Every year someone writes that the year passed and nothing grabbed them and it’s therefore a shit year for new music and let’s get on with next year. Immediately afterwards, someone else assembles a lengthy click-bait piece listing the fifty albums that some person with too much time on their hands could not be without. This plays out in an unrelenting back and forth beginning in November and ending sometime mid-February. The ongoing hash and rehash of the album of the year list nonsense has moved me to swear off such lists. Yet, here we are.
I know I said I wouldn’t do this again but I can’t let this year escape without some sort of survey of my favorites. In my utterly vain opinion, the things that I love are so worthy of your love that I feel obligated to shout about them into the Interweb nothingness in hopes that just one of you will hear my message and find, herein, at least one new thing or perhaps an old thing worthy of reappraisal. I will eschew the bulleted list format in favor of dense blocks of text because that will spare those of you who probably haven’t even read this far the burden of my opinion. I will also not rank anything. The albums mentioned below are all my favorites from this year though they may not, in fact, be all of my favorites. Continue reading →
It’s been a while, but I guess it’s time I got off my ass and de-mothballed this site and started posting again. What can I say? My blogging-self likes to hibernate. Actually, that’s a bunch of bullshit. I’m just a lazy writer. I’m not, however a lazy listener. I have been rocking a ton of great new (or new-to-me) music in the past couple months and I thought I’d kick off 2011 (little late!) with some quick and dirty reviews of some of the highlights of 2011 so far.
The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
With a splash of harmonica, The Decemberists open their latest effort, The King is Dead, and leave behind the prog tinged epics of recent years. I was worried about this group. After their explorations of heavy prog and album-spanning epic tales it seemed possible that they had painted themselves into a corner. Where does a group go from there? Do they dare to write an even better concept album? Expectations can be the ruination of a band.
Not to be daunted, The Decemberists took their time and, this time out, they’ve delivered American folk-rock at its finest. The King Is Dead is a collection of four-minute songs that tell of our lives and the world around with jangling guitars, infectious beats and, yes, Colin Meloy’s penchant for English-Major vocabulary words. While there is no single story or evident concept holding these songs together, they cohere beautifully in what make for a delightful listen. Songs of love, songs of war, and even songs about gardening (sounds lame when I say it that way but it’s cool), weave together with steel guitar, harmony vocals, and just enough rock and roll to make me want to leap from my seat.
If you’ve ever liked The Decemberists, seek out this record.
Akron/Family – ST II: The Cosmic Birth And Journey of Shinju TNT
When I saw these guys last year, it was clear that they were well past the “freak-folk” genre that I and others had saddled them with back in the Love Is Simple days. Extended explorations of noise ripped through the room and demolished preconceptions. Yes, they can do quiet meditations (and still do) but this band had a direction that it felt compelled to follow. After that tour, the group set to recording what would become Shinju TNT and struck a balance between noise and melody. Like a wrangler breaking a wild mustang, they have tempered the wild abandon, corralled it, and given it purpose and direction.
Each of these songs detail movement and/or destination with lyrics evoking the both metaphysical and the concrete taking the listener along on an amazing journey that spans four sides of vinyl. And so, we find ourselves moving from the dreamscapes of “Island” to the raw, rock riffs of “So It Goes” (a nod to Vonnegut) to the rapid fire, noisy, guitar licks of “Another Sky” to the soaring beauty of “Canopy”. The heavily layered progression of “Light Emerges” reminds me a bit of Animal Collective in a sort of intangible way but it’s followed by the pastoral harmonies of “Cast A Net” that could only be Akron/Family. It’s this many-headed-beast nature that defines Akron/Family as a leading voice in modern, psychedelic, music and this voice that makes Shinju TNT one of my favorite albums in some time.
“Bloom” opens the album with a synth space and off-kilter drum beat that take me right back (in my twisted mind) to where In Rainbows left off. The track builds, layering elements until Thom Yorke’s languid vocal oozes from the speakers. With that, Radiohead is back.
Out of nowhere, we got word that Radiohead would be releasing a new album. Pre-order now, get digital on the weekend and vinyl in a month or two… Sounds good to me. How could I not bite on that offer? I jumped a day later and a couple days after that we all had our digital copies and last.fm seemed to think there was only one band in the digital world for a day or two. It was nearly true. As with any Radiohead release, The King Of Limbs will probably take months to fully digest and longer to grok if such a thing is even possible but I felt compelled to include it here because I can’t stop going back to it.
