Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Favorite Things - The 2011 Music Edition

Its the end of the year as we know it, which means this is also the time of year when websites and bloggers bombard you with "Best Of" lists.  I am not going to presume that I know what the best of anything is.  All I know is that I know when I like something, and I think you do too. So here is my list of favorite music things from 2011 (in no particular order).  Add your favorite things in the comments.

Happy New Year!

Bell X1- Bloodless Coup
Bell X1 has been around for quite awhile but have yet to reach any kind of critical mass in the US.  A huge band in Ireland, they released their 5th studio album, Bloodless Coup in April.  I was introduced to Bell X1 via RTE's 2fm streaming internet radio (check it out HERE) and have basically spent the time since my discovery trying to soak up all of their wonderful music.  Favorite tracks off of Bloodless Coup: Velcro, Nightwatchmen, 74 Swans.
Bloodless Coup - Bell X1

Also worth checking out - NPR Music's broadcast of Bell X1 from the Gravity Bar, the bar at the top of the Guinness Factory, overlooking Dublin. 

Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys
I literally cannot say enough good things about this album.  It is simply brilliant from the very first track on through to the last.  I've always been a lukewarm Death Cab fan, feeling they had some stellar songs (Cath....) and some songs that just weren't really my bag.  This album, released in May, blew the lid off of anything I thought about them, forcing me to take a second look at their previous recordings and stuffing them squarely in my 'bands I love' pile.  Favorite tracks: You Are A Tourist, Monday Morning, Stay Young Go Dancing, and the ethereal, so lovely and beautiful it might make you want to cry (its OK, I won't tell) "Unobstructed View".
Codes and Keys - Death Cab for Cutie

Yuck - Yuck
Yuck is a brand-spankin new band that sounds conspicuously like a band sent here to the future from the 90's, bringing with them Sonic Youth-esque distortions, but made current with a buffered down playfulness and Elliot Smith mellowness that gives their debut album (which was released in February) a nostalgic-yet-fresh feeling.  90's music lovers will find plenty to be happy about, as will current indie band lovers.  The most remarkable anecdote about this band is their youth- most of them are barely able to drink legally in the US, and many track portions were recorded in their bedrooms.  Those that might think such a widely acclaimed debut was a fluke take note: they rock live, too.  Favorite tracks: Get Away, The Wall, Georgia, Stutter, Operation
Yuck (Bonus Track Version) - Yuck

Airborne Toxic Event - All At Once
LA-area band Airborne Toxic Event is probably best known for their heart-wrenching song, "Sometime Around Midnight".  This year they released their sophomore album, All At Once, an emotionally volatile album full of more songs filled with love, sadness, joy, and agitation.  Lead singer Mikel Jollet has a way of making every song he sings sound like the most important song he's ever sung, making up an album so full of emotion that this second album does absolutely nothing for the term 'sophomore slump'.  Favorite tracks: All At Once, Numb, Half of Something Else, All I Ever Wanted
The Airborne Toxic Event (Bonus Track Version) - The Airborne Toxic Event

Wyldlife - City of Inbreds
One of the things about being a music blogger is a strange inherent desire to comb through the internet and the music sent to me to find something that stands out.  Sometimes it is mind-numbingly difficult, but once in a blue moon, a shining, rockin gem pops up from the pile and makes me wonder how the hell the whole world doesn't know about this awesome music that is filling my ears.  This was the case with Wyldlife, a band of guys from the New York/New Jersey area that put their own spin on a page out of The Strokes' playbook. There is a reason they are my number one most read blog post of all time.

Wyldlife - Wyldlife

The Head and The Heart - "Down In the Valley"
Don't get me wrong, I love The Head and The Heart's entire album, but it was the single, "Down in The Valley" that sent me over the edge.  This song breathes new life into the idea of a current folk revival genre, and does so in just about the most authentic way possible with a swaying, gentle rhythm.  They performed "Down in The Valley" on Seattle's public radio station KEXP, check it out below:

The Head and the Heart - The Head and the Heart

Laura Marling - "Sophia"
A British singer who released her third album in September, Laura Marling's folksy vocals and guitar strumming will put any listener at ease....and also make you want to dig up your old Joni albums.  While all of her music is of this nature, it was the standout single "Sophia" that first introduced me to her, and I find myself constantly going back to it.  For those of you looking for a few more examples of Laura Marling's music, check out this post by music blog Rawkblog.

A Creature I Don't Know (Bonus Track Version) - Laura Marling

From The Sky Down
A documentary by Waiting for Superman's Davis Guggenheim, hard core or long time U2 fans will be especially captivated - this film isn't a broad overview of U2's career- instead it focuses on a particular, contentious and pivotal point.  By focusing on the making of Achtung Baby, David Guggenheim takes the viewer into historical moments never seen before- like the momentous discovery of "One".

