Sunday, December 23, 2007

George's Top 50 Songs of 07

The funny thing is I've only heard 33 new records this year, so inevitably there will be a number of artists making multiple showings on this list. I think there are only 23 different artists actually. But I stand by it. For what it's worth, here it is:

50. The Clientele - No Dreams Last Night
49. Lucinda Williams - Fancy Funeral
48. Andrew Bird - Imitosis
47. Johnny Irion - Eyes Like a Levee
46. The Shins - Phantom Limb
45. Wilco - Please Be Patient With Me
44. The Avett Brothers - Shame
43. Everybodyfields - Aeroplane
42. The White Stripes - Rag and Bone
41. Modest Mouse - March Into the Sea
40. Okkervil River - Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe
39. Ryan Adams - Tears of Gold
38. Arcade Fire - Intervention
37. Kings of Leon - Ragoo
36. Spoon - Don't You Evah
35. Radiohead - Nude
34. The White Stripes - Little Cream Soda
33. Radiohead - Videotape
32. Band of Horses - The General Specific
31. Fionn Regan - The Underwood Typewriter
30. Ryan Adams - Pearls On a String
29. Lyle Lovett - South Texas Girl
28. Johnny Irion - Short Leash
27. The Shins - Sleeping Lessons
26. Jason Isbell - The Magician
25. Iron and Wine - Lovesong of the Buzzard
24. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Blue Hotel
23. Kings of Leon - McFearless
22. Wilco - Side with the Seeds
21. Arcade Fire - No Cars Go
20. Spoon - You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb
19. Jason Isbell - Razor Town
18. The National - Green Gloves
17. Everybodyfields - Worker's Playtime
16. Menomena - Wet and Rusting
15. Ryan Adams - I Taught Myself How to Grow Old
14. Andrew Bird - Armchairs
13. Wilco - Impossible Germany
12. Spoon - Don't Make Me a Target
11. The National - Start a War
10. Okkervil River - Girl in Port
9. Modest Mouse - Parting of the Sensory
8. Iron & Wine - Carousel
7. The Avett Brothers - Weight of Lies
6. Band of Horses - Marry Song
5. The White Stripes - Effect and Cause
4. Spoon - Finer Feelings
3. Radiohead - Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
2. Bright Eyes - Four Winds
1. Iron & Wine - Flightless Bird, American Mouth

Notes:

- Even though neither his album or EP were stellar, Ryan Adams still can write a damn good song. 4 songs on the list tied with Spoon for the most.
- 5 album closers appear, including the #1 song
- 5 album openers appear
- I managed to hear 9 of these songs live this year, but none of the 4 Ryan Adams songs were played at the 2 shows of his I attended. I heard all but "Finer Feelings" at the Spoon show, and all but "Please Be Patient With Me" at the Wilco show.

Monday, December 17, 2007

George's Top 33 of 2007

Gadzooks! 2008? You know those numbers add up to ten. This is a phenomenon the world has not known since...1900. Relatively speaking, that wasn't very long ago. Consider this a failed attempt at an quirky and timely intro. But, hey, here's a horrific segue for you:

SPEAKING OF 10!!!

Every December, a rash of top ten lists stretches across the blogosphere, creating a vast aurora which has no real function aside from coddling each writer's ego. That's why I'm saying to hell with top 10 lists! I'm gonna rank all the new albums I got my mitts on this year. Let's do it.

The Ultimately Incredible No-holds-barred Final Frontier of 2007 New Music Sequence of Excellence!*

*Only covers two dozen and change 2007 releases I bought.


33.
32.
31.
30.
29.
28.
27.
26.
25.
24.
23.
22.
21.
20.
19.
18.
17.
16.
15.
14.
13.
12.
11.
10.
9.
8.
7.
6.
5.
4.
3.
2.
1.

And if you need a key...here you go:

33. Lucinda Williams - West
32. Fields - Everything Last Winter
31. BRMC - Baby 81
30. Ryan Bingham - Mescalito
29. Golden Smog - Blood On the Slacks
28. Mary Gauthier - Between Daylight and Dark
27. Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard/Ray Price - Last of the Breed
26. Lyle Lovett - It's Not Big, It's Large
25. The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
24. The Clientele - God Bless the Clientele
23. The Afghan Whigs - Unbreakable (A Retrospective 1990-2006)
22. Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger
21. Okkervil River - Stage Names
20. Menomena - Friend and Foe
19. Johnny Irion - Ex Tempore
18. The Everybodyfields - Nothing Is Ok
17. Elliott Smith - New Moon
16. Ryan Adams - Follow the Lights
15. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
14. Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
13. Jason Isbell - Sirens of the Ditch
12. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
11. Kings of Leon - Because of the Times
10. The White Stripes - Icky Thump
9. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
8. Fionn Regan - The End of History
7. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
6. Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
5. The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
4. The National - Boxer
3. Band of Horses - Cease to Begin
2. Radiohead - In Rainbows
1. Iron and Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

Just a few notes:

That Afghan Whigs collection is actually pretty incredible. My introduction to the band, and I plan on pursuing their individual records. I just wanted to reserve higher spots for new music releases, which is why it turns up in the mid twenties.

