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Hello, sky. Hello, Earth.

Updated: 2014-10-05T00:52:20.402-07:00


the year in music: BiRd BrAiNs


tUnE-yArDs BiRd-BrAiNs

Unfortunate spelling aside, this little lo-fi gem really surprised me early this year. Constructed from over two years of sound captured on a little handheld voice recorder, Merrill Garbus’ BiRd-BrAiNs is an amazingly catchy and truly odd pop record of African-inflected beats and off-kilter ukelele, dripping with sound clipping and tape hiss. While the cut-and-paste charm of the album is an asset, it never becomes a crutch to buoy itself—Garbus’ songwriting chops hold their own, a feat unmatched by most of her lo-fi contemporaries. In fact, it came almost as a harbinger of kindred spirits Dirty Projectors and their pop-infused Bitte Orca, sounding something like Timbaland stranded with a four-track recorder in an alternate universe.

Garbus’ voice is especially something to behold. It is idiosyncratic without ever turning twee, often with violent intensity, often laced with sweetness, and sometimes both at the same time. Garbus, not only as a singer, but as a songwriter, as a producer, as an artist, (and especially as a performer, as I learned firsthand last month,) creates from an entirely free and open place. And BiRd-BrAiNs is a testament to that—lucky us.

the year in music: Actor


St. Vincent Actor

I have been a fan of Annie Clark’s since I accidentally discovered her debut album, Marry Me, in June 2006, the week it came out. I was instantly enamored with her oddly wonderful mixture of sweetness and guitar-shredding chaos. Marry Me was one of my favorite albums of that year, and unlike many of my other favorites from that year, it actually got better over time.

On Actor, Annie has transposed some of the wicked guitar arrangements from Marry Me to a full-bodied orchestral freakout. Many of its tracks began as musical scores for some of my favorite movies, and while the title may mislead one to feel it is a bombastic, cinematic album, it is actually quite the opposite—Clark has written an album of intimate domesticity, embodying female characters who find themselves bound by the tethers of their own femininity, merely acting out their assumed gender roles while constantly seeking their own forms of independence (with varying degrees of success).

The biggest “actor” on Actor is Clark herself, who, through clever and often heartbreaking lyrics, finds the humanity of her characters, and represents their struggle in her patented sound—a shaky balance of honey-voiced vocals and swirling Disney woodwinds with some truly disgusting sounding fuzz. Beneath all the sweetness of Clark’s feminine characters lies darkness, violence, deep sadness that endangers (and often engulfs) their saccharine put-ons.

Clark is quickly becoming one of the most inventive pop songwriters of our time, making music that is at once challenging, intelligent, and extremely melodic. And though I have dedicated more Facebook status updates to her than I care to admit, (did I mention that she’s absolutely beautiful and I’m totally in love with her? I’m not sure if I did…) my awkward obsession with her stems solely from a deep respect and love for the work she creates, for the intense feelings it evokes within me. And I don’t think I’m alone.

the year in music: jj n° 2


jj jj n° 2

"Where did this band come from, and why is there a pot leaf on the cover?"

At only twenty-seven minutes long, this debut full-length from mysterious Swedish group, jj, was not only the perfect combination of many of my favorite sounds, but, like Atlas Sound's Logos, became a source of comfort in time of need. When my grandmother passed away, the uplifting one-two-punch of "Things Will Never Be The Same Again" and "From Africa to Malaga" kept me moving, the two things that allowed me to seek solace in the seeming senselessness of everything. "Ecstacy" was just a fucking jam, a tongue-in-cheek jam that samples Lil Wayne, only to quote Will Smith's "Miami". When some heart-pangs set in after the whirlwind of past few months, "Are You Still in Vallda?", a stunning ballad about the transience of summer love, sailed through to make it all better.

Sure, the record is shimmery and melodic, a seamless patchwork of sounds, cultures and textures. That goes without saying. What sets jj apart from all the other globally-minded, drug-hazy electronic-pop acts out there is real heart. Fewalbums resonated with me more this year, or any year, to force me out the shuffle-friendly mindset of the times and just sit down and listen.

