Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!!

I have never been one for New Year's Eve celebrations. Of course, once you have kids the thought of staying up pat midnight when you face the real prospect of your offspring waking up at 5:30am the next day doesn't seem so appealing. But for those of you that do stay up to see the ball drop, have a safe and happy New Years Eve and we will see you in 2011.

(mp3) Death Cab For Cutie -- The New Year
(I think the lyrics just about capture the spirit of the evening)

So this is the new year.
And i don't feel any different.
The clanking of crystal
Explosions off in the distance (in the distance).

So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
For self assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions

So everybody put your best suit or dress on
Let's make believe that we are wealthy for just this once
Lighting firecrackers off on the front lawn
As thirty dialogs bleed into one

I wish the world was flat like the old days
Then i could travel just by folding a map
No more airplanes, or speed trains, or freeways
There'd be no distance that could hold us back.

There'd be no distance that could hold us back [x2]

So this is the new year [x4]

Sunday, December 26, 2010

IMHO: The Top 20 Records of 2010 (Part Two)

And now for the ten best records of 2010 (at least according to me...)

More varied in style and sound than their debut but without any loss of their pop sheen, the boys moved out of indie darling status. Channeling parts of Paul Simon, tribal African sounds and pop hooks out of the sixties, Vampire Weekend established their cred as a creative force. Whether it was the urgency of "Cousins" or the straight forward pop of "Giving Up The Gun" or the laid back bass line that anchors "Run", the record is a constant surprise from track to track. A record that was expected and yet unexpected at the same time.

Early in the year I predicted this would be a record of the year candidate and I wasn't far off. Pastoral and easy going in it's execution, Album Leaf made a record for lazy days of pondering the past and the future. "We Are", a rare vocal track, epitomizes the quiet and refined nature of the songs. In many ways this record is what THE BEAT BAND used to do at their height and is welcome addition to records I will be enjoying long after the year is over.

Like The Album Leaf, this UK duo made a record that is so unusual in its use of small sounds that build to larger themes. "Knut" is probably the single best song I heard all year and it was on that alone I bought the record. The way it crescendos using only a four line refrain is breathtaking. "Tightrope" is a achingly beautiful ode to a lost love which one presumes is found on the acoustic hush of "Solstice". In an odd way it's an album that celebrates love in all its forms.

A welcome return from one of my favorite dance bands. More song structured than their early work and yet maintains all the madness of the dance floor. "Scribble" takes drum 'n' bass into the mainstream while "Diamond Jigsaw" is the song New Order was trying to write for the past ten years. What could have been a throw away by a no longer relevant band in a no longer relevant genre is a tour de force of all that is good about techno/electronic/dance music. And we all need something to dance to every once and awhile.

If Ra Ra Riot had not given up the punk edge they would sound a lot like this. Ramshackle and urgent, these Scots make pop music that demands you pay attention. You can almost hear the wheels coming off on the cracking "Good Morning" and "Smash Hits". I cannot wait to see what they come up with next and if it will be as good as this debut.

Who would have thought that a group of Spaniards would make a record with barely intelligible singing and songs that are part dance, part rock. part ambient work so well? A study in the power of collaborative sounds, "Subiza" soars and flies through a collection of synths and beats that are unlike anything I have heard. To compare them to anyone does not do them justice. In any other year this may have been the album of the year on the strength of it's sonically adventurous nature. A breathtaking work not to be missed.

Band of Horses have been kicking around for some time now quietly tweaking their roots rock formula waiting to grow into their place as a premier American band. Although "Infinite Arms" didn't make them household names, it did finally match the lyrical and musical beauty many of us saw glimpses of on their last record. "Laredo"is a swinging tune that anchors the first part of the record along with the bar blues of "Compliments." The record's strength really comes from the quieter songs like the starry night gaze of "Infinite Arms" and the after supper sitting on the porch idyllic "Evening Kitchen" which both evoke times long gone. The closer, the epic "Bartles & James", is a slow building rock song reminiscent of THE JAYHAWKS at their best. It's a record of constantly changing sounds and depth not seen in most modern music.

