Saturday, March 1, 2014

My Top 10 Albums of 2013 (Part 2)

5.) Gungor - I Am Mountain

Sometimes, I don't know who I am, where I am going, or what I am doing. Sometimes nothing makes sense. Sometimes faith leaves only questions. Sometimes there are very few answers to be found. When a person of faith has a struggle with doubt, G-d can seem awfully far away. This is a good starting point for discussing Gungor's newest album I Am Mountain. Many of the songs stem from husband and wife Michael and Lisa's period of soul-searching over the past few years, seeking definition to haphazard humanity. While IAM translates into their least "church/congregation friendly" record to date, it is certainly one of their most honest, earnest, and introspective. When the pillars of faith rattle, does G-d still stand? When lifelong truths seem to slip as sand through fingers, does G-d still reign on His throne? Gungor wants to journey into these questions and take us all with them. Through poetic storytelling, stripped down ballads of yearning and wandering, and even some purposeful (dare I say tasteful) autotune, I Am Mountain delivers.

4.) Volcano Choir - Repave

I get it. No one thinks Justin Vernon is cool anymore. I get it. He's overexposed. I get it. Bon Iver is not hipster or underground anymore. Whatever. Trends are stupid, when the music is this good. This record is absolutely gorgeous. Whereas Volcano Choir's first output (2009's Unmap) felt more like a collection of samples and sounds loosely structured into songs, Repave clearly took some time to meticulously contruct. The members let the songs ruminate over the course of three years, layering dense instrumentation or pulling back for an ethereal echo. There is a lush dreamlike quality, swelling and building (as displayed on the perfectly chosen album art). Likewise, Vernon's vocals are so tender and held, but then, at the right moment, the dam breaks and he erupts. The organ, piano, and guitar work here are intricately woven into masterful rhythmic soundscapes with crashing drums. With only 8 tracks, the album leaves me wanting more, and that's the mark of not overdoing it. 

3.) Buried Beds - In Spirit

Buried Beds knows their way around a fable. They enjoy spinning yarn from storybooks, lifting their inspirations from tales of old or introducing some new ones of their own. In Spirit picks up right where their EP Small Stories left off. Where the EP was a live introduction to several of these songs, In Spirit places them inside a whole world of myth, full of love, death, deception, fantasies, and more. The Philadelphian band pulls out all the stops expected from a chamber pop indie rock ensemble. Leaders Brandon Beaver and Eliza Jones elegantly blend their voices in harmonies rivaling something celestial, over multi-instrumentation and unique but catchy melodies. Buried Beds still has fun, like the radio-ready “Stars” or the pulsing ditty “Future Ghost” where Jones tells it like it is: “Of all the men I’ve loved, you were never one.” As any good story, this one closes with a drum-driven climax on “1000 Acres” followed by the settling whimsy of “Your Bow May Bend.”  With another remarkable record from Buried Beds, I wouldn’t expect them to stay small for much longer.

2.) Listener - Time Is A Machine

Listener is now a full fledged band. Once the rap pseudonym of frontman Dan Smith, Listener has evolved into a talk music trio, including guitarist (and laundry dryer slammer) Christin Nelson and drummer Kris Rochelle. This upgrade of performers changes the dynamics of the band into a more rock-oriented outfit for Time Is A Machine, but you will still find the heavily introspective poetry of Smith, spoken and shouted over the crashes of splashy cymbals and twangy, fuzzy, and distorted guitar. You also will find the same beautiful observations about surviving, winning, losing, hope, loss, life, and death; big picture stuff in manageable and thoughtful doses. Across this short 8 track/half hour record, Listener passionate spills out their heart and talent, an ensemble effort where the lyrics take center stage, but does not upstage the atmospheric crescendos and moody, pensive instrumentals. Each word is chosen carefully to truly encapsulate its intended purpose, drawing me as the listener into a world that begs to trust more, hold onto hope, and have confidence that things will all happen the way they should, even when it feels like I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel. I needed to understand this a lot this past year, so I thank you Dan, Chris, and Kris for your confidence through these songs. It means a lot.