Biggest disappointment of the year: Arcade Fire. Hard to live up to their flawless debut though, so I guess it was almost inevitable.

Some major releases I didn't get to this year: LCD Soundsystem, Feist, Rilo Kiley, Interpol, Justice, The New Pornographers, and a few more. Definitely want to get to them, except for that Rilo Kiley and the Interpol, which I'll be fine without.

Check back soon for my top 50 songs of 07.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Rapid fire reviews

Playing catch-up...mini-reviewing a few select albums from the past few months...

1. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

More hooks than my golf game... Catchy, fun, twas a nice summer album. Nothing to deep, but good for some hipster-approved head bopping.

My rating: 4 outta 5
Top Tune: Finer Feelings

2. Jason Isbell - Sirens of the Ditch

See concert review. Album is a good start of what will hopefully prove to be an immensely successful solo career. Came off really well live.
Top Tune: Razor Town

My rating: 3.5 outta 5

3. Johnny Irion - Ex Tempore

Native Columbian's newest solo effort is a bit corny at times, but overall it's a warm, honey-sweet effort that smacks of Harvest-era Neil... made for a nice drive through the east Tennessee mountains.

My Rating: 3.5 outta 5
Top Tune: Short Leash

4. Iron & Wine - Shepherd's Dog (WTF, 3 "I" names in 3 bands?)

An echo-laden step forward for yet another native Columbian (native Chapinite anyway) that's as pleasing to the ear as any of his past efforts, only with more vocal effects and harmonious interweavings.

My Rating: 4.5 outta 5
Top Tune: Flightless Bird, American Mouth

5. The Everybodyfields - Nothing Is OK

Essentially Damien Rice from East Tennessee. Pretty mountain-country album, affecting harmonies and vocal swells, over lotsa fiddle and 3 quarter timing.

My Rating: 3.5 outta 5
Top Tune: The hidden track...whatever its called

6. The Clientele - God Save the Clientele

Zzzzzzz...not in the worst way possible. But I've listened to the album probably 6 or 7 times and I hardly remember a song from it. Whispered Brit-pop, maybe a used-bin buy.

My Rating: 2.5 outta 5
Top Tune: No Dreams Last Night

7. Mary Gauthier - Between Daylight and Dark

Kind of a stamp-em-out folk album that's better not paid attention to. Not horrible, not great, best as background music. By the way, its pronounced Go-Shay.

My Rating: 3 outta 5
Top Tune: Eh...there really isn't much difference.

There you go. I'm supposed to be working. Adios...

Monday, September 10, 2007

September 8, 2007: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit w/Cary Ann Hearst

Isbell took the stage in an undramatic fashion, stepping out and draping his camouflage guitar strap--from which dangled an unobtrusive black Stratocaster--over his shoulders. In fact, his initial emergence from the shadows elicited very few hoots or even claps. I realized it was quite possible that a majority of the audience might not even recognize Isbell, and perhaps were mistaking him for a roadie or guitar tech. And why shouldn't they? Prior to his solo album, Isbell was just a Trucker, lurking humbly alongside the charismatic presence of Patterson Hood and the throaty growl of Mike Cooley.

As soon as I really started to appreciate the Truckers earlier this year, I noticed that Isbell was more of a balladeer than the gritty gothic realists who recruited him. His songwriting is more anthemic, his voice a bit more digestible. So it seemed he was destined to--perhaps outgrow is the wrong word--destined to deviate from the band's modus operandi, to explore to new territory that is more conducive to his own stylings and thus allow him to tap into his immense potential as an artist. And indeed, his first solo album, Sirens of the Ditch, released earlier this year, is not a collection of would-be Isbell Trucker contributions. Rather, it's a nicely packaged melange of blues, pop, country, and folk that makes for a solid first effort.

The warm reception of this released paired with his achievements with the DBTs made this show a must-see for me. I arrived with my friend Lee, more than a little anxious. The announced start time for opening act Cary Ann Hearts (an S.C. favorite whose act I've meant to catch for a long time) was 9:00, but we didn't leave Mt. Pleasant (20-30 minutes away, depending on traffic) until quarter after nine. What's more, my ineptitude as a navigator led to a wrong turn and about 8 miles of detour. We pulled into the uncrowded parking lot of the Pour House, located on a commercialized stretch of highway on James Island. A few smokers mingled outside. We assumed we hadn't missed much, and the bouncer confirmed that suspicion, informing us that things were running a tad late and Cary Ann hadn't even taken the stage yet, despite it being almost an hour since the announced start time. But alas, it was a bar as well as a venue, and thus they are in the business of inflating tabs by any means possible.

The Pour House is a cool place. The stage is on the left as you enter, raised only about two feet from the main floor, and is about eye-level with the raised area that makes up the back third of the barroom. The bar runs lengthwise on the wall adjacent to the left of the stage. To the right of the stage was the ragtag merch table, which was flush with the front of the stage. Behind the table was a curtain which hung from the high ceiling, sectioning off a makeshift greenroom were the band stirred, out of view of the audience. As Lee and I examined the stage set-up (ever the nosy musicians), I had a very slight view of the 'greenroom', where I saw Isbell relaxing on a small sofa, typing on a Macbook and having a cigarette.

