Friday, August 31, 2007

Albums I've purchased in August

Album of the month:

Okkervil River - "The Stage Names." Will's voice definitely takes some getting used to. After a few listens, though, I've become quite impressed by their musicality, composition and production. I would classify the album as good "violent rainstorm music," but not necessarily a sunny summer day album.

Runner up:

Josh Ritter - "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter." This was supposed to be Ritter's "coming-out" album, setting him on the road to stardom (which he has already achieved in Ireland...yes, he's from Idaho. Them Irish like their folk singers, I suppose). But where in the world was the press for this album? "The Animal Years" was on many "best-of-year" lists, and V2 - the label that released it - collapsed as the album was being released, coincidentally the same night that Ritter was on Letterman. Now he's on Sony, which presumably has even greater marketing prowess and heft. So why in the world was there no review of this album on any of the regular outlets? Okkervil River gets a NYT review, and nothing for Ritter? Not even a Pitchfork review, though this isn't the stuff they usually enjoy. Especially since the rule of thumb is "sales of one's latest work respond to the quality of the latest release" - any label that knew what it was doing would've capitalized off of the good reviews from "The Animal Years" and responded by championing Ritter as the next big thing.

His sound is even more approachable here. Less acoustic, more big band - more radio friendly, but his experimentation with new sounds makes for a less coherent album than his last. There's a lot of incredibly catchy stuff on here, but as an album, I prefer "The Animal Years." Still a solid release, and highly recommended.


Caribou - "Andorra." Sunny 60s pop. Haven't heard any Caribou (or Manitoba) prior to this, but I've heard that this is a departure. More melodic, less electronic than the past? Nice work music.

bodies of water - "Ears Will Pop and Eyes Will Blink." If you like The Polyphonic Spree or Danielson, or if Godspell holds a special place in your heart, then this is for you. If the idea of The Spree makes you sick to your stomach, then stay away. Actually more gospel and overtly religious than the others. Same style: large number of singers (though they share lead vocal duties here), lots of instruments, etc. Not bad, but doesn't stand out from the other two bands I mentioned.

The 1900s - "Plume Delivery." [EP] Sort of VU + Belle and Sebastian. I've heard some tracks from their October release "Cold & Kind" which I *really really really* like; nothing from this EP matches "When I Say Go" or "Two Ways" from this upcoming release, which I'm really looking forward to. Try "A Coming of Age." Definitely a band to watch.

Albums released in not August that were nonetheless acquired in August:

The Avett Brothers - "Emotionalism": Ah, heck yeah! Now this is what I'm looking for, thanks emusic! This was released in March, but I only heard about the band a few days ago. Since the band has "Brothers" in the name, you automatically know this is bluegrass. But! Don't let that scare you away. These guys are best described as: bluegrass + Beatles + Josh Ritter + a little bit of screaming here and there = excellence. I know you don't believe me. But perhaps a live performance from Conan can convince you. This is quite possibly my favorite album of the year.

The Avett Brothers - "Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions." So I listened to Emotionalism for abouth a week straight (definitely one of my favorite of the year. That album has absolutely no filler, sounds like the Beatles crossed with bluegrass, and is simply delightful), and decided that a large chunk of my remaining emusic downloads needed to go to their previous album. This one is also quite good; it's longer and less focused, though; more bluegrass and less pop. Still excellent, however.

The Avett Brothers: - "Gleam" [EP]. More mellow than their latest two full lengths, definitely recommend their latest two before this (and, actually, "Mignonette," which came before this).

The Avett Brothers: - "Mignonette." What can I say, you find a band you like, why wait? Not as coherent an album even as "Four Thieves," but hints at the greatness to come...still, a large collection of catchy songs, and suggested if you like "Emotionalism" and "Four Thieves Gone."

My Teenage Stride - "Ears Like Golden Bats." Throwback to the 1980s! Think Smiths meets Joy Division. Actually, this is what Interpol would sound like if they had been formed in the 1980s. Extremely catchy, this is exactly what I like! Me thinks I'll be listening to this one for months to come.

