'sup sloth!

Top 10 Albums of 2009

Here are my top 10 albums of 2009. There's a lot of (supposedly) great stuff that came out this year that I haven't heard yet, so this could change... but it probably won't.

In general, 2009 was the "Year of the Veterans". Almost everything on this list is from musicians who have been around forever, or bands who broke up years ago and recently re-formed. Maybe it's just a sign of my age, but I heard nothing this year that even comes close to these folks who seem to be hitting their stride in their 40s and 50s.

All Is Wild, All Is Silent

This Austin collective's third album solidifies their status as the inheritors of the "Rachel's" sound, and goes well beyond that.  These are absolutely gorgeous, haunting compositions, with excellent use of strings, banjo, and other instruments.  Some tracks would sound cheesy or sappy in any other context, but when these guys play them, you'll get goosebumps every time.

Yo La Tengo
Popular Songs

Yo La Tengo has been around forever, but they keep making amazing albums.  This one may even be their best.  What always strikes me about their songs (especially those that sound exactly like 1960s pop hits) is that if anyone else were playing them, I'd probably hate them. But through the medium of Yo La Tengo, such songs sound perfectly natural and pleasing.  I also don't mind the 10+ minute guitar freakouts :)

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
The Century Of Self

Here's another veteran group that had been written off in the past few years.  It's true that their prior two albums were not as good as the much-loved Source Tags And Codes, but I'm really surprised that very few people have given this new album the praise it deserves.  This is by far their best work - songs and arrangements bursting with vitality, and recorded in such a way that perfectly captures the energy and feeling of a live performance.  This is the brilliant comeback album that no one noticed.

In Prism

Another great comeback album. Some people have said it's their best, some argue against that - but it definitely feels like they picked up right where they left off 12 years ago. And this time they're actually using quality instruments, amps, and recording techniques, which benefits the album greatly. Now if only Swervedriver and Jawbox (and Chavez???) would start recording again...

Dinosaur Jr

This is the second "new" album since Dinosaur Jr re-formed three years ago. People were shocked at how good Beyond was, and Farm is even better. J Mascis's guitar wizardry is just as awesome now as it was in the late 80's/early 90's, and his new songs are some of the best he's ever written.  But it's bassist Lou Barlow's two songs that stand out and earn this album its spot in the top 10 - may he never again leave the band!

Charlotte Gainsbourg

Technically this album doesn't come out until late January 2010 in the US, but it's out now in Europe so I'm including it here. If I had written this list a week ago, I would have missed this incredible record.  Beck does the music for this one (see! another veteran), and it is his best work in, well, perhaps ever.  The songs are spare, catchy without being shallow, and each one has just enough trademark Beck-weirdness to make it unlike anything you've ever heard. Charlotte and he have incredible musical chemistry, and make perfect bizarre pop songs that sound like they could be from any era.  The string arrangements are right out of Beck's incredible Sea Change album, and it's great to hear them again in this context.  The lyrical content matches the music in being singable-but-slightly-jarring - there is a lot of death/mortality stuff, with the title track mimicking the sounds of an MRI machine (IRM, get it?).  Apparently Charlotte has been dealing with a bunch of medical issues lately, and the album is definitely colored by it.

I really cannot say enough about how good this album is - it is totally infectious, and I really hope it does well.  Ask me again a week from now, and I might tell you it has moved up a couple of notches.

Them Crooked Vultures
Them Crooked Vultures

Even more veterans! This time in a supergroup! John Paul Jones (of Led Zepplin, wtf!), Josh Homme, and Dave Grohl writing and playing together sounds amazing. The result is one of the best rock albums of the decade.

Adam Franklin
Spent Bullets

Swervedriver frontman Adam Franklin - yet another veteran - makes his best solo album yet. Spent Bullets sounds like exactly the album he has been trying to make ever since Swervedriver's Ejector Seat Reservation.  It is the perfect marriage of his 60's pop influences with his own drone-y aesthetic. Each song is immediate enough to make you sing along, but deep enough for you to get lost in the sounds and textures. The pacing and brevity of the album is absolutely flawless- there are no throw-away tracks or missteps. It is completely tight, and sounds like the most ideal representation of Adam possible.  It will be interesting to see how he follows this one up.

