The Year and Decade in Review

2009 Albums of the Year

1. Avett Brothers – I and Love and You

In a relatively mediocre year for music, the Avett Brothers latest effort somehow found its way into the top spot. While it is by no means their best effort and much of Rick Rubin’s production value must be brushed aside, this reviewer found nothing better. A new direction for the Avetts proved lukewarm at first but upon reflection it offered a sense of maturity, pop sensibility, and an open door into the lives of the artist.


2. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix


3. Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications
Cocker’s release was a recent discovery to me; only after a friend’s recommendation did I even know who the man was. That said the production and lyrics drive this record to one of the top spots on my list. With witty British humor and Steve Albini manning the production helm, this album stands as a bright star in the year as well as a warm initiation to check into Cocker’s earlier works.

4. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes – Up From Below

5. Brand New - Daisy

6. Harlem Shakes – Technicolor Health

7. Cursive – Mama, I’m Swollen

8. The Dead Weather - Horehound

9. The Thermals – Now We Can See

10. St. Vincent - Actor

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Albums of the Decade


Because many, many great albums failed to make my top ten for the decade, I must prelude the list with this: I deliberately set a ten album limit to challenge myself to revisit and reassess which albums were truly important to me. After the top ten there is a list of honorable mentions, in no particular order, which includes albums that were good, great, and even amazing, but for some reason or another failed to carry the weight of these top ten.

1. The Avett Brothers - Four Thieves Gone


In my biased opinion, of course the Avett’s would claim the top album spot of the decade. Although this album probably lacks some of the polish of their later efforts, it was this album that cemented their music in my mind as one of the most refreshing acts in recent memory. By combining bluegrass, pop, and rock, Four Thieves Gone acts as this decade’s stand alone album.
2. The White Stripes - Elephant
3. The Killers - Sam’s Town
Based on most public opinion, I feel as if this selection must be most defended. But in all reality, this album is one of the most underrated efforts from a band this decade and deserves a top spot on the list. While many perceive the Killers as a band that slowly gets worse with each release, their sophomore album was a reason to think not. Sure, they may have ripped off Springsteen a little excessively, but in the over the top desert/road/Las Vegas feel music is where this album truly shines. Even more, this over the top style seems to key into major sociological themes of this decade: overindulgence and glam.
4. Kanye West - College Dropout
5. Gorillaz - Gorillaz
6. The Strokes - Room on Fire
7. Bright Eyes - I’m Wide Awake and It’s Morning
8. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
9. Beck - Sea Change
10. Various Artists - O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack
Simply put, this is the greatest soundtrack ever.

Honorable Mentions
Jack’s Mannequin – Everything in Transit
MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
Ryan Adams – Cardinology
Death Cab for Cutie – The Narrow Stairs
Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
The Jayhawks – Rainy Day Music
Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
The Killers – Hot Fuss
Thrice – The Alchemy Indexes
The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
Something Corporate - North

By: Michael Hardesty

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2009: The Best Albums & Films / The Best of the Decade in Music

The votes are in, here’s what my eyes, ears and everything else in between chose as the “Best of 2009” and the “Best of the Decade in Music”.

That said, it never fails to amaze me every year how little I actually know about all that’s out there- time wise, it’s impossible to listen to everything or even a significant percentage. It’s absurdly overwhelming. I tagged all you music and film lovers out there for a reason. Whether you agree or not I’d love to hear what you have to say. Put up your top lists, tell me how wrong I am but you better say WHY.

Although I can’t listen to everything, this list can’t be all that bad, before you even take a look at it you can already guess it’s better than what Rolling Stone picked; U2 at #1? Come on, really?

The 15 Best Albums of 2009:

15. La Roux- La Roux

14. Dirty Projectors- Bitte Orca

13. Dark Was The Night- V/A

12. Animal Collective- Merriweather Post Pavilion

11. Passion Pit- Manners

10. Brandi Carlile- Give up the Ghost

9. Grizzly Bear- Veckatimest

8. Camera Obscura- My Maudlin Career

7. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLVrTruj_Aw

Easily my most highly anticipated release of the year after I heard “Everything With You” from there EP released last year. The entire album (although very short) carries a summery and nostalgic 80’s noise/indie pop-rock sensation throughout that’s hard to get off of repeat.

6. Those Darlins- Those Darlins

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rb_V2kMfb_4&feature=channel

Ok, so I may be a little bias with this pick but I’m dead serious about their positioning on this list. These girls put out a killer first release. They impressed me when I randomly ran into them playing a saloon set at The Southgate House three years ago in Newport, Kentucky and they continued to impress when I interned for their manager/marketer. They’ve somehow bottled up a boozy rock ‘n roll party with a disheveled mix of bluegrass and traditional country that’s equally endearing as it is purely entertaining. If you love anything like a combination of the Black Lips and a garage rock cousin of The Carter Family girls then this is definitely something you need to check out. They’re basically fun bundled up in songs.

