Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Favorite Albums of 2013

With the plethora of year-end best of-lists out there, I debated whether it was even worth it to add to the broad fray of lists. But then I realized how sometimes looking at one list will remind me of an album that kind of flew under the radar but was nonetheless one of my favorite of the year, thus reigniting the idea of musical kindred spirits out there in Internetland. So in the spirit of all of that, here's my list of my favorite albums of 2013. I hope you'll recognize a bit of your own listening habits in here too; and if you think I've completely lost my mind by leaving a certain album out- let me know about it.

Otherwise, let's all be thankful for one of the most robust music years in recent memory. Who says the industry is in a tailspin? I, for one, am happy to look back on the amount of quality music to grace our ears for the past twelve months. Here's to hoping that 2014 is more of the same goodness.

Happy New Year y'all.

15. Where You Stand - Travis

14. Chop Chop - Bell X1

13. Woman - Rhye

12. Mother - Natalie Maines

11. If You Leave - Daughter

10. Stories Don't End - Dawes

9. Let's Be Still - The Head and the Heart

8. Ghost On Ghost - Iron & Wine

7. Repave - Volcano Choir

6. Once I Was An Eagle - Laura Marling

5. Limits of Desire - Small Black

4. Country Sleep - Night Beds

3. Muchacho - Phosphorescent

2. Hummingbird (Deluxe Version) - Local Natives

1.Trouble Will Find Me - The National

Listen to the full albums here:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Drive All Night

Typically December is a slow month for new music, with the plethora of "Best Of" lists having to tide us over until after January. But thanks to Glen Hansard (and his label, Anti-, who isn't afraid of an off-beat release time), we're getting a little taste of something new to break up the monotony of holiday music with the release of his 4 song EP, "Drive All Night."

While four songs isn't nearly enough, it's a solid, high quality four songs including a stellar cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Drive All Night" with Eddie Vedder and Jake Clemons. And, in the spirit of the holiday season, a portion of the sales for the full EP will go to Little Kids Rock, a charity championed by Clarence Clemons.

While the "Drive All Night" cover is a massive highlight (check out my write up for Cover Me Songs here), the other three songs are right up the alley of any Glen Hansard-slash-Swell Season-slash-The Frames-slash-good music in general fans. "Pennies in the Fountain" is a melancholic tune with a softer, lilting vibe; "Renata" is a soulful cry of a song that highlights Glen's musical diversity; and "Step Out of the Shadows" is a crystalline a capela ballad. The highlight, though, is still "Drive All Night"- it's everything we love about Glen Hansard's music, with a little help from his friends.

"Drive All Night" is available now.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Russell Howard- Home Sweet Home

Once in awhile, in the midst of a blurry day, a little piece of music finds its way to your ears and causes you to pause and perk up. Something in the music catches your attention - a lyric, a melody, an instrument - but whatever it is, it's often just the nudge we need to step out of the blur for a bit.

I got such a nudge recently while going through my inbox when I stumbled upon this acoustic treasure of a song. From North Carolina-based singer-songwriter Russell Howard, Home Sweet Home (off his recent EP City Heart) is a song with a soft entry made pointed by his clear, distinctive vocals. Each song on "City Heart" highlights Russell's wide vocal range and he isn't afraid to use it, hitting his higher register pointedly throughout. It gives the album a folk pop, almost 70's sound that makes each song on his Kickstarter - funded album thoroughly enjoyable. There are slower, swaying jams like Morning that are pierced through with his vocals, and more upbeat tracks like You, Me, & Someday and Safe To Say, which are reminiscent of an early John Mayer vibe.

But the kicker of the album is the gem Russell has in "Home Sweet Home." His pristine vocals make you pay attention - it's deceptively charming, made into a heartbreaker of a song thanks to his poignant lyrics. It's the kind of song that makes you stop whatever it is you're doing and listen, really listen. So, stop whatever it is you are doing, and listen. Really listen.

Home Sweet Home:

Russell's EP,City Heart +, is out now:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Clearing the Cobwebs

I've been in a musical fog.

