Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tuesday Listening - The Airborne Toxic Event, Such Hot Blood

The third album can be a tricky territory for artists.  They often either use the opportunity to firmly cement who they are as an artist, or use it to go off and try something completely different.  With the release of their third album, Such Hot Blood, The Airborne Toxic Event could have gone in a number of directions, but instead used the Third Album as an opportunity to take what they already do well and put it on steroids, making an album that amplifies the most ambitious parts of an already-ambitious sounding band.  Teetering on the precipice of being exaggerated but managing to balance carefully on that line, Such Hot Blood pushes, but is careful to not deviate too far from their formula.  There's a good reason, too: it works.  Really fucking well.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, lead singer Mikel Jollett talked about being influenced by watching Bruce Springsteen documentaries, where he describes how this taught him to push himself to grow and essentially lay it all out with no regrets.  Its an effort that is obvious on the increased intensity on Such Hot Blood.  "Timeless", the first single, is a lofty, anthemic apex at only the second track on the album, made up of synth heavy guitars, heady themes and spiritualistic lyrics.  Based on Jollett's personal experiences of deaths in his family, it's a track that tackles all the emotions of these life and death experiences with no apologies, binding it all together with his trademark emotive vocals and heavy, heavy guitar making for one helluva heavy, heavy song.  "Timeless" was also on The Secret EP, which was released prior to Such Hot Blood as a teaser.  The tracks that are housed on The Secret are also the tracks off Such Hot Blood that seem to weigh the most, emotionally speaking.  The intensity we've seen previously on songs like "Sometime Around Midnight" is elevated on tracks like "The Storm", a quintessentially-Airborne Toxic Event song with lyrics to make any female fan swoon ("Your face in these pictures looks like a poem"), lyrics to make a poet take pause ("Your body so much like a blanket thrown/on a warm bed at night/like a house in a storm"), and lyrics that just fit perfectly in only an Airborne Toxic Event song ("I surprise myself sometimes/the way the days unfold and this road unwinds/you tell me you see it too/and the miles feel like inches when I think of you").  All of these lyrics are, of course, taken to new heights with the fervent vocals of Jollett, who effortlessly adjusts the emotive quality of his voice on a particular verse by taking the intensity up, and drawing it back down in a controlled manor when necessary.

"Safe" is similar in this intensified nature, but with the bass, piano, and strings taking center stage, giving this song a bit more of a subdued quality.  Jollett mimics this in his vocal styling, beautifully accompanied by Anna Bolbroock, the band's only female member.  "The Fifth Day" also places Anna's haunting vocals right alongside Jolletts throughout the song, adding to the bittersweet dimension and culminating in a bold, theatrical climax during the last portion of the track.  Anna's voice takes a new place on various tracks on Such Hot Blood, giving the sense of that little voice from the back of your mind as her soft singing style compliments Jollett's, making his sound more rugged by comparison while the two tones speak to each other as if playing the roles of the conscious and the subconscious.

Then there is "Elizabeth", a very different song than the others on the album (or most of their songs, for that matter) with its slow lullaby feel, sheepish vocals and ironically, probably a bit more emotional honesty than normal by holding a mirror up to their typical songwriting topics.  It's a jewel of a song on the album, adding a random bit that hints at a side of The Airborne Toxic Event we don't usually get to see, but perhaps should.

Despite the emotional heaviness and intensity, there is something about all of this that makes it seem like they are actually just having the time of their lives.  They are a band that translates well live, laying it all out there on stage.  But then there's this hint of a sly grin on Mikel Jollett's face, giving away just how much they are actually enjoying themselves.  That kind of sly, joyful grin permeates the album- not in tonality or lyrics, but in the fierceness of the music, and of singing of the perils of heartbreak and life and death - and finding the release and the surrender in being able to do so.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Stuff I'm Listening to - An imnotsleeping Playlist

Bloodflood (Acoustic)- Alt J
In an acoustic version of this song, Alt-J still manages to capture the unique chill ambiance from the original version, but with a stripped down sound- not necessarily an acoustic sound in the traditional sense, just stripped down.

Ohio - Patty Griffin
Sometimes there just isn't much you can say about a song except, holy smokes.  This is one of those songs.  Patty Griffin pairs her faraway folk feel with Robert Plant, making this one helluva stellar track, off her forthcoming album (May 7th) American Kid.

