Monday, December 20, 2010

2010 in Mini-Review

End of the year.... I guess this is where I rank all the music I've heard, and provide mini-reviews on each.  I'll go from worst to best just for dramatic influence.

The Bad
Brandon Flowers - Flamingo
Nothing really interesting here.  Very forgettable.  Only a few decent tracks.  Check out my full review from September.

Kayo Dot - Coyote
I bought one of their albums, Dowsing Anemone In Copper Tongue, several years ago...and didn't like it.  I don't know why I picked this one up; I guess because I like how experimental they are, and it was just $5... Unfortunately, just like Anemone, there is about 15 minutes worth of music that really works spread throughout the whole album.

Dierks Bentley - Up On The Ridge
Another one of those $5 albums... I figured since he's local, and this is allegedly a "bluegrass-like" album, I'd check it out... Unfortunately, it's still pop-country.  Lame.  The songs with Punch Brothers, however, are great, and there are a few listenable tracks.  The U2 cover isn't bad, and besides Punch Brothers, there is a Kris Kristofferson appearance.

The "Meh"
Jimmy Eat World - Invented
I seriously don't see what everybody sees in these guys.  Yeah, they're local... But they don't have the local flavor.  Just another manufactured, watered-down punk-lite group.  I wanted to like it, but it's just more of the same.

Black Country Communion - Black Country
Supergroup with some talented musicians and a cool throwback 70s sound.  Unfortunately, it comes across as a bit uninspired.  There are a few great tracks, but for the most part, it drags, and creativity is lacking.

Ray LaMontagne - God Willin' And The Creek Don't Rise
I suppose this guy is just too mellow for me.  Or maybe it's because his voice doesn't really fit his look.  At any rate, his overall sound isn't too bad, and I like some of the music, but it's hard for me to get excited about this.

Justin Townes Earle - Harlem River Blues
This is an album that I have a hard time listening to straight through, but the songs work well when thrown into a mix.  Just good enough to get me to buy his other albums at a discount.

Black Mountain - Wilderness Heart
This is one I really want to like.  And there is some great music on this one.  It just didn't really pull me in.  These guys have potential, though, and this is definitely an album I'll listen to again.

The Decent
Spock's Beard - X
I don't know what it is... I really loved their self title album.  I might be one of the few who likes them more post-Neal.  Their songwriting is great as ever, and there are some truly amazing passages that rivals anything they've ever done.  I guess I'm just looking for a major change of direction after a couple albums that seem to be getting more well-written, but not more creative.

Keller and the Keels - Thief
This is probably the most fun album I've heard in awhile.  Nothing more fun than bluegrass covers of songs that are not by any means bluegrass (Amy Winehouse's "Rehab," Butthole Surfers' "Pepper," Marcy Playground's "Sex and Candy," to name a few). It's hard to take this album too seriously, but you can't fault a guy who writes a song called "You Can't Sh*t On The Kings" (written about the time a Kings of Leon concert got canceled due to defecating birds).

Cadillac Sky - Letters In The Deep
Some great cuts on here.  I really like what these guys are trying to do, especially when you consider how traditional their previous work is.  I admire them for the same reason I admire Punch Brothers, but they just don't seem to have quite the same level of talent.  Still solid, though.

The Walkmen - Lisbon
This is one I had a lot lower on the first listen, but after giving it another chance, I had to move it up.  It's solid, but not spectacular.  If you like alternative rock, this might be your cup of tea, but it's just not creative enough for me to get excited about it.

Elizabeth & The Catapult - The Other Side Of Zero
This is another one of those Amazon $4 downloads.  And it's pleasantly surprising.  Some of it is a little too poppy for my tastes, but she has an incredible voice, and she's an intelligent songwriter.  Solid album.

Carolina Chocolate Drops - Genuine Negro Jig
I saw this trio at Telluride Bluegrass, and thoroughly enjoyed their show.  Unfortunately, it's not quite as fun in the studio.  There are some quality tracks here, though.  Featured is one of the best kazoo solos I've heard.

The Roots - How I Got Over
This is solid.  I'm not a huge rap listener, but as far as rap goes, these guys are great.  My biggest complaint is that it's too short.  Other than a few tracks, everything here is pretty solid.

The Gracious Few - self titled
Solid rock music from part of Live and part of Candlebox.  It's not groundbreaking, but everything here is listenable, and it sounds fresh.

