Monthly Archives: January 2011

#324 Marc Ribot – The Kid

It had me within the first few chimes of its opening notes. There is something in “The Kid” that speaks to me, the languid phrasing, the strange yet a familiar chord changes. Such care and delicacy in the fingerpicking. It is reassuring and calming. If it were words it would be sagely advice. It makes me want to love.

There are no fireworks here, no intricate fretwork, no distortion. Expression comes in the form of a clean tone and a light touch of reverb and tremolo. When a song has a soul, it is quietly confident, and never sounds like it needs to be heard. And perhaps this is why Ribot’s Silent Movies remains an underrated album. – Song-Ming Ang.

mp3: Marc Ribot – The Kid

Marc Ribot’s Silent Movies is out now on Pi Recordings.


#323 Choir of Young Believers – Hollow Talk

We’ll Never Stop Living This Way is the unapologetic title of Ghostly International‘s self-attempted retrospective of their illustrious eleven year history, released as a companion to their upcoming The Ghostly Book. Having only starting listening to their releases along the likes of Matthew Dear and Gold Panda quite recently, I found this a fitting primer to what the Michigan-based label has been all about. One of the highlights for me was the opening track off Choir of Young Believers‘ debut album, This is For the White in Your Eyes. “Hollow Talk”, with the mournful vocals of Jannis Noya Makrigiannis accompanied by a delicately treading piano, occurs in an addictively elliptical form. Even with things growing in intensity, Makrigiannis reminds us repeatedly of how it all goes back to where it started, ending eventually on a tentative, sobering and yes, hollow, note: “Never said it was good, never said it was new/ Muted whisper of the things you feel“. – Dan.

mp3: Choir of Young Believers – Hollow Talk

We’ll Never Stop Living This Way is a digital release available now from the Ghostly Store. It comes bundled with a pdf version of The Ghostly Book.

My First Zaireeka Listening Party

Yes, I know I’m more than ten years late, but last night I participated in my first ever Zaireeka listening party. Organized by the Substation’s associate artist Song-Ming Ang as part of his two-week long Sonic Visions series, this event involved the simultaneous playing of multiple copies of Zaireeka, itself an ambitious 4-cd album intended for concurrent playback for a quadrophonic aural experience, an album I always wished I owned.

Zaireeka was birthed from the Flaming Lips‘ parking lot experiments, a synchronized playing of cassettes on multiple car stereos. In his adoption of Wayne Coyne’s role in those sessions as orchestral conductor, Song-Ming sought to create a similarlly communal listening experience by inviting participants to bring their own CD-playing equipment and speakers, and subsequently work together in synching the playback of almost twenty CDs.

What fun we all had, and such satisfaction gleaned from getting as close as we could to coordinating our small but important finger-pressing tasks. Yet, to focus on perfection in execution would be missing the point of it all, which was so much more to do with embracing uncertainty and learning to relate to music in its spatial dimension. Song-Ming gamely let us toy with different arrangements too, encouraging us to walk around for some songs and sit down for the later ones while dimming the lights, and indulging our pleas for a spontaneous random-track encore finale.

Halfway through, I remembered how I used to dream, long ago, of having a room with walls made of speakers, to be quite literally surrounded by sound. Last night, I think I realized at least a part of that dream by partaking in a mindblowing experience that will never be recreated in the same way again. In the midst of the bombast, though, I think I’ve come to appreciate also the parts that make the whole, and it’s one part of Zaireeka that I dug up from my old Race for the Prize single that’s all I have to leave you with now. – Dan.

mp3: The Flaming Lips – Thirty-Five Thousand Feet Of Despair (Disc 1)

Sonic Visions is a series of events organized by Song-Ming Ang at the Substation in conjunction with his first solo exhibition in Singapore, You and I (14 Jan – 9 Feb 2011 at the Substation Random Room).

Our Favorite Gigs of 2010

What a blast 2010 has been, especially with the sheer number of concerts we’ve had this year. Here’s some of our favorite moments.

