Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hayden - Skyscraper National Park

I missed a few weeks where I meant to cover new albums by Spoon (pretty awesome) and Retribution Gospel Choir (really awesome, read my interview with Alan Sparhawk here), but since these have had their fair share of press I'm going to look back a little and share an old favorite. Tonight is quiet and snowy and calls for some music to match the mood.

Hadyen - Skyscraper National Park [Badman/Hardwood, 2001]

Hayden began making music back in 1996, as a shorter version of his full name, Hayden Desser. This Canadian began his musical career with an exceptionally low, raspy voice and a usually out-of-tune guitar, singing songs of loss and heartbreak so rough and honest that you could never call them whiny. Putting out his debut in that year, he floundered around with a little acclaim, until his 2001 album Skyscraper National Park turned from a self-distributed CD-R into a breakout album. OK, so it's not a total breakout because you've never heard of the guy, but I'm here to change all that.

Skyscraper National Park is instantly more accessible where his previous work could be challenging--Hayden traded in his gruff baritone for a more modest range and supplemented his great acoustic guitar work with some electric and synthesizers. Still, the album maintains its roots in bleak Canadian folk. Hayden's narrative and subject matter remain similar, evocatively dealing with a car crash, a home invasion, or simple things like driving out of the city into the wilderness. The sound borders on melancholy due to its subdued nature, but there is really beautiful music behind the arrangements and singing. Particularly, "Dynamite Walls" is a smash, with a sweeping build of electric guitar as Hayden paints a picture of driving down the highway, escaping city lights in favor of tree lines. This is an ideal album for gloomy weather, bedtime, or just relaxing outside. I'd recommend exploration of his other work too, as his previous albums featured some great acoustic guitar/harmonica work and his latter ones are packed full of some great pop gems with full orchestration. For now, grab these two tracks off of Skyscraper National Park and see if it's your thing.

download:   Dynamite Walls
download:   Street Car

Hayden has been uncharacteristically active lately, releasing 2009's excellent The Place Where We Live after only a one year gap from his previous album In Field & Town. Here's to hoping he's got another gem in store for 2010!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Owen Pallett - Heartland

The artist formerly know as Final Fantasy has decided to give up his old moniker to avoid some potential legal issues, now simply going by his name, Owen Pallett. This is not a terribly big deal since, A) Final Fantasy was essentially a solo project anyway, and B) Pallett is continuing to make incredible music, with this release likely to hold up as one of the best of the year as 2010 unfolds.

Owen Pallett - Heartland [Domino, 2009]

For those unfamiliar with Pallett's previous work as Final Fantasy, it's a little difficult to explain his characteristic sound. To compare him to Andrew Bird is a good starting point, as both root their music in culling as many different sounds out of a violin as possible and layering them to their whims. The most apparent departure is that while Bird tends to take cues more from pop and jazz music, Pallett leans more toward electronics and the orchestral bombast of musicals. This penchant for the grandiose becomes fully apparent on his latest album, Heartland, containing by far his most epic work to date.

Right out of the gate, Pallett whips out all of his trademarks-- layered, eerie strings supported by bubbling synthesizers and Pallett's own tenuous voice. The story is loosely a narrative supposedly about a fictional character, Lewis, who becomes aware of the fact that Pallett is singing songs about him and proceeds to retaliate. While I don't entirely follow the story, I do follow the fact that song for song, this album is incredible. The variation in sound and feeling that Pallett is able to achieve across the 12 tracks is nothing short of amazing. The orchestration is so intricate that it would give Sufjan Stevens and Nico Mulhy a run for their money. Pallett manages to achieve a perfect mix of strings and horns over synthesizers and piano that is just, well, perfect. Highlights here are "The Great Elsewhere" and "E is for Estranged" which show a mastery of arrangement not often seen in popular music of late. Still I would be remiss to call it a perfect album-- "Mount Alpentine" is brief and serves as a questionable transition and "Oh Heartland, Up Yours!" delves a little too far into minimalism and quickly becomes a bit boring. The last 5 tracks of the album create an ending so incredible though, it just makes you want to play the album all over again. You'll be glad you did.

