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Archive for October, 2011

Latest and Greatest

This is the second installment of a weekly collection of the “latest and greatest.” I will post two newly discovered songs that have captured my attention and two of my longtime (word of warning, this will be a relative term) favorite songs that are building up dust in my music library. 

THE LATEST

We Will All Be Changed by Seryn 

You know when a song captures your attention and you put it on repeat, for hours, sometimes even days? Well that happened to me when I first heard We Will All Be Changed by Seryn, a five-piece band from Denton, Texas. We Will All Be Changed lives on Seryn’s debut album, This Is Where We Are, which was released in January of this year. The album is filled with beautiful, big sounds that can fill a whole room. We Will All Be Changed stands out, though, for its display of the band’s vocal and instrumental strength and its blissful choruses. The song features ukulele, banjo, violin, accordion, cello, and trumpet. Seryn distinguishes itself from the folky bands of Denton, Texas and beyond with their expansive instrumentation.

This video from Paste Magazine is a great display of Seryn.

Old Pine by Ben Howard

The theme for today’s latest must be songs with perfect crescendos, climaxes, and instrumentation. Ben Howard’s Old Pine is an example of a song that builds and builds and builds. If it were a building, it would surpass than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Just when you think it’s reached its climax, it keeps getting bigger and fuller and more perfect. Howard is an acoustic troubadour. He released his debut album, Every Kingdom, in September of this year. Old Pine is the opening act, though it’s hard for any song to follow this one. In some ways, the song is instrumentally simple; unlike Seryn’s 8-plus, instruments, Old Pine reaches its heights with simply a guitar and violin. Howard’s delicate fingerpicking and breathtaking voice have created a treasure.

“We stood / steady as the stars in the woods / so happy-hearted / and the warmth rang true inside these bones / as the old pine fell we sang / just to bless the morning.

THE GREATEST

Two Points For Honesty by Guster

Guster was the most formative band of my youth. I was exposed to Guster for the first time at camp and latched on just as I was emerging from the awkwardness of middle school. As my self-awareness grew and interests took shape, Guster remained my soundtrack. I clung to the catchy beats and never really let go.

I will never forget the first time I saw them live (at Sayreville Ballroom, yep the concert from my first post). They put on a high-energy performance, with drummer, Brian __, pounding his heart and soul out. They closed with Two Points For Honesty, a song rarely heard live. The sound is so full, building up and literally bouncing off the walls. I felt so privileged to be in that room with them, like I was part of something special. While they make few appearances on my playlists in recent years, Guster remains high on my list of best live performances and even higher on my list of meaningful artists.

“If that’s all you will be, you’ll be a waste of time / you’ve dreamed a thousand dreams / none seem to stick in your mind / two points for honesty / it must make you sad to know that nobody cares at all.”

Offering By The Avett Brothers

Talk about harmonies. About a raw, gritty voice. Honest, heartfelt lyrics. Perfect fingerpicking. Seth and Scott Avett. They have mastered it all. Offering is my favorite of their songs and the most perfect of love songs—a true offering of the human heart. My good friend passed it along to me after he featured it on one of the many mix tapes he sends his girlfriend (yeah, they are that cute). No doubt, it has become one of their special songs. To me, it’s perfect.

“I’ve known others, and I’ve loved others too. But I love them ‘cause they were stepping stones on a staircase to you.”

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Melancholy. Emotive. These are the words that come to mind as I sit down to write about Blind Pilot, a brilliant six-piece band from Portland, Oregon. Blind Pilot started as a two-member (Israel Nebeker and Ryan Dobrowski) band in 2008, when they biked their way down the Pacific coast, instruments in tow. In three years they have tripled in size, graduated from bikes to a school-bus and have taken the indie-folk scene by storm.

I can’t say enough about these guys. There isn’t a single song that doesn’t strike a chord in me; hit me in the gut; literally bring tears to my eyes. Israel Nebeker is the band’s leader, singer, songwriter and gets down on the guitar, ukulele, and… wait for it… harmonium. Nebeker crafts thoughtful and complex songs, layering instruments and vocals to create a uniquely textured sound. Blind Pilot’s sound is enhanced by introspective lyrics about love, loss, and home.

