Monday, December 29, 2008

Titus Andronicus - The Airing of Grievances

Here we are, almost a decade deep into the new millennium and my favorite album of the year sounds about as muffled and distorted as Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone conversation; well maybe AGB wasn’t screaming like this.

Titus Andronicus’ The Airing of Grievances stands out amongst other albums in these times of advanced technology, obsession over production value, and (curiously) the employment of AutoTune, vocoder, et al on every radio single. This New Jersey quintet of miscreants plays unabashedly loud, distorted rock music while frontman Patrick Stickles assaults your ears with his best top-of-your-lungs, guttural, screaming vocals. The sound is Lo-Fi to a T, but that is not to say that it does not sound good; hell, it’s great. The band has a punk rock sound whose closest cousin is Shoegaze, but this comparison can only be made based on definition alone.

The album opens with a dirty trick. The first minute or so features gentle guitar and quiet singing, and as soon as you adjust the volume so you can make out the words, a gaggle of angry males scream out “FUCK YOU!” But you aren’t mad; you don’t even turn it down. It’s not going to sound any better at a lower volume. Accept the bombast. Anyway, what's the difference? This apathy resonates throughout the album as Stickles screeches lines that could be ripped from "Sartre for Dummies".

On “Joset of Nazareth’s Blues”, Stickles shrieks out “From Galilee to Gethsemane to Golgotha, it’s a short walk” in a voice that sounds similar to a teenager getting in the last “AHHHHH, I FUCKING HATE YOU!” before slamming the bedroom door in his parents’ face.
[I was an unhappy teenager :( ]

Anchored by the duo of “No Future Pt. 1” and “No Future Pt. 2: The Days After No Future”, the latter third of the album outshines the first six tracks. This feat is due in large part to the beautiful symbiotic relationship that exists between the two “No Future” tracks. “Pt. 1” sets the table with an expansive, slow burning breakup song that rewards the listener with not only a distorted, dirty rock riff but the following lyrical gems: “There is not a doctor / That can diagnose me / I am dying slowly / from Patrick Stickles Disease” and “Life's been a long, sick game of 'Would You Rather' / so now I'm going to medical school... as a cadaver”. The TWO in the ONE-TWO-punch, “Pt. 2”, starts off knee-bouncing while quoting the guitar work from the previous track and proceeds to ride out the infectious riff. At which point the riff gives way to a haunting recitation of the very last words from The Stranger and then fades out. The two pieces, when listened together, sound like they deserve a spot in the Emergency Angst Survival Kit. Got ostracized at school? Tracks 7 and 8 on Airing of Grievances. Had a tough day at the office and a long commute awaits you? 7 and 8, Airing of Grievances.

My only grief with this album is that there are only nine tracks; but, as a wise woman once said, “Gift horse. Mouth.” So, I’ll take the nine outstanding tracks and 46 minutes and go through them again, all the while pondering: why do I even care at all? I’m just going to die eventually.


Monday, December 22, 2008

The Alphabetic Order's Best Albums of 2008

2008 was an exciting year for new-comers to the scene; three of our top 10 released debut albums this year (Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and Titus Andronicus), with six others following in the list. New trends also emerged, with the invasion of Swedish indie rock from groups such as El Perro Del Mar and Lykke Li, as well as the mashup genre becoming extremely popular (lead by Girl Talk and E-603).

Unfortunately, due to TAO getting started up well into 2008, we had a rather difficult time making our way through all the latest albums released this year. Surely we missed out on many…which is where all of you come in to play. We encourage you to leave comments about where our choices stand in your mind. What totally rad band ruled this year but didn’t get the respect they deserve? Which albums did you think sucked but were featured in our list? Or, leave a “Best of 2008” list of your own.

The TAO staff would like to thank all of our readers for the tremendous support you’ve given us and the new site. We hope everyone has a happy holiday season and a most excellent new year. Enjoy the list!

**You can sample each artist by clicking the link attached to each name.

A great mashup album that will keep all you ADD music fans occupied for hours.

The only comedy album on here, that should say something.

38. EL PERRO DEL MAR – From the Valley to the Stars (Licking Fingers/The Control Group)

Lo-fi twee pop – whatever the hell that means – it’s good though.

Indie crooner from The Moldy Peaches works very, very well solo.

Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys) and Miles Kane (The Rascals) – two wildly popular musicians in the UK – collaborate to give us a great taste of how rock still rules in the old country.

A surprising top-40 of the year. Oberst gives us a great acoustic album for any given lazy summer afternoon.

34. Q-TIP – The Renaissance (Universal/Motown)

Q-Tip’s perfectly-timed flow with classic beats continues to work just as well as it did back in the day.

