Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ken's Best Albums of 2013: #4: Laura Stevenson - Wheel

It appears Jeff and I finally agree on a release, and it makes sense. He was the one who introduced me to Laura Stevenson and her song "Masters of Art." "Masters of Art is quite possibly one of the most perfect indie pop songs ever recorded. While nothing on Wheel quite captures that level, it's by far her most solid album yet.

Even though she used to be in Bomb the Music Industry, there is virtually no sign of her pop punk/ska past in this collection of songs. They exist somewhere between folk and indie pop, with some leaning a bit more heavily towards one of the sides than another. She has always reminded me of Tanya Donelly's earlier solo work. On Wheel, "Runner" is the obvious single and by far the most poppy and catchiest song on the album. "Bells & Whistles" and "Eleanora" are my own personal favorites. Be warned, though. I went to see Laura Stevenson earlier this year, and as great as the show was, I was the oldest person there by at least 10 years. She definitely has a strong college age following, which gives me hope for the twerking youngsters.

Laura Stevenson only has one date planned so far for 2014, but head on over to her website for the details and to purchase a Ken and Jeff approved album! You can also stream the whole thing below.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Ken's Best Albums of 2013: #5: Chelsea Light Moving

Since Sonic Youth is my favorite all time band, I couldn't wait to hear what the various members are getting up to now that Sonic Youth is seemingly done. Even when I first heard The Eternal, something about it seemed final and I fully expected it to be their last. Of course, the way the band ended was the one way I couldn't accept, and it makes me want to hate Thurston Moore's new project, Chelsea Light Moving. Fortunately (Unfortunately?), I still love this album. 

It sounds more like a more polished Evol era Sonic Youth, but Thurston is allowed to explore his more punk and metal influences more than he ever did in Sonic Youth. "Sleeping Where I Fall" starts off like a typical Sonic Youth song, but devolves into European death metal sludge. The psychedelia of the last few Sonic Youth albums is almost completely gone (despite "Groovy & Linda" being a song title) and has been replaced with much more aggression and controlled chaos. The album isn't perfect. "Lip" is probably the weakest song, with it's chorus of "too fucking bad" repeated so many times I probably would have felt uncomfortable at 14. "Frank O'Hara Hit" is my personal favorite, somehow combining the metal sound of Helmet with Sonic Youth's punk side and groovier side.

Chelsea Light Moving doesn't have any scheduled tour dates right now, but check out their website for some more info, and to watch some official live videos show at a friend's party in Northampton earlier this year. You can also stream their self-titled debut below.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Free Music Alert at Google Play

No idea how long this Google Music sale is going for, but two albums you should note as being free: Kanye West's Yeezus and CHVRCHES The Bones of What You Believe. Plenty of other great stuff, but those two freebies are worth your time to click.

Ken's Best Albums of 2013: #6: Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana

If you miss 90s alternative (the fuzzed out guitars, the loud/quiet/loud verses, the noise of it all), then you need to check out Speedy Ortiz. There's a huge 90s revival going on right now musically, and Speedy Ortiz are hitting it much better than anyone else. Earlier this year I compared their sound to "Liz Phair [forming] a supergroup with members of Pavement and Dinosaur Jr," and I stand by that completely. It has all the noise and crunch of 80s Dino Jr with the quirk and fun of Pavement. Plus, it's fun. "Tiger Tank" was the single that pulled me in, but as time goes on I keep getting sucked more and more into the poppier tracks like "Hitch." "Hitch" drops a little of Dino Jr's noise, keeps the Pavement, but adds the more melodic elements of Belly. In a lesser year musically, this could have been #1. I might just be holding back a bit in case they have a horrific sophomore slump.

We'll know how their second album turns out sooner than later since Real Hair comes out February 11. In the meantime, listen to Major Arcana below.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Ken's Best Albums of 2013: #7: Deltron 3030 - Event II

The most overhyped album of the year is also the most overlooked. Thirteen years after Deltron 3030 came out, Deltron 3030 released their long awaited follow up, Event II, this year. Deltron 3030 was set more than 1000 years in the future, and in 2000 it truly sounded like the future of hip hop. Once Del the Funky Homosapien, Kid Koala, and Dan the Automator were finally able to release a follow up, there was no way it could live up to thirteen years of anticipation. 

Is Event II as good as Deltron 3030? No. But that doesn't mean it's a bad album. As time goes on, Event II will be considered much better than people are currently giving it credit for. Let's not forget In Utero was once considered a disappointing follow up to Nevermind. If you dismissed it earlier this year, I urge you to listen again. Sure, the skits featuring David Cross and The Lonely Island could have been skipped, but they got Zack de la Rocha back in a recording studio. That alone is a musical milestone.

Head over to Deltron's official website for more info and any tour information. You can also listen to Event II in its entirety below.