Agape - Bear's Den
One of the last non-crappy radio stations in America (88.5 KCSN in Los Angeles) introduced me to this one.  Off the band's EP also called Agape, the song has a sort of acoustic based, voluminous sound that's coupled with contemplative lyrics and vocals.

Lord Knows - Dum Dum Girls
This song was recently on the Spring Mix from Music For Ants did (they do seasonal mixes and they are ridiculously amazing, check them out in their sidebar) and its been in my head since, off of 2012's End of Daze album.

Hustler - Josef Salvat
I found this one on Indie Shuffle, and I don't know much about Josef Salvat (yet), but I know this haunting song gets under my skin, and I can't shake it.

Ceilings - Local Natives
Simply because I am physically unable to get through one week without having this entire album on repeat.  I'm telling you...this album...man. Just go get it already.

When My Time Comes - Dawes
While listening to lots of Dawes in order to write their Tuesday Listening, this song presented itself once again.  From their debut album North Hills, its a great microcosm of what makes Dawes so great - Solid melodies and even better storytelling.

The Woodpile - Frightened Rabbit
Off of their recent album out in February, Scottish band Frightened Rabbit knocks it out of the park with this soaring track.

The Pursuit of Happiness - Ben Sollee
I've been listening to a lot of this travelling cello-ist folky singer-songwriter since SXSW (check out his interview with World Cafe, its fascinating) and this song is a bit different than some of his other tracks with a bit more of a rockabilly vibe.  Granted, none of his songs sound alike, hence his appeal.

Embrace - Ben Sollee
Simply, a beautiful way to end the playlist.

Buy the playlist below and subscribe to the Spotify playlist here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Music Stuff on the Internet - Daughter, Night Beds, Bell X1, The Head and The Heart, Dawes, Local Natives

Daughter sings Bon Iver's "Perth" and Hot Chip's "Ready For the Floor"
Newcomers Daughter currently have their first album out (If You Leave) and recently let loose this stunning cover of Bon Iver's "Perth" which segues into Hot Chip's "Ready For the Floor" in a haunting, chilling fashion with Florence Welch style vocals. (via Twenty Four Bit)

Night Beds Covers Robyn
Speaking of good covers, Night Beds recently stopped by the AV Club and performed an out-of-the-box cover (my favorite kind, similar to the randomness that worked so well on The Last Bison's M83 cover) by choosing "Dancing On My Own" by Robyn. Yes, that Robyn. And yes, that Night Beds. And yes, it works.

Night Beds cover Robyn

Here's the original:

Bell X1 Teases New Track
Irish band Bell X1 is currently working on a new album and have released a taste with "Starlings Over Brighton Pier", a sort of typical-yet-atypical Bell X1 song.  Lead singer Paul Noonan's standard aching vocals are there, but they are set against a sonic landscape that's a bit different from some of the more electro-sounding tracks off of 2011's Bloodless Coup. Its more ethereal, but the chorus brings it around into a more familiar Bell X1 territory, allowing the melancholic tones of Noonan's voice to push through.

Acoustic Performance by Jon Russell of The Head and The Heart
Songs for the Day often posts songs that pull at the heart strings in a 'pay attention to me, dammit!' kind of way, but this song might take the cake.  Its a video of Jon Russel from The Head and the Heart singing acoustically and solo, with Winston Yellen (Night Beds)-like vocals. Head on over the Songs for the Day to listen to another video of him performing "Bourbon St." from the same session.

Dawes on NPR Music
As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, LA band Dawes recently released their stellar third album, Stories Don't End, continuing to hone their 70's California rock vibe and make it all their own through the lyrical mastery of songwriter Taylor Goldsmith.  Dawes recently chatted with NPR Music about the album, songwriting, and touring with Bob Dylan. Check it out here:

Local Natives on World Cafe
Also through NPR Music, World Cafe talked with Local Natives, displaying some tunes from their recent album, Hummingbird - an album that has quickly become one of my top albums of this year.  Host David Dye talks with the band about their recording process, and the band performs in studio "You & I", "Heavy Feet", "Breakers" and "Columbia". You can listen to the entire show over at World Cafe here and check out Hummingbird below.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday Listening - Iron and Wine, Ghost on Ghost