7 Feb: XX @ Esplanade Concert Hall
Though the XX was opening for Florence and the Machine, their short set at the start of the gig was my highlight of the night. I still remember standing quite near the front, having every bass and beat shake my body to the core, and feeling the goosebumps induced by relishing and experiencing firsthand the band’s understated cool. – Dan.

mp3: The XX – Crystalised

16 Mar: Dinosaur Jr. @ Esplanade Theatre
My colleague captured it best when she described this gig, part of the Mosaic Music Festival 2010 program, as an unplanned reunion party where you catch up with all your old buddies from school … and everyone is wearing the same stupid outfits from back then! Nostalgia aside, the grizzled veterans of the reunited Dinosaur Jr. played a loose and appropriately loud set that featured their signature brand of melodic discordance. – Keith.

mp3: Dinosaur Jr – Been There All The Time

11 Apr: B Quartet @ Esplanade Recital Studio
These Singaporeans boys are musicians who deliver a hundred percent in a recorded album, and go the distance when they play live. I remember being enthralled by Bani Haykal flitting in and out, between worlds as he sang his beautiful poetry or played the Xaphoon. The rest of the band thundered along like it was following lightning, and for those of us who were in the audience, we were swept up in the storm of one of Singapore’s finest bands, and secretly wanting to be as good as them. – Brian.

mp3: B Quartet – A Dull Taste On My Tongue

27 Jul: Broken Social Scene @ Esplanade Concert Hall
Three to four guitars on stage, horn players come out, synthesizers going out of their mind, and is that a horn section coming out? How do they do it? How does a band have so many members and instruments on the same stage and yet, sound like they were each in the center of the universe? It remains a mystery, and is a beautiful reminder that music has no rules, no time to go unheard and it’s a hella fun to be playing with your friends. – Brian.

mp3: Broken Social Scene – Forced to Love

7 Aug: Belle & Sebastian @ Esplanade Concert Hall
I’d loved to have caught Belle & Sebastian about more than ten years ago during their Sinister tour, but I’d settle for this anytime, especially when they played that song which made me fall in love over and over with that album. Yes, “Judy and the Dream of Horses” came late into the set, but that’s where it belongs, that captivating surprise near the end that keeps you longing for more. – Dan.

mp3: Belle and Sebastian – Judy And The Dream Of Horses (Live at BBC)

17 Sep: Typewriter @ Home
What heart, soul and infectious energy Singaporean band Typewriter exuded throughout this pulsating set. Their debut album Indian Head Massage had been a long time in the waiting, so this launch had an emotionally charged and liberating dynamic that probably won’t be reproduced again, with the band soaking in every glorious moment. – Dan.

mp3: Typewriter – That Deepest Blue (Haramain Mix)

29 Sep: Sun Kil Moon @ Chamber at the Arts House
Attending Mark Kozelek’s intimate solo performance at the old parliament building in Singapore was akin to being caught in a convulsion of the music’s strange serene beauty. Mark played most of the new songs from the recent Admiral Fell Promises album, as well as reworking a few of the more memorable of the older Sun Kil Moon tunes (“Glenn Tipton” and “Heron Blue” were particularly lovely) – but the standout for me, and no doubt for other longtime Red House Painters fan, is the roiling rendition of “Void”. – Keith.

mp3: Sun Kil Moon – Carry Me Ohio

8 Oct Keeping It Peel @ POW
This was one of my favourite gigs because it’s slightly personal. Y’see, I play bass in Shelves, who closed the night at this John Peel memorial gig. It was also our debut. I remember the encouragement of our friends and peers, and the energy that went into rehearsal, performing in a makeshift band pit, playing hard, loud, and sometimes too fast. I remember my fellow band members, the jittery excitement, the nervous beers before (and after), and overall, I remember why I still do what I do. – Brian.

mp3: Shelves – One Live Baby
(Heh, we realized later that this was actually in 2009, but who’s keeping score aye?)