It's been a strange few weeks of a desolate musical landscape for me, with nothing able to burn off the haze. Recently, I was driving in the dark and listening to World Cafe on the radio. Not really wanting to hear anything in particular, I was half listening when the musical fog was washed away with one song. Sometimes, one song is all it takes to remind us why perception through music is such a cathartic, wonderful, amazing experience.

I could go on and on about the wonderfully lyrical interview I heard on the radio, or about the one song that broke through, leading to other songs that I could also go on and on about. But I won't.

Sometimes, it's best to let the music speak for itself.

You and I (with Bonnie Raitt) - Joy of Nothing

More Foy Vance:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday Listening - Yuck "Glow & Behold"

When I first heard Yuck in 2011, they were the perfect mix of retro distorted sounds, melancholic slow jams, and harder driving beats. Then lead singer Daniel Blumberg announced he was leaving the band, leaving me to believe that one album was all we'd be getting from Yuck.

After Blumberg's departure, however, the remaining band members forged ahead, making music and now releasing a new album ("Glow and Behold"out 9/30).

A shakeup in band members can signify a shakeup in direction for a band, and this seems to be the case with the 'new' Yuck. "Glow & Behold" is decidedly less distorted, certainly more even keeled, and definitely more produced (not hard given that their debut album was recorded in a bedroom). There is much more variation on this album, with everything from horns to acoustic guitar to a 50's pop vibe straight out of "That Thing You Do"(on "Nothing New"). While there are hints of the heavy guitar distortions we all loved so much off their debut album (especially on "Middle Sea"), they seem to take more of a backseat on this sophomore effort. There's still a nostalgic undercurrent throughout, but it's not so focused on one era, one sound, or even one genre.

With less of the distinctive, crunchy, raw distortions that they showcased on their debut album, Yuck is ensuring with "Glow & Behold" that they aren't pigeonholed. It's an album with a much more mature, developed sound that at first listen had me wanting more of that distortion and rawness, yet I've found myself listening to it over and over with the same affinity I had for their debut album. Check out tracks like "Lose My Breath,""Memorial Fields,""Middle Sea," "Rebirth," and "Glow Behold."

The New York Times is streaming "Glow & Behold" now on their website (who knew The New York Times streamed albums? Me either). Check it out below. "Glow & Behold" is out September 30th on Fat Possum.

Listen to "Glow & Behold" here.

Friday, September 6, 2013

NO Live at The Troubadour

To the discerning music fan, the live music experience can walk a very fine line. There are very few other experiences for the music consumer that can have such catastrophic or such profound listening consequences. Sometimes, we pay the money, shlep to the show and watch a band or artist whose music we enjoy only to realize that their sound is mostly thanks to studio tricks. And sometimes, we do all of the above and enter into the venue with simple expectations only to be so blown away by the talent and the emotional connection with the audience that we become converted.

Sometimes, a band just nails the live experience.

Los Angeles-based band NO has been on my radar for awhile, after hearing their Daytrotter performance and recognizing in them bands like The National and The Airborne Toxic Event. A high energy sound with catchy hooks (check out "What's Your Name") and a purist rock sound that sometimes throws back to a punk or new wave sound (see: "Theres A Glow"), they are a band ripe for the live experience.

Recently NO performed at a RedBull Sound Select Show at the world-famous Troubadour in a high energy set that placed NO firmly into the mind-blowing category for live performances. A five piece band, they seamlessly recreated their songs on stage with the same intensity present on recordings, creating a big sound that overwhelmed the intimate space of the Troubadour. Performing songs off their 2011 EP "Don't Worry You'll Be Here Forever," NO frontman Bradley Hanan Carter played to the crowd on each song as though they were on a much bigger stage in a much bigger venue. With their stellar live performance talents, NO is poised to do just that.

Check out more from NO on their website.