Sam Beam, also known as Iron and Wine, is out with his long-awaited new album today entitled Ghost on Ghost, a continuation of the more robust sound he showcased on 2011's Kiss Each Other Clean.  Its hard to deny the profound evolution Iron and Wine has undergone over the last few years, a growth that has occurred slowly but deliberately as if to culminate in Ghost on Ghost- a full, rich, textured album.  Formerly made up of soft, lilting tunes and faraway-like vocals with an analogue, old-timey, haunting feel, Sam Beam has taken that sound and built on it gradually, culminating in the ample sound that permeates Ghost on Ghost.  Taking his trademark calming vocals and adding a bit of studio polish, much more instrumentation (bells, strings, and horns play a big role on this album) plus an often upbeat tempo, he's managed to hold onto his indie-alt-folk feel while adding a big band touch, minus any cheesiness.  No longer content with a sleepy sound perfect for rainy days, it is now full bodied and texturally complex.  On tracks like "Grace for Saints and Ramblers" there's a groovy type of combination with his trademark vocals, horns, piano, guitar and a bit of a lounge-style sound that serves the combination well.  Even slightly lower tempo songs like "Joy" are brimming with this fuller, rounded out sound.  "Low Light Buddy of Mine" gives us a bit of the old lo-fi, otherworldly vocal style of Sam Beam, as though he is singing from the next room, which he pairs with an apprehensive tone and heavy horns. "Winter Prayers" also offers up a bit of old-school Iron and Wine with its slow, lumbering tempo and simple vocals and instrumentation, but does it in a way that stays true to the now-plentiful sound of Iron and Wine.

Iron and Wine at SXSW

Iron and Wine at SXSW

Iron and Wine at SXSW

Iron and Wine at SXSW
Despite the continued expansion of the Iron and Wine sound on this album, the beautiful tones and melodies that make Iron and Wine's music so beautiful to listen to are still holding court.  There are some tracks with a much faster tempo, and some that keep things on the chill side (like "Baby Center Stage"), and always with a lush musicality in the backing instrumentation to accompany Sam Beam's vocals.  Strings, bells, horns, and a deep well of backing vocals are all woven together in a fantastic new tapestry of what Iron and Wine has evolved to over the last few years, leaving a satisfied feeling in the wake of its rich and bountiful sound.

on iTunes:

on Amazon:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Coachella Live Stream Up All Weekend

Coachella's first weekend kicks off today and they are going to be live streaming performances over at the Coachella Youtube page.

Watch live all weekend HERE.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tuesday Listening - Dawes

In the 1970's the Southern California sound took its hold from the depths of the Laurel Canyon area in Los Angeles, bringing forth a sound based on strong songwriting, lyrics and melodies.  Artists like Jackson Browne, The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills & Nash churned out music that came to signify this area in a blend of soft rock, country, and folk.  When LA band Dawes first broke onto the scene with their debut album North Hills, the influences of this Southern California sound were obvious and evident.  Songs like "Love is All I Am" from 2009's  North Hills are a clear linear line from Crosby, Stills & Nash, while songs like "A Little Bit of Everything" off 2011's Nothing is Wrong established lead singer Taylor Goldsmith as having the lyrical and melodic chops of Jackson Browne.  Stories Don't End, the third album from Dawes, continues to build on this lineage without recreating what's already been done, but paying homage to it while honing a sound that's all their own.

One of the key elements of the Laurel Canyon sound was the focus on poetic lyrics.  Lead singer and songwriter Taylor Goldsmith has managed to re-introduce poetic lyrics as a necessary ingredient in music, using storytelling in a way usually reserved for country music.  Dawes manages to use words, phrases and rhymes in their songs that are somehow obvious but without being implicit.  Each of their verses displays a lyrical mastery that is emotional, provoking, and awakening.  It is subtle, but pervasive.  Goldsmith sings these lyrics in an unassuming way, but pairs them with clean melodies making it near impossible to not pay attention to what he's singing.

This songwriting and melodic prowess continues with Stories Don't End.  It starts forcefully on its first track, "Just Beneath the Surface" with a harder driving beat and a heavy, more rounded out sound than on previous albums.  "From A Window Seat" -the first single off the album - pulls straight from the Laurel Canyon vibe but with a bit of a darker groove.  Songs like "Just My Luck" and "Something in Common" slow it down with a sentimental, pensive feel and the remarkable storytelling that is becoming their hallmark.  Goldsmith manages to get the intended feeling across without over-saturating it, with lyrics like "but all my best kept secrets are the ones I didn't know I had" giving a bittersweet nostalgic quality to each song.  "Most People" and "From The Right Angle" encapsulate the Dawes sound, striking the perfect balance of strong melody, catchy hooks, musicality and of course, impressionable lyrics, all sung with Taylor Goldsmith's unassuming yet pointed voice.  The title track of the album, "Stories Don't End" is an especially poignant and tender portion. Fittingly, the album ends with a gentler reprise of "Just Beneath the Surface", leaving us feeling as though we've just finished a novel or gone on some sort of journey.

