Sweet Procrastination - it is the frosting on the cake of indolence - but it keeps me from telling you about some really good records. Here are three records that have been patiently glowing their very special glows in my inbox while I spent my time hating all the other ones around them. I mean, really, how much attention does Sufjan Stevens really need? What about Arcade Fire? I don't even like them and they have gotten more lines than these fine records have. It is all in the spirit of wasting my own time, assure you, not yours. So in amends, here are three records I'm fairly certain you have not ever heard that are worth your time.
Day Action Band
Right on Dairyland
This first of our lil sleeper bands is Day Action Band comprised of Chapel Hill, NC siblings Matt and Nate O'Keefe. They came to my attention through an internet banner on the top of my gmail. I'm as surprised as anyone that I clicked it, but their promise as having some similarities to Sufjan Stevens is not all e-hype. The songs have less intricacy, but a little more balls to it, which is a good thing in both regards. Nice organ drones and hand percussion and the errant vibe twinkle embody songs like "65 Miles" while Suf's cloying whisper is traded up for the boys' more oaken Neil Diamond croon. Elsewhere, they stir up a frenetic pace with the objects in their storage shed/studio, like in the freight train rumble of "Fixing Everything," or create a quiet cricket ambiance with interlaced guitars, keyboards and unobtrusive harmonies like on "Untitled." What it really is, to me, is an example of how to make an intelligent, adult-oriented indie pop record without sounding ridiculous. There are so many ridiculous albums, whether it be due to overblown production or lyrics so ham-fisted your natural reaction is to present it with some bread for a sandwich. Clever, twiggy and rootsy but very current.
(I and Ear Records)
I had an "Oh Shit" moment with this group when I misheard the name of an opening act (13 Ghosts) once and for a moment thought that this sweet little dream-pop band I'd never gotten around to review was about to play before my very eyes. Fortunately, or maybe not, they weren't them and all was well and good on the Fields of Procrastination. But Kahoots, they lope and sway like the landscaping of their homebase Martha's Vineyard (a place I've always maintained should be its own odd little state. I mean, if Rhode Island is a state, why not this quaint outpost?) There is a sense of Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy man" throughout this record - not in the nauseating psychedelia, but in shuddering, scintillating delivery. Maybe Donovan was a bad example, it's not that vibrato-heavy, but I think it gets the point there. Tracks like "People Always let You Down" and interlocked numbers that ride above a haze that seems to be generated by a bellows of some kind. Its kind of like the sad sack anthems of the eels without that E guy staring at you with that mug of his the whole time. There are Beatle-esque aspects to their phrasing, with flourishes that harken to the New Compositional Complexity, but unlike the Arcade Fire and whatnot, they don't bury the songs under them. The acoustic pulse of "I'll be Your Coffin" slays them at the folk open mic night, and the more hi-octane numbers like the raucous "Your Bed" could track an indie film car chase, that is, if indie films were entertaining enough to have car chases. Maybe that's it. This record is definitely indie with out being Capitol I Indie. Weird enough to stand out but familiar enough to still work.
The Late Chord
Lights from the Wheelhouse
The final spoke on this wheel is The Late Chord, a collaboration between The Earlie's John-Mark Lapham and singer/songwriter Micah P. Hinson, who, in case you are keeping track, might just be the next Conor Obrest - cool-songwriter-to-pretend-you-were-into-back-then once his new album hits your stores, but in the meantime, this placid mountain pond of a record is ready for your tired ears. All that plink-plonk of all the year's big things is replaced with a constant refreshing breeze from some hearth-red keyboards. The songs loop slowly back on themselves while Hinson's scratchy moan pierces the surface between drownings. Not to say this is a bummer of a record, more of a melancholy affair like the 4AD of old. Little snippets of plucked guitars peep in now and then, a string quartet nostalgizes up "Chains/Strings" and echoey field recordings and a forlorn piano make a quiet weeper out of "My Most Meaningful Relationships are with Dead People" but the overall sensation here is the slow dip out of consciousness into sleep, a delicious exhaustion that sucks you under.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
The Review of the Year of Things #1: Jason Lewis surveys the years' great albums and noting so many, compartmentalized, as men do. So, here, albums by those so profoundly impacted by Death