ALBUM

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You’ll find some pretty great reviews of Bon Iver’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver online. I just don’t think I’m up to throwing my hat into the ring by giving you a full blown review of Justin Vernon’s latest. Instead I thought I’d float something a little more creative and outside the box to tell you what I think of Bon Iver, Bon Iver.

This little graph shows the play counts for each individual track off of Bon Iver. Now I’ll let you analyze how I feel about this album. (Although keeping in mind that I have, at the very least, listened to the whole album start to finish a half dozen times.)(A true feat as I am currently on summer break.)

mp3: Bon Iver – Perth
from the album Bon Iver, Bon Iver (buy it here)

mp3: Bon Iver – Calgary
from the album Bon Iver, Bon Iver (buy it here)

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If The Antlers’ Hospice elicited tears and heartache, Burst Apart elicits muted utterances of, “Holy crap.” (or more creative expletives)

Burst Apart appears to be the story of two people involved in an absolutely bitter (and very possibly abusive) relationship. Each song  deals with this crumbling relationship and is largely presented in a one-sided conversational tone. “I Don’t Want Love” and its opening line “You wanna climb up the stairs, I wanna push you back down” is your first introduction to what you’re going to be experiencing throughout this album. This line immediately immerses you into the destructiveness and abject horror of the relationship that will accompany you throughout the entire album.

The music of Burst Apart precisely matches the resonance of the lyrics and together they create a haunting atmosphere and environment that unfolds before you. The echoing mandolin of “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” and the jarring strum of a guitar on “Putting the Dog to Sleep” (and is there a snare drum behind that? I have a horrible musical ear) are prime examples of the music being used to convey the emotion of a song.

In Hospice the album closes with the death of the hospice patient and Burst Apart closes with the end of the aforementioned relationship. However, this doesn’t mean closure, far from it. Instead, Burst Apart ends with the melancholy “Putting the Dog to Sleep” where the singer laments on what has crossed all of our minds after a breakup, “What now? Am I just going to die alone?” Like “Epilogue” on Hospice, this final track on Burst Apart concludes the story but lets the listener know that this is hardly the end and that the pain of this experience will continue to haunt those involved for some time.

The Antlers have managed to push forward creatively in Burst Apart, both thematically and sonically, without jettisoning the core of what made Hospice so enthralling. Peter Silberman has once again managed to capture your emotions and takes you on a ride through the ups and downs of an individual being absolutely torn apart emotionally. Burst Apart is not an airy lightweight listen, neither was Hospice, but it is that frightening level of realism and almost crippling devastation that makes both of these albums so remarkable.

mp3: The Antler – I Don’t Want Love
from the album Burst Apart (buy it here)

mp3: The Antlers – Parentheses
from the album Burst Apart (buy it here)

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Bear with me through this first part cause the last half is on awesome Persian pop music from before 1979. You don’t want to miss that.

I think deep down I’m trying to be a music snob. To be that guy I hate. The one who looks down on his less-informed friends with a dickish sneer and says things like, “I’m into music that you’ve probably never heard of.” I said that almost exact phrase on a recent date (sorry Rita) and immediately regretted it. Sometimes I can be a prick.

I’m sure there are times I seek out music that may be just slightly off the beaten path (just slightly, I’m not too adventurous) so that I can continue to act out the misguided fantasy of being my friends musical svengali.

However, sometimes by shear luck, a misguided step will allow you to find something beautiful. That’s how I came upon Pomegranates, a collection of Persian pop, funk, folk and psych from the 60s and 70s….and I love it. Like, a lot.

But it took absolutely falling in love with it to realize that I never intended to. My sole motivation in purchasing this collection was to simply add pre-1979 Persian pop to my collection, listen to it once, and then casually mention it later so that you would be impressed by how awesome I am and how expansive my musical tastes are. And it took actually liking the music to make me realize all of this! (That last sentence was in all caps when I first wrote it) Man I’m shallow.

My apologies for the confessional but it introduces you to how absolutely incredible and potentially altering Pomegranates can be. This is as good of time as any to say that I am about as familiar with the Iranian music scene, both past and present, as I am with translating Farsi. So with that said, lets discover how great this is together.

The music seems to draw from foreign influences while keeping a distinctly unique (and I’ll assume indigenous) flavor. This collection was compiled by Finders Keepers, a label that I am quickly becoming convinced, can do no wrong, and they state that they did their best to find the finest Persian songs ever recorded, both acknowledged classics and obscure masterpieces.

