Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Video Album

While I realize it's not something entirely new, 2011 seemed like the year for video albums. Musicians weren't releasing albums in video format only, but there were a few prominent artists releasing videos for every song on their releases. The three that really seemed to herald this trend were TV on the Radio, PJ Harvey and Bon Iver.

TV on the Radio

TVotR released their video album back in April as a single You-Tube video. The movie starts with some somewhat random musings from people (not the band) on life, love and almost everything in between. These interviews continue in between some of the music videos. The music videos themselves run the gambit from animated to live-action, emotional to humorous and low-budget (in feel, the entire thing was low-budget) to glossy. The video is one of the last appearances of the band's former bassist Gerard Smith, who had passed away earlier that month.

If you watched until the end, he band is still together, the scene in the coffee shop was purely hypothetical.

PJ Harvey

Polly Jean completed her video project for Let England Shake in May, resulting in 12 videos, one for each song on the album. Most of the videos were simple in concept, showing shots shot around PJ's native England or a group of performers singing the song. A DVD of all the videos (directed by Seamus Murphy) was released about two weeks ago.
  1. Let England Shake
  2. The Last Living Rose
  3. The Glorious Land
  4. The Words That Maketh Murder
  5. All & Everyone
  6. On Battleship Hill
  7. England
  8. In the Dark Places
  9. Bitter Branches
  10. Hanging in the Wire
  11. Written on the Forehead
  12. The Colour of the Earth

Bon Iver

Bon Iver released his video album as a deluxe version of this year's Bon Iver in November. He included videos for each of the ten tracks from the album. Most of the videos centered around nature and our manipulation of it. The videos for "Calgary" and "Holocene" were in addition to official music videos released earlier this year.
  1. Perth
  2. Minnesota, WI
  3. Holocene
  4. Towers
  5. Michicant
  6. Hinnom, TX
  7. Wash.
  8. Calgary
  9. Lisbon, OH
  10. Beth/Rest

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Favorite Covers - 2011

NPR recently posted a list of what they considered to have been the five best covers of the year. While their choices were great, it got me thinking about which were my favorite this year. Presented below are my favorite covers of 2011!

The Black Keys - "Dearest"

This song earned the duo a Grammy nomination, for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, and was the opening track from one of two Buddy Holly tribute albums released this year (and probably the best track from either of the two albums).

Atlas Sound - "Cool"

This cover got me into a band that I would have otherwise never heard of or listened to, Pylon. Dear Bradford Cox, nearly everyday, you give me something else to thank you for!

James Blake - "Limit to Your Love"

A great artist covering another great artist. James does a great job of both bringing it into his own style, but also staying more or less true to Feist's original.

Dum Dum Girls - "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out"

Lush vocals, heavy guitars, the Dum Dum Girls are pretty much the modern female equivalent of The Smiths. Very true to the original version, it still fits perfectly within the band's sound.

The Horrors - "The Best Thing I Never Had"

I love it mainly because it's so unexpected. It's not often that goth/synth rockers cover music by pop/R&B acts, but it works incredibly well. I think they did Beyonce proud.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Favorite Albums of 2011

10. Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes

I loved Lykke Li when she released her first album, Youth Novels, three years ago. At first, I wasn't too sure about this new one, since it went in a very different direction. Over time, however, I came to appreciate the deeper vocals and in-your-face lyrics. She may be a woman, but she really grew a pair on this one and the results are so much better.
Watch: "Get Some"

9. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Lenses Alien

There was major nostalgia for '90s indie rock this year, both with the return to the style for established artists (Stephen Malkmus and the ladies of Wild Flag), as well as newer bands (Yuck) paying homage to the style. All of it was great, but Cymbals Eat Guitars took that sound, then turned it on its head. The band eschewed typical song structure, it took more than a standard number of listens for me to really wrap my head their style. The time spent on them was worth it though, a very memorable album!
Watch: "Keep Me Waiting"

