Looking Ahead to 2011

Posted by Greg , Friday, December 31, 2010 12:56 PM

With only one day left in 2010, it's time to check in on the release schedule for 2011. The new year looks to be full of new music from great bands. Just the first quarter alone features confirmed releases from Iron & Wine, R.E.M., Bright Eyes, the Decemberists, and Cake. New albums from the Strokes and the Get Up Kids may also be released within the first three months of the year.

Rumored or confirmed:

Blind Pilot - TBD
Bon Iver - TBD
Bright Eyes - The People's Key (Feb 15)
Cake - Showroom of Compassion (Jan 11)
Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys (spring 2011)
The Decemberists - The King is Dead (Jan 18)
The Get Up Kids - There Are Rules (Jan 25)
The Good, the Bad, and the Queen - TBD
Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (Apr 12)
Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean (Jan 25)
Okkervil River - I Am Very Far (May 10)
Beth Orton - TBD
R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now (Feb 7)
Radiohead - King of Limbs
Red Hot Chili Peppers (summer 2011)
The Shins - TBD
The Strokes - Angles (March 22)
Young the Giant  (Jan 25)

Last updated March 5, 2011.

Wolf Parade, Expo 86 [2010]

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, December 29, 2010 10:46 PM

Better late than never, eh?  In the inevitable winter music dropoff, i.e. the time between mid-December and - oh, I don't know - let's say March (don't get hung up on the timing; I'm just making this up as I type), it seems most musicians avoid putting out new releases.  Maybe they think no one is paying attention during the holidays.  Or maybe it's because everyone needs a break, and what better time to take one than Christmas?  Nevertheless, this gives me some time to catch up on music I missed earlier in the year.

I overlooked Expo 86, Wolf Parade's third LP (and their last one, if the band's "indefinite hiatus" is a permanent one), when it came out on June 29, 2010.  I was underwhelmed by its predecessor, At Mount Zoomer, and although I acknowledge that album is probably a grower that needed more time, it didn't get me excited for the band's next release.  Perhaps because of that (or maybe because I happened to be getting married in June), I barely paid any attention to the album's leadoff single, "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)."

For anyone who hasn't heard of Wolf Parade, the Canadian band is comprised of dual lead singers/songwriters Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner, drummer Arlen Thompson, and guitarist/percussionist Dante DeCaro.  Krug, who plays keyboard, had been involved with several other bands, most notably Sunset Rubdown.  Boeckner, guitarist, also fronts husband/wife duo Handsome Furs.  Thompson has been involved with Arcade Fire, and DeCaro was a guitarist and songwriter for Hot Hot Heat.  So they're sort of an indie rock supergroup.  The band first gained attention with their 2005 debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, with At Mount Zoomer following in 2008.

Expo 86 opens with the crazy rantings of Spencer Krug.  (The guy could be brilliant - at least everyone says he is - but I don't know what the hell he's singing about.)  Something about a hammock, dreamcatchers, scorpions, and jumping over mountains like a gazelle.  Yeah.  The thing is, though, the song rocks.  But even when it seems ready to explode into a storm of ferocious drumming, guitars, "oh oh ohs," and "na na nas," it almost disintegrates into nothing.  For over a full minute in the song's midsection, it's as if Krug and the band forgot what they were doing.  It's all just tension-building, though, for the eventual eruption into the song's titanic, energetic closer.

Likewise, Krug's "What Did My Lover Say" is a monster of a song.  It snakes into your head and feasts on your brain.  Because, you know...snakes are really just zombies with sharper fangs.  Anyway, the band has pulled off somewhat of an amazing feat by crafting a song that is infectious without actually being catchy.

Random Thought, by the way: If Spencer Krug's voice is as distinctive as everyone says, why is it I can't tell him apart from co-lead singer Dan Boeckner?  If anyone actually commented on these posts, I might get slayed for that comment, but at least it's honest.  The dudes sound the same.  You can usually pick out each guy's songs, though, as Boeckner's aren't insane.  Maybe inscrutable, but not batshit crazy.  Naturally, this lets us create a handy cheat sheet for when you find yourself listening to or discussing a Wolf Parade record:
Trust me, the insane/not-insane cheat sheet is usually foolproof.  It has gotten me out of countless conversations where I just wanted to say, "Man, I don't know who the fuck is singing on 'Ghost Pressure.'"

