MoSS? Presents…The Top Albums of 2012, #5-1

MoSS Albums 2012

Todd’s 5-1

(click play button below to sample these 5 albums)

#5. Frankie Rose, Interstellar

#4. Seapony, Falling

#3. Japandroids, Celebration Rock

#2. Wild Nothing, Nocturne

#1. Eternal Summers, Correct Behavior

Chris’ 5-1

(click play button below to sample these 5 albums)

#5. The Avett Brothers, The Carpenter

#4. A Place to Bury Strangers, Worship

#3. Best Coast, The Only Place

#2. Sleigh Bells, Reign of Terror

#1. The xx, Coexist

Previous installments:

Best Songs of 2012

#20-11

#10-6

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MoSS? Best of 2012 Mixtape

MoSS Songs 2012

Side A: Todd’s Favorite Songs of 2012

1. Tanlines, “Brothers”

2. Japandroids, “The House That Heaven Built”

3. Grimes, “Oblivion”

4. Best Coast, “My Life”

5. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, “Baby”

6. Field Mouse, “Glass”

7. Frank Ocean, “Pyramids”

8. Wild Nothing, “Shadow”

9. Memoryhouse, “The Kids Were Wrong”

10. Tegan and Sara, “Closer”

Side B : Chris’ Favorite Songs of 2012

Burial, “Kindred”

Crystal Castles, “Plague”

Earl Sweatshirt, “Chum”

First Aid Kit, “Emmylou”

Japandroids, “The House That Heaven Built”

Ke$ha, “Don’t Think Twice (It’s All Right)”

Rhye, “The Fall”

Sleigh Bells, “Comeback Kid”

Tennis, “Origins”

The xx, “Swept Away”

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #4

Yep, we’ve made a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

We’ve reached the really good stuff: our top 10s. We’ll roll these out one per day (Monday-Friday) over the next two weeks, reaching #1 on Friday, Dec. 14. The following week, we’ll unveil our favorite music from 2012.

Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #4: The xx, xx

(click play button below to sample this album)

xx coverI thought I’d list all the things I was doing when I was 20: playing video games in my dorm room, working a few hours a week in a Northern Iowa computer lab, killing time before I transferred to a school that offered a real journalism degree.

Let’s see, what else…I already mentioned video games…I was really good at those Sega Genesis hockey games. One of my friends, I’d play against him with my net empty and still beat him. Not as impressive as my friend Jim, who beat someone at Tecmo Super Bowl without running a single offensive play, but still…

What I wasn’t doing: getting together with three of my fellow 20-year-old friends and recording an album that sounds like the work of the most senior of souls. An album that intertwines the simplest of notes with the voices of boy-girl back-and-forth to make something ever so seductive. I wish this album had been around when I was 20; I could have used it in my attempts to “hunker down” with the ladies. Probably would have worked better than throwing on the first Violent Femmes album or whatever dumb/sensitive move I was prone to make.

Seriously, when I was 20, my lone attempts at making music involved trying to sing the songs from Alice in Chains’ Sap EP while my roommate played the acoustic guitar, or the time me and two buddies knocked out some song called “Lighter” which was about, erm, not being able to find a lighter. It had a bit of early Rolling Stones influence, perhaps a bit of Talking Heads or Television, matched up with some early R.E.M. or something…wait, no, it was none of those things. It was a Casio keyboard and some form of percussion and the aforementioned lyrics about a missing lighter.

Meanwhile, these four (at the time, before Baria was booted from the band) 20-year-olds put out the best debut album ever. Equal parts gorgeous gloom and sensuality to spare. I’m not sure which element of the xx sound is more vital: the guitar tone that fills the room without a flurry of notes and without loud effect, or the heart-melting voice of Romy Madley Croft. (These two elements are on display in the songs “Shelter” and “Night Time,” the second and third songs in my sampler above.)

There’s something about those echo/chorus/whatever-drenched guitar notes that cause them to hit me right in the pleasure region of my brain. Something about the tone, which seems a good match for the dark vibe of the overall song. Or perhaps because I love the way such a minimalist approach yields such great payoff.

