Archive for the ‘ music ’ Category

top albums of 2010

I kinda forgot to publish my Top 10 albums of 2010. My apologies to the three people who actually rely on me for musical advice.

To be honest, most of my year was consumed with albums #1 and #2, and both came out at the beginning of the year. We saw Mumford & Sons twice which was incredible. And the Jónsi show has to be seen to be believed. Sadly (but not that sadly because they’re great) whenever I was needing something to listen to I defaulted to these two nine times out of ten.

That being said, I’m not the one to ask on 2010 music, so don’t even bother looking at this.

  1. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
  2. Jónsi – Go
  3. Brandon Flowers – Flamingo
  4. Beach House – Teen Dream
  5. She & Him – Volume 2
  6. Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History
  7. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  8. Vampire Weekend – Contra
  9. Gungor – Beautiful Things
  10. and of course Jónsi – Go Live

jónsi: Concert Timelapse at The Wiltern Theatre from Henry Jun Wah Lee on Vimeo.
Timelapse film of jónsi’s concert at The Wiltern in Los Angeles on Oct. 17, 2010.
Music: Sinking Friendships by Jónsi. Recorded live at The Wiltern.

mumford and all his sons

I love music, but I don’t go to very many concerts. It’s just not that enjoyable of an experience for me. Dark club, toxic smoke fumes, drunk college kids all over the place, 105 degree heatbox. I sound like an old man.

But then there are bands that come along and I’ll do whatever it takes to see them perform live because the music is just that good. Along comes Mumford & Sons with their debut album “Sigh No More” early this year. This album blew me away within the first 20 seconds of listening to it, and it’s pretty much been on my playlist nonstop this year.

They are rightly categorized under the “British Folk” genre, but that might leave you with the impression of a sleepy singer-songwriter style full of dragging slow songs. Hardly. This band has energy and passion that doesn’t stop with the first few tracks, full of fiery imperfection that gives you an honest glimpse into who these guys really are.  They draw a lot of comparisons to The Avett Brothers, except with British accents. The Avett Brothers with British accents would basically be The Swell Season (and I love The Swell Season). Give The Swell Season banjos and we might be getting closer.

Anyways, we were kindly invited to tag along with our friends Dave & Meg to see Mumford & Sons in Bloomington, Indiana earlier this week. We immediately said yes.

So on Monday morning we left unwordly-hot Nashville for an equally unwordly-hot Bloomington. It’s possible that we were pulled over for reckless driving on the way to the gig. It’s also possible that tornado sirens were going off as we stood in line for the concert.  I was responsible for neither of these things. The band played at the Bluebird, which was a fantastic club minus the fact that it was 100 degrees outside and 200 degrees inside. That paired with the wood floors and soaking wet people (post-tornadoes) essentially turned the place into a giant sauna. But after suffering through two opening acts we were finally given the chance to hear what we came for.

I’m terrible at describing concerts, but suffice to say, it was one of the most fantastic shows I’ve ever seen. These guys are incredibly proficient musicians, multi-instrumentalists, and extremely talented at what they do. They were able to recreate every ounce of passion on stage that you hear on the album, and probably more. I’m incredibly excited to hear what’s next from this young band in the years to come.

For just a glimpse of what we got to experience, check out this live video of “The Cave“.

top 10 albums of 2009

10. M. Ward – Hold Time
Scanning my Top 10 list this year, I’m noticing a lot of acoustic singer-songwriter types, and this early ’09 release from M. Ward has been a nice, folksy, laid-back listen all year long for me. I truly enjoyed last year’s M. Ward collaboration She & Him, featuring actress-turned-singer Zooey Deschanel, and I found myself really missing the “she” a lot while listening to Hold Time. Nice to see her make a guest appearance on a couple tracks. Overall an intimate and well crafted album, great to accompany a cup of coffee and a good book.

9. Swell Season – Strict Joy
I have been craving new music from The Swell Season for the last two years, ever since the independent Irish flick Once graced the film world. The Swell Season is of course the collaboration of musicians-turned-actors Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová whom I’ve adored at length in other posts. The new album contains a polish and level of production that has been absent from their earlier work, which has both positive and negative ramifications. I don’t like that the increased production takes away some of the rawness and honesty intrinsic to the first record. But it is nice to see the growth and musical development that occurs when these two refine a record until it is absolutely perfect. If you loved Once and have a penchant for Irish accents, you’ll really like the cohesive set of tracks The Swell Season have brought with Strict Joy.