In many ways, it felt as if the record had listened to me too.

the year in music: Veckatimest


Grizzly Bear Veckatimest

I remember driving with my dad through the countryside, a place that has not been annexed by any of the surrounding towns. These odd, amber fields in July were the long way to a park we were headed towards, a park along the Tualatin River, whose name I cannot recall. We planned on canoeing the river, but not today. Today was not a good day, there was not enough time.

There were people in the park, an assemblage of a hundred family barbeques. It was summer. There were pretty girls playing volleyball. We escaped the people. We walked along the river, finding secret pathways in the forest. We hiked through roughly hewn logs and makeshift trails, pointing out the foliage and looking out at beautiful views of the river. My dad longed after a few of the boats that rode past, once again commenting how cool it would be to have a boat of his own. I remember the sun, as I often do, glistening off the water, and that my father’s socks had fallen down.

All throughout the drive, he complained about the bass of Veckatimest, saying it sounded weird, like it was underwater (his ear was full of some fluid that whole week). By “While You Wait For The Others”, he cautiously admitted, “Yeah, okay. This song is really good.” It was the golden hour, in a field of wheat, and I was with my father.

the year in music: Bitte Orca


Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca

It was my first night in Georgia. I remember the moon, it was full. I remember holding her hand as we drove from the little house she grew up in. I remember little things, like the way I freaked out when “Temecula Sunrise” first exploded from the speakers, or soft smiles exchanged hearing “Two Doves” for the first time. Or the way she sung along to the eerily appropriate metaphysical love song “Stillness is the Move”. Or the shivers when Amber and Angel’s voices soar at the climax of “Useful Chamber”. Or the swooning romance of “Fluorescent Half Dome”.

She put this album on, and we sat in near-silence throughout its forty-one minute duration on the midnight drive back to Macon. The street lamps were melting. Flares and glare bent on the foggy windows. All this surreal light at night. I was in a hazy dream of being out of my world, out of myself it seemed.

There are dozens of moments like this. I could write endlessly about this summer, the Fourth of July, reconciliation in Seattle, drives through Portland at night, the last time I saw my grandmother alive, all of them just as valid, and all connected to this record.

And I probably could spend pages (and pages and pages) dissecting how good it is on every conceivable technical level—lyrically, compositionally, melodically, the sheer scope of the thing, how it seems to effortlessly redefine (and reinforce) pop music and what it is capable of, how every moment is a pitch-perfect highlight, how, even all this nostalgia aside, it is, without a doubt, my favorite album of this year, and one of the albums closest to my heart for all time.

But at the end of the day, Bitte Orca is the soundtrack of this drive, of my trip, of this feeling of renewal and escape. To me, it is the sound of falling in love. In love with life and its enormity. In love with being alive amongst lovers, friends, and family. That’s what this record sounds like to me.

the year in music: The Hazards of Love


The Decemberists The Hazards of Love The Hazards of Love is the nerdiest thing I’ve ever heard. Think about it—it’s a prog-folk concept album inhabited by folklore characters and their salacious trials and tribulations. There’s even a fucking “Forest Queen” for god’s sake! Perhaps this explains why the indie elite poorly received the record. It certainly isn’t “cool”. Yet I feel The Hazards of Love rightfully deserves a place at the table with some of the “hipper” inclusions on my list. Hazards is, without a doubt, a pitch-perfect concept album, with melodic and lyrical themes threaded seamlessly throughout, a seamless ebb and flow, and all the trademarks of the Decemberists’ back catalogue mingling with some lovely surprises. It is so assured of itself, so meticulous in its construction, and, above all else, so massive in its sound. Even its connective tissue is staggering—the ominous twenty-nine seconds of “The Queen’s Approach” never ceases to give me goosebumps, as it segues perfectly into the dreamy romanticism of “Isn’t It a Lovely Night?” The inclusion of Ladies Diamond, both Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, was one of the smartest decisions imaginable for a record of this scope. Stark’s ethereal folksiness contrasts brilliantly with Worden’s fucking massive bazooka of a voice, (beautifully cast as the aforementioned icy “Forest Queen”). Worden, quite simply, steals the show, elevating the album to legendary status; she makes what might have just been a great Decemberists record, to a simply great record. While Colin Meloy has previously used his hyperliterate voice in the Decemberists to craft pop songs into short stories, The Hazards of Love is his novel. And while it may have been blackballed from the indie-rock intelligentsia, (and fuck them—they’re no fun anyway) the rest of us can explore a truly remarkable album, and bask in its pretentiousness without pretension.[...]

