Spoon – Transference

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a shameless creature of habit in certain circumstances. Take me to lunch often enough and you’ll find I have very consistent ordering habits. Each restaurant comes with its own go-to menu item and in cases of seat yourself establishments, a precise location where I aim to sit. I will eat the same breakfast nearly every day for months on end. It just seems like the right thing to do. Part of me still thrives on the routine. When it comes to music, all bets are off. I’ve never stuck to one genre or time period of music. I need something new on a regular basis and I’m one of those people who prefers a band who can sound different on every record and maintain excellence. These two distinct sides of myself are ultimately satisfied by Spoon’s latest record, Transference.

For the past decade this Austin powerhouse has delivered consistently great records. Album to album you got solid indie-rock with some of the best hooks and grooves around. Stand-out tracks like “You’ve Got Yr Cherry Bomb”, “Sister Jack”, “The Way We Get By”, and “Everything Hits at Once” come from four different album, but played back to back sound like they could all have come from the same session. Spoon’s consistent quality is unparralelled, but some would say formulaic. If you’re feeling this way about Spoon you might want to give Transference a spin before you give up on these guys. Transference is stocked with the infectious sounds of previous albums, but there is also a glimmer of experimentation here. Behind each song is a layer of subdued chaos. The opening track “Before Destruction” is a nice example as it sets what sounds like an acoustic demo of the song over a bed of sound. The background doesn’t obscure the song, but it does push it to the foreground. Sometimes these underlying sounds are barely noticeable, as in some of the quieter tracks like “Out Go the Lights”, and “Goodnight Laura”, but they are still there, like a shadow you can’t pin down. Even the songs that get the dance floor jumping are full of background activity. There’s not doubt that the album’s current single, “Written in Reverse” is a Spoon classic…. it fits their “formula” perfectly; “The Mystery Zone” also fits in here.

Transference is really a great addition to the Spoon catalog. This is a record that sees these veterans doing what they do best, but trying to find a way to do it just a bit differently.

Take a trip over to your neighborhood record store (this is not Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy etc) or the Merge Records site and grab a copy.

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The Hype: The XX

The hype enveloping The XX is growing like the Blob. What began as a steady hum has quickly inflated to the roar being heard today. Their self titled record is disappearing from store shelves daily and for good reason. The XX have delivered a debut that puts me in mind of Interpol‘s debut, Turn on the Bright Lights. Interpol resurrected the spirit of Joy Division and served it up for a new generation. The XX provides a similar service. The catch here is you can’t identify exactly where the sound is coming from. This is the kind of band where you can hear elements of so many bands, but really, they don’t sound like any of them. You can talk about Depeche Mode, or New Order, you could pull out Joy Division again, but then you could start making arguments for later Talk Talk records. You can make a case for a  lot bands they could be ripping off, but ultimately The XX are one of the finest examples of a band that actually pulled off the stunning feat of taking elements of all of their influences and weaving them into something that’s genuine and fresh. It’s fresh not because it breaks new ground, but because it is familiar, because it make the old new again. Believe the hype on this record. Track down a copy now before they disappear. In the meantime check out these two tracks.

2009’s Finer Moments… Part 3 – The Best Albums of 2009

With another year in the books, it’s time to conclude our look back at 2009 with the Little Umbrellas list of our 20 favorite records of 2009.

20: The Fiery Furnaces – I’m Going Away (Thrill Jockey)

19: The Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come (4AD)

18: Daniel Higgs – Hymnprovisations for Banjo by the A.I.U. with Piano and Raindrops (Ideal Recordings)
Fantastic solo banjo pieces from the former Lungfish singer. Technically this came out it 2008, but I can’t confirm a release date, so I’m taking liberties.

17: Atlas Sound – Logos (4AD)

16: Tortoise – Beacons of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey)

15: Sir Richard Bishop – The Freak of Araby (Drag City)
This was really a crowning achievement for Sir Richard Bishop. A lush album that showcases his guitar work nicely.

14: Wooden Shjips – Dos (Holy Mountain)

13: Obits – I Blame You (Sub Pop)
This a phenomenal record from a veteran group of musicians. Their sound is tight and dirty with just enough polish to make the record shine. Bringing together former members of Rocket from the Crypt and Edsel might seem a bit off, but it is a thing of beauty.

12: Stardeath and White Dwarfs – The Birth (Warner Brothers)
This slab of modern psychedelia is fantastic. Please don’ t miss this one.

11: The Yeah, Yeah Yeah’s – It’s Blitz (Interscope)

10: Real Estate – Real Estate (Woodsist)

9: Dead Weather – Horehound (Third Man)
One of the best things Jack White has done. Excellent.

8: Jonsi & Alex – Riceboy Sleeps (XL Recordings)
Great ambient record from Sigur Ros frontman. It doesn’t go too far beyond what you’d expect from Sigur Ros, but it’s quieter and extremely well done.

7: Califone – All My Friends Are Funeral Singers (Dead Oceans)

6: M. Ward – Hold Time (Merge)

5: Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glassnote)
Easily the catchiest record of the year. Essential stuff in my book.

