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Avalanche: Best of 2011



Top 10 Releases of 2011

Once again, the great releases of this year are roundly ignored by other ‘best-of’ music compilers. I am again mystified how some of the releases included here got such short shrift, particularly, when there was not much by way of competition. 2011, overall, was largely dominated by folkie southern-rock sounding bands, which is a direction that is easy for me to ignore except for the insanely good The Wooden Birds record, which, against all reason has shown up on no best-of lists that I have seen. Low put out another great record, which, has long been expected out of Low. I am convinced that Low and The Wooden Birds are the two current active pillars of great American rock music, without which, the whole shaky edifice would crumble. Once again, these two great bands release another great record and because they are expected to do just that, they get passed-over by critics for the latest pan flash.

Otherwise, based on prominence of keyboard based bands last year, I figured we would get much more of the same in 2011. We did get a new Cut Copy release and similarly styled debut by Holy Ghost! but there wasn’t near the output of synth driven bands as I expected.

Anyway, the following are the top-ten very worthy cds that kept my laser occupied.

1.Acid House Kings – Music Sounds Better With You
AHK put out the best pure pop album of the year by a country mile. Music Sounds Better With You is pure and effortless and along with The Wooden Birds release nearly monopolized my cd laser for the whole year. The track “Windshields” is so good I can barely stand it – even after hundreds of listens.

2.The Wooden Birds – Two Matchsticks
As noted, 2011 is full of Southern-Rock and Folk-Rock tinged albums. The Wooden Birds, the post American Analog Set project of Andrew Kenney, mine some of the same influences but do it with subtle brilliance and without being retreads. The cool burn of Two Matchsticks and its delicate, yet assertive guitar and male/female vocal interplay make The Wooden Birds the best thing going right now. How this band has gotten so little attention is criminal. I just don’t get it. Pure. Simple. Brilliant.

3.Low – C’mon
Low have been quietly releasing the best catalog of the past 20 years, and this is another nice addition to their epic high standards of quality. Unlike their also great release of a few years ago, Drums and Guns, C’mon has pretty fuss-free production, which I think is how the religious experience that is a Low release is best served.

4.Cut Copy – Zonoscope
The Cutters self-produced 2011 release, Zonoscope, starts out with a face-melting gem in “Need You Now”. The rest of the album doesn’t reach that high again, but is a consistently good stream of interwoven synth excursions.

5.Anything Goes Original Cast Recording – Broadway Original Cast Recording
What can I say, I bought my first ‘show tunes’ album (I don’t think buying Laibach‘s Jesus Christ Superstar really counts). I would generally not be too proud of that fact, but this Sutten Foster led production of the Cole Porter classic was too irresistible to one who swore he was immune to the saccharine charms of musicals. This Cole Porter and P.G. Wodehouse collaboration has to be among the best examples of ‘all killer, no filler’ ever, like the Purple Rain of the 1930s!

6.The Pains of Being Pure of Heart – Belong
The Pains went big with this album as far as production goes, but their charms remain subtle. I hope they are hard at work on a follow up.

7.Holy Ghost! – Holy Ghost!
Based on a few tracks of Holy Ghost! 2010 ep, I was really hoping for a band that was going to re-inhabit Shriekback as a bit more sophisticated and bit more aggressively vocaled synth band, but that hope is dashed pretty much after the second track of this, their self-titled debut. Nonetheless, this is a great synth pop record.

8.Peter Murphy – Nine
This record pretty follows along the buzz guitar rock of Cascade, which is, in my opinion, Murphy’s best. Nine is a shockingly good and fresh record coming from a true unabashed living legend.

9.Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Lykke Li has dropped some of her quirks that acted as a kind of hook for her in her debut and put out a little more straight forward release that digs more in ’50s girl group soul rather than in asymmetric indie affectations, which got her initial notice. I like.

10.Chain Gang of 1974 – Wayward Fire
This is the only new band, for me, to make the list. Chain Gang tread in the ’80s and ’90s New Wave New Romantics territory that several others are into these days. The vocals and other intangibles makes this effort by Chain Gang of 1974 my favorite of the lot.

