Musings and Eats with Mikey

Musing #82
December 15, 2011, 9:58 pm
Filed under: Musing, Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Favorite Records of 2011

With the year ending, it is time to recap my favorite records of the year.  I like to go with the term “favorite records” as opposed to “best records” of the year, because I just want to give insight into the records that I really enjoyed this year.  Music is subjective, so who am I to say what is the best?  Plus so many records come out each year that there are usually some I haven’t had the chance to even hear.

2011 saw some great music and what follows is my list of my 20 favorite albums released this year (amongst other things).  I find it difficult to rank records in a particular order, but basically every album on this list is one I really loved and listened to a lot, and the number rankings mean very little.  That being said, the few records at the very top are the ones that I thought were the best of my picks.

1.  Frank Tuner – England Keep My Bones (Epitaph Records)

This year is the year I discovered that I love Frank Turner.  I had heard some of his songs before, but this year is the year I really paid attention to what he was doing (mostly from the EP he released last December called Rock n Roll).  Lucky for me, he also decided to release this new record.  Frank, who hails from England, is amongst the great new young singer/songwriters.  With a background in punk rock and a sound that mixes folk with rock n’ roll, Mr. Turner finds a way to make extremely meaningful and well written catchy songs.  England Keep My Bones is little more polished then his last record, but there is not one bad track on this album (even the acapella “England’s Curse” is good).  Though Frank Turner is not doing anything particularly new with his music, what sets him apart from the rest is the passion you can hear in every song he writes and records.  Suggested for fans of Chuck Ragan, Bruce Springsteen, and The Gaslight Anthem.

Favorite Tracks:  “I Still Believe”, “If Ever I Stray”, “I’m Disappeared”

2.  Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti- Records)

Well it has been a good seven or so years since the great Mr. Waits has put out any new material, and as usual, it was well worth the wait.  Bad As Me delivers what Tom Waits does best, which is make music that is strange, yet familiar.  It’s the sound of the underbelly of the city, the homeless, the wanders.  If you are a fan of Wait’s music, you know what to expect.  This time around, he delivers shorter and more focused songs with an eclectic mix of sounds.  This year has been the year I have been diving deep into Tom Waits’ back catalog, and this album stands among the best of his work.  Suggested for fans of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, blues and rock.

Favorite Tracks:  “Get Lost”, “Bad As Me”, “Everyone’s Talking at the Same Time”

3.  Cults – S/T (Columbia Records)

There has been a lot of “buzz” around Cults this year and this debut record proves that the buzz was well deserved.  With a sound that is equal parts rock n’ roll throwback (similar to She & Him) and reverb laden indie pop (think MGMT) Cults were able to create a record that was the perfect sound for the summer.  The record creates a laid back light and airy vibe, but the songs are so damn catchy that they get stuck in your head.  Suggested for fans of She and Him, M.I.A., and MGMT.

Favorite Tracks: “Go Outside”, “Oh My God”, “Bumper”

4.  Portrugal. The Man – In the Mountain In the Cloud (Atlantic Records)

Proturgal. The Man have been around for a while now (putting a new record almost every year) with a sound that started as progressive rock and has melded more with psychedelic rock.  Though in the past I have listened to their records, I have never been super compelled by their albums (though they are pretty great live).  This record on the other hand, really does it for me.   While at first it may seem that all the songs sound fairly similar, after a few repeat listens you notice the nuances and genius to each song, as its catchy hooks get ingrained in your head.  I have heard a lot of people compare this record to Ziggy Stardust era Bowie, and I think that is a fair assessment.  Suggested for fans of David Bowie, MGMT, Rx Bandits.

Favorite Tracks: “Got It All (This Can’t Be Living)”, “Head is a Flame (Cool With It)”, “So American”

5.  My Morning Jacket – Circuital (ATO Records)

Louisville favorites My Morning Jacket returned this year with one of their most cohesive and brilliant records to date.  With a mix of all the sounds of their past records, but in a way that pushes forward their sound, My Morning Jacket have found the right balance of bringing that big sounding rock n roll to their country folk esthetic.  The album was recorded mostly live, with minimal overrdubs, in a large gymnasium, which allowed the band to capture more of their live sound and energy.  As to be expected from the band, top notch songwriting and Jim Jame’s golden voice is what set these guys apart, and they only seem to get better with each record.  Suggested for fans of M. Ward, Lucero, and Radiohead.

