Friday, July 31, 2009

Silversun Pickups - Swoon

Gosh, I must be just terrible. I found out about these guys by watching David Letterman. I didn't even stay up to see them perform. I just Youtubed them the next day. Isn't that nuts? What a way to live, man. Maybe if radio wasn't complete crap I could hear some new artists once in a while instead of seeing them being mentioned on TV.

I know, I know: "!!" But I don't like that website. Pandora,, etc. are the Google Ads of the music world. It almost makes me want to check "music" as my only interest on Stumbleupon and see what I come across.

Anyway, back to this band. Like lots and lots of bands, once I started listening to them I realized I had heard them before but could never figure out what the group was called. It took me months to realize that Lady Gaga sang not only "Pokerface" but "Just Dance". I still attribute every rock song I hear with a raspy male vocalist to Nickelback. But then again, no one should give a crap about Nickelback.

I always try to listen to a band's latest work when I first get into them. Silversun's 2009 release Swoon convinced me to keep digging. It wasn't until hearing their 2006 album, Carnavas, specifically "Lazy Eye", that I realized I had heard them somewhere before. I like having that kind of vague familiarity with a band. It's like finally getting to talk to someone you've seen only glimpses of. Satisfying.

I've always been meaning to get into heavier stuff, and I guess this is a step in that direction. Heaven forbid I say that I have a "high-brow" taste in music (I listen to Futuresex/Lovesounds every weekend), but anything harder than alt rock usually starts to sound a little banal in my opinion (see Linkin Park for an example of what I usually stay away from). I listen to Dragonforce once in a while for the lulz, but still.

However, Silversun Pickups are kind of becoming a favorite of mine. Maybe there really is better hard rock out there, and maybe someday I'll find it, but for now I really like these guys. It might be the fact that I've been listening to a lot of Pablo Honey recently, but the guitar tone here is scratching an itch I didn't know I'd been trying to scratch. The atmosphere is a little darker, a little more intense than what I usually put on, but I like it. What I really appreciate, though, is that there are some awesome melodies here. Like, awesome. There are orchestral elements, but they're not overused, which is nice. The vocals, while not exactly amazing, are as good as they need to be. No shrieking or screaming.

These guys are a bit outside my capacity to write about musically, but I felt I had to share my opinion here. It's important to not become rooted behind genre lines, e.g. "I like everything except country and rap." You've got to try everything.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Alexi Murdoch - Time Without Consequence

If you've seen the movie Away We Go, then you're already familiar with Alexi Murdoch's music. The songs "All My Days" and "Wait" are both featured in the film. My first priority after getting home from the theatre was looking up the artist who did those songs, so I checked it out on IMDB and then fired up the old Youtube. Turns out his music has been used in quite a few TV shows before and his album was on the Billboard Heatseekers chart.

Time Without Consequence, Murdoch's first full album, is a touching, emotional work that subtly glides around folk boundaries. Songs like "All My Days" evoke a more polished Bob Dylan, while other songs, especially the moody "12", are reminiscent of early Coldplay. In fact, the entire album feels like an even mellower Parachutes, if that's possible.

The thing that sets Murdoch apart is his voice. He has a kind of raw strength and honesty that is so rare nowadays. His delivery is effortlessly smooth and powerful, but has a conversational openness. There's just the slightest hint of a Scottish accent.

Accompaniment on the album is understated without feeling empty. Surging, at times, and absolutely flying when it needs to be. Pacing is a big aspect of it. There are plenty of details to keep you interested. Listening to the album all the way through is very satisfying.

I'm sure I'll be listening to this man for a long time. At the very least, do yourself the favor of listening to "All My Days". There's a great live video of it on Youtube.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Joanna Newsom - Ys

Joanna Newsom is not your average singer. First of all, her voice is...unique. There's really no one else quite like it. My sister says she sounds like she's twelve years old, and I'll admit she doesn't exactly sound like most grown women, but the effect isn't as jarring as someone like Lady Sovereign(who I'm convinced is secretly a tween). In any case, she's a terrifically talented singer. You really have to listen for yourself, but I think her voice is a welcome change from the Natasha Bedingfields and P!NKs and Taylor Swifts (bleh!). I really am extremely picky when it comes to female vocalists. And male vocalists, for that matter.

The thing is, though, this show isn't all about Joanna's voice. Her album Ys is a collection of five lengthy fairytale ballads and songs, each a gem of musical and lyrical craftsmanship. This isn't an EP, though. No, this is a gosh darn full album; the whole thing runs a little over an hour. Each song is filled with vibrant and seldom-heard words(define jerkin, if you can), which combined with harp and orchestral accompaniment further the fantastical quality of the album(what does Ys mean, anyway?).

When listening to this stuff I feel like I should be sitting in a wingback armchair in some mansion filled with books. There's a regalness here, kind of. It's the type of music you wouldn't listen to every day--only when you're feeling particularly ponderous and wonderful. I think the harp has a lot to do with that. It's a highly underrated instrument, and Newsom is pretty spectacular at it. I wouldn't mind if her work inspired other artists to use the instrument more often.

Wikipedia says she's psych folk, whatever that is, but one thing I really like about Newsom is that she doesn't snuggle into any real genre(I found Ys in the Pop/Rock section of my library, haha). That gets you pretty far in my book. Anyway, if you want something high-quality and different, please do give this a listen.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love

Back when I didn't care very much about finding good music, I would hear about The Decemberists and think, "With a name as cool as that, those guys must be pretty good." Basically, I was right.

Lead singer and songwriter Colin Meloy has become modern music's go-to ballad boy with the band's recent album The Hazards of Love. The seventeen-song epic throttles along with a vengeance the tale of, well, I'll let you figure that out for yourself. Suffice to say there's a slew of characters and all of the songs flow together. It's quite beautiful, really.

But even if you ignore the underlying stories, you're still left with a brilliant sound. The album's instrumentation is at times immense and grandiose, but just as easily shifts to sparse and chilling or just plain intense. Then there's the vocals, oh my God. Of course Meloy is instantly lovable. But then you've got Shara Worden, a guest vocalist from My Brightest Diamond. Just listen to "The Wanting Comes in Waves", if you want to hear what that's all about. It opens with Colin accompanied by harpsichord, quickly moving to a soaring chorus with drum, bass, and backup singers, then morphing into a bluesy, hard-driving verse with Worden's unmistakable voice over top, only to cycle through all three again, all with a searing narrative in the background. I defy you to find another band capable of making a song like this.

If you're looking for an accessible piecemeal album, this is not for you. But for someone tired of the everyday drivel of formulaic pop album structure this may be just what the doctor ordered.