Category Archives: Album of the Week

The party never dies…

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I was pretty rapturous about this album when it came out. Despite its March release I basically declared it album of the year right off the bat, unaware of how many other AOTY contenders were coming down the pike – George Clanton, Kaku P-Model, Daphne & Celeste, Koenjihyakkei, Janelle Monae, Mouse on Mars, and that 8-hour behemoth from Autechre, all of them deserving and if I had to give out the trophy now it would probably be to whichever one I listened to last. Luckily Critter Jams does not give out such a trophy and nobody would take it seriously anyway since you really got to give these things some time. Every year I try to make time to listen to my favorites from last year because you never know which ones are gonna still feel like magic and which ones will make you go, “maybe it wasn’t all that good”.
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Underworld – Drift Series 1 (2019)

57599675_10156272776742849_5508245632420151296_oLet me get this out of the way first; Underworld are my favorite band and I like pretty much everything they’ve ever done. So I’m not gonna pretend to be objective here. I think all their albums rank somewhere on the scale of “good to great” and they’ve got a vast catalogue of singles that are pretty much unimpeachable…but there are a lot of electronic groups you could say that about. To me, Underworld have something else – they’ve got this sort of soul to them, a certain freewheeling musical quality that lets them go places their contemporaries can’t. It’s something you find on the deep cuts, the EP tracks, the B-sides, and those weird one-offs that they’ll play once during a radio broadcast and then never again. Something that reminds you that these two are proper musicians, who’d released their first LP together a decade before “Rez” hit the clubs. If you have followed this band then you know that they make a lot of music, the majority of which never sees an actual studio album. The deluxe reissues of their first 3 albums wound up spanning 12 total CDs…and even that didn’t cover everything. Kraftwerk they ain’t.

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Sacred Tapestry – Shader Complete / New Dreams Ltd. – Sleepline (2012-2013, reissued 2018)

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Vektroid is truly an artist of the internet age; not only does she work in a genre that was born entirely online, but she has a tendency to continuously remix and reconfigure her back catalogue in a way that wasn’t really possible in the age of physical media. Throw in the fact that she uses about a dozen different aliases and you wind up with a discography that’s massively confusing; you’re never quite sure what’s from when, or whether the thing you’re listening to is actually just another work-in-progress. So when Aguirre announced the release of two of Vek’s albums on vinyl, I knew I had to get them; if nothing else it’s neat to actually get a finished product in your hands, especially one that seems so backwards-minded.  I mean, the vaporwave on cassette tape thing at least makes some sense – it is in fact that perfect physical medium for a genre that obsesses itself with lo-fi digital futurism circa 1986, where a record player is not something to be nostalgic for, but rather an old technology to be discarded and forgotten as we face a brighter future.

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Wall of Voodoo – Call of the West (1982)

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I saw Stan Ridgway and his new band perform a huge chunk of this album during a tour they did for its 25th anniversary.  I was 21 and  probably the youngest person there; unlike many of their contemporaries, there has been no real critical re-evaluation of Wall of Voodoo.  That was 11 and a half years ago.  The time, how it flies.

In college I used to listen to this album all the time.  At some point I went through an 80’s one-hit wonder phase, scanning through all the great songs I’d heard on VH1 back in the day and grabbing the albums, mainly because the ones I’d gotten from Devo and Gary Numan were excellent.  Perhaps these acts were one-hit wonders to the outside world, but if you’re a fan, you know what’s up.  It occurred to me that Wall of Voodoo might be the same.  Though “Mexican Radio” is a bit different from “Cars” or even “Whip It” – it’s so stylized, with spaghetti-western licks, a wild synthesizer line, clanky percussion, and a singer who sounds like a film noir actor with a lobotomy.  It was like pieces from four different bands that somehow coalesced into one.  If you watched the “Whip It” video with the sound off, this is the sort of music you would imagine them playing.  I had no idea what a full record from these guys would sound like.
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Denki Groove Decade: 2008-2017

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On March 12, 2019, Pierre Taki tested positive for a small amount of cocaine. In America this would be no big deal; a temporary embarrassment as your mug shot floats around the ‘net, perhaps a limited-run reality series as you attempt to get sober. In Japan, you’re basically banished from the planet. Apparently this is big news, as sales of the PS4 game Judgment suddenly came to a halt, which seems grossly unfair to the hundreds of people who worked on it. More important to me is the complete vanishing of the Denki Groove catalogue from all retailers and streaming services. I was stoked to finally be able to buy DG stuff on iTunes (instead of paying import prices or searching high and low for a way to pirate it), and it was awesome that I could now point people to Spotify rather than dodgy live videos on YouTube. All of that, just gone overnight.  And they wonder why I insist on carrying that ol’ fashioned iPod around.
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Haruomi Hosono – Nokto De La Galaksia Fervojo (1985)

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Now that we’re in the throes of Polar Vortex 2019, I figured it was time to revisit a few of my favorite Winter albums. Not in the celebratory or romantic sense of the season, but rather the Wisconsin Winter in as it really is in the dead of January. The sheets of white that blanketed everything have turned grey and brown, the trees are bare, and there’s no one on the streets. As the subzero days pile up, people get crankier and more emotionally distant.  Outside of being able to store your beer outside, there’s virtually nothing good about it; shoveling snow sucks, and driving in it is even worse.

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Sifl and Olly – Songs of Season 1

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Sit down, children, and I’ll tell you a tale of a time when MTV used to play music videos. What’s that? Grandpa already told you that one? Huh? “What’s MTV?” Alright, let’s start over. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t really into the music videos at the time; even as a pre-teen dipshit, I knew when I was being pandered to. What I really liked was the oddball original programming they came up with. Daria, Celebrity Deathmatch, Tom Green, that one cartoon with the alien who lived inside the dude’s gigantic head, and so on. Too old for Nickelodeon, too young for…whatever this was, but I still preferred to punch above my weight class, so to speak.

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