Upcoming Release: The Hold Steady - Heaven Is Whenever

If you read this blog, then you know I am a HUGE fan of the Hold Steady. If you have ever listened to the Hold Steady, then you know why; ultra literate rock and roll anthems. Well, they have a new album coming out, Heaven Is Whenever. Of course, all of the press release stuff has the band talking about how its a "more mature" sound and how "this album is really less anthemic than the last two". However, the three tracks we have been able to hear are pretty classic Hold Steady. The band cannot help but make high-climbing summer jams. Check out the links below to hear the three tracks that are out there. Looks like it will be another constructive summer.


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Jameson's Top 10 Albums of 2009

Seeing as it is almost the end of Q1 2010 (I operate on a calendar year here), it is probably appropriate that I officially close the books on 2009 by posting my top ten albums of the year. In short, 2009 was the first year in a long time where I did not have a clearcut "album of the year". Primarily, this can be attributed to what a solid year it was for music. There were great albums from so many bands that it was difficult for one band to really separate itself from the rest. 2009 will also go down as the year that the music elitists gave us (and the bands we love) clearance to let our hair down a little. A number of historically "dense" bands released what will probably be considered their "pop" albums in 2009. Enough of the prologue though. Let's get to the list.

10. Jj - JJ N° 2
First of all, I have not even included the actual album art for this mysterious Swedish band's debut album because I feel like it would unfairly cause people to pass judgment on them without even giving it a shot. Frankly, it looks like something that would have come out of Death Row records in the mid-90's, and I don't know if these guys could sound any further from Snoop or Dre. JJ N° 2 falls into the whole balearic beat genre that tends to move in and out of the good graces of the music gods from time to time. When done poorly, it can serve as the background music at a cruiseliner all-you-eat buffet. When done well, it sounds like this. This album is like nothing else I listen to, but something about it has drawn me in from the first time I caught wind of the band, Jj (sidenote: no one knows ANYTHING about these guys. No pictures. No bio. Nothing.) The whole album is less than 30 minutes of ambient pop music, melodic female vocals, and traces of acoustic guitar/dub beats laced throughout. The album radiates summer, or at least some place warm and sunny. Pretty tough to out-relax that.

Link to download "From Africa to Málaga": http://www.sincerelyyours.se/yours0113.php

9. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
In a time when lo-fi has become synonymous with indie rock, Phoenix are making it pretty clear they have nothing to hide from. I mean, everything on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is right in the foreground. With songwriting as good as this, it is understandable why. I am not sure that any other band had as strong of a one-two punch as "Lisztomania" and "1901" to start an album in 2009. I have even argued that these songs are so good that it hurts the album's flow to sit them both so far up in the batting order (i.e. it is hard to get through the entire album when you keep starting it over to hear the first two tracks again). Sequencing aside, the rest of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is a spectacular mix of slick-produced pop rock music that drifts in and out of the realm of electronic/dance that has always lifted the band's sound off the ground a little bit. Who would have thought the most rock and roll thing you could do in the 21st centry would be going hi-fi?

Link to download selected live versions of songs from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix: http://wearephoenix.com/observer/

8. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
The first minute of Bitte Orca pretty much primes you for the entire album. There is the off-kilter rhythm. The jangily unconventional guitar bouncing on top of the bubbling bass. Dave Longstreth's acrobatic voice ranging all over the place, reeled in (and beautifully juxtaposed) by the female harmonies of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian. If you can't make it through those sixty seconds, then you should probably move on (as many do), and save the Dirty Projectors for someone a little more ambitious because once you get to the album's second track, "Temecula Sunrise", all of that idiosyncratic stuff I just mentioned is out in full force. Freak flags are flying high. In the middle of all of this off-beat rock music are two tracks ("Stillness Is the Move" and "Two Doves") that showcase just how talented Coffman and Deradoorian are on their own. The former (which features Coffman on vocals) is an R&B genre exercise, and the latter (which features Deradoorian on vocals) a sparse folk/strings number. Both are beautiful and serve as a nice breather amidst all of the guitar pop definition stretching. What's really crazy is that all of this is a reigned in version of the Projectors. I mean, the band's last album, Rise Above, was Longstreth's reinterpretation of the hardcore punk band, Black Flag's, first album, Damaged (sidenote: Longstreth claimed to have not heard Damaged for fifteen years leading up to the project, and, of course, chose not to listen the album prior to, during, or after embarking on the project). Genius has its qwerks, I guess.

