I want to get this posted so I don't get overwhelmed or miss out if I fall asleep. This not just finals week, this is finals day. Michael and I are basically on the second night of a three-day, two-nighter (minus the two 3-hour naps). We are close to delirium (he isn't making any sense... just look at him, sitting over there...so blank...what is he thinking? why does he keep looking at me? what are those sounds he is making? i bet he has that sunn 0))) song on repeat...watch him plot...watch him machinate...this is how the perfect human stagnates...he steals my oxygen, the bastard), and I can't tell if I'm hungry, sick, or maybe just generally wretched. Wretched is a good word for it. So anyway, forgive me for posting so early in the day (soooo early in the day) and for outrunning Michael's whole top ten. As we say around here, it's do-or-die time. So I'm doing. Forthcoming: a ten-pager on Francis Fukuyama and a twenty-pager on logical interpretations of metaphor. I recommend reading this post from bottom to top. (You can read the paragraphs from top to bottom if you want). And now, on to the main event...
#1: Espers - II
You are so lucky. I don't care to think about how many people have not heard and will not hear of Espers--except to throw into relief the gift I am about to give you. I don't expect anyone to have heard of these people (except Michael, for metaphysical reasons, and maybe Austin because they are from Philadephia, but I emphasize "maybe"). I stumbled upon, as in almost-did-not-download, this album. I'm a member of a Bittorrent community that requires its members to keep a certain ratio of uploaded to downloaded data. I had just become a member, and the torrent was a discography (just 2 albums and an EP, but still), so I almost did not go for it. There were some key words in the review that convinced me. If you know me, you will understand, and if you don't really, this might make sense with my current blaggery....Here they are: haunting, neo-psychedelic, icy, shudders, expansive, soundscape, dreamworld, and epic. I have a quick anecdote about what this album has done to me. Someone here at the 'prex left a crossword unfinished on the table. One word was E-S-_-_-R-S, and the clue was "glacier paths." I had to write "espers." They could be playing from the top of a glacier, or in an ice cave. The answer was actually "eskers," but you see my point. Now, a little about the music. This album is full of folk cathedrals silhouetted against a dark sky, spires towering into the clouds, something so alive, so moving, with so much emotion pulsing through the walls, burrowing under the foundations and making the earth quake. Everything is glacial. Michael pointed out the other day that if Spoon has mastered working with negative space, Espers is negative space. This is that stuff from Hegel, the paradox, that will not be mediated. The dialectic comes into a conflict, but there is no Idea for Espers--what we perceive is skeletal, it is form, and it is the nothingness that makes us admire the architecture. It is a negative concept. I could go so far with this. Listening to Espers is half somehow-warm, cathartic effusion and half admiration of cold, shifting form. The instrumentation moves, dances, builds, supports, collapses, disappears in the horizon, engulfs, and weaves in and out of itself. It is structure, and it reminds, associates, signifies, evokes... It maps. We all argue the meaning of "meaning." This music means. And it will invade you, caress you, terrify you, calm you, and haunt you until it means all that means anything to you. Widow's Weed. Dead King. Moon Occults the Sun.
#2: Early Day Miners - Offshore
I have always liked lots of music, but I've always had a focus. All the way through middle school, I loved adult pop, alternative rock, pop R&B, radio rap, and Simon and Garfunkel's The Concert in Central Park. When I got to high school, I started to like newish punk rock. Then I started liking the poppier punk of the 90s--Bad Religion, The Offspring, Pennywise. From there, I started going to hardcore shows. All the time. There was a pretty active Christian punk/hXc/sXe scene in the the Midwest in high school. I used to go see XDiscipleX A.D., Bestiary, Anah Aevia, and whomever else whenever I could. Then I started going to a Christian music festival called Cornerstone--basically a week-long camping trip outside of Bushnell, IL, filled with ad hoc punk and hardcore stages. It was mind-blowing--and eardrum-shredding. The summer after my junior year, I outdid myself, staying all 7 days, going to a show every minute there was one, seeing every band I could, and buying $300 worth of fifth-wave emo and late shoegaze CDs. Then I ran over my guitar when pulling out to leave. I got back to Indianapolis overheated, exhausted, in agony over my guitar, pissed I had spent so much, and very much rejected by an important girl (oh man, we cannot get into this). I had missed Pedro the Lion the last day, so when I heard he was playing with Roadside Monument in Bloomington at Rhino's (all ages!), I got in the car. Pedro was sublime, but the opening band was Early Day Miners. It was so delicate, so soft, so dreamy, and I fell in love. I bought both CDs they had out at the time. And BOOM! I was no longer into the hardcore scene. I started listening to "sleepy music" (as my fiancée Kathi called it senior year, back when she was at new girlfriend status). I never stopped. Low is my favorite band. Anyway, I haven't seen Early Day Miners since, but I've bought and digested every release of theirs. This is it. This is a masterwork. Offshore is so few songs, long songs, that draw from the deeply gazey soundscapes of My Bloody Valentine, Loop, Ride, &c., while remaining soooo mellow. I almost can't take it. Even writing about it overwhelms me. Please, love this. Land of Pale Saints. Return of the Native. Silent Tents.
