[mp3] Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - "Even Heroes Have To Die"

Somebody over at the Matablog is pretty psyched for The Brutalist Bricks, the forthcoming 5th full-length record from Ted Leo & The Pharmacists. They said it’s “one of those career-defining, ‘can you believe what you’re hearing?’ kinda records that makes most other activity the day you first play it nearly impossible (in other words, we’re suggesting you shower before you open the package)”. Granted they’re trying to move units, but the melodic surge of “Even Heroes Have To Die” sounds promising enough to maybe make you believe. After all, Ted already made an album that good. It‘s called Hearts of Oak and it is, if you’re into ranking these types of things, my 40th favorite album of the past ten years. The Brutalist Bricks drops March 9 on the band’s new home - Matador Records.

MP3 :: Even Heroes Have To Die
(from The Brutalist Bricks. Info here)

[stream] Spoon - "Written In Reverse"

The first notes (not including “Got Nuffin’”) from the heavily-anticipated forthcoming Spoon album, Transference, are streaming over at NPR . Adjectives like “choppy” and “jagged” can be used to describe much of Spoon’s back catalog, but they seem even more appropriate on the jittery “Written In Reverse”. The crunchy electric guitars and the multi-layered vocal harmonies from Britt Daniel are both particularly manic, while the piano sounds like it was pounded with a clenched fist. It’s vintage Spoon alright, but gives the impression that the band, who self-produced the new record, may have gone in a rawer direction than on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The digital single is out Tuesday, 12/1 and vinyl on Jan 5. Listen:

Stream :: Written In Reverse
(from Transference. Info here)

By the way, the very cool Transference album art is going around. Check it out below. The album drops a week earlier than previously reported - January 19:


PHW's Albums of the Decade - Addendum, pt. 4

Last month I posted a list of my 50 favorite albums of the past decade. You can catch up with that by following these links - #50-41, #40-31, #30-21, #20-11, and #10-1, if you’d like. While drafting the list I found that I rediscovered plenty of albums that were and are still worthy of more attention, even though they ultimately weren’t included on that finished product. It was extremely difficult to cut many of them, so for the past few Mondays I’ve been spotlighting albums that I consider every bit as essential as the Top 50, but, for whatever reason, fell short. Twenty in all, but not necessarily #‘s 51-70. Catch up with the first three installments here, here, & here. In no particular order, the last five:

Young Criminals’ Starvation League - Bobby Bare Jr. (2002)

Bare Jr., the son of country legend Bobby Bare, dropped his solo debut in 2002 to little fanfare, but those who heard it were quick to fall for its cracked underdog vocals and loose-spirited mix of folk, punk, & country influences. Heartfelt originals such as “I’ll Be Around” and “Mehan” are mixed with darkly humorous tales like “Flat Chested Girl From Maynardville” and “Dig Down”, a tongue-in-cheek complaint that all the good musical ideas have been used up. The album’s real strength is its diverse, unpredictable nature; it features soulful horn arrangements, back-porch dirges, spirited country rockers, and even shambling covers of The Smiths’ “What Difference Does It Make?” and Shel Silverstein’s “Painting Her Fingernails”.

MP3 :: I’ll Be Around
MP3 :: The Ending

The Hour Of Bewilderbeast - Badly Drawn Boy (2000)

The Hour of Bewilderbeast is an eclectic, sprawling, and deeply satisfying pop album that’s just stuffed with Damon Gough’s charming melodies and DIY work ethic. Gough hasn’t done much of note since, but that’s probably because he crammed every good idea he could ever possibly have into these 18 songs.

Shallow Grave - The Tallest Man On Earth (2008)

When I finally caught up with The Tallest Man On Earth’s 2008 album Shallow Grave I had missed the chance to include it among my 20 favorite albums of last year. Too bad, I guess, because, like Rook, it would have easily made that list. Swedish songwriter Kristian Matsson is full of shit by declaring himself taller than any other human being on the planet. Perhaps a better moniker would be “The Most Compelling Dude With Only An Acoustic Guitar On Earth”, cause, well, he just might be.

