The Halfway Point, 2010: Sock Monkey Sound Staff Music Review

The Halfway Point: A 2010 Music Review
Songs, records, cds, downloads, whatever.
National, International, Regional, Rewinds & Letdowns

By SMS Editorial & Contributing Writers:
Chip Copeland (cC)  |  Alex Danger Stewart (aDs)   |  Dave DeCastris (dD)  |  Andrew Whorehall (aW)

We apologize for being a bit late with this, it’s been in the works for 2 months. It’s our rookie attempt to cover the first half of 2010. Below is a brief list of what Sock Monkey Sound has been listening to and recommends at the 2010 halfway point. With so little time and money, we’re sure we’ve missed a bunch so leave your comments at the bottom of this very long, hopefully informative, blog post.

Cheers.
SMS > cC  |  aDs  |  dD  |  aW
08.07.2010

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cC suggests:

NATIONAL RELEASES

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Admiral

Admiral Radley I Heart California 1/2 Grandaddy + 1/2 Earlimart = Pure Awesomeness!

Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record Always liked Broken Social scene in the past but this record is tighter and more efficient in delivering the goods and the promise of this band. This is the kind of cohesiveness I wish Sonic Youth was still able to muster these days.

Stars – The Five Ghosts: Waaaayyy better than their last record, In Our Bedroom After the War, almost hitting the same knd of highs that were evident on Set Yourself on Fire.

Family Band – Miller Path I’ve really been wrapping myself up in this moody and exquisite album that is spooky and drenched in atmosphere in much the same way as The Nationals latest. Imagine a darker and more haunting version of Mazzy Star and you’re on the right track.

Field Music – Measure Proggy and yet still remaining very song oriented. Reminiscent at times of The Sea and Cake, an evenly enjoyable listen.

Honorable mentions:
Teenage Fanclub Shadows

REGIONAL / INDIE / LOCAL RELEASES
Because of Sock Monkey Sound I’ve discovered more local indie artists than ever before. So most of what I’ve been listening to is lesser known bands from around here or elsewhere.

The Braves – The Leaves are Black / Quiet Hushed Animals: I make no apologies that I love this band, I know these guys and have been equally amazed at how good they all are at their craft as evidenced by their solo projects and new bands that they have gone onto form. The fucking shame about this record is that unless you know someone in Rockford, IL that knows one of the guys in the band YOULL NEVER HEAR THIS RECORD.

I fault the band for not being more proactive in making these songs available via Bandcamp.com or on a website. They don’t have to charge anything if they don’t want to but I think there is an audience that is willing to fork over $5-$8 bucks for an 18 song download.

Until then, folks can buy their last official release Love and Mercy on iTunes for $8.91 or Emusic and after you listen to that email thebravestheband@hotmail.com and demand that they make ALL OF their music available for download online. 30 years from now The Braves will be remembered as one of those great unsung regional acts that never found an audience in their day but influenced a slew of younger acts from Rockford.

Ex Norwegian – Sketch This Florida based band continues to craft tight yet creative power pop that reminds me of Badfinger, Big Star, and that other power pop band from Rockford that everybody talks about excessively. Can’t wait to see them at the first Sock Monkey Sound showcase show September 1st at Kryptonite Bar.

Geronimo! – Fuzzy Dreams Man, is it still 1993 or what. I wish I still owned flannel so I could sport it at the next Geronimo! show. These guys are tight but the intros at the beginning of these songs work better in a live setting than on record. A solid effort by some nice dudes.

The Felix Culpa – Sever Your Roots It’s not often that a band with no money, no label, and a 3 year gap in between albums is able to record a record as intricate as Sever Your Roots. While not a perfect record it is certainly impressive that a regional at is able reach a level of this quality, much like The Braves did on Quiet Hushed Animals. I’m interested in seeing them release something again- hopefully in a timelier manner.

The Projection People – Self Titled Once again here’s another band from the region, Madison , Wisconsin to be precise, that is making very precise and expressive music without major label support. Great arrangements and musicianship abounds on this record and if you get a chance be sure to see them live. Fans of Minus the Bear are sure to enjoy this group. See also: Jane by The Cemetery Improvement Society which features some of the members of TPP.