And Romy’s voice…did I mention that yet? I think it’s safe to say it’s one of my favorite voices in music history: the hush, the whisper, the sorrow, the longing, the sweetness, the sighs. For someone who looks a little bit like an early-era Robert Smith (before the hair got crazy), she’s got one hell of a beautiful voice.

(And to be fair, she’s actually pretty cute. Seeing her in concert was an experience. So polite, so unassuming, so appreciative of the adoring audience at First Avenue. I wish I were still at the show.)

Although the album is a very cohesive, singular statement, there’s enough variety here that it isn’t just a 39-minute drone. A faster pace is set with songs like “Intro” (which was featured in that AT&T commercial with Apolo Anton Ohno), “Crystalised,”  and my favorite xx song thus far, “Islands” (which features a brilliant video that I’ll embed below).

That beat. The guitar line that is joined by that slinky bass line. Those four-note blasts of bass, both from Oliver Sim’s stringed instrument and Jamie xx’s producer’s table. And the lyrical content…well, I have my own interpretation, and it’s kinda heartbreaking. I see no reason to share my thoughts, as I’d rather you listen to the words and watch the video and draw your own conclusion. Bottom line: so. fucking. good.

The band can get a little quirky and drop references to HBO programming (“VCR”), throw down some good ol’ hand-clapping pop tunes (“Heart Skipped a Beat,” “Basic Space”), allow the low end to take center stage (“Fantasy,” the tail end of the album closer “Stars,” which practically blew a hole in my chest at First Avenue), and get dark and intense (“Infinity,” “Shelter,” “Night Time”).

The music can work for people madly in love. It can work for people who are experiencing heartbreak. It can work for people holding out hope for happiness. It can work for people wanting to dance around the room (at times, anyway). It can work at the gym. It can work on a road trip. It can work as background music. It can work as just about anything.

For something so simple, it is incredibly versatile and mature. That’s why after just three years of existence, I put this as my #4 album of all time…and I’m not sure it’s peaked yet.

Todd’s #4: The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

(click play button below to sample this album)

yoshimiQuestion…Can a record about a Japanese girl fighting evil pink robots be any good?
Answer…Hells yeah! If the record is The Flaming Lips’ album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Were you thinking of another album about a Japanese girl ridding the planet of pink robot evil-doers?

Well actually, only the first few songs follow the theme of robots that develop emotions and attempt to destroy us all.

The first song “Fight Test” is nice little song that sets the tone for the album. If you think it sounds familiar that’s because apparently they consciously or unconsciously stole the melody from the Cat Stevens’ song “Father and Son.” I can sort of hear it, but come on dude, let it go. He actually sued them and won the case. He gets royalties from it now. Didn’t he give up his wealth when he changed his name and went all Muslim on everyone? I guess ol’ Yusuf needed a cash infusion. Anyways, “Fight Test” sets the seen for a fight to come between man and machine where the first stance of man is one of pacifism.

I thought I was smart – I thought I was right
I thought it better not to fight – I thought there was a
Virtue in always being cool – so when it came time to
Fight I thought I’ll just step aside and that time would
Prove you wrong and that you would be the fool

The next song, “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21”, continues the weirdness as robots come to life and develop emotions…they are sad (tear).

Unit three thousand twenty one is warming
Makes a humming sound, when its circuits
Duplicate emotions, and a sense of coldness detaches
As it tries to comfort your sadness,
One more robot learns to be something more than
A machine, when it tries the way it does, make it seem
Like it can love

Song three, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots 1” brings us the first appearance of our heroine Yoshimi.

Her name is Yoshimi
She’s a black belt in karate
Working for the city
She has to discipline her body

Clearly, she can kick some ass. The townsfolk plead for help..

Oh Yoshimi, they don’t believe me
but you won’t let those robots eat me
Yoshimi, they don’t believe me
but you won’t let those robots defeat me

This leads to the epic battle in the fourth song “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots 2”, which is an instrumental song mixed in with the screeching, squealing, fighting sounds of Yoshimi. Mostly, it sounds like she is doing something much more pleasurable than fighting robots. Until the end that is, where it sounds like she is being gutted with a citrus zester. The robot fighting theme ends there. After that, The Lips delve into a lot of other heady material mixed in with their wonderfully bizarre and beautiful music.