Jeff's Best of the Rest of 2013

As we look back at the end of this calendar year, it's important to note a lot of the other things that came out musically that don't make the standard top 10. Among the albums I really loved this year that didn't quite make the top ten, in no particular order:

* Valerie June - Pushing Against a Stone
* Fitz and the Tantrums - More Than Just a Dream
* !!! - Thr!!!er
* CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe
* St. Lucia - When the Night
* Deltron 3030 - Event II
* Matt Pond - The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand
* Sarah Jarosz - Build Me Up From Bones
* The Dismemberment Plan - Uncanney Valley
* Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady
* Ra Ra Riot - Beta Love
* Pillowfight - Pillowfight
* Volcano Choir - Repave
* Tristen - Caves
* Deap Vally - Sistronix
* Jay-Z - Magna Carta... Holy Grail
* How to Destroy Angels - Welcome Oblivion
* Icona Pop - This Is... Icona Pop
* Kanye West - Yeezus
* Rhye - Woman
* Caitlin Rose - The Stand-In
* MS MR - Secondhand Rapture
* AlunaGeorge - Body Music
* Savages - Silence Yourself

There were also a great number of solid songs that came out this year. Over at Fruitless Pursuits, a pop culture blog I contribute to, I did a year-end recap called "The Unheard 13," songs that you might not have had an opportunity to hear this year. Regular readers of this blog might already know some of these songs, but maybe not. As for this year, I have a Spotify playlist of my favorite songs of 2013 that I recommend, I have also embedded it below. It's probably the only playlist that has A$AP Rocky and Aoife O'Donovan on the same page.

Here's to another great year of music in 2013, and a new year that's even better!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Song of the Year: Bunny's A Swine - "All I Want for Christmas is Lowered Expectations"

Christmas music is pretty terrible. It tends to either be overly heartfelt songs by Mariah Carey or Josh Groban, or punked up novelty versions of Christmas standards. This year even saw Bad Religion release a Christmas album, which was... yeah. Anyway, out of Northampton, MA comes my favorite Christmas song of the year from Bunny's A Swine. "All I Want for Christmas is Lowered Expectations" features Bunny's A Swine adopting a slightly more folky sound while singing about how much better Christmas would be if their loved ones would be happy with burnt CDs, dollar bin DVDs, and text message greetings. Between verses the band members have an ongoing conversation about the song, with drummer Dustin not quite getting the idea, a la Joey in Anthrax's "I'm the Man." 

"All I Want for Christmas is Lowered Expectations" is available for free on Bunny's A Swine's Bandcamp page. You can also head over to their website for even more information.

Ken's Best Albums of 2013: #8: Tristen - Caves

I'll admit it: I didn't really like Tristen's Caves when it was first released. I discovered Tristen opening up for Justin Townes Earle last year and was completely blown away. I even wrote about her in a hysterical, blubbering way for my previous blog. Her previous album, Charlatans At the Garden Gate was more of alt-pop country. It had all the hooks and catchy songs of pop country, but you'd never confuse her with Taylor Swift.

Then Caves came out. Tristen dropped almost all of the twang and replaced it with synthesizers. Upbeat, synth laden pop just isn't my thing and I was quick to dismiss the entire album. A couple days later I went back just to listen to "No One's Gonna Know," the album's lead track. I kept surprising myself with how much I liked, and then loved that one song. And then I kept going back, listening to more and more of the album. I started to realize that the songs I dismissed as kiddie stuff on first listen were actually Tristen's most mature work yet. Hidden within all the polish and keyboards were the same country folk murder ballads I loved about Tristen. Sometimes being a music snob comes back to bite me in the ass.

Make sure to head over to Tristen's website for more information and tour dates. You can stream the entire album Caves below.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Jeff's Best Albums of 2013: #1: Lissie - Back to Forever

If an artist releases two albums, and they're both your favorite albums of their respective release years, there's a chance that they might be your favorite recording artist, right?

I don't know how I tripped up on Lissie back in 2010 when Catching a Tiger came out, but I know that my wife was really, really tired of hearing a number of the songs over and over again. She put out a covers EP a couple years ago, but it seemingly took forever for the newest album to come out, and it was worth the wait.

The album leads off stronger than her first album and doesn't really stop. "Shameless" is a mid-tempo rocker about fame, "Mountaintop Removal" a solid-but-misguided protest song, "Further Away (Romance Police)" feels like a time warp into the 1980s. So many interesting sounds from start to finish create a really strong, cohesive album from start to finish.

Long and short? Lissie really shouldn't be this good. Her cover versions are excellent, her original songs all memorable and can serve as any type of earworm you need, and it's absolutely the best album I've heard all year long. I hope you love it, too, you can find out and stream it below:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ken's Best of 2013: #9: Jason Isbell - Southeastern

I've been a fan of Jason Isbell ever since he days with the Drive-By Truckers. As much as I enjoyed his solo work, there was always a little something missing from each album. I had assumed it was having the more rocking songs by Mike Cooley or Patterson Hood to break up the more laid back down tempo songs Isbell tends to write. Southeastern proved me wrong. I wish I could put my finger on exactly what it was, but it doesn't really matter since Isbell found it himself.

Southeastern had the potential to be a complete nightmare. It's his first album newly sober and the first after his marriage to Amanda Shires (who also performs on the album). It's kind of a running joke that artists lose their edge after sobriety, and it also tends to be true. Plus, being happy doesn't tend to lead to great art, either. Southeastern breaks both those rules by being Isbell's greatest work ever. Not just as a solo artist: Ever. He's found inspiration in both sobriety ("Super 8") and marriage ("Traveling Alone"), which might be a first for both of those life events. Amanda Shires joins him on many songs and adds the absolute perfect element. Maybe she's what was missing. Or maybe it was happiness. Maybe my own maturity is finally drawing me to stable artists instead of tortured ones. 