Pearl Jam Twenty
I will say simply that this movie was written and directed by Cameron Crowe, which should tell you everything you need to know about this documentary.  But just in case you aren't privy to the musical prowess that is a Cameron Crowe movie (Almost Famous ring a bell?), suffice it to say that this movie will basically tell you everything you ever need to know about Pearl Jam.  Its an enthralling story, full of fascinating footage and stories about the band's start, journey, and where they are now twenty years later, and will send you running to your iTunes account to re-listen to every PJ album you ever bought. Just in case you forgot how great they are.

Pearl Jam Twenty

Bon Iver covers Bonnie Raitt:
Bon Iver - I Can't Make You Love Me (Bonnie Raitt cover) by tynie626

Glen Hansard and Eddie Vedder singing "Falling Slowly":

The Q Magazine Achtung Baby covers, but particularly Damien Rice's cover of "One":
One by u2mexico

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cool Music Stuff on the Internet - NPR Christmas, Best Covers of 2011, Death Cab for Cutie, Gotye, The Roots

Christmas from NPR Music
Just in time for Christmas, NPR Music's World Cafe has a Holiday Extravaganza (I love that word) of music and holiday suggestions from Jack Johnson, G. Love, Scott Weiland, and Carol King.  You can listen to the show HERE.

Cover Me Songs Best Covers of 2011
It wouldn't be the end of the year without countless end of the year charts and "best of" lists.  Normally I eschew these kinds of lists (except listener/reader lists), but this is a good one.  Cover Me Songs has come up with their list of the Best Cover Songs of 2011.  It is no secret how and why I love covers.  And this list delivers.  Its an extensive list, however, so here are some I would suggest listening to:
#50 Willie Nelson covers "The Scientist" by Coldplay
#43 Oh Land covers "Bloodbuzz Ohio" by The National
#39 Adele covers "Promise This" by Cheryl Cole
#33 Damien Rice covers "One" by U2 (which I previously wrote about HERE)
#21 Jack White covers "Love is Blindness" by U2 (written about HERE)
#3 Bon Iver covers "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bonnie Rait

Death Cab visit Jimmy Kimmel
Off one of the best albums of the year in my opinion, Death Cab for Cutie recently stopped by Jimmy Kimmel and performed "Underneath the Sycamore" and "You Are A Tourist".  I have yet to get sick of either of these songs (or any song off Codes and Keys for that matter).  Here's "You Are A Tourist":

The Roots Release Short Film
The Roots released their most recent album, undun, recently (check out my review HERE), which is a story of a young man who is faced with life on the streets, drugs, crime, death and life.  undun is a concept album and The Roots recently released a short film set to some of the songs from the album.  When listening to the album, the listener can create the scenes in their minds- but to see them in black and white brings a whole new level to the visceral feeling of this album.  A profound video that is definitely worth a watch, which you can see (via Pretty Much Amazing)  HERE.

Gotye on KCRW
I am new to Gotye, who is by far the most unique sounding artist I've heard in quite awhile.  I'm still not sure what to make of him and his single with Kimbra, "Somebody I Used to Know"- it leaves me with an unsettled feeling that makes me never want to hear the song again, yet every time I catch it on the radio I find myself unable to turn it off.  The vocals are soft to the point that I want to shake my radio and scream "I can't hear you! Sing louder!" but then turn into an almost yelling cry.  The music itself is unique with heavy xylophone (yes, xylophone) but for some reason, it seems to work.  The song itself is about a breakup, and the lyrics and emotions in the vocals speak to anyone who has ever gone through a breakup, so perhaps this is the draw.  Gotye and Kimba's vocals are so full of emotions that we all feel when we go through this, that it simply comes across as incredibly authentic. Gotye was on KCRW this year and you can hear some of his other music during his session HERE. And here is "Somebody That I Used to Know".  It starts off slow so give the full song a listen and then I'd love to know, what do you think about it?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday Listening - The Rockin Holiday Edition

Each year at Christmas time artists release an abundance of holiday singles.  While this year's crop has the usual Top 40 acts and their jolly covers of old classics, there are also a good amount of holiday songs with a more rocking vibe that have entered the field.  Don't get me wrong, I love "All I Want for Christmas Is You" (I prefer the Love Actually version myself) as much as the next guy, but sometimes you just want to hear something different.  Here are a few of my favorites.
The Killers may not be the first band you think of when you think "holiday", but they've released a Project (RED) EP available on iTunes, entitled Christmas.  Two singles off the album are below.  You can buy the EP on iTunes at the below button, and since some of the proceeds go to Project Red, you can feel good about it, too. (via Idolator)
(RED) Christmas - EP - The Killers
Cowboy's Christmas Ball


I've touted brand-new band Wyldlife before and they continue to impress with their very own holiday single.  Punk rock grooves and sleigh bells...what else do you need in a holiday song?
Rumple Minze
Rumple Minze - Wyldlife by Merrifield Records

