Tunequest Year in Review 2008

This year’s end summary is going to be a little shorter than in the past, for two principle reasons: 1) 2008 was a lot busier for me than recent years, so my opportunities to explore and listen to new music were more limited, and B) I spent a lot of the free time I did have listening to audiobooks and podcasts rather than music. Indeed, 2008 saw only 510 new songs added to my library (with 103 of them largely unlistened because they were added in the last two weeks), compared with 2051 new additions in 2007.

And looking back over the numbers and trends, it is clear that my musical year for the most part ended toward the end of summer, since that’s when the new additions and activity begin tapering off.

Let’s not mistake quantity for quality though. 2008 was not without its highlights. Here’s a look back at the best music I discovered in the past year:

Kelley Polar: Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens (2005); I Need You To Hold On While the Sky is Falling (2008)

love songs of the hanging gardens

In December 2007, I heard my first Kelley Polar song. In January 2008, the album that song appeared on (Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens) rocked my world. I wrote on tunequest:

it pulls at you with pulsing with heady rhythms, ass-shaking grooves and a surprisingly high level of singability. The aspect that strikes me the most however, is how the music simultaneously seems to sound sparsely populated yet vast and teeming with activity. A bit like the seeming emptiness the heavens above, which when looked at closely is full of magnificent detail.

i need you to hold on while the sky is falling

Following shortly on my discovery of Love Songs, Polar’s second album, I Need You To Hold On While the Sky is Falling, was released on March. While I was less ecstatic about it than I was toward Love Songs–it’s darker tone and more intimate feeling weren’t quite as compelling–I still found the album quite enjoyable. It’s even grown on me a bit since the original review.

Together, the albums made a significant mark on my musical year.

Ratatat – LP3 (2008)

ratatat lp3

It should be of no surprise to long-time readers that Ratatat’s third LP made a big splash around here. Released in early July, LP3 rocked up my charts, becoming the most played artist, album and songs of the year.

With its simultaneous expansion of both guitar and keyboard sounds, the album pretty much ruled my summer.

The Breeders – Mountain Battles (2008)

mountain battles

After six years since their last album, The Breeders typified the idea of pent-up demand. The band has consistently ranked near the top of my favorites, which makes it frustrating that it spends long hiatuses between releases.

It’s made all the more frustrating by the album’s short length, approx. 36 minutes. But those 36 minutes are pure gold. As I said in my original review, the band’s “low-key, basement fuzz brings with it an inviting warmth.” The buzz and good feeling I got from this record’s release was capped off by finally, after 14 years, catching the Breeders in concert in June.

Stereolab – Chemical Chords (2008)

Stereolab is another perennial favorite around tunequest and a new album is sure to be listened to with much delight. Chemical Chords was no exception. The groop took a slightly different approach to this album, consciously creating shorter, simpler, more poppy songs than in the past. The result is a refreshing buoyant, dare I say happy, feeling from a band that has traditionally been cool and detached. Happy looks good on them, as I noticed when the band swung through town in September.

Junior Boys – So This Is Goodbye (2006)

Before picking up So This Is Goodbye, Junior Boys had long been on my radar. It was the opening band at a show I went to four years ago and they piqued my interest then. But it wasn’t until I happened across the record on eMusic that I finally checked the band out.

I was not disappointed. So This Is Goodbye is fantastic album. Expertly produced and crafted, the smooth electronic tones have an intimate, downtempo feel that borders on melancholic. It’s almost a rainy day album, except that it’s got too much shine behind it.

Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble – Music for 18 Musicians (2007)

This album arrived late in the year, just before Thanksgiving, but it packed quite a wallop.

Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians is a notoriously hard piece to perform. So it is something of a shock to see this, and pardon the bluntness, “no name” orchestra release what is probably to best rendition of it ever recorded. Written in 1974-1976 and focused largely on Reich’s fascination with harmonics, Music for 18 Musicians creates cyclical, trance-inducing soundscapes that mesmerize and fascinate the ears and mind. Grand Valley State’s recording is the first made in surround sound and it is a thing of sublime beauty that is quite an accomplishment.

::

There you have: tunequest highlights from 2008. There’s always great music out there and although 2009 is shaping up to be just as busy as last year, here’s hoping I have to to discover some of it.