And not understanding Farsi will not prevent you from knowing what these artists are singing about. Its an interesting thing to not be encumbered too much by the lyrics of a song and instead focus on the pure emotion conveyed by the music. And the song selection for Pomegranates elicits joy, love, sadness, ecstasy, and just about every feeling on that big ol’ emotional color wheel. But that isn’t all the songs do, they absolutely rock, or maybe more descriptively appropriate, they swing.

mp3: Marjan – Kavir-e Del
from the album Pomegranates (buy it here)

mp3: Kourosh Yaghmaie – Gol-e Yakh
from the album Pomegranates (buy it here)

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Way back in 2008 (wow that seems like a lifetime ago) I fell in love with a little band from Kansas City. The Republic Tigers first EP entranced me with their almost surreal take on electro-folk. The album that followed, No Color, quickly became one of my favorites and found itself perched quite high on my year-end list.

Now in 2011 we’re finally getting some new Republic Tigers material and just in time for Record Store Day. No Lands Man is a four-song EP being released April 16th (alongside a nifty 7″ featuring “Merrymake It With Me” and “Whale Fight”)

All four tracks on No Lands Man are just lovely. Many of the tracks retain the sound that made me fall in love, acoustic guitars jamming on top of electronic/ethereal backgrounds. “Merrymake It With Me” is exactly that. The first minute of this track made me extremely nostalgic for that spring I spent listening to almost nothing but No Color.

The show stealer was the unexpected final track. Hands down my favorite track off No Color was the simply remarkable “The Nerve”. I was surprised and delighted (Surplighted? Deprised?) to hear “The Nerve” remade into “The Nerve (Nervous Dancing)” which is precisely that, a nervous dance song. (It reminds me of The Bird and the Bee’s “Polite Dance Song” in that the title of the song absolutely nails what the song sounds like.)

Look for No Lands Man at your fine local record store on April 16th (Record Store Day).

mp3: The Republic Tigers – Merrymake It With Me
from the EP No Lands Man

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Its Spring Break. This might mean parties, beaches, and drinking to some people, but to me its just a vacation from my computer, writing, and the seemingly endless editing process. (Although I have been to a beach this week, so I consider this Spring Break seized.)

But I just can’t ignore writing about Broken Bell’s new EP, Meyrin Fields.

Too often you encounter an EP that is merely the scraps of an album. Alternate takes, acoustic versions, live recordings, and unreleased tracks that just didn’t seem to cut it. Sometimes EPs can feel like little more than fan service for insatiable die-hards. This is not the case for Meyrin Fields.

Meyrin Fields picks up right where Broken Bells left off. Danger Mouse and James Mercer have created something that feels like the natural progression of their self-titled debut. The EP consists of four original songs and each feels as lovingly worked over and fleshed out by Mercer and Mouse (ha! Dibs on that as a band name) as anything on Broken Bells.

Meyrin Fields has everything that made Broken Bells’ s/t album such a fantastic record. “Windows” is my favorite track so far and showcases what makes Broken Bells such a dynamic pairing. Mercer’s voice is simply unbeatable and Danger Mouse’s flawless production shines on this other-worldly track.

Ok, originally this post ended with me saying something to the effect of “I don’t care if The Shins or Gnarls Barkley ever make any more music” but that isn’t true. That being said, I’m pretty happy with Broken Bells and hope this good thing keeps rolling.

mp3: Broken Bells – Windows
from the EP Meyrin Fields (buy it here)

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Sadly, I don’t have a used record store nearby. So instead I rely on what the wonderful residents of Redlands donate to Goodwill and the Salvation Army. As a whole my neighbors seem to love old gospel music and Christmas albums, both of which, judging by the vacuous faces smiling back at me from the album covers, were recorded by cultists. Really, that is about 99% of the records and CDs at the thrift store. Not ideal.

That was until last week when I found The Rural Alberta Advantage’s latest album Departing sandwiched between Amy Grant and 15 Celtic Hymns. I kind of couldn’t believe it….especially after listening to the album. Why would anyone knowingly get rid of this?

The Rural Alberta Advantage does a pretty fantastic job giving you an idea of what this album is all about before you even listen to it. it. The frigid landscape that graces the cover and the title Departing perfectly encapsulate the themes you’ll find. The music blends so well to Nils Edenloff’s heartfelt vocals that the whole thing seems almost effortless. No instrument seems to dominate the others. Guitars, keys, drums, and vocals, all of them carry along with one another flawlessly. (Ok, maybe the drums steal the show at some points.) The result is an absolutely crushing album about the pain of loss and the desire to hold onto something for just a moment longer.

