Elliott Smith stopping halfway through “Waltz #2 (XO)”

“I just can’t… I can’t do this song, I’ve played it too many times. I’ve just played it hundreds of times and I’m just sick of it and I just can’t play it. I’m sorry.”

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Awesome, totally genius: Lesser Matters by The Radio Dept.

The Radio Dept. - Lesser Matters

Instant nostalgia. It might seem odd, but that is basically what Lesser Matters sounds like. The debut album from Swedish pop group The Radio Dept. feels, even from the first listen, like what I imagine it is like rediscover one of your old favourite records after being parted from it for, say, 20 years. Odd indeed.

Combining 13 of the band’s most potent songs (and some of their most brilliant lyrics aswell) to date with a shoegaze production that manages to feel natural and relevant, rather than like something splashed on in the studio post-recording to gain indie cred, Lesser Matters remains the landmark album in the Swedes’ career. Given the quality of both Pet Grief and last year’s Clinging to a Scheme, that is saying quite a lot.

And, yeah. “Too Soon”, “Where Damage Isn’t Already Done”, “Bus”, “1995” and “Strange Things Will Happen” on the same LP. Is it even possible to top that?

MP3:
The Radio Dept. – “Strange Things Will Happen”

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2010 – Looking back at the year that went

I was a bad music fan in 2010. I did have my reasons for not keeping a more than half-hearted look for new interesting releases (involving a lack of time and a tendency to spend my money on older classics rather than up-and-coming underground acts), but in the end it does not truly justify that the year of 2010 is through and I still have not listened to The Age of Adz, This is Happening, The Suburbs or Write About Love from start to finish. Therefore, it would feel slightly weird to set out to write an extensive list comparing albums to one another and hailing one as the definite masterpiece of the year. Instead I have chosen to cover the twelve months that passed by compiling the albums, songs and live acts that meant most to me personally, recognizing that the list would probably look entirely different if I had been more active as a listener.

This is 2010, according to me.

Albums:

01. Have One On Me by Joanna Newsom

Having put only a year between us and the 00:s – i.e. the decade that advocated mind-numbing guitar pop to such an extent that even the dullest of retro revivals was thought of as fresh and original – it is nice to know that some artists are still giving fuck-all about trends and musical conventions. Have One on Me spans over three discs, contains six songs longer than eight minutes and is endlessly complex and unpredictable. Despite looking uninviting and chaotic on paper, the album is never hard on the listener; on the contrary the imaginative arrangements and Newsom’s divine songwriting makes this a ride more instantly rewarding than most albums a quarter of its length. This is a record I will listen to five, ten and fifty years from now.

02. Clinging to a Scheme by The Radio Dept.

After months of almost Chinese Democracy-esque shilly-shallying with release dates, 2010 finally saw the arrival of The Radio Dept.’s third studio album. And it was, after all, worth waiting for. Combining the more accessible, sometimes even catchy pop melodies on their debut masterpiece Lesser Matters with the improved production methods on Pet Grief, the band managed once again to create a record that is equally moving and attention-grabbing, ambitious and reclusive.

03. High Violet by The National

In a way, High Violet was exactly what could be expected by The National. The magnificent quintet from Brooklyn had already made a mark in history by releasing two of the most brilliant albums of the previous decade (I am talking of course of Alligator and Boxer), and was never really likely to live up to the sky high expectations of their millions of fans. Instead they delivered a record of notably less interesting song material than its predecessors, but managed to heighten its listening value by exploring some of their most interesting soundscapes yet. Lavishly produced songs like “England”, “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Terrible Love” would not have fitted in on any of their previous releases; here they worked splendidly together as a whole.

04. The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth

So far in his career, Kristian Mattson’s only real mistake has been his somewhat silly moniker. With two albums and as many EP:s he has proven to possess an extraordinary songwriting skill, augmented by a prodigious competence when it comes to guitar plucking. These two attributes might just be his ticket to folk glory (if such a thing exists) in the future, and The Wild Hunt suggests nothing else.