Lee and I retreated to the back, as the room quickly populated. We staked out an area near the soundboard and Lee examined the sound equipment, taking pride in the fact that he uses the same compressors in his studio. We eavesdropped on some bootleggers until Carry Ann took the stage. A small but sprightly dynamo, her music was classic Nashville country infused with delta blues, and she seemed in her element thumping out prison-blues shuffles on her archaic looking Gibson archtop guitar. For the last part of her set, she brought on a collaborator--a young guy whose name I didn't catch but with whom she harmonized quite nicely on a cover of "Sin City" and a handful of originals in the same vein.

Lee and I had moved up front about halfway through her performance, setting up camp about three heads back, stage right-center. After Carry Ann took her leave, Isbell's band, the 400 Unit, consisting simply of a guitarist, bassist and drummer, went about their pre-performance routine, plugging in pedals and tuning instruments (the frustrated guitarist had to stomp offstage to replace a string that had snapped as he attempted to tune it.)

After retreating backstage for a few minutes, the musicians reemerged, and then out came Isbell. He doesn't seem like much of a rock star upon first glance. His wide-set eyes are never more than half open, and rest beneath a Pomade-slicked haircut that wouldn't seem out of place in a 50s diner. His young face belies even his 28 years, and it seems as though he never shed his baby fat. To someone none the wiser, he could be the hardworking everyman character of his Truckers favorite "Outfit". And what he was wearing (I won't call it an outfit) was simple and uninvasive: his top three snaps hung open to reveal a grey undershirt; the cuffs of his jeans bunched on his dress-casual sneakers. No skin-tight jeans, stature-enhancing boots, or pretentious headwear. Just clothes, clearly not of import relative to the rocking that was imminent. But this is not to say there isn't a rock star bone in his body. Several times during the course of the performance I saw a man who was destined to tread the boards of the Ryman or the Fillmore West. During his blistering slow-blues solo for "Hurricanes and Hand Grenades", he certainly looked the part: A smoldering cigarette precariously dangling from his lower lip, mouth slightly open, eyelids resting shut, immersed in the soul he was creating as his fingers staggered like drunken legs across every fret he could find. But as he entered the stage for the first time, he seemed subdued and unaware of the hundreds of eyes all aglare before him.

Isbell equipped his axe, and then appreciatively enjoyed a shot of unidentified brownish liqueur that was offered up from some outstretched arm in the front row. Just one of many an amicable gesture that seemed natural to Isbell. Whether it was a polite request to his sound guy--his well manicured southern accent laced with a warm charm--or his friendly announcement of the ten minute cigarette break that allowed the audience to eschew the awkward yet obligatory pre-encore humoring period, the dynamic between audience and artist became less sycophantic and more of a mutual enjoyment of the evening.

Isbell made his way through most of Sirens, including a stunning version "Razor Town". The hard-rocking "Try" was bashed out with gusto, the bittersweet "Chicago Promenade" featured Isbell starting out on a small keyboard and remanning his Strat mid-song in time for one of his stellar solos. And he didn't shy away from his DBT catalogue. A decidedly more rocking version of "Goddamn Lonely Love" was the band's third song of the night. "Danko/Manuel" was just as eerie as the album version, the line "Richard Manuel is dead" chanted in morbid unison by every pair of lips that knew it. Isbell dedicated "Outfit" to the recently defunct radio station 96 Wave, which always had the Truckers in heavy rotation. He was rather impassioned in his defense of the station, deeming it "one of the best radio stations in the country" and bluntly asserting that "someone didn't get the fuckin' memo." He closed his set with an extended version of "Never Gonna Change" that invoked a barrage of fist pumps to complement the powerful chorus.

And then Isbell called for the cigarette break and said he'd be back in ten minutes. And then we left.

I know, I know. Rock show sacrilege. If it was up to me, I would have been there until the last speck of dust had settled. But again, the show did start an hour and a half late, and Lee's newborn son and wife were waiting at home. Plus we both had a 7:30 wake-up call, so we had to cut our losses and take off. I wasn't too disappointed to have to leave early, but I know I felt a bit self conscious as we strolled pass the accusing eyes of the smokers in the parking lot.

But I did not leave unfulfilled. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit put on one of the most enjoyable shows I've attended in ages. His understated charisma was such a treat, a welcome complement to his musicianship, and that of his band. I don't think it's too farfetched to imagine Jason Isbell might eventually find his way into the company of the most well-respected Americana singer-songwriters, like Steve Earle or even Johnny Cash. And if he does ascend to such an iconic level, I can at least say "I saw him back when."

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Point and Laugh

The pedestals on which we place our musical icons are usually as flawless as a mixed and mastered LP. That being the conduit through which they enter our lives. See, our favorite songs aren't spontaneous surges of creativity from an artist's genius fingers and lips. They are meticulously crafted, often over the course of several months or years.

This painstaking perfectionism is why we think all our idols are just the coolest of the cool. We don't hear them fart between takes, or show up to record harmonies wearing Mandals and a ball cap. Yes, rock stars are rock stars for a reason. Because they're cooler than you, larger than life, so on and so forth.

