Monday, December 27, 2010

Best of 2010: Albums

It's definitely time to unveil my picks for the best albums of the year. I'm just doing 25 this year (though really I think I could have done 100 if I had all the time in the world) and I'm not going to bother writing a blurb about each or finding all the artwork, mostly because I'm lazy.

If you want to read more about my top 10 picks, you can find a beautifully arranged article I wrote over at In Review Online. Also, you would do well to visit InRO for top 10 features from Sam Mac and Jordon Cronk, who are both superb writers with very unique tastes in music:

My Top 10 albums feature

Jordan Cronk's top 10 albums
Sam C. Mac's top 10 albums

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for (I'm sure):

1. Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me

2. The Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt / Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird

3. Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid

4. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

5. Will Stratton - New Vanguard Blues

6. Owen Pallett - Heartland

7. The Black Keys - Brothers

8. Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone

9. White Denim - Last Day of Summer

10. Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away

11. Menomena - Mines
12. Robyn - Body Talk
13. Wolf Parade - Expo 86
14. Baths - Cerulean
15. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
16. Maps & Atlases - Perch Patchwork
17. Spoon - Transference
18. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot...The Son of Chico Dusty
19. Patty Griffin - Downtown Church
20. Anais Mitchell - Hadestown
21. Villagers - Becoming a Jackal
22. Woods - At Echo Lake
23. David Karsten Daniels & Fight the Big Bull - I Mean to Live Here Still
24. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
25. Cloud Cult - Light Chasers

Feel free to tell me how inspired my choices are or argue if you feel the need. Keep in mind that there are some albums I've omitted from this list because I can't stand them (Best Coast's Crazy for You, for example) and a few that I probably should have heard that I haven't yet. I guess what I'm admitting here is that these technically aren't the best albums of 2010 by any standard, just mine.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Best of 2010: Live Performances

Alright! I'm back finally back with some new stuff! And I promise I'm going to try and be better about updating this blog next year. But let's get to some best of the year stuff first.

I attended between 20 and 25 concerts this past year, so I obviously can't claim this to be a comprehensive list of the best live acts of 2010, but the following bands really blew me away. Think of this as recommendations for bands to catch in concert next year, or something like that.

So, in no particular order, my five favorite live artists/bands of 2010:

Sufjan Stevens: Say what you will about Sufjan Stevens' divisive new album, Age of Adz, the guy knows how to put on a show. And by show, I mean a laser-light rock opera kind of performance including the entirety of the 25-minute epic "Impossible Soul," which resulted in a sort of awkward dance party throughout Kingsbury Hall. But through all the fuss, Sufjan kept the audience mesmerized with that beautiful voice. I've never experienced anything quite like this outrageous performance, and I doubt I will again.

The Gaslight Anthem: Talk about getting your money's worth. Everyone at this show payed only five bucks to be in attendance, but Brian Fallon and company played for over two hours and seemed thrilled to do so. Fallon sang his heart out and carried a grin the entire evening, and the band was razor sharp as they made their way through what must have been every song in their catalog. I love to see a band that so clearly understands what makes a great rock 'n' roll show.

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: I have never--and I mean never--seen an artist work so hard during a live performance. Sharon Jones sang, danced, gave monologues that stretched songs into 10-minute jams, ran all over the stage and invited audience members up to join in the party. She must have been up there for nearly two hours, and while I probably would have died from exhaustion, the 54-year-old soul singer just. kept. going. I'll never forget this one, I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Thao/Mirah: Thao and Mirah sharing the stage for this one-of-a-kind tour proved to be an inspired decision and a treat for fans of either artist (so, bonus for me because I love both of them). The combination of their unique musical personalities along with the intimacy of the evening resulted in one of the more engaging shows I saw this year. They traded songs, sang beautiful harmonies and made it fun each member of the small but appreciative audience. Also, Mirah's dance-music version of "Gone Are the Days" was worth the price of admission.

Rubik: Not too many people know Rubik, the awesomely weird indie rock band from Finland, but these guys are fantastic live. They opened a show to an audience that had absolutely no idea who they were, but by the end of their relatively short set each and every person in that crowd was a convert. They blasted horns, pounded keyboards, and played with such fervor that they simply won us all over and received a standing ovation usually reserved for a headlining act. I can't wait to see them again.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: Black Mountain - Wilderness Heart (* * * *)

Stephen McBean has never seemed particularly interested in keeping his two bands as entirely separate entities. Black Mountain and Pink Mountaintops have more in common than just their similar titles; McBean enlists many of the same musicians to play for both projects and it can be difficult to tell at times where he draws the dividing line between the two band’s. But while McBean doesn’t often vary from the basic ingredients, any direct comparison of the previous efforts by each project reveals fundamental differences in trajectory, with Black Mountain’s In the Future working through various forms of guitar-heavy psychedelia and Pink Mountaintops’ Outside Love incorporating a mellower blend of pop and experimental elements. With Wilderness Heart, however, McBean tempers Black Mountain’s more epic tendencies. (Continue reading @ In Review Online)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Concert Review: Neon Trees (SLC, Utah)

My first review for The Deseret News. Read the full story here.

