Sufjan Stevens Releases New EP, Apocalypse Nears, He Seems Okay With That.

Sufjan Stevens
All Delighted People – EP
7.5/10 Delighted People
(Or 36/48 Unfinished State Albums—that’s right, Sufjan. I’m still counting.)

If I was crying in the van dorm with my friend, it was for freedom because last October, I stumbled upon an article on Pitchfork in which Sufjan Stevens’ musical world seemed to be crashing down on him. He questioned the point of making music—the relevance of the album, the song, his grand conceptual productions. It was jarring news to hear after nearly five years of waiting since his last proper release (and no, we’re not counting outtakes, Christmas songs or musical scores about crowded expressways in New York). A month later, I snatched up a copy of Paste hoping for good news in their exclusive interview with Sufjan. All I got was more musings on his identity crisis. He’s abandoning the antiquated album format. He vows not to return to Illinois-style song writing. The BQE project has shaken him to his creative core. Forget being haunted by the ghost of Carl Sandburg, it sounded like the ghost of Sartre was whispering sweet existential nothings into Sufjan’s ear as he cried himself to sleep at night. And then seemingly out of nowhere, we were blessed with some rapid-fire announcements from Asthmatic Kitty: fall tour dates, an immediately streamable EP, a new album due October 12th.  What?

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Saying Goodbye to the Unnamed Decade.

Well, New Years Eve. It’s so nice to see you again. How long has it been?

Every New Year, bloggers, hipsters and music critics climb out of their holes to post year-end lists. Best Albums. Best Songs. Best Debuts. This year is no exception–only multiply the activity by 10, as we’ve reached the end of a decade: The, uh.. um.. well, no one’s really quite sure–except for this guy. While no one’s rushing to name the decade, everyone’s rushing to define it. So as we wish the 00’s goodbye (the decade, clearly not our 00 skinny jeans, we are hipsters, after all), it’s finally time for every music site, magazine, critic and aficionado to take a stand on the best albums of the decade.

As for me, I’m far too apathetic to actually compile a list. And I’m far too biased to make it sound like I’m being objective. So here it is, the album that defined my decade (and thus should define yours, too):

Paul A. Ab-Dul’s Entirely Biased Opinion on the Best Album of the Unnamed Decade:

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – Wilco, 2002 (leaked 2001)

Everyone’s heard it: The myth. The lure. The drama. A musical David versus Goliath. The break with Reprise Records. The internet sensation. The final release on Nonesuch Records. But even behind the media hype, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is an album good enough to stand on its own musically and lyrically.

The masterpiece is branded Wilco’s most “experimental” album. At times, sonic soundscapes, and occasionally full-on walls of noise, disguise the songs underneath. It rewards multiple listens, after which the melodies begin to reveal themselves under the masterfully created cacophonies that complement them perfectly. Underneath it’s jagged edges and fragments, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is actually very simple; it’s beautiful and at times vulnerable, exploring a great range of emotional depth: the regret of “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” the nostalgia of “Heavy Metal Drummer,” the self-assuredness of “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” the longing of “Ashes of American Flags.” Some of Tweedy’s best songwriting coheres the album lyrically. Although the album was written and recorded before September 11th, it eerily invokes the spirit of post-9/11 America. It’s difficult to divorce the imagery of songs like Jesus, Etc. and Ashes of American Flags from the immediate context of its release, though unintended.

Jeff Tweedy himself sums up the spirit of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot best in Greg Kot’s Wilco: Learning How to Die:
“I started writing from the viewpoint of America as this imagined space, the America that exists in everyone. There is nothing more abstract to me than the idea of a country. These solitudes exist so apart from each other in the sea of white noise and information. And the beautiful thing is they keep transmitting to each other in the hope that somebody is going to find them. And the beauty is that people still do, still find some meaning in another person, in a relationship, find some way to communicate, even though more often than not it’s in a way that’s not what they intended. Because some communication is better than giving up or not communicating at all.”

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is shaken, but slightly hopeful; a little lost, but reaching out to find meaning and comfort in things–not the least of which is in each other. Between the fragments of noise, Tweedy’s voice and images capture a universal zeitgeist of this past decade.

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Though I value my opinion over all others, I’d like to extend this question to everyone*: what album defined your decade? I’m interested to know. Maybe when Bobcat gets her shit together, she’ll grace us with a post on her pick, too.

