Perfect From Now On
Given the circumstances that led to its completion, this record could have been a disaster. Perfect From Now On marked Doug Martsch's move to a major label, a transition that has neutered the spirit of many promising indie bands, and the initial time in the studio was troublesome. Martsch didn't have a firm band lineup at the time, so the first round of recording involved only Martsch and a hired drummer. After weeks of studio time, the tapes were scrapped and current drummer Scott Plouf and bassist Brett Nelson were brought in. The hasty second round of recording was unsatisfying, a problem that grew when the master tapes overheated in producer Phil Ek's car during a trip back to Martsch's home studio in Boise, rendering them useless. However, this proved to be a blessing--round three of recording was a charm, and the final product is a fucking masterpiece. Whether you cite the positively regal opening guitar strains of "Randy Described Eternity" or the sharp, dry punch of Plouf's drums on "Made Up Dreams," Perfect dramatically eclipsed its preliminary troubles and became a triumphant showcase for a band fully realizing their potential. HANNAH LEVIN
Trance States in Tongues
Of all the bands Jack Endino's captured on disc, Zen Guerrilla's gotta be one of my favorites. The hard rock 'n' soul act smashes up the blues, metal, R&B, and punk into some insanely kinetic noise. The best part of the act, though, has always been its live show, where frontman Marcus Durant towers over the music like a possessed evangelist, delivering lightning-strike rock sermons into the mic. Trance States in Tongues really captures the band's live insanity as the instruments scramble, tumble, and race all over each other, giving off a sprawl of sound that's far from clean but never cluttered. All the background noise threatens to overtake Durant, as the two forceful elements of the band come together in a tense, energetic panic that's just fucking brilliant. JENNIFER MAERZ
The Glow, Pt. 2
I think Phil Elvrum must put a fishbowl over his head before he plays music, and then records whatever he hears in there. His production style is kaleidoscopic--not like an LSD freakout or anything, more like subtle layers of muted or gated sound that are somehow perfectly off-kilter. Elvrum is one of the few producers I know of who sounds like he fucked up in mixdown. But somehow Elvrum's mistake-noises magically transpire into non-wanky art. It's ramshackle finery, the ultimate in cut-and-paste beauty. Of course, it helps that his charming songs shoot a thousand cherubic arrows through the heart of the listener.
For instance, the title track of the Microphones' The Glow, Pt. 2 starts out with Elvrum overdriving his guitar so much it sounds like he's sending it through a ham radio. Suddenly, splotches of acoustic guitar alternate through the speakers as he wails the most faint-worthy, sad melodies over piano, organ, and drums. After a great instrumental buildup, the song switches off and it sounds like the tape got eaten. The whole record is like this--pop songs that move in quadruple dimensions.
On Mirah's second full-length, Advisory Committee, Elvrum and sometime-Microphone Mirah matched up for an equally huge and introspective journey through her raw, breathy voice. Mirah, an excellent lyricist, has a clear, open style; Elvrum's production embellishments give her an edge and deepen the sound of her whispered lines.
On "Make It Hot," Mirah sings, "Make it hot/take me over and over and over" with doe-eyed softness. Behind her quiet singing you can hear her fingers rubbing over the acoustic guitar strings, making the performance sound so close that if you were a mirror, her breath would fog you up. The end of the song bursts open to five voices pleading, "Make it hot!" with a buzzing guitar and piano, flooding the musical emotions until it feels like Mirah's chest is about to burst apart.
Elvrum is a recording genius because he makes every song vivid and tactile, so it feels like you can hear sound bouncing off whatever objects were in the room at the time the song was recorded. He records the moments that matter, inspiring empathy and softly shattering the coldest of hearts. (And giving chicks like me asthma attacks.) JULIANNE SHEPHERD
Flop and the Fall of the Mopsqueezer!
Flop's full-length debut holds up as a timeless slice of youthful pop-punk because of frontman Rusty Willoughby's criminally unheralded songwriting gifts, but also because it was producer Kurt Bloch's first foray behind a sound board. Unshackled by experience and, well, common engineering sense, Bloch and Flop carved out 16 exuberant tracks of summertime rock in five days at Egg Studios. "The theory was that we should try all the things normally discouraged in other studio environments," recalls Bloch. "It was like getting your first driver's license and going through red lights and driving up on the sidewalk the first time you're alone behind the wheel." The hazardous-but-fortuitous result was explosive and euphoric, but also surprisingly moving. The brash, sky-scraping guitars of "Anne" will make you want to jump around senselessly, while a line like, "The seed of hesitating sun/has given birth to the woman that you will become" (from "Hello") will make your eyes water in a way that transcends the nostalgia it evokes. You can practically hear Bloch pushing the faders all the way up, giggling and high on the adrenaline that came with losing his engineering virginity. HANNAH LEVIN