MP3 :: Pistol Dreams

Choochtown - Hamell On Trial (2000)

Choochtown is a punk record shot through with a strong (anti-) folk influence and Ed Hamell’s distinct ability to intertwine the stories of a bunch of small time crooks, low-lifes, and one shady private detective. Though there isn’t a proper narrative going on here, the record’s action centers around a late-night, drunken fight at an all-night diner that’s told from a few different perspectives, most effectively on the hilarious opener “When Bobby Comes Down”. Later, “Judy” recalls The Velvet Underground with a sharper sense of humor, “The Long Drive” is a muted mystery-noir, and “Uncle Morris” is invective punk-folk. Hamell brings all his losers to life, and by the album’s end it’s clear he's a master storyteller and this is one rough-edged, rewarding listen.

MP3 :: When Bobby Comes Down
MP3 :: Judy

The Sophtware Slump - Granddaddy (2000)

The Sophtware Slump is Grandaddy’s makeshift magnum opus; a startling look at the numbing effects of technology at the dawn of a new millennium as told through a series of songs that try to balance human (and robot) emotion with technological fear. It's also been inexplicably overlooked on nearly every "Best of the Decade" list I've seen so far. As has been pointed out with frequency, the album clearly shares themes with OK Computer, including a distinct sense of paranoia of the modern world and a resulting disconnectedness from it. Jason Lytle and company balance a mix of standard rock instruments and bargain-basement sounding synths; the combination of which is equally effective on both haunting ballads like “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot” and “Jed The Humanoid” as well as rockers like “Hewlett’s Daughter” and “The Crystal Lake”.

The November Mixtape

Have you seen this? (NSFW)

MP3 :: Norway / Beach House (original post)
MP3 :: Sitting On The Sidewalk / Capgun Coup (original post)
MP3 :: October Fires / Wolf People (original post)
MP3 :: Careful With That Hat / Citay
MP3 :: SDP / The Kissaway Trail
MP3 :: Neat Parts / Fucked Up
MP3 :: Doctor (Five Discs Cover) / Atlas Sound
MP3 :: Nothing Like You (live) / Frightened Rabbit
MP3 :: One Sign / Bruce W. Derr
MP3 :: Radio (live) / Roadside Graves

See also: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, & October

J. Tillman to release new 7" in January

J. Tillman, the prolific singer/songwriter/Fleet Foxes drummer behind not one but two of my favorite albums of 2009 (Vacilando Territory Blues and Year In The Kingdom), will soon be releasing a limited edition 7”. It’s due in January and once again comes courtesy of Western Vinyl. “Wild Honey Never Stolen” is streaming at his myspace - it’s another of the stripped-down, beautiful folk songs that Tillman‘s basically pumping out at will these days. It’ll be backed by a song called “Borne Away On A Black Barge”. The record comes on 70 gram vinyl and only 500 copies are being pressed. There are also sketches of naked ladies on the cover. Pre-order here.

Also, check out this enlightening 27 minute live video recorded (with Tillman’s full band) by RockFeedBack here, as well as a fairly recent Daytrotter session here.

MP3 :: James Blues
MP3 :: Steel On Steel
(from Vacilando Territory Blues. Buy here)

MP3 :: Earthly Bodies
MP3 :: Though I Have Wronged You
(from Year In The Kingdom. Buy here)

[video] Grizzly Bear - "Ready, Able"

You’ve probably seen this already, but there’s some really weird shit going on in the Allison Shulnik directed video for Grizzly Bear’s “Ready Able”. It looks equally inspired by Gumby (watch this), The Swamp Thing, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Pizza the Hut, and the face melting scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

MP3 :: Cheerleader
(from Veckatimest. Buy here)