05. Admiral Fell Promises by Sun Kil Moon

Undisturbed, stripped-down beauty is what Mark Kozelek’s latest solo effort (yes, he is using his band moniker for those now) sounds like. Consisting almost entirely of nothing more than nylon-stringed guitar plucking accompanied by Kozelek’s lone voice, these ten compositions manages to maintain the feeling of drifting on a raft down a calm river for over an hour, without feeling repetetive or dull once. With Admiral Fell Promises, the former frontman of Red House Painters manages to create a piece of art that feels more comparable to Chopin than to any of his slowcore peers.

Songs:

01. Sufjan Stevens – “I Walked”
02. The Tallest Man On Earth – “Love Is All”
03. Joanna Newsom – “Kingfisher”
04. The Radio Dept. – “You Stopped Making Sense”
05. Beach House – “Norway”
06. The National – “Lemonworld”
07. LCD Soundsystem – “Home”
08. Jens Lekman – “The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love”
09. Tindersticks – “Factory Girls”
10. Strand of Oaks – “Bonfire”
11. Broken Social Scene – “World Sick”
12. Wild Nothing – “O Liliac”

Live acts:

01. Pavement
02. LCD Soundsystem
03. Arcade Fire

Television appearances

01. “Stereo” performed by Pavement on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (link)
02. “’81” performed by Joanna Newsom on Later with Jools Holland (link)
03. “Too Much” performed by Sufjan Stevens on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (link)

Unexpected events:

01. Moe tucker supports the Tea Party (link)
02. Joanna Newsom releases three-disc record (link)
03. Phoenix cover “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” (link)

Expected events:

01. The Flaming Lips are asking fans for a harp (link – seriously, who is surprised?)

People who will be missed:

Mark Linkous
Alex Chilton

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A song to keep us warm: “Freeze the Saints” by Stephen Malkmus

If you need the pain
Well you are, yes you are so much like me
Seasons change
Nothing lasts for long
Except the earth and the mountains
So learn to sing along and languish here
Help me languish here

Those four first mentioned lines might not sound to optimistic when put in print, but they are a part of a song that I generally tend to think of as something along the line of cherfulness. “Freeze the Saints” from Face the Truth, the third solo album by the former-former Pavement-singer Stephen Malkmus (they are reunited now, remember?), manages to maintain that pleasant quality of feeling sunny enough to take the listeners’ minds of their troubles while simultaneously avoiding the obnoxious yelping of the twee-abyss.

In other news, I am back from Germany. And I am pissed off at the hipster movement. More on that later, perhaps.

MP3:
Stephen Malkmus – “Freeze the Saints”

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I believe in locomotion

Tomorrow I am leaving for Germany, where I will be staying for a week celebrating New Year’s Eve in that beautiful capital city of theirs. This will naturally mean that I will not update the blog for a few days (I refuse to get with the times and bring a laptop while travelling), which I hope will not be too much frowned upon.

Instead, I present (in layman’s terms: copy+paste) to you a live performance of a suitably named Wilco-song. Which, as a bonus, also contains one of the best guitar solos of all time (second only to “Elevation” by Television).

Auf wiedersehen!

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A song to keep us warm: “10 Mile Stereo” by Beach House (live on Conan O’Brien)

For the second time in four days, Beach House is the subject of this segment. Instead of spreading christmas joy with their holiday creations, this time they have been guesting that wonderful red-headed Irish-descented talk show host. Giving an enchanting performance of “10 Mile Stereo” from this year’s critically acclaimed Teen Dream (as Conan puts it, it “appears on numerous year-end lists as one of the best albums of 2010”), Beach House proves that they are one of the most potent live bands in their genre.

MP3:
Beach House – “10 Mile Stereo”

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A song to keep us warm: “Sleep the Clock Around” by Belle and Sebastian

I just came home from watching the live webcast from Belle and Sebastian’s final tour date in Glasgow at a friend’s house. Before giving heed to my sleeping needs I just wanted to share with you a song of theirs that continues to stun me with every listen, even though it has been years since I first heard it. It is called “Sleep the Clock Around” and consists of four of the most brilliantly used chords in the history of pop music (and pop music has been quite decent at making the most of four simple chords throughout the ages). If you have not heard the song before, put on your headphones and marvel at its beauty. If you have: do so once more.

MP3:
Belle and Sebastian – “Sleep the Clock Around”

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