Wednesday, January 13, 2010

2010 Music starting off right...

2009 was in my opinion, a little thin on good new music, which is why I'm thankful that 2010 is jumping out the gate early with a couple of great new albums. While perhaps not revolutionary in ideas, the latest releases from Ok Go and Vampire Weekend are full of music that is easily accessible and just plain fun.

I'm not going to go through an in-depth analysis of Vampire Weekend's "Contra" simply for the fact that this has been one of the most highly-anticipated and pined-over releases in the last 6 months, and has been examined under a microscope by countless blogs, magazines and what have you. I will say however, that it is a highly enjoyable album giving it's fans more of what they enjoyed on the first album for the most part but with more polished production values. Some may argue that the more polished feel is to the album's detriment, but I am a big proponent of bands looking for little ways to change their sound, and this does just that. While to say that Vampire's sound is derivative of Paul Simon's Graceland-phase would be oversimplifying, there is some definite truth to that description. And that phase certainly wasn't all bad. Highlights on this record include the 80's influenced, "Giving Up the Gun," the island jam "Horchata", and the crazy-paced song, "Cousins." Good party music for a warm day sitting outside with an umbrella drink.

Ok Go's second album, "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky" is possibly even more gratifying in that it introduces new sounds and experiments to the mix while still bringing the Ok Go hooks that make them so fun. The album starts off with quite the kicker in "WTF" a dirty, funky 4/5 beat complete with singer, Damian Kulash, Jr's recognizable falsetto. Halfway through, the track breaks down to an irresistibly raw 808 beat complete with cowbell. These guys must have been listening to Prince's 1999 and Purple Rain...a lot. Despite the obvious influence, they rock that old 80's Minneapolis funk sound without loosing their identity and keeping their indie sensibilities intact. The result is influential rather than imitation which makes this a real gem of a party record. White Knuckles(listen below), reaches pure funk bliss and was by far my personal favorite. Ok Go also get influence from Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann in the psychadelic slow burner "Back from Kathmandu". One great departure is the folk ballad, "Last Leaf" giving depth and heart to the album. Ok Go is no one-trick-pony, and people who wrote them off as a YouTube novelty need to think again and realize the talent these guys possess. Of the Blue Colour of the Sky is a great third chapter for Ok Go, full of evolution and promise for the future.

Ok Go's "White Knuckles"

Until next time!


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I love the smell of new year in the morning...

Happy New Year Folks!

There's nothing quite like the excitement of a new beginning, whether it's new love, a new job, a new car, a new day, or in this case a new year. It allows us to realize we can change ourselves and our lives to portray our true selves more accurately whenever we want. The truth of the matter is that a new beginning can happen whenever one wants. It just takes us overcoming the need for something external to tell us we can have a new beginning. So while I do have my new year's resolutions, I try and remind myself that new beginnings can happen at 2am while eating cold chicken on a thursday in March if need be, or perhaps right now...or maybe right now...or, well, you get the picture.

Nonetheless, New Year's is always one of the bigger external reminders that helps me to realize the infinite potential that is out there happening every second. And it also helps me to look back and realize all that I've achieved in the past year. Looking back over how one has changed over an entire year can be very eye opening. Whether you have a good year or a terrible year, there is so much to learn from looking back and seeing how you have gotten to the present. For me personally, the past year has been an incredible year of change. I finally escaped the burbs and got a great condo downtown. I had the best work year of my life as freelance has been good to me. I picked up five new clients this year! My girlfriend moved in and we're very happy. I finally got my first (and probably only) tattoo. And sure I've seen my share of follies and troubles this past year, but I think I'm a bit wiser for it. All in all a pretty amazing year. And now I get to start anew!

Being the music person I am however, I can't shut the door on 2009 altogether. I have come up with my picks for the top 5 albums of 2009. The list is highly personalized, and probably doesn't come close to matching up with any major magazines...something I'm quite proud of actually. So without further ado, in reverse order....The Top 5 of 2009!

