Shout Out: Lydia Burrell

If you like music (and who doesn’t), then check out this gorgeously played slice of magestic pop from Alex “Lydia Burrell” Smith.

 

Yeah, that was great, I know. So now you should go buy the song as part of The Animals EP.

And don’t stop there…LB is a full band now, but not too far back Alex recorded a full-length by himself, with a little mix and production help from Jim of My Morning Jacket. It rocketh, so pick it up too!

Lydia Burrell on Facebook
Lydia Burrell official website
Lydia Burrell page at Removador

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Top Albums 2011: Honorable Mention

I listened to somewhere in the neighborhood of 90-100 new albums in 2011. Here’s an armload of records that I really liked last year, but for whatever reason didn’t make my Top 5.

  • Givers – In Light: Really enjoyable, very promising, though maybe a little too dense and overly vocalized. It goes like this: in each song, Givers reach a sort of climactic groove, a swirl of rhythm and harmony, but through some process that I can’t explain the ascent to this point often seems hurried and a bit planned. I just want them to slow down and live in the moment. "In My Eyes" and "Atlantic" hit the right pace. I don’t mean to sound like an ingrate – this is a really enjoyable record. I’m glad this crew is on the scene, and can’t wait to see what they cook up for round 2. (original review)
  • My Morning Jacket – Circuital: Now here’s an album I was essentially wrong about. JJ’s (or are we calling him YY?) game here is to divorce himself from the irony that has become so closely linked with rock and roll that folks have apparently forgotten how to have silly fun. What results seems a bit too emotionally direct at first, but at the heart of this album is a vision that isn’t afraid to make something beautiful out of simply feeling wonderful. Sure, it’s not a high concept, but try to find a more beautiful tune than "Movin’ Away" among last year’s bunch. (original review)
  • Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues: Hands down, a great follow-up to their brilliant debut, one that pushes them beyond any previous laurels. After a nearly perfect first half, the record flags a bit in the middle and toward the end, mostly due to the fact that the first four songs (and then the title track) transcend space, time, and human emotion, and it’s almost not humanly possible to stay consistent with something so great. Hard to fault an album for that, but it’s also hard to come down from that kind of high and keep interest. (original review)
  • Real Estate – Days: Real Estate’s debut was one of my favorite of 2009, and I really expected this to make my top 5 without a doubt. While there are a handful of outstanding breezy garage pop cuts, the band unfortunately departs from one of the things that made their first album so great: that layer of sonic ointment that smudged everything to the point of uncertainty. There was a impressionistic magic to the first LP, the sense of looking at old, grainy home video footage and feeling like "that was the past, when things were better." Days is simply a more immediate record, and while some of the tunes are better than those on the debut, overall it’s not the cohesive artistic statement that its predecessor was. (original review)
  • Sarah Jarosz – Follow Me Down: I don’t know why Sarah Jarosz was a big deal a few years back – I never really listened to her debut LP – but what I hear with this offering is a strong set of tunes, from gorgeous originals ("Run Away", "My Muse") to choice covers (Dylan’s "Ring Them Bells", Radiohead’s "The Tourist"). It’s not going to blow any minds with a concept – it’s basically just a gal and her pals making beautiful music – but weirdly enough that’s part of the magic of this LP.  (original review)
  • Death Cab For Cutie – Codes & Keys: "Eno" and "Another Green World" were buzz terms that preceded this record, and the influence of the experimental overlord’s escapist masterpiece is easily discernible from the opener "Home Is A Fire" to the middle passage of "Unobstructed Views."  But really, this is just another Death Cab record, no sharp left turn, no mid-career creative revolution,  just business as usual with a few new influences thrown in for good measure. Nothing wrong with that, and one finds that the songs and the production hit all the right notes. It may not be the latter-day crown jewel we are still expecting Death Cab to make, but it’s a highly enjoyable record in its own right, and maybe the best of their major label efforts, with enough multi-dimensionality to keep you coming back for more. (original review)
  • Laura Veirs – Tumble Bee: I’ve heard bits of her work in the past, but this, her children’s album, is the first full album I’ve listened to from Laura Veirs. It’s impressive, and while I’d argue that it’s more of a "kids music for grown-ups" album than a straight-up kids album (trust me – I’m a father), I’d also say that the fact that it’s marketed as a kids album makes it far more accessible than it might otherwise be. Let’s not haggle with labels though. Simply put, Tumble Bee is a memorable effort because it’s a well performed, well produced collection of choice tunes. Light with humor, heavy with whimsy. Gives the world what it needs, a little more music and a little more melody. (original review)
  • Wilco – The Whole Love: Not a great album unfortunately, but The Whole Love deserves mention because of 3 important highlights. First, there was the pre-release single "I Might", which was essentially Wilco reminding us that they are freakin’ Wilco, and that they can blow our minds with great pop tracks at will. The next was "The Art of Almost", this album’s opener, and Wilco’s reminder to us that they are the American Radiohead (when they choose to be). And then there’s the closer, the epic "One Sunday Morning", which is basically Wilco reminding us that they can operate outside the box and move us to tears at will. Those three highlights are enough to make this a worthy album, even if it’s not great, or even one of Wilco’s best. (original review)
  • Over the Rhine – The Long Surrender: Like a couple of bands on this list, Over The Rhine are automatically at a disadvantage because I am such a fan that I have extremely high expectations for any new work from them. And while The Long Surrender may not be my favorite album from the duo, it’s nevertheless a promising and enjoyable next step forward. Maybe it has something to do with the hand of producer Joe Henry (what the hell is wrong with me, yes, I know), maybe I got the slight sense that their tunes were becoming a bit too musicious (new word!), but for whatever reason The Long Surrender didn’t grab me like some of their past efforts. However, the album is still a first-rate listen, and there’s plenty to love about it, especially dark and intimate cuts like "The Sharpest Blade", "Oh Yeah By The Way", and the stunning, Kim Taylor-penned "Days Like This." (original review)

