Having moved to Hoboken in May, I'm much closer to the hub of indie rock concert activity -- NYC -- only a 10 minute train ride away. Of course, I'm now much further from Philly, where I used to go frequently, but all in all the exchange allowed me to see a grand total of 34 concerts this year. Unfortunately, I had tickets to probably 50 shows but due to work and other responsibilities I was not able to attend them, leaving me short of my goal of 40 shows this year. Also, the legendary Maxwell's in Hoboken, which is only a 10 minute WALK away, closed down in July, just after I moved here, so I didn't get to feast very long on the amazing feeling of walking to a concert and then walking home. So it's been a bit of a mixed bag. But this has been a pretty great year of concerts that was quite difficult to cull down to a top 20 list. Interestingly my least favorite indie rock venue - Webster Hall - was the one I saw the most shows at this year (5), followed by the Bowery Ballroom and Brooklyn's Knitting Factory with 4 each, then the Mercury Lounge, Maxwell's, and Le Poisson Rouge with 3 each. Of course, even more surprising, my top 2 favorite shows this year took place outside of the NYC area.
1. The Nationalat the Mann Center in Philadelphia (June)
2. Yo La Tengoat the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles (May)
3. Superchunkat the Bowery Ballroom (1st night) in Manhattan (September)
4. Pixies at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn (September)
5. Caspian / 65daysofstatic / The World Is at the Bowery Ballroom (November)
6. Desaparecidos / Joyce Manor at Webster Hall in Manhattan (February)
7. Sigur Ros at MSG in Manhattan (March)
8. Superchunk at the Bowery Ballroom (2nd night) (September)
9. The Antlers at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan (April)
10. Belle and Sebastien / Yo La Tengo at The Mann Center (July)
11. The So So Glos at Mercury Lounge in Manhattan (July)
12. Titus Andronicus at Maxwell's (1st night) in Hoboken (July)
13. Young Galaxy at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn (October)
14. The Mountain Goats at Maxwell's (where I met John Darnielle afterwards!!) (June)
15. The So So Glos at the Knitting Factory (June)
16. Desaparecidos / Joyce Manor at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ (February)
17. The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die at Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park (August)
18. CHVRCHES at Union Transfer in Philadelphia (August)
19. The Octopus Project at Mercury Lounge (September)
20. Yo La Tengo at the Bell House in Brooklyn (December)
Welcome to the final album of the year countdown for Vague Space. Because this blog is dying soon. Sadly. But I outlasted elbo.ws So that's something. Anyway, this year was quite a year for music. Due to my move to the NYC area, I've seen more concerts this year than any year in my history, and I've been exposed to way more new music from new bands than I've ever been in a single year. Plus, there's been a ton of new albums from some of my favorite bands of all time -- in fact, if you look at my list of top 20 favorite "active" bands ever (eliminating bands that have broken up like Pavement and The Smiths), fully 60% (12 of them) released new albums this year: Superchunk, The Arcade Fire, Okkervil River, Destroyer (a 5 song EP at least), The National, Sigur Ros, Yo La Tengo, Explosions in the Sky (a split album / movie soundtrack), Moonface, Sebadoh (in a surprise return to recording!), Frog Eyes (post-cancer for Carey!), and Low. So there were a shit-ton of albums that were competing -- new bands, old bands, returning bands, 3 of my top 5 all-time favorites within weeks of each other this fall (Superchunk, Arcade Fire, Okkervil River). And yet, oddly, at least at the very top, I didn't feel like this year had any truly seminal and unforgettable records. I wasn't truly blown away by any of the collections, particularly from my favorites. Some were downright disappointing even (Arcade cough Fire cough). There were a shit-ton of really good albums, close to great, but at the very top, I had trouble separating out one that I truly thought was best. Well other than the one that I've refused to anoint to try to keep some semblance of indie cred.
In the end, it came down to two all-time favorite veterans -- Okkervil River and The National -- against the upstart emo band with the way-too-young fandom but a truly special album (The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die) and one wildcard who came on like wildfire this December and threatened to make this a truly special final list... the one and only Spencer Krug, whose latest Moonface release Julia With Blue Jeans On was a solo piano-only experience that I didn't really care for at all at first but that grew on me in leaps and bounds, and pushed itself into the conversation (that I guess I was having with myself) for Vague Space album of the year. Again.
