Finicky Ears

Consequence of Sound Features and Reviews

Posted in CoS Features by finickyears on January 30, 2010

Here are links and highlights of the longer pieces published by Consequence of Sound: (Everything copyright Alexander Young and CoS)

List ‘Em Carefully – The Top Ten Songs from The Simpsons
” The show has literally been on for as long as long as a decent portion of Americans can remember. From its impressive list of guest stars to its often timely critique of politics and social values, The Simpsons has become more than a TV show. Books have been written on it. College courses have studied it. Children bear names of popular characters featured on it. You get the idea.”
http://consequenceofsound.net/2010/01/11/list-em-carefully-the-top-ten-songs-from-the-simpsons/

(Don’t like my list? Lucky for you, Pitchfork published the exact same idea for a feature a couple weeks after CoS ran mine. Small world. http://pitchfork.com/features/articles/7757-the-20-greatest-simpsons-music-moments/)

On Second Listen: Japandroids – Post-Nothing
“The line “we’ll stick together forever, stay sick together, stay crazy forever” not only speaks to the desire to remain young and carefree, but to remain in solidarity with the friends and loved ones we experience our youth with. And why can’t we feel young forever? Well, even if it’s impossible to remain without the worries that life forces upon to you, it is comforting to know that the feeling of youth is just an album away.”
http://consequenceofsound.net/2010/01/13/on-second-listen-japandroids-post-nothing/

Album Review: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – The Road – Original Film Score
“The Road is a book that seems to live in the absence of plot and is compelling in how its characters find hope in a life where every day is a mirror of the last. On film, well, this is kind of boring.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ The Road – Original Film Score could be seen as a perfect companion piece to the movie, in that it is also meandering and mostly dull. “
http://consequenceofsound.net/2010/01/25/album-review-nick-cave/

Album Review: Beach House – Teen Dream
“Beach House is clearly ready to step out from the shadows and play timeless music intended for dreamers and romantics. Play this at a dinner party and you will likely kill any chance of conversation. Which could be cool, too.”
http://consequenceofsound.net/2010/01/28/album-review-beach-house-teen-dream/

-Philip Cosores

Update: Consequence of Sound News

Posted in COS, Cos News by finickyears on January 30, 2010

So, this past month has been crazy and unfortunately, posting regularly to Finicky Ears is nearly impossible. In the meantime, I will set up links top my wide range of music writing. Here are links to my published news stories, with a few highlights: (All writing is copyright of Alexander Young and CoS) Please visit Consequence of Sound regularly…it’s really good! www.consequenceofsound.net

Sir Christopher Lee releasing heavy metal musical
“…all you need to know is he is super-old (87), he is super-British (he’s, uh, from England), he is the highest grossing movie actor of all time (I am skeptical of this self-proclamation), and he has decided March 15th, 2010 is the perfect time to unleash his heavy metal musical based on the life of King Charlemagne…”
http://consequenceofsound.net/2010/01/13/sir-christopher-lee-releasing-heavy-metal-musical/

Lemonheads’ Evan Dando announces solo dates
“Less known for his actual music than his slacker look, drug exploits, and actress girlfriends, Dando’s most recognizable song is most likely The Lemonheads’ cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.”
http://consequenceofsound.net/2010/01/14/lemonheads-evan-dando-announces-solo-dates/

Shearwater travels the world, plays shows, takes pictures
“Dossier, Dossier, Dossier.”
http://consequenceofsound.net/2010/01/15/shearwater-travels-the-world-plays-shows-takes-pictures/

Midlake schedules 2010 tour
“Since the title of “best ever death metal band out of Denton” is taken, Midlake will have to settle for best ever mid-tempo indie band out of Denton.
http://consequenceofsound.net/2010/01/18/midlake-schedules-2010-tour/

Sigur Rós contributes to lullaby compilation; Jonsi added to Coachella
“If you have little ones and a bad singing voice, why not let the professionals have a stab at it?”
http://consequenceofsound.net/2010/01/20/sigur-ros-contributes-to-lullaby-compilation-jonsi-added-to-coachella/

YACHT to indoctrinate North America
 “Now that we’ve gotten to know them a little better, it has become apparent that YACHT want your soul and may ask you to drink some questionable Kool-Aid when you see them on tour in February and March. Am I alone in that I am totally cool with this?”
http://consequenceofsound.net/2010/01/27/yacht-to-indoctrinate-north-america

Love Is All maps out American tour
“You will have a chance to experience this sure-bet good time when the band visits a town near you this March and April, according to Pitchfork. Unless you live in the South. Bummer for you guys.”
http://consequenceofsound.net/2010/01/27/love-is-all-maps-out-american-tour/

Eddie Vedder releases Springsteen cover for Haiti
“No word on how they feel about the recent Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger, but you can bet they’re none too pleased.”
http://consequenceofsound.net/2010/01/28/eddie-vedder-releases-springsteen-cover-for-haiti/

Thank you all for the continued support, kind thoughts or ambivalence. Super big thanks to Eyvette for the nudge, Julie for the ridiculous amount of help and guidance, and family, cuz, duh.

-Philip Cosores

Best of ‘09 (Err… Worst)—11 Biggest Disappointments

Posted in Best of '09 by finickyears on January 7, 2010

Barack Obama. Just kidding, Mr. President. I love you, man.

