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Archive for February, 2010

Shortly after Brian and I published our list of Top Ten Bands You’d Think are Cool to Hang Out With, but are Actually Dicks this link from the tremendous A.V. Club came to my attention.

Please add John Mayer as “whatever number is higher than one” on that list.

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When I asked Brian last Thursday what he wanted us both to review this week and he suggested Feral Harmonic I was actually kind of excited. Not because I really like Old Cranes or have any connection to this album – actually, I was excited for the complete opposite reason. I had never heard of Old Cranes nor Feral Harmonic – though I have heard of both cranes and harmonicas. So naturally I thought this would be an album of really mean waterfowl playing harmonica.

A back up member of Old Cranes

Boy was I disappointed – and not just because the band was made out of people.

There’s really nothing I actively dislike about Feral Harmonic so this won’t turn into a passive aggressive review of things I hate (cough, Brian reviewing Massive Attack, cough). The problem was, Old Cranes aren’t really doing anything I actively like that much either – I just can’t shake the feeling that what I’m listening to is just a worse version of other things I’ve listened to. If I can make a super irresponsible and obtuse metaphor, Feral Harmonic is what you’d get if Fleet Foxes took a bunch of coke, forgot to harmonize, and all had laryngitis. So not bad – but not good either.

My immediate impression upon first listen was, “Hey, this sounds a lot like an under-produced, noisier version of Neutral Milk Hotel.” Now I’m all for under-produced and noisy, after all, I do like Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah! but Old Cranes have applied these two adjective to a sort of mountain-folk-rock (excellent use of Pitchfork hyphen genre creation there) and I don’t like the results.

I agree with Brian that the energy is certainly there, but it’s just not being applied in a direction I really want it to go in. The sound of the vocals is pubescent – it’s stuck in the awkward stage between folk-rock clarity and more raw yelling. It’s clear, controlled yelling – basically, it’s Glenn Beck singing to you. I don’t want Glenn Beck to sing to me.

Maybe I’m coming off pretty harsh – Feral Harmonic isn’t an album I mind listening to, it’s just that I would never consciously decide to play it. I actually really like some of the things Old Cranes does instrumentally and found myself most enjoying the tracks that didn’t feature vocals. There is a really cool breakdown at the end of “Sweet,” but that just rolls into the plodding country/western guitar strumming of “Under,” and all of a sudden, there’s that voice again.

Lastly, and this may just be the mp3 I’m listening to, the production on this album is awful. The high-end sounds come off as really tinny and distorted to me – especially the symbol crashes (which happen more than once on the album). It’d be a great effect, if it didn’t end up sort of mushing all the top end frequencies together into this really obnoxious noise. But again, that may just be my copy of the mp3 files.

It’s safe to say Old Cranes’ Feral Harmonic didn’t do much for me. The combination of some things that I didn’t like along with nothing that I found redeeming enough to overcome these negative factors probably means this one is out of the rotation.

Tracks that were less Bleh

“Sweet” – I really like the instrumental part at the end

“Intro” – Kind of a weird choice, but it’s just another track with lots of cool guitars going on

Tracks that were extra Bleh

“Under” – Too much of a change of pace from “Sweet” and frankly just a little boring.

“Southern Radio” – Boring, overdone folk guitar part on top of lyrics that you can’t really understand.

If you like what they were getting at but want to find someone who does it better, Chris recommends

Fleet Foxes (both the self-titled and Sun Giant EP) and Sun, Sun, Sun by The Elected

If you thought this was irredeemably terrible Chris reccommends

Heartland by Owen Pallet (formerly Final Fantasy) – all the same complex instrumental parts but more cohesive with better vocal work.


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I heard one song (“Little Bird Courage”) by Old Canes and really liked it, so I decided to go get the album and review it, and make Chris do the same. By the way, this is their second album, but it’s the first one of theirs I’ve heard, so I can’t really talk about how they’ve progressed or regressed creatively or any of that, sorry. Anyway, here we go!

The Breeders, god, what a terrible band...

Not sure what a feral harmonic would sound like. Maybe something like the Breeders.

