John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
Former Czars frontman John Grant has made a name for himself on his past two albums – Queen Of Denmark yes, but especially Pale Green Ghosts – with weird, synth-heavy albums that sound like what would happen if you took your regular singer-songwriter type and told them to just go with their instincts. On first blush it’s not the sort of stuff that would garner any sort of mainstream attention – the first song, the title track, makes explicit reference several times to his HIV positive status, wishes that he’d just gotten his arm caught in a thresher instead, like his uncle, and realizes that there are children that have cancer, so all bets at garnering sympathy are off. It works on every level though, and so Grant has gotten nothing but rave reviews and awards from publications since day 1.
One thing that takes it over the edge of good to great is the fact that, despite being nearly an hour in length, it doesn’t feel like it’s an hour – half that, if anything. Grant has the uncommon skill to stuff his ideas and quirks into a highly efficient package, and it serves him especially well on Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. It’s for the best, really. The album’s title is an amalgamation of an Icelandic phrase and a Turkish phrase that together say that middle age is a nightmare; it’s an obvious statement for Grant once you read over his lyrics. These are cutting, bitter songs that manage to become palatable through sheer humour and charm; any more of them than there are and it might have become overwhelming. It manages to get in and out in just enough time to feel fresh and sourly invigorating. It may not have all of the electro-pop thrills of Pale Green Ghosts, but it’s got a schizoid internal charm all its own, and it sets Grant apart as a contemporary songwriter of mention.
So here we are, at or near the halfway point of 2013, and there’s been a deluge of music so far (this is true of every year of course, but I digress…); I humbly present to you my favourite 50 of the year, in chunks. I haven’t been this into a year, musically speaking, since 2010, and in many ways it’s felt like a do-over of that storied year: big releases from Yeezy, Deerhunter, Bonobo, Thee Oh Sees, The National, Baths, a full-album cover from the Flaming Lips, and a new Arcade Fire album lined up for September 9th. Let’s get this started. Do me a favour, though, and check out m’book, Disappearance, on Amazon – it’s good stuff, I promise, especially if you’re into post-apocalyptic fiction or you live in Toronto. Leave a review, if you do.
#50: Still Corners – “Strange Pleasures”
As solid as dream pop gets, Strange Pleasures floats above the haze on a bed of synths, reverb, and sleepy melodies. Each listen brings new pleasures to the forefront. Cinematic driving music for muggy summer nights.
#49: Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – “Mind Control”
Occult hard rock with more than a whiff of the Seventies about them, Uncle Acid stand head and shoulders above their hard rock contemporaries, utilizing groove and tone with heady results. Perfect listening for the precious kids who think they were born in the wrong generation.
#48: John Grant – “Pale Green Ghosts”
The former singer for the Czars delivers a smart, sassy synth-pop album with a great sense of humour and a writer’s eye for lovingly detailed lines. Like a bouncier version of 69 Love Songs, it’ll appeal to the drunk English major inside of you.
#47: Vampire Weekend – “Modern Vampires Of The City”
How was it? It was okay. There’s a great big gaping mushy middle on this record that makes me wonder, but there’s also a some stellar tracks at the beginning and end that almost make up for it. “Steps” and “Ya Hey” are both great summer tracks, and “Diane Young” grows on you after a while. “Everlasting Arms” is still absolute crap, though.
#46: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “II”
A funky little album that is perfect for those moments where you need some background sounds to motivate you. The sound is lo-fi, but the psychedelic adventures stride well beyond that.
#45: Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – “Elements of Light”
I swear, the whole album reminds me of the song that plays throughout the first two Fallout games, the creepy bell-driven tracks that I first noticed when wandering through the ruins of Los Angeles. Proof that bells can make exciting art, thousands of years after their creation.
#44: California X – “California X”
Hard-edged, 90’s indie-influenced rock n’ roll that hits like a punch to the gut. They’re from the same town as Dinosaur, Jr, and they sound a hell of a lot like Dinosaur, Jr (although less than, say, Yuck), and it could be a hell of a lot worse, let me tell you. California X tends to go in a more Miles Davis direction than the blizzard-of-Coltrane that J. Mascis works in, leading to a much more Neil Young-esque style of furious, dirty guitar work.
#43: Akron/Family – “Sub Verses”
Noisy, difficult experimental rock with pop sensibilities: it’s a strange brew, and with seven albums under their belt, one the band is intimately familiar with. Exciting and restless, like a druggy night in a big city you don’t really know that well.
#42: Low – “The Invisible Way”
The pioneering slowcore band keeps on their path of lush, luscious rock hymns, providing another set of bedtime melodies for the ages. The tempos actually pick up a little here, too, although this is, of course, relative.
Creepy, noisy drone, like crawling dread brought to aural form. I made the mistake of listening to this while playing Minecraft, deep in the bowels of the earth, and I have not been back to the game since.