Friday, January 25, 2013

Best Albums of 2012

Another year in music and we find ourselves reflecting on an exorbitant amount of music throughout the flipping calendar pages. What will we remember years from now? What blended in? What changed YOUR life?  

As always, I feel if you truly seek out music, you will find enough mind-blowing shit to keep your thirst quenched. Rock isn’t dead; it’s just a bit of a scavenger hunt! This year is no different and good stuff continues to emerge everyday.

A quick look back at my previous spotlights, putting everything in perspective…

Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Halos – Living Like Kings in Confined Spaces
Feist – Metals
MuteMath – Odd Soul

Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders – Red Light Fever
Punch Brothers – Antifogmatic
The Black Keys – Brothers
Minus the Bear – Omni
Ben Folds – Lonley Avenue

I didn’t compile a list in 2009.

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Punch Brothers – Punch
Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs

I also didn’t compile a list in 2007.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium
Foo Fighters – Skin & Bones
Ben Folds – SuperSunnySpeedgraphic
Mute Math – Mute Math
Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders – Self Titled

Ryan Adams – Cold Roses
Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
Foo Fighters – In Your Honor
The Decemberists – Picaresque
Anberlin – Never Take Friendship Personal

Drum roll for 2012…

1. Grizzly Bear – Shields

This is my JAM! I know, I know…I shouldn’t seriously say it like that, but I can’t help myself. True giddiness knows not the sensation of self-awareness. A smile that unequivocally lets loose, without remorse, and transports the mind into greener pastures. Vast tracks of land, where bears are free to dance to electronic progressive vocal harmonized pop music as if Mug Root Beer was served so freely to these mammoth creatures, in their inner circles, they refer to it as Root-BEAR. Grrrr. Snarl. Fizz to the brain.

This was the best album of 2012.

Brooklyn’s own Grizzly Bear has been on the rise, building themselves up for the release and execution of this album all their lives. Before I heard Shields, I thought this apex was achieved with Veckatimest (2009) as it seemed previous years of mellower soundscape sonnets had given way to a masterpiece of pop persuasion. It was beautiful. It was gorgeous. I typically describe it as if the Beach Boys inherited a gothic church and funneled their purist multi-part harmonies through the sunny tresses of brightly tinted stain glass windows.  

The opening chords of “Sleeping Ute” obliterated everything I thought I knew about Grizzly Bear. That opening synth riff just SOARS. The vocals on the album retained their majestic soundscape nature, yet are able the harness the accessibility of pop hooks. The words seem to urge importance far greater than their previous efforts. One can more easily identify with what’s being said, which hasn’t really been part of the Grizzly Bear experience for me until now. Everything came together and solidified itself like a fruit smoothie glacier.

“And those figures through the leaves
And that light through the smoke
And those countless empty days
Made me dizzy when I woke
And I live to see your face
And I hate to see you go
But I know no other way
Than straight on out the door”

This is a segment of “Sleeping Ute” the opening song on the album. I love the imagery as the beat and lyrics walk you literally right down a path of righteousness. All I can say to highlight my point…game changer.

“You've fallen once, you'll fall again
And lean on
Your tired hands that crawl and grasp
The soft ground
By the look on your face
You set out on a path
Never to arrive
By the look on your face
The burden's on your back
And the sun is in your eyes”

This is from “Sun In Your Eyes” the epic closer of the album. It’s such a beautiful song it’s painful. I sometimes have to squint, as I, again, feel the imagery so live and vivid. The song is 7:11 minutes long with revolving percussion and the decadence of a full orchestral piece.

Throughout the album the percussion of Christopher Bear (coincidence…) is varied and persistent, seamlessly integrating measures of hip-hop, jazz, orchestra, rock and wispy backbeats keeping the momentum as magnetic as gravity. The blended vocals of lead singers Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen are dynamic, fluid and unpredictably assorted.

Enough to keep Brooklyn’s reputation for being trendy going another year or so at least, eh?

Three Key Tracks: 1) “Sleeping Ute” 2) “Sun In Your Eyes” 3) “A Simple Answer” 

2. Andrew Bird – Break it Yourself

Andrew Bird is about as stoic and consistent as an artist can be. I own many of his albums, yet I cannot pinpoint more than a handful of songs that truly stand alone. I believe this to be a curse and a blessing. Everything he does is SO GOOD, but there is a tendency to blend together with their own self aggrandized uniqueness. There’s just nothing else like him. A whistling renascence man. A mad scientist with a violin. A veteran songsmith. A genius, gentleman and a scholar.  