Favorite Tracks: “Wonderful (the Way I Feel)”, “Circuital”, “Holdin’ On to Black Metal”

6.  Childish Gambino – Camp (Glassnote Records)

This has been a big year for comedian Donald Glover, who is the brainchild behind Childish Gambino.  While it would be easy enough to write him off as just another actor turned musician/hip hop artist, Donald Glover has the talent to back it up when claims “why does every black actor got to rap some / I don’t know / but I’m the best one”.  Though this album is obviously heavily influenced by the sound that Kayne has been putting out the last few years (almost to the point of being derivative) the cleverness of Gambino’s rhymes is what takes this far beyond being just another copycat act.  Of course, being a comedy writer (30 Rock, Community) gives him a bit of a leg up in the cleverness department.  On top of the that, the record is almost entirely self produce, which is impressive as the beats and sound of the record is pretty damn good.  Suggested for fans of Kayne West, Jay-Z, and Kid Cuddi.

Favorite Tracks: “Backpackers”, “Heatbeat”, “Fire Fly”

7.  Feist – Metals (Interscope Records)

Leslie Feist hit it big a few years ago after her song “1234”, from the album the Reminder, was featured in an iPod commercial.  It seems like this record is a response to the success that was thrown upon her.  Less upbeat then her last record, this more dense and complex record may take a few listens to really fall in love with.  That being said, all the elements of a great record are here; good songwriting, beautiful melodies, complex guitar sounds often juxtaposed against a more simplistic musical background.  While the album at times can feel dark, at the end of the record there is sense that you have been let into Feist’s world of thoughts and sounds and have come out completely satisfied.  Suggested for fans of the Swell Season, Broken Social Scene, and Neko Case.

Favorite Tracks:  “How Come You Never Go There”, “The Circle Married the Line”, “Get it Wrong, Get it Right”

8.  The Horrible Crowes – Elsie (Side One Dummy Records)

Side projects are a tricky thing to get right, especially when it is more then just a solo album.  On the one sense, you don’t want it to just be a repeat of your main project, on the other, you don’t want to stray too far from what people liked about you in the first place.  Brian Fallon (of the Gaslight Anthem) and his collaborators were able to find the perfect balance on the debut from the Horrible Crowes.  While it could be said that a lot of these tracks would not feel so out of place on a Gaslight Anthem record, an album by Gaslight with the majority of these songs on it would be pulling that band pretty far from the direction in which they started.  Here we have what could be described as mellower versions of the type of songs Fallon has written for Gaslight (heavy Springsteen influenced rock n roll) with some interesting notes thrown in (like the clear Tom Waits influence).  More than anything though, this record cements Fallon is as one of the great up and coming songwriters of his generation, who will likely be around long after his main act, or this side project, disappear.  Suggested for fans of the Gaslight Anthem, Tom Petty, and Tom Waits.

Favorite Tracks:  “Behold the Hurricane”, “I Witnessed a Crime”, “Ladykiller”

9.  Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground (Side One Dummy Records)

With his third full length, it seems that Chuck Ragan (formerly of Hot Water Music) has found his “sound”.  This is not to say Chuck has spent the last five years not knowing what he wanted to sound like, as his first two solo releases were quite good.  It just seems like this recording finally best represents his sound.  It is both raw and has the energy and passion of his live show, which makes sense because on this record he has chosen to be mostly just accompanied by Joe Ginsburg (on bass) and Jon Guant (on fiddle), who are his live band.  Of all the punk rock singers turned folk troubadours, I think that Chuck has the most authentic Americana sound, one that really throws back to the heart and soul of American folk/country music.  There is just something about the mix of his voice, his songwriting, and his bit of bluegrass sensibility that really does it for me.  Suggested for fans of Bruce Springsteen, Hot Water Music, and Austin Lucas.