“Under the Knife” is the prime example of what I’m what talking about. Stunning vocals, heartbreaking lyrics, driving percussion, and all of it in one seamless musical package. Additionally, the last song on the album is the perfect closer. Soft, stark, and raw. A reviewer called it a “lullaby drenched in grown-up tears.” “Goodnight” is just devastating.

mp3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – Under the Knife
from the album Departing (buy it here)

mp3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – Goodnight
from the album Departing (buy it here)

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I’ve been listening to The King of Limbs, Radiohead’s latest record, for a little over a week now, and I really like it. While the internet has some pretty strong feelings about it, both positive and negative, I’m mostly just enjoying it – it’s not Radiohead’s best work, but it’s nowhere near disappointing (or maybe it is, if you’re expecting these guys to break down sonic barriers on every single release, but in that case, I mean, c’mon). Overall, The King of Limbs is pretty, challenging, and continues to develop several of the disparate styles that Radiohead’s been mining over recent years – all while maintaining a remarkably consistent ambiance, something like walking through the woods at dusk (not inappropriate, given the record draws its name from an ancient oak tree that stood outside the studio during their In Rainbows sessions).

Some critics have bemoaned the records lack of any truly remarkable songs, but I can’t agree – “Morning Mr. Magpie” is as catchy as anything they’ve ever done, and songs like “Little By Little” and “Lotus Flower” are just classic Radiohead, and that’s not even mentioning the solid opener and closer (sidenote: I think that might actually be one of Radiohead’s greatest triumphs of the long-player format – their opening and closing songs are almost uniformly excellent from The Bends forward, adding a bit of weight to what lies in between). My very favorite song right now is probably the languid “Codex”, a gorgeous bit of Thom Yorke melancholy set to piano and strings, perfectly invoking an inky starlit lake in the forest. In its mood it’s pretty reminiscent of another one of my favorite latter-day Radiohead tracks, the In Rainbows-era leftover, “4 Minute Warning” (see below).

Like many, my biggest criticism is the records brief runtime – at just over 37 minutes, it’s their shortest to date – and while many die-hards are pointing to evidence that it may be the first of two or maybe even three releases to come, I’m not quite convinced. The eight songs follow a strong arc and have the feel of a finished piece, even if they are over before I realize it. That said, if there is more to come I’ll be the first to eat my words.

mp3: Radiohead – Codex
from the album The King of Limbs (buy it here)

mp3: Radiohead – 4 Minute Warning
from the album In Rainbows [disc 2] (buy it here)

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First and foremost, The King is Dead is nothing like The Hazards of Love.

Though I doubt any of us assumed The Decemberists would continue creating one rock opera after another, I certainly wasn’t expecting the laid-back country-folk record that sits in front of me now.

That being said, they still nailed it. The King is Dead is fantastic. Dispensing with any higher concept to the album or narratives that carry on across multiple tracks The Decemberists crafted a more traditional album of stand-alone songs. Its really as simple as The Decemberists get. (Which isn’t always that simple, ’cause higher concepts aside, Colin Meloy still peppers his lyrics with five-dollar words.) (Note: I love that about him.)

I’m tempted to say that the first track, “Don’t Carry It All”, is the true standout amongst an altogether brilliant album. The opening harmonica riff and Meloy’s strong voice start the album off on an almost unmatchable high. But the energy just keeps going from there with powerhouse songs like “Down By the Water” and the anthemic “This Is Why We Fight”.

“Rox In the Box” feels the most familiar and akin to past Decemberist songs. You are immediately transported to a distinct period of history, so although the lyrics remain ambiguous, the music makes it very clear where and when you are. Its like a musical time-machine.

Now I was tempted to claim “Don’t Carry It All” as the standout, but I’ve got to say the standout song is actually two songs. (Twist!)  “January Hymn” and “June Hymn” or, as I’m calling them, the Hymn Suite. Both songs deal with their respective seasons. One a tribute to the cold snow-laden winter and another to the rebirth and warmth of summer.

mp3: The Decemberists – January Hymn
from the album The King is Dead (buy it here)

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A friend sent me a link to this free Christmas compilation the other day without any explanation. I’d never heard of any of the artists on it, and as near as I can tell, they’re all out of Orlando, Florida – but that’s about all I know.

