Quick Review (LP): I Am Very Far by Okkervil River

Okkervil River
I Am Very Far
Jagjaguwar; 2011

My Rating: C+ (58/100)

Best Tracks: "Rider", "Lay of the Last Survivor", “Show Yourself”

Hyper-literate indie folksters get all smoove.


  • Here’s a band that’s had some brilliant moments, but never quite done it for me on a whole.
  • "Piratess" recalls "Billie Jean." Sort of weird for Okkervil River.
  • "Rider" sounds quite a bit like their former tourmates New Pornographers.
  • That guitar fill on "Show Yourself" is a nice touch.
  • I think I like "Wake and Be Fine", but it’s just so darn bombastic. A little intimacy would be nice.
  • What is it about Okkervil River that rubs me the wrong way? It might have something to do with Will Scheff’s phrasing and a bit of over-singing? As much as I complain about mumbly vox, I guess I don’t like the other end of the spectrum either.
  • What this record doesn’t have is amazing songs. Any. Their last few records each had a handful (at least).
  • Also, although they reach for a new sound this time, they either keep a little too close to safe territory or they go too far. I haven’t figured out which one.
  • As I read through the song titles, I’m detecting a a heavy mortality theme herein. May be more to interact with here than at first glance.
  • Pitchfork and Paste both really like this one. For that reason, I’ll continue to give it consideration throughout the rest of the year. I’m just really put off by the wall of sound and find Sheff a bit overbearing. Also, I don’t think they wear the R&B flourishes particularly well. Then again, maybe I have to walk a lot longer to get to where Sheff apparently is at this point.

Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

Best of 2010 (Albums): Honorable Mention

Before we get too deep in 2011, I thought I’d put a bow on 2010 this week. I’ll be listing a CD-R’s worth of my favorite tracks, my top 5 albums, and maybe a few other things this week. Too start things off, a list of great albums that deserve some sort of honorable mention…

cerebellum tewligans

Cerebellum 1989 (via Slamdek.com)


While these albums didn’t quite make my top 5 this year, I don’t think there is any doubt that I will be listening to them frequently for years to come.

She & Him – Volume 2: I almost didn’t even bother here, but I’m really glad I did. Discovering this was like finding out about an old rock masterpiece. There’s a lot of warmth in ZD’s voice and songwriting, and M. Ward’s flourishes round out the best traditional pop record of the year. (listen to “Lingering Still“) Read my original review.

New Pornographers – Together: I’m not really sure how AC Newman keeps getting such inspiration out of this wacky ensemble, but Together, as its name would imply, manages to achieve both a stunning overall unity and the most idiosyncratic performances from each of the key players yet. Neko’s at her best on “The Crash Years”, Dan’s a wacky loverboy on “Silver Jenny Dollar”, Kathryn Calder shines on “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk”, and Dr. Newman rounds out just about everything else. Fantastic artsy power pop, fabulous performances, a great experience all around. (listen to “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk“) Read my original review.

Venice Is Sinking – Sand & Lines: This is what rainy Saturday mornings feel like. The great thing about this record is that you can get up close to it or leave it on in the background, either way you enjoy it. As I’ve said before, I wish more bands would just hang a microphone from the ceiling and play a set. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for ViS. (“Bardstown Road“) Read my original review.

Frontier(s) – There Will Be No Miracles Here: Chris Higdon returns 7 years after the demise of Elliott with a record heavy on the DC-style hardcore. As packed as this one is with melodic, chunky riffs, comparisons to Jawbox seem obvious but entirely appropriate. Oh yeah, and it grows on you too. (“Abul Abbas“) Read my original review.

Bruce Springsteen – The Promise: Recorded in the late 70’s, this is a gold mine for just about anyone who cares about rock and roll. Did we really need a reminder of what a monumental and unique talent Bruce Springsteen is? The Boss himself seems to think we did, and for that, I’d like to shake his hand. (“Someday (We’ll Be Together)“) Read my original review.

Stars – The Five Ghosts: Stars fully embraced 80’s synth-pop on this record, and what came of it was one of the most listenable and catchy collection of tunes imaginable. With all their earnestness, I get a feeling it’s becoming less and less cool to like Stars, but don’t let that hold you back. This is some serious ear candy, so just indulge your sonic sweet tooth already. (“Wasted Daylight“) Read my original review.

