Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bootstraps – “Bootstraps”

bootstraps

Fans of Ray LaMontagne and other road-ready, pensive music take note. You may want to add Bootstraps to your collection. I discovered Bootstraps the way most people did: by streaming the ultimately forgettable movie “Take Me Home” on Netflix Instant. I’ve already forgotten about the movie, but the music has stuck with me. Bootstraps was formed specifically for that movie, in fact, but I hope they’ll remain on the music scene.

The music is paced well and propels forward as if it was specifically designed for night driving or solo drives with just you and your thoughts. The centerpiece is “Fortyfive”, backed well by a swelling undercurrent of piano, drums, guitar, and light keyboard. “Sleeping Giant” and the rousing “OH CA” and “Wild Moan” add to a very solid debut album from a band that may have never been meant to be a band. Give them a listen below.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Daft Punk – “Random Access Memories”

daftpunk-1367945965

I admit I feel unqualified to review Daft Punk, seeing that I never owned any previous albums, and mostly knew of them because I loved LCD Soundsystem’s “Daft Punk is Playing at My House”, and sure, of course I own “One More Time”. They are held as legends in their field, and their name carries overzealous passions and criticisms. Just look at the range and ferocity of their Amazon ratings. So take this review for what it is: it’s the opinion of an alt rock and indie music fan, whose tastes are well-documented. If you trust me and my tastes, and also don’t know much about Daft Punk, this is probably for you.

I never intended to buy this album, but I’m glad I did. I have been under the impression that Daft Punk make dance music, and debut single “Get Lucky”, infectious as it is, gave me the same impression. It’s funk groove was amazing. It’s impossible not to dance to. But it’s also not really my thing. Fun to own as a single, fun to play at the right moment, but did I want the whole album? Surely not.

Why did I change my mind? My wife played “Doin’ It Right”, a track that features Derek-approved Panda Bear, aka the part of Animal Collective that I like. The track starts with computerized voices prominently found in Daft Punk, building over a beat track. About a minute in, Panda Bear kicks in, channeling vocals reminiscent of great Beach Boys tracks. Noah Lennox, the name behind Panda Bear, has always channeled that uncanny Brian Wilson-vibe, but put over top of Daft Punk musical styling, you have one of the year’s best track.

Despite the variety in styles here, there’s some clear emotion at place, and tracks like “Within” easily get under your skin. Accompanied by some perfect classical piano and keyboard, a sad, robotic voice admits “there are so many things that I don’t understand…”. “Touch” is even more symphonic, stirring to great heights at the end of it’s 8 minute strings-meet-space age journey. Another top track—unsurprisingly to me—features Julian Casablancas of The Strokes fame. It’s the alt rock-iest number.

There are plenty of musical and dance tracks as well, too. I’m sure that there are segments of fans that will find plenty to love about “Give Life Back to Music”, “Contact”, and “Motherboard”. There’s also something distinctly alluring about “Giorgio by Moroder”, a track that essentially doubles as a riveting story of Italian record producer Giorgio Moroder’s development as a musician.

Daft Punk has another fan. I’ll probably never be as passionate a fan as some, but I definitely think the album deserves much of the esteem it’s getting. I can already tell it will be #1 on many year-end lists around the internet. I’m not ready to proclaim it #1 yet, but it will slip into my best of the year list where it belongs.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jimmy Eat World – “Damage”

jimmyDamage_zps4501fb26

★1/2

Jimmy Eat World has been a band for nearly 20 years now. For over 13 years, dating back to when the public at large came to know of Jimmy Eat World when “The Middle” inexplicably took over the radio, the band has been churning out great albums with incredible consistency. Unfortunately, these albums have been mostly overlooked, and I venture to guess many readers think Jimmy Eat World disappeared quietly into the void, content to live off of nostalgia for 2001. It’s a shame if this is you, because that means you missed 2004’s Futures and 2007’s Chase This Light, two of the best modern rock records there are.

