January 30, 2007

The Apples in Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder

On February 6th, The Apples in Stereo will be releasing their 5th full length album under the new label Simian Records (founded by Elijah Wood). An indie favorite from the 90’s, The Apples in Stereo took 12 months to put together this obscure album. The band goes in many different directions with the 24 track “New Magnetic Wonder”. The album carries your spirits like a Brian Wilson album would, but also holds a lot of elaborate music like a Flaming Lips album would. The Denver (they have a music scene??) band lead by Robert Schneider (pretty positive it’s not that tool that turns into an animal in that stupid movie. I mean honestly, come up with a new gimmick dude. Put some brains into your comedy. You’re starting to run out of mammals to transform into)….I forgot what I was talking about. Oh right, the band. Well this Robert Schneider fella really puts character into his music. You know how some albums sound kinda half-assed? In “New Magnetic Wonder” it is obvious the band put a lot of effort into this project. Each song is crafted well. This album is full of bright, contagious music and also has some rocking numbers in it. Listening to “Seven Stars” in my car this sunny afternoon completely made my day. Their likable lyrics are easy to sing along with, and once this album becomes familiar, I promise it’ll be a spring favorite that can tailor to any music lovers’ taste. Give it a shot, you may just find your new favorite band in The Apples in Stereo.

January 29, 2007

The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

A real hit and miss unlike their previous 2 stellar albums, The Shins' newest release "Wincing the Night Away" is a little tougher to swallow. The first few songs make you wonder if The Shins could ever miss, then the last few make you realize that yes, they can. One would think that with his recent marriage that front man James Mercer would find even more cheerful melodies to put into this highly anticipated third album. Yet this album contains many more slow and somber tunes that I wasn’t really expecting. ‘Wincing’ hints at the magic that we Shins fans have come to love so dearly, but doesn't deliver the same quality. However the songs that are magical are some of the best songs The Shins have ever made, which makes it hard to love or hate it. On one hand it lacks that long lasting feel good ambiance. On the other, it has some truly incredible songs. Tracks such as “Red Rabbits”, “Phantom Limb”, “Sleeping Lessons”, and “Turn on me” will leave you begging for more. Sadly, there isn’t that much more. “Wincing the Night Away” is a little disappointing, but did you really expect their magic to last?...Ok so did I.

January 17, 2007

The Very Best Album of 2006 is...

The Decemberists

The Crane W
A concept album like no other, ‘The Crane Wife’ is the latest magical album from this creative Portland band. Growing up in the middle of Montana with nothing to engage his attention other than books, Colin Meloy explored the depths of his mind as a child. Now, the 32 year old is putting all that built up knowledge to use for his indie sensation band The Decemberists. Actually you can lose the word indie in that last sentence, because Capital Records was willing to give the band a shot after the success of their 2005 release “Picaresque”. You wouldn’t think that the bands first major label release would push the envelope any farther than their indie releases did, but I assure you ‘The Crane Wife’ has gone above and beyond any sort of expectation or restriction you can imagine. For me, listening to this album almost puts me in a different time. Tracks like “The Island” and “Shankill Butchers” get me so lost in thought I feel as if I had traveled back in time to a much simpler age. I think the main reason this album is high on my list is because the songs on this album achieve exactly what the artist was trying to convey. The Shakespearian lyrics, the simplistic melodies, the organ, the harp, all of these things combine to form an album that is way beyond its time. The amount of thought and expertise that goes into The Decemberists story telling is astounding. It was made with such ease and polished to shine, yet it is never overbearing because Colin doesn’t try to overdo anything. With the except of his duel with Stephen Colbert. The band had an idea to have their music video for “O Valencia!” made by the fans. The band wanted fans to take footage of them in front of a green screen and use it to put them in some crazy situation. Well Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central news anchor personality, got wind of this. He accused the band of ripping off his idea, daring Decemberists fans to use footage of himself in the Valencia video. The band double dared him back, accusing him of stealing the move from them back in 2005, and challenged him to a guitar battle. Colbert accepted, and after playing a few notes, faked a hand injury and had Peter Frampton play in his place.

