We all hate being disappointed. There’s nothing worse than digging into an album that has been majorly hyped only to find it is nothing more than mediocre. But those disappointments come and go. There is something much, much worse. What about that band or musician that puts out one remarkable work and then either proceeds to put out albums with diminishing returns or just doesn’t put out anything ever again? We hotly wait in anticipation and as the subsequent releases or silence fail to build on the promise of our favorite release we get angry, we feel betrayed, or worst of all, we no longer care.

This edition of the End of the Aughts is dedicated to the artists who raised our hopes only to let us down. It is a celebration of some of the best music of the last 10 years and an elegy for those musicians who could not find that spark once again. I hope you enjoy it. – David Harris

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The Avalanches-Some albums are just indispensable. Everyone has his or her pick; the album that encompasses everything he or she looks for in music. It’s the album you couldn’t stop listening to, and you wouldn’t stop listening to- the one that literally defines or even redefines your tastes. For me, that album was Since I Left You by The Avalanches.

The Avalanches are a five-man DJ crew based out of Melbourne, Australia. Originating as a noise-punk outfit named Alarm 115, they shifted their sound after the deportation of founding member Manubu Etoh. Left without him, the group disbanded, but bonded over a shared interest in their collections of old records. With access to a recording studio at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, they recorded a series of demos that would go on to be released as EPs. Along with the new sound came a new name- they reformed as The Avalanches. After the success of these demos, the group went on to record their debut, Since I Left You, released in 2000 through Modular Recordings. The album was released to overwhelmingly positive reviews, and the band was actually the first to clear a sample from the notoriously difficult Madonna.

My first experience with the album was a lazy summer afternoon in Miami, FL. I was sitting at home watching The Box- our local pay for play video station. In between rap singles, a video came on that literally made me exclaim, “What the fuck?” It opens with a gold curtain parting and two actors performing lines of dialogue from John Waters’ Polyester, then a lively and vicious horn section kicks in. While the horns and the dialogue intermingle, the visuals alternate from a skeleton dancing to a tortoise-man hybrid asking “What does that mean?” It was like nothing I had ever heard before, but I knew I had to have it. After scouring four Best Buys in my neighborhood, I finally located one that carried the CD. I took it home and listened to it. I listened to it, and I listened to it, then I put it on as I went to bed. There was a time where I spun Since I Left You at least once a month, and that’s assuredly a lower boundary.

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Aside from being my introduction to electronic music, what made this album so important to me was the way that it came alive. The group took 9500 samples, ranging from dialogue in movies to Teach Your Parrot to Talk records, and created a musical tapestry that was a lot more than the sum of its parts. It can be enjoyed academically as well as atmospherically, in terms of the impeccable recording quality to the daunting task of identifying all of the samples, including the more obscure ones, and it is just a record that captures the essence of cool.

The assembly of the tracks provides a an encompassing and engrossing narrative: the album begins with a voice inviting you to “Get a drink/ Have a good time/ Welcome to paradise” and closes with a heartbroken voice reminding you “[it] just cant get you/ Since the day I left you.” Since I Left You remains fascinating because of the techniques it pioneered that are employed to this day, including the cohesive usage of vinyl pops to create a mood, and the editing of tracks so that they flow into each other seamlessly. It creates a tapestry of sonic patches, lovely and well worn, but somehow more gorgeous and thorough when put together than even the finest of fabrics.

Since I Left You
is a story of many parts but it creates a benchmark not only in the usage of sampling, the structure of an album, non lyrical narratives, and electronic music as a whole, but is more fondly appreciated for its ability to take its cold influences and come up with a warmth and a vitality that brings absolute joy to my ear and heart. It is breathtaking, enveloping and embracing: you’ll never want to let it out of your life.

As brilliant as Since I Left You is, The Avalanches showed a potential in this album that no other electronic artist has really engendered in me. It’s a comforting blanket, but just having one blanket can get unhygienic. The Avalanches have been promising a follow-up since 2001, claiming at several stages it was almost done, with Modular Records even publishing a statement saying they expected album 2 on Christmas Day 2008. For a time even their MySpace promised that they were putting the finishing touches on the album since 2006.

Since 2001, nothing has been heard from the Avalanches, save a fan collection called When I Found You and a heavily bootlegged mixtape of a live set named After the Goldrush. However, no official release had been announced. The official Avalanches site had not been updated since 2007, but fairly recently their MySpace was updated with a picture of Keith Moon applying Clearasil, and the phrase “clearing samples.” The implication is that it may be finished, but then comes the business of the music business, in clearing the hordes of samples they’re sure to have worked with. While this shows promise for the future, it also mires the release, considering how notoriously difficult sample clearance can be.

The lack of a new Avalanches record has left a void in electronic music, one that has been felt for nine years and counting. As great as the albums that have come out this decade are, none of the records I have born witness to capture the essence of Since I Left You, even when they employed the same techniques. Although electronic music has been pushed forward, including the usage of live instrumentation by artists such as A.M. Architect and the Field, but none of them has fully managed to recreate the pulse of the Avalanches’ opus. While those records do have virility, they just do not capture the “big bang” improbability of a record like Since I Left You, where the parts were basically scrambled, and it was up to the creator to make sure that Life sparked. Even the After the Goldrush mixtape feels like a teaser, and is mostly comprised of live set material. They took popular songs in their style, but the remixes are not as cohesive or kinetic as their earlier effort. While still excellent, Since I Left You was an event; taking something lived in and recognizable and making it sound entirely new and different. To call it a mash-up would be to discount the work and precision of the assembly of the samples.

