It’s been awhile, gosh! We’re sorry we’ve been MIA for a bit. Eric is in Scotland looking for his true love and seeing great shows, and I had to work some late hours last week for my day job. But, this week, all is well, Eric is gallavanting around Edinburgh or some other incredible place, drinking good beer (or not, if I know Eric), and I am getting my Scottish fix from the new Frightened Rabbit album, a review of which will come soon after I’ve let it sink in a little more.
Tonight, I come to you with an overdue review of The Big Black and the Blue by some of my very favorite kindred-spirit, painfully honest, spirited young musicians, who I feel I would really appreciate if I were ever to have a beer with them, or maybe coffee, because I’m almost positive they aren’t old enough to drink in the States. Instead, I am listening to their album in my little kitchen in Virginia, and I want you to know, Klara and Johanna, I think your music should be in every kitchen in the US! Seriously, though, let’s talk about First Aid Kit.
Klara and Johanna gave us a little hint of their storytelling, mood-setting potential with their Drunken Trees EP, and with their new album, they’re expanding on that and proving to us that no, they haven’t exhausted the possibilities, and yes, they are going to keep the moving folk tunes coming. Musically speaking, these girls have something very special. They harmonize beautifully, and they know how to make their voices work with them, filling them with character…frustration and angst come through on “I Met Up With The King” (we mean nothing to history/oh thank God), while tenderness breaks through on the following track, “Wills of the River.” You’ll find these kinds of ups and downs on the entire album as the girls explore their feelings about the nature of their own lives and humanity, either by the weaving of lovely narratives (“In the Morning,” “Josefin” or by blunt expositions of their own experiences or opinions (“Hard Believer,” “A Window Opens,” “Winter is All Over You,” to name just a very few). The acoustics are well-suited to the vocals (and vice versa!), sort of a throwback to more traditional folk songs. It’s natural, it’s folk, it’s alive, it’s genius, it speaks, you’ll love it.
There’s something else aboutThe Big Black and the Blue that I love, and it’s hard to explain exactly what it is. The ladies of First Aid Kit make me proud. They unashamedly wear their hearts on their sleeves, they’re painfully self-aware (one of my favorite qualities in a person, and especially in a musician), and they’ve got great spirit! I promise this isn’t the part where I just start talking about myself, like when you’re telling someone about a story about yourself and they interrupt to tell their story about that time that the exact same thing happened to them except it was better BUT they remind me of myself, living and exploring and asking questions, realizing they don’t know it all and looking for truth, seeing the tension in the world between the aches & pains and the moments of sheer bliss, using art to express and process. First Aid Kit gets an enormous A+ from me just for that.
Sorry, I know the picture is kind of creepy, but I couldn’t resist. Seriously, every time I talk about Up in the Air, I have to follow it that way. George Clooney = the new Junior Birdman. I wish I could get a photo of him making that face. (I really did just go look for one…and failed)
So here’s the deal. I don’t usually get excited about soundtracks (unless, of course, they’re done by Karen O & a bunch of little kiddies), but I am pretty excited about the Up in the Air movie soundtrack.
I have 3 categories for the music in this movie:
1. Instrumental music clearly composed just for the movie, probably for specific scenes. “Security Ballet,” “Genova,” “Lost In Detroit,” and “The Snow Before Us” are fantastic tracks, fitting the mood perfectly, but you may not appreciate them as much without hearing them as part of the movie experience (although that last one may not have been composed just for the movie).
2. Older, more classic folk songs…I love this stuff. Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young with “Taken At All”–come on, they are classic. Graham Nash’s solo track, “Be Yourself” may be one of the best on the album. The acoustic guitar, the fantastic songwriting, they’re overwhelmingly comforting. And what about Roy Buchanan? Rootsy, downhome, honest folk. It’s a beautiful contrast to the stark airport atmosphere, and it calls George Clooney’s character home. Another gem is Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings jazzed up version of “This Land Is Your Land,” a song that I have coincidentally always hated (I know, I know). No more hate.
3. Finally, and I hope you aren’t bored yet, we get the newer (and I use that term loosely) folk-rock tracks. Dan Auerbach isn’t exactly new, but his “Goin Home” is, I think, and it’s a good one. My favorite tracks, though, are Elliott Smith’s “Angel in the Snow,” and Sad Brad Smith’s “Help Yourself,” which practically everyone is talking about now. I had the kind of experience with Elliott Smith in this movie that I had with Belle & Sebastian in Juno, not having heard the soundtrack yet. I felt smarter than everyone in the theater for actually knowing what it was…but then I felt like a stupid jerk for thinking that kind of thing. Anyway, of course I was excited to hear the sweet sweet sounds of Elliott Smith, and I was excited to be seeing a movie that could be accompanied sensibly by him. You would be too.
