Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Craig Finn – “Clear Heart Full Eyes”

craig-finn-clear-heart-full-eyes

The best lyricist in music today is Craig Finn. If you don’t believe me, check out “The Cattle and the Creeping Things” and it’s take on on the creation story (“I guess I heard about original sin. I heard the dude blamed the chick. I heard the chick blamed the snake. And I heard they were naked when they got busted.”). For years he’s brought his talents—as well as his nasally voice and normal-guy image—to The Hold Steady, a band that you either already love or need to start loving. I’ve seen The Hold Steady twice, and would see them many more times. See, it’s true, I have pictures:

IMG_2147IMG_2154IMG_2162

The point is, full disclosure, I’m obsessed with The Hold Steady. Where other bands make three star songs and occasionally some fours, The Hold Steady make four star songs and occasionally some fives. So here is Craig Finn, branching out from the bar rock of The Hold Steady, ditching the driving rock and roll but keeping the lyrical sensibilities. The result? A stripped down alt-country album, heavy on downtrodden moodiness, but ultimately an album that feels more like a collection of slower songs not fit for a full length Hold Steady album.

Ah, but we’re still talking about Craig Finn, so the moments are still there: the smooth guitar as he takes a night drive down the Australian coast in “Apollo Baby”, the way he flips the story on the “hero” in “When No Ones Watching”, and the poignant storytelling of days gone by and the people we lose touch with or who disappear from our lives on “Jackson” (“Someone said he ended up in Denver/Someone said he went to Kansas City/Someone said he went off the deep end/Some said he was livin' there already”).

Ever-present in Finn’s narrative is a religious influence that underlies much of his writing. “Jesus is a judge/and he’s kind/and he’s just/forgives us for our avarice and lust” he sings over steel guitar on “Western Pier”. On “Honolulu Blues” he sings “the cross reminds us that he died for me and you”. Heck, there’s a whole song called “New Friend Jesus”.

The real strength of the album is at the back and the front. “Apollo Baby” and “When No Ones Watching You” start it off right, but “Rented Room” and “Balcony” really bring it home. Musically, “Rented Room” is the best, building slowly over a story of a lonesome man, living in a rented room and drinking at a bar where the drinks are cheap and they leave you alone. “Balcony” is about as country as it gets, which actually fits Finn’s great handle of lyrics and storytelling.

This is not a masterpiece by any stretch, but it’s still an admirable addition to the collection for any fans of Finn’s work. And if The Hold Steady’s harder stuff is too rocky for you, you may find something to love here. Start with “Apollo Baby” and “Rented Room” and work your way from there.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Young the Giant – “Young the Giant”

YoungTheGiant_Cover

Here at The Past and the Pending my goal is always to draw what I believe to be the synthesis between mainstream, indie, and alternative music. I’m looking for the music that most people will really like if they give it a try. Plenty of blogs exist to introduce the newest experimental indie, and I appreciate that, but at this blog I try very hard to listen to what’s out there and say to myself “my friends would really like this”. And when I heard Young the Giant’s album for the first, second, and 24th times these past two weeks, it kept occurring to me how well they do at being that perfect synthesis between the interesting, creative elements of alternative rock and a pure listenability that most would enjoy.

Young the Giant’s album starts with perfection, which raises the bar quite high. “Apartment” is a moody piece that establishes the setting remarkably. Lead vocalist Sameer Gadhia has a wonderful delivery, and when his tone hits lines like “After leaving your apartment/I feel this cold inside me” or alternates between “school kids” and “cool kid” on “My Body” he displays some of the most interesting vocals I can think of in current music.

“Cough Syrup” and its opening guitar plucks and soft cello is the album’s catchiest track and might be the song that you’ve heard. It’s also one of the best here, although the competition is crowded. “Strings” breaks from the mold the most, bringing a dreamy island flair. “Garrands” is also outstanding, and for reasons beyond the fantastic opening guitar salvo.

