Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Fiery Furnaces

Claire took a break from her cool job (doing curating work for the Philadelphia Museum of Art) that I'm jealous of (and in no way qualified for) to pull together this playlist covering the music of the Fiery Furnaces. My hunch is that while having art brainz is helpful in appreciating oddball song structure grandma vox weirdo rock, it's not required. So the rest of us should listen up.

As the Fiery Furnaces prepare to release their seventh studio album since 2003, I’m Going Away (Thrill Jockey), on July 21, I thought it a good opportunity to look back on this prolific band’s first four years, comprising five full-length albums, as well as a collection of b-sides and singles worthy of their own full-length (EP, 2005). The Fiery Furnaces also released a live album, Remember, last year, and Matt Friedberger, one half of the band’s brother-sister braintrust (his sister Eleanor is his cohort and foil), released his solo double album, Winter Women and Holy Ghost Language School, in 2006. I’m not including any tracks from Remember because The Fiery Furnaces’ live act is so frenetic—an hour-plus medley of songs from their entire catalogue, reworked and overlaid—that I can’t imagine separating out only one or two tracks from such an intricate whole.

The Fiery Furnaces have developed a bit of a reputation for being a difficult band to pin down. Although I hope that this playlist will underscore the occasionally obscured resonances between their albums, nearly every record since their rollicking 2003 debut, Gallowsbird’s Bark, has taken a radically different conceptual bent from the album before it. 2004’s Blueberry Boat remains Friedberger and Friedberger’s magnum opus. It’s the most dense of their albums, with several tracks clocking in at three times the length of the typical three-minute pop song, and complex narratives and characters in each song, some of which pass through several increasingly baroque movements in the development of these tales, such as the potential fratricide of “Chief Inspector Blancheflower” and the battle against pirates in the album’s title track. Their follow-up, 2005’s Rehearsing My Choir, was even more challenging, pairing Eleanor’s vocals with those of the Friedbergers’ grandmother on pseudo-biographical songs that seemed even more ramshackle at times than the mini-rock operas of Blueberry Boat. The excellent, although less concept-driven EP (2005) collected the band’s poppier b-sides and rarities and proved a harbinger of things to come, as both Bitter Tea (2006) and Widow City (2007) have culled the depths of 70s and 80s radio (with the occasional old-timey digression) for more cohesive, beat and riff-driven songs, and we are left to wonder where the Friedbergers will go from here. “Like all the Fiery Furnaces' other albums,” the band promises, “I'm Going Away sounds different than all The Fiery Furnaces' other albums.” They’re playing a few dates on the East Coast in June, a month before the release of the album, and while the songs won’t sound anything like the records, live might be the best introductory experience to the band, as their uber-mix will surely dwarf my fifteen-track attempt here.

1) Sweet Spots / EP / 2005
2) Blueberry Boat / Blueberry Boat / 2004
3) Evergreen / Single Again single / 2004)
4) I’m Gonna Run / Gallowsbird’s Bark / 2003)
5) The Wayward Granddaughter / Rehearsing My Choir / 2005
6) My Egyptian Grammar / Widow City / 2007
7) Here Comes the Summer / EP / 2005
8) Quay Cur / Blueberry Boat / 2004
9) Automatic Husband / Widow City / 2007
10) Single Again / Single Again single / 2004
11) Crystal Clear / Gallowsbird’s Bark / 2003
12) Oh Sweet Woods / Bitter Tea / 2006
13) Chief Inspector Blancheflower / Blueberry Boat / 2004
14) Tropical-Iceland (remix) / EP / 2005
15) Benton Harbor Blues / Bitter Tea / 2006

Total Time: 76:25. YAHPLAY FOUL!!! Disqualified (from nothing) for exceeding the 74 minute time limit. Rulz, rulz, rulz...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Spencer Krug (Sunset Rubdown, Wolf Parade, Swan Lake)

Spencer Krug is my favorite songwriter of this decade. Plain and simple. Frustratingly, despite my best efforts to spread this Krug love to anyone who'll listen, only a few friends have joined me in this zombie-like state of obsessive appreciation. Hopefully this playlist will help to change that.

