Wednesday, June 28, 2006

In Hindsight...

Now that 2006 is half over, it's a perfect time to reflect back on 2005 albums that I and others somehow missed the memo on. While this is not an exhaustive look at overlooked 2005 albums, the following have really grown on me in the last six months.

Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy didn't grab me on the first few listens. Will Sheff's vocals sounded a bit too whiney and the repetitive lyrical themes annoyed me a bit. What I realize now is that those lyrics are stellar. It's pretty depressing, introverted, Bright Eyes-esque music, but don't let the heart-on-the-sleeve vocals turn you away. It's also beautifully arranged and produced music with enough going on lyrically to keep the listener engaged.

Okkervil River- For Real

Okkervil River- A Stone

Devendra Banhart ditched the "freak-folk" thing for his current, less interesting, pseudo-hippie thing. A shame - because when done correctly, melding a folk song with macabre or strange musical elements or approaches can make for some amazing music. Joanna Newsom and Akron/Family are great examples, and so is David Thomas Broughton. The Complete Guide To Insufficiency is a startling debut from the English singer-songwriter. The entire album was recorded all in one take in a big empty church - just Broughton, his guitar and some effect pedals. Broughton's voice is like a more appealing version of Antony's from Antony and the Johnsons - odd, yet affecting. The album's dark lyrical themes (death, drugs, rape) add to the album's ambiance. If you want more information, read the Coke Machine Glow review, or get a few beers in me and then ask. I'll go on forever and then invite you to my house for a listening party. In hindsight, this may be one of my favorite pieces of music from last year.

David Thomas Broughton- Ambiguity

Hype is such a terrible thing. It taints our perception of things. Did I like this album because everyone else said it was amazing, or did I like it because it was good? Hard to tell sometimes. While the hype surrounding Wolf Parade's Apologies to Queen Mary certainly made me view it with a critical eye, I must say it has held up to repeated listens. Now that the sun has come out again, tracks like "Shine A Light" and "I'll Believe In Anything" sound absolutely stellar. Believe the hype - great rock music.

Wolf Parade- Shine A Light

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Magnum speaks!

A vauge and unconfirmed post on the Elephant 6 messageboards indicates that indie wunderkind (he's technically too old for that title, I just wanted an excuse to use it) Jeff Magnum of Neutral Milk Hotel fame is working on new material. Normal journalistic standards would call for careful research as to the accuracy of such information, but what are blogs for besides taking vauge, unconfirmed tidbits of information and posting it as the truth? (This just in: Ryan Adams is on coke, Dave Matthews has AIDS. More at 11.) Anyways, if you haven't listened to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, go do it now. I'll get you some MP3s soon. Here's the post:

"hello again.

for the past few months ive been putting together the pieces of everything ive written in the past three years and its been a revelation. whenever i had the time ive been writing melodies and keeping them in my head for later, and songs just accumulate, im not waiting as some have said. i still dont know how we’re going to put it all together, the songs will have more noises and collages in them. because of that we dont know whether this will be korena pang or neutral milk hotel or michael bolton but that doesnt really matter. names are just a box we put things in to separate them, and we’re figuring out what box these songs go in.

we dont have a timetable for releasing the album yet, so dont get your hopes up for new songs now. if you want more “aeroplane” just ignore all of this, the songs are songs but they’re longer and more free. when jeremy came down after his tour we just spent days playing noise while screaming and it was incredibly liberating.

it has been so much fun that we will for sure be playing a show or two, probably more. freedom is a wonderful thing but at a certain point you need the routines of normal life. ive had that for a while but i realized last year at the show with the livys that the best sort of normal ive ever had was on the road with my friends. getting to gigs late with cars coughing and trombones smacking on doors, the giant egg leaks over the masses, the yolk sustains us, we eat whites for days. it can never be the same but i need to get as close as i can to that again.

so thats all. everything is happening soon, this is the year.
thanks for listening. jeff."