For more information on Jason Isbell, head on over to his website. He also has an extensive tour coming up in the New Year. He was a stand out performer at a stacked 2013 Newport Folk Fest (my review is here), so I implore you to go out when he comes to your town. You can also stream Southeastern below.

Jeff's Best Albums of 2013: #2: Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside - Untamed Beast

My #2 album of the year is Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside's Untamed Beast. Ken saw them live earlier this fall, and he's pretty much the reason why I'm a fan.

With that said, a confession: the debut album, Dirty Radio? Really uneven for me. "Danger" was off the charts awesome, but it didn't hold up so well for me. Part of it is because the whole jazzy/blues thing is not always my cup of tea, so my expectations for her new album were not terribly high.

The album works really well for me in part because a lot of the blues parts are put in the backseat in favor of a more rockin' point of view. It results in a moodier album with a lot of attitude, and, frankly, a lot of sexuality oozing out of every pore. It means more mid-tempo songs like "She Told Me" have a significant purpose while sexy rockers like "Lip Boy" or "Do Me Right" are equal parts fun and frolicky. It's really well-crafted, and doesn't suffer from any sort of sophomore slump at all. Sadly, we learned this week that this incarnation of Sallie Ford music has broken apart, so, while we'll hear more from Sallie Ford and her apparent all-girl group next year, this is the last we'll hear of the Sound Outside.

You can stream the album below:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

First Listen: New Releases for December 17

Only one release of note:

Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside - Summer EP: Man, Sallie Ford loves singing about sex. I'm not sure if these are new songs or outtakes from the excellent Untamed Beast, but this EP has three excellent songs sandwiched between a fun instrumental and another decent effort, something that is rare for an indie EP period. "Lips N Hips" in particular has been stuck in my head for two days running now.

Ken's Best Albums of 2013: #10: The Dead Milkmen - "Welcome to Undertown"

I probably would have ranked this higher on the list, but it's supposed to be albums and this is a three song single, so #10 it is! Instead of following up 2011's unbelievably great The King in Yellow with another album, the Dead Milkmen opted to release four 7" singles throughout 2012 and 2013. The most recent, "Welcome to Undertown," is my favorite of the batch.

The beauty of the Dead Milkmen's return to recording is how well the songs hold up when compared to their previous work. A lot of punk/alternative bands' new material sticks out completely during a live show. Back in April when I saw the Dead Milkmen, I completely forgot that "William Bloat" wasn't on one of their classic albums. Their new material is just that good. The single "Welcome to Undertown" is written from the perspective of an angry gun owner and fits right in with their classic gun themed anthems ("Right Wing Pigeons," "If I Had a Gun," etc.). It always seems bizarre to me that a band can sing about political issues 25-30 years ago and then sing about the same issues now, but I digress. "The Sun Turns Our Patio Into a Lifeless Hell" might just be the angriest song about middle age of all time. It also has a killer noisy guitar solo you wouldn't normally associate with the Milkmen. It's odd that this particular release is all Rodney Anonymous without a Dean Clean song. That's more of an observation than a complaint. 

For more information on the Dead Milkmen, head over to their website. You can stream "Welcome to Undertown" below via Soundcloud.

Jeff's Best Albums of 2013: #3: Allison Weiss - Say What You Mean

Allison Weiss's Say What You Mean is not the best album of 2013 in my view, but it's absolutely my favorite.

This was another Spotify discovery recommendation, as I was fully engrossed in Jenny Owen Youngs at the time and the app recommended I try this album. I'm so glad I did. The album is wall-to-wall indie power pop, alt-rock chick at its finest. Much like the Lisa Loeb album discussed earlier, the album is just pitch-perfect from the start, with both slower songs and more upbeat tunes landing in the right spot.

Spotify has been great for this album, as there's an entire alternate take of the album available as well as some EPs with early versions of the songs. If you want a good hint as to what you're getting into, "I Was An Island," "Making It Up," and "One Way Love" are all solid choices, but this album should really just be in your standard rotation regardless.

You can stream the whole thing below:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jeff's Best Albums of 2013: #4: Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest

There's not a lot I can say about my #4 album of the year, Boards of Canada's Tomorrow's Harvest, that I didn't already say a few weeks ago. It's not as if the type of music they do is conducive to individual songs, and the album (along with their sound in general) almost defies description.

So I'm not even really going to try. This is the best electronic album I've heard in years, rivals some of the best music they've put out period, and although I know that this isn't everyone's cup of tea, it's quite the surprise that it's exactly the album I've been seeking out for quite some time.

Oddly enough, this is the only album in my top 10 that isn't either a female singer-songwriter or a group with female lead singers. It's one of those years, I guess, and it's made my ears very happy, but it's an odd little statistic.

As for Boards of Canada, you can stream Tomorrow's Harvest below:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Jeff's Best Albums of 2013: #5: Lisa Loeb - No Fairy Tale

I promise, I'm as surprised as you are.

I know it's decidedly uncool for anyone to really be a Lisa Loeb fan, especially 20 years after "Stay" propelled her into the public consciousness. I've actually kept up with her music for the last decade, and none of it was especially special in terms of what it was doing. It was beautifully serviceable folk music, but that's it.

