Saturday, December 26, 2009

Musical score of the day

Discovering that a song I dug all summer long on the radio but couldn't track down for anything was, indeed, included on one of those free iTunes samplers I never listen to and is in my iTunes library.

Elizabeth & the Catapult - Taller Children

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Songswithoutwords Best Albums of 2009

Songswithoutwords Best Albums of 2009

Since I actually published something of substance, now I feel worthy of posting my favorite albums of 2009. Let me know what you do or don't agree with in the comments, I always love some good dialogue. Sorry for using the word "nuance" twice.

1) St. Vincent - Actor
This is the standout album of the year for me. Unafraid of taking risks, the music of Annie Clark and her band is sexy and smart. Orchestration is a strong point for this band, experimenting with effects on woodwinds, electric instruments and vocals.

2) The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You
After finally negotiating their bluegrass roots with music for a wider audience, this could prove to be the group's lasting masterpiece. With heartfelt lyrics and versatility that makes them hard to pigeonhole, the Avett Brothers have finally come into their own. Have I mentioned that "Laundry Room" is perhaps the most beautiful thing that I have heard all year?

3) Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
Case's voice is one of the strongest in indie music today. Her range and expression, both in vocals and guitar playing, is second to none.

4) Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
This album ranges from driving to delicate, touching on every nuance between. Bird's violin playing and grasp of live looping has lent his music depth and the subtle assurance that comes with time and experience.

5) Beat Circus - The Boy From Black Mountain
This band is seeking to unearth the strange and beautiful subtleties of "weird American gothic" and succeeding at every turn. I think of them as the sonic equivalent of Carnivale. Give it a listen and maybe you'll agree. This was perhaps the most under appreciated of the year amongst what appears on my list.

6) Matt & Kim - Grand
Released at the very beginning of the year, Grand remained my favorite pop album of the year. "Daylight," "Good Ol' Fashioned Nightmare" and "I'll Take Us Home" are always just right when I need a pick me up.

7) Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Another catchy, no-nonsense record that gave a long-established band the bump they needed to find their way into my heart and many others'. "1901" is my indie hipster jam of the year.

8) Jason Lytle - Yours Truly, the Commuter
I first heard this album after succumbing to NPR All Songs Considered producer Robin Hilton's infinite praise got to me. While I have to admit that I've never listened to Grandaddy, I fell in love with Lytle's solo work immediately. I can imagine the music echoing around me, filling cavernous spaces with each nuance. A good album to ruminate on alone in a quiet, dark room (like most everything Robin Hilton likes...)

9) Why? - Eskimo Snow
With an unusual voice reminiscent of They Might Be Giants, the recurrence of exuberant arpeggio'd keyboard/mallets, and layering of sonic textures that could only be their own, this album keeps me engaged from start to finish. Is it just me, or does it sound a bit like Christmas?

10) Pearl and the Beard - God Bless Your Weary Soul, Amanda Richardson
A late discovery for me this year, I love the breadth of textures this trio is able to produce. The anthemic "Oh, Death!" just rips at my heart. Most of all, Pearl and the Beard prove that there is indeed life after music school--it is anything and everything you choose to make of it.

Honorable mentions: Samtidigt Som - Flykt, Karlek & Broderskap, The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love, Fanfarlo - Reservoir, Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

A look back at this decade in music, according to my music collection

It's been a long time since I cared about anything in my corner-CD tower. It's trapped between the bookcase that holds my record player and the wall. It's not at all accessible except for the top few tiers. Today I wrangled it out to snag my Pet Sounds album, since I discovered that Mono is indeed better, and wanted to revisit the album.

I can't remember the last CD that I bought that wasn't from a brick and mortar store that didn't belong to a friend or The Hold Steady. The newest additions are, of course, Stay Positive, and last year's Emilyn Brodsky's Greatest Tits, but aside from those, most everything on this rack was purchased sometime during high school, the 2002-2006 era. I remember trips to Tower Records, with about $40 in my pocket. I'd stack up four or five CDs and my understanding, saintly stepfather would make up the difference.

I devoured records then. I distinctly remember using my portable CD player on the bus, choosing one album a week with care. I'd listen to half the album in the morning, half in the afternoon. All week long. One album in particular I remember doing this with was Ryan Adams' Gold. I think that album may have turned me from music lover into music worshiper.

Looking back at this tower of forgotten media, I can outline the decade. Well, almost. For me, at least. There are the CDs that lived in that Walkman: Ryan Adams' Gold, Demolition and Rock and Roll; Josh Joplin's Useful Music; Rhett Miller's The Instigator. Then there are those that nearly warped from the heat after sitting in my car stereo for months on end: Streetlight Manifesto's Everything Goes Numb, The Smiths' Louder than Bombs, Motion City Soundtrack's I Am The Movie. It's a time capsule not just for the great artists of the 00 decade (Belle and Sebastian, Modest Mouse, Beck, Ryan Adams, Interpol), but also a tribute to every discovery from the near and distant past that I made in the past 8 years or so (the aforementioned Smiths, Phil Ochs' discography, Randy Newman, The Blues Brothers, Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith--the list goes on.

It's a shame that, well, frankly no one gives a damn about CDs anymore. They served their purpose. They were my gateway drug into finding the music that I loved, and putting a proper value on it (an ideal that I held dear, then departed from, but find myself slowly returning to). But, I am confident that the music industry will streamline, adapt, and renew itself as it always does (did you see those nifty Apple records-shaped Beatles anthology jump drives?) My fiending for vinyl more or less came and went; every record that I truly LOVE currently sits in my collection. Except perhaps for Paul Simon's self-titled number, but that will be easy enough to track down.

After all of the changes that the industry has endured, nothing refreshes me more than to discover an excellent album, preview it on Lala, and if my funds allow, purchase it instantaneously on iTunes. No wonder our generation is so impatient for everything.