5. Real Estate- Real Estate

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHx8ZhYsigQ

One of the best fuzzed out, reverb heavy albums I’ve heard in some time. This isn’t noise for the sake of it; they actually use the washed atmosphere to take you from your headphones to a shore in New Jersey drinking their “Suburban Beverage” Budweiser and Sprite on a sunny day. What lifts this album above most from the same noise genre is their ability to implement an intoxicating nonchalant melodic pop approach to their sound. This is one of those instantly gratifying albums that’s the perfect playlist whether it’s summer or not.

4. Avett Brothers- I and Love and You

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCBpGxqtWk0

Like any fan of the Avett Brothers, this was a horse pill that was hard to swallow at first. Once the shock from the smoothed out production and change in their most prevalent instrument (less banjo, more piano) all went away, the patient listener discovered one of the best Avett Brothers albums to date. If anything, the production allows for a more focused listen to the lyrics which happen to be the savior. Overwhelmingly they make up for the flaws musically. I doubted the legitimacy of this record with such a drastically different sound but then I found myself coming back to it again and again. The same old Avett Brothers are still in this, they’ve just grown up a bit. A lyric from “The Perfect Space” really sums up their maturity: “I wanna have friends that I can trust, that love me for the man that I’ve become, not the man I was”. But don’t let that fool you, they can still have a good time, just try and sit still on “Slight Figure of Speech”.

3. A.A. Bondy- When the Devil’s Loose

http://www.ilike.com/artist/A.A.+Bondy/track/Oh+The+Vampyre

Possibly one of the most underrated releases of the year, I found myself listening to A.A. Bondy’s wonderful take on modern folk about every week. I’m not into the whole vampire craze of the past few years with Twilight, True Blood etc. (besides Vampire Weekend of course) but I think “Oh The Vampyre” was my second or third most listened to track of the entire year. It almost makes you feel a sense of sympathy for this forlorn vampyre (I don’t understand that spelling either). “Lord what I would give for just one drop of red, now the dew is on the grass and I am late for bed, and when I come I will come on like a dream, with the crimson moon shining down upon my devils wing”. Bondy sprinkles poetry like this all over the album. He matches it perfectly with subtle yet melodic pricks of the guitar and an introverted yet strong vocal approach. Let this album play endlessly on repeat, you won’t be disappointed.

2. Harlem Shakes- Technicolor Health

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=090mOkciRp0&feature=player_embedded

^Listen to “Strictly Game” to start your new year off right. The Harlem Shakes sing a hesitant yet hopeful chant that sums up a great outlook on life pretty well, “This will be a better year…make a little money, take a lot of shit, feel real bad and get over it, ah, this will be a better year”. It’s so simple and so blatantly to the point. There’s so much going on in this record, it makes it hard to express why it’s the second best album of the year. The mystery and inability to disassemble this record is half the draw though. The Harlem Shakes hit you with horns, glockenspiels, bongos, spazzing guitar hooks and blanketing background vocals that even howl at you from time to time. The only reliable part of their collage of sound is one of the most intriguing main vocalists of the year, Lexy. He anchors this feel-good eclectic barrage coming from every inch of the speakers and creates truly one of the best of the year. Honestly, I’m amazed this album didn’t receive more praise than it did. The saddest part though, is that the band already broke up; no more brilliance to be heard from the Harlem Shakes.

1. Phoenix- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlaFkDUHiZg

Where did this album come from? These Frenchmen have drastically progressed with each album but this one was heads above anything else they’ve ever put out. If you’ve heard “Everything Is Everything” from their 2004 release Alphabetical and then listen to Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix opener “Lisztomania” you understand what I’m talking about. It bursts in almost like a statement. Phoenix wanted to make it clear that this album was going to be different than anything they had done before.

The smooth and smart pop-sensibility was in their earlier material’s framework but this album has a whole new vibe to it. Wolfgang  is one of those rarities; a modern day record that sounds vibrant and balanced all the while attaining one sound from start to finish. Each song encompasses the infectious sing-song echoing vocals with varying driving beats that seem to hit circles around your head. Everything shines here without any filler. Songs like “1901”, “Countdown”, and “Armistice” are endlessly listenable. “Love Like a Sunset Pt. 1 & 2” and “Girlfriend” anchor the middle and end of the record with some of the finest shimmering alternative pop-rock put out today. It had me dancing like I was in The Breakfast Club, contemplating during the atmospheric build ups, and generally gave me an uplifting sense of hope. From front to back, this is an album that should not be missed.

Honorable Mentions (In alphabetical order):

Album- Artist (Key Tracks)

-Black Eyed Peas- The E.N.D. – (You know just as well as I do) - Another great set of songs from BEP; it’s like they eat, sleep and drink hit songs.

