Category Archives: Gotta Hear This Music

The Best Albums of 2010!

Or: Why Best-Albums Lists Are Bullshit

I am never doing this again. No fucking really: if I start talking about Best-albums lists next year, someone give me a solid slapping and point me back to this page. Best-of lists are bull shit of course, but Best Albums lists are shit of the rankest kind. There’s just no conceivable way that any one person can listen to that many albums and also have some kind of a life. I basically disappeared from blogging from November-January, and here I still didn’t get it done by the ever-critical Dec. 31st deadline. My loved ones have actually told me I’m no longer allowed to utter the words “Best of” and “2010” in the same sentence anymore. They try to convince me that no one takes these lists seriously, that everyone assumes these are just your favorites, not the actual best albums.
But if you look at the comments for any of these lists, you’ll see that it’s just the opposite. Everyone responds with fury and indignation: you mean “The Muppets Sing Fight Club didn’t make your list? I’m never visiting this site again!” News flash: the person writing the list was on a deadline, and probably never even heard your cherished album. The albums they did include were based on whims and hype.
Think about it: when you want to compare two songs, it’s easy: just play one right after the other and decide which is better. But if you want to compare albums, you can’t exactly play all hour-and-a-half of each one, because you will be in a totally different mood by the time they’re both done. Moreover, it’s very rare for an album to not have one stinker song. Even the Beatles classic albums had such bombs as “Wild Honey Pie” and “The Tax Man.” So which do you rank higher? An album with 7 classics, and two losers? Or an album with ten pretty great songs and one classic? And do you give more credit to albums like The Suburbs because they have more tracks in total? It takes a long time to get to know an entire album and then there’s the whole issue of whether the songs move from one to the next in a pleasing, well-thought out way.
Anyway, after spending much more time contemplating this list than I should have, here are my picks for Best of 2010. For what it’s worth.
1.Crystal Castles – II

There are so many songs on this album that force me to utter, “I loooooooooove this,” the words are as compulsive as a cat’s purr. No matter how many times I’ve heard II I like it more than I remembered. There’s a huge diversity of genres touched on here: lush dreamwave, volatile dance punk, electro —it doesn’t hurt that these are some of my favorite genres. While the songs are vastly different from one another they’re all distinctly Crystal Castles, a hard feat that only Janelle Monae’s album achieves to an equal extent. Perhaps most importantly, when I ask myself which band of 2010 is doing something interesting and original, I can’t deny Crystal Castles tops my list.

Check out: Crystal Castles – Suffocation

No sense repeating myself: here’s  a full review from back in August.

Also see: Like A Pixie in A Blender

2.Sleigh Bells –Treats

Sleigh Bells’ “Treats” is the biggest surprise of my list. First, they deliberately overdrive their sound, which I expected would get tired by the third song. I can’t imagine they’ll be able to pull that off for four more albums, but on Treats, it works. Moreover, the sound is somewhat formulaic: Heavy, dance-y bass, solid urgent guitar riffs and enthusiastic female vocals. Yes! It’s loud! Very loud! But that gets repetitive really quickly, right?images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQ9ZiBIUlKIZWbDjRcSNubDZxFHp15qeyiOiH11crt5rZ1rKaGGvg

The faceless cheerleaders marketing Treats perfectly match their furiously upbeat rockage.

But the more I got into Treats, the more complexity I discovered. There’s the explosive sound effects on the title track and the drum-guitar combo that sounds like a machine gun on “Tell ‘Em.” There’s the long wind-up and scream before the refrain on “Kids.” There’s the constant underlying siren under “Run the Heart.” They have taken that formula and pushed it’s boundaries. The lyrics to their slow number, “Ring Ring (Rill Rill),” are charming and intriguing. Even the only song I usually skip, “Straight As,” is full of win because it takes the noisy aspect of their sound to the max as the album reaches its climax. The album has its peaks and slow downs and each song flows comfortably into the next so that no matter how much I love the song before, I am excited about the next one. There’s never been a time Sleigh Bells came up on my radio stream that I felt the urge to skip them.

I can’t imagine where they’ll go after Treats because I don’t think they can push this particular sound in too many more directions. Then again, they said that about AC/DC too.