REWIND
Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of the Great Highway The first line of Carry Me Ohio says it all:
sorry that
i could never love you back
i could never care enough
in these last days

LETDOWN LISTEN
Prince – 20Ten Once a great artist that has fallen prey to the trap that comes with the seclusion of being a massive star: losing touch with what’s out in the real world. The internets dead? F*ck you Prince. F*ck you in your stupid little ass-less pants you short little prima-donna. After you complain about not getting paid and advance for putting your stuff on iTunes how about you consider all the artists that are really struggling to make a name for themselves while making music that still matters. At least you get royalties off all the songs that continue to get played on the radio. Which won’t happen for most other musicians because major corporations like Clear Channel have a monopoly over terrestrial radio; a system that you strive so hard to fight against yet you try to perpetuate the old system of dying record labels. No amount of genius or talent can change the fact that you’re probably just an A$$hole.

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aDs suggests:

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The

NATIONAL RELEASES
The National-High Violet:  I’ve said it a couple of times but I’ll justifiably say it again.  This album is tearing me apart.  It’s like a soundtrack to social anxiety.  Over thrumming guitars Matt Berninger sings, Venom radio and venom television.  I’m afraid of everyone, I’m afraid of everyone. They’re the young blue bodies/with the old red bodies.”  Walking through the city on my way to class, I nod along as the whole world collapses around my headphones.  I’m afraid of everyone,” he continues, I’m afraid of everyone.  I don’t have the drugs to sort it out.  Sort it out.”  You and I both, dude.  You and I both.  This isn’t an album for feeling alone in a crowded room.  This is an album for feeling alone on a jam packed sidewalk, keeping an eye on the sky; waiting for a hunk of building to crumble off and come crashing down on your skull. It’s sonic self medication.  It rips open old scars and sticks a finger in the wound, just to see you squirm a bit before stitching it back up again.  Yeah, this album sticks with you.

INTERNATIONAL RELEASES
Male Bonding-Nothing Hurts Male Bonding is a band from Bristol. That’s in England, innit? I’m not quite sure what exactly this band promises but it delivers on that promise.  Simply put, this band is loud, fast, and dirty.  The tones are skuzzy and the songs are short.  This band and I share a clear love of 1990 Sub Pop.  I sing along, when I can, and shake my hair when I can’t.

REGIONAL
Geronimo-Fuzzy Dreams: There’s no two ways about it.  Geronimo will make you hurt.  They will squish your brain and punch you in the diaphragm.  Halfway through the opening song, Thunderbattles,” one thing becomes clear: this is a band that is not afraid to write songs with riffs.  Sometimes this band likes to play fast, and sometimes they like to be atmospheric.  Though they are not always entirely sure footed, they constantly move forward with a jittery energy and another pounding of the snare.  The songs on this album make shit move.  That is, until the last song.  Judgment Day” comes as a kiss-off disguised as a hug.  It acts as a campfire sing-along and a palette cleanser.  To say it sounds like Dust era Screaming Trees is the greatest praise I can give.

REWIND
Jim O’Rourke- Eureka I’ve always been somewhat of a fan of Mr. O’Rourke.  The albums that he worked on with Wilco and Sonic Youth number among my favorite for each band and his reputation as a Chicago composer and experimental musician is most stellar.  I spun the hell out of his 1997 album Bad Timing,” last year.  Why then, did it take me so long to pick up more of his albums?  I don’t rightly know but 1999’s Eureka,” has been pulling me back again and again.   As a work, it stands apart from many of O’Rourke’s albums in that it finds him molding his usual compositional elements into the form of Bacharach-esque pop songs (including covers of songs by Bacharach and Ivor Cutler).  Even within such forms, O’Rourke’s signature style shines through.  Each song beginning with an intricate finger style guitar passage, a minimal percussive rattle, or a slight buzz of synthesizer, and building from there.  There are never random moves.  Each is deliberate and gradual.  Like the cinematography in a Rossellini film, you find yourself so focused on the current image that you barely notice the change until two minutes later when it has molded itself into an entirely different song.  Then you smile.

