Thursday, December 20, 2012

Top 15 Albums of 2012

1. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...

2. Julia Holter - Ekstasis

3. Grizzly Bear - Shields

4. Action Bronson - Blue Chips

5. Lower Dens - Nootropics

6. Karriem Riggins - Alone/Together

7. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

8. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

9. Jack White - Blunderbuss

10. Grimes - Visions

11. Tame Impala - Lonerism

12. Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It

13. Japandroids - Celebration Rock

14. Fang Island - Major

15. The Walkmen - Heaven

Stay tuned for my Pazz & Jop contribution and, if you're interested, check out my previous picks:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Gummy Bear

I have an enduring affinity for Grizzly Bear. In fact, my first "real" feature for Time Out New York was on the subject of the group's 2009 effort, Veckatimest, and a BAM show in advance of its release. (Pardon TONY's website appearance, as usual.)

So, it was quite fitting that Stereogum approached me about doing a piece on Grizzly Bear's ten best songs. It was a tough log to whittle, but I think I rounded up some choice cuts. (Apologies to residents of my home state for not including "Colorado.")

Look for more to come on Stereogum. 

That rhymed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


I submitted the following to The New York Times in the wake of the shootings in Colorado last month. Word on the street is they didn't use it so, now, it can find a home on my blog, a close second in terms of prestige.

In the wake of the massacre last week in Aurora, Colorado, the United States is left wrangling with a mounting number of tough questions with respect to gun control, mental health care, cinematic violence, definitions of terrorism and politicization of tragedy. And while they’re all quandaries worthy of reflection, one particular outcry hits home, literally, for many of us: What is wrong with Colorado?

I was a sophomore in high school when the Columbine shooting occurred. Sitting in geometry class, we watched the drama unfold on television. (It was the first time I’ve felt that sensation of empty helplessness, the same emotion experienced watching the World Trade Center fall the first week of my freshman year at Boston College.) My high school, Regis Jesuit, isn’t exactly around-the-corner from Columbine, but it’s not far, either. Later, when I found out that I had played youth soccer with one of the victims, Isaiah Shoels, I joined a larger community of puzzled mourners.

And, now, Colorado is left with a doubled-down-upon nausea. Not only is there the tragedy and its consequences, there’s an perception in and out of state that there must be something awry here. (To add insult to significant injury, the Centennial State has experienced one of its worst summers on record, from fires north and south to drought, unbearable heat and the murder of a police officer after a jazz concert.) So, what gives?

Colorado’s relatively relaxed gun laws aren’t decreasing violence, whatever the concealed weapons advocates say. It’s up for debate as to whether or not it’s increasing violence; a statistic like a 41% uptick in background checks for weapons isn’t comforting, to say the least. But, that doesn’t explain why two of the biggest shooting sprees in U.S. history have occurred, here, in Colorado.

Nothing really can. For lack of a better explanation, it’s evil luck. There’s nothing in the water here (it’s actually quite delicious) and Coloradans don’t have a preordained lust for violence. There’s a stock phrase, now, around election time, “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.” I’d say the same of this Rocky Mountain purple state and go one or two steps further: Whatever is “wrong” with Colorado, is “wrong” with the United States. Or as Anthony Burgess related in a recently-printed New Yorker essay, perhaps “evil” is the more accurate term.

There will always be people who want to cause harm to others, from California to Colorado to Connecticut. Our governor, John Hickenlooper, dodged a gun control question on Meet the Press this weekend, but his basic point was right. “This wasn’t a Colorado problem,” he said. “This is a human problem.” While it’s true we won’t be able to stop people from choosing malevolence, it was misguided to imply we shouldn’t try harder.

Colorado is a divided state. Denver Democrats have little in common with Eastern plains farmers or Pueblo steelworkers. It can be a paranoid, tense and conflicted place, but if that doesn’t describe the current state of the union, I’m not sure what does.