8. Okkervil River - I Am Very Far

This has just about the best opening track that I've ever heard on an album. The song, "The Valley", is driving and aggressive, with drumbeats that sound like gunshots, which I'm sure my neighbors love when I turn it up on my turntable. It sets a great pace for the rest of the album, which doesn't really slow down much at any point. The magic of the release doesn't just lay in the music, the artwork is incredible, too. The album featured work by William Schaff, who has done the artwork for all of their albums. The artwork included a laser-cut piece by the artist on the fourth side (back side of the second vinyl disc).
Listen: "Wake and Be Fine"

7. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

I had only really started listening to her past albums a little before this came out, and had a very strong impression of what I thought I would be getting from this...I was dead wrong. Her past work has featured strong electronic instrumentation, but her guitar work here told me she likely deserves to be considered a guitar goddess. The album has a perfect mix of delicate and gritty, a contradiction pushed even further by her live performances (not many people can rock the evening gown and electric guitar combo).
Watch: "Cruel"

6. Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know

The girl's only 21 years old and this is her third album. Already starting off with a mature-beyond-her-age sound, she matures more and more with each release, even her vocals sound beyond her 21 years. Laura's a masterful story-teller, taking the best from strong traditions of female singer-songwriters and British folk. Coming from a music scene that's produced other prominent British folkers such as Noah and the Whale, Johnny Flynn and Mumford & Sons, she stands above and beyond with her sound.
Watch: "Sophia"

5. The Dodos - No Color

With the likes of Neko Case involved on an album, it's hard to go wrong (see: all of her albums, all New Pornographers albums). She's well-hidden here, though, providing backing vocals on a few of the tracks. Despite her limited role, her powerful impact is still felt. They played a packed room during the Midpoint Music Festival, which allowed me to see just how amazing they are, even without the Neko boost. The lead singer and guitarist, Meric Long, can do things with an acoustic guitar that many can barely get away with using an electric guitar and a row of pedals. The drummer, Logan Kroeber, was up front and center, which is always a sign of a good show to come. And that's it, just the two of them, coming together to make music that's sounds complicated, is technically simple and all around amazing!
Watch: "Black Night"

4. My Morning Jacket - Circuital

People always seem to say the same things about MMJ, that they're much better live than they are on record. I got a chance to test this theory when I saw them earlier this year at Bonnaroo. Before seeing them the second night of the festival, I got a good two or three listens on this album. The theory holds, there's a certain presence they have on stage that really doesn't translate to their recorded work. That doesn't mean the recordings are bad, far from it, and this was a quick favorite when it was released back in May. They may not be able to capture the same magic, but it's great all the same.
Listen: "Holdin' on to Black Metal"

3. The Black Keys - El Camino

This and their previous record, Brothers, have left a lot of existing Keys fans polarized. There are many that feel that they've sold out to appeal to a broader fan base. While their sound is much more polished here than on previous releases, I feel that The Black Keys heard on Rubber Factory are here, too. It's not my favorite album of their discography, but they've been one of the few bands that have been able to progress their sound without completely losing who they are. Seven albums in, and they can still rock out!
Watch: "Lonely Boy"

2. Atlas Sound - Parallax

I think Atlas Sound, especially on this release, provides the best example of why independent music is finding more and more mainstream acceptance: much of it, at its heart, is pure pop. That is certainly true here, pop with all of the angst we've come to expect from independent music. Bradford Cox, the man behind Atlas Sound, is another of those unbelievably busy artists; he also performs with the band Deerhunter and, earlier this year, he released four home recordings under his solo moniker. The stand-out track from those 49 songs, was "Mona Lisa," which was reworked, thankfully, for this release. For an artist whose done so much great work under different projects, I think this may be his best!
Listen: "Mona Lisa"

1. The Antlers - Burst Apart

And here we are, at my number one favorite album of 2011. I honestly didn't expect that this one would come out on top until I sat down to rank the albums that were released this year. Nothing could come out above this. As I've said before, despite their hyped-up previous album, Hospice, was what got them into the minds of many in the music industry, this was this release that really moved something in me. Lead singer, Peter Silberman's, falsetto vocals sound both soulful and otherworldly, creating one of the moodiest and, at times, groove-able, albums of the year. The highlight of the album, for me, has been the final track, "Putting the Dog to Sleep." It's there that all of the emotion that's been building up throughout the album really comes to a head.
Watch: "Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out"

Ten more great releases!