3 Rounds and a Sound, the title track of Blind Pilot’s 2008 debut album, is a standout masterpiece. Like many of the others on the album, the song builds to climaxes. The first verse opens with Nebeker’s sweet, steady voice, at first hesitant, then quickly gaining strength. He is joined in the second verse by a second layer of vocals, growing the sound until it meets the chorus, drenched in warm, golden harmonies.

“Soil and six feet under, kept just like we were before you knew you’d know me and you know me. Blooming up from the ground. Three rounds and a sound, like whispering you know me, and you know me.”

Despite my undying affection for their debut album I, like many others, was eagerly and anxiously awaiting the release of their sophomore album, We Are The Tide. I imagine that if it were possible to wear an mp3 thin, my copy of 3 Rounds and a Sound would be worn down to a sheet of paper. A few weeks before its release, NPR, in typical NPR fashion (read: I’m a huge fan of NPR), featured the album in their program “First Listen”, allowing eager and impatient listeners to stream the songs for free. By the time the 10 tunes finally downloaded on my computer on September 13, I already knew the nuances, notes, and lyrics to each track.

The album opens to Half Moon, a beautiful display of the musical growth Blind Pilot achieved in between their first and second albums. While Nebeker’s vocals remain as tender and touching as they were on 3 Rounds and a Sound, he is accompanied by a stronger, fuller sound. The song flourishes with haunting background vocals, groaning keys, and soft fingerpicking of the banjo. The best moment of the song comes at 2:41, where the vocal cohesiveness of the band shines through. It literally gives me chills.

“It’s not hard to live like a ghost / I just haunt all that I’ve wanted and leave what I don’t.”

 We Are The Tide, the title track of the band’s sophomore album, pulses with tribal drumming and a swelling sound that never quite breaks. Somehow, I always manage to listen to this song on my way home, riding the oh-so-lovely M15 up First Avenue and smiling at Nebeker singing: “Tonight I’m in love with everybody on the city bus / I feel the push and pull / keep sayin’ that it doesn’t mean much.”

There is no better song in Blind Pilot’s catalog that captures their essence, strength and the emotions they evoke than New York. The song was built around the melancholy groan of the harmonium whose singular hum is present from start to finish. The song swells with tension. Heather at Fuel/Friends captured the song perfectly when she described it as “somnolent, redolent and perfect.”

“And don’t keep me like you have me / and don’t kiss me like you don’t.”

To top off the excitement oozing from this post, I will be seeing Blind Pilot play at Bowery Ballroom on 11/4 and Music Hall of Williamsburg on 11/7, both shows with support from Gregory Alan Isakov! So, really, the Blind Pilot love has just begun.

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Last night I saw Blitzen Trapper and Dawes, who have been co-headlining their national fall tour, at New York City’s Webster Hall. In my haste to leave the office and make it to the concert on time, I made the uninformed decision to leave my raincoat and rainboots behind. But somehow, walking to the train this morning in the pouring rain was the perfect way to digest the incredible music I heard.

Blitzen Trapper, a six-piece band from Portland, Oregon, evades typecasting. Despite calling it their hometown, they don’t quite fit into the indie-folk scene emanating from the Pacific Northwest. Really, they are just all over the place. On certain songs they reek of Lynyrd Skynyrd-style classic rock; on others, especially enhanced when Eric Earley (lead vocals/guitar) rocks his cowboy boots (as he did last night), they evoke alt-country. But, not surprisingly, my favorite of their songs (studio-recorded and live) are reminiscent of an edgier Bob Dylan/The Band-style folk-rock.

Blitzen Trapper has mastered a sound infused with tambourines, harmonicas and acoustic and electric guitars. Having never before seen them live, the majority of my favorite songs live on their 2010 album, Destroyer of the Void. Pitchfork adeptly characterizes the album, which mixes “Beatles harmonies, sci-fi synths, classic rock guitars, country-rock twang, and album-oriented rock (AOR) sentimentality into one big, ballsy package.” While they only played one of my favorite songs from Destroyer of the Void, make sure you check The Tree (which features beautiful acoustic fingerpicking and Bob Dylan-style gritty, nasally voice), Sadie and Heaven and Earth, all of which are drenched in golden harmonies.

