Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Two Albums from 2009 I Don't Understand

Before I get to my Best of 2009 list (coming in a couple of days), I thought I'd talk about a couple of albums that have received terrific reviews, but that I never really "got".  It's not that I hate these albums...I just don't understand why everyone else seems to love them.
I'm not saying these things to bring your hatred crashing down upon me.  These are just things I feel that I need to get off my chest.

Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

There are some extremely catchy songs on this album...that cannot be denied.  "1901", while making its way to commercials, is still a great song.  The synths make you want to move, while the vocals beg you to sing along.  "Lisztomania" is a little obnoxious (the name bothers me quite a bit), but it's still a catchy little song.
And so the album goes.  It's only 9 songs, but, by the end, I feel like I've heard the same song at least 5 times.  The songs are catchy, synth-driven tracks with processed guitars and a nice voice.  It could have been released in 1986 and no one would've batted an eye.  I kind of like the album, but it's rarely something that I ever think about.  I haven't ever found myself in a position where I think, "You know, I'd really like to listen to that Phoenix album."  It's not bad...but it seems pretty forgettable.
And something else has been bugging me since this album came out; didn't The Black Kids roll with this same sound only a year ago?  They released Partie Traumatic in 2008, and, while it carried some early buzz, it never really took off (Sharon and I wrote about it last year).  They're a five-piece, synth-based band that was stuck in the 80s.  Sure, the vocals didn't sound as good (they were a bit whiny at times), but it was the same sound.  The songs were upbeat, catchy, and, ultimately, pretty forgettable.  Just like Phoenix.  I know it's not really "cool" to like The Black I'm not really sure why it's suddenly "cool" to like Phoenix.  If someone could explain this to me, I would very much appreciate it.

Favorite Track: "1901"
Rating: 3/5

The Avett Brothers - I And Love And You

I already caught some heat for my thoughts on this one, especially considering some of the albums that will end up in my top 20.  Still, it bears repeating.
The first song on this album is incredible.  "I And Love And You" is a beautiful song, filled with great instrumentation, great lyrics, and an earnest voice.  I had heard bits-and-pieces of The Avett Brothers before this...but I was not prepared for this song.  It's a beautiful song.
However, the album goes downhill from there.  There are a handful of songs on the album that I like quite a bit ("Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise", "Ill With Want", and "Imcomplete and Insecure").  But, overall, this album just feels pretty "blah".  There's really not much to it.  The pain that filled "I And Love And You" was gone, replaced with a sort of indifference.  And that's how I feel about the album...indifferent.  I love one song, like a few, hate one ("Kick Drum Heart"), and don't really care about the others.  I have listened to this album around 10 times, and I can't tell you what half the songs sound like.  Oh, I know they're slowish and are based around acoustic guitars with some drums, piano, and cello filling out the songs (and I know that the upbeat songs all sound almost exactly the same), but I don't remember specifics.  It all gets rolled up into one big ball of indifference in my head.
Since I like the first song on the album, I have listened to this album more often than the Phoenix album, but my overall feeling is the same: I don't hate fact, I even kind of like it.  But it's rare that I want to listen to the whole thing.

Favorite Song: "I And Love And You"
Rating: 3/5

Please leave comments and let me know your thoughts.  Tell me how wrong I am.  Tell me why I'm wrong.  But, for the life of me, I can't understand the major appeal of these albums.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Album of the Month: David Bazan

Artist: David Bazan
Album: Curse Your Branches
Year Released: 2009

Random history: David Bazan was formerly Pedro the Lion.  This is his debut full-length album under his name.

Sharon's Rating: 3/5

Sharon's Thoughts: Enjoyable for what it is.  Interesting exploration into country music stylings, but for the serious nature and the rhythm of his lyrics.  I like the sounds of his early career better.

Dusty's Rating: 4/5

Dusty's Thoughts: Considering the lack of quality of his past couple of projects (his "debut" EP Fewer Moving Parts, and his Headphones project), I wasn't expecting this to be very good.  Thankfully, this album proved me wrong.  The music on this album is denser with instrumentation than many of his Pedro the Lion albums, and, for the most part, it works really well.  His lyrics seem to settle on two topics: God and drinking.  It's not the first time he has explored these topics in tandem, and it definitely won't be his last.
This album marks a (slightly) new musical direction for David.  So far, it's working.

Favorite Songs: "Please, Baby, Please", "Curse Your Branches"

The next album we'll be reviewing will be The Ravonette's In and Out of Control.  Feel free to join us.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

iPod Roulette

You know how we play this.  Hit shuffle on your iPod, and list the first ten songs that come up.  Post your results in the comments.

1. "I Know What It's Like" - Yonlu (from A Society in Which No Tear is Shed is Inconceivably Mediocre)
Not bad...but it just sounds like a poor man's Elliott Smith.  It's not a bad thing, but his love of Elliott Smith is painfully obvious.  Also, this guy killed himself when he was 16, before this album saw any kind of release.

2. "Ready for the Rain" - Dime Store Prophets (from Love is Against the Grain)
Just a good rock song, with a little country influence thrown in for good measure.  It's a shame these guys weren't bigger than they were.

3. "Good Man" - Josh Ritter (from The Animal Years)
My favorite song from this album.  An upbeat pop song, with shades of Billy Joel.  Love it.

4. "Grylliade (Live)" - The Prayer Chain (from Antarctica)
A fantastic song; dark and building with some great percussion...though I prefer the album version.

5. "Rumpus Reprise" - Karen O and the Kids (from Where the Wild Things Are Soundtrack)
There's not much to this song, but I like it.  I'm really looking forward to hearing how these songs work within the context of the movie.  Should be great.

6. "Organ Donor (Extended Overhaul)" - DJ Shadow (from Preemptive Strike)
I love this song.  A great organ line over a fantastic beat.  Listening to this track, I'm reminded of how amazing DJ Shadow was.  I hope he returns to greatness once again.

7. "I'll Come Running Back to You" - Sam Cooke (from Portrait of a Legend)
There's not a better soul singer than Sam Cooke...and that's a fact.  While this song isn't my favorite of his, it's still amazing.  He had a very distinct style, and it's in full swing here.

8. "A Summer Chill" - This is Ivy League (from This is Ivy League)
A great summer pop song (that's the only kind of songs this band does).  Great harmonies and guitars.  When I hear this song, I wish I was in a car, driving with the windows open.  Instead, I'm sitting here watching baseball.  I suppose that's okay, too.

9.  "The Rolling People" - The Verve (from Urban Hymns)
I used to hate this song.  As I've listened to it more, I've come to love it.  The swirling guitars are just perfect.

10. "Sing Little Bird Sing" - The Left Banke (from There's Gonna Be a Storm)
A nice, well orchestrated pop song from this relatively overlooked 60s pop band.  It's not easy to track down this album (a best of), but, if you can find it, it's worth your time to check out.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Things I've Been Listening To

Here is a list of some of the albums I've been listening to recently.

Volcano Choir - Unmap

This is a project featuring Justin Vernon (from Bon Iver). Seeing as how I love Bon Iver, I was pretty excited about this album.
Aside from the vocals (which are not a huge part of this album), the music sounds nothing like Bon Iver. This album is full of glitchy electronics, bursts of sound, and long periods where the tracks seem to be building to nothing.
Still...I like it. I don't love it, but I like it...although it took me a couple of listens to get there. Right now is the perfect time of year to start listening to this album, too.

Favorite song: "Husks and Shells"

Rating: 3.5/5

Wilco - Wilco (The Album)

Although I love Wilco, there were a number of barriers I had to get past to enjoy this album.
Barrier #1: While I loved Sky Blue Sky, the constant barrage of hearing those songs in commercials kind of killed the album for me, which is a real shame. I thought it had a shot to rank among my favorite Wilco albums...but now that will never happen. In addition to that, I now have to get past that feeling and try to listen to this album without thinking, "I wonder how long it will take for all of these songs to make it to TV."
Barrier #2: The album is called Wilco (The Album). That is a terrible name for an album. Self-title the album if you must...but Wilco (The Album) is terrible, and nothing will be able to change my mind.
Barrier #3: The first song is called "Wilco (The Song)". Come on. Are you trying to make me hate you? On top of that, the song sounds like Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London". I enjoy "Werewolves of London". I am much less enthusiastic about people trying to copy it.
Once I got past those barriers, I found that I liked the album quite a bit. It doesn't compare with their best work, but it's a good, solid pop/rock album. It's looking like their best days are behind them. But, as long as they keep releasing good, solid albums, I think I can come to terms with the fact that they are not great. I don't know if that makes any sense to you all, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Favorite song: "One Wing"

Rating: 3.5/5

Sufjan Stevens - The B.Q.E.

