Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Categories: Nothing Not New

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Artist: Kanye West
Title: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Release date: November 22
Label: Roc-A-Fella

Fitting, perhaps, that Kanye West's new record, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is one of the final 15 or so new records that I'll be listening to before this Nothing Not New project turns out the lights at the end of this month. The record represents a lot of what I don't get about modern popular music or, put a better way, what I don't get about what other people think is genius -- and people clearly think West is a genius.

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Sharon Van Etten: Epic

Categories: Nothing Not New

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Artist: Sharon Van Etten
Title: Epic
Release date: September 21
Label: Ba Da Bing!

If you're relatively unknown as a musical artist, as is Sharon Van Etten, and you name your record Epic, you'd better be damn sure your record doesn't suck. The good news for Van Etten is that her seven-song record has little in common with things that do suck -- like, say, the song of the same name by one of the worst bands this planet has ever birthed, Faith No More.

Van Etten keeps it simple on Epic, letting her fine voice -- throaty, war, filled with pathos -- dominate the proceedings, especially on the Neil Young-esque opening track, "A Crime," a sad, minor-key relationship-gone-sour song in which she sings, "Never let myself love like that again" over a forcefully strummed acoustic guitar.

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OFF!: First Four EPs

Categories: Nothing Not New

Artist: OFF!
Title: First Four EPs
Release date: November 23
Label: Vice Records

In 2010, few things seem more ridiculous than a punk supergroup anchored by two guys who made their most indelible marks on American punk rock nearly 30 years ago. But, damn, OFF! pulled off an unlikely feat, making a record that gives a tip of the hat to early L.A. punk (right down to the cover art by Raymond Pettibon) while still sounding vital and urgent. This band easily could've come off as goof, but I admired its purity.

Led by Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks and Steve McDonald of Redd Kross, OFF! is rounded out with guitarist Dimitri Coats of Burning Brides and the "young guy" of the group, Mario Rubalcaba, who drummed for Rocket from the Crypt and Hot Snakes and currently plays with Earthless. Their record features 16 songs in just over 18 smoking minutes, with Morris sounding less cartoon-ish than he has in over 20 years and bassist McDonald making a welcome return (check out Redd Kross' early records -- essential) to performing after doing a lot of production work recently.

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Robyn: Body Talk

Categories: Nothing Not New

Artist: Robyn
Title: Body Talk
Release date: November 22
Label: Interscope

The critics sure do love the Swedish dance-pop star Robyn, who's been releasing Body Talk in chunks throughout 2010 and now has finally dropped the entire album as one 15-song compendium. But there seems to be a common theme of the reviews of Body Talk Pt. 1 and 2: Why hasn't Robyn caught on in America?

On the surface, it seems like a good question. Robyn has a radio-ready voice (think: not quite as pixie-ish Kylie Minogue), 21st-century-ready dance beats, and arena-ready choruses (Lady Gaga would be proud).

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Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3: Northern Aggression

Categories: Nothing Not New
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Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3
Title: Northern Aggression
Release date: November 30
Label: Yep Roc

Sorry I ever doubted you, Steve. Like a lot of folks, I sure did love the first couple of Dream Syndicate records, especially the iconic Days of Wine and Roses, a record that may have summed up American indie rock (of course, it wasn't called that back then) in the early 1980s better than any other.

But I all but ignored your career as you graduated from desperate underground rocker to professional musician. And even though I'm not getting any younger, either, I often make the terrible mistake of forgetting about the old-timers of rock -- possibly because you guys are so hit-and-miss. There are just as many rockers who lose their touch as there are who either successfully reinvent themselves or just keep doing what they do best -- write great songs.

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Stereolab: Not Music

Categories: Nothing Not New

​Artist: Stereolab
Title: Not Music
Release date: November 16
Label: Drag City

No, Stereolab, the long-running and influential indie-pop band, is not necessarily "back." (In fact, the band is still reportedly on indefinite hiatus.) The near-hour of music found on Not Music comes from the sessions that produced the 2008 record Chemical Chords. The band, or its record label, must have felt this material just had to get out in the marketplace.

The good news is that the high points are quite high -- especially the driving, 10-minute album centerpiece "Silver Sands," a song whose music wouldn't out of place on the soundtrack to one of John Carpenter's 1980s movies. 

