Posts Tagged ‘sufjan stevens’
Honorable Mention: KiD CuDi: Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
#10 Vampire Weekend: Contra
While I’ve been a Vampire Weekend diehard since last January, George says “it makes me want to vomit cartoon rainbows.” Maybe there is something kitschy about Ezra singing about horchata, cheese steaks and toothpaste, but this is no reason to write off Contra. I’ve mentioned before that a good artist can take something simple, commonplace and present it in a completely novel way – in other words, make us pay attention to the clothes rubbing against our skin. This is what Vampire Weekend does. On one level, each song is completely unassuming, on another it’s mind blowing. Take “California English”, so fraught with auto-tune and syncopated rhythm you’re forced to ask “why?!” But the auto-tune is just a creative way to present “California English” or Spanish perhaps? Another way Vampire Weekend present simplicity is through perfectionism – the attention paid to minute detail. Although “White Sky” could be repetitive till dullness, it is instead subtly different through the use of changing percussion and inflections in Ezra’s voice. This is 2010’s version of XX – restraint, simplicity yet subtle complexity. The rarity of this combination is what makes such albums winners.
#9 Major Lazer: Lazers Never Die EP
Pure epinephrine runs through the veins of MAJOR LAZER. This causes him to create perfect dance music. This is what I imagine must be true for such unapologetically obscene dance music to exist. This EP is in part a recognition of all ML has done this year but also an appreciation of the EP itself. The remixes on this album do nothing less than improve upon the originals in the case of “Bruk Out” and in the case of “Jump Up” and “Can’t Stop Now” they remixes present the songs in a form that seems just as natural (or perhaps just as ridiculous?) as the originals.
#8 Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
Talk about album cohesion! Thematic, melting of one song into another, and even similar chord cadences in every song, Arcade Fire produced a soundtrack-like album. It even seems to have a beginning, middle, and end (it ends with “The Suburbs (continued)” that brings us right back to the first song on the album). On a smaller scale, within each song, the chord progressions are also circular. Where the cadence ends is also the beginning of the next cadence. Thus, every song is circular, and the effect is a continuous anticipation for a “real” ending. Maybe, that’s why this album is so catchy and debuted at #1 on the U.S. Billboard and received three nominations at the Grammys.
#7 Tame Impala: Innerspeaker
Listening to tracks like “Alter Ego” and “Solitude Is Bliss” really makes me want to put Tame Impala’s, Innerspeaker as number one on our list. But I honestly have to admit, the album as a whole just doesn’t make it that far. If you dig The Beatles, you might disagree with me, but as fresh as the whole classic rock, phased-out style, backed up by the “I don’t give a s**t” feels, may be, we have better justifications for our current higher rated picks. Innerspeaker succeeds in being nostalgic, without making the same mistake other indie bands make who just succeed in sounding stupid. Their 2008 EP sounds like it could have been made today by the band. That’s because Innerspeaker is Tame Impala’s genuine sound.
#6 Beach House: Teen Dream
Teen Dream is a very personable album. This may sound vague, but Teen Dream is vague. The entire album collectively makes a mess of your emotions. Obviously, from the song titles there is some theme of love, but honestly I can’t tell if the album is about falling in love or breaking up. Every song is introspective and absorbing. For example the song, “Lover Of Mine”, may begin like another kitschy song by MGMT, but after the bass and piano enter to accompany the guitar, the song becomes a pool of thought (perfect day-dream material). I personally found this album to be reflexive but I believe you can perceive this album in any way you wish. You can sympathize with it, embrace it, philosophize, etc. Every track on Teen Dream is unique to any listening aspiration. I don’t know how crazy I am about Alex Scally’s voice singing higher than his female counterpart, Victoria Legrand, but the duo together create a very luscious, yet translucent feel. The perfected and smooth production amplifies its imagery and tone. This album isn’t anything mind-blowing, but it pains me to pause my iPod midway through a song. You can claim that music is ear-candy, but Teen Dream is food for thought.
#5 Gorillaz: Plastic Beach
Damon Albarn clearly strives for grandeur with this album. Heavy beats, soaring orchestrations and collaborations out the wazoo do not mask Albarn’s intentions and in fact do quite well to propel this album most of the way towards what it seeks to accomplish. However, the album is plagued by just a few shortcomings that keep this album inches away from perfection. Unfortunate this was for Damon in a year like 2010 where these kinds of minor shortcomings keep a really incredible album at fifth place amidst some other really incredible releases. One or two really expendable songs (“Glitter Freeze” comes to mind) and a couple other hit or miss moments are the only real flaws and unlike in Demon Days, Damon proves that the Gorillaz project is more than just a vehicle for radio friendly pop singles.