11 Nov: The Flaming Lips @ Marina Bay Sands
It was like part two of a dream come true to finally attend a Lips gig (part one being fulfilled at the Mercury Rev one some years back), and what a show this turned out to be. It wasn’t as if we didn’t expect confetti cannons or Wayne-in-giant-balloon sightings, but actually being there and sharing in the euphoria of the moment was quite an unbelievable experience. Nothing that night was too weird to be celebrated, except perhaps the most baffling omission of anything at all from The Soft Bulletin. – Dan.

mp3: The Flaming Lips – Do You Realize

11 Dec: The Observatory @ National Museum of Singapore
There are perhaps few better choices in the world other than The Observatory to compose an original score and provide the live musical accompaniment to a recent screening of A Page of Madness, Teinosuke Kinugasa’s haunting 1928 silent film. The controlled and yet improvisational nature of The Observatory’s 1½ hour-long performance created a disturbing ambience for the fractured narrative set in an insane asylum, the subtle instrumentation and electronics navigating the contours of an enigmatic film masterpiece whose visual poetry was well ahead of its time. – Keith.

mp3: The Observatory – Invisible Room

Snakeweed Sessions – Monster Cat

It’s with much excitement that we share something that’s been brewing for a while, which is now seeing the light of day. Snakeweed Sessions is a video project that takes place at, as you’ve guessed it, the legendary Snakeweed Studios in Singapore. For the uninitiated, Snakeweed holds an important place in the annals of local music history. Formed and run by music producer and engineer Leonard Soosay, it has been the setting for many great local albums, featuring some of our more recent favorite bands like B-Quartet and I Am David Sparkle.

I’m Waking Up To is proud to be supporting and collaborating on this project, which gets both local and international bands and artists into Snakeweed Studios for a short live set and interview. The videos will be subsequently shared and broadcast on our partner Singapore music blogs like Power of Pop, We Talk Music and Adventures in Solitude.

For the pilot episode of Snakeweed Sessions, we have chosen up-and-coming Singapore band Monster Cat, who have a debut EP titled Mannequins due for release later this spring. In this clip, the band gives us a sneak preview to that upcoming release with “Underwater”, a breathtaking piece that builds the tension beneath its dreamfolk veneer, restlessly surfacing later with quiet intensity. Watch out for this promising new band, and stay tuned for more Snakeweed Sessions coming your way. – Dan.

mp3: Monster Cat – Underwater (Live at Snakeweed)

Music Alliance Pact – January 2011 Issue

SINGAPORE: I’m Waking Up To…
Kevin LesterRockstar 2.0 feat Vanessa Fernandez
Hip hop isn’t something one associates with Singapore’s music scene, but it exists, usually even more underground than rock, metal or hardcore. Ironically, it’s in response to rampant commercial radio that the local music community, regardless of style, has become a close-knit family. In his debut, Kevin Lester brings out the collaborative and experimental strengths of hip hop, forging a sound with slashes of rock and soul, and working with some of the country’s best singers to put out a record with incredible heart and talent. – Brian.

To download all 35 songs in one file click here

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Our Favorite EPs of 2010

Ah, the Extended Player, meatier than the single, more concise than the full-length. Whether as a stop-gap between albums, a medium for collaboration, or as an introductory work, the EP remains relevant, perhaps all the more with an increasingly ADHD-inflicted generation of music listeners. Whatever it is, we love them too, so here are some of our favorites.

Bart & Friends – Make You Blush (Lost and Lonesome)

A set of unexpected new material from twee-pop stalwart Bart Cummings (Cat’s Miaow, the Shapiros), and it’s wonderful that he brought a few of his old friends along (notably Pam Berry) for the occasion. Make You Blush, eight songs of pop wonderment that altogether clock in at less than 15 minutes, is entrancing music calibrated for life’s miniature moments that are no less significant. – Keith.

mp3: Bart & Friends – A Summer’s Dream

Dirty Projectors + Björk – Mount Wittenberg Orca (Self Released)

Even though this sounds more like a Dirty Projectors work than a Björk one (it was written by Dave Longstreth after all), we hear a tidy contribution from all parties, particularly their voices which are distilled with delightful clarity. Because of how distinctive both parties already are, nothing really new emerges from this collaboration but for the not-too-surprising affirmation that yeah, they do sound great together. – Dan.