Check out: Sleigh Bells – Treats

3.Wolf Parade – Expo 86

I wanted there to be a new Sunset Rubdown album this year but Spencer Krug was busy releasing another album with Wolf Parade. I’ve always liked Wolf Parade’s previous stuff and I like Dan Boeckner’s other project Handsome Furs too but even still this album was surprisingly great. What everyone else has said about Expo 86 is true: it combines the two gents’ skills in a true collaboration.I’m usually drawn to Krug’s delicious build-ups and captivating lyrics (see: “Cloud Shadow on The Mountain” or “Oh, You Old Thing”) but Boeckner’s songs are also among my favorites. His “Little Golden Age” and “Pobody’s Nerfect” bring a bit more rock and roll, a bit more bang and grrrr, adding the perfect spice to Expo 86‘s sound. Lyrics like I am a wall of sand and stone / and you, you’re some kind of ivy I’m trying to hold/ as best as I can will draw you into the song’s winding journeys with serious guitars, rising synths and toe-tapping rhythms . Though there is certainly enough rockage to generate a visceral response upon the first listen, Expo 86‘s the kind of album that will only get richer and more rewarding the more you play it.

Check out: Wolf Parade – Pobody’s Perfect

4.Menomena – Mines

Menomena reminds me of Modest Mouse and TV on the Radio, though they sound not a thing like these bands. The similarity is in that Menomena is a rock band that manages to do something new with the idea of the rock band. For one thing, they use horns in a way that sounds nothing like ska or reggae, and rock and roll doesn’t have much of a context for that. Honestly, I don’t know what all instruments they use. Somehow they make their guitars sound like a whole new animal (a rhino, perhaps?). There’s piano in the mix, but it usually pounds out percussion along with melody. You get beautiful harmonies and distinctive vocal solos. And the lyrics are intriguing and every song is a tiny symphony. . Just when you think a song has reached a climax the harmonies come in and that’s when you know it’s just getting started.

Check out: Menomena – Taos

5.Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History

I know, there’s a great pop rock record every year. I know, I know, there’s probably ten great pop rock records every year. Two Door Cinema Club isn’t doing anything that’s never been done before. But damn if they aren’t doing it right.

What struck me about the addictive nature of Two Door Cinema Club’s songs is what they lack: a keyboard. I’m a sucker for pianos and their bratty cousin, they synth (and pipe organs? Delish!). Guitars are necessary to bring the rockage, but they can’t get out in front and dick around if they want to make my list. I’m a child of the eighties and it was part of my upbringing to rebel against the Led Zeppelin guitar wankery my parents so relish. But it is the guitar hooks that make me think these songs should come with a warning label. So. Damn. Catchy.

I didn’t expect the whole album to make my list, rather I figured the finer tunes were likely to end up on a list of singles. But when you find there are eight songs out of ten that must go on such a list of singles, truly the whole album deserves celebration. If you like The Black Kids, Tokyo Police Club, or any rock band with catchy hooks, pick this one up.

Check out: Two Door Cinema Club – What You Know

6.Yeasayer – Odd Blood

First, there’s “Ambling Alp” which is easily one of the best songs of 2010. I’ve yet to meet someone who didn’t like it immediately. I’ve probably played it more than any other song this year, except maybe some of the tracks from Sleigh Bell’s debut. I keep thinking I’ll get tired of it but return to it with delight over and over.

Part of the fun is the variety of their sound. It’s hard to classify “Odd Blood.” It’s electronic and easy to dance to, but it’s not dance music. The lack of guitars bars the classification of electro. O.N.E. Is vaguely calypso. “I Remember” sounds like the love song from a lost eighties movie. “Mondegreen” with it’s handclaps and saxophone could be the latest pop song if it weren’t for the odd childlike vocal sections. The only thing the songs have in common is a love of synth and harmony. Yet Yeasayer isn’t the last in the long line of eighties retro revisionists either. The keyboards on “Rome” meander like a vocal improvisationist played in fast forward. “Love My Girl” sounds like Of Montreal covering Duran Duran. The music isn’t deep, soul-searching poetry, but it is a unique sound that’s going to influence their peers for years to come.

Check out: Yeasayer – Rome

7.Parlovr – Parlovr

Really, it’s Parlovr’s fault that The Arcade Fire didn’t make this list. I was listening to that long album over and over, taking the time to get to know the lyrics and contemplate the value of the many reprises when I finally gave Parlovr a spin. Without a clue what the hell he was singing about or any familiarity I instantly responded to the songs on a visceral level that The Arcade Fire just wasn’t hitting me on. Think of the first time you heard Modest Mouse or Nirvana or The Pixies (fans of The Pixies and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah should particularly check this one out). I’m not saying that Parlovr is a match of these legendary bands, I’m only saying that they know how to rock out.

I love how they take a rest to harmonize sweetly on the refrain of “On the Phone.” I love the shouted opening of “Hiccup,” or the fast build-up at the front of “Sever My Ties.” After delightful “Oh-ooh-oooh-oohs he shouts, “What would you say to a dead man with no face!” and I admit that I have no clue what the fuck he is talking about but I am solidly on board. After five hearty servings of rocking out, “Speech Bubble/Thought Cloud” starts of as slow and alluring as the aforementioned Arcade Fire and takes it’s time reaching that leaping off point where shouting and guitars reign. Parlovr is a rollicking reminder that rock n’ roll is something to get excited about.