Quite often I associate albums with a season of the year. Al Green and Joy Division are normally autumn albums while Pixies and The Clash usually get played in the winter. Yoshimi is solidly placed in the “Summertime Albums” category.

Could it be that there is a song on it called “It’s Summertime”?…Maybe.

Could it be because I bought Yoshimi in the early summer of 2003 and didn’t stop listening to it until winter 2004?… Maybe.

Could it be that when I hear the sunny sounding songs like “Do You Realize?” and “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” all I can think of is lazy Sunday drives with my wife in my new truck (I loved that damn truck. I had to sell it when we had kids a year later) and her wearing gloriously short shorts in the seat next to me?… Definitely.

livewireI don’t have any memories prior to us having kids together that are better than those. We would hop in the truck, grab some orange soda (Mountain Dew LiveWire to be exact. We both may have had a small chemical dependency for whatever they put in LiveWire that summer. It was the devil’s nectar. It tastes so sweet and gives you that extra boost of energy to get you through the day. Unfortunately, it had like 42000 calories per can or something like that. Basically, if I wanted to keep my svelte physique, I had to put down the LiveWires), put Yoshimi in the CD player and drive around looking at houses that we couldn’t afford.

I still play Yoshimi a few times every summer. Usually while on the treadmill or on a family road trip. The wife and I don’t get too many lazy Sunday drives alone anymore, but Yoshimi and drives with the kids can be nice too. Plus, if the car breaks down we just let the kiddos drink a few LiveWires and they can pull us home.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10

#9

#8

#7

#6

#5

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #80-71

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ 80-71

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

80. De La Soul, De La Soul Is Dead

79. The Strokes, Is This It

78. Metallica, Ride the Lightning

77. The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan

76. Washed Out, Within and Without

75. The xx, Coexist

74. Pixies, Doolittle

73. Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (2008)

72. The B-52’s, Cosmic Thing

71. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#80: De La Soul, De La Soul Is Dead

De La Soul Is Dead coverI bought my first CD player in 1991. Every time I see a Wal-Mart commercial boasting about its no-interest layaway program, it takes me back 20-some years to the day I went to the LaCrosse, Wis., Best Buy and put down something like $25 on a Sony “boom box” style CD player, one month before I returned with the remainder of the balance due. It was an excruciating 30 days or so of waiting, partly because I’m not a very patient person, but also because I bought a CD the same day I made the initial CD player payment.

That’s right: I stared at my first CD, De La Soul Is Dead, for a month before I actually could play it at home.

De La Soul earned the right to be my first CD purchase for a number of reasons. I decided I would buy something I didn’t already have on cassette, so anything by the Cure was ruled out. The peace-lovin’ hip-hop trio won me over as a fan with its debut, Three Feet High and Rising. The second album came out around the time I decided to buy a CD player, so it was on sale at Best Buy (probably for $7.99 or something reasonable like that). And a lot of the incredible stuff that came out in 1991 either hadn’t been released yet or it wasn’t on my radar yet. So dead daisies won the day.

I was able to pass the time without an actual CD-playing machine by reading the CD booklet, which included a comic book narrative of the numerous skits found on the CD. Not only did I learn the terms “dicksnot” and “buttcrust,” but I also learned the diss “you Arsenio Hall gum having punk” (not sure if I could spot someone with Arsenio gums, but I can see how it would be insulting to be told you have them). I also hit up one of my friends who had a CD player, and had my first listen through his speakers. (“Dicksnot” and “buttcrust” sound almost as funny as they read.)

Once I got my CD player, I spun Is Dead all the time (what else was I going to listen to?), and found a lot of good tunes between the funny skits. The groove was still there, but the album didn’t rely on any sort of “daisy chain”/”peace signs” gimmick to hook the listener. Songs like “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa” and “Pass the Plugs” brought a more serious tone, but the band’s sharp humor still reigned on stuff like “Bitties in the BK Lounge” and “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)” and good vibes were aplenty on “Keepin’ the Faith” and “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays.'” And Slick Rick was sampled throughout the album explaining why he “can’t be your lover” (it has to do with, um, wrinkles).

I soon started acquiring discs like a madman but De La Soul Is Dead will always hold special memories; you never forget your first. (My first cassette: the Footloose soundtrack!)