Some more great austere yet quirky indie rock from this Minnesota quartet.

32. COOL KIDS – The Bake Sale EP (Chocolate Industries)

A more than respectable throw back to the days of minimal tick/clap beats and 808s from this Chicago duo.

This London quintet comes out with another stimulating mix of electro-pop.

30. NINE INCH NAILS – The Slip (self-released)

Reznor produced industrial rock. Another freebie for you from a band that still has it.

A fantastic debut album from this newly-wed duo, with songs about all the classic bluegrass themes: broken hearts, the devil, and love. There’s something especially intriguing about two Australians recreating a traditionally American genre so perfectly.

28. BLOC PARTY – Intimacy (Atlantic)

These Brits keep us satisfied with another solid album after critically acclaimed Silent Alarm.

New York angst and strong songwriting make you want to start a band and tour the best dives in America.

This new member of the Swedish invasion is loud, anxiety-ridden, and occasionally simply astounding.

25. SLOW RUNNER – Mermaids (self-released)
This "substitute teacher by day and songwriter by night" somehow created one of the year’s best albums about love and relationships. A soft one, but serves its purpose when you need it most.

Swedish indie folk pop’s debut album makes you want to move to the fjords with nothing but love.

?uestlove produced and much awaited return album gets my pants off, fast.

A great rock/pop (not heavy, but not soft) album with songs about everything across the board.

Holy shit, that power comes from 3 guys? It’s the return of arena rock that will melt your face off. Not kidding…caution advised.

20. BECK – Modern Guilt (Interscope)

Though no longer at his creative peak, Modern Guilt is still standard Beck awesomeness, just way too short.

Girl Talk impressively mashes well over 10 songs on each track. Rap + nostalgia rock = your best friend…for about 2 weeks.

The “Sublime of the ivy leagues” assaults with catchy pretentious radio tunes.

17. THE DODOS – Visiter (Frenchkiss)

A San Francisco-based acoustic/percussion combo that is as calm and catchy as it is maniacal and emotional.

16. SANTOGOLD – Santogold (Downtown/Lizard King)

Insert entire album into your party mix.

Smooth, smart lyrics and fresh beats; another classic from Slug and Ant. They bring their deep poetic flow back on their 6th studio album.

Don’t be intimidated by the name. DIOYY provides one of the most eclectic mixes of sound of the year, ranging from ‘80s pop-punk to electronica.

Indie acoustica revolution.

Ohio’s own Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney continuing to do what they do best – crunchy blues riff-rock – though now featuring the distinctive touch of mastermind DJ Danger Mouse.

Good ol’ rock ‘n roll with somewhat of an indie twist. This Austin trio breaks loose with thick catchy riffs and straight-talkin’ vox.…we dig it.

10. FOALS – Antidotes (Transgressive/Sub Pop)

The best prog-rock/jam-band/UK indie music ever made...if there’s any of that to compare them to. The virtuosic guitar/percussion combo is fascinating enough in itself.

No, not the Shakespeare tragedy, think rather if Conor Oberst snapped and started playing dirty garage rock. Ah, much better. (thanks for that one Cody)

Bowie cameos – need we say more?

Jack White's genius alongside four formidable musicians make for one of the best hook-laden rock albums of the year.

The Followill family come back again with a fantastic album full of playfully layered guitars and the trademark howling of Caleb at lead vocals. These guys never cease to amaze.

5. RADIOHEAD – In Rainbows (self-released)

Radiohead continuing to do what they do best with this one; somehow pushing their sound a little bit further while staying true to the Radiohead style that we all know and love. And did we mention, for free.

Zappa of the new millennium; discordant, different and beautiful.

Misery loves company, and Bon Iver will be there for you whenever you need. The best solo acoustic album since Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker.

This catchy synth-pop is the new voice of our generation. A few hit tracks and some more than solid filler make for a unique adventure that somehow doesn't get old.

This album should speak for itself. Listen and you'll know cleanses your soul with its purity.

Guest author: Cody Andrews reviews The Hold Steady

Craig Finn and Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady have maintained that they will not make the same album twice. Through their four releases, they have held up their end of the bargain.

This year we were treated to a markedly different album from the New York-based group. 2008’s Stay Positive has diverged sonically from 2006’s guitar driven Boys and Girls in America, as this year’s effort has employed everything from glockenspiel to harpsichord. But what really sets the lovingly dubbed “World’s Best Bar Band,” apart is an instrument more unique than anything being featured in a band currently: Craig Finn’s voice singing Craig Finn’s lyrics. Finn has an uncanny ability to make his version of non-singing interesting by energetically reciting his dense and oft-vivid lyrics. He is able to so adeptly convey the situation or characterize the person in question that headphones are almost required to best experience his virtuosity. Nowhere is this best highlighted than THS’s second album Separation Sunday.

