Thursday, December 29, 2011
There's no way the hype could be matched with the height of anticipation any Animal Collective related release garners lately, so Noah Lennox's "Tomboy" was bound to disappoint some. It's still a perfectly solid record, as Lennox tightens up his arrangements into neatly crafted and structured pop songs. Tracks like "Last Night At the Jetty" were perfect for when that stretched out winter we had was finally warming up.
13. Jay Z and Kanye West - Watch the Throne
"Jesus was a carpenter, Yeezy made beats" Jay-Z raps in the opening verses of album of the titans "Watch the Throne." I guess it only makes sense that Jesus is the only guy big enough for two of the hugest superstars in the world roll with. In this 16 track ode to excess, both artists don't quite match their solo work, but when you hear "Gotta Have It" you can't help but nod your head. Hov and Yeezy bring it back to their roots: "I'm riding through yo hood, you can bank I ain’t got no ceiling/ (Made a left on Nostrand Ave., we in Bed Stuy)/ Made a right on 79th, I’m coming down South Shore Drive/ (I remain Chi-town) Brooklyn ‘til I die."
12. Cold Cave - Cherish the Light Years
Songwriter and author Wes Eisold started making music around ten years ago in Boston with the loud and manic hardcore band American Nightmare, and later in the smutty, near grindcore act Some Girls. Cold Cave is a huge step away from these aggressive bands, it's pitch perfect 80's pop a dead ringer for New Order and the Cure, Eisold's once bark now a Morrisey croon. Throughout the years and changes in styles, Eisold still holds the same intensity and sense of humor throughout. "Cherish the Light Years" is probably his best work yet.
11. Jessica Lea Mayfield - Tell Me
Ohio 22 year old Jessica Lea Mayfield's second release is a carelessly reflective, beautiful country record musing on navigating love and sex. Mayfield's lyrics are stories of lonely nights doing things you probably shouldn't do with those you probably shouldn't, sung with a cadence like a shrug. "I'll not let hate be the one to make me naked for you/ my self esteem is heating up the room/ you're intimidating as all hell, but I ain't scared of you." Mayfield let's us know on "Our Hearts Are Wrong" she's a talented songwriter, but even more a talented story teller.
10. Das Racist - Relax
Das Racist are hilarious. I saw them a couple years ago and wrote them off, but with this year's "Relax" and their other mixtapes I was converted. Almost every line on this rap record out of Queens brings a smile to my face. It's not just the sardonic wordplay that makes these guys stand out, they write songs that are catchy as hell and can out MC most rappers out right now.
9. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
Just before the Arab Spring and Occupy protests came to define 2011, PJ Harvey released a heavy weight protest album. While a lot of indie is criticized for not being socially involved, this year saw a change in that with more artists voicing their support for the Occupy movements, but none releasing a preemptive and strong armed work like this great record from the classic songstress PJ Harvey.
8. The Sandwitches - Mrs. Jones Cookies
The video for "In the Garden", the first track of San Fransisco girls "Mrs. Jones Cookies" finds the ladies doing an out of sync, sultry dance to this dark, creepy and sexy song while a nun in drag and other weirdo dudes watch and dance. Those visuals could set the vibe to the whole record; a beautifully seductive and spooky, heartfelt crooner.
7. Atlas Sound - Parallax
I've been a fan of pretty much everything Bradford Cox has put out the past few years beginning with Deerhunter's 2007 "Crytograms". Atlas Sound has become a home for some of Cox's most accessible songs, with "Parallax" he finds himself placed between his sunny drone and mournful pop, in the right place as usual.
6. The Black Lips - Arabia Mountain
"Arabia Mountain" kicks off with a rollicking devil, "Family Tree" that these Atlanta boys make sound like running through a swamp being chased by an alligator. Whether it's vicious garage punk or dirty jukebox slow dances about Peter Parker, this is the record of their catalog most likely to get stuck in your head.
5. Cults - Cults
In 2010 Cults released the single "Go Outside" and other then that not much else was known about the bubble gum pop group. With just a couple songs online they signed to Columbia Records and released a short, sweet, to the point and highly infectious pop album that makes you wanna go outside and dance all day.
