Sunday, December 23, 2012

My Favorite Albums of 2012 (# 5-1)

Okay, time for my top five...

5. Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls

Boys and Girls is a tasteful throwback to 1960s blues rock.  Sure, I could tell you how it's filled rugged guitar hooks and proficient musicianship (which it is), but what really blows this album away is Brittany Howard's soulful vocals.  She's been called "the next Janis Joplin" by several reviewers, and after listening to Boys and Girls, it's very hard to argue with that statement.

4. Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits

Oh there anything they can't do?  Britt Daniel of Spoon and Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade teamed up to create this surprise of an album.  Gritty garage rock peppered with hints of new wave?  Um, yeah...enough said.

3. The Lumineers - The Lumineers

The Lumineers' self-titled debut combines everything I love about folk rock - down-to-earth lyrics, sing-along choruses, and just overall country charm.  However, the album rarely takes itself too seriously, and as a result, it's very easy to listen to on a regular basis.  I'm looking forward to see what else this band has in store.

2. Tame Impala - Lonerism

If John Lennon and Paul McCartney had a child with Strawberry Alarm Clock, and that child was adopted by Animal Collective, the result would be Tame Impala.  While Boys and Girls brought back the bluesy side of the 1960s, Lonerism takes us back to the magical land of psychedelia. Textured with synthesized undertones and melodic vocal hooks, this record is about as mind-bending as it gets; and I wouldn't want it any other way.

1. Beach House - Bloom

When I first heard Bloom in March, I knew it would be very difficult to top.  Beach House has been the only band in recent history to consistently amaze me with each release.  I'm not even going to talk about the music itself.  Instead, just listen to the album - it's incredible.  Dream pop? Alternative rock? Psychedelia?  It doesn't matter.  To me, it's just good music.

Honorable Mentions

  • Wild Nothing - Nocturne
  • Fun - Some Nights
  • Animal Collective - Centipede Hz
  • Passion Pit - Gossamer
  • Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Here
  • Hot Chip - In Our Heads
  • First Aid Kit - The Lions Roar
  • The Beach Boys - That's Why God Made the Radio
  • Bob Dylan - Tempest

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Favorite Albums of 2012 (# 10-6)

If you read my blog this time last year, you'll remember that I wrote a post about my top ten favorite songs of the year.  Well, this year I thought I'd write about my favorite albums instead.  Please keep in mind that I haven't had a chance to listen to everything I wanted to this year.  As a result, this list is subject to change.

10. Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal

Okay, technically this record was released in 2011, but that was only in Iceland.  North Americans couldn't get their hands on a copy until April 2012.  And yes, it was worth the wait!  Strong folk melodies and compelling vocal harmonies make this band's debut an instant classic.

9. Shearwater - Animal Joy

Shearwater's seventh studio album may feel a bit more accessible than their previous work, but it still stays true to their signature operatic style.  With heart-pounding rhythms and majestic vocals, Animal Joy is a record that takes you on a journey that you'll not soon forget.

8. The Walkmen - Heaven

Heaven sounds a bit generic at first, but that's all part of its charm.  The Walkmen's "back to basics" mentality is in full stride on this record, and Heaven is an excellent example of how rock music can still sound fresh without being groundbreaking.

7. Menomena - Moms

To tell you the truth, I'm not too familiar with Menomena.  However, after listening to Moms, I feel like I need to rectify that right away.  This record is filled with intimate lyrics, clever compositions, and downright bizarre undertones which are all based on the theme of mothers.  It's a bit experimental, but it's also accessible enough to be enjoyed casually.

6. Grizzly Bear - Shields

I have a soft spot for Grizzly Bear's 2006 album Yellow House, as it was one of the first albums that got me interested in indie rock.  Unfortunately, it's 2009 follow-up Veckatimest didn't really do much for me.  Shields, however, completely restored my faith in the band.  Placing a greater emphasis on pulsating rhythms and concise lyricism, the band sounds less secluded, and more personal than ever before. far, so good...right?  Stay tuned next week for #5-1!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Beirut - The Rip Tide (2011)

"Soon the waves and I found the rolling tide..."

Imagery is one of the most difficult things to achieve in music.  Skilled lyricists such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and more recently, Conor Oberst can use their words to illustrated a particular scenario.   However, there are very few musicians who can successfully paint an image using just music alone.  For example, if you took out the lyrics to say, "Like a Rolling Stone," would you be able to figure out the song's context by just listening to the music?  Probably not.

Beirut's "The Rip Tide," the titular track off their 2011 album, is a prime example of how music alone can influence the senses.  Lyrically, the song is actually quite simple.  It's only comprised of two verses and one chorus.  That's it.  Furthermore, there's really nothing too deep about the lyrics themselves.  The narrator is alone in a vast ocean - the end.

That said, "The Rip Tide" is one of the most gorgeous pieces of music I've heard in years.  After a very brief and subtle piano interlude, the song sets sail with a fascinating string and brass melody.  Good...GOD!  Now this is why I love music!  This melody is so moving that when I first heard it, I nearly shed a tear.  If you close your eyes, you can literally feel yourself sailing through the desolate sea.  As a result, you start to feel isolation, and you sympathize with the person at sea.  Yes - the music alone makes you feel sorry for the narrator.  It's almost unimaginable.