#3: Calexico - Garden Ruin
I love this album from the opening acoustic and "Cruel, cruel ground..." to the very end. There is something so American--in a good way--about this that I cannot shake. You have to keep in mind my recent return from Spain. I did not expect a Calexico release; I do not follow their work closely. The Black Light was good background music, and Feast of Wire impressed me. When I saw the title of this album though, my stomach knotted in desire. I had a complete idea of what the music would sound like and how it would make me feel. When I finally listened to it, it turned out I was right. This band effortlessly melds Tex-Mex into Americana, relying on mariachi horns and a smooth interpolation of Romance languages to make a very emotional album. I missed Spain, but this was the Spanish I needed. The live show is as meticulous as the production of the recording, and I would recommend this album to anyone. This is another one you can give your mom. Roka. Panic Open String. All Systems Red.
#4: Asobi Seksu - Citrus
It looks like we can agree. This is one of the best of the year. Now listen: no one is doing what Asobi Seksu is doing. This is not the same as Serena Maneesh, that Scandinavian heavy shoegaze (which is good but is not this). This is dreampop á la Cocteau Twins, but also like a sweeter and less vicious My Bloody Valentine. The swells of distortion that make you ache, the way the vocals kiss their way out of the speakers, the arrangements... These songs are planned, and they have some of the best endings of anything I've ever heard. Who has ever tried to master the ending? The answer is "people who love big, big music." Well, Citrus gives the false impression of being petite. One day, Michael and I went to see Mojave 3 (and got the bonus of a wonderful opening shoegaze band, Svetlana), at Radio Radio in Indianapolis. I said something about the Asobi Seksu show the next Sunday. "Isn't that show this Sunday?" he asked. "I thought I saw it on the poster." I assured him that I had posted the show to my Google Calendar straight from the venue web site. You know how this story ends. I drove back to Greencastle that infamous Sunday, dejected. Do not ever, ever let anything get in the way of seeing Asobi Seksu. Please, please, dreampop and shoegaze, make a comeback. Strawberries. Red Sea. Mizu Asobi.
#5: Various - The World is Gone
Say what you will about Stylus and their reviews; the podcasts are wonderful. Of course, they try to jump between the most obscure music and the most mainstream, pretending to give a technical review to a pop track and recommending that experimental artists lighten up. That is the nature of what I will call the scene. No, I am not talking about The Scene that laboriously collects, rips, and illicitly releases cultural products through the blagotubes. You can hear in these guys' voices that they are socially maladjusted, maybe that they live under piles of collectible 8-tracks. I want to use The World Is Gone as evidence that we need these people. Yes, standard hipsters have heard of Various (AKA Various Production) by now. No, they had not heard of them early this summer. Stylus had; thus, so had I. The singles these guys podcast are gems. They chose the best song on the album, "Hater," and it displays all of the characteristics that make the record great: sparse production, almost dubsteppy beats, cold but close vocals, and effective, novel instrumentation. On top of all this, the album conveys a general feeling of unfeeling. Weird, yes. But listen to this and see if you know what I mean. I immediately started looking for this album after the Stylus show, but I did not expect it to be one of my favorites of the year. One more good reason: you want this song stuck in your head. Then, when it gets there, you love it. You agree with it. You like the feeling. You never said anything else. Hater. Thunkk. The World Is Gone.