Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Bass

I'm on an instrumental music kick lately, mostly the fault of Brokeback. Doug McCombs, of Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day, has or had a solo project called Brokeback, whereby he created these gorgeous songs centering around electric or acoustic bass or both. Really nice stuff, and I wish he were still recording under this moniker, but I do not believe he is.

That led me back to Austin and Cyrus Rego, the former side project of Edward Robert, former bass player for the no-longer Paul Newman. Robert put out one release under this name on Emperor Jones Records, back in 1999, and I forgot about it until recently. Now it's digitized and in the system and sure to get loads of play time around here.

They're both accomplished pieces of music, and very different. Where Brokeback plays more to clear lines of melody, repeated and embellished and approaching minimalist jazz in places, Cyrus Rego deals in landscapes of sound and effect, complementing drone with misty pieces of song and lyric.

But they're both built around the sound of the bass guitar, and that alone makes them worth listening to.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Big Bend Ranch

Came across this official Texas Parks and Wildlife video of the new mountain bike trails in Big Bend Ranch State Park.

I rode a few days in this place when I wrote Mountain Biking Texas, for FalconGuides, way back when. There were no trail markers, mostly rough doubletrack, and so much potential for getting lost that it was more route-finding and adventure-seeking than mountain biking. But it was always a great day out.

Hopefully this will get people coming to visit and ride. It's out in the middle of nowhere, a resource that doesn't get much use--good things if you're looking for adventure in the desert.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Top Ten Albums of 2010, extended version

Every year I ask myself: What are my criteria for the best record of the year? For all of the top 10 and even 20, really, but especially for the one in first. And every year I give myself a different answer.

This year there was no shortage of contenders for the top slot, unlike last year where it seemed more like a big clump of awesome #2-6s or so. The album that won out then would not have done so against this year's list. But last year was a very different year.

2010 in many ways was about new beginnings and reinvention. From the obvious quantum leap forward of Flying Lotus to the galvanization of power and sound on The National's High Violet (and to a different degree, on In Evening Air from newcomers to the Hess library Future Islands), the artists here started the year off on a different footing, with a different purpose of step.

Bradford Cox has become one of the most consistent artists in rock music. No Age have grown up, lost a little edge, and gained a huge amount of skill and a great instinct for a hook. The Walkmen finally got through to me, the Arcade Fire came back in a big way, and LCD Soundsystem just keep getting better.

But when it came to picking the best, stuffed though it may sound, I went with what seemed the boldest of steps, the most important-feeling of new directions.

Sufjan Stevens comes as close as one can come to internalizing and distilling the swirl of musical forms and sounds in his world in his time and producing something that's entirely new, but that leaves nothing out, subjugates nothing to novelty status or mere badge of credibility. His music is impressively complicated and endlessly listenable, referential but never ironic, brainy and fun, sincere and never cloying, comfortably Christian, brilliant and accessible.

The Age of Adz marks a significant point in his career. Not only has he finally abandoned the put-on ambitions of being this nation's state-by-state freak-folkie laureate, but he shocked us with the surprise release of the All Delighted People EP, and followed it closely with his most accomplished single album to date.

This is not the record I've listened to the most this year, but this is the one that offers new insights and yields new rewards with every single listen. "Impossible Soul" practically earns the honor on its own, and not solely due to its staggering length (nearly 24 minutes!). It's serious in its affirmations, but it's not heavy handed or melodramatic and doesn't take itself too lightly or too heavily. That's the thing about Sufjan Stevens' music: It does so much, reaches so high, in a way that's so unabashed and hopeful that you can't help but get swept up.

It strikes me that, in some ways, Sufjan Stevens is the David Foster Wallace of indie rock, and this album his Infinite Jest. It's everything at once, overwhelming sometimes, concise and poignant most times, not always superficially enjoyable but always yielding wisdom and rewards.

Give it a chance--or better yet, give it about 5. That's when it really started to dig in for me.

And so, with no further windbaggery, here's this year's Top Ten Albums, plus a whole lot more.

Top Ten Albums of 2010
1. Sufjan Stevens ~ The Age of Adz
2. The National ~ High Violet
3. Deerhunter ~ Halcyon Digest
4. Future Islands ~ In Evening Air
5. The Walkmen ~ Lisbon
6. Flying Lotus ~ Cosmogramma
7. LCD Soundsystem ~ This Is Happening
8. Arcade Fire ~ The Suburbs
9. No Age ~ Everything In Between
10. To Rococo Rot ~ Speculation