4. Yuck - Yuck
The Pavement comparisons are inescapable, but these 90's nostalgia enthusiasts from London deserve more credit for making one of the most driven rock records of the year. There's a certain yearning in the feeling of the record this band reflects that's missing in a lot of today's more apathetic indie. They seem to nail it without really trying, especially in the first three tracks.
3. Tom Waits - Bad as Me
"Bad as Me" in some ways seems like a best of Tom Waits record. It's everything you've loved about him from the past 25 years on, but more succinct. The rowdy bar songs are rowdy, the ballads are tender not cheesy, and the weird ones are weird. Props for those funny promo videos too.
2. The Babies - The Babies
I think this record was overlooked by a lot of people because of the "indie super group" nature of the band (it features Cassie Ramone from Vivian Girls and Kevin Morby from Woods). I think Vivian Girls backlash in particular, the Twitter ready, adorkable, (I can't believe I fucking said that), gossip inducing girl group made people dismiss The Babies self titled debut and the band altogether. This is a big problem with the "Hipster Runoff-ification" that's been going on lately, when bands with attractive people make catchy music, blow up, and then are hated a week later. All this aside, this record is at the top of it's field. It's goes from punk, to pop, to almost country anthems without feeling like switching bands. It really hits it's stride with the last two sprawling heartfelt jams "Wild" and "Caroline".
1. Times New Viking - Dancer Equired
Okay, this might be a weird one. Times New Viking's third full length and debut on Merge Records fell off the radar for most people and was received with pretty mixed reviews. The Ohio trio that was "lo-fi" just before it was a thing cleaned up their act a bit for this just after their tour with the reunited Guided By Voices, to whom they owe a great deal of influence. This was a tough choice, but I went with this because it was one of the records I spent the most time with these year, and like The Babies, seemed to sum up things other bands were trying to do, but better. The double guy/girl vocals, jangly guitars, and goofy keyboards go between the sweet lines "I wanna know everything about you" to the nasty "fuck her tears" carelessly. It was an easy album to put on whenever for both it's sweetness and meanness. It has me convinced these guys are only going to put out better in years to come.
Honorable Mentions: Future Islands - On the Water, Man Man - Life Fantastic, Paper Cuts - Fading Trails, ASAP Rocky - LiveLoveA$Ap, Trash Talk - Awake EP, The Antlers - Burst Apart, Zola Jesus - Conatus, Mastodon - The Hunter, Fucked Up - David Comes to Life, Ty Segal - Goodbye Bread, Youth Lagoon - Year of Hibernation, J Mascis - Several Shades of Why, The Dodos - No Color
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Here's my top 30 albums of 2011:
30. The War On Drugs - Slave Ambient
The War On Drugs have the unique ability to make contemporary rock sound like classic Americana, their newest record's songs pulling on each other like driving hundreds of highways. It's reflective in the ways those best classic American records are.
29. The Weeknd - House of Balloons
Ebel Tesfaye is the prolific Canadian behind The Weeknd, releasing a trilogy of mix tapes of dirty, dark ass R&B. Listening to these songs no matter where you are makes you feel like it's 4 in the morning and you're naked and fucked up somewhere you're not supposed to be.
28. Rival Schools - Pedals
Queens native Walter Schriefels has been making music for years, fronting legendary hardcore bands like Gorilla Biscuits and Quicksand. In 2001 he formed Rival Schools making a formidable post-hardcore band blending the elements of emo that were just about to explode at the time and late 90's alternative. The result, sort of a Jimmy Eat World with balls. Unexpectedly, Rival Schools got back together and released another album this year that sounds like they never stopped from ten years ago, in the best way possible.
27. EMA - Past Life, Martyred Saints
EMA's "California" is essentially a semi-sung, semi-spoken monologue about 22 year old Erika M. Anderson's life from South Dakota to the West Coast, it's meandering, intensely personal, and feels like an angry proclamation, or confession. In a time when lyrics are taking a back seat, Anderson isn't afraid to put her story out in front.
26. Widowspeak - Widowspeak
Brooklyn's Widowspeak's beautiful self-titled debut drags like smoke in a hazy basement. Vocalist Molly Hamilton sings just above a whisper "I always think about you" in "Harsh Realm", but the atmosphere is so relaxed it doesn't seem like she'll do anything about it.
25. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Girls returned with an epic third full-length album this year to heaps of critical hoorahs. Deservedly so, The album jumps between bouncy pop to intimate rock songs conjuring Elliott Smith in a way no artist seems to have been able to in the past decade.
24. Big Troubles - Romantic Comedy
Big Troubles transcended the bin of lo-fi garage rock groups this year with "Romantic Comedy", whose title is so aptly fitting as the group sings about love and loss with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. "Love is in the air/But I don't care/Because I don't want to love anymore/And if I hear the word again I think I'll shoot a hole in my head." the group sings to irresistibly catchy shoegazy power pop.
23. Twin Sister - In Heaven
Brooklyn's Twin Sister's first proper full length is a simultaneously delicate and dancey arrangement of dream pop songs firmly planted on the 80's tip. Andrea Estella's seductive voice creeps over quick beats and synths, perfect for the end of a dance party.
22. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Annie Clark's third full length release blends her diverse pocket of styles into a wonderfully fun and powerful album. Seeming to pull from every decade, she manages to sing over her insanely weird little guitar solos packing tons of fuzz and taming it down just in time.
21. Pure X - Pleasure
For all the bands smothering their sound in reverb these days, for Pure X it seems a creative choice rather than a trend. These slow shoegazey pop songs feel like they're being brought to you from a jukebox from the 50's that you're listening to in the Twilight Zone.
20. Woods - Sun and Shade
Three years in a row Brooklyn's Woods have put out three incredibly solid records more or less clinging to the same formula of short, fuzzed out folk songs blending into noisy jams. This year was no exception, and singer Jeremy Earl's falsetto rings over the songs to give it their signature timeless sound. Earl's also from my hometown, Warwick, NY, where he records bands at his Buttermilk Studio for the Woodsist label.
19. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo
The finger picking and background atmosphere the first seconds into "My Baby's Arms" on "Smoke Ring for My Halo" lets you onto the fact that Vile has really found his place as a song writer. A perfect love song, Vile never seems bothered by much in his songs, but his snarky Dylanesque whine keeps you gripped throughout.
18. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
The highly anticipated sophomore release from Seattle's Fleet Foxes didn't disappoint most. A more personal album, the groups harmonious folk songs flow together once again in beautiful, if occasionally precious introspection.
17. Male Bonding - Endless Now
London's Male Bonding return with a pack of loud, fast and short pop punk songs that dip their toe just enough into My Bloody Valentine territory so as to not be confused with early Blink 182. Probably at the head of their peers who are turning this not too long ago derided genre into once again legitimate punk.
16. Iceage - New Brigade
Brought to you by a bunch of 18 year old kids from Denmark, Iceage exploded with their debut this year in an 18 minute record that blends old school hardcore, melodic punk and sonic Joy Division-esque pop styles into fist pumping anthems.
15. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Mirror Traffic
Written just before the year long Pavement reunion tour, Stephen Malkmus goes into full on 90's rock mode and it couldn't be better. Cutting out some of the noodling that took up a lot of his past solo work, these songs are shorter and rock harder, his lyrics as goofy and inscrutable as ever. On Senator: "I know what the senator wants, what the senator wants is a blow job/I know what everyone wants, what everyone wants is a blow job."
Tomorrow I'll post 15-1!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. "Do you wish to buy any baskets?" he asked. "No, we do not want any," was the reply. "What!" exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, "do you mean to starve us?" Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off -- that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed -- he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man's to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other's while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy. I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one's while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men's while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?~
Monday, December 12, 2011
Monday, December 05, 2011
Ryan Dowler Presents The ESTeen Youngerblog: Wisdom on Life, Love, and the Theatre from My Junior High Diary
Sunday, December 04, 2011
Friday, December 02, 2011
If you’ve ever taken a playwriting class you probably know that reversals and subverted expectations are useful tools in storytelling. If you haven’t taken a playwriting class you probably also know this because you are a person that is alive and therefore consumes narrative. Usually in a story there are elements of surprise, there are revelations, someone or something changes, or someone realizes something. When these things are done well, you as the audience member might also realize something, you might also experience change and revelation. I think doing these things well usually involves taking your audience member gently by the hand and bringing them on a journey that they will experience through the lives and experiences of the characters they’re watching. Doing these things well generally does not involve tricking your audience, or making assumptions and generalizations about the opinions of your audience, and it certainly does not involve insulting your audience’s intelligence.