Even though The Decemberists are musicians and not comedians, a guitar duel with Steven Colbert is reason enough to make this the best album of the year. Another great reason is the story of the crane wife itself. It is rather hard to understand it from the words of ‘Crane Wife 1 & 2’. A man finds a crane and falls in love with it. Once he does, she turns into a woman, only sh
e still has feathers. She becomes too self conscious and ends up running out on the man, leaving him broken hearted. It is this story telling that makes this album one of a kind.

I had a really hard time deciding between The Raconteurs and The Decemberists for the number one spot. After a long brainstorm, it came down to
one deciding factor for me. I love both albums equally. As far as I’m concerned they are both number one in my book. The only reason “The Crane Wife” tops off “Broken Boy Soldier” is this. Though The Raconteurs are damn near perfect, I can find solace in other bands with a similar sound. There are no substitutes for The Decemberists. You can’t find a band that combines this intimacy and scholarly wisdom with such contagious stories and melodies. In summary, The Decemberists are everything that is good about the music world today. I can think of no other band or album that has come out of 2006 that I would rather have representing this list. Praise be to you, Colin Meloy, for making such an outstanding album.

The Very Best Music of 2006: #2

The Raconteurs
Broken Boy Soldier

Honestly, what more can I say about Jack White that I haven’t already said. The man is a musical genius. Everything he writes is music to my ears (lame, I know, but I laughed in my head). Jack and The White Stripes have been flirting with absolute unsurpassed greatness for years. Though Jack impressed us all with The White Stripes’ “Get Behind Me Satan” last year, it didn’t quite nail the best spot. This year he has gone a different route. Leaving his ex-wife in the dust for a small period of time, White joined forces with home town friend Brendan Benson. It was in Brendan’s attic that the hit single “Steady as She Goes” was written. Almost as quickly was the band formed. All of the members of The Raconteurs are from other bands, but White was quick to correct the media of their title of “super group”. The Raconteurs are “a new band made up of old friends.” So what happens next? After writing a few more tunes the band put together the full length ‘Broken Boy Soldier’. To be as descriptive as a deaf mute, its classic rock with a modern twist only Jack White can append. At times combining the droning of the Velvet Underground (“Intimate Secretary”) with the thunderous guitar of Led Zepplin (…”Intimate Secretary”), The Raconteurs are the classic rock band for the new millennium. Though the name Raconteur means a deft storyteller, these lyrics may be the only down note about this album. It’s not as if these lyrics are weak, it’s just if you’re going to name a band The Raconteurs then your songs should be amazing stories. Not really stories by any means, the words on this album are good for jack white. There are also a few extremely good lyrics on tracks such as “Together” and “Intimate Secretary”. However it’s the harmonizing between Brendan and Jack that makes the words jump out of the stereo. The 2 singers sing together in every song, making you wonder why these 2 friends from way back when never hit it off in a band in the first place. It is with those harmonizing vocals that make the track “Store Bought Bones” able to choke you into submission. Giving in to this album is beyond easy. Whether it is rocking your blood with its fast tempo or soothing your thirst with the odd ball track “Yellow Sun”, ‘Broken Boy Soldier’ is so powerful that I almost gave it the number 1 spot on this list. To think of all the ferocity and incredible talent that was poured into this project makes me want to give it the number one spot. I would bet money that The Raconteurs had as much fun making this album as I had enjoying it this summer.

January 14, 2007

The Very Best Music of 2006: #3

#3 TV on the Radio Return to Cookie Mountain
Last year the number 3 spot was occupied by The Mars Volta. I started the review by saying I knew I was going to have trouble describing the sound. This year the number 3 spot is going to be even harder to describe. TV on the Radio’s major label debut has already been dubbed an instant classic. If Gomez doesn’t let up with the chipper happy sound then ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’ doesn’t let up with the mind blowing oddities. The peculiar sound that is heard throughout the entire album is almost too much for the casual listener. I would completely understand someone who doesn’t get into this music. Some people call this a pop album, but that doesn’t fit to me. It meshes together so many different sounds, genres, and ideas that it sometimes can be overbearing. You know an album goes above and beyond when they have a guest appearance by David Bowie. ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’ is a journey into the far side of music. It’s an intoxicating album with tons of electronic art that will make your ears shiver. If you have the desire to give these cats a listen I assure you it can be quite pleasing to the ears.