The next "greatest-band-on-earth" hit the big time with their third album. At first the record is not as dark as the first two until you really dig into the lyrical exploration of the death of the modern dream. A cry for help from the artist class as it is swallowed up by commercial consumption, "The Suburbs" is a wide ranging critique on who we are and what we really want out of life. Musically the record builds on the sound the Canadian collective has created for itself. Their is a punk rock edge to "Month of May" juxtaposed with the 80's techno pop of "The Sprawl". A statement record by a statement making band that will be viewed as the moment Arcade Fire took on the big boys of rock and roll.

I have no excuse for not naming "The Midnight Organ Fight" the record of the year last time around. (Seriously, Coldplay...what was I thinking?) and there is a fair amount of certainty in me that I may regret not giving this record top billing this year. There is no doubt that three records in, Scott Hutchinson has transcended into a troubadour poet who can now write beyond his own emotional scope. Where "Fight" was a deeply personal record, TWOMD is a more globally emotional record. From the opening fuzzy guitars of "Things" to the stomp of "Nothing Like You", the Frabbits and the leader are now writing songs to be sung by the masses. My first impression was that the band was trying hard to expand sonically on this record which is most evident on tracks like "The Loneliness and The Scream" and the epic "The Wrestle". "Mixed Drinks" is the sound of a band losing itself in new sounds and finding their voice at the same time. Now if they could just release a record a year they would eventually gain the top spot.

This really should be a 1 and 1a sort of thing (especially since I am writing this wearing a Frightened Rabbit shirt.) The National, however, get the nod mostly due to the fact that I simply could not stop listening to this album the whole year. Opening with the killer "Terrible Love" and moving through the political paranoia of "Afraid of Everyone" to the social malaise of married life in "Conversation 16", the album covers so much lyrical territory it's hard at times to stay up. Each listen to each song brings new visions and new experiences. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" starts off as a pretty typical National song led by the intense drum beat and Matt Berringer's baritone until slowly the song moves into a melodic place the band has never seen before. "England" and "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" are in place as a calmer coda to the a rather rocking album. Jettisoning the jazz undertones of "Boxer" for a more direct approach has made the songs tighter and more focused. "High Violet" is a mature work of a highly confident collective that is at the height of it's game and hands down my favorite album from one of the my new favorite bands. Move over U2 and REM, THE NATIONAL are in the discussion.

Happy New Year everyone!! Here's to a great musical 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

IMHO: The Top 20 Records of 2010 (Part One)

We actually have twenty very worthy records to talk about this year. Without a record from the big boys this year (U2, REM, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, etc.) It was a bit of a wide open year musically. I found myself gravitating to newer bands willing to take risks. And yet, some old friends found their way onto the list by then end of it all.

I would have pegged this record higher when I first heard about it. On paper, the combination of Dangermouse and James from the Shins would have been a no brainer for a top ten record, but over time I drifted away. "The High Road" is the perfect balance between the two but it seemed hard for them to reproduce over a large number of songs. If this is more than a one off collaboration it could bear considerable fruit for years to come.

The new band led by Jose Gonzalez takes his hushed folk approach and beefs it up. It's dark and eerie in some places (similar to BON IVER) and sunny in others. The record does start to drag a bit at the end but "In Every Direction" is a sneaky blues romp for the indie folk hipster.

The Scottish have made a cottage industry recently of adventurous, thought provoking and slightly off kilter bands. Mersault takes a lo-fi approach to their music, often disguising their vocals through filters and effects. It does not hamper the feel of the songs, instead bringing emotional depth in a whole new way. "Crank Resolutions" is hands down one of the best single songs of the year.

I feel I never gave this record it's proper due. Sophomore albums are very hard things to gauge. Are they departures from the signature sound? Are they retreads of a beloved debut? Broken Records take their sound a deepen it clearly aiming for a more anthemic feel as they move out of the underground and into mainstream. Early prediction for record three...big time success. For now revel in the beauty of "The Darkness Rises Up" and "The Leaving Song".