Battles - "Mirrored." Electronica/"math rock"/atmospheric music - basically anything without lyrics - usually doesn't appeal to me. (I suppose want to be able to sing along with my music or at least hum the tune). So Battles would generally not interest me, but they're darn catchy. Here's the video to their latest single. Although there's lots of vocal distortion, I like how the drums are front and center. Good stuff.

Bright Eyes - "Cassadaga." I like Conor better when he sounds angry and unhinged. There's a little bit of this here, but not much. This is definitely the best produced and orchestrated of his albums, but the lack of energy and passion makes the whole thing sound bland. If M. Ward is still releasing stuff when he's 60, that's what this might sound like. Shoulda listened to the reviews.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Random thought of the day

For some reason, it occurred to me that The Last Temptation of Adam - a song off of the new Josh Ritter - could in fact be a sequel of sorts to The Smiths' Ask. TLTA is about a guy who meets a girl inside a missle silo during the advent of WWIII. He has strong feelings for her, and she slowly develops feelings for him. He's pretty sure that she's only in to him due to the circumstances, and doubts that their love would continue above ground. Thus, he's tempted to push a button and bring nuclear destruction to the rest of the world, condeming them to a life in the silo together forever.

From Ask: "If it's not love, then it's the bomb that will bring us together."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Too Cool For School Video post #2

I'm sure everyone's seen this by now, but if not, it deserves your attention - this is pretty darn sweet. Tim and Richard, from Arcade Fire, were audience members at The Price is Right a bit before Neon Bible was released. Remember how there were the cryptic internet ads directing you to 1-866-neon-bible, where a snippit of Intervention was playing? Here, they're wearing T-shirts with the phone number spelled out in tape, and manage to get on camera for the opening audience pan. Check it out.

Too Cool For School Video of the Day

Feist on Letterman last night. Check out the indie choir behind her, freakin awesome: at least two members of the National, A.C. Newman of The New Pornographers, members of Grizzly Bear. Some of the choir look like they're from I'm From Barcelona, but that's probably only cause the band has 20+ members, and who can really tell them apart.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Some interesting stats...

2007: the year "indie" takes over America?

Peak Billboard album chart performance for some notable 2007 releases (granted, many of these are on major labels, and what really counts is total albums sold, not weekly ranking, but still...):

Arcade Fire, Neon Bible: #2!!!
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Some Loud Thunder: #47
The Shins, Wincing the Night Away: #2
Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank: #1
LCD Soundsystem, Sounds of Silver: #46
Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha: #76
The National, Boxer: #68
The Polyphonic Spree, The Fragile Army: #113
Feist, The Reminder: #16
Interpol, Our Love to Admire: #5
Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga: #10
White Stripes, Icky Thump: #2

The fact that Neon Bible debuted at number 2 gives me hope for America. To think that the band was essentially unheard of just a few years ago, and that Funeral gained its fame through word of mouth (and fantastic internet hype)...simply incredible to think that the band has ascended so high, so quickly. I have no doubt that they will be as big as Radiohead someday soon, and I'm therefore equally sad to have missed them on their treks through Boston in the past. To think, just a few years ago they were playing the Middle East, and in just a few years I'm sure it will be difficult to hear them in anything other than a large arena show.

