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Top 25 Albums of 2010

Posted by: on Dec 14, 2010 | Comments (1)

1. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (DFA/Virgin)

2. Yellow Swans – Going Places (Type)

3. Jóhann Jóhannsson – And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees (Type)

4. Robyn – Body Talk Pt. 1 (Konichiwa/Interscope)

5. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (XL)

6. Standard Fare – The Noyelle Beat (Bar None)

7. V/A – Welcome Home (Diggin’ the Universe): A Woodsist Compilation (Woodsist)

8. The Velvet Teen – No Star (Self-Released)

9. Jack Attack – My Rights Have Been Violated (Self-Released)

10. Jason Moran – Ten (Blue Note/EMI)

11. Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday (Young Money/Universal)

12. Goodriddler – The Strength of Weak Ties (Sell the Heart)

13. Grouper / Roy Montgomery – Vessel (Self-Released)

14. RVIVR – S/T (Rumbletowne)

15. Marco Benevento – Between the Needles and Nightfall (Royal Potato)

16. Hanalei – One Big Night (Big Scary Monsters/Brick Gun)

17. Superchunk – Majesty Shredding (Merge)

18. Hearse – Diagnosed (Self-Released)

19. Sam Amidon – I See the Sign (Bedroom Community)

20. M.I.A. – Maya (Interscope)

21. Evan Parker & John Weise – C-Section (PAN)

22. Daniel Bjarnason – Processions (Bedroom Community)

23. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (Warp)

24. Joseph Hammer – I Love You, Please Love Me Too (PAN)

25. Best Coast – Crazy for You (Mexican Summer)

They Still Make Tapes

Posted by: on Dec 23, 2008 | Comments (9)

Imagine my absolute shock when the other night, coinciding perfectly with my article this week in the Bohemian about why I still make tapes, this collection of cassettes arrived wrapped up on my front porch, like an abandoned child in swaddling clothes:

No way! Now that’s some incredibly in-depth joke, I thought, figuring that someone had spent hours making fake cassette artwork for five local bands: The New Trust, Not To Reason Why, the Velvet Teen, Polar Bears, and my own band, Santiago. But it just got even more insane when I opened the cases.

That’s right: these are actual manufactured cassettes!

My jaw dropped. Yes, these are complete albums on tape, and what’s more, the Warner Bros. style sheet for cassettes is adhered to down to the tiniest detail in the artwork: the black-bar cover, the block font on the spine, the timestamp on either side of the shell, the Dolby logo everywhere. Unbelievable. There are liner notes inside, and the catalog numbers even reference the old “-4” suffix, applicable to cassettes.

It’s like something I never thought I’d ever see. Holding something in your hand that surely couldn’t exist. Like a hallucination come true. Like the most retardedly beautiful Christmas present ever.

I called the usual suspects, Josh Drake and Josh Staples, and they proudly admitted to the feat. Those guys have done some absolutely stupid, bonkers-ass, unnecessary bullshit in their time, but this is by far my favorite thing they’ve pulled off. How did they do it? It turns out that there’s a place in Petaluma, Kaba Audio, that still takes orders for cassettes. Totally crazy.

I’ve been assured that there’s only 100 copies of these cassettes out there, which considering the demand for cassettes these days is probably about 97 copies too many. They come packaged in a $10 5-Pack, boasting “Now With Compromised Fidelity!” Those wanting in on this extremely short run can find it at the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa.

I got an overwhelming response to the article on cassette tapes, incidentally, which proves that you can’t kill a medium that’s been a part of people’s lives for decades. I even got some phone calls from people who rattled their cassettes into the phone, proving that they, too, still love tapes. The sad thing is that there’s still a market for cassettes (anyone who works at a record store can attest to repeated inquiries for tapes), but it’s just not profitable for the already-fledgling record companies.