As a music fan, being disappointed with an artist previously held on a pedestal is expected. In fact, I think I was prepared to be let down by more albums this year than I actually was. I thought the Phoenix album was really going to suck. I mean, it was called Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Plus, they hadn’t made a record in what seemed like forever (research tells me it was only 3 years, but it really did seem like a long time). The albums that let me down did so, not because they were unlistenable, but because I simply expected more from them, whether from personal listening experience or the blog hype machine.

Note: I really do respect every artist on this list. If they weren’t good or interesting, I wouldn’t spend my free time writing contemplations on why they went wrong. And if you happen to think any of these albums are redeemable, please drop a comment and show me the error of my logic or listening skills. Ok, let the hating begin! Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate…

11. Mo Beauty – Alec Ounsworth

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is an album that will always stay with me. It seemed to appear out of nowhere, gained heavy rotation amongst my housemates and inspired a pilgrimage from Santa Cruz to San Francisco to watch them open for The National (and yes, we were some of the many that ditched out on The National; pretty dumb in hindsight) are vivid in my memory. Countless anecdotes I have from around that time could easily have “Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away” as the soundtrack.  The album still sounds as good today as it did in 2005—and will remain an indie music touchstone both for its effortlessly cool swagger and for the DIY.

Then came Some Loud Thunder. The sophomore (and possibly final) album seemed like an indicator of future disappointment. This is something I’ve noticed with artists: The fall-off isn’t overnight. There is often one album that doesn’t stack up with previous releases, but if you are a fan, you find excuses to avoid the harsh reality, that one of your beloved may be on the decline. Some Loud Thunder is one of these. And, allow me to make some excuses. There are four pretty terrific songs on it! Unfortunately, the album is only 10 songs long, two of which aren’t really songs but, rather, 2-minute bits of randomness that aren’t bad, but could easily go without ever being heard again. And the opening song, though it has a decent melody, is recorded in some weird manner that renders it completely unlistenable. Basically, it could have been a really good EP. Because of these problem, it didn’t gain much positive attention from fans or critics, though I still enjoy the record. Now the band is on hiatus and quite possibly is done for good.

What do we have to look forward to with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah? Hopefully, not more of Mo Beauty (was he hanging out with Phoenix?), CYHSY lead singer Alec Ounsworth’s solo debut. He also released a record this year under the moniker Flashy Python,  which I felt like I should lump in with Mo Beauty, but, honestly,  haven’t bothered listening to it. Mo Beauty was that boring. Mr. Ounsworth seems to believe that sloppy sounding  yet somehow way over-the-top instrumentation and vocal melodies that only inspire anxiety, if anything, are equated with creativity or relevance. Basically, he is not playing to his strengths. I liked it when it sounded like Joy Division meets Talking Heads. That was cool. This, unfortunately, is an album that doesn’t beg for repeat listens and significantly lowers my interest in any future projects. I’m sure I’ll get to Flashy Pythons eventually, but for now, I think we should just enjoy these artists at their height:

10. Born Again Revisited – Times New Viking

I don’t have as much emotional attachment to Times New Viking, but I nearly burned a hole in their previous album, Rip It Off. It seems like lots of bands are bringing back low-fi these days, but Times New Viking seemed to take it to the extremes other bands were afraid of. You pretty much have to turn the volume to double whatever you normally listen at. But, when it’s loud, they create an amazing combination of beauty and noise that begs to be discussed, debated even. How can something recorded in such seemingly low quality, something that demands focus and even patience from the listener, actually be a lovely pop album at its core? I, for one, thought the work was worth it.

But, apparently Times New Viking thought differently. While still low-fi, the band changes the sound that I was so fond of. It’s less noisy, it’s recorded louder, and the instruments are easily recognized and differentiated. This move could have worked, but the songwriting tanked on this record. Besides standouts “These Days” and “No Time, No Hope,” the majority of the songs have quite an abrasive sound. So, they basically went from difficult and rewarding to average and unfulfilling. Granted, this is just a misstep after a pretty amazing record, and there is still time to right the ship; I have a feeling the recording will only become clearer from here on. They just better write some stronger songs.

9. The Laws Of The Playground – The Boy Least Likely To

The Laws Of The Playground is the kind of second album that allows you to forget a band even exists. I had pretty much forgotten this came out in 2009. But, just a couple of days ago, “Be Gentle with Me” came on the iTunes shuffle, and I realized that The Boy Least Likely To was pretty much a one hit wonder. And, their one hit wasn’t really even a hit. Nothing on their debut, The Best Party Ever, came close to being as memorable as that first single, but the album was generally enjoyable in a “Sesame Street”-“Belle & Sebastian” kind of way. Whatever promise was built on that record was just as easily squandered, and I am truly sorry I don’t have much commentary on The Laws Of The Playground, but it was completely forgettable.

8. Please and Thank You – The Broken Family Band

British Americana bands are rare. In fact, that’s actually a pretty damn stupid idea. But, for a few albums, The Broken Family Band managed to pull it off. Then they decided they were something else, but I’m not sure what that something else actually is. Well, crap. Essentially, it is crap. I know most people have no idea who this band even is (they have gotten very little coverage in this side of the Atlantic), but trust me in that this was once a band known for its lyrical finesse and quick wit. Kind of like an R-rated They Might Be Giants. Now, lyrically, they are like an R-rated Owl City.

7. I’m Going Away – The Fiery Furnaces

Like a bully who pushes down the smart kids because Dad won’t play catch with him, so are The Fiery Furnaces. I am embarrassed for you.

