Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Favorite Albums of 2012 (Alphabetical)

I'm WAY behind on my 2012 albums but here's a list of my 15 favorites that I couldn't be bothered to put into numerical order. Also, I managed to get two blog posts in this year so that's cool.

Alabama Shakes -- Boys & Girls

I'd like to see Frank Ocean take home a bunch of Grammys next year for Channel Orange, but I'm also hoping Alabama Shakes sneaks "Best New Artist" out from under him. Singer/guitarist Brittany Howard is a phenomenal new talent and the band's debut, Boys and Girls, is the kind of rock album we need more of. 

Anais Mitchell -- Young Man in America

This album received a good deal of praise when it was released and then people seem to have forgotten about it come year-end list time. BUT NOT ME. Anais Mitchell may have toned down the ambition a bit for Young Man in America (her last album was a folk opera variation on Greek mythology) but her songwriting is better than it's ever been.

Andrew Bird -- Break It Yourself

I love pretty much everything Andrew Bird does, but I was especially excited about Break It Yourself because it's easily his finest effort since The Mysterious Production of Eggs. It's also perhaps the album where he best balances his experimental side with more melodic pop.

Dirty Projectors -- Swing Lo Magellan

Swing Lo Magellan is the album where Dirty Projectors frontman Dave Longstreth seems to have settled into his groove. His creativity and energy remain, but he spends more time refining an established style here rather than leaping into something completely unexplored. For him that ends up being a very good thing as this collection of consistently great songs shows.

Django Django -- Django Django

I was introduced to Django Django by a friend of mine who got me hooked on the song "Default" by playing it about nonstop for three months. It may be the best tune on the band's self-titled album but there are plenty of psychedelic grooves and killer riffs to be found throughout this impressive debut.

Dr. John -- Locked Down

I recently saw Dr. John's Locked Down listed on a forum as the "dad rock album of the year," which I suppose may be true, but I think that title may discount the energy and intensity of the music on display. The septuagenarian singer/keyboardist, with the help of producer Dan Auerbach, has released a great rock 'n' roll album by any standard.

Father John Misty -- Fear Fun

Joshua Tillman switched from recording under his own name to Father John Misty for his latest record, and with the new moniker comes a remarkably different album that expands his drowsy folk style into a busier, stranger, and far more interesting set of tunes. With music like this it's unlikely Tillman will continue to be known only as "that guy who used to play drums for Fleet Foxes."

First Aid Kit -- The Lion's Roar

Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg are just 22 and 19 years old respectively, but the fine songwriting and beautiful harmonies on their second album, The Lion's Roar, make it feel like the work of much more mature artists. One of the best Americana albums of the year—from Swedes? Go figure.

Frank Ocean -- Channel Orange

This is the best album I’ve heard this year, no question, and it deserves every ounce of praise it has received.

Jack White – Blunderbuss

Was anyone surprised that Jack White could make a great album sans Meg? Probably not. Still, Blunderbuss is by far the best thing he’s done without her after a number of good-but-not-great side projects, so it’s reassuring just the same.

Kendrick Lamar -- good kid, m.A.A.d city

It took me a while to get to Kendrick Lamar’s latest because I figured, given that it had been labeled as gangsta rap, I wouldn’t have much interest. Maybe I’ve just spent enough time in LA to get over that (not likely), but either way it’s easy for me to understand that good kid, m.A.A.d city is a fantastically strange, intelligent, and exciting rap album.

Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It

There is a lot of sadness packed into the 32 minutes of Put Your Back N 2 It, but Perfume Genius (aka Mike Hadreas) displays it beautifully. And though it’s a dark album, there are moments of hope and affirmation that help make his second effort a powerfully emotional statement.

Punch Brothers – Who’s Feeling Young Now

Chris Thile’s Wikipedia page features an overwhelming list of projects, bands, and collaborations. His third album with Punch Brothers reflects this sort of variety with a restless creativity deserving of the inarguable brilliance of these four musicians.

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

I didn’t really understand what all the fuss over Sharon Van Etten was about until I heard her third album, Tramp. Producer Aaron Dessner and an impressive group of collaborators help to underscore Van Etten’s inward-looking songwriting with simple yet striking arrangements.

Tame Impala – Lonerism

I found Tame Impala’s debut, Innerspeaker, so boring I had no interest in hearing their second album, Lonerism. But the praise being heaped upon it was hard to ignore, and after one listen I was hooked on this outrageous and otherworldly psych-rock album. This thing is light-years ahead of its predecessor.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Review: The Black Keys - El Camino (4 Stars)

Alright, so playing catchup here because I ACTUALLY WROTE A FULL REVIEW and then didn't put it up here.

