2011: Jon Treneff
2011 was better than 2010. It had to be.
Most of all, when I think about this year, I see the beginning and continuation of finally doing the things I always thought about doing but never did. Itís easy to become cynical about music when youíre constantly surrounded by it ó working in, writing about, and playing music has been at the center of my existence for a long time, and never more so than this year. Maybe no one ever truly gets there, but I feel like Iím closer to doing exactly what I want to be doing than most people. Iím incredibly lucky to be leading the life I lead, and resolve to be less cynical in deference to it.
These are some of the things that reminded me, again, why I do what I do, and why I still love it.
A refreshing example of a band exploding my expectations. Three girls playing haunted, histrionic pop that hits a lot of my sweet spots, from the dark entries of The Renderers and the glory days of the Billotte sisters (Quix*o*tic, Casual Dots) to Mo Tuckerís twilight odes to the small hours. Cutting through the weeds of an overcrowded field of garage and psych-pop with simple songs full of true soul and humanity.
The return of snorecore. Hazy slowburners soaked in reverb with the loose charm of a band waking up mid-jam to find theyíve accidentally written some songs. If you can still lose yourself in romantic longing or Galaxie 500, you know what Iím talking about.
One of the consensus great ďpunkĒ records of the year, Henge Beat brought a lot of people on board and was one of the strongest, most cohesive arguments from a scene (Australia) currently brimming over with great bands. A lot of groups mining this territory donít translate well to the album format, but Total Control moves from dark synth-pop anthems to frenzied punk blasts smoothly and confidently with nary a dull moment or lapse in quality. A flawless record.
A year with two new Cass McCombs records canít be all bad. Itís been a joy watching him come into his own as a songwriter and artist, in the old-world tradition. Cass is playing a long game, whittling away at his craft like a German cobbler and taking risks that broaden the narrow definition of singer-songwriter. Timeless songs in a world with no time for it.
Compilation of songs originally released as a tape/vinyl series on the ONSET OFFSET record label based out of Christchurch in the 1980s. A winning collection of some of the more underdocumented, but no less worthy post-punk and experimental pop acts making the scene around the time Flying Nun was becoming an International concern. Essential listening for anyone interested in the history of New Zealand underground music.
Shin Joon Hyung
Much-needed overview of the various incarnations of Korean savant/svengali, Shin Joon Hyung. A virtuoso guitarist, bandleader, producer and arranger among other things, Mr. Shin was like Arthur Lee, Jack Nitzche and Hendrix rolled into one superhuman music machine. The total package.
Cast under the shadow of a label generally associated with Witch House, I initially had a hard time letting this one in. Almost everything Iíve heard with ties to this woe-begotten ďgenreĒ has left me unmoved. Water Borders are on some genuinely ďotherĒ tip, though. Their music brings forth all the mystery and creepiness that the term ďWitch HouseĒ implies but rarely fulfills. Kind of a post-dubstep, darker slant on the vibe The Knife worked so well before they shuffled off the grid. Reminded me to get back into beats.
The girlís voice does bear a striking resemblance to Hope Sandovalís, but Mazzy Star always bored me a little, and Widowspeak donít do that. I wish I had known about this band when I was living in New York and complaining about the lack of good bands (I know, I know...). There are a lot of young bands circling the Spector sound right now, but this record has the spirit, songs and confidence that make those bands look like a blind squid fumbling around in the shag for his glasses.
There was a point a couple of years ago where I realized I referencing The Velvet Underground in pretty much every review I wrote. As much as I love them, itís not something that I put on much anymore. Which is fine ó itís still out there in so much of whatís happening and been happening that thereís always something new to rekindle those warm feelings. The Clap are among the countless lost garage bands of the early post-VU years. Like a sloppier Stones with the melodic instincts of the Velvets. I swear one song on here was lifted wholesale for that Exploding Hearts album. Itís that catchy.
Huge look and public service from this relatively low-lying Brooklyn label. I suppose we have this to thank for the imminent Cleaners From Venus reissues coming from Captured Tracks next year. Newell eschewed the industry for most of his career, putting out murky, homemade cassette-only transmissions from his bottomless pit of cracked pop hooks. To re-appropriate Mark E. Smithís initial reaction to Pavement: Ariel Pink is driving around in Martin Newellís Benz.
A slight entry at five short songs, but I have to include this because like The Sandwitches and Water Borders records, it spit in the face (mine) of the jaded and spiteful music critic. Mixing a wizardís brew of R&B, pop, club beats, and naÔvetť in the way only an Englishman would dare, King Krule emerges victorious, overcoming the odds with a sophisticated charm and world-weariness most people spend their whole life accruing. Hadnít you been wondering what it would be like if the Biz Markie and Rik from The Young Ones made a band that sounded like Aztec Camera?
On here just as much for the show I saw them play on this tour as the record itself. Bitter blasts from the bottom of the well (Australia) thatís currently holding the rest of rock music hostage like Pacino. If these songs were any less catchy and vital, you might be mad that the record is only 17 minutes long.
Their Beyond Living record from early this year is a total burner, but itís really about the overall package with these guys. So refreshing to see a band succeeding on their own terms, letting the world come to them ó and knowing that it would ó because theyíre building a band in the image of the old-world model. Take your time finding your sound and whittling it down to its raw essentials, then tour it until itís a bulletproof Clydesdale fit to trample these Cabbage Patch bands under foot. Judging by the new songs in their summer WFMU session, theyíre only going to be more of a force in 2012.
By Jon Treneff