SHOW REVIEW: Eddi Front at The Slipper Room, 1/24/13


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image from a set in London last August, by Howard Melnyczuk
image from a set in London last August, by Howard Melnyczuk

It’s freezing outside, the kind of brutal cold that makes the skin of your forehead ache as you push through the night air.  You can’t find the recently re-opened venue right away, because its door is around the corner from where you thought it would be, hidden in plain sight.  Up a flight of stairs, where a doorman greets you with superfluous cordiality, you say “I’m here for Eddi Front” and you can already hear her singing.  The doorman explains to you that she’s been playing for ten minutes already, and that coats may be checked right around the corner in the vestibule. The vestibule leads to a stunning show space taller than it is wide, cluttered with candlelit tables, decorated with flowered maroon wallpaper, heavy velvet curtains and gilded moulding framing the stage upon which Ivana Carrescia, otherwise known as Eddi Front, sits strumming a guitar with bashful bearing but direct gaze, her wispy frame clad in all black, her black hair hanging in her eyes.

And you look through the dark, searching for a particular face, but the face isn’t there – only slightly different versions of the face you expect to see, like dreams in which the familiarity of your lover is inaccessible to your subconcious but still makes strange visitations, slightly off true.  You see someone with posture just like his, soft hair sloping to a gentle curve around the shoulders.  But it’s not him.  So you focus for a minute on the performer, who is poised to become the ‘next big thing’, thanks to a beguiling persona that’s both fragile and hints at the possibility of violent, wild combustion, thanks to a voice that’s tremulous and angelic but spits words that are at times angry or terse or forlorn.  She puts down the guitar and a piano player to the side of the stage helps her finish the set, which expands on the four songs she’s thus far put out into the world with new material that is as lovely and as peculiar and as melancholy as those that drew you into the warm heart of this room on such a frigid evening.

Eddi Front sings songs that are just like that: a sort of frozenness permeates them, but then there is a warmth, a hope, a nostalgia for times past and things lost.  Her songs are like maroon flowered wallpaper and black hair in eyes and searching the crowd for a face that isn’t there and will not come.  They are slightly inaccurate dream-versions of lovers.  She is the piano player with fingers depressing his black keys over and over, lost in his most mournful tones.  She is like the burlesque that followed the show – seemingly exposed, but obscured by theatrical artifice until you cannot tell where Ivana ends and Eddi begins.  She is you, waiting at a table for nothing, feeling your heart shatter.  You remember her words in “Gigantic”, with which she closed the show:  I’ve always been slow to get off of some drugs, to let go of some loves.  I’ll crawl out of this hole soon enough.  Take my ring off.  And eventually, you stand up, put on your sweater and your coat and your gloves, and make your way out into the frozen city once again.

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Life After Girls: The Rebirth of Christopher Owens

In January, Fat Possum will release  Lysandre, the debut record of Christopher Owens.  Owens will then play two back-to-back shows at Bowery Ballroom.  In all likelihood, these shows will sell out.  The reason that the music world is waiting so eagerly for this particular singer/songwriter’s first solo record is because Christopher Owens is best known as half of highly celebrated indie rock band Girls.

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Christopher Owens at Le Poisson Rouge, image courtesy of wagz2it

Formed in San Francisco 2009 with bassist and producer Chet “JR” White, Girls became a huge and nearly instantaneous success.  Part of the fascination no doubt stemmed from Owens’ intriguing personal history, having been raised in the Children of God cult until he was sixteen.  But it was the songs that the duo created that kept audiences enthralled, their pop simplicity resonating with fans and critics alike.  The effortless, often sunny chords and uncomplicated lyrics, simultaneously fun and dark, characterized the three releases the band would produce over the next few years – Album in 2009, Broken Dreams Club in 2010, and 2011’s Father, Son, Holy Ghost – before Owens announced via Twitter last summer that he would be leaving the band.  Now, six months later, Owens will make good on his promise to continue to write, record and play music, but this time, he’s on his own.

With Owens poised to take this leap, what can fans expect?  Oddly enough, Lysandre is a strange little epilogue to the Girls saga; it’s a loosely themed tour diary of the band’s first international outing, during which Owens met and fell in love with the French girl the album is named for.  It features all the sentimentality one might see coming with such a synopsis – he describes the tender details of their first encounters and the painful realizations he came to as it ended.  And in between he questions his validity as a songwriter, marvels at the cities of the world, and swoons about a million times over, all in the key of A.