Check out: Parlovr – Sandwalking

8.Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid

I’m going to be frank with you: I intensely dislike R&B. That Janelle Monáe made the Best-Of list of a chick who listens to electro and new wave should tell you something of Monáe’s mastery of the genre. I say R&B but The ArchAndroid touches on so many genres it’s like a sampler of female vocal styles for the last sixty years. Many of these songs will blow you away right from the first listen.

The only reason this album didn’t rank higher on my list is that the lyrics were disappointing. The Arch Android is a concept album built around the 1908 dystopic epic Metropolis (Which—Whoah! Is reason enough to check it out). Thus I was expecting sci-fi visions on par with David Bowie or Kevin Barnes (in fact, Of Montreal backs her on a track). But the rhymes and the lyrics were all cliché and prosaic. Which is fine—you’ll be singing along with her regardless.

Not only can she sing, her technique has style. And that voice! “Cold War” is a good example of her vocal skills. By the time she finishes off that high note, you’ll have forgotten Cat Power ever existed. Then she has the brilliant audacity to finish the note with a growl. It’s exquisite. My advice to you (and to me): see this woman in concert soon. She is going to be very famous and even the nosebleed seats are going to be expensive.

Check out: Janelle Monáe – BeBopByeYa

9.She & Him – Volume Two

I had a lot of trouble deciding between this and Freelance Whales album Weathervanes. The latter even averaged one point higher in the ratings I gave the album’s songs. But it was the She & Him album that I played over and over until I learned the words to the songs, even though Zooey Deschanel doesn’t sing in my range. It was *her songs that got stuck in my head over and over; it was her songs I sang in the shower. Ultimately ratings are no match for the sheer desire to listen to the same album on repeat. Volume Two is full of heavenly harmonies, adorable lyrics (“Why do I always want to sock it to you hard? She sulks at the opening of “Over and Over Again.”), and catchy refrains.

My personal favorite on the album is “Home,” a song that gets me all teary and happy at the same time. Can’t ask for much more out of a song than that. Other excellent stand-outs are “Thieves,” “Lingering Still,” and the mythological metaphor “Don’t Look Back.”

Check out: She & Him – Home

10.The Limousines  –  Get Sharp

It was the year after MGMT released their instant classic, “Time to Pretend.” Having overplayed that song to death, I was on the hunt for a new song that captured the American experience with the same wit, charm and melody . I had Los Campesinos! And NPSH but my life needed a new dance anthem. Then I was at a music festival with my pal @WorkerBee when he lured me to the tent where The Limousines were tearing it up. Their as yet un-signed song “Very Busy People” filled that lack and became an instant obsession.

Like all their songs, the first thing you notice about “Very Busy People” is probably the fantastic melody and head-bopping pace. You may notice that they aren’t lazy on the trills and DJ effects. But it won’t be long before you catch a taste of the lyrics. And that’s it, you’re done for: these lyrics are so clever that no matter which line you come in on you’re going to be hooked. Do I exaggerate? From the very first line, We’ll end up numb from playing video games and we’ll get sick of having sex, The Limousines follow the rules of good writing drilled into undergrads by their poetry teachers: Be specific. Be succinct. Be personal.

Their lyrics aren’t the lofty philosophical themes of Nick Cave or the strange but brilliant metaphors of Tori Amos or the sharp political observations of Ani Difranco. No, The Limousines sing about the same things your average pop band sings about: getting drunk, getting lucky, seizing the day. In fact, the biggest turn off about them is probably the lead singer’s voice. It’s not that Eric Victorino can’t sing, it’s that his voice sharply resembles the kind of teeny-bopper heartthrob sound indie rockers shrink away from, for its associations with didactic cliches. But if you just let yourself be seduced by the catchy pop rhythms, you’ll discover that they bring a fresh perspective to these tired themes. These are the kinds of songs you are not only going to want to learn the lyrics to, you are going to want to sing them with your friends at the top of your lungs while drunk at three a.m.

Check out: The Limousines – Flaskaboozendancingshoes


*I know that M. Ward was a successful musician before collaborating with actress Zooey Deschanel but since she wrote the songs and their lyrics, She & Him is properly her band first and foremost. There are two songs not written by Deschanel, and they are the two weakest songs on the album. Partially due to the brainless babes that dominate pop music and partially due to sexism, woman’s contributions to their own bands tend to be marginalized. Thus, it is always worth mentioning when a front woman really leads the band, despite the fact that with a male singer this is assumed.

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Why did I title the Crystal Castles review “A Pixie in A Blender”?

