Rajeev's Top 5

So the first half of '06 is in the books. Looking back at my favorites from this point in '05 and '04, the biggest contrast is the lack of any true standout - no Blueberry Boat or The Woods or Bang Bang Rock N' Roll setting the bar almost impossibly high for the rest of the year. But at the same time, this seems an especially deep and exciting year to me - lots of really good releases instead of a few great ones (as Jason pointed out), and from a new crop of bands as well. And as some of my favorite bands from the past few years say goodbye (Sleater-Kinney, sniff) or enter a new phase (Deerhoof), that seems just as worthy of celebration.

No huge surprises here, but let's get to it - from A-to-Z:

Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit. You don't expect the summer album of the year to come out in February, but B+S were up to the task. Not just a far better realized take on the upbeat pop of Dear Catastrophe Waitress, The Life Pursuit is also the band's best album since If You're Feeling Sinister in my book. Though their earliest work (still stellar) has never felt more distant, the band has also never seemed more comfortable as a band. Try "We Are The Sleepyheads" (MP3).

Brightblack Morning Light - Brightblack Morning Light. I've already said lots about the exquisitely chilled out "whiskey gospel" (their term) on this one. All I can add is that I've yet to play it for someone that's disliked it. Try "Friend of Mine" (MP3).

The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea. The early press suggested this might be the Furnaces LP to pick up on EP's easy accessibility. Well, sort of. Songs like "I'm Waiting To Know You" and "Police Sweater Blood Vow" are certainly among the band's catchiest, but the backwards vocals elsewhere and cavalcade of sounds in every corner make it clear that the Furnaces are most comfortable throwing curveballs. And that's why I love 'em. The 62-second mark on "Bitter Tea" (MP3) starts my favorite musical moment of the year.

Lavender Diamond - The Cavalry of Light EP. The numbers don't lie - I've listened to "You Broke My Heart" (MP3) and the three other songs on this self-released EP more than anything else this year. Becky Stark's vocals are nothing short of spectacular, but the strong songwriting and sharp instrumentation are what give the EP such replayability. Their full-length cannot come soon enough for me.

Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped. As much as I miss the stretched-out jams and wish they brought the noise a little more, Sonic Youth have kept me engaged all these years by always staying a moving target. I never expected something so crisp and poppy from them, but I'm not at all surprised that SY completely nailed it on Rather Ripped. It's a wonderful distillation of everything that made me first love them. And "Rats" reminds us that, as always, Lee Ranaldo is the man. Try "Reena" (MP3).

Best Reissue:

The Delta 5 - Singles and Sessions 1979-1981. The two basses and vocal harmonies of the Delta 5's precisely funky post-punk are pretty thrilling 25+ years after the fact, so I can't even imagine what it would've been like to hear these jasmin live songs when they were first released!

Jason's Picks for Half of the year

For this list of mid-year favorites, I'm going to steal from Michael Davies' addictive World Cup Diary by using his "For" or "Against" style. You can find Davies' blog on ESPN and if you're following the World Cup, it's required reading. Not only is Mr. Davies an excellent diarist, he's also an executive producer for the forthcoming film, Once in a Lifetime, which recounts the rise and fall of the New York Cosmos and the old North American Soccer League. Rajeev and I were lucky enough to catch a screening of the film recently and found it insightful and quite hilarious at times. It'll be out soon in July in theaters here in New York.

Now it's time for the favorites. Before I get to the For and Against items, here is a list of choice albums, EPs, singles, and songs from the first six months of 2006. These are in no particular order by the way.

For: Any music created by Brian Eno. This includes Eno albums proper, Roxy Music, Talking Heads and even Paul Simon's new record.

Against: I'm running out of Brian Eno albums to discover.

For: Fixed parties at Don Hill's.

Against: Motherf*cker parties at Avalon.

For: Surprises - Young People, Man Man, Naked Ape, Secret Machines

Against: Disappointments - The Strokes, The Streets, The Rapture (W.A.Y.U.H. single), The Flaming Lips and Gnarls Barkley, but only because "Crazy" made the rest of the album sound so average. Ok, the rest of the album was average.

For: FIFA World Cup Germany 2006

Against: Dave O'Brien and Marcelo Balboa, the U.S. national team, the Italian diving team, the refs and fake injuries.

For: Swedish music

Against: The Swedish national football team. No one has surrendered to Germany that easy since the French in World War 2.

For: Seeing Asobi Seksu at Joe's Pub, Goldfrapp at Irving Plaza, Hot Chip at the Bowery, Scissor Sisters at the Bowery, Stephen Malkmus at the Knitting Factory, Optimo and Erol Alkan at Don Hill's and other great shows I can't remember right now.

Against: Missing Radiohead, the rain that ruined SFA, and all the other great shows I couldn't go too.

Yeah I'm Unsatisfied

Ever open a drawer in your kitchen or bedroom and discover a thousand dollars lying there? Me either. But there are equivalents to this live jasmin experience, and I have one to share. I don't know how The Replacements came up in our conversation, but Rajeev and I were discussing them one night this week while waiting around at the Mercury Lounge for some band or another. We agreed they were fantastic and that they wrote songs so great we get the chills just thinking about them.