I caught what I considered a slightly more than mildly awkward solo performance a few weeks ago at Le Poisson Rouge, only his second solo appearance.  That’s using the term ‘solo’ a bit loosely since he was accompanied by a sort of sad looking plant, a keyboardist, a drummer, two back up singers (one of which is his new love interest) and a wizard-esque, white-bearded woodwind player who was literally playing a different instrument almost every time I looked at him.  More often than not, he trilled the recurring “Lysandre’s Theme” on his rather jazzy flute.  Owens and company proceeded to play his record from beginning to end, signifying further Owens’ clear intention to present the work as a whole rather than as a set of separately satisfying and sonically distinguished gems in the manner of his work with Girls.  While this is admirable in its ambition, it made the material a bit harder to digest, especially coming from someone who has shown a bit of a genius as far as composing perfectly pitched pop nuggets is concerned.

The performance was awkward because everyone wanted Owens to succeed.  There’s no denying Owens as an artist and when he left Girls he left the world hungry for great records that could have been.  But it’s also frustrating to know that he has chosen to make indulgent and somewhat gawky folk music when he’s capable of exploring the same themes in a far more palatable way.  It’s more than a little uncomfortable to watch someone coming to terms with a painful past, confronting strange desires and issues of inadequacy. It wasn’t that the music he made under the Girls moniker was less raw or honest, but the sonic intricacies of his former project provided a more clever mask for its coarser sentiments.  Without that veil, Owens’ musings tend to go from earnest to embarrassing.

A perfect example of that came about halfway through the set, when Owens performed “Love Is In The Ear Of The Listener”.  The lyrics are a series of questions posed from songwriter to himself regarding the necessity and worth of his work, but it sounds like something an aspiring fifteen-year-old poet might write.  He wonders if everyone’s tired of hearing love songs, if he’s just a bad songwriter in general.  It came across like a questionnaire Owens might send to blogs with promo copies of Lysandre, and even had the audience chuckling at certain lines.  It’s entirely possible that Owens is going for a tongue-in-cheek exploration of his insecurities.  It could be that he’s not actually worried about his abilities at all; someone with Owens’ degree of critical acclaim must feel that he can’t totally fail.  The conclusion he comes to in the song is that it doesn’t matter anyway since he’s doomed to write what he feels regardless of what people want or expect.  In this way, it acts as a sort of disclaimer for the entirety of the new material, a challenge even.

Owens closed out the set with an encore of iconic covers from Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, The Everly Brothers, and Donovan. By this point I was almost embittered enough to yell out “Cover a Girls song!” knowing that it would be completely inappropriate and even unfair to do so.  But the whole thing felt like Owens had left Girls to become a glorified wedding singer – and the tables LPR had set up around the stage did nothing to diffuse that impression.  Owens picked celebrated songs that definitely seemed autobiographical, communicating his fears of striking out on his own (“Wild World”), holding specific relevance to his break from JR White and Girls (“Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”), and fleeing from the only family he knew when he was still a teenager (“The Boxer”) but also belie his fascination with classic love songs (“Let It Be Me”) and folksy caricature (“Lalena”).  If these celebrated songwriting heights act as reference point for Owens’ aspirations, his goals certainly cannot be loftier.  One can almost parse the moments when Lysandre makes good on these objectives but the record I’ll be more excited to hear will chronicle this current solo voyage, rather than act as a sentimental look back at the artist’s time with a band I’ll miss for a while still to come.


MIXES: With A Little Help From My Bands


Whatever it is about the change of seasons in New York City from summer to fall that makes me feel especially nostalgic is something I hope I never lose. Maybe its the crunching leaves underneath my foot as I rush from my apartment to the subway and onward to class every day. Or maybe I’ve already consumed more pumpkin-flavored food and drink than one person should in such a short period of time.

Because of this overwhelming sense of nostalgia, when I’m presented with the idea of sharing the songs that have gotten me through tough moments in my life, I had the problem of having one too many songs to choose from. Music has always been a fluid element in my life; it weaves through the moments and people and feelings I encounter. The most meaningful musical moments weren’t always the ones that let me wallow or the ones that incited me towards action; they were the ones that allowed me to just exist in a singular moment and reflect. The songs that feel like a warm blanket on a cold day are always been the most comforting.
This collection I curated is ten songs that have done, and still do, just that.