download:   Lewis Takes Off His Shirt
download:   The Great Elsewhere

I saw Pallett play a few months ago at one of this last shows as Final Fantasy while on tour with The Mountain Goats. Make sure you jump at the chance to see him live--it is truly a treat. Check out this version of him powering through "Lewis Takes Off His Shirt" despite torrential downpours:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sandbox Astronomy - View from the Center of the Universe

It's the start of a new year, and what's better for a cold wintry day than some great indie folk? For something fresh and not hyped-to-death, look no further than the stylings of Pittsburgh's emerging folk-pop band, Sandbox Astronomy. Forming in 2008, the band released their debut EP for free in October 2009, featuring four tracks that are highly enjoyable and show great promise for this band going forward.

Sandbox Astronomy - View from the Center of the Universe
[self released, 2009]


There's a lot to love about Sandbox Astronomy--the band boasts a sound well-rooted in chamber pop, with instrumentation including violin, banjo, mandolin, and xylophone. The lead vocals are often accompanied by male or female harmonies (or both!), which are always spot-on and complement the melody quite well. For an ensemble rooted in folk, Sandbox Astronomy is still able to pack in a good amount of catchy hooks, and though the song structures may be simple, they works very well and make each track memorable. If you enjoy the sound of Okkervil River, this will be right up your alley.

Opener "Lost Languages" kicks off the EP up-tempo, with a nice interplay of guitar, mandolin, and violin trading off on the main riff, and shows off the talent of all three vocalists. The second track, "Bird in Hand," pulls back a little, exploring some slightly discordant harmonies among some plucked banjo--probably the weakest of the four songs, but still enjoyable. "This Is How," the third song, is the longest and most intricate of the EP. "This is how I learned to drink my coffee black," sings vocalist Graeme Ross-Munro throughout the track--a great image of swallowing bitterness in a somber tale of loss. Closer "Astronaut" boasts big harmonies with jangly guitar, melodica, and loose bass reminiscent of early Neil Young recordings. At first I wasn't sold on the EP, but after repeated listens, I find myself coming back to it very often to play it the whole way through.

The band went ahead and released the whole EP for pay-what-you-like download via bandcamp, with an option to buy the physical CD as well. If using other random sites frightens you for an inexplicable reason, feel free to grab my two favorite tracks below:

download:   Lost Languages
download:   Astronaut

Sure, four tracks cannot guarantee a lock for a great band, but I will definitely be keeping my ear open to what these guys will come out with in the future.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2009 Wrap Up


So The Audiobahn had a quiet latter half of 2009, but was a more successful endeavor overall than most New Year's Resolutions that I make, updating (semi-)regularly through the first half of the year. Part of me wants to make saving this from disrepair a likewise resolution for 2010, on a less rigorous but hopefully more reliable schedule. We'll see! In the meantime, enjoy my musings on 2009.

Favorite Live Shows of 2009
05. Wilco at LeLacheur Park, Lowell, MA
04. Jason Anderson & The Best at TT the Bear's, Cambridge, MA
03. Harvey Danger at Harper's Ferry, Allston, MA
02. The Flaming Lips at Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, MA
01. Sufjan Stevens at Port City Music Hall, Portland, ME

Most-listened to Artists of 2009 (via last.fm)
10. Peter Broderick
09. The Wooden Sky
08. Atlas Sound
07. Grizzly Bear
06. Graham Coxon
05. Deerhunter
04. School of Seven Bells
03. Do Make Say Think
02. The Dodos
01. Neil Young