11.Dum Dum Girls - Only in Dreams (Watch: "Bedroom Eyes")
12. Yellow Ostrich - The Mistress (Watch: "Mary")
13. The Twilight Singers - Dynamite Steps (Watch: "On the Corner")
14. tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l (Watch: "Gangsta")
15. Cults - Cults (Watch: "Go Outside")
16. Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean (Watch: "Godless Brother in Love")
17. James Blake - James Blake (Watch: "The Wilhelm Scream")
18. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo (Watch: "Baby's Arms")
19. Cass McCombs - Humor Risk (Watch: "The Same Thing")
20. Wye Oak - Civilian (Watch: "Fish")

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Young Adult

This week's movie was the new Diablo Cody/Jason Reitman (who previously collaborated on Juno) feature Young Adult.

The movie starred Charlize Theron as a recent divorcée who returns to her hometown to try to win back her high school sweetheart, who's now married with a newborn. Needless to say, she's pretty delusional. She spends her time in town drinking, hanging out with someone she mistreated in high school and flirting with her ex, as while being completely obvious. Inevitably, she makes a complete fool of herself at the child's naming ceremony.

Charlize Theron is always a treat to watch on screen, she backs up disarmingly good looks with actual talent. Other performances in the film surprised me, though. Like The Descendants, the movie featured people you don't normally associate with talented dramatic performances. In this case, it was comedian Patton Oswalt, who was incredible as the, literally tortured, high school outcast.

I would definitely recommend this movie! Though, I will warn you, it doesn't have a typical happy-go-lucky Hollywood ending and has many fairly cringe-worthy moments.

Mini soundtrack:

Suicidal Tendencies - "Pledge Your Allegiance"

4 Non Blondes - "What's Up"

Teenage Fanclub - "The Concept"

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Girls - "Honey Bunny"

I guess all it takes to get the girl these days is an awkward haircut and midriff-baring top.

The car probably helps, too.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Truer words have never been spoken

Bruce is speaking about Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life, released in 1976. The album was his magnum opus and a culmination of an incredibly creative time for the artist, known as his classic period.

"Knocks Me Off My Feet"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This my jam: WU LYF - "We Bros"

I love music that seems to be in contradiction to itself and WU LYF (World United, Lucifer Youth Foundation) is the perfect example of that style. The guitars here are jangly, they almost sound like Real Estate could be playing them. The vocals and rhythm are harder, though, angry and harsh-sounding. The interplay between the two is incredible.

New Music Tuesday - 12/13/2011

Anthony Hamilton - Back to Love

Mr. Hamilton was at his best with Comin' from Where I'm From in 2003, but has struggled a bit to recapture the magic of "Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens" and the album's title track, getting a little too sappy on 2008's The Point of it All. This album promises to be a return to form, pulling in more of the dirty south, gospel and sexy slow jam influence present on his earlier work.
"Back to Love"

Charlotte Gainsbourg - Stage Whisper

She released an EP, Terrible Angels, just a few short months ago, but apparently that wasn't enough for her. Rather than just release a live album or a full-length studio album, she's releasing both. The live half features songs from both her studio albums (well, those released as an adult) and her last EP. The studio half is a collection of new songs, anchored by the title track of the EP. She has been incredibly prolific this year, having given birth, put out multiple releases and starred in a movie, Melancholia (which she was brilliant in)!
"Terrible Angels"

James Blake - Love What Happened Here

Dubstep is apparently so big that we're already in a post-dubstep world, with James Blake at the helm. Post-dubstep takes certain stylistic elements of dubstep, but mixes it with other genres, usually creating a sound that's more slowed down and atmospheric. This is his third release this year (fourth, if you count the "Order"/"Pan" single), so he seems to be trying to compete with Miss Gainsbourg up there! Post-dubstep isn't for everyone, even people who profess a love for dubstep, but James was definitely one of my favorite new artists this year!
"At Birth"

White Rabbits at Newport Music Hall

White Rabbits performed this past weekend at the Newport Music Hall near OSU in Columbus, Ohio. The band became one of my favorites a couple of years ago around the release of their last album, so I of course headed north to see them.