-Dan Auerbach- Keep It Hid (Goin’ Home & Keep It Hid)

-John Mayer- Battle Studies (Edge of Desire & War of My Life) A big letdown compared to Continuum but still a fairly solid release sonically not so much lyrically.

-Julian Casablancas- Phrazes for the Young (Out of the Blue & 4 Chords of the Apocalypse)

-Lady Gaga- The Fame Monster – This woman is on a roll and Bad Romance is my jam. Alejandro just makes me laugh because she’s out of her mind but in a good way- the offer’s still on the table from last year LG…I’d still date you and all of your out of control sexuality/costumes.

-Lily Allen- It’s Not Me, It’s You (Him & Who’d Have Known- A hard album to swallow, being a fan of her old sound but still an enjoyable album no matter how quiet it may be)

-M. Ward- Hold Time (Shangri-La & Rave On)

-Metric- Fantasies (Help I’m Alive & Sick Muse)

-Neko Case- Middle Cyclone (Vengeance Is Sleeping, People Got A Lotta Nerve)

-Taken By Trees- East of Eden (Anna & Greyest Love of All- the latter is one of the most gorgeous unknown gems of the year)

-Vetiver- Tight Knit (Rolling Sea & Everyday)

-White Lies- To Lose My Life… (A Place To Hide & Death- the latter is impossible to get out of your head if you love anything inspired by vocals reminiscent of Joy Division)

-Yeah Yeah Yeah’s- It’s Blitz! (Zero & Heads Will Roll…duh)

Biggest Disappointments of 2009:

Antony & The Johnsons- The Crying Light

Simply said, it’s nearly impossible to top the Mercury Award winning 2005 release that still holds possibly my favorite song of all time “Fistful of Love”. This isn’t a terrible album by any means, it just had a lot to live up to.

Discovery- LP

I was pretty excited to see what this album held in store for the world with the combination of a Vampire Weekend and a Ra Ra Riot member. This should have been pure magic but it ended up sounding like an incomplete extended EP made just for fun and done with one take per song…in a bad way.

****Maybe I focused on albums of the past too much this year (50’s/60’s soul and 1960 and on Brit Pop) but all in all, I thought this was a fairly weak year for music. Only a few albums made it into my head for more than a few weeks. But, if I really had to pick the album that I listened to the most besides Phoenix’s this year, it was have to be Kings of Leon’s release from last year, Only by the Night. I became utterly obsessed with that album and it finally converted me to become a fan of theirs (I know, kill me). ****

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25 Best Albums of the Decade:

This holds most of my favorite albums ever and a lot of emotional connections. The start of the 2000’s was the decade I truly started to listen to music beyond what was on the radio growing up and a few influences from my much older siblings.

P.S. For all you haters, those pop-punk picks are still good to this day!

25. Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago

24. Various Artists- Walk The Line (Music From The Motion Picture) (No joke, I was terribly obsessed with this album- T. Bone’s work is just too good and Joaquin’s rootsy rock n’ roll take on Johnny’s songs is superb)

23. Jimmy Eat World- Bleed America

22. Audioslave- Audioslave

21. Muse- Absolution

20. Nightmare of You- Nightmare of You (4 years later I still believe this is an unbelievable and highly underrated album)

19. Coldplay- A Rush of Blood to the Head

18. Anberlin- Never Take Friendship Personal

17. Vampire Weekend- Vampire Weekend

16. Green Day- American Idiot

15. Rocky Votolato- Makers

14. The Honorary Title- Anything Else But the Truth

13. James Morrison- Undiscovered

12. Ray LaMontagne- Till The Sun Turns Black

11. Michael Buble- It’s Time (I don’t care what you say, this is a phenomenal album)

10. Arctic Monkeys- Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

9. Arcade Fire- Funeral

8. Cat Power- The Greatest (“Lived In Bars” still gives me the chills every time)

7. The Strokes- Room on Fire

6. John Mayer- Continuum

5. O Brother Where Art Thou? (Music From The Motion Picture)

4. Guster- Keep It Together

3. Ray LaMontagne- Trouble

2. Rufus Wainwright- Want One

1. The Strokes- Is This It

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfamwv1kR4M&feature=related

This was a no-brainer for me. I can still remember the first time I listened to this album after I borrowed it from Rachel (thanks Wash!) in geometry class sophomore year of high school. She hyped it up and I thought it was going to be overrated garbage before I even pressed play. Even then I thought I knew everything about music (some things never change). As soon as the neon “The Strokes” letters spun around my tiny blue CD player jetting the “I don’t give a….” monotone croon of Julian Casablancas I knew I was listening to something different, something special. The pent up NYC energy and coolness, layering rhythms of every instrument from every direction; the sound was exciting, in full color. Their entire culture was somehow captured in one album. It’s like Is This It could have come out every year since its 2002 release and it would still sound ahead of its time. It’s familiar yet completely new with each listen. Without a doubt, it’s the album of the decade.