Here is a list of releases that are honorable mentions but were eeked out of the top 10 slots.
Peter, Bjorn, and John – Gimme Some
Foster the People pretty much lifted the template that PBandJ set with “Writer’s Block” and I hope are paying PBandJ their due royalties. PBandJ, to their credit are moving on.
Jane’s Addiction – Great Escape Artist
This might not be a great Jane’s Addiction album, but god-knows, there is no where to get killer top-shelf hard rock vocals like Perry Ferrel’s anywhere else. I am glad they are providing me a new fix.
Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital
This probably would have made the list but I totally forgot about it. This was the best M/F with Synth record of the year.


Top 10 Concerts of 2011


As in 2009 and in 2010, the best of 2011 is once again filled with veteran bands. If you are a new band, for the love of god, go see some of the bands on this list and see how it is done. Actually, the top slot belongs to the sublime The Wooden Birds (see above for best album pick) for their 2011 performance, who also was my pick for tops performance for 2010 too!

1. The Wooden Birds – Rock Shop (see Sept 28, 2010 TSOI post)
2. Savoir Adore/French Horn Rebellion – Glasslands (see French Horn Rebellion Jan 4 2011 TSOI post and see Savoir Adore Dec 8 2010 TSOI post)
3. The Cure (first three albums) – Beacon Theater
I was not particularly looking forward to hearing The Cure perform three of their least accessible albums back-to-back, but wow, this was a great way to see why The Cure are so good and why they have been able to fill stadiums for decades. This short tour was a nice display of the gestation of the weird genius that is Robert Smith.
4. Bad Religion – 3 Decade Shows – Irving Plaza (’80s, ’90s and ’00s)
5. Controlled Bleeding – Death by Audio
6. Advance Base – Mercury Lounge
This is the first NY showing of Owen’s first Casiotone for the Painfully Alone project. I look forward seeing more of this bigger-and-badder enterprise.
7. OMD (Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark) – Terminal 5 (see March 29 TSOI post)
8. Universal Order of Armageddon – Death by Audio
9. D Generation – Irving Plaza
D Generation are to be praised for bringing Rock and Roll back to New York City, where it belongs. I am sure The Strokes tip them a hat when they cross.
10.Jane’s Addiction – Irving Plaza
Truth be told, the most notable part of this show was an enterprising gentleman that took it upon himself to raise his phone video recorder among the sea of other raised arms getting crappy YouTube fodder, but instead of recording footage, played porn on his screen. The affect was like he was recording something much more interesting than the rest of his neighbors. Super funny. I hope it catches on.

The Monday Set: Austra – New York City – 10/5/11

Austra - Live - NYC

Austra
Bowery Ballroom
New York City, NY
10/5/11

I recently discovered Austra when I came across the song “Lose It” and was immediately hooked. It’s one of those handful of songs that hit me right in my musical G-spot. When I listen to it, my body tingles and I feel like a real woman. The whole song is perfectly written and I listened to it like 30 times in a row the day I first heard it. What I’m trying to say is that I like the song. The rest of the album is pretty good too.  It falls in line with what I call the “indie-goth” scene that has been emerging on my iPod lately, along with bands such as Cold Cave and Zola Jesus.

Austra is, for the most part, singer/keyboardist Katie Stelmanis’ project. A drummer and bassist, Maya Postepski and Dorian Wolf respectively, are credited as band members, but I’m pretty sure Katie’s running the show. The focal point of Austra’s music is the vocals. Voices are used as instruments to create layered harmonies. To pull it off live, the band is augmented by two singers to sing the parts rather than relying on samples. The result is excellent. Check out the bridge in “The Beat and the Pulse” to see what I’m talking about.

Several songs included in the set the were not on the “Feel It Break” LP. After the show, I discovered that two of the songs I didn’t know were B-sides from “The Beat and the Pulse” single. I’m completely making this up, but no band has released a single with B-sides since 1996. Back in the day, I used to love tracking down singles of bands I listened to to see what non-album tracks were being included. For some reason, a disproportionate amount of those B-sides were better than the singles they were backing. I thought it was very cool to see of Austra release some album leftovers as part of an under the radar release and sell it at the show.