With that in mind, here are some hysterical videos that I'm sure today's self mythologizing supergroups would rather didn't exist.

I Held Her In My Arms - Violent Femmes

The VFs aren't necessarily an image-heavy band. They probably still walk the streets with relative anonymity. That said, they probably still cringe (or laugh heartily) at this music video for "I Held Her In My Arms". This is low-budget goodness, complete with strobe light, copious amounts of spinning, and Gordon's crazy ass shirt and cheesy lip synching. Gotta love the line>roll>line at about 2:24.



Outtasite (Outtamind) - Wilco

I just can't imagine Jeff Tweedy ever being this enthusiastic about making a music video, especially one like this. Granted, the song isn't deep enough for a really conceptual video. But the skydiving theme is inherently goofy, and the fact that Tweeds has that stupid grin on his face the whole time ups the cornball factor. Bonus points for the little drummer toy rolling by at the end. Either way, looks like they were having a good time making it. Also note Tweedy's mid 90s haircut.



Creep - Radiohead (on Arsenio Hall)

I regrettably can't find a video or even a picture of this, which I believe was their first televised appearance. But Thom Yorke's hair was outta control. This one kinda sucks if you can't see it. But imagine Thom, only with this haircut:



Perhaps Thom wanted to method sing or something...you know, to be the creep. Whatever it was, it made for a funky 'do. Leave the quirky haircuts to Johnny...

Of course, these are three killer bands, and each of these songs is arguably one of their most well known. So no harm done by the horribly dated visuals. But sometimes seeing stuff like this serves as a reminder that no one has the foresight needed to escape this sort of ridicule. Only Johnny Cash was smart enough to realize that black would never be out.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Whathaveyou

  • I wish Radiohead wouldn't be so damned cryptic about their new album. I'm half expecting it to show up on shelves with no prior promotion. But it'd still debut at #1.
  • Really digging the new Spoon. Get it?
  • Richard Buckner is a new discovery of mine. Imagine Evan Dando with a folksy tumble in his voice. Check out the song "Ariel Ramirez" for some melancholy sundown folk that'll put a lump in your throat.
  • Very satisfied with Jason Isbell's debut, and I think he'll only get better. Look for a review in the days upcoming.
  • Ryan Adams' Easy Tiger is growing more disappointing by the day, unfortunately. First album of his on which I routinely skip tracks.
  • I'm not a huge fan of Jump Little Children, but "Cathedrals" is probably one of the best songs, lyrically or musically, I've ever heard. Please find this one if you've never heard it.
  • Finally picked up The Black Keys' 2006 release Magic Potion. What a cool band. Admittedly, the songs run together a tad at first listen, but as a genuine blues rock band, they're great for music.
  • South Carolina is suffering for live acts. Although the DBTs, Flaming Lips, and White Stripes all have or will have played Myrtle Beach this year. But, really, who wants to go to Myrtle Beach?
  • Speaking of suffering and live acts, I saw Maroon 5 is playing in Columbia. And the Hives are opening? Aroo?
  • Ben and I might be opening for my uncle in New York City. Book your flights.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Worst Song of the Year*

(*relative to artist expectations.)

Close the polls! Thanks for playing! All you other artists with records coming out in the last months of '07, relax a bit. Because there is no way any track could suck harder than the steamy pile of po(o)p that indie mainstays Rilo Kiley shat into the airwaves recently. This is a band that--because of its adorable lead singer, catchy indie-pop delivery, and "Ronnie-fuckin'-Pinsky-from-Salute-Your-Shorts" on guitar--has become one of the most well-known non-radio acts of the decade. Honestly I'm not a huge fan. I don't have any of their records, but I know a few songs and they're alright. I see the appeal and, certainly, consider them a viable indie act.

But, alas, things have gone sour. I have no evidence of that beyond the atrocious new single "Moneymaker", but frankly this is almost irredeemable. Even if the rest of the album was Pet Sounds, "Moneymaker" is all manure.

Is it the porn-star-studded video (an element apparently beloved by MTV audiences, as evinced by the likes of cock rockers Kid Rock, Lit, or even MTV-era Blink), the lyrics that are about on par with the Milkshake song, or the Maroon 5 guitar licks that bring this song to the forefront of modern sucksmanship? At least that much. You decide:



And of course the lyrics:

You've got the money maker
You've got the money maker
This is your chance to make it
Out out out oh yeah
Youll get out out out oh yeah

Youve got the money maker
They showed the money to you
You showed them what you can do
Showed them your money
Make you get out out out oh yeah
Youll get out out out oh yeah

You are the money maker
She wants to overtake you
You know you wanna make her
Show her your money maker
She said out out out oh yeah
She said out out out oh yeah
You get out out out oh yeah
You get out out out oh yeah

And deep in my hands
I will if you want me to

She is out out out oh yeah
She is out out out oh yeah
You get out out out oh yeah
You get out out out oh yeah


So congratulations to Jenny, Blake and company. And thanks for the laughs.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