Spoon's impressive showing surprised me a bit, and it's a shame that Feist didn't place higher (but The Reminder is still in the top 200 after 16 weeks, so at least it's got staying power). I'd bet that of the upcoming releases, the new Iron & Wine September release does phenomenally well, regardless of how it actually sounds.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fall Concerts

Can't imagine I'll have much time this fall to get to many of these, but nonetheless, some fall concerts that have caught my eye:

Sept 25: Okkervil River (Middle East); Devandra Banhart (Roxy)
Sept 30th: Jose Gonzalez (Paradise) and Mountain Goats (Middle East)
Oct 1: Magnolia Electric Co and the Watson Twins (Middle East)
Oct 4: Josh Ritter (Somerville Theater)
Oct 6: The National (Roxy)
Oct 7: Sunset Rubdown (Middle East)
Oct 12: Of Montreal (Roxy)
Oct 13: Architecture in Helsinki (Paradise)
Oct 17: Spoon (Roxy)
Oct 22: The Hold Steady (Roxy)
Oct 25: The Go! Team (Paradise)

(Avett Brothers in November)

Of these, I've already got tickets to Josh Ritter (sold out by now, I imagine) and The Hold Steady. I'd be psyched to hear Devandra or Okkervil River, or see the National again.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Where I find out about music

Where is it that I discover new bands, you ask?

1) Pitchforkmedia. The heavyweight in the indie webzine scene. When pitchfork recommends an album, it can help start a young band's career (their gushing over Funeral and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, for instance, certainly helped word spread about those albums). Big enough to sponsor their own three-day music festival each year (with names promenent enough to compete with the likes of Lollapalooza and Boneroo), there exists a certain amount of backlash against the site these days, especially given how powerful a positive or negative review can be. Nonetheless, a great site for music news, videos and MP3s, and reviews of the bigger indie releases along with lesser known titles. A favorite pasttime is guessing what the review of a major indie release will be prior to the pitchfork rating is released...

2) Stereogum. Also a heavyweight, but a news-only site (no reviews). They have a number of interesting features, such as "quit your day job" (where they interview up-and-coming artists about what they do to pay the bills until they break out), and "premature evaluation" (a non-numerical review of albums prior to their actual release). Also posts MP3s and videos. Not as high and mighty as pitchfork.

3) Brooklyn Vegan. An indie music blog highlighting concerts in the NYC area. A must-visit now that my bro is living in the city and I have a place to crash.

4) emusic. (I swear I'm not commissioned by these guys). A good community/neighborhood system in which artists are recommended based on the preferences of people who listen to what you like.

5) napster. Ha ha! The best kept secret on the internet! This isn't the $10/month napster subscription service. Instead, this allows you to stream the entire album, track by track, for a very large selection of artists and albums. Not everything is represented here, but most artists have at least some of their work available. Before I ever buy or emusic a new album, I always stream it a few times (for free!!!) on napster before making a purchase decision. This is how I avoided wasting emusic downloads on the new New Pornographers and Architecture in Helsinki. The fact that this free napster exists isn't even mentioned on the front of their site anymore - it's a secret backdoor!

6) NPR All Songs Considered live concerts. Weekly live concerts (recorded at the 9:30 Club in DC) for whatever big indie artists are touring at the moment. Usually involve an in-studio interview as well.

7) Blogotheque's "Takeaway Shows." A Paris music blog that records a few songs from big name indie artists that roll through town. The neatest part is, though, that they ask the bands to perform in unique locations to get them out of their element. For instance, Arcade Fire performed "Neon Bible" in a closed elevator (ripping pages out of a magazine for percussion); The National performed "Fake Empire" at a dinner table, using silverware and dinnerware as percussion; Tapes n Tapes played while walking the busy streets of Paris. Excellent, very unique recordings!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My favorite two albums of the year

I was just thinking how incredibly different my two favorite albums of the year are, in terms of genre, sound, and themes. The Avett Brothers' Emotionalism came out earlier this March; The National's Boxer was released in May. I keep coming back to these two albums for a few reasons. First (and most importantly in this singles-only era of music), they work well as entire albums. Though not necessarily concept albums, each has a certain theme running through most of the songs, and lends the entire album a sense of cohesion that not all albums have these days. Also, given the catchiness of Emotionalism, it's easy to sing along to, which is something I appreciate. Boxer is much the opposite - more complex and musically dense - which means that new sounds are revealed even after the 20th listen.