Quick Review (LP): Circuital by My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket
Circuital
ATO; 2011

My Rating: C (53/100)

Best Tracks: "Circuital", "The Day Is Coming", "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)"


Don’t call it a comeback.

NOTES

  • I can’t decide whether I like "Victory Dance" or not. It just seems a little goofy or something.
  • "Circuital" is a cool track, sort of Who-esque. Is it strong enough to be the album’s centerpiece? I don’t think so.
  • I like "The Day Is Coming", but I’m just not that in to the soul rock thing as a whole.
  • "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" comes off like a re-write of "Thank You Too." To be fair, they are both beautiful tunes, and I like them.
  • For the life of me, I just don’t get "Holdin’ on to Black Metal." What’s the deal?
  • When I think of the glories of At Dawn, It Still Moves, and Z, this one begins to hurt. Really hurt.
  • I hate to say this, but too often this record seems schmaltzy. How can this be the same guy who made the Chocolate & Ice EP?
  • I am not an Evil Urges hater, but I do agree that it was a step in the wrong direction for the band. I don’t think this record is the needed course correction. Instead, as a genuine and long-standing fan it just makes me wonder: Where is Jim James headed?
  • In all honesty, I want to see JJ take a step back from the rock and roll theatrics and create something lo-fi and brilliant, something akin to the work he did in his dorm room with a four-track in the late 90’s. After all, that scenario produced an A+ record.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (3/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

Best Breezes: 5/31/10 – 6/6/10

Been away for a little while. Should be pretty consistent this week…

NPR: Best Opening Tracks?

(via NPR Music) If you follow this blog, you know by now that I am a music obsessive. So I love lists, especially when they discuss things like “best opening tracks.”  NPR’s editorial list can be found here. Interesting stuff. I’d have to include:

REM (“Radio Free Europe”, “Harborcoat”, “Finest Worksong”)
Radiohead (“Airbag”, “Everything In Its Right Place”, “15 Step”)
Wilco (“Misunderstood”, “I am trying to break your heart”)
Crain (“Car Crash Decisions”)
Slint (“Breadcrumb Trail”)
Rodan (“Bible Silver Corner”)
Belle & Sebastian (“Stars of Track and Field”)
Innocence Mission (“Keeping Awake”)
My Morning Jacket (“Mahgeetah”)
Mark Knopfler (“What It Is”, “Why Aye Man”)
Elvis Costello (“Accidents Will Happen”, “Clubland”)

in my own long list.

New Sun Kil Moon

(via onethirtybpm) I have a friend who was really into Mark Kozelek’s Red House Painters in high school, back when it was hard to get your hands on their stuff. I never got into them myself, but after hearing these new tracks from Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon project (awesome name by the way), I might just dive headfirst into the world of “the other” MK.

GY!BE + “Weird Al” = WHAT???