United States of Americana

Happy Fourth of July...for your patriotic consumption, a list of songs that feature a state in their name or a lyric. Let's see if, among us, we can fill them all in. Bonus points for digging deeper. And try not to repeat but I think it's an inevitability:

Alabama - Neil Young, "Alabama"
Alaska - Soundgarden, "Outshined"
Arizona - Wilco, "Hotel Arizona"
Arkansas - The Avett Brothers, "Salina"
California - Led Zeppelin, "Going to California"
Colorado - Bob Dylan's version of "Man of Constant Sorrow"
Connecticut -
Delaware -
Florida - Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Walls of Raiford"
Georgia - Iron & Wine, "Sodom, South Georgia"
Hawaii -
Idaho - Josh Ritter, "Idaho"
Illinois - Sufjan Stevens, "Come On! Feel The Illinoise!"
Indiana - R. Dean Taylor, "Indiana Wants Me"
Iowa -
Kansas - Drive-By Truckers, "Tornadoes"
Kentucky - Ryan Adams, "Oh My Sweet Carolina"
Lousiana -
Maine -
Maryland - Avett Brothers, "Pretty Girl from Annapolis"
Massachusetts - The Bee Gees, "Massachusetts"
Michigan - Tom Waits, "Gun Street Girl"
Minnesota -
Mississippi - Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, "Lousiana Woman, Mississippi Man"
Missouri -
Montana - Manic Street Preachers, "Montana/Autumn/78"
Nebraska - Bruce Springsteen, "Nebraska"
Nevada - The Jaywaks, "Nevada, California"
New Hampshire - Bob Dylan, "Tangled Up In Blue"
New Jersey - Red House Painters, "New Jersey"
New Mexico - Neil Young, "Albuquerque"
New York - R.E.M., "Leaving New York"
North Carolina - Whiskeytown, "New York Angel"
North Dakota -
Ohio - Sun Kil Moon, "Carry Me Ohio"
Oklahoma - Whiskeytown, "Oklahoma"
Oregon - Brian Holbrook, "Hands To Work"
Pennsylvania -
Rhode Island -
South Carolina - Gram Parsons, "Hickory Wind"
South Dakota - Bruce Springsteen, "Badlands"
Tennessee - Old Crow Medicine Show, "Wagon Wheel"
Texas - George Strait, "All My Exes Live in Texas"
Utah - Grateful Dead, "Operator"
Vermont -
Virginia - The Everybodyfields, "So Good To Be Home"
Washington -
West Virginia - John Denver, "Country Roads"
Wisconsin -
Wyoming - Avett Brothers, "Traveling Song"


Thanks to the folks at alt-country.org for helping flesh this list out. What've ya got?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Naive Discovery

Nothing excites me more in music than hearing a new style of music or an instrument played differently than I have heard before. Therefore I was pleasantly stunned behind the wheel when a story about the Mandolin played on The World, a radio show produced by PRI and broadcast daily on NPR.

In this part of the world, our view of the mandolin is shadowed only by that of Appalachia. And, in my naiveté, I hadn't given much thought to the origins of this bluegrass buoy and its transcontinental migration, not to mention the styles of music it has influenced. As The World's Marco Werman reminds us "The New World is two continents."

The radio story centers on Hamilton de Holanda, Latin Americas "mandolin virtuoso," who artfully navigates his bandolim like Magellan in his namesake Strait--with the gusto of Latin rhythms, conjuring images wholly different than the rolling hills, corn cobs and snake poison we associate with bluegrass and Dear Old Rocky Top.

The Portuguese are most likely responsible for the mandolin's transplantation into the New World by way of Naples, Italy--where the mandolin originated--through trades and conquests at the height of Portugal's empire.

The mandolin gets its name from its shape,
mandorla, or "almond" in Italian. Think about the musical sounds you might hear floating in a gondola along Venetian canals, and you'll get an idea of the mandolin's original context. A far cry from the fast-fingered, thick-pickin' mountain boys.

I won't say anymore because I want you to click the link above and listen to the article and music for yourself. As they say, "There's a whole world out there." The same can be said for music.

Check it out.


Sunday, July 1, 2007

Midway Through The Year Music Awards

It's July 1st. Although it doesn't technically divide the year in half (I don't think it does anyway...), it serves as a convenient date to plop down my 2nd annual midway through the year Music Awards. It's been a hell of a year for music so far (especially since I now have money to purchase it), so let's get to it:

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR


5. Fionn Regan - End of History - You probably read my review (if not, navigate biotch!) so I won't go on about this. But it's certainly a beautiful acoustic album, a blend the best qualities of the likes of Elliott Smith, Damien Rice and Bob Dylan. It'll be a great disc to revisit in fall/winter.

Highlights: Hey Rabbit, Black Water Child


4. Bright Eyes - Cassadaga - Despite a few overwrought moments (I always cringe when I hear him sing "From the madness of the governments!" in "No One Would Riot For Less"), here's a gorgeous, meticulously layered and textured album that is a fine example of why Oberst is one of the best things going for songwriting today. And I'm so glad he's abandoned his eye-lined buttboy look for the creepy cult-leader look...sadly, it's an improvement.

