Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 19: Over the Rhine

Over the Rhine - Snow Angels

This is full of dark, jazzy, soulful, bluesy Christmas songs.  It seems influenced as much by Billie Holiday as it does by Vince Guaraldi.  I don't care too much for "North Pole Man", but the rest of this is terrific.  It's pretty much all original songs, which definitely helps.  You can put this in your Christmas playlist knowing that yet another version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" won't be coming up.

"Snow Angel"

"Darlin' (Christmas is Comin')"

"All I Ever Get for Christmas is Blue"

Saturday, December 15, 2012

December 15: The Pogues

I didn't get a chance to throw an album up yesterday, and I can only manage one meager song today.  It's been a busy weekend.  I'll get back on track with a full album tomorrow.

But, for now, enjoy The Pogues' fantastic "Fairytale of New York".  It's a Christmas song for the drunk in all of us.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

December 13: Elvis

Elvis - Christmas Peace

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Elvis.  Not all of his stuff, of course.  But, overall, I'm a big fan.  I love the skinny rockabilly Elvis.  I love the fat, jumpsuit-wearing Elvis.
And I especially love Elvis Christmas music.  His style just works really well.  He's able to take these songs - both old and new - and mold them to his style.  When I hear these songs, I have a hard time believing they could be done any better.  And, for the most part, that is the case.

I know there are a number of Elvis Christmas collections, but this one is my favorite.

"Blue Christmas"

"Santa Claus is Back in Town"

"Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)"

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 12: Jessica Ripka

Jessica Ripka - Manger Songs

With only 4 songs (only 3 of which are Christmas songs), this is a pretty short Christmas album.  But it packs a punch.  There's not a bad song on here.  Ripka's unique piano and vocal stylings provide a fresh take on "Joy to the World", "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and "Silent Night".  You've never heard these songs done in this style, and you're unlikely to ever hear them like this again.

It's a free download over at her Bandcamp page, but any donations go to AIDS relief efforts in Africa.  I highly recommend you check it out and donate what you can.

Full disclosure: Jessica is a friend of mine, and I was lucky enough to work with her on a remix on her most recent album.  She's a fantastic musician, and a great person to boot.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

December 11: Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith - Christmas Cookin'

As past selections have shown, I'm a fan of quite a few jazz Christmas albums.  Having heard the same songs done a million times with very little variation, I find myself drawn to albums that shed new light on those songs.  A fresh take, as it were.  As a general rule, jazz - good jazz, at least - offers a fresh take on standard songs.
This is one of those albums.  I love Jimmy Smith's organ style, and it comes through here.  He pairs with a big band on a number of the tracks, but this album is at its best when Smith's organ is in the foreground.  This is a solid album, and it's perfect for this time of year.
One of my favorite tracks on here is his rendition of "Jingle Bells", but, unfortunately, I couldn't find a clip on YouTube.

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"


"Silent Night"

December 10: Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens - Songs for Christmas

5 discs.  42 tracks.  Granted, that's a lot of music to get through, but it's worth it.  The songs were all recorded pretty quickly, so there's a certain ramshackle, lo-fi quality to most of it.  But there is a lot of great stuff.  Even the Christmas standards are seen through a new light.  And there are a lot of original tracks, most of which are terrific.
That's not to say the entire thing is great.  There are a few clunkers.  But, overall, there are more good songs than bad songs here, and more than a few amazing songs.
It's also worth noting that one of my favorite Christmas songs is "Once in Royal David's City", but it's rare to find it on an album.  But it can be found here in two versions: instrumental and vocal.

"Put the Lights on the Tree"

"Come On!  Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!"

"Once in Royal David's City"

"Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)"

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 9: Vince Guaraldi

Vince Guaraldi - A Charlie Brown Christmas

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't love to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas.  I don't even particularly enjoy Peanuts, and I love watching this.  There are a handful of movies I watch every year to get myself into the Christmas spirit, and this is one of them (for what it's worth, Die Hard and Bad Santa are also on that list).
As good as it is, it would be nothing without the music. And Guaraldi nailed it.  The music is perfect for the movie, and it's great to listen to as a standalone Christmas album.  I love it.