the year in music: Bromst


Dan Deacon Bromst I never got Dan Deacon before. I couldn’t get past the Woody Woodpecker samples, the tingy midi-controlling, the mind-numbing speed and cracked out joy of his earlier works. “But ‘Wham City’ is great, Chris, you really need to hear that one!” “No, you need to see him live!” “No, really, Chris, you have to throw it on a party to get it, any place with lots of people.” I’d only ever listened to him alone. I had never listened to Dan Deacon with other people. Devin bought Bromst during Spring Break, the week it came out. I had heard it prior, and found myself oddly moved by it. From an objective musical perspective, I could understand the dynamics of what he was doing, the nuance in his orchestration (now with live instrumentation), the creative shifts in mood he had begun experimenting with on this record. In particular, “Wet Wings” was truly something to behold. Devin intended to just drive me back to my house. We’d just shared a beer and a half at his place in Northeast, and spent the time discussing our futures, the nature of artists in society, our fears, our doubts, as well as our hopes. The album played, and we just kept driving. We had reached my neighborhood—“eh, keep going, I got time,” I said. We detoured through suburbia, during the first few tracks of Bromst, continually getting sidetracked, always saying I’d be back in a little bit. Hills rose and fell, and I knew we were running short on time, but it certainly didn’t register. As far as time was concerned, we were exploring our pasts, the endless expanses we had grown up in, and out of. We said nothing. We drove up a hill. He put the car in neutral. We said nothing. He took his foot off the pedals and his hands off the steering wheel. We shook the car forward. As “Snookered” reached its peak, we rode the hill, like a longboard, or a roller coaster. Though there was a brief swell of panic in my stomach, it subsided. I trusted the hill. I trusted this moment. At the bottom of the hill was the single ting of a glockenspiel. We said nothing. We didn’t have to. Bromst is a social listening experience, one designed to share and be shared. It will always remind me of this drive, and the joy of just letting go. [...]

the year in music: One Nation Under Chilly Willy


Chilly Willy One Nation Under Chilly Willy On my birthday, I received an unexpected surprise—Will Mehigan released two brand new Chilly Willy albums for free online, one, a mashup dance mix, the other, a collection of original dance tunes. While The Mystical Adventures is a truly great addition to Mehigan’s ever-growing discography, One Nation Under Chilly Willy is, admittedly, the one that made my year. One Nation is, simply put, a record containing the entire recent history of pop music, seamlessly intertwined with itself. And while this has been done before by countless DJs, it has never been done quite like this. Mehigan gives relevance to overlooked songs, credibility to demonized songs, and exudes a youthful exuberance and confidence unparalleled by his contemporaries. Rather than create cognitive dissonance, Mehigan weaves these vastly different songs together in a new marriage of style and substance that is at once cohesive and jarring enough to keep listeners until the very end. The use of dynamics on One Nation is a welcome improvement from past mashups of his, now creating a sense of drama juxtaposed with playfulness—an epic scope to booty-shakin’ music. And, even more impressive, neither mode overstays its welcome. While it does not always work, the moments that do are both completely absurd and, quite simply, earthshatteringly awesome. Take, for instance, the point in “Back It Up” where a deconstructed, stuttering “Ziggy Stardust” backs up “Get Low”. Or when Ratatat shuffles underneath Shakira. Or when the signature drum thump of “Song 2” and the horns of a Chicago song [almost] legitimize Katy Perry’s whirlwind bi-curiosity. And who else would have the balls to defuse Ice Cube’s snarl (“Life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money!”) to that of a chipmunk over a song from High School Musical? The highlights are innumerable and would be difficult and pointless to try and list—I will just say that, as amazing as 2009 was for “original” music, there were few albums that I listened to as much as One Nation this year. With these two records, Mehigan is proving himself to be fearless, and it seems to come not from an ultrahip and ironic perspective, as many might expect. While much of it may come from “wouldn’t it be funny if…” experimentation, this assuredness seems to come from a very clear and wholesome love of music—all music—that allows him to be an undiscriminating listener, not bound to trends, scenes or genres. And as a result, Mehigan is an odd, versatile, and brilliant talent. [...]

