Baio – The Names

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Baio – The Names

Solo albums are usually pretty suspect.  For every Ozzy Osbourne there’s a whole host of guys like Slash, Paul Banks, Scott Weiland, and Mick Jagger – people who have no business separating themselves from their bands.  They’re typically the result of too much ego to be contained even by a world-shaking band, and a need to stake their own claim discrete from where they became famous.  This effect is even worse when it’s the bassist from a famous band.  The reason behind this is that the bassist, in your typical rock ‘n’ roll format, is the most boring person there is.  No one cares about the bassist.

Chris Baio is the bassist for upper-crust Ivy League dorm band Vampire Weekend.  After three albums of riffing on Paul Simon like he was the Second Coming of Jesus, the band seems to have come to a period of individual exploration.  That is to say, singer Ezra Koenig is doing some stuff in collaboration with others, and now bassist Chris Baio is staking out a solo album, The Names.  Just the idea of the bassist from Vampire Weekend making a solo album is typically enough to make me cringe.

He pulls it off really, really well, however.  These are not the sort of rote Vampire-lite songs that you might expect to tinkle oh-so-preciously from your speakers.  These are songs anchored to hard, throbbing bass, more influenced by epic house anthems than they are by Upper West Side Soweto.  Lead single “Sister of Pearl” is actually the outlier here; most of these tracks resemble the opener, “Brainwash yyrr Face”, with light, graceful vocals playing around the maypole of that monolithic rumble at the bottom.  “I Was Born In A Marathon” is the best track here; it runs through a tidal bridge that shows a masterful hand with fusing house tropes into a more general pop form.

Chris Baio bucks a trend here; he may not be Ozzy Osbourne but gets the job done in a rare fashion, and it’s one solo album that’s actually worth listening to.

 

 

 

Halfway Point: The Best 50 Albums of 2013 (So Far), Part One

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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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.


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#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.

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#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.


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#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.

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#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.

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#41:  The Haxan Cloak – “Excavation”

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.

Vampire Weekend – “Modern Vampires Of The City”

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I was ready to trash this album after first listen.  Lead single “Diane Young” has been a burr in my side ever since its release; it takes the chaotic, reel-through-the-streets feel of Contra single “Cousins” and makes it annoying.  Subsequent singles “Step” and “Ya Hey” were good, but did not take the sting out of that annoying, high-to-low knob twisting that irritated me so greatly about “Diane Young” (especially since “Ya Hey” repeats the effect, albeit in a much more subtle fashion).  I had scathing things to say about my first run-through of the full album – “apologism for Eighties AOR”, “grand, empty gestures a la the worst of U2”, “the more execrable parts of Paul Simon’s back catalog” – that sort of thing.  A funny thing happened, then, when I looked over my notes:  I discovered, after my usual calculations were finished, that the album merited a B.  I did not feel a B when I listened to it, but upon further reflection it strikes me that what disappoints me about Modern Vampires Of The City is the same thing that disappoints me about Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Both albums are frothy, empty-handed, overtly ornamental middles bookended by some shockingly good tracks.  The first three tracks of Modern Vampires Of The City are, honestly, top-notch Vampire Weekend songs.  The opening track, “Obvious Bicycle”, kicks the album into the air with style, while “Unbelievers” and “Step” keep the proceedings feeling like both a progression and an inventory of where the band has been.  Then “Diane Young” comes in and the whole thing comes crashing down to earth.  Everything for the rest of the album up until “Ya Hey” reminds me painfully of a band of rich kids who, trying to make grand-sounding ideas with profound statements about modern existence come to life, end up with a middling collection of post-Pop U2 songs.  The mid-tempo becomes excruciating.  “Everlasting Arms” is particularly bad; it’s the sort of John Tesh-worthy track that anyone aspiring to “indie cred” would have been ashamed to have been caught listening to ten years ago.  Today, in this post-“Beth/Rest” world, it passes as an artistic statement.  Then “Ya Hey” comes along and saves the album, as does the strident following track “Hudson”, which marries a militant drum beat to an apocalyptic vision of a destroyed future Manhattan.  “Ya Hey” shows the sort of growth and maturity that the rest of the album strives for but never quite achieves; where the rest of the album seems to treat its spirituality as a simple backdrop, “Ya Hey” has an adult conversation with the concepts of God in the thriving urban 21st Century.  If only the vast middle had seen fit to have this same sort of conversation.

When Contra came out, it was de rigueur to refer to it as Vampire Weekend’s More Songs About Buildings And Food.  It made sense; their self-titled debut was such an exciting burst of new and globally-embracing ideas that comparisons to Talking Heads ’77 were inevitable, and when the follow-up progressed towards maturity while keeping one foot in the past, the comparisons continued.   I guess that really makes Modern Vampires Of The City the modern equivalent of Fear Of Music, which is okay, since I don’t like Fear Of Music all that much, either.  Still, though, if the trend keeps up that means that the next album will be their Remain In Light, which is something fun to look forward to anyway.  As it stands, though, I find it overblown and underdone; as I said earlier, though, I find the same of Sgt Pepper’s, so take that however you will.

FINAL MARK: B

 

(And again, don’t forget to visit http://www.trevorjameszaple.com and download a free excerpt of my first book, Disappearance. Maybe even buy it, if you like it.)

Cayucas – “Bigfoot”

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Poor Cayucas.  They just want to play the soundtrack to an endless summer, paying homage to Vampire Weekend and Beck along the way.  These days, however, are a catalytic era for popular music; under the surface, an intense period of creativity and exploration is occurring.  Bands like Cayucas that come along and just want to take stock of what’s already been accomplished are typically derided for being “derivative” and lacking in artistic merit.  Albums like Bigfoot, though, aren’t about creating some new artistic paradigm, however; they’re just here for the barbeque and the brews.  It’s an album written to be played in the summer, outdoors, and in this goal it succeeds admirably.  The first two tracks, “Cayucos” and “High School Lover”, hit like a one-two punch to radio while we were all still languishing under snow, and they brought with them the promise of brighter, warmer days.  Now that those days have arrived, Bigfoot provides a perfect accompaniment to them; it works for outdoor parties, BBQs by the lake, cottage get-togethers, or whatever other cliched Summer Activities you’re into.  It doesn’t aim much further beyond that, and it doesn’t have to. You can’t discuss Hemingway and Proust with it, but who cares?  You can chug a beer to it,  it’s at least vaguely intelligent, and sometimes that’s all that really matters.  Now go outside, or something.

Final Mark:  B+

And, if you’re going to go outside, don’t forget to bring a book.  If you need a book, you can find links to such sundries on http://www.trevorjameszaple.com .  There’s even an excerpt you can download to try it before you buy it.  Shareware stylez.  Word.