Enter No Fairy Tale, which is a re-entry into the pop area for her, and is easily the best power pop album released in the last few years. There's literally not a bad song here - each one is just an immediate powerhouse from start to finish, and even the slower songs feel both stripped down and complete. There's really not a flaw to be found on the album, and especially for a veteran musician like Loeb, it's a very pleasant surprise.

It's difficult to recommend just a handful of songs, but "Matches" and "The 90s" are both great representations of what the album is like, and other songs like "Sick, Sick, Sick" show the range that Loeb has developed as of late. Just a great album from top to bottom, very reminiscent of some of Juliana Hatfield's 90s solo stuff if you need a comparison. You can stream the whole thing below:

Friday, December 13, 2013

Speedy Ortiz - "Everything's Bigger"

Speedy Ortiz has a new 4 song EP coming out in February, and they released the first single from it, "Everything's Bigger." It's much slower and more laid back that Major Arcana, and I can finally hear the Liz Phair comparisons that everyone else has been claiming. It's not a complete departure, it's just a lot more melody with their quirky noise rock than before. It's a great song to get us out of the December new release doldrums.

New Real Hair is due out on February 11. You can listen to "Everything's Bigger" below. Also, head on over to Speedy Ortiz's Livejournal for details on their absurdly extensive tour which is most likely coming to your town, quite possibly multiple times.

Jeff's Best Albums of 2013: #6: Laura Stevenson - Wheel

My #6 album of this year was probably my most anticipated release of the year. Her song "Master of Art" might be an all-time favorite, so Laura Stevenson's Wheel was something I really looked forward to, and it pretty much lived up to my expectations.

If I had an issue with Laura Stevenson's previous efforts, it was that her slower songs felt maybe a little too plodding and quiet. Wheel addresses that by offering a lot of straightforward indie-pop combined with a solid, experienced singer-songwriter mentality that provides a whole mess of memorable songs on this album. The continued rise of Stevenson as a songwriter is really evident across the board, from "Eleanora" to "Runner." Most importantly, the album is really a cohesive unit from start to finish, a feeling I never truly got from her previous albums.

Overall, a truly great effort. Along with the songs above, "Triangle" and "Sink, Swim" are great, great songs to check out. The whole album is streaming below:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Jeff's Best Albums of 2013: #7: Amanda Shires - Down Fell the Doves

With a lot of real world responsibilities this year including a new kid, I didn't make it to a single concert this calendar year. This is the first time this has happened in quite some time, but there is one show I regret missing a lot, involving Jason Isbell and his wife, Amanda Shires, who was touring for her new album and my #7 of 2013, Down Fell the Doves.

I fell hard for Amanda Shires's music last year when a music blogger posted her song "Sloe Gin." It was a fairly standard Americana piece all things considered, but Shires's voice is absolutely haunting, and many of her upbeat songs are among my favorites. With Down Fell the Doves, we absolutely have her most ambitious effort yet, a significant change from her earlier, violin-based songwriting work.

From the highlights like "Devastate" and "Bulletproof" to more complicated songs like the title track and "Look Like a Bird," we're watching the evolution of a songwriter who is doing things with a more twangy folk sound that seem very, very different from a lot of other artists. If you've found the evolution of artists like Neko Case to be up your alley, you'll really love what Shires is doing. The album is embedded below:

Free Music Alert: Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip - The Abstract & the Dragon

This just dropped overnight (do the kids still say dropped?), so I can't vouch for it being any good, but I can vouch for it being free. Free mixtapes tend to be the domain of new, rising hip hop acts and are rarely used by established legends like Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes. They could have easily saved a collaboration for an actual album, but instead they're offering it for free. There aren't even sketchy download codes and email entries that make you start to wonder if you're being phished. It even features A Tribe Called Quest, Redman, Raekwon, Big Daddy Kane, and more. It's 28 tracks including skits, so I'm sure it can't all be "Scenario," but really, what can be. Before you head off to work, download The Abstract & the Dragon here. If you're not ready for that level of commitment, you can stream the entire thing below.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

First Listen: New Releases for December 10

This might end up being the last week for true new releases for some time. The holidays tend to be pretty slow on a whole. If there's a new release to discuss, this post will be happening, but as it stands...

Childish Gambino - because the internet: Let's get this out of the way - it's not Camp. Camp was a revelation in part because it felt a lot different from his earlier mixtapes and felt like a cohesive unit. because the internet is certainly cohesive, and reflects the clear struggles that Glover has publicly struggled with in terms of fame and such. In the Year of Yeezus and a new Jay-Z and the rise of the A$AP mob, this feels like it's struggling to fit in, and it's interesting enough to not be boring, but, honestly, kind of boring enough to not be great. I'm far from done with this album, but it's...different. If you're expecting Camp, you're not going to get it.

Brendan Benson - You Were Right: I was probably a fan of Brendan Benson before I was a fan of Jack White, which I believe is the opposite action for most. I loved his last album, a more folksy, country-rock styled record, but You Were Right drives us back into the more anthemic, orchestral power pop that we've come to expect from songs like "The Pledge" from a few years back. This is a good album, but it feels a lot longer than its 45 minute runtime, which is not typically a good thing. Overall, we're a long ways away from Lapalco, but you might be okay with that.

