My 10 Favorite Albums, 2014

10. Wye Oak - Shriek

It's pretty amazing what Wye Oak did with this risky move to synths and bass. They were an identifiably almost rootsy guitar-centric band with morose, haunting vocals. These are qualities that don't translate to the kind of 80s throwback pop you would expect fromSHRIEK's set up, but they proved themselves as flexible genre kings this year. When I listen to a song like "Logic of Color," a dream of post-punk, I can hardly believe they had it in them. "Glory" is an honest to goodness dance track but with darker concerns. Every bleeping key and squishing bass has a sinister tone to it so you can never totally enter the neon world they've created, and that unease is always resolved with refreshing beauty with tracks like "Before."

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My 10 Favorite Albums, 2013

Even though I did a light hearted variation of this for Moxipop, I did it here last year, so I'm doing it again because if I deviate from busy work routines I start to look at my actual life and how it's devoid of any real meaning. So here's 10 things I loved to listen to this year, ranked with great difficulty, but ultimately only reflecting my opinion at this very moment.

10. Bleeding Rainbow - Yeah Right

Proof that advance streaming works. Listened to it on a whim from the newly debuted Pitchfork Advance stream and I fell right into Bleeding Rainbow. Rad nostalgic alternative stuff with airy vocals. I got stuck on the constant beat of songs like "Shades of Eternal Night," or the druggy haze of "Drift Away." Just a cool, raw band with a tool belt of sounds. They build and build and build.

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Songs About Elliott Smith

It's Elliott Smith season; the time between his birthday (August 6th) and the date of his passing (October 21.) There's a certain segment of fans that treat these 3 months as a time to reflect on his work. Retrospective think pieces will be written and XO vinyls will be dusted off, but you can see this most at the Figure 8 mural in Los Angeles. It's around these dates that there's an uptick of messages scrawled along its black, white and red lines. As if it were a holiday, some fans leave flowers or candles.

In the nearly 10 years since his passing, there's no doubting that he's remembered as an avatar of suffering through art. He's become indie's Kurt Cobain. Depending on your temperament, this is either the canonizing of a saint or the reduction of a rich and unknowable life.

I understand the ways it is problematic. Even in life, Smith seemed to resist the idea of being the sad, confessional artist that many of us channeled from his work. It didn't matter. As fans, we used the idea as a totem to explore our own troubles. Falling in love with the tragic story required assumptions on our part that were easy to make. It's even easier to characterize him these days. In death, there's no one to stop us from forming whatever romantic image we want.

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Loose Leaves 07.23.13

Okay. I think I've calmed down a little.

Some day, I will be able to explain strong feelings in measured, well articulated tones. Until then, I have learned to be emotional and to aim at other people's emotional centers. I am not hoping to become more moderate. I hope that I will always be "an earnest," "as uncompromising as justice," and all that -- but I also know that the last entry was mostly steam. And steam isn't substantial enough, not if I want it to stick around.

I very recently just got off the road. I'll write about that trip some day, when it has gestated in my head for long enough. It was mostly a success, with some outstanding and unfortunate events that make it worth turning into something. But not right now.

Right now I'm listening to SILENCE YOURSELF by Savages because Sufjan went pedantic on their typography. My listening habits this season have split into two branches: stripped, guitar-centric, time displaced 90's alt-rock (Yuck, Hebronix, Wavves) and electronic indie pop (CHVRCHES, Geographer, even something pure pop like Charli XCX who has great production.) I don't think it's because I've outgrown all the folk-descendent music that I've always followed, but there isn't a lot happening in that scene right now. Waxahatchee was the last great one to break through earlier this year, and I'd be hard pressed to think of the break through before her.

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New Words For Old Desires

I don't know what happened, but for the last week all I've been listening to is The Weakerthans. Mostly from their first two albums: FALLOW (1999) and the essential LEFT AND LEAVING (2000). It's one of those moments where one of the needles in the haystack of your iTunes library gets pulled up on shuffle and you realize, hey, this was a pretty great song, I should put this album on my queue.

I was 13 years old when they came out, so I didn't get to examine them in their time. I can't even pinpoint when I did finally get into LEFT AND LEAVING. I know that "Watermark" was one of those songs my sister played and thus was part of this familiar background music. It would have been sometime in college that I found the whole album to be my shit, and I only picked up all of FALLOW during this most recent kick.

They're a little dated, definitely the kind of 90's power chord music that isn't really around anymore. Coupled with John Samson's timeless opie voice, it's music that would sound right at home as the intro music to a 90's teen romance flick - EMPIRE RECORDS or 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU. Something with Freddie Prinze Jr. I feel like this type of music became unfashionable after Blink-182 and their also-rans rushed through the scene. Today the style would be to let the guitars breathe a little more, with echo and space, a sound that is harder to pin down. But I can't imagine a romp like "Aside" with anything less than these driving guitars. It's become part of the charm, like 90's nostalgia or retro trappings.