“With a Little Help From My Friends” – Joe Cocker

I could’ve very easily gone with an Elvis Presley tune in place of this one. I wanted a song that reminded me of my grandpa, and Elvis had been a constant presence in our relationship. However, even more constant in hazy childhood memories from the dusty basement he spent all of his time in and the rickety blue pick-up truck that took me to and from elementary school is the sound of my grandpa mimicking Joe Cocker’s voice. It would echo through our house on Saturday afternoons while accompanied by the blaring noise of his stereo. When my grandpa passed, I listened to this song on repeat because it felt like I could still hear his voice. The soulful rasp of Cocker’s belt is warm and inviting as he wistfully answers the questions posed by the gospel choir backing him. His uncertainty comforts and eases to the point where I feel like I should respond, too.


“Silent All These Years” – Tori Amos

My mom played this song for me when I was still in the single-digit age bracket. I remember she played the track on our relic of a computer for me while my grandma cooked dinner in the kitchen. My mom was only 21 when I was born, so her taste consisted of 80s pop hits and angry 90s alt-girl singer-songwriters. I didn’t understand a single line of the song then, but I would put the track on repeat every time we were in her car before flipping to RadioDisney after the tenth, twentieth, thirtieth play. I’d spend my time dissecting the lyrics and wondering if she was saying “mermaid” or “moment.” But the title and chorus resonated with me outside of the mysteriousness of the context. Shy and always too scared to speak up, I knew what it was like to be silent for too long. And I was glad Tori Amos understood.


“True Colors” – Cyndi Lauper

Senior year of high school was filled with change and small steps towards maturation and growth. As we all prepared to move away from home and dive into adulthood, the most meaningful gift graduation gave me was the strengthening of important friendships in my life. Throughout the stress and anxiety of leaving my Midwestern hometown to live a big city life on the East coast, I learned to survive with and from my best friend Jonathan. I dedicated this song to him after he came out to me that year, and since then, we’ve adopted it as our theme song. Lauper’s vulnerable vocals are such a beautiful reflection of what it means to truly love another person for all that they are. Everyone should listen to this song when they’re feeling a bit lonely or missing a close friend; nothing serves as a better reminder of what it feels like to be loved by another.


“Hallelujah” – Jeff Buckley

Buckley’s cover of the Leonard Cohen hymnal sounds deceptively melancholy. The first time I heard it, the song drifted through the speakers in my mom’s car about a month into my freshmen year of high school. It was the first song to elicit tears from me. After repeated listens over the past six years, I’ve begun to better understand the underlying glory rather than the sadness. For some reason, I feel like I turn to this song during some of the most painful portions of my life — death, fights, stress, etc. Buckley’s range and the ease of his emotive capabilities have been able to express my sadness and recovery from all different kinds of pain better than I ever could.


“The Resolution” – Jack’s Mannequin

Andrew McMahon will always top my list of inspiring musicians. His battle with leukemia, subsequent recovery, and lyrical reflection of this battle have been moving to me since I first started listening to his band Jack’s Mannequin. Another song that defined Senior year of high school, “The Resolution” became my personal anthem to make it through the seemingly endless obstacles that separated me from having a sane year. What makes this song lack the cliche of other “inspirational” jams is its honest search for answers and clarity. It’s not about what happens when you’ve reached the end of the tunnel; it’s about figuring out the most effective way to navigate the tunnel first.


“Wicked Little Town” – Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig and the Angry Inch happens to be one of my favorite films, so the soundtrack holds a special place in my heart. The summer between senior year of high school and freshmen year of college, I watched the film at least once a week with my best friend and listened to the soundtrack almost every night. The chorus’ repeated message of “and if you’ve got no other choice/you know you can follow my voice/through the dark turns and noise/of this wicked little town” resonated at a time when I felt desperate to escape the confines of my small, directionless suburb. It was my own wicked little town, and the omnious lyrics of the song felt like a glimpse into my future if I stayed there.

“Landslide” – Fleetwood Mac

The perfection of this hit record lies in its universal appeal. My mom would sing along to the lyrics in her car whenever it played on the radio. I remember her always directing the lyrics of the chorus to me (“Well I’ve been afraid of changing/‘Cause I’ve built my life around you/But time makes you bolder/Children get older/I’m getting older too”). It felt like a lullaby when I was younger, but as I’ve grown up, the song has transformed into a musical embodiment of my growth into adulthood as I continuously speculate “can the child within my heart rise above?” My mom still sings that chorus to me.