Close Competitors:

Amy Winehouse- Back to Black

Antony & The Johnsons- I Am a Bird Now

Band of Horses- Everything All The Time

The Black Keys- The Big Come Up

Brand New- Your Favorite Weapon

Brandi Carlile- The Story

Camera Obscura- Let’s Get Out of This Country

Fall Out Boy- Take This To Your Grave

Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova- Once (Music From The Motion Picture)

Jamie Lidell- Multiply

M. Ward- Post-War

The National- Boxer

Neko Case- Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Regina Spektor- Begin to Hope

Rilo Kiley- More Adventurous

Rufus Wainwright- Poses

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Dozen Best Movies of 2009 that I saw:

12. Away We Go

11. Sugar

10. District 9

9. An Education

8. Star Trek

7. Up (Great film, but I still think Wall-E is better)

6. Inglorious Bastards

5. Anvil!: The Story of Anvil!

4.  (500) Days of Summer

3. The Road

2. Up in the Air

1. Avatar

There isn’t much to say here that you haven’t already heard. I had a whole spectrum of expectations going into this film. I heard it looked brilliant but had a horrendous script/plot. Sure, the writing could have been better but by no means was it bad. I thought it was quite good and completely served its purpose for a big budget action film. The visuals were breathtaking but they didn’t steal the entire show. Without the engaging writing, they would have been nothing but radiating color splashes on a screen with little sentiment.

No other movie took my body on such a varied ride through my emotions like Avatar did. It was a spectacle to see and one of the most satisfying films in such a wide array of ways that it kind of makes you say, “Well, I don’t really know much else that could top that.” As great as the other films were this year, nothing ended up toping this full range cinematic experience.

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Handful of Boring/Overrated Films of 2009:

5. A Serious Man (O)

4. Coraline (B)

3. 45 Shots of Rum (B/O)

2. Moon (B)

1. The Hangover (O)

I’ll sum this up quickly. Who still talks about this movie now besides hearing that wolf quote every so often? No one. Why? Because it’s no that good! It was average and what was the best part? The credits! Yeah, a real hilarious movie…so good that no one remembers it or talks about it. Good? I suppose. Better than a modern classic like Wedding Crashers? Hell no, not even close. Mindless, witless and vulgar humor like this gets old and really only shows an understanding of shock value thus turning it into forgettable humor worth seeing at most one time.

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P.S. Song of the year was totally “Party in the U.S.A.”…there’s no denying it. Everyone loved it, danced to it, and sang along no matter how many times they heard it. Gramps knows what I’m talking about…

Best video of the year haha?? http://www.youtube.com/watchv=2Ezfk7s1NyY

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By: Michael Mallette

Interesting, veeeery interesting…I wonder what scheming apple is up to now with this purchase. Is their more of a future in the sales of streaming rather than owning?

One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur- Ben Gibbard & Jay Farrar

Ben Gibbard is truly a renaissance man. While some love him and others think he is too much of a pompous jerk, his career runs the gamut from being an central member in two influential bands (Death Cab and Postal Service), sitting the producer’s chair, being a credited and accomplished musician (in the areas of guitar, vocals, bass, and drums), and even engineering a few records in the beginning of his career. In addition, Gibbard’s literary love drew him to connect with Jay Farrar, previously of Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt. In combination with Farrar, Gibbard released One Fast Move or I’m Gone, a collection of tunes lyrically and emotionally based off of Jack Kerouc’s novel Big Sur.

Although I have never read Big Sur, Gibbard and Farrar seemed to have put the lyrical passages from Kerouac to expressively fitting music. Opening with California Zephyr, Gibbard croons of a passionate longing for San Francisco. Later, the track San Francisco, sung by Farrar, opens with just him and an acoustic guitar with a harmonica that joins him later. While some may find this track’s nakedness off-putting, the vocals’ imperfections create a slight uneasy ending to the record, possibly mirroring the ongoing search of the Beat Generation.

This album is so perfectly mellow, so perfectly heart aching, that it lends itself to be listened to over a cool fall night on the back porch, relaxing from the work a long day. Lyrically and musically it calls for transcendence of reality and a journey to a new place that promises a brighter existence. It seems as though this album effortlessly combines Gibbard’s inner nerd, his ability to perform fluid and moving music, and Farrar’s composing prowess.

As a collection, this album is thematically moving and properly minimalist. Farrar composed and edited just the right lyrical passages to provide a fitting canvas for both Gibbard and himself to paint on, recreating the message originally intended by one of America’s greatest writers. In the right mindset, this album is potentially amazing, but has the ability to be too slow melancholy for some. With the correct perspective, the drive and simplicity of this album combine to recharge a self-searching message that was once so valued in Kerouac and Beat Generation sub-culture.

