Tennis is the one and only sport that I like—and as you might imagine, when I like something I really like it. The bummer though is that I really only know two or three people who like the sport. And when it comes to the blog/facebook/tumblr/twitter-verse, all my proclamations and exclamations about tennis may as well be shouted into the void. So in an attempt to convince you, my indie rock obsessed readers, that tennis can be as epic, elegant, and engrossing as anything a band from Brooklyn can do, I wanted to speak to you in your language. As we head into the second week of the Australian Open, I want to introduce you to each of the players on the men's side and explain the matchups as you would understand them: as a battle of the bands. Once you're through this post you'll know exactly who to root for the rest of the week.
1. ROGER FEDERER  vs LLEYTON HEWITT 
aka RADIOHEAD vs BUILT TO SPILL
Roger Federer, like Radiohead, dominates the conversation with every move he makes. He's won more slams than any other man in history and can't really do any wrong with fans or critics. Even people who don't like him have major respect. When he has a bad year he gets major shit—much like the drubbing certain quarters like to give Hail to the Thief—even though pretty much every tennis player alive would aspire to have a "bad Federer year" (in 2008, aka the tragic fall of Federer, he only made it to every major semi-final the US Open).
Lleyton Hewitt, meanwhile, is Built to Spill. His greatest years are behind him and you still root for him, but if you're honest with yourself you don't really expect much more than solid playing.
2. FERNANDO VERDASCO  vs NIKOLAY DAVYDENKO 
aka BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE vs JUSTICE
Verdasco is Broken Social Scene—a totally solid player capable of utter transcendence, though not consistently. His You Forgot It in People moment came in an epic five-set Australian Open semi-final against Rafael Nadal last year; he lost, but he gained the respect of anyone who saw it.
Davydenko is Justice. He's a mystery man hiding in plain sight, and his style of playing is not like everyone else (he defends much better than he attacks). He's easy to overlook but he's a total master at what he does. If this were a Pitchfork best-of-the-year list Davydenko would be that record from outside the indie rock genre that sneaks into the top five. [ETA: fuck, I meant to compare him to Burial, not Justice. But in a way that just proves my point more.]
3. NOVAK DJOKOVIC  vs LUKASZ KUBOT
aka LCD SOUNDSYSTEM vs INLETS
There was a moment a couple years ago where it felt like Djokovic (aka LCD Soundsystem) was going to give Federer and Nadal a run for their money as best in the world. He came really close—winning the 2008 Australian Open was a good start—and he hasn't totally left that conversation. In the meantime, while people are waiting for him to assert himself again—something he's totally capable of doing—a whole bunch of other guys have entered that conversation.
As for Kubot, I've never heard of the guy. Nor have I heard of Inlets.
4. JO-WILFRIED TSONGA  vs NICOLAS ALMAGRO 
aka BATTLES vs ANNUALS
Tsonga's "Atlas" came in 2008, when he upset Nadal to make it into the Australian Open final. He'd been around before that, but the event felt like a debut from out of nowhere. Despite a quiet 2009, Tsonga is a player to be reckoned with and his best stuff is still ahead of him. Almagro is Annuals: totally solid and good but not anyone people talk about much.
5. ANDY RODDICK  vs FERNANDO GONZALEZ 
aka WILCO vs WOLF PARADE
Roddick is Wilco. There was a time, a few years ago, where he was among the most exciting, unstoppable players in the game. Today he's still super compelling (see last year's Wimbledon final), and you still get excited for his matches, but there's an aura of predictability about him—other, younger, more exciting and daring players are out there, getting you excited the way he used to. Gonzalez is Wolf Parade—similar to the way Almagro is Annuals, but Gonzalez is more potent and potentially more shocking and inspiring.
6. MARIN CILIC  vs JUAN-MARTIN DEL POTRO 
aka GIRLS vs DIRTY PROJECTORS
Marin Cilic is the buzziest player of the tournament, hence the Girls tag. He's a young up-and-comer who is expected to make a splash this year. Maybe he won't go all the way to the final, but he'll get people talking about him (if they aren't already). Del Potro is sort of the same but at a higher level. 2008–2009 was his buzz time—sort of his Rise Above period—but since winning the US Open over Federer last year, he's clearly into Bitte Orca territory.