8. Editors – In This Light And On This Evening
Dark, introspective and industrial are words that come to mind when I think of this album. While Editors have never really steered towards “pop” in any sense of the word, In This Light And On This Evening makes a point to not allow any emphasis on lyrical hooks, and focuses instead on hard, driving rhythmic grooves, underscored by lead singer Tom Smith’s vibey and somewhat theatrical voice, all layered with guitar/synth melodies. It’s different, weird, and maybe a little creepy.

7. Doves – Kingdom Of Rust
If the Editors album was a little too dark for you, The Doves returned this year with a slightly happier, if still melancholy take on British rock. There’s some great orchestral overlays happening on this album that bring a sweeping, atmospheric tone to the entire record. I like this album for the purposefully crafted, cathedral-worthy anthems that are careful not to assume too much self-worth.

6. Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson – Break Up
This musician/actress pairing was a nice surprise for me this year. The first track “Relator” immediately called to mind the Mark Knopfler / Emmylou Harris collaboration from a few years ago (see their song “This Is Us”). And Scarlett doesn’t disappoint with her smokey, mysterious voice. The ScarYo pairing is a nice follow-up for those going through a little M. Ward / Zooey Deschanel withdrawal, but not quite as peppy. The record is laced with a tasteful dose of nostalgia; you get the feeling that if Break Up were a movie, it would be filmed with vintage, hand-held equipment resulting in that familiar homey, yellow-tinged, flickering roll of tape that documented all weddings and family events from the early 70’s. But Break Up is not a movie, you’ll have to listen to get the picture.

5. A Fine Frenzy – Bomb In A Birdcage
This is definitely my most “pop” choice of favorite 2009 albums, and like most pop records it just sucks you in and I can’t stop listening to it! Great hooks, great songwriting and smartly done. Highlights are definitely the lead single “Blow Away” and “Electric Twist”. I love that this record is able to maintain acoustic folk intimacy on an collection decidedly more upbeat than your typical singer-songwriter fare.

4. Bell X1 – Blue Lights On The Runway
Finally!! A new album from Bell X1! I was so excited for this to release this year, and I was not disappointed. The Irish trio swayed a little more electronic on this album, but underscored it all with great Brit-pop motifs and the modernized Talking Heads sound that I loved so much on Flock.

3. Paper Route – Absence
All Music says Paper Route Absence is “a perfectly adequate destination for fans of technicolor, atmospheric pop,” and I suppose that is an adequate description of this record. I find that the closer I get to the top of my best music list, the less musically insightful things I have to say about albums and the more my comments tend towards “OMG I JUST LOVE THIS ALBUM!” This is a brilliant record – musically complex, sonically layered, and inviting. Again, AMG: “Taking their cues from ’80s synth pop, new wave, and the bedroom electronica of the Postal Service, Paper Route make their full-length debut with Absence, an album whose quiet grandeur is reminiscent of Stars Of Track And Field’s Centuries Before Love And War.”

2. Regina Spektor – Far
Regina is back! And I would say she is back with stronger songwriting and more complex production that still maintains her signature quirkiness. The piano is still very present, which I love, and I think is what makes Regina’s music – you don’t hear a lot of piano-based female singer-songwriters. There are plenty of songs along the lines of “Better” and “Fidelity” – two of the last album’s highlight tracks – which continues to move her sound into a more progressive, pop-friendly realm. The ballad “Laughing With God” is an incredible, make-you-think track and definitely the deepest song lyrically on the record.

1. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
And here we are, #1 album of the year award goes to Phoenix! OMG I JUST LOVE THIS ALBUM!! All Music says, “Beyond containing the band’s best, most efficient songwriting, the album also stands apart from the first three studio albums by projecting a cool punch that is unforced,” and I would agree completely with that. There’s definitely a swagger in the music, but it’s underlying and not heavy handed. The record flows and builds easily, and while there are definitely great commercial-friendly moments (“1901” for the Cadillac SRX), the softer moments lend way to great sweeping, epic climaxes that carry you through the entire album. I like a band that’s not afraid to show their stuff and give you a few instrumental tracks to prove that it’s not all about the lyrical hook. I love it when I can hear a track being played in a store somewhere, and I tag it with Shazam and go, “oh wow, that’s Phoenix isn’t it!” and then realize that it’s the LAST song on the album. Yes, this record is so good that even track #10 is worthy of airplay… what band in their right mind would place a radio-friendly song as the last track? A band who records an entire record of stellar, deliberate, best-of-the-year quality music.