#75: The xx, Coexist

Coexist coverThis album only came out a few weeks ago, so it might be a bit rash of me to name it the 75th best album of all time.

Then again, I might very well be selling it short.

I am obsessed with the xx’s music, but that doesn’t necessarily make me a blind (or perhaps I should say “deaf”) worshiper of the band. In fact, it makes me a harsher critic. I did not immediately declare this album a masterpiece; it took me several listens before I started appreciating the entire disc as what is currently my favorite album of 2012.

While the xx’s first album definitely set the tone for the band’s sound, it certainly had tracks that stood apart as songs you could frame as “singles” (“Crystalised,” “VCR,” “Islands,” “Basic Space”) and “deep cuts” (“Infinity,” “Night Time,” “Stars”). The band’s second effort is nearly 40 minutes of singular mood-building. Some people might find this to be monotonous, but to my ears, the shifts are subtle but detectable. Start with Romy’s voice in the spotlight on “Angels,” bring in the back-and-forth vocals on “Chained” (which features a burst of textbook “xx” guitar that is so basic yet beautiful you’re left wondering why your adrenaline is flowing but happy it is), hit some steel drum accents on “Reunion,” enjoy the dance-y but not over the top vibe of “Sunset,” enjoy the in-sync vocals on “Tides,” the heart-aching moans of “Unfold,” a return to the upbeat on “Swept Away,” and the afterglow duet on “Our Song.” See, I’m already thinking this album should be higher on my list.

It is a quieter album than xx. That doesn’t equate with a negative. Some of that might have to do with this album being recorded by a trio rather than the quartet that produced xx. But whether it was done out of necessity or simply out of preference, it works very well within the xx soundscape. (Of course, the booted fourth member, Baria Qureshi, “thanks god she had no involvement” with Coexist. Perhaps the feeling is mutual?)

I look at this album and its relationship to its precedent much like I look at Sigur Ros’ ( ) album and its predecessor, Agaetis Byrjun. Most people who like Sigur Ros/that sort of music consider Agaetis a masterpiece, and while they might think ( ) is a solid album, they might criticize the album for not being as extravagant/for being more “minimal” than Agaetis. If you force them to look at ( ) independently of Agaetis, you’ll find a lauded album. I think Coexist, which received good reviews, will be viewed as an incredible album once people stop comparing it with xx.

P.S.: Go see the xx live. Now.

P.P.S.: I actually like ( ) better than Agaetis Byrjun.

Todd’s 80-71

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

80. Beastie Boys, Ill Communication

79. Tegan and Sara, Sainthood

78. New Radicals, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too

77. Porno for Pyros, Porno for Pyros

76. The Swell Season, Strict Joy

75. Counting Crows, August and Everything After

74. Nick Drake, Pink Moon

73. Janet Jackson, The Velvet Rope

72. Love and Rockets, Earth, Sun, Moon

71. Def Leppard, Hysteria

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#78 New Radicals, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too

Last night, I sat down to write a blurb about this album and just completely drew a blank.  I had a few things I wanted to mention about the record but had no real personal stories connected to it that would be of any interest to you wonderful readers. Needing a little inspiration, I queued up the album on the Sonos system (still the best present ever, thanks Cory and Jeni), mixed a cocktail, sat back and enjoyed. After a few Barcardi and diets, I was overcome with great ideas. No wonder musicians abuse illegal substances, they truly do help your creativity. Bacardi should be renamed “Inspiration Juice.”

Here is a sample of last night’s work:

…Whoaoooo! This record is freaking great !! Wahtwas I thinkin? This should have been waaaayyy higher in my list!!! Why did they only make one redcord?? That’s just dumba. Why would you stop making music justs whan you have a hit? That’s so stoopid. A musical tragedy. Every song on here should have neeb a top 10 song!!!! The album starts with a chick saying ”Make my nipples hard, Let’s Go!” That alone deserves several grammy awards!!!!!…

Ok, so drunk blogging probably wasn’t the best idea. There are a few points in that mess though:

-They did quit making music right at the peak of their popularity. Most people are probably only familiar with the song “You get What You Give”. It was a modest hit in the late ‘90s. They had an even more modest hit after that, “Someday We’ll Know”, and then disappeared. Too bad? Yes. Tragic? No.

-Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too is a great all around album. I didn’t get the album until the mid-2000s when I ran across it at the local CD Xchange. The price? One dollar. What a bargain! I was happily surprised at how good the other songs were. Freaking great? I think so. Should it have been way higher on my list? No. The list is infallible.

-The album does start with a woman saying ”Make my nipples hard, Let’s Go!” Cool? It think so. Is that sole lyric Grammy worthy? Absolutely. Supposedly,  The Beatles were going to start Sergeant Pepper’s that way but John thought it would have been too weird to go from “Make my nipples hard” to “With A Little Help From My Friends.” So, they came up with the lead track “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” instead. That’s the story I heard anyways. May or may not have happened that way.

#73 Janet Jackson, The Velvet Rope

Before this record, I’d always been kind of a peripheral fan of Janet (Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.) My older brother was a pretty big fan so I heard most of her material growing up. The album Control was kind of cool because she broke out with that record. I was listening to hard rock and metal music when Rhythm Nation came out so that one I sort of missed. The janet. record was nice but came across to me as sort of sweet and sugary much of the time. There were a few hints of things to come with sexier songs like “Any Time, Any Place” and “That’s the Way Love Goes.”

The Velvet Rope was the first album she made that really struck me as something more than pop music. It is much darker and moodier than any of her other releases. She collaborated with Q-tip from A Tribe Called Quest on my favorite song from the album “Got ’til It’s Gone.” She also covered the classic Rod Stewart jam, “Tonight’s the Night.” Odd choice but I think it works.

To be honest, the main reason I love this record is that it came out around the time I started dating my wife. I can’t listen to it without thinking of her. The Velvet Rope is the perfect record to play in the background when you are just “getting to know someone.”  Translation, it is a great record to play when you and your special someone spend large portions of the day attached at the bed.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: October 2012

Side A : Chris’ Picks

1. Tame Impala, “Be Above It”

2. The Avett Brothers, “February Seven”

3. Rhye, “The Fall”

4. The xx, “Sunset”

5. How to Dress Well, “& It Was You”

 

Side B : Todd’s Picks

1. La Sera, “Break My Heart”

2. Cemeteries, “The Wilderness”

3. Echo Lake, “Young Silence”

4. Seapony, “Prove to Me”

5. Young Prisms, “Runner”

From the MoSS? Pit: The xx

the xx performing

Up close and personal with Romy, Jamie, and Oliver.

I try to write these in short order after seeing the show, but this one took a little bit longer to get going. Several reasons for this…

I stayed in a $40 hotel in Rochester after the show. You might imagine the sort of room you can get for $40 on a Friday night; I will tell you that whatever image you’ve conjured up in your mind, take it down a notch or two. I rolled in about 2 a.m., went to the front desk to “announce” I was there (I say “announce” because I had to shout over the TV, which had the episode of Family Guy on Adult Swim cranked up to 11), and waited for the clerk (fresh from his role as a zombie on The Walking Dead, if one can judge a book by its cover) to stop talking about his taxidermy habit and offering to have dinner with me in his office before I could just go to my room and shower. (Cue the Bernard Herrmann music.) Eventually I got to my room and crashed for a few hours before hitting the road at 7 a.m.

I left Rochester early not only because I was staying at the Bates Motel, but because I needed to get back to my old stomping grounds to attend a benefit for my good friend Aaron. It was a great day, not only because I was able to see a bunch of good friends, but also to see how well Aaron is doing. Much like Wu-Tang Clan, Guillain-Barre Syndrome ain’t nothin’ to fuck wit’, yet Aaron is already kicking its ass just months after the diagnosis (and that’s with an extended, scary stay in ICU in the interim). A lot of people came out and a good amount of dough was raised for my friend and his family, and I walked away from the live auction portion of the festivities with a gift for Tracy: a hot air balloon ride for two, complete with some bubbly to drink while in the air. Thankfully my dad didn’t follow through with his threat to run up the bid on me…

I also didn’t want to write my thoughts about the show immediately afterward for fear that I would knee-jerk my way through it, saying things like “This is without a doubt the best show I’ve ever seen in my life” or “You know, Romy actually is kinda cute” or anything else filled with hyperbole.