Favorite Tracks:  “Nomad by Fate”, “Wish on the Moon”, “Valentine”

10.  M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute Records)

My interest in M83 was sparked after I saw a teaser for this record that was shot almost like a trailer for a Malick film.  From that I decided I would check this record out.  My understanding of this band is that they are from France and the main guy pretty much writes, arranges, and records everything mostly himself.  With this record, M83 finds a way to create lush dreamscapes with a throw back to 80’s pop.  This is the type of record you put on with your headphones and just allow yourself to drift away.  The 80’s sensibilities really bring this record to life, making it more than just a floaty ethereal record, allowing the songs to get stuck in your head.  Suggested for fans of Phoenix, the Sounds, and LCD Soundsystem.

Favorite Tracks: “Midnight City”, “New Map”, “Reunion”

11.  Man Man – Life Fantastic (Anti- Records)

Man Man is a strange band and Life Fantastic is a fantastically weird record.  With a sound that is like Tom Waits fronting Oingo Boingo, Man Man is able to create an album of catchy tunes using all sorts of interesting instrumentation (think xylophones and lots of percussion).  The songs and lyrics can be weird at times, but they will get under your skin and stuck in your head.  This record is both fun and really well done.  It is nice to see a band taking the risk of being  truly unique and succeeding so well with it.  Suggested for fans of Tom Waits, Oingo Boingo, and Talking Heads.

Favorite Tracks: “Piranhas Club”, “Steak Knives”, “Life Fantastic”

12.  Andrew Jackson Jihad – Knife Man (Asian Man Records)

Another best of list and another Andrew Jackson Jihad album making the cut.  Andrew Jackson Jihad has been at the forefront of the folk/punk movement with his brutally honest lyrics, and Knife Man is his most realized (and possibly best) record to date.  This time around, AJJ goes even further away from just being an acoustic guitar and stand up bass, with much richer arrangements and production value (though this has been teased a bit on the last record).  At first this album may not quite click, but after a few listens, when all the nuances come to life, one can fully appreciate what AJJ brings to the table.  The songs are catchy, well written, and actually say something.  Suggested for fans of Against Me!, Fake Problems, and Chuck Ragan.

Favorite Tracks: “Big Bird”, “People II 2: Still Peoplin'”, “Sad Songs (Intermission)”

13.  William Elliot Whitemore – Field Songs (Anti- Records)

Could there be any greater name for this record than Field Songs?  William Elliot Whitemore’s latest effort is a real nice collection of songs that are best described as just that, field songs.  This record is modern day dust bowl folk record that feels very authentic (possibly because William Elliot Whitemore actually lives on a farm?).  These songs are protest songs for the working class modern day farmer set to the musical accompaniment of guitar and banjo.  Suggested for fans of Woody Gutherie, Chuck Ragan, and Bob Dylan.

Favorite Tracks:  “Field Songs”, “Everything Gets Gone”, “We’ll Carry On”

14.  Dead to Me – Moscow Party Ante (Fat Wreck Chords)

This is the only real punk record I felt good enough to make my list.  San Fransisco’s Dead to Me has had a different line up on every record, yet every record has been great.  This is probably a testament to anchor member Chicken’s perseverance more than anything, but I’m glad they have kept it together this long.  A little more straight forward then their last record, Moscow Party Ante is a straight ahead punk with the spirit of ’77 and all sorts of catchy hooks.  The vocals are buried a bit in the mix, but once you listen to it a few times you get whats going on and its great.  Suggested for fans of The Clash, One Man Army, and Rancid.

Favorite Tracks:  “The Trials of Oscar Wilde”, “The Evolution Will Be Tele-Visualized”, “Dead Pigeon Tricks”

15.  Laura Stevenson and the Cans – Sit Resit (Don Giovonni Records)

Jangly female fronted indie rock is what I have heard used to describe Laura Stevenson and the Cans.  While that is some what true of their sound, what sets them apart from other similar acts is the voice and cleverness of front women Laura Stevenson.  Mix those qualities of Stevenson with her backing band, the Cans, and their mixture of strings and horns with straight forward indie guitar (and some punk rock influences) and you get a great little record with some great tunes.  Suggested for fans of Regina Spektor, Tegan and Sara, and Christine Fellows.