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are the hard-working rockers that could. With a modest beginning ten years ago and a steady rise to both critical acclaim and, eventually, mainstream popularity (not to mention Grammy awards), you could almost consider the Black Keys the musical manifestation of the American dream. Their determination and consistency make them easy to root for, but more importantly, they're making rock-'n'-roll that people actually listen to. Perhaps that doesn't mean much to everyone, but consider, for a moment, the bands currently occupying space on the Billboard Top 200 Chart that even remotely resemble rock music: Nickleback, Coldplay, and…Florence + the Machine, maybe? While you could argue that Jack White helps the cause by continuing to release records through his various projects, the point that popular rock-'n'-roll is scarce these days is all too easy to make. I give that context not as an excuse to continue my tradition of heaping praise upon the Black Keys, but to offer an estimation that the band's latest record, El Camino, is the perfect rock-'n'-roll album for 2011. (Continue reading @ In Review Online)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Formed by roommates ultramark (yes, ultramark) and Ryan McCarthy in Chicago in 2009 and later expanding to a four-person roster for touring purposes, Stepdad is an enormously fun electro-pop band that has released one of the best and most infectious EPs I've heard this year. The band's debut, Ordinaire, was first released in 2010, but this remastered and expanded version (stretched to the LP-appropriate length of 40 minutes) seems to be making the rounds more quickly - and I'm certainly glad it found its way to me.

The EP begins with the thunderous, brooding "Jungles," but from there on out you'll find brighter, more Nintendo-flavored pop tunes full of both gleeful electronic riffs and ultramark's soaring vocals. The album ranges from driving 8-bit anthems ("Wolf Slaying as a Hobby") to disarmingly sweet ballads ("Parrot") and is strong throughout, but the standout here is the oddball pop tune "My Leather, My Fur, My Nails," which best exemplifies the band's way of squeezing constant hooks from their unique electronic palette.

The real appeal of Ordinaire lies the band's ability to make sonic sugariness and geeky sentimentality not just a gimmick but a genuinely effective and enjoyable part of their pop sound. For those with a musical sweet tooth, Stepdad should hit the spot.

Listen to "My Leather, My Fur, My Nails" below and make sure to check out the band's Bandcamp page to stream/purchase the full thing.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Local Flavor: The No-Nation Orchestra

Thus far, local music hasn't been much of a focus on Chewing Gum for the Ears, but when I find something special so close to home, I'm not exactly one to keep it to myself. The No-Nation Orchestra, led by multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Stephen Chai, is one group in the SLC area reminding me of the talent and creativity abundant here if you're simply willing to look around a bit.

Chai has been involved in a handful of bands over the past few years, but none more exciting than this latest project, which finds him leading a skillful quartet that blends elements of Afrobeat and Latin jazz with a melodic pop approach. The band's upcoming debut EP, entitled More More More, is set to drop later this month and serves as a convincing introduction to the excellence of the No-Nation Orchestra.

On the opener/title track (which you can hear below) Chai floats his soulful falsetto over groovy, complex rhythms and killer horn riffs, while "Holy Holy" throws in a flashy piano line and an almost sinister vocal melody you'll find difficult to get out of your head. If I had to pick, I'd say the incendiary "Find Me The Savory Sound" is my current favorite -- but that's like to change tomorrow as each of the EP's five tracks have only gotten better with every spin.

Whether you're looking for the best of what Salt Lake City has to offer or perusing the web for a genuinely inspired new band, Stephen Chai & The No-Nation Orchestra is a must-listen. Hear the single below and check out the band's homepage for pre-orders. Also, if you're a local, make sure to catch them at Urban Lounge on September 23rd for the album release show.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Will Stratton: When You Let Your Hair Down to Your Shoulders (MP3)

Great news today! One of my favorite songwriters, Will Stratton, has a new song available for download.

Check out this Brooklyn Based post featuring the lovely new tune, "When You Let Your Hair Down to Your Shoulders," along with a brief interview with the man himself.