So here I am, nearly 48 hours after the final notes of “Stars” had run their course, and I’m left thinking…

“This is without a doubt the best show I’ve ever seen in my life.”


It would be more accurate to say “This is arguably the best show I’ve ever seen in my life,” because I’ve seen some pretty cool shows, especially lately. M83 at the Pageant earlier this year was killer; Portishead in Chicago last year is the one that might still hold the throne even after this xx spectacle. And there’s the first time I saw Explosions in the Sky, which was pretty special; The Cure on the 2000 Dream Tour was epic, too, going nearly three hours and playing a ton of stuff off Pornography.

But this…this was amazing.

Romy and Jamie

Perhaps more than anything else, consider the nature of the xx’s music. The personal feel, the minimal instrumentation that allows the emotion of the music to expand exponentially. The show was played at First Avenue, which isn’t exactly the largest venue in the world. Also consider that I was able to be right up front, along the rail just in front of Oliver Sim, adding to the intimacy of the moment.

And all my best-laid plans for the show came together. I was flying solo (or with all my friends, right?!) for this one, so I decided I was going to nerd out, drive up to the Cities early, and be the first person in line outside First Ave. I would go in, grab a pint of something from the bar, and then park in front of the stage.

Two other dudes had the same plan, so I was third in line when I got there. The line got longer and longer during the ensuing hour between my arrival and when doors opened, and I soon was bumped to fourth in line when the second guy in line was joined by his daughter. She was wearing red pants and a sweet jacket, which prompted a text message exchange between me and Todd (who was in Florida) in which we reminisced about the girl with red pants and cool jacket at the Gardens & Villa show in Iowa City during last spring’s Mission Creek Festival.* It must be the uniform of choice for cool music girls everywhere. The xx fan girl later asked her dad if she could get a tattoo when she turned 16, but only “if it means something to her.” (He said no.)

(* – Gardens & Villa and the Girl with the Red Pants were the only things we enjoyed about our night out at Mission Creek—Dirty Beaches and The War on Drugs were complete letdowns—so we didn’t write a “From the MoSS Pit?” entry. We should have, though. The funny thing: we were behind Girl with the Red Pants the entire show, so we were all under the impression that no one could rock red pants the way she did AND have it all put together from the front as well. When she finally turned around…boy, were we wrong. Todd’s better half agrees with this sentiment, by the way.)

Some people walked by and glanced at the poster announcing tonight’s lineup. The three college kids behind me in line joined me for a laugh when a passerby uttered to his friend, “Who’s playing—oh, Double X.” This name-bungling was one-upped by a panhandler who, after being rejected in his quest for spare change, asked the guys in front of me, “Who’s playing?” One of them responded, to which the panhandler said, “Who? Ex-Lax?” A shitty thing to say, to be sure. (Ha!)

Oliver and Jamie

Oliver and Jamie during the encore.

Soon enough it was time to go in. I quickly got my pint and grabbed my spot at the rail. Two very nice women, April and Jessica, stood next to me (young Red Pants and her dad also landed on the rail, on the other side of A&J). The floor quickly filled up. Not far from me, I noticed a guy in a Flogging Molly shirt who had been pacing around outside First Avenue begging to buy anyone’s extra tickets. At one point his ladyfriend smelled a clove cigar that was being smoked by someone in line, and she offered to buy one of those. Flogging Molly Shirt comes around the corner and says, “I’m trying to find us tickets, and you’re buying cigarettes!” I later heard that he bought two tickets for $120 apiece; face value with fees was $38, and that included a legal digital download of the Coexist album. (But still a shrewd purchase, if you ask me.)

You know what else ruled about this show? It started 30 minutes EARLY. 2:54 took the stage at 8:30 even though the show was billed as starting at 9:00. And they were great. I thought they sounded a little heavier live than what you get from their recorded material, but that’s not a criticism. (Todd included them on our May mixtape, if you want to hear a sample.) The band was well received, and they kept things moving along by playing an economical six-song set.