Case in point.  While Krug does his best Bowie impression on "What Did My Lover Say," Boeckner's "Palm Road" reminds me of Springsteen.  Now, if you had to fit Bowie and Springsteen into our cheat sheet, where are they going to go?  Yep.  By the way, "Palm Road" doesn't actually sound anything like Bruce, but his spirit is there.  Or the mythology of his spirit.  Something like that.  I grew up in Jersey; I'm allowed to make random Boss-comparisons.  (Or maybe that means I'm supposed to avoid them?)

That being said, Boeckner contributed some of the truly standout tracks on this record, including the wistful yet upbeat "Yulia," rocking stomper "Pobody's Nerfect," and soaring "Little Golden Age."

Overlooking this album was a mistake.  Expo 86 is a triumphant success, combining elements of each bandmembers' work in their various side projects into a unified whole.  Hopefully the band's hiatus is not a permanent one, as Expo 86 shows they were just starting to find their groove.

What Did My Lover Say (It Always Had to Go This Way):


Bright Eyes, "Shell Games"

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, December 22, 2010 8:39 PM

Bright Eyes has released "Shell Games," the first song from his/their upcoming album, The People's Key, in stores February 15, 2011 from Saddle Creek.  You can grab the song for only the price of your email address, or head over to label's website for preorder options, two of which include non-album tracks "Singularity" and "The Real World."

Favorite Albums of 2010

Posted by Greg , Friday, December 17, 2010 1:41 PM

I try to avoid writing "best of" lists, as I find it difficult if not impossible to say that one record is "better" than another, especially considering they all have divergent styles, motivations, and goals.

Furthermore, there's only so much time in a year, and I like to actually listen to these albums more than once!  I understand that major music news outlets have teams of people creating their lists, but I'm blown away when I see individual people making Top 50 lists for a single year.  Fifty albums?  That's an album a week.  I buy a lot of music, but I'd think an album should have some staying-power before it gets considered for a best-of list.

It makes me wonder how honest those lists really are...or whether other music fans are just adding albums because of one great song (or, possibly, because everyone else says it's good).  That's why you won't find Mimicking Birds, for example, on my list.  I love "Burning Stars" and "Cabin Fever," but I haven't heard the rest of that album.  Likewise for the New Pornographers, Shout Out Louds, Freelance Whales, and others.  Unfortunately those albums fall into the black hole of best-of lists: Not heard in 2010 and not eligible for 2011.

With that too-long disclaimer out of the way, here are my favorite albums released in 2010:

20. Vampire Weekend - Contra

Highlights: "Cousins," "Holiday," and "Giving Up the Gun."

19. Rocky Votolato - True Devotion

Highlights: "Sparklers" and "Red River."

18. Warpaint - The Fool

Highlights: "Composure," "Shadows," and "Baby."

17. Glen Phillips - Tornillo
Highlights: "Better Off Here" and "Let it Pass."

16. Eels - End Times

Highlights: "A Line in the Dirt," "Mansions of Los Feliz," and "Gone Man."
15. Local Natives - Gorilla Manor

Highlights: "Wide Eyes" and "Cubism Dream."

14. Secret Knives - Affection

Highlights: "Wicker Park" and "The Northwest States."

13. The Black Keys - Brothers

Highlights: "Tighten Up" and "Everlasting Light."

12. We Are Scientists - Barbara
Highlights: "Nice Guys," "I Don't Bite," and "Central AC."

11. Joe Pug - Messenger

Highlights: "Bury Me Far From My Uniform," "Unsophisticated Heart," and "Speak Plainly, Diana."

10. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang

Highlights: "American Slang," "Orphans," "The Diamond Church Street Choir," and "The Boxer."

