Deerhoof–Friend Opportunity

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 AUDIOKLEPT SPECIAL EDITION: Deerhoof–Friend Opportunity (Kill Rock Stars; releases Jan 23, 2007)

Deerhoof are a kind of paradox–innovators working in a tradition–deconstructing the whole of modern music (as well as not-so-modern-music) with their voices, drums, guitars, and keyboards. With Friend Opportunity, the San Francisco band has distilled the buzz and clatter, the melody, muscle, and grace of their past few albums (2005’s The Runners Four, 2004’s The Milkman, 2003’s Apple O’) into a concise, nearly-perfect 36 minutes. The Runners Four topped a lot of year-end lists last year, but to me it was overlong and undercooked–plenty of good ideas that needed to be edited and refined. With Friend Opportunity, Deerhoof achieves a beautiful balance, reining in chaos and noise in favor of punchy rhythms and hooks that are sure to sink into your mind. Not to say that the vibrant anarchy of past albums has been in anyway discarded or even subdued–Deerhoof have simply gotten better at using chaos as a musical element, a means to an end, rather than an uncontrollable variable. Tracks like album opener “The Perfect Me” and “+81” establish pop ideals, cribbing from classic rock riffs, only to deny, deconstruct and then revive these ideals–all in under three minutes. “The Galaxist” is particularly sweet, opening with Faheyesque guitar picking and breathy melodies, and moving into a joyous beat that would make Fela Kuti proud. If the world had better musical taste, “Matchbook Seeks Maniac” would be on every radio station, the perfect slow dance for the Bizarro World prom. The brevity of these tracks is a plus: most of the tracks on Friend Opportunity lack the repetition common to pop music, moving through several ideas in under three minutes–ideas that stick in the head, causing a listener to hit repeat. The album closer, “Look Away,” is the only track to deviate from this method. Clocking in at over 11 minutes, “Look Away” comprises nearly a third of the album’s content, and will undoubtedly not stand repeated listens by some listeners. The track seems tailor-made for listeners who expect some noise from their Deerhoof, and those listeners won’t be disappointed. Nonetheless, even in an 11 minute anti-epic, Deerhoof controls the chaos and noise, resulting in some challenging and beautiful moments. Despite a 2007 release date, I consider Friend Opportunity one of the best albums of this year. I can’t wait to buy it.

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The Audioklept Special Edition

All the big indie records of 2006: One sentence reviews. Part One.

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy–The Letting Go: Who knew he had another record this good in him?

Neko Case–Fox Confessor Brings the Flood: “Star Witness” is the best song of 2006.

Destroyer–Destroyer’s Rubies: Dan Bejar is over the top and this record is gorgeous.

Thom Yorke–The Eraser: […] hmmm […] oh sorry, I must’ve dozed off there […] 

The Walkmen–A Hundred Miles Off: I recently heard “The Rat” in the background of an NCAA Football commercial–I enjoyed that more than anything on this record.

The Walkmen–Pussycats: Uhmmm…yeah…uhmmm, okay cool guys, you have your own studio, you can just do whatever you want I guess.

Beck–The Information: Beck’s a fucking scientologist.

Ghostface Killah–Fishscale: I’m supposed to love this, right?

Girl Talk–Night Ripper: This might be the year’s best album…

The Flaming Lips–At War With the Mystics: It seems like they will continue to make these types of records.

The Decemberists–The Crane Wife: This is overrated, boring crap.

The Hold Steady–Boys and Girls in America: …speaking of overrated, boring crap.

The Fiery Furnaces–Bitter Tea: Their prettiest album yet; not as good as Blueberry Boat but better than any record by any other band that came out this year.

Matthew Friedberger–Winter Women: Contains no fewer than four radio gems.

Matthew Friedberger–Holy Ghost Language School: I keep meaning to listen to it again.

Lambchop–Damaged: I’m too busy for this level of subtlety.

Lambchop–The Decline of Country & Western Civilization, Pt. 2: The Woodwind Years: Their title is too long–counts as review.

Mercury Rev–Essential Mercury Rev: Go out and buy the real “essential” Mercury Rev: Yerself is Steam, Bocces, and See You on the Other Side.

Gnarls Barkley–St. Elsewhere: We will all remember this album as fondly as we remember that Chumbawumba album, or possibly our EMF Greatest Hits CD. 

The Shins — Wincing The Night Away

AUDIOKLEPT (SPECIAL EDITION)

Not a book, but nonetheless obtained by extra-legal means. Piracy baby!

SubPop is set to drop The Shins’ third album Wincing The Night Away in January of 2007, but the thing leaked like a sieve this weekend. Similarly, Of Montreal’s album Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, set for a January release, leaked over the last two weeks. I don’t understand why these labels delay releases so long after the record’s been mastered. It’s almost impossible these days to keep a record from leaking–although Thom Yorke managed to keep his solo record The Eraser from leaking right up until it was released.

On paper, The Shins are the type of band I would love to hate. They write tight pop songs with keen melodies and spare harmonies with frequent nods to classic 60s acts like The Kinks, The Beatles, The Zombies and The Beach Boys (unlike every other indie band made up of four white guys). They are name-dropped in the epitome of bad indie films, Zach Braff’s Garden State (Natalie Portman’s character declares them “life-changing”). They appeared in an episode of The Gilmore Girls as a band playing to a club full of improbably ecstatic springbreakers in Ft. Lauderdale.

Despite all of this, I like them quite a bit. Their songs are catchy in a good way. They certainly aren’t re-inventing the wheel, but if you’re going to listen to an indie rock band, you might as well listen to The Shins. All that said, I like their new album a lot, much better than their last Chutes Too Narrow actually, which I thought was too airy. Wincing evinces some growth in songwriting and arrangements, and on the whole the production is much fuller than the past two albums. Wincing features a more prominent use of atmospheric sounds. Synthesizers are utilized to greater advantage advantage with respect to both melodies and atmosphere, and the band even brings in what I believe to be a small string section one one song. They even play with vocal loops on this record.

I don’t know if this band will ever top their first record Oh, Inverted World, a record that somehow was simultaneously breezy and profound, and produced at least four songs that can never go wrong on a mixtape. I’ve listened to it a few times, but there doesn’t seem to be a “New Slang” or “Know Your Onion” on this album. Wincing however seems to work better as a whole album than The Shins’ previous efforts, and the stronger production and fuller arrangements will probably earn the group a broader fanbase.

 

Tim Hecker — Harmony in Ultraviolet

Yes yes yes. I know I know I know. It’s not a book. It’s an album of music. But see now so and yes–it’s just so beautiful. It’s the best “reading music” I’ve come across in a long time. And, in keeping with the theme of this blog, I did obtain it by extra-legal means (it comes out Oct 16, so go buy it from your local record store!)

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Harmony in Ultraviolet is Hecker’s third or fourth album, depending on how you want to count his EPs and sundries. This music might be described as “ambient,” although I’m not sure I like that term. Harmony‘s tracks seem to contain impossible oppositions; they hover and sink, they pulsate but are static, they are digital-ice and analog-heat, they express the abstract in a concrete mode. Why write about it here? Well, really, I just love an album that lends itself to reading, and Hecker’s new disc is fantastic to read to.