1.) Five Iron Frenzy - Engine of a Million Plots

To be honest, it is almost by accident that this makes the top spot on my list of albums for 2013. I don't say that as a jab or slight against FIF or this record. But it isn't the most technical or talent-heavy record of the year. It isn't the most catchy album I heard this year. It isn't a typical FIF album (if there is such a label). It isn't a lot of things. But what it is, to me, is much more important. It is honest and assuring and hopeful and doubtful and important and big. Engine of a Million Plots resonates with me on such a level, that once it presented itself to me, it took hold and hasn't let go. It's weird to describe music that way, to personify it, but that is what I feel. A set of songs, crafted with intent to speak truth, can do just that. Like a flower among the wintry wasteland alluded to throughout EoaMP, these songs, melodies, silliness, seriousness, all of it, unfolded and bloomed. They grew on me. I can relate so much to the difficulties and triumphs of faith that Reese Roper, Dennis Culp, and Scott Kerr write about. I've spent many nights with a waning hope, begging G-d to give me a sign, a spark, a warmth to see me through. Sometime it came, sometimes it didn't. But even through those winters where it feels like I can't stand the weather, chilling me to the bone, my only hope is that G-d cannot not be real. And hope still flies.
I'll shut up now. But this record means a lot. I've sung it so many times at the top of my lungs. I've laughed at humor in the lyrics. I've cried when I needed to hear something and the lyrics spoke to me. FIF isn't ska. They are more than that. The end.

Well that's it! Here's a few honorable mentions if you made it this far, and want some more music recommendations from 2013:

- Wilderman - Learn to Feel
Touché Amoré - Is Survived By
- Joshua James - Well, Then, I'll Go to Hell
- Youngblood Brass Band - Pax Volumni
- Arcade Fire - Reflektor
- The Head and the Heart - Let's Be Still

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Top 10 Albums of 2013

10.) Shone - Heat Thing

This album got a lot of crap because it was (a little) overhyped with a massive viral marketing campaign, full of mysterious videos with hidden clues and codes, backwards music, spooky letters and packages dropped off at people's houses, citywide scavenger hunts, and more, all at the (slight) deception of the rabid Brand New fan base. What we got was a spinoff record by a side project called Shone, with Brand New's drummer Brian Lane, guitarist Vinnie Accardi, his brother Andrew (of Robbers fame), and some other friends. All that aside, I enjoy this quirky, alternative, jazzy, enigmatic, sometimes aimless and flawed rock album for whatever it is. With spacy synth and keys, double drum sets, and some heavy fuzzed guitars, Heat Thing charges along in pseudo-conceptual style, matching the dark tone of the viral campaign with grisly lyrics about murder, vengeance, and a man with a "brain not screwed on tight enough" who wants to rid the world of all of its any means necessary. If you're looking to be in a chipper mood, this isn't the record for you. But, for a unique half hour listen, Shone brings the energy by a talented cast of musicians.

9.)  Cloud Cult - Love
 File:Cloud Cult - Love Album Cover.jpeg

I love Cloud Cult. I'm not sure they could ever disappoint me with a record. Nearly their entire discography as a band is well-listened on my computer/in my car/on my home stereo. While this new offering isn't Advice From The Happy Hippopotamus part two (swoon), Love is hopeful, shedding any small traces of melancholy from their early history. They take the questions and searching from 2010's Light Chasers, and attempt to answer them with as much joy as possible. Craig Minowa and company stretch their eclectic folk indie rock prowess to bring encouragement to a broken heart and broken world. I don't think their ambitions are that high necessarily, but I don't doubt that the members want to illuminate in their listeners a sense of wonder of this world, a sense of place, courage, and gumption to continue on fighting the good fight despite any setbacks and get in their way. If you can find a more determined and optimistic band, I would love to hear it. In the meantime, listen to Love and fall in love.

8.) Streetlight Manifesto - The Hands That Thieve

Hot on the heels of their previous album.... haha, I couldn't finish that sentence, even as a joke. Before Hands..., Streetlight Manifesto hadn't released an album of original music since 2007. I was a sophomore in college! I get that they have a lot of members, perfectionist tendencies, and an ongoing quarrel with their record label, but seriously, six years! But, it was well worth the wait. The ska punk pirate gypsies from New Jersey put together another stellar set of songs. While they didn't reinvent the SM wheel, they didn't have to because they are the only band who does what they do. Tomas Kalnoky is the leader, weaving fast-paced tales of resistance, strength, and victory. However, the true might of SM lies in their drums and horns. The brass here is as sharp, focused, and aggressive as ever, while the drums have quite the chore keeping up with the frequent time signature and dynamic changes. Each gets their turn to shine, with plenty of the signature breakdowns and solos. I hope it isn't another 6 years before we see more music from Streetlight.