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Boston Pops video

My Morning Jacket/Boston Pops doing "Wordless Chorus." I hope an official recording comes out. That sound that Jim James makes at the end is so inhumanly cool.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Is it bad that I am rooting for the dirty water in the new Strokes video?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Rock Your Face Off

So I realize I haven't posted about Yo La Tengo yet, which is a damn shame. But their upcoming album is all the more reason to change that. Normally, if an arty indie band named their album I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, I would mock them mercilessly. But judging by what I've heard of said album, they could have named it Yo La Tengo Violates Caleb's Mother and I'd still eat it up. Disturbing hyperbole aside, this album should end up at the top of many year-end lists. Unfortunately it will be a Yo La Tengo-less summer for many, because it will not be fully released until Sept. 12 in the U.S. and Sept. 4 in Europe. "Beanbag Chair" (also available on a fan-made myspace and the band's web site) shows the band going towards a decidedly classic pop direction and doing an excellent job of it. If you need a refresher as to the band's earlier stuff, 1997's I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One is one of the better albums of the 1990s. Or just desecrate the lost art of writing great albums and grab the band's greatest hits collection, Prisoners of Love: A Smattering of Scintillating Senescent Songs: 1985-2003.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Pitchfork's 100 Awesome Music Videos

I haven't forgotten about you, I swear. Unpaid internships and mindless office work and being sad are all full time jobs that must be juggled, and though some pay off slower than others, they will all pay off eventually, I am sure of it. Please accept my apologies and this link to Pitchfork's 100 Awesome Music videos.

Here is an awesome one from The Avalanches, who are great DJ/dance music for those of us that don't often listen to DJ/dance music. Check out their 2000 full length Since I Left You if you want more.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

In Case You Forgot: Ryan Adams- Heartbreaker

"When I'm lonely/ she makes me feel nice." For an artist whose pretentiousness has a habit of overshadowing his music, this line, which nicely summarizes Heartbreaker as a whole, is pretty damned earnest. This music doesn't have grandiose ambitions and it doesn't try to be something it's not. It is a stark expression of one of the most universal feelings in human experience - heartbreak. If an artist can't bring anything new to the table, they better be able to do the old things well. Adams is not the first person to write a record like this, but what he lacks in originality he made up for in execution - this is probably the best sad bastard album ever made. Painfully sorrowful and downtrodden yet never melodramatic, Heartbreaker appeals to the self-destructive person in all of us. This is a lonely drunk's folk symphony. I could spend hours typing out the startlingly simple one-liners in this album that carry more emotional weight than most whole songs, but I'll let you guys discover those gems yourself. Suffice it to say that while lines like "I just want to die without you" and "Oh, why do they leave" may sound painfully emo on paper, Adams' delivery leaves no doubt that he means what he says. Like many classics, the album sounds raw and unrehearsed. While there are absolutely gorgeous moments on the album, the Dylan-esque production style gives the music extremely rough edges. There are very few production tricks - this is a singer/songwriter in the classic mold simply throwing his heart at a tape recorder. Painfully honest and cathartic, Heartbreaker is a whiskey-soaked (that phrase is overused, but I can't think of a better way to put it) testament to the heartbroken kid in all of us.

For all Pitchfork's downfalls as a music journalism web site, Steven Byrd said it better than I ever could in his review of this album (last paragraph especially):
Singing in a voice that's just filthy with despair, Adams delivers his first solo album with the practiced swagger and genuine hurt of a veteran country crooner. A startling 15-song masterpiece, Heartbreaker is a drinker's album, an ode to sadness that deals exclusively with all the dark and dirty corners of the human heart. It's music written in the language of loneliness, depression, and, above all, heartbreak, in all its varied forms. And it makes perfect sense that this should be Adams' first solo album, as-- aside from a couple of notable collaborations-- the material here is far too personal and focused to have been produced by anything but one man with one soul.

Heartbreaker shows Ryan Adams sweeping all of the cliches of mass- produced, "new country" under the rug and tapping into everything that makes genuine country music unique and beautiful: raw emotion, deep groove and clever storytelling. There are no simple, melodramatic, commercial-ready ballads here; the music is too deeply rooted in old-school country music, folk-rock songs and bluegrass jams to produce anything that predictable. With that musical philosophy firmly in place, it stands to reason that each track on the album is a gem, showcasing Adams' considerable songwriting ability and a way with words that most musicians would sell their spines to possess.