Despite my tendency toward Destroyer of the Void, last night’s setlist unsurprisingly featured many songs from Blitzen Trapper’s recently released ninth album, American Goldwing, which has been described as the “Dylan-est” exhibit in their catalog.

Astronaut is perhaps my favorite song and the standout track on the new album and did not disappoint live. Amidst funky guitar hooks, twang of the harmonica and the upbeat sound of the keyboard, Eric’s foggy, croak gives the song a timeless feel.

“But I lost my cool and fate loves a fool / Now I’m standin on the edge of the pack / In my spacesuit hopin that this women will call me at last / Cuz’ I’m an astronaut on the shores of this grand illusion / and I’m fallin down at the sound of this beating heart.”

Love The Way You Walk Away is a story of lost love set to a funky banjo and steel pedal guitar. “The old joke stands ‘cause its true I guess / That when you get what you’re lookin’ for ‘ya want it less.”


Furr, the title track of their 2008 Sub-Pop debut, is a flawlessly executed organic, folk Americana song complete with harmonica.

Dawes was the most pleasant surprise of my evening. Though I had come across a few of their songs before, I knew relatively little about this band. When their set started, I decided I would stay for one or two songs before I retired to my apartment for the evening. 14 songs later and two purchased records in hand, I left the grimy venue a converted Dawes fan.

Dawes has a contagious energy that infected me from the first song. Taylor Goldsmith, the band’s front man, literally bounces around stage and appears almost as happy to be there as Josh Ritter. The band, musically influenced by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, connects on a deep level and creates a cohesive unit. Taylor’s vocals are fleshed out by harmonies with the warm voice of the drummer, Taylor’s younger brother Griffin.

Highlights of the Dawes set included:

The following heartfelt portion Little Bit of Everything: 

It is waking up before you,
So I can watch you as you wake.
So in the day in late September,
It’s not some stupid little ring,
I’m giving a little bit of everything.

And witnessing every single person in the 1,400-person capacity venue wail out to When My Time Comes.

Oh you can judge all the world on the sparkle that you think it lacks.
Yes you can stare into the abyss, but it’s staring right back.
When my time comes,
Ohhhhh, oh oh oh.

Here is the official music video:

 

The best part of the night? Realizing that I was going to be seeing these guys again in December when they play with The Head and The Heart at Beacon Theatre!

Taylor from Dawes and Me at the Beacon Theatre, 12/5/11

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This is the first installment of a weekly collection of the “latest and greatest.” I will post two newly discovered songs that have captured my attention and two of my longtime favorite songs that are building up dust in my music library.

THE LATEST

In the last several months, I have been inundated with music, thanks to some new friends and an expansion of my blog-roll (see the “Necessary Bookmarks” for my favorites).

To Travels and Trunks by Hey Marseilles

Hey Marseilles, a seven-piece folk-pop band from Seattle, have made quite an impression on me. They have a rich sound, which is supported by a surplus of instruments: cello, viola, accordion, trumpet, snare drum, cymbal, tambourine, and acoustic guitars. A friend of mine introduced me to Rio, when he featured a beautiful solo, acoustic version on his blog. But when I got my hands on the album shortly thereafter and took it for a spin, To Travels and Trunks was the number that really spoke to me. Matt Bishop’s voice blends perfectly against the grand instrumental backdrop of the cello, violin and accordion; in this song, Bishop is my ideal reincarnation of Ben Gibbard. Not to mention, my heart melts when he sings out: “All I want is love eternally / with your heart facing me.”

The best description of Hey Marseilles that I’ve read came from their own Facebook page: “It’s modern vintage, a folk-pop jam session at a vanished cabaret on the Seine, an indie rocker’s fantasy of his grandparents’ first kiss.”

Beggar In The Morning by The Barr Brothers

The Barr Brothers, a Montreal-based band centered around brothers Andrew and Brad Barr, just released their self-titled debut album. Beggar In The Morning is the song I keep coming back to and playing on repeat. It is beautiful. I have a feeling I’ll be writing much more about these guys in blogs to come.