7.) Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady

I love most everything about Janelle Monae. I love the myriad of influences that pepper each of her releases, from funk, rock, rap, r&b, pop, gospel, and jazz. I love the science fiction concept series following Monae's alter ego Cindi Mayweather's robotic adventures in a futuristic cityscape. I love her gender shattering fashion choices. I love her voice. I love her dance moves. She just exudes originality and poise, while not trading in her artistic integrity for what's popular. The Electric Lady is bold and grand, with suite pieces of layered strings, ballads that showcase Monae's remarkable range, pop songs that keep my head bobbing, and guest artists from the likes of Erykah Badu and Prince (!). Each song is different from the next stylistically, while somehow being cohesive in the world in which it is set. Janelle Monae deserves much more credit than she gets, but I wouldn't want her to change to sell more records. Do what you do, Mayweather.

6.) Typhoon - White Lighter
Portland, Oregon's Typhoon has been around the scene for a minute, forming in 2005, but they really haven't much burst through the scene until this year with their full length White Lighter. Many of their songs dwell on mortality, dreams and hopes from boyhood, with the inspiration often stemming from the band's leader Kyle Morton's childhood struggle with Lyme Disease. However, Typhoon's music is anything but defeatist or mopey. With soaring choruses, gang vocals, layered harmonies in choir, the band builds anthems with indie rock mentality and orchestral arrangement. While many songs begin with the typical light folky guitar and drums, they often evolve into bold territories with horns, strings, and fun time signatures brimming with floor drums, handclaps, and more. The band boasts 11 members, so they are many hands of many talents, almost a collective making playful and catchy triumphs. With a cheerful vibe of long summer days throughout White Lighter, Typhoon sun is certainly nowhere near setting.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Top 10 Albums of 2012 (5-1)!!!

5.) The Insyderz - The Sinner's Songbook
The Insyderz were one of the first ska bands to really capture my attention. That was back in 2003. Flash forward 9 years, The Insyderz went on a long hiatus, reunited in late 2011, and got backing from their fans to make this, their first new record in almost a decade! The band is a little smaller, but their sound is just a punchy and powerful. They still employ a really funky horn section, crunchy guitars, and the gruff punk rock vocals of Joe Yerke. Album opener "Angel of Death" starts with a horn call, launching into his signature gritty singing, and rocks its way to a bold yell of an ending. Other standouts include the old-school beat of "We Come In Peace" (great funny lyrics too), introspective prayer in "The Dirty Work," and the anthem unifying title track with guest vocals from both Reese Roper from Five Iron Frenzy and Mojo from The O.C. Supertones. Toss in some amazing ska covers of "Jesus is a Friend of Mine," "All Creatures," and "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," and you got yourself a solid release start to finish! If Joe and co. are leading the choir in Heaven, we're going to have a skankin' good time.

4.) Showbread - Cancer
In Showbread's future universe, they are a band called The Protozoa with a lead musician named Kimo (chemo...get it?), who writes to rebel against the government/spiritual enemies called Principalities (street name: Cancer). With heavy protest songs, bold ballads, and blended worship, Showbread is in peak form musically and lyrically, and even have a full length sci-fi movie to go along with the record coming out any day now! What an undertaking and concept! As someone who has followed the ups and downs of Showbread's career, I have been thrilled with how "Cancer" turned out, probably my favorite of their records since 2008's "Anorexia/Nervosa" double album. This record is a blend of early screechy Showbread, thrash Showbread, and rock praise Showbread. With so many iterations of their raw rock sound, it is remarkable how refined "Cancer" is. I'll chant along with them as they "fight the Cancer!," and then turn to G-d in the worshipful gang vocals and confession as I realize the Cancer is often inside me. This album almost has to be listened to in its entirety, and the journey is worth every note! Download FREE HERE.

3.) Joshua James - From the Top of Willamette Mountain
Ethereal. Magical. Hopeful. Searching.
Joshua James writes from a place of enlightenment, even if most of his musings are uncertain or full of mystery. His beautiful folk rock melodies and impassioned breathy vocal delivery transport my soul to the mountain valley in Utah where he lives and from where he crafts his stories, recounts his love, and paints his heart into songs. I can't pick out album highlights because each song is a work of art, with harmonies that round out the sound, slide guitar that gives them that hint of country, and a plucked and weathered acoustic guitar that has seen many concerts as its seen lonely nights hoping for home. I'm listening to this album right now, and I really don't know how to say it properly. I just feel a peace in this set of songs that transcends this place, this skin, and all the hurt that this world has sometimes. "From the Top of Willamette Mountain" swells with a beauty, richness, and realness that is often unseen in music today. I hope to see Joshua James soon, and wish him well on his musical quest of life.