When I heard this was coming out, this was how it sounded in my mind: "A modern classical album, filled with all of the orchestration that Sufjan is known for. Also, a couple of tracks of noise." Add in some scant amounts of electronic experimentation, and I pretty much hit the nail on the head.
It is almost exactly what I expected...and I love it.

Favorite song: "Movement IV: Traffic Shock"

Rating: 4.5/5

I never have been a huge Pete Yorn fan, but I enjoyed Scarlett Johansson's previous album, so I decided to give this album a shot.
The album works its way through the break up of a relationship, as seen through the eyes of both parties involved.
It works extremely well. I never cared much for Yorn's voice, but, when mixed with Johansson's, it just sounds like it fits.
The album kicks off with "Relator", which sets the stage for the entire album. It also happens to be the catchiest track on the album.
They also work in a cover of Chris Bell's "I Am the Cosmos", which is my favorite moment of the album. Scarlett's voice works so well with that song.
This is a pop album. Plain and simple. But they do it extremely well.

Favorite song: "I Am the Cosmos"

Rating: 4.5/5

Margo Guryan - Take a Picture

This album was released in 1968, but it never really garnered much attention. I've been listening to it for a little while, and it's high time I said something about it.
Margo Guryan was a classically trained musician, who majored in composition at Boston University. She loved jazz music, and spent most of her time writing jazz compositions. While she was attending the Lenox School of Jazz, someone introduced her to Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. She became obsessed with pop music, and began writing pop music of her own. In 1968, she released this album (it was the only album she officially released).
It's full of fantastic pop songs with a classical influence. The standout track is "Someone I Know", a piano driven song that uses "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" as a theme.
Her voice can take a little to get used to, and there are a couple of "down" moments on the album. But, for the most part, it's a great album that should be heard by more people.

Favorite song: "Someone I Know"

Rating: 4.5/5

Maps - Turning the Mind

Maps first album, We Can Create, was an album filled with electronics and synths, creating a wonderfully lush sound. It was one of those albums that I thought was amazing the first time I heard it, but it lost some of its luster the more I listened to it. Still, it was a solid album, and I was excited for this one.
Apparently James Chapman (the only member of Maps) decided that disco was not dead, and so made an album of disco-infused electronic music. It's not even as good as it sounds. All of the songs bleed together into one giant mistake.

Rating: .5/5
Tyondai Braxton - Central Market

This album sounds like Mickey Mouse started listening to some Stravinsky, then hired the Seven Dwarves to be his backing band...but in a good way. I'm sorry, but that's the only way I can think to describe it.
It's a bit uneven, but, overall, it's an enjoyable and interesting listen.

Favorite song: "Uffe's Woodshop"

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Album of the Month: Viva Voce - Rose City

Artist: Viva Voce
Album: Rose City
Year Released: 2009

Sharon's Rating: 4/5

Sharon's Thoughts: With a couple of songs for pretty much every mood - summery fun, rainy day broodiness - this seems to be a pretty versatile album. Vocals are soothing and fun at the same time - lovely blend of voices and harmony. Love the use of the piano, excellent percussion rhythms, and heart-wrenching guitar effects.

Sharon's Favorites: "Midnight Sun"

Dusty's Rating: 4/5

Dusty's Thoughts: Far and away my favorite album of theirs. I love the way their voices sound together, and the instrumentation is amazing. I absolutely love the piano on "Midnight Sun"; it just sounds so spacious and beautiful. While I'm not a huge fan of every song, the album (as a whole) has a great vibe.

Dusty's Favorites: "Devotion", "Midnight Sun"

Our next album will be David Bazan's Curse Your Branches. Feel free to join us.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What I've Been Listening to at Work

Part of my job revolves around me staring at pictures taken from an airplane, finding things wrong with those pictures, and fixing them if necessary and/or possible. This summer has found me doing that more often than I usually do. It goes without saying that I have a lot of time to listen to my iPod. I usually start out the day by listening to Dave Dameshek's podcast. From there, I had been listening to books on tape (I've gone through a few books this summer).
However, recently I have decided to listen to a ton of albums that I have on my iPod, but have not yet listened to. This will be a way to let you know what I thought of these albums.
I have not given a ton of thought to these albums. Normally, I'll listen to an album at least 3 times before writing about it. What you will be getting here are my initial thoughts (which are, of course, subject to change the more I listen to the album).

Michael J. Sheehy and The Hired Mourners - With These Hands (The Rise and Fall of Francis Delaney)

I have only recently heard of this guy. He released a song in 2002 called "Twisted Little Man" which was used at the end of a Deadwood episode. It's a slow, folkish song with some nice atmospherics in the background. It reminded me a lot of LN.
This album doesn't sound like that. It's a concept album follows the career of a boxer (Francis "Frankie" Delaney). In the span of the album, we see him as a young child, we see him throw a fight, and we see him develop brain damage as a result of his career.
There are some tender moments ("Frankie My Darling" being the most obvious), some heartbreaking moments ("When Did We Grow So Old?"), some violent moments ("Fight for Your Right to Fight"), and some bizarre moments ("Ain't a White Boy Alive" and "The Gospel According to Marcelus J. Mudd"). There are times when he comes across as a Tom Waits imitator, which is a little distracting. There's not an overriding musical style to the album, which was kind of hard to get used to, but, in thinking about it now, makes sense within the concept of the album.
Some of the lyrics seem a big clumsy, and there are a couple of songs that I'm not crazy about. But, overall, I think it was a good album. When I was listening to it, I wasn't sure if I liked it. Looking back at it now, I think I did. I'll have to give it a couple more listens before I know for sure, I guess.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Song: "Fight for Your Right to Fight"

Jet - Shaka Rock

It is what it is. I expected a fairly generic rock album with terrible lyrics. I got exactly what I expected. It wasn't great, but it wasn't overly terrible either. It was just very forgettable. There are other bands that do this same thing, but those bands do it better (The Obits come to mind).
Rating: 2/5

Favorite Song: "Start the Show"? Maybe. I honestly can't distinguish one song from another, but I think "Start the Show" had a cool guitar riff.

Richmond Fontaine
- We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River
I enjoyed a couple of tracks off their 2005 album (The Fitzgerald) and sort of enjoyed their last album (Thirteen Cities), so I had to give this one a shot. I can't say that I liked this album any more or any less than those albums. It's pretty much the same. A couple of pretty good tracks (I hated "A Letter to the Patron Saint of Nurses" when it started, but, by the end, I found that I really liked it), but, overall, it was just sort of boring. The lead singer has an interesting voice (sometimes singing, sometimes talking, always sort of deep), but it doesn't always sound great.
Not a terrible album, but there's not a whole lot that stands out.

Rating: 2.5/5
Favorite Song: "A Letter to the Patron Saint of Nurses"

Janelle Monae - Metropolis: The Chase Suite

This album sounds like some sort of future blend of Gnarls Barkley and Andre 3000. Strange, but extremely catchy. The album is short (7 tracks), but it makes for an interesting listen. The last track (a version of Nat King Cole's classic "Smile") is pretty boring, which is a shame. There's not much going on in the song, but her voice is so good that I feel she could've done something interesting with it.
I wasn't a huge fan of "Mr. President", either. It just didn't grab me, and the lyrics didn't seem to have much thought put into them.
The first track is an intro, leaving only 4 tracks that I enjoyed...but I enjoyed them quite a bit. This was her first album, and I'm really looking forward to what she will do from here. Definitely worth a listen.
Rating: 3/5
Favorite Song: "Sincerely, Jane"

Patton Oswalt - My Weakness is Strong
This isn't a music CD, but I listened to it, so it's on this list. After listening to his first album (Feelin' Kinda Patton), he quickly became one of my favorite stand-up comedians. His second album (Werewolves and Lollipops) further cemented his place in my mind. With this new album, he has now become, without a doubt, my favorite living comedian (it's going to be hard to take Mitch Hedberg's place as favorite comedian of all-time). This may be my favorite album of his, which is no small feat. If you're a fan of stand-up comedy, you should really listen to this album.

