Shearwater's Snow Leopard Salvation

There's something spiritual in snow. Something about that stark whiteness, the way it tucks the world into bed, the whispery softness of it all. Mostly, it's about the solitude. You're in a field surrounded by falling snow, words die away on your lips and fall useless to the ground. You're isolated from everything. It's just you and the snow and you're the much-smaller of the two.

I feel similarly about Shearwater, a band that has taken a staggering step forward this year, first with the release of Rook (LP) and now with the supplement Snow Leopard EP. Jonathan Meiburg's vocals take on melodies that resound like hymns, the instrumentation building from literally nothing into something bigger than just a crescendo. It feels like a confession, an exorcism, and a salvation happening simultaneously. It's just me and the music and I'm the much-smaller of the two.

North Col
Henry Lee
[from The Snow Leopard EP|buy]


A Party We Can Trust

An odd thing is happening in this volatile music industry, thanks to an endless string of who-dun-it's dating back through "pay-for-play", Metallica killing Napster, and the commercialization of music in general: more and more artists (and not just your budding college solo artists) are simply giving their music away. Strangely, the internet has hurt bands almost as much as it has helped them. For every preview blog like mine, there are 10 blogs giving full albums away with nary a review or glance in the rearview. These sites, bit-torrents and peer-to-peer have effectively killed the "release date" as an ever-decreasing number of album sales (physical and digital) attest. Labels find themselves in their most precarious position ever, partly their own fault, but (in all honesty) partly ours. Pretty soon, labels won't be able to afford to pay up front for bands to record albums and get merchandise made for their tours.

But I digress. Perhaps the "label" is truly going the way of VHS and rabbit ear TV tuners. Perhaps we're just returning the model to where it should have stayed: in the hands of the artists, delivering sounds directly to the ears of the fan. Perhaps storefronts (as far as music is concerned) are floating down a similar path. Perhaps in the future all music will be free, and it'll be up to people like me to make sure you know about it. The playing field between have's and have-not's would be leveled.

It's election season and I've decided that CHANGE is, indeed, what I need. But instead of voting Democrat or Republican, I think I'll cast my vote for Conversion Party. I've been listening to McCain and Obama talk for almost two years and I've only been listening to Conversion Party for 3 days, but I've heard all I need to hear. More No More has come out of nowhere to be the dark horse candidate for album of the year. Why?

Because it has cajones. Because their myspace says "I choose neither" and only has 771 plays. Because this puzzle was not made with a jigsaw, but with the sun and a magnifying glass and the edges do not fit perfectly. Because it is a ray of light that has pierced the tree canopy. Because there are numerous eff-you moments, including (but not limited to) the band's name itself (A conversion party is a gathering where people have sex with people with HIV/AIDS on purpose). Because Conversion Party is way cooler than Vampire Weekend and they know it.

Yes, I've done it before, but I haven't really thought about the implications of this until now: I'm pushing an album that is free. I guess my goal with this blog has always been to show you some new music, but also to perhaps goade you into actually supporting these deserving bands financially if you feel so inclined. Conversion Party has made it impossible for me to fulfill the latter. So we're stripped down to the roots here. This record is really good, it's really free, and you should really tell other people about it.

East River
[from More No More|download free]


Listening Assignments 10.27.08

1. Sebastien Grainger - American Names - This track is immediately anthemic and driving and it only increases over the duration. . Grainger is solo now, blazing a trail as far away from former band Death From Above 1979 as possible. Whatever direction that is, it is the right one. [from Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains|buy]

2. Rooney - Sleep Song - If you've seen the Chumscrubber (and if you haven't, do so immediately), you know this Rooney B-side is an integral part of the soundtrack. Specifically, two huge turning points involving suicide. It's a beautiful and dark song, but one I hope eventually separates itself from my memory of it in the movie (a la Elliott Smith's "Needle in the Hay"). I do wish the guitars were heavier in this mix like they were in the film... [watch the trailer]

