Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Favorite Albums of 2011

I'm not going to write a whole lot about my favorite albums, but I will deliver twenty albums for my list, instead of the usual ten. So, just like your local rock-oriented station, I'll give you the list with less talk and more rock.

20. David Mead - Dudes
David Mead is a professional pop song-writer and knows his way around a melody.

"Happy Birthday, Marty Ryan"

19. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong
Sophomore album shows no slump.

"Heart In Your Heartbreak"

18. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
I love the self-loathing of these guys.


17. Matthew Sweet - Modern Art
One of my all-time favorites delivers a solid album of power pop.

"She Walks The Night"

16. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
I absolutely love her.


15. Elbow - build a rocket, boys!
These important Mancunians are still underappreciated in the U.S.

"Lippy Kids"

14. TV On The Radio - Nine Types Of Light
Not as good as their last album, but their so-so albums are still pretty good.

"Will Do"

13. The Horrors - Skying
More moody music from across the pond.

"Still Life"

12. Washed Out - Within and Without
One of the standard bearers of "chill-wave." Save this one for the late nights.

"Amor Fati"

11. My Morning Jacket - Circuital
Jim James still has some of the best vocals in indie rock.

"Movin Away"

10. We Were Promised Jetpacks - In The Pit Of The Stomach
I'm so glad these young Scots put out another solid album.

"Human Error"

9. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
I saw these guys in Paris and they were fantastic.

"Helplessness Blues"

8. Yuck - Yuck
Great debut album.

"Get Away"

7. Destroyer - Kaputt
Dan Bejar of New Pornographers fame releases a long-lost 80s album...think Roxy Music or Haircut 100.


6. Cut Copy - Zonoscope
Some of the year's best synth-pop.

"Need You Now"

5. Bon Iver - Bon Iver
I prefer the first album BEFORE he started hanging out with Kanye. He's still pretty good.


4. Beirut - The Rip Tide
I absolutely love accordions, trumpets, and whatever else he wants to throw into his musical melting pot.

"Santa Fe"

3. M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
French synth-pop that delivered one of the best sax solos in ages, just check the end of "Midnight City."

"Midnight City"

2. Wye Oak - Civilian
I arrived at this one a little late, but couldn't stop listening to it by the end of the year.


1. Hooray For Earth - True Loves
These guys came out of nowhere and released a classic synth-pop album.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

My Favorite Albums of 2010

First of all, I apologize for abandoning the blog for so long. I have received some gentle encouragement to get back to it. I suppose there is not a better time to repent than the new year, which allows me to share some of my favorite music of the past year.

There are many, many good albums that just missed the top 10. Ryan Adams, Stars, Strand of Oaks, Local Natives, Retribution Gospel Choir, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Titus Andronicus, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Spoon, Frightened Rabbit, New Pornographers, Owen Pallett and probably a few others I'm missing.

Anyways, here's the list...

10. Guster - Easy Wonderful

This album was a pleasant surprise. I haven't listened to much Guster since the late 90s, and certainly felt that their best days were behind them. I checked out their album more out of curiosity than anything else and absolutely loved it. The songwriting is great. The production is tight. They even produced a really great video for their first single.

Guster - "Do You Love Me"

9. Jonsi - Go

This is the solo album from the lead singer of Sigur Ros, perhaps my favorite band from the past decade. This album is lighter and more straight forward than a traditional Sigur Ros album, but all of the elements you expect, orchestral arrangements, non-sensical lyrics, huge moments, are there.

Jonsi - "Boy Lilikoi"

8. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More

While difficult to describe the sound of Mumford & Sons, it's easy to say that this London band released one of the best debut albums of 2010. I've heard some describe them as an English Avett Brothers, which isn't too far off. Both are loosely considered bluegrass and are known for their energetic live shows with band members playing multiple instruments, and of course both are just plain fantastic.

Mumford & Sons - "White Blank Page"

7. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz

While it doesn't appear the Sufjan is going to complete is "50 States" album project, this long awaited release took his music into more experimental areas. Perhaps tired of being labeled an orchestral folkie, this album experiments with all sorts of electronic blips and bleeps, while maintaining the usual melodic quality of Stevens' songwriting. Stevens also released All Delighted People, a sixty plus minute EP that featured tracks just as strong as those on The Age of Adz.

Sufjan Stevens - "Too Much"

6. Wild Nothing - Gemini

I love the college rock of the 1980s. Jack Tatum, the Virginia Tech student that produced the one-man project Wild Nothing, must also be a fan. He essentially samples, without being derivative, the best of 80s alternative music. As I listened to the album, I heard Cocteau Twins, The Smiths, Kate Bush, Jesus & Mary Chain, Echo & The Bunnymen all mixed together without it sounding like any single source.