Rating: 5/5
Kate York - For You
Chick-folk. It's not bad, but there's not much to differentiate her from all the other artists with this exact same sound. Her music is fine, but nothing too extraordinary. I like her voice, but it's nothing too special. Perhaps I'll feel different on repeated listens, but, after this first one, there's nothing to make me either love it or hate it.
Rating: 2.5/5
Favorite Song: "Afterglow"

Imogen Heap - Ellipse
I don't really understand all the hype around Imogen Heap. She was in Frou Frou, who had a song featured on Garden State. It was a decent song, I suppose, but I couldn't understand why everyone loved it. Then she put out a solo album (Speak for Yourself) which had a song ("Hide and Seek") that got played on The O.C. I listened to Frou Frou's Details. I listened to Speak for Yourself. At no point did I think to myself, "Hey...this girl is really amazing." Her voice is pretty good, and it fits her style of music really well. But all the songs kind of sound the same. They sound good at first, but, once you hit track 3, it just sounds boring.
After hearing the first track on Ellipse ("First Train Home"), I was pretty excited. "This song is good," I thought to myself. "Maybe she's changed. Maybe this album will be amazing."
Track two rolled around. Not bad...but not as good as the first one. Track three was a little worse then track two. I listened to the rest of the album with increasing boredom and annoyance. I was hoping this album would be different. I thought I would stay invested the entire way through. No dice. The closing song ("Half Life") was pretty good, but all of the songs between the first and last track kind of blend together in one big heap of disinterest. I'll listen to this album more, in the hope that the songs will begin to take on a life of their own, and will distinguish themselves from the others. It's a hope that will probably be dashed on the rocks of disappointment, but it's a hope all the same.
Rating: 2.5/5
Favorite Song: "First Train Home"

Dan Deacon - Bromst

I had heard a lot of good things about this album, but I held off listening to it because I saw a picture of Mr. Deacon, got annoyed with him, and never had a desire to listen to the album (shallow, I know, but I couldn't help it. Just look at him and tell me he doesn't annoy you).

Finally, I got over my annoyance with his face and decided to listen to the album. Much to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the first track ("Build Voice"). It's a slow building track with lots of samples and electro-glitches and whatnot. When the song finally breaks open, it's a glorious sound. Saxophones and pianos and cymbals and all matter of other noises join in a chorus. I knew he dwelled in the electro genre, but, with all the variations within, I wasn't sure what his exact sound would be. Perhaps I was wrong about ol' Dan Deacon.
As it turns wasn't wrong about Dan Deacon. The rest of the album is comprised of a lot of songs featuring high-pitched vocal samples and run waaaay too long (7 of the 11 tracks are over 5 minutes, with 3 of those clocking in at more than 7 minutes). If the songs were trimmed down a little, I may have liked this album more. As it was, the only song other than "Build Voice" that I enjoyed was "Snookered"...but even that track runs too long (over 8 minutes). Like the rest of the album, "Snookered" is a good concept, but he takes that concept and repeats it until it's annoying. Someone needs to tell those within this genre that it's okay to have songs that last less than 4 minutes (only one of those songs resides on this album).
This album started out promising, but took a dive in a hurry. As with some of these other albums, perhaps this one gets better with repeated listens. I'm not sure I'm up to the task on this one.
Rating: 1/5
Favorite Song: "Build Voice"

BLK JKS - After Robots
I heard this band touted as "an African TV on the Radio". I suppose I can see where they get that description from. They take a number of different musical styles, mash them together, and play the result. It's an interesting combination. Unfortunately, it does not work all the time.
The lead singer will hit a falsetto from time to time. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. The guitar solos often sound like something taken from an 80s hair rock band. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.
And that's pretty much the album. There are a number of great moments, but there are other moments that seem like it's not quite working like it should. The album ends with the worst song on the album ("Tselane"). At the beginning, it seems like it could be good, but, by the end, it has devolved into a singing the same lyric over and over again in a not-quite-on-key falsetto. The music is pretty good, but the song lasts for six-and-a-half minutes...three minutes longer than it should. By the time the song ended, I was glad that it did.
This album shows a band with great promise. I'll continue to listen to this album from time to time, and I'll definitely look forward to their next album.
Rating: 2.5/5
Favorite Song: "Molalatldi"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dusty Likes Chick Rock

Regina Spektor - Far

I like Regina Spektor a great deal. At this point, she has the whole "quirky female musician" thing down pat. And, after the success of Begin to Hope, there would be a lot more people listening to this album. While that's good news for her, it had the potential to be bad news for us. There have been a ton of artists recently who went from virtually unknown to massive seller in a short time. The track record of those artists putting out a great album following their first popular one has not been great. I was excited for this album, but I was also a little hesitant. Would her sound be watered down? Would her voice be toned down for the public? Those were the questions that I was asking before this album released.
Now that it has been released (and I have listened to it a number of times), I should've known that all my worries were for naught. Of course they couldn't change Regina. How could I have ever entertained such thoughts?
As it turns out, this is currently my favorite album of hers. While her past albums were great, they also had a couple of songs that I wasn't crazy about. On this album, every song is dynamite ("Machine" seems a bit out of place, but I still like it). Her voice is in top form, and the piano sounds better than ever. I'm not sure why that is, but there seems to be an extra measure of beauty emanating from the piano on this album. The songs range from stories about birds, to returning a lost wallet, to God, to folding chairs, and so on. No matter the subject matter, Regina pours her heart, soul, and voice into these songs. And it paid off in a big way.
If you like Regina Spektor, listen to this album. If you don't like Regina Spektor, give this album a try. If you have never heard Regina Spektor, pick this one up. In short...listen to this album.

Rating: 5/5

Favorite Song: "Eet"

Florence & The Machine - Lungs

I had heard rumblings about this album. Really, all I knew going in was, "this girl has a great voice."
And she does.
But that's not the entire reason why this album is great.
The instrumentation is great. There is a ton of stuff going on in every song. The stellar percussion really drives the majority of these songs. Big, booming drums thundering through the entire album. That kind of thing is a rarity, which is a real shame. Florence shows how to use a great percussion section on this album, and more artists should sit up and take notice.
Were it not for the strength of her voice, the music would threaten to drown her out. Yet she is able to overcome the bombast of sound without screaming.
When firing on all cylinders, it really is something to behold; a symphony of noise melded into perfection.
However, there are a couple of songs I'm not crazy about ("I'm Not Calling You a Liar" being the main culprit). They're not bad songs (in fact, I still like them), but they don't have the same energy and greatness that the others do. If that's the worst thing I can say about an album, I'd say that's pretty good.
This is a fantastic debut album. It's definitely worth your time to check out.

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite Song: "Girl With One Eye"

All in all, this is a great year for female artists. If the year were to end today (which I don't foresee happening), these artists would be in my top 10:
St. Vincent, Neko Case, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bat for Lashes, Florence & The Machine, Regina Spektor and The Dead Weather. That's not too shabby.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Susan Enan - Plainsong

Susan Enan - Plainsong
We'll start with a short history lesson.
Back in 2002, Susan Enan released an EP called Moonlight/Skin, Bone & Silicone. It featured 4 beautiful, stripped down folk-pop songs. Her voice was gorgeous, and the EP (which I bought from Paste) showed off her considerable talents, and had me (and, I'm sure, several others) looking forward to her first full-length album.
Since then, there hasn't been too much going on. A year or so ago, she recorded a new song called "Bring On the Wonder", which was used on a episode of the TV show Bones. That song, along with another ("Monoplain") were made available for download last year. These two new songs sounded much like the songs on her '02 EP: stripped down folk-pop songs, highlighted by her voice. Her full-length album was supposed to have come out last summer, but it was delayed.
Finally, a couple of weeks ago, an announcement was made: the album was coming out. Preorders would start on July 21, with the album shipping out the next week. I preordered it on the 21st, secure in the knowledge that I would finally be able to hear this long-awaited full-length album.
Like all long-awaited albums, the first listen was slightly disappointing. I initially fell in love with her voice, and the stripped down songs that it accompanied. This album still has that voice, but the songs are filled out more than they were before. It didn't help that 6 of the 10 tracks were songs that I had heard before in their stripped down form. I liked that stripped down form better.
But, as I kept listening, I found that I didn't mind the filled out arrangements so much. After all, I didn't want to have those 6 songs exactly as they had been before, as that would leave only 4 tracks that I had not heard before. I wanted something new, even out of old songs.
Sitting here now, listening to it for the 5th time, I'm beginning to realize how much I love it. I like the fullness of the songs, and I still love her voice.
Overall, this is a great album...and it may even be better if you haven't heard of her before this.
Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Song: "Skin, Bone & Silicone"
(This album is available to download for $5 over at Amie Street right now. It's definitely worth your $5 to check it out.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Holly Williams - Here With Me