The Avalanches have basically remained silent, with the occasional grumble, but their lack of a proper follow-up has truly dampened the music scene. The After the Goldrush mixtape was crumbs from the table, and while it is not in the least useless, it’s a bitter taste of desire. Knowing they were still together gave me hope as a fan, though the fact that it is not an official release is painful. As with the accomplishments of their first album, the Avalanches have made me fall in love but suddenly tonight will have to last forever. I should hope not. – Rafael Gaitan

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Lucinda Williams-Essence was saddled with heavy baggage from the start. As the follow up to Lucinda Williams’ career-defining Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, it had very little chance of surpassing its predecessor, at least in the minds of fans and critics who developed a borderline-obsessive devotion to that 1998 album. To Williams’ credit, she didn’t try to repeat Car Wheels’ formula, instead abandoning that album’s folk and country hybrid for Essence’s atmospheric ballads. Though Williams didn’t do her studio perfectionist/diva reputation any favors by taking nearly three years to release Essence, it was mostly worth the wait. It found Williams in a somber mood, with the mostly optimistic nostalgia and childhood memories of Car Wheels replaced by dark broodings about mortality and aging (“Bus To Baton Rouge”), loneliness (“Lonely Girls”), general sad shit (“Blue”) and, of course, fucked up relationships (“Out Of Touch” and any other song you want to mention). A haze of regret and disappointment hung over most songs, with Williams’ often-mangled vocals restrained, controlled and evocative of such moods. It remains Williams’ darkest record to date; though Car Wheels still casts a long shadow over her entire career, Essence proves that the popular image of Williams as an alt.rock folkie is largely inaccurate.

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It’s also the last consistently good album Williams released this decade. Essence was followed in 2003 by the erratic and plodding World Without Tears, a meandering album that lacked much of the emotional resonance of the artist’s previous work. Although Williams’ unflinching lyrics were solid at times – especially in the used-like-a-cheap-whore laments of “Those Three Days” and “Minneapolis” – at least half the album was cluttered up by tedious vocals and bloated arrangements. “Righteously,” “Sweet Side” and “Atonement” would have been best served relegated to the b-side shitbin, while “American Dream” and the title track were both preachy and pedantic.

And then the proverbial downward spiral really kicked in. The obligatory live album followed in 2005 with the dull Live @ The Fillmore; showing the complete lack of imagination we’ve come to expect from music labels, the release simply culled tracks from several different Fillmore shows, offering up bits and pieces instead of a complete show. The dual studio atrocities of West and Little Honey rounded out the decade and did nothing to offset this slipshod live product; taken together, they are underwhelming, self-indulgent and remarkably forgettable. West’s songs were at least partially doomed by the album’s lengthy running time – more than half its songs clocked in at over five minutes – though the stilted production did them no favors either. Little Honey was disturbingly lousy, with Williams offering up 13 mostly sappy odes to Love and that’s with a big fat fucking capital L. It was everything fans thought Williams could never be: maudlin and melodramatic. The nausea countless listeners experienced wasn’t due to a bad fish taco.

In interviews Williams has often bristled at such criticism, attributing the poor reception that greeted most of her albums this decade to a variety of reasons, commonly suggesting that fans and critics haven’t given the albums a fair shake and simply want her to create Car Wheels on a Gravel Road Part II. It’s a trite yet common complaint from musicians with lengthy careers – Dylan and Costello could pen on a book on this – but it’s little more than a smokescreen. Few fans (or critics, for that matter) with an active interest in an artist’s work want to hear mailed-in rehashes of that artist’s masterwork. Of course there will always be musos stuck in a particular time and place; these are the people who keep nostalgia tours in business. The hard truth is that while Williams has admirably refused to settle into a particular style, most of her releases from this decade have been mediocre at best and inessential at worst. – Eric Dennis

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All Night Radio- Being born in 1985 means that Generation X will perpetually be the cool older brothers and sisters of my age bracket. Growing up, they’d regale us all with memories of the junk food mythology behind the culturally ornate and colorfully spazzy ’70s. However, in a lot of ways that tradition was passing on by the time 2004 came around and L.A.’s All Night Radio seemed to be sitting on the generational divide.

In a broader context, the group stood between Californians reared on the mysteries of ’70s AM pop, Latin music, late night country radio and Art Bell’s Coast to Coast, and the next wave that would come up more hardened by the auditory power of West Coast Rap. Dave Scher and Jimi Hey had broken off from space-folk revivalists Beachwood Sparks and gave their project a try it for two years with only one LP to show for it and a handful of live dates; some of which went disastrously. But what they revealed in only one record felt like months worth of listening.

I’ll go on record as saying that Spirit Stereo Frequency is one of the definitive late night records of all time as well as a strong case for gargantuan headphones. They’re needed to catch all of dulcet mellow pop vocals, found sound recordings and pacey but soothing rock guitar solos bounced off of extraterrestrial transmissions. Like a proggish vinyl release, all of these songs transition to one another seamlessly and you lose track of time very quickly once you let the music relax all pre-dawn anxieties.

Surprisingly, this isn’t an indulgent album. And that does sound weird for a record built on a foundation of sci-fi textures, hippy experimentation and mellow gold language. Mostly because Scher and Hey don’t explain or even imitate the oddities of late night radio, but reconstruct their hazy recollection of it in the way a filmmaker tries to resurrect memory visually. They do it sharply and never become lazy or wallow in the depths of one sound before moving onto the next.

As part of this piece we were asked to express our disappointments in our choice and I have my practical resentments. I do wish sometimes that All Night Radio had recorded more and managed to put together a captivating live show to be remembered by. On the other hand I do see Spirit Stereo Frequency as something definitive and a record that stands as an accomplishment of all the band’s goals; letting them complete their mission before dissolving. Part of me though will always wonder what it would have been like to return to their world of sleepwalking pop culture. But if I didn’t have that wistfulness, I can’t imagine that their music would have appealed to me in the first place. – Neal Fersko

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The Killers-At my sister’s wedding, I dandled my nine-month niece on my knees while The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” played and I gently explained to her how the predominance of one-hit wonders in the early ’60s was partially developed by the music industry’s focus on singles. I don’t know how to talk to kids, al lright? But I did mislead my niece in part; it’s not just the ’60s that gave us the likes of The Electric Prunes and Vanilla Fudge. Our own decade has a lot to answer for.
For example, there’s Las Vegas band The Killers. Now, some might claim that they are hitmakers on par with many popular/alternative bands that clog the airways and an equal amount of naysayers will give me shit for praising anything that comes out of Brandon Flowers’ mouth. But their debut album Hot Fuss, for all the PR machine was a remarkable thing. It had the style it takes, the charisma and more than anything, the sheer sound of grandness that so many bands reach for and miss.