Call it however you want to, but simply put: He kind of killed it this time around.

For his ninth album, he decided to record in a more “communal” fashion taking his renowned professionalism and band to a barn in western Illinois. According to an interview with, "It was the band in the barn, just playing live to an 8-track tape. That's exactly what you hear. There are no studio checks, no overdubbing. The album is the sound of the room."

The relaxed atmosphere is transparent as his already ultra chill sound popped itself a cold one and put its collective feet up on the easy chair, letting the dogs rest. Much like Grizzly Bear, the lyrics and singing seem to make way to the forefront, granting the package as a whole a slice of accessibility previously not accomplished.

At the very least, you have an entire album of whistling breeze and orchestral delights to fill any precarious backdrop you may have. Best-case scenario, this is the strongest Andrew Bird album and the standard aspiring professional whistlers who dream to make violin driven pop music will use to keep themselves focused.

Three Key Tracks: 1) “Luisitania” 2) “Near Death Experience Experience” 3) “Fatal Shore”

3. Carina Round – Tigermending

“Pick up the phone
I’m pregnant with your baby
I wanted you to know
The dreams I’ve been having lately”

This is the opening line to Tigermending, a riveting, scathing bastion of regret told with the candor and humor of Kelly Kapoor, but through the thrift store palate of one of music’s lesser known treasures. Carina Round is without a doubt the Foo Fighters of female artists for me. I love everything about her, more than anything else I have been able to find. She is an independent artist, funding pretty much everything she does through creative fundraising on her website, creating an active relationship with her fans.

To fully grasp this album, I think you have to start with the title. It’s derived directly from a painting of the same name by an artist named Amy Culter. So, I’m going to quote a review by written by Randall Miller, because I think this blurb so perfectly catches the aura of what Round created, cited and sold.

Three women sit in a field dutifully stitching up the bellies of a heap of prone tigers. The cats are large and clumsy loads; they appear no more ferocious than a streak of tiger-shaped beanbags. The real intensity lies behind the knitted brows of the women, whose ruminative psychology seems to spy objects light-years away from their skilled hands and the helpless bodies of such absurd tigers.
--Randall Miller, (reviewing Tigermending by Amy Culter, 2003)

Basically it’s almost absurd to me how Round is able to weave intricate moments of intense rage with moments of delicate dialectic majesty. It shouldn’t be possible, but it is, was and it’s sealed, signed and delivered. Is she ripping the tigers apart with her sheer raw rock or singing them to sleep with her tender balladry? Yes and yes.  

She took her time making Tigermending as there spanned at least five years between it and her last LP, which was a “major label” outfit Slow Motion Addict. After that, Round returned to being an independent artist and was discovered and employed by Tool’s James Maynard Keenan for his side project. She was a part of another side project called the Early Winters, which also released an album in 2012. Paired with extensive touring, Tigermending is the benefit of such maturity and growth. If anything, the cinematic glee of the production and percussion found on this album are insanely evocative. There’s straight up Celtic rockers like “The Girl and the Ghost” to Ennio Morricone style closings to a ballad (let that marinate…) in “You Will Be Loved.”

If you’ve ever seen Carina perform live, you know she’s razor sharp, foul-mouthed and absolutely able to awestruck an audience with her vocal prowess. Space and time stop for me when she takes the microphone. It’s nuts. If you listen to me about one thing throughout this piece, I would say download ANY of her albums. They are all difference experiences, and a worthwhile wander.

The Tigermending experience is paralleled to seeing the girl of your dreams walking into a thrift store, the sun is giving her a radiant backdrop, warm rays like strobe lights, and you know for a fact she’s listening to better music than you. It doesn’t matter now, because your life is spoofing itself as a scene in a movie. You’re in a state of shock, yet your mind is processing more succinctly than ever. Everything slows down like The Matrix for a nanosecond. You take a deep breath…

…And hit play.

Three Key Tracks: 1) “Set Fire” 2) “You Will Be Loved” 3) “The Girl and the Ghost”

4. Punch Brothers – Who’s Feeling Young Now?

I’m not even really sure how to classify the Punch Brothers anymore. They’re so proficient with their instruments they bend the boundaries of bluegrass/progressive-bluegrass into something inanely unique. I read somewhere, someone branded them as the “Radiohead of Bluegrass,” which is iconic, due to their ability to properly cover Radiohead without using electronic instruments. How ironic?

