Category Archives: Music Review

Tor / Sufjan Stevens – Illinoize (Hip-Hop Mash-Up)

album-coverIt takes a lot for any kind of hip-hop to impress me (I’m not an expert or huge fan of hip-hop by any means). I prefer the indie stylings of artists like Murs, Atmosphere, or Mr. Lif as opposed to Lil Wayne (or any other popular hip-hop for that matter). Every so often comes an amazing remix/mash-up of an artist in the indie/rock circle paired with various hip-hop acts that sounds like it was just meant to be, it turns out as natural as any original music would/should. An almost unknown artist, based out of Montreal going by the moniker Tor, decided to create the backbone of the song with various  Sufjan Stevens tunes, and laying it down with the lyrics provided by various hip-hop acts (Aesop Rock, Outkast, Brother Ali, etc.). This really shouldn’t have worked, but it does. A fantastic listen. Download it for free at Tor’s website.

Enjoy.

– Ant

Listen Up! New Music 3/3…

A couple new albums and a new discovery…

The Whitest Boy Alive – Rules

the_whitest_boy_alive-rules_album_coverAfter much success with his hometown band Kings of Convenience, Erlend Oye broke away from the simplistic pop for the more dance oriented The Whitest Boy Alive (on the short list for greatest band names of the decade). Flat out, this is fun indie dance hall music. The track “1517” starts out with a familiar keyboard/bass line, one that could be tracked to Daft Punk’s “Better Faster Stronger”. If Daft Punk traded in their turn tables and vocal effects for instruments and a softer melodic tone, you have The Whitest Boy Alive. Every track has a similar tone: an almost jazzy quick note guitar riff matched with a funky disco bass-line; it’s undeniably catchy and fun. They aren’t breaking any new ground, but if this doesn’t get your feet moving and smiling, you need to check your circuitry. The album releases 3/31.

Heartless Bastards – The Mountain

heartless-bastards-the-mountain-cd-cover-album-artSounding like a dirty indie country version of Cat Power with a healthy  mix of Jenny Lewis and Jeff Buckley (yea, whoa), Heartless Bastards‘ 3rd album has been viewed as somewhat of a departure. The band started as a 3 piece, and has added a memeber for the album, but the only remaining original member is Erika Wennerstrom. She knows how to belt it out with the best of them, showing little restraint on the album opener and title track “The Mountain“. Although, one of the best songs on the album comes when they slow it down and add some banjo and violin, “Had To Go”.  They have a real hodge-podge of influences, which is what makes them so interesting and exciting to listen to.

Empire of the Sun – Walking On A Dream

songoftheday-walking_on_a_dream_coverThe two Aussie ‘gents that formed Empire of the Sun have made a bigger splash with their new “side project” than either of their individual efforts (The Sleepy Jackson & Pnau, never heard of them? Yeeea, don’t feel bad). Often noted as being a bit pretentious (just look at that album cover, eek!), you can’t deny their ability to craft an uber catchy pop song. The obvious comparison to MGMT is apparent while hearing the first couple bars of the title song “Walking On A Dream“. The album as a whole is not built as strong as that single, it becomes convoluted with a few throw-aways, of which the album could have done without. The keepers would have probably made a solid EP, but it still remains a good debut.

– Ant

My Year In Lists: Music of 2008: Top 10

After much thought and deliberation (and changing the order about 10 times an hour), here it is: My top 10 albums of 2008:

10. Ane Brun – Changing of the Seasons


ane-brun
Had the next 9 albums not been released, my love affair with Ane Brun would be all the more evident. A voice reminiscent of Dolly Parton, mixed with the indie and acoustic sensibilities of Feist and Cat Power, Ane (pronounced Ah-na) stirs with emotion and devastation. The culmination of these being the title track, “Changing of the Seasons”, about a man who cannot commit, needing to move on to his next conquest. Although, she manages to sneak in a semi-happy ending. Understanding the common plight of unfound love, her afflicted tone, and fairytale acoustic and string arangements ultimitely leave you with a little hope, even if hope is all you can hope for.

9. Headlights – Some Racing, Some Stopping


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Albums released early in the year often get lost in the mix, forgotten about, but Headlights became my musical pallet cleanser throughout the year. Often overwhelmed with the sheer amount of music released during the year, and sifting through some drudge, Headlights were always there to refresh with their sincere indie pop. They come across like Arcade Fire-light, but that is a genuine compliment. This is ever the most evident on the track “School Boys”, with the driving riff is never compromised through the song’s entirety. Even when the pace slows on the title track “Some Racing, Some Stopping”, a longing heart’s memoir set to a sweet and simple synth track, they still seem to grab your attention. A promising sophomore effort.

8. Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us


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I am unapologetic while continuing down the woman-fronted path this top 10 is taking. Up until now, Mates of State have been known for their weaving husband and wife vocals and jumpy organ. Re-arrange themselves they have, to an extent; absent is the organ, but the dual vocals remain. Call them tween-pop, call them cutesy, call them guilty-pleasure status worthy, but I say they have released one of the perfect pop albums of the last 5 years. This album is full of sing-a-long choruses, hooks galore, and that makes every song as memorable as the last.

7. She & Him – Volume One


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This should not have worked. Simply stated, matter of fact. Comprised of M. Ward, acclaimed indie singer-songwriter, and Zooey Deschanel, an acclaimed actress with no previous musical pedigree. An actress turned singer almost never works (i.e. Lindsey Lohan, the only example needed), but there is such an earnest tone to Zooey’s voice; a breathy, quirky, and rich alto. Surprisingly, she wrote 9 of the 13 songs on the album all by her lonesome; apparently she has been a bedroom-only musician for many years, penning tracks that only she and close friends and family have heard until now. M. Ward provides his musical prowess, but this is the Zooey Deschanel show, with Mr. Ward only lending his vocals to a couple tracks, including the creepily solemn cover of The Miracles’ “You Really Got A Hold On Me.” Already insinuating another record collaboration by naming the record Volume One, Volume Two is eagerly awaited.

6. Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs


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My love affair with Death Cab is no secret, but I will be the first to say, after the 2005 release of the tired Plans, though considered their most accessible album, the band needed a shake up. We received it this year with the release of Narrow Stairs, critically acclaimed, and critically dubbed: dark. I have always hated that term, but it fits, and musically and lyrically. Gibbard sounds like a man with a chip on his shoulder in the opener “Bixby Canyon Bridge”, who figures out after his excursion that he is “No closer to any kind of truth.” The album also produced some of my favorite Death Cab songs ever penned: the settling in “Cath…”, the longing in “Your New Twin Sized Bed”, and the burden of over-thinking in “Long Division.”

5. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular


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There seems to be a theme with a third of my top 10, they came out of nowhere. Like Vampire Weekend, another young band to come out of New York, they offer fresh takes on indie pop and adding the rock stardom (i.e. taking themselves too seriously, drugs,trippy music videos) that has been missing from music, almost Rolling Stones-esque (in attitude, mind you). The album begins with the 20-something anthem “Time To Pretend”, weary of living a life of boredom and mediocrity in the form of a morning commute to a desk job, they dream of becoming rock stars. How fitting. Some later songs delve into psychedelia, but are fun, and how can we forget the lyric of the year within the disco-era “Electric Feel”:
“Said oh, girl
Shock me like an electric eel
Baby girl
Turn me on with your electric feel.”

4. Vampire Weekend – S/T


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What can you say about four Ivy league chaps from New York that hasn’t already been said. Some consider them over-rated, over-hyped preppy brats, but consider this, they made an album that I came back to throughout the year. Almost every song has a memorable line, hook, or chorus; what else would you want from fresh indie pop? Employing the use of traditional African drum beats, some call it a gimmick, but it adds something unorthodox; playfulness that could only match their ridiculous moniker. Who knows if this was beginners luck, we may just have a new heir to the yacht rock of the 80’s. I will embrace it, after all, we will know if it was fluke soon enough.

3. The Botticellis – Old Home Movies


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Seemingly coming out of nowhere, The Botticellis were my biggest surprise of the year. I think they were vastly overlooked even in the prided indie circles, and if more people had actually heard this album, it would be in a lot of year-end lists. An amalgam of 60’s surf pop, and dreamy chamber pop, they will reel you in with their charming melodies, meticulous percussion, and honest hooks. A perfect debut for a band that will have many people saying in 2009, “How did I miss that?”

2. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago


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If Sigur Ros’ sound is grandiose, Bon Iver is the antithesis. We are all familiar with the story by now, Justin Vernon became a hermit in a woody cabin after a bad break-up, pouring those emotions into this stripped-down opus. Knowing this back-story makes each song hit even harder. I remember when I first heard this album, how distinct his voice was, how you could hear the pain in his wavy warble. I can always gauge the strength of art (music, film, physical) by its ability to change your mood. Justin’s transparent lyrics are inherently angry and sad. The erratic percussion at the end of “The Wolves” is the biggest tell, while Justin sings “Someday my pain, someday my pain will mark you.” This album will mark you.