Their newest effort, Damages, largely follows in a similar vein as 2010’s Invented, showcasing a rock band content with their formula, happy to be the masters of alternative-rock-meets-power-pop, and peppering an album full of emotion-driven songs with apparent ease. Jimmy Eat World, capable of crafting some of music’s greatest anthems—namely “Dizzy” and “23”—give plenty to love once again, although admittedly the album lacks a song quite near the level of the greats. (Side note: when I say “music’s greatest”, I mean that in a non-hyperbolic way. That’s right. I truly mean these are two of the best songs I’ve ever heard. Thought I should clarify!)

One of the album’s strongest songs, “I Will Steal You Back”, powers along at a toe-tapping, hand-hitting-the-steering wheel pace, soaring like the best Jimmy Eat World songs do. Another of the top track, “No, Never”, uses a stunning bit of synth in the mid-section, breaking from from the mostly guitar-driven mold to provide the album’s highest high. Album opener “Appreciation” is a classic throwback, something that could have easily made it’s way onto the eponymous 2001 album that made them stars for a moment. “Damage” is possibly the most accessible song on the album, a track that strikes an emotional chord, carrying along on the back of a great chorus. Always a good live band, Jimmy Eat World gives the fans another great sing-along moment when they slow down and declare “I’ll say when I’m ready/You’ll know when I’m ready”.

The only negative here is a lack of overwhelming positives. The tracks mostly present themselves in a predictably solid manner, and there are no moments short of perhaps “You Were Good” that are subpar. There are also not a lot of transcendent moments. There is no “Sweetness”, no “23”, no “Dizzy”, or even “Littlething”. Until this album, there’s been at least one song that would make me turn the volume in my car past where it should be and strain my vocal chords. “How You’d Have Me” makes for a great loud song, but it’s no “Dizzy”.

I don’t mean that last bit as a criticism, really. Since 2001, Jimmy Eat World have never made anything resembling a bad album, and they twice made truly great albums. This is a good album. Any Jimmy World fan, myself included, should be thrilled to add to a collection from a band that is very much still alive and kicking.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Iron & Wine – “Ghost on Ghost”

Iron-And-Wine-Ghost-On-Ghost

★1/2

Iron & Wine, the mega-consistently good stage name of bearded Sam Beam, returns with Ghost on Ghost, the fifth studio album from a man so talented he once wrote my favorite song of the year and released it as a b-side. That was way back in 2009. We’re also now, unbelievably, six years removed from when Iron & Wine’s 2007 The Shepherd's Dog. It stands today as one of the best records of the new millennium, and is one of the most perfect and complete albums I’ve ever heard. That sure has been a lot to live up to, in my mind. I was probably unfairly excited about 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean, a perfectly solid album that managed to be both excellent and disappoint my all-too-high expectations. If Kiss Each Other Clean was Sam Beam’s brush with the experimental, Ghost on Ghost is a return to the middle ground. Somewhere in between the pure whisper that marked Beam’s early years and the hazy experimentals of his previous effort lies Ghost on Ghost, a 70’s tinged take on classic Iron & Wine. The result is a very solid album, lacking in memorable greatness, but offering plenty for the Iron & Wine fan.

Beam has always had the knack for lyricism and tenderness. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but there’s a restlessness for home in this album. A South Carolina native, Beam mentions his home state in his opening song, the folksy “Caught in the Briar”, and again in “Sundown (Back in the Briars)”. The album is full of references to locations all over the US, but none are mentioned quite as fondly as the South. On the wonderful “Desert Babbler”, Beam sings “California’s gonna kill you soon”, and on “Grass Widows” he says that “South Chicago never gave us more to sing about”. The song “New Mexico’s No Breeze” says it all in the title. The centerpiece of the album, the moving “Winter Prayers”, says it more plainly. Trapped in the cold of Wisconsin, Bream dreams of home, offering up one of the most tender and moving simple lines of the year: “Slide down South/When once in a while your confidence leaves you”. Never one to avoid baring his soul, “Baby Center Stage” is just as moving. Slide guitar and all, Beam sings of Baton Rouge, and Birmingham, Louisiana, and hurricanes. “Doesn’t anybody see how scared you are?”, Beam asks, but in many ways it sounds like he’s asking himself.