A brief defense is in order, too. I love Colorado. It is a gorgeous, sprawling region. Coming back here two years ago--after going to college out East and living in New York City for five years--was a breath of fresh air. People at this altitude are as laid-back as the stereotype promises, and Coloradans are overwhelmingly kind, jovial and generous. The divide that exists can, often, give way to a harmonious balance, perennially-top-ranked healthy nuts enjoying a few of the local craft beers or bankers biking to work, no ties allowed.

Friday morning was an awful one. Coloradans woke up to concerned phone calls from family and friends, only to slowly learn what had happened. It seemed like it would last forever. But, it didn’t. The Denver Post hosted its 12th annual Underground Music Showcase from Thursday to Sunday on South Broadway street. Hundreds of bands participated--the lion’s share of them local--and for a few hours each day, the citizens of the Denver area enjoyed the welcome respite of melody, high-fives and cold drinks. The tragedy hadn’t overtaken Colorado, just the opposite. And in those theaters on Broadway, no one could stop the show from going on.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Time Out at Time Out

If you are devoted reader of my blog, you need to reflect upon what you're doing with your life. After you have done so, you might notice that some of the Time Out links to right are busted.

Yes, TONY has upgraded to a new site (again), so a lot of my writing is lost somewhere on the Internet. I am slowly but surely repairing the links; if this presents an immediate problem for you: see above. And then, I guess, email me with what you need to see.

Friday, April 27, 2012

You Can Quote Me

I was lucky enough to be quoted this week in a couple of publications.

The President was in town for a speech up at CU-Boulder and ended up staying in Cherry Creek, which is in the ol' neighborhood. I ventured over the Cherry Cricket to see what all the fuss was about, snapped a pic of a Secret Service dude and posted my findings on Facebook. Westword dug it and wrote a post about the whole deal here.

Then, my father quoted my Coors Field wine research in his Chicago Tribune piece

So, yeah, two articles that reference my drinking. Great.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

SXSW 2012

I wasn't doing any daily stringer action for South by Southwest this year (I did write this in advance of it), so I was mostly down there to enjoy myself and catch up with Light Asylum for a future article. It was crazy as ever down there; it felt like a Black Friday doorbuster crowd had converged on every Austin corner and in every bar doorway. Now that I've caught my breath and most of the Lone Star has left my bloodstream, I present a partial list of the bands I caught. Right, I don't think this is every band I saw and is in no particular order:

Light Asylum
Snake Rattle Rattle Snake
A. Tom Collins
Wheelchair Sports Camp
Justin Townes Earle
Musketeer Gripweed
Bass Drum of Death
Love Inks
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Built to Spill
Of Monsters and Men
Big K.R.I.T.
Best Coast
Jimmy Cliff
The Men
Dan Deacon
The Lumineers
Danny Brown
Youth Lagoon
Oneohtrix Point Never
Alabama Shakes
Andrew Bird
Fiona Apple
Sharon Van Etten

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Pazz & Jop 2011

This is a bit late, but them's the breaks.

So, head here to see what I though was the best in music in 2011. Once again, I am the proud owner of a solo vote for two singles. (And a few with just one or two other voters.) I'm so idiosyncratic!

To see my past voting eccentricities head here and here.

Without further ado, here are the tracks I thought were great...and that nobody else did:

Pictureplane, "Breath Work"

Dawes, "So Well"

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hannibal Buress vs. Me

When Hannibal Buress got wind of my review of his show in Denver, he wasn't all that pleased that I compared his cousin burns to his pal, Aziz Ansari. He expressed his views on Twitter but, then, inexplicably removed them. I guess he wasn't counting a dude with too much time on his hands and a fairly weak grasp of Photoshop.

Still waiting on that pitch.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Area Codes

One of my pals, Corban Goble, interviewed me about Denver's music scene. Here is the article, which appeared on Stereogum yesterday.

And here is the full Q&A:

How long have you been in Denver? What was the music scene like when you got there and how has it changed? You grew up there right? How had it changed while you had left?

I've been back here for about a year-and-a-half after leaving New York City (and also driving around the country getting smashed and going to Graceland, etc. for three months). There hasn't been a ton of change since I've been back--or maybe there has and I'm too close to the whole fiasco to notice--but a handful of pretty legit bands have coasted out of town, while even more have popped up.