Wild Nothing - "Chinatown"

5. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest

Describing themselves as "ambient punk," Deerhunter have always been a little too scattered and noisy for any of their previously albums to get repeated listens from me. My attitude towards them changed with Halcyon Digest, an album that is much more streamlined and focused than previous efforts. That focus results in a stunningly beautiful album that reminds of my favorite shoegazing bands from the early 90s.

Deerhunter - "Desire Lines" (live)

4. Band of Horses - Infinite Arms

When I first listened to this album, I pushed it aside and dismissed it. It didn't fit with what I expected from a Band of Horses record, specifically too much Americana and not enough rock. There was no "Funeral" or "No One's Gonna Love You," tracks that were immediately accessible on their previous two releases. Months later, I tried listening to it again, and began to fall in love with what they had done. Some albums reward repeated listens and I finally heard the album's greatness. (By the way, one of my favorite tracks of 2010 was Cee Lo Green's cover of BofH's "No One's Gonna Love You." I'll include it as well.)

Band of Horses - "Infinite Arms" (live)

Cee Lo Green - "No One's Gonna Love You"

3. The Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt

This past year, I often described folk-singer, Kristian Matsson, as the Swedish Bob Dylan. Mainly, it's because of the voice. But like Dylan, there's something magical about this album. I'll admit a certain distaste of solo artists with a guitar, coffee-shop albums, so it's a shock to myself that this album was one of my favorites.

The Tallest Man On Earth - "The Dreamer" (live)

2. The National - High Violet

If you're reading this, you're probably already sold on the National. They have become one of the standard bearers of indie rock, and with good reason. They seem to be writing and producing music that speaks to adults that are not quite sure they are ready to become adults. The Pitchfork reviewer of High Violet describes their importance for "writing about the type of lived-in moments that rock bands usually don't write about that well. The characters in National songs have real jobs, have uninteresting sex, get drunk, and lie to one another." It doesn't hurt that they can close shows with moments like the one below.

The National - "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" (live)

1. The Walkmen - Lisbon

Like the National, the Walkmen speak to thritysomethings in the process of growing up. However, the Walkmen are far more desperate and unhinged than their fellow New Yorkers. One Pitchfork reviewer comparing the two bands described the Walkmen as "more theatrical and unwound than that [the National]-- they're the guys out in the middle of the street, screaming up at the sky, begging to know why everything always falls apart." I don't think Hamilton Leithauser and the boys are that unhinged, but this IS the same band that gave you "The Rat." From top to bottom, Lisbon is a completely breathtaking album that paints with a diverse musical palette, including surf rock, Sun Records rockabilly, garage rock, and mariachi horns.

The Walkmen - "Angela Surf City" (live)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Speaking of Scenes...North Carolina

One of my five readers reminded me of a current scene that I neglected to give a shout out, although I’ve been giving at least one of these bands a shout out for some time now. This summer three North Carolina bands have released some great music. In the seventies, southern rock meant Lyrnard Skynard or the Allman Brothers. By the eighties, bands like R.E.M. and the Connells gave us great jangle-pop. Today, my North Carolina bands play beautiful acoustic based music with luscious harmonies, while sporting wonderful facial hair.

The Bowerbirds hail from Raleigh, feature lush male-female vocals with guitar, accordion, and the occasional violin. It all blends together into something rather beautiful and whimsical. They toured last year with Bon Iver(a Wisconsin native that was part of the North Carolina scene) and are currently on the road promoting their new album, "Upper Air".

The Bowerbirds - "Beneath Your Tree" (Live From Austria!)

Durahm based Megafaun have been on the road with the Bowerbirds supporting their wonderful new album “Gather, Form, and Fly.” The trio (brothers Brad & Phil Cook and Joe Westerlund) all originally hail from Wisconsin and moved to North Carolina with former bandmate, Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver). After Vernon left the band, Megafaun emerged from the ashes. Stereogum described their music as “mournful, slow-blooming banjo-and-white-noise-laced epics,” and I completely agree. If you started with the Fleet Foxes, added the whimsy and melody of Brian Wilson, and the experimental fun of Radiohead, you’d have Megafaun.

Megafaun - "Tides" (Live From Phoenix)

Megafaun at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix, AZ 8.6.2009 from welldonemedia on Vimeo.

Of course, no band has received as much praise on the Soffe Report as the Avett Brothers. These favorite sons of Concord, North Carolina are set to release their first major label recording, “I And Love And You,” produced by the legendary Rick Rubin. While many have found their music difficult to characterize, the San Francisco Chronicle gives it a good attempt, describing the Avetts as having “the heavy sadness of Townes Van Zandt, the light pop concision of Buddy Holly, the tuneful jangle of the Beatles, and the raw energy of the Ramones." The band is currently touring and will make a stop in Salt Lake City next week at Red Butte Gardens. Of course, I will be in attendance.