Sure, The Killers are largely the sum of their influences and not much more. New Order inspired the name and a music video; Duran Duran contributed the synths; The Gallagher brothers even brought a certain smarm to the table. But the sincerity of Hot Fuss cannot be denied- it’s the sound of a band willing themselves to stardom and against all odds succeeding. The opening fuzz and helicopter beats to “Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine” give way to a liquid bass and Flowers’ infamously histrionic voice- he sounds desperate to pour his heart into a song or a story or anything. The singles that were released “Somebody Told Me” “Mr. Brightside” “All These Things I’ve Done” and “Smile Like You Mean It” are uniformly shiny, brilliant pieces of pop music. They’re songs that work equally well over the radio or in the gloomy bedroom of a depressed teen and that kind of crossover takes power. In particular, “All These Things I’ve Done” is a good enough track to survive both the creation of a ridiculous trope (“I’ve got soul, but I’m not a…” and inclusion in Southland Tales.

But what have they done since? Add a few more feathers to their live shows? Grow bad mustaches? Inspire semi-erotic fantasies in Rufus Wainwright? All right, if we’re being fair, “When You Were Young” isn’t a bad tune, but two albums later, one single decent song isn’t enough. The Killers have become something of a joke (albeit one that can share Coachella top billing with Leonard Cohen and The Cure), but it’s because they couldn’t live up to the grandiose promises of their debut. Sometimes the worst thing about achieving a dream is having to wake up and try to capture it again. – Nathan Kamal

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Earl Greyhound-Try as I might, I just could never get into Jane’s Addiction. While lauded by fans and critics alike as a kind of homegrown American equivalent to the loud grandeur of Led Zeppelin, Nothing’s Shocking, to me, sounded like wheels spinning to the tune of gated drums while Ritual de lo Habitual sticks out in my mind as the one with “Been Caught Stealing” and the self-indulgent, 10-minute “Three Days.” Everything that people say they love about Jane’s, though, I hear in Brooklyn’s Earl Greyhound, a band so rockin’ and so interracial, they sell a T-shirt with the phrase “Rock Your Faces, Mix the Races.”

Formed way back in 2002 by a songwriting partnership between the somewhat fey, blonde guitarslinger Matt Whyte and the befeathered, be-cowboy booted bassist Kamara Thomas, Earl Greyhound were finalized later by the membership of the Afro-ed, perennially sleeveless sticksman, “Big” Ricc Sheridan. The very image of this band is about as post-racial as you can get; on their 2006 debut, Soft Targets, Earl Greyhound evoke the clatter, stomp and crunch of Zep even without much blues in their veins, despite 2/3s of the band being black.

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If Jane’s were an American Zeppelin and Soundgarden the dour, psychedelic, and punk-addled heir to the sturm und drang rock throne, then Earl Greyhound is the next step in the bloodline delineating from those Led loins; their own unique DNA includes strains of smartly-written and melodic indie rock, making a track like the Thomas-sung “Back and Forth” sound both engaging and carefree. “Good” begins with a plaintive guitar figure before moving into a weary ballad. Lest one think this sounds more Big Star than big guitars, check out “S.O.S.” which calls to mind the expanse of sound on Soundgarden’s Louder Than Love or “Monkey” where Jimmy Page’s ‘guitar army’ seems to make an appearance on the insistent riff.

The real achievement here is “It’s Over,” an exasperated break-up song that starts quiet and rhythmically precise and terribly cathartic. This is not a sad split song nor an angry one; Whyte sings, with harmonies by Thomas, with the bittersweet resolve of someone who’s ready to move on. After it’s indelible chorus, the song reaches a peak of strummed chords while Whyte shouts, “I’ve been achin’ to show ya…I can wing it alone” and later, “Then I should break/ Because I know you/ And how you drag this on and on and on….” The riff steps back into a slower tempo while Whyte’s overdriven arpeggios seem to be a slip back into self-pity, before realizing the trap and snapping back into resolute riffing. It’s an incredible song, one of my favorites and could be yours too if I haven’t completely ruined it here.

With just one LP to their credit during a seven year existence and a three-year absence from media attention, Early Greyhound run the risk of losing any and all momentum created by Soft Targets. Recently, we’ve seen how Wavves blew up this winter into the new rock phenomenon; a few months and one bum gig (from a guy for whom live performance is new) later, the Indie Illuminati are already eulogizing Nathan Williams. Forget how long it took for bands to write, record and release incredible records decades ago; three years is an eternity for a band struggling for a piece of the pie in the age of gluttonous downloading, fickle Zunes, short-attention-spanned Twitterers and Facebook users who may not right away realize (or go looking for) the glory of the boom and clatter Earl Greyhound deals in. – Chris Middleman

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Dogs Die In Hot Cars- I think what I really am is a Clive Langer fan. I’ve been trying to come up with a snappy name for the strain of theatrical ’80s British pop-rock that really toots my horn but lives, for most Americans at least, firmly in novelty or one-hit-wonderland: Madness, Dexys Midnight Runners, XTC. Count Yanks Oingo Boingo and Adam Ant as spiritual countrymen.

The grandaddies of them all are half-forgotten late-’70s Liverpudlians Deaf School, a formal wear-and-face paint octet of pre-Elfman/”Forbidden Zone” glam guitars, Tin Pan Alley honk-and-bash, banjos and horns, music-hall vocals and sugary harmonies; somewhere between suits-and-shades new wave and Captain Sensible art school punk, but a few years early for either. Three albums in three years (’76-’78) and then out.

