•December 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment
Yes, it’s been a while, and it’s going to be even more of a while. No, I don’t want to draw the curtain entirely, but I am going to invite you to join me in an extended intermission. Writing this blog has been (and continues to be) a delight, even if the amount of time I can dedicate to its upkeep wanes. Please enjoy this roundup of my favorite albums of the year, and browse through my old reviews which stand the test of time (if I should be so bold).
50. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
49. Twin Sister – In Heaven
48. Atlas Sound – Parallax
47. The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient
46. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
45. Laura Veirs – Tumble Bee
44. John Wesley Harding – The Sound Of His Own Voice
43. Mariachi El Bronx – Mariachi El Bronx (II)
42. Pokey LaFarge & the South City Three – Middle of Everywhere
41. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
40. Deer Tick – Divine Providence
39. The Feelies – Here Before
38. DeVotchKa – 100 Lovers
37. The Twilight Singers – Dynamite Steps
36. Gospel Music – How To Get To Heaven From Jacksonville, FL
35. The Horrors – Skying
34. Man Man – Life Fantastic
33. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
32. The Go! Team – Rolling Blackouts
31. Dominant Legs – Invitation
30. Hunx and his Punx – Too Young To Be In Love
29. Blitzen Trapper – American Goldwing
28. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
27. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
26. Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
25. Architecture In Helsinki – Moment Bends
24. Foster The People – Torches
23. Cut Copy – Zonoscope
22. The Black Keys – El Camino
21. Wild Flag – Wild Flag
20. Cold Cave – Cherish the Light Years
19. Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys!
18. Tom Waits – Bad As Me
17. Destroyer – Kaputt
16. Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers – Teenage and Torture
15. Mister Heavenly – Out Of Love
14. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
13. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
12. The Raveonettes – Raven In The Grave
11. The Vaccines – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
10. TV On The Radio – Nine Types Of Light
9. Peter Bjorn And John – Gimme Some
8. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l
7. Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams
6. Middle Brother – Middle Brother
5. Battles – Gloss Drop
4. Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde
3. Black Lips – Arabia Mountain
2. The Baseball Project – Volume 2: High And Inside
1. Cults – Cults
Thanks for reading and have a happy new year!
•December 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment
As artists go, Kate Bush is artsier than most. From her start as a teenage musical bookworm through her spans of creative reclusion, Bush herself has been as unpredictable as her muse. After a multi-year break (which itself followed an even longer break), Bush returned earlier this year with something both new and old, Director’s Cut. A collection of reworked songs from two mid-career albums, The Red Shoes and The Sensual World, Director’s Cut hinted at Bush’s new experiments without revealing them outright. With 50 Words For Snow, her tenth album, Bush has created a concept record in its purest form. Each of the seven tracks is a variation on a single theme, and that theme is indeed snow. With all unnecessary embellishments clipped away, 50 Words For Snow is far from Bush’s most approachable album, but it is nonetheless rewarding in its moods and stories.
•November 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment
Calling the music of Tom Waits an ‘acquired taste’ isn’t nearly enough. A complete suspension of every musical convention is more like it. Then again, Waits’ entire career has been so rooted in variations on traditional music (folk, jazz, blues) that it would be fair to say that he’s as American as they come. Over the past few decades, perhaps coinciding with his marriage to artist Kathleen Brennan, Waits’ albums have become increasingly experimental, reinforcing everything that both his fans and critics were saying about him. Going in to Bad As Me, Waits’ seventeenth studio album and first since 2004, you might expect a characteristically difficult presentation. In fact, the album is one of the more accessible ones that Waits has made in years, even if being ‘accessible’ still requires the mind to be open to Waits’ peculiar muse. Bad As Me frantically opens with “Chicago,” dropping the listener into a bustling scene that’s already in action. The album’s songs generally fall into two distinct modes: raucous and challenging or tender and understated. Waits is a long-established master of both sentiments, and Bad As Me finds him channeling his strengths into a taut package.
•October 31, 2011 • Leave a Comment
With few exceptions, upbeat indie pop acts can often get too cheery for their own good. Thanks to bands like Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura, though, dark romanticism has helped give an edge to songs that might otherwise be too sappy. Things work nearly the other way around for London/Glasgow coed quartet Veronica Falls. Since creeping onto the scene a few years ago with a string of gloomy pop singles, Veronica Falls’ ethos has been rooted in mixing chilling guitar figures and macabre lyrical motifs and injecting just enough twisted pleasure to avoid total ennui. While a number of songs on Veronica Falls, the group’s full-length debut, were previously released on various singles and EPs, the complete set (including new songs) expertly blends the fresh with familiar, the pretty and eerie. The album begins with one of the group’s earliest songs, “Found Love In A Graveyard,” whose monotonous intonations from the male members underscore Roxanne Clifford’s necromancing. Songs like “Beachy Head” (which, as any Throbbing Gristle fan will tell you, refers to a popular British suicide cliff) exploit the inherent darkness of well-known cultural reference points, but Veronica Falls also do quite well when they explore the chasms of human interaction.
•October 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment
San Francisco’s Girls have a very strong creative leader in Christopher Owens. On the group’s debut album, simply titled Album, Owens unleashed a barrage of classic pop influenced material. The feelings of mental anguish as well as unbridled freedom heard in Owens’ music primarily stems from his childhood in the California-based Children Of God cult (now known as the Family International Movement). Back then, Owens’ outlets for expression were limited, and his intake of popular music was restricted. Gleaning sounds from the backgrounds of movies, Owens cultivated a love for the sunny, pastoral pop of ‘60s bands like the Beach Boys as well as the bombastically emotional rock of ‘70s groups like Queen. The timid fragility of Album was all but purged by the time Broken Dreams Club, a six-song mini album, was released last year. With that release, Owens embraced a jangly, Big Star-indebted power pop sound. That sound (along with many other new ones) carries over into Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Girls’ second full length.
•October 3, 2011 • Leave a Comment
I’ve always had a fascination with the first song on a given band’s first album. To me, it’s a declarative statement, announcing both ‘Here we are’ and ‘This is who we are.’ More often than not, those first songs feature slight variations on that band’s main musical mode, offering just enough of a hook before the band gets into their groove. Think of songs like Talking Heads’ “Uh Oh, Love Comes To Town” or The B-52s’ “Planet Claire.” Despite having a number of eclectic EPs already to their credit, New York quintet Twin Sister don’t make themselves any easier to pin down on their debut album, In Heaven. If you only went by In Heaven’s opening track, “Daniel,” you’d be led to believe that Twin Sister is a cocktail jazz-inspired mood music group. Swirling synths and a nagging percussion sequence just barely accompany Andrea Estella’s unusual vocal style, which sounds like a cross between Madeleine Peyroux and Shivaree’s Ambrosia Parsley. Just a few songs later, on the sassy “Bad Street,” funk and R&B are the predominant influences. Twin Sister continue changing things up on just about every song, but In Heaven never sounds disjointed.
•September 29, 2011 • Leave a Comment
Think of the music of San Francisco, and you might be drawn to the freakouts of the Haight-Ashbury district of yore. More recently, the Bay Area has been home to a burgeoning garage rock scene, albeit one heavily influenced by those legendary psychedelic rockers. One band that isn’t lo-fi by any stretch of the imagination is a duo called Dominant Legs. Formed by Ryan Lynch and Hannah Hunt, Dominant Legs do away with fuzzy guitars and distorted vocals in favor of a glimmering new wave sound that’s more Human League than human be-in.