First thing I noticed: Old Canes sound kind of like a lot of other music I’ve heard, but when I started trying to think of analogies for this review, I started drawing blanks. They take a bunch of distinct familiar elements (acoustic guitars, loud cymbals, foot-tapping energy…) and squish them together into something you could swear you’ve heard before, except you know you haven’t. It made for an interesting listening experience, and not interesting like Massive Attack was interesting (i.e. terrible.)

The next thing that hit me was how much energy was behind the songs and singing. The lead singer’s voice is very similar to Mr. E of Eels, but has none of his moping passivity, and seems to almost be yelling at several points in the album. Almost all of the tracks are things you find yourself moving some part of your body to. This is not to say that these are thumping, danceable Bravery-esque songs, but they definitely get you toe-tapping. The rhythm guitar is very rhythmical, and the percussion is very persuasive. The lyrics could be about anything, for all that they caught my attention, but the “rest” of the album was quite good.

The first time listening to the album, I was definitely into it, but nothing was really jumping out at me as songs that I would find myself humming along to later in the day (except of course “Little Bird Courage,” which I think will be stuck in my head for approximately eternity.) For better or for worse, this is basically the way things stayed through subsequent listens. Feral Harmonic feels orders of magnitude more cohesive than much else I’ve heard recently, but by the same token, nothing really caught my attention in any kind of special way. Old Canes maintain a pleasant level of energy and slight variation throughout the album, and there are definitely no songs on here that I would skip rather than listen to. But there’s also really nothing on here I would go out of my way to listen to if I wasn’t already listening to the rest of the album.

When you get this album and listen to it, be sure and keep your ears open for all the cool sounds that are incorporated throughout, sometimes subtly, other times less so. I’m pretty sure there’s trumpets, accordions, definitely a mandolin, probably tambourine… A pretty good variety that adds to the “uniqueness” of Old Canes’ sound. I enjoyed all the little layers that didn’t pop out the first time through that gradually sunk into my musical awareness. Neat stuff.

Tracks I Liked:

“Little Bird Courage” – I feel like this song is on a different level from the rest of the album. I think I said all I need to about it in the preceding paragraphs.

“Trust” – This is the only song on here whose lyrics had me paying attention, and it was kind of interesting. And as per the theme, the music of the song itself was interesting and attention-holding.

Tracks I Didn’t Like:

Nothing really comes to mind, like I said, but I guess I could have done without “Black Hill Chapel,” the outtro of sorts.

If You Liked This Album, Brian Recommends:

Leaves in the River by Sea Wolf, or The Ruminant Band by Fruit Bats

If You Didn’t Like This Album, Brian Recommends:

Too acoustic for you? Give Rogue Wave a try.

Bottom line, Feral Harmonic is nothing revolutionary or mind-boggling, but what it does, it does well, and I will definitely be keeping it in the listening rotation.

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…or, the Top 10 Bands You’d Think Are Cool To Hang Out With, But Are Actually Dicks

10. Yeasayer

This is the Top 10 member that almost caused Brian and I to come to Skype fisticuffs. I’m not sure what those are, but I would guess it involves a lot of WRITING IN ALL CAPS and heavily exclamation pointing things!!!!!!! And then maybe we’d turn on video chat and beat up our roommates while we make them wear Brian and Chris masks. Good thing I said we almost came to fisticuffs (though I feel like video of that fight would be a pretty good post).

The problem with Yeasayer on this list is that, well, Odd Blood basically fucking rocks. Real hard. It’s my favorite album of probably the last two or three years. Whenever Brian or I can’t think of a post topic, we talk about writing Odd Blood reviews, but then we realize that it would basically be us drooling all over. Sort of like blogging masturbation – it’s fun, but you don’t really get anything out of it after you’re finished (can’t decide whether that pun is intended or not…).

But Yeasayer, despite being awesome, would not be that cool to hang out with. First, they’re from Brooklyn – that pretty much ensures at least a base level of hipster pretension. Also, they look like this:

Oh yeah man...cool, uh, intentionally bleach stained t-shirt.

Being from Brooklyn, it’s also pretty possible they do a lot of cocaine. Which is cool, just not when you’re trying to watch the game or go to some community theater.