6. Hold Time – M.Ward

This is actually the most disappointing album of the year, but I couldn’t put it at number one, just because it is also the best album on this list. My expectations were really high for this one. Post-War, M.Ward’s previous album, was the best album of 2006. Not only that, but Ward was on a steady progression before that, each album better than the last. Then M.Ward released a playful project with Zooey Deschanel, and even though it wasn’t his strongest work ever, it was still fun and enjoyable.

Hold Time adds absolutely nothing to M.Ward’s catalog, to the point that it’s quite boring to listen to. To someone who isn’t familiar with his earlier work, this album may work. But to me, it sounds like an artist out of ideas. I surely hope that is not the case.

5. To Lose My Life… – White Lies

This one is solely on here because of the hype. Screw you NME, this shit sucks. Spotting the new derivative UK band is about as stimulating a game as pull my finger, but this one really got to me because of their billing at Coachella, their massive blog coverage and the way they somehow let some band called Friendly Fires ride their coattails to pseudo-fame. This is the kind of music that is hard to listen to and to think, “Adults made this.”

4. Vapours – Islands

Another band that has been slipping down for a little while. Blooming out of the wreckage of The Unicorns (still an amazing album), Islands built out Nick Thorburn’s reputation with a quite remarkable first album, Return to the Sea. But after a lackluster sophomore effort, Islands released Vapours to actually pretty decent reviews. The problem? Well, I wouldn’t know this was the same Islands unless I was explicitly told so. Other problem? It sounds like music designed to soundtrack “One Tree Hill” episodes. Every song is grossly over-produced, kind of bites Of Montreal and isn’t memorable despite all of it. But I think my biggest gripe here comes from my own instinct. I can spot a phoned-in-fake a mile away, and that is, sadly, what Islands has become.

1. Outer South – Conor Oberst

1. Wilco (The Album) – Wilco

1. Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk

Ugh. Such sadness. Some of my favorite all-time artists here. Is it wrong to wish they got back on the drugs? Content Jeff Tweedy and Conor Oberst make for boring artists. Maybe I am to blame? Maybe my tastes should be aging with these artists? But I am not, and I refuse to listen to the old-people music that has been created on these three albums. And why does Conor Oberst have other people singing on his solo album? That doesn’t even make sense.

But seriously, these albums lacked any inspiration, any passion, anything to make me remember why I like them in the first place. Very sad.

Best of ’09 – The 17 Best Songs of the Year

Posted in Best of '09 by finickyears on December 21, 2009

Pretty much every other music publication has posted its year-end lists, so it is only fitting that Finicky Ears follows suit. Seriously, this is the reason I started a blog. I like to list things. You like to read lists. Everyone wins. I will try to get all of these posted before the 1st, but I have a real job, too – and unless you want to start sending donations, I am forced to create insightful (though, maybe, not completely original) lists in the late hours of the night.

Why 17 songs? Well, that just happens to be the amount you could get onto one mix CD. We are sorry to Phoenix and Handsome Furs, who got bumped. Blame The Decemberists for writing such long songs. They are listed in order, but honestly, I gave 366 songs released this year the distinction of five stars in my iTunes, so there is something to be said for a number of artists this year. You could give these 17 a good shuffle, and I probably wouldn’t object too much  So let’s get into it!

1. You Go on Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II) – Sunset Rubdown

When Sunset Rubdown recorded an early version of this song for Black Cab Sessions a couple years back, it came off as intimate and passionate, with lead singer Spencer Krug singing with his eyes closed and the kind of earnestness that is impossible fake. The song was unmatched by anything in his catalog (which includes his better known band Wolf Parade and lesser known super-group Swan Lake), except for maybe Wolf Parade’s “I’ll Believe in Anything.”  So, it was with much joy that I discovered the song properly recorded and hidden in the middle of this year’s Sunset Rubdown album, Dragonslayer. And it delivered.

Musically, i was unprepared for how well the song moved. The combination of bouncing drums, muted guitar strums and gentle keyboard leads creates a completely fun vibe. But as it builds and builds to the eventual (and satisfying) payoff, the listener doesn’t remember a fun song, but, rather, a track that seems immediate and heartfelt. Krug knows how to write a complicated melody, he knows how to write vivid and dream-like lyrics, and he knows how to layer his band to create a big sound without sounding overwhelming or over-produced. But perhaps most importantly, he knows how to fire a lyric through the fog that will stick on the listener. In “You Go on Ahead,” I can’t imagine hearing the line “the days add up to weeks, add up to months, and add up, and add up…” without feeling the burden and the beauty of time slipping away faster than expected.

2. Stillness is the Move – Dirty Projectors

2009 should be known as the year art-rock went pop. Last year, I wouldn’t have believed Dirty Projectors had it in them to write the best pop melody of the year. This is a band that’s previous album was a version of Black Flag’s Damaged recorded from memory. But what a difference a year makes. In February, they released a very memorable collaboration with former Talking Heads’ singer David Byrne for the Dark Is The Night charity compilation. Then, with the release of Bitte Orca in the spring, well, I’ll save that for my best albums of the year list.

“Stillness is the Move” is a gigantic hit in an alternate reality. The first time you hear it, you can imagine a singer like Beyonce singing over a slightly varied arrangement and the VMAs rolling in. So, it was both a surprise and completely understandable that Solange Knowles recorded a cover version a few months after the original was released. However, this song doesn’t need a Knowles to be amazing. Amber Coffman, usually second fiddle to main-man Dave Longstreth, takes the microphone and absolutely kills it. And, after seeing them live in October, I can honestly say that nothing she is doing with her voice on this song is bullshit. Though some purists may not completely like this more accessible Dirty Projectors, there is no compromise in sound or creativity here. It just seems like the band is hitting their stride. Next stop, top 40.