7. Blue Roses - Blue Roses
Anytime a female musician comes in and knocks are socks off, we are immediately presented with comparisons to the same three female rock stars: Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, and/or Kate Bush. To be perfectly honest, I rarely listen to any of those ladies' records. We compare artists to other artists because it makes our lives easier. Why think of something original to say when I can just say, "It sounds like Stevie Nicks cerca Tusk." Well, I am sure that Laura Groves (aka Blue Roses) sounds like some other female artist that has come before her, but I don't care. Primarily because this this album sounds better than any other female folk/singer-songwriter I have ever been lucky enough to hear. While only 21 years old, Groves never plays the novice here. Nevermind the spectacular self-harmonization (wonder how she pulls that off live), the infectious melodies, or the perfectly composed strings...this girl can play an acoustic guitar as well as any of her male counterparts. Probably the most immediately beautiful album on this entire list. No surprise it comes from a female.

6. Justin Vernon's 2009 Output: Bon Iver - Blood Bank EP, Bon Iver - "Brackett, WI" & Volcano Choir - Unmap
A bit of a copout here, but just look at it as a "two-for-one" moment. Vernon is certainly indie rock and roll's golden boy these days, but it is for good reason. "Blood Bank" may be my favorite (for sure my "most listened to") song of 2009. Vernon's ability to envoke emotion in his listeners is unbelievable. I think everything this guy records (under any moniker) has me on the verge of breakdown, and I have no clue why. The songs manage to become my memories (even though I have never been trapped inside a car, in a snowstorm, with a girl, and a Snickers...after listening to "Blood Bank" a hundred times, I vaguely remember this happening to me). Let's be honest, it is that voice. No one else is singing/has sung/or can sing like Justin Vernon. That haunting falsetto just blows a sepia toned emotion over whatever this guy is recording. The songs are all there to hold everything up though. If you are still on the outside looking in on the Justin Vernon stuff, it is time to come in from the cold.

5. Wooden Sky - If I Don't Come Home You'll Know I'm Gone
If it were not for this album, Justin Townes Earle's Midnight At The Movies and/or the Avett Brothers' I And Love And You would have been on this list. However, a group of Canadians managed to make the best alt-country album of the year, knocking off the aforementioned "southern boys" from the list. This record takes the great parts of country music (slide guitar, banjo, self-reflective guilt), earnest songwriting, and a perfect mix of honky tonk/unchecked emotion, throws them all together to create what is probably the best late night, whiskey in hand, soul searching record of 2009.

4. Antlers - Hospice
A concept album about a man meeting, falling in love with, and ultimately losing a bone cancer patient. Hospice is about as exhausting as it sounds, but that does not mean it should be avoided. The album is as epic as its premise. Antlers' mastermind, Peter Silberman's, falsetto soars through the mix of ambient rock noise, never rising above the chaos, but always situated right in the middle of the mix. All the while the music hits all the highs and lows that one would expect from a soundtrack to such an affair. Furthermore, the album's entire running has a fuzzy fog draped over the production that makes every track feel like a rainy day in late October. I realize none of this (especially as we are entering spring) sounds all that enticing, but Hospice (as you can see by my ranking) was one of the most cohesive albums to come out not just in 2009, but in the past few years. It can't all be fun and games.

3. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
It is truly a testament to Animal Collective's ingenuity that Merriweather Post Pavilion is identified as their most accesible album. The album is drenched in the trademark Animal Collective sound. Repetitive in every sense of the word. Driving rhythm derived from anywhere between the everlasting gobstopper machine and a group of wired teens stomping on a soggy gym floor during a carnival. Vocals/harmonies that sound so far above the clouds that it is no surprise that you are more likely to find the name Brian Wilson in a Merriweather Post Pavilion review than Noah Lennox or Dave Portner. In other words, this album is unmistakably Animal Collective. So when did that become pop music?

I guess the short answer is 2009. At the end of a decade that opened with a popular rock band changing the game by "going electronic", it seems appropriate that Animal Collective would close out the 00's by amping up their underwater junkyard sound, as well. However, where Radiohead used electronic music to dive deeper into a cold, dark paranoia, Animal Collective used it to brighten up their sonic pallette. The result was an album that had critics swooning, moved units, and felt warm and sunny even upon its release in January.

Ultimately though, an album is measured by its high points, and Merriweather Post Pavilion is brimming with them. The point (approx. 2:30) in "Guys Eyes" when someone rights the stylus. The clearout (approx. 3:00) of "Brother Sport" when the repetitive yelps are broken by another "Matt!", leading into that throat opening outro. The drum roll into the "Oh!" during the chorus in "My Girls". All fantastic moments that will have even the least open-minded music listeners singing and dancing. I can't think of a better benchmark for pop music.