2.) mewithoutYou - Ten Stories
For people who know me, they know that I have a very deep love for mewithoutYou. "Ten Stories" is immaculate, spinning fables of destined circus animals that scatter (or don't) after a train wreck in Montana in the late 19th century. The premise may seem strange, but the truths hold weight for us all, concealed just beneath the surface of these analogy-filled songs. Shout singer turned folk poet extraordinaire Aaron Weiss crafts riddles and pours humanity into his fated tigers, bears, foxes, walruses, rabbits, peacocks, and owls. Each listen, I find a slice of myself in their wandering tales, as they encounter love, loss, death, sacrifice, and redemption. And if you spin "Ten Stories" and think it isn't as spiritually driven as previous mwY releases, grab a dictionary for the long words and commit yourself to delving into the lyrics and purpose of each song. The music is also crafted with elegance and purposeful flow, one song spilling into the next. The Philadelphia post/folk rock band pulled together their entire sonic range for a cohesive amalgam. I hear strong ties to their surprisingly different release, 2009's "It's All Crazy..." but with definite leanings toward the passionate yelps of "Catch For Us The Foxes" (2004) and my favorite "Brother Sister" (2006). In all, this is the best of mewithoutYou, the whole shebang on full display. Also, don't neglect the two b-sides. While they may not have fit into the album's story, "Julian the Onion" is one of the most earnest use of puns I've ever heard, and "Four Fire" is easily one of my favorite songs by mwY already.

1.) Lost in the Trees - A Church That Fits Our Needs
Flawless. In a word, that is what I would say about Lost in the Trees' new album "A Church That Fits Our Needs." They are an orchestral-based folk band from North Carolina, and despite flying under the popular music radar, they continue to mold some of the most ornate and cohesively stunning records in recent history (in my humble opinion). In "Church," Ari Picker (lead vocalist and musician/guitarist) used musical composition to pay his respects and express his love to his late mother, Karen Shelton, an artist in her own right who tragically took her own life recently. After understanding this background, one might expect this record to be a tragic heavy-handed work, but Picker takes his grief and allows his songs to breathe new life into his mother, paying homage in a triumphant way. With lush string orchestration layered over intimate acoustic folk, Lost in the Trees melds modern indie rock with classical symphony. This duality does something truly captivating, as we celebrate and remember friends and family we may have lost along with the band. When the album was released, Picker said, "I wanted to give my mother a space to become all the things I think she deserved to be and wanted to be, and all the beautiful things in her that didn't quite shine while she was alive." I believe he has done just that an more. "Church" is breathtaking and worth many repeat listens, a monument and memorial in its own time.


And do remember to support the artists if you like what you hear! They put a lot of hard work and dedication into their craft. Don't make their art dispensable!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Top 10 Albums of 2012 (10-6)!!!

And finally, here are my personal favorite records released in 2012! It's been a long time coming, but I've listened to most of these albums countless times, whether at home, at work, or during long commutes. They are have been the soundtrack to my 2012, and probably will stick around as some of my favorites of all time. 2012 was a very strong year of music for me, and I hope to share some of that passion with you now.

10.) The Lumineers - The Lumineers 
File:TheLumineersalbum.jpgThis record is incredibly infectious. It is sweet, quaint, and oozing with singalong choruses about romance and love lost. The banjo-pop folk rock group from New Jersey/Colorado blasted onto the scene by having their song "Ho Hey" included in several television shows and commercials. They sound like they just got off work from a long day, just want to get together with their friends and acoustic instruments and jam it out. Their down-home sound has kept me smiling all year long. How can you not fall in love with the simple and earnest words, "I belong with you, you belong with me, my sweetheart"? If that doesn't make a lady swoon, I don't know what will. Each song is as charming as the last, and the future looks very bright for The Lumineers. (See what I did there?)