“Oh I want an angel to wipe my tears / I want my dreams, my hopes, desires and fears / We may capsize but we wont drown / Hold each other as the sun goes down.”

Check out this very cool video of the song.

THE GREATEST

The Chain by Fleetwood Mac

When I was first learning how to play the guitar I was fascinated by fingerpicking. I learned Blackbird by The Beatles and drove my parents crazy by sitting in my room playing it at every chance I got. Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, the album’s most complicated compositions, blends Lindsey Buckingham’s fingerpicking with the electric guitar, creating a distinctive guitar/banjo sound. I particularly love that it is the only track that all members of the band collaborated on. Stolen from my mom’s music collection, The Chain remains one of the most influential songs in my library.

Cecilia by Simon & Garfunkel


Sometimes I wish I was born in an earlier decade, just so that I could have heard Simon & Garfunkel perform Cecilia at their prime as a folk duo. I imagine the room filled to its brim with energy, harmonies bouncing off the walls, the percussion shaking the floors and a musical enlightenment for those lucky enough to be a part of the magic. In honor of my first “latest and greatest” blog post, Simon & Garfunkel’s masterpiece Cecilia from their 1970 album Bridge Over Troubled Water takes the cake for the greatest song in my collection.

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So tomorrow, for the first time since I graduated in May, I will be returning to Amherst College for homecoming. Now for some this might seem insignificant; but for me, it is a going home of sorts. A place I called home and found the strongest of communities for four years. I anticipate a lot of feelings (probably even a reenactment of the Garden State scene where you realize that life goes on in your absence). But mostly, I will arrive and depart with nostalgia.

In the mission of finding music to match your mood, Josh Ritter fits mine like a glove. I have had more than one person tell me that Josh Ritter is one of the best songwriters of our generation. After careful and close consideration, I wholeheartedly agree.

I was only recently introduced to Josh Ritter’s music, after agreeing to see him at the House of Blues in Boston with one of my closest friends. She has wonderful taste in music, so despite never having heard him, and without hesitation, I said yes. I proceeded to get my hands on every album of his I could find and get busy listening. And boy has he made a mighty big fan out of me!

His folk sound floats between Paul Simon, Ryan Adams and Bob Dylan. But what impresses me most is his songwriting. Ritter’s music reaches new depths of lyrical creativity. He has fed his monster (or muse) well. My favorite lines come from Kathleen, a song on his 2003 album Hello Starling. While the song is surely about a one-night stand, he manages to capture some of the most beautiful lyrics about love and its complications. The opening line grabs you (and potentially makes you blush): “All the other girls here are stars / you are the Northern Lights.” Later in the song, he delivers the perfect metaphor for the complications and results of love: “Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied.”

I am most enthralled with Animal Years, Ritter’s 2006 album. From start to finish the album is drenched with beautiful melodies, extended metaphors, and songs that will shake you to the core. I’ve never played an album and found myself listening so closely to each note, each word. Here are some of my favorites:

Girl in the War opens with the crisp sound of the guitar and is immediately complemented by Ritter’s deep voice. The drumbeat picks up in the second part of the verse and throughout the song background vocals take over. The lyrics engulf you as you try to make sense of them: “Paul said to Peter you got to rock yourself a little harder / Pretend the dove from above is a dragon and your feet are on fire / But I got a girl in the war Paul her eyes are like champagne / They sparkle bubble over and in the morning all you got is rain.”

Good Man is easily the happiest and catchiest melody on the album, from the first note on the piano. “I fell in love with your sound / Oh I love to sing along with you / Babe we both had dry spells Hard times / in bad lands I’m a good man for ya I’m a good man.”

Josh Ritter is my coming home.

 

[Side note: When I told a friend of mine that I was going to a Josh Ritter concert she said to me, “You’re going to think that he is on ecstasy. But he’s not. He’s just that happy.” I have never seen someone look happier on stage in my life. Refer back to the image at the top of this blog.]

[Side note #2: In the spirit of college and free stuff, for a short time only Josh Ritter has made available (for free) a high quality recording of his March show at KCD Theater in Louisville, KY. Noise Trade is also giving away a free sampler which includes some great songs.]