(via Pitchfork) File this one under strange, even by the standards of both artists. Dear Lord, let there be a collaborative effort in the future.

New Superchunk On The Way

(via onethirtybpm) New Superchunk on the way. Superchunk is hit or miss with me, but when they hit, they knock it out of the park. (See “Driveway to Driveway”, “The First Part”, “Hello Hawk”, “Burn Last Sunday”)

Career In Brief: My Morning Jacket

photo via YouAintNoPicasso.com

CAREER IN BRIEF: MY MORNING JACKET

From A Dreamer’s Dorm Room To Indie Rock Hegemony

Indulge me – MMJ’s meteoric rise to indie ascendancy can be paralleled with Google’s synchronistic rise to technological domination over the course of the last decade. Both began as the pet projects of nobody visionaries in the late 90’s; both slowly made a name for themselves by promoting humanistic ideas and an optimistic worldview; both went “big time” around the middle of the last decade; and both continue to push the envelope of what is still humanly possible in their respective realms.

While those similarities may be general enough to warrant comparisons between my sock drawer and Google, My Morning Jacket indeed achieved a profound rock and roll transcendence over the last 12 years by putting on one of the best live shows around (stealing the show quite frequently as an opening act and on a few occasions at Bonnaroo)  and pushing the limits of what rock and roll can be in a decidedly post-rock age. Led by hyper-charismatic frontman Jim James, the band is given to some excess, which has manifested itself on albums that are sometimes a little too drawn out, but that hasn’t stopped the fans from coming back for more. MMJ is in the business of action-packed indie rock blockbusters, and even if they do manage to lose the plot every once in a while, the spectacle is so brilliant that it’s hardly noticeable.

Personally, I’ve always had a preference for MMJ’s softer side. While classics like “The Way That He Sings” and “One Big Holiday” do bring down the hammer of the gods, James’ art shines brightest in quiet, humble settings. Their full-length debut, “The Tennessee Fire”, is still one of the high music points of the last 15 years, and similiar brilliance can be found sprinkled throughout their releases, from the weird-coustic of “Sooner” to an intergalactic cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” If you’re new to MMJ, my 20-song sampler below is a good place to start, but once you’ve fallen for the band, just sit back and enjoy the ride, one album by one.

20-TRACK SAMPLER
Mageetah
Olde Sept. Blues (Ga-Ed Out)
By My Car
Sooner (AC version)
Xmas Curtain (AD version)
Heartbreakin Man
Golden
O Is The One That Is Real
I’m Amazed
Rocket Man
Wordless Chorus
Off The Record
Anytime
Two Halves
Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2
Lowdown
The Way That He Sings
Bermuda Highway
One Big Holiday (live – OKONOKOS)
I Just Wanted To Say


MAJOR/NOTABLE RELEASES:

The Tennessee Fire [1999] (A+): One of the most stunning debuts of the last 20 years, The Tennessee Fire radiates a sort of sleepy-eyed, post-apocalyptic Americana haze that sets it apart from the rest of the band’s catalog. It’s a slideshow of twilight dreams, the sort of record that seeps in through the pores of your skin and becomes a part of you. Magnificent. (R: “Heartbreakin Man”, “Old Sept. Blues”, “By My Car”)

Does Xmas Fiasco Style [2001] (B): The only bad thing I can say about this is that it’s merely an EP, and thus only 5 songs. Only 3 of these tracks are originals, but they come off as potential Christmas classics in the old-school sense. You won’t find corny jingles about Santa Claus (ok – you’ll find one, though it’s obscure), but you’ll find plenty of homegrown nostalgia through and through. (R: “Christmas Time Is Here Again”, “I Just Wanted To Say”)

At Dawn [2001] (B+): The band makes the jump from hushed, lo-fi Kentuckiana alt-country to full-spectrum, wall-of-sound rock. James’ muli-tracked voice really shines here, and although there is a bit of filler (“Honest Man”, “If It Smashes Down”), the highlights are so grand that you’ll barely notice. (R: “Lowdown”, “Bermuda Highway”, “The Way That He Sings”)

Split [2002] (C-): “O” and “Come Closer” would have made a solid 7″ single by themselves – the other 2 tracks are essentially throwaways. (R: “O Is The One That Is Real”)