7. ANDY MURRAY  vs JOHN ISNER 
aka GRIZZLY BEAR vs NO AGE
Like Del Potro, Murray (aka Grizzly Bear) is a player who has positioned himself to contend for the top spot. Like Grizzly Bear, Murray is humorless and sometimes polarizing—and possibly overhyped (he hasn't won a slam, after all). John Isner, aka No Age, is on a level similar to Cilic—lots of buzz but not much of a career yet to back it up. He might be the real deal; he might disappear in couple of years.
8. IVO KARLOVIC vs RAFAEL NADAL 
aka SUNNO))) vs ARCADE FIRE
Ivo Karlovic, nicknamed "Dr. Ivo," intimidates everyone. He's 6'10" and has a monstrous serve that terrifies anyone who faces it. The thing is, that's kinda all he has. Last year I read an interview with him where he said something to the effect of "okay, I have one thing I do really well; but if I win by only doing that one thing, doesn't that make me some kind of genius?" So, SunnO))).
Nadal, meanwhile, is the Arcade Fire. At times he can feel like the greatest player in the world—sort of like how you might call Funeral the best album of the decade until someone reminds you about Kid A. And then you're like, "oh yeah, duh." Like the Arcade Fire Nadal succeeds because of an overwhelmingly earnest desire to win, as opposed to Federer's effortless elegance which simply makes him the greatest without seeming like he's trying. There will always be a place for Nadal in the annals of tennis history, though I'd place bets on his career ending earlier than you'd like it to.
Harry Nilsson, Pandemonium Shadow Show
Vampire Weekend, Contra (2)
Wire, Pink Flag
Sam Cooke, The Best of Sam Cooke
The Everly Brothers, The Best of the Everly Brothers
John Vanderslice, Romanian Names
Harmonia & Eno 76, Tracks and Traces (2)
Spoon, Transference (4)
Four Tet, There is Love in You
Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha
Ash Ra Tempel, Join Inn
1. The more ambient stuff I've been getting into, coupled with the renewed desire for more krautrock and early electronica pioneers, has led me to finally giving Klaus Schulze a try. I've never really given Schulze much serious consideration before—a quick look at this 100+ album discography was enough to scare me off—but he's been on my periphery for a while. With no real sense of how to enter such a sprawling discography that spans 40 years, I figured the best thing to do was start at the beginning and pick up Irrlicht, from 1972—three tracks adding up to fifty minutes, notable for being droney ambient soundscapes but using no synthesizers or electronic instruments. It's a good album, in an intellectual sort of way—I'm not going to bust it out at parties, in other words. But it's a promising beginning.
2. I was at Amoeba a week later and, despite no longer being able to load CDs onto my ancient Mac and only being able to hear them while driving (something I don't do often), I bought more new-to-me krautrock: Harmonia's Deluxe and Ash Ra Tempel's Join Inn (which I mistook for their debut because I saw that Schulze was in the lineup, and I'd just read that, as he'd done with Tangerine Dream, he left the group not long after forming it; in fact he briefly returned for this two-track record).