Best Tracks of 2009
10. Caledonia - "Burning the Day"
09. Stardeath and White Dwarfs - "New Heat"
08. Daniel Land and the Modern Painters - "Codeine"
07. Grizzly Bear - "Fine For Now"
06. Animal Collective - "Brother Sport"
05. Quantic & His Combo Bárbaro - "Linda Morena"
04. Wooden Shjips - "Contact"
03. Girls - "Laura"
02. Atlas Sound - "Quick Canal (w/ Laetitia Sadier)"
01. A Sunny Day in Glasgow - "Shy"

Top Albums of 2009
10. The Duckworth Lewis Method - The Duckworth Lewis Method
09. Do Make Say Think - Other Truths
08. Fanfarlo - Reservoir
07. Caledonia - We Are America
06. The Love Language - The Love Language
05. Quantic & His Combo Bárbaro - Tradition in Transition
04. Brothers of End - The End
03. Girls - Album
02. A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Ashes Grammar
01. Atlas Sound - Logos

download:   My 10 Best Tracks of 2009
(please pardon the skip in "Codeine" my disc is scratched, unfortunately)

A few notes: 2009 was the year that I found my diverse affinity for americana rock a la classics like Neil Young or contemporaries like The Wooden Sky, but also jumped to the other end of the spectrum in shimmery electronic music of bands like Atlas Sound/Deerhunter and A Sunny Day in Glasgow. Quantic even took me by surprise with a mind-bending album combining latin jazz, soul, funk, and hip-hop. Despite being one the most anticipated albums by one of my favorite artists, Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest didn't make my year end cut-- too much inconsistency throughout for me to really put it up there, compared to more consistent releases. Some of my favorites from '08 even kept with me throughout '09 as well, notably School of Seven Bells and The Dodos.

Anyway, there is much to look forward to in 2010, particularly Owen Pallet, Spoon, Ted Leo, and Midlake.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Harvey Danger, live @ Harper's Ferry 8.7.2009

11:00PM

Wine, Women, & Song
Meetings with Remarkable Men (Show Me the Hero)
Cream and Bastards Rise
Old Hat
Moral Centralia
Little Round Mirrors
War Buddies
Jack the Lion (piano version)
The Show Must Not Go On (new song)
Private Helicopter
Flagpole Sitta
Ballad of the Tragic Hero (Pity & Fear)
Authenticity
Sad Sweetheart of the Rodeo
[set break]
Pike St./Park Slope (Sean and Jeff duo)
Humility on Parade
(Theme from) Carjack Fever
Carlotta Valdez
Radio Silence
[encore]
Terminal Annex
Picture, Picture
The Same as Being in Love (super extended)

I will miss this band like no other. Really, they saved me from the depths of listening to crap like Korn and Limp Bizkit when I was in 8th grade, taught me that lyrics are important, lead guitar isn't always necessary, and just generally what amazing music ought to sound like. I must credit them for the musician/music appreciator/person I am today. Best of luck to all of them in the future.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Music Tuesday: Grizzly Bear

It's no easy task to finally get to hear and review one of my most anticipated albums of the year (second only to Midlake's upcoming LP), but that just makes it all the more interesting, don't you think? Anyway, anybody who has so much as dipped their toe in the indie blogosphere (as much as I hate the word) knows that the two records prematurely vying for "album of the year" are Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion, and this, Grizzly Bear's latest offering, Veckatimest.

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest [Warp, 2009]


The main thing to know about Grizzly Bear, is that their music is very atmospheric-- I once told a friend that Grizzly Bear know how to utilize silence better than any other rock band in modern music. That was most certainly true about their 2006 masterpiece, Yellow House, and certainly holds up here, though to a lesser extent. Still ever-present are the bone-chilling harmonies of Ed Droste and Dan Rossen, along with the sparse, hollow drumming of Chris Bear. The band sticks to what it is good at in terms of song structure, with tracks that plod along to a majestic build and often-epic finales. However, a lot of my favorite elements from their old records have gone missing-- piano with a sound as if it was played in the parlor of an abandoned mansion, banjo, woodwinds, and (tasteful) glitchy electronic noise. Still, I do have to give the band credit for somehow managing to use steel drums in multiple tracks and not have them suck.