This is not a great record, but it’s a slyly confident record. Beam has traveled the country and much as he’s journeyed his own musical experiments. On this album, despite lacking singular greatness, Beam dreams of home and also manages to find it. Beam comes off like he could make an album like this in his sleep, and he seems right at home.

Friday, August 2, 2013

My Wife’s Belated Top Songs of 2012

IMG_2160

Every year I try to drag Holly’s favorite songs out of her, and every year she’s delivered eventually, and ends up getting double the blog views I usually get. This is because Holly is awesome and everyone loves Holly. So enjoy the following guest post from my wife!

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

Holly’s Top Songs 2012: A Belated Bestowing

So this is so late that even I started getting confused what was from 2012 and what wasn’t. I changed my rankings over and over and allowed a lot of songs that break the technicality rules. There are a few songs that were on 2011 EPs that were placed on full length albums in 2012. There’s a cover and a song straight up from 2011. BUT….either way maybe you’ll find it interesting nonetheless.

1) “Empire Ants” Young the Giant (cover)

I love Young the Giant, but when they showed this on MTV Unplugged I was floored. They didn’t change a whole lot musically from the original, but the way Sameer sings it is amazing. Little Dragon seems to have passion, but Sameer just makes it come alive. As one youtuber mentioned….the little “dance” he does is quite adorable. It starts building around 2:20 and when he hits the bridge at 3:01 I just wish I could I be up there with him singing my heart out. Not to mention the rad synth line.

http://www.mtv.com/videos/misc/705088/empire-ants-mtv-unplugged.jhtml#id=1673140

2) “Plain Gold Ring” Kimbra live at the Sing Sing

This song is from 2011, but I simply don’t care. Something about this song makes me want to explode inside. The old school jazzy/soul-filled exquisiteness inspires me every time. Plus she lays harmonies over herself. Need I say more? YES! I must! Man, when she breaks into it around 3:38 I can FEEL her soul in it and the matching guitar lines…uff da. By about 4 minutes in and I’m almost in tears. Amazing

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6i1mr9amqeg

3) “Pyramids” Frank Ocean

First off, warning that the lyrics on this one aren’t clean. I wish they were, but you probably already knew that since it’s hip hop. J This was the hardest choice of the whole list. Picking between this and Lost probably consumed 60 minutes of my life over a course of three thinking sessions. J On the one hand Lost is extremely catchy with its playful interplay between the guitar and drum line. It might always be my “running in Arizona” song. Seeing me run listening to this is probably pretty amusing. I go straight into the whole head sway/hand motions while closing my eyes and trying not to break an ankle thing. Ultimately, Pyramids just has more going on musically. He does some fun things with the melody in lines like “I found you laying down with Sampson” and “No more she lives. No more serpent in the room.” The whole atmospheric portion at the end with the John Mayer electric guitar solo etc. is awesome. Seeing Frank perform it on SNL really solidified how great the song is. It’s one of the only songs that I will actually listen to all 9 minutes and 53 seconds of. The last 20 seconds give you a descending guitar line that you won’t want to miss.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5onaWSflUQ0

4) “Lisa Baby” Walk the Moon

Can’t get enough of the bass line and guitar fun. So fun. This concert was a bit of a surprise. We saw them open for Young the Giant not really knowing much about them. The crowd was super into it and some even had the face paint and everything. Soon after, they just exploded in popularity. So technically I heard this song in 2011, but it was on their EP and they put it on their 2012 album. I liked it enough to cover it too so my cover is in here also if you want to look at it ;)