3. Geeking out about my new purchases, despite being unable to hear them, I started wasting time on Wikipedia and ILM. Because frankly, the web of krautrock connections in the 70s is baffling. Schulze started Tangerine Dream with Conrad Schnitzler, who was simultaneously in Kluster with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius. Then Schnitzler and Schulze quit Tangerine Dream and Schulze started Ash Ra Tempel, which he then quit (and who eventually, years later, changed their name to Ashra). Then Schnitzler quit Kluster and they changed their name to Cluster and continued as a duo. Then Cluster teamed up with Michael Rother of Neu! and the trio called themselves Harmonia, which functioned simultaneously with Neu!. Then they made a record with Brian Eno and called themselves Harmonia 76. Then Neu! broke up and Harmonia broke up and Cluster kept making records and Michael Rother went solo and his partner in Neu!, Klaus Dinger, started La Düsseldorf. Then Cluster made their own record with Eno, which they called Cluster & Eno, then they made another and called it Moebius Roedelius Eno. Or something like that? Meanwhile Schulze kept making a million solo records, and so did Schnitzler, and I haven't even gotten to other iconic bands who were more on the organic psyche-rock tip than they were electronica, like Can and Faust and Guru Guru and Amon Düül and Amon Düül II and Amon Düül UK. And then, you know, Kraftwerk. And I even read somewhere that the Scorpions of all bands factored in somewhere though I don't know if that's all true.
If you've ever read Homer's Iliad, you know there's this ridiculous chapter early on where Agamemnon inspects his ships before they go to war, and something like 852 different characters are introduced, all of whom factor into the epic at one point or another, so good luck remembering who's who when they show up for their turn in the spotlight. Reading about all the different krautrock permutations sort of felt like that chapter.
4. Now seems like a good time to remind you of my obsessive nature. When I realized I loved Graham Greene, I decided that I needed to read each and every one of his twenty-eight novels. In a row, in chronological order. (Almost done.) When I realized I loved the Byrds, I decided I needed to buy their albums in chronological order, roughly spacing out each new acquisition to correspond with how much time separated their original releases, so that I would go through the cycle of consuming, digesting, and craving that a Byrds fan in the 1960s/70s would. For God's sakes I keep track of every single album I listen to every single week, and I do this manually—none of this automated last.fm bullshit. And then every three months I look at this list and analyze it statistically. All that is to preface this: I made a list.
5. Quick interjection: I said to my brilliant wife the other day, in all seriousness, "I fear I may be a dilettante."
6. In an effort to wrap my head around the environment in which all these records were made, I tracked down all these bands' discographies, mingled them all together, and organized them by year. I find this immensely helpful as far as tracing the roots of the electronica strain of krautrock and also just seeing what came first for all of these bands, in a "you can't have Sgt. Peppers without Pet Sounds and you can't have Pet Sounds without Revolver" sort of way. I can't expect to get all of these—I'm not that crazy—but this list does give me a kind of road map as to what to get first, etc.
So, presented for your benefit and/or bemusement: krautrock, 1969–1979. If I forgot any seminal or otherwise noteworthy acts that factor into this universe, let me know so I can update my list.
Amon Düül: Psychedelic Underground and Collapsing/Singvögel Rückwärts & Co.
Amon Düül II: Phallus Dei
Can: Monster Movie
Holger Czukay: Canaxis
Amon Düül II: Yeti
Eruption (aka Conrad Schnitzler and friends): Eruption
Guru Guru: UFO
The Organisation (aka Kraftwerk): Tone Float
Popol Vuh: Affenstunde
Tangerine Dream: Electronic Meditation
Amon Düül: Paradieswärts Düül