Provo alt-rock quartet Neon Trees has steadily built a reputation as an exhilarating live act, and the band delivered Tuesday at Salt Lake Community College.

Supporting the Rock the Vote campaign, which encourages political activity among young adults, Neon Trees gave a flashy, energetic performance showcasing the high-octane style that has the group in steady rotation on radio stations across the country.

Continue Reading

Monday, October 18, 2010

Concert Review: Jukebox the Ghost w/ Hooray for Earth, A B & The Sea

Kilby Court
Salt Lake City, UT

October 7, 2010

Headliners Jukebox the Ghost were--appropriately--the highlight of the night, but both Hooray for Earth and AB & The Sea added to a thoroughly enjoyable fall evening in Salt Lake City.

San Fransisco's A B & The Sea opened to a tiny crowd, but made the most of it with a high-energy performance that ended up being a great introduction for most of the audience. The band's jangly retro-rock sound (think Dr. Dog with an extra helping of sun and sand) was easy to love, with plenty of bright melodies, smooth harmonies, hand-claps, and insanely catchy riffs putting smiles on the faces of all those in attendance. One song that stood out in particular (I looked up the title afterward) was "Yellow-Haired Girl," which is as catchy a pop-rock tune as I've heard in some time. It was an incredibly fun half-hour set that makes me feel confident in saying you'll be hearing much more about these guys in the coming months. MySpace

I had heard a little from Hooray for Earth, but I was not prepared for their awesomely strange, almost chaotic live act. Utilizing squealing guitars, spacey synth and thunderous drums, the band's songs ranged from dense, noisy rockers to otherworldly dance numbers all of which were both punishingly loud and unusually captivating. This bombastic take by the group on their comparably tamer studio material seemed to catch the crowd by surprise, but despite being the odd band out stylistically, Hooray for Earth was electrifying. The soaring finale was especially awesome, but their entire set was an impressive showcase of talent and creativity that was certainly enjoyed by those who didn't mind traveling well off the beaten path. MySpace

Download: Comfortable, Comparable (via Stereogum)

Though a fairly young band, Jukebox the Ghost were easily the veterans of the evening and it was evident immediately. Right from opener "Good Day," the trio had the crowd's undivided attention, executing each song to perfection while seeming to have a great time in the process. Dual singer/songwriters Ben Thornewill and Tommy Siegel both proved to be excellent showmen, as did drummer Jesse Kristin, whose intricate beats stole the spotlight at times. The crowd was still unfortunately thin, but that didn't stop Jukebox the Ghost from giving a performance fit for a sold-out show in this very modest setting.

Every tune was well received, inspiring awkward dance circles and plenty of clapping and singing along that seemed appropriate for the band's buoyant brand of pop. Highlights from the night included "Popular Thing," "The Stars" and the encore, "Empire," though I guess those are probably my favorites from the band anyway, so I should simply say each song was excellent and added to a hugely entertaining set. If there's any justice in this world, Jukebox the Ghost will play to a packed house next time around, these guys deserve it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review: Will Stratton - New Vanguard Blues (* * * * 1/2)

Patience is a virtue, sure, but one that tends to slow things down and occasionally even seems completely unnecessary. Will Stratton’s third album, New Vanguard Blues, serves as a reminder that impatience can be just as valuable a trait. After offering one of my favorite records of 2009—the consistently stunning No Wonder— Stratton apparently didn’t want to bother taking the traditional route in releasing his third full-length. Recorded and mixed by the songwriter himself over the weekend of July 9th, the album was made available online only a couple weeks later, an unusual but certainly welcome decision as New Vanguard Blues is in many ways Stratton's best effort to date. Shedding the varied sonic decorations that enhanced the tunes on No Wonder, his latest is simple and stripped-down, resulting in a tighter, more focused set of songs that relies almost exclusively on his impressive guitar work for accompaniment. But the album mostly succeeds for the same reason the last one did: Stratton’s singular songwriting, which has only gotten better with time. (Continue reading at In Review Online. . .)

Review: The Thermals - Personal Life (* * * 1/2)

The Thermals have always been more interesting than the majority of their pop-punk peers, mostly because they have so much to say about so many topics. Where their previous effort, 2009'sNow We Can See, focused on the purpose of life through the lens of death, and the two before that—2006's The Body, The Blood, The Machine and 2004's F****n A—were scathing rebukes of conservative American politics, the band’s latest turns inward, as its title might suggest, and takes a look at the complexity of relationships. “I’m gonna change your life/I’m gonna steal your soul” insists Hutch Harris on the first line of opener “I’m Gonna Change Your Life,” and somehow that kinda sums up the nature of the 32 minutes that comprise the remainder of the band’s fifth album. Looking introspectively through his cracked yet ultimately hopeful perspective, Harris proves that though his typically fiery indignation seems somewhat abated (or set aside, at least), his passion and lyricism remain a compelling combination. Less focused and less consistent perhaps than the band’s previous two albums,Personal Life may disappoint fans of Harris’s bigger statements, but the record has too many great moments to be ignored. (Continue at In Review Online. . .)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Daily Dose - 10/1: Twin Shadow

Artist: Twin Shadow
Latest Release: Forget
Genre: Electronic/Pop/Dance

George Lewis Jr. is the lone man behind Twin Shadow, a retro pop project that's been turning some heads this year, and for good reason. Blending 80s synths with a generous dose of electro funk, Lewis' debut LP, Forget, is a stunning set of smoldering, low-key dance songs that are, well, unforgettable. Featuring production by Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, Forget definitely favors mind-altering arrangements and unusual electronic soundscapes to straightforward club beats, yet most of these songs are insistently danceable as well. The music of Twin Shadow has a sort of otherworldly sexiness to it that I just can't get enough of, and I highly recommended it to any adventurous electronica/dance fan.

