Phil Elverum has long been known as one of the foremost purveyors of melancholy Pacific Northwestern folk. From quiet beginnings as a bedroom artist, to his current iteration as a veteran of the genre he helped create, Elverum’s greatest strength has always been his ability to look toward the future, rarely dwelling on past successes. This attitude bleeds all over Clear Moon, the new album from Elverum’s long-standing project Mount Eerie.
A lot can be said about Mount Eerie, but it seems to me that talking about Mount Eerie is a hell of a lot less rewarding than actually listening to them. It’s true that Elverum and Co. have managed to sustain a long and relatively successful career without ever venturing too far from their roots, but given the quality and quantity of their releases, it’s amazing that these gloomy north-westerners are still able to create music that sounds fresh and original, and that’s exactly what you get on Clear Moon.
Listening to Clear Moon is a lot like listening to the entire Mount Eerie back catalogue at the same time. This new offering shows Elverum blending the seemingly dissimilar aspects of older Eerie albums like No Flashlight with newer, weirder albums like Wind’s Poem. This makes Clear Moon a very interesting, and often challenging, record to digest. Album opener “Through the Trees pt. 2” is classic Elverum. Musically, it sounds more or less like a Microphones song that got lost in a stack of tapes somewhere and was never released but, when Elverum sings “misunderstood and disillusioned/I go on describing this place,” we know that this is the here and now. This opening line also serves as a glimpse into the motivation behind the album. Elverum seems to question his own motivations for creating music, and once the album is over it becomes clear it’s the place that dictates the music and not vice versa. These are love songs to a region, Phil Elverum’s region.
As the album progresses the songs become noticeably darker. “Lone Bell,” the album’s first single, trots along with atonal horns reminiscent of Iamthefunblamemonster era Menomena, and “Over Dark Water” is a folky dirge that sounds like it would be more at home on the new Occultation record. Somehow though, Elverum’s penchant for stylistic shifts works. It makes Clear Moon varied in ways that are more rewarding when taken as an album, and the whole thing feels complete by the end instead of just sounding like a collection of random songs.
Casual fans of Mount Eerie, or those fans who only listen to Elverum’s lighter fare, might be thrown off by the oppressing atmosphere he creates on Clear Moon, but die-hards will appreciate the cumulative feel. The only real problem I have with Clear Moon is its release date. This is not an album suited for summer; it deserves a rainy day, a pack of smokes, and some fresh coffee to contextualize it, and I wonder why Elverum decided that a May 22nd release was best. Because of the nature of this album I fear fans in search of something upbeat and sunny might ignore it.
In the end Clear Moon is another in a long line of solid Mount Eerie albums. It will break your heart and fuel your depression, but it is a monolithic work of beauty that deserves your time and attention. Wait until October and curl up with Clear Moon.
8.5 out of 10
Originally written for: Kindform.com
Siamese Twins are a dream pop trio who play slightly gothy, slightly twee sounding post punk. In the tradition of early 4AD and current Slumberland artists like Frankie Rose and Black Tambourine, Siamese Twins’ particular brand of jangly, albeit by-the-books, indie pop is as simple as it is catchy. Vocals are traded back and forth, one of higher register and one on the lower end, to great effect. The band self released a demo cassette last year and has a 7” due on Labor of Love Records in the coming months. With summer just around the corner (or already at our doors for the Austin, TX crowd) it’s time to start spinning some poppy goodness to get your mind right, and Siamese Twins are precisely what you need.
Grab their demo here.
Recommended if you like: Frankie Rose, Seapony, La Sera, or Screaming Females.
Terry Malts are a garage pop band from San Francisco, CA. The band recently released their debut album Killing Time on Slumberland Records, and it basically rules. A combination of uber-fuzzy punk riffs with the pop sensibility of bands like FIDLAR (one of my current favorites) and Dum Dum Girls, Terry Malts deftly blend genres into one hulking mass of power. Killing Time is the kind of record you play during unruly house parties and long summer drives; it’s catchy enough to have you whistling along, and dirty enough to soundtrack that perfect night of alcohol fueled debauchery. Terry Malts are most definitely a band to watch this year.
Recommended if you like: FIDLAR, Mikal Cronin, Bleached, Wax Idols, or Big Troubles.