Also out this week:

* The Lucksmiths - Cartography for Beginners (a best-of package)

Jeff's Best Albums of 2013: #8: Lucius - Wildewoman

As we continue with our looks back at the year, my #8 album of the year is Wildewoman by Lucius.

Lucius is really a band I only know because of Spotify. Sometime earlier this year they launched their often-hilarious discovery tool, and I can't remember at this point what band it compared Lucius to, but it did offer up an EP of theirs for me that I thought was decent. It didn't blow my mind, but I really enjoyed it. It had a fun lo-fi quality to it, and felt like a fun musical project more than anything else. Eventually, I tripped up on their debut full-length, Wildewoman, and I was shocked at the advances they made musically. Where the EP felt like a basement recording with a bunch of Casio keyboards, faux effects, and drum machines, the album was a far more ambitious affair.

Lucius is a five piece with two female lead singers, and so the album definitely has a "this is what a modern girl group would sound like" vibe to it. Very dependent on full-sounding instrumentation and memorable harmonies, the album succeeds in a lot of ways, from songwriting prowess to the music's simple ability to get stuck in my head for weeks at a time. Songs like "Turn it Around" have some of the catchiest melodies and choruses I've heard all year, and slower affairs like "Go Home" and the title track strike a near-perfect balance between harmonization and instrumentation. It's a truly excellent record, and one that is unfortunately going to be overshadowed by more popular, less special retro-sounding acts like Haim when it comes to getting mainstream attention for end-of-year lists.

Lucius's entire album is worth hearing, but the songs above are some of the best highlights. You can stream the entire album below:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

This is a Thing That Exists: Macauley Culkin is in a Band That Sings Velvet Underground Songs About Pizza

Well, you have to give Macauley Culkin credit: He really just does whatever he wants and doesn't worry about public perception. He's not showing up in straight to DVD movies or Dancing with the Stars in order to stay in the public eye. The last thing I remember seeing him in was a Sonic Youth video, and that was in 2004. Even so, did anyone imagine him showing up as a member of The Pizza Underground, which is apparently a band that exclusively spoofs The Velvet Underground songs by making them about pizza, "Weird Al" style? Sample lyrics include "I'm beginning to eat a slice" and "I'm waiting for the delivery man." According to their Bandcamp page, Culkin has contributed "percussion/kazoo/vocals" to the recording. Just remember when you're watching Home Alone this month, this is what he's using his residuals for.

Jeff's Best Albums of 2013: #9: Lady Lamb the Beekeeper - Ripely Pine

My #9 album this year is a favorite here at If It's Too Loud, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper's Ripely Pine.

This album is so good, so interesting, so utterly different than anything else that's been released this year that it was in definite consideration for the top spot for me. That it's ranking #9 on my list is not a condemnation of Ripely Pine but more a reflection of how consistent a lot of the releases were this year. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper has been recording and releasing music for a few years now, and the Portland, Maine native actually won a Boston Music Award in 2010 for best folk artist.

Ripely Pine is her first proper studio album following a number of home recording releases that were impressive in many ways. You only realize the true potential of what she's capable of with this album though, an album that trades off a more standard modern folk feel with some truly epic instrumentation and motifs. It's difficult to make songs over six minutes long seem immediate and fresh through their entire run time, but on songs like "You Are the Apple" and "Bird Balloons," she pulls it off quite easily.

And she's only 25.

I'm looking forward to whatever comes next, but, for now, we can enjoy what she's offered up this year. Along with "You Are the Apple" and "Bird Balloons," "Aubergine" and "Hair to the Ferris Wheel" are also standout tracks on what's truly a standout album. You can stream the album below:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lee Ranaldo Taught a Guitar Clinic in NYC

Photo by Catherine Ceresole
This level of amazingness pretty much never happens. Lee Ranaldo, Rolling Stone's 33rd greatest guitarist of all time, ran a guitar clinic in NYC last month. At Other Music he gave a demonstration showing some of his more unusual techniques he has utilized for playing a guitar. Everyone who was able to attend got an up close look at how he uses pedals, drum sticks, a bow, hanging a guitar from the ceiling, etc. Video has surfaced of the event, which you can watch below. The highlights for me were the bored teenager who had to have been dragged by his dad, and Lee telling the crowd not to be precious with their instruments.

Check out Lee Ranaldo's website here. Also, make sure to see Lee Ranaldo and The Dust supporting their fantastic new album when they come to your town.

Dec 10 San Jose, CA — The Blank Club, w Bill Orcutt/Jacob Felix Heule duo
Dec 11 San Francisco, CA — The Chapel, w Bill Orcutt/Jacob Felix Heule duo
Dec 13 Los Angeles, CA — The Echo, w Bill Orcutt/Jacob Felix Heule duo
Dec 14 San Diego, CA — The Casbah, w Bill Orcutt/Jacob Felix Heule duo

Jan 8 Philadelphia, PA – Boot and Saddle
Jan 9 Hamden, CT –  Spaceland
Jan 10 Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
Jan 11 Brooklyn, NY – The Bell House

Jeff's Best Albums of 2013: #10: Bleached - Ride Your Heart

Over the next few weeks, Ken and I will be offering up our best musical stuff of 2013. I'm getting the ball rolling with my #10 album of 2013, Bleached's Ride Your Heart.