I was born and raised here and things have changed a lot, even if you consider that I was last observing things as an 18-year-old high school kid. (I lived in Boston and New York, basically, for all of the time from 2001 until I came back.) There was a massive, booming jam band culture in Colorado in the 1990s. The String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band emerged, and it seemed like Widespread Panic, Phish, Umphrey's McGee, an offshoot of the Grateful Dead and so on and so forth were in town every other weekend. It all ostensibly stemmed from a potent desire to play the storied Red Rocks, as well as the smoky haze over Boulder and an atmosphere teeming with bluegrass (which culminated and still culminates each summer at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival). But, like I said, I was in high school at the time and wasn't too hip to any underground scene. Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was recorded here after Robert Schneider got Apples in Stereo together here; that has to mean something.

Also, three words: Big. Head. Todd. Oh, and everyone should hear the Samples' first three albums. Or, at least, one or two songs from each of them. Or total. Really just "Feel Us Shaking."

What kinds of sounds play well in Denver? Do you think there's a particular sound coming out of there, or is it varied? What are some of the things that define the scene and how it works?

I think there's still a big jam scene, here. Phish loves us, STS9 and the Disco Biscuits were just here for the 350th time this year. And it's February. In all seriousness, though, people here love them some elongated tunes, whether bluegrass- or electronically-based. Call it our marijuana culture or outdoorsy 'tude, but it's real and makes up a sizable chunk of the money flow.

When I originally conceptualized this Gauntlet Hair piece for The Denver Post, I imagined more of a tie between the neo-psychedelia of the '90s to the psych-rock of the 2010s. (And, if you so choose, all the way back to '60s folk in Denver, from John, ahem, Denver to Judy Collins.) I think there's a lot to that with G Hair, Tjujtuna, Woodsman, A Shoreline Dream, Vitamins, Widowers and others emerging from Denver and pumping out some pretty trippy shit. But it, of course, doesn't stop with psych-rock as we have a vibrant jazz scene (Ron Miles is something of a living legend around these parts, Bill Frisell grew up here and current resident Dianne Reeves had won a grip of Grammys), as well all the indie-rock, country and acoustic stuff you'd expect from a semi-large city. I would be remiss not to mention the vibrant Latino culture. There's also some surprisingly good hip-hop and the metal underground has its tentacles spread wide. Blast-O-Mat is the main stomping ground for the latter.

Who are your favorite bands in Denver? What does Denver offer artists and musicians that might show up in the music or in their working process?

I think a band that will always be hard to pigeonhole and certainly doesn't take a lot of cues from the circuitous evolution I outlined above is Slim Cessna's Auto Club. They will always be at the heart of the Denver rock 'n' roll landscape, whether you call it country Gothic or just plain ol' awesome music.

Other faves outside of that psych-rock deal: Pictureplane, PANAL S.A. DE C.V., A. Tom Collins, The Knew, FaceMan, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, Hindershot, Wheelchair Sports Camp and Nathaniel Rateliff.

After living in New York for all those years, I think Denver drew me back for the same reason it draws great bands. It's reasonably inexpensive to live here but offers a large enough infrastructure to do your job, make your art. In music, that means some solid recording spaces, practice rooms and tons of venues to play in town and up in Boulder or Fort Collins. The media outlets aren't numerous but there is solid music writing here, from the Post to Reverb to Westword to the A.V. Club. Plus, there's all that pot.

What's coming up in Denver? Is there a new act that excites you or one you think is going to be big on a larger scale?

I'm usually an awful predictor of what people will dig: I thought the Pictureplane album was the best thing to come out of Denver in 2011 and should have gotten a lot more national attention. Having said that (daps to Curb), I'd put in a few nepotistic plugs: Two of my best friends have bands that are putting out records this year that will be better than a lot of what makes waves elsewhere in this country. Those bands are the Knew and FaceMan. (As an aside, one potential disadvantage of the type of smaller city that Denver represents when compared with New York or L.A. is the incestuousness of the whole ordeal. Tight-knit would be a euphemistic way of putting it.) Other than them, I'd love to see PANAL S.A. DE C.V. melt some faces outside of the Mile High City with their post-rock prowess. And awesome masks.