The tears, however, stayed away until “Help Yourself.” I’m not sure that the scene was actually that sad, but here’s the deal. In a movie that gets you thinking about relationships and connections, and that reminds you that your best experiences are rarely the ones you have by yourself, when a song like this starts playing during a semi-emotional montage, well that’s it for you, isn’t it? “I know you’ll help us when you’re feelin better/and we realize it might not be for a long long time/but we’re willing to wait on you/we believe in everything that you can do/if you would only lay down your mind”–these lyrics hit a soft spot for all of us, they hint at what we’re all needing. We’ve been on both sides of it. We want someone to be with us, to wait for us, to tell us they believe in us, and we’ve had to be with people, wait for them, pick up their slack. Up in the Air explores relationships in an incredible way, from several different angles, and this song, to me, is the climax. Am I advertising as much for the movie as I am for the soundtrack? Well…yes.
Hi, guys. Although I don’t really want to follow Eric’s last post because of its relevance, the world needs more music, and someone’s going to have to bring it, and it might as well be me. Also, it may be a little less relevant, but Evening Hymns did release Spirit Guides only just a few months ago, and I’m pretty sure the tour just ended. So, yeah. My last post on Ohbijou was really just a ploy to eventually talk about Evening Hymns, and eventually I’m going to have to cover Friends in Bellwoods because I’m really loving the layered, orchestral, organic art coming out of … Bellwoods. Canada never fails me.
So, we here at TIH sort of like to make up lots of standards to decide whether the album you listen to is the greatest album ever. For instance, I have eleven favorite songs that change every day. Eric takes it to the next level with Super Desserts, I think, which is great. I’m basing my new rule on Spirit Guides, and that is, you know the album you are listening to is the greatest album ever if there is a track where all that is happening is a thunderstorm. And you probably are thinking, “what? If I want to listen to a thunderstorm, I can just listen outside.” Except you can’t, can you? I can’t, because it’s not raining here, and it’s definitely not thundering, and I don’t live in Lakefield, Ontario, and I don’t know what the rain sounds like there, there where Jonas Bennetta was on November 1st. Eric can’t listen to one either, because he lives in the state of Freezing, where it snows instead of rains, and where it’s always winter and never Christmas. Just kidding, spoiler alert, Narnia isn’t real, but it sure snows a lot in Ohio.
Seriously though, the fact that Jonas would put a track with just a thunderstorm reflects something true about the whole album. Organic is making some kind of comeback, and I haven’t learned how to put organic musicality or organic sound into words yet, but I’m working on it. Either way, Spirit Guides is all about the organic. Song titles like “Dead Deer,” “Mountain Song,” “Mazinaw Lake,” “Tumultuous Sea,” and “Cedars” are indicative of lyrics focused on both the peace and chaos that accompany natural elements. Evening Hymns does a great job hashing out the peace and the chaos, too. The melancholic harmonies of “Cedars” will put you in a trance, the structure changes of “Tumultuous Sea” reflect just that, and if you like Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” that’s great and everything, but you should probably listen to a less Starbucksy mountain song and it should probably be “Mountain Song.”
The music major that is still hiding inside of me somewhere (I was a music history major for awhile…quit THAT because I thought I could only listen to classical music…I was wrong) loves the orchestral nature of the album, too. Sure, there’s acoustic guitar and more acoustic tracks (“History Books”), and that’s one of my soft spots anyway, but there’s practically a mini-orchestra, also. What a great way to capture lots of different emotions–with the voices of different instruments. Tracks like “Tumultuous Sea” and “Mazinaw Lake” contain long improvisational sections, and whether or not they actually are improvisations, the feel is that the sound is something coming from inside the musicians. The idea of something beautiful coming straight out of a person and their instrument, without all the fuss that is songwriting…that is freedom.
I have to say that writing a review of Spirit Guides has been pretty difficult for me because while I do love it a lot, it’s very hard to put into words exactly what Evening Hymns has done with it. What makes an album reach into your soul like this? That sounds like total cheese, but seriously, I want to know. These are indeed evening hymns; there’s something very personal, even intimate, about Spirit Guides, and that’s just what you need, I think.