# 4 Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz
“Letting loose” doesn’t exactly evoke ideas of frivolous brass and superfluous choir. We usually associate “letting loose” will sloppiness, incompletion and disorder. The wonderful, absolutely amazing, extraordinary thing about The Age of Adz is that it’s everything we wouldn’t expect from a free-form, sufjan-finally-let-loose album – it’s saturated with technical orchestration, complex ideas, story lines and masterful song writing. But even more impressively, the free form is still there – themes meander, noises pop out of nowhere, there seems to be little restraint. What makes this a top ten album is the effortlessness – orchestration that would sound contrived if written by anyone else, flows out of Sufjan like drunken ramblings; song structure that would normally either confuse us or put us to sleep, is instead enthralling and deeply emotional. Sufjan is naturally complex and often stabs at the air with odd “noises”. Every so often he stabs us in the heart and throughout his chaos he carries a beautiful melody and story – the combination of chaos, dissonance and harmony and peace is something only Sufjan could have crafted and something that may never be achieved on such a high level ever again.
#3 Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma
I initially wanted Cosmogramma to be album of the year. This was because from the moment I heard the leaked tracks in early 2010 and still to today, the album hit me on a supremely spiritual level. Its huge “cosmic” sound left me paralyzed. However, perhaps its scope was alienating; you’ve really got to get inside your own head to get into this music. Is this enough to push FlyLo off the top spot? Is it problematic at all? Perhaps, if you’re afraid of dementia or insomnia.
Aside from the psychological problems the album chaperones, FlyLo does some innovative things with his music. For instance, he seems so deliberate with his beat placement and ultimately you can tell because FlyLo’s seemingly sloppy, lazy beat (which in reality is probably incredibly delicately timed) really kills it, in a good way. I mean, if it was just a tad more sloppy in places, it straight up wouldn’t work and it is exactly that teetering on the threshold, that suspended dissolution that makes FlyLo’s music so kickass.
#2 Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The reason this album is so perfectly effective is because Kanye created an album that is a self portrait of a megalomaniac: A cinematic self portrait that is never self-effacing and always opportunistic. The cinematic aspect of it comes from his ability to sculpt an album that shows his true self from several angles: his obsession with power and opulence, his monstrous ego, his inability to sustain a relationship, his devils and his tribulations. Perhaps the reason MBDTF touches so many people so deeply is because it has an protagonist with whom we can clearly relate: a protagonist who is his own antagonist. Kanye’s got a pretty twisted mind to create such a fantastical album, full of dark imagery yet beautifully brilliant music.
#1 LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening
Exceptionally danceable. Stylistically nouveau. Tastefully self-deprecating. Often humorous. The facets of this album which, when working in tandem, make this our favorite album of the year are surprisingly actually not that hard to pin down.
In effect, this album just hit our pleasure centers from the very start and the music on this album hasn’t really stopped doing that even now. It’s not even a drip feed of pleasure, it’s like an endless waterfall of pleasure. However, it goes beyond that. The album goes the other way too. The absurdly ridiculous simplicity that this album exudes at first glance is a front for what is actually a crazy synthesis of several incongruous genres into one pseudo-dance-punk-who-cares-for-proper-labeling awesome piece of musical ass. I safely assert that this album contains the songs that James Murphy has been trying to make since “Losing My Touch”. This would be irrelevant if not for the fact that Murphy feels perfectly at ease in these songs. The production is tops, and in fact quite interesting, as Murphy finds way to play with your perception of the sounds he records. The sounds all sound framed in space yet still succulently clear. No sound is hidden or masked but there’s still an infinity of depth. In the end, This Is Happening just happens to be the most perfect album of the year.
Sufjan Steven’s brand new video for his Adz track, “Too Much”, is very appropriate and very cool. I wish more people danced like this (at a slower than life frame rate I mean).
I’m not really an Ariel Pink fan, but this video for his 2010 track, “Round and Round”, was directed by the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne and the visual effects are subtly trippy enough to make this a very fun watch. Who does he think he is, Kurt Cobain? Cut your hair!
Next is a video of our beloved Gorillaz, fronted by the lovable Damon Albarn, playing a cover of the XX’s “Crystalised”. Also available is the group playing acoustic versions of their Plastic Beach song “On Melancholy Hill” and the ft. Daley track “Doncamatic“.
