Weeks and weeks and weeks

Who knew not having a job could take up so much time? I guess I’m not waking up as early, but it just seems I can’t listen to half as much as I used to when working. I guess it’s even possible there could be a job that would limit my music listening even more. Uh, shudder to think, right? Oh well, I still manage to find some joy in the music I hear, as evidenced by the reviews below. Enjoy my readers, enjoy!

Brookville – Broken Lights – *** – Continue reading

Tops in 2009

This was put together to send to the Audities group, but it isn’t showing up[like last year]. So I will post it here ,for any interested. I am way late this year due to a new job that is tying up a lot of time.

“I love music in every style”

Paddy McAloon

I do love music. Music by favorite artists is like catching up with good friends. There is a joy in discovering new artists. Compiling a year end list boils down to putting numbers in front of albums.  Since music is an emotional experience, these numbers can change daily. But you have to start and end somewhere. And for 2009, another great year for music, here is what I came up with.

1] David Mead-“Almost and Always”- Lovely collection of tunes from this brilliant artist. Most of the songs are co-written with Bill Demain of Swan Dive. You don’t have far to go for the standout track, as cut #2 “Little Boats” dazzles. Songs like “Twenty girls ago” and “Last train home” are like European art songs, so beautiful and quiet and full of meaning. I had the pleasure of seeing David and Bill perform at Schubas in Chicago and he nails these songs live. And he is one highly entertaining artist. You just walk away loving the guy. This album is an emotional high.

2] Boo Hewerdine- “God bless the pretty things”- One of England’s greatest treasures just may have made his masterpiece. I have been reading about these songs for years from his online group. Now that I finally get to hear them it was worth the wait. There is a build to this album starting with the folk-like opening tracks “Geography” and “Muddy Water,” to the romantic sweep of the final 4 songs. Starting with “Soul mate” and ending with “You and Me” these songs left me breathless. God bless the pretty things indeed.
3] Jimmy Webb and the Webb Brothers– “Cottonwood farm”-What a treat to have this arrive on Christmas Eve all the way from England. It’s a family affair as Jimmy performs with his sons, his father, and other members of the Webb clan. The 12 minute epic title song is the key track here, as different members sing verses including Jimmy’s father, Bob. The Webb Bros. introduce some new tunes. I have loved their albums, and it is so nice to hear something new. One of them, “Bad things happen to good people” has been stuck in my head for weeks. And it’s wonderful to hear Jimmy’s sons tackle some of his older tunes. “Where the Universes Are” is quite lovely. There is even a new tin pan alley Christmas song by Jimmy. America’s greatest living songwriter performs with his family and leaves you wanting more. Album ends with Bob singing “Red Sails in the sunset”. Touching!

Check out their influences. The Flaming Lips!

4] Swan Dive– “Mayfair”-Any year with a new Swan Dive is a good year for music. David Mead, who worked so well with Bill on his own album co-writes 7 songs including the outstanding “Precious Bryant.” I’m assuming this is about a blues singer, and when the refrain “Don’t take your blues away” goes up a key towards the end Molly’s voice soars and my heart goes with her. Stunning! Another song that gets to me is “Once I lived in London”[great title] co-written by Pearlfisher’s David Scott. It’s refrain “Close your eyes and keep believing” gives me chills. And that is just 2 out of 13. After their Bossa Nova album, Swan Dive return to pop perfection filled with love and whimsy [“Half breed Stan”]. Bill and Molly, thanks for the music.
Listen to some myspace tunes. 2 of my faves, “Girl on a swing” and “Circle,” are there. They have a good beat and you can dance to them. Get hooked.  Isn’t Molly the best?