Out, except that they all stuck around, particularly guitarist Clive Langer, who (with partner Alan Winstanley) over the next decade bequeathed bits of the Deaf School recipe as to the next generation of smart, snappily-dressed, self-involved Brits: Dexys cottoned to the banjo-pop and chest-voice melodrama, Madness got the slick, dubbed-out production tricks, Elvis Costello (“Everyday I Write The Book”) the ska-flavored pop hook.

After producing the first few Morrissey solo records, Langer and Winstanley took most of the ’90s off (if you forget the first Bush record, and I recommend you do). So it was with some interest that I noticed in 2004 that they were working on the debut record for a hitherto-unknown band of Scots with the unwieldy name Dogs Die In Hot Cars.

Sure enough, Please Describe Yourself was near-perfect power-pop, in the way bands of that genre seem to exist, out of time, not of any decade but on some sort of major-key astral plane of slacker longing (“Love in the ’90s, like love in the ’80s/ Nothing ever changes, the way I feel about you,” goes one mission-statement line). The first single, “Godhopping”, was the quarter-note stomps with programmed-piano basslines and synth vibraphones of a lost Madness hit, with Sweet choirs and, above all, XTC: it’s an obligatory reference when talking about the record, but damn does singer Craig Macintosh sound like Andy Partridge (and they beg the question by titling a song “Apples & Oranges”). I hate to be the guy that describes a band using only the names of other acts, and I mean it as nothing but a compliment, or at least a nonpartisan statement, to say that Dogs Die simply does sound like you’d expect from the Venn diagram of all these referents.

In true Carl Newman/Robin Zander style, the lyrics are nigh-meaningless, neutral roof-beams for the cascading, portmanteau hooks: as Macintosh says in one appropriately garbled lyric, “My conversational skills are gobblesegeek [sic]”. “Lounging”, a deadpan ode to, well, sitting around, reads like a stoner’s to-do list: “Cook a meal/ Have an appetite/ And don’t forget/ You can ride a bike” (see also the Big Star skippable “India Song”: “Drink gin & tonic/ And play a grand piano/ Read a few books“). At least one simply and literally cues a modulation: “Hit a key/There are plenty there” falls right on the key change in “Apples & Oranges.”

So far so good, and two British top-40 hits seemed to lay the foundation for a solid future of chewy pop candies. But three years passed, and in late 2007 the band announced they’d stopped working on a new album, and were more or less ceasing operations. Six months later, though, appeared a project Art Brutishly titled “Dogs Die In Hot Cars Is Making Pop Nonsense;” in which a dozen and a half demos and half-finished songs were posted for fans and other musicians to, essentially, finish. The band, what was left of it, would pick their favorite versions, share half the royalties, and call it album number two. A year later, the website is locked for further submissions and the demos have disappeared.

So what’s going on? Overthinking? Creative paralysis? Buried in the, yes, pop nonsense of “Please Describe Yourself”‘s lyric sheet is a toxic strain of envious neurosis and love-hate obsession with celebrity culture: “Take a glimpse at the good life/ A look at what we could have/ A look at what we are missing.” “Celebrity Sanctum”, namedropping obvious tabloid-fodder like Lucy Liu, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angelina Jolie, may have been intended as an ironic satire of pin-up lust; but plays as rather more literal-minded. Macintosh puts it most simply and appealingly in “Paul Newman’s Eyes”: “I wish I had Paul Newman’s eyes/ And every day came with some surprise/ I wish I had Paul Newman’s eyes/ That would be nice.

This may be spurious, but I’ll suggest a comparison to ’90s American one-hitters The New Radicals and their name-names celebrity takedown “You Only Get What You Give,” quickly followed by singer Gregg Alexander’s rather public breakdown and retreat just as he seemed poised to join the celeb ranks whose membership he rather transparently coveted. Power-pop seems to necessitate a psychologically unsustainable balance between cynicism – that a perfect pop song is a matter of chemistry, of formulas and preexisting ingredients, producing predictable results and a transcendent middle eight – and idealism – that a perfect pop song is the alchemical gold that can win a girl’s heart and save a lonely boy’s shy, helpless life. From Brian Wilson and Alex Chilton through Andy Partridge, the archetypal attributes of the genre patriarchs – and they are, almost universally men, or more accurately, man-boys – are arrested psychological development, creative monomania fighting crippling indecision, and an inability to fully process the contradictions of a public life based on airing very private, often adolescently inchoate, and not necessarily nuanced feelings.

In the meantime, the record stands at a 17-track catalog, unavailable on iTunes or Amazon or in the U.S. I wait in vain for a sophomore record from that other self-bedeviled gang of British Dexys revivalists, the Rumble Strips. And maybe one of Macintosh’s seemingly tossed-off lines contains an element of revelation and warning: “I’ve learnt that indecision only brings no joy.” – Franz Nicolay

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Xploding Plastix-Xploding Plastix. Just the words make my mouth froth, perhaps because when I hear the obscure Norwegian duo’s alliteration-filled moniker, I immediately think of their unmatched debut album, Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents. Agents is easily one of the most unique electronica albums of the decade – considering much of its aesthetic is hardly electronica. Exotic, sexy, spy-jazz arrangements. Noir-ish orchestra instrumentation. Intense bebop and lounge beats bursting with more fills than a Neil Peart solo. Underneath this ominously-executed classical shroud is foundation of subtle, fine-tuned trip-hop that so perfectly complements its musical polar opposite. No wonder it was nominated for the Norwegian version of the Grammys.

So when I discovered the Plastix – Jens Petter Nilsen and Hallvard Wennersberg Hagenhad – actually released a follow-up in 2003, I was delighted. Even more obscure than Agents, which garnered a pittance of a cult following, The Donca Matic Singalongs was reportedly never officially released outside of Scandinavia. Unfortunately, it’s not an injustice. Unlike its predecessor, Donca dives into the modulated bowels of electronica’s favorite instrument, the synthesizer. No song goes untouched by an overabundance of artificially-inseminated aural kitsch. How many sound effects can Nilsen and Hagenhad force into each song? How much inundation can each synthesized instrument track handle before their identities are completely washed out? Apparently, too much. Every song contends in a tedious contest of electronica pretentiousness. All of the buzzing and swirling compensates for the ingenuity the duo abandoned after their debut.