Amon Düül II: Tanz der Lemminge/Dance of the Lemmings
Ash Ra Tempel: Ash Ra Tempel
Can: Tago Mago
Guru Guru: Hinten
Popol Vuh: In den Gärten Pharaos
Tangerine Dream: Alpha Centauri
Agitation Free: Malesch
Amon Düül: Disaster
Amon Düül II: Carnival in Babylon and Wolf City
Ash Ra Tempel: Schwingungen
Can: Ege Bamyasi
Cluster: Cluster II
Embryo: Father Sons & Holy Ghosts
Faust: Faust So Far
Guru Guru: Känguru
Klaus Schulze: Irrlicht
Kraftwerk: Kraftwerk 2
Popol Vuh: Hosianna Mantra
Tangerine Dream: Zeit
Timothy Leary & Ash Ra Tempel: Seven Up
Agitation Free: 2nd
Amon Düül II: Vive La Trance and Utopia
Ash Ra Tempel: Join Inn and Starring Rosi
Can: Future Days
Embryo: Steig aus, Rocksession, and We Keep On
Faust: The Faust Tapes
Faust & Tony Conrad: Outside of the Dream Syndicate
Guru Guru: Don't Call Us, We Call You and Guru Guru
Klaus Schulze: Cyborg
Kraftwerk: Ralf und Florian
Neu!: Neu! 2
Popol Vuh: Seligpreisung
Tangerine Dream: Atem
Agitation Free: Last
Amon Düül II: Hijack
Ash Ra Tempel: Inventions for Electric Guitar
Can: Soon Over Babaluma
Faust: Faust IV
Guru Guru: Dance of the Flames and Der Elektrolurch
Harmonia: Muzik von Harmonia
Klaus Schulze: Blackdance
Popol Vuh: Einsjäger und Siebenjäger
Tangerine Dream: Phaedra
Amon Düül II: Made in Germany
Ash Ra Tempel: La Berceau de Cristal
Guru Guru: Mani und seine Freunde
Klaus Schulze: Picture Music and Timewind
Neu!: Neu! 75
Popol Vuh: Das Hohelied Salomos and Aguirre
Tangerine Dream: Rubycon and Ricochet
Amon Düül II: Pyragony X
Ashra: New Age of Earth
Can: Flow Motion
Embryo: Bad Heads & Bad Cats
Guru Guru: Tango Fango
Harmonia 76: Tracks and Traces
Klaus Schulze: Moondawn
La Düsseldorf: La Düsseldorf
Popol Vuh: Letzte Tage - Letzte Nächte
Tangerine Dream: Stratosfear
Amon Düül II: Almost Alive…
Can: Saw Delight
Cluster & Eno: Cluster & Eno
Embryo: Apo Calypso
Guru Guru: Globetrotter
Klaus Schulze: Body Love and Mirage
Kraftwerk: Trans-Europe Express
Michael Rother: Flammende Herzen
Popol Vuh: Herz aus Glas
Tangerine Dream: Encore
Can: Out of Reach
Cluster & Eno: After the Heat
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Durch Die Wüste
Klaus Schulze: X
Kraftwerk: The Man-Machine
La Düsseldorf: Viva
Michael Hoenig: Departure from the Northern Wasteland
Michael Rother: Sterntaler
Moebius & Friends: Liliental
Popol Vuh: Brüder des Schattens - Söhne des Lichts and Nosferatu
Tangerine Dream: Cyclone
Amon Düül II: Only Human
Cluster: Grosses Wasser
Embryo: Embryo's Reise
Guru Guru: Hey du
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Jardin au Fou and Selbstportrait
Holger Czukay: Movies
Klaus Schulze: Dune
Richard Wahnfried (aka Klause Shulze): Time Actor
Michael Rother: Katzenmusik
Popol Vuh: Die Nacht der Seele
Tangerine Dream: Force Majeure
1. Simultaneous to how it all started, in fact simultaneous to everything I've been listening to for the last year or two, was my ongoing if slow consumption of all things krautrock—a genre I thought I was "into" many years ago but upon further reflection all I really was "into" was Tago Mago and, like, Tortoise. So after grabbing the Neu! and La Düsseldorf discographies and beginning to do the same with Faust and Amon Düül II, I started itching for new catalogs to sink into.
I don't know what made me search Cluster on eMusic for the fifth time since joining a year ago, but I did and was happily surprised to find that they'd added a bunch of their records. I'd snatch up a Cluster immediately no matter when I saw it, but this instance happened to dovetail with when I bought the Mountains album, so my ratio of instrumental spacey shit was increasing at a quick clip. I went for the earliest one on offer, Soweisoso. Since picking it up I've been going back to it over and over again as it continues to reveal itself to me. Cluster belongs on the "pioneering electronica" side of the krautrock coin, as opposed to the "pioneering prog/psychedelic" side, and from what I've heard they seem to do it better than the various Klaus Dinger-related projects. They're not as funny, nor as repetitive—Neu!'s two most definitive qualities—and they're more compelling for it.