-Michael Hardesty

Key Tracks:
San Francisco
One Fast Move and I’m Gone
California Zephyr

Rating: 86%

"I Have Loved You Wrong"- The Swell Season

This mp3 is for sampling only. Go buy it if you like it! If you are the owner of a sound file, and would like it removed just let me know.

The Swell Season- Strict Joy

You would think Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová would have learned their lesson by now. They, more than anyone should know better- their skyrocketing accent from virtually unknown to one of the most raved duo’s making music after the indie shocker of “Once” should have been a sign. On their first project Glen and Mar strung together effortless ditties about the usual inspirations: love, loss, dreams, anger. Once (Music from the Motion Picture) took the quality of passionete lyrics from most of the debut’s songs then threw out the distracting and unneeded (basically everything besides Glen’s voice, his busted guitar and some piano jangles). It worked- it only took one listen to understand and feel what he was singing. Hansard’s voice was a crying out- someone that actually had something to say and desperately needed to be heard.

Strict Joy weaves a story more about the mental process during the downfall of a relationship; less of a cry to the ex-lover. The albums biggest struggle seems to be projecting a clear vision for the album as a whole. The listener is thrown around on a blind rollercoaster from song to song starting with ”Low Rising” where Hansard’s voice is too rough and uncontrolled for the subdued soulful and bluesy guitar that calls for a smoother vocal effort.

But then we’re lead into “Feeling the Pull” which is jumpy, repetitive and an uninspired song that lyrically just sounds like it was written by a newbe to songwriting. The lack of creativity and direction is surprising. But, then again Swell Season’ simplicity has always border lined on beauty and lack thereof. As if “Feeling the Pull” wasn’t bad enough- somehow “The Rain” made its way into this album. Put simply, its a loosely constructed bore with wavering vocals and a prime example of the unbelievably mundane lyrics and instrumentation on what sounds like Glen Hansard’s high school demo tapes.

Most surprisingly, my least favorite part of the duo might have become the most tasteful sound on the whole album; Markéta actually sounds marvelous. “I Have Loved You Wrong”, is easily the finest vocal performance by Mar to date. It showcases her drastic vocal improvement from downright awful and weak to a gem of lustrous confidence. A bass mesmerizingly bellows along with her sweet yet apologetic voice on this standout track and Hansard even finds a way to smooth his voice out, meshing his vocals beautifully for their acapella confessional to rightly end the song.

Their wishwashy vision really takes a lot of the impact away from Strict Joy as it mixes some of Once’s strengths and but also the weaknesses their self-titled album presented. The demise of this album belongs in the hands of Hansard’s lack of balance- not knowing when to sing his heart out and when to glide along with the tone of the song. I always think the album cover can say a lot about an album and this is no exception; pale and empty, waiting for the lines to be filled in with some color or at least a better defined complexion. Maybe next time Glen and Mar will re-think the lesson they already learned: take out the unneeded- lay out the emotions to the most vulnerable state then watch the stars align.

Top Tracks:

I Have Loved You Wrong

Back Broke

Rating: 76%

By: Michael Mallette

Swell Season’s follow up to the Once soundtrack is a mellow and often boring album that lacks much true musical attraction. While some tension between the two members is found in songs, the instrumental segments of the songs lull the listener to sleep. I found myself liking this album about the same each time I listened through, nothing really adding or detracting to its initial value. Where the Swell Season fail on this album, unlike their previous soundtrack effort, is a true sense of urgency and passion. While it has potential for future listens and a different type of audience, all of its value was lost on me. The melodies were sub-par relative to Once and few memorable moments were found. The one shining spot in the record was the song The Rain. Starting with Hansard and an acoustic guitar, it builds in ebbs and flows to produce a well-orchestrated song that lives and breathes more naturally than the remainder of the songs.

Overall, this album has little to offer. It is not necessarily a poorly made record; it just lacks anything special that makes one want to listen to it again. This said, anyone who likes medium tempo, mildly assembled music may think this is a great album. As for me, I could not argue this point, for I would already be asleep.

Key Tracks:

The Rain

Rating: 63%

By: Michael Hardesty

Brandi Carlile- Give Up The Ghost —- The Flaming Lips- Embryonic

I can’t get over how breathtakingly genuine Brandi Carlile comes across song in and song out. Her vocal and lyrical prowess is a driving force physically pushing her wall of sound against the listeners body to the bending point. Carlile sets the tone of Give Up The Ghostwith the sincere and hopeful power of “Looking Out”. Letting go of her griping hold, Carlile meditatively pulls at the heart strings a bit with sweet sincerity with the remembrance of her childhood friend on “That Year”. Like each album before, Carlile’s precise and passionete yet modest lyrics slowly burn their way into your heart- ingraining their way deeper and further with each listen.