5] Sondre Lerche– “Heartbeat Radio”- The charming boy wonder from Norway ,who usually concentrates on one style, combines them all for this fantastic album. Love the title track, and am knocked out by “Like Lazenby” about the actor who played James Bond once. “Don’t I get a second try?” “Words and music” is co-written by the awesome Sylvie Lewis. “You be words and I’ll be music”. Sondre just keeps getting better and better. My wife refers to this album as “elevator music.” Maybe so. I call it pop magic. Meet the new McAloon/ Bacharach/ McCartney etc.
6] Prefab Sprout– “Let’s change the world with music”- This was supposed to be recorded with the entire group as a follow up to “Jordan the comeback.” Somehow it got shelved. And now we get to hear it. Essentially a set of demos performed by Paddy. After the initial shock, with Paddy affecting a deep voice, it settles into a stunning set. A concept album about the power of music, with a spiritual nod. And it’s classic Prefab. Gorgeous singing on songs like “God watch over you” and “Music is a princess.” Too bad we could not have heard a finished product. But I love what we have. My only hope is it inspires Paddy to return to the studio with new music. Now that could help change the world.

7] Clare and the Reasons– “Arrow”-Their first album, “The Movie” rated high in my 2007 list. This is their second and it’s wonderful. Clare Muldaur, daughter of  Geoff Muldaur, and her husband Oliver Manchon are responsible for the writing and arranging. We get Beatles, jazz, strings, horns, even kazoos, all combining into a symphony of wit and beauty. “Ooh you hurt me so” is a sweet musical sigh, and there is a reinvention of “That’s all” by Genesis. Clare’s singing is a sheer delight. Hope there is one of these every 2 years. Do check out their fab cover of Tears for Fears on their myspace.
8] St. Vincent-“Actor”=Second album for the extremely talented Annie Clark. She composed and arranged all the songs, and sings and plays a mean guitar[the lady can shred]. “Actor” is an apt title because their is a lot of drama here, from gentle to intricate Phil Glass0like layers of sound. “Actor out of work” is accented by fuzzy horns, followed by “Black Rainbow” which builds to a startling conclusion. My favorite is “The Party” that finishes with a haunting vocal chorus. This is somber music but quite beautiful and never alienating. Each listen unlocks new meaning. This lovely young lady is one to watch out for.
9] Bird and the Bee-“Ray guns are not just the future”-Greg Kurstin is a top notch arranger, and Inara George is a sultry singer. Together they make sparkling pop full of exotic influences: cinema, Brazil, 60’s pop etc. “Diamond Dave” is an ode to David Lee Roth. “Ray gun” is full of sci-fi effects. “Love letter to Japan” is dance pop, and “Baby” is romantic fluff. It must have been a blast in the studio putting these mighty sounds together. Their upcoming album is a tribute to Hall and Oates.
10] Girls– “Album”- Indie find of the year! Teen angst and heartache is the main course here, with indelible melodies that stick with you. Main man Christopher Owen of SF sings with reckless abandon. And there are plenty of pop hooks: “Laura” with it’s “Bop bops,” and the stand out ” Hellhole Ratrace”- “I’m all alone with my deep thoughts. I’m all alone with my heartache. And my good intentions.” The new Beach Boys? Not really, but this is strong California pop on display. And they are “Girls” but really boys. It will be fun to watch this band grow. By the way they make very erotic videos.
11] God Help the Girl– Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian auditioned for the 3 female singers, who responded to adds he had placed. He has composed a musical [which is to be a film] using these singers. “There is no way I’m looking for a boyfriend” Catherine Ireton sings on the title track. She is one of the singers hired for the project and she fits in perfectly. Other faves are “Come Monday Night” and “I’ll have to dance with Cassie.” This is Stuart’s sweet tribute to girl groups, and a further extension of his talents. If the video for “Come Monday night” is any indication he may have a cool movie.
12] Wilco-“Wilco” -“Wilco will love you baby” Jeff sings in “Wilco [the song].” I loved “Sky Blue Sky” so much, I was due for a letdown. And while “Wilco [the album]” isn’t quite as good, it still stands on its own as a great one. With intoxicating tunes like “You never know” with its George Harrison guitar, and noisy  “Bull Black Nova” is as exciting as this band gets. Then there is perhaps the prettiest song of the year ,”You and I,” a touching duet with Feist that melts. This is a band comfortable with what they are doing. When this album hits, it hits hard. I had the pleasure of seeing most of these songs live, and they resonate strongly. Ace guitarist Nels Cline, while subdued a bit on the album, tears the roof off the joint live.  Check out the glances  between Jeff and Feist on this lovely duet.
“It’s like we never met …”
13] Plush -“Bright Penny”- Welcome back Chicago’s own Liam Hayes, a pop perfectionist. It  takes him forever with a large cast of players in the studio, but somehow he pulls it off. As Plush he is responsible for a couple amazing albums of 60’s styled rock with many influences[Beatles, Webb, Bacharach, Rundgren,  Stax etc.]  “Take a chance” and “If I could” from the new album showcase his lovely falsetto  backed by sweet soul horns. As the horns chant and the singers “Ooh” and the music swells I am glad to be alive. And delighted to have new Plush music.
Listen to the Rundgren- esque “Soaring and Boring” off an older release.
14] Mandy Moore– “Amanda Leigh” I have heard nice things about her recent music, but this is my first. It was her smart collaboration with pop guru Mike Viola that got me interested and what a treat. The Bangles punch of “I could break your heart any day of the week” is great power pop. But it is the lovely opening track, “Merrimac River” that help helps solidify this as a top album pick. Viola’s elegant melody is one of his best . And the pop fizz of “Pocket Philosopher” is addictive. Good one from Mrs. Ryan Adams.

