Thursday, December 31, 2009

HAD's Top Records Of 2009

You didn't think we'd forgotten, did you? Granted, it's New Year's Eve and we're not much for best-of lists. Still, we couldn't help but think that you, dear readers, might just like to know what we had picked as our creme de la creme for the year. So, without further ado, we give you the HAD Best Records of 2009! Happy New Year!

1. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix:
If this entry surprises you, then one of two things is true: either you don't read HAD regularly, or you're just plain not paying attention. We've been drooling over Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix since before it's release, and frankly never stopped. There's no question that 2009 has been Phoenix's year, and we had the pleasure to catch them on the way up. Given that it was three years since their last record, our only disappointment is that we may have to wait just as long for the next one.

2. Kurt Vile – God Is Saying This To You...
Kurt Vile has had a ridiculously prolific year: two full length records and an EP, to be exact. Still, it's this record - the first we heard from Vile - that really stuck with us when push came to shove. God Is Saying This To You... takes hold of all of Vile's strengths, combining them simultaneously into a whole that is greater than its parts. There's atmospheric ambience, pop songwriting, and killer instrumentation. In short, it's a masterpiece that he has yet to best, although we have little doubt that he will.

3. BLK JKS – Mystery EP/After Robots
BLK JKS exploded on our musical consciousness seemingly out of nowhere, offering up a killer blend of sonic influences that is simply unparalleled in the US music scene. Hailing from South Africa, the band has a sound that is unmistakably unique, and moreover, completely exciting. The compositions are loaded with layers of melodies and rhythms, many of which only reveal themselves after repeated listens. We're often searching for sounds that are unfamiliar or unique, and in BLK JKS we found them without question. With the band just having released their first video, we frankly can't wait to see what comes next. (And if you have any question in your mind about what high quality vinyl pressings sound like, pick up the band's Mystery EP. The pressing is a marvel of analog science.)

4. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
It goes without saying that Dave Longstreth has been writing some of the most exciting compositions out there for the better part of a decade. Still, 2009 was the year when he took his game to town, and delivered it to the masses. Assembling a ridiculously tight band for both the studio and the road, Longstreth managed to create a body of compositions that somehow fulfill a ridiculous duality. Not only are they some of the most groundbreaking works of the year, but also somehow unfathomably accessible. Listening to the effortless intricacy makes you realize that there are simply some bands that were meant to push the envelope, and that Dirty Projectors are one of them.

5. Japandroids – Post Nothing
Post Nothing fell upon us like an unexpected breath of fresh air. The record is, quite simply, a balls to the wall, blood on the tracks, heart on the sleeve, rock and roll record. Never mind that it's only two dudes making all that noise, or that they employ an amazingly honest DIY work ethic. The fact of the matter is that this record has some of the most heartfelt lyrical content we've heard in a long time, and that friends, is called soul. "Will be find our way back home? I don't know..." Neither do we, but you can bet we'll be glad to have a Japandroids record for the journey.

6. White Rabbits – It’s Frightening
Talking about this record without mentioning its producer is painfully difficult, especially given how much we love the guy. But it's absolutely necessary, because White Rabbits deserve their moment in the spotlight. Not only did the band create this amazing record, but they backed it up with a painfully bulletproof live show that demonstrated their musical prowess without compromise. It's Frightening is the sort of record that will be stuck in your head for days after you've heard it, and that's definitely a good thing.

7. Julian Casablancas – Phrazes For The Young
No, it's not a Strokes record, but we're okay with that. The fact of the matter is that Julian Casablancas the solo artist manages to create a world that he controls completely, and that means that you're seeing his vision to perfection. The end result is an album that is many things at once: controlled but chaotic, dancey but rock-y, angry but laughable, earnest but sly. In short, Casablancas has managed to take his persona and elevate it to another level, with an album to match. Phrazes takes quite a few listens to truly "get", but once you do, it's every bit as rewarding as any offering from Jules so far.

8. Vetiver – Tight Knit
After releasing a covers record, we were kind of secretly wondering if Vetiver had it in them to follow up the stellar To Find Me Gone. Tight Knit answered that question with a resounding yes: the record is packed to the seams with amazing instrumentation, fantastic songwriting, and killer arrangements. What's more, for a band whose strong suit is subtlety, they manage to deliver a rock solid, upbeat live show. In short, Vetiver has clarified that not only are they here to stay, but they're delivering some of the best sounding records around.

9. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport
We were sort of lukewarm on Street Horrsing, so we were pretty surprised when Fuck Buttons delivered a record of this caliber. Quite simply, Tarot Sport manages to take electronica to a new place, and it's one that we're quite happy to be. The pair manage to employ a range of synths and samples to create a sound that is immediately accessible and at the same time totally holds its own against some of the best electronic experimentalists today. It's been a long time since we've been completely won over by a record driven by DJ's, but we're happy to say that Tarot Sport delivers.

10. The Takeover UK – Running With The Wasters
What can we say? We're suckers for amazing pop records, and this one is exactly that. Yes, it's an amalgam of influences, but the fact of the matter is that Running With The Wasters is a record of pure garage rock perfection, with a shiny veneer on top of it all. Sure, we know it's not cool to love a record this clean, but that doesn't change the fact that every time we listen to it the melodies are stuck in our head for days afterward. What's more, the band is a sight to see live, and has the chops to deliver exactly what the record promises. Throw it on, sit back, and relax - this record's about as fun as they get.

Well kids, there you have it - our best of 2009! Now we're off to enjoy a snowy New Year's Even in New York, and we hope you're doing the same, wherever you are. See you next year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

HAD: The Year In Pictures

Being that tomorrow's New Year's Eve, and that a huge part of HAD's coverage involves live shows, we couldn't think of a better time to go back and pick out some of our favorite shots from shows over the past year. We hope you have as much fun looking back on the pics as we did picking them out - Happy New Year!