1. Sigur Ros – Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust


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Before I sat down to write this list, I agonized about what should be my number one, but once I started binge listening to my top picks, it became as clear as waking up this morning. The truth is, I have always been an observer of obsession with Sigur Ros; they created beautiful music while lyrically being non-existent. Once I realized that his voice is used much more like another instrument in the mix, combined with emotions invoked by merely sitting down and giving a couple focused listens to this record, I finally “got” Sigur Ros. This is a MASSIVE record. With orchestral elements, driving rhythms, and the distinctive vocal croon in the indiscernible “hopelandic” language (as well as their first song in English), I could not deny that Sigur Ros had created a masterpiece. Sit down, and immerse yourself in this album.

Well, there you have it! Gripes? Complaints? Albums that were grossly overlooked? Hit the replies. Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

-Ant

My Year In Lists: Music Top 25: 11-25

I decided to break up my top 25 music picks for 2008 into two sepparate posts: this post being a straight list including my choices for 11-25, and tomorrow’s post being my top 10, including explanations of each choice. On to the list —

Music Top 25 for 2008: 11-25

25. Crystal Castles – S/T

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24. M83 – Saturdays = Youth

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23. Calexico – Carried To Dust

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22. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

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21. Portishead – Third
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20. Ray Lamontagne – Gossip In The Grain

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19. Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark

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18. Hot Chip – Made In The Dark

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17. Broken Social Scene Presents: Brendan Canning – Something For All Of Us

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16. Fleet Foxes – S/T

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15. School of Seven Bells – Alpinisms

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14. Anathallo – Canopy Glow

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13. Los Campesinos! – Hold On Now Youngster

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12. Beach House – Devotion

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11. Okkervil River – The Stand-Ins

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Stay tuned tomorrow for the conclusion of my top 25, with 1-10 including commentary. Thanks again, and give me some of your favorites in the replies.

-Ant

My Year In Lists: Biggest Disappointments

This is kicking off the “My Year In Lists” series, pointing out my favorite albums of the year, honorable mentions, as well as the biggest disappointments for 2008. I will start with the latter, and make my way back, ending with my top 10 for the year: 4 posts in the next 4 days.

I must point out, while these albums were my biggest disappointments, this does not mean I did not like them or enjoy them. In fact, I like many of these albums, but when presented with their previous works, these albums did not live up to my expectations. Also, I love to point out, for sake of laying to rest any arguments, music (as well as all art) is subjective.

My Biggest Disappointments for 2008:

Ben Folds – Way To Normal

ben_folds-way_to_normal-album_art Ben Folds first proper album in almost 4 years, starts off with a bang, while simultaneously self-proclaiming the heirdom  to Elton John’s stage presence. The album really loses its legs after the 4th track, “You Don’t Know Me”, featuring Regina Spektor, a fight between lovers in a love-less relationship. Too many throw-aways in the last half of the album make this a really average album from a really incredible talent.

Cloud Cult – Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)

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Conor Oberst – S/T

co I never really understood the lore of Bright Eyes until their last album, Cassadega, an amazingly lyrically complex and the alternative country musical stylings. Plainly, the songs become simple and boring, two adjectives you couldn’t use with Cassadega. After seeing them live this past year, the material came to life, an energy that was not efficiently bottled in the studio renditions.

Dear and the Headlights – Drunk Like Bible Times

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Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s – Animal/Not Animal

animal300 The sophomore album(s) were really hurt by Margot’s label moreso than the quality of the material. If you don’t know the story, Margot created an album, the label didn’t approve, Margot goes back into the studio and creates some radio-friendly dross that will never make it to the radio. Such a shame, you can pick out one good album from both of these disks, but as it stands, it’s a convoluted mess.

Mock Orange – Captain Love

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My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

mmj-evil-urges-cover MMJ are one of my favorite bands, and hold the honors of being one of my favorite live acts. So what the hell happened? To be honest, minus 3-4 tracks this album is passable, but loathful track “Highly Suspicious” with its pseudo-Prince inspired vocals and over-processed guitars is downright cringe-worthy. I’m not claiming to be a professional, but I can hold a tune, and on some of the songs (Thank You Too!, Look At You, and Smokin From Shootin), Jim James is just flat-out singing out of tune.

Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping

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Ryan Adams & the Cardinals – Cardinology

cardinology I am unapologetic about my genuine love of Ryan Adams; the man is a downright genius. After releasing 3 solid albums in just one year in 2005, I was sold. Although, Cardinology feels as if it was rushed, and many of the songs just seem unfinished. “Fix It” has an undeniable groove at its core, but right as the song gets going, it ends. A lot of the tracks leave you with this feeling, and it makes me wonder, did he spend TOO MUCH time crafting these songs? Maybe he should go back to pushing out 3 albums a year and thinking less.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Pershing

pershing

Stay tuned for my next post in the “My Year In Lists” series: Potent Notables, albums not making my top 25, but definitely not to be ignored.