3. My Girls – Animal Collective

Speaking of art-rock, Animal Collective also released their most accessible album this year. Maybe you heard about it? Well, Merriweather Post Pavillion seems to have found a comfortable place at the top of most music critics’ best album of year/decade/all-time lists. And, it is deserving. But, it’s not like Animal Collective was a stranger to critical praise. This time, though, people actually bought a few copies of their record.

But, I’m not totally buying the more-accessible Animal Collective thing. On one hand, Animal Collective isn’t as intimidating as people make them sound. They have quite a few numbers in their catalog (“Fireworks,””Grass,””Leaf House”) that are catchy and great art-pop songs in their own right. On the other hand, this song and album weren’t as listener friendly as many writers make it sound, either. Animal Collective is still weird as all hell. That is how we like them.

“My Girls” reminds me of Outkast’s “Bombs Over Bagdad” in a way, only released ten years later. It seems like a dance song in many ways, but I’ll be damned if I can find a reasonable way to dance to it. But, it inspires people to move and to sing along, even if it makes them look or sound stupid. The lyrics about a man’s wish to provide for his family in the wake of his father’s death (with a tinge of environmental consciousness and anti-consumerism, because, well, it’s an Animal Collective song) are thoughtful and personal. But when all is said and done, this is just another notch in a very impressive belt from a band that is a true original. How many bands can you really say that about?

4. Little Secrets – Passion Pit

Passion Pit are a safe bet in you office’s next-indie-band-to-go-mainstream pool (if you work at a used bookstore or Urban Outfitters). Like Phoenix before them or Modest Mouse or The Arcade Fire, they possess the right blend of catchy tunes, interesting looking people and a modern sound. Also, like these bands, they may be able to trick the public into enjoying some creative, high quality music. For a band that started as a mix-tape love note, their first full length, Manners, is full of infectious, fun songs for riding around in cars or moderate sized gatherings.“Little Secrets” should satisfy fans of pop, electro and indie. Complete with children backup singers, the song moves along with energy to spare. Also, I just heard one of their tunes on a cell phone commercial. It’s already starting…

5. Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear

This list is already filling up with bands that are mastering the art of harmony (Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective), but none can touch Grizzly Bear. All the members contribute to the vocals, but not as your run-of-the-mill backup singers. They all really sing. Also like Dirty Projectors, these guys seem to really be finding their identity this year and produced their best music yet. Oh yeah, they also had a top 10 album. And Jay-Z and Beyonce were spotted at a recent NYC concert. And I’m still pretty sure the people who were buying the other 9 albums in the top 10 while Grizzly Bear was charted at number 8 have no idea who the hell Grizzly Bear are.

“Two Weeks” is a monster success on a technical level, where it combines subtle beauty with dense texture. Seriously, I find it hard to find a better produced song this year. But, it also passes the ear test. The melody is infectious and ultimately quite beautiful. For a band that often goes with the less is more approach, sometime more is more.

6. Rain On – Woods

There was a point a few months ago when I realized that “Rain On” had become my all-time most played iTunes song. Was I depressed? Maybe I just like songs with heartbreaking yet empowering lyrics about the passing of time (See #1)? Whatever it was, this song’s simple beauty still hits hard with every listen. Low-fi these days is surly an aesthetic choice, not a necessary evil like decades ago. But most bands that use it prefer to take the sound in noisy directions. Here, Woods shows a lesser heard style of low-fi and it works with haunting perfection. Every time the lyric “how the days will rain on you” is repeated, it is chilling. Also, the guitar leads in this song kill.

7. Northern Lights – Bowerbirds

Every year needs to have a best song that borderlines on sappy. Bowerbirds are not going to blow anyone away with their creative style or lyrical inventiveness. The central thesis of this tune (I don’t need you to be this, I don’t need you to be that, I just want you) is just about as played out as it gets. It might have been played out when Shakespeare was doing it, who knows? But, somehow this song still manages to cut through every cynical fiber in me. Sometimes, simple and played out is also quite romantic. Songwriter Phil Moore clearly has the heart of a poet and his wife, Beth Tacular (these can’t be their real names, right?), plays a mean accordion. Now imagine them exchanging knowing glances while they play this song. You’d have to be a puppy hater not to give in to this song’s charms.

8. Psychic City – YACHT

YACHT released their first album on DFA this year and clearly they got the “fun” memo upon joining. What could be cheesy or too cutesy in lesser hands, comes across as charming and kind of adorable. This track was released in the summer and was a perfect soundtrack for an outdoor barbeque, a road trip or a bus ride to work. I, personally, like the bus ride idea. Can you imagine hearing the lyric “I told you your dreams would come true” repeated and not having your mood lifted just a little?

9. Young Hearts Spark Fire – Japandroids

Remember when I was talking about the noisy low-fi music? Well, I give you Japandroids. This Canadian two-piece seemed to come out of nowhere this year. And they are pretty much a love them or hate them proposition. They play loud, fast and raw. But, behind the rough, post-punk exterior are quite catchy melodies and surprisingly insightful lyrics. The anthem Young Hearts Spark Fire” wins over the kids with promises of “staying up all night” and “finishing off the wine,” but those of us who are a little older know the flip side of life. So when they note “we used to dream, now we worry about dying”, the 25+ crowd gets a little reminder that growing up doesn’t have to be as bad as we make it. And best of all, this song refrains from being nostalgic. Rather, it is a call to arms in the punk tradition. And, it has a pretty rad title.

