#3- M83- Before the Dawn Heals Us


I remember when I would spend the money I saved on a CD and obsess over it. Even in college, I would buy a CD and listen to it from start to finish several times. It would be the only thing I would listen to. I wanted to know an album inside and out. These days are dying. The album as a medium is on its last breath. EPs are released more frequently. People download songs at ease. I'll even buy a song on my phone when I'm driving. It's now considered "old-fashioned" to buy an album as a whole and digest the 12 songs.

Before the Dawn Heals Us is one of the best albums ever. Each song perfectly evolves into the next. Using influence from various 1980s-1990s rock and roll genres, Anthony Gonzalez created a dynamic set of songs that stand stronger together then they do alone (though, I think each track is great enough on its own). M83 is best described as an electronic shoegaze/dream-pop band. They take ambient noise and repetitive thrash elements from shoegazing greats like My Bloody Valentine, dream-pop textures from the likes of Brian Eno, melodramatic brooding catches from 1980's bands, and electronic glitch samples reminiscent of Squarepusher to create the unique and epic M83 sound.

BtDHU opens with "Moonchild", made of epic synths and Andrewlloydweberesque drums pounding over a whimsical female story teller and progresses into an emotional swell of guitars, drums, static, choruses, and sustained distortion. Songs that follow such as "Don't Save Us From the Flames" and "Teen Angst" are catchy melodramatic songs that provide the perfect balance of feel good relief and heart-pumping anxiety. The duet "Farewell/Goodbye" tells the story of a lover passing away and extending care from the afterlife. Even before I knew what the lyrics were about, the song was bittersweet and painful. I think this is the only album that I felt nostalgic about on my first listen (i dont think that's possible, being that nostalgia technically tugs at memory...).
The album wraps up with a song that perfectly expresses the M83 sentiment. "Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun" is quite the finale. It even has the ability to make a skate video seem deeper than oceans.

I feel like this album tells a story. Not in words... but in sheer gut feeling. There are parts where you feel hopeful, angered, in love, heartbroken, anxious, etc. This album is epic and bittersweet with a timelessness that will leave you wanting more for years to come. Late night car drives, cigarettes, le metro in Paris, or in the iPod earbuds when stargazing... I've associated many of my most vibrant and personal memories with this album because it demands a nostalgic bond. Just last month, my copy of the cd was scratched in my car. Sad moment.

If you are brave/stupid enough, put your guard down and take this album for a Teen Angst test drive.


#4- Radiohead- In Rainbows


First of all, I know many radioheads will give me flak for not choosing Kid A. So, in Kid A's honor, this first paragraph is an iceberg tip of a hat. Kid A is an incredible album. It perfectly ushered in the new decade of internet and digital dependence. It was still rock and roll, but it was built on what the internet and binary would produce. I felt like it was melodic rock and roll that my new cable internet would sound like if it made great music. Kid A had a perfect blend of songs that brought out a distinct Radiohead feel. I personally refer to this feeling as the "holy shit" sentiment: "holy shit, how did someone write that song? holy shit, why do I feel like this?" Songs like "Everything in it's Right Place" or "Idioteque" utilized the strange glitch sounds to create layered new millennium hits. The title track is still to this very day, one of the most overwhelming songs I've heard. It's not cluttered or hectic, but it's just... complete. It was difficult not to choose Kid A, but I had my reasons.

In Rainbows was the straw that broke the physical format's back. After finishing up their record contract with EMI, Radiohead took things into their own hands. In the fall of 2007, Radiohead released 10 songs on their website available for download for any price the consumer desired. I paid two pounds. Once a band like Radiohead made an audacious move against the dying record companies, the label and cd were deemed irrelevant. DIY was the new big break.

In Rainbows took over two years to make. Since Radiohead didn't have the pressure of a record label or deadlines behind them, there wasn't a sense of urgency. Between tours and years since a prior release (and Yorke's solo album), Yorke and company felt a bit tired. However, their genius held up, tried and true. The album had a perfect mix of Radiohead songs. Distorted guitar rock and roll songs like "Bodysnatchers", sampled 5/4 glitch beats in "15 Step", and an ethereal heaven in "Nude" (this song still gets my blood pumpin). "Weird Fishes" is an anxious song that truly puts the listener in a submerged and impatient state. It gives you the desperate tremble that one would have when snorkeling in an unfriendly current. Next time you go to a car wash where you drive your car through the line of soapy flaps, put this song on loudly and think of fish. (Nerd much?) After a few more perfect songs, the album wraps up with a bareboned and vulnerably mortal "Videotape".