You see, this blog has been around since 2005, so there have been 8 years of albums of the year (this is the 9th) and in each year, a Spencer Krug band has been in the top 2 albums of the year. And #1 for the past 6 years in a row. It should pretty much be called the Spencer Krug Album of the Year:
2005 #1 Sufjan Stevens - Illinois (not related to Spencer) #2 Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary (Spencer) 2006 #1 Mogwai - Mr. Beast (not related to Spencer) #2 Sunset Rubdown - Shut Up I Am Dreaming (Spencer) 2007 #1 Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover (Spencer) 2008 #1 Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer (Spencer) 2009 #1 Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer (Spencer) 2010 #1 Wolf Parade - Expo 86 (Spencer) 2011 #1 Moonface - Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped (Spencer) 2012 #1 Moonface with Sinaii - Heartbreaking Bravery (Spencer)
So here we are in the final album countdown for Vague Space ever, and can Julia with Blue Jeans On pull it off? Can it put Spencer on top one more time?
So there's this band called "The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die". And yes they are as "emo" as their name. But without labels or knowing anything about them, I discovered their album this summer and loved it. It's in the running for my favorite album of the year and the closing song "Getting Sodas" is almost definitely my favorite song.
I saw them at a show at a bowling alley a couple months ago where the average age of the crowd was about 16. I was a little disturbed. I've also been approached on three separate occasions wearing their shirt by teenagers who like them. This band is apparently cool among the "just discovering decent music" male teen demo and at least one of the teens who talked to me about them name checked "Brand New", which is a popular emo band.
I'm not averse to emo, necessarily -- hell, I went through a huge Bright Eyes phase, but that was over a decade ago and I'm definitely "too cool" to be into angst-ridden emo bands that appeal to teens. I thought. My love of this band is therefore a little disturbing. Am I no longer on the cutting edge of cool?
Carey Mercer, the force behind Frog Eyes -- one of my favorite bands and the band that produced the Vague Space #1 track of 2010 ("A Flower in a Glove") -- has cancer, but he's been in treatment, he's just out of radiation therapy I believe and he tweeted that he's feeling much better and starting work on a new album (!) even, which is great, really great. When the news came out a month or two ago that he was sick and he would be self-releasing Carey's Cold Spring, it was thought by some (including me) that it might be the last we ever hear from him musically. So his tweet last week is good news, unless I'm misinterpreting. You get to a point in your over-scheduled life where you can only pay half-attention to half of the things that come across your eyes and I'm long since past that point (a big part of the reason why the postings here have gotten beyond sporadic). Anyway, if you are a fan of Frog Eyes, or beautiful solemn music at all, please go to his bandcamp site and pay $10 for the download (at least, you can name your price) because all proceeds are going to Carey. There's no label or anything involved, this is just him at his most intimate and most beautiful. And you can get it today. Actually I got it today so I've only listened a couple times but so far it's beautiful. And the closing track is called "Claxxon's Lament", a long loved track of mine that was always officially unrecorded but I heard the version that his former Frog Eyes and Swan Lake bandmate Spencer Krug (Moonface, Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown) sung and I always loved it. But the recording he does for the new album is incredible and I heard it on Friday when I pre-ordered the album and I couldn't stop listening. Nobody will die.
I know I'm a few weeks late. I'm late with everything these days. My schedule is insane. Hence the super-sporadic posting. But anyway, Spencer is back with his piano record that he (briefly) toured with in the spring and the first track released sounds very much like it sounded back when I saw him in Brooklyn in the spring and while that is slightly disappointing (since I was slightly disappointed in the pure piano sounds in the songs he played then), I'm sure I will warm to it as I warm to all things Spencer. So enjoy. And if anyone hears where the possibly secret live concert for Arcade Fire the Saturday after next AFTER their Saturday Night Live appearance that I've seen announced, please let me know. I'll kind of sort of absolutely be in Manhattan that night, first to see Fucked Up play at the Mercury Lounge (like, really, in that space?) in the early show followed by my favorite band of all time (a throne they have reclaimed since Spencer disbanded Sunset Rubdown), the one and only Superchunk playing at the Bowery Ballroom later that night. And if Arcade Fire happened to rush downtown to play where their Merge Records' "bosses" Mac and Laura are playing, well hell, I would just about fucking die. But if not, I'm willing to cab it up to 30 Rock as soon as the Chunk finish their set. Unless Jon Wurster wants to give me a ride? Anyway, I told you I was busy. Spencer's new album is due on October 29.
2013 has seen a plethora of new music from new bands and new music from long-retired bands that many thought would never be heard from again (Daft Punk, Boards of Canada, My Bloody Valentine, Pixies). And while I've liked some of the new releases from the veterans, I've been energized by learning about these new bands and their music and the way they are keeping the indie rock spirit alive as some of my favorite bands continue to... um... age. So the following are the new bands that I've discovered this year, not all of which have released albums this year but they were at least new to me in 2013 and are worth a listen to anyone reading this blog who never heard of them before today. Some of them I never heard of until a week ago.