LETDOWN LISTEN
Sleigh Bells-Treats Everything I read in the ramp up for this album described it as noise pop.  Perfect,” I thought, imagining way too fuzzy guitars and fun, crooked harmonies to match, I love noise and pop.”   Pitchfork said it, …felt like rides at an amusement park, and I’d get a feeling in my stomach when the first notes kicked in: Here we go.” They used words like, jackhammer riffs,” beats from hip-hop and electro,” and, supremely catchy sing-song melodies.”  Yes!  I thought I had found my summer party album.   No.  This duo sounds like all of the things that are wrong with M.I.A.’s new album (which is to say most of it).  When Indie groups use the word pop it’s supposed to mean old pop.  Not that Lil Wayne guitar album that everyone has agreed to forget.  The aesthetic of simulated stereo destruction works sometimes.  Sometimes Not when it’s used for the entirety of every song!  Clearly there is some disconnect between what was described and what exists.  One can hardly blame the band for that.  What I can blame them for is making an album that fails the only requirement of party jams.  It’s not danceable (unless the only dance move in your arsenal is the stutter step).  It doesn’t make me want to get down, or fuck, or chill, or drink.  It makes me want to hide.  This album isn’t fun.  That’s unforgivable.

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dD suggests:

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Spoon

NATIONAL RELEASES
Spoon-Transference: Minimal, dark, droning, mechanically rhythmic,pop songs that build on each other, exploding into little moments. Perfect imperfections.  A fully realized production that honors their lo-fi past & recent ventures with equal amounts of focus and abandonment.  This record stands at an artistic cross roads for them. On first listen, as the cover photo suggests, I’m bored, what are we gonna do next?  A brilliant orange lamp siting next to the bored individual on the cover serves as a metaphor for focus and inspiration, just look at what’s around you in a different light.  Transference pushes their artistic ceiling slightly higher.  Their artistic foundation, Daniel & Eno, sound stronger than ever while digging deeper, continuing to search for new sounds, patterns and rhythms together unlike most veteran indie bands and musical partnerships.

ALSO:
The National – High Violet
The Mynabirds –  What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood

INTERNATIONAL
The Radio Dept.– Clinging to a Scheme Sweet, sweet, sweet sugary pop songs from Sweden that recall the finer moments of the Pet Shop Boys with a darker edge.

REGIONAL RELEASES
Joie De Vivre – The North End Young, intelligent, college kids playing off of punk emotion, setting the pace and exploding;  midwestern mood rock a decade later.  Spring love, Summer arguments, Fall heartbreak, Winter recovery,  The midwest for many of our youth growing up here. That is The North End.  Joie is completely out of step with today’s youth rock, they’re too smart for any scene anywhere in America right now— and all for the better.  Sit through one listen and you’ll know right away that seeing them live will be no different than putting on their record.  Like Neil and Crazy Horse, this is what ya get live too- no pretending.  The North End secretly implies they have no aspirations to entertain you with a light show or fancy new outfits from Hot Topic,  just empty cans of beer.   Honest brooding, rock n’ roll high on emotion and slow, steady delivery.  The North End owes as much respect to other regional indie acts that inspired them in their teens, The Braves, as it does to other regional & national acts that has defined the midwest underground, Mike Kinsella inspired projects (Joan of Arc/American Football/Owen).   ‘North End’ serves as a soundtrack for trying to live through your early 20s in Northern Illinois through a recession, limited opportunities, and heartbreak.  It’s a solid declaration from a young band that is only going to get louder, funnier, darker, softer and wiser with each new letdown & recording to follow.  Here’s hoping they keep it together long enough before becoming sick of each other.

Lizard Skynard – Self-Titled Lizard Skynard, despite having a perfect frontman (Lizardman) for the kids are a monstrous rock band.  Imagine Henry Rollins/ Part Deftones meets Kevin Shields and the boys from Kyuss in a train station to make space metal.  The Skynard boys (Chicago/Austin/Vancouver) feed off of lead guitarist, Jason Mossy Vaughn’s (Machesney Park/Rockford), wall of guitar nob turning and pedal shifting theatrics.  Vaughn’s playing is mesmerizing, turning speed metal riffs into reverb, delays, morphing into small, well-intended melodies— no different than a classical Dmitri Shostakovich film production, chaos amidst the darkness drifting into melody.  With or without Lizardman reciting monologues on top of the band, it’s a complete sound of life on earth coming to a loud, water washed horrific & beautiful end.  Produced by Greg Norman @ Electrical Audio in Chicago over the course of 1 week this past winter, this self-titled debut by a band that started as a ‘what-if’ idea in the back of a Jägermeister bus (driven around the country for 4 years to festivals and arenas by Mossy & his wife, Dana) is anything but a ‘what-if’ idea.  Every member plays as if their lives, and that of  Planet Earth’s, depends on these 30 minutes put to record for a listener’s lifetime.