10. Two – The Antlers

Maybe The Antlers started as a bedroom project from a reclusive and suicidal singer who decided to channel his pain into an album, self-release it and recruit a band to perform it after it becomes a surprise indie-hit. But even without the back-story (like the first time I heard them), The Antlers created a pretty remarkable concept album about losing a loved one to bone cancer. I’ll spare you the whole narrative for now, but yeah, it’s pretty sad stuff. Either way, the songs themselves hold all these details together with epic grandeur. “Two” is pretty vivid in its depictions of watching the girlfriend waste away. But, the music compliments the sentiment perfectly with its intensity, using the builds to illuminate and emphasize the lyrics. Sure, they sound like The Arcade Fire. But, well, sounding like one of the best bands around is cool with me. And, The Antlers clearly have their own bag of tricks they bring with them. Or, at least, some pretty sad shit to sing about.

11. Hellhole Ratrace – Girls

Hold on there, Antlers. Girls might out due you with their back-story. Lead singer Christopher Owens fled a religious cult at a young age, lived on the streets until he was befriended by wealthy benefactor who encouraged his musical aspirations. So, in “Hellhole Ratrace,” the refrain “I don’t want to cry my whole life though, I wanna do some laughing too” may hold a little bit more weight for him than it does for the average listener. In stark contrast to The Antlers, Girls’ Album reaches toward normalcy, with a number of songs concerned with being a young man like any other. “Hellhole Ratrace” is simple enough in structure, but it makes its money on a slow build that turns a folky number into a shoegaze anthem. And the melody, sung with a remarkable resemblance to Elvis Costello, is instantly familiar in the tradition of Dylan, Lennon and any other of the greats you can think of. Girls is clearly the best debut band of the year and I honestly can’t wait to hear what they make next.

12. The Longest Day – Megafaun

The best country song of the year, “The Longest Day” invokes a classic southern music tradition from bluegrass to Alison Krauss. Of course, you would never hear this on country radio and I’m sure Megafaun is just fine with that. Probably best known as Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) former backing band, Megafaun has delved into one of the most difficult genres to find an audience: experimental Americana. With too much country for many rock and roll fans and too much feedback and weird sounds for a county audience, they are forced to attract listeners with truly eclectic taste. “The Longest Day” is one of the more traditional songs on Gather, Form & Fly and features guest vocalist Christy Smith. The track feels like a classic and stands up to pretty much any country duet I can think of. The boys of Megafaun are excellent musicians to boot (Justin Vernon says he learned how to write songs from them), allowing a banjo accompaniment to sound effortless and natural. Well, I guess for them, it probably is.

13. Velvet – The Big Pink

The Big Pink had huge buzz prior to the release of their debut A Brief History of Love (Note to new bands: don’t title you album A Brief History of Love. You got to work your way up to an album title that pompous). And though it was pretty well received, it seems like the buzz has quelled a bit. The biggest enemy of The Big Pink seems to be themselves. They are not making fashionable music. Their record is filled with individual tracks that make great stand-alone singles. But, as a whole it seems really hard to peg down their sound. Still, though “Velvet” sounds dated, there is no denying its infectiousness and craft. If this were 2001, it might be at the top of this list. And, you can’t penalize a group too much for being out of touch with songwriting and production as strong as this.

14. This Tornado Loves You – Neko Case

Though I wasn’t as in love with Neko Case’s 2009 album, Middle Cyclone, as the blogosphere seemed to be, “This Tornado Loves You” ranks among the top songs of her strong career. Whether you read this song as literal or metaphor (and I’m sorry, but a literal song from the perspective of a tornado is way cooler than tornado as a metaphor for love), the lyrics are packed with vivid details and imagery and, well, tornados are cool! Haven’t you ever seen Twister! And, how is Neko Case the toughest artist on this list!? (sorry Japandroids)

15. Fables – The Dodos

The Dodos also failed to deliver on an album that I was hoping for big things for. If only they had the pop sensibility of “Fables” throughout the record. “Fables” manages to showcase The Dodos at their strongest: great interworking between guitar and drums, the band’s two principal instruments. And both the guys have tremendous chops (in fact, if you ever get a chance to see Logan Kroeber on drums, it is a real treat). But perhaps my favorite parts of this song are the subtleties. In the chorus, Logan’s backup vocals compliment Meric Long’s in a manner so perfectly fitting, you hardly even notice it occurs. Also, the presence of the vibraphone player and new third bandmate is a welcome (if unnecessary) addition and does give the song some added texture. If anything, at least “Fables” proves their debut wasn’t a fluke.

16. Insane Lullaby – Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse (featuring James Mercer)

The song that launched one of next years most anticipated music projects. After collaborating on this track for the David Lynch photo book soundtrack Dark Night of the Soul, Danger Mouse and The Shins’ singer James Mercer have recorded an album for a March release under the name Broken Bells. If this song is any indication of what it will sound like, we can all start getting excited. With an organized chaos, it’s great to hear Mercer expanding his sonic ranged, without losing his greatest attribute; his ability to craft a memorable tune. Unfortunately, due to Danger Mouse’s ongoing legal issues, there is no way to get this album legally. But, I guess people don’t really do that anymore, so I’m sure you can find it if you want to.