Favorite Tracks: “Master of Art”, “Caretaker”, “The Healthy One”

16.  Jolie Holland – Pint of Blood (Anti- Records)

Jolie Holland’s unique voice and her mixture of jazz and folk music has set her apart as one of the best female singer/songwriters in the game.  That being said, her last couple of records have been somewhat lackluster, with a few good tracks here and there, but on the whole not too consistent.  Pint of Blood is true return to form for Holland, with its cohesiveness and great tracks all the way through.  The sound of the record is a bit of Escondida mixed with the Living and the Dead.  Beyond the solid songwriting, the great lead guitar work gives the songs just the right texture.  Suggested for fans of Neko Case, Audra Mae, and Jenny Lewis.

Favorite Tracks: “All Those Girls”, “Wreckage”, “Little Birds”

17.  Mates of State – Mountaintops (Barsuk Records)

The catchiest record of the year goes to Mates of State (I think they win this one almost every year).  Nothing too groundbreaking on this record, but Mates of State bring their usual brand of super catchy indie-pop tunes.  This time around there is a bit of an 80’s synth influence on a few tracks, but all and all a fun time.  Suggeseted for fans of Tegan and Sara, Los Campensitos!, and Slow Club.

Favorite Tracks: “Palomino”, “Maracas”, “Mistakes”

18.  Lemuria – Pebble (Bridge Nine Records)

Lemuria’s sophomore full-length shows a great deal of progression and maturation.  This album takes what they learned from their first record, Get Better, and builds on it, in terms of the songwriting.  The sound of the record is a bit slowed down, with a heavy late 80’s, early 90’s indie rock feel (the Pixies come to mind).  This one takes a few listens to get into, but afterward one can hear both the catchiness and the delicateness of the record.  Lemuria has found its sound and moved successfully from being a punk rock band with some indie sound to being an indie rock band with some punk influence.  Suggested for fans of Jawbreaker, Tegan and Sara, and the Pixies.

Favorite Tracks: “Wise People”, “Different Girls”, “Durian”

19.  Bright Eyes – The People’s Key (Saddlecreek Records)

After a long hiatus from making records under the Bright Eyes moniker, Conor Oberest is back with an album that seems like the perfect album for Bright Eyes right now.  Though it is a little more polished then previous releases, the songwriting is top notch and the album is the most cohesive the band has put out in years  The songs are smart and catchy, and exactly what I wanted from them at this point in their career. Suggested for fans of Cursive, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, and Bob Dylan.

Favorite Tracks: “Jejune Stars”, “Approximate Sunlight”, “Triple Spiral”

20.  Slow Club – Paradise (Moshi Moshi Records)

Though less folky than their debut release, this UK duo know how to make some sweet music together.  Their voices play off each other so well, and the passion and energy really comes through on the record.  More of an indie rock sound with some folk influence, then a folk record, this record takes what they have done in the past and expands on it.  More electric guitars, but still poppy and cute.  Suggested for fans of Mates of State, Mumford and Sons, Los Campensitos!

Favorite Tracks: “Two Cousins”, “If We’re Still Alive”, “Where I’m Waking”

Honorable Mentions:

Jay Z and Kayne West – Watch the Throne
Casio Kids – Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen
Marachi El Bronx – II
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Tegan and Sara – Get Along
Wilco – the Whole Love
Mayer Hawthorne – How Do You Do
Paul Simon – So Beautiful, So What
Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire

Favorite EP of 2011:

Look Mexico – Real American Spear It (Adeline Records) – This EP is awesome, and I can’t wait for them to follow it up with a full-length.

Favorite Live Shows of 2011:

Frank Turner / Andrew Jackson Jihad – The Glasshouse – October 11, 2011
Rx Bandits farewell show – The Glasshouse – August 6, 2011
Slapstick Reunion / Slow Gherkin Reunion (Asian Man Records 15 Year Anniversary) – San Francisco – June 16 & 17, 2011

Favorite Record of 2010 That I Didn’t Discover Until 2011:

The Wild – Everything We Needed (Asian Man Records)

Most Anticipated Records of 2012:

Not too much has been announced, but I’m looking forward to new albums by these artists in 2012:

Lucero, Good Old War, John K. Samson, Look Mexico, Gaslight Anthem, Against Me!, Cheap Girls

2011 Mixtape:

Side A:

1.  Laura Stevenson and the Cans – Caretaker
2.  M83 – Midnight City
3.  Porturgal. the Man – Got it All (This Can’t Be Living Now)
4.  Childish Gambino – Fire Fly
5.  Cults – Go Outside
6.   My Morning Jacket – Wonderful (the Way I Feel)
7.   Andrew Jackson Jihad – Distance
8.  Mayer Hawthorne – Finally Falling
9.  Mates of State – Maracas
10.  Feist – Cicadas and Gulls
11.  William Elliot Whitmore – Field Songs
12.  Audra Mae and the Almighty – I Won’t Grow Up

Side B:

1.  Frank Turner – I Still Believe
2.  The Horrible Crowes – Behold the Hurricane
3.  Dead to Me – The Monarch Hotel
4.  Bright Eyes – Approximate Sunlight
5.  Look Mexico – Arrest? I Don’t Feel Like I’m Under Arrest
6.  Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire
7.  Jolie Holland – Little Birds
8.  Man Man – Piranhas Club
9.  Lemuria – Pleaser
10.  Chuck Ragan – Come Around
11.  Slow Club – If We’re Still Alive
12.  Tom Waits – Get Lost

Listen to the 2011 Mixtape on Spotify


Review #55
April 25, 2011, 9:44 pm
Filed under: Musing, Reviews | Tags: , ,

Laura Stevenson and the Cans – Sit Resist (Don Giovanni Records) 2011

This week sees the release of Brooklyn’s Laura Stevenson and the Cans sophomore album, Sit Resist.  I really enjoyed Laura Stevenson and the Can’s last record, appropriately titled A Record, and when they announced they would have a new record out this Spring, I was very much looking forward to it.  Then a few weeks ago, at South by Southwest, I had a couple of chances to see the Cans live.  They played some tracks off this forthcoming record, and I was then even more so looking forward to it.  Luckily I did not have to wait long to check it out because right after I returned home from Southby, they put up the pre-order for the record with an immediate download of the record (three weeks before it’s release).

Three weeks later, with the record being released tomorrow, I have been listening to the album almost non-stop.  Oddly, when I first started listening to the record, it did not grab me in the same immediate way their last record did.   This record felt a little different, with vocals a little more buried in the mix, and certain richness (and less raw) in the sound.  The songs were a little more complex and a little more subtle.  Slowly but surely though, the record grew on me and got stuck in my head, and under my skin.  Laura’s sweet, but often subtly haunting, vocals and smooth melodies are what sets this band apart from other female front bands with that jangly indie rock sound.  Accompanying Laura is a great bunch of musicians (the Cans) who provide the perfect mix of rock drums, guitar, and bass with accordion, horns, and string arrangements, to paint the background and set the right tone for Laura’s vocals.  On top of it all this is the cleverness of the songwriting, that finds a way to feel both polished and raw at the same time.  This is a great album that I am really enjoying, and I’m completely satisfied with it.  Standout tracks include the indie pop rocker “Master of Art”, the Jolie Holland esq “Care Taker”, the bouncy “The Healthy One”, and “the Wait”.  That being said, give this album some time and you will be enjoying all the tracks.  I recommend it for fans of Lemuria, Regina Specter, and Tegan and Sara.

Here is Laura Stevenson and the Cans performing I See Dark (as part of the Nervous Energies Sessions):

Review #54
April 17, 2011, 5:16 pm
Filed under: Music, Reviews

Bright Eyes (and Jenny & Johnny) at the Fox Theater Pomona, CA (3/13/11)

Earlier this week I headed out to Pomona to catch Bright Eyes, with Jenny Johnny opening.  The show was at the Fox in Pomona.  This is my first time being at the Fox, and I was really impressed by the venue.  The only thing that was a little annoying was that the ushers were not checking tickets at the beginning of the show and we had to kick some seat poachers out of our seats.  We had gotten seats in the VIP loge area of the balcony, so it was no surprise that people were trying to poach them.  The view was great and the seats were large captains chairs.