3. Apes & Androids - Nights of the Week - I laugh every time this song plays, but I'm pretty sure it's not meant to be funny. Yet, it's here on the assignments because it's got long and sexy legs and it knows how to walk. The vocals border on sophomoric (emotive goth moaning?) before settling in somewhere around coyly confident. We've got numerous '80s throwbacks competing for time here: synth, 8-bit samples, digital-delayed lead guitar, and a smart little dance beat. Somehow, it works. [from Blood Moon|buy]

4. Styx Tyger - String Strikes - And here's the atmospheric sendoff. This voice comes from across an expanse of sky, over sunset-lit clouds to your clifftop dream-bed. Everything about it is soft and flowing and pastel. Fuzzy edges, slightly out of focus, impossible to grab. This song is smoke. [from Styx Tyger EP|myspace]


Bi-Annually Awesome

I must say three things:

1. With every dying breath of the playful and/or breathy indie-folk of 2005-2006, my heart gets a little smaller in size. It seems more and more bands like Annuals are moving on from that era, when sparsely laid tracks dominated my playlists. '06's Be He Me was a welcome addition to that canon, sounding like a violin-overdosed jog through a summer field with just enough lo-fi exuberance to carry the day.

2. Thankfully, there are still a few acts today carrying the banner of yesterday. Fleet Foxes, Department of Eagles/Grizzly Bear, and Ida come to mind. Many more if I spent some time scanning my stacks, but the genre is no longer the "it" genre it was a few years ago.

3. Getting back to Annuals and despite the small death they are causing me via the winds of change, they are simultaneously planting new hope. Growth spurts like these I have no problem with. Tight, focused, melodic. Sweeping, confident, beautiful. Stabs of electric guitar have ignited a firestorm of criticism on indie message-boards comparing them to "intellectual" shrug-offs like Anberlin and Mae (if you flip to page 239 in your too-cool-for-school manual, you're not supposed to enjoy bands like Anberlin). I tore that page out.

In conclusion, here is my ruling. Thou shalt not mourn change for change itself. Give Annuals a shot and they may reward you...bi-annually?

Always Do
[from Such Fun|buy]


Middle Finger

I'd also like to go on record and say thanks to Fileden for unceremoniously (and without justification or inquiry) deleting my account. I'm sure my $40 a month for the last two years were only a drop in the bucket, not nearly enough to make me a valued customer deserving of an explanation. It's kind of funny in a way how back asswards this whole system is because I've had my account suspended before, due to a record company e-mailing Fileden a takedown request over songs they had sent me to review (in addition to posting some Mariah Carey track, which never happened). Maybe that occurred again, but I'll likely never know. Hey guys! Free publicity here! If you're a record company and don't want people to like your music, you should try every way possible to prevent word-of-mouth promotion. This is a very bad thing, often resulting in things like "buzz", which in turn results in unpleasant things like "ticket sales" and "brand equity", the brand being the band of course.

This blog is about pushing things I enjoy, not putting down things I don't. I'm not besmirching your releases here. So have a little faith, make a little love, and step off your pedestal once in a while. I'm just a little guy trying to make a big difference.

Listening Assignments 10.20.08

1. Sloan - Cheap Champagne - I'm not ashamed to say that I heard this song in the Gap while in Portland, OR. I jotted down some of the lyrics on the back of a concert ticket and brought it back to VA to discover that the song was by Nova Scotia's finest power-pop outfit. This one is less power, more pop. Think Squeeze, not Spears. [from Parallel Play|buy]

2. Lymbyc Systym - Narita - I could listen to Lymbyc Systym until my skin melts off and probably will. Something about bombastic drums, Fender Rhodes and a crescendo of melodic distortion will always get to me. [from Field Studies|buy]

3. Minus the Bear - Pachuca Sunrise - For a band known for glitchy synth/drum machine-aided indie rock, an acoustic EP of this quality is an unexpected and pleasant surprise. [from Acoustics|buy]