2:54

2:54

John Talabot was next. I like his music just fine, but knob tweaking punctuated by the occasional series of crash-cymbal pounding isn’t the most thrilling equation for live music. It was the exact kind of show I feared I might get with M83, to be honest; where M83 succeeds by playing a lot of it live, Talabot and his button-pushing sidekick just sort of stood there. Frankly, the xx could have worked out a deal with Talabot where they said, “Look, how about we just play your music during the stage transition from 2:54 to our set?” and it would have been just as valuable. I will listen to John Talabot again this year, I’m sure, so I’m not ripping on the music (for the most part). It just didn’t work for me as a live act.

John Talabot

John Talabot

Talabot’s was a relatively short set as well, and then it was go time.

Sometimes I prefer it when a band sounds ragged live, so I know I’m getting an experience that differs from “just hitting play.” I’d rather bands like the xx don’t sound that way; I want the perfection, and I want the atmosphere they create on the record to be present in this live setting. But I don’t want an exact carbon copy of the album, either. Can you run through the material as if it’s a perfect take, but not have it sound exactly like the songs I’ve played ad infinitum?

The xx can do that.

Sure, the minimalism of the music allows for better odds in terms of solid reproduction of the sound. But they sounded great, both in voice and in instrument. And Jamie xx is a man on a mission behind his setup, pounding out beats on pads or grabbing drumsticks to beat away on real drums or plinking away at piano work.

To my ears, Coexist just gets better with each listen, and the new songs sounded fantastic here. Scroll back up to watch the opener, “Angels,” and take a look at “Sunset” below.


I really liked the way they reworked a couple of the old songs, particularly “Crystalised”:


And they incorporated one of the best songs from the first album (“Shelter”) within one of my favorite songs on the second album (“Swept Away”) and pulled it off seamlessly.


They played every song from xx, and nearly all of Coexist. The encore was a three-song blast of “Intro,” “Tides,” and “Stars,” and after my chest was pummeled by the last few blasts of bass toward the end of “Stars,” my heart was full.

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: September 2012

Side A : Todd’s Picks

1. Eternal Summers, “You Kill”

2. Bleeding Rainbow, “Pink Ruff”

3. Houndmouth, “Penitentiary”

4. DIANA, “Born Again”

5. Wild Nothing, “Nocturne”

Side B : Chris’ Picks

1. Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas, “Young, Dumb, and Drunk”

2. Pet Lions, “Lightning Bolt”

3. King of Spain, “Motions”

4. The xx, “Tides”

5. Freeze-Tag, “Eskimo”

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: August 2012

Side A : Chris’ Picks

1. Crystal Castles, “Plague”

2. Purity Ring, “Fineshrine”

3. Dum Dum Girls, “Lord Knows”

4. Earlimart, “97 Heart Attack”

5. The xx, “Angels”

Side B : Todd’s Picks

1. Passion Pit, “I’ll Be Alright”

2. Dent May, “Fun”

3. IO Echo, “When the Lillies Die”

4. Teen, “Better”

5. Japandroids, “Continuous Thunder”

Crystal Castles’ upcoming album: Eponymous? (Probably.) Awesome? (Probably.)

The other day, the heir to the throne (who turns 6 very soon, gotsta get some Phineas & Ferb swag for the DS, yo!) asked me about my favorite songs of all time. Yep, Junior threw down the impossible question for music nerds. I can handle favorite groups/artists (Cure, Beatles, Nirvana, Portishead, and Duran Duran, for starters). I might be able to rattle off my favorite albums, at least #1-4 with confidence (Disintegration, Loveless, Revolver, and The Velvet Underground & Nico).

But songs? To quote Clay Davis from The Wire, “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.”

Can’t do it, G. “A Day in the Life” is probably #1, if you stick a gun in my face. “Plainsong” by the Cure is my favorite song of theirs, so I’m sure that’s up there. “The Rain Song” by Zeppelin is one of those songs I love. “Time Has Told Me” and “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake. “Three Days” by Jane’s Addiction. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division. “Scentless Apprentice” by Nirvana. “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. “Welcome to the Terrordome” by Public Enemy. “Natural’s Not in It” by Gang of Four. And about 3,534 more contenders I might list. And then you want me to prioritize them?

So I went with the redirection strategy. “I dunno. What are your favorite songs?”

Ethan Kath and Alice Glass of Crystal Castles stand in an alleyWithout blinking an eye, Will came up with his top three.

