The Indie Handbook: best of 2009

The best according to Kristin:

10. Our Temperance Movement, Cats on Fire (Matinee)
9. A Balloon Called Moaning, The Joy Formidable (self-released)
8. The Yearling, Piney Gir (Hotel)
7. The Life of the World to Come, The Mountain Goats (4AD)
6. Where the Wild Things Are [soundtrack], Karen O. and the Kids (Interscope)
5. Tarpits and Canyonlands, Bombadil (Ramseur Records)
4. God Help the Girl, God Help the Girl (Rough Trade / Matador)
3. Aim and Ignite, fun. (Nettwerk)
2. My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura (4AD)
1. Know Better Learn Faster, Thao w/ the Get Down Stay Down (Kill Rock Stars)

Honorable mentions: A Very Cherry Christmas 5, various artists (Cherryade); Reverence for Fallen Trees, The Black Atlantic (In a Cabin With / Beep! Beep! Back up the Truck)

The best according to Eric:

10. Rockwell, Anni Rossi (4AD) – If you caught Camera Obscura on their US tour this summer, you now have a better idea just what one girl and her viola are capable of, but I saw Anni twice this year, and I still can’t believe it.

9. Actor, St. Vincent (4AD) – Though my review of this album for a certain e-zine was “improved” by some hack of an editor who considered my avoidance of clichés downright unpalatable, Annie Clark remains one of the great musical geniuses at work these days.

8. The Big Machine, Emilie Simon (Barclay/Universal) – It’s a departure from her last (and my favorite) album, Végétal, but this, the first of what you might call Emilie’s “American” recordings, proves that a creative powerhouse starting anew is still better than any number of pop idols doing what they do best. [interview]

7. Uam, Julie Fowlis (Machair/Shoeshine/Cadiz) – I hesitated to include this since none of the songs on this album were even written in this century, but few (if any) have done more to make one of the world’s great musical traditions relevant again than Ms. Fowlis. That combined with impeccable musicianship and a killer set of tunes spanning several centuries are enough to obliterate my reticence.

6. Pays Sauvage, Emily Loizeau (Polydor) – On her sophomore release, Emily Loizeau copes with, among other things, the loss of her father. In the process, she will tear your heart to shreds – and you will never again be more happy to be heartbroken. If you had told me a year ago that a French woman would prove this year to have a better grasp of American roots music and slave songs than almost anyone I’ve heard in recent memory, I’d have written you off as a complete nutjob (no offense).

5. My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura (4AD) – Apparently, it’s been a good year for 4AD. “French Navy” is probably the catchiest song by a band I like that your average Starbucks customer may have actually heard this year. Still, I think “Honey in the Sun” is my favorite from the second Scottish act on this list.

4. Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors (Domino) – The only album on this list that I do not actually own and I am ashamed. Even worse, I missed their Columbus show this year because I suck. I streamed this about 3,487 times when it was streaming on the NPR website. Holy crap, it’s brilliant.

3. Lungs, Florence + the Machine (Universal Republic/Island) – You Brits have been hearing about Florence Welch for ages now, but I guess Paste hasn’t given the American indie subculture permission to trade in their Grizzly Bear CDs for one of the most monumental voices of the decade yet, not to mention the super sexy percussion. But her time will come, kids. Now is your chance to get in on the ground floor. I suspect that, if I’d had more than two months with this album before writing this, Florence + the Machine would be finishing even higher on this list.

2. A Balloon Called Moaning/First You Have to Get Mad, The Joy Formidable (self-released) – If you have not heard of The Joy Formidable by now, you a) live outside of the UK and/or b) do not read this blog enough. Technically, these are two albums, one studio and one live and there is a lot of overlap between them. But together, they prove two things conclusively: The Joy Formidable are the best unsigned band in the world (yes, I said it); and they are the band to watch in 2010. If you don’t already own these albums, ask yourself why and the go out and buy them. Then, when they play their three shows in NYC with Passion Pit in January and all those cool Brooklyn kids think they’ve discovered something groundbreaking, you can (gently) remind them that you and some unenlightened hick from the Midwest got there a year before them.

1. The Love Language, The Love Language (Bladen County) – This album took 150% more turns in my car stereo than any other album released in 2009. That fact alone made my album of the year decision an easy one. (Not a bad accomplishment for one guy sitting alone in his bedroom.) Then there is the fact that the live incarnation of The Love Language, which is considerably larger, put on what is, at the very least, the second best show I saw this year (Los Campesinos are pretty phenomenal in their own right). I am speechless just thinking about it, so go back and read what I wrote after that show, if you’re interested. And, Stuart McLamb, if you’re reading this, let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for this record. I hope I won’t have to wait too long for a second one.