In September 2008, they released their first “wide” release since Agents. Treated Timber Resists Rot falls victim to the same issues as its ignored predecessor. Again, the songwriting, though melodic and not offensive to the ears, is saturated with unnecessary noises that actually inhibit the music’s potential. Their trigger-happy programming fingers don’t take the time to ponder each modulation’s motivation; where is the finesse of Agents?

Most disheartening is the absence of what made Agents so unique: the fastidiously programmed jazz snare “solos.” This trademark defined Xploding Plastix’ sound. Instead, Nilsen and Hagenhad rashly trade in their “sticks” (you can’t deny the authenticity of their “drumkit”) for pompous synthetic clicks and beats derived from logarithms. They also cash in their lounge and bebop rhythms for standard on-beats. Trademarks are meant to be over utilized before their novelty is dismissed. It’s a shame the Plastix gave up so quickly on theirs, because electronica could use some different beats. Instead, the genre is further watered down with more driveling albums. – Jory Spadea

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Clap Your Hands Say Yeah- Clap Your Hands Say Yeah released their eponymous debut could be called the biggest indie hit of 2005. The story of the album’s release was something everyone could get behind. They were the darlings of the Brooklyn scene, the album was self-released, self-promoted and self-distributed. David Bowie attended their shows. Most people loved at least a few of their influences. I’ve seen reviews that found elements of Talking Heads, Neutral Milk Hotel, Joy Division, Wilco, Yo La Tengo, Thom Yorke and The Arcade Fire. It was out there. The opening track “Clap Your Hands” reminds me of the circus, with a ringleader simply pointing your attention further into a vast and dark tent where wonders will soon be revealed. We then flow seamlessly into “Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away” where we are fully exposed to Alec Ounsworth’s charming vocals. Pulling from Jeff Mangum’s playbook, Ounsworth’s pitch isn’t important as long as it is laid over beautiful instrumentation.

My favorite track by far is “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth.” It was actually handed to me on a mix cd, and I kept finding my way back to it. Thumping synths over the plucky guitar hook as Ounsworth once again soars. For weeks I thought the chorus was “hmmmm hauh hunuhah/ To my yellow country teeeeeeeeeethhhhhhhhh” The next track, “Is This Love,” feels like you are flowing through a painting. Each chord is layered with swooning back and forth while we are pelted with the question is this love?

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Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
wasn’t necessarily a ground breaking record. It blends the sound of some of the best indie/alternative artists of the last 20 years into a cohesive sound. I think it lowered the guard of cynics (including myself) who had spent way to much time defending themselves against poppy garbage. How can one listen to this record and not smile from ear to ear? You could grab a little taste here and there and be hooked. With such high hopes, what could go wrong? Their debut was a critical success, the only thing that could derail the entire project would be a mediocre follow up… crap.

The power of the internet is amazing. The most democratic tool ever in the history of the world and if it is good at anything, it is destroying those who may not necessarily deserve it. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah could do no wrong throughout 2005 and 2006, and the worst thing they did in 2007 was release Some Loud Thunder.

Their rise to fame had become the stuff of legend. Practice, work hard, promote hard, create and amazing album and end up selling over 200,000 copies. The busy blogs were buzzing, swarming, calling for more. Everybody had only one question to ask, how could they possibly top their over the top debut? Unfortunately, I think Pitchfork put it best when Brian Howe said “They made another Clap Your Hands Say Yeah record.”

Some Loud Thunder is a much darker album. It contains a lot more distortion and is far less whimsical than its predecessor. Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann came into the picture and replaced the well produced lo-fi charm with an intentional roughness.

Opening track, “Some Loud Thunder” is almost repulsive. With so much distortion laid over, I had a hard time figuring out exactly what was going on. Everything sounds like it is being played through a gramophone, the highs and lows are compressed into a jumbled mass that is difficult to enjoy.

Some Loud Thunder is a bad record, it isn’t. It does come together at points, but instead of a fluid album, it is disjointed. “Love Song No. 7,” “Yankee Go Home,” and “Mama, Won’t You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning?” are definitely all highlights, but none of them contain that bright sound that warmed me up to the band in the first place.

How would things have turned out if Thunder was released before {CYHSY}? The backlash was inevitable, but who knew it would be to this degree? It’s unclear where CYHSY have to go from here. It has been over two years since Some Loud Thunder and there has been tons of speculation that what has been called a hiatus will turn into a breakup. While an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon is a welcome baby step back into the world as well as a baffling cameo in the film The Great Buck Howard, I do know this… everybody LOVES a comeback. – Nicholas Ryan

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The Libertines- For some impressionable high school kids in the early ’00s, the kind too sheltered to go indie and too taste-conscious to go pop, the so-called garage rock revival offered rays of hope for old-fashioned guitar-driven rock and roll. Finally, rock radio seemed to be shifting away from stale Brit-pop, puerile punk-pop, and worst of all, neanderthalic post-grunge. Beyond a definite article, a lot of primal noise, and a buttload of hype, bands like The Strokes, The White Stripes and The Hives shared little in common. But their (relatively minor) commercial successes triggered a major-label signing frenzy, and both the U.S. and the U.K. were suddenly overloaded with three-chord, feedback-heavy, hook-laden rock stompers.