Key Tracks: "Shooting Holes at the Moon," "Yellow Balloon," "Castles in the Snow"

Download: Castles in the Snow (via Pitchfork)

Watch: Video for Castles in the Snow

Twin Shadow - Castles In The Snow Directed by Jamie Harley from Twin Shadow on Vimeo.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Daily Dose - 9/30: In Grenada

Artist: In Grenada
Latest Release: Break
Genre: Pop/Rock/Indie

Their latest press release states In Grenada was "born from the ashes of Philadelphia's premier ukulele indie-rock band, Movable Type." I'm assuming here that most everyone who reads this doesn't follow the ukulele rock band scene all that closely, so In Grenada's debut album will likely be your introduction to the songwriting of multi-instrumentalist Jesse Leyh, who makes a great impression with his new band on their first effort, Break. The record channels the tightly wound energy of Arcade Fire and then filters it through warm pop melodies, nimble guitar lines and buoyant synth riffs that combine for an irresistible summer vibe. Intelligently composed and enormously catchy, Break is pop-rock music at its best and will hopefully put In Grenada firmly on the map.

Key Tracks: "Distance and Temptation," "It Doesn't Matter," "Beating Heart"

Download: Distance and Temptation (MP3)
[Right click to download]


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Daily Dose - 9/29/10: The Migrant

Artist: The Migrant
Latest Release:
Travels in Lowland
Genre: Indie/Folk/Pop

It's rare for me to stumble upon Danish artists in my constant search for great indie music, but it seems every time I do it's a fantastic experience. The latest Denmark native to catch my ear is singer/songwriter Bjarke Bendtsen, recording and performing as The Migrant, which is a somehow fitting moniker for the eclectic mix of styles and influences he incorporates into his unique folk sound. Favoring an acoustic guitar but throwing in everything from accordion to flute to violin, Bendtsen subtly shifts between genres--psychedelia and retro pop, to name a couple--while maintaining his signature aesthetic. He's created a truly absorbing record with his debut, Travels in Lowland, and you can hear/download a couple of the best tunes right here!

Key Tracks: "The Organ Grinder," "Nothing But Clues," "Lullabye (Play It On the Radio)"

Download: The Organ Grinder (MP3) In the Sun (MP3)
[Right click to save]


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Daily Dose - 9/28/10: Jump Back Jake

Artist: Jump Back Jake
Latest Release:
Call Me Your Man EP
Genre: Rock/Blues

Jump Back Jake was introduced to me as the side project of Jake Rabinbach, lead guitarist for Francis and the Lights, a group which may be familiar to you but didn't ring a bell with me (I've since given them a listen, however). Fortunately, Jump Back Jake's classic-style rock 'n' roll should get by just fine on its own merits as their debut EP, Call Me Your Man, certainly proves. In 13 minutes the group covers a fair amount of territory, from groovy pop to fiery southern rock, with impressively catchy melodies and a retro vibe that's hard to resist. Hopefully there will be more to come from these guys as this side project has plenty of potential. Take a listen below!

Download: Call Me Your Man (MP3)


Monday, September 27, 2010

Daily Dose - 9/27/10: Young Man

Artist: Young Man
Recent Release:
Genre: Singer-songwriter/Indie

Last year, Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox posted a song on his blog, a cover of Deerhunter's own "Rainwater Cassette Exchange" which Cox called "fantastically superior to the original." The YouTube poster behind the cover is Colin Caulfield, now recording as Young Man, and once you take a listen to his beautifully haunted music you'll understand why there's been so much buzz surrounding him this year. His debut EP, Boy, was released about a month ago, and I've had it in steady rotation ever since. His enticing harmonies and hypnotic soundscapes (created with guitar, organ and assorted digital loops and such) are reminiscent of several indie mainstays (most notably, perhaps, Animal Collective), but Caulfield is carving out a niche all his own, and you won't want to pass up the chance to discover it.