2009 Honorable Mentions
I listened to these albums a fair amount this year, but not enough to place them in the Top 10 of 2009:

  • U2 – No Line On The Horizon
  • Five For Fighting – Slice
  • Bluetree – God Of This City
  • Muse – The Resistance
  • Royksopp – Junior
  • British Sea Power – Man Of Aran
  • Owl City – Ocean Eyes
  • The Decemberists – The Hazard

what a swell season

I forget sometimes how fortunate I am to have the job I have, and to do what I do in the music industry. Most of the time it’s all emails and meetings and conference calls with sales reps. Boring stuff.

But then there are days like yesterday.

Two years ago a small independent film called Once burst out of Dublin, Ireland starring Glen Hansard (lead singer of Irish rock band The Frames) and his musical collaborator Markéta Irglová. Shot on a shoestring budget (only $160,000), the film featured the pair as struggling musicians and included original music written and performed by Hansard and Irglova. It was a simple but beautiful story that went on to earn $20 million worldwide and earned Hansard and Irglova an Academy Award, a Grammy nomination, and international stardom. The two musicians now tour and perform as a duo called The Swell Season.

This week I was in California for a music presentation with one of our accounts. We do these a couple times a year featuring artists from all across the Warner label family, and it’s a cool opportunity for me to see a lot of various artists perform in one setting. The most exciting part for me – The Swell Season was on the docket to play the showcase. I have been looking forward to this for two months!

And so the time finally came yesterday. About midway through the showcase I selected for myself a spot right at the foot of the stage. A label guy got up in front of us and went through the story about Glen and Markéta and the movie – everything I just told you. And then, the words I had been waiting for, “Please welcome The Swell Season!” And then he gestures behind us! I hear music. We all turn around to see Glen, strumming on his guitar, and Marketa both standing at the back of the room side by side – no mic, no lights – as they launch into one of their trademark songs. And so begins the most incredible, intimate, unassuming, amazing acoustic performances I have ever seen in my life.

After a couple songs Glen explained how he believes stages separate an artist from the audience and creates a line of divison that shouldn’t be there, and that when he can he likes to play right in amongst the audience so that there can be a true connection. The set was necessarily short and direct, and simply amazing. They closed with their Grammy nominated song “Falling Slowly” which I captured below. There’s a lot of ambient noise, and there are plenty of better live recordings on YouTube, but this one is mine and I like it a lot:

After the set I wandered outside the club, pretending to be checking my email on my phone, but knowing Glen and Marketa had to catch a plane that evening. In general I don’t care too much about meeting artists, but there are a few that I have always wanted to meet. And so as Glen and Marketa were walking out the door I did my best to nonchalantly thank them for playing and told them how much I enjoy their music without coming across like a total goob. I’m sure I didn’t accomplish that, but they were kind enough to humor me with a little conversation and a picture before getting in their car and jetting off.

Yesterday was without a doubt one of my Top 5 music related experiences of all time. Hard to capture in words and really poor-quality video, but it was great and was a good reminder of why I work in music.

If you haven’t before, check out the soundtrack from Once. Keep your eyes open for the new album from The Swell Season releasing October 27th.

five musical collaborations i’d love to hear

This is a short, somewhat tacky, and by no means exhaustive list of musical collaborations I would love to hear. Click the little linky-links to hear songs if you like musics. Tell me what collaborations you would like to hear in the comments below:

Ryan Adams & Mindy Smith
Performing “La Cienga Just Smiled” and “Out Loud
Two depression-prone alt-country folk singers performing together like this will likely cause some cataclysmic event in the music world from which we will never recover (not a good thing, considering the shape of the industry right now). Nonetheless, this would be a great pairing I think. If I was mean I would have Ryan Adams and Bryan Adams sing “Summer Of 69” together, but I like Ryan too much to do that to him. Two great songwriters and great voices.

Sigur Ros & Regina Spektor
Performing “Hoppipolla
I have no idea what this would sound like in my mind. Sigur Ros, my favorite “mood” band, and Regina is just a really talented songwriter that would somehow have to merge her Russian-pop sentiments into the gobbledigookish lyrics and sounds of Iceland. I’m willing to give it a try though. Sounds fun.