the year in music: Logos


Atlas Sound Logos

Logos offered me a much needed autumn, a hazy come-down from the illustrious highs of summer, something to Fall into in the midst of some serious tragedies. The first singles "Walkabout" and "Sheila" carried me through the cold months in Colorado. Both are guiltless and sweet, and each warmed me up, encouraging me to keep walking. It was the soundtrack for bus rides through October snow, it swirled through the cold November sun and skeletal trees, and it filled my room through December. The more I explore it, the more I find, the more I hear.

It may be a personal inclusion, but Logos is undeniably inventive and great. Bradford Cox really studies the music he loves, and it shows. Atlas Sound is not the most original band in the world, but there is a great care in which Cox pulls apart his influences, both modern and classic, to understand them. And when he puts them back together, it comes out like this.

the year in music: Merriweather Post Pavillion


Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavillion

“If I could just leave my body for a night…”

Yes, Merriweather Post Pavillion made a strong first impression. It is one of those records that unified a whole scene, making a profound impact on its foundations. It is one of those records that caused a collective gasp throughout music publications, aficionados and casual listeners alike. It stunned other musicians existing the same world, leaving indelible marks on the band’s contemporaries. People wouldn’t just play it at parties, they would talk about it at parties—and your credibility as a listener became inexplicably (and unfortunately) tied to your relationship with it. It’s already inspired hundreds of hipsters to pick up a synth, a sampler and a floor tom and start making noise (for better or for worse). It is one of those records where time is divided from before you first heard it and after.

Yes, it was overhyped, yes, it was overexposed, and yes, after awhile, the fervor surrounding it became unbearable. Not that I’m helping matters…

But then you actually listened to it. And you cried. And you danced. And it was a part of your world.