9.) David Crowder Band - Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys])
File:GiveUsRest.jpg The truly triumphant final album from David Crowder Band is a double album masterpiece of worship, including 34 tracks, a set of 7 sequences, and walks you through a traditional church service with a modern heartbeat. "Give Us Rest" kicks off with footsteps entering a chapel with Latin liturgy being spoken from the pulpit, leading into a lush piano ballad with Crowder's signature Texan accent asking G-d to "give [him] rest." From there, the album span concepts, sounds, and genres that cover the entire DCB catalog, including danceable songs, songs perfect for a contemporary church service, bluegrass, and much more. It is quiet and empty when it needs to be, loud, pulsing, and big when that is required, but so full of soul that I found myself many times in tears reflecting on the lyrics and emotional builds of this record. "Give Us Rest" is a grandiose and thrilling conclusion to DCB's career.

8.)  Various Artists - Moonrise Kingdom (Original Soundtrack)
So maybe including a soundtrack is cheating, but Wes Anderson has a knack for putting together seemingly unrelated songs in his movies to make something unique and lovely. "Moonrise Kingdom" the movie was enchanting in its story-like wonder and discovery. I felt like I was part of their faux Boy Scout troop on an adventure of love and coming-of-age. The music reflects the adventure in dramatic fashion, including sections from Benjamin Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" and several selections from both Leonard Bernstein and Alexandre Desplat. Throw in some Hank Williams, a sultry French ditty by Françoise Hardy, and some children's choirs, and you've got yourself an engaging, strange soundtrack that I can't get enough of.

7.)  The Chariot - One Wing
File:The Chariot - One Wing.jpg The Chariot, while completely un-formulaic in structure, has seemed to tap into a formula that works. Each release by the Georgia mathcore metal quartet is met by a ravenous fan base. It doesn't hurt that their live show is heralded as one of the best in the business, with lots of stage diving, moshing, unfiltered energy, blood, sweat, and tears. "One Wing" is no exception, building and growing out of 2010's "Long Live" but taking a stand completely on its own. It is definitely the strangest of their offerings, bursting through the speakers with two relentless visceral songs then taking a 180 for "Your," which is a harmony laden repetition of older Chariot lyrics by female vocalists. Then, back to the grinding action as if nothing happened on "First" which concludes with an old west breakdown. Does this make sense? Yeah, not to me either, but it is original and fun, especially for a band this intense to not take themselves too seriously. Thirty minutes later, you can catch your breath and regain your thoughts. Maybe.

6.) Of Monsters and Men - My Head Is An Animal
There is a upward swing in folk indie pop bands this year. I mentioned before how it might be because Mumford & Sons broke through the folk barrier and now, The Head and the Heart, Lumineers, The Last Bison, etc. can come out of the musical woodwork. Of Monsters and Men is now right up there with them, but instead of Americana rock, this Icelandic group does their own spin on the genre. There are almost constant male/female dual vocals that are peaceable and echoed in their harmonic layers. OMAM are storytellers, and their songs come across as tales and dreams that they are eager to tell. They remind me of The Lumineers with a less drawl and more rock, or early Arcade Fire with a flair for folk. OMAM's chamber pop coolness is not self-aware, allowing it to be honest and toe-tappingly good.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Albums: Honorable Mentions of 2012

Honorable Mention
I can only fit 10 albums in my top 10, but that doesn't mean those were the only good jams to come out this year. Here is a short and sweet rundown of some other mentionables for 2012.

Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls
Soulful blues rock with a smoky female vocalist. I can't wait to see what AS does in the future.

Chris Bernstorf - Move
A friend of a friend, Bernstorf channels the passionate yells of a metal band into his spoken word poetry. Download FREE HERE.

Regina Spektor - What We Saw from the Cheap Seats
Quirky Russian singer-songwriter does it again. Her piano work and unique vocal styles really shine here.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
File:Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!.jpg The kings of instrumental experimental ambient post-rock drop an album without warning, and everyone goes crazy. Luckily, it is a pretty epic release.

Right Away, Great Captain - The Church of the Good Thief
The Church Of The Good Thief cover art
Andy Hull (Manchester Orchestra) releases the final installment in the trilogy of a 17th century sailor out for revenge for a his wife's betrayal. LISTEN HERE.

The Welcome Wagon - Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices
Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices cover artA goofy album title yields some remarkably fun gospel indie rock. "When there's rice and beans but you've got no beans..." Listen HERE.

Alright, so now, all that's left is to write about is the actual TOP TEN of 2012! Coming right up!