The Good
Gogol Bordello - Transcontinental Shuffle
It might just be the novelty Gypsy factor taking control, but this is fun.  There are some great songs here, and I can't understand hardly any of the lyrics.  Definitely one of the most interesting artists I've heard in awhile.

La Strada - New Home
This has a sort of Death Cab-on-steroids sound to it.  It's a little cheesier than most of what I listen to, but I couldn't help but enjoy this.  They recently disbanded, however, so this might be their first and last full length album.

Blue Giant - self titled
This country-rock collaboration between someone from The Decemberists and a couple from another band I cannot think of off the top of my head (and probably someone else) is not half bad.  Great sound, and quality writing.

The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
This is one that is nearly unanimously considered one of the best of the year, and for good reason.  I hate to admit it, but I like The Arcade Fire.  These Quebecois write interesting music, with a wide instrumental range, and the perfect level of artsy-fartsiness.

Johnny Flynn - Been Listening
Not as fun as A Larum, but a great album nonetheless.  More mature songwriting from Mr. Flynn gives hope for even better music to come from this heavily-accented Brit.

Buddy Guy - Living Proof
This guy has been around forever, redefining blues wherever he goes.  This was Amazon's deal-of-the-day, and $3.99 was a great investment for this.  Makes me want to go expand my blues collection.

Robert Plant - Band of Joy
If you don't like Robert Plant's newfound love of folk music, you might not care for this.  If you do, as I do, you'll probably agree that this is very good.  I think I like the new Robert Plant better than the Led Zeppelin Robert Plant, which may be sacrilegious to some.

Oceansize - Self Preserved While The Bodies Float Up
This is about what I expected from these guys.  It starts out heavy, but there's plenty of mellow music to make this nicely balanced.  If you like loosely structured British prog metal, check this out.

Railroad Earth - self titled
Listening to this right now... I like these guys.  Very solid jamgrass, and excellent melodies all around.  Includes an 11 minute instrumental jam that brilliantly captures what makes seeing a jam band in concert a great experience.  

The Excellent
Josh Ritter - So Runs The World Away
This rivals anything Josh has ever done, and that's not exactly an easy mark to hit.  See my full review for more info.

The Black Crowes - Croweology
It's a greatest hits album...but it's not.  It's an unplugged album...but it's not.  It's actually two discs worth of their most popular songs, reworked to use acoustic instruments (not that cheesy unplugged-but-still-the-same-parts crap).  Good introduction to the Crowes for those who don't care for hard rock.  A good indicator of a quality song is that it is a good song no matter what the genre.

Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
Yeah, technically this came out in 2009 in the UK, but I'll include it anyways.  Quality arena folk from these London chaps.  They're taking the world by storm, which is fine by me.  Because they have a banjo.

Pain of Salvation - Road Salt One
Just when you thought they ran out of ideas... Just when you started to get the idea that they'll never write a better prog metal album than Remedy Lane... They go and write an album that isn't even prog metal.  This is what I imagine what would happen if a band in the 70s had access to all the new ideas that would arise in the next 30 years, but were stuck with their 70s technology.

Punch Brothers - Antifogmatic
I know I push these guys way too much, but this is the most interesting thing I've heard in a very long time.  It remains my favorite album of the year, and not just because I have a deluxe edition with all of their signatures on the front cover.    

Monday, December 13, 2010

New Release: Dharohar Project, Laura Marling, and Mumford & Sons

Release Date (US): December 7, 2010
Release Date (UK): July 5, 2010
Label: Glassnote

Here is an interesting little collection I just stumbled across on Amazon while looking at the <$5 mp3 downloads. Unless you've been living in a cave, you've probably at least of heard of Mumford & Sons by now.  If not, they're an arena folk band from London, and it's really hard not to like them.  Laura Marling is a folk singer from that same London scene, and in fact, Mumford & Sons were her backing band at some of her live performances.  I am totally unfamiliar with Dharohar Project, but they're from India.

Apparently this EP was recorded in India, which is well reflected in the music.  I would call this a mix between the type of folk music you would expect from Laura Marling, with a heavy dose of traditional Indian music thrown in... Then replace the sitar with a banjo, and this is what you get.  It's definitely mellow, so don't expect the intensity of Mumford & Sons.

The vocal duties are more or less split.  I believe two of the songs feature Marcus Mumford, and two feature Laura Marling; and all four feature traditional Indian singing from Dharohar Project.