number three. 1970s punk rock


mix number three. the beginning of punk rock at the end of the 1970s.Punk, as a musical genre, as a fashion movement, as a way of life, put the power in the hands of those a part of it. It was an entirely self-sustaining culture, run on the hope for and practice of abrasive change in music, art, fashion, politics and thinking. Punk shook the world to its core, and regardless of whether or not you like it, it paved the way for everything that has followed.Punk is the reason why any kid with a guitar can record songs and have an audience for it. Punk made music free and independent again, aggressive and dangerous, invigorating and exciting.Punk seemed to just happen, without any warning. Here it was in New York City, around the same time it cropped up in Australia, and in London, and in the Pacific Northwest, and, of course, in Southern California. It was on the tip of everyone's tongue, and the pioneers screamed it in unison with one another.It was a moment in time, one that has unfortunately passed, one left undefined, but terribly damaged in desperate attempts to do so. As it became more and more about how many studs one puts on their leather jacket, how high one's mohawk can be, how well-versed one was in what was acceptable within the culture (and how hard one rallied against "sell-out" traitors to their cause), the meaning was lost.Fortunately, the meaning can be found within the following songs, as well as countless others; the short bursts of raw power and snotty energy gave the metaphorical middle-finger to everything that came before. It was intelligent, as it was primitive. It was orchestrated, it was chaos. But above all else, it was what it was.We all know The Clash, The Ramones, and the Sex Pistols. A document of every great band from this era would be impossible for one lone blogger to compile. At the very least, here are some of the other songs and artists that made it happen.1. Richard Hell & The Voidoids - "Liars Beware"Richard Hell became famous as "the first poet of Punk", and the wordplay present in this frenetic song is no exception. Here, a swell of guitars leads to angular riffs, propulsive drums and a perfect punk piece that takes no prisoners.2. Gang of Four - "Natural's Not In It"Currently known as the theme song to Sofia Coppola's kinda-period-film, Marie Antoinette, Gang of Four's "Natural's Not In It" uses a stuttering beat with staccato guitar riffs and kickass bass line to rally against vice and decadence in the upper class. As the refrain goes: "This heaven gives me migrane."3. Neon Boys - "Time"Another Richard Hell-helmed project that predates The Voidoids, "Time" finds itself in a similar place of the bands that followed it, both The Voidoids and seminal NYC punk band, Television, and is an interesting document of where both bands divided and where they stayed the same.4. Suicide - "Rocket USA"A sort of ideological brother to The Clash's famous apocalyptic single "London Calling", the nerveracking and claustrophobic mix of Suicide's "Rocket USA" is a brilliantly unsettling usage of sound, particularly in the quivering vocals of Alan Vega, constant fuzz and drums, and the ghostly Farfisa organ in the background. The song is less about evoking a swell of emotions and dynamics, and more about capturing, in its steadiness, the fear and paranoia of looming destruction.5. The Accident - "Kill The Bee Gees"This is a personal one for me, primarily because I'm related to half of this band. Two of my father's cousins formed this band, who became infamous for this song. Though probably born from ordinary annoyance at the shining gloss of disco that overpopulated radio at the time, this Olympia, WA band's song symbolized a greater shift, and kind of a thesis statement for punk at the time--to tear down the decadence of the[...]

number two. UK sike-pop


NOTE: Sorry for the long delay, school has gotten in the way. Now that the internet is officially fixed here at the dorms, and school is cooling down, I feel like I'll be doing this more often.***mix number two. UK sike-popLike their American contemporaries, psychedelic rock musicians in Britain had similar roots in folk-music, with the first bands indulging in it being folk bands going electric. You can hear it specifically on many tracks on this mix, that drench acoustic guitars in reverb and match them against sitars, organs, electric guitars, and even more off-kilter instruments, (such as my personal favorite from the entire collection, The Ceyleib People's "Ceyladd Beyta"). Lyrically, these songs also followed a strong folk influence, often imagistic and nature-centric, often socially-conscious and anti-war, many of these bands sought further than writing songs about love, fully baring their souls and thusly giving the songs a stronger emotional core. For instance, The Gregorians' "Dilated Eyes" is a beautiful narrative that concerns itself with hypocritical parents who perpetuate violence and self-destruction within their children, all while wondering what the world has come to.UK sike-pop, as it was called, remained undeniably pop, while toying with traditional production techniques and songwriting formats that predated the more psychedelically-leaning works of The Beatles and Cream. These bands merely popularized, (and perfected) the rough pioneering work of the following artists, who were already creating such sounds. Once "Sgt. Pepper's" and Pink Floyd's "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" had received more exposure (two albums recorded pretty much simultaneously), the floodgates of psychedelic music had been opened. Here were the harbingers of the movement.***PART ONE.1. The Scene - "Scenes (From Another World)2. Friends of the Family - "Can't Go Home"3. Silver Hawks - "All I Can Do"4. The Tree Stumps - "Tomorrow's Sun"5. The Gregorians - "Dilated Eyes"6. The Collection - "Paper Crown of Gold"7. Pussyfoot - "Hasty Words"8. Rhubarb Rhubarb - "Rainmaker"9. The Powers of Blue - "You Blow My Mind (instrumental)"10. The Whether Bureau - "Why Can't You and I?"11. Davie Allen & The Arrows - "Make Love, Not War (instrumental)"12. Mother Nature - "Lost in the Pacific"Download, via Megaupload: 42.4MBPART TWO.1. The Ceyleib People - "Ceyladd Beyta (instrumental)"2. Green Scarab - "Asariah's Dance (instrumental)"3. Churchhills - "Too Much In Love To Hear"4. Click - "Girl With a Mind"5. The Endd - "This is Really The Zoo Plus Two (instrumental)"6. Summer Set - "It's a Dream"7. Rainy Daze - "Fe Fi Fo Fum"8. Captain Groovy and His Bubblegum Army - "Bubblegum March"9. Cats Pyjamas - "Virginia Water"10. Unknown Artist - "Mystery Track 2" (if anyone has any info on this track, let me know)11. Billy Elder - "Don't Take The Night Away"12. Bill Fay - "Unreleased, Untitled Acetate"Download, via Megaupload: 37.2MBwith love, chris osborn.[...]