Imagine the delicate pattern of her wings fluttering frantically. Imagine her screams for help distorted by the glass. Imagine the occasional throb of her tiny fists on the glass. Imagine the vicious never-ending whir of the blades. It goes on and on and yet you know the music of it will change in moments when the pixie runs out of tricks and breath. Now hear the interruption of those blades, the gutteral whipping and whirring, as she uses whatever magic her wand can muster. Imagine the dreadful glittery blood, her tiny bones shaking against the glass. This is what Crystal Castles sounds like.

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The Drop

In learning to DJ I have gained an even greater respect for the art of the drop. In mixing it’s the easiest thing to lift the pace of the music slightly up and up throughout the night. The energy in the room goes up and the asses shake it just a wee bit harder.

To do the opposite is far more difficult. We’ve all been on a dancefloor when a careless DJ tosses a slow groove on after a stomper and the crowd disperses. You know this is a real fail when the slow jam is actually a mighty sexy, danceable song, but it’s location after the fast bass makes is seem like the kind of tune that would make you want to change the station. But if you can pull off one of those drops you have a much more dynamic, interesting set than if all the songs volley around the same beats per minute range.

If you want an exemplary DJ in this respect, go see Diplo. As much as I love The Twelves and Miami Horror, Diplo will remain a favorite because he is so good at tempo drops.  Befitting his name, you never know when Diplo is going to switch it up and drop a low sexy beat that makes the jumpers switch to vertical humpage (time to dip looooooooow). He dares to play slow lusty numbers after bangers and pulls it off every time.

I have this idea of the well-excuted drop on my mind because there is a beautiful drop Loo & Placido mashup Californication [2Pac feat. Roger Troutman vs. Plump DJ’s vs. Zero Cash] that has me keeping the song on repeat. DJs talk about teasers, grabbing a snippet of the forthcoming song to get the crowd excited about what’s coming up. There’s barely any 2 Pac at the front end of this song. When the teaser comes in at around the two minute mark, “In the city…” it doesn’t sound like it is going to lead you into the familiar 2 Pac tune. There’s exactly thirty seconds of echoing build up followed by the most glorious drop I’ve heard in a long time.

Hip-hop is usually much slower than dance music, surprising to some, even slower than rock and roll. So when that voice sings “California loooooove” the whole room slows down. What slays me about this mashup is, at this point, the song isn’t even mashed; it starts right where it should if you bought it on the juke box. Loo & Placido are essentially having a cigarette break, just throwing that 2 Pac down into the middle of the song, naked as the day it was born, without all the fancy trimmings a DJ provides. They are saying with the wave of a hand, “this shit is so good we are going to serve it to you straight, no chaser. AND YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE IT. AND YOU ARE GOING TO DANCE.”

And it works. There is a gorgeous ecstasy in leaving that steady electro beat for the opening bars of “California Love” that will make you wonder if you have ever heard 2 Pac before, if you were every really listening. It will make you start to wonder what magical powers these two French men harbor in the simple act of selecting and combining songs. They will make you think perhaps every song is going to sound better when delivered by Loo & Placido. That’s one hell of a drop.




Photo vi hrrrthrrr

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Crystal Castles II: A Pixie in a Blender

Crystal Castles in Helsinki
Crystal Castles in Helsinki (source)

Crystal Castles reminds me of that episode of Night Court where the judge falls for an art scene punk rocker. The punchline at the end is when he finally hears her album. If I recollect, the nostalgic moment is destroyed by the fact that her music consists solely of a woman screaming by the railroad tracks. Of course Crystal Castles doesn’t sound like a woman screaming by the railroad tracks unless you were to put a a robot symphony in front of her. I draw the connection to the sit-com artist because our hero Harry’s pretentious lover might have screamed a plot point or something to guide the listener, beyond raw shouting. In the same way, despite a great deal of emotional intensity to the music, there is a barrier between Crystal Castles and their audience. On their album II, it’s never explicit what the songs are about, even with helpful titles like “Pap Smear” and “Doe Deer.” Where Alice Glass‘s vocals are actually words they are inscrutably distorted with effects. One gets the impression it is deliberate. Their album art is vague and their website has no bio. Even in concert, Alice explodes, tossing her screaming body across the stage, but almost entirely obscured by smoke. Crystal Castles is a band that’s determined to remain abstract.

The last track, “I Am Made of Chalk” is a fine example. It sounds like a cat being violently transformed into a manatee before dissolving into a puddle of cat-manatee. The catmatee is a thankful accent to the beautiful synth behind that. Otherwise it would be too damn pretty. The balance is perfect, but what it is beyond the soundtrack to a nightmare, I have no idea.