4: Wilco – Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch)

3: Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion (Domino)  & Animal Crack Box (Catsup Plate)
Animal Crack Box lived up to the hype delivering 3 LPs of fantastic live recordings from Animal Collective’s early period. The unbelievably limited nature of this release seems a bit silly, but that’s a discussion for another post. So much has already been written about Merriweather Post Pavillion, so I will not rehash it again. If you have heard the album yet, just go buy it and enjoy.

2: Kurt Vile – Childish Prodigy (Matador)
This record is the most diverse album I’ve heard in a long time. Every song is its own animal and demands your attention. Childish Prodigy is a lo-fi masterpiece that will set the tone the next decade. This album is one of the most exciting releases of 2009 and barely missed being my favorite album of the year.

1: The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Warner Brothers)
Embryonic is a monster of a record. When was the last time you heard a double album that was solid start to finish? Look no further. It may sound strange but this may be the best Pink Floyd album that Pink Floyd never made.  Embryonic is a thunderous, powerful, and beautiful epic that will be a landmark record for years to come.

2009’s Finer Moments… Part 2

Let’s face it, 2009 probably won’t go down as a chart-topping year in most peoples book, however, we need to look at the bright spots. In amongst the seemingly never-ending stream of disturbing news this year, there were some great bands and some really great records. In Part 2 of our 2009 review we give a solid tip-of-the-hat to the winners of the following categories:

Best Debut Album: Major Label division

No debut album from the majors impressed me as much as The Birth from Stardeath and White Dwarfs. These Oklahoma City guys embrace dense 70’s-influenced psychedelia along with the experimental tendencies of fellow Okies, the Flaming Lips,  and crank out a modern version of psychedelic rock that feels both reverential and fresh.

Best Debut Album: Indie Division –

Top honors go to Real Estate for their self titled debut album. This record is gripping. I was drawn in from the beginning and I’ve listened to this regularly ever since. If you take the classic west coast pop sound and force it to spend the weekend in Atlantic City you’re left with a Jersey Shore pop sound. Real Estate give us an indie-rock blast of Jersey Shore pop on their debut and it’s fantastic.

Favorite Reissue of 2009

There were a lot of nice reissues this year. Many great records were released in expanded editions, some were released on LP for the first time or saw their first vinyl pressing in many years, sometimes decades. You can make arguments for the remastered editions of the Beatles catalog, Nirvana’s Bleach, the repressings of the Sigur Ros catalog, or even the reissue of Animal Collective’s early records. For my money, the reissue of the Stone Roses‘ first album is the hands down winner. Typically remastering is nice, but hardly earth-shattering. This is a different case. I’ve listened to the Stone Roses classic 1989 record countless times and never complained about the quality of the sound. Then, I heard the reissue. The album was a classic in its original form and it is even better now. If you love this record please do yourself a favor and upgrade.

2009’s Finer Moments… Part 1

As I mentioned in my first post, year-end lists are inevitable. This is the first installment of Little Umbrellas’ year in review, with at least one, maybe two more parts to come. There will be a list of my favorite records of the year, at some point, but first I’d like to give some attention to a few other catagories:

Favorite Music Blog of 2009

This one was kind of easy. While there are many blogs I read on a fairly regular basis, there are few I anticipate reading as much as Captain’s Dead. There’s a lot of variety on this site. News items, tips on new (or new to me) bands, and plenty of live recordings. What I really enjoy is the constant inclusion of song downloads. If someone tells me about how great a band is, I want to hear for myself. Captain’s Dead always includes a song or two from the band. There are tons a great live recordings posted here which always makes this site worth a visit. Do yourself a favor and visit now.

Favorite Record Label of 2009

There were a lot of contenders in this category, but ultimately I chose a label that left me eagerly anticipating their records, and based on the records I bought, was never disappointed. While others were great, for my money, nobody was as intriguing as New York’s Woodsist Records. The label’s Kurt Vile record alone would have put them pretty high on my list, but throw in Real Estate, Wavves, Woods and Ganglians and suddenly these guys are heavyweights. Please, pretty please, buy their records!

The Flaming Lips give the best holiday gifts!

If you were to find a present from the Flaming Lips under your holiday shrubbery this season, what do you think it would be? Some records? Some Oklahoma City swag? How about a pony? Think again folks. This year the Lips are selling Silver Trembling Fetus ornaments. The whole thing is so insane Wayne Coyne recorded the incredible video message below to tell us all about it. Happy shopping!!

Is There Nothing We Could Do?

Just when I was starting to think Badly Drawn Boy might fade into obscurity, I find that he’s about to release a new album. The new record, titled Is There Nothing We Could Do?, is set for release in the UK on December 14; I have yet to find a release date for the US. If anybody has information on a US release date please let me know. The album is a soundtrack to the ITV motion picture The Fattest Man In Britain.

Here’s the title track from the record. I’m thinking this one could be pretty great. Judge for yourself.

You can pre-order the album on Badly Drawn Boy’s site now.