We pretty much missed the first act, but shortly after we got there, Jenny and Johnny took the stage.  This was the second time I have seen them, and I feel like they sounded much tighter this time around.  They went through the majority of the songs on their debut album (I’m Having Fun Now) and played what I think was a cover, as well as “Next Messiah” off Jenny Lewis’ solo record, Acid Tongue.  I enjoyed seeing them, as they play good fun rock, and have great vocals.  My favorite live song was probably “Slavedriver”.  This is the set as best as I remember it:

Scissor Runner
My Pet Snakes
Cover Song
Just Like Zeus
Big Wave
Next Messiah

After a short wait, Conor Obrest and Co. came on stage to the spoken word that is the first track on the most recent record (the People’s Key) and went right into “Firewall”.  I had seen Bright Eyes only a few weeks before, when I was in Austin for South by Southwest, so I was hoping that the set would be at least slightly different.  Luckily, it was and I even got to see one of the songs that I really wanted to hear, “Hot Knives”.  There is not too much to say about the show other than Bright Eyes was excellent as usual.  Conor is backed up by an incredible group of musicians that really bring the songs alive.  They played a nice mix of songs from all of his records and pulled out some old/rare ones.  Some of the songs were pretty epic live and “Approximate Sunlight” was particularly hypnotic.  Another great moment was Conor playing “Ladder Song” alone at the piano with the spotlight focused on him.  It was an excellent show, and Bright Eyes is full of extremely talented and diverse musicians, which makes it always interesting.  I of course would recommend checking them out when they are in your town.  Here is the set list, not sure if the order is correct:

Jejune Stars
Take It Easy (Love Nothing)
Four Winds
We Are Nowhere and It’s Now
Cartoon Blues
From a Balance Beam
Something Vague
Shell Games
Going For the Gold
Approximate Sunlight
Bowl of Oranges
Arc of Time (Time Code)
Falling Out of Love at This Volume
Old Soul Song
The Calendar Hung Itself
Hot Knives
Beginners Mind
No One Would Riot For Less
Ladder Song
Gold Mine Gutted
Lover I Don’t Have to Love
Road to Joy
One For You, One For Me

Bright Eyes – JeJune Stars (live on Letterman):



Review #53
February 8, 2011, 10:47 pm
Filed under: Music, Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Bright Eyes – The People’s Key (Saddle Creek Records) 2011

After a few years of releasing music with the Mystic Valley Band, prolific songwriter Conor Oberst has returned to his main act Bright Eyes with the release of The People’s Key.  While a few years back Oberst had said in an interview that this would be the final Bright Eyes record, I do not know if this is still the case, as he has not mentioned this at all since that interview.  If this in fact is the final Bright Eyes record, I wouldn’t mind, as this album would make a perfect bookend to Oberst’s time with Bright Eyes.  While Oberst has spent the past few years releasing polished rock through his work with the Mystic Valley Band, it is clear from the first moments of this record that this is a Bright Eyes record, just a more mature record, the kind one would expect from the seasoned songwriter that Oberst has become. Oberst no long has anything to prove and instead it feels like he is using this album to sum up everything he has learned throughout his time creating music as Bright Eyes.  The album starts in typical Bright Eyes fashion with spoken word, this time the ramblings of Randy Brewer, a Texas musician Oberst met on the road, speaking on things such as the creation of man, aliens, and Sumerians, and then goes into the first track “Firewall”. Both the song and the spoken word set up the album thematically through the simplicity of the song and ideas about birth and growth that are spouted from both Oberst and Brewer.  From there the record moves on to “Shell Games”, one of the most polished straight forward rock songs that Oberst has ever written. On the whole, the album sonically mixes the polish and pop of Cassadaga, with a bit of the sound and synth of Digital Ash In a Digital Urn, and a touch of the sound that was first introduced on Lifted.   This record sees some of the best song writing that Bright Eyes has done, but the polish of the songs may turn off some fans (yet we still do see some more intimate moments with songs like “Ladder Song”).  That being said, I am really enjoying all songs on this record, with standouts tracks being “Shell Games”, “Jejune Stars”, “Haile Selassie”, and “One for You, One for Me”. And even with some tracks standing out, it is only slight, as the record is really well balanced.  While this may be the most straight forward rock record that Bright Eyes has made, it still never strays too far from the sound and authenticity that Oberst has always brought to the table and in general I think fans will be pleased by the outcome.  Again, thematically the album starts off with birth and growth, and eventually ends with the lessons that Oberst has learned.  That lesson is the one that he has been trying to convey through all the Bright Eyes records, yet only now is it fully realized, it is a lesson about oneself and being empowered through ones own existence in this world, and he ends the album by saying “its not you and me, its I and I”.  Overall, this album, as I said earlier, feels like a bookend to Oberst’s time with Bright Eyes, summing up everything he has said and learned.  Even if this is not the final chapter for Bright Eyes, this album still stands very strong on its own, as it is held up by good songs and great song writing.  Lastly, as a fan, it is the record I wanted to hear from Bright Eyes in this point in their discography.