There’s truly no bad track on this album, only degrees of goodness (or, in the case of “Apartment”, greatness). The choice to close on the combination of “Island” and “Guns Out” is particularly good as well. “Islands” is by far the most stripped down track, softly drifting over distant guitar and deliberate percussion. “Guns Out” and it’s falsetto-tinged chorus declares “it’s so wonderful”, and he’s right. This is an album that caught me off guard. I knew of and liked “Cough Syrup” before a couple weeks ago, but I had no idea how much I’d love this album. It does not impose it’s creativity upon you, but it does not lack it altogether. Instead, it provides the perfect synthesis. I suggest you give it a shot and I hope it surprises you as much as it surprised me.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snow Patrol – “Fallen Empires”

Snow-Patrol_-Fallen-Empires

★1/2

Tackling Snow Patrol means admitting right up front that I have a soft spot for what they do best: soaring ballads. “Run” is their first and greatest example of this. Snow Patrol are the master of sweeping, swooning alt rock masterpieces, and I admit that I love them for this. They also have shown a decent knack for exploring their sound, albeit never so much that it really strays from what Snow Patrol does best. My respect for Snow Patrol comes from appreciating a back-to-back listening of “Run” and “Golden Floors”, a perfect combined display of their prowess.

I’ve heard things about “Fallen Empires” being a change in direction. I don’t know what to make of that. Sure, I could dive into every sonic detail here, but I’ll say that on the whole the album sounds very Snow Patrol-ish: sweeping, sweet, easy to digest, pleasing to the ears, but not too much of any of those things. Snow Patrol are at their best when they stick with their expertise on songs like “New York” and “This Isn’t Everything You Are”. In the right mood, they’ll give you chills as they soar to their peak. “New York” makes fantastic use of a horn as the chorus bridge, making it a great balance between sound exploration and sweeping balladry.

The pop gem of the album is probably “Called Out in the Dark”, which is a little more electronic than usual. This is the kind of song that might step into the top 40 for a bit and provide welcome relief. More likely, it will be burning up Alt Nation soon enough.

People divide on their decision to love or hate Snow Patrol based on songs like “Garden Rules” and “Lifening”, where softy lines like “you will never know/how much I love you” and “waking up in your arms/a place to call my own/this is all I ever wanted from life” carry the songs. Say what you want about Snow Patrol, but by now they clearly are just going to embrace being the Grey’s Anatomy band, and I respect their persistence.

One other thing to note: “Berlin” is a musical interlude, but don’t overlook it. It’s another example of Snow Patrol making sure that they don’t clog up their albums with filler (“The President”, “Fallen Empires”, “Those Distant Bells”, and “The Symphony” are all worthy songs as well).

Looking across my Snow Patrol discography, it’d be impossible from just glancing at individual song ratings to see which album I like best. Once again Snow Patrol does what they do: a couple or few stellar tracks, a solid assortment of good tracks, and almost no poor tracks. Consistency is a virtue when you’re good, and this album fits the Snow Patrol collection just fine. Like a lot of Snow Patrol, it’s an album heavy on sentiment and emotion, and if that’s your cup of tea, you’ll find satisfaction in this one.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Let’s Get 2012 Cookin’: A Couple Quick Songs

There’s always a sense of exhaustion when the 2011 lists are done. I still haven’t come close to listening to everyone else’s, because I was so focused for so long on making my own. There’s a lot of self-imposed pressure when making “Best of” lists, since you can’t possibly make a list like that without partially believing you made a good faith effort to hear a wide representation of the music available. Sure, I guess I could call it “Best Songs That I Happened to Hear This Year”, but that doesn’t have a ring to it. Anyhow, 2012 is now underway, and thankfully I’ve already had to start a playlist on my computer to hold some of these early gems:

The Shins’ came back without missing a beat, releasing “Simple Song”, which to me gets better with every listen. It is an amazing track and gets me very excited for their new album.