So let's get straight to the songs: are they good? Yes, they are! Well, most of them, anyway. Opener "Southern Point" comes out of the gate rocking, with organ, fuzz bass, and swirling guitars galore. The band keeps the energy high with the harmony- and omnichord-laden "Two Weeks" (see the video for it here c/o Stereogum). Next, a step back in intensity with the haunting "All We Ask," which builds at the end, and carries over into my favorite track, "Fine For Now." By this point in the album, I was practically drooling.

The one thing I hear most from Grizzly Bear's detractors is that they find the band "boring," and unfortunately, I have to agree with this assessment on a few tracks of Veckatimest. As the album draws near its middle, some of the tracks start equating sparseness with boringness. "Cheerleader" and "Dory" plod along through typical song structures, never really building to anything, and never really reaching a moment of musical beauty seen in some of their more enjoyable minimal tracks (take "Colorado" from Yellow House, for example). "Ready, Able" breathes some life back into the middle chunk of the album, but it's all but sucked back out by the next two largely forgettable tracks.

Fortunately, the album closes with a trio of very excellent tracks (including Pitchfork-perfect "While You Wait for the Others"), and you're left with a desire to go back and find the subtle layers only found on multiple listens that are so essential to Grizzly Bear records. It's interesting that Veckatimest should be released in the summer, when it feels a lot like a sleepy fall or winter record, and that its rival, Merriweather Post Pavilion, dropped in January and feels like a summertime party. Both records have their merits, and rather than bash one and love the other, I'm just going to be glad that Grizzly Bear more or less lived up to their hype and that 2009 has been a pretty great year for music so far.

download:   Fine For Now
download:   Southern Point

Grizzly Bear play the Berklee Performance Center on June 3, and this kid has a 1st row 1st mezzanine ticket. I highly expect this show to be amazing, and recommend that you check them out in Boston or wherever they are playing near you!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Friday Find: Cornershop

Everyone likes a nice retroactive Friday Find, and I am ready to start legislating more music that you should listen to now that I've finally bought a car and can stop doing research and negotiations all the time! Today I highlight a band out of central England that some of you may be familiar with: Cornershop.



Cornershop is the brainchild of Tjinder Singh—British and of Indian descent, which greatly influences Cornershop's music. Named after a reference to the stereotype in Britain that Indians and Asians owned streetcorner shops, Singh and his shifting lineup of musicians create a sound that perfectly combines the best of Eastern and Western music with seamless fusion, leaning heavily on British indie, pop, and dance from the mid-90's. Their breakout album, 1997's When I Was Born for the 7th Time, featured an eclectic mix of turntables, synthesizers, samplers, guitars, and traditional Indian instruments like the sitar, dholaki, or tambura.

If the name sounds vaguely familiar to anyone, it is probably because Cornershop scored a major hit off their previously mentioned album, thanks to Norman Cook's (aka Fatboy Slim) remix of their song "Brimful of Asha," a tribute to music (especially that of Asha Bhosle) in Indian film. The remix was very subtle, but its increased dance tendency and name recognition propelled it to the top of British and US charts. Here's the music video for the remix, which is terribly 90's and quite frankly kind of embarrassing:



Anyway, the real find—and track that I want to share—is off of their criminally underrated 2002 album Handcream for a Generation. "Spectral Mornings" is the pinnacle of their music, in my mind. It's a 14-minute opus that begins with some Indian singing and evolves into a sprawling psych jam of sitar and guitar mastery (Noel Gallagher of Oasis lends a hand for the guitar portion). I have no clue what this song is about and I could really care less!

Download:   Spectral Mornings
Download:   Brimful of Asha (Norman Cook Remix)

Apparently, Cornershop are expected to release their 6th album, Cornering the Market some time in 2009, so keep an eye out, since 7 years between albums seems to suit them just fine.