“Chicago” – Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens’ outstanding track from the incredible album Illinois literally hits close to home. After moving to New York from the Chicago suburbs, I’ve adopted this track as my official homesickness jam. When Chicago and the people I love who are still there feel especially distant, I listen and remind myself just how much “all things grow, all things grow.” The idea of being in love with New York “in my mind, in my mind” feels especially pertinent in those moments when I just want to curl up on an old friend’s couch and be reminded of those high school inside jokes and all the mistakes we thought we had made.

“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” – Elton John

Not many singer-songwriters can pluck at my heartstrings the way Elton John can. I had never heard this song until the spring semester of my freshmen year in college, and if there’s ever a situation when a song fell into my lap at the right time, it was this one. “My own seeds shall be sown in New York City” felt like a beckoning to me to never give up on what I came to the city to do. If the subtle inspiration wasn’t enough, Elton reminded me of the wonderful friendships I had formed in this city with his line “I thank the Lord for the people I have found. While “Chicago” draws me back to the past, “Mona Lisas and Matt Hatters” makes homesickness feel like a silly idea in the first place.

“Don’t Rain On My Parade” – Barbra Streisand

With all the stress, anxiety, and whirlwind of emotions life can throw at you, sometimes it’s worthwhile to remind yourself that you actually are the baddest bitch on your block and quite possibly the universe. My ever-growing adoration towards all things Streisand makes me incredibly biased towards any of the tunes she sings. However, this particular track from the classic film Funny Girl keeps me from forgetting during my more anxious moments that it’s never worthwhile to let the world get me down when life is just waiting for me to take a bite out of it.

Content by Brittany Spanos for AudioFemme

audiofemme//mix 1 from ohheybrittany on 8tracks Radio.

SHOW REVIEW: School of Seven Bells

Tuesday night School of Seven Bells played the first of two sold-out shows at the Mercury Lounge, and thanks to the miracle of Craigslist, the AudioFemme editors were in attendance. The date was of particular significance to the band, as it coincided with the release of their phenomenal third album, Ghostory.  

The year between Ghostory’s release and that of 2010’s Disconnect From Desire was fraught with change for SVIIB, seeing the somewhat mysterious departure of Claudia Deheza.  For a band whose sound and image hinged on the dual vocals and dramatic image of twins Alejandra and Claudia, the parting of ways carried with it many unanswered questions, and is still a sensitive topic that the band does not like to broach.  As longtime fans of SVIIB, we at AudioFemme were interested to see how the band would evolve and adapt. With little idea what to expect from the new album or subsequent live performances in support of it, we’re happy to report that on both fronts, all is well.

L: It had been a while since I’d seen SVIIB, the last time being at a CMJ showcase in 2008 at Le Poisson Rouge.  At that time, Alpinisms was coming out or had just been released and I was obsessed with it.  I begged my way into the showcase for discounted admission and was treated to one of the loudest, most psychedelic live experiences I’d had to that point.  It was my first CMJ and I remember feeling so alive and thankful to be in NYC, and nothing embodied that feeling more than SVIIB’s intoxicating set.  It is crazy to think of how many years have passed since then, and even more baffling that I’ve somehow missed every other date they’ve played in the city.

Seeing them at Mercury Lounge was a real reminder of what I’d been missing.  They’re such a solid live band.  It was about halfway through the set, after a particularly rousing tune from the new album, that Ben said “Let’s get this party started” and even though the audience was a bit reluctant to do so (it was an early show, after all) all of the set list was dance-worthy.  Their performances are imbued with this sort of mystical element.  Alley has this shamanistic sort of presence, which her style definitely lends itself to – for last night’s show she was decked in silver chains and shimmery white eye-makeup.  But it’s not just a costume. Her face and voice are so expressive, pleading, and powerful.  The songs become incantations, invitations to let everything go.  They played a nice mix of old and new jams, but it all blended together seamlessly, which speaks volumes not just about strength of the music but also the ability of the band to grow and change and transcend any challenges or hardships or confusion that may have occurred in dealing with Claudia’s absence.  Adeptly filling her shoes was keyboardist Allie Alvarado, a D.C. – based performer who has released solo material under the moniker Painted Face and has played guitar with Brooklyn-based electronica outfit Telepathe. Even on their iconic dual-vocaled hit, “Half Asleep” she stepped up to the challenge beautifully and enthusiastically. Video for the track is below, followed by Annie’s ruminations on the set.