To further explain why I chose IR over KA, I need to be straight with you. I am a relatively fresh Radiohead fan. In the early 2000's I consciously resisted drinking the Yorke juice as a passive aggressive protest against my younger sister who had been a 'head for a long while. Regrettably, I missed a lot of the Kid A culture while it was happening (but better late than never, right?!). In Rainbows, however, was delivered when my mind was rich and hungry for anything Radiohead. More importantly, I fell in love with Scotch_mist and the radiohead.tv shorts. Radiohead had a series of homemade music videos, performances, poems, and shorts available for fans. They became an interactive band. It felt like Radiohead had transcended from musicians, into simply Radiohead.

I know I sound like any other Radioheadaholic, geekin out here and all, but seriously...

Holy Shit.


A Christmas EP

Here are a handful of Christmas songs brought to you by Sundays.

JC Del Barco II
Sebastian Pardo
Michael Burrows
Jared Parsons
Jenni Westbrook

Track listing:
1) I didn't know what to buy my sister for christmas so i wrote her this song (It's Christmas Time)
2) Baby, It's Cold Outside
3) Rudolph

4) Baby, It's Cold Outside (SBP Alternate Vocals)
5) Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (By Jared Parsons)

6) O, Mac n' Cheese

Download for free and share the holiday cheer. Merry Christmas.

More to follow...


#5- Sigur Rós- ( )

For any of you that know me, I've got a strong knack for Icelandic music, film, and art. This album alone was the snowball that created the avalanche. While the prior album, Ágætis byrjun and touring with Radiohead put Sigur Rós on the map, I feel that the parenthesis album was their best (*Note that even if Ágætis byrjun was released this decade, I would have still chosen parenthesis).

This album solidified the distinct Sigur Rós sound of Jónsi Þór Birgisson's haunting falcetto over his reverb-heavy guitar being strummed by an old cello bow. One thing that I think is inconsistent with ( ) from Sigur Rós' other albums is tempo. This album has a really slow bpm. A simple 2/2 beat can seem much longer. While some may say that it is simply "boring", I fell in love with ( ) for this reason exactly. There is time to absorb, dwell, and digest each sound. While the album is far from cluttered, Sigur Rós manages to paint landscapes of sentiments in their notes and kicks.

The album consists of two halves, four untitled songs each. The halves are separated by 36 seconds of silence (maybe two segments of "18 sekúndur fyrir sólarupprás" for any of you diehards out there?). The former are not necessarily happy songs, but they have a soothing and hopeful sound. The latter are melancholy and gloomy. The two halves perfectly juxtapose each other, like two parenthesis. ( ) is also sung in a made up language referred to as "Vonlenska", or "Hopelandic". Built on very few sylables (You si lo no fi lo you so), the gibberish still seems to communicate sentiments and even stories at times. Personally, I think this was key in their international success; they made something transcendent of tongue.

Untitled #8 is the most distinct song on the album. While at first a feelgood pretty song with a catchy guitar riff leads the listener thinking that there is optimistic redemption at the end of the second half of the album, the song takes a dark turn. Past the six minute mark, the song shatters into a hopeless requiem of agressive drums unique from the rest of the album, distorted guitars and bass, and a howling Jónsi. Hopeless and exhilarating.

A live recording of Untitled #4 was also debuted in Cameron Crowe's 2001 release, Vanilla Sky. This was what first wet my feet into the Sigur Rós world. Also, this film captivated me and established what was to be an undying love for Penelope Cruz, Sigur Rós, and dvd menus (if you're anything like me, fall asleep to this one and wake up romantically disillusioned). The rest of the decade would see Sigur Rós' music all over film and television. They became an international phenomenon built on a sound that is completely original.
Sigur Rós was my gateway drug into many other great Icelandic artists. This album was a big part of high school for me. Also, I always wanted to get the sleepwalker image from the back of the album tattooed on me but stupid Ryan Schumaker got it done last year and I hate him. Sleepyface will have to do.


#6- Elliott Smith- Figure 8


I have one framed photo on my living room wall. Though small and colorless against the wall, the black and white matted portrait of Elliott Smith fills the space adequately.