PHW's Albums of the Decade - Addendum, pt. 3

Last month I posted a list of my 50 favorite albums of the past decade. You can catch up with that here, here, here, here, and here, if you’d like. While drafting the list I found that I rediscovered plenty of albums that were and are still worthy of more attention, even though they ultimately weren’t included on that finished product. It was extremely difficult to cut many of them, especially those made by lesser-known artists. So for the past few Mondays I’ve been spotlighting some of the additional albums that I consider every bit as essential as the Top 50, but, for whatever reason, fell short. Twenty in all, but not necessarily #‘s 51-70. Here are five more, in no particular order:

Rook - Shearwater (2008)

You’d think that leaving a band like Okkervil River on the heels of the album that propelled them into the spotlight (The Stage Names) would’ve been a poor choice, but on their Matador debut Jonathon Meiburg justifies his decision. Rook is a fluid, concise, and downright stunning artistic statement, as well as a giant leap forward for a band that had previously shown promise without being “great”. Save Black Sheep Boy, Rook is my favorite album made by anyone who has ever been involved with Okkervil River.

MP3 :: Leviathan, Bound

MP3 :: Rooks

The Ghost Of Fashion - Clem Snide (2001)

If my list of favorite albums of the past decade was compiled 2 or 3 years ago The Ghost Of Fashion would have found itself with a lofty perch high up on it. That it has recently fallen slightly out of favor as a whole doesn’t change my desire to recommend you do yourself a favor and check it out - the best songs here are some of my favorites of the decade. The Ghost of Fashion’s rousing folk songs are often augmented with a horn section, giving the album (especially highlights like “Let’s Explode” and “Moment In The Sun”) a grand, ambitious feel, while the drop-dead gorgeous “Joan Jett of Arc” succeeds brilliantly with a quietly intricate arrangement. Loosely tied together with themes of artificial beauty and superficiality, Eef Barzelay peaked as a songwriter here - never again did his lyrics so flawlessly balance the fine line between earnest declarations, humor, and biting sarcasm.

Give Blood - Brakes (2005)

Featuring members of British Sea Power, Tenderfoot, and Electric Soft Parade, Brakes’ debut mixes thrashing punk rock, country and folk influences (including covers of Johnny Cash’s “Jackson” and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Sometimes Always”) and the band’s self-deprecating sense of humor. Give Blood is 16 songs in about 30 breathtaking minutes.

Where Shall You Take Me? - Damien Jurado (2003)

In 2002, after a series of noteworthy lo-fi folk records for Sub Pop in the late 90’s- early 00’s, Damien Jurado took a left turn and recorded a blazing rock album called I Break Chairs. It was a startling departure, both for how unexpected it was as well as for how natural he sounded fronting a full-on rock outfit. Never one to let success dictate his career path however, Jurado decided to go to the other extreme on its follow up. Where Shall You Take Me? is a record steeped in the Americana tradition, with songs like “Abilene”, “Window”, and “I Can’t Get Over You” recalling traditional folk music as done by a forward-thinking modern artist. These gorgeous songs are mixed with dark, haunting ballads like “Amateur Night” and “Intoxicated Hands”, and even the muscular, open-highway rock of “Texas To Ohio” and the shuffling, tongue-in-cheek "Matinee", to create an album that runs between emotional extremes without ever sounding anything but cohesive.

Things We Lost In The Fire - Low (2001)

Slowcore artists Low have been making records since the early 90s, but they peaked in 2001 with Things We Lost In The Fire - their most beautiful and inviting collection of songs to date.