Holly Williams' first album, The Ones We Never Knew, was completely unexpected. Being the daughter of Hank Williams, Jr. carries certain expectations with it. Namely, you should make country music. Her brother, Hank III, realized this, and went for the outlaw country scene. He was accepted. One of them.
Holly's first album was full of nice little pop songs. Sure, there was a bit of country tinge in her voice, but there's no helping that. That voice was wrapped in a great pop sound (most of them being piano based arrangements). Since this was not what people were looking for, it got mixed reviews. I, however, really liked it, and looked forward to her second album.
Five years after her first album (with a number of label problems in those years), she returned with a new album. Guess what? It's a country album. Whether this is her natural progression or a sound forced upon her by her label, I'm not really sure (although I tend to think it's the latter).
It's not a terrible album. The opener ("He's Making a Fool Out of You") is a nice little song. There's a hint of a stronger country influence on this album, but it's still a good song. The second track ("Mama"), however, tells the listener, "This is a country album." There are some scattered songs on the album that are a bit more pop oriented ("Three Days in Bed", "Alone"), but most of them are of the straight-up country variety.
Again, this is not a terrible album. In fact, if you like country music, you'll probably really like it. But, after the great sound she carved out on her first album, it's a bit of a shame to hear her falling back on what everyone thought she should've sounded like on that first album.
I'm holding out hope that her next album will see her returning to her pop sound...but I will not be holding my breath.

Favorite Song: "He's Making a Fool Out of You"

Rating: 2/5

Visit her website

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What I've Been Listening To Lately

It's been a while since I've updated this blog, so let's get this thing going with some quick thoughts on albums that I've been listening to somewhat recently.

Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse - Dark Night of the Soul

Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse are responsible for the production of this album, turning over the vocals to the likes of Wayne Coyne (The Flaming Lips), Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals), Frank Black, Iggy Pop, Julian Casablancas (The Strokes), James Mercer (The Shins), David Lynch, Suzanne Vega, and many others. The music is exactly what I expected: eerie, sinister, and a little strange. "Revenge" is a great way to start the album off...dark and lush and filled with organs. Just a terrific album. A shame it may never see the light of day (although you should still be able to stream it here).

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite Song: "Revenge (feat. Wayne Coyne)"

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

I was not a huge fan of Fever to Tell. I liked Show Your Bones pretty well. I love this album. It kicks off with "Zero", a synthed-up, disco-ish dance song. It's fun, but still maintains their high level of creativity. The entire album slithers around behind a layer of synths and slick production. On first listen, it doesn't seem like much. But repeated listens peel back the layer of slickness to show a fantastic album underneath. From the dance-pop of "Zero" to the lushness of "Skeletons" to the slow building of "Runaway", this entire album is terrific. This band just keeps getting better.

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Song: "Skeletons"

Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything to Nothing

I liked their first album, Like a Virgin Losing a Child, almost immediately. The opening of "Wolves at Night" grabbed me from the very first time I heard it. This album was different. The opening song, "The Only One", starts with Andy Hull singing in a particularly whiny voice. With hardly instrumentation backing him up, it sounds a bit grating. I didn't think I would come around to it.
But I did.
I'm still not the biggest fan of that song, but the majority of the album is great. The breakdown on "Shake it Out" is the hardest thing they have done so far. Just listening to it makes me feel like jumping into a most pit of some sort. "I Can Feel a Hot One" is a nice little slow song. While not nearly as beautiful as "Sleeper 1972" from their first album, it's still a great song.
There are enough moments that I'm not crazy about to where I can't I love it...but I can say that I like it pretty well. It's definitely worth your time to check out.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Song: "Shake it Out"

Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You

I went into this album with extremely low expectations. Her first album was hyped incessantly, and I never quite understood it. I liked "LDN" pretty well, but I wasn't crazy about the rest of the album. Still, I listen to everything, so I decided to give it a listen.
I was amazed at how much I liked this album. The songs are much better than they were on the first album, and the production is great. She still relies a bit too much on her "angry girl" images in her lyrics, but it seems to show up a little less on this album than it did on her previous one. I can't say it's an amazing album, but it's a very enjoyable listen.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Song: "Not Fair"

The Killers - Day & Age

My love of The Killers is a little embarrassing. I know that I shouldn't listen to them as much as I do, but I can't help it. I've read interviews with them that make me want to punch them in the face. Still...I love them..
This album is no different. It's a slick pop album, full of songs that seem like they've all been done before (wasn't "Joy Ride" in a car commercial in the 90s?). But they do it so well. Even the much talked-about lyric, "Are we human, or are we dancer?" can't deter me. I love every song on this album...and it's about time I stop apologizing for that.
My name is Dusty, and I love The Killers.

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Song: "Goodnight, Travel Well"

Kat Jones - Without a Sound

New music from Kat Jones is always a reason to celebrate. While I love the instrumentation of her albums, I've always had a soft spot for her low-key recordings. Just Kat, her guitar, and her amazing voice. This is one of the latter. It is six tracks of stripped down of which is a wicked murder ballad. Who could ask for more than that? Some of the strongest songs of her career are found on this EP. This is Kat showing off her considerable vocal prowess...and it's glorious.

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite Song: "The Moon Burns Red"

Kanye West - 808's and Heartbreaks

Leave it to Kanye to take an overused fad like autotune and create an entire around it. I would like to see the thought process that went into this album. This is the perfect instance of a man's gigantic ego getting in the way of good judgment.
Still, he's a talented producer, and that salvages this mess a little. If you can ignore the autotune attacking your ears for a couple of seconds, you can hear some great production in this album. Put in someone else's hands, this could've been a good album. Seriously, the production behind "Robocop" and "Love Lockdown" could've led to great things. Instead, we're stuck with a terrible concept and terrible execution.
If you feel up to it, try listening to "Paranoid" all the way through. It sounds like he's going for some sort of Michael Jackson vibe...but it comes off in the worst way possible. Just wretched stuff. It's scores a little higher than I would like, based solely on the production.

Rating: 1.5/5

Favorite Song: "Robocop" (if there was an instrumental version, I would be a little happier about it)

Eminem - Relapse

I never have been a huge Eminem fan. Sure, he's talented, but he always seemed more interested in the shock factor of his music than anything else. I've never been able to listen to an entire album of his all the way through. This album is pretty much the same for me. There are some great songs ("3 AM", "Bagpipes from Baghdad" and "Same Song and Dance" are my favorites), but there are also some terrible ones ("My Mom" and "Insane" being the main culprits). There are some other decent songs here and there ("We Made You" is catchy, but it's not really all that good), but, honestly, I don't remember too many songs from the album, and I've listened to it 5+ times now. I think that means it's not a terrible album, but it's not all that great, either.
Still, the songs that are good are great. "Bagpipes from Baghdad" is a great reminder of why Dr. Dre is still considered to be one of the best producers in the business. Just terrific stuff.

Rating: 3/5

Favorite Song: "Bagpipes from Baghdad"

Elvis Perkins - Elvis Perkins in Dearland

Elvis Perkins' first album was all full of death and depression, which went well with his voice. This album stands in stark contrast to that one. It's a pretty upbeat album, and it shows a large influence of New Orleans music. Horns blaring and feet stomping and tambourines shaking. It's a different Elvis Perkins, and it took me a little while to figure out whether or not I liked it. As it turns out, I love it.

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite Song: "1 2 3 Goodbye"

Eels - Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire

On this album, the Eels take a page from their Shootenanny! days; distorted blues rock, mixed with slower songs of love and loss. There really isn't much to distinguish this album from some of their previous ones, but there's nothing really wrong with that. This is a strong set of songs from a consistently great band. It's also a pretty accessible album, so, if you have yet to really listen to the Eels, this is a pretty good place to start.