Until then, I wish all you hipsters a safe and happy New Year.
See you in the.. ’10s?

*everyone but the staff writers of Pitchfork.

Go Fly a Kite.

Happy Holidays, Hipsters! I hope that your celebrations were safe, sound and as apathy-filled and devoid of genuine cheer as possible.

This year, the Ab-Dul household didn’t fully celebrate the holidays. We’ve moved official celebrations to January–ironically, of course. This means I still need a few last minute gifts. Perhaps you do, too. And what’s the perfect gift for that especially apathetic someone in your life? Kites.

It's a bird! It's a kite! No, it's indie baroque-pop-folk-rock darling Sufjan Stevens!

“Kites?!” you ask? Yes, Kites. “The delightfully colorful flying tethered aircrafts that depend on tension and lift caused by air flow over and under their wings creating high pressure below and low pressure above the wings?” you ask? No. Not those kites: Kinematic Kites.

“The branch of classical mechanics that describes the motion of kites without the consideration of the causes leading to the motion of kites?” you ask? No. Really, hipsters. Your questioning is insufferable. Kites is the latest offering from Australian indie pop quartet and Hipsters Don’t Lie favorites Kinematic–forty-eight minutes and fourteen seconds of indie pop perfection.

Kinematic "Kites"

“What’s so great about that?” you ask? Honestly, I thought you were done with your inane questions, hipsters. But if you insist, I’ll tell you. In the fickle independent music scene, there are two major bones judgmental hipsters like ourselves love to pick with artists and bands. We complain when bands don’t change their sound; we say they’re stuck in a creative rut. We complain when bands do change their sound; we say they lack a cohesive aesthetic. (And let’s be clear here, by we I mean you, Pitchfork.) So here’s what I love about Kinematic: they know their sound–instead of changing it, they master it. So what if it’s pop music? It’s catchy. It’s infectious. It’s invigorating. It always sounds fresh. And it’s only getting better. Give it a listen before you write it off.

The opening of Kites is the lull before the storm. Building off the opening sonic drones, Mark Olszewski provides a sonic percussion landscape for Michael Owen’s Thom Yorke-esque vocals to float above. As “Already Here” fades, we are soon swept into a whirlwind of upbeat electric guitars in the aptly-titled “Whirlwind.” From there, it’s a mixed ride of energy-filled numbers with chugging electric guitars, like “Jefferson High,” “Peyote,” “Jika Jika” and “Mizuki,” softly sparkling intimate tracks, like “Pinpoints,” “Pretty, Ugly” and “Weak & Splendid,” and catchy but musically intricate pop songs, like “5 O’Clock High,” “The Punters Club,” “Beat Poetry,” and “Xrays & Traffic.” Less than an hour later, we disembark our pop journey with “Winter Son,” a somber piano-driven closer that echoes of the opening track–only darker, more natural, more poignant–and brings Kites full-circle.

Aside from great musical moments, my personal favorites of which have to be the rebellious spirit of “Beat Poetry” with a roaring guitar solo to match or the buoyant “Xrays & Traffic,” there are great lyrical moments on the album, which I think shows a maturation in the songwriting. The strongest moment for me comes on “Pinpoints” as Owen sings, “Unbeknown to me, embracing an effigy/Ring leader speaks, inducing a reverie/Poison my tea, burn my cigars/All falls to me, cover up all the stars/Now I batter this keyboard in frustration as I write/Pinpoints in the velvet, all I’m asking for is light.”

You can listen to the first six tracks of Kites, as well as many older tracks (which we discussed back in June 2008), at Kinematic‘s website under “Listen.” You can also find a mix of tracks at their official myspace page.

There’s something for everyone on Kites. Though it’s clearly hip to be jaded and apathetic, the genuine enthusiasm and energy Kinematic brings to each song makes even me want to sway minimally–as I did in the days before my freak Vespa accident–and smile (Just kidding, we all know hipsters are incapable of smiling). The best thing about Kinematic is not that they create pop songs, it’s that they unabashedly and masterfully craft pop songs.

Pitchfork be damned, I hope Kinematic never changes.

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For more on Kinematic: http://www.kinematic.info/
Kites was released July 13th 2009 by Somersault Music and is now available for download on iTunes.