1. The So So Glos
I've seen this Brooklyn-based band three times already and it was their live show that prompted me to buy their second album Blowout and it's one of the best collections of music I've heard this year. The band members run a DIY space in Brooklyn called Shea Stadium, but I haven't seen them play there, so this isn't a review of that or DIY spaces in general in Brooklyn, but rather the energetic punk-lite sound of an artist that appears fresh and original and strikingly awesome but also somewhat familiar in its sounds and cool hooks. I hate to say it but the band they most remind me of is first-album Green Day, but with a more "beach" sound. Not all the tracks on their second album are great but I would highly recommend checking out "Son of an American", "Diss Town", "Lost Weekend", "All of the Time" and the song that was the soundtrack to the start of my summer "Island Ridin'". Just spectacular.
"The world is a beautiful place & i am no longer afraid to die" is a band I stumbled upon this summer, never heard of them before but really, really, really loved their debut full-length, and the album's closer "Getting Sodas" is one of my favorite songs of the year. So that's all fine.
Saturday I'm at menlo mall with my friend at American Apparel with all the 20 year olds and some college kid says to me "I like your shirt". I happen to be wearing a shirt of the aforementioned band. I go "Oh you know them" and then he and his friend start to talk to me about "The World Is" (what they are calling the band). One of them is wearing a Joy Division shirt so I'm like OK, these dudes are real young but maybe they got good taste in music… then they mention the band "Brand New" which I think is an emo band like My Chemical Romance that is mainstream and lame (as far as I know, I don't really know them since they aren't "indie") and I begin to question whether or not the band I've liked all summer is actually "cool" or not.
I bought tickets to see two of my favorite bands play in Philly back in March, before I ended up moving an hour further away from Philly (which was already an hour away), so it wasn't the most convenient concert to attend on a Wednesday night. Then there was the massive accident on Route 1 that supposedly had all lanes closed, at least according to the sign way up by New Brunswick right after I got off the Turnpike due to all the traffic on there. So I re-routed down 130 and then back roads back through my old central Jersey haunts before finally getting to I-95. At which point I averaged a solid 85 the whole way and got parked on the grass outside the Mann Center right around 8, when Yo La Tengo was supposed to come on... and they were already on. I sprinted inside, made a quick pitstop at the bathroom, then sprinted up to the Skyline Stage, where a massive crowd had staked out spaces on the grass with blankets like it was a goddamned picnic and not a concert, so I skipped past them all and got up pretty close to the stage where the band was in full glory, just as they started "Autumn Sweater". And all was right with the world. There were threats of rain but it never came and it was a hot night but there was an occassional breeze and Ira played his heart out, jamming on the guitar like I'd never seen him. I just watched them play in Los Angeles last month and they played a couple hours there (as the headliner AND the opening act), but here they needed to squeeze a set into an hour, which obviously leaves out a ton of favorites. No Sugarcube for instance. Or Cherry Chapstick. But Here to Fall was the first song they played, I think, when I was sprinting in from the parking lot. And they gave a few nods to new album Fade with "Ohm", "Is That Enough", "I'll Be Around" and "The Point of It". They played "Big Day Coming" for the park setting and "Nothing to Hide" because that is awesome live. And then they closed with an extended, incredible, mind-altering, life-changing performance of one of my favorite Yo La Tengo's songs ever, the brilliant instrumental "I Heard You Looking". I don't know how Ira didn't have a heart attack as he improvised on the guitar in a super-extended creative creation that lasted probably 15 minutes, every single one of them captivating. I was exhausted just watching by the end. Truly worth the drive.
I know very little about the band The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die but I heard a single song and thought the name of the band was cool and they've just released their debut album and it is all kinds of absolute awesome. They hail from eastern Connecticut and play a sort of post-punk style post-rock, if that makes any sense, a little bit of "heart on your sleeve" earnestness that's bolstered by kick-ass post-rock stylings and I can't stop listening to Whenever, If Ever. It just came out on Topshelf Records and you can stream the entire album here. Or. You know. Below :) But seriously, take a long listen. The opener is a short somber post-rocker but second track "Heartbeat in the Brain" is super catchy and awesome and really gives you a good idea of who they are. Other highlights are tracke #8 "Gig Life" and #7 "Ultimate Steve" (which is mostly Explosions in the Sky-ish post-rock) and #4 "Picture of a Tree that Doesn't Look Okay." But my favorite is the absolutely perfect closer #10 "Getting Sodas," which may become one of my favorite songs of the year.