Your Summer and Fall Listening Essentials

By Michael Petitti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, August 8, 2005

So, as part of our civic duty here at the Wildcat we feel it is essential to inform you about the music you may have missed that rocked and swooned the summer through, as well as the music coming up this fall that will be sure to do other, sometimes unmentionable, things to you. Plus, filler beats running an AP story. Trust me. So, here are the releases we champion from this past summer and all the upcoming music that's fit to print (of course, release dates are subject to change).

Summer Essentials

The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday (May 3rd)

Craig Finn, ex-Lifter Puller frontman, and the rest of the seasoned troops of The Hold Steady came together to make one of the most challenging and brilliant albums of the year. Vaguely following a storyline, Separation Sunday is the tale of a young woman (Hallelujah) who goes through seedy experience after seedy experience only to die, figuratively or not is unimportant, and be resurrected. Yes, the album has a religious theme underlining it, but it is anything but Sunday-school fodder with its tales of addicts, burnouts and other assorted villains.

The music? That too is brilliant vintage bar-band rock that fits perfectly with Finn's harsh, spit-sing vocals and brutally insightful lyrics. A perfect example is "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," which finds the band rolling and smashing through the tune with guns a-blazing a la classic E Street Band as Finn sings: "Tiny little text etched into her neck/ It said 'Jesus lived and died for all your sins'/ She's got blue black ink and it's scratched into her lower back/ It said: 'Damn right I'll rise again'/ Yeah, damn right you'll rise again."

The rest of the album shuffles through everything from slow piano laments "Don't Let Me Explode" to thunderous redeemers, like "How a Resurrection Really Feels." Listen after listen, the music will keep you on edge as Finn's lyrics reveal layer after layer. Albums this challenging deserve, pun fully intended, all the praise in the world.

Stephen Malkmus, Face the Truth (May 24th)

As frontman for Pavement in the '90s, Malkmus ruled court as the clown-prince of disaffected and sardonic indie rock. Now, on his third solo release, Malkmus returns to form for his finest outing, which combines all his best elements (witty lyrics sung in strange pitches, unique and enjoyable guitar solos piled upon each other and a complete shift in tonal arrangement from song to song). In other words: It's good stuff.

Malkmus opens the album with the wild, keyboard ride of "Pencil Rot" and continues to layer on the goodness with slower, offbeat balladry, "Freeze the Saints" and good old-fashioned strange indie rock, "Mama," which feature s some of Malkmus' trademark goofy vocal intonations and equally smile-inducing lyrics: "Mama's in the kitchen with onions/Daddy's in the back with ol' Hank/Thinking 'bout the lasers and bunions/Talking disability ranks."

While not a flawless album, Face the Truth is the closest to heyday Pavement (a nearly impossible act to duplicate) and certainly the best of a still-fresh solo career.

Sleater-Kinney, The Woods (May 24)

One of the premiere rock bands in the world (I grimace to note they are an all-female rock band, as that's been made into more of an issue than is necessary) release their finest work to date, which is extremely complimentary given their particularly excellent body of work.

The Woods harkens back to '70s hard rock and represents all the dinosaurs of the period, from Hendrix ("Let's Call it Love") to Sabbath ("The Fox") without the band ever losing their originality in the process. The volcanic guitar rips of "Wilderness" bled into Corin Tucker's guttural howl that is still remarkably invigorating in its grating (in a good way) and visceral quality.

The 10 tracks of The Woods, like all great albums, breeze by quickly despite one ("Let's Call it Love") being an 11-minute mostly guitar-jam. All this attests to the various strengths of this ridiculously talented trio. Female or not, Sleater-Kinney are putting bands of all shapes, sizes and gender to shame through the majesty of R-O-C-K.

The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan (June 7th)

Easily one of the most anticipated releases of the summer also proved to be one of the most hotly contested. Those who had grown lovingly accustomed to White's wailing, electric guitar noise were up in arms at the marimba and acoustic pandering the album seemed to be doing. Meanwhile, the rest of us just saw another great album by one of the world's most inventive and challenging musical acts around.

Part of the brilliance behind Get Behind Me Satan was its rather arrogant way of defying expectations. People wanted garage rock and got it on "Blue Orchid," but it was skewered with electronic-sounding guitar and falsetto vocals. People wanted blues-tinged rockers and got bluegrass hoedowns like "Little Ghost." And people wanted cheery or wholesome lyrics that often fill in the edges of the Stripes' albums, but instead got blistering bitterness and loneliness: "The nurse should not be the one who puts salt in your wounds/ But it's always with trust that the poison is fed with a spoon/ When you're helpless with no one to turn to alone in your room."

Remaining indefinable and dangerous, The White Stripes released one of the few albums of the summer that will find its way either into people's musical hearts (shelved among the classics) or tossed into their literal trashcans (alongside the latest Limp Bizkit release).