2. Simultaneous to my purchase of Soweisoso and the Mountains record, my brilliant wife and I were having a conversation about music and our impending baby, due any day now. (In fact, I've been posting a song a day for Baby Tennent on my Tumblr, in case you don't follow me there.) This got my brilliant wife to repeat her desire for Raymond Scott's Soothing Sounds for Baby. Scott, if you're not familiar with him, was a pioneer of electronic music back in the 60s (as well as a jazz player who composed soundtracks for cartoons). He made three Soothing Sounds albums at the time—abstract sound works meant to lull your baby to sleep (each of the three albums was meant to be played at different points in the baby's development, with the sounds and patterns getting more and more complicated as the baby gets older). Again I went to eMusic and again I was surprised to find that they were available, despite my certainty that I'd looked once before and came up empty. I downloaded volume 1 and was pleasantly surprised to find that it... kinda sounded like Cluster! (Though the Soothing Sounds are about ten years older than Soweisoso.) Honestly, I had them on shuffle—yes, I even put my ambient music on shuffle sometimes—and I wasn't always sure who was who. That's a good thing, and I don't really give a shit if this soothes Baby Tennent or not. It soothes me!
3. Simultaneous to these purchases—this is roughly that week between Christmas and New Years—I received the first Silver Apples album as a gift. I'd put it on an Amazon wishlist about three years ago and never revisited the wishlist again. My Sister-in-Law has just been winnowing down the wishlist every year and has finally gotten to the point where everything on the list is totally obscure and mysterious to her, so she took a shot with this one—thank God! Silver Apples gets a little repetitive after a while--at least two songs seem to use the exact same bassline—but all such negatives are erased by the constant reminder that these guys were making this record in freakin' 1967. This got me thinking about the similarly pioneering United States of America along with the Raymond Scott and Cluster records, and I got this notion that not only do I need to return to electronic music—a genre I'd once been pretty into, some time back!--but I needed specifically to immerse myself in the genre's origin point. What a great and inspiring world to explore, don't you think? Then I was directed to this blog which is uploading 62 discs worth of 60s-70s electronica and I was overcome by fear of what that would do to my hard drive. I mean, that's an amazing resource but I think I need to take baby steps. I'm going to act like I didn't see it.
4. Simultaneous to that, I keep checking in on my friends' blog the Cargo Culte, which consistently has excellent mixes (not counting, okay, when they do powerviolence clusterfucks, but that's just me). I don't know how many random songs I picked up from them over the course of that week, but it was a bunch and they too fit this mold of instrumental, ambient, drone, space, electronic.
5. Simultaneous to that, I was reading that Coke Machine Glow blurb for Mountains' Choral, which noted that 2009 was a really excellent year for ambient records, so I scribbled all their recommendations down and generally kept an eye out specifically for other sites' mentions of the genre's 09 peaks. Most often championed seemed to be Emeralds, so I gobbled up What Happened; and I also started hearing of White Rainbow, so I tracked down New Clouds. The latter speaks to me more; there's something cold and unwelcoming about the Emeralds disc, though it is good, whereas White Rainbow's four twentysomething-minute tracks manage to be hazy and dense and spacious and varied and immersive all at once.
1. It started with burning out on everyone's end of year/end of decade lists, which began in August and are still going strong in some corners of my RSS reader. All that Radiohead, all that Animal Collective! Never mind the Arcade Fire and the LCD Soundsystem and the Dirty Projectors and the Grizzly Bear. God, even the stuff I liked in the first place I was beginning to dislike. It brought home in an acute way both how much and how little my tastes align with Pitchfork. It doubly brought home how redundant most blogs I read are—how much they echo Pitchfork, how much they hold their noses at Pitchfork, how much they watch Pitchfork like its ratings were horses rounding the track on Derby Day. That's partly how it started.