Key Tracks: "Home Alone," "Just a Growin'"

Download: Up So Fast (via Stereogum)


Friday, September 24, 2010

Daily Dose - 9/24: Elsinore

Artist: Elsinore
Latest Release:
Yes Yes Yes
Genre: Pop/Rock/Indie

There's something about the title Yes Yes Yes that carries an almost overeager urgency to it, but that's not really what you get from indie pop artists Elsinore on their excellent third album. Certainly the record has plenty of energetic, even anthematic moments, yet it also bears the mark of a band that is willing to be patient in order to get the most out of their songs. Granted, the explosive hooks and sing-a-long choruses are what might draw you in initially - and for good reason, they're undeniably great. What you'll stay for however, is the consistent evidence of mature, intelligent songwriting that makes this such a beguiling pop-rock album. Yes Yes Yes has too many twists and turns to count, slowing down and speeding up often enough to keep you on your toes, waiting for the next big chorus or guitar riff but loving the gorgeously melodic ballads and unusual instrumental breaks in the meantime. Fortunately, you won't have to exercise much patience to enjoy such a fun record.

Key Tracks: "Lines," "Chemicals," "Yes Yes Yes"

Download: Lines (MP3) Yes Yes Yes (MP3)


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Daily Dose - 9/23: Lost in the Trees

Funny thing, it turns out the 23rd is today, not yesterday. Now that the dates are squared away, let's get to the music.

Artist: Lost in the Trees
Latest Release:
All Alone in an Empty House
Genre: Indie/Orchestral/Folk

The Genre tags you see above - I should admit - were written out of pure laziness on my part, as Chapel Hill band Lost in the Trees already refer to themselves as a "folk orchestra" anyway. But that's pretty much the best term you could think to use to describe the group after seeing them labeled as such. Their sweepingly cinematic full-length debut album veers between film score-esque instrumentals, epic indie rockers and quiet folk ballads, each an absorbing piece featuring a full string selection, horns, accordion, guitars and more. That frontman Ari Picker has a classical music background should come as no surprise as you listen to the beautifully complex arrangements, and fans of literary folksters like The Decemberists will enjoy the depth of the lyrical narratives that make All Alone in an Empty House such a notable record. There's nothing quite like this one, so listen up.

Key Tracks: "All Alone in an Empty House," "Walk Around the Lake," "Love On My Side"

Download: All Alone in an Empty House (MP3)


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Daily Dose - 9/22: Stornoway

Artist: Stornoway
Latest Release: Beachcomber's Windowsill
Genre: Pop/Folk/Indie

Stornoway's debut album, Beachcomber's Windowsill, is the perfect combination of intelligent pop and emotional folk, and has served as something of a soundtrack to ease my transition from summer to fall this year. It's no wonder the English quartet (at times a sextet) found themselves a home on 4AD as they fit in quite comfortably with indie heavyweights Bon Iver, Camera Obscura and Department of Eagles. That's high but certainly appropriate praise which you're likely to understand if you give their fantastic first effort a listen. The richly detailed instrumentation, arresting vocal harmonies and singer Brian Briggs' soaring melodies are about impossible to resist. Required listening for 2010, trust me.

Key Tracks: "Zorbing," "I Saw You Blink," "Watching Birds"


This four-song set from the 4AD Sessions is worth watching in its entirety, but here's one tune:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Daily dose - 9/17: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

Artist: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Latest Release:
Horse Power EP
Genre: Electronica/Indie

Indie electronica duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. have made a great first impression on me with their debut EP, Horse Power, which combines bits of many popular indie genres to create something that feels both appropriately trendy and refreshingly unique. It's not difficult to hear contemporaries like Local Natives and past influences like the Beach Boys (they DO cover one of their songs, so that's easy) in the band's sound, but Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott are more than just imitators. Using an unusual smorgasbord of sounds that ranges from jazzy electric guitars to shimmering synths to subtle percussion, all under a blanket of lovely vocal harmonies, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. prove themselves to be a versatile and genuinely interesting band to watch.

Key Tracks: "Vocal Chords," "Simple Girl"

Download: Vocal Chords (via Stereogum)


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Daily Dose - 9/16: Clubfeet

Artist: Clubfeet
Latest Release: Gold on Gold
Genre: Electronica/Dance/Indie

Having drawn comparisons to Hot Chip and Junior Boys, it's not difficult to understand why Melbourne-via-Capetown trio Clubfeet are making some serious waves this year. Darkly funky grooves, layered vocals, and soft washes of synth characterize the band's debut, which generally prefers smoldering, low-key dance-rock to explosive, club-ready anthems. Even those less inclined to dig into the indie electronica scene will likely find much to love about the band's appealing mix of alternative dance hooks and smooth pop sensibility. They certainly prove worthy of the aforementioned comparisons, but Club Feet also build a head-turning style all their own on this stellar first effort

Key Tracks: "Edge of Extremes," "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)," "D.I.E. Yuppie Scum"

Download: Edge of Extremes - Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Daily Dose - 9/15: Frontier Ruckus

Artist: Frontier Ruckus
Latest Release:
Deadmalls & Nightfalls
Genre: Folk/Americana/Indie

I've been loving Deadmalls & Nightfalls, the latest album from indie folksters Frontier Ruckus, for a few months now, so I think it's high time I spread the word. The band's intense and intelligent take on folk music is unlike anything else I've heard, an entrancing recipe of lush instrumentation (acoustic guitars, accordions, horns, drums, banjos, etc.) and singer Matthew Milia's delightfully strange and detailed narratives. Packing verses thick with vivid imagery and clever phrasing, the group's songs often take a few spins to comprehend, but exploring the frenzied highs and brooding lows of the record is an enlightening experience. A must-hear for 2010.