Holograms are four Swedish punks who work together in a factory. They recently signed a deal with underground-ish label Captured Tracks and are set to release their debut 7” ABC City on April 3rd. So far there isn’t much of a point of reference for Holograms other than the single track they’ve released, but luckily that track is good as hell. If Holograms can continue to release music this good, they will be a force in the garage scene. Here’s hoping they aren’t a one trick pony.
Recommended if you like: Iceage, Total Control, X, Wipers, or Pissed Jeans.
The time has finally come for me to reveal my 10 favorite albums of 2011. There were a few albums I didn’t get around to listening to this year, and a few that dropped recently, like Clams Casino’s Instrumentals, that might have changed this list, but let’s not think about that. Without further ado, my top 10 albums of 2011:
10. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath 1972 + Dropped Pianos - Tim Hecker has long been a favorite of mine, and this year he released not one, but two great records. Ravedeath 1972 shows Hecker at the height of his experimentation, but also at his most beautiful. Dropped Pianos is actually the source material for Ravedeath, which was recorded on a pipe organ in a church in Iceland. The albums sound more complete when listened to in tandem, and offer one of the most satisfying experiences of the year.
9. Nicolas Jaar – Space is Only Noise - Nicolas Jaar came out of nowhere and dropped one of the best experimental dance albums of the past decade. Space is Only Noise… is a joy to listen to; it is filled with subtle clicks, pops, whistles, and vocal melodies that all coalesce and put you in a trance. The fact that Jaar isn’t even old enough to drink in the US makes this album an even more startling success.
8. Thee Oh Sees – Castlemania+Carrion Crawler/The Dream EP - I LOVE Thee Oh Sees. I think John Dwyer is a genius and will buy anything he releases. Fanboy tendencies aside, this year’s offering from Thee Oh Sees (an album and an EP) showed the band’s ability to diversify. Castlemania highlights Thee Oh Sees lighter side, while Carrion Crawler/The Dream EP is a total scorcher. Get both. Seriously.
7. A$AP Rocky – LiveLoveA$AP - Easily the best hip hop album of 2011, and one of the freshest sounding records I heard all year. The thing that makes ASAP Rocky so likable is the way he presents himself. He’s a weed smokin, syrup drinkin thug, but he’s got a touch of class. His beats are fresh (thanks to Clams Casino and others) and his flows are clever. Instantly charming and always entertaining, LiveLoveA$AP should be on your radar.
6. Leyland Kirby – Eager to Tear Apart the Stars - Leyland Kirby is quickly becoming the poster boy for well constructed ambient music. After releasing a stunning album under the guise of The Caretaker, Kirby dropped another stunner under his own name. Eager to Tear Apart the Stars is an album that presses all the right buttons; it’s eerie, beautiful, and weird, and you should be listening to it…now.
5. The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World - I wrote about this album a few months ago and I still love every second of it. The Caretaker (aka Leyland Kirby) really delivered the goods this year; An Empty Bliss… is one of the creepiest and most beautiful albums I’ve heard in years and perfectly captures the grainy ballroom footage sound that Kirby has been chasing for so long. Jaw dropping.
4. Mark McGuire – Get Lost - I wasn’t expecting to like the new Mark McGuire album as much as I do. I’ve always been a fan of McGuire’s brand of uplifting experimental weirdness, but this year I fell in love with Get Lost and I haven’t stopped listening to it since the day I got it (seriously, I listen to this album at least once a day). If this album doesn’t put you in a good mood then you are beyond helping.
3. Chelsea Wolfe – Apokalypsis - This album was an early pick for album of the year for me, but it was eclipsed by two other albums. Regardless, Apokalypsis is a fantastic album that reminds me of the early grit of PJ Harvey mixed with a healthy dose of Nick Cave. On her second album Wolfe manages to make each track sound unique enough to stand on its own but when listened to from beginning to end, every track fits together to paint a larger picture. I have a feeling this is only the beginning for Wolfe, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
2. The Field – Looping State of Mind - My favorite minimalist techno artist released my favorite minimalist techno album in 2011, go figure. But seriously, The Field (aka Axel Willner) dropped a stunning album this year. What really gets me excited about the new Field album is the fact that you can trace Willner’s progression across previous albums (2007’s From Here We Go Sublime and 2009’s Yesterday and Today) until you end up at Looping State of Mind, which is the perfect representation of Willner’s style. Everything on Looping… is so deliberate, and it all works so well. If you’ve been a fan of The Field in the past and slept on this album, you are really missing out. This is a big, gorgeous, dreamlike album that will put you in a trance and take you somewhere else.