I finally got a chance to listen to Nerves Junior’s album, which was touted as 2010’s best by one of my favorite blogs. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do have great things to say about “Champagne & Peaches”. That one wasn’t on youtube, so here is the album’s second best song, “As Bright As Your Night Light”.

Snow Patrol, who I’ve always had a weakness for, released a new album as well. I’ll get a full review up, but here is an outstanding track from the album called “New York”.

Bear in Heaven, artists responsible for the amazing “Lovesick Teenagers” are back with a great track called “The Reflection of You”.

You may have heard that Jonsi of Sigur Ros was responsible for the soundtrack to “We Bought a Zoo”. Here’s a great track I heard on the OST called “Sinking Friendships”.

Finally, while I wasn’t blown away by the whole album, it’s hard to deny that this track from The Lonely Forest isn’t worth 99 cents.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Guest Blog! The Beautiful Wife Presents Her Own Top 20 Songs of the Year

Hello readers! For this blog post I’m handing over the reigns to my amazing wife Holly. In our family, she is most certainly the musician. Whereas I critique the music, she’s the one who actually knows what she’s talking about (if you don’t believe me, click here). If you’re ever lucky enough, you can get to see her hippie dance to #17. And can I just say I’m shocked to see #12? There was a time when I thought she was going to shank me if I played it one more time! Hope you enjoy!

-------------------------------------

IMG_5974

(The author)

*Disclaimer: One song per artist. No repeats whatsoever. This is a “as of now” list :-). Some songs will surely become less enjoyed over time while others will become classic go-tos. I got really tired of trying to rank them so while these might be the top 20… I don’t know if they will all shake out in their current numbered “positions.”

Top 20 2011

1) Bon Iver: “Minnesota, WI”

I can really feel the hip-hop influences in this one with the rhythms he uses. I always felt like on his amazing album that this is the “different” one of the bunch.

2) Civil Wars: “Poison &Wine”

The Civil War’s debut album blew my socks off. This one’s got this call and response feel that I love. Saw a youtube of them singing together and it was the most amazing thing I’ve seen in awhile. They are SO in tune with each other. I mean they sing so intimately it’s like watching two people kissing or something. I don’t know. I just can’t describe the chemistry and blend they have together.

3) The Antlers: “Every Night my Teeth are Falling Out”

I can’t get over the way the melody dances around on this one. Very influential style-wise for me.

4) Gauntlet Hair: “Top Bunk”

This song’s position so high in the list is mostly because of the reaction you get out of me with it. I don’t know if in 3 years I’ll feel the same way about it, but for now…Get ready for the psychedelic awesomeness to sweep over you. If I wanna weird out this is definitely the over the top thing I need. Don’t think it’s in English though. Ha ha. Tried to figure out the words to the cool part where they vocally mimic the guitar line and well….I gave up.

5) Coldplay: “Major Minus”

If I could just play the instrumental part that starts at 2:37 over and over and over and over and over and over and over I would. Okay, I already do….I don’t know if you would call it psychedelic or what but whatever it is it makes me get my hippie dance on and sway my head around. It’s a “let it roll over you” kind of thing.

6) Radiohead: “Lotus Flower”

It’s Radiohead. Do I need to say anything? No. Okay, well I guess so. A bassline?!

7) Florence + the Machine: “What the Water Gave to Me”

Don’t know what kind of instrument is used in the beginning, but me likey. I love that it lives up to what a giantness of some of Florence’s past work (complete with choir) and that she sings about “poor Atlas” :-). Gotta love a mythology nerd.

8) Mutemath: “Blood Pressure”

“Why can’t you do a little more for Jesus?” Love the line. Love the syncopation. Mutemath’s overall feel and bluesyness is definitely very influential to me.

9) Boy & Bear: “Part Time Believer”

It’s got whistling in it! It’s had my heart from the beginning, because it’s almost impossible not to be happy while listening to it.

10) The Givers: “Up, Up, Up”

MUST be played with windows rolled down. This may be a song for Trebein Road. Ha ha.

