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Archive for December, 2011

I can’t say enough good things about these Seattle sweethearts, The Head And The Heart, whose onstage energy and chemistry has won over many ears, hearts and wallets and whose Sub-Pop self-titled debut record earned them #28 on NPR’s All Songs Considered’s best records of 2011. Sound On The Sound released a bonus Doe Bay Session today of THATH playing No One To Let You Down with some friends against the beautiful backdrop of Orcas Island.

I am hoping 2012 will bring THATH more success and me a sophomore album to add to my collection. For now, enjoy:

 

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This has been a strange winter so far. Christmas trees and holiday lights line the streets of New York City, but without any snow (or a finals period), it’s hard to mark the passage of time. But like every year for as long as I can remember, I have finally arrived in southern Vermont and spent the first day of the season skiing with my family. The shining sun exposed the brilliance of the bright white snow against the icy blue sky—so pristine it almost looked like a painted canvas.

And every season requires a playlist. Songs that evoke days outside in the refreshingly cold air and evenings spent sipping hot chocolate next to a crackling fire. Winter is family. It’s holding someone’s hand and sharing your warmth.

(Click on the image to open the mix in Spotify)

1. January White by Sleeping At Last
2. The Unbearable Lightness by Tyler Lyle
3. My Father’s Father by The Civil Wars
4. Winter Song by The Head and The Heart
5. The Road by Bryan John Appleby
6. White Apple by Blind Pilot
7. From Finner by Of Monsters And Men
8. Wolves by Josh Ritter
9. That Moon Song by Gregory Alan Isakov
10. Old Mythologies by The Barr Brothers
11. Fake Empire by The National
12. Your Move by Kris Orlowski
13. A Country’s King of Dreams by Caveman
14. All My Days by Alexi Murdoch
15. Things Behind The Sun by Nick Drake
16. Casimir Pulaski Day by Sufjan Stevens
17. White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes

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So last week I wroteabout Of Monsters and Men. To say that I have fallen in love with this band would be the grossest of understatements. They are like an addictive drug that brings me to new highs and leaves me wanting more. Really, it’s quite dangerous. They create a sound textured with accordions, horns, choral shouts and the unresistable chemistry between the lead male and female vocalists. I haven’t been as enamored with a band since March of last year, when I discovered The Head and The Heart. And boy does it feel good.
Thankfully, the group released their EP Into The Woods today, their first release in the United States/Canada. Into The Woods includes four of the eleven tracks from the band’s debut album, My Head Is An Animal, which has received critical acclaim in Iceland and whose release is expected in the US this coming spring.

The EP opens with Little Talks, perhaps OMAM’s most vibrant and well-known tune—the one that earned them a strong fan base in Iceland and beyond. The song is upbeat and catchy and will surely have you dancing around your house in the best of spirits.

Six Weeks, an edgier song (it reminds KEXP of Arcade Fire) sprinkled with vocal harmonies, really showcases the depth and breadth of the entire band.

Love Love Love is a somber melody that tells the heartbreaking tale of a one-sided relationship. This song sits on the softer side of OMAM melodies and highlights the vocal talents of Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir.

Because you love, love, love when you know I can’t love
You love, love, love when you know I can’t love, you.

The EP closes with From Finner, a dynamic, toe-tapping, sing-along jam which is filled with la-la-las and recycles the same catchy lyric throughout the song.

We are far from home
But we’re so happy.

Of Monsters and Men are slated to play at South By Southwest in March of 2012, perhaps reason enough for me to bite the bullet and buy a ticket to the coolest city in Texas. Though hopefully they will have the wits about them to come rock the socks off of the fine people of New York City.

The EP is fantastic, but as with most EPs, leaves you craving more. For now, do yourself a favor and head over to iTunes (or Amazon–it’s cheaper) and download a copy of Into The Woods. It’ll be the best $4 you’ve ever spent.

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Don’t you love hearing a new song and knowing immediately that something completely beautiful has entered your life? For me, that’s a rush. This happened while scrolling through Adam’s (songsfortheday) fantastic winter mix. I found myself playing January White by Sleeping At Last over and over again, until I finally opened my computer and looked it up. Song after song I played and I loved each more than the last.

Ryan O’Neal’s voice moves me. It has a unique quality—pure, pitch-perfect, passionate, and soulful—that leaves me flushed and breathless. His vocals are perfectly complemented by his instrumental arrangements with layers of strings, ukulele, banjo and piano. The result is an organic, textured sound.

And to top it all off, Sleeping At Last has a music catalogue complete with three full-length records and a 36-song, 12-EP project. I have focused my energies on several songs off of Storyboards, the band’s 2009 independently released full-length record:

I am still getting my bearings in Sleeping At Last’s catalogue and look forward to discovering more beauties.

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This is the eighth installment of a weekly collection of the “latest and greatest.” I 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

King and Lionheart by Of Monsters and Men

Though their full-length debut album, My Head Is an Animal is not due out in the United States until next year, Of Monsters and Men has already created enormous buzz, and deservedly so. KEXP recorded and streamed their fantastic set at Iceland Airwaves. This six-piece folk-pop group from Reykjavik, Iceland adds a unique, but naturally fitting sound to my music catalog. I was immediately drawn to their male/female vocals and golden harmonies. Of Monsters and Men received initial acclaim for the catchy lyrics and upbeat tempo of their debut single, Little Talks. And while I have loved every song that I have streamed endlessly on youtube, King and Lionheart strikes a chord within me. It is some combination of Nanna’s soft, pitch-perfect voice, which reminds me of a less-whiney Regina Spektor, feel-good instrumentals and haunting, mythical lyrics that makes the tune impossible to resist.