MP3 :: Sunflower

Shearwater to release The Golden Archipelago in February

With Spoon, Beach House, Interpol, Vampire Weekend, Four Tet, The Magnetic Fields, Hot Chip, and Rogue Wave (among plenty of others that I’m forgetting, surely) all slated to drop new records in early 2010, the new year looks like it will be starting off with a bang. At least for fans of independent music anyway. Of any of those though (besides Spoon), the upcoming release I’m most excited about is Shearwater’s The Golden Archipelago. Reason being that Rook, their amazing 2008 album, made such a big (albeit late) impression on me. Now, a year later, had my recent Top 50 Albums of the Decade list been expanded to a Top 53 you would have seen just how highly I continue to think of it. Almost guys. So obviously I have pretty lofty expectations for this follow up. Unfortunately, neither the band nor Matador have given up the details yet, but there are some pretty cool visuals (and a snippet of music) going on over at the band’s website. The Golden Archipelago drops February 23 in N. America (February 15 everywhere else). That’s it for now…stay tuned. Also, check out a bunch of great tunes from some previous releases:

MP3 :: Leviathan, Bound
MP3 :: Rooks
(from Rook. Buy here)

MP3 :: The Snow Leopard
(from The Snow Leopard EP. Buy here)

MP3 :: Red Sea, Black Sea
(from Palo Santo - Expanded Edition. Buy here)

[video] David Shane Smith - "Actor" & "Beauty Force"

actor from davidshanesmith on Vimeo.

David Shane Smith - Beauty Force from Gato Blanko on Vimeo.

As I’ve said before, David Shane Smith’s most recent album, Cloud Pleaser, is filled with avant-garde folk songs that peer into a decaying future. It’s also his best album to date and one of the better albums by a local artist (um, despite the fact that he now lives 3000 miles away) that I’ve heard this year. “Actor” is the most immediately jarring song on Cloud Pleaser - it's a loud, physical blast of distorted electro-blues that’s only held together by the “I just hope they can’t see how sick I am” refrain. Its counterpoint on the record is the lilting closer, “Beauty Force”, which, with its beautiful finger-picked acoustic guitar and piano interplay, is its complete sonic opposite. Both have been given music videos that perfectly suit the songs’ respective moods. Hopefully we’ll be hearing something new from DSS sometime early in the new year.

MP3 :: Miserablism
MP3 :: Brand New
MP3 :: Beauty Force
(from Cloud Pleaser. Buy here)

[mp3] Beach House - "Norway"

From Teen Dream, the Sub Pop debut and third album overall from Baltimore’s Beach House. Here comes 2010.

MP3 :: Norway
(from Teen Dream. Info here)

[mp3] Capgun Coup - "Sitting On The Sidewalk"

A few weeks ago I tipped you off to the blazing first single from Maudlin, the brand new sophomore record from Capgun Coup. “Bad Bands” showcased the charmingly fuzzed-out garage-punk side of the band, but fans of 2007‘s Brought To You By Nebraskfish know there’s more than that to these guys. The newest single, “Sitting On The Sidewalk” offers a glimpse at the other side of the Omaha collective - the side that has a fetish for mid-60’s Dylan when he was just starting to plug in and let loose (think of the half of Bringing It All Back Home that fits that description). I’ve only given one cursory listen to the entire album, but I’m really digging these first two freely released tracks and will be spending some quality time with Maudlin in the very near future.

MP3 :: Sitting On The Sidewalk
MP3 :: Bad Bands
(from Maudlin. Buy here)

PHW's Albums of the Decade - Addendum, pt. 2

Three weeks ago I posted a list of my 50 favorite albums of the past decade. You can catch up with that here, here, here, here, and here, if you’d like. While drafting the list I found that I rediscovered plenty of albums that were and are still worthy of more attention, even though they ultimately weren’t included on the finished product. It was extremely difficult to cut many of them, especially those made by lesser-known artists. So starting last week, continuing today, and for the next 2 Mondays I’ll be spotlighting some of these additional albums that I consider every bit as essential as the Top 50. This week's batch focuses on a few that would fall under the Americana banner. Here they are, in no particular order:

Ghosts of the Great Highway - Sun Kil Moon (2004)