Mission of Burma
The Sound, The Speed, The Light

Here's another band, like Dinosaur Jr, who re-formed a few years ago and proved to be even more formidable in their second coming than ever before. The previous two albums they have recorded since reforming have been great, but this new one is better - even perhaps giving Vs a run for its money. It benefits from being a little bit leaner and more direct - focusing their musical punch with greater effectiveness. Mission of Burma's energy and ferocity is unmatched.

Sonic Youth
The Eternal

This is the best Sonic Youth album since Washing Machine. Simply fantastic. John Agnello was a great choice for producer - the quality of the raw sound of this album matches the songs perfectly. It's definitely the best-sounding recording they've ever made. Definitely pick this one up if you can.

Honorable Mentions:
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Moderat - Moderat
Other stuff I can't think of right now
louder than love


Back in 1994, in Nirvana's aftermath, major record labels signed every independent, post-punk, or grunge-ish band they could find. For a brief window of time, several truly groundbreaking bands were thrust into prominence. Most fizzled quickly - some became watered-down due to major-label pressures, but DC's Jawbox seized the opportunity. Armed with a bigger budget from Atlantic Records, they proceeded to make their third album and masterpiece, For Your Own Special Sweetheart. The result was a fierce, uncompromising work whose influence has spread far and runs deep. Pitchfork just reviewed the remaster, giving it a 9.3 and "Best New Reissue" (they got this one right!).

Hearing this album in 1994 was an absolute revelation. Entire bands were started based on single riffs from certain songs. I recall excitedly analyzing with friends exactly what made the syncopation of "Cut Off" so brilliant, and the thrill of figuring out the chords to "Savory" for the first time.

But perhaps even more influential than the music was the energy Jawbox brought to its live shows. Fans still remember this clearly, and few other bands have been able to replicate their power and ferocity. So naturally, people have gone absolutely nuts over the strange mini-reunion this past Tuesday - in order to help promote the reissue of FYOSS, Jawbox reformed to play three songs on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. "Savory" was broadcast on the show:

But they also recorded two other songs during the soundcheck. Here is their B-side "68", included on the reissue:

Seeing Jawbox perform again, I felt as if a direct window to 1994 had suddenly opened, if ever-so-briefly. I had forgotten how subversive this kind of music was back then - before everyone could home-record, before the Internet made distribution and discovery basically instantaneous. It took fucking balls to make this kind of music at that time, and a certain amount of determination and perseverance on the part of fans to seek it out (I basically lived for the weekly broadcast of 120 Minutes for several years).

Here's "FF=66". Imagine this as the opening track of an album in 1994 - a combination of intellectualism (That's a reading from William Carlos Williams that starts it off!), brilliant lyrics, perhaps the most fiercely dissonant guitar parts ever conceived, and a chorus that jarringly juxtaposes a catchy, harmonized melody over the top of it all:

Nowadays, it is nearly impossible to shock anyone with music - indie rock has become mainstream, and there are so many niches and fringes that experimentalism almost seems passe. There's plenty of good music being made right now, but it's not really in spite of other forces, the way it was back then. In the early '90s, against all odds and between the twin evil spectres of Milli Vanilli and The Spice Girls, good music inexplicably found an outlet. To me, Jawbox - and specifically FYOSS - marked the pinnacle of this moment.
album insert

Poll! How do you purchase music online?

I'm curious as to how people purchase music online. Right now I have my new album available at BandCamp, but I'm thinking of adding it to iTunes, Amazon, etc. too. Help me out!

Poll #1492581 Buying music online

Do you pay for downloaded music?

Yes, always
Yes, sometimes
I only download free music
I don't download music

What paid sites do you use, if any?

Amazon MP3

Would you prefer to download music directly from an artist at a site such as BandCamp, or an artist's personal site?


Is there a barrier (real or psychological) that makes a retail outlet (iTunes, etc) preferrable to an artist's own site? If so, what is it?

