Posted by: Adam Roper | April 22, 2009

Reflections on The Album 2: Record Reviews

The Album: To illustrate how I feel about music I compiled a small snapshot of my music collection. These are artists I have mostly discovered, or revisited, in the past year or so. This started off as a list of 4 or 5 albums, then as I was going through my ITUNES I had to keep adding more to the list. There is way too much good music in this world.

Now for some reflections, in order of appearance (I would say take some time listening to these artists whenever you have time, using this list as a source. I like this idea) :

1) Welcome to the Welcome Wagon – This is a must-hear! In fact, stop what you are doing right now and listen to them. Or write them on your hand as a reminder to listen to them later. This recording came to life with a collaboration between Sufjan Stevens and husband-and-wife Vito & Monique Aiuto- a couple that pastors a church in Brooklyn. An entire blog could be devoted to the dynamic of husband/wife artists (like Over the Rhine, Mates of State, or Innocence Mission), but I digress. This is gospel music at it’s most creative and artistic. As well, this is music that makes you feel like part of the family- a trait shared by most other Asthmatic Kitty/Sounds Familyre artists. It reminded me of the spiritual resonance of u2’s performance of “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” on Rattle & Hum (watch the video here). Plus it’s just a fun record to listen to.

2) Grizzly Bear, Friend EP- Also a must hear. Grizzly Bear is a band from Brooklyn, and one of the members also plays with Department of Eagles. The Friend EP is a collection of songs recorded while Grizzly Bear was working on their debut album “Yellow House”. The result is, as Jamison once described after seeing Bloc Party in concert, like being hit by a wall of sound.  The track I was most impressed with on this record, besides the indescribable presence of “Alligator”, is a cover of “Knife” by Band of Horses.

3) The Acorn, Tin Fist- The Acorn is a Canadian band from Ottawa. Before getting wide recognition for the Polaris nominated “Glory Hope Mountain” they released this gem of an EP. This is an album about the spring, a listening experience that makes you think of waking up next to an open window in the morning. I think if every band released an album about spring (instead of everyone always releasing a Christmas record) we would have some great music on our hands.

4) Andrew Bird, Noble Beast – Another album that reminds me of spring (maybe it’s just me). This is music that demands venues like The Orpheum in Vancouver- a symphony hall with arches and a maze of staircases leading into a large room with balconies and assigned red-velvet seating, and a giant chandelier hanging from a Victorian ceiling. mmmhmm. I first heard about Bird’s music when he released “Armchair Apocrypha”, but I didn’t really get it. Then I sat down with Noble Beast when it came out earlier this year and his style started to grow on me. I found Noble Beast to be a musically rich album, and  found Andrew Bird to be an equally rich musician. Bird has this amazing way of allowing his clever/subtly philosophical songwriting to flow into his musicianship- a style that would draw some people in, and frustrate others at the same time. Very interesting.

5) Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary- Wolf Parade is kind of a wierd artist, but there is just something about them… The lead singer (Dan Boeckner, originally from Vancouver Island) has a Modest Mouse vibe in his voice, and the music draws similarities to Metric (and probably lots of others I can’t think of right now), so it’s definitely an acquired taste. You can check out the review on Pitchfork here to get a more in-depth analysis. This album also reminds me a lot of the Victoria music scene, which is worth a discussion. It’s a bit difficult to describe.

6) Camera Obscura, Let’s Get Out of This Country- Camera Obscura is the musical equivalent to a vintage snap-button shirt, the kind you would buy at an artsy shop on Commercial Drive. Camera Obscura is from Scotland and their songs sound like they are inspired by many a bad date, or many a awkward relationship. Every time I watch one of their music videos I feel compelled to give the leader singer a hug… not just because she is really cute. It’s the kind of music people who wear earth-tones and scarves, and drink fine lattes, listen to.

7) Fleet Foxes, Self-Titled/Sun Giant EP- This was an album that changed how I think about music (there really is nothing quite  like Fleet Foxes). The members of Fleet Foxes look and sound like a band from the mid-west, though they are from Seattle. Their music is held together by harmonized voices and driving guitar, with lyrics that remind you of winter days, walks in the mountain, and dusty libraries. Arguably the best album of 2008.