I didn’t really get into this album until a few years after it came out. My roommate at the time was a huge fan and sharing a stereo with him basically forced me to spend time with it when I otherwise would have missed out. I had heard “Carry Me Ohio” and maybe another song or two, but it wasn’t until later that I was struck by the record’s cohesion and its kind of melancholic beauty, both of which became more apparent after a few good spins. Truly, this is an album that needs to be heard straight through and given time to settle into your head. Singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek started recording under the Sun Kil Moon moniker after breaking up his former band, Red House Painters. On his first proper full length as SKM he comes across like his generation’s Neil Young; equally adept at nostalgic folk songs as he is shredding his electric guitar to pieces, as on the 14 minute “Duk Koo Kim” or “Salvador Sanchez”. Thanks for this one Paul.

MP3 :: Carry Me Ohio

No One Will Know Where You’ve Been - The Roadside Graves (2007)

The Roadside Graves’ sole LP for fledgling Brooklyn label Kill Buffalo restored my faith in alt country a few years ago. Not that NOWKWYB is tied into one sound or genre, but had this album dropped in ‘97 instead of ‘07 there‘s a good chance that it would have caught on as like-minded bands (Old 97s, Wilco, Son Volt, etc.) of that era did. Like them, the Graves draw from country, folk, pop, and big, bold rock & roll in equal measure - all brought home by singer-lyricist John Gleason’s incredibly poignant songwriting. “Family & Friends” and “West Coast” are the undeniable singles, but its “Radio”, with its three-part evolution from folk-blues dirge to Stones-y rock & roll to cathartic, Springsteen-like anthem that sets the bar on this record.

MP3 :: West Coast
MP3 :: West Coast (live from Hear Ya sessions)
MP3 :: Radio (live from Hear Ya sessions)

The Dead Will Walk, Dear - The National Lights (2007)

Though it probably sounds kinda lame, the debut album from The National Lights has a special place in my heart. It was one of the first records I championed after starting PHW in early 2007 - a discovery I kind of stumbled upon a few months prior while scouring the internet for mp3s. They were the first band I contacted for a copy of their record, the first to oblige, and they were my first interview way back when PHW was just a tiny little baby (phw?). Today, the album holds up just as well as it did in ‘07, when it found itself in my Top 10 at year’s end. The Dead Will Walk, Dear is a hushed, beautiful song cycle that, upon close listen, is actually a disturbing series of songs about a river and some girls who have been killed and dumped into it. Yeah, old fashioned murder ballads cleverly disguised as songs of love lost. Songwriter Jacob Berns may sound innocent enough, but the dude’s got a serious dark side.

MP3 :: Mess Around
MP3 :: Midwest Town
MP3 :: Buried Treasure

The Animal Years - Josh Ritter (2006)

Josh Ritter is a hell of a songwriter, and one listen to The Animal Years is proof of that. Featuring production from Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse), The Animal Years takes more sonic chances than 2003’s Hello Starling, especially on highlights like the lilting “Girl In The War” or the ten-minute barn-burner “Thin Blue Flame”. Elsewhere Ritter proves equally adept at crafting smart, AOR radio should-be hits like “Wolves” and “Lillian, Egypt”, dusty folk ballads like, well, “Monster Ballads” and “Good Man”, or the achingly pretty piano ballad “Here At The Right Time”.

MP3 :: Girl In The War
MP3 :: Thin Blue Flame

Under Cold Blue Stars - Josh Rouse (2002)

Like Ritter, Josh Rouse has enjoyed moderate success making intelligent, folk-driven music for grown ups. While that may not sound particularly exciting in and of itself, both share a gift for crafting memorable melodies and textured, inviting musical settings. After Under Cold Blue Stars, Rouse steered a bit too close to MOR for my tastes, but on his third album you can hear the work of a songwriter equally inspired by The Smiths as he is by the at-the-time supple Americana and alt. country scenes. The joyful, nostalgic lyrics and wind in your hair feel of “Miracle” never cease to put a smile on my face.

