IN APPRECIATION OF ’11: Total Slacker

Sure, their music might be a little shallow; sure, they may be juvenile, and sure, they are far from original at this point in time. It doesn’t stop Total Slacker‘s Thrashin’ being one of the most down-right fun records of 2011. Total Slacker‘s sense of humour and attitude are what helps make this record stand out in my mind as one of my favourites of the past year.

The Brooklyn trio’s grungy garage punk album came out in September to a warm reception, but it gained cult recognition from fans of bratty lo-fi 90’s throwbacks, a la Yuck, the world over. With drum beats provided byRoss Condon, little brother of Beirut‘s Zach Condon, and a big backing from the likes of similar naturedWavvesTotal Slacker certainly have a lot going for them.

Thrashin’ has the ’90’s written all over it. From their fuzz-filled riffs, to the many, many references to all things 90’s in the lyrics,  Total Slacker try their very best to hold on to those days. Their song “Stuck in ’93” is obviously the prime example of their desire to revisit that decade, with a chorus of “I wish that I could be / stuck in 93 / Everyone is so cool / Makes you want to drool“. Now, you might look at those lyrics and think that any other band wouldn’t be able to sing them seriously, but frontman Tucker Rountree does so in an effortless way that makes it flow by without you even raising an eyebrow.

The album is full of addictive hooks and bouncy bass-lines. An obvious huge influence on the music is that of Weezer, with much of the hooks and guitar work echoing those of the pioneers of the 90’s. That being said, the most obvious influence on their music is Nirvana. It’s safe to say that Mr Rountree & co. are just a little bit fond of the Seattle grunge legends. Total Slacker is like a more up-beat, poppy version of Nirvana, who have been submerged in an abundance of pop culture of yore, so much that it extenuates through every track of the album.

The whole album tells the story of not caring, and being lazy, but the irony is the fact that the music is played so well that they must care a little bit, otherwise the music would sound like shit. ‘No Mo 4Loko‘ tells the familiar story of waking up in the mid-afternoon after a heavy night drinking, in this case specifying the infamous American alco-pop Four Loko. With the uncanny riff of Smells Like Teen Spirit to carry it along, this song is the epitome of the Total Slacker mantra.

With only 20,000-ish scrobbles on Last.fm, It baffles me why more people don’t listen to Total Slacker.Believe me, Thrashin’  is worth your time. Even if the attitude of the band doesn’t resonate with you, the music will.

IN APPRECIATION OF ’11: Youth Lagoon

Youth Lagoon really came out of the blue for me. I had no knowledge of his existence prior to the release of his album, The Year of Hibernation, but from the first time I gave it a spin, I realised what I had been missing out on. Youth Lagoon, the moniker of 22 year-old Trevor Powers recorded the record independently in his bedroom, in a style similar to 2010’s Learning by Perfume Genius, and that’s reflected on the album. The title of the album is quite apt given the cold, isolated feeling of the album, but after sufficient time has been spent with the album, it opens up on another level and shows the passion and emotion that he really puts into his work.

Although the music that Youth Lagoon produces shouldn’t be that revolutionary on paper, there’s just something about the music that grabs you straight away. You won’t be able to just listen to one track, there’s something addictive about the way he makes music. When I saw Los Campesinos! in Brighton earlier this month, Cannons, a track from Youth Lagoon‘s debut, played before the band came on and it instantly made my friends I was with love his music. The melodies he produces are some of the most hypnotic, moving melodies I’ve heard all year, and it’s part of what makes me find myself listening to the album almost on a daily basis.

The vocals are shrouded in a thick haze but that doesn’t stop Powers from having a haunting quality to his voice, the songs usually share a familiar pattern of starting with his vocals being timid whisperings that echo through the keyboard and synths, before growing stronger and stronger and finishing with such passion; it really is an amazing experience. You can hear in his voice that he really means what he’s singing.

At first, the lyrics take a back seat because of the distorted way they’re delivered, but after a while, once you really listen to what he’s saying, the true genius of Youth Lagoon is put on display. He takes real life experiences and embeds them perfectly into the songs. There’s a distinct feeling of nostalgia that emanates throughout the record and makes it such a captivating listen. In highlight of the album, 17, he repeats “when I was seventeen / my mother said to me / don’t stop imagining / the day that you do is the day that you’ll die” in a way that really moves you.

Most of the tracks on the album all employ the same clever technique of starting off with a minimalist composition before building up, piece-by-piece until they form a kind of hypnotising motion that really carries the work forward, akin to that of The xxJuly is a perfect example of this, it starts with a gentle hum from a synthesiser, before Powers‘ vocals are introduced. He then adds keyboards to the mix, his voice then grows stronger and stronger until he lets his emotions show on the track. It has a finish that combines every element of the track in such a dynamic way; it feels almost triumphant. Not all of the songs are written in this way, with Daydream being the biggest anomaly on the album. Straight away, we’re submerged in a pulsing synth beat which gives the track a decidedly more upbeat atmosphere than the rest of the album.

The fact that Powers is able to translate the recorded material into a live setting so successfully really says something about the artist. His Tunnelvision session for Pitchfork showcased what makes him great. This particular live recording of July arguably sounded better than the recorded version.

As you can probably tell, The Year of Hibernation is a pretty special record in my eyes, and that’s why it’s one of my favourites of 2011. The future’s bright for Youth Lagoon, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.