Here is a video of Bright Eyes listening to the entire album in their living room (an interesting way to stream the album):


Review #52
February 3, 2011, 6:48 pm
Filed under: Music, Reviews | Tags: , ,

Frank Turner – Rock & Roll EP (Epitaph Records) 2010

From punk rock band leader (of Million Dead) to folk troubadour, Frank Turner has come a long way in the past five years. With the recent release of Rock & Roll (December 2010), Turner pays homage to the rock n’ roll greats, while finely showcasing his songwriting capabilities and pushing his punk and folk influences into a more rock direction. This short, but sweet, EP is book-ended by its two best tracks, opener “I Still Believe” and closer “the Next Round”. The single, “I Still Believe”, is a damn fine song that I literally can’t get out of my head. It is a song that pays homage to both great song writing and the ability that music has to move us. With a chorus that goes “who would have thought, that after all, something as simple as rock n’ roll would save us all“, Turner amplifies the ability that guitars, drums, and poetry have on impacting our lives. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “The Next Round” is an intimate and introspective reflection of living the life of a lonely drunkard, simply drinking your life away as an excuse to avoid dealing with one’s problems. By the time I reached the chorus, I felt an appreciation for his honest portrayal of life. Both of these songs are excellent and make the purchase of the EP worth it alone, but that is not to say the other songs are not good, these two tracks just standout even more. The other three tracks, “Pass It Along”, “Rock and Roll Romance”, and “To Absent Friends” are also really good tracks that are diverse, well written, and make the short album feel very well rounded. Before hearing this EP, I had liked the few tracks of Turner’s that I had heard, but after hearing this record I am hooked and I look forward to anything further he will release. Overall this is a great little EP, recommended for fans of Joe Strummer, Chuck Ragan, and Johnny Cash.

Here is a live version of “I Still Believe”:

Review #51
January 23, 2011, 3:46 pm
Filed under: Music, Reviews | Tags: , ,

Rx Bandits with Fake Problems and Native at the House of Blues Anaheim (1-12-2011)

Last night I ventured into the heart of Downtown Disney to go see Rx Bandits play, with Fake Problems and Native supporting, at the House of Blues. I used to really like the House of Blues in Anaheim, because the venue is nicely set up and the sound was really good, but lately the venue has been a  little disappointing for me. This is mainly do to the sound mix. Though this mostly nit picking, I feel like the quality of the sound has gone down a little from the past few times I have been there. Despite that, the performances were great and the show was over all very good.

Surprisingly, we actually got to the venue in time see all the bands play. The first up was Native, from Indiana. Native plays a brand of hardcore punk influenced by bands like Refused and These Arms are Snakes. I caught them last year at South by Southwest, and again I was impressed by the band. They played a tight set of some technical hardcore. Though I think they are a pretty good band, these days they are not really my cup of tea (I’d prefer something more melodic), but if I was still eighteen, I bet I would be really into these guys.

After a short break, Fake Problems, from Naples, Florida, took the stage. As of late, I have been really into them and I was excited to get a chance to see them again. They took the stage with a lot of energy, dancing around and playing straight through the first four tracks off their latest record Real Ghosts Caught on Tape. It was cool to get a chance to hear these songs played live. The whole set was very grovin’ and it was good selection of songs from all three of their full length records (considering they only played about 40 mins), as well as the b-side “Heartless” (or as Chris Farren titled it on stage, “I’m so glad you are smoking weed again, even though you made me stop smoking weed when we were dating”). Though the band sounds very tight as a four piece, given the songs they have recorded, I would like to see them take the stage with someone playing slide guitar and maybe a trumpet guy or some strings. Anyway, I enjoyed getting a chance to see them again. Here is the set list as best as I can remember it:

Songs for Teenagers
Don’t Worry Baby
How Far our Bodies will Go
Dream Team
Grand Finale
Ghost to Coast
Heart BPM