Cerebellum – Cerebellum: How could this not be awesome? Cerebellum came to a pre-mature end in 1989, leaving only 5 studio tracks (collected here) and a handful of other unrecorded songs. They recorded them for posterity this year, and it’s remarkable just how much these guys sound like they are picking up right where they left off. The big highlight is the mighty “Crawl Out of the Water”, which existed as an inferior Crain demo. It’s in all its glory here. (“Crawl Out of the Water“) Read my original review.

Quick Review (LP): Are You My Mother? by Kathryn Calder

Kathryn Calder
Are You My Mother?
File Under: Music; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “Slip Away”, “Arrow”, “If You Only Knew”, “Day Long Past It’s Prime”

I’ve already declared my love for this record elsewhere (see below). The songwriting’s great, the melodies are big, the instrumentation is lush, and everyone sounds like they are having a great old time. Quieter numbers like “Low” and “Arrow” are gorgeously reflective and dream-like, making optimal use of Calder’s girl-next-door vocals. At the same time, “Castor & Pollux” and “Day Long Past It’s Prime” demonstrate a penchant for National-esque post-anthem indie rock. But my favorite tracks are the ones that take the folk turns, especially “If You Only Knew.” The back-porch band approach makes for one of the best tracks of the year. The under-impressed accounts from the usual suspects be damned; our lady’s a musical force to be reckoned with. Any outtakes or b-sides there, KC?

Tracknotes: “If You Only Knew”
Paste review
Pitchfork review
Her Myspace page

Quick Review (LP): Together by New Pornographers

File:The New Pornographers - Together.jpgNew Pornographers
Together LP
Matador; 2010

My Rating: A

Standout Tracks: “The Crash Years”, “Silver Jenny Dollar”, “Bite Out of My Bed”

Let’s see…five albums in now. This should have been the epic fail, right? Not so. Instead, they’ve achieved a fantastic synthesis of the polite baroque rock of Challengers and the rocket-fueled zounds! pop of everything before that. It boasts some of their best work (Case is on another plane of existence here), and turns out to be the most consistent album from liftoff to crash landing they’ve yet made. High on melody, high on spark, high on all of the things that go to make heaven and earth. RiYL: anything they’ve done in the past, Destroyer, A.C. Newman, powerful power pop, Neko Case.

band website
Pitchfork review
Myspace page

Quick Review (EP): Givers EP by Givers

GIVERS (EP) Cover ArtGivers
Givers EP
Valcour Records; 2009

My Rating: C+

There is much to be relished in the up-beat swing that indie music seems to be taking these days. I am a big fan of Vampire Weekend, New Pornographers, and others that fit this mold. Givers seem to be moving in the same direction, and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for their first LP due toward the end of 2010. However, while they be working from the same general source material as the aforementioned bands (esp. Vampire Weekend’s afro-pop), nothing here gets under my skin in quite the way I would hope. “Up, Up, Up” is the obvious standout, but unfortunately it swings a little too far toward cutesy excess. The result is that it is catchy in the wrong way. The rest of the record is all in all a bit bland, but I give them bonus points for trying, and think they might be onto something. Finally, I’ll be these guys are a hoot live. FFO: Vampire Weekend, Talking Heads, New Pornographers.

Listen & Download it here

Tracknotes: “If You Only Knew” by Kathryn Calder

calder - mother Don’t hold it against me if I continue to gush about the debut LP from Kathryn Calder (New Pornographers, Immaculate Machine). In this case, I want to express my appreciation for one of the album’s standout tracks, the infectious, organic, back-porch pop of “If You Only Knew.”

  • Handclaps, sleigh bells, chorused vocals…this is fantastic instrumentation!
  • I love the timbre of Calder’s voice – there is a simple, girl-next-door sort of quality to it, nothing too flashy but as appealing as a sunny spring day.
  • I think we’ve got some horns in there too – which means I can stick the “baroque” tag on this, right? Nice touch.
  • Love the lyrics of the chorus, as well as the extension in the phrasing. Listen to the track and check it out…
  • All-in-all, I expect this one will be in the running for my Top Tracks of 2010.

Check it out:

Kathryn Calder – If You Only Knew

You can buy Calder’s LP Are You My Mother? at Amazon.