I'm absolutely not an expert on the Replacements or Paul Westerberg or Tommy Stinson or any of the other guys and their side projects. I've heard a few of the `Mats records in the past, but I always focused on single tracks over the album experience. For example, I bought Tim back in the day really only to hear "Little Mascara."

So this weekend I listened to the `Mats again. I started with Let it Be. At first the experience was normal, but then I got to the seventh track, "Unsatisfied." Suddenly I was blasted by the unvarnished emotion in Westerberg's voice. "Look me in the eye and tell me / That I'm satisfied" he dares, singing with so much raw disconsolation. The song strikes chords with me and says so much about my opinions on many things these days. "Unsatisfied" is an anthem for our disaffecting times, where the world offers so much but so little actually sticks.

I listened to Let it Be all the way through a second and third time, hearing it anew on each play. I realized then that I'd never really "got" the Replacements before. I had appreciated their songs, but never grasped exactly what was at their core. I still don't have it down yet, but I can see it's time for a true measuring of the Replacements.

Listen to The Replacements - "Unsatisfied (Live)" (MP3)

Elsewhere:

With 2006 half over, it's just about time to begin collecting thoughts and opinions on the first six months of music. Here at One Louder we'll be posting individual lists of favorite albums, EPs, songs and other random bits over the next three days. Is "Unsatisfied" perhaps a suitable summation of this year so far for me? Am I ever satisfied? Probably not, but there have been a handful of quality releases worth noting. Looking at my play counts in iTunes, I've listened to Brian Eno more than any other band that put out music this year, but his albums were released in the `70s. I won't give away what I plan on picking, but right now I can't think of one album that stands above all others. The field is wide open.

Busy times here at the OL headquarters, both at work and at play, with lots of shows to report on

Brightblack Morning Light + Mariee Sioux - Mercury Lounge, 6.23.06

As you might have guessed from all my talk around here so far, I arrived at the Mercury Lounge on Friday quite excited for Brightblack Morning Light. From the crowd's reactions throughout their set, it seems I wasn't the only one. The opening notes of "Everybody Daylight," which ended the set, even won a cheer. They started with "Friend of Time" and focused their set on the new Brightblack Morning Light LP. The band did a great job of transplanting the restrained chill of their studio sound to the stage - especially with the organ - but the vocals lost a bit on Friday. The words matter much less, but the stretched-out sounds of the voices are integral to the band's music and seemed too low in the mix. It left the songs feeling a little empty in spots, almost too focused on the groove. That said, the groove was quite nice and featured three guys on percussion - one on drums, one on congas, and one playing a whole mess of stuff that I can't even name. I'd love to see Brightblack play a seated venue with pristine sound, as I suspect they'd really shine in that setting. Joe's Pub would be perfect!

I definitely liked Mariee Sioux's solo opening set - she was a bit like Joanna Newsom in delivery and cadence, but with an acoustic guitar and a less quirky voice. Check out her MySpace page. We actually didn't stick around for Espers - perhaps the wrong call, but I've never gotten into Espers on record, it was crowded in there, and there were other things going on. Still, seeing a band live is sometimes all it takes. I'll need to give them a chance next time.

Asobi Seksu + PAS/CAL - Mercury Lounge, 6.22.06

The prior night also found me at the Mercury Lounge, for Asobi Seksu and PAS/CAL. It was part II of Asobi's Citrus record release shows, a companion to their June 1 gig at Joe's Pub. Not much was different - Citrus still rules, Asobi still love to bring the noise live, and the show overall was very satisfying. Not to plug Joe's Pub too much, but I preferred that first gig - seeing the band while sitting down made it easier to be overwhelmed by the density of their sound. I have no complaints about Asobi's Thursday set though. Their closing cover of the Crystals' "He Kissed Me" was even a little tighter this time. I hope Citrus gets the band some attention - it's totally deserved.

Detroit's PAS/CAL opened for Asobi and, with their usual backup singer away from the band, Betty Marie Barnes from Saturday Looks Good To Me helped out on all chaturbate songs. As I mentioned before, this made me doubly excited for the set - I adore Barnes's voice and I was also excited to hear PAS/CAL's new material again. I say "again" because I heard some of it almost two years ago at Sin-e - unfortunately, Citizen's Army Uniform (their future LP's tentative title) is still brewing. (We hear a new label is all that's needed.) The new songs sounded great, as did "What Happened to the Sands" and "Poor Maude" from the Oh Honey, We're Ridiculous EP. They really need to release the new stuff though. Though PAS/CAL's melodies and energy are more than enough to carry the live show, the delicate intricacy of their music works even better in a studio. Oh and as for Betty Marie? I think I am in love.