In the meantime, HERE YOU CAN DOWNLOAD ONE SONG from each of the top EPs and Honorable Mentions of 2012.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Best EPs of 2012

EP, Extended plays: A little longer than a single, shorter than a full-length LP (limited play). Who titles these things anyway?

Alas, these days, EPs can be whatever the creator wants them to be (see Sufjan Steven's hour long opus "All Delighted People" EP). But here is the rundown of some of my favorites from this year!

6.) The Last Bison - Inheritance EP
By rearranging and rerecording some songs from their debut "Quill" and adding a few new songs, The Last Bison (formerly just Bison) has crafted an engaging little EP here. I'm not sure if these folk rock bands are coming out of the woodwork on the coattails of Mumford and Sons or if people are just recognizing what was always there to enjoy. I hope the latter. Either way, The Last Bison is not to be cast in the shadow of another. Their original Americana indie folk is quaint and lush, while occasionally aggressive, but always captivating. Listen HERE.

5.) All People - Communicate EP If absolutely in need of classification, I guess I would toss All People's "Communicate" in the punk/dub/funk/reggae rock genre. It is a lot of things, especially fun and fearless, reminiscent of recent RX Bandits or even their more eccentric offshoot The Sounds of Animals Fighting (but with more structure). These eight songs groove nonstop, with some sexy organ work to keep the pace moving. I find my whole upper body just jamming back and forth to the dub sections, until they launch into a more punk beat, perfect for a little headbanging. Check this EP out by downloading for FREE HERE.

4.) See You In Mexico - The Doomed Traveler EP Ryan Leavelle's See You In Mexico came out with a grand EP this year, and it completely did not garnish enough attention. Luckily for you, I'm bringing it to you right now. As the title suggests, the songs follow the story of a doomed traveler "trying to make his way home during the cold of winter. He was sent on a mission to find out what happened to a failed expedition crew, and upon discovering their unfortunate fate, swears revenge on the General who sent them all to their death." It's got an acoustic indie folk vibe with some rich violin and cello to layer in heaps of turmoil and emotion. Download FREE HERE.

3.) Wayfarer - The River EP Wayfarer claims their art is to "repurpose hymns and spiritual songs." Now, that is a pretty lofty goal when the source material is timeless in lyric and melody, sung by millions of people the world over. Well, luckily, Wayfarer truly takes these five worship songs in new directions, fresh and completely engaging ways. They would draw comparisons to Fleet Foxes in their dreamy folk quality and maybe the Beach Boys in their heavenly harmonies. If they continue to arrange known songs to make them sound new again, I think Wayfarer can have a strong career ahead of them. Download FREE HERE.

2.) Geology - The Neighboring Sea EP Greg Jehanian (bassist, mewithoutYou) released "The Neighboring Sea" EP this past year, and it hit the spot for me. It is a seven song set of soul searching, hints of spiritual undertones, and plenty of lo-fi goodness. The opener "The Neighboring Sea" is actually kind of raucous for Jehanian's acoustic side project, with some kicking drums that echo in space. My favorite is "House of Love" which is a simple anthem to be free of the things that will crumble and fade away and cling to love, which remains forever. He records all the instruments himself, in his bedroom, generally on his laptop, and the results are uncanny in quality. Check it out HERE.

1.) Buried Beds - Small Stories EP Buried Beds is the definition of a hidden gem. They are a band that has floated just under the radar for far too long, known in their native Philadelphia but making few waves outside of there. However, their "Small Stories" EP blows away many of the full-length albums released this year. I have listened to it more time than I can count, plus it comes accompanied by a short music film (which I've also watched too many times). The songs and film transport me to summertime, fireworks, barefoot picnics, and memories of growing up. It is a indie chamber pop nostalgia-fest at its finest. The band is in top form, including a drum circle ("1000 Acres") and the smoothest harmonies ever ("Children of the Sea"). I can't say enough good things about this EP. Just listen and let your troubles sweep away in the lovely jams. You can buy the EP HERE (totally worth it) and watch the film the songs were recorded from HERE.


Monday, February 18, 2013

The Disappointing Albums of 2012

So once again, I can't get my act together to post about 2012 albums that mean a lot to me until almost March of 2013... Therefore, enough small talk! ONWARD TO THE MUSICS!

First, I will start with the handful of disappointments that I found this year. One of them is disappointing because my expectations were high and then dashed, one has too many flaws that I can't overlook, and one is just a disorganized "too soon" of a release.

