Apple Betty have just released their second full-length, a 12-song/27 minute cd titled “Streakin’ ‘Cross the Sky.” The record sounds great from the first listen and even better with repeated spins: I enjoyed it more and more each time through as the individual tracks became more familiar. My favorites now: one called “Slide Song,” where the guitars stay on overdrive throughout, and another called “Simple Things,” where the lyrics take a more philosophical turn. But don’t let that last comment mislead you: this one smokes from start to finish. A very solid and consistently good lp, just as one would expect from this trio.

Monique Ortiz returns, too, with a four-song EP recorded live in Brooklyn late last September. Hence the title: “Live in Brooklyn EP.” My two favorite tracks are old favorites: “Three Chairs” appears previously on A.K.A.C.O.D.’s “Happiness” and Monique’s own “Reclining Female;” “DMY” also appears on the “Happiness” disc. Here, the arrangements are stripped-down, with Monique on bass and vocals and R.L. Hulsman on drums, but the virtuosity of both musicians keeps the sound full and interesting and, if anything, the spare set-up brings out more of the power in the always-haunting “Three Chairs” than I’ve ever heard before. Monique Ortiz’s work just keeps getting better and better, and this EP leaves me looking forward to her next full album, which I hope will continue to explore this new sound.

Finally, let me call your attention to a new cd called “Hidden Hills” by Old Furnace: it’s an absolutely magnificent album consisting of 15 instrumental tracks, most about two minutes in length. The sound is hard to describe, but I’d call it ambient, folk, and psychedelic all combined into one. The individual songs flow smoothly into each other, so that when I heard the cd for the first time I thought to myself, “this cd is best enjoyed straight through — kind of like one long, constantly-shifting but ultimately unified, single composition.” Then I go to their myspace page and read, “‘Hidden Hills’ is a 33-minute CONTINUOUS album made up of 15 short movements which are all supposed to run into and morph into each other. So, it’s best to hear the whole thing, in order, in one sitting.” I agree! Anyhow, if you like Six Organs of Admittance or perhaps ever wished that Fripp and Eno would leave their studio for a day, go out to explore the wilds, then come back to record some compositions inspired by their journey, then this one’s definitely for you.

In short: three great local cds, and the new year is not even a month old!

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If you’re reading this, you’ve probably also seen the reviews here, here, here, and especially here.  Well, imho, the album lives up to and then exceeds all those expectatations and hype. Animal Collective are, at least for this moment, like the Beatles, neither overrated nor underrated: everyone thinks they’re the best, and that’s because they are the best.

One aspect of the new album that stands out for me, but which I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere, is that none of the songs contain even a hint of irony, sarcasm, cynicism, or anger. Allusions to the Beach Boys are quite obvious, to the Grateful Dead perhaps slightly less so. But, let’s face it: California in the 1960s was the last place and the last time where songs were written about the American dream that are completely free from those elements of  irony, sarcasm, cynicism, and anger. My preferred variation on the theme raised in the Village Voice review is to say that here, Animal Collective offer up their own version of the American dream, just like Brian Wilson and the Dead did back then in their own different ways.

Who knows? Maybe, two or three years from now, this album will sound dated. But then again, Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville now sounds very much of-a-time/of-a-place, and I still love it. So far, this one by Animal Collective ranks right up there.

My favorite albums, local and other, from the year just past.

Local:

  1. Guillermo Sexo, Magic Lanterns
  2. Thalia Zedek Band, Liars and Prayers
  3. Big Dipper, Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology
  4. Passion Pit, Chunk of Change
  5. Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Dawn of the Cycads
  6. 28 Degrees Taurus, How Do You Like Your Love?
  7. Chop Chop, Screens
  8. Matters and Dunaway, Feel the Future
  9. Pretty and Nice, Get Young
  10. Pray for Polanski, The Ghost and Bones

Other:

  1. Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair
  2. Parenthetical Girls, Entanglements
  3. French Kicks, Swimming
  4. Gang Gang Dance, Saint Dymphna
  5. F— Buttons, Street Horrsing
  6. Of Montreal, Skeletal Lamping
  7. Love is All, Mixed Up
  8. Palms, It’s Midnight in Honolulu
  9. Atlas Sound, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
  10. Rare Book Room Records, Living Bridge Compilation
  11. Miss Murgatroid and Petra Haden, Hearts and Daggers
  12. High Places, High Places
  13. Health, Health/Disco
  14. Ananda Project, Night Blossom
  15. Kangding Ray, Automne Fold

Playlist at http://spinitron.com/public/index.php?station=wzbc&month=Jan&year=2009&plid=13309