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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Derrick's Top 5 New CDs of 2005 (January - June)

Because I search for half-decent reason to make lists, and because the end of this week marks the midway point for the year, here's my top albums list for the midway point! And because it's only half the year, it'll only be half of a top ten list.
So without further ado, here are my favorite five CDs released between the new year and now:

5 - Casey Dienel - Wind-Up Canary

Every year or so, somebody comes along and reminds me why the piano is such an integral fixture in the musician's studio. Ben Folds' last album was rank, and Fiona Apple's last album suffered from a miserable remix, and part of me took this as a sign that maybe we all needed a break from the sweet, sweet ivory keys for a couple of years. Leave it to Portland's Hush Records to prove me delightfully wrong.
Wind-Up Canary has that classically American pop sound, and when I say "pop" I am not referring to the Backstreet Boys or American Idol. The music is based in the traditional piano, and gentle but firm whisps of banjo, trumpets, clarinets, drums, cymbals, and maracas fill the space with a warm reverie reminiscent of saloons and vaudevillian theaters, but the star of the show is always Casey's confident crooning.
Stand-out track: "Tundra", with its morose cello and every-day-girl-down-in-the-dumps lyrics, this song has haunted me since I first heard it three months ago, and I catch myself singing its eerily catchy chorus almost everywhere I go. The water does indeed get deeper the further we drift out.

4 - Nomo - Newtones

Detroit's afrobeat nonet (that's a nine-piece band) Nomo deliver on the promise of their self-titled debut from a couple years back with this showcase of the band's energetic flavor exquisitely produced by His Name Is Alive's Warn Defever. It's truly impressive that the band sounds so rich and live in the recording, simultaneously seeming to be just having fun with a jam session and rehearsing a precisely choreographed performance. Five horns wail in tribal glee over a pit of bells and shakers, congas and handclaps, guitar, bass and keys, and the whole thing is launched with band leader Elliot Bergman's masterful playing of the electric kalimba. I doubt a greater "get down" album will come along this year.
Stand-out track: "Divisions", because no man can refuse that rhythmic cowbell, and I still can't believe a nonet can drop the same beat so exactly, even after seeing them play it perfectly live. I'd swear they were robots, but robots don't have this much soul.

3 - Islands - Return To The Sea

After the long speculated breakup of The Unicorns finally came to pass, everyone expected the three members to have their own projects but ultimately be fruitless. Nobody saw Islands coming. Well aware of the fact that they would immediately be regarded as the ex-Unicorns, Nick and Jaime set forth to create a wholly different beast in Islands, one that fed off of the later work of The Unicorns but was ultimately far more mature. There was also the widespread statement that the entire album was inspired by Paul Simon's Graceland. Return To The Sea is a finely crafted pop album laden with worldly influences and is hopefully only the first taste of Canada's next great band.
Stand-out track: "Jogging Gorgeous Summer" implements the infectious good vibrations of the steel drum along with its harmonious and uplifting guitar and flute, as well as a rare peek at Nick's sweet emotional side with lovey-dovey lyrics. You can almost smell the coconut oil.

2 - Oh No! Oh My! - Oh No! Oh My!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: there's nothing wrong about pop music. There's nothing wrong with songs that inspire swaying in the audience. There's nothing wrong with half the lyrics to your song being "ba ba ba badaba". There's nothing wrong with having your average song length be three minutes. There's nothing wrong with the tambourine! Greg, Daniel and Joel are three friends making music in their home studio. They don't have grand ideas behind the songs when they write them, they just play a little guitar, come up with a cute ditty and hit record. It's a simple formula, one familiar to thousands of teenagers and twentysomethings throughout the world. These guys have simply proven that you can use that terribly basic formula we all adhere to and crank out sweet juicy jams that rival the newest hotness from the big labels.
Stand-out track: "I Have No Sister", steadily building with synth keys, handclaps, tambourine, guitar, drumkit and finally bass, is more than just an exercise in instrumental minimalism, its also a damn catchy and fun song, with another fantastically dreamlike chorus. More amazing about the instrumentation, perhaps, is that even though each one comes in separately, no one ever overpowers the other to the point of domination and every voice is heard. Perhaps this is a metaphor for independent musicians, or perhaps I am just too smitten with this album.

1 - His Name Is Alive - Detrola

Much can be said of His Name Is Alive's long-awaited eighth studio album, their first since being dropped by legendary UK label 4AD, but perhaps the most notable statement would be that it truly defies genre. Whereas past HNIA albums have been predominantly goth, rock, surf, funk, and even R&B, Detrola is all and none of the above. Jazz guitars shimmy up against blues horns and ethereal bells and gospel keys. If I had to come up with a term to describe the sound on Detrola, it would be "church sex", but how could a term that sounds so wrong describe melodies that sound oh so right?
Stand-out track: "Sometimes Screw", because Warn Defever and company never groove quite like they do when their songs are thinly veiled sex metaphors. You've got to love a band that relies on the pounding horn section as more of a rhythm section than the lonely snare drum, and when the electric guitar screams after the second verse, well, you know what that's all about.

12:34 PM
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Saturday, June 24, 2006

My first official post-college graphic design gig is complete and published!

Oh No! Oh My!'s new website was designed by yours truly
with illustrations by Laura Park.

Yes, I had filled up a number of pages in my sketchbook with my own ideas for images and layouts and such, but Laura came through and the band already has a great rapore with her, so I took her drawings and did something fun but simple so as to not complicate things and scare away fans, which the band has many of now.

Go check out the website, the band, and such. Their cd is one of my favorites of the year so far, as I intend to ramble more about in a few days.

7:13 PM
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Friday, June 09, 2006

Are you coming down this weekend?

A year of slow steady email work, a month of decent planning, a week of insane workload and waiting for the trains, and now a weekend of reaping the benefits.

I'll be at the Puck Building all weekend. Come on by and say hey and rock out, or just hit me on the cell.

9:00 AM
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Thursday, June 01, 2006


Tonight, I am attending the release party for Asobi Seksu's new album Citrus at Joe's Pub:

Joe's Pub is a tiny, tiny little club, as the name implies. It can seat about 150 people at the tables, stools and bar in front of the stage, so this will be a rather intimate show. No stagediving, no getting up and dancing, just sitting, drinking, and enjoying the waves of beautiful sound from the band celebrating their new album.
I still have the self-produced version of their first album from when I saw them at the Vanderbilt in 2002. I think I might bring it, just in case there's a moment I get to talk to them and show them. Most people don't even know that there was a self-produced version and only know of the rerelease with new art from 2004.

Both Thom Yorke's the eraser and Xiu Xiu's The Air Force have leaked onto the internet. the eraser is quite pleasant, but nothing genius. It is actually more or less exactly what I expected when I first heard it would be a Thom Yorke solo album as opposed to a Radiohead album. I've only heard the first two tracks of The Air Force so far, but they're really breathtakingly fantastic. Much closer to the pop-rock sensibility approached on Fabulous Muscles, but still mysterious and deeply personal, and a hell of a lot more awesome. I'll listen to the rest later, but these are two of my favorite Xiu Xiu songs to date and I think this album will be huge.

MoCCA Art Fest 2006 is next weekend and its easy to tell from the people I'm talking to that excitement is high, though it doesn't feel real to me yet. Weird.

10:30 AM
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