"O Tannenbaum"

"Christmas Time is Here"


Saturday, December 08, 2012

December 8: She & Him

She & Him - A Very She & Him Christmas

My love of Zooey Deschanel is very well known, and my love of M. Ward is fairly well known, so it shouldn't be a shock that I love this album.
But this album feels different from their first two albums.  Where those were all dressed up in pop dressing, this is a pretty stripped-down affair.  Sure, there are songs with a lot going on, but, for the most part, this album finds Zooey singing lead while Ward plays guitar, a little piano, and sings a little background.  It's a warm, bluesy, intimate Christmas album.  And I adore it.

"The Christmas Waltz"

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

"Blue Christmas"

Friday, December 07, 2012

December 7: Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck - A Dave Brubeck Christmas

Sadly, Brubeck died a couple days ago.  He was one of my favorite jazz pianists, right up there with Thelonious Monk and Oscar Peterson.
This entire album is solo piano.  It's beautiful.  It works perfectly for a snowy December day, or to put on in the background while you sip hot cocoa and open presents.  It's a great album for the season.
It doesn't quite put me in the same mindset that Vince Guarldi's Charlie Brown Christmas does, but it's close.
RIP Dave.  We'll miss you.

"Homecoming / Jingle Bells"

"Silent Night"

"Winter Wonderland"

Thursday, December 06, 2012

December 6: 8-Bit Synthtown

8-Bit Synthtown - A Very Chiptune Christmas

A little something different for the holidays.  The 8-bit culture is fascinating to me.  And, though I have dabbled in it, I doubt I'll ever fully understand it.
But I love it.  I mainly love it for albums like this.  I've listened to a handful of 8-bit Christmas albums before, but they never really grabbed me.  This one did.  It's short and beautiful.  It begs for repeated listens.  After I get done with one listen, I want to just put it on repeat and roll through it again.
If you really want, you can put this on and pretend that you're a character in a videogame, celebrating Christmas with all your pixelated buddies.  My imagination doesn't run quite that deep anymore.  For me, I listen to this album and it feels like I'm being called to sit in front of the Christmas tree and play RBI baseball on my GameBoy.  Which is what I will do.

It may not be for everyone, but it really is a beautiful little Christmas EP.  Each song is wonderfully crafted and layered.  It's quite lovely.

There are 5 songs here.  And, though the titles don't necessarily reflect it, you get unique renditions of "Winter Wonderland", "White Christmas", "Jingle Bell Rock", "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree".

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

December 5: Kat Jones

Kat Jones - He's the One I Need the Most EP

It's short - 4 songs, with 1 of them not even being a Christmas song - but it's beautiful.  Of the 3 Christmas songs, 2 of them are originals ("I'll Be Home for Christmas" and the title track), and 1 is a gorgeous rendition of "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella".
"I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "He's the One I Need the Most" are filled out with quite a bit of instrumentation, while "Bring a Torch" is more sparse - just a rarely strummed guitar and Kat's voice seemingly filling the room.
It's short, but it's a great addition to your Christmas collection.  And it's available as a free download from her Bandcamp and Noisetrade pages right now.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

December 4: Phil Spector

Phil Spector - A Christmas Gift for You

Rightfully at (or near) the top of pretty much every "greatest Christmas album ever" list.  Spector's signature wall-of-sound style is on full display here, and it's glorious.  His style works perfectly for Christmas music, and the collection of artists here (Darlene Love, The Ronettes, The Crystals, and Bob E. Soxx & the Blue Jeans) is wonderful.

If you've never heard this album, you need to fix that.  It works for all ages.  If this album doesn't get you in the Christmas mood, nothing will.

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

Monday, December 03, 2012

December 3: Low

Low - Christmas

This is the only Christmas album I keep on my iPod year-round.  I usually don't listen to the entire album until December hits, but I usually find myself needing to hear "If You Were Born Today" a few times throughout the year.
This album finds them performing 3 Christmas classics and 5 originals.  Those familiar with Low will recognize their signature "slow-core" sound on a lot of these, but they also dial up the Christmas spirit a little, especially on the opener - a Spector-influenced gem of Christmas pop ("Just Like Christmas").
It may not be for everyone.  But on a snowy December day, this album is just about perfect.