I'm not really sure if I got my point across.  After all, "The Rip Tide" really does need to be heard in order to understand exactly what I'm saying.  Lyrics are important, without a doubt; but the beauty of music is that it can illustrate different moods simply through composition and instrumentation.  In the past few years, I can't think of a better song that has managed to accomplish this so effortlessly.


Friday, November 30, 2012

The Kinks - "Powerman" (1970)

"It's the same old story, it's the same old game..."

Any fan of The Kinks will tell you that 1970's Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround: Part One is an overly honest look at the state of the music industry.  The album uses heavy satire to demonstrate the  greedy nature of the business.  "Powerman," the record's second-to-last track, was written as a humorous salute to record tycoons all over the world.

Now, unless you've actually had a bad experience working in the music industry, you're probably not going to relate to the song's subject matter.  However, anyone who has ever had a job before can at least relate to it emotionally.  Think about your own life - who's above you?  Who controls what you do?  What makes them so special?  How did they get there?  And damn it - where the hell is all your money going? I'm certainly not trying to single anybody out, but the idea of being the "little guy" is something that almost anyone can relate to.

It also helps that the song absolutely rocks (well, by Kinks standards, that is.) "Powerman" opens with an off-key guitar drone, which abruptly transforms into a pretty epic opening riff.  Perhaps I'm looking deeper into this than I should, but I always felt that this transition symbolized the idea of "waking up" from your own ignorance.  The rest of the song is carried by one of the most ruthless and underrated guitar riffs known to music. Overall, the band's performance sounds gritty, raw, yet somehow very inspired. The Davies brothers also provide compelling vocals, and their harmonizing is superb as always.

"Powerman" is by no means my favorite song on the album.  That award would have to go to the undeniably gorgeous ballad "Strangers," but we'll save that for another post.  Still, whenever I feel like someone in this world is trying to screw me over, this song always hits the spot.

Friday, November 23, 2012

LCD Soundsystem - "Home" (2010)

"Look around you, you're surrounded, it won't get any better...until the night."

You know, I really hate being in my late twenties.  I feel like I have to make certain decisions before it's too late.  I also wonder whether the choices I've made were the right ones.  Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for many things in my life,  but I think it's safe to say that certain events haven't exactly turned out the way I expected.

Now, before this turns into a thesis about how much my life sucks, let's focus on the main reason why I'm writing this post - a song.  In the past, I've posted on my Facebook and Twitter accounts about the excellence of a song called "Home," by LCD Soundsystem.  I've been intrigued by this song ever since I first heard it on their 2010 record This is Happening.  I wish I was lying when I say this, but I listen to this song at least once a week.  Yes, it's that good.

It's pretty easy to see why I hold "Home" in such high regard. Right off the bat, you'll notice that it's extremely catchy.  Seriously - I dare you to listen to the first minute and NOT tap your feet to its infectious opening rhythm.  The introduction slowly builds up, the main percussion kicks in, and the rest of the song is driven by a pulsating, four-note bass line.

LCD Soundsystem's songs are all about minimalism.  Despite it's eight-minute length, "Home" follows a pretty basic two-chord progression.  Thankfully, the use of some memorable keyboard noodling prevents the song from getting overly stale.  The main chorus is only heard twice, but I would hardly call this a complaint.  After all, the chorus itself is so unforgettable that you won't even need to hear it more than twice.

The lyrics of "Home" can be interpreted in several different ways.  When I first listened to this song, I thought it was a pretty straight-forward story about a group of friends who party through the night.  Sounds fun, right?  Well, upon repeated listens I started to realize that there is actually a lot more going on than I had originally thought.  Yes, this is a song about partying, but the lyrics also suggest that their night out is nothing more than a distraction to fill the emptiness of their everyday lives.  Wow...sound familiar anyone?

I'd like to think that songwriter James Murphy wrote "Home" as a swan song to your twenties.  Like I said at the beginning of this post, this time of your life pretty much sucks.  His lyrics highlight the importance of friendship and laughter, and suggest that your friends are in the same boat as you.  The idea of being "home" is a not about being at a specific location, but rather about being with the people who are most important in your life.

Above all, "Home" is a song about making the best of what you already have.  Well, at least that's how I interpreted it.  Listen to it for yourself, and let me know what you think.  Also, if you like this song, make sure you listen to the rest of This is Happening.  The same themes are present throughout the entire album, and it is a very fitting finale for LCD Soundsystem.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I'm back...again!

Hey everyone, I'm back!  It's been a while since my last post, but I'm finally feeling motivated again!   As you can tell, all my previous posts from the past two years are gone.  I'm starting off from scratch.  This is a clean slate, a fresh start...a new beginning!  I am going to make blogging history!

...or I'm just going to lose interest and do something else with my time.

Either way, stay tuned!