“‘Beep Beep’ is #1.” (Read: “Celestica” by Crystal Castles. He’s referencing the occasional electronic “beep-beep” noise throughout the song.)

“‘Bathtism’ is #2.” (Read: “Baptism” by Crystal Castles. And no, it’s not a speech impediment. He thought it was some sort of washing affliction, I guess.)

“And then #3 would be that Radio Dept. song.” (Read: some song by The Radio Dept. [shrug])

I admire my son’s definitive opinion, and it’s obvious my influence has rubbed off on the boy. Crystal Castles’ 2010 eponymous collection was my favorite album that year; and my son’s “favorite song of all time” is arguably my favorite song from that year. (I would argue that “Bathtism/Baptism” is the third best song on that album, behind the Robert Smith-vocalized “Not in Love.”)

So you can imagine our collective excitement when I read today that the Canadian duo will land in Croatia to record album #3 in short order, with an eye for a summer release. In the wake of such euphoria, I was left to ask myself some questions…

Chris: What should they name this album?

Chris: Duh. The only acceptable title other than Crystal Castles is Self-titled.

Chris: Why do I think Alice Glass is hot?

Chris: The same reason people think Alison Mosshart or Karen O is hot: the music blinds their vision while amplifying their sense of hearing. And all you hear is passionate vocals, either delivered in reserved/heartbreaking tones (“Celestica,” “Suffocation,” “Tell Me What to Swallow”) or piercing screams (“Baptism,” “Alice Practice,” “xxzxcuzx me”) or, um, I dunno (“Crimewave,” “Untrust Us”) and you just find yourself having these primal reactions to the words, to the voice. And Alice is petite, brunette, dresses in black…that kind of works for me.

(As shallow as this sounds, I feel obligated to point out that Romy from the xx still doesn’t do it for me, even with that voice.)

Chris: Why does Music or Space Shuttle? scribe Todd not like Crystal Castles?

Chris: I don’t know! I always assumed this would be right up his alley, what with his love for Neon Indian and M83. No, they’re not the same, but similar enough in certain elements (the first album plays more like Neon Indian; some of the grandeur of the second album seems a bit M83ish). You can ask Todd yourself by sending him an email at toddisdumb@chrisrules.com (please use the Subject Line “Chris is so cool; what’s your deal?” to ensure a prompt response).

Chris: Why do I like them so much?

Chris: Listen to the lush opening chords of “Celestica.” Listen to the aggression in “Baptism.” Listen to the swell of the music as Robert Smith approaches the chorus of “Not in Love.” Listen to the abrupt synth mashup following each verse of “Pap Smear.” Listen to the sampling of Sigur Ros on “Year of Silence.” Listen to the disturbing, quiet cry for help in “Tell Me What to Swallow.” Listen to the confident groove throughout “Vanished” and “Crimewave.” Listen to the quirky Donkey Kong sample in “Air War.” Listen to the soaring synth against the restrained vocals in “Suffocation.” All of these moments are like fucking dopamine for my ears. That last sentence is the most efficient way for me to state my feelings toward this music.

Chris: Any chance this album won’t disappoint, given my love for the first two albums?

Chris: Sure, there are some reasons to be worried. After two albums, I thought Bloc Party was one of the greatest bands of the 21st century (although unlike Crystal Castles, I thought BP’s second album was a lateral move rather than a step forward). Then they put out Intimacy. [shudder] And you’ll never hear me defend the Crystal Castles live sound, at least based on the recordings I’ve heard (never seen ’em live).

But this is a band that recognized that the 8-bit sound that infiltrated much of its debut couldn’t dominate album #2, so they evolved. Ethan Kath seems to have the perfect muse in Alice Glass. The lone bum song on the second album (a cover song, so it was the lone song Kath didn’t write) was later elevated to untouchable status by collaborating with Robert Smith on a new version, which shows they are shrewd and credible. And they’re traveling to Croatia to record this new album, so I’m guessing they’ll be focused. (Not sure what I mean by that…)

And don’t forget: this band wrote and recorded the world’s greatest song ever (according to my son). They’ve probably got another good song or two…or 12…or 16…

I can’t wait to find out. Until then, we’ll always have “Beep Beep.”