By the way, all of my CDs and vinyl are $1-off for the rest of today (if you buy direct, ha!). Happy Cyber Monday!
Go here: http://gordonwithers.bigcartel.com

dancing cello

Thank you.

The Kickstarter project is fully-funded!

Thanks to those of you who pledged/pre-ordered, vinyl and CDs are a go for my new album! I can't properly express my gratitude in words - just know that I am extremely humbled and thrilled. It is truly an honor to be putting out an album that is effectively produced by the fan base. Call it whatever you want - crowdsourcing, Music 2.0, fundraising - the album is now basically yours. Gotta Groove Records is already setting up the presses for the vinyl production as you read this! (CDs, which take less time, will start being produced in a couple of weeks)

It looks like the album will come out mid-November, with a release party tentatively planned for 11/22 at the Galaxy Hut in Arlington, VA. More details soon!

Thank you again!! If you or someone you know had been planning on pre-ordering, but haven't done it yet, you can still do so before noon on Wednesday. Once the Kickstarter project ends, I won't be taking orders again until November.

PS. If you'd like to hear a version of the WTOP interview that ran last Friday and Saturday, go here and scroll to the bottom of the post.


Kickstarter and the new music economy

[I posted this on Monday night over at my Facebook Fan Page, but I wanted to make sure this gets the proper blog treatment]

I recently decided to crowd-source the funding for the production of my new album, instead of waiting a year or more to save money or try to find a label to put it out. By then I'd already be on to the next album, and the label climate at that point will probably be even worse than it is now.

I think Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls) said it best recently:

"artists used to rely on middlemen to collect their money on their behalf, thereby rendering themselves innocent of cash-handling in the public eye.

artists will now be coming straight to you (yes YOU, you who want their music, their films, their books) for their paychecks.
please welcome them. please help them. please do not make them feel badly about asking you directly for money.
dead serious: this is the way shit is going to work from now on and it will work best if we all embrace it and don’t fight it."
I couldn't agree more. The internet, especially with the new breed of artists' fundraising sites such as Kickstarter, has made it easier than ever to bypass the traditional musician-label structure. I put out a figure - in this case $2,500 - to print 100 LP's and 300-500 CD's, plus mastering/packaging costs - and I test to see if there is a demand for it. With Kickstarter, if I don't raise the $2.5K, no money changes hands and everybody walks away, but I still learn something - either the demand wasn't there, or I didn't market it correctly, or I didn't give it enough time.

However!! I am convinced that the demand *is* there, based on the incredible response I've seen so far. From what I see, people are embracing this new artist-fan paradigm. I haven't received a single complaint (so far) of spamming or being too pushy with asking for money. That's really incredible. And what is more incredible is the number of people who have gone for the "special reward" pledge levels on my Kickstarter page. Six people have pledged $50 to receive the album plus a cello-ized song of their choice! Two people have even pledged over $100. (That's 8 custom cello arrangements for those who are counting - guess I'd better get crackin'!)

Frankly, I love this new way of doing things. Ten years ago, when I was playing with Betwixt, I would have been psyched to be picked up by a label. But even then, we realized that it would just be a "fun ride", probably lasting 1-2 albums and a few years before we'd inevitably go the way of 99.999% of other indie-bands on labels. These days, that "ride" no longer exists at all. Major labels are committing seppuku faster than you can say "blaeargh", and the independent labels have all been clobbered by the recession. What's left? Well, exactly what you're seeing now. DIY sites like BandCamp and Kickstarter are the new normal. Everyone's doing it on their own, and everyone is extending the tip jar your way. By all means, go ahead and download all you want, go crazy with the torrents - but don't shy away from the tip jar when us musicians pass it around. If you can't pay at the moment, then don't, but don't forget us when you eventually can.

So!! In conclusion. I've decided to make my entire new album stream-able at http://gordonwithers.bandcamp.com from Tuesday noon through next Wednesday. I hope you enjoy it. If you have the means to pre-order it at Kickstarter, that would be incredibly helpful and much-appreciated. And what would help the MOST is if you could pass on the Kickstarter link (http://bit.ly/gwalbum) to your music-loving friends. I've got 8 days to raise the remaining $1,200. I know it can be done. I believe in this album, and I'm heartened by everyone who has pledged so far.

