Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday Listening - Adele

Everyone is well aware that Adele is Queen right now.  Despite her current hiatus due to some vocal chord issues and a current inability to sing for the masses, she has still managed to stay on the top of the charts and be the "IT" girl of the moment.  The recent release of her Live at The Royal Albert Hall DVD is helping (scroll below), and I could spout on and on about her current album, 21, but everyone else out in the music world seems to have that covered.  So today I'm going back to the beginning.  Many a current Adele fan was introduced to her music because of the popularity of 21 (which is worth all the hype) however I happen to think her first album, 19 - a far less "for-the-masses" album (if album sales and hype are the barometer), is equally as impressive, albeit for different reasons.

21 is an incredible heartbreak album- everyone can relate to any song on this album at some point.  The soul is amped up, the sound more robust and with more layers.  19, conversely, is a much more sparse album, with the focus on Adele's main instrument- her voice.  19 is a lesson in the power of soft simplicity.

Music is incredibly personal and we each have memories or reasons for loving a particular piece, which may explain my reverence of 19.  The first time I ever heard any Adele song, ever- was live.  She was opening for John Mayer at his annual holiday charity show at the Nokia Theatre in LA, and out she came with her microphone, her black cape-sweater, her nervous cheeky banter, and her voice.  There may have been a guitar in the background, but her voice filled the theatre like no other live voice I have ever heard.  And 19 were the songs she sung.

19, which was written when Adele was 19 (and 21 was written when she was 21, see?) starts off with a lullaby-sounding "Daydreamer" which immediately puts the listener at ease.  Her youthful age notwithstanding, this album (and 21) are like albums from old school crooners - no frills, pretty jazzy, and a focus on voice. And holy cow, what a voice. Keeping company with other British neo-soul artists like Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone, Adele entered into this arena leading with her voice- a voice like a silky ribbon coming of sound coming through her mouth, never faltering and never breaking.

The most well known song off 19 was "Chasing Pavements", which cracked the Top 25- a small feat compared to today's 21 successes (debuted at #1 in the US, with "Rolling in the Deep" selling more digital singles than any song in a year).

Then there's the funky-as-all-get-out "Right As Rain" which was a bit more robust for this album, but hinted at a future soul-funkstress inside.

My personal favorite song off of 19- and one of my favorite overall Adele songs- is "Hometown Glory".  While she hadn't yet gone on a major tour when this song was written, she manages to sing it like a road-weary touring troubadour coming home for the first time in ages, and she makes the listener feel as though they, too, are seeing London for the first time in a long time- as if we all belong there.

While we'll need to wait for Miss Adele to recover from her vocal surgery, we can tide ourselves over with reminders of her stellar first album.  Also, Adele has released her DVD, Live at The Royal Albert Hall, which is available now here: Adele Live At The Royal Albert Hall (Blu-ray/CD), but in the meantime you can listen to an exclusive stream over at Rolling Stone. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cool Music Stuff on the Internet - Silversun Pickups, Ireland, Laura Marling & Ryan Adams

LA- area band Silversun Pickups is currently working on their new album, and have provided a little tease by releasing "Seasick", which is actually one of 3 songs off of a 10 inch vinyl released for Record Store Day.  With a much slower tempo and darker, somber tone, it is markedly different from past singles, like well-known "Lazy Eye", but seems to be a song that will grow on you with each listen. Here's "Lazy Eye" and "Seasick" (via Stereogum):

Silversun Pickups, Seasick by Danceyrselfcleaner

Its no secret how great I think music out of Ireland is, with current bands like Bell X1, as well as stalwarts like Van Morrison, and, of course, U2.  Well, guess what? NPR Music agrees with me.  In a new segment on World Cafe called A Sense of Place, the World Cafe folks will be exploring music culture from various cities, with the current stop being in one of my favorite places- Dublin, Ireland.  Narrated in part by Glen Hansard (of The Swell Season and Once fame), its a great look at a small yet intensely musical spot on this planet. You can listen to the (short) piece HERE.