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KROQ Whatever

There was a time when 106.7 KROQ was an important part of my self-image. I was 14 years old, and kids were not just forming cliques, but subcultural scenes. A big part of that was what radio station you chose: Power 106 (hip hop), KIIS FM (pop) and KROQ (alternative rock.) There was overlap in the audiences of Power 106 and KIIS FM, as hip hop had become an accepted part of pop culture, while guitar music seemed too niche and white. So while the average person would listen to both Power 106 and KIIS, the ones who listened to KROQ listened to it exclusively. It was a strong enough in its cultural identity - a mainstream, sanitized vision of "alternative" - that that it inspired loyalty from its listeners.

Today, the importance of radio and even just the music monoculture is beyond dead and buried, yet the thing still remains on the dial of my car's unused radio. The way stations have dealt with the splintering and liberation of music has been a bit like watching a fish flail in a boat. They've propped up apps like iHeartRadio to maintain their technological relevance, and I suspect the nostalgic resurgence of bands like Incubus and Linkin Park goes hand in hand with their aim of remaining cultural (and therefore economic) forces.

But whatever KROQ once was to me as a kid will probably never be again. Their playlist these days confirms it: It's a confused mash up of today's youth culture with one desperate, gnarled hand still clinging to the alt-rock it helped define a couple decades ago. They bet the whole game on that post-Nirvana "Alternative Rock" label, and they rode that wave high and well for many years until it crashed upon the shores of the internet. All stations had to deal with new competition in music availability, but only KROQ had to deal with their audience's tastes shifting with increased music access.

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Album Release Wishlist for 2013

2013 still smells fresh and I'm getting impatient with the music industry's release schedule. There have been few drops in the periphery of my taste, but I could really use something big and powerful to punch me in the head right about now. I don't know what's coming this year, other than a new Thao and Youth Lagoon. Those are already on my List Of Big Deals. I have plenty of anticipatory excitement to spare, and it seems like in our day and age, the heads up & lead-in time is becoming shorter and shorter.

With that spontaneous nature of the industry in mind, this is what I'm hoping for in 2013. I'm hoping these bands will put out a press release over the coming 11 months with something to the effect of, "We're done with our new album, and it will be out as soon as I finish this sentence." Ever since IN RAINBOWS that seems to be a favorite buzz getter -- Death Grips did it most recently, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's how the new My Bloody Valentine comes out. With that in mind, these are bands that I miss and follow-ups I'm hungering for.

I would love to hear from you guys.

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Coachella 2013 Lineup Is Good Enough I Guess

  • The Stone Roses is one of those names that is always floating just outside my area of awareness. A headline spot though, so, good on those guys, whoever they are.
  • Grrfggh Red Hot Chili Peppers. I don't even dislike them, I think they're one of the more likable parts of KROQ canon, but giving them another headlining spot when AMAZING RACE wins Best Reality Show at the Emmys. Probably warranted, but hardly worth celebrating anymore.
  • As Coachella's popularity has skyrocketed as a thing that everyone in Southern California goes to, I can't help but feel like headlining RHCP again is throwing a bone to the party-goers that don't even like 90% of the performers at the fest. A big, unimaginative, arena rock bone.
  • Font size is, as always, confusing! Observe: Portugal, The Man is bigger than Pusha T, Kurt Vile and 2 Chainz. For all his buzz, Alt-J should at least be a size up. Surely Grimes
  • Then again, who cares about font size? Has it ever reflected actual billing or set times? Does it matter or make any difference other than a flier?
  • I'm imagining a one-two knock out punch of The XX followed by Sigur Ros. By knock out, I mean put to sleep knock out.
  • Although the strategy seems to spread acts of one particular taste across all three days, I always find that one day in particular pulls at my sensibilities far more than the others. In this case: Saturday.
  • Yet, even though Saturday is some kind of Indie Rock Parthenon, I can't help but feel a little indifferent to it. There are definitely a lot of great bands, but nothing that feels like a only-here-only-now event (save for The Postal Service.) I would like to see many of these bands, but I don't need to see them, certainly not all at once for three bills.
  • Let me put it this way: 90% of Saturday looks like a reasonable expectation for a 2nd tier festival like Sasquatch or Outside Lands.
  • Perhaps we've just been spoiled by the big bombs of Coachella's past. They've conditioned us to expect special appearance bookings, even in their second or third billings.
  • Imagine if they did group these things by genre. I know why they don't, but can you imagine if you could see Trash Talk, Cloud Nothings & Japandroids in one day? Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, El-P & Wu-Tang consecutively? Stars & The Postal Service?
  • I don't know who or what Sam XL Pure Filth Sound is, but damn, that name has got to look good on a t-shirt.
  • Moby???
  • I feel like I've only been saying bad things. It's a perfectly acceptable festival, probably even a great one. But Coachella set its own bar so high in years past, it's hard to ignore.
  • Jurassic 5 is boring.
  • I liked Coachella before it was cool.
  • I roll with FYF Fest now.
  • Whatever, I'm already booked for 3 concerts in April anyway.