I actually came to this album extremely late. This album came out in April, but I don't recall seeing a ton of buzz about it until somewhat recently, when the video for "Love Spells" starting hitting the music blogs. Ken and I have texted back and forth about what this song, and, really, this album is reminiscent of, but I can't really place it. It's not really Dum Dum Girls, it might have some hints of Best Coast, but whatever it is, it's really caught my ear and became a favorite very quickly. They are going to be part of the Weezer cruise this coming February, however, so if that gives you any idea of the sort of enjoyable poppiness that this band is specializing in for their debut album, take that as you will.

Highlights of the album include "Love Spells," "Outta My Mind," and "Dead in Your Head," but the whole album is really high quality. You can stream it in its entirety on Spotify below:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sleater-Kinney Join Pearl Jam On Stage! Oh, and Peter Buck Was There, Too...

I have nothing against Pearl Jam, but I'm more than a little sick of them covering Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World." Covers are usually special and unexpected. This is done at virtually (if not literally) every show Pearl Jam plays. Also, of Neil Young's entire catalog they choose "Rockin' in the Free World?" Can't they throw out "Cortez the Killer" or "Like a Hurricane" once in a while? It's getting to be their "Freebird" and it's not even their song.

So why am I writing about it you ask? Maybe because when they performed it in Portland recently they had all three members of Sleater-Kinney on stage to perform it. All three members of Sleater-Kinney. They haven't been on a stage together in seven years. I love Wild Flag and all, but Sleater-Kinney reunion please now thank you? Also, Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey from The Minus Five were there, too. Did you ever think you'd see the day Sleater-Kinney got more attention than R.E.M.?

First Listen: New Releases for December 3

We're fully in the end-of-the-year doldrums right now, with a very lean new release schedule.

Muse - Live at Rome Olympic Stadium: Muse is known for being a superlative live band, and they've released at least two live albums now to capitalize on it. This is not as good as H.A.A.R.P., but this assumes live albums are anything but inessential. They never capture the true breadth of a live band's performance, and often end up sounding flat and hollow. Good for hardcore fans, but otherwise you should just skip this.

Throwing Muses - Purgatory/Paradise: The first new Throwing Muses release in a long time, it sounds pretty much like what you'd think a Throwing Muses album would sound like today. It's very heavy on the Hersh tones, which isn't a bad thing, but this might be stronger in the multimedia sense, as the physical release comes with a companion book. As a purely audio appearance, though, it's a nice return for a band that's been gone a little too long.

Also out this week:

* Black Flag - What The... (see Ken's thoughts on the album cover here)
* Glen Hansard - Drive All Night

Friday, November 29, 2013

Help Kickstart a Film Starring Daniel Johnston!

There's already been an excellent documentary about Daniel Johnston (2005's The Devil and Daniel Johnston), and now we're getting a short film starring Daniel Jonhston. Directed by Gabriel Sunday, Hi, How Are You will be "... a musical tale of an aging artist encountering psychedelic dreams, nightmares, and characters from his past." What's getting the most attention on the interwebs have been the celebrity backers. Frat rapper Mac Miller coughed up $10,000 for an executive producer credit. Lana Del Rey (she of insane internet overhype followed by insane internet hate over a mediocre at worst SNL appearance) also donated huge. Johnston has always had huge supporters in the world of music, and it's actually great to see a younger generation embrace him so strongly. For more information on the film, head on over to the Kickstarter page.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First Listen: New Releases for November 26

A slow new release week with the holiday season in play.

Billie Joe & Norah - Foreverly: The oddest, best release this week is a team-up between Billie Joe Armstrong (of Green Day) and Norah Jones called Foreverly, a collection of old-time country songs popularlized by the Everly Brothers. As someone who hit his teen years around the same time Green Day's Dookie hit the top of the charts, I didn't really know what to make of this when I first learned of it, and the fact that it's not only competent, but actually pretty great, is a shock to me. Armstrong really turns down the punk affectations and Jones, who has already done some genre hopping of her own, feels as if she's driving the car in this one. This is absolutely worth a listen, it's definitely one of the more interesting pieces of the last year. Ken also noted his surprise at the quality in a post about a month ago given the announcement of the single.

Alt-J - Summer EP: Alt-J had my favorite album of last year, and this is a remix album of a few of the tracks. None of the remixes are especially memorable, so I'll just impatiently wait for the next album.

Beachwood Sparks - Desert Skies: I saw Beachwood Sparks open for the Shins during their first Oh, Inverted World tour and, frankly, enjoyed the Sparks more than the Shins. They had a country folk sensibility that really fit into a specific mood I was in. I haven't loved their more recent fare, but this new album really feels like a sunnier return to form, with a lot of solid folky moments and some memorable melodies, especially with the title track. Definitely a solid outing.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

D-Tension Has a New Project, Video, and Kickstarter

Ten years ago, Boston rapper/producer/ex-WFNX dj D-Tension had a conversation with Aaron Perrino of The Sheila Divine and Dear Leader, and came up with the idea for Secret Project. Secret Project is an album produced by D-Tension featuring vocals from many Boston area indie rockers. The idea is about to become a reality, with the video for the first single, "Can You Stand It," being released. With vocals by Ad Frank, it's a synth and keytar heavy song with a cool, fun groove. It definitely makes me want to hear more, especially since the rest of the album includes tracks featuring Aaron Perrino, Alex Stern of Big D & the Kids Table, Kevin Stevenson of The Shods, Stephie Coplan, and more. There's also a Kickstarter to help finish the album which also contributes to the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Definitely check it out!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Current Obsessions: Boards of Canada