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Song: "Beginner's Luck"

Common - Universal Mind Control

I've been listening to Common for a little while now. I haven't been with him since the beginning of his career, but I have been listening to him for a number of years now. I thought Be was terrific. I, of course, loved Like Water for Chocolate. I am in the minority of people who thought that Electric Circus was great. I even thought that Finding Forever had some great moments on it.
So it is with much sadness that I say this: this album was terrible. Utter trash. I'm not sure what he was going for, so I'm not sure if he accomplished it. As I was listening to this album, my audio receiver cut out, leading me to believe that it killed itself because it was forced to play this.
I tried, Common. Really I did. I hope this is not the end of the line for us. I hope you still have some great music in you. I hope you bounce back from this album in a big way (although that may be tough, seeing as how you did an appearance on the new Jonas Brothers album).
I will give this album a slightly higher rating than it deserves...but only because I like you. Next time I will not be so kind.

Rating: .5/5

Favorite Song: N/A

Coconut Records - Davy

I don't ask much of Coconut Records. I ask for good pop music. Nothing fancy. Thankfully, he has delivered. Again. Sure, the lyrics leave a bit to be desired ("And I was a drummer, in a band, that you heard of"), but that doesn't bother me so much. This album sounds good. It has a nice feel to it. It's obvious that he is a big Beatles fan...their influence is all over this album. He is not reinventing the wheel on this album, but he has managed to make a great little pop album. Sometimes, that's all you need.

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Song: "Any Fun"

Bat for Lashes - Two Suns

On this album, Natasha Khan channels her inner Kate Bush to make a great album. Full of synthesizers, ethereal songs, fantastic percussion, and that voice...that voice that so perfectly fits her style. This album is more cohesive than her previous album, which makes this one a better overall album. My words are unable to do this album justice. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite Song: "Sleep Alone"

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Album of the Month - This is Ivy League

Artist: This is Ivy League
Album: This is Ivy League
Released: 2008

Background: comprised of two touring members of Cobra Starship.

Sharon's Rating: 3/5

Sharon's Thoughts: Fun & upbeat. I enjoy the vocals, especially the harmonies. A little Simon & Garfunkel-esque. I also like the mix of the rhythm acoustic guitar with electric solos now and then. They have a nice balance. This is the perfect album for a sunny afternoon on the patio.

Favorite Song: "The Richest Kids in Town"

Dusty's Rating: 4/5

Dusty's Thoughts: Nice summery pop music, with some bossa nova thrown in for good measure. Great harmonies. Nothing groundbreaking, but it's a fun album, especially on a nice day.

Favorite Song: "Don't Waste Your Love on Me"

If you've heard this album, feel free to join in.

Next month, we'll be reviewing Viva Voce's new album, Rose City.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

iPod Roulette

It's been a while since I posted, which means it's time for some iPod Roulette. I hit shuffle and write the first 10 songs that show up, with my thoughts. Join in by posting your results in the comments.

1. "So Alive" - Toad the Wet Sprocket (In Light Syrup)
A great song. Normally I'm less than thrilled with b-sides albums (they're usually b-sides for a reason), but this album is great all the way through. This song is one of my favorites on the album.

2. "So What" - Miles Davis (Kind of Blue)
Unmistakeably Miles. This is the first on the album, and it kicks it off in style. It starts off with some meandering instruments, finds its groove, then proceeds to show off the brilliance of the musicians involved over the course of the song. One of my all-time favorite jazz albums. I know that's not an original statement, but it's true.

3. "Depot, Depot" - Tom Waits (The Heart of Saturday Night)
With this song (and, really, most of this period for him), Tom Waits creates a perfect late-night soundtrack. I can't listen to this song without thinking, "I wish I was driving through a city at 3 o'clock in the morning." (I can never get through one of these lists without a Tom Waits or Johnny Cash song coming up...and that's completely okay with me.)

4. "Lucky" - Radiohead (Early live version)
A good recording. This version is more stripped down than the version that ended up on OK Computer. At the beginning of the song, Thom Yorke says that this song came out of his James Bond obsession. I can see that. Great song.

5. "It's a Hit" - Rilo Kiley (More Adventurous)
It wasn't until the last few years that I've gotten into Rilo Kiley. This album is the reason I started listening to them in earnest. Fantastic album. This is not my favorite song on the album (that honor goes to "Does He Love You?), but it's still a darn good song.

6. "Big Black Nothing" - Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band (Outer South)
This is actually Nik Freitas singing, not Conor Oberst. It's a nice enough fact, I think I enjoy it. I suppose I need to listen to this album again. I was less than impressed the couple of times that I've listened to it, but this song is convincing me to give it another shot. Thanks Nik.

7. "Train Song" - Feist & Benjamin Gibbard (Dark Was the Night)
Pretty much exactly what I expected it would sound like. I like it. It's nice. I'm beginning to think that ol' Ben is making his voice sound a little stranger on purpose.

8. "I Am Always the One Who Calls" - Pedro the Lion (The Only Reason I Feel Secure)
When I hear the greatness of this song, I find myself feeling a little sad. Not because this song is so good, but because the last couple of things David Bazan has put out have been pretty mediocre. I'm hoping that changes with his upcoming full-length. Anyway, this song is fantastic.

9. "All Along the Watchtower" - U2 (Rattle and Hum)
Not on par with the Hendrix version, but still a darn good version. Say what you will about U2 (and many people have, especially recently), but they have a tremendous back catalog.

10. "India Rubber" - Radiohead (B-Side)
A dark, slinky(ish) song, sounding like the bridge between Pablo Honey and The Bends. It's not an amazing song, but it's still pretty good.

I'm going to try to get back to writing semi-regular reviews this summer...but I make no promises. I have a backlog of great albums that I've listened to (and a few less-than-stellar albums), so I need to start writing again.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

St. Vincent - Actor

St. Vincent's first album (Marry Me) was a terrific debut. Strange and intense and amazingly listenable. I didn't think there was any way she would be able to top it.
After my first couple listens to Actor, I assumed I was right. It was good, but it wasn't as good as Marry Me. There was only one standout track, and the rest all seemed to blend together. It still sounded good, but it didn't compare to Marry Me.
I listened to it again. And again. And again.
After 5-6 listens, it clicked. Every song became spectacular. My previous standout track was still my favorite track, but the rest of the album was not far behind. And now, every time I listen to this album, it gets even better than the last time. Marry Me was good. Actor is great. There's not a down song on the album.
This album is currently on my short list for Album of the Year. It's still early, I know, but this album has a real shot to be my favorite by the end of the year.
If you liked her first album, you definitely need to check this out. If you haven't listened to her first album, check this out. It's extremely creative (and sort of quirky) chick pop. I usually compare her to Regina Spektor, but this new album is better than anything Regina Spektor has done.

Rating: 5/5

Favorite Song: "Marrow"

Thursday, April 02, 2009

What I've Been Listening To

Here are some albums that I've been listening to lately.

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

Front to back (frog track aside), this is probably my favorite album of hers. Before this, Fox Confessor was probably my favorite, but there were still some tracks I wasn't crazy about. I think this entire album is stellar. It really hit me on my fifth listen. Just fantastic stuff. I love it. The full instrumentation of some of the songs ("This Tornado Loves You", "I'm an Animal") sounds amazing. The lesser instrumentation of other songs ("Magpie to the Morning") sounds amazing. And her stark cover of Harry Nilsson's "Don't Forget Me" is breathtakingly gorgeous. Everything she did on this album works. As I mentioned, I could've done without the 30 minutes of frog noises at the end of the album, but, since it's at the end, it doesn't really bother me that much.

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite Song: "Don't Forget Me"

U2 - No Line on the Horizon

I like this album much better than I thought I would. There are some tracks that I really don't care for at all ("Get on Your Boots" and "I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" being the main culprits), but it's pretty good for the most part. The title track works extremely well as an opener. I really like "Moment of Surrender", but I cringe a little every time that line with the ATM comes on. Still, the music is so good (I love the keyboard and string section lurking in the background) that I can't help but like it.
There are a lot of parts on this album that sound less like a U2 album and more like a new album from a U2 cover band who has written their own music. It's not just sounds like a rehash of their older albums. It's better than How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which was my only requirement for the album.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Song: "Moment of Surrender"

Handsome Furs - Face Control

I didn't listen to their first album, and I'm not really that into Wolf Parade. This album, however, completely blew me away. Great electro-rock music, complete with a rough voice and catchy melodies. I listened to this album after hearing how good it was...and it completely exceeded those expectations. Jump in your car, roll down the windows, and crank this album. You'll love it.