1. Dustin O’Halloran – Lumiere - I bet you didn’t see this coming! Yeah, that’s right, a modern classical album is my number one. As much as I talked about loving other albums this year, nothing came even remotely close to dethroning Dustin O’Halloran’s Lumiere. It’s hard for me to put into words my adoration for this album. It has become a part of my day to day life; I listen to it when I read, drive, at work, when I sleep. Lumiere has become the soundtrack to my life, and every heartbreaking rise and fall turns every seemingly innocuous task into a grand drama. There really are no words to accurately express how much I love this album. All I ask is that you get a copy and see for yourself.
So, there you have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this list as much as I enjoyed putting it together. Thank you for reading/listening.
We’re getting close to the end. Here are some of the albums that managed to break the top 20. Enjoy.
20. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake - I have been a huge PJ Harvey fan for years and I always get excited when she drops a new album, but her last few releases have left much to be desired. That is not the case with Let England Shake. This concept album shows a gigantic growth in Harvey’s art, and is all but irresistible.
19. Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread - Long time underground garage rock savant Ty Segall ditched his Big Muff and instead focused on writing timeless songs with pop sensibility. Ty Segall is one of my favorite artists, and Goodbye Bread ushered in a whole new era for his sound.
18. Atlas Sound – Parallax - This album sounds a lot like the last Deerhunter album, but I don’t really count that as a bad thing. Parallax shows Bradford Cox at the very top of his game. The album is subtle, catchy, and accessible. A real gem.
17. FIDLAR – DIYDUI 7” - FIDLAR are a recent discovery for me, and I could not get enough of their DIYDUI 7” this year. It’s so fucking catchy! Everyone I’ve forced to listen to FIDLAR all say the same thing…”Whoa, that’s good!”
16. Grimes – Geidi Primes - After a stunning performance on last year’s Darkbloom split 12” with d’Eon, Grimes returned in 2011 with a fantastically weird and off kilter electro-pop album. The melodies on Geidi Primes will throw you for a loop at first, but they will be stuck in your head for months.
15. Iceage – New Brigade - Lo-fi garage punk from Denmark that is equal parts 80’s darkwave and hardcore punk. New Brigade is one hell of a great debut, and managed to stay fresh and charming all year.
14. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica - Experimental music with a dark core. I absolutely love Oneohtrix Point Never and Replica is exactly what I wanted it to be. It’s eerie, haunting, sinister, and gorgeous. A shinning moment in an already stellar career.
13. Tom Waits – Bad As Me - Bad As Me doesn’t show any major shifts in Tom Waits’ style, but who the fuck cares? This is Tom Waits doing what he does best; writing weirdo circus folk. He sounds as good as ever, and the vocals on Bad As Me are his best in years.
12. The Men – Leave Home - I fucking love this band. These dudes really know how to lay on the grime, and Leave Home is a barn burner from beginning to end. Post-punk chaos with the pop sensibility of garage rock? What could be better?
11. Fucked Up – David’s Town (Record Store Day release) - This “album” was released as a companion to Fucked Up’s 2011 rock opera, David Comes Alive. While I enjoyed David Comes Alive I found myself uninterested after a dozen or so listens, but David’s Town is drastically different from said rock opera and I have listened to it every few days since I grabbed it. This is NOT a Fucked Up album, it’s a faux soundtrack that fits into the story told in David Comes Alive. The cool thing about this record is that every song is by a different made up band (all played by the members of Fucked Up), and each track sounds different. A truly stunning experiment that went largely unnoticed this year.
The saga continues. As promised, here is the second installment of my best of 2011 countdown.
30. Weekend – Red EP - One of my favorite albums from 2010 was Weekend’s self titled debut, and this EP sees the band experimenting with more melodic passages and more focused song writing. It hints at great things to come.
29. Dopehead – Plaid Palm Trees - A relatively unknown rapper, Dopehead dropped a stellar album this year. He rolls with Danny Brown, and it shows.