Send for me a Spirit Guide/send for me a ghost/you became my shadow/as I was driving down the coast
lit up the stars in the desert/revealed the bending of the night/I held onto your hand and I/got pulled into the light
and I saw you in flannel/drifting, taking off with a pocket full of cedar/and your hand so soft
and I knew that you were with me/because I heard you turn and say/
that everybody’s gonna live forever/and no one ever dies, anyway
There is one word for the way I have been feeling recently: unmotivated. Can we just get that out of the way? Great, thanks. I apologize. We’ve had snow days for the past three days (don’t ask how much snow we’ve gotten–it’s really shameful. Hampton Roads is not capable of handling any amount of snow whatsoever) and so now I have the opportunity to sit down and listen and write and not have all my energy zapped by my day job. The only problem I have now is that the cat is using me as his monkey bars.
Because my cool high school friend Reid gives me music sometimes, I have been listening to Evening Hymns’ Spirit Guides. I was going to do a write-up on that first, but now I have discovered Ohbijou and I think because they are sort of Evening Hymns’ roots, I will write about them first. Ohbijou is from Canada, and something cool is that in 2007, they put together a compilation CD for Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank called Friends in Bellwoods, which is named after a house where 2 of the members live in Toronto, and they just got their friends together and made an album, I guess. I like those kinds of things, I think they’re pretty cool.
But I’m not going to talk about Friends in Bellwoods because I’m going to talk about their most recent not-Friends-in-Bellwoods (2009) album, Beacons. It is one of the albums that reminds me that I should never make “best of” lists because I can never listen to enough music to know if I’m really covering the best. Who knows what’s out there that hasn’t been heard? I wish I had heard this before I’d made my best of 2009 list. Beacons was released by Darling You Inc., under exclusive license to Last Gang Records, and it features some of TIH’s favorite instruments, like glock, harpsichord, violin, electric piano, and mandolin. The atmosphere of the album is perhaps what makes it so special(duh). Reminiscent of The New Pornographers or Mates of State, bass and/or piano and/or strings often provide a nice driving bassline as a foundation for more layers upon layers, building into eventual catharsis…my favorite. “New Years” and “Memoriam” are both perfect examples of this.
Something else I should mention: Casey’s voice = beautiful. I’ve heard some complaints from mostly really annoying people who I don’t like very much in the first place about how “indie girls all sing the same way.” Well, if you think “indie girls all sing the same way,” you don’t listen to enough good music. I understand where the sentiment comes from if you have only ever heard Paramore and Flyleaf and A Fine Frenzy, but if you have heard the White Stripes and Stars and Samantha Crain and Belle & Sebastian and God Help the Girl and Fiona Apple and Jenny Lewis and Ohbijou, you would think before you spoke. Also, I’m sorry, but what is indie in the first place???? I still don’t know and refuse to concern myself with it. All this to say, Casey’s voice is uniquely lovely and flexible–haunting, strong, and delicate. So if you are under the impression that “all indie girls sing the same way,” you have 2 choices. You may stop reading this blog and continue complaining, or you may listen to Ohbijou and sit in awe at the vocals.
And Casey’s haunting voice matches the lyrics. This is an album for winter, I think, exemplified on “Black Ice” (the winter brings a heaviness/this weight is a hand/over the things i shouldn’t say/there’s black ice, no sign) and “Cannon March” (mother shoot those cannons off/destroy this wicked place/the winter brings peculiar things/to thaw and leave no trace). The lyrics are poetry, beautiful even apart from the music and fantastically complemented by it. All in all, I suppose the album is pretty dark, but there are traces of light and hope that make it anything but depressing. I don’t know. I enjoy it.
Some of my favorite tracks are “Wildfires,” “Eloise and the Bones,” and “Make It Gold.” “Wildfires” is great because it drives, and Casey’s voice is especially well-suited to the long phrasing. I adore the ups and downs of the phrasing, the syncopation of the melodic line juxtaposed with the constant driving percussive downbeats and bassline. I don’t know what I love about “Eloise and the Bones”–the lyrics aren’t so much lighter, but the sound is, and I think I really appreciate that. “Make It Gold” has precious music box feel at the beginning which is done really well–I find that bands can easily screw this up and make it feel gimicky, but Ohbijou doesn’t–instead, it’s tender and a bit nostalgic, until again, the layers build and end in catharsis. My favorite thing.