NO's EP Don't Worry, You'll Be Here Forever is out now.
NO Tour Dates:
September 6Cafe du NordSanFrancisco, CATickets
September 8Launch FestivalSacramento, USTickets
Semptember 11Mississippi StudiosPortland, USTickets
September 12BarbozaSeattle, USTickets
September 13Rifflandia FestivalVictoria, BCTickets
September 14Electric OwlVancouver, CANTickets
September 25House of Blues w/The Naked and FamousSanDiego, USTickets
September 27Wiltern Theater w/The Naked and FamousLosAngeles, USTickets
October 25Fox Theater w/The Naked and FamousOakland, USTickets
October26The Fox Theater w/The Naked and FamousPomona, USTickets
September 6Cafe du NordSanFrancisco, CATickets
September 8Launch FestivalSacramento, USTickets
Semptember 11Mississippi StudiosPortland, USTickets
September 12BarbozaSeattle, USTickets
September 13Rifflandia FestivalVictoria, BCTickets
September 14Electric OwlVancouver, CANTickets
September 25House of Blues w/The Naked and FamousSanDiego, USTickets
September 27Wiltern Theater w/The Naked and FamousLosAngeles, USTickets
October 25Fox Theater w/The Naked and FamousOakland, USTickets
October26The Fox Theater w/The Naked and FamousPomona, US

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tuesday Listening - Volcano Choir, Repave

As if 2013's new music releases haven't been fantastic enough, Volcano Choir is out today with their sophomore album "Repave" (after 2009's Unmap). Despite fall being just around the corner, "Repave" opens up on "Tiderays" with lofty vibes typical of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, but in a way that evokes spring and awakenings. This opening starts a journey into a world of incredibly cohesive yet diverse sounds and tones that mark each song throughout the album. We hear a different side of Justin Vernon through his deeper vocals (check out "Acetate") that offer a commanding alternative to his Bon Iver- falsetto, although the falsetto makes appearances throughout, in a way that's complementing to Vernon's regular register (as on "Comrade").

It's a skyscraper of an album, full of high reaching, anthemic songs - sometimes airy and sometimes tall and towering. The apex of this is on "Byegone," with its soaring tones that will make the hair on your arms stand up. "Alaskans" brings in a deeper side by simplifying the instrumentation with mostly keys and guitar, but by pairing it with the echoed vocals of Vernon, in a gentle tune that surrounds your ears with its quiet simplicity.

Its a side we see occasionally throughout the album, but it's also not a side that dominates "Repave." There are also electronic influences, auto tuning, and other atypical indie rock styles that show up throughout the album that in any other arena would seem out of place, but given Vernon's wide history of collaborations, it all works. An album full of varying sounds like this one just shows us once and for all that Justin Vernon can basically do no wrong in his collaborations, but it's this particular grouping of band members that seems to make this album one of his best projects to date.

"Repave" is out today.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Summer Falling Away - A Labor Day Mix

Labor Day Weekend. A weekend that conjures up a mix of bittersweet emotions and a day that gets pushed aside as the black sheep of holidays and seasons. Let's face it, no one wants to admit that summer is nearing its end....no, instead we squeeze as many of the last drops of hot sunshine we can out of 3 days off, with the knowledge that college football starts tomorrow (Go Buckeyes) and the weather that accompanies it isn't too far off. It seems like a harsh change, to leave behind long sunny days, muggy nights sitting on the porch watching the lightening bugs go off, days of riding bikes on the beach with a salty breeze in your hair, and endless carefree BBQs full of craft beers and lawn chairs. The Labor Day weekend, despite warm temperatures most of us will have for at least another month, seems to leave no room for transition, just the harsh reality that colder days are ahead and the beautiful sweetness of summer is waning.

It's an incredibly bittersweet weekend. In some places the nights are already beginning to have a faint chill in the air. The music will start to turn from 'the hot songs of summer' to songs that seem to pine for those few, precious days full of freedom and carefree vibes. But we've still got three days - one last long weekend of summer. And these three days are a mix of both - a mix of feeling like there's still time left to savor, and of a feeling of knowing it's just not long enough. Here's a mix to help you make the transition from carefree sunny days into the quieter days of fall.