This was an especially enjoyable playlist to make. Part of the reason this came together so easily was the glut of fresh material available to draw upon. Since he started releasing music about five years ago or so, Krug has been remarkably prolific, serving as a main creative force behind three full time bands. Wolf Parade, where he shares songwriting duties with Dan Boeckner (who has since founded The Handsome Furs), has released two full length albums in that time. Swan Lake, a trio comprised of Krug, Dan Bejar (of Destroyer and The New Pornographers) and Carey Mercer (of Frog Eyes), has also released two full length albums in the same time span. Finally, Krug's main project, Sunset Rubdown, is set to this month release their fourth album (Dragonslayer) since 2005. That's a lot of music! Oh, and he's been touring consistently with Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown during that entire time. Double oh, on top of all that, he's also put in service as a part-time member of Frog Eyes as well. Jeez.

But this vigorous pace by no means reflects some sloppy, scattershot approach to songwriting. Each of these projects serve to showcase a different side of Krug's significant talent, but together they share a common sensibility that bears his unmistakable imprint. For that reason, every one of his releases- regardless of the band name attached to it- seems to contribute to a larger mosaic of music. For instance, the second half of the playlist contains three songs ("All Fires," "Nightingale / December Song," " and "I'll Believe In Anything") that are culled from each of his projects and span a spectrum from acoustic ballad to atmospheric prog-rocker to anthemic love song, but that also each share an over-arching lyrical theme of souls existing like burning fires. This interconnectedness across bands and albums makes tracking Krug's work all the more fun and rewarding, while also buoying the songs with a welcomed sense of purposefulness and raw emotion. It's that unfiltered artistry at the heart of Krug's songs that helps to make for music that, upon repeated listens, reveals itself to be unusually personal and immensely satisfying.

1) Stadiums and Shrines II / Sunset Rubdown- Shut Up I Am Dreaming / 2006
2) Idiot Heart / Sunset Rubdown- Dragonslayer / 2009
3) You Are Runner and I Am My Father's Son / Wolf Parade- Apologies to the Queen Mary / 2005
4) Upon on Your Leopard, Upon on the End of Your Feral Days / Sunset Rubdown- Random Spirit Lover / 2007
5) The Courtesan Has Sung / Sunset Rubdown- Random Spirit Lover / 2007
6) You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II) / Sunset Rubdown- Dragonslayer / 2009
7) Apistat Commander / Sunset Rubdown (Covering Xiu Xiu)- Remixed and Covered / 2007
8) Shut Up I Am Dreaming of Places Where Lovers Have Wings / Sunset Rubdown- Shut Up I Am Dreaming / 2006
9) All Fires / Swan Lake- Beast Moans / 2007
10) Nightingale / December Song / Sunset Rubdown- Dragonslayer / 2009
11) For the Pier (and Dead Shimmering) / Sunset Rubdown- Random Spirit Lover / 2007
12) The Taming of the Hands that Came Back to Life / Sunset Rubdown- Random Spirit Lover / 2007
13) I'll Believe In Anything / Wolf Parade- Apologies to the Queen Mary / 2005
14) The Men are Called Horsemen There / Sunset Rubdown- Shut Up I Am Dreaming / 2006

Total Time: 73:59

Thursday, May 21, 2009


School's out for summer! Apparently even for people studying to get their PhD in Philosophy. With his newfound free time, Andy turned to making this playlist on the bygone Welsch rock trio Mclusky. Check it out and discuss in the comments.

The first time I heard Mclusky was when a friend of mine sent me the first two albums, My Pain and Sadness is More Sad and Painful Than Yours and Mclusky Do Dallas, with the message, "This band sounds kinda like the Pixies. Except not at all." And I can see what he meant. This band sounds nothing like the Pixies, at all. If anything, they are indebted to the Albini sound (Albini even having produced their last two albums), yet there is something to the band's crass delivery and penetrating guitar sound that at least conjures up a passing thought of the Pixies. But any references aside (as none will really fit), most of all, when listening to Mclusky's three albums and handful of EPs, you get the feeling that, really, the band doesn't like you, personally, and certainly doesn't give a fuck if you like the music they play.

But that doesn't mean they're not having fun. With track titles like "The World Loves Us and Is Our Bitch," or "Dave, Stop Killing Prostitutes" (neither of which are included here), there's certainly a sharpened, caustic humor that comes with the band's abrasive rock. But, with all this introduction, all I can really cogently say is that this band is fucking amazing.

This playlist is not quite as comprehensive as I might have liked it to be - gone are a couple of B-sides that didn't really fit the mold, and a few album tracks that are favorites of mine, but just don't need to be included here. That being said, I still failed at getting any sort of flow going with this mix, hard as I tried. I've also ignored the two bands that came out of the now-defunct Mclusky, those being Future of the Left and Shooting at Unarmed Men. We'll save that mix for another day. But for now, enjoy Mclusky.

1) Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues / Mclusky Do Dallas / 2002
2) That Man Will Not Hang / The Difference Between You and Me Is That I'm Not On Fire / 2004
3) Friends Stoning Friends / My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours / 2000
4) Whoyouknow / Mclusky Do Dallas / 2002
5) There Ain't No Fool In Ferguson / There Ain't No Fool In Ferguson EP / 2003
6) 1956 And All That / The Difference Between You and Me Is That I'm Not On Fire / 2004
7) Why I Don't Believe In You / Joy EP / 2000
8) To Hell With Good Intentions / Mclusky Do Dallas / 2002
9) Flysmoke / My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours / 2000
10) Gareth Brown Says / Mclusky Do Dallas / 2002
11) She Comes In Pieces / My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours / 2000
12) Rock Vs. Single Parents / My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours / 2000
13) Collagen Rock / Mclusky Do Dallas / 2002
14) She Will Only Bring You Happiness / The Difference Between You and Me Is That I'm Not On Fire / 2004
15) Icarus Smicarus / The Difference Between You and Me Is That I'm Not On Fire / 2004
16) No Covers / To Hell With Good Intentions EP / 2002
17) Without MSG I Am Nothing / The Difference Between You and Me Is That I'm Not On Fire / 2004
18) What We've Learned / Mclusky Do Dallas / 2002
19) Alan Is a Cowboy Killer / Mclusky Do Dallas / 2002
20) Medium Is the Message / My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours / 2000

Total Time: 53:03


Before Pitchfork made it cool to like Kylie Minogue and Justin Timberlake, Phoneix boldly mixed R&B grooves, dance beats, and indie rock guitar riffs to create some terrifically catchy pop songs. Since 2000, the band has released four good-but-not-great albums. The band's debut record, United, is its least cohesive album, and is probably best known for featuring the single "Too Young," which was used in both "Lost in Translation" and "Shallow Hal." Alphabetical, the band's second release, drips with sensuality and swagger, and showcases Phoenix perfecting its unique blend of R+B-influenced pop-rock. The band shifted gears on my favorite Phoenix album, It's Never Been Like That, which features more guitar-driven, heart-on-the-sleeve indie stompers. Phoenix's fourth album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, will be released on May 26th.

Each of these albums contains two-to-four excellent upbeat numbers, and I've collected these gems into a short playlist. It should make for some great summertime listening.

1. Consolation Prizes / It's Never Been Like That / 2006
2. 1901 / Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix / 2009
3. Too Young / United / 2000
4. Run Run Run / Alphabetical / 2004
5. Fences / Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix / 2009
6. Long Distance Call / It's Never Been Like That / 2006
7. Lisztomania / Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix / 2009
8. Everything Is Everything / Alphabetical / 2004
9. Courtesy Laughs / It's Never Been Like That / 2006
10. If I Ever Feel Better / United / 2000
11. (You Can't Blame It On) Anybody / Alphabetical / 2004
12. Sometimes In A Fall / It's Never Been Like That / 2006

Total Time: 44:55

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Richard D. James (AFX, Aphex Twin)

Dana took a break from her own blog to drop this Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin) playlist. Check it out and let her know what you think in the comments.

Remember when people thought "jungle" was the bomb and wearing glowing latex was cool? Think of a 17-year-old boy with a septum piercing, green hair, and vinyl pants telling you "Yo, the Future Sound of London is my favorite band!". Oh ew. When I tell people I like Aphex Twin, many look at me like I just said something so terribly unfashionable as the above statement. Yet, Aphex Twin--Richard D. James's most common and best known pseudonym--has put out several records that do not fit under the acid-rave analogous to NIN remixes sound he may be best known for in the mainstream.

Yeah, there was that "Come to Daddy" video directed by Chris Cunningham. And that harsh "Ventolin" series involving themes of extreme asthma (again, ew). Ignore that for a sec, because James has put out some of the most beautiful, complex and challenging ambient, minimalist techno, and IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) in the last twenty years. I will argue (along with many others) that his masterpiece is Selected Ambient Works Volume 85-92, a crystal clear, perfectly nuanced and calculated (from start to finish) update of the Eno sound with some serious percussion and dance beats. His follow up Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 is so sound-scape driven that it has not attracted as many followers as the first album and yes, it certainly needs several listens to fully engage with it. But when you do get to that point it is satisfying in a way that few albums are. Classics, a compilation album of sorts, also has tracks that fit into the magic mix; in it you can hear his influence on new techno artists like Ellen Allien and Gui Buratto, to name a few.