mp3: Dirty Projectors + Björk – On and Ever Onward

Forest Swords – Dagger Paths (Olde English Spelling Bee)

Strains of paranoia echo throughout Dagger Paths, the mesmerizing debut release of one-man electronic outfit Forest Swords. The operative word here is “atmospheric”, as this hazy British coastal-jam music conjures up the fractured moods and alienating drones that are strictly the domain of midnight sonic strategists. – Keith.

mp3: Forest Swords – Miarches

Funeral For A Friend – The Young And Defenceless (Join Us)

I’d been eagerly anticipating listening to a Funeral For A Friend effort that would take me back to their much heavier discography from earlier years. Well, the Welsh boys have delivered, and the familiar palm-muted, double kicking post-core sound of yesteryear returns with enough decibels to induce aneurism. – Brian.

mp3: Funeral For A Friend – Damned If You Do, Dead If You Don’t

Girls – Broken Dreams Club (True Panther)

“I just want to get high, but everyone keeps bringing me down”, Christopher Owens sighs on the title track of Girls‘ follow up to their lo-fi debut Album. While dealing with same themes of unavoidable heartbreak, this EP cleans up the sloppy mess they’d left on the floor from that previous outing. They’re careful, though, not to overdo it, opting this time for an elegantly wasted confessional that remains no less vulnerable and broken. – Dan.

mp3: Girls – Broken Dreams Club

James Blake – CMYK (R&S)

Even if you missed The Bells Sketch earlier in 2010, James Blake‘s subsequent EP must have caught your attention. Set to an airy atmospheric, CMYK twists and chops its way into your subconscious, picking out fragments of stuff you’re sure you’ve heard before in some distant past before morphing and piecing them together in a stunningly new configuration. Wow. – Dan.

mp3: James Blake – I’ll Stay

James Blake – Klavierwerke (R&S)

Siren voices hold sway over James Blake’s Klavierwerke, German for “piano works” and the most fully realized of the three EPs released by the prolific 22-year-old British electronic composer in 201o, his masterful manipulation of his own vocals (dude can fucking sing, by the way) matching the seams of shape-shifting music noir. Elegant centerpiece “I Only Know (What I Know Now)” is the main draw here with its moody electronics that uncannily evokes the warped sensation of being caught inside a bell jar, lending a ghostly ambience that reverberates throughout this four-song EP. – Keith.

mp3: James Blake – I Only Know (What I Know Now)

The Jezabels – Dark Storm (Self Released)

I first heard their music on a short film Way Back Home that featured stunt biker Danny MacAskill. The Jezabels are gifted with writing music that grips you at first listen. They hold nothing back on this EP, and sail with you across vast oceans of thrilling delayed guitars and Hayley Mary’s haunting falsettos. – Brian.

mp3: The Jezabels – A Little Piece

Tanlines – Settings (True Panther)

I didn’t think much about this debut EP from Tanlines when it first came out, but with every accidental listen, I’ve been finding myself loving it more and more. Suited mostly for the tropics, as I’m sure the outfit’s name suggests, Settings in all its joyous production makes for really fun, uplifting listening. – Dan.

mp3: Tanlines – Real Life

The Tallest Man on Earth – Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird (Dead Oceans)

The songs on this EP sound raw and stripped to its core, but always fully realised with Kristian Mattson‘s jarringly heartfelt vocals taking centerstage. It’s a fittingly stark treatment that demonstrates the strength of the songwriting, which shows itself to be rich though never bloated in imagery, introspective yet piercing. – Dan.

mp3: The Tallest Man on Earth – Little River

Our Favorite Albums of 2010 (Part 4)

Ah, so here it is, the last ten picks for the albums we liked best in 2010. If anything, it was a rather painful process of narrowing things down to 40 albums among the three of us, so there was plenty of great music that we just didn’t have the space (or more honestly, time) to write about. Maybe we’ll get about to doing that in the coming weeks or months. In the meantime, though, enjoy and do stay tuned for our favorite EPs and gigs of the year, which we promise to be quite a blast as well.