Enjoy the weekend, y'all.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hockey Performs

Once in awhile a new band comes along that turns out to actually be not-so-new, but simply just new-to-me. These kinds of musical discoveries are sometimes my favorite, given the immediate gratification obtained by being able to sift through an entire catalogue of an artist I haven't heard before. This was the case when I first heard Portland band Hockey on Daytrotter. Hockey is a band with a wide breadth of sounds, making each song a new discovery. Sometimes they focus on a synth - indie sound like on "Wild Style" from their current album, "Wyeth IS," and sometimes on a funky guitar groove and electronic vibes, as on "Calling Back." Then sometimes, they slow it down enough to create a more intimate, emotional layer. The band recently stopped by The Wild Honey Pie for a Buzzsession and performed three songs, including "Thought I Was Changing," a song off of "Wyeth IS" that is made even more intimate in this setting, with a more subdued backdrop and more ethereal instrumentation. Check out the video below, and the rest of the performance (including a performance of "Wild Style" using tubes as instruments...just check it out) over at The Wild Honey Pie.

Check out more from Hockey below:

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Generally speaking, if a song has the word "Numb" in the title it's sure to end up in my most-played list - "Numb" by U2, "Numb" by The Airborne Toxic Event, "Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd, to name a few. Why this is the case is probably worth looking into, but till then, I'm soaking up the anything-but-numb qualities of Sam Brookes' "Numb." It's a haunting tune that will stick with you through its quietness and muffled but pronounced drums that carry Sam's vocals. Check it out below (via Thank Folk For That):

Check out more from Sam Brookes here:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tuesday Listening: Travis - Where You Stand

The last decade has been a fantastic time to be a music fan. Any song can be conjured up with a click, and there is more music bubbling to the surface allowing for more exposure to more music than at any other time. But with so much new music coming at us so fast, sometimes it can be nice to step back and revisit an old favorite. What's even better than revisiting? Getting new music from an old favorite.

Scottish band Travis has long been considered a recipient of the post - Oasis - brit-pop favor, alongside bands like Coldplay and the Stereophonics. And while Noel and Liam are still duking it out amongst themselves, Travis has quietly been releasing album after album since their debut, 1997's "Good Feeling." After a five year hiatus, and sixteen years after their first album, Travis is back in full force with a new album, "Where You Stand." The band returns with a renewed sense of vigor on an album that leads more with upbeat and poppy tunes, and less with the grey-tinged tunes from earlier albums like "The Man Who" and "The Invisible Band."

Some tracks, like the openers "Mother" and "Moving," have a distinct Keane feel with a piano-driven sound that began to poke its head out on previous albums like 2007's "The Boy With No Name." Their album history illustrates a constant teetering between a melancholic brit pop base and a sunnier, more upbeat vibe. "Reminder" is full of a galloping beat and even some whistling alongside a downright positive sounding Fran Healy singing lyrics like "only love, no regrets." With this album, Travis seems to be firmly headed out of the rain. 
But don't worry melancholic brit-pop fans, this is still a Travis album. The wistful, contemplative nature of past albums is still present as an undercurrent throughout each track. Check out "Another Guy" to get a taste of how Travis' depressive tones have changed over the years to include more frantic beats. "A Different Room" is a standout on the album by encompassing the reflective nature of Travis but with heavier beats, and by pairing the distinctive longing in Fran Healy's voice with a harder edge seen on previous albums like "Ode to J. Smith." This is the tale of the whole album - after a five year hiatus, Travis comes back with an album that is full of tones that have meandered throughout their history in a refreshing yet familiar blend.

"Where You Stand" is out today:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What I'm Listening To Special Edition: Daughter and The National

I haven't done a "What I'm Listening To" playlist in awhile (you can find old ones here), and while I thought of doing one this week I'm mostly gearing up to see Daughter and The National this weekend at The Greek in LA. So here's a special edition of "What I'm Listening To: Daughter and The National." The National is currently touring with various acts including Frightened Rabbit and Local Natives (or if you are lucky enough to be going to the Red Rocks show, both) and tickets are still available for some shows here.

Playlists available on Spotify and iTunes below. Enjoy.

