It Started With A Mix #2: And Another One Goes By – Matt’s Pitchfork Mix, 2009

26 06 2009

Pitchfork Music Festival is the second in the triumvirate of music festivals I attend every year. While this April marked my fifth Coachella, meaning I’ve now attended half of the festivals in Coachella’s 10 year existence, this year’s Pitchfork will be my fourth, meaning I’ve attended every year that the festival has existed. I’m still on the fence about Lollapalooza. I’ve been every year since the festival took up residence in Chicago, but this year, due to a combination of mediocre lineup and a hectic schedule, I may be staying home or only going for one day.

I mentioned in a previous post that over the past five years, I’ve made it a tradition to make a preview mix for every musical festival I attend. One of the keys to a successful mix is, of course, song selection. The centerpiece of a good festival preview mix is a collaboration that brings together two or more of the artists from the lineup, the kind of song that takes on a unique significance in the context of that particular festival. It may be a cover, like TV on the Radio doing the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Modern Romance” for my 2006 Coachella mix; a collaboration, like Kanye & Lupe (plus Pharrell, who wasn’t there) borrowing a sample from Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser” on “Us Placer’s” for my 2008 Lollapalooza mix, the year Radiohead played; or a remix, as is the case on this year’s Pitchfork mix with Final Fantasy’s string-heavy treatment of Grizzly Bear’s “Don’t Ask.” I almost threw in “Hey Dad,” a collaboration between Final Fantasy and Beirut’s Zach Condon, as well, but decided I didn’t like the song all that much.

The mix I ended up with starts off minimalist and mysterious with a piece from Tortoise’s TNT, but quickly builds towards increasingly noisy and spazzy rock tracks, climaxing with the Jesus Lizard’s pornographic classic, “Lady Shoes” and m83’s gorgeous epic “Don’t Save Us From The Flames” before leveling off for an eclectic jaunt through a variety of genres and ending on an emotionally bare but ultimately uplifting note with Frightened Rabbits “Modern Leper,” which goes out to a friend of mine who is deathly afraid of leprosy.

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Best Music of 2008, Part II (Albums 15-11)

12 01 2009

Vivian Girls - Vivian Girls15. Vivian Girls – Vivian Girls (Buy It)

Highlight: “Where Do You Run To” (Download)″

“It’s alright, just leave the light on; I will never ask you why.”

In a year in which the Jesus & Mary’s Chain’s blend of pop melodies and heavy distortion was a reference point for so many newish bands (No Age, Times New Viking, Crystal Stilts, Wavves, etc.), the Vivian Girls were the best of the bunch. “Where Do You Run To” is easily my favorite song of 2008. The chorus’s refusal to resolve makes it the perfect infectious little earworm, and yet there’s so much there behind the pop veneer. As for the album, 10 songs in 22 minutes makes for great pop, but I was ready at first to dismiss all but a couple of songs as charming yet forgettable until I heard Greg Kott and Jim DeRogatis’s review on Sound Opinions. The turning point was Jim and Greg’s explanation of the source of the name “Vivian Girls”:

Jim: …named for the outsider artist from Chicago, this man who was a janitor, Henry Darger. He’s really controversial because, on the one hand, it’s very naive youngster art … these young, sort of sexless naif children, but he invented this fantasy world where these children the Vivian girls were slaves and they were tortured by unseen, evil forces; it’s very disturbing stuff. The Vivian girls are playing with this in terms of, on the one hand, we’re pretending we’re 9 years old, we just picked up these instruments, on the other hand, it’s very sophisticated music.

Greg: I think the Darger reference is very apt because Darger talked about this collision of innocence and extreme violence in that epic work that he created, and I think that’s what we’re hearing here [on “Tell The World”]. Those innocent voices against these scuzzed up guitars and these trashcan drums; it’s intentionally lo-fi, the production is … it’s not about the production, but there is a sound here and it’s a cool sound; I think that’s an absolutely haunting song; there are these explosions of exhiliration where they’re talking, I want to tell the whole world about the new love that I found, and then there’s a dark undertone on a song like that where they almost seem haunted by this idea of walking into this new world or this new love and finding out what it means.

Jim and Greg say it better here than I could have. This is the proof that the Vivian Girls get it, that unlike so many J&MC knock-offs, the Vivian Girls know what they’re getting into. Their description puts the Vivian Girls into a logical line of descent from some of my favorite girl group hits of the 60’s: the Shangri-La’s “Leader of the Pack” and “Remember,” Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” and “What am I Gonna Do With You?,” the Crystal’s “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss),” Dawn’s “I’m Afraid They’re All Talking About Me,” etc. The essence of these songs is to uncover in the basic material of pop music (the most ordinary experiences of teenage romance) something powerful and unsettling that pop music is just unable to deal with. These songs leave a residue, an uncanny feeling that our most familiar, most common experiences are perhaps unfamiliar even to ourselves.

MGMT - Oracular Spectacular14. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular (Buy It)

Highlight: “Electric Feel” (Download)″

“I said ooh girl / shock me like an electric eel / baby girl / turn me on with your electric feel “

I read a post on a message board in which the poster said he couldn’t understand how anyone too old to raid their parents’ liquor cabinet could still listen to this album. That’s sort of how I feel about it too, and yet here it is at #14 of my top albums of 2008, and I’m 27 years old. Listening to this album involves some cognitive dissonance. I feel a mixture of joy and revulsion. It’s a perfect example of the “life affirming” music I talked about in an earlier post, one of my brother’s top 2 or 3 albums of the year, I think. It’s an album about growing up, about dragging that “live fast and die young,” “do what you feel” mentality into the world of office jobs and morning commutes. It’s full of cliched nostalgia (“I’ll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms”), wide-eyed optimism (“And in spite of the weather, we could learn to make it together”) and only the faintest traces of fear (“Yeah, it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do?”). It feels like it’s overcompensating – these kids singing about finding models for wives are about to graduate from college into the second great depression; they have no idea what they’re in for, and yet they’re just so excited to be growing up.