Key Tracks: "Nerves of the Nightmind," "Pontiac, the Nightbrink," "I Do Need Saving"

Download: Nerves of the Nightmind (via Radio Free Chicago)


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Daily Dose - 9/14: Kim Taylor

Artist: Kim Taylor
Latest Release: Little Miracle
Genre: Folk/Singer-songwriter/Americana

This has been a great year for singer-songwriters, especially those of the more traditional folk/Americana variety, and though you may not have heard Kim Taylor's name mentioned in that sort of discussion yet, you should expect to soon. Her new album, Little Miracle, drops next week, and it's a stunner. Taylor's blend of folk, blues, and pop is both emotionally gripping and sonically gorgeous, with world-weary tales delivered in captivating melodies by her rich, smokey voice. The record draws you in from the start and demands your attention right through the very last chord, a rare thing indeed.

Key Tracks: "Lost and Found," "American Child," "Fruits of my Labor"

Download: Lost and Found


Monday, September 13, 2010

Daily Dose - 9/13: Dax Riggs

I've decided to try something different for my blog posts. Hopefully this will results in me being more consistent. Less words, more music, sound good?

Artist: Dax Riggs
Latest Release: Say Goodnight to the World
Genre: Rock/Blues/Psychedelia

Dax Riggs may be familiar to those who followed his underground rock and metal projects (Acid Bath being perhaps the most famous) but most of us I imagine haven't been introduced. If that's the case, take the time to check out his latest offering, Say Goodnight to the World, a dark pop-rock record that includes blues, metal, and psychedelic influences combined in a surprisingly catchy and accessible whole. It's an enjoyably sinister and consistently fun ride proves Riggs is quite capable of handling a diverse set of tracks ranging from blazing rockers to eerie ballads.

Key Tracks: "Say Goodnight to the World," "You Were Born to Be My Gallows," "No One Will Be a Stranger"

Download: No One Will Be a Stranger


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Review: Mountain Man - Made the Harbor (* * * 1/2)

After a few years filled with the emergence of high-profile indie bands like Girls and Women, both of which are comprised entirely of males, perhaps we shouldn’t be at all surprised to find that a band named Mountain Man is not, in fact, a man, but three women. And really that’s a welcome surprise in this case, as such a seemingly straightforward moniker conjures thoughts of yet another sup-par songwriter attempting to follow the success of breakout acts Fleet Foxes, Tallest Man On Earth, and the like. These girls will still appropriately be lumped in with their fellow folk revivalists due to their earthy, sparse sound and nature-themed lyrics, but Vermont’s Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Amelia Randall Meath have created something uniquely lovely on their debut full-length, Made the Harbor. (Continue @ In Review Online)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: The Drums - The Drums (* * * 1/2)

In the past, any noteworthy Beach Boys emulators seemed to hail from Southern California or somewhere similarly beach-oriented, but with the re-popularization of the surf/pop/rock genre, it’s anybody’s guess as to where new bands of that sort come from these days. Initially, with last year’s Summertime! EP, New York City’s own the Drums seemed a prime example of a young band whose sun-and-surf-obsessed songs put them at odds with their locale, especially on their most notable tune, the '60s-style pop anthem “Let’s Go Surfing.” But with the release of their self-titled full-length debut, the group incorporates a greater range of their other sonic and lyrical influences into the mix, revealing themselves to be a more complex and interesting band than we (or I, at least) might have given them credit for initially. Blending their love of sun-soaked hooks with a darker, '80s indebted vibe à la Joy Division, the boys craft a fine first effort that—while containing a few misfires—manages to build upon the promise of their early releases. (Read the rest @ In Review Online)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: Best Coast - Crazy for You (* *)

For young writers and aspiring musicians, some of the most frequently heard advice has got to be “write what you know.” This is obvious counsel, to be sure, but true in many respects, especially in the realm of pop music where people generally respect honesty in songwriting. We like artists who share their stories with us and reveal the more intimate details of their lives, allowing us to connect with them through their experiences. But sometimes, even when a musician is eager to get personal, we find there simply isn’t much about them that we care to hear. Such is the case with the latest lo-fi, beach-pop phenomenon Best Coast, fronted by puzzlingly popular newcomer Bethany Cosentino and featuring former Vivian Girl Ali Koehler along with Bethany’s former babysitter (seriously), mutli-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno. Adrift somewhere between SBhe & Him-style balladry, polka-dotted 50s girl groups, and fuzzy, Vivian Girls-esque pop-punk, Best Coast makes music that is hazy and sun-soaked, and it’s not difficult to hear the appeal in Cosentino’s casually strong voice. But on the band’s debut, Crazy for You, Cosentino’s inane songwriting fails to engage on any level and her vacuous insights into love and loneliness reveal no depth whatsoever to her personality. (Read the rest @ In Review Online)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

You Should Know: The Silver Seas

It would be easy to mistake the Silver Seas as having arrived via time machine from 35 years ago rather than forming this past decade. Though the band has only been releasing music since 2004, they seem to have more in common with the likes of Steely Dan, Jackson Browne or any number of 70s pop-rock icons than with their current peers. The Nashville group navigates the pop music of their chosen decade much like The Clientele do the 60s, seeking not to combine classic influences with modern trends, but rather emulating the past right down to the instrumental flourishes and production details. Yet somehow, though the Silver seas remain firmly entrenched in a slice of musical history, their music comes across as much more than a simple copy of their obvious influences. Their third album, Chateau Revenge, is a lovely classic pop record featuring smooth grooves, fantastic melodies, and fine songwriting that makes this a must-listen in any decade.

