Initial Reactions (2012): Mermaid Avenue III, M. Ward, Sara Watkins

Initial Reactions are just that: my reactions to records after only a few listens (usually 2 or 3). I try to be fair, but if a record doesn’t make much of an initial impression on me, someone’s going to need to tell me to pay closer attention if they think it deserves better. (see the sidebar for rating descriptions)

Billy Bragg/Wilco – Mermaid Avenue III [B]: One last round for old times’ sake. Though not as great as the first, it beats the second for sure. The Tweedy-led tracks are real treats, reminiscent of the YHF demos. A few cuts could’ve used more work; otherwise, a delicious slice of dessert from one of the most fruitful experiments in rock and roll history. ("When the Roses Bloom Again", "Listening to the Wind That Blows")

M. Ward – Wasteland Companion [B+]: That distinctive voice inhabiting simple acoustic songs. Folk-ish with experimental tinges, i.e. the creepy howls of a desolate landscape in the title track, putting the emphasis on Ward’s mellow side. All in all, a strong record, one I’ll keep in rotation, and who knows what insights a few more spins might bring. Invites you to wander cautiously through the desolation.  ("The First Time I Ran Away", "A Wasteland Companion")

Sara Watkins – Sun Midnight Sun [A]: Well here’s a surprise. The opener’s distorted, hyperkinetic fiddling signals a musical shift, and gorgeous tunes get dressed up to launch this into ‘A’ territory. The centerpiece is the harrowing kiss-off "When It Pleases You.” Intense, beautiful, edgy, gorgeous, imaginative, interesting, and a major leap forward for a promising artist. In short, it’s everything I love about music. ("When It Pleases You", "Lock and Key")

Quick Review (LP): Volume 2 by She & Him

she & him volume 2 She & Him
Volume 2
Merge; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “Thieves”, “In the Sun”, “Don’t Look Back”, “Riding In My Car”, “Lingering Still”, “Over It Over Again”

The first time around, having not been exposed to M. Ward’s excellent Post-War, I shrugged She & Him off as another example of crass celebrity indulgence. Imagine my surprise when Paste named Volume 1 the best record of 2008. This time around, I have to acknowledge the genius. First off, Zooey can write. And vocally, she manages to channel June Carter Cash pretty darn well. The fact that she had the foresight to collaborate with M. Ward says that she knows exactly what she’s doing. Big props there. What the two of them have created is one of the finest pop albums in recent memory, a stunning collection of nostalgic throwbacks that will put a big smile on your face. If these two had been making records fifty years ago, we’d be citing their work alongside Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. Volume 2 is a great record by any stretch of the imagination, and maybe one of the best of 2010. If you haven’t already, you need to hear it.

Metacritic reviews
Pitchfork review

Tracks of the Decade (so far)

1563_Pieter_Bruegel_the_elder_The_Tower_of_Babel-wl400There’s still more to come, but here’s a list of the Sweet Georgia Breezes’ Tracks of the Decade so far (in no particular order). What do you think of the list? What are your top 5 or 10 tracks of the decade?

Counting Crows – Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
Wilco – I am trying to break your heart
The New Pornographers  – Myriad Harbour
M. Ward – Poison Cup
Kathleen Edwards – In State
Vampire Weekend – M79
Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around
Built to Spill – The Weather
Neko Case – Star Witness
Belle and Sebastian – Funny Little Frog
Interpol – NYC
Wilco – Impossible Germany
Coldplay – Lost!
Ryan Adams – To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
Fugazi – Cashout
Flaming Lips – Fight Test
Nathan – The Wind
Radiohead – Everything In Its Right Place
Rachel’s – Water from the Same Source
Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal
Bruce Springsteen – My City of Ruins
The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin

Dawn Landes: Fireproof (2007)