We have another guest post for you tonight! We love guest submissions, and always encourage them for many reasons, but until now, Dan Holloway has been the only one to really run with our invitation. Tonight, I introduce to you Kate Metcalf, a fellow musician, anthropology-lover, and dear friend to us both.
First of all, for the sake of full disclosure, you should know that I have an ongoing love affair with everything Swedish. Blame my heritage if you want, but they have just about everything cool in spades. I mean really, Volvo, ACNE, Nina Persson, and H&M all call Sweden home. It makes me wish I did too, just to be as cool as them.
So having said all of that, I am in the throes of yet another freak-out for Sweden because they are the homeland of one of my new favorites, Detektivbyrån. The thing I love about this band is that they are chock full of seemingly far-fetched combinations made to seem totally plausible, like “of course this is the most natural, obvious thing in the world.”
They combine Swedish electronica from Stockholm and traditional folk music from their childhood region, Varmland. They dress like rock stars and live on a little farmstead outside of Gothenburg. But leaving those things far in the dust are their instrument combinations. Theremin and accordion, Moog and glock, traktofon and music box, toy piano, real piano, shoes, scissors, oh my! They are an amazing relief from the tried and true but often tired voice, guitar, drums combo. They are a purely instrumental group, with nary an ax in sight, that manages to do what I never thought possible with instruments like theremin and accordion. They make it all very, ridiculously cool.
At this point, Detektivbyrån has two records available, E18 and Wermland. Both have a few tracks bearing a striking resemblance to the music of Yann Tiersen in Amelie, which I love. They in fact cite Amelie as one of their major influences along with their time spent as street musicians when glocks and accordions were conveniently portable. Now they’ve taken those influences and melded them with electronica and synths to craft a very distinctive and genre-spanning sound about which they say this:
“Indie kids come up to me after shows and tell me their parents gave them an accordion as a birthday present, they started to play it since they listened to us, and that’s one of the most beautiful things I can hear after a show. Then there’s an local radio station which has this accordion special every Thursday and usually there’s just old traditional stuff, but they really dig us and play for the old people out there, and these people send cute e-mail to us, they are glad we are taking care of their accordion tradition.”
If you want to hear more, hop on over to www.detektivbyran.net to check them out, download a couple songs, and even stream both albums. Even better, hit up the store for the CDs or vinyls. They are ridiculously affordable and the guys send out all their orders personally, so they’ll sign the covers if you say pretty please.
Hello everyone, we hope you had a wonderful time ringing in the New Year wherever in the world you may be! That is somewhat belated, but there it is. Tonight, I am proud to present The Quelle Source, who we previously covered quite briefly on FAIBW. You remember, I thought they were French or something, but their name is actually German. More on that later. FAIBW has gotten away from us recently, but The Quelle Source has not, and now they have released their debut LP, called Enjoy the Ridge.
I’m very excited about this band, and about the flashbacks I’ve been having recently to my middle school punk-loving days. It wasn’t really real punk, I don’t think–I don’t really know anything about the punk movement, to be honest–it was just MxPx and whatever they played occasionally on the radio. But I loved it/liked it a lot because my mother would not allow me to love it, and there’s an element to some of the music I’ve been listening to this past year that reminds me of those days. It’s the energy. The energy is there, and a little bit of angst, and the feeling of wildness & freedom…but it’s now much more mature and backed by perhaps more training and just plain musical validity than the stuff I used to listen to as a bitty little 12-year old trying to be cool.
That’s what makes The Quelle Source incredible. Enjoy the Ridge is alive, and it makes you want to see them live because you know it would be an awesome show. I would love to see them with Born Ruffians, for that matter. So, their energy makes them awesome, plus the super cool guitar riffs (“OT5”), the fact that their album title is a sarcastic jab at their neighborhood (I so want to record an album for the sole purpose of saying that I hated my neighborhood and stupid high school also), their proven ability to slow it down (“Wives’ Tale”), the lead singer’s sweet voice, and the angsty lyrical genius reminiscent of Dear & the Headlights or the Format. I love intelligent songwriters, especially after listening to Britney Spears on the radio this afternoon (who would have thought she’d come back?). Honestly, I would probably listen to the same couple chords over and over again if the lyrics said something brilliant…thankfully, because of bands like this, I don’t have to make that kind of sacrifice.
Here’s another reason we know they are intelligent–thanks to Dan for picking up on this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_document. I guess technically we don’t know if they intended that or not, but we’ll just go with a yes, they did.
