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.)