9. Hot Chip

Ah, Hot Chip, how we would all love to be ye. Laying down beats like nobody’s business. Grooving in your unnecessary sunglasses and zip-up hoodies and Casio paraphernalia. Surely this is one of the coolest bands you could hope to hang out with!

Well, maybe they would be for a while. But eventually your lack of knowledge of synthesizers would become apparent. And that, unfortunately for you, is when Hot Chip would turn on you. Probably in a sneering, passive-aggressive, elitist manner that would only damage your self-image, but hey, that’s not very cool, and probably not what you’re looking for in a hangout sesh. Also, it might be just be, but it seems like that short guy basically does all the thinking for this band, and everyone else in it just kind of follows his lead. Nobody likes hanging out with that kind of guy.

8. Cobra Starship

More Cobra Starship? You might think that we have some kind of obsession, at this point. This is not exactly the case, it’s just that, coincidentally, this band is super fucking awesome in so many ways that they are probably going to work their way into a lot of posts, until something cooler comes along. (Chromeo, we have our eyes on you…)

Many of you will have seen a Cobra Starship video or two by this point in your lives, and you might be thinking to yourselves that a night in a club with these guys would be pretty cool. They don’t appear to take themselves too seriously, they wear tight pants, and they know how to have a good time! They even know some really hot lesbians! Oh wait.

Wait a sec. Is she… she’s a cop?

You guys have a license for this club, right? Right? Guys? Stop flashing wickedly charming looks at the camera for a sec, if you don’t mind… Kind of a situation here.

Are we going to jail?



7. Sufjan Stevens

Maybe Sufjan wouldn’t be a dick, but I feel like he’d be that guy who makes a ton of obscure allusions that only him and his friends get. Then he’d look at you and you’d have to sort of uncomfortably laugh like you’ve read a bunch of Roman Polanski books and ALSO thought what he said was super funny. Hey, it’s not that bad if it happens once, but I really think it would happen a bunch with Sufjan.

Also, from the few interviews I’ve read, it seems like Sufjan thinks Sufjan is pretty awesome. Which is sort of obnoxious. Illinois was probably one of the best albums of 2005, but it really isn’t the greatest album of all time.

Also, he has a song titled:

A Conjunction Of Drones Simulating The Way In Which Sufjan Stevens Has An Existential Crisis In The Great Godfrey Maze

That should probably convince you.

6. Beck

Again, I don’t think Beck would be a dick. Just SUPER depressing to hang out with. I’m basing my thoughts mostly on Sea Change which, granted, he did write after breaking up with his long term girlfriend. That must have been tough. But that album is one of the mopiest I’ve ever heard (it’s also super good – check it out).

And when Beck isn’t being gloomy (“Time wears away/all the pleasures of the day/all the treasures you could hold”) then he’s talking in Spanish. Which is cool. If you speak Spanish. But Beck seems like the kid that goes to Spain on exchange, then thinks it’s cool to talk in Spanish to people who don’t know Spanish. It’s not.

“Hey Beck! Alice in Wonderland is coming out…want to check it out?”

“Alicia en el país de las maravillas está muy bien, pero prefiero hacer un montón de cocaína y limpio mi apartamento en la actualidad.”

“Yeah…alright man, I’ll call Sufjan.”

Also, Beck is a Scientologist.

5. The Shins

Cool name! Cool band! Garden State was a cool movie! Natalie Portman seems cool!

But I still think The Shins would be pretty uncool guys to hang out with. I have neither good nor funny justification for this.

4. Islands

Islands seems like they would also be pretty cool. Another band that doesn’t take themselves too seriously, they’re smart and creative, and their music kind of rocks.

But again, there’s another whole layer there, and it becomes apparent when you realize that the band is basically entirely the project of Nick Thorburn, or as you may know him, Nick Diamonds. Yep, he changed his last name to one of the most valuable substances on Earth. He also wrote a song about himself (“Rough Gem”), so you know he’s kind of a douche and not, probably, quite the type of guy that would make for a fun, casual, get-together. But wait, there’s more!

Did I mention he’s “inventing” his own sub-genre of music, and it sounds like basically the most pretentious thing ever? Well, he is. And it is.