My 10 Favorite Albums, 2012

10. Tame Impala - Lonerism
When an album entitled LONERISM has song names like, "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards," "Why Won't They Talk To Me?" and "Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Can Control," there are certain expectations to its sound. I'm always down for the sadness — it is actually kind of obnoxious how down I am for the sadness. But separated from its words, LONERISM is a joyous album. Very few albums try to talk about these things like isolation and social anxiety in the framework of bass grooves and upbeat atmospheric melodies, and even fewer manage to be this infectious. Social anxiety you can dance to, it turns out, is a gleeful playground. LONERISM makes me wonder how I would've turned out if in my formative years I had found something like this album to express my teenage angst. I envy the theoretical High School sophomore that discovers this album, and learns to get pain off his chest with multicolored sunlight.

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Personal Tastes

"What kind of music do you like?" is a question that I've always felt a little bit uncomfortable answering. I have an answer - several of them. But it has always struck me as a question that is awkward for me to answer. It is at once revealing, personal, difficult and over-analyzed.

Back in high school, I used to simply say, "Shitty." That is, shitty music. I like shitty music. That's not what I believed, of course, but it was an easy joke answer that would deflect the question. I have a friend who didn't like that answer. He asked me once, "How does that go over when you answer like that?" I had never thought about it in those terms, so I haven't really used it since.

In time, I began to begrudgingly answer, "indie" and sometimes I bolster it with "folk." Well, truthfully, I say it more like: "Indie...?" and let the word die off hoping they won't notice.

It's not about shame or embarrassment. Part of it is disliking labels and revealing a lot about myself in such a small answer. But most of it is about knowing the almost inevitable follow up question: "Like what, exactly?" That's the real question I don't like to answer. That's the one I try to avoid. To explain what I think "indie" means would take far too many sentences and generally be a staggering display of arrogance. But it's the label that best describes the sounds I like.

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An Attempt to Understand Folk

If people ask me to describe my primary taste in music, I go with the easy, interpretable terms of "Indie" and "Folk." I don't especially like using the term "indie" - there's something arrogant and meaningless about it, but there's no other good word or straight answer to describe it, so I've deployed it. But folk music, that's something different. People, generally, don't have a clear idea of what folk is. For a long time listening to it, neither did I.

In this late night typing exercise, I will attempt to define what Folk music is to me. I might be completely, utterly, embarrassingly wrong. But I can only describe it in the terms that I've come to really fucking feel this music. So if I'm historically inaccurate, or just bullshitting, so be it. This is is the only way we come to figure things out.

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Essay | Felt, Not Heard

I took up the bass guitar on almost a whim. It could even be described as an accident. My sister bought a bass to join a band, and soon dropped out of it, leaving the big dumb thing without a home. It was offered to me, and I took it. Despite this very unserious origin, it is now one of my hobbies that I am determined to make something of. It is one of the few things that I actively aspire to be great at someday. Other hobbies or skills stagnate after a while, when you're satisfied with your level of expertise, which is usually mediocre or good. With this, though, it's one of the few things that I dream of being able to keep doing until fluency.

Of course, I'm nowhere near that right now. I don't think I can even justifiably call myself good yet, not while I'm still trying to properly understand how to utilize scales and barely getting the slap-n-pop technique right. In fact, I found out just a few days ago that I've been doing pull-offs wrong for two years. It's like learning you've had your pants on backwards since the 1st grade.

What attracts me as I study the bass guitar is its interesting role in the typical band: It is the anti-spotlight. The lead singer gets all the face time, and the guitarists get the crazy, easily discernable riffs and mid-song solos. The drums are the loudest, and any extra instruments have a novelty factor. The bass, it seems, is necessarily hidden and cannot draw attention to itself. If you've ever wanted to play the thing, chances are that someone's related to you a common, tired, saying: the bass should be felt, and not heard.

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Essay | Biomusicology

When I was in elementary school, the first music I listened to was whatever my older sister and friends liked: Early 90s rap and R&B. That meant Boyz II Men, 4PM, Blackstreet, Ini Kamozi, Aaliyah, Skee-Lo and other names swallowed by time. I hated rock music because no one else listened to it, even in the mid-1990s when Nirvana blew up. I grew up in an industrial suburb with a 10% white population. Accusing someone else of listening to KROQ was an insult.

Some time around the turn of the century, the interesection of Dragonball Z and Linkin Park in culture made alternative rock, nu metal, and whatever label you wanted to use okay for kids to like by high school. I had morphed into a much more captivated KROQ follower, with bands like Something Corporate and Finch and occasional punk bands like Jughead's Revenge on my Winamp playlist.

Then, one night, I was going through my sisters MP3s on the family computer in high school one day and heard Bright Eyes and Cursive. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. Everything was raw and powerful and bare, songs like “The Martyr” or “The City Has Sex.” I remember wanting to burn a CD right away so that I could listen to it in bed instead of sleeping. Today it may sound cheesy and oversensationalist, but that's what it felt like at the time to an impressionable 16 year old.

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