Battle Of The Bruce’s: Springsteen & Hornsby
Performing “Thunder Road
Two of my favorites from 80’s-era arena rock. Bruce Springsteen has an awesome keyboards guy already in Roy Bittan, but I love Hornby’s sound… really bright and punchy. Go ahead, find a better rock piano man than Bruce Hornsby… seriously, name one off right now. Have a name in mind? Ok, now listen to this – Bruce Hornsby “The Way It Is”, recorded live for Here Come The Noisemakers. I just proved that there is no better rock piano man. “Thunder Road”… what an amazing (dare I say epic) song, kicking off possibly my favorite album of all time, Born To Run.

John Hiatt & Mandy Moore
Performing “Have A Little Faith
It’s kind of a cheesy song, but I like it a lot. Both Hiatt and Moore have recorded covers of “Have A Little Faith”. Hiatt has a classic soul voice and Moore has great tone and range. It would be a great recording. Of all the girls to come out of the late-90’s teen pop debacle, Mandy was the only one I ever thought had any real musical talent (is a good actress too), and isn’t certifiably dumb.

Sting & Delirious
Performing “Every Breath You Take
Martin Smith of Delirious once said that if he could have anyone cover “I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever” it would be Sting. Seems like a natural pairing. Lets have Delirious provide the band and Sting and Martin duke it out on vocals. It would force Sting to be both rock and British once again, instead of that Middle-Eastern-gypsy-goofiness he prefers now… not that there’s anything wrong with that.

best albums of 2008

We’re 7 days into 2009, so I better get this done before it becomes completely irrelevant.

Honestly, wasn’t all that thrilled with the albums of 2008. There were a few stellar winners, but I was pretty “meh” on the rest of it. Here’s my Top 10… and if I’m honest, #9 and #10 are stretching it.

#1. Coldplay – Viva la Vida
Finely executed, perfectly produced. A full album listen from start to finish, and in my opinion Coldplay’s best effort yet. I’m particularly fond of “Lovers In Japan” and “Death And All His Friends”. I pre-ordered this album on iTunes and received with it an acoustic version of “Lost” and “Lovers In Japan”. It’s rare that bonus tracks, when tacked on to the end of a record, flow seamlessly with the rest of the content, but with this one they did just that.

#2. Sigur Ros – med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust
My favorite Icelander’s. This album wasn’t necessarily a depature, but it was different than previous releases, starting with “Gobbledigook”, the opening song that sets the tone and pace for the album. It’s hard to describe Sigur Ros – anthemic, ethereal, epic, and moody are words I would use but don’t seem to capture it. For me Sigur Ros is like going on a evening hike across a glacier in the middle of winter, north of the Arctic Circle, with the wind to your back and the Northern Lights to your face.

#3. Radiohead – In Rainbows
I called out a friend for including In Rainbows on his ’08 list, but like I said, ’08 was a little lacking, and since mass release via retail did occur in January 2008… well, it’s on my list. This is another one of those great soundtrack-esque albums that sets a mood and demands to be listened from start to finish. “Reckoner” is a favorite of mine and reminds me of cloudy fall days, but I also have to mention the fantastic stereo guitar work on “Bodysnatchers” which must be listened to with headphones on.

#4. La Rocca – OK OKAY
Sophomore effort from La Rocca and it’s pretty decent. They’ve got a good Irish flair to themselves like U2 and others, but it’s not so in your face, and as much as I like soaring arena rock it’s nice to tone things down a little bit with something more along the lines of The Frames. That’s where La Rocca usually sits – more at ease in a pub than a stadium I’m sure.

#5. Low Vs. Diamond – Low Vs. Diamond
I’ve been waiting for this album for a while since Low vs. Diamond released a debut EP in 2007. I suppose it’s along the lines of La Rocca as above, but probably a little more brooding and moody… the sort of thing that you’d hear at the climax of an episode on the CW… oh wait, that’s where I heard them first.

#6. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Cardinology
Dang, this guy can crank out the songs, and somehow it doesn’t all just sound like same ol’ same ol’. “Magick” is probably one of the most different songs on the album, but I really like “Cobwebs” and “Fix It”. The only thing missing on this album is Adams randomly shouting out “guitar solo!!” That should have been worked into “Magick” at some point I think.