Choclate & Ice [2002] (A): James takes a detour toward his softer side on what is essentially a solo affair, although the eccentric “Sooner” and the epic “Cobra” would figure prominently in the band’s live sets in the years to come. C&I is the sort of indulgent interlude that demonstrates that great artists sometimes make their best stuff when fewer people are looking. (R: “Cobra”, “Sooner”)

It Still Moves [2003] (A-): The band’s major label debut features the glorious “Mahgeetah” and the gorgeous “Golden.” The recording doesn’t quite achieve what they seem to have been going for (sounds a little hollow rather than cathedral-esque), but nevertheless this is an outstanding set of songs that would form the core of the band’s live sets for the next 7 years. (R: “Mahgeetah”, “I Will Sing You Songs”, “Golden”)

Acoustic Citsuoca [2004] (B+): James once again attacks things mostly by himself on this live recording. “The Bear” sounds incredible and “Sooner” sounds fantastically cross-eyed. My only complaint is that it isn’t a full-length. I would have loved a whole record of solo Jim James at this point (how about a live cover of “Rocket Man”, plus more Omnichord please!!!!). (R: “Sooner”, “The Bear”)

Chapter 1 [2004] (C+): Sure, b-sides, rarities, and demos are great, but there’s a lot of filler here. I’d rather get one CD of the best stuff. Why no “RIPVG?” (R: “Weeks Go By Like Days”, “Rocket Man”, “Olde Sept Blues (Ga-Ed Out)”)

Chapter 2 [2004] (C): See comments for CHAPTER 1. (R: “Tonite I Want 2 Celebrate w/ You”, “Tyrone”)

Z [2005] (A): An album shot through with questions about endings and what lies beyond, it’s perhaps the most soulful record in the band’s entire catalog. “Knot Comes Loose” is priceless, featuring JJ at his most vulnerable. Elsewhere, “Wordless Chorus”, “Gideon”, and “Anytime” deliver the most grandiose rock sound since the good parts of Use Your Illusion. Another masterpiece. (R: “Wordless Chorus”, “What A Wonderful Man”, “Dondante”)

Okonokos [2006] (A-): Let’s face it – MMJ have made their name as a live act. OKONOKOS is the first, full-blown testimony to that fact. The recording quality is marvelous, and you haven’t heard tracks like “One Big Holiday”, “Run Thru”, and “Dondante” until you’ve heard them live. I would have liked a tiny bit more from the older records, but there’s so much here, it’s hard to complain. (R: “One Big Holiday”, “Run Thru”, “At Dawn”)

Evil Urges [2008] (B-): The band reaches for something even bigger than Z on their fifth full-length, incorporating R&B and funk influences and even diving headfirst into some throwback numbers. Although some of it pays off (“Thank You Too”, “Two Halves”), some of it falls short (“Librarian”, “Highly Suspicious”). All in all, not bad, but a step down from Z. I’m hoping to see the band re-charge their creative batteries, re-consider their vision, and deliver a fantastic, left-field follow-up sometime in 2011. A full-length solo record from JJ wouldn’t be bad either. (R: “I’m Amazed”, “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream pt. 2”, “Thank You Too”)

Rarities: JJ is the sort of creative genius who records 5 new songs before breakfast. There exists an extensive back catalog of home and 4-track recordings from the old days, as well as early, lost recordings that will probably never see the light of day. The band hasn’t recorded a ton of b-sides since they made it big, but when they do, they are generally of a pretty exceptional caliber. Early acoustic ditty “RIPVG” is definitely worth seeking out, as is the full band recording of “Chills” and a handful of other great tracks (esp. their cover of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference”). (R: “RIPVG”, “Chills”, “How Could I Know”, “Where To Begin”, “It Makes No Difference”)

Tracks of the Decade: “One Big Holiday” by My Morning Jacket

“One Big Holiday”
by My Morning Jacket
from IT STILL MOVES (2003)

What a decade it was for My Morning Jacket. At the outset, Jim James was a college dropout with a vision, a guitar, and an eccentric fascination with reverb. At the close, he was the iconic, internationally-recognized frontman for one of the biggest rock bands of the post-rock age. “One Big Holiday”, the band’s fantastical auto-biography in song, has remained its official anthem throughout. It was the track they played on Conan, their first performance on (American) national television. It’s the track that you can expect them to play whenever you see them live. Simply put, it’s a ragged, un-polished, knuckle-headed piece of Americana hard rock, one of the best in recent memory. There’s no semblance of restraint to be found, no indication of anything but sheer intention to be the greatest rock and roll band since Led Zeppelin. Additionally, there’s the indelible mark of James’ musical persona, from the opening declaration (“…good and lee-em-buh!!!”) to the final line (“all the leather kids were loud!!!”). Has there been a better rock and roll track about escaping your hometown and making it big since “Born to Run?” None come to the mind of this music obsessive. Back in 2001 & 2002, everyone talked about this or that band saving rock and roll. So much for that. It never needed “saving”, but it always needs someone to find its heart. My Morning Jacket, above all others, has managed to do just that.