So I put it on as I was working on a surprise Christmas craft for my wife (shh, don’t tell), and suddenly my office became a little elfish workshop! True, some of these songs are pretty cheesy (as Christmas songs are wont to be), but some others are legitimately kind of fantastic. Like, take these two:

mp3: Tinsley – Baby, It’s Cold Outside
from the album Hey! It’s Christmas! Vol. 1 (get it for FREE here)

mp3: Saskatchewan – The First Noel
from the album Hey! It’s Christmas! Vol. 1 (get it for FREE here)

Kind of great, right? Like I said, I don’t know anything about either of those artists (except that Saskatchewan has a serious Beach House thing going on – that’s a great thing!) – but if you like what you hear, you should go get the whole bundle:

link: Hey! It’s Christmas! Vol. 1

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I’m not exactly sure what initially kicked off my recent hip-hop binge – but Kanye West’s recent 30+ minute music video/art film for “Runaway” definitely had something to do with it. In fact, if you’re one of the few who haven’t actually heard this album yet, can I make a suggestion? Watch that video first. Let this man’s ridiculously ambitious artistic vision wash over you in the most visually/aurally engrossing way – and then tackle this album with that visual association already hard-wired into your brain. You can say what you will about the man, but there’s just no arguing that he’s got a vision. Between the “Runaway” video, his recent performances on SNL (which were pretty fantastic), and his slew of G.O.O.D. Friday tracks, he managed to get me (and just about the whole world) pretty psyched for this ridiculously titled new record, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

So does it deliver?

Read the rest of this entry »

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I’ve been giddy for this record ever since I first caught wind of it – it’s a collection of some of Mason Jenning’s oldest material, dating back to around ’98-‘99 when he was just gaining a following around the Minneapolis folk scene. 2002’s Simple Life (also a great record) was a similar project, pulling from the same well of songs as this one – the biggest difference being that where Simple Life collected many of Mason’s attempts at classic folk traditions (brief vignettes and longer narratives), this set of songs seems to be more autobiographical, focusing on Mason’s own experiences as a young musician moving to Minnesota. It’s a time capsule of sorts, revealing a little bit more of the younger Mason than we’ve ever seen on record before.

One of the first things I noticed is that for a collection of what could be considered “formative songs”, it’s apparent that Mason was already fairly fully formed by the time he wrote them. These are fantastic songs, well-written and well-executed – from the opening chug of “Dakota” right through to the languid closer “Method to my Madness”. In between are some love songs, some touching confessionals, a boozy boast that could’ve been one of Jim Croce’s own, and even an ode to his father in “Michael’s Song”.

I’ve heard about half of these songs on various old live recordings before, and two of my favorites, “The Magician” and “Better Than That” show up here, both sounding as good as ever. Of the songs I’d never heard before I’m especially enjoying the tender “Between the Lines”, as well as “The Villain”. The only odd-one-out of the bunch is “So Many Ways To Die”, since it was written just recently while Mason was working on songs for the 180 Degrees South soundtrack – while it clearly belongs to a different era, it’s still a fun little number in the vein of In The Ever’s “Your New Man”. One of the stand-outs is the title track, a perfect distillation of how good Mason’s songwriting can be, then or ever: “laid back down with my eyes closed/I let all the air out of my nose/I let all my dirt melt to glorious mud/and smiled for a while six feet under the flood”.

There are several reasons why Mason Jennings is one of my favorite songwriters making music today, and this record has 15 of them. You can get it right now on itunes, or if you’re a physical media nerd (like me) make sure to pick it up tomorrow!

If you’re a real nerd (again, like me), go HERE to order a special limited-edition CD pack, which includes a digital download and a signed postcard from Mason. There’s only 250 of them (well, 249 if you subtract mine), so act fast!

mp3: Mason Jennings – The Flood
from the album The Flood (buy it here)

mp3: Mason Jennings – Better Than That
from the album The Flood (buy it here)

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As much as you try to stay on top of everything, some things just seem to slip by you without any notice. I’m sorry to say but The 1900s latest album Return of the Century, released Nov. 2nd, falls into that ‘under the radar’ category for me.

Their new album certainly sounds different than their previous album Cold and Kind (a favorite record here at the WiAC office) but we all know that isn’t always a bad thing. The new album feels slightly more…toned down. Return of the Century still retains the wonderful harmonies, jangly beats, and hand-claptitude that made me fall in love with Cold and Kind but with the orchestrations dialed back just a bit. And I think it works.

I’ve only listened to Return of the Century twice now, but I think this album is best enjoyed as a whole. Listened from start to finish. There are some standout tracks for sure, the fast-moving “Babies”, the dreamy “Overreactin”, and the just perfect “Bmore”, but as a whole they seem to flow in a very natural and deliberate order. (Whenever I make a claim like this I feel like I need to insert a disclaimer that I have zero background in music, so I may have no idea what I’m talking about. My insecurities aside, the album as a whole has got a great sound.)

mp3: The 1900s – Babies
from the album Return of the Century (buy it here)

mp3: The 1900s – Overreactin’
from the album Return of the Century (buy it here)

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