3. Of Montreal

I really like Of Montreal. And yet, I still suggested them for this list. “But why Chris?” you might be asking yourself. And I would respond that, despite liking them, I completely realize that Of Montreal’s lyrics make No. Fucking. Sense. Also there’s this description of frontman Kevin Barnes’ stage persona from Wikipedia:

He has described Georgie Fruit as a black man in his forties who has undergone multiple sex changes. Georgie, Kevin told Pitchfork Media, was in a funk-rock band called Arousal back in the seventies.

So I really feel a typical hangout-sesh would be of Montreal doing a shit-ton of acid and then just rambling on about random stuff they were seeing while you suggested fun activities:

“There’s a two-for-one at the Zoo today…”

“Ricardo is a raccoon who desires to be human – fettered by the confines of his animatistic forepaws usage”

“Oh…yeah, cool. Um. Does anyone want to order some food?”

“But the horses need to go to the Comptroller’s Office!”

“I keep forgetting about that…maybe we’ll just sit here some more?”

“Who has more acid.”

2. Arcade Fire

Pictured: Cooler than you.

Arcade Fire! Indie rock sensation of the middle 2000’s! Redefined the genre! And, completely full of themselves! To be fair, it’d be kind of hard not to be when your debut album is, far and away, one of the best albums of the decade. But still. Rumors abound of how douchey this band is on tour, and I believe every word. Let’s be clear, this band rocks, but not at hanging out with people like you.

1. Muse

Muse? What?

Believe it. First of all, have you seen Matt Bellamy’s wardrobe? Not a good sign.

This band has the problem of a lot of groups on this list: each one of them is so good at what they do that it’s hard for them to relate to even appreciably-cooler-than-average people like you. What are you going to discuss with guys that compose sweeping musical epics of near-future Orwellian dystopias and the tragic demise of love to machinery? Not fucking much, that’s what.



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My Musical To-Do List

Alrighty everybody, a brief, boring post today because I am not feeling very good. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about off and on basically ever since I started listening to music: it’s a short list of the bands I’ve heard a lot of positive things about, but for one reason or another have never really gotten around to listening to them. I’ll talk about five today.

5. Wilco

A lot of people I know are pretty big fans of this band, and actually, I have seen them in concert, so I do have some idea of what they’re all about. But I don’t own a single one of their albums and for some reason cannot motivate myself to get any of them. None of the 30 second samples on iTunes are particularly enthralling to me, which is a bad way to judge music, I know, but that’s kind of how it goes. I do like the cover to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, though.

4. Iron & Wine

This is an act (I’m pretty sure it’s just one guy, right?) that I’m pretty sure I would actually like quite a bit if I got some of his stuff. I’ve got a soft spot for mellow acoustic music, and by all accounts that is what this is. Plus the dude has a hella sweet beard, which never hurt anyone’s musical chops as far as I know. Iron & Wine has held a pretty solid position on my “Dammit, I keep forgetting to get some of that music” list for quitesome time (as opposed to Wilco, who’s just on my “Oh, yeah, I hear they’re good…” list.)

3. Grizzly Bear

I actually do not know a single other person besides Chris that has recommended this band to me, but there is considerable buzz about them on the interwebs. I’ve listened to maybe one of their songs, I think, and it must not have been anything that really struck me as something I wanted more of, because I a) do not remember anything about it, only that I did press “play” on a Grizzly Bear track at one point, and b) do not own any more of their music than I did before I heard a song or two. I do intend to get some in the pretty near future, if only to see if I like it once and for all, but frankly I do not expect to be blown away. Speaking of which:

2. Animal Collective

Ah, Animal Collective. These guys are the best thing since the Beatles if the music blogs are to be believed. Visionaries. Game-changers. Relentlessly innovative. Fearlessly creative. Animal Collective is all that any band ever could aspire to be, or so I hear. In fact, I have heard a song or two, and since I am not a big fan of jangling, dissonant music, no matter how “sonically creative” it might be, I don’t own any. I have a sneaking suspicion that nobody actually likes this band, but everyone thinks they should and so pretends to like them really loudly (entire writing staff of Pitchfork, I’m looking at you). I do plan to get an album or two and possibly, though doubtfully, have my life forever changed for the better by the experience. We’ll see how that goes.

1. Radiohead

Chris recommends starting here...