I've mentioned here and there about my mid-to-late 1990s electronica/techno addiction I went through. I enjoyed groups like Orbital quite a bit, but it was ultimately the more difficult/interesting artists like Aphex Twin that stuck with me as I transitioned to more of an indie rock listening trajectory. I always kept some of the electronic love in my back pocket (Of Montreal's electro phase was a solid time for me), but it's only fairly recently that I've come back into the fold a little more significantly.

I was never much into trance or big beat type stuff. I enjoyed a good deal of house music, and today's house-influenced pop is really great, but the dubstep/brostep thing leaves me cold. Meanwhile, a band I knew of but never ever listened to, Boards of Canada, released their first album in eight years this year with Tomorrow's Harvest. I was interested in listening to it, but since I'm more or less an exclusive Spotify listener and basically none of their stuff had made the service, I kind of put it aside and didn't think about it. I then noticed a friend listening to the new album on Spotify, and decided to fire it up.


I've apparently been missing quite a bit. It's not really fair to call it trance, but it has trance elements. It's certainly not traditional electronic, and a lot of it feels more...natural than the often sterile sounding electronic stuff. They also have a lot of brief interludes sampling what sounds like old recordings of television or radio. It creates a really strange atmosphere to go along with the moods of the album. It is excellent "getting stuff done on the computer" music. My productivity has gone through the roof thanks to this band. Maybe not their intention, but I'll take it.

A friend describes them as having a "malfunctioning washing machine" vibe, while my wife insists she's hearing phantom baby cries from every song and every album. Sounds like a winner, right? They're definitely worth a look. My favorite releases so far:

* Boards of Canada - Music Has the Right to Children
* Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Live Shows: Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside, Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, MA 11/6/13

I was beginning to think I was destined to never see Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside. I missed their set at the 2011 Newport Folk Festival, and even though they had played in Massachusetts 3 times this year, none worked out with my life. I was thrilled to see they were playing the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. It seemed like an odd venue that would be way too small for them (it allegedly holds 80 people, but it always seems more like 30-40 to me). Sure, it was a Wednesday night, but I obviously had to go.

On their Dirty Radio and Untamed Beast, Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside are an amazing amalgam of white girl soul, rockabilly, and indie rock. Live her voice is absolutely striking, with more than a hint of Eartha Kitt’s sultry purr to it. At the Lizard Lounge, there really is no stage, just an area surrounded by reserved seating tables where the band sets up. The intimate setting feels more like you’re hanging out and watching people you know play, so the few mistakes Sallie Ford made were easily forgiven by the crowd. Her endearing nerdiness also helped. Her between song banter completely lacked the self assuredness it takes to spout lyrics as “I can fuck, I can drink, and I don’t care what you think,” but that’s part of the show’s charm. The live show is also the perfect setting to showcase guitarist Jeffrey Munger. Not that his playing isn’t noticeable on the album, but live he can cut loose a bit more.

Seeing as they have been embraced by both the Newport Folk and NPR crowds, the crowd was one of the most diverse I’ve seen in a long time, especially for a Wednesday night. It was mostly college aged Newport Folk hipsters, but I wasn’t the old guy by a long shot. This show placed Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside firmly into my Must See Every Time They Come Around list. Hopefully life decides to keep out of my way.

First Listen: New Releases for November 19

A slow new release week as we start looking toward the holiday season.

Various Artists - Rockin' Legends Pay Tribute to Jack White: Out of left field for me this week was this tribute album to Jack White (The White Stripes, The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs) with cover versions by old country rock artists. You might not think you want to hear Gary U. S. Bonds performing "Salute Your Solution" or Sonny Burgess doing "Steady As She Goes," but this is a surprisingly fun collection of cover songs, and really highlights the bluesy, rootsy origin of Jack White's songwriting. It's pretty solid, and it's worth a listen if you're a fan of Jack White in any permutation. I'd personally love to see a Volume 2.

Beady Eye - BE: In the War of the Oasis Brothers, I am firmly on Team Noel. I'm Team Noel to the point where I really don't want to like Beady Eye, and got disproportionately angry when Beady Eye performed Oasis songs at the Olympics in 2012. I thus hate to say it, but BE, the sophomore effort from Liam's band, is actually pretty good. "Soul Love" in particular is a super-familiar highlight, and, overall, a really solid listen. I didn't love the debut album, but this is good enough where I think I want to go back and listen again to see if I was missing anything.

Andrew Bird - I Want to See Pulaski at Night: As someone who is recently back into Andrew Bird, this EP is less a traditional Andrew Bird release and more an opportunity to try some different things (mostly) instrumentally. For a short, quick hit, this is pretty solid and great for fans. If you're looking to dive in on Andrew Bird, though, his more recent album release is where you want to go.