The record covers territory from gorgeous lite-rock balladry ("Jane") to disco-tinged night music ("The Best Things in Life"), only occasionally showing signs of its more modern origin. With not even one misstep among the 12 tracks, Chateau Revenge is an album you really can't afford to let pass you by.

Key Tracks: "Another Bad Night's Sleep," "Jane," "What's the Drawback"

Download: Another Bad Night's Sleep (Zipped MP3)


Friday, July 30, 2010

Introducing...Gold Motel

Trying to get back into the swing of things with blogging, and to start I have an excellent band to recommend to you:

Gold Motel

Gold Motel is an indie pop project fronted by Greta Salpeter (who currently performs as Greta Morgan), a name some of you may remember as being associated a few years ago with The Hush Sound. I was quite fond of The Hush Sound, especially their earliest material, so news of this new band (which also includes several members of This Is Me Smiling) came as a welcome surprise recently. The music of Gold Motel is--in many ways--similar to Morgan's previous group, but she gets the mic all to herself this time around and she makes the most of the opportunity on Summer House. With infectious guitar and piano riffs, big vocal hooks and a consistently sunny vibe, Gold Motel make a great introduction and Greta Morgan proves that she can handle a leading role just fine.(MySpace)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Review: The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang (* * * 1/2)

From some bands we expect consistent innovation and change. Such artists must evidence a legitimate step forward in one way or another with every album, something new and exciting which assures fans that the group remains inspired and worthy of their attention. New Jersey’s the Gaslight Anthem are not one of those bands. They represent a genre that creates an entirely different set of expectations, one centered around consistency and reliability rather than exploration. That’s not to say frontman Brian Fallon and Co. could afford to remain completely static, but it seems unlikely that they would feel the need for true reinvention at any point in their career. There’s nothing wrong with this; dependability is a value well suited to the band’s updated take on classic blue-collar rock and they’re damn good at what they do. In this light, their third LP, American Slang, is the perfect step for them to take, showing a few signs of artistic development while sticking primarily to what worked the last time around. Though the album doesn’t hit quite as hard as 2008’s The 59 Sound, it should still go some way in establishing the Gaslight Anthem as one of America’s most steadfast young rock bands. (Read the rest of this review at In Review Online)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Review: The Acorn - No Ghost (* * * 1/2)

It’s a risky move releasing a concept album early in your career, but Canada's the Acorn proved quite capable of doing just that with their 2007 sophomore effort, Glory Hope Mountain. That record chronicles the life of singer Rolf Klausener’s mother (whose journey from Honduras included a great deal of drama and adventure) over the course of twelve woodsy folk songs featuring delicate harmonies and intricate guitar signatures, revealing impressive musicianship for such a young group. The songs work both as part of the whole and are engaging individually—no small achievement given the source material—and the record showed the Acorn could be ambitious without overreaching. So while Glory Hope Mountain didn’t make overnight sensations of the band, they gathered enough fans that high expectations were instated for future endeavors. Their third album, No Ghost, appears uninterested in an overarching concept, and in fact feels more modest than their previous release despite its broader stylistic range. It doesn’t quite propel the band forward or equal the considerable quality of what preceded it, but No Ghost is at least an enjoyable entry in the band’s catalog. (Please read the rest of my review @ In Review Online)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You Should Know: Steel Train

Steel Train is a name that isn't completely unknown, I suppose, but I find it is mentioned less often than I would expect, at least now that I'm familiar with the band's music. Though I'd heard of the group before a couple years ago, it wasn't until the recent release of their third and self-titled album that I took the time to listen to an entire record. One time through and I was hooked; Steel Train's brand of pop rock is impossibly catchy, consistently energetic and draws from a variety of influences and styles. I haven't yet made my way through their catalog, but I'm certainly eager to after this fine introduction.

Highlights on the new record range from high-strung rockers ("Turnpike Ghost") to hook-filled drivers ("You Are Dangerous") to quirky pop numbers ("Soldier in the Army"). The album never really settles into a groove, yet somehow it's all the more enjoyable for its unpredictable nature. Smooth harmonies, infectious guitar riffs and prevailing sense of fun all add to the album's considerable appeal; it's accessible enough to engage a mainstream audience yet odd enough to gain fans from the more indie crowd as well. It may take a little time for everyone else to stop sleeping on these guys, but if you're reading this you have no excuse not to give them a listen right away.