For instance, on WFYN they cover “Kid A” in a way that makes one scratch their head with disbelief to what’s coming through the headphones. They channeled their inner MacGuyver and created preposterous sounds without clunking the space up with duct tape residue.

Who’s Feeling Young Now? is the sweet spot sound on a bat when you hit a home run—seems effortless, light on the hands and bafflingly easy as you watch one after another sail over the fence. Compared to a 42-minute bluegrass opera a couple albums ago on Punch (2008) and some of the experimentation toggled with on Antifogmatic (2010), WFYN has the feel of a bunch of friends finding their space with one another and shooting the breeze with unparalleled intellect.

Given the roots of the music, some of the songs roll off the line like pop sensations. Songs like “This Girl,” “Hundred Dollars” and “Soon or Never” flutter and float through moments of Beatlesque catchiness. At other times songs like “Movement and Location,” “New York City” and “Flippen” seem like ancient-modern teachings of music theory. Almost intentionally absurd in execution and torrid in virtuoso grandeur, each signifying something real, refined and dignified.   

If you’re not feeling young and possibly a tad helpless when listening to musicians this good, you’re not taking the music serious enough.

Three Key Tracks: 1) “Soon or Never” 2) “Who’s Feeling Young Now?” 3) “Don’t Get Married Without Me”

5. The Congress – Whatever You Want

This is a badass band!

If you want a sound that merges the simplicity of an ol’ fashioned hook, with a complex to find their space and jam: The Congress are your guys. They are a three-piece band that works the inside-out; loud-soft-jam-groove game like this year’s version of the New York Knicks. They’ve been around for a few years perfecting their sound at open mic nights in Virginia and most recently out west in Colorado. I feel you will sense the scent of the regal colonial Southeast soldering together with the wild freewheeling Silver Bullet Rocky Mountains. Grab a cold one, throw this on, and tell me it doesn’t rev your engines like a freight train to the soul.

I covered this album extensively for The Steam Engine. Read HERE.

My nominee for best new band in 2012.

Three Key Tracks: 1) “Jonah Gideon” 2) “Oh Babe” 3) “Walls”

6. Shearwater – Animal Joy

Shearwater goes pop rock! I’ve always thought of Shearwater as a trippy, Earthy, kind of delightfully kitschy hippie experimental folk band. Somehow, I missed some of the hardcore riffs they’ve had over the years. When I recently saw them live, I couldn’t help but say to myself, “hey, this is actually a ROCK band. Wow.”

I think of their album Rook (2008) as one of my favorites all-time, but it’s meant to be digested as a whole. Kind of like a pig roast during a thunderstorm, you’re not packing any of that meat up. It’s raining hard, bro. Eat up. Hey, that’s a great idea for a party, I should write that down.

Anyway, they really found a melodic, accessible pop groove on this album, without shaking loose from their foundations. The rain comes crashing down, animals take shelter, faces are melted with bone curdling vocals and everyone makes it home in time to churn some butter.

I couldn’t ask for more, more importantly, I think the doors that seemed to be closing for “nature rock” are now open to “whole grain nature synth pop.”

Three Key Tracks: 1) “Believing Makes it Easy” 2) “Pushing the River” 3) “Breaking the Yearlings”

7. Norah Jones – Little Broken Hearts

It’s official, Norah Jones is more than a heartbreaker who writes weepy elevator piano ballads. Granted, I happen to be a rocker who enjoys waking up on Sunday morning, throwing her catalogue on shuffle and going back to sleep. Nothing really beats that, aside from Norah singing them to me herself, with a plate of bacon. The legacy of this album is, I will now have to make a playlist separating Little Broken Hearts for this purpose, due to the upbeat nature of the beats, and the beat-down disposition of the lyrics. Again, that’s a double whammy. I don’t want to hear about heartbreak to pulsating Danger Mouse rhythms when I’m trying to get my second wave of weekend sleep on.

I do, however, have many other uses for this kind of music. I love the odd couple pairing. It plays out very similar to what Broken Bells did for the Shins’ James Mercer.  This should open doors for those who haven’t been able to open up to Norah’s delicate nature in the past. The backing music at times borders on bluesy rock anthems and/or western tribal dance riffs that compliment Jones’ trademark smoky vocals to applewood perfection. The raw pain of the lyrics puts your heart through a ringer, but the honesty of it all is like an endearing tight hug for your soul.