In addition to the aforementioned B-sides, there was a new song “Habitat” performed as well as most of the “Feel It Break” album. I really can’t complain with the content of the setlist, although I didn’t like hearing “Lose It” so early in the setlist. That song is just simply too awesome to be played fourth.

Setlist
1. The Beast
2. Young and Gay
3. Hate Crime
4. Lose It
5. The Choke
6. The Villain
7. Identity
8. Darken Her Horse
9. The Beat and the Pulse
10. Spellwork

Encore:
11. The Future
12. Habitat

Download: Austra – New York City – 10/5/11 – 420 MB

Sample: Lose It (Live)

Sample: The Beast and the Pulse (Live)

Men Without Hats – Living in China/WDTBG?/Safety Dance (Live)

Men Without Hats Live

I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in America who is actually a fan of Men Without Hats. Other than the enduring “Safety Dance” most people don’t know any of their other songs, which is a shame, because they wrote some really good synth pop in the 80s before writing a grunge album (Sideways) and breaking up in the 90s. The 2011 version of the recently re-activated band consists of sole original member and chief songwriter Ivan Doroschuk backed by hired musicians, none of whom is a drummer unfortunately. I’ve read (by which I mean I looked at the Wikipedia page), that Doroschuk’s brother Stefan, in essence the other original member of MWH, disapproves of the current incarnation of the band in typical rock n roll fashion. I agree the lineup is a bit weak with only a single original member, but when you’re into a band that’s this old, you gotta take what you can get or get nothing at all. A live drummer would be nice, but apparently when Men Without Hats started out they didn’t have a drummer, so I guess this could be considered “keeping it real”.

This show took place at the Best Buy Theater in Time Sqaure. I hate this place. It used to be called the Nokia Theater, but now it’s Best Buy, and who knows what company it will be named after in 2 years. There is a lack of quality recording positions and I always get a lot of chatter whenever I record here, despite going to great lengths to minimize the damage. And not to mention the mobs of tourists that need to be navigated just to get to the place. This was the last stop of Human League’s headline tour with Men Without Hats in the opening slot, so MWH’s set was relatively short. For what it’s worth, the performance itself was a lot of fun. Ivan’s stage presence defied his age. He constantly ran back and forth across the stage dancing, his voice was strong, and he seemed to be having a genuinely good time up there.

The set opened with the surprisingly good new song “This War.” This song sounds like it was written in 1982, and fit in perfectly with MWH’s older material. After that, the band just kept hitting me with songs I wanted to hear, mostly off of their debut album (the one with “Safety Dance”).  Here I’ve included the last 3 songs from the set:

“Living in China” is one of my favorite Men Without Hats songs. When I hear it, it makes me want to stand in place and pump my fists back and forth in a motion akin to power walking, but with my fists moving in time with the music and without all the legwork. I also like to change the lyrics to this song as “Living Vagina” when I sing it to myself because it makes me giggle. People on the subway think I’m crazy when I do this.

I included “Safety Dance” here just because everyone knows it, and who wouldn’t be curious to hear the 2011 live version of it for free? I knew before I went into this show that recording of the actual song was fucked. Once the intro started, the entire crowd took the opportunity to break out of their relative indifference to relentlessly “woooo!” for the duration of the song. Can’t say I blame them, if I wasn’t trying to make a decent recording out of the show, I would’ve been pretty hammered and “woo-ing” like a motherfucker too. Just think of this version as the “Safety Dance (Now with 110% More Woo-ing Remix)”.  Also, if you listen carefully, there’s also a group of people in the crowd chanting “what! what! what!” in time to the music around the 2:45 mark. I thought that was pretty funny.

