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july 2008

This is usually a pretty good time of year for releases, and while I still need to pick up the new Wolf Parade and Sigur Ros, and I'll be all over the new Hold Steady whenever it is released physically, there's not really much else on my want list or even on the horizon that I'm aware of. It's too early in the year to hit a slow period like this.

The National's Boxer is turning out to be my favorite record so far from 2008. I know, I know, it was released in 2007, and I'm a total dumbass for waiting so long to pick it up, especially because the only reason I picked it up when I did was because they were the opening act for the Modest Mouse/R.E.M. show, and I wanted to have some sense of their sound before I saw them live. But I've got it now and I'm totally in love with it.

The physical release of the Hold Steady's new album, Stay Positive, isn't for another couple of weeks, but tickets for their upcoming tour go on sale today, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to get some. Normally with a band I love as much as I do the Hold Steady, there would be no hesitation, but their show last year left me a little disappointed——the frontman, who comes off as a wise, world weary barfly on the albums, was a hyper little spaz on stage, and his over-excited delivery kinda ruined the songs, even though the rest of the band was amazing.

But it was the last show on a tour with Art Brut, and I think both bands were feeling overly sentimental that night, so I'm hoping that this time, since the show I'm seeing will be close to the beginning of the tour, and because they'll be showing off a lot of new material, we might get a show with a little more gravity.

Over the weekend I picked up Wolf Parade's At Mount Zoomer and Sigur Ros'...well, fuck if I'm going to try to type the title. It's the new record with the running naked dudes on the cover and the long ass Icelandic title that supposedly translates to With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly.

Wolf Parade again proves to be better than any of the numerous side projects associated with dual frontmen Spencer Krug (Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes, Swan Lake) and Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs), which I'm happy about, because I was beginning to worry that their creative energies were spread so thin that the follow up to their amazing debut Apologies to the Queen Mary would be a dud. But it doesn't sound that way, at least so far.

The Sigur Ros record is pretty interesting——you can still hear the traditional Sigur Ros in there sometimes, the band famous for slow, ethereal compositions that seem to unfold in their own peculiar corner of spacetime where time moves a little different than it does here on Earth (the most common adjective used by music critics to describe their music: glacial), but it's usually in acoustic numbers. A lot of the songs have a decidedly upbeat slant to them, and it sounds like they've been listening to a lot of Animal Collective. And that could turn out to be a very good thing.

I actually liked Beck's Guero pretty well (although I liked the EP of alternate mixes, Hell Yes, even better), but although The Information had its moments, most of it I could have done without. So I wasn't really planning to pick up Beck's latest, Modern Guilt, until a review reminded me that it was produced by Danger Mouse, who turns pretty much everything he touches to gold (ironically, the only work of his that I don't care for much is his most successful, his collaboration with Cee-Lo under the Gnarls Barkley moniker).

The pairing of these two seems like a match made in heaven, so I've raised my expectations a bit and will likely pick this up if the song clips appeal to me at all. Of course, I thought that Beck's work with Radiohead producer Nigel Goodrich was a can't-miss proposition, and that effort yielded the disappointing The Information, so...

I'm not sure if all the people I've been recommending the National's Boxer to like it as much as I do. But it took a few weeks to grow on me, so I'm hoping that once folks sit with it for a while, they'll have that same breakthrough moment I did and start to love it the same way I do.

"Teen Creeps" is still my favorite song from No Age's Nouns, but "Things I Did When I Was Dead" is easily my favorite song title.

I justified only spending £2 on the download of Radiohead's In Rainbows last year by promising myself that I'd buy the physical release whenever it came out. But the CD version was released in January, and here we are half a year later and I haven't seriously considered buying it even though I've seen it several times at the record store. I really do like the record, and I really do want to support the band, but it's really difficult to convince yourself to pay for something you already have.

I figured out why the Hold Steady released their new record digitally a month before the physical release, and it was the same reason a lot of bands do that——because the record got leaked to file sharing networks, and they wanted to offer a legal alternative to the illegal file sharing for the fans who couldn't wait a month but who still wanted to support the band.

And offering three bonus tracks to people like me who were willing to wait a month for the physical release was a pretty nice concession——well, to me anyway. I'm not sure how the people who bought a digital copy feel about that. A nice solution to that issue might be to wait a month, and then offer the three bonus tracks to the people who bought the digital copy for any additional $.99 (total, not per track).

The Cure is trying a novel approach to promote its latest release, which is due out later this year: digitally releasing a new single from the album and the accompanying b-side on the 13th of each month starting in May. Why the 13th? Because the upcoming record is the band's 13th studio album, and it is being released on September 13.

I need to listen to the clips on iTunes a couple more times, but I'll probably pick these up. The Cure is one of those bands that I still hope will make another great album someday, and these tracks will be a good indicator of what we can expect from them in September. But honestly, even another great song from Robert Smith and company would be nice, and from what I've heard, we might get at least that from the songs that have already been released. At first glance, they sound a bit Wish-y, but that's okay——it's not my favorite record, but of their post-Disintegration stuff, it's probably second on my list.

