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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
FOX Japan
And Now This!

Rating: 7.8/10 ?

July 17, 2007
There are different ways to bait me into a review, and I've fallen for more than an a few unknown bands sending emails full of adjectives and namechecks of Pavement. For me, the road paved with Wowee Zowee and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is hallowed ground, and other than Stephen Malkmus' side projects, I've never found anything that comes close. Of course it would be daft of anyone to expect an upstart from Wheeling, West Virginia to be the chosen ones of indie's second coming, but baby c'mon. While not bracing for a messianic collection of songs, I was intrigued by the band's name, FOX Japan (a.k.a. Fully Operational X Japan), and the oh-so-cool album cover of stacked blank retro TV sets; chomping, I took to the lure.

FOX Japan snagged their debut album's title, And Now This!, from cultural critic Neil Postman's phrase to illustrate the absurd juxtapositions of television, where a news report on a car bomb might be followed by a fabric softener commercial. From this talking head's desk, the good news is that this was no bait and switch; FOX Japan indeed channels the style of Pavement almost to a tee, down to the off-key melody lines, ragged and jagged musicianship, and biting, irreverent wordplay. Now for the obligatory counterpoint report: at times it rubs a bit too close for comfort, as if Slanted & Enchanted were the template for their recording sessions.

Getting past the Pavement, one finds FOX Japan, the Wilmoth brothers - Charlie, twins Pete and Sam - and Andrew Slater, a very promising band. The group claims to have been weathering new music trends since the early Nineties, with the pre-teen brothers penning songs that caught the attention of a few critics, including the potentially icon-making MTV. The band stayed together but didn't explode, and in 2001 the siblings took a hiatus from music to give college the old try. Then in 2005, with each member off studying some creative, non-money-making degree at various institutes of higher education, they re-grouped as a long-distance outfit. For the past two years the boys have continued to meet up in Wheeling (which, if Billy Joel is to be believed, is Billy the Kid's hometown) to hone their chops.

With enough angular guitar and immediacy to instantly grab the listener by the ear, the blaring "Brandi" opens And Now This! with a blast. The song's opening line - "The bulbous bulge of your silhouetted ass straddles the line between suggestive and obscene/ And if my mind weren't lost, it'd be leaving" - is a jolting resistance to the notion of sleeping on it, and by the jubilant second track, "A Nursing Home (Or a Trailer Park)," FOX Japan are showing their most overt symptoms of Pavemental dementia. I might be more critical of the similarity if the piece, with its mix of melodic chorus, off-key yelps, and trademark Malkmus "spoken" vocals, weren't so good. It even comes replete with preposterous imagery; "I took a Greyhound and was slow to disembark/ Oh when my time comes, it will be dark in a nursing home or a trailer park." Later on the song's narrator waits to die while watching Bob Barker host The Price is Right (or, horrors, Rosie O' Donnell, but that's now a moot threat). True to its cover art, And Now This! is a concept record of sorts, with the bulk of songs centered around the ubiquitous television. "Baptize Me" blasts Bill O' Reilly, while "PSH" makes references to just how fine the line between TV and reality is for some.

To a certain extent And Now This! reminds me of the debut from another unsigned band that I recently covered, The Palm Tree by Chris & Mollie. Both records are thematic, stream-of-conscious affairs; rough around the edges, and peculiarly appealing. The really good news flash is that bands like this are out there; that's the real story in today's age of pre-heated band-in-a-can acts, served up Idol style. From a musical perspective, it's reassuring to know that young folks are still banging out fresh produce in far-flung West Virginia towns. If they do happen to cop some of their heroes along the way, no matter; stuff like And Now This!, while not the most urgent album of the year, is at the least a potent antidote for American Idle.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro



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