Stereolab: French Disco

From the single Jenny Ondioline (1993). Also appears on the Oscillons from the Anti-Sun box set (2005).

french disco at amazon french disco

For nearly a decade now, Stereolab has been a consistent “A list” band in my library, but I’ve, more of than not, been more disposed toward the groop’s laid-back, lounge-infused work. The band’s early, fuzz-laden krautrock-inspired recordings generally don’t strike me as much (though I do enjoy krautrock as a rule). While mid-career songs like Spacemoth, The Free Design and Miss Modular are compellingly splendid, crisp, head-bobbing grooves, the lo-fi droning simplicity of earlier songs like Anapromorph and Enivrez-Vous tend to grate at my ears.

As a result, I’ve tended to spend less time exploring the early stages of the groop’s development. However, this song, French Disco, and in particular, this version, is a hard diamond in the spacey milieu of the band’s early works. It breaks two of the band’s early conventions, and that makes it especially appealing. First, it’s uptempo and bombastic and completely unlike anything the band recorded in that era. Second, it rocks! And Stereolab doesn’t do rock; it’s not their thing. But if they wanted to, they’d obviously be good at it.

It’s too bad this version was stuffed as a b-side onto a single of which there were only a few thousand copies pressed. Overall, it’s a highly regarded song in the catalog and I’m sure many fans would have loved to have heard it before the 2005 box set was released.

I must admit some confusion over the song though. Variants of it appear with Disco spelled with a ‘K’ (French Disko). That version looks like it’s the ‘main version’ and it appeared as its own 7″ single i think–stereolab’s catalog can get pretty confusing as well as on the Refried Ectoplasm comp and runs about 3:35. This recording is about 4:26 and sounds like a different studio recording with extended outro.

Both recordings are good, but I prefer this one.

What I Love: Laetitia Sadier’s voice, the tempo, the haunted house intro organ and the explosive (but oh-so-brief) chorus.

Best of tunequest: Top 10 discoveries of 2006

When I began the original tunequest in February of last year, I had ~6000 songs in my iTunes library that had a play count of zero. Part of that list consisted of old CDs that just hadn’t been played since they were digitized. A good number of them were the result of over-zealous music collection and exploration. That was one of the reasons I decided to undertake the endeavor in the first place.

By the end of the journey, every one of those songs had been played and a good number of them had been rated as well. Of those, 122 songs received a five-star rating after only a single play. About half of those were well-known songs from yesteryear. From those remaining, I whittled down the ten newly discovered or unearthed tracks over the course of the tunequest that had the highest impact on me.

Here they are in no particular order.

Ratatat – Noose – Live at Lee’s Palace Toronto 2004

I first heard this song on a CBC Radio 3 Internet stream, which is the version presented here. It’s the b-side to the Germany to Germany single and I liked it so much, I, a) captured the entire show and, b) instantly bought it from iTunes. Along with Ratatat’s Wildcat, the single from their 2006 album Classics, this is probably my favorite track of the year.

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Ratatat - Germany to Germany - Single - Noose

Sonic Youth – Incinerate – from Rather Ripped

Rather Ripped is Sonic Youth’s latest new release, having come out last summer. This song is the perfect example of the ” radical adults’ ” effortless melodies and

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Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped - Incinerate

Pearl Jam – World Wide Suicide – from Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam came back into my life last year, after having been relegated to background noise for many many years. It comes in the form of renewed appreciation for the group’s back catalogue as well as the latest album, the self-titled Pearl Jam, and this, it’s lead single.

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Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam - World Wide Suicide

Les Baxter – Oasis of Dahkla – from Tamboo!

A song I’ve had digitized for a while, but somehow never listened to. Les Baxter’s smooth and exotic compositions and arrangements have been perennial favorites around here. Oasis of Dahkla is lush and melodious, just like I like it.

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Titel – Klaus Doldinger – From Das Boot

A soundtrack that I acquired several years ago, but resisted listening to it for fear that I couldn’t relate to it. What a mistake! Methodic, pulsing and indelibly thematic, Klaus Doldinger’s main title score to this 1981 film is captivating.

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Klaus Doldringer - The Longest Day - Music from the Classic War Films - Das Boot (The Boat)

Stereolab – Pack Yr Romantic Mind – from Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements

I’m a big fan of Stereolab’s later releases with their heightened pop sensibilities and have traditionally shied away from the groop’s more expressly noise-influenced early records. Though the production value isn’t quite what I expect from the band, the somber beauty of this song, from their first proper album, quite surprised me.

