About berzerkeleyan

40-something somebody obsessed with his CD collection.

Wild Beasts “Present Tense” (2014)

This quick review is long overdue. Thanks for kickstarting the blog again, Stu…

Each successive Wild Beasts album gets better than the last. This one, at first, sounds subdued. But underneath all the beautifully layered sound is a majesty and authority. You can sense that at any moment, they can unleash the full breadth of their power. But they don’t for the sake of our feeble minds’ inability to comprehend their genius. It has been in fairly constant rotation all Summer, and continues to mesmerize the musical dolt in me.

Oh, and it sounds phenomenal on headphones.

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Steely Dan “Gaucho” (1980)

Manuel’s Album of the Month for April

I’m an audiophile. As good as a band’s music can be, if their albums sound like crap, they lose major points with me (hear that, early Muse?). Steely Dan’s recording philosophy ensured you felt as if you were in the studio as each album was being made. Theirs are some of the best-sounding recordings you will ever come across. Although most of the credit for this goes to the overly-obsessive Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, their sound engineer Roger Nichols should also receive an equal amount of praise. I suppose he has over the years — he won eight Grammies for sound engineering over his career.

Earlier this year I acquired a pair of Sennheiser HD800s, and recently built a DIY headphone amp to complement it. Listening to albums like “Gaucho” on my new rig has been an absolute pleasure. Repeated listens of this classic compelled me to make this my April Album of the Month.

Stu will be visiting in a couple of weeks. Hopefully he’ll listen to this album on my setup and then comment on this post, even if he doesn’t like Steely Dan. Mork and Keef, what do you think of SD and “Gaucho?”

Manuel’s Top Ten of 2013

mbv, white lies, editors, divine fits, phoenix, the veils, polica, johnny marr, school of seven bells, metronomy

I beat myself up pretty good in 2012 for not being as diligent a new music listener as in years past. 2013 was different. Because of a few lifestyle changes over the past 12 months — some deliberately good, some not so deliberate or good — I devoted more time listening to music. The result was, IMHO, a more considered study on what was a very good year in music. 

If I have a criticism of my list, it is the lack of new bands represented. I obviously did not venture far from my comfort zone. I will try to be better about that in 2014. 

10. Metronomy “The English Riviera” (2011)

Do you have your skinny jeans on? A t-shirt with an ironic phrase or image on it? What about thick, black plastic glasses? Yes? Okay, you’re now ready to listen to this album. Although released a couple of years ago, I was introduced to it by a colleague in early 2013. And despite my snarky intro, I really dug this album. I wasn’t alone; it was considered by many one of 2011’s best. If this is new to y’all too, I think we’ve all been caught asleep at the switch.

9. School of Seven Bells “Ghostory” (2012)

I spent the earlier part of the year playing catch up to a number of albums purchased in 2012 that I hadn’t gotten around to hearing. This is one of them. If you’re a fan of SoSB’s signature synth bliss sound, this album will not disappoint. Sadly, as of this past December, this band is no longer — one of its two members died of cancer. He was 35.

8. Johnny Marr “The Messenger” (2013)

One wonders what took Johnny so long to release a solo album. Doesn’t matter. It was worth the wait. And for a codger like Marr, his songs sound quite fresh. I hope he doesn’t wait another couple of decades before his next release.

7. Poliça “Shulamith” (2013)

One of the few newish bands to make my list. I won’t write any more than what I did here. I will add that this probably would’ve been higher on my list had I gone to their concert when I had the chance. D’oh!

6. The Veils “Time Stays, We Go” (2013)

Typical excellence from Finn Andrews & Co. This release was enhanced by my witnessing another cathartic live performance. Best show I attended in 2013, although it can’t possibly top Stu’s concert of the year/decade/ever.

(Stone Roses? Really? Damn. I could probably win a million dollar lottery and a night to remember with <insert your favorite female beauty here>, and it probably still wouldn’t beat this accomplishment. SUPER jealous. Only a time machine to them performing in 1990 could top it.)

5. Phoenix “Bankrupt!” (2013)

This being their sixth album, it can be easy to overlook how difficult it is to consistently create timeless, incredibly catchy music. But that’s just what Phoenix did. Again.

If I have one criticism (and it’s a big one), it is how horribly mixed this record is. It is super-compressed and muddy. If it weren’t for Phoenix’s ability to craft a good pop song, this would be unlistenable to me. However, despite this transgression, I think this album is better than their previous.

4. Divine Fits “A Thing Called Divine Fits” (2012)

As stated in an earlier post, this one snuck past me in 2012. But I made up for lost time by playing the bejeesus out of it in 2013. And like many on this list, its sounds echo my favorite artists growing up. I hope these guys have more great tunes in their future.

3. Editors “The Weight of Your Love” (2013)

I can’t write much more than I have already. Excellent album. And “Formaldehyde” is still a great tune many months after first hearing it.