The Very Best Music of 2006: #4

Gomez - How We Operate

Back in July I said this was the best album I’ve heard in 2006. I’m not sad that didn’t turn out to be the case. At that moment in time it was easily my favorite album of ’06. ‘How We Operate’ has been the happiest cd I have purchased all year. With the exception of the semi-dramatic opener “Notice”, this album doesn’t let up its feel good spirit at all. It’s as if the band got their gloomy track out of the way to open the doors for non-stop enjoyment. You will find yourself smiling and singing the whole way through it. I still have not gone out and gotten any of the bands previous efforts, but that is not to say I don’t plan on it in the future. And with a concert coming up in February, you can certainly bet I will be finding out whether or not this band has been a solid act for years or has just finally broke out with a great album. Either way, Gomez should be very proud of this finished product. For more details you can check out the review I wrote in July. Then after that I strongly suggest this album to everyone. ‘How We Operate’ just might make your day…or year.

January 11, 2007

The Very Best Music of 2006: #5

Arctic Monkeys
Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm No

If you’ve been keeping up with these posts, you’ll remember I have a friend who goes by the name of Peffer. The first time I met him we were at a party which, like most parties I attended back in the day, was semi-professionally DJ’d by yours truly. On this particular day I was feeling Money Mark. I didn’t have a lot of friends so I was hoping his no name status but kick ass music would be a great conversation starter. As soon as I put it in Peffer turns around and says “Is this Money Mark?” I confirm his inquiry and we both agree that Money Mark does, in fact, kick ass. You’ve heard of love at first sight? Well this was the same kind of thing…minus the love and gayness. I knew right then and there that this guy knew his stuff and if we stayed in touch we could have some great talks about music. To this day we go back and forth over new and old bands. On March 1st (I only know this because I wrote a review of it on the same day) Peffer told me about this new British band called the Arctic Monkeys. I downloaded it and instantly, just like that, feel head over heels for this band. I am not going to go in depth on the band here. I feel that my review from March 1st gives an accurate description as to my feelings towards the Arctic Monkeys. I just wanted to take this opportunity to tell you that even I get albums recommended to me. The key is to find that person whose opinion you trust and when you do, you take their opinion seriously. I am sharing the key to finding great music here. Some people like to listen to Sirius for hours on end and that works to. Obviously no one has a better understanding of what you’re going to like better than yourself. I guess what I am trying to say is that I get a great deal of pleasure knowing that some of you take my opinion seriously. For me I get no better satisfaction than knowing I just helped someone find a new song or band that that person is going to love. So without much more delay (the reviews will be ready by this weekend) I give you the TOP 5 ALBUMS OF 2006!!

The Very Best Music of 2006: 6&7

#6: Eels with Strings - Live at Town Hall
After last years ‘Blinking Lights’ release, I have been a devoted Eels fan. I have purchased other releases and have been thoroughly impressed with each one in a different way. ‘Live at Town Hall’ is a perfect collection of Mark Oliver Everett’s (aka “E”) tunes preformed live with a number of instruments (singing saw, suitcase, bucket) and also including a string quartet. E’s husky voice is even more charming live than on his studio albums, and the addition of strings make his emotional music that much more emotional. E has been known to change the style of his songs drastically live. While some years he has done complete electronic revisions of his songs, last years “With Strings” tour really captured a more personal side of E. This is truly a touching journey as E does his story telling in such an more intimate way than his studio albums are able to display, not to say his studio albums aren’t personal already. Listening to this cd makes it even easier to fall in love with the Eels’ lovely music. Live at Town Hall is a collection of songs mostly from his latest release but he also incorporates some of his older ones too. With 22 tracks on the album, you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your money when you buy it. And though most of the songs stay at a relatively slower pace, you won’t mind when you hear E’s words. Stand out tracks include “Bus Stop Boxer”, “Girl From the North Country”, “If You See Natalie”, and the most intimate of all “Things the Grandchildren Should Know”. Any Eels fan will love this concert. If you do get this album and fall in love with it, you can feel even closer to the action with the Live DVD that has a few more songs from the show on it as well. In short, the Eels are one hell of a band, but I never thought their music would be this amazing live.

