X: THC: X: The Human Condition


RIYL: early Nine Inch Nails, Massive Attack, Portishead

This is one branch in the music tree that we didn’t see coming: adult contemporary trip-hop. X: The Human Condition, the brainchild of Michael Nova, is a giant multimedia experience. There is a film, which tells the story of two people driven to change the world through art. The soundtrack of that film sounds like the kind of thing Trent Reznor might assemble if he were feeling vulnerable. The songs slink, bloop and bleep along like the soundtrack for an alt-spa (we’re not sure if alt-spas actually exist, but they should), and possess an ache that Massive Attack’s last album lacked. It doesn’t always work: “Mr. Happy” with its falsetto chorus is more corny than heartfelt, and anyone willing to name a song “The Creature from the Blackened Room” better prepare for some sniggers, even if the music for the track isn’t half bad. When the album’s on, though, it’s on; “The Human Flood” is just begging to be used in a movie trailer, and “Tag You’re It” explores funkier territory. Nova’s not the best singer in the world, and X: The Human Condition will not rewrite the music history books, but for anyone looking to come down from an already chill party, this will do the trick. (Hypnotical Entertainment 2010)

X: The Human Condition MySpace page
Click to buy X: The Human Condition from Amazon

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Taylor Long’s picks

2008 was a year of many highly anticipated albums, from long-awaited follow-ups from big names to indie debuts. There were the albums I listened to most and felt left a lasting dent on the current musical landscape.

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. TV on the Radio: Dear Science
Brooklyn’s critical darlings hit it out of the borough again with their third full-length, Dear Science. They continue to defy even the most coherent explanations and descriptions. This is what the future sounds like – and it’s exciting.

2. Fleet Foxes: Ragged Wood
The Pacific Northwest is finally producing, once again, the caliber of music that its isolated atmosphere and gorgeous surrounds should be stimulating. Driven by front-man Robin Pecknold, but by no means a one man band, the Fleet Foxes have the best lockdown on vocal harmonies since a certain supergroup in the ’70s — and the songs do their fair share of standing out, as well.

3. Pattern Is Movement: All Together
Throw all notions of what a two-piece should sound like out of your mind. This Philidelphia duo is nothing like what you’d expect them – or anyone – to be. Avant-pop-rock meets classical form and textures in the most beautiful mess of an album. If, at first, you’re taken aback, don’t worry, just press repeat.

4. Dengue Fever: Venus on Earth
While there were bands that hit it bigtime with their exploration of international sounds (see below), Dengue Fever didn’t come nearly close enough to receiving the kind of attention they deserved. Boasting Chhom Nimol, a singer who actually sings in Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, the LA inhabitants’ mixture of Cambodian pop meets surfer pop and psych rock is not only legitimate but bred of some serious talent.

5. Wolf Parade: At Mount Zoomer
It could perhaps be argued that At Mount Zoomer, the follow up to Wolf Parade’s first album Apologies to the Queen Mary, doesn’t pack the same punch in terms of pop hooks. In many ways, this is true. In other ways, it doesn’t matter. The over-10-minute-long album closer “Kissing the Beehive” is just as memorable – if not more so – as any of their shorter tunes.

6. Deerhunter: Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
One of the weirdest yet most beautiful, comforting yet most alienating albums in recent memory – or double-album, if we’re getting technical. Get lost in the repetition, then find yourself in the breakdowns and freakouts.

7. The Notwist: The Devil, You + Me
The highly, highly anticipated follow up to the German group’s earnestly romantic and soothing electro-pop album, Neon Golden. The Devil, You + Me continues in the same vein as the album that they broke out with. What more could anyone ask?

8. Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
As pleasing as it might be to be able to deny the righteous climb of the afro-pop appropriating, stereotype-perpetuating ivy leaguers known as Vampire Weekend, the honest truth is, aside from its lack of emotion, their debut is pretty undeniable. And in a musical climate where one too many bands have been overly saturated in their feelings, perhaps a little break from them ain’t so bad.

9. Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs
Every year, there’s a band that gets the sentimental vote. This year, it’s this one. Seattle’s Death Cab for Cutie bounce back from glistening pop to a strangely inconsistent yet cohesive sixth album. Piano ballads, power pop and, of course, the experimental stalker jam first single – it’s all here.

10. Portishead: Third
The last slot is almost always the hardest. What pushed it over to Portishead were two things. Firstly, unsurprisingly, the group’s history. One of the most influential players in trip-hop, Portishead recorded a measly two albums (though there was nothing measly about the content). Secondly, they bounced back some 10 years later to deliver not just another album, but another groundbreakingly, strangely beautiful one. If only every long-term hiatus had such remarkable results.

Top 10 Songs From Albums Not On My Top 10 List

1. “Put On,” Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West
The video alone would have warranted the number one spot on this list, but as it just so happens, “Put On” is a completely unforgettable song, the kind I heard blasted on my Brooklyn block night and day. Also noteworthy: the only time Kanye West used a vocoder this year that didn’t sound stupid.

2. “A Milli,” Lil’ Wayne / “A Billi,” Jay-Z
Weezy arguably had the more successful summer jam over Jeezy, but truth is, his voice is still slightly irritating, no matter how many times I hear this. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that I like Jay-Z’s freestyle cover just as much as Wayne’s original.

3. “U.R.A. Fever,” The Kills
This is the sexiest song released in 2008. Really.

4. “L.E.S. Artistes” / “I’m A Lady,” Santogold
I refuse to choose between the two hottest jams on the debut from Brooklyn’s Santogold. So I’m not going to.

5. “Take My Love With You,” Eli “Paperboy” Reed & The True Loves
Why wasn’t this song blasted from the speakers of every single person who loved retro-revival acts like Amy Winehouse and the Pipettes over the last year? It should have been. Also: people in long-distance relationships, you have a new jam. Trust me.

6. “Mr. Alladatshit,” Kidz in the Hall
Kidz in the Hall made my mid-year list, but the second half was just too strong and knocked them out of contention. That said, this song from the Chicago rap duo is, to quote the song, “flyer than giraffe’s [privates].” Assuming they meant that as a good thing…

7. “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, Pt. 1,” My Morning Jacket
The My Morning Jacket album was a little too uneven, but its high points were very high, including this lilting, sensual jam that’s exemplary of everything the band does right.

8. “Many Shades of Black,” Raconteurs
Without as much influence from Brendan Benson, the Raconteurs are starting to sound like another White Stripes… which would be ok if there wasn’t already the White Stripes. Having said that, this soul-infused break-up tune is not just more of the same.

9. “Lately,” The Helio Sequence
The duo from Portland continue to evolve their sound with Keep Your Eyes Ahead, their most memorable album to-date, which boasts the repeat-worthy lead off track “Lately.”

10. “Sensual Seduction,” Snoop Dogg (or “Sexual Eruption,” if you have the unrated version)
It’s as if Snoop Dogg heard any of R. Kelly’s recent albums and said, “That man knows what he’s doing.”

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Michael Fortes’ picks

This year has seen some extraordinary new music come our way. I’ve heard the opposite opinion from elsewhere, but for me, being on the West Coast has a lot to do with my enthusiasm. In fact, seven of the albums in my top ten are by West Coast artists, some more well-known than others. Not only that, three of the albums in my top ten aren’t albums at all. The “EP” is an anachronistic term that originally referred to a 7” vinyl record with more music crammed on each side (usually at the expense of volume and general sound quality) than what a normal single would hold. It’s an abbreviation for “Extended Play.” And yet, today’s EP is really just a half-length CD. They tend to be overlooked, either because they’re too short to warrant much attention or they contain songs not deemed strong enough for a full album, or both. But, like Bob Dylan said, “things have changed.” Our lives are busier, our attention spans are shorter, and our disposable income is shrinking by the hour. What better time for the EP to make a mini-resurgence than now?