Deadbeat - subTonic, 6.21.06

The digital dub sounds of Deadbeat soundtracked my Wednesday night at subTonic. I like Deadbeat's albums, I thoroughly enjoyed what I heard of him last May at Mini-Mutek NYC and, based on a strong review of his 2006 Mutek set, I expected last week's show to be even better. Alas, it wasn't. I don't think it was Deadbeat's fault - he built up his set really nicely, getting dancier and more cut-up by the minute. The sound needed more bass though, way more bass - usually not a problem at subTonic. It was still enjoyable, but it could've been better.

The Rapture - Crash Mansion, 6.11.06

It's taken me a couple weeks to write about the Rapture's June 11 show at Crash Mansion, perhaps because there's not a ton to say about the Rapture these days. For me at least, their reputation as a live act is steady and sealed. I've enjoyed every set of theirs I've ever seen. "Out of the Races and Onto the Tracks" never fails to be a early winner, Luke Jenner's guitar screech-outs still sound fresh, and though Echoes left my regular rotation long ago, I'd listen to those songs live every day. The new songs are promising though. We heard less of them at Crash Mansion than at the Bowery last October, but if anything they sounded better this time. "W.A.Y.U.H." is the one to have leaked, and I actually think it's the worst of the bunch. ("The Devil" was my favorite at this show.) I haven't heard any updates on the new Rapture album in a while, but hopefully we'll hear more of it soon.

Favourite Sons opened up, and I'm interested to hear more of them. The lead singer was totally channeling Ian McCulloch. Dead Combo also opened, and I shall be avoiding them in the future. They were one of the worst bands I've seen in recent memory, but perhaps that was the point? It seemed very Spinal Tap. Who knows.

A Pause From the Nostalgia

To prove that I'm not all about recounting the past, I thought I would share a song that is currently racing up my iTunes most played list. While the track is no older than 2006, its sound is an exquisite blending of vintage 1980's New Wave and early 21st century German techno. One other fact you should know and this will probably come as no surprise. The song is written by a Swede. Call me obsessed with Sweden. Not only do I like the music from this country, but I'm pulling for them to take out the Germans in the World Cup.

Now for the song. It's called "Försöker Sova" (MP3), which in English means "trying to sleep." It's written by electronic artist PopJohan and is available for download from his site, along with the two other tracks from his new EP, Vaknar. Here is Mr. PopJohan's concise description of the EP: "Soundwise it's inspired by the latest albums from Ellen Allien & Apparat and Alex Smoke." Otherwise, right up my alley.

Have a great weekend!

Soccer is Dead in America

There you have it. Soccer in the United States will be buried and forgotten for the next four years or longer. Thanks to their poor showing in the 2006 World Cup, never again will anyone believe the yanks can win a World Cup title. It's done. The U.S. will never be a world class team. Fire Bruce Arena, show Landon Donovan the door. America will never be a soccer nation.

Blah, blah, blah. I'm sick of hearing the doomsdayers and naysayers crying into their fake Uncle Sam beards about the death of soccer in the U.S. Emotions turn from grief to anger, obscuring a few facts worth holding onto. First, the U.S. was placed in an extremely difficult group. It would have surprised no one if we lost to both Italy and the Czechs. We were underdogs in both matches. Put the U.S. in Germany or Spain's group (both loaded with paper tigers) and today we'd all be talking about possible quarterfinal opponents.

Second, a poor tournament showing does not equal a failure of the entire sport in this nation. I'm sure the French care just about as much for their team after they crashed in 2002 as they did when Les Bleus took home the cup in '98. I'm sure the French still loved their team when they didn't even qualify in 1994. The Netherlands missed World Cup 2002 after finishing fourth in 1998. Is the sport of football in decline in Holland? Doubtful. I would like to believe that Americans are smart enough to realize this was a failure on the part of one team, in one tournament. Or so I hope.

Yes, football is obviously much better established in France and Holland than in the U.S and thus more able to survive the natural peaks and valleys of tournament play. Certainly a stronger showing by the yanks would have drawn in more American fans. But in my opinion America's failure to advance this year will have very little effect on the popularity of the sport in this country. Those who care are disappointed and angry. Of course I wanted to see "my team" do better. But I won't give up caring because we lost. I don't stop caring about basketball when "my team", the Arizona Wildcats lose.

And those who never cared in the first place? They are probably shrugging their shoulders in ambivalence. Besides, haven't we been here before? The U.S. finished dead last in 1998. Four years later, we were in the quarterfinals. I hope that 2006 will be just a minor dip in the upward trajectory of the U.S. National team. 2010 here we come!

With no Tivo to rely upon, I've found myself watching rebroadcasts of World Cup games on Galavision. I don't understand a word the announcers are saying, but they are still better than Dave O'Brien and Marcelo Balboa. Well, I do know a few Spanish words and phrases, such as "gol", "pelota" and "diving Italians". But what the hell does "tiro de esquina" mean and why are the announcers so excited when they say it? Turns out that phrase means corner kick. I learned that from this helpful page, which translates common soccer terms from English to Spanish. So if you're watching a partido and want to know what sombrerito means, by all means check that site out.