My Morning Jacket: The Tennessee Fire (1999)

My Morning Jacket
The Tennessee Fire; 2000
Darla Records
My Rating: 100/100
Quite simply: A masterpiece
I’m a huge fan of My Morning Jacket, and it’s been exciting to see them grow into rock n’ roll superheroes over the last decade. They’ve released a lot of amazing stuff along the way, and I just have to acknowledge that. But for this Jacket devotee, it doesn’t get any better than THE TENNESSEE FIRE. Their 2000 debut may not be the record they are most remembered for, but if I’m being honest, everything that is weird and wonderful about MMJ is contained here in prototypical form. TTF is a feast of mystical, sleepy-eyed cosmic americana. Though the country influences are undeniable, from old Johnny Cash to Neil Young, the album completely transcends the early alt-country label for so many reasons. There’s Jim James’ intergalactic wail on “The Bear” and “Twilight”; the stark, post-apocalyptic landscapes on “They Ran” and “I Think I’m Going to Hell”; the pacifying loveliness of “Old September Blues” and “I Will Be There When You Die”; and the heart-rending romance of “If All Else Fails” and “Picture of You.” Call it what you will. Escapist. Nightmarish. Numinous. Haunting. Dreamy. Transcendent. I call it a masterpiece.
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Tracks:
1. Heartbreakin Man (5/5)
2. They Ran (5/5)
3. The Bear (5/5)
4. Nashville to Kentucky (5/5)
5. Old September Blues (5/5)
6. If All Else Fails (5/5)
7. It’s About Twilight Now (5/5)
8. Evelyn Is Not Real (5/5)
9. War Begun (5/5)
10. Picture of You (5/5)
11. I Will Be There When You Die (5/5)
12. The Dark (5/5)
13. By My Car (5/5)
14. Butch Cassidy (5/5)
15. I Think I’m Going To Hell (5/5)
16. (hidden track) (5/5)My Morning Jacket

Mmj_the_tennessee_fireMy Morning Jacket
The Tennessee Fire; 1999
Darla Records

My Rating: 100/100

Time has only been kind to this debut…

I’m a huge fan of My Morning Jacket, and it’s been exciting to see them grow into rock n’ roll superheroes over the last decade. They’ve released a lot of amazing stuff along the way, and I just have to acknowledge that. But for this Jacket devotee, it doesn’t get any better than THE TENNESSEE FIRE. Their 2000 debut may not be the record they are most remembered for, but if I’m being honest, everything that is weird and wonderful about MMJ is contained here in prototypical form. TTF is a feast of mystical, sleepy-eyed cosmic americana. Though the country influences are undeniable, from old Johnny Cash to Neil Young, the album completely transcends the early alt-country label for so many reasons. There’s Jim James’ intergalactic wail on “The Bear” and “Twilight”; the stark, post-apocalyptic landscapes on “They Ran” and “I Think I’m Going to Hell”; the pacifying loveliness of “Old September Blues” and “I Will Be There When You Die”; and the heart-rending romance of “If All Else Fails” and “Picture of You.” Call it what you will. Escapist. Nightmarish. Numinous. Haunting. Dreamy. Transcendent. I call it a masterpiece.

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

Tracks:

1. Heartbreakin Man (5/5)
2. They Ran (5/5)
3. The Bear (5/5)
4. Nashville to Kentucky (5/5)
5. Old September Blues (5/5)
6. If All Else Fails (5/5)
7. It’s About Twilight Now (5/5)
8. Evelyn Is Not Real (5/5)
9. War Begun (5/5)
10. Picture of You (5/5)
11. I Will Be There When You Die (5/5)
12. The Dark (5/5)
13. By My Car (5/5)
14. Butch Cassidy (5/5)
15. I Think I’m Going To Hell (5/5)
16. (hidden track – Alabama Come Clean) (5/5)