Initial Reactions (2012): Dirty Projectors, Damien Jurado, Welcome Wagon

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)

Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan [B]: Hints all over of a strong concept, but I have a really hard time connecting with this dude’s voice. I appreciate the fact that he’s not a mumbler, but he sounds a bit too soulfully controlled. The same applies to the songs, which are good, not great, but I’ll allow for the possibility that this is better than the first impression would indicate. ("The Socialites", "Gun Has No Trigger")

Damien Jurado – Maraqopa [B]: This is a moving album, and well played at that. The first half had me plotting ‘A’ territory, but things start to slack a little on the back half. Still, a pretty strong showing, and I’m guessing a grower. But what’s with the RATM cover rip-off? Yuck! ("This Time Next Year", "Museum of Flight")

 

Welcome Wagon – Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices [B]: This is a nice album. These folks wear simplicity on their sleeves, and the result is almost child-like in its folkdom. There are a few big highlights, among them a stripped down cover of The Cure’s "High" which is quite worth hearing. My one gripe is that this dude just sounds so much like his homey Sufjan. Still, prepare to be blitzed by pleasantry. ("High", "Would You Come and See Me in NY?")

Quick Review (LP): Forever Today by I’m From Barcelona

I’m From Barcelona
Forever Today
Mute; 2011

My Rating: B- (62/100)

Best Tracks: "Charlie Parker", "Get In Line", "Always Spring", "Come On", "Game Is On"

Frustratingly above-average. Forever a B-list band?

NOTES

  • I’m From Barcelona make "indie choir" pop symphonies in the best tradition of Sufjan. Their songs are, on whole, a lot more like early Beach Boys than his.
  • I have fond memories of their first album. The track "We’re from Barcelona" was fantastic.
  • It ain’t really edgy, but these kids can make some catchy tunes.
  • This reminds me of Architecture in Helsinki’s latest, but the instrumentation here favors the organic rather than the synthesized.
  • "Charlie Parker" is cool. These cats know how to write an opener.
  • “We all want to get in line!” Clever.
  • This is a very likeable record, but it’s a bit neon, if you know what I mean. Hard to diss, but it ain’t easy to get excited about it either.
  • Also, they seem to be writing from a template. Driving beat, major chords, full on instrumental broadside, lead vocal followed by choral vocal, etc.
  • The last paragraph of this Pitchfork review is right on. Key excerpt: “What’s ultimately confounding about the album is how one-note its euphoria can be. The songs are almost interchangeable; the lyrics rarely stray beyond the easy cliché.”

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

Best of 2010 (LP): My Top 5 Albums

Here’s a list of what I reviewed in 2010, with links to each individual review. I knew what my top 3 were beyond a shadow of a doubt, and the other 2 won out because I felt like there were pretty grand achievements from established acts. Notably, you won’t find The Suburbs, Age of Adz, or Contra here. The grammy-winner was long on pretense and short on strong material, the Sufe-ster went too far into left field, and the prep-punks got a little too glossy and cute. That’s OK though, those acts still have their best days ahead of them.

Below you’ll find my Top 5 records for 2010. What’s on your list?

kathryn calder are you my mother beach house teen dream

5. The Books – The Way Out…When it comes to “soundscaping” types of record, I normally expect the ones I enjoy to be good background music (ie Boards of Canada). The Way Out goes way beyond the confines of its genre, achieving a sort of giddy, off-the-wall, and soulful poppiness that may not be quite radio-friendly, but says it might just be possible a few albums from now. Otherwise, this is a great record, remarkably listenable and appealling for “found-sound.” “Cold Freezin’ Night” never ceases to put a smile on my face, but “I Didn’t Know That” is pretty cool too. (original review)

4. The National – High Violet…With HV, The National has officially become the greatest indie band to emerge in the last decade, taking ideas pioneered by the likes of Joy Division, REM, Interpol, Radiohead, Wilco, and others and creating their own mesmerizing blend of gut-wrenching chamber rock. The big highlight here though is Matt Berninger’s vocal work, which goes way beyond anything he’s done before. He uses his world-weary baritone to maximum effect, bringing in realms of emotion that have heretofore reamined untouched for The National. To that end, “Afraid of Everyone” is one of the record’s highlights, and probably Berninger’s most gut-wrenching performance to date. (original review)

3. Follow The Train – Mercury…At some point, great bands stopped thinking in terms of stadium-sized rock and roll. Follow The Train appears to be trying to reverse that trend, and while they may not be playing actual stadiums quite yet, with Mercury, they’ve prepared a set of tunes that would certainly do the trick. In fact, I can’t think of a band that has dreamed of making GOOD rock and roll this grand since Pearl Jam hit the airwaves in the early 90’s. This record is quite simply a delight in every way. I don’t know what the future holds for Follow The Train, but after the glory that is Mercury, I’m hoping they will let the world hear more. “Movin” is the best place to start. (original review)