What's your favorite venue? How do you think Denver stands out?

It's a tie between the Hi-Dive, the Larimer Lounge and the Lion's Lair. I'm a sucker for places that feel like they're rock clubs and all three fit the mold. The Hi-Dive wins for sound, the Larimer for atmosphere and the Lair for being such a radical piece of shit, urine-soaked, Old Style-drinking den of iniquity. Also, it's on Colfax which is pretty much the best stretch of road on which to get ripped in the universe. (If a person were visiting Denver for just one day, I would take them up and down Colfax, then to a Rockies game at Coors Field and, later, to the 16th Street Mall to set it on fire.) Interestingly enough, the three aforementioned venues represent distinctive 'hoods that are neck deep in great drinking spots. The Larimer is due North of the rampant douchebaggery in LoDo and the Hi-Dive holds its own amongst the South Broadway bar scene. Although, that area now his a surfeit of hipsters wearing too-tight Lidsville sweatshirts. Ironic dive bars aren't cool. Real dive bars like the Nob Hill Inn on Colfax or the Hill-Top on the West Side are. In fact, Denver probably has the best collection of dives I've ever seen in the United States. Even though some of the places are closed, everyone who ever visits Denver should buy this book. You want to know what coffee shops to go to? Ask somebody else. I don't drink coffee; I drink beer.

(Now we're on a tangent but sort of encompassing the hippie shit and dive bar deal, Kerouac and Cassady used to kick it at My Brother's Bar and the Wazee Supper Club. Both are institutions. We also have a string of awesome and hilarious Grateful Dead-themed bars, Sancho's Broken Arrow on Colfax being the raddest.)

A place like Rhinoceropolis also helps Denver be unique; it's pretty much an anything-goes joint for the young folk and the nascent semi-homeless youth community aspect can't be overlooked. It's like a Boys and Girls Club with 40s instead of Sour Patch Kids and Travis Egedy instead of Denzel Washington.

The major venue that separates us from the herd, though, is obviously Red Rocks. And it always will be.

What is like, the REAL importance of an artist like Pictureplane? Is he kind of a tone-setter or somebody who is kind of doing their own thing? Or is he like, a civic icon or something?

I think Travis not only makes great music but is exactly the type of person you need for a middle-sized town. You need a guy to wave the flag or, as Westword put it, be our "cheerleader": someone who is proud of his town. Someone who is gonna rep Elitch's (our amusement park) in his videos (see below). I can't tell you how many shows I've been to where a national act has thanked him. He is usually at the show and the band is probably staying at Rhino or under a bridge somewhere with Travis. He's indispensable.

What's the biggest stuff in Denver's history? Like, what is the scene most famous for, probably?

A ton of Red Rocks shows come to mind, as does Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. taking the town's name as his own. I think a dude from Earth, Wind and Fire went to East High School. India.Arie was born here. But, really, the city hasn't produced major icons on levels like London or even a smaller city like Minneapolis. I'm not sure we've even produced one, yet. But, I think "yet" is the operative word there.

Also: Fuck the Fray and OneRepublic.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Top 15 Albums of 2011

1. Clams Casino - Instrumental Mixtape

2. Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation

3. Bill Callahan - Apocalypse

4. Tune-Yards - w h o k i l l

5. Future Islands - On the Water

6. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost

7. Wye Oak - Civilian

8. Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place

9. Fucked Up - David Comes to Life

10. Panda Bear - Tomboy

11. James Blake - James Blake

12. The Rapture - In the Grace of Your Love

13. Austra - Feel It Break

14. Radiohead - The King of Limbs

15. Atlas Sound - Parallax

My ten favorite albums were posted here, along with choices from other Reverb folks. Also, my Pazz & Jop contributions should be out in the coming weeks.

As for this blog, this is the fifth time I've posted my Top 15. Find the other years below:

Happy New Year.