Spoon – Transference (Merge)

Seven albums in, Transference may strike one as more of a stopgap than anywhere near a milestone for Spoon, especially when it follows their career highpoint of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007), but Britt Daniel’s sharpening grasp of pop music mathematics continues to fascinate. With tracks like “Who Makes Your Money” and “Written In Reverse”, Transference bowls us over still with the band’s laidback confidence and dazzling low-key experimentalism. – Keith.

mp3: Spoon – Who Makes Your Money

Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)

I think it’s a good thing Sufjan Stevens has left behind that ever-burdening 50 States project. It has most certainly worked well for what it’s worth (two great albums), but with Age of Adz, Stevens sounds rejuvenated from this newfound freedom to be himself, inserting himself into his songs as he always loves to (“Vesuvius”), and still finding room to grow (“Now That I’m Older”) and experiment, even squeezing in (and i dare say pulling off) some auto-tone in that audacious album-closing epic “Impossible Soul”. What a classic this will grow to be. – Dan.

mp3: Sufjan Stevens – Vesuvius

Sun Kil Moon – Admiral Fell Promises (Caldo Verde)

Mark Kolezek returns with an even deeper love for the classical guitar. His lonely sojourns into a landscape of introspective songwriting and deftly written guitar arrangements make this year’s Admiral Fell Promises a gem for the discerning listener. – Brian.

mp3: Sun Kil Moon – Half Moon Bay

Tigermilk – Social Songs From The Woods (Self-Released)

The Internet is a big place, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that when we routinely read from the same sources, produce the same content, and share the same links. All I know about the band Tigermilk is that they hail from Chile. They may have been named after Belle & Sebastian’s debut album, but there are no similarities. What greets you is the homemade hiss of a four-track, incongruent beats, apprehensive melodies and a whimsical singer that takes no prisoners. Tigermilk makes me believe that their music is the gift that presents itself to the faithful. – Brian.

mp3: Tigermilk – The Empire Has Fallen

Tindersticks – Falling Down a Mountain (4AD)

The ever consistent Tindersticks narrative that began almost two decades ago continues in earnest on their more than serviceable eighth album Falling Down a Mountain, lead singer Stuart Staples soldiering on admirably in spite of the departure of several key founding members of the band. From the title track’s sinuous chamber pop to the sensuous Motown soul of “Keep You Beautiful”, Falling Down a Mountain starts off on a robust note and sustains a strong emotional pull throughout its ten songs. – Keith.

mp3: Tindersticks – Black Smoke

Twin Shadow – Forget (4AD)

With the elegant poise of Morrissey and the new-wave sensibility of David Byrne, George Lewis, Jr. has a lot going right for him right now. Released under his Twin Shadow moniker, Forget is anything but forgettable especially under the production of Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, who prepares the album at just the right temperature, cooler than anything you’d hear right now, but warm enough for Lewis’ songwriting and personality to glow in the midst of the chilly air. – Dan.

mp3: Twin Shadow – Tyrant Destroyed

The Walkmen – Lisbon (Fat Possum)

On their sixth album Lisbon, The Walkmen continues to mine the slow lunging contemplation of their excellent You & Me (2008). Rumbling guitars and brass-band flourishes sit in well with the sense of hard-earned tenacity on Lisbon, while the more raucous rock numbers (“Angela Surf City”; “Victory”) ring true as accessory to the emotional dissonance of growing older. The Walkmen have always sounded best when their music is infused with intimate moments of doubt – a sentiment reflected most keenly when singer Hamilton Leithauser laments “all my great designs never make out of my sleep” – and Lisbon gamely grapples with the romantic woes and other messy contradictions of adult life that we can all identify with at times. – Keith.

mp3: The Walkmen – Blue As Your Blood

Wild Nothing – Gemini (Captured Tracks)

Gemini, Wild Nothing’s gorgeous debut album, is the perfect tonic for anyone who has ever nursed an infatuation with C86 pop aesthetics or fantasized about escaping into 4AD dreams – the pure pleasure of ethereal tunes such as “Live In Dreams” and “O Lilac” are the result of sole Wild Nothing member Jack Tatum’s keen ear for bedroom pop melodies. – Keith.