Out of this lot rose the Libertines, a ragtag group of British bohemian misfts and drug connoisseurs. Their debut album Up the Bracket was the only album from this movement that sounds of a piece with the vaunted spirit-of-77 punksters so many of their peers were quite clumsily trying to emulate. So urgent and visceral was their messy, carpe-diem attack that punk godfather himself Mick Jones not only approved—he signed on to produce. That is not the only synchronicitous Clash parallel: The Libertines boasted two rivaling frontmen, a drummer who could barely keep time, a U.S. version of the debut far superior to the U.K. version. Hell, they even rose to fame in late 2002, right as Joe Strummer left this planet. He left the punk rock torch in agile hands though: Bracket is an energetic, forceful stomp through the U.K. underworld, with a keen eye toward the historical and political forces creating it. Vocalists/guitarists Carl Barat and Pete Doherty alternate tales of drunken mayhem and existential dismay, incorporating influences from English folk balladry and British Invasion pop without ever losing their disheveled charm. They update the punk slogans of “please kill me” (in the jaunty “Death on the Stairs”) and “the boy looked at Johnny” for the postmodern generation, one smart enough to get that punk rock is more joke than lifestyle. Bracket is so overloaded with humor, hooks and attitude (and yes, intoxicants) that it sounds like it could topple over any minute. The songs are tightly crafted, to be sure, but played with a loose, reckless, harder-louder-faster abandon that makes them sound spontaneous—even the slower songs (“Radio America,” “The Good Old Days”) sound like mere comedowns from the harder cuts’ amphetamine rush. Over 14 quick, ragged, pummeling snapshots of lowlifes, loners, and losers, The Libertines managed to create the best punk rock album of the decade: a fresh, thrilling, unforgettable ride through a crumbling society, with music that sounds ready to crumble right along with it.

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In the two years between albums, Doherty became a huge celebrity, a tabloid fixture, a drug addict and an all-around enfant terrible. He went to jail for breaking into Barat’s apartment, supposedly for drug money. And he was twice kicked out of the band. The never-hyperbolic UK media proclaimed him a poet rather than a public menace. But personal problems should theoretically stimulate creativity, so upon its release in 2004, there was a hope (fueled by the elegant EP-only single “Don’t Look Back Into the Sun”) that The Libertines would equal or even top its predecessor.

How wrong we were. The Libertines is initially compelling as the sound of a band in peril, or better yet, a homoerotic break-up album, employing the romantic language of pop songs to dissect a fractured friendship—Barat & Doherty’s back-and-forth sniping suggesting a homosocial Buckingham & Nicks, or Richard & Linda. But once you get past that voyeuristic appeal, you realize there’s not much else there. Indeed, while Bracket gets better with each listen, Libertines gets worse. It’s like slogging through a ’70s McCartney solo album: two good songs for the radio to play (neither approaches Bracket’s finest moments), and a bunch of 10 second ideas stretched out for over two minutes. The Barat-Doherty interplay was key to the Libs’ appeal, but for much of this album, Barat is cast to the sidelines, given disproportionate time to counter his partner’s accusations. This is Doherty’s album through and through, and for much of it, he’s downright insufferable. When not hissing at Barat for being an insensitive jerk who doesn’t understand his addiction and his genius, Doherty recycles Byronic clichés and trite pseudo-Romantic drivel, as if he’s more interested in being Robert Burns than Joe Strummer. He’s a long way from the bird-flipping barroom brawler of Up the Bracket. He swallowed wholesale the tortured poet nonsense the media put upon him, and funneled his inflated ego into unformed songs, as if he couldn’t be bothered to flesh out melodies in between sticking the needle in his veins, and sticking his dick in Kate Moss. The distortion is decreased; the meandering increased: as such, where Bracket was urgent, Libertines is self-indulgent. The high-pitched guitars noodle and grate, and a couple songs border on twee, minus that genre’s tight songcraft. This could have been a pop album, if anyone had bothered to write hooks for it; whatever you call it, it’s definitely not very punk. Instead, it plays like the morning after Bracket’s night of wild, off-the-wall revelry. Like most mornings after, it’s highly unpleasant.

Due more to Barat and Doherty’s personal vendettas than their artistic free fall, The Libertines split up at the end of 2004, though Doherty’s membership had been sporadic for over a year anyway. Barat formed Dirty Pretty Things with Libertines drummer Gary Powell; the band released two competent, occasionally pleasurable, but ultimately unremarkable albums before calling it quits last year. DPT’s music didn’t inspire you to turn it off, but it also didn’t blow you away—it existed among the UK garage-rock bands (at this point, anchored by the Libs-inspired Arctic Monkeys) rather than apart from them. But that’s more that can be said for Doherty’s main post-Libertines project, Babyshambles, which carries The Libertines’ careless excesses to their dull, infuriating extremes. At this point, Babyshambles hinges more on Doherty’s persona than its actual music—occasional hints of power and brilliance are not sustained, left to evaporate in the druggy darkness. But then again, by now, music is only secondary to Doherty’s reputation: his police record is longer than his discography, and his frequent arrests are more interesting than any of his recent music. In the U.S. especially, he is known more as a supermodel’s death-defying trainwreck ex-boyfriend who nobody expected to live to see 30. Recently, he was arrested on yet another drunk-driving and possession charge.

Their respective solo careers accentuate what was so magical about Bracket: Barat’s hard-driving craftsmanship and unapologetic commercialism grounded Doherty, demanding the discipline he clearly lacks on his own. And Doherty’s arty, offbeat excesses and boundless energy helped Barat transcend his tendencies towards the boring and formulaic. Theirs was the latest in U.K. rock’s long history of indelible complementary partnerships: Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Strummer and Jones, Morrissey and Marr, Partridge and Moulding, Albarn and Coxon. Sadly, unlike those legends, the Barat-Doherty pairing could not survive its own success. In its wake, it left one classic album, and a decade’s worth of letdowns. – Charles A. Hohman

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The Bravery- It was an exciting time, the early-to-mid 2000s, when indie rock was surfacing in the mainstream and suddenly it seemed like Nirvana would finally die. The Strokes brought with them imitators/improvers like Interpol, Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand — all of them haunted by the ghosts of Gang of Four. Of course, ’80s nostalgia being en vogue, this would also mean an inevitable New Wave revival with The Killers and other Duran Duran imitators drowning our ears in synth.