Picked up a few new things yesterday——the Hold Steady was my main purchase, but I was surprised how many things made it onto my list when I started reviewing recent releases. I got the Hold Steady's Stay Positive, obviously, but I also got Albert Hammond, Jr.'s second solo album, ¿Como Te Llama? (I was surprised at how good his debut was), the Futureheads' This Is Not the World (this was relased in June, but for some reason never showed up on my radar), and Beck's Modern Guilt (I can't stay away from Danger Mouse-produced records).

And even though I haven't bought one of their records in a while, I grabbed Melvins' Nude with Boots. Plus, I found a used copy of Duran Duran's Rio, which has probably my favorite Duran Duran song from my youth, "Hold Back the Rain". That's probably not the first time in the history of the world that someone has bought Duran Duran and Melvins in the same purchase, but I bet it's still in the single digits.

The three bonus tracks on the Hold Steady's physical release didn't come as three tracks tacked onto the CD proper. Nor did they come as an extra disc with three tracks on it. No, despite a sticker on the cover proclaiming the titles of the three tracks, these extra tracks take the form of one bonus track called "Untitled", which is pretty inconvenient.

I was able to rip it, take the file into GarageBand, separate the tracks, save them as individual files, bring them back into iTunes, and add all the appropriate meta information, but it was annoying and time consuming, and I'm betting a lot of people won't take the time to do that.

I guess the intention was to keep them from being released as separate tracks on illegal file sharing services, but we all know that someone who uploads songs to those sites will take the time to do what I did, and meanwhile all the people who purchased the album legitimately will be stuck with a very iPod-unfriendly conglomerate track with no title.

The new Melvins disc suited my mood quite well while I was preparing for Artscape last week. I was irritable and highly stressed, and the new record made me feel like that was an okay way to be.

Okkervil River is releasing a new record in September, which I was initially really excited about——I resisted the Stage Names for several months last year, but when I finally bought it, it took hold pretty immediately.

But then I found out that this album is all songs from the same sessions as the Stage Names, not newly recorded material, and I began to get a little worried. Yes, there's a chance that this album will be the Amnesiac to the Stage Names' Kid A. But there's an even chance that it could be a Mermaid Avenue Volume 2, and I'd rather not fall out of love with a band that I'm so much in love with at the moment.

Tickets to Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville reissue tour date at the 9:30 Club go on sale today (the presale, which requires a password, starts at 10 this morning; the public sale, if there are any tickets left, starts tomorrow morning), but I don't think I'm going to try for any tickets. That's still one of my favorite albums, and I've never seen her live, but she broke my heart so thoroughly with her last few releases that I don't want to chance any further desicration of the staggering genius of her first two records.

It annoyed me at the time, but I think that Sigur Ros using the "Untitled 1", "Untitled 2", etc., nomenclature for () is highly preferable to trying to type out all the crazy accented /Icelandic characters that come with their real song titles.

Albert Hammond, Jr.'s sophomore disc, ¿Como te llama?, isn't as impressive as his debut, but it's still got some good stuff on it.

"Lisa", which conspicuously employs a drum machine and hints strongly at a reggae groove, is my favorite, although if you described the song to me as I did before I listened to it, it wouldn't likely be high on my list to hear. "The Boss Americana" is perfectly obvious as a slowed-down punk pop track, but that doesn't make it any less fun to listen to.

"Spooky Couch" is probably my least favorite, but that's mostly because of the 7+ minute length——if it had been only the 30 second track that it deserves to be, it would have been a nice mid-album interlude. "Borrowed Time" is another reggae influenced number, but it's not nearly as interesting or successful as "Lisa", and it could have easily been dropped.

In general, the second half of the record is weaker than the first half——you could have pared this record down from 13 songs to 6 or 7 and had a great EP.

Love Danger Mouse's production work on Beck's latest, Modern Guilt, but the songs aren't as strong as I had hoped. It's listenable, and there are some new additions to Beck's already-considerable sonic palette, but the tracks are more or less typical of Beck's last few outings——solid, but nothing we haven't heard from him in some form before.

There's a nice echo of Julian Cope/Robyn Hitchcock in "Chemtrails", and a great drum loop that anchors "Walls", but very little else that really caught my ear. That's not to say that there aren't some very listenable songs here——"Gamma Ray", "Modern Guilt", "Youthless", and "Soul of a Man" will all get their hooks into you pretty quickly.

The last work from Beck that I really loved was the Hell Yes EP that was released as a preview/companion piece to Guero. I'm not big on the whole remix/rework thing usually, but to a song, I like the versions on the EP much more than the album versions.

Did someone take away Ryan Adams' guitar and lock him in their basement? Because he hasn't released an album in like, a year. Robert Pollard is definitely winning the race for most overly prolific, even counting the 10+ unreleased albums that you used to be able to stream from Adams' web site (and which have now mysteriously disappared).

I like the rough, ragged quality of Paul Westerberg's self released 49:00 (which you can download from Amazon for only 49 cents), and while it's incredibly listenable, I'm gonna have to break it into individual tracks if I ever have any hope of getting through it all. Thankfully, someone has taken the time to title all the tracks and give their start times, which should make my task considerably easier.

I'm not yet completely convinced that swapping all three bonus tracks on the Hold Steady's Stay Positive for three of the tracks on the album proper is the right thing to do, but switching out "Both Crosses" for "Ask Her for Aderall" would be a good start.