There is always one surprise that comes out of left field. This year, just the fact that I gave this band any of my time is a shock in and of itself. The wife has been on these guys for awhile and seeing them live made me a believer. Like a reincarnation of THROWING MUSES, this duo writes catchy songs about love and loss. "Worn Out Nervous Condition" has the kind of blues stomp that rivals anything else out there right now.

There are some bands that eventually settle in and just start churning out a new solid album every three years or so. You can count of Jimmy Eat World for songs that sound great in the car and are full of catchy melodies. Not terribly adventurous but "My Best Theory" is a great rock song and demonstrates that sometimes there is comfort in the familiar.

Fuzzy, dirty and urgent seem to pop in my head when listening to this record. This LA duo take on modern punk rock with a nod to Jesus and Mary Chain along the way. The searing "Fever Dreaming" and the droning "Glitter" highlight this collection of deeper than they first sound songs and seem to signal a new creative force at work.

If No Age are the future of the underground, the RA RA RIOT are the future of pop music. The Orchard is a no excuses unabashed pop record designed to hook you into their way of thinking on sheer joy alone. "Boy" has a bassline that dares you not to bob your head and the simply beautiful string use on "Shadowcasting" makes you ache in the teeth. Just a fun, playful record that should be played every summer.

I admit I should have liked this one more. It has all the pre-requisites for a great album. A mix of big choruses, big guitars and just enough self-deprecation in the lyrics to not be take to seriously. But over time the record lost steam. It may be the one record this year that over time gains more momentum for least I hope. It's not say it's a bad record, just less than what it could have been.

This LA band is a hodge podge of sounds (early U2, some Joy Division, some goth rock) all rolled up into one. When they soar, like on the 80's inspired "Pure Violence", they absolutely lock in. "Throwing Shade" is a synth heavy dance romp that at first seems out of place but over time grows catchier. When they settle in on an overall sound and theme they could be something special.

Coming Soon Part Two...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Examples of the Perfect Pop Song (Part Three)

There are a lot of people out there that dismiss ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN when talking about the great alternative bands of the 80's. I happen to think they were very underrated and "Lips Like Sugar" is a great example of why. Great guitar, great singing, perfect pop song.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Post Punk Icons Wire Return

I can't really tell you why I grabbed this record when I saw it. I don't have a lot from their catalogue in my collection and outside of the single "In Vivo" I can't name a tune they have made in their long career. But for no real reason I did give their latest record, "Red Barked Tree" a listen and I am feeling better for it.One of the seminal bands of the post-punk movement, Wire have left their imprint on a lot of bands that make music today most notably BLOC PARTY.

Like those lads, Wire travels in songs that are simple in their construction and are based largely on repeating a simple lyrical refrain or guitar line over and over. Opening the record with the subdued "Please Take" is kind of a tease as it does not hint at the raw aggression that is to come. "Two Minutes" is the lead single and seems to be a nod to Blur's "Parklife" which in turn was a nod to Wire's early work. Although the record lacks the urgency of the band's early work, the maturity in songwriting and playing serves the band well. Will this record catapult them into a new audience of younger punk and indie kids? I doubt it. But it's a good record that deserves attention

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New REM Single..brings back old times

REM is in many ways like a long lost friend. You keep in touch with them but sometimes you lose track. Then one day you think to yourself, "you know I haven't heard for so and so in a while I should give them a call". Well, REM called the other day and reminded me why they are such a good friend.

"Discoverer" is the lead single from the band's newest record, "Collapse Into Now". By the sound of this song, the band is continuing to rebuild their sound after it all fell apart when Bill Berry left (never underestimate the impact a drummer has on a band.) From the opening guitar line by the suddenly ubiquitous Perter Buck (as referenced earlier by his work with THE DECEMBERISTS and TIRED PONY) to Micheal Stipe sounding oddly defiant in his singing, the band seems ready to at least give the whole big ass stadium band thing another whirl. They have said in interviews that the new album is similar in many ways to "Automatic For The People" which in my book is a good thing. "Discoverer" seems more akin to their work on "Green" but if those are the reference points then we might be in for a treat in 2011.

download the track for free here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Examples of the Perfect Pop Song (Part Two)

There are many songs in the REM catalogue that could fill this category but "The One I Love" is certainly one of them. From the opening drum beat, to the great guitar hook, the song is about as close to perfection as you can come.