Figure 8 was the last album that was released during his lifetime. It opens with a powerful punch, "Son of Sam" is a rock and roll tune with some great olde bar piany pounding the keys. By the end of the song, a listener has to wonder if he can follow up that song with the rest of the album. He does. Every song on this album is perfect. Smith made a perfect cocktail out of folky acoustic guitars, blues-grunge hybrid electric guitars, ragtime piano, and classical string arrangements. Figure 8 sounds like a divine blend made of every American rock and roll influence in the past century, country to grunge. The blues guitar on "Can't Make a Sound" just rips my heart out every time I hear it (which is often). Though his voice is soft and often nothing more than a melodic whimper, the vocal layers and harmonies create a distinct Smith sound that will sing to the back of the room and into the deepest well of your gut and heart.

His music was somberly perfect.

It's truly tragic that Smith has passed away. Having battled with years of depression, alcoholism, and a severe addiction to heroin, Smith embodied everything any solid person would never hope to be. While touring around 2000, Smith's performances were tragic at best. Audiences would often have to help him remember words, as the ungroomed and sickly Smith would space out on stage. While working on the next album, co-producer Jon Brion, confronted Smith about his addiction which resulted in an end to their brilliant friendship (seriously, two of my musical heroes here. Sad I missed this one).

2002 was a better year for smith. He began to get clean and started making music again. This light after a storm was short lived.

"Elliott Smith died on October 21, 2003, at age 34 from two stab wounds to the chest. According to girlfriend Jennifer Chiba—with whom he was living at the time—the two were arguing, and she locked herself in the bathroom to take a shower. Chiba heard him scream, and upon opening the door, saw Smith standing with a knife in his chest. She pulled the knife out, after which he collapsed and she called 9-1-1. Smith died in the hospital with the time of death listed as 1:36 p.m. While Smith's death was originally reported as a suicide, the official autopsy report released in December 2003 left open the question of possible homicide. A possible suicide note, written on a Post-it read, 'I'm so sorry—love, Elliott. God forgive me.'" (Taken from the wiki)

Smith was a hero for the angst-ridden and stifled spirits many have faced in youth. His music was brilliant and potent. Elliott Smith made the saddest music I've ever heard... and I love him for it.

Rest in Peace.

(If it means anything to you, share something you cherish/remember/etc about Elliott Smith and his music on comments. Thanks!)


#7- Jens Lekman- Night Falls Over Kortedala

Jens Lekman is a good time. Born in the city of Angered, Sweden, this Scandinavian churned out a good set of songs on Night Falls Over Kortedala. Built on doo-wop/soul samples and garnished with poppy guitar strums and funky bass lines, this album may have been well released a few decades back.

Lekman's lyrics have a wit sharper than his jawline and a tone rounder than his giant forehead. Often singing about petty relationship issues in a melodramatic, yet humorous self-deprecating manner, his songs make it easy to hate him just as much as you might hate yourself. His lyrics are relevant, simple, and personal:

i have a love
i have a love for this world,
a kind of love that will break my heart
a kind of love that reconstructs and remodels the past
that adds a dryness to the dry august grass
that adds the sunshine to the magnifying glass
and makes me fight for something that cant last
(from "Into Eternity")

Jens' soft voice over the elaborate songs provide a nice warming balance to the ear. I find that whenever I come to the point of being sick of everything I have on my iTunes and Jason Bentley is just not cuttin it, NFOK hits the spot and makes everything refreshingly new. This album is the cure to Los Angeles traffic stress. Have a good time in the car, sing out loud, relate to songs about silly and tender things. Also, try to catch him live in his many forms... sometimes solo with a guitar and a boombox, sometimes with a full quartet and choir.

Sidenote: Jens grew sick of Sweden and moved as far as he could from it. He now resides in Melbourne, Australia. He also caught H1N1 during his South American tour last June.


#8- Daft Punk- Discovery


Cheers to all the house parties we had when we were out of the house, but still too young to go to the bars. Discovery is an album full of youthful dance anthems. Songs like "One More Time" or "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" still get people cheering and dancing, almost a decade after being released.

Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo developed a timeless spin on house music that was loved by heavy digital loyalists and pop-listeners alike. Between choice samples, 70's bass lines, and soulful vocals, the album just made you want to dance. The French duo asserted France's position in the digital music world. Remember that Gap commercial Daft Punk did with "Digital Love"? That was awesome. Watch it here and go buy some denim.