The record begins with the misleadingly upbeat "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)," a swinging bluegrass number that wouldn't sound out of place in a honky-tonk. But Adams gets to the business of bringing us down soon enough. When Adams sings, "I just want to die without you," on "Call Me on Your Way Back Home," orphans run out into the street and weep. For "Damn, Sam (I Love a Woman That Rains)," Adams calls on the patron saints of sparse folk music and lyrical tomfoolery while channeling the troubadour vocals of early Bob Dylan to produce one of Heartbreaker's lighter, but better, tracks. Still, even this stylistic similarity is superficial, as the blood- and-guts of the song are all his own.

Adams continues his winning streak by making great use of a rare cameo by country-rock legend Emmylou Harris on "Oh My Sweet Carolina," as Harris' trademark falsetto blends beautifully with Adams' own rich vocals for a simple, affecting song about one man's longing to return home. "Come Pick Me Up," a track about a man struggling with a bad relationship and pining for his cheating girlfriend weighs in as the album's most affecting moment. Gluing crushing lyrics to undeniably catchy drum riffs, greasy guitar work and soulful harmonica playing, the song is five minutes and thirteen seconds of damn near perfect music.

There's nothing terribly complex or tricky about Heartbreaker. In fact, it's probably one of the simplest, most straightforward albums you'll hear all year. But this album wasn't written to be complex. It isn't electronica designed to tickle your cerebral cortex. It isn't music to figure out. It's music to feel to. It's music to drink alone to. And it's sadder than witnessing your grandmother's burial.

Heartbreaker is the soundtrack to the last ten minutes of any relationship you've ever watched crumble before your eyes. It's music for the ruined romantic in all of us. Usually, that little romantic simply sits quietly, tearfully watching everything disappear without so much as a single complaint. But on Heartbreaker, Ryan Adams has not only convinced that voice to speak, he's taught it to sing. The result is an album of astonishing musical proficiency, complete honesty and severe beauty.
While it's a completely different album, I have no problem placing Heartbreaker next to Radiohead's Kid A and Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as one of the best albums to come out this decade. The tracks that I used to think were expendable (To Be The One, Damn Sam, etc.) are now some of my favorites. While Adams' other work is hit or miss, Heartbreaker is about as close to perfect as an album can get.

Ryan Adams- Come Pick Me Up

Ryan Adams- In My Time of Need

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Illinois...a state, an album, a band

The band Illinois is, ironically, from Pennsylvania. The band's new EP endears itself to me not only through the liberal use of banjo (which makes me giddy as a school girl), but through the band's great production and grasp of the tried-and-true indie bag of tricks. Think of it as Tapes N Tapes with more banjo. A little bit of songwriting growth and a better band name and these guys could go somewhere. There isn't a bad track on the EP, but the following is one of my favorites:

Illinois- Screendoor from the band's EP, The Revenge of Some Kid, which can be purchased here

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Great interview with Destroyer's Dan Bejar on Pitchfork today. My favorite line:

"I was born in 1972, which means that in "rock" terms I have no business addressing "the kids" unless it's to shoo them out of my garden."

Just admit it, man. You are so awesome it hurts. Who else can write lyrics that inspire a drinking game?

Monday, June 12, 2006

My Morning Cantata

This week, My Morning Jacket played "Gideon" on Letterman with The Boston Pops, whom they are playing two shows with later this month. Pray for a good recording. Band rocks.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Disc Jockery

So, in case you haven't noticed/don't know me/need reminding, I have a radio show. It is a hobby that I enjoy immensely. I love music, love sharing that music with other people and love the idea that somewhere, some 14-year-old kid is going to randomly tune their radio to 89.3 and hear Radiohead or Sigur Ros or Bob Dylan for the very first time, have their mind blown, decide to form a band and end up making life-changing music. Maybe it's the pretentious part of me that loves being ahead of the curve, but I can't explain how great it feels to stumble across a band or artist that I really enjoy, play it on the radio and get a call from someone else who loved it and is stoked to get into that artist's music. If anybody ever gets a chance to do something like this, by all means do it.