My favorite tracks on the album are, for their sound and for the sharp lyrics, “That’s What Bees Said,” “State Line,” and “Escalation.” You won’t be disappointed. And if you, like me, have a special place in your heart for fake punk (is MxPx real?) or music you listened to in years past and have since abandoned, maybe you can put down that torch and jump on board with The Quelle Source.
I believe you can hear all, or at least a lot, of their album streaming here. You can also buy it, though. We like when people buy things.
(A mighty big thank-you to Dan Holloway for this review on Spiral Pitfall, as Eric & I have been taking some time off, oops, happy New Year, but we’ll be back this week)
I usually write about UK bands I’ve discovered on cold winter evenings as support acts in the seamier venues of South East England. So how did I end up writing about a band I’ve never seen from San Diego? Well, first up, alt/metal band Spiral Pitfall aren’t actually from San Diego. It turns out they’re from an area called Sugar Camp in North Michigan/Wisconsin,and just happen to be hanging out in San Diego right now. OK, that’s till not exactly on my doorstep.
I “met” Ian Sheffer, the band’s vocals/guitarist, when he signed Spiral Pitfall up to Free-e-day back in November. Never one to skip a freebie myself, I listened to the band’s material and was blown away. I wanted to know a bit more about the band, so I sent them some of my usual weirded out questions, mainly about food, and we got talking.
Spiral Pitfall’s first full-length album will be out this spring. It’s taken them a long time to get to this stage from their roots in 1998 Sugar Camp, but as Ian runs me through the band’s history, and I begin to picture myself inside the shoot of Spinal Tap talking to David St Hubbins it becomes clear why the journey has been so long.
Just as the band was getting into its stride in the early Noughties, playing an increasing number of gigs and compiling more and more original material, the central combo in a regularly shifting line up, Ian and drummer Bill Schattner, were split up when Bill headed to college and Ian ended up in Denver. It was only in 2007 that they finally got back together, peddling the 6-song EP Cryptic Poetry that Ian had written during the separation.
Spiral Pitfall’s history explains, I think, a lot more than why it’s taken them 11 years to produce an album. As I listened again to their fabulous “Say What you Mean” after reading the band bio, the indefinable quality of their sound became clearer. There’s a clear metal background to the song (or is there? I always wonder about how we classify music on different sides of the Atlantic – without any cues from the band I’d have called them alt/electro, but more on that later). But over the top are some wonderfully paranoid, disembodied samples of people spouting political er, for want of a better word, bollocks. It reminded me a bit of the sinister matronesque voiceover on The Smiths’ Rubber Ring.
The sample/metal elements sit very well together. It turns out that during his time apart from Bill, Ian recorded a lot of material on his own, playing everything and layering it into a final piece. It’s surely this experience that’s led to the band’s current seamless blending of sounds.
Talking of the band’s influences, Ian mentions the likes of Black Sabbath. It’s clear why they call themselves alt/metal. Which is why I was so surprised I like Spiral Pitfall as much I do. I’ve never been fond of American bands who call themselves something/“metal”. I’ve always found them a bit, well, generic, and decidedly lacking the seedier, industrial edge I like. But Spiral Pitfall aren’t really like any American metal I’ve heard before. They’re much more like the industrial urban electro I love. Which just goes to show you should listen to the music and never go by labels. Further conversation on the topic reveals the band count the likes of Midnight Oil and Radiohead amongst their influences. Now we’re talking.
If I had to pick one band of whom Spiral Pitfall remind me, it would be one of the handful of genuinely exciting bands to burst onto the UK scene this year, The Big Pink. Which is praise indeed.
There are several lessons to take away from my meeting with Ian and Spiral Pitfall. If something new comes into your inbox, give it a listen! Listen before you’ve read any of the stuff people have posted on their myspace, or before you’ve trawled through the e-mail – let the music speak for itself. And finally, make sure you keep your ears to the ground for the release of Spiral Pitfall’s first album – this is a band that’s waited and waited and is now ready to hit the ground running with their hunger and their talent.
Now that you’ve perused our favorite albums and songs of the year, we hope you’ll enjoy our best of the decade lists. Since both of us were incredibly uncool until about halfway through the decade, please forgive us any gaps, although I think we’ve done our research since then. On this page, we’ll post our top 10, but don’t worry, we’ve linked to more extensive lists.