Don’t mistake my opening sentence; this is no continuation of In Rainbows. It inhabits a darker, almost creepy space. When you hear the hand claps in “Lotus Flower” it’s striking to hear such an terrestrial noise within this realm. This space that they create feels familiar, though. It is undeniably Radiohead music and some will mark that down as a negative, saying that they’re not moving forward, but I find myself compelled to listen as they explore their own sound- pushing out new corners in that vast world of theirs.
The Decemeberists are an anomaly in today’s rock culture, a band that submits concept albums and then performs those albums at their shows.What is even more impressive is the accuracy and energy the band brings to the show, and that is what stood out most to me, when the band is at their peak it is during the first set of the show.The Hazards Of Love was performed in its entirety last night, and it was nothing short of epic.I found myself consistently getting goose bumps and this lingering feeling of being overwhelmed by what I was seeing unfold before my eyes.The album was played flawlessly live, and the added effect of costumes and lights only heightened the experience.For me, I feel like art rock is an outlier in music today, but the Decemberists bring new hope to this fading genre.
After the Hazards Of Love set was performed, a set break occurred.The Decemberists reemerged and launched through a number of tracks from their remaining albums.This is where the show lost momentum for me.To see songs from the other albums was fun, and entertaining, but it lacked the mind blowing quality of the first set.Add to it, I felt like the second set lacked flow, as the band seemed to meander through slower numbers for most of the set.I was also perturbed by the crowd itself.They seemed to be engulfed in their own indulging conversations at times during the show, which I found to be highly rude to the band.Overall, the Decemberists are a band that is on their collective “A” game in concert.
Here at rowjimmy.com, as we’ve pressed into the new year, I’ve continued to maintain my high standards of neglect. So, today, I’m going to fill you in on a slew old music news as well as a couple of current items.
“Why old news?”
C’mon, it’s not as if anyone is reading this to get the latest scoop.
So, what’s new?
Phish Summer Tour:
06/04 – Nikon at Jones Beach Theater – Wantagh, NY
06/05 – Nikon at Jones Beach Theater – Wantagh, NY
06/06 – Comcast Center – Mansfield, MA
06/07 – Susquehanna Bank Center – Camden, NJ
06/09 – Asheville Civic Center – Asheville, NC
06/16 – Fox Theatre – St. Louis, MO
06/18 – Post Gazette Pavilion – Burgettstown, PA
06/19 – Verizon Wireless Music Center – Noblesville, IN
06/20 – Alpine Valley – East Troy, WI
06/21 – Alpine Valley – East Troy, WI
Pretty cool little run if you live on the East Coast. The Asheville show is pretty small (fewer than 8000) but the St. Louis show is crazy small (approx. 5000.) Good luck to those trying to get into that one.
If those dates don’t suit you, do not despair. Word is that West Coast dates are pending for late Summer. Also, watch for the Bonnaroo line-up to be announced on Feb. 3.
Edit to add: Red Rocks, too!
The lottery for Phish Ticketing is open now. Click here to get in on the action.
‘The Dead’ will be hitting the road this Spring on what’s become a somewhat controversial tour. The so-called “core-four” (Lesh, Weir, Kreutzman, Hart) have hired Warren Haynes to sling the lead guitar and Ratdog’s keyboardist to fill out the stage, replicating the favorably reviewed line-up from the recent Barack Obama fundraiser.
The controversy arises from the ticket prices. While not “Rolling Stones” high, tickets for this tour are nearly double what Phish is charging for their shows. Add to that the outrageous “VIP” bundles that sell “premium” seats along with special entrances, posters and a private cash bar for nearly $500 per person. The pre-sale has already begun and tickets ARE selling but, I’m afraid that you won’t see me at the local shows.
Instead, I’m planning to catch Keller Williams whose Winter > Spring solo tour gets underway this week. I taped his annual Xmas SPCA Benefit last month am had a great time. You can stream and download the show here.
Check out Keller’s website for more music, tourdates, tickets and more: http://www.kellerwilliams.net.
Speaking of taping, I’ve had the pleasure of taping several local bands in my neighborhood venue over the past few weeks. Prize Money, from the Charlottesville area, and Seven Minutes, from Richmond, played a hot rock show at The Loft in Fredericksburg, VA. The following week, local reggae band, The Transmitters made the walls sweat as they, accompanied by a three-piece horn section, danced through two great sets of original reggae laced with a couple of old favorites. I’ll see about posting streams from each show up here soon.
Lastly, I just got word that The Decemberists are offering a free mp3 of a song from their upcoming album, The Hazards Of Love. The song is entitled, “The Rake” and is available at http://www.decemberists.com. Also, be sure to check out their singer/songwriter, Colin Meloy, this afternoon on World Cafe on XPN (http://xpn.org)