Dec 1, 2009

The Double Aughts: Hot Chip's Made in the Dark

A futuristic techno train lurches from the station, slowly clacking and building electrosteam, its synthetic beat increasing with each turn of the virtual wheel. The whistle screams as it careens downhill, the sounds peeking into the playful clattering and hooks of "Out at the Pictures," the first track on 2008's Made in the Dark from the dancepop group Hot Chip.

The bridge of "Out at the Pictures" features yelping, and is followed by the similar-in-structure "Shake a Fist." The track builds more quickly, anchored by a fat bass sweep and dense drumbeat before it pauses for some narration and explodes into 360 degrees of clicks and blips, followed by samples of more yelling and a return to the original sound.

Made in the Dark is a diverse album in three forms. Although the first two tracks predict what might be the electropop equivalent of Crunk, "Ready for the Floor" transitions towards the album's softer side. Alexis Taylor's soft-spoken vocal style has always been the warm, sincere center of Hot Chip's sound, and he's never sounded so vulnerable as when he sings "I am ready for a fall." Unsuprisingly, the track is Hot Chip's biggest hit to date, although the narrative gem "And I Was a Boy from School" from 2006 may be their magnum opus.

"Bendable Poseable" and "Don't Dance" return to the opening sound with lots of low end, but the remainder of the album's tracks are airy ballads, like ""We're Looking for a Lot of Love," or poppy dance numbers, e.g. "Touch Too Much." The relatively brief disco epic, "Hold On," a loose revision of their club banger "Over and Over," is the best of the latter. The strong use of Taylor and Joe Goddard's differing vocal styles provides a perfect example of the band's dance-inspiring potential and lyrical prowess. Take the hook, "I'm only going to heaven if it feels like hell. / I'm only going to heaven if it tastes like caramel," and the couplet "My only lesson was in my head, / but I traded if for my hand," and mix well with an overused phrase in a fresh context, like, "Sir, I have a good mind to take you outside." Pop genius.

As one of the best breakup songs in recent years, the title track frames Hot Chip as Phil Collins-level emoters. But the witty heart of Made in the Dark is "Wrestlers." The song is a simultaneously tongue-in-cheek and earnest exploration of professional wrestling as a metaphor for fighting of other kinds. The two poles of this experience are best represented by the "half nelson, full nelson, Willie Nelson" pun and the refrain of Taylor almost whispering "I think you think I'm about to throw the towel in."

This ability to balance humor with intellect and love is exactly what makes Made in the Dark one of the decade's best albums. The closing piano-and-bleeps ballad "In the Privacy of Our Love" proves that Hot Chip very well may be our current Genesis, and with One Life Stand coming early next year, they seem posed to maintain that position.

Nov 2, 2009

The Double Aughts: Xiu Xiu's Fabulous Muscles

A handful of movies (Monster, Boys Don’t Cry, Grave of the Fireflies) have ranked among the best of the last couple decades while ensuring that anyone would never want to see them a second time. These films are so emotionally raw and effective that only the most dedicated of cinephiles and drama junkies would willingly experience the journey again.

“Support Our Troops OH! (Black Angels OH!),” the Generation Kill-inspired avant-jazz, spoken-word protest document at the center of Xiu Xiu’s Fabulous Muscles is a similar work, painting images of grizzly acts and the still oddly disquieting indifference they inspire. While the mess-cum-art is mesmerizing, it’s a harrowing experience that never loses its edge. The success (relative to the above-mentioned films) of “Support Our Troops” as a work worthy of return trips is that it’s a merciful 5 minutes.

One could easily imagine Jamie Stewart, the Larry Clark-like genius behind Xiu Xiu, developing “Support Our Troops,” or any of the emotionally filthy tone poems that comprise 2004’s Fabulous Muscles into a sonic opera of tear-pouring proportions. Instead, Fabulous Muscles is condensed into one of the darkest 40-minute pop-music masterpieces ever composed.

Take, for example, the last minute of “Nieces Pieces (Boat Knife Version)” and the intro of “Clowne Towne”: a guitar riff that feels like cold water down a warm back, a slowly crescendoing organ, undersea techno blips, T.S. Eliot’s “ragged claws” as percussion, a string arrangement as whirlpool, a staticy guitar lazily rowing into the gorgeous quatrain “Up and down through what you thought would be your future / became the dark reminder of / what a rash and inconsistent faith you’ve had / in loving your true self and your true love.” In two-and-half minutes, Xiu Xiu takes listeners through an entire galaxy of sound and emotion, something that most artists can’t do in an entire career.