After the mid to late 90s period of horrid rave culture passed, James made an album that updates John Cage and Eric Satie's experimental composition work, 2001's drukqs. This album has hardly any bleeps to be heard. Instead James utilizes a "prepared piano" to make tarnished melodies (which were, it is notable, used to good cinematic effect in Sofia Copella's film Marie Antoinette). drukcs is so scaled down and gorgeously minimal that it brings to mind contemporaries Max Richter or Eluvium.

I have not included anything off the Come to Daddy EP, Richard D. James or …I Care Because You Do, because I don't feel the songs on those albums really capture the James that I want to share with Yahplay--and honestly, everyone has heard "Girl/Boy" on Bank of America commercials already, right? I have, though, included a song from one of James' less known pseudonyms, AFX. "Every Day"--one of the best examples of James' mastery of voice sampling-- is literally what it would have sounded like if Riot Grrl met minimalist techno in a Ecstasy dream in 1993. It sounds horrible but the song is great, I promise!

1) Every Day / AFX- Hangable Auto Bulb /1995
2) Polynomial-C / Aphex Twin- Classics / 1995
3) Bbydhyonchord / Aphex Twin- drukqs / 2001
4) Petiatil Cx Htdui / Aphex Twin- drukqs / 2001
5) Jynweythek Ylow/ Aphex Twin- drukqs / 2001
6) Xtal / Aphex Twin- Selected Ambient 85-92 / 1992
7) Ptolemy / Aphex Twin- Selected Ambient 85-92 /1992
8) Rhubarb / Aphex Twin- Selected Ambient Works, Vol, 2 / 1994
9) Corrugated Tubing / Aphex Twin- Selected Ambient Works, Vol, 2 / 1994

Total Time: 42:23

Bedhead / The New Year

This isn't right. I feel like I've just made the Now That's What I Call Bedhead! Vol. 1 mix. I've taken Matt and Bubba Kadane's meticulously crafted and deliberately paced albums and plundered them for the "hits." Way to go me.

Anyway, this is a collection of songs culled from the six albums of the Kadane brothers' two bands, Bedhead and The New Year. Their first band, Bedhead, started out as a slowcore outfit from Texas in the early '90's, with a sound that drew comparisons to Low and Galaxie 500. Specifically, they had both the morphine drip tempos and hushed vocals of Low and the intricate (and occasionally explosive) guitar textures of Galaxie 500. Turned out to be a pretty magical combination. All three of the band's albums received heaps of critical praise, but, from what I gather, Bedhead never managed to gain much exposure beyond the college radio circuit. In the 2000's, after Bedhead called it quits, the Kadanes roped in three fellow indie rock vets to form The New Year, which picked up right where Bedhead left off. The New Year have moved forward by dropping the alt-country and atmospheric post-rock leanings that helped to make Bedhead so enigmatic, and have instead bumped up the levels on Matt Kadane's vocals and created music that's become increasingly accessible and emotional, but not the least bit compromising.

So back to feeling weird about this mix. I think this sense of defacing a great band in trying to honor it is something that will be inescapable with some of these Yahplay mixes. No getting around it. One of the reasons I loved/love these two bands so much is that they clearly put so much thought into crafting proper albums. So, in that sense, it's impossible to give an accurate snapshot of the Kadanes' music in this type of format.

Much like Chris did in his Galaxie 500 mix, I tended to go for the louder, more immediate songs from the Bedhead/The New Year catalog, which results in a trade-off. Some of the bad: "The Newness Ends" can't possibly have the cathartic effect it does at the end of the New Year's debut, and some of the majesty that "The Present" brings to Bedhead's most understated album, Transaction de Novo, is inevitably lost. The good: Jesus Christ, these guys have some amazing songs, and I think the best are included here.