The last actual manufactured cassette I saw domestically from a major label was Common’s Be, issued with a stock font, a chintzy black-and-white spine and no j-card at all. The last actual manufactured cassette I bought, though, was Green Day’s American Idiot, with a full-color fold-out j-card and official Warner Bros. packaging. It came from a seller in Malaysia, where cassettes are still relevant and where major labels actually order legitimate pressings of tapes there. Recently, they’ve made Metallica’s Death Magnetic, Kanye West’s The College Dropout, Weezer’s Make Believe, Against Me’s New Wave, and many, many more titles on cassette in Malaysia, all in short runs of about 200 or so.

The best way to find Malaysian titles on cassette is on eBay; type “Malaysia” into a cassette search and hundreds of titles pop up. There’s a long and strange dissection of complex Malaysian copyright laws here that might shed some light on why Malaysia is the dominant producer of new cassettes. And some incredible-looking Malaysian cassette manufacturing equipment is for sale here, which hopefully does not spell the end of cassettes entirely. Here’s a sample image of how they do it in Malaysia:

The Velvet Teen at the Phoenix Theater

Posted by: on Mar 21, 2008 | Comments (0)

Partway through the Velvet Teen’s set last night at the Phoenix, Judah Nagler started noodling on the keyboard, playing snippets of music from game shows and Nintendo games. The crowd, of course, loved it, just as everyone at the Phoenix, whether they knew it or not, loved what it represented: that the Velvet Teen is loosening up. Weathering a difficult third album, a major lineup change, and a sporadic schedule, the band’s finally got their shit dialed back in, and last night’s show was the best Velvet Teen show I’ve seen in two years.

The set started with one of a few new songs—a good sign—but it wasn’t too long before they dipped into an oft-neglected back catalog, namely a brilliantly reworked “Red Like Roses” from Out Of The Fierce Parade. The opening keyboard chords, instantly recognizable, gave way to atmospheric guitar sounds from Matthew Izen that washed through the song like windblown silk. “Penecillin” sounded amazing, marking the welcome return of preset laptop tracks, and “Forlorn,” having found its home at the piano again, resonated across the crowd.

Sometimes I think the Velvet Teen should just re-record Cum Laude. “333″ and “Building a Whale” have evolved into the violent Casey Deitz-driven juggernauts they were always meant to be, and the delicate mannerisms in the band’s expansive, slower version of “Noi Boi” bring out the song’s inner beauty. All told, it’s like they’ve settled in, kicked off their shoes, watched some Jeopardy! and played some Super Mario Bros., and learned how to breathe as a band again.

The topper on the band’s excellent set was the surprise encore—”Chimera Obscurant,” all 13 crashing, crazy minutes of it. For, like, the first time in forever. It’s a favorite of mine for reasons too long to get into here, and the Velvet Teen drove it straight through the heart of a raptured crowd, ditching the “free speech shouldn’t cost” stop and letting it just roll on and on and on and on and on and on and on. Pure bliss.

Opening bands: I missed Goodriddler, which sucks because Nick’s amazing, and I watched all of Aloha and remained underwhelmed. They’re like the band that has a lot of great things going for them—distorted vibes, interesting guitar phrases, an incredible drummer—but somehow they just don’t add up. My friend Josh is all over ‘em (“Sugar is sweet!” he remarked of the band’s 2002 full-length, completely unaware of what he’d just said), which is a sign that in five years, I’ll come around and slap myself on the head.

At the end of the night, people were still talking about Body or Brain, who played the lobby. Best new band right now, no contest. Upbeat, hyperjangly infectious pop, led by Jakie Lieber, a madman. Jakie plays unbelievable riffs on the electric guitar with his bare hands, no pick, and he simultaneously moves around like a clock spring that’s frantically uncoiling. I hunched down near the floor and watched as he jumped, kicked, slung the guitar around his back, tap-danced, did the fucking splits, and moonwalked, all while playing the guitar and not missing a note. I met him a few weekends ago while writing an article about his hardcore band, the Grand Color Crayon, and he’s also got solo recordings that sound like Doug Martsch’s acoustic stuff. Is there anything the kid can’t do? I mean, besides finally move out of Napa someday?

(Jakie jumps around way too fast to be photographed, and this is the best I could do. —–>)