A:Holy shit. I was truly floored by this performance. I don’t know exactly what’s changed so significantly about them in the interim months since last I saw them live (I’ve probably been to the bulk of their New York shows since Disconnect came out two years ago), but I have my suspicions. And though I’ve always loved going to see them play, there was something particularly arresting about the way they sounded last night. Perhaps it was their post album-release ebullience–especially considering Ghostory’s ubiquitously positive (fanatically positive, even?) reception in the blogosphere and beyond; perhaps it was the terrific sound mix at what is an otherwise hit-or-miss venue. Perhaps it was the addition of a keyboardist/co-vocalist, or the amazing drummer who played along like a human metronome to such rhythmically complex tunes. Perhaps performing new songs invariably re-energizes any group dynamic. I imagine it’s an amalgam of all those things.

But there was something else too. Something more difficult to pin down; but something also more indelible. What immediately comes to mind is Beethoven’s Eroica – his momentous 3rd Symphony -the two opening chords of which signify, to many, the end of the Classical era in music. You’re probably so damn confused right now, thinking “What the hell is this woman talking about? Why must she bring Beethoven into this? Why???”

Let me explain: The Eroica symphony is one of revolt and upheaval, evident in the first ten seconds of score. Beethoven defies, even flouts symphonic convention by refusing to offer up any thematic indicators in that famous first phrase, and instead opts for two sharp, abrasive, a-tonal chords in an E-flat major that hits you over the head. They sound like someone wiping their hands clean (of the Classical era?), and I imagine these few measures had the very first audience members as equally confused as they were captivated. Anyway, a ton could be said about the historical context for this gambit (Ludwig was rumored to be a big fan of Napoleon), but in terms of its musical significance, I feel it was more of a move on Beethoven’s part to begin paving his own way in the larger scheme of his creative life, not to mention the musical zeitgeist in which he lived; it seems he wished to leave the past in its proverbial dustbin, and instead look onto the unfathomable horizons that lay outstretched before him. Indeed, he dove in, and subsequently shaped for the world a whole new era that would turn out to be (in my own opinion) the antecedent to nearly every genre that you love, that you can name. Classical gave way to Romantic, which gave way to everything.

So anyway, back to SVIIB and how my Beethoven tangent is in any way relevant to this show: The opening interlude to their set was so different from what one might normally hear from them. It lasted about 30 seconds. It was loud and cohesive and joyous, rather than dreamy and introverted and (intentionally) disjointed sounding in that shoegaze-ish kind of way. And everything that followed, followed suit. It almost seemed like they were trying to send us the message that we should just put to rest our expectations and conceits about who they are and what they mean as a group. And it seemed they wanted to surprise us, too. To frame it in terms of a shameless cliche, they actually seemed, right in that moment, to have ‘arrived’, in a way.  

In any case, they played plenty of old songs, but they were all infused with a totally different kind of energy and a noticeable lack of self-consciousness. Their new songs were wonderful and made me look forward to listening more closely to Ghostory. This is a band whose longevity in this industry (whatever the “industry” really is, at this point–beats me) is as assured as their talent is obvious. But they are trailblazing as well. Toward what? I don’t know. But I can’t wait to find out.

SVIIB play their second show tonight at Mercury Lounge, followed by a brief stint in Europe and tour throughout the US in April and May.  Ghostory is available now via Vagrant Records/Ghostly International.

An introduction to me and the music I love

Before I start describing to you my impression of the past year in music and what I’m looking forward to in the coming months (a succinct way to give you a glimpse into what you, our reader, can expect from me), I’ll tell you a wee bit about myself.

I was born and raised in a small Midwesterntown like so many other Brooklyn transplants. My parents placed my hands onthe keys of a piano at the age of three, and the bow of a cello in my fingersat the age of nine. I’d like to think that music is in my blood, but I knowbetter—for instance, that the early influence of Handel’s “Water Music” inshaping my perception of the world, or the memory of watching,atop shoulders, my dad play reggae at a local summertime concert, has more todo with my love for music than what my blood may contain. Still, I get afunny feeling in my heart when I hear certain songs, as if something mightbe waking up…

Though I never became aspectacular musician, by anyone’s standard, I still play occasionally. Moreimportantly, however, I learned in playing music for my whole life, to keepopen ears to whatever might waft through the airwaves. Subsequently, music hasbecome sine qua non to the diversity of my experience in the world, especiallyas a young city dweller. Without live music (even if the sound sucks, or thevenue is sub par), without the excitement of anticipating the newest album fromone of my current favorites, and without the joy of stumbling upon someundiscovered new treasure of a band (or DJ, or subway busker for that matter),life would just sparkle so much less vibrantly. New York would be such a drag.