The Next 10
11. Andreya Triana ~ Lost Where I Belong
12. Pantha du Prince ~ Black Noise
13. Josh Ritter ~ So Runs the World Away
14. Teebs ~ Ardour
15. Matthew Dear ~ Black City
16. Shearwater ~ The Golden Archipelago
17. Les Savy Fav ~ Root for Ruin
18. Department of Eagles ~ Archive 2003-2006
19. Sin Ropas ~ Holy Broken
20. The Morning Benders ~ Big Echo
Tonea2ing enders ~ Big o
Some other really good to great stuff, sort of in order
Atlas Sound ~ Bedroom Databank Vol. 1
Balmorhea ~ Constellations
Four Tet ~ There Is Love In You
Flaming Lips ~ Dark Side of the Moon
Brian Eno ~ Small Crafts on a Milk Sea
Lali Puna ~ Our Inventions
Frightened Rabbit ~ The Winter of Mixed Drinks
Surfer Blood ~ Astro Coast
The Ponys ~ Deathbed +4 EP
Spoon ~ Transference
Best Coast ~ Crazy For You

Songwriter/troubadors/past and future legends
Shinyribs ~ Well After Awhile
Gil Scott Heron ~ I’m New Here
Sufjan Stevens ~ All Delighted People EP

I got all excited about it and thought I really dug it but I sure haven’t put it on much:
Owen Pallett ~ Heartland
Women ~ Public Strain
Holy Fuck ~ Latin
Tame Impala ~ Inner Speaker
Sam Prekop ~ Old Punch Card
White Denim ~ Last Day of Summer
Interpol ~ Interpol
The Black Angels ~ Phosphene Dream
Superchunk ~ Majesty Shredding
The Corin Tucker Band ~ 1000 Years
ck ~ 1000 Year

New (new to me, anyway) and exciting
Meursault ~ All Creatures Will Make Merry
Gauntlet Hair ~ “Out, Don’t” (single)
Cults ~ “Go Outside” (single)
Shimmering Stars ~ “East Van Girls” (single)

Great expectations; just kinda meh
JJ ~ No. 3
Avey Tare ~ Down There Now
School of Seven Bells ~ Disconnect from Desire
Blonde Redhead ~ Penny Sparkle
Caribou ~ Swim
The Hold Steady ~ Heaven Is Whenever

Captivated me
Loscil ~ Endless Falls
Dean & Britta ~ 13 Most Beautiful: Songs For Andy Warhol's Screen Tests
Take ~ Only Mountain
Bonobo ~ Black Sands
Tokimonsta ~ Cosmic Intoxication EP
The Gaslamp Killer ~ Death Gate EP
Shigeto ~ What We Held Onto EP

Distracted me
Gold Panda ~ Lucky Shiner
Baths ~ Cerulean
Mount Kimbie ~ Crooks & Lovers
The Sight Below ~ Murmur EP
The Album Leaf ~ There Is a Wind
Tokimonsta ~ Cosmic Intoxication EP
Local Natives ~ Gorilla Manor

Maybe I’m just sick of them...
Band of Horses ~ Infinite Arms
Vampire Weekend ~ Contra
New Pornographers ~ Together
Broken Social Scene ~ Forgiveness Rock Record

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Range Life: 2010 In Music

This week's Range Life will look back at the year in music with a focus on my Top 10 Albums. Yep, me and everyone else with an iPod, right? But I promise mine will be REALLY good.

Tune in to Wednesday 5 to 7 and Friday 1 to 3 for the full live program. There was so much great new music it'll be tough to know where to begin. Join me and find out, eh?

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Another band from Austin that's escaped my notice until now. Balmorhea make gorgeous, intricate, instrumental music that's somewhere between Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Stars of the Lid with a bit of Fahey thrown in, though very different from any of it, closer to a pop format maybe. Shorter cycles, more movement.

Long quiet stretches of miniscule variation give way to dynamic passages with percussion and melodic focus, strings bowed and plucked ala The Books, and then slide back into stillness.

I'm starting with their latest, Constellations, and I can't stop listening to it. Always nice to discover a whole new catalog to dig into.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

This Saturday: RadioBoise's Annual Practice New Year's Eve

RadioBoises 5th Annual Practice New Year’s Eve Party happens on Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight at The Empire Building on 10th and Idaho streets downtown. That's where Sleep With Grace used to be. We'll have beer and wine by Bitter Creek and other local merchants, along with some food from Idaho's Bounty.

$5 donation at the door, and all proceeds go toward getting Boise Community Radio on the air at 89.9 FM in April 2011. That's a full-power radio station that this town desperately needs. (Don't believe me? Just turn on the radio and you will.)

This year’s line-up includes Mickey The Jump, Junior Rocket Scientist, Jonn E. Combat and Boy Eats Drum Machine, who is AWESOME. Your favorite Radio Boise DJs will spin tunes, and we'll have some practice countdowns and mirror ball drops to get you ready for the end of 2010. Also, Boise Rock School will kick off the festivities.

We've got tons of great silent auction items donated by cool, local businesses, too. So come do some Christmas shopping, as there are always amazing deals to be had.

Read about the event in the Boise Weekly and Idaho Statesman.