Download: Turnpike Ghost (MP3)


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Best Albums of 2010 So Far - Top 10

Before I change my mind again, here are my picks for the best ten albums of the year so far:

Top 10:

10: Wolf Parade - Expo 86

It's no secret that I love Wolf Parade. Their debut was one of my absolute favorite albums of the past decade and their sophomore effort I found to be nearly as enjoyable. Their third record, Expo 86, doesn't quite reach the heights of its predecessors, but it's perhaps the most cohesive work the band has yet created. Dual frontmen Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner are in fine form here, still splitting the songwriting duties but blending more seamlessly together as they craft a muscular rock 'n' roll epic that reminds me exactly why I loved them so much in the first place.

9: Fang Island - Fang Island

Perhaps the best way to introduce Fang Island would be to quote the band themselves when they described their music as "everyone high-fiving everyone." Their high-energy brand of indie rock 'n' roll focuses on heavily distorted guitar riffs, progressive arrangements, and joyously chanted choruses that make for a consistently awesome time on their self-titled album. It's an unusual yet infectious combination of musical intelligence and outrageously fun attitude that makes Fang Island an excellent breakthrough album for this talented young group. (Read My Review)

8: Patty Griffin - Downtown Church

Patty Griffin is a phenomenal singer and songwriter, but for Downtown Church she focuses primarily on the former, a risky move perhaps but an inspired one. The collection of gospel covers contains many of Griffin's best vocal performances, showing her versatility on everything from beautiful traditional hymns to soulful spirituals. She even throws in a couple tunes of her own, both of which fit perfectly with the older material. It's both an engaging genre tribute and a great record by any standard, even Griffin's own considerable catalog. (Read My Review)

7: David Karsten Daniels & Fight the Big Bull - I Mean to Live Here Still

I'll admit I'm not familiar with the previous work of David Karsten Daniels, but I found his latest effort to be a fantastic introduction. Recorded with Jazz collective Fight the Big Bull, I Mean to Live Here Still features the words of Henry David Thoreau sung over an intoxicating mix of folk, big band, and experimental jazz elements. The music switches between moments of melodic gentleness and explosive, fractured instrumentals (often in the same song), and though it can be a difficult listen at times, I Mean to Live Here Still is always captivating. One of 2010's best surprises so far.

6: The Black Keys - Brothers

After a few listens I think The Black Keys' latest--Brothers-- may be their best yet, though my love for Rubber Factory makes that difficult to say with certainty. Either way, it's a great album and their most successful in some time, proving these two still have plenty of ideas left to offer without resorting to the type of collaboration that resulted in 2008's Attack & Release. It's nice to have these two back together and operating at the highest level, cementing their status as one of the best American rock bands operating today. Hopefully they'll remain this sharp for years to come. (Read My Review)

5: Janelle Monae - The Archandroid

Janelle Monae has made one of the strangest and most interesting R&B albums in recent memory, so perhaps that's why I've been so taken with a record in a genre that generally doesn't find much space on my "best of" lists. But Monae's outlandish concept album (her full-length debut) is much more than just an entertaining oddity. This ambitious newcomer has a powerful voice and a head full of ideas that she ably executes over the album's 70-minute length. From the psychedelic ballads to the soaring pop tunes to the funky soul songs, The Archandroid is as spectacular as it is weird.

4: The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt, Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson's sophomore effort, is the most spare of folk albums, recorded with only guitar, vocals, and piano. Yet this modest setting is the perfect one for Matsson, who manages to imbue these ten simple, melodic songs with great depth. The record is similar in many respects to his debut as The Tallest Man on Earth due to the use of the same restricted instrumental palette, but the songwriting maturity and breadth of emotion on The Wild Hunt easily make this Matsson's most compelling work. (Read My Review)

3: Owen Pallett - Heartland

For his first effort after dropping his Final Fantasy moniker, Owen Pallett offers his most stirring selection of songs yet, combining his signature violin playing over fuller, more complex soundscapes than we've heard from him previously. The results aren't as immediate perhaps as his former albums, but the richness and unique beauty of these arrangements are striking, revealing more with each listen. It's hard for me to think of any album this year (save my number one pick) that I've enjoyed exploring so thoroughly. Heartland is the result of the perfect balance of ambition and ability. (Read My Review)

2: Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away

Josh Ritter is one of my absolute favorite songwriters currently releasing music, so take his place so high on this list with a grain of salt if you must. But I'd argue that no matter your previous experience with the artist, you need to hear his latest creation, the wonderful So Runs the World Away. It's certainly Ritter's most expansive record, even more so than the rowdy The Historical Conquests Of..., yet somehow he manages to keep the enormous scope of the album and its various stylistic facets from escaping his grasp. Whether spinning one of his typically uniquely gorgeous stories or turning up the volume for a gritty folk-rock tune, Ritter is utterly convincing.

1: Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me

Making even the longest albums on this list seem brief in comparison, Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me is--simply put--epic. Three discs, eighteen songs and over two hours of music makes for an intimidating third effort from one of folk music's most intriguing and accomplished young artists, but Newsom has crafted a masterpiece that somehow needs every last minute to fully reveal its genius. And from the fantastical, winding tales to the simply gentle ballads, she creates an entrancing musical experience that repays the listener tenfold for any patience required to comprehend the album's immenseness.