Dawn Landes
Fireproof; 2007
Fun Machine Music
My Rating: 77/100
Dawn Landes’ dreamy urbanicana draws from the same Kentucky well as My Morning Jacket’s debut. FIREPROOF, her second full-length, shows the kind of restraint and melodic prowess common to artists like Feist, M. Ward, or Kings of Convenience. Still, unlike her sometimes-cohorts Hem, Landes’ outlook is infused with an off-beat humor and sleepy-eyed optimism that, on first listen, churns imperceptibly below the surface. Give the straight-laced groove of “Bodyguard” a second listen, though, and you’ll soon feel the joy. Landes shines brightest in simplicity. The simple strums and harmonies of “Tired of this Life” are playfully modest, and the afore-mentioned “Bodyguard” sounds like the rhythm was hammered out during recess twenty years ago. Unfortunately, the album sags dramatically in the middle, with novel excursions like “Picture Show” and the unbalanced and awkward “Kids in a Play.” But Landes saves the best for last, closing with a run of four brilliant tracks, including the angelic sway of “Dig Me a Hole” and the last dance of “I’m in Love with the Night.” Bonus points to Landes for her hushed and intimate take on Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down”, sneaking it in a few minutes after the star-crossed romance of “You Alone.” FIREPROOF proves that Landes is a big talent, someone with a unique and alluring vision. I expect we’ll be hearing from her for years to come.
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Tracks:
1. Bodyguard (5/5)
2. I Don’t Need No Man (4/5)
3. Tired of this Life (5/5)
4. Twilight (4.5/5)
5. Private Little Hell (4/5)
6. Picture Show (3.5/5)
7. Kids in a Play (3/5)
8. Toy Piano (4/5)
9. Dig Me a Hole (5/5)
10. I’m in Love with the Night (5/5)
11. Goodnight Lover (5/5)
12. You Alone (5/5)

Dawn_Landes___FireproofDawn Landes
Fireproof; 2007
Fun Machine Music

My Rating: 77/100

Dawn Landes’ dreamy urbanicana draws from the same Kentucky well as My Morning Jacket’s debut. FIREPROOF, her second full-length, shows the kind of restraint and melodic prowess common to artists like Feist, M. Ward, or Kings of Convenience. Still, unlike her sometimes-cohorts Hem, Landes’ outlook is infused with an off-beat humor and sleepy-eyed optimism that, on first listen, churns imperceptibly below the surface. Give the straight-laced groove of “Bodyguard” a second listen, though, and you’ll soon feel the joy. Landes shines brightest in simplicity. The simple strums and harmonies of “Tired of this Life” are playfully modest, and the afore-mentioned “Bodyguard” sounds like the rhythm was hammered out during recess twenty years ago. Unfortunately, the album sags dramatically in the middle, with novel excursions like “Picture Show” and the unbalanced and awkward “Kids in a Play.” But Landes saves the best for last, closing with a run of four brilliant tracks, including the angelic sway of “Dig Me a Hole” and the last dance of “I’m in Love with the Night.” Bonus points to Landes for her hushed and intimate take on Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down”, sneaking it in a few minutes after the star-crossed romance of “You Alone.” FIREPROOF proves that Landes is a big talent, someone with a unique and alluring vision. I expect we’ll be hearing from her for years to come.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)

Tracks:

1. Bodyguard (5/5)
2. I Don’t Need No Man (4/5)
3. Tired of this Life (5/5)
4. Twilight (4.5/5)
5. Private Little Hell (4/5)
6. Picture Show (3.5/5)
7. Kids in a Play (3/5)
8. Toy Piano (4/5)
9. Dig Me a Hole (5/5)
10. I’m in Love with the Night (5/5)
11. Goodnight Lover (5/5)
12. You Alone (5/5)

Tracks of the Decade: “Poison Cup” by M. Ward

M. Ward
“Poison Cup”
from Post-War
I don’t really expect this one to make any other “best of the decade” lists, but when it comes to greatness in pop music, focus and simplicity go a long way in my book. A short and (bitter)sweet meditation on love that finds a few millenia worth of religious imagery in tow, “Poison Cup” harkens back to the innocent rural magic of “Stand By Me” but adds the haunting twist that loyalty in the name of love might just consume you. This recalls the central theme of P.T. Anderson’s film Punchdrunk Love – love as a force of nature. By opening Ward’s classic album POST-WAR, a further dimension is added to the song. When Ward sings “I’m gonna give you everything”, we’re subtly reminded of those we all know who have indeed given everything this decade. It’s this mysterious cup that beckons each of us. Drink it up.

mward1M. Ward
“Poison Cup”
from Post-War

I don’t really expect this one to make any other “best of the decade” lists, but when it comes to greatness in pop music, focus and simplicity go a long way in my book. A short and (bitter)sweet meditation on love that finds a few millenia worth of religious imagery in tow, “Poison Cup” harkens back to the innocent rural magic of “Stand By Me” but adds the haunting twist that loyalty in the name of love might just consume you. This recalls the central theme of P.T. Anderson’s film Punchdrunk Love – love as a force of nature. By opening Ward’s classic album POST-WAR, a further dimension is added to the song. When Ward sings “I’m gonna give you everything”, we’re subtly reminded of those we all know who have indeed given everything this decade. It’s this mysterious cup that beckons each of us. Drink it up.