If you'd like to read some of my ravings on Stratton's latest full-length, you can find that here.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Concert Review: Akron/Family with Delicate Steve

March 28, 2011
Urban Lounge, Salt Lake City


Delicate Steve

There wasn't a huge crowd at Urban Lounge to see Akron/Family perform, and before the headliners an even smaller crowd was treated to the intricate arrangements of (mostly) instrumental band Delicate Steve, an experimentally-minded but fun-loving rock group. The band bears the name of lead guitarist Steve Marion, but the set was much more than just a showcase for his excellent guitar playing. Each of the five members contributed to successfully recreate the group’s cheerfully varied rock style, with songs ranging from triumphant pop anthems to breezy, melodic jams.

The group opened modestly with a mix of tribal percussion and subtle guitar interplay, but soon broke out into some more anthemic material that encouraged a small yet enthusiastic dance session near the stage. At times Steve would show off with some flashy guitar work and at others he would fade into the mix to help the band create more restrained sonic textures. Each piece was interesting, but the audience was most appreciative of the more up-tempo numbers, especially the penultimate tune, a fiery alt-blues stomp that features some seriously impressive shredding.

For the last song, Steve took his guitar down to the small dance party on the floor while the band pounded away on stage, never missing a beat and offering a solid finale to a strong opening performance. Delicate Steve may be a young band, but the quintet played with the precision and intelligence of seasoned pros. Definitely a band worth experiencing live if you have the chance.


Right from the beginning of their set, it was clear that Akron/Family was going to take their time that evening. They spent some time chatting with the crowd, extolling the virtues of an all-week weekend (this was a Monday show) before launching into a quiet, nature-sounds-infused introduction that must have lasted for five minutes as the band waited patiently for the crowd to quiet. As the noise of the audience died down, the band launched into a delicate blending of voices that demanded everyone’s attention, but the crowd really got going with beginning of the next song, “River,” which involved a great deal of audience participation in the form of clapping and chanting along.

In fact, the band members nearly demanded such participation throughout the evening. At one point guitarist Seth Olinsky lead the crowd in a group meditation session, for another song everyone was encouraged to sing along for what seemed like a ten-minute chorus. And when they weren’t interacting with the audience, the trio were feverishly playing on stage with energetic riffs, spectacular harmonies and deafening blasts of noise. Bassist Miles Seaton even managed to play the bass with his mouth for while.

But it wasn’t all just gimmicks and insanity, Akron/Family is a talented bunch that provided some great moments that night. “Everyone is Guilty” and “Another Sky” were especially electrifying, showing the band’s ability to write and perform deliriously fun pop hooks. The problem was, by 1 a.m. the band had pretty well worn out the audience, trying our patience with a few too many extended jam sessions and head-exploding bursts of noise. Even the encore was a bit of a chore in its length, but the final moments of the show were beautiful, an a capella sing-a-long that faded softly and smoothly, ending a sometimes thrilling, sometimes trying performance on the perfect note. I think it’s safe to say Akron/Family puts on a truly unique show, but be warned, it certainly requires some stamina.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Three for Tuesday: U.S. Royalty, Snowblink, Young Circles

U.S. Royalty -

Up-and-coming quartet U.S. Royalty (hailing, appropriately, from Washington D.C.) have been making some waves this year with their debut album, Mirrors. Combining classic rock 'n' roll elements with bits of folk and indie rock, frontman John Thornley and company have released a solid first effort with songs ranging from Local Natives-esque anthems ("Equestrian") to fiery blues stomps ("Hollywood Hollows") to beautifully melodic ballads ("Old Flames"). Personally, I think the band is at their best when they hold to the more classic elements of their sound, but Mirrors proves U.S. Royalty has plenty of ability when it comes to crafting a variety of tunes. Definitely a group to keep your eye on.


The Equestrian (MP3)

Monte Carlo (MP3)

Snowblink -

Knowing several variations over its fairly brief existence, Snowblink currently consists only of Toronto-based Daniela Gesundheit and Dan Goldman, though the duo feature a variety of collaborators on their new record, Long Live, including members of Deerhoof and Dirty Projectors. The album's somewhat experimental folk sound is both refreshingly odd and undeniably beautiful, with some fantastic moments scattered among its brief 34 minutes. Whether patiently unfolding a winding, beguiling ballad or breezing through a triumphantly melodic interlude, Gesundheit demands your rapt attention with her lovely, warm voice and unusual songwriting. There are plenty of musicians reaching for the kind of seemingly effortless brilliance found on Long Love, but few achieve it so completely as Snowblink.