Discovery is one of the best concept albums out there to date. It acts as a soundtrack to the anime film Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem. It's some fun film about an outer space alien band being kidnapped. Each music video off the album is actually just a scene from the movie.

This album had alot of influence on digital music for many bands to date (Justice, MSTRKRFT, all the Dim Mak stuff...). With the hits from this album constantly being remixed and revisted by various DJs and college students... Daft Punk was building a huge following. When they announced their Tour in 2007, tickets were swept up and the bar was raised for live DJ sets. Seeing them was one of the most exciting nights of my life.

It's a feel good album. Dance to "One More Time", have a cigarette to "Aerodynamic", and make out to "Something About Us." This album is a good reminder of all the sloppy and silly nights some of us had earlier on in the decade.


#9- Animal Collective- Merriweather Post Pavillion


I'd be a fool not to have an AnCo album on here. I did struggle to choose between MPP and Sung Tongs. I chose MPP not only because of the amazing songs, but also for the fan fervor upon it's release (early leak). Though the release date was set for January 6, 2009, most college students owned a digital copy long before Christmas. It was what everybody was talking about for the next few months (until Veckatimest was released). In the month's to follow, other bands and sub-genres were being labeled as "Animalcollectivish".

While I like much of their older work as well, I won't deny that some of it simply isn't that accessible for a peasant's palate (smug, right?). MPP was dynamic, eclectic, unique, and VERY accessible for easy foot-tapping listeners.

Opening with an ethereal "Into the Flowers" started the album off on a strong, yet unconventional foot. Followed up by hits and anthem sing-alongs like "My Girls" and "Summertime Clothes" made the listener hungry for more of these repetitive high energy samples and vocal melodies. Panda Bear's lyrics over Avey Tare's howls and and repetitive phrases paired up better than pizza and beer. "Guys Eyes" is melodic vocal chaos... I love it. Panda and Avey are pretty much singing two different songs on top of each other and it still holds perfectly over the mechanical breaking beat. Top the album off with "Brother Sport", an awesome piece best described as the Beach Boys on LSD. All nine songs on this album are great to listen to. They are arranged in the perfect order which makes the album good from start to finish. I was very glad to catch them live this year.

Get this if you haven't (Shame... seriously, you filthy peasant.) and turn it up loud.


#10- Kanye West- Graduation


However much of an asshole this guy can be, he produced one hell of an album here. This really solidified the influence of indie music samples and catches along with french-pop synths into mainstream hip hop.

Kanye was smart and collaborated with many different artists that would eventually breed curiosity and expand his fan base. Jon Brion coproduced a good number of the tracks. Jon Brion is one of my musical heroes. He plays every Friday night at the Largo on La Cienega, used to play with Elliott Smith, and has composed the scores for a number of my favorite films. Guest appearances on Graduation include Daft Punk, Lil Wayne, Chris Martin from Coldplay, Mos Def, and T. Pain.

Aside from working with Brion, I thought the most distinct collaboration was signing Takashi Murakami to do the album artwork. Murakami is a dynamite pop artist in Japan who has the commercial golden touch. His keychains sell for more than my hour's rate. Marc Jacobs signed him on a few years ago to design a line of Louis Vuitton bags (watch this interview with Jacobs). The album had very memorable images. While most hip hop artists go for a tuff-town look, West and Murakami created a stylish cute-yet-quirky hot hip hop image.

West also signed Spike Jonze to direct the 1970s-esque music video for "Flashing Lights"... one of my favorites. West's other videos also included help from Daft Punk and Murakami.

Between a catchy set of songs that are good for the club, car, or house party, West brought in some incredible artists, directors, and musicians that are all renowned in the art world (both commercial and indie). This album and everything tied to it packed a heavy punch in the music scene.

Go get your shutter shades on.

Top 10 Albums of the Decade

Sebastian Pardo (http://iratepandablog.blogspot.com/) asked me to make a list of my top 10 albums of the decade. It took me a good 2 months to come up with the list. After many near regrettable cuts and surprising additions, I narrowed the list list to 10 albums. I chose them at pure personal discretion. Albums that meant alot to me, influenced me, or that I though were important to culture in some way.

As the last month of the decade unfolds, every few days I will post a new album and brief word on each, leading up to number 1.

They will be tagged as "Top 10 Albums of the Decade"

Feel free to share thoughts and make fun of my list.

-jc del barco ii