Also out this week:

* A Perfect Circle - Three-Sixty (a greatest hits compilation from a band I didn't realize people were still listening to)

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Persian Leaps - Praise Elephants

When we started this blog, I was worried we'd turn into a Boston-centric blog, since so many of the bands Jeff and I like are from Boston, it's so much easier to discover new bands from where you're from, and being from the Boston area leads to an insane level of homer-ism. Lately I've been receiving so many submissions from fantastic Minnesota bands, I'm starting to have the opposite concern. What is going on in Minnesota that is birthing all these great rock bands?

Singer/guitarist Drew Forsberg used to record under the name The Persian Leaps for years, but never shared his music until 2012 when he joined with Brad Hendrickson, Michael McCloskey, and Neil McCloskey. Back in August, The Persian Leaps released their debut offering, Praise Elephants. It's five songs of fuzzy, heartfelt rock with its roots in predecessors such as The Afghan Whigs or The Sheila Divine. "Silent Treatment" is by far my favorite. With its gang vocals saved for verses and not the chorus, it has a unique sound while being familiar.

Right now you can grab Praise Elephants for a "name your own price" option over at The Persian Leaps' Bandcamp. You can also watch a live video for "Silent Treatment" below.

Friday, November 15, 2013

First Listen: New Releases for November 12

A lot to get to, and a delay at that? No wasting time!

Lady Gaga - Artpop: Lady Gaga has transformed from pop princess to strange cultural touchstone to some sort of avant garde performance art project. Artpop, when taken in the context of her increased interest in a lot of the sort of postmodern, outsider art, is an interesting listen if only because it's so weird in the context of top 40 pop music. I say "interesting" because the album itself isn't really good musically, and I say this as someone who was a fan of her first two albums. This isn't to say there aren't highlights ("Manicure," "Donatella," "Dope") but if you're expecting a "Telephone" or "Poker Face," you're going to be disappointed. On the other hand, I'm probably the only one who would be reading this site and saying "hm, I think I want to know more about the new Lady Gaga album," so maybe I'll just move on...

Tindersticks - Across Six Leap Years: Tindersticks has been a band in the background of a lot of stuff I listen to, and this was probably my first purposeful exposure to them. It's not for me - it's loungey, slow stuff that doesn't really grab me at all. I can see who might like this (and if that minor description excites you, you'll likely dig this), but it really hasn't impacted me at all.

Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs - Under the Covers Volume 3: I'm a sucker for a good covers album, and a while back Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs put out an album of their versions of their favorite songs from the 1960s. It's one of my favorite cover albums ever. Volume 2 took on the 1970s and wasn't as great, but still had some solid highlights. Volume 3 is all about the 1980s, which is interesting given that both Hoffs and Sweet had their heyday in this era. None of these are necessarily hitting me as great versions, unfortunately - "Free Fallin'" is interesting, and it's always weird to hear groups take on R.E.M. songs (and Sweet was in a band with Michael Stipe's sister for a time, which makes for a weird aside), but on a whole, the idea of 80s songs without the overproduced gloss just doesn't always work for me. More a curiosity than a solid listen for me.

Los Campesinos! - No Blues: Los Campesinos! is not the most accessible band with some indie success. "You! Me! Dancing!" was a high point, and I feel like I'm always waiting for another song like it that doesn't come. It's definitely a more interesting album than I've heard as of late, but I'm not sure how much patience I'll have for it, either. Good for fans, for sure.

Cate le Bon - Mug Museum: Cate le Bon was another random Amie Street pickup for me for her album Me Oh My, and I really enjoyed the follow-up. This album turns the weirdness dial up a bit, exchanging accessible melodies over interesting instrumentation for more complicated song structures. Some of it I really loved on first listen, some not as much. This one is one I'll be giving a longer shot in the short term, for sure, but those who are expecting similarities to her earlier albums might be disappointed.

Also out this week:

* Trampled by Turtles - Live at First Avenue (a decent, if inessential, listen)
* Various Artists - Songs for Slim (includes tracks from Jeff Tweedy, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, etc)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

DVD Review: East End Babylon: The Story of the Cockney Rejects

I'll admit it: I really knew The Cockney Rejects more as a name than as an actual band before watching the movie. East End Babylon: The Story of the Cockney Rejects works perfectly as a primer for people just discovering the band as it does for die hard fans looking to hear the whole story. It starts off focusing on West Ham, the area of London the band is from, and the economic hardships it was facing around the time the band formed. The Rejects got started off in one of the most classically punk ways possible: They claimed they were a band even though they had never played and didn't have a drummer, but somehow ended up with studio time to record. The band's rise to popularity coinciding perfectly with West Ham United winning the FA Championship in 1980, right when they recorded a punk version of West Ham's fight song, "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles." Think Dropkick Murphys recording "Tessie" in 2004, but the one difference is The Dropkick could play in New York and St. Louis after that. With the violence involved with soccer hooliganism at the time, playing outside of London became virtually impossible. That and a BBC report that falsely tied them to the neo-Nazi British Movement virtually ended the Rejects, until modern day punk bands like Rancid and The Dropkick Murphys started citing them as influences.

East End Babylon: The Story of the Cockney Rejects features interviews with the band and people associated with the band, as well as archival clips and animation. My only complaint is it could really use a closed captioning feature, since the Cockney accent is really strong. For more information, head over to the film's website. You can also order a DVD copy from Amazon.