This sense of a journey is what makes this the rare type of album that you want to repeatedly listen to from start to finish.  While not a concept album, there is a continuity to its flow.  The music lies humbly, waiting for attention, until suddenly your ears perk up at a particular melody, lyric or verse, at which point the veil is lifted and listening to them becomes an incredibly active experience - sometimes searching for the meaning or paying closer attention to the lyrics, but always wanting to go on the journey again.

On iTunes here:

On Amazon:

Friday, April 5, 2013

What I'm Listening To- A Playlist

Mt. Washington - Local Natives
Ever since I saw Local Natives live at SXSW, I have been obsessed with their new album Hummingbird.  Its one of those albums that gets better and better and more complex with each listen.  The other day this track suddenly popped its head out at me and is quickly becoming one of my favorite tracks off the album. Local Natives were also recently on World Cafe, check it out here.

Sun Arise! - Phosphorescent
This is a fantastic album opener, setting the tone for the rest of Muchacho's ethereal rock vibe.  Normally ethereal does not translate all that well live, but Phosphorescent nailed it at SXSW, keeping this new album on heavy rotation.

Sandstone - The Last Bison
While doing a review on their new album, Inheritance, for Life Is Awesome, I kept coming back to this song.  Inheritance is an album full of robust sounds, and this one kept coming up as a softer version of the passion displayed throughout the album. (Check out my review here and an amazing video of The Last Bison doing a folk cover of M83's "Midnight City" here).  The Last Bison were also recently on World Cafe, check that out here.

Up Against The Wall- Fiction Family
I'm not sure where I first heard this, but the infectious country-esque twang coupled with the slightly raspy vocals of front man Jon Foreman in a manner slightly remnant of The Fray were immediately irresistible.

Joy To You Baby- Josh Ritter
Not seeing Josh Ritter at SXSW is one of my few regrets, especially since his new album The Beast in its Tracks is so poignant.  With its gentle, bittersweet sway, this song is a microcosm of that poignancy.

Knock Knock - Band of Horses
A very different sound from some of Band of Horses' typical charmed instrumentation.  Simply put, its just a good old fashioned rock song (off Mirage Rock).

Think You Can Wait- The National
Just hurry up and release your new album already, The National. (Trouble Will Find Me out May 21st). I can't freaking wait.

The Ceiling- The Wild Feathers
Either the search function on Spotify really is that bad, or these guys aren't on Spotify for some reason (or iTunes?). But they have a new album coming out soon hopefully, as they've just signed with Warner.  (Hey Warner, put them on Spotify!).

Time Won't Let Me Go - The Bravery
Its a bit of a throwback (if 2007 is throwback?) but one of those tracks I kind of forgot about.  With a brit-pop retro new wave sound, they've supposedly got a new album in the works for release this year.

All I Want - Kodaline
Kodaline is an Irish band currently out with their first EP, aptly titled The Kodaline EP and have their debut album In A Perfect World set for release in June of this year. They've got a pop folk rock kind of vibe- expect to hear more of them.

Free at Dawn- Small Black
This was a band I discovered completely by accident at SXSW while at Stubbs BBQ waiting for another act. Instead I heard these guys and found this track, an electro-indie pop song with a satisfying tone.

Full Playlist on iTunes:

On Spotify:

On Amazon:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Last Bison Covers M83's "Midnight City"

While working on a review of the debut album by folk band The Last Bison (which you can check out at Life Is Awesome), I serendipitously stumbled upon a video that has all of my favorite things- great musicians, a live setting, and an unexpected but fantastic cover.  I love a good cover, but especially so if its done by an unexpected source or band of a completely different genre, as is the case with this video. The Last Bison is an inherently traditional folk band.  "Midnight City" is a song by M83, an electro-pop outfit.  I can't think of a more opposite paring. Which is probably why this works.

The Last Bison sing "Midnight City" by M83:

(here's the original):