Thursday, December 23, 2010

Figuring out the Pitchfork top 50 albums of 2010

Even though I do plenty of searching on my own, Pitchfork Magazine always helps me to orient my musical compass and I wait all year for their top songs/albums lists. After looking through the top 50 albums of 2010, I can say that I'm mostly happy. To start off, here are a few albums I'm thrilled to see on the list:
-"Crazy for you" Best Coast -"At Echo Lake" Woods -"One Life Stand" Hot Chip -"Forget" Twin Shadow -"Halcyon Digest" Deerhunter -"Swim" Caribou -"This is Happening" LCD Soundsystem -"Innerspeak" Tame Impala -"King of the Beach" Wavves

These are albums I've grown pretty attached to during the year and am happy to see get the proper recognition. However, there is one album on the list that made me blurt out "What the shit?" and that album was Vampire Weekend's "Contra". To me, the album was no more than ok and I feel like there was already a slot set aside for VW just because they released another album in 2010.

"Contra" was just as pretentious (see "Horchata" for example) as the band's first release but without the tight songwriting and sense of organization.
It isn't even easy for me to hate on "Contra" because I sincerely loved VW's first album and waited patiently for a followup. The result was a poorly written album that sometimes hits the mark but only after many annoyingly aimless meanderings. I am a little disappointed to see Pitchfork taken in by the hype surrounding "Contra" but other than that, they were pretty dead on this year. Take a look.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The pains of being too busy to enjoy the pains of being pure at heart

I've had to put lots of music I wanted to listen to on the back burner this past year because I've been so busy. One band I've had recommended to me a few times is NYC noise pop group The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and recently have gotten around to listening to them. It's a pity it took me so long to discover these guys because they are excellent.

Their self-titled first album is a noisy but dancy release that incorporates a number of shoegaze themes with present day indie pop. In songs like "Teenage in Love" (not to be confused with the Dion and the Belmonts song) the band uses fast, dance-tempo, drumbeats and whimsical lyrics to create angsty but restrained music that is hard not to love. The vocalist sings in a very dramatic, Morrisey/Ride, sort of style which completely appeals to me as a post-punk junkie. The real success of the record is its innocent poppiness and simplicity.

My favorite tracks include A Teenager in Love, Contender, and Hey Paul.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A look at Black Dog Records

Black Dog Records is an inconspicuous little record store on South Shepherd, in the same plaza as Star Pizza. While the store specializes in 60s and 70s records, the stock is eclectic and includes vinyl from a variety of genres. Recently the store was recognized by Google for being the best record store in Houston. I've known the owner, Cliff for over a year now and in that time, he's taught me a lot about music.

Me: Are you the original owner?

Cliff: Yes I am. I started Black Dog Records online, selling at conventions and stuff and that went from 96 to 98. And then I decided I liked it so much that I wanted to open a store and we opened the physical store in 1998.

Me: One thing that really stands out about Black Dog Records is the abundance of hard to find records. How do you find your rarer pieces? Some of them I have a hard time believing that someone just brought them in.

Cliff: Well, one thing we focus on is finding vinyl in the best possible condition. I'm one of those owners where I don't buy just for me but more for the people who will come in here and hopefully support my store. So I try buy everything from something as typical as the Monkees to something so obscure that the hardcore prog collectors would appreciate. I've been very fortunate because in the years I've been here I've had people bring me collections I never thought I'd see and they bring them to me because they know that I'm willing to pay top dollar for them in the shape I want them in.

Me: Even though I can find gems at bigger places like Half Price Books, sometimes I'll bring an album home and realize it's all fucked up and be really pissed off.

Cliff: And rightfully so. No one should sell crappy vinyl. I clean every piece before it comes out to the public and inspect each piece under a halogen light. I don't expect everyone to do it but that's the way that I do it.

Me: The last time I was in here, you told me about that Google award you won. Tell us a little more about that.

Cliff: Google called me and said that we had received their nomination for best record store in Houston which is just an incredible accomplishment for us, we were just tickled pink. They came by and photographed the store and did a really nice job of putting us out there. So I asked them, 'who was runner up?' and the woman from Google, I can't remember her name, said 'oh, we don't do that, we just pick the best of the best'. I didn't know we were best of the best but I'm glad that Google thinks that.

Me: Have you noticed, over the past couple years, any increase in the interest in vinyl?

Cliff: Yes I have. It's really been on the rise and it's continued to go up. Our business is doing so well. I'm just overjoyed. And what I'm finding is that a lot of young people, who have been brainwashed into thinking that CD is the sound of all sounds, are discovering vinyl and realizing that they've been duped. They're coming in and buying a lot of the old classic rock stuff whether it's original or whether it's the 180 gram vinyl. They want the warmness and brightness of the vinyl sound.

Me: What's changed, since you started, about the layout of the store and how and what you buy?

Cliff: Well, I've continued to buy the best possible vinyl in the best possible shape but I've scaled back on trying to compete with people like Walmart and Best Buy. I used to handle new CDs and I learned a hard lesson with that because they purposely keep us out of that market. I'll go to my distributor and I'll be able to get it for two dollars more than I could get it at Best Buy or someone like that.

Me: Now I know we're in Texas and we're doing a little better than the rest of the country but overall, lots of industries are suffering in the current economy. As a small business owner, has the recession affected your sales at all?

Cliff: No, it actually hasn't. In fact, in comparison to last year our sales are up. But you know I've always been in the music industry, I managed record stores back in the 70's and forward, and we've always had bad times from time to time but I find that people will always buy themselves a case of beer, a couple bottles of wine, and a couple new records and invite friends over and instead of going out and having dinner they'll have people and over and just kind of hang out and just talk to each other which is a great concept in this age of texting and computers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Clockpole tonight at Mango's Cafe

If you're not from Houston just disregard this one but if you are here, musical collective Clockpole will be playing tonight at Mango's Cafe in Montrose with Rapeworm and a few other local acts. The sounds will be loud, intense, and hopefully awesome because Clockpole, for those of you unfamiliar, is a band that never stays the same. Anyone with an instrument is welcome to go on stage and play with the four core musicians. The goal is to get everyone involved in some way.

While I'm not one of the core members, I will be there playing with Clockpole tonight. If you're an adoring fan and want to find me, I'll be playing the guitar pictured above (I like to stroke the ol' ego every once and a while). Here's the facebook link to the event because I'm just going to assume that most of you have Facebooks.