I heard that these guys are okay, so I kind of just stuck them on here… This is, in fact, a band that I feel actively guilty about not listening to, and I think that makes it unique on this list. The songs I’ve heard, for the most part, are impressive in a way that Animal Collective was not. Part of the reason I am still missing this touchstone of modern music is that they have made so much good stuff over the past decade or two that it’s hard to know where to begin. I guess one of these days I’ll just get everything and go on a Radiohead binge for like a month straight until I am no longer ashamed to be alive.

Did I miss a band that should have been on this list? (Pretty likely, since it’s only five places long…) Let me know what I’ve been missing out on in the comments! See you Sunday.

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Chris Sucks At Music

Welcome to Operation Album Review Counterpoint. This week’s choice, as you know, is Massive Attack’s Heligoland. Chris and I decided to integrate this album into our weekly musical choices in a noble effort to broaden our horizons, and I think it’s safe to say that we were both pretty disappointed.

I didn’t really know what to expect from Massive Attack, having heard at best two of their songs before. I also didn’t know what the label “trip-hop” suggested about the music inside, except that I’ve heard terrible and pretentious things about that genre. I had visions of thumping beats and wailing synths and thought-provoking psychedelic lyrics. Upon listening to it the first time through, I encountered none of these things. The album was certainly interesting, because while I’ve never heard anything quite like it before, there are so many of its components that are incredibly familiar. It was somewhat similar to the sounds of post-rock that I have come to know and love, but not quite… And anyone who has heard anything by TV on the Radio will “recognize” the opening track, “Pray For Rain.” You could stick it right in to Return to Cooke Mountain and no one would be the wiser. I actually did some research, and guess who the vocalist on Pray For Rain” is? If you guessed that it was the actual guy from TV on the Radio (Tunde), you are right. And what was supposed to be a “collaboration” turned out to just sound like a TV on the Radio song. Probably not great news. After the opening verse of that song, I braced myself for an entire album of almost-but-not-quite-TV on the Radio, and I have to say, the idea was not very appealing.

Better than Massive Attack

Seriously, just listen to this instead. Your ears will thank you.

But they decided to change it up on the next track! What’s this? A female vocalist? A faster beat? Interesting percussive fills? Huh! Maybe all was not lost!

Unfortunately, this trend continued for the rest of the album. No two songs are really very similar beyond basic likenesses between the beats. I don’t know what Massive Attack’s standard operating procedure is on their albums (and frankly, I’m not all that curious now) but for this one they decided to change almost as many elements as possible between tracks: different singers, tempos, textures and subject matter (as far as I could discern one from the lyrics) made their appearances throughout the album. The one constant thread that is discernable throughout the album is fairly similar backbeats, which, of all the things they could have used to create unity throughout the work, is not at all the element I would choose.

So the first time through the album was kind of a voyage of discovery, and I tried to keep from judging and just take it in. Like I said, it’s really like nothing I’ve heard before and that part was actually kind of enjoyable, because Massive Attack does do some very interesting things with a few tracks on Heligoland: the quasi-Southwest Asian feel to “Girl I Love You,” the very interesting vocal choice in “Splitting the Atom.”… But the second time through was actively frustrating to listen to because of the massive levels of inconsistencies between tracks and lack of any kind of cohesive feel to the album. Many of these tracks, I began to feel, would be best used as vague background noise in some kind of terrible Bollywood Matrix remake, which I do not intend as any kind of compliment. I forced myself to listen to the album a couple more times out of respect for the process- maybe I missed something? Maybe there was a gem of a sound or lyric buried in all the mediocre and average that would just unlock the whole album for me and reveal it as the glowing sonic treasure it was? This did not happen. In fact, I began to actively hate Heligoland, with the exception of exactly two tracks:

The Two Tracks I Didn’t End Up Hating:

“Girl I Love You”: Oddly, I think this track was very interesting on a number of levels (this is odd because I have concluded that the rest of the album is not interesting in any way). I really like the horns and the bass and whatever that thing is playing towards the end. Synth of some sort, maybe? I have no idea what the song is about, but that doesn’t really matter I guess. This is one song I would not mind listening to if it came up on shuffle.