Listen Up!

First off, I must apologize for not updating the blog with my own original commentary in quite some time. That being said, let’s get into it!

The Felice Brothers self-titled album is available now.

The Felice Brothers self-titled album is out now.

The Felice Brothers, mountain men from upstate New York, are part of the new wave of Americana/folk revival that is happening around the country. These three brothers, along with their once traveling dice gambler, now bass player, known simply as Christmas, set out to bring back the raucous deep and dirty Americana that makes you feel as though you are in a deep south saloon sippin’ on some moonshine, tapping your spurs to every wood-creaking, washboard-raking sound. You will hear many influences, most notably their lead singer, Simone, who sounds Bob Dylan-esque, but with actual harmony (don’t chastise me). Fresh off seeing them at the Anti-Pop Music Festival here in Orlando, I will tell you, as good as this album is, their live show is what sets them apart from the rest. I was so impressed with these ‘gents, they actually out-performed and had the crowd more involved than the well respected and much more widely known Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. (Check out their impressive performance below.)

lakeLAKE are an interesting collective. Comprised of up to nine people at any time, each of which are accomplished musicians with various solo albums attributed to each. Their new album, Oh The Places We’ll Go, clocks in at just under 28 minutes, but it leaves its catchy impression, seemingly begging to be listened to again immediately after completion. Sounding at times like a group of friends that found some of their parents old instruments and recording equipment, this album is an ode to 60’s dream-pop. The album is loose, but everything fits into place, and not a second is wasted, creating 2-3 minutes of pure pop prowess at a time, rather than offering some of the meandering dreamy landscapes like their previous self-titled album. You will find yourself coming back to this time and again.

alpinismsAfter both Ben Curtis’ and the Deheza sister’s respective bands broke up, they came together to form School of Seven Bells, actually becoming greater than the sum of their original parts. Taking their name from a notorious pickpocketing school in Colombia (wait, what?), SoSB has an infectious brand of electro-dream pop, wandering through bassy trip-hop and even Frou Frou territory. The twin sister lead singers range from tribal vocal musings to traditional Indian vocals (like the country, not the oppressed original American inhabitants), all the while simultaneously provoking thought and unleashing their undeniable charm and grace. That’s not even mentioning the music; Ben’s beats are meticulous, providing the sisters with a beautiful pallet of sound-scape to craft this masterpiece of dream-pop. Their seemingly come-out-of-nowhere album Alpinisms is creating quite the buzz, and rightly so; the album will most definitely make my top 20 of ’08.

The Felice Brothers – Whiskey In My Whiskey (Live)…

There you have it, quite the range of musical sensibilities this week! Thoughts?

-Ant

Listen Up!

The Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers are coming off the best album of their career, Emotionalism in 2007, to having their highest commercial success yet with the release of their new EP, The Second Gleam. The EP debuted on the Billboard top 200 album chart at a respectable 82. Emotionalism was in my top 20 albums in 2007; of course they don’t need my endorsement now, recently signing a deal with a Sony affiliate. If you have not heard The Avett Brothers unique meld of folk and bluegrass, even if you don’t find those styles particularly appealing, they deserve a shot.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Real Emotional Trash is out now.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Real Emotional Trash is out now.

Stephen Malkmus, who is most known for his days as the front man for the critically acclaimed Pavement, does not get enough credit for his solo work. Stephen Malkmus – S/T is one of my favorite albums of all time, with his gentle mix of brash lyrics and the seemingly classic 90’s guitar of yore.

“Shepherds herd in real time
Sheep are barley-grazing on a field of green
Vines ripen to find
Troy will prevail
Trojan curfews prevail”

Stephen really captured me on this album, unlike anything he did with Pavement; it’s more refined, more polished, and more emotional.

Ryan Adams has seen his amount of success, as well as some failures, and that’s what makes this topically arrogant musician so endearing. Fact is, his style changes with almost every album, with the hearty riff-laden Rock-N-Roll, to almost single-handedly commandeering the “alternative-country” genre with his proper solo debut, Heartbreaker. He really caught his stride in 2004, with the release of Love is Hell; including one of THE best cover songs of all time, Wonderwall by Oasis, greatly surpassing the original (set down your nostalgia a bit and really listen). The fact that he is in his early 30’s and crunching out 4 albums and 2 EP’s in the last three years really speaks volumes for Adams’ talent. Do yourself a favor, unleash this beast of a musician into your repertoire; start with Heartbreaker, Love Is Hell, and Cold Roses.

– Ant

[Listen Up! is a weekly feature.]