Thanks so much for reading this, and rock on.

album cover

The 25% Threshold (Originally posted at Kickstarter)

[I originally posted this at my Kickstarter Album Fundraising project page] Pre-order your copy of my new album now!

Good evening,

My good friend Nick D and I both launched Kickstarter fundraising projects at about the same time - his is to publish an awesome book he is writing on interaction design, and of course mine is for producing the vinyl & cd versions of my new album. Nick posted tonight about an interesting statistic with Kickstarter projects - those that reach the 25%-funded threshold have a 94% success rate.

[Incidentally, if you work in design, product development, or technology, you will need NickD's book when it is finished - go make sure it gets published now! I don't get a kickback, by the way.]

If you're interested, the folks at Kickstarter posted a long blog about why they think the 25% threshold exists. It's a good read if you have time. But the point is - tonight I noticed that both Nick's project and mine are tantalizingly close to that 25%-funded mark - right now I'm just over 20%.

I want to thank those of you who have pre-ordered the album so far, or just donated for the cause. It is my firm belief that in 2009, a musician or band needs to do more than just release an album on CD and mp3. The disposability of both formats goes against what the album format - that vaunted Long-Player, always represented. I believe that people are craving the real experience, with real thought, care, and love put into the entire package - great music, great artwork, and special offerings. But even if you only ordered the CD, you'll still get as nice of a package as we can manage with that format. Cover artist Dave Gonzalez just sent over the final cover art yesterday, and it is amazing. If this fundraising fails, that cover art may never see the surface of an LP sleeve, let alone a smaller CD cover - it will only exist on that Bandcamp page and as a thumbnail in a little corner in your iTunes. And then there's the music - thanks especially to my brother Stephen's drumming and J Robbins's amazing production job, I am absolutely convinced that this album deserves LP and CD treatment. I would have never undertaken a pre-ordering fundraiser project if I thought otherwise.

So, about that 25% threshold. The way this project will surpass it - and eventually succeed - is through your help. Share it with your friends. Convince them that they need to order an all-cello recording of their significant other's favorite song for Christmas/Hanukkah/their birthday/next Flag Day. When else will you ever have the chance to hear cello versions of Mission of Burma, Chavez, and Burning Airlines on vinyl (not to mention the originals)? This may also be the only time ever that you can get an original piece of Dave's for so little money. Grab the sharing widget on the project's homepage, or just click one of the sharing links. Sign up for my email list and tell others to as well.

Thanks again and let's make this happen for real!


Gordon Withers

PS. I may have some exciting radio-interview news later this week. I'll update again as soon as it happens!



Dear LiveJournal,

I just launched a project at kickstarter.com to help pay for my new album to be mastered & printed. Essentially, you can now pre-order my new album. Do it now! Choose one of the special options (custom cello song, original art) as a really amazing gift for someone you love.

The funding goal (October 14) is really aggressive, to ensure that the album can come out before the holidays. Please pass this on & repost & tweet & facebook-share & friendster (?!?!?!) if you can.

myspace sloth

Plop Sonar Dampy (and other potential album titles gleaned from spam emails)

Dear loyal fans and Russian spambots,

Recording for my new album is done. Mixing is almost done too. Mastering will be done in August or September. From there, the album will come out whenever I can afford it. I'm contemplating taking pre-orders in order to finance the vinyl run and a limited publicity campaign. Thoughts?  Maybe I can get 500,000 Twitter followers in the next 2 months, invent a random hashtag acronym, and make a killing selling t-shirts of it.  In lieu of that, I'll just continue winning the unstated quest to be the most obscure J Robbins-produced project ever.

In the meantime, here is a sneak preview. swith_drawn plays all drums/percussion, and J did one hell of a production job. One of these mixes is less than 24 hours old! Bandcamp makes it easy, so enjoy while you can. These won't be up for long.

If you feel like spreading the cellove, click the "Share" link...