While “Clowne Towne” and “Support Our Troops” represent the extremes of FM (and Xiu Xiu in general), “I Luv The Valley OH!” is the hit, the club banger for arts and crafty hipsters. The simple bass line, impossibly compressed beat, and barely-there guitar riff take the most cacophonous moments of Joy Division and turn it into an anthem that’s somehow fun in the midst of buckets of dreariness. This is the 00’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” and you will slow dance in your socks to it before you drift off into your valium-aided unconsciousness.

With the better-than-chiptune “Bunny Gamer” and the title track, the only surreal homoerotic love/hate ballad you’ll ever hear or need to, Fabulous Muscles lies directly in the middle of Xiu Xiu catalog, between the most challenging and dark of their work and their most consciously pop efforts. This median is where so many of the greats have produced their best works. In the spirit of walking that thin line, Stewart and Cory McCulloch find a fine balance between heart attack and orgasm, but hold back just enough to make repeat listens a desirable conclusion.

100 Albums, 50,000 Words, 1 Decade

While many are beginning their participation in National Novel Writing Month, Stoplight Sleep is beginning a project of its own. Over the next few months, I'll be writing about 100 of the greatest albums of the 2000s. Each album will get approximately 500 words, adding up to the 50,000 authors pen for NaNo. I'd call it Local Music Criticism Quarter, but it doesn't have quite the same ring to it, so you'll see "The Double Aughts" label instead.

The first post is coming very soon, so be on the look out.

Oct 21, 2009

Best of 2000s Coming

While I've been busy writing about other things in other places, I've also been thinking a lot about the best of the decade. I'll be doing individual posts on some of the albums I think are the best over the next couple months.

Sep 8, 2009

"My Girls" 8-bit Cover by Dr. Zilog

Maybe the 8-bit cover thing has jumped the shark (a phrase which has "jumped the shark"), but I couldn't help but love this one when I heard it during the latest Engadget podcast. Not a bad video, either.

Dr. Zilog - My Girls (8-bit Animal Collective Cover)

Aug 3, 2009

New Why? Track, Serengeti & Polyphonic Remixes, Etc.

It's no secret that Stoplight Sleep is a big fan of Why?, so it got a little electric over here when Pitchfork posted a new track from the upcoming album, Eskimo Snow. You can also check out Pitchfork's interview with Yoni Wolf, the mastermind behind Why?, and details on the upcoming tour over at our friends Insulinfunk.

Meanwhile, another Anticon act, Serengeti & Polyphonic are touring to promote their new album, Terradactyl, and have released two new remixes. You can also check these out at Insulinfunk.

Jul 27, 2009

New N.A.S.A. Video

nasa-album-coverWARNING: The following post does not relate to the American government's space program or an 80s pop duo. The following video does, however, feature lyrics from Spank Rock, so, you know, NSFW.

N.A.S.A. (the collaboration between producer Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon who released The Spirit of Apollo early this year) recently released an official video for their summer jam, "Watcha Doin?" The track, like the rest of the album, features several notable guests. In this case, you get Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Spank Rock, Santogold, and M.I.A.

After enjoying this zanny, colorful video, hit this link to download an equally-banging PinkEnemy remix of the track.

Jul 9, 2009

Jun 30, 2009

Ra Ra Riot live from "Cemetary Gates"

No, this isn't a post about Stoplight Sleep favorite Ra Ra Riot doing a Pantera cover. It's about this cool live video from Pitchfork!

Jun 28, 2009

White Rabbits

I put in I'm Frightened, the new album from White Rabbits, which was produced by Britt Daniel. I flash back to the summer of 2001. Girls Can Tell is on my car stereo.

Jun 27, 2009

eMusic INdorsements

I've been writing a weekly feature (among other duties) over at Insulinfunk. Check out the reviews here. They usually go up on Fridays.

While you're at it, check out The Rawking Refuses to Stop!'s Best of 2008 features. That's right, only 6 months later. Now that's some thoughtfulness I can get behind.

Jun 1, 2009

Monday News Blast

It must be the beginning of Fallout 3, the way Megatons were blowing up today. First, Valve and Microsoft announced Left for Dead 2, the sequal to one of my favorite games of 2008. Some claim it's too soon, but I'm excited about the changes, namely a new setting, fresh characters, melee weapons, and an improved AI director. Now, players will experience changes in weather and environment.

Also today, eMusic announced changes coming to their service. I'm still processing this, but I don't think I'm excited. I'd rather see more indie labels, like Sub-Pop and Anti, on the site than Sony-owned labels.

You can read about all of this and other entertainment news over at Insulinfunk. While you're there, check out the Trail of Dead tour diary

Apr 13, 2009

Kieron Gillen (Phonogram) Interview

What has Stoplight Sleep been up to? Interviewing the creator and author of one of the best comics of the last decade, Phonogram! Hope on over to read the Insulinfunk interview with video-game journalist Kieron Gillen.

