Friday, August 25, 2006

1/2 Year "Best of" List

The year is almost over so we might as well separate the great stuff from all of the crap.

Sunset Rubdown- Shut Up I Am Dreaming- the reason that I am doing this here list. More lyrical and artsy than Wolf Parade, but so much more. Not really catchy but the songs include phrases that you will want to use but then realize that they only work within the context of the songs. Ex: "I'm not that kind of whore, but I am a little Lord" what? Brilliant.

Band of Horses- Everything All the Time- A talented voice mixed with catchy melodies and a song (funeral) that will destroy all other songs of 2006. Plus, a live show that can't be stopped.

Shearwater- Palo Santo- Quite but frantic at times, this is the album where everything has come together for shearwater. Jonathan is finally alone as the front man and it pays off huge. Keep in mind that it may take a couple of listens to truly appreciate all of the yelps and banjo flourishes.

((sounder))- there is a sun....- another album that takes a few listens to catch all of the nuances that make it so wonderful. Recommended for long drives or long periods of time sitting in your house doing nothing.

Centro-Matic- Fort Recovery- The band's most focused album of their prolific career. Composed of smooth ballads and rollicking rockers, this band can do no wrong in my book.

Josh Ritter- The Animal Years- Josh is on the verge of becoming a household name as well as an adult contemporary star. The Animal Years includes songs that can stand alone as pieces of art, but when pieced together as whole, create a masterpiece. No one is writing better folk songs than Josh Ritter.

Voxtrot- both eps- No one overlooked this band except for you pitchfork. And now you're trying to make up for it? Huh, them bloggers recognized that sh** a long time ago. Austin represent.

The Sword- Age of Winters- The return of METAL!

Micah P. Hinson- The Baby & the Satellite- A collection of early recordings that reveal flashes of greatness. Raw vocals mixed with minimal backing puts the focus on the words and talent of this young Texan.

Vetiver- To Find Me Gone- Brand new to me, but I thought that I would throw it on the list just as a wild card. The few songs that I've heard are some of the best that have come out of the psych-folk genre. This is not "Devendra's friends band" or "freak-folk" this is just great songwriting and more importantly fantastic music.

Crap: why waste our time.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Beirut - Gulag Orkestar

Beirut, aka Zach Condon, plays music that is not of this world....well at least not of this country. Accordions, ukuleles, violins, and the stomp inducing percussion carry this unique album. Zach is not from Russia, Germany, or Albania, he's not even from New York, yet the songs that he has constructed include all of these cultures. Oh, and did I mention that he is only 19 years old! Yeah, that's right he is younger than me and for some reason that really makes the album that much better.

Beirut has garnered enough "blog/internet" hype to kill a small horse. I don't know how he got this much attention at such an early stage in his career but I can honestly say that it is well deserved. The hype may have happened because the music is original and not what you will hear on your average indie radio station. He is not the first person to create this "new" genre of music; Devotchka and A Hawk and a Hacksaw have been making worldly music for years, but Beirut may be the band that takes this type of music to the top, so to speak. In fact, A Hawk and a Hacksaw play on Gulag providing accordions, violins, and the driving percussion.

The fact is that the songs are simple yet they do not sound novice or boring. Beirut has taken a traditional form of music and combined it with just enough contemporary elements to make it appealing to a Decemberists listener. This is a new trend that I am seeing in the music that is coming out today. Bands are taking old music that most people are not familiar with or don't like and making it their own. They are not blatantly copying a specific band or movement. They are however recognizing music that has been forgotten or never saw its time in the spotlight and capitalizing on the discovery.

And his voice; upon one listen it is clear that Zach is truly gifted and his vocals could front any type of band. But the voice was made for Beirut, soaring subtle singing contribute to the dramatics that are essential to this genre of music. 'The Canals of Our City' brings Condon's voice to the front and gives that instrument the credit that it deserves. Often compared to Rufus Wainwright, Beirut's Gulag Orkestar is the perfect example of a promising band. It may not be the best album of 2006 but it will be on numerous year end lists due to the potential of Beirut and its boundary defying ideas.

'Postcards from Italy' is the single that will take this album places. The song makes it hard to stay still and you will find yourself marching in place, maybe even with a slight head sway. The trumpets will stay in your head throughout your workday and you will hum the chorus even though you have no idea what he is saying. The slow dirge-like 'Rhineland (Homeland)' sounds like an entire orchestra crammed into a small room with its layered voices and powerful trumpet line. But there is no orchestra, only the musical ideas and individual performances of Condon pieced together to create emotion.

There is so much unoriginal music out there today (Yes, I'm talking about the Arctic Monkeys and anyone that they know) so it is so refreshing to listen to something that goes off the path just enough to get people's attention. Many people will listen to Gulag just because it is different. It is such a simple concept, making original music, unfortunately only a handful of artists choose to take such a gamble.