Friday, May 28, 2010

Summer Albums to Listen To

It has been entirely too long since I've updated this thing.  For that, I apologize.
Here are a handful of albums that I've been listening to lately...all of which will make for terrific summer listening.

Sleigh Bells - Treats

Take a healthy mixture of rock, pop, and hip-hop.  Crank the levels up until everything is in the red.  Then take a female vocalist who is half cheerleader and half girl-group popstar, and you have Sleigh Bells.  I listened to it a couple of times, and didn't think much of it.  Eventually I brought it with me in the car on a nice day, rolled down the windows, and cranked it.  All of a sudden, it clicked.  What I'm saying is this: give it a couple of listens before you decide whether you like it or not.  If it's still not clicking, take it out with you and give it a spin on a nice day.  It's perfect.

Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Track: "Crown on the Ground"

Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away

Josh Ritter is one of the best songwriters alive.  I began to agree with this statement after hearing "Girl in the War" (from The Animal Years).  "The Temptation of Adam" (from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter) convinced me even further that this was true.  "The Curse" (from this album) leaves no doubt in my mind.  In "The Curse", Ritter has created a beautiful love story between a mummy, and the archeologist who resurrected him.  In anyone else's hands, a concept like this could come off as a bit cheesy or gimmicky.  But Ritter makes it a wholly believable - and extremely heartbreaking - tale of love and loss.   
But Ritter is not just a great songwriter.  With each album, the musicianship of his songs has improved.  Pounding drums, slide guitars, and a swirling piano bring "Change of Time" to a close.  Clacking drumsticks drive "Rattling Locks".  Finger picked guitars, eerie pianos, and a myriad of atmospheric noises bubble under the surface of "Another New World".
This album is a strong contender for album of the year.  If you haven't listened to Josh Ritter before, now is the time to start.  (If you have a chance to see him live, go do it.  He puts on a killer live show.)

Rating: 5/5
Favorite Track: "Change of Time"

Broken Bells - Broken Bells

My love for Danger Mouse has been widely chronicled here.  I have also loved the last couple of Shins albums.  When it was announced that James Mercer (The Shins' lead singer) and Danger Mouse were working on an album, I was extremely excited.
This album exceeded my expectations.  Danger Mouse proves why he is such a sought-after producer.  Throughout this album, he creates a sound that is somehow unique and familiar.  It's a pop album...but there's something different about it.  It's extremely addictive, and it's a great album for the summer.

Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Track: "October"

Sally Seltmann - Heart That's Pounding

I had no idea who Sally Seltmann was when I listened to this album for the first time, so I had no idea what to expect.  Upon first listen, I thought it was a good - but not great - album.  After a couple of listens, that view changed.  I fell in love with this album.  From the album cover to the production to her voice...this sounds like a classic album; like an unreleased Dusty Springfield album that was found sitting on a shelf somewhere.  It's a mood that is set early, and one that continues throughout the album.  That's not to say that all the songs sound the same.  Each song has its own personality.  But, through it all, her voice is the constant.  And it works perfectly within the songs.  It's a fantastic pop-soul album that sounds much older than it is.

Rating: 5/5
Favorite Track: "Dream About Changing"

Yeasayer - Odd Blood

Of all the albums here, this one took me the longest to "get".  It's an odd combination of pop, space-funk, soul, rock, world music and electronica.  It is, to put it quite bluntly, a strange album.  It doesn't help that the first track ("The Children") is a seemingly formless blob of distorted voices and clanging noises.  It's still my least favorite track on the album...but I hate it less now than I used to.  Still, it seems a poor choice to introduce the rest of the album.  But, if you don't get past it (or, at the very least, just skip it), you'll never find the true greatness contained on this album.  This album is definitely a "grower".  It took me at least 6 listens to really start to love it.  But, once I did, I'm glad I gave it the time I did.  It's a terrific album.  Put some time into it, and you'll be glad you did.

Rating: 4/5
Favorite Track: "Mondegreen"

The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt

It's hard for me to put into words why I love The Tallest Man on Earth.  It's because words can't really describe his uniqueness.  He is a solo artist.  His songs (save for the closer, "Kids on the Run") contain a guitar and gravelly vocals...and sometimes a banjo.  All of his songs sound like they were recorded in a small room with a single microphone.  Nothing about that description makes him sound very special...but he is.  He operates within the "a man and his guitar" musical framework, but he doesn't really sound like anyone else.  Like I said, words can't really describe The Tallest Man on Earth.  So make sure you give this album a listen. You'll be glad you did.

Rating: 4/5
Favorite Track: "King of Spain"

She & Him - Volume Two

Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward return for another album containing more of the same music they created on Volume One.  This is an album that borrows liberally from the girl group pop of the 50s and 60s.  There's nothing wrong with that.  They're so good at this, that it's hard to find any fault with them.  It's not daring in any way...but that's fine.  When you can create a sound so perfectly, it would almost be a disservice to do anything else.  It's a pleasant album.  If you liked Volume One, you'll like Volume Two.  I love them both.

Rating: 4/5
Favorite Track: "Thieves"

I'll return in the not-too-distant future with part 2, featuring The National, Dr. Dog, The Black Keys, and more.


Fosterface said...

I still don't get how you can not like an album through 6 listens and still think, "hey, I'll listen to that album I don't like." I mean, there's obviously a payoff, but you're basically a smoker, but for music, in that smoking seems like it's a lot of work to get addicted to.

I'd be dee-lighted if you could explain how this practice came about.

Dusty said...

The first album I really remember doing it for was Pedro the Lion's "Winners Never Quit". I was told it was an amazing album, but I hated it the first few times I listened to it. But I kept listening, thinking I must be missing something. Finally, something clicked.
There are usually three reasons I do it.
1. Someone who I normally agree with on music loves something, and I don't really get it on the first few listens. So I keep listening to it until something jumps out at me (this actually happened with you talking about the Yeasayer album).
2. I don't like it immediately, but there's something there that tells me I'll like it eventually. It's usually either a specific song that jumps out at me that keeps me coming back to the album (like "The National Anthem" off of "Kid A"), or even just a feeling. I've gotten better about this over the years, and can usually tell if I'll like something, even if I don't really like it very much at all on the first listen.
3. It's a band I love. I've loved their past albums, so I just keep listening to their new album until I like it. However, if the band has a recent history of poor albums, then it's harder and harder to talk myself into a new release by them.

I assume all of these trace back to you somehow.