1) Folios / The New Year- The New Year / 2008
2) The Rest of the Day / Bedhead- Bedheaded / 1996
3) Living Well / Bedhead- What Fund Life Was / 1994
4) Withdraw / Bedhead- Bedheaded / 1996
5) The Unpredictable Landlord / Bedhead- What Fund Life Was / 1994
6) The Newness Ends / The New Year- Newness Ends / 2001
7) Extramundane / The New Year- Transaction de Novo / 1998
8) MMV / The New Year- The New Year / 2008
9) Romand Candle / Bedhead- Bedheaded / 1996
10) To the Ground / Bedhead- What Fund Life Was / 1994
11) Age of Conceit / The New Year- The End is Near / 2004
12) Lepidoptera / Bedhead- Transaction de Novo / 1998
13) Alter Ego / The New Year- Newness Ends / 2001
14) The Company I Can Get / The New Year- The New Year / 2008
15) The Present / Bedhead- Transaction de Novo / 1998
16) 18 / The New Year- The End is Near / 2004
17) Wind Down / Bedhead- What Fund Life Was / 1994

Total time: 72:59

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Bands of Steve Albini (Big Black, Rapeman, Shellac)

Somewhere between late nights spent gigging around LA behind the drum kit of the two-piece minimal post-punk outfit Cinder Cone, and early mornings spent turning the wheels of industry as a financial analyst, Foley found the time to put together this playlist chronicling the bands of the mighty Steve Albini.

Steve Albini is well known for a lot of reasons. He is a prolific sound engineer and runs his own studio in Chicago. He is outspoken and has a history of being provocative, particularly when talking about musicians, bands, and major labels. Most importantly for our purposes, he is/has been the guitarist/vocalist for three bands: the drum machine powered Big Black (1982 – 1987), the unfortunately named Rapeman (1987 – 1988), and the thankfully still touring Shellac (1992 – present). June 20th and 21st in Los Angeles. Yes.

This post will attempt to introduce Albini’s work as a musician. I tinkered with the idea of creating a playlist to cover his work as a producer but realized that a) the playlist would end up being several hours long and b) I’d end up having to include a very wide range of artists including Nirvana (he recorded In Utero), the Jesus Lizard, Joanna Newsome, Oasis, and Bush (yes, of the Gavin Rossdale, 16 Stone variety…although he didn’t record that album)

This playlist tracks each of Albini’s bands in chronological order. Big Black is arguably the most famous of the three, backed by a drum machine (aptly named “Roland”). Most of the songs were fast, raw, and abrasive. The lyrics were dark, disturbing, and sometimes offensive. For a comprehensive history, read the Big Black chapter in Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life. As for the 4 songs here, I included them because, well, I like them the best.

Rapeman took the abrasive sound of Big Black, added a human drummer (Rey Washam of Scratch Acid), and decided on a horribly offensive name (apparently taken from a Japanese comic book). Although the name seems to be what got most people’s attention in the late 1980s, the band’s only album is actually very good. 3 songs from Two Nuns and a Pack Mule appear in the playlist.

Albini’s long-running, current project is Shellac. Shellac is abrasive but decidedly minimalist. There is a distinct space between each instrument (Albini on guitar, fellow sound engineer Bob Weston on bass, and professional drummer/hair stylist Todd Trainer on drums) that defines their sound. They’ve released 4 full length albums since 1994. I’ve taken a couple songs from each record. I’ve also added a live version of “End of Radio” because I think it’s better than the one that ended up on Excellent Italian Greyhound. I’ve also included a track off of one of their early EPs, “Wingwalker”, which continues to be a favorite at live shows.

In addition to the playlist below I have attached two links:

The first is a link to the website for Albini’s Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. If you’re a musician, or a geek, or both, it’s worth exploring.

The second is a random thread sent to me a couple years ago, in which Albini answers any and all questions about music, bands, and playing poker. Yes, it’s really him. Please enjoy.

1) The Power of Independent Trucking / Big Black- Songs About Fucking / 1987
2) Passing Complexion / Big Black- Atomizer / 1986
3) I, Dopa / Big Black- Song About Fucking / 1987
4) Stinking Drunk / Big Black- Atomizer/ 1986
5) Steak & Black Onions / Rapeman- Two Nuns and a Pack Mule / 1988
6) Monobrow / Rapeman- Two Nuns and a Pack Mule / 1988
7) Budd / Rapeman- Two Nuns and a Pack Mule / 1988
8) My Black Ass / Shellac- at Action Park / 1994
9) Crow / Shellac- at Action Park / 1994
10) This is a Picture / Shellac- Terraform / 1998
11) Copper / Shellac- Terraform / 1998
12) Wingwalker / Shellac- Uranus EP / 1993
13) Ghosts / Shellac- 1000 Hurts / 2000
14) Watch Song / Shellac- 1000 Hurts / 2000
15) End of Radio / Shellac- Live Version / 2006
16) Paco / Shellac- Excellent Italian Greyhound / 2007

Total Time: 64:14