11) Death Cab for Cutie: “You are a Tourist”

A song that is SO personally meaningful to me. There IS a burning in my heart. There is almost always some kind of doubt in my mind. Plus they’ve got this cool guitar line that I love.

12) Gotye: “Somebody That I Used To Know”

Did not grab me at first because his voice sounds so Peter Gabriel or something that it turned me off. BUT….I grew to love it once I got past it.

13) Foster the People: “Pumped Up Kicks”

This one won out for me in the end over the more musically advanced “Helena Beat” for sheer singability and happiness.

14) Fleet Foxes: “Grown Ocean”

Rousingness at its best.

15) Sarah Jarosz: “Run Away”

There’s just something about this girl. She seems so pure, is very talented, and her music is so comforting.

16) William Fitzimmons: “Fade and then Return”

Feels like you should be taking a nap in some meadow a million miles from everything.

17) Broken Bells: “Meyrin Fields”

Brings out the best booty dropping hip swinging hardcore dancing you’ve ever seen this side of Fairborn.

18) M83: “Midnight City”

Fun to turn up loud.

19) The Head and the Heart: “Down in the Valley”

The opening lines always get in your head. I like the rousing all-together-now feel that the end has along with the nice harmonies. Plus, it’s got some really nice piano octave stuff in there.

20) The Strokes: “Machu Picchu”

Just love the intro. It’s a fun head-side-to-side-to- the-beat kinda song.

Fav Albums

· Bon Iver: “Bon Iver, Bon Iver”

The man is Midas. Plus, I’m so so intrigued that his other album For Emma was written holed up in a cabin somewhere in Wisconsin.

· Civil Wars: “Barton Hollow”

Holy mother of pearl

· Mutemath

· Boy & Bear

Please give “Part Time Believer” a try. I dare you not to smile. It’s just a happy feeling song.

· Radiohead

Draggggooooonffffllllllyyyyy

Too amazing not to mention:

Put this on repeat 10x kind of songs (Not this year so not included on list):

1) Sufjan Stevens: “Futile Devices”

Purity of beauty. I once got up in the middle of the night just to listen to this repeatedly on youtube.

2) Sufjan Stevens: “To Be Alone with You”

When I realized what the lyrics were about I cried. Such a touching way to portray God’s love without taking any poetic shortcuts.

3) The Listening: “When - 14 Nights and 23 Days”

Reminds me of driving back from Nashville blasting it. It’s the little things like the rhythm in the lyrics and that cool riff at 3:35.

Most moving Music Video

Bon Iver: “Holocene”

Wow! This is nature through my eyes. I basically AM this little guy in the video. I cried when the music swells just as the bird swoops. Jaw-droppingly good.

Most personally meaningful Lyrics

· Death Cab “You are a Tourist”

Don’t know that there’s been a more fitting song for this time of my life. I relate with SO much of this song.

· Gotye “Save Me”

It’s like a song to Derek :-)

· Jars of Clay “Shelter”

This was pretty cool in concert especially since the whole song is about brother/sisterhood in Christ.

· Chief “Night & Day”

· Switchfoot “Restless”

· Mercy Me “Beautiful” (2010, also very moving in concert)

Amazing Cover:

Sarah Jarosz “The Tourist”

-Exquisite harmonies. The bluegrass feel is beautiful with the song.

Awesome bass lines and potential for some fav songs:

The Black Keys “El Camino” album

Sweet Songs:

Jack’s Mannequin “There, There Katie.”

Frank Ocean “There Will Be Tears”

Monday, January 2, 2012

The 2011 Ultimate Music Megapost: Top 50 Songs of the Year, 10-1

10. Civil Wars – “Poison & Wine”

When it comes to pure, gripping emotion and sincerity, the male/female tradeoff on the Civil Wars’ “Poison & Wine” is about as good as it gets. It’s an amazing accomplishment considering the general simplicity of the music and a tribute to the masterful vocal work between Joy Williams and John Paul White.