9. Wolf Parade - Expo 86

Highlights: "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)," "Yulia," "Cave-o-Sapien," and "Little Golden Age"

8. Gold Motel - Summer House
Highlights: "Safe in L.A." and "Summer House."

7. The National - High Violet

Highlights: "Bloodbuzz Ohio," "Conversation 16," "Sorrow," and "Terrible Love."

6. Spoon - Transference

Highlights: "I Saw the Light," "Written in Reverse" and "Got Nuffin."
5. Guster - Easy Wonderful 

Highlights: "Hercules," "This Could All Be Yours," "Do You Love Me," and "Do What You Want."

4. Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks

Highlights: "Swim Until You Can't See Land," "Nothing Like You," and "FootShooter."

3. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

  Highlights: "Deep Blue," "The Suburbs," and "Ready to Start."

2. Ra Ra Riot - The Orchard

Highlights: "The Orchard," "Boy," "You and I Know," "Shadowcasting," and "Too Dramatic."

1. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - III/IV

Highlights: "Breakdown into the Resolve," "Star Wars," "The Sewers at the Bottom of the Wishing Well," "P.S."

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, III/IV [2010]

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, December 15, 2010 2:30 PM

People who review music need to justify why their assessments are worth being called something more than just another opinion.  The most common way to do that is to spend several paragraphs attempting to identify an artists' influences and inspirations, often without really knowing where the artist was coming from when he or she wrote a particular song.  This sickness seems to particularly afflict reviewers of Ryan Adams' music.  (Just look at anyone else's review and you'll see what I mean.)

Of course, I'm just as guilty of this as anyone else.  After all, without giving you some information you didn't already know, other than "it's good" or "it's bad," what's the point?  Luckily, I think, my wife is mostly immune to this.  Whenever I ask her what she thinks of a song, she'll usually say "meh" or "it's okay."  And that's if she likes it.  When she hates a song, I usually get a "You like this?"  (No, honey.  I'm listening to this song because I hate myself.)  Anyway, when listening to "Numbers" on the IV disc of Ryan Adams & the Cardinals' new release III/IV, I thought aloud, "Who does this sound like?"  She replied, in her typically matter-of-fact way, "It sounds like him.  If you played this for me and I didn't know it was him, I'd say it sounded like him."  So there's that.

Interestingly enough, III/IV really does not sound like anything you've heard from Ryan Adams & the Cardinals.  The band's first two records were alt. country masterpiece Cold Roses and 60s-country inspired Jacksonville City NightsEasy Tiger and Cardinology, while still country-tinged, were more commercially appealing singer/songwriter folk rock albums.

By contrast, III/IV rocks out.  The easy comparison is to Adams' 2003 solo album Rock N Roll, without the underlying bitterness borne of a major label telling him he couldn't release the album he really wanted to (Love is Hell).  But this feels more like the demos recorded under the moniker Sad Dracula, briefly released online in 2006.  For whatever reason, Adams' demos and unreleased material have always felt unrestrained in ways his more recent official releases may not, and finally we have a record that exemplifies this.  Maybe Lost Highway (the band's former label) really was holding Adams back as much as he always said it was.  It's no surprise, then, that III/IV plays more like a Cardinals live show (at least those of the electric, "Red Cave" variety) than any of the Cardinals' studio releases over the past 5 years.  It's like we've been given a snapshot into the essence of this band at the height of its creative power.