"Just Like Christmas"

"If You Were Born Today"

"Blue Christmas"

Sunday, December 02, 2012

December 2: Rosie Thomas

Rosie Thomas - A Very Rosie Christmas

If you know me, you know that I love Rosie Thomas.  I love everything she's done, going back to her brief stint with Velour 100.  So it's no surprise that I love this album.
For the most part, Rosie sticks to Christmas classics on this album.  She has a couple originals (including the eternally cheerful and catchy "Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year"), and some fresh new takes on some Christmas standards (her heartbreaking take on "The Chipmunk Song" - titled "Christmas Don't Be Late" - is one of my favorite Christmas songs).
I cut off the last two tracks on my iPod (one is a track by her alter-ego Sheila Saputo, the other a "thanks for listening to this album" type closing), leaving me with 10 strong Christmas songs.
This is definitely worth adding to your Christmas rotation.

"Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year"

"Christmas Don't Be Late"

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Christmas Music Kickoff: Emmy the Great

It's December 1st.  We're past Thanksgiving, and Christmas is right around the corner.  I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight some of my favorite Christmas albums.
Having worked in retail for a number of years, I kind of got sick of a lot of Christmas music.  It's only recently that I've started listening to it again.  I attribute a lot of that to some great new releases by artists, I love, but I also have quite a few older albums that I listen to quite a bit.

My plan is to post every day between now and Christmas.  Each day I'll highlight an album and/or song that I love.  I'd love it if some of you felt like joining in with some of your own favorites in the comments.  And, of course, any recommendations are always welcome.

To the music!

Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler - This is Christmas

A beautiful and strange Christmas album.  The majority of the songs are originals, which is a nice departure from albums sporting the same songs over and over again.  Just a glance at the track listing tells you this isn't your standard Christmas album, with songs like "Zombie Christmas", "Jesus the Reindeer" and "Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing)".
There is a fair bit of genre-hopping here, but it all seems to fit on the same album.  It's clear that they had fun making this album, and it's also clear they drew their sound from wide-ranging musical influences.

I love this album.  Here are 3 of my favorite songs:

"Christmas Moon"

"(Don't Call Me) Mrs. Christmas"

"Zombie Christmas"

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Gaslight Anthem - Unwritten

I'm still hopelessly addicted to this album.  I find myself listening to it multiple times a week, usually while I'm driving.  It's been pretty cold here in Kentucky recently, but I still roll the windows down and crank this album.  There's not a bad song on it.  My least favorite song ("Too Much Blood") is still awesome.
It's Springsteen by way of Foo Fighters.  I love it.
At the moment, you can download this album from Amazon for $3.99.  That's an absolute steal.

Rating: 5/5
Favorite track: "Handwritten".  Although "Mae" is creeping towards that top spot.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Killers - Battle Born

With each album, their songs seem to get a little bigger.  More grandiose.  They're not trying to make a statement: they just want to make good, big, rock and roll.  And I can't help but love them.

Rating: 4/5
Favorite track: "Runaways"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Muse - The 2nd Law

I will start off by saying that I loved Absolution.
However, that was the last Muse album I enjoyed.
I get it.  They make huge, catchy rock anthems, with a theatrical bent.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Lord knows I listen to enough music that can fit into that description.
But not this.  Oh no...not this at all.
It's like they went into this saying, "How can we sound like a futuristic version of Queen?"  The answer is lots of synths, lots of falsetto, and more than a hint of dubstep scattered throughout.  I listened to this earlier today, and it was all I could do to get to the end.

At this point, I know what Muse is.  And I guess I'm just not on board.

Rating: 1/5

Friday, October 05, 2012

My New Album

This is not a review.  This is shameless self-promotion at its best (worst?).
A friend and I have been working on this EP for a while.  It started out as an attempt to marry 8-bit beats with Robert Johnson-esque blues.  It didn't quite work out that way, but we're very happy with where it ended up.

It's available on Bandcamp right now.  You can download it for free, or you can opt to give us a little money.  Either way.  But, if you get a chance, head over and check it out.  You can find it here.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mumford & Sons - Babel

I loved Sigh No More.  It took me a few listens to get into, but once I did, I was hooked.  Babel takes that album and steps it up a notch.  It's a little bigger.  A little darker.  A little better.  It sets a mood at the beginning, and it keeps that mood throughout the entire album.  It's sinister, yet still inviting.  I'm 4 listens in, and I'm in love.