Here is a clip from a great little project where artists covered the songs of Bruce Springsteen, "Hangin On E Street". It's definitely worth your time to check it out.

The Avett Brothers - "Glory Days" (Bruce Springsteen Cover)

Friday, August 14, 2009

If it's not Scottish, it's crap!

I’ve always liked a good music scene, whether it’s defined by style (power-pop), label (Matador), or country (British Invasion), or even more specifically in city (Seattle). In high school, I was enamored by Manchester, England, mainly due to The Smiths, James, and New Order, but also because of Madchester bands Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, and the Charlatans. Even today, two of my favorites bands, Doves & Elbow, call Manchester home.

(True story alert: When I was interviewed by my Bishop to serve a Mormon mission, he informed me that my medical papers indicated a need to send me to a first world country. When he asked if I was O.K. with it, I told him that he could at least write on my papers a preference for service in the Manchester England mission. He thought it was a joke and laughed. I was very serious and insisted he include that information for the missionary committee to consider, which he did. The committee, instead, decided I needed to cultivate a love for Reggae music and sent me to East Africa.)

As far as current musical scenes, Sweden has always been home to beautiful pop music, it must have something to do with the socialism. New York seems to keep producing bands that channel Joy Division. However, my current favorite scene happens to be Scotland. Over the years, the Scots have given us numerous great bands; such as Big Country, Aztec Camera, Simple Minds, Cocteau Twins, The Jesus And The Mary Chain, Trashcan Sinatras, Teenage Fanclub, Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Idlewild, Aereogramme, Travis, Biffy Clyro, and Franz Ferdinand. For an area with a little over five million people, Scotland has done quite well. Consider that my home state of Utah has just under three million people, and have only given the world the Osmonds and The Used.

Anyways, Scotland is continuing to churn out great bands, with one of them releasing a favorite album of this year. In somewhat of a cinematic start, We Were Promised Jetpacks, , played their first gig at their Edinburgh school’s “Battle of the Bands”, which they won. They later moved to Glasgow and were eventually signed to Fat Cat Records after the label listened to their MySpace page. They released their debut album, ‘These Four Walls’, this past June to impressive critical acclaim and are now touring the U.S.. Like label mates The Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit, they play anthemic rocks songs with thick, emotive accents rooted in the post-punk tradition. I admit that I’m a sucker for the accent.

All three bands will be playing in Salt Lake City, September 14, at the Urban Lounge. If you need more convincing to be there, here are a few clips of each band.

We Were Promised Jetpacks - "It's Thunder And It's Lightning" (six gig mash-up)

Frightened Rabbit - "The Modern Leper" (Acoustic)

The Twilight Sad - "And She Would Darken The Memory"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Things I Like: Mad Men

The summer movie season has been less than spectacular. In addition, movies designed to take advantage of my childhood memories, Transformers and G.I. Joe, were just awful, like Ishtar or Battlefield Earth awful. What a betrayal. And with the lone exception of So You Think You Can Dance, summer television had been exhibit A in the devolution of society, with shows like Dating In The Dark and the "Fat Bachelor" front and center. Aside from some great music, which I'll get to later this week, summer media has been a huge disappointment. All of this will change Sunday when Mad Men returns for its third season. If you want to get on board, the first two seasons are available on DVD and are only 13 episodes each.

I'll admit. I missed out on the first season of Mad Men when it originally aired, as did most of America. Matt Weiner's vision, rejected by HBO after hard lobbying by Sopranos creator David Chase, was finally picked up by AMC, not necessarily known for daring original programing. The first season was seen by fewer than a million people, but each one of those people raved that Mad Men was the greatest show on television. Set in 1960s New York City at Madison Avenue advertising firm Sterling Cooper, the time period is ultimately the main character. Weiner is obsessive-compulsive when it comes to details, and everything looks fabulous. The clothing, hair, music, and even the historical events of the time transport the viewer to a sexy, almost forgotten, time in our history. There has been plenty of movies and shows dealing with the riotous, "hippie" side of the 60s, but few have looked so closely at the man in the gray flannel suit.

It also helps when the man in the gray flannel suit is Don Draper. Played perfectly by Jon Hamm, Draper is the ultimate portrayal of 1960s masculinity. He is good looking, smart, and always says and does the right thing, even when he does the wrong thing. The younger executives at Sterling Cooper idolize him. Women constantly flirt with him. It is clear that he plays by a different set of rules than the rest of society. He lives in a bubble, but clearly knows it. Unlike Hamm's character on 30 Rock that lives in a bubble, but is hilariously unaware. Draper is the heart and soul of Sterling Cooper, and certainly carries the show.