The Bravery straddled the lines between Post-Punk revival and New Wave revival, creating danceable cock rock for those who found The Killers too fey and Franz Ferdinand too eccentric — but dudes like that don’t dance, do they?

“An Honest Mistake” was their only important entry in the annals of bands-that-sound-like-other-bands. It’s a great piece of dance rock — catchy, cool, and as meaningless as the Rube Goldberg machine depicted in the video. The key is that throbbing, pulsing synth beat that the rest of the song just hangs off of. Then we get stabbing Post-Punk guitars and the rapid-fire drums, sung all faux-Julian Casablancas by punk Morrissey lookalike Sam Endicott. It’s Franz Ferdinand with a chip on its shoulder. It’s The Strokes with synth and a hard-on.

How frighteningly cool did these guys look? All the black leather, the pointy hairstyles — a Punk Rock cool that required all their videos to be in black & white because color was too bourgeois. They looked like they were going to do coke, fuck a groupie, then ride motorcycles and fire sawed-offs at Master Blaster. They were so fashionably apocalyptic.

Plus, the video for “Fearless” has them performing on top of speed boats. Speed boats. How cool is that?

Four years later I don’t know what the hell “An Honest Mistake” is about. I guess Sam Endicott pissed off some girl and doesn’t want to apologize about it. Who cares? The Bravery’s about the dance floor.

What happened when the zeitgeist died? The Strokes and Interpol both released albums to startling indifference, Bloc Party went electronic, The Killers went Springsteen and Franz Ferdinand miraculously remained the consistently best of the bunch without changing very much of what made them so lovable to begin with. Good job.

Which leaves The Bravery, who were never all that beloved or great to begin with. In 2007 they delivered a new record, The Sun and the Moon, which must be the title of a dozen other things. It was still aggressive, still kind of catchy, but something was missing. Somehow it felt even more derivative than it did on the first go-round. If that weren’t bad enough, they were peppered the affair with acoustic guitar ballads and more tender, heartfelt new wavey tracks. Guess what I don’t want to hear from The Bravery, of all people.

The worst offender of is “Time Won’t Let Me Go,” a lamentation on the best days of our lives that never manifested. Normally I’d love such anti-nostalgia (see: Blur’s “Best Days,” Pulp’s “Disco 2000”), but without any sense of wit or irony, this is just bitter whining: “I never had a Summer of ’69/ I never had a Cherry Valance of my own.” Guess what else I don’t want to hear from The Bravery.

Granted, I just said you don’t listen to The Bravery for the lyrics. It’s a shame The Bravery themselves don’t share this ideology, as “Time Won’t Let Me Go” is a traditional kind of song that you’re supposed to listen to and feel emotions about because you identify with and care about what the lead singer is saying. Fuck that.

Everything about the band is toned town. Synth has transformed from necessary beat to superfluous instrument to indicate that you’re listening to an indie band. They even dress less like a band of synthpunks and more conservatively indie rock like Nada Surf. I love Nada Surf, but I already have one, guys. You can also tell The Bravery sucks now because their videos are in color.

However, the biggest indicator that The Bravery have gone soft is when they engage in a “Ba-baba-ba-ba” singalong that should have made The Bravery-circa-2005 involuntarily time travel two years into the future and pull that poncey little cardigan over Sam Endicott’s head.
“Time Won’t Let Me Go” depicts The Bravery in identity crisis, a band that doesn’t know what the hell to do with itself when all its contemporaries have moved on. So instead of creating more synth-heavy dance music, they’ve taken to even more middling NewPostWavePunk as if Razorlight hadn’t cornered that market already. Maybe take some risks and live up to your band name for the next record? -Danny Djeljosevic

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The Blow- Some musical geniuses just can’t seem to make things work until they find the right person to act as their foil. Jagger/Richards, Davies/Davies, Verlaine/Lloyd, these partnerships serve both to demonstrate the potential the right pairing has and the inability of the two entities within the symbiotic relationship to succeed on their own. In this decade, there are few examples that prove this better than that of Khaela Maricich and Jona Bechtolt from The Blow. The Blow may have begun as Khaela’s personal project, but it wasn’t until Bechtolt entered the picture with the 2004 release Poor Aim: Love Songs EP that the group really came to life.

With the 2006 release Paper Television, Jona and Khaela became the Postal Service for the weirdo contingent; Khaela as the spacey, surrealist face of the operation and Jona as its scarily talented electronic brain. The duo had managed to keep all of Khaela’s “quirky” little Miranda July-inspired antics and all of the experimental tendencies but somehow make it entirely palatable and impossible not to obsessively listen to, which is no small feat by any means. The album was a runaway success on the indie circuit, garnering the group a prime slot at the Sasquatch music festival, where the shiny summer pop of “Parentheses” and the marching band thunder of “The Long List of Girls” were perfect crowd pleasers.

Which is hardly surprising since the music of The Blow is extremely catchy, but also rhythmically intense and complex. Jona’s production is slick in all the right ways and challenging as well, allowing Khaela’s voice, which previously had not really found the room to shine, to confidently stand at the front of the mix, weaving in and out of the dazzling beats. Khaela crafted hooks like no other, as well, making the songs relentlessly driving and unable to leave your head, ensuring that crowds could easily sing along in the club and at home.
But when it came time for a follow up…nothing. Jona left to focus on his other project, the less inspired YACHT. Khaela kind of sort of toured. Sometimes. Less frequently, she posted random, often bizarre, tangents on her blog and apologized to her mother for not making more music. In the meantime, groups The Blow had clearly inspired began to explode: Starfucker also hailed from The Blow’s base of Portland, Oregon and are the spastic little brothers to The Blow’s thought out craftiness; Crystal Castles from Toronto, Ontario are their fight-prone little sister. Khaela swears The Blow still exists, but the likelihood of the project fulfilling the promise of Paper Television is on par with My Bloody Valentine following up Loveless.

