Friday, December 24, 2010

And big ole #1: Deer Tick

It's not the trashy mustache John McCauley usually wears (not pictured). It's not the raucousness during shows, the fact that he oversleeps for interviews, or even our shared RI connection. It's the fact that, after all's said and done, "The Black Dirt Sessions" is still one of the best alt-country albums we've ever heard. Composed of Ian O'Neil, Chris Ryan, and Dennis Ryan, their brilliant debut "War Elephant" put them on the national stage, and for all its merits, we're arguing "Black Dirt" is even better. With a mostly acoustic setup, it's dark, crushing, and absolutely fantastic. McCauley's agitated voice and a piano sounds, well, not all that desirable, but it works marvelously here, and if you don't give it a try, then we feel sorry for you. As strong now as it was when it kept us glued to the stereo months ago. Raise a Coors: happy holidays, John Joseph McCauley III.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

No.2: Horse Feathers

Justin Ringle is a nice guy. As the lead singer/ songwriter for Portland, Oregon's Horse Feathers, we are impressed not only with his general niceness, but with his delicate vocals, lush instrumentation, and sense of beauty on "Thistled Spring." Speaking of instruments, his band, which consists of Nathan Crockett, Sam Cooper, and Catherine Odell must have a couple buses of instruments between the three of them (that's Crockett bowing a saw in the yellow shirt). It's their collective talent that crafts a kind of folk that's so gorgeous, it's an occasion in and of itself to sit down and listen to it. "Starving Robins" and "Belly of June" are only a couple tracks that capture our imagination with an acoustic explosion of that startles and tingles the senses, and any fan of Iron and Wine's acoustic material will find an equal in Ringle's songwriting and performance here. Heck, any fan of good music should be able to put this in and think of a couple people they'd like to share this one with. Here's to a strong 2011, guys (and gal).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

No. 3: Chain Gang of 1974

It's funky, it's infectious, it's none other than Kamtin Mohager's Chain Gang of 1974 (see vampire at right). The Denver, CO native breaks out all the stops for a perfect blend of punk/dance/pop explosion that is the solo debut "White Guts." We've cranked up "STOP" on the sound system for more than half the year, a beat-driven psychediscopunkadelic opener that layers choruses and simply doesn't relent. While you're at it, you might as well put on "F'n Head," a bass-heavy, tangled mass of electronica that damn well makes you punk out your f-ing head. The ten tracks here play fun and tough throughout, and the only requirement to enjoy them is to have an open ear and a live pulse. Or maybe that last one's not a requirement (see vampire again at right). Regardless, we're so certain that anyone can pick up and enjoy this thrill-ride that we're willing to wager our collection of shiny pants and fuzzy dice on it. Not for the kiddies, due to that one track mentioned above, but they're too young to have this kind of fun, anyway. Keep in touch, Kamtin.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

No. 4: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

True soul singers are tough to come by. So when we finally heard about Sharon Jones and her Dap-Kings, we were a bit skeptical. "Yeah," we thought, "but can she really sing the part?" Thankfully, she can. Sophomore album "I Learned the Hard Way" is coursing through with soul, body, too, and is the kind of album we were dreaming of since Motown had its day. It's tough to pick only a few highlight tracks, considering the whole album truly is fantastic, but try on "Mama Don't Like My Man" and the title track. If you're still not convinced after listening to those tracks, then maybe you should have your ears checked. Seriously. Great, authentic soul music that'll always have a home in your collection.

Monday, December 20, 2010

No. 5: School of Seven Bells

If you've ever purveyed your local dance/ trance halls, you've probably noticed that there's much too much bad dance music. You know, the kind of stuff that requires that extra drink just so you can try out that new dress on the dance floor. With "Disconnect from Desire," the sophomore album from the trio composed of twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra Deheza, as well as former Secret Machines rocker Ben Curtis, you'll gladly get out and groove in a potato sack. The reason why is simply: good dance music grabs you and puts you on your feet. Whether it be "I L U" or "Bye Bye Bye," SVIIB puts the perfect amount of polish on these sonic gems, and if we were to make a comparison to, say, cars, it comes off feeling like a Porsche: it's svelte, it's intoxicating, and it makes you feel good just for being around it. Layered electric guitars, synth, and vocals makes for pure pleasure, and you can always check out "I L U" on the MySpace site above. Excellent job, gals (and guy).

Year-End Review! Yippee!