That being said, the name of my show is "On The Rocks," which started out as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the moody sad-bastard music that I love. While the show's format is still something similar to that, it's turned into more of a folk/mellow indie thing. You can expect to hear older, more strait forward folk stuff like Bob Dylan, Neil Young and John Prine; newer folk-based stuff like Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine and Wilco; mellow indie-ish stuff like Pedro The Lion, Modest Mouse and Silver Jews; as well as more experimental stuff like The Microphones, Joanna Newsom, Tom Waits and Animal Collective. Ideally it works out to be a two-hour block of music perfect for drinking yourself into a depressed stupor (hence the name), but with enough resigned optimism to bring a tear to your bloodshot and booze-soaked eye. Because really, what else do people do with their Sunday nights? Here's the playlist from last week:

The Court & The Spark- Suffolk Down Upon The Night
Whiskeytown- Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight (Faithless Street version)
Wilco- Radio Cure
Bob Dylan- Girl From The North Country
Pavement- Here
David Gray- Lead You Upstairs
Sufjan Stevens- For The Widows in Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti
Howe Gelb- Nail In The Sky
Akron/Family- Italy
Silver Jews- Tennessee
Pedro The Lion- Metal Heart (Cat Power cover)
Wilco- Red Eyed Blue
Sigur Ros- #4
Ryan Adams- I See Monsters
R.E.M.- Tongue
My Morning Jacket- Golden
Beck- The Golden Age
Tom Waits- Come On Up To The House
Bob Dylan- Simple Twist of Fate
Neil Young- Motion Pictures
The Microphones- Headless Horseman
Radiohead- Sail To The Moon
Elliott Smith- Pitseleh
Iron & Wine- Naked As We Came
Smashing Pumpkins- Farewell And Goodnight
Neko Case- Star Witness

So if you're not doing anything from 10 p.m. until midnight on your Sunday nights (don't lie to yourself, you're not), feel free to wallow in your sadness with me at 89.3 if you are in the Bellingham area, or listen online at Catharsis never sounded this good.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

As promised, Mr. Tom Waits

Here are some of my favorite Tom Waits tracks.

Tom Waits- Ol '55 from Closing Time

Tom Waits- Time from Rain Dogs

Tom Waits- I Don't Want To Grow Up from Bone Machine

Tom Waits- The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) from Small Change

Tom Waits- A Good Man Is Hard To Find from Blood Money

Tom Waits- Day After Tomorrow from Real Gone

Unlike a majority of Tom Waits' work, the new Tom Yorke solo album is suprisingly average, with a couple exceptions. Maybe Radiohead are human afterall. Perhaps there will be some tracks up once it is officially released.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Howlin Rain

It's like CCR on acid. It's like a more intense and focused Grateful Dead. It's like My Morning Jacket with Taylor Hicks (yeah, I watched a couple episodes, don't judge) on vocals. It's an amazing mix of classic southern rock and psychedelia. It's so stupid and sloppy and over the top, you can't help but love it. It's gotta be the year's best soundtrack to drinking beer on your porch on a summer afternoon. We're talking, of course, about Howlin Rain's self-titled debut. This has me floored and makes me want to finish with my finals so that I can test the drinking/porch hypothesis.

Howlin Rain- In Sand And Dirt

Howlin Rain- The Hanging Heart

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Let me fall out of the window with confetti in my hair

Paste Magazine recently compiled a list of what they consider the 100 best living songwriters. (Thanks to Stereogum)