Ambergris (MP3)

Tired Bees (MP3)

Young Circles -

It's difficult to put any sort of descriptive label on Florida trio Young Circles; the band's debut EP, entitled Bones, blends more disparate elements than it has tracks. But then that's precisely what makes the album such a thrilling 23 minute journey and why this band is one you should know. Utilizing everything from moments of acoustic clarity to washes of disorienting noise to undercurrents of smooth jazz, Young Circles never let you get entirely comfortable, and if you're willing to stick with them through all the sharp twists and turns, you'll likely find this first effort to be a gripping one. Get familiar with these guys, you can bet everyone else will be soon.


Sharp Teeth (MP3)

Listen to or download the EP (free, I believe)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

You Should Know: James Vincent McMorrow

With a softly soulful voice and penchant for heartbroken lyrics, James Vincent McMorrow makes the Bon Iver/Justin Vernon comparisons all too easy. Even the way in which the two artists recorded their debuts is similar, in isolated houses with almost no outside assistance. But McMorrow's first effort, Early in the Morning, carves out a distinct niche for the Irish songwriter, one a little more pop friendly than Vernon's but just as emotionally powerful and beautifully eerie. McMorrow's disarming vocals will certainly draw the most attention, but his songwriting and musicianship are remarkable as well, making Early in the Morning one of 2011's best early debut's.

Recommended Tracks: "If I Had a Boat," "We Don't Eat," "Follow You Down to the Red Oak Tree"

Head over to Spinner
to grab one of the album's best tracks, opener "If I Had a Boat"

RCRD LBL has another song to download, "This Old Dark Machine," though it's mislabeled as "Early in the Morning"

Check out his Facebook page for more info.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Cake - Showroom of Compassion (* * * 1/2)

I had pretty much lost track of Cake after their 2001 album, Comfort Eagle. I didn't even hear 2004's Pressure Chief until at least a year (maybe two) afterward, and by that time I guess I just wasn't especially interested in the band anymore. So I can't quite explain my excitement at hearing news about Showroom of Compassion, Cake's sixth album and first in seven years. Maybe I just figured Cake had good reason to return to music after such a lengthy hiatus, or perhaps I was feeling nostalgic. Mostly I was just curious to know if this record would be any good, and as it turns out, Showroom of Compassion is a fine addition to Cake's catalog, despite being a bit uneven.

If your only exposure to this record is the first single "Sick of You," you might be disappointed with how strikingly similar it is to some of the band's other popular songs. But while it's true that Cake often sticks to their established style on Showroom of Compassion, they have much more to offer than a bland rehash of their past material. "Long Time," for instance, uses the group's key ingredients--John McRae's half-sung vocals, lively bass and guitar lines, and trumpet solos--to create a funky rock tune that feels refreshingly relevant, while the admittedly familiar-sounding "Mustache Man" has a sharp combination of menace and melody that make it one of Cake's best songs to date. The eerie, synth-infused rocker "Easy to Crash" and the melancholy ballad "The Winter" are a bit more adventurous, providing some welcome variety and helping to further distance Showroom of Compassion from past albums in the group's catalog. If nothing else, fans should enjoy hearing these alt-rock veterans successfully explore some new avenues without straying uncomfortably far into unfamiliar territory.

Showroom of Compassion has more than enough solid tunes to make it easy to overlook missteps like the aforementioned "Sick of You" and the psychedelia-tinged opener "Federal Funding," though there are certainly some songs that work more convincingly than others. For example, "Got to Move" is decent, but pales in comparison to the record's best tracks and "Teenage Pregnancy" is only a mildly entertaining instrumental piece. As a whole, however, Showroom of Compassion is a fun and surprisingly strong record, a welcome return for a band that will hopefully be more active over the next seven years.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

You Should Know: Way Yes

I first heard Way Yes a couple months ago when I stumbled upon their excellent debut EP, Herringbone. Now, five months after that intriguing introduction, they've unveiled perhaps an even better EP entitled Walkability that has made me realize it's high time I get the word out about these guys.

Way Yes is comprised of Ohioans Glenn Davis and Travis Hall, a talented duo who combine nimble afropop guitars, subtle electronica, and smooth vocals into a sound that could be described as a blend of indie favorites Animal Collective and Vampire Weekend. But that's a rough approximation of their style, you really just have to give these guys a listen to understand how compelling their lighthearted, yet thoughtful, approach to experimental pop music can be.

Favorites from the EPs include "Johanna," "Walkability," "Gino," and "Ties"

Hear both of their EPs at their bandcamp/homepage:


And if you need a listen right this second, go ahead and check out this free MP3 from Walkability:

Gino (MP3)