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If my previous post did not adequately convince you of THATH’s pure talent, perhaps this incredibly beautiful sound on the sound video from the Doe Bay Festival will do the trick:

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The first time I heard The Head and The Heart I was sitting in the backseat of a friend’s car, driving through Seattle. It was my first time in this picturesque Pacific Northwest city (home to many of my favorite bands) and in spite of 5 days of 100% precipitation, I was ready to pack up and move. Mike and his girlfriend were sitting in the front seat, singing along to the catchy lyrics: “How’s that bricklayin’ comin’? / How’s your engine runnin’? / Is that bridge gettin’ built? / Are your hands gettin’ filled? / Won’t you tell me, my brother?” Lyrics to a song that would soon become my anthem.

Seven months later, I have seen THATH in concert twice, introduced their music to numerous friends, and danced around to their sounds with my roommate in our apartment on countless nights. To say I am an avid fan would be an outrageous understatement.

The Head and The Heart is a six-piece “folk-indie-pop-rock” (description on their website, I swear) band that in a little over two years has taken Seattle (and the rest of the US) by storm. Their story is one that gives hope to the hundreds, thousands (millions?) of hopeful artists aspiring to make a life in music.

The band formed after Jon Russell and Josiah Johnson met at open mic nights at Conor Byrne, a bar in Seattle’s Ballard district. Soon thereafter, Jon convinced his high school buddy Tyler to move up from Virginia and Charity, Kenny and Chris (then Conor Byrne’s bartender) completed the crew. In June 2010 the band self-recorded their debut 9-song self-titled album, which quickly became a top 10-seller in Seattle and spread like wildfire across the country. In November of 2010, The Head and the Heart joined the ranks of Fleet Foxes and Iron and Wine when the prolific Seattle label Sub-Pop records signed them.

The Head and The Heart’s explosive energy will knock the wind out of you from the first chord to the last note. Their infectious music swells with three-part harmonies, the spice of Charity’s violin and unique voice and the magic touch of Kenny on the keys. Their lyrics paint Americana stories of love, loss and home. On stage they have a chemistry that is visceral constantly giving each other smiling nods of reassurance. In the audience, you feel at once connected—to the notes, the lyrics, the pounding beat—and left out of what is clearly a special family.

Down In The Valley is one of my favorite songs on the record, though I actually prefer it live. Jon’s raspy, dark voice grabs you and is perfectly complemented by the soft, pure sound of charity’s violin. The song builds slowly to the crescendo where the bass drum starts softly beating and is joined by the keys. Before you know it, your whole body is shaking to the music: “I am on my way back to where I started / California, Oklahoma / And all of the places I ain’t ever been to but / Down in the valley with / Whiskey rivers / These are the places you will find me hidin’ / These are the places I will always go.”

Josh McBride was not recorded on the album but has proliferated on youtube and vimeo and has quickly become a classic. It has an antique quality and feels like a timeless tale. Josiah’s deep, pure voice sings: “You are in the seat beside me / you are in my dreams at night / you are in grand mother’s wisdom / and you are in grandfather’s charm.” The following video is the most beautiful recording of it I’ve seen yet.

Rivers and Roads has become The Head and The Heart’s go-to closer at concerts. Josiah closes his eyes and sings of nostalgia and anticipation. The song builds up energy until every member of the six-piece band singing at the top of his and her lungs. Just when the music is at its loudest, the band goes silent and Charity steps up to belt out her solo: “Rivers and roads / Rivers ‘til I reach you.” Her unique, organic, almost gospel voice has become a fan favorite. This video of THATH performing Rivers and Roads at Doe Bay in 2010 does not quite capture the energy of a live, audience-filled show, but it sure is beautiful!

I’m not sure what is in the water in the Pacific Northwest, but these guys have been drinking a lot of it. They are selling out shows left and right and are about to head to Europe to open for My Morning Jacket. I hope they will then return to the studio and record a highly anticipated sophomore album. For now, buy their album, listen to it on repeat, and join the ranks of adoring THATH fans.

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