2. Kathryn Calder – Are You My Mother?…Here’s one I really didn’t see coming. When Kathryn Calder joined New Pornographers a few years back, I figured she was simply standing in for Neko Case and would be relegated to backing band status. When she announced a solo album earlier this year, I barely took notice. Yet somehow, I gave this one a shot, and I’m thrilled I did. Packed with melody, romance, optimism, and spaced-out folk tunes, Calder’s debut is the understated gem of the year, a record with a little something for everyone. While it might not make many year-end lists, that just makes me all the prouder to tout it on mine. I certainly don’t mean to be patronizing when I say that this is one charming little record. Here’s a live take of my favorite, “If You Only Knew.” Oh yeah, and another prime tune (and cool video), “Arrow.” (original review)

1. Beach House – Teen Dream…On their third album, Beach House went for broke, and nailed it. Teen Dream contains ten pop masterpieces, songs that can’t be contained by studios or venues or any other confined space that you might dream up. From the epic swell of “Zebra” to the closing credits of “Take Care”, this a record that you’ll fall in love with, in large part due to the moonlight wails of Victoria Legrand, a vocalist that certainly ranks up there with the likes of Neko and Stevie Nicks. Words fail with this one. If you haven’t heard this yet, then what in the world are you waiting for? Here’s “Walk in the Park“, which was a runner-up for my year-end track list next to “Zebra.”  (original review)

Best of 2010 (EP): Top 3 Extended Players

I’ve never been a fan of filler, so I prefer a great EP to a decent full-length, especially because bands often reserve their most obtusely interesting moments for them. Chronic Town, 7 Songs, A Beautiful Place Out In The Country…I could go on. EP’s are less frequent affairs though, so I’m restricting the list to a Top 3 in this category. The competition was stiff. I reviewed 6 EP’s in the last few months of 2010 alone, and I gave 4 of them A’s. Wye Oak and Real Estate both put out strong offerings in this category, and I didn’t even get around to reviewing Crocodiles’ Fires of Comparison (def. solid) or any number of short offerings from newcomers.

 

from famous-painters.org

My Top 3 EP’s of 2010

3. The Seance EP by Stars…With the exception of the last one, the tracks here certainly rival most of the material on The Five Ghosts as synth-pop heavyweights. Exceptionally mix-worthy, as they say. These are the songs you listen to on the way home after the show has ended, with the windows rolled down and the cold night air keeping you awake. And the last one may not be as poppy, but it recalls The Cure’s darker and more ambient work, which fits the same vibe. Nicely done. (read my original review) [listen to “Opinion vs. The Sun”]

2. The Years EP by Memoryhouse…”Sleep Patterns” is fantastic enough to make a new Nickelback EP worth a listen (no it’s not), but the fact is that the other three tracks here measure up as well. This is super-sleepy, even for dream-pop, and it’s the ambient layers that make all the difference. Where a similar act, say, Beach House, emphasizes dynamics and the wall of sound, Memoryhouse prefers drones and blurred over synth effects. Heck, “The Waves” is a dead-ringer for 90’s infomercial new-age ambient kings Enigma. Gotta respect that. So, yeah, Memoryhouse – fantastic nostalgia-rock, chanting Hindi dude not included. (read my original review)  [listen to “Lately”]

1. All Delighted People EP by Sufjan Stevens…Already raved about “All Delighted People.” The rest of the EP is incredible too. Thought I could have done without a “Classic Rock” version of the title track, there’s no denying that Sufjan represents here. “Heirloom” and “From the Mouth of Gabriel” are favorites, and the vocal work on “Enchanting Ghost” sends chills up my spine. Still, it’s “Djohariah” that’s the true wonder here, a birthday tune he wrote for his little sis. Dang prodigies… (read my original review) [listen to “Heirloom”]

Best of 2010 (Tracks): 80 Minutes of the Best Music

Before I get around to telling you my 5 favorite albums of 2010, take a few minutes to consider this little mix of what I consider to be 80 minutes of the best music released last year…

image

Now the tracklist isn’t in any particular order, but below I’ve written up what I consider to be the top 8 and linked to where you can listen for yourself. Enjoy!