What you can expect from me, with that said, is straightforward descriptive musings about the things that move me, namely good music (and sometimes not so good music too). If what you want though, is pretentious self-impressed sounding pseudo-journalism, then, well, I can direct you toward a few good music blogs for that too. Oh, and I have a degree in International Economics…So you may get a few tangential rants here and there about the security of oil supplies pumped throughout the Caucasus and Middle East, blah blah blah…

Anyway please read-on and (hopefully) enjoy a few personal highlights from the past year in music along with forthcoming shows and albums that I’m anticipating will be amazing. Organized categorically of course–because who doesn’t love lists?

Best new band of 2011: Beacon

My favorite newbie from 2011 is by far the band Beacon, whom I discovered at the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival thanks to my friend Jakub, who runs the label Moodgadget, to which they are signed. Comprised of Thomas Mullarney and Jacob Gossett, Beacon sounds like an amalgam of what I consider to be the best elements of R&B and electronic, respectively, with mellow, synthy keys, smooth falsetto vocals and layers upon layers of textured beats. Before you check out their newest EP, No Body–a luscious soundscape of tunes about life and love–, listen to their cover of “The Rip”, by Portishead. You can find it Here. And if you like it, check them out live on February 4th with Tycho, at Music Hall. Ms. Rhoades and I would love to see you there.

The album of 2011 I was most surprised I like: Suck It and See

When I heard the first song off the album Suck It and See, I thought to myself “I really like this. It must be some sort of new wave I don’t know of…Yeah, definitely from the 80’s…Is it House Of Love? Hmmm…No…”. I then glanced over the album cover, nearly falling off my chair in surprise, to find that it was the irascible gang of drunken, juvenile Brits themselves: The Arctic Monkeys.  They seem to have inexorably matured about ten years since, say, Favourite Worst Nightmare in 2007 (we all remember “Fluorescent Adolescent’s” jabby opening chorus line “you used to get it in your fishnets/ now you only get it in your nightdress”). And I like what they’ve become: still raucous, but a bit less self-pitying and a bit more circumspect, both sonically and emotionally (if the two can even be disentangled when it comes to music). Self-possession really does suit them, for instance in the “Black Treacle” lyric “now I’m out of place, and I’m not getting any wiser/ I feel like the Sundance Kid behind a synthesizer”. It sounds like a conundrum I’ve found myself in too, these days. And bravo, Arctic Monkeys, for being all the more perspicacious in actually admitting to it.

Best girl anthem of 2011 that feels like a throwback: “Sadness Is A Blessing”

Lykke Li’s “Sadness Is A Blessing”, from Wounded Rhymes pretty much sums up my teenage years. And I’m sure had she been around in the 90’s, I would have most certainly been dressing and acting just like her. The opening chords are an immediate reference to all the 60’s girl groups whom I love, with a catchy I-IV-V key progression. Then comes Lykke’s raspy, unapologetic plea to some heartbreaker out there, to come back to her, in spite of her . Alas to no avail, she resolves herself to the infinite sorrow that awaits her in his absence. It’s a  beautifully haunting song that seems to capture every decade of pop since the 50’s. It shows that women creating incredible music about how much it sucks to be love-sick is a motif that transcends space and time.

Best Album of 2011 by a girl-led band, that can even begin to compete with Body Talk by Robyn: Ritual Union, Little Dragon

All of those who know me know that I would cross the street to tell a stranger how much I love Robyn. Body Talk may actually be one of my favorite albums of all time. With that said, when I heard Ritual Union–the newest  from Little Dragon, I was pretty damn excited to have found what I consider to be a futuristic iteration of everything I like about everything Robyn’s ever done. Whew. Ok, enough hyperbole for you? Yeah, me too. Anyway, Ritual Union is an album full of pulsating dance beats featuring heavy snare, combined with smooth synthetic bass lines and of course, Yukimi Nagano’s beautiful, sultry voice. And while I don’t have it on repeat or anything, it’s perfect to play at the end of the night, when all your dinner guests have had a bit too much to drink, and some of them want to get stoned at sit on the couch while others just really need to have a freaky dance party .