2. White Lies “Big TV” (2013)

In three years, White Lies came #1 and #2 in my end of year list. So it’s hard to dispute them not being my favorite band at the moment. I hope I’m in town next month when they pay a visit to Portland.

(Biffy Clyro and White Lies in Portland four days apart. It would be a crime to miss either. But working for The Man can be a heavy yolk.)

1. My Bloody Valentine “m b v” (2013)

During one particularly lucid listening session, I convinced myself that Kevin Shields is an alien, and that he periodically makes albums to communicate with his home planet many light years away. Hidden deep in all that white noise and fuzzy feedback, he could either be letting them know that we’re not yet ready for First Contact, or that we’re finally ripe for harvesting. We might find out tomorrow, or not for many thousands of years. But until the arrival of our future overlords, I’m going to enjoy the beautiful soundscapes he and his unwitting human bandmates made for us.

MBV’s masterpiece, “Loveless,” may have the historical distinction of being an original work of art. But I will argue that this is a better album. It is nearly perfect to my ears. And for that, it earns its place at the top of this year’s list.

Resspeck! (and many listens) also given to…

  • Biffy Clyro “Opposites” (2013) — every song is an anthem. Seeing them live must be one big sing-a-long.
  • David Bowie “Then Next Day” (2013)
  • INXS “Shabooh Shoobah” (1983)
  • Bat for Lashes “The Haunted Man” (2012)
  • Arctic Monkeys “AM” (2013)
  • Phantogram “Eyelid Movies” (2013)

I love this annual tradition. It gives us a chance to slag each other ever so gently about each other’s questionable taste. So here’s your chance to set me straight. What do you think?

David Gray “White Ladder” (1998)

Manuel’s Album of the Month for December

This here’s not a super hip or sexy choice for Album of the Month. However, when the songs from this album are randomly played on my iPod, I am always caught off guard by how much I still like them.

The drum-n-bass that accompanies “Please Forgive Me” firmly establishes the era in which this album was released. It has been fifteen years, my friends. Fifteen “oh-how-they-passed-so-quickly” years since this was released. Unfortunately for Mr. Gray, he was never able to re-capture the magic of this one. But he did manage to become one of the most popular musicians ever, at least for a short while.

I say this album has stood the test of time. Do you agree? Or was this album too mainstream for you to have ever given it a chance?

Poliça “Shulamith” (2013)

As some of you know, these past few years for me have been a desperate attempt to escape the morass of folk-based acts that have saturated the market. I would never accuse bands like Band of Horses, The Civil Wars, or Mumford & Sons of being derivative. But there’s no doubt I grew tired of the genre. And my ears were longing to hear something new, something different.

And then an awesome thing happened. Along came a flood of electronic-based acts inspired by the 80’s New Wave movement. Awwwww yiss! Manny found an enormous tap of great bands to stroke his musical sweet spot. And y’all are now gonna have to bear with me as I share as many as I can with you.

With two albums, Poliça has entered the pantheon of strong, female-led electronic acts that exist today. They’re a decidedly less cheery, more introspective lot than some of the others [e.g., Metric, Bat for Lashes, School of Seven Bells, Phantogram (more on Phantogram another time)]. But this just means they’re more substantive, right? Whatever the case, I dig this album’s vibe. If you also like it, I would recommend their first, “Give You the Ghost.” I think it’s equally as good. And an even stronger collection of morose loveliness.

We all know music is cyclical. Some styles take a little longer to recirculate than others. All that’s needed is a little patience, and echoes of the past will eventually be heard again.

…I just feel bad for that poor bastard who’s waiting for the next Beethoven.

My Bloody Valentine “m b v” (2013)

“Just…yeah. This is good. Really, really good. Like, oh MAN! This is the greatest album ever!”

Like a direct injection of musical heroin right into my earhole, this album makes my eyes roll back into my skull as the band’s characteristic reverb and dirty feedback wash over my head. I’m not a good enough writer to describe how good these songs sound to me. My fingers have been rendered dumb.

What is astounding to me is how, after twenty two years — twenty two years! — Kevin Shields & Co. released an album almost equal in quality to “Loveless.” But they did. My appreciation of this will only grow over time. So far, it is my favorite record of this decade. And I can see it staying at #1 by the end of it. I cannot recommend this enough.

I need another hit…excuse me…

Update: According to Stu, this is MBV’s target demographic:

sp_goth

White Lies “Big TV” (2013)

Though this arrived at my doorstep last night, I feel like I’ve been listening to it for 30 years. White Lies’ second album, “Ritual,” was my favorite album of 2011. This album is different from that one, as well as its predecessor. It has the band moving away from Post Punk and planting their flag squarely with the New Wave camp. You don’t have to listen closely to hear echoes of Ultravox, Flock of Seagulls, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, even The Cars. It’s all there. What does this mean? It means the 14-year old inside of Manny has been in bliss for the past 18 hours.

As Stu already noted, it’s been a good year for albums from established acts. Add this one to the list.

Best Tracks: the sequence from Track 7 (!) through 10 is simply glorious.