17. The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid – The Decemberists

I’m not going to bother trying to fill you in on the plot of The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists’ underrated stab at a rock opera. I also don’t really have much to say about Colin Meloy’s serviceable half of the song. There is one reason this song made the cut for best songs of the year: Shara Worden. The woman behind My Brightest Diamond lends guest vocals to this stoner rock jam and absolutely destroys it. Seriously, click on the link down below. Watch this tiny woman with a giant voice and a swagger to match. I fall in love a little every time I watch it. Second biggest badass of the year. So if we learned anything, we now know that the boys creating the best music around need to toughen up.

The Big Pink/Crystal Antlers @ Detroit Bar – 11/20/09, Costa Mesa, CA

Posted in Live Reviews by finickyears on November 27, 2009

I purposely decided not to buy my ticket for The Big Pink in advance. Though I risked running into a sellout, the fact is that I never want to be at Detroit Bar during a sellout. I saw Deerhunter in these conditions a few months back and they simply do not have the space to accommodate large crowds. But when the crowd is moderate, like it was last Friday, Detroit Bar can be an excellent place to check out bands without having to go to L.A. But, even though the evening provided an intimate and enthusiastic showcase for a band playing only their second American show EVER, the crowd was ultimately reminded of the major drawback in playing a small room.

The Big Pink present themselves as a band much more experienced than their resume reads. Their debut album is only a couple of months old (the quite good A Brief History of Love), but already they feel obliged to bring strobe lights, smoke machines and lasers. And, indeed, in their brief existence they have opened for the likes of Muse and TV on the Radio in Europe. These tricks that most bands take a while to grow into fit The Big Pink perfectly, invoking both new wave and industrial influences that are readily apparent on record. However, one of the unfortunate things about this show was the emphasis on the crunching guitars and lack of strong synthesizer sound. This is one of the drawbacks of seeing this band in such a small room. Not only was synthesizer too low in the mix, but the use of live drums drowned out what little of it you could here. This is sad because this is the major appeal of The Big Pink.

The Big Pink did bring some pretty rad jams to the table, though. “Velvet” and “Dominos” (the show closer) were the clear fan favorites, but I was more impressed by two songs I hadn’t really paid much attention to previously. Album closer “Count Backwards from Ten” was a revelation with its slow and steady build and the suprising effectiveness of its “better off dead” chorus. And “Tonight” seemed like it should be this band’s most well know song. It actually benefited from the heavier guitars and found the band at its loosest and most fun.

And one brief note, who the hell was the guy who really wanted to hear “Dominos.” In fact, he wanted to hear it so badly that he felt the need to make really annoying sounds when the band got quiet and make obnoxious imitations of lead singer Robbie Furze. You, sir, are a tool and a main reason I want to see this band at a bigger venue, where assholes like you fade into the background.

All in all, a promising debut from a band that will be interesting to watch develop.

Here are The Big Pink’s videos for “Velvet” and “Dominos”

Crystal Antlers provided support. I had seen them before and was not a big fan, but I have to admit they have improved in the last year. But, they still seem pretty pedestrian (except for that pretty awesome bonus percussion dude) and cannot hold my interest for more than three songs. But I am not going to write these guys (and girl) off. It seemed like they were as big of a draw as The Big Pink, so really, what do I know?

Enjoy my photos from the show!

Visit The Big Pink here!

Visit Crystal Antlers here!

Purchase music from both of these bands at Insound!

I guess their first U.S. show wasn’t that great.

Visit The Detroit Bar here!

Unofficial Music Video of the Week: The Hold Steady “Ask Her For Some Adderall”

Posted in Unofficial Music Video of the Week, Videos by finickyears on November 19, 2009

All things considered, I am still up in the air about Youtube. For every bear on a trampoline, there are thousands of videos made by boring people doing boring things. Or, someone decides to sing their favorite song inferiorly while staring straight into camera. There is a barrier between famous people and regular joes for a reason. One of my favorite aspects of Youtube, though (besides its offshoot Youporn), is the fan made music videos. There are numerous videos that not only out do the band’s approved music video, but also are more creative than the Moonman-winning clips played on MTV. Every week, Finicky Ears will bring you a clip we deem noteworthy, allowing us to revisit beloved songs in new (or old) formats.

I was just reading an interview with Craig Finn, lead singer of The Hold Steady, and he was talking about their recent stints opening for Dave Matthews Band and Counting Crows. He had nothing but high praise for both these bands, even saying that Dave Matthews was a big fan and would personally introduce The Hold Steady each night. And somehow, this doesn’t take away from Finn’s cred one bit. It even manages to boost it. The Hold Steady seem like they are in a time bubble, untouched by current music trends, able to create the music they want and have it judged solely on its own merits. This is why most everyone I know did not like The Hold Steady on first listen (I know I didn’t). But as I’ve become acquainted with their sound, I struggle to find their equals in the music world today. 

Rock and roll is often equated with being young, and no music makes me feel young like The Hold Steady. The lyrics are about kids making the same mistakes we all make, the mistakes we wouldn’t take back for a second. This song is full on images and lines that catch you off guard and sneak up on you with repeat listens. “If she wants a love based on trust and respect, tell her I’ve been wasted since last week.” Kills me.

This video also succeeds in capturing the feverish pace of the song. The words come at you fast and, now, so do the images. You can find this song on their last album, Stay Positive. It is actually the bonus song on the CD and LP, but I don’t really understand how it is bonus if it comes on all the formats. Shrug.

First Impressions: Annie – Don’t Stop

Posted in Album Reviews, First Impressions by finickyears on November 18, 2009

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Every week, Finicky Ears will review an album as we listen to it for the first time, capturing the initial impact a record makes without the luxuries of repeat listens and second thoughts. This week, we listen to Annie’s follow-up to 2004’s Anniemal.