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite Song: "Radio Kaliningrad"

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

I have a personal vendetta against Animal Collective and their legion of loyal fans. I have never understood the love and praise heaped on their heads. Apparently there's a fine line between "genius" and "unlistenable", and I have always counted myself among the latter camp. That is, until this album. They have taken their sound, polished it up a bit, and made a great pop album. They took their love of Brian Wilson and have turned out an album that is extremely creative and listenable. Personally, I didn't think they had it in them.
It's not all fantastic. I could do without the repetition of "Guys Eyes" and the lyrics of "Taste". A couple of the songs go on for a bit too long (I suppose that's to be expected when listening to an Animal Collective album).
Most of the songs are good, though, and there are a couple of great songs. "My Girls", "Bluish" and "Lion in a Coma" are the ones that stand out above all the others.
This album definitely isn't for everyone, but, as far as I'm concerned, it's the best album of their career. And it's not even really that close.

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Song: "My Girls"

Hopefully I'll follow up this post with some other random albums I've been listening to. Hopefully.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Artist of the Month: Bjorn Norestig

Bjorn Norestig hails from Sweden, as so many pop artists are doing these days. Hello Inside is his first full length album, and was originally released in 2006. You can visit his website here.

Sharon's Rating: 3/5

Sharon's Thoughts: I enjoy the way his melodies are bright and hopeful, and manage to have a full and deep sound as well. I always love the use of trumpets! His vocals are pretty good, too, and work especially well for harmonizing.

Favorites: "We Can Make it Last"

Dusty's Rating: 4/5

Dusty's Thoughts: Wonderful moments of pure pope awesomeness, mixed with elements of folk and jazz. His voice works extremely well with the music, and the harmonies are amazing. The horns are magnificent; they really fill out the songs well, and perfectly complement the gorgeous sounds of the Hammond B-3 that is present throughout. I'm not too fond of "Character Song", but the rest of the album is terrific. A great album to listen to in the car on a nice day with the windows rolled down.

Favorites: "We Can Make it Last", "Everything is Good", "Feeling of Emptyness"

We're going to be altering this a little bit going forward. From now on, instead of Artist of the Month, we'll be doing an album of the month. This will give us a chance to talk about artists that have more than one album.

Next month we'll be looking at This is Ivy League's self-titled album. Feel free to join in.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wavves - Wavvves

I kept hearing great things about this album. "Lo-fi surf rock," they said. I like lo-fi surf rock. Not many people do that kind of music anymore. I was excited.
My excitement was completely unfounded. They got the lo-fi part right, but there's not much that resembles surf rock on here. There may be a couple songs on this album that fit that bill, but the majority of it is filled with noise that borders on torture.
Let's get this out of the way: I like noise. I enjoy Sonic Youth's SYR albums, which are, for the most part, orchestrated noise. I also enjoy Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's Now I Got Worry, which is about as lo-fi and noisy as music can be and still be listenable. I could go on, but I won't.
So it's not because of some old-person sensibility that leads me to say this: the majority of this album is nothing but noise. It's not good noise. It's terrible noise. This noise is at a frequency that can be literally painful to listen to...and that's at low volume.

There are a couple of tracks on here that were pretty good, but I don't remember what they are, and, frankly, they weren't even worth skipping through the album trying to find them again. Not a good sign.

Rating: .5/5

Visit their website here

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Random Grammy Thoughts

I'm sitting here studying for some tests this week, but I thought I'd watch the Grammy's as well, and write down some random thoughts as they come to me. Here we go:

- If you wrote a song with lyrics as terrible as the opening song from U2, would you project them up on a big screen for all the world to read? Lyrics like, "I don't want to talk about wars between nations," followed by "Boots" repeated a number of times. The music isn't bad, and I probably wouldn't even notice the lyrics if they hadn't been posted.

- Ah Whitney...still as crazy as ever.

- Boyz II Men put out an album this past year?

- That "Beatle Fighters" joke fell about as flat as is humanly possible. Thanks Rock.

- Was that General Store thing supposed to be a joke? You have to either be a bit more obvious or a lot funnier, Mr. Timberlake.

- With one hand I want to punch Chris Martin, but what would I do with the other hand? Oh...hello Kanye. Where did you come from...and what are you talking about?

- Joy! A Coldplay medley, with Chris Martin prancing to another stage. Now he's spinning. And he's raising his hand in the air. Does he think this is the iTunes commercial again? Did he slip in a line from Springsteen's "Working on a Dream", or am I crazy? I'm 95% positive his bandmates hate him.

- Carrie Underwood: single-handedly trying to bring back the faux-puffy shirt. The strange thing? It actually looks pretty good on her. Somewhere Matthew is salivating.

- I love that Sheryl Crowe walks out to "All I Wanna Do". For some reason that is humorous to me.

- The chick from Sugarland is CRAZY. McCartney might want to look into a restraining order.

- You don't have to jump through hoops for Duffy, Al Green.

- What is Kid Rock doing? Somewhere along the line, he grew tired of his rap-rock schtick and embraced an era of terrible (TERRIBLE) socially-conscious/political songwriting. I never thought I'd say this, but you're better than this. And right on cue...his "Werewolves of London"/"Sweet Home Alabama" mash-up. I'm seriously considering recanting my previous statement.

- Awwww...a song about high school romance from Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus. I can't even begin to tell you how little I care about this. I just found out that they're best friends. Who knew?

- Robert Plant looks like sin.

- Did the CSI chick just compare the Jonas Brothers to Cain and Abel? Someone had to say it.

- Stevie Wonder singing through autotune? What a waste. The next time you decide to jack up someone's voice, pick someone who can't sing.

- Hey...Bandana Jonas. That's Mr. Wonder to you. Show a little respect.

- Could someone tell me why the Jonas Brothers are popular? Now they have decided to ruin "Superstition". It's going to be hard to listen to this song the same way again. Thanks for ruining music, Grammy's. And let's not forget the Jonas Brothers...single-handedly setting music back 50 years.

- Blink-182 announcing their reunion. Does this mean we don't have to listen to Angels & Airwaves anymore?

- I can't help that I like Katy Perry, and I won't apologize. Her voice is not necessarily in top form tonight, though.

- Kanye West looks hideous, and he doesn't sound any better. Estelle is not even close to saving this thing.

- There is not a single good artist in the Best New Artist category. Who wins? Why...Adele, of course. The woman who has one decent song. Oh least it wasn't the Jonas Brothers.

- Wait. Morgan Freeman and Kenny Chesney are friends? What do you suppose they do on a Friday night?

- The interchange between Natalie Cole, Herbie Hancock and Diddy was terribly awkward in an extremely funny way.

- I was pulling for M.I.A. to win Record of the Year, if only for the possibility of seeing her go into labor on the stage.

- T-Bone Burnett is wonderfully crazy. You can't help but love that guy.

- I knew it only a matter of time before Queen Latifah used the term "Rap Pack".

- Is it healthy for a woman who is nine months pregnant to be bouncing around the stage? Regardless, she sounds better than everyone else currently on the stage (Kanye, Jay-Z, T.I. & Lil' Wayne). What a terrible excuse for macho posturing. I'm actually starting to feel a little nauseous. If you want to primp and preen, fellas, take it to the corners.

- Kate Beckinsale? What a wonderful surprise. And introducing Paul McCartney. She's actually doing a terrific job.

- McCartney's voice is on the downswing, but he still sounds pretty good. Performance of the night so far.

- Best Male Pop Vocal: I'll take McCartney, only because the other ones are garbage.'s John Mayer. Wow. Way to win an award with yet another piece of terrible acoustic pop garbage. Thanks John.

- Jay Mohr & LL Cool J? When exactly is Jay Mohr going to finally see his career die? Shouldn't that have happened years ago?

- Is it just me, or did the chick from Sugarland age 30 years since the beginning of this show?

- Adele sounds terrible live. Did they doctor her voice for her album, or is she just really nervous? Since she steadily got better throughout her performance, I guess I'll blame it on a case of the jitters.

- Radiohead coming up. This should be fantastic.

- The marching band was a nice touch. Some of Thom's movements seemed a bit forced. Other than that, it was a good performance.

- What is Samuel L. Jackson wearing? This show just keeps getting more confusing.

- You know, T.I. isn't a bad rapper, but there's something off with this Justin Timberlake collaboration. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but I'm really not enjoying this at all.