The biggest surprise perhaps is the jangly tune, “Caroline” that sounds as though it could come out of a Vaudeville show. Elton John beats on the piano like a ragtime veteran only coming in vocally for a harmony here and there in the chorus allowing Carlile to bounce along solo for the majority of the song. “Caroline” comes off as a ramshackle stretch of a performance just thrown in to place Elton John’s name on the press kit. It’s a valid attempt at a little old-timey sound most likely influenced by producer Rick Rubin’s obsession with clean-cut pianos as evidenced on The Avett Brothers latest release (check out Hardesty’s review from a few weeks ago).

Brandi Carlile’s knack for subtlety is evidenced in the touching melodic hooks placed within each song as in “Touching The Ground” that has a way of finding its way back into the daily hum. It’s the sort of song that makes you smirk a bit as you think of your special lil’ gal on your winding drive home. Her voice suspends with each perfectly aligned acoustic strum balancing until she drops her high pitched love sing-song into the chorous meeting the touches of piano. The heart-warming lyrics flow up and down in unison to perfectly tie up this beautiful tune.

"Why do my troubles turn true
Whenever I rest my eyes on you
Why must my heartache be found
Wherever your feet are touching the ground”

Give Up The Ghost is another set of songs that showcases what makes Brandi Carlile’s music so easy to love—her distinct skill to bring in such genuine passion, love, and sincerity without a hint of melodrama.

Key Tracks:
Looking Out
That Year
Dying Day

Rating: 88%

Check out her video for the single, “Dreams”:

By: Michael Mallette

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During my three flights this weekend, I had the pleasure of being able to listen to the Flaming Lips newest release, Embryonic. And what a journey it was. Personally, this may be the craziest Lips album I have heard and the trippiest by far. Tracks such as Aquarius Sabotage, an instrumental, and See the Leaves pack a heavy and unpredictable punch all while continuing to showcase the depth of the band’s experiments and minds.

Other tracks, such as I Can Be a Frog and If, are just plain weird. They are not bad songs by any means, just weird. I Can Be a Frog is literally unexplainable. Everyone who reads this review needs to stop what he or she is doing and listen to it. That is the only way one can comprehend the wildness of this album and specifically this song. If is different in the sense it is full of random coughs and throat clears from Cohen and drenched in lo-fi carnival type keys. This is not the only song on the album that uses random noises from Cohen, as in Powerless we hear an unsettling Cohen laugh drenched in delay that flutters at random points in the song.

The closing song on the album, Impulse, starts off with long slow synth pads but surprises the listener with a futuristic type of talk-box vocals. Hands down, it may be the most peculiar type of effect I have heard on a studio recording. Combine these types of effects all over the album and some of the most random ideas, The Flaming Lips put together a really solid album. While it dumbfounds me at every turn with the newest idea, it is oddly extremely listenable. It has all types of different songs including jams, instrumentals, intensely arranged mid tempos, coupled with plain out trippy songs that induce a pseudo-high mindset via listening. The only downfall to this album is the potential for it’s spontaneity to become trite after a multiple listens. While this is possible, the sheer number of layers, sounds, and ideas on this album make me think that Cohen and Co. have made a long-living testament to creativity and drugs everywhere.

Key Tracks:
I Can Be A Frog
See The Leaves

Rating: 83%

By: Michael Hardesty

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****Next week we both spew our overly opinionated thoughts on either the new Swell Season, Julian Casablancas or Temper Trap…yeah, we can’t make up our minds.

Mayer Hawthorne- A Strange Arrangement

Where do I even start with this guy? I hadn’t heard much about him until I recently ran into a listen of one of his singles, “Maybe So, Maybe No”. His crisp throwback to late 60’s Motown soul is only an attempt at what more talented artists such at Jamie Lidell or Raphael Saadiq have accomplished with more creativity. He must think his fragile falsetto comes across as heartbreaking the way he skates over the complacent bore of “Shiny and New”. Not only are the lyrics exhaustively predictable but it showcases his non-original and equally less excitable voice. The airy falsetto with cheesy Marvin Gaye inspired R&B instrumentation in the background combine for easily the worst track on the whole album.

Credit is due for this multi-instrumentalist for the superb sound behind the sound of his voice. The successes of his compositions almost make up for the (at times) laughable lyrics on this debut. In fact, I literally did lose it when I heard on “Make Her Mine”: 

"I may not be a rich attorney
But I’ll win my girls heart in a trial of love
I may not have the giant mansion
But I’ll treat her so right, keep her warm at night”

Is he serious? These are some of the most unimaginative, least soulful words I’ve even seen strung together by a legitimate artist in some time.

Beyond the music. I can’t get over his spit-shined image he’s trying to pull off. Sure, he’s a record junkie nerd but for someone with this much soul potential I have to ask, “What the hell are you wearing?” He tries to look the part but fails miserably with a cross between Ben Gibbard and something a member of Mae would wear on a “soul” inspired side project.

