noise tacked onto the end of “Karen Revisited” – but for the most part the album is driven by highly melodic guitar lines and consistent percussion that allows pretty much every song to settle into a nice groove that’s catchy and effortlessly listenable. It’s particularly apparent on the opening trifecta of “Disconnection Notice”, “The Empty Page” and “Rain on Tin”, as Thurston Moore’s vocal stays constantly in second-gear, and the guitar melodies are foot-tappy and mellow in a way that signifies an unmistakable maturity that really suits the group. Thankfully, none of this makes Murray Street any less engaging than Sonic Youth’s other albums, as the combination of intensity, tight playing and fine songwriting that has always been their trademark remains well-and-truly intact. There’s no denying, though, that Sonic Youth sound comfortable and confident here in a way that’s not quite like anything they’ve done before, and the result is one of their best releases in over a decade.


July 7, 2010

Frog Eyes – The Golden River
indie-rock, experimental-rock, psych-rock

One of the more overtly unusual albums to fall under the very expansive umbrella known as “indie-rock”, The Golden River is a trip quite unlike any other. Frog Eyes’ lead singer andFrog Eyes - The Golden River principal songwriter, Carey Mercer, carries the image of something of an indie elder statesman or mentor, notable for having taken critical-favourite Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown) under his wing, and his passionate, deformed-Bowie delivery is going to be the first hurdle most listeners encounter. If his all-over-the-shop whimper-hollering and bizarre lyrical imagery aren’t enough to scare you away, then all that’s left is to get a feel for the haunted fun house on acid instrumentation and totally unpredictable song structures that blur and creep and wind through the album like hallucinations. If you manage all this, then you’re all set to experience and enjoy one of the genre’s most truly unique groups. This isn’t quite their creative peak – that came with the 2007 song “Bushels”, which is just devastatingly good, although this album’s “One in Six Children Will Flee in Boats” comes close – but as far as I’m concerned it’s their finest album overall.