Honorable Mentions: Welcome to the Walk Alone, The Rumble Strips (Island); God Help the Girl, God Help the Girl (Rough Trade/Matador)

why you runnin?

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.

Reverence for Fallen Trees

The best part about Dutch Week, for me anyway, was the discovery of the In A Cabin With International Recording Project, and I now anxiously await every new album. I vow to become a part of it catching on in the States. You’ve already heard me go on and on about how wonderful the project is; now I’ll go on and on about the latest–IN A CABIN WITH The Black Atlantic!

The Black Atlantic is Geert van der Velde, Marcel Wolthof, and Kim Janssen of the Netherlands with Brooklyn-based Leo Maymind (Spanish Prisoners) and Peter Silberman (The Antlers). While recording Reverence for Fallen Trees, our musician friends lived in a cozy little cabin in the Adirondacks, surrounded by snow and mountains and isolated beauty, a landscape reflected flawlessly in the ebb and flow of the album.

Much of the album is quite stark and minimalistic, with subtly changing piano lines or guitar chords, unique percussive sounds, and soft background vocals, layered with introspective, melancholic lyrics.  And while I would say that it is all lovely and ethereal, there is still movement, picking up with “Old Dim Light” or “Dandelion,” and ‘slowing’ (not so much in tempo as in feel) with “Walked-on Wood” or “Reverence for Fallen Trees.”  The end result is an album with incredible flow, no choppy inconsistencies that one might expect to hear from a musicians who don’t all normally play together, who have spent only a week writing and recording.  The listening experience is cathartic, akin to that of Sigur Ros or Phillip Glass, and the listener would be better to hear the album as a whole, rather than pulling only a few songs.

What I really love about In A Cabin With is the ability to pick up on the recording environment and community through the sound and atmosphere of the music.  In Reverence for Fallen Trees and perhaps especially (in my opinion) in the songs “Fragile Meadow,” “Walked-on Wood,” and naturally “Reverence for Fallen Trees,” you can feel the warmth of the cozy cabin, and you can feel the quiet of the snow outside.  These artists have done an incredible work in reflecting their surroundings in their musical experience.

You know what else is great?  The album is free for downloading on the In A Cabin With site.  Check it out!!

You can check out this video that I can’t embed too 🙂 http://www.inacabinwith.com/blog/theblackatlantic/Movie.html

In A Cabin With…We’ll Make It Right

Those of you who kept up with The Indie Handbook during Dutch Week may remember my post about the IN A CABIN WITH international recording project.  If you don’t remember, well, here it is again. And of course you can find a more official description on the IN A CABIN WITH official website.

And now that you’re up to speed on the project, a new album was recorded in January and just released!  I downloaded it today (because there’s a free download available!) and have been simultaneously listening and reading the collaboration’s blog.  This particular project’s name is We’ll Make It Right and is made up of several Dutch musicians I’ve never heard of (because let’s be honest, the Dutch musicians I know are mostly the ones we covered during Dutch Week).  The instrumentation, as described on the blog, is “amongst arp, vibes, piano, banjo, and flute the strange duck in the bite!”  I’m not sure what it means to be the strange duck in the bite, but I’m pretty sure by listening that it’s a good thing.  On a whole, the collaboration is quite fantastic.

Within the first five seconds of the first track, “Stop Trying So Hard,” I couldn’t help thinking of Sondre Lerche, along the lines of “Everyone’s Rooting Just For You”.  Dominant chords and flute motifs bring a definite jazz feel to this track as well as to others, the most notable being the sassy “Just Like A Man.”  If I could swing dance, I would.  Eric can.   Songs like “It Ain’t All Good, “For The Sleeping,” and “We’ll Make  It Bright” are incredibly lovely and sad, and the end of “For The Sleeping” is especially ethereal.  If any of you care about my own personal favorite track (I know, I’m shameless), I think for now it is “Some Day,” which is one of the most playful and moving (literally, not emotionally) songs on the album; however, as with most truly great albums, my favorite is likely to change with more listens.

Reading the blog alongside of listening has added, I think, a new dimension to my comprehending the collaboration as a whole.  This makes sense, as a person’s understanding of an artwork can only increase with their understanding of the artist and the environment under which the art was created.  Can you appreciate Shostakovich without a cognizant acknowledgement of his life in Soviet Russia?  Sure.  But this acknowledgement will take you much deeper into his music than a surface-level listen or chord analysis.  So, I’d like to share a few thoughts I have upon reading the IN A CABIN WITH We’ll Make It Right blog.