28. Deerhoof – Deerhoof vs. Evil - Unfounded criticism from Pitchfork might have turned people away from the latest Deerhoof album, but I’m not so blindly trusting. This album is whimsical, beautiful, and edgy. Deerhoof continue to occupy a level all their own.
27. Wild Beasts – Smother - Smother seemed to run below the radar this year. Maybe that’s because at first listen it sounds a little par for the course when compared to previous Wild Beasts albums, but after repeat listens it becomes clear that this is a finely tuned slab of melancholy.
26. Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place - A beautiful collection lo-fi ambient experimentation. The Magic Place is best experienced with a fresh cup of coffee, a pack of smokes, and the rising sun.
25. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact - One of my favorite electronic/IDM bands returned in 2011 with their best material to date. This floor shaker is arguably the best collection of baby makin jams to drop this year.
24. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up - The Seattle hip-hop masters dropped one hell of an albums this year, and it’s success is due to clever beats and intelligent flows.
23. Araabmuzik – Electronic Dream - Exercise album of the year? Electronic Dream starts off with a bang and does not let up. This is an album that thugs and Burning Man patrons can agree on.
22. Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow - This one came out just a few weeks ago and totally took me by surprise. I’ve always been a Kate Bush fan, but that’s because I like all the dramatic gusto she injects into her music. 50 Words for Snow is still as dramatic as you’d expect from Bush, but with a gentler, more solemn approach.
21. John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves - A weird album from a weird dude. John Maus finally put all the pieces together and released an album that captures his unique vision of pop music.
Stay tuned for part 3, coming sometime tomorrow.
1 year ago I made the first post on Miniature Tundras showcasing my top 20 albums of 2010. Well, the time has come for another edition of my year-end favorites. This time around I managed to pick my top 40 albums of the year but, instead of just plopping down a big list, I’m releasing it in stages. For the next few days I will be counting down my favorites (with brief commentary) until I reach the coveted number 1 spot. Enjoy!
MINIATURE TUNDRAS TOP 40 ALBUMS OF 2011: Pt. 1 (40-31)
40. Amen Dunes – Through Donkey Jaw - Super satisfying psych folk from upstate NY.
39. James Blake – James Blake - This was a great album at the start of the year, but it was eclipsed by many others and lost much of its luster after repeat listens.
38. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo - Easily Vile’s most consistent output. A great rainy day album.
37. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy - Weirder than Actor, but oh so much more involved. Annie Clark is a fucking peach.
36. Jens Lekman – An Argument With Myself - I’m a sucker for Lekman’s dry wit, and this EP did not disappoint.
35. JEFF The Brotherhood – We Are The Champions - This album reminds me of Weezer, but in the best possibly way. Ridiculously catchy garage rock for every occasion.
34. Grouper – A I A: Alien Observer/Dream Loss - Personally I don’t think Grouper gets enough love. This double album is blissful collection of hazy soundscapes that will tuck you in and whisk you off to dreamland.
33. Crystal Stilts – In Love With Oblivion - Not terribly different from their 2009 debut, but more focused and to-the-point. A fun record.
32. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost - I wasn’t a huge fan of this album at first but it slowly won me over and now I’m hooked. Best mixtape of the year.
31. A Winged Victory for the Sullen – s/t - Achingly beautiful ambient/modern classical from the genre’s finest. This album is stunning.
Widowspeak are a three piece indie/dream pop band from Brooklyn (go figure). A few weeks ago the band released their debut self-titled album through Brooklyn’s own Captured Tracks Records. Widowspeak were unknown to me until a few months ago when I grabbed a copy of their Harsh Realm 7” which I listened to incessantly, and which built up a heavy anticipation for a proper full-length. I’m happy to report that Widowspeak have delivered the goods. I’ve been listening to the new album almost non-stop (only stopping to spin the new Amen Dunes album) since grabbing a copy last week. What I really love about this album is the contrast in styles peppered throughout. The band effortlessly switches between mid-tempo indie and 50’s inspired pop songs, to slow burning heart breakers more in tune with today’s folk trends. I’m really happy with this release and look forward to spinning it more once the weather stops sweltering.
Recommended if you like: Seapony, Pure X, Youth Lagoon, or Gold Leaves