I’ve always thought a career gets serious when you’ve completed your 5th album. Everyone knows Jones is uber-talented, but even with knowing that, this is a pleasant surprise worthy of a double take. Haters better recognize.

In “I can’t help myself” news: Does anyone else take guilty pleasure when Norah sings emotional, heartbroken material? It makes me feel like I have a chance. Ha.

Three Key Tracks: 1) “Happy Pills” 2) “Travelin’ On” 3) “Out on the Road”

8. Ben Folds Five – The Sound of Life and Mind

“Taste my vanilla thunder!”

After a 13-year hiatus, BFF returned with their 4th studio album and it’s really fucking good! The biggest surprise to me is it’s almost obnoxiously upbeat. It’s like if you put “One Angry Dwarf” into BFF Pandora and let the pippin’ hot piano scorch your face off. I’m a big fan of “Boxing” and “Evaporated,” but it was a really nice gesture for these middle-aged rockers to turn back the clock, and not deliver a bunch of “boo hoo, this is what happens when you get old” ballads clamoring for increased maturity and the ascending costs of AARP memberships.

As you’d expect with BFF the musicianship is impeccable, and for those that continue to rock the Ben Folds solo catalogue, it’s refreshing to hear that nostalgic backing trio. It takes me back to the snow days I spent driving in my ’87 Ford Mustang trying to harmonize with Whatever and Ever Amen wondering what it would be like to ask a bitch for my black t-shirt back.

13 years later, I’m 31, and can fully appreciate how awesome it is to hear grown ass men singing about drawing dicks on the wall in perfect pitch, with palpitating piano pizzazz.

My iPod still fits perfectly in my fanny pack, y’all!      

Three Key Tracks: 1) “Draw a Crowd” 2) “Sky High” 3) “The Sound of Life and Mind (lyrics by Nick Hornby)”

9. The Lumineers – The Lumineers

Some things are just beautifully simple.  Some times things seem even simpler when hipsters wear mobster hats.

In some ways you wonder how long this “Americana” movement will last and if the tide will take bands like the Lumineers away, but through the eyeglass of simplicity is an album charged with enough emotional sentiment to grow roots in your hearts. The music is full of heart, which I believe puts it a step ahead of bands like Mumford & Sons, Avett Brothers, Low Anthem, etc, etc. Not that those bands don’t have heart, I just think the Lumineers story, and the way they infuse themselves into this album, the aesthetic of their live showmanship and omniscient Meg White percussion—take them a level above.

A level that will make them last.

This is one of those albums over the course of time that about seven songs have been my “favorite” on the album. Some of them are great sing-a-longs, others are punchy piano jabs, but they all grasp for you affection. You can’t shut out the Lumineers. Love and heartbreak are complex beasts, but the feeling, at its core, is so simple. 

Drummer Jeremiah Fraites (yeah, the hipster in the suspenders), take us out with a quote…
"We’re not reinventing the wheel or doing anything that different, the songs are super simple. The ideas themselves are very simple ideas. Anyone who can play an instrument can play a Lumineers song. I think there’s a certain cinematic aspect of our music that I really like.” (The Crimson White, September 14th, 2012)

Three Key Tracks: 1) “Big Parade” 2) “Stubborn Love” 3) “Flowers in Your Hair”

10. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

More and more I find myself going to Gaslight Anthem in times of need. They are quickly soaring through old favorites and becoming one of my favorite bands. In their fourth album, the boys all-to-famously from New Jersey return their driving punk roots. American Slang (2010) is my least favorite GA album (…I like the album a lot, just not as much as the others), but it did venture into neat elements of swing and Motown, which showed promise, diversion and maturity for a band otherwise typically typecast.

Handwritten sounds BIG. There are a dangerously excessive amount of songs that use vowel chanting backing vocals, but is there anything more fun to sing live? I’ve always thought Brian Fallon has a huge voice and am always surprised he’s not something like seven-foot, 300 pounds of snarling beast. He’s a relatively small, tattooed presence that seems genuinely nice, and when he sings it seems like a never-ending batch of smiles. I’ve never seen anyone seem to enjoy their job so much. It makes it hard not to LOVE the band to death.  I think vocally, this is clearly the strongest GA album, with unparalleled variety, complimenting the return to Clashesque punk with the cleanest, crispest pipes imaginable. Check out, “Too Much Blood” if you don’t believe me.