Hello all,
We're sitting around, mulling over which albums should be in our top 5. It's really tough, considering this blog has covered twice as many albums this year as last, and hopefully will cover two times more next. A select few haven't come through (Arcade Fire, for one), so keep in mind the scope of this tiny, teensy-weensy little blog. If you're really aching to know what our selections will be, we'll give you a little hint: The National doesn't make the list. Sorry to lovers of "High Violet," it's too monochromatic for our tastes.
Hopefully decisions will be made, and there's time for revisions which a minute needn't reverse. Thanks for keeping up, and if all goes according to plan, we'll get started today until X-Mas Eve (just to help with your last-minute shopping). Peace and holidays,

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Von Stetten's "Pyramid" could be built stronger

Kurt von Stetten - "Pyramid"
Static Motor Recordings
-out now!
3 / 5

Admittedly, it takes a few listens to get used to the Boston-based multi-instru-mentalist/ photographer's fifth solo release. It's probably Kurt von Stetten's authentic and organic approach to "Pyramid" that makes it an acquired taste, but our main complaint is that it still lacks that mysterious force that grabs you and makes you put his record on. There's no one way about it: memorable guitar hooks, catchy choruses, and strong power-vocals are among the common ways a band crafts a song that sticks with you. And, in a good way, there's nothing common about von Stetten's off-the-beaten-path indie approach; nonetheless, tracks such as "Aioki" and "1st Base" could benefit from a bit more sprucing-up in all three departments. "Come Correck" doesn't need this extra flash to pull it off: it's the most realized of the tracks here, easy to pick up on the first listen, and not lacking in depth and replay, either. A select few may be willing to sit down and appreciate the unusual song structures and general low-fi, low-key attitude, but overall, there are other albums in the style that deserve your cash more. Take a pass.

Listen to "Pyramid":

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Analog Moon ascends on "Secret There Below"

Analog Moon - Ascent and the Secret There Below
Circuit Rider Productions
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3.5 / 5

With a little twang of country does Asheville, NC's Analog Moon release their second full-length. On "Ascent and the Secret There Below," pop is ultimately the flavor of the day, especially on "Soda City," replete with falsetto in the chorus and a great, driving beat. The self-described "band of ideas" has good ones throughout, and has obviously taken time and care to hone them down. The moments of weakness are when the whetstone of editing (how's that for a metaphor?) has ground down a little too far, and not left enough room for these strong ideas to flourish a little bit. The proof is in the pudding right on the opening track, "True Secrets of the Wiser," which feels like it's missing a guitar lick and maybe a bit of instrumental layering. Otherwise, you get a track like "The Hillside Cries for Carmen Fry," with good balance, good vocals, and a good presence. A good, but not great, album; still recommended.

Listen to "Soda City":

Monday, December 13, 2010

Liz Janes doesn't anchor down her latest

Liz Janes - Say Goodbye
Asthmatic Kitty
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2.5 / 5

Liz Janes can be cool, Liz Janes can be smooth. But on Liz Janes' "Say Goodbye," her latest release in five years, she comes off slight and under- whelming. While the opener, "I Don't Believe," sways sexily with Rhodes and percussion (and we do adore that), much of the album comes off too pretty and music-box-y. "Bitty Thing" and Time and Space" fall into this description almost intentionally, with glockenspiel and whispery voices making the track a bit too saccharine. What makes that opening track so strong is the depth of personality it has, striking a fine balance between delicate and seducing; the next closest moment would be "Anchor," on which she colors her voice with a bit of aggravation in it. A track and a half, though, aren't quite enough to lift up an entire album, and one reason why it might not work for us is that these tracks don't spread their net wide enough in terms of diversity; another might be Janes' similar attack on the vocals. Pop in your favorite album, and probably your favorite track is the one where the singer gets out from behind her mic and really belts one out. Here, Janes doesn't have a moment where she steps into the unknown, and what begins with a promising start, simply doesn't follow through. Some moments, but not enough to recommend it.

Listen to "I Don't Believe":

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sharon Jones is a queen among Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - "I Learned the Hard Way"
Daptone Records
-out now!
4 / 5

So you've been lamenting the end of Motown ever since you learned about the Temptations and the Four Tops. We'll, we've got good news for you: Motown is alive and well in Sharon Jones. The powerful singer belts in the tradition of Diana Ross, and her Dap-Kings back her all the way: horns, backup singers, strings and glockenspiel carry the tradition of the Supremes et al. It's no surprise that many groups of the Supremes' era have carried well over the years, as they contain powerful lead singers and harmonies, as well as deep, layered instrumentation that damn well grooves. Jones and her Dap-Kings have certainly done their homework with all the above, and the feel they produce here could easily have fit into the golden '60s. It's classic (and classy) music executed the way it should be: full-force, for the sheer love of it. This worthy visitation of a difficult genre makes all the hard stuff seem easy, just the way it should be. Recommended.

Listen to: "I Learned the Hard Way":