Red Wanting Blue
Anyone who went to college in Ohio in the 90's knows who these guys are- a perennial Midwestern live act staple, Red Wanting Blue is coming out with a new album (From the Vanishing Point) early next year, but in the meantime we can enjoy a growling and somewhat dark version of a classic fave. (via Cover Me Songs)
You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch
Red Wanting Blue - You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch by fanaticpro

In the midst of their hugely successful new album, Mylo Xyloto, I stumbled upon this holiday single by the band that is not new (its from 2010)- the 10 million views this video has on You Tube can tell you that.  10 million views also tells me I'm not the only one who thinks its worth a listen.  The opening is beautiful.
Christmas Lights

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cool Music Stuff on the Internet - The Head and The Heart, Yuck, Snow Patrol, and More

There are a lot of great music finds on the Internet. Here are some of my recent favorites:

The Head and The Heart visited World Cafe recently, and gave a stellar live performance of four songs.  I particularly liked "Down in the Valley" - its strong and driving beats give it a unique character, plus, I just like the way it sounds live. You can listen to the full show HERE.

While on YouTube this week I stumbled upon a Vevo video of Bono performing "So Cruel", taken from the Davis Guggenheim-directed doc "From The Sky Down".  I saw the film (and wrote about it HERE) but it was so full of U2 music and history that I kind of forgot about this part.  Just Bono and a guitar.  A nice stripped down performance.

Laura Marling certainly made her mark in America this year, and NPR Music's World Cafe (yes, I am obsessed) aired a live concert with this lovely British talent.  Newbies take note of the first song on this show, "Sophia".  It was the song that got me hooked, and once you're hooked, you'll thank me. Check it out HERE.

The National performed two new songs when they stopped by CBC Radio in Canada recently.  HERE's "Rylan" and "I Need My Girl" (via Pitchfork)

Snow Patrol stopped by Rolling Stone's studios to perform some acoustic songs from their upcoming album Fallen Empires (out Jan. 10th).  Check out "This Isn't Everything You Are" in particular, HERE.

One of my absolute favorite new bands of the year, Yuck, stopped by to give an interview as well as perform four songs.  HERE is where you can find all four tracks as well as the interview.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday Listening - The Roots

undun, the new album by The Roots is out today.  Head on over to Pretty Much Amazing and check out my review HERE.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Sense of Dublin with Glen Hansard

In this week's "Cool Music Stuff on the Internet", I mentioned a new piece on NPR Music's World Cafe called Sense of Place, where the World Cafe folks will be taking a closer look at places around the world and their musical culture.  The first installment takes a look at Dublin, Ireland, with all of its buskers and traditional music and pub atmospheres, in a remarkable piece that really shines a light on the unique musicality of this town (and the whole country for that matter).

World Cafe host David Dye interviewed Hot Press editor Niall Stokes and musician Conor O'Brien for this piece, but it is Glen Hansard's tour of the city that is the highlight.  Glen Hansard, for those that may not recall, was the star of the film Once, which won critical acclaim and box office success.  The film is circled around the music within it - and rightly so- "Falling Slowly" won Best Original Song at the Oscars.

Hansard has brought new glory to busking (the age-old ritual of musicians putting themselves out there for the world to see by performing on streets).  In the film Once (written and directed by John Carney, who was the bassist in The Frames), Hansard plays a busker on Grafton Street, the main shopping thoroughfare in Dublin.  He began his musical career in this manner, shown in this video from the NPR piece:

A born and raised Dubliner influenced by Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, he has appeared in two films: the aforementioned Once as well as The Commitments.  He is also a member of two Irish bands: The Swell Season (with Once co-star Marketa Irglova) and Irish alternative band The Frames.  Hansard founded The Frames in the early 90's and the band has enjoyed popular success in Ireland over the years, having released 10 albums.

Pavement Tune

The Cost (Deluxe Edition) - The Frames
After the success of Once, Hansard and co-star Marketa Irglova started The Swell Season.  In a you-can't-make-this-stuff-up twist, Irglova and Hansard fell in love while filming, then formed The Swell Season which led to recording and touring - and a breakup, no doubt adding to their already electric chemistry.  The Swell Season has released three albums (including the Once soundtrack), most recently the critically acclaimed Strict Joy in 2009.

Strict Joy (Deluxe Edition) - The Swell Season
Hansard has an all-or-nothing approach to singing.  His version of how a song should be sung is not something seen often, with his strained neck muscles and vocal chords that sound as if they would snap if he held notes just one second longer.  He strums his well-worn, full-of-holes guitar with such ferocity that one expects strings to break constantly, yet they somehow hold.  It is this type of control - the ability to bring everything to the edge, then pull it back- that makes him a unique artist.  Having wrapped up a summer tour with Eddie Vedder and a European solo tour, he is currently recording a solo album, to be released in 2012.

Here's some classic Glen, singing "Falling Slowly" with Eddie Vedder, The Swell Season covering a rousing rendition of Van Morrison's classic "Into The Mystic", and Glen Hansard busking with Damien Rice on Grafton Street in Dublin: