J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Notes From Underground - #13
Mid(ish)-Year Mayhem

I know it's late in the year to be doing a mid-way point review, but if you count the fact that I was out for pretty much the entire month of July...that only puts me a month behind on doing this instead of two. But I wanted to take a look at what's been, for my money, a pretty remarkable year in music thus far. Mostly because the fall is shaping up to have a slew of fantastic releases, and I want to give the first 8 months of the year their due. It's like when they release all the big movies right at the end of Oscar eligibility? Sort of like that.

I did what I always do and I went back through my blog posts for the year and typed up all the albums that I've found to be at least somewhat intriguing. At this point, with 3 1/2 months of album releases to go, I have 54 albums on my list. Intense. But I wanted to approach this in a different way, so here are the categories:

Best Live Performances Seen in 2007: I've been to a fair number of shows this year (and will be going to some amazing ones in the coming months - hello, Hold Steady and Art Brut!), but two really stick out. El-P made wading through the typically insufferable and interminable opening acts of hip-hop shows worth its weight in gold. Packing the energy of a major stage show (including fog and rotating, colored laser lights) into a club is no small accomplishment, but the major songs from 2007's I'll Sleep When You're Dead came ripping off the album and became more real than I'd have thought possible. He's an impressive performer in a way that the rest of indie hip-hop needs to clue in on. El-P also came with a live band as opposed to just a DJ and this, too, made a huge difference in the delivery of his show.

The other show was the recent Jason Isbell show at Amos' in Charlotte. I was never worried about how Isbell would perform in a live setting, but after 8 times experiencing the marathon sessions that usually are a Drive-by Truckers live show, I wasn't sure what to expect from him. When you're fronting the full show (rather than playing 1/3rd of that part), it can be a different experience. But Isbell brought a heady mix of new material, classics from his Truckers years, and some wicked covers that touched on his obviously expansive palette of musical taste. And he still saved "Outfit" for the end of the encore - and brought the house down. Just one thing - hey, Jason - where was "Shotgun Wedding?" I'll be catching him again twice before this year is out.

Most Disappointing Releases of 2007: Uhm, where to begin? Fountains of Wayne's Traffic and Weather is easily their weakest album to date, despite a handful of really sharp songs. The dull ones drag the album down immensely. You're better than this, guys. Lucinda Williams' West hasn't been back in my cd player since it was spun the one, maybe two times immediately after its release. The songs are dull and feel lifeless. Ryan Adams' Easy Tiger is a bit of a snooze. After the amazing 1-2-3 punch of Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights and 29 back in 2005, I was back on board the Adams bandwagon. No longer. This is by-the-numbers Adams without anything fun or endearing. It's a toss-up between Adams and Williams over which one truly disappointed me the most - I think the tie-breaker goes to Lucinda. I'm used to inconsistency from Adams at this point. Williams, however...

Also, I have a feeling if I get around to picking up the new Common album, it'll be joining this list. I don't know that. Just a hunch.

Most Surprising Releases of 2007: Surprising records in this case will most likely be bands/artists whose genre falls outside of what I typically listen to. Or, as in the case of Dinosaur Jr. and Beyond, it's just a case of really not expecting the record to be that good. The onslaught of indie-rock reunions in the past 5 years have only really granted us a few moments in the sun - the pretty flawless return of Mission of Burma comes to mind - but I wasn't expecting the fiery, pedal-to-the-floor, full-on rock album that Dinosaur Jr. managed to deliver. Son Volt, who almost chased off my lifetime of loyalty with the snore-fest of Okemah and the Melody of Riot, had me on my knees begging Jay Farrar for forgiveness after this year's The Search. This record actually sounds like the new version of Son Volt really finding its feet and taking off. The title track alone is classic Farrar form. Black Moth Super Rainbow's Dandelion Gum was the surprise hit of my summer time. Gauzy, organic and electronic (figure that one out), sweltering and shimmering music that is as trippy as it is relaxing. It's the sound of a seriously hot, clear-sky summer day coming to life. Finally, this will be somewhat of a surprise as I just bought this album yesterday and haven't played it on the air yet, but M.I.A.'s Kala is breathtaking. I had been avoiding her, admittedly, because of Pitchfork Media's constant love fest over her first album and her in general. But the amazing reviews (plus the super cheap price on the release week) baited me into giving it a shot. The whole record is worth the price of admission for the sleek, chilly "20 Dollar," which simultaneously hijacks the bass line from "Blue Monday" and lyrics from the Pixies' "Where is My Mind?" The rest of the record is a treat as well. Clattering, confrontational dance music. Who knew?

Best Releases of 2007 (so far): I'm not going to talk about these - I'll save that for the end of the year, but if you agree/disagree with any, or want to add your own, do it in comments. I'd love to hear your thoughts. No particular order for these. - The National - Boxer ; Health - Where You From? ; Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha ; Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of... ; Art Brut - It's a Bit Complicated ; The Veils - Nux Vomica ; Adam Thorn and the Top Buttons - Where's the Freedom? ; Jason Isbell - Sirens of the Ditch ; Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga ; M.I.A. - Kala



  • At 4:35 AM, August 26, 2007, Anonymous S. said…

    I see somebody totally left out the best part of the Isbell show.

  • At 12:40 PM, August 26, 2007, Blogger J. Neas said…

    Right. Because the fact that he called you "sweetheart" totally makes it the BEST SHOW OF 2007!

    But his cover of "Into the Mystic" was pretty amazing.

  • At 3:03 PM, August 26, 2007, Anonymous S. said…

    Sure, go ahead and be snotty about it, Mr. "Play the rest of Talking Heads: 77!"

  • At 11:34 AM, August 29, 2007, Anonymous Shawn said…

    I would defintely have Neon Bible by Arcade Fire and not quite as good but still up there would be the Editors new album. I also have to agree with the Dino Jr. comments, it's a CD to listen to when you want to rock and suprisingly really good.


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