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december 2013
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january 2013

Eels' Electro-Shock Blues got me through some rough patches over the holidays. It's a record that's hard to listen to without coming away feeling like the universe is a bit pointless except when it's being cruel, but it somehow manages to make you feel okay about it.

Okay. This month Amazon is doing its biggest ever MP3 albums for $5 sale——over 2,000 albums——so we're going to have to take this one in sections. Let's start with the must-haves from the Alternative Rock category:

Sugar's Copper Blue, Eleanor Friedberger's Last Summer, TV on the Radio's Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, Cursive's The Ugly Organ, Dirty Projectors' Swing Lo Magellan, Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel, Spiritualized's Sweet Heart Sweet Light, and Prince's Purple Rain (I'm not exactly sure how this one ended up in Alternative Rock, but whatever)

Good albums from the Alternative Rock category:

Animal Collective's Centipede Hz (which is still growing on me and could easily become a must-have when all is said and done), Rilo Kiley's The Execution of All Things, Passion Pit's Gossamer, Divine Fits' A Thing Called Divine Fits, King Tuff's King Tuff, Beck's Modern Guilt, Stars' The North, Shout Out Louds' Our Ill Wills, Sleigh Bells' Reign of Terror, Jens Lekman's I Know What Love Isn't, Wilco's The Whole Love, Liars' WIXIW, and Death Cab for Cutie's Narrow Stairs.

Must-haves from the Classic Rock and Rock categories (remember, these are Amazon's categories, not mine):

The Doors' The Doors, Pearl Jam's Ten, Nine Inch Nails' Broken, the Shins' Chutes Too Narrow, the Shins' Oh, Inverted World, Iron and Wine's Our Endless Numbered Days, the Shins' Wincing the Night Away, and Phoenix's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.

This list is a little Shins top-heavy, so if you haven't heard them before, start with one (any one of these three is great, but Chutes Too Narrow is probably the best introduction) and see how that goes.

Good albums from the Classic Rock and Rock categories:

Sonic Youth's Murray Street, Sugar's File Under: Easy Listening, Sigur Ros' (), and Bright Eyes' I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. This category is a bit diminished because there was a lot of crossover with the Alternative Rock category, and I won't include those records twice even though Amazon puts them in both lists.

Must-haves from Pop and any other miscellaneous categories:

I didn't actually find any that weren't covered in previous categories, but I did the work, so I'm still getting an entry out of it.

Good albums from Pop, Rap, and any other miscellaneous categories:

David + David's Boomtown, Rufus Wainwright's Out of the Game, and the Cool Kids' When Fish Ride Bicycles.

As for me, there's a bunch of stuff I'm thinking about picking up——a Patterson Hood solo record that I didn't get last month when it was also on sale, Soul Asylum's most recent outing, and Joe Jackson's Night and Day, among others——but the records I'm most likely to pick up at this point are some of Tom Petty's early classics: Hard Promises, Damn the Torpedos, and maybe even Southern Accents.

I really, really wish that Titus Andronicus' Local Business was a stronger record. I might have been looking forward to this release more than any other last year, and it's not even going to make my top 10 (or even 20) for 2012.

Marnie Stern's new record is called The Chronicles of Marnia. This is adorable and dorky and just perfect. Can't wait to actually hear it.

I ended up buying Dan Deacon's latest, America, from Amazon's big $5 MP3 sale. I'm a fan, but I've become less of one as his career has gone on and he's seemed to struggle for new ideas. But it's only $5, the record got pretty good reviews, and the song lengths aren't outrageous, which is always a consideration for someone like me with a relatively short attention span when it comes to pop music.

Amazon has introduced a new feature called AutoRip that I've been waiting for for a long time, as I've gotten used to it when ordering CDs directly from various small record labels: when you buy a qualifying CD on Amazon, you immediatley get an MP3 version of that album delivered to your cloud player for streaming or download.

This eliminates the lag time issue with buying physical media, which is one of the things that has gotten less tolerable as I've gotten more used to digital delivery of media. I've largely gotten around this issue up until now by making sure to preorder albums, meaning they get delivere to me the day of (or sometimes the day before) the official release, and in the real world that means there's no lag time for me at all since I wouldn't be purchasing and listening to new music at work anyway.

It will be interesting to see which kinds of records qualify for this program, because it doesn't seem like having an MP3 copy in Amazon's digital store automatically makes the physcial CD purchase qualify for the AutoRip service. This won't matter much to me for preordered albums, but for those times when I'm buying something weeks or months after it has come out, it could entice me to pull the trigger on the purchase.

Yo La Tengo's new record, Fade, was the first true 2013 release that I bought this year, and in what is a real change for me in terms of buying new records from artists I already know and love, I bought it digitally.

I was putting the physical CD in my Amazon shopping cart and wanted to see if it was part of the new AutoRip service that Amazon is offering, and while it wasn't, it gave me long enough to notice on the product page that the MP3 version of the album was only $5, which is typically my threshold for buying digitally versus ordering the physical copy. The CD was already cheap at $9, but I couldn't pass up the $5 price tag and immediate delivery of the digital version.