2. It started with that Bear in Heaven album, Beast Rest Forth Mouth, which is not a bad record but is also just frustrating enough to not be a great record, either. I knew nothing about Bear in Heaven before hearing one of their songs in a Cargo Culte mix and being knocked out by it. Then ten minutes later I came across another song by them—someone I follow on tumblr posted it, I can't remember who. Anyway I liked it and I was itchy for something new so I downloaded the album. First impression was a good one. I thought, "this guy who is clearly a solo artist making a rad record in his bedroom is doing some cool shit and has a lot of promise." But then I read that they're not a solo bedroom project but a full band, which made me revise my thought to "dude, these guys need to tell their singer he doesn't always need to be front and center. He could stand to take a piss break here and there and let the music stretch out a little." That doesn't exactly lessen the bottom line—Bear in Heaven has promise, yes—but nevertheless the more I listened to BRFM the more critical I became and the less imaginative it felt. The reverb'd vocals, the electroni-rock vibe, the moodiness of the whole thing. Bear in Heaven have some great tracks like "Deafening Love" and "You Do You," but they don't do enough to rise above their genre. Whatever genre that is; I didn't listen to anything in 2009, I don't think, that fell under this tag "glo-fi" or "chillwave" or whatever. I mean, I don't think I did. Did I? Listening to Bear in Heaven I started to think maybe I'd officially heard something in that genre but I can't be sure. You tell me.
3. It started when I was trying to make my own end of year list and couldn't come up with more than two albums from 2009 that I felt were worthy of shouting from the rooftops. It occurred to me that it couldn't be 2009's fault, or music's fault; it had to be mine.
4. It started with the For Carnation's 2000 self-titled album, which I've been listening to a lot in the last year. Though the album features an ex-Slint guy, and I did start listening to it again because of the book I'm writing, the For Carnation and its records factor into my book exactly not at all. I just started craving it. It's such a minimally played album—as in, the musicians play simple things, slowly and simply; not that it's under-heard and under-appreciated, though that's true too. The patience on display on that record, the restraint, is quite lovely. I used to get off on bands that did this kind of thing all the time, and in fact a band like the For Carnation was a real gateway drug for me; in the late 90s I segued pretty naturally from slowcore and post-rock acts to space rock and ambient artists—basically everything Kranky records put out, more or less. But somewhere a few years ago I stopped pursuing new bands or artists that were trading in that kind of music; and my turntable broke so a lot of those artists I loved became inaccessible. It's shameful, I know, that the turntable is still broken. But I digress: the point is, I had this epiphany: remember ambient? remember drone? remember space rock?
5. It started with a couple end of year lists I read after all the genre fatigue had set in. Specifically, the lists at Coke Machine Glow and Swan Fungus. For some reason I paused at CMG's rundown on Mountains' album, Choral (released this year on Thrill Jockey—another label I once devoured but have not diligently kept track of for years). And Swan Fungus—well, that dude's list basically kept me buzzing for a whole afternoon.
So that's how it all started. What happened was, I've spent the last month basically turning my back on indie rock and a lot of blogs I'd previously kept an eye on (not all of them, and probably not yours) in exchange for immersing myself in ambient, drone, electronica, etc.—both new and old. I say this with full awareness of the fact that I played the crap out of the new Vampire Weekend last week and I look forward to hearing the new Spoon posthaste. But to my head these are feeling like the exceptions and not the rules. My listening habits have been diverted lately. Whether it's just a phase or not, I don't know. More on this subject soon.
Now that January is upon us it is time, as every January, to look forward with some optimism to all the potentially awesome music slated to enter our lives. I've got reasonably high hopes for a lot of records slated to come out in the next three months. As underwhelmed as I ultimately was with indie rock circa 2009, bands like Midlake, Spoon, Four Tet, and the Ruby Suns have all factored significantly into my love of indie in the last five years or so.
Vampire Weekend: Contra (January 12)
Maybe it's a little disingenuous to say I'm "looking forward" to Contra, considering that I've already listened to it twice through since they started streaming it from their MySpace this week. My impression of the record is still fresh and vague, but I'm eager to sink my teeth into a bit more. My initial sense is that it's not terribly different from their debut, barring a few ill-fitting new coats here and there (auto-tune, for instance). How much that's a good thing or bad thing I don't really know yet; but Contra has made a good enough first impression that I want to keep getting to know it.