Mar 21, 2009

This week in Insulinfunk

For those of you who don't know, I'm now writing and copyediting for Insulinfunk, a blog about video games, music, movies, and whatever else. JPAG Godfather Wesley Johnson runs the sight from a special modified insulin pump attached to the side of his neck. 

You can head over now to check out posts on themselves and a spring music preview.

Feb 24, 2009

Feb 19, 2009

Release of the Week: M. Ward's Hold Time

I hesitate to call She & Him Vol. 1 a dissapointment, but when I first heard that M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel were collaborating, I didn't expect what we got. When I think of M. Ward, he's not just a warm studio sound with punchy acoustic numbers and a 50s country/pop angle; he's a husky, distant voice: Patsy Cline meets Tom Waits. Sadly, that voice was all but missing from the She & Him album, which only became a vocal collaboration on the The Miracles' "You've Really Got a Hold on Me." 

So I was anxious to get my digital mitts on M. Ward's newest solo effort, Hold Time. For longtime (or shorttime) M. Ward fans, there's not much new here. There's a few duets, including Deschanel on "Rave On" and "Never Had Nobody Like Me" (which sound more like what I wanted She & Him to be) and Lucinda Williams on a brilliant cover of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me." The title track drifts into nighttime-string-ballad territory and a few tracks are pretty rockin' for Ward, but otherwise, Hold Time meets all expectations. Thankfully.

Feb 16, 2009

El-P "Flyentology" video

Over the next several weeks, you'll probably see a lot of posts of oldish tracks, as I bask in the cool afterglow of 2008, enjoying albums I loved and discovering even more (I'll post on those, too.). For now, here's why 2008 sucked for hip-hop: there was nothing like El-P!

Feb 14, 2009

Fleet Foxes - Mykonos

I finally picked up Fleet Foxes Sun Giant EP after hearing "Mykonos" on SNL. Thanks to NBC, you won't see that here, but you can watch the official video.

Feb 8, 2009

Vanished (Nasty Nav Remix)

Let's revisit one of my favorite tracks of 2008. Taking a similar approach to Jesper Dahlback's remix of "Romantic Rights," the Nasty Nav remix of "Vanished" by Crystal Castles turns the Rad-Racer-night-on-the-town-circa-2024 into a club banger. It's not a complete transformation, but that's what makes it so good.


Jan 18, 2009

Best of 2008 (Listful Edition)

Presenting a list that has been months in the making. It's been edited on no less than 5 different computers and has been painstakingly researched by team of 1. Enjoy, and when you're done reading, I'd love to know what song, artist, or album you have or will check out because of Stoplight Sleep.