Original http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cqCpPSaY-I

My cover http://youtu.be/Q631aBuqvqI

5) “Get Away with It” Animal Kingdom

I found out about Animal Kingdom by hearing “Strange Attractor” on Alt Nation. I’m not really sure why it resonates for me but others have described it as “celestial indie” and I think maybe that’s why I like it. I created an entire new Itunes playlist called Dream On to put stuff like this in. J Anyway, I don’t know what exactly makes me love this one but I love the intro guitar and the bridge.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0PHiZQo1To

6) “Brokenness Aside” All Sons and Daughters

This band kind of has a bit of that subdued duo thing going on and I love their use of harmonies. It’s nice to have some worship music out there that doesn’t quite fit the mold. Love the line “I am a sinner if it’s not one thing; it’s another.” It just speaks to me because it’s kinda like hey….everyone has faults and we fail a lot, but God understands. Honestly the lyrics alone are what makes it a top five song for me. There are other songs that are better musically, but the lyrics speak to me and you can’t get around the 21 plays on Itunes. ;)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXqvJb_IGak

7) “Obedear” Purity Ring

This song is great for running. I just love the synth line which looks like it might be played on an electric drumset of some sort?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETbGpGJNVLM

8) “Too Close” Alex Clare

Hello?! Dubstep and soulful melody? Of course I love it. I’m not sure what the staying power for this one is, but it has a ton of plays on my Itunes so I can’t let it slip away and not get noticed for 2012.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYXjLbMZFmo

9) “Disparate Youth” Santigold

I dare you to dislike this one. The folks at Honda knew it was worth using in a commercial so it’s worth a click from you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIMMZQJ1H6E

10) “Diamond Lightning” Minus the Bear

This was another one that was really hard to pick. I was between this and Heaven is a Ghost Town, but again this one one out for being more varied. It starts out kinda slowish with that great guitar line, but turns out into a total Minus the Bear rock out by the end of the song.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=du14ncYD5-M

11) Lights by Ellie Goulding

It’s nearly impossible to not get sucked in by this one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NKUpo_xKyQ

12) “Spitting Image” Freelance Whales

First listen through this CD was surprising. It was really good and they had made some interesting musical changes. One of them was that they let Doris sing! Derek and I saw them in a tiny tiny venue in Columbus and the Miniature Tigers were supposed to be the opening band. Unfortunately, the Mini T’s van broke down so Doris took the stage to perform some of her own material for the first time. She seemed pretty nervous, and it was super hard to hear, but everyone gave her a good round of applause. I love the oh oh oh ohs at the beginning of Spitting Image. It seems that Doris has left the band though, which is a shame because mixing her vocals in with some of the tracks was a refreshing change.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oy9zzspXJ0w

13) “Are You Listening” Kopecky Family Band

That little whistle at the beginning gets me every time. Are YOU listening to these guys?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpLDkzOWOvM

14) “Simple Song” the Shins

This one is so full of sunshine it’s bursting at the seams.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoLTPcD1S4Q

15) “Lovers Song” Amarante

Sweet and dreamy this one is brought to you by a husband and wife group. They are literally so small that their facebook has pictures of their children and it can be hard to find them on youtube.

16) “Ho Hey” Lumineers

Just a fun one. Usually lyrics that are a little cheesy like this bother me, but the song is so fun I don’t mind.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvCBSSwgtg4

And….Lennon & Maisy did their version of it too. I just love Lennon’s voice. Her tonal quality is awesome and Maisy’s ability to harmonize at such a young age is equally impressive. It’s also cool because girls started out on youtube and then all of the sudden I saw them on the show Nashville. This video is of them performing at the Opry, which is a pretty amazing opportunity for these sisters.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-lLlEtoAS8

17) “Take a Walk” by Passion Pit

Take a Walk, Take a Walk, Take a Walk….it gets in your head J.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZX6Q-Bj_xg

18) “Justice Delivers its Death” Sufjan Stevens

A gem from Sufjan’s ridiculously large and mostly strange Christmas album. I’m not even if that should be singular or plural…album?... albums? What do you call something with five discs?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3cfUolJxYg

19) “Lighthouse” Patrick Watson

-In a pensive mood? Well, just be a “Dreamer of a lighthouse in the woods to shine a little light to bring us back home.” But seriously, the beginning tinklings of the piano on this one are spell binding. The kind of thing that stops you in your tracks and demands that you listen. It kinda motivates you to write something that demands that much attention.