100 Best Living Songwriters
1. Bob Dylan
2. Neil Young
3. Bruce Springsteen
4. Waits/Brennan
5. Paul McCartney
6. Leonard Cohen
7. Brian Wilson
8. Elvis Costello
9. Joni Mitchell
10. Prince
11. Randy Newman
12. Jagger/Richards
13. Paul Simon
14. Stevie Wonder
15. Willie Nelson
16. David Bowie
17. Holland/Dozier/Holland
18. U2
19. Patty Griffin
20. Van Morrison
21. Lou Reed
22. Lucinda Williams
23. John/Taupin
24. Jeff Tweedy
25. Chuck Berry
26. R.E.M.
27. Radiohead
28. Robbie Robertson
29. Tom Petty
30. John Prine
31. Carole King
32. Leiber/Stoller
33. Pete Townshend
34. John Fogerty
35. Steve Earle
36. Beck
37. Smokey Robinson
38. Kris Kristofferson
39. Led Zeppelin
40. Bacharach/David
41. Ray Davies
42. Loretta Lynn
43. Ryan Adams
44. Al Green
45. Jackson Browne
46. David Byrne
47. Sufjan Stevens
48. Welch/Rawlings
49. Cat Stevens
50. Public Enemy
51. Penn/Oldham
52. Paul Westerberg
53. James Taylor
54. Aimee Mann
55. Dolly Parton
56. James Brown
57. Morrissey
58. Sly Stone
59. Jack White
60. Jimmy Webb
61. John Hiatt
62. Sting
63. Richard Thompson
64. Andy Partridge
65. Bill Mallonee
66. Charles Thompson
67. Conor Oberst
68. Allen Toussaint
69. Merle Haggard
70. Alex Chilton
71. Vic Chesnutt
72. Michael Jackson
73. Julie Miller
74. Over the Rhine
75. Ron Sexsmith
76. Will Oldham
77. Bruce Cockburn
78. Robert Pollard
79. Stephen Malkmus
80. Pink Floyd
81. The Flaming Lips
82. John Darnielle
83. Fleetwood Mac
84. They Might Be Giants
85. David Bazan
86. Sam Beam
87. Lyle Lovett
88. Parliament
89. Victoria Williams
90. Nick Cave
91. Drive-By Truckers
92. Alejandro Escovedo
93. Joseph Arthur
94. Sam Phillips
95. Patti Smith
96. Jimmy Cliff
97. Josh Ritter
98. Jay Farrar
99. Outkast
100. T. Bone Burnett

They got #1 and #2 right, that is for sure. As for the rest of it, there are some great picks and some terrible ones, but I suppose that's to be expected for a list like this. Floyd and Stephen Malkmus should be higher, Sufjan Stevens and Bruce Springsteen lower, and Josh Ritter and Drive-By Truckers not on the list at all. But what this list nailed that others would probably miss is Waits/Brennan at #4.

I've slowly been wading through Tom Waits' discography in the last few months and have been blown away by most of it. The guy has a style that has slowly changed over the years, but remained uniquely his - often imitated, but never duplicated. From the 70's singer-songwriter-ish Closing Time to the down-and-out jazz crooning of Nighthawks at the Diner to the dark, rhythmic, going-to-a-carnival-on-acid Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs to the even darker, guttural, tribal-sounding Bone Machine and Blood Money, Waits' music varies enough to stay relevant and interesting and never get stale. The list of artists that have covered him is impressive: Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart (who had a hit single with Waits' "Downtown Train"), Violent Femmes, Tori Amos, The Ramones, Neko Case, Hootie & The Blowfish, Cat Power, Tim Buckley, T-Bone Burnett, Nancy Griffith, Pearl Jam, Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, and (the one-and-only) Meatloaf.

The awesome thing about the music of Waits and his wife and co-songwriter Kathleen Brennan is that underneath the strange instrumentation and sometimes alienating vocal delivery are some incredibly well written, well constructed and perfectly executed songs. The lyrics are often stellar and just about perfect for the sad bastard sound of the music. (I am a connoisseur of good sad bastard music.) Yet underneath the layers and layers of foreign sounds, gravelly vocals and sometimes sinister lyrical topics, there is a gentle, enduring optimism in much of the music. "That Feel" from Bone Machine, "The Day After Tomorrow" from Real Gone and "Come On Up To The House" from Mule Variations are good examples of this.

I don't have my music handy right now, so once again this is an MP3-less MP3 blog, but we'll have a Tom Waits smorgasbord sometime this week. Until then, here's a couple pieces of media, thanks to YouTube, which is an amazing tool for killing massive amounts of time, by the way.

"Chocolate Jesus" (Live on Letterman?)

"Hoist That Rag" (Live in Amsterdam)

This is one artist that I must see before I die (or he dies, whichever comes first).

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Experiencing some technical difficulties

My apologies for the lack of blogging. I'll make it up to you when dead week/finals week, etc. is over, I promise. Until then, here are some longer pro-shot Sasquatch videos which should keep you busy. The Neko Case/Constantines/Mother Nature one is fun to watch.

Take care.