Spoon: Transference (January 19)
A new Spoon album is both exciting and not exciting. Not exciting because by now you know more or less what to expect: cool, full of swagger, kinda minimalist, exquisitely produced. Exciting because, oh yeah, Spoon are awesome. Two out of their last three albums are the best they ever did, and "not their best" is still pretty damn enjoyable. Of all the albums I'm looking forward to, this is the surest bet and that's fine by me. I thought "Got Nuffin," the single from this record which they released last year, was somewhat run-of-the-mill and not terribly thrilling, but then yesterday I heard "Written in Reverse" and all the thrills were there.
Beach House: Teen Dream (January 26)
Devotion, Beach House's last album, was mostly good or great and a little plodding in spots. It wasn't a perfect record, mostly owing to the band's dedication to their clearly defined aesthetic—slow tempos, drum machine, crystalline guitar, looming organ, and Victoria LeGrand's commanding vocals. That is, it's a beautiful combination but it begins to feel a little stale after a while. What little I've heard of Teen Dream has me at least a little excited. The tempo seems to have picked up in spots and at least a couple of songs have taken on a 70s, Fleetwood Macky vibe. I don't want the whole record to feel like that, but I like the idea that some of the record might feel like that. The slightest variety would go a long way.
Four Tet: There Is Love In You (January 26)
It's been five years since the last proper Four Tet album, though Kieren Hebden has been busy enough during the interim with his jazz/electronica hybrid albums with Steve Reid and a few sporadic Four Tet EPs and singles. Reemerging full force as Four Tet, it seems Hebden has developed a yen for actual dance music, as opposed to the more heady stuff of his earlier releases. 2008's wonderful Ringer EP reminded me of Orbital—not necessarily a bad thing—and "Love Cry," the first single from There Is Love In You, seems even more tailored toward the rave set. I'm not totally sold on it, but Four Tet's last three albums (plus Ringer) have garnered enough good will that I'm going to trust Hebden's got more up his sleeve.
Midlake: The Courage of Others (February 2)
Of everything listed here, this is the one I'm looking forward to the most. I must have played The Trials of Van Occupanther for nearly a year straight; it easily stands as one of my favorite records of the last five years. And when I finally tired of that album, I was pleased to find that their debut, Banman and Silvercork, is also quite terrific, if in a less 70s-inspired way. The Courage of Others is an album I've been waiting a good year for, maybe more, so my hopes are probably abnormally high. I've chosen not to listen to any advance mp3s or leaks, and I'm trying not to read too much about the album either (though that's a little hard to do), all in the effort to hear the whole record fresh from start to finish. The cynic in me says that's all probably a recipe for disappointment, but the optimist fanboy in me has told the cynic to shove it.
Shearwater: The Golden Archipelago (February 23)
At the other end of the spectrum, this is probably the one album on this list that I might not actually bother to buy. I spent a good part of 2007 listening to Rooks, and while I liked a lot of it I was also put off by Jason Meiburg's vocal mannerisms in a number of songs. And really, you've got to either love that aspect of Shearwater or hate it. "Castaways," the first single, clearly lets me know that nothing has changed on that front. I liked Rooks at the time, but two years later I rarely feel the desire to put it on. Still, I'm a little curious to hear the new one.
The Ruby Suns: Fight Softly (March 2)
I seem to be the only person, other than my brilliant wife, who really got into the Ruby Suns' last album, 2008's Sea Lion. Something about the watery effects, the world rhythms, the spaciness, the Os Mutantes-meets-Jesus and Mary Chain vibe—it got under my skin and I really dug it. I haven't heard anything about this newest album; should I expect it to be similar to Sea Lion? Should I expect it to be wildly different? I don't think I'd be surprised either way, nor do I think I'd be displeased. This band deserves more love, so keep an eye out for this record.
Am I missing anything? What else should I be excited about? Take a look at the next three months and let me know what's got you stoked.