Wild Nothing – Summer Holiday

Women – Public Strain (Jagjaguwar)

There is a curious intensity and clarity of purpose to how Women went about their business on their sophomore album Public Strain, winnowing out the noisy distractions that may have marred their 2008 debut and allowing the sound of their detuned guitar atmospherics to seep into its chain of sonic fantasies. Their love-spelled-backwards post-punk mania has never sounded more beautiful and vital as on the likes of “China Steps” and “Locust Valley”. – Keith.

mp3: Women – Locust Valley

Yeasayer – Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian)

Following up to 2007’s All Hour Cymbals, Yeasayer retain their signature folktronic flavour that made them one of the most talked about bands whilst throwing in plenty of chromatic surprises. Arrangements come lucid, worldly and dreamy as the band take you on a fun-filled escapade baked with plenty of your favorite herbs. – Brian.

mp3: Yeasayer – Madder Red

Our Favorite Albums of 2010 (Part 3)

In part three of our 40 favorite albums of 2010, we find ourselves amidst artists old and new, some doing what they always do best, others shaking things up a little, and newer discoveries giving the oldies a run for their money by showing just what they’re capable of. Go figure!

Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can (Virgin)

We can probably say something about twenty year-old Laura Marling “coming of age” because of her sheer youth, but the truth is, there’s little in her music that’s even concerned with growing up. Instead, she seems to be already aiming for something beyond that in her sophomore effort I Speak Because I Can, which presents the singer-songwriter bold, ambitious and unafraid. Inspiring stuff from a young’un who sounds like an old soul. – Dan.

mp3: Laura Marling – Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)

LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (DFA)

A stellar sophomore effort by everyone’s favorite dance-punk outfit. The synthesizers are rampant, the bass fuzzed and punched out, while the beats clash with the brazen obnoxiousness of a kid bashing all the pots ‘n’ pans in a kitchen, held together by the mostly languid drawl of frontman James Murphy. It’s a perfect recipe for dancing, singing or beating your neighbor’s car with a nine iron. – Brian.

mp3: LCD Soundsystem – Dance Yrself Clean

Mount Kimbie – Crooks and Lovers (Hotflush)

I’m not sure how helpful the self-coined post-dubstep label may be, but Mount Kimbie’s debut length – following two head-turning EPs released last year – glides effortlessly from one idea to the next without sounding schizophrenic. This young British duo show themselves to be a lot more concerned with process and experience than with final products, and in Crooks and Lovers, they draw precisely on that strength. – Dan.

mp3: Mount Kimbie – Would Know

The National – High Violet (4AD)

I constantly marvel at how Matt Berninger’s deadpan voice could possibly contain so much melodic breadth. In High Violet, that trademark drone – even if still an acquired taste – is put to good effect in conveying with greatest sensitivity the morbid and often paranoid sentiment of our times. Even in the bleakest of moments, though, The National manages to hold things together with performances of flawless consistency and measured urgency, keeping us on the edge of our seats but never ever letting us fall over. – Dan.

mp3: The National – Afraid of Everyone

of Montreal – False Priest (Polyvinyl)

Having written off the band for their pretentious quirks, I’m glad for the persona that keeps me checking out most releases by the band anyway. Somehow, I felt different this year, especially with songs like “Famine Affair”, which becomes a highlight singalong session even whilst retaining that neurotic anger against people holding hands down the street. – Brian.

mp3: of Montreal – Famine Affair

Owen Pallett – Heartland (Domino)

Owen Pallett has always made baroque avant pop records of intricate beauty and boundless imagination, and Heartland marks no real significant departure from his past work other than him dropping his Final Fantasy moniker. Graceful songs like “Flare Gun” and “Red Sun No.5” flit in and out of Owen’s self-invented universe Spectrum with hypnotic melodic splendor – and the symphonic pop of “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” pretty much trumps every other single I’ve heard this year. – Keith.