That’s My Bitch
Lastly, there’s a New Jay-Z/Kanye Track floating around the interwebs and it’s very awesome. Kind of an old school hip hop beat on top of a nice 8bit bass line.
Sideways visor, flourescent tape, weird dance moves. I saw a chicken head in there. This is apparently Sufjan Steven’s live outfit. Larissa had the unbelievable fortune of getting to see him live for realz. I have to settle for Jimmy Fallon.
Last night Sufjan rocked Fallon, which seriously begs the question, why is Sufjan on Fallon? (I’m sorry Fallon, you’re actually a cool guy.) Whatever… He performed an abbreviated version of “Too Much” on the late night show. Though he kinda looks like a mess, Sufjan rocks well and quite competently (actually way beyond competently). CHECK IT:
He walked out onto the stage wearing white feather wings and told us, “My name is Sufjan Stevens and I’m your entertainment for the evening.”
And with that same veil of modesty, he plucked the sad little tune of Seven Swans on his banjo seemingly alone on a vast, dark stage. Only a minute later the backlight flashed red, as the trumpets glared to reveal an eleven-piece band behind him. He threw off his wings and awkwardly pulled on a pair of metallic pants and space suit while simultaneously slinging, now, a guitar over his head. It was so cute- like a costume change a six year old would make trying to imitate his or her favorite pop star. But this was Sufjan and it was so Sufjan.
I say this because, during the concert, we really got to know Sufjan. We listened to him fumble with the three laws of physics and his philosophy on the end of the earth, the beginning of the earth and what he calls the middle of the earth. We laughed nervously when he explained his diabolical relationship with cliffs and abysses like the Grand Canyon. He was so endearing, lonely, funny, but at the same time this man, dressed in metallic flared pants and a neon headband, was also the genius behind the music we were all so moved by.
The theme of the evening was the loneliness of the universe. Sufjan repeatedly used the words, “lonely”, “end”, and “primal”. Primal instincts became important when he described this newest album. He said he stripped his music of form, convention and history (haha). His performance was primal in two very different senses. In one way it was the product of Sufjan’s uninhibited self. It was the removal of any cortical reasoning and instead it was a reliance on older, ancient pleasure centers. It was hedonistic, an overproduction and over sensory stimulation. But it was also primal in another sense. When we weren’t “entertained” with productions such as Age of Adz and Impossible Soul, we were soothed with slower pieces. Sufjan became a soloist, a single lonely man on stage. His music became extremely raw, stripped…
But the majority of the show, when we weren’t watching a man and a banjo, was a Broadway musical: Eleven people on stage, 3 dancers, costumes, props, backdrops. Sufjan made sure you felt the apocalypse nearing when he sang, “Age of Adz” – a song he said, “confuses heartbreak with the end of the earth.” Someone next to me shouted, “They’re the same thing.”
Were we a bunch of overly sentimental alternatives watching an emotional rollercoaster? Sufjan certainly admitted that going through his concert every night was emotionally, physically and spiritually draining. But it made performances such as “I Walked”, and the drippingly gorgeous ,“The Owl and The Tanager” an experience rather than just a passive listening session on the audience’s part.
Sufjan played the 25 minute monster “Impossible Soul” – a song that could only have been written by Sufjan and certainly only have been performed by him. That was the beauty of the whole concert. It was the creative product of Sufjan and in an infinite number of years no one will be able to reproduce all the elements that went into it. Sufjan created a cosmic event that can only occur in some space and some time never to be exactly the same again.
“Impossible Soul”, the final song of The Age of Adz, takes me back to watching the chorus line of my high school’s production of West Side Story. In my memory, that day, the Sharks joined hands with the Jets (the dead ones revived, their shirts stained with prosthetic red blood) to sing the finale of the musical. They danced, they sang, and they bowed together. A scene like this forces the audience to wake up and cross that blurry line that separates fiction from reality. I remember the end of a show, rubbing my eyes, standing up, gaining my balance and commenting on the production to the person next to me – my smile felt stiff and fake because moments earlier I was watching Tony die, absorbed in that fictional reality. Like walking out of any sad movie, it’s hard to shake that feeling that something really terrible just happened.
And thus, “Impossible Soul”, is full of enough absurdities (autotune, 25 min long, a really cheesy interlude…) that it functions like the joining of hands between the Sharks and the Jets. These idiosyncrasies break your engagement with the fictional production. Yet, just as the finale of a musical runs through every leitmotif and theme, “Impossible Soul” repeats enough lyrics and melodies from throughout the album that you are ultimately called back into the emotional roller coaster that is Age of Adz.