REWIND LISTENS
Neil Young – American Stars N’ Bars Released in 1978, it’s often discarded as a hodge podge collection of Uncle Neil’s throwaway gems that bounce between his country rock/folk stylings and manic garage rock epic.  Often cited for featuring the magnificent, Like a Hurricane, a song probably more responsible for Wilco’s post Jay Bennet guitar freakouts.  Especially on their Neil inspired, Spiders (Kidsmoke).  Before you even get to  ‘Hurricane’ there’s country flavored ear candy in This Old Country Waltz, Hey Babe, Hold Back The Tears, and Star of Bethlehem.  After spending most of my life living in Zuma,  my personal Uncle Neil desert island pick, American Stars N’ Bars has consumed my car CD player with a few more mentioned above for the early half of 2010.

Big Star– Keep Your Eye on The Sky (Box Set) There’s a line from a famous Replacements song on Pleased to Meet Me named in honor for the late Alex Chilton (who passed away earlier this year) that goes;  I never travel far without a little Big Star.  I don’t think I’ve gone one year in existence since my first exposure in college to Big Star’s 1974 classic song, September Gurls, by a fellow classmate.  It changed the way I spell and now type, ‘gurls.’ IT inspired many songs in shoeboxes stored away trying to write any song worth having a Gurl in it.  It has appeared on every other cassette, cd mix I’ve made for so many people over the years.  The tragedy in sharing that one song to anyone unaware of Big Star’s brief recorded 1970s magic is that every Big Star song is worth sharing.  Every single f*cking song.  This box set, like their 3 formal studio recordings is always within an arms length for playing.

LETDOWN LISTENS
Teenage Fanclub – Shadows I expect too much out of my favorite artists I’ve grown up with.  The Fanclub’s latest is just….  a complacent listen.  They sound older, beaten… maybe that’s natural.  I’m not ready to accept this record yet.  I will return to it one day.

Broken Bells– Self-Titled I love Brian Burton’s production, his playing, everything he does as ‘Danger Mouse.’  I’ve become fond of James Mercer’s writing over the years for The Shins but not always his choice in song production or arrangements after the home made debut.  The best song he’s written is Good For Good on Chutes Too Narrow.  He’s never come close to that song’s simplicity since, lyrically or musically.   It’s a shame to these ears to want more out of the guy.  The template is there, obviously, for something more within himself.  Hearing about this project in advance had me excited thinking, Mercer, you’ve befriended Brian Burton, you sneaky bastard.  This is just a boring sit-through listen by 2 respectable young artists seeking mutual ground and settling for safe, electro-pop.  I can’t help but think ‘Danger Mouse’ had to take a step down to Mercer’s musical shortcomings to make this work.  Which, again, another reason I think Brian Burton is an amazing artist.  I look forward to another release by this combo but this one is the sound of 2 great talents trying to figure each other out still.  Yawn.

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aW suggests:

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LCD

NATIONAL RELEASES
LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening If I were a woman and I had to give birth to a child because someone planted an evil, gifted seed inside me, I’d want James Murphy to provide the juice.  What a brilliant artist, performer, engineer, producer.  This record tops off a 10-year run of 3 very important modern day recordings that focus on punk, disco, classic rock, pop, glam, indie, folk, funk and electronic arrangements set to Murphy’s urban, personal, lyrical observations.  Not a great vocalist at all, but this is a great artist at his peak.  His playful instincts and ability to take his own influences to meld into wonderful, weird American records that calm and explode with ideas is never short of amazing.  See the synth freak out on the Bowie-Heroes inspired All I Want for an example that makes every musician, or anyone that can feel, think with goosebumps, ‘sweet Lord, punch me in the face, that’s awesome.

ALSO:
Peter Wolf–  Midnight Souvenirs
Damien Jurado- Saint Bartlett

INTERNATIONAL RELEASES

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach Blur frontman, Damon Albarn can do no wrong.  Who else could put out a fake cartoon band doing a political record about our planet’s future demise featuring Lou Reed and Snoop D-O-Double G?  Brilliant record, brilliant pop, brilliant social commentary.  If a record could ever win a Pulitzer based on intelligence, craft, spiritual and political messages- this has the best chance.  One of those rare records you can dance to, f*ck to, eat to, work to— plus sit and think about it after it’s ended.  Repeat.