So it surprises me somewhat that I keep coming back to this album. Is it just that these songs are incredibly catchy, that “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feel,” and “Kids” are three of the best singles of the year, that the mixture of groovy bass lines, aqueous synth reverbs, and falsetto vocals are just indie enough to avoid being disco, and just disco enough to shock me like an electric eel? Or is it some mixture of escapism and vicarious pleasure? Is anyone else experiencing the same conflict with this album, or is it just me?

M83 - Saturdays = Youth13. M83 – Saturdays = Youth (Buy It)

Highlight: “Kim & Jessie” (Download)″

“Kim and Jessie / They have a secret world in the twilight / Kids outside worlds / They are crazy about romance and illusion

Somebody lurks in the shadows / Somebody whispers / Somebody lurks in the shadows / Yeah yeah yeah”

Much like Oracular Spectacular, this album should be someone’s favorite album of 2008, just not mine. M83’s 2003 debut, Dead Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts, is a masterpiece, and I know at least one reader who would agree with me. But Saturdays = Youth is just so…naive. So youthful. And jaded at the same time. It makes that contradiction make sense. Its comes from a perspective that takes so much joy in a nostalgia for an innocence that it has lost that it becomes innocent all over again. But the youth it eulogizes is already a fucked up sort of innocence. These kids are weirdos, outsiders, maybe too weird to know how fucked up they are, maybe too fucked up to realize how normal they are. Graveyard Girl writes in high school cliches that are all the more touching for being cliche:

I’m gonna jump the walls and run
I wonder if they’ll miss me?
I won’t miss them.
The cemetery is my home
I want to be a part of it,
Invisible even to the night.
Then I’ll read poetry to the stones
Maybe one day I could be one of them…
Wise and silent.
Waiting for someone to love me.
Waiting for someone to kiss me.
I’m fifteen years old
And I feel it’s already too late to live.
Don’t you?”

That already too late to live, as if her heart weren’t made of bubble gum, as if she’d reached some sort of modernist epiphany, as if that modernist trope weren’t just something she learned in an English class, as if there wouldn’t be another moment when it would be too late to live, when waiting for someone to love her would seem precisely like life, when she would be wise and silent and hear the echo of her question and want to be 15 again…

Deerhunter - Microcastle12. Deerhunter – Microcastle (Buy It or Buy Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. together for a couple extra bucks)

Highlight: “Nothing Ever Happened” (Download)″

“Nothing ever happened to me / Nothing ever happened to me / Nothing ever happened to me / Life just passing, flash right thru me

I never, saw it coming / waiting for something, for nothing / I never, saw it coming / waiting for something, for nothing”

I can never seem to remember having listened to this album. I think it’s intended to be that way. The tracks blur together in memory, wrapped in a luscious, dream-like haze. The lyrics escape into faint echoes resounding around an absent center. There’s something hiding here, which refuses to stick in the net of the conscious mind. Microcastles is the residue of a trauma. No matter how vehemently Bradford Cox insists that nothing ever happened to him, every song vibrates under the sedimentary weight of an event, a faint pulse that never stops, that resounds with the constant tremor of Deerhunter’s guitars. “Agorophobia” wills blindness so that it can avoid naming the source of its pain. “Little Kids” submerges a double violence – a man is burnt alive by a pack of drunken kids for seemingly no reason, but the act itself is mentioned only briefly, drowned out by feedback, leaving no mention at all of the even more haunting psychological violence that must have driven these kids to the act. Songs like the title track and “Activa” are paratactic and impressionistic, leaving gaping wounds dripping between sodden, ambiguous phrases. Deerhunter wraps these wounds in thick, gauzy rags still stained from My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Chord structures are often simple and plodding, but distorion and reverb wax and wane with a masterful imprecision that works the gravity of each note like the moon does the tide.

I don’t particularly like Bradford Cox – I especially dislike the way that Pitchfork fawns over every piece of excrement that comes out of his mouth – but Microcastle is the album he was born to write.

Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer11. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer (Buy It)

Highlight: “California Dreamier” (Download)″

“And I think I might have heard you on the radio, but the radio waves were like snow”

At Mount Zoomer, Wolf Parade’s follow-up to their already classic 2005 debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, starts off in familiar territory. Opener “Soldier’s Grin” is a typical Dan Boeckner song that could just as easily have been saved for his side project, Handsome Furs, while I wouldn’t be surprised if Spencer Krug had originally written “Bang Your Drum” with Sunset Rubdown in mind. Fans of Apologies will be most at home on the first four tracks, but things really begin to get interesting with the fifth track, “California Dreamer.” While preserving the jittery rhythms, ragged stomps, competing melodies and richly metaphorical lyrics that made Apologies my favorite album of 2005, the second half of At Mount Zoomer sees Wolf Parade explore richer arrangements and a wider palette of ideas, including a brief lapse into 7/8 time signature on “Fine Young Cannibals” and a wicked 11-minute proggy monstrosity of an album closer in “Kissing the Beehive,” all of which makes At Mount Zoomer yet another point in the column of reasons why Spencer Krug is my favorite contemporary artist.