My Top 8 tracks of 2010

1. “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” by Arcade Fire…Somehow the best track got tucked away at the tail-end of The Suburbs. Regine Chassagne sounds so good. On past efforts, her contributions were always welcome additions, but over the electronic backing here, she delivers a stark and captivating performance that steals the show. Lyrically, this is the most stunning track I’ve heard in ages. As a pop song, it sounds like it’s a lost synth-pop classic from the 80’s. Simply brilliant. (listen)

2. “Movin” by Follow the Train…There is a tiny minority out there that knows what I am talking about when I say, “World, it’s high time you meet Follow The Train.” And there’s no better place to start than this transcendent piece of freaked-out, soulful, symphonic space grunge. Dig those strangz dawg. (listen)

3. “All Delighted People” by Sufjan Stevens…Don’t call it a come back. The Age of Adz still hasn’t grabbed me like I hoped it would, but Sufjan made such a grand return with the preceding EP that I’ve pretty much shrugged it off. The EP’s title track is quite possibly the most glorious thing he has yet recorded. It takes everything that we’ve grown to love about the mild-mannered Suferman, vamps it up to a grand symphony, throws in a fireworks display, makes a joyful noise, and then pushes it completely over the top. Now THAT is how you make a return to centerstage! (listen)

4. “Zebra” by Beach House…The most elegant song on this list, it’s an impressionistic little waltz that, as I’ve said before, somehow becomes a stadium-sized thunder track. Between Victoria Legrand’s vocals and Alex Scally’s instrumentation, what on paper appears quite simple becomes dream-like and absolutely gorgeous. (listen)

5. “If You Only Knew” by Kathryn CalderWrote about it here. For those wondering what AC Newman was thinking when he asked his mousy niece to play Christine McVie to Neko Case’s Stevie Nicks, this should give you some indication. My pick for the backporch singalong track of the year. Too much fun…

6. “Bonfire” by Strand of Oaks…Imagine if you will a character in an 80’s slasher flick who sits by a campfire and sings a lonely song that is simultaneously terrifying and pathetic, all while, unbeknownst to him, his cohorts are butchered in the cabin just across the water. You have just imagined “Bonfire” by Strand of Oaks, and it is actually one of the most touching and atypical love songs you’ll ever hear. (listen)

7. “A Cold Freezin’ Night” by The Books…Found sound usually isn’t this giddy and delightful. The bottom line is, this reminds me of all the good things about being nine years old. Who needs verse-chorus-verse? And the video is BADNESS…

8. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” by The National…It was hard to pick just one track from High Violet. I can think of 3 or 4 great tracks that could have been here as well. But ulimately, the lyric “I still owe money/to the money/to the money I owe” was just too good to pass up. (listen)

What were some of your favorites?

Quick Review (LP): Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens
Age of Adz
Asthmatic Kitty; 2010

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “Too Much”, “I Walked”, “Impossible Soul”

Not so sure about this. All Delighted People was great, but Sufjan’s best quality, his tunefulness, is downplayed here. The “Adz” fella has an interesting backstory, a very eccentric artist and all, but for all of Sufjan’s love of obscure and obtuse hyper-weirdness, it’s always his ability to take that which is obscure and distill into emotional and musical greatness that keeps the kids coming back for more. That being said, I’m not ruling this one out. If KID A can grow on me and become one of my all time favorites, then I suspect that Age of Adz can too. Still, in some ways, this seems more like something Sufjan needed to get out of his system than something he should have unleashed upon the world. “Impossible Soul” is something to behold, but as far as epic goes, Sufjan has done far better in the past (“All Delighted People”, “Djohariah”, “Detroit”, “You Are The Blood”). I’m hoping Sufjan has more up his sleeve in the near future, and I’m hoping it sounds a little more like the All Delighted People EP.

Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews

Quick Review (EP): All Delighted People by Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens
All Delighted People EP
Asthmatic Kitty; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “All Delighted People”, “Djohariah”, “Heirloom”, “From the Mouth of Gabriel”

“My EP’s are longer than your double LP’s.” Just who does this Sufjan character think he is? Following on the heels of one of the most productive “non-productive” runs in rock and roll history, the man who made the best record of the last decade makes a grand return, opening this hour-long affair with one of the best tracks of the year. The title track sounds just fine coming out of speakers, but it should be listened to with big Leia-style headphones at an appropriately high volume for maximum effect. “You Are The Blood”, his offering on last year’s Dark Night of the Soul compilation, showed we should expect something different yet epic and great in the future. Here we have it, with more where that came from. Yeah, I could have done without the alternate version of “All Delighted People” and the track that follows it, but those are minor complaints and there really ain’t a stinker to be found. I can only think of a few other artists that make such consistently inspired and transcendent music, and most of those names are so iconic that it would be silly to list them here. If All Delighted People is any indication, Sufjan is going to own this decade like he owned the last.