Laura Marling and Ryan Adams recently got together in Abbey Road Studios and recorded "My Sweet Carolina", which is as awesome as it sounds.  My favorite part? How Laura Marling barely moves a facial muscle and makes singing this beautifully look like the easiest thing in the world.   (Via twentyfourbit) HERE

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Flashback- John Mellencamp

While its hard for me to consider John Mellencamp a "flashback"- he's certainly not been around as long as bands like Pink Floyd and The Who- those of us that remember Johnny Cougar know he's been around long enough to matter.

Country and blues are America's homegrown sounds- our very own part of music history, but there are few musicians or acts that evoke the spirit of Americana like John Mellencamp, paving the way for many of today's most popular indie folks artists.

Born and raised in the heartland of Indiana, Mellencamp's life was marked by images of farmland, rows of corn with the husk tops waving in the wind, hardworking people, and miles and miles of land.  Land - the original American Dream- for someone from another country to come here and own his very own little piece (much like John Mellencamp's grandfather probably did when he emigrated to the US from Germany).  Growing up in a place where the land was the life people made, its no wonder stories of the land and the people that made their living off of it dominate the imagery in his songs.

With early albums that spawned songs like "Ain't Even Done With the Night" and "I Need a Lover", John Cougar didn't really find his footing until his iconic album, American Fool.   This album garnered Mellencamp a Billboard #1, thanks to songs like "Jack & Diane" and "Hurts So Good".  Mellencamp's evolution into heartland hero wasn't fully complete until his next album, Uh-Huh.  With songs that evoked the hard times and hard living in America's heartland, Uh-Huh brought to the rest of the US the ideas of "Pink Houses", "Crumblin Down" and "Authority Song".

His next albums, Scarecrow,  and The Lonesome Jubilee became for many a Mellencamp fan his iconic albums, spawning timeless hits like "Small Town", "R.O.C.K. In the USA" and "Check It Out".

In the late 80's and early 90's, Mellencamp churned out albums and hits like clockwork, producing Big Daddy in 1989, Whenever We Wanted in '91, Human Wheels, in '93 and Dance Naked in '94, and Mr. Happy Go Lucky in '96, which illustrated a fast evolution from his down-home almost country-eque music into a much more worldly and sophisticated musician.

Mellencamp's most recent album is unique for other reasons.  He performed and recorded each song at various historic musical locations around the US with old and simple recording instruments, as if recording in such historical places would evoke the spirits of the great musical experiences there and seep their way into his record. In some ways, they did.  This album, No Better Than This, is one of his most mature and timeless yet, with each track highlighting the lack of expensive recording equipment and picking up the nooks and crannies that made old records great.  For fans of Mellencamp, and fans who forgot they were fans of Mellencamp, this record is worth a listen.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Head and The Heart

Sometimes you are given a taste of a band's potential through one song.  A taste of one song can make you believe that the entire album must be just as good as the first taste, but often this just doesn't happen- leaving you with an album of few songs that live up to the first taste.  So when I first became enamoured with The Head and The Heart's "Lost in My Mind" awhile ago, it felt as though it was such a special song there was no way possible the band could repeat such a feat on the rest of the tracks on the album.  Songs this beautiful only come along once in awhile- there is rarely an entire album of them.

I held off on listening to the entire album, not wanting to spoil my love affair with "Lost in My Mind."  Until recently, when I began to hear "Down in The Valley"- equally as special and equally as enamouring. So I finally took the plunge. Sometimes, you hear a bit of a band and it gives you hope they are actually going to be as awesome as you think they will be.  A lot of time this doesn't happen.  This time, it did.

Coming out of Seattle and finding their way into the indie mainstream by a devoted fan base, they solidified their place as a legitimate force by signing this year with Sub Pop Records, known for bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, The Shins and Fleet Foxes.  The sound is indie folk, but in an old fashioned 1950's/60's folk revival kind of way, with lyrics like: "I wish I was a slave to an age-old trade, like ridin around on railcars and workin long days", that take your mind to a nostalgic time and place.  Fans of bands like Iron and Wine, The Avett Bros, Mumford and Sons, or Gomez should take special notice.