One added note.  I had this album on while Carpenter's Halloween was on the TV, and it worked really well.  Something about the dark, driving rhythms on this album fit really well with that movie.

Rating: 5/5
Favorite track: "Below My Feet"

In the past, I've made promises about keeping up with this blog on a more regular basis.  I'm going to attempt to make that promise again.  I have found myself a bit over-my-head with blogs lately (in addition to this one, I also write about horror movies and sports), and this is the one that has suffered the most.  I'm going to try to be better about that.  And if that means a series of short reviews like this one, then so be it.  I have discovered that I'm not the greatest music writer, so shorter is probably better.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Music to Work To

Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania

Combines the feel of Mellon Collie Pumpkins with a nod to Zwan-era Corgan. The guitar riffs are still
there, but the album overall seems to have a bit of a pop lean to it. It’s a completely different feel than
Zeitgeist, but that’s okay.
Also, I swear he uses the theme of Suspiria in “Oceania”, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Favorite track: "The Chimera"
Rating: 4/5

Twin Shadow – Confess

A heavy dose of 80s-era synth-pop. I would assume that he was mocking the genre if he didn’t seem so
earnest about it. There are a handful of really good songs on here, but there are also a lot of moments
where the songs start to run together. I’m sure more songs will begin to distinguish themselves upon
repeated listening (which I will most certainly be doing).

Favorite track: "Five Seconds"
Rating: 3/5

Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo, Magellan

I don’t get it. I’m not sure if that means I’m old. It seems like they know how to write a good pop song
(the title track is proof of that), but it seems like they’re more concerned with being “weird” instead. It
doesn’t even seem arty to me. It just seems like they’re trying to be weird for the sake of being weird (I
believe that’s what they call “po-mo”. Isn’t that right, Mr. Szyslak?).

Favorite track: "Swing Lo Magellan"
Rating: 1/5

Chains of Love – Strange Grey Days

50s/60s era pop. It’s a short album, but it’s solid. Not a bad song here. Seems like it will be a good
album for the rest of the summer. (It should be mentioned that there seem to be a lot of bands that fit
this description that have come out in the past few years, and I seem to love most of them. Keep ‘em

Favorite track: "He's Leaving (With Me)"
Rating: 4/5

The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

Good, driving rock n’ roll. I read a review that mentioned this album as being a bit “too Springsteen”.
As long as you’re drawing your influences from Born to Run Springsteen and not Working on a Dream
Springsteen, I really don’t see what the problem is. I’m not sure how well this will hold up with repeated
listens, but, after one listen, I really like it. Sometimes you just need a good rock album.

Favorite track: "Too Much Blood"
Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Driving Music: Old and New

A few months ago, I got into a wreck.  Thankfully, I was okay.  Unfortunately, the car was not.  One of the things I loved about that car was the radio.  A few years ago, we got a new radio installed with an iPod connection.  So I would listen to stuff from my iPod on my way to and from work every day.  I usually listened to newer music and podcasts.
But my new car only has a CD player.  So I've been listening to CDs every day on my commute.  There's something about picking out a CD that is different from choosing music on an iPod.  When I see a CD on the shelf, I'm taken back to the time when I bought it.  I remember my life where it was at that time.  So I have found myself listening to a lot of older albums.  It's been fun.  So, while I will one day replace this radio with a newer one, I have been enjoying this time of going back and listening to some albums that I haven't listened to for a while.

So I present to you a list of albums I have listened to in the past month or so.  As you will see, there are some newer albums on this list, but there are a lot of older ones, too.  There is a lot of nostalgia here.

Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream

Stavesacre - Stavesacre

Starflyer 59 - Gold

Pixies - Doolittle

Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts

Metric - Fantasies

Morella's Forest - Ultraphonic Hiss

Jenny Owen Youngs - An Unwavering Band of Light

Rihanna - Talk That Talk

The Beatles - Abbey Road

Wilco - Summerteeth

Beck - Odelay

Bright Eyes - Lifted, or The Story in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground

Kate Nash - My Best Friend is You

Plankeye - Commonwealth

Neva Dinova - Neva Dinova

Counting Crows - Recovering the Satellites

Dinosaur Jr. - Where You Been

DJ Shadow - Endtroducing

U2 - Pop

The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sugar + The Hi-Lows, M. Ward, Sharon Van Etten

Sugar + The Hi-LowsSugar + The Hi-Lows
This is a band comprised of Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup.  With only 8 tracks, it’s a short listen.  Which is nice.  It doesn’t overstay its welcome.  It’s a nice little summer album, full of slick rockabilly/blues/doo-wop inspired songs.  The guitars are clean (with more than a hint of Scotty Moore’s influence), the drums provide a nice little backbeat and the vocals are perfect.  There’s not a whole lot going on in this album, but I really like it.  It’s hard not to smile while listening to it.