- T.I. just welcomed me on his road to redemption. Thanks T.I.

- I always hate when the president of the academy shows up, but this may be one of the worst speeches of his I've heard. He just sounds unnecessarily egotistical. Just stop with the whole "Yes we can" stuff. It's a little played out at this point.

- In order to honor the musical contribution of the Four Tops, they bring out Jamie Foxx. Sure. That makes sense.

- I may have to take that back. This is actually a pretty good performance. The last living member of the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, Ne-Yo and Jamie Foxx. They sound pretty good together.

- I should have figured that The Grobanator would've shown up at some point.

- Neil Diamond still has that why wasn't he included in the debacle that was "Swagga Like Us"?

- They couldn't find someone better than Gary Sinise to introduce Lil' Wayne? And why is Robin Thicke up there? While Lil' Wayne is rapping about the hardships of New Orleans, Thicke is raising his hand in the air, singing "New Orleans" over and over again and grinning like an idiot. Does anyone actually like this guy?

- Alan Toussaint just showed up...and he still has it. And now's he's being joined by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. And Terrance Blanchard. That was actually pretty enjoyable.

- Will.I.Am sighting! Let's hope he doesn't embarrass himself like he did last year. He did fairly well...but I'm pretty sure there's something wrong with T-Pain.

- Best Rap Album...Lupe Fiasco? No...of course not. It's Lil' Wayne. Of course it is. Why, it's only one of the most hyped rap albums in recent memory. Of course it wouldn't go to Lupe Fiasco, who crafted an extremely creative and eclectic album. That would've made sense.

- It's about time Zooey Deschanel showed up. And she's introducing Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. That's pretty cool...but I wish she didn't use the "She & Him" hook.

- This Plant/Krauss performance is really good...and pretty dark. I'm really enjoying it. It's nice to see T-Bone Burnett on stage with them.

- And here I thought I could get through the night without seeing Green Day. Those guys are idiots. Does the one guy still call himself Tre Cool?

- Album of the we go. I am, of course, rooting for Radiohead, but I don't really think they'll win it. I'll predict Coldplay.

- Annnnnnd....Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. I did not see that coming. I thought that album was decent, but I was surprised it was even up for Album of the Year, let alone winning it. Oh well. I've seen worse winners. Congrats.

- How dare they try to cut off the Album of the Year acceptance speech. That is shameful.

Well, this was kind of fun. It was my first time doing something like this. Hope you enjoyed it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Top 20 Albums of 2008

I realize I'm a little late on this (being almost a month into 2009), but I'd say it's about time I unveiled my top 20 albums for 2008. There were quite a few albums that I was forced to leave off of this list, so I'll do another post featuring some of those fantastic albums that just missed the cut.
It was a better year for music than I remember, and a lot of these albums were really close together for me. Most of the albums in the 11-20 range have been shuffled around a lot since I started this list, and that's part of the reason it has taken me so long to get this up. There was even quite a bit of shuffling within the top 10 (#3 & #4 have swapped places numerous times). Even now I'm not entirely comfortable with the placing, but it has to be done.
Without further adieu, I give you the top 20 albums of 2008.

#20: The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age of the Understatement

Great dark(ish), slinky pop music backed with the London Symphony Orchestra. The entire album seems like it was taken from a James Bond soundtrack...but in a good way. Parts of this album are upbeat and catchy, but even those moments seem to have an almost sinister undercurrent. This band is comprised of Alex Turner (from Arctic Monkeys) and Miles Kane (from The Rascals). I'm not really a fan of either of those bands (sorry), so I was extremely surprised to find that I really liked this album.

Favorite Song: "My Mistakes Were Made for You"

#19: The Submarines - Honeysuckle Weeks

I loved The Submarines first album (Declare a New State!). It showed off their talents for writing a collection of perfect pop songs. While I don't think their new album quite measures up to their old one, Honeysuckle Weeks is still a great collection of pop music, and it's clear (through songs like "1940" and "Fern Beard") that they are trying out some new creative ideas. This is a good pop album, and further shows that they will be a major force to be reckoned with in the not-too-distant future.

Favorite Song: "Xavia"

#18: British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?

I'll admit: I'm a bit late to the British Sea Power train. I listened to their previous albums, but they never really impressed me that much. That all changed on this album. When the riff for "Lights Out for Darker Skies" kicked in, I was hooked. The entire album is filled with big rock songs. Some ("No Lucifier", "Waving Flags") sound like lost Arcade Fire songs, while others ("Open the Door") recall a bit of the 60s Brit-Rock era mixed with an unknown 80s alt-rock band. There are a couple of weak points on the album (somewhere in the middle), but it opens strong and ends strong. All in all, a very good rock album.

Favorite Song: "Lights Out for Darker Skies"

#17: Jakob Dylan - Seeing Things

I've been a fan of the Wallflowers for years, so I was really looking forward to this album. When I heard it was being produced by Rick Rubin, I had a pretty good idea of what it would sound like. Needless to say, I was not surprised by the sound of this album. It is exactly what I thought it would be. And that's a good thing. It's great to hear him stepping away from his band for an album and airing out some of these stripped down songs. I'm not really too fond of "All Day and All Night", but the rest of the songs are great. I'm particularly fond of "I Told You I Couldn't Stop"; a slow-stomping, restrained blues song. It doesn't sound at all like the rest of the album, which makes it that much more striking. "Valley of the Low Sun" and "War is Kind" are great protest songs...poetic and well thought-out. Sadly, there are too few of those anymore. This album showcases Dylan's quieter side, and also shows off his stellar songwriting. Let's hope there's more where this came from.

Favorite Song: "I Told You I Couldn't Stop"

#16: Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple

It'd be easy to say that Gnarls Barkley has fallen a little bit. Their first album (St. Elsewhere) made was tied as my favorite album in 2006. And here we sit in 2008, all the way down at #16.
The truth is that this is a great album. Their sound hasn't really evolved since that album, but there wasn't really a reason to. The beats are still chaotic little masterpieces of music history, and Cee-Lo is still raving like a mad preacher (nowhere is this more evident than on "Who's Gonna Save My Soul?"). It would be a little higher on this list if it weren't for "Whatever"; a wretched little song about a neglected teenager, sung in a terribly whiny voice (you know, to capture the spirit of the character). The rest of the album is really strong, featuring some of the best songs of their short career. This album is shows why Danger Mouse is one of the best producers currently working (more on this in a couple of albums).

Favorite Song: "Who's Gonna Save My Soul?"

#15: Okkervil River - The Stand Ins

I was sucked in by Okkervil River's previous album, The Stage Names, so I was pretty excited about this album, seeing as how closely they were connected (it was originally conceived as a double-album). It took me a couple of listens to get into it, but, once I did, I couldn't stop listening to it. No offense to The Stage Names, but this album blows it out of the water. There are a number of great songs on this album, but "On Tour With Zykos" stands out among all the others. If you have yet to hear a single Okkervil River song, make sure you listen to this one. It's really hard for me to listen to this song without skipping back to the beginning as soon as it gets over.

Favorite Song: "On Tour With Zykos"

#14: The Black Keys - Attack & Release

I've been a fan of the Black Keys for years, and this is, by far, their best album. They stick to their blues roots, but they have also expanded their musical pallet considerably on this album. Flutes, organs and other various instrumentation show up quite often, giving them a sound that is quite different from their other albums. Danger Mouse produced this album, and I'm sure he had more than a little bit to do with this new direction. Let's hope that their next album takes this sound and expands it even further.

Favorite Song: "So He Won't Break"

#13: Amanda Jenssen - Killing My Darlings

I randomly came across this album on a blog somewhere, and fell in love with it within about 20 seconds. The album opens in full Dusty Springfield mode; bright strings, clean guitars, a nice beat...and that voice. That's really what carries this album. She rolls through a number of different styles, but her voice is what holds the album together. As I've said before in this space, all the genre-hopping can get a little distracting sometimes, but there are so many amazing moments on the album that it doesn't really matter that a couple of the styles don't seem to mesh. Being from Sweden, I don't think she'll ever make it big here in America, and that's a shame.