Listen to it and buy it here
Pitchfork Review
Metacritic Review

Release Rundown: Fall 2010

 

from The Young Scamels page on Facebook

 

The air is getting cool, the wind is getting brisk, the leaves are changing color, and Death Cab is sounding fantastic again. Fall is officially here. Here’s a rundown of some new and/or forthcoming stuff and why I’m excited about it:

  • Belle & Sebastian, Write About Love: Their last full-length, The Life Pursuit, was their best since If You’re Feeling Sinister. It sounds like the record shares a kindship with The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds in being a pop record very focused on God and things spiritual. Listen to the whole thing at NPR.
  • Young Scamels, Tempest: I’ve already mentioned why I’m excited about this one, but I’ll just say it again. What I’ve heard sounds great, and it’s Shakespearean indie rock from 2/3’s of Rachel’s. I’m sold. Sample their stuff at Myspace.
  • Parlour, Simulacrenfield: I’ve loved everything they’ve done until now, and it’s been a long time since their last release, the excellent Hives Fives EP. “Imagine a heavier, more disturbing Neu! with more unexpected twists and turn. . .” Enough imagining, I’m ready! Get an MP3 here.
  • Shipping News, One Less Heartless To Fear: Shipping News is good news, plain and simple. It’s been a long time coming, and this one’s apparently going to be a little more hot and heavy than their previous releases. Sample a track here.
  • Over the Rhine, The Long Surrender: Over the Rhine is an old favorite at this point, and I’m looking forward to whatever surprises they may have in store. All I know right now is that it was produced by Joe Henry, it has a great title, and that I’m getting a sneak preview this weekend. Can’t wait! Band website here.
  • Young Hunting, Attachment in a Child and the Subsequent Condition: I know very little about these guys, but I’m very excited by what I hear on their Myspace site. Their first 7″ sounds really good – I might have to pick it up. File under Landscape Rock?
  • Pavement, Terror Twilight [Deluxe edition]: We don’t have an official release date from the Matador website yet, but I do have two unconfirmed “sightings” of a November release date. How about a tracklist already?
  • Real Estate, “Out of Tune” b/w “Reservoir”: One of my favorite new bands of 2009 continues to roll out new music. “Out of Tune” is a great track, and I’m excited for something new on the flip side. You can listen when you pre-order.
  • Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz: Listened to this a few times so far, and I am not too sure what to make of it. “Too Much” is insanely catchy, and he is definitely stretching himself in multiple directions. I’ll suspend judgment for now, but one thing is for sure: Sufjan has probably made his Kid A, for better or for worse.

I’ll be that new Strand of Oaks LP is going to sound even better with the dropping temperature as well.

If you’re in a band that’s looking for a review of a CD, 7″, or some other recorded format, drop me a comment and I’ll be glad to oblige with e-mail and/or shipping address.

Worth Shouting About: SUFJAN, SUFJAN, SUFJAN!

via Asthmatic KittyFirst we get a new “EP” (All Delighted People, with an emphasis on the “extended”), now we get news of a new LP (The Age of Adz, so much for the 50 states project???), and a sample track from the album. Give it a listen below:

The Asthmatic Kitty website has this to say about the album:

“It’s much too soon to cast descriptive lots, but we can say the new album sounds nothing like the All Delighted EP (although it shares similar themes of love, loss, and the apocalypse). Nor is this new album built around any conceptual underpinning (no odes to states, astrology, or urban expressways).

We can say it shows an extensive use of electronics (banjos and acoustic guitars give way to drum machines and analog synthesizers), and an obsession with cosmic fantasies (space, heaven, aliens, love), to create an explicit pop-song extravaganza, augmented by heavy orchestration, and maybe even a few danceable moments. Enjoy Your Rabbitmeets the BQE. But with songs. Verse, chorus, bridge, backbeat. Gated reverb. Space echo. Get your boogey on.”

Gotta admit, I’m still holding out for My Olde Kentucky Home: Colonel Sanders’ Mutant Fried Chicken Extravaganza, if for no other reason than to hear some cosmic, hardcore bluegrass from Dr. Stevens’ lab.

For a guy who has supposedly been “all quiet” for a few years, Sufjan in reality has remained surprisingly prolific. This will be his fourth major release in two years (BQE, Rabbit, All Delighted, and Age of Adz). Dude is anything but lazy!

Like Eddie Vedder…

Just wanted to touch base and say that I’m still alive, and plan on returning to regular blogging sometime in the spring.

A few music-related thoughts:

– the new Norah Jones was like the last Norah Jones, pretty blah…
– the new Vampire Weekend is okay, pretty mediocre compared to their outstanding debut…
– the new Dawn Landes sounds EXCELLENT after one listen…
– I never did pick up the Farrar/Gibbard record…anyone care to comment?
– Louisville indie-rockers Second Story Man just released a new record, Screaming Secrets…you should check it out…
– I’d probably agree with Paste Mag that Sufjan’s Illinois was the greatest record of the last decade…more later though…
– I”m stoked that Louisville’s Follow the Train might re-group when their new LP is released on Removador Records
– of course I’m with CoCo…duh…
– I like that new-ish band Real Estate…
– psyched for some new Josh Ritter in the spring, more psyched for the tour that should follow…
– best record of 2009? No clue…I think last year kind of sucked for music…

That’s it for now, stay in touch…