But despite my distrust of any attempts they have to be obtuse, I can’t compare it to the geometric compositions that give our halls of modern art a bad name. No, because unlike a pile of circles and boxes, Crystal Castles is damn effective. Those glitches and loops and shouts stir my blood. Music is the most primal of the arts and their self-titled II succeeds like the sound a of a riot two blocks over. It’s all questions and no answers. They make me gasp, my heart beats faster, like running toward an explosion at a clown convention: bold and bright and bloody and fearful and ugly, with torn rubbery masks and tufts of cotton and feather floating.

Yet, II is so skillfully constructed it strikes the intellect. Their crescendos are perfectly measured. Much is going on in any one song, various sound effects layered in delightfully frightful ways. If you’re the type who’s been trained to think of electronic music as repetitive and unchanging, Crystal Castles will grab you by the eggs—as soon as the keyboard has you convinced there is some kind of pattern, there is something akin to an explosion, usually accompanied by Alice’s voice. On “Doe Deer” it sounds like she is calling to you from Tron, a pixelated cry to save her from the terrible fate of those trapped in video games. It’s music that stirs the imagination. Its alternation of pattern and complexity will entertain the Sudoko-solving side of your brain.

So they are primal while also thoroughly, clinically intellectual. Well Crystal Castles is full of contradictions. They sound masculine and feminine. They have the angry urgency of punk and the cold bass of the dance club. You could call them industrial, but there are too many pretty moments for such a dirty moniker. They whip the chipper sounds of nostalgic video games into a magical brew darker than Rasputina.

The album opens with an interesting enough intro that could be confused with your standard EDM fair. But then it  hits you with a wall of beats and bells bliss. It’s like the explosion of a glitter bomb.Therein lies the flux, the back and forth between pattern and chaos.

Take “Intimate.” The song combines a relentless fast keyboard melody with a series of crescendos that give the sensation the song is rising up and up until it hits a static. Which turns into a wash and then there’s that melody again… well I don’t want to give any spoilers, suffice to say the song has more drama than a sci-fi marathon. And did I mention that I have no idea what they’re singing about?

I am tempted to use the word 8-bit. That’s how I came to Crystal Castles, in search of bands that sample the video games of my childhood. But to call Crystal Castles 8-bit is like calling Dickens a soap opera. Most of the 8-bit out there is simplistic and gimmicky at best. If Ethan Kath is building instruments out of Game Boys than that’s all well and good but the music holds its own outside of originality of medium. Any snatches of Mario and Link will be obliterated into abstraction, just like everything else. You are left with something intriguing that refuses to be pinned down by anything that came before it. This is the promise of electronic music: We won’t need instruments because all recorded sounds will be their instruments. The collage possibilities will be infinite. Crystal Castles may be the first band to really deliver on that promise.

We Are All Accelerated Readers

Here’s a little snippet from my journal from the night of the Los Campesinos show June 26, 2008.


skanking: V.  The dance you do at the Los Campesinos! show when you are hysterical with joy and you have leg room.

pogo: V.  The dance you do at the Los Campesinos! show when you are packed like Mentos in a Coke bottle with other joyful fans.

mosh:  V. What happens when the whole crowd fizzes over, bounding off walls and fleshy sweaty bodies all singing “It’s you…It’s me…It’s dancing!”.

drum solo: N. When the drummer for Los Campesinos runs into the audience and the whole audience keeps the beat with hand claps.

the Jane Fonda Workout: N. What you get when you pogo through the cacophonous segment of “We Throw Parties You Throw Knives”.

thirsty: Adj.  How I feel when I see Tom Campesinos! sweat.

ugly: Adj.  What your chest will look like when you proudly brandish your new Los Campesinos! T-shirt, for all their merch looks like nightmares illustrated by pre-schoolers.

satisfaction: N. The feeling associated with having shouted and sang and squirmed your heart out. Synonyms: spent, glowing, Rawr. Cross-reference to: Los Campesinos!, “with your chin on your knees like you belong.”

Los Campesinos! Don’t Tell Me to Do the Math

Los Campesinos! – We Are All Accelerated Readers

Some Predictions About Books By Way of Some Predictions About Music

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the “future of publishing.” After all, books have never had as much cash to spare as the recording industry, and look at the mess they’re in. Already it is not so difficult for a self-published manuscript to sell itself on What will happen when everything goes digital? The suggestion is that there will be an opening of the gates, and the latest best-seller will stand on the same virtual shelf with thirty self-published manuscripts. The optimists claim that this is where the great unpublished books will be discovered and pessimists point to the unleashed masses of poorly thought-out, half-written tomes filled with spelling errors. But it doesn’t matter if fantastic self-published books are available if they’re drowned out by countless other books vying for the consumer’s attention.
I’m thinking of this issue again because Chuck Wendig just wrote a post on this very subject. I must requote a quote that he included in his piece from a article (“When Anyone Can Be A Published Author“)