Highlights: Four Winds, Middleman


3. The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism - What a great fucking disc from a great fucking band. As much as I loved Four Thieves Gone, this one is a step in the absolute right direction. Two of the best singers in Americana churn out 14 scant, rusty beauties that should thrill any folksy southerner with an penchant for the rock and roll.

Highlights: Weight of Lies, Salina


2. The White Stripes - Icky Thump - Rock and roll kept afloat by Meg's churning bass drum allowing Jack's searing vocals and guitar to weave one of the best straight rock records I've heard in a while. I love the ethereal movement that divides the album, comprised of the (mandolin or bouzoki?)-driven "Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn" and capped by the Anglo-trance-folk finale, "St. Andrew (This Battle Is In the Air)".

Highlights: You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told); Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn

*
*This is not the US cover, but it's the one allmusic.com provides.

1. The National - Boxer - Dark and gorgeous, The Nationals' Boxer is unequivocally tops for me this year. It's a classic nighttime album: Very subtle, textured by glints of moonlight rather than glaring sunshine. It's certainly one of the most atmospheric and moody albums I've heard in a while, and worthy of the top spot thus far.

Highlights: Start A War, Ada


Honorable Mention: Wilco, Sky Blue Sky; Modest Mouse, We Were Dead...; Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha; Elliott Smith, New Moon

Disappointment of the Year:


Arcade Fire - Neon Bible - It's important to distinguish "disappointing" from "bad". Lucinda Williams? Just plain bad. Menomena? I didn't know shit about them, bought their record, and didn't like it. But it wasn't really disappointing because I had no expectations. But with the Arcade Fire, we had 3 years to absorb Funeral, one of the finest records I've heard in the past five years or so. And Neon Bible, unfortunately, just didn't blow me away. It was OK...but perhaps the layoff inflated my expectations to an insatiable degree. I think this will be an album I'll come to appreciate down the line. But for now, Neon Bible still leaves something to be desired as far as I'm concerned.

Dishonorable Mention: BRMC, Baby 81; The Shins, Wincing The Night Away

Best Live Experience:

*
I took this photo. Use it and I keel you. Totally kidding...anyone can use it for whatever.

The Decemberists, Atlanta

This is kind of cheating, because it was October of 2006 that I saw 'em. But what with senior semester and all the rest, live shows (besides my own) have been few and far between. But my Decemberists' experience was one for the ages and certainly worthy of an award. As expected, they played one of the most satisfying live sets I've ever been privy to. But tack on getting to meet Colin and dip Decemberist Lisa (who'd made her way into the audience) during the last song of the night, it was an interactive concert experience like no other.

Honorable Mention: Wilco, Charlotte

The New To George Award:

Drive-By Truckers

Why it took me so long to discover this band, I don't know. Everyone told me about them. Drew in particular. But I never did buy a record. Finally found the Dirty South used (for some reason) and...well, Jesus. Have since accrued their three strongest (so I hear) discs, Southern Rock Opera, The Dirty South, and Decoration Day. I love to see a band representing the South as they do; proud to be Southern and just as proud to shatter the stereotypes that have been ingrained by the likes of pop Nashville.

The "Most Likely To Crack The Top 3 Before 2006 is Over" Award:



Iron and Wine and Band of Horses (two S.C. acts who gained popularity via the Pacific Northwest) both have announced fall releases, the former of which has already been leaked. Haven't heard it, will probably wait til the release. My darkhorse candidate is Jason Isbell, formerly of the Drive-By Truckers, who has a solo album coming out in a little over a week. I quickly gravitated towards his DBT songs, so I don't think it's a stretch to imagine I'll eat up his solo stuff.

Well, that does it. Lemme know what you think and certainly post your lists as you see fit.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Whathaveyou



The newest recurring feature on HSW...."Whathaveyou." Larry King style rapid fire snippets regarding a wide array of miscellany pertaining to, for the most part, the current musical climate. Of course, gross editorializing will ensue. Enjoy:

  • Let's not kid ourselves: Jack White has the best voice in rock and roll.
  • No matter what you think of Bright Eyes, "Four Winds" is one of the best composed songs of the past couple of years.
  • Sufjan Stevens' characteristic ivory work lends a great deal to The National's stellar track, "Ada." But "Start A War" is still Boxer's best song.
  • I finally picked up a Velvet Underground album and was massively underwhelmed. It's the Andy Warhol one. Had to be there?
  • The Wilco VW ads are very tastefully done.
  • Two brilliant 2006 albums that I've discovered in 2007: Boys and Girls in America by The Hold Steady and Post-War by M. Ward.
  • There's word that Beck has recorded an album's worth of classic country songs. This is something I've long hoped for, so it will be much anticipated.
  • Because of initial disappointment, I didn't pay enough attention to Arcade Fire's Neon Bible. Perhaps a revisit is in store in the near future.
  • Fingers crossed for new releases from Band of Horses and Radiohead before year's end. If I had to choose one, it'd be BOH. We know what Radiohead is capable of. Let's see if Ben and the boys can deliver with their second go-round.
  • Lucinda Williams' latest release, West, was so disappointing that I hold little hope for her future creative output. Thank goodness for Car Wheels.
That's all for now. I hope to make this a weekly thing, but you know how that goes.