2. Japandroids - Post Nothing
Two (Canadian) guys with an electric guitar and a drum kit are responsible for Post Nothing. So how does it sound so huge? The short answer is heart. Honestly, this album is fists in the air, scream at the top of your lungs, pounding out the drums on the steering wheel with the windows down, massive. The album essentially starts off like a few shots of cheap booze, rages for thirty minutes straight, and then brings you down with a (pretty badass) fuzzed out ballad about swearing off girls. The lyrics are minimal, repetitive, and great to yell along to, resulting in some of the best hooks of the year (see: "She had wet hair, say what you will, I don't care, I couldn't resist it" or "You can keep tomorrow, after tonight we're not gonna need it"). This is one of those albums that makes me wish I were in college again because I feel like my life is far too domesticated to truly enjoy an album this fucking wild.

1. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
Not a whole lot to say that has not already been said around here for this album. If the Japandroid's album is underappreciated due to my presumed maturity, then Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear's third LP, is benefiting from my current life situation. I am not sure the twenty year old version of myself would ever have even taken the time to appreciate the subtleties of Veckatimest. The intricate, slow building chamber pop would (understandably) have been cast aside for something I could (try to) play at a party we were having. If you think about it though, this is not some grand revelation. What we listen to is usually somehow linked to what is going on in our life. Music is basically another form of self-medication that enhances, or helps us cope with, whatever we are going through. That being said, I must be getting old.


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2010 Tip - Stornoway

Bringing together elements of Mumford and Sons and their Oxford brethren Whispering Bob (pre-Goldrush era Goldrush) along with a penchant for catchy harmonizing, there's not much not to like about Stornoway.

This particulary track, "Zorbing", has been in my head constantly for the better part of two weeks and I'm not sure it's going to go anywhere anytime time.

I've heard most of their soon to be released album, and it's a doozy.  Definitely worth more than a few spins on the table.


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Luke's Favorite Songs of the Decade 70 - 61

70: The National - Mr. November

This is nothing like it was in my room... in my best clothes... trying to think of you.

69: Radio Dept. – Where Damage Isn’t Already Done

The Radio Dept.’s first album absolutely has to rank among my favorites of this decade. It’s breezy, yet manages to be poignant and this song is a perfect example of how they manage to pull off that balance.

68: Richard Hawley – Open Up Your Door

I posted this video just a few months back, so I apologize for the reiteration, but it really is a great song… takes one back to a smoke-filled dive bar in early 1960s New York listening to Chet Baker sing and play his head off while high as all hell. It barely beat out Hawley’s “Motorcyle Song” for this particular spot, so if you’re sick of hearing this particular tune, go check out t’other.

67: Rebelski – Magic Calculator

There isn’t a better song for driving home late on a frigid winter’s night.

66: The Black Keys – Stack Shot Billy

There could be any number of Black Keys songs on this list, but I still can’t get over just how phenomenally fun the percussion is on this track.

65: The Shins – New Slang

Barely beating out “Girl Inform Me” and “Your Algebra”, “New Slang” might be the most generic choice thanks to its mass-media-zation by Garden State, but it is still an incredible track with a beautiful simplicity that is rarely matched.

64: South – Threadbare

It’s somewhat odd to pick a track for a band that I was once very much obsessed with that in no way indicates the type of band that they are, or were at the time, or why I find them to be a phenomenal band, but tastes are tastes and I am still mesmerized by how much noise, back-beats, and utter thickness they managed to cram into this rather short song. Really great stuff.

63: Doves – Pounding

Doves at their anthemic best; creating a song with significance and beauty that requires stomping of feet, clapping of hands, and top-of-the-lungs singing.

62: Nada Surf – Hi-Speed Soul

I never thought I would like anything created by the purveyors of the 90s alt-rock turd “popular”, but Nada Surf have evolved into one of the better pop-rock acts of the 2000s and Let Go is a true gem. “Hi-Speed Soul” is the best of the album, though “Blonde on Blonde” and “Blizzard of ‘77” are both also phenomenal.

61: Franz Ferdinand – Outsiders

“Take Me Out” could probably have made this list, but I cannot exclude the brilliant groove and drums of “Outsiders”.


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Album Review: Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History

The level of charm on display on Two Door Cinema Club’s debut album demands attention. It takes guile and skill to successfully sustain the amount of youthful exuberance found in this record while not falling into the traps that would take their music from serious to semi-laughable popular drivel. So, while Two Door Cinema Club are indeed quite young and proudly wear this badge on their sleeves in their music, they have managed to create an album that synthesizes their quirky, fun, and poppy side with songs that represent a very real piece of popular art.