Kristin’s top 10 albums of the decade:
10. Jason Mraz, Live at Java Joe’s (self-released, 2001): I don’t care how “mainstream” Jason Mraz is, he is an incredibly talented guitarist and singer/songwriter. This album is a lot different from “radio Jason” like “Wordplay” and “Geek in the Pink”–it’s poetry set to acoustic guitar. “Unfold” is my favorite track, but I wouldn’t skip one.
9. Camera Obscura, Let’s Get Out of This Country (Merge, 2006): My favorite Camera Obscura album. Lovely twee/pop to which you can dance and laugh and cook, apparently, because that’s what I do. I discovered this band much too late.
8. The Format, Dog Problems (The Vanity Label, 2006): Everyone knows I love the Format. Dog Problems is a work of angsty genius. Incredible arrangements and Nate Ruess has the best voice ever. I cried every night until he came back with fun., which is on my best of 2009 list.
7. Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds (Jive, Zomba, 2006): I don’t want to say too much about this (because I’m saying so much about my other picks), and I realize it isn’t a very indie choice, but it is an amazing album, and I think its sound is pretty revolutionary. So, thank you Justin, for bringing sexy back.
6. Belle & Sebastian, Push Barman To Open Old Wounds (Matador, 2005): I decided that compilations are allowed, even if the songs didn’t come out this decade, since it is my list and everything. Every single Belle & Sebastian album is worth having and listening to on repeat, but this compilation happens to house some of my favorites, like “The State I Am In” and “You Made Me Forget My Dreams”. This storytelling twee makes me so happy I could die.
5. Stars, Set Yourself On Fire (Arts & Crafts, 2004): I think Stars may have changed my life a little bit. This lovely, cathartic electropop is actually pretty epic, I think. “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” and “Ageless Beauty” are, in my opinion, the most notable tracks.
4. The New Pornographers, Challengers (Matador, 2007): Another epic album; every song is cathartic, with haunting layers and perfect movement. “Unguided”–the climax of Challengers.
3. White Stripes, White Blood Cells (Sympathy for the Record Industry V2, 2001): I don’t think anyone can deny that the White Stripes have made their mark on the music industry over the past 10 years–but which album is their best? I’ve seen other albums on other lists, but White Blood Cells is my favorite, especially for “Hotel Yorba,” “Fell In Love With A Girl,” and “We’re Going To Be Friends”.
2. Arcade Fire, Funeral (Merge, 2004): EPIC. In my search for cool, I listened to Neon Bible before I ever heard Funeral, and while Neon Bible did indeed make my extended list, Funeral is groundbreaking. What a sound! What lyrics! Thank you, Arcade Fire. “Crown of Love” and “Wake Up” are my favorite tracks.
1. Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha (Fat Possum, 2007): There was no question here for me about the best album of the decade. This album reflects the work of a phenomenal classically-trained multi-instrumentalist with a great comprehension of musical theory and folk tradition. His lyrics fascinate, and his arrangements stagger. Can I pick a favorite track? “Scythian Empires,” “Fiery Crash,” and “Armchairs” have the most plays on my iTunes. Andrew Bird, we love you.
10. We Leave at Dawn, Envy & Other Sins (A&M/Polydor) – In my mind, Envy & Other Sins is the most significant casualty of the hipster delusion. I don’t care if they won their record deal on a TV show, We Leave at Dawn is still (and by a wide margin) the best album I heard in 2008. Their official break-up in July of this year will forever be a black mark on 2009, but then, even that gave us Malpas, so, you know, it’s not all bad…
9. Mary Ann Meets the Gravediggers and Other Short Stories, Regina Spektor (Sire) – Another collection of impossible to find independent releases, this is Regina Spektor at her best, back when the only people who listened to her actually knew what anti-folk means.
8. Bring Me the Workhorse, My Brightest Diamond (Asthmatic Kitty) – Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond is another one of those enigmatic figures cultivating the no man’s land between pop and classical music. And she packs a punch. Reared on a healthy diet of Pierre Boulez, Nina Simone, Radiohead, and a dash of PJ Harvey, Workhorse was unleashed and it knocked me clean into next week—which is not meant to take anything away from the follow-up A Thousand Shark’s Teeth, but I had to pick a favorite. [Read my interview with Shara.]
7.Want One, Rufus Wainwright (Dreamworks) – This is not Rufus’s harmonically adventurous album by any means (Release the Stars is), but in terms of campy grandeur, I challenge you to find any album that can reach this level without making a complete fool of everyone involved. With such sweeping epics as “Oh, What a World”, “Go or Go Ahead”, and “14th Street”, it’s a physically exhausting listening experience—and worth every minute.