“Hey Annie.” Ok. Lots of percussion and we’re off. I couldn’t decide whether to do this album or Them Crooked Vultures, so I went with the shorter one. And, as the first chorus is kicking in, I’m totally happy I chose this one. I’ve been listening to The Big Pink a good amount lately and this is not a big jump. I don’t really know what kind of people listen to Annie. It’s basically pop music with electronic tendencies. Wow, the chorus keeps going on towards the end. Over and over, building and building. Pretty rad. I’m impressed.

“My Love Is Better” starts. Faster song, which is good because the first one was awesome, but this is the party starter. This has a rock and roll chorus; guitar riff in the background. I think she just said “I’m so much better, so eat this.” Yeah, this song is basically about how everything about Annie is better than whoever else. Can’t argue with that and gotta love the attitude.

“Bad Times.” The intro here doesn’t even sound like a dance track. Very 80’s and the little two beat in between verses sounds like “There Is a Light that will Never Go Out.”  3 for 3 to start off the record. I need to add that this isn’t the kind of music I normally listen to, but I enjoy Annie. I don’t know if you would call this IDM, but it seems to fit the definition. I was a little disappointed that her cover of “Two of Hearts” didn’t make the record. I love the original and was looking forward to hearing Annie’s version.

I’m getting behind. “Don’t Stop” is playing, track 4. Oh, this is the title track. My least favorite so far. Another attitude track, mid-tempo, but kinda simple for my liking. The chorus is cheesy: “let’s go, you have no, control.” Sounds like Trent Reznor lyrics. Gotta love the obvious, forced rhymes. Anyway, this album has been finished for over a year, but something happened and lots of songs were dropped (including “Two of Hearts”) and it’s finally coming out this month.

Ok, this jam is getting crazy. “I Don’t Like Your Band.” The coolest beat so far, i feel like I’ve heard this song already. I think it’s the single. This is one of those problems only musicians have. Oh, you’re fun to hang out with, but I’m not really into your music. Such a tough life on tour all the time, dating musician after musician. I’m sorry I can’t relate. Cool song though.

Another fast one, “Song Reminds Me of You.” The one is a little Eurotrash…in a bad way.  As I was saying earlier, I don’t know who Annie’s audience is. I don’t think the pop music crowd is into her. Do they play her songs on the radio?  Looks like we got MSTKRFT and Royksopp remixes. So electro-dance hipsters? 

“Marie Cherie.” Slow track, narrative structure. This song also sounds pretty weak. Sounds like French music. I don’t know what French music sounds like, but this is how I imagine it. Not to bash on the French. Phoenix is awesome. So is Charlotte Gainsbourg. This also has a spooky background where it sounds like a ghost is loose in the recording studio. But yeah, French music is cool I guess, but lame imitations of french music are not cool. While, I’m bored, let’s talk about singers who go solely by the first name. There is a long tradition, from Madonna to Cher to Beyonce. It seems to connotate a larger than life status, but Annie seems to parody this more than encompass it.

Another mid-tempo track, “Take You Home.”  This album is losing my interest. I think Annie is most successful when she is having fun (and making us have fun). This song is generic, anonymous sounding, which is the exact opposite of what Annie is going for. Look at the album cover. It’s pretty damn cool, signifying something electric, something special is coming from this artist. I understand than an EP will be released as well, with the songs from the original full length that were cut.

“The Breakfast Song.” Aptly titled. She keeps asking “what do you want for breakfast.” Well, at least this song is faster. But, it’s pretty stupid too. I really don’t know what to say here. I’m kind of embarrassed for her. Jokes are cool, as long as they are funny. I just went back to look at what I wrote about the first few songs because I had forgotten there was a time when I was enjoying this album.

Alright, this song actually sounds promising. Kinda sounds like “Ready to Go” by Republica. Remember that jam? Weird. This is called “Loco.” It’s actually pretty stupid, too. There is something inherently not right about some Scandinavian girl using the word “loco” over and over again. Isn’t there some cool word in Norwegian that means crazy? 

“When the Night.” This might be the ballad. It’s actually nice sounding. Makes me want to hold hands with a pretty girl. Or be on The Vampire Diaries. Or some shit. What the hell am I talking about, this is not my thing. This could easily have been recorded by The Spice Girls. There is nothing on this album that touches that Heartbeats jam she does.

Last song. Finally. “Heaven and Hell.” A bouncy number. In the tradition of Carrot Rope and Fraggle Rock. The kind of song that makes you want to jump around with a lobotomy induced grin on your face. This album started out with so much promise and ended up making me want to kill myself. Who would have thought?

Would I listen to this record again? Nah. Did it work as a cohesive unit? Yeah, it did. And maybe I would like this more if it were my cup of tea, but it’s gotta be a pretty amazing pop record to impress me. Did I enjoy it? For the most part, no. I think the early tracks were excellent and are gonna sound great on dancefloors, but the rest of the album did not live up to her debut.

First Impressions Grade: D+
Possible Grade Upon Further Listens: C to D+

Here is that shitty song “Loco.”

Visit Annie here!

Buy Annie’s album here, maybe you’ll like it more than me?

Here is something to remind you that Annie still kind of rules!