CD: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R23bifAbWWs

Live version if you want to watch them actually make every sound with an instrument of some sort: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JloqD2Lpcps

20) “I Will Wait” Mumford and Sons

Although it might not jump out of the Mumford formula it’s still very catchy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGKfrgqWcv0

Honorable Mentions

“Radioactive” Imagine Dragons

-I’m not sure why this one isn’t in my list. I don’t know if I just didn’t hear it till 2013 or something, but it’s really fun to blast.

“Always Waiting” Michael Kiwanuka

-I didn’t find this one till this year so I just didn’t feel right putting it in the list even though it’s amazing.)

“This Isn’t Everything You Are” Snowpatrol

-I really really like the lyrics of this one. The title line of the song is personally meaningful to me. I know this is related to heartbreak from a relationship, but I apply it differently in my life.

“Wild” Royal Teeth

-Of course…the who whooos are what draw me into this one.

“Sleeping Ute” Grizzly Bear

“Dirty Paws” Of Monsters and Men

“Emmylou” First Aid Kit

Notable

Heartbreak on the 101 by Band of Horses---awesome bridge

Try by the XX----awesome guitar line

Henrietta----Yeasayer coolest hook

Christmas Unicorn –amazing silliness

Old, but were listened to in 2012---“Hanging on” Active Child; “Levels” Avicii; “Tongue Tied” Grouplove, “Champagne and Peaches” Nerves Junior, “Afterglow” Phaeleh featuring Soundmouse.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Mosquito”

yeah_yeah_yeahs_mosquito

Sorry about the album artwork. That was their choice, not mine…But anyhow, there was a time when I’d have said that Karen O and her band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were one of the most dependable rock bands playing at a festival near you, and I’ve been a big fan ever since I was fortunate enough to see them live at the 2009 Sasquatch Festival. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are energetic, entertaining, talented musicians, and have a knack for showmanship. What’s disappointing is that their newest album, Mosquito, marks a dramatic step backwards as it traverses an awkward 47 minutes. This is surprising given not only their track record, but also the stellar opening track, “Sacrilege”. No doubt, taken individually, this is a highlight of the year. It’s a trademark Yeah Yeah Yeahs: forward moving, slightly over the top, and featuring a heck of a synth line trailing through the background, not to mention the gospel choir. Unfortunately, the album peaks here at track one.

There is more to like, but it’s not plentiful. “Subway”, a dreamier number, ambles around and can strike you well if the mood is right. “Mosquito” has some of that Yeah Yeah Yeah's bite, with Karen O screaming “we will suck your blood!”. “These Paths”, a synthy, reverb-tinged number is one of the more interesting songs on the album as well.

The back half of the album is where things really fall apart, starting with the bizarre and unpleasant “Area 52”, which is barely anything more than amateur noise rock. “Buried Alive” attempts to bring back 90’s era rapcore with Dr. Octagon, awkwardly bringing back something reminiscent of Faith No More’s “Epic”, only without the nostalgia. Other tracks like “Despair” and “Wedding Song” mill about directionless, offering little worth remembering in albeit pleasant sounding songs.

Truth is, there are things to like here, but not the album as a whole. “Sacrilege” is certainly worth owning, that’s for sure. But this is certainly a lesser offering a band that has blessed the world with the likes of “Zero”, “Maps”, “Gold Lion”, and “Heads Will Roll”.