III is the more straightforward rock record.  All those positive things critics said about Easy Tiger - concise, focused, etc. - can just as appropriately be said about III, albeit for a much more upbeat sound.  With roughly 60 songs from which to choose, the band clearly took its time to find the right tracklist for each LP.  The story told by Jamie Candiloro on Adams' PAX-AM label's website rings true:
"Probably the thing I remember most about these session was a chart system that we used on the back wall of electric lady [note: Electric Lady is the studio in which III/IV and Easy Tiger were recorded - GTI] to keep track of things. It had album titles and song names with the song’s progress. I think at one point we had four albums and even a b-sides list! We were constantly moving songs around to find the perfect sequence. One album that started to form seemed like a bit of a folk record to me. It was around thanksgiving that I presented a cd that was essentially the cuts that would become “easy tiger”. My version had sixteen songs though! Another record that was at the front of our attention was something Ryan called vol. 3 & 4. The idea being that “cold roses” was vol 1 & 2 and this was a logical step that the cardinals had taken forward as a band effort. The tracks shared the democratic process of a band, which always gives a record more depth to me."
"Breakdown Into the Resolve," arguably the best track on III, opens things up on a strong note.  "Hi, hello, it's me again ... You probably heard I went away" Adams announces, and one could easily forget this was recorded 2007 and he's not referring to his brief hiatus from music after the Cardinology tour.  Adams seems to take a parting shot at Lost Highway, or the criticism he endured for releasing three albums in 2005: "So, it's one for every year / It's pitiful what I hold dear I throw away."  Please, Ryan, don't listen to the naysayers.  Keep doing what you love.

"Dear Candy" continues the story that began in Jacksonville City Nights' "Dear John," this time from John's perspective.  "Dear John" insinuated marital infidelity: "I knew what you were doing / That summer when Candy came around."  Finally, John gets to explain himself and rebuffs Candy: "This was all a fantasy of yours / This was just a dream you had / And I was never here."  Maybe John is in denial about his own transgressions.  Maybe he's an innocent victim of an obsessed stalker.  Either way, Adams hasn't shared a story this juicy since 29's "Carolina Rain."

John's defiance is replicated elsewhere, such as on "Lovely and Blue," a scornful word of warning to an ex-love's new man: "You're the one she thinks she wants / She thinks she wants the world / It's hers and you'll never get through."

As good as the III-half is, IV is where things start to get really interesting.  The band takes more chances with genre-switching and complex song structures, resulting in a more enjoyable experience.  "Numbers," with its singalong "We're fucked!" chorus, starts out as a New Pornographers-esque punk song before seamlessly shifting into a sweet, slow melody sung by Catherine Popper.  Likewise, "Icebreaker" dabbles in metal, until it surprises with a soaring, anthemic middle section.  "Sewers at the Bottom of the Wishing Well" fakes out the listener with an intro that sounds like well-worn Cardinals territory before erupting into a snarling rocker featuring one of the best lyrics on the record: "My heart isn't black / It's just dirty from the floor."  "Typecast," with its slide guitar and lovelorn subject matter, could have fit in nicely on Easy Tiger or Cardinology, although it's sequenced perfectly here.  And "P.S." is a slice of pure power pop goodness.

The highlight of IV, and perhaps the entire double album, is the lighthearted and charming "Star Wars," Adams' wish for a girl to love him as much as he loves Lucasfilm's epic space odyssey.

It really says something about the talent of Ryan Adams & the Cardinals that a bunch of their unreleased tracks from 2006/2007 comprise the best album of 2010.

III/IV is available in its entirety for streaming at PAX-AM.

The Mountain Goats, "Tyler Lambert's Grave"

Posted by Greg , Tuesday, December 14, 2010 8:43 PM

The Mountain Goats have released a free song, "Tyler Lambert's Grave," about the death of Dana Plato's son.  (Plato played Kimberly Drummond on Diff'rent Strokes).  The song will not appear on the band's forthcoming album, All Eternals Deck (to be release via Merge Records on March 29, 2011).  According to lead singer/founding member John Darnielle, the track does not fit with the mood of the new album.  Quiet and reflective, it features only Darnielle on piano with some backing strings by Leanne Zacharias.  The final stanza is particularly affecting:

Young man in a yellow tie
Hair gel in his hair
No context for the picture
Just kind of standing there
Tyler step outside your shadow
Of your great catastrophe
Dream all night of freedom
Never wake up free


Ryan Adams, new tracks "Dirty Rain" and "Ashes of Fire"

Posted by Greg 8:07 PM

Photographer Farhad Parsa, who posted the video of Ryan Adams and Mandy Moore rehearsing "Oh My Sweet Carolina" from the 826LA benefit for "I Found This Funny," has just posted two more clips from that rehearsal, presumably of new songs from Adams' forthcoming solo release.  Both sound really, really good.