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The Fresh & Onlys: Play It Strange

Categories: Nothing Not New

Fresh & Onlys, Play It Strange
Artist: The Fresh & Onlys
Title: Play It Strange
Release date: October 12
Label: In the Red

And just like that, I find myself a little bored by the sound plied and, possibly, perfected by San Francisco's The Fresh & Onlys. It's the sound that has passed for garage rock for over a half-decade now -- one that favors country, folk, and psychedelic elements over the punk 'n' roll and trash aesthetics.

You can trace the 21st-century evolution of garage to Greg Cartwright's about-face in sound and style after his Oblivians (as essential a garage-punk band as there was in 1990s) broke up and he formed The Reigning Sound, a project that showed off Cartwright's songcraft and an understanding of American musical idioms (country and blue-eyed soul, for example) that went usually went unheard in 1990s garage rock.

Then, the Black Lips slipped some psychedelia into the mix a few years back, and here we are, entering 2011 with the standard garage rock band playing not speedy and sneering (or smirking) three-chord rock but a twangier, reverb-drenched, lysergic mid-tempo cross between The Stones (when they dabbled in country, that is) and Roky Erickson. In other words, a more true nod to Nuggets than any of the 1990s garage bands were.

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Nothing Not New: Podcast #10

Categories: Nothing Not New

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Peter Storch

Oh, how we've missed podcasting to the music fans of the Valley. Well, music editor Martin Cizmar and I are back with a new one, with nine new-ish songs and lotsa banter about music, including the artistic achievements of Sufjan Stevens, a great new song by local band Gospel Claws, what's the best-ever Old 97's album, the merits of Elvis Costello's career, post-My Aim Is True, and much, much more dialogue you didn't know you could live without.

Here's the playlist:

Kelley Stoltz: "Keeping the Flame"
Matt & Kim: "Ice Melts"
The 88: "Dead on the Water"
Gospel Claws: "Summer Nights Lakeside"
Warpaint: "Set Your Arms Down"
Screaming Females: "Boss"
Old 97s: "Let the Whiskey Take the Reins"
Elvis Costello: "A Slow Drag with Josephine"
Sufjan Stevens: "Get Real Get Right"

Listen to the podcast here and catch up your Nothing Not New reading here.

Salem: King Night

Categories: Nothing Not New

Artist: Salem
Title: King Night
Release date: October 26
Label: Iamsound

There's a little town in Michigan called Traverse City, about 2 1/2 hours due north of my hometown of Grand Rapids. Traverse City is, more or less, the northernmost town of considerable size before you get to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as vast and desolate a place as the Sonoran Desert, only with pine trees as far as the eye can see instead of saguaros.

Anyway, Traverse City is ostensibly a tourist town right on Lake Michigan. It's got a great zoo featuring only animals indigenous to Michigan (though no wolverines, sadly) and is birthplace of former Suns star Dan Majerle and Michael Moore, whose Traverse City Film Festival is among the many summertime festivals in the town, most of which celebrate awesome Michigan-esque fruits such as cherry. There are a bunch of wineries, a cute downtown with mom-and-pop storefronts, some high-end bistros, and a surprisingly lively nightlife, especially if you're a sunburned Jimmy Buffett fan. It's sort of a Cape Cod of the Great Lakes. And for about three weeks in August, it's just about one of the most beautiful places in the Midwest, if not the whole country.

That Traverse City is home to the band Salem seems odd to me. Not because virtually no notable rock musicians have come from Traverse City but because the city's bucolic lakeside setting is so incongruous to the mayhem found on the band's debut full-length. 

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Matt & Kim: Sidewalks

Categories: Nothing Not New

Artist: Matt & Kim
Title: Sidewalks
Release date: November 2
Label: Fader

I suppose I should mention up front that I didn't like Tears for Fears in 1985 and I still don't 25 years later, even in a nostalgic sense. So it stands to reason that I have little use for Matt & Kim in 2010.

It's not that Matt & Kim is a bad band, but their aggressively breathless approach to synth-pop is more than a little irritating. It's the kind of rainbow-colored pop (all dippy 1980s synths and clipped drum beats) in which one song goes a long way. A 10-song, 35-minute record of this stuff is simply overkill.

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