[video] The Roadside Graves - "Ruby" (via Hear Ya)

Roadside Graves - "Ruby" - HearYa Live Session 8/26/09 from HearYa.com on Vimeo.

Personally, I don’t feel like anybody should compile a “Best of the Year” list without giving a fair amount of time to The Roadside Graves’ tour-de-force My Son’s Home. Hear Ya just posted a video/audio session they recorded with the band that highlights a couple of key tracks from that album as well as a few from their excellent 2007 effort No One Will Know Where You’ve Been. Word is the New Jersey band are hard at work on an EP due in early 2010, but more on that when the time comes.

MP3 :: Far and Wide
MP3 :: Ruby
(from My Son’s Home. Buy here)

[mp3] Wolf People - "October Fires"

“October Fires” comes from the forthcoming debut from Wolf People, the first U.K. band to sign with Jagjaguwar. That debut, called Tidings and due February 22, is actually a collection of singles recorded between 2005-2007 for Battered Ornaments. The track finds the quartet sporting a rather large debt to their forebears of the British Invasion - it’s a bluesy, psyche-rock romp that sounds like a lost track from the mid-60’s.

MP3 :: October Fires
(from Tidings. Info here)

[video] Blakroc - The Black Keys, Mos Def, Raekwon, Damon Dash, etc.

Blakroc Project from Myrhax on Vimeo.

Maybe you’ve heard about this upcoming collaboration between The Black Keys and a wide assortment of some of hip-hop’s biggest names, but if not here’s the scoop (knew about this for a few weeks but was reminded today via Music For Kids Who Can‘t Read Good). Damon Dash, of Roc-A-Fella Records, has brought together Mos Def, Raekwon, RZA, Q-Tip and several others to add their talents over music played by Denton, TX’s best indie-blues-rock band, The Black Keys. The entire project was conceived and seen through in 11 days. The album, known as Blakroc and due, when else, on Black Friday (11/27), follows excellent solo albums this year already from Mos Def (The Ecstatic) and Keys singer Dan Auerbach (Keep It Hid).

[video] Matthew Ryan - "City Life"

Tennessee-by-way-of-Philadelphia singer-songwriter Matthew Ryan has very quietly built up quite a prolific back catalog since the blue collar hard-folk of 1997’s Mayday. Since then he’s slipped out stark, stripped-down records, like 2001’s underrated Concussion, as well as a few that dip their toes into more ethereal, modern sounds, such as 2003’s Regret Over The Wires and 2007’s From A Late Night High Rise. Though his gruff vocals have always seemed, to me, tailor-made for hard driving folk songs about heartache and hangovers he‘s never been one to rely on that limited approach to songwriting. Perhaps that’s why he’s never broken through to a larger audience - too willing to experiment with his sound for the Americana crowd and too earnest for the indie-rock world. The recently released Dear Lover, his twelfth record, finds Ryan once again able to avoid pigeonholing by leaning towards an almost folktronic sound on many of these songs, and even using a guest DJ on the decidedly dancy “Spark”. Overall though Dear Lover finds Ryan in a contemplative mood and mixing acoustic guitars with unobtrusive synths and beats over its ten new songs. The first single, “City Life”, is a solid representation of the passionate declarations and semi-ambitious arrangements Dear Lover strives for. Fans of Josh Rouse and Ryan Adams should take note - this album and artist would be right up your alley. The video follows the adventures of a little paper version of Ryan as he makes his way around the world, hanging out with fans, getting smooched, and taking in some breathtaking scenery along the way.