I Wasn’t Trying To Break Your Heart

Dear Hipsters,

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve last written. I swear I wasn’t trying to break your heart; these things just happen sometimes. Things change. People move away. Personally, I’ve just been busy kicking television and foxtrotting–you know, Dixie Cup drinkin’ and assassining down the avenues. Besides, it’s been a long, hot summer. And we all know that when it’s hot in the poor places at night, I’m not going outside.

The good news is that I’m back, and I won’t leave you again (at least for the forseeable future). I also got you something. For those of you who secretly love Wilco, but publicly disdain their critical acclaim, mainstream appeal, and increasing Dad-rock status–this is for you. I give you some bands that are Wilco without being Wilco. Let’s go through them one by one, shall we?

Loose Fur is a band of the men who basically brought you Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. This side project, made up of Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, drummer Glenn Kotche and YHF mixer Jim O’Rourke, has released two albums since 2003. The first is the self-titled Loose Fur. My favorites from the six-track album are “Laminated Cat” and “Chinese Apple.” “Laminated Cat” is a re-working of a song written for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but left off the album, called “Not For the Season.” This vibey, drum-driven number about the shifting seasons suits Tweedy and Kotche well. You can check it (and Jeff Tweedy‘s standup-worthy banter) here:

Chinese Apple” will be somewhat familiar to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot aficionados. Part of Tweedy’s initially semi-improvised lyrics in this low-key folk tune assimilated their way into the very dissimilar “Heavy Metal Drummer.” Over the finger-picked guitars, soft percussion and distant organs, Tweedy sings “Unlock my body and move myself at last / in the warm liquid, flowing glowing glass / Classical music, blasting masks are ringing in my ears.” Hear (most of) it here, accompanied by adorable cartoon animals:

On Loose Fur‘s newest release, Born Again in the USA, comes the infectiously catchy “The Ruling Class,” a song best suited to those not politically correct or only ironically homeboys with Jesus. Tweedy spins the tale of the second coming of Christ in modern day America over jangly steel guitars and a whistling line sure to get stuck in your head for days on end.

Also available on Born Again in the USA (but sadly nowhere I could find on Youtube or elsewhere on the interwebs) is “Answers to Your Questions,” a highly-relatable, melancholy folk tune about a slightly-bitter ex-lover who doesn’t want to write you back. Jim O’Rourke‘s low, clear vocals plod along with the bass atop Tweedy‘s buoyant acoustic guitar. It’s a shame I can’t find it–guess you’ll have to buy the album.

Let’s move on to the next one, pronto. Pronto is a side project with Wilco keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen. I can’t claim to know much about this New York-based group, other than that I like what I hear. I also like Jorgensen‘s glasses. Anyway, they’ve released two discs, All Is Golden and (very recently) The Cheetah, filled with catchy tunes, many of which (but not all) sound like pop-rock throw-backs to the 70s, all signed with Jorgensen‘s signature key-tickling. Here’s a taste of one of my favorites, the sunshiney “When I’m On the Rocks:”

Another non-Wilco Wilco group is made up of Wilco multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone and long-time Uncle Tupelo/Wilco bassist, John Stirratt. Both are highly talented musicians, singers and song-writers, so the combination naturally results in a great melodic soft folk-rock duo, The Autumn Defense. The group cites musical influences of Cat Stevens, Nick Drake and Simon & Garfunkle–take a listen, and it’s not difficult to hear where these influences come in.

Well, hipsters, this is the end. I can’t tell if this brings my heart the way I wanted when I started writing this blog to you. But it will have to do. I’ll write again soon. I’ll write you a box full of letters.

Sincerely,
the man who loves you,

Paul A. Ab-Dul

For more on:
Loose Furhttp://www.dragcity.com/artists/loose-fur
Pronto – http://www.myspace.com/prontonyc | http://www.facebook.com/Prontospherehttp://prontosphere.com/
The Autumn Defensehttp://www.myspace.com/theautumndefense | http://www.theautumndefense.com/

For other Wilco side projects:
Nels Cline: http://www.myspace.com/nelscline
Pat Sansone: http://www.myspace.com/birdyonthemoon
Glenn Kotche: http://www.myspace.com/onfillmore | http://www.myspace.com/glennkotche
Jeff Tweedy: http://www.goldensmog.com/

Fionn the Four-Leaf Clover

Fionn Regan

The Emerald Isle has given us many modern day folk icons, like Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan. So in honor of Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day, which, despite my lack of Irish heritage, I will ironically celebrate tomorrow, I’d like to showcase one of my new favorite (and Irish) singer-songwriters, Fionn Regan. He has a few independently released EPs, but his 2007 debut album, The End of History, which I’ve just discovered, took me by surprise and became an instant staple in my musical library. This fighting Irishman says he channels the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young, but if you’re a fan of Sufjan Stevens, Elliott Smith, Elvis Perkins or good folk music in general, stumbling upon Fionn is the luck of the Irish for you. In a sea of mediocre folk singers, musicians and lyricists, Fionn is the four-leaf clover you’ve been searching for.