Jolene.

I feel like I whined a bit about my Adams experience. It was my first time seeing the man perform. I'd worked 14 of the last 16 days and drove hours to see him perform. I simply wished to see him lay his bravado on the line, to have his famed recalcitrance shine through by performing one or two of his sad, old, fucking standards.

This White Stripes clip makes up for it all, though. As much as we've discussed about the Stripes' schtick, Jack puts 150% into every performance. No dialing it in there.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=bVCq1etICQE

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Higher Ground.

I should perhaps go ahead and post a disclaimer: The following dispatch will be of no use to you if you've already read George's 'Easy Tiger' review. You will have already come to expect everything that I will proceed to say.

As I've mentioned before, I'll most likely leave the heavy-handed reviews to George. I believe he's much better equipped with the patience and stability to adequately dissect and debate the merits of new studio works, so long as I'm on the road.

That being said, seeing Ryan Adams at Higher Ground in Burlington, VT the other night seemed exactly like the sort of affair one would come to expect from a newly sober Adams. As an artist who's been alternately lauded with mountains of praise and excoriated with trash heaps of vitriol, one could conjecture that Adams might be moving toward maturity and indemnity by making amends with both of these contingents. (See AA Step #8.)

Adams chose to ameliorate the other night by "dad-rocking." Having to witness Wilco, another favorite, introduce three pieces to their gig ensembles, I'm pretty wary of bands who wish to dress for concerts or affairs in suits. Blazers and slacks were a staple of 60's bands performing on variety shows, but today's bands needn't have to break through TV barriers to reach viewers and sponsors any longer. Music lovers and the general populace have come to accept rock n' roll for what it is, which is sadly an almost impotent form of social subversion.

Therefore, Ryan and the boys showed up in suits. They sat down. Everybody knew they were to make "serious music." Adams gripped the mic as he once grabbed the bottle, dependent upon its ability to produce sentiment and truth. There was buzz about an injured hand. There was also conjecture about Adams wanking too hard. Adams, Cards and Co. rolled through the new songs, each as spot-on as the next, pristine and album-worthy. Hardly any dialogue. 'Carolina Rain' was pretty epic. Neil Casal provided some sweet guitar playing on 'Let it Ride.' Adams managed to pull out a somewhat convincing cover of Alice in Chains' "Down in a Hole." Hardly anything released previous to 2005 was played.

Going back to the suit theme of the night, Tweedy managed to introduce a business-like component to the band during the "Ghost is Born" era, but Adams has always been slave to his beautiful songs being purely dependent upon his ramshackle despondency. The 'Cold Roses' jam band teases were fun, but were never received like Adams' other albums because of the lack of brevity and other elements involved in Adams communicating a jam. In Burlington, Adams neither provided the band a focus nor took command of his presence as a drunken mutineer and showman.

Anyhow, a sort of disappointment plagued me after the show. I met Adams, a fellow native of Jacksonville, NC, a town he's mythologized in song, mentioned I was from there and only received simple responses, "Oh, right on. Tarheel state, bro."

I'm aware of his status. I'm aware that he's rather used to being catered to.

But, would Springsteen say the same thing to a man from Asbury Park?

New Music Review: Easy Tiger by Ryan Adams


Easy Tiger
Ryan Adams

I'd be hard-pressed to deny that any one artist has had more influence on my life than Ryan Adams. His music provided the greater part of the soundtrack to my most lasting relationships, and the lingering regrets that emanate therefrom. His songs manage to tap into some very complex emotional territory and invoke empathy if not always sympathy from his fiercely loyal fanbase. Perhaps it's his delivery; perhaps it's ability to give magnificent weight to microcosmic situations via gentle lyrical embroidery, as he does with fan favorites "Come Pick Me Up" and "Anybody Wanna Take Me Home."

In the past year or so--since the release of 29, the understated finale to his 2005 trilogy of albums--my infatuation with Ryan Adams has cooled. Rather, I've expanded my horizons at a financially unhealthy pace. I estimate that I've doubled my music collection over the past year; my CD tower has nearly reached its capacity. But it's all been beneficial. My ability to rationalize and contextualize music has grown by leaps and bounds since I decided to delete "Ryan Adams" from my iTunes Library search bar.

I didn't swear off Ryan. He was still in my rotation, amidst all the others. I simply took a step back. I travelled to Scotland, eschewing a number of the Cardinals' Southeastern tour stops in the process. I became less of an apologist, unafraid to discredit a poor song or stupid lyric. Less a fanboy, more a fan I became.

And now I find myself here, seated at my trusty work-station, the case to Ryan's newest disc, Easy Tiger, resting haphazardly over the edge of my desk. Is this a metaphor? Perhaps symbolizing the critical situation of my tepid relationship with David Ryan Adams, my once-musical savior?!?!?

Nah. That's just where it is.

And that's exactly how I tried to approach this album. Completely sans implications; no shining fanboy reaction, no neutralizing sour review. Just gonna listen to the music, knowing what I know about Ryan Adams and his, I quote, sweet disposition.