I can’t get enough of the “sensitive guy” lyrics…
Would you miss me if I was gone and all the simple things were lost?
Would you ever wait on me to say
Oh that I'd just die if you ever took your love away
--“Mulholland Drive”

I will eventually haunt you,
Oh you eventually will be my queen,

And I'll be with you through
The dark so that you do not,
Go through the dark alone,
Or on your own
--“Biloxi Parish”

In a world of computers, technology and disingenuous banter it’s good to know there are humble poets from New Jersey looking out for our good friend…nostalgia.

The Key Tracks: 1) “Mulholland Drive” 2) “Biloxi Parish” 3) “Too Much Blood”

The Next 10:

11. Cody ChesnuTT – Landing on a Hundred

It’s been about a decade since we’ve seen a full LP from Georgia’s Soul, R & B and a little Jazz mastermind Cody ChesnuTT. When you listen to this album, you’ll see why it took so long to materialize. It’s very deep, full and rich. I loved The Headphone Masterpiece (2002), but at times some of the little nuggets on there seemed slightly incomplete. Lots of great soul riffs, but in that double disc, I felt like it was a short album, perhaps slightly incomplete. This is NOT the case here. You see ChesnuTT with all the luster you craved back then chock full of horns, mystic rhythms and Grand Funk Railroad brand bravado. Older, wiser, more polished and ready to dominate your headphones again.

Great love-making music!

12. Gary Clark Jr. – Blak and Blu

Hendrix. Clapton. Prince.

And then…

Kravitz. Mayer. Maxwell.


13. Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls

So much soul, so little time. Lead singer Brittany Howard is a majestic testament to shattering your internal temple with an array of vocal weaponry that act like a game of angry birds for your soul.

You’re a pig. Oink now, because yours is coming, son.

14. Say Anything – Anarchy My Dear

Everyone knows my favorite band. Many don’t realize Say Anything over the last five years is probably my most listened to band. The variety they use in their arrangements keeps me vested over and over again. Most of their albums give you a little bit of anything you could possibly want in music. Hip hop, metal, delicate balladry; it can all be found, sometimes, even in the same freekin’ song!?

Anarchy My Dear plays kind of light overall. It’s perhaps slightly watered down with less variety compared to the previous SA efforts, but there is a fun, Ali-in-the-ring lightness to the songs that make them devour able like fresh popped popcorn. Dance. Have a glass of wine and revel in the greatness of maturity written in crayon.

15. Further Seems Forever – Penny Black

Years ago, before I had ever set foot in NYC, I road tripped out to Asbury Park, NJ (from Grand Rapids, MI) to see Further Seems Forever play a set with Chris Carraba, reunited on lead vocals with FSF. 

Inevitably, the chemistry works for a reason. They had to come back to it.

It’s nostalgic to hear Carrabba rock so hard, and the songs themselves are original and forthcoming.  There is just something about the way Carrabba can write lyrics that eat at your innards romantically. Not to mention, when the guy grabs a microphone, there is no way to lose. The array of vocal techniques he uses here are nothing short of a clinic. Even when it seems he’s missing, you realize the intricate nature he chose to miss a note, and why that rocks so damn hard. So Cold. SOooooOOOooooo cold.

Someone snuggle with me, now.

16. Future History – Loss:/Self

A grandiose concept album about technology, relationships, fear, social nature, anti-social nature and how these things interweave themselves among our ego vs. our true self. All presented with serene guitar work and a voice that reminds me a great deal of Colin Meloy (The Decemberists).

Man vs. Machine. Man vs. Himself. Mankind vs. Me.

Loss:/Self is a wondrous experience. I’d recommend pairing it with a bottle of Pinot Noir and an array of sliced cheese cubes.

17. The Early Winters – The Early Winters

A side project of the earlier mentioned Carina Round (from U.K.), with Canadian singer/songwriter  Justin Rutledge and multi-instrumentalist Zac Rae. What resulted was a nice blend of warm, pop sensibility with some sprinkles of the jagged qualities that make these artists unique. A couple of the Carina sung songs are some of the favorite in her catalogue, “Spanish Burn” and “The Sweater.” In this case, I would imagine the nature of the collaboration led to a quicker, more relaxed writing process—especially for someone like Round, whom I know works on songs for years, perfecting their distilled magic.

18. Fall Classic – Nerves

A five-piece Chicago band that sounds like an answer to Brooklyn’s TV on the Radio. That’s the best comparison I can make. I reviewed the album for The Steam Engine in October and there was a paragraph I wrote in there, I don’t feel like I can top.