15]-Duckworth Lewis Method -“The Duckworth Lewis Method”-This one is so much fun. Written and performed by Thomas Walsh of Pugwash and Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy, offering a tribute to the game of cricket. It is thoroughly British pop. And unless you sit and follow the lyrics that is what it sounds like. Fun tunes such as “Age of Revolution,” “The Sweet Spot,” “Jiggery Pokery,” and my fave, the harpsichord enhanced “Flatten the Hay.” For lovers of  XTC , ELO, Kinks, etc.
16] Postmarks– “Memoirs at the end of the world”-Their debut rated high in my 2007 list. This one picks up where their 2008 covers album, “By the numbers” left off, with a James Bond theme opening. They play 60’s inspired cinema themes mixed with French pop. The noir tinged vocals of chanteuse Tim Yehezkely draw you into their scene. From their myspace site: “When Tim sings clocks stop, people listen, and ice cream refuses to melt.”  Thrill to “No one said this would be easy,” “My lucky charm,” and “Go Jetsetter.” For lovers of St. Etienne, Francoise Hardy, and swedish band Sambassadeur.
17]-Eleni Mandell– “Artificial fire”- Playing with her touring band for the first time, this is Eleni’s most cohesive outing. From the opening burst of Jeremy Dake’s liquid guitar, this album keeps the entertainment level high. Guitar rock, lounge, and girl group music all reside here.Eleni’s smokey vocals, full of torch and a bit of twang, delighting with witty lyrics like “My eyes are the color of martini olives. I always drink two , never three.” Key tracks include the title song, “Right side,” “Personal,” and the guitar driven “Bigger Burn.” Jeremy Drake is one heck of a guitarist. Singing with Inara George [Bird and Bee] on the girl group “Don’t let it happen,” we get a preview of their upcoming Living Sisters project. If Eleni is playing near you Do Not Miss!
18] –  Cryptacize – “Mythomania”- Sufjan Stevens tour mates, Cryptacize continue their sophisticated rock with their second album in 2 years. Edgy chiming guitars and the cool vocals are the real draw here. Songs twist and turn and always keep you interested. Like Steely Dan [an apt comparison] the lyrics are surrealistic. Chris Cohen plays guitar and sings also. For me Nedelle is the star. Key tracks are “Tail and Mane,” and “Blue Tears.” On the last song she sings “I’ve got a new spell.” I am under her spell. Check out their cool cover of  Steely Dan’s “Peg.”
19]-Eddi Reader– “Love is the reason”- Jazzy, bouncy, and splendid music. Eddi, one of Boo Hewerdine’s greatest interpreters with a relaxed effort that is comfort music. Boo’s “Dragonflies” and “Dandelion” stand out. But it is the Declan O’ Rourke title tune that gets me humming. Need to check him out. Also a lovely cover of the Doris Day’s hit “It’s magic.” This album is magic.
“When you stop and gaze upon a star…”
20] Flaming Lips– “Embryonic”- Who knows what possesses artists to do what they do? The Lips were certainly inspired when they recorded this one. A grand return to noise [sort of] mixed with their current psychedelic side, the Lips have delivered a sprawling 18 track epic. There’s acid rock, kraut rock, “Bitches Brew” space rock, even some whimsy [“I can be a frog”]. “I wish I could go back, go back in time” Wayne sings on “Evil.” And go back they do. Garage collides with pop in a sinister, but ultimately beautiful album. And what the heck is going on with that cover?
Bubbling under:
21-Animal Collective “Merriweather Post Pavillion”- sometimes when I listen to this awesome album I think it’s Asian rock
22-Neko Case- “Middle Cyclone”
23- Swell Season- “Strict joy” Stars of “Once” with an inspired release
24-Lily Allen- “It’s not me it’s you” Greg Kurstin [Bird and the Bee] produced
25- Michael Carpenter- “Redemption #39”- The first 4 tracks are perhaps the finest burst of power pop all year
26-Avett Brothers- “I and love and you”- My first by them. I want more.
27-M. Ward- “Hold Time”-
28-Terry Adams-“Holy Tweet”- NRBQ star still gettin’ it done. With Scott ligon, he now has a singer to work with.
29-Steve Earle-“Townes”- Loving tribute to Townes Van Zandt
30-Shazam- “Meteor” Great to have this Nashville pop band back.
31-Yo la Tengo- “Popular songs”
32-Marykate O’Neil- “Underground”
33- Jill Sobule- “California Years”
34-Peter Bjorn and John- “Living thing”
35- Mr. Wright- “Diary of a fool”- El Records star still making dreamy music.
Songs of the year:

Wilco- “You and I’
Jimmy Webb and the Webb Brothers- “Cottonwood Farm”
Mandy Moore- “Merrimac River”
Girls- “Lust for Life”
St Vincent- “The Party”
Swan Dive- “”Precious Bryant
David Mead- “Little Boats”

Recording of special merit: Nellie McKay- “Normal as Blueberry pie: A tribute to Doris Day” – There is a strong connection between Nellie and Doris that takes this beyond a covers album. The loving production and gorgeous vocals make this very special. Another reason to hail Nellie McKay as an artist of enormous talent.

Live event of the year: Todd Rundgren performing “A wizard a true star” -as inspiring as a live show could possibly be. With a Utopia reunion as an opening act. It took me to Never never Land.

I still need to hear: Camera Obscura,Clientele, Grizzly Bear, Taken by Trees, jj, Bill Callahan,Parralax Project,Montt Mardie,Phoenix, Dirty Projectors, Richard Hawley, Vivian Girls,Ryan Bingham, Real Estate, Low Anthem, Tiny Vipers, Julian Casablancas, Adam Marsland, Neon Indian, Memory Tapes, Declan O’Rourke, Louden Wainwright’s Charlie Poole Project, Norah Jones,Super Furry Animals, and I need to see the Wilco movie.

Looking forward to in 2010: Spoon[just got it],Silver Seas, Beach House,Sade, Class Actress, Joanna Newsom, Shearwater,  Dum Dum Girls, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Free Energy, Sambassadeur, Rose Elinor Dougall [ex-pipettes],  Party and the guest [ Kevin Wright of El Records], etc.

I discovered this year: The hypnotic music of ambient artist William Basinski. I got “Silent Night”, and “The Disintegration Loops 1.”  It is music that is beyond description, but it has haunted me.
Also the fact that Kevin Wright , of Always [El Records], and Mr. Wright is still making lovely music.

Apologies for any music I forgot. Sorry about the length, but as stated. I Love Music!

Looking forward to a new year of new tunes. Hope I have helped one person find something new.