After about a forty minute break, Rx Bandits took the stage in an aggressive fashion surprisingly opening with two songs from Progress. First they played “VCG3”, then they went right into “Consequential Apathy”; it quickly became apparent that the band was going to be playing some fan favorites that they haven’t played live in a while. As usual, the band had a crazy amount of energy, blasting through songs with perfection as well as adding lots of jam and solo sections. One of the coolest jams was the new part they added in the break down of “Only for the Night” (which for a second made you forget what song they were playing). Like I said earlier, it was an aggressive set, and for the most part they stayed away from their more mellow songs (and even their jams seemed a little more driving). The set consisted of almost nothing from … And the Battle Begun and seemed to focus a lot on Progress and the Resignation (and of course a good selection from Mandala). Some nice surprises were “Never Slept So Soundly” and “Progress” which I haven’t seen them play in quite some time. After a short time off stage, they came back for an encore with “Analog Boy”, which it seemed they haven’t played forever, and “Decrescendo”. Though the set seemed slightly shorter than usual (probably due to Downtown Disney’s curfew), it was a fun one. I have seen this band more times then I can count at this point, so it was real nice to see them mix it up with a lot of songs they usually don’t play. As many times as I have seen Rx Bandits, they never fail to impress, as they put on one of the best, and most energetic, live shows of anyone making music these days. The word I often hear describing their live show is face melting, and I have to say I agree. After leaving, your face is melted or maybe just your mind is blown from how good the band is both on a technical level and on a songwriting level. Here is the set list (the order is probably not correct):

Consequential Apathy
Its Only Another Parsec
Mastering the List
Only for the Night
My Lonesome Only Friend
Hope is a Butterfly, No Net its Capture … (Virus of Silence)
Never Slept So Soundly
Taking Chase as the Serpent Slivers
Bled to Be Free (the Operation)
To Our Unborn Daughters
Bring Our Children Home or Everything is Nothing
Analog Boy

Rx Bandits – My Lonesome Only Friend (live, not last night):


Musing #64
December 26, 2010, 10:06 pm
Filed under: Musing, Reviews | Tags:

Favorite Films of 2010

Now that I have seen all the movies I was interested in seeing this year (with the exception of 127 Hours, which I kind of still want to see) I thought I would make a short list of my 5 favorite movies of the year.

1. The Social Network

I don’t think that anybody thought a movie about the creation of Facebook would be interesting, but when director David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven) and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, A Few Good Men) became attached, people started paying attention to this film. Great writing and great directing, mixed with a great cast, creates an interesting film that is as much a commentary on the times which we live in as it is a character study of Facebook’s creator Mark Zuckerberg.

2. Inception

This was an ambitious movie and I’m glad that there are still people in the movie business willing to make something this smart on this grand of a scale. Though there are some plot holes to the story, director/writer Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, the Prestige) creates an interesting sci-fi thriller about the world of dreams. Pushing both in visuals and in storytelling, Inception is one of the most original movies in years.

3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

This movie could have been really cheesy and not funny, yet director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) is able to find a delicate balance between comedy and pop culture/video game cartoonishness in this film based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Michael Cera does a great job as Scott Pilgrim as he battles Romona’s seven evil exes in order to win her love and the film comes together in a very entertaining way. A funny film with great pop culture references and great music.

4. Black Swan

I had absolutely no interest in seeing this film, both because it starred Natalie Portman and because it was about the ballet, yet after hearing so much buzz about the film I decided to check it out. I should have known, being that it was directed by Darren Aaronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, the Wrestler), that this film would be much more then it seemed at the outset. Masterful direction from Aaronofsky creates an intriguing film about ambition and its effect on one’s personal psyche.

5. Shutter Island

I really enjoy a good psychological thriller and the combination of director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio take this movie to the next level. Though in retrospect the story is a bit ridiculous, once you get lost in the story, it is incredibly thrilling and keeps you twisting and turning the whole way through. Throw in great performances by DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo, along with a bit of an homage to old Hitchcock films, and you get one entertaining and well done film.

Honorable Mentions:

True Grit
The Kids are All Right
The Town
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Toy Story 3

Soundtrack: John Prine with Jim James – All the Best (live)