Stream :: Dear Lover (via Blurt)

PHW's Albums of the Decade - Addendum, pt. 1

Two weeks ago I posted a list of my 50 favorite albums of the past decade. You can catch up with that here, here, here, here, and here, if you’d like. Or, you know, just scroll down a little bit, I guess. That’s probably easier. While drafting the list (there were 164 original considerations) I found that I rediscovered plenty of albums that were and are still worthy of more attention, even though they ultimately weren’t included on the finished product. It was extremely difficult to cut many of them, especially some of the ones made by smaller artists who don’t receive the level of national and international attention that the big boys get. So, for the next four Mondays I’ll be bringing you an addendum to that list that brings together 20 more albums that I feel are also worth mentioning. No, these aren’t necessarily #’s 51-70, but rather artists that I feel strongly about whose great albums of the past 10 years were overlooked, underappreciated, or just plain missed out on. The first five, in no particular order:

Lost In Revelry - The Mendoza Line (2002)

Not so much in sound as in spirit, The Mendoza Line always seemed to me to be this decade’s version of The Replacements - a wildly talented band sabotaged from wider success by their own recklessness and tendency for self-sabotage. Though they made several solid albums featuring better production in the years that followed, not to mention the full blossoming of Shannon McArdle’s underrated songwriting, it’s Lost In Revelry that best captures the slapdash spirit of the band at their self-defeating best. Peter Hoffman throws in a handful of winning indie-rock songs and McArdle’s growing talents as both a singer and songwriter are evident on her five contributions, but the undeniable highlights are the four folk songs and barroom rockers of bandleader Timothy Bracy, whose drunken warble of a voice and detail-rich lyrics sound like a man coming apart at the seams. Perhaps predictably, the band fell apart a few years later when Bracy and McArdle’s personal releationship did the same, but they left us with some of the decade’s most perfectly dysfunctional music, much of it right here on Lost In Revelry. In 2002 The Village Voice had this to say about the record: "a small classic of no cultural import whatsoever -- merely the most likable record of the year, a toothpick Blonde On Blonde held together with chewing gum.”

Hey, you’re killing me with protocol
She acts just like she’s seen it all
But I don’t think you’ve seeeeen this
A big shot at the mini-mall
You learned to fuck before you could crawl
It don’t make you a genuis

MP3 :: A Damn Good Disguise

Coke Machine Glow - Gordon Downie (2001)

In 2001 Gordon Downie, front man of one of Canada’s most beloved bands, The Tragically Hip, threw fans of his band’s by-then-predictable modern/alt-rock for a loop by releasing a solo album recorded with a bunch of Toronto musicians and friends. Coke Machine Glow is full of folk waltzes, lo-fi rock, and jazzy, spoken word interludes that are a far cry from The Hip's fist-pumping, power-chord rockers. The result is easily one of the more interesting records he’s ever been a part of - full of eclectic instrumentation (not strictly relying on guitar, bass, & drum arrangements), lyrics that doubled as poetry (literally, as there was a book of it released to coincide with the album), and Downie’s distinct vocals. “Vancouver Divorce” alone is worth the price of admission.

MP3 :: Vancouver Divorce

Nixon - Lambchop (2000)

Kurt Wagner surrounds himself with more musicians than just about any songwriter I can think of - Lambchop’s numbers can swell well up into double digits on any given night. With this constant revolving door of members you’d think that their music would be a crowded, impenetrable wall of sound, but it’s actually a study in spaciousness and minimalism. Nixon is the band’s excursion into weird, countrypolitan soul music - it’s an austere and strangely beautiful collection of songs made by, according to Merge Records, “Nashville's most fucked-up country band”.

MP3 :: Grumpus

Please Pass The Revolution! - The Sweetbriars (2008)

The Sweetbriars’ debut album is the combined effort of two fantastic songwriters from Central Pennsylvania. On Please Pass The Revolution! the classic country leanings and seasoned professionalism of Earl Pickens are mixed with the ramshackle, anything-goes spontaneity of Bruce W. Derr. Both singers had already released a batch of noteworthy solo albums, but here they come on like a poor man’s version of mid-90’s Jayhawks, trading off verses and songs over their country-tinged, melodic power-pop and garage rock.