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Stereolab - Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements - Pack Yr Romantic Mind

Joe Hisaishi – Sootballs – From Spirited Away

Hisaishi’s score are as breathtaking as Miyazaki’s animations. This song from 2001’s Spirited Away is full of playful mischief.

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Blondie – Sunday Girl – from Parallel Lines

For whatever reason, I had never listened to the second half of Parallel Lines, other than Heart of Glass of course. This song is pure pop bliss and I’m bummed I missed out on it for years.

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Blondie - Parallel Lines - Sunday Girl

Stravinsky – Scene 1 from Petrushka – performed by the London Symphony Orchestra under Abbado

This ballet by Stravinsky, composed in 1911, is simply marvelous and the opening legerdemain scene at the Shrovetide Fair is quite engaging.

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John Barry – James Bond with Bongos – from From Russia with Love

If you thought James Bond was cool before, wait until you hear that famous theme slowly dissolve into some uber-smooth slacker jazz before 007 is put in danger once again. From THE master, John Barry, doing what he does best.

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Stereolab – Puncture in the Radar Permutation

Cobra And Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night

While it is a song with an incomprehensible name Puncture In The Radar Permutation from an album with an incomprehensible name Cobra And Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night, here’s the song that got me hooked on Stereolab. It’s a song with several movements, beginning with a haunting tension that mounts to a climax around 2:20. Then it totally breaks down and melts that tension with super-smooth percussion, which persists until about 4:25, when the strings bring it to a graceful coda.

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Stereolab – Sound-dust under your skin

sound dusted stereolab

Sound-dust was Stereolab’s first release since Cobra and Phases… the record that really exposed me to their music. It came out as I was slowly digesting the groop’s extensive back catalog. The previous records had built expectations and I was trepidatious toward the possibility that it might not meet them.

I was a fan, but I just didn’t know what to expect.

On the first couple listens I found it wasn’t a disappointment. Sound-dust had a cleaner, straight-forward sound to it that’s easy to breath. Space moth and Captain Easychord were both instant classics, the latter of which I have a pleasant memory of: sitting in traffic in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, windows rolled down in my ’93 Hyundai Sonata, blasting it as loud as I could.

Beyond those hits, though, the rest of the album lingered, failing to really catch on. And that’s how it deceived me.

For all its simple exterior, this album gets under your skin. The cleaner compositions hide within an engaging complexity, becoming more appreciated over time until suddenly you step back and realize almost every song has a five-star rating in your library.

In retrospect, I come to the realization that this one might be Stereolab’s best record ever.

on iTunes
Spacemoth (remastered version from Serene Velocity)

Stereolab – Ping Pong: Geo-political Rock

ping pong

ping pong at itunes

Ping Pong is an unusually uptempo, rockin’ song from Stereolab’s mars audiac quintet. It’s one of my favorites from the groop and the increase in tempo gives its lyrics a stronger visceral impact.

Though released in 1994, the lyrics show a degree of timelessness, given the current geo-political situation.

it’s alright ‘cos the historical pattern has shown
how the economical cycle tends to revolve.
in a round of decades three stages stand out in a loop.
a slump and war then peel back to square one and back for more

bigger slump and bigger wars and a smaller recovery
huger slump and greater wars and a shallower recovery

you see the recovery always comes ’round again
there’s nothing to worry for things will look after themselves
it’s alright recovery always comes ’round again
there’s nothing to worry if things can only get better

there’s only millions that lose their jobs and homes and sometimes accents
there’s only millions that die in their bloody wars, it’s alright

it’s only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing
it’s only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing

it’s alright ‘cos the historical pattern has shown
how the economical cycle tends to revolve.
in a round of decades three stages stand out in a loop.
a slump and war then peel back to square one and back for more

bigger slump and bigger wars and a smaller recovery
huger slump and greater wars and a shallower recovery

don’t worry. be happy. things will get better naturally.
don’t worry. shut up. sit down. go with it and be happy.