Sufjan Stevens, Illinoise (July 5th)

The troubadour of folk-pop released his finest album, fittingly, just after the 4th of July. Illinoise celebrates America as poignantly and vividly as any fireworks display. Plus, it doesn't skip on the blemishes that make America a remarkable if flawed country.

Stevens did his homework and crafted an album of personal and historical wonder that is by no means casual listening. Tracks like the quiet and creepy "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." get to the heart of the dark and the personal, while more upbeat and earthy tunes like "Decatur, or, A Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!" attach Stevens' personal to the historical (yes, they did in fact catch a wild alligator in a river in Decatur): "Our step mom we did everything to hate her/ She took us down to the edge of Decatur/ We saw the lion and the kangaroo take her/ Down to the river where they caught a wild alligator."

Stevens is easily one of current music's smartest musicians around. His effortlessly casual and rich lyrics allow his music the ability to be repeated and replayed time and again without dulling around the edges. Illinoise is the second in his 50 states installment series and perfectly whets the appetite further for more soaring, gorgeous and thoughtful releases in the future.

Notable Fall Releases

The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema (August 23rd)

Vancouver's finest group of bristling indie-popsters are set to release their third album of infectiously good hit-ladan music. Twin Cinema will not be so much a move away from Mass Romantic's romantic bent or Electric Version's sizzling guitar-pop as a further expansion upon their already appealing sound.

The New Pornographers are a group that include an array of talented solo acts, including Carl Newman, Neko Case and (upon occasion) Dan Bejar, but when combined they make a textbook, colossal 'supergroup' who write the fiercest and most sparkling guitar hooks around. This album will prove to be no different as it combines the band's instrumentation (guitar, keys, drums) into an indelibly winning combination of pop and rock. Plus, it will get you ready for their equally precious live show that will roll into The Rialto Theatre on October 1st.

Iron and Wine/Calexico, In the Reigns (September 13th)

Sam Beam (Iron and Wine) and local favorites Calexico combined their respective folk and Southwestern sounds recently at Tucson's very own Wavelab studios for an EP of retooled, old Beam material that promises, like their musical union, to be awesome.

This EP brings together two of indie music's top purveyors of tunes that have a solid foundation in the earthy and with local legends aplenty (Nick Luca and Salvador Duran to name a couple) it will also prove to be one of the most enjoyable listening experiences of the fall. Plus, as if there needed to be an added bonus, the two acts will kick off their accompanying tour right here in Tucson at The Rialto Theatre on October 15th.

Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary (September 27th)

In an era of instant hype, another band from the snowy streets of Montreal are already becoming a household name thanks to their affiliation with local legends Arcade Fire and a friendship with Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock (who produced much of this album). However, Wolf Parade deserves every bit of praise for making a genre (indie rock) that has become contorted, twisted and, at its worst, played out, exciting again.

Sure the sounds of Wolf Parade are nothing special as they certainly share a kinship with their buddies (Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire) and Spencer Krug's vocals clearly ape from the alters of Bowie and Byrne, but make no mistake about it; these guys are for real. Their recently released self-titled EP offered a glimpse at the wonder that will be Apologies to the Queen Mary. Kickoff track "You are a Runner, and I am My Father's Son," with its clanging drums, start-stop keyboard strokes and hiccupping vocals hints that this is going to be a pretty hot fall for these Canadians.

Broken Social Scene, Windsurfing Nation (October 4th)

This collective of Canadians (noticing a theme?) first impressed critics and delighted audiences with their strangely jumbled, but always pleasing sophomore release You Forgot It In People. Expect more of the same as the band releases one of the fall's most anticipated indie releases, Windsurfing Nation.

The group contains members from several notable bands (Stars, Godspeed You Black Emperor!), who come together to layer the instrumentation for a wash of sound that generally rocks and always sparkles in its dissonance. Will there be more songs about drinking urine? God only knows, but either way the sound of up to six guitars on a track is reason enough to check things out.

Franz Ferdinand, You Could Have it So Much Better...With Franz Ferdinand (October 4th)

Alex Kapranos and gang return with their buzzsaw guitars and backbreaking time shifts on a decidedly darker album. Rumored to be loosely based on Kapranos' possibly failed relationship with Fiery Furnace singer Eleanor Friedberger, although that is all hearsay as the couple's situation seems tightly under wraps, You Could Have it So Much Better...With Franz Ferdinand is fiercer than its predecessor.

The music appears, again, to be set to titillate indie fans and video game companies alike. Everyone's favorite Scots have toured relentlessly behind their debut and clearly things have only gotten better with Franz Ferdinand. Expect this to be one of the fall's essential albums that will find its way onto both your home stereo and your favorite sporting event.