Corporate Sponsored Theater (currently Best Buy) in Times Square 09/24/11
This War
Antarctica
I Got the Message
I Like
Ideas for Walls
Pop Goes the World
S.O.S.
Living in China
Where Do the Boys Go?
Safety Dance

 

Download: Men Without Hats – Living in China (Live)

 

Download: Men Without Hats – Where Do the Boys Go? (Live)

 

Download: Men Without Hats – Safety Dance (Live)

The Monday Set: Peter Murphy – Los Angeles – 3/14/11

Peter Murphy Live

Peter Murphy
Mayan Theater
Los Angeles, CA
3/14/11

Earlier this year I caught Peter Murphy at the Mayan here in Los Angeles. It was the first time I had ever been to that venue. It was also the first time I had ever caught Peter Murphy solo. As a long time fan of Bauhaus et al., it was never in the cards for me to see Peter Murphy solo before. Despite the self deprecating jokes throughout the set, he still puts on a great show. I would have to say I actually enjoyed it more than any of the Bauhaus reunion shows I’ve attended. As a special treat for those in attendance, he honored a special request for a newly married couple and played a song you don’t hear any many (any?) other solo sets on this tour, Bauhaus’ All We Ever Wanted Was Everything. I’ve included that as the sample below.

Setlist
1. Intro
2. Low Room
3. Velocity Bird
4. Peace To Each
5. Raw Power (Iggy & The Stooges)
6. Disappearing
7. Silent Hedges (Bauhaus)
8. Burning From the Inside (Bauhaus song)
9. I’ll Fall With Your Knife
10. Subway
11. Hurt (Nine Inch Nails)
12. Marlene Dietrich’s Favourite Poem
13. The Prince & Old Lady Shade
14. Stigmata Martyr (Bauhaus)
15. Uneven & Brittle

Encore:
16. A Strange Kind Of Love/Bela Lugosi’s Dead
17. She’s In Parties (Bauhaus)
18. Cuts You Up
19. All We Ever Wanted Was Everything (Bauhaus)

Encore 2:
Missing: Too Much 21st Century

Download: Peter Murphy – Los Angeles – 3/14/11 – 549 MB

Sample: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything (Live)

Cold Cave – Love Comes Love/TLOE/Catacombs (Live)

Cold Cave - Live

In my younger metal days, I remember hearing about a hardcore band called American Nightmare who had a singer with one hand. Under normal circumstances, it would suck to be that guy, but if you’re the vocalist in a hardcore band, it could be used as a pretty unique gimmick to separate yourself from the pack in a crowded marketplace. Personally I would’ve gone with a hook attachment for maximum effect during live performances, but that’s just me, and I’m weird. Anyways, American Nightmare never really took off and they broke up sometime in the mid-00s. The singer, Wesley Eisold took that time to re-invent himself as a sort of goth indie hipster type and created the experimental synth pop band Cold Cave. They just released their second album Cherish the Light Years, and I this was the first date of what I believe was their maiden headlining tour.

The set was short and sweet, only 10 songs in 45 minutes. I’ve never seen a headliner do this, but considering that the show was only about $12 to get in, I wasn’t complaining too much. There were a lot of noticeable omissions from the set, especially “The Great Pan is Dead” which was the lead single from the new album. Considering that this is a new band, I expect there will be plenty of other opportunities to hear the songs they skipped.

To be honest, the show wasn’t very “live” at all other than the drums. It appeared that Wesley Eisold and his co-keyboard/sequencer operator were hitting “play” on a sequencer and tweaking the samples with filters. To drive this point home, the keyboard player at one point ran away from his setup in mid song to dance, and the song was not affected in any way. Conspicuously missing from this tour was the female member of the group. I’ve read a lot of interweb chatter that she is indie rock royalty and is in some super cool band I’ve never heard of, so I can only assume she was busy with that. The female vocals were sampled instead, which was kind of weak, but the show was still fantastic and Cold Cave sounded better than a lot of “live” bands I’ve seen.

As a recording note, I want to mention that this show was noisy. A lot of feedback and sounds that make you want to cover your ears. Not helping the situation was the fact that the singer would shake the mic over the monitors in front of the stage mid-song, creating a very shrill feedback loop that would make me regret forgetting my earplugs.

Included here is “Love Comes Close”, “The Laurels of Erotomania” and “Catacombs”.