Those 289 albums broken down by decade of release:
2009: 23 (on par with 24 2008 releases last year)
2000–08: 78 (on par with 79 00–07 releases I heard last year)
1990s: 63 (way up from 22 in 2008)
1980s: 45 (more than double what I heard in 2008—21)
1970s: 31 (down from 40)
1960s: 42 (up from 30)
1940s-50s: 4 (down from 9)
It’s almost kind of eerie that the amount of music from this decade that I consumed is almost identical to what I consumed in 2008. Meanwhile time spent with music from the 80s and 90s spiked (something I told you would show up in these stats). I definitely felt that was the case.
Broken down by anal-compulsive iTunes genre tags:
Indie Rock: 69
Classic Indie: 67
60s Rock: 22
Jazz/Dinner Music: 9
Avant-Garde, Metal, Oldies: 4 each
70s Rock: 3
French, Psychedelic: 1 each
These numbers are more or less on par with the way this shook out by genre last year. If I were to make a pie chart the only slice that would be much smaller would be 70s Rock—down from 15 unique albums listened to last year. And the biggest jump—the only really big difference—is Classic Indie, up from 18 unique albums last year. Once again clearly due to my research/nostalgia that was so prevalent this year.
Now we break it down even more: which specific albums took up the most listening time this year? I want to look at it two ways: first, by the records that spent the most weeks in rotation; second, by the records with highest play counts.
Neko Case: Middle Cyclone
Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion
Dr. Dog: Fate
Andrew Bird: Noble Beast
Little Joy: s/t
Animal Collective: Sung Tongs
Cass McCombs: Catacombs
The For Carnation: s/t
Akron/Family: Set ‘em Wild, Set’em Free
Dillard & Clark: The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark
Faust: Faust IV
Galaxie 500: Today
John Vanderslice: Romanian Names
Karp: Self-Titled LP
Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs
10 of these 15 albums were acquired in 2009, so it makes sense that I’d listen to these the most intently. Of the remaining 5 albums, the Dr. Dog and Little Joy albums were bought in 2008 and the Karp, Galaxie 500, and For Carnation records were all originally purchased 10 years or more back. I’m surprised to find that I actually spent more weeks listening to the For Carnation than I did Spiderland!
So, let’s see how this list looks if I rank the albums by how many times I actually played an individual record all the way through.
22 plays: Andrew Bird, Noble Beast
21 plays: Neko Case, Middle Cyclone
17 plays: Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion
12 plays: Dillard & Clark, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark; John Vanderslice, Romanian Names
10 plays: Akron/Family: Set ‘em Wild, Set ‘em Free; The Byrds, Ballad of Easy Rider; Cass McCombs, Catacombs; Dr. Dog, Fate; Little Joy, s/t
Again, not super surprising which albums got the most play—all but Dr. Dog and Little Joy were new to me this year. But a little surprising to see a) that Animal Collective got beat out by Bird and Case, despite my sense that MPP is my favorite album of the year; and b) that once again Slint didn’t actually make it onto the list. (Of course, I’ve been listening to Spiderland since about 1994). Part of that could be that I spent more time listening to multiple albums by the same artists, dispersing some of the concentrated plays. So let’s look at total plays by artist instead of by album:
30 plays: Animal Collective
28 plays: Andrew Bird
23 plays: Neko Case
19 plays: The Byrds
18 plays: Tortoise, Gene Clark/Dillard & Clark
12 plays: John Vanderslice
11 plays: Slint
10 plays: Mission of Burma; Little Joy; Harry Nilsson; Dr. Dog; Cass McCombs; Akron/Family
This feels a lot closer to what I feel my 2009 was like. Taken this way, Animal Collective ascends to the top of the list, Slint (along with Tortoise, Mission of Burma, and Harry Nilsson) suddenly appear, and the Byrds move up higher on the list (my other perennial favorite group, R.E.M., just missed my cutoff—they had nine total plays).
Okay, enough obsessing. Happy New Year.