#7 Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
It happens all the time in the music world. Overnight success stories aren’t rare. They come and go on a regular basis. What is rare are the odds of the overnight success story actually staying on the scene long enough to make a lasting impression rather than turning into a VH1 special in 5 years. As far as the soulful and funky Gnarls Barkley is concerned, I don’t think we have anything to worry about. We can anticipate more great things to come from this alter-ego duo. One minute you had no idea who they were. Your friend tells you about this bad ass band and you hope you can remember their name long enough to look them up later. The next minute you can’t walk into a gas station without hearing ‘Crazy’ as someone’s ringer (except me, I got ‘Just a Thought’). ‘Crazy’ became everyone’s favorite song before we had a chance to not like it. It swept the nation by storm just as the album did. St. Elsewhere is easily the “believe-the-hype” album of the year. Nearly every song on it is worth listening to again and again. I never cared for Cee-Lo Green’s solo albums. People would recommend them, and I would buy them, and inevitably end up selling them back for next to nothing. However, I think the rest of the nation would agree with me when I say that Gnarls Barkley has been one of the best debut stories of the year. One R&B artist and one magnificent DJ (Danger Mouse) combined their creative minds for a finished product worthy of much praise. St. Elsewhere’s combination of intellect and clutter has put this album amongst the top 10 albums of this year.

January 07, 2007

The Very Best Music Of 2006: 8-10

8: The Long Winters - Putting the Days to Bed
John Roderick is a Seattleite singer songwriter. The genuine p
op-ish sound that comes from The Long Winters’ 3rd LP comes from this sensitive character. His intimate lyrics mix well with his simple guitar to create a fury of (well, not a fury really, but there isn’t an adjective for the thought I have in mind) uncomplicated, enjoyable music. Nothing controversial about this one and really, with song names like “Teaspoon”, “ Hindsight”, “Clouds” and “Pushover”, would you really expect it to be? In fact, lets discuss those tracks. “Pushover” is the likable opener that starts the album with the right foot. “Hindsight” is a clever little diddy about a hard working woman who won’t leave her job long enough to even acknowledge she has a boyfriend and, from Rodericks point of view, will be sorry she left. (You never told me your secrets/ So I guess they stay safe with me/ Tall orders from such small shoulders) What I love most about “Teaspoon” is that throughout the entire song I’m singing “Teeeaspooooon…ba ba ba BA ba bada dum” and quite frankly have no idea why I’m singing about the piece of silverware I use to eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch. This album grows more and more on you every time you hear it. And every time you finish a song you can’t help but think about how great John Rodericks’ songwriting is. This album can be enjoyed in many different circumstances, but understand one thing, it is enjoyable. I don’t think I can sum this up any better than John himself. “We’re a kiss away from being dangerous.” (well if I’m going to just list off lyrics, I may as well throw my favorite one in there (and you kind of have to hear it in the song to grasp it all) “My arms miss you/my hands miss you/ the stars sing I’ve got their song in my head/ AHHHHH”)(One more thing, if you are anti-downloading and also poverty stricken but somehow have a computer with a decent connection you can hear the entire ‘Putting the Days to Bed’ album for free @ http://www.mammothpress.com/index.php?area=bands&band=longwinters)

9: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones
Finally a female vocalist on the list. The s
econd full length album from these New York City favorites is ‘Show Your Bones’. Packed with the Karen O’s intensity and Nick Zinner’s catchy as hell guitar riffs, there was no question these sensational musicians deserved a spot on the top 10. With each song this album tears at your soul in more ways than one. First is the rather obvious music itself. The strength of Nick’s guitar is enough to re-define the alternative music genre. Especially on “Way Out” and “Fancy” are his contributions heard loud and clear. Secondly there is screaming Karen, whose heartfelt words are just as evident in every song. You would think a skinny little chick’s voice would get blown away by all the loud alternative racket going on around her. Trust me when I say she makes her presence felt. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have put together an album that is just as enjoyable in it’s entirety as it is song for song. If you’re a fan of loud music that gives both your body and your throat a workout, check these guys out. Oh, I can’t end this review without mentioning “Cheated Hearts”. It is really hard to listen to a whole album when you can’t stop going back to one song. So watch out for track 6.