Newsom sings her often otherworldly lyrics beautifully this time around, mostly dropping the child-like whine that earned her no small amount of detractors. She also introduces a broader instrumental selection, but she retains the unique elements of her sound that made her so remarkable in the first place, most notably her signature harp playing, intriguing storytelling, and knack for stunningly original melodies. Put simply, she manages to improve upon her the considerable quality of her previous work without sacrificing any of what makes her special. It's no contest in my mind, Have One On Me is the year's best album so far. (Read My Review)

Review: The Black Keys - Brothers (* * * *)

Over the past few years, Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach have done much in the name of progress. Working with Danger Mouse to produce their 2008 album Attack & Release, providing the rhythm section for the rap-rock experiment Blakroc, and taking the time to focus on side projects last year definitely served to shake things up for a duo that was previously known more for their impressive consistency than for their innovation. Yet somehow it’s their latest record, Brothers, that feels like the most ingenuous step forward for the band in quite some time—and tellingly, with this new effort the Black Keys needed little outside assistance to accomplish that. While Brothers may be considered a return to the basics for the Akron, OH natives by some, the spread of ideas here sets the album apart from the band’s earliest material while the quality of the songs themselves makes this recent collection their strongest in some time, rivaled perhaps only by 2004's excellent Rubber Factory. (Read the rest @ In Review Online!)

Review: Jamie Lidell - Compass (* * *)

Ordinarily, an artist doesn't release their breakout album after 30, but then, Jamie Lidell’s story is anything but ordinary. Formerly in experimental electronica (both solo and as half of Super_Collider), Lidell’s seemingly swift transition into soul was both surprising and totally successful—as his 2005 record, Multiply, emphatically proves. He distanced himself even further from his digital roots with 2008’s Jim, which doesn't match the explosive creative energy that defined his debut, but is a fine pop album in its own right, allowing him to flirt a little with mainstream success in the process. But if there were any who figured Lidell would attempt to complete his late-blooming transformation into a radio-ready pop icon on his third go-round, they would most certainly be wrong. Instead, we find the artist in a highly experimental mode on Compass, still churning out danceable, soulful tunes but with decidedly more exploratory edge that sometimes enhances and sometimes distracts from the quality of the songs themselves. Enlisting the help of Beck and Chris Taylor (of Grizzly Bear) as producers, along with a slew of other collaborators, Lidell’s latest is a fascinating though unfortunately not very successful effort. (Read my full review @ In Review Online)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Best Albums of 2010 So Far - Honorable Mentions

It's time to take a look at the best (read: my favorite) albums of 2010 so far. It's been a great year and quite honestly, this list has changed about a dozen times in the last week, but what you see hear should give you a good idea of the best music I've heard this year.

Below are my five honorable mentions and soon I'll give you my top 10.

Honorable Mentions/11-15 (Alphabetical):

Darwin Deez - Darwin Deez

Singer/songwriter Darwin Deez's self-titled debut is a pop-rock album with little in the way of excess, getting by primarily on Deez's gift for great melodies and simply catchy riffs. It's the kind of record that many will dismiss because of its plainness, but these sunny pop tunes are consistently great and all the more admirable for their straightforward compositions. Deez shows how much he can accomplish with just the basics, and the results are both entertaining and impressive.

LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening

James Murphy's supposed last album, This is Happening, leaves things on a high note with a collection of nine diverse and engaging tracks that contains some of the artist's best material. From the introspective cuts "All I Want" and "Home" to the aggressively funky numbers like "Pow Pow," Murphy offers plenty of reasons why it pains us to see him retire from the game (you know, if that indeed is the case). Of course, James Murphy would settle for nothing less than a dramatic and stylish exit.

Maps & Atlases - Perch Patchwork

Perch Patchwork, the first full-length record from talented newcomers Maps & Atlases, is one of those rare albums that manages to successfully marry technically impressive and progressive musicianship with pop accessibility. Even through all the sudden tempo changes and impossibly fast guitar riffs, the band keeps the hooks coming and the melodies memorable. It's a fun mix of pop, folk and prog-rock that shows even the most cerebral indie rock can be enjoyed by all.

Meursault - All Creatures Shall Make Merry

Meursault could probably be counted among the large group of emotionally intense Scottish indie bands that have been so popular lately, but it's clear from All Creatures Shall Make Merry that they are anything but typical of the genre. Blending digital soundscapes and filtered vocals with acoustic guitars, Meursault's latest moves from moments of quiet loneliness to explosive outbursts of anger and noise, using unusual production to create a uniquely stunning experience.

Villagers - Becoming a Jackal

Conor J O'Brien's debut as Villagers is, I must admit, just the kind of thing I'm prone to fall in love with. O'Brien is an Irish singer/songwriter with a decidedly eerie edge to his music, which puts him in league with the likes of DM Stith or Mimicking Birds--good company to keep. But on his first album, Becoming a Jackal, O'Brien proves himself a compelling lyricist and a talented musician whose hauntingly beautiful work stands apart from that of his peers.