Furthermore, as observers like Chris Anderson (in “The Long Tail”) and social scientists like Sheena Iyengar (in her new book “The Art of Choosing”) have pointed out, when confronted with an overwhelming array of choices, most people do not graze more widely. Instead, if they aren’t utterly paralyzed by the prospect, their decisions become even more conservative, zeroing in on what everyone else is buying and grabbing for recognizable brands because making a fully informed decision is just too difficult and time-consuming. As a result, introducing massive amounts of consumer choice leads to situations in which the 10 most popular items command the vast majority of the market share, while thousands of lesser alternatives must divide the leftovers into many tiny portions.

Chuck says in response, ” that doesn’t sound like what will happen when the FUTURE OF PUBLISHING is made manifest. It sounds like what happens right bloody now.”
As it is, there are about 100,000 brand new titles published and printed every year, and it is fair to say that even the most devoted readers may touch 1/100th of that. If you include self-published books, the number of books published is 600,000 to a million. That doesn’t take into account the thousands of reprints of absolute classics that exist. I am pretty sure that if I devoted my entire life to reading I would not get through every book on my imaginary wish list before I breathe my last breath. Now imagine compounding this with an onslaught of unpublished manuscripts, from gorgeous to garbage, that would land on the market place if the result of this revolution were a totally leveled playing field. What would happen?
Continue reading Some Predictions About Books By Way of Some Predictions About Music

Pics from Phantogram with The Antlers at the Independent

I confess I enjoyed the energy of the opening act, Phantogram, more than The Antlers. The Antlers were still satisfying, but you can’t quite pogo to mourning music. I would have taken more pictures but I killed my camera’s battery on Phantogram. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes. 

I must say the sound quality at the Independent was outstanding. I didn’t even need earplugs for the first act.

Mouthful Of Diamonds by Phantogram
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01 – Mouthful of Diamonds.mp3 (7073 KB)

When I’m Small by Phantogram
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02 – When I’m Small.mp3 (7297 KB)

Flo has Lungs

Now I understand why Florence and the Machine’s album is called “Lungs.” I haven’t witnessed a performer hold a note that long since I saw EnVogue in the seventh grade. 

I usually attempt to pay attention to all aspects of the performers but to no avail. She was captivating. As these photos show, Flo had my undivided attention. I managed to get two poor quality photos of the keyboardist and guitarist. I didn’t manage to get any pics of the enormous harp. That thing must have been ten feet tall. 

Not a lot chit-chat on stage. Part of her stage presence is a sense of drama, which doesn’t go well with a ton of stage banter. She covered her face with a scarf and sang under strobe, like something that flashes on the screen in a horror movie. Then she could make that same dress light and dainty, her red hair swirling and bright. Someone in the audience gave her a mask and she wore it as if it were part of the act all along. 

The audience at the Mezzanine was fantastic too, singing along to not just one or two but every song. 

Early on she played Drumming Song and My Boy Builds Coffins (my personal favorite). She didn’t play “Girl With One Eye,” perhaps my only disappointment. She closed the show with You’ve Got the Love. For the encore she came out wearing hot pants and a t-shirt with a large image of Gene Wilder. I didn’t have good photos of this, but I enclosed a crappy one. For the encore she sang “Kiss With A Fist” and “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up).” It was lovely and all over too quickly. 


Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) (Switch Mix) by Florence + The Machine
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Florence and the Machine – Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) (Switch Mix).mp3 (8958 KB)

My Boy Builds Coffins by Florence And The Machine
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10 Florence And The Machine – My Boy Builds Coffins.mp3 (6909 KB)

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The XX Marks the Mezzanine

The xx play live at La Casa 139, Milan, Italy ...
Image via Wikipedia

While Destructo was finishing up his set at the Mezzanine, I wandered upstairs in search of a better view. I was surprised to see a DJ setting up in the back room. Hope alighted my belly. I asked the gent assembling what his name was and he said Jaime. Hope swelled. I asked him if he had a DJ name. He seemed a little taken aback, like the answer wasn’t ready at his fingertips.

The XX.”

I said, “Oh, great. Then you’re who I’m here to see.” Well that wasn’t exactly true—I’d only found out he was going to be there a few hours ago, but it immediately outshone my interest in the main act, Major Lazer. Major Lazer’s set was probably starting at that minute, I didn’t know or give a damn.

He seemed shy and not at all accustomed to the cult of celebrity. When I told him “I love your album” I almost thought he didn’t believe me. But truth be told, in that crowd he wasn’t a celebrity. I wanted to tell him that by the time he comes back to San Francisco The XX will be the name on everyone’s lips but that sort of praise always sounds like B.S., especially in a loud crowd, especially when that crowd is not dancing to your music.