About The National
A band whose first album was released in 2001, The National have since released 6 studio albums, including their most recent, "Trouble Will Find Me," an album that continues to showcase the melancholic yet sometimes uplifting tones of their emotionally charged music. Prior albums such as "Alligator" and "Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers" hinted at the emotional thread that lives through each album but with a lower production quality and more alt-rock, guitar driven sounds (and even some country rock vibes on 2001's "The National"). 2007's "Boxer" ushered in a new era for the band, leaning more towards a focus on the themes and lyrical mastery of lead singer Matt Berninger. In addition to his unique songwriting, Berninger's vocals are a heavy baritone, adding yet another layer to their music, giving a serious quality to songs that are also based in heavy percussiveness. This combination of layers - Berninger's baritone, the muffled yet deep percussion, and the themes in their lyrics - gives The National's sound a heavy quality not heard in many bands today. It's a hard genre to define, as The National's music has proven to transcend genres with songs like "Fake Empire" from 2007's "The Boxer." "Fake Empire" was used in an Obama campaign video during his 2008 campaign, and the band continued their involvement with the 2012 election. Their 2010 album "High Violet" continued with more focus on heavier tones and themes, debuting at #3 on the US charts. In 2013, The National released their 6th studio album, "Trouble Will Find Me" which debuted on the US charts at #3, behind a major album of the year by Daft Punk (#1). The release of "Trouble Will Find Me" continues the band's march into a more sonically complex territory, fully growing into and owning their sound with the continued growth of Matt Berninger's lyrics combined with a more hi-fi sound. With several standout tracks such as "I Should Live In Salt" and "Demons," "Trouble Will Find Me" is one of their most robust albums to date.

About Daughter
English trio Daughter, whose debut album "If You Leave" was released earlier this year via Glassnote Records (home of bands like Phoenix and Mumford and Sons), has entered the musical scene with their echoed and haunting music. Lead vocalist Elena Tonra's whispered but forceful vocals give an ethereal feel to each song, despite the heavy tones. Some tracks, like "Smother" are quiet and dark while a track like "Youth" showcases Elena's pristine vocals accompanied by an echoed, lonely Explosions in the Sky - style guitar. Ever present are the tribal-esque drums that create an ebb and flow in each track, growing louder and louder before quickly settling back into the still, echoed quietness that permeates this stellar debut.

Check out more from Daughter here:
Daughter Sings Bon Iver's "Perth" and Hot Chip's "Ready For the Floor"
Daughter Performs on KEXP

Check out more from The National here:
The National Perform on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert
Watch & Listen: The National
The National's Matt Berninger on NPR
Best Albums of 2013 So Far

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Best of The Newport Folk Festival

This past weekend folk lovers from all over converged on beautiful Newport, Rhode Island for the annual Newport Folk Festival. An event known for its history as much as its music, this year's batch of performers seemed to be extra special and thanks to NPR (seriously, thanks NPR) we can all pretend we were there. There are some videos and some audio - only performances, so check them out below.

For those of you on the west coast who didn't make the cross country trek to Rhode Island, fear not - the good folks from the Newport Folk Festival are putting on a west coast version at the Santa Monica Pier, dubbed Way Over Yonder. With a killer lineup including First Aid Kit, Conor Oberst, and Neko Case, it's sure to be a weekend of folk fun. And I'm not just saying that because its in my backyard. Although it helps with my excitement. Get your tickets here.

Lord Huron (click through for audio)
Ends Of The Earth
The Man Who Lives Forever
I Will Be Back One Day
Lonesome Dreams
We Went Wild
The Ghost On The Shore
She Lit A Fire
Time To Run
The Stranger

Hey Marseilles (click through for audio)
To Travels & Trunks
Heart Beats
Dead Of Night
From A Terrace
Bright Stars Burning

The Milk Carton Kids (click through for audio)
Hope Of A Lifetime
The Ash & Clay
Honey, Honey
Girls, Gather 'Round'
New York
Snake Eyes
I Still Want A Little More

Michael Kiwanuka (click through for audio)
If You'd Dare
Tell Me A Tale
Always Waiting
May This Be Love (Jimi Hendrix cover)
Worry Walks Beside Me
I'm Getting Ready
I Need Your Company
Home Again
I'll Get Along

The Avett Brothers (Click through for full audio performance)
Live And Die
Go To Sleep
Down With The Shine
Will You Return?
Laundry Room
Old Joe Clark
At The Beach
Head Full Of Doubt / Road Full Of Promise
Pretty Girl From Chile
Just A Closer Walk With Thee
Fireball Mail
Talk On Indolence
Slight Figure Of Speech
No Place To Fall(Townes Van Zandt cover)
Kick Drum Heart
I And Love And You