“Listening to their album Nerves feels like an episode of “Gather Around” as the curly bearded man continues to unveil new trees, bees, shrubberies and countless other Earthy delights with a paintbrush. The soothing whispery vocals lead you down a gravel road to a log cabin that manufactures strawberry pancakes and toasted almonds. It feels relaxing, but I also feel the need to chop some wood for the fire while wearing a puffy brown vest and bright flannel.”

19. Tenacious D – Rize of the Fenix


They were able to find some of the magic from their debut self titled album that rocked so many asses. Dave Grohl had a heavy hand lending his studio and at times ridiculously over-the-top drumming to compliment the preposterousness of J.B. and K.G. My only issue with the album is it seems a little light on material, much like what I was articulating about Cody ChesnuTT’s Headphone Masterpiece. Some of the cuts that are there, are rock bacon, sizzling hot for consumption. “The Roadie” is like the D’s nod to Sandler’s “Lunch Ladyland.” The opening title track is a multi-faceted summary of the fall and obvious rise of the D and “Deth Star” is a tribute to Star Wars, being a dork and having a good sex romp on it. Yummy.

It’s a lot of fun to have the D back. All the soul and concept albums on this “Next 10” can get kind of heavy.

20. The Crane Wives – The Fool in Her Wedding Gown

A supreme folk band from Grand Rapids, MI that, you guessed it, derived its moniker from The Decemberists—to whom they admire the vast variety of influences shared and conceptualized. The uniqueness of the band comes from the use of multi-part harmonies, and duo female lead vocals. In that way, I feel comfortable branding them an upbeat folky Tegan & Sara with a serenading stomp. Many of their lyrics seem to be as celestial and Earthy as a woodsy West Michigan fishing trail. With music bold as Founders Brewery, I really hope for the love of my hometown and attractive women playing folk music propels this act beyond its current Michigan and surrounding states roots. They are good enough to be a national act.

I hate to be critical of art, because I think everything has a place for somebody. Who am I to critique people expressing themselves with their particular talent? Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful to someone else: Fans, creators and critics alike.

With that said, here are a few grievances about things that make me sad…

Mumford & Sons – Babel

To be clear, I don’t think this is a bad album. Or a bad band. It’s just a situation I’ve found myself utterly annoyed with how many people push them down my throat. This kind of music is right in my wheelhouse. It’s folky with a rigorous stomp. There are a lot of guys on stage playing the shit out of their instruments and having a good time doing so. I should like it. I kind of like it, but I don’t think they are as great as everyone says. They aren’t saviors of music. They aren’t THE BEST band ever. They’re just not.

The lead singers voice is boring and bordering on irritating. I’m not buying the “emotion.” There really isn’t anything that exciting going on musically. Sure, it’s fast and thunderous, but it feels like when you make things spicy, just to be spicy.

Again, I get it. I like The Decemberists. I love Arcade Fire. But, seriously, give me The Luimeers, Low Anthem, Punch Brothers, Avett Brothers, Felice Brothers, Chemical Brothers, Chemical Sisters, Scissors Sisters, Sisters of the Sledge, etc, etc, over Mumford and Sons ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.

Not that great. I’m ahead of the curve on this one, folks. You’ll come to your senses.

Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

More like Frank River. It’s not that deep.

Jack White – Blunderbluss

Jack White’s solo album reminds me of when Phil Hartman first hosted SNL after leaving the cast. He did a bit about how he played so many characters and impersonations, he had trouble grasping what his voice was. It was a hilarious monologue and obviously satire. The Jack White album, however, is not.

You have the same kind of syndrome going on. Listening to Blunderbluss makes me see his other projects as caricatures. I don’t really believe this, as I love everything JW has done to this point. You have the de stijl arty band of simplicity and passion in The White Stripes. There is the power pop paired with high conceptual art of The Raconteurs. There’s the band where White plays drums in The Dead Weather. There are countless albums produced by Jack White at Third Man studio that all embark his…well brand. It has a sound. I like that sound. I’m a big, raving fan of that sound.

However, this solo album is just bland. I was expecting big, crazy things with everything I read about it and the first few cuts released showed a shit-ton of promise. The songs kind of have a little bit of everything he’s done in the past, only, it just seems watered down to me. There shouldn’t be anything holding back all the CRAZIER ideas he’s had than what he’s used in his bands. It just didn’t happen. I always tell people Jack White is one of the best guitar players ever, but you don’t get any sense of that here.