6. Super Extra Gravity, The Cardigans (Stockholm)– It may come as a surprise, but The Cardigans probably have more to do with this the existence of this blog than any other band. Hearing this album on one of the British Airways in-flight music channels in January of 2006 opened the floodgates, if you will. It is, by far, the band’s most mature record to date and a major shift from the satirical bossa nova spirit they championed in the mid-90s. Pick up the UK bonus tracks edition if you can, because the final track, “Slow”, is the bleakest love song you will ever hear with a pretty slick symmetrical division of the octave (at the major third) to close it out.
5. Cuilidh, Julie Fowlis (Machair/Shoeshine)– I took a few months off, then listened to this album again Christmas Eve and came to the following conclusion. This is the most beautiful album I have heard. Ever.
4. Why Should the Fire Die, Nickel Creek (Sugar Hill) – One word: “Eveline”. This is Nickel Creek at the pinnacle of their combined compositional ability. I’m still waiting for that “Hello Again” tour I hope you are planning.
3. Ayre, Osvaldo Golijov/Dawn Upshaw (Deutsche Grammophon) – Yes, if you insist on seeking your identity in the esoterism of the avant-garde, you may keep telling yourself that Osvaldo Golijov is too much of a populist to be taken seriously. All I know is that 4 June 2007, the night I heard Dawn Upshaw perform this song cycle as part of the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNow series, still ranks among the top five most glorious experiences of my life.
2. Push Barman to Open Old Wounds, Belle & Sebastian (Rough Trade/Matador) – Even though these songs all came out in the 90s, this is the first time they have ever been collected in the one place and, as far as I know, the only remaining way to obtain most of these recordings, so it counts. Ever wonder why B&S have the devoted following they do (ourselves included)? The answer is buried among these 24 tracks.
1. Végétal, Emilie Simon (Barclay) – The most intricate, controlled, and breathtaking effort from the woman I consider the quintessential songwriter/composer of the last decade. After three years, I am still peeling back layers of sonic architecture in hopes of reaching the foundation of this subtly monumental achievement. Emilie Simon is creating the future of music, and I don’t think even she realizes it. This is, quite simply, the masterpiece of the decade.
I (Eric) would like to introduce one last superlative before we bid adieu to the first decade of the 21st century. That is “Most Vexing Album of the Decade”. To me, the winner is clearly In Our Space Hero Suits, the debut from Sweden’s Those Dancing Days. I’ve been listening to it for about a year now, and I still can’t figure out if I actually like the music, or if I just think the singer, Linnea Jönsson, is really cute. Watch the video below, and help me figure this out.
So after my terror at seeing someone has changed my laptop background to a photo of Lady Gaga wearing a dress made of Kermit dolls (thanks, Josh, and also, at least she is wearing something), I decided that I’m not in the mood to post anything too serious, and it is a good night to post about more Christmas music that you will most certainly LOVE even if you are a complete Scrooge! Even if it isn’t as serious as Evening Hymns, which I promise I will write about soon (my promises mean very little, sorry), you will SERIOUSLY love it. Mwahaha I’m amusing.
Eric and I have somewhat different Christmas music sentiments, but when it all comes down to it, I think we both agree that in general, Christmas music is so completely different from what we normally listen to, and what we ever really want to listen to, that what’s the point of listening to it? If Christmas music is going to suck, I don’t care if it’s about Christmas and I love Christmas, I’m not subjecting myself to it. Mariah Carey & Bing Crosby don’t count. Anyway, but then he and I both found some fabulous Christmas albums that sound like the kind of music we already really like to listen to but they are about Christmas and also they are kind of funny, so, hurray! Here’s another album for you to purchase and obsessively listen to all the way through Christmas!
A Very Cherry Christmas v. 5 (thanks, Cherryade!), although perhaps a bit irreverent at times, is the most fun and clever Christmas album I’ve ever heard. It includes artists I’ve never even heard of which is awesome, as well as The School, Das Wanderlust, Foxes!, Shrieking Violets, etc. Thankfully, it isn’t overproduced; on the contrary, some of it sounds like the musicians had some wine and decided to record something seasonal, and to be honest, that kind of music is quite alright with me. Whatever indie leanings you have, A Very Cherry Christmas accommodates. My personal fave is twee, more affectionately known to me as “tweeeeeeeeeeee!” so I very much enjoy “Let Me Be the Fairy,” “What the Hell,” and “The Escape From Aled Jones.” But no worries, there’s something for everyone…folk, punkish, electronic, cathartic, and just plain weird. I swear I hear ukelele on more than one song on this album, and the recurring oompah theme, the bells, and the occasional choir backing makes everything feel so seasonally amusing that I don’t even want to scream when I hear it. There is even a poem and a story/interview. They are gems, let me tell you.