number one. an exploration of the french yé yé movement (pt. I)


Welcome to Hello, sky. Hello, Earth.***mix number one. an exploration of the french yé yé movement (pt. I)In France during the 1960s, French pop was taking cues from both American and British bands, and adding their own special twist to it. Girls of the era were picking up guitars and microphones, and making the music they wanted to. What was created was the French yé-yé movement; female-fronted songs with the same gritty edge as British and American rock artists, but with extremely complex orchestrations intertwined around them.There's something undeniably charming about these songs, and I cannot place my finger on it, exactly. There is more substance in these sublime, short pop songs, (few even reaching three-minutes in length), than some artists' entire albums. Left-of-center instruments, such as the accordion, flute, sitar and Hammond organ, intermingle seamlessly with the standard guitar, bass and drums, as majestic string and brass arrangements wrap around them both.  The girls, though mostly marketed by record labels, often wrote their own songs after Françoise Hardy began to in 1965. And there's something simultaneously feminine and tomboyish about these cute French girls, regardless of the strength of their voices, (which is often less than perfect), just getting up there and truly and wholly rocking out. The yé-yé girls set the latest fashions, were cultural idols.But lest you think that they were image-driven artists, just take a listen at the beautifully-complex songs provided in the following mix, and discover the gold mine of brilliant 1960s pop created in the French yé-yé movement.*** 1. Marie Laforêt - "Marie douceur, Marie colère"This stunning reworking of The Rolling Stones' classic, "Paint It Black", is an unexpected treat. With its wavering vocals and propulsive ferocity, it packs a stronger emotional punch than the original, with a passion unmatched by any version since. It's rare, and perhaps blasphemous, to say a cover improves on the original, but in the opinion of this writer, Marie Laforêt's "Paint It Black" has.2. Clothilde - "Saperlipopette"A French twist of the groovy British girl-group sound, Clothilde's "Saperlipopette" swells and explodes with its inventive use of off-kilter instruments such as the marimbas and harpsichord, and undeniable catchiness. I dare you not to smile.3. Pamela - "Une autre autoroute"A sweet little ballad by Pamela, who seemingly only released this 45' for Vogue Records. Her rough voice adds a character to the divine arrangement, found often in yé-yé songs. Pamela, though her career was seemingly short-lived, charms with "Une autre autoroute".4. Serge Gainsbourg - "Le poinçonneur des lilas"While the man himself, Serge Gainsbourg, is not technically a yé-yé artist, his influence and presence in the movement was perhaps one of the most profound. A cultural icon in France, Serge Gainsbourg's "Le poinçonneur des lilas" takes the perspective of the man who takes tickets at the subway. The song's bustling pace mimes that of a train station, and juxtaposed with lyrics of the loneliness of the ticket-taker, creates a wonderfully complex Gainsbourg classic.5. Françoise Hardy - "Je n'attends plus personne"My personal favorite, and arguably most influential of the yé-yé girls, Françoise gives a rollicking and unexpectedly fuzzy tune dated from 1964 (!!!). "Je n'attends plus personne" keeps building to an absolutely insane guitar solo and perfectly placed choral arrangement, underneath Françoise's soft voice. All this chaos is happening around her, yet she holds her ground, as usual, and makes it all cohesive. And in its wake is a stunningly powerful rock song, whose experimentation with overdriven distortion predates any British [...]