There’s a lot of potential in the singles, “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” and “Maybe So, Maybe No” but beyond that this album’s fails being anything besides another wanna-be retro soul record. Mayer should take note of Jamie Lidell and bring something new into his bag of tricks to create a unique style mixed with the throwback sound because clearly he can’t replicate the greatness he so admires.

Key Track:
Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out
Let Me Know

Rating: 55% 

By: Michael Mallette

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Mayer Hawthorne looks nothing like he sounds. And seemingly that may be a very good thing. On Hawthorne’s most recent release, A Strange Arrangement, Hawthorne shoots for a sampled version of the 1960’s-70’s soul and falsetto R&B. Essentially, he takes what is good about that style of music (the liveliness, the groove inspired full fledged bands) and kills it by sampling and programming most of his instrumentation. Honestly, it sounds as if Hawthorne is singing over a Casio Keyboard Soul Loop background track. On top of that, add his disturbingly pasty white falsetto voice and viola, you have A Strange Arrangement.


In all seriousness, the album’s musical arrangements are flat and electronic. This album could very much use the injection of real musicians playing with real soul and vibe. Next, most of the songs are centered on one very short, repetitive line that is driven into the listeners’ brain until its dead. This album’s lyrics, instruments, and delivery often suffer from acting as a cheap Mark Ronson knock-off that cannot begin to compete.


One redemptive sign from this album is that Mayer Hawthorne seems to not be putting everything he has into this album. Surely there is more in his DJ styled mind than these simple hooks and instrumentations that he presents us. If not, maybe his next album should focus on a genre that allows him to fully input his creativity to the project.

Key Track:
Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin

Rating: 58%

By: Michael Hardesty

Check out his single “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBKx8PyE5qQ

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****Next week Hardesty takes on the new release from The Flaming Lips and maybe the first positive review for me with the latest Brandi Carlile LP.

Volcano Choir- Unmap —- The Avett Brothers- I and Love and You

The cover art sums it up; Volcano Choir is a collection of men eerily wandering through the deep woods, singing and chanting in the echo of the open air.  Their sound is essentially a less melodic and less heartfelt Bon Iver track drawn out beyond the point of intent listen-ability. Unmap begins with the soothing “Husks And Shells” that calls for a warm nap in the cool months of winter. But honestly, it sounds like the album should be ending before it’s even begun.

Once you hear the first song, you’ve heard it all. The abstract mumblings, the repetitious drone, the musically layered replications— they all add up to music best suited for the background. The distinct hallow falsetto of Justin Vernon turns from an asset (“Island, Is”) into a piercing knife on repeat (“And Gather”). Harsh and endless amounts of pointless harmonies flood what seems to be the same songs with slight variations spread over the whole LP. And what’s with “Still”? “Woods” was far from the strongest song from Bon Iver’s “Blood Bank” EP yet they took that exact song, extended it, threw in Volcano Choirs’ useless spatterings of noise and changed the title of the song.

The first half of the album is genuinely listenable and enjoyable as it hums the listener into a warm and volnurable sleep but the second half of the album just tries too hard. With harmonies purposley out of key, the same drum beating at you for far too many minutes and a feeling of senseless noise throughtout; this first effort from Volcano Choir finds me forgetting I was even listening to their album. This attempt of “atmospheric Bon Iver” comes across more annoying than brilliant. But, at least I found my new siesta album, right?

Key Tracks:
Husks And Shells
Island, Is

Rating: 67%

By: Michael Mallette

p.s. these old as balls reviewers are my inspiration (Joe’s my favorite): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYlodrVPEDA

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Dear Rick Rubin,
You are a truly a horrible person. Maybe not person, but your production skills are slick, over-the-top and possess the ability to single handily ruin great bands (a la Weezer). That being said, you failed big time this go round. While you produced the heck out of the Avett Brothers, squashing their raw sound with compression and replacing their sloppy drum hits with computerized samples, the Avett Brothers songs shone through. The Avett’s forthcoming album, I and Love and You, may be a bit too sleek, but the songs run deep with mature lyrics, catchy melodies and an energy that only Scott and Seth Avett could provide.


While their “new” sound maybe more appropriate for a wider audience, the overall feeling is that this is a great album but it could have been better with the traditional loose and raw production that the Avett Brothers are known for. (Luckily, your reviewer will be able to see the Avett Brothers live on October 31st in Nashville where Rick Rubin will not be able to muddle with their greatness.) This album offers more drums, piano, and cello than one is accustomed to but in all actuality it provides a sense of growth and progression in talent. It’s obvious with songs like January Wedding and Tin Man that the Avett Brothers have come along way since their screaming Nemo days. Only on track, Ten Thousand Words, is truly forgettable.