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. The Parson Red Heads: Owl & Timber (EP)
There’s a timelessness to the sound and the vibe of the Parson Red Heads that’s beyond explanation. You can single out the familial harmonies, the guitar interplay that recalls the Byrds and the Dead, the irresistibly solid pop songs, or their flowery evocation of a bygone era. But when it comes down to it, this band’s music simply feels good. No other band has released music this irresistible and uplifting in years, and only a select lucky few up and down the West Coast have had the luxury of being able to see and hear them live. With a little luck, this may change, and we’ll be able to look back at Owl & Timber as one of the elements that made it happen.

2. Brian Wilson: That Lucky Old Sun
Following up the 37-years-late Smile with another similarly built song cycle seemed like little more than a fantasy in 2004. But here we are in 2008, and Brian Wilson pulled it off. Mike Love would be proud to hear that there’s only one “downer” on the album (the beautiful, Pet Sounds-worthy “Midnight’s Another Day”), while all the rest are upbeat, aural murals depicting the sunny side of Southern California. It’s Brian doing what he does best, and outside of Smile, it’s easily his best, most enjoyable solo work.

3. Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8
Technically, Tell Tale Signs is an archival release, but the recent vintage of the material (1989 through 2006), the abundance of never-before-heard songs, and the fact that most of it was recorded during the same period in which Guns n’ Roses’ 14-years-late Chinese Democracy gestated, qualifies it as new. And even if it didn’t qualify, it would still be listed here, since it does as good a job (if not better) as any of his last three records of proving that, even in his old age, Dylan has lost none of his power to inspire, confound, delight and move his audience.

4. The Gutter Twins: Saturnalia
Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli have collaborated in the past on a few tracks from Greg’s Twilight Singers albums, and while those duets were pretty good, they were never major stand-outs. Not until the two covered Massive Attack’s “Live with Me” on last year’s A Stitch in Time EP, anyway. As good as that cover was, this full album of originals by Greg and Mark is even better. Dulli stretches himself here, eschewing his usual rockin’ R&B swagger and falling under Lanegan’s dark, spiritual influence.

5. Chris Robley & The Fear of Heights: Movie Theatre Haiku
That straight-laced dude from Portland with the Harry Nilsson fixation strikes again, this time crediting his road band and turning in an even more confident record than last year’s The Drunken Dance of Modern Man in Love. If the 1966 Beatles were a young band today, they’d likely be playing songs like Robley’s “User-Friendly Guide to Change.”

6. Joseph Arthur: Vagabond Skies (EP)
Of the four EPs and full-length album Joseph Arthur released this year, Vagabond Skies rises to the top not only for bearing some of his most captivating and ethereal songs, but also for containing the year’s most memorable guitar solo, in the EP’s centerpiece “She Paints Me Gold.” Plus, the cover art is damn cool.

7. The Happy Hollows: Imaginary (EP)
They’re funny, they’re smart, they’re tight as a conservative’s behind, and they’re the most exciting live indie rock band in L.A. right now. Imaginary is just a short burst of five songs, but what a burst it is – from the simple exclamatory chant of “Colors” to the almost prog-like tour-de-force of “Lieutenant” with singer/guitarist Sarah Negahdari’s Eddie Van Halen-esque guitar tapping, Imaginary tantalizes and teases, just like you want it to.

8. Guns n’ Roses: Chinese Democracy
Yes, it’s bloated and overproduced. No, it’s not the old, sleazy Guns n’ Roses of the late ‘80s. Yes, it should have been out ten years ago, and would have sounded even more contemporary in 1998 than in 2008. But Axl Rose is still the king of tortured, overwrought power ballads and menacing rock n’ roll screams, and on these counts, Chinese Democracy more than delivers – it beats you over the head with its twisted logic.

9. Metallica: Death Magnetic
Metallica sounds like Metallica again! It may be clichéd to say this is their best album since …And Justice for All, but it’s true, and it bears repeating: Death Magnetic is Metallica’s best album since Justice.

10. My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges
Evil Urges goes to great lengths to prove that My Morning Jacket is no typical southern jam band. Not that they ever needed to go so far as to throw some Prince-like falsetto singing and funky R&B into the mix, but as it turns out, it sounds pretty cool.