Favorite track: “I’ve Got You Covered”
Rating: 4/5

M. WardA Wasteland Companion
Ward is amazing at slipping in and out of genres, and yet making it all fit within the confines of an album.  That skill is on full display here: from the foot-stomping distortion of “Me and My Shadow” to the toe-tapping pop of “Sweetheart”, to the desolate folk of “Pure Joy”, he sounds equally at home in each of them.  As with most of Ward’s albums, this one seems like it was plucked from some distant past.  Perhaps not quite as distant as The Transfiguration of Vincent, but distant all the same.

Favorite track: “Crawl After You”
Rating: 4.5/5

Sharon Van EttenTramp
I had heard great things about her last album, Epic, but I never really got it.  I tried, but it never took.  So, when I heard she was recording this album with a member of The National, and that her backing band would be comprised of members of The National, The Walkmen and Beirut, I was cautiously optimistic.
But, as it turns out, that was setting the bar entirely too low.
This album is amazing.  It’s dark and haunting and beautiful and hypnotic and threatening.  It is all those things, and often on the same song. 
There’s a kind of dark feeling that lurks in the background of each song, and that really helps to tie the album together.

Favorite track: “I’m Wrong”
Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Waxahatchee - American Weekend

Waxahatchee is the solo project for Katie Crutchfield.  Though she has been in a couple other bands (P.S. Eliot and Bad Banana), I have not heard either of them.  This album was featured on Up and In: The Baseball Prospectus Podcast (by the way, if you're a fan of baseball - specifically the prospect side of things - you need to listen to this podcast), and I immediately fell in love with it.

It's basically a lo-fi folk record.  But that oversimplifies it.  It's definitely a sparse album, with only a guitar and Katie's voice in each song (the lone exception being "Noccalula", where she trades in her guitar for a piano).

So the songs are sparse, but they also feel full.  Her voice is gorgeous, and it really fills the songs out.  She makes each song unique and interesting.  I have listened to this album a ton of times, and I have never been bored.  The way she is able to wrap her voice around each song keeps me coming back to the album over and over again.  And it only improves with each listen.

The lo-fi production was pretty distracting at first.  There are moments where it's rougher than others.  Some of the songs sound like old Alan Lomax field recordings.  But, once I started falling in love with the songs, I didn't notice the production so much.  In fact, it kind of added to the songs.  There's something timeless about these recordings.  I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised to find that this was a recently unearthed recording from 1920.

In case you couldn't tell, I love this album.  It's bare and raw and beautiful.  I can't get enough of it.

Rating: 5/5
Favorite song: "Bathtub"

If you want to buy this album (which I highly recommend that you do), go here.  I bought the vinyl for $10, which is a tremendous price.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ingrid Michaelson, Cloud Nothings

Ingrid MichaelsonHuman Again

She seems to take her music to another level on this album. It’s a stronger set of songs, and they’re a
little more filled out than normal (a lot more strings show up on this album than on previous albums).
She still makes room for her sparse, heartbreaking songs (like “I’m Through”), but most of these songs
just sound bigger than her previous songs. When all is said and done, this will probably end up as my
favorite album of hers to date.

Favorite song: “Blood Brothers”
Rating: 4.5/5

Cloud NothingsAttack on Memory

Reminds me of Nirvana’s Bleach, just from the general mood. It’s dark, raw, and no overproduced
sheen on it. It’s a rock record, with strong nods to punk. It’s also pretty uneven. There are moments I
really loved, and other moments that just got on my nerves. But the good moments seemed to trump
the not-so-great moments, if only slightly.

Favorite song: “Stay Useless”
Rating: 3/5