We've recently moved to a new house, and although I have for years taken up several bookcases to display my CD collection, I decided while unpacking to keep all of my CDs in their moving boxes and store them rather than taking up shelf space. The AutoRip program, if it ends up being fairly ubiquitous, could keep me buying CD copies of albums as long as the price differential isn't too big, but I know that all I do when I get the CD is rip it and put it away, and if I'm not even doing that because I've already got a digital copy by the time the physical copy arrives, I might as well go ahead and save my money and buy the digital version to begin with, even if the digital version isn't as cheap as the new Yo La Tengo was.

With an album title like Fade, I fully expected the new Yo La Tengo to be one of their sleepy, slow-burn efforts that I'm not as fond of. But it's actually one of their peppiest discs, right up there with I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One and I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. It's a relatively concise record, too, at least by Yo La Tengo standards——the longest song is under 7 minutes and the average is about 4 1/2 minutes long, and the whole record is just over 45 minutes.

It doesn't have those two or three knockout singles that grab me immediately like most of their albums do, but overall it's a very listenable album, and there are a couple of songs that could go into heavy rotation. It's a pleasant enough way to start off the year; let's hope for some more new releases from other artists soon so we can start getting a feel for what kind of year 2013 is going to be.

Prince released another new song, this one called "Screwdriver":

I don't like it as much as the one he released last November, "Rock N' Roll Love Affair", but I do like the consistent direction it follows. Hopefully these two together signal a return to his rock/pop days when he did his best work. Hopefully we'll get word of an actual album title and release date soon.

I don't really know what I'm in the mood to listen to these days...

The Strokes have released a new song, "One Way Trigger", and it sounds a lot like a Julian Casablancas solo track that's heavy on the 80s hyperkinetic keyboards. And for the verses, it also features Julian singing falsetto.

It's hosted on SoundCloud, where people can leave comments, and there are some choice ones:

  • THE FUCK??
  • What's with the shitty falsetto?
  • who would want to download this?
  • Finally! Julian's voice sounds normal again! [Right after the first chorus starts where Julian drops back down into his normal register.]
  • At first I thought this was supposed to be a joke
  • dude if u cant falsetto dont. leave the pitch correction out of it.
  • spandex too tight? [When the falsetto kicks back in on the next verse.]
  • oh god what is this
  • could just be a casablancas demo
  • A-Ha is back
  • 2 records were enough...
  • sucks all the way through

There are a lot of complimentary comments, too, and I actually kind of like the song, but I have more than the average weakness for 80s influences recently. It really is more of a Casablancas solo track than a proper Strokes track, but the chorus is great and makes me wish they had done more to bring that sound to the rest of the track. And yeah, the falsetto is pretty annoying, and it is definitely a demented cousin to A-Ha's most famous track, "Take On Me".

I don't know what to expect from the Strokes anymore, and I don't mean that in a good way. There are usually a couple of keepers on every record, but it's been a long while since they've produced a compelling record from start to finish.

Surfer Blood previewed a track from their upcoming album (finally!):

It's called "Weird Shapes" and it doesn't do anything to lessen my love for this band. If this sets the tone for the new record, it sounds like it will be a worthy successor to their debut, Astro Coast, and I can't wait for it to get here.

Another preview track today, this one "Demon to Lean On" from Wavves, whose Afraid of Heights arrives in March:

There's nothing about this that's going to change your mind about Wavves, whether you hate them or love them. I kinda like them (sometimes against my better judgment), so I like this track pretty well.

We're on a roll, so let's keep it going. Up today: a new track called "How Long?" from How To Destroy Angels, Trent Reznor's project with his score-writing partner Atticus Ross and Reznor's wife, singer Mariqueen Maandig:

The group has already released an EP, but Welcome Oblivion, the album that this track will appear on, is their first full-length. Musically, I don't have a lot of issues with this track, but what kills it for me are the vocals from Reznor's wife. They're so processed and layered that it sounds like he's using production tricks to help cover for the fact that her voice isn't that compelling, which I'm guessing is exactly what's going on here. Although to be fair, I'm imagining Reznor doing the vocals in my head, and I still don't think that would be enough to save this.

Based on this track and the earlier EP (which they released for free), I'll give the album a listen, but it's not going to be an automatic "buy" for me like a new Nine Inch Nails record would be.

And let's finish off the month with one more preview track, this time Iron and Wine's "Lovers' Revolution" from their forthcoming LP Ghost on Ghost.

I've gone through my ups and downs with Iron and Wine——I was a big fan of his early work (the he in question being frontman Sam Beam, the only member for the band's first few releases), and even liked the first couple of records with a full band, but wasn't wild about his collaboration with Calexico or the proper Iron and Wine album he made around that time, The Shepherd's Dog. But the last record, Kiss Each Other Clean, restored my faith (two tracks from that record, "Tree By the River" and "Half Moon", are two of my favorite Sam Beam songs), and I was really looking forward to this new release.

That is, until I heard this track. The press notes about Ghost on Ghost mentioned that several of the backing musicians on this record came from the jazz world, and you can definitely hear that on this single. And I'm just not a big fan of jazz. So if this is going to be his foray into that world, I already know I'm not going to like it, and I'm not going to waste my time or money hoping for something else.