10: And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - So Divided
Love the band. Like the album. Obviously a little more personal preference was considered in this pick. The reason it is so high on my list is because this band has done everything to get people attention and is still, somehow, under the radar. After this album, the band has to be considered as some of the most intricate musicians on the scene today. Practically doing a 180 is something few bands have to regard as necessary to stay alive. However, And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead has done just that, and has done it well.
Respect must be recognized to that courage.

January 01, 2007

The Very Best Music of 2006: 11-13

11: The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
This Brooklyn based band has been one of the biggest up and coming stories of the year. Not new to the scene, their music has finally started to hit the ears of impressionable children across the country. What with songs about shrooming, Christian chicks putting out, and taking four pills when you are only supposed to take one, who wouldn’t want their music blasted from every teenagers stereo. Actually I would say this album calls to an older, more experienced crowd than it does to young kids. When I first heard the album, I wasn’t that impressed. Everyone has written rock songs about drugs and alcohol. It was nothing new. Then it clicked. ‘Boys and Girls in America’ was not meant to be a new sound. It was intended to be the answer for anyone looking for some kick ass party music. I never thought the day would actually come when I would say that I have found an album that could contend with Weezer’s Blue album. Maybe not contend as far as taking its place as my all time favorite Party album, but The Hold Steady definitely has something good here that is hard to stop listening to. Once I did get into this album, I really found it hard to get away from. ‘Boys and Girls in America’ is not the kind of album that doesn’t come out of your stereo for months. It’s the kind that keeps finding its way back once you’ve taken it out. As far as bar music, this has the contagious guitar riffs that everyone loves once they get a few drinks in them. What also makes this album unique is that is the band put a lot of brains into it. It’s not just about getting hammered and rocking out. The stories are interesting, and you’ll fall in love with most of the songs just on the words alone. In the creepy romantic “Chill-Out Tent”, a guy and girl meet after nearly OD-ing at a festival and start making out. In the single “Chips Ahoy!” a guy’s girlfriend always picks the winning horse at the tracks so they spend all their winnings on drugs however, he is kind of unhappy in the relationship. ‘Boys and Girls in America’ has drunken sing-a-long written all over it. It is the closest album to come near the best party album in years. I hope you take that as seriously as I mean it.

12: Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
These former Seattleites (re-located to South Carolina a few months ago) had a banner yearfinally. Two of the founding members were in a previous band together, Carrisa’s Weird, for almost 10 years. They made three albums that never caught on and unsurprisingly split. In a way, this Band of Horses debut is really a fourth album for them and when I first heard it that would have been my thinking as well. ‘Everything All the Time’ is almost too good of a debut. Its charming, melancholic soft sound is well rehearsed. What you have here is an admirable effort from a band that is familiar with rejection. This venture is a slightly overcast emo album that is bound to do better than the bands previous project did. Comparable to The Shins (though not as cheerful) and Modest Mouse, Band of Horses will hopefully have a more successful future than Carrisa’s Weird did.

13: Wolfmother
A Guest Review by Jesse James Jeffers
My first encounter with Wolfmother came during a conversation with a friend of mine about various bands we had gotten into since we last talked. She directed me to their website to listen to the song "White Unicorn," and I have to say it instantly hooked me. I have gone on record as saying that this band is my favorite of the bands I have become newly acquainted with since this time last year. It is songs such as the aforementioned heavy jam session "White Unicorn," the thunderous "Colossal," and the mystical power ballad "Where Eagles Have Been" that have got me singing the praises of this Aussie power trio. If you like the idea of a classic rock (think Sabbath/Zeppelin), White Stripes and heavy metal fusion, this is the album for you.