Setlist: 07/12/11 Knitting Factory Brooklyn

1. Icons of Summer

2. Youth and Lust

3. Confetti

4. Love Comes Close

5. Theme from Tomorrow’s World

6. Villians of the Moon

7. I’ve Seen the Future and It’s No Place for Me

8. Burning Sage

Encore

9. The Laurels of Erotomania

10. Catacombs

 

Download: Cold Cave – Love Comes Love (Live)


 

Download: Cold Cave – The Laurels Of Erotomania/Catacombs (Live)

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The Monday Set: TV On The Radio – Brooklyn – 4/12/11

TV on the Radio was on tour this past spring in support of their soon to be released album “Nine Types of Light”. April 12, the albums’ release date was left conspicuously open on the band’s itinerary. About a week before, the band announced this special club show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in their hometown of Brooklyn. With the aide of my trusty mouse-clicking finger, my web browsers’ Refresh button, and my advanced captcha entering skills, I was able to snag tickets before they sold out in one minute.

After sitting through the comedy/hip hop stylings of Das Racist, TV on the Radio started things off with slow jams “Killer Crane” from the new album and classic “Young Liars”. By the third song, they had kicked in full intensity and sounded more like a punk band than the indie darlings that they are. This turned out to be the theme of the night. “Staring at the Sun” for instance, was played with much more zeal than the subdued versions found on two of their albums.

The next night, the band played the cavernous Radio City Music Hall, which is one of my least favorite venues. It’s all seats, the sound sucks, and drinks are overpriced. I’m glad I was fortunate enough to attend this show, as I can’t possibly see this set translating as well in that place. Sadly, a couple weeks after the show, this tour was cut short by the tragic death of longtime bass player Gerard Smith, who lost his battle with lung cancer.

Music Hall of Williamsburg 04/12/11
1. Killer Crane
2. Young Liars
3. The Wrong Way
4. Caffeinated Consciousness
5. Dancing Choose
6. You
7. Blues From Down Here
8. Keep Your Heart
9. Province
10. Will Do
11. Staring at the Sun
12. Repetition
13. Wolf Like Me

Encore:
14. Forgotten
15. Red Dress
16. Satellite

Download: TV On The Radio – Brooklyn – 4/12/11 – 110 MB

Sample: Satellite (Live)

Reverend Horton Heat – Bales Of Cocaine/Loaded Gun/…More (Live)

The non-stop touring machine known as Reverend Horton Heat celebrated their 25th Anniversary, which occurred sometime last year. As many bands are doing nowadays, they decided to mark the occasion with a special tour. The setlist this time started in chronological order, leading up to their most recent album. After a brief intermission, the Reverend came back out and took requests for whatever songs were called out from the audience (though I have reason to believe the choices were from a small pre-determined pool due to the similarity between recent setlists). Once again, the Reverend broke out some tunes I haven’t heard live yet and mixed it up with the classics, closing out the show as usual by playing “Big Red Rocket of Love” broken up with “Folsom Prison Blues” in the middle, just to keep it real (country).

Included in this post are “Bales of Cocaine” and “Loaded Gun” from 1993′s Full Custom Gospel Sounds and “Psychobilly Freakout”, the video for which was on Beavis and Butthead back in the day.

Highline Ballroom 05-08-11
Marijuana
Baby, It’s You
Lonesome Train Whistle
Nurture My Pig
Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’
Five-O-Ford
Now Right Now
Crooked Cigarette
Baby I’m Drunk
Jimbo Song
Party in Your Head

Intermission
There Ain’t No Sagauro in Texas
Drinking and Smoking Cigarettes
Please Don’t Take the Baby to the Liquor Store
Death Metal Guys
Galaxy 500
Calling in Twisted
Indigo Friends
Loco Gringos Like a Party
Big Little Baby
Bales of Cocaine
400 Bucks
Loaded Gun
Psychobilly Freakout

Encore:
It’s Martini Time
Big Red Rocket of Love
Folsom Prison Blues
Big Red Rocket of Love (Reprise)

Download: Reverend Horton Heat – Bales Of Cocaine (Live)

 