Perhaps this is overstating what is really just a great pop-rock album, but it represents one of the first truly great albums of 2010, so it deserves some accolades. It’s an album with the same sort of gloss and precision as Woflgang Amadeus Phoenix (not inconsequently, it was recorded in the same studio with the same producer/mixer, Phillipe Zdar), but it ends up sounding more like a fusion of Vampire Weekend and We Are Scientists than Phoenix. This sounds rather weird, but it works incredibly well as the dance hall tendencies add a slight edge to the somewhat cherubic vocals and musical idiosyncrasies.

The liveliness and joi de vivre of the album makes it instantly memorable and incredibly addictive. It is, simply, a nearly perfect first step for a band that will almost certainly demand attention for years to come.

Buy the Single "Something Good Can Work" Here: Two Door Cinema Club - Something Good Can Work - Single
Buy the Album on UK Itunes Here: Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History


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Album Review: Spoon - Transference

You wander down the beaten concrete path of a dimly lit, brick-lined alley; intently following the vibrations of a fuzzy bass that is barely audible, but which still manages to roll around heavily in your chest cavity.

Drops of dirty rainwater slip off of the side of a sheet-metal roof onto your head as you reach a corroding dumpster with a small window hovering above. The music is louder: muffled, raspy vocals can be distinctly heard between the sounds of the cars passing by the entrance to the alley.

You hoist yourself up onto the dumpster, staining your palms orange with damp rust. Steadying yourself against the brick wall, you come up to your full height and gaze through the window into the poorly lit room below. Several lamps giving off slightly different shades of cream silhouette the steel columns holding up the empty warehouse and cast harsh shadows on the faces of the band who are gathered in the middle of the room.

You push the window open and the sound rushes out; it’s still not quite clear thanks to the lack of a proper PA or sound system, but it has such immediacy that you don’t even seem to notice. Despite the precarious foundation upon which you are currently standing, you begin to move your body with the beat and smack your hand against the side of your thigh in rhythm.

The music feels like something you’ve heard before, which helps you to forget about the occasional gusts of wind that prick up the hairs on your arms. The consistency with which the band propels itself forward is slowed only by the occasional break between songs; time filled with the lighting of cigarettes and deep swallows of brown-bottled beer.

Before you know it, the band stops playing for good and the lights go down to black. You jump down onto the buckling pavement and walk home. You have a hard time picking out one track from another as the music plays over in your mind, but despite this, you can’t help but feel that you’ve heard something special.

You only wish you could hear it again.


Turn the record back over to side one, start the turntable, and put the needle on the soon to be well worn grooves.

Buy the album at itunes here: Spoon - Transference


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In case you were not aware, 2010 is shaping up to be a pretty great year for music. We have already seen a number of great records released in the first two and a half months of this new decade (i.e. Beach House - Teen Dream, Vampire Weekend - Contra, Surfer Blood - Astro Coast, Local Natives - Gorilla Manor...to name a few), and we are expecting records from many more bands that I have been known to rep in these parts in the past (i.e. the Hold Steady, LCD Soundsystem, Broken Social Scene). Another band that has most certainly seen some "press" around this blog in the past, the National, is set to release a follow-up to their most recent album, Boxer. The new album, High Violet (see artwork above), is slated for a May 11 release. If this clip (their performance of new track, "Terrible Love", last night on Fallon) is any indication, we are in for yet another great album from one of the best bands currently making music in the States. Enjoy.


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Album Review: Field Music - Measure

Field Music have always been an act that has kept its audience on their toes; whether it be releasing a huge catalog of albums, b-sides, and one-off singles in rapid succession, a rather abrupt announcement of the need for the band to take an indefinite “break”, or the announcement and quick release of a double album with almost no hint that anything was in the Field Music pipeline.

Measure, the aforementioned double album, maintains the Brewis brothers ability to keep their fans guessing with an absolute wealth of music. Although the announcement of the double album brought initial elation on my part, it was quickly followed up by a sneaking suspicion that Field Music’s style might not translate well to a longer playing album. Their knack for constructing pop-rock gems with more moving parts than a Thomas Pynchon novel works beautifully in a normal length album because they are really packing in a double-album’s worth of music and ideas into a single album, but a double-album could very well have been the aural equivalent of attempting to jam fourteen people into a compact car for a karaoke night.

In the end, Measure does indeed fall victim to the excess of its creators, but not because the music is not up to their usual, exceptionally high standards. Instead, Measure simply becomes an album that is quite difficult to properly listen to in one sitting due to its nearly overwhelming trove of melodies and musical flourishes.

That said, David and Peter Brewis have still managed to create a work of beauty with enough moments of clarity and genius to firmly put Measure in contention for album of the year consideration and the musical ‘curve’ associated with the album should in no way dissuade anyone from buying a copy of the album and enjoying it for what it really is: a work of musical art that shows Field Music stretching themselves to the breaking point on genre-bending works of metered precision.


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