Emotionalism is bluegrass meets early-era Beatles with a touch of grunge and garage punk thrown in (though less of these last two than their earlier albums). Thematically, it's much like "I want to hold your hand"-era Beatles as well: songs about unrequited love, songs meant to woo a pretty girl, songs about relationships gone wrong, and songs about the impact of previous loves. Here, the Avett Brothers' singing is cathartic and liberating: like chatting about a failed relationship with a good friend over a beer, the point of the music is to express the associated emotions and ultimately move on. Though the story may be sad, the message is hopeful; the songs may describe one instance of sorrow or failure, but there is no sense of long-term depression or disaster.

I read in one interview that Boxer was named not for an athlete but for the physical sense of being boxed in a corner. And thus it is with the album - whereas Emotionalism has it sad places but still leaves the listener with a sense of optimism for the future, Boxer leaves the happy outcome more uncertain. More so than in other albums by The National, the songs are are snippets or clips of situations in someone's life. For instance, "The Apartment Story": "Be still for a second while I try and try to pin your flowers on. Can you carry my drink, I've everything else, I can tie my tie all by myself, I'm getting tired - I'm forgetting why. Tired and wired, we ruin too easy." I think the song's expressing a growing sense of annoyance over a relationship, but we're dropped right into the middle of things, not knowing how the couple got to be this way, and not left with any hope or optimism for the future. Similarly, "Start a War": "You were always weird, but I never had to hold you by the edges like I do now. Walk away now, and you're gonna start a war." Again, a couple's relationship is about to explode, but we don't know how or why, and we're not left with any optimism for the future. Instead, we get a sense of hopelessness - of being boxed into a corner. (Incidentally, Matt's voice is perfect for expressing a hopeless sense of frustration). Certainly not all tracks are as bleak as these two, but whereas The Avett Brothers have cut holes in the box they've been caged, letting in air and light and seeing hope in the future, Boxer is indeed still entrenched with an unshakable sense of dread.

In any case, I highly suggest both albums! Not sure anything's going to knock these two off of the top of my "best of" list. Though Josh Ritter's latest is growing on me, I don't think it will overtake either of these two.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Historial Conquests of Josh Ritter

Yeah, so there are some true stunners on this album. Wait For Love, Right Moves, The Temptation of Adam, for instance. A couple of fillers, though, and I don't think The Animal Years had any filler. Whereas The Animal Years was meloncholy and introspective, Historical Conquests is rollicking and honky-tonk. Can't wait to see him in concert October 4th. I'll be listening to this for a long time to come. Give it a whirl!

Some Josh Ritter Youtube clips for you:

To the Dogs or Whoever (from the new album):

New release Tuesday, initial thoughts

New Pornographers: pretty blah and boring. Only listened to the first half and gave up.
Architecture in Helsinki: at least I made it through the whole thing. But I won't be buying.
M.I.A.: not really my type of music, but quite catchy. I'll stream it a couple more times before making a purchase decision.
Josh Ritter: not as bad as I'd feared. Totally different sound - full band, lots of banging piano, drums, and horns. A couple of old school Ritter tracks, fortunately. Not sure what I think of the new Rittersound yet, but I bet this one will grow on me.

New release Tuesday, supersized

Yeah, so there's a string of intriguing releases this week. Starting with The New Pornographers' Challengers (early reviews aren't good), M.I.A.'s Kala, Rilo Kiley's Under the Blacklight, and Caribou's Andorra. Of these, M.I.A. and Caribou seem to be getting the better reviews.

And, of course, today Josh Ritter releases The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. He's one of my favorite artists, but I'm approaching this release with intense trepidation. I've streamed some of the tracks so far, and they sound much more produced and less personal than his previous work...not in a good way. Word has it that he spent little time trying to compose these new songs, instead relying on spontaneity in the studio. Not sure that's what I want from Josh Ritter. Nonetheless, I've read some "best album of the year" reviews, and some noting my fear that it's overly produced. I guess we'll see later tonight, I'll be picking this one up old school (i.e. a CD).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Concert announcement: The Hold Steady, October 22nd.