Video :: Parade (Meet Me Halfway)
Video :: No Way Home From Here

Introducing Gentleman Jesse - Gentleman Jesse & His Men (2008)

Gentleman Jesse sounds like he’s spent a considerable amount of time studying every tragic note The Exploding Hearts ever played. But if that band has a worthier successor to the brash, garage rock and power-pop of their only record then I’d like to hear them. On this, their debut, Gentleman Jesse & His Men play a bunch of energetic, punk-influenced scorchers, most of which (“All I Need Tonight”, “Butterfingers”, “You Don’t Have To If You Don’t Want To”, etc) become hopelessly anthemic in the hands of such a compelling tunesmith.

MP3 :: All I Need Tonight (Is You)

Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

Tarot Sport is U.K. electronic/noise band Fuck Buttons sophomore album, following hot on the heels of last year’s terrific debut, Street Horrrsing. The new album sounds like a more fully realized, mature work from the duo. Songs like “The Lisbon Maru” and “Olympians” may share moments that recall their past work, but the absence of the unintelligible, scream-o vocals that pervaded Street Horrrsing gives the new album a sound that’s often more graceful than nightmarish. It’s not so much an improvement necessarily, but rather just a difference - one that makes the songs more inviting than those from its predecessor. Regardless of this new found approach (no doubt a result of working with a producer as seasoned as Andrew Weatherall) Tarot Sport doesn't forget to be dense, challenging, and noisy - all definite attributes in the case of Fuck Buttons. It’s also an expansive and deeply hypnotic work that flows seamlessly from track to track, and will undoubtedly continue to attract fans of both left-of-center indie-rock and electronic/trance music.

MP3 :: Surf Solar (7” edit)
(from Tarot Sport. Buy here)

Built to Spill - There Is No Enemy

For the past week or so I’ve been catching up with the new Built To Spill album There Is No Enemy, and I have to say I’ve been enjoying it a lot. I don’t mean that to sound like I’m surprised, it’s just that besides “Conventional Wisdom” I didn’t find much to enjoy on 2006’s You In Reverse. I’m not sure yet if the new album is the equivalent of their mid-to-late 90s run of classics, as some are suggesting (pretty sure it‘s not), but it’s certainly better than You In Reverse and probably better than Ancient Melodies Of The Future from 2001. Which would mean it's the best thing they've done in ten years, since Keep It Like A Secret, which has long been my personal favorite. There Is No Enemy begins and ends with songs that recall their classics - the driving “Aisle 13” could be one of their vintage singles, and the melodic, country-tinged “Hindsight” is another obvious high point. Later, “Planting Seeds”, “Things Fall Apart”, and the majestic “Tomorrow” bring the album to a memorable close. In between are a bunch of mid-tempo, 4-6 minute jams that fans of the band will no doubt love. In a year where 40-somethings like Yo La Tengo, Dinosaur Jr., and The Flaming Lips have all released very good-to-great albums, it’s nice to see Built To Spill helping to remind the kiddies how it‘s done. Check them out from two weeks ago on Letterman playing “Oh Yeah”:


Spoon to release Transference in January

With all my focus last week on running my list of favorite albums of the decade I didn’t really pay much attention to other stuff going on in the music world. So, there’s some catching up to do this week. First off is the best news I’ve heard in a while - Spoon will be releasing their 7th studio album on January 23, and it’s called Transference. Once again Merge Records has the honors. Street date is January 25. Tracklist and behind-the-scenes video clip (sounds pretty rawkin’!) at Spoon’s website.

In other noteworthy Spoon news, the band have made their first 4 albums digitally available through their website for the first time (for cheap). You’ll also find a free live version of Girls Can Tell highlight “Everything Hits At Once” there (check the bonus section). Look for it all HERE.

MP3 :: Everything Hits At Once (live) (follow link)