Meanwhile, enjoy this poor quailty music video of the song; it’s so very 90s:

In review: for the week ending may 13, 2006.

stats: 262 songs played for 19 hours and 22 minutes of listening time. 6 songs were added this week (new tracks from stereolab’s fab four suture) and a whopping 81 songs were removed from the library, for a net progress of 337 songs, which is excellent progress indeed. the graphs have been updated for the week, and for the first time, the projections actually seem to suggest that i’ll be able to listen to all these songs by year’s end. in fact, the current trendline estimates that i’ll finish around the first of december.

complete list of this week’s albums is on the flip.

Continue reading

Spiritualized, Stereolab, This Heat, more

Here are some quickies; enjoy:
Spiritualized, some drifty, hazy, drugged-out psychedelia. Lots of fuzz.

The Aluminum Tunes album is nothing special, but anything by stereolab is worth listening to.

I didn’t know anything about this heat other than I enjoyed their album Deceit until I checked out the wikipedia, which pretty much reflects the album. Based on their sound, I would have pegged them as German, except for the lyrics to Independence, in which they sing the American Declaration of Independence. Given that, I was surprised to discover the group is British. hat tip to jon for this.

A strong showing from The Chemical Brothers on come with us, especially My Elastic Eye which seems to be inspired by the castle theme to Dragon Warrior.

April 11-13

wow. a whirlwind of music the past couple days. i guess that’s what happens when impending deadlines force you to stay at the office into the wee hours of the evening. who says publishing isn’t a rewarding field?

some great music this time around:

  • alan silvestri [back to the future ii]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: the ragged edge]
  • string theory [anhedonia]
  • hum [downward is heavenward]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: lines of communication]
  • medeski, martin and wood [combustication]
  • john barry [across the sea of time]
  • stereolab [dots and loops]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: the coming of shadows]
  • daft punk [discovery]
  • at home with the groovebox
  • mikhail pletnev performing tchaikovsky’s morceaux (18) for piano
  • mouse on mars [distoria ep]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: no surrender no retreat]
  • oslo philharmonic performing tchaikovsky’s manfred symphony
  • yoko kanno [cowboy bebop: vitaminless]
  • orbital [diversions]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5 volume 1]
  • man or astroman? [destroy all astromen!]

dots and loopswhile we’re on the subject of leaps-above-the-bar music, i must also mention both stereolab’s dots and loops and hum’s downward is heavenward. though i’ve been a stereolab fan for quite some time now (i’ve even been to 2 shows), i didn’t realize until i was preparing this write up how highly rated dots and loops is. stereolab is a great band, but it can be very uneven. on most albums, every 5 star song is countered by a 3 star song (the lowest on my ratings scale; 1 and 2 stars are reserved for organizational purposes), but not dots and loops. every song on that album is either 4 or 5 stars. ‘miss modular, ‘prisoner of mars’ and ‘parsec’ stick out as particularly outstanding works.

i remember my first stereolab reference. it was my senior year of high school and i was on a road trip with 2 friends and my mom, scouting colleges in central florida. we were walking around the campus of the florida institute of technology when my friend roy mentioned that he was getting into this new band stereolab (of course, the band had been together about 6 years at that point, but it was new to him). now, i never really trusted roy’s musical recommendations. our tastes overlapped for the most part, but not enough for me to heed his opinion. nothing really came of it, but i do remember seeing dots and loops laying about his room. it wasn’t until 2 years later when i heard cobra and phases that roy was vindicated in that regard. the rest, as they say, is history. •

a note about the babylon 5 music: i’ve gotten about 60% though my collection of it and i still can’t make head or tails of it. it all just sounds so… the same. the 30+ albums that make up the more than 17 hours of music is a lot to digest, particularly when it’s all a similar style. that’s not to say that it’s not good. each season’s theme is excellent of course, and some choice cues are great, such as the classical guitar work that i heard in the ragged edge today. but there’s a lot of more ambient ‘mood setting’ music that kinda blends together from album to album, which makes it hard to decide which tracks to take special note of.

then of course, there’s the coming of shadows, which also made the playlist today. the entire production team was firing on all cylinders for this episode, including christopher franke, who has written some very tense music for a very tense episode. if i had to recommend any of the babylon 5 albums, it would be this one. •

quickies:
some smooth slacker jazz from medeski, martin and wood.
the surf-inspired stylings of man or astroman?, including a rendition of the MST3K theme.
some competent electronic work from orbital.