Download: Reverend Horton Heat – Loaded Gun (Live)

 

Download: Reverend Horton Heat – Psychobilly Freakout (Live)

The Monday Set: Cut Copy – New York City – 4/1/11

This past April, Cut Copy made their triumphant return to NYC after playing Brooklyn last summer, which was a brief post-Lollapalooza stopover at the Williamsburg Waterfront (See previous TSOI post). This show was the 1st of a 3 night stand at NYC’s Terminal 5, where LCD Soundsystem had just wrapped up a 4-night stand the night before (see previous TSOI post).This time the band was touring in support of their 4th album Zonoscope, which had just been officially released. The set was heavy on new material as well as well as “In Ghost Colors”.  Strangely, the band completely ignored “Bright Like Neon Love” save for a fantastic version of “Saturdays”.  Also conspicuously absent from the set were the Zonoscope tracks “Alisa” and “Blink and You’ll Miss the Revolution”. Not that I mind, as I assume they’re just trying to keep those songs fresh for later tours in support of the album.

Terminal 5 04/01/11
1. Visions
2. Nobody Lost, Nobody Found
3. Where I’m Going
4. So Haunted
5. Corner of the Sky
6. Lights and Music
7. Take Me Over
8. Pharaohs and Pyramids
9. Saturdays
10. Hearts on Fire
11. Sun God

Encore 1:
12. Need You Now
13. Out There on the Ice

Encore 2:
14. Feel the Love

Download: Cut Copy – New York City – 4/1/11 – 110 MB

Sample: Feel The Love (Live)

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The Monday Set: Bear In Heaven – Katowice – 8/8/10

Bear In Heaven
Off Festival
Katowice, Poland
8/8/10

I was a day behind in getting this “Monday Set” posted, but hopefully it was worth the wait. Here’s a fantastic live Bear In Heaven recording that I traded for last year. It was the first date of their fall/winter tour which spanned nearly four months. They’ve played a handful of dates here and there since that tour, but none near Los Angeles. Here’s hoping the lack of tour dates is due to a forthcoming album.

Setlist
1. Beast In Peace
2. Ultimate Satisfaction
3. Wholehearted Mess
4. Fake Out
5. Dust Cloud
6. Lovesick Teenagers
7. Deafening Love
8. Drug A Wheel
9. You Do You
10. Casual Goodbye
11. Lovesick (Lindstrom & Christabelle Cover)

Download: Bear In Heaven – Katowice – 8/8/10 – 297 MB

Sample: You Do You (Live)

The Monday Set: Bauhaus – Wiesbaden – 11/28/81

Bauhaus
Wartburg Club
Weisbaden, Germany
11/28/81

For 30 plus (yeah 30!) years, Peter Murphy has been one of the most captivating front-men in show business. I recently took my wife to her first Peter Murphy concert and even though she knew next to nothing about his solo work short of “Marlene Dietrich’s Favorite Poem” she walked away even more captivated by the performance than I did, a fan of over 20 years.

Peter Murphy’s new record “Ninth” comes out today in the UK and tomorrow in the US. The full record can be streamed right now from the fantastic Slicing Up Eyeballs and I can say, it’s a pretty fantastic record.

Now a little bit about this recording. Recorded in Germany in 1981, Bauhaus were wrapping up their “Mask” European tour. It’s an audience recording from the early ’80s, so there’s a ton of tape hiss, but you can still hear the brilliant live show the band must have put on for what was a small crowd judging by the amount of applause.

Setlist
1. Intro/The Passion Of Lovers
2. In The Flat Field
3. Silent Hedges
4. In Fear Of Fear
5. Of Lillies And Remains
6. Dancing
7. Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores
8. Terror Couple Kill Colonel (Cut)
9. Hair Of The Dog
10. Mask
11. The Man With X-Ray Eyes (Slow Version)
12. Kick In The Eye
13. Hollow Hills
14. Stigmata Matyr
15. Dark Entries

Download: Bauhaus – Weisbaden – 11/28/81 – 214 MB

Sample: The Man With X-Ray Eyes (Slow Version) (Live)

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