As I said before, I missed the first season, but finally jumped aboard after watching Hamm's terrific SNL performance featuring two Mad Men themed sketches. So instead of sharing a favorite clip from Mad Men, here are the SNL sketches that pushed me to watch. Please enjoy and go watch the first two seasons. If you are already a viewer, check out the links to two Mad Men related stories in Vanity Fair and the A.V. Club that help preview the third season.

Don Draper's Guide To Picking Up Women

Two A-Holes at an Ad Agency in the 1960s

Thursday, August 6, 2009

John Hughes (1950-2009)

I entered the eighties a five year old boy and left it as an unsure teenager on the verge of adulthood. In many ways, I was raised on media; which is both good and bad (see Chuck Klosterman’s essay “This is Emo” from his wonderful book Sex, Drugs, And Cocoa Puffs for further elaboration on pop culture’s influence on our expectations of love). With that said, the movies of John Hughes had immeasurable impact on me and taught many life lessons. It’s O.K. to be yourself, in fact, you need to embrace yourself. Love is a complicated thing and you can find it in unusual places. Sometimes you need a day off to just play. You can make the perfect girl with a computer and the power of science. Today, I was saddened to hear of the passing of John Hughes. His pop culture influence is immeasurable. His movies also featured great here are some clips of classic songs from John Hughes films.

Simple Minds - "Don't You Forget About Me" (The Breakfast Club)

The Psychadelic Furs - "Pretty In Pink" (Pretty In Pink)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My First CD

The first recorded music I owned was Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which is not a real surprise considering my age. Anecdotes of Jackson’s impact have been heard regularly since his death, with Thriller being a generational touchstone. At the time, I thought all music was bought on vinyl. My parents record collection seems to stopped right around the time of my birth, which also means I didn’t get to play around with the 8-track format. A few years after thriller, my parents decided it was time I had my own stereo, which meant cassette/radio. This was no “ghetto blaster”, but it certainly got the job done. My parents also allowed me to join the Columbia House Record & Tape Club. How could I dismiss an offer like 12 tapes for a penny? My parents would worry about the commitment to buy more tapes at highly inflated prices later. The gratification of receiving a box of music seemed too good to pass up. I can’t remember all my choices, but Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, and Simon & Garfunkel seem to be involved. As I moved into high school I explored the classic rock of Led Zeppelin, the Doors, and the Beatles, but also received my first exposure to important bands like R.E.M., Depeche Mode, and the Cure. In many ways, I resented not having an older sibling to steer me in the right musical direction. Musical mentors are very important in life. This was of course reaffirmed to me by a great scene in Almost Famous, where a young William Miller receives his older sister’s record collection. William Miller also receives mentoring from Lester Bangs, which doesn’t suck at all.

(A good excuse to share one of my all-time favorite movie scenes and quotes.)

(This scene where William inherits his sister's records is dubbed in Italian, but it's all I could find. However, you'll get the picture, especially at 1:44 of the clip.)

Anyways, it wasn’t until I was sixteen, that I acquired a Compact Disc player. These magical devices where amazing to me. The discs were portable, unlike vinyl, and you could skip to any track you like. I was also happy that not another tape was going to get destroyed by my tape player eating it. I still can’t listen to Midnight Oil’s Blue Sky Mine, without imagining the garbled spots left by my tape player. So once I got the CD player, now all I needed was the CD. When I went to Hasting's with my hard earned money, one title stood out to me, Trash Can SinatrasCake. I had just seen them on an episode of 120 Minutes, MTV’s two hour oasis of alternative music, which I seemed to interpret as British. After an hour or so of deliberating, I pulled the trigger on the Trashcans and have been in love ever since, both with the band and with recorded music in general. I have thousands of CDs and have obviously made many good and poor choices. However, my first choice was one of my best.

The Trashcan Sinatras didn’t survive the nineties well. Their style just didn’t fit in with the harsh sound of popular alternative, most famously characterized by grunge. Their third album wasn’t even released in the U.S., and they just kind of faded away. In 2004 I learned that the band had some new songs and were putting out an album and even planning a tour of the states. It was amazing to see one of the bands of my teenage years make a comeback, and do it so competently. Tonight, the Trashcan Sinatras come back to Salt Lake City with a new album of quiet beautiful songs. I wouldn’t miss them for anything. Welcome back.

Trashcan Sinatras - "Hayfever"

Trashcan Sinatras - "The Genius I Was"