Best album of 2011 that almost makes me like Bob Dylan: Slave Ambient, The War On Drugs

I had heard Slave Ambient several times over the past months and didn’t think too much of it, considering all the attendant hype. However, after listening to a few of their terrific live performances on NPR’s “Sound Check”, I decided to revisit it and see if there was something I had been missing. And ok, fair enough, they’re pretty damn good. The songs do accompany arcane, poetic lyrics sung by a raspy-voiced front man, with a shit-ton of folky guitar melodies. This in and of itself makes them (to me) start to sound an awful lot like Bob Dylan tunes. I can’t really help it. And for those of you who know me know I would cross the street to tell some girl’s expensively-groomed chihuahua that I don’t like Bob Dylan.  But here’s the difference: each instrument including the vocals has reverb applied, as well as any handful of cool effects. This little aspect manages to transform each track from derivative (at best) into luscious, ambient and original. Amazing what a bit of creative thinking can do, no?

Best Album of 2011, Period: Year of Hibernation, (Youth Lagoon), tied with  Father, Son, Holy Ghost, (Girls)

So this was really, really challenging. It’s basically like having to choose your favorite kid (not that I have any, but I imagine it would be an equally difficult task ). Anyway, upon much deliberation I decided to narrow it down to two. And I challenge any music lover to try and do better than that.

Ok, so first, Youth Lagoon: Who knew that some kid making songs in his bedroom would have such a substantial impact on the world of indie rock. And what makes these songs great is not that they are innovative, as is the case with much of the incredible Garage Band-made music these days, but rather the ways in which they sound like something you’ve heard a million times but can’t quite pin down. They’re nostalgically psychedelic, but simple and quiet at the same time. Trevor Powers’ voice is thin but powerfully resonate. The melodies are pedestrian but unique. The lyrics are about a childhood we can all relate to; yet somehow his words still give me pause. Every time I listen to Year Of Hibernation, I discover something new about the songs. They will put me simultaneously in a good and bad mood. And that, my dear friends, is one illustrious feat.

It’s rare that a band’s sophomore album actually surpasses their debut, but Father, Son, Holy Ghost manages it somehow, although I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who would disagree with me. The songs range from excruciatingly slow guitar ballads to Beatles-esque jingles, which is a wide spectrum to cover, and speaks loudly to the band’s versatility. Christopher Owens is a pretty self-aware dude (being a Children Of God escapee and all), and he wears is heart on his sleeve, evident in lyrics such as “They don’t like my boney body/ They don’t like my dirty hair/ Or the stuff that I say, or the stuff that I’m on”, from “Honey Bunny”, which is a track that perfectly encapsulates the band’s sound: upbeat classic rock ‘n roll, underpinned by dark moody intimations (think Beck’s “Sun Eyed Girl”).  And this little fact alone will keep me coming back to these songs again and again, probably forever.

Runners up: Unluck (James Blake),  Hurry Up We’re Dreaming (M83)

Well, clearly I could go on ad infinitum about  2011, but I figured I should leave the past where it belongs, and instead look toward what awaits us right around the proverbial corner. I’ll list a few albums about which I’m “stoked” (as they say in left coast vernacular), and then sign off, for now, with a lineup of shows I hope to attend. Who knows, maybe we can catch a few together…

Albums I can’t wait for:
Mark Lanegan Band, February 6

Die Antwoord, February 7

Sleigh Bells, February 21

School Of Seven Bells, February 28

Bruce Springsteen, March 5

Spiritualized, March 19

Choir of Young Believers, March 20

Where to track us down these days:

01.25 Lucinda Black Bear, Union Pool
01.31 Blouse, 285 Kent
02.02 Thurston Moore, Lincoln Center, Allen Room
02.04 Tycho, Beacon, Music Hall Of Williamsburg
02.07 Mark Lanegan Band, Bowery Ballroom
02.11 Dum Dum Girls, Maxwell’s
02.11 The Kills, Terminal 5
02.14 Lily and the Parlour Tricks, The Bowery Electric
02.25 Sharon Van Etten, Bowery Ballroom