My friend and I got there early, saw the band walk out for a smoke and said hello to one of their drummers (yes, they had more than one). Upon entering the hall, few people were there, so we cozied up right next to the stage for prime viewing.

The show started with Sonoi, a band out of Chicago. I hadn't heard or heard of them before, but liked what they did. While there were vocals, the main focus was on the instrumentation, which was incredible. I was, at times, almost mesmerized by the precise playing style of the drummer (and, to be honest, by his looks). In a world of (usually) disappointing opening acts, these guys were definitely among the better that I've seen.

Next up were the main act, the White Rabbits! There had been the promise of new songs on this tour (apparently inspired by Beyonce), and they did not disappoint on that. They also played a number of songs from the two incredible albums they already have out, Fort Nightly and It's Frightening. I'm not sure yet how I feel about the newer songs, though I don't doubt that I'll come to love them once I'm able to spend a little more time with them. The unfamiliarity of the new tracks did not detract from the performance, the band was amazing!

Two great bands, another great concert!

Mini setlist:

"The Company I Keep"

"The Plot"

"Percussion Gun"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

2012 Grammy Nominations

Grammy nominations for the 2012 awards show were announced a few weeks ago. There were a few surprises and a lot of fulfilled expectations.

My first surprise was the extension of the "indie effect" on this years nominees (well, mostly just Bon Iver). The artist was nominated for a total of four awards: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album.

The second surprise was the (relative) snubbing of Kanye West. Although he led the pack with seven nominations, for both My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch the Throne (with Jay Z), his solo album was conspicuously missing from the Album of the Year category. Given the praise he received for the album on last year's best of lists, one has to wonder if his past award show behavior is the reason for the snub, although he blames the release of two albums in one year.

Unsurprisingly, Adele's 21 racked up a decent number of nomination, six. While I personally preferred her first album, there's no denying this girl had a banner year and should fare well in February.

As usual, I'm more excited for the so-called "specialty" categories and what awards they may offer up this year. Always satisfying is the Best Alternative Music Album, which sees Bon Iver, My Morning Jacket, Death Cab for Cutie, Radiohead and Foster the People nominated. Fleet Foxes also saw a nomination in the Best Folk Album category and Cut Copy was recognized in the Best Dance/Electronica Album category. It's a shame that these categories won't be televised, but it's nice to see some of my favorite music get the recognition.

Oh, can't forget, The Black Keys, who took home three awards last year, were nominated again! This time for the song "Dearest" off a Buddy Holly tribute album.

The awards are on CBS on February 12 at 8:00 PM.

Congratulations Karen O!

Karen O, frontwoman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack creator and occasional singer of Willie Nelson songs, recently announced that she was married to music video director Barnaby Clay.

Clay directed the video for the Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Zero," and has also created videos for Depeche Mode and Gnarls Barkley.

Miss O didn't specify when these nuptials happened, but I would like to wish congratulations to the happy couple!

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Week with Marilyn

This week, I decided to go a little retro in my weekly movie and see the new movie starring Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn.

The movie follows a bit more than a week in the life of Marilyn Monroe, chronicling her time in England filming The Prince and the Showgirl, from the perspective of a young production assistant, Colin Clark, for the film. During the filming, she begins to confide and trust in the assistant, and he begins to fall in love with her. She increasingly demands his presence when she begins to feel emotional (which is fairly frequently). This puts the young man at odds with her husband (Arthur Miller), her handlers and the wardrobe girl he had begun dating. The director, Lawrence Olivier, however, welcomes the involvement, as it makes her easier to work with. But we already know how this ends, there is a reason Clark's is not a name commonly associated with the star.