AlbumNotes: Kathryn Calder’s “Are You My Mother?”

via radio3.cbc.ca

  • I’ll admit I was skeptical about Kathryn Calders debut when it was first announced a few months back. I didn’t know about her work in Immaculate Machine, and she’d only managed to make a star appearance on a few New Pornographers tracks since joining the band mid-decade. And anyway, the circumstances of her joining the band oddly struck of nepotism.
  • Any doubts that I had have been blown away. Are You My Mother? is a solid debut. Great melodies, fun arrangements, diverse rhythms, and crafty wordplay. It plays like one of Uncle Carl’s solo records, maybe less angular. I’ve been telling everyone I can about this record.
  • My favorite tracks are “If You Only Knew”, “Follow Me Into the Hills”, and “Slip Away.” Additionally, “Day Long Past Its Prime” sounds like The National fronted by a female vocalist. Really good stuff.
  • Apparently, it’s a very personal record as well. Calder’s mother died in the process of recording it. For anyone who has ever read the children’s book that gave her the album’s title, there’s plenty of emotional resonance here.
  • I’m thinking this one will probably wind up on my top 10 albums of 2010. At that point, I intend to give it the appropriate write-up.

Top 10 Tracks of 2010 (Midway)

from thesecretstereo.com

This is a bit hastily thrown together, but here it is, 8/23, and I haven’t done it yet, so here goes. No comments, no order, only criteria is that it was released between 1/1/2010 & 6/31/2010. Links provided for samples:

Follow the Train – “Movin”
New Pornographers – “Crash Years”
Memoryhouse – “Sleep Patterns”
Stars – “Fixed”
Cerebellum – “Crawl Out of the Water”
Wye Oak – “I Hope You Die”
Beach House – “Walk in the Park”
Broken Social Scene – “World Sick”
Venice is Sinking – “Tugboat”
Strand of Oaks – “Bonfire”

So there.


A.C. Newman: Get Guilty (2009)

Album Cover via eMusic

A.C. Newman
Get Guilty; 2009
Matador Records

My Rating: 74/100

Power-Pop Hitman Guilty As Sin

I have a guilty pleasure I need to admit: I am a huge fan of pop superstar Phil Collins, especially his mid-80’s heyday. I am such a fan that I recently created a mix CD entitled “Phil Collins Galore.” Something about that man’s music simply butters my bread. Still, whenever I ponder the career of (the original) Dr. Phil, I often scratch my head about the ping-ponging he did between his solo career and Genesis, because when it all comes down to it, for the longest time I couldn’t differentiate between the two. In fact, at this given moment, I couldn’t tell you whether “Sussudio” is a Genesis or a Phil track. And that’s the way I feel about A.C. Newman’s solo work. Unlike the other two major indie artists working in the New Pornographers (Dan Bejar of Destroyer & Neko Case), Newman’s eponymous output  bears little immediate difference from the NP-sound. It can lead one to cynicism about the whole affair: “Why even bother?” However, a few careful listens to Newman’s second full-length shine a spotlight on the specific and dissimilar merits contained therein. For starters, there’s a rhythmic angularity and experimentalism that is, for the most part, absent from the hyperactive power pop of New Pornographers (“Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer”, “Elemental”), in large part thanks to the unorthodox drumming of Superchunk’s John Wurster. Second, while the songs are hooky and immediately accessible (“Young Atlantis”, “Prophets”), they are also deeply mysterious and entirely unyielding. These are tracks you can dwell in for a good while, discovering additional layers here and there to relish. Third, because he isn’t forced to share the spotlight with anyone else, we get to focus on Newman’s greatest strenghth: his penchant for writing memorable and distinguishable pop songs. Overall, Newman is at his best when he builds the song around a mind-blowing hook and lets it breath. His esoteric/enigmatic lyrics don’t distract so much then, but instead become the alternate universe into which we are initiated by a hummable, repeatable motif.  Get Guilty provides clear indication that Newman’s solo career is not merely a vanity affair. The record is an impeccably-crafted album of left-field baroque pop gems, as satisfying as any of the New Pornographers’ long-players, and ultimately the work of a master craftsman. Highly recommended.

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


1. There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve (4/5)
2. The Heartbreak Rides (5/5)
3. Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer (4/5)
4. Prophets (5/5)
5. Submarines Of Stockholm (5/5)
6. Thunderbolts (3.5/5)
7. The Palace At 4AM (4/5)
8. The Changeling (Get Guilty) (3.5/5)
9. Elemental (4/5)
10. Young Atlantis (5/5)
11. The Collected Works (4/5)
12. All Of My Days And All Of My Days Off (5/5)

What do you think of A.C. Newman’s Get Guilty?