The bloggers in the band not only sleep in one hotel room, but “we all sleep in 1 big 8-person bed, and DJ Extraa talks in his sleep. He shouted: ‘Which asshole does this!’. Later on he murmered: ‘Slackers.'”  This is so funny and so imaginably difficult at the same time!  It puts a whole new spin on the second track, “My Best Friend”– “when you bother me/i’ll bother you/and we’ll both know/i wanna make you my best friend.”  They describe their overall feeling as “one of intense, vulnerable sweet people spending day and night in a chalet.  We show each other movies, play each other songs we’ve made or songs by others, have dinner together, sleep together…Definitely not rock’n’roll!”  I don’t know, I guess they’re right.  Maybe it isn’t particularly rock’n’roll.  Later they admit they’ve pretty much lost touch with reality.  That’s natural, I guess!  But don’t you freaking love it?  It’s so artistic and wonderful, and the effect it has on their music is inimitable.  “Sweet with balls,” they call it.  Brilliant.

My favorite is their second-to-last blog post; the implications of this excerpt are fascinating:

“Each person in the band contributed several scetches for a song. And we wanted everybody to at least make 1 song out 1 of their scetches, and we’ve acheived that. So everyone ‘s got his “own” song now, except for Extraa. We will do his tomorrow.”

I think the reason this interests me so much is that despite everyone having their own song, and despite an earlier post saying the only music they all liked was Phoenix’s, all the songs on the album flow beautifully.  There is a definite and distinct sound to this collaboration, which can only come, I suppose, from spending every waking hour together in a tiny hotel room, and perhaps drinking lots of whiskey, and pushing through all those annoying idiosyncrasies that literally every person has, and knowing in the end, you have to produce, and whatever you produce has to be beautiful and it has to be art.

And it is beautiful, and it is art.  So I would say that In A Cabin With We’ll Make It Right is an enormous success.

I can’t embed it, so watch this video.


Pien Feith, In A Cabin With…how do you say “part four” in Dutch?

I freaking love the Netherlands!  What a fantastic week this week is–every day I have like 17 more reasons to love the Dutch and to love life!  I have hope for tomorrow!  I am reflecting on my childhood trip to Dutch Wonderland with such nostalgia (oh, the Amish!)!

I am so with Eric when he talks about the incestuous streak running through The Indie Handbook.  Except hold on to your belt buckles kids, because this incestuous streak is not just running through The Indie Handbook–oh no, it also seems to be running through the Dutch music scene itself!

Before listening to The Very Sexuals ( I know we keep harassing you, but you don’t know what you’re missing, just download it!), I was listening to Pien Feith on myspace and loving her.  She has an album called The Wilderness Sound which came out in 2007 on Badmintone records, and you can find three of those songs on her myspace, a couple more on her personal website, and the rest on itunes.  Her sound is pretty experimental, and I’ll bet you ten bucks you can’t tell where each song is going–but not in a bad way!  No, she’s honed her craft, and she knows how to do experimental music in a way that makes sense and is accessible without compromising her talent.  GENIUS.  You may hear a bit of Cat Power or Fiona Apple (especially “Extraordinary Machine”) in her voice and style, and some of her songs even remind me a bit of Bloc Party.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a little beat poet influence in there somewhere…a little Allen Ginsberg in her lyrics and flow.

But!  While I was listening to Pien Feith, I noticed that she has been a part of some other collaborations–most relevant to our previous posts, she is a member of The Very Sexuals!  Eric also mentioned NEONBELLE in his first Dutch Week post, another band of which Pien Feith is proud to be a member.  And!  With NEONBELLE, she is a part of the In A Cabin With international recording project.  More on NEONBELLE later from one or both of us, but I have got to tell you about the In A Cabin With project and why it has made me love Dutch people even more.  In one short paragraph.  Because this is getting long and I am getting distracted.

Basically, the In A Cabin With international recording project is where this recording studio in Netherlands called The Green Motel decided hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we invited some musicians to cabins in awesome locations to have jam sessions and record incredible music?  [Answer, in case they were looking for one, or in case you are: HECK YES THAT WOULD BE COOL]  So they did–they tried to create collaborations between local musicians and Dutch musicians, many of which had never worked together before, and the result has been several full length albums.  Now this is what I call art.  What a fantastic concept!  I also love that all of these are available for free download on the In A Cabin With website.  Since I’ve been listening to Pien Feith and The Very Sexuals, I’m going to recommend the In A Cabin With NEONBELLE, but why not check them all out? Best part: they aren’t done!

Thank you, the Netherlands, for rocking all of us like a hurricane, and showing us what art can be.  I love you.

Here is a video of the In A Cabin With in Tonatico Mexico (featuring artist Stan Diego):

IN A CABIN WITH in Tonatico Mexico | February 2009 from inacabinwith on Vimeo.