I'd recommend picking this up for a few bucks if you're interested in something different.  If Indian music annoys you, however, this might not be your cup of tea.

1Devil's Spoke/Sneh Ko Marg6:30
2To Darkness/Kripa4:23
3Anmol Rishtey3:55
4Mehendi Rachi4:57


Friday, December 3, 2010

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit - Been Listening

Release Date (UK): June 7, 2010
Release Date (US): October 25, 2010
Label: Transgressive Records

This is one I've been wanting to review for awhile. I've had it since it was released in the US, about five weeks ago. The reason I hadn't gotten to it yet is that I wanted to give it a few listens before forming an opinion on it.

Since I already reviewed their previous album, I'll spare the background information and get right to this album.

Obviously, since I liked A Larum so much, I had been looking forward to this for awhile.  I listened to it right when I got it, and as it turns didn't really grab me.  I couldn't say then and there that this is a solid album, and that you should go out and buy it.

 The album starts off well.  The first track, Kentucky Pill, is a thoughtful, mature folk tune, with a great sound.  Lost and Found is another thoughtful, mature folk tune, with a great tune.  Churlish May, like the first two tunes, has a moderate tempo, but some horns are added to the mix.

Right away, I noticed that this album features a more mature, well-developed sound than its predecessor (which I just pronounced "PREE de sess or" in my head, due to Johnny's English accent).  The songs are very tight, flow very well, and seem to reflect a more poetic and mellowed out Flynn.

The title track is a slow, peaceful folk ballad featuring a very slightly overdriven lead guitar, and vocals that seem to want to be reduced to only a whisper.  It is slow and plodding, but does not drag the way the only plodding song on their previous album, Brown Trout Blues, does.  Flynn has figured out how to write a good slow song.

Barnacled Warship, one of the highlights of the album for me, starts out with what sounds to my untrained ears like a cello (or maybe it's the bottom of a violin's range...who knows), and teases us with some of the awesome harmonies which made A Larum so great, and had more or less eluded us up to this point.  This is a good medium-paced song, but by now it feels someone lively.

Sweet William (Part 2) is another good track.  Livelier yet than the previous track, The Sussex Wit treat us to a cool banjo part, with some strings and horns in the mix.

At this point, they slow it down again, and we get a slow duet with Flynn and fellow London folk musician Laura Marling, called The Water.  Musically, this one is a little drab, albeit beautiful.  It's definitely new territory for Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit.

Howl is a slightly bluesy piece with a bit of angst in the chorus.  I'm torn on this one; in some ways, this is to this album what Brown Trout Blues was on the last, although this is a significantly better song, and a more dynamic one than we're used to from this band.  I think it may have worked better had it followed a more lively song.

The next track, Agnes, is lively, but unlike the lively tracks from the previous album, this actually sounds like a happy song.  While there is nothing wrong with optimistic lyrics, I do kind of miss the juxtaposition of dark lyrics with upbeat music.  Happy lyrics with upbeat music just isn't as cool.

Amazon Love is the slowest song on the whole album, with just a piano carrying most of the instrumental load.  It's an incredibly mellow track; possibly the most mellow on either album.  The Prizefighter And The Heiress also starts out relatively slow, but picks up halfway through, finishing the album on a strong note.

1Kentucky Pill3:52
2Lost and Found3:41
3Churlish May4:02
4Been Listening5:16
5Barnacled Warship5:12
6Sweet William, Pt. 25:00
7The Water4:12
10Amazon Love5:39
11The Prizefighter and the Heiress5:06

It should be said that every track here is good.  This album's flaw is not in what it contains, but rather, what it is missing.  Gone is the lighthearted attitude that A Larum seemed to carry.  This is a serious album, rather than a fun one.  The strength of their first album lay in its being a toe-tappingly fun folk record, and this is (with the possible exception of the first track) almost entirely devoid of that element.  This at once leaves me a little disappointed, as I didn't get what I expected to get out of it, but also fairly confident that Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit are more than capable of growing musically, rather than releasing album after album of the same material.

Addendum: The US version comes with the Sweet William EP appended to the end of the album, consisting of these tracks:
  1. The Mountain Is Burning
  2. Trains
  3. Sweet William
  4. Drum
I'm not going to review them here; suffice it to say, they lean toward the mellow side.