8 ) The Dears, Gang of Losers- In the first two years of college almost every student becomes passionate about justice issues. The solutions seem so obvious and attainable, some many college students are compelled to go into the world and see things changed considerably. Then many students graduate and start working, and realize that trying to change things is a difficult and discouraging thing. The same discouragement may come for a person who grows up on the tougher side of a city- where people are homeless, families are broken, and kids are addicted to heroin- and when they escape that scene and start working the images of humanity are difficult to shake. “Gang of Losers” sounds, to me, like a record that describes that feeling- it’s about trying to figure out the world, and trying to come to terms with the reality of these human issues. The lead singer, Montreal’s Murray Lightburn, writes about the conflict of wanting to keep asking difficult questions even while surrounded by people who just want to get on with life, earn money, buy a house, and live comfortably. “Gang of Losers” is a restless album, but an honest attempt to be real about the difficulty of becoming a mature adult.

9) Two Hours Traffic, Little Jabs- Two Hours Traffic is a band from Prince Edward Island that has, in the past, worked with Joel Plaskett (one of the Nova Scotia music scene’s best kept secrets. Does Nova Scotia even have a music scene???). In general this is pretty optimistic record, with well thought out lyrics any good college student could relate to. This is the soundtrack for long drives to back-woods campsites near the ocean for a few nights away, or just the background music for an afternoon of sitting on the back deck after a long day of landscaping, painting, or whatever else college kids do to earn enough money for next semester’s tuition.

10) Mother Mother, O My Heart – Mother Mother is a band of missionary kids from Quadra Island BC! It does not get much more random and intriguing than that. They got pretty big all of a sudden when a) “Body of Years” was a featured track on ITunes, b) they played an outdoor show on Granville Island at the Vancouver Jazz Festival, and c) Toured across Canada with Sam Roberts. Their music is like the fun pop-rock that kids are listening to these days, except they not pretentious or marketed by Disney (they are Canada’s more straight-forward and punk influenced answer to Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers. Thank goodness).

11) Anathallo, Canopy Glow – Anathallo is the kind of band that would hang out with you after a show and listen to all your stories about your great aunt’s estranged cat. Or the kind of band that sits around in a living room coming up with the most ridiculous ideas for an album, then spending the next couple hours doing those ideas over numerous cups of coffee. For one of their early EPs, for example, Anthallo packaged the album in a sealed bag with seeds and a bit of dirt so you could plant something! Listening to them reminds me of the time some friends and I sat around in a living room wrapping shoe-boxes with brown paper, painting random drawings on the sides and filling them with quotes, Polaroids, dried leaves, and hand-made album covers. This kind of artistic license adds to the specialness of buying an album, as if you are receiving a gift made with care from a family member. And this is exactly what their music sounds like- a family of artists putting things together having lots of fun doing it. Anathallo also keeps a very occasional blog here.

12) The Innocence Mission, Birds of our Neighborhood – The Innocence Mission’s music has a beautiful simplicity, like a rainy day. Their early albums had a distinctly ethereal-pop sound, and somewhere between “Glow” and “Birds of our Neighborhood they made the transition to more of a folk-pop sound (their album “Small Planes” serves as map for this transition). Their days of dream-pop influence come through in “Birds of our Neighborhood”, a record with graceful music that makes it way through the air like steam from a fresh cup of chamomile tea. Once upon a time Sufjan Stevens played a song from this album on the roof of a building, and Vincent Moon filmed it. You can find it here.

~

This post was pretty exhausting to write, I won’t lie. From now on I will stick to reviewing one album at a time. I’ll keep you posted on music I’m thinking about on This Artist Life, maybe once a week or so. Stay tuned.

If you are cheap like me and want to pick up copies of all this music most of it should be on emusic.com (trying saying that 5 times fast).

Cheers.

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Responses

  1. I want the fleet foxes album… and maybe Bird’s. I need new music.

  2. Hey there
    Great post , good info
    would like to put a link to it in
    My blog
    if thats ok with you?
    cheers
    liran

    • Pick up Patrick Watson’s new one as soon as possible! You will not be disappointing.

  3. Hey Liran, nice adsense. Some people have real jobs (i don’t, but when I do get a real job I will have one. Unless I get a fake job like posting a lot of ads on my blog for no apparent reason. Don Hertzfeldt would have a field day).

    I’ll let you know how the recording of my next Christmas album goes.

    (man, I am really not nice today. I need some orange juice).


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