mp3: Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Off His Shirt

Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise (Rough Trade)

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous; Pantha Du Prince‘s darkly lit techno music on Black Noise found favors among music folks who prefer their sonic headspace drenched in melodic melancholy. Hendrik Weber’s fittingly titled third album is one that luxuriates in minute electronics textures, and the quiet bliss that illuminates Black Noise sounds as fragile and mysterious as ever. – Keith.

mp3: Pantha Du Prince – Behind The Stars

The Roots – How I Got Over (Def Jam)

The Roots are evolving the concept of hip-hop with each album they produce. It doesn’t sound exactly like a soul record, and it doesn’t exactly sound like a hip-hop record. It’s rawer than the nu-soul cats, and it’s not as gangsta as the ghetto blasters. Yet, everything comes together like they’d been playing this brand of music for decades. I think they’ve transcended the hip-hop genre that they’ve been walking, and offered something especially new against the depressive monoculture that faces all of us today. – Brian.

mp3: The Roots – How I Got Over (Feat. Dice Raw)

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Cardinals III/IV (PAX AM)

Ryan Adams returns to us after a year-long break from music, and in Ryan Adams years, that’s probably something like four years. In his fifth album with The Cardinals and overall thirteenth release, Adams deviates from the whiskey smoking alt-country sound that he’s perfected over the years, instead delivering the songs in straight ahead rock fashion. It’s different, but not unfamiliar. All the things that make The Cardinals your favorite band are still here: the excellent songwriting, musicianship and bitter irony. – Brian.

mp3: Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Users

Sharon Van Etten – Epic (Ba Da Bing)

If last year’s Because I was in Love introduced us to Sharon Van Etten’s emerging promise as a folk artist, this year’s Epic blows expectations out of proportion as she shows her grittier side with the one-two opening punch of “A Crime” and “Peace Sign”, all this without ever compromising the beauty of her work that endures every storm willingly taken on throughout the album. – Dan.

mp3: Sharon Van Etten – Peace Sign

Our Favorite Albums of 2010 (Part 2)

We continue with the second installment of our favorite albums of 2010. It’s been a year marked by such amazingly diverse releases, and today’s selection (artists from D to K, if you’ve been following) bears testament to that. Surely now, there’s something from everyone.

Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (4AD)

Unleashing their most focused album to date, Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest is the kind of canonical record that gives fresh meaning to our daily music obsession. From the neon-wilderness ambience of opener “Earthquake” to the breakaway reverie of epilogue “He Would Have Laughed”, Halcyon Digest takes great strides in expanding their sonic template. Bradford Cox may not be the first to have created anthems out of angst and wounded disaffection, but how many others can plumb the depths of silted memories both real and imagined – the cocooned fragility of “Helicopter”, based on a Dennis Cooper story about a young Russian male hustler; the haunted solitude in “Basement Scene” – and transform them into exhilarating pop music quite like this band do? – Keith.

mp3: Deerhunter – Basement Scene

Deftones – Diamond Eyes (Reprise)

The year needed a heavy album, and this was it. Could the Sacramento-based hardcore outfit that rode the wave of nu-metal in the late nineties still produce a relevant album, especially when bassplayer, Chi Cheng remains lying in a coma after a horrible car accident? Well, I think the answer is YES. The Deftones are heavy, but more than that, their unique brand of cathartic anguish sounds exceptionally mature with singer Chino Moreno sounding better than he’s ever been, and the band’s sludgy grooves making head-banging this year’s sex on fire. – Brian.

mp3: Deftones – You’ve Seen The Butcher

Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here? (Editions Mego)

Beautiful, suspenseful, engaging. Perhaps it’s because I’m only just getting my head (and heart?) around electronic music, but Emeralds is such a delightful discovery of the year simply because it sounds so much like what I could never expect. Does It Look Like I’m Here? does just that by weaving together an intricately layered work without ever losing sight of the child-like wonder contained within. – Dan.