My notes from my first listen (three songs in):
First song was like old Sufjan, then “Too Much” kicked too much ass. Now I’m listening to Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet”? ["Age of Adz"] is really weird.
In all seriousness. Sufjan doesn’t even throw a fucking curveball. He’s not even playing baseball. Jacked up electronics. Choirs here and there. Orchestras up the wazoo. A sonic style unlike anything on this planet. Songwriting as complicated as… Well the songs aren’t hard to follow but there’s no way to see around the corner with where he’s going in most of the songs. At least he didn’t drop us in the middle of a maze. The songs aren’t immediately catchy either but the album has really good flow so it’s not like I’m not sitting here waiting on the next good hook to catch my attention. And despite how over the top the production seems, it’s actually really refreshing. Age of Adz is a pretty album; as pretty as…
As pretty as Kid A? Apples and Oranges. However, it’s already been likened to Kid A by many reviewers. Fun Fact: Kid A isn’t perfect? Despite this, in my book it gets a perfect ten and Pitchfork thinks similarly. Some people think it’s shit but I think those people are full of it; my concurring opinion with Pitchfork gives me the highground. It also gives my review credibility. Why am I writing this review? I just want you to read my review so that you know how cool I am cuz I blog and I’m egocentric and I’m always right. BTW Sufjan made a really good album.
More notes from my first listen:
I’m halfway through the album all I can think about is the earlier songs. Just realized I’m not even paying attention to the current song. Okay I just tuned back into the NPR stream. I hear Sufjan singing about not getting distracted by something. Shit, I missed the line. This album is going to take several listens… Time to go take a pee break and restore my concentration.
I listened to the album several times through last night on NPR as they were streaming the album. While you’re reading now I’ve probably already biked to Reckless Records to pick up my copy on CD. I already have romantic visions of myself holding the physical disc. There’s going to be 75 minutes of music in my hands. Is this Sufjan’s Kid A? Kid A was 66% as long LOL. What does it mean for an artist “to write a Kid A“? It might signify a vast departure from a style present in previous work. Could it mean the album is perfect? Is it the result of the artist asking “Where do I go from here?” It could be a little of that. I can just say that the effect for me is that everything seems to be in its right place. *wink*
Notes from first listen (at “I Want to Be Well”):
Sufjan says, “I’m not fucking around.” Sounds like a Radiohead song. Talking to sis on gchat. She says it reminded her of Thom Yorke. LOL.
Apparently Sufjan asked the question, “What’s the point?” earlier this year. He was suffering an artistic breakdown. There are such remnants of an overcome sadness in this album: almost a nostalgia for a bygone and depressed emotional state. Be strong Sufjan. I think you’re onto something.
Notes from first listen (from first 10 minutes of “Impossible Soul”)
Again the line “Don’t be distracted.” Recurring sonic themes from earlier in the album. Aura is reminiscent of something from Cosmogramma.
For me, Cosmogramma was Flying Lotus watching the stars and imagining the crazy kinds of “cosmic dramas” (to use his words) that go on beyond our atmosphere. For Sufjan Stevens it’s a different story. I picture Age of Adz as Stevens’s anti E.T.; he’s stuck in space trying to find his way back home, to earth. This album is a deconstruction/reconstruction. But hey, enough of the BS. I wrote this review in an effort to entertain you, not to get stuck in the proverbial analytic sludge. Wait no, I wrote this to let you know how awesome my taste in music is.
Notes from first time through (from around the 14 minute mark of “Impossible Soul”)
“The Final Countdown”?
Notes from first time through (end of album)
You gave a few interviews this year in which you implied that you’re suffering from writer’s block and creating musical equivalents of Gigli. You said specifically, “A narrative song with accompaniment– is really beyond me now….And I don’t think I can win; I feel like it’s a losing battle.”
But I have to ask – what are you talking about?!! Just this year, live versions of your new song, ‘There’s Too Much Love’, and others appeared on YouTube and I attacked them ferociously as if being thrown scraps of delicious genius from your mixing table. I mean, they were just so incredible. I couldn’t get enough. And not to forget that earlier this year you exquisitely covered ‘You Are The Blood’ by the Castanets for Dark Was The Night. LISTEN HERE
Sufjan, please, no more of your self-fulfilling prophecies. Please just re-listen to this (below), and take back what you meant when you said, “I’m at a point where I no longer have a deep desire to share my music with anyone.” Take it back, we need this in studio form – please.