There are two marriage equality videos that have been all over Facebook in the past two weeks.
The first is this one: http://youtu.be/_TBd-UCwVAY
The second is this one: http://front.moveon.org/two-lesbians-raised-a-baby-and-this-is-what-they-got/
If you’re on Facebook and also reading this blog probably at least ten of your friends have linked to one or both of them and said something along the lines of “beautiful”. I disagree. I actually find the first one rather appalling and the second one a little bit disappointing. Here’s why:
Both of these videos use a heteronormative lens (the first one quite literally) through which to advocate for gay marriage; the basic argument of both seems to be “we should let homosexuals get married because if you didn’t know any better you might just mistake their relationship for a heterosexual one.” The assumption is that there is a good, moral working model for marriage and child rearing and that this model it is a heterosexual one. As long as a homosexual relationships can mimic this model then clearly homosexual marriage and parenthood should be allowed. Also, both of these videos use this assumption as a way to trick their audience (see above paragraph about how this is generally not a good way to subvert expectations and also for a link to how what I’m about to say sort of has something to do with playwriting and therefore belongs on this blog).
The Australian commercial takes us through two minutes of watching a relationship through the eyes of one member of a couple who we are supposed to assume is a woman because the one we can see is a dude, before revealing “OMG IT’S TWO DUDES!” GOTCHA! Don’t you feel so silly? Didn’t you think they were straight? Now clearly you see that they should be able to get married because they are wealthy and white and have straight couple friends and do things like barbeque and swim in the ocean.
The second one I’m more hesitant to criticize. I think this man is eloquent, and I was moved by what he said even though the crux of his argument is “see? We’re just like you.” He’s speaking from a place of truth and it sounds like his family is, in fact, a fairly traditional nuclear family and it’s not his responsibility to talk about the various ways in which one can successfully be a family, or love someone, or how it might also be okay if he had turned out to be a less conventionally successful and attractive and masculine man.
What I really object to is the title that has been attached to this: “Two Lesbians Raised a Baby and This is What They Got” “OMG WHAT THEY GOT WAS A REALLY WELL ADJUSTED SMART YOUNG MAN WHO IS PROBABLY STRAIGHT!” GOTCHA! I’m sure that all of the homophobes who were hoping to watch a hateful video about the weird little mutant freak that two lesbians raised have changed their minds about gay marriage. Because people LOVE being tricked. It never makes them confrontational or shuts down their ability or willingness to think and discuss like intelligent human beings. Also, let’s be honest, chances are really good that NOBODY watches that video wanting to see a kid damaged by being raised by two lesbians. Most of us read that title and know that it’s a joke and watch because we already believe in marriage equality, and in a homosexual couple’s ability and right to raise children. That title didn’t trick me. It only offended me. It offended me because I’m an intelligent consumer of media and I think that it’s a cheap trick that assumes my intelligence is less than it is. But it also offended me because it assumes that people who don’t support gay marriage are hateful and want to watch a video that shows a child having been damaged by homosexuality. Don’t get me wrong. I think that not supporting marriage equality IS hateful and bigoted, but I don’t assume that that hatefulness and bigotry extends to every aspect of someone’s life and results in them wishing ill on the children of gay couples.
Tricking people is not the answer. It assumes stupidity and simplicity on the part of our adversaries. It is offensive and counterproductive and if you went to see a play that pulled that shit you would most likely want your money back. And you would almost definitely not post it on Facebook with the caption “beautiful”.
As one of the writers for the brunch this Sunday - Brunchify Wall Street, I thought it might be a good idea to see what was what at Zuccotti Park.
Thursday, December 01, 2011
And, in a slightly more earnest vein:
Another one coming soon, arguable the biggest deal (at least from a playwriting perspective). Stay tuned.