The Lone Bellow (Click through for full audio performance)
You Can Be All Kinds Of Emotional
You Never Need Nobody
Two Sides Of Lonely
Tree To Grow
Green Eyes And A Heart Of Gold
You Don't Love Me Like You Used To
Angel From Montgomery (John Prine cover)
Watch Over Us
I'll Be (Edwin McCain cover)
Looking For You
The One You Should've Let Go
Teach Me To Know

Colin Meloy from The Decemberists (Click through for full audio performance)

Andrew Bird (Click through for full audio performance)
MX Missiles
Give It Away
Something Biblical
When That Helicopter Comes (The Handsome Family cover)
Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin' Bed
Dear Old Greenland
Begging Questions
Dark Matter
Three White Horses
Danse Caribe
If I Needed You (Townes Van Zandt cover)
Don't Be Scared (The Handsome Family cover)

Phosphorescent (Click through for full audio performance)
Terror In The Canyons (The Wounded Master)
The Quotidian Beasts
A New Anhedonia
Tell Me Baby (Have You Had Enough)
A Picture Of Our Torn Up Praise
Song For Zula
Ride On / Right On
Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)
Los Angeles

Were you at the Newport Folk Festival this weekend? What was your favorite performance?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New Song and New Album From Mazzy Star

Last year, I left for vacation and came back expecting to have to shuffle through my inbox and blog feeds, surely to be overwhelmed by the amount of amazing quality music that the music gods had released while I was gone. Instead, I came back to this:

This year, however, my return from vacation has gone much better with the the music gods releasing some new music from Mazzy Star. Coming out with their first new album in 17 freaking years, they've released a teaser on YouTube that stays true to the original Mazzy Star formula, with Hope Sandoval's melancholic vocals floating atop bittersweet guitar strumming, making for a hauntingly gorgeous song.

After 17 years the echoing guitars and aching quality that permeates their music still resonates and drives this first single, "California," aptly named as it has the same soft bittersweet guitar as Led Zepplin's "Going to California." Somehow taking a happy, sunny place and giving it a melancholic aura, the single is also a great reminder of how timeless their sound is. The new album, "Seasons of Your Day" is out September 24th. Listen to "California" below. (via Pretty Much Amazing)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Music Stuff on the Internet - Volcano Choir, Dawes, Foals, Surfer Blood, Josh Rouse, Junip

Justin Vernon is continuing in his Jack White-esque quest for record number of side projects, but that's OK because his side projects bring us beautiful songs like this one.  There's no Bon Iver falsetto, but who cares - in this ambitious track we have all the emotional threads we need. (via The Wild Honey Pie, who calls it "melancholic triumphalism.")
Off Volcano Choir's upcoming album "Repave" out in early September.

Dawes recently stopped by Letterman and performed "Most People," one of my personal favorites off of "Stories Don't End." I'm not sure if it's Taylor Goldsmith's crazy hair, but there seems to be a little extra oomph in this performance. They sound fantastic. Check it out. (via Rolling Stone)

Foals recently performed for KEXP in Seattle, which is on a roll lately (check out the recent Daughter performance here).  They keep the roll going with a fantastically subdued Foals performance.

Oh, and hey looky here....another awesome video performance from KEXP, this time from Surfer Blood. For you SoCal locals, Surfer Blood is playing the Twilight Concert Series at the Santa Monica Pier in about two weeks on Thursday, July 11 - the perfect locale for their surfer rock/pop vibe.

As if public radio doesn't already dominate the music airwaves, KCRW recently had Josh Rouse stop by their studios for an intimately soothing performance of "Simple Pleasures" off his new album, "The Happiness Waltz."

Pitchfork recently had Junip on hand who performed a sonically lush rendition of "Walking Lightly."

And last but not least, more "Best Albums of 2013 (so far)" lists have made their way out. You can check out a compilation of Best Albums of 2013 lists here (including the imnotsleeping Best Albums of 2013 (so far) list).