Favorite Song: "For the Sun"

#12: Bjorn Norestig - Hello Inside

Bjorn Norestig is a pop singer. He has a gruff(ish) voice that is usually considered to be more along the lines of a folk singer, but he is a pop singer. Plain and simple. And we can all be glad that he is. There are moments of pure pop brilliance on this album; heavy on the Hammond B-3, blaring horns that show up at key moments, and even some female hamonies thrown in for good measure. Make no mistake about it: this guy knows what he's doing.
As with Amanda Jenssen's album, there are some down moments on this album (most notably "Character Song"), and some moments that are just merely really good...but there are 3-4 amazingly perfect pop songs on this album. This being his first full-length album, I can't wait to see what he does from here. I doubt he'll ever break it big in America, but you need to track this album down. You'll thank me for it later.

Favorite Song: "We Can Make it Last"

#11: The Raveonettes - Lust Lust Lust

The Ravonettes have been making great, 50s-inspired rock for a number of years. The formula is simple; write a song that sounds like it should've been written 50 years ago, throw some reverb on it, and let it fly. It's been a good formula. But they decided to switch it up a little bit on this album.
The key elements are still there...only there's a lot more distortion this time. The songs come off as pieces of beautifully orchestrated chaos. Tons of noise filling your ears, while the voices of Sun Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo blend together in the foreground, sounding like ghostly entities rather than people.
I realize this all sounds a bit ridiculous, but, listening to this album now, it's the only thing that makes any sense.
I have listened to (and enjoyed) every album they have released, so I can say this with some confidence: this is the best album in their catalog...and it only gets better with each listen.

Favorite Song: "Aly, Walk With Me"

#10: The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely

The Raconteurs first album, Broken Boy Soldiers, was pretty good, but it wasn't nearly as good as I had hoped it would be. On paper, it looked great: the main creative force of an experimental blues-revival group (Jack White), a pop singer/songwriter (Brendan Benson), and a rhythm section comprised of a blues-rock band (Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler from The Greenhornes). It came out as a bit of a mess...a band searching for their sound.
On Consolers of the Lonely, it's pretty safe to say that they've found their sound. It's still pretty easy to tell who wrote each song, but all the songs seem a bit clearer. The styles mesh together a little better. The album actually feels like an album, as opposed to a bunch of songs thrown together just for the sake of doing so. This is a great rock album, and they've shown that they'll only get better.

Favorite Song: "Carolina Drama"

#9: She & Him - Volume One

This is She & Him's first album: "She" being Zooey Deschanel, and "Him" being M. Ward. "She" being a movie star, and "Him" being an underground folk singer. It's a collaboration that no one saw coming, but it turned out to be a perfect one.
Deschanel has a very unique voice, so she needed someone who knew how to best utilize it. Ward was that person. The music ranges from jazz to country to girl-group to pop. The entire album has an old feel to it; like it was recorded decades ago and was just recently found. I can't wait for Volume Two.

Favorite Song: "Sentimental Heart"

#8: Shearwater - Rook

I have a hard time describing this album without bringing up Talk Talk. They are obviously a big influence on Shearwater, and they're not afraid to show it. Grand sweeping pop songs with hints of classical and jazz. They seem to subscribe to the quietLOUDquiet school of music. The album is restrained for most of the time, so the explosions feel a little bigger somehow.
This is a beautiful album. The music goes perfectly with Jonathan Meiburg's dramatic voice. This album seems large and epic in scope, yet still clocks in at less than 40 minutes. This album was overlooked by quite a few people. Don't make that mistake.

Favorite Song: "Home Life"

#7: Neva Dinova - You May Already Be Dreaming

Talk about underappreciated. Over the course of their 3 albums, Neva Dinova have quietly been perfecting their own brand of rock music. They're catchy and creative, yet you rarely hear their name mentioned. This album tends a bit more to the folk side of their influences, but it's still unmistakably Neva Dinova. Even though it is folk-leaning, it's still far from being called a folk album; there are elements of pop, rock, and shoegaze sprinkled throughout. This album took me a little bit to get into, but, once I did, I couldn't stop listening to it. Extremely creative stuff.

Favorite Song: "Tryptophan"

#6: Margot & The Nuclear So & So's - Not Animal

I immediately loved Margot's first album, The Dust of Retreat, so it was a bit of a shock to me when the same didn't happen with this one. The same elements were there; simple songs backed with tons of instrumentation. So what wasn't working?
None of the songs really seemed to stand out. Unlike The Dust of Retreat, when 3 or 4 songs stood out among the others, all of these seemed content to just hang out on the same plane, none of them distinguishing themselves from the other.
But, the more I listened to it, the more the songs really started to jump out at me. Listening to it now, I realize that most of the songs still exist on that same plane...but the plane is high, and all of the songs are great. In fact, I think this album may be better than The Dust of Retreat, and that's really saying something.

Favorite Song: "Pages Written on a Wall"

#5: William Fitzsimmons - The Sparrow & The Crow

William Fitzsimmon's last album, Goodnight, was an extremely personal album; it was a concept album written about his parents' divorce, as seen from the perspective of different family members.
With The Sparrow & The Crow, Mr. Fitzsimmons dialed it up a notch, and wrote yet another extremely personal album; this time it is about his own divorce. The albums kicks off with "After Afterall", a reprise of the last song off of Goodnight. From the opening notes, you can tell you're in for something different. The electronics that were so prevalant on Goodnight are gone here (barring a song or two), leaving only acoustic instrumentation and William's voice. It's a stripped down album, filled with emotion, beauty, heartbreak, and even a little redemption. The album closes on a hopeful note with "Goodmorning", an extremely positive song, showing that the entire world is not made up of gloom and doom.
This is an extremely personal album. It's the sound of an artist baring his soul. It can be a little uncomfortable at times, but it's necessary...and beautiful.

Favorite Song: "Find Me to Forgive"

#4: Beck - Modern Guilt

Danger Mouse has been a busy man. This is his third appearance in this list.
When I heard that Beck and Danger Mouse would be working together on this album, my expectations went through the roof. Beck is one of the most consistently creative artists currently working, and Danger Mouse is one of the best producers currently working. How could my hopes not be sky high?
Much to no one's surprise, I immediately loved this album, and it only gets better with each listen. This album goes back to the era of 60s & 70s psych-rock and throws a little modernity on it. And it works perfectly. It sounds simultaneously modern and easy feat.

Favorite Song: "Youthless"

#3: Glasvegas - Glasvegas

Glasvegas takes their love of 50s pop, throws a layer of reverb over it, and calls it a day. The strange thing? It works so well. They take their instrumentation and creative a massive wall of sound that would make a drug-addled Phil Spector proud. They sing songs about social workers, cheating on their girlfriends, getting stabbed, and all matter of other things. At least, I think that's what they're singing about; the lead singer's thick Scottish accent can be a bit hard to understand at times.
Regardless, this is a fantastic debut album. There is a lot to love on this album, and a lot to look forward to in their future.

Favorite Song: "It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry"

#2: Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

I'll not argue as to whether this was a 2007 or 2008 release. I can do that later if you so desire. Just let it be known that I'll call this a 2008 release in this space.
This album came out of nowhere. I checked it out on a whim, after hearing it described as "TV On the Radio meets Iron & Wine". That's a bit off, but I can see where they were going with it. It's mainly an acoustic album (Iron & Wine), and he has a unique voice that can get pretty high (TV On the Radio). But that description doesn't quite catch what this album is. His sound is nothing like I've ever heard. It's stripped down and full at the same time. His double-tracked vocals bring out a depth in the music that shouldn't be there. He has crafted a sound which is wholly unique and absolutely amazing. There is more creativity in this album than most artists can summon in a lifetime. If you haven't heard this album yet, I urge you to do so as soon as possible.
For the record, he also puts on a killer live show.

Favorite Song: "The Wolves (Act I & II)"

#1: TV On the Radio - Dear Science,

Like the Beck album, this is yet another album that I had big expectations for, and then had those expectations blown away. Their previous album, Return to Cookie Mountain, was my favorite album of theirs' so far, and I expected this album to take them to another level entirely. It did that, and so much more. They took their abrasive, noisy art-rock style and fit it into an easier to digest package. With this album, they have shown that their creativity knows no bounds. They tackle Prince-esque horn-laden funk, quirky electro hip-hop, piano-and-string filled ballads, and, of course, songs that could only work in the hands of these masters. This is, by far, their best album. And it feels like they're just getting started.

Favorite Song: "DLZ"

Do you take issue with the order of these? Do you have your own top 20 list? By all means, leave comments. There's nothing like a little healthy musical dialogue to keep it fun.