4. Marit Larsen - Steal My Heart - Something about Marit is irresistably adorable despite my testes protesting heatedly in defense of their honor. Whatever part of my body sings louder usually wins out. And I will say that I'd rather be castrated than have my heart excised, a fact confirmed by this lovely Norwegian. [from the Chase|buy]


Sweet Baby Ray Ray

There are timeless voices and then there's Ray LaMontagne's voice. I have no doubt that if it were 1972, our grandchildren in 2008 would still be spinning Ray-Ray's vinyl like it was hot off the press. This voice is like a fine gravel, practically sand, practically ash it's so smooth. This voice lays down like steaming asphalt, making the imperfections in this world into perfections. It is renewal and hope and revival.

Ray LaMontagne remains a fringe star despite his incredible chops, finding his home in the excited whispers of word-of-mouth, soundtracks and mix-tapes. For now. With every album like Gossip in the Grain and song like "Let It Be Me", Ray is threatening to kick that door wide open. His voice is a time-traveller from a borrowed era, here to educate your ears on the meaning of heart and soul. It's a lesson that'll have your grandchildren swaying in their chairs 30 years down the road.

You Are the Best Thing
[from Gossip in the Grain|buy]
*links fixed


Copeland Equals Sunshine

There was a severe pang of heartwarming nostalgia when the opening notes of Copeland's new melodic masterpiece You Are My Sunshine came across the airwaves. It's been two years since a full LP of new stuff was released (Eat, Sleep, Repeat: 2006). While 2007 saw the release of a closet-full of b-sides and demos in Dressed Up & In Line and full-on speculation as to the demise of the band, 2008 holds a bevy of newness for this Lakeland, Florida outfit. A new label (Tooth & Nail after 3 albums with the Militia Group), a new outlook on the future, and most importantly a new album.

And what an album it is. Immediately captivating (see album opener "Should You Return"), Sunshine grabs hold song after song, including a perfect re-hash of "Chin Up" in the 3rd slot, and with much thanks to little-known guest vocalist Rae Cassidy who lends an angelic light to three tracks. Steadily, while under the scrutinizing microscope of longtime fans, Copeland has built up quite an impressive ever-maturing body of work, delving deep into the heart of what makes us all feel. Sunshine is as uplifting as a fizzy lifting drink, a needed shot of warmth in this early Fall season when the chill sometimes whisps in through the cracks in the windows and floors.

Here's a link to a clever youtube vid the band made to announce the name of the album. It's pretty beautiful, even if it sounds Icelandic.

Should You Return
The Day I Lost My Voice (the Suitcase Song)
[from You Are My Sunshine|buy for 7.99 at Best Buy w/ free shipping]
*links fixed


Listening Assignments 10.14.07

So it's been a complete struggle to write lately because of a strange problem: I actually have TOO much music to write about. Seriously, there are about 30 albums that I'm either listening to or are in the queue and it's pretty overwhelming and hard to make decisions about. Thus, I'm throwing some bigger names on the assignments today to make up some ground.

1. Ben Folds - Kylie from Connecticut - Hey, if you haven't figured this out by now I'm a fan of Ben Folds. I want the best for him (and in effect for all of us) and I do miss certain things he used to do an awful lot. That said, the backlash this CD is producing is pretty overboard in my opinion. There are some really great tracks on this album [from Way to Normal|buy]

2. Jenny Lewis - Pretty Bird - If it weren't decent-to-great, this song would not appear here at all, but I've said this before and I'll say it again: I still don't get Jenny Lewis. I just don't get what the big deal is. Someone send me a song that I have no choice but to love, please? Because I feel like I'm listening to her and trying so hard to find undeniably good to justify the fawning she receives and I'm just not finding it. Prove me wrong, anyone out there, I'd appreciate it. [from Acid Tongue|buy]

3. Mt. Eerie - Voice in Headphones - Julie Doiron is no stranger to my love. She's back, joining Phil Elverum of The Microphones on his new project. It's dark and you can hear the squeaks of mice in the corners, gnawing the edges of tattered old newspapers. It's a sealed bedroom, a prayer circle, a rising and falling chant for forgiveness. [from Lost Wisdom|buy]