A palmist determines fate by looking at two major lines on the palm- the head and the heart.  The two most driving forces in the human condition.  It seems an oversimplified thought that one could determine the themes in a band's songs based solely on the band name, but they deliver in this sense.  Each song is crafted to speak to each listener, with seemingly personal lyrics and nostalgic hooks and riffs.  From start to finish, this album is destined to satiate both streams of consciousness- the head and the heart.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life is Awesome Guest Post- John Zambricki

I'm guest blogging over at Life-Is-Awesome today, so head on over and check out my thoughts on up-and-comer John Zambricki.  Check it out HERE.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cool Music Stuff on The Internet-Wyldlife, Noel Gallagher, Peter Gabriel, Coldplay

My current obsession is a band called Wyldlife who's neo-punk sound is about as driving and tuntable.fm-avatar-head-bopping as you can stand.  They recently released the new video for their single, "City of Inbreds". Check it out here:

Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds stopped by Letterman this week and performed the current single "If I Had  A Gun.."  off of their new self-named album.  Oasis fans should take special note, this isn't just some cheesy solo project- and this first single off the album proves it:

Peter Gabriel's new album is made up of orchestral workings of his songs, making them even more ethereal and broad.  He recently played Letterman, doing his orchestral rendition of "Red Rain."  The result is....well, what you'd expect "Red Rain" with orchestra to sound like- amazing.  If there is any Peter Gabriel song meant for this type of arrangement, its this one. (via Stereogum)

Coldplay performed on SNL this weekend and if this is any indication of what fans can expect on their upcoming tour, count me in. (via Idolator). Sticking with the two first singles off of Mylo Xyloto, "Paradise" and "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall", Coldplay's Chris Martin also joined in on the Weekend Update Fun HERE

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mumford & Sons

Anyone who complains about the state of music today obviously has not given enough notice to the English folk "movement", spearheaded by Mumford & Sons.  (Those people also obviously don't read this blog enough either, but I digress).

Everyone knows how amazing and popular their first US album, Sigh No More was, and most fans are anxiously awaiting the follow up.  While rumor has it we'll have to wait till 2012, Mumford & Sons have been supplying a tease of great performances here and there.  Here are a few to whet your Mumford appetite.

Mumford & Sons are known for their raucous live performances, and in particular tend to take on a cover with as much gusto as a brand new song (and who doesn't love a good cover?).  There are just simply no words for the awesomeness of this performance of Mumford & Sons covering The National:
click HERE (via 51cardsshort)

World Cafe recently celebrated 20 years by "Saluting English Folk" with performances by the likes of Laura Marling and, you guessed it, Mumford & Sons: 
click HERE

Their music is music that makes you want to pull a pint, sit down, and listen to them jam in a dark crowded pub.  (Or have a pint with them).  I think its safe to say we can all officially be jealous of every man and woman who has ever seen them practice or play in an English pub. Because it would be like watching this happen:

In addition to playing covers, at festivals or shows, they also debuted a new song recently during their current US tour at a recent stop at a radio station in Philly.
Here's "Ghosts That We Knew" (via NME):

You can buy Mumford & Sons here:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday Listening- Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

With all the constant infighting and he-said-he-said between the Gallagher brothers of Oasis, it can be hard to remember that they are actually capable of making great music. Except lately...not together.  But just because they are currently not the best of friends doesn't mean they stopped making music.  Good music, too.

Noel's solo project, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, (aside from being a mouthful) released their debut album today, and while many may have been expecting this to be an uneventful album, we can pleasantly show any of those preconceived notions the door.  The current and first single from the album in the US is "If I Had A Gun..."which immediately harkens back to old-school Oasis.  This little number, while not appearing till track 3, is my suggested starting place, as it gives the listener some hope that the man who wrote "Wonderwall" still has some amazing tunes up his sleeve.

Noel, known as the man behind the lyrics for Oasis, proves -without needing much fanfare- that his sleeves are still full indeed, so you can look forward to more of that lyrical brilliance in this solo project. While brother Liam was the primary front vocalist in Oasis, Noel's vocals hold their own on this solo work.  You can also look forward to familiar-yet-new driving melodies and melancholic tones that are the signature of brit-pop - a genre of music started and driven largely in part by Oasis.  Noel hasn't forgotten what works on this album, but he also stretches his limbs out a bit on tracks like "AKA...What a Life!" which sounds, gasp!, like a dance track.  Don't be afraid, dear Oasis fans- he pulls it off, and with a swagger one would never expect from a perceived moody Englishman attempting a solo project from one of the world's biggest bands.  Then again, what else would you expect?