Here is another thing I love about this album: it says what we are all thinking. It’s a bit irreverent, yes, but Christmas as a whole has become a little more than a bit irreverent, so I pretty much really enjoy the precious love songs, the sad lonely break-up songs (go ahead, tell Santa your problems), the songs about the magical qualities of snow and the lameness of mistletoe, and the songs about having to spend time with family you don’t like. Thankfully, I like my family, but still. I love Christmas and Christmas lights and making cookies and buying presents for people…but still. This is clever and cynical, so I like it. Also, I’m not sure how to bring it up, but the Tyrannosaurus Rex song is awesome.
So, thanks, I guess, for saying what we’re all thinking. We all want someone to pull crackers with, and we want to do it to music that doesn’t suck. Garrett, if I could get you anything for Christmas, I would get the Academy to give you an Oscar for your movie ideas because even though you haven’t built a single set, I know it’s my favorite movie yet. And can we spend our first Christmas in space? And Christmas involves a lot of drinking. I learned this in London, and so these songs are pretty relevant. Why deny it? Happy Christmas, everyone. Check it out on iTunes–the tracks are a bit switched up, but you’ll figure it out. And read more here.
Well, if I didn’t enjoy Lissie half as much as I do, it would have been more difficult to pull myself away from Rock Band tonight to write this post. However, despite my incredible growing drummer genius, I will take some time to write (and to listen). Before I begin, though, just because we’ve got some little seedling ideas, Eric and I would like to know how many musicians reading would be interested in getting involved with an American version of the In A Cabin With project. We’ve talked about it before, and we aren’t making any guarantees that we can make it happen, but we’d really like to at least see how much interest is out there. And who knows? If there’s enough, maybe we can make it happen, or at least help it along. So let us know, via Facebook or Twitter or email.
Back to the star of tonight’s post: Lissie, and her recent E.P. (11/10/09), Why You Runnin’, 5 songs well worth your $3.99. Here’s the deal. I live in Virginia, and there were people in my high school who rode camo-painted trucks to school with the confederate flag hanging from the truck bed. People are, you know, SOUTHERN. Not my favorite thing in the world. You know what else isn’t my favorite thing in the world? Country music. Get that freaking Kenny Chesney crap away from me. But the thing is, there are some singer/songwriters that I feel belong in the country category and are not the stereotypical crap they play on the country music station where Carrie Underwood claims to like shots of whiskey (oh well in that case you must be country, Carrie)…rather, they’re the salt-of-the-earth, agricultural, honest musicians whose chords and twang come straight from the heart. Joe Purdy, Great Lake Swimmers, Samantha Crain…and Lissie. I would just call them folk, but I don’t know. Sometimes country seems to fit, in a good way.
Why You Runnin’ has a country/folk feel that doesn’t piss me off, somewhere between Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning (even the cover sort of looks like his), Janis Joplin, EmmyLou Harris, and Iron & Wine. The maturity of Lissie’s voice really blows me away–it sets itself apart rather than falling into line with the various “types” of female voices (the Paramore “alternative” voice, the Ingrid Michaelson “folk” voice, or just tweeeeeeeeeeeeee!!). She is, to reference God Help the Girl (what is life without good Belle & Sebastian/Stuart Murdoch references?), a bonafide “down and dusky blonde,” who makes beautiful soulful music that she means. While “Little Lovin” is catchy and quick, the other 4 songs on this EP are quite slow, and absolutely convincing. “Oh Mississippi” is hands down my favorite song, and I love Lissie’s voice backed by that hymn-like piano. Her arrangements use captivating, mournful echoes…it sounds almost like she recorded in a cathedral, and the lyrics speak of life experiences in a way the listener can feel is sincere. You feel like, she has roots and people to look up to and she has experienced things that have made her more whole, more alive. She comes from someplace where people love her and where she loves, where she’s been given room to grow as a person and into a person. Her sincerity is clear and inviting.
So, I invite YOU to listen to her myspace and then cough up a few bucks to buy the EP. Also, feel free to share any thoughts about country and folk and what they even are.