“Paradise Circus”: Once again, I really have no idea what the probably poetic lyrics are trying to convey in this track, but the percussion really does it for me, and I’ve always been a big fan of out-of-place classical instruments in electronic music.

So in conclusion, I’m going to be a little more harsh than Chris was, like he predicted. I really dislike this album. It had so many ideas that could have been interesting, and that was actually part of its downfall in my opinion. There were a lot of seeds of interesting concepts buried in there, and instead of choosing the most interesting few and nurturing them into a lovely full-grown, cohesive album, Massive Attack decided to give all of them nowhere near enough attention, and the result is the terrible mishmash that is Heligoland. One thing to remember, though, is that I have not listened to any other Massive Attack albums, and maybe this is par for the course for them and maybe there is a dedicated following of people who do not like their electronic music to be too well thought out. I hope that’s not the case, but if it is and you are one of those people, you’ll really enjoy Heligoland.

If you actually liked this album, Brian recommends:

…That you go listen to some good music, because what the fuck is wrong with you.

If you didn’t like this album, Brian recommends:

Something awesome to cleanse your palate and renew your faith in music. Go put on some Explosions in the Sky and crank it up reeaaal loud.

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For this week’s point-counterpoint review, Brian and I are trying a rather unorthodox and perhaps very irresponsible critical technique. We decided to review an album we knew basically nothing about by a band neither of us listen to with the idea that this would somehow result in some sort of unadulterated or pure truth. Never mind putting the work in its proper context or appreciating its place in the larger trajectory of the artist’s career – we just want to know whether or not its good shit.

So this week’s unfortunate victim is the newest from Massive Attack, Heligoland (released Feb. 8, Virgin). I’ve never heard a Massive Attack album before, and frankly, I know absolutely nothing about the band. I haven’t even been to their wikipedia page. So what you’re getting here is my rough opinion on an album, based only on my impressions while listening to it.

Hmmm...looks like Trip-Hop to me.

The only fun fact I have about Heligoland is that the album is named after a German archipelago in the North Sea. I only know that because I had to look up what label Heligoland was produced by. So there’s that.

Overall Impression

Heligoland is weird. Described as “trip-hop,” it has this very etherial, psychedelic vibe going on that mixes in very interesting ways with them more percussive, hip-hop elements of the music. I guess sort of imagine a Run-DMC beat track produced by Roger Waters and sung over by someone pretending to be Thom Yorke. At it’s best, Heligoland is really pretty awesome, blending the more driving rhythms of hip-hop and rock with the spacey wanderings that I like so much in music. But let’s be clear; Heligoland is only at its best on a few tracks.

Part of my problem with the album is that the hit & miss nature of many of the tracks leave the whole package feeling more like a collection of tracks rather than an album. I mean that in the most pretentious of ways. Even after a few listens, I was still never able to really enjoy Heligoland as a whole – it was basically just the sum of its parts.

Contributing to that is an interesting musical decision that I first liked, then disliked. Massive Attack has chosen to allow a variety of different voices cover vocals on the album. Upon first listen, this was a refreshing, change of pace sort of quality. It was nice to hear a different style on each track and this novelty kept me interested. Subsequent listens though left me with a loss positive impression. The lack of vocal continuity is, I think, a major reason for the lack of any sort of album-wide cohesiveness. I’m just never really convinced I know who Massive Attack is. Maybe this is more a measure of my ignorance about the band (which I admitted above), but there seems to be a lot of musical schizophrenia in Heligoland.

I want to like Heligoland and Massive Attack. I really do. This kind of music usually has a lot of appeal for me – much more so than it does for Brian. Maybe I’ll be really surprised, but I would bet his review will be much less favorable than mine was, not that mine was overly glowing. I don’t know, hopefully I’ll come back to Massive Attack and realize I was wrong/ignorant/over my head. But for now, I have to put Heligoland on the lower side of throughly average.

Favorite Tracks

“Paradise Circus”

“Pray for Rain”

Less Favorite Tracks

“Splitting the Atom”

“Flat of the Blade”

If you like this album, Chris recommends

Again, the xx’s self-tilted. Radiohead’s Kid A and Ok Computer would also be a good choice.

If you thought this album sucked, Chris recommends

The National’s Boxer

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