You can listen to the album in its entirety for free for a bit at RollingStone.com HERE
On Spotify HERE
And buy the album here:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday Listening - The Fray

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know that I'm a sucker for music that is heartfelt, melancholic, and driven by emotion more than anything.  There's so much manufactured and over-produced music out today that, although these features used to be a given in music, they have become just that- a feature.  Having a song driven by the emotion behind it is not necessarily a given.  There are also few musicians who do it well without sounding overly cheesy and fake.

One band who's sound is based in emotionally fraught energy (and does it well) is The Fray.  Similar to Mikel Jollett's lead vocals with Airborne Toxic Event, The Fray has a front man (Isaac Slade) who has the ability to take you there.  While he's not particularly known or filled with superstar qualities, he has the ability to bring the listener into the moment and make listeners feel as though they are experiencing every bit of anguish and elation as he's experiencing it, every time you hear one of their songs.  Being able to bring that kind of consistent energy to each song is no small feat.

For a crash course in this style, try listening to The Fray's "You Found Me":

The Fray has a new album coming out in February, and have released their first single, "Heartbeat".  Loaded with more exhaustive emotion and yearning, this track is similar to tracks from The Fray's last album.  As a music fan, I am always searching for the evolution of a band in a new album, and based on this new track I'm not so sure I'll find it on the new album- but I'm also not so sure that's a bad thing.  Here's "Heartbeat":
Heartbeat by The Fray

The Fray - The Fray

From the Sky Down- The Making of Achtung Baby

This week marks the 20th anniversary of U2's defining album, Achtung Baby.  Also this weekend, Davis Guggenheim, director of An Inconvenient Truth and It Might Get Loud premiered a new documentary, From The Sky Down. In the film It Might Get Loud - Guggenheim took a look at the guitar and some of guitar's most talented- specifically Jack White, Jimmy Page- and The Edge.  Clearly a music fan- and more specifically, a U2 fan, he now takes on a tumultuous time in U2's history - the making of Achtung Baby.  He does so with a fan's care and painstaking mindfulness, weaving some of the most difficult U2 moments into a fascinating narrative on human obstacles and limitations - but more importantly, our ability to overcome.

As any U2 fan knows, Joshua Tree was the breakthrough album in America for U2. It ushered in that sudden, uncertain period of fame, fortune, and notoriety - more than any 4 young men from Dublin ever bargained for. What happened is irrelevant. How they dealt with it is not.

During the period after Joshua Tree’s success, the band began to splinter.  The Edge and Bono were in a world that Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton didn’t seem to have a place in. It was at this time they began the sessions for what would become Achtung Baby. Each man seemed to be an island, each with walls surrounding him. They were making music, but as they say in the film, would "bash it out, listen back and not like anything that we were doing." Day in and day out they continued trudging through, "on completely different pages."  They had reached the pivotal point in a band's shelf life- to hang it up, or figure it out and move forward, with each other, or without.

Using footage from the actual Achtung Baby era sessions,Guggenheim gives the viewer a sense of being a fly on the wall, and of really getting an inside look at the dynamics of the band during this time. It also illustrates how they broke through the strife and inertia to create one of the single most poignant songs ever written- a song so powerful it would lift the band up out of its inability to create in a spiritual or meaningful way- and transcend it all.  It is almost as if the song already existed, and it simply needed to be plucked out of the universe and put together, by these four men, at this specific time and place. While working through the makings of what would become "Mysterious Ways" (originally called "Sick Puppy"), The Edge began to play something- an extra bridge that never made it into the song.  What comes out of all of it is nothing short of astonishing and remarkable.

You can watch the full documentary of From the Sky Down on Showtime (airing schedule HERE)

The deluxe special anniversary edition of Achtung Baby is out today, and you can buy it HERE.