Fionn‘s music is simple yet intricate, like all good folk music should be, in my unhumble opinion. He has it all: simple lyrics, simple melodies, simple arrangements. Yet his lyrics are rife with references and deeper meanings, his vocals strongly carry the melodies, and his musical arrangements may be sparse, but his guitar picking is brilliant.

Musical comparisons will do him no justice, so just go ahead and take a listen to my personal favorite, The Underwood Typewriter:

One of his most popular tracks, Put A Penny In the Slot, is a lyrical masterpiece reminiscent of Dylan:

For more on Fionn Regan, you can check out his official website and myspace page. If you feel so inclined, he also twitters, which means he personally bares his soul to you in 140 characters or less. For more on the Irish, wake up tomorrow, dress in green, get some nonalcoholic beer for irony and eat some corned beef and cabbage. On behalf of Bobcat, this is Paul A. Ab-Dul saying watch out for those  lecherous leprechauns and have a hip and happy St. Patty’s Day.

The Metermaids invite you to: Come On! Refeel the Illinoise!

Like any hipster, I would like to attribute my slender physique to strict regime of cigarettes, illegal substances and a lack of nourishment; however, every hipster needs to work it out every once in a while. Unfortunately, I find my beloved lo-fi indie-folk-pop-rock fusions are not quite suited to sweating it out at the gym. So at times when I need something with a little more of a beat, where do I turn? Recently, it has been to Sufjan Stevens’ epic musical joyride, “Illinoise“–with a twist.

NYC-based alt-hip hop duo Metermaids have mashed-up their debut album “Nightlife,” an album acclaimed for its high energy blend of rap, rock, pop and funk, with Stevens‘ “Illinoise.” Yes, you read that right. Somehow, the combination works. Set to swelling violins, horns, banjos and ethereal loops of the Illinoisemakers’ vocals, the Metermaids’ lyrics and beats make Sufjan sound edgier than I ever believed possible on “Nightlife in Illinoise.” Don’t believe me? Take a listen to “A Breakdown In Chicago, or, How To Sabotage Your Own Happiness In Two Easy Steps.”

The Metermaids offer mash ups of five more tracks from “Illinoise,” the six instrumental versions of those mash ups and a must-have remix of “The Avalanche.” The best part? It’s entirely free. You’ve got nothing to lose. Whether you’re a fan of Sufjan, hip hop or free music, click over to the Metermaids’ Nightlife in Illinoise page, check out the tracks and accept the Metermaids’ invitiation to Come on! Refeel the Illinoise.

January 20th, 2009: The Wait Ends Here

Today is a day of lasts–and tomorrow a day of new beginnings. We have waited so long, and it is finally here.

Yes, we all know today is Still-President Bush’s last day in office. Many rejoice. And, yes, tomorrow we here in the good old US of A will welcome Still-President-Elect Barack Obama into office with bells and whistles and parades and balls. We will buy stock in hope, and cartoon birds and bunnies will roam freely across our great land spreading cheer–but a less lauded animal will roam, too: the Noble Beast.

Yes, today is the last day I will have to live without Andrew Bird‘s glorious fifth album, Noble Beast. And tomorrow, I will get my grubby little hipster hands on a copy of it, and despite the economic disaster, wars, melting glaciers and all that general strife Obama has to look forward to, all will be well in my world for 54 minutes and 16 seconds. I encourage you to do your part in helping the economy by investing this CD. From what I’ve heard, it’s well worth it.

Because I’m in an uncharacteristically charitable mood, here’s a fabulous YouTube video of the first track, “Oh No!

Like it? Good. Me too. Listening to that put me in an even better mood, so should you desire a sneak peak at the entire album before it drops tomorrow, look no further than this link. You may thank me later.

And so, we soon say goodbye to January 19th, 2009 and hello to January 20th, 2009–and then the wait ends.

Welcome to the White House, Barack Obama.
Welcome to my iTunes Library, Noble Beast.