REGIONAL RELEASES
The Pimps – Fuck this shit, we’re outta here Veteran local punks, a joyous love letter of sorts to our despicable city, country, music industry and capitalism.  The Pimps tap into the same great punk, rock n’ roll, hillbilly glam spirit other legendary bands from the Midwest tapped into for shorter amounts of time.  Difference is, The Pimps haven’t changed for anyone 9 records in.  Indifference, contemplation, F words and aging rarely sounds this joyous.  Read More about the record here.

Judah The Lyrical Rev- Rockford Files Midwestern hip hop artist I want to here more from based on just one little song passed to me on the internets that I can’t stop listening to this year.  I believe it was written awhile ago but it should be a city anthem, a national cry for federal help.  The power in the song’s lyrics, Judah’s smooth delivery is equal parts proud, educative, angry, sad and desperate.  Like many people, like me, living in Rockford, IL

REWIND LISTENS

The Flaming Groovies– Shake Some Action One of the 70s great critically respected, but commercially unsuccessful, American rock bands.  After spending years emulating a hybrid of The Stones and Velvet Underground on great releases like Teenage Head and Flamingo,  the Groovies signed with major label, Sire, to release a late 70s power pop rock canon of songs tight on harmonies and classic pop arrangements.  Think Buddy Holly fronting the 1963 Beatles and converging in the late 70s for a record together.

SparklehorseVivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot I remember the day I bought this at Val Halla’s in Oak Park, IL.  The kid, who shall remain nameless for now, running the counter suggested it.  He also passed me tapes of Golden Smog and Wilco practice sessions in Chicago that previous summer.  He advised me to buy this record based on a secret love for Cracker / David Lowery at that time.  Lowery produced this Sparkle thing I hadn’t heard of and I Wasn’t too happy with major label releases around this time, dipping deeper into the Chicago releases.  However, the kid with strange music connections always passing me tapes and DAT sessions I, nor anyone should have had, sold me.  Those first few Mark Linkous (who is Sparklehorse) compositions destroyed me driving in my green buick, playing it from a portable cd player rigged to a tape deck adapter driving to an awful job in Oak Brook from Oak Park the next morning.  Brittle, angry garage/glam rock balanced out by some of the most fragile cosmic folk songs I’d ever heard at that time.  What would be Side B on any vinyl copy, the amazing run of songs 7-12 plow my soul.  Hammering the Cramps/ The Most Beautiful Widow in Town / Heart of Darkness into Someday I Will Treat You Good ending with Sad & Beautiful World into Gasoline Horseys… Jesus Christ, cmon.  I get goosebumps just thinking about these songs.  Mark Linkous, I doubt you knew you’d be missed by so many strangers sharing the same feelings as you.

LETDOWN LISTENS

WZOK / 97.5 Rockford About 90% of what they play offends my ears and then my brain freaks out and quivers, I get dizzy.

WXRX/ 104.9 Rockford About 91% of what they play causes diarrea at home or epileptic reactions while driving.

Could local radio get any worse than those 2 pay to play garbage dumps?  Yes.  They’re everywhere and they are a sickness.  An awful aural disease infecting millions of Americans with poor music tastes.  It’d be one thing if the music played were just bad, but the commercials and the DJS are as horrendous to listen bable on about pop culture nothings.  Rockford radio is so bad they make the kids from MTV’s Jersey Shore sound brilliant.

The Halfway Point, 2010: Sock Monkey Sound Staff Music ReviewAndy Whorehall
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7 comments on "The Halfway Point, 2010: Sock Monkey Sound Staff Music ..."

  1. That Whorehall fellow enjoys good music. I'd like to attend a party with him.

  2. Andy, you have some great picks. Two things: I feel like I'm the only one not getting the hype with The National album. It's so boring: music and lyrics. It sounds like a sad bastard album from 1986. Also, good or bad, what do you think of the new Arcade Fire?

    My own rewind listen related to Valhalla's: Get Up With It by Miles Davis. It is majestic. Nothing sounds like it now and nothing ever will. It is the work of a genius with a band of seasoned masters. I picked it up at Valhalla's (does that store still exist?) circa late 90's. It's worth mentioning too that I also bought a book there, that might now be out of print, titled, In the Country of Country. It is a fascinating portrait of old school country and folk artists and is definitely worth seeking out.

  3. I'm in line with the general consensus that the new Arcade Fire album is better than Neon Bible but not as good as Funeral.

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