4. Ida - My Fair, My Dark - With respect to Ms. Doiron and Mr. Elverum above, there are very few male/female tandems that can hold a candle to the two that comprise Ida. Daniel Littleton taking the low, Elizabeth Mitchell taking the high, their voices meld into a singular melody that slices through fog, shoes and butter with the greatest of ease. [from My Fair, My Dark EP|buy]



Warble, swoop, dive and duck. A floating fleet of feathers and feet, turning in unison, fleeing the sunset. I can't help but imagine a swan when I hear Antony sing, a real-life ugly duckling. His words always sound cloaked in darkness like a somber weight of sadness is sitting heavy on his head. This new EP is Antony at his finest.

Sing for Me
Another World
[from Another World|buy]


Listening Assignments 10.8.08

1. Brian Wilson - Live Let Live - Do you realize BW is 66 years old? I think it's amazing that there are any good tracks on his follow-up to Smile, which took him almost 40 years to complete. But here he is, that old lucky sun-toasted sumbitch, raising another icy glass to the bright-colored sky. Here's to you buddy. [from That Lucky Old Sun|buy]

2. Final Fantasy - Cockatrice - Shimmy and shake. Plucked violin strings, bumping understated bass, ethereal-voiced Owen Pallett operating the curtains. When the strings start swinging in, this really feels like fiction, a fantasy in which you are enrobed. [from Spectrum, 14th Century|buy]

3. Deas Vail - White Lights - I don't even know what to call this kind of music anymore. I used to, before what used to be "indie" became "mainstream" and the term began to apply elsewhere. I'll call it energetic, uplifting rock that'll probably never be on the radio. Which is perfectly ok with me. [from White Lights EP|buy]

4. My Brightest Diamond - Adieu Mon Coeur (acoustic) - If you think this song is heart-rendingly sad, that's because it is. "Goodbye, My Heart. As I throw you into misfortune...I cannot bear to watch you die." There is so much beauty in heartbreak. [from The Gum Drop (Stereogum's e-mail list)|sign up]


Same Streets, New World

Mike Skinner is a new hero of mine, not that he's new to my life in any way. With Original Pirate Material, he carved out an unexpected niche in the world of hip-hop/rap with his heavily accented conversational rhymes. Rappers like Dizzee Rascal and eventually current pop-tarts like Lily Allen, Kate Nash, and Adele followed thereafter, soaking up the new interest in the same-ol-genres, now injected with a UK flair. It's now becoming a cliche, as these kinds of things often do, and the thick accent appeal could wane at anytime. That is, except for Mr. Skinner, or the Streets, or whatever name you prefer.

This is because his new album Everything is Borrowed, is a flushed face of positive energy when stood side-by-side with his previous offering The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, the title track of which is essentially about all the ways Mike's life is f*cked up. This title track, however, is immediately soaring, it's chorus repeating "I came to this world with nothing, and I'll leave with nothing but love. Everything else is just borrowed..." It's as if all of life has become new again, the kind of message I could listen to on repeat...and have. The album's head-and-shoulders standout is "On the Edge of A Cliff", a profoundly simple story of your seredipitous existence, is artfully hung over a perfect bed of Rhodes, horns, and a smart beat. It's beautiful enough to bring tears, if you're in the right place, and it might just be enough to save us all.

A bird? A plane? No, it's The Streets.

On the Edge of a Cliff
On the Flip of a Coin
[from Everything is Borrowed|buy]

A New Hope

It is with great regret that I address you today, after a week of near solitude. It has been an amazing 10 days for me and mine and perhaps this time away from the blog was as necessary as the time away from "life" a vacation implies. Since there is no rewinding anyway, this will be the lens through which I view this short moratorium from writing. I sit here tonight, not 45 minutes off the plane, with renewed vigor and a stack of new music to bestow upon your face. Believe me children: in this, there is hope abounding.

Let's do this...


Go to Hell

This song is contagious...