Separation Sunday is a concept album, but like all great concept albums you do not have to listen to it in the stringent order of beginning to end; at least not until after the first

go-round. The album is loosely chronicling the adventures of three partiers: Hallelujah (Holly), Gideon, and Charlemagne. The songs all make mention of each character in some fashion and culminate with the miraculous “resurrection” of Holly. (If you have picked up on a Catholic theme, you have certainly been paying attention; this motif is visited throughout the album)

“Hornets! Hornets!” opens the album with our first glimpse of Holly. Though she is not mentioned by name, her first words give the audience an indication of what kind of woman Holly is: “She said, there is gonna come a time / when I’m gonna have to go / with whoever is going to get me the highest.” You believe her and you think to yourself, well, sure, okay, I guess I can get behind that decision, all the while humming along.

The second track, “Cattle and The Creeping Things” ups the ante as it romps through the bible with a matter-of-fact tone. Age old lessons (set to rock music) are applied to present times and it appears that we are in the midst of the same cycle as thousands of years previous. This collection of musings on the current state of affairs and their connection to the biblical lessons of yore would be easy for me to examine line by line, but I will offer this link instead.

The foot-tapping “Banging Camp” starts with an alternating left channel/right channel guitar riff and goes on to offer insight on one means of becoming ‘born again’. This scientific and sacred ceremony involves recreational use of nitrous followed closely by having one’s head dunked in water. When you wake up / you’ll be high as hell and born again.” The middle of the album was made for rockers as Tad is able to showcase his chops, most notably on the rollicking “Charlemagne in Sweatpants” and Thin Lizzy-tinged “Stevie Nix”. These hard-rocking guitar tracks, like all THS songs, are not without a heavy dose of Finn’s wordplay. Here, in the heart of the album, Holly’s story starts to unfold piece by piece but there is no compass rose to make sense of the clues gleaned from each track.

Finally, with the album-closing “How a Resurrection Really Feels” we are able to make sense of Hallelujah’s saga. The truth comes out that Holly has been having these misadventures across the nation while most of those close to her have feared her dead. We wrote her name in magic marks / on stop signs and subway cars / they got a mural up on east 13th / saying ‘Hallelujah Rest In Peace’”. Hallelujah wanders back home and limps through the doors of the church during the Easter service much to everyone’s surprise and amazement; well everyone except Finn: “Holly was a hoodrat / Now you finally know that / She’s been disappearing for years / today she finally came back.”

Separation Sunday is a triumph of straight-ahead rock music tastefully blended with masterful storytelling yielding raucous results. The storyline is secondary and can only truly be appreciated after multiple spins. The instrumentation will draw you in initially, and once you can decipher Finn’s mouthful of lyrics good luck taking THS out of heavy rotation.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Attention World!

The Alphabetic Order is branching out into the Interwebs!

We've opened up

It's part of the vast Tumblrverse, and you should be a part as well!

TheABCorder.tumblr will be a shorter, more A.D.D. version of this blogspot, but nothing will change about this site. We've only expanded our horizons.


The TAO staff.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Love Is All plays Columbus, tonight!

For all of our Columbus, OH readers, recently reviewed Love Is All will be performing at The Summit tonight. The show's only 8 bucks. Go check them out and let us know how it goes!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Love Is All - A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night

Love Is All is loud, anxiety-ridden, and occasionally fucking awesome.

They’re part of the massive wave of Swedish indie acts that have risen to the surface these past few years (Jens Lekman, El Perro del Mar, Lykke Li, among others – likely to be covered in future reviews).

Commanding lead vocals, Josephine Olausson sings every song like her heart was just broken but she’s ready to fight. The songs are mostly held together by upbeat ska-like horns, with the saxophone just as essential as the drums.

“Sea Sick” must refer to the unsteady structure of the song and is a clear highlight of the album. Beats come in and out, slower and faster, with claps and chorus and fantastic lyrics. Olausson’s apathetic cry I’m bored to death / I’m bored as shit” in the chorus, accompanied by a clap track and staccato guitar make for an easily identifiable sound for Love Is All. It’s what first attracted me to them. There’s something so appealing to how Olausson sings. I’m pretty sure it’s because I picture her as a really cute Swedish girl (don’t you?). Besides that, she happens to be a fantastic post-punk crooner.