The Hold Steady (with Art Brut) is coming to Boston on October 22nd. This happens to be the same day as my job market seminar - sounds like an excellent way to celebrate!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Awesome Album of the Week

My Teenage Stride, Ears Like Golden Bats. Perhaps a bit derivative, this is straight out of the 1980s pop - think upbeat The Smiths mixed with upbeat Interpol. Who cares if they're not exactly unique, they're a talented band and the music is uber catchy. This latest album came out in February and was on my "to download list" for a while - sorry it took so long to move it off.

As a bonus: Awesome Video of the Week. MTS's "Now That Should Stand for Something"

Friday, August 17, 2007

Where I get my music

The best kept secret of digital downloads is Emusic is a music subscription service - you pay a monthly fee and get a certain number of downloads each month. These downloads are yours to keep, they don't expire when the month ends or if you cancel your subscription. Nor are they copy protected, and if you ever delete them by mistake, you can re-download them for free.

Emusic now charges $10/month for 30 downloads, $15/month for 50 downloads, and $20/month for 75 downloads. If you figure that an album has at most 15 tracks, that means you get at least 5 albums per month for $20. It's tough to beat that pricing scheme - sounds too good to be true!

The only downside is that emusic only offers music from independent labels. Most of the major indie releases are offered on emusic, and there's an extensive jazz/classical section as well. Many of my favorite "undiscovered" artists come from albums I download on a whim at the end of the month to burn off my remaining tracks. I should say there's also a nice community forum to get album reviews and musical suggests from users with similar interests.

If you want to sign up for emusic, email me and I'll send you an offer for 50 free downloads just for signing up. (Disclaimer: I'll also get 50 free downloads for referring you. We can bargain over this if you'd like.)

There's no way I would have heard of half of the artists that I have, or own half of the music that I do, if not for emusic. I certainly spend more money on music than I would without the service, but it has also broadened my musical horizons significantly.

And for any new release not offered on emusic, I go to Newbury Comics (new releases are generally $10, and they usually have generous web coupons - and free pint glasses!), or itunes when I'm feeling especially lazy.

Hello, world!

Hello denizens of the interweb. In all likelihood, this means classmates who are continually looking for a new source of procrastination while code slowly crunches. If anyone else actually reads this, well, bonus!

Even though the world doesn't need another music blog, I've received a number of positive comments regarding my album posts on facebook over the last month or two. Given that music is one of the few things that I spend money on these days (and given that I've purchased an absurd number of albums so far this year: 40+, in fact), I figure I might as well use a blog to comment on my acquisitions. I suppose this also helps me keep track of what albums I've acquired; just last week I found two albums on my external hard drive which apparently I'd listened to once, backed up, deleted from my laptop, and promptly forgot about (for the curious, these are Jose Gonzalez's Veneer and Damien Jurado's Where Shall You Take Me? And I'm really digging Veneer, not sure why I ever deleted it.)

My musical interests are quite varied. I'm really into alt-country/bluegrass/folk at the moment, but I shift from straight up indie rock and indie pop to twee to music from any other genre that has something unique about it. I most prefer anything that I can sing or hum along to (which is why I so enjoy anything twee) or music that has particularly complex composition - so that repeated listens continually reveal something new (which is why I've still been listening to The National's Boxer, which came out originally in May).

To understand how my musical tastes align with yours, my all-time favorite legendary bands include The Talking Heads, The Smiths, The Velvet Underground, The Beatles (natch!), Radiohead, and Belle and Sebastian. And yes, given the impact of B&S on the modern indie landscape, I do consider them legendary. Favorite contemporary bands/musicians of the moment include M. Ward, Josh Ritter, The Arcade Fire, and The National. Other current favorites: The Hold Steady, The Decemberists, The Avett Brothers, and The Polyphonic Spree.

Alright, that's enough for now. More later.