Unlike the Postal Service, there was never any indication that The Blow was a stopgap for two artists with other full-time projects to occupy them. At the time of Paper Television, The Blow was the most interesting and successful thing either Jona or Khaela had ever done. Which makes their indefinite hiatus all the more disappointing; who knows what prompted the dissolution. Perhaps Khaela was under too much pressure; perhaps Jona was irritated that The Blow had grown to be bigger than anything else he’d ever done. Whatever the cause, it’s easy to imagine the alternate universe that could have been had The Blow stuck together and followed up their breakthrough; following the success of Paper Moon, it’s likely K Records would have been unable to help the band continue to expand and it seems almost certain that they would have been picked up by a major and perhaps from there they could have been the Next Big Thing that actually went somewhere. And maybe there’s the rub. Maybe Jona and Khaela were aware that they had stumbled into something bigger than either of them had ever imagined, and maybe it frightened them, forcing them to put it down like some musical Frankenstein’s monster. But alas, we will never know, will we? – Morgan Davis

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Steve Earle- Following a 1994 arrest for possession of heroin, Steve Earle kicked off a remarkable career resuscitation with a string of four indelible albums and one really kickass song. Beginning with the lush romanticism of 1995’s Train a Comin’ Earle followed with the beautiful “Ellis Unit One” on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack, the brazen Southern rock of I Feel Alright, the stirring ballads on El Corazon and the honest-to-god bluegrass pairing with Del McCoury on The Mountain which ended with McCoury taking an exception to Earle’s penchant for foul language.

However, his most complete work would not arrive until the precipice of the new millennium. Combining the best elements of his previous work, Transcendental Blues best captures Earle’s rebellious spirit. Crammed with 15 tales of life on the hard road, broken love, a death penalty paean and even some Irish strut, Transcendental Blues was the apex of Earle’s comeback as all his influences coalesced into a sound truly his own. Though it may not be my favorite Earle album (that would be Train), Transcendental Blues comes from an artist in full control of his many disparate talents.

Kicking off with what sounds like a fuzzed-out Indian raga, Earle and the Dukes launch into the title track. “In the darkest hour of the longest night/ If it were in my power I’d step into the light” the lyrics begin. This is not the hard-bitten Earle of “Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain,” yet this newfound optimism illuminates this album with a scintillating optimism. Earle is not afraid to rock out on songs such as “Everyone’s in Love With You” and “All of My Life,” both rife with scuzzy guitars and down and dirty rhythms. Unlike most of the music Nashville shits out, this is roots rock at its finest.

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But Transcendental Blues shines best when Earle slows down the tempo or experiments. “The Boy Who Never Cried” is a dark allegory of solitude and “When I Fall” is given added gravitas by guest vocalist sister Stacey Earle in what can be seen as a song of sweet, familial support in dark times. The album’s best moment comes in the one-two punch of “Steve’s Last Ramble” and “The Galway Girl,” both tales of traveling the world and the people you meet along the way. The carefree, sauntering beat of “Ramble,” coupled with the raucous Irish tones of “Galway” hearkens back to Earle’s songs with the Pogues on Copperhead Road.

I became a fan of Earle after receiving a promo of I Feel Alright in 1996. It was around the time I rediscovered Bruce Springsteen via The Ghost of Tom Joad and that authentic, rural American voice really spoke to me. After delving back slightly enough to obtain and fall in love with Train a Comin’ I looked forward to all of Earle’s subsequent releases. I drove long distances to see him in concert, once witnessing an argument in Philadelphia with an audience member over the death penalty where Earle offered to refund the ticket if the guy would just get the fuck out. I felt I had discovered a real American artist, akin to his mentor Townes Van Zandt or even Hank Williams.

Then Jerusalem arrived. Coming a year after 9/11, Earle seemed to be just the man to speak to the nation’s zeitgeist, a mélange of fear mongering and jingoistic pride. True, Earle made some of the biggest news of his career with “John Walker’s Blues,” a song story told from the perspective of American Taliban John Walker Lindh that sent some conservatives into an unwarranted tizzy, but something felt missing from the album. Some of the songs were limp and the ire that should have been present in Earle’s words failed to connect. I wrote it off as a minor work and waited for his big indictment against the Bush regime.

Two years later The Revolution Starts…Now followed. Once again, quite uneven, I began to worry Earle had lost his touch. While “Rich Man’s War” is a heartbreaking elegy to the American young men needlessly killed in Iraq, the title track (repeated here twice) sounded canned. “Condi, Condi” was a gimmicky reggae-inflected piece that somehow tries to make Condoleeza Rice into a sex symbol and the big-agit single of “F the FCC” came off as tired, shallow and sophomoric. Yeah, I gave the disc a bunch of listens, watched Earle give an uninspiring set at the 2005 Austin City Limits Festival and then tuned out.

Worse than antipathy, apathy towards an artist is a fan’s death knell. I may have strong feelings towards the new Of Montreal album, but I’m still inspired to listen to it and figure out why I dislike it so much. After so many good years in the ’90s, the ’00s work of Steve Earle left me not caring and numb. When Washington Square Serenade, featuring a newly married (again) Earle that had relocated to NYC, appeared in 2007 I didn’t even buy the album. A cursory listen confirmed my fears: another album that did not resonate with me emotionally. For some inexplicable reason, he brought in John King to produce the album, making the album sound hollow and dated. Even his cover of Tom Waits classic “Way Down in the Hole” felt uninspired under King’s heavy-hand.

When I saw that Earle recently put out an album of Van Zandt covers, part of me still itched to go out and buy it. Sure, it’s a tribute to his old pal, but maybe Earle has run out of ideas. I miss looking forward to a new Earle CD like I did 10 years ago. “Transcendence is about being still enough long enough to know when it’s time to move on,” Earle wrote in 2000. Maybe it’s time move on, Steve, and to transcend again. – David Harris

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