Overall, the album is fun, introspective, and cultured. Listening to it brings a glimmer of hope, respect, and a glimpse of honest truth. While this release may not be to my standards in the production realm, it is a very approachable effort that demands a fair listen and offers a new take on one of the best bands in recent history.

Key Tracks:
Tin Man
And It Spread
Slight Figure of Speech

Rating: 91%

Watch their single, ”I and Love and You”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jj8HDe5M-Jo

By: Michael Hardesty

****Next week Hardesty and I take a look at Brandi Carlile’s new release

Arctic Monkeys- Humbug

The third release from the Mercury Prize winning outfit finds these Sheffield, England brooges steering their efforts in lead singer/songwriter Alex Turner’s recent side project influence. The Last Shadow Puppets gave us a preview of where Turners writing had evolved with the same narcissistic quick wit but lyrically more scattered. The same tight and precise playing from the band resonates throughout Humbug but a more serious tone of darker writing eases the room for space which oozes from the aftertaste of each song.

Turners maturity from Favourite Worst Nightmare to Humbug is almost incomprehensible with lines like, “So spark is a charm with the barking alarm,
Weighs coil ‘til the corner is turned” on “Pretty Visitors”. Please let me know what the hell that means if you ever summon enough wisdom. But then he pulls out his true to self lyrics later in the song with this smirk of pompousness:

What came first the chicken or the dickhead?
Split sleep reaps through rewards and ill fitting thoughts,
A twilight force, she doesn’t wanna walk,
Your legs start running and your head gets caught…”

From a band with a buzz-beating debut and the sophomore slump triumph of “Favourite Worst Nightmare” this effort turns out to be a less melodic affair which really takes away the second half of what makes their distinct sound so enjoyable. Sure, the writing is well done but no longer is it concise; more like a hodgepodge.

My favorite tracks are each on the opposite sides of the Arctic Monkeys sound spectrum. On “Pretty Visitors” Turner seemed to have been pulling from a scattering assortment of memories that spit slower than the two previous albums. “Pretty Visitors” has the pounding wit like “Balaclava” from FWN but the daydreaming “Cornerstone” places them in less familiar territory. We can only hope this album is a notch reached in order to take Alex Turners brilliance further then match it with the sound of a more inspired although darker Arctic Monkeys music behind him on the next LP. Overall, this isn’t the best album of theirs by any means; likely, it’ll soon be forgotten. After all, there’s little to stimulate much of anything here besides that lovely Yorkshire accent; somehow, I don’t ever see that getting old.

Favorite Tracks: Cornerstone, Pretty Visitors

Rating: 73%

By: Michael Mallette

 

 

On the Arctic Monkey’s third release, Humbug, the band produces a darker and possibly less accessible work in relation to their previous efforts. With Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) at the producer’s helm, Humbug makes a clear effort to be more mature, darker, and sometimes indifferent. Humbug does not overtly try to win over more fans, that being said, it does not purposefully try to be overly inaccessible, though it may come off that way on the first few listens. What makes this album good is the fact that it is more coherent and often times more sonically polished than their first two albums. What makes this album recognizable is the fact that the band continues with their short, witty lyrics and quick and precise guitar melodies. Where this album fails is part due to its inaccessibility and lack of direction.


Overall, Humbug is an effort in the right direction. The Arctic Monkeys have come a long way from their first release, but this album maybe looked upon as more of a stepping stone rather than a milestone. Sonically and lyrically, I love it, but direction wise, the album seems to lack. Certainly this is a worthwhile album; I’m just hoping it turns for the better rather than the worse after a few more listens.

Favorite Tracks: My Propeller, Dance Little Liar

Rating: 77%

 

By: Michael Hardesty

—-AGREE? DISAGREE? COMMENT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE!

****Next week, Hardesty takes on the new Avett Brothers album while I take a listen to Justin Vernon’s Volcano Choir.****

Here it is…

Yes, it’s quite true- Hardesty and I are starting a music blog.

me according to google image search

^this is me according to google image search

I tried doing it on my own but let’s just say nothing really came of it; no one to keep me accountable. SO. In order for these two college kids to keep our word, we’ve decided to start only doing one album review a week. Where that goes, we really don’t know.

We’re going to try reviewing the same album the first week then the following week review an album of our respective tastes. After that, back to a shared album review and so on, back and forth from week to week. But, we don’t want this just to be our words spitting at you without any retaliation. We want your opinion, suggestions, thoughts, rants, praise or anything you want to say in response to what we write here.

Hopefully as we get the hang of this whole blogging business we’ll dive into more music and even film, photography or the strangeness we find hilarious that day.

First up is a review by a band we both love on their most recent album: Arctic Monkey’s “Humbug”.

Oh and as for the blogging name? Look it up, kind of sums both of us up as a pair of music lovers.

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Themed by: Hunson