9. War on Drugs – “I Was There”

Maybe I don’t have to miss The Verve anymore. From the first taste of the psychedelic electric guitar that snakes through the ambient “I Was There”, you’ll be hooked. Add in the deliberate piano and distant harmonica over the musing vocals and you have clear top song.

8. The Strokes – “Machu Picchu”

I use the word “moving” a lot. Well, maybe you’ll be happy to know there’s nothing moving about this track at all. It just plain rocks. From the opening guitar and synth work to the irresistible riff at 1:20, The Strokes come back with a vengeance, providing me with my favorite track of theirs of all time.

7. M83 – “Midnight City”

To be clear, I had this song in my Top Ten long before Pitchfork named it the best song of the year. The truth is, there’s just nothing not to like about this track. It’s powerful, soaring, complicated, and dripping with character. When the drums kick in and the synth swirls after the declaration of “the city is my church!”, followed by an amazing saxophone solo, it’s one of the true great song moments of 2011.

6. Bon Iver – “Perth”

The year’s top album begins with “Perth”, a perfect introductory track, birthed out of simplicity then bursting forth amongst a perfectly placed snare drum to build to a swarming symphony of horns, strings, and more. One track into album and we had the first indication of greatness.

5. Frank Ocean – “Strawberry Swing”

There certainly is no debating the most surprising song of the year. Frank Ocean is one part of a shock hip-hop outfit called Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All. Then he goes an does a pseudo-remake of Coldplay’s excellent “Strawberry Swing”, keeping portions of the general music and reworking the lyrics. The result? One of the best and most moving tracks you’ll hear, and lyrical perfection to someone who has moved as much as I have, leaving behind friends every single time.

4. The Antlers – “I Don’t Want Love”

The Antlers didn’t wait long proving that the gut-wrenching sage that “Hospice” was not a singular moment of success. Their new album starts off with “I Don’t Want Love”, a masterful mixture of Peter Silberman’s falsetto, electronic experimentation, keyboard, and guitar. There’s something special in the way Silberman delivers, and The Antlers are now firmly entrenched as a favorite band.

3. Gotye ft. Kimbra – “Somebody That I Used to Know”

Were it not for this song immediately lodging itself in my brain, demanding its attention, I might have resisted “Somebody That I Used to Know”. But I cannot resist this perfect blend of catchy pop, raw emotion, and detail. Buried within this pop gem: bongo, synth, xylophone, to name a few. But in the end it’s primarily the sincerity that makes you feel where Gotye is coming from. He knows it’s over, and he’s okay with it, but why did she have to be so cruel? And, as the just-as-perfect video shows, there’s also an acknowledging shame when he is reminded how culpable in the whole process he is as well. Turn up the sound and sing along.

2. The National – “Think You Can Wait”

As far as making the kind of impact with a song that gets you right to the core, no one can do more with a simple song than Matt Berninger of The National. Owners of last year’s best album with “High Violet”, The National released this track for the indie movie, Win Win, and its impact as the credits song is even more palpable after watching that film. Berninger has a baritone voice like no one else in music today and his band also has a pure knack for crafting adult songs about adult problems, such as self-doubt in a marriage or the need for your loved ones during a midlife crisis. When The National drench it with moody piano, strings, and longing backup vocals, the song transcends every song this year in terms of pure heart.

1. Fleet Foxes – “Grown Ocean”

Known more for woodsy, folksy indie full of layered harmonies, Fleet Foxes move well beyond the simplicity of big hit “White Winter Hymnal” with “Grown Ocean”, while retaining fully the magic that makes Fleet Foxes so endearing. It is their most racing, most forward moving, most sweeping track yet. As the bookend to fellow Top 50 track “Montezuma”, it is perfection. Where “Montezuma” wonders about whether deathbeds will be full of regrets, “Grown Ocean” looks forward excitedly, longing to achieve dreams over pulsating percussion, impeccable guitar, a trilling flute, and trademark harmonies.

Link to free download: http://www.pitchfork.com/reviews/tracks/12159-grown-ocean/