Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Pitchforkian Music Culture, etc.

Pitchfork (, for better or for worse, has become the face of underground music, and certainly primary ambassador for "indie" music to the larger music "community" (if popular music can still be said to be a community). Their lists of top albums are collected into huge ZIP files and circulated across the internet like canon, their reviews scrutinized and argued about - in general, their opinion carries a huge amount of weight, perhaps too much. It's easy, then, to want to resist their pervasiveness in the underground music scene, and ignore their rather reactionary worship of certain artists. I guess I'm posting this as a way of explaining myself - I'm going to try to, as little as possible, post about albums or artists you might read about on Pitchfork. However, their tastes and mine are inevitably going to be linked occasionally (see The Knife and Destroyer already this year), and it would be dishonest of me to not like an album or artist simply because Pitchfork also does.

Sorry, I'm ranting. I guess all I'm saying is that I'm walking a fine-line here. During my 2006 highlights, if Pitchfork has already praised an album that I consider interesting, I probably won't post about it. This is for no other reason than you will hear about whoever it is, most likely, everywhere, and I would just risk being redundant. Don't get me wrong, if you follow Pitchfork obediently, you will probably have better taste in music than if you didn't. At the very least, they do highlight alternative music exclusively. I'm just trying to provide some alternative to that by highlighting artists I think everybody is ignoring. However, if Pitchfork has yet to praise an album, even if I think they will, I'm virtually obligated to also spread the word. Such is the case with the following two albums, which recently leaked their way onto the internet, and most likely will be Pitchfork fodder. However, they are both so fucking good, any "Pitchforkian" assimilation will be deserved:

TV On the Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain (Due Late Spring 2006)

TV On the Radio, three years ago, were the "it" band in the underground community. Their vocal style, consisting of weird, layered, and distorted harmonies, was entirely unique. Their production style was manic and captivating, a punchy blend of distorted guitar and beats. So, after their wonderful, emphatic Young Liars EP in 2003, their first full-length, Deseperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, was a bit of a dissapointment. It still was great, don't get me wrong, just not quite the indie-rock messiah opus some were (probably stupidly and arbitrarily) hoping for.

It's been a long two years since TV On the Radio began work on a follow-up, and, through the piracy magic of the internet, a rough cut has leaked. And, well, TV On the Radio seem to have lived up to the hype at the best possible time - after it has gone away. The weird vocal style is still there, but this time much more bold and confident. The trip-hopish beats are still there, but are mixed and sequenced in a much more deliberate manner. It just sounds fucking great, honestly. There are so many sounds coming at you that it's easily one of the most listenable yet complex albums to come out of the underground crop in the past decade. Major labels seem to think so, too - TV On the Radio just signed to Interscope. With that in mind, I'm a little afraid of RIAA goonies hunting me down for giving you a sample song. It shouldn't be very hard to find, though (just download a Soulseek client - Do check it out, though, it's a great album.

Listen to: "Snakes And Martyrs/Hours," "I Was A Lover"

The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea (2006)

Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger are producing divisive music. Their first album was perfectly accessible (and largely underrated), but their second, 2004's Blueberry Boat, was this huge, sprawling, really, really, really long masterpiece or farce, depending on who you talk to. Last year they released an album with their atonal grandmother croaking out weird stories of her past, with Eleanor, the primary vocalist of the Furnaces, singing or speaking awkwardly over her matriarch's musings. That album seemed to be the final straw - webzines who previously were Furnaces champions panned it, while others contested that, at the very least, it was entirely unique and indicative of some sort of genius.

The Furnaces seem to have gone into more familiar waters again, no grandmother this time. However, the sprawling songs with many shifts in timing and melody found on Blueberry Boat remain, only this time a little more succinct. In my opinion, this is also Matthew Friedberger's best songwriting and production work to date. Strong melodies only hinted at on songs like "Evergreen" (see 2005's EP release) are finally beginning to sing-song their way into his massively creative headspace more prominently. The result is another work from the Furnaces that seems like a daunting listening task at first, but this time slicked up a bit for an easier transition. You'll find yourself falling in love with first the lyrics and melodies, and while that keeps you listening, the virtual genius of Matthew's little production subtleties will help you realize its lasting greatness. It's really their most well-executed release to date, and one I hope will continue a trend.

Download "Teach Me Sweetheart"


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