I originally thought they were going to squeeze him in for a short set on the crowded, enormous, sweaty main stage. Instead I had a sweet spot directly in front of the DJ with all the room I needed to lay down whatever dance move struck my fancy. There was no stage, he had a DJ table on the floor sandwiched between some cordoned off VIP booths. Basically, my pal and I were the only ones dancing for a time. We didn’t mind. It was like seeing (a third of) The XX DJ at a private house party. Upstairs at the Mezzanine is small, intimate, even hidden. It was warm and oddly dry. We threw our limbs where we damned well pleased. Even when the crowd picked up, it seemed the other groovers were happy to make room for us. Territory: marked. We tore that dancefloor up so hard that a random woman in the crowd went out of her way to score a high-five with yours truly.

One thing I’ve found pretty consistent about DJ sets is that most have a preferred BPM. Jamie was no different, most of his songs were, like the XX’s album, simple, chill beats. He mixed them beautifully, showing off a variety of techniques but never actually “showing off.” He played a mix of vinyl and CDs; most were songs I’ve never heard before. He chose only one hip-hop song and I wanted to ask him who it was but I was too busy getting busy. I would have liked for him to have played more songs with vocals but, unlike Diplo & Switch’s set, there was plenty of melody to please my ears.

My pal had a chat with a guy whose pupils were the size of silver dollars while they watched Major Lazer from the stairwell. In the throes of some ecstatic experience he tried to convince that we were missing out on the action. But watching Switch shout and hype frenetically over Diplo’s BASS BASS BASS and no melody, our peeks onto the main floor convinced us otherwise. The bass-hungry crowd only seemed to wander upstairs for respite (perhaps they were intimidated by our awesome dancing? I like to think so).

As the hour approached for Miike Snow’s upstairs set, girls crowded in next to me, snapping photos. I had forgotten I could take photos and almost didn’t want to. It seemed like snapping photos in his face would ruin the illusion in my head of a personal experience now (weren’t we single-serving friends now that he was on a first-name basis? Hmm, probably not). But then I got kind of annoyed that these bitches didn’t even want a picture of Jamie. By the time I had my camera out, he had already crept off the stage. I had just enough time to wonder if these girls newly crowding the floor thought he was some local DJ, how many didn’t know The XX was going to be their new favorite CD, how many were going to repeat “Crystalized” over and over on their trendy mp3 players. Then, like a secret whispered in the night, he was gone.

Glasser – Tremel (Jamie XX Remix)
Florence and the Machine – You’ve Got the Love (XX Remix)

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Best Dance Remixes of 2009

At long last, here is the list of the Hottest Remixes of 2009. How was this list made? Songs were judged by their propensity for eliciting uncontrollable ass-shaking, head-bobbing and shout outs to your deity of choice. I narrowed further by including only remixes, thus no mash-ups or straight-out hot dance songs. Also, every song was to the best of my research actually produced in 2009…since you can’t exactly look this stuff up on Amazon. Final judging was done by listening to the list backwards to ensure that each song is indeed just that much finer than the last. This is an exercise that I highly recommend.

These mixes are not the songs that make me think “This is really good.” No, no, these are the ones that leave me clutching my breast, uttering, “SO GOOD, SO fucking GOOD” with a primal vehemence that is beyond rational: It is animal. If you feel the need to howl while listening, it’s okay, I understand. Just try to follow it up with some shake-shake-shimmy.


1. HEARTSREVOLUTION – Switchblade (Designer Drugs remix)

(*1st blogged Jan 2009 on Hot Biscuits)

Sick sick sick sick sick. Such a perfect combination of HEARTSREVOLUTION’s dark electro “razor sharp candy coated glass” with DD’s outstanding beats. How can you not hear that scary/sexy voice chanting “if you love me than do it forever” without taking that as a personal call to the dance floor? Personally, my body begins a series of twitches, tremors and knocks that some may call dancing.

2. Radiohead – Everything In Its Right Place (Gigamesh remix)

1st blogged on Jan 2009 on Pretty Much Amazing)

This is not a song that I ever expected to hear in a remix. DJs tend to stick with new songs and when they go for something older its usually a song that’s been established as a pop classic.

Instead, Gigamesh lent his skills to something so dreamy and nonsensical it would be tough to pull off. And yet: what’s so beautiful about this mix is how seamless it is. The bass doesn’t feel at all out of place on those strange but beautiful layered vocals. It’s not a complicated mix, which is fine, because too much cutting and chopping would destroy the surreal magic of the original. Gigamesh somehow ties up all that surreal magic and delivers it to the dance floor.