The Disappointments

1.) Fun. - "Some Nights"
I tried really hard to love this album. When I couldn't do that, I tried really hard to like this album. When I couldn't do that, I tried to tolerate this album. I think that's where I settle for now. It's not terribad, but it sure is lacking. Granted, my expectations for Fun. after 2009's multi-instrumental masterpiece "Aim and Ignite" were soaring. I mean, when you take one part The Format, one part Anathallo, and one part Steel Train, you have talent seeping out every pore of that band. But what I  hear on "Some Nights" is self indulgent sell-outitude. They open the album with a crowd's applause for crying out loud...

Yes, the songs are catchy to a fault, to the point of sounding like a whiny younger sibling begging for attention. The creative structures found on "A&I" are gone, replaced with dull repetitious choruses, predictable hooks, rap production backtracks, and (oh dear Lord no) AUTOTUNE! The lyrics don't elucidate anything special (drinking, mistakes, and growing up?), where it could have been the saving grace for Nate Ruess and co. But alas, the only songs that I truly like are merely bonus tracks, like "Out On the Town" and acoustic versions of some of the songs on the regular release.

Fun., lose the producer, get back to basics on your guitars and everything else you can actually play, and don't take phone calls from Chevrolet. And if you're going to write more music, for goodness sake, don't just say the same thing four times in a row and expect it to be a good chorus.

2.) The O.C. Supertones - "For the Glory"

2012 was the year of revival for ska music, especially as far as Christians are concerned. The big 3 all came back from the dead, The Insyderz, Five Iron Frenzy, and The O.C. Supertones. So now, why is this record in the disappointment category? It isn't because it is bad. Far from it. However, there is a lack of intensity and creativity on this album, leaving it mediocre in the Supertones catalog. "All the Way Alive" and title track "For the Glory" start it off with a one-two punch that made me excited to hear what the Tones had been brewing since their reunion. But then from "Hey Hey Hey" onward, the album becomes a blah mess of songs I feel I've heard before, just with new lyrics and outdated horn lines. 

The Supertones used to have some songs that rocked hard and heavy ("Unite") with almost rapped verses and a spitting fiery passion for the gospel, and then other songs that let the album breathe with ska swagger, breakdowns that gave the trumpets, saxes, and trombones solo spotlights. But, all of the brass here feels restricted, as if the band was rushed to put the record and couldn't find their personal groove and freedom to let loose.

"Hey Hey Hey," "All Glory," "It's A Good Day to Be From California" all rely way too heavily on hey's and ooh's, coming across as lazy. The later track sounds just like a Michael Franti knockoff. And "Warmth of the Sun" is thrown in there haphazardly, detracting from the album's cohesion.

BUT, like I said above, this is NOT a bad album. The bass lines are killer. Mojo's vocals are in peak form. "Far More Beautiful" is a lovely encouragement to some women close to the band. "On the Downbeat" is definitely a fun song with a little bit of that old Supertones flair (and a trumpet solo)! If you like surf-rock ska with quality production, "For the Glory" will get your legs skanking. But despite this, it still comes across as a bit disappointing to me. Maybe it will grow on me with more listens. Only time will tell.

3.)  Band of Horses - "Mirage Rock" 

I've been a long time listener and appreciator of Band of Horses. Usually, their quasi-ethereal Americana rock hits me right where I am. I generally love their harmonies and dreamy melodies. They often paint landscapes of wide open fields, longing for home, and lots of nostalgia on a road trip far from the one you love. But plain and simple, "Mirage Rock" is redundant and disorganized.

There are some songs that standout, but as a whole, they should have taken those standout songs, polished them up, kept writing until they had more, and put out a solid work. Instead, from track to track, "Mirage Rock" is hit and miss, again and again

I mourn for what "Mirage Rock" could have been. "Knock Knock" is an excellent kickoff, more rock than I expected, and it was a pleasant change. Then "Slow Cruel Hands of Time"  is reminiscent of Neil Young in his prime, weary and beautiful. But then, "A Little Biblical" has this 4/4 chunky guitar line that doesn't change for the whole song. I cannot wrap my head around who thought that was OK.

Sorry, Band of Horses, you didn't fool me! You couldn't intersperse clearly higher quality songs with less thought-out ones and call it a day. As my parents used to tell me in high school, "Make better choices!"

I'm gonna wrap this up now. I'll be back soon with the EPs and full-lengths that made 2012 a SUPER EXCITING year for me musically. Check back soon!