Michelle Williams is easily becoming one of my favorite young actresses, and this film solidified my view of her as a growing force in Hollywood. At first thought, it's hard to imagine her as Marilyn Monroe, she doesn't really resemble her, but she really embodied the troubled woman in the film. Eddie Redmayne, who played Colin, also did a spectacular job, as did another of my rising favorites, Dominic Cooper (swoon). The movie, while not meant to be a biopic, manages to captures so much of what we know of Marilyn, although it only covers a few weeks of her life.

Mini soundtrack:

Marilyn Monroe - "That Old Black Magic"

Marilyn Monroe - "I Found a Dream"

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Digital "Paper" Dolls Are the Thing

I don't know where my recent obsession with paper dolls came from exactly, but ever since I saw the paper doll version of one of my personal style icons, Debbie Harry of Blondie, I can't get enough of the digital version. There are two "paper" doll sources that have especially stood out recently.

Hipster Girl Dress Up, too cool for paper, let me unleash my full hipster. The game lets you dress up your girls in the latest duds that look like they could come straight from Urban Outfitters or Modcloth and comes complete with sleeve and chest tattoos, Ray-Ban-esque glasses and Chucks, of course. My girl is below.

Hipster Paper Doll
Yeah, I could totally rock this.

The other, called Stardoll, seems to be a Polish site, that offers up just about every female indie, pop and rock singer, as well as qute a few men, for dress-up. Just a quick once over shows as varied artists as Kurt Cobain, Bjork, Leona Lewis and Rihanna, among so many more.

Marilyn Manson
I know you were wondering, so, yes, they even have this guy.

Now go knock yourselves out dressing up goth rock stars!

Monday, December 5, 2011

New Music Tuesday - 12/06/2011

Amy Winehouse - Lioness: Hidden Treasures

This is the first posthumous album from Miss Winehouse since her untimely death in July. After so many years of recording sessions and promises of a release "soon," it's sad that it took her passing for a follow-up to Back to Black to be released. It is a welcome release, though. Featuring new songs, re-recordings of old songs and covers, it serves as a respectful eulogy for a great artist. Rest in Peace, Amy.
"Our Day Will Come"

The Black Keys - El Camino

Ah, I've been waiting for this one, actually pre-ordered the vinyl as soon as the album and release date were announced. It came today, along with a t-shirt, which I'm wearing right now while watching a live stream of their free show at Webster Hall in NYC. Yeah, I don't like this band at all. It's another great album from a great band, and my prediction was right, this will definitely be on the year-end list of my favorite albums of the year.
"Gold on the Ceiling"

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Descendants

Last week's Tuesday Movie Night movie was The Descendants, the new film starring George Clooney.

The movie follows a man as he deals with a wife left in a coma after an accident. He has to deal, on his own, with two daughters that he's not extremely close to, going around telling family and friends that his wife will be dieing, and deciding what to do with a large tract of land trusted to his family.

Aside from a somewhat clumsy voice-over, the movie was excellent and featured some very surprising performances. Clooney, himself, was no surprise, he's always an outstanding actor. Shailene Woodley played the elder daughter. I've only known the actress from Secret Life (teenage soap opera), which I've never actually wanted to watch, so I had assumed something very different of her acting ability. The movie also featured Judy Greer, as the stricken wife of the man Clooney's character's wife was cheating with. You remember Ms. Greer as the annoying best friend character in just about every romantic comedy released in the last decade. Despite her dubious resume, she turned out one of the best performances in the whole movie (I guess it's time to start to take her seriously).

Mini soundtrack (the movie takes place in Hawai'i, so all of the music used in the film was by Hawaiian artists):

"Ka Makani Ka ‘Ili Aloha"

"Kalena Kai"

"Kaua'i Beauty"