Enjoy the video below:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chapel Club and my wish for cold weather

Okay people, it's frickin December. Could I please get some weather that doesn't require me to wear shorts and flip flops. Which leads me to today's musical find. CHAPEL CLUB are the kind of band I would listen to when it's cold outside. The band reminds me a ton of THE OCEAN BLUE mixed with elements of the shoegazer movement. These London based chaps are releasing their new ep, entitled "Wintering", in preparation for the debut full length in 2011. The four songs here highlight the different stylistics impressions of the band and serves as a nice primer for new listeners.

The opener, "Roads", is a fuzzed out drone of a song that pays homage to SWERVEDRIVER and SLOWDIVE, including the full effect guitar bending sound made famous by the later on their seminal "Souvlaki Space Station." "Teluride" builds slowly through a wash of feedback to find a dreamy pop song hiding on the other side. "Bodies" has the feel of a dark night drive along a snowy road, with the gentle guitar line serving as the falling snow. The closer, the eight minute "Widows", seems to be lifted from THE CURE early catalogue with it's slinky bass line pushing the song along.

As an added bonus, the band has made another song available on their site for free download. "The Shore", which one would guess will be the lead single from their record, seems more aggressive in it's sound yet maintains the imagery outlined in the song title. Whether it's the birds at the open of the track or the way the song washes sound over the listener, the band excels at creating mood pieces that pass as pop songs. Take some time with these guys and definitely check out their full length next year.

Download The Shore from their site here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Introducing...Clockwork Radio

CLOCKWORK RADIO are a five piece band from Manchester (apparently by way of Egypt according to their website.) The band plays a pretty straight ahead form of rock with some nice flourishes of guitar and an odd bass line here and there. They have released their second ep, "The Soul Harmonic", for free download off their bandcamp page.

The ep's four tracks highlight the bands eclectic approach. "Desire" has a bit of a middle eastern blues feel to it in the open before finding a nice groove for the rest of the track. "Please You" takes the band into a slightly more epic place similar to say THE TEMPER TRAP. "Solitaire" opens with a great bass line that makes the this the most upfront rock song on the ep. This is also the song closest to their Manchester Brit Pop roots. The closing title track takes advantage of the piano line to come off very Beatle-esque.

The ep gives me hope that they could definitely grow into something worth keeping an eye on.

Download the record for free here.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Teen Daze & the bedroom pop movement

I have always marveled what can be accomplished with home recording equipment these days. Sounds that are fully formed and seem more polished than ever before are emanating from singular recording sessions with small groups of musicians. Take TEEN DAZE, a Vancouver collective (or is it one guy, I can't really tell) who make sunny, shimmery pop music that is reminiscent of THE BYRDS and THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS in the layered vocals and clean guitar lines. Their latest ep, "Beach Dreams", is the kind of lo-fi wonder that makes me wish I had learned to play the guitar myself.

You can almost feel the sun basking on the shoulders of the singer as he intones to his love that they should fall into each other's arms on "Let's Fall Asleep Together." "Beach Dreams" sounds as if it's using the rhythm of the ocean as its metronome as it recalls the end of summer and all the lost opportunities that come with the end of the season. "Cliff Jump Love Song" has that fevered pace that comes with the adrenaline rush of diving into the unknown. "Water" sounds as if it is drowning in on itself and yet still has that childlike love of the ocean in it's spirit.

This is a marvelous piece of pop confection that will last those of your battling winter wonders (like six feet of snow) with the promise of sunnier days to come.

Visit the Bandcamp site here to pay what you like for the ep...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Examples of the Perfect Pop Song (Part One)

No commentary with this just an example of a perfect pop song. Sit back, relax and enjoy this (especially Harriet Wheeler's almost perfect vocals...)