My conclusion: The album is solid. Not his best; not his worst. And that'll do nicely. These days, I'm always a bit nervous of what kind of stunt Ryan will pull next. We all heard the rap albums. Funny...but kinda lame. Crazy outfits, an unwieldy website, oddball online messages. Is this how people will remember Ryan?

Hopefully not. And luckily, Easy Tiger reminds us all that Ryan Adams...rapper, fashionista, socialite, skater punk, firebrand that he is...is a goddamn fantastic songwriter. "Goodnight Rose", a recent live staple, is a grand and blasting introduction to the disc, although the cluttered second verse is the kind of imperfection that seems a bit forced rather than endearing. The song pans out well, and serves as sturdy bedrock on which the remainder of Easy Tiger is constructed. "Two" (ironically the album's first single) is a structual redux of Gold's "Harder Now That It's Over." Sheryl Crow's backing vocals are mercifully negligible, but it still kinda seems like something you'd hear at a grocery store. "I'm fractured/from the fall(CHHK)Price check, Spaghettios."

"Halloweenhead" is a song you'll either love or hate. It's one of those stunts to which I referred earlier. It's a goofball song, complete with "guitar solo!" shredtroduction and lyrical references to tricks, treats, candy bags and punks in drag. The song is catchy as a fuck, but I think it belongs on the b-side of a single, not batting clean-up on an otherwise refreshingly genuine album.

But redemption is the word, as the next trio of songs compensate for the antics of their predecessor. "Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.", although stupidly titled, is the kind of song Ryan does so well. Rife with self-pity, sorrow, but gleaming faintly with optimism: "The light of the moon leads the way towards the morning." On to "Tears of Gold," a countrified waltz that wouldn't have been out of place on Jacksonville City Nights, with its references to graves and food on tables, all sweetly woven in pedal steel, courtesy of Jon Graboff. "The Sun Also Sets" will be the chick-pick of the album, and rightfully so. The refrain of "There it is" is the kind of Ryan lyric that can make his songs so painfully fucking gorgeous...like "I've had a pretty hard life" from "Easy Hearts", like "Lover, why do you leave" from the song of the same name, or "You don't do me right/When the rope gets tight" from "Don't Fail Me Now." Lines like these pour over your whole body like a gush of hot wind.

The next track, "Off Broadway," was given new life, having previously appeared on the unreleased Destroyer, along with "These Girls," formerly known as "Hey There Miss Lovely." I must say I prefer the earlier version of both. "Off Broadway" is spread too thin, trying to stretch out over the entire band. I'd say the song would have been best suited as a solo acoustic venture. "These Girls" is presented as such, but the lyrical changes from its earlier incarnation are a step back. The wonderful line "I'm the plastic three-inch armies you destroy," from the original is now "I'm the matchbox cars you buy and burn in your backyard," which seems trite and far less charming. But, of course, it's nice that such well-written songs receive a proper release.

These songs sandwich three more solid tracks. "Pearls on a String" is a mandolin/banjo vehicle that's as affecting as a summer evening hayride. "Rip Off" is my personal favorite--it's an earnest tune lyrically, with an equally strong piano chord progression. It's well-placed too, providing some depth at the tail-end of the album.

The sweet closer, "I Taught Myself How To Grow Old," is beautifully Neil Young; but unfortunately marred ever so slightly by a poor harmonica take. But the lyrics are a perfect example of the microcosmic situation stuff I was talking about earlier. Ryan's delivery is meek and heart-wrenching, his lyrics hopelessly accepting:

"Most of the time I got nothing to say
When I do it's nothing and nobody's there to listen anyway
I know I'm probably better off this way
I just listen to the voices on the TV 'til I'm tired
My eyes grow heavy and I fade away."
--"I Taught Myself How To Grow Old"

And so ends Easy Tiger. Again, the album is solid. It won't go down as an all-time great, or even Ryan's flagship effort. But, to be sure, it's not a stunt. It's unmistakably genuine, despite "Halloweenhead." And even that song retains some shreds of dignity. While Easy Tiger is a safe album, it's perhaps the album Ryan Adams needed to make. No gimmicks, no unsubtle tributes, no shtick. Even if it's just a swirling of elements from all his past albums, Easy Tiger isn't Dylan-esque, Dead-esque, Smiths-esque...it's Ryan Adams making a Ryan Adams album. And it's pretty damned good.

Synopsis: Easy Tiger sometimes borders on adult contemporary, but altogether it's a powerful album by a songwriter who is still writing with unwavering passion. The songs can be as vivid as a mountain range at sunset or as delicate as summer raindrops sliding down a window pane. Anyone outside of active Ryan-haters will find it enjoyable.

Standout Tracks: Tears of Gold, The Sun Also Sets, Rip Off

Good For: Watching summer evenings melt into a warm, starry night.

Buy It: Go ahead and pick this one up, but if you're stubborn you're likely to find it in the used bin down the line.

Packaging: Not great really. A phoned in cover, although the liner notes aren't half bad. There's a nice fold-out picture spread. The CD itself looks very amateurish, and does little to complement the music.

OVERALL GRADE: *

*(On a scale of 5)