Mount Eerie at Market Hotel

The Flaming Lips at Treasure Island Festival, Photo By Brian Fong

The Postmarks at The Canal Room

Passion Pit at Treasure Island Festival, Photo by Brian Fong

Japandroids at Mercury Lounge

Grizzly Bear at Treasure Island Festival, Photo By Brian Fong

Phoenix in Central Park

Yura Yura Teikoku at Music Hall Of Williamsburg

Kings Of Convenience (with Feist) at Bowery Ballroom

The Mars Volta at Outside Lands, Photo By Rick Audet

MIA at Outside Lands, Photo By Rick Audet

The National at Outside Lands, Photo By Rick Audet

Dinosaur Jr. in Central Park

The Walkmen at the Guggenheim

David Byrne at Berkeley Greek Theater

Wilco at Berkeley Greek Theater

White Rabbits at The Independent

Phoenix at The Paradise

Foreign Born at The Independent

Doves at The Fillmore

BLK JKS at The Independent

Wilco at Jazz Fest

Spoon at Jazz Fest

Vetiver at Great American Music Hall

Crocodiles at Sesson

Plants And Animals at Bottom Of The Hill

Spoon at Crystal Ballroom

Les Savy Fav at Mezzanine

No Age with Bob Mould at Bottom Of The Hill

Cut Off Your Hands at The Independent

Clues at Rickshaw Stop

Loch Lomond at Noise Pop Showcase

Steven Malkmus at Great American Music Hall

Deerhunter at Mezzanine

The Heavenly States at Rickshaw Stop

Lissy Trullie at the DeYoung Museum

The Walkmen at The Fillmore

The Blacks at Rickshaw Stop

For many more HAD photos, be sure and check out the HAD Photo Archive!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

(Part Of) The Velvet Underground Appeared At NYPL Live

Granted, it's been almost three weeks since the event, but that doesn't reduce the awesomeness that occurred as HAD got to sit down and watch three of the four (John Cale was not in attendance) surviving members of The Velvet Underground in conversation with David Fricke. The group came together at the New York Public Library's main branch for the latest installment in the New York Public Library Live series. The event was ostensibly driven by the publication of the new book about the band entitled The Velvet Underground: New York Art. However, conversation was definitely not limited to the book, and there were quite a few tidbits to be had. Here are some notes from our man on the scene:

The lights dimmed, a PA clumsily moved the needle on the phonograph which was to the side of the stage, and Heroin came blaring on the speakers. After the song, the lights came up and David Fricke (moderator), Maureen (Moe) Tucker, Doug Yule, and Lou Reed took the stage to a standing O.

Fricke is clearly a fan of the band and of Reed in particular. Below are notes from the talk and Q&A

  • Began with discussion of history of band and its ambitions, first paying gig was 12/11/1965 (almost 44 years ago) at a high school in New Jersey, they were paid 75 bucks which prompted original drummer Angus MacLise to leave the band because they were sellouts. Sterling Morrison's brother recommended a friends sister, Mo Tucker, because she could play the drums and "she had a car", Reed added.

  • Fricke inquired how Andy Warhol came into the picture. Reed and Tucker indicated a mutual friend brought them together. Reed offered that "Andy Warhol is one of the greatest people I've ever met in my life." Tucker "loved" Warhol but said Reed had a more "intimate and scholastic" relationship with Andy. Warhol started booking them for his gallery openings and by March they were recording their first album with Andy. Andy brought in Nico to sing because they needed a "Chanteuse" Reed said. Reed also mentioned that All Tomorrow's Parties was Andy's favorite song on the album, "that's my faaaavorite" Reed said, mimicking Warhol in his distinctive nasally voice. Reed also mentioned that Moe did some typewriting for Andy at the Factory for his 24 hours in the life of project. Moe didn't like all the swearing so she would put in spaces when curse words came up. Andy got wind of this and came over, sat on the desk, and said, "Gee, Moe, can you just put the first letter of the dirty words or something?"

  • Fricke asked Reed about his songwriting. Fricke asked Reed about some ostrich song that Reed wrote while at PickWick records and Reed sang a few bars, which was pretty funny. He talked about his love of the songwriters and songs that influenced him including Coney Island Baby and Tell me Why by The Excellents (he heard these when he was around 14 and made him want to write songs) Another song he mentioned was The Wind by The Diablos. Lou said his favorite song is Lonely Woman by Ornette Coleman.

  • Other Notes:

  • When recording Sister Ray, the engineer said "I don't have time for this shit, when you guys are done fucking around let me know" and left the studio.

  • Yule talked about seeing the VU at a show at Harvard and being blow away by the "intensity and in-your-face-ness" Yule also talked about singing Candy Says and at the time not even knowing who Candy Darling was, he just thought it was a "pretty song."

  • Q&A:

  • 120 questions were submitted, only 3 or 4 were answered. Talked a bit about NYC and the scene today. Moe said she doesn't live here and hasn't even been in NYC for years, but from what she hears and reads, it's too expensive today for artists. The Velvet Underground couldn't exist today. Reed disagreed somewhat saying there are a lot of interesting things going on in Brooklyn.

  • The last question was would they ever think that 40 some years ago, would they ever be up on the stage doing this talk at the library, Reed, Tucker, and Yule unanimously said, "No."

  • So there you have it folks, you get no Velvet Underground with your 2009 New Year's dinner - and with that, we say good day!

    Photos by Peter Foley for NYPL Live