The Dutchess and The Duke @ Cross Cultural Center – 11/13/09, Irvine, CA

Posted in Live Reviews by finickyears on November 15, 2009

This is the first cool thing I have ever heard of happening in Irvine. UCI apparently has a group of people known as Acrobatics Everyday who have been throwing legitimate indie shows for a couple years now, so far off the radar that on Friday (the 13!) I felt like 1/3 of the audience were passerbys who heard the lovely harmonies coming from the small hall. All in all, only about 40 people turned out for this show, but those who were cool enough to know that these things even went on were treated to a relaxed and intimate showcase of two singers who are consistently better than the sum of their parts.

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I had previously seen The Dutchess and The Duke at The Echo as the opening band for Fleet Foxes (to digress, that was Fleet Foxes first full tour and TD&TD hadn’t even released their debut yet: INCREDIBLE show!). After that show, it took me nearly a year to track down their album. Then, a couple weeks ago, I decided to order the debut LP on vinyl, but was shipped their new album, Sunset/Sunrise, by mistake. Normally, I would have sent it back promptly, but I was so excited to hear this new record that I kept it. That being said, I also made the decision to not listen to the new record until after I had seen them perform. There is something profoundly special about hearing songs for the first time at a show. Songs like “Phantom Limb” by The Shins and “The General Specific” by Band of Horses will always be tied to the live performances at which I was introduced to them.

Full disclosure: I forgot to bring my camera. So, it was some small consolation that the classroom/hall was not lit whatsoever, except for one intensely bright light that the band refused to have shine on them. It was dark enough that you wouldn’t recognize the band if you saw them smoking outside after the show. In fact, I was pretty sure “The Duke”, Jesse Lortz, was working the merchandise booth after show, but I had enough doubt to not say anything to him.

The band opened with “Back to Me” from their first record (the disadvantage of me not listening to the album prior to the show is that my reporting of the new material is going to be a little shoddy) and then played three more in a row from the debut record, including “Out of Time” and “Reservoir Park”. The biggest complement I can pay to this group is to note the power that comes when the two sing together. It was chill-inducing on numerous occasions. And, this is a welcome change from the first time I saw them, when they could have been called (The Dutchess) and The Duke, with Kimberley Morrison seeming to take more of a backup role. The least successful parts of the show were when one singer would take over lead vocals by themselves, in particular when Morrison sang solo for one of the new album tracks.

Then there’s “I Am Just a Ghost.”

(Here’s is a video someone took of “I Am Just a Ghost” from the P4k festival) 

With bands of little commercial success, it is hard to gauge which songs are likely to be played at a show. So, when TD&TD announced that they had three songs left to play, I resorted to casually suggesting (or shouting for) “I Am Just A Ghost” at a song break. I doubt I made the difference, but they played it as their second to last song and completely killed it. The verses were sung at a near whisper and as the song built towards its dramatic conclusion, a trance seemed to engulf the audience. The song was overwhelming in all the good ways; managing to be haunting, beautiful, tragic and delicate at the same time. Out of respect for the track (and not at all having to do with the few beers I had before the show), I hit the bathroom halfway through the closer – the fun “Armageddon Song.”

One last note: The band seemed dead-set on going to a college after-party, asking about it numerous times throughout the night. I felt bad for them, figuring they had no idea where they were. But I hope that some of the hip youngsters at the show were able to treat them to a good time.

Enjoy a video of “Out of Time” from some random show!

Visit The Dutchess and The Duke Here!

Buy Albums by The Dutchess and The Duke Here!

Visit Acrobatics Everyday Here!

Top photo by Andrew Waits.

Finicky Ears’ Prime Cuts

Posted in Uncategorized by finickyears on November 10, 2009

Music is the meat of what we are doing here. Or, the protein. If you don’t eat meat. Either way, you get it….Here is some of the music we have covered so far and  I will try to keep it updated…as I update. (Language seems to be failing me today. I’m just hoping I figured out how to do this playlist thing right.)

Well, in my head, that wasn't what was supposed to happen. I was hoping some little music player would appear...But hey, if you want to listen to some music click on that link. Like I said, it will be updated as I write more posts with whatever I am writing about. No so bad, huh?  Eventually I hope to actually have the music on this site, but this computer stuff is harder than I thought.

***Update*** So, I switched to Playlist.com. I think this works better, but you still have to open up a window outside your main browser. If anyone knows how to make this work so a player is features on my blog's homepage, the information would be much appreciated. Also, I created a page over there to the right which will always feature the most recent edition of the Finicky Ears' playlist.

Unofficial Music Video of the Week: The Mountain Goats “No Children”

Posted in Unofficial Music Video of the Week, Videos by finickyears on November 10, 2009

All things considered, I am still up in the air about Youtube. For every bear on a trampoline, there are thousands of videos made by boring people doing boring things. Or, someone decides to sing their favorite song inferiorly while staring straight into camera. There is a barrier between famous people and regular joes for a reason. One of my favorite aspects of Youtube, though (besides its offshoot Youporn), is the fan made music videos. There are numerous videos that not only out do the band’s approved music video, but also are more creative than the Moonman-winning clips played on MTV. Every week, Finicky Ears will bring you a clip we deem noteworthy, allowing us to revisit beloved songs in new (or old) formats.

If you are not familiar with John Darnielle, he is probably the best American songwriter alive. While I’m sure we could have a lively debate about this, no one can make me want to laugh and cry within the same song, let alone within the same line like Darnielle. The use of legos to act out the lyrics of “No Children” fits perfectly with both the childishness of the song and the sentiments throughout that the singer doesn’t mean but says anyway. A couple of my favorite parts are the rising black smoke and the way the guy falls down on the line “I hope I never get sober.” The Mountain Goats will be at the Fonda on Sunday and I will try to get down there and give it a write-up next week.

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