You’ll find few guitar solos here, friend. Most of the solo work on this album belongs to Fredrik Eriksson on the sax, meticulously blended through effects pedals. He finds his way onto most of the songs, giving them a brake from their usual regimented beats. It’s easy to hear surf rock, art punk, modern-alt, ska, post punk, and demi-etrusian (OK, I made 2 of those genres up, can you guess them? Good job, here’s a lollipop.)

This album doesn’t have much as a whole. Some of the songs sound too similar and most of the band members could be replaced without anyone noticing, save Olausson. Not to say that some of the songs aren’t great. They’re full of life and make you want to dance silly. And I do dance silly, quite often. It’s the best way to enjoy this album. Don’t pick it apart, enjoy it for what it is: upbeat and danceable.

The Count

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fleet Foxes

I was sitting in the back of a cab on my way home from the bars last night when Britney Spears' new hit single "Circus" came on the radio. After wondering for a short time "who would ever listen to this?", I started to think of the reasons why people listen to music at all (even Britney). Obviously, there are many reasons, each unique to every person.

My reason is that music, when done right, is the most powerful of any art form. There is nothing better. The best artists find a way to connect to their fans, usually without ever having physically met them. Sometimes it's a long road you have to walk down together to develop such a relationship; other times it's love at first listen. It's this connection, a certain intimacy between artist and listener that is most appealing to me.

I had a love at first listen moment not too long ago, on my road trip to Richmond, VA this summer. She was a band called Fleet Foxes, from Seattle, and we were meant for each other. Her comforting vocal harmonies pulled me in instantly; and when I heard the wandering acoustic melodies guided by intimate songwriting, I was in love.

The Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut album begins just like the title of the first track, "The Sun it Rises", transporting the listener to their bed at the crack of dawn, not dreading, but looking forward to a long day's work on the farm. "White Winter Hymnal" makes me want to go to church every Sunday, with the rounds of tight harmonies - led by lead singer Robin Pecknold - sounding so pure my eyes begin to glaze over.

This band will make a lot of top ten "albums of the year" lists, and deservedly so. They brought back that antiquated CSNY folk flavor with conviction and a lot of people are listening. So if you haven't heard them yet, now's the time to begin your relationship. Introduce yourselves to each other and enjoy.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

TAO's Best of 2008 coming soon!

Get ready everyone. TAO's picks for best albums of 2008 is soon to be released. I know, I know...the suspense is killing me too!

Also, it's TAO's one month anniversary! Have a drink for him, since he's not 21 yet, nor can a website drink liquids...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Moviola - Dead Knowledge

Moviola came on my radar after some passive-aggressive blogging on an addictive site called Tumblr. Their 2007 album, Dead Knowledge (released on Catbird Records), starts sweepingly with "Luka Ravine", like an orchestra warming up in the pit. This album is pure Americana; the sounds were filtered through Kentucky bourbon to achieve an unrivaled authenticity.

Moviola is a band that will always be there by your side. "Rudy" plays like a forgotten song by The Band. Seamlessly produced, the organ creeps in like it was there the whole time, then disappears just as naturally.

You’ll find banjo led songs and vocals that sound strained through a can on a string, all the while contributing to the overall nostalgic feel of the album. Listening to this band in 50 years, you'll feel the exact same sensation glory.

The tracks pull from a variety of genres but never feel disjointed; the opposite, in fact. Moviola crafted an album, not a series of singles or filler around a hit. Each track feels right just where it belongs, unlike many albums released these days.

I read an amazing line about this album that I won’t try to paraphrase or claim as my own:

"It’s got all the elements that make up a great Sunday afternoon driving record. In fact, as I sit here listening to this record for the second time this morning, I have a pretty great daydream of a carload of friends driving across the expansive Arizona desert, waiting for the sun to rise while the hand-claps and unison vocals on “Tears In A Jar” quietly accompany the silent riders and their big thoughts."

I couldn’t summarize it any better. Dead Knowledge is a satisfying, 16-song slab of timeless, cosmic American music. So grab a seat, have a pull from our bottle and kick back. Feel free to put your feet up on the coffee table. Ties would be loosened if any of us wore ties. Enjoy some of America’s finest untapped music, Moviola.

The Count

Monday, December 8, 2008

New author alert!! Everyone please welcome, the one, the only...Count Zachary von Goren Slovin!

We're pleased to announce Count Zachary von Goren Slovin as the newest member of the staff here at TAO! As a long time friend of the site he will be contributing periodically with music reviews, download suggestions, humorous anecdotes, etc. Among other things, he is a bona-fide member of Transylvanian royalty and is widely known as the only human capable of singing so low he can actually create glass. They call him many names - only some to his face - though he is most commonly known as "The Count". Please give him the warmest of welcomes.