In my experience, the reaction to this remix has been a combination of wonder and delight. It works just as well in the chillroom as the get-down-throw-down room. And it is very easy to mix with other songs, despite not having a cumbersome, long intro.

3. Rogues – Not So Pretty (Feed Me Remix)

(Only 3 bloggers, all in Feb 09! First was

At first it’s just a delightfully upbeat electro pop remix. A clever opening treble sounds like a computer imitating a beat boxer. Then as it drives into the refrain this tasty treat is exactly like Britney Spears: Underneath that pretty pop is something dark and gritty. When the refrain kicks in with the grungy guitar the song growls a little, contrasted with his sweet pretty voice. and just when the music takes a turn back to the pretty he turns gritty, shouting: “You ain’t so pretty!” It may be the PMS talking but this mix is so pretty I could cry.

4. Little Boots – Remedy (Buffetlibre vs Sidechains Remix)

(1st Blogged Jul 2009 on Sheena Beaston)

Songs like this are why I am obsessed with music. Oh! Her little “Oh-uh-oh”s! The whistle! The drum solo! The bass drop that fills me with chills and trembling! Oh-uh-oh! Dancing is indeed my fucking remedy, Little Boots, and these two DJs consistently draw me to the dancefloor. If the snake oil salesmen sold a potion that made me feel like this song does, I’d be the first in line for the cure.

5. Groove Armada – Drop The Tough [The Twelves B-LIVE Remix]

(1st blogged Jan 2009 on This Big Stereo)

The biggest surprise of this list was not who made it, but that the whole thing didn’t end up being a litany of The Twelves greatest hits. By far the most fun live DJ show I’ve seen, The Twelves consistently produce adorable disco takes on the hottest indie songs. This one was my favorite of 2009, but, while some DJs have a mix of bangers and losers, any of their 2009 mixes would be a respectable addition to your Best-Of  list.

6. Jewel Kid – Break My Heart (Computer Club remix)

(1st blogged July 2009 on Penned Madness)

The bass on this hits like a hammer. But a pleasant hammer…a hammer of bright colors perhaps? This song was one of the few that entered my mp3 player in 2009 that never moved out of heavy rotation. Few DJs can rock a beat this hard without it sounding tacky and pasted on. Looking to hear more bangers from this LA DJ in 2010.

7. Empire Of The Sun – We Are The People (Jimmy2sox Remix)

(1st blogged Feb 2009 on This Big Stereo)

There were a ton of remixes of both this song and this album in general when Jimmy2sox came on the scene, by DJs who’s names would not be followed with “Jimmy who?” I already had my favorite “We Are the People” mix all picked out, and my second favorite too. Then this came along. The first time I heard that saxophone solo I was hooked. Who the hell adds a saxophone solo to a remix? Jimmy2sox, that’s who.


8. Metric – Sick Muse (Adam Freeland mix)

(1st blogged Sept 2009 on We like It Indie)

It opens with gorgeous synths that slice like Ginsu knives. Then when you think it’s showed you all it has to show, it seeds this dark bass which leads into hazy snow before picking up and up and up into some heavenly place in Emily Haine’s voice. He doesn’t chop it up too much, leaving choice lyrics such as “all the blondes are fantasies.” No instrument shouts for attention over any of the others; it feels like a song in its own right. I know this song well (Metric is a favorite) and when I’m listening to this mix I still forget which parts are from the band and which are his production.

9. NASA – Gifted (Aston Shuffle remix)

(1st blogged May on Discopunk)

This song is so fantastic to begin with that it needs no remixing. The spacey synths perfectly capture the nostalgia of 80s Freestyle: close your eyes and you might think you’re back in the seventh grade roller skating rink. Not surprisingly, many notable DJs have lent their hand to this tune. I have the Treasure Fingers remix. Oh, how many times I’ve heard the Steve Aoki remix. You be good, you listen to me: this is the mix you play.

10. Sneaky Sound System – It’s Not My Problem (Thin White Duke mix)

(1st blogged May 2009 on This Big Stereo

Her voice comes in like something from a dream. The pitch rises like a tornado and when the beat breaks it crashes like a beautiful wave. This, my lovelies, is where the good little disco beats go when they die.

I have nothing more to say because now I must dance.

P.S. If you own these songs, and you are under the impression that it would be wiser to remove them than allow for the puny quantity of publicity this simple blog provides, let me know and the links will disappear.

*I put more hours than I’d have liked into making sure these songs really came out in 2009. Though the first mention I could find was in 2009, that very post refers to this track on their best of 2008 list. So I sunk more time into trying to find the true release date, as well as contacting Hot Biscuits themselves. Ultimately, searching the site that released the album and the mix itself didn’t post it until 2009.