Dirty Rain

Ashes of Fire

If either Mr. Parsa or Mr. Adams has a problem with me sharing these links, please let me know and I will take them down.

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, III/IV [preview 2]

Posted by Greg , Monday, December 13, 2010 10:37 AM

Fans who preordered III/IV are beginning to see packages at their doors.  Ryan Adams' own PAX-AM label was kind enough to start sending these out in advance of the release date to beat the holiday rush and make sure that the preorderers got their copies by Release Day.

My copy showed up on Saturday.  A longer review will follow after I digest all of this new music.  But for anyone wondering, III/IV is going to rock your socks off.  If you lost interest in Adams after he went country (it's your loss, but I understand), now is the time to come back into the fold.  If you liked "Nuclear" from Demolition, "Lost and Found" from last year's digital singles, or the Sad Dracula demos, you're going to really like III/IV.  It's easily the most energetic album Adams has ever released, and his best since 2005.

Toad the Wet Sprocket, "It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas"

Posted by Greg , Saturday, December 11, 2010 9:13 AM

I don't usually care for holiday music, but Toad the Wet Sprocket's new song, "It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas," is significant in that it's the first new music recorded by this band in 13 years.  They began touring together again in 2006, but avoided any questions about whether they'd get back into the studio together.

The new song shows that Toad hasn't lost a beat since their last release, 1997's Coil.  Download it for free below:

Joe Purdy, This American, free in December

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, December 8, 2010 8:30 AM

Joe Purdy has made his thirteenth album, This American, free for download from his website for the month of December.  It will be available for purchase on vinyl and CD in 2011 from Mudtown Crier Records.

You can preview the entire album here; my early favorites are the first two tracks, "Highways" and "Ride Off on a Cloud."

Glen Phillips releases "lost record," Tornillo [2003]

Posted by Greg , Monday, December 6, 2010 10:08 PM

Glen Phillips, lead singer of Toad the Wet Sprocket (who broke up in 1998 but have since reunited and tour sporadically), has dug through his unreleased back catalog and unearthed his "lost record," Tornillo:
I finally went back to the vaults and collected the tracks from my "lost record", Tornillo. It was recorded in 2003, features many of the songs which later appeared on Winter Pays for Summer, and has never been heard by the general public. I leave it for you to decide if shelving it was a good idea or not. It is available now at Bandcamp for $7 (or more if you wish), and is streamable for free. I hope you enjoy perusing the historical documents, such as they are. And just in time for the Holidays, too!
Phillips has had an ambivalent relationship with the demos of his solo work.  After Toad broke up, he began releasing some of his new material online in 1999.  Fans were excited, especially as new songs emerged every few weeks.  However, Phillips' debut album, Abulum, was greeted with complaints over the reworked versions of these songs, or over those that were not included at all, such as "Easier."  Some time afterward, Phillips remarked that the experience made him unwilling to release unfinished demos in the future.  (Paraphrasing, of course; I'm going off memories from a decade ago.)

Fans were further surprised when Winter Pays for Summer was released on Lost Highway/Universal Records.  The album's slick production diverged strongly from Phillips' live shows, which were predominantly solo acoustic affairs.  Tornillo is a more natural extension of those live performances, albeit with more instruments.

Somewhat surprisingly, Tornillo's best selections are those that never saw a major release.  The album leads off with "Better Off Here," which may be the best Phillips song we've heard in years.  "Let it Pass," another heretofore-unreleased track, rollicks with energy rarely seen since his Toad days.

Some of the tracks that eventually showed up on Winter, such as "Courage," sound much better in the more stripped-down arrangements found here.  "Half Life" may be even more haunting (although the version on Winter was excellent, as well).  "Thankful" benefits from a noisier garage rock presentation, compared to the "official" version, which always seemed a bit overproduced.

Overall, Tornillo is great listen.  You can buy or stream the entire thing here.