#7. Jon Foreman – Spring
It was fun to be involved on this project back at EMI, and Spring is just 1/4 of a great series of “seasons” EPs released over the last year. I think Spring is one of the more diverse EPs he released, and delves into some very Sufjan-esque styling, such as on “March”. As are all the tracks within the “seasons series”, Spring is aptly titled with a collection of brighter, more energetic tracks… much needed considering my propensity for darker moodier music.

#8. Eric Hutchinson – Sounds Like This
This was a bit of a late discovery for me in 2008, thanks in part to recent radio success with the single “Rock & Roll”. This album is just fun, with some great blues / funk / gospel / soul influences throughout. It’s a little Marc Broussard, a little Jason Mraz, a little Robert Randolph.

#9. Killers – Day & Age
I was really looking forward to this album, so it makes the list more as a result of anticipation than actual worth. I love the radio single – “Human” is a great track, pulsing and driving, with some sort of ’80s thing going on. Frankly the rest of the record was a little lacking. Maybe if Killers, Keane, and Snow Patrol just release a compilation together next time we’d be better off.

#10. Meiko – Meiko
I’m still listening to this album, not sure if it really should get the last spot on the Top 10 list or not… but honestly since I don’t like Fleetwood Foxes and Bon Jov Iver like everyone else did last year I’ve got nothing else to slip in. From the few times I’ve listened to Meiko I like it though – has that laid back, singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson thing going on, but without the images of Old Navy sweater commercials running through my head.

embrace: this new day

I would say save the best until last, but after all, these are some of my favorite albums that I’ve been featuring this week, so it would be unfair to make that distinction.

That said, I’m extremely happy to share with you This New Day by Embrace. Why this album hasn’t been released in the States is beyond me. I was first turned on to Embrace about four years ago with their international debut Out Of Nothing, featuring among other things a co-write with Coldplay front man Chris Martin. The follow-up success of This New Day actually earned the band the honor of performing “World At Your Feet”, England’s Official 2006 World Cup Song. This New Day is everything I love about Brit rock: big, epic, glorious, worthy of a soccer stadium.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the music this week – glad I could share with you some of my favorite artists and albums!

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glen hansard & marketa irglova: the swell season

It’s a sad and rainy day in Nashville, and this is the right music for it.

A couple notes on this album: This is a side project for Glen Hansard who is the lead singer for an Ireland-based band called The Frames. He’s been getting a ton of publicity recently because of his work as lead actor and musician on the independent film Once – a brilliant modern day musical about a chance encounter between a guy and a girl.

Here’s what I need you to do:

  • Listen to Track 3 below, “Falling Slowly”
  • If you like the song, go rent Once and watch it this weekend without exception
  • If you like the movie, come back here and listen to the album The Cost by The Frames

Finally, want to give a quick shout-out to friends who lost their jobs yesterday. I’m sorry… it sucks… I hate it very much, and we all miss you.

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the arcade fire: neon bible

Continuing the series this week of “Five favorite albums that aren’t on Napster, but are available on Imeem”, this is Neon Bible from The Arcade Fire. I’m afraid this is as close to America as we’re going to come this week… and we’ll have to settle with Canadia.

This band is huge, literally. Seven permanent members and an additional six that travel with the band on the road. I came across them on NPT one night performing on Austin City Limits… what an incredible live show. These guys are true musicians, and they know their stuff well. High points of the album… well, of course “Keep The Car Running” and then “No Cars Go”. Basically they need to continue writing songs about cars. Oh, and yes, that’s a real pipe organ on “Intervention”.

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british sea power: do you like rock music?

Epic, sweeping, and decidedly British… what’s not to like about British Sea Power‘s third album Do You Like Rock Music? Welcome to album #2 in my series of “Five favorite albums that aren’t available on Napster, but are available on Imeem”.

Admittedly, critics didn’t care for this album much, comparing their epic attempts to 2001-era U2. In their defense, I really don’t feel that this record feels forced in arena-rock attempts. While U2 has ended up sounding relatively formulaic in recent releases with predictable moments of sonic largeness, Do You Like Rock Music? is seamless and seems to flows naturally. I don’t pick up on any absurd attempts to simulate a yellow-sunglasses encased uber-cartoonish rock star.

Form your own opinion I guess, but if you like this album you definitely need to check our their previous release as well, Open Season, which as luck would have it, is available on Napster.

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