1. Why? Alopecia

2. The Dodos Visiter

3. M83 Saturday = Youth

4. Los Campesinos! Hold On Now, Youngster

5. The Kills Midnight Boom

6. Hot Chip Made in the Dark

7. MGMT Oracular Spectacular

8. Crystal Castles Crystal Castles

9. Ra Ra Riot The Rhumb Line

10. Adele 19

11. Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago

12. TV on the Radio Dear Science

13. Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes

14. Cold War Kids Loyalty to Loyalty

15. Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight

16. Portishead Third

17. Amanda Palmer Who Killed Amanda Palmer?

18. Sons and Daughters This Gift

19. Sigur Ros Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust

20. Saul Williams The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust

21. Mates of State Re-arrange Us

22. Gang Gang Dance Saint Dympha

23. Single Frame S F E P

24. Justin Townes Earle The Good Life

25. Love is All A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night

26. Ladyhawk Ladyhawk

27. The Black Keys Attack & Release

28. Beck Modern Guilt

29. Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer

30. Lil Wayne The Carter III

31. She Keeps Bees Nest

32. Nine Inch Nails Ghosts I-IV

33. The Gutter Twins Saturnalia

34. School of Seven Bells Alpinisms

35. Kanye West 808s and Heartbreak

36. Blitzen Trapper Furr

37. She & Him Volume One

38. The Black Ghosts The Black Ghosts

39. The Walkmen You & Me

40. Islands Arm’s Way

41. Mogwai The Hawk is Howling

42. The Rosebuds Like Like

43. Dr. Dog Fate

44. Bloc Party Intimacy

45. Atmosphere When Life Gives You Lemonade, Paint That Shit Gold

46. Man Man Rabbit Habits

47. The Faint Fasciinatiion

48. Alias Resurgam

49. Xiu Xiu Women as Lovers

50. Scarlett Johansson Anywhere I Lay My Head


  1. "Fatalist Palmastry” by Why? from Alopecia
  2. “Kim & Jessie” by M83 from Saturdays = Youth
  3. “Get Better” by Mates of State from Re-arrange Us
  4. “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes from Fleet Foxes
  5. “Vanished” by Crystal Castles from Crystal Castles
  6. “Fast Blood” by Frightened Rabbit from The Midnight Organ Fight
  7. “Cold Mining” by Single Frame from S F E P
  8. “U.R.A. Fever” by The Kills from Midnight Boom
  9. “My Year In Lists” by Los Campesinos! from Hold On Now, Youngster
  10. “God” by The Dodos from Visiter
  11. “Hometown Glory” by Adele from 19
  12. “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver from For Emma, Forever Ago
  13. “Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur” by Sigur Rós from Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
  14. “Machine Gun” by Portishead from Third
  15. “Shake a Fist” by Hot Chip from Made in the Dark
  16. “Let The Beat Build” by Lil Wayne from Tha Carter III
  17. “Dancing Choose” by TV on the Radio from Dear Science
  18. “Time to Pretend” by MGMT from Oracular Spectacular
  19. “Connjur” by School of Seven Bells from Alpinisms
  20. “Furr” by Blitzen Trapper from Furr
  21. “Hands In The Air” by Girl Talk from Feed The Animals
  22. “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend from Vampire Weekend
  23. “House Jam” by Gang Gang Dance from Saint Dymnphna
  24. “Robocop” by Kanye West from 808s and Heartbreak
  25. "Some Way Through This" by The Black Ghosts from The Black Ghosts
  26. "Soviet Connection,” The Theme from Grand Theft Auto IV by Michael Hunter
  27. “Oh, La” by Ra Ra Riot from The Rhumb Line
  28. “Tiger Phone Card” by Dengue Fever from Venus on Earth
  29. “This Gift” by Sons and Daughters
  30. “Shoulda Known” by Atmosphere from When Life Gives you Lemonade . . .
  31. “Leeds United” by Amanda Palmer from Who Killed Amanda Palmer?
  32. “Nothing Ever Happens” by Deerhunter from Microcastle
  33. “Creeper” by Islands from Arm's Way
  34. “The Crippled Jazzer” by Marnie Stern from This Is It and I am It . . .
  35. “Geraldine” by Glasvegas
  36. “Raincoat Song” by The Decemberists from Always a Bridesmaid Vol. 3
  37. “Hard Livin'” by Justin Townes Earle from The Good Life
  38. “Every Valley is Not a Lake” by Cold War Kids from Loyalty to Loyalty
  39. “Guessing Game” by Elzhi from The Preface
  40. “Release” by She Keeps Bees from Nest
  41. “Batcat” by Mogwai from The Hawk is Howling and Batcat EP
  42. “Angels” by Black Mountain from In The Future
  43. “DNA” by Saul Williams from The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust
  44. “Kevatrumpu” by Paavoharju from Laulu Laakson Kukista
  45. “Same Old Thing” by The Black Keys from Attack & Release
  46. “Better Than Heaven” by Bloc Party from Intimacy
  47. “I Know I See I Love” by Rainbow Arabia from The Basta
  48. “I’m Amazed” by My Morning Jacket
  49. “Pork and Beans” by Weezer from The Red Album
  50. “Love in this Club” (MSTRKRFT Remix) by Usher

Jan 14, 2009

Best Songs of 2008 (Part 4 - Finally)

After illness, a busy work schedule, and anything else you can imagine, I'm finally back to conclude my countdown of my favorite songs of 2008. So here it is, finally . . .

1. "Fatalist Palmistry" by Why? from Alopecia

Was it worth the wait? Oh, yeah. "Fatalist Palmisty" barely nudges out "The Hollows" and a handful of tracks from Stoplight Sleep's best album of the year, Alopecia. "Yoni" Wolf's lyrical acrobatics are the steel-encased spine of every Why? song. On "Fatalist Palmistry," Wolf layers similes and metaphors that use surrealism to express themes and images most artists couldn't even comprehend. If the opening stanza about "a psychic who reads her own palms" doesn't grab you, just wait till the second stanza's eye "sockets sit like empty catcher's mitts waiting."

Wolf's nasally staccato and dense alliteration punctuate a simple but fleshed-out track. The music is layered enough to compliment Why?'s strengths (Wolf's lyrics) without being so demanding they distract from them.

Later, I'll post my complete lists of songs and albums. They're ready now, I just didn't want to crowd this post. See you soon. Remember to weigh in on your favorites!

Jan 13, 2009


I will be returning to Stoplight Sleep when time allows. Thanks for reading!