Honorable Mentions

The Fireman: Electric Arguments
Rachel Taylor Brown: Half Hours with the Lower Creatures
Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
Portishead: Third
Neil Diamond: Home Before Dark
Juliana Hatfield: How to Walk Away
Randy Newman: Harps and Angels
Deerhoof: Offend Maggie
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan: Sunday at Devil Dirt

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer James Eldred’s picks

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. Fucked Up: The Chemistry of Common Life
Are they hardcore? Post-hardcore? Experimental? Post-experimental? Is that last one even a genre? Maybe it is now. Describing Fucked Up is as impossible as saying their name on the radio. Who else has combined flute solos with Black Flag-style hardcore vocals, ambient keyboards and just about everything else you can possibly imagine? It’s NOFX meets Hüsker Dü meets Fugazi meets everything awesome, dangerous and exciting about rock and roll. Also winner of the best cover of 2008.

2. Marnie Stern: This Is It…
Sleater-Kinney style riot-grrl rock by a guitar-playing chick who seems to base all of her chords off of Van Halen’s “Eruption.” It’s like someone randomly looked up two musical subgenres on Wikipedia (indie-rock and guitar virtuoso) and decided to mix them together. Marnie Stern is a guitar goddess whose unearthly ability at fingertapping and shredding her axe will one day be uncovered by future archaeologists, who will be in awe.

3. Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles
By combining the bleeping bloops from the soundchip of an old Atari with the frightening howls of petite lead singer’s Alice Glass’ powerful voice, Crystal Castles have taken the punk/dance thing to new and exciting places and shown us that the Chiptune scene is more than just a novelty scene capitalizing off of twentysomethings’ nostalgia for 8-bit video games. Also winner of the worst cover of 2008.

4. Portishead: Third
Wow, 11 years was worth the wait, who knew? Third goes to show that when you invent a genre (trip-hop), you can take as damn well long as you please to re-invent it. Third is a minimalist masterpiece that proves sometimes all you need is a drum machine and haunting vocals to make a dance track work.

5. Girl Talk: Feed the Animals
If Third is minimalism, then Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals is maximalism, hyperbolic remixing gone horribly right. Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) took over 170 different songs to craft his journey though the pop music landscape, making unlikely collaborations like Lil’ Mama and Metallica, Outkast and Roy Orbison, and Souja Boy and Thin Lizzy in the process. Gilis also proved himself to be a musical alchemist with Feed the Animals, turning shit like Arvil Lavinge’s “Girlfriend” and Fergie’s “XX” into pop gold by crafty remixing and moshing.

6. Be Your Own Pet: Get Awkward
Needless censoring by brain-dead American record labels couldn’t hamper this great follow-up to BYOP’s self-titled debut. Their subsequent break-up sure did, though. A bummer, but they sure went out with a bang. Black Flag reincarnated as a hot nearly-underage girl and her three best friends. Here’s hoping we hear more from them in future in some form or another.

7. Does It Offend You, Yeah?: You Have No Idea What You’re Getting Yourself Into
LCD Soundsytem and their DFA label ilk may be responsible for the rebirth of dance-punk, but the British have been taking it to a whole other level, first with Hot Chip and now with this horribly-named foursome from Reading. DIOYY combine the bombastic arena-rock majesty of Britpop groups like Muse with undeniably catchy electronic hooks better than anyone has in recent memory. Doesn’t change the fact that their name still sucks.

8. TV on the Radio: Dear Science
When are they going to release a bad album? Seriously, it’s getting rather annoying because there’s nothing more to say about them. Dear Science is as good as Return to Cookie Mountain which was in turn as good as Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. They’re giving us cynical bastards nothing to work with here, nothing! How selfish is that?

9. Santogold: Santogold
The best indie-pop/new wave.punk/synthpop/electronic/rap record of the year. And yes, thanks to MIA, there was competition.

10. Kaiser Chiefs: Off With Their Heads
Remember when all those post-punk revival bands broke out? The Hives, the Strokes, the Vines, the Killers and these guys – who weren’t team players and willing to get behind the whole The Somethings name structure? Who had them pegged to be going three albums strong while the rest of the lot have either vanished or become washed up? “Never Miss a Beat” also wins for best single of the year.

  

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