Howling ghosts they reappear
In mountains that are stacked with fear
But you’re a king and I’m a lionheart.


Way You Are by Kris Orlowski

I’ve been listening to Kris Orlowski’s recently released EP Warsaw for several weeks now and have been trying to find the right words to describe it. There is something about Kris’ deep, solemn voice in Way You Are—calming, almost entrancing. I’ve heard some call this Seattle-based group “folk-pop”, but somehow I don’t think this label fits. While Kris was accompanied by strings on his last EP, The Fremont Abbey, Kris’s soulful voice stands alone on Warsaw. The result is a somewhat darker set of tunes, with a slow-building, earthy force.

Love the way it sounds
the moments your with me
Like soft wind brushing waves
across the sea.


THE GREATEST

Change of Time by Josh Ritter

I’ve shared my love for Josh Ritter and his prolific songwriting and musicality on this blog before. And last Monday night, I was reminded of the joy he exudes when he was a special guest at the WFUV Holiday Cheer Concert at Beacon Theatre. Ritter took the stage—with simply his guitar in hand and smile on his face—after fantastic, energetic sets by Dawes and The Head and The Heart. With only three songs—Change of Time, Sir Galahad and Snow is Gone—he managed to “wow” the crowd. Ultimately, my favorite song was Change of Time, which showcased Ritter’s skillful fingerpicking and artful turns of phrase.

I was thirsty so I drank
And though it was salt water
There was something ’bout the way
It tasted so familiar.


King of Spain by The Tallest Man on Earth

On the subject of incredible guitar players (and Europeans…), I recently unearthed The Tallest Man on Earth’s 2010 album The Wild Hunt. After weeks spent reflecting on 2011 releases, I decided to return to some of the fantastic, but neglected albums in my catalog. Kristian Matsson’s gruff vocals and intricate acoustic guitar—the simple elements that create his revival folk music—shine through in King of Spain.

Well if you could reinvent my name,
Well if you could redirect my day,
I wanna be the King of Spain.

Below, he performs King of Spain live on KEXP.

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The end of the year marks a great opportunity for reflection. For a music enthusiast, it’s a perfect excuse to make a list of my top albums and songs of the year. This was relatively challenging for me. I tend to think and live very much in the moment. I get swept up in what’s going on around me right now. And for this exercise I had to abandon, for a second, what was playing in the moment, and reflect on what had been playing over the course of the past 12 months. I am not sure I entirely succeeded. But, alas, below I present to you my top 20 songs and top 11 albums of 2011!

Top 20 Songs of 2011

20. Long Days, Fast Years by Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers

19. Someone Like You by Adele

18. Another by The White Album

17. Kiss Quick by Matt Nathanson

16. If I Wanted Someone by Dawes

15. Eagle’s Nest by Caroline Smith & The Good Night Sleeps

14. Café Lights by Hey Marseilles

13. Everything (Overture) by Chris Bathgate

12. Anyhow… by Tyler Lyle

11. The Nature of Our Kind by Vandaveer

10. We Will All Be Changed by Seryn

9. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes

8. Down In The Valley by The Head and the Heart

7. Poison & Wine by The Civil Wars

6. New York by Blind Pilot

5. Old Pine by Ben Howard

4. Blackout by Pickwick

3. 1957 by Milo Greene

2. Beggar In The Morning by The Barr Brothers

1. Honey Jars by Bryan John Appleby

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Top 11 Albums

11. Gift Horse by Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers

10. 21 by Adele

9. Ashes and Fire by Ryan Adams

8. Dig Down Deep by Vandaveer

7. The Golden Age & The Silver Girl by Tyler Lyle

6. The Barr Brothers by The Barr Brothers

5. Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars

4. Fire On The Vine by Bryan John Appleby

3. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes

2. The Head and The Heart by The Head and The Heart

1. We Are The Tide by Blind Pilot

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THE LATEST

In the spirit of holidays, I have been compiling lists of my favorite songs and albums of 2011. I’m currently on my 6th, and hopefully last, iteration of my list of top 20 songs of 2011 and realized that I have mistakenly not yet written about two of them:

Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes

The Fleet Foxes—the folk love child of Sub-Pop and the Pacific Northwest—released their sophomore album, Helplessness Blues in May of this year. While the album maintains the same golden harmonies, which steadily flow through the tunes on Fleet Foxes and Sun Giant, they are in shorter supply on Helplessness, allowing Robin Pecknold to take a commanding vocal role. The album demonstrates the band’s impeccable musicianship and unique sound, at once timeless and refreshingly new. Fleet Foxes has carved their own neo-folk niche, akin to a modern-day Simon & Garfunkel, and has paved the way for emerging neo and indie-folk groups, including the likes of The Head and the Heart. Pitchfork aptly describes Helplessness Blues as “comparatively deeper, more intricate, and more complex, a triumphant follow-up to a blockbuster debut.” The title track is the album’s centerpiece, flushed with Pecknold’s sweet vocals, introspective lyrics and undulating acoustic textures.

After some thinking
I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
Serving something beyond me.

Everything (Overture) by Chris Bathgate

Chris Bathgate’s hauntingly beautiful vocals only entered my life a few short months ago when I stumbled upon his NPR Tiny Desk concert. I was immediately struck by his somber voice, so unique in its quality, belting out the horn section of Everything (Overture). This tune comes from the Michigan-native’s record Salt Year, released this past spring. The studio version is fleshed out with horns and percussion, which perfectly complement Bathgate’s organic, melancholy voice.

Every day, my heart has saved
it withers no matter
how sad or strange

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