5. Freelance Whales - Weathervanes I was tipped off to this album on the blog We All Want Someone To Shout For which is written by a first year college student named Will Oliver who clearly has his finger directly on the pulse of great new indie music these days. He is truly a gift for a musicphile elderstatesman like myself who might not be either as savvy, or just not able to dedicate as much time to the quest as he used to. I like to think it's the latter. My point of this ramble, is that Freelance Whales is truly a new band worth shouting for. Their music is hopeful but not overly lofty, grand but not overly egotistical(see U2), and at the risk of sounding corny, personally touching. Using a wide variety of instrumentation including xylophones and banjos side by side with drum machines and movie samples, this is a band that I guarantee will blow up in the decade to come. Weathervanes is truly a refreshing new album guaranteed to incite giddiness on an embarrassing level. And that's a good thing.

4. Doves - Kingdom of Rust Often on iTunes I play the "people who bought this...also liked this" game. So one night after doing 9 degrees of separation from a band I can't even remember, I found Doves. Who knew I had been so oblivious to a band this good that has been around for nearly 10 years now. Even more fortunate for me, was that Kingdom of Rust is probably their best album to date. Taking influence, but not too much influence, from bands like Radiohead, U2, Coldplay and adding just a hint of psychedelia to their own rock sensibilities, they have their own unique yet pleasantly familiar sound. Kingdom of Rust is an amazing disc full of frantic beats one minute, and a hint of melancholy the next. It's a great rainy day album for days when Tom Yorke is just a bit too much.

3. Pearl Jam - Backspacer What can be said about this band and this album that hasn't already been said?! But just for good measure I will say again that Backspacer is Pearl Jam's best album in a lonnnnng time. And who knew that an album this positive from the quintessential grunge band would be so infectious?! Eddie Vedder and Co. rage harder and more accessibly than ever and it feels damn good. "Got Some" is an absolute killer track reminiscent of "Rearviewmirror" with all the passion and energy of anything off Vs. "The Fixer" is by far the most commercially accessible track they've had since "Betterman" but doesn't negotiate their identity. People can talk shit about their deal with Target but the music speaks for itself. Pearl Jam are alive, well, and kicking much ass!

2. White Rabbits - It's Frightening Two words...Percussion Gun. That's all that needs to be said about White Rabbits. The opening track on their first US album "It's Frightening" is a perfect description of their sound. They use percussion like a frickin' bullet sent to the part of the brain that determines when you MUST tap your feet and bob your head. Every track on this album has got a beat as addictive as crack. Whether it's "Percussion Gun" with it's demanding drum march, the Beatles-influenced "Rudie Fails", the secret agent vibe of "Lionesse", or the laid-back groove of "Company I Keep", this album leads with a beat that you cannot shy away from. It is that fucking good. Easily my favorite new band of 2009.

1. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix Forget Animal Collective with their trendy "Beach-Boys-on-acid" schtick. Phoenix is the real deal. They are a band that, instead of trying to resist their pop-rock roots in an attempt to be indie, embrace it. I remember first hearing this band back in 2004 when they released Alphabetical, another really good album with limited exposure, wondering why they didn't catch on. Their 2006 album, "It's Never Been Like That" was another solid album that got a bit more popularity and probably allowed for the breakout that Wolfgang' is. Marketing efforts aside, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is the sound of a band who are at the top of their game. They made their masterpiece this year, full of fun poppy rock songs, each of which could be used as the theme to a perfect summer, a coming of age story, or the scene in every rom-com where the misdirected-but-good-guy/girl, finally puts the work in, redeems him/her-self and gets the girl/guy. And really, how can you not like music that encapsulates that? For being a French band, Phoenix has captured the real American dream.

And there you have it. My fav's of 2009. In addition there are some albums that are up in the top 10 that deserve some recognition. In no particular order they are:

Cage The Elephant - self-titled
Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young
La Roux - self-titled
Gift of Gab - Escape 2 Mars
Telekinesis - Telekinesis!

But being a lover of new beginnings, I have two picks early out the gate for possible bests of 2010....

1. Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM This French import actress-turned-music-artist is going to light up the indie scene with Beck producing her new album. After hearing the 30 second samples on iTunes I had no reservations about putting in my pre-order.

RJD2 - The Colossus Call him trip hop, instrumental hip hop artist or all-around badass, Ramble John Krohn a.k.a. RJD2 has got another great album on the way. From slow tempo chillouts to lively breakbeat cuts, this will not doubt be a great way to kick off the new decade.

Here's to taking the good from the past, and using it to build a great new beginning!