It’s good music by one of the best musicians of our time. I just wasn’t impressed.

The Shins – Port of Morrow

I’ve had many times in my life when I’ve been obsessed with The Shins. When I first moved to NYC and around the time Wincing the Night Away (2007) came out, life could not be more grand for me hitting the play button on ANY Shin’s number. The sound here is just over produced and missing something. It seems to just kind of blend together. It just doesn't snag me.

I don’t know what happened. I was hoping Broken Bells would be inspiring, but I think the gas just ran out of the tank. I’m just going to have to wince this album away.

Minus the Bear – Infinity Overhead

Behind Say Anything, Minus the Bear is probably the band I’ve listened to the second most over the last few years. I think every one of their albums is a gem, all in such different ways. They have evolved and changed their sound every album. Their last album was a variety show, hosted by classic 80’s WHAM! It was a great trip down synth rock heaven. I wondered what was next…

Apparently, their new band name is Minus the Hooks. I don’t know what happened to the tapping guitar work Dave Knudsen fascinated the masses with on Highly Refined Pirates (2002). These songs have most of the things you’d expect from MTB: Complex time signatures, thunderous drumming, flickering synthesizers, a cadence that makes you want to float like a kite on a breezy beach, song titles that make you say, “ohhhh yeahh…this is going to be good.” I failed to relate to the material.

I hope this faltering moment doesn’t cripple what has become one of my favorite bands. You never want to see that 5th album be the downer.  Somewhere Ed Kowalczyk is empathizing. I have faith they’ll shake it off and bounce back.

I must say, “Toska” is a GREAT song.  

John Fruciante – PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone

I get why John Fruciante left the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It doesn’t mean I like it. Like any good breakup, you hope it’s happening for a valid reason, and this album just isn’t it. In fact, I don’t get it at all. We’re talking about one of my favorite musicians of all-time and he made an LP that sounds like it was randomly cut and pasted together like a mosaic of low-fi improv fucking around by people that have never played their particular instruments. It’s comically awful. I can only laugh and hope that my boy snaps out of it.

Seriously now…WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS!?!?!? 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Music: Josh Kaufman, American So and So EP

Josh Kaufman is BAAAAAAACK! A brand new EP titled American So and So, and I believe it's worth a listen. It took me a few to adjust to a bigger sound and slightly altered vibe, but I believe this album gets better every time I put it in. It's real swell for cuddling.

My TSE review in all its majestic glory! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Live Review: Punch Brothers, Bowery Ballroom, NYE Show, SUPER PASS Day 3

Some things just have a feel. Monday has a feel. Football season has a feel, as you can smell it coming over the coast of Lake Michigan in late August on that first (and perhaps only) day when it’s not sweltering hot and humid. The Punch Brothers NYE show had a feel. To give it a little extra zing, the band even dressed in tuxes! Time seemed to have a bit more of a crunch as the show was an hour later than the previous two and had that impending countdown. A glass ceiling of happiness above us!

Throughout the beginning parts of the set, Noam “Pickles” Pikelny (the banjo player, with eternally dry wit) would passively say a number. It took a few to follow what he was doing at first. I mean, the guy is so DRY one can just never tell what he’s up to. Well, I guess you can, but it was a nice gag, starting in the thousands, periodically, throughout the evening.

From the way the setlist was written, and executed, it’s clear there was a plan to slay the audience with upbeat songs, then just before midnight unsheathe the final “Surf’s Up” (covered extensively in Day 1) and have an all-out calamity jam of “Watch ‘at Breakdown” while the clock strikes 2013. The setlist (as pictured below) even spells out the specific time to the second (aren’t these guys cute?) that those two songs were to be played. This strategy was a dead give away when the band uncorked “Rye Whiskey” as the second song. Everyone was stomping and the night just had that extra boost of energy you’d expect. Each night, and each song, I felt gained steam throughout the three nights. Perhaps, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, but hey, it makes logical sense.

I always love to see “The Beekeeper” (watch Thile's solo from 1:07 to Unreal.) on the setlist. I think that’s a song you can play for anybody that doesn’t understand how good this band is. The swirling sounds Noam gets out of his banjo as well as the Thile bridge are astouding. It’s just a mind blowing experience. I specifically wondered if they would play it, as I’m not sure exactly how popular it is. I was also elated to get the title track off WFYN and a favorite tongue-in-cheeker off Antifogmatic “Next to the Trash.” If you went to all three shows, you started to check off some of the songs you hadn’t heard yet, wondering if they’ll leave them behind. Those three specifically were clutch in my book, including the Gabe Witcher (fiddle player) sung “Hundred Dollars.”

Chris came out before the opening set to personally introduce Michael Daves, which, I’ve always thought is a neat touch. At that point, you saw the tux, and the NYE spirit began to spread its way through the Bowery Ballroom. As always, they brought him back out for the encore and had a wondrous hootenanny and jamboree. Daves is a joy to watch, because he has such an upright rocking posture. As opposed to Thile, who kind of gyrates in a cyclical dunking bird pendulum, making faces as if he’s being possessed by mandolin ghosts (perhaps that explains the talent), Daves seems to put his head down as if aerodynamics are a factor and just shred. They are a delightful combination. Daves by himself might be a little to “classical bluegrass” for me, but I’m glad I got to see him play. He’s a super nice guy and the perfect fit for where he was slated amongst the nights.

Chris Eldrich (the guitar player) looks like Gabe from The Office. Especially when he goes on his own jam rage(s) of concentration. It reminds of that scene when Gabe wants to get under Andy Bernard’s (Ed Helms) skin keeping him away from Erin. He plays guitar kind of like that, under pressure, and when you jam like the Punch Brothers do, there’s no shortage of pressure situations.

It was certainly a great year for the Punch Brothers. WFYN is one of the top albums of the year. Chris Thile won the MacArthur Grant for $500,000 as part of their “genius awards” giving an unaccountable ledger to pursue a vision of creativity. They toured their asses off and successfully blew the doors off the Bowery Ballroom three straight nights to sold out audiences—many of whom attended all three shows. Love the addition of backing projectors and ceiling lanterns. SUPER PASS!

I thought they were spectacular in 2011 with Antifogmatic and a slew of P-Bingo Nights. 2012 was even better! The one thing these shows didn’t have was a double encore. How about that for a New Years resolution?

I just can’t get enough.

P.S. Occasionally throughout the evening, the band would attack each other with a little stuffed hippo. That's all. 

My double encore: Highs and Lows over the three nights…

Covers – I heard many of the covers I wanted to and was astounded by the zeal put into properly pulling off a THE Beach Boys.

The Energy – It’s good to see with all the touring that these guys seem to like each other and SEEM to be genuinely having a good time. That’s always my favorite thing about a show, and a band that I adore and look for. I love the Thile gyrations and giddiness towards music and life in general. These guys just get it.

Aoife O’Donovan – Be still my delicate heart. Induct “Soon or Never” into one of my favorite all-time songs. Also, listen to more Gillian Welch.

Rye Whiskey – That song makes me want to be a classier drinker. Perhaps in the 2013, I’ll find my way to sipping on whiskey, rather than downing so many beers. It’s a hell of a stomp, man.

Setlist shuffling – Call me a perfectionist, but, I would have been fine with a LITTLE more variation. Ryan Adams played three consecutive Town Hall shows in ’06 without repeating a single song. I can’t imagine not hearing “Flippen” or “Rye Whiskey,” but there were a few things I could have done without every night. In this instance, there is no way to please everyone.

Blind Leaving the Blind – They played the Third Movement twice. I would have liked to hear them all at some point. Perhaps, to hear it played in its entirety. I’d imagine there is only so many 15 minute songs a band wants to relearn for a three-night concert stand.

Drunk – I probably didn’t need multiple vodka-Red Bulls for the NYE show. Especially after midnight. I am a gremlin. I hope the section of the show I can’t remember I didn’t act like others did previous nights when drunkards were annoying me. Night One especially, there were many people that were being rude. That comes with the territory of being at Bowery, with alcohol, and the show being late, I was just surprised.

Three Nights – I know it was probably perfect, but why did it have to END? I could have done seven.

Boll-Weevil (Traditional cover)
Rye Whiskey
Who’s Feeling Young Now
Bailey (Punch B-Side)
I Know You Know
Patchwork Girlfriend
Dark Days (Hunger Games Soundtrack)
Next to the Trash
Surf’s Up (Beach Boys cover)
Watch ‘at Breakdown
Hundred Dollars
No Concern of Yours
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (Bach cover)
Reptilia (Strokes cover)
This Girl
Brakeman’s Blues (Jimmie Rodgers cover)

Too drunk to remember the encore

Day 1
Day 2