mp3: Emeralds – Candy Shoppe

Four Tet – There is Love in You (Domino)

Rounds remains my favorite Four Tet album, but There is Love in You comes a close second. Kieran Hebden has always had a magical touch that imparts an expressive vocabulary to electronic sounds, and in this latest installment he manages to carve out a soundtrack that makes the dancefloor an intimate venue while also transforming bedroom listening into a communal experience. – Dan.

mp3: Four Tet – Sing

Hot Chip – One Life Stand (EMI)

Fashioning together something that is perhaps more mature and emotionally circumspect than before, Hot Chip successfully reined in their usual merry-making eclecticism to deliver a surprisingly coherent album, and One Life Stand makes a good fist of showcasing the supple side of the band’s songwriting gifts. Pace-pushing singles “One Life Stand” and “I Feel Better” ignite the pop momentum but the album’s best spots are reserved for its more serene moments: glowing melodies that shine through the band’s organic song arrangement on “Alley Cats” and “Slush”; the 4 a.m. wakefulness of “Keep Quiet” evoking the darkest murmurs of the heart. – Keith.

mp3: Hot Chip – Keep Quiet

Jamiroquai – Rock Dust Light Star (Universal)

It’s a return to form with the seventh Jamiroquai album. No more mass appeal disco funk: while it made the band more popular than ever (with record sales to prove it), it left something behind when it came to soul. And you can’t do acid jazz / funk if you ain’t got no soul. The style was explored in the last album, Dynamite, but I think the band really nailed it this year with some of the most confident tunes they’ve written. It even shows in the lyrics, with Jay Kay being a lot more introspective instead of waving the flag of the high life and fast cars. Well, at least they’re still singing about girls being ‘fast persuaders’. – Brian.

mp3: Jamiroquai – She’s A Fast Persuader

Janelle Monáe – The Archandroid (Bad Boy)

Not to take anything away from the explosive brillance of “Tightrope” which really is the highlight of the album, but The Archandroid is so much more than one hit single. Here, Janelle Monáe follows up her debut EP with two more suites, further developing her Cindi Mayweather character in her Metropolis world while showcasing her versatility as a singer capable of the widest range of deliveries. Great fun and depth. – Dan.

mp3: Janelle Monáe Feat. Big Boi – Tightrope

Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me (Drag City)

Clocking in at around 120 minutes of music over three CDs, Have One On Me is a behemoth of songwriting eccentricities that can be hard to take on even for fans. But maybe Joanna Newsom needed the whole two hours to properly flesh out her folk-inflected poetry, as cryptic traveling songs such as “In California” and “Good Intentions Paving Company” instill her wayward vision of America as an old weird country replete with doe-eyed maidens, uneasy riders and japing leviathans. – Keith.

mp3: Joanna Newsom – Good Intentions Paving Co.

John Legend and the Roots – Wake Up! (GOOD Music)

Perhaps the most important collaboration this year. Being backed by the best live hip-hop band on the planet is a tall order, and Mr John Legend holds fast and rides high on the wave of tasteful soul that The Roots deliver to a “T”. It was refreshing to hear a breath of positivity in the album’s message amidst the depressing state of the world, and their counterpoint definitely stands as a zeitgeist of what America has gone through this year. – Brian.

mp3: John Legend And The Roots – Compared to What

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Rockafella)

The magnitude of Kanye West’s musical achievements may be overshadowed by the steady stream of very public controversies surrounding him but the grand ambition of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy would not be denied. There is a twisted fairytale quality to West’s fifth and finest album, and this 13-track spread is about as diverse and creatively inspired as the various George Condo portraits alternating as the cover artwork – silvery soul guitars that inflame the rap alchemy on “Gorgeous”; celebrating his own hedonistic heroics on “Power” and “Monster”; the nine-minute opus “Runaway”. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy manages to sum up all his boastful outbursts and insecurities into one formidable whole. – Keith. Kanye West – Monster

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